“Be Not Afraid”

As I walked into Church this morning I almost ran into a tree. You heard that right. I was looking down at my phone (really, to pause the prayer I was listening to, honest!) and next thing I know, I realize that one more step, and a tree will be in my face.

Thank you, distractions. Thank you, tree. This may seem ridiculous to thank my distractions and the tree but bear with me.

crucifixion-salvador-dali.jpgI walked into the narthex, and not only were my glasses fogged up (because of my face mask), but the sun was shining brightly through one of the far windows, blinding me. “Sit where the sun is not in my eyes,” I told myself as I walked into the nave. I could barely see where I was going, but I found a spot to sit down and begin writing in my journal. I invited Jesus into all of me for Mass — all of my thoughts, even the darkest ones.

Does that seem strange, to invite Jesus into the darkness?

Mass began and I stood up. The blinding sunlight was coming through the window, right into my eyes again as I stood. “It will be gone when I sit down for the readings,” I thought.

The first reading was from Ephesians. I love Ephesians. Just a note to the reader, if you read the daily Mass readings everyday we will be going through most of Ephesians for the next two weeks. Today this struck me: “You…were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s possession, to the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:13-14). Our being sealed in the Holy Spirit is only the first installment. “There is so much more to come!” I thought. We are His possession, His sons and daughters. Our inheritance is His gentle care, His love, His tenderness.

The psalm verse “Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own” fits right into this.

Blessed the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people he has chosen for his own inheritance.
From heaven the Lord looks down;
he sees all mankind (Ps 33:12-13).

God is in charge. We are His people. He gives us everything.

We stood up for the Gospel and I was blinded by the light again. I tried moving to my right. The light was still in my eyes. I decided to just close them and listen to the Word.

“There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the darkness will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed on the housetops. I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more. I shall show you whom to fear. Be afraid of the one who after killing has the power to cast into Gehenna; yes, I tell you, be afraid of that one. Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins? Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God. Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows (Lk 12:2-7).”

I sat down for the homily. “Every cell of our body is known by the Lord,” the priest said. “Bring everything into the light.”

I laughed at myself. “I can’t hide from you, can I, Jesus?” I thought of the bright sunlight through the Church window that seemed to be chasing me and blinding me.

I remembered what I wrote in my journal at the beginning of Mass. “I invite You into all of me, all of my thoughts, even the darkest ones.”

Jesus wants to be there to heal! He wants to be in every part of us. We can think of every cell, but is that all? A cell is a material thing. What about the spiritual “parts” of us? Our memories, our thoughts, our intellectual ponderings.

Our feelings. Even the darkest ones. He wants to be there, too.

His light may feel too bright. It may burn at first, but the burning is purifying.

What do we know about Him?

Look at the crucifix. Do not be afraid. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

While we were still sinners? He chases us down. His light shines in the darkness. He wants to be in everything — in the distractions, in the falls. He is not afraid of our sins, even the darkest ones. He felt all of them in His death, and in the moment of His last breath, He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Having been sealed in the Spirit was only the beginning. We now live the redemption and claim our inheritance in and through Christ and His loving sacrifice. There is nothing we can give Him that He cannot make new, even our darkest sins. Because we were created “very good” God can bring good purpose to all! Even the distractions. Even the bumps in the road. Even the trees we may run into! Our inheritance is His gentle care, His love, His tenderness.

Be not afraid.

A Saint, “Who, Me?” St. Thérèse says, “Yes, YOU.”

When you were baptized, you were meant to be a saint.  You were baptized priest prophet and king, and equipped to build the Kingdom of God just by living your life, clothed in Christ.  His Holy Spirit was not only breathing natural life within you, but supernatural life of grace and power!

St Thérèse of Lisieux

How many of us know this?  How many of us live this?

From this context, I want to talk about the Little Flower, St. Thérèse of Lisieux.  I highly recommend that you read her autobiography, “The Story of a Soul”.  Thérèse was born in France in 1873, the pampered daughter of a mother who had wanted to be a saint and a father who had wanted to be monk. (They are both saints now, by the way – the only married couple to be canonized together!)  The two had gotten married but decided to be continent, that is, until a priest reminded them that their marriage Sacrament was meant to be fully lived! They must have followed his advice very well because they had nine children, of whom, five survived. The five children who lived were all daughters.

