Our readings for this Monday are rather puzzling at first glance, yet appropriate for us as we draw more closely to the end of the liturgical year with the celebration of the feast of Christ the King. In the selected passages from the Book of Revelation the faithful are at first praised and congratulated for their perseverance in the faith. The author of Revelations declares to the people, “I know your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate the wicked; you have tested those who call themselves Apostles but are not, and discovered that they are impostors. Moreover, you have endurance and have suffered for my name, and you have not grown weary.” One would think that such a declaration was spoken by the Lord with a sense of admiration and a fair touch of pride, as well. But then the writer continues, “Yet I hold this against you: you have lost the love you had at first. Realize how far you have fallen. Repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” One might wonder after hearing these words, “Well, is the Lord pleased or not?” “Did we act faithfully or didn’t we?” Kind of a mixed message if you ask me.
I remember one Sunday when I was home on vacation and my family all went to our parish church for Mass. I had worked on my homily a fair amount (considering I was on vacation after all) and knowing that my father and mother would be in the pews, too. Naturally I wanted them to be proud of their son “the priest.” After Mass I went up to my father and said, “Well, Dad, what did you think of my homily?” Now you must know something about my father: he is very Irish, the son of immigrant parents, who carried a lot of the “Irish ways” with him to be sure. After my question about the homily he looked at me and simply answered, “Well, I’ve heard worse!” “I’ve heard worse?” Does that mean he liked it or didn’t? Thankfully, knowing my father, I realized that this was the way he was giving his approval but not letting me carry the illusion that I couldn’t still do better.
Perhaps this is the message for us today. The faithful have done well in the face of many difficulties and trials. But, in the end, there remains that great challenge to continually return to the core grace of untainted love for the Lord, that moment when our hearts were most pure and fully alive. Surely we all long to be able to achieve such a full and loving heart within us. These days we are all aware of how the times challenge us to remain not simply “believers” but to be even more heroic in living our faith in spite of all the division that surrounds us. How we desire, like the blind man in the Gospel, to see clearly, to live in God’s grace completely, and to have that untainted love first given so freely by the Lord.
Fr. Pat Brennan, C.P. is the director of Saint Paul of the Cross Passionist Retreat and Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan.