Category Archives: Religion

Who then can be Saved?

Dear Folks,
Our Gospel today (John 3:14-21) is cause for rejoicing but also raises some questions.
We rejoice in “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 word might be saved through him (John
3:16:17).” We read elsewhere that God “wills everyone to be saved and come to knowledge
of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).” This is great. God is not simply an objective judge who is
content to send us to hell if we don’t measure up to some arbitrary standards. God wants us to
be saved, wants it very much.
Then things get interesting. “Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever
does not believe has already been condemned, because he does not believe in the name of the
only Son of God (John 3:18).” This is serious. What does that mean? Does it mean that all
who are not explicitly Christian are going to hell? Does it mean that affirming the right
doctrines guarantees me salvation? The Catholic Church would say no.
“And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to
light, because their works were evil (John 3:19).” If, by God’s grace, one chooses light as
best as one can understand it, that may be saving faith. The Second Vatican Council’s
Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) says, “those who have not yet received the
Gospel are related to the People of God in various ways (LG 16).”
“Nor is God remote from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, since he
gives to all men life and breath and all things (cf. Acts 17:25-28), and since the Savior wills
all men to be saved (1Tim 2:4). Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the
Gospel of Christ or his Church but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and
moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their
conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation (LG 16).” We see in 1 Timothy 4:10
that “we have set our hope on the living God, who is the savior of all, especially of those who
believe.”
Make no mistake, anyone who gets to heaven does so by the grace of God through the one
sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. Without Jesus’ sacrifice, none of us would be saved: we
would all be toast (extra crispy). There would be nothing we could do about it, nothing at all.
It is possible to believe in Jesus like I believe that Carson City is the capital of Nevada. I
believe it’s true, but it doesn’t affect my life in any way. That is not faith in the Christian
sense. It is possible to go to church, say all the right things, and still have more faith in sin to
make me happy, that is, prefer darkness to light. On the other hand, if one has been taught
such a bad imitation of the Christian faith that one cannot see the goodness, beauty or truth of
it, one would not be blamed for rejecting that caricature. I suggest that people who believe a
feeble imitation of the Gospel are far more common than most people think.
So, whom should we evangelize? Everyone, with no exception, including ourselves. Our
faith is imperfect, and we can all wander off if we are not attentive. St. Paul said, “I drive my
body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified
(1 Corinthians 9:27).” If he was not smug, how much less should we be? That shows the
seriousness of his warning that “whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to
fall (1 Corinthians 10:12).” We should never despair of anyone, and we should never be
complacent. We may someday find that a small act of sharing light may make all the
difference.
Lent is serious.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Basic Housecleaning for the Soul

