Monday, January 1, 2024

The Burden of the Age
Life’s burdens come in many forms.  What is a burden for one may not be a burden for another.  But what is certain is that everyone either carries or has had to carry burdens in their lifetime.  
Of all the possible burdens that may come to us, it is wise to consider which are the heaviest, the most debilitating, and really the most unnecessary.  There is a difference between those that are essential in our lives and those holding us back from the life we were meant to live.
Essential burdens revolve around commitments and responsibilities necessary for growth, development, maturity, and our humanity in general, such as family and community demands, personal obligations, charitable outreach, care in times of illness, etc.
A story from the life of St. Jerome illustrates a kind of burden that is the opposite, that holds us back from the future that Jesus has for us.  
St. Jerome had just finished decades of work on translating the Bible from Hebrew to Latin.    It was around Christmas time, and Baby Jesus appeared to him and asked him what gift he would give to Him for his birthday.  Jerome responded by offering Him the work he had just completed.  Jesus was pleased but told Jerome He wanted more.  Jerome then offered Him his life, his heart, his prayer.  But each time, Baby Jesus asked for more.  Finally, Jerome asked Him, “What else can I give you?”  Jesus smiled and said: “Jerome, give me your sins!”
This is probably the heaviest burden people bear today: the sins, guilt, and regret of things chosen and done in their lifetimes.  This can be true even of those who regularly go to Confession.  We come out again, not really understanding our sins are gone. We confess like Protestants who believe only that their sins are covered over.  Catholics do not believe this.  We believe that once our sins are confessed, they are gone forever.  God remembers them no more; even the devil can no longer access them to accuse us.  
While penance and reparation are good and necessary, they are meant to strengthen us in our resolve and, in the grace of repentance, not become a new burden to carry.  Jesus does not stay stuck in our sins the way we do.  He does not constantly revisit them the way we do.  He wills to remember them no more.  They are gone.  Instead, Jesus beckons us to follow Him into the future.  It does us no good to stay back, clutching our forgiven sins as though they are still there.  And it is even more deleterious not to confess at all.  Unconfessed guilt can make us sick and so unbalanced psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually that we become incapable of building and living the kind of life that would make us and those around us happy. 
The movie The Mission illustrates this dynamic well.  Captain Mendoza, one of the main characters, a mercenary involved in the slave trade, kills his brother in a duel after finding him with his fiancĂ©.  His regret is so powerful that it becomes a force for his own conversion, even bringing him to the point where he joins the Jesuits as a missionary to the native peoples.  His self-imposed punishment/penance is to drag a large net full of heavy armor and the tools of his mercenary life as they travel through the jungles to establish a mission among the people who live there.  At times on the journey, his brothers try to free him of his burden by cutting the rope that continually drags him backward.  But he doesn’t believe he is forgiven until finally, the native people he has exploited demonstrate forgiveness by cutting the rope that binds him to the past.
Rather than dragging the burden of sin into the new year, we also can be done with it once and for all. In the Confessional, the Priest who hears our Confession “in persona Christi,” in the Person of Christ, takes the sword of the Spirit and severs the sin, the regret, and the guilt of it from our lives.  This causes great rejoicing in heaven and, at the same time, fills our souls with the energy, hope, and joy in which Jesus can begin fulfilling His promises in us.

1.     What are some of the common burdens people carry today?


2.     What do you think is meant by “Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ?” Galatians 6:2 


3.     What might be some unnecessary burdens we place on ourselves that actually hinder us in our relationship with God and with others?


4.     What are some ways we can lighten another’s load?

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Our Lady and the Prophecy of Simeon

Every person’s life is marked by sorrows and joys. The two are often intertwined in such a way as to make one impossible without the other.

When considering Our Lady of Sorrows, it is good to keep in mind that sorrow is always related to love. We do not grieve what we do not love. The higher the love, the more profound the grief when the good we love is lost, threatened, abused or violated in some way.

Who can measure the sorrows of Our Lady? The fullness of grace abiding in her infused her with a love that transcends our human limitations. Because of this, her sorrow can also be immeasurable.

