Thursday, October 29, 2015

Do We Really Desire to be the Image of Jesus?

In one of his prayers for the Great Jubilee, St. Pope John Paul II reminds us that 2000 years ago Jesus, the Son of God, became our companion on life’s path and gave new meaning to our history, the journey we make together in toil and suffering, in faithfulness and love. That caused me to conclude that, after His Ascension, Jesus continues this companion ship, this journey, in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is not the body of Jesus, but is the living Body of His Office—Christ. Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ. Jesus is the Christ; the Christ is Jesus. The Catholic Church is the visible Body of the living Christ, of which Jesus is the Head. When you look at the Catholic Church—not individual Catholics—you see Jesus, the Christ. For this reason, the world hates the Catholic Church. It is not difficult, if one puts their mind to it a little, to surmise why the world hates the Catholic Church. The world hated Jesus; it also hates the visible Body of Christ.

After feeding the five thousand, the crown sought Jesus in order to make Him king, for the purpose of making their lives easier, that they would no longer have to work for their food. They did not seek for Him in order to keep their souls from perishing. What are we searching for? Are we presuming that our souls are “saved” and therefore we should be rewarded by having an easier life, a “good” life, here on earth? Or are we realizing that we are in a foreign land, where the inhabitants are not necessarily friendly to our beliefs and often is very hostile? Do we see ourselves as needing the Catholic Church to aid and guide us toward the fulfillment of our goal, to strengthen us? For example, would we rather face ISIS alone, as individuals, or as a Church, exhorting and strengthening one another? Did Jesus come to save souls from perishing, or to make life easier? Are we, spiritually, aspiring to elevate ourselves, as though we as individuals are most important, or are we seeking to elevate others, working that they may—although perhaps undeservedly—benefit from the “good” that we may do, while seeking no credit for ourselves? Is this not what Jesus did? Do we really desire to be the image of Jesus?

We will either see the impossibility, or the great difficulty, of being the image of Jesus; or we will do “good” deeds sporadically, deeming this to be sufficient. For example, one may ascertain that loving your neighbor as yourself does not entail loving one’s neighbor as Jesus did, doing nothing but the essentials for Himself, but loving His neighbor as if His neighbor was Himself, to the point of giving His life for His neighbor. One may conclude that this is too strict, that it is not necessary, and that something short of that is sufficient—with the person being the authority of how short of that will be sufficient. We are not the authority; therefore, what assurance is there that will give us hope? Listen to one of the prayers of the Liturgy: “Look not upon my sins, but the faith of Your Church.” Does that not make you exuberant? Does that mean I can live a sinful life? No, because otherwise I would not be born of God in Baptism. A person born of God does not live as the first Adam but the second Adam. Is there any greater love than that which God has for man? Are the baptized not the children of God? Is not this why our Lord tells us to call no man Father? Because in Baptism we are born of God, “not of blood (man) nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man.” Is this not why we pray, “Our Father…,” because Jesus has clothed us in His divinity?

Because we see the impossibility—nevertheless, seeing the will of God—of being the image of His Son, does it cause us to engage in deep prayer, asking that He transforms us into this image? Or do we desire to leave room to “massage” the flesh—self? It is almost too alarming to pray for. We are, perhaps, afraid of what we might have to give up—because, truthfully, we do not want to give it up. Therefore, understandably, we do not pray—because God might answer the prayer. This makes it abundantly clear that temporal things might very well be more grand to us than eternal things. We know that this is not true, that this is not what we desire, but we cannot let go. We are exceedingly willing to climb the moral ladder, the “spiritual” ladder, but we cannot let go of our “worldly” things. We are often afraid of what God might call us to do. Although we do not think we are very attached to our possessions, that we would still be content without them, that is just not true. If it was true, we would give them up.

We know that we will be rewarded one hundred times over in eternal things, but we walk away sad because our possessions are great to us. Even poor people have “great” possessions that they are not willing to give up. That “great” possession might just be the desire to possess. Because we can see with our eyes, often “cataracts” form over our “spiritual” eyes, clouding our true vision. Jesus, the Son of God, came to serve, not to be served. He told His disciples, “Whosoever would be first among you, shall be servant of all.” Does that leave us room to think, “Well, I don’t want to be first; I just don’t want to go to hell?” Being “first” is not desiring to be above someone else; being “first” is aspiring to please God. Jesus is telling us that, if we desire to be the image of Him, we must become the slave of all. Is this not the image of the Son of God? Do we see the impossibility of it, nevertheless the necessity of it? Do we desire to be a child of God, the image of the Son? Prayer is of absolute necessity. The Catholic Church is of absolute necessity. We are stuck in a miry bog. The mind knows what to do; we just can’t get the body to do it. Because of this we pray.

For this reason, many consecrate themselves to Jesus through Mary. Our desire is to be the image of her Son. She is the mother of Jesus, the Mother of God, and she is our mother. She knows what needs to be done. However, the consecration depends upon us becoming her willing slaves. Slaves only possess what their master gives them. Therefore, we turn everything over to her. We approach our Blessed Mother, saying, “Here am I with all my possessions; do unto me and them as you please.” We must not put limitations on it by thinking, “I will go this far, and not farther.” When something “bad” occurs, we view it as something she has put before us for our good. Trusting God is an impossibility for us without His grace. God tells us that Mary is full of grace. He gives her to us to aid us, that she may love her neighbor (us) and we, ours. I believe it was St. Theresa of Avila who said, “We don’t know if we love God; therefore, we must love our neighbor” (paraphrasing). We know we love God if we love our neighbor. How can we say we love God, who we cannot see, if we cannot love the one we can see? Therefore, we pray, and keep praying, for this love. Ask (and keep asking) and you shall receive. Seek (and keep seeking), and you shall find. Knock (and keep knocking), and the door will be opened.

The impossibility is only impossible for us, not impossible for God. This is why He gives us His Son, Mary, and the Catholic Church. Pride says, “I am able to do it.” Humility says, “Help me!” “Look not upon my sins, but look upon the faith of Your Church, the Catholic Church, the Body of Christ, of whom the Head is Jesus.” Then the impossible becomes possible. We, as individuals, do not do everything; but each of us do contribute in some way. We are active members of the Body. Yes, we do desire to be the image of the Son, and we shall be—as a group, a community, a Body. 

--Tommy Turner

This theological reflection courtesy of the parishioners of St Paul Catholic Church in Pensacola, Florida: