Category Archives: Personal Journey

Distractions: Blessings in Peculiar Packages #2

Another peculiar package of God’s blessings are distractions in my “prayer life.”[1] How can I conceive of such a thing? Distractions, after all, take you away from prayer! Nonetheless, I am convinced that, in some way, distractions are a blessing. Like the previous package of pride, distractions are something with which I am plagued and at the same time, through God’s grace, by which I find another path to faith.

I am convinced that, without God’s help, I cannot get rid of distractions in prayer. I used all the techniques in the world: from anxiously waiting for them to pop up so that I can banish them from my thoughts [a useless exercise in futility; they only become the focus of my attention] to sitting on the riverside, letting them float off into the oblivion. I have prayed until I am blue in the face for God to set me free of them…but normally, in everyday ordinary prayer, be it my own or during the Eucharist, the recitation of the Hours or the rosary, etc., distractions arise from every point of the compass, flights of fancy, starting piously innocent but ending up far afield.

On special occasions God grants me the blessings of focus and concentration.[2] But the majority of the time that I am plagued by distractions about everything under, and even beyond, the sun.

Are these simply the floating garbage of life washing up on the beaches of my prayer? To regard them as such would be to somehow fall into the trap of separating my body, mind and emotions from my soul, my spiritual life from my “normal, everyday” life, the sacred from the secular. Since this is the opposite of what I know to be true, the oneness and unity beneath the structure of the analytical categories into which I box reality, how should I re-evaluate these distractions in light of God’s providence? How do I refocus my vision to bring into alignment God’s knowledge of these distractions with their seemingly ungodly purpose of taking me away from prayer, from talking with Him, from praising and reverencing Him, that is my purpose in life? His constant answer: “I am here, learn from it. My grace is sufficient for you.[3][2Cor 12:9]” I must understand why this answer to my pleas are part and parcel of His unconditional love and desire for my greatest happiness, when in fact, these torture me constantly.

This is not an “either/or,” but, like many of God’s mysteries a “both/and.” I also find there are many intertwining answers: (a) growth in faith and humility, (b) seeing God in all things, even the most mundane and seemingly unimportant things in life, and (c) acceptance of my vocation to live the life of the ordinary Sunday-go-to-Church Catholic with all its joys and sorrows, ups and downs, desolations and consolations, nothing out of the ordinary, and with great need to find God right there in the midst of all that clutter of life, chaos of family and job.

I am what is to be a sheep of which Pope Francis wants the clergy is to smell. I am one of the millions and billions who live lives trying to bridge the gap between orthodoxy and orthopraxy, between doctrine and dogma and the lived reality in God’s world. I am only one very small part of this Church in the Modern World, this Body of the Cosmic Christ. I am a beneficiary with all of the blessed mercy and forgiveness necessary to transform the world into God’s Kingdom. And if I do my part of that right here in W. Pawlet, Vermont, and you do your part in San Francisco, Tokyo, San Paulo, Seoul, Beijing, Mumbai, then, not by our individual or even combined efforts, but by the power and providence of the Father working through the Holy Spirit to bring the world to His Son, this ultimate transformation will happen.

Distractions are a microcosms, the evidences of this life and, if I, by realizing that they too are God’s reflection, can use them to come to Him,[4] then I will have brought one more microscopic portion of the Kingdom into focus. I don’t always achieve this; in fact, it is a rarity that I even am conscious of this. But, like Merton, “I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.” [5] And, in that, I am comforted.

Finally, one of the blessings that You, God, have brought about with distractions is my confrontation with “You.” By constantly realizing that I am off the track again, that I have wandered, I then find you searching for me even there. You are indeed the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 to find this one lone straggler and bring me home on Your shoulders. You exude the smell You wish Your sheep to have, the odor of humility and faith, “of sanctity” as it use to be known. By humbling Yourself in constant service to us, Your brothers and sisters, Your creatures no less, You provide an example for us to follow…You walk the walk, not just talk the talk. By having faith in me as a person, that I am someone for whom it is worth Your time and energy to go out and search, You extend to me the hand of fellowship, of love, of caring; You hope that I will return. And by setting me on Your shoulders with great joy, You show me by your emotions that the joy of the Gospel is a lived joy, a joy of deep friendship, of love, of the bonding of Shepherd and sheep, of God and man. Your actions make clear that there is really and truly more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. [Lk 15:5,7]

So I keep fighting the distractions, shooing them away, to come to You. But at least I know that You are with me anyway and that I am beloved by You, even when distracted. Would that I were not distracted in prayer with You, in conversation with You, in communion with You! But I am and probably will continue to be. I thank You for coming to find me and for our bonding each time after Your rescuing me once again. That is truly such a blessing. Amen. Alleluia!!!


