Saturday, 18 February 2017

Blessed to bless.

"O infinite Goodness, You chose us to be Your creatures even before You gave us being; therefore, You could well say, 'You have not chosen Me, for since you are nothing, you had no power to choose, but I have chosen you.'  You chose to make us Your creatures and to create us to Your own image and likeness, moved by Your goodness alone.  You chose us again at our Baptism, and made us Your children,  while we, born in sin, could never have hoped to be Your children if You had not chosen us."(St. Mary Magdalen dei Pazzi)

Yesterday morning I suddenly had the recollection of being a child who very assuredly thought that I was very much loved by God. I remember feeling that I was special to Him.  I reasoned that as I was fortunate, gifted, healthy, and happy it must have been because God loved me and had given me all of these good things.  I remember being aware that I had been blessed in ways that many others had not been blessed. This must be a gift. I also recall realising that I lacked gifts that others seemed to have but it didn't bother me because I was His girl.

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What has me so excited here? Was I pondering my cousin's awesome Peep-covered birthday cake or was I pondering God's providential love for this six-year-old aspiring theologian? That time it was definitely cake.  Though, cake definitely falls within the realm of His providence, doesn't it?
The memory astounded me.  What had made me stop believing this?
I recall coming to think that considering myself blessed smacked of arrogance and pride.  I accused myself of thinking God loved me more than others; that if I considered all of my good blessings as just that - blessing, that I was inherently declaring that those who were less evidently blessed were therefore loved less, and certainly I knew that God didn't love some people less. Therefore, it was wrong, in my mind to even consider myself blessed at all.

So rather than seeing that His love and providence for me was not in competition or contrary to His being able to love and provide for others (the error of thinking God's love is finite),  or realizing that I had no gauge to judge by outward circumstances how much God was blessing or not blessing others I simply rejected those blessings as random, or as by-products of the socio-biological circumstances into which I was cast in the lottery of life.  An arm's-length, benevolent, but necessarily-removed deity was the only creator I could justify in my mind's eye.  And from that point there wasn't much point in believing at all.

I realize now that despite a powerful conversion and encounter with the truth of the Trinitarian God I carried these anti-Providential thoughts under the guise of humility for a long time even after my reversion to the Church.  But then I spent some time with Karol.

Two years ago I had the great opportunity to lead my middle-school students in a study of the book "John Paul the Great: His Five Loves" by Jason Evert.  I love this book.  I would recommend it to any confirmation-aged person or older.  I love Pope John Paul II to begin with.  Even when I strayed from my faith I viewed JPII as a giant of intellect, charisma, and most of all astounding courage.  Viewing his life now that I have returned to my faith I am even more astounded by his incomparable faith, prayer life and complete, trust-filled surrender to God's will.  Jason Evert's book captures this dimension masterfully and accessibly.

So here is a very brief summary.   Young Karol Wojtyla, born shortly after the end of the first world war, lost his mother and then his only brother at a young age.  He was raised in very poor Poland by a very devout, loving, generous father.  Karol excelled in academics, the arts, and athletics, he was a very naturally gifted young man with a heart burning with compassion and love.  The Nazis invaded his homeland and turned everyone's world upside-down. All around him was death and destruction. Friends and acquaintances were killed or imprisoned. Beautiful people whom he loved were recklessly and needlessly destroyed.  Also during this time his only remaining family - his beloved father - died of heart failure.  Karol spent the rest of the war doing manual labour in a quarry and studying secretly.

One day on his way home from working in the quarry  Karol was hit by a German truck. Instead of being left for dead in the street as would have been the norm - so lowly-esteemed were the lives of the Polish by their invaders - the soldiers actually treated him and saw that he got to hospital.  As Karol convalesced in hospital he took this brush with death and his deliverance as a confirmation of his priestly vocation.  This was neither his first nor last near-death incident.  He reasoned that if God had saved his life when so many around him had not been saved it must only have been because God must have a special plan for him.

