Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Gifts You Gotta Grab For

Opening Prayer (PS 34;19-20):
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted;
and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.
Many are the troubles of the righteous,
but the LORD delivers him from them all. Amen.

How often do we think there's just no justice in the world when it comes to being a childlover? We may often wonder "when do I get my reward for having to practice more self-control than anyone else I know?" The truth is, whether we are Christian or not, the way of the childlover can not be separated from the way of the Christian. We are to suffer and go without while others get to partake. We are to be hated by everyone even as we wake up every morning trying to do the right thing by children in ways nobody will ever know or give us credit for. The fact is, we're looking for justice in all the wrong places -- in ourselves and for what we think we "deserve" rather than seeing ourselves as agents of God's justice working through us already. Inner peace with ourselves and others is what we want, but it takes a humble heart (without pride) to receive that peace. 

Readings and Homily: 

When we see our own good works not as our own but as God's work, our own works reveal themselves for what they really are (all the lies, lusts, adulteries, and feuds we've had with people...etc), and far from seeing ourselves as being unjustly dealt, we see how undeserving we really are, and then how loving God is--that even in our self-righteousness, God has already made us agents of his mercy and justice in the world. We have so much to be thankful for, but we can only be "thankful" if we have received what we are thankful for, and we can only receive what is given to us if we are open to receiving it, and we can only be "open to it" if we are acknowledge that we are in need of it. It takes humility in prayer. At the same time though we may often be the favorite in our own minds, convincing ourselves of our righteousness and that we "deserve" or "have a right" to certain things (like respect from others), whether we are Christian or not, but Joshua ben Sira the wise wrote well when he said: "The LORD is a God of justice, who knows no favorites" (Sirach 35:12). No one is entitled to anything simply because they think they are deserving, and that means you, and me, and everyone. God will give to us what we actually deserve, and not what we think we deserve, because God is just, and we are not. 

Despite this individual impartiality, God is not indifferent, for He hears the oppressed, the poor (in material things yes, but especially the "poor in spirit" (Matthew 5:3)), the sick, and those hungering and thirsting for righteousness (Matthew 5:6), but at the same time: "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination [to the Lord]..." (Proverbs 21:27). God doesn't hear the prayers of the wicked, or prideful, and those who think they have no need, not because He is cruel, but because He can't give to those who refuse to receive. On the other hand, He listens to those who are humble and know they are in need and are open to receiving whatever He's willing to give (whether it's what we want or not). Sirach goes on to say: "The Lord is not deaf to the wail of the orphan, nor to the widow when she pours out her complaint" (Sirach 35:17). The question then becomes, do we think of ourselves as needing the righteousness of God, or do we think we don't need God because we already have it "in ourselves?" Scripture is very clear about which one God hears: 
"The one who serves God willingly is heard; his petition reaches the heavens. The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds, judges justly and affirms the right, and the Lord will not delay." SIR 35:16-18
Does our prayer reach the clouds? Does it not rest until it reaches what it searches for? Does it not withdraw until the Most High responds? If such is the case, we should see ample evidence that the Lord has not delayed in answering. If not, and if for any reason we have rested our petition, our desire, withdrawn it, or put our trust in something else that is not capable of granting what we want from the Lord, then it's not that God is being unjust with us, it's that we have become receivers of God's justice, which means we get what we deserve. If we want to experience God's justice to our benefit, then we best humble ourselves and put off pride. If instead we find ourselves experiencing God's justice to our detriment, it's a calling to repentance, not condemnation. We condemn ourselves when we don't respond to the call of repentance from God (as Paul instructed Titus to ignore sinners who refuse to accept admonishment: "You may be sure that such [divided] people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned" (Titus 3:11)).

