Archive | November, 2012

The Creche and the Cross

30 Nov

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The message of the cross is complete absurdity to those who are headed for ruin, but to us who are experiencing salvation it is the power of God (1 Cor 1:18).

The greatest paradox of all time is the justice of the Cross of Christ. It is the ultimate expression of God’s sense of justice.

There is a lot of excitement as people prepare for Christmas – Black Friday and beyond, frenzied shoppers looking for just the right gift at the best price; plans for various office and community celebrations; families decorating their homes inside and out announcing their joy in the season.

It’s so easy to forget, is it not, that the crèche of the Christ Child foreshadows the cross upon which he will die – fulfilling God’s sense of justice.

Justice? What’s just in the terrible crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth?

Even from the time of the prophets, God clearly states he does not want the death or condemnation of sinners, but their salvation:

Do I indeed derive any pleasure from the death of the wicked? says the Lord. Do I not rather rejoice when he turns from his evil way that he may live? … As I live, says the Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked man, but rather in the wicked man’s conversion that he may live (Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11).

I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth (Is 49:6b).

And in the New Covenant, God’s justice is verified in the life, passion and death of Jesus Christ:

“Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”  … “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” … “I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.” (See Mt 9:13, Mk 2:17 and Lk 5:32.)

So, for God, justice is eternal salvation for all peoples of all times. That singular and pure sense of justice is the real reason we rejoice in the birth of Jesus of Nazareth – the Messiah, our Savior, our brother and our Lord and God.

If that eternal reality is ignored, shopping frenzies are reduced to nothingness; Christmas parties can be celebrations of nothing more than the usual; decorations are mere declarations of secularism.

In our Catholic faith, the four weeks before Christmas are the season of Advent. During Advent, we are called to reflect deeply on the meaning of Christmas – the birth of the Savior of the world. Jesus is our Lord and our Savior.

May this Advent Season be a source of ever deeper revelation of God’s love for you and all the people of all times. May his sense of justice become our very own.

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Praying with Jesus, Part 4

28 Nov

 

This is the final reflection on praying the Lord’s Prayer with Jesus.

In previous reflections, we contemplated how Jesus intended us to enter into the mystery of the Father’s love, the holiness of his name, the entry into his kingdom, and what it means to be grateful for our daily food and other blessings.

Here we will look into the mystery of God’s mercy and the spiritual demand for us to be merciful – and the need for that final grace at the end of our earthly life.

… and forgive us as we forgive others: God’s mercy does not come gift-wrapped. It is not a commodity. It is God’s essence, his very being. We cannot divide God into various functions. He is all what he is all at once, without change. It is God’s nature to forgive – for God is love, and the one who loves lives in God and God in him or her (See 1 Jn 4:16).

The frightening reality is that we have the power and freedom to reject the mercy and forgiveness God perpetually extends to us. We can choose slavery over freedom, guilt over clear conscience.

Since we are made in God’s image, it is also in our power to forgive. Forgiveness is in the very nature of God and his plan for his creatures – a people of all colors and languages bound together in love and rooted deeply in his very being.

So, if we fail to forgive others, we are rejecting God himself, his own mercy toward us. It was Jesus who said, “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers you do to me (Cf Mt. 25:40).

If we do not forgive, we reject love. If we reject love, we reject God – and his mercy.

… and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: How this puzzled me for so many years! Why would God lead me into temptation? Why would he want to make it ever harder for me? Is God really that mean?

Then, it was explained that God does not will temptation upon us, nor does he tempt us. He permits it. Then I learned the distinction between his ordaining will and his permitting will. For example, he ordained that Jesus would die for us; he permits Satan to tempt us – and he gives us free will to choose God or Satan.

In recent years, I’ve read that some Scripture scholars now read this phrase this way: “Put us not to the final test.” In other words, “God, in our final moments before death, when we feel both helpless and totally vulnerable, do not let Satan get the best of us. Come with your grace and aid. Protect us as your own. In the name of Jesus, save us.”

Of course, those last moments will be less fearful and we will feel less vulnerable if we have, indeed, known God as Abba, if we have held his name as holy; if we have embraced his will and kingdom now; if we have given thanks for all good things come from him; and if we have indeed forgiven others as he forgives us.

Amen! So be it!

Praying with Jesus, Part 3

25 Nov

To get into the depth of the Lord’s Prayer it is helpful to reflect on the mind and heart of Jesus. In my last blog, we spoke of the mystery of Jesus true God and true man. We reflected on him praying “Our Father” and tried to discern the reality of heaven-here-and-now, of what and where heaven really is.

In this reflection, let’s look at more of the Lord’s Prayer.  

… holy is your name: When I call my friend by his name, I am claiming both intimacy and a degree of ownership – ownership because I know that I can rely on my friend to help and encourage me; and my friend can rely on the same from me.

The Hebrews did not call God by name. It was deemed impossible to name God because it intimated a certain equality and ownership. But Jesus comes and he tells us to call God our Father, our Abba, our Dad.

So, if we can name God, does that in any way belittle him or make us equal to him? No, it does not. His name is holy because his name is himself. We can’t partition God. He is who and what he is, whole and entire, pure spirit, pure holiness and magnificence.

To call him Father or Abba is to speak his essence. It is to honor his holiness because, in so naming him, we speak the truth: He is indeed our Father and our Abba. He sent his Son into the world to convince us that he wants us to be one with him, intimate with him and with one another in him.

