Sunday, December 31, 2006

Mary, Mother of God


Today, January 1st, is the feast of Mary, the Mother of God. For those who don't quite understand why we Catholics venerate Mary as much as we do, let me say first and foremost that the title of Mary was not given to her by the Church because of who she is, but rather because of who her son is.

In defending the faith against heresies, the Magisterium of the Church delared Jesus to be true God and true man. True man because there were some who thought that Jesus was only God and not really human (and these were the first heresies, which goes to show that the belief in Jesus's divinty was from the beginning). Then there were those, like Arius, who said that Jesus was only man and not at all God. Against these, the Church proclaimed that Jesus is in fact true God. Therefore at the counsel of Ephesus, Mary was given the title Theotokos, God bearer, because the one whom she bore, Jesus, was truly God. This makes her "Mother of God," since she is mother of the One Who is true God and true man. This does not mean that she is the origin of Christ's divinity, as if she were the principle from which God came into being... no, she is not "mother" of God in this sense, but rather in being mother of Jesus Christ, in whom the human and divine natures were unified though not intertwined or confused, she is mother of God.

Today is also the world day of peace. And so... (let us pray a bit of the Great Litany from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom... not only as a prayer for peace, but a reminder of our lady and her role in our walk of faith as teacher and example).

In peace let us pray to the Lord.

Lord have mercy.

For peace from on high, the salvation of our souls, let us ask of the Lord.

Lord have mercy.

...

Remembering our most holy, most pure, most-blessed and glorious Lady, the Mother of God and ever-Virgin Mary, with all the saints, let us commend ourselves and one another, and our whole life, to Christ, our God.

To you, O Lord!

Happy Feast of Mary the Mother of God!

Office of Readings for the Feast of the Holy Family

I just read the office of readings for the Feast of the Holy Family, which included this bit from Ephesians 5.

So (also) husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. "For this reason a man shall leave (his) father and (his) mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.

Have you ever wondered about how the "man" who leaves his father and clings to his wife is Christ?

Happy New Year!

It's new year's eve and time for those new year's resolutions. I was looking to make all new resolutions this year when my guardian said something that struck me. He basically said it's time either to make new resolutions or to renew the ones from last year. And when I thought about it, I realized that the things I what to make resolutions about are, in fact, just continuations of last year's resolutions.

When I was writting my Christmas letter earlier this month I was quite happy that I could see that I kept my new year's resolutions from last year. Mind you, I didn't resolve to do something drastic or definitive that one could scratch off a list, like go see the Mona Lisa, but rather something which requires slow progress.

So, looking back at this past year, I could see a small amount of progress, again, nothing drastic, but still progress. This gave me, and continues to give me encouragement for future progress. Sure, it might come slowly as it did this year, but isn't the point still to make progress?

This all ties together, by the way, with the journey of faith. Our goal in the Christian life is to make progress toward perfection. As the program on Vatican Radio I woke up to the other day said (and I love how God gives me just the tidbit of encouragement I need for the day through such random things as what I wake up hearing on Vatican Radio - I have a radio alarm clock), "Our goal in the Christian life is progress, that today be better than yesterday and tomorrow better than today."

That made me realize that, yes, the goal is perfection, but not immediately (and don't think this means I'm making an excuse to not go toward perfection or to stay in sin). It is not possible for us to become perfect overnight. What is necessary is faithfulness to the journey. We have the goal in sight. We have such strong help (the Holy Spirit, Jesus our Lord, God the Father, and the prayers of the angels and saints as well as our community). This should leave us joyfull to be on the pilgrimage of faith, walking in faith, hoping that we will eventually reach our destination, full of love from a God who doesn't wait for us to reach the end of the journey before He runs towards us and embraces us where we are at so as to lead us into His house (with a ring on our fingers, sandals on our feet, new clothes, and big fat banquet)!

So, on with those old new year's resolutions! Let's renew them, and in joy, let us sing, "Leaping the mountains, bounding the hills, see how our God has come to meet us. His voice is lifted. His face is joy! Now is the season to sing our song on high!"

Et dilectus meus loquitur mihi, "Surge propera amica mea, formonsa mea, et veni! Iam enim hiemps transiit. Imber abiit et recessit. Flores apparuerunt in terra. Tempus putationis advenit. Vox turturis audita est in terra nostra. Ficus protulit grossos suos. Vineae florent dederunt odorem. Surge amica mea speciosa mea et veni! Columba mea in foraminibus petrae, in caverna maceriae, ostende mihi faciem tuam, sonet vox tua in auribus meis! Vox enim tua dulcis et facies tua decora!"

(Yeah, so I made it a secret even after my post on secret vs mystery... but here's a clue... look in the same place where the song I just sang comes from and you'll find the quote.)

Happy New Year in the Lord!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

On the International Scene...

This might sound strange, but I feel like I should be doing penance today for what happened on the international scene... penance for the repose of the soul of a man who was convicted of brutal crimes, that he find mercy. But also, I feel like I should do penance today because of the eye for an eye mentality that continues to make capital punishment a favored means of dealing out "justice."

Obviously I am no fan of the man who died today. I know what he was convicted of and don't doubt that he was guilty. I just think that there are some punishments which can still respect life and yet deal out "justice."

Also, I feel like I should be doing penance today for the country that this man lived in, that it come to know peace and that the factions within it might learn to respect the religious differences of the entire population of that country, especially the minorities (Christians).

Let us pray for peace.

Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison.

Friday, December 29, 2006

The Two Ways

Today I was reading a book on early Church history, and I came across an expression used in the early Church called the "two ways." At first glance I didn't know what this was about. I knew that the faith was originally called "the way," but I wasn't sure what could be the other way if one of the "two ways" was this "way."

It turns out that as I read on there was an explaination of the "two ways," and in fact, we still unknowingly use a formula that is indicative of the "two ways." Easter vigil when the community is asked to renew their baptismal promises, the priest asks

"Do you reject sin so as to live in the freedom of God's children?"

The people respond

"I do."

"Do you reject the glamor of evil and refuse to be mastered by sin?"

"I do."

"Do you reject Satan, father of sin and prince of darkness?"

"I do."

Then the questions change.

"Do you believe in God the Father, Almighty, maker of heaven and earth?"

"I do." (or in Latin "Credo," "I believe")

"Do you believe in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord, Who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?"

"I do."

"Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?"

"I do."

Here we see a good demostration of the two ways in which the Christian is called to walk: rejection of evil and sin, and clinging to Christ.

The "two ways" are the first message we hear Jesus speaking about in the Gospel of Mark. After announcing that the Kingdom of God is at hand Jesus says, "Repent and believe in the good news." This boils down to ceasing of evil and adherence to the good - Ceasing of sins vices and the doing of good works and being virtuous - Ceasing to believe in false gods (including too much in one's self) and believing in God.

(I think this ties in to my post of St. John because the law teaches us to reject the bad by telling what not to do, and Jesus teaches to do good.)

So today, may you remember your baptismal promises and the two ways you set out on.

Thank you God for the gift of baptism. Help us by the power of your Holy Spirit to reject what is displeasing to you and to do what is good, so that more and more we made be made anew in the imagine of Christ your Son, we ask this through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Secret vs. Mystery

I was listening to the mass in latin on Vatican Radio today as I was driving my guardian to St. John Lateran, and it caused me to stop and think (not literally... driving in Rome you can't just stop anywhere... although some Roman drivers do).

