Category Archives: Imitating the Immortal

The Perspective of Perfection

Only non-divine entities define perfection. Perfection, by its very nature, is a matter of comparison, if only with a Platonic image in the mind. From God’s perspective, He simply is, without comparison, perfection, and what He “speaks” in creation, each and every leaf, rock, tsunami, fire, hydrocephalic child is perfect, unique, as He knows it, loves it into being.

Not only is each creation perfect in itself, but also somehow, within the perspective of creation as God sees creation, it fits perfectly with all the rest.

It is only when we, with our finite minds, our one location viewpoint, our limited historical vantage, view an individual, that we begin to categorize and lump together and define (from the Latin words for “completely” and “limit or boundary”), that we begin to compare with other similar creations, to contrast with them, to place value judgments based, again, on our limited perspective. We don’t see the whole picture, i.e., the forest is perfect, each tree fitting a unique and irreplaceable niche, even if from our perspective, we may not be able to comprehend the whole picture. We don’t and won’t get it. We don’t and can’t take the infinity necessary to understand the uniqueness of this individual, the myriad of relationships within which this creation rests and the precision of love that placed that creation here and now.

Maybe, then, from our perspective, we should reserve value judgments,….forever.

Amen. Alleluia!!!

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The Will of God

In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.[1] [1 Thes 5:18]

What has bewildered me for years…decades…is what the will of God is for me right here, right now.[2]

For years I wondered why God hadn’t revealed His will for me, knocking-off-my horse revelations, big, huge life-long challenges, monumental tasks of self-sacrifice and dedication, missions worthy of a “S”aint [the big “S” of which I “aint”].

But St. Paul [a very big “S”], who was knocked off his horse, summarized the secret very nicely in this succinct Rule for Life: In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. [1 Thes 5:18]

In all circumstances give thanks…not just in happy, wonderful times when remembering God and giving thanks is natural, easy to do,…not even in just in the painful, trying circumstances in which being reminded to give thanks may seem counterintuitive but it serves to remind me that God is with me, no matter what,….but even, and perhaps especially, in ordinary, hum-drum, everyday circumstances in which it may be most difficult to discern the hand of God, in which it is hard to find a reason to give thanks just because it is ordinary, hum-drum, everyday. Then its easy to take God for granted, like many persons I live with day in and day out, even my wife, my children; He is overlooked, forgotten, ignored. I guess my awareness quotient needs boosting, my appreciation factor a major overhaul, my humility a better work-out. “Ya guess?” Duh!!!

Scripture can tell me how to recognize the joyous, the exuberant occasions. The Annunciation’s be it done unto me according to your word [Lk 1:38], an acceptance of God’s will in humility, trust and wonder. Again, Mary’s My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior [Lk 1:46-47], the working of God’s will in her. Peter’s stammered Master, it is good that we are here [Lk 9:33], a humorous but oh, so human understatement of the glory of the Transfiguration. The first converts, so overjoyed that they even ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. [Acts 2:46-47]

There are poignant examples of obviously painful acceptance of God’s will, My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done! [Mt 26:42], the most obvious, the terrifyingly magnificent paradigm of obedience. Abraham’s “God will provide the sheep for the burnt offering.” Then the two walked on together [Gen 22:8], true, unflinching faith with fear and trembling. [Phil 2:12] Remorse for sinful failures: Peter remembered the word that Jesus had spoken: “Before the cock crows you will deny me three times.” He went out and began to weep bitterly, [Mt 26:75] followed days later by the humbling interrogation by Jesus: Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” [Jn 21:17]

How about the hum-drum, the ordinary, the mundane. I can’t look to the miracles…too miraculous…or can I. Granted, raising Lazarus and walking on the water, even calming the storm is a little beyond the norm…but how about eating? The way it was done was miraculous, Jesus knew the crowds followed him because you ate the loaves and were filled. [Jn 6:26] Ok, so that’s still a bit out there.

