What Do You Hope For?

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Advent: Soul Cleaning in Preparation for the King

Don’t let anticipation of Christmas cheat you out of Advent.

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A Message from the Catholic Church

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Mary Knew.


Mary Did You Know is a pretty song.

I rather like it myself.

But it is based on the false premise that there is a question as to whether Our Lady knew that the Baby she was carrying was the Messiah, the Son of God, the Lord of Lords, Christ the King.

Here’s the short answer to that question: She knew.

Here’s how I know she knew.

When the Archangel Gabriel spoke to Mary, he asked — not told, but asked — her if she would consent to be the mother of the Son of God. He made it clear that was what he was asking.  He told her that the Holy Spirit would “come over her” and the “power of the most high would overshadow” her and for that reason the Holy Child will be called the Son of God. If that wasn’t clear enough, he also said, He will be called the Son of the Most High and the Lord will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.

Do you still wonder if Mary “knew?” Then flip forward a few pages and read the Magnificat. This incredible hymn of praise comes from the lips of a young girl who has just had what the angel told her recognized and confirmed by her cousin Elizabeth who said, Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me? when she saw Mary. Blessed are you, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, she said.

Elizabeth goes on to tell her that the baby she was carrying leapt in her womb in recognition of the presence of the unborn Christ Child.

Here is how Mary responded to this recognition. It is not the warbling of a naive youngster. It is the praise and acknowledgement of a theologically aware woman who knew absolutely that she was the Mother of God. The answer to the song’s question, Mary did you know? is yes, absolutely. She knew.

My soul magnifies the Lord
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
Because He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid;
For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed;
Because He who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is His name;
And His mercy is from generation to generation
on those who fear Him.
He has shown might with His arm,
He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and has exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He has sent away empty.
He has given help to Israel, his servant, mindful of His mercy
Even as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity forever.

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Advent: Come Lord Jesus

 

The Bible ends with a poignant verse.

Come Lord Jesus, cries in a voice that resounds in the heart of every Christian.

Two thousand years ago, the conquered children of Israel looked forward to Him, even though they didn’t fully understand Who He was, and they certainly misunderstood what He would do.

The prophecies of the Christ begin in Genesis when God tells the serpent He will set enmity between the serpent and the Woman, that she would crush his head, and he would strike at her heel. This was not, note, a prophecy of Eve’s life, but of Mary, the New Eve whose quiet birth, unmarked as it was by the larger world, was the door opening on our salvation.

With Mary’s Immaculate Conception, the primal hope of the garden before the fall reawakened in human existence. It was given back to us as a free and totally unmerited gift by God. It set the stage for the coming of His Son, the long hoped-for Messiah.

Prophecies of Jesus began at the beginning, in the Garden, and are woven throughout the many thousands of years of history that tell the tales of His family in the book we call the Old Testament. It is the story of God, raising up a people by first calling one man to leave his home and go out into the wilderness.

It began, as these things always do, with a family; in Abraham’s case, a troubled and often sinful family that nevertheless trusted God. Not everything Abraham did was right, but he believed the Lord’s promises, and Scripture tells us that God “reckoned that to him as righteousness.”

There is a message in this for all of us. That message is simply that we need to trust God and follow Him without placing the unreachable burden of perfection on ourselves. Righteousness is found in trying to do God’s will and trusting our lives and our salvation to His mercy. Whatever we lack in ourselves and our efforts, He will supply. All we need to do is trust Him and do our best.

But how does God supply the lacks? How does He reach across the unfathomable gulf between our finiteness and His infinite transcendence? He did it by doing the unthinkable, by taking on human flesh, being born of a young woman and living, suffering and dying as one of us. Jesus was foretold over and over again throughout the Old Testament, but, as Steve Jobs famously said, it’s impossible to connect the dots going forward; you can only connect them looking back.

In the case of the many prophecies of Jesus the Christ, the prophecies of His second coming are intertwined with those of His first coming. The triumphant Lord of all history is foretold alongside the Suffering Servant of Calvary. Connecting those dots going forward was as confounding to the people of that day as connecting the dots of the Second Coming are to us. Theories and theology abound, and all of them are, to a great extent, educated guesses.

