Pope Francis: Failures are Par for the Course on the Road to Salvation

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Republic of Korea https://www.flickr.com/photos/koreanet/

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Republic of Korea https://www.flickr.com/photos/koreanet/

From Catholic News Service:

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The road to salvation may be pitted with failures, but God uses them and overturns them to manifest his love for his people, said Pope Francis.

Reflecting on the parable of the wicked tenants in the Gospel of Mark during morning Mass at the Domus Sanctae Marthae June 1, the pope said the parable may be understood to represent the “failure of God’s dream.”

In the Gospel passage, Jesus tells of the owner of a vineyard, who has a dream for his land, which he carefully and lovingly prepares to be cultivated. He hires tenants to work the field, but they are wicked and kill all those whom the owner sends to retrieve his portion, including his son. What should have been a story of love, said the pope, instead appears to be a story of failure.

Failures are present throughout salvation history, the pope said. God’s dream for humanity included failure and bloodshed from the very beginning when Abel was killed by his brother Cain; the murders of many prophets followed, and the process culminated with the crucifixion of Jesus, he said.

The Bible includes the “many, many laments of God” when faced with the actions of his people, who are “unable to free themselves from the desire Satan sowed” in Adam and Eve to “become gods” themselves, the pope said.

“The story of salvation could very well be called the story of failure,” he said.

But this “logic of failure” is overturned in the cross, which is perceived as “a scandal,” but is where God makes manifest the ultimate victory of his love for his people, the pope said.

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The Christian Basher in Chief Explains Pope Francis

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons. Official White House Photo.

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons. Official White House Photo.

Christian/Catholic bashers come from all sectors of society.

Some of them come from the left. Others come from the right. The thing they have in common is that their agenda is always and forever their agenda and not that of the Gospels.

They attack Christians in general and the Catholic Church in particular, for one reason. They want to either use the prophetic and moral voice of Jesus Christ to advance their nihilist/corporatist agendas, or they want to destroy this voice.

The contrary thing about the Catholic Church is its unbending fealty to the Gospels as a whole. The Catholic Church does not pick out one part of the Gospels to follow and dump the rest of it. The Catholic Church follows the entire teachings of Christ.

This makes the Catholic Church what Simeon told Our Lady that Jesus would be: “A sign of contradiction that will be opposed and spoken against.”

That is what Jesus said would happen to His followers when He told His disciples, If they persecute Me, they will persecute you. A servant is not greater than his master. 

This fealty does not apply to all Catholic laity, nor to all Catholic priests, and not even, sadly, to all Catholic bishops and cardinals. But the Church as a whole does not depart from the historic and eternal Word that leads to life everlasting. For guidance, we do what Christians have always done. We look to Peter.

What this means is that while there are individual Catholics who write books, give interviews and lead lives that witness to the fallenness of this world rather than to life in Christ, the Church itself does not waver in following Him. It also means that for every fallen Catholic yammering away on a talk show or showing up in a divorce court or hanging out on a porn site, there are many others quietly living lives of goodness and value that build up the Body of Christ.

It means that, while there are priests and bishops who pander to the culture, there are others, such as Cardinal Cordileone in San Francisco, who accept the brickbats and slanders that come to every true follower of Christ the Lord.

It also means that the most powerful among us are also those who are most jealous of the power this true moral voice gives to the Church. They love to stroke the fallen clergy and fallen Catholics who feed at the trough at public approbation for betraying Christ by following the world’s teachings instead of the Gospels. But those others, those who refuse to bend their knee and kiss Caesar’s ring, stick in their throats like a bone.

A case in point is our President.

No president in American history has launched such a direct and outrageous attack on the First Amendment and the Catholic Church as that engineered by President Obama with his HHS Mandate. That attack on the basic freedoms of every citizen in this country is, sadly, only one part of what he has done.

Under President Obama’s administration, Catholic organizations have had to end apostolates to trafficked women because they wouldn’t refer them for abortions. Catholic adoption agencies have been closed because they wouldn’t place babies with homosexual couples. People of faith, including Catholics such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, have been forced to spend day after day in court, defending basic rights that an Administration that believed in American freedoms would support rather than challenge.

President Obama’s recent comments concerning Christians, particularly Catholics, strain credulity when they are taken in the context of his administration’s constant attacks on the First Amendment. It seems that the president decided to sound off on how Christians and Catholics should interpret the Gospels. Not surprisingly, he called on them to put aside 2,000 years of Christian teaching and join in following after him.

In fairness to President Obama, he was speaking at an anti-poverty summit of Evangelical and Catholic leaders at Georgetown University. That at least makes his comments on topic. The gist of what he said was that Christians have been too focused on abortion and that they need to be more like Pope Francis with his emphasis on the poor.

