Category Archives: Faith

The Mass as Gift of Self I

Dear Folks,
Jesus says, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him (John 14:23).” Take a moment and soak in that thought: God making His dwelling with us in permanent, personal union. Ahhh. That is abundant life (John 10:10), true freedom (John 8:31-32), and the fullness of Joy (John 15:11, 16:20-22). Let’s take a look at what that means for us.
When the Book of Revelation describes the New Jerusalem, an image of heaven, we are told “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb (Rev 21:22).” We remember there was no temple described in the Garden of Eden. Yes, God is present everywhere, but He touches us uniquely in the liturgy. God call us to places of worship, and we must be intentional about participating in the liturgy because of our limited, sinful perspective, but in heaven it will not be necessary, and the heavenly liturgy will be everything. Fish in the ocean do not travel in search of water. Now we take sips of what will then be an ocean. Now we are distracted by lesser things, less open to receiving Him, and hold back from giving ourselves completely to Him. Jesus teaches us and enables us by grace to give ourselves to Him ever more perfectly. The journey of discipleship is essentially growing in our ability to receive Him and give ourselves to Him. This includes the call to worship, most especially in the Eucharistic liturgy.
We are called to be disciples, and that means we are about knowing Jesus better and sharing Jesus better. This is the way to the fullness of life, the abundant life, and the fullness of joy.
That is the essence of what Church is about.
The essence of the Gospel is the Gift of Self. Our Lord, in His Pascal Mystery, gave Himself as the perfect gift for our salvation. He offered one sacrifice, once for all, that we might be wedded to Him forever. There is a paradox: The Bible says we are to offer sacrifice to the Lord (Romans 12:1: Colossians 1:24; 1Peter 2:4-5; Ephesians 5:1-2). But there is only one sacrifice, therefore we are to offer that one, suffered once in time, eternally before the Father). In the heavenly liturgy in Revelation 5, we see Jesus as “the Lamb who was slain.” He enables us to give ourselves as gift to Him. More on that next time. Participating in the Eucharistic liturgy is not simply one activity among many for Christians, but the “source and summit of life.” It is our most intimate encounter with the Lord this side of heaven, and it gives form and meaning to all other aspects of our lives.
When a couple gets married, they give themselves to each other sacramentally in their vows. Then, when they go out and live their married lives, they give themselves to each other in practice, fulfilling their vows. Their vows would mean less than nothing if they did not intend to live them out in practice, and what they do for each other in practice is given shape and meaning by their vows. Each is essential for each other. Jesus gave Himself sacramentally in the Last Supper, and then in practice by dying on the cross. Without the Last Supper, the cross was just an execution, and without the cross, the Last Supper was just dinner. At Mass, Jesus and we give ourselves to each other sacramentally, then as we go out and live the Christian life, we encounter Him and give ourselves in practice. If you ask which one is more important praying the Mass or living the Christian life, I will ask you which is more important: inhaling or exhaling.
Therefore, coming to Mass is just the beginning. Praying it well is important beyond my powers to describe. How do we pray the Mass well? That, folks, is for next week.
Blessings,
Fr Jim

Love as Jesus Loves

Dear Folks,

In our Gospel Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another (John 13:34).” Sounds very nice, doesn’t it? It should scare us.

The command to love was not new, way back in Leviticus, we are told to “love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18).” What is new is to love one another as He has loved us, and He loved us infinitely and perfectly. We are called to love everyone, without exception. This means seeking their greatest good.

First, we need the strength of soul to be willing to do this. Secondly, we need some ideal of what is really going to do good. That requires being attentive, and willing to continue to learn about what is really going to help. You may have experienced people who want to help you, but they have pre-determined what they are going to do, and it is not going to be helpful for you. In fact, it is causing you trouble. Then they get mad because you are not appreciative or cooperative in their intended benevolence. This is not love.

