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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Developing a relationship with Jesus

As we grow from childhood into adulthood, many things change, including the relationships we have with others.  God is no exception.  Our relationship with Him must also mature.  Here are some thoughts about how this can take place, inspired by the readings proposed for this week's gatherings of the disciples.

When faith matures

A few years ago, I returned to the elementary school that I had attended as a child.  As I walked the halls, and moved from one classroom to another, I was struck by the fact that the spaces seemed to have shrunk.  What once seemed to be an endless expanse appeared to my adult eyes as a gymnasium that was now far too small for anyone to play in.  It's a matter of perspective.

The same can be said for the way in which we learn our faith.  As a child, I learned prayers: Our Father who art in heaven … Hail Mary full of grace … and so on.  Even now, I can recall with relative ease, some of the prayers we recited together: Remember, O most blessed Virgin Mary … Reciting the words of these prayers over and over again is an important part of how we learn the essential elements of faith, but eventually we must not only repeat the words, we must also begin to live the life of a disciple. 

The key to the lesson proposed by today's scripture passages is that there is an ever-present danger for which we must always be on the lookout.  It is easy to stop learning about faith when we cease to physically be children.  Many adults can still recall the lessons they learned as children, but if we were to ask for concrete examples of how these lessons are are being lived today - and this includes lessons we may have learned about our faith -, I wonder how many would be able to find the necessary words.

The book of Sirach reminds us that if we choose, we can keep the commandments … we can trust in God and we will live; acting in faith is a matter of our own choice (Sir 15:15) but if we don’t learn how to apply the teachings of our faith, we will forever think that we have the right to choose – as though trusting in God is something that we can abandon at will.  Our God loves us, and wants us to experience this love.  That’s the reason why he sent Jesus into the world: to show us the tenderness of his heart.

At first, the disciples and those who gathered around Jesus thought that he was somehow going to change the rules and free them from the oppression that they had been experiencing.  Jesus came to show us the freedom that comes from knowing beyond the shadow of a doubt that we are deeply loved, the freedom that comes from knowing that we are God’s beloved children.  Jesus did not come to abolish the law or to contradict the preaching of the prophets (cf Mt 5:17); he himself said that he came to fulfill the words that had been spoken.

The danger is that human beings think that we understand the way that God thinks.  Sometimes, we even think that we can control what God can and cannot do.  It is at times like these that he surprises us most, because he is constantly looking for opportunities to invite us to come close to him, to listen closely for his beating heart, to know deeply within our own souls the truth that we are loved, that nothing we can do will ever make Him love us less.

I have had two opportunities to visit Poland.  On each such occasion, someone asked - shortly after my arrival - are you going to Jasna Góra?  The first time I heard this question, I must have had a quizzical look on my face.  It didn't take long before the answer to my question came.  You must go to Jasna Gora to visit the Madonna of Częstochowa, to listen to the beating heart of the mother.

When we understand this truth - the importance of listening to the beating heart of the mother, and the beating heart of God our Father, our perspectives change: we no longer seek to change God. Rather, we realize that we are the ones who need to change.  Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt 5:20).  When we are ready to accept the truth that we are loved, our understanding of righteousness changes too; it goes much deeper than external observances, it changes our hearts.  You might say that our faith matures and we begin to relate to God not in the way that a child might relate to a Father, but in a different way: more like the parents might relate to their adult children.

With this more mature understanding of faith, we can read the scriptures differently.  We can learn to speak wisdom that is not the wisdom of this age, but God’s wisdom (cf 1 Cor 2:6-7), wisdom that has remained hidden from our understanding while we were children.

No human eye has ever seen, no human ear has ever heard, no human heart has ever conceived of the things that God has prepared for those who love him (cf 1 Cor 2:9).  God has wonderful things in store for us, and it all begins with a personal relationship.  Our God wants to be close to us, he wants to be a friend, a confidant.  Are we willing to enter into such a relationship?  If so, be prepared: as our faith matures, we may very well discover a different, much more rewarding adult relationship between our God and his beloved children.
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