Saturday, November 22, 2014


In church this morning (Saturday) at 5:45 a.m. I was reflecting on the wake I attended yesterday for Fr. Bruno, O.S.B., a monk-friend at St. Mary’s in Morristown, and on the funeral coming up later today for the 89-year old mother of a faculty member. I was thinking also of a couple of college classmates who are now in nursing homes. I was thinking of our Fr. Boniface who has just returned from the hospital and is recuperating in our infirmary. I tried not to think about three of my sophomores who have each just finished a week-from-hell in school.

So I pick up my missal and am reminded that tomorrow is the Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe. Part of the idea of the feast, it seems to me, is to celebrate the fact that God is in total charge of the universe and all that is in it.


“Oh yeah?” asks a little voice inside me. It’s the kind of know-it-all voice you hear around the proverbial water cooler (in a school you hear it in the faculty lounge) complaining about the people in charge. God certainly leaves himself open to this sort of criticism. After praying for all those people I mentioned above, I imagined a few choice complaints that might be heard around the world’s water cooler:

- If someone more competent were in charge, all these bad things wouldn’t be happening.
- Why doesn’t He tell us what’s going on? He’s always so damned secretive! He plays his cards too close to his vest!
- Yeah! What a lousy communicator!
- I don’t think he realizes what’s going on half the time.
- Well I think he does know and just doesn’t care.
- He’s obviously on some sort of a power trip!


Then as I was starting to ponder these complaints, I remembered some ideas that I read and re-read a few times this past week from a book called Joie de Croire, Joie de Vivre by Francois Varillon, S.J. I tried using few of them to respond to the questions just raised. Here are just a couple of somewhat disjointed and incomplete ideas.

Who is this God we’re complaining about? We tend (understandably enough) to be very much mistaken in our idea(s) of God. Here’s a quick test you can use on yourself: If you understand God the way you understand your boss, if you “know how the system works with God” the way you know it works in the office, then clearly you’re not talking about the True God. God is by definition incomprehensible to us, infinitely beyond our easy, familiar categories of power, command, score-keeping, retribution, and so on. So, then, how are we supposed to know this hidden God?

The answer is crucially important: We only know God through Jesus. “He who sees me sees the Father.” But let’s not miss the point: It’s the death of Jesus that reveals, that unveils for us who God is, what is the depth of God’s eternal Being.


Now we’re launching into deep theological mysteries that we can’t easily grasp. But here are a few notions. The deep-down truth is that in God death is always at the very heart of life. Let me explain. God is Love. But to love means to die to oneself, not only by preferring others to oneself, but by giving up existing for oneself and by oneself in order to exist solely for others and by others. (Stay with Fr. Varillon a few more sentences.)

God is Trinity: the Father is but movement towards the Son and the Spirit; the Son is but movement toward the Father and the Spirit; the Spirit is but movement toward the Father and the Son. This “but” or “only” is essential to expressing the mystery of God; it means that the deepest meaning of God is death identical with life. To go out of oneself is to die to oneself. To live is to love, but to love is to die because it means being only for others and by others.

This is exactly what Jesus shows in dying on the cross. St. Paul says that God “emptied Himself, taking on the form of a slave and coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Ph. 2:7-8)This means that God’s Being is eternally in the act of giving itself to others. Certainly we can’t understand exactly what that means, because the Being of God is beyond our ability to express, but we can try to understand that such is indeed the “mystery” of God’s Being. We have to have, after all, at least some idea of this God we believe in.

Christ in taking the form of a slave and letting himself be bound in his passion and in giving up
life itself translates God into deeds, into human actions. Christ is the prism that breaks down the blinding light of Divinity. He is this prism from one end of his life to the other, but especially by his death. It is at that moment that he participates in the omnipotence (all-powerfulness) of God, which is not a power of domination or self-serving, but of self-effacement, of self-abandonment.

Our old conceptions of God that are based on the easily understood human concepts of power, punishment and payback are extremely hard to get rid of. The best that most of us can manage is to paste on top of that basic misconception some ideas of God as Loving Shepherd and Jesus' laying down his life for us. But that underlying idea is still there.

As long as we fail to understand that God’s Power is the Power of self-effacement, we’ll never begin to understand the mysteries of sickness, suffering, old age, child abuse and so on, and our water-cooler complaints will be tragically wide of the mark.

This feeble foray into theology will probably leave you confused, but my hope is that it will at least help you to admit humbly that when we experience suffering, we’re in the presence of Mystery. I pray that it will help you to realize, too, that somehow in God’s most mysterious depths, God is all about LOVE, not about power plays or domination or punishment or inflicting pain, or anything like that. So think about that next time you’re at the water cooler.

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