First of all, if the president had bothered to consider where he was, he might have realized that Catholics, as well as other Christians, have placed a considerable emphasis on the needs of the poor for some 2,000 years now. He was speaking at a Catholic university because of the powerful focus that all Christians place on education.

How many of the finest institutions of higher learning in the Western world were begun by religious people, seeking to spread education to everyone? How many schools are there in Africa, Asia and even the Middle East today that were begun and are run by Christians, seeking educate those who cannot get an education otherwise?

Likewise, how many hospitals, clinics, homes for the destitute and help agencies were begun or are run by Christians? The entire HHS Mandate fight came about because there are so many of us out there working to provide help for people who would not otherwise have it. The ACLU has sued the Catholic bishops to try to force them to stop teaching Catholic teaching in Catholic institutions precisely because, they say, so many of our hospitals and health care agencies are Catholic.

Get that? So many of them are Catholic. That’s because Catholics care and have cared for a very long time about the welfare of human beings, all human beings, everywhere.

That is what following Jesus Christ inspires people to do. Christians are builders, helpers, educators, healers. The light of Christ not only shows us the Way to eternal life. It shows us the Way to abundant life for all people in this life.

President Obama’s comment was a well-done form of Christian bashing. It was somewhat like his earlier remarks about the Crusades in that it was based on a lie and that lie is being used to bash Christians and weaken the Christian witness in our society.

The other half of his comment was equally inaccurate. Christian advocacy in the political realm, especially that by the Catholic Church, is not limited to abortion. I know that. And so does he.

We both know because we’ve been in the political realm for most of our adult lives and we’ve been the recipients of the advocacy from Catholic entities about everything from support for increasing the minimum wage, to the welfare of immigrants.

My strongest help when I passed the bill protecting rape victims from having their personal information released was Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. Abortion was not mentioned in the bill. Ditto for legislation cleaning up nursing homes, the fight to stop Jim Crow legislation against Hispanics, minimum wage, and a host of other things.

Catholic teaching on justice to the poor and the dignity of workers goes back to Christ. It has been elucidated most powerfully by a long series of Popes, beginning with Pope Leo’s historic encyclical Rerum Novarum and going up through every pope since, including Pope Francis.

Pope Francis is Peter. He is not leading the Church down new pathways. There is nothing new or revolutionary about a Catholic Church that stands for the poor. The only thing that is new is this plastic attempt to “play” Catholics by making them think it is new.

As for the Catholic Church standing for the basic right to life of all human beings, how can anyone with half a brain honestly expect the Church Jesus founded to do anything else?

Does President Obama seriously expect the Catholic Church to come out in favor of the wanton murder of innocents?

President Obama’s many little jibes at Christians in general and Catholics in particular are finely-tuned Christian bashing administered by a self-serving pro in the art of skewering his political opponents. They are also, as these things must be, based on lies.

I’ve already done a whole series on the appalling inaccuracies in the way Christian bashers depict the Crusades. I suppose I can do another one on the even more appalling — since the evidence to the contrary is right in front of them — way that Christian witness is slandered and lied about.

It disgusts me when the President of the United States says things like this. He has no business inciting prejudice against a whole group of Americans. He also has no business telling churches how to interpret theology. As he once said, that is “above his pay grade.”

I am resigned to the fact that our president is a Christian basher. I don’t like it. But I’ve been forced by his own behavior and comments to accept it.

This man needs our prayers friends.

Perhaps more important than that, Christians everywhere need to stop letting Christian bashers define them, their faith and their culture. Christian bashers are bigots. They are liars. They are haters of the first order. Remember that when they try to tell you something about your faith.

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Praying the Divine Mercy in an Age of Exploitation and Murder of Innocents

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Alyssa L Miller https://www.flickr.com/photos/alyssafilmmaker/

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Alyssa L Miller https://www.flickr.com/photos/alyssafilmmaker/

If you do not become be converted and become as a little child, you shall not enter the Kingdom of heaven … And whoever receives a little child in my name receives me. But it would be better for those who harm one of these little ones if a millstone was hung around their neck and they were cast in to the sea. Jesus Christ

Today we pray for the little children and souls of those who are meek and humble. In other words, we pray for the innocents and the good people of this world.

Humbleness of heart is the opposite of narcissism and self-deification. Humble-hearted people do not seek to re-write the teachings of the Gospels to say their sins are not sins; they simply do their best to obey those teachings.

Children trust with a profound trust. They believe and build themselves on that belief.

These things truly do mirror Jesus’ own heart. The human Jesus did not rely on human understanding when the devil tempted Him in the wilderness. Instead, He quoted Scripture in reply to satan’s taunts and relied entirely on God.

