Friday, November 15, 2013
Reflection: Feast of St. Gertrude
There are some things in our world that are so connected that it is hard to think of one and not also think of the other. Like salt and pepper, macaroni and cheese. The two are closely connected and are a pair. People are like that too. When you think of someone, you may immediately connect them with the work they do or a product they have made. Bill Gates is connected with Microsoft, Steve Jobs with Apple computers, and the Manning brothers with football.
When I was growing up, we had a priest in my hometown who helped us renovate our church. We would have always connected him with the renovation if it weren’t for the fact that when he left, he said he did not want to be remembered as the priest who painted the church, he wanted to be remembered as the priest who loved. He did not want his connection to be to a certain action in his life, but rather to a way of life, a way of being.
When we think of ourselves, with what do we see ourselves connected? Are we so connected to Jesus that the Gospel passage rings true, “Remain in me as I remain in you.” St. Gertrude whose feast we celebrate today, knew this connection well. She said to God, “I can find no pleasure in anything on earth save in yourself alone, my sweetest Lord.” To this, God responded, “And in the same way, I find nothing in heaven or on earth which could please me without you” (The Classics of Western Spirituality, Gertrude of Helfta: The Herald of Divine Love, 1993).
When people see us and speak with us, do they see Christ? Is Christ so alive within us, and we are so connected with Christ that it is impossible to tell where I end and Christ begins? St. Paul knew this connection well when he wrote in Galatians, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). John the Baptist was also aware of this connection. “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). When people see us, do they see the work we do or the products we make or do these things lead them to something greater than ourselves? Do they see much more in our words and actions? Do they see Christ? Do they experience love?
There’s a story of a man who went to the doctor and was told he had 3 years to live. You can imagine the shock he experienced. He decided he was going to live life to the fullest. He was kinder than he had ever been before. He was gentler. The things that people said or did that would bother him in the past did not bother him anymore. He saw people in need and helped them. He gave away all the nonessentials in his life. People noticed a huge difference in his personality and behavior. They were drawn to him. He was now connected to Christ. He saw Christ in the people around him, and people saw Christ in him. Christ remained in him. He lived in such a way that Christ radiated through him, through his words and actions.
After some time, the man went back to the doctor, and the doctor said, “Great news! We have found a cure. You will have a complete recovery.” This was great news to the doctor, but it wasn’t for the man. He began to cry. He was afraid he would slip back to his old ways.
Christ is always with us, all around us, ready for us to bear much fruit if we remain in him and allow him to remain in us. Remaining in Christ is like a fish remaining in water. Water is the life source for the fish. Christ is our life source to God. We remain in Christ as Christ remains in God. Without Christ, we can do nothing.
To remain in Christ, we cannot just stay at the surface level and be satisfied. There’s a story of a little boy who fell out of bed. When asked why he fell out, he said, “I guess I just stayed too close to where I got in.” We continue our journey to God, not satisfied with staying at the surface level, but growing more fully aware of God’s love and presence with us and around us.
The priest in my hometown did not want to be remembered as the priest who painted the church, but rather as the priest who loved. When people see us, what do they see? Do they see the Gospel passage being lived, “Remain in me as I remain in you.” Do they see Christ so alive in us that they no longer see us, but Christ who lives within us?