16 May 2011

All of Me

Fourth Sunday of Easter
            As Americans, we tend to be very practical people.  After a salesman has told us all the benefits of their new product, all the great things it will do for us, the wonderful way that it will compliment our lifestyle, whatever the product may be, it always comes down to one simple question: how much?
            In today’s first reading, we hear St. Peter speak on behalf of the other Apostles, and proclaim, “‘Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.’”  Then the reading skips ahead of the main body of his argument, 22 verses, in fact, and gets to the response of the Jews who were hearing him: “‘What are we to do, my brothers?’”  Apparently, the Jews who were hearing St. Peter were practical, too.  They wanted to know what they had to do to be saved.
            Some 2,000 years later, we’re still asking the same question: what do I really have to do?  What’s it cost me?  The answer is quite simple: nothing…and everything.
            Salvation costs us nothing because it is the free gift of God, the gift given to us by Jesus, Lord and Christ, the Greek way of expressing the Hebrew understanding of God and Messiah, at Easter.  This Jesus whom we crucified, to paraphrase St. Peter from the first reading, has, in turn, given us salvation.  And to continue to St. Peter’s words from the second reading, by Jesus’ wounds we are healed.  Even though we have wondered away like sheep, Jesus Christ has brought us back to Himself because He is our shepherd and the guardian of our souls.  Even though we freely chose sin, individual acts and lifestyles that are contrary to Divine Will, natural law, and reason, to use St. Thomas’ definition of sin, acts and lifestyles which draw us away from the eternal destiny of our souls to be in heaven with God, Jesus rescued us from sin and death so that, following His example, we could be happy with Jesus forever in heaven, the whole reason for our being.  And rather than having us pay the cost, Jesus paid the price for our sins with His blood.  We are free to say yes to the great gift of salvation offered to us by Christ.
Sheep grazing in Israel
            And yet, salvation costs us everything.  Because, as Jesus tells us today in the Gospel, He is the gate for the sheep, and anyone who tries to enter by any other means is a thief and a robber, who come only to steal, slaughter, and destroy.  But Jesus, the Good Shepherd, came so that we might have life, and have it more abundantly.  But to come through Jesus the Sheepgate means that we try to get in through no other means.  That we can only go through Him.  And Jesus doesn’t just want one hour from us every week.  He doesn’t just want the times that we’re at home before a meal praying.  He wants us all.  He wants our love, our attention, our actions.  He wants us when we’re children, when we’re teens, when we’re adults, and when we’re seniors.  He wants our friendships, our relationships, the totality of who we are as persons.  He wants our work and He wants our vacations.  He wants our health and our sickness.  All of it, Jesus tells us, must go through Him.  And if it cannot go through Him, then it is only stealing from us, slaughtering us, destroying us.
            For our God is a loving God, yes, but as we hear so many times from the Old Testament, our God is also a jealous God.  He does not want us flirting with sin, in any of its forms.  He wants all of our love and affection to be directed to Him.  God is jealous for us because He knows that the only way that we can truly be happy is by going through Him and uniting everything to him. 
            In our times there are so many temptations to leave God outside and to try to find happiness and joy through other gates.  We see and hear about many prominent Catholics who have not given everything to Jesus, but who have tried to separate aspects of their life and get them in by another route.  Too many prominent Catholics or Catholics we know personally will say or tell us by their actions that when it comes to marriage and the relationships therein, the Church, the Body of Christ, has no authority.  “It’s my body, and I’ll do as I please.”  Too many Catholics consider their first allegiance the Church when they enter the pew, but when they enter the polling place or the Legislative chambers that allegiance disappears.  Now, let me be clear, the Church endorses no candidate and no party.  But, we do promote the Gospel and ask Catholics to vote for those, according to a properly-formed conscience, who can best bring about the teachings of the Gospel, the teachings which bring us life, true liberty, and true happiness, especially for those who are marginalized in our society: infants in the womb, the poor, the elderly, and so many others, as well as Catholic Legislators to promote those Gospel values in their work of forming laws for the State and the country.
            We are all of us practical people.  We want to know the cost of salvation.  It is nothing and everything.  It is a free gift, offered to us in Christ that gives us true joy and true freedom.  It is a gift which, to accept it, means that we are constantly working at making sure that all of who we are passes through Christ, the Sheepgate.  If it cannot pass through Him, it will not bring joy or freedom, but sorrow and slavery.  Christ wants all of us.  Bishop Mengeling is well-known for using older songs in his homilies and talks, and, while I won’t sing the song, I think that our desire, our prayer could be expressed in the opening words of the oldie, but goodie, “All of Me.”  Because we should be saying to Christ, “All of me, why not take all of me?  Can’t you see I’m no good without you.”  Or, to use an even older version, we can use the words of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Suscipe prayer:
                                                Receive, O Lord, all my liberty.
                                                Take my memory, my understanding, and my entire will.
                                                Whatsoever I have or posses Thou hast bestowed upon me;
                                                I give it all back to Thee
                                                and surrender it wholly to be governed by Thy Will.
                                                Give me love for Thee alone along with Thy grace,
                                                and I am rich enough and ask for nothing more.