Thursday, March 31, 2016

Forgiveness Through Divine Mercy

Last week, a Facebook friend of mine posted the following quote from Protestant theologian J. Gresham Machen:  “If Christ provides only a part of our salvation, leaving us to provide the rest, then we are still hopeless under the load of sin.”  First, I don’t know why any Christian would ever suggest that Christ provides only part of our salvation.  In the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 4: 12), Peter had this to say:  “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”  Yes, it’s 100% Christ. 

The quote may be a subtle reference to the Catholic view that Christ opened the pearly gates of heaven through his death, but it remains for a person to repent and be free of sin at his/her death.  However, repentance and forgiveness is also through grace given by Christ!  In the first letter of John, Chapter 1, we read:  “If we acknowledge our sins, he [God] is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.”  (1 John 1:9).  So yes, 100% Christ.  Catholics believe that Christ instituted the sacrament of Confession for the purpose of receiving God’s grace and forgiveness:  “Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven them, and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.  (John 20:23).

 Second, I take issue with his choice of the word “hopeless.”  No human being is ever without hope, even under the load of sin!  Christ stands at the ready to accept the acknowledgement mentioned above and to forgive our sins. 

This coming Sunday, April 3, is “Divine Mercy Sunday” in the Catholic Church.  It is a day set aside by the Church to let us know that this acknowledgement of our sins does indeed lead to forgiveness and salvation in Christ.  It is fitting that it is the Sunday after Easter!  Christ died for us, rose from the dead, and now, in his mercy, stands at the ready to forgive our sins.  A very beautiful thought for this Thursday morning!

The photograph included with this post is of the empty tomb at the Shrine of the Passion in St. John, Indiana.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Splendor of the Death of Jesus Christ

Usually, the passion and death of Our Lord that are recalled at this time of year conjure up feelings of misery, anguish, and gloom.  In our churches perhaps on a weekly basis during Lent, we retrace the steps of Our Lord as he is first condemned to a horrible death, then forced to carry his cross through the streets of Jerusalem, falling under its weight, meeting the grieving women of the city, comforting his afflicted mother, and getting so week in the process that he ultimately requires the help of Simon of Cyrene.  Eventually, he reaches the hill of Calvary where his garments, along with his bloody skin, are stripped away prior to being nailed, hands and feet, to that heavy cross.  We are reminded that the Lord and Savior of the world endured unimaginable torture and brutal cruelty as he died a slow, heartless death.

Then, why, you might ask, do I use the word “splendor” in the title of this blog post?  As I consider the bigger picture here, I realize that his death in this manner was necessary, even important.  I am reminded that this vicious death did something overwhelmingly positive for us.  As his skin was being stripped away with his garments, our sins were stripped away with God’s powerful hand, the gates of heaven were majestically opened for us with the blare of trumpet blasts, so that we are now able to view the splendor of the face of God.

As a result, all this violence and insensitivity, this inhumane, pitiless treatment at the hands of his enemies in Jerusalem, are all forgotten.  For now we behold the face of God and share in his glorious brilliance.

We see a glimpse of this in the Scripture at the precise moment of his death.  St. Matthew tells us:  “And behold, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom.  The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised.  And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many.”

So let us not forget, as we celebrate, yes, celebrate, the passion and death of Jesus Christ this Lenten season, that as horrible and despicable it was, it was also grand and wonderful.  It placed the splendor of heaven on our horizon.  Let us decide, here and now, to live our lives, not in a shadow of a sad and lonely place called Calvary, but in the brightness of the marvelous horizon of a place where God wants all of us to be some day.  Amen

Thursday, March 17, 2016

"Hosanna in the highest!"

This Sunday, March 20, is Palm Sunday.  The Gospel reading is the story of Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem where he would soon be put to death.  He rode a donkey into the city.  It indeed was a triumphant entry, with his followers spreading their cloaks and palm branches on the road ahead of Him to cushion his ride.  All four gospels record the event.  His followers heaped great praise on their Savior on this occasion, saying “Hosanna in the highest.  Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest.” 

I’m thinking of that word “hosanna.”  What does it mean?  Webster’s dictionary defines it as “an exclamation used to give praise to God.”  So it must have been like his followers saying:  “Extreme praise to our God!  Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord.  Extreme praise to God!”  You can imagine the scene.  His disciples nearly beside themselves with joy and adoration, laying their cloaks and palm branches in His path to cushions His ride.  The scene is reenacted at every Mass as worshipers are ecstatic over Christ’s action about to be re-presented.  “Holy, holy, holy.  Lord God of hosts.  Heaven and earth are full of your glory.  Hosanna in the highest!  Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest!”  The words used at Mass are the same as the words in Scripture.

But of course deeper into the city, the chief priests and the elders took a different view.  They wanted to put him to death for blasphemy and because they did not believe that He was who He said He was!  And they succeeded in this effort later that week.  Joy and adoration turned quickly to sadness and despair.  The hosannas turned to tears.  But, of course, the death was necessary because this action saved us from our sins.  Then, once that task was completed, He rose from the dead so that all may believe.  So the tide turned one final time.  “Glory and praise to our God Who alone gives light to our day.”

