LITURGY AND LIFE
By Bernadette Gasslein
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Oct. 14, 2012
If you had to name the industry that harnesses human creativity to the
max today, what would you pick?
I’d pick the advertising industry. While some ads are banal or
boring, many, if not most, are exciting, tantalizing and engaging. We
only have to spend an evening watching the annual compilation of the
World’s Best Commercials to see how in tune with the human spirit
advertising is. Advertisers know the multifaceted longings of our hearts;
they can make us laugh, evoke tears and tap into fears; they claim to
know what will satisfy our restlessness. They know our inner anxieties
and hopes so well that they can sell us what we don’t need, make
us want what we can’t use and keep us emptying our wallets or amassing
credit card debt in response to their lures. They can make us feel poor
when we are actually rich, and empty when we are satiated.
“Fill us with your love, O Lord, that we may rejoice and be glad.” The
psalmist today invites us to pray these words, not just during the liturgy,
but also throughout the week, to let them become a mantra that our lips
murmur day in and day out. The psalmist invites us to find our deepest
desires, and to fill them with, paradoxically, what can only be poured
out, the love of God.
The Wisdom writer names what might be commonly thought
of as “wealth”:
sceptres and thrones (power and position); priceless gems; gold and silver;
health and beauty. Advertising continues to market all of these in a
thousand different guises. It might seem that humanity hasn’t changed
much over the centuries. Our desires are so strong, yet so fickle. And,
truth to tell, none of what attracts us is bad. But it is not the path
to treasure in heaven.
That’s the dilemma that the rich young man finds himself facing.
Jesus asks him to relinquish the conventional wisdom that maps out the
direct route to eternal life; he dares him to go beyond what seems to
guarantee him eternal reward, and to let go of everything. Imagine! He’s
gone to church every Sunday (well, almost), gone to confession, given
to the annual Share Lent collection, been good to his aging parents and
never once had even a straying thought in his marriage. And now Jesus,
loving him, asks him to create in his life a completely new space where
this lad will entrust himself to God alone. Put yourself in his shoes.
God will be your only security. Ironically, Jesus asks the young man
to sell everything, then give away the money he amassed from what he
sold. That empty-handedness, that empty wallet, that emptiness = treasure.
The math is completely illogical by all the standards we know. Empty
yourself of what fills you and you will find fullness of life.
If there is any marketing campaign that we need to turn over to the best
in the industry, it would be that invitation. I’d be fascinated
to see how they would create what, in effect, would be an anti-ad. This
is the industry that has shaped us from the time we are children (the
most important “new” market is six to 18-month-old children).
We are hardly aware of it. They have been in the business of filling
our hearts and imaginations since we emerged from our mothers’ wombs — and
here Jesus is asking us today to let it all go, to let but one thing
fill us: him.
“Fill us with your love, O Lord, that we may rejoice and be glad.” What
if, this week, every time we hear or see an ad — whether online,
on the radio, on TV, on a billboard on the way to work, on a bus that
we take to college, in the washroom of our university — we prayed
that one line of the psalm? What if we let ourselves be shocked by Jesus’ loving
request, as was the rich young man, for most of us, like him, have many
possessions? What if we were to practice active resistance to the lures
offered us every day, beginning in small ways to enlarge the space in
our hearts, and to help us trust more deeply in God’s love and
God’s wisdom than in anything we can own or acquire?
Each Sunday’s eucharist enables us to experience this self-emptying.
For, in thanksgiving, the eucharist invites us to surrender ourselves
to God. This is our “thanksgiving sacrifice.” In response
for all that God has given us, we have nothing to give but ourselves — when
all our “stuff” is gone, when everything we’ve worked
hard for is counted up, Jesus points out that there’s something
more that God wants: our selves, whole and entire. That is what Jesus
gave in response to the Father’s love, and that is all — all — he
asks of us. He asks us to trust God alone. Filled with God’s love,
singing for joy, he too pours out what he has received, emptying himself.
He asks us to discern riches and to hand back our best wealth — ourselves — to
God. With nothing left but our naked selves, we are laid bare to the
eyes of the one to whom we must render an account. No advertiser can
dare promise that any product will offer the return Jesus offers: a hundredfold
and eternal life. And there’s no manipulation: “but with
persecutions.” Gulp. Fill us with your love, O Lord . . .
A few centuries ago St. Ignatius of Loyola grappled with the same dilemma.
He penned a prayer, his famous Suscipe Prayer that helps us rehearse
this self-surrender and trust. Think of what each line surrenders; some
of these may be more precious than wealth:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding
and my entire will,
all I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours: do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.
Gasslein is the editor of Celebrate!, Canada’s
award-winning pastoral magazine published by Novalis. For the past
40 years she has been engaged in various liturgical and catechetical
ministries, leading workshops around the country. Gasslein holds a
Licence in Sacred Theology with Specialization in Pastoral Catechetics
from the Institut catholique de Paris. She and her husband live in