The Synod of Bishops, a meeting of selected Catholic bishops around the world, has been going on for almost three weeks in Rome, and it will draw to a close tomorrow. This Synod feels a bit more special, since I learned that one of my favourite professors during my studies in Toronto, Sr. Gill Goulding, CJ, was appointed a perita, or expert, at this important meeting. This does not surprise me at all, as I have come to know Sr. Gill as a competent yet humble theologian with a wealth of knowledge, but more importantly, as a person of prayer. What came as a pleasant surprise was the interview that she recently gave to the Vatican Radio.
In this interview, she commented on what the New Evangelization means to both vowed religious and laity, that its essence can be tracked back to the universal call to holiness from the Second Vatican Council. Sr. Gill developed this further by clarifying that this does not equate with “... how can we do new plans, new programmes, new strategies”, or “... follow(ing) x-number of rules”; rather, it has everything to do with the very basic relationship that we have with the Lord. It is “... a call to respond in love to the Lord who loves”. It has to do with how we respond to the Lord with our entire being, and not checking off a list of items.
This reminds me of the relationship between two characters in Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, that of Anna and her husband, Count Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin. For Count Alexei, his marriage to Anna is to be solemnly observed as a kind of holy duty towards his wife; it is about obligations. While it is true that those who are married certainly have obligations towards their respective spouses, it seems that Count Alexei sees his duties more as a list of tasks to be fulfilled. “If I do this, that and that, I have fulfilled my duty as a good husband.” On the other hand, Anna does not want this kind of a stale relationship; she wants to live. She wants to love. Love is not about completing a list of tasks.
Another example, and one that is perhaps “closer to home” is the rich young man in the Gospel of Matthew (Mt 19: 16-22); he wants to attain eternal life. Jesus first tells him to keep the commandments (which he did); and eventually asks the young man to give away his possessions to follow him. Not unlike the rich young man, many of us want to know how lofty goals such as holiness can be attained. Jesus replies that it is not about doing a long list of things. We can set the foundation by following the commandments, but it ultimately hinges upon a personal relationship with him that requires a kind of radical following in love, whether we are vowed religious or laity. When we follow him in love, the entire list will be fulfilled, and then some. What would such a life be like? “Come, and you will see.” (Jn 1: 38-39)
Perhaps this can serve as a reminder for us in our world that measures greatness and worth by productivity and efficiency. While being a diligent task-master gets many things done and mechanically makes the world go around, being holy is not a task. To put it another way, it is not a destination, but a journey. This journey is one of falling in love with Jesus, and it cannot be comprehended without getting personal with Jesus. Very personal.