We Need the Guts

Image result for throwing starfishSo, the fake ladybugs are back with a vengeance.  They seem to be coming in to my house with a special zeal now that it is beginning to warm a little – and yet even as they escape the cold outside, none of them seem to last all that long inside.  As I saw one struggling to stay alive near the drain of a sink, I thought of the classic starfish story.  Perhaps you’ve heard it – you know there is the boy throwing starfish back into the sea and there are thousands more and some cynic says, “What difference can you make?” and the boy responds, “it made a difference to that one” and I thought about all the fake ladybugs and whether or not I should try to spare some of these guys.  But here’s the thing: the starfish are just out there and they get washed up by accident – they’re not trying to be cast upon the shore.  On the other hand, these fake ladybugs are storming my house with the instinctual drive that they will live longer in my house.  But even if I were to throw one of them back outside it would work as hard as possible to crawl back in to die.  I’m sure you have had the same thought yourselves: these ladybugs are a great metaphor for us.  Because, before the coming of Christ, certainly we wanted to come into the holy place of God, into His Temple – but it was not an environment we could handle.  You could think of God’s law as a brilliant light that attracts us to its order and allows to understand everything that we know.  Yes, we need the eternal light that emanates from God’s Law, and the ladybug is attracted to the light emanating from my house.  But just as the ladybugs seem to starve to death when they get indoors, even if we were to sneak into heaven (source of God’s Law) – without the help of Christ we wouldn’t last any longer than these stinky bugs.  We need the Law of God, but we were not able to live it.  It’s the same reason that as technology increases we still haven’t improved as people.  Trying to live off the Law alone would be like a fake ladybug trying to live off the light of my house alone.

Imagine if you could become the size of and color of one of these beetles and tell them that they needed something more to live in Father Foy’s house.  It is a deathtrap until they are transformed – that they would need the ability to not only be attracted to the light or the heat, but also to live off of it – because his house doesn’t have any aphids to fill up on.

From one perspective, Christ came to us as this kind of teacher and the subject that He teaches.  In other words He’s going to reveal the fullness of what love is and how to do it…but He will also reveal Himself as the God, as the object of our Love.  That’s where the first reading comes in.  God foretells a time when His Law of Love (or if you prefer to think of His eternal light) will not only be external.  It says that God will put His law “in them and write it upon their hearts.”  Only the Latin does not say “in them”, but in their viscera – in their intestines.  The law will be not only in our hearts, but in our gut.  We will both desire this law of love and be able to digest it – to live off of it.

In the Gospel, Christ reveals that He will be the object of both.  He shows us how to love and what to love and calls us to imitate Him as the perfect human, and He will also be the very sustenance of love that feeds us.  In regards to being the true role model, we can trust Him.  We can even see his authentic human heart, for in the face of His impending death, His Hour, He shares with us a desire to live.

He exclaims, “I am troubled now.”  (His desire for life is proof that Jesus is actually making a sacrifice — if He hates His life it would mean a lot less to offer it up and be done with it)

And yet, this great mystery of love that He teaches us from the Cross will be exactly this: that for us to be transformed we have to die.  Love requires our sacrifice.  If we have no sacrifice we will be filled with our old selves and we will have no emptiness, that is, no appetite for the true food that God wants to sustain us with in heaven.

Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’?”  Our ability to live eternally lies in Him making it to this hour and through it.

How can Jesus really suffer like us?  He is God and He knows everything, so how does Jesus really take our human nature and make it capable of loving?  In the second reading, St. Paul says Jesus learned obedience from what He suffered.  How does the all-knowing God learn?  Well, not in His mind – that is – not in recognition, but in experience.  By living through the experience, Christ is able to learn in this classroom of life and this human nature that He took up to actually know what it actually means to love even through death by the actually doing of it.  No human being had ever fully given Himself before.  This is why Jesus prays for the Hour for it will help us for He will glorify the Father on our behalf.  God had created Man for His glory, and yet we had always taken part of the glory for ourselves.

