“The Drop of Morning Dew, Zacchaeus, and Gifts of the Spirit” Lk 19, Wis 11 (11/3/2019)
Fr. Ignatius John Schweitzer, OP
We heard some very touching words in our 1st Reading. The whole universe is like “a drop of morning dew” in the hand of God. The infinite and immense God has such a tender love for his little creation. The Book of Wisdom says, “Before the Lord, the whole universe is as a grain from a balance or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth. You have mercy on all, [Lord]…because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls.” The Lord of souls is also the lover of souls. The Lord of galaxy after galaxy is also the lover of our little souls. Like the drop of morning dew, the Lord finds us lovely.
Julian of Norwich, a 14th century English mystic, has a similar reflection she received from the Lord in her “Revelations of Divine Love.” Like the drop of morning dew, she sees all of creation as a little hazelnut in the hand of the Lord. (These are like the words of encouragement we have been hearing from people this weekend. The Lord gives us these words to build us up. They are important, not just to lift us from the ditch and make us feel better, but because they lift us up and bring us in line with God himself and his plans. God wants to raise us up, mind and heart, to his view of things and his intentions for us and for the world. And so just like in Julian’s day, people today receive words from the Lord for the upbuilding of the Church).
Lady Julian says in a long passage, “Our Lord showed me, in a spiritual manner, how intimately he loves us. I saw that he is everything that is good and supports us. He clothes us in his love, envelops us and embraces us. He wraps us round in his tender love and he will never abandon us. As I understand it, he is everything that is good.
He also showed me a tiny thing in the palm of my hand, the size of a hazelnut. I looked at this with the eye of my soul and thought: ‘What is this?’ And this is the answer that came to me: ‘It is all that is made.’ I wondered how it could last. It was so small that I thought that it might have suddenly disappeared. And in my mind I heard this answer:
‘It lives on and will live on forever because God loves it, and everything exists in the same way by the love of God.’ I saw that this tiny thing had three properties that were essential to it. The first is that God made it; the second is that God loves it; the third is that God keeps it, He cares for it.”
We are like a little hazelnut in the hand of God, suspended over a gulf of nothingness, except that God has made us, he loves us, and he keeps us. What keeps us from falling back into nothingness but that God wraps us in his love, clothes us, envelops us, and embraces us in his love, like a little hazelnut in his hand.
Julian continues, “Our Lord God also showed me what pleasure it gives him when a vulnerable soul comes to him, simply, openly and as a friend. For when I think over this revelation, it seems to me that when the Holy Spirit touches the soul, it longs for God in this way and says: ‘O God, of your goodness, give yourself to me: for you are enough for me…Only in you do I have everything’” (ch. 5).
From these words of Julian, we see our problem is often we’re not vulnerable enough, like that little hazelnut in the hand of the Lord. We’re not childlike enough. The Lord showed Julian “what pleasure it gives him when a vulnerable soul comes to him, simply, openly and as a friend.”
Friendship with God is implied in our Gospel too, but it also takes becoming vulnerable before the Lord. For Zacchaeus, it took “coming down,” for the Lord to come to his house as a friend. “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay in your house.” I must abide in your house. Zacchaeus had to come down from the tree, but in a certain way, he even had to “come down” in the very act of climbing up the tree! Little boys climb trees. Little boys climb trees, not grown men, not those wanting to be taken seriously in the eyes of the world, not a strong businessman like this tax-collector.
My impression of Zacchaeus before his conversion is that he wanted to be the “big man,” a businessman hungry for success and willing to walk over you to get there. But it’s only when he let’s go of this that he finds joy. Our Gospel says Zacchaeus “came down quickly and received Jesus with joy.” Jesus calls him by name, Zacchaeus and because of the Lord’s intimate love, Zacchaeus’ life changes. He gives half his possessions to the poor and repays those he has harmed four times over. “Today salvation has come to this house,” our Lord exclaims.
We probably don’t have the same worldly standards you might find in corporate America. But perhaps for us too, we may be carrying standards we feel we need to measure up to that are not of God. They may be standards we absorbed growing up in the world. They are more psychological than moral (for, moral standards are certainly good!). They are part of what St. Paul calls the “law” at times in distinction from the freedom of the Gospel (e.g., Phi 3:3-11). It’s in “coming down” from that self-image that we too find joy and find freedom in being a child of God.
Zacchaeus does come down from the self-image he wished to present to the world. He does come down even in the act of climbing up the tree. And there he is exposed before everyone and vulnerable, vulnerable like a drop of morning dew hanging from a tree branch! He’s there like a drop of morning dew hanging from a tree branch and the Lord supports him. God made him; God loves him; and God keeps him.
