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Greetings to all who love to wander along the paths of the Holy Scriptures! The purpose of this blog is to share some of the insights of ordinary Catholics who have begun to delve into the mysteries of the Sacred Scriptures. Hopefully you will find these reflections inspiring and insightful. We are faithful to the Church, but we are not theologians; we intend and trust that our individual reflections will remain within the inspired traditions of the Church. (If you note otherwise please let me know!) Discussion and comments are welcome, but always in charity and respect! Come and join us as we ponder the Sacred Scriptures, which will lead us on the path into His heart, which "God alone has traced" Job 28:23.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

To Whom Shall You Go?

I have been completely absorbed in the the space trilogy by C.S. Lewis of late.  Actually, I read the first of the three, Out of the Silent Planet last summer, but I recently purchase the last two, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength.   They are books that I will be re-reading again in the future because there is so much there.

It was as I was reading That Hideous Strength that I came upon a passage that really impressed me.  It is a quote by a character named Dr. Dimble who is speaking to his wife as the final battle of the book is beginning.  He is on the side of good, but there are mysteries that he is grappling with that are hard for him to fully understand and his leader, the Director, has commanded him to accept.  As he is discussing these things over with his wife he says:

Have you ever noticed,.....that the universe, and every little bit of the universe, is always hardening and narrowing and coming to a point?....I mean this,....If you dip into any college, or school, or parish, or family- anything you like- at a given point in its history you always find that there was a time before that point when there was more elbow room and contrasts weren't quite so sharp; and that there's going to be a time after that point when there is even less room for indecision and codices are even more momentous.  Good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse:  the possibilities of even apparent neutrality are always diminishing."  pg.280-281 
That captured my attention. We are, for a time, gathered in and then - as with the Biblical image of a winnowing fan - we are separated out.  And there are examples of situations that, for a time, are accepted as morally neutral or tolerated as a necessity of an era in the Bible, but that eventually are revealed as unacceptable, such as Old Testament polygamy.  Polygamy is certainly presented in the Bible as something that is accepted, but it is definitely a falling from the original Biblical example of marriage.  And if you read your Bible carefully you see that though it is not wrong for Jacob or David to have multiple wives and concubines, it costs them something.  Look at the jealousies and rivalries that come of it.  The eventual splitting of the Davidic Kingdom has it's beginnings in the corrosive effect of polygamy.  And the cost is sent on down through the generations, until it is time to see and understand; until it is time to make a choice.  As we progress through salvation history, or even our own lives it will eventually come down to a choice, a terrible choice that requires clarity of vision and tenacious clinging to the Word of God.  Our eternal destiny will rest on it.
"They rejected his statutes, the covenant which he had made with their fathers.  The vanity they pursued, they themselves became; they followed the surrounding nations whom the Lord commanded them not to imitate."  2 Kings:17
These thoughts have been turning over in my head for a while now, the passage in That Hideous Strength just brought new clarity for me, especially in the wake of some acrimonious discussions, with fellow Catholics, over the issue of so called "gay-marriage".  But it is not that issue that primarily bothers me, that is one of many moral issues that are confronting us in our time.  It is the confluence of these moral issues, the "culture wars", and the increasing ferocity of the battles over them between fellow Catholics, that signal to me that we are coming to a point in our society.  Choices will have to be made, and I wonder how clear we, as Catholics, see what is at stake.

The  reading of the day I was writing this post  (Saturday, April 28) makes this even more urgent in my mind:

 "Many disciples of Jesus who were listening said, 'This saying is hard; who can accept it?'  Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, 'Does this shock you?  What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?  It is the Spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail.   The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life,  But there are some of you who do not believe.'  Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him.  And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father."  As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer walked with him.  Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?"  Simon Peter answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."   John 6 60-69

This is at the end of the Bread of Life discourse.  Jesus is telling his followers to believe that they must "feed on me" or they will have no life in them.  These disciples are shocked; they are confronted with something hard to believe, something that seems foolish and not rational (verse 42:  and they said, "Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph?  Do we not know his father and mother?  Then how can he say, 'I have come down from heaven'?").    Many of the Lord's disciples no longer walked with Jesus from that point on. They left Him, they made a choice based on vain worldly wisdom and they departed from Wisdom in person. But Peter, shows us that he has clung to and believed in the words of the Lord, and when confronted with the choice - though he is not yet perfected in his belief, nor does he fully understand what the Lord is saying- his love for the Lord clears the way for his courageous words:  "Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life." Peter sees what is at stake!  And it is this choice that prepares Peter to humbly trust in Jesus, even after Peter betrays Him.  Peter does not despair in his failure but receives with trust and faith the abundant mercy of the Lord.

