Tag Archives: Be it done unto me

Offering and Living Each Day

[My wise spiritual director pointed out that I have the intellectual prayer down pat, but need a lot of work on the “Prayer of the Heart,” the friendship, union and companionship with God that comes from a deepening of love.  Therefore, he has suggested a couple of texts, and set me to keeping a journal as I wander through them.  These are the fourteenth day’s thoughts.]

Devotional practices renders all my daily actions please to You, God. I am not where AL* was in his spiritual journey when he wrote this. Nor am I a 17th cent. priest. However, Jesus, help me glean what works for me and leave the rest right now, perhaps to be returned to later.

One of the most obvious things that he mentions that I, not surprisingly, neglect, is that while I offer to God my day when I rise, instead of “asking Him to help me by His grace” as AL suggests and my own sullied experience would commend, I go blithely on, thinking that I can do it all myself. Duh! Only with Your help can I do anything! So how would I have the chutzpah to think that in this monumental task of making sure that all my actions, words and thoughts this day are in conformity with Your will as well as being directed to You, I would be able to pull it off myself. Quite the epitome of pride, control and foolishness! Help me, God, to remember to get with the program and follow up such a wonderfully naive childlike offering with a hearty dose of humble pie, acknowledging from the get-go that I am totally and unequivocally incapable of doing this on my own and must always and continuously ask for and rely on Your help. Take my hand and show me how to do what You want me to do, just as You would a little child, so that I don’t hurt myself [through sin] and am able to do it at all.

The other thing that AL brings up which is timeless in its relevance is to resolve to live during this day as if it were the last day of my life. Not only could it be, if, in Your Divine Providence, You call me home today, but also in the general scheme of things, this is not only “the first day of the rest of my life,” it is also the only eternal Now that I have. As the saying goes, the past is no more, the future is yet to be, all I have is the Now. So in that sense, it not only should be lived “as if” it were the last day of my life, it is also the first as well as the only day of my life which is real, factual, and not a memory or imagination.It would and does therefore behoove me to live it as if it were the only day of my life.

But again, while I can resolve such, without Your constant help and direction, Your hand in mine, I am inevitably going to blow it in some form or other. Therefore, help me take a cue from You and Your mother and ask, seek, knock so that You may do unto me today according to Your will,…and then I will have achieved my resolve and offered a good day, in the same way a little child has “built” his own sandcastle or “put together” his truck. Amen. Alleluia!!!


*Alphonsus Liguori, How to Converse with God,Translated by Fr. L. X. Aubin, C.S.S.R. [Charlotte, Tan Books, 2005/13]

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Cana Update[1]

I am always brought up short by the strange encounter between Jesus and his mother at Cana. Jesus has already begun His public ministry, He’s been baptized, been to the desert, and is traveling around the country preaching with an entourage of His first disciples. He and his followers arrive at the wedding of friends and as the party is getting going, one of those “Opps” of life happens to the groom, the guests have imbibed all his wine. Mary gets wind of the embarrassment via the guest grape vine and informs Jesus.

Perhaps that all she intended to do, inform Him. Perhaps she hadn’t thought beyond that except that something needed to be done to help her friends. If this is the case, then Jesus enigmatic reply could be interpreted as an invitation to greater belief, to faith: “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come. [2] [Jn 2:4] In other words, “Does your concern about the embarrassing situation of our friends affect the Kingdom which I have come to establish? Does it pertain to the Father’s will? There is a time and a place Providence has assigned for all things. The hour of my revelation of myself as the Messiah is not now.”

The response He invites from Mary is one of complete faith in God and trust in His guidance of Her. Perhaps this is a Mother-Son moment when He is sincerely asking for Her guidance. Her lesson to Him is that this concern does actually affect Him, as Elizabeth’s need affected her and as the concerns of all affect each of us. She may realize, though perhaps only peripherally, that all concerns need to be His concerns, all needs His needs, not just on a human level, but on His Savior level, His Kingship level, His Divine level. Perhaps this is the “Ah-Ha” moment when she knows He must realize the full import of His being connected with every other human being by virtue of His very Incarnation. Perhaps this is what He later would formulate in His parable on the Last Judgment: whatever you…[do] for one of these least brothers of mine, you…[do] for me. [Mt 25:40] Perhaps He needed to grok the depth and the encompassing reality of the 2nd Great Commandment: Do to others as you would have them do to you, [Lk 6:31] and that this included Him on the Divine level as well as the human level.

Mary’s answer: “Yes, this does affect You both as my Son, a fellow human being, one who is truly empathetic to all the vagaries and vicissitudes of live, the manifestations of the effect of sin in the world, of which lack and need, deprivation, running out of things, is always a sign. Your Father so loved this crazy, mixed up world with all its foibles that He gave us You so that we might believe in You and not perish but have eternal life, [Jn 3:16] Of Him, You will tell us do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’… Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. [Mt 6:31-33] You and the Father are one. [Jn 10:30] Show us the Father’s love here and now. You will talk the talk later, now walk the walk.”

How does she join Him in bringing about His first miracle? This is same way every believer who has ever “preformed” a miracle joins Him. No human actually “performs” a miracle. God does the performing; humans only express their explicit faith and trust in God to do so and thus are instruments through which God chooses to work. Every miracle not performed directly by Jesus is performed through the faith and instrumentality of a person requesting Jesus intercession and believing absolutely that He will intercede. The human person gives him/herself up to God and invites God to work through him/her; she/he transforms her/his self into God’s instrument.

Mary is not trying to override His or the Father’s timing of His hour, but, as with the Finding so many years before, she has explicit faith that, given her explanation, Jesus will do “the right thing.” She doesn’t press Him. She doesn’t define what He is to do, but she has an explicit faith that He will know what to do. Thus, when she says to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you,”[Jn 2:5] she lets go and lets God. Her statement is another way of saying what she says with her whole life, in her dormition, her assumption and even as she is crowned Queen of Heaven and Earth: May it be done to me according to your word. [Lk 1:38]

Obedience, then, comes back to its root meaning, “to listen to.” It’s not so much doing as being, as listening, as following, as joining in the yolk next to Jesus. To hear and let it be done to me, to have faith and trust in God, in whatever His eternal Now brings for my next step. It is to pick up one’s cross daily and to follow the Word, strap on His burden, take on His yolk and walk the world’s roads to the Calvaries of today with Him. It is to listen and hear the Spirit’s whispers of guidance and inspiration, to follow the promptings of one’s true heart, to the love of God and our fellow man to which we are called by our very nature as familial members, not just of the human family but of the very familial Body of Christ. We would not be here if it were not for God’s creation and we would not be human without accepting our place in the family of humankind and thus our relationship to all others.

Jesus obeys, Mary obeys, we obey, I obey. Listen, listen, listen and allow it to be done onto me. This is our calling, this is our “vocation,” this is our purpose in life. Amen. Alleluia!!!


[1] As with all my writings, I explain things in the way they make sense to me. In doing so, I often blindly wander into minefields of explanation into which scholars, saints and angels wisely do not venture. Therefore, take all I write not just with a grain of salt but with a whole mine of it. Please, please, please consider that I am just me, one very finite, very myopic, often very confused and mistaken man. I am often wrong. However, God guarantees the infallibility of the Catholic Church. Thus, if anything that I write contradicts or in any way conflicts with what the One, Holy, Apostolic Catholic Church has stated or defined, I profoundly apologize to my readers for misleading them, to the Church for contradicting our infallible Faith, Scripture and Tradition, and I beg God to have mercy on me, forgive me and write straight the crooked lines your wayward servant has written. I beg the forgiveness of all and ask for your prayers that I might have the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit to see aright once again.

