July 2, 2012

Casting out into the Deep

When John Paul II invited the Church to cast out into the deep, he was inviting all of us to enter into the depths of prayer.  Entering into the depths to discover the face of Christ, this is the great solution to the spiritual immaturity that undermines so many important efforts in the world today.  In order to enter these depths requires first of all that we humbly acknowledge that we have not gone there often enough in our prayer, that we have avoided gazing on the Lord who gazes on us in love.  Deep prayer is about searching for the presence of the Lord even in the face of our hostility to Him and in finding Him, surrendering everything to Him, trusting that His mercy is greater than our misery.  He waits for us to do this.

A word of warning is in order: it is possible to do and say all that is religiously acceptable but fail to deal with God and the truth of our lives in relation to Him. There is a propensity to settle for what is culturally acceptable in our piety and to presume in having attained this that we have covered ourselves just enough.  The salvation won for us by Christ on the Cross does not work this way and to follow this course is to live a life that is not true.

That we must struggle against this propensity is not because anything is wrong with the Church or the liturgy.  Christ has died to make the Church holy and our bold confidence in prayer and life comes from the greatness of His love.  If our efforts to be pious have become exercises in hypocrisy, it is because our inner hostility to God is so great, we have a propensity to abuse even very good things in our efforts to avoid the truth about ourselves and the Lord.

Today's psalm at Mass was a sober reminder of this propensity.  In Psalm 50, the Lord admonishes someone who recites Bible passages from memory and professes to be a believer.  This is religiously informed believer who knows theology and how people of faith are suppose to live.  At the same time, this is someone who hates the discipline of the Lord and does not listen to His words.  In other words, this person's life is not in harmony with what he says he believes. In fact, we learn that this person has been sinful in his speech, tearing down other people, spreading rumors and being deceitful. Whoever this pious person is, the Lord calls him a thief, an adulterer.

It is a great grace to recognize that God's words in this psalm are not directed to someone else - these are words that ought to deeply pierce our own hearts and remind us how much we need God.  No matter how far we have fallen short, we do not scrutinize our lives in despair.  The hope of our salvation comes from the fact that God's love is greater, even than this propensity.  There is a path of salvation the Lord is waiting to show us - even in our false religiosity.  In fact, if we direct our lives to discover what He wants to show us - He can make our piety truly great.

God shows the path of salvation, that is his Son who is the Life, the Truth and the Way, to those who are dedicated to doing what is right and to using their speech to offer a sacrifice of praise.  It is not enough to know theology and to be good at religion if we want to know Jesus.  The greatness of our Christian faith is that it opens us to a whole way of life that is pleasing to the Lord - but we must, by God's grace, strive to live that life He has offered us.  We must imitate Him who died for us.  This is how we find Jesus in ever new and more beautiful ways.   He is disclosed to us not just when these efforts are successful but also when they are not - in every circumstance He is constantly ready to reveal His strength in our weakness, if we trust in Him.  We show our trust by the mercy we show one another.

This is why religious freedom is so important for Christianity - we need the freedom to put our faith into action, to make an offering of ourselves in love to God and to those He entrusts to us.  If any governmental power were to attempt to prevent us from loving the poor and the vulnerable with the love that comes from God, we would have to resist that attempt and love them anyway.  And governments constantly attempt this. The need to be true to the love of God is so strong, every age has seen Christians who would rather lose their lives than sacrifice the integrity of their faith.  Their blood helps us remember: if we do not resist powers that resist God's love, we really are but thieves, adulterers and liars.

Against false piety and socially acceptable religious observance, truly following Jesus demands living the truth - this is how we find Him and in our loving devotion to Him, He constantly rescues us from the evil of which we are capable.  Each of us can look into our hearts and discover places where our lives are not in harmony with what we believe.  To live by faith is to permit the Lord to carry us deeper into his mystery, deeper than our unfaithfulness - into the depths where our misery is overcome by His mercy.

How do we go into these depths?  We resist discouragement, confess our sins, do penance, entrust our inadequacies to the Lord, pick up our Cross and take up the way of the Lord again - thankful for his steadfast love.   It is His faithful love, not our inadequacy, that defines our lives and our faith filled efforts.

Going into the deep means going to the depths of God's love, inexhaustible depths He is ready to reveal in the absence of love that weighs down our spirits, even in our efforts to be pious.  It means making ourselves vulnerable to His love even in the humiliation of our failures. By love alone we go into these wondrous and remarkable depths because His love draws us there and once there deep in the secret abyss of His fire of love, He illumine, purifies and transforms us in beautiful hidden ways we do not understand, but which cause us in our weakness to show forth the greatness of His power.