[1] “Prayer life” is somewhat of a misnomer. It is normally used to designate that time or portion of one’s life which is set aside specifically for talking with God. While Jesus Himself taught us by example that there are times each day you need to go up to your mountain alone and pray, particularly before making important decisions, He also modeled praising God and speaking about God and calling on Him throughout his normal day. Finding God in all things, in the world around me, is not a separate special investigation I undertake only when I put my mind to it. It is a constant habit that I enjoy, finding, seeing, talking to God wherever I am, whatever I am doing, with whomever I am.   Thus, prayer life is all life seen from the perspective of living in God’s presence and carrying on conversations with Him as you do with family and friends throughout your busy day.

[2] One of the reasons I pray at my computer, typing what comes up between God and myself, is that I am not so distracted, I am forced to concentrate, I can listen to the Spirit for the next inspiration, for His reading on the topic, for what is true and what is false, what is on target and what is not….and raise my mind and my heart to Him in thanksgiving and praise as I relish and record to the best of ability His wondrous view of reality, a feeble attempt at recording a grand masterpiece.

[3] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Hereafter, NABRE.

[4] Not “back” to Him; He is, somehow in some manner which may be totally unrecognizable to me, present in all things, people, and places; so my realization is just an awareness of Whom is already there.

[5] Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, Thomas Merton > Quotes > Quotable Quote, Good Reads, http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/80913-my-lord-god-i-have-no-idea-where-i-am

Advertisements

O Happy Fault[1]: Blessings in Peculiar Packages #1

God’s blessings sometimes come in very peculiar packages. In my works of charity, it is pride. How can I conceive of such a thing? Pride is a sin! Nonetheless I repeat that God uses this blight on my character as an avenue down which grace can flow.

By allowing me to preen and puff over the trifles I do, Jesus has handed me a branding iron and has me stamp “No Reward” all over each of my actions. Jesus compares me to the hypocrites He berates three times in succession in Matthew 6: first for blowing trumpets to win the praise of others [2][Mt 6:2a] when giving alms; second for showing off while praying so that others may see them [Mt 6:5a]; and finally for looking gloomy and disheveled so that they may appear to others to be fasting.[Mt 6:16a] In all three instances, Jesus denunciation and condemnation of such public show is the same: Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. [Mt 6:2b,5b,16b]

I may attempt to fool myself into thinking that I do not show off externally, thus gloating over my superiority over such hypocrites…an utter charade. I may pretend to “swallow my pride” and play at false humility, pride’s foulest ludicrous and pitiable mockery. I may simply pat myself on my proverbial back and present myself with pseudo-kudos for being “such a good boy” in helping others, when, in truth, I have used them by my actions, my charity sanctimonious lies. I may even play at such right here and now with a display of verbal dexterity.

And all for naught….For Jesus turns to me each time I pretend and says in no uncertain terms: Amen, I say to you,…[you] have received…[your] reward. And the insane aspect of it all is that I know in my heart of hearts that He judges me with this O, so cruel yet truth-filled condemnation every time…and yet I keep on doing it again and again and again, in never ceasing stupidity. I am just like my namesake, St. Paul: What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hateThe willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not. [Rom 7:15,18] I am truly insane, according to Albert Einstein, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.[3]Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body? [Rom 7:24]

And if you think this is an addiction, it is. Any sin that becomes a habit is probably addictive. Let’s face it: it looks like a duck, waddles like a duck, quacks like a duck, then, by Jove, it’s a duck! Fortunately, thanks to the grace God gave Bill W. and others, we have a program that fights addiction. Since my life is unmanageable and I have concluded that I am insane, I must join all the other addicts, in this case, sinners of the world, and come “to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity” and then make “a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”[4]

In case I think that if I get rid of pride, I have it made…think again. In this, Bill W echoes Jesus’ “No way!” Jesus says: All who depend on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not persevere in doing all the things written in the book of the law.the law does not depend on faith; rather, “the one who does these things will live by them.” [Gal 3:10,12] Whoever keeps the whole law, but falls short in one particular, has become guilty in respect to all of it. [James 2:10] Therefore, any trip up, any slight deviation, any “venial” sinful act and I am cursed. If I try to follow the law, I will fall. And the law has no safety net…one fall, I am guilty, I am cursed. That no one is justified before God by the law is clear, for “the one who is righteous by faith will live.” [Gal 3:11]

Without Divine intervention, we are caught in a Catch 22, a vortex that inevitably leads to condemnation, death, and eternal punishment. For only God [Mark 2:7] and those to whom God has given the power [Jn 20:22-23] can forgive sin. But, thanks be to God, the Father, who for our sake…made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him. [2 Cor 5:21] Christ ransomed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree,”…so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.[Gal 3:13,14b]