How about the eighteen years between His being found in the temple at age twelve and his baptism by John at about age thirty. All we know about those years are summed up in two verses in Luke: He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced [in] wisdom and age and favor before God and man. [Lk 2:51-52] That must have been rather an ordinary, hum-drum existence. Even his neighbors didn’t see him as a stand-out: Where did this man get all this?…Is he not the carpenter? [Mk 6:2-3] Throughout His life, He only did what the Father told him: a son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees his father doing; for what he does, his son will do also. For the Father loves his Son and shows him everything that he himself does. [Jn 5:19-20][3] Does this mean that carpentry, that being subject to his parents, that growing up and doing the normal things in this out-of-the-way one horse town is doing what He sees His Father doing? It seems as though it does…

The corollary to Jesus stating that He cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees his father doing [Jn 5:19] is that I, in turn, are totally dependent on Jesus to do anything good, i.e. God’s will. He explicitly states this at the Last Supper: whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. [Jn 15:5] If I take this literally, and I see no reason why I should not, then everything else that He said is subsumed in this: everything from “follow me” to all of the Sermon on the Mount or Plain to carrying my cross daily to doing to the least of these must be done, can only be done, will not be able to be done, without remaining in Jesus and, through Him in me, being His hands, His eyes, His mind, His feet, here and now, in this moment in time and this small place in the universe. Of course, any pretensions of my being Him totally are ridiculous hubristic inanity; He must function on earth through me and you…and you…and you, through each of us in our own sphere of activity, of interaction, of grace, to reach the whole world and…every creature. [Mk 16:15]

Perhaps the most cogent argument for the ever present revelation of Your will is the prayer You taught us which reflects the perfect way, His Way, of relating to You. In it, You coupled two significant calls to action on my part: Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as in heaven. [Mt 6:10] The Kingdom is what I am called upon to preach by word and action in season and out of season…seems to me that that should cover a whole bunch of moments right there.

But then He added: Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Let me think about this for a second; how is God’s will done in heaven? (a) Heaven is where God is; (b) God’s will cannot be thwarted, is not unfulfilled, creates not just automatically, as if there is a time lapse between the willing and the accomplishment, but simultaneously; what is willed is; (c) and the prerequisite for remaining in heaven is the compliance and carrying out of God’s will, as was evident in the presumed test of the angels, would they obey God, even when He became man, as well as the continual praising and serving of God by the heavenly host. Now, if this alacrity, this absolute unquestioning immediate accelerated performance of God’s will in heaven is the criterion by which my performance of God’s will on earth is judged, the standard is extremely high. Obedience, the listening and carrying out of His will, is to be immediate, here, now, always and ongoing forever…

Besides those considerations, how about:

  • There is the constant and omnipresent awareness by God of everything that goes on in the universe: Yet not one…[sparrow] falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. [Mt 10:29] This “hands-on” management style of creation should give me pause, if He’s on top of every tiny bird falling to the ruling of nations: You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above. [Jn 19:11]
  • How about the fact that He not only watches over me but provides my every need: No one can receive anything except what has been given him from heaven. [Jn 3:27] Do I really not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wearYour heavenly Father knows that you need them allBut seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness,[4] and all these things will be given you besides. [Mt 6:25,32-33] Do I have the faith He requires: For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. [Mt 7:8]
  • How about the implications of…If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. [1 Jn 4:20]
    • And Jesus is very explicit about His total identification with each and every person we meet: As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.[5] [Jn 13:34] both during his life and after his resurrection: Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? [Acts 9:4]
    • He was also explicit about how I am to treat them: For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ [Mt 25:35-36]
    • And my reward: And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple—amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward. [Mt 10:42]
  • In case I plead prejudice and exclude someone from my love, Jesus teaches me (a) in parable a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. [Lk 10:33] and (b) in action: How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink? [Jn 4:9] that my neighbor [Lk 10:29] includes everyone.
  • And what is God’s will: Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you, cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.[Lk 10:8-9] (a) welcome; (b) making friends; (b) show them tangible evidence of God’s Kingdom; and (c) welcome them into God’s Kingdom.
  • Come, we have work to do: You will not finish the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. [Mt 10:23]

But external work is not the only thing to which God calls me. He first calls me to discipleship, to listening, to learning, to prayer. Jesus cautions me about being anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her. [Lk 10:41-42] “Pray as if [since] everything depends on God; work as if everything depends on you.” [Augustine] For me, this is a particularly important point. I tend to focus on doing, on accomplishing, on finishing. I tend to forget that in everything, especially in the Kingdom, depends on God…I am simply a servant and not a very obedient one at that…Jesus warns me against pride and hubris in action: When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do. [Lk 17:10] The only way I can stay focused and humble is prayer, relying on God, understanding that all I have in resources comes from God, realizing that I can jump up and down until the cows come home, but without His grace, without His help, without His being there before me, being there from the beginning, being there knocking at the door, I might as well be blowing against the wind.

