Mar 17, 2018

5th Sunday of Lent: "A law written on hearts"

"I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts."

John 12: 20- 33

We are a country of laws.  We speak about a land of “law and order.”  There are laws about everything, they govern our lives, direct our actions, and are intended to maintain the boundaries in which citizens behave which hopefully creates a land of peace and harmony. 

We speak of the natural law - the forces that guide our bodies and the universe around us.  It keeps planets apart from each other in orbits, the law of gravity keeps everything fixed on earth lest we go flying off into space and crashing into one another.  We have laws that guide our traffic, our tax system, our use of land, our homes, etc.  Without certain established directions and boundaries we simply become governed by nothing other than our base instincts. 

In the Church we have Canon Law which governs our lives as Catholics.  It helps us to understand the deeper meaning of God’s superior Law and how we can live out what he asks of us. Church laws govern the sacraments, our parishes, the formation of priests, the governing of a Diocese by the Bishop, etc.  Yet the final goal and purpose is the salvation of souls.

This final Sunday of Lent before Holy Week begins next week finds the voice of Jeremiah the prophet speaking of God’s desire to “Make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” Then in a divine longing for relationship with us, God speaks through Jeremiah: “I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God and they will be my people.” 

What do you see in these words?  I imagine a kind of sculptor at work on a piece of marble.  He chisels away an indelible image of beauty.  He breathes upon the work and forms it according to his personal imagining.  Certainly, the name of the Renaissance genius Michelangelo comes to mind, his famed statue of David, carved from one piece of marble and that of the Pieta, depicting the crucified body of Jesus in the arms of his mother.  Although made of stone, they appear to be alive.  Such it is with the law of God that Jeremiah speaks of in our first reading.

The law of the “new covenant” is not a restriction or a punishment.  God in this passage desires an intense relationship with humanity.  He wants to reform a people and build a deeper bond on communion with them.  He want to imprint his law on the hearts of all in the way that a genius sculptor forever forms and imprints his minds image marble of stone.  Yet, human hearts are not made of stone so our Creator desires to live in the hearts of all. 

However, how idealistic this sounds.  Jeremiah’s words imply that God will implant an innate understanding of God and that everything that should be done will be seen in the attitudes and behavior of people.  That law is living and God desires to write it upon our hearts that we might naturally follow in his way.  They will know that God is God for them and that they are particularly chosen for him. It is about a law of love and relationship between God and humanity. 

While that may sound wonderful we certainly cannot deny the extent of violence and brokenness in our world. Despite our innate sense of who God is and who we are in relationship to him, not all will follow that law.

Yet, by reflection we know instinctively that in the conscience of every human person there is this innate sense of what is right and what is wrong.  We have a sense of fairness, justice and we know what kindness and compassion are like.  We know that love means a particular intimacy with another person that is not just expressed physically but is supported by our care for them and our respect. 

Where did that come from?  Are we born with this?  Yes, but still sin and its affects remain before us.  The passage from Jeremiah ends with a statement of God’s mercy: “I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more. We are a broken people in need of a Savior. 

The Gospel passage from John implies the outpouring of Jesus: “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” The Gospel seems a collection of saying by Jesus, though, about the demands of discipleship: sacrifice, detachment, service. In the end Christ himself is the ultimate example of discipleship and the pouring out of his life on the Cross become the sign of that new covenant in his blood.

So, at the Last Supper he was about to finally set things right for there he took the bread and wine, established the Holy Eucharist in the new covenant of “my blood.” He has given himself to us in the new and final for all time sign of his love in and through his Church as he poured out his life for us on the cross. The Holy Eucharist is Christ in our midst intimately connected with us and there he calls us to “lawful” thankfulness.

The sacred law, and all that Christ has done for us, is to keep our hearts open and receptive to God.  If we follow our own "law," we're on our own.  If we follow in his Way, we have his presence in our lives.  

Let us pray: 
By your help, we beseech you, Lord our God,
may we walk eagerly in that same charity
with which out of love for the world,
your Son handed himself over to death.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God for ever and ever. 

(Collect of Mass)

Mar 14, 2018

Like Father like Son

"Amen I say to you the Son . . . can only do what he sees the Father doing"

John 5: 17-30

Yesterday it was reported that the famed astro physiscist Stephen Hawking died to the ravages of that terrible disease called ALS. After long suffering all of his adult life, his ordeal is over for him.  Yet he continued to teach and share his scientific insights all during that time. 

