Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Lord, you know me.

Three years ago today I entered Holy Orders in the Catholic Church. The following is the reading for today's St Philip Neri feast day. Amen and amen.

From the Confessions of Saint Augustine, bishop
(Lib 10,1,1-2,2;5,7 CSEL 33, 226-227, 230-231)

Whoever I may be, Lord, I lie exposed to your scrutiny

Lord, you know me. Let me know you. Let me come to know you even as I am known. You are the strength of my soul; enter it and make it a place suitable for your dwelling, a possession without spot or blemish. This is my hope and the reason I speak. In this hope I rejoice, when I rejoice rightly. As for the other things of this life, the less they deserve tears, the more likely will they be lamented; and the more they deserve tears, the less likely will men sorrow for them. For behold, you have loved the truth, because the one who does what is true enters into the light. I wish to do this truth before you alone by praising you, and before a multitude of witnesses by writing of you.

O Lord, the depths of a man’s conscience lie exposed before your eyes. Could anything remain hidden in me, even though I did not want to confess it to you? In that case I would only be hiding you from myself, not myself from you. But now my sighs are sufficient evidence that I am displeased with myself; that you are my light and the source of my joy; that you are loved and desired. I am thoroughly ashamed of myself; I have renounced myself and chosen you, recognizing that I can please neither you nor myself unless you enable me to do so.

Whoever I may be, Lord, I lie exposed to your scrutiny. I have already told of the profit I gain when I confess to you. And I do not make my confession with bodily words, bodily speech, but with the words of my soul and the cry of my mind which you hear and understand. When I am wicked, my confession to you is an expression of displeasure with myself. But when I do good, it consists in not attributing this goodness to myself. For you, O Lord, bless the just man, but first you justify the wicked. And so I make my confession before you in silence, and yet not in silence. My voice is silent but my heart cries out.

You, O Lord, are my judge. For though no one knows a man’s innermost self except the man’s own spirit within him, yet there is something in a man which even his own spirit does not know. But you know all of him, for you have made him. As for me, I despise myself in your sight, knowing that I am but dust and ashes; yet I know something of you that I do not know of myself.

True, we see now indistinctly as in a mirror, but not yet face to face. Therefore, so long as I am in exile from you, I am more present to myself than to you. Yet I do know that you cannot be overcome, while I am uncertain which temptations I can resist and which I cannot. Nevertheless, I have hope, because you are faithful and do not allow us to be tempted beyond our endurance, but along with the temptation you give us the means to withstand it.

I will confess, therefore, what I know of myself, and also what I do not know. The knowledge that I have of myself, I possess because you have enlightened me; while the knowledge of myself that I do not yet possess will not be mine until my darkness shall be made as the noonday sun before your face.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Living in the Ascension

Thursday: 14 May, 2015 –– Ascension Day

Living in the Ascension

On this Ascension Day we reflect on our Lord’s physical departure from this world and his return to the Father. The Ascension is important both for Jesus himself and for us.

The Ascension was important for Jesus because he is God. It was a return to his status prior to his humiliation (see Philippians 2:6–11). In the Ascension we see Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords.

The Ascension was important for Jesus because he is Man. The Ascension brought closure to his work of redemption. In his Incarnation, Jesus forever joined humanity to divinity. In his Death, Jesus atoned for the sins of Adam’s race. In his Resurrection, Jesus proved the triumph of life over human death. In his Ascension, Jesus opened the way for a redeemed and still-physical humanity to have an eternal existence beyond the boundaries of this world as we know it.

The Ascension is important in a special way for us. As Jesus ascended to heaven and took his place at the right hand of the Father, he has the premier role of Intercessor and Mediator for his people. As our Great High Priest, the wounds of his hands and feet and side constantly plead for mercy.

The Ascension is also important for us because it establishes our identity even as we live in this world. As surely as Jesus, our Head, has ascended to heaven, we––Christians, the members of his Body––already have our place in heaven. The Body is connected to the Head, and so St Paul admonishes the Colossians (and us): if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God (3:1–3). The Ascension is the culmination of our baptism. Those who have died with Christ share with him his place in heaven.

This means the Ascension shows us that this present world is not all there is. As we live in a world that tries to dominate our affections and desires, we are reminded that this world is not our home. There is nothing in this current world that is more important than the heavenly destiny that is ours through Jesus Christ.

On this Ascension Day, we rejoice that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father. He has gone to prepare a place for us (John 14:2). He prays for us (Heb 7: 24b,25). He shows us that our lives are far more than a rationalistic world comprehends.

