Friday, September 18, 2009

being filled with the fullness of God

As I have been musing on what it means to me to have a full heart, I've come to realize that it is integrally connected with that little-known virtue of purity of heart. A good, basic definition is that purity of heart is having all our desires subordinated to one: to know, love and serve the Lord. The Lord wants us to open our hearts to Him completely, to invite Him to pervade our whole being so fully that there is no room to be attached to anything which is outside of His will. He wants our hearts "to be filled with all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:19). But he waits upon our invitation. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:20-21).

The imagery here is so vivid; the contrast so sharp. In the first picture, Christ is standing outside a heart surrounded by a wall so thick that his voice cannot even be heard. This is the heart that refuses to make itself vulnerable. Having been wounded, deathly afraid of being hurt again, the heart denies admittance to anything or anyone. The person this heart belongs to may seem deceptively alive, running from here to there, "distracted from distracted / by distraction" (T. S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday). But beneath this busy exterior, this heart is slowly starving to death, having tasted everything the world has to offer without receiving any nourishment.

The second picture Christ puts before us seems simple enough: a shared meal uniting friends. We know that in biblical times, in that nomadic culture so much a part of Israel's history, to share a meal was a very intimate act. To invite another into one's home, to recline at table with him, was to make oneself vulnerable to him. Hence the picture Christ paints for us of the heart that opens the door to him is one of friendship and great trust.

But I think Christ is saying even more than that. In the gospel of Matthew, he asks the sons of Zebedee: "Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?" (Mt. 20:22).
He invites us, just as he invited James and John, to drink the cup of his suffering with him down to the dregs. But he also offers to "eat" our lives, to consume our suffering and joys, with us: "I will come in to him, and eat with him, and he with me." He does not merely offer to eat his meal at the same time and and in the same place that I am eating my meal, he wants to eat whatever I am eating, whether I am feasting on the most wholesome and delicious meal imaginable or choking down the most unpalatable leftovers. Even when "my tears have become my bread" (Ps. 42:3), the Lord is there eating that bread with me, by night and by day. The union Christ offers me is so intimate that there is no longer a distinction between his mouth and mine, his stomach and mine, his heart and mine.

I imagine most of us are in a kind of middle ground, slowly working our way from the first of these pictures to the second. We open the doors of our hearts to Christ only to close them quickly when we fear he is going to take something away from us that we want rather desperately. It is at times like this that I need to remind myself of the words of our dear holy father Pope Benedict XVI at the beginning of his pontificate: "And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ and you will find true life." It is only insofar as we allow Christ to fill our hearts that we are made able to surrender to him all those "lesser loves". Paradoxically, however, only when we stop clinging to the lesser love are we able to appreciate its full loveliness. For now we will be seeing it and loving it with the very love of Christ.

And we must be think that this loving with the love of Christ means that our hearts will be any less vulnerable. Was not his heart pierced with a lance? We will feel things perhaps more keenly than before -- our own shortcomings, the indifference of our neighbors, all the tragedy, sin and darkness that surround. But we will have peace, knowing that he is suffering these things in us and through us and that, united with His, our suffering can bring life to the world. And when we are saddened by the bittersweet nature of mortal beauty: the changing, aging, and decaying of all that we hold dear on this earth, let us realize that the unchanging source of all this mortal beauty is the Immortal Beauty to which we hope to be united forever in heaven. Then will our hearts be filled to overflowing with gratitude for all the good things the Lord has made and the mysterious ways in which he uses his creation to bring us back to him.

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