Have you ever written a blank check in your life? (and signed it?)
I had a conversation with a young man a few years ago who had worked at that Christian Family camp I have been a part of these past 24 years. He related what happened at the end of the week during the closing liturgy. “I came to realize that the only desire of my heart and the only thing that would make me truly happy was to give my life over to Jesus for him to use it however he saw fit. And that was wonderful and terrifying in the same moment. Because I have no idea what it will be or what it will cost me. But I know I have to follow Jesus in that way….” What an amazing moment. What he did during that closing liturgy is what I call: “Writing your blank check to God.” He had done precisely what Jesus invited his disciples to in today’s gospel. He had given to God his blank check –that of his very life.
How do you hear those radical demands Jesus gives us in today’s gospel? For my tendency is to want to water them down. Jesus is using hyperbole. He really doesn’t mean “hate your family.” He couldn’t be asking me to sell all my possessions. It would be such a stretch to take up my cross and follow him. And maybe he is speaking in metaphorical language. But metaphor/hyperbole or not, the result is the same. He asks from each of us a blank check, an unconditional consecration to him, which is an unswerving devotion to his Father. You must pick up your cross daily and follow me. You must sell all that gets in the way. You must leave behind all those attachments that keep you bound. WHATEVER they are, whatever keeps you from writing a blank check – all of those have to go. Because, only devotion to his Father and His Father’s will have an ABSOLUTE VALUE for Jesus.
These are hard sayings. You can’t get around this. You can’t explain these away. If you want to be my disciple you MUST (divine imperative here) take up your cross.
Luke’s gospel has been alternating between the demands of the gospel and the experience of God’s consolation. Today we hear of the cost side of that equation. Like a man wanting to build a tower or go to war – do you have what it takes? For it will take nothing less than a blank check written with all you are.
So, what does that look like concretely? At 3:30 this morning, mass began for the canonization of Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu – also known as Mother Teresa of Calcutta. If there is a modern day example of the necessity of writing that blank check to sustain you through the journey, she is it. What the world did not know until she passed away and her writings surfaced, is that she lived the majority of her time as a Missionary of Charity in what is called “the dark night of the soul.” With the exception of six months toward the beginning of that work, she received no consolation, no sense of the voice that called her to that life of serving the dying, no feelings of closeness to the one whom she promised to ‘never refuse anything.’
And yet, she persevered. She spent two hours a day in prayer before she would ever set foot upon the streets the care for the dying. 2 hours in prayer, giving herself to the one who was silent. 2 hours of prayer so that she could serve the one to whom she pledged her life and love. All without a sense of connection, but only that undying commitment to love the Lord with all her heart, mind and soul. Mother Teresa knew what it was to live the blank check she wrote with her life.
And you, how are you living up to the check you have written to God? Let me suggest one practical thing to do today about that commitment. Look at your calendar for this coming week. What looms before you? Then, like someone about to go to war or building a structure, ask: “What do I need for this particular event or this particular day? Perhaps it is a social event with the in-laws you aren’t quite on the best terms with. Maybe it is a tough confrontation at work. What will get you through? What do you need to do to stay faithful?
It was a privileged conversation when that college student shared his experience of the closing liturgy from Christian family camp – that moment when he wrote his blank check. What I can tell you is that he is now a priest of the Archdiocese because of how God filled out that check. And he loves it. So, whether like my friend Fr. Aaron Nord, or like the new saint in the church today, St. Teresa of Calcutta, may WE write our blank check, in love and service to our God – as we take up our cross and follow him…