He could have walked away at Gethsemane. He didn’t need 2,000 angels to battle for Him. All He had to do was get up and run; leave Jerusalem and take His ministry elsewhere.

But He did the stupid thing and stayed. In obedience.

He was God, and yet He obeyed God. That is the confounding truth of God made human. It is why His sacrifice purchased our redemption. He Who was sinless, paid the price for our sins, and He did it in obedience, the obedience of a humble human soul.

There are those in our society who do not view innocence as a call to offer their protection. They view it as an opportunity. They view the trusting innocence of children as an opportunity to change our culture with pernicious programs in our schools. They see innocent people as rubes to be misinformed by propaganda posing as news, laws written for the powerful that steal from them, and a plethora of other abuses.

They look on innocence in the womb and deny that what they are seeing is a fellow human being whose life by every understanding of human rights should be protected. They consider the new innocence of our elderly and infirm and see a burden and an expense that could easily be eliminated with euthanasia.

Innocence is not a protection in our society because the wolves are in charge. In this world, innocence is an opportunity to abuse, exploit and kill.

The humble of heart and the innocent thus seem like the world’s victims. And yet, Jesus tells us that if we want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, we must become converted and be innocent ourselves. If we want to be forgiven, we must bring “a humble and contrite heart” to Him, because Scripture tells us He will never refuse such a heart.

The key to eternity is in the hands of the innocents that we use, abuse and kill; in the hearts of the humble we scorn.

In the world that is coming, these are the ones who will be lifted high. While those of us who prance about and posture in the many conceits of our possessions, power and accomplishments will be blessed by God’s Mercy if we get in at all.

Today Jesus asks us to bring to Me the meek and humble souls and the souls of little children … (they) most closely resemble my own heart.

Today, as we pray, we should bring to Him the unborn, the babies, the little children, the elderly wandering in their fog of dementia, the humble woman next door whose horizon is her family for whom she gives her life, the sweet man down the street who goes to work and comes home and is always ready to help you out.

Bring to Him the simple souls, the salt of the earth on which all stability and kindness in human society is built. Bring to Him the good people without whom this world would be a living hell. They, and not the glitzy power brokers and difference makers are what make life livable. They are the only goodness humanity has to offer.

Pray the Divine Mercy Novena today. Bring the good people to Him and immerse them in His mercy. While you’re at it, ask Him to make you more like them yourself.

Sixth Day
Today bring to Me the Meek and Humble Souls and the Souls of  Little Children,

and immerse them in My mercy. These souls most closely resemble My Heart. They strengthened Me during My bitter agony. I saw them as earthly Angels, who will keep vigil at My altars. I pour out upon them whole torrents of grace. I favor humble souls with My confidence.    

Most Merciful Jesus, You yourself have said, “Learn from Me for I am meek and humble of heart.” Receive into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart all meek and humble souls and the souls of little children. These souls send all heaven into ecstasy and they are the heavenly Father’s favorites. They are a sweet-smelling bouquet before the throne of God; God Himself takes delight in their fragrance. These souls have a permanent abode in Your Most Compassionate Heart, O Jesus, and they unceasingly sing out a hymn of love and mercy.

Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon meek souls, upon humble souls, and upon little children who are enfolded in the abode which is the Most Compassionate Heart of Jesus. These souls bear the closest resemblance to Your Son. Their fragrance rises from the earth and reaches Your very throne. Father of mercy and of all goodness, I beg You by the love You bear these souls and by the delight You take in them: Bless the whole world, that all souls together may sing out the praises of Your mercy for endless ages. Amen.

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Go Look in the Mirror. That is the Only God You’ll Ever See.

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by EvelynGiggles https://www.flickr.com/photos/evelynishere/

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by EvelynGiggles https://www.flickr.com/photos/evelynishere/

Decades ago, not long after my conversion, I had a discussion with an atheist friend of mine.

This friend was from the time when just about all of my friends — including me — evinced a militant disregard for things Christian.

I didn’t know it at first, but that conversion to Christ was going to change everything in my life, including my relationship with people who had been as close to me as family. One by one and despite everything I could do to avoid it, I would lose them all. Worse, the same friends that I loved, truly loved, would become my worst enemies. They would do everything they could to destroy me.

This particular friend didn’t do that. But the friendship, the easy, warm trust between us, was gone almost as soon as I began to follow Christ. I tried my best to keep my new faith low key. I did everything I could to continue to blend in with my old crowd.

But … you’ve changed, this friend said one day.

It was an accusation, and I cringed inside, not understanding this “change” that he saw, even when I was doing my best to hide it. I did not realize in that moment that he had just unwittingly given me the greatest compliment he could.

He saw Christ in me. Despite everything I could do to pretend that nothing had happened and hang onto all my old friendships, I was changed. And this man saw it.