Thérèse’s mother died when she was young, and it was devastating for her.  Her sisters and Father did their best to foster a loving family atmosphere and raise little Thérèse.  They were a very devoted and faithful family.  Without realizing it, by the time Thérèse was eleven years old she had developed the habit of mental prayer. She would would pray in solitude and think about God, life, and eternity.

Thérèse was admitted to the Carmelite convent after her sisters Pauline and Marie had already joined. She never expected that her convent-life fantasies of redemptive suffering would be realized so soon. Her father suffered a series of strokes, leaving him physically and mentally impaired. He, at one time, hallucinated and grabbed for a gun as if he were going into battle. He was then taken to an asylum for the insane. Thérèse was horrified at the humiliation of the father she adored and admired, as she heard of the gossip and pity of their so-called friends. As a cloistered nun she couldn’t even visit him.

This began a horrible time of suffering.  She experienced dryness in prayer and decided that Jesus wasn’t doing much in response. She often fell asleep in prayer.  She was consoled by the truth of Jesus’ love for little children, whose mothers love them when they lie asleep in their arms!  Therefore God must love her when she falls asleep during prayer.  The philosophy of the “Little Way,” or doing little things with great love, was born.

She knew she could never do fantastic things as a Carmelite nun. “Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love?  Great deeds are forbidden me.  The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love.”  She would take every chance to sacrifice, no matter how small. She smiled at the sisters she didn’t like and cared for infirm and grumpy sisters with ever so much love. When she was accused of breaking a vase she took the blame and begged forgiveness. Jesus knew of these little sacrifices done for love of Him.  Never was she told how wonderful she was for these secret humiliations and good deeds.  Because of her Little Way, Thérèse is a Doctor of the Church. Thérèse died of tuberculosis at the age of 24.  Her last words at death were, “OH!…I LOVE HIM!…MY GOD, I…LOVE…THEE!!!”  She ran to Jesus like a little child runs to her daddy.

The Little Way made her a saint, and it also can make US saints!

St. Thérèse showed us that doing little things, with love, actually makes them big things in God’s eyes!  We all have this capacity in whatever life brings us.  This is how we build the Kingdom and bring Jesus’ love to the world.

I would like to conclude with an analogy, which I hope will help the reader understand how, as Christians, everything we do can be done through, with, and in Christ. 

Suppose you are graduating from college with a mechanical engineering degree, and you have a job lined up with one of the automakers earning $80,000 per year, along with many other benefits.  You are fully equipped with your degree to act as an engineer and apply your knowledge (ie., as a Christian, you are priest and prophet — fully equipped), and in service to your company you use your skills to build not only cars but the engineering discipline through your creativity (ie., king).

All you have to do is get up in the morning, go to work, and do your job.  

You show up and do the duties that are expected of you (ie., you fulfill the precepts of the Church), but is this all you bring?  No!  You bring who you are as a person.  You build relationships as you work with others in your field of expertise.  In essence, there is no “just getting my paycheck.”  You offer yourself and you offer your knowledge.  Your small part builds the company and the body of knowledge.  Sometimes you are even asked to sacrifice.  The bottom line is, you are more to your work environment than your education or your body.  You bring your natural gifts to build your company, but you can also bring your supernatural gifts that you receive at baptism to everything you do and say.

Here is one major difference between this analogy and our Christian vocation.  God’s gift of grace and life in Him is free and unearned, and is worth so much more than even your earned degree and your experience.  This gift completes you as a person, made in the image and likeness of God.  Just as God’s Holy Spirit completes the human person, allowing him to partake of the divine nature (cf. 2 Peter 1:4), you ‘complete’ the secular world!  You are given the grace and are anointed, and it is now your decision how to live out your Baptism.  God is a generous benefactor and a generous lover, but he waits for our decision.  You are called and equipped, and you just need to go to work and do your job, serving God and serving others. 