I can be thankful for the fact that, though I am judged guilty of sin, God says to me, “I so loved the world that...[I] gave…[my] only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For…[I] did not send…[my] Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. [Jn 3:16-17] Believe in me, believe in my Son, believe that Jesus took your guilt for those sins of yours, your condemnation of Him, your blows as you scourged him, your taunting as you crowned Him with thorns, your betrayal as you denied him, your hatred as you screamed “Crucify Him, crucify Him”…He endured all these things for Your sake, took them with Him to the Cross and there forgave you for you did not know what you were doing. [Lk 23:34] For every time you sin, you in effect reenact the entire passion, re-betraying, re-arresting, re-judging, re-interrogating, re-scourging, re-crowning, re-condemning my Son. And each time, each and every time, He forgives you and asks Me to forgive you. And, since He forgives you, neither do I condemn you. And I say to you: Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more. [Jn 8:11] You are no longer forever guilty of your sin; everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin;..[but] if a son frees you, then you will truly be free. [Jn 8:34,36] My Son freed you and My mercy triumphs over judgment.” [James 2:13b]

Thank You, Father, for turning all things, including pride, to work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. [Rom 8:28] Amen. Alleluia!!!

[1] From the Exultet, the Proclamation that is sung during the Easter Vigil Liturgy. http://onlineministries.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/p-30-exultet.html

[2] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Hereafter, NABRE.

[3] Albert Einstein Quotes, Brainy quote, http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/ a/alberteins133991.html#yQWHIbTCt6MDpevx.99

[4] Steps One, Two and Three, The Twelve Steps Of Alcoholics Anonymous, Service Material from the General Service Office, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., http://www.aa.org/assets/en_US/smf-121_en.pdf

A brief conversation with one’s Guardian Angel:

Thank you, [fill in your angel’s name; if you don’t know it, ask.], for taking on this rather thankless task of guiding & guarding me today.  I know that you did it because it is the Father’s will & you wished to serve Him & show your love for Him.  I certainly need your help & I thank you for taking the job.  Guide me today in doing His will:

  • pry me from my selfishness;
  • prompt me when I forget that I am helpless in pursuing salvation, let alone holiness & true happiness, & must always rely on God;
  • prod me when I’m stuck;
  • protect me when I face evil or temptation;
  • pacify me when I’m inpatient;
  • proclaim God’s presence to me when I forget to acknowledge it during this day;
  • pop my bubble when I am proud, envious, or jealous, and do not recognize in all others God and that they are also His daughters and sons;
  • prick my conscience when I play God, project or fantasize & restore me to sanity,
  • prohibit me from doing or saying wrong things simply to please & be liked, or because I am angry,
  • pray for me and help me realize that prayer is our script for our role in the kingdom, whether we are talking to God directly or to God in others;
  • plead for me for forgiveness from God and from all around me;
  • put my fears on my cross & help me bear it,
  • help me prioritize,
  • push me when I procrastinate,
  • pep me up when I am tired, and
  • prop me up when I panic.

& may our Jesus ask the Father to give you the strength, patience & perseverance to endure the trials through which I put you & the love to continue your care of me.  I thank Him for you & I ask Him this in the name of His Son, Jesus.

Joy

“Joy is the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing–sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death–can take that love away.”[1] Joy strikes such a deep resonating cord within each of us. Joy is what we seek in life, our greatest happiness[2], that which makes us rejoice, rejoice in spite of everything, rejoice in spite of anything else. This fundamental, from-the-deepest-ocean-undisturbed-by-the-storms-of-life, joy is what “nothing – not sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death” can wrest from our grasp. Why? Because it is the knowledge, the experience, the enraptured state of unconditional divine love in which God enfolds me and will never let me go. Nothing I can do, no matter how vile and disgusting, nothing I can say, no matter how foul and cutting, nothing I can think, no matter how insidious, cruel or arrogant, can ever convince God not to love me. Any of these can be and are evidence I do not love God nor my neighbor. But the opposite is not and can never be true; God’s just not “built” that way. As Nouwen continues: “we belong to God and have found in God our refuge and safety and that nothing, not even death, can take God away from us.”

What struck me about this phraseology of this fundamental truth, not just of our faith, but of reality, is that it echoes two of my favorite people: St. Paul and St. Ignatius. Paul says: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice![Phil 4:4] and my favorite quote: Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus, [1 Thes 5:16-18] which sums up for me the whole of Christian life, rejoice, pray and give thanks, demands not just of our thought and speech but also, and perhaps primarily, to be exhibited in our actions, in our lives with others.

