Tuesday, December 21, 2010
What if we received everything we wanted?
Sometimes I think we ask for success, or love, or responsibility, and don’t know what it is we’re asking for. Sometimes we ask for a miracle, and when it comes we don’t know how to deal with a Power that can make it happen. God is powerful, and Christmas reminds us of that.
In the first reading, King Ahaz of Judah is about to be overrun by his enemies. God sends Isaiah to tell him this will not come to pass, and tells Ahaz to ask for a sign that he might be assured of what God has promised. But Ahaz is afraid, and says “I will not ask! I will not tempt the Lord!” What he means, is that he is afraid to acknowledge God.
It is the same when Jesus was born. The world was in the grip of sin, and crying out to God for deliverance. Israel was waiting for the messiah, and God delivered him. God gave John the Baptist to proclaim him, and had Jesus fulfill all the prophecies that spoke of him coming. But when Jesus came, he was rejected. The world was comfortable in their sin, and afraid to accept Jesus and what he represented; holiness and the kingdom of God established on earth.
But this is the power of God, that Jesus came. We asked for salvation, and here He is in all His power and glory. The readings this Sunday remind us of the power and inevitability of God. Next week we will celebrate the arrival of God on earth, foreshadowing the victory over death and the final return of the King of Heaven. By the promise of His birth, we know Jesus will come again.
The victory is here, and the celebration almost upon us. Now is the time for the obedience of faith, for us who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. Paul reminds us of our obligation: we have called for Him, and He is here! Let us love Him with all our hearts, all our souls, all our strength, and all our minds.
“Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord.”
“Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you!”
“The Lord God keeps faith forever,
secures justice for the oppressed,
gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets captives free.”
“Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
God is coming, and bringing salvation with Him. The readings today are full of the joy of what His coming means; and not just the birth of Christ, but the final coming. When Jesus comes in the end, when the dead are resurrected, then we shall see the new Heaven and earth. The eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the death will be cleared; the lame will leap like a stag, and the tongue of the mute will sing.
While God will do all these things, they are also signs and symbols for an experience we have no words for. When God comes at the end of days, He will bring holy perfection. But those sterile words have no depth to describe the wonder at hand. We can only say that the world then, will be like a healthy body when compared to the sinful body of the world now. And it will be beautiful.
Today we should feel that. Not just the hope that He is coming, but the joy of what that means. The promise fulfilled, and justice established. Jesus is coming to do away with our suffering, and will raise those who are suffering up to new heights. So let us be patient, like the farmer waits for a precious fruit, and remain firm in what believe. Because the Lord is coming.
As we progress through Advent, and become closer and closer to Christmas, we remember that we become closer and closer to Second Coming. We will not have to wait forever, because He is on His way.
Christmas is inherently a sad time. There is a lot of effort during the commercial Christmas season to make everything happy and giddy simply because it’s Christmas. Nobody bothers to explain why it should be so happy, and as a result, it’s exhausting. Nothing is worse than someone telling you to be happy and not giving you a reason for it.
But it’s happy because the root of Christmas is in its sorrow. We celebrate Christmas during the darkest time of the year, when nature is at its ebb. While we celebrate family, many people will be alone; We proclaim “peace on earth, goodwill towards men” but crime increases. And when Christ was born, the world was enslaved to sin and desperately in need of a savior. There is a reason “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is sung so mournfully.
But Christmas is a joyful time because we are given hope. In Advent we prepare for the coming of the Savior, who John the Baptist and the prophecies of Isaiah promise us is coming. And because God kept His promise with Christ’s birth, we believe God will come again. This is the hope that brings us joy: “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel has come to thee O Israel!”
It sounds obvious. But in Advent we remember that Christ is a light in the darkness, He is our hope against sin and death. We prepare ourselves to receive His coming, and have hope. Hope that He will fix us, that He will be what we are searching for, that God will be faithful.
It is easy to lose faith. But Paul tells us “that by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” This is the time to remember that. The Christmas spirit is the faithful reminding each other not to despair, that God is coming for His people. We remind each other that God remembers us in our pain, that He is faithful. We show each other love at this time of year especially because God once did, and we remember that God is good.
Take the time to read the passage from Isaiah for today. This is what God has promised, and it will come to pass.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Today is the first Sunday in Advent. This is the beginning of the Church’s calendar year, and a time specially dedicated to preparing for the arrival of Christ. It is also a time dedicated to new life. Converts wishing to enter the Church are formally accepted as catechumens (one receiving instruction from a catechist), and take their place alongside their new brothers and sisters.
We emphasize new life this time of year to prepare for Christ’s coming. Liturgically, this is symbolized by our preparation in Advent for Christ’s birth Christmas morning. But in our own lives, we emphasize new life to prepare for Christ’s coming at the end of days.
All Christian life is a call to repentance, so that Christ might recognize us as His own when He comes again. The readings today emphasize that our repentance and new life must begin now. There is no time, for our salvation is even nearer now than when we first believed.
Advent is a time to remind us that He is coming. These four weeks count down to Christmas like the days of the world count down to the Resurrection. We have no time to waste on lust or drunkenness, promiscuity or jealousy. If we were told we had to change our lives by Christmas, would we have enough time? If we only had tomorrow, what then? We do not know the day or the hour, and Advent reminds us that we need to be mindful that he is coming, whether we are ready or not. We must be prepared!
The new life we are called to live begins in the Church, in church. “Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.” Here is where Jesus should find us, not only because He calls us here, but because it is where holy love and friendship are found. Advent also reminds us that Jesus came for our salvation, and His birth that we prepare for marks hope for us. We should go rejoicing to the house of the Lord; because of Him the nations will sue for peace, neither raise the sword against one another nor train for war again.
“Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord, / Because of my brothers and friends/ I will say, “Peace by within you!”/ Because of the house of the Lord, our God,/ I will pray for your good.
God is the inspiration for every good thing within us, and it is His hands that heal us, His grace that blesses us. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord, to prepare for His arrival!
Monday, November 22, 2010
What does it mean to be king?
In the first reading, to be king is to bear responsibility for one’s people. The tribes of Israel are bone and flesh of David, and he is responsible for them because of his kinship with him, because he has saved their lives, and because God has commanded it of him. Thus David agrees to be their king because it is his responsibility.
In the second reading, to be king is to be worthy of worship. Jesus is the image of the invisible God, and in Him were created all things in heaven and on earth. He is head of the body, the church. All the superlatives are His, and in Him all fullness is pleased to dwell. Jesus is King because he deserves to be.
But what does it mean to be King on the cross? David ruled from the throne in Jerusalem, and all Israel paid him homage, listening to his words. When Paul writes of Jesus, He is King of Heaven and all creation rightly gives Him praise. But on the cross, in this moment of all the moments of His life, Jesus is the most Kingly. At the height of His sovereignty, Jesus allows Himself to suffer and die, and feel despair.
For Jesus, to be king is to have all the power in the world and beyond it, but to accept pain. It is to have authority over countless angels, but not to relieve the suffering even of the one man who offers Him worship in His humiliation. It is so strange that we wonder why we suffer, when Christ in all his glory suffered even unto death. We who chase after Him, chase Him to the cross.
When we pray, do we pray like the first thief? Do we say, “if you are God, then do such and such?” God can, of course, do such and such, but He has showed us that in authority there is humility. Jesus would not have been worthy of being King were it not for the cross, if not for the responsibility he bore to all the world: because He came to redeem his people from bondage, to claim victory over sin. Like David, He has won us to Himself.
Can we see our King in His humility? Will we worship Him in ours? The second thief saw Jesus suffering, and He believed in God. Who can watch God die and say “Remember me when you come into your kingdom?” To believe your King can command countless angels, but refuses to, requires a faith I marvel at.
Faith is proof of what is hoped for, and evidence of things unseen. It is faith to believe in a suffering King. It is faith, to talk about God having faith, to suffer and die as King for a people that betrayed you, who lived before you walked the earth, and who are still yet to be born.
On this Solemnity, we should remember our King who is worthy to be praised, and we should pray for the faith to worship Him in our suffering, our suffering King.
