Saturday, January 31, 2015

Jesus Is The Future Now

January 31, 2015
Saturday of week 3 in Ordinary Time
(Saint John Bosco, Priest)

Jesus Is The Future Now
Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

In the different translations, “faith” is the “substance” (the Greek is upostasiv, same word used in “hypostatic union”; google it and go to or “assurance” or realization” of things hoped for, the “evidence,” or “proof,” or “conviction of” things not seen. In the New International Version it is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” The Message Bible translates it:

The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living.  It is our handle on what we can’t see.

Today’s Gospel just translates it as Jesus.

The disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee. “A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion.”

In this picture, Jesus is not only the foundation of all the real “assurance” the disciples had of making it to the other shore alive; he was also—whether they knew it already or not—the “substance,” the reality and “realization” of everything they hoped to find, or do, or experience when they got there. With Jesus, everything; without Jesus, nothing. He is “the substance of things hoped for.” He is it. And he was there with them, in the boat.

His physical body being there—asleep in the stern or not—was the visible proof, source of conviction, the visible evidence of “things not seen.” If we see Jesus we see safety, security, empowerment, fulfillment and meaning in life. Jesus in the flesh is “Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” When he became visible, all of God’s power, love and protection became visible. Jesus himself is “the evidence of things not seen.”

But we have to see Jesus with eyes of faith. Without faith, none of the above has any meaning for us. So yes, faith is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” because with faith we see that this is what Jesus is.

Jesus is the starting point. Looking at Jesus is what makes us able to look at Jesus with faith. And looking at Jesus with faith is what makes us able to see what we’re looking at.

So look at him. See what he does in the Gospels. Read and hear what he says. Look and listen with as much faith as you have, and what you see and hear will give you more faith: make the light of faith in you grow, make it stronger and clearer, expand the truth you see and your understanding of it.

Jesus is still visible. First, because when the Gospels show us Jesus acting during his lifetime on earth, it is to teach us—with the authority of God speaking through his words in Scripture—what Jesus is still doing; what it is his nature to do; what he always does. In the Gospels, “what you see is what you get.” What we see him giving to others then is what we are can get from him now, if we go to him with faith.

Second, Jesus is visible in the visible, physical body he has on earth today. Those with eyes of faith can recognize Jesus living and loving in those around them. Like sheep who “know the voice” of their shepherd, they know when it is Jesus speaking to them through others (John 10:4). And, if they are Catholics, they know it is a truth revealed by God that in the “sacraments” (from sacramentum, a “mystery” or “pledge”) Jesus himself is present, speaking and acting with, in, and through the human minister. In Eucharist, Jesus himself on the cross is saying, here and now, “This is my Body given, my Blood poured out, for you.” In the sacrament of Reconciliation, Jesus himself is saying, speaking in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, “I absolve you from all of your sins.” In Confirmation, Jesus himself is saying, “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” And in Matrimony, Jesus himself is saying with, in, and through the bride and the groom, “I, N., [Jesus under the Christian name he has in this member of his body on earth] take you N. [whom he is espousing] for my lawful (husband or wife), to have and to hold, from this day forward for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”

And when he does that, through our faith we find in him, present already, “the substance of what we are hoping for, the evidence of what we can’t see.”

Faith calls for fidelity. Fidelity is empowered by hope. These are the foundation of “steadfast love” (Exodus 34:6; John 1:17).

Jesus is the promised future made present. Do I choose to see him with faith, follow him with hope, and live with him in love?

Pray: “Lord, increase my faith!”

Practice: Read the Gospels with conscious faith. See people with faith.

Discuss: Is Jesus the foundation of all your hope in God’s promises? What reminds you that he is?

Friday, January 30, 2015

Jesus Is An Ongoing Revelation

January 30, 2015
Friday of week 3 in Ordinary Time

Jesus Is An Ongoing Revelation
You have revealed to little ones the mysteries of the Kingdom.

Jesus is an ongoing revelation. Dealing with him is full of surprises—most of them, perhaps, the surprising fulfillment of promises we had ceased to count on.

Jesus promises all sorts of things that we don’t experience:

Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or wear… But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well(Matthew 6:25). But aren’t plenty of Christians badly fed, housed and clothed? Do we really believe that if we put spiritual things first, our temporal welfare is guaranteed?

Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you” (Matthew 7:7). Aren’t we still searching for answers we have not found, and asking for graces we have not received? When we go to God, don’t we sometimes feel we are knocking on a closed door?

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me… and you will find rest for your souls(Matthew 11:29). Aren’t plenty of practicing, law-abiding Christians still seeking peace of soul and not finding it?

Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive (Matthew 21:22). Have all of our prayers been answered? Do we really believe they will be?

I came that they may have life, and have it to the full(John 10:10). This might sum up all the other promises. Have I found total fulfillment in life through my relationship with Jesus? Do I think I can?

The readings don’t try to give answers to these questions. But they tell us how to deal with them.

First, Jesus says that what he is doing on earth is “as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how.” Things are going on, even though we don’t see them. One day we wake up surprised to see what God has been doing for us.

Do not throw away your confidence; it will have great recompense. You need endurance to do the will of God and receive what he has promised… After just a brief moment, he who is to come shall come.

We need to hang in there. The Responsorial Psalm 37 uses three words to tell us how: “Trust… take delight... commit…”

Trust in the Lord and do good…
Take delight in the Lord…
Commit to the Lord your way…

First, we just have to trust. We need to keep doing the “good” we should do, and trust that God is doing what he should do—even if it doesn’t look like it.

Think of it this way: there isn’t much we can give to God in return for everything he has given to us. He has everything, no? But there is something he wants and can’t give to himself: our trust in him. Even though our trust is itself a gift from God, it is one God doesn’t receive back unless we give it freely. It means a lot to God that we should trust him. So let’s give him that. Just do it.

Second, the Psalm says, “Take delight in the Lord.” Instead of focusing on what we think God is not doing for us, we should pay attention to what he is doing for us—most of which we just take for granted. Thank him for existence. Delight in the gift of life, in the food you do have, in hot showers and warm relationships with others. And if much is lacking in these, if we are hungry, cold or lonely, take delight in the Lord himself, who is providing what we do have, and who is always with us, even if we feel no one else is. If we seek personal relationship with him, we will find him. In addition to countless others, every happy celibate is a proof of that.

Finally, and bottom line: “Commit to the Lord your way.” Commitment is the core of self-creation, the price of personal relationship, the measure of authentic religion. Without commitment we are just playing games. And when it comes to love, God does not play around. So if our religion is ruled by our feelings, the bottom line is, we don’t have any religion; none God can recognize. We believe because (assuming we have received the gift of faith) we are committed to believe. We hope because we are committed to hope. And, if all other motives fail, we love because love is the ultimate commitment to God. As Saint Teresa wrote: ““Love consists, not in having stronger feelings, but in having stronger determination to set our hearts on pleasing God in everything and to do the best we can not to offend him” (The Interior Castle, “The Fourth Dwelling Places,” chapter 1, no. 7).

If we do these three things. the Psalm makes its own promises:

Trust in him, and he will act.
He will grant you your heart’s requests.
He will make justice dawn for you like the light.

We will find that committed interaction with Jesus is full of surprises. Jesus is an ongoing revelation of the goodness and mystery of God. If we trust, delight and commit, we will find that he is, in fact, keeping his promises.

Pray: “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

Practice: When you feel discouraged, think about what Jesus promises. Choose to hope.

Discuss: Has God ever disappointed you? If so, did he make it up to you later?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Jesus Is A Mystical Experience

January 29, 2015
Thursday of week 3 in Ordinary Time

Jesus Is A Mystical Experience
Let us hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives us hope.

Today’s readings are a “hope sandwich,” with three pieces of lettuce.

Okay, that’s corny, but it does sum up the readings.

The readings are all about hope. Hope in what? Hope in finding access to the mystical experience of God. And the key to it is the physical body of Jesus.

Because God is so close to us in Christianity, we sometimes forget that God is “transcendent,” which we “dumb down” in common speech to mean “above us” or “remote.” In Judaism before Jesus, “the first covenant had regulations for worship” that emphasized God’s transcendence even while giving access to him. There was a place in the temple called the “Holy of Holies,” where God was present in a special way. It was separated from the rest of the temple by a veil, through which only the high priest could enter, and only once a year (Hebrews 9:1).

