Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Consent to Love

 This morning I would like to begin with a provocative quote from Fr. Thomas Keating that is, I think, quite stunning in its implications.  I invite you to listen carefully to his words.  They provide a very good exposition of the meaning of this morning’s Gospel passage.  Keating writes,

“Our precious days on earth – the spiritual journey – are not primarily about us, or even our transformation in Christ.  They are about God taking over our lives in every detail.  To repeat the same insight slightly differently, living daily life and the evolution of consciousness are not primarily about ‘us.’  They are about God and God’s life, death, and resurrection in us.  They are about whatever God wants to do or doesn’t want to do . . . The goal is not just union, or even unity with God, but God incarnating in our humanity with all its circumstances.  Christ renewing the sacred mysteries of his human life in our humanity is one way of describing his incarnation in each of us . . . It is also the healing and completing of our creation out of nothing:  to be taken over body, soul, and spirit by the Eternal Word of God:  to be an extension of Jesus in space and time; and to contribute to the continuation of the ongoing evolution of the human family.”[1]

This is why when Philip asks Jesus, “Show us the Father,” Jesus replies, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”[2]  Jesus is the complete manifestation of God in the flesh.  Now, this is an astonishing claim, but it isn’t simply an assertion on Jesus’s part.  Jesus invites Philip to judge the truth of the matter based on his own experience.  We judge ourselves based on our intentions, but others judge us based on our actions.  “Don’t just take my word for it,” says Jesus, “look at what I am doing.”[3]  Does Jesus manifest God or not?  Judge by word and deed.

This is a remarkable dialogue, but it doesn’t stop there – although our piety and our theology tend to stop there.  Jesus isn’t only making a claim about himself, but also about those who seek to follow his way.  God will be manifest in them as well.   They will do the works that Jesus does – even greater works than him.  And they will know the truth.  Jesus promises that they will receive the gift of the Spirit, the Spirit in which he and the Father are united, and that they will be together with them forever.[4]

To grow into “the fullness of Christ” or to have “the mind of Christ,”[5] as St. Paul describes it, is to consent to the process of becoming increasingly transparent to God, just as Jesus was completely transparent to God.  Fr. Keating puts it this way:  “God’s plan:  to manifest divine humility and infinite compassion and to make each human being his equal to the maximum degree possible, transformed into divine love.”[6]  God chooses to share God’s life with us, to bring the divine life to fulfillment through us, in love. 

We were created so that God may become manifest in us, that we may share in the very life of God and that our actions may reflect the will of God for the fulfillment of the whole creation.  When we consent to manifest God in our lives, we participate in our own healing and the healing of the world.  

How do we consent to this divine transformation?
The first step is to simply acknowledge our desire for God.  God already has made the first move toward us in our creation and redemption in Christ:  God has said “Yes!” to us.  The only response necessary is to return God’s love with love, to allow God to love God through us as we come to realize our unity in God. 

In the deepest part of our being, God’s love vibrates in time with the beating of our heart.  Our soul’s desire is to rest in this love, to allow it to shape our identity and our actions.  As Jesus said to Philip and the other disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”[7]  Love is the beginning and the end of our union with God in Christ.  We must consent to love. 

St. John of the Cross said that “What we need most in order to make progress is to be silent before this great God with our appetite and with our tongue, for the language he best hears is silent love.”[8]  The difficulty of this first step is that it requires nothing of us.  It is utterly simple.  We need only bring ourselves before God in silence, with the sole intention of responding to love with love.  This is the practice of contemplative prayer:  simply resting in God’s love.

Such prayer is simple, but not easy. It requires us to turn our attention from our compulsive striving and acquiring, our obsessive planning and thinking, to let go of our attachments, our efforts to make a name for ourselves, and receive the name that God already has given us: “Beloved.”  This love is a river of life that satiates us, and a consuming flame that burns away all that impedes the flow of love. 

There is another way in which we can turn toward this love: by participating in the sacramental life of the Church, through which we become part of the Body of Christ, the extension of Jesus in space and time.  In Holy Communion, we receive the very life of God and discover our mutual indwelling in that life.  Through the grace of the Sacrament and the grace of contemplative prayer, we consent to receive our identity from God.

When we are in touch with our love for someone, we are willing to give them our time and attention. So, it is with God.  We consent to love by setting aside time for quiet prayer and for the Sacrament. 

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  When we love someone, our desire for their well-being comes to shape our identity and our action.   To consent to love God is to consent to love everyone and everything, since all things have their being in God.  Love is realized in genuinely desiring and seeking the good of the beloved.  “If you love me,” says Jesus, “you will do the things that I do for the healing of the world.”  This is step two.

It seems that the more we consent to love, the more we allow the fire of love to burn away our false self and the impediments to love, the freer we become to act in ways that are life-giving for others.  This is what it means to bless others:  to increase their capacity for life.  Confident in God’s love, we are less self-preoccupied and more available to bless others. 

As God becomes incarnate in us, we are taught by the Spirit of truth.  The Spirit of truth helps us to see ourselves and the world as we really are.  The scales fall from our eyes and our projections are reeled-in.  We accept reality no matter how awful or how wonderful it may be.  We take responsibility for the harms we’ve caused, and forgive the harms we’ve suffered.  We begin to intuitively know how to respond to people and situations in ways that foster healing and life, because we are living in the truth.   This is the peace of Christ that the world cannot give:  compassionate acceptance of reality and a love that overcomes our fear. 

Jesus is the first fruit of the new humanity, the cutting edge of the process of spiritual evolution in which we are all called to participate.  As more and more people consent to love, the more we do what Jesus does; and, yes, even greater things than him!  The incarnation of God is an evolutionary process in which more and more of the creation is brought to its fulfillment through our consent to love. 

What we celebrate on Pentecost is the movement that Jesus inaugurated: the ever-increasing incarnation of God in human life as more and more people consent to love.  This movement subsists in, but is not limited to, the Church.   It is realized through contemplative prayer and loving communion. It is not afraid to speak the truth in love, and is capable of doing great things to the extent that it is willing to suffer great vulnerability. 

This movement leaves healing and reconciliation in its wake.  It is spreading everywhere, until the Spirit of God renews the face of the whole earth, and fulfills the promise of the prophet Joel, whom Peter quoted on that first Pentecost:

“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
   and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
   and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
   in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
     and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
   and signs on the earth below,
     blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
   and the moon to blood,
     before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.

Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”[9]

Consent to love, and everything changes.

[1] Thomas Keating, Reflections on the Unknowable (New York:  Lantern Books, 2014), pp. 138-139.
[2] John 14:8-9.
[3] John 14:11.
[4] John 14:12-17.
[5] I Corinthians 2:14-16; Ephesians 4:11-13.
[6] Keating, p. 136.
[7] John 14:15.
[8] John of the Cross, Sayings of Light and Love, no. 132.
[9] Acts 2:17-21.

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