We are invited to live each day in response to the Incarnation, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of our Lord. Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Loving Like Jesus

May 10, 2015 –– 6th Sunday of Easter
Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44–48 / 1 John 4:7–10 / John 15:9–17
Loving Like Jesus

Jesus says, Love each other as I have loved you (Jn 15:12b). The Apostle John repeats and emphasizes this theme in his first letter: love one another (1Jn 4:7).

Probably nothing is more misunderstood in today’s world than God’s kind of love. Certainly no standard of behavior is higher or harder than this call to love like Jesus. This is one reason the Mass starts with a confession of sin. Who of us consistently loves like Jesus? It is when we grasp something of the way God gives his love to us in Jesus Christ that we begin to understand what it really means to be called a Christian.

C. S. Lewis once observed, “It costs God nothing, so far as we know, to create nice things; but to convert rebellious wills cost Him crucifixion” (Mere Christianity). Another writer added this perspective: “When God wanted to defeat sin, his ultimate weapon was the sacrifice of his own Son” (Charles Colson, A Dangerous Grace). We can rightly say that the essence of Christianity is love––love that is defined and modeled by Jesus Christ.

Jesus says, As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you... (Jn 15:9). How did the Father love the Son? It was not by shielding him from the horrible things in a broken world. Starting with being born as a baby under the stigma of poverty and coming to the semi-climax of cruel death by crucifixion, God is saying that his kind of love means self-sacrifice. The Son obeyed the Father by turning away from all the shortcuts and self-serving; the Son obeyed the Father by suffering and dying. It was then that the Father honored the Son by raising him from the dead.

Our tendency is to want joy apart from pain––glory without the crucifixion. Most people turn away from facing the realities of a broken world. When we attempt “love” apart from Jesus, we find ourselves frustrated and hurt in ways that make us feel all alone. The Gospel proclaims that Christ died so we might live, but we only truly live as he lives––and that means dying as he died. If we do not die to ourselves we cannot live to God, and if we do not live unto God we are already dead.

It is natural desire true joy in life. All of us want to experience real love. So we are invited to look to Jesus. Hear what Jesus says about love. Notice how Jesus shows us the love of God. Being a Christian does not mean having the easiest life possible in this world. When we insist on our own way––on our own convenience and our own understanding––we are not following Jesus. When we try to live life our own way we hurt ourselves and others around us. We cannot truly love apart from the vulnerability of self-sacrifice.

I’ve told this before, but I am here today because the Lord took me deeper into what it means to follow him in sacrificial love. In my “previous life” (besides being a Protestant pastor) I was an obsessive bird hunter and clay shooter. I carefully prioritized shooting in my weekly schedule. From September through March I was in the field with my birddog every Thursday on my day off. That was my time, and few things would cause me to change my priority. But in the late 90s, as I began to be aware of some significant “holes” in my spirit, my daughter hit a crisis. We had taken Katie to Africa on a mission trip when she was ten years old, and we had all taken a drug to prevent malaria. It turned out that the drug could have serious side effects (particularly on young people), and Katie began to experience clinical anxiety and deep depression in her freshman year of high school. One Thursday morning she was unable to get out of bed because of fear and emotional darkness. I was already dressed for my day of hunting, but it was quickly apparent I needed to stay home with her. There was no question of what I would do, but how would I feel about it? The Holy Spirit spoke to my heart and the issue was clear: would I stay home all sullen and feeling sorry for myself that I could not be doing what I wanted to do.... or would I embrace this opportunity to love my daughter with a whole heart?  So I prayed––right there in the hall outside Katie’s bedroom––and told the Lord to change my heart. That was a major step early in my journey to be here as I am today. 

When Jesus calls us to lose our lives for his sake, it to means something in our day-to-day choices. One way we show our faith that Jesus is the Christ when we choose to die to our self-centeredness. We are most like Jesus when we choose to go through our days serving others instead of always trying to please ourselves. This is one way we fulfill the description of love that Jesus gives: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (Jn 15:).

Every one of us desires love. Jesus shows us that the way to get love is by giving love, and this means being willing to give ourselves away. Give yourself to Jesus  in a new way today. Let’s let him live his love through us.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A St Anselm prayer

Yesterday the Church honored St Anselm.  The following reflection prayer is wonderful.  I pray this and my heart cries yes, yes, yes....