But Jesus, Hebrews says, replaced the veil with his flesh. His body offered on the cross, is now “the new and living way” of “entering into that which is within the veil.” As members of Christ’s body, by being baptized into his body and into his death, we are not only always in the presence of God; we are in a constant state of mystical union with the Father, Son and Spirit by sharing in their own divine life. That is why Hebrews calls Jesus the “anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast” that lets us  “enter into that which is within the veil.” Because we are “in Christ,” members of his body, living by his divine life, “we have confidence” that we always have access to God (Hebrews 6:19).

Let’s not take this for granted. That would be to downplay its mystery. Do you have constant awareness that, because of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Saint Paul’s summary of the whole Christian message, Colossians 1:27), you can enjoy, whenever you want, an experience of God that is beyond all human achievement? That is because it is not an achievement; it is the gift, the pure gift, of divine faith, hope and love.

To make those gifts an experience, all you have to do is be conscious of them. Enter into your heart. Consciously believe. Consciously hope. Consciously love. If you are believing in, hoping for, and loving what (and whom) Jesus has revealed, those actions are impossible unless Jesus is believing, hoping and loving with you, in you and through you as his physical body on earth. To be aware of that is a “mystical experience.”

The reading from Hebrews suggests three ways to “have confidence of entrance” into the mystical experience of union with Jesus Christ. (Here comes the “lettuce”).

1.  ”Let us hold unwaveringly to our confession [of faith] that gives us hope, for he who made the promise is trustworthy.” It is no small thing to keep the faith. St. Paul lists it as the final “accomplishment” of his life: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2Timothy 4:7). Persevere: consciously, deliberately and actively. We persevere “actively” when we live out our faith, hope and love in action. Those who “bury their gifts in the ground,” without expressing them in action, lose them (see Matthew 25:25). Today’s Gospel reminds us, “To the one who [knows he] has, more will be given; from the one who [thinks he] has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

2.  “Let us approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust, with our hearts sprinkled clean…” We have to seek contact with God by interacting with him and with the community of believers. If we don’t come into the light, we can’t expect to see. If we don’t go where the light is shining—for example, at Mass, in prayer meetings and Scripture study groups, during spiritual conferences, retreats and parish missions—we will remain in the dark about many things. Above all, Hebrews says, “We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some….”

3.  [Let us] consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. The best way to keep the faith is to share it. That is also one of the best ways to experience its reality in our hearts. The same is true for hope and love. We need to reassure those who feel lost, to encourage those who feel their life or work is meaningless or unproductive, and to speak positively about what God is doing in the world, especially in and through the Church. And above all we need to be loving and encourage others to be loving—always, everywhere, and to everyone—especially when we talk about business and politics. Christians should stand out, be “remark-able” for never “badmouthing” anyone, no matter how bad they seem to be. Our goal is to love others as Jesus loves us, and his stance toward everyone is mercy.

Pope Francis speaks of expressing faith, hope and love in The Joy of the Gospel:

114. Being Church means being God’s people, in accordance with the great plan of his fatherly love. This means that we are to be God’s leaven in the midst of humanity. It means proclaiming and bringing God’s salvation into our world, which often goes astray and needs to be encouraged, given hope and strengthened on the way. The Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel.

Pray all day: “Lord, be a lamp to my feet, a light to my path.”

Practice: Get in touch with your divine gifts of faith, hope and love by expressing them.

Discuss: Would you claim to have “mystical experience?” Explain what that is.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Jesus Is The Once And Future Perfection

January 28, 2015
Wednesday of week 3 in Ordinary Time
(Saint Thomas Aquinas, Priest, Doctor)

Jesus Is The Once And Future Perfection
By one offering he has made perfect forever those who are being sanctified.

How can Hebrews say we are “being sanctified,” being made holy, if we have already been “made perfect forever”?

Here we enter into a mystery that pervades Christian life and worship. We exist and act simultaneously in two time-frames.

First, there is the ordinary time-frame of human life, in which there is a past, a present and a future, all mutually exclusive. The past is gone, the future is not here yet, and we live in the present moment. That is what it means to live in time.

