More Spiritual Reflections

Spiritual Reflections


Return to God with All Your Heart

Sr. Mary Persico, IHM
IHM Center, Scranton, PA
November 16, 2005

The following reflection was offered during an evening of prayer inviting people to go before God with our whole hearts during the Lenten Season.

"The distance between God and me kills me." These words were said by Thomas Merton. The distance between God and me kills me. The theme for tonight's reflection "Return to God with all your heart."suggests that we need to bridge the gap...fill in the distance between God and me...between God and you. It suggests we need to GO BACK. As humans beings, we hate to GO BACK. I recall the time, when as a young girl, I was learning to use the sewing machine. I was sitting at my mother's worn and well-used Singer in the "playroom" off the dining room. No matter how hard I tried to keep the fabric under the presser foot, it managed time and again to jump out from under the needle. The stitching I hoped would be neat and straight was crooked and jagged and didn't form a seam. And then I heard that calm voice over my shoulder: "Mary, you'll have to go back and do it again." I bet everyone in this chapel can identify a time when you were lost in a car on your way to one destination or another. Either you were alone or riding with someone. You got off the exit and began following the directions. Look for the Burger King on your right, a bank on your left. At the fork in the road, bear right...and on and on. But somehow you missed all that and found yourself far from anything familiar. When you finally stopped to ask directions, often you heard those words: "you have to GO BACK to where you got off the exit. And isn't it true...we all have such stories...stories of having to GO BACK. We resist going back because the world has taught us to resist it. The other day I received a brochure in the mail and right on the front page was written the quotation: "It doesn't matter the speed with which you go...what matters is the direction...forward."We don't like to think about going back because having to do so points to a mistake, a failure, an obstacle we didn't expect to encounter. It implies that now we must make something right or better. The world tells us to go forward and the Church during this Lenten season demands of us that we GO BACK, return to God with all your heart.

The distance between God and me kills me. I further believe that the distance between God and me, between God and us collectively is denying our sisters and brothers throughout the world fullness of life. The message in the Gospel that was just proclaimed answers the unspoken question. What must I do to go back to God? Luke tells us: Be compassionate as your heavenly Father is compassionate. Do not judge, do not condemn, pardon, give. Luke implies this not only in the passage we reflect upon tonight but throughout his Gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles. For him, almsgiving, service, mercy, the organized distribution of our means are necessary in order for the human family to meet the basic and legitimate needs of food, shelter, and clothing. Returning to God will all our hearts is not an option for us Christians. Daniel Berrigan once wrote:

"Sometimes in your life, hope that you might see one starved man, the look on his face when the bread finally arrives. Hope that you might have baked it or bought it or even kneaded it yourself. For that look on his face, for your meeting his eyes across a piece of bread, you might be willing to lose a lot, or suffer a lot, or die a little, even."

You know, in our Catholic tradition we have beautiful stories that teach us how to live with compassion. When we renovated the chapel, we were very careful to preserve certain of our symbols and to place them in critical places throughout the room. I found it interesting in myself and in others who gave input that although we sometimes fancy our spirituality as sophisticated or beyond what some would call pious practices, the placement of the Way of the Cross was deliberately given prominence. There's no getting around it, the Way of the Cross, no matter what manner you choose to reflect upon it, is central to our lives. I was always drawn to the fifth and sixth stations. I wanted to be like Veronica, quick to compassion, but most of the time, ended up like Simon, pressed into service. What gives me consolation is my faith that both are loved equally by God and both, having looked squarely into the face of love itself, are forever transformed. There goes on in all of us the dance between Veronica and Simon, the dance of mercy released and mercy blocked. As was in Veronica, mercy is released in us at those times when we identify ourselves with the poor, when we do not see ourselves as better than the oppressed, when we are not numb to the plight of another human being, when we understand that ours is not to judge nor condemn, but to pardon and to give. Compassion is almost a knee-jerk reaction when we can identify with the pain of another. It's the ability to say "I know how you feel" that triggers the compassionate response. On the other hand, mercy is blocked in us when we take the self-righteous position of "there but for the grace of God go I". In saying that, we set up a division between ourselves and the other. We separate ourselves into classes, and we validate the distance between us. And don't forget, when we distance ourselves from the suffering of another, as could have been Simon's lot, we distance ourselves from the redeeming love of Jesus, and the distance kills us.

Oscar Romero wrote in his Lenten journal in 1978: "Christ would not be redeemer if he had not concerned himself with giving food to the crowds that were hungry, if he had not given light to the eyes of the blind, if he had not felt sorrow for the forsaken crowds that had no one to love them, no one to help them." My friends, there are some things that we can only learn from God.

Lent calls us to return to God with all our hearts. Let's face it, the road less traveled is the road back. Joyce Rupp, in a recently written poem about the Last Supper, wrote:

"Like those around the table then, so with us who gather now, if we knew how close our hearts are held inside of yours, we would always be amazed that you meant this for us too."

As we know, the legacy of Jesus is twofold. It was indeed meant for us. Luke reminds that the measue "you measure will be mesasured back to you." Fullness of life has been measured out to us in abundance. What return shall we make to our God?

This Lent, let our fasting be from grudges, from hardness of heart, from mercy blocked, from blindness to those around us, from words that judge and condemn. Let us measure out compassion for the earth's suffering people, for those in faraway places and in the house next door. In Our Passion for Justice, Carter Heyward says ever so simply: "Love is a conversion to humanity - a willingness to participate with others in the healing of a broken world and broken lives. For the life of the world, may our journey back be a journey to the heart of God... for the distance between God and us kills us all.

We have only begun to imagine the fullness of let us return to God with all our hearts.