Love does not always mean doing what people want. We do not love people by affirming, agreeing with or enabling their sinful behavior. They may accuse you of being unloving, but we remember that God loves all people; He does not love all behaviors. This does not always mean doing what people want or appreciate. Think about when He made a whip of cords and drove the moneychangers, the buyers and the sellers out of the temple. I expect they did not feel loved at that moment.

I have said repeatedly that we don’t ask if someone deserves help; we ask what is the most helpful thing to do? This means there are two separate issues: our willingness to help, and our understanding of what is the most helpful. People tend to be satisfied with having good intentions and presume it is obviously true that they are helping. My mother was a nurse, and she told me about how they used to do bloodletting for pneumonia patients (long before her time, of course). Pneumonia, of course interferes with taking in oxygen, and blood is what brings oxygen from the lungs to the parts of the body, so less blood is the worst thing for them. The doctors who did this most certainly believed they were doing good, and God certainly recognized that. We do not condemn the intentions of their hearts nor call their actions sinful, but recognize their behavior was still wrong.

Many times I see some version of, “you don’t support what I think would be helpful, therefore you don’t care about helping.” I’ve seen this a lot in the gun control debate, and I’m seeing it a lot in the abortion debate. It hampers the conversation and hampers it really badly.

As we seek to love one another as Jesus loves us, let us ask God (1) for a more loving heart, (2) the clarity of vision to see what we can do that serves the good of others, and (3) the wisdom to participate helpfully and productively in disagreements about #2.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Voice of the Shepherd

Dear Folks,

“My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me (John 10:27).” In chapter 10 of John we see Jesus talk about Himself as the Good Shepherd who gives His life for the sheep and who brings the fullness of life. As we read this, it is good to keep in mind the background of Ezekiel 34, the shepherd chapter. In the story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes in John 6, there is explicit mention that Jesus has them recline and there is plenty of grass in the area. I wondered why the grass got a special mention, then I realized, “Who makes us recline in green pastures?” The Lord our Shepherd (Psalm 23). John is telling us that Jesus is feeding His people like a shepherd feeds his flock (Isaiah 40:11). Once again, the Old Testament foreshadows, and Jesus fulfills. This told the story in a way that people could recognize.

When Jesus said, “I know them” we might think that since He knows everybody, there was no need to say this. We must understand how the word “know” is used in the Bible, often meaning “Having a life-giving relationship with” someone or something. We see in Genesis 4:1: “The man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain.” Psalm 1:6: “For the Lord knows the way of the just, but the way of the wicked will perish.” Psalm 95:10: “Forty years I loathed that generation; I said: ‘This people’s heart goes astray; they do not know my ways.’” “’Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’ but he said in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’ (Matt 25:11-12).” We remember that in the Gospels many of the scribes and Pharisees had lots of knowledge but did not have a life-giving relationship with God. Stories can touch people deep down in their hearts in ways that philosophical explanations often cannot.

We are called to tell the Gospel story in such a way that people can recognize the voice of the Shepherd. Since we are all made to have a relationship with Jesus (Colossians 1:16) everyone who is open, who is willing, can be touched if approached well. The challenge is to develop the art of telling the story. It doesn’t have to be the whole story, and it doesn’t have to be much. We remember that God’s plan is much larger than we are, and we might be a very small part of how He is working to touch a particular person. If we learn something new about our faith and share it, or if we tell someone one good thing about our faith community, we have shared good news. Enough raindrops can make a flood.

In Acts of the Apostles, we learn how the early Church spread the Gospel. One of the things they did was tell the story of Jesus, and the two biggest story tellers were St. Peter and St. Paul (two great examples are Peter in Acts 2 and Paul in Acts 17). We also see something very interesting with their storytelling. St. Peter has an experience of God teaching him something using a blanket full of critters and a lunch invitation in Acts 10. Then, in Acts 11, he tells the story of what just happened, in part repeating word for word what we had just read of the same story. We see St. Paul in Acts 9 having an encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Later, in Acts 22, he will tell the same story, repeating much of what we have already read. Why the repetition? It is certainly not because the sacred author was paid by the word. Writing was laborious and paper was expensive, so they would not pad the text with anything that was unnecessary. I suggest to you that it is done this way to drive home the point that part of telling the story of Jesus is telling the story of what Jesus has done in our lives. The story of salvation continues, and it includes us. What story could you tell about how your relationship with Jesus got you from where you were to where you are now? You never know who might need to hear it.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Easter People