But there is a second time-frame—which, strictly speaking, isn’t one—we also live and act in “eternity,” which is not in time at all. Only God is eternal, and in God’s life there is no before or after; there is just one eternal “now.” Whatever we say of God, it “is, was, and ever shall be, now and forever. Amen.”

The problem comes when God, who lives in eternity, makes things happen on this earth, where they take place in time. Let’s pass over the covenant God made with Abraham, and all his interventions in the history of his Chosen People.  Let’s get down to the present.

God has forgiven our sins from all eternity. But in the time and space of this earth, in our time-frame, there was nothing to forgive until we committed them, and then forgiveness didn’t take place until we repented.

Going deeper into the mystery, our sins were “taken away,” ceased to be part of our personal being and history, only because we died in Christ on the cross. That event took place in time: first, when Jesus was crucified two thousand years ago; and second, when we were crucified with him and in him on the day of our Baptism. On the cross Jesus was made to “be sin” by taking us into his body with all the sins we ever had or ever would commit. Now we are in a different time-frame. The sins we would commit twenty years later were already annihilated—in God’s time, which is not time at all, but eternity—on the day we were incorporated into the body of Christ by Baptism.

We encounter this same mystery every time we celebrate Eucharist. Jesus offered himself on Calvary once and for all. That sacrifice can never be repeated. But every day, in multiple places throughout the world, that unique sacrifice is made present to us—really present—in the Mass. During Eucharist we are simultaneously in time and in eternity.

This is why Hebrews can say that Jesus, who as Priest offered himself as Victim on the cross, “holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives [in eternity] to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:24).

And that is why the author can say, “By one offering he has made perfect forever those who
are being sanctified.” In God’s time-frame, which is eternity, the whole of redeemed humanity is already “coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband… clothed with fine linen, bright and pure… the righteous deeds of the saints,” to celebrate “the marriage supper of the Lamb.” We are all “without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind… holy (agia) and without blemish” (Revelation 19:8; 21:2; Ephesians 5:27). In other words, we are “made perfect forever.”

The Rite of Communion during Eucharist is meant to be an experienced preview of this. There, for a few minutes, all present are made one by the one Bread they have received. All are united to Jesus and to one another in the “peace and unity of the Kingdom.” It is a foretaste of the “blessed hope” that we await, the “manifestation (epiphaneian) of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, the King who was, who is, and who will be. What fills our heart is the assurance of Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half heard, in the stillness
Between the two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always--
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of things shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

                          Little Gidding V, Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot (1943)

But in our time-frame, in the time and space of this earth, we are still “being made holy” (agia-zomenouv). We are still performing “righteous deeds,” “working out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). Paul, who professed so confidently, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me,” nevertheless acknowledged that at the same time, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do… For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Galatians 2:20; Romans 7:19).

What “the Holy Spirit testifies to us” is true: on the level of the divine life, the “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,” that we received in Baptism, God has fulfilled his promise: “I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them upon their minds… Their sins and their evildoing I will remember no more,” because our sins have ceased to exist. We have been “made perfect,” once and for all in the death and rising of Jesus.

But in time we have a future, and we must make every effort to achieve it. We are still “being sanctified.”

Jesus is the “once and future perfection.”

Do I choose to “be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect,” confident that in the triumph of “the once and future king,” rex olim, rexque futurus (google it), I already am?

Pray constantly: “Jesus, be the now and future of my life!”

Practice: Live out in the present what you are in eternity.

Discuss: Can you believe that you already are what you are striving to be? Does this encourage you to keep striving?

Jesus Obliterates Sins

Tuesday of week 3 in Ordinary Time
Saint Angela Merici, Virgin

Jesus Obliterates Sins
We have been sanctified through the offering of the Body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Hebrews is arguing that Jewish Christians should not keep offering sacrifices in the Temple according to Jewish law. We have to remember that Jews who accepted Jesus did not think they were changing religions. God had promised to “make a new covenant with the house of Israel,” not by abolishing the law the people had pledged to observe, but by making it “part of their very being” (Jerome Biblical Commentary, 1968). “Its newness consists rather in its interiority: in the immediacy of the people’s knowledge of God” (see January 23 above: Jesus Is An Interior Experience); and in the forgiveness of sin.”

This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts… And they shall not teach one another or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.
…And I will remember their sins no more (Hebrews 8:10, quoting Jeremiah 31:31).

