Saturday, January 23, 2010

Third Sunday after Epiphany, Carmelite meditations

Presence of God - O divine Saviour, I, too, am poor leper; receive me: "If Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean!"

1. Today's Gospel (Mt 8:1-13) places before us two miracles of Jesus, two profound lessons in humility, faith, and charity. Observe the humble faith of the leper: "Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean." He is so certain that Jesus can heal him that he feels nothing else is necessary for his cure other than the Lord's will. Christian faith does not wander about in subtle reasoning; its logic is simple: God can do all that He wills; therefore, His will alone is necessary. Yet the leper does not insist; one who lives by faith knows that God always wills whatever is best for him, even if it brings him suffering. Therefore, instead of insisting, he prefers to abandon himself to God's good pleasure.

Next comes centurion. The strong, proud Roman soldier is not ashamed to personally beg Jesus, a Galilean, to help his paralyzed servant. Our Lord is touched by this humble, charitable act, and says at once, "I shall go and heal him!" But the centurion continues, "I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed." At this point humility becomes still more profound, and faith reaches its maximum; it is not necessary for the Lord to go; His power is so great that a word spoken from afar suffices to perform any miracle. Jesus Himself "marveled and said:'Amen, I say to you, I have not found so great in Israel!'" Is this not a complaint against those who live so close to Him, who perhaps live in His own house, receiving constant favors from Him, while their faith remains very weak and therefore inefficacious?
2. According to Jewish law, lepers were kept apart from society and no one was allowed to go near them; likewise, the pagans were to be shunned because they did not belong to the chosen people. Jesus goes beyond the old law and in the name of universal charity He welcomes and heals the leper, listens to the foreign centurion and cures his pagan servant. Thus Christ teaches us to make no distinction of persons, not to despise sinners and infidels, but to welcome all with loving kindness. He does not wish the good to enclose themselves in a little circle, but to open the doors to everyone, doing good to all without concerning themselves about the traits and opinions of others. All men are children of God; and our charity, like the mercy of our heavenly Father, should extend to all. This is the dominant thought of today's Epistle (Rom 12: 16-21), where St. Paul exhorts us to practice charity, especially toward our enemies. "To no man rendering evil for evil.... If it be possible, as much as in you, have peace with all men. Revenge not yourselves....but if thy enemy be hungry, give him to eat....Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good."
Jesus conquered evil, both physical and moral evil, by His mercy and love. This must be our strategy too. Whatever the evil around us, whatever the suffering it may cause us, we shall never overcome it by arguments and discussion or by taking a stand and adhering rigidly to it. This can only be accomplished by a delicate charity which understands intuitively the mentality, the tastes, and the needs of others, and which knows precisely when to intervene, to condescend and to sacrifice itself for the good of another, even if that other is unfriendly toward us - only such charity can triumph over evil.

"Being what we are and having our free will, when we do not receive what pleases us, we sometimes refuse what the Lord gives us, even though the gift might be the best one possible....But no, my God, no, more trust in anything which I can desire for myself: do You desire for me that which You are pleased to desire; for that is my desire, since all my good consist in pleasing You. And, if You, my God, should be pleased to please me, by fulfilling all that my desire asks of You, I know that I should not be lost (T.J. Way, 30-Exc, 17).
O my Jesus, I trust You, I abandon myself to You, dispose of me, of my health and of all that concerns me, according to what You know is best for my spiritual advancement. I beg but one thing: heal my poor soul. I too, spiritually, am a poor leper, a poor paralytic. My pride and vanity are always ready to impair and vitiate the little good I accomplish. Sloth and inertia seek to paralyze my efforts toward perfection. Behold me at Your feet, O Lord; I need Your help like the leper and the paralytic servant. I too, O Lord, believe that, if You will, You can heal me. "Miserable though I am, I firmly believe that You can do what You will; and the greater are Your marvels that I hear spoken of, and the more I reflect that You can work others still greater, the stronger grows my faith and the greater is the resolution with which I believe that You will hear my requests" (T.J.Exc, 4).
O sweet Jesus, I beg for a little of Your overflowing charity, which is so universal, so kind. You well know the difficulties I sometimes encounter when practicing this virtue, especially toward those whose ways of acting and thinking are so different from mine. O Lord, fill my heart with warm, sincere kindness toward them. Only the charity which comes from You will give me strength to overcome all the conflicts which arise from difference in temperament, education and ideas. Only this charity can enable me to sacrifice myself generously for those who hurt me and to continue to act kindly toward those whom I naturally dislike. O Jesus, You came on earth to enkindle the fire of charity: enkindle in me an ardent love for my neighbor.

Meditation from the "Divine Intimacy" by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene OCD.