Awkward Catholic

Living my faith as the awkward man of God that I am.


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A Saint Half Full is No Saint at All

That awkward moment when you realize the person treating you like crap is your “neighbor” and you’ve sort of got to treat him with mercy and love. That happened to me recently. I was working with someone on a project (a board game I’m preparing to Kickstart) and I didn’t effectively communicate with him to make my dream a reality. He didn’t take it well, to say the least. I tried my best to apologize and make amends but he ignored all that and in my heart I passed judgment on him.

Judgment Bus

It seems like such a small thing, passing judgment on someone who rubs us the wrong way, it seems such a small thing, a harmless thing, a justified thing at times to judge and speak ill of those who offend us. “They deserve it,” “That person is rotten to the core,” “She is just getting what she deserves,” “I’m only speaking the truth about him so it’s not really gossip.” But in reality, it’s a big problem. I’m not claiming it’s easy, to show mercy and forgiveness, in fact I fail at it myself so often, but it’s worth saying and being reminded of. After all, St. Therese said, “You cannot be half a saint. You must be a whole saint or no saint at all.” And it’s precisely in these little things where we fail to be a whole saint.

 

Today’s Gospel strikes to the heart of the matter: Luke 10:25-37. In this passage Jesus is questioned by a scholar as to how to inherit eternal life. Is this not the crux of sanctity… uniting ourselves for eternity with God?! Jesus turns the question around on the scholar and asks him to sum up the Law (which in the Jewish understanding meant “teaching”). The scholar responds by stating the “Greatest Commandment”: to love God with your whole self and to love your neighbor as yourself. “Do this and you shall live,” Jesus responds. Easy, right?good-samaritan

 

Wrong.

 

The scholar, perceiving exactly how difficult this would be immediately wishes to justify himself by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” This the way of things, isn’t it? “But Lord, my neighbor s a jerk!” “I’m just trying to teach him a lesson!” “He deserves it!” “He doesn’t deserve my love, he’s a sinner!” “He’s disgusting, his lifestyle is so obviously wrong that I just can’t love him.” “What would others think of me?”

 

To our limited vision, according to worldly wisdom our justifications make sense. But our ways are not the Lord’s ways. How does Jesus respond to the “justified” scholar? By telling him the story of the Good Samaritan. You know the story, the priest and scholar ignored the dying man on the road but the Samaritan (the one who was considered lower than a dog, to Jews) saw the man’s wounds and had merciful love on him. And that is how we’re called to act to all we meet along this road of life; it’s not easy.

 

Most people we meet along our road are not literally lying in the street bloodied and dying. As always, when reading Scripture we must probe deeper than the surface of things. Most people look normal and healthy, as you and I do. But that’s only because most wounds are not visible to our senses. Each of us is broken and dying on the inside. Most of us harbor deep wounds that cause us to love like half saints, or even less than that. The robbers who left the man for dead are all those that wound us throughout our lives, who hurt us, abandon us and leave us for dead; those who rob us of our dignity through bullying; those who rob us of our ability to have healthy relationships through abuse and neglect; those who rob us of so much more, often times because of their own wounds.

 

So that person who “deserves” our justified judgment is wounded just as we are and thus, in God’s eyes demands our mercy and love! It is up to us to enter into the person’s woundedness, even if that simply means forgiving them in your heart and not judging them. A transgression forgiven heals the victim and the transgressor, for “where sin abounds grace abounds all the more”.

 

But, if possible, more is demanded of us. To love our neighbor as ourselves requires sacrifice and accompaniment. We are called, not simply to have pity on our neighbor but mercy. And mercy doesn’t simply pour some ointment on the wound and walk away. The Samaritan didn’t just pour some wine and oil on the man’s wounds and go on his merry way. No, he lifted him onto his own donkey and carried him to an inn and paid for his care and promised his return.

Pope Francis' General Audience

Do you see that accompaniment?! The Samaritan accompanied this man to safety, to deep healing; he loved him as a brother, a man who likely would have treated the Samaritan as a dog if they’d met under different circumstances. Recall, this is a story directly out of Jesus’ mouth, not just a nice thought of some pious theologian living in a comfy monastery. This is the demands of love, of the Law of eternal salvation. To be a whole saint means to have merciful love on all those we meet, on each and every one of our neighbors, no matter how beautiful or disfigured (inside or out) they may be. We are not called to save them; we are called to love them; just as we are not called to save ourselves but to be faithful to the One who loves us onto eternal life.