We are afraid of weakness. Everything in our culture encourages us to be the best, the prettiest, the strongest, the smartest…even in reality tv shows we watch people who are encouraged to be the most promiscuous, the most abrasive, and the loudest person they can be. Our culture believes in bullies, because only the person who can force their beliefs to be accepted is allowed to hold those beliefs. Might makes right, and it doesn’t matter whether that right is of God or man because it is the strength of the person or group advocating that counts.
And this is wrong.
Christianity is not about overcoming oppression through strength, but through love. It is ironic; we are commanded to be weak because behind us we have the greatest power in the world. Jesus is stronger than everything, than sin, than death, than all the kings of all the earth. We are called to be weak to let His strength shine through us.
This is why Jesus says to not prepare a defense of yourself beforehand. Because when we are persecuted for His sake, He will give us an eloquence to move the stony hearts of mountains. Sometimes He speaks with our suffering, and the death of His martyrs; but then their blood writes upon the hearts of those who witness them: God is Love. And a Love worth dying for is a powerful sermon to give.
Just the same when Paul tells the church in Thessalonica to work diligently and not mind the business of others. It is weakness to be obedient and take responsibility for yourself, not trying to rise above others. We who would try to give commands to other people seek to gather strength to ourselves, but we are called to be weak and give all our strength to God. That means trusting God to use our brothers and sisters in His Word better than we can.
Because our God is the God of justice. All power and glory are His, and when He comes to rule the world He will take it back upon Himself. We who claim power now will have it stripped from us; we who claim places of honor at the table will be sent down to places of dishonor. But those who fear God, who submit in their weakness to the strength of His love, will be raised up. To seek the power of authority is to seek sovereignty, and ruling over others is God’s province. If we can be weak, we can learn to move with the authority God gives us.
In weakness there is strength, because all the power of God and the Holy Spirit wells up within us. Serving Him in humility lets us act with Him. But to be strong and seek power is to rely upon yourself. If we try to accomplish things through our strength and not God’s, we are doomed to fail because His strength endures forever, not ours.
It is terrifying to be weak, and to give up the power we have. But let us let go, and pray that God moves within us. He can accomplish more than we can even understand.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
I love the books of Maccabees; their story is of a family that started a revolution for the Lord, that reclaimed Israel from pagan hands and held it as a whole nation again for several decades. The first reading comes from the beginning of their story, before the brothers have risen up against their Greek oppressors. The story of the brothers is meant to serve as both an example of injustices done to the people of Israel, and an example of Jewish bravery.
At the time, many Jews were letting go of the laws, and adopting Greek practices. The Temple in Jerusalem had a Greek idol placed upon the altar, and Jewish men were participating in Greek gymnasiums, letting themselves become indoctrinated. The story of the brothers at once reminds us that the laws of our ancestors are worth dying for, and God will reward our devotion.
Their story is an apt one for our time, if not all times. The people of the Church are constantly tempted to adopt the ways of the world. The Church is always old fashioned because it is centered in Tradition and the teachings of man whose story is 2,000 years old. We care so much about acceptance, and God demands that we offer up that desire on His altar. God told us that if the world hated him, it would hate us as well. If we are truly God’s we are counter to the world, and will at worst be considered weird; at best, dangerous.
The Resurrection is supposed to be comforting in the face of all this. God is not “God of the dead, but of the living;” in a way, I think this is the strangest of all the things we believe, but it is the center of our faith. Jesus rose from the dead, and we believe that because He did, we will too. We believe He has power over sin because death could not hold him. We follow God now, so that we might have everlasting life.
It is hard to take comfort in that belief though, because death can be so terrifying. Even pain is scary, and we all seek to avoid suffering like the plague. Paul knows this, that’s why he always instructs the churches to pray for him, and let them know he prays for them as well. And this is where the story of the brothers can inspire us: in the community of faith, we encourage each other to persevere towards the end.
Those who are strong in faith uplift those who are struggling; as we each experience doubts, the roles reverse. Together, like the brothers, we stand firm in what has been passed down to us, persevere until the end of the race. We remind each other that God is faithful, and in our suffering on His behalf there is merit, and hope in death.
Just as God does not abandon us when we hurt, He will not abandon us when we die. This is the hope Jesus offered us, that our life in pain and suffering would have its reward. What He has given us is worth dying for, but also it is worth living for. We should take from these readings a determination to live a life more openly of Christ, for we have our faith, our brethren, and our hope of rising again.
There are all kinds of faith between people and God. Some people are all in their heads with God, worshipping Him out of a love for the theology and idea of Grace. Some people have a very personal relationship with God, because He saved them from their dark place. Others love God as a friend who walks with them always, hand in hand fingers entwined. All of these are ok, we all see God through different prisms. But I bring it up because while there is variety between believers, there is also variety in how God presents Himself to us. Sometimes we read about Him as the just judge, and other times the loving shepherd. Sometimes He is the God of smiting, and other times He is the God of forgiveness. So much of a minister or theologians’ time is taken up trying to reconcile these different aspects of God.
To an extent, they cannot be reconciled. God is both the just judge and the merciful forgiver. There is a Heaven and a Hell, whatever that means. The tension between salvation and damnation is the genesis of the phrase “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
Today we read about the love of God. Though He can do all things, He has mercy on us because of His total power. The passage from Wisdom is beautiful because it brings the love of God, which extends to infinity, to us small, sinful people. This is why people fall in love with God, because of the mystery behind why a God would love us like this.
Zacchaeus is the man who falls in love with God because he is curious. Is there really a god who loves us so extravagantly? Is there really a god who loves me like that? My favorite part about the story of Zacchaeus is how ridiculous it is. Here is a man, who is wealthy and important, who perhaps out of pride does not order the crowd to part so he can see Jesus, but instead climbs a tree too see him; in effect standing out more in the tree than he would ordering the crowd to part. I think this is where God finds us so often, in those moments where we cannot help but search for Jesus in spite of our pride, and so become fools for Christ.
We cannot find Christ without being fools. Only fools believe in proof of what is hoped for, and evidence of things unseen. Only fools could believe an all powerful God loves us despite everything. Only we would let ourselves be weak, and love someone who lets us know pain and sorrow so closely.
There is a joy to abandonment, to being foolish. How else could we explain a man who gives away half of everything he owns, and repays his injuries four times over? There is such a joy to letting go, to believing something this good really exists, that God has and will come into us.
“For you love all things that are and loath nothing that you have made; for what you hated you would not have fashioned. And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?”
Rejoice and be glad, I will praise your name for ever, my king and my God.
Monday, November 1, 2010
The Lord will rescue those who are just and faithful to Him. In persecution do not despair; doubt not God nor the victory of salvation He has placed within you. Though we sin, sin cannot prevail against the strength of the Holy Spirit. In pain, we need to look to humility, to let ourselves be weak enough to need God.
When Jesus relates the parable about the unjust judge and the widow who nags him, he notes that the judge renders a decision in favor of the widow “lest she come and strike me.” Another translation reads: “yet because this widow bother me, I will vindicate her, or she will wear me out by her continual coming.” And Jesus does not need to interpret this any further, but says that if the unjust judge will respond to the widow through fear or annoyance, then so God will. It is interesting because the chosen who call out to God day and night, are held up as justified in seeking their rights from God.
We as Christians emphasize always our duty to God, and talk about prayer as something that changes the “pray-er,” if not necessarily God’s mind. We remind ourselves to expect suffering, because all of God’s followers suffer on account of God. That’s how we know we are his. But we shy away from the idea that we have rights towards God, because He is God and we are not. But we do. God is King; we are His Body, building His Kingdom; we have rights for Him to support us in that.
When Israel is threatened by Amelak, Moses does not hesitate to tell Joshua to defend Israel. And Go preserves the, because they are on the path He set before them. Paul exhorts Timothy to stay faithful to what he has learned and believed from his youth, because it is true; to help Timothy, Paul refers him to the Scriptures, which are God’s and useful for “teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” We have a right to expect Scripture, to have a guide for us in spreading the word.
