Tuesday, February 23, 2016

We've made a stellar start to find the jungle's heart

Many years ago, before my spinal fusion, I worked as an electrical foreman.  I helped supervise crews that did the electrical, fire alarms, security systems, etc for moderate size commercial installations.  Everything from Hospitals to Wal-Mart super centers.  One of the things I noticed about some foremen was the tendency to stay in the office looking at the plans all day.   They would only come out to assign work to their crew and then back to the air conditioning they would go.   I never felt comfortable doing that.  My father had raised me to believe that one should never ask another to do something that you yourself wouldn't do.  So the first thing I usually did on a job was build a print table so that I could have the prints right out there on the construction site.   I'd work right alongside my men as much as possible, though much of the time I'd get interrupted before I could get anything substantial completed.

I think though the fact that I was right there with them, right there digging ditches side by side, running conduit, pulling wire... I think those things showed the men I worked with that I did not think I was better than they were.  I didn't use my title, my paycheck, my position... to try and make them into something less.  Rather, I was one of them. I ate with them. I would sit around a fire with them at night listening to music.  I'd throw back a beer and join in the story telling.   It was a beautiful time.  I often wonder how different things would have been had I been the other kind of foreman.  If I had never built those bonds of friendship, never allowed myself to be seen as just another guy on the team.   Would production have gone up? Or down?  Would I have made more money?  Would I have been able to live with myself?

In tomorrow's Gospel for daily mass we see an encounter with Christ.   This mother wants the best she can get for her children.   She wants them to be in positions of honor, authority, power.   The other disciples grow indignant.  How dare they ask for this power!?  How dare they crave the honor that the others felt they would want instead.  If you look at the surrounding text in Scripture, this isn't the first time this discussion has come up.   They were just arguing about it the last time that Jesus had predicted his death.  "Hey guys I"m going to Jerusalem to die."  "umm, which one of us is going to be in charge?"  Jesus reminds them of his own model of leadership, that of the servant leader.

"You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."

We as Christians are challenged to not Lord it over others that we have authority.  How many of us sometimes make that mistake?  Sometimes we fall into that pit of believing that our piety, our works, our discipline.. that those things we do make us better than another.  We though, are challenged to serve the other, not to rub it in that we are better.   We must be in the ditches digging with them.  During Lent that is a powerful reminder of the things we are called to: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  Are you in the trenches helping your fellow men?  Are you out doing those things that you would ask them to do?  That's a call to authentic catholic life.  You can't tell someone else that they need to straighten up if you yourself are living a life of sin.  You can't say I want you to fast and give alms, if you yourself aren't doing the same.  How hypocritical of us, to have the skeletons in our own closets where light never reaches but somehow feel entitled to pick the lock of someone else's storage shed.

No, Jesus calls us to examine our own eye first.  Look for our own logs... before worrying about someone else's speck.  Our hearts are revealed in our words and deeds.  Jesus told us that where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also.  That very statement can apply to the innermost recesses of our emotions, to the things that hang in the background like a dark cloud that is about to burst into rain.  If our heart is in the wrong place, if our intention is not to edify, uplift, and aide another person... then we aren't in the ditch.  We are sitting comfortably in our air conditioner asking them to do more than us, asking them to become like Christ while we are far from that goal ourselves.   That's what Lent is about.  It's about getting out of the air conditioner.. out of our comfort zone... out of our own self centeredness.. and into the battlefield.  To reach our hand to our fellow human beings and saying "I am not perfect.  I don't have all the answers... but I know this man named Jesus Christ.   My life is better having known him.  He has taught me how to be happy.  I think he can teach you too."  It's about becoming a signpost that points to Christ.  Too often we become a sign that only points to Hell.... and while knowing about Hell is important, I think fixing our vision on Gehenna is falling short of the true message of the Gospel.

So as we journey together through the desert in this jubilee year of Mercy, let's begin to ask ourselves:

  • Am I living out the beatitudes?
  • Am I growing in the cardinal virtues?
  • Am I pointing to Christ? If not, to whom am I pointing?
  • Is there anything standing in my way, between me and God?
  • Is there anything then between me and my fellow man?
  • How can I work on whatever I discover to be more like Christ?

Like the mother in the story, every day is an opportunity for an encounter with Christ.   He has asked the disciples, "Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?"   Now in turn he is asking you, "Can you?"  Are you ready to pour yourself out like a libation for your fellow man?   To die to yourself that they might be united to the father?  Is this cup that Christ is offering you one you crave?  All of his disciples, save one, did indeed drink from the cup of martyrdom.  Are you prepared to do the same?  I don't know about you, but it's a frightening thing to think of the cross that Christ is offering us.  Lord help us to find the strength to say with your disciples: "We can."

His servant and yours,

"I must decrease, he must increase."