People of Jesus’ day skipped over the Suffering Servant prophecies and misinterpreted the salvation prophecies to weave together an interpretation of a warrior king who would make the nation of Israel into the dominant world power. They tried to connect the dots going forward and came up with a political interpretation which, while it comforted them in their sufferings as a conquered people who occupied the bottom rung on a significant trade route for the Roman Empire — The trade route mattered to the Romans. The people who lived there, not so much. — was wildly inaccurate.

They took comfort in the promised messiah of their own interpreting who would place his foot on the back of the Roman neck and make the Israelites the rulers of the world. Although this inaccurate interpretation comforted them in their daily problems, it led them into the mistake of missing the real Messiah when He actually came to them.

Nothing in their grandiose imaginings came close to the lowly carpenter’s son, born of a virgin in a stable and then forced to flee into exile soon afterwards. They were unprepared for parables and stories urging them to love and care for one another and talking about a Kingdom that would grow like a tiny mustard seed or the leaven in bread into something they could not fathom.

The idea that the Messiah would be executed like a common criminal and then rise from the dead only to leave the whole enterprise of Kingdom building in the hands of 12 men chosen from ordinary fishermen and tax collectors made no sense according to the false interpretation they had believed for so long.

And so the cornerstone of the new Kingdom became the stumbling block for God’s chosen ones. They, the apple of God’s eye, the ones from whom salvation comes, turned aside from their own salvation while the prostitutes and sinners, the rabble and riff-raff of outsiders, walked right in.

Advent is the season we set aside to consider these things. We know about the first coming of Christ. The dots are in our past, where we can see the pathway they form with clarity. We have the Church to explain these things to us, and we have 2,000 years of Christian teaching to make them clear.

So long as we confine our Advent meditations to mulling over the First Coming of Christ and think about our personal piety and our need for repentance and conversion, we are on fairly solid ground. We know what is expected of us as His followers. We know the story of God made man for our salvation.

But we are not at the end of the story. We still await the fulfillment of the prophecies. We are somewhere along the long row of dots that connect the planting of the mustard seed and the final harvest. We are, all of us, awaiting the day when He comes again.

Perhaps more to the point, we are traveling along our own road of life, journeying from birth to grave. We know — know — that our end of time is always imminent. One day our souls will be required of us, and none of us knows the day or the hour that will happen. That will be our end of time, when we go to Him, even if He has not yet returned to us.

Advent is the prophetic pot, simmering. It is a few weeks set aside for us to contemplate the mystery and the majesty of Christ coming. We have the history of His First Coming and the probably seriously misunderstood promises of His Second Coming, all intertwined with the certainty of our departing and going to Him.

We can’t — any of us — connect the dots looking forward. But we don’t have to. All we have to do is follow in the footsteps of Abraham, or Mary or Stephen or Priscilla or Paul or the woman with the hemorrhage or the blind man who would not deny Him and was put out of the Temple for his fealty. All we have to do is just believe Him and follow Him and trust that, even if the dots don’t connect in meaningful ways for us looking forward, they will be form a pattern of salvation when we look back.

Advent is a good great time to consecrate however much of our lives we have left to His Mercy. Trust and obey the old hymn says. There is no other way to be happy in Jesus. 

Truer words were never spoken.

Spend a few minutes this advent contemplating the dots going forward into your eternity as well as those going back to the Immaculate Conception and to the stable. Are we living in the End Times? Perhaps. But in truth, it doesn’t much matter if we are.

Each and every one of us is living in his or her “end times” every single day. There is absolutely nothing to fear in this if you trust and obey. God’s mercy, which was poured out on all humanity from the wounded side of Jesus, is greater than our weakness, stronger than our failures, more loving than all our fears.

Just put your hand in His and let Him lead you Home. There is no other way.

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2013 Favs: The Gospel in Six Words

 

During the next couple of weeks, I’m going to review my favorite things we’ve done in 2013.

This is my absolute favorite You Tube.

God bless this young man and his conversion from gansta to Christian rap. His talent is incredible.

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Forgiveness

Forgive.

It sounds easy. People often claim that they have forgiven, when, in fact, they are a long way out from anything that approaches actual forgiveness.

