Walk the Way of Downward Mobility in the Shadow of the Cross
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God became the least of these in the Incarnation of His Son. Will we be emptied of ourselves, in order to become men and women for others, conformed to the One who emptied Himself for us? When we do learn to empty ourselves, He comes and takes up His residence within us.Then, we become His arms, embracing the world; His legs, still walking its dusty streets; and His Heart, still beating with the Divine Compassion. We become like Jesus Christ, the One who became the least of these in order to bring us all into the full communion of love.
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - The Gospel on Tuesday of the last full week before the beginning of Lent is from St. Mark. Jesus is trying to share a deeper message with his disciples. One which will help them be prepared for what will be required of them as He enters into His Passion. He is also trying to prepare them for the work ahead, after He confers upon them His continuing mission. The interchange is so deeply human. It is also one which we should certainly identify with, if we are honest about our weaknesses:
Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee,but he did not wish anyone to know about it. He was teaching his disciples and telling them,"The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him,and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise." But they did not understand the saying,and they were afraid to question him.
They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house,he began to ask them,"What were you arguing about on the way?" But they remained silent.For they had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, "If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all." Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them,"Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me;and whoever receives me,receives not me but the One who sent me." (Mark 9:30-37)
His effort to impart to them the liberating effects of living the Gospel paradox of emptying themselves in order to be filled with Divine Life - runs head on into the limitations of their own humanity. If we are honest about ourselves, we know the problem well.
Yet, part of what that Lord seeks to show them - and to show us - is that when we choose to stop making ourselves the center of our own lives, He then gives us the grace to find this New Way of Life. We are invited by the Lord to choose to empty ourselves of ourselves - in order to be make room for Him to live His very Life within us - and through us for others.
Jesus also said to his disciples, Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life?'(Mark 8)
Only grace can open a man or woman to the deeper mystery of self denial as the path to freedom and liberation. The older I get, the more I understand that I can only find it by walking behind the Lord in the shadow of His Cross. When I reflect in prayer upon the Lord carrying His own cross, I begin to see the reality of my own tendency to self-centered pursuits.
Jesus invites us to join Him, to become another Simon the Cyrene. (See, Mark 15:20,21) When we do, we begin to find that His burden truly is light. He teaches us the liberating way of downward mobility.
The phrase is not my own. It was used by one of the great spiritual writers of our age, Fr. Henri Nouwen, in a book which I highly recommend called Here and Now: Living in the Spirit. Fr. Nouwen writes of the compassionate life. To understand the phrase it helps to remember the etymology of the word. At its root it, compassion means to suffer with; to enter into the suffering of another out of love.
Clearly, this is the Way of Jesus Christ, the Way of the Cross, the Way of Compassion, the way of becoming small so that he might be fully revealed in and through us, for others whom He loves.In today's Gospel, Jesus once again uses the presence of a child to communicate the way of servant-hood, of surrendered love, of downward mobility. Pope St Leo wote of Jesus:
He took the nature of a servant without stain of sin, enlarging our humanity without diminishing his divinity. He emptied himself; though invisible he made himself visible, though Creator and Lord of all things he chose to be one of us mortal men. Yet this was the condescension of compassion, not the loss of omnipotence. So he, who in the nature of God had created man, became in the nature of a servant, man himself.
Fr. Henri Nouwen wrote, The compassionate life is the life of downward mobility! In a society in which upward mobility is the norm, downward mobility is not only discouraged but even considered unwise, unhealthy, or downright stupid.
He was correct. Yet, it is hard to hold onto this insight, and even harder to live it. There is nothing new about this difficulty. We see Jesus, who is the Incarnate example of this kind of downward mobility, instructing His disciples in this way repeatedly. Apparently they had the same difficulty we do. Luke records the same scene:
An argument arose among the disciples, about which of them was the greatest. Jesus realized the intention of their hearts and took a child and placed it by his side and said to them, "Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. For the one who is least among all of you is the one who is the greatest. (Luke 9:46-50)
The older I get the more aware I am of my own failures in compassion - and my lack of true love. That is why I am regularly drawn to make an examination of conscience by reflecting on the profound words of Jesus recorded in the 25th chapter of St. Matthews Gospel. When all is said and done, we will be judged on whether we loved Him as He is revealed in those whom He loves.
I was hungry, and you gave me food; I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me; I was naked and you gave me clothing; I was sick and you took care of me; I was in prison, and you visited me. (Matthew 25.35-36)
It was said of the early disciples that they "turned the world upside down" with their preaching (Acts 17). Well, we still can - in our own day. After all, we are His disciples in this Third Christian Millennium. They offered more than words, they offered lives of self emptied love, of downward mobility. Will we choose to do the same?
Like the Master whom we follow, we are called to become the least of these. That was what Fr. Henri Nouwen meant when he warned of the "lure of upward mobility". He called it the greatest sin of the age. He spoke of God's extraordinary love, revealed in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, as an alternative way, a way of downward mobility.
How extraordinary is this wonderful love of God, revealed in Jesus. How hard it is to comprehend its invitation. The God of the entire universe came among us as a man. He emptied Himself. In His sacred humanity he lived a full and complete human life, walking in intimate communion with His Father. He now makes it possible for us to do the same.
Because He was fully God, Jesus accomplished for us what we could never have accomplished for ourselves, he redeemed us, set us free from the punishment merited by our sin, healed the divisions caused by sin - and capacitated us to live our lives differently now by cooperating with grace. He saved us from and saved us for. He defeated the last enemy, death and overcame the evil one. He did all of this, because He is love Incarnate.
He invites each of us to now walk in His way. St Paul writes of Jesus "Though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, He emptied Himself" (Philippians 2) The Greek word is kenosis, which means self-emptying love.
God became the least of these in the Incarnation of His Son. Will we be emptied of ourselves, in order to become men and women for others, conformed to the One who emptied Himself for us? When we do learn to empty ourselves, He comes and takes up His residence within us.
Then, we become His arms, embracing the world; His legs, still walking its dusty streets; and His Heart, still beating with the Divine Compassion. We become like Jesus Christ, the One who became the least of these in order to bring us all into the full communion of love.
I end with some more words from Fr. Henri Nouwen, This is the way of downward mobility, the descending way of Jesus. It is the way toward the poor, the suffering, the marginal, the prisoners, the refugees, the lonely, the hungry, the dying, the tortured, the homeless--toward all who ask for compassion. What do they have to offer ? Not success, popularity, or power, but the joy and peace of the children of God.
Let us learn to walk the way of way of downward mobility and pick up the Cross of the compassionate life.Fortunately, the Lord has given us a Francis for this time in the Chair of Peter. He shows us the way in word and in deed. As we prepare to enter into the Great Lent, let us walk the Way of Downward Mobility.
Copyright 2019 - Distributed by THE CALIFORNIA NETWORK
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