Dear Folks,

This is Easter! This is actually when we should be singing, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” This is the celebration of Our Lord’s great victory over evil, and that makes all the difference. The Easter season will continue until Pentecost. How should we respond? I suggest:

1. Rejoice! (obviously). Even if you are going through a very hard time, we remember that the hard times come to an end, and the victory of Easter is forever.

According to our capacity at the time, we can look defiantly at what is dragging us down and say, “your days are numbered, and we will get the last laugh.” We read in Scripture, “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to our Lord. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord is your strength (Nehemiah 8:10).” We can celebrate according to our capacity and show the world that just as we have done penance during Lent, now we party!

2. Get immersed in Acts of the Apostles. During the Easter season, the first reading is from Acts almost every day. It is the story of the Church in its beginnings and shows how to be an Easter people. If we follow those readings and reflect on them, it will give us a sense of what was their response to the Easter event and the Pentecost event. (You know you are allowed to read the daily Mass readings even if you don’t get to Mass that day?). As you go through Acts of the Apostles, I would encourage you to look for four things:

a. Telling the Gospel story

b. Working together as community

c. Worshipping God

d. Helping people in need.

I would suggest that those four things were how they made their mark on the world. Doing these four things, a small band of misfits changed the course of world history forever. I suggest if we grow in doing these four things, we can be as successful as they were. We have everything they had. We have the Gospel story, and we have the Holy Spirit working within us. During the Easter season, I’ll be unpacking more about how we might try to grow in these four things (actually, I plan to be doing that for the rest of my life, but one step at a time).

We remember that after the disciples encountered the Risen Jesus, the world was still a mess, and still very hostile to everything Jesus is about. Acts makes this clear. It also made clear that the Church had problems, and that it had flawed people in them from the beginning (that is made even more clear in the epistles). Despite that, a small band of misfits changed the course of world history forever. If we truly believe in the resurrection the problems in the Church now will not hold us back from doing wonderful things.

When people look back on this moment in history, what will they find? Let’s see how many reasons we can give them to know that we truly believed in the Gospel, that we believed in the power of the New Life that Jesus offers us.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

True Gift of Self

jm_200_NT1.pd-P24.tiff

Dear Folks,

This is Holy Week, the height of our liturgical year. We try to put everything else aside to focus on this journey. We follow Jesus from the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, His time in Jerusalem, His passion and death, and finally the resurrection.

All four Gospels tell the story of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. This year we look at the Gospel of Luke, who, just before the entry tells the story of a king who returns to his kingdom to hold his servants accountable for their stewardship and destroy his enemies (Luke 19:11-27). This shows us how to view His time in Jerusalem. He will hold them accountable for their stewardship of God’s gifts.

The essence of the Gospel is the gift of self. Our Lord gave Himself completely, and that comes to its fullness in His sacrifice on the cross. We see here a contrast between those who truly give the gift of self with those who give a false gift or who refuse completely.

After His entry into Jerusalem, He weeps for it, saying that they lost their chance for peace and would be destroyed (Luke 19:41-44). This anticipates the talk on the destruction of the temple, coming persecution, and the coming of the kingdom (Luke 21:5-36). This suggests that if they had accepted His teaching, they could have avoided this catastrophe. We know that they tried a futile uprising and were destroyed. Centuries later, Christianity would conquer the Roman empire by evangelizing it. What would have happened if they tried that approach first thing? Unfortunately, so many people threw away the opportunity that God had given them. Their bad stewardship was being judged.

