Faith in God’s Power or Human Efforts: Fully Alive – 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Are we made whole by the power of God’s grace or by our own human efforts? Or does the path to wholeness and human completion require cooperation between God’s grace and our human nature?
The theologians have written many works trying to explain the way that God works in our lives. Saint Irenaeus reminds us that the glory of God is a human being who is fully alive. This wisdom from the very early church still speaks to us.
Those of us who are old enough will recall Roy Bonisteel hosting a show on CBC TV. Man Alive debuted in 1967 and took its title from the Irenaeus quote and dealt with diverse questions of faith and spirituality. Many of the questions still have relevance.
Many people in Canada learned as much about their faith from Man Alive as from church. To be alive is to be fully engaged with the whole person in a vibrant way in the world.
I think that I first learned of Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu and other contemporary holy people from Roy Bonisteel. The show helped us explore the connections between faith and the best of human nature.
“Let us begin in earnest to work out our salvation, for no one will do it for us since even he himself who made us without ourselves will not save us without ourselves.” That comes from Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, a seventeenth century saint with a devotion to the Sacred Heart.
I was reminded of the words a week or so ago. I had been pleading with God for help with a difficult personal problem. Basically, I was asking God why this problem couldn’t be removed from me.
It isn’t so different from Saint Paul’s thorn in the flesh, a weakness that reveals God’s power. But I was being willfully blind to that and pleaded to God, “Please, just help me!” The cynical retort I heard was, “Help yourself!”
The line from Alacoque is really a reminder to me that I have to share the burden. I have to do what I can. God doesn’t magically remove our struggles. I can be tempted to see a problem as insurmountable.
However, with a sense of the peace that comes from God, difficult things can become possible. There is a way forward. Step by step. Take one day at a time. And, if need be, take one hour or one minute at a time.
Peace is essential for this process. And maybe, just maybe, my personal struggles can bring others to a deeper understanding and appreciation of their own lives. My experience of striving to be fully alive calls me to reflect on my life.
Today’s Responsorial Psalm consoles us with the reminder that, “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” And we read in Isaiah 55, “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.”
It all sounds too easy. How great it would be if it were a simple matter of calling upon God!
I’m writing this post on a frustrating day – not a horrendous day, just one of those days where nothing seems to work out in the way I envisioned: scheduling, jammed paper, unable to contact someone, a faulty battery on my cochlear implant processor, and so on.
I recognize that I had a poor night of sleep. I would almost like to go to bed and start over. It’s basically a day when I would certainly find it helpful to have a sense of God’s nearness.
Of course, God is near. Have I forgotten about that? I can more easily remember it when I am at peace, when my soul is quieted. I sometimes wish that I could make all of my decisions from a place of peace.
That’s the ideal. But it’s not the way in which we live in the real world.
The verses from Isaiah and Psalm 145 offer a couple of qualifiers. The Psalmist speaks of calling on God “in truth.” The Prophet reminds us to seek the Lord “while he is near.”
The presumption is that we have a relationship with God, that our prayer is not just a formality, but that there is a dynamic relationship with God.
There is a delicate and discerning dance between the generosity of God and our own hard work. It is so delicate because we easily forget one side of the equation.
So many of us mistakenly think that it’s all God’s doing. Likewise, many of us take all of the responsibility, forgetting God, not to mention the help of others. What helps us to stay balanced in the dance?
The short answer is prayer and connections with people: family, friends, and support groups that help us to stay sane. And by sanity, I mean fully alive.