The new Christians originally just kept observing all the Jewish rules and practices, which included offering sacrifices for sins. Hebrews argues that those sacrifices “can never make perfect” those who continue to offer them year after year, since, if they did, the worshipers, once cleansed, “would no longer have had any consciousness of sins.”

The difference here is between being forgiven and being cleansed.  Forgiveness does not take away sins. It does not change anything in the “very being” of those forgiven; it just means God will not hold their sins against them. So it leaves people with an abiding sense of guilt and unworthiness. David prayed:

I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me… I have done what is evil in your sight… Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow... (Psalm 51).

He didn’t ask God only to “hide your face from my sins.” He asked him to “blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” But this was impossible. Sins are part of our history; what we have done we have done, and nothing can change that. God might give us a converted heart, but, no matter how many prayers and sacrifices we offer, he can’t really “create” a “clean” one in us, one that has never sinned. Martin Luther saw this clearly. He truly believed, although he probably did not actually say, that the redeemed soul, forgiven by God, is “like a dunghill covered with snow.”

And that is exactly how many people feel after confessing and being forgiven for sins they cannot forgive themselves for. To those offering comfort they say, “I know I am forgiven, but I still did what I did. That is who I am, and nothing I do can change that.”

The author of Hebrews would agree: “for it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats—or any number of prayers and penances we might perform—could take away sins.”

Then Jesus came; the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” He said, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me.” That body was not just the one he was born with. The mystery of our redemption is that the body that hung on the cross was the body of Jesus the head and all of his members: all those “baptized into Christ Jesus… baptized into his death… buried with him… crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed… For whoever has died is freed from sin” (Romans 6:3).

The body of Jesus that hung on the cross was guilty, because incorporated into it were all who would ever be baptized “into Christ,” including all of our sins: “For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2Corinthians 5:21). When Jesus died, we died in him and our sins were annihilated—totally obliterated. The self who committed whatever sins we committed (or would commit) died and was buried, and our history was over, our record erased.

When you were dead in your sins… God made you alive together with him, having forgiven us all our sins, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:13).

We are not redeemed because Jesus died for us. We are redeemed because, when Jesus died, we died “in him.”

That is why, in the death of Jesus, “Lamb of God,” our sins are not just forgiven but “taken away.” That is why Hebrews says, “We have been sanctified through the offering of the Body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

Forgiveness as a “change of attitude” on God’s part, does not change or purify us.  But when we, with all of our sins, went down into the grave with Jesus, our sins were “taken away,” because we who committed them died in Christ and rose again as a “new creation.” God could and did “create a clean heart in us.”

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!...  a new creation is everything! (John 1:29; 2Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:1).

Through our incorporation into Christ on the cross, the sins that are a part of our life, a part of our history, simply cease to exist. That is the mystery of Baptism.

And it is the mystery of Jesus, the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” We need Jesus, Jesus the divine human being, Jesus in the flesh, to be truly purified of sin. Only when we die and rise in him—in his body, as his body—do our sins cease to be part of our being.

This mystery took place when we were baptized “into Christ.” The same mystery becomes present to us every time the death and rising of Jesus is made physically present to us in the sacrifice of the Mass. That presence presents us wth the opportunity to renew our choice to die and rise in him that our sins might be obliterated.

I can renew that choice now. Do I choose to be united with Jesus on the cross so that my sins will be obliterated?

Pray: “Lord, I give you my body. Let me die in you so that you might live in me.”

Practice: When the host is lifted up at Mass, and every time you see a crucifix, offer yourself again with Jesus on the cross. Put your hand on your heart and say, “This is my body, given up for you!”

Discuss: How do you feel about the sins you have confessed?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Jesus Animates

January 26, 2015
Monday of week 3 in Ordinary Time
(Saints Timothy and Titus, Bishops)

Jesus Animates
Stir into flame the gift of God.

Timothy and Titus were “stewards.” But no more so than the rest of us. St. Paul tells us we should all “think of ourselves in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.” Peter adds: “Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.”

Being ordained bishop like Timothy and Titus doesn’t make one “more” of anything. It just specifies some particular functions that go with that particular gift, and allots the authority needed to perform them. We all have gifts, and, whatever they are, “it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy” (1Corinthians 4:1; 1Peter 4:10).

