Monday, June 11, 2018

In Praise of St. Barnabas and the Wisdom of Christian Giving

Today we remember and give thanks for the life and witness of St. Barnabas, numbered as one of the Apostles, and a figure of considerable esteem and interest in the very earliest chapters of the Church’s life.

His original name was Joseph and he was from Cyprus. He was called Barnabas by the Apostles, a name meaning “son of exhortation,” or “son of encouragement,” a splendidly positive self-identity. He was a man of some wealth and property, and we are told in The Acts of the Apostles, chapter 4 that he sold a field, giving the proceeds to the other Apostles for use in the Church’s ministry. In a property-obsessed society, his left a deep impression on all who witnessed it.

Later on we hear that Barnabas was a person of some considerable courage and inner strength. When Paul, the dangerous persecutor of the Church, experienced a conversion and became a preacher of the Gospel instead, Barnabas was the only Apostle who was at first willing to meet with Paul. 

Barnabas, it seems, was an insightful, secure man who was willing to go beyond initial impressions or failures in pursuit of the truth about a person. Not only was he willing to give Paul another chance, but later on he does the same with Mark, who initially seems to have failed in his missionary work with Paul and Barnabas. Paul had no use for Mark after the latter’s failure to make it through a missionary journey; but Barnabas decided to undertake such a journey with Mark once more—a journey that worked well and ultimately led to Paul’s acceptance of Mark as a trusty and effective worker.

All of this shows how the different gifts and personalities in the Apostolic community combined together in a common confession of Christ to form a healthy, healing, and holy community of very realbut also very openand growingbelievers—so unlike a cult or destructive religious sect. Any community of Christians must consider how its own common life reflects this spiritually mature and reconciling way of life.

When we think of St. Barnabas, we usually think of his financial generosity and the good it did for the Christian community, which is described in Acts4 as a community without major income-inequality or division based on poverty or need. This is an example of how our faithful stewardship of the gifts we have received may in fact bring about a foretaste of the heavenly kingdom even in this broken world.

Barnabas’ generosity sets a pattern for all of us in the Church. Our giving is not only for the relief of the needs of others, but part of own spiritual healing and growth. By giving of the substance of his life, Barnabas was allowing God to expand the human heart and find the springs of true life. This remains true for Christians today.

Material possessions tend to seduce us into believing they provide the life we desire. Rather than being a means to an end, they become the end in themselves by replacing our love of God and neighbor with a love of false security and control. Barnabas’s act of giving sacrificially was in fact a means of liberation from delusion. This sort of wisdom always marks real discipleship. The first reading at Morning Prayer puts it this way:

Wakefulness over wealth wastes away one’s flesh,
   and anxiety about it drives away sleep. 
Wakeful anxiety prevents slumber,
   and a severe illness carries off sleep. 
The rich person toils to amass a fortune,
   and when he rests he fills himself with his dainties. 
The poor person toils to make a meager living,
   and if ever he rests he becomes needy. 

One who loves gold will not be justified;
   one who pursues money will be led astray by it. 
Many have come to ruin because of gold,
   and their destruction has met them face to face. 
It is a stumbling-block to those who are avid for it,
   and every fool will be taken captive by it. 
Blessed is the rich person who is found blameless,
   and who does not go after gold. 
Who is he, that we may praise him?
   For he has done wonders among his people. 
Who has been tested by it and been found perfect?
   Let it be for him a ground for boasting.
Who has had the power to transgress and did not transgress,
   and to do evil and did not do it? 
His prosperity will be established,
   and the assembly will proclaim his acts of charity.
(Ecclesiasticus 31:1-11, NRSV)

These words, so wise and balanced, stand behind Barnabas’s actions and behind all faithful Christian stewardship today. We give not out of fear or a desire to buy anything, but out of experiencethat by being liberal and open in our generosity we are being freed from domination by greed, fear, and delusion. How different this is from the empty, corrupt, and self-destructive culture around us! How much more merciful is the one who gives than the one who hoards!

