Eucharist Monday, August 04, 2003
“Ripara la mia Chiesa;’ “rebuild my church” are the words Francis of Assisi heard coming from the figure of Christ painted on the cross which hung in the tumble-down Chapel of San Damiano where he had gone one day to pray. Francis took Christ’s words quite literally and set himself to the task of rebuilding the chapel. Gradually he was joined in his life of poverty, prayer and preaching by others whom he welcomed as brothers. Thus the order of Friars minor, a brotherhood of those who identified themselves with the least on the social scale of 13th century Italy, was born.
What Francis came to understand as his brotherhood grew, was that Christ’s call to rebuild the church was not about finding stones with which to rebuild San Damiano, but about living stones, flesh and bloodstones, with which God was building a spiritual house. His ever-increasing brotherhood, made up of those of high and low degree, educated and uneducated, rich and poor, was a collection of stones of different shapes and sizes and degrees of hardness, all of which were integral to God’s project of building a spiritual house: in this case a brotherhood of reconciliation able to embrace the whole creation.
We too are a spiritual house always under construction, and each one of us, in virtue of our baptism, is claimed by God in Christ to be part of the structure. Paul speaks about being baptized into Christ and made limbs of his risen body; Peter speaks about being born anew and coming to Christ the living stone, the foundations stone, and being build up into a spiritual house. Both body and house are dynamic images of continual discovery and growth and becoming. “What we shall be has yet to be revealed,” John tells us.
So here we are a collection of body parts, a pile of stones large and small, rough and smooth, being built into a living structure of God’s desire and design, the plans of which we can only dimly imagine, though we know that the energy and force which builds up and sustains the house is love “love which can endure all things because it comes not from us but is worked into us, into our consciousness by the Holy Spirit. We discover that love in community, in the communion of the Holy Spirit who unites us one with another, not on the level of our opinions, but at the level of the heart. The heart, which in Scripture is understood not as the seat of our emotions, but as the center of our being. When Christians of differing points of view are unable to reach a common mind, the only way forward is love because love not only covers a multitude of sins, but it works in us, below the level of our disagreements, Christ’s costly and sacrificial work of reconciliation.
In today’s Gospel, the seed the sower sows is the Word of God. And what is God’s word, God’s address to us? “As I am loved by the Father, so have I loved you. Abide, remain, live in my love.” Christ’s command to love is not so much a duty as it is a revelation of the fundamental structures of our being. The early Cistercian writer, William of St. Thierry, in the context of a prayer makes this observation, “O God you did not command us to love you because you needed us to love you, but because we cannot be what you created us to be without loving you.” Love, therefore, is part of the order of creation; it is not some sort of religious extra, but an essential element of our humanity and our being fully alive.
“We love because God first loved us,” observes John in his first letter. He then goes on to say “those who say “˜I love God’ and hate their brothers and sisters are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” These sober words remind us that we are bound together as limbs of one body and are being built as living stones into a spiritual house in order that we might learn love, both by receiving it and allowing it to take root in us, and also to flow through us into the lives of others. The church, therefore, is a school of love in which the rocky, thorny soil of our hearts is transformed into good soil that can receive and hold fast to love in an “honest and good heart” “that is, as Archbishop Josiah was saying yesterday ““ a heart open to the truth as in Jesus.
The consequence of being rooted and grounded in love is the capacity “to bear fruit with patient endurance.” Love, by its nature always bears fruit but not without great cost as the cross makes plain. And therefore, real love, love beyond emotion or desire, the love worked in us by the Spirit (which is to participate in the love which flows ceaselessly as the communion of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, this fruit-bearing love is authenticated through patient endurance.
It is through patient endurance that our love is conformed to the love of Christ. Patient endurance is what we teach one another by our very existence as well as our singularities. And, a gathering such as this provides an excellent opportunity for us all to pray for and to practice patient endurance not for it own sake, but in the service of love.
So here we all are, a random assortment of living stones with which God has decided to build a spiritual house. Our decisions, as imperfect and partial as they may be, we pray, will accord in some measure with God’s intention and design. What holds the building together is love, a love which not only unites our various shapes and sizes, but also expresses itself in the stress and counter stress without which the building would collapse. Love pushes us and pulls us; it counterposes us one to another while at the same time building us into one. It heals the brokenhearted of today’s Psalm and binds up their wounds. It reveals to us depths we never knew we had within us. It also enables us to endure with patience beyond our imagining or perceived capacities.
Above all, love draws forth and reveals to us the presence of Christ in one another. Here I am put in mind of some words of Thomas Merton: “If I allow Christ to use my heart in order to love my brothers and sisters with it, I will soon find that Christ, loving in and through me, has brought to light Christ in my brothers and sisters. And I will find that the love of Christ in my brothers and sisters, loving me in return, has drawn forth the image and reality of Christ in my own Soul.” Such my friends is the deep mystery of the Church which in every age builds and rebuilds itself up in love, a mystery we proclaim in baptism and every time we break the bread and share the cup; and every time we gather in solemn assembly to seek the mind of Christ.
How have I met Christ in the course of this convention, in stones I might have rejected, how has Christ being loving others through me, loving me through others. Where have I experienced stress and counter stress and been called to patient endurance in service of love?