The topic for today is inspired by last night's initial session of preparation for the Sacrament of Penance. I get why they call it the Sacrament of Reconciliation; it's more meaningful to the people of our time, but technically it is still the Sacrament of Penance, with three Rites of Reconciliation (First Rite, one on one; Second Rite, group preparation with one on one following and group thanksgiving to end it; Third Rite, general, many on one, for emergency use only).
After introductory discussions about God's love and how infinite and for ever it is, came a very frank look at what God expects our response to that love to be. i.e. 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord s our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.' Deuteronomy 6:4.
It is something that we are all supposed to take seriously, and yet it still comes as a bit of a shock when we go behind the familiar words and ponder what they actually mean and think about how to live them.
God's definition of an acceptable response is perfectly logical if we take the time to consider who God is, how completely dependent we are upon Him, and how much He desires our eternal welfare. For God only the best will do, and calling forth the best from us helps us to develop into the best selves we can possibly become. Every parent wants their child to make the most of their unique gifts and talents, and no parent is happy when a child settles for mediocre instead of fulfilling all his/her potential.
If you have had an experience of God's personal love, then such a full and complete response is normal and natural. But if you have been living a rather worldly life with God on the very outer edges of the picture (i.e. in case of emergency only) then such a required response is draconian and totally and unrealistically extreme.
Our personal preferences cannot change God's word. Ignorance of the spiritual laws that govern the universe is no excuse.
We only have to go back to the book of Genesis to see the difference between Abel who offered God in sacrifice the very best of his flock and Cain who offered the produce of his farming. If it had been the best of the produce Cain's offering would have been acceptable. It was a teachable moment where God invited Cain to do better, and Cain decided that getting jealous of his brother was far easier.
This is really radical stuff, especially for a mum looking for the quickest sessions to attend to fulfill her child's preparation for a sacrament.
It is radical for us too, because we have to stop and think whether we are giving to God the first and the best of our selves and all that we have. Most of us, myself included, are quite comfortable in what we have considered to be 'okay' to give to God – conveniently forgetting that God calls for our 'all' and not for our 'some'.
To see what living this 'all' for God, or as holier people have put it, 'all for the greater glory of God', is all about – we turn to the lives of the Saints. We need to pay attention not only to the St Francis of Assisi and the St Mary Magdalene types, but we also need to pay attention to how the holy people around us live.
Spotting them is easy, look for joyful people who are filled with thanksgiving and gratitude and who do not complain.
How would we measure up beside the stewardship challenge of giving God 10% of our time, talent and treasure? Time in prayer and voluntary service; contributing our skills to the welfare of the body of Christ; and the monetary fruits of our labours.
It is better to start small and grow incrementally than to go all in and peter out quickly.
How are we increasing the quality of what we give back to God? In some ways this is the greater challenge. We give, but is it our very best? How could we make it better, more intentional, more conscious and less habitual and routine? Where have we slipped into compromise and mediocrity?
We might rant and rail at this, and probably will – especially in times of feeling aridity and abandonment – but that doesn't change the fact that our long term (temporal and eternal) happiness depends on living 'all for God' and 'all of my best for God'.
Like St Therese of Lisieux if we try to do our best in the little things and do them with great love, then eventually we will get there.