Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Reflection on the Sacrament of Baptism


I was in San Francisco for a family baptism event.  The following was my homily:


The Strange Things Catholics Do
A Reflection on the Sacrament of Baptism 

The Catholic Church has been a popular target in the media. Certainly there are people in the Church who have done awful things, and it is horrible when those people are the ones who are supposed to best represent who the Church really is. This is a reminder that we must differentiate between “Catholic people” and true Catholic Faith.  People have –– and are –– problems.  That is one reason we are here today.

The Catholic Church is also a popular target in the media right now because it seems the Church is against some basic human rights and freedoms.  We live in a society that generally believes people should be free to do whatever they want to do, but most people do not think that through.   Total individual freedom would be anarchy, and so there must be boundaries somewhere. Yet boundaries are limits to freedom.  The question is, who decides where those boundaries are drawn and on what basis are those decisions made?  Is it mere majority?  (The majority went along with some awful boundaries in Nazi Germany –– a terrible reminder that the majority can be horribly wrong). If not popular opinion, then what?  The Catholic Church believes God has told us and shown us what is right and good and true in the person of Jesus Christ. The Catholic Church also claims that it is the extension of the truth and reality of Jesus Christ into the world throughout time.  (I’d love to give some good reasons why the Church can claim this, but I’m already stretching this occasion!)

What I hope I can do in these few minutes is give a context to help understand this occasion which brings us together. In traditional homiletical form there are three points which can give a framework for what we call the Sacrament of Baptism.

The first is an observation that can hardly be contested: our world is broken and we need help to make things better. Of course there is widespread and huge disagreement as to the nature of the problem and what needs to be done.  The Church teaches that God made our world and all that is in it, with human beings as the pinnacle of his creation. God created us with rational abilities beyond that of other animal life –– a key component of that is moral, so that humans alone have the capacity for “right and wrong” while other animal life simply performs according to its particular nature. God gave us us this capacity because he created us to have a loving relationship with him, and love has be to freely given to be “love.”  This carries with it the inherent choice not to love, but to turn away.... and this is what God’s human creation –– we –– have chosen to do.  We try to find our own way.  We do what we think will make us fulfilled and happy, and we too often get it wrong. The result of turning away from loving God, of not responding to him as he designed us, causes brokenness, pain, and death.  We need to get back in touch with the “Manufacturer’s instructions.” This is part of a basic worldview that forms Catholic Faith. 

Volumes of books have been written just on these few observations. Our brokenness extends even to our ability to perceive and understand.  The corollary to making decisions to find our own way is to shut God out, and when God is shut out a thick canopy descends on our world and what we see and understand.  Yes, we have incredible abilities to see and understand what we think is the “natural” world –– we are fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s image.  It is the things we do not see–– and with our darkened spirits, cannot see–– that leaves us continuously trying to find a way to right all the wrong that keep us floundering. We try to fix our world as we think it is, but so many ignore –– even reject –– the invisible spiritualities.

It was into this situation that God chose to do something amazing. This takes me to a second point: God chose to come into our world as one of us so that he could show us (and not merely “tell” us) what is right and good and true.  This is the crux of Christian Faith. God works within the world he has made to come close to us and give us a hope beyond pain and death –– Jesus Christ, the God-Man, not only living a perfect human life, but also being willing to be hated for it to the point of being killed so he could absorb all the evil and pain and then come back from the dead never to die again in order to prove that it’s all true.... We are invited to believe he has opened this door so the same thing can happen to us.  Christianity is Jesus Christ –– God becoming Man, showing what is true, dying for it, and then rising from the dead.

Christians believe there are good reasons to believe this is really true. And if this is true, then it changes the way we look at our world and ourselves.  It is a paradigm shift, like the world experienced when the Ptolemaic system was shattered by Copernicus.  The Catholic Church offers a worldview shift that makes sense of our realities and gives us a hope beyond the limits of our broken world.  This is the third major point: What Jesus started with his personal teaching, death, and resurrection, he chose to continue through the Church. Jesus gave the Church the power to extend his salvation into our world. It is a spiritual reality that is a mystery, but those who are open to see it find a spiritual revolution that brings transformation to the whole world.

