Sunday, July 14, 2013

What Motivates You?

Crucifixion, sketched by St. John of the Cross

(15th Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year C; This homily was given on 13 July at St. Francis Xavier in East Providence, R.I. and 14 July at St. Elizabeth in Bristol, R.I. See Colossians 1:15-20 and Luke 10: 25-37)

What motivates you?  What are you passionate about?  What is the driving force behind what you do, day in and day out?  Certainly for many people it is family, relationships, hopefully our vocation (be it Marriage, Priesthood or Religious Life).  But sadly for many people in our culture today the answer to those questions is not very inspiring. 

For many people today, what they are passionate about is reality TV!  We know from the ratings that people will spend hours and hours watching reality television shows, living vicariously through dysfunctional personalities that are anything but “real.”  For others the motivating force in their life is sports.   There is nothing wrong with following our favorite sports team and keeping up on our favorite players.  But if all of our time and resources are going into memorabilia and tickets that we cannot afford, or if we have left no room for anything else but the sports we enjoy then our passion has become an obsession and that game will not end well. 

For some, their passion may be work or financial investments—all good things—but if we allow them to consume our lives those very same things can become destructive. 

St. Thomas Aquinas would caution us to be prudent when it comes to our passions.  Which leads me to the point of this homily: What about the saints?  What were they passionate about?   What motivated the saints of God down through the ages?  What was the driving force behind everything they did, day in and day out?  In a word: GOD!

The saints were passionate about knowing God.  They were driven by the question: “Who is God and what is He like?   They were practically obsessed with knowing what God wanted, so that they could do those things.   The saints longed to discover what God hated and disdained, so that they could avoid those things.  They wanted to know God.  Passionately.  Always.  Everywhere.

One of the most passionate among them is the Apostle, St. Paul.  In our Second Reading this weekend, St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, he shares with us what he has discovered about God through the person of Christ Jesus:

Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God.
—Colossians 1:15

From the first day that he encountered Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus (see Acts 9:1-19), St. Paul’s life was forever changed as he suddenly came into intimate contact with Jesus Christ.  In his Letter to the Colossians he is communicating from experience that what was once mysteriously hidden in God is now visible and tangible in the person of Jesus Christ.  Do you want to know what God thinks about this world in which we live?  Look no further than Jesus Christ, who comes here to save us and set us free from our slavery to sin.  Do you want to know how God cares for the most vulnerable and weak of this world? Look to Christ, who neither bruises the fragile reed nor snuffs out the smoldering wick (Matthew 12:20).   Do you want to know what God abhors and opposes with all of His divine strength?  Look to Christ who tolerates no hypocrisy and lays waste the mountains of pride (Luke 3:4-6).

But St. Paul, of course, would never wish us to look to Christ as a mere example.  For all that Christ would teach St. Paul by His way of life and His inspired doctrine, the image of the invisible God St. Paul refers to is a living image, not a deceased one.  Jesus Christ does not merely teach us how to live and show us the way.   He lives in us and allows us to follow His commandments in the most effective and life-giving way imaginable.  St. Paul knew that. 

In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul asks: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).  We live in an entirely different way because Jesus Christ lives in us.

In his dramatic appeal to the Church at Galatia St. Paul will proclaim: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).  Following Jesus Christ is nothing less than a personal and intimate encounter with the one who is Himself “the image of the invisible God.”  He not only teaches us and guides us in the way to eternal life.  He also lives in us through the power of Baptism in the most intimate and dynamic of ways.  Understanding this wonderful truth allows us to fully grasp what Christ is communicating to us this weekend in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

When Jesus Christ relates that parable He is not merely addressing His audience as a motivational speaker.  He is not trying to say, “The Good Samaritan is a man who did good things for people.  Now you, too, should go and do lots of good things.”  No, it is something far more personal than that.  In fact, St. Augustine frames that parable in the context of our salvific relationship with Jesus Christ, our Redeemer.

St. Augustine says that the Good Samaritan in that parable is Jesus Christ Himself, who comes to us not from some foreign country but from another world altogether.  The one who has been beaten and robbed, lying half-dead by the side of the road, says Augustine, is Fallen Adam.  Waylaid by Satan and his minions, Adam has been stripped of his ability to live the life he was created for.  There is nothing that he can do now to change that.  Suddenly this Good Samaritan from Heaven, Jesus Christ the Son of God, sees him and is “moved with compassion at the sight” (Luke 10:33).   He pours the oil and wine of the Sacramental Life upon him, says Augustine, bringing healing and wholeness.  He pays for the recovery and redemption of Adam not with two silver coins but with His own self-gift, His body and blood offered graciously and with great love on the altar of the cross.  What a Good Samaritan indeed!

We do well to look to the great Spanish mystic and Doctor of the Church, St. John of the Cross, who poetically expresses the heart of this Good Samaritan and why He felt so motivated to take on our humanity and save us.  He writes, in his “Stanzas Applied Spiritually to God and the Soul”:

A lone young shepherd lived in pain
withdrawn from pleasure and contentment,
his thoughts fixed on a shepherd-girl
his heart an open wound with love.

He weeps, but not from the wound of love,
there is no pain in such affliction,
even though the heart is pierced;
he weeps in knowing he’s been forgotten.

That one thought: his shining one has forgotten him,
is such great pain
that he bows to brutal handling in a foreign land,
his heart an open wound with love.

The shepherd says: I pity the one
who draws herself back from my love,
and does not seek the joy of my presence,
though my heart is an open wound with love for her.

After a long time he climbed a tree,
and spread his shining arms,
and hung by them, and died,
his heart an open wound with love.

It may seem hard for us to imagine, but God is more saddened by our unwillingness to turn to Him for help and healing than He is by the sins we commit.  How far He is willing to go—willing even to bow to “brutal handling in a foreign land”—if only we will recognize Him as our Divine Bridegroom and return love for love.  The Good Samaritan has come so far, and given so much!

The heart of Jesus Christ is “an open wound with love,” waiting for us to return to Him and to receive the healing and forgiveness we all long for.  If that does not motivate us, than nothing will!

Friends in Christ, there are not enough motivational speakers in the entire world to transform us deep within and take us away from the selfishness and the sins that so easily beset us.  There are not enough hours of motivational talks or enough authors of motivational books to ever effect the change that we all pine for in our personal lives and in society. 

Yet one Man, who is Himself “the image of the invisible God” has the power to change and transform our souls and the world around us.  How is God challenging each of us to encounter that one Man, that Good Samaritan, this week?  How might we allow the Sacramental Life of the Church—the regeneration we have received in Baptism; the grace of forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation; the power of Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist; the outpouring of the Holy Spirit we have received at Confirmation; and the Sacraments in which Christ has poured the oil and wine of salvation upon us—how might we allow that new life to heal us and set us free to live the Christian life like never before?

Because the world we live in is desperate to see “the image of the invisible God,” desperate to encounter the living God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in a personal and meaningful way.  Might they see and encounter Him more completely in us this week.