Jesus said to his disciples: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows him. But you know him, because he remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”
Mychal Judge was a Franciscan priest in New York city. He was, at the time of his death, the much beloved chaplain of the New York city Fire Department. As the September 11th attacks were taking place, Fr Judge made his way to Ground Zero to minister to both the victims and the first responders. When the first tower collapsed, debris from the World Trade Center struck Fr Judge and he was killed. But during his life, Fr Judge’s ministry called him to feed the homeless, to comfort those living with HIV/AIDS, to counsel those suffering from addiction, and of course to minister to the needs of those working for New York city Fire Department. There is a short prayer that he is credited with authoring and considering the gospel passage that we just heard, I find it most appropriate. It reads:
Lord, take me where you want me to go; let me meet who you want me to meet; tell me what you want me to say; and keep me out of your way.
What I love most about this prayer is the total sense of abandoning our own will only to accept the will of God. I love the openness to be led by God. In today’s gospel, we heard Jesus tell his disciples, “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”
Throughout his ministry, Jesus made very clear what following his commandments looked like; loving God above all things and loving your neighbor as yourself. Simple but by no means easy. Jesus directs us to live our life placing God above all else; above family, work, money, our own wants. Leading this type of life is counter cultural in today’s world because it asks us to live a life where we are not at the center but God is.
One of the reasons that I’m drawn to Fr Judge’s prayer is that it lays out, so perfectly, the Christian life. Through prayer, we ask God to guide us. We seek his insight as we go about our lives. Deep down we all know that letting God into our lives on a regular basis strengthens the bond we have with him. We learn to trust him more. Having this perspective makes it easier to be able to trust in God’s commandments. Placing God first in our lives and seeking out his will brings a sense of peace that that is unparalleled. Nothing else will ever come close to the joy experienced in knowing that you are walking with God.
Fr. Judge’s prayer ends with, “and keep me out of your way.”
An odd way to end a prayer as it might imply a separation from God or a division. But such is not the case. There have been many occasions when I let my own insecurities and shortcomings get in the way. When faced with frustration I chose anger before patience. When I chose selfishness instead of charity. When I chose judgement instead of compassion. I think what Fr Judge meant for those who pray this prayer is to experience the freedom of letting go of the doubt that God will see us through. If we let him, God will grace us with the patience to overcome the most trying of frustrations. If we trust in God’s goodness, we can give without counting the cost because we know that god will continue to provide. If we step away from ourselves, mercy becomes easy and compassion and love pour forth.
Indeed, Jesus ends today’s gospel passage with, “and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”
When we get out of the way, when we trust God more, when we follow God’s commandments, we move towards a oneness with God. In experiencing this closeness to God, Jesus reveals himself to us. His presence is made known to us as the courage we cling to when we step forth to do his will. Jesus comes alive in us in the compassion we show when we extend our hand to help someone in need. Truly, the intimate presence of Christ strengthens us when we offer forgiveness and mercy.
When Fr Judge’s body was recovered, it was carried to St. Peter’s Church in the financial district in Manhattan. His body lay there before the alter before it was taken away by the medical examiner. A fitting repose to a man who lived out Christ’s commandments. A priest who got to experience Jesus in a most profound fashion because he got out of God’s way so that what flowed forth was Jesus’s love.
Now we found ourselves at God’s altar. We get to experience Christ in word and sacrament. We have the divine opportunity to feel his loving presence as we take a step back keep out of God’s way.