By Daniel S. Mulhall | Catholic News Service
A "paradox" is defined as reasoning drawn from acceptable premises that leads to conclusions that don't seem to make sense. The conclusions can seem to be absurd or self-contradictory, but on closer examination may well be true.
Many of Jesus' sayings may seem paradoxical. Take for example the passage from John 12:24-25:
"Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life."
What exactly does this mean? According to this, if I love my life I will lose it, but if I hate my life I will preserve it. So, should I take up smoking and drinking and eating desserts nonstop, everything the doctor tells me is bad for me so I can preserve my life?
No. Rather, Jesus is telling us here that the more we try to hang on to what we think will save us, the less safe we will be.
True safety comes from doing just the opposite of what we think we should do. Jesus calls us to surrender our lives to God's logic, not our own.
In August 1949, a group of 15 smokejumpers -- people who fight forest fires -- got caught up in a wall of flames in what is now known as the Mann Gulch fire. Thirteen of these smokejumpers died in the fire but two smokejumpers and another firefighter survived.
The survivors did a crazy thing: they set a field of grass on fire, walked into the middle of the field, and then lay down. Those who died tried to climb above the fire and failed. The men who survived tried to convince the others to join them but failed because it seemed crazy to jump into one fire in order to escape another one.
The recently deceased writer Father John Garvey (in a July 2014 article in Commonweal called "Something is Wrong") addressed this paradox. According to Father Garvey, religion helps us to recognize the great dichotomies that exist in the world and helps us to understand that we can never hope to resolve these problems by our own efforts alone.
Instead, it is only when we stop struggling and let go that we can ever hope for wholeness. Father Garvey, an Orthodox priest, wrote, "This is where the Christian story matters so much -- we see in Jesus what the God who called us forth from nothingness is like. I know now that I can't be without him. Our brokenness is the beginning of this knowing." He added, "The people most open to grace are those who know how broken they are." Father Garvey understood Jesus' teaching: trust in God, let go of what is beyond your control.
In attempting to live out this teaching of Jesus, some people have become hermits or joined monastic religious communities. There they work and pray night and day, attempting to leave behind their sense of self so they can fulfill Jesus' teaching. And in this role, they serve as role models to us all.
But not everyone can make such a commitment. We have families to raise, work to do, obligations to keep. How can we "clothe" ourselves with Christ, as St. Paul puts it in Galatians 3:27, through our daily living? How can we become so one with Christ that we can say with Paul, "yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me" (Gal 2:20), while still living in the world.
The poet Nicholas Gordon offers us insight into how we might live in the world but not of the world. He writes:
"Pour yourself like wine into the glass, a liquid shaped by glass blown long ago."
Jesus calls us to be fluid, to become flexible so that we might flow easily into the divine glass and allow ourselves to be molded by the glass of divine will. It is a matter of openness to what God has in store for us, of being willing to consider the unimaginable, to recognize that what other people often choose is not our only option.
Our surrender to God need not rob us of our daily lives or of our identities. We remain fully human and fully capable of making our own decisions. No one else need make them for us. But to follow Jesus' teaching, we must be open to having our decisions shaped by our love for God, to humbly surrender to the loving will of the Father.
In his famous prayer, St. Ignatius of Loyola -- the founder of the Jesuits -- wrote, "I surrender it all to you to be disposed of according to your will. Give me only your love and your grace; with these I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more."
Mulhall is a catechist. He lives in Laurel, Maryland.
Blessings come from spiritual surrender
By Father John Catoir | Catholic News Service
There were three generations together in the same room: a mother, a grandmother and a 2-year-old boy. "I don't know how you did it mom, I mean you raised six kids, and I'm going out of my mind with just one," the young mother said.
Her mother smiled, and replied, "I know how I did it dear. I surrendered. Maybe you're still resisting?"
I heard that exchange and it started me thinking about the meaning of "surrender." This little word contains the secret of the ages.
No one really wants to surrender, and yet we all do in one way or another. For some of us, life imposes it on us.
It seems as if we older folks grew up in a simpler time when surrender was more widely practiced. In those days the "surrender" asked of us was seen by many of us in a religious context, as being related to the surrender of Jesus on the cross. His acceptance of suffering was our inspiration when we faced hardships in life, and, for many of us older folks, it still is!
We all realize that surrender is easier when it's done with love. Ideally, surrender is a prayer, a way of offering ourselves to God body and soul, the good things and the bad, too.
How did the grandmother do it? She said yes even when she felt like saying no, and she prayed for the gift of joyful acceptance. She surrendered to the tasks of motherhood without any fanfare because she wanted that peace that this world cannot give.