St. Barnabas’s story, like those of the other Apostles, is not remote from the ordinary Christian; it is pertinent. We remember the saints for many reasons, but not least of them is the challenge their lives issue to our own discipleship. In this case, we may well ask ourselves how our giving and forgiving makes us in our own day a “son/daughter of encouragement?”

The Collect for the Feast of St. Barnabas the Apostle

Grant, O God, that we may follow the example of your faithful servant Barnabas, who, seeking not his own renown but the well-being of your Church, gave generously of his life and substance for the relief of the poor and the spread of the Gospel; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Jethro's Wise Advice

Moses’ father-in-law said to him, ‘What you are doing is not good. You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You should represent the people before God, and you should bring their cases before God; teach them the statutes and instructions and make known to them the way they are to go and the things they are to do. You should also look for able men among all the people, men who fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain; set such men over them as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Let them sit as judges for the people at all times; let them bring every important case to you, but decide every minor case themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people will go to their home in peace.’ (Exodus 18:17-23, NRSV)
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I have always found this part of Exodus quite interesting. On one level, it is intriguing that after all the dramatic events of Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea and the struggles in the Wilderness (thirst, rebellion, hunger, battles, &c.) we suddenly have a highly personal moment with Moses and his father-in-law, Jethro (a non-Israelite), wherein Moses gets some trenchant advice. On another level, this passage helps me to maintain focus as a priest, pastor, and leader.

When I have heard or given sermons on this passage (usually at the Embertides when it is appointed to be read), the natural tendency is to treat it very much as “management,” combined with some enlightened teaching on ministry-of-all-the-faithful, seasoned with a dash of needed humility: an altogether attractive package of servant leadership very much in in the form we currently (officially) admire in the Church today. This is true and helpful, but not enough.

As I read it at Mattins today, I was reflecting on another way of looking at this passage. This involves going ‘round to the other end of the telescope and looking back, as it were. In addition to helping Moses learn the value of delegation, this section of Exodus may also be read as help in getting Moses to be about his real calling: truly leading God's people through a focused, prayerful life of encounter with God.

Jethro’s advice was for Moses to deal only with the “hard cases,” those beyond what a well-trained team of assistants could provide. This left time for Moses to pray, reflect, and listen; in the words of the text, “to endure.” This is terribly important in a modern technology-focused world where multi-tasking is implicitly valued and encouraged.

Multi-tasking is not exactly new. It is said that Napoleon could manage up to seven conversations simultaneously when in the midst of a battle or in his administrative “office hours.” I think, however, most of us cannot manage this.

And neither should we.

Parsonhood, the concept behind my approach to being a priest/pastor in this tradition, is based in large part upon the idea of role clarity.  By this, I mean the recognition that each part of the Body has its proper function and that the best health in the Body is achieved when each part is doing its work well and with proper respect for the other parts.

Multi-tasking, tempting as it may be, always means a degraded form of attention; it means not doing one’s own work well—and likely messing up someone else’s into the bargain. In the Christian Church, it often means a kind of false efficiency leading to personal and communal spiritual sterility.

Jethro’s wise advice to Moses not only opens the doors to shared leadership, but also frees Moses to do what he was truly called and gifted to do as a leader: to embody true personhood, not be a sort of spiritual factory churning out decisions and “product.”

I think leading this way requires real commitment and clarity. Doing the easy thing, the conventional path of putting out fires, chasing ambulances, and “meeting needs” is surely appreciated and rewarded in the Church today, but it leads to burn-out rather than endurance.

Parsonhood assumes ongoing, solid growth in discipleship and spiritual understanding, something impossible if we set up ministry to be primarily about crisis-management. Jethro saw this and impressed it on his son-in-law’s mind. Moses had the humility and wisdom to accept it.