Some people wonder why, if all this is true, there isn’t more tangible evidence. Why aren’t Christians immediately and totally transformed? Why aren’t “proofs” for God more forthcoming? Do you remember why I said God gave humans the ability to disobey from the beginning? God wants our love, and love cannot be coerced –– even with overpowering proofs. The greatest “proof” of Christian Faith is the changed lives of people who allow Jesus to work his life into theirs. History is full of them.  The Church has at least as many saints as scoundrels. This is what brings us to Baptism.

In the language of the Church, disregarding God and his ways is called “sin.” Jesus gave the Church the power to forgive sins. Jesus is always working (he really is alive), and especially working through the Church, to give us life and hope. Jesus works in and through the Church to change lives. The calling of every person on earth is to be like Jesus, the perfect human being. That is what a saint is, and we are all invited to become saints. Baptism is the first step in the process of becoming a saint! This is the highest calling in the world.

Hear what the Church says in the Catechism: “Baptism is the first and chief sacrament of forgiveness of sins because it unites us with Christ, who died for our sins and rose for our justification, so that we too might walk in newness of life” (CCC #977).

It is important to know, however, that Baptism is not an end in itself; it is the “gateway to life in the Spirit and the door which gives access to the other sacraments” (CCC #1214, emphasis added).  Unfortunately, not all baptized people live up to their baptism –– “the grace of Baptism delivers no one from all the weakness of nature” (CCC #978). The priest scandal shows that.  But here is the issue: Am I living out of my Baptism?  If you are baptized, are you following Jesus? Riley and Emmalou will need further teaching, good models, and encouragement to continue what is starting today.  That is why the parents and godparents make promises. Baptism initiates a journey.... a spiritual journey of wholeness that takes us into all God first intended when he created human beings.

On a practical note, why “baptism” –– this particular expression with water? God loves the material world he has made. God works to save us by entering the tangible expressions of this world. When God acted to save us, he came into our world in a physical body.  This is called the Incarnation, and the Church teaches and models incarnational salvation through what are called sacraments. God comes to us in Baptism through water (and Jesus continuously gives himself to us through the bread and wine of the Eucharist). That things so common can be so powerful is a mystery. We can never comprehend God, but we can be open to his life and the power it brings.

Baptism extends a very particular image: the death and resurrection of Jesus. Notice what St Paul said in his letter to the Romans: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (6:3-4). That is why we use the sign of the cross –– this symbol of the death of Christ is placed on us in our Baptism and we are called to renew it continuously.

Something incredible happens when people do this: they are transformed. Christians are people who are being turned into the likeness of Jesus Christ. This is salvation. When it happens, the Church is beautiful, and people see love and are given hope. When it doesn’t happen, there is no sign of the hope we can have over pain and death. Riley and Emmalou are being given this great gift today. We can enhance this gift to them if we allow the Faith that Jesus gave to the Catholic Church to grip our own lives so that the girls have models that say to them “it’s really true”.... and not just some strange thing that Catholics do.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Personal Update








Libby and I are "stranded" in San Francisco….  We flew out last Friday so I could do baptisms for Libby's first cousin's grandchildren.  Anyway, we are being treated ROYALLY, but our return on Monday was cancelled due to the storm –– and we cannot get back to Baltimore until LATE Thursday night, where our car awaits, undamaged we hope, in long-term parking.  Our delay in San Francisco resulted in another trip to Fisherman's Wharf and lunch at Alioto's overlooking the Bay. The Golden Gate Bridge is in the background with the bottom enshrouded in fog and the tips protruding with Vista Point behind..... Quite a contrast to what "back home" is having to deal with.....

Little and Great

From today's Magnificat: "Whatever is menial, puny, insignificant – this can expect to eventuate the kingdom of God.... Nothing glorifies God more than for something of no consequence to rely on divine mercy so as to become identified with God himself."

Friday, October 19, 2012

Safe and Secure


Friday: 19 October, 2012 –– 28th Week in Ordinary Time
Ephesians 1:11–14 / Luke 12:1–7
Memorial for Saints John de Br├ębeuf and Isaac Jogues and Companions
Safe and Secure

I enjoy reading early American frontier and colonial history. During my later childhood years I thought that being like Daniel Boone was about the grandest thing a man could do. About thirty years ago I discovered a series that chronicled the opening of the northeastern American frontier and it described events that are not for the squeamish. The Huron and Iroquois tribes were masters of torture, and today the Church remembers eight members of the Society of Jesus who were tortured and killed by those tribes in the 1640s.

We do not know what it is like to fear daily for our lives because of prevalent enmity and violence. We are concerned with safety and security, trying to guarantee that no terrorists will do another awful thing to our homeland. We take for granted the services of people whose jobs exist for our protection –– police, firefighters, emergency medical personnel.  A lot of money is spent to guarantee security; many homes have elaborate security systems. I read of more and more people getting permits to carry concealed weapons. We want to be safe and secure.

I’m afraid that the comforts of our society and culture have seduced American Christianity. We are more preoccupied with which political candidate can secure our particular agendas of safety and security than seeking to know what God is wanting to do among us. And how many Christians in America actually consider that our Lord may be asking us to obey him in ways that could, indeed, make insecurity a real presence in our lives?

We are not living with the threat of Huron and Iroquois torture –– praise God, but are we living in fear of speaking out for the Truth of Jesus and his Church? What will we do if faced with deciding between (relative) financial security by going along with the moral status quo or not complying with government regulations and losing a job? What do we do when people around us are defending homosexual behavior or couples foregoing marriage?  Do we fear the accusation of bigotry or being a Neanderthal?  Is our highest priority just being left alone so we can live our lives in relative safety and security?

Jesus says, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more.... Be afraid of the one who after killing has the power to cast into Gehenna (which was a metaphor for hell). Saints Isaac and John and the others were “only” killed in body. Yes, they suffered awful deaths, but they are now with the Lord.

I do not consider myself an especially brave person. I do not have a desire to be a martyr. But I do fear “Gehenna” and I want no part of it.  By the grace of God I have a desire to be faithful. I want to be faithful in my preaching. I want to be faithful in the way I treat others. I want to be faithful as a Christian citizen. I want Jesus Christ to be honored in my life. I want the same for you, and that’s why I have said these things....

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What's Inside


Tuesday: 16 October, 2012 –– 28th Week of Ordinary Time
Galatians 5:1–6 / Psalm 119:41–48 / Luke 11:37–41
What’s Inside....

We are easily obsessed with what can be observed. We try so hard to come across as competent, attractive, “right” –– and we bow to those things when they appear powerfully in others.  Unfortunately, religion can be one of the worst offenders. We can be deeply concerned about the impression we give to others in our churches, but not very careful about what is actually true in our hearts.  Over and over we find this is a big issue for Jesus.

Today’s Psalm selection is significant for me. Sometimes when I read Scripture I am aware of the Holy Spirit stirring me so that I notice particular verses in a special way. I then give attention to those verses by personal reflection and return to them again and again. Psalm 119 is long, and each section is part of Daytime Prayer over the four-week cycle in The Liturgy of the Hours.

Sometime during the process of resigning from my previous pastorate and entering the Catholic Church I sensed that “stirring” when these verses occurred (Monday, Week 2). There were people close to me who reacted badly to my journey and my heart took refuge in Lord, let your love come upon me / the saving help of you promise / and I shall answer those who taunt me / for I trust in your word. Then, as I faced the possibility of having no significant preaching ministry again, the next stanza took me deeper in trust: Do not take the word of truth from my mouth / for I trust in your decrees / I shall always keep your law / for ever and ever. And I knew the supplication was intimately connected to the affirmation –– the “right” to preach only comes to those who “keep your law”, or as a following stanza expresses it: Your commands have been my delight / these have I loved / I will worship your commands and love them / and ponder your will.

Even when I know that I do not fully keep God’s commands –– who can say, day after day, that he loves God with all his heart and soul and mind and strength, and his neighbor as himself? –– I know that I want to. I want to obey.... I want the Lord to be glorified in my life.... I want to serve my Lord and Savior (and not myself).