[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.

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

The Standard Expected of Me

“Living God, stand by me. Hold me up. Be my strength when I am tired, my inspiration when I am bored, my life when I am listless. Living God, I cannot always meet the standard expected of me, cannot always be the personality I am known for. Abba when I fail, Abba when I stumble, I will rest in your presence.”

—Edwina Gately[1]

This is a lovely prayer. I certainly relate to calling on the Lord to “be my strength when I am tired, my inspiration when I am bored, my life when I am listless”… and to calling to my Divine Dad when I no longer can hold myself up as an adult “when I fail…,when I stumble,” and I need to crawl up and rest in His lap.

However, the sentence that caught my attention was: “Living God, I cannot always meet the standard expected of me, cannot always be the personality I am known for.” Am I always playing up to “the standard expected of me,…the personality I am known for?” And who is doing the “expecting” and “knowing”?

Three possibilities present themselves: God, others and myself.

 

God:

The sentence starts by a petition to the “Living God.” Thus, one would expect that He was the one setting the standard, measuring the personality. But is this the case?

Certainly, Hebrew Scripture testifies that God knows us intimately:

  • Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. (Jer 1:5) [2]
  • It is you alone who know the heart of every human being. (1Kgs 8:39)
  • The One who fashioned together their hearts is the One who knows all their works. (Ps 33:15)
  • The LORD knows the plans of man; they are like a fleeting breath. (Ps 94:11)
  • He searches out the abyss and penetrates the heart; their secrets he understands. (Sir 42:18)
  • I, the LORD, explore the mind and test the heart, giving to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their deeds. (Jer 17:10)
  • LORD of hosts, you test the just, you see mind and heart. (Jer 20:12)

Jesus certainly did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well. (Jn 2:24-25)

And, indeed, we know that God set standards for us to meet. Being created in His image and likeness, one of His most frequent analogies is you shall make and keep yourselves holy, because I am holy. [Lev 11:44] In case we didn’t get the message, He repeats its it in the next sentence: you shall be holy; for I, the LORD, am holy [Lev 11:45] and later in the same book, when outlining the rules of conduct: The LORD said to Moses: Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: Be holy, for I, the LORD your God, am holy. [Lev 19:1-2] and, in case we missed it: you shall be holy; for I, the LORD, am holy [Lev 20:26] Finally, in case we don’t read Leviticus, the Holy Spirit has Peter in the New Testament state in his First Epistle: as He who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, “Be holy because I [am] holy.” [1Pet 1:15-16]

More generally, He expected us to obey Him because we love Him. Love the LORD, your God, therefore, and keep his charge, statutes, ordinances, and commandments always. (Deut 11:1)[3]

So, God knows me intimately and sets standards for me…Is He the one to which the author of our prayer refers? Certainly a viable candidate. But before answering that question, we ought to at least look at the other two candidates: myself and you.

 

You:

The you is really the “we,” the society in general. We certainly set standards…for just about everything, from how green and weed free my lawn can and, by implication, should be, to what insurance I should carry if I am smart and wish to save money. Everything from the underwear I “should” be putting on in the morning to the pill I “should” be taking at night to be better in bed is standardized, set out for us to admire and approve. Note that in each advertisement to which we are subjected, the implication is that if I don’t choose this particular product, I am behind the times, not in with the in crowd, certainly not too swift and definitely, definitely not to be invited to the next do, whatever that is.

We even package the news so that I will (a) hear only about certain events we consider important and shaping the future of the world in which the “we” have determined that they do, and by implication, everyone else should, want to live and (b) hear only the interpretation or spin on those events which we deem to be the “right” or “left” one, depending on our political persuasion. Of course, by implication, if I do not listen to the formatted news, believe without question the highly edited edition they dole out, follow their norm, the guidelines set by the majority of society or at least a “non-discriminated against minority” of society, I will, forefend, not “always meet the standard expected of me.” Horrors!!! How much different than the freedom of conscience, of will, of choice, of action, preached by the Pope…[4]

The same, of course, goes for “the personality I am known for.” If, according to you, I can’t quite make the grade, ah, too bad, I guess I’m just not quite with it, not texting with the in crowd, not surfing the “in” sites, not smiling with perfectly aligned ivories. Of course, coming up to this standard personality is what society doles out pills for, either to ease into the grade or to escape from the reality that imposes such stringent models to mimic. Little depressed, need something to take that cutting edge off of society’s scalpel for a while. We have an Rx for that. Aren’t quite jolly enough, high enough, enjoying yourself enough, we’ve got something for that too…not quite legal, but hey, everybody’s doing it…so how about me? Is that the personality I wish to be known for?

 

Me:

Well, society certainly has standards it expects me to reach, keep, whatever. But does it truly know me…do you truly know me. “Indeed I do!” comes the indignant reply, “I can pigeon-hole you precisely: you are one of 7.325 billion people on this planet, of 320.09 live in the United States, and of 625,741 in Vermont. Of these, you are one of the 596,292 that are Caucasian, and of the 293,649 that are male. You are one of the 9,391 who are between 70 and 74,…etc., etc., etc. ad infinitum…”until society and you come down to “You are Paul who live at this address with this wife and these dogs and you do such and such….” But do all these statistics, individually or combined, define me? Would the equivalent define you? My point exactly! So, you haven’t walked a mile in my moccasins or circled my earth in my capsule…been through all my sorrows and joys, all my sins and all those guilt driven repentances, etc.

But this is not the exterior that you may imagine you see.

“I give you the impression that I’m secure, that all is sunny and unruffled with me, within as well as without, that confidence is my name and coolness my game, that the water’s calm and I’m in command and that I need no one, but don’t believe me. My surface may seem smooth but my surface is my mask, ever-varying and ever-concealing. Beneath lies no complacence. Beneath lies confusion, and fear, and aloneness….I’m afraid you’ll think less of me, that you’ll laugh, and your laugh would kill me. I’m afraid that deep-down I’m nothing and that you will see this and reject me. So I play my game, my desperate pretending game, with a facade of assurance without and a trembling child within…A long conviction of worthlessness builds strong walls….Who am I, you may wonder? I am someone you know very well. For I am every man you meet and I am every woman you meet.”[5]

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to know me. As Finn points out in his poem, your “glance is precisely my salvation, my only hope, and I know it. That is, if it’s followed by acceptance, if it’s followed by love. It’s the only thing that can liberate me from myself, from my own self-built prison walls, from the barriers I so painstakingly erect.”

 

You and Me….

Of course, part of my problem is that the very standards to which you and society expect me to adhere are the ones that I assimilate, acknowledge and attempt to abide by. You and I set them up and therefore you and I are both the judge and the judged.

But if, simultaneously, you are “my only hope” and I am yours, we are caught between a rock and a hard place…you will judge or accept me and ditto for me judging or accepting you, and we may scorn one another when we “cannot always be the personality…[we are] known for” or we may love each other as we are which is what we do to our family, friends and relatives, but not necessarily or at least not automatically to anyone else, especially our enemies.

Realistically, being human, we will probably do both, accept and reject each other, love and scorn each other. But as Jesus points out, this is a cop out: if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. [Lk 6:32-33] Since we are sinners, He has our modus operandi pegged perfectly. From Cain and Abel onward, even blood brother has turned against brother. You and I do not always love each other as neighbor as ourselves. But that’s nothing new. Neither do I love myself as I should nor probably do you love yourself unreservedly. And that is something with which we will have to live. “Following God’s commands is rarely a cakewalk. Love my neighbor? Has God met the guy next door?”[6] This doesn’t mean we can’t strive against judging and for loving. Just means that the striving doesn’t always win out.

The problem is that our personal striving is also played out in society, between the right wingers and the left wingers, conservatives and radicals, coal miners and conservationists, legals and illegals, white and black. And on the international stage between Palestinians and Israelis, Russians and Ukrainians, ISIS and anti-ISIS, USA and Russia, the insurgents and the entrenched, the rebels and the governments.

So, we seem to have exhausted the possibilities without coming up with a satisfactory solution. “We often do not know why God brings certain events into our lives. When circumstances are tough to bear or people are hard to love, we might ask whether God has our best interests at heart.”[7]

 

St. Paul’s answers

So, how can we answer whether God has our best interests at heart. And more to the point, do those best interests can address this stupid, unrealistic, unattainable standard expected of me, this personality for which I am known but which is, in reality, not really me?…St. Paul offers two answers to this conundrum: weakness and faith.

Weakness:

We know from Paul’s writings that he continually battles the temptation of pride: And I know that this person (whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows) was caught up into Paradise and heard ineffable things, which no one may utter. About this person I will boast, but about myself I will not boast, except about my weaknesses. Although if I should wish to boast, I would not be foolish, for I would be telling the truth. But I refrain, so that no one may think more of me than what he sees in me or hears from me because of the abundance of the revelations. [2Cor 12:3-7] He is dealing with the reality of his blessings, the “revelations” which are the “truth,” and he knows he himself is “this person” about which he might “boast.” But he knows deep down in his heart that equally real is the fact that these are not truly “his” accomplishments, but God’s, that he did nothing to merit them, that they were a completely gratuitous gift which were given from God’s Providence, not earned by him.

God, however, helped him cope with this temptation, again through His Providence: Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh[8] was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me. [2Cor 12:7-8] This bears reflection that the bad things that happen in my life are probably there through God’s Providence, for a purpose.

And God even explains to Paul why He is leaving the affliction: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Two reasons: (a) God never asks us to do anything for which He does not give us sufficient grace to accomplish, Not that of ourselves we are qualified to take credit for anything as coming from us; rather, our qualification comes from God [2Cor 3:5] and (b) the second part of the sentence makes more sense if we add identifiers to “power,” and “weakness”: for God’s power is made perfect in my weakness.”[9] The Greek is: “for My, i.e. God’s, power is being perfected in [your, i.e. Paul’s] infirmity with the greatest relish[10].” Paul says the same thing slightly differently in another famous verse: I can do all things through him who strengthens me. [Phil 4:13]

I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. [2Cor 12:9] Thus, for Paul and for us, weakness, failure, the ever present lack, the emptiness, is what is glorious, it is in what he exalts, he relishes, he boasts about. Why? Because, then whatever good is shown forth, whatever love is demonstrated for all to see, whatever wisdom, charity, humility is on display in his words, his actions, his life, is not from fumbling feeble, finite Paul but the direct result, a potent witness to the power, the grace, the justice and peace of Christ dwelling in him shining forth.

He can then say without being completely nuts, over the top or irrational: Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ. [2Cor 12:10] Why? Because in all these seeming failures, these inabilities, these setbacks, these obstacles, his own finiteness is blazingly evident; but the fact that they all ultimately lead to advancing the cause of Christ, spreading the Kingdom, witnessing that there is more at work here than just mortal powers, means they were indeed done for the sake of Christ, His Kingdom, His Word, His Glory, for they were done by His power, the power of His Spirit working out the salvation of the world through, with and in the limitations of mankind. Thus, Paul can say without hesitation, without need for explanation or interpretation, as a statement of reality: for when I am weak, then I am strong. [2Cor 12:10]   As he says in another place: But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. [2Cor 4:7]

Thus, that “standard by which I am to be judged,” both by myself and by God, if not by the world/society, is not success, glistening teeth and a plastic smile, but weakness, obedience to the best of my limited and finite ability, regardless of the outcome, regardless of whether either what I undertake or I myself am a success or failure, remembering that even God’s only begotten Son’s crucifixion was evidence of the greatest failure in history before the resurrection. I will therefore trust in God that He has the outcome which is most loving, most caring, and ultimately will lead to my greatest happiness. That personality for which I am known, the persona I drag around with me and haul out whenever I am confronted with the same “society,” that stage mask I flip on in public, is no longer necessary, can be junked, and I can just let all of the real me hang out…for that is who God lovingly created, who God cherished and died for, I am who God loves.

Faith

What about faith as an answer to false standards and pseudo personalities? Perhaps the answer is at least hinted at in the last line of the prayer: Abba when I fail, Abba when I stumble, I will rest in your presence. Weakness certainly has to do with failing, with stumbling, but how about faith…is that resting in Your presence, God?

Let’s look at faith as freedom from the law[11]. Paul dealt with this conundrum in Romans. He first points out, using the example of covetousness, that the law is what identifies, defines, makes explicit, what thoughts, words and deeds are sinful: What then can we say? That the law is sin? Of course not! Yet I did not know sin except through the law, and I did not know what it is to covet except that the law said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, finding an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetousness. [Rom 7:7-8a] He even goes so far as to say that apart from the law sin is dead, [Rom 7:8b] that is, sin requires the law to define itself, to give it existence, potency, essence.

While normally when Paul speaks of the law, he is usually referring to the Mosaic Law, he does not let those who did not know that particular form of the Law off the hook: For when the Gentiles who do not have the law by nature observe the prescriptions of the law, they are a law for themselves even though they do not have the law. They show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even defend them on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge people’s hidden works through Christ Jesus. [Rom 2:14-16, see also Heb 10:16; Jer 31:33]

Thus, Jews and Greeks, Judeo or Christian, Believer or non-Believer, we all are hard-wired to know right and wrong through the law that is written in our hearts and conscience.