My question is who or what in the Church today is taking Jethro’s part and upholding this principle?

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Three Silences: Preparing for Holy Week

Silence is a sometimes-overlooked but important part of worship. Here are three significant silences occurring each Holy Week, and I invite you to be part of them all, taking strength and insight from each:

The first is the silence after the Maundy Thursday liturgy. Because there is no dismissal, this liturgy doesn’t “end” so much as go into recess. After the altar is stripped and the lights lowered, we leave quietly. Our hushed departure from the church building shows how much these days change our “normal” pattern of life & worship--with its organ postlude and family-at-home time during Coffee Hour. We honor both God and neighbor through reverent silence as we depart for home or to the Altar of Repose during the All-Night Prayer Watch.

The second silence is at the start of the Good Friday liturgy. This is the one time in the year when worship begins with a protracted silence. Perhaps the greatest form of prayer is silent communion in wonder and adoration, and on this day we make a sacrifice of the usual opening to the liturgy by omitting all singing, movement, and sound to engage in this form of prayer. This may be the most solemn moment in the entire Liturgical Year, yet it happens without a word. Perhaps some of the most important sharing of the Gospel, or most significant witnessing to Christ we ever offer will occur in just such silence.

The third silence comes at the Easter Vigil, following the baptismal liturgy. When all have been baptized, anointed, and welcomed into Christ’s Body, it is our custom to kneel in silence before the lighting of the altar candles and the Proclamation of the Resurrection. This third silence is so very different from the two previous; it is pregnant with energy, with expectation for the joy about to unfold—a joy repeated each year but somehow like the First Easter each time. This silence peers into the tomb with the Holy Women and seeks, yearns for Christ’s rising. The final moments of the era of death are about to be overcome by the Light of Christ and the Kingdom of Life. It is my favorite silence each year.
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It seems a bit odd to be so enthusiastic about silence, but I believe it expresses one of the real gifts we bear as Anglican Christians: the gift of mystery and transformative encounter with God in worship. This encounter leads to a fundamentally different orientation to life; one of a deep peace and assurance, a hope stronger than all the fleeting doubts and anxious turmoil of this or any age. What we experience in worship makes us more just, more merciful, more compassionate and persevering in  all our life, because our worship is our life, not separated from it. The stillness and silence of our communion with God is an undying prayer through all our choices, trials, and encounters. 

I want to encourage each of you to join me—with any friends you feel called to invite—to participate not only in the silences but the many other parts of Holy Week—the fountain of our faith and the seal of our hope. Together, we will journey from Palm Sunday's raucous parade to the moment when we sing the great Easter hymn of victory "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death..." and taste anew the joy God has prepared for us from the foundation of the world.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Genesis 43:5 -- The Gospel in Miniature

"Ye shall not see my face, except your brother be with you."

As we read the story of Joseph from the book of Genesis this Lent, I am reminded of a lecture given by then-Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey. The lecture's topic was the Holy Spirit, and in illustrating a point he made a comment--almost an aside--which has stayed with me over the years. 

He spoke about the centrality of care for the Other in the Christian faith, summing it up in those words from the King James version of the Forty-Third Chapter of Genesis: "Ye shall not see my face, except your brother be with you." Ramsey said this was, in a sense, the Gospel in miniature. 

There is another saying (I forget the source) along much the same lines: "If you seek salvation, look to your brother." 

In our day, we would perhaps modify these to "sister and brother," but the meaning remains the same: our salvation is connected to our love and care for the others in our life. There is no such thing as a completely individual Christianity; indeed, an individualistic faith is blasphemous and the religion of demons. The Gospel of  Jesus Christ makes this completely clear: to love God means loving the neighbor in real, tangible ways.

This is particularly important to keep in mind during Lent. Two of the great disciplines of this season--fasting and prayer--must not overshadow the third: Mercy. They are completely interconnected and mutually-reinforcing. It is mercy which seems particularly in short supply right now.