Let’s be vulnerable before the Lord like that. We have been encouraged this weekend to step out in faith, to take risks in stepping out in faith. This can make us vulnerable. But then we’re like that drop of morning dew hanging from the tree branch of the Cross! Jesus is hanging there on the Cross, a man vulnerable before others—naked, emptied out, and with a heart broken open. Sometimes when we step out in faith, we end up there with him, vulnerable before others, like a drop of morning dew hanging from the tree branch of the Cross—but mingling with the drops of blood of Jesus and sharing in his work of redemption even if only in hidden ways.
For many of us this retreat this weekend, has been a graced time of accepting ourselves once again as that little hazelnut held in the hand of the Lord, that vulnerable drop of morning dew held in the hand of the Lord. And we are upheld in our weakness and poverty because of the love of the Lord. We are upheld because God made us; God loves us; and God keeps us, as a drop of morning dew in his hand.
We thank and praise the Lord for his gifts to us this weekend. And we look forward to what lies ahead, in bringing these gifts back out into the world, to our families, friends, work places, and communities. We prepare ourselves to walk in faith, to walk in the gifts and charisms of the Spirit the Lord has given us. We step out into them in faith. Walking by faith not by sight. To do this, we need to accept and lay claim to what we know the Lord has given us. In faith, we need to lay claim to what the Lord has done.
St. Seraphim of Sarov, an anointed Russian man of the 19th century, gives us a helpful image here and in terms very much related to our Gospel. He’s like a mix between St. Padre Pio and St. Francis. There’s a beautiful story I like about him. He lived out in the woods as a hermit (and we all need that “hermitage out in the woods,” whether a room in our house or a corner in our room). Seraphim would sometimes have a guest out to his hermitage. It was reported by more than one person, that, when a guest would arrive, a wild bear would come bringing honey to greet the guest! There’s that joke about the “Catholic” bear who signs himself with a Cross and blesses his meal—you!—before devouring you, but this is the real “Catholic” bear: bringing honey to guests and showing them hospitality.
St. Seraphim makes the point that we rightly pray “Come Holy Spirit!” for a fuller coming of the Holy Spirit, but in faith we need to lay claim of what the Lord has already done. St. Seraphim says, “The Lord has already come to save us. He has come to us who set our hope in Him and truly call on His holy name. So that, hungering and thirsting for His coming, we may humbly and lovingly receive Him, the Comforter, into the temple of our souls.
“Let me clarify this for you with an example, friend of God. Suppose you have invited me as a guest at your home, and I have arrived at your house at your request and wish to converse with you, and you nevertheless continue to invite me, saying: ‘Please come in, do come in.’ Then I would have to say: ‘What’s the matter with him? Has he gone out of his mind? I have come to him and still he keeps calling for me. So it is with our Lord God, the Holy Spirit” (Cavarnos, Modern Orthodox Saints 5, p 99).
In faith, we have to lay claim to the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts and the gifts and charisms he has given us. And in fact, the whole Trinity dwells in our soul by grace. St. Thomas Aquinas adopts the distinction of St. Augustine between uti and frui, to use and to enjoy. The divine Persons are given to us in their self-giving love. The Holy Spirit, especially as the Gift of God is given to us. In being truly given to us as a gift, St. Thomas insists this means that he is ours to use (uti) and freely enjoy (frui) (ST I q. 38, a. 1). So, in faith, we need to lay claim to this “use” of the Holy Spirit, cooperating with God through the gifts of the Holy Spirit and more importantly freely enjoying God (frui) as he dwells in our souls, in friendship with God.
So sisters, we have prayed much for the coming of the Holy Spirit and he is with us, with his gifts. As we go out back into the world, we step out in faith, we step out and walk in the power of the Spirit. At times we will be pushed down, tripped up, and face-down on the ground. But then we’re back to being that vulnerable drop of morning dew that we are. That lovely drop of morning dew held in the Lord’s hand and empowered by His hand, and not our own. Empowered by his hand. “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10).
It’s common enough that after the retreat-high passes and people return to their daily routine, they wonder what has happened to the graces of the retreat. Things get difficult. But nothing wrong is happening here. This is how things are supposed to be. For these difficulties are precisely for this purpose: so we depend ever more completely on God. It’s then that our faith has to lay claim to the truth of what God has accomplished for us. This is the difference this retreat is going to make: we are going to more boldly lay claim in faith to what we know the Lord has done, so his power may be made perfect in our weakness, that we might be that lovely drop of morning dew upheld by his hand and empowered by his hand. God made us; God loves us; and God keeps us. He keeps us. To him be glory, now and forever, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.