Do You Want To Be Well?

There was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate
a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes.
In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled.
One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.
When Jesus saw him lying there
and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him,
“Do you want to be well?”
–John 5:1-16

*            *            *

“Do you want to be well?”

Funny guy, this Jesus and His questions.  It shouldn’t take Omniscience to figure that someone who has been ill for 38 years, waiting by a healing pool, wants to be well!

But perhaps He knows that something happens when we bring our desires (or anything else) into dialog with Jesus.

Years ago, I sent my friend an article I had read.  “You have to read this!” I exclaimed, “It is the most beautiful thing I have ever read!”  A little while later, I asked if she had read the article yet.  “No,” she admitted, “because I already know what it is going to say.”

I was appalled.  But in fairness, I do the same thing to God on a regular basis.  Rather than bringing something to prayer, I think about it and come to my conclusions about what God would probably think of it.

But if we’ve read anything about Jesus, we know that He is a God of Surprises.  The words most used about His teachings and actions are “astonished” and “amazed” and “nobody else speaks as He does.”  He says, “I make all things new.”  There’s no divine title, “Lord of the Everlasting Same-Old Same-Old.”

Over and over in Scripture, we see seemingly simple conversations completely transform people.  When Jesus tells the “Woman at the Well” about her five husbands and current non-husband lover, the woman declares Him a prophet and runs to tell the town “I met a man who told me everything I ever did.”

Let’s be real.  Human nature being what it is, surely there were other people in town who could tell her exactly what her sins were! But there is something different about the way Jesus speaks to us of even our sins.

I spent a lot of time writing about today’s Gospel and had a few thousand words on paper, different themes and different stories, some funny, some poignant.  I was torn over which direction to go, which stories to include, and finally in frustration I threw up my hands and prayed, “Lord, what do YOU want me to say?”

“That’s a better question, isn’t it?” He said gently.

I have a few decades of Catholic practice and a Master’s Degree in Theology under my belt.  But my life only changed “for real” in a radical way when I committed to a daily prayer time, a set (and non-negotiable) time for God to show up in my life.  A time for not just talking about God, but for talking to Him.  A time for listening to what He had to say back.  A time for Him to reveal what is in His heart, and also what is really in mine.  I am consistently surprised by both.

The Christian life is a romance, not a hostage situation.  God waits for your consent, and He invites consent by awakening your desires.  “Do you really want to be well?”

My challenge to you today is to carve out some time to let God ask you this question directly.  It may be that He has more to say to you than I ever could. 😉

From Saint John Paul the Great:

“Do Not Be Afraid…” 

“It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is He who reads in your heart your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle.

It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.”

With All Your Heart

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASixteen years ago today, I stood in a white robe before the bishop as he anointed me with chrism and spoke the words of Confirmation: “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.” I still remember the joy I felt walking into the church that day, feeling the presence of so many saints rejoicing over me. I was ready to take part in the mission of the Church, to follow those saints toward Heaven. I didn’t know how God would call me to serve in the years ahead, but I trusted in Him to lead me forward—and that was enough for me to say yes to the journey.

So many journeys start with a “yes.” There is no way for us to know every detail of the adventure that awaits, but if we know that the one who invites us is trustworthy, then we can accept the call with joy. Our relationship with God and our trust in Him are what allow us to do His work and keep His commandments. In today’s Gospel we hear that the most important commandment is to love God, and then to see and love God in others and within ourselves—because without a foundation of love, all our efforts will be fruitless. If we don’t love God with all our hearts and all our understanding and all our strength, then we won’t be able to trust Him to lead us, and we won’t be open to receiving His grace.

He is One and there is no other than he.
And to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding,
with all your strength,
and to love your neighbor as yourself
is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.
—Mark 12:32–33

In Confirmation, we actively choose to follow God in a public way, opening our hearts to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit and offering our lives to be used as God sees fit. But before we choose Him, He has already chosen us. The graces we receive through the Sacrament are meant to be used as resources for the mission on which we are sent, and He sends us gifts that are particularly suited for us. All we need to do is to be receptive, to open our hearts just a crack and allow His grace to flood in. We are called to do things that might seem impossible on our own, but when we remember the graces that have been given us, we realize that we are armed for the task.

We are called and chosen. The unfolding of our lives is not a random set of coincidences; rather, every moment carries great purpose and meaning. God has recruited us as unfit soldiers, yet by grace His will shall be done in us.

I will heal their defection, says the LORD,
I will love them freely;
for my wrath is turned away from them.
I will be like the dew for Israel:
he shall blossom like the lily;
He shall strike root like the Lebanon cedar,
and put forth his shoots.
—Hosea 14:5–7

Reflect today on the journeys God has led you on in the past and where He might be calling you today. Are you ready to say yes to Him, to receive whatever He gives? Lay out your worries before Him so that He can demonstrate His love for you. Turn your attention toward this most important commandment and nurture your relationship with God. Let Him show you how loving and trustworthy He is, so that you can say yes to Him with all heart, all your understanding, and all your strength.


Image: Hermann Hammer, Sacred Heart of Jesus on Pinus Cembra in the Stubai Alps between Salfains and Grieskogel / CC0 1.0