If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, who can stand?

Readings on USCCB

Why wouldn’t we take pleasure in the death of the wicked, or in the downfall of our enemies?  Because death and downfall means more than just the ceasing of wrongdoing.  Yes, the wrong action may be stopped, but we are talking about persons — persons made in the image and likeness of God.  We are really talking about the death and downfall of one who bears the God-image.  God takes no pleasure in this, for that would be taking pleasure that a part of Himself has died.  

 

Today in Ezekiel we hear how the Lord delights and rejoices when a sinner repents.  When we turn away from our sins we are turning to God, to goodness.  We are turning to life — to God’s eternal life.

 

How do we know what is evil?  Again, bearing the God-image and having been created good, we can naturally know what is good.  But there is also the moral law that has been fully revealed and fulfilled in Jesus and subsequently through the Church.  The psalmist prays today, If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, who can stand? (Ps. 130:3). It is God who teaches us in our hearts and through His revealed divine law what is good and what is wrong.  We cannot determine that for ourselves; we can choose to follow or not.  It is true that sin corrupts our thinking and darkens our intellects, which is why God is always calling us to repent.  Repentance brings life to the soul and therefore renewal to the mind.   

 

Jesus fulfills the law of God in the Gospel by internalizing it.  He calls us to renew our minds through repentance.  It is not enough to do good deeds on the outside, or to preach the law of God.  He wants the law to be in our hearts.  When we are angry with another person, we need to do our best to connect with them.  True love of another is to seek what is best for them, to seek their true good.  In a practical application, a loving boundary can be agreed upon internally — one that acknowledges the anger inside and respects the dignity of the other.  The love of God will then have a channel to flow from our hearts to others, bringing God’s life to all of His people, even those with whom we disagree.

Announce to It the Message I Will Tell You

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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.

The Way of Love

Readings on USCCB

Lent is all about conversion in every moment. “Follow me,” Jesus said to Levi. There are little things, (which to God are actually big things), that we can do. Isaiah gives them to us: remove oppression, false accusation, and malicious speech; give food to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; and finally, delight in the LORD on the Sabbath—do not seek your own interests, but delight in the LORD. As I read these and examine my own life it is not too difficult to see where conversion is necessary. The key is to look inwards, and to realize that Jesus is calling me (every part of me), just like He called Levi. “Let Me into all these inner places where you seek your own interests,” Jesus says to me. He wants me to recognize my sinfulness and repent. “Let Me into all these inner places where you are hurting and try to fix things on your own.” He wants to be in everything, and He is not repulsed by any part of me. All the “little things” matter. He wants to be in every little moment and every little thought. He calls to us all the day, says the psalmist (86:4). Anything and everything can be offered to Him, for He takes pleasure in our conversion (cf Ez 33:11), and will make us like a spring whose water never fails (Is 58:11).

It takes practice. It takes a gentle curiosity looking inward, rather than condemnation. In the Gospel today, as well in other Gospel stories, we witness the Pharisees looking to condemn. They don’t “see” the beauty of love and compassion offered by Jesus to sinners; their hearts are closed. Who of us wants to go to a physician who condemns us? Who of us will even approach the divine physician if He condemns us? This is not the way of Jesus, and it should not be our way as we look inside to examine ourselves.

Love is what changes any person. Knowing the love of Jesus is what draws me to Him. Patience and gentleness are the seeds of the Word that grow to be the abundant fruits of the Spirit. They are the means to conversion within myself and of others. They are the way of the Lord.

In sum, Isaiah gives us the things with which new should examine our Christian life. Jesus gives us the manner in which we should do it — the way of Love. He is patient, kind, and gentle.

Who are we to be?

Today in the first chapter of Hebrews we hear,
“…in these last days, he spoke to us through the Son,     
whom he made heir of all things
and through whom he created the universe,
    who is the refulgence of his glory, 
the very imprint of his being,
 and who sustains all things by his mighty word” (Heb 1:2-3).

