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 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.

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

Lectio Divina: He Knows My Name…and Yours

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, and I just “went” to Mass in my living room with my beloved family.  This pandemic has given us the opportunity to change our ways of doing things — a hidden blessing is that we talk about the readings together.  I teach the Bible, but I usually don’t force this upon my own family…(They often remind me that they get enough through everyday conversation, lol).  Today I couldn’t help myself.  For reference, click the link for the readings from Mass today, the 4th Sunday of Easter: USCCB.

St. Peter begins in the Acts of the Apostles: “Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed: “Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:14, 36).

Granted, the readings for today skip over a wonderful review by Peter of Salvation History (skipping Acts 2:15-35), still, I asked the family the following question, knowing that they could answer it:  “Who is Peter talking to?”

“The Jews,” my oldest daughter said.

YES!  The Jews.  The reading continues, saying that they were “cut to the heart” and they asked what they should do.

“Repent and be baptized!” Peter said.

Aha!  Baptism!  So I asked the question, “What is the big deal about Baptism, and what does it have to do with today’s readings?”

The answer is everything (not my family’s answer!), when we consider the Rite of Baptism in the Catholic Church.  The rite begins with questions, and the second question is the most relevant to today’s readings.  

“What is the name of the child you bring for Baptism?

Our given name is so important, especially when we are baptized.  This is our adoption, through Jesus, into the Holy Family of God.  We become tabernacles of the Holy Spirit, imbued with the theological virtues of faith, hope and love.  We are brought into the Blessed Trinity of Love.  We are washed clean of Original Sin, given the light of Christ, and we “put on” the white garment of Christ.  All this is done with our own name, and in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

In the psalm today we chant, “The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want” (Ps 23:1).  He leads us and guides us, for HIS name’s sake.  He gives us everything we need.  This psalm is good to remember and to pray, especially when we move to the second reading, where we hear from St. Peter again.

Peter begins, “If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps” (1 Pt 2:20b-21).

This man whom God made Lord and Christ suffered for us (recall first reading). This man said to us, “Follow me.” (Many times in the Gospels). When we are baptized we put on His garment, we receive His light — for a glorious purpose — to share in His victory over sin and death. St. Peter concludes, “For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls” (ibid, v. 25).

Why do we follow Him?

Because He is the Good Shepherd, but not only this. He is the gate. “Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture” (John 10:9), Jesus says in today’s Gospel.

How do we know to go through Him?

The answer is earlier in the Gospel reading: “But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (Jn 10:2-3, my emphasis).

Do we see the importance of our name?  Do we see why the Church asks for this name for Baptism? When He calls our name… when we hear His voice… we remember, and we follow!

Jesus is always calling our name, because we belong to Him through Baptism.

Recall Mary Magdalene on Easter Sunday — when did she recognize the Lord, her Shepherd?

“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’” (Jn 20:16). We read this only a few weeks ago.

Fast forward to another book in the Bible. Jesus echoes the words of Peter from today in the Book of Revelation. Here is ‘the rest of the story’:

“He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels” (Rev 3:5).

Jesus is our Shepherd, our Defender.  He knows our name, and we know Him.  The Father sees us and loves us through Him, and brings us into union with the Trinity, in the Holy Spirit.

Power, Humility, Sobriety, Vigilance

“Clothe yourselves with humility
in your dealings with one another…

Be sober and vigilant.
Your opponent the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion
looking for someone to devour” (1 Pt 5:5b, 8).

What is the Christian vision when it comes to the words above?  

Jesus before Pilate.  Jesus on the Cross.  

“Jesus answered [Pilate], ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above’” (Jn 19:11). 

It is a scandal. The devil tried to devour the Lord, indeed.  The devil is incapable of understanding the Law of Love. 

St. Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,  but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,  but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor 1:22-25).

To look at Jesus before Pilate and see power and vigilance is foolishness to those who think that power is getting the most attention, getting the most votes, having the most people watch or listen to you, or having the most money. These are all worldly cares.  Signs are also “of the world” because those who see them are still tempted not to believe.  Our Heavenly Father gives us signs of His presence everyday and we discount these signs because of our worldly cares and attention.  

At least I do, anyway.

Power is the ability to see things the way our Creator sees things. It is living in the Spirit of God — living the law of God because it is written on our hearts.  Living the Law of Love means looking at the person across the aisle, the table, the Church, the border, the ocean…and forgiving them and seeking abundant life for them.

To be sober and vigilant is to choose to believe without seeing.  It is to choose to believe that God will take care of me, of us: to remember His promises, and to know, by faith, that we are in His hands.

