Saturday, 10 May 2014

107: Hearing Jesus' call

Jesus calls all humanity

Jesus wants to call people to follow him from close up. In a more formal way it can also be termed, the “call for Holiness”. Traditionally it is called as well the “second conversion”, in the sense that one can well be a Christian, but lead a sort of a good reasonable life, good moral life, faithful to the weekly Mass, but from the Grace of God's point of view it is a lukewarm spiritual life: the relationship with Jesus has come to a halt. What does Jesus want us to do in order to awaken the grace of God in our brother's life? Jesus invites us to “facilitate the encounter”, acting like a catalyst, witnessing to Jesus (telling others what he did to us).

Ask the Lord of the harvest

One very important task we have is to answer Jesus' request to: “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." (Matthew 9:38). At times that task can look frustrating. But this request remains a key request. Paradoxically (if you read the previous post) we seem not only to have a part to play in the “Call for Holiness”, in the planning of it, but it is a totally different part from what we can think of: asking, in prayer, fervently, Jesus to send workers into his harvest field.
Having a personal relationship with Jesus, experiencing his love makes us burn with the desire to make him deeply known to the entire world. Would we just wait and watch things unfolding? Don't we have a role to play in Jesus' plan? Are we completely absent from Jesus' plan since : “it depends not upon man's will or exertion, but upon God's mercy.” (Romans 9:16)? Oh no... we have to play our part in Jesus' plan, like Our Lady, and ask and pray fervently to obtain that Grace of Jesus' Calling to others. He asked us to do so.
Let us be united with Mary, like in Advent time, and pray and ask fervently for the Grace of God's mercy to reveal his son to many. It is a grace, it can be obtained, we just need to discover the most powerful way to obtain it. Contemplating the one who, in her prayer, obtained for us the Messiah remains, in God's mind and plan the most powerful leaver.
Let us repeat with Mary, her prayer: send us oh Lord the Messiah, i.e. make many people discover Jesus, make Jesus knock at the door of many persons, giving them the grace of being enthused by spiritual life, by wanting to discover who is Jesus, have a relationship with Him, and embark on the journey with him. Mary's prayer, and Fire are so powerful. Let us unite with her. “Pray for us oh Mother of God”... obtain from Jesus for many many the grace of following him.
Easing the way for Jesus

Another aspect shouldn't be overlooked: People are not always ready to hear Jesus' call.
We are invited to take part in the Plan, as Jesus friends, like John the Baptist. We open the way for Jesus, facilitating for people the hearing of his call. Often his voice is so gentle, that the noise of our busy life won't allow us to hear him. The thick layer of all our desires, personal plans, work, family, does not allow us to hear his personal voice in our heart. Our lack of commitment and endeavour to many issues is not opening the way to Jesus to be heard.
At the end of the day we are faced with this truth: Jesus doesn't land on any soil. God always prepares the soil. We can take part in this preparation, and invite others to take part in it.

Abraham's three thresholds

Abraham is a good example of how God prepares the way in order for us to receive his precious gifts. Jesus' call is the most precious gift a human being can receive. Are you aware of that? But in order to value it, in order to receive it properly and make it bear fruit, the soil has to be prepared. God wanted to give Abraham the Promised land. The real Promised land for us is Jesus himself, to possess him, to be loved by him and love him, and serve him.
God could have given Abraham directly and immediately the promised land, but in fact he opened the way, ploughing the soil with powerful blades, so the soil can open in order to receive the Pearl of all pearls: the Promised land. He made Abraham go through 3 different thresholds.
1st Threshold: the freedom from my own land/tribe: He asks him to leave his land and go.
2nd Threshold: the freedom from the blood ties (son, parents, husband/wife): give me the most precious tie you have, give me your son Isaac. Do you prefer me, Jesus, above your mother, father, son, daughter, wife?
3rd Threshold: the freedom and growth: you will go to Egypt, will work, grow, and take the goods (result of that effort). His descendants spent 430  years in Egypt, in order to cross that threshold.
It is only after these three thresholds that Abraham (Abraham descendants), would start the journey to the Holy Land, by Moses.
This example from the old testament, read in the Light of Jesus, helps us understand the role of John the Baptist, or better said: the first three thresholds that prepare the way for Jesus' call to-follow-him-from-close-up to be heard.