Anyway, I began to wonder about those who advocate that the mass be comepletely in Latin. I've heard all sorts of reasons in favor of this, including that Latin is a better language, etc. What caused me to think was that I was understanding what was being said even if I didn't know the words exactly (having attended mass enough times in English and knowing Italian seemed to have helped me understand). And I wondered about those who went to mass in the Tridentine rite (before Vatican II) and whether they really understood what was going on. I'm sure that some people who were interested enough in following the mass came to understand what was being said, but others, no. So I was wondering about those people and whether or not their experience of the mystery of the eucharist wasn't affected by the secretness of the language.

When I was little my brother and sister and I would speak to each other in German. Why German, you ask? Well, my sister had studied it in high school, my brother had studied it in high school and I began to study it, so every once in a while we would have a bit of fun and speak German so that our parents wouldn't understand. It was thrilling. Little did we know that our folks understood more than they let on. But the fact that we were privy to something secret was in fact a big deal. Everything in German was some how richer, better, more meaningful than things in English.

Okay, maybe I'm being a little too psychological in this, but I wondered this morning whether or not those who advocate a complete return to an all Latin mass don't have as their reason for preferring Latin over the vernacular this very mechanism of "secretness."

A secret generally is something that is comprehensible but simply unknown to the unititiated. Just ask any Knight of Columbus and they will tell you that the secrets of the degree ceremonies they go through are understandable.

A mystery, however, is not understandable, not comprehensible, even if it can be put into words. A mystery provokes contemplation. For example, to say "The One Who heaven and earth cannot contain, became man in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary," is to put into words a mystery. The words themselves are comprehensible, they make sense, but the mystery itself causes one to contemplate what truth is being told, it causes one to wonder.

There's the old anecdote that an anglican primate asked the Pope for a blessing during an ecumeical meeting and the Pope said a blessing in Latin, and the anglican goes away impressed, feeling blessed, not knowing that blessing the Pope gave him was "May you be blessed in Whose Name you shall burn," that is, the old blessing of the incense (with an obvious insinuation that the anglican would end up in hell). I don't know if this story is true, but it is quite conceivable that simply hearing something in a different unknown language adds a sense of hiddness, a sense of "mystery" in the common day sense of the word, but which is really only a matter of secretness.

I'm not for Latin in the mass for reasons of secretness, ie in order to add mystery (in the human sense) to the mass. There is enough "divine mystery" there already, which needs to be contemplated. Anyone who advocates a return to the mass completely in Latin might want to examine themselves to see if this love of "secretness" is not present in their love for Latin.

By the way, this is not a condemnation of Latin just an admonition against a wrong reason for going to Latin in the mass. Anyone who wants to know my view on Latin in the mass: Vat II did not say to get rid of all Latin and neither did it say to use it throughout the entire mass. It has its place, and we should know the mass parts in Latin - and we should know what they mean too. Personally I think Latin could be used in pastoral settings where there are multiple ethic groups celebrating in their different languages in the same parish. Latin in that case could be used as a way for the different groups to be brought together and celebrate as one community - the readings being alternatively in the various vernacular languages, of course.

Saint John

I tried to post yesterday, but blogger ate post and I didn't have time to rewrite everything. Okay so yesterday was the feast of St. John the apostle and evangelist. We hear from St. John in his letters and in his Gospel the admonition "Love one another."

So, what is St. John trying to tell us about being a Christian? Well, I think it has something to do with the difference between what we hear in the book of Tobit "Do not do unto others what you yourself dislike" and what we hear from Jesus "Do on to others as you would have other do unto you."

The first one is a negative prescription in that it reminds us of the limits we should place on our freedom so as to respect the rights and dignity of others. A good number of the precepts of the old testament were of this type, for example the ten commandments: "Do not put anything above God," "Do not steal," "Do not kill," etc.

The basic idea behind the negative prescription is to respect the rights and dignity of others. This concept of morality is seen even today when we hear people say "Well, if I don't hurt anyone else, then it is not wrong." Kant also advocated this kind of moral ethic: a formal morality that basically said do not harm others.

The problem with this kind of morality is not that it is in itself bad or no good, but rather that on its own it does not suffice. If one only goes about life looking to make sure that one does not infringe upon the rights of others, then it is quite possible to "be" very "good," and yet do nothing for others. After one has made sure that one does not do this and one does not do that, the question remains (to steal a line from "Young Frankenstein" - thanks Madeline Kahn) "What exactly is it that you do do?"

We see just this kind of attitude from the rich young man who comes to Jesus asking what it is he has to do to gain eternal life. Jesus says, "you know the commandments." The rich young man says, "I've kept them all from my youth." And Jesus, looks at him with love and calls him to something more, "If you wish to be perfect, sell everything, give to the poor, and follow me."

I used to hear the golden rule "Do unto others..." invoked when I was young, but normally it was a scolding to not do something bad to others. Yet, if we look at the golden rule again in the light of calling Christians to a morality that is more than just a respecting of rules and a respecting of the rights of others, but rather a morality that is proactive, then it becomes something challenging, something which calls the Christian to follow Christ, to Love others as He has loved us.

This then reminds us of what we hear in the Gospel of St. John when Jesus gives us the "new" commandment: "Love one another as I have loved you." If we think of doing unto others in reard to how Christ loved us, then it means we are called to love as Christ loves: heal the sick, visit the estranged and the shut ins, call to conversion for the good of the other (not as a power trip), praying for the living and the dead, give food to the hungry - pick an act of mercy be it spiritual or corporal. Truly this way of proactive love is the same thing that Jesus said when he said "You shall love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself." To "love" means precisely to give of oneself, even to make a gift of oneself.

In this sense Christians are not called just to follow a bunch of "do not's," but rather a bunch of "do's," which give meaning and sense to the "do not's." Do love God (and if one opens oneself to accept His gift of love this is not hard to do - Caritas Christi urget nos - it is as if God's love makes us inclined to love the great Giver). Do love your neighbor (again God's love is hard to be contained in the life of just one person - Caritas Christi urget nos - if we let God love us we'll want to share it with others). Do love yourself (again here God's love is a key since it brings healing mercy and truth to stop the self hatred that comes from the lies we believe about ourselves and which have been reenforced through sin).

So, for the Feast of St. John, don't forget; do love. In this way you will treat others the way you want to be treated and love others as Christ loves you. God bless.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Presepio at St. Peter's Square

Here are a couple of photos of the presepio at St. Peter's Square.


And this is a close-up.

Note the ox and the ass: I read recently that the fathers of the Church interpreted these as a symbol of the gentiles and the jews, ie that Christ, even in his birth, had brought about unity between peoples.

Santo Stefano

Today is the Feast of Saint Stephen, first martyr of the Church. In case you are wondering what connection this feast has to Christmas, let me try to break it down. Advent and Christmas, though preparing us to celebrate the mystery of the incarnation, really have the second coming of Christ as their main focus. So, it is not surprising that the day after the celebration of the Birth of Christ (I don't say birthday because it is not), we celebrate the feast of the first martyr of the Church, an event that not only happened soon after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus and the descent of the Holy Spirit, but which in it's very nature testifies to the truth of Jesus' entering heaven, the beatific vision and the life with God in heaven.

In fact, we do not celebrate Christmas as if it were the first time we ave ever heard of it, as if we were the shepherds hearing the good news for the first time. Rather, being a people whose focus is on the paschal mystery, we see Christmas in view of the cross, the resurrection, the ascension, and the future glory that will come and of which we already have a foretaste here on earth in the eucharist.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Links to the Holy Father's Christmas Homily and Urbi et Orbi Message

Here are the links to the English versions of Pope Benedict's Christmas Midnight mass Homily and his "To the Coty and to the World" " Urbi et Orbi" Message, provided by the Vatican.

