Lift High the Cross

He saves us by our pain, because He has shared it.

God is so amazing that:

That by which we fall He saves us. Remember this. It is one of those eternal truths.

Believing the lie from the serpent in the garden led to death. What was the first sin? Pride. Distrust of God.

The serpents in the desert led to death. What was the sin? Grumbling, complaining…again…distrust of God.

What brought them healing and new life? Looking upon the serpent on a pole, held up by Moses. Trusting in the Word of God, “Make a saraph and mount it on a pole, and if any who have been bitten look at it, they will live” (Num 21:8).

There are Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (Jn 3:14-15).

And later He also says in John, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day” (Jn 6:40, my emphasis).

Jesus was lifted up on the Cross. By His death, He conquered Satan, the serpent in the garden, with something he is incapable of understanding—enfleshed merciful love that gives selflessly to others.

When we look upon Him and believe, we have new life, just as those in the desert.

When we believe His Word and look upon Him, and say “Amen, (I believe), ” and receive Him in the Eucharist…we not only spiritually, but materially have God’s eternal life-giving flesh within us.

Where we are weak He is strong. He is there in our weakness, in our pain. Placing our weaknesses and our pain at the foot of the Cross joins us to Jesus. He suffers with us and heals us, bringing peace into our hearts.

That by which we fall He saves us. Turn to Him and tell Him all about it. “Do not forget the works of the Lord” (Ps 78:7b). Jesus, I trust in You.

How are forgiveness and killing a virus related?

The readings for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time are particularly challenging.  If they aren’t, then you are already a saint! (Indeed, there are some of you out there!)  I will leave it to the reader to know them for the purpose of this article (see link), but here are some particular thoughts.

They are about forgiveness.  

Not holding grudges.

The overwhelming mercy of God.

Hard sayings.  

Things like:

“Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven” (Sir 28:2).

“None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom 14:7-8).

Whether we like it or not; whether we know it or not, we belong to our Creator.  He placed His life within us, and gave us FREEDOM to choose the good.  It is choosing that which is not good, namely sin, that leads to slavery and death.  By conquering death, the Lord offered us the opportunity of new life, again by our free choice.  When we are enslaved in our sin we are no longer free.

This is what unforgiveness, grudges, and resentment does to our hearts.  It enslaves us.  The slavery can be so “felt” that we have no idea how to get out. We don’t even feel like we have the capacity to act differently.  But all is not lost.

This is what the Lord does:

“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our transgressions from us” (Ps 103:12).

When we invite Jesus in, He brings the healing balm of love and mercy.  He stands in between us and the evil that hurts us.  He separates the evil from our hearts and sends it back to the spiritual nothingness that is the realm of the Evil One.

Now for the fun part!  It is time for an analogy. What Jesus does for us is like what soap does to a virus!  

It is commonly known that oil and water don’t mix.  Most people have observed the phenomenon of oil floating on top of water.  Adding soap is a way to make them mix.  The molecular properties of soap allow it to stand in between the oil and water.  It binds with different parts of the molecules in the oil and the water, bridges the gap between them, and creates a homogenous mixture.  (See adorable video link!)  The reason why soap and water work best for cleaning hands of a virus is because the soap destroys the oily layer of the virus and attaches to the genetic material inside, which is then washed away with excess water.  (See image). During our coronavirus crisis, the idea was put forth that one should say an Our Father while washing hands, in order to give the soap enough time to attach to the virus particles on our hands.

Isn’t it interesting that the prayer that Jesus taught us brings not only the spiritual healing we need, but also the material? By taking the time to pray while washing our hands with soap and water, the destructive material within the cell of the virus is washed away. In doing this we take good care of both our spirits and our bodies.

“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  

This phrase of the Our Father should remind us of Sirach 28:2 quoted above.  We must pray and ask for help from the only One who can help.  Just as washing one’s hands without soap is ineffective, so too is forgiveness without Jesus.  We desperately need the go-between.   Furthermore, as Jesus says in the Gospels today, forgiveness is a continuous decision.  “Not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Mt 18:22).  The number seven in Sacred Scripture is the number for wholeness, for completion.  Jesus makes it clear — complete forgiveness from the heart is necessary.  This is the forgiveness that He showed from the Cross, as He stretched out His hands from East to West, and prayed, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).

Every moment of every day, not seven times, but seventy-seven times, let us invite Him into our hearts, so that, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.

