In the missionary community of which I am a part, one of our charisms is receptivity.
Why is that?
At the beginning of this new millennium, Pope St. John Paul II told us, “a new stage of the Church’s journey begins, our hearts ring out with the words of Jesus… ‘put out into the deep’ (Lk 5:4)” (Novo Millennio Ineunte). It is for just this reason that we strive to foster an open, receptive and disposed spirituality: that we may go “deep” as we invite Christ into our hearts, and we strive to enter into His.
As we entered into the year 2000, John Paul II encouraged us to move beyond the shallow waters and enter into the deeper waters of life and of our hearts. Christ is calling forth His Bride the Church to become ever more receptive to His love and grace, that we may become ever more the Spotless Bride, the New Jerusalem spoken of in Revelation 21.Receptivity and vulnerabilityBut how do we become receptive to all that He longs to bestow upon us? By being vulnerable and “humble of heart.”The message is clear as we look to devotion to the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts of Jesus and Mary. What is the first thing we see as we gaze upon a statue or picture of either, but a heart exposed.
“Remove the foreskins of your heart!” Scripture tells us. (See Jeremiah 4:4 and Romans 2:29.) Just as in the Old Covenant the Israelites were called to remove the foreskins of the most sensitive part of their body, in the New Covenant we are called to remove the foreskins of the most sensitive part of our whole being.
But how are we personally being called to expose our hearts to God today, especially as we enter into this Lenten Season?
It can be scary to be vulnerable. It certainly was for me when I first began realizing the need to open rooms and areas in my deeper heart where I felt insecure, ashamed or hurt, or where I had deep aches and longings that could seem disordered.
I was afraid of being rejected, not being accepted, being reprimanded or told I shouldn’t feel that way or have such struggles. “Get over it,” “Pull yourself up by your boot straps,” and “You are weak” were negative thoughts that could come to mind. Well, now I understand so much better St. Paul’s words, ”In my weakness I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:11).
For, our weakness and brokenness is the magnet which draws us to God. As a persistent lover, He knocks continually in hopes that we will invite Him into our deeper heart, especially into those areas we are most afraid to face or of which we are most ashamed.The true longing of the heartPope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and other writings encourage us to move beyond both over-spiritualizing (“spirit good, body bad”) and under-spiritualizing (“if it feels good, do it”) and toward an integrated spirituality that fosters being transformed from within, where our humanity is receptive to Christ’s Divinity. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis have continued to further this true spirit of Vatican II which John Paul II sought to cultivate.
At the core of all of us is an eros longing for love. This is a key part of the “deep” which we are called to put out into. At times we, especially as Christians, want to cap off or repress this eros desire as though it is not holy, and we take on a prudish or lifeless spirituality which can tend toward being judgmental and self-righteous, looking to blame or call out what is wrong with others, instead of seeking first to “get the board out of [our] own eye.”
Yet Pope Benedict tells us in Deus Caritas Est: “eros and agape—ascending love and descending love—can never be completely separated. The more the two, in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized.”
Benedict goes on to say: “Eros, at its deepest level, is the desire within us that ‘seeks God. ’” [God’s love] “may certainly be called eros, yet it is also totally agape.” So, “Be overtaken… by God’s ‘crazy’ love for us.”The Year of MercyWhat better way could Pope Francis foster a “put[ing] out into the deep” than by establishing this Jubilee Year of Mercy? In his Holy Year Prayer he writes, “You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness in order that they may feel compassion.”
Elsewhere, he tells his priests, “be Shepherds with the smell of the sheep.” And how can one have the smell of the sheep unless they are first in touch with their own smell (and at times stench)? In his recent visit to Africa, Pope Francis reiterated John Paul II’s message: “May you look to the future… to set out toward new horizons, to put out into the deep.”
May we all have the grace during this Jubilee Year of Mercy, and in particular this Lenten Season, to have the stance of St. Mary Magdalene, the penitent woman and the humble tax collector who gave all that they had to Christ, and invited Him into their deep rooms of disorder and longing. For when Christ’s redeeming graces enter in, we come to realize a legitimacy in our longing that, when rightly ordered, can be sated by love and communion with Him for whom we really long. For our deepest eros can never be sated by the finite, but only the infinite love of God Himself.
“Some seed fell on fertile ground and produced 30, 60 and 100 fold. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:8-9)