Homily:

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/homilies/2006/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20061224_christmas_en.html

Urbi et Orbi:

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/messages/urbi/documents/hf_ben-xvi_mes_20061225_urbi_en.html

The link that follows is the different languages the Holy Father gave greetings in.

http://www.vatican.va/urbi_et_orbi/urbi-christmas2006/urbi_en.html

My favorite is "Salvator noster natus est in mundo."

Name Change

Anyone who has followed this blog may remember that the title was originally "The Penses and Prayers of Br. Chris". I've decided to change the name to "An Ambassador for Christ". When I was in college, I wanted to be an ambassador because I thought of diplomacy and international politics as the way to bring about peace in the world. In college I had my "conversion", which, anyone who has experienced a conversion knows, means more a change in direct than reaching a final goal (in other words, I'm still in that process of conversion). After my initial "conversion experience," I came to see that the only hope for true peace in the world is the One who brings true peace to the hearts of men and women, Jesus Christ. Also, as it is He I must proclaim, and not myself (something I often need to remember), I think the title change very fitting.

"So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." (2 Cor 5:20)

Merry Christmas

Last night I was thinking about gift giving and how sometimes people focus too much on the giving of gifts at Christmas, so much so that the reason for the season is missed. I know a couple who do not give their children gifts for Christmas, but rather bake a birthday cake and sing "happy birthday" to Jesus. One can easily see how laudible this is to place an emphasis on Christmas being about the birthday of Jesus. One of the things that struck me, though, last night, is that the giving of gifts is not in itself wrong. In fact, it is a very good thing to do and can be an excellent reminder of the gift that was given us in Christ. This morning at mass, I surprised to hear almost the same thing from my guardian (the priest who is in charge of running a friary), who in his homily specifically mentioned this very aspect of Christmas. His words, though I paraphrase, were Christmas is about giving gifts and receiving gifts, and obviously the most important gift we can receive is the gift that God has given us in Jesus. Just as in giving gifts among people, to accept a gift is in some way to accpet the giver. Likewise Jesus tells us "Whoever accepts me, accepts the one who sent me." So, for us to accept the gift of Jesus is for us to accept God the Father into our lives.

At the breakfast table after mass, discussion arose about the North End of Boston and how, back in the day, none of the Italian immigrants would accept a basket of food from the parish. What's more, the city had set up a bureau in the neighborhood to make it easier for people to ask for the city's assistance, be it monetary or in some kind of service. No one came despite the fact that plenty of people could have used the help.

The message here is that it takes humility to receive a gift, to take a handout, and yet isn't that what grace is? Isn't it a gift? In fact, the Greek word for gift is the same as grace, "charis" (from which "charism" also derives). So, in receiving the gift of God, Jesus, do we not, in some way, need to admit that we are in need, to say, "I have sinned, and I need your mercy," or "I am weak and cannot do it alone"?

Perhaps we often are weary of admitting that we are in need of help because of the numerous people who try to take advantage of our weaknesses. They are those who are ready to give gifts, but they have their hidden motives for giving. Some try to solicit a response. They give expecting to receive. Others give gifts in order to cover up their abusive behavior. They give a gift as a way to obtain forgiveness without amending their ways, only so that they can continue to take advatage and further abuse the other person. (Certainly we may not all have these motives as our primary motives, but if we are attentive enough to ourselves, we may find these traces mixed in with our good intentions too.) So, knowing how gifts can sometimes be dangerous things, linking us with the giver, obliging us in some way, we tend to avoid accepting gifts from someone until we know for certain that they do not have hidden motives.

Yet God's motives for giving us the gift of His Son, the gift of His mercy, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of His very Life, are anything but hidden. (Or if they are "hidden" maybe it is due to our image of God, which has been blurred by our sins.) God, in giving us the gift of Jesus looked to do in a universal and definitive way the same thing he did for the people of Israel in a particular and partial way: liberate us and make a convenant with us (Thanks, Fr. Elberti - my sacraments professor).

For freedom Christ set us free so that we might not turn back to the yoke of slavery which is sin (cfr Gal 6:1). Through his pasqual mystery, Christ set us free from sin by obtaining the remission of sin (not just its forgiveness - sorry Luther - God restores His imagine in man, so that man, though wounded by original sin, is capable of responding to God in freedom. The very notion of grace - gift - requires that the other be disposed to receive it and free to choose to receive it or not. Anything else would mean God imposes grace on some and not on others, making God, not only unjust, but also a tyrannt who does not love but uses force to carry out His will). In this we have been freed, that is if we accept the gift of the pasqual mystery and of Jesus's dying and rising for us. But not only this. Just like after the first passover "pasch", God led his people so as to give them the law, ie make a covenant with them, God also gave his "new" law to His people after Christ's pasch (Not that it was something new per se but "new" in its way of being transmitted). Pentecost was the Jewish festival of weeks that not only celebrated the first fruits of the earth (man...! Christ is the First Fruit of the Resurrection... a true "fruit" of the earth... a truth realized by the coming of the HS on Pentecost) but also the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. Jeremiah tells us "The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers the day I took them by the hand to lead them forth from the land of Egypt; for they broke my covenant and I had to show myself their master, says the LORD. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD. I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people." (31:31-33) The day of Pentecost for the Church is the day that this law was written on the hearts of the apostles so that they could understand the mystery Christ had revealed to them and proclaim it to others. This is the new covenant, God giving us His Spirit so that we might live for Him, free from sin, to grow in charity.

And God doesn't hide His cards. He wants for us, freedom from sin so that He can make us His sons. And not jus this. He wishes to give us new life and bless us with his overwhelming goodness. And not just in this life. He wants to save us definitively, showing Himself to be Lover of Mankind, redeeming man even from the now-a-days seemingly final loss of the human person, physical death (Christians know that the real final loss of the person is spiritual death in unrepented mortal sin... ie completely turning away from God), a redemption that will follow in the footsteps of the redeemer, Jesus Christ, resulting in the resurrection from the dead and life everlasting for the just (repentant sinners) and the second death, hell, for the unjust (unrepentant sinners).

There, the cards are on the table. God does not offer us His gift of His Son to dupe us into slavery, but to lead us into freedom and into holiness of life that will lead to intimate union with Him and our fellow man, to holiness of life, and to life everlasting in heaven. The gift of the giver is the gift of the giver Himself. In such a light we need not be afraid.

Merry Christmas, and by the way, don't forget to unwrap the gift god has given you. You won't need to return it or send it back, but only use it wisely and give God glory and thanks for giving you Himself.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Patience

Patience is a virtue, or so we are told. Yet, so many times we think that we can force change either in our own lives or in the lives of others. Instead of taking the slow path to change we want to immediately arrive there no matter what course of action we take... the ends begin to justify the means.

The Lord asks us to be patient, even if we are convinced that we are right and that the thing we want is what is best. He especially asks us to be patient during those times because we might, in fact, be deceived as to what the best solution to a given problem is.

Advent, precisely as a season of hope, teaches to how to wait. It teaches us to keep an eye on the past to see how God fulfilled his promises of old, so that, with firm trust in the reality of his kingdom and of the future glory promised us in Jesus, we can act today with love, which, by the way, is always patient.

I once read somewhere the saying "our thinking becomes distorted as we try to force solutions". I think that this is evident in what is happening in the Church today. Some are trying to force solutions, going that step too far that all who wanted to change the church in the past took, namely disobedience. Then one becomes deceived, in thinking that any means to reach one's goal will suffice.

