Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Choose Faithfulness

Wednesday: 27 February, 2013 –– Second Week in Lent
Jeremiah 18:18–20 / Matthew 20:17–28
Choose Faithfulness

We like to be liked. We like to be affirmed. We like to win. We like to be congratulated.

In a neutral context, on a level playing field, in world with equitable justice, those things are well and good. But.... that is not the nature of the world we live in. It is human nature –– fallen human nature –– to desire those things in ways that either elevate ourselves or demean others unjustly. The mother of James and John tried to supplant the other disciples for positions of self-serving honor. The crassness is magnified by Jesus’ exemplary reply: Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.

There are people who get nasty when their selfishness is exposed. Just as there is something in us that loves self-exaltation, there is also something in us that hates to rebuked and humbled. This is a core issue of warfare within the human spirit: humility or self-exaltation? As the previous readings this week have shown, it is the one who is honest and humble that God justifies.

But when we choose to live in honesty and humility before God, we may discover there are others who resent us. There are people who do not want to hear the truth or see the truth modeled. Nothing reveals the ugliness of ungodliness like a life infused with the holiness of God. This is what led to Jesus’ death –– too many people could not tolerate his goodness.

This was not unique to Jesus.  He told them: in the same way your forefathers killed the prophets. If you read the prophets’ stories –– Jeremiah and Daniel come prominently to mind –– there are people who go out of the way to spy on their goodness just to get them in trouble. This is the mindset described in Wisdom: Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against out doings, reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training. He professes to have knowledge of God and styles himself a child of the Lord. To us he is the censure of our thoughts; merely to see him is hardship for us (Wis 2:12–14).

This is the very attitude we are hearing today from a hostile secularism –– what Pope Benedict has called “the tyranny of relativism.” And as we find ourselves more and more the target of ridicule and even hatred, we will also find ourselves in the inner battle of what is most important to us: We like to be liked, and we do not like to be marginalized.

We have to make a decision about what will be most important in our lives.  Will it be the acceptance and praise of the world-spirit with its fleeting pleasure, or will it be the humble faithfulness to a truth that is found only beyond ourselves in the goodness of Christ the Lord?

Again and again.... choose faithfulness.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Parent's Prayer

In a presentation tonight about societal and generational effects on family faith, I shared this prayer I discovered from a James Dobson article. I sometimes turn to it when I pray for my children:

Lord, you know about my inadequacies. You know about my weaknesses, not only in my parenting, but in every area of my life. I did the best I could, but it wasn’t good enough. As you broke the fish and loaves to feed the 5,000, now take my meager effort and use it to bless my family.
Make up for the things I did wrong. Satisfy the needs I have not satisfied. Wrap your great arms around my children and draw them close to you. And be there when they stand at the great crossroads between right and wrong. All I can give is my best, and I’ve done that. Therefore, I submit to you my children and myself and the job I did as a parent. The outcome now belongs to you.

The Calling of Repentance

Tuesday: 26 February, 2013 –– Second Week in Lent
Isaiah 1:10, 16–20 / Matthew 23:1–12
The Calling of Repentance

The first calling of the Christian life is repentance. Over and over the Scriptures give both exhortations and models of God honoring honesty and humility and being repulsed by pride, self-righteousness and hypocrisy.

Many Christians pray every day: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. If these are more than mechanical words –– if this is the true desire of our hearts –– we are assured of God’s pleasure, grace and justification.

Religion can be such an insidious way for the enemy of our souls to twist our souls. The grace that cleans us and orients us to holiness can become distorted so that we begin to focus on our own supposed goodness. We can compare ourselves among ourselves (2Cor 10:12) so that God’s grace gets lost in our petty competitions.

Seeking our own honor is mutually exclusive to giving honor to God. And no matter how “good” any person might be, our relative goodness is nothing alongside the ultimate glory of the Lord. Any goodness we have comes from God. Our goodness is derivative –– we are created in God’s image and, because of our sin, we are redeemed by the loving death of God’s Son. Yes, we have a “goodness,” but it is not our own.

Sin and holiness, as so many other things, are inverted in God’s kingdom. John says in his first letter: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1Jn 1:8–10).  When we focus on our own (supposed) holiness we commit odious sin; when we focus on our sin –– with honesty and humility and confession –– we are actually growing in holiness.

