If You’re Catholic, Christmas Isn’t a Day. It’s a Season.

Copyright: Rebecca Hamilton. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright: Rebecca Hamilton. All Rights Reserved.

Catholics don’t regard Christmas as one, big rousing day of overeating and gift giving.

We see it as a joyful season of the Church. It lasts right up until we celebrate the visit the Wise Men paid to the baby Jesus.

That kind of season thinking is hard for Americans, tied as we are to jobs and paychecks. We feel lucky if we can get off work long enough to celebrate that one big day. But a “Season?”

No can do.

I understand this well. I’ve never been able to really “do” a Church season. I was too beset by other things. But I’m going to attempt doing Christmas the Catholic way this year, which is to say, that I’m going to do a bit of extended Christmassing.

Our family had the really big deal one-day celebration along with everyone else yesterday. We did mass on Christmas Eve; present opening and feasting on Christmas Day. It was beautiful. And wonderful. And blessed in every way.

Now, I’m sitting here in my housecoat after having cleaned the kitchen floor and eaten a piece of leftover chocolate cream pie for breakfast. I also dusted The Precious and took a look at my office.

My office has become the place I put things I plan to do later. It’s cluttered with stacks of books I plan to read, and paintings, plaques and other framed thingys I brought home from my office at the capitol six months ago.

I walked in there, flush with the anticipation of free time to “do” things and thought, “I need to hang those paintings/plaques/whatnot and I need to buy bookshelves for those books and put them in the music/prayer room that I want to create in the room where The Precious lives.”

Then I thought, “Nope.”

It’s Christmas Season and I’m not going to spend Christmas Season working. I’ll Do It Later.”

Of course “I’ll Do It Later” is why those books are stacked up and the paintings/plaques/whatnots are stacked against the wall.

But it is Christmas Season, the first real, live Christmas Season I’ve had the opportunity to take since I converted.

I am going to do my best to just bask in the miracle of God made human, of a Heavenly Father Who loves you and me so much that He came down here to live in the muck with the rest of us as the adopted baby boy of a humble carpenter. Our Lord and Savior Who was born as an outcast in a conquered land, born in a stable and Who had a stone manger for His first crib, is born again this Christmas season in our hearts.

I want to ponder, without the intrusions of our beautiful day of celebrating, the miracle of His birth. I want to consider that the great I Am Who made everything, everywhere, consented to be one of us, and that He gave us this beautiful message that being one of us, meant, from the beginning, that He was one of the Least of These.

I sit here in my comfortable chair in a house with central air and heat that is so efficient I have to step outside to know if the weather has turned cold or not. I wonder what it was like on that cold desert night, in a cave/stable.

The shepherds came — shepherds, not kings, not even the local rabbi — but shepherds, dressed in the same clothes they wore when herding sheep and sleeping on the ground. They came because the angels sent them, choosing, once again, to emphasize that this newborn King was not a king of palaces and pomp, but the Son of a God Who loves us all, loves us each and every one, and Who is not, never has been and never will be, a respecter of persons.

Angels from on high announced the coming of the Good Shepherd to humble shepherds who were tending their flocks in the fields.

This is our salvation.

This is who we are called to be. We are the leaven in the Kingdom, the mustard seed, the salt of the earth. We have in our hearts and in our knowledge of Him, the Pearl of Great Price, the only hope that exists for suffering, dying humanity.

The Hope of the World spent His first night in a stone manger in a stable with his two humble earthly parents. The Shepherds came, because, out of all the people roundabout on that night, the angels were sent to them to announce His birth.

“In getting and spending we lay waste our powers,” William Wordsworth wrote.

We have to make a living. There is no way around that. Jesus Himself worked for most of His earthly life at the trade of carpenter. He did not eschew work.

But we are not the things we make with our labors, nor are we the sum of our income or our passing achievements. Our “powers” reside in our ability to love and live and create life that is worth living for ourselves, our families and our world.