This is foolishness to the world.  This is foolishness to politicians.  This is even foolishness to some Catholics and other Christians.  This is foolishness to anyone who seeks a worldly solution to a spiritual problem.  The root of the spiritual problem is UNBELIEF.

The letter from Peter quoted above also says, “Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you” (1 Pt 5:7).  

I am not sure it could be made clearer.  We are in a spiritual battle, which means that it is on the inside.  Jesus told us to follow Him.  He promised us abundant life if we follow His ways. Do we believe?

The inner battle against the powers that seek to devour us, to divide us, is found in our hearts and in our choices (free will).  Following Him means dying with Him.  This may or may not be a material death.  He, as the author of life, will determine that.  

There is no power of ours that can add a second to our lives.  There is no human wisdom that can trump even the foolishness of God.

It is the power of God, living in us, that can and will save the world from all its ills.  We unleash the power of God when we surrender to His love.

REMEMBER

What is the Lord going to do for us next week?

This may seem like a silly question, because He has already done it.

Do we remember? Do I remember? What has God done for me?

This week I was praying with a friend over FaceTime, and my prayer was to remember.  “Lord, help us to never forget what You have done for us!  You will bring us out of this great trial.  We will triumph in You.  Help us to remember, in gratitude — every day…Every moment.  Please help us to remember.”

Jesus knew how important remembering is.  We saw this in the readings throughout this week, beginning with the Resurrection of Lazarus on Sunday.  It is beneficial to remember this story of Lazarus in the light of another one in the Gospel of Luke.  Jesus told a story about a rich man who neglected a poor man, (named Lazarus), at his door.  He never saw him.  Both men died, and Lazarus was in the bosom of father Abraham, while the rich man was in Gehenna.  The rich man, unable to participate in this beatitude because he never saw and he never heard, pleaded with Abraham to warn his brothers — surely they shall see and hear! “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And [the rich man] said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ [Abraham] said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead’” (Luke 16:30-31). Do we see the irony?

Part of remembering is looking and listening, noticing and hearing.  Humans are capable of listening without hearing.  We are capable of hearing without doing.  We are capable of seeing without believing.  We all have these amazing senses that are meant to help us learn, not only in the mind, but in the heart. It is here that we choose to remember, where we choose to live in gratitude.

What did the Pharisees and those who killed Jesus forget? We are reminded in this week’s daily Mass readings.

–They forgot about their ancestors, who grumbled against the LORD in the desert, yet through the repeated intercession of Moses were saved from pestilence and death (cf. Num 21:4-9).

–They forgot about Susanna, who “trusted in the Lord wholeheartedly” (Dan 13:35) when she was falsely accused.

–They forgot about Daniel, strong in the Holy Spirit, who spoke out and defended her (cf. Dan 13:45-46).

–They forgot about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who refused to serve a false god, even if it meant facing a painful death in the furnace (Dan 3:17-18).

–They forgot about Nebudchadnezzar, the pagan Babylon king, whose heart turned when he saw the power of God, and exclaimed, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who sent his angel to deliver the servants who trusted in him; they disobeyed the royal command and yielded their bodies rather than serve or worship any God except their own God” (Dan 3:95).

And finally, they forgot the prophets, especially Jeremiah and Ezekiel, both whom we read today and tomorrow in the daily Mass readings:  

–They couldn’t see that what they were doing, and what they were about to do, is what their ancestors did to Jeremiah: “All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine. ‘Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail, and take our vengeance on him’”  (Jer 20:10).

–They couldn’t see that Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophesy of Ezekiel, “My dwelling shall be with them; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Thus the nations shall know that it is I, the LORD, who make Israel holy, when my sanctuary shall be set up among them forever” (Ezek 37:27-28).

Do we remember?  Do I remember? What has God done for me?

“Remember the marvels the LORD has done” (Ps 105:5).

“In my distress I called upon the LORD and cried out to my God; From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears” (Ps 18:7).

Lord, help us to remember that You dwell with us in our hearts, right here, right now.  You have made Your dwelling with us; You are one with the Father, in the Holy Spirit, and You are tabernacled in our hearts.  We implore You to help us to remember! 

You are the way.  

You are the truth.  

You are the life.  

You alone bring us out of the darkness.  You are calling all people to Yourself.  May we be one in You. May we abide in You, in sickness and in health.  May we carry our Cross with You, knowing that You lead us into eternal life of peace and joy.

May we remember the marvels You have done in our personal lives, and live in hope and gratitude for what You are about to do. Amen.

Jesus, I trust in You!