That comment began the slow unraveling of my old life as an unbeliever. I do not mean that it began my conversion. That had already happened. It was the start of the end of previous relationships with people who lived in the world of unbelief.

I fought it. I wanted to keep these people as friends. I wanted to hold onto the good times we’d shared.

But … you’ve changed, he said. And it was true.

This change began to resound in all these relationships with my old crowd. I never preached to them. I didn’t even talk about Christ to them. But I had changed on a fundamental level, and they were like ring wraiths sniffing me out.

This particular friend was the only one to address the change directly and then to lay into me at the root of that change. He knew, without my telling him, that I was now a Christian. And he began a program of reconversion.

Once, in one of our many arguments, he spat out a couple of sentences that I will never forget.

Go look in the mirror, he said. That is the only God you will ever see.

That comment was the apex of his arguing, and the end of our togetherness as people. It wasn’t the comment itself  that did it. It was the unbridgeable gap between us.

We never formally stopped being friends, but we did stop spending time with one another. It was too fraught, too uncomfortable. We had the memory of a friendship, nothing more.

He died of a heart attack a few years later. There were jokes about his vehement unbelief in the many eulogies at his memorial service. This was a man who understood friendship. The memorial service was a crowded event, the building filled to overflowing.

I walked out, gripping my husband’s hand, hoping that in those last extremities my old friend had finally turned to God.

Did he go to hell? 

I said it aloud when we got back to the car. Was he dead, really, eternally dead and gone to hell? My passionate, crazy friend — had he doomed himself to eternal death?

My husband was silent for a moment. Then, he reached out and squeezed my hand.

Probably, he said.

I changed again after that. My friend’s death shook me out of my somnambulance. I realized that being quiet about Jesus was the cruelest thing I could do to the people around me. I called quite a number of my old friends and told them directly that I did not want them to go to hell. I pleaded with them to change.

One of them changed, began following Christ and follows Him to this day. Otherwise, those calls had no effect.

You just don’t worry about me, one of them said, summing up the reaction from all of the rest.

A few years later, someone I knew and had crossed swords with was dying of cancer. This person and I barely spoke and when we did, it was barbed.

I picked up the phone and called him. Are you right with God? I asked him.

My friend’s death has taught me that there is never a wrong time to try to tell someone about Jesus, and there is never a right time to let another person slide into eternal death while you stand politely by and say nothing.

I read a headline before I began writing this post saying that 7.5 million Americans have abandoned their faith in Christ in the last year. I didn’t read the story, but I would assume that it was based on statistics from a survey of some sort.

There are a lot of reasons for the rising apostasy, but I think that the heresy of salvation through politics is one of the primary factors.

Many Christians have become besotted with a political Christianity where voting right and joining the correct political party has replaced following Christ. They have removed Jesus from Lordship of their lives and replaced him with an angry and unthinking devotion to their political party.

The Holy Spirit will not honor this kind of fallen Christianity. This Christless Christianity without a cross will not produce the fruit of the Kingdom because it is not of the Kingdom.

Go look in the mirror. That is the only God you will ever see. 

Seven point five million Americans evidently decided to turn their backs on eternal life and plunge themselves into eternal death while we were barking at one another over whether or not the priest wears a stole when he hears confessions and is the Church too “feminized” and which political party is the right one for Christians.

Let me tell you something. If Jesus Christ is truly the Lord of your life, it does not matter which political party you are in or whether or not the mass or church service you attend is sufficiently to your liking.

It does not matter because wherever you are, you will do His will. If people aren’t looking at you accusingly and saying You’ve changed, then something is wrong with your relationship with Christ.

If you fit comfortably in this world, then you are not going to fit comfortably in heaven. If you sit idly by and watch people trot themselves off to eternal hell and do nothing, say nothing to stop them, then you are the most cruel of people.

Let me turn my friend’s comment around. When you look in the mirror, do you see your God?

Sin is one thing. We all sin. This is why we have confession. But if you are one of those many people who are trying to cut your faith to fit your politics, if you are trying to shear the teachings of Christ down to slip them nicely into the folder where you keep your political handouts, then you are, no matter how often you go to Church or how much you proclaim yourself a Christian, in rebellion against God.

If you do not accept the Lordship of Christ in all matters, then you are not following Christ. If you do accept the Lordship of Christ, then it does not matter where you are or what people you associate with, you will be His witness in that place.

Bearing witness to the Gospel with our lives is the universal Christian vocation.

But it doesn’t end there.

We are also called to bear witness to Christ with our words.

Ask yourself this: Have people abandoned the Church because of you? Have you driven them away with your peculiar and particular insistence on a vengeful reliance on your version of what a Christian should be? Has your unbending self-righteousness made them feel that the Church is the last place on earth they would go for love and forgiveness?

