Friday, May 16, 2014

A Christian's Task

Holy Prophet Micah

"He has showed you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?"--Mic 6:8

A Christian's task is simple: to love God with his entirety, and to love his neighbor as himself.  All other duties and tasks in the Christian life derive from these two.  As the Lord Himself said, "On these two commandments all the law and the prophets are suspended."  We must always return to these two commandments as we navigate our way through the stormy seas of earthly life.

God calls each of us to be Christian in a particular way, and He lays out a path for each of us, a particular path.  It is in fulfilling this particular path that each of us can honor God most perfectly.  Even if one way of life is objectively greater than another, it does not mean that it is better for each Christian to follow the greater way if he is not so called.  One of the great illustrations of this point is found in St. Ephraim's Letter to Publius.  He relates a visit to Heaven (whether in body or in a dream I do not know: God knows), and in it he sees the area reserved for the virgins.  As the Church has taught since the earliest times (think of St. Paul's words: "I wish that all were as I am"), virginity is objectively greater than the married state, yet it is not always better for each individual.  Thus St. Ephraim saw a seat reserved for a virgin where instead a married woman sat.  He understood that the virgin whose seat it was did not persevere in the virginal life, and so her seat was taken by a woman who, while not being a virgin, lived out her married life as God intended.

When we are exploring how we are to live our individual Christian life, how we are to fulfill in our unique ways the Christian task, we should pay no thoughts to what would be objectively the greatest state of life to abide in or ministry to fulfill: instead, we should affix our minds to how the Spirit is directing each one of us particularly to live the Christian life.  This means, then, that we should not compare ourselves to another and disparage ourselves for not having the fame or evangelical effectiveness or holiness another has (I have been falling into this snare far too often, as it is a favorite one of the wicked fowler).  St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, a Jesuit who spent his life as a lowly porter, should not disparage himself because he did not visibly convert thousands of souls as did the Prime Apostles, because he did not expend his life for the suffering as did St. Damien of Molokai, because he did not achieve wide-reaching, wide-touching fame of holiness as did Pope St. John Paul II.  God called St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, as he called Ven. Solanus Casey and St. Andre Besset, to be a porter, and in fulfilling this task St. Alphonsus obtained sanctity.

Let us all, then, particularly myself, ask God what He wants of us, not what we want of ourselves.  Let us ask Him what task He has given us to perform, not what tasks we decide we should complete.  Let us ask the Spirit to guide us, not our own pride.  For there are an innumerable number of infinitely-splendoured ways to fulfill the two great commandments and the simple Christian task outlined by the Prophet Micah: let the Lord, then, show us the path He has laid for us; let His glory and energies be a light to guide us, a lamp before our feet, that He may ever direct us along the everlasting way.

"In Honour of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez" by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory is a flame off exploit, so we say,
And those fell strokes that once scarred flesh, scored shield,
Should tongue that time now, trumpet now that field,
Record, and on the fighter forge the day.
On Christ they do, they on the martyr may;
But where war is within, what sword we wield
Not seen, the heroic breast not outward-steeled,
Earth hears no hurtle then from fiercest fray.
Yet, he that hews out mountain, continent,
Earth, all, at last; who, with fine increment
Trickling, veins violets and tall trees makes more
Could crowd career with conquest while there went
Those years and years by of world without event
That in Majorca Alfonso watched the door.

St. Alphonsus Rodriguez

Nota Bene: The poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins is from Mortal Beauty, God's Grace: Major Poems and Spiritual Writings of Gerard Manley Hopkins, edited by John F. Thornton and Susan B. Varenne, in the Vintage Spiritual Classics series (New York: Vintage Books, 2003).

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