Landmarks of Hope

Image result for GodzillaThey say that absence makes the heart grow fonder – well, at one point the Psalmist is thinking of the ruined walls of Jerusalem and longing for the far off days of glory to the point that he writes, “that your people love every stone in her walls and cherish even the dust in her streets.”  Sometimes we don’t even have to reach the land itself – even the landmarks fire our imaginations.  There’s a tree on Lindbergh Boulevard as you head south to my house – it’s at the top of a big hill and it leans out over the pavement.  My brother and I began to call it the Godzilla Tree, because it just sort of has this big Massive part that would be its head and a couple of branches that would be its skinny little arms trying to get at your car.  The moment that you see the Godzilla tree you know you are virtually home.  You have one stop-light to go….then you’re at the front door…and then you’re around the dinner table eating with family.  We’ve entered Advent, we are already well into it now and yes – we have come up upon our landmark, our Godzilla tree….the character in the story who reveals to us that the presence of God is imminent…good ol’ John the Baptist!  We should be jumping when we hear of John who jumped in his own mother’s womb when he heard of Christ: when we hear of John, Christ is close.

But why is John in the desert?  Why does John go into the desert where nobody lives to proclaim to the world his message?  To answer that let’s go back to the first reading from little known figure in the Bible, Baruch.  Baruch was basically a secretary for the Prophet Jeremiah – the same Jeremiah who tried to rouse the Jewish people to Related imagerepentance and when they did not yield to God, they were taken over by Babylon.  Imagine for a second all of the various attacks on our country (little and big) all put together and multiplied to the point that our country was taken over.  Our government was toppled and all of the professionals were sent to another country to be slaves – and all of the buildings and monuments around Capitol Hill in Washington were razed to the ground.  That is like what happened to Jerusalem, and it was the lowest point in ancient Jewish history.  Baruch’s message then speaks to the people of Jerusalem and says that the people scattered will return home united from East and West – in glory as if they were upon thrones – and that even the trees (every nice fragrant tree that is) will overshadow them to make even their journey home full of a sweet, refreshing coolness.

Image result for king cyrus of persia            Now, part of this at least is fulfilled when King Cyrus and the Persians take Babylon and incredibly he decides to send the refugees home.  This is a really massive stroke of divine Providence – just think of it – all of the sudden an invading king decides he wants to send a conquered people’s slaves back home and even open his purse strings to rebuild their temple!  But even so, the people of Jerusalem do not become totally faithful to God.  By the time of the Gospel, they have been taken over again.  St. Luke is writing this Gospel so that it will be proclaimed to the whole world and in it he starts off by mentioning Tiberius Caesar who seemed to be the Lord of the whole world.  Reality was Tiberius was in charge of everything and in po-dunk Judea he had a tough-as-nails commander in Pontius Pilate and he watched over Herod who was the boss of Galilee with his brother.  You didn’t want to mess with either of them.  Oh and Annas and Caiaphas, a couple of the more politically minded high priests were in charge of the Temple.  They all had control of things.  John goes out from all of that power-structure – away from all of what people thought dictated the course of the world to call a people to prepare.             Related imageOne quick look at the language in our Gospel may seem to us like poetry – every mountain made low, every valley filled.  But a lot is possible when nobody tells you that it is impossible.  King Cyrus of Persia (whom the Jews would have heard all about) had done some remarkable earth moving.  While he was marching on Babylon, his army got to the River Gyndes, and one of his sacred white horses tried to cross the river on its own, but was seized by the current and drowned.  Cyrus became angry with the river itself, so angry that he threatened to break its strength that in the future women should cross it without getting their knees wet.  He then put off his attack on Babylon for the whole summer while he had his army mark out 180 trenches on each side of the Gyndes leading it off in all directions until his threat was carried out and the Gyndes.  Cyrus humbled a mighty river because of his love of white horses. Image result for mountains made low

In other words – to think of an army of people toppling mountains is not impossible, but it is also not significant enough.  John wants to reveal God’s power is totally different than earthly power and he goes out to the desert, because that’s where the first landmark was – the Jordan River.  This boundary was how you get into the physical Promised Land and John wants to show that getting immersed in it is the way towards the far greater Spiritual Promised Land.  The earth and clay that John goes into the desert to prepare is that of our hearts.  He knows that the mountains of pride that separate us from each other need to be made low.  The valleys in which we pretend to hide from God need to be filled in.Image result for jerusalem exile broken walls

In a very real sense we are like those in Jerusalem hunkered down.  The ideologies of the age have taken many of our brothers and sisters away from us in spirit.  So many of our buildings have been abandoned and sold off.  We’re Jerusalem, but we need to long for the return of our brothers and sisters.  The Christmas party with the in-laws you haven’t talked to in three years is calling.  The confessional in which God wants you to receive His forgiveness is calling.  The power structure of our world has Christians divided and distracted, but Baruch’s message is clear: we are meant for more.  What if we came out of the chaos of the digital dungeon and made this Advent a time of being united on the same plain.  All of us looking up from our screens and thinking of each other as brothers and sisters and so many who are distant we should long to see returning in glory – even to the point of being carried in thrones on the Day of Christ Jesus.  He who died on a Tree certainly deserves every branch to bow over Him in love and offer the sweetest fragrance.  Let us move the earth of our hearts, so that He can give us another Promised Land.

Advent: Vigilance Through Struggle

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Happy Advent and Happy New Liturgical Calendar Year!  Advent involves waiting and so we have various ways to count down the time.  I’m about to show you the latest in Advent Calendar technology – it looks like the normal models, but inside each compartment is a festive cheese.  It’s taken hundreds of years to figure out a way to tell time with cheese, but the problem is deliciously solved.  But if the Advent calendar is not for you, we also have the classic Advent wreath to my left.  The idea of lighting candles around a wreath is an old pre-Germannic winter ritual that was used in some instances to offer up prayers to the god of light that he would turn the wheel of the earth back toward the sun and lengthen the days and warm things up.  Christianity has adopted the wreath and candles as a kind of Advent clock.  If you look at the traditional Bible timeline, in the Old Testament there’s approximately four thousand years of waiting and watching for the Messiah starting from when Adam and Eve had to leave paradise through all of the trials of the patriarchs and prophets until finally: the Christ.  So each candle counts for 1,000 years and helps us liturgically unite ourselves to those days before the first coming of Jesus – even as we also look forward to His coming again.