Labor is part of that, but only a part. The thing which gives it dignity, which makes it worth doing, is that ability to build people by raising our children properly, and by living lives of honesty, love, dignity and faith. Our lives take on value and eternal meaning to the extent that we live them in Him, through Him and for Him. Every good thing follows from that.

I know most of you who read this will be at work today. I also know that, for the first time, ever, I have the opportunity to do it differently from that.

I’m going to take off a few days this Christmas season and ponder the miracle. I’ll pray for those of you who don’ t have this opportunity. Remember that no matter what work you must do, the purpose and the meaning of it is not in the paycheck. The purpose and the meaning of our work is always in our love for Our Lord and the good we bring to this world by loving other people.

I will moderate comments, so feel free to continue your discussions. I’ll be back January 7, after the Epiphany of Our Lord.

 

Notre Dame and The Little Sisters of the Poor


I thank you Father … that you have hidden these things from the wise 
and the learned, and revealed them to the little ones.

 Jesus Christ

“CCChristian people, I am come hither to die for the faith of Christ’s holy catholic church; and, I thank God, hitherto my stomach hath served me very well thereunto, so that yet I have not feared death; wherefore I desire you all to help and assist with your prayers, that, at the very point and instant of death’s stroke, I may in that very moment stand steadfast without fainting in any one point of the catholic faith, free from any fear. And I beseech Almighty God of his infinite goodness to save the king and this realm, and that it may please him to hold his holy hand over it, and send the king a good council.”

St John Fisher, at his execution

God’s warriors have always been the most unlikely people.

He sent Moses who stuttered to speak to Pharaoh and Gideon who was a coward to fight a war. He chose Deborah — a woman in an ancient middle-eastern country — as commander in chief during another war, and He was Himself born in a manger and raised by a carpenter.

God likes the little people, the unlikely people. Jesus’ disciples, who would ultimately change the world, were fishermen and disreputable tax collectors and such.

Jesus Himself once thanked His Father for revealing the truth of the Kingdom to the “little ones.”

We see this lived out in our world every single day. How often do we see the powerful and puffed up professional followers of Christ who have done quite well for themselves, thank you very much, cut and run when trouble comes? How often do we see those who claim that they speak for God and we must honor and respect them for that reason, collude with the world and do its bidding rather than Our Lord’s?

The leadership in a good many of our Catholic universities is a case in point. Many of these universities are institutions that were built by priests, jesuits in particular, and which are still headed by priests.

Education has become a primary means of brainwashing young people into turning their back on Christ. This is a magnificent opportunity for those who run our Catholic universities to make a positive difference for the Kingdom. They could, if they were committed to  Christ themselves, make their institutions a primary means of converting the culture.

Instead, many of them have chosen to convert their schools to fit the culture. When push comes to shove, as it has with the HHS Mandate, they bend the knee and kiss Ceasar’s ring without embarrassment. And they continue to wear the Roman collar while they are doing it.

As I said, in another post, enter the Little Sisters of the Poor, stage left. The sisters are, as Jesus said, “little ones.” The word “little” is even in their name. They were, before they decided to make a courtroom stand for Christ, almost anonymous. Their work isn’t the kind of thing that allows them to hobnob with presidents and kings. They spend their days caring for the least of these, for the very people that a good many in our society are pushing to euthanize for their costliness and the massive inconvenience they create. The Little Sister of the Poor care for the frail elderly,

The Little Sisters fit Jesus’ description of “the little ones” pretty well. They serve a Church which is administered by men who do sit down to sup with presidents and kings and many of whom have clearly forgotten that they are servants, not masters.

One of Public Catholic’s readers inspired this post with the comment that they wished the Little Sisters of the Poor would be more like the priests of Notre Dame and just do what the government tells them to do: Accept the HHS Mandate and follow the government instead of Christ.

The reader didn’t put that last bit about following the government instead of Christ in there. That was all me. But I honestly think it reflects the choice that the leadership at many of our Catholic universities have made, and not just in the HHS Mandate.

