Alive or Dead We Belong to the Lord

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If one person keeps certain days as holier than others, and another considers all days to be equally holy, each must be left free to hold one’s own opinion. The one who observes special days does so in honor of the Lord. The one who eats meat also does so in honor of the Lord, since that one gives thanks to God; but then the one who abstains does that too in honor of the Lord, and so gives God thanks. The life and death of each of us has its influence on others; if we live, we live for the Lord; if we die, we die for the Lord, so that alive or dead we belong to the Lord.

Romans 14: 5-8

Although the actual reading from Romans for today begins at verse 7, it is helpful to insert it in the context that precedes it. Paul is calling his hearers to live in appreciation rather than judgment of each other and their differences, and he also gives us the one reason we are able to do so. Despite our natural propensity to fear and so despise the ways the other is different from us, we can respect, appreciate, and even come to love them because they, as we, “belong to the Lord.” Respect and care for the very different other is a possibility for us but only if we deeply understand that all of us are called to “live for the Lord” and “to die for the Lord.”

In today’s gospel from Luke, we hear the parables of Jesus concerning the lost sheep and the lost coin. Jesus speaks these parables in the context of the grumbling of the Pharisees and scribes concerning his welcoming of sinners. Jesus’ reply to them is, in Paul’s terms, that the sinners, no less than the self-justified, are also the Lord’s own. As the woman who finds her lost coin says: “Rejoice with me! I have found my lost drachma!” (Luke 15: 9) Jesus offers us a profound revelation of God in these parables. He invites us to recall our own experience when we lose something that is ours and that is valuable to us. At the moment we realize that what we value is lost, our life is overturned. “Will she not light a lamp, and sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?” (Luke 15: 8) Our lost object becomes our total preoccupation. Until it is restored, we experience a hole in the very fabric of our life. Jesus says that this is God’s experience of us. Each of us is God’s valued possession which knows its life only in relationship to God. In turn, this relationship of each person to God takes precedence over his or her relationship to me.

When we live for ourselves rather than for God, we are living an illusion. It is this illusion that makes community impossible. When we live for ourselves, we experience the difference of others solely as impediment to our self-actualization. When we see others primarily as their relationship to us, we begin to depreciate in them whatever does not gratify us. When we realize that each of us lives first for the Lord, we may begin to see the truth of Paul’s description of humanity as a “mystical body.” We begin to know our need for the differences of the other, even, and perhaps especially, those differences we least understand or appreciate.

The word community seems largely to have lost its meaning in our contemporary experience. We facilely refer to work and school communities and national and global communities as if collectives of human beings necessarily constituted a community. Yet, we know in experience that there can be no community among persons who live, primarily, for themselves. There is, of necessity, a spiritual dimension to any community. It is the fact that we live first for One who is other than us that makes community among diverse persons and peoples possible. It is our prayerful attention to the truth that we are to live and to die for the Lord that is the only possible ground of true community. For to realize in our own lives God’s longing and even anxiety to find us is to understand that this is also true for each of the others — however different from us they may be. Community occurs as we together continually return to the One who is always seeking us. True community is our continual rediscovery of finding ourselves truly at home with each other, sharing in the life of the One “in whom we live and move and have our being.”

The Xaverian Brother is called to live an ordinary life. This life is characterized by attentiveness, simplicity and openness to the unspectacular flow of daily life. His way is the “ordinary way.” He is invited to live in gratitude and in awe of all that which typically escapes attention or notice because of its smallness, difference, foreignness, unimportance, brokenness or insignificance. To do so, he must willingly eschew any attitude, behavior or involvement that exalts or promotes superiority, privilege, exclusivity or entitlement. He must be open and hospitable to the unknown and the unexpected, ready to listen, appraise and respond with a spirit of faith, hope and love.

The Xaverian Brother is called to live a common life. His attention and concern should address what is shared and held in common by all persons – their humanity, giftedness and sinfulness. In a particular way, he is called to share with his Xaverian Brothers a life lived in common. This common life involves not only the willingness to worship and pray together, to collaborate, to share responsibilities, to enjoy companionship with one another, but even more deeply, a desire to nurture a sense of co-responsibility and communion. The common life is an invitation to each Brother to offer generously the uniqueness of his life (gifts and limitations) for integration within the life of the Congregation.

Living a common life by its very nature involves the Brothers in the ongoing process of integrating and harmonizing diverse and sometimes disparate elements of life in an attempt to gradually realize a more and more consonant form of life. A life lived in common challenges any movement toward grandiosity and individualism. Each day and age; each stage of human life; each culture and tradition provides unique challenges to living the ordinary and common form of Xaverian life. To be unaware of these tensions and to fail to appraise and address (alone and in common) their formative and deformative impact, will lead to patterns of living that will either promote or inhibit the harmony and consonance of Xaverian Life and the witness value of that Life in the lives of others.

Xaverian Charism Project, Working Paper on Life Form

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