Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like those wise ones who build their houses on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the houses. But they did not collapse; they had been set solidly on rock.
Matthew 7: 21, 24-5
Today is the 100th anniversary of the death of Brother Charles de Foucauld. At the age of 28, he had a powerful experience of conversion that led him to leave his life as a military officer and playboy and to become a solitary in the desert of Algeria. Describing his conversion he wrote, “As soon as I believed that there was a God, I understood that I could not do anything other than live for him.” (Robert Ellsburg, Give Us this Day, December 2016, p. 18)
As we begin the journey of Advent in 2016, what does the coming of Jesus mean to us who are ostensibly believers? It is to us that Jesus speaks in today’s gospel from Matthew. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,” will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” How much of what we do in a day is the result of our belief in, our love of, our devotion to our Father in heaven? What Brother Charles does seems extreme to us. Yet, his rationale is simply that of Jesus in today’s gospel, not to “do anything other than live for . . . [God].” How would our lives be different if we did only what was the will of God?
Yesterday a friend and colleague and I were speaking of the role that the sense of anxious urgency plays in our lives. We described to each other the shared experience of a kind of schizoid experience of our work. Often we feel anxious and even overwhelmed when we there is a deadline of some kind that gives an urgency to the task at hand. And yet, when there is no such sense of urgency, we can feel a bit adrift, knowing somehow that there is plenty that we are responsible for and yet, without the anxious drive of a sense of urgency, feeling directionless and even somewhat vacuous. We sensed an intrinsic relationship between the apparently contradictory experiences of urgency and laziness. Interestingly enough, a few moments of this conversation began to lead us to recognize those “larger tasks” before us that usually we neglected because of the power of the immediate deadline and the anxiety it evoked. As a result, he suggested that we take some time to initiate a longer term project that we had spoken about but not acted on. In the space that had been created by our shared reflection and that was absent anxiety and urgency, there emerged a fruitful time of collaboration and creativity that is often far too absent in the workplace.
We live in a world that values functioning above all. It is the “doer” who is the ultimately esteemed member of our societies. The question that is raised for us today is, “From where in us does our “doing” arise?” Do we act primarily in service of our own vital gratification and functional ambition, or do act in service to the will of God? Brother Charles de Foucauld ceases to live a life of high esteem and significance in his culture in order to “waste” and finally lose his life in the desert. If the advent of the Lord is to be realized in our world through our lives, we must reckon with the gap between our own urgencies and God’s work and will for us.
The Fundamental Principles remind us:
At times you will discover
that God’s ways are not your ways,
and God’s thoughts are not your thoughts.
When this happens,
try to surrender yourself trustingly
into the arms of God,
who knows you, understands you,
and loves you.
“To surrender” ourselves trustingly into the arms of God can sound to us as a falling into passivity. In just such a way, Charles de Foucauld’s actions may well have looked to his contemporaries like a “giving up” on life. For people whose view of the human person is merely secular and functional, the measure of the value of our work is always its resultant product. Human work is reduced to the functional level of our personality. So, when Jesus speaks of his Father’s working always and of his work being completed on the cross, these words are truly mysterious to us. The great paradox is that when Brother Charles de Foucauld responds to the call “not to do anything other than live for” God, his work has just begun. And the work requires first that he relativize his own urgencies in favor of God’s way and will for him.
What we truly value is reflected in how we spend our time. What takes the primary place in our attention, in our emotions, in our efforts? “Martha, Martha, you are troubled and anxious about many things. But only one thing is necessary.” (Luke 10: 41-2) Jesus says we are to listen to his words and then act on them. There are many ways to be busy and many masters to serve. To say “Lord, Lord,” that is to be “religious” by giving God a place in our lives, is to remain outside of the Kingdom. Our lives are built on the rock of faith when we realize that our true work is to do “the one thing necessary.”
One of the great ironies of the human condition is that doing the one thing necessary, which is the “way of peace” for us, feels very difficult. It is not easy for us “to surrender . . . [ ourselves] trustingly into the arms of God.” “To surrender into the arms of God” requires that we allow God to transform our sense of potency from the functional to the transcendent. This transformation feels to us at first as if we are losing ourselves, as if we are dying. To live for God, to know our place in the Kingdom, requires of us, however, just such a death. Paradoxically enough, it is at this very time that our true work begins, that Jesus reveals himself anew in the world in and through our work, which is the work to which God’s word calls us.
I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures –
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.
Brother Charles de Foucauld