Ignatius, in The Principle and Foundation, exhorts us to practice “active indifference.” Far from its common mean of totally not caring, a more apt description of our contemporary society attitude toward our “huddled masses,” “in the Ignatian sense, to be indifferent is to care whole-heartedly towards something, with full desire and hope; but with equally full openness and freedom towards whatever the outcome,” [3] as I quoted in the previous Meanderings but bears repeating. However, it is the examples Ignatius uses to illustrate this point that mirror Nouwen’s description of joy: “as far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long life to a short life.”[4] While Nouwen cites only the “bad” things, Ignatius cites both them and their “good” counterpart. “As far as we are allowed free choice and are not under any prohibition,[5]” Ignatius points out that our joy, “our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we are created.[6]

What struck me also is that all three agree with Nouwen: “joy does not simply happen to us; we have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”[7] Whether by praying, thanking and spreading God’s love and joy or by holding myself in the dynamic tension of active indifference while serving God and man, joy is something at which we have to work and work diligently and constantly, lest we slip down into stagnant familiarity, presumption, lethargy, distraction, disbelief, dismissal, and ultimately, its opposite, despair. It does not come easily. Therefore, Jesus, help me to seek joy in Your love every moment of my life, rejoicing always, knowing that the bedrock of my active indifference is its exact opposite in God, His total consuming and unconditional fascination, desire and love of me. Amen. Alleluia!!!

[1] Fr. Henri J.M. Nouwen, Dutch priest, author, teacher: 1932-1996

[2] “God has determined, unless I interfere with His plan, that I should reach that which will be my greatest happiness. He looks on me individually, He calls me by my name, He knows what I can do, what I can best be, what is my greatest happiness, and He means to give it me. God knows what is my greatest happiness, but I do not. There is no rule about what is happy and good; what suits one would not suit another. And the ways by which perfection is reached vary very much; the medicines necessary for our souls are very different from each other. Thus God leads us by strange ways; we know He wills our happiness, but we neither know what our happiness is, nor the way. We are blind; left to ourselves we should take the wrong way; we must leave it to Him.” Venerable John Henry Newman, Meditations on My Happiness, March 6, 1848

[3] Fr. Glen Chun, S.J. Daily Inspiration from JesuitPrayer.org September 10, 2015

[4] Ignatius of Loyola. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius: Based on Studies in the Language of the Autograph (Kindle Location 182). Kindle Edition.

[5] Ibid. 181, 182.

[6] Ibid, 183. Ignatius defines that end: “Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.” Ignatius of Loyola. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius: Based on Studies in the Language of the Autograph (Kindle Locations 178-179). Kindle Edition.

[7] This quote from Henri J.M. Nouwen is part of a larger quote that is very popular on the internet; I was amazed by the number of people who have cited this quote, from all walks of life and different faith and philosophical backgrounds.

Jn 6:29: Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”

[Prologue: This is a continuation of the Meditations on John’s Gospel one verse at a time.  While there is much on which to meditate, these are the center around which all the others orbit.]

Why the double “answered and said”? Either answered or said alone would have been sufficient. Is there a reason behind the author’s use of a double verb? Perhaps it is similar to Jesus frequent use of “Amen, Amen,” a device to bring attention to the importance of the words? But in this instance, it is not Jesus who is doubling up his introduction to his statement. It is the author who is doubling the narrative words. But the author is under the influence of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. So, was it the intent of the Holy Spirit to draw attention to the answer? This seems to be the case. This combination is frequently used to bring attention to the pivotal statements which follow stated or implied questions:[2]

  • Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up. [Jn 2:19]
  • Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above. [Jn 3:3]
  • If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. [Jn 4:10]
  • What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later. [Jn 13:7]
  • I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. [Jn 14:6]

These are major teachings of Jesus on the resurrection, baptism into new life, living water, servant leadership, Himself as the Way to God, the Truth of God and the Life of God.

They are not only answers to questions. They are also statements of profound importance, not only as part of the narrative, not only to the specific individuals to who they were address when Jesus spoke them, but also, and perhaps equally, to all of us who hear them repeated years and centuries later.

This is the same here, Jesus defines the work of God that we are given: belief in Him. Here the crowd has just asked: “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?”[Jn 6:28] This is an eternal question. This was not only this crowd’s question. It is also our question today.

Jesus responds clearly, simply, precisely:“This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.” This is His response then and now.

