Preserving Us in Truth

gifts of Holy Spirit

Dear Folks,
Jesus speaks of sending another Advocate. The word is Paraclete, meaning comforter or
advocate.
We find in Matthew 5:4 “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
Looking in the Greek, we find it says that they will be paracleted. However, Bible scholars
say in the text here in John, the meaning is an advocate, one who speaks for another, as a
prophet speaks for God. Jesus, of course, was speaking about the will of the Father (in the
Gospel of John, we see very strongly that Jesus was about doing the will of the Father), and
so He speaks about sending another Advocate who will keep them (and us) on track with
His teaching.
There is a very powerful reason to believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in the Catholic
Church: If you look at our history, it is very clear that there have been times of deep
corruption, terrible leadership, and awful decisions. Reading Karl Adam’s book The Roots
of the Reformation, a short book with a lot of information, we see a very bad situation at the
end of the Middle Ages. If the Holy Spirit weren’t keeping the Church together, the Church
would have shut down centuries ago. It probably wouldn’t even have lasted ten years. In
Acts 5:34-39, a respected rabbi named Gamaliel gives some provocative thoughts along
those lines. Lots of folks tried to start movements, but it’s not that easy to keep them going
for millennia, especially when so many things go wrong.
The fullness of truth about God, and the meaning of what it is to be human, was revealed in
Jesus. We believe it makes no sense that God would give such a gift at one moment in time
and then allow it to be lost by human error and corruption. Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit to
preserve the truth in the Church. Given the messy history, how that is done is not simple.
First, there is arguing, lots of it. We see that in the first century there was a huge dispute
about whether justification (being in right relationship with God) comes from following the
Law of Moses or from faithfulness to Jesus. This was decided in the Council of Jerusalem
(see Acts 15), which laid the pattern for later councils that clarified teaching (think of the
Council of Nicea in 325, which gave us the bulk of the Nicean Creed). The Holy Spirit does
not make things neat and tidy, but keeps us from going off track.
Secondly, doctrine develops over time. The word “Trinity” is not in the Bible. The Canon
of Scripture is not listed in the inspired text in the Bible (the footnotes, table of contents,
and the like are not part of the inspired text). This has led to much confusion, with some
thinking that if it’s not explicit in the Bible it can’t be true and others thinking that we can
change whatever we want when fashion of thought changes. G. K. Chesterton talks about
development in these terms: “when we say that a puppy develops into a dog, we do not
mean that his growth is a gradual compromise with a cat; we mean that he becomes more
doggy and not less. Development is the expansion of all the possibilities and implications of
a doctrine, as there is time to distinguish them and draw them out…(from his book on
Thomas Aquinas).” The Second Vatican council’s Constitution on Divine Revelation puts it
a bit differently: “This tradition which comes from the apostles develops in the Church with
the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the
words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study
made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (cf. Lk. 2:19; 51), through the
intimate understanding of spiritual things they experience, and through the preaching of
those who have received through episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For as the
centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of
divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her (Dei Verbum 8).”
G. K. Chesterton was asked why he became Catholic. His answer was simple: “Because it’s
true.” That’s my reason for remaining Catholic. Others might have different starting points,
but for me, everything else follows from that.
As we await Pentecost, let us ponder the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, in our work,
and in our history.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Rebuilding

rebuilding the temple

Rebuilding

The Israelites had been in exile, slaves in a foreign land, slaves first to the Babylonians and later to the Persians who came to power. Cyrus, king of Persian (no relation to Billy Ray Cyrus) allowed them to come back to Israel and gave them assistance to rebuild their temple, thus healing their acky-breaky hearts (apologies if you have already heard that one more than once).  We can read about it in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.

Although this was good news, they had some big challenges. They had a huge task, not only rebuilding the temple, but much of Israel. This meant not just the buildings, but the connections.  Businesses would try to restart. People would have to plant and hope to get harvest before they ran out of supplies. Not everyone was in agreement about what to do. Not everyone thought they would succeed. Not everyone was equally enthusiastic about rebuilding the temple, and decided they were doing fine without it. The book of Haggai was calling out those who were not getting on board, and he tried to inspire them “Greater will be the glory of this house the latter more than the former – says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give you peace – oracle of the Lord of hosts (Haggai 2:9).” To believe in God is to be a people of hope.

David set up Solomon with a lot of material to work with when he builds the temple (1 Chronicles 22:11-19). Solomon had a very wealthy and successful empire, that gave him the ability to do a lot.  The new temple would not be as magnificent as the temple of Solomon. Some were very sad that it was not like what they remembered from long ago, but others were happy that something good was happening. “Many of the priests, Levites, and heads of ancestral houses, who were old enough to have seen the former house, cried out in sorrow as they watched the foundation of the present house being laid. Many others, however, lifted up their voices in shouts of joy (Ezra 3:12).”

Many had lost a lot. Many had lost everything. Many had died.  Some would be struggling very hard just to survive, and others were doing better. I expect that there were some hard feelings about things that had happened during exile, and not everyone responded the same. There were definitely disagreements about a lot of things.

They moved forward and got things done.

