Jesus continually challenged his disciples to be radical in their choices, including their desire to walk in his footsteps. Even today, he calls us to be radical, choosing to walk a path that is contrary to the temptations of the world.
Toward the end of the year 1491, in the Basque country in Spain, a little boy was born. His parents named him Íñigo. He was the youngest of thirteen children, and his mother died soon after his birth. Like many young boys of his time, he had a great love for military exercises and a burning desire for fame. At the age of 17, he joined the Spanish army and for the next decade, he fought many battles without being injured. However, in February 1521, he was gravely injured at Pamplona: both his legs were broken. Many surgeries later, he was left with one leg shorter than the other, and as a result he limped for the rest of his life. During his convalescence, he underwent a spiritual conversion which ultimately led him to fight a different kind of battle – one that led him to recognize the limitless generosity of God and God’s call for him in turn to be boundlessly generous in sharing his talents with others. The fruit of this realization, he wrote in the words of a prayer: Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, my entire will. All I have and call my own. You have given all to me. To you Lord, I return it (Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Suscipe).
Every heart that is opened in genuine prayer eventually encounters the infinite generosity of God, and having experienced boundless giving, every disciple then seeks to imitate this generosity in our own lives. God’s generosity is at the heart of the lesson that Jesus sought to teach his disciples. This is the lesson that he seeks to teach us too.
Outside of the confines of our relationship with Jesus, we have plenty of evidence to tell us that human beings must always be on guard against the temptations to be selfish. You have heard that it was said: An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (Mt 5:38) but Jesus came to show us another way. He challenges us to respond not out of vengeance but rather out of love: If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also … and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well (Mt 5:39-40). This kind of advice must have caused quite a stir among the disciples who heard it. Even today, this is not the way that we would expect people to respond. Rather, if someone insults us, it seems almost automatic that we should respond with an equal accusation; if someone robs us, the natural response appears to be that we should seek revenge.
Jesus’ call is for his disciples to be radical in their behaviour. What more radical behaviour could we possibly experience than the example that is given to us by our God? His beloved children had turned away from him, choosing their own path, but he continued to love, even to the point of sending his own Son so that he could show us not only with his words but more importantly with his actions, the depth of love that our God has for us … even to the point of sacrificing his own Son out of love for us.
Our God is radical in his love for us, and he challenges us to be radical in our love for others. From the time we were created, he has called us to be holy … for I the Lord your God am holy (Lev 19:2). Holiness is not only about prayerfulness; it is about choosing to love in the face of hate, and choosing to respond in love rather than to act in vengeance (cf Lev 19:17-18).
This coming week, you and I can pray for the grace to understand and to experience the truth that we are God’s temples and that God’s spirit dwells within each one of us (1 Cor 3:16). If we begin each day by reading these words to ourselves, allowing them to ring in our ears as we go from task to task throughout our day, eventually, they will find a home in our hearts and we will begin to see proof that they are true, that we are indeed infinitely and deeply loved by our God. Then we too can respond in the words of Saint Ignatius of Loyola: Everything is yours Lord; do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace, that is enough for me. Amen.