The Resurrection of Lazarus

“This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it” (Jn 11:4).

The entire life and work of Christ is between the two poles of the Incarnation, which we remember in the Annunciation celebration of March 25, and the Paschal Mystery, which we soon celebrate during Holy Week beginning on Holy Thursday.  Throughout His life and ministry Jesus repeatedly shows us His power over all things, and in this seventh sign in the Gospel of John, He shows His power over death.  It was the Original Sin of Adam that brought illness and death to the entire world and all its inhabitants. Through this Gospel story we see the necessary reality and mystery of tension in the spiritual life.

What do I mean by the mystery of tension?  It is the mystery of God coming into our weakness to make us strong. 

This mystery is what propels us to be better, to live life to the fullest!  Consider an analogy: swimming for a world record.  The goal of the “red line” (see video) is always before the swimmer.  The swimmer does everything in his power physically and mentally to prepare himself to swim his best — the world record is always in front of him!  This analogy is a sign for us of what a determined human being can accomplish; yet, once the world record is reached, there is always another one to be achieved.

Life in Christ is no different.  Jesus performed seven signs in the Gospel of John, each building on the other, each fulfilling a prophecy and/or a feast of the Old Testament.  Through these signs He shows that He alone is the fulfillment of all of our hopes and dreams, the healer of all our emotional hurts and physical maladies.  He has even conquered death.

When Jesus learned about the illness of Lazarus He said, “This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it” (Jn 11:4). This can be compared to the “Happy Fault” of Adam that the Church proclaims in the Exsultet, “O truly necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the Death of Christ! O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!” 

My prayer for today is to participate in God’s glory by inviting Him into my weaknesses, my sorrow over world events, my lack of faith and hope, and my lack of love for others.  These illnesses within me are not unto death.  God is glorified through them as I implore Him to heal me, to open my heart to His love, to turn my sorrow into JOY!

Lectio Divina for 03/28/20

The readings for today are found at the USCCB website.

The readings today have everything to do with the battle in the heart.   Jeremiah, through the Holy Spirit speaking to his spirit, says, “I knew their plot because the LORD informed me…” (Jer 11:18a). He trusted the Lord, but still had not realized the extent of the plots against him.  Regardless, he obeyed the Lord and trusted Him, the LORD who spoke to his heart.

Does God speak to everyone in their hearts?  Absolutely.  Even the evil ones, who hatch plots against the Lord’s holy ones? (cf. Jer 11:19, Ps 7:2-3). Yes. 

The contrast between the evil ones and the holy ones is also presented in the Gospel. God speaks, but they do not hear Him, because they have cut themselves off from His word with their hardness of heart.  Their intellects can no longer be informed by the information presented outside of them, because what is within them is defiled and refuses to hear.  Our human intellects are darkened as a consequence of our sins until we cannot even see, much less understand, the Truth.

We see this very clearly in the Gospel for today.  The most interesting contrasts are between the guards and the elite, and then Nicodemus, (who is one of “the Jews”), and the elite.  The elite are those jews who will not listen: the Pharisees, the Saducees, and the teachers and doctors of the law.  They sent the guards to bring Him, but even the guards were captivated by Truth; their hearts were open.  All it takes is a willingness on our part to believe; God will do the rest.  Nicodemus seemed to want to be a voice of reason, and unveils the irony and hypocrisy: “Shouldn’t we first hear what He has to say?”  After all, if they had asked the right questions, they would know that He was of David’s family and came from Bethlehem! 

This convicts me because I am faced with my own personal hardness of heart, the kind that will not even ask the right questions.  Perhaps this is a reason the Holy Spirit 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.  He says to the person in front of Him, “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.”

There is hope in front of me… run to the Father!

Tolle lege et Scribentes!

That is what I heard in my mind at 1:30 am, after two hours of no sleep.  It is unusual for me not to fall asleep.  Very unusual.  I will chalk it up to the stress of the times — the stress that my fancy watch has been telling me about, to which I seem oblivious.  Until I can’t sleep…then I know something is awry.  I should add that my mind was indeed filled with worry…about everything…but especially that someone in my family would get sick, particularly my sons who live on their own.

I had a friend ask me yesterday what the Latin means.  Translated it means, “Take up and read and write!”  There is a bit of a deeper meaning though.  St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church from the 4th century, once heard (literally, from a child’s voice), the phrase “Tolle lege!” He then opened the book of Romans and read this: “Not in riots and drunken parties, not in eroticism and indecencies, not in strife and rivalry, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in its lusts” (Rom. 13:13-14).  A good summary of the story is here.  This was the point of conversion for Augustine.  He was a man of incredible intellect, and up to this point had reasoned himself into some type of belief.  But now, through the voice of a child, he heard, “Tolle lege! Take up and read!”  This was the time when the “rubber meets the road,” so to speak.  This was the time to put that belief into practice, be baptized, put on Christ, and die to the old life of debauchery.