If one were to come to the defense of those who are trying to force change in the Church by saying that they are indeed obeying, obeying the Holy Spirit, I would have to reply that the Holy Spirit does not inspire division and disobedience, but rather longsuffering if the person struggling for change is indeed in the right. Plus, there is always a need for discernment of spirits since not all inspiration is from God. All that is needed is to examine the fruits of said inspiration. For example, would the Holy Spirit inspire a Catholic to seek an extra-sacramental marriage?

Patience. If a change is truly meant to happen in the Church the Holy Spirit will help it to come about without resorting to the violence of disobedience and schism. Rather, if people resort to disobedience and schism, then maybe there is more wrong with the advocates for change than the thing they are fighting against.

A response to those who are not patient? Patient correction and calling back to obedience, especially if they have a ministerial charism from the grace of ordination.

Evening Prayer Reflection: Dec 11th

“Pay back is hell,” is the expression we often hear when someone is vindictive and gets back at a person who wronged them. Often when we are wronged, or even when we think we have been wronged, we want to give the other person hell, to pay them back, to get even. We want revenge.

In today’s reading from the book of Isaiah, we hear “Here is your God, he comes with vindication, with divine recompense he comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared. Then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the dumb will sing” (Is 35:4-6). In its historical context, the author of these verses wanted to point out to the people of Israel God’s saving action in allowing the enemies of Israel to be defeated. God pays back those who harmed Israel. He gets even on others for the harm they did his people.

But what about those who harm God, those who sin? Interpreted in the spiritual sense these verses give us an insight into how God has paid back those who sin. If we keep in mind that in the Hebrew mindset illness was a result of sin, we see what kind of payback God gives sinners, what kind of revenge he gets on those who transgress his laws: he heals them, he saves, he gives them what they don’t deserve. In today’s gospel, we hear Jesus doing just that, healing the sick and the lame, first by forgiving their sins and then by healing them, restoring them to wholeness.

But he didn’t just forgive the sins of sinners and heal the illnesses of a people who had gone astray, rather, in the face of the sinner, in the face of those who did no longer deserved to be called “sons”, God ran after his people, embraced them, clothed them with new clothes, put a ring on their finger and held a big feast. Yes, instead of squashing sinners like bugs and paying them back what they deserved God was merciful to his people and, by becoming man, by taking on our human nature, he married them, giving them a gift that we could never deserve: his divine life in Jesus.

So, when we want to give someone hell for what they did to us, when we want to pay someone back, let us turn our thoughts to the payback God gave us, how he forgave us, how he shared himself with us, and how he was merciful in giving us what we did not deserve. Let us strive to imitate God, for one of the mysteries of the incarnation is that we can imitate his mercy and his love, precisely because he made himself man in Jesus.

Reflection: Advent and Christmas, a Time of Hope.

The Advent Season is upon us, the season of hope and expectation that reminds us to focus our gaze with longing hearts on the Lord’s coming. But I’m not talking about Jesus’ birth here. Advent is a season of hope not only because it prepares us to remember the birth of Jesus, but primarily because it reminds us of the great hope we have received as a result of that first, meek coming of Christ: the hope of heaven.

“For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary and was made man,” the words of the Nicene Creed tell us. But if we’ve heard these words once, we’ve heard them a thousand times, and so maybe we say them or read them without thinking much about what they mean. “For us … and for our salvation”: that’s two reasons Christ came, not one. It is already such a glorious thing that Jesus came for our salvation, to save us from sin and from its consequences. He suffered on the cross and died a death only possible because he became a man. Had that been all, it would have been enough.

But God also “came down from heaven” for us (because he loved us). It was not just to pardon our sins by his death… Not just to restore us to a state of innocence… but also, and ultimately, to share with us his divine life, union with God, the same union we will experience in both body and soul in heaven.

In the face of the sinner, God did not merely wish to acquit the crime, to leave the murderer a pardoned murderer, but rather to put a ring on his finger and – precisely by wedding human nature – give him a dignity he did not deserve by making him a partaker in the divine nature. St. Irenaeus reminds us this: “For this is why the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.”So, for the rest of Advent and this Christmas season (the celebration is more than one day), let us keep in mind, not only the great mystery of Christ’s birth and what that made possible (his crucifixion and our salvation), but also the end result of that birth and resultant salvation, the hope of heaven as partakers of God’s own very life.

Happy Advent and Merry Christmas!

Maranatha!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Reconciliation

I just read the post Ego Te Absolvo on the blog Fioretta (http://flowersofstfrancis.blogspot.com/2006/11/ego-te-absolvo.htm) about being forgiven and accepting it.

Something I heard in my sacramental theology class, which has thrown a different light for me on the sacrament of reconciliation is that the difference between the protestant notion of forgiveness and the Catholic notion of forgiveness is like the difference between a murderer being saved from punishment but still being a murderer and a murderer being saved from punishment and even being given the dignity of a king. Our professor said that for the reformers such as Luther, forgiveness just obtained a stay of the punishment, yet the sinner is still a wretch, while the Catholic notion of "remission of sin" not only includes not being punished but even being restored to the state before having commited the sin. I couldn't help but think about the parabel of the merciful Father (Luke 15) where the Father restores the prodigal son to his status of son. It's a completely different concept and maybe can help us understand better what we believe happens in reconciliation.

In the prayer for the sacrament we hear "God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen"

After what my professor said, I can't help but make a connection with the role of the Holy Spirit in the forgiveness of sins and in making us children of Godcalling out "Abba, Father." It makes sense that it would happen at the same time, I just never thought of it that way before.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Or Is It Three Romes?



Or maybe the number of Rome's is three? I guess if we were to ask the Russian Orthodox, who have been building this church near the Russian Embassy here in Rome (I can see the golden onion dome from the top of the steps near my friary as I walk to the bus stop every morning), they might respond differently, that there are three Rome's, the Catholic Rome, the secular Rome, and the Orthodox Rome - Moscow of course. Let me explain. Rome was the capital of the Roman empire until Constantine moved the capital to Byzantium and renamed the city Constantinople. It also assumed the nick name "the second Rome." Because it was the administrative capital of the eastern empire, an empire that was Christian, the patriarch of Constantinople assumed a certain respect among the eastern Christians. When Constantinople fell in 1453, Moscow, which had become its own patriarchate in 1448 (http://orthodoxwiki.org/Church_of_Russia), was considered by the Russian Orthodox as the third Rome, taking over the leadership of orthodoxy after the fall of Constantinople. Well, I don't agree since the first Rome was still the most important see and patriarchate, but I'm still glad to have the Russian Orthodox in the neighborhood, even if I joke with my OCA seminarian friend saying "there goes the neighborhood." I can't wait to see the church completed. I just hope they don't work on Roman time.

The Two Romes


Most every time one sees a picture of St. Peter's, it is normally fromt he front with Via della Conciliazione and the colonnade, placing it in a context that seems to say that St. Peter's is surrounded by other Christian works of art. While walking, I saw this view of St. Peter's and thought the contrast to be interesting. To me this shot expresses the idea that there are two Romes, the Christian Rome, which is the capital of Catholicism, and the secular Rome, which is a city in a Europe slowly forgetting its Christian roots.

