5th Sunday of Lent. March 13, 2016.
Is 43:16-21; Phil 3:8-14; Jn 8:1-11
The accepting and challenging love
Pop star Lady Gaga stated in a recent interview that she suffers paralyzing fear arising from having been raped in her teenage years. Speaking of this traumatic experience, she said, “It’s the thing that I am most ashamed of in my life and I have always felt that it was my fault.” I could sense the painful self-blame in her words. She said further about this painful experience,
“People don’t know this about me because I do not share it, and I know they see me as this kind of celebrity that has success and money and the world watching and that I must have no problems. But I actually suffer from chronic pain all the time and it’s from this paralyzing fear that I’ve experienced for almost ten years.”
For over a decade she has borne this pain and kept it to herself, trying to cover the deep hurts with success, music, fame, pleasures, awards, money, etc. But somehow, she just had to come out after so many years and honestly reveal the deep hurts and pains of her life.
Doesn’t she remind us of what we instinctively do with our inner pains, hurts and wounds? Don’t we try to cover up our pains and wounds with something on the outside or pretend that it is not a big deal after all, that we are actually okay and fine? We too make use of all things – fame, popularity, money, pleasure, gadgets, career, success, apostolate, etc. – in a bid to try and numb the pains and hurts of life and appear strong, beautiful, and acceptable on the outside.
But the truth is that, whether we hurt ourselves through our own sinful choices or we get hurt because of others’ choices, we cannot hide or cover up our hurts, our pains, or wounds in this life. We cannot get enough of the external props that we want to use in hiding the wounds and pains of life. The more we try to snuff out the pain with external pleasurable things or experiences, the more the pains persist and intensify. Besides, we cannot pretend forever that we are okay when we are dying inside. Inner hurts have a way of manifesting one way or another.
St. Paul is no stranger to inner hurts and wounds. He has been wounded by his own sinful decisions in life, “For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.”(Gal 1:13) He has also been harmed by the actions of others, Jews and Gentiles alike, Christians and non-Christians. Even in his imprisonment, some Christian preachers in Philippi proclaimed Christ so as to “afflict him (St. Paul) in his imprisonment.”(Phil 1:18)
St. Paul does not write to the Philippians to portray himself as a holier-than-thou or to win their sympathy for him in prison, but to emphasize that knowledge of Jesus Christ alone matters to Him now, “I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” In knowing Jesus Christ, he sees all things through the lens of God’s love for him. Knowledge of Jesus Christ frees him from any form of pretending to be someone else, or trying to look good in the eyes of others.
When we know Jesus Christ, we experience the love of God in its actuality and potentiality. By God’s actual love for us, God loves us and accepts us just as we are, with our sins and pains in life, in all the circumstances of our lives. St. Paul knows that God loves him even in his incarceration and the shameful and painful imprisonment that he has to bear for Christ. He does not have to feign righteousness through works of the law because his righteousness is now from Christ Jesus, “I have no righteousness of my own based on the law but that which comes through faith in Jesus Christ.”
By the potentiality in God’s love, God also loves us for what we can become with His grace – saints in heaven with Him. This is the aspect of God’s love for us that constantly challenges us to grow in love even as He accepts us as we are. In accepting this love that calls him to grow, St. Paul “continues his pursuit in hope that he may possess it (perfect maturity), since he has indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus.” He can then say, “Forgetting what lies behind, but straining to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit towards the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling in Christ Jesus.”
In the Gospel, the woman caught in adultery has to deal with public shame and humiliation. Her hidden sin and shame has become public knowledge. She has hurt herself through her own free choice of adultery and she has been hurt by the public shame and condemnation that she received from the Jewish leaders. It is through Jesus Christ that she experiences the actuality and potentiality in God’s love for her. Jesus offers her God’s actual love that accepts her just as she is, “Neither do I condemn you.” He also offers her the potentiality behind divine love that challenges her to grow in love, “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.” He calls her not just to avoid adultery but to overcome all sin in her life.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we all are wounded in one way or another, by what we have done (our sins) and what others have done to us. We have been rejected, insulted, abandoned, condemned, abused, etc. The remedy for these hurts is not to hide our wounds or pretend we are okay or try to cover it up with something from the outside. The solution is a deeper knowledge of Jesus Christ, an interior knowledge of Him, the love in His heart for us, His will and desire for us.