We (that’s YOU and ME) have been exhorted by the Church at Vatican II: “by [our] competence in secular training and by [our] activity, elevated from within by the grace of Christ, let [us] vigorously contribute [our] effort, so that created goods may be perfected by human labor, technical skill and civic culture for the benefit of all men according to the design of the Creator and the light of His Word.”  This is how we as baptized Christians exercise our priestly ministry.  The more we do this, in anything and everything, every moment of every day, we live out our baptismal call.  

“Christ has communicated [His] royal power to His disciples that they might be constituted in royal freedom and that by true penance and a holy life they might conquer the reign of sin in themselves.”  Every time we celebrate together the Holy Mass, offering the sacrifice of our lives with Jesus to our Heavenly Father, Jesus nourishes us and strengthens us with His Body and Blood for the mission.  In our vocation to marriage or the religious life we offer ourselves in daily activities to the glory of God.  As prophets God gives us “understanding of the faith (sensus fidei) and an attractiveness in speech so that the power of the Gospel might shine forth in [our] daily social and family life.”  As kings we participate in spiritual combat with the flesh, overcoming the sin in ourselves and in the world.  We are co-creators with the Creator, who gave us “dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth” (Gen 1:28).  By our baptism we are renewed, redeemed, and equipped to order the world for the good of humanity to the glory of God.  

You have been given your mission!  Are you ready?  It is as simple as doing that first little thing, with love.

St. Thérèse, pray for us!

(All Vatican II quotes from Lumen gentium, 36).

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!

St. Augustine and Early Western Spirituality

Early Western spirituality developed with St. Ambrose who paved the way for the Doctor of Grace, St. Augustine.  A religious cultural challenge of the age was the continued development of heresies in the Church: Arian, Pelagian, Manichean, and Donatist.  Arguably the strict asceticism of the East contributed to these heresies, given that there was not yet a tradition of spiritual guidance. The Churches in both the East and the West were young, and the great tradition of spiritual theory and practice was yet to be formed in history.  For example, St. Jerome, while traveling through Gaul around 366, became acquainted with the practices of Eastern monasticism, and “began his own undertaking of this way of life in various experimental forms”  (Christian Spirituality: An Introduction to the Heritage, Charles Healey, 68, my emphasis).  As the Church developed doctrinally and spiritually, the importance of guidance from others in terms of spiritual fatherhood and motherhood was increasing.  The writings of Ambrose and Jerome, followed by the “mixed life of action and contemplation” (Healey, 77) of Augustine, paved the way for a new monasticism in which pastoral service was connected with the monastic life.  St. Benedict, the “Father of Western Monasticism” (Healey, 89), devised a Rule of Life in which personal sanctification was sought through living the Christian life in a community rather than a hermitage. These are the beginnings of “Contemplation in Action,” that we see in more modern spiritual masters through the Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites, and Jesuits (just to name a few).

By the time of Augustine around 384, St. Ambrose’s writings had transmitted much of Greek thought to the West (Healey, 66).  Ambrose was preoccupied with the Arian heresy, (that Jesus was not both human and divine), and through his method of preaching he kindled a passion for philosophy in Augustine that eventually led to his rejection of Manichæism (that evil is a created entity), and his baptism by Ambrose in 387.  It was a coming to God through reason that kindled the fire in Augustine’s heart.  He not only discerned who God was through reason, but His essence of goodness.  “For in no way can corruption affect our God, neither by will, nor by necessity, nor by chance, since He Himself is God and what He wills is good, and He himself is goodness; but to be corrupted is not good.”  It was an agony for Augustine to determine the origin of evil.  Once he came upon the truth that evil is a corrupted good he realized that he himself was created good and that it was his corruption that kept him from knowing the true good, Who is God.   Augustine, with the light of truth and the eyes of faith was able to see how God was his helper, and through the “secret hand of [God’s] healing,” Augustine’s darkened intellect “gained strength by the stinging ointment of wholesome sorrow”.  Augustine also realized that seeing truth and the power to see truth were a grace that he had received from this “Beauty so ancient and so new,” his poetic term for God.