To put this in context, what had the crowd then been told they had to do to accomplish the works of God…keep the 613 Mitzvot or Commandments plus all the other “man’s laws” the Pharisees have imposed.[See Mk 7:2-15; Mt 15:1-20] No wonder Paul ranted and raved against the law: all who depend on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not persevere in doing all the things written in the book of the law”[Gal 3:10]…for the law does not depend on faith; rather, “the one who does these things will live by them.”[Gal 3:12]

Not keeping the law means sinning; Paul goes do far as to say: I did not know sin except through the lawwhen the commandment came, sin became alive; then I died, and the commandment that was for life turned out to be death for me. [Rom 7:7.9-10]

Paul realized, he experienced the undeniable fact that it is virtually impossible for anyone to perfectly keep all 613 Mitzvot and all the man’s laws. We are frail, weak, one slip and we fail, we sin. And that is the Catch 22; you have to keep them perfectly or you are cursed and die, but you can’t keep them perfectly, so inevitably you are cursed and die. The point being that it is impossible for sin-prone man to correctly fulfill all the things written in the book of the law.” Living, not being cursed, is based on doing and doing perfectly, an impossibility for imperfect man. For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.[Rom 11:32]

But Jesus says: “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.” With this one phrase, this one declaration, Jesus Christ ransomed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree.”[Gal 3:13] The work of God, He says, is not the perfect keeping of the law; the law is to help us experience our absolute need for faith, for mercy, for forgiveness, for love. What you must do is believe in the one he sent,” believe in Me, Jesus said. Indeed, this is the reason why we have all the eye-witness reports of His miracles, that we might believe in Him: Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves. [Jn 14:11]

Why the one he sent? Why did not Jesus just refer back to himself as Me? This is the ultimate mystery of the relations of Jesus as the Son with His Father, a relationship based on obedience, grounded in humility, fueled by love. Jesus refers all glory, all power, all that He himself is able to accomplish to the Father.

As Jesus explained to Nicodemus: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. [Jn 3:16-17] Here it is very clear: the work of God is the sending of the Son; my response is to believe in His Son that I might not perish but might have eternal life.

Belief in Jesus is our task on earth. No less, no more.[3]

  • It is a discerning task: See that you not be deceived; many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’ Do not follow them! [Lk 21:8]
  • It is a difficult task: If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. [Lk 9:23]
  • It is a dangerous task: But beware of people, for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues, and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them and the pagans. [Mt 10:17-18] The hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he is offering worship to God.[Jn 16:2]
  • It is a deadly task: For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. [Lk 9:24]
  • It is a dedicated task: The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.[1Jn 3:16]
  • It is a glorious task: Everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life. [Mt 19:29]

So I have my marching orders, simple, clear, direct. The work of God is to believe in the one He sent, Jesus, as the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One. Such a message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith…We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God….I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. [1Cor 1:18,21,23-24; 2:2] Everything else stems from that.


[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] Matthew also uses this device [Mt 17:11; 24:4].

[3] While “no less” is the task of a lifetime, “no more” is a very bold statement. It means that such a belief in the one he sent is active, not passive. It subsumes within itself all that Jesus taught, all that He lived, all that He suffered and died for, all that He rose for, all that is the message of Jesus, the message of the Kingdom, all that Jesus meant when he said: Go, therefore, 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. [Mt 28: 19-20a] It requires a total response, a commitment, a life. This “no more” reminds one of Augustine’s audacious statement: “Love and do what you will.” [Homily 7 on 1 John 4:4-12, Sect 8. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/170207.htm%5D

Learning from Judas…and Jesus…

Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you twelve? Yet is not one of you a devil?” He was referring to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot; it was he who would betray him, one of the Twelve.[1] [Jn 6:70-71] What must it have been like for Jesus to know throughout His entire ministry that Judas, one of the Twelve, would betray Him? What was it like when Jesus first met Judas, perhaps a young idealist who dreamed of the restoration of Israel to its former glory, of freedom from the tyranny of all the oppressors who had taken away their freedom, from Rome, the last and subtlest, whose iron fist in a velvet glove type of rule by proxy through pseudo-Jewish puppets who lulled the masses into somnambulant acquiescence or at least compliance. Jesus read his heart; He did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well. [Jn 2:25] He knew from the beginning that His attempt to enable Judas to see what type of Messiah He intended to be, what type of Savior His Father sent Him to be, was for the whole of humanity, not just Israel, would be futile. Though He would enter Jerusalem hailed as the Messiah, he came, humble, and riding on a donkey, [Zach 9:9] Judas wanted a conquering hero on a rampant, defiant, charging war horse.

But Jesus took a chance. He chose him as an Apostle anyway. He knew Judas was a bad apple, his misguided fanaticism might infect the others. But that was exactly what Jesus came to repair, to call His followers to resist, to draw them away from eating the serpent’s apple. And maybe, just maybe, but continually nurturing him, welcoming him, befriending him, keeping him close, maybe Judas might change.

