Jesus does not hold anything back…do you?
By Deacon Michael Bickerstaff
There is a great old popular jazz standard written by Gerald Marks and Seymour Simons titled All of Me that is one of my favorite tunes. I particularly like the rendition performed by Louis Armstrong and another done later by Willie Nelson. The song is about a fellow who lost his heart to a girl who left him, so he croons, “You took the part that once was my heart, so why not take all of me?” But, all that aside, let’s look at the lyrics of the opening bars: “All of me, why not take all of me? Can’t you see that I am no good without you?”
Once, while listening to Sachmo’s version of All of Me, these words struck me and I found them coming to my mind in prayer later in the day. And so I asked God, why He didn’t just “take all of me.” Meditating on that question brought light… that is exactly what God asks of me — of each of us. He does not want a part of us, He wants all of us. Of course He sees that we are no good without Him, rather, that our goodness comes from Him. The question is not whether or not God will take all of me; the question is, “Will I give all of myself to Him?” Will you?
The truth is that many of us go through this life holding back something of ourselves — unwilling to give totally for the good of the other. Many marriages fail because one or both spouses entered the marriage holding back something… some part of our self. If the thing held back is essential to the marriage, the marriage was not good (maybe not valid) from the start. Maybe the failure began years later. Or maybe in our families, we find ourselves unwilling to give unselfishly to our children. The same may be true in your work. An employer pays a wage for a job done. How often do we collect our salaries, yet not give 100% effort to the tasks we are paid to perform? If we are honest, many of us can easily find examples throughout our lives where we are unwilling to honor our commitments.
Human Relationships Reflect Our Relationship with God
If we find that we hold back from people that God has placed in our life, we must realize that we are also holding back something essential from God. Many times when I have realized that my relationship God was not growing, I later discovered that I was holding back — unwilling to surrender to Him and to trust Him. At the time, there were all sorts of excuses I could trot out in my defense. There was the time when a friend was, unknown to me, going through a particularly bad period and had become rather irritating to me. My solution was to either express my irritability or to simply avoid the person. If love is willing the good for the other, how did I love? The truth is, I didn’t. I surely was not “Jesus” to my friend.
Many years ago I was called on to minister to a person who was both ill-tempered and physically ill. “Could you visit ‘Steve’ and help him? He needs to know the God who loves him.” I came up with all kinds of excuses… “I don’t really know Steve… He’s not particularly fond of the Catholic faith… I won’t know what to do or say.” This took place during the time I was in formation for the diaconate. In prayer, I knew God was telling me that deacons are ordained to the ministry of service. If I believed that God was calling me to the diaconate, I knew that I could not escape this particular call to serve. As it turned out, I believe the visit was a blessing for us both.
I confided my dilemma to a priest and he gave me advice that came from his years of experience and prayer. He said that my pride was in the way. Pride! How could that be? It seemed to me to be the opposite of pride. I told him that it was a lack of confidence, not pride. He simply smiled and said, “Yep, that’s pride — the fear of failure and the fear of what others would think of me if I failed.” That answer is so simple and so very true.
Jesus Shows Us the Way
The first of the beatitudes is, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)
Dr. Peter Kreeft, in his book, Back to Virtue, presents this beatitude in opposition to the Capital Sin of Pride. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2546) states, “‘Blessed are the poor in spirit.’ The Beatitudes reveal an order of happiness and grace, of beauty and peace. Jesus celebrates the joy of the poor, to whom the Kingdom already belongs: The Word speaks of voluntary humility as ‘poverty in spirit’; the Apostle gives an example of God’s poverty when he says: ‘For your sakes he became poor.’”
Jesus Christ, in what is referred to as His great kenosis, voluntarily emptied Himself of reliance on His Divinity. In this He did the Will of His Father and so also, showed us the path to holiness. He wants… He demands that we give up everything for the sake of the Kingdom. He asks that we do what He did. What greater act of humility has there ever been than that of God becoming man? What greater act of love – willing the good of the other — has there ever been than God suffering and freely laying down His life for us?
In Weakness is Found Strength
The wise words of the priest in whom I confided reminded me that the pursuit of humility to overcome pride is at the heart of our response of love to God’s call. For only then can we surrender all to Him and then, in our weakness, He will make us strong and transform our meager gifts into great works for the Kingdom.
We see an example of this in the miracle of the loaves and fishes in today’s Gospel (cf. Matthew 14:13-21). In the account given in John’s Gospel, the disciples are confused and perplexed about how they will ever feed so great a multitude. St. Andrew said to Jesus, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many?” (John 6:9). I can imagine the little boy overhearing the questions posed to Jesus about how to feed so many. Might he have come forward to Andrew and offered his few items?
If I had been the boy, I would have likely done nothing — after all, what could I do? How could I help? I know what I would have done… just like my reaction when I was asked to help Steve.
This boy in John’s Gospel came forward and in a poverty of spirit gave of the few meager gifts he possessed and Jesus performed a great miracle. Jesus transformed those little gifts; multiplied them to such an extent that after all were fed, 12 baskets were gathered of the leftovers. He can and will do the same with our meager gifts, if we but give them to Him. The small boy’s example is to be followed by each of us in our daily lives.
But let’s make sure we do not overlook the power of Jesus in this event. Some today would like to reduce this story to one of people sharing with one another. But that would cause us to lose sight of the reality that we depend on Christ and His Church. It is Christ who makes our work efficacious. It is Christ who provides us with our gifts that we return to Him. It is Christ who saves us — we do not save ourselves. It is Christ who is God become man who unties the knots of sin in which we have ensnared ourselves. On my own, I am incapable of anything, yet with God, all things are possible. Now that is a Kingdom I want to be a citizen of!
Take All of Me
Jesus brought about His Kingdom on earth and has called us to be a part of it. He does not want only a part of us; He wants all of us. And if we give all to Him, He will exalt us and do mighty works through us. All we have to do is say, “Take, O Lord. I am all Yours”:
“Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess You have given me. I surrender it all to You to be disposed of according to Your will. Give me only Your love and Your grace; with these I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more.” (St. Ignatius of Loyola)
Deacon Michael Bickerstaff is the Editor in chief and co-founder of The Integrated Catholic Life™. A Catholic Deacon of the Roman Rite for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Deacon Bickerstaff is assigned to St. Peter Chanel Catholic Church where he is the Director of Adult Education and Evangelization. He is a co-founder of the successful annual Atlanta Catholic Business Conference; the Chaplain of the Atlanta Chapter of the Woodstock Theological Center’s Business Conference; and Chaplain of the St. Peter Chanel Faith at Work Business Association and co-founder and Chaplain of the Marriages Are Covenants Ministry, both of which serve as models for similar parish-based ministries. He and his wife have two adult children, one daughter-in-law and three grandchildren.