Dear Folks,
We never outgrow reviewing the basics. This week we read the Ten Commandments (Exodus
20, see also Deuteronomy 5). Pope Saint John Paul said that the Ten Commandments formed
a foundation, and the Beatitudes were a structure to be built on that foundation, reaching
higher and higher with no limit. To have a sound structure, we must regularly attend to the
foundation.
We begin: “I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of
slavery. You shall not have other gods besides me. You shall not carve idols for yourselves in
the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the
earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them.” The first principle is Who is
God and who is not. We want to be in charge and do things our way. From the beginning,
there has been temptation to do things our way rather than God’s way (see Genesis 3 about the
Fruit Incident, and Genesis 11 about the Tower of Babel). It forbids carving idols, not because
God hates sculpture (He doesn’t: see Exodus 25:17-22; Numbers 21:4-9), but because of the
danger of thinking they could possess God. This goes back to who is in charge. This was a
problem with the Temple as well. There was a sense that God was uniquely located in the
temple (see Psalm 18:7), and some people thought that as long as the temple was in Jerusalem
God would take care of them no matter what they did. Jeremiah said, “Do not put your trust
in these deceptive words ‘The temple of the Lord! The temple of the Lord! The temple of the
Lord!’ (Jeremiah 7:4).” If they didn’t do things God’s way, there would still be
consequences. Imagine thinking that a St. Christopher medal would protect me so I don’t
have to drive carefully: it isn’t going to work.
Do not take the name of the Lord in vain. Nowadays, cancel culture has sometimes raised
language policing to ridiculous levels, but it is true that how we talk matters. Our talk should
always contribute toward reverence for God. Keeping holy the sabbath day means that we
break from the usual routine to focus especially on God. Of course, central to that is
worshipping at the Eucharistic Liturgy. When people need to get tasks done and not doing
them would cause hardship, we remember it is supposed to liberate, not strangulate. Sometimes people must work on Sundays, but still, it is important to find some way to break the
usual pattern so it is not just another day.
Honoring Father and Mother is a particular case of respecting authority. That is part of the
recognition that our understanding and our perspective is limited. It also means putting what
we think and what we want in second place. In our society, that is a radical idea.
Do not kill. This means respecting all life, from conception to natural death. It includes
standing up for the lives of others and helping those who cannot sustain themselves. This also
means respecting each person’s dignity. This is a huge job. Where people are viewed as
objects or commodities, standing up for life is a battle. We have a lot of work to do.
Do not commit adultery. God made marriage, sexuality, and family core to what it is to be
human, and they are sacred beyond words. Revering how God made us is an enormous part
of protecting human dignity. We have a lot of work to do, and it begins with learning more
about theology of the body. You shall not steal. The right to property is a part of human
dignity, and we are called to honor that. You shall not bear false witness against your
neighbor. This would include passing on rumors and memes that are harmful and that we
don’t know are true (but we want them to be because they match our prejudices). Even
recognizing that much would be a great step forward for our society.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife (or husband) and you shall not covet your
neighbor’s stuff, two distinct but related commandments. If it is sinful to do something, it is
also wrong to enjoy fantasizing about doing it. There is a part of our brain that doesn’t
distinguish between fantasy and reality (which is why we are sad when a fictional character
we like dies in a story). It may seem harmless because it is in our heads, but that is the most
crucial territory of all. When we entertain ourselves by fantasy about doing bad things, it
rewires our brains to believe, bit by bit, that it is not so bad, that it is good and friendly, and
then, even if we do not act it out, it means our hearts are less and less in doing what is right.
Much housecleaning to do.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Sheep in the Midst of Wolves

Dear Folks,
“Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd (clever/cunning/
crafty) as serpents and simple (innocent) as doves (Matthew 10:16).” The greater the evil
that we fight, the more important to hold ourselves to a higher standard of behavior. On
Amazon I saw a book called “In Defense of Looting” that apparently suggested that looting
was an effective tactic of protest. (Wasn’t Amazon the group that de-platformed Parler?
But they allow this?) If we say that our tactics are justified because our cause is so right and
just, we want to remember that Everyone’s cause is right and just in their minds, and those
tactics may be used for causes we don’t approve of. Many have pointed to those who
defended the rioting last summer as making it easier for others to believe they should break
into the capital. I highly recommend Ann Garrido’s book “Redeeming Conflict.” Her habit

4 is “Undo the knot of intention.” Good intentions do not guarantee good actions. The

scribes and Pharisees who opposed Jesus certainly thought of themselves as the good guys,
but they lacked self-reflection. They had a mighty lens for seeing any hint of fault in
others, but were blind to their own shortcomings, or dismissed them because they
considered themselves so good.
Of course, the Bible has some helpful stuff. Ephesians 4: 26 “Be angry but do not sin; do
not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil.” James 1:19-20
reminds us to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” and that our wrath “does not
fulfill the righteousness of God.” Matthew 12:36: “You shall be held accountable for every
idle word that you utter.” When we are about to say something or type something, imagine
talking with Jesus on the last day and explaining how this comment is serving the kingdom
and showing His goodness. Jesus was sometimes fierce, but He wasn’t mean for the sake of
being mean, no matter how much someone deserved it. Jesus was very angry in Matthew
23, but he didn’t stay there; he moved to sadness and mourning for Jerusalem. Then He
went to work.
In Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” he says, “In any nonviolent
campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices
are alive, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action.” He knew that their efforts needed
to be based on facts that would stand up to skeptical scrutiny. He did not just grab a few
tidbits of information that seemed to support his narrative. He describes their purification
like this: “We started having workshops on nonviolence and repeatedly asked ourselves the
questions, ‘Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?’ and ‘Are you able to endure
the ordeals of jail?’” This was disciplined and they held themselves to a very high
standard. They showed their power not with physical force but by imitating Jesus.
After the murder of George Floyd, there was a lot of consensus in this country, and a great
moment to have some serious conversation about how to prevent such things in the future.
There could have been serious steps taken so people could be confident that when they
interact with the police their lives would be protected and their dignity respected, as well as
the police being confident that if they do their jobs wrong there will be consequences and if
they do their jobs right their superiors and the community will stand by them. Then there
were riots night after night. The country was divided, and the moment was thrown away.
That may be the greatest tragedy of all.
I think we can heal as a nation. It will take a lot of self-examination. It will take many
deciding to look beyond their anger at what is wrong, to some well thought out strategies
for solving problems. It will require being clever as serpents and innocent as doves.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Jesus has Authority Over Evil