This of course brings us to the Eucharist.  As social creatures we are called to pray together in the Body of humanity that Jesus has won for Himself.  During the Mass (as always), Christ is living in heaven.  He has taken our humanity into the eternal dwelling – and His humanity is evidence that united to Him, we are capable of actually living there in joy.  And we say that in heaven, Jesus intercedes for us constantly and forever.  But here’s where we come back down to the Mass and these Lenten readings: His heavenly intercession for us is His offering on the Cross – He is offering His own death on the Cross non-stop to the Father.  In the Mass we our invited into the meaning of life and death and life…into the classroom of love.  Christ takes what had been given to Him and gives it back to the Father.  In the Mass we tap into this now permanent aspect of reality and by uniting our own hearts to the heart of Jesus we not only have a gift to give God, but find ourselves capable of living off receiving Christ’s Body as our own – a Body capable of sacrifice and capable of love and capable of graduating this crash course class in life in an otherwise inhospitable climate.

An Evident Love

Image result for socrates and glauconHappy Laetare Sunday!  We rejoice today that we are able to look up and see that we are more than halfway through this season of mourning and the glory of the Resurrection is in sight.  Still, we have an interesting set of readings to express that.  The line that pops out at me and seems much more frightful than glorious is that “people preferred darkness to light.”  Darkness often seems so much more believable and more real than the hope that we have.  This is not a new idea though.  There was once a philosopher named Glaucon who wanted to bring down Socrates.  Glaucon believed in a philosophy of moral darkness where might makes right.  In his argument he told Socrates about the Ring of Gyges.  Now Glaucon the philosopher lived over two thousand years before the Lord of the Rings, but this ring he can render its wearer invisible so then they can do whatever they want to do without being caught.  Glaucon says that we all think that in our hearts injustice is far more profitable to us than justice – and given this ring we would take what we wanted, lie with whom we wanted, kill whom we wanted and release from prison whom we wanted – in all respects be as a god among men – and anyone who would not seize whatever they wanted would have to be the most foolish of fools. Related image

I think we can poke a few holes in his theory from our own experience.  There have likely been times when each of us has felt invisible.  We didn’t have a ring, but we were at some social gathering and we were might as well have been wallpaper.  We were ignored.  Any comment we made was flitted over to that of someone more interesting.  Or even worse: our our own group of people who should know us seems to overlook us or has forgotten us.  In other situations perhaps we wished we were invisible.  We made some introduction, but we know we must have left a rather poor impression.  Either we just said something stupid or tripped over ourselves or we were wearing the wrong clothing and we just knew that this person had formed an idea of us that simply did not capture much of our real value.  These realities help reveal that the desires deeper than simply the pleasurable things we could take from others.  Deeper than any desire to be a god among men is to be in communion with others and to share with them our real value – our true identity. Image result for embarrassed

Morality involves how we relate to others and if we merely sneak around others without any real morality to share with others the goodness (based in this morality) we largely lose our identity and forget who we are.  But even as Socrates shows this to Glaucon and even goes on to live a very moral life to the point that he gives his life by drinking the hemlock, his example is not enough.

Now, this first reading from 2 Chronicles is a little strange.  Does anyone here this morning have 2 Chronicles as their favorite book of the Bible?  I didn’t think so.  Peter Kreeft says that part of this is because it simply tells the stories of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings all over again.  Also, as it describes these same events of King David and King Image result for 2 chroniclesSolomon and their descendants through the rise and fall of the Kingdom it doesn’t deal with much of the morality of the characters very much.  Chronicles is more concerned with Divine Liturgy and worship.  Finally these books are much more judgmental than the others as they ultimately are not about man’s perspective as God’s.  It is as if God is saying, “Okay, look you’ve forgotten me again.  I’m going to show how things occurred and why from my point of view.  Sure, the moral lessons are important, but you need a greater theological lesson of how to worship and remember Me.”  God is physically invisible, but they were not seeing Him clearly enough in the spiritual picture.  Now He points out how He is calling them even amidst woe.   Related image

Jesus points out His own future sacrifice.  He will be lifted up like serpent.  Recall that story.  God has rescued the Israelites from Egypt, but they have forgotten and started to complain even about the food He gave them.   So, they were bitten by seraph serpents to get them to repent.  But these serpents could just like Mother Nature taking her toll.  God tells Moses to take a bronze serpent and mount it.  In essence, “Look, these serpents are a result of your sin.  Acknowledge your sin and live.”  This is our baseline identity and we receive the same from the cross.  Jesus will be mounted on a cross and as we look upon Him and acknowledge our sin, we too can receive new life.Image result for crucifixion