This means being honest before the Lord every day. This means being more concerned about an obedient heart and a clear conscience before God than what others think about me. Some (who are dear to me) may never understand how I could become Catholic (and may criticize me to the grave), but I have to keep integrity in my heart.  Others have lauded me to the skies for my “faith” and my “obedience” and told me (again and again) what a blessing I am to them for having come into the Church. That’s nice, but being praised for what is seen on the “outside” is not what people who follow Jesus are about.

All I know to do –– and this is, I think, the most significant thing the Lord has worked and continues to work into me –– is seek that place of abandonment where I learn to pray Mary’s response every day: “May it be unto me according to your word....”  That is the way we take care of what’s inside.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Sign of Preaching


Monday: 15 October, 2012 –– 28th Week in Ordinary Time
Galatians 4:22–24,26–27, 31–5:1 /  Luke 11:29–32
The Sign of Preaching

One of the ways that God communicates is through something the Bible calls preaching. Preaching is given such importance in the Scriptures that we continue to do it today. This Gospel reading emphasizes the importance of preaching.

The crowd who tried to link Jesus with the devil had also asked for a sign from heaven. They wanted Jesus to provide some kind of flamboyant display to prove himself; his preaching and healing were not enough. Jesus' answer is that the sign they will get is, in one sense, the one God has always given. And what sign is that? It is the proclaimed Word of God. The added difference for these people is that the preacher was not merely Jonah or Solomon; it was the Son of God.

When the Queen of Sheba came to visit Solomon (you can read that story in 1 Kings, 10), it was the words which Solomon spoke that convinced her of the truth of Israel's God. When Jonah went to Ninevah, it was his preaching that brought the king and the whole city to repentance.

So, Solomon was one of the people God has spoken through in the past. Jonah was a preacher that God once called to give his Word. Then the Son of God himself came and gave God's Word perfectly and completely. Thus preaching today is distinct in one way: we preach Jesus Christ. He is the final Word. We do not go beyond what Jesus has shown, and we certainly do not want to stop short of what he has said and done concerning God's truth. Solomon's message was wisdom. Jonah's message was one of judgment and repentance. Jesus preached and modeled whole truth, and so our message today is Jesus.

Understanding, then, that God calls some people to the special task of preaching and honoring Jesus Christ, what might we expect to be the result?  Jesus gives the answer here. The words of Solomon were enough of a sign for the Queen of Sheba to believe. Jonah's words were enough of a sign for the Ninevites to repent. And now that the Son of God himself has come to give us God's Word, we have more than enough of a sign for our own faith. But that’s not always the result. Sometimes the Word is preached and people do not believe. There is no repentance, only a continuing in self-obsessed behavior. That was the case with the crowd surrounding Jesus. They heard the Word of God from Jesus himself, but it wasn't enough. The Queen had heard Solomon, and Solomon was enough. The Ninevites had heard Jonah, and Jonah was enough. The crowd heard Jesus, but the preaching of Jesus wasn't enough.

When we hear the Word of God proclaimed, it is a divinely appointed sign which calls us to faith. Again, the Queen heard Solomon, and Solomon was enough. The Ninevites heard Jonah, and Jonah was enough. We are privileged to hear the Gospel week in and week out. Is it enough? Are we holding fast to our Christian Faith in these troubled days?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Meaning and Marriage


Sunday: 7 October, 2012 –– 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Genesis 2:18–24  / Hebrews 2:9–11 / Mark 10:2–16
Meaning and Marriage

Our society is in a crisis for loss of meaning, and one current issue where we see loss of meaning is marriage. We need to be aware of the connection between marriage and meaning. In his message for the 2011 World Youth Day in Madrid, Pope Benedict XVI said: “Men and women were created for something great, for infinity. Nothing else will ever be enough… The desire for a more meaningful life is a sign that God created us and that we bear his ‘imprint’." (italics added)

What gives meaning to life? We crave “a more meaningful life.” Is that physical life itself?  Think of all the effort that goes into sustaining life (if you want an overwhelming example, try reviewing everything that goes into our government’s Department of Health and Human Services!). Is our meaning found in productivity? There are those who expend great effort and take great delight in personal accomplishments. I think the bottom line of a meaningful life for most people would be happiness –– we are here to be “happy”?  Does the feeling of being happy give meaning to our lives?  It seems that far too many people think so.