Yet, Mr. Hawking was an atheist or at best an agnostic, or at least he felt religion was essentially a fantasy.  His study of the laws of the universe and the belief  that a supreme being, aka God, is not necessary and that God's existence is not necessary for the universe to exist. Hawking's contribution to science was most valuable but certainly he did not have warm feelings about the value of religion and felt that science is more convincing than belief in the existence of God to explain the original origins of the universe.  At any rate, let's pray that now that Mr. Hawking has met the God he felt did not exist, love and mercy will be granted to him indeed. 

I simply bring this up in relation to our readings for this Wednesday of the fourth week of Lent.  We can see the sunrise of Easter on the horizon at this point but know that the event of his suffering and death come first. 

The Gospel from John is a long one for a weekday but John has Jesus reflecting about his relationship with his Father: "The Son can do only what he sees the Father doing . . . the Father loves the Son . . . I cannot do anything on my own; I judge as I hear . . ."  With this long speech we hear Jesus stating to us that he is divine, equal to the Father and that the Father and he operate perfectly in synch.  To see Jesus, to hear him is to see and hear the Father.  Jesus is like God and God like Jesus.  It's a very important part of our doctrine of the Holy Trinity and when the Holy Spirit is spoken of he is referred to as being sent from the Father and is the Spirit of Jesus.  When one Person of the Trinity operates, all three do so together. 

Whew!  The great mystery of the Holy Trinity is revealed in this words of Jesus.  An important statement in light of heresies that the Church was confronting at the time the Gospel of John was written. 

Yet, I think it poses for us today, who live more and more in an increasingly secular, scientific and technological world to recognize that as a whole our culture is becoming God-less.  As in the case of Stephen Hawking, has the "god" of science replaced the true God of the universe?  Some feel that Christianity has had its day and that we live now in a Post-Christian world.  Belief in God is primitive in light of the knowledge we have now and Christianity is a past historical event. 

Well,where do you stand on your image of God?  Belief leads to understanding and humility before mystery leads to faith. 

As Holy Week approaches we will face the dark hours of Jesus and the tragedy of his crucifixion.  Then the resurrection, which defies all science and natural law, stands in the realm of faith. 

More than any other prayer and desire, I think that a prayer for a strong faith in spite of criticism and attractive alternative thinking,, is necessary in this day.  

Mar 10, 2018

4th Sunday of Lent: "God's Love and our love"

" God so loved the world that he gave his only Son"

John 3: 14-21

The Word for Sunday:

O God, who through your Word
reconcile the human race to yourself in a wonderful way,
grant, we pray, 
that with prompt devotion and eager faith
the Christian people may hasten
toward the solemn celebrations to come. 
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, for ever and ever. Amen

(Collect of Mass)

A simple but wonderful way to explain the love of God to children is to ask: “How much does God love us?” The answer is to say with arms stretched out widely: “This much!” + That gesture forms a cross and we are reminded that the Cross of Christ is forever the indelible sign of God’s love for humanity.

Though it may sound a bit simplistic its truth is far more mature and transforming.  Our readings this weekend on this particular Sunday of Joy as we are on the home stretch before the glory of Easter are saturated with the overwhelming truth of God’s love for us.  In fact, the mistake we consistently make is to think that God’s love and our human expression of love are the same. That God falls in and out of love and is as fickle and inconsistent as we humans can be. God rewards good behavior and punishes us when we're bad. Not so . . .

Our first reading from Chronicles relates the story of the destruction of Jerusalem, its sacred Temple, the source of both civic and religious life, and the capture of the Jewish people off to Babylon where they were enslaved for seventy years.  Now, that may not exactly sound like a Divine love story but it is an indication of God’s desire to save his people and to purify his people in order to offer them a new beginning.

The reading is strong in its imagery.  “The princes of Judah, the priests and the people added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the Lord’s temple . . .” It certainly is not a rosy picture of how far they had strayed away from the Lord’s original Covenant.  Yet, despite this, God desperately sends “his messengers,” the prophets, to warn them and call them back to the Lord.  But, they mocked and killed them!