Simeon’s prophecy, as Mary and Joseph present the infant Jesus in the Temple, is the first public pronouncement to Mary of where her relationship with the God-Man, her child, will take her. Simeon utters mysterious words:

“Behold this child is set for the fall and for the rise of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; And thy own soul a sword shall pierce that out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed.” (Luke 2: 34-35)

These words are intriguing. But they can be understood from the perspective of Mary's unique motherhood. What mother does not know her child so well that even those things that seem otherwise hidden, are not hidden to her?

As children, we were amazed by this in our mothers. We would exclaim: “How did she know that? Does she have eyes in the back of her head?” Actually no. But mothers have eyes at the center of their hearts. Love gives one a vision into things that are otherwise concealed. And that love encourages us, like no other, to remedy any evil or disorder in our hearts. With great solicitude, a mother knows us as we are and draws us to become all we’re meant to be.

There is some interesting scientific research that gives support to this even on a biological level. At a congress entitled: “At the Dawn of Human Life,” organized by the Institute of Gynecology and Obstetrics of the Catholic University of Rome, during the Jubilee year 2000, Professor Salvatore Mancuso, head of the Gynecology Institute, presented some fascinating findings. The research gave proof that beginning in the fifth week of gestation,

“…when a woman realizes she is pregnant, an infinite number of messages pass from the embryo to the mother, through chemical substances like hormones, neurotransmitters, etc….and the embryo sends stem cells that colonize the maternal medulla and adhere to it. Lymphocytes are born from here and remain with the woman for the rest of her life.” Mancuso stated: “From the fifth week there is clearly a passing of cells, but messages begin at conception. Even during the first phases of cellular subdivision, when the embryo is moving in the fallopian tubes, there are transmissions through contact with the tissues touched by the moving embryo. Later, after implantation in the uterus, the dialogue is more intense through the blood and cells, and chemical substances that enter the mother’s bloodstream. Finally, the child’s stem cells pass to the mother in great quantity both at the moment of birth, whether spontaneous or Caesarean, as well as at the time of abortion whether spontaneous or voluntary.”

When asked how long the fetus’ influence on the mother lasts, the professor answered: “Stem cells have been found in the mother even 30 years after the birth. It could be said, therefore, that the pregnancy does not last the 40 canonical weeks, but the woman’s entire life. It is somewhat as though the thoughts of the child pass to the mother, even many years after his birth.”

This is what Simeon’s prophecy is about, though in a spiritual sense. It is a prophecy of the universal motherhood that will be given to Mary in the agony of Calvary. As a mother knows everything about her children, and suffers not only for, but with her children, Mary, in an extraordinary way, was so one with Jesus in His sufferings and death that she is rightly called Co-Redemptrix. As her soul was mystically being pierced on Calvary, Jesus opened up a place large enough within her, to take on a universal motherhood for all of us.

In one way, Mary’s sorrows flowed from the sufferings of her innocent Divine Son. In another, they flowed from her maternal union with us and our indifference and ingratitude toward God's unfathomable love for us. Her distress over those children who reject their Father's love keeps her always at work and in intercession for the restoration of this relationship. She is near us always, helping us in all adversity, affliction, heartache and difficulty.

St. Pope John Paul II puts it beautifully this way: “Mary Most Holy goes on being the loving consoler of those touched by the many physical and moral sorrows which afflict and torment humanity. She knows our sorrows and pains because she too suffered, from Bethlehem to Calvary…Mary is our Spiritual Mother, and the mother always understands her children and consoles them in their troubles. Then, she has that specific mission to love us, received from Jesus on the Cross, to love us only and always, so as to save us! Mary consoles us above all by pointing out the Crucified One and Paradise to us!” (1980)

Mary continues to mother us from the death of sin into the Risen Life of Christ, laboring to bring us to true holiness, so that we can be born into eternal life and everlasting happiness. When we are all safely home, it is then, as the best of Mothers, that her joy will be complete.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Giving Up Secrets

People seem to have a lot of secrets these days. We could almost say we live in an age of secrets. Governments have become skilled at keeping secrets; businesses are adept at the same thing. Institutions, whether they be educational, medical or religious, all keep secrets for both good reasons and not so good reasons. But this reflects people in general. People tend to keep a lot of secrets.