Dear Folks,
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ first miracle is casting out an unclean spirit. He had just been
in the desert facing temptation by Satan, then He started preaching, called the first disciples,
and now this. It was the first blow in a battle that would culminate on the cross. He did not
come merely to fight this evil or that evil, but evil itself. Ultimately, our enemy is not
people who do evil, but evil itself. How much the devil is personally involved and how
much is just human sinfulness is not a question to spend time with (too much interest in the
devil is a bad idea: he is the greatest of all seducers).
There is no doubt there is much evil in our society today, and that we are broken into
factions that are getting farther apart, more hostile and more suspicious of each other as
time grows on. How can we fight this evil? How can we bring healing? How can people
who disagree have constructive and fruitful dialog? I have some thoughts.
Our greatest weapon against evil is our relationship with God (Ephesians 6:10-17). If we
want a better world, the first step is to fall more deeply in love with God.
It is very human to believe that what seems obviously true to me is obvious to everyone
else, if they will only admit it. Until we recognize (and keep reminding ourselves) that
intelligent people of good will can see things differently from us, we cannot have good
dialog, and we will tend to get louder and angrier instead of increasing understanding.
It is easier to see faults in others than in ourselves (Matthew 7:1-5). This is an unconscious
thumb on the scale. If we do not remember that and compensate for it, we will keep talking
past each other. When we call out the faults of people on our side more energetically than
the those on the other side, it will be a great step forward for dialog and healing. Also, we
are not called to judge the state of their souls but call out bad ideas and bad
behaviors. Arguments that support our point of view seem stronger. Arguments against
our point of view seem weaker. This is another unconscious thumb on the scale. We can
have better dialog if we keep it in mind.
It is easy to look back on atrocities committed in the past and say with hindsight we would
not have participated; we would have resisted. Oh really? We have the advantage of
knowing what we know and being raised by and surrounded by people who support our
point of view. How do we know that if that were different, we would not be different? Dr.
Philip Zimbardo was involved in the Stanford Prison Experiment, in which they simulated a
prison setting and observed people’s behavior. Many behaved quite differently from how
they expected. Dr. Zimbardo came to Aquinas College and talked while I was there. I
remember his final comment was that the more people thought they were immune to being
influenced, the more easily they were influenced, and the more concerned they were of
being influenced, the better they could resist. Humility is called for.
I strongly recommend the book “Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save
America From the Culture of Contempt” by Arthur C. Brooks. He reminds us that dialog
with people who disagree with us is a gift. It helps improve our ideas and sharpen our
perspective. I know I have failed many times: I have spent most of my life picking up bad
habits. I suspect I’m not alone. If we work together, we can do great things.
Part 2 Next week.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