You know waiting for the Messiah reminds me of Odysseus’ dog.  Maybe you are familiar with the story of the Odyssey.  Odysseus was off fighting to capture the city of Troy for ten years, but on his journey home he was shipwrecked and through all of his adventures it took him another ten years to return to Greece, and when he got there he had to sneak in so no one would recognize him and he could find out how to take back his house, because it had been invaded by about forty armed men who all wanted to marry his wife.  Well, Odysseus made himself look lowly and staff in hand wandered around as a beggar.  But at one point, he runs across a dog.  It was lying in cow manure and infested with lice and it was ancient.  Suddenly this dog wakes and he pricks up his ears.  That’s because this was Argos, the hunting dog that Odysseus had bred, and after twenty-something years Argos the dog was the only creature to recognize the truth behind the beggar’s disguise – proving that he was still his master’s best friend.  He had been living for this one meeting and now that his faithfulness was rewarded, he dies.  But, not before Odysseus asks about the treatment Argos was getting, and he discovers that Argos had been neglected by his servants who no longer seeing their master around had failed to care for him or his property.

It’s not easy to remember and be faithful to an invisible master.  Which is why many in Israel and Judah forgot about the promised return of their Lord in the Old Testament.  In the first reading, things have gotten so bad that Judah was in the process of being invaded and the survivors being exiled to Babylon.  You could see how they would be tempted to say that God had abandoned them.  Jeremiah’s response is that as bad as it is physically for them – that God will keep His promise to King David and his people.  They will keep their Davidic dynasty of kings.  In the same chapter, the word of the Lord comes to Jeremiah saying, “If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night will not come at their appointed time, then also my covenant with David my servant may be broken, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne.”  In other words, God will not fail them and even in days of humiliation they will always have a surviving son of David – hidden perhaps – but living, so that one day he may claim his throne.  Can you imagine what that meant to the Jewish people?  They might have been slaves, but they were not without hope for their future.  They’d been there in slavery before, but God had not only delivered them – they had even eventually had a king in David.  He had been their glory – and his line would return!

Consider this: Jesus knew 2,000 years ago how difficult it would be to stay spiritually awake in 2018.  That is why He warns us in our Gospel of being caught by surprise.  It’s kind of weird: He says, “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life.”  Beware that you do not fall sleep due to anxieties.  In other words, He tells us “Beware that you do not become afraid.”  What is He saying?  It is a word of caution against being consumed with the daily cares and fears of this world.  Why?  Because those anxieties (as well as drunkenness) pull us away from faithfully watching for Christ and spreading His message.   All of these signs of the sun, the moon, and the stars – we should recognize that His appearance is big news for all of Creation.  All of creation reflects His Will and automatically serves Him….except us we have to remember and stay focused or we will forget.  That’s why we need more of Advent.  More calendars with cheese.  More prayer in front of a wreath.  More confession.  More adoration of the Eucharist.  More prayer before bedtime.  More rosaries.  More reading of Scripture – especially the prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah – all in great joy!  Every day we draw nearer to the return of the Son of David, the King.   Just as lovers long for their reunion with each other, we should long for Our Lord still more.  Christ wants to learn that we are servants of great faithfulness and Has given us the Eucharist – His very self each week to know how to recognize His Presence however He comes to us.

I love the line: Stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.  He tells us to lift up our eyes and our minds to the joys of the heavenly country and to the moment when our waiting will be at an end and we will see all of time in His everlasting light.

 

The King of Redemption

Image result for norma mccorveyYou’ve probably heard of Norma McCorvey under the title “Jane Roe” from Roe v. Wade.  Norma had a terrible childhood, and developed a drinking problem from a young age, and as a young woman during her third pregnancy was unable to procure an illegal abortion.  She was referred to two ambitious lawyers who eventually took her case all the way to the United States Supreme Court.  Now in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution it says that “No State shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.”  The Court decided famously that a person’s right to liberty contained within it a right to privacy and that the right to privacy included the ability to kill an unborn child through direct abortion.  And while the same amendment even before it mentions liberty – clearly guarantees all persons the right to life – the court decided that this law does not apply to life or the liberty of an unborn child.   After this decision Norma McCorvey’s life continued to spiral out of control, but about 21 years later in 1995 she experienced a deep conversion and in 1998 she came home to the Catholic Church.  She spent the last twenty years of her life advocating for life.  She wrote:

I felt crushed under the truth of this realization. I had to face up to the awful reality. Abortion wasn’t about ‘products of conception’. It wasn’t about ‘missed periods’. It was about children being killed in their mother’s wombs. All those years I was wrong. Signing that affidavit, I was wrong. Working in an abortion clinic, I was wrong. No more of this first trimester, second trimester, third trimester stuff. Abortion—at any point—was wrong. It was so clear. Painfully clear.

If Norma McCorvey can learn the truth about abortion and stand up for that truth under the weight of public opinion and pro-choice media there is hope for us.Image result for norma mccorvey

Todays’ Feast of Christ the King was established to fight against exactly the kind of dehumanization that we continue to face in the world.  The world may act as though it has authority to legalize abortion or to change the definition of marriage, but truth is not subject to (nor is it the result of) a vote.  Everything that has been created has been created through the Wisdom of God that is everything has been created through Jesus Christ, and so He declares Himself to be the Truth – for all things were made in accordance with the plan and pattern of His love.  In reference to Christ, things make sense. Image result for Pontius Pilate and jesus

Consider Pontius Pilate.  In this life, we are in a position exactly like Pontius Pilate.  We have heard of Jesus.  We have access to His wisdom and to His teaching.  But, there are voices demanding us to put up with a falsification of someone’s humanity with the promise that we can all benefit, as long as we all get along and forget Jesus Christ and how we are all created human.  Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you a King?” How does Jesus reply?  “Do you say this of yourself or have others told you about me?”  Christ knows the answer, but He wants Pilate to think and realize that he is judging blindly and indiscreetly.  The world asks us, “Do you really hold Jesus to be the God of your life?”  Well, before we consider how Pilate is told by others that Christ wants to usurp authority – to take control illegitimately.  But when he asks, “What have you done?”  Jesus does not miss a beat.  He has no fear, nor is He trying to control Pilate or any of us.  While He speaks no words in defense of His character, He opens up to describe His Kingdom.  His entire Kingdom is not a threat to us – even to the earthly authority of Pilate.  It is not of this world.  Christ is clear: “I hinder not your dominion.  What more dominion do you want?  Come by faith to the Kingdom that is not of this world.”  That is not impossible for while His Kingdom is not constructed of this world, it is formed in this world in the hearts and minds of those who are born again in Christ.  Furthermore, where earthly power is weak and requires servants and lower ranks to carry out its orders, the Kingdom of Jesus is strong.  It will remain after Pilate is gone and whatever we decide.

