«The liturgical year is beginning, and the introit of the Mass invites us to consider something closely related to the beginning of our christian ...»
The Christian Vocation1
The liturgical year is beginning, and the introit of the Mass invites us to consider something
closely related to the beginning of our christian life: the vocation we have all received.
"Make me to know your ways, o Lord; teach me your paths."
We ask the Lord to guide us, to show us his footprints, so we can set out to attain the
fullness of his commandments, which is charity.
In considering the circumstances surrounding your decision to make every effort to live your faith, I imagine that you, like me, will thank our Lord. I know too that, without falling into false humility, this thankfulness will leave you even more convinced that you have merited nothing of this on your own. Usually we learn to invoke God as a young child from our christian parents. Later, teachers, friends and acquaintances have helped us in many ways not to lose sight of our Lord.
Open your own hearts to Jesus and tell him your story. I don't want to generalise. But one day perhaps an ordinary Christian, just like you, opened your eyes to horizons both deep and new, yet as old as the Gospel. He suggested to you the prospect of following Christ earnestly, seriously, of becoming an apostle of apostles. Perhaps you lost your balance then and didn't recover it. Your complacency wasn't quite replaced by true peace until you freely said "yes" to God, because you wanted to, which is the most supernatural of reasons. And in its wake came a strong, constant joy, which disappears only when you abandon him.
1 A homily given on 2 December 1961, the first Sunday in Advent www.josemariaescriva.info I don't like to speak of someone being singled out to be part of a privileged elect. But it is Christ who speaks, who chooses. It is the language of holy Scripture: "He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy," St Paul tells us.
I know that such thoughts don't fill you with pride nor lead you to think yourself better than other men. That choice, the root of our vocation, should be the basis of our humility. Do we build monuments to an artist's paintbrush? Granted the brush had a part in creating masterpieces, but we give credit only to the painter. We Christians are nothing more than instruments in the hands of the creator of the world, of the redeemer of all men.
The Apostles were ordinary men I'm greatly encouraged whenever I consider a written precedent for what we have been talking about. We find it, step by step, in the Gospel's account of the vocation of the first twelve. Let's meditate on it slowly, asking those holy witnesses of our Lord to help us follow Christ as they did.
The first Apostles, for whom I have great affection and devotion, were nothing to boast about, humanly speaking. With the exception of Matthew, who probably earned a comfortable living which he left behind at the behest of Jesus, the Apostles were mere fishermen. They lived a meagre existence, fishing all night to keep food on the table.
But social status is unimportant. They weren't educated; they weren't even very bright, if we judge from their reaction to supernatural things. Finding even the most elementary
examples and comparisons beyond their reach, they would turn to the Master and ask:
"Explain the parable to us."
When Jesus uses the image of the "leaven" of the Pharisees, they think that he's reproaching them for not having purchased bread.
They were poor; they were ignorant. They weren't very simple or open. But they were even ambitious. Frequently they argued over who would be the greatest when — according to their understanding — Christ would definitively restore the kingdom of Israel. Amid the intimacy of the last supper, during that sublime moment when Jesus is about to immolate himself for all of humanity, we find them arguing heatedly.
Faith? They had little. Jesus Christ himself points this out.
www.josemariaescriva.info They had seen the dead raised, all kinds of sicknesses cured, bread and fish multiplied, storms calmed, devils cast out. Chosen as the head, St Peter is the only one who reacts quickly: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
But it is a faith beset by limitations, which lead Peter to reproach Jesus Christ for his desire to suffer and die for the redemption of men. And Jesus had to upbraid him: "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men."
"Peter was too human in his thinking," St John Chrysostom comments, "and therefore he reasons that those things" — Christ's passion and death — "were unworthy of him, something deplorable. Consequently, Jesus reprimands him and says: No, suffering is not beneath me; you only think so because your mind is limited to human thoughts."
And did these men of little faith at least stand out in their love for Christ? Undoubtedly they loved him, at least in word. At times they were swept away by enthusiasm: "Let us also go, that we may die with him."
But at the moment of truth, they all fled, except for John who truly loved with deeds. Only this adolescent, youngest of the Apostles, can be found next to the cross. The others didn't find within themselves that love as strong as death.
These were the disciples called by our Lord. Such stuff is what Christ chose. And they remain just like that until they are filled with the Holy Spirit and thus become pillars of the Church.
They are ordinary men, complete with defects and shortcomings, more eager to say than to do. Nevertheless, Jesus calls them to be fishers of men, co-redeemers, dispensers of the grace of God.
Something similar has happened to us. With little effort we could find among our family, friends and acquaintances — not to mention the crowds of the world — so many worthier persons that Christ could have called. Yes, persons who are simpler and wiser, more influential and important, more grateful and generous.
www.josemariaescriva.info In thinking along these lines, I feel embarrassed. But I also realize that human logic cannot possibly explain the world of grace. God usually seeks out deficient instruments so that the work can more clearly be seen to be his. It is with trembling that St Paul recalls his vocation: "And last of all, as by one born out of due time, he was seen also by me. For I am the least of the apostles, and am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God." Thus writes Saul of Tarsus, whose personality and drive fill history with awe.
As I said before, we have merited nothing. Before God called us, there was nothing more than personal wretchedness. Let us realize that the lights shining in our soul (faith), the love wherewith we love (charity), and the desire sustaining us (hope) are all free gifts from God. Were we not to grow in humility, we would soon lose sight of the reason for our having been chosen by God: personal sanctity.