Then Jesus cleansed the temple. God had given them the great gift of temple so they could give themselves to Him in their worship, and they were using it for their own selfish purposes. Their bad stewardship was being judged.

The chief priests, the scribes and the elders attempt to pin Jesus down on His authority, but they won’t take a stand themselves (Luke 20:1-8). This isn’t going to work. We have all dealt with people who want to hold others accountable, but object to being held accountable themselves. We cannot claim to understand Christianity while staying safe. We have to put ourselves on the line, including the possibility that Christ will completely rework our lives,

including being publicly known for our positions. Anonymous criticism gets no respect. Again, that is not a true gift of self.

He tells the story of the tenant farmers who won’t make a return to the vineyard owner (Lk. 20:9-19), even killing his son. He is making clear that the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of the people have not been good stewards of the great gifts they have been

given. Instead of giving their hearts, their minds, their wills and their strength to God (see Deuteronomy 6:4-5), they kept their hearts for themselves and used God for their own purposes.

We contrast this with two stories just before and near the end of this section. Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) received an unexpected opportunity in the visit of Jesus and used it to turn his life completely around. An unnamed widow (Luke 21:1-4) was given very little to work with, but responded with all her heart and all her self. These are praised for their stewardship.

I recently rewatched the 2019 movie “Midway.” The battle of Midway was one of the most critical battles of World War II, and it is very inspiring to see so many people who made such great and brave sacrifices for the sake of the war effort. They wanted to live, to be safe, and to be with their families, but they knew how much their work mattered. During this holy week, I suggest we reflect on how we have responded to God, how might He be calling us to respond, and how well do we believe that our response to God matters?

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Flesh and Spirit

Dear Folks,

Looking at the cycle A readings, today we come to the story of the raising of Lazarus, which is about the middle of the Gospel of John, and the last and greatest of His signs (John does not talk about “miracles” but rather “signs”).

There is a big difference from mere physical survival and the fullness of life. “A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10).”

Our second reading from Romans 8 says, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the spirit of God dwells in you. Whoever does not have the spirit of Christ does not belong to him (Romans 8:8-10).” It is worth reading a bit of what came before: “…so the righteous decree of the law might be fulfilled in us, who live not according to the flesh but according to the spirit. For those who live according to the flesh are concerned with the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the spirit with the things of the spirit. The concern of the flesh is death, but the concern of the spirit is life and peace (Romans 8:4-6).”

It is crucial to understand that when talking about “flesh” and “spirit” the Bible is not saying the body is evil or unimportant. It is talking about an attitude, an approach to life. To live according to the flesh is to be ruled by our lesser desires, and to live according to the spirit is to live according to the truth of God, which can only be done with God’s grace. St. Paul famously taught: “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. In contrast the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law (Galatians 5:19-23).”

To live according to the flesh is to be ruled by our desires as animals are. For animals, of course, it is fitting. They are engaged in a fight for survival that always ends in defeat. We were made for more, and to settle for the desires of the flesh is to make of our lives a grotesque caricature of what God made us to be. A violent rage and desire for revenge are grotesque caricatures of the desire to build peace and justice. Greed is a grotesque caricature of the desire to build things of benefit to others, enjoy the fruits of our labors, and have some security for the future. Lust is a grotesque caricature of the free, total, faithful and fruitful relationships to which God calls us. Pride is a grotesque caricature of the desire to celebrate and rejoice in the person that God has made us. To live according to the flesh is merely survival. To live according to the spirit is the fullness of life.

The raising of Lazarus was a teaching moment, a foreshadowing of the resurrection to come. Lazarus was resuscitated with his body like it was before, not the resurrection body that Jesus would have on Easter. While Jesus could pop into locked rooms with no problem, Lazarus still had to be untied from his wrappings (John 11:44). Today is to sharpen our appetite for Easter. St. Paul said, “If you were raised with Christ, see what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1). Christians are already participating in eternal life, and we are called to live accordingly. In heaven of course, that life reaches its fullness. That will be good. Very, very good.