Truly, reading Augustine leaves me breathless.  I, too, am held by, in his words, the “iron bondage of my own will.”  Indeed, I am a slave to bad habits as he was.  As Augustine says, “I was still tied down to earth and refused to accept service in your army.  I was as much afraid of being freed from what hindered my going to you as I should have feared whatever might hinder this.”  I, too, hear the muttering of vanities, when the Spirit says to me, as Continence told Augustine, “Cast yourself upon Him, do not be afraid; He will not withdraw and let you fall; cast yourself fearlessly upon Him.” 

I pray for fortitude and I continue to “work out my salvation with fear and trembling” (cf. Phil 2:12) with the help of prayer, Scripture, and the Sacraments.

In a similar way to Augustine, I believe that helping people to come to the truth about the one true God through reason is necessary.  In the dualism of our culture it seems that either there is nothing spiritual at all, or the spiritual is viewed some kind of “energy” flowing through the world and our bodies that is not attached to the one true God.  It is important to come to an agreement about first principles dealing with God’s essence.  If one believes in God, he may believe Him to be someone who “does things” or “doesn’t do things,” rather than who He is — His essence of Goodness, Truth, Beauty, and Love.  This error trickles down to how one thinks about the human person.  It is important to begin with the truth of God – that He exists, that He is all good, that He is love, and that we are created in His image and likeness.

(Nota bene, this article is a modified version of something I wrote for a spirituality class about five years ago. I urge all readers to read The Confessions of St. Augustine. You won’t be sorry)!

Baptism is about Belonging

Baptism is not just a magical formula. It is not about words that mean different things to different people. Especially today we fight about particular words and their meaning: fatherhood, motherhood, marriage…are just a few. Getting their meaning right is important for communication. I mean, who would tell you that black is white?

Since the time of Christ, since the time when He actually spoke the words written in Matthew 28:19-20 [“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”] and John 14, the words of Baptism have been So Important.

(I paraphrase): “Go out and unleash the Good News of what God has done for you! Go to all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. You are my disciples. You now speak for me. You will do greater things than I have done! I and the Father are One. I will send the Holy Spirit, and we will dwell in you. Through the Holy Spirit, you are in ME and I in YOU, and we will dwell together, in LOVE, for eternity.

Jesus didn’t use these exact words. I have condensed two Gospel passages.

But the above is what I believe that He meant. And this meaning is exactly why Baptism, as the Rite of Initiation into the family of God, is so important. Jesus gave us the words. Peter elaborates in Acts 2:38, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Again, Jesus gave us the words, and now Peter gives us the person, in Whose name, they are spoken. To do anything in Jesus’ name is to make that thing happen.

Once we are baptized, we belong to God, and the words Jesus spoke to His disciples in John 14 are realized.

These words, among others, are spoken in the Catholic Rite of Baptism:

“[Name of person], the Christian community welcomes you with great joy. In its name I claim you for Christ our Savior by the sign of his cross. I now trace the cross on your forehead, and invite your parents (and godparents) to do the same. (Priest, parents, Godparents mark a cross on child’s forehead).

“[Name of person], I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” (Priest thrice pours water over person’s head).

When the priest says “I baptize you;” when anyone says “I baptize you,” with proper Trinitarian form and matter (water), the person is baptized. The newly baptized belongs to the the family of God. The Holy Spirit dwells within the person, and the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity (the life of the eternal God) are infused. All sins are forgiven, including Original Sin. The virtues, a free gift from God through this rite of baptism, will carry this person through earthly life to earthly death, and to eternal life with the Father.

This is the eternal now. Once it happens it is done for eternity. Persons are claimed for Christ. They belong.

Because God is so good, because God is so loving…He can and does work outside this Sacrament. He doesn’t need it. But we do, so that we know.

Baptism gives us the right to say, “Lord, I claim you as my FATHER.”

Baptism gives us the right to say, “Jesus, I claim you as my SAVIOR.”

We Belong!

The Spirit of Truth actually lives within us, and propels us back to Abba, no matter what we have done!  Who can forget the story of the Prodigal Son?  We often do not even consider the Father’s love; we concentrate on the son or his brother.  The Father’s love was so unconditional, the son knew he belonged, and he returned. The faith of our parents, the faith of our friends -whoever brings us to baptism – has been enough to bring us, too, into the bosom of the Father for eternity.  Who can forget the story of the paralytic, whose four friends brought him to Jesus? “And when he saw their faith, he said, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven you’” (Luke 5:20, my emphasis).

