What Matters Most

Malachi 1: 14–2: 2, 8-10; I Thess 2: 7-9, 13; Matthew 23: 1-12

If you follow what we call, the opioid crisis, you may have heard last week from Chris Christie mentioning that over the span of three weeks, this country loses as many people to overdose as we did back on 9/11/01.  That’s every three weeks and yet we have plenty of money to try to make us safer and secure but we can’t seem to find it within ourselves to deal with this continuing growing problem.  Maybe because it’s a problem that lies beneath the surface and can’t always see with our eyes.  We’re much better at reacting to what we see rather than dealing with the interior, unseen.  Just think about it, though.  If there are that many who are trying to mask themselves think about the amount of pain that is hidden in plain sight.  We somehow think that taking away the heroin, the pain pills, the guns, or whatever else will solve all our problems but all it does is tackle the seen and rarely pushes us to deal with the pain below the surface that leads us down the path of opioids or other means.

It’s the challenge Jesus often faces with the Pharisees, as he does again today.  Keep in mind, the Pharisees weren’t bad people.  They were well-intentioned and whether we care to admit it or not, there’s a Pharisee in all of us.  They seem to only care about how things are seen with the eyes, how they look, and keeping people distracted by what might be less important.  Along comes this Jesus who doesn’t seem to need them so much, despite the relationship with the Pharisees being one of need and dependency.  Jesus, rather, encounters the people where they are and with what matters most, their pain and suffering.  He’s not the least concerned about how things look, titles, being seen, or having the attention on himself, all he cares about is so often zoning in on the pain, not by medicating or numbing it, but entering into with the one who suffers.  It’s a radical approach to faith as they had known it.  The approach of the Pharisee is one of superiority and allowing yourself to be seen as “good” and blaming others for your problems.  For Jesus, it’s about going below the surface and bringing about radical change that can only come by a holy encounter in pain.

In the words of Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians, it’s a God who is like a mother who nurses and cares for her children’s hunger and need.  It wasn’t about being seen or about who’s in and who’s out.  No, rather for Paul it too was about this radical healing that needed to happen in people’s lives.  More often than not Paul would go after the communities for separating themselves from what mattered most even what was seen with their very eyes.  Their focus tended to be on themselves rather than the poor and people dying in the streets and encountering them in those very places.  Paul uses that image today to remind us of this God who doesn’t care about what we have or our bank accounts or how we are seen in the public eye.  Rather, it is that mother, as he tells us, who cares for her children’s very needs, needs that are so often not noticed on the surface but internally, as if instinctual, a deeper pain and hunger.

For the prophets it was no different just as with Malachi in today’s first reading.  He too uses language of a parent but now rather a God who is a faithful father.  Malachi is going after the priests who too had lost sight of what was most important.  They were much too worried about the Temple, in some ways as we often do, the façade of the building.  Somehow as long as things look good and fine on the surface we can ignore the deeper problems in our lives, city, and country.  All along, though, we become eaten alive by our pain that continues to lead us further into a virtual life that eases and numbs the pain rather than seeking that holy encounter within the pain so that it may be transformed and we may live life more fully.  They were no different than us, focusing on what separates us and divides us rather than the deeper issues facing our community, city and country.

When Matthew writes this gospel he too was worried about his own community.  That presence of the strong Pharisee was separating and dividing his community and he worried that they’d come apart.  Matthew worried how fear had crept in and was eating away at the community as he tried to unite them around the one who knew their pain, the Christ.  That Pharisee within each of us will always look for the short-term solution to our pain, turning to opioids, heroin, pain pills, guns, or whatever our choice is all that we can continue to function in our lives and world while being eaten within ourselves by our pain that keeps being pushed down and numbed.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the less important things that we see with our eyes rather than to be led to the unseen, the pain within our own hearts, that prevents us from loving in the way that Jesus has loved, like the nursing mother and the faithful father.

The amount of pain that exists in this city and country is even hard to imagine and in the short-term it appears we’ll continue to avoid and numb as long as we look strong and secure.  But deep down we know there is more, in the unseen parts of our heart lies a deeper pain that desires more than anything a holy encounter and a radical healing so we too can focus on what matters most, the lives we are called to go out to as missionary disciples, not to separate and divide but to gather together around the Cross of the Christ where radical healing, in our most vulnerable state, is brought forth.