The Power of the Word

Dear Folks,
Pope Francis has designated today as Sunday of the Word of God. Until I die, I never want
to miss a chance to encourage people (especially Catholics) to get to know the Bible better.
It is such a wonderful, powerful treasure, and so easily accessible, that we can all reap great
benefits.
I have spent many, many hours reading Marvel comic books, and I enjoyed the movies.
They have constructed a pretty elaborate universe, and there is much to learn about
it. However, there is only so much depth there to explore. A part of me was a bit surprised
people kept making movies after “Endgame.” It’s like, “What more is there to do?” The
Bible has infinite depth, and there will always be more there. The more deeply you go, the
more you discover new riches and the more it beckons you forward. The sayings and
stories speak to the meaning of our lives and can touch us in ways we do not expect. A
thousand lifetimes would not be enough to drink in that richness.
We must remember it is not just about learning information, but about encountering God
personally. When we love someone, we want to be with them as well as learn more about
them. For a deep relationship, we must spend time together. This is a way to spend time
with our Beloved God, so we can grow to love Him more.
Many Catholics (and I suspect some other Christians as well) see the Bible the way people
saw the North American continent before the journey of Lewis and Clark). It need not be
that way. We have more resources now than ever before. Fr. Mike Schmitz is doing “The
Bible in a Year.” He is a great teacher, and I have heard good things about this program
(I’m sure he won’t mind if you start later than January 1). The Great Adventure Bible
Series, also called The Bible Timeline, is a wonderful program. It helps people understand
the plotline of the Bible from creation to the last judgment and how all the stories connect
into one big story of salvation. These are things that can help people go from being like
foreign tourists in the Bible to being at home in the Bible.
The seventh and eighth graders at St. Charles school have memorized the names of all 73
books of the Bible. This makes me very happy. This will help them learn more about the
Bible for the rest of their lives. What we memorize, we always have with us.
I would challenge everyone: never let twenty-four hours go by without you encountering
some Scripture. Some have a study program. Some a prayer schedule. Some read the daily
Mass readings (that will get you a lot of the Bible). If you do not connect to any of those, I
would suggest reading a bit of one of the Gospels every single day. A little bit every day is
better than a big bunch one of these days. If you do that, it will become a part of you, and
Jesus will be more on your mind. Imagine if everyone did that.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Behold the Lamb of God

Dear Folks,
This is Sanctity of Life Sunday.
The biggest life issue now is, of course, the killing of unborn children. This stands out for
three reasons:

  1. The huge number of victims, tens of millions, many times that of any genocide that I
    know of.
  2. It is direct killing of the innocent. That is different in kind from capital punishment,
    from killing in a just war, or from the indirect killing that accompanies many activities
    (driving carelessly is wrong, and has resulted in deaths, but it is not the same as directly
    intending to kill).
  3. Proponents have set apart a group they classify as untermenchen (a term used in
    Germany in the early 20
    th century, it referred to humans they consider lesser, and therefore
    not as entitled to protection). This has been done in the past to Native Americans, to Jews,
    to African Americans, and other groups. It is a tool used for the greatest human atrocities.
    Some have even referred to unborn children as “non-living fetal tissue.” Where is the
    science behind that?
    That said, it is essential that we not neglect other areas where the sanctity of life needs to be
    affirmed. Many see the lives of the elderly, the disabled and the infirm to be of less value,
    and advocate for euthanasia. We must recognize that their lives are precious, and not only
    protect them from being killed, but make sure they are not marginalized or forgotten.
    We have a constant need to care for the hungry, the homeless, and those trapped in
    poverty. There is room to disagree about how, but no room to say that it is not our
    problem.
    We must do something about human trafficking. I don’t know what, but we must do
    something.
    The Catholic Church has long accepted capital punishment as a proper tool of law
    enforcement, but, starting with Pope Saint John Paul II and continuing with Pope Francis,
    there has been a movement away. There is a strong body of thought that suggests it does not
    help deter crime, and with proper incarceration, it would not be necessary to protect
    people. I suggest we can be a better society if we hold precious even the lives of vicious
    murderers. That said, I have a very hard time being patient with those who say it is
    contradictory to oppose abortion and favor capital punishment. How come I never hear
    people saying that if we favor incarcerating criminals, we must therefore favor the
    legalization of kidnapping? Honestly.
    I recently listened to Daniel Goleman’s book Social Intelligence. He speaks of the
    “thingification” of other people, in which they are considered not in terms of their dignity,
    their needs, their thoughts or their feelings, but only how they affect us. They are seen not
    as people, but as things, as objects. Celeste Headlee in her excellent book We Need to Talk:
    How to Have Conversations that Matter, mentions that studies show that empathy is on the
    decline. It is easy to figure that the widespread use of social media rather than personal
    contact makes things worse. The enormous use of pornography has to be a huge factor. I
    see a lot of conversation showing contempt for people who disagree. That can’t help. How
    do we build empathy in our society?
    Final thought: “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could
    do only a little.” -Edmund Burke
    Blessings,
    Fr. Jim

