March 17, Follow

In today’s Gospel Story (John 12:20-33) Jesus says, “Whoever serves me must follow me”. Then he talks with his disciples, and with me if I am willing to hear him, about some difficult things—dying so I can produce much fruit, and rather than loving my life, hating it so I can save it. At Mass we pray, “Help us to embrace the world you have given us, that we may transform the darkness of its pain into the life and joy of Easter”. And there is a lot of pain in our world these days. How, or if, I hear and respond to the Gospel is a personal matter, but never a private one, since it involves how I relate to the people in my life.

Jesus felt his mission was to restore Israel to the Covenant Israel had with God. What he taught his followers was known back then as the Way, a new understanding of living rooted in their relationship with God who loved them beyond what could be put into words. His followers were known as “People of the Way”. Everything that Jesus did and taught was rooted in his Father’s love for them and for all creation, as is his message for us. And, as in his day his message and Way were seen as a threat on many levels, so it is today in our time, even in some areas of Christianity itself.

The Gospel Story begins with some people approaching one of Jesus’ disciples saying, “We would like to see Jesus”. As Pope Francis says, the role of the church is to help us recognize Jesus in our every day living, not to bring us to Jesus or control access to Jesus, but to help us recognize Jesus already with us in our here and now, in other words, what we call the Incarnation, or Real Presence. The kingdom happens in our life as it is, not as we wish it were or as somebody tells us it should be. Real life with real people.      

I’ve just finished a wonderful experience of God’s Kingdom happening without any religious notions or terms at all – a several months long cardiac rehab. Thanks to the loving and caring leadership of the nurses we all just developed into a cohesive group that really cared for and about each other in an atmosphere of hard physical work and a “take no prisoners” humor among nurses and patients, which was wonderful. Healing on several levels happened for all of us. It was truly a wholesome and healing experience, and every one of us was necessary for it all to happen as it did. I already am missing the experience and the relationships we formed there. Also, I live in a senior citizen’s retirement community. We are blessed withe many wonderful folks, both residents and staff, who just share their gift of caring for others, smiling, just being good regardless of, or perhaps because of, their own difficulties and challenges. And the kingdom is happening.

So, a basic question for any who would like to be disciples of Jesus is how willing am I to be open to the Spirit calling me to situations, relationship, etc? Is there something in me has to die so I can produce much fruit? The Gospel says dying gives birth to new life here and now, a life which is always a surprise because we don’t know what it is like, and we have our own ideas so we can be comfortable. Is there anything I’m hanging on to that is keeping me from growing in my awareness of Jesus Christ in my life. Is the Spirit asking me to let go of some of my ideas or ways of thinking that are keeping me from recognizing Christ happening in and around me? Am I willing to come to see God’s loving compassion and mercy happening to and in me as well as all others whether I agree with them or not? Can I accept that I am not in a position to decide how God creates or who God loves? Can I be open to the possibility of cooperating with grace in situations I would not of myself choose? Am I willing to let go of my need to feel somehow in control of my life?

Growing can be a difficult experience, but it is a necessary one for all of us. Letting go of what I have become attached to is painful, but it is necessary or I don’t grow. My ideas and notions of God might make me feel comfortable and in control, but they keep me from growing. I have to keep asking myself what the Spirit is saying to me in whatever I am involved in. You say “whoever serves me must follow me”. How do I do that? Is it just following a religious tradition and its rules? Is there something about grace leading me to a relationship with you that might be different from religious traditions which are often a bit self-serving, more concerned about obeying than growing, with answering rather than questioning? What if I feel you are calling me to something that a religious tradition is against? What do I do? I am coming to know good people doing Gospel work, living their own understanding of the Way, helping people in difficult spots, and yet are condemned by some religious  traditions. How is their work not the kingdom happening, often spite of some church management?

The Gospel is not a call to turn away from the world, but to get involved in the messy, even smelly, reality of life, to live the Gospel values, the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes in our own life. If I believe I am called to something along these lines, what I do? Sometimes I just don’t want any more relationships or requests to help people who call me only when something is wrong and they want something. Yet the calls keep coming. What are you saying to me? What in me has to die here and now? How do I live your Way? Again from the Gospel: “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour”. Thomas Merton knew this, “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself”. And Mychal’s Prayer, “Lord, take me where you want me to go .  . .”. I’m in a really good place, and I wouldn’t change a thing. Life can be a real adventure, sometimes scary, and it’s my choice. Just sayin  .  .  .