Sunday, July 31, 2011

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Link to Mass Readings:

Jesus satisfies!

This is the message to take away from Scripture today. When we speak to other people about the wonder of Christ, we usually start with salvation and the forgiveness of sins. Which is good, but it’s very theological and can sometimes sound empty if we forget why we salvation is good, why we want to be forgiven. It’s because Jesus satisfies us completely, in a way that nothing else does.

Like the first reading says, we are thirsty, and we come to the water. We are poor, but receive grain and eat. We pay no price, but eat rich food and drink wine and milk. These are metaphors, but they tell us that what is lacking in us in found in Jesus Christ. The best reason for getting to know Jesus, is that life is better with Him.

The second reading is powerful, and deserves to be read multiple times. Because what will separate us from the love of Christ? Not anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or death, or life, or present things, or future things; none of these can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, and that is a powerful statement.

When we struggle with temptation, what is it that we believe in that moment? We know that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, and this is a love that satisfies, which gives us everything we need. Do we believe that? Or when we are tempted, do we believe that temptation is more powerful? This is the lie we tell ourselves, to convince ourselves to fail. Because Christ’s love is powerful and allows to conquer overwhelmingly the things which stand in our way.

Do we remember all that times that Jesus satisfies us? It is easy to forget, when there is always a new problem or a new worry. But let us take time right now to remember the good things that God has brought us, and how He has always been with us. Because God is good all the time, and all the time He will satisfy us if we will take and eat.

When Jesus feeds the five thousand, He is given five loaves and two fish. But He blesses that food, and when all is finished there is twelve baskets of food left over. What we have to give, is not enough for God’s work in the world; but with Jesus, everything we have is taken and multiplied until not only is there enough, but there is more than enough to satisfy.

When Jesus fed the five thousand, there were twelve baskets of food left over. What should be done with those twelve baskets? God satisfies us with more than we need, so the next logical thing is to bring the extra to those who are still unsatisfied. We have been given more of God’s love than we can hold, and so we must share it!

This is the good news, that we can be satisfied! And not by spending enough money, or dieting enough, or having enough sex or attention; we will be satisfied by the love of Jesus, if we only take and eat of it.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Link to Mass Readings:

“Lord, I love your commands.”

That’s really the trick, isn’t it? If the story of Solomon teaches us anything, it’s that it’s not enough to know what is right. We can be as wise and as understanding as God, but if we don’t want to do what’s right we won’t. We will end up resenting the right thing to do, and hate ourselves. With good reason; I wouldn’t like someone either who forced themselves to do one thing, while being jealous of everyone else doing another and having way more fun doing it.

It’s not enough to do good because it is good. Actions alone do not merit Heaven, we have to change our desires as well. To be holy is to be free to do whatever you want, because everything you want is good to do. When our hearts conform to God’s will, we will be satisfied.

God encourages us in this, and “all things work for good for those who love God.” But learning to love God is the hard part, because God’s commands are often opposite to what we learn is satisfying. For those who want to be chaste, they may want to follow God but they also want be sexually active like the people around them. For those who want to be merciful, it’s hard when what you really want is to get revenge.

This is why Jesus describes the kingdom of Heaven in different ways, because each way gives a new meaning as to why we want it.

First, the kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure. We may or may not be looking for it, but when we find it we know it is better than anything else we have. And it is worth giving up everything to have it.

Second, the kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant. The kingdom is also looking for us, and God will do everything to bring us to Him. While the kingdom is a treasure without equal, to God, so are we.

Third, the kingdom of Heaven is like a fishing net. The people who are not worthy of it will not inherit it. It is a prize, and so, so good, but it will not be forced upon us. We who do not choose it will not receive it.

Why would we love God’s commands? Because in the kingdom of Heaven means free love, in the true sense of that phrase. Hate and sin bind us, bind us in jealousy, discontent, anger, despair, and every other chain. But God’s commands are not weights around our feet, but the sturdy bones of the Body of Christ. They hold us steady when we try to follow God, and when we are weak we lean on them. God’s commands are the first step on our road away from sin, and we love because they lead us to God. And when we know God, we love them because the commands are good.

It’s hard to describe the kingdom without sounding cutesy. When we are building the kingdom of Heaven on earth, we are loving others and they love us. What we want most of all is to be loved, just for who we are. When we are in the kingdom, we tear down the walls in ourselves and between us and others that keeps us from that love. But that openness does not come natural to us, and so God’s commands are our first teachers in love.

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Link to Mass Readings:

What is our hope?

In this week’s Gospel, Jesus lays out the kingdom of Heaven in clear black and white. He tells us that there are children of the kingdom, and children of the evil one; the children of the evil one are those who cause others to sin and all evildoers. These are the ones who will be condemned to hell.

The readings last week and this week emphasize that there are only two choices in life; we are either of God or against Him. If we do not listen to the message of salvation and act on it, we will suffer for our evil because our God is a God of justice.

It’s not a comforting image of God. If this is all we had, God would not be our hope but our fear. And while Scripture says that “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” it is just the beginning. Read these words of the First Reading again:

“But though you are master of might, you judge with clemency, and with much lenience you govern us; for power, whenever you will, attends you. And you taught your people, by these deeds, that those who are just must be kind; and you gave your children good ground for hope that you would permit repentance for their sins.”

Who of us could hope to be spared, if everyone who sins and causes others to sin will be condemned? But our God is NOT just the God of justice, but also of mercy; “You, O Lord, are good and forgiving,/ abounding in kindness to all who call upon you.” His strength is not that of the tyrant, who must punish all trespassers because he is fearful of rebellion. The strength of our God is complete in its confidence, and is strong enough not to fear sinners, but to love and pity them. This is what we hear in the Psalm, and they are not just empty words.

Sometimes, it is easy to think that God judges us like the worst kind of gym teacher. We think that God sets impossible standards, and then punishes us when we fall short. But God isn’t like that, God is like the yeast that makes bread rise. Alone, the bread remains flat and when it bakes it will be hard. But with yeast, the bread rises and becomes soft and fluffy. Yeast makes bread better; God makes us better, lifts us when we cannot lift ourselves.

We are not as we should be. We are weak, and sometimes we deny God because we want to be better liked. Sometimes we sin because it’s harder not to. Sometimes we hate goodness, and we hurt ourselves or others simply because it is bad. But God, in infinite power, does not immediately punish us but comes to the aid of our weakness. The Holy Spirit intercedes for us, and is there even when we would reject Him. God does not give up on us.

The kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed. Though it may start out small and weak within us, it can grow larger than we can imagine, and we can a shelter for all those looking for Christ.

Our hope is the strength of God, because the God of justice taught us the just must be kind. His strength, though it starts out small within us, can grow until we have the strength to follow Him. His strength gives us power against sin, and courage against despair. Our hope is the strength of God, that is strong enough to show mercy.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Link to Mass Readings:

“My word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”

It’s important to know that the readings in each liturgical season fit together as a whole. Now that we are in Ordinary Time, each week’s Sunday reading will build upon the next. Last week the readings showed us that life with Christ is different than life without Him: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” But they didn’t explain what that meant, not really. This week, the readings show us that living with Christ means listening to the Word of God, because that is part of what changes us.

The first reading explains why the Word of God is so important: “My word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” We have been given Scripture, and read Scripture at Mass, for our salvation. God’s word is effective, and understanding it changes us. When we soak in God’s word, and allow it to change us, we become amazing. Scripture describes the change using farming language.

The Psalm shows us symbolically how we are transformed by God’s word. Our paths overflow with a rich harvest, the fields are garmented with flocks, and the valleys are blanketed with grain. We are MORE with Christ than we are on our own, and God’s Word is the rain that helps us to grow into what we were always meant to be.

Last week we recognized that life isn’t easy. Much of this is because we are still being transformed with Christ. We are sinners, and we are still fighting for our salvation. This is why Paul says that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us; because Heaven is coming. Heaven is coming and we must be ready for it!

The readings today should be listened to closely, and though they don’t apply solely to Mass, we should think about how we listen to Scripture in that context. When Jesus talks about those who hear God’s Word in the parable of the sower, how do we listen to the readings? Do our eyes glaze over? Do we listen intently but forget the message after Mass? Do we try to live out the Scripture during the week between Masses? We should never forget that Mass is not a duty, but a respite from our work in the world. Mass is where we take strength from the Eucharist, the Word, and the fellowship of the Lord for our life with Christ. Our duty isn’t over at the end of Mass, but just beginning!

