Sometime ago I was single and out with friends. Two young women came over to “chat up” my friend Dan and I. I was wearing a Fordham sweatshirt and was a recent graduate. The two women in question were at Fordham for graduate school and we began a nice conversation.
Then Sean came over.
Our friend Sean was introduced and he was asked if he was also a Fordham graduate. His response was:
“Oh no, no. I went to Iona. But I like the idea of Fordham.”
At that point the two young ladies about faced and left.
“Way to go, Sean!” I replied.
But since that time I’ve heard a number of people use the “I like the idea of…” phrase and I’d never really understood what the heck that even means!
And then I realized that there is great comfort in ideas. We don’t have to fully engage beyond the idea itself to embrace the idea in all of its fulfillment. We can keep ideas at bay, but once they take flesh, they become more than an idea.
They become enfleshed in our lives and they shape us.
The incarnation is the central point of connection with this er…idea. God cannot bear to be away from us and so he requires the Godself to enter humanity, to experience all of who and what we are. God becomes human, so that we might be with God forever.
The idea of humanity was not enough for God. God enfleshed himself in our humanity.
These days, we hear a lot about the idea of Jesus, maybe even the idea of God. “Jesus was a cool dude.” “What would Jesus do?” The abstract idea of God, or even of a distant historical Jesus seems palatable to many. But the actual flesh and blood of Jesus, the one who DIED for the love of the entire world, the one who loved and loves seemingly unloveable people…that seems too much to take for many.
Pope Francis in his New Year’s message talked about how so many people find it easy to divorce themselves from the church, while holding onto their comfortable and distant idea of God.
Without the Church, Jesus Christ ends up as an idea, a moral teaching, a feeling. Without the Church, our relationship with Christ would be at the mercy of our imagination, our interpretations, our moods.
In short, we try to make God in our image.
And instead, God makes us into His image and reminds us of that by entering that humanity, giving us His entire self.
A friend often says, “The world would be a better place, if everyone would just listen to me.” We laugh, of course, but then, I always think about how God must say this all the time. The renowned Jesuit, Bill O’Malley once put what he thought God must think of us crudely:
“Dumb bastards, they just don’t get it.”
You see, God reminds us that we are not just abstract ideas. That the church is not, and cannot be abstract. The church must be a place where we meet each other and relate to one another. And when we do this, we find God even amongst a two or three gathered.
And if we can’t do this with our friends and relations, well then, what chance do the poor have? Or are they just an idea to grapple with but not to hold onto and embrace? God calls us to put on their flesh and understand their lives just as God understands our lives.
Today, may we not be satisfied with ideas, but rather enflesh those ideas in action, rooted in love. Amen.