Thursday, January 31, 2013

Is free will good?

This is something I really did not desire to write about because I am not qualified; but, in the last week, I have had two people tell me how thankful we should be for free will. We should be, because it is a great gift of God, but there are also many dangers. It is my desire that we utilize an understanding of "free will" to recognize how frail we are and to cry out more for God's grace. I am writing this 3 o'clock in the morning and haven't proofed it.

Do we have free will? Absolutely. We know this because the Church teaches this. Is free will good? Absolutely. God only gives good gifts. That being said, let’s delve into it a little.

Adam and Eve were created in full light. They were created without sin.

They used their free will to rebel against God. We cannot—and must not—think that we would have done any differently. If we had been them, we would have done likewise. Because of God, because of who He is, because of His mercy and grace, He condescended to “go after them” in order to save them, to save us. St. Peter, knowing who Jesus is, denied our Lord three times, even with a curse. He had free will. He could have used that freedom to die with Christ, or he could have used that freedom to save his temporal life and deny Christ. He chose the latter. St. Peter was not forced to deny Christ; he freely chose to.

During the persecution of the Church, many chose to die for Christ. Also, there were many who, due to the threat of death, chose to deny Christ. They were not forced to deny Christ. They could have, like others, chosen death; they chose to use their freedom of the will to deny Him. This caused a division in the Church because there were some who believed that, because they denied the Faith, they could not return to the Church.

Today, I think most people use the term “free will,” thinking they have the free will to accept or reject Christ. In this, they would be mostly wrong. One needs to read St. Ambrose and St. Augustine to get a good understanding of this. What I am going to write about is experientially.

I have two brothers and three sisters; we have the same parents, were reared the same way. They are not that “religious”—for lack of a better term. Why? Am I smarter than they? Why is it that you believe in Christ, but the other person does not? Is it because you are smarter than they? No. Then why is it? Must it not come down to the mercy and grace of God?

I do not desire to go much further than this because I believe this is mostly a mystery hidden in God. This is why I recommend reading St. Augustine and St. Ambrose. We do use our free will to cooperate with the grace of God, but this raises other questions: What made me to desire to cooperate with the grace of God, yet the other person did not have the same desire? Hear Jesus: “You did not choose Me; I chose you.” Many times, our faulty view of “free will” leads us into presumptuousness.

We do not fear sinning because all we have to do is go to confession and confess our sins. The Church teaches that this would not be a good confession. The Church also teaches that we should only utilize created things to bring us closer to the Creator. Utilizing our freedom of the will, is this the purpose we utilize television for? What about the games? What about everything else we own? It is only by the grace of God that we utilize the freedom of the will correctly, and this also leads us to presumptuousness: que sera, sera (whatever will be, will be).

May we recognize our frailty and put no trust at all in ourselves, but place all trust and confidence in our God, who—because of His love for us—sent His Only Begotten Son to redeem us, to save us, by His Passion, death, and resurrection. May we recognize that we utilize free will more to rebel against God than to obey Him. We do utilize our free will to cooperate with His grace when He causes us to recognize our sins and to repent, confessing our sins in Confession. T.T.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Jesus The High Priest: Is suffering necessary?

From Hebrews 5: “Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people. No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God, just as Aaron was. In the same way, it was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest, but rather the one who said to him: ‘You are my son; this day I have begotten you;’ just as he says in another place: ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.’ In the days when he was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, declared by God high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.”

“Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.” Henceforth, Jesus, Son of God, incarnate, was taken from among men and made our representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. We see this done at every Mass in the Eucharist. Jesus is, therefore, able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for He Himself was beset by the weakness of human flesh, although He never sinned. Because He was without sin, He did not have to make sin offerings for Himself; He only made a sin offering for us-- Himself.

No high priest takes the honor of high priest upon himself but only when called by God. In the days when Jesus was in the flesh, He offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save Him from death. He prayed in the Garden that the cup be taken from Him but “not my will be done, but Thine;” but I believe that these prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears were not for Himself but for us.

Because of His reverence, He was heard; His prayers and supplications were answered. Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered. When He was made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him. We also learn obedience through suffering. If we do not suffer, we better be fearful of our salvation. For this reason, we endure suffering with joy: He is sanctifying us.  T.T.

This theological reflection courtesy of the parishioners of St Paul Catholic Church in Pensacola, Florida:

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Entering Spiritual Desolation

Entering Spiritual Desolation. The word “entering” is a misnomer; it is more a stumbling/falling into spiritual desolation. It has never felt as if it was a gradual thing; it has always been sudden. Spiritual desolation helps us grow in the faith, teaches us perseverance, but it can be a very desperate condition. Bible reading becomes a burden. It gives me no joy during those times. Prayer is a chore. It is during times of spiritual desolation, I believe, that people stray from the faith. God “seems” to be distant, not caring. The people of the world appear to be happier, more carefree than I.

Spiritual desolation varies in length. I have had occasions which lasted for days; some, for weeks; some, months.