So, how are we to get out of this conundrum? As soon as I recognize the law within and/or without, I become subject to it and, if I transgress it, I sin. I once lived outside the law, but when the commandment came, sin became alive; then I died, and the commandment that was for life turned out to be death for me. For sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and through it put me to death. [Rom 7:9-11]

I am then caught up in a moral Catch-22: We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold into slavery to sin. What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I concur that the law is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. [Rom 7:14-17] I know that the Law is spiritual, that the Law is Good, that I want to follow the Law. But somehow the signals get bollixed up inside me and I do the opposite. I am just like a teenager, if there is a curfew, it gnaws at me until I test it; a boundary I am not “allowed” to cross is like a red flag waiving in front of a bull, it is there to be charged. For I take delight in the law of God, in my inner self, but I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind, taking me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.[12] [Rom 7:22-23]

But there is hope and that hope is in our faith, our belief in Jesus Christ, that He is our salvation, our justification. Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have achieved it, that is, righteousness that comes from faith; but that Israel, who pursued the law of righteousness, did not attain to that law?[Rom 9:30-31] Christ is the end of the law for the justification of everyone who has faith. [Rom 10:4]

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. [Eph 2:8-9] It is not the works of the Law, the keeping of the Law, that we will be saved; for as we have seen, that is impossible, since Law revealed the boundary which we transgressed, the sin in which we are mired. However, if we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing. [1Jn 1:9]

On the other hand, faith as shown in works, not of the Law, but of the Lord, the works of charity: If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. [James 2:15-17] Therefore, my beloved brothers, be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. [1Cor 15:58]

So the standard expected of me is not the standard of the world, it is not the standard even of myself, it is Jesus’ standard of charity by which we will be judged: Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me. [Mt 25:34-36] For whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. [1Jn 4:20]

For if Christ may make His home in your hearts through faith, [Eph 3:17] if I am crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me, [Gal 2:20], then truly whatever I did for one of these least brothers of mine, I did for Jesus, Himself. [Mt 25:40] This is the standard that, unfortunately, I cannot always meet.

And what about “the personality I am [suppose to be] known for:” if Christ has made his home in me, if I am crucified with Christ, that is, if I have died to self and I no longer live but He lives in me, then it is His personality which I should be known: I have put on the new self, which is being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its creator…heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. [Col 3:10, 12-14]

Unfortunately, as Mahatma Gandhi said: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” So I “cannot always be the personality I am known for.” It is at that juncture, that oft occurring fall from grace that we must continually pray the rest of Edwina Gately prayer: “Abba when I fail, Abba when I stumble, I will rest in your presence.” Have mercy on me. Amen.

_______________________________

[1] Quoted from “Prayer,” “First Martyrs of the Church of Rome, Mt 8: 23-27,” Daily Inspiration from JesuitPrayer.org, June 30, 2015

[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.

[3] The Hebrew Scriptures are replete with this if/then refrain, i.e. in return for loving and obeying Him, God will… Dt 7:12–14; 10:12–13; 28:1–14; Lv 26:3–5; Jer 5:24; Ps 104:14, is but a sample.

[4] “Be free people! What do I mean? Perhaps it is thought that freedom means doing everything one likes, or seeing how far one can go…. This is not freedom. Freedom means being able to think about what we do, being able to assess what is good and what is bad, these are the types of conduct that lead to development; it means always opting for the good. Let us be free for goodness. And in this do not be afraid to go against the tide, even if it is not easy! Always being free to choose goodness is demanding, but it will make you into people with a backbone who can face life, people with courage and patience…. Be men and women with others and for others: true champions at the service of others.” – Pope Francis, “The Culture of Good,” The Church of Mercy: His First Major Book: A Message of Hope for All People, 135-136

[5] Charles C. Finn, “Please Hear What I’m Not Saying,” September 1966; poetrybycharlescfinn.com/pages/please-hear-what-im-not-saying

[6] Brian Harper, “God’s Good Grace,” “The Lord will provide.” Gn 22:14; Daily Inspiration from JesuitPrayer.org, July 2, 2015

[7] Ibid. “That said, most of us can also recall instances that, while painful, led to unforeseen blessings. In Abraham’s case, a demonstrated willingness to follow God at all costs brought new depth to his faith.”

[8] “Variously interpreted as a sickness or physical disability, a temptation, or a handicap connected with his apostolic activity. But since Hebrew “thorn in the flesh,” like English “thorn in my side,” refers to persons (cf. Nm 33:55; Ez 28:24), Paul may be referring to some especially persistent and obnoxious opponent. The language of 2 Cor 12:7–8 permits this interpretation.” Note on 2Cor: 12:7 New American Bible, revised edition [NABRE] (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C., 2010), as posted on the USCCB site: http://www.usccb.org/bible/2corinthians/12#55012007-1

[9] See Ps 28:7-8; Is 12:2; 33:2; 40:29-31; 41:10; Hab 3:9; 2Tim 1:7; Acts 1:8; Heb 4:16, etc.

[10] “with the greatest relish” is normally seen to modify Paul’s boasting in the next sentence and is translated most gladly. However, while I do not know Greek, at least the juxtaposition of the adverb to “is being perfected” may raise the wonderful possibility, if remote, that it is to God’s enjoyment of perfecting us that ἥδιστα refers. To me, this makes more sense, for it seems more in keeping with God’s love and concern shown in His explanation to Paul.

[11] Note that the “law” can also be the mores of society, those written, but especially those unwritten codes by which we navigate our way in our world.

[12] And we are all in the same boat: All have gone astray; all alike are perverse. Not one does what is good, not even one. [Ps 14:1–3; Rom 3:10–11; Ps 53:2–4; Eccl 7:20.] John puts the nail in our coffin when he says: If we say, “We are without sin,” we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. [1Jn 1:8]

“One Tough Cookie”: In honor of Mary on Mother’s Day

One of the things that impresses me about Mary is the tremendous chutzpah she exhibits when dealing with God. I have imagined her as this retiring and shy country maiden who has everything done unto her according to God’s will….All her actions starting with explicit faith in God, the outcomes placed with complete trust and hope in God, and the executions humble charity expressing her love of God and her neighbor. And, indeed, this is the case, humble, obedient to God’s will, yes, but also assertive and authoritative. Retiring and shy she is not. She is one tough cookie,

The facts speak for themselves. From the beginning, when we are introduced to her as encountering Gabriel, an Archangel, no less, who stands in the presence of God, she was unphased. Gabriel must be an awesome dude. I mean, angels go through Egypt killing all the firstborn in one night, these are the seven legion guys whom Jesus could have called on in the garden, these are they who carry out God’s orders to slaughter and annihilate the unrighteous right and left in Revelation. Yet, unlike her cousin’s husband, Zacharias, who was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him[1] [Lk 1:12], she is unphased by his sight, but more concerned about what he says; she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. [Lk 1:29]. Gabriel’s Do not be afraid, Mary [Lk 1:30] was probably to calm her being startled, her trying to figure out how this guy got in here, who he was and what he wanted…as anybody would be. But she didn’t try to flee nor crumble with fear; she stood her ground and listened.

Her firm clear grasp of reality is blatantly evident in her question: How can this be, since I am a virgin? [Lk 1:34] In other words, she cuts through the highfalutin prophetical language, picks out the main point: And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus [Lk 1:31] and addresses the issue…”We have a slight problem, as far as I know, I need to have intercourse with a man to be conceive and I am betrothed but not wed, so how can this be?

Her assent to Gabriel and God was not some simple “Ok” or “You’re God, do I really have a choice?” Mary seriously considered the terms of the request and knew the ramifications, i.e.. she would be stigmatized as an adulterous woman, either stoned or outcast from her family and her village, she would bring shame on her family, she would devastate Joseph, and she would be forced to live the life of a single mother trying to support herself and her child…not happy prospects. Yet she weighed her options and assented, not just assented but embraced her role as God’s slave, His servant, she was His handmaid of the Lord. She freely chooses to relinquish control of her life and to hand herself totally over to God. If He wished to “overshadow”[2] her for His own purposes, she trusted Him explicitly. Somehow, some way, this was God’s will for her, her God with whom she had found favor; but she had always lived according to His dictates and she wasn’t going to stop now, even if she couldn’t see her way clear to a happy outcome for herself.