Advertisements

\ ˈem-pə-thē \

If you were to look up the word, empathy, in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, you’d find the following:

The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also :the capacity for this”

From time to time I make the mistake of going to comment sections of articles and posts that I happen to be reading.  It doesn’t take long for me to realize that I’ve made a mistake by doing it and yet I do it anyway.  Maybe there’s a part of me that hopes it has changed, that somehow since the last time I made this mistake that the world got a little better and more understanding.  Needless to say it didn’t go so well and was reminiscent of times past.

The one thing I could never quite understand is how people can lash out at others that they don’t even know, complete strangers going after one another because of opposing viewpoints but never making any effort to get to the heart of their own anger and why this is all coming up inside themselves. When I can’t be sensitive to another’s feelings, thoughts, and experience, I simply then project it all onto them, making them the embodiment of the demon that lies within myself, becoming enemies rather than seeking understanding of a person’s view; and that’s all it is, a view.  I’ve been the victim of it myself and I’m sure the projector at times in my life.  It’s a sign of just how unaware we are as a culture and society when we don’t take responsibility for our own baggage and prefer to share the wealth with others.

When it comes to pain and suffering we are often the worst.  We have to look tough, stoic, to others and the world.  It can explain a great deal of the opioid epidemic that has arisen in this country and our constant need to be medicated and numbed.  That pain has been taken advantage of by advertisers, politicians, and drug manufacturers alike, all of whom have benefited from our inability to deal with pain.  Dealing with our own pain, rather than numbing it, is the only answer to the epidemic but also our inability to empathize with others and to understand another person’s experience which is often different from my own.  Pain has a way of sucking us in and yet projecting outward, seemingly that we stand at the center of the world and carry the measuring stick of judgment of all life’s challenges, experiences, and pains, even if I’ve never actually experienced it myself, all in the name of defense of some one or some thing.

As a culture and society we have distanced ourselves from pain and suffering (the cross) so much that we no longer know how to handle it, embrace it, enter into it, feel it.  It’s as if we walk into the ICU of a dying patient or into a funeral home to mourn with a family and we become so uncomfortable that all we know how to do is make trite statements, hollow at best, because of the fear of going to where we hurt and in those very moments, to realize that that person is also me.  The pain of sitting with the uncomfortableness is too overwhelming in those moments that we have to do something with it.  We just can’t bring ourselves to do it and so we project it all outward, onto each other, onto the country, other countries, and to the world.  Heck, for that matter, there are plenty of examples of it in Scripture that, more often than not, we do it to God as well.  It has given us distorted images of each other and the Creator and there are examples of it everywhere, often including our own lives.  Again, if we’re willing to take a step back, become self-aware, and see what I too am doing to the other and this world.  There’s no wiping our hands entirely clean if we’re willing to take responsibility for our own undealt with pain.

It’s probably the easiest way to understand the gospels and Jesus’ own encounter with the Pharisees and other leaders of that time.  They had such venom towards him, mainly because he challenged their way of thinking and understanding of the other.  All they could do is try to divide and conquer, and in the end, they believe they won. They believe, in the short term, they have won the battle with Jesus once he is crucified, a projection of their own disdain for God and human life and the suffering one endures.  It was and is inevitable in the case of Jesus that hatred would appear to be his demise.  Hate, anger, unfinished hurt, always thinks short term in order to protect itself from deeper pain but always fails to see the big picture, avoiding it at all cost.

We see it in war, violence, resentment, hatred, bigotry, racism, disdain, blame, all rooted in this deep fear of our own pain, separating us from the other in isolating fashion.  Little do we know that when we make decisions and choices from such destructive tension, life becomes much more about survival that living life fully.  It’s as if we’re drowning in our own pain and all we can do is cling rather than to take the hand of someone who may look different, live differently, have a different experience of my own, simply because I couldn’t bring myself to admit that I may have been wrong.  When life is about winning and losing we, without a doubt, always lose even if it feels like a short-term win, protecting myself once more while gasping for air until the next attack, the next exposure of my short-coming, my imperfection, my shadow, my own pain that has taken hold of my life.