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We are in the same predicament as Pilate.  Remember, he is the one who says, “What is truth?”  There are so many deceptions.  You know that 14th Amendment is pretty special.  Life, liberty, property: Christ could help us keep this amendment in a way that makes sense.  To put life – the lives of all people both those born and in the womb first and hold life sacred – this would coincide with truth.  And if we would understand that how we use our liberty influences others.  Liberty itself if used contrary to the good of the human soul (abortion, homosexual marriage, pornography, transgender surgeries) are actually enslaving.  If we lived this then we could find true liberty in the virtues of Christ.  We could see in our human relationships the basis of an eternal relationships that God has given His life to form between us in the Mystical Body of Christ, and that our very bodies have the privilege of being His temple.  Finally, property is good, but life and liberty come before property, and no man should consider property above his fellow citizens born or unborn.  Property ultimately has come from God and is in service of His love or is weighing us down.

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This day is great for as challenging as the hierarchy of our rights is in this world and as messy as it continues to be – Christ’s love will never pass away.  His Kingdom will never falter.  Everyone is welcome and the call continues to go out to summon more and more souls into His banquet.  We mistakes and like Norma McCorvey we are able to receive the grace of conversion.  There is redemption and there is light and blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

Levels of Light

Image result for repentI once heard of a priest who after proclaiming the Gospel – for his homily – simply spoke into the microphone: “Repent!” and went to sit down.  After today’s Gospel, it’s a little tempting.  We all need to be reminded.

It is easy to think that things will just keep going on as they have for so long.  There is something in us that loves the eternal.  We want permanence in things.  But, even in saying that we know that things in the world are “off.”  We have an inner love of the eternal, but we’ve never seen it.  We see advertisements all of the time to try and fight the process of change – for women they are bombarded by anti-aging creams and Image result for anti-agingproducts.  I’ve seen ads directed at men trying to tell us what exercises men should avoid because they age us – I remember a picture of a guy doing push-ups that are apparently bad now…and then another had a guy running – and you shouldn’t do that.  I’m sure chewing too ages the lines around your mouth, but I don’t plan on giving that up.  Anyway, it’s not wrong to yearn for the eternal.  Actually, the desire to be young always is there because it was part of the original plan and through Christ can have again – but we have to remember that nothing here is eternal.  That which is passing cannot give us the answer.

The passing world can seem endless and part of us is tempted to cling to it, but you know something else that seems endless is our sin.  We may weary of the world in the condition that it is in – our reaction might be – God, when are you coming???  Sin is everywhere.

Image result for babyloniansIn telling us that the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light and the stars will be falling from the sky, we hear of a kind of creation story in reverse.  Okay, if Christ were only talking on the surface and He was referring to the sun darkened and the moon having quit its jobs and the stars falling – then how would people not pay attention?  Yet, Jesus goes on to warn us that as the fig tree tips us off to summer that these things should prepare us for Christ’s return.  Could it be that His language is also figurative?  Listen to the words of the prophet Isaiah, “the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising and the moon will not shed its light.”  Isaiah is referring to the end of the line for the Babylonians.  Their empire will no longer see the stars or the sun.  It does not.  Ezekiel says nearly the same for the Egyptians: “When I blot you out, I will cover the heavens, and make their stars dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give its light.”  And the ancient empire of Egypt is completely gone.  The people there today no longer build pyramids or mummify anybody – nor do they worship the same.

Image result for dark side of the moon     In today’s Gospel Jesus is not only speaking on the literal level.  He calls to mind the prophets by using their own language and He speaks of God’s judgment and end to all of the rest of the pagan nations.  Jesus refers to an end to the world that is separated from Him.  There is an end to the futility of trying to be young and eternal without Him – of trying to possess God’s power without loving Him.  We should not wait until the physical bodies lose their light to realize that the spiritual entities and cultures – that is those same ones that moved the pagan nations – are fruitless and loveless and losing their light.

We have to remember that the end of the world has been going on and continues.  We are living in the End Times and have been ever since Pentecost.  We have yet to see some of the great spiritual battle that comes to a climax in the Book of Revelation, but the whole thing is ongoing and there are different levels of the fight.

Image result for tiredThink about it.  What you do impacts your body.  If you only sleep 4 hours a night for a few days in a row your body is going to get tired.  But so is your mind.  You might start acting crabby or you might be slap-happy.  But that will impact not only you, but also those around you in your family.  They might worry about you or be disappointed that you don’t have the energy to be with them….and it could impact your work.  What if you were a doctor – well, now this thing of your sleep could affect others’ health.  In a similar way our faith and how we live a moral life or not impacts the whole Body of Christ.  Unfortunately, our culture is one that quite often makes little moral compromises all of the time.  It chooses what it thinks is the lesser of two evils.

For example, let’s say Bob knows that if he watches his favorite show or plays on the computer catching up on social media at work he will get fired.  So, instead he’s been staying up and getting less sleep – so he doesn’t miss out.   He goes with what he sees as the lesser of two evils.  This is just a silly example, but we do this kind of thing all of the time.  The real need is sacrifice.  Bob simply decides that for the good of his health, his family, his work and ultimately others – he will simply sacrifice some of his social media time.  Choosing God and others is choosing the good.

Image result for eternal saviorUltimately, the second reading relates how Christ is at the center of Apocalypse.  Because Christ offered Himself for sin, He is the sacrifice that actually fulfills God’s plan.  His sacrifice is made in true love and so is eternal.  Because it will never cease to exist, He doesn’t have to do it again.  We ourselves can stop trying to fill ourselves up on our own over and over if we only humble ourselves and love Him.  We can repent of looking to other sources for happiness – which have the same spirit as all of those pagan nations whose lights go out.  We can come in the confessional and find a new beginning in Jesus Christ, for His love will not pass away.

Vigilance in Love

Image result for dewey wayne waddellDewey Wayne Waddell was born in 1935 and grew up in Georgia, and after completing AFROTC at Georgia Tech was commissioned into the Air Force and completed pilot training.  He married and had a son and in 1967 was sent to Tahkli AFB, Thailand to fly missions over North Vietnam.  On his 47th mission Wayne’s F-105 Thunderchief took anti-aircraft fire and he had to eject.    He was captured almost immediately and sent to the Hanoi Hilton.  Over the years he was moved several times and they worked him over to try and get forced confessions.  He went through many of the same tortures as the other downed pilots that been captured.  Now, because his parachute didn’t open completely, he knew it was possible that the Air Force would think that he was killed – and if they thought he was killed there would be not be a need to release him.  Then at one point, some East German TV guys came to shoot a show they called Pilots in Pajamas and he was to be involved.  He was told not to raise his face to the camera to ensure that his identity was concealed, but every chance he got he lifted his eyes to the camera.  Sure enough in 1968 when the show aired, a US military monitoring program that checked Communist propaganda caught sight of Wayne’s face and shots were sent to the Air Force and then to his family and his status was changed from MIA to POW.  His family had new hope and in 1973, Wayne was finally released after six years of imprisonment and returned to his family.

