The church in Ephesus had lost their first love, even though they practiced so many other valiant virtues in being faithful to God. They persevered, they endured persecution, they were totally traditional and faithful to the teaching, and they were hard-working. They were doing good things, but they had lost their passion. They lost the fire, they lost the zeal, there was no fervor anymore and so the Lord says to them, ‘I have one thing against you. You have lost the love of your youth, your first love.’
In speaking to religious, Pope Francis spoke on Good Shepherd Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Easter for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, and the whole theme of his talk was exodus as an icon, as encapsulating vocation. I want to draw from what he says. In speaking of exodus, Pope Francis draws us to the Old Testament as referring to the origins of the amazing love story between God and his people.
Our faith, our religion as current Catholic Christians is first and foremost a love affair, a love story with God. It is not all about rules, it’s about God transforming us into Himself, who is love itself. Of course transformation will involve rules and obligations because there can be no true love without responsibility. There can be no love without sacrifice, self-giving trust, and vulnerability, risk, a gift of self, a going out beyond yourself. Our religion as Catholic Christians is about this divine romance, this exchange between God and His people, this covenant. It is not something that we’ve invented, but rather, we’ve discovered it. God has revealed it. He’s unveiled the mystery of His purpose of our identity and destiny.
Our religion is not meant to be a burden, but to set us free to be who we’re meant to be. The world does not get that. The spirit of the world has it in reverse; it does not understand and sees our freedom through an opposite lens. But only love is credible; only love can get past all the filters of people’s misconceptions, of people’s prejudices – simply by acts of love. That’s why your vocation is so precious, important, and prophetic because you don’t have to preach a single word. By your very example, God can preach through you.
Pope Francis says, “The exodus is the origins of the amazing love story between God and his people, a history which passes through the dramatic period of slavery in Egypt and the calling of Moses, the experience of liberation and journey toward the Promised Land. All those things are not only historical but also symbolic of the spiritual life.” The Holy Father goes on to speak a little bit about that symbolism. He says we too need to have to pass from the slavery of the old Adam, or our own selves. Perhaps there was a time in our lives when maybe we were little bit more worldly-minded, when our values and priorities, and our mentality or faith weren’t the same.
This exodus experience to new life in Christ, is one of going to the Promised Land, to live our true purpose in what it means to become the person we’re supposed to be in God’s eyes, in his image. This exodus is an event in redemption which takes place through faith. According to the Holy Father,“This Passover is a genuine exodus. It is the journey of each Christian soul and the entire Church, the decisive turning of our lives toward the Father.”
The decisive turning – those words imply a conviction and a choice, a conviction in the heart and choice, an action that has been made. That conviction of the heart and the choice of life, that turnaround is what the gospel refers to as metanoia. That turning around is a conversion.
Ultimately, Exodus is a conversion, a becoming of the best version of ourselves, becoming who we’re created to be, becoming who are meant to be in God’s Divine Mercy. It is a decisive turning of our lives towards the Father, and I would like to add to that, a decisive turning of our lives toward the mystery of Easter.
What captures for me the beautiful mystery of Easter is not simply Jesus risen but Jesus’s radiance through his wounds because His encounters with the apostles were very specifically, encountering them in their weakness. Jesus as the eternal high priest expressed His sympathy with their weakness and by His wounds, He healed their weakness and brought out power. Light comes out of darkness – a new creation out of chaos, victory out of the cross, triumph out of tragedy. This is the mystery of Easter. How do we experience that in us? How do we see that in our lives? Because it will happen; that’s how God works. Jesus brings us into renewed vitality through the pattern of His Paschal mystery – through His suffering, and dying, and rising again. (to be continued)
SOURCE: Consecrated Life Retreat, New Mexico 2016, transcribed by Teresa Linda, ocds
Copyright 2017, Father Robert Barcelos, OCD