Angelus


I was in Saint Peter's Square on Sunday the 19th, when what should I see during the Angelus but the mega-screens displaying the words of the Angelus in Latin. I pretty much have the hang of the Angelus in Latin by now, but I always get hung up on "ut digni efficiamur promissionibus Christi" (that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ) So I was glad to be able to read the response in Latin instead of just saying it to myself in English. Thank you, Benedict!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Thought for the Day

"Do this in memory of me"... These words of Jesus from the gospel are the source of our coming together to celebrate the eucharist. But how can I apply them also in my daily life? Do I think of my daily prayers as a chore? What happens when I do these prayers in memory of Him? Is it difficult to relate to others or to be open to others? What happens when I live my relationship in memory of Him?

I kind of have a scientific bent to my way of thinking and am very interested to know how these little "experiments" will turn out. I can't help but thinking that if I do everything in memory of Jesus then I will make Him the center of my life and look to do His will.

I was also reading a section from Pastores Dabo Vobis today, and I can't help but think that living this way in memory of Jesus is to enter into His "Today," which John Paul speaks about... the "today" of the new and everlasting covenant, the day of salvation, the appropriate time, the moment when the time is fulfilled and the kingdom at hand, the "day" the Lord has made, the "today" for listening to the voice of the Lord, the "today" of Jesus Christ's eternal action of salvation, which will not change and which will ever continue to seek out souls to accept His Kingship and to accept His love... The "today" whereby salvation comes even to our homes, the intimate recesses of our very lives.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Poem: Discourse of a soul with God

O God of Love, O Father most tender,

Look down upon me in mercy a sinner,

Help me to open up to your Spirit,

So that guided by You, I might gain true merit.

O son of mine, I love you dear.

And wish thatyou my voice would hear

My life to you I wish to give

To heal and help you to truly live

This news, O Father, does make me thirst,

For that love you give to me in Christ

Break with your grace this heart of stone,

And bring me back to my true home.

Peace, be still, o son of mine.

For in your darkness my light will shine.

You need not fret, you need not run.

For freely do I make you my son.

What, O Father, can I give for this gift,

I'll give you my all with nothing left,

Or a prayer of thanks I will first give

You name it, anything, just give me life.

O son of mine what could you pay.

For the gift of love I give this Day

My Son I give upon the cross

With a gift like this all else seems loss.

Loss? O lost I feel, O God!

Within myself I see no good,

Why, O how could you then give,

This precious grace, this new life.

Shalom, my son and do not fear.

Your cries, your prayers I always hear.

I wait, I wait to hear you say

You'll let me love you, that you'll give way.

Stop, o how, your love to win?

A way, away, I have to find.

No - what - oh - my - yes.

Your grace! What mystery!

Now, my son, do you now see?

My grace has been and will always be

With you so that you might accept

My one command, my true precept.

My love is free. I give it to you.

That you may love and give it too.

That you may taste my love, my life.

And have my peace amidst all strife.

Do not fear and do not run

I love you and want you as my son

Receive my life, receive my love.

Do not fear, there is enough.

Thank you, O Father, for your love for us

For the gift you gave us in Christ Jesus.

And for the Holy Spirit, who as guide

Helps us to walk to reach your side

To arrive one day with you in heaven

To praise you forever and ever. Amen.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Back from El Salvador


Paz en medio de la tormenta

I've been away from my blog for while due to being sent to Central America for my summer assignment. I was in Ataco, El Salvador for two and half months. I learned quite a bit from the people down there which I wanted to reflect on.

One major theme that really struck me down in El Salvador was that of faith. By faith I don't mean the intellectual knowledge of the dogmas and teachings of the church (though these are important... don't get me wrong). No, the kind of faith that I saw down there was a simple trust in God, a dependence on Him for everything, a happiness even in the midst of trials and difficulties.

There is a song I heard very often at mass down there. It goes like this.

Paz en la tormenta

Cuando lloras por las veces que intentaste (When you cry for the times you have tried)
Y tratas de olvidar las lagrimas que lloraste (and you try to forget the tears you've shed)
Solo tienes pena y tristeza, el futuro incierto espera (you only have pain and sadness, the uncertain future waits)
Puedes tener paz en la tormenta (You can have peace in the storm)

Muchas veces yo me siento igual que tu (Many times I feel the same as you)
Mi corazon anhela algo real (My heart thirsts for something real)
El señor viene a mì y me ayuda a seguir (The Lord comes to me and helps me to go on)
En paz en medio de la tormenta (In peace, in the midst of the storm)

Puedes tener paz en la tormenta (You can achieve peace in the storm)
Fe y esperanza cuando no puedas seguir (Faith and hope when you can't go on)
Aun con tu mundo hecho pedazos el señor guiarà tus pasos (Even with your world falling to pieces, the Lord will guide your steps)
En paz en medio de la tormenta (In peace, in the midst of the storm)

What this song says to me and what I saw while down in El Salvador is that the faith of the people there is not something they use in order to help them avoid their pain or their difficulties. Faith, in fact is not something they use to get them through. No, instead they have faith and having faith they face their difficulties, trusting that the Lord will help them to have peace in the middle of the storm.

I think at times we want our faith to be a commodity. We want it to be something we use to help us get through. In this way, we are the center of attention. We are the ones using faith as a means to overcome difficulties, and taken to the extreme, this can even mean that we use faith to deny our pain or the difficulties we have to face.

But Jesus did not come so that we might never know pain or suffering. In fact it seems as though in the gospel he promises trials and tribulations for those who follow him. And let's face it, trials and tribulations are also a part of the human condition. We face death and disease and our own limitations. But I think that Jesus did not come to remove those things from us as much as to teach us to place our faith in His aid and His grace in confronting these difficulties so that He might be Lord of even our difficult moments. Kind of like with Job.

If we don't face our difficulties with the help of God, we can look for ways of escaping from them, even so much as to try to deny the difficulty. An example to make this point clear is the way some react when there is a death in the family. Some turn to God for help in this time of grieving and some avoid facing it all together. Yet even those who "turn to God" might try to deny the difficulty. For exmple, the reading used often at funerals from 1 Thesalonians 4:13-18 says in verse 13 "We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope." In a faith looking to deny our condition, we can use this verse as a means of repressing our grief over the loss of a loved one. The words "so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope" can be misunderstood as "those who grieve have no hope. Therefore I should not grieve." But when we place this verse in the context of other scripture passages we find John 11:35, where Jesus weeps. He is overcome with emotion and expresses it. I think what St. Paul was trying to say to the Thesalonians was not "don't weep" or "don't morn," but rather "do not grieve to the point of dispair... there is hope... there is the resurrection." In this way he tells them "not to grieve in the same manner as those who have no hope."

My point in bringing up this example is this: our faith in God should not be one in which we expect Him to remove every obstacle from our life or one in which we try to deny the natural things we as human beings will experience (grief and pain for example). Rather, like the song Paz en medio de la tormenta, our faith should be something which helps us to trust that God is with us in the middle of the storm... that like He said to Peter and the other apostles when they were tossed about on the Sea of Galilee in the middle of a storm... He says to us "Do not be afraid. It is I." "I am with you to save you, to accompany you through the storm."

Trusting that Jesus is with us in our difficulties, doesn't it help us to pick up that daily cross with greater joy and much more hope? I certainly think so.

May you have the peace of Jesus in the middle of whatever storms you are facing.


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Reflections on the Holy Spirit

I have been thinking quite a lot about the Holy Spirit recently, not only because Pentecost is coming up, but because the book I'm reading right now, Life in Christ by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, has brought out some very interesting points that I never considered before.

One of the things he mentions that has struck me is that the day of Pentecost is significant for understanding how the Holy Spirit is to act in our lives. He says that the Jewish feast of Pentecost was not only a time of bringing forth the first fruits of the harvest but also, by the time of Jesus, it was celebrated as the day on which the Jewish people remember the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai, a law written on stone tablets by the finger of God.