We have a lot to do in our society, a lot of work in dealing with the deep-seated pain that we continue to hold onto, clouding all our decisions and choices for the future, while at the same time blaming the future for all our problems.  We’re leaving that very future one hell of a mess to clean up if we soon don’t learn to stop, quiet ourselves, and sit in that ICU, sitting with the dying patient, and learn to die with them.  Pain and suffering has so much to teach us and is often the key to living a fuller life when we no longer dance around it but rather jump in, head first, rather than sharing it with the world.  In times when we retreat, isolate, and believe it’s about us first, we can only begin to understand such action when we’ve been there ourselves, wallowing in our own pain and suffering, feeling it’s the only way for us to survive.  I can empathize with that because I’ve been there myself.  It feels like it’s the only answer to the loneliness experienced when we suffer.  The capacity to empathize with the other, the nation, all suffering everywhere, the world, can only come when we’ve done our own work and continue to do our work in life, creating the necessary space in our lives for someone and something more than ourselves.  It’s the task at hand if we are to move forward for the way forward is through.

#holyresistance

Zephaniah 2: 3; 3: 12-13;  I Cor 1: 26-31; Matthew 5: 1-12

I’m a Star Wars fan. I’ve seen them all and still believe that the originals from back in the 70’s and 80’s were some of the best. It is mythology at its best and transcends time. But we also often want to reduce it to a battle of good and evil or light and darkness. However, the main characters of the originals were not choosing sides. As a matter of fact, they were the resistant movement, including Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker. Now it’s not resistant in the way we want to use it today, in our politics. That’s more oppositional energy being exerted and often spending most of its time fighting rather than resisting, trying to seek another way.

The resistance movement were in many ways the wisdom figures. They tried to find truth in all things while what appears to be good and evil continues to fight. The archetypal character becomes Luke Skywalker in his training with Yoda. He wants to fight. He loves to fight! But Yoda keeps pushing him to a different place, to a place within himself and to see that the war he’s fighting the most lies within him, not just beyond him. This is the path to resistance, when he comes to a place where it’s no longer about choosing sides and winning and losing, but a path towards humility when he recognizes his own participation not only in bringing about good but also towards what he’s been fighting. It is the true path of resistance, a holy resistance.

It’s what this great Gospel is about today as we reflect upon the Beatitudes. There is a sense of humiliation in the current times, where there is poverty, there is mourning, war, violence, hunger, and persecution. They are the lived reality of the disciples and the people of Jesus’ time and of course of today. The resistance that Jesus proposes and the tension that lies within, is not to react to all of it and allow ourselves to enter into war after war. Certainly there is a place for opposition in the face of injustice, but the resistance movement of Star Wars is about finding another way. That’s what Christianity was about; it was about following the Way, not about choosing sides and fighting battle after battle. The opposition is typically only what I’m fighting within myself anyway. It will take the Cross before the disciples could begin to make sense of what these beatitudes were really about. The resistance we face is accepting this lived reality as it is but feeling that pull to a more just society, a more just life, an unfolding of the Kingdom.

Paul speaks of that oppositional energy today as he speaks of boasting and how that opposition often comes from our own pride. We want to prove ourselves to be right and the other wrong. Paul knows it because that was Paul. For him the cross becomes the point of resistance and the point when that begins to break down in his own life. He says the weak will shame the strong and the foolish will shame the wise. There is this breaking down and this entering into this interior journey for Paul that awakens him to this reality and to recognize that this battle is first fought within himself. He must face his own humiliation and the fact of how he persecuted, and even despite the good, Paul was still capable of unspeakable darkness towards humanity and to face that head on becomes his cross, becomes his place of transformation. For Paul it was no longer about winning and losing. That’s not the gospel anyway. It becomes about sitting with that resistance in these collision of opposites and finding another way.