So the Gospel today concludes: Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted. May our Lord give us the grace of honesty and humility.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Brief Picture of Reality

February 24, 2013 ––Second Sunday in Lent
Genesis 15:5–12, 17–18 / Philippians 3:17–4:1 / Luke 9:28b–36
A Brief Picture of Reality

There is an ancient tradition that the Transfiguration took place forty days before Good Friday, so today it is read in churches early in Lent. The Transfiguration always triggers in my mind the phrase, a brief picture of reality.

I often think of how the world around us understands “reality.” An acronym coined in 1982 for the computer world works great here. WYSIWYG — What You See Is What You Get –– is used to express the idea that what the user sees on the screen is what the user gets on the printer. We live in a WYSIWYG world.  People are obsessed with what is often in their immediate field of vision (either literally or in their fantasy dreams). It is believed that the world we see is the only way  to happiness, and that the big threats in life — poverty, the weakness of physical limitations, and what is assumed to be the finality of death — are the most horrific things possible.

On what basis dare anyone believe anything different than circumstantial existence? Christian Faith says the reason is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But again, how can a “modern mind” dare believe this is true? The Transfiguration offers a single picture of the bigger truth.

When Jesus was on earth, what people saw when they looked upon the Incarnate Son of God was.... a man. Sometimes they saw him do some amazing things, but he was still a man who dressed like them, ate like them, walked the roads and paths like them.... a man whom the Scriptures and the Church confess to be both fully human and fully God.

John wrote in his Gospel, we saw his glory (1:14). The writer to the Hebrews says that the Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being (1:3). Jesus told Philip, Whoever has seen me has seen the Father (14:9). This theme of “glory” occurs again and again in the Scriptures. The glory that covered Adam and Eve at the beginning.... the glory that came down on Mt. Sinai and caused Moses’ face to shine.... the glory that inhabited the Tabernacle and the Temple.... and the glory promised by the Isaiah and Ezekiel.... that glory came into our world in the person of Jesus Christ.

Still, those looking at him during those earthly years would have asked, if told this “man” was the glory of God: Where? How?  In a WYSIWYG world, Jesus was — even though engaging, puzzling, commanding, divisive and exasperating — just another man.

But one day — one time on one particular day — three of the disciples had their WYSIWYG world expanded. Peter, James and John saw his glory as he was transfigured before them: his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. John gives a fuller image of the glory of Jesus in his Revelation:

I saw.... someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars.... His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades (Rev 1:12-17).

This brief picture of reality helped lay a foundation for understanding the greater reality to follow in the crucifixion and resurrection. At the time of the Transfiguration Peter was confounded –– he had no idea what to think, and babbled in response. Later, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, he gave this clear witness and exhortation in his second letter:
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. 

Yet, those who know the Gospels well remember that when Peter, James and John came down from the mountain with Jesus, the next incident was the lack of faith in the other disciples to heal a boy. Those who lived daily in the presence of the Glory every day did not see it!

Do we not too frequently live on that level? How often do we fall into the trap of thinking that the world we see is all there is –– or at least what really matters?  How often have we heard the Faith criticized because our witness is so weak?  Or maybe we’ve even asked ourselves: If Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist, why isn’t there an obvious and overwhelming glory? The world’s WYSIWYG attitude is always exerting its influence.

Jesus let three of his disciples actually see his glory once during those ministry days. It was enough to pave the way for a Faith that would change the world. We can believe today because there is a credible eyewitness record that has been established as the Apostolic Rule of Faith. Peter and John both wrote that they saw; they testified that these things are true. Then they lived — in such a contrasting way to how they previously were — so that people looking at them took notice that they had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13).

The Transfiguration calls us — warmly and powerfully invites us — to see the glory of God in a way that goes beyond the WYSIWYG attitude of the world-spirit. The glories of this world do not last. The threats of this world do not have the last word. There is a glory promised to all who follow Jesus.... a glory that was fully realized in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s what Paul tells the Philippians in today’s Epistle: He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body.... (Phlp 3:21). Those who follow Jesus will know the power of the resurrection — the glory of the Son of God, which is the inheritance of all who belong to him — but not apart from, first, the cross with the accompanying darkness of not having everything yet fully visible. Christians live in the hope of glory, knowing that Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life. On this day when we are reminded of the Transfiguration, I commend to you this this brief picture of reality. Jesus lets his disciples see the way things really are.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Reason to Believe

Friday: 22 February, 2013 –– First Week in Lent
The Chair of St Peter the Apostle
1 Peter 5:1–4 / Matthew 16:13–19
A Reason to Believe

Every week we come to church. Some of us make daily Communion a high priority. During Lent we make efforts to reorder our lives in some way that is less than easy and convenient.

