From the archives, a meditation suited to this Christmas week, this last week of the decade. A week in which we traditionally think about what we want to change or achieve in the year to come.
Some years ago, a uniquely silly phrase enjoyed its fifteen minutes of fame. For one brief, tarnished moment, license plates across Seattle urged me to “Commit random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty”. I confess that I found the words “random” and senseless” to be intensely annoying.
I could not believe that someone was actually proposing that we put intentional acts of kindness in the same category as a sudden whim for a pickle and peanut butter sandwich or that we believe that the creation of beauty is a meaningless gesture that required neither sense nor skill.
I hoped that no one was expecting torrents of completely artless kindnesses and spontaneous beauty to start pouring forth from my remarkably ordinary heart and soul. If the human community was waiting for me to become an unconscious fountain of inspired creativity and warm fuzzies, it might as well make itself comfortable. We’re gonna be here awhile. I may be accident-prone but I am not prone to either completely accidental niceness or artistic brilliance.
Thank God, our hope lies in something stronger than our personal whims of the moment. It lies in our freedom to make thoughtful, deliberate choices that have real, historical consequences. As Blaise Pascal observed, God has raise us, far beyond our merits, “to the dignity of being causes.” We are not random causes or senseless causes, but graced, intentional, prayerful causes.
A priest at a recent Called & Gifted workshop asked me a most interesting question. Why, does God give certain charisms only to a few? For instance, if a few people having the gift of healing is a wonderful thing, why not give the gift to millions? Of course, we don’t know why God distributes the gifts the way that he does. Such questions are natural and intriguing but they can distract us from a far deeper mystery: why does God bother giving us any gifts at all?
Why delegate any real power to us to affect things for good or ill? Why not just heal all our wounds and forgive all our sins by divine fiat? Why does God insist on raising us to the dignity of being causes? And not just causes of trivial things but of ideas, decisions, actions, and movements whose consequences ripple through the lives of million over the centuries and right into eternity.
When we ask such questions, God does not respond with an answer. Instead, he gives us a mystery: the Incarnation. The Church has long recognized that God did not have to take on our humanity in order to save us. He freely chose to redeem us as a human being through the medium of a fully human life and death. Further more, he choose to become incarnate by means of the Holy Spirit working with the consent and cooperation of a human teenager.
In his major work, Against the Heresies, written in 190 AD, St. Irenaeus uses extraordinarily strong words to describe the consequences of a decision made over two hundred years previously by a young woman named Mary:
“Eve. . .having become disobedient, was made the cause of death for herself and for the whole human race, so also Mary, betrothed to a man but nevertheless till a virgin, being obedient, was made the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race . . . Thus, the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith.”
Recently, a friend and I were talking with great energy about the need for lay Catholics to be "conscious, intentional" disciples. At the end of our conversation, he was silent for moment and finally commented, with the air of one giving into the inevitable: "Well, I guess it's ok if most Catholics are unconscious".
But it is not ok. God will not save us without us and he has chosen not to save the world without us either. There are no random saints or accidental apostles. As Christ began, so he continues to work today.
He continues to pour out the graces of his redemptive sacrifice freely through fully human ways. We could never have earned these graces but we must deliberately choose to cooperate with them. We will not be transformed ourselves or become a channel of this grace for others without our free consent and intentional cooperation.
God does insist on raising us to the dignity of being causes. If this is true, how many people's lives and salvation, how many communities, organizations, families, and cultures - history itself and its eternal significance - hang in the balance on the life choices of ordinary Catholics?
What possibilities in the year ahead are contingent upon my choices, your choices? Our listening obedience to God's voice through the Scriptures and the Tradition, the prompting of the Holy Spirit or the guidance of our guardian angel?
If you could dream your wildest, most beautiful dream, what would you love to see God do in and through you and your community in 2010?