Jesus calls all humanity
Jesus wants to call people to follow him from close up. In a more formal way it can also be termed, the “call for Holiness”. Traditionally it is called as well the “second conversion”, in the sense that one can well be a Christian, but lead a sort of a good reasonable life, good moral life, faithful to the weekly Mass, but from the Grace of God’s point of view it is a lukewarm spiritual life: the relationship with Jesus has come to a halt. What does Jesus want us to do in order to awaken the grace of God in our brother’s life? Jesus invites us to “facilitate the encounter”, acting like a catalyst, witnessing to Jesus (telling others what he did to us).
Ask the Lord of the harvest
One very important task we have is to answer Jesus’ request to: “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:38). At times that task can look frustrating. But this request remains a key request. Paradoxically (if you read the previous post) we seem not only to have a part to play in the “Call for Holiness”, in the planning of it, but it is a totally different part from what we can think of: asking, in prayer, fervently, Jesus to send workers into his harvest field.
Having a personal relationship with Jesus, experiencing his love makes us burn with the desire to make him deeply known to the entire world. Would we just wait and watch things unfolding? Don’t we have a role to play in Jesus’ plan? Are we completely absent from Jesus’ plan since : “it depends not upon man’s will or exertion, but upon God’s mercy.” (Romans 9:16)? Oh no… we have to play our part in Jesus’ plan, like Our Lady, and ask and pray fervently to obtain that Grace of Jesus’ Calling to others. He asked us to do so.
Let us be united with Mary, like in Advent time, and pray and ask fervently for the Grace of God’s mercy to reveal his son to many. It is a grace, it can be obtained, we just need to discover the most powerful way to obtain it. Contemplating the one who, in her prayer, obtained for us the Messiah remains, in God’s mind and plan the most powerful leaver.
Let us repeat with Mary, her prayer: send us oh Lord the Messiah, i.e. make many people discover Jesus, make Jesus knock at the door of many persons, giving them the grace of being enthused by spiritual life, by wanting to discover who is Jesus, have a relationship with Him, and embark on the journey with him. Mary’s prayer, and Fire are so powerful. Let us unite with her. “Pray for us oh Mother of God”… obtain from Jesus for many many the grace of following him.
Easing the way for Jesus
Another aspect shouldn’t be overlooked: People are not always ready to hear Jesus’ call.
We are invited to take part in the Plan, as Jesus friends, like John the Baptist. We open the way for Jesus, facilitating for people the hearing of his call. Often his voice is so gentle, that the noise of our busy life won’t allow us to hear him. The thick layer of all our desires, personal plans, work, family, does not allow us to hear his personal voice in our heart. Our lack of commitment and endeavour to many issues is not opening the way to Jesus to be heard.
At the end of the day we are faced with this truth: Jesus doesn’t land on any soil. God always prepares the soil. We can take part in this preparation, and invite others to take part in it.
Abraham’s three thresholds
Abraham is a good example of how God prepares the way in order for us to receive his precious gifts. Jesus’ call is the most precious gift a human being can receive. Are you aware of that? But in order to value it, in order to receive it properly and make it bear fruit, the soil has to be prepared. God wanted to give Abraham the Promised land. The real Promised land for us is Jesus himself, to possess him, to be loved by him and love him, and serve him.
God could have given Abraham directly and immediately the promised land, but in fact he opened the way, ploughing the soil with powerful blades, so the soil can open in order to receive the Pearl of all pearls: the Promised land. He made Abraham go through 3 different thresholds.
1st Threshold: the freedom from my own land/tribe: He asks him to leave his land and go.
2nd Threshold: the freedom from the blood ties (son, parents, husband/wife): give me the most precious tie you have, give me your son Isaac. Do you prefer me, Jesus, above your mother, father, son, daughter, wife?
3rd Threshold: the freedom and growth: you will go to Egypt, will work, grow, and take the goods (result of that effort). His descendants spent 430 years in Egypt, in order to cross that threshold.
It is only after these three thresholds that Abraham (Abraham descendants), would start the journey to the Holy Land, by Moses.
This example from the old testament, read in the Light of Jesus, helps us understand the role of John the Baptist, or better said: the first three thresholds that prepare the way for Jesus’ call to-follow-him-from-close-up to be heard.
The three thresholds in the Gospel
We see that behaviour in Jesus with the Young Rich man. When he asks Jesus what he is supposed to do in order to reach Eternal life, Jesus doesn’t start by saying: ok, good, excellent, I love you, come and follow me. On the contrary, Jesus checks the thresholds: have you been faithful to Moses’ commandments?
The same thing happens in John’s Gospel: we have a total of 6 steps in order to reach “opened heaven” (Jesus’ side opened) i.e. God’s Glory revealed in Jesus on the Cross. These 6 steps are 6 signs that John put, as steps, thresholds, in order to be purified, and become ready to enter the face to face with Jesus’ Glory on the Cross, accessing heaven (i.e. his opened side). These signs could be divided into two lots: the first 3 and the following. What divides them is this second stage in Jesus’ follower: crossing the sea, heading toward God himself, Holiness.