One might have thought that just absorbing the implications of this heavenly visit, let alone this announcement which encapsulated the entire salvific history and prophecy of her people would have been so overwhelming that she would have just walked around in a daze for a while. Not Mary. She had things to do, places to go, people to see! She had picked up on the fact that Elizabeth, her aged cousin was “with child”. To Mary, that implied just one thing: that she needed her help. And so off she goes, no thought of the discomfort, the dust, the distance, let alone, the dangers, the possibility of being captured, raped, sold into slavery. Off she goes…120 miles if she skirted Samaria. At least a five day journey by foot, four by caravan going down to Jerusalem, then cutting across the hill country of Judah.

When Mary arrives, miracles happen: When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believethat what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled. [Lk 1 41-45] John leaps, Elizabeth experiences Pentecost and, kazaam, becomes a prophetess.

One might think that Mary would have been completely dumbfounded, totally taken aback by all this…Instead, Mary, true to form in her handmaid’s role, praises God for all that He has done for her and all who fear Him, the lowly, the hungry, Israel His servant, Abraham and his descendents forever. While exegetes question whether she actually sang this song of praise or whether it was “a Jewish Christian hymn that Luke found appropriate at this point in his story,”[3] it is evident that both Luke and his Inspirer, the Holy Spirit, wished to emphasize that Mary was not just a flighty, little teenager. She had a firm grasp of her heritage. On her journey south, she had time to ponder with the Holy Spirit the implications and ramifications of what had happened to her not just for herself but for her people. So she lays it out for us…”pay attention, this is what is happening!”

When she returns to Nazareth three months later, three months pregnant and showing, Joseph freaks. But what does Mary do? Nothing. No “I’m so ashamed,” no “I’m sorry,” no “Hey, I’m the pregnant one here.”   She has rock-solid faith in God; God started this, and she had faith in God that He would take care of her and her child. Even when she gets the news from Joseph, that since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame,[he had] decided to divorce her quietly, [Mt 1:19] she didn’t flinch.

Not to say that she wasn’t affected. She, like her Son, was human in every way but sin…so she was certainly terribly saddened by the anguish and disappointment of her parents and the reviling by her neighbors, and perhaps prayed to God as her Son did later, My God, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will. [Mt 26:39] And her prayer was answered; Joseph was shown the light; after a visit from another angel, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. [Mt 1:24]

Tune in tomorrow for “One Tough Cookie Continued.” In the meantime, a blessed Mother’s Day to you all.

[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] ἐπισκιάζω, to “shadow over,” is the same word used by all the Synoptics to describe the theophanies or “appearance” of the “Most High” at the Baptism and Transfiguration. [Mt 17:5; Mk 9:7; Lk 9:34]

[3] NABRE note on Luke 1:46–55. The note also points to the fact that “a few Old Latin manuscripts identify the speaker of the hymn as Elizabeth, even though the overwhelming textual evidence makes Mary the speaker.”

A Decade a Day, Life Mary’s Way

In my Sept 3, 2014 blog here, “The Father And The Rosary,” I explained the rosary as an act of worship of the Father, each decade being an occurrence that begins with the Father’s will, is known and planned from all eternity, and, after examining it in detail for the length of ten Hail Mary’s, an appropriate vehicle since Mary is human, like us, and, like her, we need time to ponder these treasures in our heart, as they come to a close, we respond to God’s wisdom, power and love by joining with all creation in giving Him Glory, to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

Today, I would like to go one step farther and propose that the decade of the rosary may be used as a template for my day. Each day in each of our lives is a day which has been filed from eternity in the providence of God and today is brought out into the light, unveiled for the first time to all creation. Thus, while it may seem to be a “normal” day to me, to the Father it is as sacred and holy as the first day of Creation, the day of the Annunciation, of the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Ascension and Pentecost. Blasphemy? Exaggeration? Spiritual hyperbole…and fantasy, at that?

But consider, this is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.[1] [Ps 118:24] There was never one like it and there never will be another. Some of his children will be born, some will die, some will get married, some will find God,…and all will be given another chance to listen to Him, to do His will, to refuse the apple and to walk in the Garden with Him. The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard “delay,” but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. [2Pet 3:9] God wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. [1Tim 2:4] And today is a gift, another chance.

You protest? This is simply another day, an ordinary day? Well, neither are all the “mysteries” of the Rosary are momentous miracles, e.g. the finding in the Temple, the announcement of the kingdom, and, at least from the perspective of the human condition of Jesus [though such separation of the natures can be dicey] all of the Sorrowful Mysteries. But the Church looks at them as “mysteries.” Why? Because, though they may seem to be “normal” in human terms on the surface, since they involve the Son of God, Jesus, our Christ, there are infinite layers of substrata awaiting our spiritual archeological investigation, exploration and ultimately, adoration.

And the same is true of every day. It is a “hidden” miracle waiting to be revealed, explored, and its Creator, He who has gifted us with this infinitely precious prize, awaits our recognition, our love, our appreciation and our adoration. So looking at today as a “mystery” to unfold in God’s providence is our ultimate reality.

Unfortunately, because it’s a miracle that “hidden in plain sight,” we can allow ourselves to be blind to its beauty, its uniqueness, its overwhelming simplicity. Our nonchalant attitude is because we do not see in the blazing up of the sun, the transfiguration of the Son. We overlook, ignore, or even sometimes recognize but refuse to take into account the miracle of the morrow.

But today, let’s take it into account. Let’s start with the Our Father as our acknowledgement of His control of my life, of the obedience I owe him, of His total and unconditional love of me, of His eternal plans for my greatest happiness. And today, just today, let me hold His name holy, let me work for His Kingdom, let me do His will with the alacrity, joy and enthusiasm that the saints and angels do it in heaven…and, on His part, He will give me today not just daily but eternal Bread from heaven, He will forgive me my sins in the measure with which I measure, and still more will be given to me. [See Mk 4:24]. Just today, I beg Him not to lead me into the desert to be tempted, for I am weak and fickle and easily swayed. But in particular, I pray that He not have me confront Evil, for it rules the kingdoms of the earth until His Son’s second coming.

As we proceed with our day, just as we contemplated the mystery of the Rosary with the murmuring of Hail Marys in the background, so having an ongoing conversation with our heavenly mother is not only a prudent way to keep us heading towards the narrow gate, but is a radar to warn us against incoming temptations, whether of our own making or generated from the evil in God’s wonderful world around us.

Finally, from the perspective of the rosary decade as a template of life, each decade, whether it extend for a literal decade of years, of days, of hours, of minutes, is enclosed, encapsulated by the love and understanding of God who sets it out on its course, His ruah hovers over it intently [Gen 1:2; Jn 3:8] as it wends its way through our life, and brings it to a successful conclusion, for, as we know from the Cross, success in God’s terms may seem like total meaningless failure in human terms. For this reason, at the end of each day, God deserves all credit, honor, praise and glory be given to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning of all Creation, is at this very conclusion of this moment in time, and will continue to be forever and ever. 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.”

