Friday, December 1, 2006

Friday: Communion & Liberation on the Threshold of Advent

"It is hard work," writes Fr. Tom Ryan, "to liberate oneself from inner compulsions and commit oneself to the service of others or anything that transcends our own personal benefit and serves a wider world". Of course, one key is that we do not and cannot liberate ourselves, we need Jesus Christ to sanctify us, we need His Body, that not only is a sacrament, but makes us- together- the sacrament of salvation for the world. There is a delicate and changing balance we must strike between passively and patiently relying on Christ, who, through the Holy Spirit, especially in and through the sacraments, works to change us and our cooperation with what God is doing in us, so that God can work through us. St. Paul, in his letter to the Phillipians, achieves a balance between these two when he writes:

"So then, my beloved . . . work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work. Do everything without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like lights in the world, as you hold on to the word of life, so that my boast for the day of Christ may be that I did not run in vain or labor in vain" (Phil 2,12-16).

There is also a quote, taken from Fr. Ryan's book, Four Steps To Spiritual Freedom, from Jean Vanier, founder of the l'Arche communities, for the mentally disabled that is worth pondering.

"For most people, like myself, [spriritual freedom] is something for which we have to work and struggle. It is a long but beautiful road. Some people seem to have fewer barriers, fewer defense mechanisms; their compulsions seem to be weaker. I have met wonderful mothers who seem whole and integrated. I have met wise and gentle men and women who are open and free. I have met people with disabilities who have an astounding freedom; they do not seem to be imprisoned in prejudice. I have met people with mental illness who are free in their hearts; they know they are ill, but they have understood and accepted their limits. I have met many people in slum areas and in broken situations all over the world who seem wonderfully free, uncluttered by the need for power and human glory . . . This freedom is for all. Some are closer to it. Others among us have to work harder for it, because we have stronger defenses to overcome" (Ryan, pg.15).

Our penitential practices are not ends in themselves, they are but means that enable us to love better, which requires us to repent. Repentance means so much more than just being sorry, it is a commitment to change, to open ourselves by letting go, to surrender to God, to God's mercy and love. My dear friends, this is no easy task; it hurts because we try to hold on to that which God calls us to let go, we fight God for what we don't really want, rather than take what God gives that we need. This is the process of opening ourselves to what God wants to accomplish in us and, then, through us. At the end of the day, achieving the freedom God intends us to have and that we desperately and, oftentimes, impatiently want, "is not the work of a month or a year", it is the work of a lifetime, it is a pilgrimage, and, as Michael Card sings, there is a joy in the journey. Above all, it is a journey we walk together, encouraging each other, holding each other up when we are weak, sharing our experiences by serving each other. Liberation in Christ is not primarily freedom from, it is freedom for and to love.

"There is a joy in the journey/
There's a light we can love on the way/
There is a wonder and wildness to life/
And freedom for those who obey

"And all those who seek it shall find it/
A pardon for all who believe/
Hope for the hopeless and sight for the blind

"To all who've been born in the Spirit/
And who share incarnation with Him/
Who belong to eternity stranded in time/
And weary of struggling with sin

"Forget not the hope that's before you/
And never stop counting the cost/
Remember the hopelessness when you were lost

"There is a joy in the journey/
There's a light we can love on the way/
There is a wonder and wildness to life/
And freedom for those who obey

And freedom for those who obey..."

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