Tag Archives: gift of self

And Ye Would Not

It ain’t always pretty.

Matthew 23:37

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

Love doesn’t always look like a fluffy little bunny or a bouquet of pretty flowers. Sometimes, love comes as a heavy burden, or an injection of medicine, or a strong arm that knocks you to the ground just in time. Jesus is like this.

We often like to think of the Resurrection only. We have images of Jesus looking all bright and shiny and handsome, smiling, with his arms open wide in welcome – setting aside images of Jesus stripped, beaten, bloodied, his arms forced apart and nailed to a wooden beam. We’ll think of Jesus during his earthly ministry with little children gathered at his feet and blind people being gently touched by his soft hand – and not think of the whip in the temple or the rough carpenter’s hands praying in agony.

I have even seen Crosses that bear upon them an image of the Resurrected Christ, fully clothed. What’s with that???risen-christ-on-cross

That moment in the Bible when Jesus beckons the little children to come to him – this is not a purely happy moment filled with pleasant niceties. It comes with a rebuke. The disciples want to shoo away the youngsters, who are generally seen as a distracting nuisance – but Jesus says, “No.” He goes against the grain, disrupts the general practice of the time, upsets social protocol, and gathers the children to him. In the divine eyes of Jesus, every human being is a child – His own beloved child, whom He wants to hold in His arms and love unconditionally. In our modern time, to the people who, perhaps, make children over-precious and nearly adore them, this makes perfect sense. Of course Jesus wants innocent and lovely children near him. But… Jesus also wants the outcast and reviled near him. Jesus lovingly wills to die next to two thieves being executed for their crimes. Do we think of that? This is true love of humanity.

Why, then, did Jesus drive the money changers out of the temple with a scourge that he made out of cords? (John 2:15) Why did he not have mercy and forgiveness upon them and just give them a big old hug? Jesus did have mercy and forgiveness upon them – he did what he did for love of them. He spoke to them in a language that they could understand about the wickedness of their acts and the dark path down which they were leading themselves and the people. This is a moment in the Bible when we can see Jesus as most obviously human – one of us. He is upset by the callous, unloving intentions and methods of the money changers, who are not interested in helping the people to be reconciled with God. Their interest is in making a personal financial profit from people’s desire for God, using the religious laws of the time to their self-centered advantage. This cannot stand. I’m thinking that Jesus is so filled with justified anger that he cannot humanly utter a pretty speech to sway them. This is the time for Jesus to use his muscles, muscles formed hard and strong from laboring in manual construction, and shake open the eyes of the drowsing, slap the petty and cruel upside the head, and zealously protect and cleanse the Sacred Place of his Father with a show of human force. I suppose that he could have turned all of the money changers into gnutes or rained fire and brimstone upon their heads – but, instead, he did what any one of us human beings could do… and, perhaps, should do: disrupt the status quo.

Nobody likes to be told that what he or she is doing is wrong, even when it is wrong. Nobody enjoys changing his or her comfortable life for a promised, but unseen, improvement. We are naturally drawn to the comfortable, the soft, the easy, the shiny, the entertaining and sensually pleasing – yet, we are supernaturally drawn to the truth, to true love, to God. There is nothing more sublime, perfectly beautiful, and fully pleasing than God and true relationship with God – but that relationship requires a disruption of physical comfort, self-centered desires, and mundane niceties… in order to truly love.

The Savior of the World cannot simply be an extraordinarily good man who sets a lasting example of kindness, patience, and a generous sharing of resources. The Savior of the World cannot merely come to make the world a prettier place – but to set it free from such a cheap desire. How else can God get through to us and break us from our habit of, and addiction to, self-centered pleasure? How else can God work with human hands, through all times and in all places, to lovingly hold the suffering and lead the wandering home? How else can God show us the fullness of what we human beings can be, except to become one of us and to give Himself so completely and utterly to us in unconditional love that he lets us torture and beat him, ridicule and reject him, and kill him like a common thief? The dead body of God-Incarnate hanging on a cross speaks more profoundly than any Sacred Book that could ever be written, more intimately than any lightning bolt Revelation from the sky, and more fully and truly than any radiant smile of the depths of divine love and how utterly God wants to gather us to Him.ChristCrucified-father-Barron