… your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven: God’s kingdom comes into our hearts and into society when we know, observe and do his will. Is it at all possible to pray “thy kingdom come” and merely look to the Second Coming of Jesus? I think not. Our Church teaches us that we need to enter into God’s kingdom right now – into his will, his grace and into the salvation won by Jesus.

Our Catholic Faith is so rich. We have God’s word and all the sacraments. We have the Mass which enables us to enter personally into the salvation won by Jesus. Here, in the Mass, is the fullness of God’s kingdom made present through the grace and power of the Holy Spirit.

… give us this day our daily bread: Life is too rushed for so many individuals and families. Meals are too often taken on the fly, mixed with business or other concerns. It seems rare that people can sit down to a meal and just eat, grateful for the food they have, for the love of family and friends.

I wonder how many of us actually thank God for the food we eat, for the snacks between meals. Perhaps we take so much for granted, or perhaps we think this daily food comes solely from our own work and efforts.

I recall a story of a U. S. priest in Dominican Republic for mission work with several American teenagers and one local youth as a guide. After a hard day’s work, the priest bought a Coke for each of the boys.

The Americans began to gulp down their drinks, but the local boy took his drink, rushed outside and called his friends with whom he shared the Coke.

The young guide knew the gift he was receiving and his sharing was indeed an act of thanksgiving.

And do we take one another for granted? Do we express gratitude to God for our spouse, children, parish and friends?

… and forgive us as we forgive others: Our next and final reflection in this series.

 

To pray with Jesus, Part 2

21 Nov

Moving into the essence of God seems at once a distant unreachable height or a depth obscured by our own confusion over who and what we are in relation to God. Jesus came to help us through that.

In my Nov. 8 blog, “To Pray with Jesus,” I asked you, dear readers, to share with me your experience in asking Jesus to pray the Lord’s Prayer with you.

Oh, oh, no takers.

Perhaps it was rather presumptuous of me to ask you to share something so personal. It’s just that personal insights are a great gift from God and are often too precious to be locked up in the depths of one’s heart and soul.

“Bloom where you are planted,” the old adage goes. Yes, bloom where you are planted, but pollinate, pollinate and pollinate some more. (Perhaps this metaphor stretches “pollinate,” but … oh well.)

Let’s move to the mind of Jesus as he prayed that perfect prayer. He prayed in his human nature, as a man whose humanity was created by God but as the Son of God who is coequal with the Father and the Spirit. This is a great mystery – but we can’t downplay either his humanity or his divinity without belying the mystery of the Incarnation – and therefore the reality of our salvation through the birth, life, passion, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. In Jesus, his divine and human natures are distinct. His divine nature did not in any way cause him to live a lesser humanity. His humanity did not detract from his divine nature.

So, when Jesus of Nazareth taught us to pray the Our Father, he prayed as a human being – a human being free from any taint of sin, a human being who was totally obedient to the Father. He was the New Adam, the One who was to reverse the sin of Adam and Eve and reconcile us with the Father. He did this in his human nature. But we can never forget that the Son of God assumed to himself this human nature, so it was God who became one of us in all things except sin.

Our Father …

God is indeed Father of the Son – but Jesus, in  his humanity, says, “Our Father.” This is the astounding truth his entire life and death reveal to us. God is our Father. This was a new revelation his disciples might not have fully understood until after his resurrection and ascension. He is more “Father” than we realized before Jesus came to us. Jesus spoke of the Father as “Abba,” an intimate and endearing name equivalent to “Daddy” or “Dad.”

In calling God “our Father,” Jesus makes it clear that he is one with us, one of us, the One for us – and when we surrender to him and enter into his life and love for all humanity, we are one IN him and the Father.

… in heaven:

Here is a danger – a cloudy understanding of heaven can keep us distant from our Abba, our Father. Heaven, for us, is often something way out there, way beyond our mental and emotional grasp. Jesus brought heaven to earth. God is heaven. When we go to heaven we go to and into God. So, heaven, Jesus wants us to understand, is present here and now when we are united to the Father. But heaven is not yet fully realized.

This “heaven-here-and-now” is however veiled and tarnished by distress, anxiety, sin and suffering. But it need not be so. The Church offers us the sacraments of life, of mercy and of healing. The Spirit gives us understanding and wisdom. In faith, we can find God’s mercy and wisdom in any given situation. I am reminded of a parishioner who was dying with cancer. She brought joy and courage into the lives of families and friends. She faced death with courage and, I would say, with peace and joy.

For her, “heaven-here-and-now” was not totally veiled, not totally tarnished.

… holy is your name: To be continued.

To pray with Jesus

8 Nov

What do you think went through the minds of the disciples that day – the day they asked Jesus to teach them to pray? That’s the day Jesus gave us the Our Father, the Lord’s Prayer.

We know it is a perfect prayer because it came from the mind and heart of our Lord. It is a perfect prayer because in the first part, Jesus focuses our attention on the Father, his holiness, his kingdom and his will. It is also perfect because in the last half of the prayer, Jesus teaches us to put our entire lives in the Father’s hands. “Give us this day …” the present; “forgive us …” the past; and, “lead us not” … the future.

I wonder what would happen if we, deciding to pray the Our Father, asked Jesus to pray with us, to teach us right now how to pray.

Why not try it? Jesus is real. You are real. Ask him.

Please share your experience with me — and I’ll share it with all readers.