What causes spiritual desolation? There are a myriad of circumstances which cause spiritual desolation. Sin? Yes, sin can cause it for sure. When we sin willfully, many times our conscience will convict us. If we ignore our conscience and continue in the sin, each occurrence thereafter becomes easier, and, finally, the sin no longer bothers us. Perhaps, sin is a major cause. It does not have a habitual sin. Occasional sin can sometimes cause spiritual desolation; sometimes, one instance of sin can cause it. Sometimes spiritual desolation comes when there is no sin involved.

I have gone through a period when I was working 10-12 hours a day, six days a week. During this time also, we were moving. When I wasn’t working, we were moving. There was no other alternative. Then came spiritual desolation. I had great difficulty in prayer. During the most difficult times, my prayers came down to saying, “Lord, help me!” Scripture was just letters on a page. I could not focus on the words, had no desire to read. This lasted approximately five months.

During this time, I kept reminding myself that it was God’s desire to save, not destroy. I would ask my patron saint to intervene for me, and I relied on the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail, Mary. The only thing that kept me going to Mass was the fear of mortal sin. The greatest mistake I made during this period was neglecting to speak to our priest about it. Spiritual desolation is not something I want to talk about when I am going through it, and it is very dangerous to undergo spiritual desolation, keeping it to yourself.

Nevertheless, spiritual desolation is a very beneficial thing if we do not forget them. I expect to go through spiritual desolation again. The next time, it will probably be more severe. I do have the confidence that God will not place too much upon me. In my experience, the more severe the test, the shorter the duration; the longer the duration, the severity is less.

Our Lord, Jesus Christ, after His Baptism, was driven into the desert by the Holy Spirit. Holy Scripture tells us He had to deal with wild beasts. In Scripture, “wild beasts” can refer to evil people. During this period, the angels administered to him. During our periods of spiritual desolation, we too can be assured that our guardian angels are administering to us. How do we know this? Because they administered to Jesus.

Let us take the time now to prepare ourselves for upcoming periods of desolation. It is not a matter of “if,” but “when.” These are some basic ideas. People may vary in their preparations. I utilize these because they are easy to remember.

First, know for certainty that God loves you.

Our Catechism tells us that God comes to us. Just look at a Bible. That Bible is God revealing Himself to us. He did not have to do that: He is God. Nevertheless, He condescended to reveal Himself to His creature out of love for that creature—mankind. Because He loves mankind, He desires to save them from perishing.

The next time you go to Mass, stand outside the parish and view the pictures of the saints. These saints are not dead. Jesus said, if we believe in Him, we shall never die; henceforth, the saints are alive. They are still part of the Body; therefore, they are helping us, interceding for us. St. Paul said that he was torn between leaving and being with Christ, which is better, or staying here. If the apostle was saying that he desired to leave here to be with Christ in heavenly bliss, that would be selfish for he would be thinking of himself, not others. I think he was saying that he could be of more help to the Church if he was with Christ but, because, the saints on earth were weak in faith, he would remain—because they were strengthened by his presence.

Now, enter the parish. Again, you encounter saints, along with Jesus, our Blessed Mother, Joseph, etc. We have entered; therefore, these are the “inner circle,” their intercession being more vigorous. Now, enter the nave. Use your imagination, combined with your knowledge of the Word. Pay particular attention to the altar, the Tabernacle, the candle signifying that Christ is physically present. Look carefully at everything, “seeing” how dearly God loves us, how earnestly He works for us to persevere. He knows we are weak, and He has the angels working to aid us, the saints in heaven, the saints in purgatory, and those present with us. If we do not persevere, it is because we really do not care. T.T.

The Pharisees Saw Jesus Sitting with Sinners and Tax Collectors

The Pharisees saw Jesus sitting with sinners and tax collectors, and made a judgment call. Perhaps the Pharisees were thinking of Psalms 1. “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in company with scoffers. Rather, the law of the LORD is his joy; and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted near streams of water that yields its fruit in season; its leaves never wither; whatever he does prospers. But not so are the wicked, not so! They are like chaff driven by the wind. Therefore the wicked will not arise at the judgment, nor will sinners in the assembly of the just. Because the LORD knows the way of the just, but the way of the wicked leads to ruin.” Sinners are not good people, and tax collectors are the lowest of the lowly. Therefore, at first blush, we would agree with them. For example: We know that a (fictitious) group of people are known drug addicts and drunkards and we see a well known Christian dining and drinking with them, what would we think? Perhaps we might think, “Look at Jody Boy; he’s supposed to be a Christian.” I recall the cliché—I’ve used it myself—“birds of a feather flock together,” or “you know a person by the people he hangs around with.”

St. Mark, in his Gospel account, was referring to the Jesus’ call of Levi (Matthew). “Once again he went out along the sea. All the crowd came to him and he taught them. As he passed by, he saw Levi, son of Alphaeus, sitting at the customs post. He said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners sat with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many who followed him. Some scribes who were Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors and said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ Jesus heard this and said to them [that], ‘Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners’.”

