Chapter Talk – 18th Sunday of the Year – August 2, 2020 – cycle-A
God’s gifts of love and grace are abundant….To put it stronger: they never stop flowing…and most often they come gratis, that is without us doing anything…but do we ‘have eyes to see and ears to hear’
In the first reading from Isaiah for Sunday’s Eucharist, we hear God saying: “Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life” (Is 55:3). Come ‘heedfully’ and listen, or in the Jerusalem Bible translation, ‘pay attention’, listen, and come…Recently, after one of my chapter talks, the role of the ‘ego’ surfaced in the context of the spiritual life. Carl Jung has used this potent expression: the ‘religious function of the ego’. We all know the other side, when the ‘ego’, the point of consciousness in the human person, gets taken by emotional content. This is where the work of self-knowledge comes in. That is, this knowledge of self is part of what the religious function of the ego does: it helps us sort through the emotional content that has surfaced so that we can re-find ourselves and God in the moment….Paying attention, being heedful, awareness are all what this ‘religious’ aspect of the ego helps us with…The religious function of the ego or the ‘religiously committed I’ is what apprehends God’s gifts. When the ego gets clouded by emotional content, the pattern that emerges is that awareness is compromised…we are swirling around in the emotional stuff or incessant thoughts about this or that. We are aware but our awareness and listening capabilities are clouded by what emerges from the inner life.
We have in the second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans, his proclamation of faith that ‘nothing will separate us from the love of God made visible in Christ’ (8:35)…. ‘not anguish, distress, peril, persecution’…nothing can separate us from the Divine gift of God’s love. Precisely our deepening awareness is to bring us into the interior landscape where we ‘know’ and continue to ‘know’ the reality of Divine love and grace that nothing can separate us from. In the first reading from Isaiah we are invited to come…to come and listen…We don’t have to come with anything except this committed ‘I’ with its awareness…it is this listening, this precious awareness that helps strengthen our faith, a listening that reestablishes God’s covenant of love with us. This awareness puts us in relationship, in covenantal relationship with God and we can then receive the Divine promise: ‘My love for you will never leave you’ from yet another passage of the prophet Isaiah.
It seems to me (from these two readings) that the key to receiving and connecting to God’s gift is that we go to God ‘heedfully’, we go with an attentive heart, listening beneath all the other voices to the Word that is already planted in the ground of our hearts.
Hans Urs von Balthasar’s writes: “‘Why pay your money for what does not feed you and your hard-earned wages for what fails to satisfy?’ asks the first reading. This simply means that only the gratis nature of love and grace can satisfy the soul’s abysmal hunger. This, however, also means that some inclination toward this gratis must either be present in the soul or be produced in it by the free gift itself” (Light of the Word, p.115). What is von Balthasar saying? I hear two things: the first is that it is only Divine love and grace that can satisfy our deepest longings, our ‘abysmal hunger’. The second is that there is already an inclination within the soul that is consciously recognized, or this inclination becomes present after it recognizes the ‘love and grace’ that is freely given by God. This underscores the importance of awareness and listening…we can so easily miss the Divine whisperings of grace and love…God in Christ will not stop giving the gift of God’s self. The religious function of the ego or the committed ‘I’ that has said ‘yes’ is what recognizes or is aware of the Divine gift as it comes to us in the present moment of our lives.
In the gospel we have the story of the multiplication of the loaves by Jesus. What is interesting to ponder is the Church’s selection of the two readings surrounding this gospel. Both speak of the abundance of ‘love and grace’ and these given freely to whoever will pay attention, listen and come!
The religiously committed “I” or religious function of the ego seeks God always: it puts the Divine reality first before all other things…It has the capacity to help sort through the many voices that surface on the shore of our conscious selves. It is not afraid to go deep, to the razor’s edge of our lives. Jesus is the embodiment of one so consciously aware, so full of grace and love….and ‘from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace’ (Jn 1:16).