I wonder if we have been given just enough of Jesus in our religious instruction to make us think that we know what His love means, but in reality we have inoculated ourselves from being truly transformed by His radical love. His radical love is not tepid "acceptance" or "tolerance", it is a purifying fire which will make you fit for eternal life. Unless you have ordered your life on His Commandments, putting His will in the forefront of all that you think, do, and say, and humbly repenting when you fail, it will be difficult to understand what a shallow sham our culture has made of Jesus, love and religion. It will be difficult to discern the True God and his will from the culture's god, which will send you off in vain pursuits of worldly acclaim and worldly wisdom. From this stand point a degenerative blindness seems to set in, and in the end, even when the choice is presented point blank, it becomes too difficult to perceive what is at stake. You will become the vanity you pursue and defend!

 So how can we discern the will and love of God in a time when love is perverted, materialistic, and when our lack of knowledge of our Savior Himself is used to blind and divert ourselves from Him? Do you see a hardening and narrowing happening as I do?  Does it seem that we are on the edge of momentous choices, where everything we need to make the right choice is given to us, but many cannot or will not seek it?  I fear that the longer we try to straddle between the two paths:  the one of Jesus and eternal life and the path of worldly vanity, the less we will be able to make the courageous decisions that will be required of us when confronted with a final opportunity to choose eternal life. "the possibilities of even apparent neutrality are always diminishing."

To whom shall you go?  To whom shall you cling to?  A terrible choice is beginning to emerge for all of us, can you see what is at stake?-choose life, not death.

Peace and Grace,

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Platitudes or Water, Blood and The Spirit

Beloved:  Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God, and everyone who loves the Father loves also the one begotten by him.  In this way we know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey his commandments.  For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments and his commandments are not burdensome, for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.  And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.  Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 
This is the one who came through water and blood, Jesus Christ, not by water alone, but by water and blood.  The Spirit is the one that testifies, and the Spirit is truth. 1 John 5:1-6

I have recently participated in a Facebook debate, and this one was particularly unpleasant, one side claiming to be on the side of love and tolerance, the other (the side I was "liking") was asking for justification for abusive and slanderous posts that included an inflammatory picture of the a bishop with the word bigot scrawled across it.  We received no justification, only over-generalized reasons for disdain of the Catholic hierarchy and Catholic moral teachings and, of course, the standard Jesus platitudes were stated and restated. Calling a bishop a bigot was rationalized and defending him called sown an angry tirade of how we were: "casting stones"and how we should "remove the beam from our own eyes!"   It was ugly and it was sad.  Love was diminished to complacent acceptance, if you did not accept what they accepted you were of course, rejected.

What do I mean by a Jesus platitude?  A platitude is a statement , supposedly profound, but in reality it is flat, dull and banal.  How can anything that the Alpha-Omega, Eternal son of the Living God, victor over the universe and all powers of darkness be banal and trite?  The answer:  When you remove it from the deep and profound Truths that the Lord God revealed to the Children of Israel and her prophets.  Then, the summation of the law:  Love God above all and love your neighbor as yourself, becomes so malleable that it essentially means whatever the follower wants it to mean.  So, the biggest problem with Jesus platitudes is they stifle the power of Jesus' love by reducing His power to mere words; then they trivialize and relativize it.  In a way, they inoculate you against the transformitive love of Christ.   Now, His love merely accepts you, it does not transform or reform you.   Since we are truly made for higher pleasures - we have much more heroic ambitions and deeper desires of which platitudes only superficially address - and are often used to excuse the misdirection of these ambitions and desires -  this can only lead to shallow love and ultimately to angry despair. Because despite all of your efforts to live a life that is worth living, without being begotten by God you will not even be able to live up to the platitudes.  There is no way to live an integral moral life with such great desires, so many earthly pleasures and this banal version of the Lord.