God telling us that we are sinners and He has come to save sinners (us) is wonderful, but there is even more tremendous.  He knows we need communion.  Now Communion always involves an exchange.  In the multiplication of bread and fish those gifts don’t come from Christ, but from the people.  Then with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus asks her to share him a drink.  She never gives Christ any physical water, but she gives Our Lord a draught from her faith.  The same kind of exchange is made today.  Jesus doesn’t say anyone receives eternal life, but those who believe in Him.  He already knows of us.  He formed us.  We exist in His world.  He wants us to believe in Him, and to exist in the world of our belief – He wants to be identified rightfully in our minds and hearts.  He wants to be the object of our love. Image result for elevation of host

There is of course an exchange in the Mass itself.  If we are to be saved by Christ we must recognize our need for Christ, but for Him to give Himself meaningfully to us – He tells us “Do this in memory of me.”  That is the exchange.  He gives Himself to us and we recall His cross, death and resurrection that give Him this most overwhelming right to be in us – as we are so mercifully in Him.  Sure, we may at times be invisible to others.  They might not grasp our true value, but God does.  And with our faith we can open our own lives to a light that rings true.

On Hating God

Image result for perpetua felicityThe day of the martyrs‘ victory dawned. They marched from their cells into the amphitheater, as if into heaven, with cheerful looks and graceful bearing. If they trembled it was for joy and not for fear. Perpetua was the first to be thrown down, and she fell prostrate. She got up and, seeing that Felicity was prostrate, went over and reached out her hand to her and lifted her up. Both stood up together. Rousing herself as if from sleep (so deeply had she been in spiritual ecstasy), she began to look around. To everyone’s amazement she said, “When are we going to be led to the beasts?” When she heard that it had already happened she did not at first believe it until she saw the marks of violence on her body and her clothing. The people, however, had demanded that the martyrs be led to the middle of the amphitheater. They wanted to see the sword thrust into the bodies of the victims, so that their eyes might share in the slaughter. Without being asked they went where the people wanted them to go; but first they kissed one another, to complete their witness with the customary kiss of peace. Bravest and happiest martyrs! You were called and chosen for the glory and our Lord Jesus Christ. – from a story of the death of the martyrs at Carthage

What amazing saints we have in St. Perpetua and St. Felicity.  They loved even their enemies to the end.  You know you can’t love God and hate His commandments at the same time…you can’t love God fully anyway.  And you can’t love one of His ideas and despise God completely at the same time.  You can’t even love His most dastardly corrupted creatures and despise God completely.  The thing of it is – it has to be real love.  Because if it’s not authentic love for them, but instead even this “love” is twisted back in on self-serving interest….than you would not be loving the creature or God but only self.

If we do love some enemy of ours, as St. Perpetua and St. Felicity do in their martyrdom, we place their ultimate good above our earthly lives and are made capable of sacrifice.  This is what Christ does while we were still sinners.  He forgave the Romans with the mallets and nails still in their hands.  In our sin we have all hated God’s Law, and yet Christ died not only to teach us the Law and love of the Law.  He also died to reveal the power of God’s Law to transform us.

The Eucharist is the power of the higher to be transformed into something lower, something more humble…into something even capable of being broken in love and that this is not the end of the story.   In being lower physically, His Spirit remains unbroken and His new physical lowliness enables Him to melt our hearts from the inside as He is carried by us.  He gives us in His Eucharistic Body the confidence that we can be broken open in sacrifice to others.  Our bodies can be transformed and broken down through sacrifice and keep even the commandment to love itself, as we are formed into one Body with God Himself and with those others who once hated His every idea.

Temple within a Temple

Image result for general sam houstonOn my retreat last week I was down near Houston, and it was raining and I was meandering through the halls and I remember walking past the library and spying a book about General Sam Houston which I had looked at for a bit last year.  General Sam Houston was basically Mr. Texas.  But, growing up he lived in another wild country kind of place in Tennessee.  The book recalled how various Indians and various ruffians would ride by their place and that they would have to defend their homes from time to time.  Today the shutters on our homes are mostly just for show, and they probably don’t close, but their thick wooden shutters did exactly that.  Sometimes the Houston family would find arrows or bullet holes in these ancient defenses.  Truly, the home is a fortress.  Image result for wooden shutters closed Well, that got me thinking about rainy days, and how as a kid I remember building fortresses within my home with my siblings.  We would take a blanket or a sheet and anchor it on a shelf or the top of the sofa and pull it down to the ground where another edge would go beneath a toy box or something.  We would find ourselves in a kind of lean-to.  A fortress within a fortress, a tent within a tent, a temple within a temple.