From the Proslogion by Saint Anselm, bishop

My soul, have you found what you are looking for? You were looking for God, and you have discovered that he is the supreme being, and that you could not possibly imagine anything more perfect. You have discovered that this supreme being is life itself, light, wisdom, goodness, eternal blessedness and blessed eternity. He is everywhere, and he is timeless.

Lord my God, you gave me life and restored it when I lost it. Tell my soul that so longs for you what else you are besides what it has already understood, so that it may see you clearly. It stands on tiptoe to see more, but apart from what it has seen already, it sees nothing but darkness. Of course it does not really see darkness, because there is no darkness in you, but it sees that it can see no further because of the darkness in itself.

Surely, Lord, inaccessible light is your dwelling place, for no one apart from yourself can enter into it and fully comprehend you. If I fail to see this light it is simply because it is too bright for me. Still, it is by this light that I do see all that I can, even as weak eyes, unable to look straight at the sun, see all that they can by the sun’s light.

The light in which you dwell, Lord, is beyond my understanding. It is so brilliant that I cannot bear it, I cannot turn my mind’s eye toward it for any length of time. I am dazzled by its brightness, amazed by its grandeur, overwhelmed by its immensity, bewildered by its abundance.

O supreme and inaccessible light, O complete and blessed truth, how far you are from me, even though I am so near to you! How remote you are from my sight, even though I am present to yours! You are everywhere in your entirety, and yet I do not see you; in you I move and have my being, and yet I cannot approach you; you are within me and around me, and yet I do not perceive you.

O God, let me know you and love you so that I may find my joy in you; and if I cannot do so fully in this life, let me at least make some progress every day, until at last that knowledge, love and joy come to me in all their plenitude. While I am here on earth let me learn to know you better, so that in heaven I may know you fully; let my love for you grow deeper here, so that there I may love you fully. On earth then I shall have great joy in hope, and in heaven complete joy in the fulfillment of my hope.

O Lord, through your Son you command us, no, you counsel us to ask, and you promise that you will hear us so that our joy may be complete. Lord, I am making the request that you urge us to make through your Wonder-Counsellor. Give me then what you promise to give through your Truth. You, O God, are faithful; grant that I may receive my request, so that my joy may be complete.

Meanwhile, let this hope of mine be in my thoughts and on my tongue; let my heart be filled with it, my voice speak of it; let my soul hunger for it, my body thirst for it, my whole being yearn for it, until I enter into the joy of the Lord, who is Three in One, blessed for ever. Amen.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Bread of Life

Tuesday: April 21, 2015 –– Third Week of Easter
John 6:30-35
The Bread of Life

Rationality is one of the ways humans are “special” creation in the image of God. Because of sin, rationality is now both a strength and weakness. Human rationality has given us the scientific method with the resulting technological marvels which so enhance our lives today. On the other hand, our gift of rationality brings a distortion to our broken spirits so that we tend to make explanation and understanding the dominant criteria for total acceptance.

This even effects the Christian community. An otherwise good desire for understanding can become an autonomous spirit that demands “where is that in the Bible?” or, even worse, denying elements of the supernatural because secular conditioning has become so pervasive in our culture. Many people who desire to be known as Christians are spiritually crippled because the pride of human reason is stronger in them than a hungry humility to be shaped by the Spirit of God.

A short-circuit has developed that causes a disconnect between what we confess and what we truly (practically) believe in day-to-day life. As an example, I offer the following little exercise in Christian reasoning….

The essence of Christian Faith depends on the Incarnation––the belief that Almighty God entered our world and lived as a single human being in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. This is the explicit confession of earliest Christianity. St Paul says it like this in his letter to the Colossians:

He is the image of the invisible God.
the first-born of all creatures.
In him everything in heaven and on earth was created,
things visible and invisible.

All were created through him,
all were created for him.
He is before all else that is.
In him everything continues in being. (1:15, 16a, 17)

This is not irrational (granting the total supremacy of God), but it does go beyond human rationality. Even as human rationality has opened modernity to an awareness of the immensity of the universe and the intricacies of molecular structure, Christians believe that the God who created everything in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, was able to “condense” himself and live on earth in the visible embodiment of one human being! And so St Paul, still writing to the Colossians, says it again: In Christ, the fullness of deity resides in bodily form (2:9).

All of this is foundational for what we find Jesus saying today in the Gospel: The bread of God is that which comes down from the heaven and gives life to the world…. I am the bread of life.

