Feast of St. Patrick
Daniel 3:25, 34-43
In today’s first reading from the Prophet Daniel, we find Azariah (Abednego), in the fiery furnace, praying, not for himself but for the entire Jewish Community. "We have in our day no prince, prophet, or leader, no burnt offering, sacrifice, oblation, or incense, no place to offer first fruits, to find favor with you. But with contrite heart and humble spirit let us be received."
Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, we see God, on occasion, getting frustrated with the way His people could make the externals of their religion, the heart of it all. Dogmas, sermons, symbols, songs and high liturgical celebrations are not seen as being in the service of the heart, calling it to a radical openness and union with God. They become veneering ends in themselves, humanly controlled ways of assuring myself "I am right with God", ways of playing hooky from the call to the heart.
It is no wonder then, that Jesus often went into the desert, to be alone, away from all the commotion and excitement of raw emotion, ever so ready, at a whim, to slide one direction or another. In the wilderness, Jesus, stripped of externals, consumed, devoured, in silence, the will of His Father.
In Azariah’s prayer, we see a people in exile, devoid of the comforting externals of their religion, being left with nothing but a contrite heart and humble spirit. Can’t you just picture God jumping up and down with glee, seeing his highest creation, the human heart, plowed open like broken ground, ready to just soak in God’s grace. That is what all the externals are suppose to help happen. Sometimes, God has to strip us of those things and test our ability to just let go and let Him be Lord of our lives.
Mother Theresa, near the end of her life, went through a terrible time of doubt and temptation. All the wonderful truths of her faith, the years of dedicated service to the poor and dying, all began to seem like an illusion. They seemed as empty as a pop can on side of the road, fading under the unrelenting rays of the sun and disappearing into oblivion from the realm of usefulness. She was before her God in dire starkness, uncomforted by externals, but unfettered by them as well. This final test enabled Mother to be embraced by God’s unconditional love in its most powerful reality and turned into a saint.
The servant, in today’s gospel, was clogged with external garbage. Even though his master forgave him his debt, he was unable to let that forgiveness now flow through himself out to his fellow servant. He probably felt deep down, that he really deserved to be forgiven. He could have come up with a long list of his "forgivableness" qualities. If he could have seen himself as an empty bowl, needing to be filled by sheer love and mercy, then he probably would have seen the emptiness in his fellow servant as well and rejoiced that he now had this flow of mercy within, to give to another.
Fr. Blaise Czaja, C.P. gives parish missions and retreats. He is a member of the Passionist Community in Detroit, Michigan.