Tag Archives: mercy

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

The Ask

“The Ask” is a fundraising term meaning the moment when the fundraiser, gauging that the donor is sufficiently convinced in the efficacy and need of the cause that the donor is ready to actually make a financial commitment, makes the actual request for the person to make a contribution.

When “the ask” is of God, I find things seem complicated. On the one hand, Jesus assures us that the Donor will give: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. [1] [Mt 7:7-8] Again, He says all we need is faith: whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive. [Mt 21:22] According to Jesus, in dealing with God, it is always good if you’re not just being selfish, if this need is a communal need: Again, [amen,] I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.[Mt 18:19][2]

With a non-profit here on earth, any donor wants to be certain, (a) that the cause is truly worthy of support, (b) that the need is great; (c) this organization is legit and actually does something to address this need, and (d) that the money will be used wisely and well for the purpose for which the donation is made, and not to pay exorbitant salaries or just to elicit more funds.

God is the same way. He (a) loves us unconditionally, (b) knows we need Him because He created us; (c) wants to be certain that we truly trust Him, and (d) that we show we believe in Him, and love Him by our actions: we have confidence in God and receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. [1Jn 3:21-22] And what pleases Him is that we love Him and show that love by loving everybody else: whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me. [Mt 25:40]

When dealing with God, we have an “in” with the Donor; we go through the Donor’s Son. Jesus does “the ask” of the Father. “Jesus…[is] the one intercessor with the Father on behalf of all men, especially sinners. He is ‘able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.’ [Heb 7:25]”[3]

Our own fear and bumbling cause us to make inappropriate “asks.” You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. [James 4:2-3] However, the Divine Factotum, the Specialist in Everything, Love and Truth Himself, the Holy Spirit, not only teaches us what to say but even makes “the ask” for us when we are dumbstruck before the majesty of God, or fixated on the wrong thing, or can’t figure out what we really need: In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. [Rom 8:26]  And the Donor knows “the ask” is legit: The one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will. [Rom 8:27]

As the deluge of continuous mail from the same organization asking for money even when I have had no contact with it for years attests, persistence is the name of the Donor game. If one “ask” does not do it, keep at it and wear down the Donor’s resistance. Jesus illustrated this explicitly in one of my favorite parables, a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. He said, “There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, ‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’ For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, ‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.’” The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. [Lk 18:1-8]

By my persistence, I show God I’m serious, I am truly in need, His people for whom I am praying are in need, we all need His help, His grace, His mercy. Our cause is just and worthy of His assistance.

But, like Job, I am fearful of the LORD: I put my hand over my mouth. I have spoken once, I will not reply; twice, but I will do so no more. [Job 40:4-5] I know that I do not know for what I should ask: Therefore I disown what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes. [Job 42:6] I am as fearful coming before God as Esther was coming before the King, but I desperately need God’s help: My Lord, you alone are our King. Help me, who am alone and have no help but you, for I am taking my life in my handdeliver me from my fear. [Esther Gk Version C: 14-30]

But, though His sacred word, God assures us of his love: But You, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in mercy and truth. [Ps 85:15, 103:8; 145:8; James 5:11] Therefore, we pray “Father, accept this offering from your whole family. Grant us your peace in this life, save us from final damnation, and count us among those you have chosen.” [4] and “we dare to say: Our Father….”[5]


[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. Hereafter, NABRE.

[2] God’s answer to the prayer of two or three envisages a different situation from one that involves the entire congregation. In addition, the object of this prayer is expressed in most general terms as anything for which they are to pray….For where two or three…midst of them: the presence of Jesus guarantees the efficacy of the prayer. This saying is similar to one attributed to a rabbi executed in A.D. 135 at the time of the second Jewish revolt: “…When two sit and there are between them the words of the Torah, the divine presence (Shekinah) rests upon them” (Pirqê ’Abôt 3:3). NABRE Notes on Mt 18:19-20

[3] CCC 2634

[4] Roman Missal, EP I (Roman Canon) 88. CCC 1037

[5] CCC, Pt. 4; Sect. 2, Art.2, I.

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]

Separation or Union

Sin, from Adam and Eve on, makes us co-conspirators, collaborators with the enemy, Eros lovers who seek to possess the other, dominate and control the other. Only obedience to God allows us to be free and to be agape lovers, loving one another without possession, control or domination. Giving in to the serpent’s temptation, Adam and Eve turned away from God.

Sin damages relationships, corrupts them, attempts to enslave others and even God, attempts to force them and Him to conform to my will. Their failure to obey God damaged their relationship with Him. In addition they damaged their relationship with each other, either trying to coerce the other to “eat the apple for my sake;” “Look, I ate it and nothing happened to me….Opps, I never noticed before, we’re naked. I don’t feel right;maybe we better put some clothes on.” Nothing happened???

