Worthy?

Looking back at it, it was quite amusing. There we were, my classmate and I, having a serious discussion about which of God’s infinite attributes would “win out,” Mercy or Justice. Today’s reading from Exodus seems related to that sophomoric discussion from my college days. 

In today’s Mass readings (16th Sun. Ordinary), there’s Abraham, politely but persistently bargaining with the Lord about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. [Genesis 18] And not just bargaining. He’s actually instructing the Lord, challenging him to live up to his promise of Mercy. “Surely you wouldn’t think of destroying these wicked cities when there are innocent people among them! Far be it from you!”

How bold! But obviously the Lord knew that Abraham’s argument was futile: there were not even ten good people in the lot, so the Lord kept his plan and destroyed the cities. (Another situation where a human tries but fails to “change God’s mind.”) Unfortunately, the lesson we’re left with is that this kind of justice wins out over Mercy. Apparently, collateral damage didn’t matter to the Lord of the early Hebrews.

That is, until Jesus came with his message of a liberally merciful Father. We are so ready to punish. It usually helps us feel holier than those other wretches. We can’t understand God wanting to spare sinners, like the woman caught in adultery. The Gospel is full of God being “unfair,” but his brand of perceived unfairness is most often aimed at people who know and admit they’re sinners. No matter what they’ve done, they’re forgiven. 

Saint Paul’s letter to the Colossians (also read this morning) has this to say on the issue of our sin:

Even when you were dead in your transgressions. . . he brought you to life along with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions. He obliterated the bond against us, with its legal claims, which was opposed to us; he also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross.

Do I read this correctly? Is St. Paul saying that even though we broke the rules (the bond with its legal claims), Christ erased it all by nailing it, with him, to the cross? Again, St. Paul writes these uplifting words to the Romans (Chapter 5):

Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

It’s time.

It’s time to realize that it’s not a matter of our being “worthy.” Once God’s Mercy is experienced, we can’t help but let God take us over completely. 

🎵🎵
O Lord, I am not now worthy . . .

Presence

A friend asked me why I hadn’t posted anything in a while. I squarely put the blame on an absent Muse. I’ve certainly been trying! So she (the Muse) decided to show up today, suggesting a topic that we’ve written about before: Presence.

It all started when a fellow blogger linked his readers to a talk on YouTube given by Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now. When I checked my book-case, that book was still there, but only half read.

I watched a number of Tolle’s brief but substantive talks, covering topics that plague virtually all of us: depression, negativity, anxiety, anger, etc. Difficulties arise when the mind – frequently our own worst enemy – dwells on past hurts, issues, events that disturb our peace. We keep replaying these old news reels, thus keeping them alive to hurt us over and over again. Thoughts about the future can be a joyful exercise but are problematic when they produce anxiety or fear. Tolle proposes that these negative states can be tamed by learning to live in the NOW. The NOW, after all, is the only thing we have: the past is gone; the future is unknowable.Tolle definitely has made a new fan of me.

However, after seeing the Mass readings for today (16th Sunday of Ordinary Time), the reality dawned on me that what Tolle teaches is most helpful, but not really new. This is not to denigrate either Tolle or what he teaches, because we all need to hear the same thing repeated at different times, in different words, to different audiences in different eras. This morning, for example, we heard the stunning passage from Paul’s letter to the Colossians. He imparts the “mystery hidden from all ages, now, finally revealed to all. This is the mystery of Christ in you.” Christ’s miraculous presence in us.

This is the work of our divinization as we take on the mind and attitude of Christ.

 This is the Presence of grace. Even better: the divine Presence of the Divine Christ.

Some are fortunate to have found this ongoing presence of Christ within, so that everything they do, say, hear, teach, comes from that Presence. Here are just three persons who were given the grace to exemplify what it means to live in the Presence, with Christ in them:

  • St. Ignatius: Ignatian spirituality is rooted in the conviction that God is active, personal, and—above all—present to us. We don’t have to withdraw from the world into a quiet place in order to find God. God’s footprints can be found everywhere—in our work and our relationships, in our family and friends, in our sorrows and joys, in the sublime beauty of nature and in the mundane details of our daily lives. It’s often said that Ignatian spirituality trains us to “find God in all things.”
  • Brother Lawrence, Carmelite monk, Practitioner of God’s presence: “It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.”
  • J.P. deCaussade, S.J.: Author of Sacrament of the Present Moment (also known as Abandonment to Divine Providence), and spiritual director to nuns of the Visitation. He counseled them that the smallest deeds, even outside of prayer, were transformative when performed in union with Christ.

Jesus, of course, lets us know how to find peace in all that we do. In today’s Gospel, he tells Martha that her anxiety, not her chores, is what keeps her from finding joy in Christ. Mary, sitting quietly at the feet of her guest, is fully and peacefully connected with him. They are both present to each other. — How easy!