Jesus the Christ

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.

Christianity is either totally ridiculous or the one true faith. As a completion of Judaism it stands out from other religions which find their beginnings in someone seeking God and then discovering  a “way”  through certain beliefs, prayers or techniques.

Instead, God comes to us. Unsought and uninvited, He reveals Himself to Moses. He works wonders to get our attention and teach us. He speaks to us through the prophets. Then, most miraculously, He takes on our human nature and comes and lives among us, speaks to us, suffers for us, and through His death and resurrection, offers us eternal life.

While there are many prayers, rituals and precepts, they are all means of bringing us to Jesus. Without Jesus, the real, living, breathing man who is God, none of it is of any use. Jesus breaks our imagined barrier between the physical and the spiritual and enables us to sanctify our bodies and our material world as we live our lives in Him.

Christian life is not a set of abstract principles, or a set of hoops to jump through to win an eternal prize, but a living relationship with a real historical individual. We listen and speak to Him in prayer. We are physically united to Him in the Holy Eucharist. We love and serve Him as we love and serve our brothers and sisters in need.

There is only one Christ and that is the man Jesus. We must not construct for ourselves a “cosmic christ” that can be separated from the historical Jesus–that can be anything we want it to be because it is, at its root, nothing more than the “self”, from which Jesus came to free us .

Love Jesus, pray to the Father through Jesus, with Jesus and in Jesus. Serve Him in all people, offer Him everything you have and are. Die to your self that you might live forever in Jesus.

For Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.

Institutional Paradox

There’s no point in arguing that the Church doesn’t carry a lot of baggage. Though divine in origin and infallible in her teaching, she is human in her administration and inclusive of many fallen humans. It could only be so. If the Church were only for the perfect, no one would be allowed in. So we sin and we repent. Leaders justifiy a certain amount of evil means to justify good ends. Worldly values of different ages compete with timeless Gospel values. And hindsight is always 20/20. We can easily see the incompatibility of torture, war and oppression in the name of Christ. We see less clearly the practices of our own time at which future generations will shake their heads.

But Jesus, of whom Isaiah said “a bruised reed he shall not break”, tells us to not to pull the weeds lest we harm the wheat; that all will be separated at the harvest. And so we go on, failing in our trust in God, repenting and trying again.

We face the paradox of deploring the triumphalism, collusion with empire and other injustices of the very institution which has preserved, in her teachings and in the lives of the saints, the faith that teaches us these things are wrong.

We must resist the temptation to leave such a band of hypocrites in self-righteous indignation to go it alone–or to start our own church, or even a movement within the Church with the idea that “We are finally going to get it right”. Those who travel that road soon discover their own fallen humanity and that of their followers.

Times change and circumstances change, and we must adapt and rise to the challenges of our own age. But human beings are baiscally the same, coming into the world needing to learn the same lessons and making the same mistakes. An institution as old as the Catholic Church has probably made every mistake that can be made, learned and survived.

Let us press on, always putting all our trust in Him who said “I will be with you till the end of time”

Freedom

The world entices us with material wealth, celebrity and carnal pleasures. God gives us a poor, suffering servant for our king. The world celebrates those who have looks, talent, intelligence, and who use these to make a name and a fortune for themselves. It may not be questioned: this is what everyone aspires to. There is nothing else.

The Church celebrates the saints, reflections of Jesus in every age. St. Anthony the abbot was a wealthy young man. He went to church one day and heard Jesus say “Sell all you have and give to the poor. Then come follow me.” So he did. By completely placing himself in God’s hands, he found total freedom. God liberated him from his “self”, that illusion of our fallen nature that we should somehow have desires of our own, distinct from God’s will for us. He was then free be what God meant him to be.

St. Francis discovered the perfect joy of poverty and self denial for love of God. So many people, having every luxury and comfort, feel empty and find their lives meaningless. Francis chose a hard life,  suffered greatly, but found joy even in his sufferings.

Even those born to royalty either eschewed their royal positions to embrace poverty and service, or like St. Louis, lived a penitential life and used his position to care for and lift up the poor.

How we foolishly burden ourselves with material possessions, waste our time and our lives feeding our selfish passions, which are never satisfied.

Now, are you ready to sell all you have and give to the poor? Then what? Join a religious order? Preach on the street? I often have experienced what seems to be the “call” to do just that.

Two things have held me back:

1.If I sold all that I had I would have nothing to give to the poor but a reduced but significant amount of debt. I’m not proud of it, but that’s where I am.

2. What possessions I do have, and more significantly, my time and presence are not entirely mine to give. They are shared with and committed to my spouse and children.

I’m sure I’m not the only one in this position, and would love to hear from others who might feel the same radical call, but are bound by sacred duty to the material and moral welfare of family.

