Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Christ Is Passing By--Don't Discern Forever

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Matthew, the Apostle. Besides praying for all of my friends who are accountants (for whom Matthew is a heavenly patron), I also pray on this day for those whose lives Jesus has interrupted with his presence and call. Like many (all?) of those whom Jesus called, Matthew's life is shaken in an instant. There is no lengthy dialogue, discernment, or discussion about his call. It happens in an instant:

"As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, 'Follow me.' And he got up and followed him." (MT 9:9)

It's dramatic, but it is also simple. There is big "D" Drama, but no little "d" drama.  Jesus called and Matthew follows. He leaves everything and follows.  That's big "D" Drama.  But there is no wasting time with little "d" drama. "What about my money? What about my work? How about I draw up a list of pro's and cons and then think about them for a few years?"

So often, the word "discernment" comes to mean, "How can I talk myself out of God's call?" Sometimes when we have heard Jesus speak to us, we go into a never ending process of discernment. This can be especially true for those whom Christ has called to follow him in the vocation to the priesthood. Instead of just getting up and following Christ, I've seen men go into a perpetual state of "discernment." It is a state of never trusting what is in front of them, but instead living with an unhealthy sense that perhaps this encounter with Christ is false and should be distrusted. Maybe it is all a big misunderstanding.

But, this is true in other ways too. We hear Christ telling us to forgive our enemy and we look for loopholes. We hear the Lord inviting us to confession and we search for excuses. We hear the Lord calling us to forgo some particular sin and we invent reasons why Jesus couldn't possibly mean that. His word penetrates our heart and our shields go up and we find ourselves saying,  "Well, Jesus couldn't possibly have meant that" or "Jesus lived a long time ago and things were different then." Another tactic we use when Jesus stands in front of us and calls us--be it to a vocation or to some particular action--is to endlessly search for advisors.  Perhaps if we poll enough people, someone will let us off the hook. 

This curse of endless discernment can be a terrible hindrance to growth in the Christian life, basically leaving us in a constant state of spiritual paralysis. So much of life happens in an instant. The inspiration to say a prayer comes our way, we either seize that opportunity or it passes us by. The beggar on the street holds out his hand. We either respond with some act of kindness or we don't. That moment passes us by. What always strikes me about the call of St. Matthew is that we are told that Jesus was passing by. Would Jesus have come back again? We simply do not know. We know that he was passing by. He was on the move. This was Matthew's chance. It all happened in an instant. Matthew would have an entire lifetime to continue following the Lord, but this particular call would only happen once. 

Today the Lord is passing by. If he stops and calls us, do not waste time. Do what Matthew did. He got up and followed. The call of St. Matthew consisted of two words: "Follow me." It's a bit maddening, isn't it? This is how Jesus' word comes to us. It is concise, clear, and penetrating. In a way, we really do look kind of silly when, in our efforts to escape from his gaze, we turn these two simple words, "Follow me," into a complicated process of endless handwringing.  

Is Jesus calling you to be his disciple? Follow Him. 
Is Jesus calling you to forgive your enemy? Follow Him.
Is Jesus calling you to the priesthood or religious life? Follow Him.
Is Jesus calling you to give up some particular sin or unhealthy relationship? Follow Him.
Is Jesus calling you to go to confession? Follow Him.
Is Jesus calling you to pray? Follow Him.
Is Jesus calling you to go back to Sunday Mass? Follow Him.
Is Jesus calling you to give something up? Follow Him.

In the end, we can spend months and years in a complicated process of trying to interpret ourselves out of doing whatever it is the Lord is asking of us. But, in the end, no matter how much time we take, the invitation is still the same: "Follow me."

Today, Christ is passing by. Follow Him.

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