I mention this because this is essentially what God does with the Israelites – He makes of them a temple within a temple.  Consider of all the land, He sets some apart for the Hebrews that will be a land within a land, the Promised Land.  Jacob ends up leaving this land with his twelve sons, but they are promised to return.  Now Jacob has his name changed to Israel, but we could think of the Holy Land of Israel as the Holy Land of Jacob – or of Jacob’s sons, since they all get a piece.  But one of those chunks of land is Judah.  Judah happens to be the state that has Jerusalem where David brought the Ark of the Covenant.  So among all land we have the Promised Land.  Within the Promised Land we have the Land of Judah.  Within Judah we have Jerusalem and David’s son built there the Temple of Solomon.  Within the Temple of Solomon there are partitions which lead to the Holy Place.  And within the Holy Place is the Holy of Holies.  Within the Holy of Holies is the Ark of the Covenant and within this resting place of God are the Ten Commandments.  A temple within a temple within a temple….Image result for temple of solomon

Now, it’s one thing to build a sofa-fortress, but when setting out to build the Temple, Solomon needed a blueprint.  He used the description that God gives Israel for building the meeting tent and expands off of that.  The temple is to be a place of meeting between God and man and between man and other men.  Since Solomon cannot simply do whatever he wants and expect that this will yield a suitable place to meet God – or expect that others will want to come there and meet the wisdom of the Jews.  Solomon’s temple had a place for everyone – for God and then a place for the priests, and for the men, and for the women, and even for the gentiles – the uncircumcised – should they desire to encounter God themselves.Image result for court of the gentiles

Herein lies why Christ takes such drastic measures as making a whip out of cords and driving them all out: the sellers of animals and the money-changers were destroying both of these two purposes for which the temple was constructed.  You see the oxen and sheep and doves were cluttering up the one place for the gentiles.  Should they have managed to make it all the way through all of those fortress temples to the house of God, they would have been met sharing a stall with the animals – if there was any room in this inn.  The authorities were making it clear: they preferred the animals.  And Jesus also said, “You cannot serve both God and mammon.”  Here the money-changers are clearly showing their preference.  They were turning the temple into a cash-making enterprise. Image result for christ drives out

Isn’t it interesting that Christ makes a scourge and cleans up a temple whose divinity was being forgotten and not too much further down the road Christ himself will be scourged in the temple of His Body because He always remembered His own divinity.  Yes, the temple of His Body would be scourged and crucified and rise again all for the purpose of giving us His humanity that we might house even His Divine Presence and we might become His Body, His Temple – and individually little temples within the Temple of God – living stones united to Him.  Image result for living stones

To allow room for His temple, we must widen the temples of our souls by following the Commandments.  Notice the Ten Commandments were the first reading.  Doing the will of God rather than simply our own is what gives Christ the room to enter into our hearts and stay.  We are stretched out so that we can know that we are filled, not only by our own ego – but by the Word of God.

You know when He says, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will rebuild it,” He isn’t lying.  He wouldn’t even have been lying if He were to point right to the Temple of Solomon.  Why not?  Because the Temple of Solomon is simply a model of Him.  It is like a picture of the rectory here.  If I said, tear this down and I will rebuild it – you would understand more likely that I was talking about the true rectory and not the image.  Image result for crucifixion

Perhaps failure to see ourselves as the true Temple of God makes it easier to clutter up the temple of our soul.  We often reject others.  We write them off and deny forgiveness – even the silent kind of forgiveness that merely stops our hearts from accusing.  Sometimes we pick and choose which commandments we think we need – in other words – we try to build our temples by our own designs.  This is doomed to be the answer.  Perhaps we worship money itself and forget God.  God will not infringe upon our freedom to choose Him or settle for less.  Speaking of less, I think that sometimes we simply confuse that which only belongs to the outer Court of the Gentiles with something befitting the Holy of Holies.  So growing up I liked Star Wars, Cardinal Baseball, and Batman.  But I made them into that which was most holy.   Nobody told me how the elements of Star Wars (or any other fictional hero) or of good triumphing over evil in general could have been “baptized” and connected to our faith as an image of Christ and His glory.  But if I had seen the connection, perhaps I would jumped the chance to follow Christ.  Take stock of what you put into your mind: do we allow things that are disconnected at best take the helm of our minds – dethrone Christ from the Holy of Holies?  Move that item down to a further remote subset of you heart.Image result for scourging at the pillar

