The strictest order of monks in the Church is the Carthusians, semi-hermits who live in independent cells joined to a larger motherhouse. They pray together three times a day but only talk once a week. Each man cooks for himself, cuts wood for his furnace to keep warm, and has a perpetual, that is, lifelong abstinence from meat.
[Watch Fr. Justin’s homily delivery here.]
In 1984, a director asked the Carthusians permission to film them. They told him that it was too soon. Perhaps in ten or fifteen years. That’s their pace of life!
There are many things in their life that are attractive to the human spirit: the focus, living without hurry, the lack of distractions, but most especially, the pursuit of God alone. Only a few of us will be called to monastic life, but all of us are called to live that kind of peace, clarity, and holiness. Hearing about them and seeing them literally expands our horizons of life. That’s what Jesus is offering us today, an expansion of our horizons.
The First Reading records the prophet Jeremiah saying, “O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed” (Jer 20:7 NRSV). This is a famously difficult sentence to interpret (International Bible Commentary, 1022). Another translation writes, “You have deceived me, and I was deceived” (RSV). But the Carthusians have always used this translation, “You seduced me, and I let myself be seduced” (NAB, Cf. NJB). Jeremiah had responded to God’s call to tell the people their sins and change their ways, but they arrested, beat, and put him in the stocks, and now he complains that God tricked him (New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 282).
But Jeremiah still knows God is good. A few lines later, he expresses trust, “But the Lord is with me like a dread warrior… To you I have committed my cause. Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord!” (20:11-13). So, in the whole context of Jeremiah’s prayer, God’s call was actually sweet and he willingly surrendered (Abraham Heschel, The Prophets, 144-146).
This is why Carthusians describe their calling as ‘The seduction of the Absolute’, the absolute being Christ. “There is nothing with which we can compare him… and [He] takes hold of our hearts at once.” An amazing reality about the Carthusians is that their writing often uses romantic terms: setting out on a quest, and intimacy with God.
Jesus is always alluring us to a higher life, both more divine and more human. Let’s go through five allurements, starting with the most human.
1) The allurement to self-improvement. Many of us have experienced this: We live lives of complacency, never hitting our potential. We’re comfortable; we know we’re not strong. Sometimes we even hate the way we’re living because we’re meant for more.
Then comes the grace from God: We realize we’re called to take responsibility for our life, to stop blaming our situation, other people, and the world! Once we get a taste of this life, we can’t go back. God speaks through this because He made us to be perfect (Mt 5:48). Whenever I meet someone who has this awakening, they come alive and stop wasting time and their life!
2) The allurement to a life of meaning. This is Jacques and Raïssa Maritain:
When they were 18 and 17 years old respectively at the University of Paris, they were surrounded by atheism and materialism, which couldn’t offer meaning to life. But they were aware of the human hunger for justice and, at the same time, there’s so much injustice and suffering, all of which indicate a need for meaning. So, they gave themselves a year to find meaning in life, and, if they didn’t, would commit suicide. Thank God they found other intellectuals asking hard questions and encountered Catholics living a real faith, searching for truth and ultimately, they encountered Christ and were baptized a year later. They both went on to become influential writers and philosophers.
Many of us experience boredom or worse. Boredom is a kind of emptiness and the opposite of meaning; it’s a sign there’s no meaning in what we’re doing. But once we discover a meaning not given by ourselves (because meaning given by ourselves can be taken away) but by God, then our life starts making sense, and we can bear all kinds of suffering!
3) The allurement to generosity and service. The Canadian doctor Andrew Simone graduated from Queens and Harvard but, in 1975, felt a call from God. Here’s a clip:
When one of our parishioners here, a hotshot executive, heard this story, he said, “That’s it! What more is there?” He could see himself now using his skills and earnings truly to help people!
4) The allurement to ministry. There are many different ways to serve God, but one of the greatest is serving Him directly in the pastoral mission of the Church, because the most important mission in the world is to lead people closer to Jesus. I’m pleased to announce that our parish has hired Jacquie Chau as our full-time Director of Discipleship, who will be leading Faith Studies, Called & Gifted, Marian Consecration, the chapel, and Intercessory Prayer Ministry. She is going to lead the disciples to grow in holiness and then to launch on mission. Jacquie has left her years of teaching because she fell in love with pastoral ministry, and finds nothing more joyful than seeing people come alive in faith.