We find ourselves marching out of step with the world around us. Conventional wisdom doesn’t seem so wise and we wonder how popular opinion too often bypasses common sense.

When we seek to order our lives by Christian Faith we do a radical thing in the eyes of the world.  Only faith takes seriously what Peter calls a share in the glory to be revealed.

The world looks at all the problems –– and there are plenty. None of us who profess Christ lives up to the glory of his Name, and some who profess Christ bring shame and dishonor to his Name.  The world hears us talking about holiness and morality and too often actually sees too little of either.

We all need to remember there really is a reason to believe. Not only do we have the incredibly Good News that the Son of God became one of us, died for our sins, and rose again to open the door for our own eternal life.... We also have the witness of the Church –– 2000 years of unbroken succession, preserving and passing on in continuity the eye-witness account that was established as the Apostolic Rule of Faith.

Around 2000 years ago Jesus said to Simon, you are Peter –– Cephas, the rock, and upon this rock I will build my Church....  I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

For 2000 years the powers of hell and those who serve them have made war on the Church of Jesus Christ.  Sometimes the outward witness of the Church has been weak, but there has always been a faithful witness. For 2000 years the Chair of Peter has been the symbol of apostolic authority fulfilling all that Jesus had progressively, but still explicitly, given to this “chief of the apostles.” Flowing out of that, the cathedra (chair) for each bishop is a symbol of the teaching authority which comes from the Chair of Peter. This was a major factor in my decision to become Catholic.

We are here today in continuity with what Jesus said to Peter on that day when he saw so clearly: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. And we keep walking in faith, holding on to the promise Peter wrote so long ago: When the chief Shepherd is revealed, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

The world may not understand, but we have a reason to believe.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Sign of Preaching

Wednesday: 20 February, 2013 –– First Week in Ordinary Time
Luke 11:29–32
The Sign of Preaching

The sign of Jonah, as Jesus speaks to it in Matthew’s Gospel is usually considered to be his three days in the belly of the fish prefiguring Jesus’ three days in the tomb. Luke leaves this out altogether, while both Matthew and Luke give another focus –– the proclamation of God’s Word. 

The Gospel today emphasizes the sign of preaching. The crowd who tried to link Jesus with the devil also asked Jesus to provide some kind of flamboyant display to prove himself; his preaching and healing were not enough. Jesus' answer is that the one sign they will get is the proclaimed Word of God. The amazing thing for these people is that the preacher was not merely Jonah or Solomon; it was the Son of God.

Jesus is making an important point 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. Now that the Son of God himself has come to show us God's Word, we should have more than enough of a sign for our own faith.

But it's not always the result. Sometimes the Word is preached and people do not believe. There is no repentance, only a continuing in wickedness. 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 heard Solomon, and Solomon was enough. The Ninevites heard Jonah, and Jonah was enough. The crowd heard Jesus, but the preaching of Jesus wasn't enough.

When the preaching of Jesus isn't enough (either the preaching Jesus did or a message that's centered on Jesus), all that's left is judgment. Preaching is something to take seriously. Jesus was serious about it. The people who preach should be serious about it; I certainly try to be. The people who hear preaching should be serious about it ― it's God's way of calling you to faith and building you up. It's God's "sign."

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Lord’s Prayer

Tuesday: 19 February, 2013 –– First Week in Lent
Matthew 6:7–15
The Lord’s Prayer

Jesus knew people need to be taught how to pray. Jesus modeled a life of prayer to the Twelve, but they did not find it easy to emulate. Authentic prayer is not easy for humans. The very fact that Jesus needs to give corrections to "wrong praying" shows how broken we are.

A praying person can be sincere and yet be focused on himself at the same time. Another kind of “wrong praying” is done by what Jesus call pagans. It is wrong because pagan “gods” are too much like the people who are trying to pray; we have a tendency to try to make God into our image.

Jesus says true prayer is God-focused. It is concerned with who he is and what he desires. When we recognize and embrace who God is, he is then free to do what he wants to do in our lives.  The prayer Jesus taught has a certain end in view:  we pray for the world to be a place where God’s name is reverenced and his will obeyed.

Yet we must recognize this present world is under the influence of Satan. Therefore, we pray for what we need in a hostile world. We are dependent on God in a world that tries to tell us we are “free” and independent. We need daily provision, whether it's literal bread or the spiritual "bread of life." We need forgiveness, and we need to be agents of forgiveness. We need help to keep from going wrong.