This was not a party at Levi’s house, and Jesus joined in. Prior to this, Jesus was walking along the sea. The crowd came to him, and He taught them, as He walked along. As He passed by the customs post, He said to Levi, “Follow me.” As Jesus sat at table in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners—who had followed Him there—sat with Him and His disciples. The scribes, who were Pharisees, probably passed by later, saw Jesus, and asked some of those who they knew to follow Jesus why He ate with sinners and tax collectors. We do not know whether they were asking this sarcastically or questioningly. This is St. Mark’s first mention of the Pharisees, and he does not appear to be rebuking them here. He is just mentioning a fact, that some scribes who were Pharisees saw Jesus. Jesus heard them asking; therefore, Jesus told them, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do; I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” Jesus is not rebuking them, but stating a fact.

St. Mark is not desirous of us focusing on the Pharisees; he is desirous that we understand that Jesus came to call sinners. He came to call those that are not righteous in order that He may make them righteous, make them holy. He was not “hanging out” with sinners; He was calling them, teaching them. St. Mark is giving us Hope. If we are sinners—and we are—then Jesus is calling us. He calls each of us continuously, “Follow me.” He constantly beckons to us in the Mass, especially in the Eucharist, “Come, eat; come, follow.” When we cease to hear this, we will turn away. This Hope is not wishful thinking.

Many times I am tempted to fall into despair by wondering if I have sinned by omission that I forget that Jesus came to call sinners. This is comforting: He came to save sinners. We desire so much to be holy, to be pleasing to God, and we work so hard at it, so much so that one of two things will occur: 1) we think we are making headway and become full of pride, or 2) we feel we are not making headway and fall into despair. We must trust in the Sanctifier, that He is sanctifying us. We need to take our minds off ourselves and begin thinking of our neighbor. The more we place our minds on our neighbor, the less we will sin. The more our minds are upon ourselves, the more we will sin.  T.T.

This theological reflection courtesy of the parishioners of St Paul Catholic Church in Pensacola, Florida:

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Even If You’re NOT Stupid… Keep it Simple

Even I stand a chance of understanding today’s readings. Even I can get a hold of what they are saying. Here’s what I mean.

“The word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword…”

Paul doesn't leave much to the imagination.

“The law of the LORD is perfect…the decree of the LORD is trustworthy…the precepts of the LORD are right…”

The Psalmist’s point isn’t too hard to figure out.

“All the crowds came to him and he taught them.”

“Jesus said to him “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.”

“I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Mark doesn't mince words, and neither does Jesus.

In each of our readings today there is a directness; almost a sense of urgency. The meanings are clear, the thinking straightforward, and the direction unmistakable. We are at the end of the first week in Ordinary Time; Lent is literally just around the bend. We need to focus on what we are doing. ..and it’s hard.

In the last three and a half weeks we have celebrated the Incarnation in the birth of Jesus, honored his Holy Family, reveled in his introduction to the whole world through the Magi, mourned the loss of the Holy Innocents, and been absolutely awestruck by the Holy Trinity at the Baptism of Jesus. I don’t know about you, but I can really appreciate a little “straightforward” and “direct” about now…and the timing couldn’t be better.

The nights are getting shorter, and the days longer; we are moving out of the darkness, and into the light; we have to move away from ourselves, and towards him. We must decrease and he must increase.

In the fourteenth century, there was a Franciscan scholar named William of Ockham, and among his many writings, there is a short and sweet statement that has come to be known as “Ockham’s Razor”. What it basically says is “keep it simple”.

So we focus on those simple, direct statements that we hear today. That two-edged sword has to cut away our defects; his law, his decrees, and his precepts need to be written on our hearts; we are the crowd that comes to him, and he teaches us; he asks us to follow him, and we need to get up…and follow him. We are the sinners, and he’s coming for US.   W.W.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Happiness is. . .?

Merriam-Webster defines “happiness” as (a) a state of well-being and contentment or (b) a pleasurable or satisfying experience. “A pleasurable or satisfying experience” relates to happiness being temporary. “A state of well-being and contentment” could mean either permanent or temporary. Can a person live in continuous happiness in this world? I suppose the majority would say “no;” but, deep inside me, I want to say it is possible.

Why do I say that I think it is possible? If we place our pursuit of happiness in Life, it would have to be possible because, in Life, there can be nothing bad. When we place our pursuit of happiness in temporal things, things of the world, we are then placing our pursuit of happiness in death or the dying because all these things are passing away. Experience also testifies to this fact. We have all desired something; and, when we finally receive it, the happiness is short-lived. Temporal things cannot give permanent happiness; therefore, permanent happiness can only be achieved in Life—God.

To support this, we think of the Beatitudes. Happy are the humble whose confidence is in God. Happy are those who mourn over their sins and the sins of others, for they will be comforted by God. Happy are the meek; they know they shall inherit the kingdom. Happy are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Happy are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Happy are the pure of heart, for they will see God. Happy are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Happy are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Happy are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of Christ. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

If we look closely, we see that the beatitudes are cyclical. True happiness begins with humility, with confidence in God. This humility causes us to mourn over sins, our personal sins and the sins of others, and God will comfort us. Mourning over sin and being comforted by God lead us to showing meekness (gentleness). We are now exhibiting love for neighbor because of God’s love for us. Because of this love of God and neighbor, we know we shall inherit the kingdom. This knowledge causes us to hunger and thirst for righteousness. This hunger and thirst for righteousness being satisfied causes us to show mercy. Because we are showing mercy, we will be shown more mercy, which leads us to being pure of heart. The pure of heart are peacemakers for they bring others to the knowledge of Christ. Due to the peacemakers being children of God, they will be persecuted. Being persecuted causes humility, and the cycle continues. Each cycle enhances our happiness because each stage brings us to more Christ-likeness.

