Tuesday, June 06, 2006

His Inexpressible Gift

“Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” exclaimed St Paul (2Cor. 9:15). There are many contexts in which we can repeat his sentiment, but today I’d just like to reflect a bit on the Feast of Pentecost that we’ve been celebrating the past couple of days.

I might as well confess that I’ve been having a bit of a rough time lately, and you may have guessed by now that the hypothetical complaints that I’ve dealt with in a couple recent posts are mostly autobiographical. (But don’t assume that they always are, or you’ll prevent me from bringing up matters to deal with that aren’t my own!) Anyway, I grumbled to a couple friends of mine, who responded variously with encouragement, prayer, straight serious talk, and even poetry (and sometimes a sort of combination of them all). Well, thus encouraged and graciously chastened, I entered the celebration of Pentecost.

It would take too long to detail all that happened on Sunday and Monday (the latter happened to be the anniversary of the founding of our monastery, and we held the Divine Liturgy outdoors at our shrine to the Mother of God). But the general blessing and fruit of these days has been for me a greater appreciation and awareness of God’s inexpressible gift—the gift of his Son, of his Spirit, of the Holy Mysteries of the Altar.

I think I’ve mentioned before that at my ordination to the priesthood I was struck by the Gospel passage about the eyewitness to Jesus’ passion and death, whose “testimony we know is true.” This has always been important to me. If going to give my life for something, it must be true. Actually, I’m giving my life for some One. Sometimes one can get “desensitized” even to holy things and lose the awareness of the greatness of God’s gift. So He showed me in several ways—speaking through the prophet Ezekiel in the Scriptures, speaking through me as I preached the word of God, allowing me to become aware of his divine glory flowing out of the Eucharistic chalice and filling the sanctuary, telling me that He was indeed present as I elevated the sacramental Lamb before Holy Communion. And when I sang the words, "Blessed are You, O Christ our God..." it was just so right. It was as if I had just discovered the key to unlock the meaning and mystery of life, as if I found at last my reason of being, as if the whole universe had been created simply to echo these words from galaxy to galaxy.

Yet all too often I think that the veils are too opaque, too securely drawn over the divine mysteries, and all seems blank or dark, and so I tend towards despondency, and a kind of numb drudgery seems to fill the day. So every now and then the Lord “adapts Himself to my weakness” (as Pope Benedict says) and finds some way to remind me: “It’s all true, you know. Really.”

Then I begin to thank God for his inexpressible gift. I listen to myself saying the prayers as I distribute Holy Communion, for example: “The servant of God ____ receives the precious, holy, and most pure Body and Blood of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of sins and for life everlasting.” The forgiveness of sins and life everlasting! How can these words roll off my lips without my falling to the ground in adoration and thanksgiving? Who am I that I can receive such a gift and be instrumental in giving it to others? Yet such is the mercy and loving-kindness of God, who not only gives the gift, but at such a price—the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. I’m standing on holy ground, yet I’m too seldom aware of it. But when my awareness finally opens even a little, I realize that “it’s all true,” and I am encouraged to renew and deepen my faith and love for Christ, and my commitment to serve Him until He comes to bring me home.

So I must persevere, and you must, too. Even when we seem to be walking in darkness, we are guided by a mysterious hand that we may not be able to perceive. But the Lord has arranged everything, worked out all the details, and He’s putting together the pieces of our broken lives in ways that can only cause us to marvel when we finally see all He has done for us in his everlasting love. If we can bear our crosses for Him out of love, He will find ways to show us that He is with us always, and He will gently encourage us: “If only you knew the gift of God…” How generous and self-sacrificing, how uncompromising in faith and morality would we be if we could see what the citizens of Heaven see!

The Lord will not take away our freedom to believe or to doubt, to love or to withhold love, to persevere or give up, to hope or despair, but his grace will not be lacking, and when we need Him He will be there. This is the message that the Spirit of Truth has brought this Pentecost: the glory, the holiness, the presence, the love of the Lord is all around us and within us. Believe now, see later. But at all times, thank Him for his inexpressible gift!