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A man observed a woman in the grocery store with a toddler-aged girl in her shopping cart. As they passed the cookie section, the little girl asked for cookies, and her mother told her no. The little girl immediately began to whine and fuss, and the mother whispered: “Now Monica, we just have half of the aisles left to go through — don’t be upset. It won’t be long.”
Soon, they came to the sweets aisle, and the little girl began to shout for chocolate. When told she couldn’t have any, she began to cry.
The mother murmured: “There, there, Monica, don’t cry — only two more aisles to go and then we’ll be checking out.”
When they got to the checkout stand, the little girl immediately began to clamor for lollipops and burst into a terrible tantrum upon discovering there’d be none purchased. The mother patiently said: “Monica, we’ll be through this checkout stand in 5 minutes, and then you can go home and have a nice nap.”
The man was very impressed with the woman’s handling of the situations and followed them out to the car park and stopped her to compliment her, “I couldn’t help noticing how patient you were with little Monica.”
The mother sighed and replied: “Oh, no. My little girl’s name is Tammy… I’m Monica.”
I am willing to wager that if I ask each of you how you are doing, almost all of you will respond with, ‘fine’, ‘good’, or the equivalent. We must maintain the illusion that we are in control, have it together, and that our lives are beautiful. Social media is great at helping us to perpetuate this illusion. I’m happy to post a picture of my beautiful meal at the sushi bar, but for every one beautiful meal I’ve eaten there could probably be 50 pictures of me eating a can of sardines from the can while standing at the kitchen sink. The same is true with life. I’ll tell you all about the fun things I do, but I’m not likely to confess that I spent Thursday night binge watching “Friends” until 2:00 in the morning. And, when it comes to my life with God, I would like for you to believe that I’m dang near a Saint, but the truth is, I’m stumbling along with everyone else. On the outside, everything is calm. On the inside, things can be a bit frazzled and all I want to do is go home and take a nap. Even so, I must maintain the image. Never showing the cracks.
Not only do I want to perpetuate this image of control in my life, but I also want to maintain the illusion of control in my own mind. I’m important. Just ask me! I’m making things happen. Brother got game.
“It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.” (Source)
And everybody shouts, “Hoorah!” And we continue to shout ‘Hoorah,’ until things begin to fall apart and the center does not hold. It is then that we are baffled, at a loss as to how it could have happened. We had everything under control and then… smoke. We look for someone or something to blame. We look for answers outside of ourselves, but the source of the fall is most often within.
These past few weeks, we have been reading the ‘bread of life’ / ‘bread of Heaven’ passage from John’s Gospel. We looked at how we must place our lives on the paten with Jesus, but that in doing so, we are not simply relying on a memory of Jesus or only the words in the Bible. Instead when we place our lives on the paten, we are joining with the real presence of Christ. It is there, on the paten that we are united with Him and become one with Him as He and the Father are one, but we are not yet done. You see, now that we have been united with Him, something terrible and awesome must occur. We now must be broken with Him. We must take our lives, all that we want to control, and allow it to be broken with Christ upon the altar of the Cross. We, like Christ, in surrendering our lives into the hands of the Father, must, also like Christ, allow our lives, our will, our control, to be broken. And there the conflict arises, because that part of us that desires to so tightly control our lives, refuses to submit to the Father. Why do we refuse? Because we wrongly believe that all will be lost. That the Lord will take what we give him and what we receive back will be unrecognizable and useless, but nothing could be further from the truth.
It is one of those things many of you have probably seen and heard about, but it perfectly illustrates this point: kintsugi. Kintsugi is a Japanese word meaning the ‘golden journey,’ and it is an art form of repairing broken pots.
You have one of granma’s heirloom dishes. Perhaps it is not of great monetary value, but it is precious to you. You’ve moved all over the country and each time you’ve carefully packed up this one particular dish, always anxious to determine if it made the latest journey. All is well, but then one day, the cat jumps on the counter knocking if off. You cry over the pieces, but eventually throw them away. However, in Japan, an heirloom wouldn’t necessarily be thrown out, instead it would be made new.
An artist takes the pieces of your broken dish and glues them back together with a special lacquer, which is then covered with gold. The cracks are visible, but they’ve been transformed into these paths of gold, traversing the dish. Now, not only has granma’s dish been restored to you, but it is now far more valuable and beautiful, a true work of art.
In the same way, when we allow our lives to be broken upon the altar of the cross, God takes the pieces and restores them, bonding our lives to His, making us far more valuable and beautiful than we could have ever imagined or accomplished on our own. We are remade into a work of art in His image. Sounds nice and easy, but as a Christian, it is one of the most difficult things we will do.
The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis was first published in 1945. I won’t give it away, but the main character finds himself in a place called the Grey Town. From there he is taken on a bus with several others until they have an encounter with the Spirits who try and convince these individuals to come with them up the Mountain. It is all an analogy. Very simply put, Grey Town is hell, the space around it is purgatory, and the Mountain is heaven. The Spirits are trying to convince those on the bus to take the journey up the mountain to heaven, but one by one, they make their excuses. They want to maintain control, dictate the rules. They refuse to submit. One traveller is asked:
“Will you come with me to the mountains? It will hurt at first, until your feet are hardened. Reality is harsh to the feet of shadows. But will you come?”
“Well, that is a plan. I am perfectly ready to consider it. Of course I should require some assurances … I should want a guarantee that you are taking me to a place where I shall find a wider sphere of usefulness-and scope for the talents that God has given me-and an atmosphere of free inquiry-in short, all that one means by civilization and-er-the spiritual life.”
“No,” said the [Spirit]. “I can promise you none of these things. No sphere of usefulness: you are not needed there at all. No scope for your talents: only forgiveness for having perverted them. No atmosphere of inquiry, for I will bring you to the land not of questions but of answers, and you shall see the face of God.”
“Will you come with me to the mountains?” is another way of asking, will you be broken upon the altar of the Cross? Will you submit your life to God?
St. Paul writes, “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’” (1 Cor 11:23-24)
Will you go up the mountain with him? Will you give up control? Will you submit to the Lord? Will you be broken with Jesus that you might be made new?
“Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)
Let us pray: Loving Father, faith in Your Word is the way to wisdom. Help us to think about Your Divine Plan that we may grow in the truth. Open our eyes to Your deeds, our ears to the sound of Your call, so that all our actions may help us share in the life of Jesus. Give us the grace to live the example of the love of Jesus, which we celebrate in the Eucharist and see in the Gospel. Form in us the likeness of Your Son and deepen His Life within ours. Amen.