What the reader was saying, of course, is that they preferred Christians who follow the world rather than Christ; they like cowardly Christian leadership that will lead their people into betraying Our Lord so that the Church becomes a meaningless cypher in today’s world. This reader — and I imagine a good many other people — prefers the priests of Notre Dame to the Little Sisters of the Poor precisely because the priests are so willing to sell out Jesus and the Little Sisters are, however reluctantly, willing to fight for Him.

I wonder if this embarrasses these priests at all. I would take a look at myself if those who have as their outspoken goal the destruction of religion in general and Christianity in particular praised me for not following the Church. Do they consider, even for a moment, the implications in this?

These are difficult times, and difficult times are when the sunshine soldiers who joined to participate in the parades and fanfare lay down their arms and cross over to what looks like the winning side. How many of the English bishops acceded to Henry VIII? I know of one. Cardinal John Fisher was martyred for his faith and is now Saint John Fisher.

I’ve read letters from the bishops, encouraging the laity to consider St Thomas More when thinking about the HHS Mandate. St Thomas More is special to me. When I was in the process of converting, I thought about him a lot. I’ve always thought that he was there with me, aiding me in that time. St Thomas More is my namesake. During my years in office I wore his medal, all day, every day.

St Thomas More refused to repudiate the Church at the King’s command. St Thomas is precious to me because he had many failings and he did not want to die. He was not aiming for sainthood. He tried his best to live, to avoid his martyrdom. But in the end, when the choice of Christ or King was put before him, he chose Christ.

St Thomas More is a marvelous example, especially for politicians, writers and attorneys. St John Fisher is an equally important example for priests and bishops. I wish there was a St John Fisher Society to promote sacrificial followership among priests and bishops. I wish they could find fellowship and strength in one another. It is not easy to lead people in these times. It takes consistency and courage.

Leadership in the name of Christ is always servant leadership. It is a giving of oneself, rather than a getting for oneself. The people of God are hungry for leadership. Even most of those who criticize and try to bully the Church into acceding to the world would respond to leadership if they saw it. In fact, a good many of these people behave this way because they don’t have leadership. They are, as Jesus put it, like sheep without a shepherd.

The single best way to lead is by example, by inspiration. Do you want people to stand for Christ? Then stand for Christ yourself. Do you want people to sacrifice for Jesus because He is worth any sacrifice? Then, sacrifice yourself. The Church is built on the blood of the martyrs, not the crisp linens and fine serving ware of dining with presidents and kings.

The prominent priests of Notre Dame are a fine example of how not to do priestly leadership. Being the big dog and aping the world are not examples of servant leadership or even Christly leadership. They are examples of betrayal.

I thank You Father … that you have … revealed these things to the little ones. 

Enter the Little Sisters of the Poor, stage left.

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.

The Hard Teachings: Are You Going to Leave Me Too?

 

If you do not eat of my flesh and drink of my blood, you will no have life within you. Jesus Christ

The Eucharist was a scandal. Many of Jesus’ followers left Him when He explicitly told them I am the bread of life. 

It is popular today to cast Jesus as a Casper Milquetoast god thingy of our devising. According to popular cant, Jesus’ sole purpose in becoming human was to tell us that, hey, I’m ok and you’re ok. Do what feels good and so long as it doesn’t kill somebody else — unless of course it’s euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research or abortion, in which case, it’s a “human right” to kill somebody else — so long as it doesn’t kill somebody else that you’ve decided it is a denial of human rights not to kill, it’s fine by me.

Jesus’ living teaching about the mercy of God toward the weak and helpless, in particular women, when He said let him who is without sin cast the first stone has been transmuted to mean I can commit any sin I want and the Church is sinning if it says my sin is a sin.

The Eucharist was a hard teaching, a scandalizing teaching, on that day when Jesus first taught it. Many people left Him because of it.