The Baptism Changes Everything

Dear Folks,

Today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. If I understand correctly, the Feast of
Epiphany used to mark the coming of the Magi, the Baptism of the Lord, and the miracle at
Cana, and that marked the end of the Christmas season. It was apparently decided that the
Baptism needed its own feast, and this marks the end of the Christmas season, so tomorrow
we begin good old Ordinary Time.
When Jesus was baptized, He was not, of course, repenting of sin. He was sanctifying
baptism and it will be by the power of His pascal mystery that Christians will be born again
in baptism. It begins His saving work: His life as a manual laborer is over, and now He is
beginning the journey that leads to the Cross. He will refer to His death as a baptism (Mark
10:38; Luke 12:50) (see Catechism of the Catholic Church #536).
John 3:5 says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without
being born of water and Spirit.” The Church has always understood this to refer to baptism.
Baptism has never been treated as a detail, and it is not an option or a matter of
preference. In Jesus’ final commissioning of His disciples at the end of the Gospels of
Matthew and Mark, Jesus’ very concise instructions include baptizing as a core part of the
work (Matthew 28:19 and Mark 16:16).
This leads to a question: what about those who are sincere but were not baptized. What
about children who died before baptism? This led to a theological theory called
limbo. Although the Baltimore catechism taught limbo as if it were a fact, limbo has never
been the official teaching of the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict finally laid it to rest and
said it is not a part of the Catholic faith. We now understand John 3:5 to be a mandate on
us but not a restriction on God. The God we have gotten to know in the New Testament is
not about keeping people out of heaven because of something they couldn’t control of have
not been properly taught. Unfortunately, in the meantime, many Catholics have come to see
getting sacraments as the ultimate end of the faith (sometimes literally the end, when they
drop out after getting confirmed because they are “done”). They have come to see the
practice of the faith as a pale shadow of what it is meant to be. The great danger is of people
being sacramentalized but not evangelized. They have helped convince a lot of other people
that Catholicism is superficial, mechanical and legalistic. Seeing the fruits of this is one of
the most heart-breaking things about being a priest.
How should we look at sacraments? St. Paul sees baptism as something we must live out.
“What then shall we say? Shall we persist in sin that grace may abound? Of course not!
How can we who died to sin yet live in it? Or are you unaware that we who were baptized
into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through
baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the
Father, we might live in newness of life (Romans 6:1-4).”
Our belonging to Jesus is meant to make all the difference. It is as drastic as dying. It is
meant to be the controlling, defining reality in our lives, by which all other things find their
meaning. We hand God our lives and invite Him to do whatever He chooses with us,
holding nothing back. Our faith and our response to God is, of course, imperfect, but if our
faith is real, our goal is nothing less than being completely His. Peter Kreeft’s book Jesus
Shock gets deep into this.
A question for 2021 is, “How are we living our baptism?”
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

