When shopping at certain stores I am always amazed at the variety of vitamins, supplements, pills, and potions there are on the shelves. There are supplements for joint health, heart health, immune system health, digestive health, and for just about any body-part of which you can think. I admit to taking a number of these supplements, too, just to make sure that I am getting all the vitamins and nutrients I should be getting...and to keep that ever creeping-up cholesterol at bay without needing medicine. We should get everything we need from our diet, but that is not always (or often) the case for many of us. Therefore we can get a bit obsessive about our health, which really is not a bad thing. We ought to be concerned. After all, our body is a gift from God and we need to be good stewards of so great a gift.
With all the time and attention our culture urges us to give to our bodies, it (also) amazes me when we put our souls on the back burner. We are encouraged to be concerned about the ravages of time upon us, needing anti-aging and “youth restoring” products. Yet with all this concern about our bodies, we can become complacent about the health of our spiritual life. And while we push ourselves to the brink with work and other concerns, why do we not take the time out to develop the part that we need the most, which is our spiritual life? It may feel like we must deal with whatever deadline looms closest, and therefore we have to take care of that issue first. It makes sense, but what if there are deadlines we don't know about. What if the Bridegroom came tonight? Would we be ready?
I think that our culture is such that we are so stressed by the many demands put upon us, that we often relegate faith issues to the back burner, or the "I will get to it later...I promise" list. But then something else crops up the next day and the spiritual life gets pushed farther and farther back on the ubiquitous "to-do" list. Unwittingly, we put it off so often that our fervor grows cold. We think that we are doing just fine until some crisis hits and then we feel totally a-sea and lost. Sometimes in such a state, we do turn to God, and when He seems distant, we blame Him!
It is important that we do not allow ourselves to be deceived into thinking that we can put off until tomorrow what we really need today. If we believe, we cannot ignore working on our relationship with Jesus and we cannot expect that merely going through the motions or fulfilling obligations will be enough. In the Old Testament the saddest example of this is when Israel divided into two parts due to sin and strife from within. The northern kingdom, Israel, fell to its enemies within 200 years of the split. The southern kingdom of Judah, the portion with Jerusalem and therefore the Temple (which contained the Ark of the Covenant) and the king who was from the line of David, was totally complacent as they watched their brothers and sisters get carted away to slavery by a foreign nation. They were guilty of the same sins as those which moved Israel far from God. But their behavior was far worse because they saw Judah crumbling all around them and persisted in their mistaken belief that Jerusalem would not fall, even as the prophets sent by God cried out that they were doomed unless they changed. They did not change, and Jerusalem did fall. The Ark was carried off, there was never a crowned king again, and they lost their freedom for many years. They did learn their lesson, but their complacency cost them much.
Jesus gave the same caution in His preaching. The Gospels are full of messages in which He said we do not know the day or hour of His return. In Matthew 25 He tells three stories, each with the same message, each story growing in intensity. The first is the story of the ten virgins, five of whom were foolish and five of whom were wise. The wise ones were prepared by living a virtuous life. They had their oil: that is, they had prepared spiritually throughout their lives so that when the Bridegroom arrived they could enter the banquet. The five foolish ones were not bad people. They simply were not prepared. They were complacent and waited until the last minute. The problem, however, was that they did not know when the last minute was to be, so as they slept they missed out on the time to prepare. Therefore, when Jesus came they were not ready.
The second story is about three men who were entrusted with talents, a form of money, belonging to a wealthy man. Two of the men invested the talents they were given and doubled the amount. But the third, who was complacent, buried his talent in the ground. The master was very displeased with that one, and he ended up in exile. Remember, it was his choice to be complacent, so he chose the outcome, in a sense, as well.
The last of the stories is the one about Judgment Day: the sheep on Jesus right side are the blessed that lived by the gospel message, and the goats on His left are the complacent that did not do what they needed to do. The sheep fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and visited the sick and imprisoned. The goats were too self-preoccupied and neglected to do works of mercy and charity. The point of all three stories is that we need to do these things as we can throughout our lives: being complacent can really be disastrous. We do not know when we will meet the Master face to face. As I used to tell my students, nowhere in “the contract" does it say we were guaranteed to have woken up this morning! We do not know when the hour will be.
The point I am trying to make is that there are many, many good people who try their best to do what they are supposed to do. But the gospel challenges us by saying that we need to do more than fulfill obligations. We need to have a relationship with the Lord who loves us more than we can imagine. He wants to help us to side-step the traps that lead us away from Him. He wants to be there when we need Him most. He also needs us to help spread that love to others. We are, as St. Teresa of Avila said, the only hands and feet He has. We cannot go to church every week and simply put in time. We cannot settle for stale faith. Nor can we settle for thinking that it is someone else's job to evangelize others. We cannot settle for thinking someone else should be feeding the poor or clothing the naked, especially those in our own families who are spiritually, emotionally, or materially poor. Jesus urges us continually in His preaching to accept His love and then to bring it to others. If we are truly disciples, and if we truly love Him, that love will fill our hearts so full that we will be compelled - joyfully compelled - to bring that love to others.
The best way we can bring His love to others is to know it ourselves by experience, not just by intellectual understanding. To do that we need to offer ourselves to Jesus in prayer, at worship in church, in getting involved in our parishes by attending classes and in teaching (if we are able), by getting involved in works of charity and outreach, and in supporting one another. There is no time like the present. After all, we do not know the day or the hour. Let us “take our spiritual vitamins” and nurture our relationship with the Lord. I would not want any of us miss out on one minute of the awareness of being so loved by our magnanimous, merciful, compassionate God by being complacent about our relationship. Even when we do not feel it, if we have a relationship as a foundation beneath us, we know we are very deeply loved.
May we have the grace to attend to our relationship with the Lord so that we may receive His love and be enlivened in our faith! May we seek Him always, trusting in the mercy and compassion He promises! May we find Him all around us, reminding us of His great love for us! May we be re-energized in our worship, renewed in our strength, and re-vitalized in our hearts and souls! And may we find rest in Him who seeks us daily and who yearns for us to ever give Him our hearts! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of our loving God! Peace!
The photo on top is mine. The icon is The Second Coming of Christ (Matthew 24:27) by Rev. William Hart McNichols and can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery.php?action=viewPicture&id=97
Heart Speaks to Heart