Hopko-isms, Part II

Learning to love in marriage. That’s key. Marriage, in the Orthodox tradition, and in St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians chapter 5, is clearly really only about one thing: having the singular and privileged opportunity to enter fully into Christ’s sacrificial death of love for his spouse, the Church. In marriage Christ invites you to learn from his example of loving a terribly difficult spouse. That’s the point of marriage. It’s an arena in which we are trained and formed to love the way God intended. Love in marriage is beautiful and wonderful, yes, but if it’s going to be real and lasting it’s also going to mean martyrdom. Laying down your life. But that’s not an unfortunate thing, that’s the whole point. For Christians, that is. Fidelity, suffering. Going from saying me-me-me to saying other-other-other. Killing your own will. St. John Chrysostom said, “Consider every day where you’re not slandered, falsely accused, opposed or rejected as a loss.” If you find marriage and family life hard because you have to do everything together, act in harmony and union with someone who can be tough to deal with, or oppose you, who’s different than you, thinks differently in some hard ways, then count no day in marriage a loss. You can’t be a freelance Christian. The holy Fathers say, “If a person falls, you can know they have chosen themselves as a spiritual guide.” St. Teresa says, “The self-directed are the devil-led.” If you choose yourself without submitting to another, it’s certain to crash. Isolation leads to insanity. If you say, “I love God much better when I’m away from all the idiots out there,” you’re deluding yourself.  Love is learned in community, where love is not just abstract and ideal but concrete, real, messy, irritating, un-ideal, pulling me out of myself again and again and again and again. Until I finally “get it.” Then deification comes.

My daughter Katherine used to wear a button that said, “It’s my father’s fault.” [raucous laughter in audience] Yes! Those who think, “Oh, Father Tom, I wish you were my dad.” I say, “You don’t know what you’re saying. Ask my children and they will set you straight.” I have to answer for what I have done, what I’ve failed in. But now that she knows that, it’s her problem. She has to figure it out and can’t blame me forever. We all have to come to terms with the fact that we were raised by sinful parents with all their own junk. Those who live on always angry and blaming will never become who they’re supposed to become. We have to deal with the hand we’ve been dealt and work through it all. Parenting is a good cause of humility for parents, but it also gives children all the raw materials they need for the great struggle that makes saints. But only if they can accept the reality and let God’s grace get into it all.

After decades of theological study, priestly service, teaching at a seminary and being Dean of the seminary, I now realize that what my mother taught me as a child is the wisdom I’ve been seeking for seventy years: “Go to church, say your prayers and never forget God.” If you live these three things right, with all you’ve got, all other things will fall into place.

Back in the early 1980’s I was in Greece for a meeting of church leaders. The Easterners all complained at meeting about the state of the Church in persecuted countries under Communism and Islam; the  Westerners all complained about the secularism and materialism and hedonism and the godlessness. A young monk from Mount Athos said: “Brothers! We must have hope. We have everything we need. How can we complain? What kind of witness do we give when we complain of our hardships? We have been given by God something no one can take from us: we have the cross and our death in Christ.” Everyone was silent. How we face death and the cross is what proves everything. Does the world that opposes us see us as angry, complaining, protesting, bitter, condemning? In the eighth beatitude Jesus is clear how the Church should react to rejection: “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad!” Do they see that we simply hate sin or that we love sinners — that we are sinners! — and are ready to walk with them even if it means they want to do us in? Or do they rather see us doing the truth in love, with mercy and lots and lots of joy? Who wants to be part of that first community? Yuck. Seriously. I remember several years ago when I had a serious health decline, and developed heart disease. A nun, Mother Elizabeth, in her 80’s, came to visit me in the hospital. She said, “Father, you made it beyond 70 without a serious tremor in your life. No major health problems. Now is the moment of truth and we will see who you really are and what you really are.” I said, “Oh, thanks a lot Mother!” But she was right. Before we suffer hardships we’re just blah blah. But when it gets hard, how do I respond? If I live each day like that monk said, cross-bearing and dying daily with Christ, enduring well the thousand inconveniences and irritations thrown at me, with less self and more others each day, then I’m ready. I’m ready for the whole purpose of human life. It’s why I exist.

