This morning’s thought comes courtesy of St. John of the Cross via Deacon Ralph Poyo, whom our parish staff had the pleasure of following on retreat yesterday, and who never actually mentioned St. John of the Cross by name.
Jesus tells us throughout the Scriptures that we must leave everything behind to follow him. Certain of these passages seem particularly harsh: “Let the dead bury the dead;” “No one who sets his hand to the plow and looks to what is left behind is worthy of the kingdom of God.” I have struggled with these passages over the years, but in the wee hours this morning, lying in the dark, I had a brief moment of clarity.
Dcn. Ralph reminded us that choosing to be a disciple of Christ (in particular, Christ crucified, since Jesus himself tells us that in order to be a disciple we must pick up our cross and follow) is a black-or-white, all-or-nothing choice. He asked us to imagine, on one hand, Jesus suffering on the cross, and on the other hand, a table filled with all these little icons of the people, places, and things of this passing world that matter to us: our spouse, children, family, and friends; our pets, possessions, and pastimes; our worries, anxieties, and sins.
Of the two, we are called to choose Christ—you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength—but it’s hard to embrace the cross and even harder to carry it any distance. So we are tempted to walk to the foot of the cross and break a chunk off from it, to shape that piece of the cross into another little icon representing our Christianity, and to place it on the table with the rest, our tiny God, lost in a sea of idols.
St. John of the Cross writes of the tremendous longing God has for union with us (and vice versa). He wants to live within us, but before He can enter fully, He needs a God-size space. And since our God is infinite and eternal—the source of being for everything—the only space big enough is complete emptiness. Nothing else fits where God fills.
I have thought about this before in terms of the little pieces of the world we cling to or the tiny sins we allow to continue because “they aren’t so bad.” But early this morning, it occurred to me that even clinging to the good things of this world—my wife and children, my vocation as a husband and father, my job, and the parish that I love—can push God out.
This does not mean I must give these things up, only that I let them go to make space for God. If I can empty myself completely and seek Him alone, He who is the source of all good things will fill me, and like Job, I will regain what seemed lost, and more!
God is indivisible, the ultimate All, and we cannot claim just a piece of Him—“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Matthew 6:33).