Tuesday, June 30, 2015

"Save Us Lord! We Perish!"

A Reflection on Matthew 8:23-27

Being a disciple of Jesus means following Him wherever He leads us, and trusting that no matter where He takes us, we can rest assured that all is part of His loving plan and purpose, and that in all circumstances He will provide for all our needs and protect us from all evil. It is only natural for us to fear when we do not know what is coming next, or when we are in a situation, like the disciples in the boat, from which we cannot run; in which we cannot help ourselves and therefore must rely on God. The Lord does not rebuke His disciples for their plea, "Lord, save us," but rather, for their conclusion about what is happening to them in the face of this danger:  …"we perish!"
He said to them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?” 
Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, 
and there was great calm. 
The men were amazed and said, “What sort of man is this, 
whom even the winds and the sea obey?”
It takes "little faith" to follow Jesus when "all is calm" and "all is bright." We love to go to church on Christmas Day and Easter Sunday. Yes, it is good to rejoice in the coming of the Lord and in the salvation He won for us in His conquering of sin and death. These same disciples who followed Jesus into the boat and saw that even the winds and the sea obey Him forgot all about the miracles when Judas and the temple guards showed up. It is natural to forget and to flee. But we are called to do the supernatural. We are called to follow and accompany Jesus on Good Friday, too. As Paul writes in his second letter to Timothy: "It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; If we endure, we will also reign with Him."

Thursday, June 18, 2015

On Calling God Our Father

That God is personified as “He” in both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, and that He would have us call Him “Father,” says more about us, our needs and our nature, and about who we are in relation to God, than it does about the infinite God.

Everything that exists here in the world, in the finite realm of space and time, has its origins in God, in eternity, and is only rightly seen when viewed in relation to God.  That God would want to be called “Father” and “He” is God’s own way of making Himself in a way (albeit a very limited way) understandable to us in terms we can grasp, just as Sacred Scripture speaks of God as having “eyes,” or a “hand,” “right arm,” or a “back.” Knowing us better than we could ever know ourselves, God knew best what we would need from Him, which was, in the fullness of time, to reveal Himself as Father through His Son, and to reveal the fullness of His love for us in giving that Son up to death for us.

We can be certain that we bear something of God’s likeness, but we can also be certain that this does not in turn mean that God is like us. “The Father” is not in any way a male human being. When Jesus, Who became man, Who took on human flesh to redeem our flesh, says, “I and the Father are One” (John 10:30), He is speaking of the perfect communion of their persons and natures. They are still distinct persons. Jesus came from the Father and exists in the Father, but He Himself is not the Father.  Unlike us, Jesus bears the Father’s image and likeness perfectly ("Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father" (John 14:9)). It is Jesus who taught us to call God “Father,” and it is in fact only in Christ that we can call God “Father,” as we have only become God's adopted children in Christ. As St. John writes at the beginning of his first epistle, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is” (1 John 1:2).


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Court of Public Opinion Isn't Public at All

Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, and neither is the one in which we find ourselves living today.

It seems that religion’s voice of moral authority has been successfully silenced.  Now speaking in its place are a fine group of oligarchs, many of them ruling in secret, as they exert their power and influence over our elected officials and government institutions behind the scenes.  Money talks, and it often whispers. Through the decisions of US Courts, even of individual judges, marriage and family have been “redefined”—and we are told we have no right to say otherwise.  Some of our oligarchs have even gone so far as to tell us that the teachings of the Church have to change. But why are we shocked by all this? Because these same powers and influences have also successfully robbed us of our regard for history.
 A long time ago, way back in 1992, in the case known as Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the US Supreme Court judges, after suffering from a momentary lapse of sanity in which they seriously considered overturning Roe v. Wade (1973), instead decided to reaffirm the central holding of Roe. But in order to rationalize their decision, that is, to reiterate Roe's ruling that the "Constitutional rights" of personal privacy and personal liberty trumped the rights and duties of the State to protect human life, they had to even further twist and warp the concepts of human privacy and liberty, to such an extent as to this time make them absolute, not only over any earthly authority, but even over the authority of God Himself:

"At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life."

