You Care for Me
October 15, 2021 (readings)
- Memorial of St. Teresa of Jesus, Virgin and Doctor of the Church
- Fr. John Bartunek, LC
At that time: So many people were crowding together that they were trampling one another underfoot. Jesus began to speak, first to his disciples, “Beware of the leaven–that is, the hypocrisy–of the Pharisees. There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the darkness will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed on the housetops. I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more. I shall show you whom to fear. Be afraid of the one who after killing has the power to cast into Gehenna; yes, I tell you, be afraid of that one. Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins? Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God. Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.”
Opening Prayer: Lord as I come before you in these quiet moments of prayer, please bring your light into my darkness.
The Friends of Jesus: The crowd surrounding Jesus kept getting bigger and bigger. St. Luke makes a point of showing this. And yet, Jesus didn’t become intoxicated by this growing popularity. He was not trying to feed his own ego by multiplying followers; he was trying to win true friends. In fact, as he instructed his listeners to care less about what happens to them during their life than what will happen to them once they pass beyond death’s door–entering heaven or hell–he called them my friends. Jesus wants our friendship. Would I characterize my relationship with Jesus as a friendship? Do I interact with him as easily and sincerely as I do with a true friend? Do I recognize his voice as easily as I recognize the voices of my other friends? St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest theologians in the two-thousand-year history of the Church, describes the kind of love given to us by the gift of grace–called “charity” in theological terms–as the love of friendship. Indeed, grace itself is a gift that elevates our limited human nature so that we can relate to God no longer simply as his creatures, but as his friends. It was the discovery of Christ as a true friend, a true companion, that inspired today’s saint, Teresa of Avila, to reform the Carmelite Order and spark a spiritual renewal in the Church that is still reverberating today, five hundred years later. What does friendship with Christ mean for me? What would I like it to mean for me? What would God like it to mean for me?
The Poison of Hypocrisy: The “leaven” of the Pharisees about which Jesus warned his closest followers is hypocrisy: the radical clash between what we appear to be and what we truly are. The Pharisees cultivated energetically and cunningly the appearance of religious fervor and advanced piety. And yet, underneath that appearance, they were not truly living a vibrant and humble relationship with God. Rather, they were using their status and reputation to feed their own vanity and pride, to increase their social and political influence, with all the worldly benefits such influence included. The same can happen to us. We can begin to fall in love with our own religious or moral appearances, considering ourselves more righteous and enlightened than others to the point where we begin to look down upon them and judge them. This is a spiritual trap anyone can fall into. It is a sure way to weaken one’s friendship with God through the suffocating grip of self-referentiality. Jesus exhorts us to avoid this. The hypocrite hides his own dark side even from himself, forgetting that in the end, when we come face to face with God, nothing will be hidden. It is better to be honest than hypocritical. A person committed to sincerity will live with greater peace in this life and the next. An honest person will grow in friendship with God and others, while a hypocrite will only shrink more and more into deadening isolation so deep that he may even lose sight of his very self.
Confidence in God: Jesus has revealed that after we die we face judgment. In this passage, he reminds us of this and encourages us to live with this perspective always in mind. We are not living for this earthly life alone. In fact, our journey here is directed towards a glorious destination beyond this earth. How foolish we are when we lose sight of this! How easily manipulated by false fears and false promises alike! Jesus wants to save us from that life of unnecessary anxiety and uncertainty. And he does so by reminding us that God is our Father, that we matter to him as much as a little child matters to its loving, doting parents. The small little sparrows Jesus uses in his comparison owe every moment of their existence to God’s providential sustenance and care. And yet, we are worth more than many sparrows… Even the hairs of your head have all been counted… The challenges and sufferings of life in this fallen world, riddled with injustice and violence, are real. But Jesus doesn’t want us to live in fear of them. He invites us to trust that God can handle them, and that God’s plan for our eternal happiness far surpasses anything we could possibly imagine.
Conversing with Christ: Lord, you gave St. Teresa of Avila a truly life-changing experience of your goodness, presence, and love. I know you have given me many experiences of those things as well. And yet, I need more! I am so easily tangled up in the anxieties of this world! I hear you telling me not to be afraid. I hear you inviting me to trust in you without restraint… Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom; lead Thou me on… I do not ask to see the distant scene, one step enough for me.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will pause in the midst of my busy schedule to admire the beauty of your creation and let it remind me of your providential care for me.
For Further Reflection: Excerpt from St. Teresa of Avila for today’s Liturgy of the Hours.
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