“Ridding oneself of what is repugnant to God’s will should be understood not only of one’s acts but of one’s habits as well. Not only must actual voluntary imperfections cease, but habitual imperfections must be annihilated too.” -St. John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel
On Sunday we celebrated the solemnity of the Christian faith, the Resurrection of Jesus. What does this mean? Our fasts and our penances are lifted aren’t they? Well, before we answer that, let’s consider Jesus as a Giver and a Sender. Then we will see how that St. John of the Cross quote fits in.
First, Jesus is Giver. In Luke 24, Jesus interprets scripture for them and teaches them how Moses and the prophets were fulfilled by him (v. 27) through his passion and death. He gives them knowledge and burning hearts for himself. Directly following this he makes himself known in the breaking of the bread (v. 30-31). He gives of himself in the Eucharist. In the Gospel of John, he gives the apostles the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins (20:19-23). In Matthew 28 and Mark 16 he gives them the Great Commission. He has given and continues to give so much. With this in mind, doesn’t it make sense to empty oneself of all that is not God, to make room for God and his heavenly gifts?
The apostles, in the eyes of Jesus, were ready to receive these things. Even though most of them fled during his passion, even though Peter denied Jesus thrice. Was it their own merit that won them this dignity and worthiness? Or was it something God our Father had called them and appointed them for. Is this call exclusive to the apostles? Aren’t we also called to participate in the salvation and redemption of the world, of our friends and enemies? They were not perfect, they were ready to “take up their cross.” How were they able to do so in the face of an overwhelming opposition? Here are two answers to consider.
Jesus gave them purpose by acting as Sender. The Great Commission and the Holy Spirit cannot be kept to oneself. The nature of the Commission is to be sent: “go, therefore.” The nature of the Holy Spirit is to gather all God’s children scattered throughout the world. God the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit reconciles the world to himself and restores to a more perfect nature our humanity. Whoa! Slow down a minute. These are all effects of being sent. There is more than this too, for “greater works than these he [a disciple of Jesus] will do” (John 14:12). Jesus as Sender penetrates the darkness of the world with himself, with light, and the darkened has not overcome. Further, this light and revelation encourages us to press forward in all strife and joy.
How is it that he gives and sends? Isn’t he tired from Holy Week and Easter Sunday? Well, maybe that’s part of his strength and his deep love of humanity and care for each person.
Finally, how is it that we participate in this Giving and Sending? St. John of the Cross says we must rid oneself of what is repugnant to God’s will. And that “should be understood not only of one’s acts but of one’s habits as well. Not only must actual voluntary imperfections cease, but habitual imperfections must be annihilated too.” To receive the gift of God, to act on, do, and fulfill his will, we fast and do penance. These “acts” we did during Lent are of no value if we return to habits that are “repugnant to God’s will.” To be sent into the world I must take nothing with me that distracts me from God. Reflect on Lent, what habits of yours were annihilated? Did part of me die? Did I renounce these habitual imperfections that keep me under the pain of sin and disrespect of myself and others around me? Did I surrender myself to God, and leave behind the voluntary imperfections and habitual imperfections?
No? Don’t shame away from the answer. Instead, take it to Jesus. see what he gives us. “What is it I need from God? What is it he gives me that I must recognize?” What about being sent? This Great Commission and ministry of reconciliation is not only to draw “them” closer to God. It is also meant to show us first hand our need of reconciliation and salvation. In other words, living the Christian life is how we “work out our salvation” (Phil. 2:12). As virtue becomes more habitual, imperfections become less habitual.
Next time we will consider Peter’s response to Jesus’ giving and sending.