We at Mass are the seeds of the sower. It is not enough to hear God’s word, but to engage with it. If we listen, but do not understand, the devil will keep our heart from transforming with Christ. If we listen with excitement, but have no “roots” to develop our faith, we will not last, and will fall short of salvation. If we hear God’s Word, but let anxiety and the world paralyze us, then we will bear no fruit and lose salvation.

But, if we soak up God’s word, if we hear it and understand it, then we are the seeds which fall on good soil. Then God’s Word will be effective, accomplishing God’s purpose within us. We will carry the Word out into the world, and transform the world with us. Christ’s “yoke” becomes easier when we let God’s Word transform us, and guide our lives. This is the first step to living in Christ.

Let us work on being good seeds falling on good soil, to make effective God’s work upon us. Then we shall be amazing, and be fruitful for the Lord a hundred, or sixty, or thirtyfold.

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Link to Mass Readings:

“For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Life isn’t easy. This isn’t a surprise to anyone, not if you’ve ever played sports, or been hurt by someone you love. It’s not easy when we lose our jobs and can’t find work, and it’s not easy when we’re sick and can’t do anything about it. There doesn’t even have to be anything terribly wrong in life for it to be hard; we suffer when we’re lonely, when we don’t know what to do, or make a mistake that hurts someone else. And every day we stumble in sin.

Life isn’t easy for people with addictions, who struggle every day to master themselves. Life isn’t easy for those who are trying to stay chaste. And in a thousand different ways we can keep going with a laundry list of things that make life hard, and we are all Christians. So when Jesus says “my yoke is easy, and my burden light,” it is one of the most frustrating things we can hear. What does it mean?

It means we are different if Christ is in our lives, and we live by the Spirit. Even though the Spirit of God lives in us, we still cling to the life of the flesh. And Paul doesn’t mean physical flesh, but everything the world embraces. When celebrities encourage us to act like them, that is life according to flesh; when we think success means wealth, or fame, or recognition, that is life according to the flesh. When we try to do things without God, that is life according the flesh.

We have been given the Spirit of God inside of us. We believe that all things are possible with Christ who strengthens us. This is not something the people who are successful in the world can teach us. This is something that people who are weak, the “little ones” who relied on Christ can teach us.

We are not strong enough. We are not strong enough to overcome addiction, to take care of our families, to serve God without God.

Sometimes it feels like a cliché to talk about relying on God. But it’s amazing; when we start praying more, not just once a day but throughout our day; when we start asking Jesus for help things do become easier. Sadness lightens up a little bit, and we can endure.

But this is when we put ourselves under His yoke. When we try to do things outside of what God wants for us, things feel more like we are swimming upstream. Following God means following God, and sometimes that means going where we are afraid to go. Sometimes we are afraid to tithe, to follow God’s call to marriage or the religious life. Sometimes we are afraid to forgive people who have hurt us, and sometimes we are afraid to reach out to someone who needs our help.

Make no mistake, following God isn’t always easy, and there are plenty of saints who have suffered. But knowing Jesus means not being alone; it means having someone who loves you to suffer with you, and support you. Trust in God and the things you need will come.

Faith is hard, because we struggle so much with giving up control. But for all of us who struggle and are overburdened, giving up control is exactly what we need to do. Fighting against God will wear us out and leave us unsatisfied. But in Jesus Christ there is rest, and balm in Gilead. “For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Link to Mass Readings:

“Brothers and sisters:
The cup of blessing that we bless,
is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?
The bread that we break,
is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”

The Eucharist is one of the strangest things Catholics have to explain to their non-Catholic brothers and sisters. Trying to explain that at the moment of consecration, the bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ, even though our senses tell us otherwise, is difficult. When I try, the person I am explaining it to usually develops a glossy stare, and I can tell they are trying to figure out how to accuse me of idolatry, in a polite way.

We believe in Transubstantiation. At the time of the consecration, when the priest is repeating the words Jesus said at the Last Supper, we believe Jesus causes the bread and wine to be transformed into His body and blood. Some non-Catholic Christians who believe in the Real Presence believe in Consubstantiation, where it is the congregation’s faith linked with Jesus that causes the host to change.

When the bread and wine is transformed into the body and blood of Christ, we believe it is the substance of the bread and wine that changes. To focus on the bread, we believe that the bread has the accidents of bread (everything our senses tell us), but also the substance, the breadness of bread. It is the substance that is changed into the body and blood of Christ. We believe that though we can’t tell anything has changed, the bread and wine have become the LITERAL body and blood of Christ.

This is not an easy thing to understand or believe. It requires faith. But Jesus told us, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” Jesus could have chosen different words to say, but He has given us Himself in this way specifically.

I think part of the reason why we have the Eucharist is because it is hard to accept. Though it’s not included in today’s reading, Scripture tells us what happened after Jesus spoke to his disciples about eating His flesh and drinking His blood: “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” Then Jesus turns to Peter, and asks him if he will also leave. Peter responds: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

For forty years God kept the Israelites wandering in the desert “so as to test you by affliction and find out whether or not it was your intention to keep his commandments.” God tests us in the same way with the Eucharist. This is a sign of the mystery of our faith, something we cannot explain and find it hard to believe. Our faith is tested by the hardness of this thing we have to accept.

The Eucharist is a Sacrament, a sign and symbol of God’s love in the world. It is grace we are privileged to receive. But it is also something we have to accept with faith. If we cannot accept it, we are called to struggle with our unbelief, researching and discovering the truth to the extent we are able. If it is a stumbling block, we should struggle to understand it until acceptance comes to us as a gift. But if we cannot accept it, we must accept it on faith.

We trust the One who gave His life for us, and trust His Church which is led by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth. On this Solemnity, we should meditate on the gift which He has given us in faith and trust.

The link below is a good place to start for questions about the Eucharist.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

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“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

Today is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, and we are called to meditate on that mystery. We believe in 1 God in 3 Persons, where there is only One God, but God has a Son; we believe also in the Holy Spirit “which proceeds from the Father and the Son, and with the Father and Son is worshipped and glorified.”

It’s heady stuff; what the Trinity means has been a subject of study ever since the Resurrection, and will be so until the end of the world. But at its most basic, it means love. Love does not exist in a vacuum, love does not exist between one person and themselves. But God is Love, and so much so that He must exist as the Trinity.

God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are all one Being, and have always existed, none before the other. “I believe in Jesus Christ our Lord, begot and not made, one being with the Father.” We believe that even though Jesus is the Son of God, there was no time when Jesus was not. One of the hardest things to understand is that the Trinity has always existed as the Trinity, always One, always 3 Persons.

What is the Holy Spirit? My favorite description of the Holy Spirit is that the love between God the Father and Jesus the Son is so real and powerful and alive that it exists as the Holy Spirit. Because it is God, this Love is God as well.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” If God is Love, and the Trinity is fundamentally about Love, and the Holy Spirit is a Love so real it is God, how strongly are we loved! Everyone knows the verse John 3:16, but its familiarity blinds us sometimes to scale of love involved. God sacrificed His Son to save the world, the Son whom He loves so much that the Love between them is God.

If love could be approximated in terms of size, God does not love us with buckets of love, or mountains of love. He doesn’t love us with continents, or worlds, or galaxies of love. He loves us with more than universes of love, He loves us with God’s amount of Love, and that amount is incomprehensible.

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity reminds us to think about who God is. We get busy worrying about our lives and the lives around us, and we forget who it is we worship. We worship God, the Trinity of Love. God does not just love the world, but each of us individually, to the point that He knows the hairs on our heads. He loves us with a God’s Love, and today we remember that and what that means.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Pentecost Sunday

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“And we were all given to drink of one Spirit.”

How inscrutable are the mysteries of Christ sometimes. The Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary are the Resurrection, the Ascension, Pentecost, the Assumption of Mary, and the Crowning of Mary in Heaven. What all these Mysteries have in common, at least in part, is how hard they are to imagine and understand. With the Resurrection, we cannot see into the cave behind the stone; does Jesus rise with a wrenching gasp, or is there some more gradual transformation? Does He lie dead one moment, and the next is upright and living? It is inscrutable what happens.

Pentecost is similar. In both the first reading and the Gospel, the disciples were in a room alone. On Pentecost they received the Holy Spirit as tongues of fire, and suddenly they could speak in different languages, and proclaimed the Gospel without fear. Some days I’m not sure which is the bigger miracle, to suddenly speak a language unknown to them before, or suddenly be able to speak the Gospel without fear.

