Monday, September 5, 2011

What's Your Ambit?

How can a young person be true to the faith and yet continue to aspire to high ideals in today’s society? In the Gospel Jesus gives us an answer to this urgent question: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love” (Jn 15:9).
Yes, dear friends, God loves us. This is the great truth of our life; it is what makes everything else meaningful. We are not the product of blind chance or absurdity; instead, our life originates as part of a loving plan of God. To abide in his love, then, means living a life rooted in faith, since faith is more than the mere acceptance of certain abstract truths: it is an intimate relationship with Christ, who enables us to open our hearts to this mystery of love and to live as men and women conscious of being loved by God.
If you abide in the love of Christ, rooted in the faith, you will encounter, even amid setbacks and suffering, the source of true happiness and joy. Faith does not run counter to your highest ideals; on the contrary, it elevates and perfects those ideals. Dear young people, do not be satisfied with anything less than Truth and Love, do not be content with anything less than Christ.
Homily, WYD Vigil Service, August 20, 2011

Reflection – In this passage, the Holy Father is confronting a certain subtle attitude that is common today. This is the attitude that religious faith somehow traps us some sort of  mediocrity or second-class life. We look at the ‘elites’ of our culture, and most of them do not seem to be people of faith, or at any rate often seem to shape their faith to serve their own purposes (which makes it no kind of faith at all, but that’s another story…). I am reminded along those lines of an interview I read recently with a certain venerable Hollywood actress who currently defines herself as a Christian, but is part of no church community, and instead contents herself with studying the teachings of Jesus which are all about tolerance and accepting everyone as they are (not sure what translation of the Bible she is using....).
But most of the really successful high achieving people who are presented to us as role models to emulate in our society do not seem to be terribly religious, or at least it’s rarely mentioned. And a certain sense can arise almost beneath the rational level that religion somehow cramps our style, that it gets in the way of going all out to achieve the top prize, the center podium, the corner office.
What becomes of ambition, if we give ourselves to Christ? Now the word ‘ambition’ is an interesting one. Of course it means extending oneself to one’s ‘ambit’ – the full length of what one can grasp, achieve, attain. Going all out, according to what you are capable of.
But read in the light of Christian revelation, doesn’t this whole idea of ambition change somewhat? What are we capable of, after all? Making a few million dollars? Having a really good body? Scoring lots of goals? Getting a doctorate?
All of that may be well within your ambit or mine… but is that really the full measure of our ambition? Man is capax dei, the Catechism tells us. We are capable of God, capable of attaining such an intimate communion with God that we transcend our humanity to become truly sharers of the divine life by grace. It’s a little bit better than a corner office, or even an Olympic gold medal or an Academy Award, nice as all those may be.
And all of those may be exactly what God wants for us… but only if they are in the service of this true ambition, which is expressed concretely in the life of faith, hope, and above all love. Christianity is not a religion of mediocrity. It is, however, a religion which subordinates all other achievements to the high call to love and be loved by God, subordinates any other work, goal, desire to the unity of the human person with the mission and life of Christ who is God. Christian greatness is expressed thus, and the highest ambition any person can have is to die with Christ, so as to rise with him, and reign forever with him.
I’m probably thinking of these things because we just finished burying Fr. Paul Bechard today at Madonna House, and I’m going very early tomorrow to the funeral of my aunt Alma Lemieux. Both were, in very different ways, simple ordinary people: no one you would read about in the papers, no corner offices for either of them.
But at the end of life, when we look back at what a person has lived (the little bits we know about, anyhow) we can see with the eyes of faith the greatness that truly did hang around them, the ways Jesus shaped this person into an icon of Himself.
And seeing that, we begin to see the transcendent beauty of a life lived, not according to our own human ambitions, but according to the Divine Ambition for us, to be with Him always.

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