There is a pressing need to recognize that secrets make a difference. They can determine the direction of our lives, and the manner in which we pass from this world into the next. For whatever reason, people today seem to have more secrets than ever. They have secret activities, secret wounds, secret weaknesses, secret sins, secret fantasies, secret lives. People have secret thoughts, secret addictions, secret jealousies, secret plans, secret ambitions, family secrets, secret judgments, secret desires…secrets without number, secrets we keep even from ourselves.

Few of us can admit to being ready for heaven when we consider that in heaven, our insides will show on the outside. Nothing will be hidden. Everything will be transparent. Transparency here would completely change our image. And because we are often not willing to change, we keep secrets.

At the same time, even though we hide things about ourselves, we have a certain affinity for, or attraction to the secrets of others. There is almost nothing people like better than hearing a good secret. Why? There are several reasons. One, it diverts attention away from our own secrets. But we also love secrets because we love hidden knowledge. We live in a state of being that is still looking for something that hasn’t been completely revealed to us yet. We’re searching, whether we know it or not, for the one Word, so to speak, that will answer all of our questions and give sight to the vision, the understanding we seek.

The devil knows this about us. Would that people understood that the devil has to penetrate the world of knowledge by study and observation too (albeit with a superior intelligence,) and that he perverts what he knows to his own ends. Those ends are not full of happy consequences for human souls.

He is interested in luring people away from the real light. He does it with promises of hidden knowledge, just as he did in the Garden of Eden. (This is also one of the most lucrative marketing techniques around. Money rolls in when you claim to have the secret to long life, to health, to beauty, to happiness, to success. This is also one of the reasons professional gossips, psychics and clairvoyants prosper in our culture today. People want to know those secrets.)

We on the other hand, have the source of all knowledge, the fount of pure Wisdom and Light in God Himself. And we have been given, in Jesus Christ, and through His Church, a direct line to that source, Who is for us, our true Father (the Father of all lights). The temptations of some dark meddler should never cause us to turn our glance away from our Good Father, as our first parents did in the Garden, and as we so often do in our own lives.

Interestingly enough, Jesus mentions that the Father Himself keeps secrets from the “wise and learned” and reveals things to the “little ones.” Why is that? (This might have been a good question for Adam and Eve to have asked as they were being tempted to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.) We know most certainly that God never does anything without good reason, and a reason that redounds, often in mysterious ways, to our greatest benefit.

Might it be that God protects the sacred and hides divine treasures for our sake? Anyone who has studied covenant knows that profaning the sacred is dangerous. We can be destroyed by our profanation. A simple look at the human wreckage surrounding the modern desecration of the gift and mystery of sexuality confirms this.

In other words, could it be that just as Jesus told us not to cast pearls before swine, He follows His own counsel with us? He puts His treasure in safe places…He is careful with what is precious beyond measure. And at the same time He is merciful to those of us who would have a terrible accounting to give for squandering a poorly understood gift, if we received it and did not really appreciate or care for it.

Secrets like this can be a good thing; in fact they can be a very good thing if their purpose is to protect a treasure (whether that be jewels or a reputation) from vandalism or theft, misuse or destruction.

But some secrets should never be kept. And unfortunately, people usually have more of these kinds of secrets.

We pay a price for many of the secrets we keep. We can safely say, I think, that many of the sicknesses of our age are determined by the secrets we keep. This is well known in the world of addiction and co-dependency: “We are only as sick as our secrets.” This is actually a psychology that was first explicated in the Sacred Scriptures. Psalm 32 says: “I kept it secret and my frame was wasted…” The distress, the groaning, the anxiety, the depression, the disturbance of so many today more often than not comes from holding secrets that should not be kept.
St. Paul mentions this relationship between spiritual realities and physical consequences. He says, in 1Corinthians, 11:29: “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” With the rising tide of illnesses in our age, we await a physician who will make this connection and diagnose the real cause of so many of the physical and psychological disorders of our day.

