Thursday, March 14, 2019

Agony and Ecstasy

Today I’m thinking  about Our Lord’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane following the Last Supper and before His arrest by the Jewish and Roman authorities.  The gospels say that He goes for a walk with His apostles Peter, James, and John.  He stops, asks the three of them to wait while He walks ahead “a stone’s throw” and prays, saying:  “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.”  (Luke 22:42).  He knew what was about to happen to Him and He asked His Father to intervene.  Luke says, “He was in such agony and He prayed so fervently that His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground.”  (Luke 22:44).

Matthew’s gospel records that He returned to the three apostles three times and found them sleeping each time.  Among other things, He says, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  (Matt 26:41).  Shortly after, He was arrested, flogged, crowned with thorns and crucified.

What are we to make of the details and of Jesus’ behavior in this scene?  I remember a physician turned priest once told me that it is indeed possible, when a person is under extreme duress, for blood to squeeze through the wall of a vessel and intermingle with sweat.  That presumably explains the drops of blood.  But why ask God the Father to “take this cup away?”  Isn’t He supposed to suffer and die so that mankind can be saved from their sins?  Well, yes to the second question.

I think what we must remember is that Jesus has two natures … a human nature and a divine nature.  Some refer to Him as the “God-man.”   So because Jesus has a human nature, He must experience human pain and emotion.  He knew what was ahead of Him … a painful and relentless flogging at the hands of His enemies and, once greatly weakened from the loss of blood and a painful scarring on his torso, a pushing and shoving way of the cross, the cross on his shoulders, to the hill of Calvary, and then the piercing and shooting pain from nails through his hands and feet that held him on the cross until, finally, death.  His human nature simply could not endure it, could not handle it.  Yes, Father, take this cup away from me, please, please, please.

As death overtook Him, the chains of sin were lifted from my body and your body.  Once that act was completed, His divine nature took over … a glorious Resurrection.

Friends, please don’t let the great miracles associated with the life, death and Resurrection of Christ pass you by on this Earth.  He suffered and died for me.  He suffered and died for you.  To use modern language, please love Him “to the moon and back” for this terrific, soul-saving gift from our God.  I’m fully aware, of course, that indeed, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” and that you likely will fall asleep and commit sin, for I have the same human nature as you!  But I also know that your love for God will produce eternal ecstasy in heaven for all of us if we just “repent and believe in the Gospel.”  I pray that your Lenten journey continues to be grace-filled and holy.  Amen!

Thursday, March 7, 2019

The Words of Lent

The season of Lent began yesterday.  So today I’m having my “preparation for Easter” thoughts.  Words like repentance, confession, forgiveness, absolution, contrition and penance come to mind.  These are important words because they lead to a clean heart and a clean soul with which to celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord and receive the Eucharist at the Easter Mass. 

In the Catholic Church, we have a prayer that sums it up.  It is called the Act of Contrition.  I’m writing it down below in a way that I hope will indicate the awesomeness of each little phrase.  Catholics will recognize it as the prayer that a penitent sinner recites as our final statement after confessing his/her sins to a priest in the confessional.

Oh, My God … I am heartily sorry for having offended thee ... and I detest all my sins … because I dread the loss of heaven … and the pain of hell, ...  but most of all because they offend thee, my God … who are all good … and deserving of all my love.  I firmly resolve, with of help of thy grace … to confess my sins … do penance … and amend my life.  Amen.

Tears often come to my eyes while reciting this prayer in a slow, deliberate manner in the confessional each time I receive the sacrament.  How awesome and comforting it is to know that we have a compassionate, merciful, and loving God standing at the ready to forgive even our most serious of sins. 

I wish all my readers the holiest and most blessed Lent ever.  Amen!

Thursday, February 28, 2019

The First Protestants, circa 31 A.D.

Back in the year 31 A.D, give or take a year, Jesus made a point about people who claimed to be doing things in his name, but, at the same time, were not his followers in the strictest sense.  Here is the passage from Mark, Chapter 9: 

“John said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.’  Jesus replied, ‘Do not prevent him.  There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me.  For whoever is not against us is for us.’”   (Mark 9:38-40).

Of course, there is no mention here of modern day issues, like Sola Fide or Sola Scriptura, which Catholics believe are misguided Protestant dogmas.  However, it is clear that there were disciples back then who professed a faith in Jesus but did not believe all of his teachings.  Jesus tells us not to worry about them, that these disciples are not speaking ill of him, and so they are not against him.  Sounds like he was saying that ecumenism is not a bad thing, and that such disciples are, in fact, on his side.  However, it is also true that no mention was made here of their salvation.  I would like to think that it would not be an issue for Jesus.  But, then again … what do I know?  He also said this: 

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction and those who follow it are many.  How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life.  And those who find it are few.”  (Matt 7:13-14).