The Eucharist? In honor of Holy Thursday

Am I any different when from attending the Eucharist or not? To be honest, it’s a good question. A fair question. Another way of asking the same thing is: does the dint of repetition so dull my appreciation of what it is that is happening that I am totally unphased by its reality and intended impact on my life? The honest answer is both probably and at least sometimes.

There are three aspects of the Eucharist which should have an effect on my life, Sunday after Sunday. They are the Community, the Word and Communion. And they should affect me, and the effect should be the way the 1st great Commandment says I should respond to God: with my whole heart, my whole soul, my whole mind, and with all my strength.

Community: I cannot celebrate the Great Thanksgiving, the Eternal Sacrifice, alone. Even priests, by canon law, are not allowed to do so, except under extreme circumstances. It is a communal celebration, a community response to our Loving God, a gathering, a coming together for a meal of the Faithful, i.e. those who Believe, those who have said Yes to Jesus, those who have endured the joys and sorrows of life and look to God to make sense of it all. I cannot know what faith is until I learn about it, until I experience it in community. Though I read all the tenets of the Church, study the Scriptures, delve into the history of the religion, ponder the lives of the saints, if I do not have viscerally experiential faith, lived faith as witnessed to and experienced in community, until I am an “Intentional Disciple,”[1] committed body, heart, mind and soul, I have nothing. Faith is the step beyond all the books, the study, the pondering. It is the Yes to the Mystery of God, not just in Church, but in everyday life. As Hebrews says: Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. [11:1][2] Faith comes from the heart, the gut, but it encompasses the entire me; it is the bedrock of my existence, the source of all my strength, the keystone of all my actions, the touchstone of all my thoughts, the philosopher alchemist’s stone that turns the lead of ordinary life into the gold of Divine Life.

The interaction of the community, their support of my faith by their very presence, is singularly important to my maintaining my grip on God. It is not just their presence, but their own faith manifested through their words, yes, but, during the liturgy and beyond, primarily through their actions, their reverence, their piety expressed in their facial ecstasy or agony, their burdens brought before the Lord for Him to bless, to lighten, to reassure, to strengthen, to encourage, to be in silence alongside each as each picks up her or his cross and renews commitment to carry it for another week, another day, another hour. It is this acting out of faith, this living out of faith before the LORD, the offering of oneself as one’s only worthy sacrifice to be placed on the paten with Jesus, which imperceptibly causes a spiritual earthquake registered in heaven, a tectonic shift in the world toward the ever proximate eternal Kingdom of You, God. That is the first evidence of what effect the Eucharist has on me.

The Word: But, like the necessity of community at the Communal Feast, The Great Thanksgiving, the Eucharist, while I cannot gain, keep, insure and pass on my faith in isolation, neither can I hope to learn of my faith alone, or only from the actions of the community. “I believe in God,” but what then? What forms that substance of the “hoped for,” the “things not seen.” Granted they are not seen, hoped for, but they must be known, at least partially, to even be seen as worthy of hope.

Things that I was told at my mother’s knee, memorized in Religious Education, absorbed in many other ways in my life, these are reinforced, renewed, reexamined with reverence and joy each Sunday, first in the readings, the recording of God’s word and work on earth and in heaven.

I cannot keep true faith on my own, for my mind wanders where it will. I conjure up multiple interpretations of each and every verse and have no idea, no external criterion, as to whether I am right or not. As in a court of law, I cannot be both the accused and the judge, both present the evidence and then judge it impartially, particularly if the evidence in itself can be contradictory, inconclusive, uninformed, and, since I am fallible and limited in intelligence, experience, understanding, resources, time, and perspectives, often wrong. I need an exterior reliable source of the Truth, for I cannot verify anything on my own absolutely.

Part of this Truth is the revelation in the Scriptures which are read to me at the Eucharist. The Liturgy of the Word, God’s Word, God’s revelation to us of Himself, is the mental substance of my faith. But just as the Word was passed down from the Apostles, formulated in the Early Christian Community, until, some years later, it was written down, not just by one person, but by multiple persons, as in the case of the four Evangelists, and written about by many others, some of whom are included in the New Testament, e.g. Paul, Peter, John, James, the Author of Hebrews, just as this happened in the Early Christian Community, it continued through the centuries. The Apostolic Tradition was passed down from generation to generation within the Church, guarded by the deliberations of its leaders, its understanding refined and formulated into what today is called the Magisterium or Teaching of the Church. Since Jesus himself said that the Holy Spirit was the one who would guide us in the truth, teach us everything and remind us of all that he taught [Jn 14:36; 16:13] and that both Jesus, himself, and the Spirit would be with us forever [Mt 28:20; Jn 14:16], this process called Tradition reveals the Truth even today and has the guarantee of God Himself.

The homily or sermon “breaks open” the scripture for me, shows me what’s inside the readings, what they mean to me today. I like the personal stories that illustrate how this passage is manifested today, in this world. It helps me see the connection with my own life. Granted, each verse, each word is grist for the etymologists, the scholars, the exegetes, the biblical historian to place in the context of the day, of the author’s audience, of the implications on the rest of Scripture, of Tradition, of doctrine, of the entire Magisterium. But the practical implications of the verse here and now is something I can take out with me into the world and proclaim by my words, my actions, my life.

The Sacrifice and the Meal

For many, Sunday service stops here. Loving community, preaching the Word…that’s all they have. Granted, that’s a lot. God’s there in their midst [Mt 18:20], Jesus and the Holy Spirit are with them always, even to the end of the world [Mt 28:20 and Jn 14:16,26], but it’s not enough. I need more, we all need more to not just survive but to thrive as God’s sons and daughter, witnesses and molders of the Kingdom in the midst of the world.

But what if they were right…what if there were no Eucharist…no Last Supper…No Body and Blood to eat and drink? What if the reenactment of the Last Supper were just a memory, were just to be pantomimed in the present as a reminder, were just a pleasant spiritual experience but nothing more?

The spiritual and institutional implications are staggering. On the spiritual level, there would be a desert, the desert of the world, between baptism and death, and I would have to cross it without any sustenance, any spiritual food, without the manna of the New Exodus, to keep me going, to keep me growing, to heal and comfort me when I was damaged by sin, to accompany me when I picked up my cross each day and prepared to follow You, Jesus. There would be nothing worthy to offer You, Father, to extend Your sacrifice on the Cross into now, into eternity, Jesus. We would not be taken up into You and be able to offer ourselves with You, now as a worthy sacrifice to the Father in reparation for my sins. We would not have the opportunity to visit You, to experience your “Divine Radiation Therapy,” to just sit in your company when we have no where else to go[3], to know you are here now with me, not just an historical figure of 2000 years ago. We would not be able to see You as the Cosmic Christ, the sum and substance of the universe, and be part of Your entrance as King of the Universe into the presence of the Father, that entrance which extends from Your Ascension to Your Second Coming.