But the Spirit is powerful. This is the Spirit that drove the apostles to every corner of their world, that converted thousands on the strength of their witness, that drew converts from every walk of life, nation, tongue, and race. This is the strength of the Spirit, that it unifies what for so long the devil scattered in disarray.

So much of the New Testament is a redemption of the Old. Jesus is the new Adam, who removes sin where the other brings sin into the world. Mary is the new Eve, who says “Yes” to God where Eve disobeyed. Clothing in Genesis becomes a mark of shame for Adam and Eve who have just fallen, but in Revelations the righteous are given pure white garments. Pentecost is the redemption of language, unifying God’s people where once it scattered them.

Remember the story of Babel. Humans in their pride tried to build a temple that would reach to Heaven; in their arrogance God broke their common tongue, making the people unable to understand each other because they now spoke different languages. But at Pentecost, God gave the apostles different languages to unite the people with the Gospel. God redeems our broken unity with the Holy Spirit. As St. Paul tells us, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.”

God has brought us together through the Holy Spirit. This is the Spirit of Truth, by which we cling with confidence to the teachings of the Church. This the Spirit of Fire, which burns our tongues like Isaiah until we witness to Christ. This is the Spirit of Consolation, which consoles us in the darkness.

This is the Spirit of Peace. Today is Pentecost, a day marked for celebration because today God shared the Holy Spirit with us, and we had the courage to share it with each other. Let us not be shy about sharing the Spirit, about witnessing to each other and speaking Christ to nonbelievers. We have been given to drink of one Spirit, the Spirit of courage and fire!

So often our faith is something private, something we keep to ourselves. This is false, and a great evil. The Spirit is meant to be shared, and of all things is meant to bring us closer together. Let us remember the unity of the Spirit, that we have all been given a share, and are all one body because of it.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

Link to Mass Readings:

“Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”

The Easter season is about the triumph of grace over sin, when Jesus put even death under His feet. He did as He promised, and rose from the dead. All we believe that He can do for us, comes from the power He displayed.

The Ascension, then, is almost like a victory lap. Jesus rises from the dead, spends a little time with His disciples, and then returns to Heaven by rising into the air. He has won, and He goes to take His rightful place. But it is hard to talk about the Ascension without thinking about His return. Like the apostles, we want to know when the Kingdom will be established. And to be honest, we just want Him with us again.

A few weeks ago, a lot of people became convinced Jesus was returning to the world May 21st. Billboards were bought proclaiming the judgment day, retirement savings were spent warning unbelievers to repentance, and ultimately, nothing happened. Most Christians rightly looked at the movement with skepticism, knowing that Jesus told us “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority.” The pastor who started the “Judgment Day Movement” was absolutely a false prophet. But the attitude of his followers came so close to being so right.

Look at what Jesus exhorts us to do before his Ascension. He tells them to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth, to make disciples of all nations. Even though He is just leaving, He wants the apostles to have a sense of urgency that they must work now, and quickly. Because He is coming back, and soon, soon, soon.

This is what the followers of the false prophet knew, and knew it with a fear that drove them to action, drove them to empty themselves of money so that people could be made aware. They knew that He was coming, and some people wouldn’t be ready. It is our duty as believers to spread the truth of the Gospel as widely and quickly as possible, because when Jesus comes back, some will fail judgment. And we will wonder if it is our fault.

This is what Jesus has charged us with, our Great Commission as believers. We have been given the Truth, and Jesus Christ dwells within us. It is not just for our salvation, but for the salvation of as many as we can bring personally to Christ. Sometimes we make the mistake of identifying ourselves as the church we belong to, thinking that because we are Christian we are doing great things because our church does great things. And our support is important, but also important is: what are we personally doing?

“Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?” We should take as our lesson from the Judgment Day people that we haven’t a moment to waste. We know Jesus has risen, we know He will come again. We don’t know when, but let us work busily for the kingdom, that we and all we meet might be saved on the last day, and all the nations of the world might be peoples of God, shouting with cries of gladness when He comes again!

“Marana tha, come Lord Jesus!”

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sixth Sunday in Easter

Link to Mass Readings:

“Hear now, all you who fear God, while I declare
What he has done for me.
Blessed by God who refused me not
My prayer or his kindness!”

Do people know we are Christians? There is a question that was popular a few years ago, and cuts to the heart of the matter: “If we were accused of being Christians, would there be enough evidence to convict us?” For the most part, I’m scared there wouldn’t.

Christ came to make disciples, not establish churches. When we gather on Sundays, it is to worship God with each other, and remember who we are. It is not a fulfillment of our duty as Christians, but respite. Church is when we renew ourselves for what’s outside these walls.

The Scriptures today are about being visible witnesses to Christ. In the first reading, Philip proclaims the Christ to the city Samaria, and the crowds were converted because of his words and the signs he was doing. When we look at our lives, would people be converted by our words and actions? Do we talk about Jesus, or is it a secret we keep until Sunday? Are we acting as the hands and feet of Christ, ministering to the poor and vulnerable? How do we know we are Christians?

Why are we Christians? The second reading warns us to always be ready to explain why you hope Christ will come again, why you hope for salvation. Can we explain it? What is it that drives us to believe something so foolish, that we cannot touch or see?

It is not easy to be a follower of Christ. There is a lot expected of us. But because we believe, we ARE followers of Christ. We are duty bound to follow His commandments, and if we do so we will suffer. But it is ok if we suffer, because Christ has given us the Holy Spirit, the Advocate to be with us. We will not suffer alone. And if we follow Christ’s commandments, and love Jesus, we will be loved by Him and the Father in return. We live for love and hope in the mercy of God.

Why are we Christians? Why do we pray? So often we take for granted our faith and the habits we accumulate, but it is not enough to be comfortable. We should have a reason for our faith, and if we don’t, we need to pray about why we call ourselves Christians. And if we call ourselves Christians, we need to pray about how we know we are Christians.

There is a song I remember from when I was a kid:

“They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, they will know we are Christians by our love.”

Fifth Sunday in Easter

Link to Mass Readings:

We are all called to the priesthood.

In different Christian churches, we hear the call to ministry differently. Many Christian churches rightfully emphasize what they call The Great Commission, where Jesus commands the disciples to go make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). Even though this was spoken just to the disciples, they understand that it was a command to all believers.

In the Catholic Church, we tend to focus on ministry as being the sole area of priests. We understand that there are nuns, and monks, and missionaries that preach the gospel in foreign nations, but for some reason we think that ministry is a special calling that is only for a few in the church. And this couldn’t be more wrong.

In the second reading, Peter tells us we are “’a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises’ of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” In Catholicism, it is our Baptism and Confirmation that anoints us to the priesthood, and every man and woman in the Church is ordained to ministry.

Catholics believe in both the common priesthood of all believers, and the ministerial priesthood of bishops and priests. Below is a quote from the Catechism explaining the difference:

1547 “The ministerial or hierarchical priesthood of bishops and priests, and the common priesthood of all the faithful participate, ‘each in its own proper way, in the one priesthood of Christ.’ While being ‘ordered one to another,’ they differ essentially. In what sense? While the common priesthood of the faithful is exercised by the unfolding of baptismal grace—a life of faith, hope, and charity, a life according to the Spirit—, the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood. It is directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians. The ministerial priesthood is means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads his Church. For this reason it is transmitted by its own sacrament, the sacrament of Holy Orders.”

We are all called to live the life of Christ, and continue his work in the world. That is what it means to be priests. What we commonly call priests are those who are called to minister to their fellow priests. These priests are supposed to take care of the Church as it goes about its mission, and administer the sacraments Christ left to keep His Church renewed in His Grace. No one is higher than the other.

We are called. We are a spiritual house built upon the cornerstone. As we minister to the world, we should not let our hearts be troubled, because Christ is with us. We will be good priests if we follow the word He has left us, and listen to His voice in our hearts.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Link to Mass Readings:

“For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.”

Grace is more powerful than sin. In the first reading, Peter stands with the rest of the Apostles, and addresses the people of Jerusalem. The same people who cheered for the crucifixion of Christ just a short time ago, he stands in front of. To these people he says, “Repent and be baptized, everyone one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” Not even killing God is too big for forgiveness.

This is what the Easter season is about, the power of the resurrection. Everyone is called to share in it, to take into their life the Life of Jesus. When the Lord is our shepherd, our cup overflows, “Even though I walk in the dark valley / I fear no evil; for you are at my side.” His Life is neverending, and when we share in that we have more than is sufficient to meet every test. Sunday is a feast day, and the Easter season is a celebration: the time of renewal is at hand and we have won!

