Sunday, 21 July 2013
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Shaftesbury
I'm going on my annual retreat this week, and this year I'm off to join the Poor Clare sisters in Lynton in North Devon. I've visited them before and, being Poor Clares, they are definitely, to use the American expression, "hard core". They live poverty in the extreme. They have no heating -not a problem this week, but a serious issue in the winter. You might know that, similarly, one of the controversies among the various reforms of the Carmelite order was the question of whether they could wear socks with their sandals. Not because they were concerned about the fashion faux pas of wearing socks with sandals but because they thought it too much of a luxurious comfort.
Now, such Religious Sisters and Brothers do not embrace poverty because they somehow don't enjoy life. Rather, they do it because they have found what TRULY brings joy to their lives, namely possessing Christ alone. We just heard in our Gospel text that account of Martha and Mary, with Mary being praised because she recognised that she had "the one thing necessary"(Lk 10:42), namely, Christ the Lord. Our psalm similarly spoke of the reward of the just being to "live in the presence of the Lord". Our first reading came to a similar point from a slightly different angle, it spoken of the Lord "visiting" Abraham in the form of the three angelic visitors. And to have the Lord with us is THE truly great blessing, the thing that enables us to bear any difficulty, that enables us to rejoice in any hardship, because we have the One who we know truly loves us.
Thinking of that phrase in the Gospel text, "the one thing necessary", I was struck, and somewhat intimidated, by an interpretation of this I read a couple weeks ago by St John of the Cross. He was speaking of the MEANS of getting to God, and how if we truly realise who He is, then we need to pursue a means towards Him that is proportionate to Him. If I have understood him correctly, his analysis goes like this: as the end or goal, Jesus alone is "the one thing necessary", and to have Him is to have everything. But what is the MEANS to get to this end, to Him? In this sense, "the one thing necessary" is "self-denial"(Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book II, chapter 7, section 8). And this is a hard teaching, even if is it the teaching of Our Lord that "if anyone would be my disciple he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me"(Mt 16:24): That spirit of self-denial we embrace especially in Lent must be with us at other times too.
If we have recognised that Christ loves us, if we have recognised that Christ is worth us loving Him in response, if we have recognised that ALL fulfilment is to be found in Him, then we must want to deny ourselves all things in order to put aside things that distract us from Him.
Seeking my own comfort distracts me from Him.
Seeking my own wealth distracts me from Him.
Seeking my own preferences rather than the preferences of others distracts me from Him.
All these things, comfort, wealth etc, can be truly good (created by the good God), but if we love them in themselves then they lead us away from God. As the Lord Jesus puts it, you can "use" money, "that tainted thing"(Lk 16:9-10) but we shouldn't love it, neither as an end nor as a means to the end. The means to the "one thing necessary" is self-denial.
So, this week, while I'm on retreat, and seeing the good nuns without any socks under their sandals, I'll be thinking myself about what things I love, and whether I am denying myself enough to gain "the one thing necessary", Christ The Lord.