What we really need is God's kingdom –– his rule. That is what God is working into his people. As we follow Jesus, we follow him into his kingdom. The Lord's Prayer is actually the disciples’ prayer. Jesus gave this to his disciples to take us into the very life of God.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Why Lent?

February 13, 2013 –– Ash Wednesday
Why Lent?

Lent was not part of my early formation. We did not follow a liturgical year; Christmas and Easter were mostly one-day events with no formal preparation.

Occasionally I would hear criticism of Christians who observed Lent.  The essence of it was the supposed error of wallowing in guilt when Jesus has already done "everything" for us at the cross.

Why Lent?

Since it seems we relate to formulas, let’s compare two:

[Me first] + [convenience & pleasure] = [instant gratification]
This is the formula most of our society embraces –– but the ultimate sum is dismissed or ignored: long-term misery & and death.

The other formula also has a split sum:
[Honor to God & service to others] + [Self-control] 
                                       = [temporary inconvenience & and Eternal Life]
"Believing in Jesus" bears fruit; we are what we do.

Which do we want?

If we want Eternal Life, we must face some temporary inconvenience now –– it's the fruit of our faith. 

Why Lent? 

Lent is a time to embrace intentional patterns that force us to face our own weakness and rely more on God. Jesus said: Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few (Mtt 7:13,14).

What more needs to be said?  We need Lent.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

False Formulas

Tuesday: 12 February, 2013 –– 5th Week in Ordinary Time
Genesis 1:20–2:4a / Mark 7:1–13
False Formulas

We like to be in control. Control gives a sense of security.

There is a human drive for control that is twisted –– it is self-oriented. It is rooted in the first temptation that offered independence from God. Ever since then we all want the feeling of being in control.  We buy into (usually) unconscious formulas that seem to offer the control we seek.

Knowledge gives control, so we try to figure everything out –– even things that belong only to God. Too often people mistake trying to know about God to knowing God.

Some people try to use the Creation story that way, with the Bible offering a formula for understanding intricacies of origins. It’s hard for us to let God be God.

Some have tried to use God’s laws as formulas.  Instead of seeking to know God and to love him more, God’s laws become measuring sticks people use to exalt themselves and control others. We can be deceived, thinking this is the way to secure ourselves instead of loving God with all our heart, mind soul, and strength.... and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Jesus quotes God’s words through Isaiah:

This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.

False formulas.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Taking Holiness Seriously

February 10, 2013 –– 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 6: 1–2a, 3–8 / 1 Corinthians 15: 1–11 / Luke 5: 1–11
Taking Holiness Seriously

Sunday, December 7, 1941.... Friday, November 22, 1963.... Tuesday, September 11, 2001....  If you were alive and old enough, you remember where you were and what you were doing on those days when you first heard their startling news. Today’s reading from Isaiah is shaped by the year that King Uzziah died. After a fifty-two year reign, it was an unsettling time in the kingdom of Judah.

National calamities can cause people to think about God. It happened again in our country two months ago with the awful killings in Connecticut, but then it seems that mostly everyone’s attention shifts back to the routine. I was part of a secular BBS messenger board during the time of the 9/11 crisis and in one post I suggested that it was important to think about what God might be saying through such an awful event in our country. The reaction among some readers was vitriolic; they resented my implication that anything we might do or not do as a corporate people might prompt any kind of divine message or intervention. Such an opinion dismisses the message of the Old Testament prophets.

Isaiah recognized that this death of the king was an important time to give attention to God. He then was given a vision –– a sobering, frightening vision –– of the holiness of God.

How often do we give real attention to the holiness of God?  We Catholics say it every week: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.... This refrain from the Mass is taken from both this sixth chapter of Isaiah and the fourth chapter of Revelation. But it’s not just something we say –– it means something!

For Isaiah it meant coming face to face with the huge gap that exists between us and a holy God: Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips.... If this was true of Isaiah, is it not also true for us? Just taking it literally, we are living among a people of unclean lips. Think of the way swearing and other filthy speech has escalated over the past decades. (In 1939 there were shocked sensibilities when Gone With the Wind ended the movie with a single expletive!) Today we can hardly shield our ears from profane language. An even more focused example is the use of the word “holy.”  Along with the now common profaning of our Lord’s name, and “God” being used as a by-word, I often hear a juxtaposition of the word “holy” with some word for excrement. Do we recognize the diabolical spirit that is at work in our world?  We can become numb even to the very meaning of the word holy!  This is one of the words our God has used to reveal himself. Surely we can say with Isaiah, I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips.  ....Lord, have mercy.

This is not just an Old Testament concern. In today’s Gospel Jesus reveals a bit of his authority to some of the men he will call to be his apostles. After a night of failure, but obeying the command of Jesus, these experienced fishermen hauled in a greater catch than they could handle. Along with the general astonishment, the point comes into focus with the initial response of Peter: Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.

We live in a time and a society that has lost touch with the holiness of God. We can so easily be pulled emotionally into a situation in which the Word of God seems unreasonable –– antiquated and out of touch. Who is God? Do we turn to a “god” that is a mere ideal of ourselves?  The right response is to bow in true reverence before the One to whom we offer the words, Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.

St Paul tells of one way we can understand what this means for us. Notice how Paul introduces his gospel message: as of first importance.... The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most important thing we can know. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the only way we can have peace with a God who is so holy that even the seraphim in heaven cover themselves in his presence. The death and resurrection of Jesus actually draws us into the holiness of God.

The God that Isaiah saw sitting on a throne high and exalted is still on his throne. The Jesus Christ who died for our sins and rose to give us eternal life is still the same Jesus who first caused Peter to fall to his knees and confess I am a sinful man. That’s where we all need to start, and when we come to our holy God with humility and honor we get the gracious word: your wickedness is removed, your sin is purged.

We live in a world that does not want to see this, even in the midst of calamity. As our own culture and others around the world spin out of control, as turmoil threatens our stability and security, and as the Church tries to speak Truth into the chaos, let’s be people who honor our God who is holy. Listen to what he says. Believe what he has done through his Son. This is of first importance. The Scriptures for today are about taking holiness seriously.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Confirming Our Confirmation!

Confirming Our Confirmation!

Eighth graders in our parish are preparing for Confirmation, one of the seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church and probably the one that resonates least with my earlier Evangelical formation. Two nights this week I had individual time with some of these 13-14 year-olds –– “interview with the clergy.”  So as I prepared my heart I was asking myself and the Lord: What do I do with these young souls in the space of ten minutes?

I started with a couple of questions: 1) What does being confirmed say about you? and, 2) What do you expect to be different in your life because you are confirmed?  Not surprisingly, I got mostly standard answers that showed what they had learned in the CCD classes –– full entry into the Church, the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and even an assumption that a desire for prayer, coming to Mass and doing right things would become easier.

For those that had older siblings I asked if that last one had happened observably with their brothers and sisters. A couple of the kids said, “Hmmmm.... maybe they were nicer for a week or so, but not really....”

Then a harder question:  How about the many Catholics who have been confirmed but show no fruit of the Spirit in their lives, even to the point of vehemently turning against the Church? That’s a hard one!

What really happens in Confirmation?  Here is what this “newbie” to the process told them....

Confirmation is one of the seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church. Sacraments are graces –– gifts –– that God has chosen to give us through the Church.  Without the Church there are no Sacraments. Several things are implied here.

One is that in establishing the Church God is telling us that we cannot be good enough by ourselves nor truly spiritual.  There is a popular sentiment expressed today that says, “I am spiritual but I’m not religious –– I don’t need a church.” Catholic Faith teaches that God says this is not true. By ourselves we are not strong enough to be truly good and by ourselves we are not smart enough to exercise a proper spirituality.  We need help.

The Sacraments are a tangible way that God has chosen to help us. This means Confirmation is a gift from God to help us in our quest of goodness and true spirituality –– in other words, grace for salvation and eternal life.

So, Confirmation is a gift (that’s a key way to understand “grace”).  A gift does not cost the recipient anything, but it does cost the giver.  When Jesus gives us a gift we need to remember he paid for it for with his life. He died on the cross in order to give us these gifts of grace.

What effect does a gift have on a person?  Well, it depends on what one does with it.  When I was a child there was a TV program called The Millionaire, and each episode was about a person who was chosen by a very wealthy man to receive the anonymous gift of $1,000,000.

I presented the kids with this scenario:  When they come to be interviewed I give them a check for $1,000,000 (actually I said a lesser amount in the interviews, but I should have made it huge and symbolically reflective of God’s grace).  In this fanciful situation a person can either think the whole thing is bogus and not cash the check, or a person can cash the check, receive the gift and use it.