Happiness is in Life, not death (temporal things), and Life is in God, through Jesus Christ, by power of the Holy Spirit.  T.T.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Loving Neighbor

You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen. First and foremost, your fellow countrymen are our fellow Catholics and those in communion with the Pope. They are our brothers. Extended from those, our fellow countrymen are those who profess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Although they may not be in communion with us, they are baptized into the same Lord Jesus. These are our next of kin. Extended from those are our fellow human beings. These are our extended relatives.

Jesus loved the sinner so much that He became incarnate, took our sins upon Himself—although He was without sin—and died for us. There will inevitably be times when we will have a grudge against others, but we must not cherish (feed) that grudge. We cherish a grudge when we dwell upon it, justifying why we should be angry. On the other hand, when we do have a grudge, we should mourn the fact that we have a grudge, regardless of who is at fault. We should be confessing it as our sin because, if we had handled the situation differently, perhaps the grudge would not have been. We definitely should not take revenge. When Jesus was falsely accused and persecuted, He did not retaliate, but prayed for His persecutors, praying, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

You may have to reprove your fellow man, do not incur sin because of him. This we are bent to do by reason of our fallen nature. As Catholics, when we are in agreement with the Church, we have full truth. We are to rebuke our brother when he is doing wrong. We are also to rebuke our near kin and our extended relatives. If we do not rebuke, we sin. When we do rebuke, it must be done with love and gentleness that the circumstance entails. We are prone to argue, and even get angry, when others disagree with us, especially when we know we are right. This leads rapidly to anger and bearing hatred in our heart.

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit. Jesus had just completed His forty days in the wilderness, by tempted by Satan. He had been “driven” into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, and He now returns in the power of the Holy Spirit. We need to take careful note of this. When we are in our “desert places,” it may very well be—and, in all probability, is—because the Holy Spirit has “driven” us there, that we may be strengthened so that we will persevere in the Faith. It is not by our strength that we persevere; it is by the grace of God, and this through prayer.

Now, Jesus returned to Galilee. Let us focus on “Galilee” a little. “Galilee” means “circuit.” During the reign of Solomon, Hiram rendered some services for the building of the temple by giving him timber and laborers, and Solomon paid him by giving him land containing twenty cities. Hiram was extremely disappointed with the gift, considering the cities worthless. According to Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Hiram called this land “’the land of Cabul.’ The Jews called it Galil. It continued long to be occupied by the original inhabitants, and hence came to be called ‘Galilee of the Gentiles,’ and also ‘Upper Galilee,’ to distinguish it from the extensive addition afterwards made to it toward the south, which was usually called ‘Lower Galilee’.”

I am focusing on the fact that the cities were considered worthless by a king and that there were many Gentiles there who, of course, were considered “worthless” by the Jews. Nazareth was in Galilee, and even Nathanael questioned, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Hear St. Paul, the apostle, “Consider your own calling, brothers: Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something.” Possibly, Jesus went the “circuit,” finishing up in Nazareth.

Having finished the “circuit,” it was by no coincidence that He arrived in Nazareth that, on the day of Rest, He went into the synagogue, stood up, and read the passage contained in Isaiah, confessing that He is the Messiah. Consider from where our Lord had come prior to His Advent. He condescended to become a man, making His abode with the filth that we had willingly become. He who is Holy, who is Life, loved mankind so much that He willingly made His abode with the stench of death in order that He might redeem us, allowing us to share in His divine life—the Great Exchange.

The Word, God, did not become Incarnate because we were basically “good,” having a few defects. Now, when Adam sinned, we became progressively worse. The Law did not make us better; it made us worse, as testified to by St. Paul: “I did not know sin except through the Law, and I did not know what it is to covet except that the Law said, ‘You shall not covet;’ but sin, finding an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetousness…for sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and through it put me to death.”

Christ left His abode with Living in order to make His abode with death and the dying, in order that He might redeem us, that we might make our abode with the Living. Shall we then continue to live in death? Shall we continue in the desires and deeds of death? Holiness is no longer living as though we are the dead and dying, but the living. May God, through the intercession of our Blessed Mother, give us the grace to do so, to discern between Life and Death and act accordingly.  T.T.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Lord has Made his Salvation Known

The Lord has made known His salvation; has shown His justice to the nations. We now know that God has done this through the Incarnation, Passion, crucifixion, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ; but this is from Psalm 98:2, before the Incarnation. It is true that this was prophetic; nevertheless, there was a historic event that occurred also. We do not know the exact details, but this was probably the return to Israel after the Babylonian exile. If this is true, then it was not like the exodus out of Egypt. The return after the Babylonian exile was not a mass exodus, but was spread out over years. Nevertheless, there came a time—perhaps when the foundation of the second temple built—that the nation was told, “The Lord has made known His salvation; has shown His justice to the nations.”