According to Cantalamessa, this feast finds its fulfillment in the coming of the Holy Spirit, who writes the law of the new covenant in the hearts of the faithful (But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD. I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.- Jer 31:33), taking away stony hearts and making them natural hearts (I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts. I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees. - Ez 36:25-27). All this the Holy Spirit does in order to give us the "new law," not external prescriptions forcing those subject to the law to obey, but an interior desire to do the good, "forcing" those under the "law of the Spirit" by means of attraction to fulfill the commands given to us. Without the new law of the Spirit, even the prescriptions of the gospel in the beatitudes and the new command to love one another would simply become new exterior prescriptions like the old law and not bring about salvation.

Not only does Cantalamessa's reflection shed light for me on Romans and the issue of the law of the Spirit, but it also helps me to understand what Paul is trying to evoke when in Romans he speaks about having "the firstfruits of the Spirit" (Rom 8:23), ie that this is a reference to the feast of Pentecost as a feast of presenting the first fruits. In a way, in the Christian life, there is a certain fruit given by God... the firstfruits. Maybe this firstfruit is the grace of faith or of conversion or the grace of a deeper understanding of who God is in our lives, but in any event, it is this fruit brought about by God that helps us to do all that we are asked of by God. Fr. Cantalamessa later speaks of the need to see grace (read help of the Holy Spirit), not as something that comes to us when we have reached the limits of our human strength and then appeal to God for help, but rather to see grace as a gift that comes first, that enables us to go beyond our limited strength and run the good race of the Christian life.

I was also wondering what significance seeing the day of Pentecost as a fulfillment of the day the law was given to Moses might have for a new reading on the prologue of the Gospel of John. The verse that came to mind as I was reading Cantalamessa was John 1:16-17 "From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace (or "grace upon grace"), because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."

I hear the word "grace" and I immediately think of the saying from the Catechism that "grace is first and foremost the gift of the Spirit who justifies and sanctifies us" CCC 2003. I understand "gift of the Spirit" to mean, not so much something the Spirit gives (though the Spirit certainly gives "graces"), but that the Holy Spirit is the gift which is given, ie that the Holy Spirit is the "gift" ("xaris" in Greek, which is the same word for "grace") "of God most high." Grace is a help, and certainly this help in the form of "graces" comes from the Holy Spirit, but as a "Helper", an "Advocate," the Holy Spirit is "Grace" par excellance. So then from the fullness of Christ have we not received "grace upon grace," the gift of the Holy Spirit? Then I hear the word "truth" and immediately think of "the Spirit of Truth which the world can not accept" of John 14:17. "Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." Did not the Holy Spirit come upon believers because of Jesus' coming, because of His passion and resurrection? So here we have the contraposition of the Law coming through Moses and grace and truth coming through Jesus. I wonder if this is not John making a reference to the fulfillment of Pentecost and the coming of the Spirit as the new law. Just a thought, and I am open to any reflections or corrections that anyone might have on this topic.

In any event, as Kierkegaard might say, it is a shame to talk about God in the third person instead of speaking to Him in the second person... (I mean "person" in the grammatical sense not the trinitarian sense)... So let us pray:

Come O You Holy Spirit of God. Give us the free gift of Yourself and bring us your santifying and purifying grace. You and You alone can mold our hearts and make them more and more open to communion with the Holy Trinity. You and You alone can inspire in us prayer, can aid us in all our undertakings, and guide us in all truth. Be for us our vision and our light, form in us Your fruit, Your gifts, Your charisms, that we may be ever made anew in the image of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. O Advocate and ultimate help of all Christians, come to our assistance, so that we may ever give glory to the Father and to the Son, and to You the Holy Spirit, forever and into eternity. Amen.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Simple Gospel Truth

A friend of mine was telling me a story about his niece.  She is 3 going on 4, and everywhere she goes she takes this dirty, ragged, old doll with her.  Nothing can convince her to love another, more beautiful, more perfect doll.  She loves that one.  And she doesn't have a reason.  She just loves it.

The lesson to this story is that God loves us much like my friend's niece loves her doll.  It is not because we are already all nice and beautiful or without fault or defect that, then and only then, He begins to love us.  No, on the contrary.  He loves us.

In the Gospel of Luke 24:47, before ascending into heaven, Jesus sends His disciples out to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins.  This repentance is not repentance in order to obtain forgiveness, as if one had to buy God's mercy with acts of piety, but repentance in order to open one's self up to receive God's mercy, that is to turn away from sin and toward God, a turning, which, if we go by the story of the Merciful Father and the prodigal son in chapter 15 of Luke, God the Father sees even when we are still "far off," and to which He responds by running out to meet us and embracing us, even leaping over mountains and bounding over hills.

God's love comes first.  1 John 4:10 makes this clear. "In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins." 

Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher to the papal household, in his book Life In Christ puts it this way (I'm paraphasing).  The order of events is not sin, repentance, salvation, but sin salvation, repentence.  It is God's overwhelming, relentless and ever-faithful love that leads us to conversion (if we let Him work... we can still say "no").

Mary's example here is important since she said "Fiat mihi secondum verbum tuum" (may it be done unto me according to thy word), and what word has God revealed to us if not the Word, His Son, Jesus (whose name means "Yahweh saves," "I am who saves").  His will for us is this salvation, this communion, His very life.  Let us say "yes" to it.  Let us say "Amen."

Friday, March 17, 2006

Lenten Poem

Here is a little poem I wrote the other night. It seems very appropriate for lent.


A walk in the cemetery


Walking in the silent graveyard of my life

I see the tombstones of struggle and of strife

A friend a lover a seer a sage

Now lie beneath the earth to rot with age

And bending down to see each name

My eyes do marvel - they are the same


(the twilight falls)

(the evening comes)

(the sun goes down)

(little light remains)

How will I find my way home?


I await my friend whose vision is better,

Who carries a lamp wherever he goes.

He knows the way, and that I wait for him.

- He will lead me.


Before the light fades completely

I glance at the tombstone ahead of me

"Hic expecto resurrectionem!"

- The word catches my eye

And breathing out a sigh I say and almost cry, "So do I!"


The night comes on.

The first star appears.

My eyes they dry beholding the sight.

My friend comes. (This is the night...)

My friend comes.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Reflection on the Suffering Christ

The other day I was sitting in class, and one of my classmates was had a cold. I wanted so much to ease the suffering of this classmate. I wanted to take away the pain and suffering.

Later that evening I was meditating in the chapel and began to think about my response to the suffering of this classmate of mine in relation to my response to the sufferings of Christ. I wanted to ease the sufferings of my classmate, but do I want to ease the sufferings of Christ? My natural response in seeing my classmate's suffering was to sympathize and to want to alleviate the pain. So, if I want to love Christ more, all I need to do is consider his sufferings and remember that he suffered worse than this classmate. If I consider his sufferings as being real and beingthe sufferings of a person liek my classmate this will bring me to love him more as I empathize with his suffering. It is natural to empathize and to want to come to the aid of those suffering. Yet, I know I can not take away the sufferings of Christ. Looking at the cause of his suffering I find that it is due to my sins, and I can try to stop sinning the best I can (with His help). But even more a cause of love for the Lord is the fact that, though my sins demanded this kind of sacrifice on his part, it was really his love that caused him to accept the cross and the sufferings that he endured.

