The Righteousness that Leads to the Kingdom

God’s mercy rebukes the sinner even as the Lord chides Job. Which is the way to the home of the light, and where does darkness live? (Jb 38:19). That light is grace and darkness is the blindness that fills the soul of the sinner. How desperately we need that light to see the sad state of our conscience! Look! When it is dark, we do not see how dusty and dirty our house is. Only when the place is flooded with sunlight do we realise its awful condition. So we need the light of God’s grace to show us the real state of our soul and induce us to clean up our hearts!…

The stonemason and the bricklayer are careful to use the measuring line to make sure the walls are straight.

Can’t we say that the virtuous lives of the saints are like a measuring line stretched over our souls to make sure our lives take the proper shape and measure up to their good example? Whenever, then, we celebrate the feast of a saint, let us look to them as giving us the pattern our lives should take…. 

Each saint in heaven rejoices over the glorification of the other, and his love overflows to him…. The same joy will fill all the blessed, for I shall rejoice over your well-being as though it were my own, and you will rejoice over mine as though it were yours. To use an example: See, we are standing together, and I have a rose in my hand. The rose is mine, and yet you no less than I rejoice in its beauty and its perfume. So shall it be in eternal life: My glory shall be your consolation and exultation, and yours shall be mine. 

Saint Anthony of Padua

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God’s Nature and Exuberance or the Cross

It’s funny where you can learn a lesson and catch a glimpse of the divine. Recently, in a grocery store, I witnessed this incident: A young girl, probably around 16 years of age, along with two other girls her own age, came into the store. She picked up a grocery basket and began to walk down the aisle, not knowing that a second basket was stuck onto the one she was carrying.  At a point the inevitable happened, the basket stuck to hers released and crashed to the floor with a loud bang, startling her and all of us around her. What was her reaction?  She burst into laughter, exuding a joy-filled delight at being so startled. For her the surprise of the falling basket was not an irritation but a gift, an unexpected humor happily fracturing dram routine.

If that had happened to me, given how I’m habitually in a hurry and easily irritated by anything that disrupts my agenda, I would probably have responded with a silent expletive rather than with laughter. Which made me think: Here’s a young girl who probably isn’t going to church and probably isn’t much concerned about matters of faith, but who, in this moment, is wonderfully radiating the energy of God, while, me, a vowed religious, over-serious priest, church-minister and spiritual writer, in such a moment, too often radiate the antithesis of God’s energy, irritation.

But is this true? Does God really burst in laughter at falling grocery baskets? Doesn’t God ever get irritated? What’s God’s real nature?

God is the unconditional love and forgiveness that Jesus reveals, but God is also the energy that lies at the base of everything that is. And that energy, as is evident in both creation and scripture, is, at its root, creative, prodigal, robust, joy-filled, playful, and exuberant. If you want to know that God is like look at the natural exuberance of children, look at the exuberance of a young puppy, look at the robust, playful energy of young people, and look at the spontaneous laughter of sixteen-year-old when she is startled by a falling basket.  And to see God’s prodigal character, we might look at billions and billions of planets that surround us. The energy of God is prodigal and exuberant.

Then what about the Cross? Doesn’t it, more than anything else, reveal God’s nature? Isn’t it what shows us God? Isn’t suffering the innate and necessary route to maturity and sanctity? So isn’t there a contradiction between what Jesus reveals about the nature of God in his crucifixion and what scripture and nature reveal about God’s exuberance?

While there’s clearly a paradox here, there’s no contradiction.  First, the tension we see between the cross and exuberance is already seen in the person and teachings of Jesus. Jesus scandalized his contemporaries in opposite ways: He scandalized them in his capacity to willingly give up his life and the things of this world, even as he scandalized them equally with his capacity to enjoy life and drink in its God-given pleasures. His contemporaries weren’t able to walk with him while he carried the cross and they weren’t able to walk with him either as he ate and drank without guilt and felt only gift and gratitude when a woman anointed his feet with expensive perfume.

Moreover, the joy and exuberance that lie at the root of God’s nature are not to be confused with the bravado we crank up at parties, carnival, and Mardi Gras. What’s experienced there is not actual delight but, instead, a numbing of the brain and senses induced by frenzied excess. This doesn’t radiate the exuberance of God, nor indeed does it radiate the powerful exuberance that sits inside us, waiting to burst forth. Carnival is mostly an attempt to keep depression at bay. As Charles Taylor astutely points out, we invented carnival because our natural exuberance doesn’t find enough outlets within our daily lives, so we ritualize certain occasions and seasons where we can, for a time, imprison our rationality and release our exuberance, as one would free a caged animal. But that, while serving as a certain release-valve, is not the ideal way to release our natural exuberance.

When I was a child, my parents would often warn me about false exuberance, the exuberance of wild partying, false laughter, and carnival. They had this little axiom: After the laughter, come the tears! They were right, but only as this applies to the kind of laugher that we tend to crank up at parties to keep depression at bay. The cross however reverses my parents’ axiom and says this:  After the tears, comes the laughter! Only after the cross, is our joy genuine. Only after the cross, will our exuberance express the genuine delight we once felt when we were little, and only then will our exuberance truly radiate the energy of God.

Jesus promises us that if we take up his cross, God will reward us with an exuberance that no one can ever take from us.

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“Who shall we go to?”

When Jesus one day showed his Apostles how to bring in an overwhelming catch of fish, Peter’s reaction was to fall down at Jesus’ knees and exclaim: Depart from me, for l am a sinful man, 0 Lord. But Peter’s reaction was very different on the occasion when Jesus presented himself to the world as the Bread of Life and many found the teaching difficult and began to turn their backs on him. As the Lord pointedly asked the Twelve, Do you want to go away too? Simon Peter answered him. Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life. These are indeed the two apparently opposite impulses that define the essence of discipleship: on the one hand, the consciousness of one’s utter unworthiness to abide in the presence of the holy God and, simultaneously, one’s desperate need precisely to abide in that presence, only source of lasting life and joy…. 

The passion for simply abiding in the company of Jesus, the need continually to be with him in every sense of that verb, is the very heart of discipleship. 

Erasmo Leiva-Mehkakis, now known as Father Simeon, is a Cistercian monk of Saint Josephs Abbey Spencer, Massachusetts. He is the author of Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word, a commentary on Saint Matthew’s Gospel.

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