But Jesus didn’t follow after them and try to smooth things over. He didn’t say C’mon back. I didn’t mean it that way.

His reaction — if you have deluded yourself into believing in the Casper Milquetoast Jesus of modern pop theology —  was downright unChristlike.

Stop grumbling among yourselves. He said. It is written, They will all be taught by God.

Then, he doubled down on his teaching about the Eucharist: My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink … Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever. 

Finally, He turned to His disciples and said, Are you going to leave me too?

Not, notice, please, please don’t leave me; I was only speaking metaphorically.

He looked at them and without equivocation acknowledged that they were as scandalized by this teaching as those in the crowd, but, again, without wavering one inch on that hard teaching, asked them the real question that He asks each of us: Are you going to leave me, too?

It was a line in the proverbial sand. Stay or go, He was saying, but the teaching will not change.

He asks us, all of us, including our cardinals and bishops, this same question today.  Are you going to leave me, too?

Will the hard teachings of our Christ Jesus, Who was anything but a Casper Milquetoast, be too much for you?

Today’s Catholics wuss right by the hard teaching of the Eucharist. We’ve got that one down.

But the other hard teachings about the sanctity of marriage and human life, about the reality of hell and the fact that yes, Virginia, there is a satan, are too difficult, too embarrassing, too demanding of us in this post-Christian world.

We want to whittle Jesus down, to wear away His rough edges like a bar of soap, until we have a slippery little g god who won’t make things so tough on us. We want our silly addlepated little wimp of a self-made god who won’t trouble us in our desire to be accepted and loved by everybody, including those who are unknowingly following satan when they attack Him.

We want Christ without the cross, eternal life and salvation without redemption and conversion.

It hurts me! Sinners cry. It hurts to be “judged” a sinner just because I break these eternal rules. It rankles and angers me that anyone would think that the things I want to do are wrong.  So, stop saying that. In fact, tell me that what I want — whatever I want — is good and virtuous.

If the Church obliges, it will condemn these people to hell.

It will also condemn itself to inconsequence.

It is one thing to teach that this Church of ours is the cornerstone, that it was built on Peter the rock and that Jesus said the gates of hell would not prevail against it. It is quite another to arrogantly assume that the Church may change the basic teachings of the faith and teach that which is contrary to what Christ taught and that it will be A-Ok because Jesus said the gates of hell would not prevail against us.

The first is faith. The second is presumption.

Jesus did not mean whatever this Church does is holy because the Church does it. His great Apostle, St Paul, said quite clearly, God is not mocked. 

John the Baptist told the Pharisees, when they went into the wilderness to refute him for his preaching, that everyone — including them — was in need of redemption. He then smashed their self-justifying claims of exemption from following the laws of God. Do not say we are sons of Abraham, he told them. God can raise up sons of Abraham from these very stones. 

Jesus said it best, of course, when He said, A servant is not greater than his master.

That applies to those who wear the mitre just as it does to the rest of us.

Perhaps the hardest teaching in that day of hard teachings when Christ the Lord made clear beyond misunderstanding what the Eucharist really meant, was the answer He gave to those who walked away. It is written, they will all be taught by God. 

We have been taught by God made flesh. This is not some wimpy, politically correct little g god of our devising. This is a God who was reviled and attacked, mocked and betrayed and yet did not yield. This is a God who consented to be beaten, tortured, mocked, and horribly murdered; Who took on the bottomless alienation of all sin, Who became Sin, in order to buy us back from our perdition.

Are you going to leave me too?

That is the question.

It’s up to each one of us to decide what we will answer.

Know, Trust and Don’t be Afraid

detail-from-the-creation-of-adam-michelangeloFrom what I gather, I’m doing this retreat so wrong that it hardly qualifies as a retreat. I think I’m supposed to go sit in a room and keep silence, waiting for God to speak to me. But, to be honest, if I went off in a room and kept silence for days at a time, I would probably sleep for a couple of days and then start trying to dig a tunnel through the floor.