I admit that I had to look up the word refulgence. It means shining out. In its verb form it means expressing intensive force. The meaning of this word is significant. How did Jesus do this? How did He shine? How did He make His way known? How did He express intensive force?

By loving. By dying — literally — by submitting to the forces that were outside of him and that were outside of human control. And He forgave them as it happened.

He knew what was within His control, and that was control of Himself (His SELF), manifested in a choice to love those who were persecuting Him. Self-control is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. We live in Christ through the Holy Spirit and manifest the same fruits [“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal 5:22-23)], when we continue seeking to be like HIM — making the choice to love. And He accompanies us in every moment.

God the Father, who created and sustains all things through His mighty word sees US through His Son. He sees US through the Son’s sacrifice on the Cross. When we join Jesus in this sacrifice…when we pick up our cross and follow Him, he brings us into His inner peace and joy…to the Resurrection.

This is who we are to be — the refulgence of the Father, living in the Word through the Holy Spirit who is living in us through our Baptism. This is how we are to act as Christians.

Lord Jesus, lead us, heal our Nation.

Heavenly Father, hold us close.

Holy Spirit, make it so.

Amen.

Just Love.

What could be in the mind of God, that He would come to live with His creation…subject Himself to it?  That He would be born as a helpless baby in poverty?

Love.  Just Love.

We have such issues with this word love.  We all want it.  We feel it inside and it can overwhelm our bodies with feelings of warmth and joy.  We all long to give it.  Why then, is love so confusing?

Because it is so hard to accept what love really is: a gift of Self.

In my previous post on love I tried to convey that learning to love others begins by loving your Self, and that the essence of God is God’s own love for Himself, in the Son, through the Holy Spirit.  In the Christmas season we celebrate the greatest gift of this divine love — God made man, Love Incarnate — Jesus.  God’s gift of Himself to humanity begins as a helpless baby, and not only that, He was born to die.  Does this seem crazy?  Indeed it does…even St. Paul, speaking of the Cross, said as much: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor 1:25). 

We can give ourselves love by gentleness with our mistakes, and compassion to our weakest parts. The fruits of the Holy Spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal 5:22-23) — are born and nourished in ourselves and towards ourselves, in freedom. The fruit ripens in our actions towards others.  And what happens when the ripe fruit falls to the ground (in humility)?  The seeds are then planted for new fruit.

It is one of the paradoxes of the Christian faith that we gain all things by giving ourselves away. Jesus, born in our hearts, shows us the way.

Love Your Neighbor as You Love Your Self

“Learning to love your Self is the greatest love of all!”Whitney_Houston_–_The_Greatest_Love_of_All.jpg

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.

The Kerygma, as given to St. Catherine of Siena by the LORD

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.’

Be Submissive: Could this be the Final Solution to all our ills? (Part I)

I confess to a purposefully provocative title. I believe that the first reading for today’s Mass, Eph 5:21-33, is the most misunderstood passage in Sacred Scripture. It is the passage that wives love to hate, and that husbands love (because they don’t hear much past the first two sentences). I have even teased priest-friends about how I can perceive fear in their eyes when preaching on it. This post will consist of four parts. Today I will cover the first sentence…yes only the first sentence, because it is important to be clear about the term: be subject to.

As teachers of the faith, when things are difficult we either seek to put on a positive spin, or we even gloss over the difficulty and hope no one will notice. This morning when discerning whether to write about this, I asked the Lord if I should take the time to attend Mass. I usually go on Tuesdays anyway, but I wanted to make sure this was part of God’s plan for me today.

“Listen to the priest with an open heart,” the Lord answered.

It was a good thing that this answer was so specific, because wouldn’t you know, from 7:00 a.m. to 8:15 a.m., as I was driving my kids to school, I was tempted multiple times NOT to go. But I remembered, “Listen to the priest with an open heart.” One must obey. In that aforementioned time period, the Lord helped me make some connections in my mind between the Sunday Gospel and today’s readings. These connections were confirmed by the homily I heard!