We stone prophets. That’s what we do. We “kill the messenger”. That’s what we do. God knows. And God loves us so much that He is willing to let us do that to Him. God loves us so much that He sends His Only Begotten Son to us – to do with what we will. Christ loves us so much that he is willing for us not to like him. He is willing for us to be annoyed with him, to mock him, to try to drive him over the edge of a cliff. He is willing for us to kill him, for he will do what he has come to do – he will love us. He will show us the way to deepest and truest joy, he will become the way. Jesus gives us the promise of things yet unseen and does not couch it in niceties. He gives his very body and blood for us to gnaw upon – and if we refuse to understand it, then he is willing to let us walk away. He will not force us to love him in return, he will not force us into his arms. But, he will weep for us, weeping tears of blood, and he will be vulnerable for us, pierced through in the excruciating pain of crucifixion. And the first sign of the veracity of his promise will be an empty tomb.

© 2015 Christina Chase

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Servant

I want to be of some use. But I don’t want to be used.

Matthew 20:27

And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:

We don’t want to be anyone’s fool. We won’t let anyone put one over on us or walk all over us.  We are strong.  We are independent.  We can think for ourselves, thank you very much, and don’t need anyone telling us what to do — or what not to do.  If one of us is asked to do some menial task, we think that such a thing is beneath us and say to the person asking, “I’m not your servant!”

We will not be used.

But…

Are we of any use to anyone but ourselves? What happens when we are the ones using ourselves for fruitless pursuits, enslaving ourselves to our own whims and selfishness?  I’ll tell you what happens: we become the worst kind of fools — our own fools.

I was once self-centered.

When I was an atheist, I spoke like an atheist, I thought like an atheist, I reasoned like an atheist. When I became a believer, I put away with atheistic things.

I was not a mean and nasty atheist, angry at the world, disgusted with people. I was one of those secular humanist kind of atheists, appreciating beauty and kindness, concerned with the plight of others, and wanting to make the world a better place.  You would not have known by my interactions with people, by my words or by my actions that I was a “godless heathen”.  But, well… I was.  I did what I wanted and what I wanted was what made me feel good about myself.  That very sentence can describe many people — including those who claim belief in, and love for, God.

The thing is, even when I might have said or done something that was of service to another, I cannot say that I did it purely for that other.  My act of kindness was not a selfless act, it was not true charity, because I was doing it to bring myself pleasure.  You know that pleasure that you get when you do something good for another person?  It gives you a kind of lift and can lead you to think very lovely things about yourself, and you are happy for that moment.  In this way, I can see how some people could actually get addicted to do-gooding.  But, what kind of good does it really do?  The other person who was helped is benefited.  But am I who did it?  I don’t think so.

You see, there were always people, who I helped out in some way, who did not experience the same pleasure as I did from my action. Sometimes, they received my kindness with ingratitude.  Sometimes giving meanness in return.  And, believe me, I snapped back at those people in a hurry.  “You don’t want me to help you?  Fine, then.  Suffer.  See if I care.”  Because, well, I really didn’t.  I centered all of my goodness, my talents and gifts, my beauties and strengths, in myself.  I did these things, I deserved full credit, I, I, I….  I hoarded any good quality of mine like a treasure.  I might pay out some of it somewhere if I thought it was a good investment and would give me a pleasurable return.  But, if it didn’t, then I would withdraw very quickly.  I was self-centered.

And then I became God-centered.

What does it mean to be God-centered? Well, it could be explained in many ways, but to explain the difference between being self-centered and God-centered, I’ll continue along the same lines that I wrote above.  As an atheist, I gave full credit to myself (including my genetics and experiences) for any of my gifts and talents, and anything that I thought, said, and did that was good, true, or beautiful (I was the determining judge of what was good, true, or beautiful, anyway).  But, as a believer, I give full credit to God (the true judge of truth, being Truth Itself) for all of my gifts and talents, and everything good, true, and beautiful in my thoughts, words, and actions.  God is the treasure and the treasure house.  God is the center.  And, by the love and mercy of God, God chooses to dwell within me.  Not because I deserve this.  But because God loves.