The point is that God is with us, that “The Lord will guard you from all evil,/ The Lord will guard your life./ The Lord will guard your coming and going,/ both now and forever.” Our God is with us. His name is Emmanuel, “God with us.” It is clichéd to say that God does not give us more than we can handle, but it is more accurate to say that He gives us everything we need to continue the mission. There is a subtle difference, because the first assumes we have everything we need to handle what happens to us, because God has given it to us. But the second is different, because we do not always recognize our gifts.
Let us not forget what we have been given. We have been given the Word of God in Scripture, to guide us and succor us in our distress. We have been given salvation, and the Holy Spirit welling up in our hearts. We have been given the Church, to lean on and hold us when we are struggling. We have the charisms that God has given us, and the family and friends our lives our intertwined with. All these things are here for us, and God has prepared all these things to accompany our prayers.
We are not alone, and God holds all of our prayers in His heart. His love is overflowing for us, and we should never hesitate to ask for help in our distress. Our God hears our just plea, and will respond. We must make sure then, to recognize when He comes.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
“O my God, I am so sorry for having offended you,
And I hate all my sins, because of Your just punishments,
But most of all because they offend You, my God,
Who are all-good and deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve, with the help of thy grace,
To sin no more and avoid all near occasion of sin.”
Asking forgiveness for our sins is so cathartic. There is a reason while Jesus told us to confess to one another; we can ask forgiveness in our hearts, and pray for it out loud, but there is something in the way we communicate our own sinfulness to another person that is such a release. Saying our sins to someone else makes them real, and leaves you transparent, with no more secrets to hold. Not that anyone else but God forgives sins, but God in His wisdom knew that that we need each other, that any sacrament of the Church, any visible manifestation of God’s grace in the world, must also include the communion of saints. God sent his disciples out two by two to preach the Gospel, and the Church has been together ever since in every moment of our lives.
The readings today are about the joys and responsibilities of forgiveness. Though both Elisha and Jesus cure physical sickness, disease is always associated with sin in the Scripture. When Naaman is cured of his leprosy, he rejoices in God, who he recognizes by His power. He wants to give a gift to Elisha, but Elisha will not take credit for God’s power. For all glory, and all honor is for the Lord; Naaman realizes this, and takes the earth to always be in Israel the land of the one, true God.
Of the ten lepers, however, only one returns to offer God praise. Jesus sent them to the priests to be examined, that they might be let back into society. But only one remembers that it is not the priests, but God, who is the one to be remembered. Though God in each case uses people for healing and forgiveness, the lesson is that to Him alone is honor due.
As members of the Church we can forget God sometimes. We remember the rituals, and the motions, but lose God in the routine. Always, and unceasingly we must praise God. He has done wondrous deeds, and his right hand has won victory for him. And for us, He has won a victory over death that we share. Hallelujah!
We have forgiveness because we fall. We forget what Jesus taught us, what Paul reminds us: that “If we have died with him we shall also live with him; if we persevere we shall also reign with him.” When we sin, when we deny him, we forfeit our salvation. But even when we are unfaithful Jesus is faithful, because he cannot deny himself who lives within us.
Jesus is in our hearts and walks beside us in victory. Let not sadness, nor anger turn us aside, nor lust or jealousy. But God may we be yours, remember you before us always, to sin no more and avoid all near occasion of sin. Thanks be to God.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
How long, O Lord, how must we cry for help and you not listen? How long must we suffer the abuse of children in the Church? How long must we stand by and watch our soldiers kill in the name freedom? How long must we persecute, slander, and shame our Christians into hiding the Gospel from those waiting to hear it? How long must we wait while Your Word is twisted into hateful things…
Oh God, how long?
It is hard to cry out for help, to ask for more faith to help us endure, only to hear Jesus say: “When you have done all you have been commanded, say ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’” Like a slap in the face, we feel that God makes light of us, the parent who doesn’t understand and says “It’s not that bad.” This is the God of Mercy and of Love! If we cannot grieve to God, who can we grieve to?
“Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily. For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint. If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late. The rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.”
Endure. Though the sorrow may last for the night, joy comes in the morning. Christ told us, that if the world hated him, it would hate us as well. Pray hard for faith, and hold onto it. Because our God really is the God of mercy and love, and are souls are kept safe with Him. We are tempted so strongly by the Devil to disbelieve in the victory Jesus brought us, but we must hold fast to our faith, our evidence of things unseen. And sometimes unfelt.
The parable of the servant who is required to do more work is an example of our purification under suffering. The world will not let it be easy for us to love Jesus. It will be hard, and God’s kingdom will demand everything of us to be brought about. Like the servant who must work when he is tired, or iron which must be beaten many times in the forge, to be God’s we must be His past all reason.
But past all reason is God. We who have been tested and tempered time and again but cling to God have faith strengthened more deeply than we could have known. We are the ones who make converts, whose faith like Abraham’s is the realization of a victory unseen, but felt powerfully. How long must we suffer, O God how long? More than we can bear, until only God is left.
“Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.” We may suffer, but we do not suffer alone. We are in pain, and Jesus on the cross stands in solidarity with us. Endure, with all the faith you have and the strength of God behind you, the One who is and ever shall be, the I AM. Victory will come, it has its time, it presses on to fulfillment and will not disappoint. Endure with God.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Link to Mass Readings: http://www.usccb.org/nab/092610.shtml
Scholars like to talk about religion as a normative function of society. As in, religion teaches children how to behave, and conform to cultural norms. Schoolbooks describe religion as social control, and for the most part they are correct. Religion is often a mirror of what the people attending church already think and feel.
But that isn’t what we read today.
“Woe to the complacent in Zion!” cries Amos. Shame to the people of God who drink wine and perfume themselves, but are not made sick at the suffering of their brother! They shall be first ones exiled, and their self-absorbed celebrating be done away with.
In his parable Jesus condemns those who aren’t aware of the suffering of the poor, who are content in their own blessings. We aren’t told that the rich man was especially wicked; we are only told that in life he received what was good, while Lazarus received what was bad. Now in Hell the rich man advocates mercy. But it is interesting that while we know Lazarus by name, we don’t know the name of the rich man. And this is the sin: the rich man did not know Lazarus.
We are not called to be the normal of society. Christian writers spend a lot of time making distinction between religion as the organization and the spirituality we follow. They replace Christian with Christ follower, trying to call back to a more simple Gospel, untainted by church politics or bickering creeds.
But this is our religion: to be passionately in love with Jesus, and passionate in our support of the poor. “But you, man of God, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness…I charge you before God…to keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ.” What is the commandment? Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as you love yourself. We are Catholic and we believe.
We should not be normal, Jesus isn’t normal. Jesus was the Son of God, and we want to be like that we can hardly help raising eyebrows. We should be weird, because people will think we are strange, talking to and touching the poor. Our friends will think we are going overboard when we volunteer all weekend, or wasting money when we tithe away our income to the St. Vincent de Paul. At best, they will say what a good thing we are doing, and box us away as “Saint Mary” or “Saint Tim.” It will be something that we do because we are strange and our goodness will become a fault that our friends overlook because they can’t understand that we give our lives to everything but ourselves. But every one who loses their life will gain it.
We are Catholic and we remember who we follow, a man who spent his ministry among the poor and rejected, who did not come to found churches but disciples who would follow God.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Praise the Lord who lifts up the poor! Praise Christ Jesus, who gave himself as ransom for all!
These are not separate ideas, though we tend to think so. We come to church and learn about salvation, that Christ died for sinners so all might be saved. But whom do we see when we look around in church? Where are the poor who stand equal with us in salvation? It is shameful that so often our churches are divided not by geography, but by economics.
Time after time Jesus exhorts his disciples to take care of the poor. Feed my sheep. What you have not done for the least of my brothers, you have not done for me. Go, sell all you have and give it to the poor. As Christians, we have a special obligation to minister to the poor as the vanguard of our faith. Without works our faith is dead.
The Gospel seems strange because Jesus lifts up the dishonest steward. But the point is that the steward knew his wealth and status would not last, so he acted prudently with the wealth he possessed at the time, forgiving his master’s debts ensuring he would be welcomed by his master’s debtors. We are in the same position. We know that we will die and lose the wealth and status we enjoy on earth. But if we were prudent like the steward, we would use our wealth to take care of the poor, and earn favor with God so that we are welcomed into eternal life.