The three thresholds in the Gospel

We see that behaviour in Jesus with the Young Rich man. When he asks Jesus what he is supposed to do in order to reach Eternal life, Jesus doesn't start by saying: ok, good, excellent, I love you, come and follow me. On the contrary, Jesus checks the thresholds: have you been faithful to Moses' commandments?
The same thing happens in John's Gospel: we have a total of 6 steps in order to reach “opened heaven” (Jesus' side opened) i.e. God's Glory revealed in Jesus on the Cross. These 6 steps are 6 signs that John put, as steps, thresholds, in order to be purified, and become ready to enter the face to face with Jesus' Glory on the Cross, accessing heaven (i.e. his opened side). These signs could be divided into two lots: the first 3 and the following. What divides them is this second stage in Jesus' follower: crossing the sea, heading toward God himself, Holiness.
In this sense, the first three thresholds or signs mentioned by John are equivalent to Abraham's ones. Cana, the son of the military officer, the paralysed man.

Teresa of Avila's thresholds

Now, you might ask: do we have any proof in the Church's Spiritual Living Tradition of these thresholds?
- Of course yes. If we look at St Teresa of Avila's masterpiece “The Interior Castle” we find the following: she paves the journey to “Union with Jesus” offering 7 different stages of growth; she calls them “Mansions”. The surprising thing is that the “second conversion” happens only at the 4th Mansion. Entering into the living relationship with Jesus, the supernatural, starts only at that stage. One can neglect all what comes before. But in fact, the three mansions that precede are very important.
1- First, she invites the reader who is closer to Jesus and more especially the reader who reached that union with Jesus (see Seventh Mansion) never to forget to pray for the persons who are in the first mansions. She considers it as a very important act of Mercy not to forget the persons stuck in these stages.
2- Also, we need to study these three first mansions in order to understand the three different thresholds that the human being is called to cross. The most striking comment she makes, not only in my eyes, but in the eyes of a great man, Fr Marie Eugène (soon to become Blessed) is how she describes the Christian life of a person in the third mansion (i.e. right before discovering Jesus' personal call): she says that they lead a very reasonable life; you would say: they are “good catholics”. They have a good morality, they go to Church, they do good things, they help others,... All is there, but strangely, Jesus - the living Jesus - is not there! That note of hers, stressed again by Fr Marie Eugene in his masterpiece “I want to see God”, should be enough to revolutionise the Church, people who think they are awake but in fact are perfectly dormant.

Summing up we can say:

1- it is very important to understand that Jesus' call is a grace, and even if a Grace of God can't be planned, controlled, we are strongly invited to pray to Jesus to give his grace. We need to obtain this grace. Acknowledging that it is a grace doesn't mean that we are helpless, it only means that we know our place: God's initiative is sovereign. Asking Mary to obtain that Grace is really the most powerful starting point.

2- Like John the Baptist, we need to prepare for our brothers the way for Jesus' call to be heard (bring them to Jesus' audio range). There are things to be done in order to be ready to hear. We will still have our freedom to say yes or no, but we will be more ready. See the three thresholds that Abraham and his descendants had to undergo in order to start their real journey to the Promised Land.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

106: A call is a call

We have been reminded by Council Vatican II of Jesus’ call to every Christian for holiness. Everybody is called to become a saint (see chapter 5 in Lumen Gentium and the Catechism n°2013). Although we are all called, there is a fine line between acknowledging the existence of that call, and taking for granted that we are all “naturally”/automatically called by God to holiness. There is a fine line between saying: “you are baptised, therefore you are called to holiness” and saying: “one day you’ll hear in a clearer way Jesus knocking at the door of your heart, wanting to speak to you, showing you his love and calling you to follow him more closely”. The difference between both cases is huge.
Matthew's Calling, Caravaggio
God is God

One takes for granted that it is almost like a “right” to be called to holiness, a right obtained in Baptism, and that therefore it becomes a “duty” for all Christians to work on it (we say: “to tend to it”). But in fact on one hand God is God, he is a real being, and not a machine that produces saints, he has his own views, his own “feelings”, plans, wisdom, timing, initiative and on the other hand, we are not always ready to hear God’s call.

The infinite enters into the finite

A call in this case is the entrance of God, of Jesus, in our time, in our space, aiming at me, and only at me, as if I meant the entire world to him, and he wants to talk to me, to engage with me. A call is personal. You don’t call a crowd to holiness, you call persons, individually, in a unique non-repeatable way.
Detail: Jesus calling
He has the initiative

Furthermore, God has the initiative, not us. Nobody can go to God through his own will, initiative, desire. God calls us. We want him? Well he wants us a million more times… let us try to hear his subtle voice in our heart. “Wisdom shouts loudly in the streets” (Proverbs 1:20) say the Holy Scriptures. Jesus is the Wisdom of the Father. Do you hear him shouting loudly in the streets?

