Knowing this, we pray continually that our God will make you worthy of his call, and by his power fulfill all your desires for goodness and complete all that you have been doing through faith; because in this way the name of our Lord Jesus Christ will be glorified in you and you in him, by the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Thessalonians: 1: 11-12
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel the sea and the dry land to make one proselyte, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of Gehenna as you are.
Matthew 23: 15
The author of 2 Thessalonians prays that God will make us worthy of God’s call so that the name of Jesus may be glorified in us, and we may be glorified in Jesus. Each of us, as well as all that God has created, exists to give glory to God. Yet, it is only insofar as we live “in Christ” that we glorify God. It is only when we live out the call of the one whom God has created us to be, that our lives give glory to God.
In the oft-quoted passage from his treatise Against Heresies, St. Irenaeus wrote: “Life in the human person is the glory of God; the life of the human is the vision of God.” In the same work, Irenaeus says that Jesus has made God visible to us so that we may not be “totally separated from God and so cease to be.” The glory of God is God; our true life “is the vision of God.” The mystical tradition speaks of “the vision of God” in the objective and subjective sense. It is not only our vision of God, but God’s vision of us. The person that we are, whom God sees, is the one who is “worthy of God’s call.” The prayer that we become worthy of God’s call is the prayer that we forsake all that is false in us and allow the glory of God that is our true identity to come alive in the world.
It is a great irony that much of our restless and anxious work, even work that we attempt to do in service to God, can actually cloud our vision of God and distance us from the call of God that we most truly are. Although the “woes” of Matthew’s gospel are references to the leaders of those groups that were rivals to the community of Matthew, they have universal applicability and power. How often in history have “missionary” endeavors, attempts at proselytization, actually been exercises of power and dominance and inflicted evil and pain on others? Personally, how often has our individual influence over others harmed rather than served them?
A call to influence the life of another, a mystery hidden in God, is one that should be received and expressed “in fear and trembling.” Who am I to know what is best for another? How can I ever be sure that my attempts to “proselytize” or to affect another are not driven by my own pride, fear, insecurity, and desire for power? Inevitably, our actions will have a mix of motivations, those that come from our false form of life and those that come from our true call, which is our unique manifestation of the glory of God. Thus, we must approach our work for God mindful of the “woes” that will befall the proud and arrogant. We must have a holy fear of inflicting our illusions and falseness on others. We must act in service to their unique and mysterious call and not in service to our idea of their call.
Many years ago, a teacher of ours would consistently remind us that “the client reserves the absolute right to self-interpretation.” So often, not only in counseling but in all attempts to render service to others, I recall these wise words. Ultimately, I never know what is best for another. I can generously try to serve their human and spiritual unfolding, but I must always maintain a stance of humility that gives the other the space to be responsible for his or her own unique call.
This stance requires a continuing growth in the disposition of respect and reverence. When another frustrates or angers us, it is extremely difficult to face the conflict while maintaining an attitude of respect and reverence for the other. Because we confuse our own inner call with our thoughts, opinions, attitudes, and feelings, we tend to do the same with others. We thus find it difficult to respect the other, even as we experience disagreement and conflict with him or her.
At least in the United States these days, we live in an increasingly conflictual and polarized culture. Sociological trends point to an increasingly segregated culture, where people are gathering and living more and more only with those who share their beliefs and opinions. The goal of “a more perfect union” stated by the American Constitution seems more and more to be an illusion. What is required of us to grow in respect of even the most different “other”? Perhaps it is to remain increasingly respectful of our own inner call, that deepest identity that is always giving glory to God. This means not confusing our externals with that call. It means maintaining at all times a “contemplative presence” to what Thomas Merton calls the “inner experience.” In this way, the one in us who is always giving glory to God will increasingly recognize who it is in the other that is doing the same. In this way, we can differ, argue, contest with and challenge each other while maintaining the reverence and respect for the “glory of God” that is the mysterious and unique call of each of us.
One of the strange laws of the contemplative life is that in it you do not sit down and solve problems: you bear with them until they somehow solve themselves. Or until life itself solves them for you. Usually the solution consists in a discovery that they only existed insofar as they were inseparably connected with your own illusory exterior self. The solution of most such problems comes with the dissolution of this false self. And consequently another law of the contemplative life is that if you enter it with the set purpose of seeking contemplation, or worse still, happiness, you will find neither. For neither can be found unless it is first in some sense renounced. And again, this means renouncing the illusory self that seeks to be “happy” and to find “fulfillment” (whatever that may mean) in contemplation. For the contemplative and spiritual self, the dormant, mysterious, and hidden self that is always effaced by the activity of our exterior self does not seek fulfillment. It is content to be, and int its being it is fulfilled, because its being is rooted in God.
Thomas Merton, The Inner Experience, p 2