I know a woman who struggled with terrible depression much of her adult life, watched Mother Angelica faithfully, but would not take the secret of her abortion to the Confessional. She died recently and my prayer is that before she died she finally released her secret into the loving mercy of God so she could enter her heavenly home with “joy and an upright heart.” Her secret certainly didn’t keep her in peace or bring happiness into her life. In fact, it brought her to the verge of a mental breakdown.

So why do we keep the secrets we do? This is a mystery really, since we only fool ourselves in keeping these kinds of secrets. God is certainly not fooled. There is nothing He doesn’t know about us. The story of Ananias and Sapphira, found in the fifth chapter of Acts, tells us exactly what can happen when we dissemble before God. They pretended (to the Lord, as St. Peter points out) that they were giving everything to the community of believers, when in fact they retained a portion for themselves which they could have rightfully retained if they had chosen to. After St. Peter had spoken, Ananias, and later his wife Sapphira (who arrived late and was questioned separately) both died on the spot, apparently for attempting to deceive God.

Keeping secrets from God is impossible, and it can be deadly! If not immediately, then at our own judgments, when in our encounter with God Who is pure Love and Light and Goodness, all that is hidden will be revealed. To our own overwhelming confusion we will find ourselves suddenly naked before the Lord, rather than clothed in the garments of grace He so freely and continually offers us, all because fear, or attachment or pride kept us from giving up our secrets.

Does this mean we should blurt out everything to everyone all the time, like they do on the tacky talk shows that seem to pollute the air waves? No. There is something inherently debasing about psychologically disrobing in front of millions of people. There is something degrading about vomiting up things in public that properly belong in a counselor’s office and more often in a Confessional where the justification, relief and redemption that people are really seeking can be given.

This is really how Saints actually begin to become Saints. They get rid of their secrets. And they don’t lie to themselves about who they really are. That is why they are such shining examples of humility. They know themselves in Truth, and it sets them free to soar to the heights! They give their secrets, both their sins and their treasures, over to God. He takes the sins, and in Confession completely annihilates them, wills to remember them no more. They are gone, gone, gone, with no more power to determine their life, and will never again reappear in accusation against them, even at the end of time. Never!

And then our Father does an even more astounding thing. He begins giving them “treasures out of the darkness and riches that have been hidden away.” Isaiah 45:3 He takes miserable secrets and begins to replace them with the secrets He holds. What an exchange! The saints are no fools! They know this bargain is unmatched anywhere in the whole universe. In the heart of our Redeemer, we are given, by way of His own sacrificial love, infinite riches in exchange for giving to Him our sinfulness, our pride, our imperfections, our self-importance.

Great Confessors, like St. John Vianney and St. Padre Pio spent themselves in this work of getting people to give up their secrets so that they could begin to know the deep things of God in their lives. There is a reason the sacrament of Peace and Reconciliation is an Easter Sacrament. There is a reason that the Holy Spirit, Who comes in Pentecost like a mighty wind to sweep out the secret and dark recesses of our souls and fill them with fire and light, is the culminating gift of the Easter season.

Our Blessed Mother, the most pure creature who ever lived, was without secrets of her own. She kept only those God gave her. And because of that, there is no one more beautiful, more radiantly transparent in the living of the Mysteries of the Most Holy Trinity. In Her many apparitions in the last centuries, we can hear the cry of our good Mother when she bids us return to the Sacraments and live the Gospel way of life. One of the things She is saying with great affection and urgency, as if speaking to a little child, is: “Run! Run and whisper your secrets to your Father. All of them! And be assured that He will give treasures out of the darkness and riches that have been hidden away especially for you!”

Monday, July 29, 2019

A Life Freely Lived

From the perspective of eternity, there is really only one urgency:  the salvation of souls.  Birthing souls into eternal life is a labor that is perhaps the most hidden, and yet, most valuable labor of all.  This is not the kind of work many people ever think of or even consciously involve themselves in. Yet when the weight of what is at stake is felt, and an eternity of either endless happiness or endless torment is understood within the depths of a soul, great hearts are moved in the likeness of Jesus’ own heart to do whatever they can to keep even one soul from being lost.