And yet what of those who are his members? What about those who fulfill what is lacking of the sufferings of Christ? What about them? Can I not think of them as Jesus suffering as well?

While listening to a homily today, I realized that this consideration of others' suffering as being Jesus suffering, Jesus in a distressing disguise (as Mother Teresa would say), is a way for me to want to come to the aid of others and yet not lord it over them, as if I am somehow so great for helping them in their need. If they are Jesus in a distressing disguise, then it becomes a humble service, a way of easing the sufferings of Jesus, and heaven help me if I think myself as great in front of such a great lover of mankind.

Lord, you show me many wonderful things. Help me to live them out.


Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Reflection on Motherhood and Christ

I was thinking the other day about mothers and motherhood, and how mothers are very special people. If you think about it, mothers give nourishment to their children from their own bodies for the life of their children, much like Christ gave his own body to us to be our spiritual nourishment for life eternal. Just as mothers give their breast to the children so that they can grow from the milk they receive, so too does Christ give us his breast (that is the wound in his side) so that we can grow strong from the milk that he gives us... (his precious blood which washes away our sins). Also if we think of the Church both as the body of Christ and as Mother of Christians, we can think of the milk that the Church as mother gives us as being the sacraments, that is Jesus himself... again... the idea of the mother giving of her own body to nourish the children. Again... Mary, as model of the church, is also considered our mother... mother of christians. What would be the milk that we would receive from her chaste breast if not the graces that she obtains for us by her intercession? And oh should we not long to drink from such a living font, to receive such life giving grace from such a tender mother? She being in such intimate communion with God, would we not receive also the grace of intimacy with the Holy Spirit? And since we are to become other Christs, to be formed into the fullness of the maturity of Christ, is it not appropriate that we receive such nourishment from the one who gave nourishment to Christ in the flesh? Isn't it interesting how something so natural to us and something so beautiful can lead us to think of God and even lead us to want to receive more from him and from the prayers of his saints?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Lenten Reflection

“The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). These words from the Gospel of Mark, which we hear on the 1st Sunday of Lent, point out the essence of Lent, the time of celebration before Easter where the church prepares itself for encountering again the fundamental mystery of our salvation, the passion and resurrection of Jesus. The word “Lent” itself is an Old English word that means “spring,” and this imagery reminds us that while Lent is a time of giving up things, it also a time for us grow in faith, faith in God and in His steadfast and merciful love for us, in the mysteries of the life of Christ, and in the gift of the Holy Spirit.

“The Kingdom of God is at hand:” God’s Kingdom is His Sovereignty, His Dominion over our lives, His Holiness, His Goodness, His being Lord of history and the One Who can make all things turn out for good. It is His reign of steadfast and merciful love. Yet the words “dominion,” “sovereignty,” even “reign” scare us sometimes. “Dominion” can make us think of domination and oppression. “Sovereignty” leads us to fear the prerogatives of kings and rulers, of governments and states – something not to be violated without provoking a war. And we associate the word “reign” with “terror,” like the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution. The truth is, again and again we say how much God loves us, how merciful He is, but when we hear His footsteps, we run and hide like Adam and Eve did in the garden. We believe, but we need His help in our unbelief.

“Repent and believe in the gospel:” Jesus invites us to repent, to literally “think again,” to change our minds, as the original Greek word for “repent” suggests to us. We are to move from the state of mind of disbelief to the state of mind of belief in the “Good News,” which Jesus announces to us in His preaching and through His actions. This “Good News” turns what we think about a kingly God on its head. The Gospel announces God the Father’s everlasting and loving mercy, indicated to us in the parable of the Merciful Father and the prodigal son (Luke 15) and shown to us in the mercy poured forth in the passion and death of Jesus. It announces to us the Fatherly care of God in providing for our needs (Mt 6:25-34), the intimacy that God wishes to have with us (John 14:23), and the kind of gracious help and support God gives us in His Spirit, the gift of His very Self (John 14:26, Rom 8:11-27). What we learn from Jesus’s proclamation of the gospel is that God does not expect us to be perfect before we come to Him to receive His love because He knows that His love will heal us from our tendency to sin and place in our hearts a desire for what is true and good (Luke 7:36-50). Plus He will bring about the purification that we need (1 Thes 5:23-24). We learn that God knows more about us than we do (John 2:24-25) and still loves us so much as to give up His Son for our salvation (John 3:16). In short, Jesus proclaims the Good News that God is for us and not against us (Rom 8:31), that His Kingdom which He wishes to establish in our lives is one of an intimacy and communion with Him that transforms us into instruments of His peace.

“Believe in the gospel:” While it is true that faith is given to us from God as a gift, that we are able to say “Amen,” “yes” to the gospel by the grace given us through the Holy Spirit, faith is also a virtue that once we have received, we have to practice to maintain (CCC 153, 162). Lent proposes to us three ways of intensifying our training, of doing a spiritual boot camp, if you will. These are prayer, almsgiving, and fasting. Prayer keeps up our faith by renewing our connection with God in the Holy Spirit, without which we become dry branches and loose our vitality (John 15:1-11). During Lent can aim to put aside some extra time for prayer, meditation, or reading of scripture, or we can try to attend daily mass. Almsgiving reminds us that faith is not an intellectual practice only, but rather it spurs us to live a coherent Christian life by doing acts of charity. During Lent we can strive to put our faith into practice through donating our time to a charitable cause or to being present to those around us. Fasting reminds us of how much we depend on God for our everyday existence and helps us to appreciate more our daily bread as coming from God’s providence. This Lent, we can either choose to give up a certain amount of food or even “fast” from certain entertainments.

In whatever we do for Lent, we should remember to place our trust more in God’s mercy, grace, love, and providence, to turn more of ourselves over to Him and to His reign, to not be afraid to let His healing light and grace touch the shadowlands of our hearts. In our giving up things for God this Lent, let us remember to practice giving ourselves entirely over to God, not just our good parts, or even just the parts of us that need healing, but our whole selves over to His wonderful love. We can remember to pray often the words John Paul II prayed so often, “I am all Yours, and everything I have is Yours.” This is a very appropriate prayer for us to pray at mass while the gifts are being prepared, remembering that all the faithful take part in the sacrificial aspect of the mass through our baptismal priesthood and that we are called upon to offer to God our cares and concerns, our friends and family, in essence our whole life. This prayer, sung in the Byzantine Liturgy, often helps me remember this self-offering aspect of our mass and how central offering one’s self completely to God is to the spiritual life and in the lives of the saints:

Remembering our most holy, most pure, most blessed and glorious Lady, the Mother of God and ever Virgin Mary, and all the saints, let us commend ourselves, one another, and our whole life unto Christ our God. – To You, O Lord!

May you embrace the mysteries of Easter with greater faith so that His joy may be complete in you! Happy Lent!

And here is the link to Benedict XVI's lenten reflection:

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/messages/lent/documents/hf_ben-xvi_mes_20050929_lent-2006_en.html

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Wild vs Mild in God, Conversation with Joshua Gravis

This is an e-mail convestaion I had with a friend of mine from college. Here is his original e-mail.

Finally, as a closing note, I did a word study on the Greek work for "wild," and found that it is used only once to describe people, in which it is translated as "raging." The Greek word, "agrios," is defined as "wild; undomesticated as well as uncontrolled." It is used in Jude's epistle to speak of false Christians who are leading people away to pursue the desires of their flesh instead of the desire of the Holy Spirit. I am looking forward to experiencing our "Band of Brothers" the real meaning of "Wild at Heart." The Lord sends us out into the "wilderness" so that we can learn to depend on Him, love Him, and serve Him.