Blessings,

Fr Jim

Will We See?

Dear Folks,

I remember the Ray Stevens song “Everything is Beautiful” including the line, “There is none so blind as he who will not see.” We know that we do not have to choose to have blind spots just like we don’t have to plant weeds in our gardens. They’re just there, and we have to recognize them and root them out, or they take over.

I would suggest that one very fertile ground for blind spots is the broader consequences of our choices, and the responsibility we bear for them. I’m thinking about how we deal with Church. Over the years, I’ve heard many people concerned about what is happening (or not happening) in the Church, but many are strongly focused on what other people should be doing about it, often the Pope, the bishops, and the priests. This is a formula for helplessness.

As Batman once said, “I don’t do ‘helpless.’”

If we are willing to look, might we find ways in which the faithful can each play a role in turning the Church around?

Fully conscious, active participation. The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) says, “By way of promoting active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes. And at the proper times all should observe a reverent silence (SC 30).” Some people are ill, or just working their way through mental blocks, and it is all they can do to be present at all. We need to have a lot of compassion for them. However, the more we are able to participate actively, not only are we more fully engaged (we are called to give our entire selves to God), but also the more we bear witness that this is worth our best effort, and that energy can strengthen their faith and their prayer.

Learn about our faith. Lots and lots of Catholics have left the Catholic faith because someone sat down with them, showed them some Bible verses, and explained why Catholicism is “wrong” and “unbiblical.” Scott Hahn, in his younger days, was in the business of leading Catholics away from their faith and said that it was easy, because they knew so little about their faith. How many Catholics stop learning about their faith when they finish eighth grade or get confirmed? What if we stopped learning about all the important aspects of life when we were in eighth grade? How successful would we be in life? Can we see what would happen if it were the rule, not the exception, that Catholics would be life-long learners about their faith, according to their ability? Obviously, while I use the little slivers of time I have at Mass available to slip some teaching in, that will not answer the need by itself.

How are we talking about the Church as a whole, and about our faith community in particular? Are we bringers of good news? If we talk about what is wrong, is it in the context of how we can make things better? If we catch ourselves complaining for the sake of complaining, how might that time and energy be used to make the situation better?

Can we see other ways each person can make a difference in the future flourishing of the Church? As Jesus said, “One sows, and another reaps (John 4:37).” Every seed sown matters. It starts with how we see the situation.

The Pope, the bishops, and the priests are prominent, but they are a small minority within the Church. What people read about and what they see on a screen are not as powerful as personal contact. How the Church is seen, how it is able to attract people, will depend mostly on the Catholic faithful.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Woman at the Well: a Surprise

Dear Folks,

Today, Jesus meets a woman at a well. Brant Pitre’s excellent book “Jesus the Bridegroom” talks about gathering all the people of God to be the bride of the Lamb. The Bible has a couple of powerful images of meeting a bride at a well (Isaac, through a servant, with Rebekah in Genesis 24, Jacob with Rachel in Genesis 29, and Moses with Zipporah in Exodus 2:16:21). Pitre will point out various details in common between these stories and the story of Jesus at the well, which means that a Jewish audience who knew their Torah would instantly make the connection. A man meeting a woman at a well made them think of marriage.

Jesus talks about being the source of living water. We will see again that He will talk about living water in chapter 7 during the feast of tabernacles (the feast of booths): “On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood up and exclaimed ‘Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture says; “Rivers of living water will flow from within him.”’ He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive. There was, of course, no Spirit yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified (John 7:37-39).” According to Gail Yee’s “Jewish Feasts and the Gospel of John”

she talks about the last and greatest day of the feast. “On the seventh day, the priests pass through the Water Gate and encircle the sacred altar seven times with the waters drawn from the pool of Siloam (p.79).” There would be other rituals with water during the feast. It would happen at the time of harvest, which was the beginning of the rainy season (there is no rain in Israel during the summer: rain happens in the winter, so imagine cisterns getting dry). In that context Jesus makes His declaration.

