Today’s Gospel talks about “capacity:”
- Cloak and tunic
- Lend and demand no repatriation
- Give, and gifts will be given to you; good measure, packed together, shaken down, overflowing.
This is “heart” language. It has to do with:
- The capacity to receive,
- The curbing of appetites,
- The consolation of the Lord and,
- The capability and call to care for others.
Everything in the spiritual life starts with a God who gives. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1, New International Version)
God is always pouring out – his love, his grace, himself. But to receive anything from God, there must be something, or someone, to receive it. There needs to be a “capacity to receive.” In “The Tractates on the first letter of John by Saint Augustine,” (Tract. 4: Pl 35, 2008-2009), the Doctor of the Church writes:
Suppose you are going to fill some holder or container, and you know you will be given a large amount. Then you set about stretching your sack or wineskin or whatever it is. Why? Because you know the quantity you will have to put in it and your eyes tell you there is not enough room. By stretching it, therefore, you increase the capacity of the sack, and this is how God deals with us.
The entire life of a good Christian is in fact an exercise of holy desire. Simply by making us wait he increases our desire, which in turn enlarges the capacity of our soul, making it able to receive what is to be given to us.
So how does God stretch our capacity to receive more and more of his goodness, grace, mercy, love? He prunes. We keep coming to him in his Word, in prayer, in the sacraments, in reaching out and helping others. If we do this, God assumes that you want to take this relationship with him seriously. So he makes your life miserable.
Now this exercise will be effective only to the extent that we free ourselves from desires leading to infatuation with this world. Let me return to the example I have already used, of filling an empty container. God means to fill each of you with what is good; so cast out what is bad! If he wishes to fill you with honey and you are full of sour wine, where is the honey to go? The vessel must be emptied of its contents and then be cleansed. Yes, it must be cleansed even if you have to work hard and scour it. It must be made fit for the new thing, whatever it may be.
This is ”curbing of the appetites.” From Deuteronomy 8:5-6, “The Lord your God was training you as a man trains his child. Keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and so follow his ways and reverence him.”
This is not fun. It feels awful. Crosses always hurt. And so we come to “the consolation of the Lord.”
Psalm 119 Longing for peace: ‘I cried out, and the Lord heard me. To the Lord in the hour of my distress I call and he answers me.”
Romans 12:12: “Show patience in times of trouble; never cease praying.”
Psalm 120 The Lord, the guardian of the people: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains: from where shall come my help? My help shall come from the Lord who made heaven and earth. May he never allow you to stumble! The Lord is your guard and your shade, at your right side he stands. By day the sun shall not smite you nor the moon in the night. The Lord will guard you from evil, he will guard your soul. The Lord will guard your going and coming both now and for ever.”
In the Louvre Museum in Paris, there is “The Icon of Christ and Abbot Mena.” It is a Coptic painting that was brought from the Apollo Monastery in Bawit, Egypt. Christ is standing next to St. Mena, walking with him. Christ is holding a bible in his left hand and has his right arm around the shoulder of the abbot. St. Mena is holding a rolled up scroll. What’s the meaning? The closed scroll is the future of the abbot. It’s closed because the future has not yet been revealed. But Christ isn’t distant. He walks with the abbot. Christ is close enough to have his arm around him. He brings his word to guide St. Mena.
Christ says he’ll be with us. But we also must have the desire to want to stay close to him. St. Augustine again:
We may go on speaking figuratively of honey, gold or wine – but whatever we say we cannot express the reality we are to receive. The name of that reality is God. We utter the full expanse of our heart’s desire (although) whatever we say is necessarily less than the full truth. We must extend ourselves toward the measure of Christ so that when he comes he may fill us with his presence.
If we have walked with Christ through our desert experience, if we have received the consolation of Christ, we will then be called upon to live that St. Mena icon and walk with others who are struggling. St. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:1-4: ”Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”
I don’t know where you are in your walk with Christ. I am sure that each of us is experiencing some kind of cross now. But God never wastes crosses. Hopefully an understanding of the dynamic of,
- increasing our capacity to receive,
- the curbing of our appetites,
- the consolation of the Lord and
- the capability and call to care for others ..
.. might help you in that ”St. Mena walk“ with Christ.