So, it’s Veterans Day Weekend, but I also bring up this story about a prisoner of war because in a way that is not completely unrelated, we are longing to be reunited with Jesus Christ who has promised to one day return in glory.  As we near the very last couple of weeks before the celebration of Christ coming as our King, the Church presents us with readings that increasingly focus our attention on the end times.  Today’s second reading describes how Jesus will come “a second time, not to take away sin, but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await Him.”  And in our Gospel, Jesus, after warning us of the behavior of the Scribes and their vainglory and their devouring the houses of widows for gain, speaks of judgment.  “They will receive a severe condemnation.”  Even the first reading where Elijah runs into the widow of Zarepath describes a time that would have looked like the end – God had passed judgment upon the Israelites and so they were in the middle of a three year drought where no rain fell upon the earth.  Everything was drying up and dying off.

Why does the Church want us to think about the end of all things each and every year?  For one thing because we are in the end times.  In fact we have been living in the “end times” since Pentecost.  We are in the final battle, but we don’t realize it because it’s already been going on for about 1985 years.  Each of us has been in the battle – we have faced the Beast which is the devil – and we will face him again.  The reason we need to be reflective about the end is that we tend to forget.  It’s so easy to either think of this life as unbearable and we can’t keep going.  Or on the other hand to think that things are pretty good and I’m sure it will always be like this.  Jesus Himself tells us, “Stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming….Therefore you must also be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Mt 24:42, 44).”

So, what can we learn from Elijah in the midst of great trial.  Well, he does not depend on himself.  Today, Elijah is really really hungry to put it mildly.  He is so hungry that he asks a poor widow who has every reason to believe that she about to die of hunger to feed him before she feeds her own son.  God sends Elijah to the very poorest looking for something to survive.  He has nothing of his natural self to give her in exchange.  Only the supernatural faith that God can supply for her needs.  Had she stockpiled supplies?  Nope.  But, because of her charity to a man of God she has enough for another year – until the end of the trial and the new beginning.

But, just as the widow had to take a leap of faith that Elijah’s God would sustain her, Wayne had to have the guts to look up at the camera to get himself identified and have a better chance of making it back home.  He could have been killed for disobeying.  Elijah, the widow of Zarephath, and Wayne Waddell all have something in common.  They were all living within a hair’s breadth of leaving this world – and they knew it.  We are fragile too, but because our daily needs are more easily met we can forget the love and gratitude to God that keeps our spirits living.

In the Gospel, why does Christ take those Scribes to task?  Is it because they seek for glory?  Not exactly.  Glory is not evil by itself, the problem is they seek it in the world.  It’s as if Wayne were to have wanted to have the glory of being the best, most trustworthy captive and never looked up at the camera so that his captors would be pleased with him.  The Scribes were seeking glory from the wrong source.  They also ate up the poor widows’ money and gave nothing back – they preyed upon the people they should have been protecting.  Then Jesus draws attention to this one widow whose story has been now all over the world, because while she had little to live off, she gave everything back to God.  Wayne Waddell, risked everything of himself in service to his country, and finally returning to his family safely, he has received honors and glory.

We are all in this together.  We get closer to Christ’s return each day.  It is our duty to remain vigilant and to remember the lesson to put everything on the line for Christ and the Truth of His love, for He has done more than show His face – He comes to us even now in the Mass and if we live in hope, than our eyes will be lifted up to His.

Loving God First Reveals the Big Picture

Image result for engaged encounterThere’s this couple, Richard and Linda, whom I just love – and I’m not the only one.  They have been married for 30 years or so, and I know them because I’ve helped them with a few of the hundreds of retreats that they have given to younger couples preparing for marriage.  You can just watch the faces of these nervous, sometimes defensive couples and see how their whole attitudes change over the weekend.  Richard is the kind of man that every guy on those retreats wants to emulate.  He’s stocky, he’s still got a strong voice.  But you notice how gentle he is with Linda.  How considerate.  He’s always got a smile.  Linda is a queen.  She is warm.  She’s certainly the matriarch for the weekend.  She has five grown sons all born within five years of each other, and you know that she’s spent a lot of time praying for them.Image result for kneelers at wedding mass

Richard and Linda give strength and confidence to all of these couples by their witness.  They see in Richard and Linda that they are still so clearly and confidently in love after 30+ years.  But how do they stay in love?  To put it simply – they have not stayed in love.  Rather how have they grown in their love year by year and retreat by retreat.  You see at these gatherings, Richard and Linda share their love stories.  They each recount over and over again to new people how they first met each other.  What their first impressions were.  They talk about the saga of their wedding which went completely differently than all of the plans that Linda had arranged – and that’s what actually made it so memorable and interesting (with that story you definitely see the brides breathe a sigh of relief)….and they talk about married life and raising kids…and today.  In other words, when you see Richard and Linda – you see a unique couple not just trying put love into their lives, but actually living out of the whole story of their love.  Richard walks with Linda not only as she is in the moment, but he values her for her whole life that has been shared with him.  She does the same.  They live life with the big picture of their whole life together before them continuously.

Image result for jesus lawJesus repeats to the Jews that the Greatest Commandment is to love God.  To love Him with everything – with your whole heart, your soul, your mind, and all your strength.  That all you are should be summed up – all of who you are – wrapped up in a ball of effort given in loving God.  Why?  Well, you could take all of the lesser things you love – wrap all of those things up in a ball much bigger than yourself and all of these blessings – even the trials are from Him.  If you see that they come from God, you see them as part of the bigger picture. Image result for person clingy If we forget God, then we lose all sense of the greater destiny of things – we lose the big picture.  And we become possessive and clingy because the moment is passing away.

Notice, though God promises life to us in the first readings.  He not only wants us to love Him and everyone else, but it says, “thus they may have long life.”  What can this mean?  Well, there are plenty of people who have kept the commandments, but who have died or even been martyred for their faith – plenty within the Jewish people.  So what kind of long life does God mean?

I would suggest that God does not mean simply a long life here, but rather the fullness of life – that they would share in His fullness – that of eternity.  Keeping the Commandments is a way of leading us back into the spiritual balance that made paradise worth living in, because we can see the bigger picture.  We have been searching for this peace our whole lives.  It is that desire beneath all of our little desires.

Related imageThere’s a very special married couple in the Bible: Abraham, and Sarah.  Now the Bible specifies that she lived 127 years and that Abraham wept when she died.  Now, while there are some people in the Bible who are recorded as living lot longer even than 127 years, Sarah is the only woman in Scripture whose final age is given.  Some of the Jewish rabbis finds this number very significant.  They see it as a reflection not only of how long she lived, but actually a clue into how she actually lived.  You see when her age is written out in the Hebrew as a kind of eulogy from Abraham, for the number is not simply written 127, but the Hebrew text reads that “the life of Sarah was 100 years, 20 years, 7 years – those were the years of the life of Sarah.”  These rabbis believe Abraham was saying that when Sarah was 100 she was as sinless and pure as when she was 20 and when she was 20 she was as beautiful and as innocent-looking as when she was 7.  She lived differently than others, because she maintained her focus on the whole picture of life in relation to God.

