Friday, March 29, 2013

Handed Over To Sinners

Good Friday!

I've always struggled with this term.  How is the death of Jesus good?  If He is my Lord and I love Him with all my heart then how can I rejoice in His death?  Even though I recognize the necessity of His death in order to gain life for me, how can I be happy?  How can I call it good?

The fact is it is objectively good even if it doesn't seem so.  The love of our Lord poured out on a cross for sinners is good.  The opportunity to be delivered from sin and inherit eternal life is good.

This Good Friday I am seeing  these events juxtaposed with current events.  Our country is divided over issues of abortion and gay marriage as well as many others.  I must confess to becoming angry with those who want to promote such things.  But why am I angry?  Is it because my Lord is blasphemed?  Possibly.  Or is it because such things are actually bad for the people involved?  Maybe.  Or is it because so much of the world does not see things as I do?  Probably!

It's at this point that I am asking myself how would Jesus respond to these things if He were still here in the flesh?  I cannot see Him spewing the vitriol that has become characteristic of those with a more conservative bent.  Neither can I see Him espousing these changes.

The Church, as the body of Christ, has a responsibility to say and do those things that Jesus says and does.  It is necessary to speak and work in favor of the Good.  Abortion is the killing of infants.  That is not good.  No possible perceived good can outweigh the intentional taking of innocent human life.  Gay marriage is a misnomer.  Marriage was created by God as a means of naturally propagating the race.  Homosexual relations have no way of doing that.  Furthermore, God has not created people to define themselves by their sexual practices- of whatever nature they may be.  We are much more than that.  We are created in the image and likeness of God.  That means that we have reason and will to choose the Good even if it conflicts with our natural desires.  So the Church is right to stand for marriage as God created it and to oppose anything else that attempts to classify itself as marriage.

But what if the world won't listen?  Then what?

Do we resort to "attacks" to get our point across?  Will the ends justify the means?  Can we claim to stand in the name of Christ when we no longer follow in the actions of Christ?  Good Friday brings perspective to this problem.

In the words of St. Peter, "For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly," (1 Peter 2:21-23).  Jesus was handed over to sinners.  Clearly they were in the wrong and He was right.  But rather than contend for what should be, He remained silent and did not insist on defending His own rights or insuring that His point is made.  He humbles Himself and demonstrates His love.  Was it received?  It does not appear so- at least not in the immediate context.  But His way of love won out in the end.  For the Roman Empire that crucified Him no longer exists, but the Church of Jesus Christ remains.  People all over the world have been impacted by His life, death, and resurrection.  He gains disciples daily over 2,000 years later.  Yes, His way of love triumphs over all other ways.

What do I learn from this?  That our current world is lost and torn by its own insatiable desires.  I have a responsibility to do all I can to point them to our Savior.  But if they will not listen then I must silently allow myself to be misunderstood, maligned, or worst of all, completely ignored.  In this way I walk with my Lord in the way of  His cross and choose love over the need to be seen as right.

This is not easy.  In fact, this, like everything in the Christian life, is impossible.  But as I draw near to the Lord I allow Him to live His life through me and He makes the impossible possible.  And I draw near to Him, among other ways, by patiently enduring trials as He did.  
Today, Good Friday, I hope I will succeed in taking a few more steps along the way of the cross with my Lord.  I hope I will persevere under the weight of a cross and allow a crucifixion like His.  By His help I know that my hope will be realized.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Troublemaker

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
Matthew 2:3 

Tomorrow is the Feast of the Epiphany.   This was Christmas before there was Christmas.  In the early days of the Church, and still today in the Eastern Tradition, this was the great feast proclaiming Jesus' appearing (epiphany) in the world.  Today in the West we primarily focus on His appearing to the world in the persons of the magi who represent the Gentile world.  

While the story is familiar, something caught my attention as I was reading the Gospel for tomorrow's Mass.  St. Matthew records that Herod was troubled at hearing of the birth of our Lord.   Not only was he troubled, but so was "all Jerusalem".  Does that mean that if the king is not happy no one's happy?  Perhaps.  Or does it mean that Herod and the movers and shakers of society with him were equally disturbed at this news?  I'm inclined to believe the latter.  It's the same today.  Whenever the cultural elites hear the mention of His Name they are troubled.  This is the troublemaker.  All such troublemakers must be silenced.

This appears to be the agenda of our President.  The mandate of the HHS has more to do with silencing the Catholic Church than providing affordable health care for every American.  Who doesn't know that the Catholic Church stands staunchly against abortion, artificial contraception, and everything else that opposes life?  If the President is successful at getting the Church to either compromise or bow out of all public services then he will have essentially silenced them.  They may go on worshiping as they please within their churches, but they will no longer have a voice in the public sector- and that's exactly what the Herods of the world are after.  

It is incumbent upon all Christians that we show Christ clearly to the world.  The Epiphany is not just a day, or a celebration, but a lifestyle.  Jesus appears to the world through His people.  Despite the forces that work against us, we, relying completely on the Lord and His mighty power, are to continue living and ministering in the name of the Lord such that His message will never be silenced.  Penalize us, ostracize us, torture, or kill us they may but the Lord and His Church will always prevail.  It has always been so and it always will be.  

I have heard before that when our Lord came the first time He had to stand before Pilate, but when He comes again Pilate will stand before Him.  The same can be said of Herod and all who imitate him in every age.  

Our Lord's coming is troubling to those who love darkness.  May it not be so among us.   Rather, let us rejoice in His coming and embrace His presence. 

A most Blessed Epiphany to all!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

What's New In The New Year?

For a few years now I've been pondering something.  Why is it people get all excited about a new year?  Is it just because they think that it's a great opportunity to start over and continue with successes while putting failures behind to try again?  Perhaps.  Maybe it's just that I'm a natural born pessimist but I think to myself that, while I'm thankful for a new year and all the potential that comes with it, I realize that none of us can predict what will happen this year.  How do we know if 2013 will be a good year or a bad one?

I'm sure there are some who are thinking (perhaps rightly) that I am just being too sour.  They're much more optimistic and just know good things are in store for this year.  Perhaps they're right.  I'd like to think so. 

Let me say that I am not intending to go the other way as if it's a sure thing that we're in for it this year.  I don't mean to say that. In fact, I'm thankful for a new year and enjoying it so far.  It's just that I know none of us knows the future.  Really good things, really bad things, or a host of things in between could be coming our way.

So with a dose of what I like to call realism (as opposed to pessimism) I think we should come into this year, as any year (or any day, week, or month for that matter) with a sense of optimism and expectation, but also with a realistic sense that anything could happen.  And with that in mind, we find ourselves in need of continuing to grow in faith in the Lord.  Only He knows the future and is perfectly equipped to handle it. 

In closing let us consider these words from St. James: "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and get gain'; whereas you do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.' As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin," (James 4:13-17).

So here's hoping 2013 is a great year.  But regardless, let us continue to walk by faith and not by sight.  

Friday, December 14, 2012

Suffering Together

If one member suffers, all suffer together.
1 Corinthians 12:26 

See if you can relate to this experience.  

You heard today's horrific news of yet another senseless school shooting and the snuffing out of innocent life and your first reaction is one of shock and dismay.  But following closely on the heels of that reaction is a deep sigh of relief that it was not one of your children or loved ones who were killed.  That was my reaction.  And it's just here that I'm convicted that I have not yet fully understood or experienced the love to which our Lord has called us.  For when I do, I will realize that all are our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, and children.  If we love others as much as we love ourselves- if others truly are our neighbors- then their suffering is our suffering.

Tonight I am mourning.  I am not mourning as for my own children for by God's grace they remain healthy and safe.  Yet I sense that there must be some degree to which I must enter into the sorrows of those who lost their precious loved ones today and weep with those who weep.  

I cannot live there for that is a ticket to insanity.  We were not designed to live perpetually in grief.  Yet I believe the Lord would be pleased that as we offer our prayers for the families devastated by this tragedy we would add also our tears.  

Take some time and intentionally enter into their grief.  Perhaps our prayers will be stronger and their comfort will be greater.  And as you shed your tears, remember also to pray that such incidents will not be repeated.  

Lord, have mercy on us all!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Advent- Prepare For the Coming of the Lord

Today marks the Second Sunday of Advent.  This 4 week season has been given to us by the Church in order to help us prepare for the great feast of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ (Christmas).  Whenever the Church celebrates a great feast it prepares with a time of fasting.  Most people don't think of Advent as a time of fasting.  While it isn't nearly as intense as Lent, it still is intended as a time of penance.

When we speak of the coming of the Lord it is intended in three senses.  First we are preparing for the coming of the Lord into the world at Christmas.  Second, we are anticipating that some day our Lord will return in power and glory to judge the living and the dead.  We use Advent as a time to focus our attention on being prepared for that time.  Third, we are preparing for the Lord coming to us each day in new and deeper ways. 

This week we focus on the ministry of St. John the Baptist.  He is sent to prepare the way of the Lord.  He does so by calling us to repentance.  In his words, we are to make very crooked way straight, fill in every valley, and level every hill as a way of making a highway for our God.  We are called to a thorough and intense scrutiny.  Ideally, we do this daily.  But sometimes it gets away from us.  Advent offers us the opportunity to ensure that things are right between God and ourselves.

I invite you to a most holy and blessed Advent!  Go deep and root out all that is opposed to God.  Seek Him and the abundance of the Grace He offers.  Prepare for his coming: today, at Christmas, and in the end when He returns.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

St. Louis and The New Evangelization

Today is the feast day for St. Louis.  He was a very godly ruler in France in the 13th century.  In today's Office of Readings is featured an excerpt from a letter he wrote to his son.  In it he gives some great advice that can be followed by anyone even if you're not going to inherit the rule of a country.  However, this made me begin to wonder what our country would look like with a truly godly President.  True, he would not be a king and could not do as he wants without the help of others in our government.  Yet, what kinds of things might we expect of a leader who truly wanted to lead his people in godliness?