We can hold our hurts in, pretend we are all fine and good, wear our many masks, and try to justify our errant behaviors by saying, “God loves me just as I am.” Yes, God actually loves us as we are, but God’s love will never leave us as we are. But the potentiality in His love continues to challenge us to grow in giving ourselves to Him. Only a deeper knowledge of Jesus Christ will connect us with the love of God that loves us as we are and a love that constantly challenges us to grow.
Let us reflect on five ways that we can get to this knowledge of Jesus Christ. Firstly, we must begin to spend quality time with Him in prayer and listening to His words to us. It is not enough to see prayer as a time for petitioning for spiritual and temporal blessings but we must begin to see them as moments of truth alone with Jesus that allow us to know Him more, love Him better and serve Him more faithfully. The woman caught in adultery experienced this knowledge of Jesus because for the first time in her life, “He (Jesus) was left alone with her.” We have to find the time to be alone with Jesus and let His liberating words of truth in scriptures speak to our wounded hearts and remind us of who we are.
Secondly, we must be ready to do His will in our lives no matter what it will cost us. St. Paul was willing to know Jesus to the point of even “sharing in His sufferings” so as to “attain the resurrection from the dead.” We too must listen to His words and act on it no matter what it may cost us or how it may affect our relationship with others. The way to intimacy is through our readiness to act on His words, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, sister and mother.”(Mt 12:50)
Thirdly, we must be ready to reveal ourselves to Him too without any pretense about who we are or what we experiencing within and outside of us. Jesus offers us divine friendship by revealing to us everything, “I call you friends because I have revealed to you all that I heard from my Father.”(Jn 15:15) This self-revelation must be mutual if we are going to know Him. How can we hope to know Him when we keep from Him certain thoughts, memories, desires, feelings, attitudes and experiences in life? It is so sad to see how we are ready to reveal ourselves to the entire world through social media but reluctant to reveal ourselves to Jesus, the one who alone can heal our inner wounds.
Fourthly, a good sacramental life leads us straight to the heart of Jesus. Christ encounters us in the sacraments one-on-one just as we are and challenges us to grow in His love. Sacraments are not empty tokens but means of growth in love for God and neighbor. The sacrament of Reconciliation where our sins are washed away instills gratitude in us for the love that accepts just us as we are and forgives us. The sacrament of the Eucharist instills hope in us that we will receive all the graces that we need to grow in God’s love and persevere to the very end in our journey back to God.
Fifth, we grow in closeness to Jesus through our closeness to the person on this earth who knew Him best of all – Mother Mary. Mary knows the heart of Jesus so well as seen in the wedding feast of Cana. She mediates to us the love in the heart of Jesus that loves us and accepts us just as we are, even when we do not have what we should have. She prayed, “They have no wine.” She also mediates to us the love that calls us to grow in giving ourselves to God as she said, “Do whatever He tells you.” Our closeness and dependence on Mary will open us to the inner secrets of the heart of Jesus.
When we begin to know Jesus as we should know Him, we begin to grasp that love of God that accepts us just as we are and the love that never ceases to challenge us to grow. The Catechism teaches us that, “In everyone, the weeds of sin will still be mixed with the good wheat of the Gospel until the end of time.” (CCC 827) Yes, till the end of time, we all are wounded, pained, and hurting because of our own actions and those of others. It is futile to try and hide these and pretend we are okay. True knowledge of Christ alone sets us free.
As we encounter Jesus in today’s Eucharist, let His words ring deep in our wounded hearts, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”(Jn 10:10) He has not come to help us pretend that we are persons different from ourselves or to help us look good and acceptable on the outside. What He offers us in this Eucharist is the ever accepting and challenging divine love. By seeing ourselves through that love that knows and accepts us just as we are and also constantly challenges us to grow, we realize that this is the only love that sets us free from our inner wounds, hurts, and pains. When this love sets us free, like St. Paul, we too can “forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead – God’s upward calling in Christ Jesus.”
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!