Pitre argues that when Jesus tells the woman at the well about living water, He refers to baptism, seeing how it follows from so much about baptism in Chapter 3 and the beginning of Chapter 4. Baptism gives the Holy Spirit (John 1:32 and 3:5) and the Spirit reminds us of the truth (John 14:26)

Jesus breaks down barriers between people. Jesus is about bringing people together. This woman was a Samarian, and very much an outsider. We don’t know the details of this woman’s story. She has had five husbands and was living a sinful lifestyle with a man with whom she was not married. Was she in her situation because she made some really bad choices, or because she was treated horribly and this was the only way she could find to survive, or maybe a combination of the two? The fact that she is coming to the well at midday suggests other women were shunning her. In Israel, you run errands early in the morning before it gets hot, and at mid-day you work inside. Jesus loves people regardless of their sins, but also takes their sins seriously (nowadays people assume it has to be one or the other). He doesn’t explore the state of her soul, but the basic facts of her situation. The fact that He knew that and didn’t treat her with contempt was probably a new experience for her. He did not berate her, simply told the truth, and she knew what the score was. Nowadays, it has the extra complication that many people, including many practicing Catholics, believe that many sins are not only not sins, but positive goods, and that calling them sins is actually hateful. Still, we are called to lead with love and respect, to trust the power of the Spirit given to us in baptism, and to point to the truth. Jesus offers a more abundant life (John 10:10) and it is for us to point to that life and show it in our behavior.

I suggest getting more and more deeply engaged in the Gospel of John will help us see how His truth all connects and how to point to it with our words and actions.

Blessings

Fr Jim

Loving People Hard to Love Part II

Dear Folks,

We all have a deep need to tell our story, to be heard, to be understood. Much anger, frustration, and resentment come from a feeling of not being heard, not being understood. It is often difficult to make ourselves understood to someone, and what makes the experience much harder is when we get the feeling that the other person isn’t trying. Sometimes the truth is more complex.

Perhaps we underestimate the depth of the chasm between our minds. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Talking to Strangers” he mentions that we tend to underestimate how we can use the same words and gestures and mean different things. Both sides might be trying and failing to connect.

Stephen Covey said, “We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behavior.” Consider what that means, that what we experience ourselves can be very different from how others experience us.

In “The Screwtape Letters” C.S. Lewis portrays the devil Screwtape teaching his nephew Wormwood how to lead a soul into hell: “Keep his mind on the inner life. He thinks his conversion is something inside him and his attention is therefore chiefly turned at present to the states of his own mind—or rather the expurgated version of them which is all you should allow him to see. Encourage this. Keep his mind off the most elementary duties by directing it to the most advanced and spiritual ones. Aggravate that most useful human characteristic, the horror and neglect of the obvious. You must bring him to a condition in which he can practice self examination for an hour without discovering any of those facts about himself which are

perfectly clear to anyone who has ever lived in the same house with him or worked in the same office (Letter 3).” And “Your patient must demand that all his own utterances are to be taken at their face value and judged simply on the actual words, while at the same time judging all his mother’s utterances with the fullest and most over-sensitive interpretation of the tone and the context and the suspected intention. She must be encouraged to do the same to him (Letter 3).” I believe this sort of thing is not uncommon. How do we watch for such behavior in ourselves? I suspect we tend to be very aware of how the other person tries our patience, but we might have no idea how much we try the others’ patience. How can we watch for that?

There may be times, and certainly there are abusive relationships, in which we are innocent, and the other person is quite guilty. We want to be careful about getting to that conclusion too quickly and too easily. When it is such a situation, we still have the challenge of how we are going to deal with the situation. Waiting for the other person to change is not going to get us anywhere. When we must play a game that is rigged against us, we must play it well. In Matthew 16:10, Jesus says, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be as clever as serpents and innocent as doves.” We must be clever as psychological tricks and traps are thrown at us. Though there is a temptation to use the other’s behavior as an excuse to lower the standards of our own behavior, it is essential to strive to be innocent, first because it is right, and second because others might use any lapse on our part as a reason to attack us and make us the villain (never mind they do worse on a regular basis).