In this sense, the first three thresholds or signs mentioned by John are equivalent to Abraham’s ones. Cana, the son of the military officer, the paralysed man.
Teresa of Avila’s thresholds
Now, you might ask: do we have any proof in the Church’s Spiritual Living Tradition of these thresholds?
– Of course yes. If we look at St Teresa of Avila’s masterpiece “The Interior Castle” we find the following: she paves the journey to “Union with Jesus” offering 7 different stages of growth; she calls them “Mansions”. The surprising thing is that the “second conversion” happens only at the 4th Mansion. Entering into the living relationship with Jesus, the supernatural, starts only at that stage. One can neglect all what comes before. But in fact, the three mansions that precede are very important.
1- First, she invites the reader who is closer to Jesus and more especially the reader who reached that union with Jesus (see Seventh Mansion) never to forget to pray for the persons who are in the first mansions. She considers it as a very important act of Mercy not to forget the persons stuck in these stages.
2- Also, we need to study these three first mansions in order to understand the three different thresholds that the human being is called to cross. The most striking comment she makes, not only in my eyes, but in the eyes of a great man, Fr Marie Eugène (soon to become Blessed) is how she describes the Christian life of a person in the third mansion (i.e. right before discovering Jesus’ personal call): she says that they lead a very reasonable life; you would say: they are “good catholics”. They have a good morality, they go to Church, they do good things, they help others,… All is there, but strangely, Jesus – the living Jesus – is not there! That note of hers, stressed again by Fr Marie Eugene in his masterpiece “I want to see God”, should be enough to revolutionise the Church, people who think they are awake but in fact are perfectly dormant.
Summing up we can say:
1- it is very important to understand that Jesus’ call is a grace, and even if a Grace of God can’t be planned, controlled, we are strongly invited to pray to Jesus to give his grace. We need to obtain this grace. Acknowledging that it is a grace doesn’t mean that we are helpless, it only means that we know our place: God’s initiative is sovereign. Asking Mary to obtain that Grace is really the most powerful starting point.
2- Like John the Baptist, we need to prepare for our brothers the way for Jesus’ call to be heard (bring them to Jesus’ audio range). There are things to be done in order to be ready to hear. We will still have our freedom to say yes or no, but we will be more ready. See the three thresholds that Abraham and his descendants had to undergo in order to start their real journey to the Promised Land.
Getting ready to receive Jesus’ Call
Q. You write that “comprehending the full picture of the Spiritual Journey is essential for each Christian who receives Jesus’ call to follow Him”. Does not every Christian receive Jesus’ call to follow him?
A. A call is a call (please read this post as well), it happens at a certain point in time. The fact that “all are called”, doesn’t mean that “all have yet received the call”. The call is a personal act from Jesus, to a specific person, when the person is ready. We should remember the fact that the call is Jesus’ initiative not ours. He says: “I am the one who calls you, not you”.
Is that what you meant?
Of course this is an important clarification that I didn’t personally see for years. I was convinced, after Vatican II (see Lumen Gentium, “The Universal Call to Holiness”), that “all were called”, but then, I realised that “a call is a call”, and is not automatic, or to be taken for granted. This call has to enter in time, in the life of a person. And for that to happen, one should be ready. For instance, see how God sent John the Baptist to prepare the people of Israël to receive the Messiah.
Q. Is it possible some may never be ready i.e. never receive the call?
A. To speak plainly, I would say the following:
Theoretically the call is there in God’s mind/project from day one, from the day he created us. He created us “at His Image and Likeness”, He wanted us with Him, breathing His own life. So the initial design and built quality of the human being were meant to have him: being Holy, as God is, because we are made to share His Own life, and breath His own “oxygen”.
But practically, I think that the call for Perfection is heard (/reaches us) in a palpable way when we are close to a specific threshold: having accomplished /fulfilled what should be done as it is described at the third Mansions of Teresa of Avila for example.
There are plenty of other Biblical examples that foster such a vision and understanding. God always prepares us.
1. All the Old Testament, 1800 years (Abraham) at least if not plenty more, is a preparation for humanity (the chosen people first) to receive God himself (the Messiah, Jesus, the Only begotten Son). He didn’t send his Son to Adam immediately after his fall.
2. Again: when Jesus was ready to start his mission (at the age of 30) He didn’t start immediately. God send a Prophet, the Greatest one, to pave the way for him, and “prepare” the people, through repentance and a first wash (John’s Baptism).
3. Again, and again, when the Young Rich man asked him what to do in order to reach perfection, /Eternal life, Jesus didn’t start by saying: follow me. He showed us in His reply that preparation was needed: did you follow Moses Commandments?