I was very grateful Jesus for speaking His Word to me in my heart, and through the priest at Mass. This is the way God speaks to all of us. We can perceive His truth in our hearts through discernment, and in union with others. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Mt 18:20). I felt like God was giving me permission to pursue this endeavor of writing on the most misunderstood passage in Scripture! In my opinion, it is also one of the most important.

On Sunday Jesus spoke of the Divine Law of love. First, love God. Second, love your neighbor as yourself. In chapter five of Ephesians St. Paul gives us some details on just how to do this. What kinds of things do we actually do to live the divine law of love?

“Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21). To “be subject to” (hypotassō, Gk) means all of the following things, biblically: to yield to one’s admonition or advice; to subject one’s self, obey, and; to arrange under, to subordinate. Notice that each definition implies a person’s own willingness for the action; it is not forced. This word is the same one used in Luke, after Jesus was found by His parents in the temple. “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to [hypotassō, Gk] them…” (Lk 2:51a). Jesus subjected himself to the authority of Mary and Joseph, with a willing heart. The next phrase “to one another” means that the subjection is a reciprocal decision. Right from the first line we see that any thoughts of power over the other, or even “balance of power,” are mutually exclusive to the reciprocal subordinating of self to another. Finally, “out of reverence for Christ” implies that the mutual subjection is done for the sake of something higher: reverence for God. Love of God is first in the Divine Law of love. It is therefore a necessary first principle of human love, and most especially, marital love, which I will write about in Part II.

In the practical, real-life sense this one sentence is exactly what Pope Francis preached about during the Sunday Angelus: “And love for neighbour, which is also called fraternal charity, consists in closeness, listening, sharing, caring for others. And so often we neglect to listen to others because it is boring or because it takes up our time, or [we neglect] to accompany them, to support them in their suffering, in their trials…” I believe that to listen to someone is the beginning of loving others; it is the first gift of self — the first subordination. When the Pope speaks of sharing he is talking about mutual reverence — a decision by each participant in the relationship to “subject one’s self” to the other.  This choice, made in the will, is the beginning of love.

The Next Installment — Mutual Subjection: Sanctification in Marriage (Part II).

Pope Francis: Voice of Love

The idea that Pope Francis is the voice of love in our time has grown on me the past few years. I think this is an important realization. I confess that this Pope was very confusing to me at first. When he came to be the leader of the Catholic Church, I was burying myself (in my master’s program) in the teachings of Vatican II and previous popes, especially John Paul II and Benedict. It was at that time that I asked the Lord to help me to see things from His point of view. Crying out in faith, I knew in my heart that there was something else for me to learn from this new Pope. I asked the Lord to help me learn from Pope Francis the things that He wanted me to know. I know today that the Lord wants to teach me about His love for all people.Pope_Francis_venerates_the_cross_on_Good_Friday_2015_Credit_LOsservatore_Romano_CNA.jpg

We learn from Jesus that the disposition of our hearts matters a great deal. As I study the Gospels, I imagine Jesus saying to us, “See Me for who I am. I am LOVE.”

Can we accept this? Can we accept His love?

Let’s first look at what Jesus does in His ministry. He seeks out sinners. He eats with them. He heals them. He says, “Follow me.” It was clear throughout Jesus’ ministry that He was open and welcoming to all. There was no illness, no sinfulness, and no disposition of heart that He cast away from Himself. This is the Jesus I am coming to know. This is also the Pope I am coming to know. He is the Pastor who calls us to faith, to live in hope, and to live in love. He will cast away no one. The question is, what is my disposition toward him?

Here are some of the dispositions of heart that we see in the Gospels:

“And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him” (Mark 3:2).
“The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him” (Mark 8:11).
“And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (Mark 10:2).

All of this brings me to the news of this week about Pope Francis. The first headline I read was “Pope Francis has become the first pontiff to endorse same-sex civil unions.