It is tempting for most of us to go through life and see it as various stages.  When we go through one phase, we sort of discard the one before it.  And so on and so on.  This was not the case with Sarah.  That even when her body grew old, her spirit stayed full of gratitude for all of God’s gifts.  She didn’t need to try and relive anything of the past, because she never stopped thanking Him and seeing the wider picture of her whole life – those younger years were still with her.  You know in the Old Testament in many of the stories when their backs are against the wall, someone among the Jewish people steps up and proclaims some awesome prayer recounting to God all of the wonders He has worked for the people, and asks God to make His same power and love present again.  Image result for achior and holofernesActually, in the Book of Judith, the recounting actually comes not from a Jew, but from a Moabite who is being interrogated as to who the Jews are.  That’s how well the story of the Jews became known.  He says that if the Jews have done anything wrong – if they have turned away from their God – than Holofernes (the bad guy) can have at ‘em.  But, if they have followed the Law, then he would do better to walk away.  God will defend the faithful.

This is the kind of life that Christ opens up for us.  Sure, there had been priests offering sacrifice for the people before He went to the Cross, but they were never finished – because their gifts were always separate from themselves.  Jesus however, unites all things to Himself – the Big Picture.  He sums up the whole human experience in Himself and He even takes all of the sins and offers Himself once for all of them.  We have the privilege now of entering into His death and His Resurrection at every Mass.  We do not need to offer our own sacrifice separate from His.  Rather we are invited every Mass to remember all that He has done for us and acknowledge this new chapter in our own life that we did not yet realize that He had foreseen and died for as well.  We can look back over even the story of our nation and our whole religious heritage back to Abraham and Adam – and one could even make the argument that we have the most ever to be thankful for in this life as the story has now grown further than ever before (as continues)….and we receive Christ than with more than simply our love today, but with our hearts, souls, minds, and strength stretching back along our lives.  And in exchange we are able to love the Father, for we are living out the story of the Son’s love for us.Image result for milky way galaxy

Lost and in Need of Guide

Image result for road signOnce when I was back in college, I was supposed to drive to a meeting across the river in Cahokia.  Well, there was some work on the highway and the entrance I planned to use was closed and had a detour sign.  Sure enough, I got lost and this was before I had a phone with GPS.  I found myself driving around the old station wagon in North St. Louis in a poor black neighborhood and there wasn’t much daylight left.  I kept looking for something I recognized, but I didn’t recognize anything.  I began to get nervous.  I felt like I stuck out.  And then to make matters worse, a man from another car started gesturing to me.  He was signaling for me to stop and roll down my window.  I’m pretty sure my thoughts were a mixture of humiliation for not knowing where I was and not wanting to let anyone else know that – that would be to admit weakness in a situation where I was already nervous.  “Can’t I just drive my car?  What could this guy want?!”  But we had come to a stop sign and so I rolled down my window.  “The taillight on your left side is out.”  “Oh, thank you.”  It’s a lesson I have not forgotten.  In my pride and in my fear I was blind to the good intentions that this other person could have.   And he pointed out something else that I was blind to – that my taillight needed replacing.

There’s a quote from Chesterton about how modern men have lost their way…He said that that’s not surprising as they have always lost their way….but today it seems they have lost their address.  In other words, it’s normal enough to wander but we remember the overall destination.  Today, we have forgotten not only our destination, but what home is supposed to look like.  And any confusion about what makes up home in the secular world is only a reflection of our drifting away from the spiritual home of our churches.  Today we have a name for people with no religious affiliation – they are called “Nones.” They are the fastest growing religion in America.  About ten years ago, nones were at about 16% of Americans, now the number has surpassed Catholics (20%) and are sitting at the largest grouping – around 25%.  Chris Stefanick describes this by saying that “I don’t care” is the fastest growing religion.  Still, the vast majority of Americans believe in God.  That’s unusual.  It’s one thing to be atheistic – say, “I don’t believe in God” and then attempt to find some way to form a worldview and try to contribute in your atheist way.  It is sad, but it makes some sense.  But to say, I believe in God (as most Americans do), but I don’t care to do anything about it – on this massive scale – that is a new thing.  We’ve lost our address.  In fact, many of our millennials have never been to a church – they haven’t been baptized and do not yet have that spiritual starting point to call home.  Our faith is a love story, right?  But so many don’t know that they have been invited.  You know if you look up studies on the millennials, there is evidence that they are the most anxious generation in 80 years.  Furthermore, they report feeling the loneliest.

The Good News is that we have so much to offer to this interesting group of “nones.”  I think one of the reasons that they don’t care much about God is that they don’t see Him in a personal way.  God loves us personally.  Everyone here could be happier if we knew more of this.  We are a lot like the Prodigal Son.  His older brother was the one who was supposed to get the larger inheritance, and even as nice a dad as these guys had – the younger son didn’t care for his dad.  Dad, just give me my portion and I’m gone.  He didn’t know his father’s love.  I bring this up because of a cryptic line at the end of the first reading.  “Ephraim is my firstborn.”  That is interesting, because God Ephraim (who was a son of Joseph) was actually the second-born son.  But what happens is that when Joseph brought his two sons before Jacob his blind and dying father for a blessing – Jacob puts his right hand on the younger of the two Ephraim and is set to give the big blessing to him.  Joseph begins to correct Jacob, but he says he has made no mistake.  God wanted to bless Ephraim.

Normal societies would always bless the firstborn son with the job of carrying on the family and a greater portion of everything while the second and third would be relegated to a status of lesser importance.  But God chose Abel the second son’s sacrifice.  Abraham’s beloved son was Isaac who was born after Ishmael.  Jacob was favored over firstborn Esau.  Joseph was favored over firstborn Reuben and Ephraim was favored over Manesseh.  The blind man, Bartimaeus, crying out – it is said that some were upset not because he was asking for Jesus’ attention, but that he only called him Son of David – rather than Son of God.  David was only a king of Israel – the second king, and only the 8th son of Jesse.   But Jesus chooses to answer his cry – He has come to identify with the lowly.  When God says that Ephraim is His firstborn it affirms that in His eyes, this is how important He sees Ephraim.  The second reading recounts how Jesus was told by the Father, “You are my son, this day I have begotten you.”  Each one of us is seen by God as His holy and beloved son or daughter in Jesus.