Saint Paul teaches that “each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift…”

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

And he draws the conclusion:

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:1).

So what is this “manifold grace of God” of which we are all stewards?

We can’t answer in one word, precisely because it is “manifold.” But as Paul continues his letter to Timothy, he gives us one element to focus on: “Our Savior Jesus Christ has destroyed death and brought life to light through the Gospel.”

We need to make people aware that Jesus has “destroyed death.” The problem is that the very ones who most need to hear it, those “who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79), frequently don’t recognize either the darkness or the death in their lives. They think they see all they need to see, and that their lives are all they should be. They don’t “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” because to them their lives seem good and full enough already. They are “rich”—in money, to some extent, but above all in knowledge and virtue; at least in their own minds. Rich enough to be indifferent to or skeptical about God and religion. Of them Jesus says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They have our sympathy.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit—those who know they ‘haven’t got it made’—for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3; 19:24).

Those who presume they can manage perfectly well without God might be shaken out of their complacency by the thunderous words God spoke in answer to Job’s complaints about his government of the universe:

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind:
Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? …I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! …Who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb... when I prescribed bounds for it… and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped’?
Have you commanded the morning… and caused the dawn to know its place?
Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this. Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness…? (Job 38:1).

Those who “sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” need to be given some inkling of the light they don’t see, and of the “breadth and length and height and depth” of life they can’t even imagine until they “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.”

To give them that is our job as “stewards of God’s mysteries” and of “the manifold grace of God.” Today’s readings remind us: “Stir into flame the gift of God that you have.”

When Jesus was speaking about “the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his household,” he said, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”

“From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded” (Luke 12:42).

So do you choose to let Jesus stir you into flame?

Pray:  “Lord, make e an instrument of your peace!”

Practice: Notice limitations. Ask how God enables us to transcend them.

Discuss: What would you say to people who are satisfied to live without religion?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Jesus Is An Exit Sign

January 25, 2015
3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus Is An Exit Sign
The world in its present form is passing away.

An Exit sign gives hope. It tells us there is an outside, and shows us the way to get there.

If anything is clear, it is that we need an exit. “The world in its present form is passing away.” That has three meanings:

1. The world is passing away from me. My “time is running out.” I have a temporary visa.

2. The end of the world is coming. The world as we know it will not continue forever.

3. All of creation is moving toward fulfillment.

The “end” of the world can mean two things: its termination or its goal. For Christians it has the second meaning. We believe that God, using the efforts of human beings, is realizing his “plan for the fullness of time.” And we know what his plan is; it is “to gather up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.” This is the Good News: “Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God: ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand.’”

Jesus invites us to help him make it happen. He says to each of us, as he said to Simon and his brother Andrew, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Christians know, and are charged to “bring to the Gentiles the Good News of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things.”

We consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. All of creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God… Creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
For in hope we were saved (see Ephesians 1:10; 3:9,16; Romans 8:18).

Jesus is our “Exit” sign. He tells us there is something outside of this world and shows us the way to get there.

He also tells us what is on the other side. We know God’s “plan for the fullness of time,” both for ourselves and for this whole glorious, messed up, declining and developing dramatic world. It is to “gather up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.”

Our expectation and our firm hope is “that Christ will dwell in our hearts through faith, as we are all being rooted and grounded in love; and that we will be given the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that all of humanity may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

For us, our exit is an entrance. Jesus is the Exit sign that tells us there is a place to go and shows us the way.

So do I choose to see Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life?

Good and upright is the Lord; he shows sinners the way.
He guides the humble to justice, and teaches the humble his way.

Pray: “Teach me your ways, O Lord.”

Practice: Make a point of noticing Exit signs. Give them their ultimate meaning.

Discuss: What does Jesus give you to look forward to?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Jesus Drives Us Crazy

January 24, 2015
Saturday of week 2 in Ordinary Time
(Saint Francis de Sales, Bishop, Doctor)

Jesus Drives Us Crazy
In the midst of the Church he opened his mouth,
and the Lord filled him with the spirit of wisdom and understanding.