A counselor once told me of a woman who came to see her seeking justification to leave her husband for another man. There was a typical litany of how the new love was so perfect and how he made her so happy. The counselor said the woman then asked her, “Doesn’t God want me to be happy?” I’ve never forgotten what the counselor said to the woman: “Do you think Jesus was happy when he chose to go the cross?” Was Jesus happy when he asked the Father if there was any other way?  Was Jesus happy when he cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mk 15:34). Notice, in today’s epistle reading, the Hebrews writer tells us how Jesus fulfilled God’s purpose in distinct contrast to what we think of as happiness: For it was fitting that he should make the leader to their salvation perfect through suffering (Hebrews 2:10).

Now I am not suggesting that marriage should make us suffer! Marriage is truly meant to be a gift that includes happiness. But the woman in my story illustrates a tragic mistake in popular thought today: our society is trying to make marriage a primary means to achieving happiness. Actually, our contemporary society is obsessed with the idea that sexual pleasure will make us happy, and marriage is being manipulated as sanctioned sexual pleasure. There is a massive effort to convince popular opinion that marriage is nothing but a human social construct, and that true “freedom” means designing and altering marriage to whatever promises to make us happy. 

Marriage is not a mere human social construct.  Mark tells us that the Pharisees asked Jesus a question about marriage because they were testing him. What God says about marriage is still being tested today, and the only way for the Truth to be heard is for Christians to understand it, embrace it, and live it. This is not a mere social debate. Archbishop John Joseph Myers (Archdiocese of Newark) has written a pastoral letter that is worthy of extended reflection. (http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=10056&repos=1&subrepos=0&searchid=914411).  He begins by noting: “Marriage is as old as humankind. From the beginning, God created the human race in his own image and likeness; male and female he created them (cf. Genesis 1:27). Sexual difference and complementarity have been present from the beginning as part of God’s creative plan.” He quotes part of today’s Old Testament text: That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh (Genesis 2:24), and then continues, “Thus, marriage can be seen as the ‘primordial sacrament’ predating the Fall and surviving original sin.... It is therefore the fundamental building block of every society and of the Church, a matter of vital concern to both.”

If we try to engineer marriage from the perspective of human happiness we will lose on two levels. First, people who focus on happiness are seldom happy. Focusing on our own happiness is an act of selfishness, and being preoccupied with ourselves is a sure path to misery. The human emotion of happiness is a by-product of something else. There is certainly happiness to be found in marriage, but it is the result of love –– and we love when we are focused on the good of another (which is the opposite of selfishness). Second, if we try to make marriage something other than what God has designed, we go against the grain of the universe –– and the more we try to go against the grain the more “splinters” we get (rejecting God’s way is rebellion, and rebellion is destructive; we become more and more fragmented –– “splintered”, to keep the analogy).

Jesus is explicit: From the beginning of creation.... Marriage was built into the fabric of who we are from the beginning. Then Jesus quotes the Old Testament Scripture and first affirms something that is so basic it is almost unbelievable that any other option would ever be considered: God made them male and female. This is the first building block of marriage from the beginning.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church and Canon law both provide a straightforward definition of marriage: “The matrimonial covenant.... is by its nature ordered to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring....” In the Genesis story the man did not have a suitable partnerSo the Lord God cast a deep sleep on the man.... then built up into a woman the rib he had taken from the man (Genesis 2:21,22). Perhaps you have heard what Matthew Henry, the early 18th Century Presbyterian Bible commentator wrote about this: “Eve was not taken out of Adam's head to top him, neither out of his feet to be trampled on by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected by him, and near his heart to be loved by him.” The Catholic Church teaches that the essential elements of marriage include unity, permanence, faithfulness, and fruitfulness.

In Christian marriage, you give yourself away... and you receive the gift of the other person. That is what the marriage ceremony –– the covenant ― is all about. In the presence of God and witnesses, a man and a woman publicly declare their choice to give their lives away and to accept the responsibility of the other person's gift. If I were a surrealist artist, I would picture marriage by drawing an image of a man and woman each cutting their hearts out and handing them to the other. The wife's heart is given to the husband and the husband's heart is given to the wife... and the life they live together is one of sharing all that it means to love. All the things we need to be fully human we choose to entrust to that one other person.