She wanted to create a happy life for her family and to bear good fruit in harmony with God's will. In other words, she saw motherhood as her vocation.
In the past, surrender was sometimes thought to include the acceptance of psychological or even physical abuse. This idea is totally unacceptable. Today's view of surrender is more nuanced. No one is called by God to be a doormat. All abuse should be exposed and punished. True surrender brings dignity to a person; it does not degrade them.
The grandmother made a good case for true surrender, which is a conscious choice that evokes gladness in one's heart. It does so because the focus is always on God's will: to serve others and not to focus on the self. It is learning the true meaning of "thy will be done."
The Lord is aware that life, with its many challenges and sorrows, is often a penance. We all pine for happier times, especially when we're in distress. This deep yearning is a desire for God himself. It will always be with us, comfort us, not let us perish.
But be at peace even when you think God is silent. Know that his strength is supporting you on good days and bad.
The definition of the word "surrender" is found in the title of the great Catholic classic "Abandonment to Divine Providence" by Jesuit Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade.
Sometimes, this abandonment to God's will, in spite of what feels like silence, makes it possible for you to rejoice even more when his mercy and goodness come through loud and clear. Sometimes we don't see the blessings immediately and only come to know them when the fruit of our sacrifice has manifested itself.
Spiritual surrender is described by St. Paul who tells us that love "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (1 Cor 13:7).
It is in true surrender that we find supernatural joy. It is not always something you feel; one can't always depend on feelings. However, in times when you feel no joy you know the truth that God is holding you in the palm of his hand.
Father Catoir is a columnist for Catholic News Service and a former director of the Christophers.
Finding peace in God's will not ours
By Father Lawrence E. Mick | Catholic News Service
The Epistle of St. James tells us that "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. So submit yourselves to God" (Jas 4:6). Some people find the idea of submitting to another person difficult to accept. Especially in American culture, we hold up the ideal of the self-made, independent individual, free and submitting to no one.
And this idea of submission often has been misused. Political or religious leaders have used it to insist on absolute obedience to them, as if they were God. Husbands can misuse it to demand submission from their wives (and even some wives misuse it in a similar way). But these are clearly distortions of its true meaning.
From the beginning of the Gospel to its end, we find submission to God's will lifted up as an ideal to follow. At the annunciation, when the angel told Mary that she was to be the mother of the savior, she was confused as to how this could happen.
But her response was clear: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word" (Lk 1:38).
Despite her questions, she accepts God's will for her life.
Perhaps the clearest example of submission, though, comes near the end of Jesus' life, during the agony in the garden. He prays that this cup of suffering might be taken away from him, but in the end, he prays, "Not my will but yours be done" (Lk 22:42).
Both Mary and Jesus show us the ultimate meaning of prayer. Too often we think of prayer as getting God to do our will, to give us what we want or think we need. But prayer is really about conforming our will to God's will.
Like Jesus, we may pray for specific things, and to do so can express our trust in God. But all prayer should conclude, at least implicitly, with Jesus' words in the garden: "Not my will but yours be done."
In a broader sense, this is what our whole life of faith is about. We are called to follow Christ, who announced the kingdom of God. Living in God's kingdom means aligning our minds and hearts and lives with the will of God. Our God is a loving, forgiving and life-giving God, and we are called to love as God loves.
And this is the path to peace. If we place ourselves in God's hands and entrust our lives to God, then we have no need to worry or be afraid. Much difficulty and internal stress comes from trying to live our lives on our own terms instead of on God's terms.
We find peace when we know we are in accord with God because that also means being at peace with others and in communion with all of God's creation.
Father Mick is a priest of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and a freelance writer.
Food for Thought
The idea of "surrender" is one that is central to our lives as Christians. For clergy or religious, the surrender sometimes comes in the form of giving up a certain type of life in order to serve God and the community. But for others, that surrender can become more complex, especially in a world and culture that constantly drills in us that anything is possible. But is it?
We want a certain outcome and sometimes are angry that it doesn't turn out according to our will. But where does that leave God's will? Do we blame God when our wishes and desires are not met? How does that affect our relationship with God if we think God is not listening?
In a September 2013 article about surrender in America magazine, Father Terrance W. Klein asks:
"Do we truly trust God? What will we risk because we believe in God? And ultimately the question: Do we truly want to do the will of God?"
He continued: "If the notion of life as a perpetual struggle of surrender seems oppressive, take heart from the great saint Teresa of Avila. In her autobiography she noted a comforting truth: When we surrender to God, rest and relief follow."