I'm reflecting on Pope Francis' homily for today, Monday of the 8th week in Ordinary time.
When heard the gospel proclaimed at Mass, it hit me in the same way this gospel always tends to: “'You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.' At that statement, his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions."
The Holy Father focused on the sense of economic well-being that makes us uncourageous , lazy and selfish. He also mentions the fascination for the temporary. He says "We want to be masters of time, we live for the moment." He speaks of a contrast to these provisionally-minded people: those who have left their homes to become missionaries, and those who have committed themselves to a life-long marriage.
I have many possessions. I wrote about this in January, about attachments. This weekend I have faced a painful revisiting of this problem, this need for healing. I'm just now trying to sort out in writing the light I'm being given from these Scriptures, from the Pope's simple teaching, from my life experience.
The possessions I'm talking about don't have to do with material things. I have plenty of them, but I am not what most Americans would call wealthy. We will in a poor region on one income, but with God's blessing we manage to be comfortable.
The things that hold me back, that make me stumble, have to do with emotional certainties. When I look at my life objectively, I know this is folly. When I live my life subjectively, I struggle often. I grew up with what I realize now was an chronic insecurity about my emotional well-being and about whether I was welcomed on planet earth. I couldn't have said it at the time; I didn't know I was insecure. Or rather, I didn't know what security was. I didn't know there was any other way to be.
So as soon as I became an adult and headed into life on my own, my first quest was to figure out if I was loved or not. It is with good reason that St. John writes "We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us" (1 Jn. 4:16). We have to believe in love; there has to be a movement of faith.
I'm mishmoshing my thoughts all together here because I'm not telling stories like I need to in order to make sense of things. Sort version of childhood: Born into turmoil, alcoholism, mental illness. Then divorce, diaspora of siblings, grossly hobbled communication and role reversal about who was the nurturer and who was the nurtured. All under the veneer of a relatively "normal" life. A Gen-Xer growing up in the 70s. Conversion to Christ during that childhood, though without any spiritual mentors for the first nine years. Then in young adulthood, I was ravenously hungry for spiritual things, and took in everything Christian I could find. God protected me from so much, especially from myself and my tendency to leave myself over-vulnerable.
So, there I was, a young adult, learning to believe God loves me. There has got to be little that is more pastorally frustrating than "trying" to get someone to believe in God's love. It has to be a work of grace. There is probably more damage done than we realize by well-meaning Christians who are zealous for souls to know God's love. In my experience, attempts to "love one another" can be so devastating. And yet we must learn to do it.
Let me not ramble away from those possessions.
You see, I did learn to believe in God's love. Layer by layer, I have learned. I lived in Japan as a new Catholic for 30 months, which was a poorly discerned decision on my part, but I can back wiser. I had all my romantic notions about following God beaten out of me during that time. I came back knowing myself on an equal footing with all children of God, yes, but all sinners too. I came back knowing I need people. It was easy, before that, for my insecurity to push me away from people, not even understanding that I was undermining myself. I was naively proud enough to think I was better off without all those "other" messed up people. When I arrived in Steubenville (where I moved immediately after my return Stateside), I took the Lord up on a promise I had felt He made me some years earlier, that He wanted to be the one responsible for choosing what people would be part of my life. Mix my people-naivete with my lack of trust, and just having a sense that God would provide people for me was the greatest weight off my mind. It was the beginning of a sense that my life was partnered with God. For some people, meeting others comes as naturally as breathing, but to me it involved all manner of terror.
Within a few days of arriving in town, I met the man I eventually married (although I had no inkling of it at first). I have always said that my husband is my stability. Since meeting him, my life has known a secure foundation. This is really what attracted me to him, because he is very predictable and is slow to change, not erratic, not a flyer-off-the-handle. Childhood insecurity can train the brain to worry and to anticipate weird things like sudden abandonment. Marriage has re-trained my brain to anticipate continuity, peace, and certainty.
All that is beautiful. All that goes right along with the Pope's comments about take Jesus up on His definitive proposals, that stuff that says "put your whole life right here. That's how you follow me."
But, ok, great. I'm married. But gosh dang, if it ain't true that during that long haul, we get lots of opportunities to revisit all those needs for healing and all those calls to recommit and to understand deeper, and all that.
So it's no great wonder that as a fully grown adult, married for a bunch of years, I get to revisit whether I believe I am loved or not. We get these things, like gifts, to trip over, to wake us up, to force the question. First it was why we weren't having babies. God gives life; why wasn't He doing it for us? Am I loved? Do I believe?
Then God started calling me to pour out my life and my heart to people. That isn't something that flowed in real ways for me in the past. My naivete has been a blessing and a curse. I am interiorly compelled to pour everything out, but I make mistakes and sometimes even when I'm not making mistakes I learn that that kind of vulnerability welcomes incredible pain.
Dang it! Following Jesus means welcoming incredible pain! It's not about staying comfortable! He really meant all that stuff about the cross!
What did the Pope say: our riches "anesthetize" us. Wellbeing is an anaesthetic. And what does an anaesthetic do? It deadens us to pain. It also deadens us to pleasure. It simply deadens us. And I decided some time ago that I do not wish to live that way.
But I am forced to reconsider that decision occasionally. Like now. Do I still believe in pouring my heart out to people? Can I accept the reality of the people in my life -- that those who could not nurture still can't? That most people to whom I pour out my heart will not be moved? That none of them are God, and while I am called to love God in them and through them, no human love will ever move my heart like divine love will? That God's love for me, that constant, unrelenting, driving, powerful force in my life, is completely outside my control -- I cannot produce it nor command it nor tailor it to suit my moment? That You are my Sovereign God?
Oh God, you are such a seductive Lover! You force me out of myself, then leave me looking for You. You leave me no romantic notions of what it means to follow after You, and yet I cannot turn back, despite the cross, after seeing a glimpse of Your all-embracing love. Oh God, do not leave me alone or I fear I will turn back away from You. And yet You are only hidden from my sight because of Your incredible closeness.
Teach me, Lord, this ironic necessity to stop trying to possess love. Let me know and believe that You are the one who possesses me.