 


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Head First Into the Abyss of Love

When was the last time you delved into the wounds of Christ? I can hear the objections, “But this isn’t Lent?!” “We just finished Easter and it’s Ordinary Time, let us relax in the calming green for a little while.” I can’t. Or rather, I did. I neglected to post anything for the last month because I was too busy relaxing in front of the T.V. (at least I’m honest about it, right?). But the wounds of Christ were still there when he appeared to the disciples, and they’re still there now and will be for eternity.

Wounds of Christ

So, when did you last probe the depths of his love for you, not just with your finger but with your heart? Thomas challenged his fellow disciples, and unknowingly God, that he would need to probe the wounds of Christ before he believed. Then, when he encountered Christ in his risen glory, wounds and all, he fell to his knees in adoration. He no longer needed to probe with his finger for he dove heart first into the merciful wounds of Christ.

In those wounds he discovered who he truly is. So, I ask again, when was the last time you delved into the wounds of Christ? Have you ever delved in? I haven’t. Let’s be honest, I’ve only thought about sticking my finger into his wounds, and that with a surgical glove on! If I had, I’d be the saint he was calling me to be. But I can assure you, not on my experience but on the testimony of the saints… Every. Single. One. Of. Them. that what I say is true. Probe the depths of the wounds of Christ and you will be transformed from an ordinary, every day, ho-hum human being into a gloriously-world-transforming saint.

Why is that I wonder? I wish I knew. I’ve been trying to work up the courage for years now. I recently ran my first obstacle course race (see superheroscramble.com). It was a blast. One of the obstacles gave me quite a pause though; it was the the high jump. We had to jump from a platform into a pool of water about 50 feet below. Many people walked around the jump because even though they’d seen others jump and survive, they simply couldn’t bring themselves to take the leap themselves. And I don’t blame them, it was terrifying. Fortunately for me I was running the race with a friend.

Tom (name changed) and I stood on top of the platform with about 20 other people trying to work up the courage to jump. As I stood back in the “ready to jump” posture but frozen in fear, Tom simply ran and jumped and eventually splashed in the water below. Encouraged by his survival and joyous exclamations, I ran forward and dove feet first. It’s one of my proudest moments of recent history. Now, if I could only work up the courage to do the same in my faith.

I share all this because I want the world to be full of saints; those who can’t do, teach. I am a teacher with the hopes of becoming an doer. What about you? How many hours per week do you sit, simply sit in the presence of Christ? St. Catherine of Siena once said that everything she knew she learned at the foot of the Cross. Everything I know, I studied. I’m ignorant when compared to St. Catherine.

Sit at the foot of the Cross. Gaze upon his wounds – one wound; pick one, it doesn’t matter which. They are each unique and speak differently to each person. I’m personally attracted to the wounds in his feet. I feel him calling me to go out into the world and walk the walk. For me, the feet represent the lowest part of the body, the most abused and used part. I don’t have great expectations for myself (as long as I can provide for my family and lead others to Christ) and so I identify with Christ’s bruised, bloodied, pierced feet.

Hold a Crucifix in front of you, in your imagination. Now kiss it. Do you kiss his feet, his hands, his head or his heart? Why? What does it signify to you personally?

Leap of FaithWhat is it that holds you back from diving in, head first, into the wounds of Christ? As Pope Francis said, “Let the risen Jesus enter your life, welcome him as a friend, with trust: He is life! If up till now you have kept him at a distance, step forward. He will receive you with open arms. If you have been indifferent, take a risk: you won’t be disappointed. If following him seems difficult, don’t be afraid, trust him, be confident that he is close to you, he is with you and he will give you the peace you are looking for and the strength to live as he would have you do.”

For me personally, I’m too lazy and too busy (or so I tell myself) to take the plunge. It’s apathy really, that prevents me from diving in. What prevents you? I’ve found that naming those things that bind us gives us a power over them. We are then able to call God’s grace into those specific places of bondage. For St. Thomas it was his doubt. For me it’s my apathy… yes, I will be a saint one day, hopefully sooner rather than later. I claim that grace. I make no excuses, I have only myself to blame. As St. Augustine once said, all is grace. Only my sin can I claim as my own.

I am not Pelagius, I cannot pull myself up by my boot straps. But I can cooperate with the grace of God, the grace that pours out of his pierced side, the holes in his hands and feet. As Pope Francis states, “it is precisely in contemplating Jesus’ death that faith grows stronger and receives a dazzling light; then it is revealed as faith in Christ’s steadfast love for us, a love capable of embracing death to bring us salvation. This love, which did not recoil before death in order to show its depth, is something I can believe in; Christ’s total self-gift overcomes every suspicion and enables me to entrust myself to him completely.”(1)

What more is there to say? The wounds of Christ earn, deserve, demand my complete trust. My life is found in the wounds of Christ.

 

1. “Lumen Fidei” – Encyclical of Pope Francis, Paragraph 16.