The world needs to hear that God does not look at us according to how we look at ourselves.  He does not think of us as insignificant.  If we want to show others and even millennials that we are know where own spiritual home is, than we need to think and meditate and pray to receive His love.  God loves us so much He wants to take us somewhere.  Once we know that we belong in the Church we can belong once more in the love story.  This epic passion of a God who longs to open our eyes to the love held in store for each of us, sons and daughters in Christ.

United by the Chalice of Suffering

Image result for jesus passion chaliceJohn and James are so bold today.  They express their deepest longing to Christ – they want to be united to Him not just now, but forever in His Kingdom.  What does Christ do?  He doesn’t blow them off.  Instead He asks them about their ability to suffer.  The path to unity is always through suffering.  Think: who are you the closest to?  You are probably closest to the people who you have suffered with or to whom you have opened up and described your suffering….and they’ve stuck around.  Jesus doesn’t just say, can you suffer with me or will you to die a martyr’s death for me.  He asks if they can drink from the chalice.  Jesus drank from the cup of sufferings and today as we journey further into the discussion of Mass – we’ll look at how Jesus desires this cup, so that He can extend to us the chalice of His Resurrection – the chalice of eternal blessing.

Image result for dr brant pitreSo, the last three weeks I’ve been going through many of Dr. Brant Pitre’s notes from his talk “Why We Worship”.  And last week I was describing the meanings (especially from Scripture) for the Mass and we made it through the homily.  The next big moment I want to describe is the offertory.   After the priest prays over the bread and wine, there is a very interesting prayer as everyone stands.  He says, “Pray brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God.”  Dr. Brant Pitre just stops here and says, “What’s the priest talking about?  I didn’t bring the bread and the wine to the altar?  So, how am I offering a sacrifice?  The priest is offering the Body and Blood of Christ to God, but it seems that there is another sacrifice.  The Eucharist is also the sacrifice of the Church’s members: the sacrifice of their lives, their praise, their suffering, their prayer, and their work – united to Christ, the offering of the faithful acquires new value.  Revolutionary.  If you’re not convinced, look to the Bible.  Whatever it was that the priests of the Old Covenant were sacrificing, they would lift up in the air.  What does the priest ask us to lift up in Mass?  The Lord be with you.  Lift up your hearts.  Your heart is the one thing in this world that God can’t have if you don’t give it to Him.  We can hold them back or give them.  Psalm 51 states that the sacrifice that is acceptable to God is a broken and contrite heart.  If you have a broken heart – give it to the Lord.  The Mass is the place to go.  It was made for you.  At the Cross, Christ offers His Body, and Mary offers her heart that is pierced spiritually with the sword of sorrow.  The priest is like Christ offering the Body, the congregation is like Mary offering her heart.

Image result for seraphimThen we have the Holy, Holy, Holy.  Seems ritualistic – where does it come from?  The Bible: Isaiah 6.  Isaiah is a prophet in the Old Testament and he is taken aloft into a vision of heaven.  He sees angels, the six winged Seraphim crying out Holy, Holy, Holy.  The house is filled with smoke of incense.  Isaiah says, “Woe to me for I am lost, I a man with unclean lips living amidst a people of unclean lips.”  In other words, I am a sinner.  Then one of the Seraphim flew to him and touched a burning coal to his lips.  Your sin is forgiven.  God asks, “Whom shall I send?” Isaiah now says, “Send me.”  Why do we sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy”?  You are not on earth anymore, you are in heaven – surrounded by angels.  We don’t deserve to be there – we’re like Isaiah, sinners.  To prepare to send us on mission, God is going to have the Eucharist (like He had the burning coal) touched to our lips before He sends us forth.  The Holy, Holy, Holy is also in the New Testament.  John had a vision of heaven….angelic hosts…singing Holy, Holy, Holy…and then all the elders hit the ground.  Why do we kneel down after the Holy, Holy, Holy?  Because that’s how they do it in heaven.  We sing Hosanna which means, Save…Give Salvation.  Where does it come from?  From Matthew’s Gospel when Christ is coming into Jerusalem on a donkey.  Fulfilling prophecy of the King riding in on a donkey.  The Church is saying you’re in heaven, but you’re also like the crowds needing a king and He is coming really soon, like now.Image result for christ donkey jerusalem

Brings us to the epiclesis – moment when the priest calls down the Spirit of God on the bread and wine.  Remember back in the Old Testament that a sacrifice wasn’t completed unless God accepted it.  Sometimes God would show that He accepted it by sending down fire to consume the bull or the goat.  Image result for epiclesisWe can’t see it, but at the epiclesis the priest is calling for an invisible, spiritual acceptance of the gifts of bread and wine – that God would consume them.  This is what is happening when they are transformed, transubstantiated into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus.  This is the work of God, but the priest has been ordained and set apart for this sacrifice.  Then we hear the most memorable words, “This is my Body given up for you.”  “This is the chalice of my Blood.  The Blood of the eternal covenant.”  The priest is saying the words, but right up until now the priest has spoken of Jesus in the third person.  “He took bread…gave thanks.”  But here, the priest switches to first person, “This is my Body.”  The priest is speaking, but it is really Jesus speaking through him.  It is like in confession when Jesus speaks to us and forgives sins through the priest.  I absolve you – something he could not do on his own.  But if that happens, why does it taste like bread and wine, look like bread and wine?  Remember the road to Emmaus and that Jesus can appear whenever and however He wants and can make Himself hidden and unrecognizable.  Why?  So, He can be with us in spirit, and we can let go of the fascination with the external appearance.

The apostle Paul tells us that we need to examine beneath our own external appearances – we need to examine ourselves before we receive Holy Communion.  We are entering into the Presence of God.  He writes ““Let a man examine himself lest he receive unworthily and be guilty of profaning quote “the Body and Blood of Christ” that’s in 1 Corinthians 11:27-28….that’s why the church tells us look, if you’re aware of mortal sin of serious sin in your life….before you receive communion…you can always go to worship God….but before you receive Communion – you need to go to confession first….you need to restore that relationship through the sacrament of reconciliation so that by the time you go to the wedding banquet you’re ready to have Him enter into your heart…that’s what the church’s teaching there is all about.Image result for confession

And the priest says, “Through Him, with Him, and in Him….”  And we all say “Amen.”  “So be it.”  “I believe.”  At this moment looking upon the Lord we are caught up into the Book of Revelation where every creature sings Amen and gives glory and praise forever falling down to worship.