Again, because God is so good, so loving, He still calls us in our hearts back to him. Even when we haven’t been baptized, or even if the words weren’t right, He is still calling us to himself, through Baptism. He calls us to take the plunge!

This is why we Christians remind ourselves of our Baptism with Holy Water. “I claim you for Christ” now becomes our own, “Father, I claim you as my daddy!”

Many who are reading this understand that I am writing in response to the pastoral crisis in the Archdiocese of Detroit that has come about because the correct formula was not used for Baptism for many, many people. There are parents who are devastated at this news. Many have sons and daughters who now do not go to Church. For such a time is this… let us go to St. Monica and to St. Augustine to intercede for us — for all of the sons and daughters affected by this; all of the mothers and fathers — Lord, bring us back to YOU. Call us by name in our hearts. Give us the grace to return to YOU.

Amen

Please see the links for St. Monica and St. Augustine — Their feast days are Thursday and Friday of this week — August 27 and 28.

The Eternal Now

Does the title seem to be a contradiction?  A paradox?  It is actually one of the truest statements one can contemplate.

What is Contemplation?

We as human beings recognize our spiritual capabilities.  We can even think about and analyze what we are thinking about.  (You know it’s true!). In the busyness of life, though, we forget to actually consider what it is that we think about and care about, and whether we are growing in this spiritual capacity of our rational soul.  

Oftentimes one of my sweet daughters will look at our beloved dog, Lily, and say, “I wonder what she is thinking about?”

“Nothing, really,” I reply.

It’s not all bad.  Lily is a creature of instinct and habit.  She is pre-programmed to do many things, most especially to be our beloved companion.  She has learned the ropes of living in our home, and she brings joy to us because she belongs and she knows it.  It is part of her programming to respond to us and to please us.  And in a similar way to humans, she has grown attachments to particular people in our home.  She “knows” who takes her for walks, who feeds her, which one of us is ok with face kisses, and who’s the boss.  She doesn’t think about or ponder things, however.  All of her actions are a result of instinct and training; she doesn’t make true choices.

Something the pandemic is doing, I believe, is helping us to learn the value of rest and communion.  As I use the word communion, I mean, in particular, community; but it goes much deeper than that.  Communion is more that being “part of the pack,” which is what Lily knows.  It is the spiritual knowledge of being a part of something, or Someone, greater than ourselves.  This capacity of the human person is not a result of training or millions of years of evolution.  There is only one Source of this ability — our Creator.

I believe that we are being drawn to God through these trials — through any trials, for that matter.  But this pandemic is a worldwide calling by our Creator to live in the eternal now.  We do this in restful silence, recalling the power within ourselves, the gift that has been freely given, the Gift that is the Spirit of God that has been breathed into us by our Creator.  This gift is the life-force that propels us to act, to love, and to live in communion with our neighbor.

What I have described above can be known naturally by any human person.  Anyone.  The Buddhists know it.  The folks at the AA meetings know it.  The Athenians to whom St. Paul preached knew of it (Acts 17:22-31). When he proclaimed that their “unknown god” was Jesus Christ, the God-man who became one of us, Who forgave all of our sins, and brought us eternal, supernatural life through His death and Resurrection, they were given the Truth and the choice to believe.

The truth of what we know by nature, (the truth of a power greater than ourselves), has been revealed and fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  He is the Eternal Now.  He lives within us.  He is our capacity to love.  He is our peace.

The seed of contemplation of this truth is planted within every human person.  It grows with our recognition, our attunement, our Yes; our decision to sit in silence, patiently, and wait for God to reveal His truth of His unending love for us. When we combine this with His revelation in Sacred Scripture, the Truth can be known in our hearts.

Start with 10 minutes in the morning, contemplating the Eternal Now.  Jesus.

A note to students going back to college…

Why did they bring you back?

Because they believe in you and your future. They believe that you are capable of personal responsibility.

