Friday, March 9, 2012

No Distant Stranger

The Sermon on the Mount draws a comprehensive portrait of the right way to live. It aims to show us how to be a human being. We could sum up its fundamental insights by saying that man can be understood only in light of God, and that his life is made righteous only when he lives it in relation to God. But God is not some distant stranger. He shows us his face in Jesus. In what Jesus does and wills we come to know the mind and will of God himself.

Jesus of Nazareth 1, 128

Reflection – I am reminded of a story. A woman named Jean Fox, who was the director of the MH women’s branch after the death of our founder Catherine de Hueck Doherty, was a remarkable woman of faith. Before she joined MH, she had worked as a public health nurse in New York City, and during that time, she  had decided, as a spiritual exercise, to take one line of the Sermon on the Mount each day and practice it as literally and closely as she could.

Her experience was that incredible spiritual power and grace flowed from that simple practice, that in doing exactly, one line at a time, what the Lord said to do—turning the other cheek, letting her yes be yes, going the extra mile, praying for her enemies—she was brought into a deep communion with God.

Now I realize that everyone’s Lent is well underway, and people are doing (or not doing, as the case may be) whatever they are doing. But it strikes me that this would be a superb Lenten discipline. Like, arrange it on a rota of some kind: Monday, I will give to whoever asks me; Tuesday I pray for my enemies; Wednesday I give alms in secret. Something like that. Total spirit of literal childlike obedience to Jesus, who is telling us the mind and will of God in these precepts.

I suspect we would find such a Lenten fast highly profitable, fruitful. To just do what God tells us to do—so often we fudge it a little bit. It’s really a question of letting God set the terms of our life. Not our own ‘brilliant’ insights, not our own prudential judgments, not our own capacities and limitations. All of those have a place in our decision making process, but the fundamental reality is that God has unveiled for us the path of life, and invites us to walk along it with Jesus.

And that really is the key. The Sermon on the mount is not only or simply or even primarily a list of precepts and observances. It certainly is that, but primarily it is the way of Jesus, the way of walking in the world that is the way Jesus walked, the way He wants to walk with us. All this generosity, all this interior dedication, all this depth of prayer and humility and love that flows through the whole sermon—this is the Heart of Christ for us. He’s telling us His own life here.

And it’s all about finding our life in His life. Which is nice, because then we don’t have to make up our own life or somehow thrash around in a cold meaningless world, a trackless waste of relativism, cynicism, and doubt.

We have a path laid out for us to walk on through and in the heart of this world. And this path will make our lives beautiful and good. Not pain-free, not without great struggle and toil, but beautiful and good nonetheless. And isn’t that what we all want, anyhow?

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