We improperly judge ourselves, and that arrogance and pride will do a number on us, distorting (or "warping") and magnifying how we regard what is just for "us" to receive. We may feel like we're doing the right thing and therefore convince ourselves that we are "entitled to" more respect than we are receiving from others. As Christian Childlovers, how often do we find ourselves in among other childlovers who are "basking in iniquity" and consider ourselves "superior" to them? How often do we feel persecuted when both the outside world and our own fellow childlovers fail to tolerate our lifestyle choices, as if they owe it to us? Maybe the beginning of finding inner peace with ourselves and with the world comes from being able to not feel superior to anyone, as Paul also stopped short of condemning those who refused him: "At my first defense no one appeared on my behalf, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them!" (2nd Timothy 4:16). Notice he didn't chastise those who deserted him at his hour of need, but forgave them, which is a profound act of humility. Maybe all we need to do to start being at peace in a world that isn't giving us the respect we think we "deserve" is to stop thinking we deserve any respect from this world, so that we can then be grateful to God alone for the respect we do receive from the Lord, as Paul goes on to say: 
"But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was rescued from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen." 2 TM 4:17-18
Once we stop expecting that God "owes us" something for the great "nothing" we have to offer Him in return, we start to realize just how much God has already given us, and how much we are in debt to Him instead. When we compare our righteousness to that of other childlovers (in our case), we make ourselves the standard of our own righteousness, exalting ourselves before God and making ourselves incapable of receiving what God wishes to give us: peace (NOT "your peace," but HIS peace: "...My peace I give you" (John 14:27). On the other hand, when we compare our righteousness to that of Christ's, Whom we should compare ourselves to if we really are "Christ"ians, we make Christ the center of our lives and see how lowly we really are by comparison, and therefore make ourselves capable of receiving His peace, which IS peace itself, "not as the world gives" so that we don't let our "hearts be troubled" (John 14:27). When we exalt ourselves before God, we are children throwing a tantrum before God Who then can't give to us the good things we need because we are cutting ourselves off from being able to receive them. When we humble ourselves before God, we make ourselves adoring, obedient children who can be given many good things, which pleases the Lord to do even more than it pleases a parent to give good things to their children (Matthew 7:11). 

And isn't inner peace really what we are looking for when we go looking for the satisfaction of being on the "receiving end" of justice? We feel like we are due something for our efforts from a world that is unwilling or incapable of giving it, and so we don't feel at peace, but maybe we would feel at peace if we just stopped convincing ourselves that we "deserved" it and just received what we are given instead. We would have what we really want (the Lord's peace) if we could just stop wanting what we don't deserve (respect from men), and Christ tells us this: "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours" (Mark 11:24). Notice, Christ does not say "believe that you already have it," (which would assume you were the source of the gift), but says "believe that you have received it" (from God), and only then is it "yours." In order to receive anything, you have to be open to receiving it, otherwise you will never receive it, no matter how much it is given. You have to humble yourself to realize what little you have and how much you need. 

This parable of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke really speaks for itself, and prompts you to ask yourself: As a childlover, do I see myself as a noble person, beyond reproach and therefore having no need for mercy (a "pharisee"), or do I see myself as the lowest of the low, completely beyond hope and mercy and desperately clinging to wickedness at all times despite wanting forgiveness (a "tax collector")? Christ is very clear about who's prayer will get heard: 
"Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. "Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, 'O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity -- greedy, dishonest, adulterous -- or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.' I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted." LK 18:9-14
In this spirit, pray right now and always "Oh God, have mercy on me, a sinner," and be merciful to someone you would never think to be merciful towards (even your worst enemy), and then know that if your prayer is genuine, God WILL be merciful to you, and grant you the peace that you will have only in Him--a peace you do not "deserve," but one He is willing to give anyways. You will notice and value the respect you already do have from other childlovers and the world so much more when you stop trying to measure it against the respect you think you "deserve." The humbled will be exalted. 

Grace and peace be to you. 

Closing Prayer (PS 34:17-18):
The LORD confronts the evildoers,
to destroy remembrance of them from the earth.
When the just cry out, the Lord hears them,
and from all their distress he rescues them. Amen.

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