Why did Jesus keep Him on? Why did He promote him to the inner circle? Why did He trust Judas with the group’s funds [Jn 13:29] even though Judas was known to be a thief, [Jn 12:6] at least by some? Perhaps because Jesus shared His Father’s unconditional Love and eternal optimism, the Father who loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life [Jn 3:16]…And His Son agreed to go! Maybe it was because His Father did not send…[Jesus] into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. [Jn 3:17] And that world included Judas…and everybody who was like Judas. Though Judas might condemn himself by his choices, Jesus was there to save him, not condemn him.

At the Last Supper, Jesus made numerous attempts to get Judas to change his mind. Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me, [Jn 13:21] was certainly heard loud and clear by Judas as pointing to himself. Even when Judas tries to cover up his thoughts and plans and asks Jesus in turn: “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” He answered, “You have said so.” [Mt 26:25] So Judas knows without a doubt that Jesus knows his plan. Even then, Jesus is implying, “Change your mind, repent, come back to Me,” to transform the subterfuge, Surely, it is not I into a declaration of fidelity.

Even when Peter speaks for all there is again a direct reference to Satan wanting to have his way with all the disciples. Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.[2][Lk 22:31-32] Was this the difference between Peter’s betrayal and Judas’?

In a direct way, Jesus prays for Judas. If prayer is dialogue, a conversation, between God and man, certainly Jesus, the God-Man had much self-initiated dialogue with Judas. So he dipped the morsel and [took it and] handed it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot.[Jn 13:26] How closely this action parodies Communion, Jesus giving a morsel of bread. But it is the horrible parody of Communion. This is not Jesus Body and Blood but an identification of a betrayer. Jesus reaches out, feeding Judas, symbolically urging him to come back from the brink, to eat His true body and drink His true blood and be saved, [Jn 6:53]. But after Judas took the morsel, he has not received Jesus, but Satan entered him.[Jn 13: 27] Evil and hatred, not goodness and love are the outcome.

But even in Jesus final words during the Last Supper to Judas, “What you are going to do, do quickly,” [Jn 13: 27] with Satan standing there at the door of choice, Jesus forces it to be left open. A “halfhearted commitment to the faith is nauseating to Christ;”[3] indeed, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. [Rev 3:16] Judas still has a sliver of a chance, either ask Jesus for forgiveness and help or go and betray him. Here Jesus is saying, “Time is preciously short. Make a choice. Whatever you are going to do, do it now!”

So he took the morsel and left at once. And it was night. [Jn 13: 30] The word translated here as so can also be translated as “wherefore, consequently, accordingly, these things being so.”[4] In other words, the choice having been set before him, Judas chose to refuse the morsel of repentance and take the morsel of betrayal and leave.

Without commentary, we might think that Jesus did not grasp to its essence the enormity of the betrayal; on the contrary, he understands that non-existence would have been better. The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born.[Mt 26:24] But, in spite of it all, He still loved him.

The real kicker in this scenario is that all the Apostles would have their faith shaken for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed.” [Mt 26:31; Zech 13:7] And, when push comes to shove: all the disciples left him and fled.[Mt 26:56]

Even after Judas left, Jesus does not condemn him. When Judas betrayed him with a kiss, Jesus once more reaches out to him and calls him “Friend…” [Mt 26:50] Had he repented, if he had wept bitterly [Lk 22:62] like Peter, even then when it was too late to save Jesus from persecution and death, Jesus would have told Him: “Your sins are forgiven you.”[Lk 5:20; 7:48; Mt 9:2] He would have prayed to the Father: “Forgive…[him] for…[he knows] not what…[he is] doing.”[Lk 23:34] Jesus would even have told the others, just as He says to me, reminding us of our betrayal: Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone. [Jn 8:7] And finally, He would have turned to Judas and said: “Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more.” [Jn 8:11]

It is speculated that Judas was frustrated that Jesus had not become the conquering Messiah of his expectations, throwing off the yoke of Rome and returning Israel to its heyday. Judas thought that by having Jesus arrested, he would back Jesus into a corner and force him to finally show His might and power.

Judas was not alone in this hope. When Peter was ready to fight and drew his sword and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels? The way of unbelievable might and power is available to Jesus; if one angel of death can slaughter all the firstborn of Egypt in a single night, what overwhelming odds would 60,000 such heavenly warriors provide. All He has to do is ask. But as Jesus is keenly aware, then how would the scriptures be fulfilled which say that it must come to pass in this way?” How would His Father’s will be fulfilled; how would His perfect obedience make up for the disobedience of Adam, Eve and all of us, their offspring; how would infinite mercy and forgiveness show up vengeance and violence for the evil and distortion they truly are?