Not that victory is easy. The world is relentless is trying to convince that we have in fact lost, that God is not the way, the truth, and the life or that we aren’t worthy of forgiveness. These are lies. Jesus bore our sins on the cross that we might live for righteousness, that with His grace we might be like God. Let no one take that away from us.

The parable of the sheep and the sheepfold and the gate is confusing. It is easy to see how the Pharisees did not understand. But if Jesus is the gate through which the sheep enter and are saved, then who are the shepherds who lead them out? The shepherds are the ministers of the Church, who come in the name of Jesus to help guide sinners to salvation.

We should be wary of who tries to lead us out. We have been saved by a shepherd who knows us and calls us by name. We will hear a lot of voices in our lives calling our names, trying to get us to follow them. It is very easy to be distracted from Jesus. But we have been given a shepherd, and it is our responsibility to listen to His voice in our hearts and in our lives. We must try hard to know the shepherd, because it is not always easy to know if He is speaking to us. But He is always there, gently calling us to Himself.

We have been given guides to help know Him; his word in Scripture, the Church and the Tradition that has been passed down. The lives of His saints stand as models for us, and above all the life of His Son. If anyone tries to take us away from these things, reject them. “A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

Let us embrace the Life given to us this Easter season, and show the world the overflowing grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion

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“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

Palm Sunday is the most bittersweet Sunday. There is so much potential for glory: Jesus rides into Jerusalem to the crowd shouting “Hosanna,” and all the people spread their cloaks on the ground and palm branches before Him. Yet even at the height of His earthly glory, the people still do not understand who He is. They say: “This is Jesus the prophet,” when they should be saying: “This is God who walks among us.”

This is the darkest Sunday, when we re-enact the Lord’s Passion at Mass. No other time in Scripture has sin been so deliberate as when the crowd condemns Jesus. They shouted: “Let him be crucified!” and “His blood be upon us and upon our children.” For something to be a sin, it has to be deliberately done and with knowledge of what is being done. When the Passion is re-enacted, and we say those words along with the crowd 2,000 years ago, we show our participation in the crucifixion of Jesus. The tragedy we celebrate today is not one we are isolated from; it was sin that caused Jesus to be crucified, and we all share in the guilt because we all have sinned.

How alone must Jesus have been. Last week we read that the disciples were fearful to return to Jerusalem because they knew their lives would be in danger. But today we don’t see that, and in fact the disciples fall asleep when Jesus is at his most troubled. Maybe they were fooled by the glory shown to Jesus when He entered the holy city. But Jesus knows exactly what He is riding towards as He enters the city, He knows the betrayals of Judas and the rest of His disciples are coming, the pain and suffering He will have to endure. For three years God gave Him disciples to walk with Him and share in His ministry; but at the end, when everything is at its hardest, God strips everything away from Jesus, down to the very clothes He is wearing. All this so that what was prophesied in Scripture might come to pass.

Even Jesus cried out: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” I’ve heard people teach on that moment, that Jesus is quoting one of the Psalms, and while that Psalm starts out with the speaker in despair, it ends with the glory of God. And that’s true. But at the same time, Jesus is the one who has just been scourged, beaten, humiliated, tired, betrayed, abandoned, crucified, and left to die. Though He may not be despairing, and trust God with all His heart and soul, it can still be a cry of pain and hurt. It may be, “I know this had to happen, but did it have to be this bad?”

Who hasn’t felt the same? Even for us who believe, it is hard to deal with pain. When we suffer we feel alone even if we know that God is with us. Sometimes that is cold comfort. Even Jesus was afraid to suffer, and in the garden prayed that if His suffering could be spared then let it be so. But God’s will be done. Always. And God’s will is greater than we can imagine. As low as suffering and pain can bring us, even to death on a cross, God’s will can raise us up even higher.

Palm Sunday is bittersweet. Bitter, because it brings the suffering and death of Jesus. But sweet, because through this God’s will is shown to be greater than sin and death, and because Jesus bore His suffering perfectly, with faith in the Lord, God bestowed upon him the “name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Palm Sunday shows us that Christ can sympathize with our pain, because He has suffered. It shows us that God does NOT abandon us, even in our darkest hour. It shows us that God will carry us through, and raise us even from the dead. At the end of the race there is the glory of God, and we should not lose heart nor hope. Palm Sunday is here, but Easter is coming.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Fifth Sunday of Lent

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“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise.”
Martha said to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“She said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”

I love the story of Lazarus. I love the power of God displayed in its might, I love the faith of Martha. I love that Lazarus comes out of the tomb still wrapped in the clothes of the dead, and it is the community who unties him. It’s a powerful story, and we should always read it with awe at the love and power of God.

It’s tempting to take for granted that Jesus literally raised Lazarus from the dead. It’s tempting to focus on the metaphor of Jesus raising the sinner to new life; that we are all Lazarus being called from the tomb, still wrapped in the decaying stench of sin. And while that is true, it’s important to focus on what Jesus did, that He said He would bring Lazarus back to life and did so. “I have promised, and I will do it, says the Lord.”

I think we are often like Martha in this story. We believe in God, but we believe safely. She tells Jesus that if He had been there, He could have healed Lazarus and prevented his death. But she is faithful, and accepts that what has happened, happened. When Jesus tells her that Lazarus will rise, she agrees with the safe Sunday school answer. But Jesus says no, that He is the resurrection and the life, and even now Lazarus could rise from the dead because of His power. So this is the choice before Martha: to believe in Jesus, but safely, never asking too much so as not to be disappointed; or to say “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”

It’s such a powerful statement. Jesus is not just claiming to her that He is a good teacher, or a miraculous healer, but claiming all His majesty in front of her. It is a difficult thing to accept. We want just enough God in our lives, just enough God to help us do well in school, or comfort us when we are grieving, or help us find our lost keys. But God is so much bigger than that, and loves us so hard it’s terrifying. Martha, like us, has to look Jesus in the eyes and say “Yes, I believe.”

The very last lines of the Gospel read: “Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him.” The key word is many. Not all. Not all who saw Jesus raise a person from the dead began to believe in Him. It is a fearful thing to understand the living God is here, and it takes courage to believe in Him. This week, as we prepare for Holy Week and Easter, let’s pray for God to increase our faith. Let’s pray that we will fully trust God not just with little things but with everything. Let’s risk our faith and open ourselves for disappointment. God is big, and powerful, and mighty to save; let us pray to THAT God, and put no limits of what He can do.

“Yes Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Fourth Sunday of Lent

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“If he is a sinner, I do not know. One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.”

What do we see? Throughout the readings today is the whether or not we can see, and what is visible. In the Gospel, a man born blind is cured; in the first reading, it is not the man who most looks like a king who is chosen. We are reminded today that God sees with eyes that are better than our own, and if we want to see the truth we have to stop trusting ourselves, and trust God instead.

In the first reading, Samuel has to anoint the next king of Israel from among Jesse’s sons. His first thought is for Eliab, who looked the part. But God rejects him, and has Samuel anoint David instead, who we are told is handsome, and makes a splendid appearance. The difference between the two, though both look great, is that man sees the appearance, but God looks into the heart. Eliab was not fit to rule, though he looked like he should. But David, this was the one whose heart God judged fit for His kingdom.

Who do we judge as righteous because of what we see, or judge as sinful? The first reading reminds us not to judge people for ourselves, but to leave that up to God. We are so quick to judge people as saints, or sluts, greedy or selfless. We cannot see the hearts of people, so we should not be too quick to judge in either goodness or evil.

How then, shall we know who is a child of God? In the Gospel, the Pharisees know the law of Moses, and condemn Jesus as a sinner because He broke the law in their eyes. But they are blind, even though they say “they see,” because they don’t notice the Son of God right before their eyes, they are so concerned with judging Him. But the blind man, he knows that God does not listen to sinners. He doesn’t know Jesus from Adam, but knows that Jesus came, and “that I was blind and now I see.”

Paul tells us that we should live as children of light, for “light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth,” but that the works of darkness are fruitless. Like the blind man, Jesus comes to us in our unbelief and darkness. But He brings us into the light, wakes us from the dead, and though we did not know Him before we can now say “I was blind and now I see.” And because we can say that, we know where Jesus comes from. We know He is from God, is God, because of the light He brings into our lives that multiplies itself in goodness, and righteousness, and truth.