It’s just not me.

My best idea of a retreat would be, if I had a horse, to saddle up and go for long meandering rides while I think and talk to God about what I’m thinking. I understand going off into the desert and wandering as a retreat. I can understand lying on your back and looking up at the stars. But locked inside four walls with a candle and a holy portrait? Not so much.

Since I don’t have a  horse, I play the piano. And I’m finding the piano fills me up with pleasure that seems holy and pure to me. I also care for the people I love. I read. I kibitz. I spend time with friends. But mostly, I talk to Jesus about what ails me.

A retreat for me is taking time to be with God and trusting that He wants to be with me as well. If He has something He wants me to do, He’ll tell me.

I use the phrase that I am going to “seek the Lord” when I talk about these withdrawals into the Holy Spirit that I do from time to time because that phrase seems to make sense to the people who hear it.

But I don’t “seek the Lord,” for the simple reason that He hasn’t gone anywhere. He’s with me all the time. Sometimes I ignore Him for days on end and just go my way. When I do that, he’s like a parent, watching while Her child plays and rambles; not interfering, but there.

I don’t truly “seek the Lord” because all I have to do is what any one else has to do; acknowledge His presence and talk to Him about the things that are troubling me. There’s no formula for interacting with the Holy Spirit. If you are a Christian, the Holy Spirit is with you and in you every moment of every day. He loves you and His viewpoint is much broader than yours.

One thing I have read in the book I’m using for this retreat (Consoling the Heart of Jesus) that I don’t get at all is the rather tortured explanation as to why we need to console Jesus when He’s in heaven. I was confounded by how difficult the thinkers the author quoted make this simple thing.

Here’s my non-theological explanation for what I didn’t know was a question: Jesus is God. He made everything, everywhere, including — get ready for this — time. If Jesus made time, He is outside of time. He is not part of our linear time that flows inexorably from one moment to the next in a steady measurable procession that you can, well, set your watch by.

My son and I had a discussion with another homeschooling mom back in the day about the first chapters of Genesis. I kept saying that, while the description in Genesis is true, it is expressed in poetic terms. Specifically, the word “day” does not refer to a 24 hour, solar day. First, there was no sun when God began His creation. Second, God is outside of time. The term “day” is a non sequitur to Him that He uses for the benefit of our understanding.

She didn’t get it.

Finally, my 11-year-old son said, “I don’t think God sees time as a line the way we do. I think He sees it as a dot.”

That is probably pretty close to the truth in that God, being the creator of time, and being outside of time, sees all of creation, from beginning to end, constantly and as one whole. I don’t think that when He says He knows our days and the future of our world, he is saying that He is predicting what will happen the way a prophet or seer would. I think in God’s eye view the end and beginning and everything in between is an eternal now.

What does that mean to the idea of consoling Jesus for His sufferings while he is now in heaven and far from those sufferings? Just this: Everything is now to God. Jesus is at Calvary in the same way that, when the actual physical event occurred, He died for you and me two thousand years before we were born. It’s not a trick of theology. It’s a matter of perspective. God’s perspective.

I think my rather odd ball way of retreating is an echo of that understanding of God. I met God when I was driving my car on the way to make a speech. The Holy Spirit filled me up with God’s love in a moment and from that day to now, has never left me.

That experience and what I’ve learned from this continuous presence of the Holy Spirit, shapes the way I approach God and the way I do a retreat.

I drop out from public activities and go to a period of praying because I get battered up by life and I need the healing and solace that just being with the Lord gives me. I need to be loved and God never fails to love me when I just stop and let Him.

But I do not go into long periods of “discernment.” I have learned that if God wants me to do something, I won’t be able to get out of it. It’s that simple: If He wants me to do something, He’s gonna to tell me, and if I don’t get the message, He’ll keep on telling me until I do.

My job isn’t to “discern.” It’s to obey. And there are times when that obedience is not cheap.