If the Lord had made known His salvation and shown His justice to the nations by the rebuilding of the temple, how much more so by the first advent of His Son? When the nations heard about the rebuilding of the temple, I would venture to say they did not say—or even think—“Wow! The Lord has made know His salvation and show His justice!” No, it would have been something that they would have had to mediate upon. The same applies today. As previously noted, God has made known His salvation by the deeds of His Son, especially through His Incarnation, Passion, crucifixion, and resurrection. When Scripture says “has shown His justice to the nations,” “nations,” I believe, refer that the fact that peoples of all nations are being saved. “His justice” refers to our justification, for we read in 1 John, “If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just (emphasis added) and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.” Not only is God faithful in saving us if we acknowledge our sins, He is just in doing so.

The verse just prior to our Psalm passage reads, “Sing a new song to the LORD, for he has done marvelous deeds.” St. Augustine, in his commentary on the Psalms, wrote regarding this verse: “The new man knows this; the old man knows it not. The old man is the old life, and the new man the new life: the old life is derived from Adam; the new life is formed in Christ. But in this Psalm, the whole world is enjoined to sing a new song. More openly elsewhere the words are these: O sing unto the Lord a new song; sing unto the Lord, all the whole earth; that they who cut themselves off from the communion of the whole earth may understand that they cannot sing the new song because it is sung in the whole and not in a part of it. Attend here also, and see that this is said. And when the whole earth is enjoined to sing a new song, it is meant that peace sings a new song.”

At the time the psalm was written, the nation of Israel was told to “sing a new song.” The “old song” refers to Exodus 15. God tells Israel that this temple will surpass Solomon’s temple. The salvation referred to in this psalm was promised beforehand, is referred to as now, and was also promised to be something in the future. Israel could not “sing a new song” if salvation was not a present thing—and a future thing. This also applies to us. We must look at salvation as three-prong: past, present, and future. It is a past thing in that it took place at Baptism; it is a present thing in that we are being saved now, especially by virtue of confession and the Eucharist; and we will be saved in the future. We cannot rejoice if we just “hope” that we will be saved—“hope” being used as wishful thinking. This is not the type of “hope” referred to in Scripture or through Tradition. The “hope” they refer to is a concrete thing, a thing that will occur—if we persevere. It is for this reason that we rejoice: this three-fold reason. If we only look at salvation as a future thing, we cannot truly rejoice.

Pope Benedict, in his book Saved in Hope, says, “According to the Christian faith, “redemption”—salvation—is not simply a given. Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given
hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey…Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well…The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life.”

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Roller Coaster of Saint John Over Georgia

Reflections on: John 1: 43-51

Six Flags Over Georgia will always be one of my favorite places for a lot of reasons…but there are a couple of those reasons that just really soar above all the others. Most importantly for me, it is the focal point for a bunch of intense, joyous family experiences that encompass three generations. Next on the list…the roller coasters…everything from rickety wooden to sleek steel; and regardless of which one you choose, they all share that orderly chug up that first hill…the top…and then…the rest of that thrilling ride you knew was waiting just over that crest…pure hyperventilation followed by pure breathlessness.

In a sense, John's Gospel is like that ride, and today's reading is the top of that first hill. In the first 51 verses John lays out, in an orderly progression, everything that we need to know to handle the rest of the story: where Jesus came from, who he is, why he came, and what our response should…SHOULD…be. The prologue…those first poetic 18 verses…embrace the mystery of the Incarnation that we are still celebrating today, and the last verse gives us a hint, a heads-up, as to what we will see and experience on the rest of the ride: "No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father's side, has revealed him."

We immediately meet John the Baptist, who makes it clear that he is the forerunner, crying out in the desert…get ready!! And the next day, John points Jesus out and identifies him as Lamb of God, and the Son of God…stay with me, we're chugging up that hill. The next day, John directs his followers to Jesus, and Jesus asks them the great question of discipleship that we are all asked: "What are you looking for?" And Jesus gives them…and us…the answer: "Come and see." He starts calling the apostles and names Simon "The Rock". Almost there…almost there…almost at the top. And the next day…today…Jesus finds Nathaniel who's a good man at heart, but a little skeptical…a lot like us, actually…and Jesus reads Nathaniel's heart…out loud…and Nathaniel answers for all of us: "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel." We are right there at the top…hyperventilating…and in that first car, just as it slides over the peak, Jesus puts his hands in the air…straight up in the air…and in that instant before the plunge he looks us all in the eye and says: "Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man." John then starts the breathless trip through Jesus' Ministry, Life, Passion, Death, and Resurrection. We all need to take some time in the light of today's reading to consider where we are…where we really are. We are at the top of that hill…we're breathless…we're scared…but he's right there; he knows our hearts…and we ain't seen nothin' yet.  W.W.

See Gospel of John Chapter 1 here:

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Prayer -- Why Bother?