Thursday, February 21, 2019

What is the World Coming To?

Today I am pondering two “what-is-the-world-coming-to” types of situations:  1) the serious push to have abortions legalized right up to the moment of birth (and even after birth), and 2) the hideous worldwide Catholic clergy sexual abuse scandal.   These are major battles of right vs wrong and, I dare say, Satan appears to be winning.  Let’s take a look.

It appears to me that both situations can be traced back to the tumultuous 1960s.  Now, I was a teenager for most of that time, but I can tell you that I was a very happy lad.  At first, everything seemed to be cool.  I was living on a small Iowa farm, going to high school, enjoying playing baseball and basketball, tending to my many 4-H farm animal projects, and surrounded by loving family and religious sisters and priests.  I had heard of one or two unwanted pregnancies occurring among high school acquaintances, but there was never any thought of an abortion.  In fact, while scandalous, there was nothing to be considered, except to get married or to be a single mother, or to put the child up for adoption.  And these choices were not the end-of-the-world options that they seem to be today.  Life simply went on for everyone, including the unborn babies.

Our priests were well-respected, holy people.  Besides celebrating daily school Masses, they held weekly confessions, 40-hour devotions, Benedictions, parish missions, etc.  The priests were the respected authorities where right and wrong were concerned, and I never heard any peep about any scandal.  There were the changes brought about by the Vatican Council II, which created confusion, and the papal decision that artificial means of birth control was sinful.  There was much dissent from this teaching, even among clergy.

Then came the seventies.   The Supreme Court declared that unborn children were not Constitutionally protected “persons” and could therefore be aborted at will.  And priests secretly began sexually abusing children.  Whoa!!  The whole dynamic of life began to change especially for those directly affected.  People, including me, were slow to adjust.  I never gave the Supreme Court decision much thought early on, but later it was front and center. 

And now, here we are in 2019.   The world is a mess, to put it mildly.  I used the word “hideous” above to describe the sexual abuse scandal.  It has reached bishops, cardinals, and religious orders worldwide.   Something needs to happen.  But what?  And the abortion question.  All Democratic presidential candidates and many state governors have bought into the idea of passing legislation and state constitutional amendments making it legal up to moments before birth!  Yes, Satan appears to be winning.  Dear reader, I don’t know where your thoughts are on these things, but we need to get straightened out.  We need leadership.  If you are a liberal-minded person inclined to change things, we need to return to sanity, to normalcy.  It’s time for traditional values to be the objects of change before Satan wins the final battle.   Let us pray. please.  Amen!

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Story of the Intergalactic Travelers

Have you heard the story about the intergalactic space travelers … a family of human beings from another planet similar to Earth but in another galaxy?  Their planet was on the brink of destruction when they decided to be bold and launch their spacecraft into the unknowns of deep space in hopes of starting over. 

They placed their spacecraft in orbit around the Earth, peered through their technologically advanced surveillance system, and discovered a large population of humans all going about their business, most adults having a daily routine that they called their “job” and children mostly in schools.  They were quite intrigued especially about this thing these heretofore unknown humans called their faith.  On their home planet, they never considered that there might be such a thing called “God” and so they never had seen anything like the belief systems they were observing here.

They decided that this planet could serve as their new home and decided to integrate into our society.  As time passed, they found themselves wanting to select a faith from the myriad of opportunities that were available here.  There was atheism; there was Hinduism; there was Buddhism, there was Judaism; there was Islam; there was Christianity, which was split into a large number of separate entities often referred to as denominations; and there was Catholicism, which was Christian, but not a denomination in the strict sense of the word.  They learned all they could about all of them.

First, they first rejected atheism.  They figured that there were just too many complexities in the universe and in humanity that it just wasn’t feasible or realistic to believe that it all came into existence on its own.  They then rejected Hinduism and Buddhism, believing that their concepts of God just weren’t viable and therefore not as credible as this God whom the large percentage of remaining humans believed was “in touch” with humanity like the God of Judaism and Christianity was.  Besides, if this God had “visited his people” and inspired certain individuals to create a written record called “Scripture” starting in ancient times, well, surely this was the best option.

Upon learning that this God had sent his son to Earth with the gift of repentance and forgiveness in order to save as many people as possible from their sins (as had been prophesied throughout these Scriptures), they decided to reject Judaism and concentrate on Christianity.  What was left?  A Christian denomination, and Catholicism, and Islam.