Another obvious clue of God’s will, but one I have overlooked is that it comes packaged with every temptation; it is constant, ongoing, always before me. With every temptation comes an equal grace in the form of an invitation to choose to do His will. If I consider how may of these zing by me every hour, I should have no problem seeing God’s graces swirling in multitudes around my head.

There is also a correlation of the will of God with the experience of consolations and desolations in my life. These are also constantly present, though some, if not much of life, takes place in the middle of this spectrum where neither is consolation or desolation is obvious. On the other hand, as Ignatius points out, if I am trying to follow the will of God, around me is peaceful and serene and temptations are fraught with anxiety and frustration. Such peace and serenity is indeed consolation, though unfortunately often so prevalent as to be unnoticed and “expected” rather than a gift to which I have no entitlement and which is worthy of awe and thanksgiving.

If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. [Lk 9:23] The interesting twist to this doing God’s will is that by denying myself and taking up my cross daily, hourly, minute by minute, second by second, and following Him, I find that my yolk is easy, since it is shared by Jesus, and my burden is light, since He has borne the weight of my sins, and I will rest in green pastures and find eternal happiness in heaven.

Do this…and this…and this…and this in memory of me.[1 Cor 11:24; Lk 22:19]

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] This is the question Ignatius sought to address through the discernment of spirits, both in discerning the major decisions in Your life and in determining which way you are being tempted in consolation and desolation.

[3] Even what Jesus says, He attributes to His Father: I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and speak.[Jn 12:49] Indeed, at the Last Supper, He tells his Apostles who have been with Him three years: If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him…[Jn 14:7] and He goes on to repeat what He had told them earlier: The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. [Jn 14:10]

[4] To fulfill all righteousness: in this gospel to fulfill usually refers to fulfillment of prophecy, and righteous-ness to moral conduct in conformity with God’s will. Here, however, as in Mt 5:6; 6:33, righteousness seems to mean the saving activity of God. To fulfill all righteousness is to submit to the plan of God for the salvation of the human race. [NABRE Note on Mt 3:14-15] This is in keeping with Paul’s interpretation of salvation as faith in Jesus Christ, God’s plan for salvation, rather than judgment on adherence to the Law or moral conduct in conformity with God’s will.

 

Warehousing God…a Christmas meditation in August

I sometimes wonder if we don’t build churches on purpose to warehouse God, keep God in storage; visit Him occasionally, but otherwise not have to deal with Him.   I wonder whether it wouldn’t be better not to have a special building to come to worship but to move things around, stir things up, gather at different locations each Sunday, so we don’t get into a routine, a rut, so we can understand that God can be and is everywhere… just as Jesus gives thanks, blesses and breaks on the mountaintop, on the plain, in the homes of Pharisees, tax-collectors, rich men, fishermen, upper rooms and Emmaus…all are where He is.

Instead, we get stuck in the stable and we want to keep Him there always…while God is out in the fields telling the least of these, my shepherds,…He is up in space, leading good gentiles to the new-born King of the Jews,…he is even in Herod’s castle, tantalizing, inviting Him and the rest of the Israelite elite to recognize that He has come among them at last. But we are still back, trying to close the doors on the stable, when the light of creation has already escaped and is penetrating the pores of humanity.

Perhaps we should, instead, join the Spirit and the shepherds, the angels and the magi, and go out into the world, praising God and telling all what we have seen and heard.

Excursus on Becoming Holy

[Please excuse these digressions from meditations on John.  They reflect the Holy Spirit’s marvelous freedom and generous gifts of insights wherever and whenever He likes.  The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. [Jn 3:8][1] They are flowers picked in the Garden of Paradise as we wander about holding his hand.  They are also a reminder to me that we are not in a hurry to “accomplish,” to “complete the task,” to “finish the job.”  We have all eternity to sit back and enjoy the ride.]