It is interesting that the Jews had this probation of images.  God did not want us carving images of Him before Christ came to save us.  He didn’t want us serving the image that we made for ourselves rather than His Son.  But, now that Christ is here, He no longer gives us simply an image – He continues to give us Himself.  And if we not only receive Him in the Eucharist, but let Him reside in the Holy of Holies of our souls – than it is safe for us to have all other things besides so long as they are in the proper context.    And if we repent and kick out the various “wild animals and money tables” of our souls, we will be His Image – His living image moved by His Soul and Spirit.                                                                                                           Related image



Related imageThe scene is an old university in a high towering office as the night is turning to dawn.  Innocent Smith had been talking late into the night with his favorite professor – only the problem was the professor was a pessimist.  And a mad pessimist he was.  He considered that all was meaningless and it would be better to be dead than to go on living in the godless universe as he saw it.  Well, Innocent takes out a revolver and pointing it at him tells him that he has the cure.  Innocent will put him out of his misery.  Well, the professor makes a run for a window in this tall university building and ends up climbing out onto an old piece of brickwork high above the earth.  Related imageThe professor cries to Innocent to let him live.  Innocent asks, “Do I understand that you want to get back to life?”  “I’d give anything to get back,” replied the professor.  “Ahh, then give us a song!” Innocent commands.  Innocent then has him sing a song about being in such a wild position nestled precariously above the earth and how thankful he is, and then has the professor thank heaven for the churches and the villas and the vulgar little people he had been mocking earlier.  Finally, Innocent explains that he will fire off the rounds in his revolver around the professor’s head so as not to hit him (being a very good shot), but after firing off two which the professor endures quite well, the professor now cured says to save the rest of his bullets for the next pessimist that has gotten so far down into the disease as himself.[1]

Image result for abraham isaacWe don’t often know the value of a thing until it is almost gone.  That I think is partly behind Abraham being called to take and offer up his only beloved son, Isaac on Mount Moriah.  Abraham had loved Isaac.  He didn’t have him until he was 100 years old.  But, God wanted to see if Abraham valued God more for His own sake – for His own eternal goodness, than for the son that He had bestowed upon Abraham.  That’s an ancient question, for Adam and Eve did not value God more than they prized that forbidden fruit.  It would be so much easier to understand Abraham putting Isaac first, but the faith of Abraham prevails and it becomes the model – just think of how they take a three days journey up to Mount Moriah.  Mount Moriah will become the site of the Temple with all its millions of animal sacrifices.  Isaac carries the wood for his own sacrifice on his back – like Christ will do, and when the angel stays his hand, Abraham spies a ram in the thorns – again foreshadowing Christ with Head crowned in thorns.  Abraham always believed that there was more to life than what he could see.  When Isaac had asked was the animal for the sacrifice – Abraham told him, “God will provide” believing that God would even bring Isaac back from the dead to fulfill His promise.  Abraham is no pessimist and being brought to the brink of offering his only son, he is able to appreciate God in His promise to him even more.  One more detail perhaps worth noting is that God knows that Abraham will pass the test, but Abraham didn’t.  Abraham’s own love for God can grow even further knowing that he is building on this love from God that he has taken as his own and begun to reflect.

Related imageIn the transfiguration something similar occurs.  Abraham had shown God how much he loves Him, by not withholding his only son.  And now God shows Peter, James, and John (and all of us) how much He loves us by not withholding His only Son – and this mystery reveals just how glorious and beloved a Son Jesus is.  We have a challenge in that is often difficult to see how valuable life really is.  We do not easily see how much God loves us.  In the face of our own deaths and in the midst of trying to take up our crosses, we are need of the reassurance of the Transfiguration.

Related imageFor that we will need a transfiguration of our own.  We will need to experience even after our baptism an ongoing knowledge that we are beloved sons and daughters of God and that our own dying is not the end.  So, how can we be transfigured and be joined to those truly thankful for the Cross?  Prayer.  In prayer the soul receives light from God and is able to know and examine Him and herself and all things more clearly.  In prayer the soul is able to obtain the grace to blot out stains and vices and overcome temptations.  The soul is strengthened through prayer to leave slothfulness and become fervent.  To be freed of perplexity and reach understanding.  To turn from sadness to gladness and from cowardice to courage.  In prayer, the soul is raised above herself and lifted to God Himself – able to abandon earthly things by seeing its true honor in heaven alone.  The soul transfigured in prayer sees all crosses as small.  St. Paul proclaims it: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”  Finally, prayer unites the soul to God and says to Him, You who did die for love of my love, I pray that you might let me die for love of Your love.

