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February 1977

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15)

AT first sight this Word of Life may suggest a certain weakness of approach, a lack of principle and ideals. If we are to bend so easily from one extreme to the other as St. Paul says how can we be true to the ideal of the upright and stem truth? Being all things to all men can be to end up a rather smooth operator out to achieve personal ends by buttering up everybody in the right way for advancement. Of course we know that living the gospel is not like that because it is diametrically opposed to the. ways of the world. This word in fact, far from being weak and mealy mouthed, contains the whole gospel truth, and has all the cutting edge that Jesus taught us to expect. This word makes us experience that very directly. It is very easy to remember, but very hard to live.

In the epistle to the Romans, Paul puts it in a passage in which he emphasises that all belonging to the community, each with their different job, form one body (Rom 12.1-13). Then he points out we should bless our persecutors, in other words those who do not understand what we are about. In fact he implies that it is by forming this one body that we will be able to stand firm in the behaviour and way we know to be right. It is certain we need something more than our own weak human strength to live in this way, and the strength of God is ours when we are living 'in Christ' for then he is among us when we are gathered in his name.

Our model of course is Jesus himself. He did not think it beneath his dignity to become so empty of himself that he accepted death on the cross. We can be sure that before his death his attitude was always the same, emptiness of self, and so he could give himself to others, for when a man forgets his own self, he is then able to give himself to others as they are, in sorrow or in joy. This demands a death to self constantly, which in the case of Jesus culminated in the cross. Someone put it this way in a letter: "Jesus effected redemption not by offering a solution or suggesting a line of action, but by suffering and giving himself in love. This is what we can do when we listen to people 'going on' about their difficulties. We have to be sufficiently empty to relate to the person rather than thinking of a solution or waiting to give our experience of the same difficulty. If we listen in depth, the situation is often redeemed in quite unexpected ways. . . . This weeping with those who weep can be painful, but rejoicing with the rejoicing can be equally trying."

How hard it is when we have something on our mind, especially something depressing and enervating, to get outside ourselves and love. This is what Jesus demands and it is a crucifixion. Total detachment, living to the full each moment, and above all being filled with God's presence are necessary. For us this means remaining one body with the others who want to be one too, and share in this grace that God has given us. In fact it is his will that we intensify this unity even if we don't understand as yet what this will mean, for he will reveal to us the mystery of his grace as we become more like him, in other words more one. For he is among us, leading and guiding, when we are one.

So rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep demands that we do become all things to all men, but from a position of great strength and not of weakness. We are detached, because our homeland is with God, which in practice often means the joy of being in unity with others, but in our detachment we are completely involved in the people and situations around us. So we can give ourselves to the suffering and the joyful, sharing fully in the sorrow and happiness, and yet not for one moment compromising our principle which is that of living a life of love. And this often means swiftly changing from one mood to another as one person passes out of our path and the next moment a different person crosses it.

Furthermore this gives us another possibility, of actually communicating the God we love and adore and who inspires every moment of our lives to others. This demands the greatest detachment and suffering of all but it is what Jesus went through. We have to be prepared to watch those we love, fellow human beings, who do not understand at all the reality of life that we experience and who have chosen a path contrary to this one, going along it and often to their great peril. Usually we can say nothing for it would be a judgement of the other, rather that a rejoicing when they rejoice or a weeping when they weep. But by our example, made possible only by him living within and among us, his light can illuminate others as to the real nature of our God: infinitely patient and discreet, full of understanding, never tiring of human weakness, always new and full of life, building up freedom and responsibility together with laughter and enjoyment. In a word the God we know is one with whom and by means of whom we become fully human.

Jonathan Cotton, OSB

 

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