Sunday, May 26, 2019

The Path of Knowing God

May 26, 2019: Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts 15:1–2, 22–29 / Psalm 67 / Revelation 21:1-–14, 22–23 / John 14:23–29
The Path of Knowing God

One of the most famous quotes by St Augustine comes early in Confessions, his spiritual memoir: “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

Around the world and throughout time, the whole human race has a record of seeking God. As Christians we know why: There is a “God-shaped hole” in our hearts––we are the result of special creation in the image of God. We should also understand why it is hard for humans to perceive God––as Paul wrote to the Romans, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened (Romans 1:21).

But the love of God that created us continues in a love that does not leave us abandoned to find God by ourselves; God comes to us. Just as God created us in love, he comes to us fully human and fully God as Jesus of Nazareth. As Jesus told Philip earlier in the chapter of today’s Gospel, Whoever has seen me has seen the Father (John 14:9).

Yet Jesus is no longer here literally in his physical body. We can’t go to Israel and see him. As he told the disciples, I am going to my Father….  Having died for our sins and rising from the dead to secure our eternal life, he invites those who believe: follow me. One way we follow Jesus is a phrase in today’s Gospel: keep my word.

This invitation takes us from mere history and doctrine to something that fills the empty place in our hearts: Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. God comes to us through Jesus and lives in our hearts!

This is the Good News of Christian Faith. And it seems that with this, everyone should be “fixed” and life should be easy. Jesus even says, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. What happened? Our world is not at peace, and even Christians do not live in peace.

One problem is that we have taken this too personally. “Personal” too easily becomes “self-focused.” If we try to live a Christian life with a “just me and Jesus” formula, we get into trouble. By ourselves we often get things wrong. While Christian Faith is indeed personal, it is not individualistic.

When we come to Jesus, we come into his Body. It’s called the Church. Collectively, we have a wisdom that goes beyond our individual selves. Just as Jesus is Incarnate––fully human and fully God, the Church is also incarnate. The Church is indeed the composite of the people who belong to Jesus, but it is also a fusion with the Holy Spirit. God has provided a spiritual wisdom that goes beyond our individual abilities. This is one reason we have the Church.

We should not be surprised by questions and frustrations. From the beginning those who follow Jesus have needed to find a common way through the Church. The early Christian community had barely gotten started before it was faced with a huge question: what about people who are not Jewish who want to follow Jesus? This was crucial, and Jesus had not left a specific instruction.

But God had come to dwell in those who believed and wanted to follow, and as the assembled leadership met they came to a solution. This was the beginning the Apostolic Rule of Faith and the developing authority of the Church. Through this we see that God is at work to complete the circle that takes us back to the basic issue: how can I best fill that “God-shaped hole” in my heart?

I have shared more about my journey from Evangelical to Catholic than I have about my early commitment to Jesus. In my early teens I was in rebellion against God. I had bought into the hellish lie that the Church was something invented by old people to keep young people from having fun. I was profane and blasphemous. My focus was on the world’s triad of idols: money, sex, and power. I didn’t know to get any of them, but they were my goal. I was all about “me.”

But deep down I did not like myself, and decent kids who were my peers didn’t seem to like me very much, either. One Sunday night when I was fifteen I was in church (very much against my will, but my dad had a way of keeping authority!). As usual, I was tuned out––but as the service was ending that night the Holy Spirit flooded me with a picture of myself before God. I was worse than the Laodiceans in the book of Revelation: wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked (3:17). With that I saw that the One alternative was what God had done through Jesus Christ. My heart melted. I gave myself unconditionally to the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. I was changed. I knew then––and know now––that apart from Jesus I am helpless and hopeless. Compared to having the life of Jesus, nothing else matters. And while my journey has had its ups and downs, I have not turned away from Jesus being my focus in what is now over fifty-something years.

One thing that has kept me on course and brought me to today is the Church. Just as we’re lost without Jesus, we need the Church to help us find and follow Jesus faithfully. The Apostolic Tradition takes us through the Holy Spirit to Jesus, and Jesus leads us to all the fullness of God because, as he said, I and the Father are one.