It is also the roll of the prophetic voices that we hear throughout the year as it is with Zephaniah in today’s first reading. There is a great deal of opposition towards the new King Josiah at that time. They don’t like him. They don’t like what he’s doing and the reform he is bringing about, but the risk is always to fight and to become just like him. It is the warning of the prophets throughout Scripture. For him he too tries to lead them to this path of humility, by seeking justice and peace. Oppositional energy will eventually begin to fizzle and often cannot be sustained. What we seek is that resistance within ourselves as it was for our ancestors. This holy resistance is an invitation to ask ourselves the questions of our own lives and what it is God is trying to move us to letting go of and opening the door for the breaking in of the Kingdom. If anyone knows the reality of opposition it’s Israel. It’s part of their storied history and the invitation, as it is with Luke Skywalker, is to go within ourselves and look at our own injustice. Look at where we want to oppose and fight rather than seek a more just life, the common good. That is what our faith teaches us.

These are trying times for us individually and as country. Like Paul, our own pride often stands in the way, including our pride of who we think we are supposed to be as a country. It’s not the path of resistance and it certainly isn’t the path of humility that all the readings touch upon today. Whether we can admit it about ourselves or not, we all partake in the humiliation of our present age, we fight, we stand opposed, but we so often want it to end there. It leads to war and violence. It leads to division. It leads to winners and losers. I can’t say it enough; that’s not the gospel. The Gospel, especially the one we hear today, points us to another way. It points us to this holy resistance in our own lives, where it’s not about winning and losing, but a path to justice and peace. When I allow myself to go to that place within and learn to be patient with it, it will transform us. We will tap into that humility and become a more just person so, in turn, can move society to a more just place for all peoples.

Increase Our Faith

Habakkuk 1: 2-3; 2: 2-4; Luke 17:5-10

Increase our faith. It seems like a rather simple request coming from the Apostles in today’s gospel, but when we speak of any of these virtues, we seem to have a tendency to use them rather loosely. We can often throw them around without ever recognizing the magnitude of the request being made, as it is with the disciples in today’s gospel. We tend to limit faith to dogma or doctrine, something we can hold onto, but that doesn’t even begin to come close to the biblical faith that they truly desire or the faith that Jesus is going to lead them to in their journey.

It’s safe to say, though, that they’re primed for something. If you think about all that we’ve heard the past weeks and months, they really are aware of the tension that is building between Jesus and so many of the leaders. They’ve witnessed it in their interactions and in his story telling, only seeming to escalate things, allowing the drama to unfold until we come to an encounter with the Cross. It’ll be in that moment when they finally come up against something they can’t explain or rationalize, and certainly can’t control, before they can finally be pushed through and begin to make sense out of what they are asking today when they ask for an increase in faith, a faith that can move mountains.

It may be the anonymous programs where we find a deeper meaning to what it means to be faithful. It’s not something that can be taught. It’s only where we can be led in our lives and be open towards. Step one of the programs, and probably the most difficult of all of them, is to recognize and accept that we are powerless and that there is a higher being than ourselves. It’s so hard but it’s such a movement towards the faith we desire in our lives and the faith given to and show to us by Jesus.

There may be no others in Scripture where we see it exemplified than in the Prophets. Today we hear from the prophet Habakkuk. For the entire chapter Habakkuk does nothing but lament to God for all that he has seen and witnessed. All the violence, the injustice that has unfolded, the vast amount of darkness that seems to rule the land. It’s not much different than our own lives and the world in which we live. It can push us to a place where we begin to feel helpless and even lose hope, wondering why God can ever let such things happen. At times all we can do is also lament to the Lord. Finally, God gives some response to Habakkuk. The Lord hears his plight and the plight of the people, but simply assures him that it’s in God’s hands and will occur in God’s time. It’s so often at those moments of surrender when we can finally begin to let go of our own need to try to control and fix things and simply place them in the hands of God. I am powerless to so much of it and all I can do is surrender it to a higher being. It’s trust. It’s faith.

For the disciples it will come in the form of a Cross. It’s going to be the pinnacle moment of tension in their lives when they recognize that what they are truly seeking is not something they can hold onto. As a matter of fact, dogma and doctrine isn’t worth a hill of beans if there’s no faith in a higher being and a mystery always trying to reveal before and within us. Quite honestly, we can practice religion our entire lives without ever going to this deeper place, this vast place within ourselves, where we truly learn to let go of that which has power over us, and so often it’s the way we think and it is what we have believed. There’s no final point to the journey. Faith is always leading us deeper and yet beyond ourselves, into mystery with another opportunity to let go, surrender to this ever-manifesting God.

