When Trust Is Difficult

As I’ve written in previous posts, my patron as a Benedictine Oblate is Mary Magdalene, chosen because of her ardent attachment to Christ. Recent problematic events in the lives of close friends move me to once again revisit and share my attraction to this saint.

The Gospel passage in John where Jesus speaks to her after the Resurrection – and she’s the first to receive this favor – contain those troubling words: Don’t cling to me. Magdalene’s instinct to cling to Jesus always seemed to me so natural, so very intuitive! After all, she had seen him slowly die, taken down from the cross, wrapped in burial cloths, and sealed away in a tomb. And now, here he was in the flesh, moving and speaking to her – calling her by name. What else could she do but cling? Why did he tell her to let go of him?

There was something daring in her gesture: How could anyone have the nerve to touch someone they had actually seen die?

Daring and so incredibly confident, confidence born from an unswerving love. Confident, yet also fearful of having this loved one leave her once again. Clinging must prevent that.

Because it seems unkind of Jesus to tell her not to cling, I try to imagine his point of view in speaking so (apparently) harshly.

First, he had an urgent commission for her. Jesus tells her she must now Go, tell my brothers (and your brothers) that I’ll meet them in Galilee.

The brothers, obviously, have not gone to check on Jesus. Instead, they’ve remained holed up in a safe place while Mary had boldly gone to the tomb (guarded by Roman soldiers, no less!) to tend to burial ministrations for him. Now risen, Jesus needs to give them instructions for continuing his mission, and wants to meet them at that place where he selected the first Apostles.

Second, there’s no need to cling because he’s not leaving – yet.  I’ve not yet gone to the Father: I’ll be around for a while.

Third and most difficult, she must learn how to love without clinging. Clinging implies a kind of desperation. Desperation indicates, very clearly, great fear and a lack of trust, an inability to allow the loved one adequate space to be who they are.

Since perfect love casts out fear, it also enables total trust.

I’ve found that it’s much easier to trust where my own welfare is concerned, but not where the welfare of my family or friends is concerned. When they are ill or having problems, I tend to fret more readily, more deeply and longer. Why do I think I can be their savior?

For me, this is the real test of trust: they are in God’s care – not mine. I don’t own them; God does.

Which doesn’t mean, of course, that I don’t care and that I don’t try to help them as best I can. But in my mind and heart, there remains a nagging sense of failure that I haven’t done enough; I can’t save them. Why do I think that my useless fretting is going to help them? Do I need to prove to myself (and them) that I really care?

Do what you can, Rosalie, and leave the rest to God.

Trust, let go. Scripture is full of passages about the need to put everything and everyone in the hands of God. He even knows how many hairs are on your head. God knows not only me, but those I love as well. His knowledge of us all is intimate, caring loving, and complete.

And so, I learn to surrender the loved ones to those infinitely more loving and powerful hands.

Gods hands

Holidays, Holy Days

cookoutSummer is on the wane. Its last holiday is Labor Day when families and friends will be gathering in back yards, patios and public parks. There will be games: softball, volleyball, croquet. The traditional hamburgers, hot dogs and sausage will be served along with a variety of salads, topped off by watermelon, cakes and pies. In another day or two, children will be laying out their new clothes for the first morning of school. The mingling fragrance of new pencils and shoes will soothe them to sleep.

Such are traditions. We look forward to them as welcome islands of rest spent with loved ones in an atmosphere of laughter, story-telling and open affection – a powerful antidote to the heavy seriousness of our days at work or school. The goal is simply FUN, pleasure in the companionship of people who love and value one another.

Then too there are celebrations that honor an individual person: birthdays, mothers or fathers day, anniversaries. Special practices often mark these days: the favorite flavor cake is made and extra little services are performed for the honoree.

Count them, these oases of rest and celebration: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, weddings, and so many more opportunities for a relief from the everyday blahs.

As each of these special days arrives, we attentively prepare for them, careful to observe and repeat certain practices that provide the continuity of one celebration to the next. These rituals convey a sense of stability and permanence in our unpredictable world. Yet along with the sameness is a special something new to mark this one celebration as unique this year: maybe a 40th birthday that ushers a young adult into middle age; a Fourth of July that might draw us to consider afresh our nation’s foundation and values.

Most who read this post have been blessed to have been brought up in this nest of traditions that both refresh us and anchor us to a sure place of safety. Holidays can be holy days that cement affectionate relationships with others.

Our liturgy of the Mass consists of the same elements as holidays and is even referred to as a celebration. Each time we participate at a Mass we are at a feast. It is a commemoration of that famous of all dinner parties — the last dinner, in fact, that Jesus celebrated with his friends. This was a farewell dinner, for all at table knew that their Teacher would be leaving them. It must have been a sorrowful celebration, as our going-away parties often are, but it was the high point of Christ’s mission and his relationship with his friends. I no longer refer to you as servants! We disciples had now been raised to the special status of friend.

The Mass is designed to recall and even relive both the Last Supper and the post-Resurrection appearances. In the story of the journey to Emmaus, Jesus reviewed Scripture passages with the two disciples to illustrate how the prophecies referred to his life and death. Just so, at each Mass various scriptural readings add luster to the changing liturgical seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. In this way, the life and teachings of Christ are reviewed for us throughout the year, just as the Emmaus disciples experienced on their walk with Jesus. As they listened with burning hearts to old revelations made new, they came to recognize and receive the living Christ in the breaking of the bread. The sacrament of life-giving love was the high point for them in their journey, just as it is for us at Mass.

When I attended Mass for the first time after a long absence, I was amazed to see the pews emptied as virtually everyone went up to the altar to receive Communion. For me, this was a significant change that was probably not realized by those who had remained in the Church. It was a powerful revelation of how the congregation had evolved over the years into such an intimate relationship and greater comfort level with the Person of Jesus Christ. To me, it concretely demonstrated what St. Paul mysteriously referred to as the Body of Christ. The widespread reception of Communion confirmed for me Christ’s real presence in the world and in us.

This is what Christianity is about: our union with God and with each other in Christ. This happens not just once in a while, a few special times a year, but every time we join with one another in the celebration of the Mass.