To forgive when there is no love is a practical impossibility. To forgive when the person or people who have harmed you refuse to admit that they’ve done anything wrong can seem as if you are agreeing with them. To forgive when they are actively continuing to harm either you or other people feels as if you are cooperating with your own abuse.

The greatest challenge of forgiveness in the face of truly horrific harms against you as a person such as rape, battering, murder and prolonged, vicious slander is that it raises the specter in your mind that you are in fact acquiescing to the thing that was done.

Too often, people say they have forgiven when what they are doing is becoming passive in the face of crimes against their own person. Forgiveness of horrific crimes against your humanity has to count the cost and know the full measure of the crime which is being forgiven.

People oftentimes push forgiveness on a victim of great violence and trauma far too soon. Everyone deserves the dignity of their anger. Anger can cleanse and heal. It can be an assertion of your humanity in the face of actions and people who have denied by what they have done to you that you are human. Anger is a necessary claim to your own worth and to the fact that those who hurt you were and are deeply wrong to do this to you.

It harms people to try to deny them their anger and push them into a faux forgiveness. When this happens, the forgiveness is not real, and the anger festers and turns inward.

Forgiveness comes after anger, not before it. Anger comes after numbness and shame and denial. Anger is the first step out of the darkness, and it is, at this point, a righteous assertion of your right as a child of God not to be treated this way.

But anger, if it takes on a life of its own, can become pernicious. Anger, if you stay there in it and just wind and rewind yourself around the shame and bitterness of what happened, becomes a cancer, eating at your soul. It can separate you from God. It, and the denial it feeds, the shame it covers, can isolate you in a small room with what happened to you. Either that, or it can push you into little enclaves of fellow sufferers who seem to be the only people who “get” you, who understand what you’re about.

The antidote for this illness — and at this point, your anger and shame have become a spiritual and emotional illness — is to face what happened to you in its full, hideously painful ugliness, and forgive.

But how to forgive without implying that what was done to you was nothing? Many times, victims of violence, in particular such things as rape, are faced with a world that belittles both them and what happened to them. They are sometimes called liars, or told that it was their fault. People back away from them and treat them as if they are not the same as they were before.

Rage is the only defense they feel they have. The humiliated rage of the victim is a shield against the claims that what happened was nothing and that they are nothing.

How do they lay down this shield of rage, which has been for many of them their only defense? When anger and resentment are the slender shards of broken self-respect that you hold onto in the face of what feels like public disregard, it can be more than you can face to lay them down and forgive.

That is the point where the grace of God is your only friend. The human portrait of that grace is Jesus, your fellow sufferer of injustice, shame and pain, hanging on the cross. The grace you need to forgive is found in the memory of God, almost bled out from a savage beating, staggering under the weight of the cross on which He was going to be murdered while the crowds jeered and the soldiers beat Him more.

You don’t need a circle of fellow sufferers to understand you and what you are going through.

He understands.

And because He forgave those who murdered Him, because He forgives you now of everything, including your anger and the hurtful things it’s made you do, you can forgive too.

Forgiveness, at this level, isn’t an act of will. It is an act of trust.

That trust is in Jesus Who tells you that even the hairs on your head are numbered, that there are many mansions in His Father’s kingdom, and He has prepared one for you.

You are a child of God, and this brutality you have suffered is an offense to God.

The world needs forgiveness. Without it, we will eventually destroy everything we love, including our civilization.

On an individual scale, you need forgiveness. We need to forgive one another and lay these heavy burdens of shame and bitterness down. We need to forgive. And we need to be forgiven.

This is Advent. Emmanuel is coming.

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Making a Holy Advent: Allow Christ to Enter into Our Lives

Don’t waste Advent. It’s a wonderful season that allows us to prepare for the coming of Our Lord, as well as look forward to His coming again.

The words for Advent are: Peace, Hope, Joy, Love.

Don’t waste Advent. Live it and allow Jesus to be born again in your heart.

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Litany of Our Lady

 

This litany is a wonderful way to pray today on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

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O Come, O Come Emmanuel

 

This is my favorite Advent Hymn. I love its haunting melody and plaintive cry for our savior. It makes me think of all the lost people who are crying out for Him, even, sometimes, with their angry attacks on Christianity.

At heart, so much of this culture’s anger toward our faith is a cry of unrequited love from people who don’t know that God loves them.

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