And Your Church on earth would have no focal point, no physical presence around whom to gather, no meal to share, no table at which to be. We might have built some churches, but for what reason…they would be empty hulls, devoid of Your presence. The community would be fragmented with only Your Word to hold them together, and as many interpretations of that Word as suited the person, the time or the place. The meal, the breaking bread together, would no longer weld us to You and to each other. Our cohesiveness would depend solely on human ties, which are easily broken, damaged, severed, rejected, and ignored. There would be no unity, no oneness as a sign of the true Church. There would be no true holiness, for even with Reconciliation to tied us over during our desert sojourn, our inherent moral weakness would soon crumble and disintegrate. Nor would we have any ‘boots-on-the-ground” Companion, Savior and Leader in each community to hold a world-wide, catholic, universal body of the faithful cohesively and continually together; we are too much control freaks to put up with that without the intervention of the Holy Spirit and the presence of Jesus to call us back to the essential obedience to the Father, obedience unto death [of self], even to death on the cross. [Phil 2:8]

Ultimately we would all perish from our sins, for Jesus made it very clear: unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. [Jn 6:53] There would be no way around it; He was gone, ascended. We could not eat His flesh and drink His blood, so we would not have life in us. And although Jesus would have been raised, only whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and so, not being able to eat and drink of Jesus, He would not raise us on the last day. [Jn 6:54] So we would be faced with a Savior who came to save us from our sins, but we would not be able to access that salvation, we would not be eligible to be saved, the tantalizing goal in sight but unattainable, beyond our reach. It would be as if Jesus were not raised…the ultimate Catch-22. As Paul rightly pointed out: If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all. [1 Cor 15:19]

The result: a desolate world, without hope, without a future; we would join the world in ultimate personal despair, silent screamers, unheard, unheeded, deserted by an unloving, unknown, evil God.

But the Last Supper happened. Do this in memory of Me was pronounced as part of our Great Commission and governs for all time. And we have a very, very, very, very loving and caring God who is with us here, now and will be until the end of time and forever. A God who sent his only Son to become man, to show us how to live…and die…and feeds us Himself that we may rise renewed to live forever.

To do this we must become Him, and God used the most elemental physical transformation as a vehicle for the most divine spiritual transformation: we must become what we eat and drink. Only he and she who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life. [Jn 6:54] By eating His flesh in the form of host and drinking his blood in the form of wine, He enfleshes us with His flesh and pumps His blood through our sinful veins. We now have the blood of the New Covenant which is given for us and many for the forgiveness of the very sin into which He came.

But that’s not all there is; there is so much, so much more. “The Christian word for all reality is Incarnation. The Word (the theory, the theology) became ‘flesh’ because words can’t get you there, only experience can.”[4] When Jesus said: Do this in memory of me, [1Cor 11:24; Lk 22:19], poieite means “be doing!” It is the present active case, i.e. “do it now!” Being in community and hearing the Word can be very humbling, very spiritual, very sanctifying, but they are also very receptive, very passive activities. However, the clarion cry, the rallying cry, the command: “Do it now!” leaves no one behind. We all must rise up, we must participate. There is no going back!

In this eternal Sacrifice, Jesus is ready once again to be offered to the Father in obedience, in worship, in reparation. But He wants me with Him, He wants me to join Him in offering myself right along with Himself. But what do I have to offer? A few bucks in the collection basket? God certainly doesn’t need that nor does He want just that. What does God want from me? What could He who created all from nothing, is totally self-sufficient, indeed, is the provider of all that we have, not visa-versa, what could we possibly offer to Him which He does not already not only have, but created. The one thing that I have, that is totally mine, that He gave me by, through and from birth, is my self, “my way” as Tony Bennett and the world would have it. He gave me a free will, and, in order that it be free, in order that it remain free, He holds it sacrosanct and will never ever force His will upon me.[5]

It is the same thing He has always wanted. It is what He wanted Adam and Eve to freely choose to give Him and He didn’t get, what holiness consisted of throughout the ages, what Mary and Jesus offered to the Father: not my will but Yours be done. [Mk 14:36; Lk 22:42] OBEDIENCE, ob-audiere, listening to God’s will and doing it, regardless of whether He is asking me to build an ark in the middle of nowhere, to leave my homeland and travel to a foreign country, to defy the might of Pharaoh, to dig holes through the city wall, to become an unwed mother, to die the horrible, painful death of a criminal which I, of all people ever born or ever will be born, don’t deserve. OBEDIENCE, plain and simply, obedience now, obedience then, obedience forever.

For this reason, when he came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me[6]; holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight in. Then I said, ‘As is written of me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do your will, O God.’” [Heb 10:5,7]

Am I ready to give God the one thing he wants? The one thing that would cement our relationship of love for all eternity? The one thing that that He did not ask of me before He asked it of Himself in the person of His only Begotten Son? The one thing that will require me to die to my control-freakish existence and place all that I am, sins, warts and all, and all that I “can be,” my entire future, all that control, all those choices, all that suffering of the severing of selfishness to be born again is selflessness, to place all of me in His Love, His Hands, the same hands which spread themselves on the cross to accept the nails. Is it that lingering fear that when Jesus says Follow me, it will certainly not be a romp in the park, but a life without a place to lay my head, that future being with Him always is achieved by picking up my cross daily is, not just carrying the cross but being stripped, being laid on it, being nailed to it, and hanging there with Jesus from 9 am to 3 pm[7] each day, every day, again and again, until I die?

Yes, but this is the Way, the Truth and the Life. If I want to be with Him, I buy into the whole ball of wax, the whole magillah.[8] What Jesus is asking me at each Eucharist is, literally, self-sacrifice, i.e. the sacre-facere, the making sacred or holy, of my very self, by offering me in unity with Him to the Father, in worship, in reparation, in love.[9]

But not only does Jesus invite us to join with Him in offering ourselves to the Father. He then turns around and becomes our sustenance, our life-giving food. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. [Jn 6:51, 53-54]

As discussed above, Jesus is very clear. The Jews are trying to force him to recant, to take back these words, to mollify, to soften the bluntness, the starkness of these words by modifying them, by saying: “Well, I really didn’t mean actual flesh and blood, only their spiritual equivalents.” The problem with that is that, in a sense, if He would have said that, He would have denied His very Incarnation, His becoming flesh and blood. We can’t have it both ways. Either we don’t believe He is the Son of God, or, if He is, then what He says is Truth itself and, if we want to be part of the action, part of Him, part of His life eternal, we have to accept what He says on face value.

Now Jesus does not reveal how they are to eat His flesh and drink His blood until the Last Supper and then only to those present, not to those who heard his words in the Temple. Only later does the world know that the Lord’s Supper, the Breaking of the Bread, [Lk 24:35; Acts 2:42[10]] is the vehicle, the means by which we eat His flesh and drink His blood. Yet, later on, it is the Lord himself who reveals this fundamental, critical revelation to Paul: For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you [1 Cor 11:23], the most ancient version of the words of consecration, predating the evangelist’s written versions.[11]

Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. [1Cor 11:25-26] Not only are we to eat this bread and drink this cup, not just any bread or any cup, but we are to do it, proclaiming His death until He comes. His death is the sacrifice, His resurrection is the result. What we consume is what we become, part of the very sacrifice is what we offer, that, as Jesus sacrificed Himself for our sins, we, the sinful, join in that sacrifice. The result is that we might have eternal life.