Baptism, Confession, and Wine Skins

One of the best ways to grow in prayer as a Christian is to pray with the Word everyday.  In the Catholic Church we are given daily Mass readings that take us through the liturgical year in cycles.  Right now we are in “ordinary time.”  We have special choices of readings during the Advent, Lent, and Easter seasons. Currently we are reading First Corinthians and the Gospel of Luke.  The Scriptures always seem to apply to the times that we are in!  I am convinced, that when Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” (Mt 11:15, 13:9, 13:43; Mark 4:9; Luke 8:8, Luke 14:35), He was not only echoing the prophets, (Is 6:10, 30:21, 35:5, 43:8; Zech 7:11; Jer 7:24, 35:15), but He was speaking to us.  He does this everyday in the Mass readings, and I will venture to say… 

It is essential for a Christian to read and pray with the Word of God everyday.

This week, in particular, I was struck by Jesus’ parable about the new cloak and the new wineskins.  He says:

“No one tears a piece from a new cloak to patch an old one.

Otherwise, he will tear the new

and the piece from it will not match the old cloak.

Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins.

Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins,

and it will be spilled, and the skins will be ruined.

Rather, new wine must be poured into fresh wineskins.

And no one who has been drinking old wine desires new,

for he says, ‘The old is good.’” (Lk 5:36-39).

This reminded me of something I read in my ESV Study Bible (a Protestant Bible) last week, commenting on 1 Cor 1:17, in which Paul said, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the Gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”  The comment in my ESV Study Bible was, “Hearing and believing in the Gospel, unlike baptism, is essential to salvation.”

My goodness.  If we take the words “unlike baptism” out then this statement is true.  One thing we like to say in the Catholic Church is, “Both/And.”  It is both baptism and hearing and believing in the Gospel!  Baptism is clearly required as the normal means of salvation.  Jesus told His disciples to baptize all in Matthew 28:19.  Baptism was done throughout the Acts of the Apostles so that the Holy Spirit would come upon all who believe.  Does God need Baptism to infuse the Holy Spirit?  No.  But we do, because Jesus told us to do this! God is so loving and powerful that He can and will dwell in His people (Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel, the prophets…etc!) for the purpose of drawing all to Himself in love.  We assent to this teaching of Christ and the apostles that we are to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins and we then receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

You may be wondering what this has to do with new/old cloaks and new/old wineskins.

The new wine is the new covenant.  It is the Gospel!  In order to receive the Gospel we must be cleansed through Baptism.  When we are baptized we are completely cleansed from Original Sin.  We put on the white garment of Christ and receive His light and truth, living in the Holy Spirit. Our old wine skins are made new, so to speak. The salvation that Jesus won for us through His death and Resurrection is ours.  The blessed Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – make their dwelling within us. (see Jn 14:15-17). We belong to the family of God.  We are anointed priest, prophet and king. Living in Christ, we offer our lives to God as priest, (this is the universal priesthood of the faithful that all the baptized share), we live and proclaim the Word as prophet, and in freedom, we direct our lives towards Heaven through our daily choices as king. 

This is our birthright as the baptized faithful.

We cannot receive the fullness of Gospel unless we are baptized.  We cannot receive the truth that Jesus laid down His life for us in freedom and that He forgives us all our sins.  We hide.  We are afraid.  In baptism we are claimed for Christ.  His divine life is poured into us through the symbolic action of water pouring on our heads.  His Cross is on our foreheads (see Rev 7:3).  We never need to fear again.  Jesus’ own baptism is a theophany event in the three Synoptic Gospels (Mt 3:13-17; Mk 1:9-11; Lk 3:21-22), in which the Father and the Spirit are manifest.  Further, Jesus tells Nicodemus in the Gospel of John, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:5).  In the same discourse of Paul that is mentioned above, he says, “For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me” (1 Cor 4:15b-16).  His clear teaching throughout the discourse is that it is Christ who baptizes and sends the Holy Spirit — not the minister — and that he has become their spiritual father, in Christ.  If we are to imitate Paul, are we not, also, to imitate Christ?

One other glorious thing that is our birthright as the baptized faithful — the other Sacraments.  These are the means, instituted by Christ, to continue living in Him.  They strengthen us on our journey.  Every sacrament that we receive is like a “power-up,” if you will.  The power to live in Christ is strengthened and renewed. This now brings me to confession.  After we are baptized, of course we fail, everyday, in living out God’s will.  Proverbs tells us that even the righteous man “falls seven times and rises again” (Prov 24:16), and the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the means to “renew our wine skins,” so that the Gospel can continue to renew our hearts.  There are no greater words for a sinner than the words of absolution: “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit.”

Who absolves?  Christ.  Through the ordained minister, fulfilling the ministry of the Church.

Renew your wine skins!  Receive the Word.  Everyday!