Today is the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. I’m taking a vulnerable leap and sharing an inspiration from March 19, the Solemnity of St. Joseph.
“Jesus said to the crowds: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. It is written in the prophets:
They shall all be taught by God.
Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my Flesh for the life of the world.”
We come to Jesus to listen to the Father, who loves us and cherishes us. He has seen the Father; the Father sees us through His sacrifice.
We can bury ourselves in and join His holy sacrifice by receiving His Word and Sacrament (body and blood) as often as we can. Jesus welcomes us with open arms (look at the Cross, on which He says in His dying breath: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”). He chooses to live in us, broken vessels, so that we may become whole. Let us live together in communion with the Father and the Son, through the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The message is loud but we don’t hear it. What would it look like today if a prophet like Jonah went through the city of Washington DC and called the United States to repentance? What would our leaders do if they were like the king of Ninevah and they led by example; if they called loudly to God, and every man turned from his evil way and from the violence and hatred we have in our hearts?
It would look like this:
The love of Jesus Christ would permeate their [OUR] hearts. First we would look at those with whom we disagree with love. We would listen to what they have to say. We would find solutions to our problems for the sake of each individual’s true good and for the sake of the common good, for what is truly good (God and His merciful love) is a universal good. These solutions would be something like this:
-Kind words from our politicians and in the media
-The poor and vulnerable would be vaccinated for the virus, and those who are not poor and vulnerable would make sure it happens.
-No persons would be placed into categories or called names.
-All persons, old and young, rich or poor, black or white, gay or straight, unborn or elderly, illegal or citizen…would be looked upon as having dignity, made in the image and likeness of God…and treated as such.
-No children would be hungry or abused.
This seems like a utopia, indeed. Impossible! This kind of society begins in our hearts, which seem to have been hardened into stone through our societal sins. But Jesus is there. He is in our relationships. This kind of society begins with our families and the neighbors on the street. It begins in the classrooms. It begins with taking care of and loving the persons who are in our lives.
Jesus is there, in our hearts. He is greater than all of our societal problems. He is greater than all of our personal and family problems. His love is there — deep within us.
If we but turn inside to receive it. And then give it away.
“Learning to love your Self is the greatest love of all!”
I’d like to attempt to defend a thesis: We, ourselves, need to learn to love others, and we do this by learning to love our SELF.
I will begin by sharing an interesting memory regarding this song by Whitney Houston. I was sitting in an airport restaurant with my father in December, 1985. Her song, “The Greatest Love of All” came on over the PA. This conversation had a great effect on me. Now as an adult this memory has given me insight not only into my father, but myself.
“I love this song!” I exclaimed.
“I don’t!” my father said. “It’s wrong!”
“Wrong? How can it be wrong?” I asked.
“The greatest love is to love God, not to love yourself,” my father replied.
“But didn’t Jesus say to love our neighbor as we love ourselves?” I asked.
“That’s not what it means!” my father argued.
Let me interlude with a little background. At the time I was sixteen, and it hadn’t even been a year since I met my father. He took me on a ski trip to Park City, Utah, with the rest of his family: his wife, her two sons, and my half sister and half brother (from his other previous marriage).
I want to add another short, more modern story about a conversation that I recently had with my daughter.
“President Trump is the perfect example of loving yourself too much,” she said. “Otherwise he wouldn’t say those things about other people all the time!”
“Oh no,” I said, “he absolutely loathes himself. If he loved himself he would never say that about anyone, not even his worst enemy.”
She looked at me quizzically. I explained to her that we express outwards what is inside of us. If the chatter inside of our heads is constant criticism, that will also be expressed outside of us. We can fool ourselves and believe that we will be more loving to others by hating ourselves. In reality this is impossible. We give from what is inside of us.
Think about it. We cannot give what we do not have. It is the lie of Satan to believe that we can actually love from hate.
In the beginning humanity was tempted to believe that the Love of our Creator was not enough…that He was holding out on us. “But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’” (Gen 3:4-5). Satan tricked us into thinking that we have to know hate (evil) in order to be like God, who is all loving.
God the Father shows us differently, through His Son, Jesus. Love can only flow from love, and He showed us the greatest love of all. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).
But what does this mean? Is there more? Let us look to St. Paul, who said, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
“While we were still sinners…” is such an important phrase. I have talked about this before. God never waits for us to be better before He loves us. He loves us right now. St. Paul also says, “He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of His own mercy…” (Tit 3:5). We cannot do anything ourselves in order to be loved more by God. It is already there. He is never holding out, waiting for us to be better.
The essence of the Trinity is that God loves Himself. The three persons of the Trinity are God’s love of Himself in the Son and the fruit of this love between the Father and the Son is another loving person, the Holy Spirit. There is no chicken/egg argument here. God just IS. God. Is. Love. Eternally. Period. God’s love of Himself is therefore the greatest love of all, and there is no human love without it.
Let us apply this to ourselves. We, too, can love ourselves in the Son, through the Holy Spirit. We do not do this eternally (yet), because we are created beings who live in time. We make choices. We grow both spiritually and materially. Our spiritual capacity is to grow in the Love of the Trinity. This begins by loving our SELF, in Christ. Our material capacity is to die, in Christ, who raises us up (He will literally resurrect us!) and seats us at His right hand, in the presence of the Father, through the Holy Spirit. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Rev 3:21).