Not to say that God works that way, but it would be the prudent thing to do. True wealth is one of the themes of Luke. There is no honesty or glory in earthly splendor, for how can there be glory when fellow Christians are oppressed and marginalized? Wealth creates injustice, and we worship a God who “raises up the lowly from the dust;/ from the dunghill he lifts up the poor/ to seat them with princes,/ with the princes of his own people.” This isn’t prophecy for the end times, but a mission we are called to partner with God in now.
Those in power have a special responsibility to those who are not. The first reading condemns the vendors who use their power to cheat the poor, and the second reading asks us to pray for those in authority that they may keep the peace. This thing, to keep the vulnerable from exploitation and violence, is our responsibility.
The early Christians were not capitalists, nor even socialists. They lived in a small community and shared everything between themselves. They were a community. The disciples knew and taught that to follow Christ meant placing ourselves on an equal footing with all other believers, even seeking to be the servant of everyone else. The concept of nations, democracy, politics, democrats, kings, patriotism, laws…these are not sacred to God.
In God, there is one nation set apart, the priesthood of all believers. There is only one King, one set of laws which He did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. Love your neighbor as yourself.
We are called to be in this world and not of it, and our allegiance is given to none but God first and the people He has given to us to care for. Our politics are those of the poor, and we should defend neither corporation, nor country, nor authority before we defend the exploited, the downtrodden, and the vulnerable.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
God will forgive us.
Incredible but true, no matter how much we can’t believe it, His mercy is ours for the asking. The story of the prodigal son is one of the most familiar Gospel readings, and because of that it is one of the easiest to dismiss. We know the son is sinful, and is forgiven because the father is so happy to see him return. We understand that God’s love is infinite, that His forgiveness is there for the asking, etc, etc.
But God really will forgive us.
The story of the prodigal son is always relevant to our hearts. Sometimes we feel like the older son, and want rewards for being “good Christians.” But much, much more often we feel like the younger son sitting in the mud, hungry and wanting to come home. The hardest part is having to ask for forgiveness, whether it is due to pride, shame, fear, or despair.
But God forgives us.
The Lord has made us a promise, that those who believe in him will inherit eternal life. In return He has demanded everything and every day we try to hold something back; but He has created us for salvation. God did not destroy the Israelites because of His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and just so He will not destroy us.
This is the Good News: that our sins can be washed away. “A clean heart create for me, O God,/ and a steadfast spirit renew within me.” There are new beginnings. We cannot believe in a God who will always forgive us, because we cannot always forgive others. But here is the victory of salvation, that we will become like the God we worship, and become the city on the hill where the Lord “forgives us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us.”
This week, let us acknowledge who we are. We are sinners, but also sons and daughters who have a home where forgiveness is cheap, because the love between us and our Father is priceless. Our God is He who rejoices during the Sacrament of Reconciliation because that is what is! We as Catholics have learned that confession is serious, and penance must be made with a reverence both severe and respectful to God. But if we truly listened to the gospel, instead of confessing that we had gotten drunk “partying” the night before, we would leave the confessional with a new resolve for jubilee!
We are a backwards and stiff-necked people. We worship the God who turned water into wine, who transforms our earthly lives into ones of Heaven. Let us not fear but anticipate confessing our sins, and be transformed from a sinner in mud to a child feasting at our Lord’s table.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
The readings today are complex, and offer a conclusion we are familiar with but not in the usual way. What we should take away is this: without God, our lives lack meaning and true purpose, and unless we trust God alone we are not truly His people. It is important that in the readings today Paul renounces slavery, but it is interesting why he does it. To set this up, let’s build ideas upon each other from the readings.
The Psalm presents a theme easily familiar. “You make an end of them in their sleep;/ the next morning they are like the changing grass…Fill us at daybreak with your kindness,/ that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days.” One day God will mark an end to our lives. Because of death, we need a way to give meaning to our lives. Living according to the Word of God is that meaning.
But the first reading asks “Who can know God’s counsel?” If our faith was one of mystery, then we could not know. But God has sent His Holy Spirit from on high, when Jesus Christ lived and died for our sins. In his actions and his teachings Jesus gave us wisdom to live aright.
Jesus teaches today that “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” This from the man who said “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” The key is in one of the symptoms of hate: those we hate, we have no dealings with. We refuse to rely on them, and will suffer endlessly to avoid being lowered in their eyes. It is in this vein that Jesus teaches us to “hate” others.
In the gospel, Jesus knows he will have to die and leave his disciples to carry out God’s Word. If they really on others to do the work, if they ignore God’s calling because they believe someone else will take up the slack, they cannot be members of the kingdom. God knows our hearts; we know that the world cannot make us happy, only God can give us peace of spirit and joy of heart. We must rely on Him completely for that, and give ourselves wholly to Him. Which is terrifying.
It is easy to use others as a crutch, to live lives they would set out for us. But we must “hate” them, and turn our faces from their expectations. God has a plan for us, and to ignore that plan is to turn away from God. In doing that, we cannot be God’s disciples. It is not enough to be “good.” The kingdom of God can only be made manifest through us, it requires each of us to say yes to Him completely to be present in the world. We must be strong enough, and weak enough to rely on God in our lives.
This is why Paul sends the slave Onesimus back to Philemon. He was becoming a crutch, not only for Paul in comfort but for Philemon. For Onesimus let Philemon feel like he was doing good in supporting Paul, but keeping Onesimus as a slave wasn’t enough in God’s plan. Paul encourages Philemon to accept Onesimus back as a brother, encouraging him to rely on God totally, and bear in his own person God’s plan. God has called each one of us by name; we must be willing to take up our own cross. Onesimus cannot be proxy for Philemon.
It is scary to follow God. He demands nothing less than everything. But God has everything to offer, because the man who loses his own life shall gain it. We cannot let fear keep us from God, instead we must hate the things that keep Him at arms length. Whether those things are family or wealth, reputation or comfort, we must detest everything which will not let us take up our own cross, and follow God.
Thursday, September 9, 2010
The Church is our home. God, in His goodness, has made a home for his poor. The psalm mentions orphans, and widows, the forsaken and the prisoners, and it literally means that for each of these God has made a home; but we should not fail to recognize ourselves among them. We are all needy, and have all come to be healed.
The readings today warn against the pride that comes from forgetting that. Yes, in the words of St. Paul we have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, in becoming part of His body. And we celebrate with the angels every Sunday a mystery which still awes us two millennium after it happened. But sometimes we become too familiar with what we have been given. We assume that we are wiser in God than our brothers and sisters, or pride ourselves in the extremity of our devotion. Or in studying the Scripture we become fixed on the meanings we have divined and close our ears to anything else. It happens.
But it does not matter how much we have to give, if we do not have the spirit in which to give it. Jesus cautions us to cultivate a humility beginning with smallness. It is sometimes hard to hear the words “What is too sublime for you, seek not,/ into things beyond your strength search not.” We, especially as Americans, grow up thinking that everything is within our reach if we want it and work for it. But Christianity is not like that. Everything begins in faith where one has nothing, not even the certainty of God. In faith, we grow depending on the wisdom God plants in us, and grow more strongly when we work less and listen more.
It is not an insult for us to be told not to seek into things beyond our strength. It is a waiting, where the victory we have won expands within us, and we rejoice in the Lord not because we are saved, but because He is God. It is not easy; it takes a long time to change our hearts. But God calls to the Holy Spirit inside us steadily and unceasingly, like waves on a shore.
In humility, we are always the needy ones. We take the lowest place because others merit it more. When Jesus enjoins us to throw a banquet and invite “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,” we can do so because even in our abundance we recognize our poverty before God, and recognize the blessedness within the poor of our world.
Some of those called last shall be first, and those called first shall be last. In humility we recognize what we lack, and wait in our soul for God to make up what is lacking. In our poor humility, we share our abundance of food, knowledge, wisdom, and strength, knowing how little it is. But we do so with joy because of the God who became poor with us, whose blood upon the cross teaches us how to walk humbly with God more eloquently than ten thousand words.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
“Praise the Lord all you nations;
Glorify him, all you peoples!
For steadfast is his kindness toward us,
And the fidelity of the Lord endures forever.”
