Give and gifts will be given to you, a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.
Luke 6: 38
What is the greatest impediment to joy? How is it that far too often our life is not a gift but rather a chore? Why is it that so many of us who profess belief in the gospel of Jesus and its good news are so often anxious, angry, and sad? Today’s gospel tells us that it it is only in releasement (gelassenheit), in the words of the philosopher Martin Heidegger, in a “thinking that is a thanking”, that we know joy in life. We know joy in the measure that we give away the gifts we have been given. It is living in the thanksgiving for the abundance of life we receive that we experience yet more life and so, more joy.
In the past week many of us attended an international meeting of members of our Congregation. At a point in the meeting the facilitator asked us to think about what more God was asking of us. As he asked us to consider this question, he reminded us of the fact that “you have all you need” to follow this call. As he said this I was reminded of the words of my teacher Adrian van Kaam, “God never asks of us something that we are not able to do.” The gospel perspective is one of abundance. It calls us to recognize that everything we have and are is a gift to us, a gift to be given away that we might experience not lack by doing so but rather yet greater abundance.
Joy is inherent in life. So, why are we not more joyful? It is because, as Sigmund Freud pointed out, our instinct for life is often overcome by our instinct for death. For many years of my life, I experienced the lifelessness of a low grade depression. Life seemed as if it were too much for me. My duties and responsibilities felt like demands, that if not impossible were at least far more arduous than I was up to. In time and with some help, however, I came to see that life seemed so difficult or impossible to me because I was refusing to live my own life. Instead of living my days in a “released” way, in which the life I had been given I would freely express and give away, I was attempting to show a face to the world that was not mine but rather what I thought was expected and demanded of me. So, while working so hard and wearing myself out, I was actually selfishly holding on to what I had been given in order to give it away to others. it was by choosing my own life, recognizing it as the gift I had been given and realizing that it was all I needed to live my call, that I began to be able to give it away to others in gratitude, that I began to experience joy in the living of my own life.
It is a strange human paradox that we so often make the choice for death rather than risk the change that is necessary for life. As long as I needed to appear good and responsible in the ways that I felt my own true being made impossible, I chose depression and death. When I slowly began, by the gift that others gave me, to realize that life would mean letting go of who I wanted to be in order to be who I am, I began to actually feel joy. I remember at one point saying to my therapist, “I’m afraid I might be manic.” She replied, “You’re not manic; you’re just happy.” To express, live out and offer to others our true life and call is joyful. To repress our life, to hold on to it for fear that it has no value for the world is sad. This repression is the source of our anxiety and frustration.
In the past weeks I have witnessed yet again how powerful is the death wish in us. Change, especially the deep kind of change to which Lent calls us, is difficult and even terrifying for us. We hold on to our sadness and depression because it is the life we know. What it would mean to really live a released and generous giving of all that we have, as little as it seems to us, is unknown and dark. St. John of the Cross tells us that the dark night is not dark because it lacks light but rather because it is a surplus of light. It is more than we can manage or control. And so, it asks us to let go and to pour out all we have, trusting that the measure we give will be, in turn, measured out to us. The more we express and give our lives, the more life we know.
The generosity to which the gospel summons us, the living of each moment as a call to give away what we have, comes about in us only when our thinking is a thanking. The Fundamental Principles remind us that:
is to recognize
that all you have and are
comes from God.
Gospel poverty is not living in indigence. It is rather living in thanksgiving. It is to live in the truth that our life, as given to us, is to be given away, and in that releasing of our own sense of self, of our own prerogatives and sense of self importance, we realize that the source of our own life is eternal. As with the widow of Zarephath who experienced the gift of Elijah,
For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah. (1Kings 17:16),
so we come to see through experience that the flow of life through and out of us will not deplete us but rather fill us more completely the more we pour ourselves out to the others.
To recognize that all that we have and are come from God is to be eternally thankful. It is to trust that what we have is enough for our call and so, even as it seems to us to diminish, we are to continue to give it away. As St. Francis of Assisi tells us:
It is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Death is also birth for us. Dying, individually or as a community, is meant to be an act of living. It is to continue to pour ourselves out in the trust that, all appearances to the contrary, we are actually receiving more life as we do so. As the widow who gives “the little that she had,” we are until the end to keep giving ourselves away. To do so is to know joy. To hold on, because we are afraid and think we have too little to give, is to live in sadness and regret. The way to yet more life is to let go; the way of death is to attempt, futilely, to hold on for fear of losing what we mistakenly think is ours.
How meaningful in this regard are the words of encouragement found in an early Christian text: “Clothe yourselves in joy, which always is agreeable and acceptable to God, and rejoice in it. For all who are joyful do what is good, think what is good, and despise sadness… All who put aside sadness and put on joy will live in God”. The experience of mercy brings joy. May we never allow this joy to be robbed from us by our troubles and concerns. May it remain rooted in our hearts and enable us to approach with serenity the events of our daily lives.
Pope Francis, Misericordia et Misera, #3