Behind Illusion

Originally published by Ministry & Liturgy Magazine, May 2010
– PDF version –

I wake up to the reality of my own selfishness every day. People living under bridges or under caves of cardboard reveal to me how I take for granted the easy life I live as a priest. People suffering severe illnesses of the mind model for me a sincere trust in how life unfolds.

I worry about my own survival even when my religious community pays for my health insurance, even when I sleep in a safe, heated room on a clean bed each night. I cling to my internal fretting even though I overeat each and every day. I remain anxious even though I have friends to shelter me from the bitter cold of loneliness and self-pity. Each day I see more clearly beyond my illusions of fear as I look into my own heart, as I ponder the incredible gifts God gives me.

Living and working among people suffering poverty allows me to realize that I cling to my external possessions and fears. I hold on because I believe that these possessions identify me in the world. Without these labels I fear I would lose my place in society, my status in the Church, my image among my friends. I live the labels of priest, preacher, friend, writer, or cook because without these names I fear I would not be known to God or to myself.

I listen to the Gospel of Luke in these four weeks of mid-July through mid-August realizing our possessions do not name us. Luke invites us again to examine our relationship with all that claims us. Our real identity rests in letting things go to discover God behind our illusions.
Jesus tells us to not be afraid any longer even when we are asked to sell all we own and give alms. Jesus promises us that our lasting treasure, our authentic identity and relationships will come in this action. In fact, we will also find our genuine selves, our hearts’ desire and even eternity in Christ.

Many Church leaders live in fear today. It is our natural instinct to want to protect our children after the crisis of the sex crimes of the clergy. We worry over fewer young people attending Mass, and we fret over vocations to the priesthood when we bury our aged clergy. We agonize over the rules of the Church in days when our faith seems watered down as we struggle to find our authentic Catholic identity. We stew over mixed- culture parishes when downsizing and consolidation seem to be the only answers for survival.

Luke invites us not to worry over our struggles, our identities and our futures. He challenges us to view even our faith as a possession. We are called to welcome those who challenge us, love those who hate us, and offer hospitality to those who cannot repay us. Luke shows us that we must rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way of living the passion, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus.

If we listen carefully to these passages of Luke’s Gospel, we will learn to rely on the daily bread that is offered us and even in turn offer it to someone who begs at nightfall. He teaches us in these summer weeks not to worry about the externals of the church and not to hide our deep trust in God’s love for us. We may fret and be anxious as Martha was serving the person of Christ. However, we must realize that the true presence of Christ is within us forever.

We must learn from people in poverty who Luke calls us to serve. This knowledge offers survival to our communities of faith. We give alms to realize our trust in God. We do not give alms to make us feel better about our own generosity. We offer people faith and love so we may be converted to even a deeper love. We do not offer the marginalized food, shelter, clothing and communion to show other people how much faith we have or to make us look good to someone else.

If we are to live the model of the sacramental church, then we must be converted when the Bread of Life is broken and shared, when the Cup of Salvation is poured out for the many. This sacramental action will allow us to release our grasp on many of our possessions and allow us to become the people we claim to be, followers of Christ who gave up even his life for our sake. The action of the Eucharist becomes Luke’s message for us to give up our pretense, our security and everything we own to become people of authentic trust and deep love.

People who live on the edge of survival teach me to trust this genuine life God gives me. This process of self-stripping, of letting go of my false identity, gives me courage to live out the gospel message to serve people in poverty and to receive my portion of God’s offering of daily bread.

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