"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

26 March 2009

"Witnesses"


In Chapter 5 of Death on a Friday Afternoon, Neuhaus addresses the fifth word of Jesus from the Cross: "I thirst." He emphasizes the traditional missionary nature of the words -- Christ's thirsting for lost souls, the Fountain of life who quenches their thirst for Him: "I thirst; I quench," as written above the doors of the Sisters of Charity missions of Mother Theresa.

But throughout the chapter runs a thread which especially draws me: the gospel is a story, Neuhaus reminds us, a story we both live and tell. "It is the true story about the world and everybody in the world," Neuhaus writes, "the story of the amazing grace by which [the world] is redeemed." It is also the story of "our lives in the world," of how we are to live: we are the salt and light of the world, Jesus tells us -- not our message merely, but we ourselves, the lives we live not just on faraway mission fields but in the daily round of the ordinary wherever we find ourselves.

It is the story of everyone in the world, Neuhaus says, "whether they know it or not. [. . .] The Church is the mission of Christ, who continues to seek and to save the lost who do not know their story. Their story is Christ, the way, the truth, and the life of all." Through us, "Christ, the lover, proposes" to the lost.

Christ's story is the story of "fidelity to the Father to the very end, to the death." To effect our salvation, to redeem this lost world, Christ had to "[lay[ down His life [in] perfect obedience, abandonment, loss of control, committing all to the Father." He "trusts that the Father will not finally abandon Him," Neuhaus concedes, but reminds us too that His "trust is vindicated only after the cup is emptied," after His complete abandonment to the Father's will" -- "not My will but Thine be done."

And the invitation to us is, yes, a proposal to be the Bride in all her loveliness when He comes into His kingdom -- but also, and more immediately, to "share in His suffering." Christ "did not suffer and die in order that we need not suffer and die, but in order that our suffering and death might be joined to His in redemptive victory." We are offered the astonishing privilege of "participation in the suffering of Christ" as part of what it means to live Christ's life in a suffering world. As He emptied Himself for our sake, abandoned Himself entirely to the Father's will, so we too are invited to empty ourselves to His will, so we too live to His glory.

To live to His glory, Neuhaus reminds us, is not a "driven, frenetic, sweated, interminable quest for saving souls. It is doing for His glory what God has given us to do." We are not all called to deepest Africa or the darkness of the inner city. But wherever we are called, we are to live to please God: "Souls are saved," Neuhaus writes, "by saved souls who live out their salvation by thinking and living differently, with a martyr's resolve, in a world marked by falsehood, baseness, injustice, impurity, ugliness and mediocrity." We do this freely, confident in His love, "with a kind of reckless abandon that is holy insouciance," knowing that our only Judge is the loving Father of the Son He gave to redeem us.

Our story is His story -- a story of abandonment to the Creator-Father who desires our redemption, a story of participation in the suffering of His Son to redeem the suffering of a lost world, a story for all people for all time. Christ thirsts for lost souls, for our souls. He "thirsts for those who throw away their lives in the everydayness of duties discerned and duties done" -- those who will live His story, day in and day out, trusting that He will glorify Himself in our obedience and self-abandonment.

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