When I read that conclusion of his it stood out as if it were written in glaring neon letters. And I did not know what to make of it.  My anti-providence-arrogance radar was going off big time.  I was baffled that someone could look at the suffering around him and see his only life as being saved, how could he see himself as special? Was he saying that all those who had died were expendable?  Yet, I couldn't outright dismiss him.  Surely, the orphaned Karol Wojtyla knew first hand suffering and loss, surely his heart burned with love and compassion, and surely he was a man of great humility.  I could not question his ability to make this conclusion.  His witness made me re-examine my own heart and opened up my eyes and my mind to a much greater understanding of Providence than what I had then, so thank you, my dear Saint, and thank you, my dear heavenly Father for this great grace!

His mystifying witness led me to ponder at length the degree of God's involvement and concern for each of our temporal and eternal lives and what I learned and discerned astounded me and still causes me to marvel daily. My Lord and my God!  How could I reconcile the abundance of good that God has apparently granted me with the justice of a world that suffers when so many more deserving people have less and I, who is so undeserving has been given so very much? I realised that I was asking the wrong question.  Rather, "Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more."

My dear friend and favourite theologian loves to remind us of the truth that any gift God gives us -any grace He grants us- is always, always, always for others.  Christianity is all about others. It's all about putting others before ourselves, of pouring out our life for the life of the world, of making ourselves channels through which God can do His marvellous work, it's about showing up each day, grateful to be called to be part of the Kingdom-building work crew.

We are gifted to give.
Loved to love.
Cared for to care.
Healed to heal.
Blessed to bless.

I have come to understand and to declare that yes, I am a very blessed woman. I have been given many great gifts in many arenas: in health, wealth, intelligence, community, citizenship, and more.   I see how all of these gifts certainly make my life easier and enjoyable and I truly thank God for these gifts, but more than that I see how wonderful it is that God has given me so many ways to share His love with others through the unique combination of providential circumstances that He has given to me alone. What dignity He gives me to have entrusted me with a unique 'skill set' by which I can love others.   All of the duties that He places in my life are purely gifts waiting to be given, gifts for the recipient but also gifts for me, for as they pass through me they fill me with His life and His presence.

I have come to affirm without hesitation that the greatest of all gifts He has given me are two gifts that are not constrained by physical limitations, nor dictated by DNA or accident of birth: He has given me the gift of being His beloved child! This is a gift that is offered to all of us! Deo gratias!  The second gift though is the gift of having been loved by others.  That too ought to be available to all.   Looking at sheer numbers, this should be the gift that is easier to attain, but I think that sadly this is the less certain one, the one people are at greater risk of not attaining because it's been left in the hands of each of us to see that it is given.  Christians, take note: let none of us pass up on an opportunity to love another, let none of us be found to have let another soul reach the end of their life having never known the feeling of having been cherished by somebody.

Mother Teresa spoke often of the greatest poverty being the poverty of loneliness, of not being loved. This is the poverty that can run rampant in the midst of affluence.   She saw starkly too how blind we are to the torrent of gifts we receive from God - both the natural gifts of life: our every breath; that the sun's power is reigned in and converted for our use by the marvel that is the photosynthetic machinery of humble plant cells; the harvest of food that feeds our world; and the supernatural gifts of His life in our souls and of love.  Sadly, we have convinced ourselves in our technocratic towers of Babel that we no longer need the love of God, and we have forgotten to love others.  Lord have mercy on us!

Little Jennifer was partly right: what we've been given is not a measure of our worth. Though it is certainly an indication that we have been invited and enlisted to do much for Him. But what is also true, and what I had erroneously rejected, is that what we've been given has indeed been given, and God is a good gift giver.

The  measure of our worth is solely that we are His and are made in His image.  He is so close to us, He is whispering to us in our every moment, inviting us to open up to let Him show us the picture He wants us to paint with the unique palette He's given each one of us.   Like Mother Teresa, let us accept with great joy that we are His pencil...or piece of chalk or calligraphy pen or can of spray paint. Maybe our handwriting is impeccable or maybe our lead is broken or dull. Maybe our words jump off the page or maybe our ink just blots and smudges, but let us consent to writing the story of His great love with our lives with every tool he has given us!

 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God!

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May we always delight in Our Father as much as my baby boy delighted in his daddy here. 

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