It’s like this. God created human beings in His own image and likeness and saves us from our sins, from our waywardness (a kind of drunk-on-self stumbling stagger, which is life that ends in death) by becoming one of us.  Christ sanctifies all of humanity through his Incarnation, Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension: the Paschal Mystery.  And when we choose to enter into the life of Christ, we first enter into the death of Christ — and then we are reborn.  And we are not reborn in order that we may serve ourselves, our own whims and pleasures.  We are born again from above in order that we may truly become ourselves by serving others.  It is that entering into the death of Christ that allows us to truly be of use — without being used.  We Christians sometimes say that we “die to self”.  And that can sound kind of scary and weird to non-Christians — even to Christians who have not come to a fuller understanding of Christ’s sacrifice, yet.  But, you see, it is by emulating Christ, in giving ourselves away, that we are able to fully recognize God as the center and then able to give tirelessly and selflessly from the Divine treasure house within each of us.  No need to hoard.  And no need to be thanked or even recognized for the good service given to the other.  All glory to God.  For we are doing what we simply must do as true believers.  In much the same way, a rose must breathe sweetly and a flooded stream flow quickly.  It is the true nature of who we are and we cannot weary of it as long as we remain who we are.

And, so, as a believer, I know that I can be of use to others without ever being used. If someone wants half of my desert, then I should offer them the whole thing.  If someone needs help with a computer problem, I should patiently give it and not begrudge one moment extra spent doing more than might be “necessary”.  Yes, this is the God-centered life.  (God, help me live it!)  And it can be tiring, and thankless, and even lonely, sometimes.  But, the greatest human that ever lived, and ever will live, was humiliated, abandoned, tortured, and killed cruelly.  And, yet… He was willing to go through it all for the sake of the very ones who hurt Him… and so He is is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  To be like Him is more than a good idea, a pleasure, or something that might be rewarded — it is simply and profoundly who I am as a human being, first, foremost, and always.

© 2014 Christina Chase

Thou Shalt Love

Luke 10:27

And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.

So many times – too many times – people think that Christianity is all about rules.  I’m a member of the Catholic Church (Roman Rite) so I hear the rules criticism all the time in the Media.  Gratefully, I understand that Christianity is not about rules.  Christianity is about love.  Now, I don’t in any way mean that the Commandments should be thrown out – quite the contrary.  The 10 Commandments given to Moses by God should be embraced – should be loved.  The essence of what God is asking us to do is to be who God created us to be: persons of love.  First and foremost we must embrace the truth that God is love.  And we, being created in the image and likeness of God, are images and likenesses of love.

That’s a whole lot of use of the word love in one paragraph… But… what is love?

Love is the gift of self.

Before the universe existed, God IS.  God is Being Itself and generously gives this beingness to what He creates, to what is not strictly God Godself – to what is other than God.  This generous giving of self to the other is true gift.  And God created “man in His own image; male and female He created them.”[i]  God is One, there is only one God, and, in our limited human understanding, we Christians believe in one God in three Divine Persons.  The Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has been described as Lover (loving), Beloved (loved), and Love (the communion between and within lover and beloved).  As human persons we are given, by God, not only the ability to love as God loves, giving and receiving, but also the very identity of love itself.  Pope John Paul II said, “a person is an entity of a sort to which the only proper and adequate way to relate is love.”[ii]

In the book of Genesis we hear God say, “It is not good for man to be alone.”  We are made for loving relationship.  Among all the creatures of God, it is only in our fellow human beings, our fellow Divine images, that we can experience true loving communion – and therefore be truly and wholly ourselves.  No other created being “offers man the basic conditions that make it possible to exist in a relation of reciprocal gift.”[iii] God is love and we are created to be love – and this means that a “person” should never be treated as a means, a way or a tool used to get something else.  If we want to know the truth, then we need to know that persons are gifts of love and are fulfilled only when giving and receiving love, in loving communion with God and with one another.

