November 2008

Dear Friend of Saint Francis:

May the Lord give you Peace!

As a new year approaches, we face the opportunity of making true joy a priority in the form of a few carefully chosen resolutions, each designed to savour its fruits as long as possible.

First, resolve to make simplicity, gratitude and generosity operating principles in your life. Second, devote prayer and effort to an ever-increasing focus on the truth of who you are, your God-given gifts and your life’s mission. Third, hold in front of you constantly the following guiding principles, proposed by Simone Pacot, a prolific Protestant author whose refreshing look at the psychological horizon of Judeo-Christian scriptural tradition offers helpful insights to our quest for true joy.

Pacot’s premise in Reviens a la vie! is that life is both a gift and a choice. God has given it to us; his commandments suppose that we will honour it. At the same time, he gives us free will, which means that we have choices to make to nurture that gift. It is as though he is saying, “I gave you life; be alive.” He puts responsibility for the latter partly in our own hands.

1. The choice for Life

Paul is a middle-aged professional who is married to a woman who loves him; together, they have two wonderful children. But Paul knows no joy because he feels false in all his choices and is certain that no one could understand the emptiness that he feels despite an apparently perfect environment. So, he suppresses his feelings and desires.

God both bids us to choose life and warns against choosing its opposite. He invites us to choose the wholesome path and to refuse to become accomplices to death in all its forms, including denial of our spiritual identity, falseness in words and deeds as well as passive or active self-destruction.

In the Book of Deuteronomy (30:15-20), we read, “See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you this day, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his ordinances, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you this day, that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land which you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him; for that means life to you and length of days, that you may dwell in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”

2. Acceptance of our human condition

Mary is a gifted executive who works endless hours to exceed the expectations of everyone around her. In the face of looming defeat, she redoubles her efforts, spreading stress to both her colleagues and family. She is obsessed with the idea that ingenuity and effort can accomplish anything.

To be human is to be finite. To live happily requires acceptance of that reality. The bible explains by means of an allegory—the story of the first man who, despite abundance, obsesses about what lies beyond human limitation. This story invites us to occupy our rightful place in creation, to recognize the source of life and live plentifully within the bounds without regret, compulsiveness or envy. Similarly, living plentifully means to not limit ourselves through our own mistakes, losses or vulnerability. To live plentifully, we must accept the fact that we are not operating in isolation; we act authentically when we connect to our creator who holds the truth of what is in our best interest. Without God’s wisdom, we are too easily deceived.

In the Book of Genesis (2:16-17), “the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’”

3. Deployment of our unique identity in relation to God and others

Ronald is the son of a domineering father and passive mother. As a child, in order to avoid confrontations, he too accepted without questioning his father’s opinions about his own abilities, preferences and dreams; what has value and what contributes to happiness. As an adult, Ronald is unhappy.

During his epic walk with God, the father of the three traditional monotheistic religions learns important lessons about who he is. His family, friends and neighbours know him as Abram. (Gen. 2:1) In the name Abram is contained the totality of what others assume to be his personality, aptitudes, weaknesses and destiny. Consequently, that is who he thinks he is. But that is not the name by which God knows him. It is not the spiritual identity that God had in mind from the beginning. To discover it, he must leave the land of his ancestors, and follow God’s leadership to assume his rightful place and name, Abraham. (Gen. 17:5)

In the Book of Revelation (2:17), God says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone which no one knows except him who receives it.

4. Quest for unity of the person inhabited by the living God

People who know her say that Helen is a different person in different circumstances—at work, at home, among friends. She often changes jobs, frequently regretting choices that she’s made in the past. Asked for her preferences regarding anything from food to music to vacation destinations, she cannot decide. Helen is often anxious.

Before the time of Jesus, the Jewish people had hundred of sanctions and laws that had to be obeyed to the letter. They would understandably think that winning God’s favour would be difficult, if not impossible. They would become discouraged if it were not for the social pressure to conform as much as possible, bearing the guilt of their transgressions. Jesus reminded them that the ancient Law (Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18) contains two priorities: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.” (Luke 10:27) In other words, joy depends on our being reconciled with our true identity, our creator and creation. Joy depends on our consciousness of God’s spirit dwelling within us and teaches us the ways of truth and love: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”

We are reminded that as God is one in the Father, Son and Holy Sprit, we are one in body, mind and soul. Our joy is in the unity of our person animated by God’s truth and love. We breach this law when we become fragmented or obsessed with one aspect of our being at the exclusion of others. Unity calls for reconciliation and balance.

5. Life as fecundity

Peter lacks confidence and believes that we are made happy by our clever avoidance of risk. He assumes his abilities are average as he has never been encouraged to develop these. His option for safety always diverts him from the exploration of his latent talents. His greatest fear is the potential of loss.

God’s plan has always been creative. God charges us with the role of co-creator, collaborators in the building of an awesome kingdom of love: “And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’” (Gen. 1:28)

Joy comes, therefore, from living as blessed by God, embraced by the Risen One; living “productively” (but not necessarily according to the world’s limited definition of that word); to receive God’s love, to live in it and to share it with others. We transgress this law of joy when we refuse God’s gifts or refuse to develop them. We deny life when we undervalue or repress God’s gifts.

While the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-21) is familiar to us, it would be profitable to meditate on its message as we conclude this reflection on the laws on joy.

[The kingdom of heaven] will be as when a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted to them his property; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them; and he made five talents more. So also, he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’”

May you have abundant life and may your joy be complete.

Fraternally in joy and hope

richard

crib and cross Franciscan Ministries