From His Family to Us All

Dear Folks,
In these two weeks we celebrate the Holy Family and the Epiphany, and they touch on the
root of God’s whole work. We see a pattern where God makes family, and when it falls
apart, to bring things together.
It begins in Genesis, with the story of Adam and Eve. In this story, God makes Adam and
Eve and calls them to be the beginning of family. Then things fall apart. The story of the
Tower of Babel is a story of God’s people being dispersed and alienated from each other
because they tried to do things their way instead of God’s way. Noah and the ark is a story
about trying again. God picks a family, not a village, not a nation, but a family. From there
comes the new beginning.
God’s plan to gather His people together as one reaches a new phase with the beginning of
the nation of Israel. When God begins the nation of Israel, he starts with a family, the
family of Abram and Sarai (later Abraham and Sarah). From them will come a people from
whom the plan will unfold. Everything is laying the groundwork for the Gospel. The
people of Israel get scattered, and Isaiah prophecies God gathering them together (see, for
example Isaiah 60:4), and also starts talking about the gathering of all the nations (see
Isaiah 2:2-5). The Gospel Story begins with a family: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, the Holy
Family.
The Magi represent the nations, those beyond the nation of Israel, who are called to be part
of God’s people. They were drawn by the star because they were open to goodness, beauty
and truth. (Herod wasn’t.) We the Church, God’s family, are meant to be light to draw the
nations. If we do our job right, those who are open to goodness, beauty and truth will be
drawn to Jesus by our light. In short, we are called to be stars.
Family is key. It is in family we are meant to learn empathy, responsibility, and what it
means to be part of something larger than ourselves. That is where we need to learn to
manage our emotions and be aware of how we affect one another. We are meant to learn
the difference between right and wrong and taught in practice to put our own will in second
place for a greater good. These are the sorts of virtues that enable a civilization to thrive.
Everything I’m hearing and reading says that we as a society are experiencing a decline in
all these things, and an increase in violence. If we want to turn that around, one place to
start, perhaps the place to start, is to strengthen the family.
For several generations in the western world, the understanding of family has diminished
until it is seen as just a lifestyle choice based on personal desires. The current arguments
about what is marriage and what is family are just the latest symptoms. How to begin to
rebuild it? There are three resources that I’ve encountered this year:
“The First Society,” a book by Scott Hahn unpacks what this is about and what it is
not about (for example, it is not about nostalgia for “Leave it to Beaver”).
“Defending Marriage” is a book by Anthony Esolen. His approach is more literary,
and rather than making rock-solid arguments for each of his positions, he weaves
together a vision for us to imbibe, and lets us consider if this speaks to us. He is not
concerned at all with using politically correct language, so let the reader beware.
For those who have access to Formed.org there is a very good one hour talk by Trent Horn
called “How to Talk about Marriage and Same-Sex Unions.” He lays out what would be
the basis of any productive discussion on the issue.
The human project is filled with striving for ideals that we cannot completely fulfill in this
life. If we lose sight of those ideals and we are left to follow our feelings and preferences,
then civilization crumbles. If we strengthen our sense of our highest ideals and strive to live
up to them as best as we can, we will be a light to all who seek.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Getting our Plans Changed