Of course the Our Father comes from the Bible.  Jesus in John 14, part of the last supper discourse says, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you.”  We’re in the upper room and we give the sign of peace.  The priest elevates the Host and says, “Behold the Lamb of God.”  Now he has moved very far away from speaking in the first person, and takes the words of John the Baptist.  That’s a strange thing to say about a man – “Look at that sheep over there.”  But it reveals the role of Christ.  Blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb.  This is a reference to Revelation 19 and the heavenly wedding ceremony.  Of course, it’s not just a lamb getting married, it’s Christ which brings us to the fact that the Mass is not just a meal and not just a sacrifice: it’s a wedding, the union of Jesus and His Church.  All of us are called to be members of the bride.  She has made herself ready to enter this everlasting exchange of love.Image result for centurion jesus

What are our words?  We’re not as sure as James and John – that we can drink the chalice.  “I am not worthy to have You enter under my roof.”  Those are words from the Bible.  Mathew 8:5-13, the centurion who has a servant lying paralyzed at home in great agony.  But in his humility – I’m not worthy, but you – you can heal him with a word.  Christ says, “Truly, not even in Israel have I found such faith.  Many will come from East and from West…”  and shall what?  “shall sit at table with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven.”  We are not just the tax collector, we are not just the blind man, we are the centurion – but it is not our servant that needs to be healed, it is our soul.  These are the words on our lips as we approach Communion.

Image result for woman hemorrhageWe receive and this is the best time for silence.  Forget about work and problems and singing.  Just be with Jesus.  Closing prayer and the priest says, “Go in peace.”  Even this line comes from the Bible.  Remember the scene of the woman with the hemorrhage who has been sick for twelve years who touched Jesus and He turns around and asks about who it was that touched Him.  She comes trembling up.  My daughter, your faith has saved you.  Go in peace.  The final words of the Mass.  You’re the woman who is sick and in need of healing, but if we come in faith – we can touch Him and go in peace.  I need peace.  I need healing.  That’s why we go to Mass.  That we might encounter Christ in the sacrament and go and bring our family back to Mass they can be healed and be united through the one who has drank the chalice for this very reason.

Seeing the Unseen

Image result for bridal caveThings are not always what they seem to be on the outside.  My brother priests of St. Louis and I were at a big conference this past week down at the Lake of the Ozarks and during one of the breaks, a few of us went and checked out the famous “Bridal Cave.”  You wouldn’t think that by looking at the outside of this rocky hill that it contained something so magnificent on the inside – namely, tremendous formations taking thousands of years to accumulate.  I think of this young man in the Gospel who wanted to know how to inherit eternal life.  Jesus tells him to keep the Commandments.  This is truly a way to follow God and the moral law is a great big and challenging part of religion.  The man has been doing it all.  He has been paying attention to the law – you could say that he sees the outside of the Law.  He sees the outward aspect of paying honor to God.  But he’s not quite ready to get inside of it and to test his faith in God – to see what a relationship with God is like from the inside.  We know he’s not quite ready because he is still consumed with all that he has – and he goes away sad.

Well, for the past couple of weeks, I have been preaching on ideas that I’ve taken from Dr. Brant Pitre in a series he calls “Why We Worship” and I’ve gone through various aspects of the Old Testament and how these realities (over thousands of years) set the stage for the Mass.  I mentioned how all of the sacrifices are fulfilled in that of Christ.  I mentioned that God is our Beloved who has subjected Himself to the test that He offers to us as His equals.  He gives all of Himself in His beloved Son, Jesus Christ.  But people might wonder if the Mass is very biblical?  Is the Mass related to Scripture directly?  So, today, I want to reflect on the inside of the Mass itself, and how various parts relate to Scripture and invite us and even enable us to enter into the Scriptures themselves that we might be united to the Word.

So, let’s start at the beginning….Why do we stand when the priest comes down the aisle?  Who is the priest that people should all get up for him to come down the aisle?  In the book of Exodus when Moses was journeying with the people they had a meeting tent where God would come down and meet Moses.  Well, in chapter 33, it describes that whenever Moses would went out to the Tent, all the people would rise up.  So, we rise today to signify that the priest is another mediator between God and men like Moses – and we are all with him in the Meeting Tent or tabernacle.

After the priest and deacon reverence the altar there’s piece that modeled on Scripture for we all make the sign of the cross.  This has become a strictly “catholic thing”, but at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells us the line above our sanctuary – to “Go and baptize in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  And so we begin Mass with these words calling to mind two mysteries at the same time – the mystery of the Trinity – of who God is and of the Cross – which demonstrates how much God loves us.

Then the priest says, “The Lord be with you.”  If it is a bishop the greeting is “Peace be with you.”  Recall the apostles in the upper room when Jesus first shows Himself on Easter Sunday to them.  They had abandoned Christ and then not believed others and they are filled with fear, but Christ gives them peace.  Perhaps we have wandered during our week, but this same gift is imparted to us in His Risen Presence.

And we jump immediately into asking for Mercy.  The “I confess.”  So this prayer is modeled on the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee that Jesus tells us in Luke 18.  Remember how the Pharisee stands and prays really to himself about how good he is.  Meanwhile, the tax collector stands at the back and beats his chest and says, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.”  Jesus says that he was justified and so as sinners we enter into his prayer.  The very next thing is the “Lord, have mercy – Christ, have mercy – Lord have mercy.”  We get this from the two blind men in Matthew 20:30 who call out to Jesus, as He approaches Jericho.  They cry out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David” and when they are told to be quiet, they only get louder, “Lord, have mercy on us.”  Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?”  “Lord, let our eyes be opened.”  So, we are not only sinners, but we are blind and we desire to see.

It’s easy to get distracted during Mass – to fail to see beyond the visible elements to the invisible.  We are like that blind man, but Christ you can open my eyes.  Lord, I’m a sinner and because of my sin I am bind to your Presence, but You can open my eyes.  We want to see in the mystery that Christ is passing by – that when the priest processes in – that what is really significant is that Christ is passing by.

Now think of how our spiritual blindness is a kind of darkness.  We need a spiritual light – we’ve had the faith to ask for it – and now just as at Christmas night when the news reaches the ears of the shepherds that their Savior had come and they hear the angel choirs ring out, “Glory to God in the Highest and peace to people of Good will.”  The Church never tires of singing the glory of that night and so through our faith we join with the angels in their good news that Christ has come and will make Himself known to us further.

We have the opening prayer and then we get to what is everybody’s favorite part of the Mass – the part when we all get to sit down for the readings.  Why do we sit?  Well, we always stand or kneel to pray because in the Bible whenever anyone prays in Scripture they either stand, kneel, or fall flat on their faces.  No one ever sits to pray, but sitting is a posture of being receptive – that is of listening and being open to the Word of God.  You know occasionally even Catholics might ask, “Why don’t we read from the Bible in Mass?”  Well, these readings come directly out of the Bible and frankly while we don’t normally have 25 minutes of preaching, we do cover more Sacred Scripture pound for pound than just about anybody else.  The homily itself is simply modeled on how the Scriptures were read in the Old Testament, for they were not only read aloud, but one of the priests or Levites would then interpret in the Old Testament.  In the New Testament it is the priests and the deacons who interpret Sacred Scripture for all to hear.

