Becoming Closer to the World

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But those tenant farmers said to themselves: “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.” And they seized and killed him, and threw him outside the vineyard.

Mark 12: 7-8

Yesterday was Trinity Sunday. The alternate prayer for the Feast speaks beautifully of the life and love of God that is, in truth, the environment of all creation.

You reveal yourself in the depths of our being,
drawing us to share in your life and your love.
One God, three persons,
be near to the people formed in your image,
close to the world your love brings to life.

The parable from Mark 12 that we read today reminds us that we are tenants in the world, that all, including our own life, is on loan to us. It also describes the illusion of autonomy and the passion of greed that are the foundations of our sinfulness. Finally it describes the infinite love and mercy of God who, despite our ignorance and selfishness keeps sending yet “another servant” to remind us of the truth of who we are and to re-establish relationship with us.

It is God’s love that brings the world and all that is in it to life. Because of this, everything in and around us is a call to relationship with the One who is at every moment drawing us to share in God’s life and love. The “meaning” of the Trinity is that at every moment of experience and every encounter with creation in all its forms we are being summoned to a more complete realization of that union in life and love.

Key to Mark’s parable is the description of the farmers as “tenants.” They do not own the vineyard. Yet, they want to possess it as their own. As addressed to the religious leaders, the parable is pointing out that they “lead” the people as if the people were theirs. Time and again we forget the proper order of things, and we mistakenly believe and act as if our lives and world were are own. So ingrained is this tendency to illusion and possessiveness that to know God’s nearness we must practice continually the way of voluntary poverty.

The alternate prayer for the Feast of the Holy Trinity asks God to be near us. The truth, however, is that God is always, as St. Augustine says, “closer to us than we are to ourselves.” We pray for God to be near that we, who are always forgetting it, might recognize that nearness. To do so, however, we must diminish in us the power of possessiveness and autonomy. We fail to recognize God’s nearness because we prefer to manage and control our own lives. One of the means by which we buttress this false sense of self-rule is by the possession and accumulation of goods – and relationships. We must daily choose in smaller and larger ways the way of dispossession. This means choosing not to have some things I would like and to accept with gratitude, generosity, and love demands that life makes on us that are contrary to our preferences.

The great spiritual teachers point out that it is only by the way of dispossession that we can come to know the joy that comes with the realization of the truth – all of life is a gift of God and bears with it God’s unending love and care of us.

Liberality is one of God’s principal attributes and can in no way coexist with covetousness. [Those who free their hearts of covetousness] . . . acquire liberty of spirit, clarity of reason, rest, tranquility, peaceful confidence in God, and, in their will, the true cult and homage of God. 

They obtain more joy and recreation in creatures through the dispossession of them. They cannot rejoice in them if they behold them with possessiveness, for this is a care that, like a trap, holds the spirit to earth and does not allow wideness of heart [2 Cor. 6:11].

In detachment from things they acquire a clearer knowledge of them and a better understanding of both natural and supernatural truths concerning them. Their joy, consequently, in these temporal good is far different from the joy of one who is attached to them, and they receive great benefits and advantages from their joy. They delight in these goods according to the truth of them, but those who are attached delight according to what is false in them; they delight in the best, the attached delight in the worst; they delight in the substance of them, those sensibly attached delight in the accidents. The senses cannot grasp or attain to more than the accidents, whereas the spirit, purged of the clouds and appearances of the accidents, penetrates the truth and value of things, which is the object of the spirit. 

John of the Cross, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, III, 20, 2

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