I’m fully aware that, while this is a noble reason for not abandoning the world, it also offers a convenient cover for my fear and lack of faith.

My approach has been to try my best to eschew luxuries and to constantly try to raise the bar that defines “luxury”. I try to consider everything I do from the point of view of the Gospel–what I eat and drink;  what I listen to, watch and read; what I buy and how I spend my time. I’m definitely far from the ideal of poverty and simplicity, and I can’t lay the blame entirely on concessions to my family. But I’m not giving up. And I think that’s the key in all our noblest endeavors. It’s great to clear your mind and heart and arrive at the ideal. But usually, when we attempt to carry it out, we meet obstacles from within and without. We must strive in every way, no matter how small, day in and day out, to live that freedom from self that our Lord came to teach us, and gave His last drop of blood without reservation to win for us.

May He bless all your prayers and efforts.

The False Dichotomy

Satan has been the great divider from the beginning, when he sought to divide Man from God. That’s the only real division that there is. Choosing the illusion of a “self” that has separate interests or desires from God is the original sin and is really what makes any sin a sin.

But, being made in God’s own image and naturally longing for union with God, we wouldn’t make that choice without the devil contriving clever disguises. So he dresses selfish desire up as virtue and sets us against each other as we cling to the righteousness of our “group” against the “others”. If you take a certain position, even if it is in itself virtuous, it is attacked as being in line with the vices of the “other” group.

Often, in the Church,”liberals” will point out how out of line with the Gospel are “conservatives” for paying so much attention to liturgical rules and regulations and ignoring the plight of the poor. While “Conservatives” look down on “liberals” for liturgical abuses and watering down Church teaching on sin in the name of mercy.

At our baptism, each of us was anointed “priest, prophet, and king’. Which gave us a special mission to honor and participate in the sacramental life of the Church and to be agents of sanctity in our world while speaking out prophetically (sometimes using words!) against the injustices of our world, and, reigning as “kings” with Christ, to follow His example of suffering servant leader.

In the lives of the saints, one finds no dichotomy between the lovers of the Church and the lovers of neighbor. Saints who approached liturgy and the sacraments with tremendous reverence, also devoted their lives to serving the poor and needy.

Moses, a fugitive from Egypt who was called by God to lead the people of Israel out of bondage, also transmitted God’s plan for the religious rituals to be performed in His honor.

St. Francis, the lover of poverty, considered it sinful to celebrate mass with cheap vessels or shabby vestments. He didn’t see any dichotomy in rebuilding the physical church and rebuilding the spiritual values of the people of God.

Mother Theresa devoted her life to the service of the poorest of the poor. Yet she spent hours in prayer each day.

And Jesus, our Lord and King, who warned of the dire consequences to those who showed no compassion for their suffering brothers and sisters, also commended the woman who spared no expense in honoring Him by anointing Him with costly perfume, and instituted the Holy Eucharist through which we share in His eternal life.

Let us not be caught up in the spirit of division, but in the Holy Spirit of unity in Jesus: Honoring and adoring Him with with painstaking devotion in prayer and worship, and living His life in our world, encouraging each other to live holy lives of charity, justice and mercy.

 

Who Jesus Is

Here is a scripture passage (Colossians 1) which underlines what I said about Jesus in the last post:

 

We always give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,b4for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love that you have for all the holy ones5because of the hope reserved for you in heaven.

*9Therefore, from the day we heard this, we do not cease praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understandinge10to live in a manner worthy of the Lord, so as to be fully pleasing, in every good work bearing fruit and growing in the knowledge of God,11strengthened with every power, in accord with his glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy12* giving thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light.f13He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.g

15* He is the image* of the invisible God,

the firstborn of all creation.h

16For in him* were created all things in heaven and on earth,

the visible and the invisible,

whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers;

all things were created through him and for him.i

17He is before all things,

and in him all things hold together.

18He is the head of the body, the church.*

He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,

that in all things he himself might be preeminent.j

19For in him all the fullness* was pleased to dwell,

20and through him to reconcile all things for him,

making peace by the blood of his cross*

[through him], whether those on earth or those in heaven.k

21* And you who once were alienated and hostile in mind because of evil deedsl22he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through his death, to present you holy, without blemish, and irreproachable before him,23provided that you persevere in the faith, firmly grounded, stable, and not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, am a minister.

Jesus, our Guide to the Scriptures

Some say that every word in the Bible is to be taken literally and needs no interpretation. Unfortunately there is little agreement over what it literally means.

Some people see it as a secret code, which, if deciphered properly can reveal the future, show us how to get rich or be successful in other human endeavors.