They saw that Catholicism claimed to have been founded by this “Savior.”  All the others were founded by another human.  Islam rejected this Savior and went in a different direction, with a Scripture of its own written some 600 years after the Christian Savior lived on Earth.  That was the final straw.  It would be Catholicism for these travelers.  Despite the fact that they had to have a true faith in this Savior and had to follow a few more “rules” than in all the Christian denominations they studied, they came to believe that it was Catholicism that had the absolute truth.  They came to be baptized into the Catholic faith and lived quite happily ever after in their new home, with their new faith, and, yes, in the afterlife for all eternity.  Amen! 

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Resounding Gongs and Clashing Cymbals

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”  These are the words of Jesus Christ.  (Mark 12:31).  It seems to me that today, many people, though they are quite familiar with this commandment of Our Lord, they act as though they have never heard it.  I have seen posts on Facebook and Twitter that demonize one’s neighbors for not having the same belief system that they do.  Both sides of a debate “share” posts of others that are rude and full of hate for the other side.  A person that does this, it seems to me, is what St. Paul has referred to as “a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal” because they do not have love.  (1 Cor 13: 1).  They “speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love.”

A passage from Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is often read at weddings because it tells us what love is, and presumably tells a newly wedded couple that love for each other is what is important in order to make a marriage work.  But isn’t it really a lesson for all of us?  St. Paul does not say that is specifically for a newly married couple!  He goes on to say the following.

“And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. 

Love is patient, love is kind.  It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.”

I invite all my readers to read this passage again slowly and carefully.  And the next time you see a post on Facebook or Twitter that espouses what you believe and you decide that you want to share it, please be patient and have a second look at it.  Is it cruel (opposite of kind)?  Is it pompous?  Is it inflated?  Is it rude?  Does it rejoice over wrongdoing.  If it is (or does) any of these things, please have a second thought about posting it or sharing it, no matter what side of the issue you are on.  If you do this, I believe you will have love in your heart, not hate, and you will not be a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.  And I think you will discover this love you have discerned exudes faith, patience, kindness, and hope … all wonderful and amazing virtues for us to practice among our friends.  Amen!

Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Interpretation of Scripture ... By Jesus Himself!

We sometimes struggle to properly interpret the Word of God in Sacred Scripture.  To discover a passage in which Jesus Himself explains something is rather extraordinary.  Yet, that is what we find in the Gospel of St. Mark, Chapter 4.

Here is the passsage, and Jesus is speaking.  "Hear this!  A sower went out to sow.  And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path and the birds came and ate it up.  Other seed fell on rocky ground where it had little soil.  It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep.  And when the sun rose, it was scorched and it withered for lack of roots.  Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it and it produced no grain.  And some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit.  It came up and grew and yielded thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold."  And, as if for emphasis, he said this:  "Whoever has ears ought to hear."  (Mark 4:3-9).

After the disciples expressed their lack of understanding, he interprets for them.  (Mark 4:14-20).  The seed represents the Word of God.  The birds represent Satan.  The path represents people who have access to the Word of God.  Satan acts so that the people do not hear the Word of God and so it has no chance to grow and be nurtured.  The rocky ground represents people who  receive the Word of God with "with joy," but do not take it to heart.  As soon as "tribulation and persecution" come, they "fall away."  The thorns represent secular or earthly distractions, such as "worldly anxiety, the lure of riches," and other cravings that people allow to take over their lives causing them to ignore the Word of God.  But the rich soil represents people who hear the Word of God and fully accept it such that they produce extraordinarily good works and grow in faith and holiness.

Jesus began his interpretation by saying "Whoever has ears ought to hear."  (Mark 4:9).  This sounds like he wants the message to be in bold print and underlined!  So let's summarize.  We should pay close attention to, diligently study, and properly interpret the Word of God.  We should avoid serious sin and not give in to the word of Satan, meaning not give in to any temptation to sin.  We should allow the Word of God to "take root" in our lives and we should force ourselves to act accordingly.  If problems arise, such as the persecutors from the secular world attacking us, or serious calamities and accidents disabling us, we should allow the Word of God to strengthen us.  And, finally, we should not allow the lure of riches or sexual and other cravings to ruin us.

And what as far as properly interpreting the Word of God?  The Catholic Church is the Church Jesus founded.  Let us look to it for proper interpretation.  Some will not want to do this.  If you are one of them, I suggest you take on a full study of  Catholicism, such as in a RCIA class in your local parish.  The bottom line is that God wants a world filled with faithful and holy people.  Let us do our level best to accommodate him.  Amen!