Summary: Christ loves us too much to let us coast.
Monday of 33rd Week in Course 2012
Vatican II–Lumen Gentium
Not Abandoning Our First Love
One of the greatest temptations of life is to coast. We come to a point of satisfaction in some area of our living, and just want that to last forever. So we stop taking risks, we stop putting extra energy into that wheel, and think we are set. We forget that the Lord, in His mercy and love, can’t abide us being satisfied with anything less than His magnificent plan for us. Athanasius put it best–God became human so that humans could become divine. Nothing short of imaging Jesus Christ is good enough.
The church of Ephesus in the time of the elder John actually looks pretty good on paper: “you cannot bear evil men but have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not, and found them to be false; I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary.” If Jesus said this about Holy Spirit parish, we’d probably feel quite satisfied.
Jesus has one last thing to say: “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” Abandoning the first love. There’s an allusion to abandoning one’s spouse in these words–they are just that wrenching to hear. Do you remember when you fell in love with Jesus? Were you sitting, blind and impoverished, begging by some symbolic road, snatching little hints of pleasure from the passersby, when you heard that Jesus of Nazareth was near. In your heart or voice, you cried out: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me. And He did, as He always does. He restored your sight–whether it be physical or moral or spiritual–and you fell in love. But time goes by and other joys crowd in and threaten to crowd Him out. He cannot bear to leave you in your misery, so He lets someone or something hit you upside the head and jar you loose from your settled state. He says to you as He has said so many times to me: “Wake up, Pat. Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”
The Council Fathers knew this about themselves and all other human beings, so they gave us a Constitution on the Church that reminds us of the power of Jesus even over human weakness and sin: “Christ has communicated this royal power to His disciples that they might be constituted in royal freedom and that by true penance and a holy life they might conquer the reign of sin in themselves.” (LG. Art 36) It is extremely encouraging that, as our Archbishop recently told us deacons on retreat, the Synod has established the sacrament of Penance as the sacrament of the new evangelization. Our call is not to encourage the secular world and its citizens to feel good about this culture of injustice and death. Our call is to summon ourselves and all others to repentance.
The Council had one last thing to add to its self-reflection. In its wonderful eighth chapter, Lumen Gentium looks forward to the kingdom of heaven through the eyes of the simple maid of Nazareth–the “Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God in the Mystery of Christ and the Church.” In this run-up to Advent, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the Fiesta de Maria Virgen de Guadalupe, we all ought to re-read the whole chapter. The one person who realized her lowliness more profoundly than anyone in history, and recognized her dependence on the Father, was so much an empty vessel, empty of pride, empty of self-reliance, empty of her own agenda, that she was the perfect receptacle for God’s grace. She is perfectly attuned to the Father’s will, and perfectly one with fallen humanity in everything but sin. “She is hailed as a pre-eminent and singular member of the Church, and as its type and excellent exemplar in faith and charity. The Catholic Church, taught by the Holy Spirit, honors her with filial affection and piety as a most beloved mother.” (Art 53) The refrain that I love the best from the Scriptures is repeated there more than once: The mother of Jesus was there. In all Christ’s mysteries, she is there. That’s the fundamental meaning of the Rosary. Where Christ is, Mary is there–in joy, in enlightenment, in suffering, in glory. She is there; she is here.
When I am in pain, she is there. When I look for success and find only disappointment, she is there. When the Church is applauded, she is there. In these days, when the Church is scorned and called evil, she is there. Where the Church is, Christ is present; where Christ is, Mary our Mother is present. Listen, and say with her, behold the servant of the Lord, may your will be done.