I was a teenager on “V-J Day”—“Victory over Japan Day.” The war with Japan that began on December 8, 1941, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, ended on August 15, 1945, the feast of the Assumption (both dates Japanese time). The day the news of Japan’s surrender was announced, the country went wild. People were dancing in the streets, hugging and kissing friends and strangers alike.

Today’s Gospel shows Jesus producing a reaction something like that. When he “went home” to Capernaum, word got around that the “healer” was there, “and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat.” Jesus just kept preaching and healing, so much so that “when his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’”

It is normal that Christians should come across as a little bit nuts. We have Good News incomparably better than the ending of World War II. The Responsorial Psalm urges us to celebrate it:

All you peoples, clap your hands, shout to God with cries of gladness, for the Lord, the Most High, the awesome, is the great king over all the earth.  God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord.

We should go crazy in every liturgy. If we don’t, it isn’t because the news isn’t good enough. It is because we either don’t appreciate it, or we are too hung up to celebrate it. Or both of the above. But the bottom line is, if what we know of Jesus Christ doesn’t drive us wild with joy, we have never been evangelized.

Pope Francis wrote in The Joy of the Gospel:

1. The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew… I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy….

This is not going to happen as it should until Catholics make Mass the enthusiastic, joyful celebration it is supposed to be. The Eucharistic celebration as we have it today is neither “eucharistic” (from the Greek word for “thanksgiving”) nor a celebration. It is, at its worst, an hour of concentrated apathy during which a priest in Holy Orders trained to perform his role like a robot presides over the inactivity of an assembly of passive sheep who, although they are priests by Baptism, were trained to be unaware they have any role to perform at all.

Before the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), this was not the laity’s fault. The hierarchy purposely stripped them of all active participation in the Mass in order to impress on them that Eucharist is a mystery which, like the arcane Latin of its ritualistic expression, only the clergy could understand. Clericalism combined with legalism gave us centuries of centralized regulation by an inevitable succession of control freaks in the Vatican that eventually succeeded in squelching all spontaneity in the “colonies”—which, without using the word, was the way the Curia perceived the dioceses outside of Rome. Add to this the “triumphalism” of liturgical vestments arraying presiders in robes of royalty that proclaim them to be on an entirely different level of existence than the laity—and even more so when the presiders are bishops, cardinals or popes—and you have the deadly troika of “clericalism, legalism and triumphalism” that the bishops recognized and rejected in the first session of Vatican II.

Now the hierarchy is pleading with the laity to participate at Mass. Vatican II proclaimed that “Mother Church earnestly desires all the faithful to be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy… and is their right and duty by reason of their Baptism” (Vatican II Decree on the Sacred Liturgy 14). But it may take another century or more to bring about the necessary change of mind in the laity. It has already been fifty years since the Council, and we are far from achieving it. This is the fault both of the robotic clergy, who are still programmed by legalism and clericalism, and of the uninvolved laity who don’t care either to learn or to change.

We can’t implant the Good News until people perceive us as “out of our mind” with the joy of it. If we can’t show that in Eucharist, we have to find other ways.

The martyrs were perceived as “out of their mind” because of the joy with which they risked and lost their lives. Missionaries are perceived as “out of their mind” because they leave the comfort and security of their homeland (or neighborhood) to give help to total strangers. Anyone who has “left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for the sake of the good news”—whether by taking vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience in a religious order, or by putting all these at risk by living the Gospel radically in “the ordinary circumstances of family and social life,” business and politics (Vatican II, “The Church” 31)—comes across clearly as being “out of their mind.”

The essential is to live in a way that doesn’t make sense unless we are “out of our mind” with enthusiasm for the Good News. And the point is that this comes from knowing Jesus.

So the question is, “Do I choose to let Jesus drive me crazy?”

Pray: “Lord, make me drunk with new wine!”

Practice: Keep asking what the Good News gives you to be excited about.

Discuss: What do people think is crazy in your lifestyle?

Jesus Is An Interior Experience

January 23, 2015
Friday of week 2 in Ordinary Time
Saint Vincent, Deacon, Martyr

Jesus Is An Interior Experience
God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ.

Suppose you met someone who could show you God? Not as a spectacle, but in a way that would let you know God as he is, and enter into a real relationship of personal knowledge and love with the Father, Son and Spirit. Would you cultivate that person?

