Word Magazine March 1998 Page 16
WORKING FOR THE GOSPEL:
By Father Joseph Allen
One of my favorite modern day characters is Winston Churchill. He was already considered “old” when he was called out of retirement to become a heroic leader during World War II. Of the many great orations which he delivered during that era, there was one which included the following:
We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.
Churchill’s profound words introduce this series of articles for The WORD. They do so because while The Order of St. Ignatius is indeed working for the Gospel, the members of the Order are called beyond mediocrity; in a very focused way, they are “making a life by what they give.”
But if we are to work for the Gospel, what goals does that Gospel set for us? And in what manner does the work of the Order respond to those goals?
With the Incarnation of Our Lord, one can say that God loves us and therefore accepts us just the way we are. Thus we hear the words of the Gospel: grace, forgiveness, acceptance. I have heard this said in various homilies many times. And it is true. But there is a danger here, and that is for us to “settle,” to stop growing, to accept mediocrity.
The dynamic nature of our Orthodox Christian Faith, however, will never allow that. The truth is that there is a second part to that statement: “God loves us just the way we are, but He loves us too much to allow us to stay that way!” Now we hear other words of the Gospel: running the good race, growing into Christ, commitment, spiritual development.
While both parts of the statement may be true, the goal which God has set for us in the Gospel is not simply to “feel okay,” or, more specifically, not to “take thine ease, eat, drink and be merry.” Rather the call of the Gospel has much more of a powerful purpose of raising our standards, increasing our commitment, caring for the ever-increasing work set before us by Christ Himself: the hungry, the naked, the prisoners. In Christ we do make a life by what we give; in Christ it is not okay to simply remain okay! If anything, the Order does raise our standards, will not allow us to settle.
The problem is that much of our Christian life can be dealt with in generalities: a general parish membership, a generally ethical life, a general concern for others, a general sense that God loves us just like we are. And so we continue in our everyday existence, “making a living by what we get.”
But the Gospel never stops at such generalities, never ends with mediocrity. Can we ever forget the very specific and concrete act of the widow in Luke’s Gospel (21:1-4)? This brief story of people giving to the temple says almost nothing about this widow. She does not say a word. We do not know anything about her life except for that one concrete action. And that is enough to say it all. In her gift of the two small coins — which was given out of her essential first-fruits, since she was poor — she said it all. And our Lord uses that occasion to note how she demonstrates the difference between mediocrity and the real thing. No generalities there!
Like the Lukan widow, the Gospel asks us for a concrete response, and The Order of St. Ignatius is truly an opportunity to so respond, and thus “to make a life by what we give.”
Of course, it is much easier not to accept God’s challenge. Maybe you heard about the dialogue which went on in Toledo, Ohio, between Yousef and Matta. They were walking down the street casually on a Sunday afternoon after Church.
Yousef said to Matta: “You know, I’ve been wanting to ask God a question.
And Matta responded: “Really? Waaallah? A question to God? What question would you like to ask God?”
Yousef says: “Well, I would like to ask Him, ‘Why don’t you do something about all the human misery and suffering in the world?”
Matta says: “Well Yousef, that is an excellent question. Why don’t you just ask God that question?”
“Because,” responded Yousef “I’m afraid that God might ask me the same question. “
The truth is that in the Gospel, God does ask us that question, and we are called to respond in very concrete ways; The Order of St. Ignatius offers one of the most concrete actions that an Orthodox Christian can take.
In this series, then, we invite the readership of The WORD to note those avenues by which the Order responds to God’s call. And we hope, thereby, to invite those same readers not to settle for mediocrity, not simply “to make a living by what we get, but to make a life by what we give!”
Look for these following messages, and come, be a part of the Order as we “work for the Gospel.”
Father Joseph, the North American Chaplain of The Order of St. Ignatius of Antioch, is also the Director of Theological and Pastoral Education for our Archdiocese and Pastor of St. Anthony Church in Bergenfield, NJ.