It is those that pray who will experience most fully (as Abraham did) the value of God in their life and through seeing Jesus die for love of them will see the value of their own lives which He made equal to His own.

[1] G.K. Chesterton, Manalive (New York: John Lane Company, 1912), 169-178.  I have made a rough compilation of some of the events in this story.

Feeding Forgiveness

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There’s an old fable in which a man says to God, “God, please show me some way of understanding the Heaven and Hell.  What are they like?”  And so God takes him to a hallway with two doors, one marked Hell and the other Heaven.  As they open the first one, the man sees in the middle of the room a large round table with a massive pot of stew.  The aroma is enticing and delicious and the man’s mouth waters.  “This is hell?!” he says.  “Look closer,” God replies.  There were people sitting around the table and they were scrawny and sickly and had nasty expressions.  They appeared to be famished.  Their arms were elongated and at their hands had turned into spoon-like appendages.  They were able to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful, but because their arms were so long, they could not get the spoon-hands back into their mouths.

The man was shocked at the misery of Hell – being so close to what they needed and yet always unable to receive it.

They stepped out and opened the second door, but the room was exactly the same.  There was a round table with a big pot of stew that fired up the man’s appetite again.  But the people here were well-fed and happy looking as they laughed, talked, and … ate stew.  You see they also had elongated arms with spoons for hands, but they were feeding one another.  They were in communion.Image result for heaven and hell big spoons

There could be a third image – one of God showing the man the challenge before us here on earth.  We seek happiness, and we too have some object of our desire and yet we too are unable to reach happiness alone.  We are often surrounded by others who have shown themselves to be in competition with us, and start off just as those self-centered prisoners of Hell.  Our challenge is to try and offer our neighbor charity and love – of service….even though they seem not to deserve anything…even while they even seem to hate us in return. Image result for god rainbow

Lent is upon us.  God calls us to this transformation of hope – the hope in Christ that has the potential to bridge the gap between earth and heaven.  Just think of that first reading.  God tells us and promises us even while we are still sinful, that He will not flood the earth again to destroy all bodily creatures.  In fact, He even says the rainbow that appears in the clouds will serve as a sign to Him that He might recall this covenant. Image result for Jesus in desert

The backstory to our Gospel is that Jesus has just been baptized.  This passage then follows immediately after that the Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert to experience fasting and hunger and eventually temptation.  Why?  To show us what we should expect as Christians.  If Christ Himself had to wrestle with the devil – we should not be troubled that even after our baptism we still struggle with our weaknesses and temptations.   Image result for adam and eve

What is at the source of these temptations?  If you remember the story in the Garden, Eve is pressured by the snake into doubting that God loves and cares about her and about Adam as His children.  The same thing happens when Jesus is in the desert.  The devil suggests that maybe He is not really the Son of God, by repeatedly saying, “If you are the son of God….do this….do that.”  Being loved by God is the true source of our happiness.  It is better than any stew….but we cannot reach the conclusion that we are loved or experience God’s love as our Father entirely by ourselves.

What we choose to believe or not, to have faith or to doubt, is in a sense much like the pupil in each of our eyes that either lets light enter or not.  It is like our throats which let food enter into our bodies or not.  When we are confronted with new situations, do we let our faith in God and His will  for us allow us to see the light in the situation, to swallow down the goodness that He wants to share or not.  Do our throats allow us to speak words of love to our neighbor or not?  Do we understand that not only are we sons and daughters of God, but that everyone else around us is as well? Speaking of that question, Archbishop Carlson asked all of his priests to preach this weekend on the subject of racism and I think this Lenten time for conversion is a perfect opportunity to hope for more.

Satan tempted Christ three times.  By the third time, he doesn’t even have the respect to say, “If you are the son of God,” and frankly he doesn’t want Christ to consider the Father at all.  Just worship me and you can have the kingdoms without the cross.  Jesus didn’t come for a bunch of stratified kingdoms of people separated from each other, but all bowing down before Him like slaves.  Rather, He came to reveal a new Kingdom to which all are invited.  We are not meant to segregate ourselves off whether in our neighborhoods or in our minds.  And while we may agree with that in theory, we know we have further to grow as a people to live in perfect communion with one another.

