Recently a dear friend reported that he’d just asked his girlfriend: “Are you on my team?”
“Like a third grader!” he laughed incredulously. “Are you on my team?”
Afterwards, though, I thought about how that is in a way the deepest question of the human heart. Do you have my back? Can I count on you? Are you on my team? DO YOU LOVE ME–OR NOT!?
Monday’s Gospel reading was John 8:12-20:
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.” Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true. I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.” Then they asked him, “Where is your father?” “You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” He spoke these words while teaching in the temple courts near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his hour had not yet come.
So there you go. “I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.” Those are the two people on our team: Jesus, and the Father. The Pharisees in one form or another are forever challenging us, questioning us, accusing us, tempting us to doubt. Sometimes the Pharisees come from without; sometimes “they” come from within. So we damn well right need at least a couple of people on our team.
No-one knew that better than Jesus.
Mary his mother, and John, and possibly a few others, were at the foot of the Cross. But in his final stupendous Agony, by far the most important Person on his team seemed absent.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how Catholicism is relational. We don’t worship or look for an explanation of final things to an idea, a feeling, a sensation, a principle, a philosophy. We look for a relationship with the one who created us. We look for healing for the wounds others have inflicted upon us; we look for forgiveness for the wounds we’ve inflicted upon others: both situations/crises are relational.
Another friend spoke to me recently about a difficult relationship he was having with am emotionally abusive family member. His impulse was to “go no contact,” but his spiritual advisor said, “Why not wait? Maybe over time, and with a ton of patience and hard work, you could build a different kind of relationship with your relative.”
That got me to thinking about the zillions of people walking around with God baggage and specifically Catholic baggage. Often with very good reason. They’ve been fed a distorted image of religion, God, Christ, the Church. Or they’ve been personally wounded by a person in the Church. Or what with the general harshness and loneliness of life, with its incessant suffering, losses, and calamity, they just can’t see their way to a loving Father. They would laugh you off the face of the earth, if not gag, should you remotely suggest that God were “on their team.”
Still, I thought, maybe the same principle could apply. Instead of going “no contact,” at least keep the door ajar. Be willing to acknowledge that we may not have considered the whole picture. Remain open to surprise.
Cause when I start thinking the only person on my team is me–I’m in big, big trouble.