Back in the 70’s I gave a talk at a college on the Orthodox teaching about sex and marriage. In short, I had said that in the Christian understanding there are only two options: marriage or virginity. During the Q&A one student raised his hand — I’ll never forget him — and he said with an air of disbelief in his voice: “You really believe this?” I said, “I do.” He said, “Lifelong faithful marriage and no sex ever outside of marriage. I gotta say it, expecting someone to do that? It would have to be a miracle.” I replied — and I still love the answer I gave — “At least I can leave here tonight knowing at least one person understood my talk. It is a miracle. Without the grace of God in Jesus Christ, no one can be faithful to this teaching.” Jesus said it succinctly: “Without me you can do nothing” [John 15:5]. And nothing means nothing.

Hopko-isms, Part I

oca.org

I was re-listening to a recorded lecture I had by Orthodox theologian Fr. Tom Hopko the other night to fill my late night insomnia with some light. The next morning, with great relish, I typed out the quotes I found most powerful. I’ll break it into 2 parts. Put on your seat belts, crash helmets and enjoy:

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We enter into communion with God through love, which means love for all around us without exception, and especially our enemies and those who hate us. Until we are ready to love with very love with which God has loved us in Jesus — who is the Son of his love — by the Holy Spirit who has been poured out into our hearts, we will never know God. If you allow God’s love to penetrate into the marrow of your bones, you’ll get a fire in your bones and then you can love with his love. Pray every day like a baby bird, wide-mouthed begging, full of absolute trust, to be filled with the Holy Spirit. St. Seraphim says that the whole spiritual life is acquiring the Holy Spirit. Ask. Seek. Knock. God can’t resist expectant, trusting, persevering faith.

Be aware! Consolation precedes crucifixions, exaltation precedes humiliations, divinization precedes degradation. That’s St. Isaac the Syrian. And this is the good news! Good because the cross of Jesus ensured that everything life throws at us can become a rung in the ladder to Paradise. God turns our downfall into our rising. Orthodoxy is paradoxy. Kenosis is theosis.

The holy Fathers say you should always pray to God about everything, so when what you seek does not happen you’ll know it’s not God’s will. But if you don’t pray you won’t know that it’s not God’s will, as there are some things God will not grant unless they’re sought in prayer. So not getting things we ask for is a big part of the story. But there’s always some grace seething in God’s answer, even if it seems it’s unbearable; if it seems things are crazy — they’re not crazy — well, actually, you can say that God is crazy as far as this world’s logic is concerned. The cross is a scandal and absurdity and madness — moronic! — but for us who have faith in Christ crucified and risen, at the Father’s right hand with open wounds, he is the power and wisdom of God. But you have to give yourself over to it for it to happen, you can hold nothing back. When you finally give in to him, that’s when his power unleashes. That’s what Jesus meant when he said to St. Paul, “My power is made perfect in weakness.” So then Paul goes on in first Corinthians to boast of all the catastrophes of his ministry — these are the emblems of success.  Remember? He says [1 Cor. 11:23-27], “I am talking like a madman–with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” How about putting that on your C.V.? See here, God’s success story!

