Sunday, December 7, 2014

Living the Present, Calvary, with Passion (2 of 3)

The aims of the Year for Consecrated Life, to look at the past with thanksgiving, to live the present with passion, and to embrace to the future with hope, beautifully coincide with St Bernard's, "three comings of Christ" taken from his famous Advent Sermon. In this post (2 of 3) I will look at living the present, Calvary, with passion.

St Bernard says that the "intermediate coming," i.e. the present one, is invisible and more illusive than the other two. For this reason it is much easier missed, or expected to be a display of omnipotence rather than the presence of the Crucified Lord, recognizable only in the lives of those who believe:
"It is invisible, while the other two are visible...In his first coming our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness; in this middle coming he comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty."
Above you see typical Filipino children: joyful, poor, playful, in search of food as much as they are in search of adventure. I live at a seminary here in rural rice farming community of Camarines Sur, Philippines, and almost every time I go into Naga City, I encounter very young street children. They always have a way of waking and shaking me up, of calling me out of myself, and making me aware of the present situation.

The present situation is Calvary. God does not appear in glory as the just judge, not yet. He comes to us in disguise as a beggar, asking for our attention, for a scrap of love. The truth of the eternal and perfect unconditional love of God is not known, the face of the Kingdom Christ came to share is marred often beyond recognition.

In the Philippines, the bishops have declared, "The Year of the Poor." In the message for this year, "The Gaze of the Crucified Lord," we read:
"Behold Jesus, poor. No image of Jesus, poor, surpasses this one. Jesus hangs from his Cross stripped of his clothes, his dignity, his possessions, his power, his strength. He is fully one with the unwashed, the oppressed, the scorned, the powerless, the miserable, the outcaste. In the Year of the Poor, look into the eyes of the crucified Lord. There is no experience richer."
Jesus Christ in his disguise has to intrude into our lives in order for us to even be aware of the present. Yesterday I had two such little messengers on the street intrude. I felt my leg being flicked, and I didn't have to look down to know what that meant. I saw two smiling boys, brothers arm in arm, begging for food. They were there to remind me once again of the present moment, of my own present moment, of my own poverty, and responding in compassion was the only way I could truly reply, and still call myself a man consecrated to God. We were right next to a street vendor selling corn on the cob. I bought them one, broke it in half and said in their dialect, "Jesus loves you. Be good and stay out of trouble." Many of the street children sniff glue to blunt their pain or commit petty thefts. I looked up and there was a group of people smiling at me to actually see a religious taking care of the very ones for whom he ought have preference. It was a wake up shake up experience reminding me of who I am.

Living the Present in the Passion of Christ

Are you aware of what is going on right now from God's perspective (the only objective one)? In the Church, in the world, even in your soul according to God's grace? To say that you do, is to lapse into presumption. Because sin, not only divides us from God, from each other, and even from ourselves, not only are we truly not present to God, to our neighbor, but we cannot say that we are even really present to ourselves. We are not present to the present.

As the Advent collect reads, "since we have no merits of our own," we need the merits of Jesus Christ, that he obtained for us by his Most Sacred Passion, in order to be present to the present. It is also his glorious disguise of poverty, littleness, and vulnerability, that intrudes into our narrow scope of existence to wake us and shake us up.

A consecrated person, is a person that has woken up, that has been made aware of what is really going on, most especially made aware of the real crucified face of the love of God. The love of God in the present moment appears very poor, does not put on heirs, is not sophisticated and streamlined, but is the humblest thing beyond our imaginings. It is only a person who has truly woken up, that can, as Pope Francis is asking of consecrated persons this year, "Wake up the World!"

The other great wake up call that consecrated men and women have are their vows, particularly that of obedience. If I want to really understand my own situation I need to look at my obedience. What is God asking of me right now? What is he focussing me on? What is my daily bread, my daily sacrificial offering of my life entail? I should ask, what is my assignment?

Superiors really are THE prophet in our lives. They are the authenticated representative of God's providential Will, that mediate to us what God is really asking of us, and what he is not asking of us. Married people have this too, which comes from their vows to each other. In serving married couples, I ask them to be very careful of their wife or husband, of what they are saying, desiring, or asking of them, because there is no greater prophet who mediates God's will than the one they have been vowed to obey.

Granted, the deeper vows of our baptism that have bound us to the Most Holy Trinity are an even more primordial prophet that reveal God's ultimate Will, but the vows we have taken to obey the particular and specific present community, person, and circumstance, reveals the true cross that we have been asked to carry.

This is made even more clear when a spouse, or even a superior, God forbid, is unfaithful, or lacking in any way to their vows of baptism, for what they lack, we are asked to fill up in the beauty of true love's ugliness, i.e. its real sacrifice, the one we never thought of when we were first engaged, or in our novitiate, when love's discovery of the other was only in principle and novelty. Please don't misunderstand me, many times it is not a superior who is unfaithful, for they are usually chosen for being upright and level-headed, but they frequently ask of us to do difficult things, to reveal love where there is not, to bring fidelity where there is not, be hope where there is not.

This where we see the present, that it is really Calvary, and the demands of what love, true love, of which St Paul says, "bears all things" is asking us to carry. This too is where secondary causes such as superiors or spouses reveal the first and final cause, the Love of God, which obedience and the radical demands of this Love, are the only thing that can free us and reveal to us the reality of the present Calvary.

How to LIve the Present with the Passion of Christ

God's plan of consecrating our poverty to God will undoubtedly bring us to the Passion of Christ. The source, summit, and center of consecrated life is Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist. There the treasure chest of merits of his Sacred Passion are wide open to us. There we appropriate the sufferings, joys, hopes, lights, and glories of our life into eternal life, where we truly realize the present moment with Passion.

The Sacrament of Confession too is where the merits of the Savior are applied to us particularly, where Jesus is present to our naked poverty, who we really are, men and women in need of his mercy.

The poor also are the living crucifixes, to remind us, to wake us and shake us up, that we make shake up and wake up this world, that is in most desperate need of God.

Community life! What a crucifixion, what a glory! It is the place where we can either be sucked dry or fanned into flame that was once given us. God is calling each community to go to the Passion of Christ collectively. It calls for consecrated persons to courageously enter into a frank and open dialogue with the members of their household and not fear to honestly and charitably make an examination of conscience, not pointing the finger, but lifting each other up with helping hands, as we encounter our brother's and sister's poverty through the lens of our own poverty, the invitation to respond in love, "for by bearing one another's burdens we fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal 6:2).

Finally the Church, now more than ever, is experiencing its own poverty. Ecclesiastical crucifixions are ever so common, where circumstances in communities, particularly scandals against chastity, poverty, and obedience rock the foundations of the Church. Here we are asked to respond with charity's particularly mature prudence and a very firm resolve to not fail to be present to the Church. For the redemption the Redeemer is leading his consecrated people through at this point in history, could only be to wake up and shake up the world, as to its own desperate need for redemption.

May God grant us saints! That is what is needed now more than ever, that the grace of consecration, of public profession of the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience.

May Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, bring each consecrated man and woman to be on fire with Christ's Passion, and bring forth a harvest of holiness for the redemption of all mankind!

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