Test everything by the light. Expose everything to the light of day. Let no secrets be whispered behind another’s back, or temptations struggled with alone in the dark. We know that we can see not because of our own efforts, but because Christ healed us. We should therefore bring everything into the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. Our sins can be transformed into strengths if we share them with each other in the light of faith.

Lent is the time! We have been healed, from darkness to light, and this season we remind ourselves keep darkness away from us. Because as we prepare ourselves, Jesus is making His way towards Jerusalem, towards the cross. Today Jesus tells His disciples “We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” The death of Jesus is coming, coming, and for three days the night will reign. But soon, after comes the Resurrection, and light of Christ will remain in the world until the end because we will keep in there for Him.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Third Sunday of Lent

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How do we keep faith in the desert?

When we struggle, we need encouragement. We need people to tell us we are doing a good job, that what we are doing is worth doing. When we are depressed, we need people to tell us that we are loved, that we are good people. When we are hurt, we need people to tell us things get better, that it won’t always be like this. We need support.

In the desert we need water. The desert is a dry place, and the sun beats down relentlessly. Water is what refreshes us, renews us, and lets us keep going even though the harsh surroundings keep tempting us to stop, stop. Water runs through each of the three readings today, and it is important to see how water is used because it speaks to our own experience of being thirsty and in need.

In the first reading, the people of God are wandering in the desert and they are tired. They are also thirsty, and even though they were led through the Red Sea on dry ground, even though God sent plagues to convince Pharaoh to release them out of Egypt, they worry that God will abandon them. Because of this, God sends Moses with the elders of Israel to give them water out of the rock. He gives them a sign of encouragement, and renews their faith in him with life-giving water.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus offers to give the Samaritan woman living water. After she drinks this, he promises she will never be thirsty again. She thinks he means that she will never be physically thirsty, and is confused. But then He reveals Himself as the Messiah, and she spreads the good news of his arrival to the rest of the town. Jesus stays with them two days, and afterwards the Samaritans told the woman: “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”

There is a parallel here between water and hearing the Word of God, and the living water and knowing God. We can go to church and hear the Word, and leave renewed and invigorated. We can go on retreats, or have deep conversations with believers and feel inspired by the mystery of God. We can read books, or see movies, or hear incredible speakers and be moved in faith but unless we come to know God personally we will always be like the Israelites who demand sign after sign because they are never satisfied.

When we have the living water, God is enough. We don’t have to look for signs from other people because “the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Church, music, movies, people, retreats, and conversations will never be satisfying unless we haven drunk of the living waters. We often think it is enough to believe like the Israelites or as the Samaritans did at first, basing our faith on the faith of others and relying on their faith to carry us through. We hear conviction in the voices of those who testify and believe because they tell us to. But we are called to hear for ourselves, and know personally the savior of the world, who died for us while we were still sinners.

How do we keep faith in the desert? During Lent, we try to surround ourselves with holy things like the Mass, rosaries, prayer, and fasting. And these are good. But we should not just drink and be renewed, but drink of the living water and never thirst again. In the scarcity of Lent let us draw closer to Jesus, and know Him intimately in a way that leaves open all our vulnerabilities. Because we hope in the glory of God, and hope does not disappoint.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Second Sunday in Lent

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The desert is a hard place. There isn’t the plenty we are used to, and it’s uncomfortable. Where before we could just take what we need, in the desert we need to go without. We suffer, and deprive ourselves. The desert is also lonely; while other people may be suffering as well, to suffer is an intensely personal thing. No one feels what we feel, and our pain is entirely unique. The desert can be beautiful in its starkness and severity, but no one wants to live there. And yet, during Lent we put ourselves here on purpose.

Christians have been removing themselves to the desert for a long time, and in the early centuries of the Church it was a popular spot for monks. But the desert doesn’t make loving God easier. What the desert does is remove from us the things we surround ourselves with that make us comfortable, which makes us not need God because we have these things. In the desert, these things are gone. But we are still left with the choice, to choose God or not. We can find things in the desert to distract us, and hide our heads in the sand if we want to. But it’s harder to hide from ourselves in the desert, and when we turn away from God here we know exactly what it is that we are doing.

The readings today are about the glory God brings to us if we can choose Him through all the suffering. Paul tells us to “bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” Even in the desert God is here, and His strength is the Rock of Ages, the waters of everlasting life. God has saved us and called us to a holy life; He will preserve us in that life if we call on Him, and to survive in the desert we have to. Only God is strong enough for what He wants from us.

Abraham is the best example of God preserving His servant through suffering. Abraham wandered in the wilderness most of his life, all because of the promise God gave to him. We don’t know how much Abraham struggled with what God asked of him, but we do know that Scripture tells us “Abram went as the Lord directed him.” Because that is the important part, more than our pain, or feelings, or insecurities, or temptations; are we, or are we not going as the Lord directs us?

The Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountaintop is one of the few times where God reveals the glory of Jesus in a visible way. The disciples see Jesus robed in white talking with Elijah and Moses, who represent in the Old Testament the Prophets and the Law. When the disciples see Jesus talking with them, they see that Jesus is equal with these two legendary figures. But then God says “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” The disciples then know that Jesus is greater than the Law of the Old Testament, and all the Prophets. In Him is their fulfillment, and the glory He shows on the mountaintop is with Him always, if only they had eyes to see.

It is hard to suffer for the kingdom. God only tells the world publicly two times that He is well pleased with Jesus. The rest of the time, Jesus must continue to struggle on in faith. That is what we must do; we must continue to struggle on in faith through the desert, and trust God, because He is trustworthy. When Abraham was done with his wandering, God did indeed make of him a mighty nation, and preserved him through all of his trials. Jesus brought to fulfillment all the He had been destined for and conquered sin; He rose in glory because He trusted God and persevered until the end. Our crown of salvation waits for us too, to make it to the end and not give up.

I like the words from the psalm today: “Our soul waits for the Lord,/ Who is our help and our shield./ May your kindness, O Lord, be upon us/ who have put our hope in you.” We have removed ourselves from the things in life that can keep us from God, and in our severity we have put our trust in God. We believe that God is trustworthy, and will bring us through this suffering to the glory of salvation He has promised us. Amen.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

First Sunday in Lent

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“For, just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so, through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous.”

This is the thought of the Church as we journey through Lent: all people are sinners, and have been so from Adam and Eve through to us this day, this moment. Before Jesus, there was no escape from sin, because even when we had the Law and knew what was right, we still sinned. But with Jesus there came grace, and with grace freedom from sin; because though I cannot stop from sinning, Jesus within me can.

The readings today make that contrast. Adam and Eve were perfect, but disobeyed God, and through their disobedience came the punishment of original sin for all people. But Jesus was perfect and withstood every temptation, yet was punished anyway. He in His obedience bore the punishment for all sin, and because of that we can be forgiven our sins. Sin requires punishment, and because of Jesus we do not have the justice we deserve, but the grace we have not earned.

This is what we meditate on during Lent, that we are sinners, but one righteous man paid the price for our sins. We sacrifice in honor of that memory, we sacrifice to be more like Him, and we sacrifice to remember more clearly the gift that we have been given. The last few weeks the readings have all been about the choice between God and destruction, but there is so much stuff that distracts us from that choice. We worry about jobs, about girlfriends or boyfriends, we worry about being liked or respected, we busy ourselves with catching the latest tv show or new song on the radio. But we give these things up not to enjoy suffering, but to place ourselves in the desert with Jesus to remember the choice we are given, the one that Moses put before the Israelites: to choose either the blessing or the curse.

Enjoy the suffering. Embrace it as a gift, because it is a small thing we do in memory the sacrifice we will celebrate in 40 days. The desert is hard, and hot, and we become lean and frustrated as we have to do without all the comfort we are used to. But in the desert we cannot hide from things, and all the hard things about ourselves and the blemishes on our souls must be seen in the harsh sun. The Psalm today embraces what Lent is about, and if we did nothing else, it would be worth praying each of these 40 days. Because what we want, is to be changed during Lent, and overthrown until we are worthy to stand before Jesus on Good Friday and remember what He has done for us.

Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me.

For I acknowledge my offense,
and my sin is before me always:
“Against you only have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight.”

A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.

Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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“I set before you here, this day, a blessing and a curse.”

These past few weeks Scripture has been emphasizing, over and again that we have two choices: God or destruction. Today continues this theme, but also questions what it means to make the choice for God. We as Christians say we have faith, but what does it mean to believe in Jesus as our Savior?