If we are humble, we can understand all the marvel of our divine vocation. The hand of Christ has snatched us from a wheat field; the sower squeezes the handful of wheat in his wounded palm. The blood of Christ bathes the seed, soaking it. Then the Lord tosses the wheat to the winds, so that in dying it becomes life and in sinking into the ground it multiplies itself.
Now is the hour for us to rise
The epistle of today's Mass reminds us that we are to acknowledge this responsibility of apostles with new spirit, with desires, fully awake. "It is now the hour for us to rise from sleep, because now our salvation is nearer than when we came to believe. The night is far advanced; the day is at hand. Let us therefore lay aside the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light."2 You might tell me that it isn't easy, and you are right. The enemies of man — the enemies of his sanctity — try to deny him this new life, this putting on of the spirit of Christ. I can
www.josemariaescriva.info find no better summary of the obstacles to christian fidelity than that of St John. "Because all that is in the world is the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life."3 Lust of the flesh is not limited to the disordered tendencies of our senses in general, nor to the sexual drive, which ought to be directed and is not bad in itself, since it is a noble human reality that can be sanctified. Note, therefore, that I never speak of impurity, but of purity, because Christ is speaking to all of us when he says: "Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God."4 By divine vocation, some are called to live this purity in marriage. Others, foregoing all human love, are called to correspond solely and passionately to God's love. Far from being slaves to sensuality, both the married and the unmarried are to be masters of their body and heart in order to give themselves unstintingly to others.
Whenever I talk about the virtue of purity, I usually qualify it by calling it holy purity.
Christian purity, holy purity, is not the same as priding oneself on feeling "pure", uncontaminated. We must realize we have feet of clay,5 although the grace of God rescues us day by day from the dangers of the enemy. Those who write or preach almost exclusively on this topic are deforming Christianity, in my view, for they forget other virtues so important to the Christian and also to our life in society.
Holy purity is not the only nor the principal christian virtue. It is, however, essential if we are to persevere in the daily effort of our sanctification. If it is not lived, there can be no apostolic dedication. Purity is a consequence of the love that prompts us to commit to Christ our soul and body, our faculties and senses. It is not something negative; it is a joyful affirmation.
Earlier I said that lust of the flesh is not limited to disordered sensuality. It also means softness, laziness bent on the easiest, most pleasurable way, any apparent shortcut, even at the expense of infidelity to God.
To abdicate in this way is equivalent to letting oneself fall completely under the imperious sway of the law of sin, about which St Paul warned us: "When I wish to do good I discover
www.josemariaescriva.info this law, namely, that evil is at hand for me. For I am delighted with the law of God according to the inner man, but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind and making me prisoner to the law of sin... Unhappy man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death?"6 But listen to the answer of the Apostle: "The grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord."7 We can and ought to fight always to overcome the lust of the flesh, because, if we are humble, we will always be granted the grace of our Lord.
St John tells us that the other enemy is the lust of the eyes, a deep-seated avariciousness that leads us to appreciate only what we can touch. Such eyes are glued to earthly things and, consequently, they are blind to supernatural realities. We can, then, use this expression of sacred Scripture to indicate that disordered desire for material things, as well as that deformation which views everything around us — other people, the circumstances of our life and of our age — with just human vision.
Then the eyes of our soul grow dull. Reason proclaims itself sufficient to understand everything, without the aid of God. This is a subtle temptation, which hides behind the power of our intellect, given by our Father God to man so that he might know and love him freely. Seduced by this temptation, the human mind appoints itself the centre of the universe, being thrilled with the prospect that "you shall be like gods."8 So filled with love for itself, it turns its back on the love of God.
In this way does our existence fall prey unconditionally to the third enemy: pride of life. It's not merely a question of passing thoughts of vanity or self-love, it's a state of general conceit. Let's not deceive ourselves, for this is the worst of all evils, the root of every false step. The fight against pride has to be a constant battle, to such an extent that someone once said that pride only disappears twenty-four hours after each of us has died. It is the arrogance of the Pharisee whom God cannot transform because he finds in him the obstacle of self-sufficiency. It is the haughtiness which leads to despising other men, to lording it over them, to mistreating them. For "when pride comes, then comes disgrace."9
Today marks the beginning of Advent. And it is good for us to consider the wiles of these enemies of the soul: the disorder of sensuality and easy-going superficiality, the folly of reason that rejects God, the cavalier presumption that snuffs out love for both God and creatures. All these obstacles are real enough, and they can indeed cause us a great deal of trouble. For these very reasons the liturgy invites us to implore divine mercy: "To you, o Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust, let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me,"10 as we prayed in the introit. And in the offertory we shall go back to the same idea: "Let none that wait for you be put to shame."
Now that the time of our salvation is approaching, it is consoling to hear from the lips of St Paul that "when the goodness and kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not by the works of justice which we have done, but according to his mercy."11 If you leaf through the holy Scripture, you will discover constant references to the mercy of God. Mercy fills the earth.12 It extends to all his children,13 and is "all around us."14 It "watches over me."15 It "extends to the heavens"16 to help us, and has been continually "confirmed".17 God in taking care of us as a loving father looks on us in his mercy18 — a mercy that is "tender",19 welcome as "rain-clouds".20
The life of Jesus Christ is a summary and compendium of the story of divine mercy:
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."21 And on another occasion our Lord said: "Be merciful, therefore, even as your Father is merciful."22 Many other scenes of the Gospel have also made a deep impact on us, such as his forgiveness of the adulterous woman, the parable of the prodigal son, that of the lost sheep, that of the pardoned debtor, 10 Ps 24:1-2 11
13 Sir 18:12 14 Ps 31:10 15 Ps 58:11 16