This is, I think, a great way to understand Confirmation.  When the Bishop extends his hands in blessing and, acting on behalf of Jesus Christ and his Church, gives the Sacrament of Confirmation, a great gift is given. This is the grace of our Lord extended through the corporate life of the tangible Body of Christ on earth. The personal issue then comes into focus: What will you do with this gift?  A person can treat Confirmation like a magnanimous check that is dismissed and left un-cashed. The gift has been given, but it is not being used.  Or, a person can “use” his Confirmation for both his good and the glory of God.

How does one “use” Confirmation?  It starts with faith –– an attitude that chooses to act on the belief that something is real and worthwhile.  That can be, first, an attitude that remembers we cannot live unto God all by ourselves, making our own judgments according to our own understanding. When we choose to listen to Jesus through his Church we are “using” our  Confirmation. When we embrace a humble attitude that remembers we are not strong enough to do right things by ourselves and thus ask the Holy Spirit to help us choose right over wrong and the true good over lesser goods that are simply easier, more popular, or even wrong, we are “using” our Confirmation.

Every day we have countless decisions to make. Some are small and seem relatively inconsequential; some are huge and we know the choice will affect us in a big way.  We will face such decisions as long as we live.  The issue of faith is this: will I “use” the gift of Confirmation –– the grace and power of the Holy Spirit bought by the shed blood of Jesus Christ –– to live beyond myself and choose that which is right and good?  That is one way we know we are confirming our Confirmation!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Faith and (Unanswered) Prayer

Wednesday: 6 February, 2013 –– 4th Week in Ordinary Time
Hebrews 12:4–7, 11–15 / Mark 6:1–6
Faith and (Unanswered) Prayer

How often do we fret about some hardship and question God’s love and care for us? “Lord, I’ve asked your help.... why don’t you answer me?” Maybe we know a couple of the key promises Jesus gave: Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours (Mk 11:24) or Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it (Jn 14:13,14).

It should be obvious these are not unqualified, blanket statements. St Paul himself tells this story:

....a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2Cor 12:7b–9a).

And as he introduces this confession, Paul gives the reason: to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations (12:7a).  The Lord was using St Paul in mighty ways, but Paul was also a “regular man.”  The Lord knew that if Paul was exalted with no humiliations, it would be a distortion of life in this world –– even for a “great” Christian, so the Lord allowed Paul to suffer a bit to “keep his feet on the ground.”

This is just one example of what the Hebrews writer says: 

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (vs. 7, 11).

If we are trusting and obeying the Lord, and he does not answer our prayers, we need to trust that  there is a higher purpose being worked out, even if we can’t see it. God’s primary intent is not to keep us “happy” in this life, but to make us holy forever.

The Gospel gives another reason our expectations may be frustrated. When we want God to do something merely for our convenience (rather than desiring God’s purpose and honor), or if our expectation is actually cynical unbelief (“Well, we can pray, but I don’t think it will make any difference”), then there is a reason that our prayers may not be answered.

God does the most amazing things when we surrender our own agendas and pray with Mary: let it be to me according to your word (Lu 1:38).  It is then that unanswered prayer becomes answered prayer.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Life After Death

Tuesday: 5 February, 2013 –– 4th Week in Ordinary Time
Hebrews 12:1–4 / Mark 5:21–43
Life After Death

The raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead is one of several incidents in the Gospels where Jesus has power over physical death. This is incredible, and it surely meant great joy for the loved ones who had restored to them a life that had been lost. Yet I almost always think: the one raised back to life eventually died –– again. We cannot go to Israel today and ask Jairus’ daughter what it was like to die and come back to life.

The death-to-life stories in the Gospels are there to show that Jesus did manifest a power in his earthly ministry that is extraordinary. These stories also point to a greater reality: the rising from the dead that Jesus himself experienced –– except his was different in this crucial way: Jesus came back from the dead never to die again.

This is the resurrection he promises us. This is the hope of Christian Faith. This is what the writer to the Hebrews affirms: we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses. This phrase follows the “Faith Hall of Fame” in the previous chapter of Hebrews (11), among whom are Noah.... Abraham.... Moses.... David....  Right now we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, and we call this the Communion of Saints. When the Sadducees were arguing about the resurrection, Jesus told them: God said.... “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”.... He is not God of the dead, but of the living (Mk 12:26b,27). Today we celebrate the reality of eternal life specifically with St Agatha.

So, we are not alone in this journey of faith. Yes, Jesus is with us.... to the end of the age (Mtt 28:20), but we are also part of a people of God that extends beyond time. Our hope is a life after death that is forever, and to encourage us we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.

Site Meter