The holy Scriptures — what can I say? We have to read them, contemplate them and put them into practice more than we breathe. It’s terrible that we like spirituality books, read books on theology and the saints and holy Fathers, but we don’t even know the holy Scriptures. That’s not right! All of the holy Fathers say everything in the Christian life has its foundation on the canonized Scriptures of the Church. St. John Chrysostom said that every cause of discord in Church comes from ignorance of Scripture and the irresponsible way men are made priests and bishops. He said that. Really. A constant theme among the great spiritual authors of the monastic tradition — like St Ignatius Brianchaninov — is trying to convince the monks to read the Scriptures. They’re too often more interested in reading books on spirituality or mysticism or deification than they are in reading holy Scripture. The holy Fathers all say: “This should not be! Repent! Scripture should be your primary love. This only is God’s inspired Word” There’s even a canon in the seventh Ecumenical Council that says a man should not be consecrated bishop if he cannot recite the 150 psalms from memory. Otherwise how can you teach the faith if you don’t know it by heart? The holy Scriptures should be our first love.

I know people who say, “Oh, yes Father Tom, we love to come to church because it makes us feel good, feel uplifted.” Well, okay, sometimes God consoles us in church in times of our affliction. Okay. But we go to church to get lacerated. I mean, if you see a church with a sign that says, “Come for soothing, upbeat, happy worship,” sue them for malpractice. First you have to be brought through the fire. You have to just stand there in church and let God’s purifying fire burn through you. Don’t look around and think critical thoughts, judging people’s outfits or the priest’s liturgical purity or how good you think his sermon was. Let God burn you through, let the Word of God pierce and cut through you and scrub clean your filthy mind and heart. Say, “I am ready to change, O God.” Or better, pray like the publican, with his head bowed low as the Pharisee up front babbles on about all the mistakes of his flawed neighbors — “O God, thank you for not making me like these idiots.” Rather, pray: “O God have mercy on me, a sinner.” Remember your baptism in the church was a plunge into Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, not into self-improvement and healing. For us healing means: die and rise. Our festal meal consists of a broken Body and spilled Blood. It’s a pledge, when we eat the Flesh and drink the Blood, a consent to the same dying and rising happening to us, giving us the chance to love God and our enemies. Give it all over, let it all go, renounce yourself and be ready to be hated by all for him. Immerse yourself again and again and again into the Divine Liturgy which plants us firmly on Golgotha.

 

The Grain of the Cross

thumbs.dreamstime.com

Echosmith’s song, Bright, has a wonderful first line:

I think the universe is on my side
Heaven and Earth have finally aligned

Of course, her song is about falling in love, the power of human love to make sense of life, and the alignment of constellations. But when I first heard it, I immediately thought of the Liturgy. More specifically I thought of a line from the Easter Vigil’s Exultet, which testifies to the aligning power of the resurrection of Christ:

O truly blessed night,
when things of heaven are wed to those of earth,
and divine to the human.

The Liturgy, which is really nothing other than Christ at work making all things new, is the fulcrum on which God realigns creation with the grain of divine love fully revealed on the wood of the Cross. Liturgy is Christ opening a portal between heaven and earth, a portal through which the Treasuries of Heaven come into the world and through which the Treasuries of this World are offered through, with and in Christ to the Heavenly Father. The celebration of Liturgy reveals and effects the inner unity of creation and redemption, earth and heaven, man and God. Every celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, the other six Sacraments or the Liturgy of the hours allows us to participate in the Spirit of Christ’s unifying, reconciling, sanctifying action. In Liturgy we are empowered to bring to the altar for consecration all our “prayers, works, joys and sufferings,” and receive the grace which enables us to return on mission into the world to gather up more materials for the regal Sacrifice of Christ.

Orthodox liturgical theologian Alexander Schmemann expressed this knitting effect of Liturgy profoundly in a personal testimonial from his journal:

During my school years in Paris on my way to class I would stop by the Church of St. Charles of Monceau for two or three minutes, and always in this huge dark Church at one of the altars a silent Mass was being said. Sometimes I think of the contrast: a noisy proletarian street and this never-changing Mass. One step, and one is in a totally different world. This contrast somehow determined in my religious experience an intuition that has never left me. The coexistence of two heterogeneous worlds, the presence in this world of something absolutely and totally Other. This Other illumines everything in one way or another, everything is related to it.