I am human—a fallen human being. I have to work; I get tired. I can only focus on one thing at a time. When at work, I must focus on work. That is what I am being paid for. I get off work, and go home to my family. Family requires time also. When I am tired, either I will forget either forget to pray or will not feel like praying. God understands—right?

Given time to contemplate upon the matter, I ask myself, “Do I neglect prayer because what I truly believe is: ‘What is the use? What is going to happen is going to happen; God is in control’.” Many times, prayer is neglected to presumptuousness. When all things are taken into consideration: Neglect of prayer is due to a lack of faith. Many times I treat God as if He is a far-away God—a very-far-off-God. It is meaningful to listen to the psalmist in Psalm 139: “LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou searchest out my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it. Whither shall I from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.”

God is a near God – a very-near-God. He is next to us to help us, guide us. My neglect of prayer speaks loudly to whether I truly believe this. I must keep in the foremost of my mind that my salvation is of great importance to God and everything goes to my salvation. This applies to every individual. The times I feel too tired to pray or just do not feel like praying are the times I really need to pray. These are times when I am prone to drift, when my salvation is not of utmost importance to me. My mind goes back just prior to the time Jesus went to His disciples, walking on the sea. “And straightway he constrained (urged irresistibly or powerfully; compelled; forced; restrained; confined; bound; imprisoned; necessitated) his disciples to enter into the boat, and to go before him unto the other side to Bethsaida, while he himself sendeth the multitude away; and, after he had taken leave of them, he departed into the mountain to pray.”

He knew the conditions into which He was sending, yet He did not go with them, but departed into the mountain to pray. I wonder, what did He pray about? Did He pray for Himself? I do not think so. What was important to Him? The redemption of mankind, including the salvation of His disciples. This trial was important for their salvation--and for ours. He rebuked them, “Ye of little faith.”

Many times when I pray, I pray for a good day at work, that I glorify God by words and deeds. I neglect to recall that the events that will confront me will be there because it is God’s will that I be confronted with them. They go to love of God and also to love of neighbor. My prayers in the morning need to go towards preparation to these events, praying the grace to confront them in faith. Prayers in the evening should be with thanksgiving if the trials were passed and with confession when I fail.

Everything goes towards salvation, loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves. T.T.

Do I Love God's Commandments, or Are They Often Just a Hindrance?

Blessed is the man that feareth the LORD, that delighteth greatly in his commandments (Psa 112:1 RV). The question that bores itself to the core of my heart is: Do I continuously delight greatly in the commandments of God, or are they often a hindrance to my desires? The Psalms hammer it home that I must delight in the laws of God. Common sense tells me that I must love the commandments of God. If I do not, there can be no love of God. Dislike of the commandments of God necessitates a dislike/hatred of the author of the commandments—God. There is no way that I can say I love God but disagree with His commandments. If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments (Joh 14:15 RV). If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love (Joh 15:10 RV). That puts it pretty succinctly. If I attempt to obey God’s commandments when there is no love in the commandments, in essence I am trying to earn salvation; it is a work entirely of my strength. This is why the Son was killed.

Now that I know that I must love the commandments of God, I have to do some honest examination of myself, examining myself to find out whether I truly love God’s commandments or whether I really consider them to be a hindrance to my true desires. At first blush, I am tempted to acknowledge them a hindrance. When I first read/hear His commandment, my first reaction is resistance. On the heel of the initial reaction of resistance is the emotion of fear.

Although, many times, I am tempted to ignore this and sweep it underneath the proverbial rug, I must not; I must face the cold, hard facts. I know that God’s laws are good, framed out of all that is Love. This brings me to prayer, confessing that I do not always love His commandments and asking for the grace to love them. Then comes the consolation of Romans: For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I know not: for not what I would, that do I practise; but what I hate, that I do. But if what I would not, that I do, I consent unto the law that it is good. So now it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwelleth in me. For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me, but to do that which is good is not.

For the good which I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I practise. But if what I would not, that I do, it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwelleth in me. I find then the law, that, to me who would do good, evil is present. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me out of the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then I myself with the mind serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin (Rom 7:14-25 RV).  T.T.

This theological reflection courtesy of the parishioners of St Paul Catholic Church in Pensacola, Florida:

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Walk in The Manner of Christians

This is based upon Mathete's epistle to Diognetus. It makes me to pause, take a step back, and look at myself, questioning: Is this me? Many times I get caught up with this world, the things of daily life, that I do not see this as being me. It has a way of getting me "back on track."

"The Manner of Christians"

They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.

To sum up all in one word— what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world. The invisible soul is guarded by the visible body, and Christians are known indeed to be in the world, but their godliness remains invisible. The flesh hates the soul, and wars against it, though itself suffering no injury, because it is prevented from enjoying pleasures; the world also hates the Christians, though in nowise injured, because they abjure pleasures. The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and [loves also] the members; Christians likewise love those that hate them. The soul is imprisoned in the body, yet preserves that very body; and Christians are confined in the world as in a prison, and yet they are the preservers of the world. The immortal soul dwells in a mortal tabernacle; and Christians dwell as sojourners in corruptible [bodies], looking for an incorruptible dwelling in the heavens. The soul, when but ill-provided with food and drink, becomes better; in like manner, the Christians, though subjected day by day to punishment, increase the more in number. God has assigned them this illustrious position, which it were unlawful for them to forsake."