Increase our faith. It does seem so simple a request asked by the disciples in today’s gospel, but there’s nothing easy about it. It is an invitation that remains with us throughout our lives to once again be pushed where we’d rather not go, to the place of great suffering where we will once again need to give up control and our need to know and simply learn to trust. It’s God who will push us through and lead us to this place. It’s God who will push us through to this place of faith, where we once again surrender and let go, and in God’s time, allow our hearts to grow to greater depths of faithfulness.

The Need for Perspective

Acts 15: 1-2, 22-29; Rev 21: 10-14, 22-23; John 14 23-29

If you ask me, it’s pretty safe to say that we all see life through our own particular lens. We see what we want to see and it takes a lot to break down that vision and find new perspective. For the most part, that lens usually comes from the past. We see through our hurts, where love failed, our rejections, and fears, and so forth that we have a hard time seeing anything new being possible. In our churchy language, it’s as if we see life through the lens of original sin and not the grace of God working in our lives. Jesus tries to give that perspective to the disciples today as we too take a step back to the pre-resurrection section of John’s Gospel, the farewell of Jesus.

However, there may be no more beautiful image of finding that perspective this weekend than the reading from Revelation. The angel takes the writer in spirit to the high mountain to see the eternal Jerusalem. Even goes onto say that there isn’t even need for sun or moon to offer light, simply the glory of God, the grace of God present in his life. It’s an absolutely beautiful image he provides. He receives the bigger picture that will stand as a reminder in the darkness of his own life of something greater and more eternal.

It’s not an easy place to be, though. We’ve all been trapped in darkness, pain, and fear, unable to see beyond it. It taints everything we see and do. It taints our relationships and how we see others. It taints our politics and how we address the many issues in the city, the country, and the world. For good or for ill, and more often than not, ill, it makes us stuck, lacking the perspective we need to move forward. As Revelation points out, it’s only the grace of God that somehow break through, but it often takes something that shakes us at our very core before we move to that place, before we can see with new eyes. It’s not even that the world around us changes, but we do and we see from a different place.

As I said, Jesus tries to provide that perspective with the disciples as we take a step back in the Gospel today. The weight of the world is falling in on them by this point of the story. It’s the Last Supper in John’s Gospel. He tells them not to worry or be afraid. Yeah, easy for him to say and certainly easier said than done. We know what darkness, pain, and loss does to us. It clouds our vision for weeks and months. The same will be true for the disciples. They will see the sin of the Cross and only it’s sin. No matter how much Jesus tries to prepare them for what is to come, when it finally happens, it will make no difference in the immediate moments. All they will see is death and despair. All they will see is fear and hurt, loss. We know that because it’s us as well. It’s not until the grace of God lifts us up and allows the clouded vision to crack before we can begin to gain new perspective into our lives and see the Cross as something more, the darkness of our lives as something more.

As I’ve said throughout this season it isn’t until we get to Acts of the Apostles until we see the fruit of the Spirit in their lives and the grace of God moving them forward. But today, they too find themselves in a sticky situation as they gather for the first council, The Council of Jerusalem. Now for us living in 2016 it seems rather nonsensical to be having conflict over circumcision. I’m mean, who cares. But if we replace that with Baptism, we can see the significance of the gathering. But they too needed a new perspective on how to handle the matter. Does circumcision have any bearing on the grace of God working in your life? Well, not really. God somehow isn’t going to love them more or offer them more because of circumcision. However, that was a significant part of who they were as people. It meant something. So the community gathers and learns to trust this inner voice that we now encounter, the voice of the Spirit that is going to give them that perspective. Their decision carries with it the past but no longer has to be clouded by their past as people. They can see it for what it is and see that there is something bigger driving their lives, the grace of God at work.

More often than not we need perspective. That’s not others opinions. Quite frankly, that just looking at our own sin, darkness, fears, whatever the case may be, through someone else’s tainted lens. We find ourselves stuck as a people and even as communities as well, unable to move forward because the past so often haunts us and choices are made through the past hurts. As this Easter season begins to wind down, we too are invited to take a step back in our own lives, seeking that clearer perspective, to our lives, the struggles we may be facing as people, community, and certainly world. The spirit is willing to take us on that journey to catch a glimpse of the eternal Jerusalem, the Kingdom unfolding in our midsts but it does take a great deal of humility on our part, that, you know what, maybe the way i view things isn’t the best and maybe is tainted by my own darkness, which loves to disguise itself as the light. We already have what we need and what we desire. If we allow the eyes of our hearts to open wide, not through the lens of original sin, but the grace of God working through and within, we will find a whole new world, an eternal world that will always be.

Faithful Darkness

Genesis 15: 5-12, 17-18; Phil 3:17–4:1; Luke 9: 28-36

If there is a common theme among the characters we encounter today, Peter, James, and John in the gospel and then Abraham, or Abram has he’s referred today before his name is changed, is that they are pretty clueless as to what God is trying to reveal to them. Like most of us, they have locked into their heads the way God is supposed to act, blessings to be bestowed, or whatever the case may be, that they can’t see what’s being revealed before their very eyes and within their lives. Yet, the journey also never stops for them. Despite such narrow vision in their lives and of this God, they know there’s still something more, even if they can’t quite grasp it.

For Abraham and Sarah for that matter, they’ve locked in their minds in struggling with the fact that they have not been give the blessing of a child, let alone a first-born son. I know there are people gathered here that have struggled with that as well, in waiting for children or realizing it’s not an option. There’s a part of the reading that is missing from what we hear from the Book of Genesis today that speaks of Abraham struggling and wrestling with God. They are now beyond child-bearing years and so Abraham is having a hard time grasping this reality and who this God is. This is how God blesses his people and how it is witnessed by others in the community. Their identity is wrapped up in this belief in God. Yet, God tries to show this much bigger reality to Abraham. Look at all the stars in the sky. Your descendants will be greater than that. But, Abraham can’t see it. He has only his own lens and that lens can’t see what God sees. Yet, he remains faithful and finds himself falling into a deep, terrifying darkness. Exactly where we think we won’t find God, Abraham hears the voice of God. It’s really his own dark night of the soul. It doesn’t come from some kind of physical suffering; rather, enveloped in darkness and still trusting that this mystery will reveal itself before and within him.

The three disciples today also don’t know what is being revealed to them. All they see is glory and dazzling white and all this great stuff that leads to Peter suggesting that they stay on top of the mountain. They don’t hear the conversation between Jesus and Moses and Elijah about the exodus that Jesus would accomplish in Jerusalem. There’s no staying atop the mountain, but rather must be enveloped in that same darkness that Abraham experiences, but this time at the foot of Calvary as they continue this journey to Jerusalem. They even get a glimpse of that as a cloud overcomes them that leads to silence. But like Abraham, the voice of God is revealed in the cloud, in this experience of darkness, but it’s too close. They tell no one anything because they themselves don’t know what it all means. They won’t know true glory and a much bigger God until they encounter the mystery that will unravel these weeks and for them, in the heart of Jerusalem.

Paul faces similar difficulties. He’s had his dark night already by this point and tries to lead others to this place, despite strong opposition by some. He speaks today how some find themselves as enemies of the cross or who find their glory in shame, but Paul knows something better. Like us, often, they try their hardest to face such suffering, such unknown and darkness, because it requires something much deeper than this world can offer. Paul understands that this darkness isn’t something to fear, but rather leads to deeper trust and letting go in life, to experience a God in greater glory, a God with deeper mystery, a God who speaks from the very place we don’t want to go.

As we continue our own journey to Jerusalem, we pray for a breaking through of our own thoughts of who this God is and the glory and mystery that God is trying to reveal to and through and within us. If we find ourselves confined in life, lost in our thoughts, and thinking we know how things should be with God, we must now pray for an openness to go to the place of unknown. It’s how we grow interiorly and find that place of true authority and true glory that is placed within our heart and soul. Whether we like it or not, exactly where we haven’t wanted to go in our lives is the place that God invites us now, to experience transformation, transfiguration, and a deeper conversion where the glory of God is revealed in and through the Cross and Resurrection. It’s where we’re called to trust and deepen our faith in a relationship that we can’t always see nor feel, but we know God is there, leading us to new life.