Back to my story. My father loathed himself. He bought into the lie that he wasn’t enough, and that by hating himself he could love God more. Again, this is a lie. I would venture to say that this is the lie that most fathers who abandon their children have bought into. I will say it again — one cannot love others when he hates himself. This is an important truth for all parents, and most especially, me.
We all have heard the adage, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.”
We get this wrong too! We end up hating the sinner because we are tempted to define others by their sin. This also happens personally; we hate ourselves when we are defined by our sin, whether it is done by others or our own selves. Again, let us allow St. Paul to teach us. “Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me” (Rom 7:20). Sometimes the teaching of Paul in Romans 7 can be very confusing, but what he is saying is that sin is not me — it is not my SELF. Sin is something outside of me that needs to be removed. The shame that came from believing the serpent’s lie is not me; however, I have taken it on as a burden. Shame is a burden that does not come from God — it comes from sin. The Good News is that shame is removed by Love, and this burden is completely removed by Jesus through His suffering and death on the Cross. This is why Jesus tells us to pick up our Cross and follow Him, “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mt 11:30). When we decide to follow Him, we have new life in Him.
Does this mean we are perfect? Indeed, even Jesus fell three times, yet not through sin. But He has shared with us the burden of sin! We fall consistently: “the righteous falls seven times and rises again” (Prov 24:16). He is with us when we fall, and especially when we refuse to get up. He continues to stand at the door of our heart. He continues to knock. He is always there in our spirit, encouraging us and drawing us to Himself, and thus to the Father, through the Holy Spirit.
We are consistently growing in new life with every loving choice we make. Every choice for self-giving love is a sharing in Christ’s love, whether we realize it or not — and even whether we are Christian or not. The reason is because God is Love, and He planted the seed of His love within us at our creation. When we give love we give God.
Therefore, Love of others begins by loving ourselves.
From the dialogue On Divine Providence by Saint Catherine of Siena, virgin and doctor
The eternal Father, indescribably kind and tender, turned his eye to this soul and spoke to her thus:
‘O dearest daughter, I have determined to show my mercy and loving kindness to the world, and I choose to provide for mankind all that is good. But man, ignorant, turns into a death-giving thing what I gave in order to give him life. Not only ignorant, but cruel: cruel to himself. But still I go on providing. For this reason I want you to know: whatever I give to man, I do it out of my great providence.
‘So it was that when, by my providence, I created man, I looked into myself and fell in love with the beauty of the creature I had made – for it had pleased me, in my providence, to create man in my own image and likeness.
‘Moreover, I gave man memory, to be able to remember the good things I had done for him and to be able to share in my own power, the power of the eternal Father.
‘Moreover, I gave man intellect, so that, seeing the wisdom of my Son, he could recognise and understand my own will; for I am the giver of all graces and I give them with a burning fatherly love.
‘Moreover, I gave man the desire to love, sharing in the tenderness of the Holy Spirit, so that he might love the things that his intellect had understood and seen.
‘But my kind providence did all this solely that man might be able to understand me and enjoy me, rejoicing in my vision for all eternity. And as I have told you elsewhere, the disobedience of your first parent Adam closed heaven to you – and from that disobedience came all evil through the whole world.
‘To relieve man of the death that his own disobedience had brought, I tenderly and providently gave you my only-begotten Son to heal you and bring satisfaction for your needs. I gave him the task of being supremely obedient, to free the human race of the poison that your first parent’s disobedience had spread throughout the world. Falling in love, as it were, with his task, and truly obedient, he hurried to a shameful death on the most holy Cross. By his most holy death he gave you life: not human life this time, but with the strength of his divinity.’
It is such a beautiful thing to contemplate: that God is closest to us in our weakness…in our sinfulness. I feel like a broken record but Romans 5:8 has been so important to me in the last three years of my Christian journey: “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Pope Francis hits it home with his Wednesday Audience. Read it all.
“Jesus’ first public act is therefore participation in a choral prayer of the people, a prayer of the people who went to be baptised, a penitential prayer, in which everyone recognises him- or herself as a sinner…We never pray alone, we always pray with Jesus. He does not stay on the opposite side of the river – “I am righteous, you are sinners” – to mark His difference and distance from the disobedient people, but rather He immerses His feet in the same purifying waters. He acts as if He were a sinner.”
Jesus’ baptism was His first public death-to-self. He leads us to the Father in every action, even Baptism.
“This is the unique greatness of Jesus’ prayer: the Holy Spirit takes possession of His person and the voice of the Father attests that He is the beloved, the Son in whom He fully reflects Himself.”
In the same way, we who are in Christ through Baptism share in His sonship. We, too, are the beloved of the Father!
“Jesus did not descend into the waters of the Jordan for Himself, but for all of us. It was the entire people of God who went to the Jordan to pray, to ask for forgiveness, to receive that baptism of penance…Jesus gave us His own prayer, which is His loving dialogue with the Father. He gave it to us like a seed of the Trinity, which He wants to take root in our hearts. Let us welcome him! Let us welcome this gift, the gift of prayer. Always with Him. And we will not err.”
Lord, give us eyes to see and ears to hear! Amen.
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.
I 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.