Even after the Resurrection, when Jesus had been with the Apostles for forty days and they were now convinced of His reality, the true implications of the crucifixion had not yet penetrated their understanding. They were back to their old way of thinking: Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel? [Acts 1:6] They hadn’t quite got the real, the true picture yet. Jesus, however, knows that they do not yet get it and that it will take the Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—…[to] teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you. [Jn 14:26] Concerning their question He replies: It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. [Acts 1:7]

Judas’ plan is underway. He keeps tabs as it evolves. However, things don’t go the way his thought they would. The Sanhedrin condemns Jesus and Judas sees that Jesus does nothing, absolutely nothing. Worse than nothing, He makes things worse by spouting off about His Heavenly coming: The high priest said to him, “I order you to tell us under oath before the living God whether you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “You have said so. But I tell you: From now on you will see ‘the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power’ and ‘coming on the clouds of heaven.’” [Mt 26:63-64] That was the kicker; that put that last nail in the coffin. Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has blasphemed! What further need have we of witnesses? You have now heard the blasphemy; what is your opinion?” They said in reply, “He deserves to die!” [Mt 26:65-66]

This is not the way according to Judas that it was suppose to work out. Jesus was suppose to triumph, bursting forth as the military Messiah Judas craved, wielding a flaming sword, striking down the blind Sanhedrin, terrorizing and demolishing the imperious Romans.

Finally realizing that Jesus was not going to rise up a conquering hero, that he was not even going to defend himself, that he was a totally different type of Messiah, a innocent Messiah, a just Messiah, an obedient Messiah, Judas deeply regretted what he had done. He returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood. They said, “What is that to us? Look to it yourself.” Flinging the money into the temple, he departed and went off [Mt 27:3-5a][5] But Pandora’s box could not be closed; history could not be rewritten. Judas’ betrayal scene was over, the Sanhedrin’s condemnation had begun. Try as he might, Judas could not put Satan’s evil genii back in the bottle. The fate of Jesus was out of his hands.

Unlike Peter, he did not weep for his sins, did not realize the love bond he had with Jesus was still there from Jesus side, did not accept the mercy of the Father even then, but he seems to have despaired of being forgiven and hanged himself.” [Mt 27:5b][6] I say “seems” because no one knows what demons, literal and figurative, drove him to do what he did. And no one on earth has plumed the depths of the love and mercy of God who is patient with…[us] , not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. [2Pet 3:9]

What can I learn from Judas? What can I learn from Jesus? First, I can learn to love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. [Mt 5:44] Jesus was serious about this with Judas as with the chief priests with the scribes and elders who mocked him [Mt 27:41] on the cross, I must echo Jesus plea: Father, forgive them, they know not what they do. [Lk 23: 34] If I really want to follow Jesus, if I am totally committed to patterning my life after His, if I am given the strength and the courage to pick up my cross day after day after day, then I have to reach out in love to the Judases in my life, not just those who are overtly hostile to me, but to those who are betrayers among my friends and family, then I can and must do this. Then, like Jesus, I need to continually offer love and forgiveness, even though the traitor be my other self, my comrade and friend, you, whose company I enjoyed, at whose side I walked in the house of God. [Ps 55:14-15] Only then will I be a child of my heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. [Mt 5:45]

Second, when I face the depths of despair like Judas, no matter what I have done, no matter what evil I have committed, Jesus is always there, reaching out, giving me another chance to grab onto Him, to accept His love, to recognize Him as the only one who can restore me to sanity, to look at Him and see the face of the mercy of God. I have the same choice as Judas, falling headlong [Acts 1:18] into despair and killing myself, spiritually if not physically, or looking up and crying out: “Lord, save me!” If I do, I know in my heart of hearts, that each and every time, without fail immediately Jesus [will stretch] out his hand and catch me. [Mt 14:30b-31a] Amen. Alleluia!!!


[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] Robert J. Karris, OFM, commented on this passage in TNJBC, p. 716: “31: Satan…Luke contrasts the effects of Satan’s attacks have on Judas and Peter. Jesus’ efficacious prayer saves Peter from the fate of Judas (see Acts 1:15-19). you all: The Greek here is pl. whereas in v 32 it is sg. Peter is representative of Satan’s sifting (see Amos 9:9) of all. 32. The implicit Christology is deep, and the church is consoled that its Lord can save it too from the power of Satan. turned back, converted: The Gk espitrepsas does not mean locomotion, but moral conversion (see 17:4; Acts 3:19; 9:35; etc.). your fellow Christians As Acts 15:23,32, show, this is the translation of aldelphous, I lit., “brethren.” Examples of Peter’s strengthening of the church can readily be seen in Acts 1-11,15.

[3] NABRE note on Rev. 3:15-16.

[4] Lexicon :: Strong’s G3767 – oun; Blue Letter Bible, http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/ lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G3767

[5] According to Benedict Vivlano, O.P., commentator on Matthew in TNJBC, the story about Judas’ death “probably began as an etiological legend to explain how the potter’s field came to be called ‘the field of blood.’” P. 671.

