My novice master is someone I love and respect greatly. He is growing old now, his health is in decline and in conversation a few months ago and he asked me, “Do you think we are in the end times?” I said, “I don’t know.” And he said, “I wouldn’t mind if we were. I wouldn’t mind dying.” To which I replied, “I wouldn’t mind dying either if I were in the state of grace.” “You are never to assess yourself” was his clear response.
I found that to be a great word of encouragement and wisdom because so often we can feel that we are actually unfit for the kingdom of heaven, that sometimes when the struggle is too great and we feel that we will never be ready. To know that we are not to assess or judge ourselves on the journey to eternal life is a blessing and a consolation. Perhaps it is similar to the way in which a doctor is not the best person to diagnose his own illness.
What we are called to do is to strive. The word that Jesus uses in the gospel is “strive to enter through the narrow door” (Luke 13:22-30). And the narrow door is the door of God’s discipline that is spoken of in the Letter to the Hebrews (12:5-7, 11-13); that discipline that trains us for eternal life; that discipline that turns us into clean vessels in the temple of the Lord that we read about in the Prophet Isaiah (66:18-21). Ultimately you and I are called to this – to be vessels that are worthy to hold the mystery of Jesus.
I look at the chalice on the table near the altar, the chalice that waits to be filled with the wine that will become the blood of Christ and I think of the little drop of water that the priest drops into the wine. We are that drop of water – “by the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity”.
We are the drop of water, mingled with Christ and we are also the vessel, the chalice lifted up in the consecration that contains the mystery of the precious blood of Jesus, a mystery that we carry into the lives of other people.
When we think about the discipline of the Lord we need to be careful not to see it as something that is harsh. It is never designed to hurt and it is always designed to prepare, just like the discipline of the athlete is a preparation to participate in the Olympic games. It is a demanding discipline, a worthwhile discipline and we should expect nothing less from our spiritual preparation of the Kingdom of God in this world and in the next.
My mind goes back to an experience I had with my brother and his little daughter when she was about three years old. We came out from a restaurant into the car park and Dad told her to be careful because of the cars. But she did what little children will do – she ran like a hare. It’s amazing the speed of a little child! So we ran, calling her back. But the more we ran and called, the faster and further she went in the direction of the busy main road.
Her Dad had no option but to stop and he roared her name, an unmerciful roar that stopped her in her tracks and caused her to burst into tears. And what struck me was that this was the roar of love, the roar of protection, a roar of discipline designed to save a child from danger and it was the only option in that moment.
Inconsolable back in the car she said, “Daddy you shouted!” There was surprise and hurt in her voice. Daddy was hardly able to speak so I said to her, “do you know why Daddy shouted?” “Why?” she asked.
And I explained, “he shouted because he loves you and he was frightened for you when you ran near the road with all the cars that could have hurt you.”
There are times when we are like children running amok in directions of our own choosing, going towards destinations, experiences that are dangerous for our eternal spiritual wellbeing – times like these when God in His love has to roar at us in some way to stop us in our tracks to prevent us going to our own destruction, so that He can lead us to the place of safety. That He can purify us as the gold of the chalice is purified in fire, that we might know how much more precious than gold we are and that the fire by which we are made to shine is the fire of His most precious love.