A Time to Give. A Time to Receive.April 18, 2017
It might seem a bit strange to speak of the very last words of Jesus from the cross during the week after Easter, but those words are the perfect bridge between the Paschal Mystery and our response to it, a response that encompasses the rest of our lives.
The reference point for those who would have heard Jesus utter “Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit” would have been Psalm 31, described as “a prayer in time of ordeal” by the Jerusalem Bible. Despite that description, it is a psalm that extols the goodness of God toward those who put their trust in Him, especially times of struggle.
Those who followed Jesus throughout His ministry all the way to Calvary would have been reminded of more than Psalm 31 – they would have thought back to both the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain. In each of these events Matthew and Luke, respectively, note Jesus’ reference to the “time of ordeal” that will come to His flock.
It would be an easy leap for the minds of the disciples to recall what Luke reports from that Plain in Judea where Jesus told them, “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.” Those who stayed close to Jesus were at least warned beforehand, and it is a great lesson for us whenever we feel awkward and afraid when our conscience prompts us to stand with Christ against the world. He knew that following Him would not save us from our own moments of abandonment, anguish and pain, and His invitation has no fine print.
Matthew’s depiction in the Sermon on the Mount is similar to that of Luke, including the promise of future happiness with Christ: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” The problem for us lies not in the conclusion, but in the process. Commending our spirits to God, living the life of the Beatitudes, is not the way of the world, especially a world that focuses on the immediate gratification of all our wants and desires.
Those who have taken the Beatitudes seriously have certainly felt the splinters of the wood of the Cross as they daily gave their spirits over to the Father. If a person has “Saint” in front of her or his name we can be assured that they suffered for the Kingdom, but we can also be assured that they are rejoicing now and are cheering us on as we travel that same path. St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower, may have never left her Carmelite community but she offered her spirit to God every day. When things were difficult she did not rebelle, but instead she drew upon that commitment, and she stated that her ultimate goal was to spend her eternity doing good on earth.
St. Ignatius of Loyola knew the importance of offering one’s spirit, in fact one’s entire self, to God and he maps out the perfect route for true happiness in his prayer known as the Suscipe, from the Latin word “receive”. There could be no more fitting life-plan, no better way to honor the Lord who offered up His spirit on our behalf, no more perfect response to the Resurrection, than to live out the words of that magnificent prayer:
Take Lord, receive
all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will,
all that I have and possess.
You hast given all to me.
To You, O Lord, I return it.
All is Yours, do with it as You will.
Give me only Your love and Your grace,
for that is enough for me.