Paul verifies this: For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin. For a dead person has been absolved from sin. If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him…Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as [being] dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus. [Rom 6:5-9,11]

Judge for yourselves what I am saying. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?[1Cor 10:15b-16] Paul knows that Jesus takes this very seriously, and hammers it home: Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. [1 Cor 11:27] “If the Corinthians [and we] eat and drink unworthily, i.e., without having grasped and internalized the meaning of his death for them, they will have to answer for the body and blood, i.e., will be guilty of a sin against the Lord himself. (cf. 1 Cor 8:12)[12]

The purpose of Communion is communion, i.e. union with Jesus, with God, with each other. Now union without love can vary from tolerated to frightened to angry and frustrated: stuffed in an elevator union, thrown in with a bunch of misfits union, to a police holding pen union, or closer to home, it may be even having holiday dinner with the whole family, including the parties you don’t like union. But what if you took on Christ, took on Jesus’ eyes of the heart, took on God’s so-loving-the-world point of view…

From the wisdom of Caryll Houselander:

“Just as we cannot depend upon feelings to know that Christ is in ourselves, we cannot depend upon appearances to know that He is in others. That which is true of the Host is true of people. We cannot discern God’s presence through our senses, but faith tells us that we should treat one another with the reverence that we give to the Host. We need to bring other people faith like that which we bring to the Blessed Sacrament. It is really as easy to believe in one as in the other. We have exactly the same reason for believing in both: the word of Christ.” The Reed of God, 152.

But, you object, “He can’t be talking about communion with those types of people. They’re not like me!” And Jesus says to me: “What you did to these, the least of my brethren, you do to Me. Are you not that sinner, THE sinner for whom I suffered and died to give you a chance? Are you not like them, my loved ones, the least of my brothers and sisters? Do you really wish to do to them what you never thought you would do to me? But you crucified me, you joined the crowd and called for my crucifixion, you taunt and spit on me…every time you turned your back and left me, disobeyed me, swelled up with pride, wanted everything around you, found yourself herding pigs and wanted to eat their corn husks.”

“We should never come to a sinner [including myself] without the reverence that we would take to the Holy Sepulchre. Pilgrims have travelled on foot for years to kiss the Holy Sepulchre, which is empty. In sinners we can kneel at the tomb in which the dead Christ lies.” The Reed of God, 170-1

“And this include you. You are the sinner in whom I lie dead. I, JESUS, THE CHRIST, LOVE YOU, so much that I became a man, showed you how to live, and then I suffered and died for you. But you don’t love yourself enough to love Me.

“When I come to you in Communion, our union, I want to know you, to love you, to be with you…and with all around you who have eaten and drunk Me…and I want you to know, to love and to be with them too.”

That’s how consuming His Body and Blood is suppose to change me. Granted, it doesn’t always, make that “usually,” work that way, at least with me. But that’s not His fault. If I put up barriers, am distracted, thinking of the things I am going to do after Church, that is not His doing, His thoughts…He stands at the door and knocks. I must let him in.

When I do this, and it is often, and when I come to, when I awake from my day dreams and realize what I am doing, where I am, Who is with me, the only thing that I can do is throw myself on His mercy, rely on His Love for me, know that, in His goodness, He waits for me no matter where I am, goes and finds me and brings me back and rejoices over me. He has walked through the valley of the shadow of death for me, and protects me, even there, with his crook to bring me back to Him, and his staff to ward off all that would harm me physically and spiritually. Then Jesus and I laugh at me and say: “That’s you, Paul, all over. The dreamer, the ponderer, the sleepy-head.” And He says: “I’m glad you’re back.”

Sometimes We have so little time to be together during those moments that I just have to say: “Do Your thing. I have to get up and pray the final prayer and move on.” And He says: “I will. Go, I am with you always, even to the end of the world…and beyond.”

The priest echoes his sentiments in the final words of the Eucharist: “Go, the Mass is ended.” Some paraphrase the words: “Go, live out the Eucharist in the world.” Jesus, the Word, is received, His message was passed down to me and it is my responsibility to pass it on to others. For my response, I’ll take a cue from Mary’s response to her receiving Jesus: “Here I am, Your servant. Let it be done to me according to Your will.” “Is Mary’s ‘let it be’ just passive acceptance of her fate or is something lost in translation?…The Greek phrase ‘let it be’ denotes more than passive acceptance; it carries also the desire to fulfill God’s will. In today’s vernacular, a modern-day Mary might say ‘Bring it on!’”[13] With her, and with her help, let me always say: “Bring it on!!!”

[1] See Sherry A. Weddell, Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus (Huntington, IN, Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 2012)

[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.

[3] Once I read a story about St. Jean-Marie-Baptiste Vianney (The cure’ of Ars) a 19th century French priest who once noticed a peasant come in to the church and stay for hours in front of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. The Saint asked this man what do you say during all that time before Jesus in the Eucharist? The Peasant replied, “Nothing, I look at Him and He looks at me.”

[4] R. Rohr, OFM, Jesus: Human and Divine: A Map of Reality; Thursday, March 19, 2015

[5] Note that this is exact the opposite of my instinct to control, not only myself, but everything and everyone around me so that they will do my will. It is the ungodly explosion of this innate will to control that is behind all sin, all evil, all violence, all oppression, all imposed suffering in the world. And it is this innate will to control that all who obey, from Noah and Abram through Mary and Jesus through the Church and the Saints, voluntarily give up in deference to God’s will.

[6] “As usual, the author follows the Septuagint text. There is a notable difference in Heb 10:5 (Ps 40:6), where the Masoretic text reads “ears you have dug for me” (“ears open to obedience you gave me,” NAB), but most Septuagint manuscripts have “a body you prepared for me,” a reading obviously more suited to the interpretation of Hebrews.” NABRE Note for Heb 10:5-7.

[7] “Mk:15:25 It was nine o’clock in the morning: literally, “the third hour,” thus between 9 A.M. and 12 noon. Cf. Mk 15:33, 34, 42 for Mark’s chronological sequence, which may reflect liturgical or catechetical considerations rather than the precise historical sequence of events; contrast the different chronologies in the other gospels, especially Jn 19:14.” NABRE, Note for Mk 15:25.

[8] The Hebrew word for ‘scroll’ is megillah…thus, the whole Salvation saga as it was written in the Scriptures and continues to work itself out in our world today.

[9] Mt 5:23-24 speaks of wanting to offer my gift at the altar and recalling that my brother has something against me and the need to be reconciled first and then come and offer my gift. The Holy Spirit revealed to me that for me at this time, the “brother,” the person with whom I must be reconciled is my very self. If I am not truly myself, if I am but an onlooker, not willing to realize my sin and do something about it, not willing to recognize the God who dwells in me, that “He who eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood abides in me, and I in him.”(Jn 6:56), if I do not recognize myself as a temple of God, am a coward unwilling to face myself and take responsibility for all of me, if I prefer to place a façade before the world, if, in essence, I am outwardly preening myself for my false humility while inwardly cowering and not recognizing and utilizing the gifts that God gave me, then I am not reconciled with myself, brought my true self in line with myself, made whole again with myself…and I cannot truly offer that one gift that God wants of me, my very self, to Him, for I do not first possess me myself.

[10] 10. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42)

[11] “[11:23–25] This is the earliest written account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament. The narrative emphasizes Jesus’ action of self-giving (expressed in the words over the bread and the cup) and his double command to repeat his own action.” NABRE, Note for 1 Cor 11:23–25.

 

[12] NABRE footnote on 1 Cor 11:27.

[13] Howard Craig, Daily Inspiration from JesuitPrayer.org, March 25, 2015