Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Who Is Jesus?

Friday: March 23, 2018 –– 5th Week in Lent
John 10:31–42
Who Is Jesus?

Why doesn’t God answer our questions more clearly? Something bad happens and we ask God, “Why?” We face a hard decision and ask God, “What shall I do?” We’re given a difficult task and ask God, “How am I to do this?” Too often we do not get the plain answer we hoped for.

The Jews asked Jesus questions many times. They wanted straight answers and signs. Jesus gave answers and performed incredible signs, but not according to their expectations. So they could not “hear” him nor accept anything he did.

We want to identify with Jesus (and that’s good), but we might reflect on how we can be like the Jews who rejected Jesus in at least one way: How often do we not hear how God answers our questions because his answers are not what we expect?

God does not often answer our questions according to our expectations––Jesus didn’t, and Jesus said repeatedly that he and the Father are one; that he came to show us the Father. Jesus could have answered their questions in an overwhelming way (just as God could answer our questions in a way leaves no doubt). Why didn’t Jesus make himself clearly known?

God wants our love, and love does not overwhelm so that it becomes a power play. God wants and invites us to ask, but he also wants us to seek––not merely “answers” but what is good and beautiful and true so that we find him.

Those who were open to hearing and seeing Jesus as he really was began to believe in him. As John put it in another part of his Gospel: to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God (Jn 1:12).

Even today unbelief does not accept that Jesus is God. Some say he was a great prophet or a wonderful moral teacher or perhaps the best man who every lived––but not God. Some sects that call themselves “Christian” do not accept the full divinity of Jesus Christ. Yet Jesus says it so plainly, again and again, for those who are open to believe.

Whatever our questions are about God and how he answers, let’s be open and clear about one thing (and again it is John who tells us this as he begins his Gospel): No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known (Jn1:18).

Let’s keep our hearts focused on Jesus. Let’s listen to what God tells us through Jesus: If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father. Believe Jesus. Trust in Jesus. He’ll take care of the rest.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Core of the Gospel

March 11, 2018 –– Fourth Sunday in Lent
2  Chronicles 36:14–16, 19–23 / Psalm 137 / Ephesians 2:4–10 / John 3:14–21
The Core of the Gospel

Today’s text from Ephesians: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and especially the well-know text from the Gospel of John: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life, remind me of Billy Graham.

Billy Graham’s recent death and funeral was a major news item spanning a couple of weeks. Of course it dominated the Evangelical media, but even the secular press gave it high priority. What particularly fascinated me were the numerous Catholic commentaries I read. [One of them was written by a convert-priest in South Carolina who I came to know in my own Catholic journey. His Evangelical background and college path through Bob Jones University had much in common with my personal history, so I resonated with Fr Dwight Longenecker’s comments about Billy Graham. I hope my lightly edited use of his article for this homily will be understood in the context of the esteem I have for what he has said.]

Someone asked why everybody thought Billy Graham was so great. It was because he preached the simple message of a human race locked in sin and in need of a savior, and that God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son so that all who believe in him might have everlasting life. That’s it.

I was brought up in a devout Evangelical home where Billy Graham’s model of Christian faith was assumed. We memorized Bible verses and believed that you had to “get saved.” We went forward in church and accepted Jesus into our lives as our personal Lord and Savior. That had a key role in making me who I am today.

Billy Graham’s message was often ridiculed. Intellectuals would sneer, and many religious people dismissed it as naive. Theologians said it was too simplistic. Unrepentant sinners would scorn it and laugh and turn away. But many, many ordinary people heard that simple message and had their lives forever changed.

I think our Catholic churches could be stronger if we took a bit of a lesson from Billy Graham. I know he’s not a Catholic. I know his theology was not as developed as it could have been. I know we do not preach his simple, easy message of eternal security–“Just say yes to Jesus and you can know you are going to heaven.” I know we stress the sacraments and membership in the Church. I know that being a Catholic is more complicated and full and abundant than the reductionist beliefs of  “pop-Christianity.”

But…. on the other hand, isn’t the core message still the same? Do we not call sinners every Sunday at Mass to repent of their sins and come forward in an altar call to receive Jesus? Do we not call sinners to come to confession, to say they are sorry for their sins and accept the forgiveness of Jesus? And if we do not say that people can know absolutely that they are going to heaven, we can certainly say that they can know today that they are on the road to heaven if they say “Yes” to Jesus and seek to live in a state of grace.

Could it be…. that churches have people who win prizes for humanitarian efforts while they vote for the dismemberment of unborn children…. that churches have people who seem more concerned to save the planet than to save souls…. that churches have far too many shallow (and worse) clergy…. could it be that the main reason churches (both Catholic and Protestant) have people modeling a faith that is not The Faith is because we have let the core of what it is all about get out of focus?!

What Christianity is all about is the core message Billy Graham preached so simply––a sinful humanity in need of a savior. That is the Gospel.

I have not walked away from the good things that came from my early Christian heritage––I have just grown in them and found there is more and more. If I had to choose a label it would be “Evangelical Catholic.”

I hope Billy Graham’s passing has reminded all of us who profess the name of Jesus what it’s all about: a sinful humanity in need of a savior, and God has given us his Son for that very reason. That is truly for all of us. It is our Catholic Faith.

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