25 May 2009

On Retreat With The M.O.P.

The following is a talk given to lay retreatants by Father Richard Ho Lung, Founder of the Missionaries of the Poor, an international monastic order serving the poorest of the poor. Any Christian who is serious about their walk with the Lord might find this talk prodding them to an earnest self-assessment/examination of their spiritual life.

“He who does not take up his cross and follow Me daily is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:38). Now, the cross, we dilute that. We believe that taking up the cross means: I rise in the morning, switch on the television to see the latest news, go to work, and week after week becomes the same as every other week. My salary goes up on a yearly basis, then, move on and do more business, and so forth, and so forth.

But we’re talking about a cross! Saint Paul is very careful in distinguishing between a worldly cross and the Cross of Christ, which is the burden of the spiritual and moral life. There’s a cross of food and clothing. Those are basics, but we can put too much attention to that, as we know. But then there is the more important matter – the Cross of Jesus Christ, the building of a new world, a Kingdom that lasts forever. The burden of knowing God’s will for you echoes in your heart, in your mind and in your soul. God’s love for you is a great Cross! It’s very burdensome when the Lord loves you! When He loves you, He consumes you! He wants more and more from you! He wants to test your faith. How much do you love Him? How much will you reject the world in order to build the Kingdom of God? That’s what He wants to see in you. How great is your faith?

The cross of the world will never stop because people are never rich enough, and people are never secure enough. I’ve never heard a rich man saying that he has enough; and I’ve never met a person saying that they’re secure enough in life. It’s a chimera; it’s a dream. There are always worries and difficulties in life. There are always challenges in the world. But when do we cut that out and say: “You know, there will always be difficulties?” My window needs fixing, my stove is not right, my bed is creaking, the walls need painting, my insurance is about to run out, so forth and so on. My car needs updating; my health insurance may need to be upgraded. All these things happen, but then finally, that’s the nature of the world.

This body of ours will always be deteriorating. That’s a fact of life! How much are you going to attend to it? We lose our beauty. How much attention are we going to give to our physical beauty? -- The shape of our body, the color of our hair, the pencil on our brow, and so forth. How much attention are we going to give to that? And how much attention are we going to give to this Cross of Christ, which is self-forgetfulness? People who spend too much time on their bodies – it’s very obvious. They’re crying out: “Me! Here I am,” calling out for attention, “tell me that I look young and beautiful! Tell me that I look handsome, although I’m sixty or seventy years old, tell me that! I need to hear that!”

For the Christian, however, is that we become transformed by Christ, so that, when people look at you, they see Christ. The growth is in Christ – your language, your action, your work, your concern – Christ! Christ! Christ! No one else but Christ! And the beauty that we believe in is spiritual beauty that rises from our souls, when we’re one with God and at rest with God within ourselves. When we pray, when we meditate daily, quietly, alone by yourselves – that’s a choice you can make. Don’t let the world drive you! Don’t let yourselves become slaves to the world! We live in a free world, and yet we’re not so free. We’re almost incarcerated by the demands of the world.

Are we free men and free women as Christians? What is the state of my soul, brothers and sisters? Do you feel that you belong to God everyday? Do you really sense that the Lord is with you all day long? Does He possess me? Do I belong to Him? Is He intimate with me daily? Do I really spend that honeymoon in time, which is prayer with Him? Do I meditate when I go to bed? Is He in my mind? Is He in my heart? What do I want in life? Is it the Lord? Will I pursue Him as He pursues me? Will I give in to Him? Will I yield to Him? Do I trust Him? We argue in our minds night and day. We rationalize all kinds of things. But then, finally, our hearts and minds must be at rest, when we simply obey Him and follow His wills.

There are three categories of people: Those who follow God first and foremost in their life – that’s their priority; and who follow the demands of the world secondary -- secondary, or do what must be done to live in this world. There’s a second category: Those who follow the world, the exigencies and demands of the world, first and foremost; and who also spend time with the Lord, secondary. There’s a third category: Those who do not make a choice as to what is the priority of their life, but they just live day by day. And this third category is most dangerous.

