Archive | September, 2012

Sin as Injustice

29 Sep

The cross stands revealed as the Tree of Life — and the sacrifice of Jesus brings salvation and healing to all who believe.

God’s commandments are more invitation than imposition.

He cannot and will not impose his will on the people he created to be free – free to make decisions, to love or to hate, to help or to harm, to build or to tear down.

The Ten Commandments, for example (Deut 5:6-21), call us from bad choices into the fullness of who we are as human beings – creatures who are made in the image of the Creator, creatures destined for everlasting life. For example, God says we are not to have strange gods placed before him. If we do abandon God for other “gods” such as power, fame or fortune, we reject the true God who calls us into being.  God’s commandment, to acknowledge and to worship him, is an invitation to the fullness of life, to peace of mind and heart.

As it says in the Catholic Catechism, “Only in the knowledge of God’s plan for man can we grasp that sin is an abuse of the freedom that God gives to created persons so that they are capable of loving him and loving one another” (No. 387).

Perhaps it is helpful to look at sin as a question of justice – and justice being a profound expression of love.

God says we are not to steal. Okay, I don’t steal; it isn’t right to take what belongs to another person. Right.

God says we are not to commit adultery. I don’t commit adultery. It’s isn’t right to endanger my marriage or another couple’s marriage. Right.

But in both cases, it is a question of justice – justice born of love. It is unjust to the person or persons offended. It’s an injustice to yourself, for you have turned your back your personal source of life and love. It’s an injustice to God because you are denying him the love, honor and obedience you owe God for your very existence and for his love for you.

Of course, temptation is tough. Human nature, tainted by sin, rebels in the face of commandments seen as imposition instead of invitation.

Perhaps it would be helpful to compare the Beatitudes (Mt 5:1-11) with the Ten Commandments.

For example:

I am the Lord your God. You shall not have strange gods before me (the first Commandment).

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (the first Beatitude)

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (Dt. 5:20).

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied (Mt. 5:6).

I’ve found Mother Teresa’s brief reflection quite helpful. It seems born of both the Commandments and the Beatitudes.

            The fruit of silence is prayer.

            The fruit of prayer is faith.

            The fruit of faith is love.

            The fruit of love is service.

            The fruit of service is justice.

            The fruit of justice is peace.

 

 

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Whatever Happened to Sin?

28 Sep

Perhaps it’s time for a real close look at the reality of sin — what it is and do we recognize sin for what it is?

“We just never hear about sin from the pulpit anymore – all those teenagers having experimental sex and young adults just living together and single women getting pregnant so they can have a child.”

That from a good Catholic woman who feels the stress and confusion of so many Catholics as they consider what their children and grandchildren are inheriting from our own generation.

However, there are more than sexual sins. For example, there are the sins of pride, intolerance, prejudice and greed.

Where did sin go? It’s still here, but somehow we don’t easily recognize it anymore. I have an observation about this:

Vatican Council II was filled with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. It confirmed the Tradition of the Church and proclaimed anew the importance of Scripture in daily life as well as in worship. The council also set the Church smack dab into the world with all its beauty and ugliness – just as did the Son of God who became one of us and lived and still lives in the beauty and ugliness of the contemporary world.

In the local parish following Vatican Council II, we became involved in “implementing the changes” – for example, updating the liturgy and involving lay people in parish management and in ecclesial ministries. I think that we became so involved in “implementing” that we did not either grasp or pursue the major thrust of the council which, as I understand, was to bring us into the fullness faith . That fullness means we were to embrace the will of God and bring truth into the world of politics, economics, industry, education and marketing. We may not have understood that we were to embrace the world in all its beauty and ugliness.

This immediate and parochial concern, along with the decrease in priestly and religious vocations and the influence of horizontal mobility on our congregations, weakened our response to the outward thrust of Vatican Council II. Note especially a feverish increase in pluralism and an equally feverish increase in moral decay, insecurity in the face of war between nations and warring political parties here at home. The growing impact of secular media, amoral if not immoral, on the modern family also eats away at our faith.

So, do we need to refresh our memories about what sin is and is not?

Without the knowledge Revelation gives of God we cannot recognize sin clearly and are tempted to explain it as merely a developmental flaw, a psychological weakness, a mistake, or the necessary consequence of an inadequate social structure, etc. Only in the knowledge of God’s plan for man can we grasp that sin is an abuse of the freedom that God gives to created persons so that they are capable of loving him and loving one another (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 387).

Sin is as varied as an international buffet – but sin is not limited to what you choose or ignore as sin. A Christian cannot form a good conscience by personally deciding what is right or wrong without God’s truth at the center of such decision.

Perhaps we all need to examine our own druthers where the Gospel and Tradition are concerned. It’s easy to point fingers at others, but it’s not so easy to live a holy life and to love other sinners enough to help them come closer to God.

Finally, we need to live our faith out there in the beauty and ugliness of the contemporary world, giving witness to God’s merciful love and the unimaginable gift of his calling us into the very essence of his own divinity.

In praise of a little light

23 Sep

Sometimes, in deep troublesome times, light begins to pierce the darkness. In my own life, that light came through others — wife, children, parents, priests and friends.

I remember times of great struggle when we began our family. Driving a garbage truck for the City of Groves, Texas paid very little. Sometimes I’d get discouraged. My Uncle Joe told me something that kept me going: “You work hard, stick with it, do your job and you will soon find things are better.

My parents were cut from the same bolt of cloth: “Do everything you’re told to do, do it with a good face, and if you can, do more than they ask you to do.”

Then there were the times when I really messed up — like the time some friends and I ran our horses through a field of watermelons simply because the owner was different from us.

I moped around for a couple of days and my Mama knew something was up. “What’s wrong?” she asked. I didn’t answer. “Okay, what did you do?”

I told her. She was silent a while, then said, “You know that was wrong. We taught you better than that. You must go to confession and promise never to do that again.”

So, I did what she said. But, as I think back, Dad should have taken me to that farmer and made me apologize and work for him. That didn’t happen. The farmer was black and we were white.

Before you condemn my parents and me for racial prejudice, enter into the setting: Southwest Louisiana, 1947. Black people were considered inferior. Dad and Mama suffered criticism from their own relatives for what kindness they extended.

For example, during the early morning hours of cotton picking season, the sacks of picked cotton were heavy with dew. Dad would not subtract the traditional two pounds for dew. And I recall them inviting the workers into the house for lunch rather than leaving them outside to sit in the dirt under the trees.

A little light is better than total darkness. My folks used to say, “Well, they’re not like us but they are human beings and they have to save their souls just like us and we should not mistreat them.” This somewhat limited nod to equality was itself that bit of light in the darkness — that and the gentle counsel they and others have given me over the years.

Later in life, in the 1960s,  I would be writing about the evils of prejudice and in support for the Civil Rights Act; I marched in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I would hear the snickers of friends and see my elders looking disappointed me in. And I would do it again if the need arose.

Two points:

1. White people were themselves victims of segregation — not anywhere close to the victimization of black people, but victims, too,  because they  were fearful of differences and so prejudiced they missed the dignity and wonder of other human beings.

2. Gentle counsel works. St. Augustine wrote a forceful and insightful admonition to pastors in his own time — and the lessons hold true today, for all of us, not only for pastors:

People who need advice or correction “must not be deceived by false hope nor  broken by fear.

                   (Liturgy of the Hours, Book IV, Page 281.)

Faith: A Gift of Presence and Love

18 Sep

If you want to grow in faith, you have to answer that very pointed question Jesus asks each of us in every generation: “Who do you say that I am?”

That’s the burning question – every day and in every situation.

“Who do you say that I am?”

In announcing the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI has urged us to center our lives on Jesus Christ, to develop a deep and personal relationship with him. It must be a relationship of love. We must know him for who he is, Savior and Messiah.

A Clarion Call

The call to be a Christian is at its very core a clarion call to unconditional faith in God, to enter into complete union with our Triune God in and through Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man.

What does it mean to have faith in God?

There are two apparent responses to this question:

  1. Faith is the acceptance of God’s Word, the teachings of the Church, worshipping at Mass and living a good moral life. In other words, faith is summed up as belief, worship and obedience.

 

  1. Faith is doing what the Lord asks us to do – to help the poor and the sick, to lift up those who are burdened, to celebrate his Living Word and presence among us in our community of faith. In other words, faith is summed up in belief, fellowship and working for justice.

Here we have what St. James talks about: faith and works – and like love and marriage, you can’t have one without the other.

Yet to embrace the discipline of “faith and works” is not the essence of faith.  True faith results in love – unconditional steadfast love.

Faith Is to Know and to Love

A grandfather visited his teenage granddaughter on her birthday with a precious gift. The young girl just knew that her grandfather would bring her something special. When he gave her the gift, she squealed as she hugged his neck tightly, “Oh, Gramps, I love you for that.”

Her confidence that Gramps would come through for her was not love. Her response might have been genuine gratitude, but it was not love for Gramps, for the person he really is, for a person of dignity and character, for him as image of God.

To know and love God means more than appreciation and gratitude for all he has done – even more than appreciation for the salvation won by the Blood of Jesus.

Faith, then, is to know, love and embrace God as he is, in his essence, regardless of whether you are happy or sad, well or ill, rich or poor.

How can you develop this kind of faith?

Listen to him in the Scriptures; become one with him in Holy Communion. Also, develop a regular time to be with God, just you and God. Just sit quietly with God. Ask God to come to you in a deeply personal way.

Get to know God as he is. You will never regret it. Actually, that’s what pray is – being with God, being so intimate with him there is no need for words, just a mutual basking in holy presence.