A century ago, a group of men called the One-Way Missionaries, freely chose to serve that urgency by purchasing one-way tickets to remote parts of the earth where the Gospel had not yet been proclaimed, or where the Good News was treated with life-threatening hostility.

Those who volunteered to go did not expect to return, and most of them didn’t.  They packed their belongings into a coffin meant for their own burial and set off to strange lands, willing to pay the highest price so that their forgotten brothers and sisters might know the surpassing greatness of Him Who calls us out of the darkness and into His marvelous light.  (1 Peter 2:9)

One of the most famous One-Way Missionaries was a Scotsman named A. W. Milne who volunteered to go to the New Hebrides in the South Pacific to live among tribal headhunters.  He knew when he left, that these tribes had already killed every missionary sent before him.  And yet, something must have stirred Milne’s heart with graces of Divine appointment and courage. He must have been able to utter the words of St. Paul about himself:  “I no longer live but Christ within me lives.”  When that happens, the fire of Christ’s passion for souls takes over and drives a person to go where they would never go otherwise.

Milne was the right missionary for the right time and place.  He lived among the tribal peoples for 35 years, and when he died, the people buried him in the center of the village and marked his grave with the following epitaph:  “WHEN HE CAME THERE WAS NO LIGHT.  WHEN HE LEFT THERE WAS NO DARKNESS.”

What sentence would capture the story of our lives and reveal the level of our involvement with things that really matter?  Can we win souls for Christ if every difficulty, every set-back, every tough battle causes us to whimper, to complain, to become discouraged, to crumble?  Doesn’t the enemy like to see soldiers who run, who hide, who desert because they don’t believe the battle is worth the blessings it will obtain?  

If the highest currency in the economy of Redemption is a love freely willing to lay down its life for a brother or sister in danger of being lost eternally, how rich are we really?  And how free are we really if we can’t make the sign of the Cross in public or pray at a restaurant before eating because of what other people might think?  Self-interest doesn’t get us far in eternity.  "Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it."  Lk 17:33  Wrong choices lead to unhappy endings not just for ourselves but also for those that follow us.

On the bright side, it is possible to bring many souls to eternal happiness simply by loving them as best you can. A smile that pierces through the oppressive fog of loneliness, a friendly inquiry, a genuine assist in difficulty, a non-judging, concerned presence; these can be life-changing moments for people because they break through the dismal experiences life has taught them to expect, and stir hope, giving signs that life has better possibilities.  Loving like this is not always easy.  It can involve real sacrifice.  But sacrifice is love in action and proof of its authenticity.  

The real mission of Christ, of the Church, of ourselves, is not necessarily somewhere far away in a foreign land. Some will be called to foreign lands.  But even for them, the real mission, as Pope Francis says, is the human person.  “Today...every dimension of the human being is mission territory, awaiting the announcement of the Gospel."  Christ's mission is all around us.  

A soul that becomes able to completely lay down its life for others, in whatever form that takes, walks straight into heaven at the end of this life.  Nothing holds it back or weighs it down.  It goes immediately to its source in the Heart of God because it has already tasted and drunk freely of this life-giving love in its own life.  This love is what changes the world and secures beatitude for all those who come in contact with it and receive it into themselves.

The Church and her mission of salvation will never lose relevance and will never be conquered.  We either fight with her and for her through every storm no matter how severe or frightening, or we abandon her and ensure our own demise.  Jesus doesn't ask us to spread the kingdom and fight for our brothers and sisters only if things are easy and perfect.  He asks us to fight and stay faithful precisely because they aren't.  He will do the rest.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Discernment In The Modern World

One of the banes of modern life is the ubiquitous presence of bad entertainment, bad both in the sense of poorly crafted and in the sense of poisonous content. It's an observation that can be applied to books, movies, music, TV, and other forms of leisure activity as well. What constitutes healthy food for the mind and soul? We have great concern for the health of our bodies and our environment. And we feed them and protect them accordingly. At the same time, we seem to have much less conscious concern for what goes into our minds, our souls, our spirits. We simply consume whatever is offered, no longer recognizing the difference between junk food and delicacy, nutrients and toxins.

