Wednesday, June 29, 2016

I'm Not Here to Make Friends....

A new name on white stone
A Reflection for the Daily Readings for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, June 29th, 2016

Acts 12:1-11
Psalms 34:2-9
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18
The Holy Gospel According to Saint Matthew 16:13-19

Over a decade ago I was going through a rough patch in my life.  A broken relationship, a house that was falling apart (mostly my fault), debt up to my ears, and a stagnant job that provided no chance of advancement.   As I worked one day I received a call from a competitors company who had heard of me and wanted to know if I wanted a job.   He offered me a company truck, a gas card, more money on the hour, and health insurance.  I went to my boss who had told me a few weeks before that I was capped out when I asked about a raise, and I said here is what they are offering.  I didn't want to leave, but he didn't counter or even argue.. he just let me go.  So be it I decided.

I started the new job with gusto!  I went in working as hard as my body could manage, as many hours as they'd let me, running jobs from the very start.  One job finished, another.. people didn't like me.  I didn't remind about breaks, I told them when I thought they were slacking, and I pushed them to finish the job as fast as possible.   I was making the company money.  As I told my help when they'd complain: "I'm not here to make friends.  I'm here to do a job."   So I did.  That broken relationship fell completely apart.  The power and water got turned off at home.   I went on the road and stayed in hotels.  As far as I was concerned I was successful, I was who I needed to be.  I even changed my name from Brian to Ken for a while, to show the new me.. the workaholic.   The man afraid to face his life.

CCC 2158 God calls each one by name. Everyone's name is sacred. The name is the icon of the person. It demands respect as a sign of the dignity of the one who bears it.

Eventually a man who had weaseled his way in through a chink in my armor took me aside at lunch.  He said he remembered the me when I first started, the one who sat in his truck at lunch time reading his bible, etc.  He asked me a few questions and I answered them, evening pulling out my trusty 1611 King James bible from under the truck seat (and having to dust it off).   He said there he is, that's the guy I remember.  It was a wake up call.   It was who I was meant to be, it was who God had made me to be.  Not that I started slacking, no I worked just as hard.  I stopped being a wall though.  I let people in to see the real me.   I treated them with dignity and respect, and earned some respect of my own.  Soon we were all friends and though I was still completing jobs as fast as possible... people didn't complain as much, they didn't get angry and go to the office in the evenings talking about how much of a jerk I was... no I was being the man I was supposed to be.

The world wants us to remain in those chains, you know?  That a successful man or woman must be one who puts the job before relationships.  The one who gets the job done with maximum profit regardless of who they offend, hurt or cause to quit.   God wants us to be free from the chains of life.  That doesn't mean we don't work, the opposite is true there.  He wants our yes to be yes, and our no no.  He challenges us to put in our time as efficiently and skillfully as we can... but He wants us to do so with joy!  To be the kind of person that draws others to them, not pushes them away.   To do so though we can't just say "I believe" and then go on living as we have always lived.  We must become a new person, we have to listen to the messenger when they say "get up! get dressed! follow me!"  Notice that Peter's chains didn't fall off till He got up!

God gives us a new name.  A new name means a new start!  I tried to do it on my own, by changing the name people referred to me by and becoming the man I wanted to be.   I wanted to follow in my dad's footsteps and be the foreman that got it done, the one who knew how to get the best out of his men.  I thought that meant intimidation.. but it meant camaraderie.     I thought it meant working without care for those around me, but my dad taught me years later it meant working as a servant to those below you.  Making sure they were safe, cared for, and knowing them.  A man who trusts you, a man who feels that bond.. will work harder for you than a man who lacks those emotions.  I never became a man who sat in the AC while my crew worked.  I hated working for people like that.  I was always right out there with them, pulling cable, running conduit, and digging ditches.  Yes, there were times I had to go to meetings or answer questions.. but in between?  I didn't just stand around talking.. I worked with them.. as a brother, as an equal.

CCC 2159 The name one receives is a name for eternity. In the kingdom, the mysterious and unique character of each person marked with God's name will shine forth in splendor. "To him who conquers . . . I will give a white stone, with a new name written on the stone which no one knows except him who receives it." "Then I looked, and Lo, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him a hundred and forty- four thousand who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads."

At Confirmation we choose a Saint who lived the Gospels in a way that speaks to us.   It isn't that we want to become that Saint.. but that we want to follow the same path they did when they were alive.  I chose Saint Francis of Assisi.  He was the kind of man I want to be like, one who showed Christ so fully in his life that other men followed Him.   One who lived life in a way that said I believe what I say, I have the courage of my convictions.  That kind of life strengthens us, it nourishes us.. to be strong enough to do what Saint Paul was speaking about in his letter to Timothy.. to pour ourselves out like a libation.   This life is not an easy one.. it means giving up attachment to all things in life.  It means getting outside of ourselves and letting Christ live through us.  It means living a life with a new name.. a name giving to us by God himself.

Saul was one of the worst persecutors in the Early Church.  He literally ripped people from their homes and turned them in, if not standing by while others stoned them.  He thought he was doing right, he was trying to make a name.  He was getting the job done.   Jesus appeared to him and said "Get up.  Follow me."  Saul became Paul and after years of contemplation became one of the greatest evangelizers to the Gentile Nations.   Simon when left to his own devices would come to deny the lord three times, to flee from the scene of the cross, to raise a sword in anger... Jesus gave him a new name, again "Get up!  Follow me!"  When he began to live the name that Jesus had given him, he became Peter.. the rock, the one who was given the keys to the Kingdom.   The man who when he was crucified asked to be crucified upside down because he didn't feel worthy to hang the same way as Christ.

They, like you and I, failed when they tried to live by their own name.  When they tried to write who they were on their own terms, even when it seemed right in their own estimation.   It was only when they accepted the name given to them by the Word, by He who through which everything was made, both visible and invisible, that they began to live life in Christ to its fullest.  To be poured out like a libation for their fellow man and to enter the Kingdom of God on God's terms.   Are you trying to set the terms?   Are you trying to give yourself a name?   Or are you letting God work through you to build up the name He has written for you eternally in the heavens?

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."