Or …

Have people come to Christ because of you? Have they felt safe to tell you of their failings, to share their doubts, to trust you with their darkest secrets? Have they experienced the love of Christ in you and begun to follow Him because you allowed yourself to be a conduit of His grace in their lives?

What fruit have you born with your followership of Christ?

When you stand before God, will lost souls point at you in accusation and say He or she never told me about Jesus.

Or worse, will they say, He or she was so angry and so self-righteous that I thought their Jesus was the devil?

How many souls will point to you and say He or she was the spark that led me to Christ?

The answer to those questions begins with another one. When you look in the mirror, do you see a beloved child of God who can trust His love to forgive their sins? Do you see a sinner who does not need to be afraid before God; someone who is forgiven and who is grateful for that forgiveness?

Or …

Do you look in the mirror and see the true lord of your life and the only god you will ever know?

 

 

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The epiphany of the Epiphany: The Wise Men r Us

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Copyright: Wonderlane used with permission.

The wise men r us.

By that I mean they are that vast reach of overlooked humanity that had no part in God’s Covenant with Abraham. The wise men are you and me, who will be, at long last and as St Paul put it, “grafted” onto the original tree of life that God planted when He raised up first a man and his wife, then their family, and finally, a people, to be the flame of flickering light in the darkness of fallen humanity.

We sorta know the story of the Wise Men. We’ve seen it acted out in Christmas pageants when, at the end of the story of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the manger, three little boys walk in to the tune of We Three Kings. They are wearing bathrobes made of shiny fabric and carrying three boxes marked “gold,” “frankincense” and “myrrh.”

The little boys put their boxes next to a makeshift manger which holds a doll wrapped in a baby blanket. Meanwhile a little girl, dressed in a her mother’s bathrobe and a little boy dressed in his dad’s, look on. The shepherds are already there, along with a couple of little girl angels.

It’s Christmas and the people rise to sing Joy to the World with the gusto of those who know in their hearts that this story, however simply it is told, is true.

These Christmas pageants are simple, fun and they do tell the essential story. But the layers upon layers of meaning that the story holds are not touched. That’s to the good, of course, since belief lies not in layers of understanding but in the simplicity of ultimate truth.

Christmas is about the end of the endless night of ultimate hopelessness. It is the story of The Light breaking into human history. As such, the simplicity of small-church Christmas pageants are all we need to tell the story.

But for those who want to look past the dust jacket on the story, the questions and the answers are there. Before Jesus, God’s direct work with humanity had been limited to this smallish family turned nation that He had settled smack along the most important trade route of the ancient world. The bread basket of Egypt, the spices and riches of the East, traveled along this narrow way near the sea on their journey to Europe.

Rome fed off this route, as had numerous empires before it. Of all the places in the ancient world, the one most likely to be fought over, invaded, battered and beaten, was this one. Why did God put His people here?

My guess is that it was because the story of the Jews is not just the story of the Jews. It is the story of Jesus’ family. The Bible itself is, from the first page to the last, the story of Jesus, of God’s redemption of us, all of us, everywhere. He chose to send His redemption first through a man and his wife, then through a family and finally through a single nation.

When Jesus was born, He repeated the story and went back, once again, to a man and woman, a husband and wife. It seems that God always begins His beginnings with humanity with family.

The Chosen people were chosen, as God told Abraham, “to be a blessing.” They job was to bring that first flickering point of light to the world at large. The nation of Israel was in the one best place best situated for sending the message of redemption to the whole world. The location that made it a perilous location of great political and economic interest, also made it the perfect jumping-off place for spreading the Good News outward until it met itself circling the globe.

Thus Jesus, when He finally came, was a Jew, born to Jews in a vassal Jewish nation residing in the crook of the elbow of the ancient economy.

He was, from the beginning, the Light of the World. Not, notice, the light of the Jews. Jesus, a Jew, born of Jews, came for every person who walked the planet. Salvation came from the Jews, but it was for us all.

That is the meaning of the Epiphany. It is the underlying message of God calling three wise men to, as the hymn says, “traverse afar” in their quest to find Him. These men were not Jews. They were us, the unsaved sea of humanity that had been, up until then, standing outside the door.

The epiphany of the Epiphany is that we are part of the story now. Salvation came from the Jews, but it is no longer theirs alone. From the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life, He called all humanity to Himself. It began with three men who followed a star and it is unfolding to this day.

Pope Francis surprised the pundits this week by raising up cardinals from far-flung locations about the world, many of which are places where Christians suffer desperate persecution. The mustard seed is just being planted in some of these lands. Those cardinals are the successors to the wise men.

… the Gospel must be preached to all nations, Jesus told us.

And it will be.

And it is.