If I were to read this predisposed to accuse and to test, I might be thinking, “Here we go again!” Then I might proceed to inform myself further in order to criticize. Here are some examples:

From Crisis Magazine (source):
“Francis’s comments are a kind of diabolical inversion of Humanae Vitae.”
“At some level, it doesn’t matter. Whether the Pope is consciously or accidentally dissenting from the Church, he is dissenting from the Church. There’s no question about that.”

From Cardinal Burke (source):
“It is a source of deepest sadness and pressing pastoral concern that the private opinions regarding civil unions attributed to Pope Francis and reported with so much emphasis by the press do not correspond to the constant teaching of the Church.”

The headline from a Carl Olson article (source):
“The deeply flawed opportunism of Pope Francis”

Msgr. Charles Pope (source):
“Many Catholics are once again grieved that the Holy Father, Pope Francis, has chosen to indiscreetly express his personal views on a critical moral issue of our day.”

I point these out because I question the disposition of heart towards the Holy Father from these sources. Is their disposition one of seeking understanding? These are just a few articles, of many, from Catholic sources that I formerly respected. Today I believe that they lead me away from the Church.

We are in a very confusing time. Who am I to trust for news and analysis in these times?

I will repeat the question in the light of the words of Peter in the Gospel of John, after Jesus’ seemingly scandalous discourse about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

I choose to go to His Vicar.  I wonder where faith is if one cannot trust that the Lord is trying to teach us something through His leader on earth. And I wonder if it is possible to understand this teaching if my disposition to the words of the Holy Father are an assumption of inversion or dissent, private opinion or opportunism. Are they seeking to find fault, or is God speaking through them?

Does God speak to everyone in their hearts? Absolutely.

God speaks, but sometimes we do not hear Him, because we cut ourselves off from His word with our hardness of heart. I am often faced with my own personal hardness of heart, the kind that will not even ask the right questions. Perhaps this is a reason God inspired Luke to give Jesus some last words that we do not hear in the other Gospels: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

None of us knows what we are doing, which is why we need a Savior. None of us is well, but many of us think we are. We cling to the law that is outside of ourselves, but if we do this, it can harden our hearts. Jesus fulfills the law with Life and Love. In my heart I see Him saying to the person in front of Him (to me and you), “I love you first and foremost. Whatever you have done — I can and will forgive. Whatever your burdens are — I can and will carry them. Whatever ails you — I can and will heal.”

And then He says, “You just need to let me.”

I believe the Holy Father is teaching us to look at others like this. I don’t believe for a minute that Pope Francis is leading us astray. Why? Because I have listened to him. I have asked God to give me a heart that seeks to understand, and through the Holy Father’s words I am reminded of Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels. How many of us know that the Pope teaches twice a week in the Angelus on Sunday and in the Wednesday audience? How many of us have heard his teaching on prayer with the Psalms the last two weeks, and his exposition on the social teaching of the Church in the previous months? How many of us heard all of his homilies throughout the Covid-crisis lockdown? How many of us have witnessed that he is truly a man of prayer?

Do I first seek to listen and hear, or do I first seek to find fault? That is a question we all must ask ourselves.

The Pope is a follower of Christ, and is an example of one who first seeks to love.

I would be remiss if I didn’t provide examples of this. I urge everyone to first pray for an open heart — one that seeks to understand the Holy Father’s voice of Love. Equip yourselves with the truth from his mouth, not from others’ perceptions of him. The evidence is clear.

Wednesday Audience Transcripts: http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/audiences/2020.index.html#audiences

Wednesday Audience Video (translation into English): https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope-francis/papal-audience.html

Pope Homilies Transcripts: https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope-francis/papal-audience.html

Pope Homilies Video (translation into English): https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCxIsefyl9g9A5SGWA4FvGIA

Other articles by authors who seek to understand first:
Dr. Pia de Solenni
Dr. Dawn Eden Goldstein and Dr. Robert Fastiggi
Dr. Pedro Gabriel
Fr. Matthew Schneider

Best yet: Eve Tushnet

“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.