Wednesday, October 30, 2013

To Have Our Life Made Beautiful

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy
Matthew 5:7
Reflection – Well, this is either the easiest beatitude for me to write about or the most difficult. Easy, because I’ve written an entire book on the subject. Difficult, for the same reason—what else could I possibly say that I haven’t already said.
I have decided to take the easy route today, slightly bleary with sleep as I am still. Here is a section from my book Going Home, from the last chapter called, indeed ‘Blessed’. I have been meditating on the parable of the prodigal son all through the book. Here, I am in the person of the elder brother, grappling with the revelation of the father’s mercy, and struggling to know how to make it my own. I hope you enjoy this excerpt, and if you do, that you buy the book:

We’re not home yet, but we’re getting there. We’re not home yet, but we’re on the road. We’re not quite home, not yet, but we stand at the door. We’re not home yet, but the happy ending we long for is close by. It’s available, if we want it.

Meanwhile, speaking of endings, have you ever noticed that the parable of the prodigal son has no ending, happy or otherwise? The father and the older son are left there, standing outside the house, waiting. Waiting for his final decision, the final choice of the son to enter or to turn away. I too wait with God upon my final decision. Will I receive mercy or choose to go my own way in the world? What ending will I write for my story? Because God lets us do this; his grace is everything and accomplishes everything in us, but the end of the story is mine to choose. Choose your adventure!

Standing at the door, trying to decide… the sounds of music and dancing, the laughter of the servants, the smell of the banquet, the warmth of the house wafts out at me. For a moment, the bitterness, the sadness, the envy of the perpetual outsider, the one who never quite makes it, never quite gets there, wells up in me.

I see the prodigal in there, blast him, all washed up and gleaming in his new duds. He looks a bit embarrassed, a bit shamefaced, but he is just starting to smile. He is eating, drinking, dancing. Gazing at him, I realize with a start what I had long forgotten—how much he looks like me. We’re practically identical twins…

It is evening, and the sun is setting. It feels like the Father and I have been standing there together in silence for some time now. It will be dark soon, and the coolness in the air already promises that the night will be a cold one.

Will I go in? Will I, simply, ask for mercy? Receive mercy, knowing that I will then have to (as best I can) practice mercy? A stab of yearning goes through me. I long for the embrace of my father, a childish desire to be held, carried, comforted. Blessed—that’s what I want. I want to be blessed.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matt 5: 7). This is our hunger: to be blessed. To receive happiness as a gift of love from Another. To have our life made beautiful – not just this little bit or that little moment, this little fling or that little party, but our whole life rendered into something beautiful, something good, something solid and true and whole. To be blessed by the Lord—this is what we long for. No matter how old we are or how mature, no matter how jaundiced and cynical life may have made us, there’s part of us that always yearns for this, I believe. Yearns to have our Daddy love us and tell us it’s all going to be all right, and He makes it right, because that’s His job.

Blessed are the merciful. We’re not home yet, but there’s a way marked out. There are signposts. We’re not home, but we’re not lost, either. We can ask for directions, if we need to. Indeed, direction has been given: mercy, to be merciful, to live in and by mercy.

The life of mercy: our home away from home, the way home itself, and the constant choice that brings us there. The awesome inestimable reality of God’s mercy, the truth of His tender love and compassion, given to us so we can give it to others. And yet, as I have often said throughout this book, how hard it is for us to believe in this, to really accept it, to absorb it into our very being.

“The problem is that we cannot absorb this. This is how it seems to me. And the only way we can try to absorb it is to act like He does.”[1] Oh, so that’s the key! We can only absorb this deep truth of mercy by practicing it ourselves. To be merciful, as the Lord reveals to us, is blessedness itself, since it is by being merciful that we absorb the awesome joyous truth of God’s mercy to us, and are opened to receive this mercy into the depths of our being.

To be merciful – what is it? What does it mean to be merciful? Well, I don’t think it’s complicated. It is to be as generous as we can with whatever share of life’s goods we possess; it is to honestly try to refrain from judgments, harshness, accusation of our neighbors; it is to forgive our enemies from our hearts; it is to strive to become free of all anger, hatred, jealousy, bitterness, violence. To be merciful: it is the life of joy and freedom and beauty, even now, even while we still wait outside that final Door:
What joy we feel when we really forgive our enemies. I mean it’s a joy that fills us. We are free, we breathe. It’s by loving that we… begin to feel the love of Christ for us. It is a sort of a contact with God.[2]
“All the way to heaven is heaven,” the Lord told Catherine of Siena. That which is the substance, the essence of heaven—communion, freedom, joy, oneness with God—becomes ours, or at least begins to be ours, in this strange act of being merciful, of acting as He does, even as we journey through the darkness and pain of this world.

[1]  Transcript, Spiritual Reading, April 30, 1968.
[2] Ibid.

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