We hear much about justice today, and justice is indeed essential both for our faith and our society. However, mercy marks the Christian life most profoundly, for mercy is what God has shown us rather than justice. As a matter of justice, what humans have done and continue to do to each other, to the environment, and in response to God's love would merit our extinction, not our vindication in a court of law.

But this is not what the Gospel proposes. Rather, it is by the conscious reception of God's mercy in Christ to us that we may become merciful to others--recognizing their just claims and seeing our absolute dependence on their fair treatment as the criterion of our own salvation, much as we say "forgive us our sins as we forgive others" in the Lord's Prayer. This is the message of the Christ's cross, not of Justice's balance.

We seem uncomfortable with mercy today, preferring the sharper language of judgment, blame, shame, and condemnation. This is a sad replay of earlier patterns in our society, which seems always drawn to harshness rather than compassion. We often act as if we believe that eventually, force will make us love each other.

Compelling people to love the Other never works. It is only by a recognition of our own completion in our brother or sister that we can truly understand the meaning implicit it "Love your neighbor as your self" or the hidden meaning of the words of Joseph's command. Understanding and accepting God's mercy for us unlocks this recognition. 

When God came into our world to share our life--sharing it to the very end--the best excuse we could have for walling ourselves off from each other was removed. If God could do this, so may we. By becoming part of Christ's living Body, we are now able to let him work through us to overcome barriers in love and mercy. We do not have to do this on our own. We do not have to wait for the other person to blink or capitulate or even change. We are free to love now because we ourselves may know we are beloved of God--warts and all, even in our present condition.

This is a new language for humanity. It is not "natural" for us in our present broken condition. To learn this language means a dedication and persistence available only through communion with our Triune God. There can be no "instant justice" in human affairs nor can mercy flow unceasingly from human hearts without deep humility arising from regular repentance. All the essentials of the Gospel are woven in a seamless garment, like Christ's robe. Teaching and practicing these essentials is the ongoing work of the Church's inner inner life nourishing its mission to the whole Cosmos.

With so many today receiving so little justice or mercy, a true Lenten fast will lead not to impotent anger or self-righteous blame, but to a greater thirst for the good of the Other, and to each of us discerning how we might bring our brothers and sisters along with us to the Kingdom through repentance, humility, service, and compassion. Like Joseph, we will seize the opportunities God gives us to save and serve those in need.

For truly, without them, we shall never see God's face.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Saturday Prayers for the Dead: A gift of healing in the lives of catholic Christians

On Saturday our Lord’s body rested in the tomb, and thus it is the traditional day in the week for us to remember those we love but see no more.

Our society often masks death from view. As a result many people struggle because they have no clear way to bring their grief to God in prayer. Mainstream American Christianity does not deal with this issue because one of its tenants is that we should not pray for the dead. This erroneous teaching was borne of the Reformation and the correction of abuses in this practice during the Medieval period, resulting in an over-reaction that impoverishes the faith.

Members of the catholic faith do pray for the dead, and have done so from the earliest days. We do so because God “is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Mark 12:27) and thus all are alive before him. This being so, we pray for the dead even as we would pray for any other person, mindful that we are not “making” anything happen for anyone—alive or dead—in our prayer. We are participating in the Son’s eternal prayer to the Father in the Holy Spirit. That participation makes for healing in us as well as those for whom we pray.

Below are prayers you may use on Saturday or other times when you desire to remember the dead in Christ, praying for their complete healing and final wholeness. These prayers are taken from the prayers at time of death in the BCP and also from the Burial Service. You may wish to preface them with the name or names you desire to remember before God, and then a brief time of silence before starting the prayers.

I often find this practice gives me hope and an active participation in the Communion of Saints, as well as Christ’s work of salvation in the sometimes-troubling or painful stories of people in my life who die. It can also be a time of deep thanksgiving for the love and learning known through a deceased person. A lot of emotions can happen through this prayer, and that, too, is part of the healing.