Everything starts with this sight of love that Jesus gives to each one of us, in a unique way. “And Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing […], follow me’.” (Mark 10:21) Nobody can replace Jesus’ look. No doctrine, no morality, no rites or liturgies can replace that absolute initiative. It is indeed totally and radically his initiative.

We can facilitate that connection between Jesus and each human being, we can help people hear that subtle voice, in their heart, we can tell them that it is the case so they can become more attentive to him. We can teach ways to hear Jesus’ voice. But nobody can replace Jesus’ presence and Jesus’ initiative. No plan on earth can do that. If the person that hears you telling them that Jesus has the initiative and they don’t turn inwardly, into their heart, and they don’t discern that subtle gentle breeze of Jesus’ Call, well then all our projects are just human initiatives. Christianity is Christianity! It is not a man-made religion, or a man-made worship.

Can we plan God’s call?

We can and have to facilitate Jesus’ Call, of course, this is our duty as the witnesses of His Love, of the encounter with him. But “witnessing” is not “us calling”. Here is what John the Baptist says about that point: “No one can receive anything except what is given him from heaven. […] I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full.” (John 3:27-29)

In order to conclude this short development on Jesus’ Call let us listen to him: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, `And they shall all be taught by God.' Every one who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” (John 6:44-45)

As witnesses and as leaders, we plan, we plan, but let us remember always our exact place: by the grace of God we facilitate the encounter; but God’s Grace is Sovereign: “it depends not upon man's will or exertion, but upon God's mercy.” (Romans 9:16)

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

105: Can holiness be "planned"?

The following text is from John Paul II (bold underlining is from me). It is a revolutionary text !
"30. First of all, I have no hesitation in saying that all pastoral initiatives must be set in relation to holiness. Was this not the ultimate meaning of the Jubilee indulgence, as a special grace offered by Christ so that the life of every baptized person could be purified and deeply renewed?

It is my hope that, among those who have taken part in the Jubilee, many will have benefited from this grace, in full awareness of its demands. Once the Jubilee is over, we resume our normal path, but knowing that stressing holiness remains more than ever an urgent pastoral task.

It is necessary therefore to rediscover the full practical significance of Chapter 5 of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, dedicated to the "universal call to holiness". The Council Fathers laid such stress on this point, not just to embellish ecclesiology with a kind of spiritual veneer, but to make the call to holiness an intrinsic and essential aspect of their teaching on the Church.

The rediscovery of the Church as "mystery", or as a people "gathered together by the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit",15 was bound to bring with it a rediscovery of the Church's "holiness", understood in the basic sense of belonging to him who is in essence the Holy One, the "thrice Holy" (cf. Is 6:3). To profess the Church as holy means to point to her as the Bride of Christ, for whom he gave himself precisely in order to make her holy (cf. Eph 5:25-26). This as it were objective gift of holiness is offered to all the baptized.

But the gift in turn becomes a task, which must shape the whole of Christian life: "This is the will of God, your sanctification" (1 Th 4:3). It is a duty which concerns not only certain Christians: "All the Christian faithful, of whatever state or rank, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity".16

31. At first glance, it might seem almost impractical to recall this elementary truth as the foundation of the pastoral planning in which we are involved at the start of the new millennium.

Can holiness ever be "planned"?

What might the word "holiness" mean in the context of a pastoral plan?

In fact, to place pastoral planning under the heading of holiness is a choice filled with consequences. It implies the conviction that, since Baptism is a true entry into the holiness of God through incorporation into Christ and the indwelling of his Spirit, it would be a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity.

To ask catechumens: "Do you wish to receive Baptism?" means at the same time to ask them: "Do you wish to become holy?" It means to set before them the radical nature of the Sermon on the Mount: "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5:48).
As the Council itself explained, this ideal of perfection must not be misunderstood as if it involved some kind of extraordinary existence, possible only for a few "uncommon heroes" of holiness. The ways of holiness are many, according to the vocation of each individual. I thank the Lord that in these years he has enabled me to beatify and canonize a large number of Christians, and among them many lay people who attained holiness in the most ordinary circumstances of life.
The time has come to re-propose wholeheartedly to everyone this high standard of ordinary Christian living: the whole life of the Christian community and of Christian families must lead in this direction.

It is also clear however that the paths to holiness are personal and call for a genuine "training in holiness", adapted to people's needs. This training must integrate the resources offered to everyone with both the traditional forms of individual and group assistance, as well as the more recent forms of support offered in associations and movements recognized by the Church." (John Paul II, Novo Millenio, 30-31)