The Church is the Kingdom of God among us and inside us. For me the streets never became unnecessary or hostile or non-existent, and hence my aversion to pure spiritualism. On the contrary, the street as it was acquired a new charm that was un-understandable and obvious only to me who knew at that moment the presence, the feast revealed in the Mass nearby. Everything became alive, intriguing: every storefront window, the face of every person I met, the concrete tangible feeling of that moment, the relationship between the street, the weather, the houses, the people.

This experience remains with me forever, a very strong sense of life in its physical bodily reality. At the same time, this interest has always been rooted solely in the correlation of all this with what that silent Mass was a witness to and reminder of. What is that correlation? It seems to me that I’m quite unable to explain and determine it, though it is actually the only thing I talk and write about liturgical theology.

After reading Schmemann’s words, I jotted down in my journal last year this note during my time in Eucharistic Adoration:

Silent, serene, unassuming Host. Here the world makes sense again. Complexities become simple. The scattered grains of wheat are gathered and submitted to death to give life: crushed, kneaded, baked, eaten. Fear before life’s little chaoses become calm. The tangled web of lies is exposed. Sadness falls into prayer. Meaningless deadwood becomes a cross to be carried. The world makes sense again because of that Host. That frail, circular symbol that silently sings of a cosmos taken up into the dead-risen Body of Jesus. All things are made new. First in Him. Then in me. Then, only then, in All. May it be so, O Lord. Amen.

Thank you, O God, for the all-aligning Liturgy.

St. Sudan

Photo of St. Josephine Bakhita

Repost from February 2012 (with video at end)

Wednesday [February 8] was the feast of Sudanese St. Josephine Bakhita.  She was born in Darfur, Sudan and was kidnapped at the age of seven, sold into slavery and was given the Arabic name Bakhita, which means fortunate. She was brutally treated and re-sold several times, but in 1883 an Italian consul in Khartoum, Sudan bought her, brought her back to Italy and eventually freed her. She then went on to become a Canossian Sister. If you have not read a book on her life, or seen the movie you must change that ASAP. Pope Benedict XVI also offered a remarkable meditation on her in Spe Salvi 3. The amazing Refugee Ministry Coordinator, Sr. Pat Scherer at St. Ambrose Cathedral here in Iowa, lovingly introduced me and my family to St. Bakhita. I am grateful especially that Sr. Pat attuned us to Bakhita’s lively, very personal and active presence among the communion of saints. Seek her intercession out a few times, and you will see what I mean.

I would like to share a Bakhita quote, taken from her latter years, that embodies her truly stunning insight into the deepest meaning of Christ-charity, caritas, agápē.  Her life and words in many ways embody the history of Israel, freed by God from the cruel yoke of slavery in Egypt that they might make known to all the world the great compassion of the true God who desires to rescue all slaves from oppression. Bakhita said:

If I were to meet the slave-traders who kidnapped me and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands, for if that did not happen, I would not be a Christian and Religious today… The Lord has loved me so much: we must love everyone…we must be compassionate!

During her final agony, she re-lived the terrible days of her slavery and more then once she begged the nurse who assisted her: “Please, loosen the chains… they are heavy!”

St. Bakhita, from the Land of Freedom where you’ve crossed over Jordan, loosen the chains that still bind us today.

Let me honor her with this gorgeous rendering of Deep River, an African slave song that was a cry to God and a yearning for freedom:

Deep river, my home is over Jordan,
Deep river, Lord, I want to cross over into camp-ground.
Deep river, my home is over Jordan
Deep river, Lord, I want to cross over into camp-ground.
Oh, don’t you want to go to that gospel feast,
That promised land where all is peace?
Oh deep river, Lord, I want to cross over into camp-ground.

Urgent call

Sinai desert. sinaidesertfox.com

As ever, the homily at Mass today here in Omaha was a home run. Here are the notes that I jotted down from it and, per my custom, later wove into my prayer-time reflections. The first reading of the Mass was the Passover text from Exodus 11-12.

