Hearing and Acting

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Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and ­buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. 

Matthew 7: 24-6

Today is the Feast of St. Francis Xavier. Brother Ryken told his brothers that “the name of this insatiable laborer for souls will say in one word what is intended for the Congregation.” This is certainly setting a high mark. There are few human beings who have the physical, psychological, and spiritual stamina to leave all that offers a sense of rootedness and security and strike off to serve lands and peoples not only merely unknown but absolutely foreign and other.

Where does such courage and generosity come from? As St. Paul tells the Corinthians: “The love of Christ compels us” (2 Cor. 5:14). All significant human work must be, in the last analysis motivated by love. As in the conversion experience of Theodore James Ryken, falling in love with God means to put oneself in God’s service. The love of God that we come to know is service; it is the laying down of one’s life for one’s friends (and one’s enemies). This is the meaning and the revelation of Jesus. He and his love for us all are what the love of God looks like in human life.

Thus, as today’s gospel says, to hear the word is to be compelled to act. Otherwise we really have not heard it. The word, in its very nature, is “living and active,” as the letter to the Hebrews tells us (Hebrews 4:12). Unless it manifests in action, it is but shifting sand. Yet, most of us are not called to carry the word to foreign lands, to leave our homes and families. In fact, for many of us to love ever more deeply those whose welfare has been entrusted to us might well be what the love of Christ is compelling us toward. An affluent culture that fearfully holds to the unconscious belief that human relationship is only competition and manipulation which manifests far too often in violence is crying out for a sign that the love it craves is a reality.

The worlds of each of us have many places where the love of Christ is unexperienced and unknown. The actions to which the word summons as may well be far less dramatic but no less challenging than those of Francis Xavier. The love of Christ compels us constantly to leave behind our own fears and self-preoccupations and to offer to another, even if for a moment, the love that has been given to us.

O God, I love thee, I love thee–
Not out of hope of heaven for me
Nor fearing not to love and be
In the everlasting burning.
Thou, thou, my Jesus, after me
Didst reach thine arms out dying, 
For my sake sufferedst nails and lance,
Mocked and marred countenance,
Sorrows passing number,
Sweat and care and cumber,
Yea and death, and this for me,
And thou couldst see me sinning;
Then I, why should not I love thee,
Jesus, so much in love with me?
Not for heaven’s sake; not to be
Out of hell by loving thee;
Not for any gains I see;
But just the way that thou didst me
I do love and I will love thee:
What must I love thee, Lord, for then?
For being my king and God. Amen.

St. Francis Xavier, trans. by G. M. Hopkins, SJ

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