Like every other story of humankind, the story of our salvation begins with a man, a woman, and a baby. It begins with a family, and it ends with eternal life.

Mixed into this story is the tale of three wise men who “traversed afar” to pay homage to a newborn king laid in a manger in a stable. They visited the Romans’ vassal king of that land, King Herod, on their way to Him. In doing so, they alerted a ruthless and insecure man to a potential threat. Their indiscretion cost the lives of innocent children, executed by King Herod in a drive to safeguard his throne against prophecy. They were the trigger that sent Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus into exile in Egypt.

Their part in the story of salvation, was germinal in every way. But the most important part of it is also the most often overlooked. The wise men were not Jews, they were not of the Chosen people. The blood of Abraham did not flow in their veins. But God called them and guided them and over a long journey led them … to Him.

In this way, the epiphany of the Epiphany is that we are welcome at the table now. The doors to God’s salvation opened wide on that night when He was born, allowing any who will take the step to enter in. It began with a star, a journey and a baby.

Because the wise men r us.

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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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Pope Francis: If You Feel the Call to be a Missionary, Do It!


Pope Francis seems to be talking about missionaries who cross borders to share the Gospel. I agree with what he says about that. But I’d like to add that we need courageous people who will be missionaries for Christ to our own fallen culture, here in the “Christian West.”

Do you hear the call to speak more about your faith? Is God asking you to share Jesus with those around you? That is a tough call, but we all have received it by virtue of our own salvation.

We have the way to eternal life. If we do not share it with those who are perishing, we are not being polite, we are being terribly selfish.

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Thy Will be Done as It Is in Heaven

 

Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Jesus Christ

We pray it every Sunday and at the beginning of each decade of the Rosary. My children and I began each homeschool day by praying it.

It is the Our Father, the prayer that Jesus gave us when the disciples asked Teach us to pray. 

This prayer is the answer, given to us by God Himself in human form. It begins with a new way of looking at God.

Our Father, Jesus teaches us to address Him. Not YHWH whose name may not be said. Not I am, the unknowable infinite.

But, Our Father. 

For those of us who had fathers in our lives, that is a beautiful image. It betokens a loving, protecting presence. It speaks of always-there Daddies on the beat who kept us safe and taught us love by loving us, who gave us a place in the world that was ours and was safe and was home. Our Father, for those who have fathers, is a beautiful image.

Jesus teaches us to address God as Father. He tells us that He is the Good Shepherd; the protector and defender of our souls.

Jesus begins His prayer with Our Father and then moves to an acknowledgement of Who this Father is.

Hallowed be thy name. 

The name of God is like no other. It is the name of the One who created everything, everywhere, who spoke existence into existence with a single word and Who holds existence in existence with a thought. How can we address such a Being? Who are we to call Him Father? 

Jesuswho is God personified, God in human form, reminds us that Our Father Who art in heaven is also God, and His name is, as the Commandments told us, not to be taken in vain. We take this commandment too lightly these days, all of us, me included.

We take it lightly because we take God lightly. We have become so inured with the God-is-one-of-us way of thinking that we’ve forgotten Who He is and what He requires of us.

Our Father, Who art in heaven

Hallowed be Thy name. 

Jesus follows this acknowledgement of Who God is and the respect we owe Him, by praying that God’s Kingdom will come. In other places in Scripture, Jesus describes this Kingdom coming as leaven in bread and a mustard seed that grows into a great tree. He tells His followers that the Kingdom is now, that it is active in them (and us) when we hear His word.

Thy Kingdom come He prays, knowing full well that the Kingdom is coming, that its spark exists in the heart of every true follower of the Word, and that He is Himself this Word.

Look at nature, look at the long silent passage of time from that first word that spoke existence into existence and today’s world. It is an eye blink of time in the mind of God Who foresaw it from before the beginning, but it is time beyond our reckoning to us. God plants seeds, God sets events and forces in motion. God, the Good Shepherd Who answers our prayers and longs for relationship with us, is also a good gardener Who allows things to grow and ripen in their own time.

The Kingdom is coming in each of us individually and in our corporate history. It is no accident that the ideas of universal human rights grew in the hotbed of Christian culture. That notion was simply the fruit of the tree that grew from that first mustard seed.

Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 

The Kingdom is coming in every believer who will trust Him and step out in faith to follow Him. But this kingdom is buffeted and attacked in direct proportion to how fruitful it is. Christ’s followers — His Kingdom on earth — suffer attack from what St Paul termed “powers and principalities.”

The darkness hates the Light. It has from the beginning. Our job as Christians is to be the Light, shining in the darkness.

We cannot leave the world outside our safe circles of faith lost in the blackness of a night without Christ.