This is what we believe: that we are sinners, and therefore not righteous. God is righteous, and even though following the Law would make us righteous, no one could do it perfectly. But Jesus died for our redemption, and we are justified as righteous by His grace. Because of Jesus, we can be like God.

Paul tells us: “For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” This means we cannot become righteous by our own merits following the do’s and don’ts of the law; we can only become righteous through Jesus, whose grace is available for all who believe. For we consider that a person is justified by faith.

But faith is more than believing Jesus exists. Even Jesus said “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” The Church becomes so divided between people saying that we are saved through faith, or saved through faith and works, but it is a pointless debate because there should be no distinction. There is no faith separate from works of our hands, and likewise there should be no work separate from our faith if we are God’s people.

But what kind of works? Even if we do miracles and great things in the name of Jesus, we are told that isn’t enough for Heaven. It is only those who do the will of God who will enter the kingdom of Heaven. This then is faith: to acknowledge Jesus as our Savior from sin, and follow the will of God in every action of our life.

The psalmist know what it means to live a life for God: “Be my rock of refuge,/ a stronghold to give me safety. / You are my rock and my fortress;/ for your name’s sake you will lead and guide me.” It is not enough for us to be churchgoers; Jesus did not come to establish churches, He came to make disciples. Disciples follow their master closely, believing every word as truth and doing everything he says. How faithful are we?

This week the Church begins Lent, a time when we strip away the things that cover our eyes against God. So often we hear God’s voice, but we are scared or too comfortable to listen. In Lent, in the desert, there is less to stop us from listening to God. This is why the poor are blessed, because all they possess is the Lord.

Let us be faithful. God is our savior, and there is none like Him. This Lent, let us listen when He speaks to us, and not turn away from the way He has ordained for us.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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There are few things more comforting, or more scary, than God watching over us at every moment.

The first reading reminds us that God’s love is stronger and more enduring than anything else we know. Even compared to the love of a mother for her child, God’s love for us is stronger than that. He will never forget us, and cannot possibly forsake us. He and us are connected more strongly than that, and His spirit dwells within us. Not a hair on our head goes uncounted, and every tear and smile He notices.

This is why Jesus tells us not to worry. Because of God, we are transformed. Life is now about more than food or clothes, money or respect. In fact, Paul tells us he holds the judgments of others as no account. God is mighty, and if we hold to our faith God will see us through. We will suffer sometimes. But even in our loneliest hour God wraps His arms around us, and we are never alone. “Even should a mother forget her child, I will never forget you.”

But if He is always with us in our suffering, He is also always with us in our prosperity. When things are going well, and we judge or shun others, He notices. When we choose not to serve God, even in the smallest moments He is watching over us, loving us, but also grieving at our choices. Because Paul reminds us that no one judges us but the Lord, but the Lord will judge us at the appointed time. “He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts.”

The Lord is our rock and our salvation, steadfast and everlasting. But it is faithfulness which is required to cling to that rock. Today is the second week in a row where Jesus compares the children of God to the pagans. It is the pagans this week who constantly worry about what they will drink, what they will eat; last week we read that even the pagans are good to their friends. But because we know Jesus our lives should be different than if we didn’t.

Our loyalty should be visible; “faith is proof of what is hoped for, and evidence of things unseen.” If we have faith in God, then our faith is our assurance that God will provide for us. Our faith is evidence of God’s loyalty and love to us. God knows what we need, and we need not worry about what is lacking in our lives. Not that we should stop working and lie on the ground, trusting God to put food in our mouths. But that if we trust God He will take charge of our lives and they will be good. They will be holy.

Do not worry about tomorrow, sufficient for today is its own evil. Trust God and His judgments, and distrust your own. We are not called to be wise, but to be faithful. We are God’s people, and the only judgment we should be concerned with is God’s.

God’s love is ever faithful, and always watching over us.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Don’t be afraid to be holy.

The phrase “Don’t be afraid” is occurs more time in Scripture than any other. This is because the Lord our God is with us, and He is mighty in power. Today, the readings tell us not to be afraid to be holy. In fact, be reckless with your goodness. Last week the readings emphasized what is at stake when we sin; we either choose God or Hell. This week continues that theme; because the stakes are so high, we should be overly cautious and err far on the side of God. We should not be careful to act too foolishly in our goodness, because the alternative is to not act good enough. And if we make that choice, we condemn ourselves. Much better to be foolish, ridiculous, and contemptible for how holy we carry ourselves.

So if someone hits us, we should not get angry, or get even. We should offer our other cheek to make sure we commit no sin that would condemn us. This is what we are told in the first reading “You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart. Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen, do not incur sin because of him.”

This isn’t wisdom. We all know that it isn’t smart to give someone our coat because they demand our shirt. It’s not just, it’s not fair, nobody is getting what they deserve. But this isn’t about that. Our God is the God of the just, and the wicked who take advantage of our foolishness will meet justice here or at their judgment. The idea is that holiness is too precious to give up.

Jesus ends the Gospel with the phrase “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” It is not just by being cautious in holiness that we will be like God, but by being reckless as well. We should love our enemies against all reason, and forgive the people who have hurt us past all sense. As Christians, we are concerned with Heaven and with nothing else. Do not be afraid to be taken advantage of, or be hurt. God is with us.

Does this mean we should not work for justice, that we should not fight for people who are wronged? No. It means that we should be cautious, that in fighting for justice we do not swerve into revenge. We should stand up for the truth, and reprove our neighbor. But we should not if we can’t do it without sinning. This is where Jesus warns us to take the log out of our own eye before we take a speck of wood out of another’s. But with our caution against sinning, God let us be foolish in love. Let us go two miles with the man who demands we go one. Let us love even the people who insult us, that we hate because of how they make us feel. It is not smart or wise, but God knows the thoughts of us who want to be smart, and knows that they are selfish and vain.

Do not be afraid to be hurt. Be both cautious and foolish, slow to reprove and hasty to embrace.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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How much?

How much do we have to give God, how closely do we have to follow His commandments? How much will be asked of us to be holy, how much will we have to sacrifice? Everything, all of them, everything, all of it.

This is the message today: there is no halfway to Heaven. We have before us fire and water, Heaven or Gehenna. Gehenna was the place in Jerusalem where people came to throw away their trash. It was a huge pit, that burned day and night. This is what Jesus puts before us, to be members of the kingdom of Heaven, or trash to be burned away.

We read the Gospel and immediately want to soften it. “He can’t mean literally cut out your eye, Jesus just wants us to do everything we can to avoid sin.” “He can’t mean that looking at a woman with lust is the same as adultery, He’s just over exaggerating to make His point.”

But this is the point, that Jesus sees clearly He cannot overemphasize. The stakes are too high; if you cannot keep from looking at a woman in lust, if everything fails before your desire, absolutely cut it out. You must do whatever you have to, to avoid the fire. Jesus did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. We are now not only bound by the letter, but by the spirit as well.

It’s easy to think that this kind of absolute holiness is only meant for a select few. In the Church, we have priests and monks and nuns who we expect to be holy, but we don’t hold ourselves to the same standard. Because we are not consecrated to God, we feel that the bar is set lower for us. We only have to be mostly good, because only a few people can be Mother Teresas.

That is a lie. “No one does he command to act unjustly,/ to none does he give license to sin.” We are a holy kingdom, and by our Confirmation we are made a royal priesthood. We are all ministers of God, and clergy are only supposed to be ministers to members of the Church. Perfection is demanded of all of us, however sinful we may feel.

And that’s the issue. No one feels good enough to be perfect. Too much of the time, it’s hard enough to just be ok. We are asked to be pure water in a brackish pond, and it’s hard to separate ourselves from the muck. How can we be in the world and not of it?

But God has revealed His wisdom through the Spirit, and the Holy Spirit bubbles up within us as a pure fountain. We are purified because Christ is holy, and He is in us. God is MIGHTY and we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, even perfection.

The past few weeks the readings have circled around the idea of obedience to God. Obedience teaches us humility, and forces us to make room for God in our lives. We can only be perfect if He is there, and obedience not only teaches how to be perfect, like a parent teaches a child to pray by folding their hands for them, but frees us from the burden of perfection by ourselves.

The glory of what we believe is that we are not alone. Jesus is with us, in our suffering on the cross, and in our joy in our hearts. Perfection does not always have to be drudgery, but it can also be joy. When the law becomes our desire, and not our command, that is when we are progressing along the path of the Lord.