This can be very dangerous. It's a lot like seeing a glass of cold, refreshing water, after coming in on a hot, dusty day. The reaction is immediate, and almost overwhelming. We would, without thinking, take the water and drink it. But if someone told us that despite it's inviting appearance, the water actually had e-coli in it, we would not approach it, much less drink it, no matter how thirsty we were, knowing it would be hazardous to our health.

This is very much like what happens when we indiscriminately read or watch whatever is the latest rage, whether it be fictional stories, movies, TV shows that mock God, believers, our faith, or current book marketing of pornography (now particularly targeting women's readership). So many times people say: "it's not so bad. It's just a little sex, or just a little violence, or just a little language."

The reality though is that it doesn't matter whether the poison is hidden in small amounts. A little poison will kill you just as dead over time. When our emotions, our passions, our senses, apart from our intellect, make our decisions for us, we are capable of drinking to the dregs whatever contaminant is presented to us. And today, very deadly poisons abound. Our culture prizes acceptance, tolerance and open-mindedness. It has been noted though that the danger comes when people become so open-minded their brains fall out. Pope Benedict mentioned that knowledge for its own sake only leads to sadness, and sometimes to much worse things.

This is not a new problem. The young St. Teresa of Avila had an attraction to the romance/adventure novels of her time, until she realized that the illusions, vanity and worldliness they sowed in her were a great obstacle to her life in general and to her relationship with God in particular. They did not help her live in reality and especially in the reality of her dignity as a woman, a beloved daughter of God with a great destiny, a great part to play in the life of the Church and the world.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, Founder of the Jesuits, also had this problem before his conversion. He is famous for realizing how the books he read affected the movements of his soul, for better or worse. While recovering from a serious battle injury, he began to recognize that the worldly books he was fond of, and which also fed his vanity, gave him a feeling of excitement which quickly passed and left him feeling discontented and restless. On the other hand, when he read books on the lives of the saints and their great deeds, he found himself inspired and filled with a desire to follow their example. These feelings did not change. From this simple observation St. Ignatius developed his principles for discernment, which are now indispensable teachings for anyone serious about the spiritual life.

We of course need discernment in many areas of our lives. And because we live in a complicated age, it is good to look for some general direction. One place to find this is back at the very beginning. God gave some very simple directions for life in the Garden, and repeated them again after the fall, through Moses. He told Adam and Eve that they could eat from the Tree of Life and the other trees in the Garden, but not of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Later, He reiterated this directive again to the Israelites in Exodus. "Choose life that you may live."

In all honesty, when our question becomes: "Is what I am about to say or see or do, life-giving to me and those around me" we are able to frame issues in a new light. This is not the only question we sometimes need to ask. But it is a very good place to start and finish. Is this life-giving or is this poison to me, to my relationships, to my own dignity or someone else's dignity? It is a question that can be used with many of the choices we should make today with more deliberation than we do. And it is a question that avoids the dissembling of moral relativism. Something is either life-giving to all involved, or it is not. If it is not, it is to be avoided.

God's commandments and the Church's counsels are not meant to cramp our style or dampen our fun. They are simply meant to protect us. God knows what is good, what is healthy for us. And He also knows what will make us sick in body, mind and spirit. Technology and the creative powers of mankind in many different fields have the potential to serve life or to bring death, both physical and spiritual death, depending on how they are used. If we truly want to live and live well the abundant life Jesus promises us, then we have to stop starving our own souls and start discerning how to eat more plentifully from the Tree of Life.

Of Billboards, Prophecy and Resurrection

If you have traveled national highways much over the last decade you may have noticed a battle of the billboards: Believers vs. atheists. Believers post things like: “ The Fool Has Said in His Heart there is no God.” “Life is Short. Eternity Isn’t.”–God “To All Our Atheist Friends: Thank God You’re Wrong!”

Atheists post things like: “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.” “In the Beginning Man Created God.” And, “Want a Better World? Prayer Not Required.”

