Monday, March 12, 2007

The Jesus Way: Why Not Be A Saint?

Christ at the Centre

Thomas Merton, is his book Seven Story Mountain recounts a discussion he had with Robert Lax:

“What do you want to be, anyway?”

“I don’t know; I guess what I want is to be a good Christian.”

“What do you mean, you want to be a good Christian?”

The explanation I gave was lame enough, and expressed my confusion, and betrayed how little I had really thought about it at all.

Lax did not accept it. “What you should say” – he told me – “what you should say it that you want to be a saint.”

A saint! The thought struck me as a little weird. I said: “How do you expect me to become a saint?”

“By wanting to,” said Lax, simply

I can’t be a saint,” I said, “I can’t be a saint.” And my mind darkened with a confusion of realities and unrealities: the knowledge of my own sins, and the false humility which makes men say that they cannot do the things that they must do, cannot reach the level that they must reach: the cowardice that says: “I am satisfied to save my soul, to keep out of mortal sin,” but which means, by those words: “I do not want to give up my sins and my attachments.”

But Lax said: “No. All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don’t you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let Him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”

A long time ago, St. Thomas Aquinas had said the same thing – and it is something that is obvious to everybody who ever understood the Gospels. After Lax was gone, I thought about it, and it became obvious to me.

The next day I told Mark Van Doren: “Lax is going around saying that all a man needs to be a saint is to want to be one.”

“Of course,” said Mark.

"There is only one real sadness in life, that of not being a saint." Leon Bloy

All the other sadness of life- the failure, lost relationships, disappointments, it really all comes down to not finding God’s will for your life and to do it.

What must I do to be a saint? “Will it, desire it and want it.”

What is a saint? Simply put, it’s a friend of God. It’s to be God’s friend. To make your relationship with Jesus Christ the central focus of your life. That’s what it means to be a saint.

John 15:9-17
"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.

Growing up, Eugene Petersen, translator of the Message Bible, often worked in the butcher shop where his dad was employed in rural Montana. On hot summer days, you might say the experience was rather ripe. Blood, the smell, the flies, I can picture it, having seen the butcher shop up close in retail grocery, and farm slaughtering. It isn’t pretty.

Petersen likened that disgusting environment to that of the ancient Temple, and so began to form in him the idea that much of the spiritual life is made up of the mundane & the profane. And he moved that thought to the idea of being a saint. Why is it such a negative term? Or perhaps we have a positive view of it yet it’s utterly unattainable for us. That’s not what the Bible talks about.

Philippians 1
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi,

Ephesians 1
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints in Ephesus,

Colossians 1
To the holy and faithful.

Romans 1:7
To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints.

2 Corinthians 1
To the church of God in Corinth, together with all the saints throughout Achaia:

Jude 1
Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James, To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ: Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.

There’s a saint! One who is loved by the Father, kept by Jesus Christ, and whose life is growing in mercy, peace and love.

Why not be a saint?

That’s not a rhetorical question to you or to me. In many ways this continues our previous series, as a saint is one who is ‘holy and faithful’. The Jesus way...the path of following God…is about becoming a friend of God, a saint. It has three movements,

Finding the centre: where we are drawn into the life of God.
Knowing you are a sinner (it’s a Bible word!): where we begin to get healed, find healing, embark on the journey of healing.
And discovering that your life is not about you: you are sent by God.

Becoming a saint begins with what’s at our centre.

How many of you know the origin of this building? It began as a Catholic Church. A post Vatican II design, where the sanctorum, the altar was in the middle here. The centre.

Many people love the architecture and symbolism of this building. Features that are sadly lacking in many buildings.

Some of the greatest symbolism in architecture is found in the medieval cathedrals.

Look at the Notre Dame cathedral and Rose window.

It’s a dramatic wheel of light and color. Mary and Jesus are at the centre. All around are the other representations of spirituality and life. The wheel depicts a well-ordered soul: where Jesus Christ is at the centre; where all of life will revolve around that truth and reality. Your mind, will, passions, body, sexuality, private life, public life- everything.

Matthew 6:33
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

If Jesus Christ is the clear centre- the rest of your life will fall into harmony around it.

Isaiah 2:2-3
In the last days the mountain of the LORD's temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths." The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

All peoples, all tribes will go up, but not see each other; rather our eyes will be on God, looking to Him for guidance, leadership and love. It will be so secure that we will be able to beat swords into ploughs the Bible says!

That’s what happens when Christ is at the centre. When something other than Jesus Christ is at the centre, such as money, power, sex, pleasures, your soul will be out of harmony; discordant and repulsive.

It is said that beauty occurs at the intersection of three things: wholeness, harmony and radiance.

Soren Kierkegaard said, “The saint is one whose life is about one thing”. Wholeness occurs when our life is about one thing, that being everything belonging and relating to Jesus Christ as the centre. Is He the Lord, the undisputed CEO of your life, the GPS that guides everything you do and everywhere you go? Or is He just one of many programs running on your own operating system?