Human rationality wants to argue that Jesus is speaking figuratively. The Church, from the beginning, has taught that Jesus is speaking literally (as he himself emphasizes in the concluding words of this sixth chapter of John’s Gospel).

As a Christian who was formed in deep faith outside of the Catholic tradition, I had always embraced the truth of the Incarnation. My journey into what I believe is the fullness of the Faith (which is one way to describe the Catholic Church) brought me to the place of considering what Jesus meant when he said I am the bread of life. I needed some way to process what was becoming more and more clear: that the Church, from the beginning, has taught that Jesus is speaking literally.

At some point I had a personal epiphany: If the God who created everything in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, was able to “condense” himself and live on earth in the visible embodiment of one human being, then is it any more far-fetched to believe that the physical Jesus is able to “condense” himself again and again into what appears to be a mere wafer of bread?

We in the Church have been given a gift that goes beyond rationality. That is the nature of our Faith. (If “god” is no more than what makes sense to our human reason, then we do not believe in God; we only believe in ourselves.)

The bread of God is that which comes down from the heaven and gives life to the world.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Judgment and Mercy

April 12, 2015: 2nd Sunday of Easter––Sunday of Divine Mercy
Acts 4:32–35 / 1 John 5:1–6 / John 20:19–31
Judgment and Mercy

On this Sunday of Divine Mercy we are drawn into the heart of God that is revealed to us in Jesus Christ. The beloved apostle John writes in his first letter: God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins (1Jn 4:9,10). 

We look at the cross and see the justice of God. The cross is a picture of what happens when disobedience (sin) comes against the righteousness of God. But even more, look at the cross and see the mercy of God––the water and the blood flowing from the heart of Jesus. God chose to let the repercussion of evil fall upon himself instead of letting righteous judgment fall on us.

With this, two things become very significant. First, the righteous judgment of God is a reality. God is a righteous judge simply because he is God. This is inherent in God’s very character and being. Second, there is a mercy that rises above judgment. Just as the law of aerodynamics supersedes the law of gravity so that a huge jet plane can fly thousands of feet in the air and come down without crashing, God provides a mercy that supersedes judgment falling on us. But, if we choose to reject God’s mercy (because the nature of love involves a true choice), then just as the law of gravity is still in force alongside the law of aerodynamics, God’s righteous judgment remains. Understanding this part of Truth is the reason that the reality of Mercy is so incredible.

In itself, the righteous judgment of God is a good thing. It is the basis for true goodness and order. Humans have been created to hunger for goodness and order. There is a problem, though, that is our fault. Disobedience undermines goodness and order, and in our brokenness we have distorted views of what is truly good. (This perspective is mostly missing from the issues popularly discussed by mainstream media.)

Still, we look at some things and say “How awful!” Our world gives us such prompts almost every day; our news is filled with shootings, terrorism, child abuse…. When we say How awful! we are confessing our desire for true goodness and order. We are also passing judgment that something is horribly wrong. When G. K. Chesterton was asked what was wrong with the world, he replied “I am.” Each of us is broken, and when all our brokenness gets stirred into the pot we find ourselves living in a truly broken world.

The only way out is through mercy. We need mercy. Because we are broken––and because all that is right and good and true is rooted in God––there are only two ultimate options for us. Each one of us is on a path either to judgment or to healing. Our healing (and our holiness––our sainthood) is possible because Jesus took upon himself the righteous judgment of God. This is Divine Mercy.

When we are truly honest with ourselves––in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and what I have failed to do––we know that we need mercy. Apart from mercy we cannot escape the righteous judgment of God. When we truly believe that God has given us mercy in Jesus Christ, we see ourselves and our world differently.

I often look at a crucifix and think, “He took my place.” We are invited to hear Jesus still say, at least figuratively, Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.

I look at a world filled with hate and evil, pain and death, and think, “This is what happens when God’s ways are ignored and rejected.”

Then I hear that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures. I recognize that what is proclaimed about Jesus came from eyewitnesses whose lives were transformed, and they were willing to die for what they had seen and experienced. So we have John ending his Gospel by saying, Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

We are not told everything we would like to know. Yet we have been given enough to understand the difference between mercy and judgment. This is what mercy desires: that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. 

On this Sunday of Divine Mercy, turn away from the evil lies that bring judgment to our world. Keep your heart open to the mercy of our Lord and hear his welcoming words: Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed. They shall obtain mercy. May each of us be numbered among them.

Sunday, April 5, 2015


"....when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward" C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

O grave, where is your victory? St Paul to the Corinthians

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