It is all part of the vastness of God’s love and the fullness of his will for us. As part of Christ’s Body, we take are share in the this work of compassion and redemption through prayer. For us Life, not death, always has the final word.

Prayers for the Dead

God the Father,
Have mercy on your servants.

God the Son,
Have mercy on your servants.

God the Holy Spirit,
Have mercy on your servants.

Holy Trinity, one God,
Have mercy on your servants.

From all evil, from all sin, from all tribulation,
Good Lord, deliver them.

By your holy Incarnation, by your Cross and Passion, by your precious Death and Burial,
Good Lord, deliver them.

By your glorious Resurrection and Ascension, and by the Coming of the Holy Spirit,
Good Lord, deliver them.

We sinners beseech you to hear us, Lord Christ: That it may please you to deliver the souls of your servants from the power of evil, and from eternal death,
We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please you mercifully to pardon all their sins,
We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please you to grant them a place of refreshment and everlasting blessedness,
We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please you to give them joy and gladness in your kingdom, with your saints in light,
We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

Jesus, Lamb of God:
Have mercy on them.

Jesus, bearer of our sins:
Have mercy on them.

Jesus, redeemer of the world:
Give them your peace.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Our Father...but deliver us from evil. Amen.

Let us pray.

Deliver your servants, O Sovereign Lord Christ, from all evil, and set them free from every bond; that they may rest with all your saints in the eternal habitations; where with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servants. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, sheep of your own fold, lambs of your own flock, sinners of your own redeeming. Receive them into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.  Amen.

O Almighty God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, who by a voice from heaven didst proclaim, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord: Multiply, we beseech thee, to those who rest in Jesus the manifold blessings of thy love, that the good work which thou didst begin in them may be made perfect unto the day of Jesus Christ. And of thy mercy, O heavenly Father, grant that we, who now serve thee on earth, may at last, together with them, be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; for the sake of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord;
And let light perpetual shine upon them.

+ May their souls, and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.

Monday, January 29, 2018

The "Gesima Sisters" and Preparing for Lent

Now that we are approaching February 2 and the Feast of the Purification/Presentation, it is time to begin thinking about Lent, Holy Week, and Easter.

Some of you reading this will remember the three Sundays prior to Ash Wednesday being known as the ‘Gesima’ Sundays: Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima. They formed a sort of “semi-season” of preparation before Lent in the ancient Western Calendar, with carefully-chosen readings emphasizing our need for salvation and the essential disciplines toward that end. The names related roughly to the number of days before Easter; seventy, sixty, or fifty days before Great Day. One priest I worked with used to speak lovingly of “the Gesima Sisters” and their annual visit.

Following the trend of Western liturgical revisions in the 20th century, the current  Prayer Book swept these observances away. The focus today in the Liturgical Calendar is on Epiphanytide as a time of Theophany (the showing-forth of Christ as Son of God) and the mission of the Church to share the Gospel to all peoples.

As valuable as this focus is, there remains a very real need for all Christians to prepare for Holy Lent. When we defer that work until the days immediately prior to Ash Wednesday, our Lenten observance will likely be very shallow--more a matter of avoiding chocolate than learning to forsake sin, love God and neighbor, or receive and share forgiveness.

To that end, during these three last Sundays of the season, we are focusing on classic themes and practices for preparation for the full observance of a Holy Lent:

- Sermons on rekindling a Holy Desire for God, humility, and forgiveness of others
- A Lenten Rule form will be set out (with a detachable commitment form) with instruction for considering your Lenten discipline.
- A list of key Lenten practices with explanations will be in the Tidings (our parish newsletter)
- The "Lenten Table" in the narthex offers a rich variety of materials, free for the taking, for your Lenten devotion.

