Saturday, October 22, 2011

He Is There For Me

This morning as I knelt before the Eucharist after mass, I had a strong feeling: God is there on the altar, and more specifically, He is there for me. Oh, He is there every morning after mass in this small chapel, but this morning I was especially aware that He is there --- for me. And I felt a great comfort in that knowledge. I have lots of comforts in my life: money in the bank, a home that doesn’t leak on my head, and a pretty new car that gets good gas mileage. I have lots of things that give me security, but He’s not a thing. I realized this morning that He has made a commitment to me, despite the poor sinner, the forgetful servant, and the ungrateful “friend” that I am. Yet still He loves me. Yet still He is there, ever waiting, there, for me. O Lord, I am not worthy.

I guess the Parable of the Prodigal Son could describe how I felt this morning, but that wouldn’t be adequate. The Prodigal Son went home expecting that his father “likely” would not turn him away, and would at least let him work on his farm. I have no such feelings of “maybe” He’ll be there for me like that; I KNOW that He will welcome me with open arms, no matter how much I have acted as if I didn’t know Him. I feel the unconditional-ness of His commitment, and it gives me a deep comfort.

In my life, I have been pretty far away from Him at times, lost, and yet when I was most lost I heard the call of His mother, telling me what I knew but had chosen to forget: “He’s waiting for you,” and then I knew I was found. At that time, in my sorrow and pain, I went home and He was there for me, as I knew He would be.

I made a commitment to Him then that I’d never leave again, and always follow Him. Only He knows if I will be faithful to my sincere promise. But more important than anything in my life, I think, was that knowledge that He was there for me, and always would be. I think that one deep memory, carved on my soul, saved my life. If God had created me for some great purpose, if He intended me to have a fruitful, happy life, and if He wanted me to be by His side forever: None of that could have happened if I didn’t know with confidence that when I really needed Him, He was there for me.

I think Jesus had that same feeling in the Garden of Gethsemane relative to His Father. Jesus wrestled with where His life was going. He wondered what He had accomplished – betrayal was happening even as He knelt there. He wondered if He could handle what looked like sure pains ahead. And He wondered if it all mattered – how quickly it seemed they were forgetting Palm Sunday: Would anyone remember Him? And then, deep inside of His very being, He knew. He knew His Father was there for Him. His Father was waiting, and would always love Him. Always. And then nothing in this world could keep Him from going on, and trying sincerely to make that Father proud, and to be who He was made to be.

Many of us can recall our earthly fathers in that way, with a confidence that they would always be there for us. And many of us are earthly fathers, and are that example of love to our children. But some, like me, aren’t fathers, and some never knew their earthly father, or never knew him as someone whom they could trust to be always there for them. But despite these failures in our life, still our heavenly Father is there for each of us, even as He was for Jesus. And He is there waiting, always waiting for us, just as the Eucharist is always present on the altar in chapels and churches around the world. I know this with a deep confidence. But even while I know He is there waiting --- even for you, I can’t really bring myself today to encourage you to run to Him, as Mary encouraged me. You’ll have to find Him yourself, deep inside of you somewhere, in that firm knowledge which you have and can never forget --- even if you want to argue that it is not true --- that knowledge somewhere within you that your heavenly Father waits for you. And there will come a day when you will, in your sorrow or in your fear, finally open your arms, and He will rush in to hug you. I can’t tell you to seek Him or direct your path to Him; you have to let yourself be found.

What I can do, however is to encourage you to be that type of person, as a father should be, to your children and also your neighbor. I know on the surface that sounds unreasonable, to be that type of person to your neighbor because the relationship I described is so special. How can you be that way with just anyone? Not everyone is your flesh and blood, and deserves that much unconditional caring. But, I ask you, isn’t that exactly the way God the Father is, to everyone? And isn’t that the way Jesus was, to the saint and equally to the sinner? And isn’t that the example He set for us to imitate?

I think one of the most important parts of our life should be that imitation, that being there for whomever. I think that a critical weakness in our society, with the dissolution of the family and marriage, is the lost importance of being there for others. Throughout history many great leaders led through actions or words, but many who were thought of as being the greatest of leaders, were just there. They were a reliable fortress in all storms; they were there to give to others --- first. You can name many examples of these people, like Mother Teresa, but just recall what they started with, and then think of all that we are blessed with. If they had all the blessings of our wealth and family and friends and intelligence, just imagine what they could have accomplished! And so, therefore, what do you think is expected of you?

The other night I went to a Knights of Columbus meeting where a speaker was orating on the topic: Who is Your Neighbor. The talk was good, and the discussion afterward was good. And I liked the conclusion it came to: Who is your neighbor? First and foremost, it is the guy sitting in the chair right next to you right now, tonight. It starts there, with the one closest to you. And how do you show him your reliable commitment to him, to give him confidence? It starts with your being there that night. Your love, your example, your ability to give you neighbor confidence that you are there for him, starts with one neighbor, for one night, for one hour, with your being there.

I am convinced that some of the greatest strides we make in impacting the world are through impacts that we are never aware of. Just by being there as an example of someone who can be relied upon to help when called upon, as someone who will not shut the door, or as someone who can just sit there and listen – even as the Eucharist sits on the altar – we can be God’s presence in our neighbor’s life. Certainly as an analyst I can plan all sorts of things to help my neighbor, but I can never understand the Ultimate Planner’s plans, and they are infinitely better than mine. Whether to our children, our spouse, our family, our church, our neighbor, or even a stranger, one of the most important things we can do is: be there. Whether in our politeness, our calmness in the storm, our little prayer before a meal, our stopping in at a chapel --- even if just for a minute, or in giving a smile to a stranger we pass, our actions can demonstrate a consistency of our being, telling all who enter our lives that we are there, and we can be relied upon to be there as God’s presence for them. They will see us and our actions, and just know: I can rely upon him. For many, just knowing that we, one little person, can be relied upon, shows them that there is good (and God) in the world, for they have seen it. And for some this will be part of The Father’s gift to them, through us, which will be embedded in their heart. And perhaps at some time, when they need it most, they will recall that memory, that feeling that they can’t describe but know with confidence, and they will think: He is there for me. And their lives will be better for that knowledge.

I don’t know what huge important things you may think God wishes --- or expects --- of you, but I suspect you can’t possibly know. And despite all the plans about what we must do --- or think that we’ve failed to do --- in our lives, in the end I think we will find that HIS plans were nothing like ours. And the ultimate measure of His success, and ours, will have little to do with what we did outside of just being there, showing our love to our neighbor and family by really being there.

“And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love …”

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