“Sin” comes from the Old Norse snt-ya which is a collective form from es-ont, “becoming,” via the notion of “to be truly the one.[1]” By sinning, one focuses solely on oneself, trying to become like God, the true One. I close in on myself, rather than flowing out; focuses on my becoming as I direct, rather than focusing on the other. It is ego centric, solipsistic; I become isolated, fearful. My universe collapses, becomes minute, infinitesimal; it revolves around oneself rather than including, joining and revolving with the Creator’s cosmos. It becomes ridiculously comical when observed from the outside.

Even as we faced the consequences of our actions, God’s mercy is present and salvation is promised. We know that in our own lives turning away from God has painful consequences. However, if we choose to follow Jesus and obey God, we find happiness, comfort, strength, truth and salvation. Love heals and solidifies relationships, serves, protects, follows the will of God and others.

Our God is not a harsh judge but rather a loving parent who desires to have all his children together for eternity. We were given a gift called free will and what we do with that gift will determine our destiny. You see, if we choose to ignore the embrace of God, it will not be forced upon us. If we accept God’s love, it will be returned for all time.[2]

Using free will, our most precious gift, we can either choose to embrace God or to reject Him, to accept His love or reject it. It’s there for the taking; we only have to want it, to reach out and accept it.

When I turn away from You, Lord have mercy.

When I turn away from others, Christ have mercy.

When I am afraid to face my sin, Lord have mercy.

[1] “Sin,” Online Etymological Dictionary, http://www.etymonline.com/index.php? allowed_in_frame=0&search=sin&searchmode=none

[2] “3 minutes a day” 6/3/15; http://www.loyolapress.com/assets/Bookcovers/99979_together-for-eternity.swf

Have mercy on me, a sinner![Lk 18:13] [1] Reconciliation Part II: Who Forgives

Definitely, all my sinfulness starts with my basic disobedience to You, God. Since Adam’s time, this is the way I have been: Behold, I was born in guilt, in sin my mother conceived me. [Ps 51:6] I have been mortally afflicted since youth. [Ps 88:16] So, of course, I must beg your forgiveness. With the Psalmist I must cry: Have mercy on me, God, in accord with your merciful love; in your abundant compassion blot out my transgressions. Thoroughly wash away my guilt; and from my sin cleanse me. For I know my transgressions; my sin is always before me. [Ps 51:3-5] Just as in the time of the Temple, You do not desire sacrifice or I would give it; a burnt offering you would not accept. Instead you want obedience, contrition, humility: My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn. [Ps 51:18,19] Thus it was and is still absolutely necessary for me to plead for Your forgiveness, God. All sin is against You and only You can forgive me.

Indeed, those who argue for God-only forgiveness will insist: “What about the first three commandments?” Those are strictly God’s, right? Wrong. Just as You, God, are hurt, are disobeyed, are sinned against in all the other commandments, so I harm you, my sisters and brothers, every time I worship an idol instead of God, particularly if that idol is me; I both give you bad example, but also somehow I draw the human collective a little farther from God, I opt out of the Body of Christ and thus weaken it, I say to the world, God is wrong, follow me, follow my example instead. That’s part of social sin, tearing the seamless garment of Christ, tearing me apart from you, my brothers and sisters and rupturing my link with You, Jesus, through whom I can either participate in and build up Your body or tear it down.

The same is true every time I desecrate Your name, God. God, You must be horribly hurt that we constantly use Your name “in vain,” saying without thought, without reflection as to its meaning, its import, “O God!” when surprised, when angry, as an expletive, in flippant disregard for Who You are. Yet You make it very clear that is absolutely wrong; indeed, You, Yourself, Jesus, taught us to pray: hallowed be Your Name [Mt 6:9; Lk 11:2], but I have become so use to saying that, that I don’t ever think about what it means, what it implies, what it requires. And so, if I use Your name in anger, in frustration, in amazement, in any context where it is obvious that I just am using it to say something, I have hurt you, my brothers and sisters, by indicating by my irreverence, my callous disregard of its meaning, that it’s ok…see, I wasn’t zapped by a lightening bolt. Get your kicks and do it too! That’s how I sin against you, my friends.

Finally, my blatant disregard for the sanctity of You Sabbath, Your Day, God, my shopping, conducting my affairs, my business as if it were like any other day of the week, conveys that same message, that same scandalous, irreverent, disobedient behavior which says to all who see: “Forget God. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t pay attention to my little foibles. Why should He pay attention to yours. I can set up my own rules, so can you, my and your own schedule, my and your own sacred days. We don’t have to follow something set up centuries ago..” And the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom [Mt 27:51], God exposes Himself to me to console, to comfort, to gather us in and what do I do, I scream: Crucify Him, Crucify Him [Lk 23:21; Mk 15:13] and hang the abomination of desolation [Dan 12:11; Mt 24:15] in God’s place. That’s why I must as for your forgiveness, my friends; I have killed your God.