God commands Moses to have the Israelites eat in a very uncustomary manner. In Exodus 12:11, God says:

This is how you are to eat it:
with your loins girt, sandals on your feet and your staff in hand,
you shall eat like those who are in flight.
It is the Passover of the Lord.

There is a sense of urgency. The Passover meal is a feast of flight, a celebration that blends fear and hope, life and death. God’s ominous providential power is about to execute judgment on all the gods of Egypt as He prepares to free Israel from the bonds of slavery and lead them into desert where they will learn the meaning of freedom as it relates this liberating covenant-God.

The security of the determined and familiar rhythms of slavery — cruel though they be — will be replaced by the strange and indefinite horizons of the wandering desert God who exacts absolute trust from His covenant partners. Stripped of the din of slave-drivers’ shouts and led into a great silence; stripped of 7-day labor and led into 7th day rest; stripped of flesh-pots and led into fields of manna. The sojourning God leads them from the burden of slavery to the lightness of unfettered liberty to the bonds of covenanted freedom.

The homilist told of time he spent as a chaplain in a prison for men who had committed serious crimes, but were preparing to be released. He would celebrate Mass weekly and about 30 men would come. One man he came to know had had a radical conversion in prison. “He was a big man, looming, not someone you would want to meet in a dark alley.” After his conversion the man, who had only a high school education, developed a ravenous appetite for reading. He asked the chaplain for the “classics” in the spiritual life. The chaplain gave him several, including St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. After completing all of the books he had been given, the man said to the chaplain: “Father, all of these authors use different words, but they really say the same thing: Empty yourself so God can fill you.” Prison can either take everything away from him against his will, or he can just freely give it all away.

We need to be disciples with a sense of urgency, seeking the freedom that is found in God. Stripped of all that binds us from being free to respond to our life’s Passovers, we can begin to allow God to freely act in us so that we might learn to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God. Look within: Anger. Fear. Mistrust. Unforgiveness. Scrupulosity. Cynicism. Despair. Pride. Laziness. Lust. Greed. Procrastination. Permit God to execute His judgment on all these gods, recalling that God’s judgment is mercy for those who cry out to Him: “Free me, O Lord, from all that holds me from soaring in love to you!”

Receive, O Lord, all my liberty. Take my memory, my understanding, and my entire will. Whatsoever I have or hold, You have given me; I give it all back to You and surrender it wholly to be governed by your will. Give me only your love and your grace, and I am rich enough and ask for nothing more. — St. Ignatius of Loyola

Amen.

Go.

“The Call of St. Matthew” by Caravaggio. caravaggio.org

Jesus teaches us another way: Go out. Go out and share your testimony, go out and interact with your brothers, go out and share, go out and ask. Become the Word in body as well as spirit. — Pope Francis

Last Sunday’s first reading was a brief excerpt from the prophet Amos. In it Amos responds to the Israelite priest Amaziah’s command that he, Amos, leave Israel and take his unpleasant prophetic message with him. Amos protests that he is no “professional” prophet, not part of the kingdom of Israel’s prophet guilds that would hang around the royal court and prophesy comforting words to the monarchy. Rather, he was called from the kingdom of Judah and commanded by God to abandon his profession as a shepherd and arborist to proclaim His word of judgment on the corrupt kingdom of Israel. God, Amos said, spoke to to him with that simple mission verb in the imperative: “Go.” In the Scripture this verb often seems to be the equivalent of another unsettling verb — Jump.

Every divinely given vocation implies a mission, but it also contains the gifts needed to do carry out that mission. And every gift given to me by God has inscribed within it the name of every person God intended that gift to serve. So even as I rejoice in the gifts I possess, I recall the words of Jesus: “To whom much is given much will be expected” (Luke 12:48). Though vocations can at first feel very me-focused — a sign of God’s particular love for me by name — missions are other-focused. My spiritual director of long ago gave me a phrase that has forever burned itself into my heart: “Whenever people laud your gifts, say: How much God must love them to give me these gifts! Gifts are only an indirect compliment from God to you; but are a direct compliment to others.”