The Bible is not just a collection of writings about God. It is not just a history book. It is not a poetry collection or a treasury of wise sayings. It is all these things, but it is more still. It is a way to hear God speaking to us in our own time, in our own lives.

The key to this is Jesus. Not an ancient historical figure, prophet or wise teacher from the past. But the living word of God made flesh–living still, and sending us His Holy Spirit.

Jesus established His Church on the rock of Peter promising to be with her to the end of time. He sent His Holy Spirit to guide her in all things, including the writing and compiling of the Bible. And to this day He sends his Spirit to guide His faithful as they seek Him in scripture.

If you would like to develop a dialogue with God through the scriptures, I would suggest the following:

Be sure you are in a state of grace, repenting of and confessing any sin you may have committed. Place al your faith in the saving sacrifice of Jesus on cross. Recommit your life to Him. Tell Him your concerns, needs, hopes, sorrows… let it all out. Then, confident that He has heard you, take time to listen. Sit in silence for awhile, then open your Bible.

A good idea is to read one of the readings the Church has prescribed for the day. Probably not all the readings, or even a whole reading. Maybe just a small section. As you read it through the first time, listen for a word or phrase that stands out, speaks to you personally. It may be a word of comfort, or of challenge. In any case, trust in God’s infinite love and mercy, that anything He has to say to you is good. Read it again, spending a few minutes reflecting on it. Remember, you’re not necessarily looking for a specific answer to your questions or desires, but listening to what God wants to say to you. Respond to what you hear God saying to you in words, spoken or written, gestures or even tears. Read it a third time, thanking God for speaking to you, and listening ever more intently. Finally, read it one more time and just silently rest for a few minutes (or ten or twenty) in the presence of God, not saying anything, just being, with God.

In all things, trust in Jesus, the image of the invisible God, who was sent by the Father, not to settle arcane metaphysical debates about spirit and matter, not to offer wise sayings as one of many “great teachers” but to rescue us from the kingdom of darkness and sin, and through suffering and dying for our sins and rising to new life, bring us into the light and life of His eternal Kingdom.

 

Ritual

Those of us who were born into practicing Catholic families have been blessed to experience the unconditional love of God as expressed in the sacraments. Welcomed as sons and daughters through baptism, fed at His table by the Holy Eucharist, cleansed and drawn closer through reconciliation–we experience these concrete, tangible moments of grace drawing us ever closer to Him. 

The Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, knew well that faith is not just an attitude or something that happens in our heads, but is experienced through the senses and the physical elements around us. So she gave us these rituals which accomplish what they symbolize. Of course, our God, whose name is “I Am” would always give us the “real thing”, not just a symbol or an empty ritual. We who value these sacraments strive to carry them out with great care, not because we believe that we can win God’s favor by more meticulous attention to detail, but rather with the awareness that it is God who acts, we strive to clear our minds and hearts of all but God and His infinite love.

This is so important that the Church established obligations– requirements that we be baptized, receive communion at least once a year, go to Mass every Sunday. The great danger is in seeing these things as “merely” obligation, performing them routinely and not experiencing their full power. 

Of course, the true purpose of the sacraments, daily prayers and devotions is not to entertain us with great religious experiences, but to keep us attached to the vine, so that it may bear fruit in us. We bring what we have received into our little corner of the world. 

Sadly, as the mistaken perception that there no longer are any obligations, many have fallen away from these life-giving rituals, and not always to seek God in nature or in personal prayer, but often to work, play sports or watch television.

My spiritual journey involved attending mass every Sunday, but also frequent weekday masses with my mother when I was small. Those weekday masses were quiet and austere—no music or incense, just the basics. But even then I could discern the more commited intention of the people participating. They were very quiet and methodical—no obvious ecstatics. But they were there, every day.

As I grew older I was drawn to Charismatic worship. I appreciated the lively music and the entusiastic participation of people who were alive with their faith. As a young person I was sure that the whole world would be transformed by this great movement of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, many of the people involved moved on to more and more exciting and invigorating churches, always seeking, it seems, a greater spiritual “high”.

I was also drawn to contemplative prayer and the whole centering prayer movement. Again, I noticed, in myself and others, the motivation toward a more profound religious experience, which didn’t always translate into repentance, conversion and a truly holier life.

When I finally got down to trying to actually live my faith I discovered that amazing, exciting experiences weren’t that big a part of it. It was a lot of sticking with the program and clearing out the garbage (sin) in order to hear the still, small voice of God.

And once again I found myself in the company of the humble, ordinary daily mass people, praying and striving to live a virtuos life, and finding God in the ordinary—even boring and monotonous—daily devotions, joys and trials of life in the body of Christ.