As part of this Lenten preparation, the Last Sunday after the Epiphany (the Sunday before Ash Wednesday) will witness our annual “Farewell to Alleluia,” where we will "bury Alleluia" behind the altar, expressive of our coming Lenten fast of this word in the Liturgy. Alleluia is then "resurrected" at Easter.

While the Gesima Sundays are no longer officially part of the Church Year, my own sense is that eventually, a pre-Lenten time of dedicated preparation will re-emerge. In addition to being an ancient part of the Calendar, it simply reflects a wise and holy practice. For us to enter into Lent with true openness of heart and mind, thoughtful preparation is essential.

The 17th century priest and poet George Herbert's poem on the season begins: "Welcome, dear feast of Lent." He was aware of how this great fast was actually a rich feast of sacred knowledge and love through careful ascesis, prayer, study, and works of mercy. How may one say this without having done some examination of conscience, or considered the distance between our current way of life and that set forth in the Gospel? Should we enter one of the most important times in the Church Year, complete with all of its elaborate liturgies and traditions, having done less preparation than secular people put into their Christmas or Halloween decorations?

In the end, our Lenten preparation will always be an expression of what we believe that season is really about. If it is simply a period of dreariness, external to one's life and renewal, then we will want as little to do with it as possible. It will be all carnival and shrovetide pancakes with us. If it is vital and central to our living discipleship, we will continue the venerable practice of turning from  Christmas and Epiphanytide celebrations toward the Paschal Mystery by observing these days with intentionality, eagerness, and hope.

May the "Gesima Sisters," in one form or another, grace your days ahead as we prepare for that "dear feast of Lent" -- a feast of spiritual growth, if we but let it be.

Friday, January 26, 2018

St. Paultide Reflections – Hope for imperfect people

I am currently making my way through the little book of talks collected under the title The Road to Eternal Life by Michael Casey, OSB. I have found it very helpful not only as a commentary on the Prologue to the Rule of St. Benedict, but as a distillation of much of the best of Western catholic Christian thought and practice.

With the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul yesterday, we have entered into a short period in the calendar focused on this Apostle, his character and story, ministry, and some of the important figures arising from that ministry (including the Patron Saint of the parish I serve).

In a delightful example of synchronicity, my daily readings from Casey’s book have recently drawn much of their insight from the writings of the Blessed Apostle, and I wanted to share with those who might read this blog a few passages I have found very useful.

“It is by God’s grace that I am what I am” – warts and all. When I survey the landscape of my giftedness, it is not hard to praise God as its origin. There is, however, another side to my life that I hope will never intrude into public awareness. This is the shameful history of my selfishness and hardheartedness. For this I alone seem responsible. Indeed, this appears to be what Saint Benedict is saying in the fourth chapter of his Rule: “If he sees anything good in himself, let him refer it to God and not to himself. But let him know that the evil is always from himself and take responsibility for it.” (RB 4.42-43)

I do not want to appear to be ascribing to God the ugliness that is entirely my own creation. What I am saying is that the aspects of my life that are displeasing to me are not outside God’s plan; they are designed to bring me to a fuller realization of the unconditional character of God’s love. If I were all sunshine and light I could easily believe that God loves me because of my inherent goodness and that, in some way, I have made myself eminently worthy of that love. That seems to be a harmless enough delusion, but it is not. What do you think will happen when eventually I fall into some action that even I cannot deny, excuse, or rationalize? The logical conclusion will be that because of my misconduct God no longer loves me. My shame will quickly lead me to despair, as though God could be surprised and disgusted by the way human beings act.