An Orthodox Jewish Rabbi I worked with in Hartford back in the 1980’s once said to me, when I asked him what it meant to him that he was part of God’s chosen people:

Some chosen-ness! Disasters, enslavements, exiles, genocides, forever wandering the earth like our father Abraham. This is the terrible and blessed burden of being chosen, of making known His holiness among the nations. Baruch Hashem.

Baruch Hashem means, “Blessed is the Name (of G-d).”

Every celebration of Holy Mass, which binds our lives to the terrible Crucifixion and blessed Resurrection of Christ, is inscribed with the language of vocation and mission. We are called by God to worship and receive the Gift that empowers us for our mission: Venite, “Come!”  And we are sent by God on mission: Ite, missa est, “Go, be sent!” I recall one Sunday the priest-celebrant of the Mass, just before the dismissal, said: “You’ve come today to be fed, and you’ve feasted on God himself. Now go and feed the world with the food you’ve been given and watch Jesus multiply what you give away. Freely you’ve received, now freely give. Then come back next Sunday and share with all of us and God the fruits of your harvest. The Lord be with you…”

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Monument at Creighton University where I am teaching this summer.

The Nth Degree (-issimum gradum)

[Incidentally: this is my 1000th post since I began this site.  I feel great joy (Matthew 10:27) and terror (Matthew 12:37) at this accomplishment!. Thank you most sincerely for reading now and again, as y’all are the primary reason I write. Psalm 115:1 gives me words of thanks: Non nobis, Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam. “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to thy name give the glory.” Deo gratias et gratias tibi.]

I am excited to post today the thoughts of a biblical scholar, imaginative thinker, dear friend, intellectual companion and soul-sister, Dr. Sonya Cronin. She shared them with me the other day by email. It’s her theological response to my post from last week entitled, “Paschal Providence.” I am grateful beyond words that she allowed me to re-post her work here.

Sonya

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The idea of the “nth” degree began with C.S. Lewis’ “The Necessity of Chivalry” – an essay that has always been very compelling to me. In it Lewis argues that our modern notions of chivalry, which must be cultivated, comes from the medieval knight. The knight is both fierce to the nth degree and meek to the nth degree. He is mighty and courageous in battle, but also meek in the dining halls, able to go from being the man of war, to the man of peace, with grace, manners, gentleness, and civility. These ideals are not mixed, but must coexist, neither one compromised or watered down, and the combination does not occur in man naturally but must be cultivated, as most are prone to one or the other.

In a recent blog post, a dear friend of mine discussed the problem of evil in relation to hope and surrender (trust). A topic near and dear to me, I knew he had struck gold when after reading it, I didn’t want to fling my computer and vomit. There was no visceral reaction lined with intense anger, but instead it was a “balm of Gilead” which fell cool on raw vulnerability. In the blog post, he discussed holding Matthew 6’s “consider the lilies of the field… do not worry” with the latter passage in Matthew (27:46, also spoken by Jesus),  “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.” Juxtaposed in this conversation is utter trust, with utter anguish – nth degrees.

This concept is one that I think we most of us dance around, it hovers in the back of our conscience, but perhaps is not understood as a fundamental concept of God: the extremes, that must be held lightly but with all our might, and that cannot be mixed (lest each actually negate the other), and like Lewis’ chivalry, must be cultivated if they are to exist together. It reminds me of the words in Revelation (3:15-16) to the Church in Laodicea, ““I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

As this pertains to the problem of evil, trust, and hope, we are to hope in God to the nth degree but also trust to the nth degree, especially in the moment of darkness and evil. As it has been said many times before, there is no need to hope when the sun is shining, but we are to hope when we cannot see the light, when the dark is what we see all around. “Rescue me” says the Psalmist (Ps. 71), “For YOU Oh Lord are my hope.” Here we have hope and trust, married in the stand against evil and darkness. This may seem like an obvious, but there are other systems which suggest differently. One of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism states that the cause of suffering is desire. Eliminate desire and you will eliminate suffering. “Hope not” it suggests, “and you won’t be disappointed.” Here we have absolute resignation, and the submission to whatever comes. On the other side of this is hope without trust, which cannot help but be disappointed. As my hopes are dashed over and over, if I cannot trust that God does indeed will the Good, and will come through, I can only fall into eventual despair.

When they ask Jesus what the greatest commandment is, He responds with the Sh’ma, the maxim that is repeated over and over, morning and night by every observant Jew, “Hear O’ Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. You will love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and with all your veryness.” You will love him with your hope, with your trust, and to the nth degree.

Jesus Himself is the embodiment of this living, loving, and trusting to the nth degree in Phillippians 2.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

Phil 2:6                who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God

as something to be exploited,

Phil 2:7                but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

Phil 2:8                               he humbled himself

and became obedient to the point of death—

even death on a cross.

Phil 2:9                 ¶ Therefore God also highly exalted him

and gave him the name

that is above every name,

Phil 2:10             so that at the name of Jesus

every knee should bend,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

Phil 2:11             and every tongue should confess

that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

Notice here the extremes. Christ was in the form of God (exalted to the nth degree), and emptied himself… into human form, but not stopping there, was obedient unto death (humbled to the nth degree). Through the Cross, obedient, Christ is then exalted, glorifying the Father. There is no lukewarmness here, no middle ground.

In the Gospels, Jesus takes the law and pushes it to the nth degree.

Matt 5:21 ¶ “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’

Matt 5:22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.

Matt 5:27 ¶ “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’

Matt 5:28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

But in the Gospel of John when the woman is found in the very act of adultery, Jesus does not condemn, He forgives. He calls us to the highest of standards, but then expects us to extend grace even beyond, nth degrees.

He is able to expect this from us, His family, because he paves the way. To quote the blog once more, “St. Matthew’s Gospel tells us, ‘And going a little farther Jesus fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will”’…The Father’s answer was not preventing Jesus from ‘loving us to the end’ in the Passion (cf. John 13:1). His answer was raising Jesus from the dead. By doing this, and by not saving Jesus from our plight, God transformed the silence that envelops every human Passion into a space for trust and surrender.”

It is not by denying hope, trust, or even sorrow that we find God. It is in embracing it all to the nth degree. Hope with all your heart; trust, with all your heart, and when hopes seem dashed and God seems silent, it is okay to let your heart break (Christ sweat blood, and on the Cross, blood and water flowed). But don’t let go, and don’t give up.

In John 14  Jesus tells us:

v.1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?

3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.”

5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

In light of the cross, and in light of our own passions, this passage has a certain nuance. It is not just about “getting to heaven” or understanding Jesus’ cryptic words, it is about hope and trust in the midst of evil. Jesus doesn’t just give us the hope of heaven, but the way to make it through our lives here on earth – the same way He himself did, through death to self and abandonment in trust to the Father. In the model of His life and death, His hope in God and for humanity, and the devastating reality of the impending passion in the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ tells us we can trust Him, God the Father, and this model. Thomas asks the important question, “How can we know the way?” “I am the Way” responds Christ, as He makes His way towards His passion, the salvation of the world, and the defeat of death and darkness through death and darkness. He has shown us the way, and it is loving the Father to the nth degree, with all our veryness, embracing our own crosses and passions, not as one abandoned, but as one loving and trusting the Father, who will raise us also. God, in an absolute demonstration of respect for the human other, does not “rescue” us from the consequences of our freewill or humanity’s cooperative freewill, He allows it to play out, and then, He initiates a response. He shares the world that we have marred, dies the death that we have caused, and in His divine freedom, fulfills all and then takes us home to be with Him forever.