Words

Preach the Gospel at all times. Sometimes use words”

ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI

What a marvelous gift is language! I take a breath and make some sounds and you understand what I’m thinking. I make some marks in the dirt or on a piece of paper or on a computer screen and my ideas come into your mind.

Of course there are limits to language. Words lack the precision of numbers because they often have many meanings and permutations and are subject to context. Liars discover that they can make people think that something has happened which hasn’t. Which brings us to a word like “truth”, which is a noun, but not a concrete thing.

We speak of scripture as being the “word of God”, so you would think it has to be true. But even there, things must be understood in context and, of course, through translation. If I said the word “God” to Moses, he wouldn’t know what it meant, because I’d be speaking a language that he’d never heard (that didn’t exist in his day).

God’s language is reality. When the Bible says, “And God said, ‘Let there be light'” it certainly doesn’t mean that God said those words in English. It doesn’t mean He made any sound at all. (This is the beginning, and He hadn’t invented sound yet!). God willed light and there it was. God’s word for “light” is light itself.

Jesus is the word of God. He’s the word that was spoken when light and everything else came to be. Jesus came in the flesh at a certain time and place and spoke a certain language. He was subject to all our limitations. This reality is itself a word. Our weak equivalent is “humility”. But Jesus’ spoken words have power to create reality. Have you ever noticed how often, when Jesus is asked to heal someone, He doesn’t say “be healed” or “I’m healing you” He merely tells the person to get up and move on because they have already been healed.

Jesus speaks in reality. So when He says to a dead man “Lazarus, come out!” Lazarus comes out. When He says of a piece of bread “This is my body.”, it is. When He says “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” and we begin to comprehend it, we can be overwhelmed to the point of dizziness, and our lives can be changed forever.

We tend to think that God understands all languages, so when we pray, He knows exactly what we’re talking about. I have an idea that God doesn’t understand a word we’re saying. God expects us to speak in reality. So when we say “Lord, Lord” but we don’t do His will, He doesn’t hear “Lord, Lord” but “me, me”. (So, why should He respond? We’re not speaking to Him.) When we act out of love for God and do His will, He hears “I love you”. When we care for a suffering person, God hears “I care for you”.

So when God speaks to us in scripture, in the reality that surrounds us, and in the Word Incarnate, Jesus Christ, let us respond, not so much with words, but with our reality–the fullness of our hearts speaking through our lives.

Scripture Through the Eyes (and heart) of Christ

Scripture Through the Eyes (and heart) of Christ

“Thou art the Father’s knowledge true,

His word through whom all things we see

In wondrous order shining forth;

They draw our hearts and minds to Thee”

--Hymn for Lauds, Tuesdays 1 & 3. from Hymnal for the Hours by Fr. Samuel Weber, O.S.B.
 ©2014 Saint Meinrad Archabbey, St. Meinrad, IN 47577-1010, U.S.A.

There seem to be as many interpretations of scripture as there are interpreters! That’s not always a bad thing, though. It is certainly true that we must defer to the magisterium or teaching authority of the Church on all questions of doctrine or dogma, lest we be influenced by the values of our particular culture or fall into the trap of using the Word of God to validate our own selfish desires. But within that “safe zone” God speaks to us, as individuals, to our own situations. Even the same scripture may reveal a different message to the same person at different times.

The key to this living relationship with God through scripture is the Holy Spirit. We know that through baptism and confirmation we receive the very same Spirit that Jesus Himself has! But we must daily, hourly, yes even moment by moment, choose to serve Him as our Lord rather than ourselves. As St. John says “No one who remains in him sins; no one who sins has seen him or known him.” (1John 3:6) But if our hearts are humble and docile the Holy Spirit will dwell in us and will speak to us through His word.

Jesus, our Lord and King is the very word of the Father. Every word of the Holy Bible was spoken through Him. It may have been written down by many individuals in different times and cultures, but none of it is to be ignored, or even denied as merely cultural, self-serving, or legalistic.

Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, can speak to us through even the most obscure passage of scripture. St. Neilos the Ascetic read Judges 7:13 wherein an Israelite dreams of the tent of the Midianite being knocked down by a cake of barley bread. Through this he was reminded of the importance of fasting and a frugal diet! This was certainly not the only meaning of text nor its original intent. But Jesus, though His indwelling Holy Spirit spoke to St. Neilos who shared that insight as an encouragement to all of us.

Sometimes we can feel that we’re speaking to God, but that He is silent. But if we silence ourselves and our own desires, Jesus, the living word, who was with God, who was God from the beginning speaks to us through the holy scriptures. And as we carry that word through our daily activities, relationships, joys and trials, what once seemed like silence can become a constant ongoing conversation.