October 8, 2010

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Put the wood of the cross in the center of your heart

For our reflection this week, I want to make the simple point that at the center of all that we are about, we need to keep our focus on Christ and the price he paid for our salvation.

What distinguishes us as Christians is the centrality of Christ and participation in his redemptive triumph over sin and death. It is the substance of our call to holiness.

It is important to keep in mind that the consequence of his redemptive triumph reaches into the stuff of our everyday lives. Our redemption is not simply an event that will happen at the time we pass into the fullness of the Kingdom, that is, when we go home to the House of the Father. Our call to holiness and our redemption is worked out in the ordinary events and experiences of everyday life.

One time in a letter, St. Francis de Sales wrote that he noticed a curious custom of the country people where he lived. He would observe farm hands going across a farmyard to draw water at the well. Before they would lift the bucket and fill it to the top with water, they would put a piece of wood into it.

One day, Francis asked a young woman: “Why do you do that? Why do you put a piece of wood into the bucket?” She looked surprised and, as if he should know the reason, she said, “Why, to keep the water from spilling and sloshing—to keep it steady while you carry it.”

Writing to a friend later, the bishop told this anecdote and added: “So, when your heart is distressed and agitated, put the wood of the Cross into its center to keep it steady!”

In times of busyness or stress or perhaps when we feel badly because of sin, the presence of Jesus and his love which flows from the Cross can give us peace and calm serenity. Put the wood of the Cross in the center of our hearts to keep steady and balanced. It may sound too simple, but it truly makes all the difference as we try to live our call to holiness.

It does mean that we need intentionally to embrace our baptismal call to holiness, and we need intentionally to foster our relationship with Jesus. Like any other friendship, we know that we have to work at our communication with him. Friendships do not remain static or deepen if untended.

What do we do to nurture our call to holiness and our love of Jesus? Every opportunity I get these days, I recall the teaching of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, about three tasks that express the essential nature of our Catholic Church and that should shape our call to holiness.

Whatever the state of our life might be, we are called, first, to proclaim the Word of God and the teaching of Jesus. Second, we are to participate faithfully in the sacramental life of the Church. And third, we are to do our part in the ministry of charity.

Proclaim, celebrate and serve pretty well summarize our call.

Most of the time, we proclaim the Word of God by the way we live as Jesus taught us to do. Our love for the Eucharist and our faithful reception of the sacrament of penance help to keep us focused and remember why we are faithful Christians who love Jesus. And charity is the natural flowering of the love that Jesus confers on us in the holy Eucharist and the other sacraments.

I often quote from a note that a priest wrote to me when I was leaving Memphis to become archbishop here in Indianapolis. He wrote: “Bishop, when you came to Memphis you told us that your first duty was to be a man of prayer. I was disappointed to hear that because I wanted an activist bishop. Now, I know—and the record shows—if we are faithful in prayer, activity flows aplenty!”

In order to keep a balance as we live the threefold task that is so basic to our Christian vocation, it is wholesome to keep the wood of the Cross, the symbol of Christ’s powerful love and compassion, at the center of our lives.

We do that by continually returning as friends to Jesus in prayer, sometimes at the foot of the Cross. At times, there will be dry spells in our prayer.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta anguished as she wondered if God was with her. Yet she remained faithful in her mission of charity. She is a contemporary ­encouragement in our call to holiness.

And let’s recall that Mary, the mother of Jesus and ours, stood faithfully at the foot of his Cross.

Once in awhile, we do well to join her there. †

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