Saturday, February 28, 2015

Making This Agreement

Saturday of the First Week of Lent

Today you are making this agreement with the LORD: he is to be your God and you are to walk in his ways and observe his statutes, commandments and decrees, and to hearken to his voice.  Deuteronomy 26:17

But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.  Matthew 5:44-45

Lord, make me peculiarly your own. 

Scales of justice precariously balance two measures until there is some equilibrium between the two sides – as having equal weight.  Obey God and God will provide to you.  Love your friends and love your enemies.  Are these two equations equal?  Is not one side harder than the other? 

Deuteronomy has us consider what we must do and what God will do.  Newtonian laws of physics explain that one action will have an equal and opposite reaction.  If we love God, God will love us back.  True enough.  But if God loves us, will we love God back?  Maybe not always so true.  If we love our friends, they will love us back.  True enough.  But if we love our enemies, will our enemies love us back?  Maybe not always true. 

Sometimes, the scales of justice tip in our favor.  Sometimes, they might not.  However, the situations still call for our reactions to be based upon the perfect love we learn from God, not our own imperfection.

Yoda was right.  There is no try.  There is do or do not.  Jesus did not say that walking in His ways or following his statues would be easy.  He just said to do it.  Our doing so is our imitation of Christ’s perfection.  We may never get to be perfect, but that does not mean that we should stop doing what is asked of us. 

In a Lenten reflection, Fr. James Martin, SJ, makes the point that our pursuit of perfection means giving up anything that keeps us from God.  We must keep his statues and statutes ever on our mind.  Fr. Martin writes about the role that prayer before a statue had for his order’s founder and for his own growth in faith.

In 1522, in a Benedictine monastery in a mountainous region in Spain, Iñigo de Loyola did something dramatic. Before a famous statue of Mary at the Abbey of Montserrat, he laid down his dagger and sword. For Iñigo, a man who had dedicated himself to achieving heroic deeds to win worldly honors, this would be a life-changing gesture. From this point forward, he would do heroic deeds not for himself, but for God.

When [Fr. Martin] was studying philosophy at Loyola University Chicago, as part of [his] Jesuit training, there was a simple wooden statue of this moment in the chapel of the main Jesuit residence on campus. There was Ignatius, gazing into the distance, holding his sword in outstretched hands. (Fr. Martin loved that the statue’s sword was a separate piece of wood, which you could take from the saint’s hands and hold in your own.) [He] had come to Chicago after making [his] first vows as a Jesuit, and still grappling with the idea of giving things up for God. When [he] struggled with [his] vocation, [he] would pray before that statue.

God doesn’t ask us simply to give up a few things — a sword, a dagger, even an occupation — but, as the man who would become St. Ignatius Loyola understood even then, anything that prevents us from moving closer to God.

Does that sound harsh? It’s not. For in giving things over to God we are freed from whatever keeps us enslaved. In fact, God asks for even more. God asks for ourselves. What Ignatius was really offering that day was nothing less than himself. This is what God asks of us. Hold back, and we are not truly free. Give all to God and, well, you won’t believe what comes next.

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