So when I read the second reading, especially grounded in the rest of this Sunday's readings, I see a much fuller picture of how the love of Jesus transforms, and of how it is nourished and inflamed and regenerated in the sacraments of the Church.  He first speaks of belief in Jesus, and then of obedience to the commandments, obedience that is empowered by His love in us.  The last passage grounds our relationship with Jesus in his flesh and blood, not merely words and platitudes, but as a man who loved us so passionately that He poured out his blood from his pierced heart for each one of us.

Pope Benedict XVI in his book Jesus of Nazareth explains verses 6-8, the verses about water and blood and Spirit this way:

  "Here John very obviously gives the motif (of blood and water) a polemical turn against a form of Christianity that acknowledges Jesus' Baptism as a saving event but does not acknowledge his death on the Cross in the same way.  He is responding to a form of Christianity that, so to speak wants only the word, but not the flesh and blood.  Jesus' body and his death ultimately play no role.  So all that is left of Christianity is mere "water"-without Jesus' bodiliness the word loses its power.  Christianity becomes mere doctrine, mere moralism, and intellectual affair, but lacks any flesh and blood."
My Facebook encounter left me sad because I saw an intellectualized faith, that was really highly moralistic but not at all grounded in authentic love or objective morality, thus all the moralizing was to affirm others in being possessed by their passions instead of seeking the One to whom those passions point to.  Anyone who rejected this was treated to a barrage of words; quotes from Jesus thrown at them like the stones.   Yet, in a true encounter with  Christ your passions, your love and your desires will begin to be reordered to their true purpose.  It is impossible without Christ, but as you fall deeper in love with the Jesus -  the authentic Jesus who is flesh and blood, strength and power - you will find that His Passion is reforming yours.

If that sounds too ethereal, I can assure you that it is not.  But it takes daily prayer, and Scripture.  It takes sacrifice and sacraments.  It takes a willingness to look to Christ not as a one dimensional moral and spiritual teacher, but as the Beloved, the Eternal Flame which burns but never consumes, the pillar of fire, the still small voice, the thunderous theophany carving His law into stone and then on Calvary pouring out his Spirit into out hearts. He is the Divine lover, and in Him all things are fulfilled.  The depth of love that you are willing to enter into with Him will not be burdensome, when you love some one deeply wellsprings of strength and courage build up and you will live a life that has much more to offer than mere platitudes.

Peace and Grace

BTW, if you have time Monsignor Pope's latest article is not to be missed!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

"Are you still sleeping...?" (Mark14:41)

In the fourteenth chapter of Mark's Gospel, the evangelist writes of Jesus's ordeal in the Garden of Gethsemane. (v.32-42) He and his apostles have eaten the Passover meal, the traitor has left them.... His hour is approaching...darkness comes. Jesus wants to pray to the Father, and brings Peter, James and John with him to keep watch. It is, for me, the most poignant moment of Jesus's humanity. We see His Divinity over and over: at His Baptism...in His miracles...in His Transfiguration at Mt. Tabor. Here, in a garden, He truly shows us His human nature, His complete emptying of Himself for our sake.

In anguish, He accedes to the will of the Father over His own wish to have this "cup taken away from me" (v.36). Then, after he prays, he approaches his apostles, and finds them sleeping. He goes off to pray again, returns, and still his friends sleep. A third time he prays, and again....

I dare not assign blame. Who am I? How much of my waking life have I spent sleeping? As Good Friday nears, and once again I come in abject humility, face-to-face with His sacrifice, I pray to Jesus: AWAKEN ME!! Let me sleep no more. How often have I missed your Presence? Kick me awake! Douse me with water, your living water! Open the eyes of my heart so I may see the essence within the vessel, the Divine within the worldly! I have slept too much...too long. Please forgive me, my Lord and my God. Help me to see...