Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Favorite Biblical Passage

While I was sitting in my History of Christianity class today, the professor posed an aside question: "if you found yourself in the South (my professor is a Southerner) and were asked what your favorite bible passage was, how would you respond?"

No passage immediately sprang to mind, which I found curious. Certainly, as someone in religious life, one would of course have a favorite biblical passage! Now, I haven't spent the last few hours trying to figure out my favorite biblical passage. On the contrary, after my initial surprise of the lack of an immediate passage, I gave it no subsequent thought. The passage came to mind, surprisingly, while preparing for my Kierkegaard class tomorrow--well, maybe not so surprisingly since his philosophical writings are overtly religious. But, I didn't go out of my way to find this passage that came to mind. A grace, one might say.

Anyway, I am probably writing this blog post because I haven't finished my homework yet and am looking for an excuse not to finish it. But, once I had thought about it, I believed it worthy of the time spent.

From Philippians 2:5-11
Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also ours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under
the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
In theology circles, this passage describes kenosis, that act in which Christ emptied himself by coming into likeness with human beings--God, because of his love, chose to become like us so that we would know Him more fully and be redeemed through his self-emptying. God sleeping in a manger, God riding a donkey, God humiliated and put to death. In so doing, entering into his greatest glory.

This passage was an important passage for me during my 8-day retreat prior to taking vows. I read this in the context of the vow of obedience, contemplating that obedience which Christ had even up til death, an obedience rooted in a love for the world. Why else would Christ do this? At that time, I understood my vows as a call from God as a way of loving the world. Our vows are not ends in themselves, but means by which our way of life strives to manifest Christ's love. They are not meant, ultimately, to be places of burden, but ultimately places of life not only for the Jesuit but especially for the people which we serve.

I have also loved the paradox of how Christ came into our world, described beautifully in this passage. "But, That is not how God is supposed to act!" Yet, God did something so magnificent in the most improbable, most incomprehensible way. Why else would God do it in this way if not for his great love?

When we strive to imitate Christ, we do well to recognize the great humility in which He came into our world. Christ came to serve, not to be served. Through his revealed self, he gave us the means to understand more fully what it means to be human, to become more fully who we are meant to be.

And, for that, our response in praise and glory would only be the natural response.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Joy and Consolation

While I was praying before Mass today, I found myself suddenly overcome with a deep sense of peace and joy. There was no particular cause to the incident. I had spent most of the day with a headache trying to sort through the myriad of Spinoza's philosophical proofs and propositions, and I came home from class frustrated by the onerous philosophical study. This joy I therefore experienced came as quite the surprise to me. Ignatius has a term for this spiritual movement: "consolation without preceding cause" (from the Discernment of Spirits for Week II of the Spiritual Exercises). Jesuits believe this to be the work of God within us. It is a grace. It is gift.

I cherish these moments in my Jesuit vocation. As I began to experience this joy, I could not help but respond with a sense of awe and thanksgiving. God was doing something within me that I had not necessarily asked for. In these moments, I find myself in a place of surrender. It is the call to let God in, to get out of the way, and to trust in the work that is taking place.

This is one of the ways in which I understand our 'Suscipe' Prayer: "Take Lord, Receive, all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will." In offering these faculties over to God, it removes the focus on self and redirects it towards God's action. Paradoxically, in the surrendering of self, we, in a sense, become more liberated, more free. By allowing God to take root and to take hold, to inspire and to animate, we become more fully who we are meant to be.
We become more human.

I feel blessed to be living religious life. Because of my vows and the life I have chosen to live as a Jesuit, my life must necessarily have God as my center if I am to live this life with passion, integrity, and joy. And, I am called everyday to live into this relationship that I have freely chosen to enter. God knows that I often fail at this. But, I try my best. And sometimes, I become surprised by joy.