From the beginning, God destined us and calls us to be holy.  This is iterated in the Hebrew Scriptures where God identifies himself as our God and as holy, which He gives as the reason we should keep ourselves holy: For I, the LORD, am your God. You shall make and keep yourselves holy, because I am holy. [Lev 11:44; 20:7,26]

Jesus himself rephrases the command: So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. [Mt 5:48][2]  Peter echoes his Master in his first letter: As he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, “Be holy because I [am] holy.” [1 Pet 1:16]

However, simultaneously Paul bluntly points out that we are not holy.  On the contrary, we are all sinners: there is no distinction; all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. [Rom 3:22-23]  Indeed, he admits that this is his own condition: So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh. The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want. [Rom 7:17-19]

So how to reconcile God’s direct command, iterated by Jesus, that we are to be holy, perfect, totally effectively merciful when we are caught in the web of sin, the maelstrom of evil in our world.  Paul points out two stages to this metamorphosis.

First, God sent his Son to die for us, the ungodly, the unholy: For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly…But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. [Rom 5:6,8]

Second, God himself makes us perfectly holy.  All that is required on our part is to cooperate, to ask Him in, to pray that He works his miracle on us.  For this, Paul prays with perfect faith and confidence: May the God of peace himself make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. [1 Thes 5: 23]

This is another echo of Mary’s unto me [Lk 1:38] of Jesus’ not my will but Yours be done [Lk 22:42 Mt 6:10]. I need to learn to Let Go and Let God.  I need to believe that He truly loves me, has had active mercy on me from the moment of my conception, wishes me to evolve into being truly in His image, after His likeness [Gen 1:26], which He has described as Holy.

With Paul, therefore, I affirm my belief, my faith, my trust in God that He will do what He says: The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it. [1 Thes 5: 24]  Amen.  Alleluia!!!

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] Luke’s version of the same phrases substitutes “merciful” for “perfect;” this substantiates Thomas’ position that “God’s mercy is ‘effective,’ not ‘affective.’ In other words, His mercy is expressed in the positive action that His love takes to remedy the miseries and meet the needs of His creatures, communicating to them a share in His own perfections….Aquinas writes (ST I.21.3): “To feel sad about another’s misery is no attribute of God, but to drive it out is supremely His, and by misery here we mean any sort of defect. Defects are not done away with save by an achievement of goodness, and as we have said, God is the first source of goodness.” Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Nov 11, 2005), “Aquinas Defines Divine Mercy,” DM 101: Week 19, Divine Mercy Library, The Divine Mercy, http://thedivinemercy.org/library/article.php?NID=2213

 

“A Measure of Success”

In all your affairs lean solely on God’s Providence, by means of which alone your plans can succeed. Meanwhile, on your part work on in quiet co-operation with Him, and then rest satisfied that if you have trusted entirely to Him, you will always obtain such a measure of success as is most profitable for you, whether it seems so or not to your own individual judgment.[1]

Again, words of wisdom from Francis de Sales….this reminds me of Rudyard Kipling’s “If,” where he calls both success and failure imposters and tells his son to treat them just the same.  Of course Kipling did not have the context of God’s Providence in mind as the over-arching canvas upon which all events everywhere and every time are painted.  The canvas of Providence is much different, broader, wider, more encompassing than the canvas of the world, human society, the criteria of our limited perspective.

On the canvas of Providence, the Cross stands etched in human history as its centerpiece, glorious, magnificent, towering above all other events in the course of human events.  On the canvas of the world, human society, our limited perspective, it seemed an inconsequential blip on the radar of a backwater province of the Roman Empire, one more down-and-out, washed-up reformer, denounced by his nation, deserted by his followers, a soon-to-be-forgotten would-be messiah in the parade of many in that section of the world.

Providence is the means by which plans succeed, the sole means.  If it ain’t there, it ain’t happening.  To align our self with Providence, therefore, would seem to be not only prudent but essential for the efficacy of the undertaking.  Ignatius offers three venues by which to help me determine the correct choice, to do or not to do, which is truly the question since “to be” is not ethically in my hands.  The three are (a) standing before the Judgment Seat of God, (b) lying on one’s deathbed, and (c) giving advice to my best friend.  If the answer is the same, regardless of the venue, proceed.  If not, reevaluate.