Do we believe the lines above? In the first reading, the Lord speaks through Isaiah and prophecies about the time when Israel will be broken, and the Israelites scattered as fugitives throughout the world. If we were the Israelites, and had lost the Promised Land promised to us by God, could we still say “steadfast is his kindness toward us, and the fidelity of the Lord endures forever?” Can we say that after someone we love has been killed, or we have been crippled by disease? Can we praise God when we are at our lowest?
That is what the readings are about today. When the Israelites are scattered, they make brothers and sisters of the strange nations of the world because they can still praise God as Good News when they have lost everything. They keep their faith when they have nothing else, because they can preach with the faith of Abraham; the faith that proclaims the promise and the victory of God even in defeat.
It is easy to be gracious when we are winning. When we make lots of money it is easy to tithe. It is easy to love when we are loved back in return. It is harder to love under discipline. When we were young and punished for our mistakes, we didn’t run to hug our parents. We sulked and ranted and wailed because we thought it was unfair. Why would we give love when we receive none in return?
But we are called not to be children any more. We experience pain, and must learn to love it as discipline for our love. Jesus says we must strive to enter through the narrow gate, and many will not have the strength for it. We will learn the strength necessary through suffering, “that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed.”
And our strength will move mountains. The faith that suffers willingly is the faith that will convert the stranger. Martyrs are the greatest evidence of things unseen because they endure the ultimate price with the love of God on their lips. The God whom you will not abandon under pain of death must be a magnificent God.
We are called to be martyrs, because we will all suffer. It is not enough to love Jesus only in the good times. Jesus clearly says he does not know those people, even when they tell him “we ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.” We cannot assume salvation, because salvation does not assume us. Many are called but few are chosen.
Let us be strong. Let us encourage each other in faith. It is inevitable that we become discouraged, but let us take courage in the fact that He is our God, and we are His people. Always and forever. Let us be confident in the victory that Jesus has already won for us, and proclaim it to the nations even in the depths of our poverty, of wealth, of spirit, of peace. Because that is the faith which will move hearts, which will bring brothers and sisters out of the nations as clean vessels for God. Who, in turn, will preach the kindness and fidelity of the Lord to the world, until we make a prophecy of the psalm:
Praise the Lord all you nations;
Glorify him, all you peoples!
Sunday, August 22, 2010
The Assumption of Mary is a belief that exists only in the oral tradition of the Church. The Church teaches that when Mary died a natural death, her body did not remain on earth but was taken up to Heaven. Mary, alone of all the followers of Jesus, did not have to wait for his second coming to be risen, but had the special honor of rising immediately upon her death. Why?
The Church is often criticized for giving too much devotion to Mary. A feast in her honor for something that is not even in Scripture seems too much. But this criticism doesn’t strike accurately at how Catholics devote themselves to Mary. Because one, she does deserve the devotion we give her, and two, all that she is points to God and His saving grace.
In the first reading, Mary is linked with the ark of the covenant from the Old Testament. This is because Mary is the ark of the New Testament. The old ark held the staff of Aarron, manna from the desert, and the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. The ark held signs of the authority, the bread of life, and the law of the Israelites. Jesus is all of those in his person. The reason why Catholics fight so hard to defend the doctrine of Mary’s sinlessness, is because she must be perfect to hold Jesus. People died just by touching the ark in the old covenant, and that just held wood and rocks. Mary held the Messiah, and was a stainless vessel.
Mary is also described as a queen, by the crown she wears in 1st reading, and by the words of the Psalm. Her cousin Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, calls her blessed among women. In response, Mary says that “from this day all generations will call me blessed.” Clearly Scripture gives Mary as much honor as we do today. But this is only because all the honor we give to her she gives to God.
The 1st reading says “A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun.” Mary is just that, a sign of the favor of God. All generations will call her blessed, because she believed that what was spoken to her by God would be fulfilled. To her would the Christ be born. She trusted in God’s fidelity, and after his birth she followed Christ in his ministry faithfully. And because of who she was, the mother of God and perfect disciple, God assumed her body into Heaven to reign as Queen of Heaven.
She is a sign to us of God’s promise that will be fulfilled. Christ has been raised from the dead, and he will come back to raise us at his coming because he raised Mary. Those who have faith, who believe what has been spoken to us, will find our reward.
Mary said: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.” These are the lines we remember Mary by, because for all the favor bestowed upon her, she remembers that it is God’s favor and not hers. She remembers that there is an infinite gulf between God and human, and though she sits as Queen of Heaven it is Jesus who is the Authority, the Bread of Life, and the Law.
Friday, August 13, 2010
“Brothers and sisters: Faith is the realization of what is hoped for, and evidence of things unseen.”
The words above are central Scripture and our lives. But what does it mean to have faith? What is the reward of faith? What good does it do us?
Abraham is the example of faith. God told him that his descendants would receive the promised land as an inheritance, that those descendants would be as numerous as the stars, and that He would be their God. These things Abraham would never see come to pass, but he wandered decades without children and followed God because he had faith that God would keep His promise. And God gave him a son in his old age. And when God demanded that Abraham sacrifice Isaac, Abraham did as he was told because he had faith that somehow God would keep his promise, that Abraham would have descendants through Isaac as numerous as the stars. And Isaac was spared.
Though is sounds like a paradox, Abraham’s faith is the realization, the making real, of what he hoped for. Abraham has faith because God will grant him a son. Abraham’s faith is the effect of God granting him a son. Having faith is more than just being assured that something will come to pass, it is responding as if what will come to pass is already true. And because of faith, other people have evidence that something is true, when everything else says otherwise.
In the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, it’s odd that Isaac is so passive to the process. But perhaps that is because of Abraham’s faith; Abraham has faith that God will grant him descendants through this son, because his future descendants are as true as the knife in his hand. And his faith is proof for Isaac of the promise. How faith can be proof of something that is unknowable and yet to happen is a great mystery, only realized as proof after what will be has come to pass. But in the present moment, before faith has become fact, is where God invites us to believe, even though that belief seems foolish and ridiculous.
The readings today all emphasize that in Scripture, those who believed in God when it seemed outlandish to do so were well rewarded. When the Israelites painted their doors with blood during Passover their children were spared. Abraham was blessed with a son when that seemed impossible. We are called to wait for Christ’s return faithfully, to follow the teachings He left us. He has promised those who do so will be well rewarded.
But faith is not believing because of reward, faith is living the victory yet to be won. To have faith, is live the victory of Christ as evidence of His coming. Which is weird, because in our sins we fail all the time.
Having faith is living in conflict like there is no conflict. We struggle between good and evil, but by faith we know good has already won. We stand over Isaac with a knife, though we know the children he brings into the world will be more numerous than the stars. We sin, yes, but with faith, the faith of Abraham, we know His kingdom is already here.
We are poor proof of the victory. It’s because we lie to ourselves that we haven’t won, that we are losing, or don’t care about winning and losing, or have already lost. We need to have faith. We need to have faith in the victory, like Abraham believed in the victory as he tied his son on the altar. We cannot see how we, of all people, can win, but with Christ inside us all things are possible.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
“Teach us to number our days aright,/ that we may gain wisdom of heart.”
In the readings today, we hear repeated the mantra: our lives are short, and death could happen at any time. And if we die, for what purpose is the work we have done?
Qoheleth says that there is no purpose; when we die, all that we have worked for we must leave to someone else who has not worked for it. All the effort we give, will eventually be for someone else. Even to worry about it is useless, because the outcome won’t change. Qoheleth calls this vanity.
In the Gospel Jesus tells a story about a man who will work hard so that he can spend his remaining years in peace, saying to himself: “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!” But as soon as he speaks he dies. Now all those years of work have been wasted.
Both these readings serve to reinforce the idea that our wealth can never be in the world. Either it can be taken away from us, or we will have to surrender it to someone else. Instead, Paul tells us that as we have been raised in Christ, we should seek what is above. All that is earthly will fade, and when Christ comes those things will be meaningless.
The readings last week taught us to pray the Our Father in poverty, but to be rich in the Holy Spirit. Our wealth should be in the new world, the one we have inherited through Christ. For he is the one who has labored and died, and we are the ones who have inherited what he worked for.