Do you have questions? Do you sometimes (or even often) feel frustrated? Be sure you are listening to the Church in a way that keeps the focus on Jesus. Always cultivate that hunger for God which inhabits every human heart––a hunger that prays: You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you. Give yourself unreservedly to Jesus. Jesus has promised us his peace. His desire is to live in our hearts. Trust the graces he has given to help us through his Church. This will fill that “God-shaped hole” in your heart with the fulness of God.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Feed My Sheep

May 5, 2019 –– Third Sunday in Easter
Acts 5:27–32 / Revelation 5:11–14 / John 21:1–19
Feed My Sheep

There is a mental and even spiritual fog permeating our society. Social media flood us with divisive issues and poorly-formed opinions. Too many people speak more quickly and more often than they listen. Huge things are at stake: issues that touch our safety and security; others go to the core of the definition and meaning of human life. We find ourselves debating what is right or wrong, good or bad, false or true. Who are we to listen to? Who are we to trust?  Today’s Scripture readings help answer these questions.

We can start with Peter. Peter’s prominence among the apostles is obvious. As the book of Acts unfolds, Peter is the spokesman. Peter is the one whose presence verifies the gift of the Spirit as the Faith extends from Jerusalem to Samaria and then to the Gentiles just as Jesus said. The Church is, indeed, being established by Peter.

Today’s Gospel gives the story of Jesus affirming Peter three times, surely for each of Peter’s three denials. For each time that Peter had proclaimed “I don’t know the man,” Jesus asks, “Do you love me?” And each time that Peter humbly and tenderly tells Jesus, “you know that I love you,” Jesus tells him, “Feed my sheep.”

There are numerous biblical themes converging here. Earlier in John’s Gospel Jesus refers to those who follow him as his “sheep”: My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me (10:27).

When we embrace our baptism––when we own the name of “Christian”––we are among those Jesus calls “my sheep.” So returning to my opening observations and questions, how are we to hear the voice of Jesus? As the issues of our world whirl around us with a cacophony of voices trying to tell us to think this…. do that…. be for something or against something, we need to be able to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd. How do we recognize Jesus’ voice? Many people in our world claim to speak for Jesus, and they often totally disagree with each other. Who are we to trust?

Jesus makes it clear. He calls Peter and gives him the opportunity to express his heart: “Do you love me?” And when Peter declares his love Jesus tells Peter, “Feed my sheep.”

We see Peter doing this in the Acts reading. He and the other apostles are preaching Jesus. The very ones who arrested Jesus and had him put to death now arrest Peter and the others. They are blunt: “Quit doing this.” They threaten the apostles, but Peter loves Jesus. He does not back down: We must obey God rather than men. Peter is feeding the sheep. He is declaring what is true. He is modeling how the sheep are to follow the Good Shepherd. It’s not what human authorities say. It’s not what popular opinion thinks.

Earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus had another word for the sheep: If you love me, keep my commandments (Jn 14:15). How do we know what Jesus commands? How do we know what to obey? For almost 2000 years the Rule of Faith initiated and confirmed by Peter and the other Apostles has formed and guided Catholic belief and practice. Above all the other voices trying to get our attention for the many issues inundating our world, we are called to listen to the teachings that flow from the Petrine Office. When the voice of the 2000-year-old Church instructs us, warns us, and seeks to guide us, it is living out this calling Jesus initiated with Peter: Feed my sheep. When we listen to the established teaching of the Church and obey it, we show that we are sheep who hear the Shepherd’s voice.

Jesus told Peter, Feed my sheep.

Peter declared boldly: We must obey God rather than men.

Jesus tells all of us, If you love me, keep my commandments.

These are inseparably connected. Jesus is still asking, “Do you love me?” In our world of competing voices, we need to listen to him. When the Church speaks, Peter is feeding the sheep!

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