The trouble is that many married people assume this only half-way. Our culture conditions us to think mostly of what we are going to get from marriage. Our spouse is supposed to make us “happy.” But how often do we understand the other, more important, part of marriage: we lay down our lives for the good of our spouse! This is one reason there are so many divorces –– laying down our lives is hard, and many will not do it. Our culture is obsessed with what we can get, not what we can give. It is a total distortion of Christian living.

Do you remember where I started this? It’s the issue of meaningfulness. When we try to find meaning and purpose in our own selfish happiness instead of God’s loving design we will only find frustration, brokenness and pain. We dare not try to redefine marriage thinking it can sanction misplaced sexual obsession. Such a thing will only accelerate spiritual death. We need to understand that God is far more concerned that marriage helps make us holy instead of merely happy.  

Breakpoint, a Christian editorial, tells this story: The website, Craig's List, a young woman wrote: "I'm a spectacularly beautiful 25-year-old girl. I'm articulate and classy. I'm looking for a guy who makes at least half a million a year. Where do you single rich men hang out?"  She also wanted to know how men decided between marriage versus just-a-girlfriend.  “I am looking for MARRIAGE ONLY," she said.  In response, a man who claimed to meet her financial requirements said that from his perspective, her offer was a lousy business deal. "What you suggest is a simple trade: you bring your looks to the party, and I bring my money," he wrote. "But here's the rub: Your looks will fade and my money will continue to grow. So in economic terms you are a depreciating asset and I am an earning asset.” The man continued, “This is why it doesn't make good business sense to 'buy you' (which is what you're asking); I'd rather lease. So a deal that makes sense is not marriage. If you want to enter into some sort of lease, let me know."

This illustrates the crass ideas being projected on marriage. Television presents it as entertainment on a show called The Bachelorette (I was told this; I’ve never seen it). Archbishop Myers continued in his pastoral letter:

Marriage is a human institution, to be sure, and spouses can enter into the bond of marriage only by freely choosing to do so. Still, marriage is an institution whose defining features and structuring norms are not pure products of human choice. We cannot define and redefine marriage to suit our personal tastes or goals. We cannot make forms of relationship or types of conduct marital simply by attaching to them the word “marriage.”

There is a spiritual numbness spreading over our whole culture. The mainstream media has embraced an agenda of “re-inventing” marriage. We are inundated with it, even our children. The strategy is to wear us down –– to present the disordered as normal and to present Truth as bigotry. We need to understand we are in war for our souls. When marriage is about “what I get” and when marriage is merely a context to pursue sanctioned sex, we all lose. Marriage is holy. Marriage is one the Sacraments our Lord gives us to make us holy. This is because marriage calls us to love –– and love ultimately is this: that [God’s only-begotten Son] laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives.... (1 John 3:16). Marriage means something –– it’s part of the “meaningful life” God created for us and renews in us through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Hearing and Doing


Friday: 5 October, 2012 –– 26th Week in Ordinary Time
Luke 10:13-16
Hearing and Doing

[Adapted from a John Michael Talbot reflection]

Jesus rebukes these three towns because he had been among them to teach and work God's wonders, but they did not repent and turn back to God. Those three towns eventually ended up as ruins; the archeological digs can be visited today. Capernaum was Jesus’ ministry base in Galilee. It was the home of Peter and many of the first disciples were fishermen there, yet today it is completely uninhabited except by tourists and pilgrims.

Just having Jesus close by is not enough. He can even work miracles among us and we can know his teachings, but if we do not really turn to God his presence can actually work against us. When much is given, much is expected in return.

Many people today have Jesus close by in their local church or in a family of committed believers. But unless there is a personally surrender to Christ, that will not give lasting benefit. Like those villages Jesus rebukes, lives can end up a complete ruin. 

Are we really surrendering to Jesus, or is He just "close by?" Let’s not only be hearers of the Word, but doers.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Convenience, Passion and Humility


Wednesday: 3 October, 2012 –– 26th Week in Ordinary Time
Job 9:1–12, 14–16 / Luke 9:57–62
Convenience, Passion and Humility

Today’s readings bring three words to mind:  convenience, passion, and humility....