Psalm 90 tells us: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” We only live for a short time. Death is real, and all things end. We will die, and the world will die, and only those things transformed by Christ will last. And we don’t know when either of those things will happen. All we have is this moment to choose Christ, and every moment we don’t or we turn away from him we waste in foolishness.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
“The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” That is what we are taught by these readings, and it is sometimes the hardest lesson to learn. When Jesus is explaining the Our Father, he asks “What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?” We interpret this as the Lord will answer our prayers, giving us what we ask for; but Jesus makes it clear that we are to pray a certain way, and for certain things.
Remember, this is the same Christ who told us to “let the dead bury the dead.” When we follow God, we are to follow him completely, turning neither to the left nor the right of the narrow way. So Jesus asks us to pray for these four things only: for God to establish his kingdom on earth, to not starve, that God forgives our sins, and not to be subjected to the final test. When we are to pray, we are to pray for holiness, in poverty.
Our model of what God wants from us is in Jesus. He stripped himself of material things to preach the gospel, because wealth does not lead to holiness. He kept friends by his side, but those who suffered and died like Lazarus he did not move to prevent their suffering though he loved them. Rather, he raised Lazarus because his illness was meant to be “for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” The Lord hears the cry of the poor, and Jesus teaches us to pray from a place of poverty. The Our Father reminds us that it is about God, and not us, and we should not have distractions from him.
Jesus does not teach us pray for the avoidance of suffering. When Abraham exclaims to God: “Far be it from you to do such a thing, to make the innocent die with the guilty, so that the innocent and the guilty would be treated alike!” God relents. But Abraham is only able to bargain down to ten innocent people. If there are less than ten innocent people in Sodom then yes, the innocent will suffer alike with the guilty. And that is a reality we understand in the history of the world, when so many innocents suffer because of the actions of the guilty.
Christ raised us from the dead, when we were buried in our transgressions. He has given us life, a life that is in this world but not of it. Our prayers should be for the Holy Spirit, for those things that lead us to God. The hard lesson is that prayer is not for promotions, or presents, or safety, or less suffering. But the purpose is to be drawn closer to the God who Is.
I don’t know where this leaves miracles. They are unexpected manifestations of God’s power, which break the rules of the world. They are proof of God’s mercy. Jesus performed miracles because of the faith of those he saved, and if that is an indication it means that miracles favor those who cling closely to God. God hears the cry of the poor. “Lord, on the day I cried for help, you answered me.”
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
This week’s readings present that hardest of ideas: that the good man is rewarded. It is the hardest, because it is what we are taught from childhood, and it’s what we want to believe the most. It’s what we think Christianity is. But it is also the idea we see the most betrayed, the one that hurts the most when we feel God is not living up to His bargain.
The first reading and the psalm reinforce this idea. Abraham is rewarded for being a good host to God with a son despite his old age, and the psalm intones “He who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.” If we are good, and we do everything we are supposed to, follow all the rules, things will turn out well for us.
But this isn’t the message of the Church. In the second reading Paul rejoices in his sufferings, filling up in his own body what was lacking in Christ’s afflictions. He rejoices in pain, not for any personal reward, but because it is “in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me,” as part of bringing the mystery of God fully to those he is teaching. And the mystery is odd, because it is that Christ is in us, the Church, and that we should better ourselves so that we are more perfect in Christ, that we should work towards perfection when perfection is already inside of us.
In the Gospel, Martha wants what every good person wants: consolation that she is doing what is right. But Jesus gives that to Mary who is only sitting with Him. The psalm we read lists action after action that one must do to live in the presence of the Lord: slander not with the tongue, harm not your fellow man, accept no bribe against the innocent. But it is not Martha, who is doing everything right who is in the presence of God, but Mary who is uplifted. Of all God’s teachings, this is sometimes the hardest one to accept. It is not about what we are doing, but why we are doing it.
The gospel reading is rich, and many things can be learned from it. But this is one: we should not miss God where He is. We must do justice, work to build His kingdom, and do everything we see in the example of Abraham, the psalmist, and Martha. But we are not jumping hoops for God to give us treats. Abraham is uplifted because he saw God in the stranger. The psalmist treats others with the dignity given to them by God. Paul admonishes his brothers and sisters because they hold Christ within themselves. Martha is humbled because in all her good works she misses the Messiah when He is right before her eyes.
The goodness of Abraham and the psalmist come from love of God, while Martha looked for a reward. In the psalm, the just may be in the presence of the Lord but even the Lord suffered agony on the cross. Goodness is rewarded by God, yes, but goodness also involves suffering and usually much of it. Our consolation is that Christ is in us, always with us, and before us in the faces of those we serve. We must sit with Mary while we serve with Martha.
We are anxious about many things. But there is need of only one thing. To love God first, and to act from that love in the world, doing what God has commanded and Christ has shown us.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?”
He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
There is no mystery about salvation. The theme of today’s readings is that we already know what we must do. In the first reading Moses teases the Israelites, because the directions to salvation are not in the sky or across the sea, they are not out of reach or unknowable. The opposite, because all they must do is heed the voice of the Lord and keep his commandments written in this book of the law, a book they can read and understand.
Paul makes it even more obvious, because not only have we been told exactly what we must do, but Christ Jesus came as a human and showed it to us. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, because he was a human who lived without sin.
In the gospel we ask with the scholar, “who is our neighbor?” Even though we know what we must do, we are afraid because to give all of ourselves seems too much. We want Jesus to tell us that no, we must only do this much and no more for eternal life. But everyone is our neighbor. There are no limits on our mercy or love. And that is terrifying.
We all want to believe that we are like the Good Samaritan in the Gospel. We want to believe that we are that good. But we aren’t. We are more like the victim, who has been robbed and beaten and is in need of mercy. The psalmist says “Turn to the Lord in your need, and you will live.” God has come to save us, and we must accept his tenderness.
The fact that Jesus as human was without sin, and conquered all his human failings is scary, because that means our failings are conquerable. Sin is so comfortable sometimes, because we know we are bad, we know in what ways we fail, and we know who we are. But “See, you lowly ones, and be glad;/ you who seek God, may your hearts revive!/ for the Lord hears the poor,/ and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.” God has come to save us, and with his spirit in us no sin is too great, and no act of love too much.
As Christians, we must accept the mercy God has shown us, and go to do likewise to all our neighbors, every man and woman we meet. We must love our God with all our selves, and follow his commands in little things so that we might follow him in large things. Through God all things are possible. With him there is freedom. Let us be healed, take up our mat and follow him who has saved us, to go and do likewise for others.
Saturday, July 10, 2010
Today’s readings were of victory. Paul speaks to the heart of this when he speaks about the world being crucified to him, and him to the world because of the cross of Jesus Christ. Through baptism and confirmation, our acceptance of Jesus Christ, we take part in the victory over sin. Even now, we have won. On the cross Jesus defeated death and won for us eternal life, and as we cling to him we remember that we have won.
Sometimes we forget that. The devil in this world tempts us with our failings, and torments us to think that God does not love us. When we fall, we forget that Christ’s forgiveness is available. We forget that God calls us each by name, and that once we said “Blessed be God who refused me not my prayer or his kindness!” We are tempted to throw away salvation because we forget who God is, because we feel alone, because we are not worthy.
That is why this victory is to be shared. In the gospel, Jesus sends his disciples out two by two, that each might support the other. We are to share in the victory of the gospel, and spread the good news of that victory with everyone, those who have not heard it and also those who have. Because even Peter once knew Jesus was God, and forgot who He is.
This is why displays of piety are important. As we walk in this world and not of it, we must not be ashamed to show what we believe. To wear a cross, or medal, or shirts that point to God is to affirm our belief in Christ, and affirm that belief with others who see them and believe. We must remind each other that we are not alone in faith, and more than just once a week on Sunday.
The first reading tells us to rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her. She is the Church, and all those who love her, who have mourned over her, will find comfort in her. This is because Jesus has spread prosperity over it; because we in the Church share the victory with each other. Each member of the Church has found tragedy in his or her life, and sometimes vast people of the Church have brought tragedy to others. But the Church is the people of Christ, brothers and sisters in the Lord, those who names have been written in heaven. We struggle and must comfort and support each other because we know who awaits us, we know what God has asked of us. Though we sometimes see defeat, we know that God is good, all the time.