I have heard these words in my mind twice during periods of insomnia, and both in the last year.  

“Really?” I asked this morning.  Again, “Tolle lege,” but this time with the addition, “Romans 8.”

Okay. Fine.  I got up and made myself a cup of cinnamon tea and started reading Romans 8.

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Rom 8:14-15).

Daddy. My Daddy. I am a daughter of the Father, and He is with me. Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? (John 14:1-2).

Do I believe?

There is more:

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18).

And:

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:26-28).

Again, do I believe?

And, finally: 

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?…For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:31, 38-39).

By 2:30 am my prayer was, “Ok, Lord.  Thank You, Lord!”  You see, like Augustine, I have reasoned my way into belief.  Intellectual knowledge, also called head knowledge, is indeed important in the journey to the Father.  But the Father wants more, which is why He sent His only Son, Jesus, to become flesh and suffer with us.  We are joined to Him through Baptism; we are adopted sons and daughters who belong!  The Father wants us to have intimate knowledge (yada, Heb.) of His love for us.  He wants to bring us into the Trinitarian love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This morning, the Holy Spirit brought me back to Scripture to tell me what I need to hear.

Our Heavenly Father is working everything for our good.  These sufferings are nothing compared to the joy He has in store.  He is preparing us to receive His gift of eternal life, and here is the paradox: since it is eternal, it is also present now.  His presence, through the Spirit within us, is interceding for us in the depths of our souls, and nothing…NOTHING…can separate us from His love.

Not even a stupid virus.

Encouragement for the day:

“In this moment heaven’s working
Everything for your good
!”

Offer Sacrifices from Your Heart

The daily readings for today can be found at the USCCB. The readings for last Sunday are found here.

Today I want to combine the two Sundays of no public Masses into one theme: worship from the heart.  God’s providential goodness is amazingly beautiful, when we can see it.  We see it (by His grace) when we open our hearts to His light and look for it.  On that point let us begin with the Gospel today.

Jesus heals a man blind from birth (Jn 9:1-41).  When Jesus was asked about the origin of the blindness, whether it was the sin of his parents or the man’s own sin, our Lord replies, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.”  Jesus says a bit more, but I want to focus on the reason for the blind man’s trial — so that the works of God might be made visible.  This is not the only time that Jesus mentions that trials are for our sake, so that we may see the works of God. 

Last week we saw the testimony of the woman at the well, “‘Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?’ They went out of the town and came to him” (Jn 4:29-30).  The people rushed to see Jesus because of the truth He had spoken to the woman in her heart.  She testified to Him, and they believed!

Jesus will say in the Gospel next week, before the raising of Lazarus, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (Jn 11:4).

God is glorified through our weaknesses and trials! Nothing, not even death, can stop Him!

So what does this have to do with worship from the heart? 

God can change my heart through this crisis, if I let Him.  I need to be open to the light, to the truth that God is with us (Emmanuel).  I cannot be like the Pharisees in today’s Gospel, who, when presented with goodness, find reasons to reject it (cf. Jn 9:16).  I must resist the hardening of my heart — and see the goodness and truth that is right in front of me — in my family and in the sacrifices of all who are working in hospitals, grocery stores, and delivery services (to just name a few!).

Love requires sacrifice, and Love Himself has given us the ONE, true sacrifice that is re-presented to the Father for all time in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  Whether we are physically present at the liturgy or not, Jesus’ sacrifice is offered to the Father everyday by His ministerial priests, and we can join ourselves to it. We are baptized priest, prophet, and king, and it is in these capacities that we are called and equipped to make sacrifices ourselves.  Jesus said to the woman last week, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him” (Jn 4:23).  The hour is here. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (cf Ps 95:7-8).

I ask you, dear reader, do you have love in your heart?  

If you have love in your heart, you have God (cf 1 Jn 4:16). Anyone who has love in their heart has God in their heart, and can make sacrifices into acts of true worship through the love they give their neighbor.  These sacrifices are true worship when they are united to the perfect sacrifice of Jesus.  Every moment is a gift, even in time of crisis, or should I say, especially in time of crisis.  God is with us, indeed, we just need eyes to see it.  Open the eyes to my heart, Lord!

Amen. Jesus, I trust in You!