Posted September 21, 2012 in New Millennium:
Only the Lord Sees Deep and Far

by Fr. David May.

As I write the first draft of this article, I am flying at 39,000 feet above Lake Winnipeg in central Canada. I am returning from a retreat I was asked to give to our four western Canadian houses (Edmonton, Regina, Vancouver, Whitehorse) in Edmonton, Alberta.

We reflected together on "Christ at the Center of Our Lives: Living the Little Mandate."*

The first of four reflections was entitled "Arise! Go!"—the first "word" of the Mandate. I want to share with you some of that reflection because these two words, found in significant passages in Scripture, have important implications for all who follow Christ and listen for his call.

These two words apply not only to those important moments when the Lord is indicating a new direction, even a permanent vocational call, in our lives, but also to the everyday following of his will, which comprises most of life.

I will start with two stories from the Gospels, one from Mark, the other from Luke. The one from Mark is the story of the raising from the dead of the daughter of Jairus, the synagogue official (5:21-43). The other is from Luke 7:11-17, the raising of the son of the widow of Nain. In both stories, the Lord uses a similar turn of phrase.

In the first, he says to the little girl: "Talitha, cum!", which means, "Little girl, I say to you, arise!" In the story from Luke: he says, "Young man, I say to you, rise!" In both instances, the Lord uses a word which refers to his own resurrection.

When the Lord gives the command to follow him, to rouse ourselves from whatever we are doing, it always includes this dimension of resurrection from the dead.

In fact, without the grace of Christ, we are dead, and so any offer of grace on his part is also an offer to take a step in faith towards the gift of new life, of resurrection.

This new life may not always be obvious at first as we live the day-to-day of any vocation—as we change diapers, answer the phone, reply to letters, and confront troubles without end on all sides. But experience teaches us that, if we can simply trust that the Lord is leading us and obey, he is faithful to his promises.

(One can’t help but notice in these two stories that the dead rise quite readily at the Lord’s command. No arguments. No delays. No making excuses.

This shows that there is indeed some advantage to being "dead" if we are to truly rise to newness of life. May the Lord overcome all resistance in us to his invitations to leave the tomb of self behind.)

Now let’s look at two stories from the Old Testament, the vocation stories of Abraham and of Moses.

The Lord said to Abram, "Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you… All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you" (Gen 12:1 ff).

To Moses he said,: "Now the cry of the sons of Israel has reached me, and I have seen the oppression the Egyptians have inflicted on them. So go, I am sending you to Pharaoh, and you will lead my people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt (Exodus 3:9 ff).

It is obvious how important the responses of these two men were for the whole history of our salvation and the carrying out of God’s plan. But can we also believe that there is also no small significance to our own response to his call as well?

Can we begin to fathom that our presence when and where he wants us to be may be vital for the blessing God wishes to impart or the word of liberation he wants to speak? Do we see our faith in humble but real continuity with the faith of these patriarchs and believers of ancient times?

Answer: usually not! That thought seems presumptuous at best and a useless daydream at worst. But our faith does indeed teach us that the Lord is ever at work, turning all things to good, bringing life out of death, carrying forth his mysterious plan in still more mysterious ways.

And what could be more a mystery than his choice of those whom the world considers nothing at all to be the bearers of glad tidings for a broken world?

Do you sense the grace of God inviting you and challenging you to believe such things?

That brings us back to the New Testament, where we read in all three synoptic Gospels the story of a young man who apparently could not hear this call as it came to him with radical clarity from the Lord Jesus:

"If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." (Matt 19: 21). In Mark 10:21, there is even a greater poignancy: Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have…"

These are the particular scriptural words that haunted Catherine Doherty at the beginning of her vocational journey towards founding Madonna House. How impossible it seemed at the time that God might ask such a thing!

But reading further, she was eventually able to respond with her "yes": Jesus looked at them and said, "For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible" (Mt 19:26).

Even with this assurance, we might think that the call of God asks too much of us, or that such a radical gift of faith is for Abraham, Moses, St. Francis of Assisi, Catherine Doherty, and others, but not for me.

Perhaps that means we have forgotten that whatever is asked of us in terms of dispossession of goods or family or plans is more than returned to us, pressed down and overflowing, in the gift of resurrection from the dead.

This resurrection also includes another gift, which is described in the Old Testament Song of Songs:

My lover speaks and says to me, "

Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come! For see, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth…and the song of the dove is heard in our land… Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come!… Let me see you, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet and you are lovely" (2:10-14).

This intimacy of communion with the Beloved (Jesus) is meant to be the inheritance of every disciple. In fact, it is so for all those who walk the dark road of faith, their hearts fixed on Jesus because won over (and over and over again) by his beauty, which is his love poured out unfathomably as mercy for the sinner.

There is one other passage that Catherine often quoted to us with a kind of unusual interpretation: It is a line from the parable of the guests at dinner all seeking the places of honor (Luke 14:7-11).

The line Catherine loved and which she took as his invitation to go further in the ways of the Gospel was, "Friend, go up higher." How often did we hear her speak of this and fail to hear the first word of the brief four-word sentence: Friend.

It is to his friends that the Lord makes the invitation to arise, go, and share more fully in his offering for others: I have called you "friends," for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:15).

Part of that offering today takes us back to the beginning of this article and the experience of resurrection that is at the heart of the journey of faith.

So many today living in a culture of death have no experience of this, or they see "getting high" in one way or another, as the only form of "resurrection" they know.

It is the Christian who can extend his or her hand, as did the Lord to the little daughter of Jairus, to offer an altogether different reality.

Even the simple grace of a peaceful heart is like a revelation from another world to someone for whom suffering has no meaning, and death is either feared as annihilation or welcomed as a relief from the challenges of living.

Let’s not kid ourselves: even believers today will have to face these temptations that in so many places surround us like suffocating smog.

Where will we find the wherewithal to overcome these temptations within ourselves and to speak creatively to a culture embracing its own demise? Only from the Lord, who sees deep and who sees far.

Even today he calls his disciples to arise, go and to bring Good News to the poor. (And who is poorer than the person who does not know God?) God knows how to do this, even when we do not. 

* The Little Mandate is our Madonna House way of life captured in a few short phrases, "words" received by Catherine Doherty that form the basis of the Madonna House vocation and spirituality.



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