Sometimes we use the word love in a different kind of way – for things, namely.  I can say, “I love God, I love my parents, I love beauty, I love ice cream” and mean “love” a little differently each time.  When Christ sums up the 10 commandments and reiterates the divine commandment to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves, he is not speaking of the kind of love in which “we draw to ourselves what is outside of us when by that very love we love things other than ourselves inasmuch as they are useful or delightful to us.”[iv]  Rather, we are being told to love with all our hearts, souls, strength, minds, in a divine way in which “we draw ourselves to what is outside.  For, to those whom we love in that love we are related to as ourselves, communicating ourselves to them in some way.”[v]  So, when I love my neighbor as myself, it is not with the kind of self-love in which I find myself exclusively delightful and seek to please myself – that would be a disordered kind of self-love.  Rather, when I love my neighbor as myself, it is with the kind of love – true love – that is of my very being, that is who I am, being created by Love.  Christ Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”[vi] To truly love ourselves, we must remember that God first loved us.  Anytime we want to know who we are created to be, we should look to Jesus Christ, who is fully divine and fully human.  And when we look to Christ, we see true love – for he gives of himself completely – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity – giving of himself to us.  That’s how we are to love.

When I was younger, I heard of Christian love as sacrificial love.  These days, oddly and sadly, “sacrificial” has taken on some negative connotations, as though we’ve lost the spirit of generosity.  I believe that’s because we’ve lost the sense of who we are – not our own, but God’s own.  This means that we also have taken for granted the gift of life.  And by doing this, we also take for granted the self-gift that is true love.  We love because God first loved us.  To freely and gratefully accept this gift is our first act of love – and we truly accept this gift by loving the Giver.  Not “delighting in” the pleasure of being alive, per se, but by realizing who we are: gifts of divine love.  We realize this by being gifts – by giving.  This true self-awareness is the true and good and right kind of self-love.  It is how we are able to love our neighbors as ourselves.  It is how we are able to love God with all our hearts, souls, strength, and minds.  The giving of ourselves as a gift to the other is also the very “acceptance of the other as a gift.  These two functions of the mutual exchange are deeply connected in the whole process of the “gift of self”: giving and accepting the gift interpenetrate in such a way that the very act of giving becomes acceptance, and acceptance transforms itself into giving.”[vii]

And we don’t give in order to be thanked.  We don’t give in order to get some thing in return, some pleasure or other kind of self-centered prize.  (Although God is good and He has made us so that we may be able to experience true and deep joy when giving and receiving true love.)  And we don’t give because the rules say so!  We don’t give as a kind of blind obedience in order to satisfy the letter of the law.  For we cannot be “blind” if we are loving with our whole heart, with our whole souls, with all of our strength, and with all of our minds.  We are, rather, loving with the entirety of ourselves – because we are giving ourselves entirely.  And the reason that we freely give is because we are free gifts.  The 10 commandments are examples of how we are to love.  It is only if we have no real love, if we merely use others instead of seeing ourselves and others as pure gifts, that we would seek to kill, or lie, or steal, or cheat, or covet, or betray.  The 10 commandments serve as guideposts to help us discern whether or not we are being who we were created to be.

It’s all about true love.


[i] Genesis 1:27

[ii] Wojtyla, Karol.  Love and Responsibility.  Translated by H. T. Willetts. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1981, p. 41

[iii] Wojtyla, Karol.  Man and Woman He Created Them: a Theology of the Body.  Translated by Michael Waldstein.  Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2006, audience 14:1

[iv] Aquinas, Thomas.  Lectures on John, Chapter 15, Lecture 4, Marietta #2036 from Waldstein, p. 129.

[v] ibid.

[vi] John 15:12

[vii] Wojtyla, Karol.  Man and Woman He Created Them: a Theology of the Body.  Translated by Michael Waldstein.  Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2006, audience 17:4