Anyone who asks

JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of Anthony of Padua, Doctor (C2)

Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.

Matthew 5:42 (NABRE)

THIS IS A HARD saying for anyone living in a city or for anyone who works in charity. In fact it may be a hard saying for any who stand and chat outside any church at all.

I was at another parish on Saturday Night, celebrating the parish’s feast of title and visiting old friends. After a vigil service there was a party and then, after a while, the party ended. We were standing outside saying our good byes when a young man came and asked us for food. On a Sunday (when they serve a full lunch) I know the pastor would have given him a plate of whatever was available. But after a night of finger food and pomegranate punch there was nothing left. How to deal with this situation?

To complicate matters he was not the sort of polite person you’d want to help. He started with words but indicated he was coming to a church to talk to “good Christian people” as if he were launching them to a guilt trip rather than an ask for help. One might even imagine him standing outside the party (you could hear us in the open windows) waiting for this moment just to see how people would act.

Additionally it was not my parish so I waited for the locals to do (or not do) as they felt. I don’t feel we Christians passed the test offered by this verse from Matthew. We lost our Charity someplace and forgot to pray to St Anthony to help us find it.

But, really Jesus? Give to anyone who asks?

Our normal solution in these days is to either support (or not) government programs. That is not what Jesus is suggesting here. I’m sure there are lots of places to get food in this city – I work at one. But Jesus is not talking about a new agency or program. The whole point of the Sermon on the Mount (where our passage comes from, today) is not FDR’s New Deal, not Eisenhower’s Great Society. The Sermon on the Mount is not about Liberation Theology or setting up Social Justice Movements. The whole point comes just a couple of verses later at v. 48: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” While we will get more of this verse tomorrow, the point is clear: the Sermon on the Mount is a personal sermon filled with ways not to make a Justice-filled City on earth, but to fill the earth with Righteous People who do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

So, give to anyone who asks?

When I go to confession I find myself confessing the same sins, over and over. I am there with contrition. I don’t want to sin again. But especially some things just seem to happen. And they are the same things over and over. Yet, the priest gives absolution. God forgives. How many times have I asked for forgiveness in the same tone of voice the young man used on Saturday night? And yet God forgives, moves me more deeply to pray, moves me (over decades) to come closer to the fire that he may refine me more. How, instead, would it be if the priest (or even God) said, “Why should I absolve you?” or “You’re just going to go away and squander this grace on sins again.” Or “How do I know you’re deserving?” or if the priest just silently shrugged his shoulders and, hands in pockets, mouthed sorry and walked away?

Give to anyone who asks.

This verse tends us towards perfection by urging us to give as God gives. God the Father pours himself out, the Son pours himself out to honor the Father, the Spirit is poured out on us from the Father and the Son. We are to pour ourselves out to anyone who asks. God pours out from infinity to our finitude. We tend to feel as if we’re giving from limited resources and – in fear – we worry that there will be nothing left for our needs later.

But…

If one were to give away everything for God (not just because someone asked, but exactly to be like God) how could it be wrong? Where would God take us if we gave away everything to be like him?

Jesus’ bloody feet we track

Memorial of St Charles Lwanga & Companions, Martyrs

Readings for 7th Friday after Easter (C2)

He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”

John 21:19

OUR LORD SAYS TO St Peter, “Follow me.” It can sound like a repetition of the initial call three years earlier at the boat. Each of the apostles received such a call. All of us do.

We are all called to follow Jesus. It is a call, and a performative reality: we cannot do it unless God calls us, but to hear it is to obey. Think of how all the Apostles jumped up and followed, leaving all behind. We are called in exactly the same way in our lives. Yet there is something more than the initial call here.

It may seem like something connected to the earlier commands to feed and shepherd Christ’s flock. That came to Peter, indeed. The others also get the command in the same way and we do too. We are all commanded to feed and to shepherd Christ’s people. The act of love is one of kenosis, of self-pouring out. We’re not Christians unless everything God gives us is given away for others. We feed and shepherd by teaching, by sharing our faith and our material goods, by living moral lives in keeping with God’s commands. We do so by performing all the works of mercy – both spiritual and corporeal:

To feed the hungry.
To give water to the thirsty.
To clothe the naked.
To shelter the homeless.
To visit the sick.
To visit the imprisoned, or ransom the captive.
To bury the dead.
To instruct the ignorant.
To counsel the doubtful.
To admonish the sinners.
To bear patiently those who wrong us.
To forgive offenses.
To comfort the afflicted.
To pray for the living and the dead.

