5 March 2008 Wednesday of the 4th Week of Lent
Isaiah 49, 8-15; Psalm 145; John 5, 17-30
Let us reflect on the first verse of the Gospel of John. Jesus said, “My Father is at work until now, so I am at work.” It means that Jesus’ work is always in union with His Father. There is nothing that He does that is independent of His Father’s will. Even from childhood, He told Mary and Joseph in the Temple that He was doing the work of His Father in heaven. This, to me, is important.
There is a tendency for many of us to be highly individualistic. First, the present culture moves towards the satisfaction of each individual. It is an “I” culture. Anything that does not protect our individual selves, we consider irrelevant. If we do not like the food in our community, we would rather eat somewhere else. If some community activities do not fit our schedules, we would easily say, “I can’t” even if we know that we can actually move an appointment. If it is inconvenient to us, we would rather not go to a meeting.
Second, philosophers used the phrase the ‘exuberance of being’: meaning the discovery of our power and greatness. Given an opportunity to be leaders, we discover that we can actually lead. Given an opportunity to share our talents, we are surprised how people admire us. We can run a project all by oursleves; eventually liking working alone than with a group. When highly intelligent and talented individuals suddenly see what they can do, they would rather attribute these achievements and successes to ourselves. This is what we call, the deification of our activities. We find ourselves like God: we can let other people follow and do things according to our liking with just a word of command. Not that we consciously command them like a feudal lord, but people move at the sound of our voice because they find us credible. Eventually, we build our own kingdoms. We run our own foundations. We run our own world. We lord it over our personal apostolates.
When Jesus said, “I cannot do anything on my own; I do not seek my own will but the will of the one who sent me” — He categorically said ‘no’ to individualism. St. Ignatius urges us to be one in hearts and in minds with God and with the Church. For Jesuits, it means that every single work that we do is part of the enterprise of the whole Society. This is the reason for obedience. Obedience is a discipline that keeps us aware that we are all working for the Kingdom of God and not our own.
The point of penance in the Season of Lent is not the sacrifice: but what leads us to a greater union with God. Concretely, when we do not like the food set on the table for our family or for the community, it is formative to stay and eat it — enjoying the company of our family and friends instead. When family and community schedules get into the way of our personal appointments, and we try to move them. And then, we become flexible — Ignatius himself finds flexibility a virtue. It is no wonder that working with the heart and mind of God means a certain sensibility: at the hint of the Superior, we follow.
The paradigm of relationships in the Society of Jesus as ‘friends in the Lord’ and of the whole of Christendom is friendship. But with real friends, we don’t need a hint, we just know. Come to think of it: when Jesus said that He was totally one with the Father, they were indeed one: as the Trinity is always united in love.