20 August 2014

Love, or get out of His way

St. Bernard
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Are you envious of God's generosity to others? Our Lord blesses all of us with certain gifts that He then nurtures in order to move us closer to Him. His love in us is perfected as we use His gifts to serve others. So long as we are using our gifts to serve others, His love is being perfected in us. The constant temptation, of course, is to covet the gifts of others, to envy their blessings and pine for the gifts we do not have. As I lust after your gifts, I ignore my own and God’s love is not being perfected in me. Envy is one of the easiest means the Devil has for distracting us away from our charitable duties. Not only do we serve his ends by failing to serve one another, we fret away in envy, allowing the seed of our Lord’s love in us wither from inattention. For the Devil, it’s a two-fer, two sins for the price of one.

By nature, God is diffusive Goodness; that is, what God is is Goodness in limitless abundance, diffused without diminishment across His creation. We are attracted to His perfection so that our imperfect nature might be made whole. That it is even possible for us to be made whole in His perfection is His gift of Himself to us. This gift of human nature perfected in the divine was made flesh in Christ Jesus. Think of it this way: Jesus is who we will be if we accept the gift of his sacrifice for us; Jesus is who we were made to be if we use our gifts in the same way that Jesus gave (gifted) his life for us—willing, sacrificially. The Cross of Calvary and the Empty Tomb of Easter are the fulfilled promises of a generous Father who knows no limits to His abundance. God is not generous; His is Generosity per se. Being generous is not what God does; it is Who He Is.

So, what does it mean then to ask, “Are you envious of our Lord’s generosity?” This question is a direct challenge to and a rebuke of the stinginess of spirit exemplified in the whiny workers who complain to the landowner about the pay they receive for a day’s work. Why do the latecomers receive the same pay when they have not done as much work? What’s the real complaint here? We’ve worker longer, so we deserve more pay. The landowner’s response is just: “My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go.” This parable is usually read as a rebuke to the Jews who complain that they have done the work of following the Law and now the Messiah pops up and offers the Lord’s mercy to any and all regardless of whether or not the latecomers have fulfilled even one obligation under the Law. The landowner (God) justifies his generosity, “What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?” As members of the Body of Christ, are we ready to say to the Lord, “No, you may not do as you wish with your gift of salvation. We’re earned ours; they haven’t.”

If this sentiment rises in our hearts even for a moment, we need to ask again, “Are we envious of the Lord’s generosity?” Now, does this mean that everyone will make it to heaven? No, it doesn’t. It means that the possibility of salvation is universal. No one is excluded from the invitation to become a member of the Body. If our Lord reached into the freed will of every person and compelled acceptance of this invitation, then we would not be free. What has been made absolutely clear to us is that the Body of Christ was raised from the tomb on the third day; resurrected and ascended, he sits at the Father’s right hand. Also made perfectly clear to us is that the Body of Christ, the Church, will be raised on the last day; resurrected and ascended, she will sit at the foot of the throne in heaven.

Our Lord has every right to be jealous of our love. We tend to wander now and again, and His jealousy reminds us not that He is petty, but that His love is necessary for our eternal lives. Though God is jealous of our love for Him, we cannot be jealous of His love for us. By nature, our God is Love and His love, that is, God Himself, is diffusive. How do we hoard God? How do we “stock up” on God and ration His love for His creatures? We don’t! And if we try, we will fail, and we will fail with dire consequences. Are you envious of God's generosity to others? If so, then you are wallowing in a bit of dangerous irony b/c His generosity is what saves you. We must be diffusive of the Love that saves us, or we must get out His way. . .

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