Now where do we get this idea of interpreting all of these Scriptures – especially those of the Old Testament?  Well, the last chapter of Luke’s Gospel recalls the first Easter night.  There were those two disciples returning from Jerusalem and they are discussing all that had happened with the crucifixion.  Jesus draws near and walks with them, but they do not see Him.  They are blind.  And He asks them what they are talking about as they walk and one of them, Cleopas, says, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”  How interesting for Christ is the only person who knows what fully happened.  But He humors them and asks, “What things?”  And then after their explanation, this mysterious traveler “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?  And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”  And then remember, they ask Him in and after this breaking open of Scripture they have the breaking of the bread.  It is here, that they recognize Him.  Their eyes are opened and then He disappears.  Why? He demonstrates that this Mass is now the way that He will be with them, as they learn to see the invisible and enter into it.

Do you take this Jesus to be Your God?

Image result for wedding handsWe hear this morning about the faithfulness and indissolubility of marriage and about the love we are to have for children.  But these truths about the nature of marriage and children are not just for us.  God never asks us to live something that He is not living, so He reveals to us that He is faithful and that His love endures within the Church.  Last week I spoke about how the Mass fulfills all those of Old Testament sacrifices, but the Mass is also about union.  Marriage is a sacrament of union between man and woman, and on another level – Mass shows the union of God and His people.

The Mass can really be an obstacle for us.  We often don’t understand it – and before weRelated image even look at why we worship in this way – the sacrifice of the Mass, it is helpful to think of Who we worship.  Who is God?  If the Mass is about union, then Who are we being united to here?  God is a Trinity, and yet He is One, and He loves us and has made us in His image and likeness.  You know that language pops up again when it says that Adam and Eve begat Seth, in Adam’s image and likeness.  So this language of being made in God’s image and likeness is the language of God as our Father.

But God is more than a Father to us.  While we are not equal to God by nature, there are instances when God tests us to see if we have grown in His spirit, and frankly He treats us as equals.  For example, when Abraham is advanced in years, we see God treating Abraham as an equal.  He puts him to what I’ll call the Beloved Son test.  Because Abraham is willing to even give his beloved son, God expands the covenant with Abraham to include in his inheritance all the nations of the earth.  Abraham is the point of union with God .

Image result for galaxyBut God does not start over after we sin, and so not only will He be Creator, but God will redeem us.  Since this involves bringing us back together into one, or uniting us to Himself and to each other – in the act of our redemption, He is also this great bridegroom for His people.  This strange idea that we worship God as Father as the Creator of the Universe, but also the Son as this Bridegroom takes us all the way back to the Jewish exodus from Egypt.

Now, it’s important to note that the exodus from Egypt was not only important for the Jews because they had been in physical slavery to Pharaoh.  That was part of it, but another thing we can’t forget is that the Jews were also in slavery to sin.  They had begun to worship the Egyptian gods and goddesses.  In other words, the Israelite people did not deserve to be set free.  They had forgotten the God of their forefathers, but He is going to set them free because of His Covenant that He had made with Abraham long beforehand.

Image result for nile bloodRecall how the Hebrews finally win their freedom?  Well, it has to do with those plagues.  But the plagues are not random.  God turns the water in the Nile to blood, He sends gnats, He sends frogs, boils, darkness, and on and on until the Plague of the Passover with the death of the firstborn son.  All of these plagues deal with some god or goddess that the Egyptians worshiped and had begun to be idols for the Israelites.  God when He sends the plagues shows that He is the true master of these aspects of nature.  For example, when the Nile is turned to blood – it as if God killed Hapi, the god of the river.  Image result for plague of frogsWe might not see what there is to worship in a frog, but there was a fertility goddess Hecket that was this frog goddess.  When people had a hard time having children they would worship Hecket because frogs lay thousands of eggs and soon there are little frogs all over the place, but in the plague of frogs – they not only came up but they died and left heaps of carcasses all over the place.  Fertility is useless with the True God.  Three days of darkness shows God’s power over the sun which they worshipped.  Finally, Pharaoh was himself worshipped along with his heir, his firstborn son as a god.  So, Pharaoh is put to the beloved son test.  Unfortunately, while clinging to the thought that he can resist the Living God by the might of his will, he places his own ego above the safety of his son.  He fails, as does the life of his son.

The Israelites are spared that because of their offering of a lamb instead.  Well, the Jews leave Egypt and when they get to the Promised Land, they offer the Passover again.  The Passover is at the beginning and the end of their journey.  It is their alpha and their omega.  But the sacrifice went on.  By the time of Christ some 1500 years later, millions of lambs had been offered, because each generation of men were taught to understand that when it came to Passover, they too were spared on that great night when the firstborn of the Egyptians were struck.  So, every firstborn son of all of Israel for all time is saved by the sacrifice of the lamb.  But fast-forward for a moment to Elijah.  Remember when he was up on the mountain and he had challenged the prophets of the false god Baal to a showdown.  They both make altars and put their bulls on top and the bull to be Image result for elijah prophets of baalconsumed by fire from heaven is the real God.  Think about that.  God subjects Himself to the same scenario as the false god Baal.  But now think back to the plagues.  God shows that Pharoah’s and his firstborn son are not gods because they can’t withstand the angel of death.  And all of the Iraelites are saved amidst the blood of millions of lambs.  But Christ is the Lamb that they are all pointing towards and finally God does enable Him to be offered.  The Passover is finally complete.  They are not only freed from the physical slavery, but they are not freed spiritually from sin.  Christ even proclaims from the Cross, “It is finished.”  He is the Lamb that pays for the blood of all who will believe in Him who will be called the firstborn.  The Father and the Son are subjected to the same test that Pharoah failed, and Christ is victorious.Image result for blood and water flowing out in kidron valley

He unites us all together, but how do we think of ourselves as a bride?  You know in that first reading where Adam sleeps and Eve is taken from his side?  In the time of Christ, the Temple received so many thousands of lambs offered at the Temple that they had to have a drain below the altar to allow the blood to go somewhere.  It went under the temple and mixed with a channel of water that poured out into the Kidron Valley.  Everybody who approached the Temple could see this stream of blood and water from that side.  If you are reading John’s Gospel and the Passion in chapter 19, John who was there declares that as Christ was sleeping the sleep of death and His side was pierced that blood and water flowed out.  John suddenly interrupts his story and says, “He who saw this has born witness – his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth – that you also may believe.”  For Christ is the New Temple, and from this Temple is born a new Bride – from the water of baptism and the blood of the Eucharist.

God has called us into a marriage that is renewed with this Sacrament that has set us free and brought us into relationship with our Savior and Beloved.