Here’s what the fourteenth-century English mystic Julian of Norwich has to say about this situation:

For, in truth, we shall see in heaven for all eternity that though we have sinned grievously in this life, we were never hurt in God’s love, nor were we ever of less value in God’s sight. This falling is a test by which we shall have a high and marvelous knowing of love in God forever. That love [of God] is hard and marvelous that cannot and will not be broken for our trespasses…In love mercy allows us to fail somewhat, and in failing we fall, and in falling we die…Our failing is full of fear; our falling is marked by sin; our dying is sorrowful. Yet in all this the sweet eye of pity never departs from us and the working of mercy never ceases. (Revelation 14, chaps. 61, 48)

It is true that it is by God’s grace that we are what we are and by God’s grace we have been preserved from countless calamities of our own making. Even though we fall short of our own hopes and expectations, it is by God’s grace that we are what we are. God has a plan for us, of which we have only the sketchiest knowledge. Let us allow God to get on with the work and not delay its outcome either by taking credit for what meets with our approval or by becoming downcast when we are plunged into the mystery of our own resistance. “It is by God’s grace that I am what I am.” Whatever I have, I have received from God, and whatever I have become, it is part of the mystery of Providence. As always, the bottom line is this: I can never be beyond the pale of divine mercy.

As I reflect on this passage, a number of things stand out as very important and useful in my life as a disciple and in my work as a pastor of souls.

The first is found in the sentence: “Let us allow God to get on with the work and not delay its outcome either by taking credit for what meets with our approval for be becoming downcast when we are plunged into the mystery of our own resistance.”

In my own life, I have often been intensely frustrated—and embarrassed—by the degree to which I have resisted God’s promptings and direction. Invariably, when I finally let go of the resistance to what God is giving me grace to embrace (this is the moment of compunction or penthos, followed by repentance), real growth follows.

Over the years, I have come to see my resistance as an apparently necessary part of the work of being a disciple. Instead of being disgusted or even terribly embarrassed about this, I am gradually coming to accept that part of my humanness is being a thickie when it comes to learning the Gospel way of life.

In doing so, I have found that the resistance actually declines. Part of the resistance to God, it seems, is simple pride and stubbornness. When one accepts the limitations of the self and our actual need to fail as part of the process of believing and growing in belief, this self-acceptance leads to quicker repentance and greater assurance of God’s ongoing love for me…in spite of my sins.

The quote from Bl. Julian of Norwich is another part of this section of Casey’s book I find helpful. That the sweet eye of pity never departs from us and the working of mercy never ceases is an important truth for me to accept as I learn the implications of what we are taught in 1 John 4:8 (“God is love”). If God is indeed love, then all elements of a human-style transactionalism or quid-pro-quo relationship must be cast out.

St. Paul experienced perhaps the most intense form of realization that one’s faith has been mistaken. The feast we celebrate on January 25 is as much about his failing on his own as it is about God’s success in his life. His failing, then his falling, and finally his dying-and-rising to new life in Christ, is a clear exposition of what all who follow Jesus must undergo, each in his or her own way.

This fact never departed the Blessed Apostle. His writings frequently betray self-knowledge of his resistance—in the past and as an ongoing reality in his life. But, “It is by God’s grace that I am what I am” remains true for him—and us—at each step of the journey. This form of self-acceptance does not lead to complacency; indeed, it is inimical to complacency. Rather, it is a growing awareness of what God’s love for us really means, and how that love brings forth from us more and more desire to let salvation be accomplished in us, rather than resist it.

It is not that God creates our sinfulness or our brokenness—not at all. Yet, God’s work in our life goes beyond the day-to-day: he knows our potential self already, and the work of salvation we experience in moments of growth and in moments of resistance to that growth partakes of an ongoing relationship, a communion that is itself an expression of our created nature and God’s revealed will for his creatures.  In this sense, our resistance—like St. Paul’s—becomes part of our own story of God’s victory rather than merely our folly. Even our resistance, you see, must be given over as an intentional offering to God.

When we learn to “get over ourselves” and allow God to love us through the good and the bad, we join St. Paul in being able to say: “It is by God’s grace that I am what I am,” and say so in hope as we make our way towards that perfection which only communion with our knowing-and-loving Triune God makes possible. And that is very good news, indeed for as-yet imperfect disciples like me.