5) The allurement to authentic love. Christopher West is one of the most famous authors and speakers about Theology of the Body, and has literally helped thousands of people understand God’s joy-filled plan for human sexuality. He tells the story of when he was 19 at a Catholic college overhearing a date rape (Christopher West, The Good News about Sex and Marriage, 13). If I remember the quote correctly from a talk I heard him give, a young man was forcing himself on a woman, and she said that she didn’t want to and would do it only if he loved her, and the man said, “I love you, I love you,” and kept on forcing himself. That shocked Christopher and he said he should have beaten the you-know-what out of that guy, but didn’t. That led to a profound questioning for Christopher about human nature, and he realized that his attitudes towards women and his girlfriend were basically the same: he used them. He started searching for answers and was led to St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. He began seeing that sex and marriage were all about loving as God loves, and that sex is meant to be so much more than pleasure; it’s meant to lead us to intimacy and God! His whole life now is dedicated to sharing how God’s view of sex gives joy, and if you hear how he describes the ecstatic love to which God’s called us, then it literally changes your life!
If you’ve ever used someone sexually or been used, or left empty, with a broken heart, the truth is that our hearts are hungering for God’s plan, and the beautiful news is that He can redeem all our pain. Some people have asked, “Why should we listen to Pope John Paul’s teaching? He’s never had sex.” One answer is that he’s not as broken as the rest of us are from our sexual past. Many of us can attest to the fact that, when we experience authentic love, it gives such amazing relationships and our hearts finally feel filled.
Do we see now the heights to which God calls us? This being the last Sunday in our Sabbath Summer, we need one more opportunity to slow down and reflect.
Our parish has been blessed in recent years with a number of people responding to God’s call to give up everything to follow Jesus. First, there was Andrew MacDonald, who joined Westminster Abbey, and is now Br. Isidore.
Then, a year ago, Natalie Yuen joined the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist in Connecticut.
And next week, we bid farewell to Danah Agustin, who will go to join Natalie. I’ve invited her now to share her vocation story, and how God allures us to the fullness of life.
Throughout my high school years, I struggled with my faith and relationship with God. Although I grew up in a Catholic household, I attended a public high school where I got to encounter people of different ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds. While some of my friends were Catholic, the majority of them were not practicing, and the rest of my friends were atheists. This made me feel like I had to wear a mask to hide my faith. Soon, I didn’t enjoy going to Mass on Sundays. It felt like it was just an obligation for me. I zoned out during the homilies and Gospel, and I would sometimes leave Mass when I got bored. The mask I wore to impress my friends became the mask I wore to hide from God. Soon I started seeing my relationship with God like a toy on a shelf: I knew He was there and I still believed in Him, yet I only picked Him up or talked with Him whenever I needed something in my life.
Then, in 2015, my mom went through a reconversion in her faith. This turning point in my mom’s life inspired me to reopen my own relationship with God. So, after participating in CCO Faith Studies, I was honestly amazed to find myself at a deeper connection with my faith and relationship with God, and soon, with Fr. Justin’s guidance, I began removing my mask and opening my heart to the love of God.
But then I had to put that mask back on. Once again, I found myself struggling to please others, especially my friends. I felt jealous that all my friends were having fun doing things like dating and going to parties. In comparison with their lives, I saw my life with Jesus as dull and boring. So, I left Jesus again to follow my friends’ lifestyles. I began to agree with my friends’ views, even if they went against Catholic teachings. I would join them at late-night parties, and come home frustrated at my family. I also got into a relationship that went against my values and my faith. I became so self-conscious and insecure to the point that I started to realize all these things did not satisfy and fulfill the deepest desires in my heart.
I felt angry, depressed, and alone. But, even in my anger at God, I managed to change my mindset to ‘’God has a plan for me’’ and once this took its root, many things changed and opened up. I began finding time to take care of myself, and I did this by talking to Jesus in Adoration. The more I spent time with Him, the more I realized that even though I felt hopeless, there was one Person in my life Who still gave me hope: God. He was with me through it all, the good, the bad, and even the ugliest of sufferings.
These last seven months, I’ve spent building a relationship with the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist, here in Vancouver. In these short months with the Community, my love for God grew in ways I never could have imagined. I was able to experience what it was like to live in a community with the sisters. Every time I visited them, I always felt a sense of joy and inner peace. My visits have opened me to a greater love for religious life and the faith, and inspired me to further my discernment.
In the upcoming week, I’ll be taking the next step called pre-postulancy to allow me the opportunity to live in relationship with the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist and to continue to walk with God and the Community in deepening my discernment journey.
In high school, I put on a mask to feel wanted and desired by my friends. But now, I’ve removed that mask for God, Who wants and desires me for who I truly am. To conclude, I’d like to share a beautiful quote from Henri Nouwen’s book “The Return of the Prodigal Son’’:
“God is looking for you. He will go anywhere to find you. He loves you, He wants you home, He cannot rest unless He has you with Him.’’
Thank you. Please keep me in your prayers…