As God Himself has showed me, all sins against You, God, and therefore, I need Your forgiveness; I have pushed You away and I must be reconciled with You. But, at the same time, all sins against you, my brothers and sisters of our God family. To think that God let’s me off the hook when I blatantly dishonor, kill, steal, abuse, lie, slander, and cheat you, brother and sister, is nonsensical, idiotic, does not compute.

And this goes not only for these photo negative, active sin caught on the film of history, but also for neglect of the positive print of love, passive sin, believing I can just have faith without good works, without becoming involved in making the world a better place, in helping those who need my help: 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] Both active and passive sin are here and now, involve me with you, my neighbor. The passive sin neglects the corporal [bodily] works of mercy, of kindness, of goodness, the cup of water works, the providing of food, clothing, care, concern type of works.

Active sin hasn’t even gotten to neglecting…I actively attempt to deceive, crush, obliterate, exterminate you, your rights, your possessions, your reputation, your very self. That’s why I have to start with the works required by the commandments. Maybe that’s what Jesus was pointing to when he knocked my namesake off his horse and asked him: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Notice that, while Jesus completely identifies with the Christians Saul is persecuting, these Christians were the ones being persecuted: Saul, meanwhile, was trying to destroy the church; entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment. [Acts 8:3; 22:4; 26:9–11]. Thus, though You, God, are always the injured party when I sin, that injury is also to the person effected by my sin. Persecuting violates the commandments,…it doesn’t even get to service.

Most obvious is physical injury, the person I wound is you; you are injured; you are killed, you are dead. But the same holds true of mistreatment of you, my parents, of you others whose integrity before You, God, I abuse in casual sex, in depriving you of what you own, of your good name, even of coveting what you have [a slap in Your face who have given me all I need]. In all these, I chose not only myself over You, God, not only following my own will instead of willing to obeying Your commandments, I have also chosen myself, my way, my comfort, my ego-centric world that I imagine revolves around me over you, everybody but me. I over look, ignore, refuse to recognize the situation from your point of view. I refuse, therefore, to do exactly what You, God, ordered me to do: to do to you, my neighbor, what I would want done to me in the same situation, to treat you as I would want to be treated. I have not loved but ignored, brushed aside, trampled over you.

The fact that I am not alone since all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God, [Rom 3:23] and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned, [Rom 5:12], that is, the fact that you, my brother, my sister, sinned against me, owe me a debt, have trespassed on me, does not “balance my books,” obviate the need for me seeking your forgiveness. I cannot think that since you have done evil to me, I can do evil to you with impunity, to “even up the score;” that somehow what I do is not held against me because it is “an eye for an eye.” Do not repay anyone evil for evil…“Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord….” Indeed, that way leads to hatred, violence, murder, war, annihilation; that path is that path of terrorists and tyrants. Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good. [Rom 12:17, 19, 21].

This is not fantasy. This is not fairytales or goody two-shoes. Forgiving you is absolutely necessary if I expect to be forgiven by God. Jesus placed the scales of justice squarely in my own tainted, sin filled and guilt-ridden hands: forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors [Mt 6:12]. I must forgive you your sins, your trespasses, your walking over me, if I expect to be forgiven by God. Jesus made this point again and again. And I need to do this not just once, but 70 x 7 times [Mt 18:22]. Which means, in turn, that I must seek forgiveness 70 x 7 times [Mt 18:22]. I’ve noticed that, while I have a pension for ignoring, downplaying, brushing aside my sins against you, I am super quick to take offense at any little peccadillo of yours against me, harboring black and dire thoughts of eyes for an eye and teeth for a tooth, Edmond Dantès, John McClane type revenge.

And I certainly do not come up to Your standard Jesus: Love one another as I have loved you. [Jn 13:34] As You pointed out to me in a previous reflection, while most will identify this as simply a iteration of Lv 19:18, You shall love your neighbor as yourself, I think this takes loving you others to a new level. While in my better moments, I may come up to the standard You set, I have many moments when I do not love myself…to various degrees. I may be just miffed at my blowing something or I may be really angry at myself for “not living up to my standards,” regardless of whether these standards are Yours or simply my ego’s projection. In any event, love one another as You loved us not only purifies such extraneous egoisms, but maintains a constant level of love, a gold standard by which I can measure my love, my agape, my outreach.

Thus, if I apply this gold standard to my actions, I not only recognize when I fall short of treating others as You would treat them, but I am constantly reminded that You identify Yourself with each and every one of “them,” the omnipresent, easy tag for distancing myself from you as my God-family, as I love you, and thus, when I fall short of loving “them,” I fall short of loving You. If I would see You, Christ, in every one of you I meet, I would know that I cannot pretend to serve You, Jesus, directly, whom I do not see, and ignore serving you, my least of these, whose want and need are blatant before me.