Now, we are talking more and more about opening up and starting to rebuild. What in our community needs to be rebuilt? What in our lives? What should be done differently? There will be so many things. There will be much disagreement about what to do and when and how to do it. There are some hard feelings about things that have happened. Some have lost loved ones. Some have lost their life’s work.  Some are struggling to get bills paid and get enough food for their families.  Some are doing better. We shall need to be aware of the many realities that people are facing. Who will need extra attention?  Who will be able to help a lot?  Who can help only a teeny bit (We remember that in Gospel perspective, those who can only do the tiniest bit, but do it with great love are great in God’s eyes [Luke 21:1-4])?

What we do can lay a foundation for our future, and others can build on it.  When future generations look back on our time, how will they remember what we did?

Living Stones

livingstones

In our Gospel today, Jesus begins His farewell discourse, His last talk to the disciples
before he goes to be crucified. This will take chapters 14-16, and then there will be the
Great Priestly Prayer of chapter 17, in which He consecrates His Church. He starts with
“Do not let your hearts be troubled” and then says something strange. It is so familiar that I
didn’t think until recently how strange it is. When Jesus says, “In my Father’s house there
are many dwelling places…and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again
and take you to myself, so that here I am you also may be (See John 14:1-3).” It leads to the
question, “Prepare how? Does heaven need work? What does He have to prepare?” Of
course, He will be preparing us. There is something else going on. Brant Pitre, in his book,
Jesus the Bridegroom, points out that this is what a bridegroom does. He gets betrothed,
then he goes and prepares a home for them (usually on his father’s estate), and then comes
and takes the bride to live there.
In the Gospel of John, we see John the Baptist introducing Jesus, and he uses two images to
describe Him: the Lamb of God, and the Bridegroom, and there will be subtle references to
these roles throughout the Gospel. John the Evangelist will bring these two together at the
end of the Book of Revelation in the Wedding of the Bride (the Church) and the Lamb.
Between the time when Jesus Ascends into heaven and the time when He comes back to get
us, to bring the relationship to its fullness, we are being prepared. That brings us to our
second reading, where St. Peter talks about us being living stones being built into a spiritual
house. The more familiar image is members of the Church being members of the Body of
Christ (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12 and Ephesians 4), so we can take this opportunity to
linger over St. Peter’s image. “Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but
chosen and precious in the sight of God, and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into
a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God
through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:4-5).”
In the course of doing church work, I’ve learned that some bricks are stronger and more
durable than others, and if you are unfortunate enough to have a church with low quality
bricks they will crumble relatively easily. I do believe that some stones are stronger than
others, and sandstone is not nearly as durable as granite. If we want our Church to be
durable, the first step is to be stronger stones, and that happens by deepening our
relationship with Christ. Any time we want to make a better world, the first step is always
to fall more deeply in love with Jesus. We can get so focused on things that need to be
done around us that we can forget that part, and we can become like sandstone that takes
itself for granite. We also remember that each stone is a small part of the building, so it is
less about us than about the purpose of the building.
This building is not just to sit there, but “offer spiritual sacrifices” and we are called to be a
“holy priesthood.” It is worth looking at this alongside a text from St. Paul: “I urge you
therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy
and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be
transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God,
what is good and pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).” According to our baptismal
priesthood we are called to offer sacrifice. Since there is only one sacrifice, the sacrifice of
Jesus on the cross that occurred once in history but whose power is eternal, our sacrifices
must be a participation in that action. This is done in the sacrifice of the Mass, and in the
sacrifice of our lives, as we give ourselves to service.
We see the call to service in the first reading from Acts 6, and call of the first deacons (the
word “deacon” comes from the Greek word for “servant”). This house becomes more of
what it is meant to be when no one in need is neglected, and when everyone’s gifts are fully
brought to service. Sometimes we do this better than others, but it is what we are always
seeking.
Much to do to prepare for the final celebration.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Getting Things Sheep Shape