Meanwhile, on your part work on in quiet co-operation with Him, and then rest satisfied that if you have trusted entirely to Him, you will always obtain such a measure of success as is most profitable for you, whether it seems so or not to your own individual judgment.  Proceed, that is the answer, not languishing, not procrastinating, not diverting, no excusing, just proceed.  Endure. Persevere. Trudge on.  Fight on.  The Commander has the battle in hand.  Carry out your duties here and now.  That’s my job, my task, my assignment, my responsibility.

And this, regardless of my own inclinations, my own ennui, my own quiet desperation, my own frustration, my own lack of enthusiasm.  Offer all these up:  God enjoys gifts, all sorts of gifts.  Since these are obstacles around, over, under or through which I must get, I need His help, His grace, His strength, His Power, His tenacity, His Love, His inspiration, His Life.  See these are part of my cross and “take it up” daily and follow Him.  That’s all we are ordered to do.  Not win, not lose, not succeed, not fail, not revolutionize the universe or bedazzle the world with supposed brilliance, pseudo scribblings, solipsistic pensees.  Just stand up, pick up my cross and follow Jesus up the hill, trusting, believing, enduring, joining.  That’s it…that the job.

In quiet co-operation with Him…quiet, not flashy, no fanfare, just working side by side in the carpenter shop of life with Him.  Handing Him the tools He requests.  Doing the tasks He asks of me.  Laboring in yolk with Him that I might share in His reward.  And cooperation is required, we are not at odds here, butting heads, competing.  Perspective is important: Jesus is the boss, the head, the leader.  To Him belongs the power, the glory now and forever.  My job is not to save the savior.  My job is not even to be the savior.  My job is to work for, with and in the savior doing whatever He has in mind for me to do that moment, that hour, that day, that week.  Scratch “that week.”  Even He said: “Sufficient for a day is its own evil.”[2]

Then rest satisfied that if you have trusted entirely to Him…note that resting and being satisfied is dependent on having trusted entirely in Him.  Not mostly, not partially, not in myself, not in the world, not in others, just in Him.  He is reliable, steadfast, trustworthy, solid, the rock on whom I can trust, the solid friend on whom I can always count, the true buddy who always, always has my back, He who always comes through, never lets you down, never reneges, never changes His mind, never, never, never bails on me…the Gibraltar of my life, who will not die, save for me; will not leave me, save to redeem me; will not strand me, save to resurrect me; will not abandon me, save to ascend to send the Spirit, no matter what.  That’s the “Him” in whom I trust,…and who obviously can be trusted entirely.

But the “entirely” is from my side of the equation, not His.  I have to put myself out there on the line, let go of all the life-lines in which I trusted, the possessions, the memory, understanding and will, the next “whatever,” and stand naked without guy wires to hold me up and snatch me from disaster, and just trust entirely in Him.  He will clothe me, protect me, defend me, guide me, comfort me, there is no other.

And the result: “you will always obtain such a measure of success as is most profitable for you, whether it seems so or not to your own individual judgment.”  A wise statement, not the measure of success which I would prefer to apply to the endeavor, but the measure most profitable for me.  That is a disconcertingly comforting thought, for it whips away my prerogative of perfectionism and reassures me that God is watching out for my best interests, here and now and there and always.  This means letting go and letting God, “loosing” control and gaining grace, dropping the reins and relying entirely, utterly and without qualms or concern about the outcome, on God. Such is humility which is not obtained or obtainable by seeking or trying to practice it.  It is a gift given me through reality, the unadulterated, un-gussied up, unadorned, stripped-down Truth about myself and the world around me and God and all else.  It is being me in its most elemental and plain true form.  Thus, it is not something sought or practiced, but rather lived.

God, please help me live in such humility, relying, trusting, cooperating with You in doing what You wish me to do when You wish me to do it.  Amen.  Alleluia!!!

[1] Francis de Sales, Introduction to a Devout Life, Part Iii. Containing Counsels Concerning The Practice Of Virtue.  Chapter X. We must attend to the Business of Life carefully, but without Eagerness or Over-anxiety, pg. 70.

[2] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.