Wednesday, March 31, 2010, 6:30 AM
The agony begins with conspiracy and betrayal. False desires quickly lead to the truth denied.
Yesterday and today’s Gospels were about the conspiracy against Jesus by the Jewish authorities and the Lord’s two betrayers—Judas and Peter.
When Peter denied knowing Jesus in the courtyard of the high priest, he was afraid for his life.
From my study Judas may have been afraid of Jesus having gone too far and yet not far enough. Jesus had set himself over against the Jewish authorities, but was unprepared to lead an uprising for Jewish independence from Rome. Many scholars speculate that Judas was a political revolutionary, and if so, he would have found Jesus’ determination to sacrifice himself nonsensical. Before Jesus caused himself and his followers to be killed, Judas thought to save himself and turn a bad situation in his own favor, gaining some ready cash.
This morning I awakened early and made it to Vigils at 4 AM, where I sat in the dark church, hearing the story of Jeremiah’s seizure and trial for prophesying against Jerusalem. The priests and prophets did not want to believe that the way they had led their people and their own behavior had resulted in God’s disfavor. They feared their authority being denied.
Jesus probably had this story in mind when he lamented how Jerusalem killed its prophets and refused his tender ministrations, as he would have gathered the city’s people to him like a hen her chicks (Luke 13:34).
Stories of betrayal — from Adam and Eve and ever after—repeat themselves in the Scriptures and in all of our lives as well. As I prepare to go to Confession, I’m thinking of the ways I conspire against God’s rule in my life and refuse Christ’s love. I would like to think that all of this is only the cravenness of Peter — the human instinct for self-preservation. When I look hard at my life, though, I have to admit that sometimes I’m as “shrewd” as Judas, clinging to my own views of how a Messiah ought to behave and what He should require. I hedge my commitments when I think I have a better plan.
This is not pretty. And it’s the grief and sorrow I bear into the Confessional with me on too many occasions.
I took these thoughts into my session with my spiritual director, whom I’m calling Father Ambrose. He made an insightful distinction between the human ego and human personhood. Our mere flesh — our ego — has a natural bent toward individualism and selfishness. And willfulness, I would add.
As human persons created in the image of a Triune God, however, we are made for selflessness and relationship, the love shared among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the unity of one God.
The deepest desires of the human person are to be known and to be loved. Our ego and our personhood seek to satisfy these desires in contradictory ways.
Our fallen human nature believes compulsively that these desires can only be satisfied through fame, power, and acquisition. If someone threatens our authority, as Jeremiah and then Jesus threatened the authority of Jewish leaders, we feel — as did they — that we are at risk of life losing its savor; of it becoming only a grief that cannot be borne; a living death.
Fame, power, and acquisition actually have little to do with what satisfies us as persons created in God’s image, though. On Friday Christ will die in order for everyone to know that no matter our standing in the world, God knows us and God loves us. He will prove this love is the creative power that brings into being and sustains all of humanity through conquering death on Sunday.
Through his Cross and Resurrection Jesus will offer to create us anew, to infuse our personhood with his divine life. We only have to renounce our false sense of destiny and the sinful behaviors that go with it, and then accept being incorporated into Christ’s life. We have to ask Jesus into our hearts, as my first tradition says.
This is all “too good not to be true,” but as every Christian knows, it’s hard to live out day by day, as what St. Paul calls the “old man,” that self that wants its own way and its own satisfactions, wars against the new creation we are in Christ. So we find ourselves working out our salvation with fear and trembling; striving to cooperate with God’s grace.
This is strange because what we most want—to be known and to be loved—is right there in Christ. Freely offered. To anybody. For the price of repentance and belief and a determination to live as Christ would have us live.
This brings me back to prayer as a means of communing with God and realizing that all the promises of God are “yes” in Christ (2 Cor 1:20).
I tried doing some contemplative—or “centering”—prayer yesterday and today, making haste toward being “alone with the alone.”
I was rotten at it.
Father Ambrose diagnosed my condition using Eliot’s line from Burnt Norton: “Distracted from distraction by distraction.”
I was thinking of a saying Henri Nouwen liked to use in his talks: “The mind is a tree full of monkeys, throwing bananas.”
Even so, as I wrote yesterday about praying silently before the Eucharist in the past, I realized that I did know something about Fr. Ambrose is recommending. This gave me hope. Christ seemed to be saying to me, in a tender manner, “I’ve missed you. Come back.”
It’s time, as I suspected before I came here, to stop relying entirely on Christ carrying me, and follow him a little bit more on my own two feet.
Jesus’ invitation to a renewed life of prayer was so kind. I didn’t feel accused of desertion, as I might have, but merely welcomed once more.
Fr. Ambrose also told me that I need not worry about being able to go on in silence for 20 minutes at the start. “Work silence in 5 minutes at a time, perhaps after other prayers,” he told me. That I can do.
What I’m not sure I can do is restructure my daily work life in the way that Father Ambrose recommended. More about that to come.