Therefore, it is not enough that I set myself straight with You, God. For every sin I commit, I need the forgiveness of both God and you, my brothers and sisters; I need to seek reconciliation of both God and you for our community to be a community, a people of God. I need to seek your forgiveness, my brothers and sisters. Justice demands I make things right with you, I make adequate amends for having wronged you, hurt you, ignored you, deprived you, debased you, demoralized you. And I need your and your and your forgiveness for the times I have personally sinned against you.

Forgiveness, thus, is an absolutely necessary, often forgotten, ignored, even despised as weakness, lubricant of our social structure, of any relationship, be it God and me, you and me, your family and my family, your “hood” and my “hood,” your wealth and my poverty, your sex and my sex, you race and my race, your religion and my religion, your nation and my nation, your world and my world. It is the realization that there truly is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. [Gal 3:28] It is a bi-lateral, mutual, common-ground understanding, an agreement, a wisdom revealed, that we are unique and that’s ok, that we share more than we differ, that we, save God[2], are all human and fallible and make mistakes.

No, forgiveness can’t be limited to just God and me as the authorities then and many people now seem to think. Yes, I must seek forgiveness from You, God, I must also seek forgiveness from you, my friends.

[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] This does not mean that I don’t have to “forgive” God…when He takes a loved one home and leaves me abandoned, inconsolable, enraged, frantic, freaked out, depressed unto despair, when I rant and rave against heaven and cannot see the light of morning, He carries his tantrum traumatized child until my tears flow and my wracked convulsed psyche comes to the peace of the heart, of the soul, that passes all understanding…and I can “forgive” God His wisdom and love.

Excursus on Becoming Holy

[Please excuse these digressions from meditations on John.  They reflect the Holy Spirit’s marvelous freedom and generous gifts of insights wherever and whenever He likes.  The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. [Jn 3:8][1] They are flowers picked in the Garden of Paradise as we wander about holding his hand.  They are also a reminder to me that we are not in a hurry to “accomplish,” to “complete the task,” to “finish the job.”  We have all eternity to sit back and enjoy the ride.]

From the beginning, God destined us and calls us to be holy.  This is iterated in the Hebrew Scriptures where God identifies himself as our God and as holy, which He gives as the reason we should keep ourselves holy: For I, the LORD, am your God. You shall make and keep yourselves holy, because I am holy. [Lev 11:44; 20:7,26]

Jesus himself rephrases the command: So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. [Mt 5:48][2]  Peter echoes his Master in his first letter: 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.” [1 Pet 1:16]

However, simultaneously Paul bluntly points out that we are not holy.  On the contrary, we are all sinners: there is no distinction; all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. [Rom 3:22-23]  Indeed, he admits that this is his own condition: So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh. The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want. [Rom 7:17-19]

So how to reconcile God’s direct command, iterated by Jesus, that we are to be holy, perfect, totally effectively merciful when we are caught in the web of sin, the maelstrom of evil in our world.  Paul points out two stages to this metamorphosis.

First, God sent his Son to die for us, the ungodly, the unholy: For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly…But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. [Rom 5:6,8]

Second, God himself makes us perfectly holy.  All that is required on our part is to cooperate, to ask Him in, to pray that He works his miracle on us.  For this, Paul prays with perfect faith and confidence: May the God of peace himself make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. [1 Thes 5: 23]

This is another echo of Mary’s unto me [Lk 1:38] of Jesus’ not my will but Yours be done [Lk 22:42 Mt 6:10]. I need to learn to Let Go and Let God.  I need to believe that He truly loves me, has had active mercy on me from the moment of my conception, wishes me to evolve into being truly in His image, after His likeness [Gen 1:26], which He has described as Holy.

With Paul, therefore, I affirm my belief, my faith, my trust in God that He will do what He says: The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it. [1 Thes 5: 24]  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] Luke’s version of the same phrases substitutes “merciful” for “perfect;” this substantiates Thomas’ position that “God’s mercy is ‘effective,’ not ‘affective.’ In other words, His mercy is expressed in the positive action that His love takes to remedy the miseries and meet the needs of His creatures, communicating to them a share in His own perfections….Aquinas writes (ST I.21.3): “To feel sad about another’s misery is no attribute of God, but to drive it out is supremely His, and by misery here we mean any sort of defect. Defects are not done away with save by an achievement of goodness, and as we have said, God is the first source of goodness.” Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Nov 11, 2005), “Aquinas Defines Divine Mercy,” DM 101: Week 19, Divine Mercy Library, The Divine Mercy, http://thedivinemercy.org/library/article.php?NID=2213