The Readings for the 20th Sunday, Tempus per Annum (C2)
Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before usHebrews 12:1b
THE GOSPEL TODAY is one of the Hard Sayings of Jesus. The Prince of Peace says, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!… Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?v No, I tell you, but rather division.” People who, by earthly standards, should be together are going to be divided by Jesus. If you think his family list is hard to read, just remember that Jesus’ Gospel sets Americans against each other. Following Jesus’ Gospel sets Russians against each other. Following Jesus’ Gospel sets together Jews and Palestinians, Whites and Blacks, Democrats and Republicans, and worse. Anyone who says they are a Christian first (and everything else second or not at all) is united together. Anyone who puts Christian second… is instantly divided off. You can be a Catholic American. But you can’t be an American Catholic.
I’ve been reading Transformation in Christ by Dietrich von Hildebrand. It’s a bit of a hard slog because so much of what he says strikes home. It started with this episode of the Catholic Stuff podcast. From the opening line, he had me, “Readiness to change is the fundamental precondition to transformation in Christ.” I knew I had to read the book and so I’m doing so. But there is it, the invitation to change.
Nearly 20 years ago, I asked on the blog, “What if the one thing I think I know about myself is the one thing I’m wrong about?” I’ve been wrestling with that question and with the implications of every possible answer for the last 20 years. What is my identity? Is it possible that the thing I call my “identity” isn’t. And is it further possible that the thing I call my identity is one of these burdens that hold me back? What if the one thing I think I know about myself is the one thing that’s wrong?
As von Hildebrand explores his topic, he leaves the reader aware that one can hold nothing back from Jesus. The word “Catholic” means “whole”. One must be “whole” to be a Catholic. One must be wholly whole, and wholly holy as Miss Franklin sang, and to get there one must give oneself wholly to Christ as an offering, as the clay gives itself wholly to the potter and says, “do with me as you will”. And there’s no telling what will come off the wheel then. But holding something back, saying “change everything except this one thing…” is to not be catholic, to not be whole. Everything must be carried to God in prayer. Hold anything back is to fail.
And is not to change.
Von Hildebrand writes that we must make the choice to serve God from our free center. We cannot respond from our fallen nature or from any false identities. This is what St Paul says about tossing aside all this extra weight and the sin that besets us. Baptism has set a free place in our heart and from there we can address our assent to God. But even to get there – away from all our fake selves, our desires for praise, our self-interest – this is an act of God in his all-powerful love giving us the grace to do this. Yet we have to be willing to dance with our lover to the song he sings or it’s all for naught. When we turn it all over to him we can be changed in his fire to a plan not of our own choosing. When we hold back, the dance can’t even start.
Yet by turning it all over is to move from that free place in our heart to authentic freedom in Christ. Jesus will cut us off from the world and make us whole.