I found myself on the edge of weeping all throughout and even following Mass this afternoon.  It happens sometimes.  Sometimes I just realize how good God is, how good life is, how good the Mass is, how good the Sacraments are… and how I repeatedly take everything for granted or else shun it in order to serve my own purposes.  I had quite a bit of that sort of thing to take to Confession today.

My penance was to read and pray over this Sunday’s second reading from Colossians, which is very much about loving and being grateful:

Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,
bearing with one another and forgiving one another,
if one has a grievance against another;
as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.
And over all these put on love,
that is, the bond of perfection.
And let the peace of Christ control your hearts,
the peace into which you were also called in one body.
And be thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,
as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another,
singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs
with gratitude in your hearts to God.
And whatever you do, in word or in deed,
do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him.

It moved me, softened my heart, so greatly.  St. Paul reminds that we are “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved”–that is pretty overwhelming, when you think about it, isn’t it?  So is St. Paul’s definition of love as “the bond of perfection.”  It’s easy to think of God’s love as being merely warm and cuddly and indulgent, as mere kindness.  But it’s far more than that, often uncomfortably so.  God is love… God is also perfect.  We can’t just say, “Oh, I love God so much!” and then just turn around to do whatever we please, certainly not to engage in our favorite sins and flaws.  True love, which exists in the divine nature, can’t be divorced from holiness.

Lately, I have had these lessons hammered into me quite a bit.  I just finished reading the book, Called to Holiness: What it Means to Encounter the Living God by Ralph Martin, and it includes a chapter on “Holiness and Love,” along with lots of other really good material, such as the chapter on “Holiness and Suffering,” which I wish I had read a year or two ago.  It’s a really good little book for helping Christians stay on track, keep our eyes on our ultimate prize, and make greater sense of our mission and destiny.  It drew heavily on Scripture, making connections and offering insights that had not occurred to me before.  It reinforced how very scriptural Catholicism is.

This Sunday’s gospel reading tells the story of the Presentation in the Temple and of Simeon and Anna, whose faith, patience, and devotion are rewarded by seeing the Messiah for whom they had been waiting and longing.  I had been meditating on this story, which is the fourth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, just the other day.  I thought of how blessed Simeon was to take the infant Jesus into his arms, being, perhaps, one of the first people other than Mary and Joseph to do so.  That was a great blessing indeed, and yet I, an ordinary Catholic, nearly 2000 years later and in a faraway land, am even more blessed than dear old Simeon, for I can receive an even deeper and holier Communion with the Lord within my own body.  I can receive that blessing every single day if I wish!  We all can.

How easy it is to take Holy Communion, and the entire mystery of the Mass, for granted!  How easy it is to be distracted from the unspeakable wonders, the miracles!  How easy it is to just start going through Mass and Communion mechanically, as so many mere motions, without true devotion and participation!  And what a great shame and dishonor all of that is!  As I silently prayed along with the Eucharistic Prayer and gazed at the elevated Body and Blood of my Lord and my God, I realized that all I truly need, all my heart can truly desire, all I can long for, all that can sustain me, all that truly matters, was right there on that altar!  Given and sacrificed for me by the God who loves me, the God who never fails me!

It probably sounds so simple, so common-knowledge, but it was a very weighty realization.  It was both humbling and exalting.  It made me feel so small before God’s greatness… and yet I am the object of His love and the beneficiary of His suffering, death, and resurrection!  It gave me that “made of jello” feeling that I’ve come to experience rather frequently and yet can never get used to nor prepare myself for!  As I knelt, I thought I might fall back on my heels and start sobbing out loud!  I felt like it.  But somehow I stayed all in one piece, my eyes quietly brimming with tears.

I was still on the verge of weeping after I left the church.  As I drove to the drug store to pick up a few mundane things, I asked myself why I was still so weepy!  And I thought back to Father’s homily in which he spoke of Christian life as a great waiting and longing, with faith, patience, trust, and hope.  Each of us, no matter how ordinary or obscure, were to follow the example of Simeon, Anna, and the patriarch Abraham, who had waited with devotion on God’s promises.  A term Father used was “long-suffering.”  And that’s what I felt this evening.

Again, none of this was exactly a surprise.  I knew that a Christian’s life must be one of longing.  A Christian’s life on earth is basically a great exile.  Our hearts yearn for a homeland we scarcely even know.  Our hearts are restless until they rest at last in our Lord, as St. Augustine said.  And yet, as St. Paul reminds us, we are not completely bereft of peace.  Christ gives us peace, if only we give our hearts over to it, let it “control our hearts.”

It’s all so complex… and all so wonderful!  And I really shake my head and chuckle at the idea, so prevalent in the modern world, that Christianity is some kind of happy, carefree, painless, childish land of make-believe, some kind of beautiful fantasy where we just sort of lazily bob along.  I mean, you’ve got to be kidding me, right?  When you see the glory and feel the weight of true and whole Christianity, you know that nobody could possibly make it up–and who on earth would want to?  Let’s just say that it’s no walk in the park, no bowl of cherries, definitely no “opiate of the people,” to borrow Marx’s phrase.  In fact, as a much better man than Marx said, Christianity “has been found difficult and left untried” by many.

Only so true and great and marvelous a God, Somebody completely other, better, and greater, could compel any of us to keep on trying.  He is just so worth it!  And I just love and long for Him so much… so much I can’t always contain it inside me, and all I can possibly do is weep!

Well… I imagine most of my fellow Catholics understand.

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