Do you?

You have roommates, and you are responsible for each other.

You wear masks and social distance in classrooms (and you don’t go to bars and parties).

You are careful in your interactions, wearing a mask when at all possible (love your neighbor; who is my neighbor?).

People can see you smiling through your eyes!

Are you smiling?

People can see Jesus in you!

It is the Lord, who teaches us the ultimate responsibility — we are our brother’s keeper (who is my brother, my sister?).

It is the Lord, who by His example, gives us the grace to think of others before ourselves.

It is I, who makes the choices to listen, to hear, to act.

Why did they bring you back?

Because they believe in you and your future. They believe that you are capable of personal responsibility.

Do you?

Living Sacramentally.

I am back to readings reflections. In the first reading yesterday we hear from St. Paul, who is speaking about the “collection for the saints,” which is the collection for the suffering Church in Jerusalem. This is his reminder to the churches that we are part of a greater Church, the Church of Jesus Christ. We are His body, and as such, we are called to nourish every part of it. Everything we have and everything we are comes from the Lord. It is fitting to give back to Him in gratitude.

St. Paul is adept at using old proverbs to teach the lesson of generosity: “…whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Cor 9:6b; cf. Prov 22:9). Jesus, of course, is the original teacher of this lesson, (whether as the Word who has spoken from eternity or the Incarnate Word who dwells among us!) St. Paul speaks of giving according to the heart, and out of the love that we have for one another.

What (or Who) is the Source of this love?

It is the unending love by which all creation exists, and only one part of Creation is capable of returning this love in gratitude — man. The love of God freely flows into the hearts of His people for the purpose of freely flowing forward into life and abundance. For Jesus said, “I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10). St. Paul is reminding the Corinthians, and us, that all we have is from God in the first place! There is nothing…nothing…that is good, true, and beautiful…that is not foreseen or given by the Father. Paul quotes Psalm 112 to make this point: “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever” (Ps 112:9). He further makes the point and tells us of the necessary response of gratitude: “For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God” (2 Cor 9:13). Charity, ultimately, is giving back the gifts we have already been given. It is by grace that these gifts multiply.

The idea of “many thanksgivings” should cause us to think of the Sacraments, and in particular, the Eucharist. As we receive the Sacraments we receive the life of God — His grace — in abundance, and we continue to grow in grace upon grace. “For from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (Jn 1:16).

I once asked a young person in my life, “Why do you think I go to Mass?”

“Because you have to; it is a rule that you choose to follow,” he said.

“Oh no,” I said. “It is because I want to. What we are doing when we go to Mass is giving of ourselves, our life, our time that has been given to us, back to the Lord, and He, in turn, gives us Himself in His Word and in His holy food. This food sustains me. It gives me life!”

Grace upon grace. That is what it is all about. A gift of the heart — given from the heart and received in the heart.

God continues to give Himself through the Sacraments (but not exclusively so), so that we can live in the freedom to truly love. When Jesus gave us the Great Commission to unleash the Gospel (cf. Mt 28:19), He called us to do the same. We are called to give of ourselves, sacramentally, to others. We are to be a visible sign of an invisible reality: Christ living within us. There are the actual Sacraments of the Church, through which God gives us life and love, and it is by this life and love that we, too, give others life and love. Our sacramental giving and receiving with Jesus is His means of sharing His life and love with the whole world, resulting in joy-filled gratitude!

This is the Sacramental worldview that we so need today. The Good News is that God has planted Himself into the hearts of His people, by our creation. We are made in His image and likeness, which means that His goodness is within us. If this were not true, then no one would ever turn back to Him. God is asking each one of us to share His love with others, that by our example, we can be a sacrament to others — a sign of His eternal love for the entire world.

He tell us this through the prophet Isaiah: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Is 55:10-11).

See this adorable film clip from the movie, Hook. See how the little boys search carefully for the Peter Pan they once knew — the spark of innocence and joy. (Be like little children). We are to search for Christ in others the same way the little boys search for Peter Pan in Robin Williams’ character, Peter. (May he rest in peace in the arms of the Lord Jesus!)

https://youtu.be/EMIAIJg9Ftg