God loves you because you are. Yes, he created you, but he gives you liberty and he cherishes what he created – to the point of death on a cross. He wants private and intimate time with you. It isn’t hard; don’t be afraid; just ask him to come.

And you God will come to you – in your need for him and for security, health and all your daily needs. Always, he comes!

Actually, he does not come; he is always here – it’s just that we don’t sense his presence as we could and should.

GOD IS!

Of Gentleness and Foolishness

10 Sep

Sometimes, when it’s neither really dark nor really light, you experience a certain calm. You begin to dream or reminisce. Here’s a personal visit to yesteryear.

It was a Saturday afternoon in 1946. Mom, Dad and I had gone to the Rex Theater in Abbeville, Louisiana. I was about 12 years old.

It was a very special Saturday – Alan Rocky Lane, a.k.a. Red Ryder, was there in person. I was going to meet him and speak with  him.

Before the movie started, my hero was signing photographs in the lobby of the theater. Dad has given me the money for picture of Rocky and his horse, Thunder. I was one of a bunch of boys crowding around him.

Before going any further, it will help you to know that at that point in my life, country boy that I was, I wanted to be a horse rancher or a movie star, or both. I liked acting and I was in almost every school play from K-12. I guess I saw this as my chance to get in good with Red.

So when my turn came, I addressed him in the character of Little Beaver, his American Native sidekick: “Gosh’m, Red, me heap glad to see you.”

The kids around me groaned or laughed or snickered – but Alan Rocky Lane shook my hand, looked me right in the eye and with gentleness, he said, “I happy to see you too, Little Beaver.”

I feel rather foolish about that now; but I did not feel foolish then. I was elated. I had done a scene with Red Ryder!

The real foolishness came later when my hero brought a young girl on the stage for a short skit. As I think back it was a nothing skit. But then, for me it was all glamour and glitter — until Red made a big mistake in Cajun Land.

He had that young girl up there and was doing some kind of hero and damsel in distress scene and then he kissed her full on the lips.

There was the sound of rushing feet and an angry voice as an elderly woman ran up to the stage demanding in French: “Give me my daughter! Give me my daughter!”

Rocky looked bewildered – he finally got the message. Maybe it was the daggers in that woman’s eyes of the steam coming out of her ears, but Rocky-Red-Alan got the message.

It was utterly embarrassing – and I couldn’t make up my mind whose side I was on. I guess, with the sadness, I felt I was with the woman and that young girl whose face was crimson red.

From that time on, I never could enjoy his movies as I had before. I still have that autographed picture of Rocky and Thunder. It’s in a box somewhere.

But the memory is marred.

The Victory of Jesus Christ

3 Sep

In February 2012, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia published “A Heart on Fire, Catholic Witness and the Next America.” He spoke of “a global crisis in religious liberty” and said that our own country is “not immune to this trend.”

He said that we make the future, not the other way around. … “Instead of Catholics converting the culture, the culture too often bleached out the apostolic zeal of Catholics while leaving the brand label intact.”

Archbishop Chaput gives us hope: “Nothing in this world is inevitable except the victory of Jesus Christ” – and that includes, he said, the character of our own nation.

The victory of Jesus doesn’t just happen. If we believe we are the Body of Christ, believers who in baptism have been immersed in the divine life of God, believers who died to sin in the waters of grace and rose in the Lord Jesus – if we believe this, then the “victory of Jesus Christ” will be accomplished in Christ and through all of us empowered and emboldened by the Holy Spirit.

What it means to be a disciple

You can intellectually assent to the humanity and divinity of Christ and to his miracles, and still not be a disciple. You can pray every day and never miss Mass and you can be kind to people and still fall short of being a committed disciple.

What does it mean, then, to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?

It means you accept Jesus Christ as the Lord of your life; you seek the power and the gifts of the Holy Spirit; at last, and once and for all, you surrender to God. You become clay in his hands, you let him melt you and mold you. You listen to him in the silence and depth of your heart.

A committed disciple

As a committed disciple, you embrace the Gospel and the authentic teachings of the Church. You live the faith at work, at home, and in down time. You love and revere your spouse. With your spouse and your children you form a place in space and time where Christ’s victory is manifest.

So how do you do this?

  • Ask God to reveal himself to you. Set aside a sacred time for in-depth communion with God – and that’s what prayer really is.
  • Reflect on Sacred Scripture – especially on the readings for the coming Sunday. Discuss them with family and friends.
  • Frequent the Sacrament of Reconciliation; open yourself more and more to the great mystery and reality of the Mass – you are there, at the foot of the Cross. You witness in real-time your salvation.
  • Join an authentically Catholic Scripture study group.

If you do this, you will become enfolded in God’s love. He won’t be up there, but in here, in your heart – and in every relationship and facet of your life.

Then together we will manifest the victory of Jesus Christ.