04 November 2014

What's Your Excuse?

St Charles Borromeo
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA

There's only room for two in a confessional. Only so much water can fill a bucket. How many books can fit in a backpack? When does a pile become a heap? Going about our day we are constantly observing and assessing the quantities we must work with: do I have enough money for the new Summa translation? How much time to read all of Fr. Deo's assignments? In my case, how many mini-packets of peanut butter will fit in my habit pocket? The constant work of assessment and the judgments we make on our assessments is mostly unconscious. We do it automatically. Without much deliberation or worry. Fill up. Count out. Measure. Act accordingly. So, what does it mean then for us to “empty ourselves”? To “pour ourselves out”? If we must empty ourselves, then we must consider what it is that we are full of. And if we manage to pour ourselves out, what will fill us up, occupying the emptiness left behind? Here’s a hint from Jesus: “Blessed is the one who will dine in the Kingdom of God.”

Paul goes further, admonishing the Philippians to “have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus…” The same attitude as Christ Jesus. Just before this admonition Paul writes: “If there is any encouragement in Christ […] complete my joy by being of the same mind, [the same heart,] thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but (also) everyone for those of others.” This is the attitude of Christ who “though he was in the form of God […] emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; […] he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” Christ emptied himself to become Man. We must empty ourselves to become Christ.

But what is it that we must pour out? What fills us up, leaving no room for God? We could say Ego. Pride. We could say Vanity. What do those invited to the table of the Lord say when they hear his invitation? Nothing so abstract or grand as “I am too proud.” Or, “I am filled with selfish need.” They say what we are all likely to say, “I’m busy.” Work to do. People to see. Family waiting for me at home. So, work is bad? We can ignore appointments? Family is unimportant? No. But when our reasons for declining the Lord’s invitation to eat at his table become excuses for ignoring his invitation to pour ourselves out, we fail at taking on the attitude of Christ. And filled with excuses, there is no room in us for God.

What are our excuses for refusing to empty ourselves out? I'm a delicate snowflake, unique in every way. I have “felt needs” that haven't been met by others. I have a direct line to God, and I know what He wants from me. I know all the right people to get ahead in this game. I'm too valuable as is to be emptied out. If I hide long enough and skillfully enough, I can just make it to my goal. And “one by one, [we] all began to excuse [our]selves.” Exclude ourselves. From what? From the chance to be filled with the apostolic spirit we need to preach and teach the Good News. 

Only so many students can fill a classroom. Only so much water can fit in a bucket. That backpack will only hold so many books. We can be filled with excuses for declining the Lord’s invitation; or, we can empty ourselves as he did for us, becoming more now than we were ever made to be. If the poor, the blind, the lame, and the crippled – all those usually left outside the banquet hall – if they can be invited to the table, pouring themselves out and being filled with divine food and drink, so can we. Like them, we too can become Christ. But before we can be filled, we must be emptied.

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