Perhaps he would begin by working to do away with unjust laws.  Laws protecting things like pornography and abortion come to mind.  But there are others.  The current debate on marriage would be a good place to start as well.  If St. Louis is an example then there are a lot of things he could personally do to help the poor.  This would, in turn, encourage a public policy to do the same.

At this point I can hear someone protesting that this would be an unjust imposing of one's personal views on the nation.  And that's the point!  The fact is that we have numerous views imposed on us.  It is the essence of democracy that the majority imposes its views on the minority.  The media routinely imposes its views on the public and in recent times we have been suffering at the hands of various judges who impose their views on the nation, many times overriding the will of the majority.  In fact, in every age and in every form of government, and in every society someone or some groups are imposing their views on the others.  Since this is a given, then why is it that only Christians are thought to be the exception to this rule?

In contrast we see someone like St. Louis who realized that someone in his position would necessarily impose his view on his nation.  But he soberly contemplated that reality and then did something very positive with it.   He governed by Christian principles so that he loved his subjects because they were his neighbors made in the image and likeness of God.  If we were to have a truly Christian President I am convinced he would do the same thing.

What does any of this have to do with the New Evangelization as I mentioned in the title of this post?  Everything!

In a democracy the government is us.  Each of us has the opportunity to have a part in forming public policy.  We do this by voting and by speaking out on the issues of the day in a way that leads to a moral formation for our nation.  The New Evangelization is all about bringing the Gospel in a new way to an audience that has heard it before.  It is a call to renewed dedication and vigor in bringing this message to our nation again.  What kind of nation do we envision as an effectively evangelized nation?  Certainly one that is more morally sound and more loving to one another.  Certainly one that cares for our neighbors at least as much as we care for ourselves.  Certainly one that enacts laws, not according to what the populace wants, but according to that which is truly beneficial for the common good.

These are but a few thoughts on government and the New Evangelization.  It is simply the beginning of a conversation in  which there is much more to be said.  But the question is will we even begin the conversation?  As we reflect on St. Louis and the potential that exists in a nation that truly honors God may we find the strength and fortitude, not only to begin such a conversation, but to see it through to a most beneficial conclusion!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Full Presence of the Lord

Sometimes it takes me a while...

Last weekend we had the wonderful privilege of attending the Defending the Faith Conference at Franciscan University in Steubenville.  It was the first time we attended a conference at Franciscan.  It was the first time we had ever been to the campus.  What an experience it was.  I knew it would be good. I've heard so many talk about how good these are.  But I didn't know it would be this good.

I don't remember how far into the weekend it occurred, but I knew the Lord wanted my attention and to say something to me.  I have gotten into the bad habit of doing most, if not all, of the talking when it comes to prayer.  I am accustomed to thinking of prayer as talking.  But it isn't.  It's conversation, which means it's both talking and listening.  There's to be a dialogue, an exchange.  Prayer actually goes beyond conversation.  It is fundamentally becoming aware of God's presence which is always with us.

Anyway, God began communicating to me.  He was asking me why I am always so angry, so frustrated.  Why do I so often ignore the needs of others and think only of my own?  I knew the answer.  It was because somewhere along the line I stopped loving others.  And why was that?  Because I no longer had a sense of God's love for me.  It isn't that I thought God doesn't love me.  Nor that I was not aware of His presence.  It was simply that I was not thinking about the immensity of God's love for me and therefore I was not able to give it away.  The Lord offered me an opportunity to change all this.  Would I open my heart and let Him come in and impact me to the core, transforming me into a channel of His love?  All I had to do was answer "yes".  I said yes.  He came in and began to work.  He wasted no time.

During the Saturday night Holy Hour I had a revelation of something I have believed for quite some time:  Jesus is fully present in the Eucharist!  I looked at the Lord in the monstrance and thought, "This is not a symbol of Jesus.  It's not like Jesus.  It doesn't even represent Jesus.  It's Him!"  With that came a new dimension in prayer.  All of a sudden I could hear Him speaking to me.  And what He was saying was transforming my life.  We heard from a lot of well known speakers over the weekend and they were all very good.  But the best moment was when I heard from our Lord Himself.

Sometimes it takes me a while.  It's taken me a whole week to record this reflection.  It's taken the better part of a lifetime to really get what many Christians already understand: God loves us, really loves us, and if we let that love pierce us to the core it changes us and enables us to become the means by which the Lord is daily, moment by moment, sharing His love with others through us.

If you ever have an opportunity to attend a conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville, take it!  But even more, the next opportunity you have to be before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, take it!  Listen to what He says to you.  Let His love pierce your heart.  Then go out transformed by  His presence to be a transforming agent in this world.