You can see “feed and shepherd” all over that list! But it’s not what we’re here for today. Yet there is something more. There’s one other way we follow Jesus – and he calls Peter to it.

St Charles Lwanga was such a shepherd to his companions, urging them to resist the sexual advances of a predator seeking to humiliate them exactly because of their faith. Let me have my way with you because it will violate your faith: has there ever been a more evil temptation? We know that sexual sins can make us feel literally unclean. Even though confessors have heard it all, sexual sins can leave us wondering has anyone ever been this evil? Sexual sins always involves at least two souls falling – even consuming adult content involves the other parties souls. St Charles and other saints who wrestled with such sins and such temptations call us to stand strong – but they know the world will hate us.

Jesus prophesies about how Peter will die, being led away by people to a place he doesn’t want to go. Jesus says “let me tell you how you’re going to die… Follow me.”

Because of God’s incarnation into this life, this world, this time everything in our life – including our death – has become a way to follow Jesus. What we do now as humans (except for sin) God himself has done. Think about it: drinking, eating, sleeping, chores, even going to the bathroom… God has done it. It becomes a way for us to draw close to God. Death itself is our greatest enemy, but God has gone through death, ripping out the evil of it and turning it inside out. What was the end is now the beginning and can thus continue to follow him.

Charles Lwanga and his companions followed Jesus to their death rather than give in to lust – their own or the King’s. Today we celebrate giving in to lust or even becoming identified with it. May St Charles pray that we can turn back from it and even lead others away from it. Even when it marks us as enemies of the reigning king or the entire world.

If you feed and shepherd God’s people (because of love) the world will not like you. You will die. Follow Jesus.

One in the Spirit, One in the Lord

Readings for 7th Thursday after Easter (C2)

…so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one.

John 17:21-23a

JMJ

THERE IS A LOT going on here! We’ve got Trinitarian theology, Christology, soteriology, doxology, and evangelical proclamation. There’s one other in there picking up on all the above: human anthropology. This might surprise you. But it’s that phrase “brought to perfection” that’s our punchline.

Before we get to the punchline though…

Our Lord prays for some surprising things: we are to be one in exactly the same way that the Son and the Father are one. That’s not hyperbole, it’s a command. Church is called to model before the world the unity present in the Holy Trinity. Three persons in one nature and consubstantial. Humans are not consubstantial. But there is only one nature. We all share the same human nature (together with Jesus). We are not each an isolated individual. There are not multiple ways of being human, or different types of humanity. (This is why St Paul classes some sins as “paraphysis” or “against nature”: we are all of one nature.) Yes, we are fallen because of sin, but God calls us back to the originally intended unity in Jesus.

To this end, Jesus has shared with us his glory. You may be tempted to think of that in terms of the Transfiguration or in the way Moses’ face was glowing as he came down from Mt Sinai. That would not be totally correct. The glorification of God is the Cross. Christ has given us his cross and shared with us his glory. What that means is that now human life – itself – this pathway to death is now the road to the throne of glory. It’s not that some human lives (or perhaps a few) have been rerouted or mended. Remember we all share the same nature. God has walked this path with us now: the road leads from the womb to the tomb, yes. But God has glorified it.

And so we are all called to unity in God’s Spirit of Unity. Pentecost, coming upon us this Sunday, is the gift of unity poured out upon us. We rest in the Holy Spirit who gives us all the spiritual presence of the Holy Trinity dwelling within us, around us, through us, and between us. Yet only as we love for he himself is love.

We are called to live out this unity however we fail. Yet we are called to this unity. Not just some of us – all of us. And it is not just a calling. It’s what we are made for!

It relies on the Greek word τελειόω (teleioó) – to bring to perfection – and from there on the root word τέλειος (teleios) – to perfect. Jesus prays to “bring us to perfection”. You can read it as “to complete” but you must include the meaning of “correct” as in: to bring to the correct and intended (or planned) completion. Jesus is praying that his followers will be brought to their perfection as humans meaning the ultimate end for which God made us, that is the ultimate perfection for which God made humanity at all. God made man “to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven.” (Baltimore Catechism 1 Q6)

The reason this is anthropology is this teleology, as it’s called, is not only for Christians. The right end for all humanity is to know God, to love God, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven. And this is how far we fail when we fail to model this for others: that the world fails to see the light for its salvation. If we who claim to be in Christ do not make it so, then those who are unable to see Christ at all will never see Christ until it’s too late.

