Thursday, October 04, 2012

The Good Life of Gift-of-Self in Love to Others, but Loving God First

If something is holding you back from God and a more holy life, you must let it go even if you get some good benefit from it. This is a hard lesson to learn, as we discussed in considering the Gospel reading for last Sunday's Mass. We must let these things go and detach ourselves from an undue attachment to worldly things and concerns, especially if those things involve sinful activities, but even if they are non-sinful, yet are not on the path that we are called to follow. No matter how essential you may think the fruits of this activity or practice are, if they are preventing you from a closer relationship with the Lord, you must cut it off, amputate that hand diseased by sin, chop off that well-intentioned foot that keeps taking you in the wrong direction and down the wrong path.

This brings us to the Gospel reading for Wednesday, which involves a similar lesson:
As Jesus and His disciples travelled along they met a man on the road who said to Him, "I will follow you wherever you go." Jesus answered, "Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head."

Another to whom He said, "Follow me," replied, "Let me go and bury my father first." But He answered, "Leave the dead to bury their dead; your duty is to go and spread the news of the kingdom of God."

Another said, "I will follow you, sir, but first let me go and say goodbye to my people at home." Jesus said to him, "Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:57-62)
We've been speaking a lot about the New Evangelization, and will speak of it a lot more as we begin and live the Year of Faith, and a large part of the New Evangelization is finding more effective ways to spread and explain the Good News of Jesus Christ. Now, this aspect of the New Evangelization promises to be rather tricky, requiring us find ways to get around the pre-built defenses that many people of today have against the Christian faith. It is not as if we are in a society where people have never heard of Jesus before, they have -- practically everyone has heard of His name, and of course those Catholics and non-Catholic Christians who have fallen away from the faith have certainly heard of Him, but they have built up a "wall of separation" against Him due largely to the fact that what they have heard and learned about Christianity is false and wrong. So we need to find ways to speak to former believers and non-believers in ways that they will listen to us and thus get to know the truth about Jesus and the Faith. And it is in the light of such truth that they will be set free of their pre-conceived opposition and objections to the Good News. And the people of this world are in great need of some good news right now.

In learning how to best speak to non-believers, one of the best resources is to talk to converts, to read their conversion stories and discover exactly what it is that finally clicked, that drew them in to want to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Perhaps the most famous of these conversion stories is St. Augustine's Confessions, and because of his experiences in decadent Roman society, what with the modern world increasingly becoming like Rome, he is a person that the modern person can relate to very much. But then again, Augustine did live 1600 years ago, so maybe there are some more recent models we can turn to?

An excellent resource for learning about conversion of non-believers to believers is Jennifer Fulwiler, who writes at Conversion Diary. She was a long-time atheist who believed that God and Christianity were rather irrational and absurd, but who, after embarking upon a search for truth like Augustine, later entered the Catholic Church with her husband at the Easter Vigil in 2007. Jennifer and her husband are celebrating their ninth wedding anniversary, which is made all the more joyous with the news that they are expecting baby number six. She recounts how, before their conversion, they thought that they had the good life, a life of comfort and freedom, but in all that comfort, something was missing, they felt a sense of emptiness which they tried to fill with even more worldly things.

Now, a few years later, they have five children ranging from 8-years-old to 15-months, with a sixth on the way, and Jennifer reflects on her current life:
We’re so busy and tired, I’m not sure if we’ll even do anything to celebrate. Between homeschooling, dance class, soccer, scouts, general chaos management and me feeling astoundingly exhausted and vaguely sick all the time, I think that what we’d both like for our ninth anniversary is the opportunity to get 12 straight hours of sleep (that is the traditional nine-year gift, right?).

This is not the easiest phase of life I’ve ever been in.
But she then goes on, after remembering their past life, to remark that all of this living and doing for other people is the real good life. Following her profound conversion, Jennifer understands that
the way to be happy isn’t to amass nice stuff or go on awesome vacations or even to think about yourself much at all. The way to be happy is to love. And real love always involves self-sacrifice; in fact, love and self-sacrifice are basically the same thing.
Yes, life is hard when all of your time is filled with doing things for and with other people. It can be loud and chaotic and messy and more work than you've ever had to do in your life.

But life is harder still when all of your time is empty and alone, and you struggle to find something to do to fill that abyss in your life, even though you might have various material possessions that promise you comfort, but never really fulfill that promise. Our temporal existence can be excruciating without something, or more specifically, someone, to help us live it. To have what some might think is the ultimate freedom, the radical autonomy to be without any duty or obligation to others, is actually a taste of Hell.

To be with others who have need of you, need of your love, need of your self-giving, is the more authentic freedom, paradoxical as it may seem, because it is more true to our nature as human persons — we are made to love and be loved in truth, and it is in such truth that we are set free. We are free to be who we are made to be, social creatures made for fruitful loving communion with others in one being.

The further paradox, though -- and to return us to our original point -- is that to fully love the other, to better love our spouse or our children, we must in a sense, put them second, not first. That is, we must love God first, before we love them. Our first priority is to follow Jesus, even before burying our dead father, even before saying goodbye to the family at home. (Luke 9:57-62)

The way to be happy, the way to the good life, is to love. But if we feel that we should or must love our spouse first and foremost, even before loving God, we end up giving them an impoverished love. Rather, we must love God first before we love others, we must put our love of God before our love for our spouse or children or friends or any other worldly thing. But in so doing, we do not love our family members less, but more. In following Jesus before first burying our dead father, we do not leave his corpse there to rot in the roadside, we do not abandon our beloved family members. Quite the contrary. In loving God before loving them, we love them even more.

To love our spouse or children or parents or others more perfectly, we must love them through the Lord. In loving God before we love them, God takes our love, purifies it, multiplies it by His own, and gives it to the other in an even greater and fuller measure than we could on our own. In love, God is not a competitor, He is a multiplier.


shouting in the wind said...

There shouldn't be an abyss in the life of someone who is alone, if they have God to fill it. Perhaps having no one and nothing to look after is a taste of hell because it is, in part, self-inflicted and even God might be absent. If God has called someone to be single, there should come with that a sense of contentment as well as acceptance. If not, then something is wrong.

"To be with others who have need of you, need of your love, need of your self-giving, is the more authentic freedom, paradoxical as it may seem, because it is more true to our nature as human persons — we are made to love and be loved in truth, and it is in such truth that we are set free. We are free to be who we are made to be, social creatures made for fruitful loving communion with others in one being."

shouting in the wind said...

That did not present exactly how I wished it to. I should have been more careful. Choosing and accepting something does not necessarily make it easy or bearable, God present or no.