Those who follow the world and pursue the world, the Lord will catch up with them – hopefully. Those who seek the Lord first and foremost, they are blessed. But those who do not make any choice are in grave danger. Revelation 3:15-21 tells us: “I know your works. You are neither hot nor cold. Would that you were hot or cold; so, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My Mouth. For you say: ‘I am rich; I have prospered. I need nothing from anyone,’ not knowing that I am wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked. But there are those,” says the Lord, “whom I love; and those whom I love I reprove and chastise; and I call those whom I love to repent. I call you! Behold, I stand at your door and I knock. If anyone hears My Voice and opens the door, I will come to him. I will eat with him and he will eat with Me.” Beautiful! Beautiful! The Lord will come into your heart, into the doors of your heart. He will enter, He will sit with you and dine with you; and He will serve you. The Lord will be your Servant.

Now, we don’t understand this, and would that we could have a grasp of it. The love of the Lord is the most important experience that you can have in life. I am not talking generically. Everybody says, “The Lord loves me and I love the Lord.” I’m talking about a real, personal, individual relationship with the Lord. That’s the greatest blessing that could ever happen to you in life – where you know the Lord and He speaks to you interpersonally – that you are, before the Lord, His son and His daughter. “I know you by your name. I know you and you know Me; and I’ve given you My Word, and I have called you to accomplish something because I love you.” But each of us, until our Christian faith becomes very deeply personal – yes, we belong generically to the Christian faith and to the Catholic Church – but each one of you must know who you are: first of all, as a sinner, as someone weak; and yet at the same time, someone called and loved in a very deeply, personal and special sort of way.

Am I lukewarm? Let’s look at that question. Do I want to serve God and mammon at the same time? Am I afraid of loving the Lord and having the Lord love me because He will demand too much of me? Am I afraid of great passion, of intense passion, and intimate union with the Lord? Am I afraid that He will ask too much of me? In Matthew 10:39 He says: “He who finds his life will lose it; and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.” That’s the terror! That’s the terror, to lose your life, to be abandoned, to abandon yourself to the Lord and all that you are.

You know, brothers and sisters, I can tell you, I was so terrified. First of all, my first terror was leaving my family behind because I am a convert and I was the eldest son of four siblings. And my parents wanted me, the number one son, to take care of the children, take care of the little business they had, and so forth. Leaving everything behind, my mother refused to talk to me for about three months, until practically the day I had to leave to join the Jesuits. Then within the Jesuits, piling up degree after degree: two bachelors’ degrees, three masters’ degrees, a doctorate degree; and then the Lord saying, “Yeah, but what about the poor? Okay, so you’re teaching at these universities – okay, so what!” So what, in terms of His Kingdom! And I had to face that in truth. I remember battling with God for making a fool of me, for having me work so hard at other things, and then to lead me another way. What was He? Is He a God of contradiction? But all the Lord was doing was loving me. Little did I know that! He wanted more of me; and He tends to want more of whom He loves.

If you’re satisfied, it’s because you don’t know the Lord. Your Christianity has become lukewarm. But when the Lord begins to really love you, and you love the Lord, He will never, ever stop until He has consumed you with His love. He will take away everything you’ve got, and then give you everything that He is. But it requires you losing your life, as it says here in the Scriptures: “He who finds his life will lose it.” You manufacture your own future and you have your own plans, but God has another plan. “And He who loses his life for My sake will find it, and you will be with Me all your days, even until the end of time.” What is my relationship with the Lord? Is it conditional or is it absolute? Is it total?

I want you to look also at Matthew 6:25. And this is one that we find very difficult. “Do not be anxious about your life, what you eat or what you shall drink; nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the air. They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they are? And which of you being anxious can add anything to your life?” These are very important questions that the Lord is putting to us. “Why are you anxious? Do you not understand that if you seek Me, I shall provide for you?” Maybe we’re saying that He won’t provide quite enough, as much as I would like to have. But He will provide for you – He will provide for you!

At the end of this meditation I would like you to have no fears. Release yourself in the Presence of the Lord. Just be with Him and say: “Lord, what do You want of me?”

Matthew 6:24 tells us, and it’s what I referred to earlier: “No one can serve two masters.” Ask yourself what’s your priority in life. What hours do you spend pursuing mammon? Is most of your day pursuing mammon or the building of the Kingdom of God? “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

Am I humble before the Lord? Am I a servant of the Lord? Am I an anxious person? What am I anxious about? Am I a fearful person when I am not in control? Do I always have to be in control of my life and the life of others? If I do not know or understand, can I trust the Lord and trust others? Do I seek to provide for myself and not allow the Lord to provide for me? Am I willing to live a simple life in His service? Do I really believe in the Lord’s ways more than my ways?