Jesus came to bring the good news to the poor, not to those who serve the poor! I think we can only truly experience the presence of God, meet Jesus, receive the good news, in and through our own poverty, because the kingdom of God belongs to the poor, the poor in spirit, the poor who are crying out for love.
It seems clear to me today that if someone is called to live with wounded people, with mental disabilities or with mental illness, people with drug problems, or whatever the wounds may be, he or she has to discover the presence of God there – that God is present in the poverty and wounds of their own hearts. God is not just present in their capacity to heal but rather in their need to be healed. We can only truly love people who are different, we can only discover that difference is a treasure and not a threat, if in some way our hearts are becoming enfolded in the heart of the Father, if somewhere God is putting into our broken hearts that love that is in God’s own heart for each and every human being. For God is truly in love with people, and with every individual human being.
I do not believe we can truly enter into our own inner pain and wounds and open our hearts to others unless we have had an experience of God, unless we have been touched by the Father in order to experience, [as Matthew did], that no matter how wounded we may be, we are loved. And not only are we loved, but we too are called to heal and to liberate. This healing power in us will not come from our capacities and our riches, but in and through our poverty. We are called to discover that God can bring peace, compassion and love through our wounds.
Jean Vanier (1992), From Brokenness to Community, p. 20
Among Orthodox Christians in America, I have seen two basic approaches to the Christian life. One is broadly compatible with what Vanier says here.
The first approach makes saints. The second has been common to every mistake I’ve made as a priest. It is also at the basis of why we have the problems we have in our parishes and why Orthodoxy in America is shrinking at an alarming rate.
One is broadly compatible with what Vanier says above. Here, the Church’s tradition reveals to me my poverty and need for God and my neighbor for, well, everything. Not only Holy Tradition reveal my poverty, it helps me embrace that poverty as the road a life of communion with God and to see my neighbor as a living icon of God.
The other approach sees the Church’s tradition as something that erases my poverty and makes me rich. Characteristic of this second approach is a certain, static and impersonal view of the Gospel. What I mean by this is that I come to see God in things (icons, Scripture, Liturgy and the Sacraments) and my neighbor as in different ways deficient.
The first approach makes saints. The second has been common to every mistake I’ve made as a priest. It is also at the basis of why we have the problems we have in our parishes. in the lives of the faith (including clergy). It is also why Orthodoxy in America is shrinking at an alarming rate.
God, in His mercy, leaves it to us–to me–to choose which of these paths to walk.