This stuff is hard, at least I find it hard. I suggest that if more people took these things into account, we could get along better. Can you think of anything to practice during Lent for more peace in the world?

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

God has Something Better

Dear Folks,

God, whose generosity has no limit, has made us for the fullness of life, the fullness of freedom, and the fullness of joy. The Enemy is always trying to persuade us to accept an inferior substitute, something that usually seems better at first but then betrays us. If we are going to show people that the Gospel is worth accepting, we have to show that what it offers is better than what the world offers. We read in the Scriptures:

“See, I am teaching you the statutes and ordinance as the Lord, my God has commanded me, that you may observe them in the land you are entering to possess. Observe them carefully, for this is your wisdom and discernment in the sight of the peoples, who will hear all of these statutes and say, ‘This great nation is truly a wise and discerning people (Deuteronomy 4:5-6).”

“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:31b-32).” “A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10).”

“But now I am coming to you. I speak this in the word so that they may share my joy completely (John 17:13).”

One of the great triumphs of the Enemy is convincing so many people that Christianity is a matter of accepting a diminished life in order to get a reward from a miserly God. It is for us to show that following Jesus and His teaching leads to a more abundant, more free, more joyful life.

What do people see when they look at us? Do they see people who disagree with each other and still show love and respect, people with a steady and persistent dedication to helping those in need when it is popular and when it is not, people who work harder at fixing themselves than correcting other people, people more interested in developing virtue than in virtue signaling? Do they see us as light to the world (Matthew 5:14)? Would many not be drawn to this? These things are, of course difficult, and so we need to take advantage of all the help God provides for us to grow in holiness.

Some people suggest that we need to downplay or even modify Catholic teaching on sexuality. I say that is a mistake. What if it is one of the most important gifts we have to offer the world now? Daniel Mattson gave a talk on Courage International to a diocesan gathering for priests (We see him in the documentary “Desire of the Everlasting Hills”, and he wrote a very interesting book “Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay”). He started with the provocative question, “Is chastity a part of the good news?” He talked about living a sinful lifestyle and said, “I was as happy as I knew how to be.” Then he gave up his old lifestyle to follow Jesus according to the Catholic faith and learned a new level of happiness. How many Catholics, even those who try to take the faith seriously, consider Catholic teaching on marriage, sexuality, and chastity to be a bitter pill to swallow, rather than a wonderful gift. I suggest that this is because we have not done enough to show the goodness, beauty, and truth of that teaching. We have the better message; the Enemy has outdone us in marketing (Luke 16:8).

Ralph Martin makes the argument, “One of the main reasons for the growth of the early Church was its emphasis on sexual morality rooted in the believers becoming one body, one spirit with Christ Himself. Call it the theology of the body if you will. The difference between the Church and the world on these issues was a prime reason why those pagans of good will could recognize a ‘higher’ way of life that was being lived by Christians in their respect for sexuality, marriage, and family (Church in Crisis, p. 132).” He presents scholars’ statements (with footnotes) to back that up. People (especially women) who were disillusioned with the exploitative sexual practices of ancient Rome were drawn to a more noble vision of how people should conduct themselves.

Now, with so many experiencing the destructive power of pornography addiction, hook-up culture, human objectification, degradation, exploitation (in so many ways) and many other evils, might a nobler vision be welcomed by many people. As Christopher West said, “if you don’t know about the banquet, you wind up eating from the dumpster.” Let us never be ashamed of any aspect of the Gospel (Romans 1:16). If we don’t see it as Good News, it is a shortcoming on our part. We shall never have an occasion to say that God should have done a better job designing it. If we are about anything, we are about inviting people to the banquet. Every aspect of our faith is part of the banquet, and the better we know the menu, the better we can invite people.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim