Our Deepest Love

 

 Acts 8: 5-8, 14-17; John 14: 15-21

 

Near the end of Beauty and the Beast, there is a scene where all the characters, the candlestick, the clock, piano, and all the rest realize that time no longer seems to be on their side and that this spell that they had been put under, hardening all of them, may soon be an eternal reality.  They’re left wondering as to why, though, because they realize that the Beast has finally learned to love Belle and yet it hasn’t broken the spell.  One of them comments that it wasn’t just about the Beast learning to love after living a life of using people for his own self-interest while looking down on others that he has seen as less than himself.  However, it wasn’t just about the Beast learning to love Belle it was also about her loving in return.  In those moments when time seems all but lost, hardness seems to be their fate.

 

Love tends to be a word that we throw around quite easily.  As a matter of fact, in the world and culture we live it seems that we have grown much more accustomed to loving things and using people.  It seems as if we love things that we can’t seem to live without but people can often become dispensable.  In order for love to deepen, as couples that have been married for years can attest to, often comes from a great deal of sacrifice, letting go, and surrendering, in order to move beyond the superficialities that we often become attached to in relationship.  It was the problem of the Beast.  He loved what others had, how they looked, while growing more deeply hardened in his own heart that he was no longer open to this deeper love, until he finally has to let go of the one he had experienced love with in Belle.

 

This deeper love is where Jesus tries to move the disciples in their own call to discipleship as we move to some of the farewell discourse of Jesus in John’s Gospel.  This message of love seems to go on for chapters in John’s gospel but even they won’t necessarily understand what it’s all about until they walk through it themselves.  The experience of Jerusalem will do nothing but strip them of their own attachments and expectations of who this Jesus was and is.  They will learn first-hand the depths of his love for them and us as they witness that love poured out on the Cross, where water and blood flow. 

 

We know, first-hand ourselves, by our reading of Acts of the Apostles that they too move to this deeper place of love in their own lives, being freed of their own hardness and self-interest.  As a matter of fact, they become more attuned to it in others and aren’t so quick to give it away, this Spirit of Truth that Jesus speaks.  No, not even what we have made truth to be, facts and knowledge; but rather this deep knowing that love is all we need in our lives and it’s love that breaks that hardness, pursuing us until we surrender.  They face that reality as they enter Samaria today and encounter a young man who wants what they have.  His name is Simon the Magician.  His story is smack dab in the middle of what we hear today with Philip but they find themselves leery of Simon.  Like the Beast, he simply wants what they have for his own good, to make money and to use people, violating them in their own vulnerability.  He wants power on what he sees that they are capable of but really not love.  There is no mutuality in order for the love to grow, the give and take, and so they refuse.  They lay hands on the rest of the community.

 

For them and for this who process of forming disciples, it was about keeping them connected to their center.  In the everyday world it was about Jerusalem and the experience of love poured out on the cross, where their lives were transformed.  But even for us it’s about finding that center within ourselves as love moves us to this deeper reality, leading us to the sacrificial love of letting go and surrendering.  The more we allow love to move us to such deep places and to break through our own hardness, even if it doesn’t seem like time is on our sides, love still grows and frees.

 

As we move to these final weeks of the Easter season we live with the same challenge of recognizing and being aware of the places that remain hardened, entombed, in our own lives.  Where are we not being open to receiving that love.  We all know what it feels like when we’re rejected by people we have loved.  We know what it’s like to hold grudges and hate, simply as a way to hold power over others, or so we think.  We certainly live in a world and culture that thinks that’s the answer.  We settle for war.  We settle for violence, even in our own lives at times, all in the name of what we think is love.  Like Beast and Belle, there is a mutuality to this deeper love in which we are called to be.

 

The call to discipleship and missionary disciples, going out as the early disciples we hear of in Acts of the Apostles, challenges us to evaluate our own lives and our own ability to receive and give this love.  This season has been about conversion and transformation, to create space in our hearts to be open to such love and to begin to see people for who they are, fellow journeyers in this world, trying to make it work, and without a doubt, aware of their own deepest longing to love and to be loved in return.  It is the tale as old as time, not only for Beast and Belle, but for each of us.  Over time we have a tendency to become complacent and crusty, hardened as the characters were in that story.  But we do believe in a God that never stops pursuing us and never stops breaking through that hardness, realizing we are never but satisfied by anything but love.  It may not come in the ways we expect or even want at times, but without a doubt, no matter what remains unfinished in our own lives can be transformed by and into love.

 

Shattered Illusions

1Kgs 19: 16, 19-21; Gal 5: 1, 13-18; Luke 9: 51-62

I think it’s safe to say that none of us have and probably will never have an experience of being homeless. It’s just not our reality. However, we know we don’t have to go far to experience it and see it, and before you know it, when we find ourselves there that sense of uncomfortableness is right there with us, especially when someone is sticking a sign in our face. But that has nothing to do with them. It’s me and you that feel uncomfortable, and maybe deep down that’s because we know it can be us and is us, in some ways.

We must be mindful when we hear this gospel today that Jesus and the would-be-disciples are those very people. They are always transient and on the go with “nowhere to rest” their heads. This call to discipleship and a commitment to the Lord is one that is to lead us beyond what makes us comfortable, secure, and safe. As a matter of fact, they are all but illusions anyway and stand in our way of growing deeper in our faith and in our commitment to the Lord. He seems rather terse in his language today, with no time for compassion for anyone, but right to the point. There’s not even a regard for going to bury the dead. Let the dead bury the dead he says to the would-be’s. For Jesus it’s about the breaking in of the Kingdom, living it, and preaching it with our lives! It seems as if it has nothing to do with what we make of life of comfort, safety, and security. As a matter of fact, he seems to lead them to just the opposite.

Him and the would-be-disciples are on their way up to Jerusalem but not without a stop in Samaria. Now, you don’t need a scripture degree to know that this is going to cause a problem for them. We all know that they don’t like the Samaritans and the Samaritans don’t like them, yet, Jesus seems to lead them to this place of conflict, to this place of uncomfortableness. Again, mindful, they are traveling with nothing so all the comforts have been taken away. They have no way to defend themselves against the Samaritans. But what’s their first reaction, James and John want to send down fire upon them. Jesus will immediately rebuke the use of violence against them, but rather move to and meet them in their uncomfortableness, the Samaritan within themselves. Violence only begets more violence. He moves them to this place of freedom within themselves.

It’s that freedom that Paul speaks of in his letter to the Galatians. It’s not freedom in what we speak about when it comes to religion and speech or bearing arms, for Paul it was something interior. That idea that Pope Francis speaks of that we need to be a poor Church is the freedom that Paul speaks of, that it goes beyond financial but rather to an interior poverty that frees us from the illusions that we create of comfort, safety, and security. He tries to lead them to that place of poverty, that homelessness within themselves rather that becoming trapped by the illusions of the flesh as he says it. Even that we have had a tendency to limit to the body and sex, but for Paul, it was the illusions we create rather than being led by the Spirit, from that place of poverty within.

And so maybe the story of Elijah and Elisha says it best. Once Elisha accepts this call to be the prophet raised up by the Lord, he goes and burns everything. Everything! All that he has and owns he knows is going to only get in the way and weigh him down from trusting that deeper place within himself. Like us, the would-be-disciples, Elisha understands the trappings of life aren’t even necessarily the material goods we hang onto, but the illusions that the create for us, that feeling of being comfortable, of being secure, and of being safe. It’s all an illusion and it’s what Paul warns against to the Galatians and it’s what Jesus warns against in the gospel to the would-be-disciples. It seems as if they had no other choice but to give it all away, to walk into the uncomfortableness of not having, and finding a fuller life through it.

As the would-be-disciples, we’re called to do the same. Again, it’s not always about the actual material goods in our lives, but rather the illusion that they give us that isn’t even real to begin with; rather, they make us feel secure, comfortable, and safe until we find ourselves encountering the one who has not, not only the homeless one but our Lord. Quite possibly the only way to experience the Lord and accept that call of the would-be-disciples is to be led as he does in the gospels today, to what is unknown or to what we think we know and have the illusions shatter. When we do, we begin to see what we’re truly missing in life and that’s life itself. It’s no longer about feeling uncomfortable when we face that homeless person but rather, knowing that, deep down, that person is me and all I have and could put my trust in is the Lord who calls, ultimately, to life itself.

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.

Movement Toward a Deeper Call

Exodus 16: 2-4, 12-15; Eph 4: 17, 20-24; John 6: 24-35

I’ve often wondered what must have been going on in the mind and heart of people like Jesus and Moses in the situations they find themselves today. In some ways, I’d imagine that it was somewhat of a parental experience. The disciples, the crowds, and people Israel, ask a lot of questions, are never satisfied with the answers, and it’s always about them. Isn’t it the way kids often are in our lives as well? Certainly in our call to discipleship, we all begin there. Yet, in the larger context of this gospel that we hear today, we must be mindful of themes that take place in John. If we think about the stories we are most familiar, Lazarus, Man Born Blind, and the Woman at the Well, there is always movement that is taking place, a movement to somewhere deeper within themselves. There is a time for questions but not always the answers that is expected. There is a movement towards what we would call mature discipleship as opposed to where we often begin and where the crowd finds itself today in a more childish discipleship; they are looking for specific answers and for physical nourishment but Jesus in turn never answers their questions directly but is rather trying to move them to those deeper places within themselves and to be able to sit with the questions and not always know the answers and not always understand in the futility of our minds as Paul says.

The movement in the Bread of Life discourse is no different. But before they can come to the finality of this gospel and a question of whether they can commit to what is being demanded of them, there is a process of deepening and understanding that Jesus is leading them and us in our lives at this very moment. When it’s time to commit, can we stand with what is being asked of us, such a radical way of life. In the end, as I mentioned last week, some will make the commitment to a new and different way of life in which they are called; but most will walk away, unable to meet the demand of what is being asked of them. Paul tells us in the second reading today that it’s time to put away the old self, our former way of life because something new is being asked of us.

Moses, whom you have to feel for at times, never has it easy with people Israel either. You wonder why he never gives up on them over time. Again, think of the context of what we hear today. They have just been freed from Egypt. The Red Sea parted and they crossed over, only to see the Egyptians swallowed up by the same sea that saved them. Their lives were spared of slavery and hardship. All of that, and yet, today we hear them grumbling and complaining. It’s easy for us to say that they should be grateful for what has been given to them. But Moses never gives up on them on their own journeys of life. Despite never making it to the promised land, Moses, knows it within and has committed himself to that promised land, which gives him the hope and perseverance he needs in these difficult times and to accept that not always having the answers and at times, being unhappy with life’s circumstances, is a part of the process of moving towards mature discipleship and to know that there aren’t always answers to life’s questions and I may not always be fed in the ways that I desire. Before any of us can commit to this demand that is given, we have to, as Paul says, let go of the former way of life, stop feeding with what doesn’t nourish and seek out in this journey the bread that lives forever.

But it’s what they knew. Even though a life of slavery for people Israel was wrong and something we would certainly condemn, it’s what they knew. Their basic needs were met and now they have nothing. We’d complain and grumble as well! Moses, with his eye on the promised land, assures them that they will be fed. This God that has been faithful to them now for generations will once again see them through this time of change and transition into the new life that they have been called. Who knows if they can commit to such a change. It’s almost impossible for the crowds to change in that way; it’s often one by one that change and grow and with that the community.

It’s hard when it comes to faith. We don’t change easily. We get comfortable with what we know and want to stay there. But that’s not the discipleship we encounter in John’s Gospel. Jesus continuously is trying to move them to something deeper, to a more radical way of life where the only thing that will feed the deeper hunger is the bread that comes from on high. What comes from on high feeds us in our deepest hunger and in turn, we feed others. That bread that lives forever is not just something out there and something received, it’s already within. That’s where he tries to lead from what can be seen with our eyes and known with our minds to what is seen with the heart and known with our souls. The same will be asked of us as is asked of the crowds and disciples, can we commit to such a radical way of life and to trust a deeper call within ourselves? It’s not easy, but it is the discipleship that we are called to. Life’s not easy. There aren’t always answers to our questions in life and sometimes we’re left with simply sitting with the question while keeping our eye on that promised land. The more we do the more we learn to put away the old self and become the new creation in and through Christ, who we have been all along!

