Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Learning to be "Poor" in the Presence of God

I am a fool and a hypocrite. I know it, and I admit it. My heart seems always to be divided.

When I write these "spiritual reflections," it is true that I am trying to help myself remember the truth and to see reality in the perspective of the Gospel. But there is also this part of me that seeks attention. I'm not writing these reflections in a private notebook, but on a publicly accessible blog. Of course, I believe that maybe my process of "working things out" might also be helpful for others. I want to share my reflections as a gift. But again, there is always a lingering expectation for "the reward" of appreciation and respect. There's part of me that just "loves to be called 'rabbi,'" teacher!

I am a Pharisee. Even this confession of pharisaical behavior right now is really something of a scam; deep down there is something in me that craves your admiration for my candor. Don't trust me! I don't trust myself!

There is a flaw, a twist, a craving, a grasping that seem to be (at least) a little mixed in with almost everything I do. I never seem to be entirely free of a touch of selfish self-love. It's humbling to be aware of this ("look, I'm 'humble'"!). This is the reason some of the saints did extraordinary penances. They had very particular vocations and were given special graces. But for me, in my circumstances, flagellation or exile to the desert would not be helpful. In my case, it would more likely lead to an unhealthy self-loathing. I must follow Jesus within the circumstances in which He has called me.

We are all sinners. We all fail to some degree. So it is, for human flesh and blood. "Forgive us our trespasses," we are taught to pray every day. The assumption, of course, is that we are going to trespass. Jesus doesn't want us to obsess over our faults, but to ask for the Father's mercy, and to be formed according to His will in the school that is this life: "Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

So we fail, and God is rich in mercy. But there is a special way that we must ask for God's mercy, and that is with the humility of hearts that are themselves merciful. "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." Here Jesus sums up life. We sin. But others also sin against us. We are hurt. We are betrayed. We are the victims of injustice. We are neglected. But we must forgive others. We must be people of mercy. This is not easy. This is where I experience my powerlessness. Here I must really "sell all I have" and give it away. Here is where following Jesus begins.

How can I be merciful to others? I must ask God to enable me to be merciful to others. Everything begins in the position of trusting God in an ever-more-radical way, the position of prayer and poverty before God.


Jesus said that it was hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. And surely I am a "rich man," regardless of whatever difficulties I may have: I am rich in comparison with most of the human race in material things, and also rich in talents, education, ambitions, ideas, and a sense of the value of myself.

But Jesus teaches His disciples, "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Matthew 19:24).

Now the disciples are very perceptive at this point. Indeed, they are "astonished" and they cry out, "Who then can be saved?" It is more than a matter of economics, although on this level it is important to remember that there are, on the whole, two kinds of people: those who are rich, and those who want to be rich. On the personal level, however, everyone is "rich"—even if all he possesses is "himself." Because we must lose our very selves for His sake.

"For human beings this is impossible," Jesus says. So we can't trust in our own riches. We can't trust in ourselves!

"But nothing is impossible with God" (Matthew 19:27). Of course! Our hope is in God! So we must return, again and again, to that posture of begging for mercy, and that posture of trust because the God who does the impossible has given Himself to us. He wants to and He will transform us into people of compassion, people who give themselves away, people who follow Him and in Him discover the only true treasure, His Love.