Looking back on history, the writer of Chronicles sees this moment as a profound turning point as Babylon’s invasion and total destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple is seen as a moment not of eternal punishment but rather as chastisement, purification, which in the end, though after seventy years, he inspires the King of the Persians to lead them back, to rebuild the Temple and restore the Nation.  “Let’s give it another go,” as our British friends might say.  God’s love never ceases as time and time again he longs for salvation.

How might we humans deal with the same situation?  I think the vast majority of us would have given up long before and moved on to someone who might appreciate our efforts.  Whatever love may have been there initially would have long gone sour through such hurt and disappointment. Not God and so we see in our other readings as well.

Paul in his writing to the Christians of Ephesus speaks of God as “rich in mercy.”  He states that even when we were “dead in our transgressions” God “brought us to life with Christ – by grace you have been saved.”  This is not a god who walks away but rather and true God who never gives up on us. 

The Gospel reflection from John contains the often quoted and inspiring quote that some feel sums up the entire Gospel event: “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.”

If anyone ever experiences judgment and critical comments about Christianity or why we believers do not walk away considering the state of evil in the world today, this foundational quote, John 3: 16, is the reason why we should never abandon God or walk away.  Jesus coming among us was not an opportunity for God to inflict his final revenge on humanity but rather the ultimate turning point in our relationship with him. God enfleshed in Jesus his Son, and the “sign” of the Cross, is the forever testimony to how far God’s unrestrained love has gone for our sake. 

Yes, the pain of suffering we see and hear about throughout the world these days, the strong diatribes coming from world leaders, and the power we have to destroy ourselves is frightening. We all question “Why” God tolerates such things and more personal struggles in our lives. 

Yet, even in such dark conditions the Christian message is consistent and both the Sacred Scriptures and history itself prove to us that although God is mysterious and distant he is very much in our lives and personally involved.  As he walked among us in Christ he brought hope and promise and made even those moments of struggle for us meaningful in the Cross.  The best answer to “Why” is always the Cross of Christ, which was followed not by the end but the new beginning of the Resurrection.

This Sunday we rejoice in God’s overwhelming love for us.  The Eucharist is essentially about thanksgiving for that Divine love unleashed upon us.  We are reminded that God indeed does love us “this much!" ------------ 

Mar 6, 2018

Owner or borrower?

"Be patient with me and I will pay you back . . ."

It doesn't take much to realize that little children don't necessarily share easily:  "My doll, my truck, my toys."  Often, however, when prompted, they will share with their friend, brother or sister even though reluctantly at times.  Translating that further to adulthood, we speak of "my house, my money, my car, my career, my boat, my phone, my computer, etc."  We work hard for what we have, we scrimp and save, make personal sacrifices and try to determine priorities, at least we should to some extent. We tend to forget that all we have is ultimately provided by the providence of God.  In essence,we really don't own anything;  We are borrowers for a time and that being said, we are responsible to care for what we have in a spirit of gratitude. 

This Tuesday's Gospel, in Jesus answer to Peter's question about frequent forgiveness, Jesus tells the  story about the ungrateful servant.  The debt he owed to his master must have been astronomical since it took everything he had plus his wife and children in order to pay it back.  He had been given extravagantly by his Master (God) and unable to pay back this enormous debt, forgiven to the same degree. One would assume he would be forever grateful for what the Master did for him and do likewise to others. 

However, such is not the case.  To the lower slave who owed him much less, he responded to them with a harshness that caught the attention of the Master's other servants.  He returns to the Master (God) and is punished for not extending the same forgiveness to others that had been extended to him.  The lesson is obvious. 

God has given us more than we could ever repay:  his grace, mercy, forgiveness, his own Son who died for us, this Church, sacraments, his Word, a faith community, our material possessions, we can go on and on.  Our material possessions, as important as they are for our living, is likewise provided for us by God.  As we pray in the Lord's prayer: "Give us this day our daily bread."  He has done so and then some. 

So, this Lent, let's take stock of what we have - our possessions.  Let's look upon them with less attachment and far more gratitude.  Let's pray for a more generous spirit of charity.  As the law works, the more I give the more I receive.  It's just the way God works with us.  As he has done for us, so we must do for others. Maybe begin with forgiveness of my neighbor. Be extravagant in mercy with them so that you might be right with God. 

Peace this Lent . . .