We are so oriented to convenience.  A push of a button initiates more “quick and easy” items than we could count. Convenience is so common that we think it is a personal affront if we have to wait. This affects our attitudes and our spirits become infected.  We can begin to think that following Jesus should be convenient. He makes it clear in today’s Gospel this is not so.

Jesus wants us to follow him with passion. He wants first place in our lives. If we listen and observe, we hear passion all around us. People are passionate about politics (especially right now).  People are passionate about sports. People often express passion –– quite negative passion –– when they are inconvenienced.  Our calling as Christians is to be passionate about Jesus and his way of life.

This takes me to the third word: humility.  The readings in Job should take us quickly to humility.  God is God, and we are not!  Our Creator-Redeemer God calls us to know him and to be like him.  That should take care of our humility; we fall so far short.

If we embrace humility and pray to follow Jesus with whole hearts, we will grow in our passion of his kingdom ways –– and it will temper our passion for personal convenience.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Holy Guardian Angels

Tuesday: 2 October, 2012 –– 26th Week in Ordinary Time
Exodus 23:20–23 / Matthew 18:1–5, 10
The Holy Guardian Angels

Our world is in a spiritual fog. It is easy to get up and go through our days seeing only what is before us. We buy into the rationalism of unbelief and operate on the basis of physical cause and effect.

Christian Faith gives the realization that there is an unseen world all around us.  There are angels and demons. C.S. Lewis wrote a marvelous book about temptation –– The Screwtape Letters –– from the perspective of a personal demon trying to subvert a man and aid in his damnation. Today the Church celebrates a far more pleasant truth: we each have a guardian angel given by God to help on our journey to salvation.

Think about it. God is on his throne. The Son of God is at the right hand of the Father interceding for us. Cherubs and seraphs cry out in worship.  The assembly of the saints joins in, and our guardian angels are at work –– right now –– to encourage us to join that heavenly throng.

Let’s not succumb to the mind-numbing stupor of those who will not see the glory of the unseen. Let’s give thanks for the gift of our guardian angel. And let’s fix our eyes on Jesus so that all the heavenly hosts will know that we are friends and family. Our angel is here to help us!


Monday, October 1, 2012

Control or Trust


Monday: 1 October, 2012 –– 26th Week in Ordinary Time
Job 1:2–22 / Luke 9:46–50
Control or Trust

We want to be in control of our lives. We live in a society that offers more control than any previous time in history. We can usually control the temperature of our surroundings. We have an incredibly broad selection of foods. We have greater control over physical maladies than ever before. We often control our days by choosing the activities which are most pleasing to us –– going to a movie or a sports event, staying home in the evening and choosing from the hundreds of cable stations available on our televisions.... We often seek to control our lives by manipulating the many choices we have over our circumstances.

But then something happens that reminds us we are not in control.  An accident.... a threatening medical report –– a diagnosis that goes beyond the assurance of our medical technologies.... the betrayal of a person close to us.... a loss of job or a disastrous dive in the financial market.... We are not in control.

In an effort to regain control we often try to find something or someone to blame. Blame offers an explanation, and if we get the right explanation we can attempt to “fix it” (and thus regain control).

The modern mind doesn’t seem oriented to think about what God may be saying in our circumstances. Today’s story from Job is not saying that whenever anything goes wrong in our lives it’s because of direct activity by the devil. One thing this story does tell us, though, is that we live in a world that goes beyond WYSIWYG –– What You See Is What You Get.  There is an unseen world beyond our senses, and God is always at work for our good. This is a huge part of understanding the whole story of Job.

The gospel can be read in this context. The disciples are arguing about who is the greatest. We are so easily impressed with prominence and strength –– those are the things that seem to offer control.

Jesus offers the example of a child as the ideal disciple.  It is because a child is not in control. A child is dependent.

The best lesson we can learn as we seek to follow Jesus is to relinquish control. Another way to say that is: Trust God. That is easy to say. It is something else to go through the circumstances of our days not trying to manipulate them to our own preference and advantage.

Who or what are you trying to control?  Can you hear Jesus telling you to give it up and trust God like a little child?

 
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