No Man Born of Woman

Hear me, O coastlands,
listen, O distant peoples.
The LORD called me from birth,
from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.
He made of me a sharp-edged sword
and concealed me in the shadow of his arm.
He made me a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid me.
You are my servant, he said to me,
Israel, through whom I show my glory.

Though I thought I had toiled in vain,
and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength,
yet my reward is with the LORD,
my recompense is with my God.
For now the LORD has spoken
who formed me as his servant from the womb,
that Jacob may be brought back to him
and Israel gathered to him;
and I am made glorious in the sight of the LORD,
and my God is now my strength!
It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant,
to raise up the tribes of Jacob,
and restore the survivors of Israel;
I will make you a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.

(Isaiah 49:1-6)
A dear friend and priest once said to me when I was a freshman in college, “This is how God chooses to run his business–he saves people through other people.” This passage from Isaiah speaks to a calling, a very clear destiny and direction for one’s life– to be the instrument of the Lord and a light to proclaim his “salvation to the ends of the earth.” And it’s very clear that we may not see it, for the prophet at first thought he “had toiled in vain for nothing,” only to discover later that his work was essential. The final motivation for our works must be the Lord, for He is the one who holds our “reward” and “recompense.” But this idea of being chosen by God to help in His saving plan can become trite and lose meaning for us. In times like that, I find it helpful to think of John the Baptist.
At the Visitation of the Blessed Mother to her cousin Elizabeth, John the Baptist leaped in his mother’s womb, affirming simultaneously Mary’s motherhood and Christ’s divinity. He goes on to spend his adult life in the desert, administering a Baptism of repentance, awaiting One who has lived in his heart since that moment, one who in turn waits for the encounter with John in order to begin His ministry. Not only did God know John in the womb– John also knew God in the womb! His prophetic spirit cried out, and this encounter perhaps sustained him through the years of asceticism in the desert. Brothers and sisters, haven’t we each felt this sense of missing, this sense of homesickness for a place we can’t exactly name? At times it is only this supernatural longing that convinces me of the truth of the Gospel; in fact, it is the most compelling evidence I possess. May God make our longing fruitful, may He continue to remind us that life is not a mistake, is not a cruel joke, but is a coming home to Him. To quote Pier Giorgio, “The end for which we are created invites us to walk a road that is surely sown with a lot of thorns, but it is not sad; through even the sorrow, it is illuminated by joy.”

Love for Life Did Not Deter Them from Death

When they had crossed over, Elijah said to Elisha,
“Ask for whatever I may do for you, before I am taken from you.”
Elisha answered, “May I receive a double portion of your spirit.”
“You have asked something that is not easy,” Elijah replied.
“Still, if you see me taken up from you,
your wish will be granted; otherwise not.”
As they walked on conversing,
a flaming chariot and flaming horses came between them,
and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.
When Elisha saw it happen he cried out,
“My father! my father! Israel’s chariots and drivers!”
But when he could no longer see him,
Elisha gripped his own garment and tore it in two.Then he picked up Elijah’s mantle that had fallen from him,
and went back and stood at the bank of the Jordan.
2 Kings 2:9-13

Elisha’s request for a “double portion” of Elijah’s spirit is an incredibly brave one. How many times have we met a holy person and thought, I want to be like them… someday. In our slothfulness we can somehow anticipate how much we will have to give up, how much self effacing we will have to do, to achieve that level of holiness. Recently when I spoke with a priest about my desire to avoid prayer and talking to God on some days, he asked me simply, “What are you afraid of?” And I suppose the answer is death, the death to self that will come when we make room for Christ to live in us. Are we brave enough to pray the prayer of Elisha? Can we ask for holiness at this moment?

The Long June

As we hiked to the peak of the mountain on Saturday, my fellow group of campers started begging for a lunch break. Our leader told us, “We’re almost there, just 30 more minutes.”

“You said that 30 minutes ago!” we would shout, and some people started nibbling on their sandwiches in protest.

Finally, we reached a small clearing, and a few people collapsed. It was 3 p.m. and we’d been going since 10. A few boys went ahead to see if the clearing was really “just around the corner,” as our leader had promised. A few minutes later, one of the boys, a young French man who had barely broken a sweat so far, came running back waving his arms.

“It is just around the corner! It’s beautiful! And it’s not so far!”

It’s been a long few weeks. A few of the trials were expected–friends moving, finals. Then there were a few events that seemed to come out of nowhere: a friend’s meltdown, a beloved father figure losing his temper with me, making me feel like dirt. A rather terrifying onslaught of melancholy that lasted for three days and left me completely enervated. I was scared for the first time in awhile.

But when the dust settled, there was God. He seemed as close to me as my own heartbeat. I can’t describe the change, or, rather, growth that’s been occurring. It’s like when you hear someone talking about a very difficult exam they had to take and you know that you have to take that exam sometime soon, in a few years, distant enough not to cause a panic. But you still stop and wonder how you’ll feel. Or like a hunter who is tracking a dangerous beast and finally finds it in a clearing. This chase between me-and-God, God-and-me, back and forth like a game of tag, where is it all headed? To a place of freedom, I’m sure, but a freedom that I can’t envision yet. Perhaps I am just before a splendid view from the mountaintop, or perhaps I have just begun a new hike. But when I close my eyes I see the figure of one who has run ahead and has returned, waving his arms and telling me that it’s beautiful.