That is what Jesus does. He is not just a teacher who talks about God. Jesus is able to give us knowledge of God. He can reveal God to us, not just by speaking words outside of us, but by infusing his own knowledge of God—Father, Son and Spirit—into our hearts.

What we call the “gift of faith” is precisely that: a gift. It is the gift of sharing in Christ’s own divine act of knowing himself, his Father and his Spirit. He shares his act of knowing with us by taking us to be his body, sharing his act of living with us, his own divine life, so that we say with Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). By the power of that new Life, we see and know and choose and act in a new way, a way that can only be explained by Jesus acting with us, in us and through us.

This is the “new covenant” that God promised to “establish with the house of Israel.” And Jesus is the key to it:

After those days, says the Lord, I will put my laws in their minds,
and I will write them upon their hearts.
I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
And they shall not teach, each one his fellow citizen and kin, saying, “Know the Lord.”
For all shall know me, from least to greatest.

Before Jesus, religion was generally understood as accepting certain truths revealed by God and observing certain laws or rules that followed from them. Praying through praise, thanksgiving and petitions was part of it. Religion was a way of responding to the reality of God governed by things that came from outside of oneself. One gave internal assent to truths one learned from others, and external obedience, based on internal submission, to rules passed down from others. Religion was perceived as interaction between human beings and a God outside of or “above” ourselves.

It would be absurd of course, to assume that, before Jesus and Pentecost, no one ever experienced divine life, mystical communication with God, inspirations from the Holy Spirit, or the love of God poured out in their hearts. Paul testified that “when Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires… they show that what the law requires is written on their hearts.” And God never reduced religion just to external observances: “For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. Rather, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart—it is spiritual” (Romans 2:14, 28).

But the gifts of “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” were not revealed or identified as they would be later by Jesus, and people did not think of them as the ordinary experience of “religion” or, in Judaism, of faithfulness to the Covenant.

In the new covenant, keeping God’s commandments is not religion, but a preliminary to full relationship with God. “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them” (John 14:21). Christianity begins with Jesus revealing himself in our hearts, together with the Father and the Spirit.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you… On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you (John 14:15).

With Jesus, religion becomes less a way of dealing with a God outside of oneself, following guidelines learned from others, and more a way of experiencing God within oneself, and following the yearning and inclinations of one’s heart—conscious, of course, that in this one is surrendering to God. “for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).

We call God “Father,” not because we were taught that this is the proper way to address God, but because we have “received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God... And because we are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:16; Galatians 4:6).

In our new relationship with God, we still each teach each other, of course, but not as if we were saying, “Know the Lord.” That knowledge is already poured out in our hearts, enlightening our minds. “For all shall know me, from least to greatest.” This is the grace, the gift of Baptism. It is inside of us; we just have to become conscious of it. How do we do that?

The first step is to stop focusing on laws. To keep God’s commandments is love; to make them the focus of our religion is Phariseeism. “You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace… For in Christ Jesus… the only thing that counts is faith working through love”; that is, knowing God in our hearts and expressing what we know in actions that reveal Christ’s presence within us (John 14:5; 1John 5:2; Galatians 5:4).

So never do what the letter of the law says without asking what the Spirit in your heart is saying about it. Through the Spirit we hear the voice of Jesus.

The second step is to focus constantly on the “law in our minds, written on our hearts.” We do this by “abiding” in Christ, and letting his words “abide” in us by reading and reflecting on the words he is speaking to us now in Scripture, hearing and discerning the words he is speaking in our hearts (John 15:1). We “obey” (from the Latin ob and audio) by listening. And we listen to what is within us, where the Father, Son and Spirit are dwelling in our hearts. For Christians, obedience is always a response to the voice of God speaking from within us now.

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away. See, everything has become new! All this is from God… In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself… and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Do I choose to live my religion as an interior experience of Jesus Christ, and to be an “ambassador” of this religion to others? Like the “Twelve whom Jesus named Apostles that they might be with him and he might send them forth”?

We can’t choose one without the other.

Pray: “Lord, let me hear your voice and live!” (John 5:25).

Practice: Frequently, put your hand on your heart in a way nobody will notice, and say, “Jesus.”

Discuss: Do you experience your religion more as responding to something or someone outside of you, or to something or someone inside of you?