In Spite of Everything

“One important challenge is to show that the solution will never be found in fleeing from a personal and committed relationship with God which at the same time commits us to serving others. This happens frequently nowadays, as believers seek to hide or keep apart from others, or quietly flit from one place to another or from one task to another, without creating deep and stable bonds. “Imaginatio locorum et mutatio multos fefellit.” This is a false remedy which cripples the heart” (91).

 

“How good it does us to love one another, in spite of everything. Yes, in spite of everything!” (101).

 

-Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium [emphasis mine]

Yesterday the leaders in my young adult ministry gathered for an afternoon of encouragement and prayer. We spent several hours in a friary up in Harlem, first listening to one of the brothers speak on the Pope’s apostolic exhortation, quoted above, and then in an hour of Eucharistic adoration in their small, homely chapel. Though I had been having an emotionally difficult week, I had a sense of hope that the Lord would give me something yesterday–and indeed, he did. There were tiny, ridiculously kind things, like being given the quote I had been looking for from Lumen Gentium for several days. But there were also much bigger things, including the sense of conviction I felt when reading the first quote above.

The Latin is from Thomas a Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ, and translated means: “Imagination and change of places has deceived many.” During the roller coaster of the previous week, there were several times when I thought, “Maybe I should just leave.” For where or for what, of course, remained murky. How often we shirk the work before us in favor of some imaginary future, a cross that is not ours, a more ideal situation that may never exist! A helpful mantra I picked up from a talk I heard several years ago in Montreal was: “God is now here.” Say it to yourself, in prayer, during your workday, while you’re brushing your teeth in the morning. It’s always true. The present is invaluable because it is where we can connect with God, where we can honestly speak to him what is in our hearts. Don’t show him a picture of what you hope to be; don’t ask him to wait until you’ve achieved what you’ve set out to do. Show him you, now. “He sleeps not nor slumbers, Israel’s guard” (Psalm 121:4). He knows us in this moment, and so we must not cast it off as worthless. He asks that we work hard for his kingdom so that we may love him all the more when he brings about his victory.

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