BACK TO THE BASICS

Dear Jesus,

How long will it take for me to learn the basics of discipleship?  You first called me so many years ago when I was young, just a child, that I can’t remember a time when I did not know you.  Even when I strayed I loved you.  It was the weight of that love that caused me anguish and helped me right my course.  Never did it occur to me that you would turn your back on me, much less spurn my return.

Here I am now, no longer a child, wondering if I have understood anything about the demands of friendship with you.  The fault is not yours.  I accept full responsibility for my proclivity to adapt your teachings to my comfort level.  It is hard to accept baldly your teachings that ask your followers to be a completely new creation (your words).  Do we ever, this side of glory, come to understand and accept what you mean?

There is something comforting about ascetic practices.  I can feel so holy when I am fasting, for example.  I don’t think I have ever been tempted to wear a hair shirt.  The thought of flagellating my bare back with leather thongs and bits of bone is repellent.  Crawling on my knees to some shrine as a sign of my devotion to you or to your Mother or one of the saints does not appeal to me at all.  Yet sometimes I find myself wondering if I were really holy, wouldn’t I do all of those types of things and so win God’s favor?

That’s what I am getting at.  I am still hung up on penances as ways of getting God’s attention so that God will save me.  If I suffer enough God will love me.  If I maintain a humble posture on my knees.  What would happen if I let your words have full impact on my heart?  Of what am I afraid?  Is it freedom?  The full responsibility of being your other self?  That’s what happened, isn’t it, when I was baptized?  I was conjoined to those in whom you live, those identified with you, those living in Resurrection now.

Something tugs at me to take up former ways.  From this perspective, the way we did things when I was a child seem safer.  Then, if I were a good adorer I felt holy.  Keeping the mysteries at a distance made them mysterious but also kept me from entering into Mystery.  I didn’t have to accept to responsibility of being a c-celebrant with the presider at Mass.  It was all done for me.  All I had to do was be a passive adorer.  I could say my rosary during mass and feel that I had fulfilled by Sunday obligation – as long as I got to church before the Offertory of the mass.  And I could leave after Communion without a problem of conscience.  Today, as a co-celebrant, it is expected that I will be present for the entire Liturgy with full, active and conscious participation.  I can’t say do that and say the rosary, too.  In those days, the rosaries I said and the fasts I kept, my adoring posture, all this, I thought, made me holy and compelled God to notice.

Those were the attitudes that I thought were the basics of faith.  Maybe they were, but I wonder.  Why am I afraid to live in the freedom of the children of God (words of another friend of yours)?  Please be patient with me.  I know that over and over you have tried to explain these things to me.  Perhaps I am a slow learner.

What finally is beginning to dawn on me is that each person in every age who hears your call must be transformed into new cloth and new wine in fresh wineskins, resisting those who would try to attach him/her to old cloth or confine him/her in brittle skins – even if it would seem safer for a time.  Is that why life with you, both for individuals and for the whole people of God who are the Church, is one of constant conversion that will never be fully accomplished until we rest in you?

Sometimes, late at night, when I am very quiet and darkness envelops me, when I am anxious about the demands of discipleship and aware of my shortcomings, I think I hear you, I think I hear you whisper over and over again, “God loves you.  God loves you.  God loves you unconditionally and without reservation.”  That’s the Good News you announced.  It is hard for me to accept the image of a god who would go to the great lengths you say God would go just to get me back, were I to wander.  Even if I were to sin grievously and give no evidence of relationship with you, you try to convince me that God waits patiently and always longs for reconciliation.  Does God really love that unconditionally, dancing like a flickering flame to lure the moth?

It’s the implications of the basics that scare me.  I long for a church that proclaims that Good News loudly and clearly and without reservation.  In stead, some in the Church do not let an opportunity go by without iterating those who are not welcome to come to the table.  Aren’t you the only one who is capable of making that judgment?

I try to envision a church full of people caught up in their freedom as God’s children, exercising their Baptismal Priesthood, living as a resurrected people now.  I wonder what that would be like if the whole Assembly were gathered at the table fully, actively, and consciously co-celebrating the Eucharist in union with the Presider.  (I’ll bet no one would have to make an announcement pleading with people to remain in their pews until recessional is sung.)

Why does the vision terrify me?  Is it fear of the implications of discipleship?  Is it the weight of responsibility that freedom brings?

That is a lot to think about.  I’ll give it some more time.  Maybe I should remember that you are committed to being there with me and strengthening me with your gift of the Spirit.  I guess, in the end, more depends on you than me.  All I have to do is to cooperate with grace and take you at your word.

Sincerely,

Didymus

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