Seeking Our Truest Self

Isaiah 53: 10-11; Hebrews 4: 14-16; Mark 10: 35-45

One of the central teaching of the writings of Thomas Merton, whom Pope Francis referenced when he spoke to Congress, is what he would call a tension between the true self and the false self. By false self he means, in simple terms, the illusion we create for ourselves of who we think we should be, who we want others to think we are, our ego, it’s a small self that we create that often protects us from being hurt, which itself is an illusion. By true self he means our deepest identity in Christ or as some have put it, the largest conversation our soul can have with the world. Now it’s not that the false self is bad or anything like that; it just is and isn’t all at the same time. He goes onto say that it creates a tension within ourselves that we wrestle with our entire lives and the more we become aware of it, the more we can let it go and recognize our greatest self, our true self, and live from that place. But it’s not just individuals. The community wrestles with this tension. I believe the country continues to wrestle with this reality. And for that matter, if you’ve followed any of the Synod of Bishops in Rome these weeks, it also happens in the Church, asking who we really are about, our truest and deepest self.

I thought of that when I reflected upon this gospel of James and John seeking something that they really aren’t versed in. Really, if they had found that place within, they wouldn’t even ask the question about places of honor because they would know it’s a moot question. But they do, and of course, Jesus doesn’t condemn or belittle them, but like the rich young man last week, continues to love them and lead them to that deeper place, to their true selves. When they stand in opposition to Jesus, it in many ways represents that interior struggle that we encounter in our lives. They too are living with this illusion and it stands face to face with Christ. They have an illusion of who they are in relation to him. They have an illusion about who they think Jesus is. You know, they have all the right answers as the gospels go on in naming his identity. He is the Christ; he is the Savior; he is the Son of God. They got it all right, but they look at it through this illusion of false power that they have created. They think he’s some leader to overthrow the Roman rulers or something of the sorts and they want a piece of that! Of course, it’s not just James and John. Mark reminds us that the other ten become indignant at the two of them for asking, probably because they too had thought about it, mindful that it was just a few weeks ago that they were arguing about who was the greatest! They spend their time fighting an illusion rather than seeking Jesus for who he really is and who they really are.

Merton would say that it is one of the greatest struggles that we must face as adults, letting go of these illusions. It will be an experience of the Cross like no other. It won’t be just what they see as they watch their friend Jesus die up there, nailed to a tree, but rather than interior crisis that they will face through that event that shakes them at their very core. Their eyes will be opened to the true identity of Jesus and for that matter, their truest self and essence as well. Their lives will be changed forever because they then know that not even the suffering of death can defeat life; they will have found what it was they had always looked for and yet always had, all at the same time.

We have a tendency to lump all suffering together and at times, even equate it all with sin. If we stay in that small self, that’s what usually happens because sin then becomes all about morality. Yet, Merton and others would stress that it has more to do with living in that false self and succumbing to someone less than we really are. We hear of the Suffering Servant in the first reading and a God who sympathizes with our weaknesses in the Letter to the Hebrews today. And yes, this God does stand with us in our physical pain and great suffering in that way, but this God also shows us the way to the fullness of life that we desire as individuals and as community. It’s not in seeking that power as James and John do in today’s Gospel. Jesus reminds them and us that when we seek it beyond ourselves, we end up abusing it and lording it over others. That’s not true power. He leads them and us into the recesses of our being. Through the suffering of the Cross, the illusions that we create for ourselves and others are broken open and our true self is revealed. We no longer have to hold onto something that isn’t real in the first place, although it sure does feel like it. We no longer have to live in such a small space but rather recognize the tension within ourselves, let it go, and live freely the life we have been given. We all know we have one chance at this and although this path and way that is taught to us can be very painful, smashing through our illusions, it’s the way to the eternal and the breaking in of the Kingdom in our own lives. Who of us wouldn’t wan that? We pray that the illusions of our own lives are broken open, we stop fighting and holding onto it, and allow ourselves the opportunity to live from a different place of power, our truest self in the depths of our hearts and souls.