Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Learning to Say the Y-word

The word really is one of the simplest words to say, and we do it all the time, in various contexts, and in various slang renderings. But in certain contexts the word is feared, shunned, or fled from in terror—even though the most important of these contexts is one of love and gentleness. Still, it is a word one dreads to pronounce because of what the implications may prove to be. The y-word, of course, is “yes.”

To be sure, there are many contexts in which we rightly refuse the say the y-word. To “just say no” to the many evils offered to us in our promiscuous and thrill-seeking society is surely the best thing to do. But I’m talking about something else here. I’m talking about saying “yes” to what is most noble, most profound in our human life and experience, which for that very reason is most demanding. I’m talking about saying yes to God—which is the perfection of saying “yes” to truth, beauty, goodness, virtue, and love.

In some ways it is not hard to say “yes” to God. If He says, “I want to bless you,” we say, “Yes!” If He says, “I want to make you strong and peaceful and joyous,” we say, “Oh, yes!” And if He says, “I want to make you eternally ecstatic, utterly fulfilled, and forever overflowing with gladness,” we say, “YES!!” But when He says, “OK, here’s how,” and shows us the Cross, we say, “Y-y-y… M-m-maybe… Uh, I-I-don’t know about that…”

One of our core problems here is that we’re willing to say “yes” to something (happiness, blessings, etc) but not to some One, the one who sets the conditions to the attainment of these things, or better yet, the One with whom a personal communion infallibly produces all blessings as a consequence thereof. If we want the gifts but not the Giver we will ultimately end up with neither. But if we desire God even to the point of an unconditional “yes” to his will, then happiness will naturally result. Jesus said it best: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all else will be given as well.”

But let’s go a little deeper. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that you are really seeking God and not just a handout of happiness. There are still levels of “yes” that must be ascended. We can rather painlessly say “yes” to the minimum requirements of sacramental life and whatever it takes to qualify as a card-carrying Catholic. With a fair amount of struggle we may even be able to satisfy the basic requirements of Christian morality. Some may even follow the call to a life designed explicitly and directly to serve and worship God—that may take a near-heroic sacrifice, if one is to live such a life authentically. But there’s a deeper level still.

I’ll descend once again to a little computer terminology here. Sometimes you are given series of options as you are managing files or programs and have to make a decision. Your choices look something like this: No, Yes, Yes to All. We can say “yes” at various levels of love, fidelity, and commitment, but what God is ultimately seeking from us is a “yes to all.” This is the deepest level at which we hold nothing back, at which our lives become an oblation to God, at which He is free to do with us as He wills, knowing that our “no’s” are now behind us. This is the level at which we embrace the Cross, indeed, at which we come to the point where we must embrace the Cross as our only hope, which paradoxically leads us to our ultimate and only joy.

Blessed Charles de Foucauld was a man who said “yes to all.” I pray his famous “Abandonment Prayer” daily, but in my own case (true confessions here) I have to amend it a little. Where he says “I am ready for all, I accept all, let only Your will be done in me…” I pray for the grace to be ready for all, accept all, etc. I have to be honest with God and myself, for I know that pious veneers don’t impress Him in the least. I may not yet be ready and accepting of all (since I usually imagine the worst and most drastic interpretation of what that could mean), but I want to be. I want to be so surrendered to his will that I am fearless, at peace, ready to walk into the lions’ den if that is his good pleasure.

God gives us plenty of opportunities to practice saying the y-word in small ways in our daily lives. It’s a school, a training ground for the times when a more difficult “yes” will be required. But no saint has ever made a complaint that his “yes” was ill-advised, that he got less for his “yes” than he bargained for (not that saints bargain at all). We have to get over our tendency to count the cost, calculate the short-term liabilities, or fear the sting of self-sacrifice. It’s God we’re dealing with here, remember? The Generous Father, the Heart-pierced Son, the Spirit of Love? An unconditional “yes” to God will bring untold (as well as told) benefits, both now and forever.

So don’t follow your “no’s”; that only leads you away from truth and love, from the God who is Truth and Love. Get proficient through practice at saying “yes.” Go even to the deepest level, as the Lord leads you. He knows your capacities (better than you do, I might add, so don’t complain if you think He’s working you too hard), and He will make your sacrifice of loving obedience fruitful a hundredfold. Yes. Amen.