In reflecting on the mystery of belief in this Year of Faith, we come to see our faith as a personal response to the experience of Christ, as a process of falling every more deeply in love with the One who creates, saves and sanctifies us.
As we come to know the mercy of God, the practice of our religion moves from a minimal stance of obligation to a maximal attitude of sacrificial loving. When we realize the enormity of the gift offered us in Christ, a lukewarm response is not adequate.
One of the best scriptural articulations of this process of love comes in the 12th chapter of John’s Gospel, the Gospel proclaimed in the Mass on Monday of Holy Week. Right before his suffering and death, Jesus goes to dinner at the home of his friends Martha, Mary and Lazarus. In the course of the meal, Mary brings out and breaks open a pound of costly aromatic perfume and anoints the feet of Jesus, filling the whole house with the pleasing fragrance.
It is none other than Judas Iscariot who questions the expense of such an extravagant gesture. Claiming concern for the poor, Judas simply wants the money for himself, as he is the guardian of the common purse.
Here on full display we see the radical difference between sacrificial love and angry selfishness. When we are in love, we do not count the cost; we freely give all to the beloved yet never feel that it is enough. When we are not in love, we count every penny, thinking primarily of ourselves. What we are already giving feels like too much. Mary spends 300 days’ wages on a remarkable gift to demonstrate her love for Christ. Judas just wants to line his own pockets with an insular greed.
So, are we Catholic maximalists or minimalists? Do we ask the question: what can I do for you today, Lord? Or is our attitude: what is the minimum I have to do to be saved? Are we purposefully falling in love with God on a daily basis or is our religion just going through the motions? This Year of Faith is a special time to deeply examine our consciences with such questions.
In aspiring to live out the priesthood to the best of my ability, I have always felt the need to feed the fire of my vocation with some form of daily sacrifice, whether it is offering some extra prayer, working on a particular virtue or going the extra mile to serve someone in need. True love is nourished on sacrifice and the ardor of spiritual passion quickly flickers if we do not sustain it with generosity and perseverance.
Today, more than ever, we need Catholics who are deeply in love with the Lord, like Mary, the sister of Lazarus. We need Catholics who are disciples of the Gospel, willing to give their all for Christ. Such friends of Jesus exercise a magnetic attraction in the lives of others, because holiness is perennially attractive. When our relatives, co-workers, neighbors and friends experience our joy, love, peace and generosity, they will long to know our great secret.
When we exercise a greatness of spirit, breaking open the costly perfume of our hearts and anointing other lives with our love, we will fill the whole world with the fragrance of Christ. This sacrificial loving is the heart of the new evangelization.
Our lives as Catholic disciples are filled with myriad of activities, some unique to our faith, others in common with everyone on the planet. We celebrate the Eucharist and pray on our own, clean our house and the parish kitchen after a fish fry, go to confession and go to work, raise our children and raise our minds and hearts to God during the day, read the Bible and the newspaper, visit the Blessed Sacrament and visit our best friends, give money to the poor and pay for our daughter’s college tuition.
We are called to live our lives with a generous abandonment to divine providence. Sometimes, we feel as if more is asked of us than we can give. In such moments, think of this great prayer by St. Ignatius of Loyola:
- Teach us, Good Lord
- To serve you as you deserve;
- To give and not to count the cost;
- To fight and not to heed the wounds;
- To labor and not to ask for any reward
- Save that of knowing that we do your will, through Jesus our Lord.