In a harmonious system all is interdependent, mutually supported. But if our mind goes one way and our body the other way, we become divided.

Matthew 12:25
"Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.

It’s hard to imagine the beauty and radiance of the rose window. Imagine though entering this large cathedral for the first time, you have no electricity, only candlelight. The explosion of color and light would have been breathtaking.

Matthew 17: the transfiguration. In 1969 Malcolm Muggeridge felt compelled to visit Mother Teresa in Calcutta. In a dark room he wanted to film her work. The cameramen said the light is too pure- it’ll never work. Yet Muggeridge said to do it anyways. Back in England where they developed the film there is an eerie glow that illuminates just enough to see.

In Mother Teresa's smile, words and deeds, Jesus again walked the streets of the world as the Good Samaritan. Pope John Paul II

Mark 1:21-28
They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!"
"Be quiet!" said Jesus sternly. "Come out of him!" The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, "What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him." News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

Jesus speaks with authority, clarity and purpose. The demon is singular, but speaks in the plural.

Later in Mark 5, the Gerasene demoniac,
When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won't torture me!" For Jesus had said to him, "Come out of this man, you evil spirit!"
Then Jesus asked him, "What is your name?"
"My name is Legion," he replied, "for we are many."

“We are ‘Legion’ as there are hundreds of us,” says the demon. The demons divide us. They are the picture of a soul without a clear centre, without integrity, a lost anchor.

Isaiah 44:8
Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.”

The old story of Marth and Mary in Luke 10 has often been read as an account of the play between the active and the contemplative life, Jesus signaling his preference for the latter over the former. But I don't think that gets to the heart of it. It is rather more a narrative concerning the spiritual problem of the one and the many.

Martha complains that her sister is not helping her with the many and time-consuming tasks of hospitality and tells Jesus to do something about it. The Lord responds, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part which will not be taken away from her."

Martha's problem is not that she is busy or that she is engaging in the "active" life; her problem is that she is uncentred. Her mind is obviously divided, drifting from this concern to that, from one anxiety to another; there are many things that preoccupy her. What Mary has chosen is not so much the contemplative life, but the focused life. The implication appears that were Mary to help with the many household tasks, she would not be "worried and distracted" by them, since she could relate them to her centre, and that, were Martha to sit at the feet of Jesus, she would still squirm with impatience and anxiety, since her spirit is divided. As is so often the case in the spiritual life, the issue is not what they're doing, but how they're doing it. Indeed, the surest sign that something is off in a persons soul is that you even tell God what to do!

Mark 4:35-41
That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, "Let us go over to the other side." Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?"
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
He said to his disciples, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?"
They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!"

Life kicks up storms- failure, lost relationships, physical pain, fear, the threat of death.

Augustine said that the Christ who is in you and me, the place of peace in our soul, that the disciples have lost their connection to that centre. That’s what faith is. Being linked to the creator of the Universe, the all-powerful God who loves us.

Is Christ asleep in your boat? That’s the Christ you’ve allowed to go to sleep. Perhaps becoming consumed with career or children, wealth, recreation, pleasure, love, romance, sex, sports, your pain, whatever it may be. You’ve allowed your link to the centre to be lost. You’re scared; you’re angry.

Wake Him up! The storm will calm.

Theresa of Avila wrote of Jesus as the castle of safety. A place of power and rest. She said that most of us have lost the way- we’ve lost the key to access it. We can get in if we remember that the true fortress is Jesus Christ.

Her spiritual director was John of the Cross. He jigged her metaphor and called it the interior wine cellar- recalling the woman at the well in John 4: “whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

In the midst of our depressions, anxieties we have access to this intoxicating place.

Bill Tomes has been in Time Magazine and is a Catholic priest who has worked in Chicago's worst housing project. Now in his late 60’s he has devoted his life to unconditionally loving the youths in Chicago's projects whose communities are devastated by violence, drugs and poverty. When gang violence occurs, Brother Bill rushes to the scene and stands between the warring gangs until the shooting ceases. He has been shot past over 50 times but never hit and attended over 160 funerals of youth he simply calls "my children".

He does this by the sheer presence of his person. He lives from his centre in Jesus Christ.

In Winnipeg last November, a dear saint died. His name was Harry Lehotsky. For nearly a quarter of a century he worked for and advocated on behalf of the poor in that city. A pastor from my previous church denomination, he made a difference serving with the downtrodden because he knew his centre in Jesus Christ. Harry was a commentator in the Winnipeg Free Press, received the Order of Canada posthumously on February 7. His video 30-minute video prepared for his funeral is very powerful. He was able to approach terminal cancer from a centre of peace.

When you’ve found the centre, you’ve found a place of safety, no matter what this world throws at you. Why not ask God to become your centre right now.


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