How much shall we give? Everything, because the stakes could not be higher.

But we are not alone, and the Church walks together with each other and Jesus in poverty and perfection.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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To be Christian is not very complicated. We do not have to be smart, or clever, wise, or strong. This is what it means to follow God: Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless, clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own people. Build your faith not on human wisdom, but on the mighty power of God.

If we do these things, God will recognize us as His own, we will cry for help and He will hear us. If we work for justice, Isaiah says our wounds will be healed and our vindication go out before us. The psalmist says that our justice will endure forever, and our horn exalted in glory. In the Lord’s justice, we shall find salvation.

But Jesus also tells us that justice has been left to us. “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?” If we will not share our bread, or clothe the naked, then who will? We are called to be salt and light, simple basic things. But it is on these things that all else depends. If a light in the darkness goes out, then there is only darkness. If salt loses its flavor, there is no other seasoning which can replace it.

God no longer works thunder and lighting to establish His kingdom on earth, but relies on His people. The glory of God is now seen only through our good deeds, and the words with which we proclaim His name. If we will not make justice then who will? If we will not speak about God, then who else will?

When Paul speaks to the Corinthians, he reminds them that when he visited he did not wow them with fancy speeches, or secret knowledge. He did not put on a good show, or have awesome music to persuade them to love God. He came in weakness and fear, and spoke only with the Spirit and power.

We forget sometimes the power of God. We are called to do so much, and there is such a thirst for justice in the world. We want to be strong to fix everything, and we are afraid when we think ourselves too small or weak to do it. But in our weakness the mighty power of God shines through. Salt and light are such small things. But the tiniest light throws back the darkness, and a little bit of salt goes a long way to season food. God does not need our strength, but our weakness so that His glory might be present.

God will confirm us in strength we do not have. “He shall never be moved;/ the just one shall be in everlasting remembrance./ An evil report he shall not fear;/ his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.” We must trust God, and make justice where we are. If we do so, God will make miracles happen.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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“The Lord shall reign forever;
Your God, O Zion, through all generations.”

It’s almost obvious to us the saying “Nice guys finish last.” Even the readings today, written thousands of years ago, take for granted that those who lie, cheat, and steal are those who succeed. The world is run by people who have pressed for every advantage over those who have followed the rules and tried to be kind. Nothing has changed in all our long history from that time until now.

But they are not God’s people. “Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth,/ who have observed his law;/ seek justice, seek humility.” Those who obey God are God’s people, and He is the God of justice. He keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed, and sets the captives free. While the readings assume that we know the evil often succeed ahead of the good, they remind us of this fact: The Lord is powerful, and keeps faith with His people. There will be justice.

The Beatitudes affirm this. Those who are weak, but follow God, will find satisfaction. The Lord will not let us suffer forever. Whether in this life or the next, God will remedy our injustice with justice, and our sorrow with joy. It is our part now to have faith, and to believe in the victory He has already won for us.

We think it such an awful thing to be weak. But God has chosen the weak things to shame the strong, the foolish to shame the wise. We believers are not often the CEOs or presidents, the PhDs or millionaires. But God has chosen us, because we have room for Him. It is the weak who are blessed, because they lack and God provides.

In love, there is both giving and receiving. We often would rather give than receive, be strong rather than weak. But there is both in love, and without both there is not love. People who “have everything” do not want to receive; they want to give, of their opinion, of their will, of their influence. They don’t “need” anything, and thus are not open to God. But the weak are. The ones who mourn, who hunger and thirst for justice, who are poor in spirit, who are merciful, who suffer evil spoken falsely against them: all these need God. They are open to receiving from God, and so will be satisfied.

When we are weak, we receive God into our lives. When we are strong we feel we don’t need Him. We should encourage ourselves to be weak, to be vulnerable, to leave room for God in our lives It is hard to be weak. But He is the God of forever, faithful and loyal to the people who have chosen Him; He has promised us we will not suffer forever.

There is balm, in Gilead. There is ease for our suffering in God. Do not be afraid to lean on Him, because He remembers us in our pain. Do not be afraid to need Him. Because in our weakness He has chosen us to be proof of His power in the world, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Today’s readings are about longing for God, and the suddenness with which He can come.

Longing is something common to everyone. We long for the girl who doesn’t see us, or the job we don’t have. We long for a friend when we are lonely, and for God when we can’t make sense of the suffering. Today the psalmist asks, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom should I fear?” But he ends with “I believe that I shall see the bounty of the Lord/ in the land of the living./ Wait for the Lord with courage;/ be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord.” He isn’t certain of God, but longs for His certainty and refuge. The psalmist persists in his belief, waiting fervently for the God he cannot feel but believes will come for him. He longs with faith.

In the first reading, longing is fulfilled. Not only has God brought light, and abundant joy, but he has smashed the rod of the taskmaster. Smash is a strong word; God did not remove the rod, He did not break it, but He smashed it with all the force of a man throwing a glass bulb onto the ground. The point is that when God comes, He comes.

Jesus came to Galilee, and invites Simon and Andrew to come with him and be “fishers of men.” They come at once, leaving their nets. Jesus next sees James and John, and when He called to them, they came immediately. These four men then travelled with Jesus as He taught in the synagogues, proclaimed the gospel, and cured every disease and illness among the people.

We get so caught up in our lives, and what we long for, that we can imagine nothing will ever change. We make up a thousand obstacles between us and what we want, and a thousand excuses why we can’t do something. We in the Church may long for holiness, and to be chaste, or forgiving, but we know that this and that and such and such will never let us do it. But God smashed the rod, and Jesus was followed at once and immediately. There is nothing keeping us from lives of holiness, when God is so powerful.

And it is God, only God who will bring us there. The second reading deals with the division among early Christians, where some said they belong to Paul, or others Apollo. But Paul says you fools, it is not me, or Apollo, or Cephas that saved you in your longing but Christ. It was the cross of Christ, and the death He suffered that set all men free, with no divisions. God is more powerful than Paul, than the Pope, or any church, and it is in Him that we find rest from our longing. Sometimes we forget that.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” The light is not Catholicism, or Lutherism, or non-denominationalism (which divides itself as well), but Christ. Always and only Christ.

Christ is more powerful than anything in our lives. When we long for Him, we should remember the words smash, at once, and immediately. There is nothing keeping us from Him that He cannot overcome. We just have to say yes to the invitation.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Obedience. What does it mean to obey, to do something whether you will it or not? What is freedom, and is there freedom in obedience?

The readings today focus on obedience, and the reasons why we are obedient to God. The first is that we are obedient, because it is through our obedience that God accomplishes His will. “You are my servant, Israel, through whom I show my glory…I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. “ For this purpose God makes us powerful, and has raised up the weak things of the world to accomplish great purposes.

The second reading tells us that we are to be obedient because we are called to it. We have called upon the name of Christ Jesus to save us, and in return have been sanctified by His blood. Because of our sanctification we are called to be holy, and in holiness is obedience to God. We should be obedient out of gratitude, and respect for what we have been given.

The Psalm says to be obedient, because that is what God desires. “Sacrifice or offering you wished not/ but ears open to obedience you gave me.” Rather than praise of His name, God desires that we follow what He has commanded us to do. Over and over again in Scipture, we are told that we know God’s people by the works that they do. The hymn of praise we sing should always be, “Here I am Lord; I come to do your will.”

These are excellent reasons for obedience. But is it good for us to be obedient? The greatest gift God gave was free will, that we might freely choose God and offer Him our love. But the commands that God gives are often things that I do not want to do. They are hard things, and while they are satisfying in the long run, they are frustrating in the short term. Why is it good, that if God gives us freedom, we should give it up to show our love back? To be obedient, to follow commands like a dog, does not seem the kind of love we are taught is between God us. Does God desire slaves or sons? What good is freedom, if I can never do what I want to do?

God desires sons who are free, and in their freedom always choose Him. Is it more free to choose good or evil as one desires, or to always choose good because that is all you desire? Holiness means becoming the latter. John the Baptist was free, and was obedient to God out of a pure desire for holiness. He did not sin because the law required him not to, but because he loved God and chose good. What is more, the freedom that chooses good out of a holy desire is made grander: “I am made glorious in the sight of the Lord, and my God is now my strength!” With God, much more is open to us, and we can choose things that were beyond our grasp before.