Dear Folks,
We have plans. God has better plans. The message is not to forbid making our plans, but
to be ready for something different without warning.
David wanted to build a temple to the Lord.
We are not told anything in the Bible about what Mary did before the Angel Gabriel came
to her, except that she was a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph of the house of David
and that she was in Nazareth (Luke 1:26-27). We can probably expect she would have had
hopes and dreams for the future. She certainly would not have expected what
happened. She said yes without knowing what was involved but having a good idea it
would not be easy.
Throughout the Bible, we see God calling people, and it generally comes as a surprise.
Whatever plans they had needed to change drastically. Very often, they didn’t think it was a
good idea at first, but responding in obedience, they would go on to greatness.
Look at the call of Abram, later called Abraham (Genesis 12). We know almost nothing
about Abram before he is called. We don’t know what his understanding of God was, or
what he was like as a person, only that he and his wife Sarai had no children (Gen 11). He
is called to go to a place he has never seen. He is promised a land, a people and a
blessing. He packs up and goes, just like that. He will demonstrate heroic faithfulness to
God and be rewarded. It will not, however, be a smooth trip, and he will make mistakes
along the way.
Moses is called to go back to Egypt after escaping from there, running for his life. (Exodus
3 and 4). He doesn’t think it’s a good idea, and he figures he is not the right man for the
job. He doesn’t think Pharaoh has any reason to listen to him (not an unreasonable concern,
although when you are talking to a flaming bush, that sort of reframes your sense of
“reasonable”). The Pharaoh is a difficult customer, but his far greater hardship comes from
the people of Israel, even as he is saving them.
Gideon (Judges 6) is called to lead the fight against Midian, but he thinks he’s the last one
for the job.
David (1 Samuel 16 and 17) is called in stages. He is anointed by Samuel, and then
becomes harpist for King Saul, then armor-bearer. He volunteers against all expectations to
fight Goliath, and then there’s a long story and he becomes king. He will get a lot of
earthly reward, but also a lot of hardship. He will fail God very badly but will come back
from that failure to be a great part of God’s plan.
Isaiah (Isaiah 6) is unusual in the group in that he responds eagerly.
Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1) really doesn’t want the job and doesn’t think he’s ready but
responds. He has a very hard time and suffers much for his faithfulness.
Matthew (Matthew 9:9-13) is one nobody would have expected, but he comes along
readily.
Saul, later called Paul (Acts 9) was even more unlikely than Matthew. He is a mighty force
but going in the wrong direction. He gets knocked to the ground and blinded, but he does a
hundred- and eighty-degree turn.
All of these people find hardship, danger, frustration and hostility in the course of their
work. They have one other thing in common: their sacrifice mattered; it made a
difference. We rejoice gratefully for the gifts they have given to us, the parts they played in
God’s plan.
It is beyond cliché that 2020 has messed up a lot of people’s plans. In the light of this
reflection, can we see ways God has called us? What might He be calling us to do
now? What might He be calling us to learn?
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Two Tasks of a Prophet

Dear Folks,
It has been said that the task of a prophet is “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the
comfortable.” Reading the book of the prophet Isaiah, we see he can start with some fierce
“get your act together” talk, and then switches. Starting around chapter 40, he is talking to a
people in exile who are beaten down and discouraged and telling them wonderful things about
the tender love of God. Isaiah has some of the most beautiful and moving language in the
Bible about the tender love of God, and much of the imagery will be picked up in the New
Testament.
God loves us very much, and in that love calls us to be the best we can be, what we were
created to be, and sometimes that means we need to hear things that are hard to hear.
Some people are alienated from the Church because they received hard sayings when they
needed comfort, and they were beaten down and fell into despair. We can try hard to avoid
that, but it is going to happen sometime.
There are others who are mad at the Church because they needed to hear something hard but
believed they should only receive comfort. Jesus was not shy about saying fierce things when
it was appropriate (see Matthew 5:29-30; Matthew 23; Matthew 25:41-45, John 6, etc.).
Some have drifted away from the Church because they have only received happy messages
and have never been challenged (how long would you keep going to a gym that had
Styrofoam weights that took no effort to lift? It would be more comfortable but wouldn’t
accomplish anything worthwhile). Eventually people decide they have better things to do
with their time.
A pivotal question for all of us, then, would be: How ready are we to hear and respond to hard
sayings? This question is trickier than it sounds.
Some people want more “fire and brimstone,” but are quite sure that it should all be directed
to other people. Some people spend a lot of time talking about what terrible people they are,
but if you point out a specific behavior that perhaps they should examine and change, they get
very defensive.
M. Scott Peck in his book “The Road Less Traveled” talked about some people who were
neurotic and believed that everything was their fault, and some people with a character
disorder who believed that nothing was their fault. There will always be people who tell us
we are wrong, and there will always be people who tell us we are right. If we are too afraid to
stand by our beliefs and decisions we will be paralyzed, and if we are too certain we are right,
we will never learn anything new. Discernment and balance is needed. If, when we were
younger, we received harsh and unproductive criticism, we will find it extremely painful to
learn that we are wrong, and the temptation will be strong to rationalize our position and reject
any negative feedback. If learning we are wrong is not an occasion for great agony, but
opportunity to learn and grow, we can be much more open. Jesus was very patient and gentle
with those who were willing to look at themselves honestly and change their ways, no matter
how bad their sins had been. His anger was for those who were sure they didn’t need to
change, but only other people.
How is God calling us to learn from our current situation? How is God calling us to respond?
Blessings,
Fr. Jim