We can not leave whole populations to the machinations of dead philosophies that teach death. The proponents of these philosophies seek death wherever it may be found. They lift up cruelty, killing and degradation of human beings and call these things rights. They label them good and teach them as freedom. And always, without end, they war against the Light.

Choose this day whom you will serve, Joshua enjoined the Israelites. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. 

Jesus took the command to serve the Lord our God and added another to it. Go into all nations teaching what I have taught you, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. 

We are called to do more than just save ourselves. Christianity is a lifeboat, headed for eternal life. Unlike a real lifeboat, it expands to take in everyone who wants to climb aboard. There is no qualification for entering into the Kingdom other than to accept Jesus as Lord.

Lord, how can we know the way, Thomas asked Him.

I am the Way,  Jesus answered.

No one comes to the Father, except through Me. 

Our job, as Christians, is to point the way to the Way. We are on a lifeboat headed for salvation, floating through waters filled with angry, lost, drowning people. We are called to shine the light on them and let them know the lifeboat is there, to help those who are willing to be saved to climb on board.

That is evangelization. We should not — must not — be the church that builds the fancy church house full of gorgeous accouterments and then sits, hands folded and utterly complacent, waiting for lost people to find their way to us.

We need to go to them. Because they are perishing. Because He told us to do it.

Our own inner cities would be wonderful places to begin. I’m not talking about ministries to clothe and feed these people, although those are certainly good things. I am talking about bringing them Christ; converting them. I am talking about evangelization.

How many churches in the inner city have closed down because they say all the people have left? That absurdity is emblematic of our failure to do what Jesus explicitly told us to do.

As the moving vans from those churches drive toward the suburbs, they go through neighborhoods that are full of people. They’re just not the people those churches want.

Oh, the churches come back to those neighborhoods. They come to do “ministry.” These “ministries” are good things. They offer help. But most of them do not stay around after dark and they do not offer Christ.

Which of you, if your child asked for a fish, would give him serpent, or if he asked for bread would give him a stone? Jesus asked.

If we give people bagels and coffee, warm winter coats and help with paying their utilities, but we don’t also offer them eternal life, what are we doing?

Do we think that eternal life is too rude to give to people? Are we afraid of being attacked for proselytizing? If that’s the problem, we need to get over it. The people who attack us for that have proven that they’ll find something else to attack us for if we stop sharing Jesus.

The existence of Christians and Christianity is what offends them. The only way we can stop them from attacking us is to follow the world instead of Him. In other words, we can stop their attacks if we stop being what they hate. If we give up our own eternal life and join them in their living death, they’ll stop harassing, hectoring, suing and hating us.

Do we fail to offer Christ along with the canned goods and clothing because it embarrasses us? Are we ashamed of Jesus? Are we afraid that Christian bashers will accuse us of making conversion a condition for our aid?

That would be a devilish thing, if it were true. We need to help people, whether they accept Christ or not. But we also need to offer them Christ as part of our help.

What they do with the offer is their decision. Nobody has to follow Jesus to get a can of beans or a pair of socks. But they have a right as human beings to know that eternal life can be theirs. They accept or don’t. Our only responsibility is to offer Him to those who are dying.

All we need to do is make sure that we are walking in His way. If people want to accuse us falsely, that’s on them.

Who determines your behavior: Jesus Christ, or His critics?

Evangelization is not some new-fangled marketing ploy. It is a Commandment from Jesus Christ. Protestants call it a Commission: The Great Commission. And so it is. Our Lord explicitly directed us to evangelize the world. He didn’t make exceptions, and He didn’t put caveats on it.

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and I will be with you always, to the end of the world.

Seems pretty clear to me.

Family Missions Company has put out a beautiful new video about evangelization. I think it’s worth watching.

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Former Communist Leader Recants at the End, Receives Last Rites

There will be rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents. Jesus Christ

There must have been rejoicing in heaven a few weeks ago. That’s when Wojeiech Jaruzelski, the former Communist dictator or Poland asked for last rites.

Mr Jaruzelski was also the former and the commander of the Soviet Military forces that put down an attempted move toward democracy in Czechoslovakia. He was an avowed atheist for most of his adult life.  

True to its way of doing things, the Church accepted him back and rejoiced in his salvation. Mr Jaruzelski died May 25, following a stroke and was given a funeral Mass on May 30. He had recanted of his atheism and asked for the rites of the Church two weeks before his death. 

“What a … beautiful thing, that the head of the government which was at war with the Church should in the end be reconciled with the Church. That’s cause to ring the bells of glory, isn’t it?” said Fr Raymond Gawronski. 

From CNA:

.- The recent funeral Mass said for Wojciech Jaruzelski, who was a Polish military commander and communist politician during the Cold War, has been received as an occasion for rejoicing.