[6] According to Benedict Vivlano, O.P., commentator on Matthew in TNJBC, the story about Judas’ death “probably began as an etiological legend to explain how the potter’s field came to be called ‘the field of blood.’” P. 671.

“But what can I do?” : Subversive Tactics for a Committed Christian

“But what can I do? I’m just one insignificant person.” When stacked up against “everybody does it,” “they can’t all be wrong,” “majority rules,” “you have to go along with the crowd,” “you can’t fight city hall,” “Corporations are people too!”, “this is an international problem,” etc., etc., etc., this flimsy excuse may seem to be a logical conclusion, a rational course of action. “It just makes common sense.”

Or does it? Just because bad guys carry guns and we can all carry guns, we should do so? Jesus said: Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.[1] [Mt 26:52] Just because abortion is possible, the Supreme Court of our land has declared it legal, and many, if not most women, line up behind the battle cry: “Freedom of Choice,” should I suck it up and follow them. What about the “Freedom of Choice” of the unborn child? He/she did not have any say in being conceived. Shouldn’t she/he have a say in whether to live or die? And where is God in this picture? Isn’t He the one who breathed life into the child? Don’t I think that He has a major stake in whether His daughter or son lives or dies?

But I digress. The point is that I have a judgment to make whether the crowd around me is right or wrong, whether I choose to adhere by the moral or immoral way.

But even if I condemn the evil in the world, I still am faced with the same question: “What can I do?” Little, insignificant, ineffectual me? These are monoliths against which I am pitted. This isn’t just David and Goliath, this is Frodo alone against Sauron, the Necromancer, the Dark Lord, the avatar of Evil, plus all his minions. The Enemy indeed controls all this power and…glory; for it has been handed over to…[him], and…[he] may give it to whomever he wishes. [Lk 4:6]

But if we all cop out, if we all buckle to peer pressure, we are doomed not only to hell in eternity, but to hell on earth.

I may not be able to do much. But God needs the little I can do. God needs my hands, my heart, my feet to carry Him to those places where people have shut Him out. I am a Trojan Horse carrying the salvation of the world inside me, the world which laughs, ridicules and derides even the belief in God. I am Frodo already in Mordor, pretending to be an Orc, carrying the ring to destroy it in the Mountain of Doom.

Jesus is poised, ready to make Himself known through me. In the most unlikely spots. At the most unlikely times. In the most unlikely company. That’s where He needs to be. That’s where He is needed most. That’s where He cannot come unless invited. And He definitely wasn’t invited…but I was. He slips in under their radar in me.

Be a double agent for God. He guarantees the Father will be with you every step of the way; I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one. [Jn 17:15] Instead of a license to kill, I have a license to preach Life everlasting. Instead of a Walther PPK, I carry a much more effective weapon, one that ultimately brought down empires and conquers even death, the cross.

Subversive tactics. You bet: Instead of hating the enemy, I bewilder them, confuse them, frustrate them by loving them. This is totally unexpected. Guns blazing, that they can handle. Scorn and defiance, that they are use to. Anger and violence, no problem. But love, that doesn’t fit, that’s not fair, that isn’t in The Art of War, that throws them for a loop and stokes their ire. But, instead of revenge, I offer forgiveness. That’s really non-violent. That’s the ultimate peaceful protest.

The nice thing about these weapons of mass salvation is that they cannot be stopped. I can be stopped. My body can be killed, but that just makes God more effective. My witness, my martyrdom will sow the seeds of saints.

Another tactic in our Spiritual Manual is Pebble Pushing. Huge avalanches can be started by as little as a single dislodged pebble striking a couple of others on its way down the hill. Pretty soon the whole side of the mountain comes cascading down, huge boulders crashing into one another and carrying everything in their path with them.

I don’t have to do a lot. I don’t have to be Hercules fighting Alkyoneus and the Giants. I can start with one thought, one word, one smile, send one random act of kindness cascading down the hill of life. You never know what might become of that one gesture, who might be its recipient…the next Mother Teresa, the next Gandhi, the next Desmond Tutu. Or better, it might have been a lost soul who suddenly found hope, saw goodness, felt love. It may have started someone on the way back from alcoholism, addiction, despair. It may have challenged a tepid Christian to look at himself and wonder why he couldn’t be like you, like Jesus. These are the pebbles at the top of our mountain.   Push a pebble today. Start an avalanche for God.

So Ite, Missa est. Go, our Offering has been accepted, our Thanksgiving had been made, we have eaten Jesus and drunk His Blood, our strength has been restored to full power. Jesus marches forth in me, hidden, ready, always ready to spring forth and catch the other unawares. Have I practiced my Spiritual Tai-Chi today?

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.