So let us not be distracted by the victories the world proclaims. On tv, in songs and movies, we hear a much different story. The world proclaims that all is lawful; that sin does not exist, that it is all personal perspective. For this the Church was formed, to support each other in the victory we have heard, that “Christ died so we might have eternal life.”
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
“For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want.”
The Catechism tells us that we are ensouled bodies, and embodied souls. As Christians, this is the difference between the things we want, and the things we want. We want to be holy, but we also want to get drunk, or be unchaste, to hoard our money so we have nice things. We have desires that pull us in two directions. Under the law with the Ten Commandments, we punished giving in to our earthly desires with earthly punishments; but threat of punishment is not effective for salvation.
When we live by the Spirit, and align our bodily desires with it, we find where God is calling us in our lives. We find forgiveness for our sins. As He lives in us, and we let Him grow in us, we find freedom in love. Love is what changes our desires from selfish ones of the flesh, into holy works of mercy. You have heard it said that it is faith, and not works, which leads to salvation. But with love of God there is no difference between the two: our works are in our faith, and our faith is in our works. This is how we live body and soul entwined.
This change is shown in the first reading. Elisha is called by God, but is pulled back by his old life. But when he lets himself be called, Elisha earthly desires are inspired by his spiritual desires, and he is set free to take care of his people by giving his oxen to eat. If we are still of the flesh, we cannot sacrifice our lives for Jesus. “It is in dying that we are set free, and in rising that we inherit eternal life.”
It is not easy. The cross is where our desires come into conflict, and our cross is always with us. Can we accept this? The people of the Samaritan village would not welcome Jesus knowing He was headed to Jerusalem. Can we welcome Him into our hearts knowing He brings us to the cross? This is our challenge, but our faith tells us that Christ is with us through every challenge. The psalmist says “You are my inheritance, O Lord.” With faith, we can say:
“Therefore my heart is glad and my soul rejoices,/ my body, too abides in confidence/ because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption.”
Monday, June 21, 2010
It is not often we meet God in joy. Rarely do we pull back from sin, thankful that God is by our side and we are His people. Too often we meet Him in the pain that follows. We take that step back and really see who we hurt: the friend when we have said one word too many, the lover when we have betrayed their chastity; ourselves, when our greed has left us only loneliness. It is this pain that we read about in the first reading: “and they shall look on him whom they have pierced,/ and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only son,/ and they shall grieve over him as one grieves over a firstborn.” These verses prophecy the repentance of God’s people over the death of Christ, but all sin meets at the cross. Jesus took the pain and punishment of the sins we mourn for there, and this prophecy about God’s people speaks to our own mourning of the pain we cause there.
“O God, you are my God whom I seek;/ for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts/ like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water./ Thus have I gazed toward you in the sanctuary/ to see your power and your glory,/ For your kindness is a greater good than life.” Life without God is defined by longing. Longing for love, for satisfaction, for absolution of our lives. We are always reaching out to God, and do so even in pain. It is hard to bless God when He has not blessed us, sometimes hard to accept that in Him is a banquet where our souls shall be satisfied.
This is what faith is, that we who are baptized into Christ are heirs to the promise of salvation. There is joy in Christ, and the pain that leads to longing does find satisfaction. But Jesus himself tells us that if anyone is to follow him they must take up their own cross. Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Christ’s sake will save it.
These are hard words for we who have hurt in our life, and want salvation to be blissful. But Christ is the narrow way. Our joy comes from the hope of His promise, from knowing that His right hand holds us up. We must cling to that, cling to the hand and to the cross and share in the pain of Christ when we hurt too. There is a balm in Gilead. It is in losing our life that we find it, in mourning that we find “a fountain to purify from sin and uncleanness.”
Saturday, June 19, 2010
“Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ Nathan answered David: ‘The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin: you shall not die.’”
This is what it is to be a member of the Church: to acknowledge we are sinners, to be sorry for our sins, to acknowledge who and what we are before God and ask His forgiveness. And to be forgiven: “Blessed is the one whose fault is taken away,/ whose sin is covered./ Blessed the man to whom the Lord imputes not guilt,/ in whose spirit there is no guile.” God’s forgiveness is complete, it leaves no stain upon us. And more, because “yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.”
Not that there remains no consequences for our sin. In the first reading, while Nathan tells David that the Lord has forgiven him, the next line reads: “But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt, the son born to you will die.” The eternal consequence of our sins is wiped away when we confess, and the threat of hell averted, but the temporal consequences remain. We are still tempted to gossip, lie, cheat, and steal, and must continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
But the readings today focus on salvation in forgiveness, and the hope we are given therein. Under the law, there is no hope of salvation. When we sin against the Ten Commandments, we feel shame but not hope. We break a law and resolve to do better, but Paul reminds us in the second reading that “through the law I died to the law.” But in being crucified with Christ, we have faith in Him, who did not sin against the Ten Commandments but was sacrificed under the law anyways. His sacrifice is our justification, our faith in him is our hope. We cannot triumph under the law, but by the grace of God and Christ Jesus who lives in us we can rejoice with the psalmist “You are my shelter; from distress you will preserve me;/ with glad cries of freedom you will ring me round.” Even the righteous man falls seven times a day, but the beauty of Christ is that sin is not the end of righteousness, but with forgiveness, the beginning.
Each of us have the sins we feel are the worst. Relative to each person, they are that which make us feel dirty, unworthy of love from God or anybody. Even these God will forgive. We shall not despair against God, but recognize that in us the one with the larger debt was forgiven. Our faith in God will save us, and from our pain we will find love that replaces it. It is this fountain of forgiveness and loves that the martyrs die for, a salvation unearned, but a lifetime of trying to be worthy of it.
Sunday, June 6, 2010
Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of ChristSolemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
Today is the day we celebrate the Eucharist, that Jesus Christ gave us his body and his blood forever in the Mass. We believe that the Eucharist is the Real Presence, that Jesus is fully present in the bread and fully present in the wine. We believe that even though the appearance of the bread and wine stay the same (the species), when the priest says the words of consecration (what we hear in the 2nd reading) the substance of the bread and wine change into the literal body and blood of Christ. A little morbid, but a powerful way that we take Christ into ourselves, and renew our covenant with him.
The readings today focus on the priest’s role in the Eucharist. We believe that the priest stands in persona Christi (in the person of Christ) during the consecration, which means that during the consecration it is Christ through the priest who is offering his body and blood on the altar. In the Mass, it is always a reenactment of the Last Supper.
The first reading and the psalm today make explicit Christ’s role as the priest. He is the one who intercedes between us and God, who offers the sacrifice of his body and blood as expiation for our sins on the altar at Mass, because he is “a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedek.” In the Gospel reading of the feeding of five thousand we see a parallel in the way the Church celebrates Mass. Jesus has the multitude split into groups of fifty (churches), and has the disciples feed them with food they brought (the species of bread and wine) which he blesses (the priest acting in persona Christi).
The powerful reminder of what this Solemnity means to us is found in this phrase: “They all ate and were satisfied.” We are hungry for God, and for love, and it is in Jesus we are fed. The Eucharist is a rich symbol and literal way for us to eat and be satisfied. It is there we are fed, and it is there we find more than we can ever want. When Jesus was done feeding the five thousand there were twelve wicker baskets filled with leftover loaves and fish. We believe that Jesus has all we need and more. He is abundant in love, and when we open ourselves to him we are filled to overflowing with it. God has more love than we have sin, much, much more.
Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
Friday, June 4, 2010
The first reading describes how the wisdom of God was with Him before all the world, and with God it took delight in the human race. This passage is about the Holy Spirit, and reminds us of the beginning of the Gospel of John: “In the Beginning there was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The point is to remind us of the Trinity, because as much as the Trinity is one of the most basic beliefs of Christianity, it is often taken for granted. This Sunday, we remember especially that God is One in three Persons, one distinct being and also three distinct persons.