“What a very odd but beautiful thing, that the head of the government which was at war with the Church should in the end be reconciled with the Church. That’s cause to ring the bells of glory, isn’t it?” said Fr. Raymond Gawronski, a priest of Society of Jesus’ Maryland province and a Polish-American, in an interview this month with CNA.

Jaruzelski, who was for many years an avowed atheist, died May 25 following a stroke. He was given a funeral Mass in Warsaw May 30, said by Bishop Jozef Guzdek of the Polish Military Ordinariate.

A priest at the ordinariate’s cathedral announced that two weeks prior to his death, Jaruzelski had requested last rites.

Jaruzelski was born in 1923 to a prominent Catholic family of Poland, and shortly after country’s invasion by both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, he and his family were deported to Siberia, and he was later made to work in coal mines in Kazakhstan.

Before World War II ended, he had joined the Soviet-backed Polish army to fight the Nazis. He continued to fight the anti-communist Polish Home Army after the world war, defending the Soviet-backed Polish government.

Jaruzelski formally joined Poland’s communist party in 1948, and 20 years later became Poland’s defense secretary; that year, he occupied Czechoslovakia during the Prague Spring, an effort at democratization.

In 1981, he seized power in Poland and soon declared martial law in an effort to suppress Solidarity, an anti-communist trade union inspired by Catholic social doctrine. Tens of thousands were arrested, and some 100 were killed in the crackdown; Jaruzelski’s imposition of martial law lasted until 1983.

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At Gethsemane

 

Gethsemane is far more than the physical garden where Jesus prayed the night He was taken.

Gethsemane is a place in the human heart, a destination we all reach. Some of us will go there many times in our lives.

Gethsemane is what I call The Alone. It is that stripped-bare moment when the pretenses and self lies that sustain us in our illusion of invincibility and significance are taken from us. Gethsemane is the realization that we are alone in a way that the glad-handing niceties of human interaction hide from us.

Emotions such as loneliness and even despair are trivialities when contrasted with the stark solitary helplessness of The Alone. It is a stunning thing to look into the eyes of another human being and see satan looking back at you. It is a soul-scouring reality to face the insignificance we really are to other people.

That is Gethsemane, and it is what Jesus faced for you. And for me.

Can you not wait with me one hour? He asked the disciples, and the question vibrates with the isolating aloneness that prompted it.

He had to face the awfulness of what was coming without human succor or understanding. When they came, when Judas struck Him to the heart with a kiss of betrayal, when He looked into the pitiless eyes of Satan, staring at him from another human face, He was alone.

That was Christ’s Gethsemane. Our Gethsemane, even though it will differ, is in some ways like it.

My friend Linda Caswell is director of All Things New, a ministry that shelters and redeems women who have been trafficked and prostituted. These women know The Alone, not as an event or passage, but as the whole of their lives. They have inhabited The Alone the way you and I inhabit our jobs, families and lives, because it has been their lives.

Most of these women have had very few positive contacts with people of faith. They avoid churches because the men who have bought them are also in the churches. Their only safety is in Jesus, but they do not understand that at first.

When Linda shows them the movie that Mel Gibson made, The Passion of the Christ, it inevitably breaks through the hard shell of their defenses. Women who do not understand the Gospels as anything but a lie told by lying liars who buy and sell them break down and sob uncontrollably when they see Jesus humiliated, beaten, tortured and disregarded.

This Jesus, the One who prayed “let this cup pass” in Gethsemane, they understand. And by the miracle of the grace of the cross, they believe that this Jesus understands them.

Their lives, which have been an unending Gethsemane, open to this Brother God who was beaten, tortured, humiliated and disregarded as they have been.

Because He understands. Because He does not disregard them. Because He is the only One who can go with them into The Alone of their personal Gethsemanes.

Jesus Christ suffered for us to redeem us from our sins, from the things we’ve done. He also suffered to redeem us from the things that have been done to us. In this cruel world, the things that are done to us can cut deeper and leave us less able to see the Divine than our sins.

We put people outside the bright circles of acceptability that we draw around ourselves and those we deem worthy. We cast them into the hell of unending Gethsemane where no one keeps vigil with them and no one cares that they are alone.

Only Jesus, Who has been there, can penetrate The Alone of our lives. He is the One, the only One, who can draw people back from the man-made abyss of life lived in The Alone where we cast so many of the people that He died to save.

It is important to remember this at all times, but especially today when we re-enact the Last Supper. Jesus was becoming Christ on this night when He gave us the Eucharist and the servant priesthood. He was teaching us how to love with a love that passes all human understanding and how to live the life of the Kingdom in this world. He was showing us that even in our Gethsemane, even in the deepest pit of The Alone, we are never alone, for He is always there.

And he will keep watch with us, not just for an hour, but for the whole of this life and into the one beyond.

 

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