I do ask, and have been asking a lot during this retreat, things like “Was I wrong when I said that?” “Did I behave like a jerk?” “Do you want me to change about that?” I’m so willful and given to doing things on my own initiative that I need — and pray — for God to guide me away from doing the wrong thing while thinking it’s the right thing.

But mostly, I find myself face to face with God and He changes me inside by loving me. I’ve said it many times: God does not change what we do. He loves us and that love changes what we want to do.

There’s more, and I’ll talk about it in the days ahead. But for now I want to emphasize one thing: Seeking God is like a child, crying out for its mother in the middle of the night. The minute you say you need Him, He is there. Because He was always there.

That was the experience I had at my conversion. He was there, right there, and He always had been there. I had willfully shut off my awareness of Him. But the moment I reached out, He was there.

All you have to do is trust and know that. Even in times of peril, grief, chaos or terror when the white noise in your head blots out everything, He is still there. You can’t hear Him, because you are drowning Him out with your keening. But He is there, and He won’t leave you.

You don’t have to earn His love and you can’t make Him stop loving you. Nothing you can do will stop Him from loving you and nothing you can do will make Him love you any more. You are His child.

Know that. Trust it.

And don’t be afraid.

 

In Christ Alone: Whom Should I Fear?

If you are engaging the world for Christ on any level, you will face opposition and personal vendettas.

Put your trust in Jesus and don’t worry about it. It’s just old scratch, working through his unaware disciples. Pray for those who try to stop you from witnessing for Jesus and keep your eyes on Christ alone.

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You Raise Me Up

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Conversion Story: Melissa Weinisch

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Synod on the Family: What Do They Mean by Gradualism?

 

We’re getting snippets of this, and snippets of that out of the Synod on the Family.

One word that has appeared and is floating around like one of those word bubbles above characters heads in a cartoon is gradualism. Even John Allen over at Crux, has made note of the sudden uptick in gradualism talk. “Gradualism … seemed on the verge of being stricken fem the official lexicon, is back with a vengeance,” he tell us. 

Unfortunately, ordinary pew-sitting Catholics like me have been pummeled and pounded with moral relativism these past few years. We’ve had the cant of what’s-happening-now talking-head theology thrown in our faces as we’ve been called everything from bigots to birdbrains for attempting to stay true to the Church’s teachings. In times like this, the sudden employment of the word “gradualism” by our bishops as they talk about those teachings fills us with anxiety.

Are our religious leaders going to pull the rug out from under us and announce that the teachings we’ve given real emotional blood to support are now as relative as the larger society has told us they are? The anxiety, which runs deep in a lot of hearts, is that our bishops are going to end up playing us for chumps for having believed them in the first place.

I’m no theologian, but I think — emphasis think — that gradualism, as it applies to Catholic teaching is that you don’t have to be all the way home to perfection or order to be on your way there. It sounds like shorthand way of saying that we are all on a journey in this life, and, in terms of our walk with Christ, we fall down a lot and have to get back up.

The easiest way I can explain what I’m trying to say is to describe my own self at the time of my conversion experience. I had committed the whole library of serious sins. I could go down the Ten Commandments and tick them off. Took the Lord’s name in vain? Check. Bore false witness? Check. Killed innocent people? Done and done.

I was rotten with sin, but the only sin I believed was a sin happened to be something that neither the press nor most of my friends know about. I confessed it to my priest and I’ve certainly taken it to God. I think I’ll let that ride and not confess it here.

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Suffice it to say, that I believed I had done something cruel to another person and I was grieved to my core over it. So grieved that, after 17 years of telling God to buzz off, I reached out to Him. “Forgive me,” was all I said, but it was enough.

I experienced a homecoming that puts the welcome given the prodigal son to shame. I was, as Protestants say, washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb.

Buutttttt … I stil didn’t know my other sins were sins.

I know that sounds daffy.