But the readings as a whole remind us not just of the mystery of the Trinity, but of the role of the Trinity in salvation. God is wholly invested and involved in our salvation; we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, we boast in the hope of the glory of God, and “the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
Jesus has justified us through his death on the cross. Died so that our sins are forgiven. We yearn for the glory of God, and through faith in Christ we can attain it. The Holy Spirit is given to us as a gift so that we might love God, and know His Truth; and in knowing Truth might love Him the more because truth and love exist within each other.
In the Trinity, each Person leads to each other Person. God begot His only Son, but Jesus is God. The Holy Spirit is eternally begotten of the Father, and we know Him as the living Love between Jesus and the Father, a love so sublime it is a Person. They are all God, and God is one. A beautiful Mobius Strip. We see this in the second reading drawn out in our faith, where our afflictions produce endurance, endurance proven character, character hope, and hope that will be realized in the glory of God because of the love God has poured into us, the Holy Spirit.
Our faith life is one thing, and many distinct things, like God is one and distinct Persons. Our struggles, may they be alcohol, pornography, gossip, anger, despair, greed, are part of our lives. Paul says to boast of these, not that you should be proud of the unholy things in your life, but because our afflictions will lead us to the glory of God, if we keep faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and accept the love of God in our hearts. And we must accept the love of God; when we sin it is easy to hate ourselves, but we must remember that sin is not the end, and is never the end.
When we struggle to endure our sins we grow in character, and with each holy step we grow in hope of our God. When we fall, we must keep that hope, because the love of God has been given to us as a gift, and this love finds delight in the human race.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;/there are different forms of service but the same Lord;/there are different workings but the same God/who produces all of them in everyone.”
This is the essence of today’s readings. Christianity has always meant to be universal, and called the Church in the beginning Catholic (meaning “universal”) because it was the church for everyone. Today especially this rings true, because of the widespread feeling that everyone is an individual and has to do what is right for them. If one feels the strongest pull in Buddhism, that is where he should rest his soul. If a girl is gay, that is ok, because she isn’t hurting anyone. If one is Catholic but does not want to live chastely with those they are dating, than it is fine because that is how they live their spiritual life.
This isn’t all wrong, or a lie. There is much Truth to be found in Buddhism, and love is love no matter who feels it. And each path we walk is our own, and each struggle uniquely individual. But there is only one God, and one Holy Spirit, and it is that Spirit that each Jew from all over the world hears when the disciples speak in their language. Because God’s truth is universal, and speaks in whatever language we are able to understand, at any and every point in our walk with God.
And this is what we hear: that our sins can be forgiven; that God is great, and all He creates is good; and He has come to renew the face of the earth. This call is universal and speaks to the heart of each of us, and reminds us that we are each uniquely beautiful.
The Church is universal, with a place for each of us. We each experience God uniquely because of who we are and what we’ve done with Him (and without Him). But He is the same God. And He works in all of us. People feel that because they are different and the Church is the same that they do not fit inside it. But while the Church does hold the Truth is has received from Jesus with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it is made of a myriad of unique pieces. We are as many parts of the one body: one may be the hand, and touch the lives of the poor; another the ear, who hears God in music and shares that; this one might be an eye, and see God in those who other people can’t. And we might be one of these, each of these, or none of these but God works in us. God’s people are amazingly different, and sometimes that drives us to ostracize those who seem too different, or reject those ways that are not our ways. But Christ is big enough to hold us all. Just because you speak God in a different language does not mean we are not speaking of the same God.
This is not to say that all things are lawful. There are some which are not. There are things we cling to of the world and not of God, and confuse the two. But how shall we know between the two?
“Now this is how we shall know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts before him in whatever our hearts condemn, for God is greater than our hearts and knows everything. Beloved, if (our) hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence in God and receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And his commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us. Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them, and the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit that he gave us.” (1 John 3:19-24).
Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth!
Sunday, May 16, 2010
link to today’s readings: http://www.usccb.org/nab/051610a.shtml
In the readings today we read about the Ascension of the Lord. The 1st reading and the Gospel are both by Luke, and offer slightly different descriptions of the same event. The 2nd reading dwells deaper into the theology of what it means for us that Jesus ascended into Heaven.
For those who don’t know, Theophilus means “Lover of God,” or “Friend of God.” The Acts of the Apostles is addressed to someone already a follower of Christ, but also someone who came to belief the generation after the Apostles. The stories that Luke relates happened in his father’s or grandfather’s time, so recent, but Christians are now relying on the tradition handed down to them by teachers who are not the Apostles. The readings we have as our 1st reading and the Gospel are letters set down so that Christians would not forget and would believe this incredible event.
Luke emphasizes that “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority.” Jesus will come again and restore Israel (the Church), but we will not know when. And that isn’t the point of His Ascension; the point is that now he is leaving the world, and it falls to the disciples to be “my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And so on, through the apostolic tradition to today, we are still called to the Great Commission to be the witnesses of Christ. When the men in white appear at the end of the reading and admonish the apostles for staring at the sky, we also hear that admonishment. It is not for us to wait around for Jesus to come back doing nothing, but to go out into the world in His stead.
But the Ascension is a cause for celebration as well! “God mounts his throne amid shouts of joy;/The Lord, amid trumpet blasts. Sing praise to God, sing praise;/ sing praise to our king, sing praise.” Because the Ascension is the completion of the sacrifice of the cross. When the Israelites sacrificed under the old covenant, the high priest made the sacrifice and then entered the sanctuary in the temple, where only he could go, and only once a year. The sanctuary is where they kept the Ark of the Covenant, which held the stone tablets Moses carved, manna from the desert, and Aarron’s staff. The high priest sacrificed to purify the people of their sin, but Jesus sacrificed himself to take away sin once and for all. And his Ascension into Heaven as the sacrifice allows our entry into heaven, because the temple sanctuary was a copy of the true sanctuary; and now, covered in the blood of the Lamb, we may enter into Heaven.
This is our confession of faith. That Jesus came to die for our sins, and by his death and resurrection he has set us free. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. We have through the testimony of those who came before us that all this is true, and we trust their word. So “let us hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives us hope, for he who made the promise is trustworthy.”
The Gospel reads just like that profession of faith. So let us now be like the disciples, who “did him homage, and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God.”
Sunday, May 9, 2010
The Eucharist is so important at Mass, to take in the Body and Blood of Christ. But so is the Word, that it might feed our souls as His Body feeds ours. So thank you, internet, for being indulgent, and letting me have my small, obscure soapbox.
The readings today spoke of the true essential way to follow Christ. So often in our desire to give proper respect to God, we turn worship into ritual. We ritualize giving money, require women to cover their heads in church, fast on these days, come to Mass on those day. In the first reading we see this, with some teachers converted from the old covenant requiring circumcision to be saved, confusing ritual with salvation. The elders of the church saw this, and reconfirmed that it is devotion, and not sacrifice that God requires: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage.”
It is not ritual which brings you into communion with God, but true service. Ritual is like training wheels, it is there to train us in the proper way of doing things, but it is not the final step, or all there is. We should not put the trappings of our faith before the faith itself. The second reading brings this to light, because it describes the Church, the Body of Christ. The Church is the holy city of Jerusalem, with the apostles as its’ foundation. One the gates are written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, symbolizing the whole Church. And the key is that there is no temple in the city, no place of worship where it is required to pray and offer sacrifice. Because the temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb. We carry our place of worship with us because “when two or more are gathered He is present.” The glory of God shines in us because Christ shines in us, and wherever we are there we worship God.
So if it is not ritual which saves us, nor our place of worship which makes us followers of Christ, then what is? In the Gospel Jesus tells us “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” We are Christ’s because we do the things he tells us, to feed the hungry and heal the sick, visit those in prison and clothe the naked. Our churches and altars and stained glass and beautiful choirs are good, and help us to pray better and feel closer as a Church, but it is not what makes us a Church, nor just the Creed we pronounce each week. What makes us the Church of Christ is to follow Him. And we are united in the Body of Christ if we do so.
Note: this is not to undermine the Sacraments, but to clarify that the Sacraments are not sufficient. They are outward signs of God’s grace, and one can partake of them without being assured of salvation. To be Catholic, to follow Christ, is to choose the narrow way as he did.