What a week!  A holy week!  Lord, please be at our side as we again watch the events unfold.  Help us to fully grasp what you did for us that week in Jerusalem.  Please accept our extreme praise for you in thanksgiving for what you did for us.  Help us to change our lives in order to maximize our acts of faith and love in accordance with your holy will.  Amen.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

St. Joseph, Husband of Mary

Lent is all about preparing for the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  But each year during this beautiful season, the Church finds several reasons to be joyful.  One is Laetare’ Sunday, the Sunday on which the priest wears rose-colored vestments at Mass as a sign of our rejoicing.  Another is the feast of the Annunciation on March 25, which this year coincides with Good Friday.  But today, I’m thinking of the Feast of St. Joseph, Husband of Mary, which we celebrate on March 19, nine days from today. 

St. Joseph is mentioned in both the Gospel of St. Matthew and in the Gospel of St. Luke.  He was “betrothed” to Mary, but, as Matthew tells us, “before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.”  We are told that Joseph, “since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.” 

I try to imagine how Joseph must have felt.  His betrothed, Mary, while herself probably having a widespread reputation for purity and virtue, mysteriously becomes pregnant!  For most men, if found in this same situation, the betrothal would have ended just like Joseph was planning, except nowadays it would not have been because of unwillingness to expose her to shame but for much more selfish reasons.

Then, he has a dream in which he was told that “it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her” and when he awakes, his whole attitude changed.  We are told that he “took his wife into his home.”  Wow, Joseph!  A man of such faith!  It was a dream, for heaven’s sake!  And when you think about it, you must also attach the virtues of humility, kindness, and a host of others to this virtue of faith.  He became the foster father of Jesus, and after this, the evangelists are silent about this good man.  We speculate that he was a good father, a carpenter who taught Jesus his trade, and someone who cared for him like any father would.  The photo accompanying MTT today is a sculpture found in the vestibule of the Church of St. John the Evangelist, my new parish in Rochester, Minnesota.  It is the boy Jesus riding the shoulders of St. Joseph, his foster father. 

My prayer for today:  Lord, please help all fathers to emulate the virtues of dear St. Joseph.  Amen.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Ten Commandments: Relevant or Not?

I’ve heard it said that the Ten Commandments are no longer relevant and that they are “perfect requirements” that cannot by obeyed by us imperfect human beings.  I was reminded of this sentiment as I listened to the Scripture readings at Mass yesterday, Wednesday, March 3.  These readings tell us that we CAN and MUST obey the commandments despite the fact that we are imperfect.

First was the Old Testament reading from Deuteronomy Chapter 4, where Moses was instructing the Israelites with regard to the “statutes and decrees” of the Lord.  He said:  "However, take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as  long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children's children."  And then the New Testament reading from Matthew, Chapter 5:  "Therefore, whoever breaks  one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven.  But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven."

God did not say that the commandments will become irrelevant and that they cannot be obeyed by imperfect human beings.  To me, it is quite the opposite.  Let us examine the commandments one by one.

It is possible to not have "strange gods" before the one true God.  If you truly have faith in Jesus, then you will not let your accomplishments and possessions, or anything else, to take hold of you and take the place of God in heaven.  It is possible to not take the name of God in vain.  I know plenty of people on this earth from whom I will never hear such expressions as "god damn it" or "Jesus Christ" when they are frustrated or angry.  It is possible to keep holy the Sabbath.  If love for Jesus and his Church consumes you, then you will go to Mass on Sunday, use this day as a day of rest, and refrain from unnecessary servile work.  It is possible to love and honor your parents and all in authority.  This is perhaps the easiest of all the commandments, though at times and in some situations, it may seem difficult.  It is possible not to kill.  This also means to not get angry, to not fight, to not assault others in any way, etc.  Imperfect people can strive to be kind and patient, and they can succeed in this with real effort.

It is possible not to commit adultery.  I know plenty of people that do not seek sex outside of marriage and always avoid occasions of such sin.  They lead a chaste life.  Many people falter here, but it is possible to obey this commandment despite imperfection.  It is possible not to steal.  Most people do not make any attempt to rob others of their material possessions or of their identity, etc.  It is possible to not bear false witness against others.  I know plenty of people who hold honesty in high regard.  It is possible to not covet a neighbor’s wife.  To me, one’s wife is like one’s blood relative (e.g., mother or child, etc.).   A neighbor’s birth mother cannot become your birth mother if she isn’t already your birth mother, etc., so it doesn’t make sense to covet them.  Same with a neighbor’s wife.  It is possible not to covet a neighbor’s goods.  It is not necessarily a bad thing to be poor.  It is such people that Jesus came especially to serve.

With a spiritually healthy mindset and a strong faith, one can overcome imperfection and obey the commandments.  Jesus asks us to do just that.  My prayer for today:  Lord, please give me the grace to help me in my imperfections so that I may lead the kind of life you expect of me.  Amen.