But I had lived by my own lights, been my own little g god for so long, drunk so many gallons of my own Kool-Aid that I honestly believed that, say, abortion, was a positive good that saved women’s lives. I believed that right down to the ground. No questions. No doubts.

I could go on for a long time, cataloguing what I didn’t know about my own sinful state. But the point I’m making needs no further explication, and here it is:

God accepted me just exactly as I was.

Let me say that again: God accepted me just exactly as I was. 

I didn’t have to go to the spiritual dry cleaners and get all spiffed up to be acceptable to Him and loved by Him.

I didn’t need to have my nose rubbed in my sins and be humiliated for them.

I didn’t even need to know what my sins were.

All I had to do was say “yes” and God loved me from death to life in an instant of overwhelming grace.

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The interesting part is that He didn’t start educating me right away. At first, it was like a honeymoon of sorts. I fell blindly and absolutely in love with Jesus and He loved me back. I felt so free, clean and loved.

And I was.

Gradually, this Being (Who I did not understand at the time was the Holy Spirit) Who had been walking with me since I said “Forgive me,” began to show me my sins. It was gently done. He would show me something I had done, and I would realize that it was wrong.

It was — get ready for this now — almost a year and a half before He raise the question of abortion, and then it was as gently done as all the rest. Just, this is wrong.

A lot came later, but once again, this suffices for the point I’m trying to make.

Gradualism is not just a theological construct. It is a lived reality. What I experienced when the Holy Spirit began the process of re-shaping me into what He wanted me to become, what He had always intended me to be, was God’s own gradualism.

He can knock you flat just as He did me. But when He picks you up, it’s like a mother holding her own precious child. He does not expect you to “get” it all at once, even more than I expected my newborn babies to hop down off the delivery table and start tap dancing.

I knew, and God knows, that we learn slowly or not at all.

And, perhaps more to the point, we learn when the time is right for us to do it.

This gradualism I describe does not say that God’s Word, His Gospels and His Righteousness are relative. They are not. In fact, they are so absolute that none of us can live up to them. That is the reason for the Cross. It is why God had to become human and suffer what we suffer and die as we die to open a way out of our lostness for us.

We can never live up to God’s absolute righteousness. Thanks be to God, we don’t have to.

We are, all of us pilgrim people on the road through this life and into the next one.

Gradualism is simply the acknowledgement of two things:

1. None of us is righteous is His sight, and,

2. He accepts us just as we are.

What we must do — what we must do — is trust Him and give Him our lives and our wills. We must let Him shape us into what we were meant to be, one gradual step at a time. If we presume on His mercy to declare that we do not need to change, that our sins are not sins, then we refuse Him and we will die the ultimate death.

God accepted me just as I was, and then He began to slowly change what I wanted to be. He showed me my sins and I reacted by believing Him and letting Him change me, from the inside out.

That is the key to salvation.

It is also why gradualism is not relativism. Gradualism does not say that sins are not sins. It simply says that we are, all of us, at whatever stage in our Walk with Christ, in need of improvement.

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Do not take the concept of gradualism and mis-use it as a get out of jail free card that allows you to willfully continue in your sins and thumb your nose at the Gospels. That is a fearful and, if it’s not given up, fatal sin. “God is not mocked,” St Paul told us, and those who claim God’s forgiveness as a fiat to sin are mocking God.

Gradualism is not relativism, although I suspect it will be bandied about as if it was. Gradualism is simply a word expressing what the old hymn, Just As I Am, expresses. It does not teach that sin is not sin. What it teaches is that the hopelessness of our sins need not be our story.

We can be washed clean of our sins by the Blood and water that flowed from Jesus’ side. We can become true pilgrims who are walking faithfully with Him on the Narrow Way that will lead us to Glory.

Gradualism tells us that we don’t have to get perfect to go to God. That, no matter what we’ve done, we can change and become new creatures in Him.

Because the same Jesus Who told us He was the Way, also promised that He would make all things new.

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Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith takes his own view of gradualism here

I have Decided

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