Father, forgive them, for they knew not what they were doing…or did they? “The right to define one’s own concept of existence?” Does that sound familiar? “Call me Caitlyn.” “I self-identify as black.”  Just as the judges promised, hand in hand with the right to define one’s own concept of existence, is the right to define meaning.  What is marriage?  What is a family? What is gender?  What is race? What is the mind? What is the body? What is insanity?  Through our laws, we have been progressively practicing wholesale deception and self-deception as a society. Why are we then surprised that so many individuals are now coming forward asking us to affirm them in their own private worlds of deception?
It strikes me as profoundly cruel that our culture has chosen to affirm Mr. Jenner’s illness rather than affirming the suffering man. And no matter what anyone tries to say, we didn’t do it for the sake of Mr. Jenner. In fact, we did it at his expense, to try to console ourselves; to affirm our society’s sins, our wholesale rejection of the Creator and the inherent beauty and sanctity of life, and the wisdom and order and blessing of Creation as given to us.
In the mythological story of Pandora, she succumbs to doing the forbidden by opening a box which unleashes into the world all of the evils known to man.  But the last entity to emerge was something unlike all the others:  it was Hope. When the Lord God pronounced the inevitable consequences of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, He nevertheless promised that out of sinful humankind itself would come One Who would crush the head of the serpent, the father of lies. Those of us who say we believe in Christ, those of us who pray to the Father with the words, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,” what are we doing to bring about the reign of Christ in a world that hates us, but is clearly thirsting for what it hates? The Church has been forced out of the public square in the United States, just as it has been under the world’s totalitarian regimes. But even China has an irrepressible underground Church.  Do we? 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Love is the Author and Finisher of Our Faith

 

On the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul

 

     How could Peter be so rightly convinced in his heart that Jesus was truly the Son of God, but then after Jesus' arrest, swear up and down that He didn't even know Jesus? After Peter made his profession of faith in reply to Jesus' question, "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus tells the Apostles that because He is "the Son of the Living God," His life is about doing the Father's will, and to fulfill that mission, He must allow Himself to be arrested and put to death. That's when Peter protested, saying that God should instead forbid such things from happening.  


Statue of St Paul in front of St Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, Italy.
     What Peter's lack of understanding about Jesus' identity and mission tells us about his faith-- and about ours as well-- is that faith is not a learned skill or personal attribute, but is totally a gift from God.  As it is a gift, we do not deserve it, and as it comes from God, we cannot understand it without His help. So how are we then to respond to this gift?  By humbly saying "thank you," taking possession of it as our "pearl of great price," and then asking God to show us what His purpose and intention is for this gift of faith in our lives. Peter had readily received the gift of Jesus from the Father, but still had his own idea of what the right purpose of that Gift should be.


     As we consider and celebrate the lives of Peter and Paul on the occasion of this solemnity, we might be struck by how greatly different these two men were from one another. Peter was an uneducated fisherman, but one could easily imagine him with a tendency to contemplation, as fishermen have much time on their hands to think about other things while waiting for the right conditions and the right fish.  Having to often act on the spur of the moment by profession, we can also understand his impetuous nature and speech. Paul, on the other hand, was highly educated, steeped in the letter of the Law, and calculating by nature. But as the Lord does with all of us--because He knows us better than we know ourselves-- Jesus knew exactly the right method and the perfect moment for capturing and converting their stubborn hearts.


     Faith is not only a call to trust God for everything, but is also a call to mission. As did Peter and Paul, as we also make our journey of formation and maturity in the faith, we find that we also come to love the God who has given us the gift of knowing Him, and as this love matures, we find ourselves wanting to serve Him. As we pray in one of the Mass' Eucharistic prayers, "our desire to praise You is itself Your gift," so we must also remember that the work God has given each of us to do is HIS work, not ours.  And if we truly love Him, there is nothing that He could ask us to do that we would not say "YES" to-- just as Jesus said yes to the Father in all things, even as He went to the cross.