These signs are obviously very public postings with specific intent. But there is room to wonder what these signs tell us about the age we live in. There is no doubt that western society has adopted a militant spirit against believers. But not all believers. God forgive us but we are not bothered by believers in abortion, believers in freedom to pursue every type of perversity, believers in almost any kind of religion, even violent ones. We are not bothered by believers in systems or ideologies that consistently degrade or offend against human dignity. But we are “bothered” by believers in Jesus Christ! We are bothered by His effect on people, His power to persuade people, to influence them, to change their lives.

It points, in a timeless way, to the story of the Passion narrative which we have just celebrated these last days. Caiaphas, the high priest involved in the orchestration of Jesus’ execution unwittingly prophesies the real significance of Jesus’ death.

As the Sanhedrin met, the argument went like this: “What are we going to do? If we leave him (Jesus) alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation.” 

“…Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish. He did not say this on his own, but since he was high priest for that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation... So from that day on, they planned to kill him.” John 11: 47-53

The argument is that bad things happen when too many people believe in Jesus. Our civilization is held back and the glory of man in all his capacity for achievement is retarded. Ignorance and religion are equated and held to be responsible for man’s lack of development.

The origin of this perspective, of course, is man’s own ego. When man becomes the measure of all things, as he is in the secular order, God, whether you believe in Him or not, has to be marginalized. In fact, He is more marginalized in our culture than any of the minorities we like to point to.

What’s more, it can easily be argued that we live in a world that is still trying to kill God, and which justifies this by assigning the prevalence of tragedy to believers. From the beginning of time, this dynamic has been so pervasive we should really recognize it more quickly than we do. Religion, but especially the Judeo-Christian tradition, must be done away with because it is the cause of wars, evil, ignorance and injustice. The cause is not the corruption in the heart of man, but belief in God! And not the Greek kind of God who sits on top of Mt. Olympus randomly throwing bolts of lightning at his unsuspecting subjects. But a God Who is Father to us, Who is full of mercy, goodness, kindness, Who has made everything for our delight and betterment, and Who loves us with such a crazy love that He has even been willing to die for us. This is the God that we work with might and main to deny and exclude.

What’s even crazier is that we tried to definitively destroy Him once. But then He rose, conquering death, all evil in the process, and claiming for us an inheritance that utterly transcends anything that can ever be taken away from us. And what is the reaction? The same as the reaction of the Pharisees to Lazarus. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and because so many people came to believe as a result, the furious response of the Pharisees was: “Let’s kill him again!”

Somehow we become bent on destroying the eternal, because the eternal intrudes upon our immediate plans. Why we are so interested in preserving our “mess of pottage” over the infinite treasures promised us is one of the strange ironies of our fallen nature. And yet in our attempts to deny and destroy the existence of God’s real presence among us, we testify to it at the same time.

As we celebrate with special fervor, amidst the disbelieving “signs” of our times, and solicitous for the salvation of all our brothers and sisters, our hearts catch the new fire of the Easter light that pierces the darkness of doubt hanging over the world in which we live. Jesus has triumphed in Resurrection, in glory and majesty; and within the embrace of Our Blessed Mother, whose singular faith during the Paschal Mystery emboldens us, we hold His light for the world to see until He comes again in glory! Alleluia! He lives no more to die, but lives that all may have eternal life!

Finding Intimacy In the Desert

In the depths of our being, we all crave intimacy, connection.  We enter the world connected and remarkably well-equipped, even as babies, to draw others into relationship with us.  The very first moments of a baby's life have to do with bonding, with cementing fundamental relationships with mother, father, siblings, grandparents, extended family.  It happens in a rather mysterious way, before a baby has developed verbal language or conscious powers of reasoning.  Nonetheless, by his very existence he draws people to himself by something that goes beyond a mere sense of obligation or duty on the part of the adults around him.

Agape, or the unconditional love of God for humankind, is sometimes described as being like the innocent love of an adult for a baby.  This is how God loves us!