During this blessed season of the Octave of Christmas, may we recall why Christ came and, by His grace, through the intercession of our Blessed Mother, walk in the "manner of Christians." T.T,

Take the Boring out of Life this Epiphany!

I went for a walk in the ball park behind our parish office. I looked up at the sky and lo, I beheld a magnificent cloud formation that was almost exactly the same color as the sky behind it - gray/blue. One had to look at it for a second to see the breadth of the clouds. It struck me that many people might not appreciate that particular cloud formation and just see it as a harbinger of bad weather, or as just a "blah" color and an uninspiring sight. How often do people forget to really look at nature and see it for what it really is? How often do we listen to nature with discerning ears? How often to we see and hear each other in life? How often to we truly see and hear music for what it is, furthermore, God? Is God at all like our own mental picture - is music - is nature - are we? Do we treat each other, music, nature, and God as they should be treated - as they truly are? I hypothesize that for all of us, the answer, to some degree, is "no".
A friend and I were talking a while back and reflecting upon the idea that one must listen in life to listen in music. I would expound upon this to say that this is true in almost everything. Why do some people consider certain things to be boring? Is anything under this great vault of sky and beyond truly boring? When one sees that even the smallest imperceptible creatures and building blocks of life pulsate with a subtle animation - with the "fire" of what we call life - how can one not be interested in even the very least of these things?

Nature is exceedingly complex, yet so often we would find just observing it to be boring. This translates into music as well. Great classical works, full energy and forged with mental fire, are often shunned by the populous as "boring old music for boring old people". Even many "indie" groups which sometimes contain a similar level of nuance and complexity are "indie" for this very reason. As a culture, we do not see or listen. Perhaps this is because we are removed more and more from nature? I would not feel comfortable guessing too much, but suffice to say that we miss a lot of things that take more than one glance to understand and dismiss them as boring.

Prose, music, painting, even each other - are these boring? Appreciate a microbe and begin to see a bird and hear its song. Appreciate a bird's song and begin to understand a melody and dimly understand a symphony. Begin to appreciate all things under the sun and perhaps begin to see and hear the eternal underpinnings of being and existence - the vibrations behind all things. See these things and nothing would be boring. Do not be overwhelmed by complexity. Hear the still, small, and omnipresent voice of God just as the Magi did at the end of their long journey to find what seemed to be just an ordinary, dare I say boring family with an infant child, who grew to become the reason for all we do - the Eternal One whose glory is in even the simplest and smallest nuance. Happy Epiphany. C.P.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Am I, or Was I, Changed by the Christmas Season?

Christmas Day has come and gone; New Year’s Day has come and gone. This is still the Christmas season. We know it is when Jesus, the Son of God, born of the Blessed Virgin, was born to redeem us. But does this really impact me? Does it really bring joy? Everything is getting back to routine. Nothing has really changed. But it should have. Hence, I went searching the Church Fathers, and I found a sermon by St. Leo the Great.

St. Leo said, “Our Savior, dearly-beloved, was born today: Let us be glad, for there is no proper place for sadness when we keep the birthday of Life, which destroys the fear of mortality and brings to us the joy of promised eternity.” What is “life”? I don’t mean the condition of living, but what is true life, the life that Christ brings? So often in the past, I tried to be “spiritual.” I put a lot of work into it. The usual result was: pride. I think back to my Baptism. There was no noticeable change at Baptism, but it was at that time that “life” began.

Life has no connection with death. The ante-Nicene Fathers knew this. Listen carefully to St. Leo, “…the birthday of Life, which destroys the fear of mortality” (emphasis added). It was for this reason that many of them readily accepted martyrdom. They realized that, because of the Nativity, “the Son of God…has taken on Him the nature of man, thereby to reconcile it to its Author: in order that the inventor of death, the devil, might be conquered through that (nature) which he had conquered.” Today, many just want to go to heaven. They believe that if they live a “good” life – in their eyes – they will go to heaven. Others believe that they will go to heaven because they believe in Jesus. We often forget that Satan knows Jesus better than we do. Some believe they will go to heaven because they have been baptized. Judas was baptized also.

Before we can grasp what life truly is, we must understand death and dying. Dying is reality to us. When we exited our mothers’ wombs, we began dying. It is all we know. Webster defines dying: “losing life; perishing; expiring; fading away; languishing; mortal; destined to death – as dying bodies.” Death was brought on in the Garden by Satan, through the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Death and dying brought on greed, envy, covetousness, lying, murder, rape, etc. Death brought on everything that is contrary to life: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, heresies, envyings, drunkenness, revelings, and such like.