God is powerful. We obey Him because of that, because we owe Him that, it is what He desires, and it is how He accomplishes His purposes on earth. But we do it also so that through obedience He might change our hearts; and with changed hearts we might choose more freely only good things. We obey that we might be free in holiness.

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

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The Baptism of Jesus. This is the start of Jesus’ public ministry, when God claimed Him not just in front of His family of Mary and Joseph, but before the world. It is where John recognizes Jesus, as we will read next week in the readings.

Take time to read the 1st reading. There God makes bold claims that his chosen servant will establish justice, open the eyes of the blind, and from the dungeon, bring out those who live in darkness. He has established Jesus for victory! All this, and what a quiet way to begin that march.

The Lord says in Isaiah, “he shall bring forth justice to the nations, / not crying out, not shouting, / not making his voice heard in the street. / a bruised reed he shall not break, / and a smoldering wick he shall not quench, / until he establishes justice on earth.”

It is always easy to forget that Jesus came bravely, to meekly die for the sins of all. He is the messiah, and even though the Jews were told in what way he would come, everyone still expected God’s chosen one to be a king like David. They expected glory, recognition, military might that would force justice and blaze light in the darkness. The messiah should have been an unstoppable force.

Jesus came for baptism by John so that no one would misunderstand who he was here for. John baptized the sinners; Jesus wished to be baptized with them. Yet he was the one who in days to come would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. But on that day, John saw the Holy Spirit descend like a dove upon him, gentle and mild. “a bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench.” Though everyone expected him to overthrow the foreign government of Caesar, or establish his authority over the chief priests, Jesus resisted all that.

The Church always knows that Jesus came to die for our sins. We remember this in His birth, and we remember it at His baptism. He established justice, by punishing all the sins of the world with death. He established mercy by taking that punishment on himself.

It is for this, Jesus’ obedience and faithfulness to God, that moved God to say “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

In baptizing himself with the sinners, Jesus also shows that there is no one outside His love. Peter recognizes this in the house of Cornelius: “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.”

We baptize ourselves in fulfillment of all righteousness with Jesus, and when we dip our fingers into water before Mass, and make the sign of the cross over ourselves, we renew the baptismal covenant we made to love God and hate the devil. We remember our promise, and the baptism of Jesus, because both involve obedience to God’s plan. May we always remember the obedience with which God was well pleased.

Epiphany of the Lord

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“It was not made know to people in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that the Gentles are coheirs, member of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

The magi, while really arriving in their own person, are also symbols of the nations that will one day come before Christ to pay him honor. Christ Jesus reconciled the world to himself on the cross, and in the Gospel, we see the foreshadowing of that when the magi visit Him after His birth.

We also see the reluctance of the Israelites to see their hope fulfilled. Jesus came in a time when Israel was conquered by the Romans, and many Israelites were becoming accustomed to new ways, and new ideas. Israel was becoming more secular, and giving loyalty to Caesar in Rome rather than God. When the magi came proclaiming that the Messiah had come, it was at an awkward time. The Israelites had always thought of the Messiah as a military conqueror, who would liberate Israel from its oppressors. The Messiah would be the earthly king of the Jews, and for those in power under Caesar, the Messiah would certainly be their ruin. So the question becomes, accept the Messiah we proclaim to be waiting for and reject the Empire of Rome, or accept Rome and reject the Messiah promised by God?

We aren’t told if the chief priests and the scribes knew of Herod’s plan. Scripture only tells us that they were troubled at the king of the Jews being born. Maybe they only were worried, but didn’t make a decision either way. Their situation is the realization of the question, “what do you do when you’re hopes of salvation are realized?”

It is their shame, that the leaders of the Israelites were not there to do Jesus homage. Foreigners who may, or may not, have been believers came to see Jesus. And not just of curiosity, but of a sincere desire to bring gifts to the Christ.

The magi are proof that God calls the hearts of everyone at all times to Himself, and that no one is outside the reach of God. Everyone, inside the Church or out, can bring gifts to God and honor him. But they are also brought to God, to the Church. Christ came to reconcile the world to himself; everyone is now copartners in Christ, and coheirs to the promise.

Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin

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“May the face of the Lord shine upon you!”

This is a blessing from the Old Testament, and is repeated twice today in the readings. I suppose it means “may the Lord focus His attention on you, and bring good things about in your cause.” But it takes on a different sense with the person of Jesus, because for Mary, the face of the Lord really did shine upon her. She held her child, and they looked into each others’ eyes and each face shone into the other.

This is what the Solemnity of Mary is about, the total role she played in the history of salvation. On this day, all the Church is required to go to Mass, to reflect on Mary and her son. The truth is, Mary brought about all that God asked of her; she gave birth to the savior, named Him Jesus, and raised Him with love and devotion. Yet even while she was a parent, she the first believer and reflected on all things concerning Jesus in her heart.

Mary had the unique position of reflecting as a follower of the teacher He would be, and one responsible for keeping Him safe. She was the mother of God. One would need to reflect a great deal in that position.

But her motherhood brought so many things to pass, chiefly that we all might be sons and daughters of God. Jesus was born to Mary under the old Jewish covenant; in His death, He made his body and blood a new covenant with God, one that would bind believers in Him for eternity. When Christ enters our hearts, we are adopted under the new covenant, and heirs to the old promise. God grants us salvation because we are His sons, and also because Mary is our mother.

Mary is the mother of Jesus, and so is the mother of the Church. As Jesus shown His face upon her so intimately, so she is a reflection of Him. All saints are a reflection of God, because God has shown His face upon them as they “reflected on him in their hearts.” But Mary is most so, because of her proximity to Jesus and her fidelity to the mission God gave to her.

It would have been easy to be scared. Easy to be terrified of living up to the motherhood of God; it might have been a large temptation to sin and therefore say “Look, see, I am not worthy of this responsibility. Someone else must do it.” But Mary did not. God looked on her with love, and asked her this thing. Mary gave her heart to God and accepted with love. Jesus was born, and Mary did not fail, but was instead raised to Queen of Heaven.

Today, eight days after Christmas, we think on the role Mary had in salvation. We reflect in our heart on her, and she did on Jesus. May God shine his face upon us too, and may we love Him enough to live up to His goodness.

Nativity of the Lord, Christmas Eve

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“No more shall people call you ‘Forsaken,’ or your land ‘Desolate,’ but you shall be called ‘My Delight,’ and your land ‘Espoused.’ For the Lord delights in you and makes your land his spouse…and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so shall your God rejoice in you.”

Today is the day of the celebration! The day when we, the Church, rejoice because we know who came to save us. We celebrate His coming, and mark this day to remember when defeated sin on our behalf. Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.

This is a day we spend with family; we exchange gifts, warm-hearted feelings, and try to think of only good things today. Today of all days throughout the year we try most to ignore or dispel the darkness in our lives. A lot of that is cultural habit, a tradition that has been reinforced through Christmas movies and music and tv, etc, etc. But some of that, especially for believers, is that this is the day God chose us once and for all, and not just a few chosen ones, but the whole world. Jesus died for the Israelites and the Gentiles, the ones who love Him and the ones who don’t. It is in honor of that generosity that we do our best to be our best on Christmas day, even if we don’t realize it.

In the second reading, Paul preaches to the Jews in their synagogue, and says “God, according to his promise, has brought to Israel a savior, Jesus.” While on the surface this is such joyful news, it is in essence a challenge. We often don’t want our hopes realized, because we have to live up to what we hoped for. If we realize success, we must act appropriately and wear the burden of success in all our other actions. If our savior comes to us, we must act to give Him all honor and support, and live in the way we promised Him we would.

That day has come for us. It is always here, but today on Christmas we are faced with the fact that our Lord, Jesus Christ came to us. He comes to us now, knocking on our hearts. We cannot ignore Him, and we cannot ignore what He stands for. He stands for love, that He loves us so completely as to come to us out of Heaven. He stands for forgiveness, because our sins our wiped away by the suffering He would undertake. He stands for mercy, because we do not receive the punishment we deserve from our sins. He is our hope that has come, and because He has come, we must live up to that love, forgiveness, mercy, and hope.

It is scary to live up to goodness others show us. It is so much easier to be mean when others are mean. Can we bear such love as God’s, that can only be responded to with equally infinite love, that takes us to the finite limits of everything we have?

This is why we have the model of Joseph, who though a good man, was still just a man, whom God had need to tell “Do not be afraid.” So to us, He says “do not be afraid,” but with faith accept Christ, and rejoice in His coming, and love, love with a boundless heart because He did so to us first. Let us celebrate His love with love.