From the beginning, this being in relationships is so much a part of us, so deep a need, that, by our nature, we are always seeking real relationships, and suffer deeply when we are deprived of them.  This is very much in keeping with our being made in the image and likeness of God Who lives in a communion of Persons and Who desires to share this happiness of a relational life with us.

It is equally true that almost from the beginning, the evil one sets out to disrupt and destroy not just particular relationships but all relationships.  He knows that if he succeeds in dividing us from God, we will become divided from others, and divided within ourselves as well.  Once God is removed, everything fragments.  Relationships fall apart.  This was the strategy of the evil one in the Garden of Eden.  This is still his objective in every temptation he sends our way.  When one considers the incredible breakdown of marriages and family relationships, it is obvious he excels at this.  Yet, it is interesting to note that among couples who regularly pray together, the divorce rate is 1%, a striking contrast to the 50% rate found in society at large.  God keeps us together.  The evil one tears us apart.

True relationships are always a threat to the evil one.  They have a power in them that defeats him.   It is no surprise that they are his central target.   He severed himself from his relationship with God and all that is good.  He now seeks to pull everyone else out of that same relationship.  And so, there is always hidden, within any temptation, a challenge to our relationship with God and the way we live it, which invariably affects the relationship we have with ourselves and with others.  What is presented to us is presented in the guise of a good, but the thrust of it always seeks to disturb or break our relationship with God.

Today, a successful strategy used by the evil one is the lure of "alternative" relationships, perhaps with other people, with nature, with technology, or even with himself, (though it is misleading to speak of the possibility of having a real relationship with the devil since he seeks ultimately, not our good but rather our destruction, and has lies and deceptions without number to accomplish it.)  He draws us in countless ways, sometimes through vain curiosities that waste time, through pursuit of base appetites, through legitimate goods such as digital gadgets that end up replacing personal relationships in many people's lives.  He falsely suggests that the intimacy and inspiration we crave is more effectively met in these ways, than in fidelity to God and our loved ones.

Jesus went into the desert to show us the necessity of immersing ourselves in  our relationship with our Father.  When we are in deep communion with Him we easily recognize temptation and its core object.

It is intriguing to watch what Jesus does as He is tempted by the devil.  He does not debate the truth or lie of Satan's statements for there is always some truth in temptation.  He knows clearly Satan's aim.   Jesus hears the suggestion to abuse grace by turning stones into bread, to presume on or test God's love by throwing Himself down from a height (and every fall from grace is exactly that) and to replace worship of God with the worship of Satan in the interests of exalting Himself as ruler of the kingdoms of the world.  Jesus responds by defending the Father's ways and holding fast to Him.  Real love always recognizes a threat to its treasure and is not moved by self-interest but rather willing to sacrifice self to preserve that treasure.

Jesus shows us that in the desert, in a poverty where we strip ourselves of excess and superfluous things, we much more easily attend to and are able to enter into this living relationship with God.   This is what our life is truly about.  In the desert, less is more.  In the desert we are actually strengthened, not weakened.  In the desert, God can speak to our hearts, as the prophet says (Hosea:  2:14).  In the desert, we conquer, with Christ, the evil one who is always looking for ways to take us out.

The traditional practices of Lent:  prayer, fasting and alms-giving have this aim.  They are not mere disciplines or exercises of will. They are instruments of healing, meant to strengthen our relationships, especially in areas where we have either been negligent or where the evil one has caused damage.  Prayer helps heal and strengthen our relationship with God.  Fasting heals the brokenness we have within ourselves, addressing especially our tendencies to selfishness.  Giving alms helps to heal the brokenness we have in relationship to others.

Holiness is really nothing more than this: being in right relationship with God, with each other, and with ourselves.  Lent is a time in which particular grace is given to correct our relationships and bring us to the intimacy with God we are created for.  When we come to this kind of holiness then we will have power and protection against evil, joy even in the midst of suffering, and grace-filled effectiveness in whatever God asks us to do in mission and ministry.  May this Lent bring us, through the Holy Spirit, to become one with Jesus in His love for the Father, His love for us, and His love for all our brothers and sisters.  May Our Lady enflame our desire for this life of love, and especially accompany us and protect us in our efforts.