The solution is not more outreach but rather reaching in. We need to bring our hearts deeper to God so that, as the song says, “they will know we are Christians by our love.” That is, as the verse says, “see how these Christians love each other.”

Now… I look at Catholic social media or even the way I gossip about my friends, and I wonder if that love is present in my life. If someone looked at my life would they say they are amazed at how I love people?

I don’t know. There’s still a lot of work to do.

How about your life?

The Opposite of Acedia

From “The High Priestly Prayer” (1900) by Eugene Burnand
Readings for 7th Wednesday after Easter (C2)

I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the Evil One. They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth.

John 17:15-17

JMJ

JESUS IS NOT abandoning us to our sins in his prayer, but rather calling us to act in courage through God’s grace. In Romans 8:37 St Paul says we are “more than conquerors” in all things. Then, in the next two verses, he adds, “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Yet we know life can feel like a continual struggle, a continual slog through the mud of worry, indecision, and second guessing. In the Gospel, our Lord asks his Father to give us victory over the Evil One. What is the challenge? In the slog I just mentioned, the challenge is acedia – we use a more modern word, “sloth,” sometimes but that can seem more like the challenge is to “get outside and do something!” The opposite of acedia is not action. It’s God. The victory is God.

If you hang out on Catholic Social Media at all you will find so many men and women wondering if God’s calling them one way of life or the other, religious life, ordination, or marriage? All I can hear in my head is the priest who pushed me so hard saying, “Discernment is an action verb!” Go this way, very fast. If something gets in your way, turn. (That’s from a RomCom/BratPack movie called, Better Off Dead, 1985, Warner Bros, starring John Cusack. It’s prime discernment formation!)

The temptation to acedia starts with “Well, I don’t know…” and it gets compounded by the “Fear of Missing Out” (FOMO). In the end, doing nothing seems the safest choice and our fake humility (which is really our pride) tells us, “I don’t deserve more. I will wait for God to give me a sign.” But then no sign comes or, more often, multiple signs come which we ignore waiting for something better. There is nothing the Evil One loves more than Christians who will do his work for him – meaning, why should he go to the trouble of tempting us or persecuting us, all he needs to do is watch while we do nothing.

St Catherine of Siena asked our Lord for help with a temptation, “Please help me to overcome this temptation. I do not ask you to take it away, but grant me victory over it.” (Libellus, Chapter 4.) St Paul suffered from a “thorn in the flesh” which is sometimes understood as a person bothering him or perhaps an illness or a temptation. Three times he asked the Lord to take away this thorn, but Jesus replied, “My grace is sufficient” (2 Corinthians 12:9). That is the kicker, “my grace.” As I mentioned the opposite of acedia is not action, it’s God. While sloth is the sin, the solution is not frenetic activity – which can just be more sloth, if all the actions are distracting you. Rather we need a full immersion in God’s abundant life.

Jesus’ prayer gives us the same answer: He asks the Father to consecrate his disciples to the Truth. Who is the Truth? The answer is in the next sentence “your Word (logos) is Truth” and elsewhere Jesus – the logos himself – says, “I am the Truth”. Consecrate the disciples (us) to himself, the Logos who is Truth. Set us apart for him. Reaching out to Jesus who is our Savior, our Life, our Judge, and our Friend is the first and only action we need.

You may have heard of the Daily Examen, filtering your life through a few questions to ask how God was working in your life and how you responded. Let me suggest the best way to prep for that Examen is a daily offering that lets God know what’s up for the day, offering it all to him, and letting him know that you know he’s really in charge. “God I have to XYZ today (and sometimes my list is very long!), but if you have other ways for me to go, I know that the things needed are in your hands. Help me to get up from prayer and run with you.” At the end of the day, the Examen will be more clear because you and God were dancing together from the get-go.

We have the one thing we need – Jesus on our side! We are more than conquerors. Now get out there and do something! If something gets in your way, do something else!

Amen?