Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Who Am I?

July 15, 2009

Memorial of Saint Bonaventure, bishop and doctor of the Church

But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of Egypt?" He answered, "I will be with you; and this shall be your proof that it is I who have sent you: when you bring my people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this very mountain." Exodus 3:11-12

All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him. Matthew 11:27


(This reading on mystical (contemplative) prayer, taken from St. Bonaventure's Journey of the Mind to God (Cap. 7,1 2.4.6: Opera Omnia, 5, 312-313), is used in the Roman Office of Readings for the Feast (liturgical memorial) of St. Bonaventure on July 15.)

Christ is both the way and the door. Christ is the staircase and the vehicle, like the throne of mercy over the Ark of the Covenant, and the mystery hidden from the ages. A man should turn his full attention to this throne of mercy, and should gaze at him hanging on the cross, full of faith, hope and charity, devoted, full of wonder and joy, marked by gratitude, and open to praise and jubilation. Then such a man will make with Christ a pasch, that is, a passing-over. Through the branches of the cross he will pass over the Red Sea, leaving Egypt and entering the desert. There he will taste the hidden manna, and rest with Christ in the sepulcher, as if he were dead to things outside. He will experience, as much as is possible for one who is still living, what was promised to the thief who hung beside Christ: Today you will be with me in paradise.

For this Passover to be perfect, we must suspend all the operations of the mind and we must transform the peak of our affections, directing them to God alone. This is a sacred mystical experience. It cannot be comprehended by anyone unless he surrenders himself to it; nor can he surrender himself to it unless he longs for it; nor can he long for it unless the Holy Spirit, whom Christ sent into the world, should come and inflame his innermost soul. Hence the Apostle says that this mystical wisdom is revealed by the Holy Spirit.

If you ask how such things can occur, seek the answer in God’s grace, not in doctrine; in the longing of the will, not in the understanding; in the sighs of prayer, not in research; seek the bridegroom not the teacher; God and not man; darkness not daylight; and look not to the light but rather to the raging fire that carries the soul to God with intense fervor and glowing love. The fir is God, and the furnace is in Jerusalem, fired by Christ in the ardor of his loving passion. Only he understood this who said: My soul chose hanging and my bones death. Anyone who cherishes this kind of death can see God, for it is certainly true that: No man can look upon me and live.

Let us die, then, and enter into the darkness, silencing our anxieties, our passions and all the fantasies of our imagination. Let us pass over with the crucified Christ from this world to the Father, so that, when the Father has shown himself to us, we can say with Philip: It is enough. We may hear with Paul: My grace is sufficient for you; and we can rejoice with David, saying: My flesh and my heart fail me, but God is the strength of my heart and my heritage for ever. Blessed be the Lord for ever, and let all the people say: Amen. Amen!


Who am I?

Who am I in my eyes? Who am I in the eyes of others? Who am I in God’s eyes?

Once we know who we are, we can try to look God in the eye like Moses did and be in the presence of God like St. Bonaventure. Because, like any other person, the way we come to know them is to spend time with them. How do we really know God if we do not spend time with God? Moses spent time when called over to a burning bush? How will we know if God is appearing to us on a Metro bus or at the IHOP, or on the steps outside the Metropolitan Club begging for change? If we do not try to get to know God before these encounters, we probably will not recognize these moments close to the Lord when they occur.

There are two relationships that improve when I get to know God. First is mine. Second is yours. So unless you want to improve your relationship with others, what difference does God make in life? All the difference in the world.

In God’s eyes, there is no application form, no job interview, no test and certainly no election or Senate confirmation hearing. We are all given everything we need to walk for justice. The shy Moses is given everything needed to confront the powerful pharaoh. So are we.

God provides all but there are still people who reject all the good gifts provided and reject having a relationship with the Lord. This weekend I listened to a radio interview of a young atheist woman who took out ads throughout Europe saying that there might not be a God, so enjoy life now. Guilt-free. This “carpe diem” attitude is pervasive throughout the world. It no longer surprises me when I encounter it. Yes, it would be easy to deny that God exists especially in a world filled with people who are centered on themselves. It would be easy to deny God when we see such death and destruction in the world.

So maybe God does not exist. Why else would a couple who have adopted a dozen special needs children in Florida be gunned down during a home invasion? Wouldn’t God stop that if He was in the world?

But maybe our atheist advertising friend is wrong. We could all look at natural disasters, wars, famine and more and ask God why he allows such hurt to happen in the world. And the atheists would probably jeer us on. However, that brings to mind a religious cartoon Pontius’ Puddle that appeared in some church bulletin a few years ago.

Frog: Sometimes I’d like to ask God why he allows poverty, famine and injustice when he could do something about it.

Turtle: What’s stopping you?

From: I’m afraid God might ask me the same question.

Just like Moses was the voice for the people of God in pharaoh’s court thousands of years ago, we are now the only hands and feet and voice that God has in the world.


Who “knows” what God will ask of us? Moses did not think he was worthy of the task to advocate for the enslaved Israelites before Pharaoh. However, God provided him with the strength he needed to plead their case and ultimately to prevail.

What will God ask of you? I’ll leave you with one more version of a Pontius’ Puddle dialogue to consider:

Pontius: I wonder if God can really hear me. “Hey God! What should I do with my life?

God: Feed the hungry. Right injustice. Work for peace!

Pontius: Just testing.

God: Same here.