In other words there is a clear pedagogy from God’s part, in order to help us reach the Supernatural Grace of Jesus, the Personal relationship: the direct, personal call to follow him tightly.
I may add that if the young rich man had answered: “no, I didn’t fulfil Moses commandments”, he wouldn’t be “ready” to “hear” a new Call, a call for Perfection.
Jesus doesn’t cancel Moses Commandments, He brings Perfection to them, in Him. So, if what we can really do (with the General help of the Grace of God) is not done, how can we dare dream of higher realms? Total nonsense. Jesus said that faithfulness in “smaller things” will allow God one day to pass us unto greater things: “Well done, good and trustworthy servant, you have been trustworthy in a smaller things, I will put you in charge of greater things.” (Matthew 25:21)
Some people might object: there are plenty of persons amongst the Gentiles (non Jews) in the Act of the Apostles and in the Gospel (the Samaritan lady) who didn’t need any preparation. Well, it is not true: When Paul preached at the Assembly of Athens, almost nobody listened to him. They weren’t ready. Some Fathers of the Church say that the Greeks were prepared by God through their Philosophers. Which is not wrong, but incomplete.
And what about the great sinners? Well: sin, falling very low, sometimes creates an amazing humility. See the Prodigal son’s reflections while eating the pigs food (and compare them with the other son’s reflections). Don’t we use animal excrements to fertilise the soil ! Humility and real repentance are the best preparations to receive Jesus’ Call and Grace. But still, repentance is a long journey of rehabilitation. Even St Paul says that after his powerful conversion he needed 3 years of rehabilitation (see Galatians) and purification.
I humbly think that often we tend to abuse the Grace of God, thinking that we have the right to receive everything. Jesus himself (God) doesn’t through the pearls to the pigs (pigs were considered as an impure animal). But in fact, this is a spoiled child behaviour. Certainly He obtained for us everything (Salvation) on the Cross, but the clear teaching of the Bible shows that for each new step one has to be ready.
Matthew’s Call (Caravaggio – Rome)
So, all in all, we need to do what each step requires, in order to get to the threshold with the following step.
See the journey of the People of God in the Desert. They reach a point where they break the Covenant with God in a grave way, they don’t TRUST Him when He says: “go and fight the 7 tribes, you will win”. What is the consequence? 38 years of purification, until all the generation that was able to fight dies. This lesson alone should make us think. Poor us. (see the clear allusion to these 38 years in John Chapter 5, the healing of the paralysed man.)
If, from God’s part, Salvation is ready and available to us, from our part (the receiving end) we need to get ready to receive it, and this goes step by step, like when you build a huge house. You start with the Foundations, then you go for the ground floor and so forth.
Even if the Plan of the house is ready and clear in God’s mind, we have to undergo the building operations, step by step. Some people think that if they want to burn the stages in between this is possible. Let them think that. You don’t put a New Wine in old skins. We collaborate in the operation of our own salvation, we are co-builders. Some people believe in magic, they think that since Jesus did everything on the Cross then everything is already achieved in us. Not at all. Baptism is a Seed, and the Seed needs to become the biggest tree of the garden. Would this happen magically? People who follow Satan’s inspirations do like the magical easy way. All the three temptations that we see in the Gospel (when Jesus is tempted) are about doing something magically, in an easy way, without the use of our freedom and will, collaborating, through time.
We want to be like puppets, we like that route (the devil’s route) of negative passiveness. We want everything and NOW! We want Him to move us and direct us like dead-puppets. We present the resignation of our will and freedom.
The Call for Perfection follows the laws of construction… or the biological laws of growth. The Grace of God needs our collaboration.
God created us without asking for our permission. He won’t save us, though, without our collaboration.
Comment: “For me this article is powerful. Subtle yet says so much! Only two things in the beginning made me wonder but as I read on it becomes clear.
There seems to be a general assumption amongst Catholics that we are already sort of holy (sinless) because we are in a state of grace (through the Sacrament of Confession). There is also a misunderstanding that it is enough just by avoiding sins that are listed by the Church. Sometimes there is a lack of consideration with regards to our words/actions/thoughts that are wrong by conscience or hurtful to others as long as they are not listed as a sin. So, in a way holiness becomes ticking the boxes of sin or no sin and also relying on the “works/missions” we do. This is a shame because it is to our conscience that the still small voice of God speaks in order to transform us into the children of His intention. I sometimes wonder if that’s why Protestants mistakenly accuse Catholics of relying on our own good works for salvation.
The path of holiness is a difficult one. It requires a lot of energy, commitment and pain as you mentioned and sadly not many are willing. There is I think a preference to believe in the easier option (as though there’s one!) of our own good works/missions but it is only an illusion. Perhaps that’s why there is a constant focus on certain favourites such as abortion/gay marriage. Not that these aren’t important but if we use these as a way of deflecting from our inner self, then it works against the growth of our spiritual lives. For it is an absolute necessity in the path to holiness to look inside of oneself.” (H.T.)