One challenge to the racism issue is for each person to take responsibility for themselves to the extent that they are able.  Racism is a form of hatred.  Maybe not everyone has experienced institutional racism, but everyone has experienced hatred or feeling unwanted or feeling blamed.  Where do our stereotypes come from anyway?  I think people develop these negative sentiments because they have felt wounded in some way, and stereotypes can start off defensive.  As a white male, I know that there can be a sense that society wants to put the guilt on my shoulders.  That could soar into a desire to deflect the attention and to blame somebody else or some other group.  But, personal responsibility says, yes, I’m not perfect, but I’m not going to wait to forgive those who have hurt me to forgive them.  I forgive them now.  But, also the courage to say, I’m going to forgive them even as they continue to label me.  This side seems hypocritical.  That side seems coddled by the media.  Those statements could be made truly by every racial sub-group.  We don’t have control over the media that is out to make a buck off everybody.  But we have control over our own pupils – we can turn away our eye from messages that are one-sided or scornful.  We can open our eyes to the fact that there are good people who love the same country and the same God in every part of society.  We can open our throats to receive what God wants to feed us by the spoon of another, and reach out to feed others (even while they may seem our competitor) for if they starve, we will never see the full beauty of the Kingdom that God wants us to build together.  And God will not let us starve, for He has said that we cannot live on the regular bread – and not even on the bread of popular opinion….He has given Himself as the Living Bread of love for all of us – for we are His children.

Magdalen Prayer

Hail Magdalen, freed of seven demons,

You have chosen the better part.

Blessed art thou who anointed our Savior

And blessed the Mystical Body of Christ.

Repentant Mary,

Image of a Church unified,

Pray for us sinners,

Here and in our wounds of division.  Amen.

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Lepers Longing

Image result for leper meets jesusA great desire can build in a man in eight years.  Eight years was about how long someone with leprosy could hope to live.  The man in today’s Gospel had an incredible longing.  You can say what you want about the terrible disease of leprosy.  It was awful and isolating and led to a life of utter disgrace and fragmentation.  But on one level, this man experienced a longing in his heart that went far beyond anything he would have desired if he had always been healthy.  A longing far beyond the average man or woman in the street.  He wanted a medicine like an eagle with its wings clipped wants the sky.  Nonetheless, when Jesus approaches, the man does not attempt to stand tall and draw together the last remnants of his natural dignity.  No, the leper humbles himself still further to kneel at Christ’s feet in the posture of a sinner.  He is a model for all of us who, as sinners, should admit our own need for God’s intervention for our sins.  Just imagine…you are before Jesus Himself.  The temptation to tell Jesus to do something (the One Person who can) would be so strong.  Yet, the leper does not demand anything from Our Lord.  He merely states, “If you will it, you can make me clean.”  This is a statement of faith – and not only a faith in Jesus as someone with a strong connection with God.  He could have said, “If You pray to God, He will heal me,” but instead by saying “If You will it” the leper attributes the power of God to Jesus, Himself.

Related imageJesus does not need to touch the leper to cure him, but it is quite likely the first time this man has been touched by anyone since he contracted the disease.  The Law forbade contact with lepers, due to its horribly contagious nature.  Now, Christ was not going against the Law.  In fact after the healing, He instructs the man to go to the priest and complete the formal legal details to be readmitted into the community.  The Law was there to protect the rest of the community from leprosy, but it could do nothing of its own for the actual leper.  In touching the man, Jesus shows that He is not afraid of the disease, because He can do what the Law cannot and restore the man for He is the source of all wholeness.  The spreading of the uncleanness of leprosy and of sin is natural, but Christ is supernatural – He is operating above nature – He loves the little bit of physical goodness that is present in this sick man and the humbled soul of this sinner.  The result is that Jesus heals this man in body, but He also restores him in spirit.       Related image

I don’t think it would be crazy to think of our society as afflicted with a kind of leprosy that is eating away at its various levels of organization – civil and religious.  If that’s the case, what can we take from the leper in our Gospel?  To begin with, the leper has a very great problem that is unavoidably personal to him.  When it comes to the great institutions of our state, or our nation, and of even the Church herself – there are problems that seem very deep.  To many of us, these issues have now become personal.  What is decreed in Jefferson City or in Washington or in Rome quickly influences life even here in Villa Ridge.  Much is decided upon every day, partly in effort to keep up with the various forces trying to breakdown the order and safety and mission of these great bodies of people.   We have to do get more involved.  Indifference has caused many to walk away from any functional level of cooperation even while they still survive off of the efforts of others to keep civilization going.  They are unaware of their calling to be great citizens in this life and saints in the next.  The Body of our Country suffers and the Body of Christ suffers.  We should be concerned.

But in our Gospel, the leper did not say, “Unclean, unclean.”  He trusted.  And the leper either remained humble or he learned humility and he grew in desire.  The Truth is strong.  Just look at the Pro-Life movement.  There are numerous tales of people who have operated at the highest capacities in the abortion industry: Kathy Aultmann an abortionist in the US, Paul Jarrett, Jr., Anthony Levatino,  John Bruchalski, Noreen Johnson — all abortionists who have exterminated thousands in the United States altogether.  Norma McCorvey (Roe of Roe v Wade), Abby Johnson (Planned Parenthood Image result for dr bernard nathansondirector in Texas), and perhaps most significantly Dr. Bernard Nathanson who co-founded of NARAL – and who took 75,000 lives…all of these people have turned from the sin of abortion to the Truth of life and they are never going back.  They have the cure.  If the truth of what abortion is could be even half so attractive to the soul: then where are their big name converts?  How many crisis pregnancy center directors, how many pro-life March coordinators, how many mothers of seven children have famously admitted that they were wrong – that now they have realized the error of life and sacrificial love?  None.  The supernatural cure

This leper is a great model for us.  Any time for lamenting his situation is over.  He is falling apart and he knows his time is limited.  Many of us who have seen some of the great moments of our nation and our Church have a longing that is deeper now than it ever has before – a longing for unity that spreads to others.  If we acknowledge our own sinfulness and responsibility for some of the breakdown we experience we can trust in the truth of Christ’s power to reconcile.  The truth is stronger than any of the lies that are threatening to tear us apart.  Knowing Christ we will be protected from further infection of hatred and ignorance.  People will have a chance to believe our Creed (of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and of resurrection from the dead) if we are not afraid [of being contaminated by them].

Leprosy was handled by the body of people by isolating off the bodies of individuals who were infected.  Our great crises have taken much longer than eight or nine years to develop, but the answer to all of the fear and the hopeful spreading of new life to those people most infected with indifference lies in Christ healing us with His touch and our reaching out to them in Spirit.

JPII At Nagasaki

Related imageToday, I want to be one of the many Pilgrims who come to the Martyrs’ Hill here in Nagasaki, to the place where Christians Sealed their fidelity to Christ with the sacrifice of their lives. They triumphed over death in one unsurpassable act of praise to the Lord. In prayerful reflection before the Martyrs’ monument, I would like to penetrate the mystery of their lives, to let them speak to me and to the whole Church, and to listen to their message which is still alive after hundreds of years. Like Christ, they were brought close to a place where common criminals were executed. Like Christ, they gave their lives so that we might all believe in the love of the Father, in the saving mission of the Son, in the never-failing guidance of the Holy Spirit. On Nishizaka, on 5 February 1597, twenty-six Martyrs testified to the power of the Cross; they were the first of a rich harvest of Martyrs, for many more would subsequently hallow this ground with their suffering and death.

There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Christians died in Nagasaki, but the Church in Nagasaki did not die. She had to go underground, and the Christian message was passed from parents to Children until the Church came back into the open. Rooted in this Martyrs’ Hill, the Church in Nagasaki would grow and bloom, to become an example of faith and fidelity for Christians everywhere, an expression of hope founded in the Risen Christ.

Today, I come to this place as a pilgrim to give thanks to God for the lives and the death of the Martyrs of Nagasaki – for the twenty-six and all the others that followed them – including the newly beatified heroes of Christ’s grace. I thank God for the lives of all those, wherever they may be, who suffer for their faith in God, for their allegiance to Christ the Savior, for their fidelity to the Church. Every age – the past, the present and the future – produces, for the edification of all, shining examples of the power that is in Jesus Christ.

Today, I come to the Martyrs’ Hill to bear witness to the primacy of love in the world. In this holy place, people of all walks of life gave proof that love is stronger than death. They embodied the essence of the Christian message, the spirit of the Beatitudes, so that all who look up to them may be inspired to let their lives be shaped by unselfish love of God and love of neighbor.

Today, I, John Paul II, Bishop of Rome and Successor of Peter, come to Nishizaka to pray that this monument may speak to modern man just as the crosses on this hill spoke to those who were eye-witnesses centuries ago. May this monument speak to the world forever about love, about Christ!

– Pope John Paul II: Message at Nagasaki, Nishizaka, Japan – 26 February 1981