Monday, May 26, 2014

Do you need some encouragement?

Several years ago I was on an 8 day silent retreat as part of the Institute for Priestly Formation summer.  We had 4 hours of prayer each day and were asked to pray with particular Scripture passages during those times; to really dive in and meditate on them. At the very end of the retreat I was talking with a Priest who asked me "Of all of the Scripture passages you had to pray with which one spoke to you the most?"  He was trying to help me get the "main point" which God had been offering to me during those 8 days of prayer and silence.  In other words, he was helping me to sum it all up.

On one of the days we prayed with a passage from John 14 which was exactly what our Gospel was today.  One verse - out of the entire retreat - stood out to me. Verse 18:

"I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you."

Now, my retreat at that time wasn't necessarily a very "difficult" or "dry" period for me.  There was much consolation and I experienced a lot of peace and healing.  So why did this verse - and why does this verse even now - stop me dead in my tracks?

I think all of us have tremendous pain in our hearts.  It would be a mercy of God to reveal it to us but, in His Wisdom, He doesn't always let us feel our deep brokenness.  There is a time, though, for everything... (Ecclesiastes 3 says so.)

It is merciful for God to allow us to feel our pain (He usually allows this pain to manifest over long periods of time - think "years") because then we realize how much we need His consoling love.  This is part of the great purification every soul has to undergo - whether here in this life or in a "purging" and purifying encounter with God's loving mercy after death which we call "Purgatory" - we must let God into our woundedness and pain and then we will be fully ready for the banquet that is Heaven.  "Nothing impure will ever enter it [Heaven.]" (Revelation 21:27)

The Kingdom of God is indeed within us and among us (Jesus Himself says so in the Gospels.)  So why don't we always experience the Kingdom of God in a "sensible" way?  Why do we sometimes "feel" like the Kingdom of God is so far away?  I think it's because we are in a constant process of becoming who we are.  We are in need of deep healing.  

Just as a scared 3 year old cringes at the pain of letting the doctor clean out a bad cut so the child of God that we are inside cringes at allowing the purity of God's love into the darkest and most painful areas of our hearts (remember hydogen peroxide?  Is there anything more painful for an open wound?  Hard to say...)  Yet, why do we cringe at that which we so desperately long for?  Because it's painful.  Love is painful when it's true.

Love and Truth go together (if either are to be authentically themselves.)  When God loves us He loves us as we actually are.  We are His children to be sure but we are not perfect.  We are works in progress.  Broken, limping pilgrims.  We are imperfect in this life.  We are "becoming" who we are.  We are in this tension of "already" but "not yet."  Christ's image is stamped within us but our sins blur that glory and our brokenness makes it hard for us to be docile to His Holy Spirit like Jesus always was.  

Happily, though, God loves us in our imperfection.  Often when we are truly experiencing the Love of God it is painful because He loves us precisely where we don't want (though we desperately need it) to be loved.  His love shines light on our darkness and that is uncomfortable.  He looks at what we think is unloveable and says "I love you precisely there - right where you are."  This sometimes is hard to accept; this "unconditional" love.  "God, You mean you love me AS a broken mess?  How is that possible?? There's nothing loveable TO love!!"  We may start to fear His condemnation and rejection.  We say things like, "This part of me can't be loved.  It's too terrible."  Yet we're desperate for God's healing love right *there*!  The heart of the broken child in us cries out, so to speak, for it's Papa but the lies tell us that Papa isn't coming and that He wouldn't want to anyway.  But what does God's Word say to that?  What does Jesus say in response to that anguished cry?

"I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you."

It is difficult to "hold still" while God is trying to love us in our brokenness.  We're very good at ignoring Him; squirming away whenever He gently brings up some dark area of our hearts which need His healing.  

God wants to meet you in the place where you think no one can meet you.  He wants to encounter you precisely in the place where you have experienced the greatest LACK of love.  *There* ...right there is where God wants you to be vulnerable with Him.  *There* - in the deepest pain - is where He wants to say "I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you."

So let Him come.  

Now it is interesting that the translation used at Mass (NAB) has that same verse rendered "I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you."  Orphans?? Wait a second Jesus, what do you mean?

You know I think it's interesting how these two translations - in some ways - can mean the same thing.  After all, what is an experience of "desolation" if not feeling as if "God has left me" or "I am alone in this struggle" or "My Father is not coming to help me.  He must not love me or He would take this away."  In various ways, desolation can be an experience not unlike what an orphan might feel like - without a Father.  

But JESUS comes to reveal the Father.  He says that the FATHER is in Him.  So JESUS sees the deepest woundedness in our hearts - and that's the place which longs for the Father's love (it is also the place which the Father's love longs for!) It's the place where we feel "desolate" as if we are "orphans."

What's your wound?  No, I'm not opening a public forum for this question.  I'm asking because you need to pray about it.  I need to pray about it.  We need to let God be Who He Is (FATHER) IN our very woundedness.  We don't experience God's Kingdom because we don't let the King come in and be what He wants to be for us - the King of Love and Our Father.

Our Father... Thy Kingdom come... Truly.

"...I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and he with me." (Revelation 3:20)

Gosh, there He goes again - wanting Holy Communion with us. We're starving for love!  Take the meal of the Eucharist, receive all that He has to give because it is all that you've ever longed for:  The Love of the Father.  Your Father.

Jesus came to reconcile the world to the Father; to bring the world back into a Holy Communion with the Father.  Won't you let Him in?  Oh, and don't worry.  You have a Mother, too.  "Behold your Mother" (John 19:27) (Isn't it interesting that He gives us His Mother precisely at the Cross?  He gives us His Mother exactly where we need her the most - in our suffering and pain.)

Jesus has thought of everything! All you have to do is say yes.  Let your Mother, Mary, take you by the hand and lead you right into the heart of Jesus and Jesus will take you home - back into your Father's Heart where you belong.

Where you belong.