Hungering from Within–Our Deepest Call

1Sam 3: 3-10, 19; 1Corinth 6: 13-15, 17-20; John 1: 35-42

Our pastoral council has spent some time looking at our mission and vision statements and where we’re going as a parish. If you pull up the website you’ll see a vision that says on the headline, “manifesting God’s love in Govans and beyond.” That came to mind as I read these readings today for this weekend and the call of Samuel and the disciples. How are we manifesting that love? It’s been what the readings have been about these past weeks. We heard that with the birth of the Christ, the visit of the Magi and then last week that manifestation in the Baptism and in the Sacramental sign, but today it now becomes the learning ground for the disciples and how it will be manifested in their life. Jesus begins to spell out his own mission and vision for the disciples.

For beginners, because I think there’s at least two maybe a third call in our lives, it can seem quite simplistic. Jesus simply peeks their curiosity in his response to their question. They leave what they did and began to follow. They don’t know where they’re going or what they’re doing, but something that Jesus says and is spoke to something deep within them that they leave and go. Somehow THE Christ was speaking to the Christ within them. You may remember a few years ago when there was that movement, “what would Jesus do?”. I think that’s a lot what it was like for the early disciples and even ourselves. They first set out to emulate the qualities of Jesus and do what Jesus did, but eventually that call to manifest goes deeper and begins to unsettle the disciples and us. It begins to ask more and to give up more,including one’s life, and in John’s Gospel, many are turned off he tells us in the sixth chapter and they leave. With John, there seems to be many miscues. Jesus is trying to lead them to one place and they’re still not there, needing to see, and do what he did, but ultimately, the cross of Christ will catch up with them, deeply rooted and embedded in their greatest hunger and longing, that will lead to the second call to leave everything and do more than just emulate what Jesus did but begin to manifest the Christ within to the world, their and our gift to the world, coming from deep within the soul.

The Corinthians, well, they’re often lost. They have hunger but it is in no way fed in proper ways. They loved to party but in the process, neglect those in need, the poor, those they deemed less than themselves, and Paul wanted nothing to do with it and proceeds to try to lead them to that place within themselves as individuals and community where they can experience the deeper connection with humanity. He was calling them to become aware that there is something deeper that unites them and the cross of Christ would eventually catch up to them as well. Deep within, they fed that hunger and it manifested itself to a life of immorality, as he says, and divisiveness. They weren’t even at a place where they could emulate what Jesus did let alone the manifestation of the Christ through their lives in the world! The call from God runs deep and yet is quite still and quiet and will remain until a response of yes from the individual and community. The catch, once there is a yes, there’s no turing back. Nothing else will satisfy or fulfill.

Obviously Samuel is still young in his own call from God and is questioning what’s going on around him; he still hasn’t become aware that it’s coming from deep within him. Much will be asked of him and how his vocation is manifested. Heck, not even the elder Eli can at first begin to understand what’s going on in Samuel’s life. Yet, until there is an acknowledgment and a response, the call persists. God keeps nagging at young Samuel until there is a response to the God who calls. We don’t hear what he’s going to be called to, but long before Jesus even steps foot on this earth, the cross of the great Christ will catch up with young Samuel. Again, that nagging keeps driving his deepest hunger to respond yes, despite the fact that he will be called to be the bearer of bad news to the people. He will be called to warn them of their waywardness in life and the need to seek that deeper hunger. You can run all you want, but that cross of Christ, imprinted on our very souls, will catch up with us eventually as well. We won’t feel fulfilled. We won’t feel joy in life. We’ll start to feel empty and overwhelmed by life. So often because we avoid the call to “come and see” what we can’t see in the depths of our souls, stirring a hunger that can only be fed by God and a daily yes to the will of the Father in manifesting His love in the world.

As we enter these weeks of ordinary time, how are we manifesting that love, the deepest call of God our lives can bear, in Govans and beyond? God is always calling. There’s nothing wrong with God. We pray for that stirring of the Spirit in our own hearts and souls and an awareness to it. The call to discipleship is not limited to certain people. God’s love is to be manifested in many different ways and in many different places and deep within, God has placed that call within you and me. Deep within, God awaits our yes to our deepest human hunger, mirrored in the cross of Christ, our yes to manifesting God’s love in the world through our very lives through our call as people and community.