I do not know, but it is also possible that ownership is a result of death and dying. St. Chrysostom preached against ownership. He said that, prior to the Fall, there was no ownership. We know that ownership does not bring contentment; it only makes us to want to own more. We know this, yet we desire that our children have more than we. We want them to have “good” careers, careers that earn much money. I am not being critical; I just want us to realize that this is not life but death. There are many doctors in the mission field. Many of the saints worked in hospitals, not for “good” careers but because of life. Many lawyers work pro bono – because they seek justice. I have a good job. I must answer for what I do with my money. That is terrifying to me. May God have mercy on me! Do I need the things I own? Would something of lesser value have been sufficient in order that I could have given more? Fear is also a factor. I might need that money in the future. Emergencies do occur. All of this is a result of death and dying, not life.

Jesus’ nativity destroys the fear of mortality. At His first Advent, He came to save, not to condemn. At His Passion and Resurrection, He conquered death and dying. Yes, we remain in mortal, dying bodies; but, nevertheless, we are not dying. The mortal body is dying, yet we are growing, living. St. Leo said: “There is for all one common measure of joy because as our Lord the destroyer of sin and death finds none free from charge, so is He come to free us all. Let the saint exult in that he draws near to victory. Let the sinner be glad in that he is invited to pardon.”

Life is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, temperance. You will recognize these as the fruit of the Spirit. Christ brings us this as a result of His nativity. St. Leo concluded his sermon: “Let us then, dearly beloved, give thanks to God the Father, through His Son, in the Holy Spirit, Who for His great mercy, wherewith He has loved us, has had pity on us: and when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together in Christ, that we might be in Him a new creation and a new production. Let us put off then the old man with his deeds: and having obtained a share in the birth of Christ let us renounce the works of the flesh. Christian, acknowledge your dignity, and becoming a partner in the Divine nature, refuse to return to the old baseness by degenerate conduct. Remember the Head and the Body of which you are a member. Recollect that you were rescued from the power of darkness and brought out into God's light and kingdom. By the mystery of Baptism you were made the temple of the Holy Ghost: do not put such a denizen to flight from you by base acts, and subject yourself once more to the devil's thralldom: because your purchase money is the blood of Christ, because He shall judge you in truth Who ransomed you in mercy, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit reigns forever and ever. Amen.”  T.T.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

In The Fullness of Time

I do not know if this phrase really caught anyone else’s eye, but it did mine. The question came to mind: Why did the apostle, St Paul, write this phrase (Galatians 4:4-5)? All the commentators rightly stated that this means “at the time appointed by God.” This is absolutely true, but why, still, was this the fullness of time? What made it the fullness of time?

One of the early church fathers – I do not recall who – stated that, after the Fall, mankind became progressively worse in their wickedness, that we do not become better because of sin, but worse. Therefore, I believe God was not waiting for mankind to become better, to a point where they were ready to “accept” Jesus as the Messiah, the Savior, but He had something else in mind.

It is reported that at the time of the Incarnation and Nativity that there was “peace” in the world. This would only mean that there was no war, for there was no love between the Jews and the Romans. Roman soldiers were posted throughout the Roman Empire to “keep the peace.” Hence, this “peace” was not a peace of good will toward one’s fellow man. The Jews, we know, hated the Romans. Perhaps, trusting that the church father is correct, this was the fullness of time because the wickedness of mankind had become full, complete, just as when God told Abraham regarding the Amorites, “In the fourth generation, your descendants will return here, for the wickedness of the Amorites is not yet complete” (Ge 15.16).

Mathetes, an ante-Nicene Church Father, in his epistle to Diognetus, wrote:

“As long then as the former time endured, He permitted us to be borne along by unruly impulses, being drawn away by the desire of pleasure and various lusts. This was not that He at all delighted in our sins, but that He simply endured them; nor that He approved the time of working iniquity which then was, but that He sought to form a mind conscious of righteousness, so that being convinced in that time of our unworthiness of attaining life through our own works, it should now, through the kindness of God, be vouchsafed to us; and having made it manifest that in ourselves we were unable to enter into the kingdom of God, we might through the power of God be made able. But when our wickedness had reached its height, and it had been clearly shown that its reward, punishment and death, was impending over us; and when the time had come which God had before appointed for manifesting His own kindness and power, how the one love of God, through exceeding regard for men, did not regard us with hatred, nor thrust us away, nor remember our iniquity against us, but showed great long-suffering, and bore with us, He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! That the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors! Having therefore convinced us in the former time that our nature was unable to attain to life, and having now revealed the Saviour who is able to save even those things which it was [formerly] impossible to save, by both these facts He desired to lead us to trust in His kindness, to esteem Him our Nourisher, Father, Teacher, Counselor, Healer, our Wisdom, Light, Honour, Glory, Power, and Life, so that we should not be anxious concerning clothing and food.”

Henceforth, it was then, at that time, the fullness of time. It was also the "fullness of time" at our Baptism. Our sins were full, and we feared the consequences. The "angel" came to us in the time of darkness, saying, "A child is born--the Savior! He is born of the Virgin;; He is persecuted by Pontius Pilate; He is crucified; and He is risen, after having been dead and buried for three days, and He has ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father!"

We are now awaiting the “fullness of time” when Christ returns, a time when the wickedness of mankind will have become full again. This time, however, Christ must return as Judge, for He has already been manifested as the God-Man, the Savior, and He is now here in His Body, the Church.  T.T.