We will live life's adventures, seek God's glory, and step outside of our boxes of what we believe our God is capable of. This will be "wild," but we will be under the control of the Holy Spirit, guided by the Sovereign Lord who is never "out of control." Here is our word, which combines the "wild" power that God gives us in Christ and the "mild" control, which He also provides us in that same Christian spirit of self-control. Our word is "meek," which in the Greek, "praus or praos," is defined as "gentle, humble, considerate," and further, as "the positive moral quality of dealing with people in a kind manner, which humility and consideration."

Jesus was "meek (Matthew 11:29; 21:5)," and taught us that we'd be blessed if we followed his example and were meek (Matthew 5:5). This goes well with a particular definition of meekness, which I heard in a Church service at Harvest Christian Fellowship back in 2001, but have never forgotten (a miracle in itself!). Pastor Jim defined meekness as "power under control." Check out Romans 12:1-2, and consider what a great privilege it is to be called sons of God, and then consider more deeply what a great calling it is to lay aside our sonship, and to humble ourselves before others, whether they deserve it or not. See Jesus' example in Philippians 2:5-11 and Hebrews 12:2-6.

I am looking forward to this Band of Brothers with great fervor, and look forward, especially, to seeing you, my brothers in Christ, grow into the fulness of Christ's mission and calling on your lives. I have been praying for you each, and will continue to do so even more, as I hear you share your stories about His glory!
wild vs. mild ~ "meek"

God bless you ~Joshua


Here is my response:

Dear Joshua,

In considering wild vs. mild, have you seen the film The Chronicles of Narnia? There is a good line in it where Mr. Tumnus says that Aslan (the Christ figure) "is not a domesticated lion, but he is good." I'm reading the books right now and there is that same kind of interplay that C.S. Lewis makes between the fearful thrill of being in the presence of Aslan as well as the feeling of security and peace that he gives, the wildness and mildness of God, if you will.
This I have found to be so true in my own experience. There is that striking and often terrifying truth with which God convicts us of sin, but not to dash us down as if we were horrible and worthless, but rather to illuminate us to show us our need for Him and to then provide the sweetness of his grace and mercy. Unlike others who try to show us who we are in order to put us down, God shows us who we are in order to raise us up. It is terrifying being shown one's self. But it is ever so sweet and ever so good to be raised up and embraced by His grace.
Thanks again for sharing and for the prayers.

Peace and goodness,

Chris


Here is Joshua's reply from his blog and his posting of our converstaion:

I want to share this conversation with you about our Awesome God within the context of his power and the beauty of his forgiveness. Here is a perfect example of what happens when we enter his presence and become aware of his holy perfection and sinless beauty. Note that the speaker, the prophet Isaiah, went on to becoming Israel's most famous, most revered, and most quoted prophet in the New Testament, especially by Jesus himself, when he quoted scriptures referring to prophecies about himself. Here is what Isaiah spoke at his meeting with God, when he was called out to be a prophet to Israel and to the gentile nations around it:

"In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

'Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.'

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

'Woe to me!' I cried. 'I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.'

Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, 'See, this has touched you lips, your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.'

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?'

And I said, 'Here I am. Send me!'" ~ Isaiah 6:1-8


thank you, chris, for your input. yes, God is fearsome in his ability to find the fulness and exact nature of our sinfulness, as well as our individual sins. but praise Him that He is more desirous to cleanse us than He is to condemn us! It is like the lyrics to amazing grace: "twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved." again, i am going to post this thought provoking work of yours on my blog, brother, as i hope it will inspire others to consider God in his wildness and mildness, that they might turn to Him for mercy and grace, seeking his forgiveness for their sinfulness, and asking his salvation from their deserved path toward eternal death, accepting his sacrifice on their behalf that they might receive eternal life. wow, that was a long sentence!

thanks again, brother, and i look forward to chatting more! i will also include my original work below, which inspired your response about our God, who is perfectly both wild and mild. and, yes, i have seen "the lion, the witch, and the wardrobe," and i love it. it is on my favorite movies section of my personal section of my blog.

I'm often slow on email, so call me if you need to talk soon.Here is the link to my BLOG: http://builttolovetheonegod.blogspot.com/God bless you ~Joshua


May you come to meet this God who is both wild and mild, inspiring in us both fear and confidence.

Br. Chris

Reflection for Evening Prayer Jan 20th

In today’s gospel (Mark 3:13-19), we see God’s hidden wisdom revealed (cf 1 Cor 2:7-10a). Jesus summons those who he wants. They come to him, and he appoints twelve of them as apostles. The names of those who were called by Jesus to be apostles are well known to us. But they were even more well known to Jesus. He knew them through and through. He knew their strengths, their weaknesses, their vices and their virtues, and he loved them and continually called them to what Pope John Paul II called the “school of faith.” Only in God’s wisdom, only in Jesus’ revelation of himself and His Father to the disciples, made clearer to them with the coming of the Holy Spirit, could these simple men learn to grow in faith, hope and love, though like each of us, they were, sometimes full of doubts, sometimes competing with each other to be the best, or sometimes relying on their own strengths instead of on the Lord.
Looking at the life of Saint Peter, we can know what this school of faith entails. Meeting the Lord through his brother, Andrew, Peter in getting to know the Lord also comes to know himself as well. After working all night and not catching any fish, Peter comes face to face with how little his faith is when he sees, after objecting to Jesus’ request that they put out into the deep for a catch, that with the Lord, that which may seem impossible to man is possible to God. Peter, seeing his own unbelief, would have Jesus leave him. Yet Jesus, in his gentle faithfulness will not let him remain discouraged, but instead calls him again to the task he has for him, that of being a fisher of men.
After professing his faith in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God, Peter meets another set back when he comes to find out that, despite getting it right concerning who Jesus is, he is rebuked by Jesus for trying to impede him from going to the cross simply because the prediction of the passion challenges Peter’s notion of who Jesus is. Yet, to comfort Peter and prepare him for the scandal of the cross and death of Jesus, the Lord leads him up to a mountaintop where he reveals his glory to him, giving him the needed impetus to face the coming trial.
When Peter thinks that he will die with Jesus and stand by him till the end, Peter comes face to face with just how weak he is and how quickly he denies his Lord when it could mean his life. Yet Jesus, after the resurrection invites Peter to renew his love for him and calls him again to continue the journey that he set out on, a journey that would end with Peter dying giving witness to Jesus, standing firm in the end after having learned, despite many falls, to place his trust in the Lord.
At anyone of these falls, Peter could have become so discouraged as to stop trying to advance in the spiritual life. He could have said that there was no way for him to overcome his faults or his vices so he should not try. He could have given up and justified his surrender using his knowledge of Jesus’ forgiveness as an excuse not to try to continue in the way of perfection. Instead, he continued to listen to the call of the Lord, a call that led Peter face to face with his own self-conceit, so that he could learn after many falls just how much he trusted in his own strength and needed to trust the Lord completely.
Peter instead began to live in the mystery to which the Lord calls each one of us, a mystery in tension between two extremes, that of grace and that of corresponding to grace. Jesus called Peter and all the apostles, and even us, to enter through the narrow gate, to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. And yet when we fail by our own efforts, when our self-conceit lays in ruins, we will begin to see even more clearly what Jesus means when he says to us “What is impossible to man is possible to God,” and we will grow in the school of faith, growing in our trust of God and of his power to overcome all our weaknesses and sins, a trust that will spur us to eagerly set out for the deep, and with God’s help, bring in a great catch.