shepherd

Dear Folks,
Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and we have cause to feel sheepish.
In John 10, Jesus tells us He is the good shepherd. This chapter is well worth reading
completely. A good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. Some have pointed to this
text and suggested that priests should not be participating in the lockdown, but facing the
danger. It would be a different thing if we were just putting ourselves in danger, but if we
kept visiting people, we could be unknowingly infecting others. That is the truly dangerous
factor, how long we can be asymptomatic and contagious. There can (and will) be a lot of
conversation about where to draw that line, but it is not simple. Let us reflect on shepherds:
We all know Psalm 23, the great psalm about the Lord our shepherd. Reflecting on that
short text can give us a sense of what Jesus was talking about, what He does for us.
Isaiah 40:11 Tells of the shepherd’s tender care for the sheep as an image of God’s tender
care for His people (just what you would expect from Isaiah): “Like a shepherd he feeds his
flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, leading the ewes with
care.”
Isaiah 56:11; Jeremiah 3:15; 23:4; 50:6 talk about bad leaders of the Israelites who were
like bad shepherds, but the big example of that is in Ezekiel 34. It is worth reading in
entirety. If you only look up one of my references besides John 10, this would be the one to
read. In the Office of Readings (of the Liturgy of the Hours) there is a section in the fall
where we go for days with a chunk of this chapter as the first reading, and a message from
St. Augustine developing the concept further. Neither one pulls any punches. It usually
comes up pretty close to when we have the priests’ conference for the diocese (I think God
did that on purpose). It is a challenge for anyone in a leadership position.
One can also read: Luke 15:1-7 Parable of the lost sheep; John 21:15-19 Mandate to Peter:
if you love me, feed my lambs tend my sheep; Acts 20:25-35: St. Paul talking to the priests
of the church of Ephesus.
The image of the Lord as shepherd goes deep in the scriptures, and it is very apt. In ancient
Israel, shepherds were very common, and everyone was familiar with the concept.
Shepherds lead the sheep to food, water and shelter, and protect them from predators. The
sheep, left to themselves would tend to wander off and get in trouble.
We may pride ourselves on our independence and our common sense, but we need help and
we do tend to wander from what is good for us. In our better moments, we all know this to
be true.
In John 10:10, Jesus says, “A thief comes only to steal and laughter and destroy; I came so
that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” Those who seek to lead us into sin
(and that includes the voice of temptation within us) regularly tell us that to obey God is to
accept a diminished life, and sin will give us a fuller life. This is one of the most horrible
lies in the history of lies, and yet, it is so easy to believe. We tend to wander from the very
things that will make us the happiest. Sin leaves us with a life so much less than what it
could be and in the cruelest of prisons. That is what gives us cause to feel sheepish. Jesus
leads us to the fullest, most abundant life. We will see this image taken up again most
powerfully in Revelation 7:9-15.
Jesus said the sheep know the voice of the Good Shepherd, and that He will lead them and
they will find pasture. We can get to know His voice better by reading the Scriptures, by
spending time in His presence (including time spent with the Blessed Sacrament), and by
seeking His face in those in need.
We need a shepherd. Let us take some time to listen to His voice.
Blessings,
Fr Jim

Know by the Fruits

fruitsof the Spirit

We are coming up on Pentecost, one of the three biggest celebrations of our liturgical year.

We are told there is an inheritance waiting for us in heaven, but for now we have been given the Holy Spirit as a “first installment” (Ephesians 1:13-14; 2 Corinthians 5: 1-5). So what does it mean that we have been given the Holy Spirit?

I want to emphasize that the answer must not be primarily about feelings. I have heard many people who talk about “feeling close to God” as their primary test for their practice of the faith. This is dangerous.  I would suggest our Scribe and Pharisee friends in the Gospels got into trouble when they confused feeling holy with being holy. Daniel Mattson in his book Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay shares a lesson his father taught him: “In the planetarium where he worked, I would often sit next to him as he gave presentations to visiting school children.  My favorite part of every program was the moment when he made the star projector spin speedily, round and round, making it feel as if all of us in the auditorium were spinning. The dome of the planetarium filled our vision, and though we knew we were seated firmly in our chairs, it felt as if we were dizzily careening through space. As the gathered children enjoyed the experience, my father would use the moment to teach them about Nicolas Copernicus’ revolutionary discovery that the earth revolves around the sun, not the other way around, as most men had believed throughout history. ‘Feeling are important,’ he would say, ‘but they don’t always tell us the truth.’”

What should we look for as a sign that the Spirit is working in our lives?  It is always a good thing to start with Jesus, who said, “So by their fruits you will know them (Matthew 7:20; see Luke 6:43-46).”

What are the fruits of the Holy Spirit? St. Paul teaches they are “love, joy peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23, and memorizing that list would not be a bad thing).”  If the Holy Spirit is at work in us and if we are cooperating with that work, we should demonstrate an increase in those qualities.  We all fall short, but we can be headed in the right direction.

However, it would be a grievous error to focus our faith life only on our personal development. I suggest that what Jesus said about fruit and harvesting has more to do with gathering people to Him as He has commanded us to do.  If we read the following texts from that lens I think they will make the most sense: “At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is abundant but the laborer are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest (Matthew 9:36-37).’” “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit. He said to them, ‘The harvest in abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves (Luke 10:1-3).’” We see in John 4:35-36 Jesus talks about seeing the fields ripe for the harvest and that “one sows and another reaps.” In John 15: 1-17 He talks about us being branches on the vine and remaining on Him in order to bear fruit that will remain.

Acts of the Apostles has been called “The Gospel of the Holy Spirit.”  We see the work of the Spirit most memorably in the story of Pentecost in Acts 2. The celebration of Pentecost in the Jewish calendar was the feast of first fruits. That will wait for a future article.

Walking with Jesus

Jesus breaking bread

Dear Folks,
Today we look at the story of the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35.
This is a wonderfully rich story, and it is worth taking some time with it.
Two of Jesus’ followers are walking along. One of the great images of the Christian life is a journey. We are not people who have arrived, but are called to be moving forward toward our goal, “the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).” They are talking about their experiences of the weekend. Jesus starts walking along with them, but they don’t recognize Him. This seems common in encounters with the resurrected Jesus, but it is also true for us. Jesus is always with us, but we don’t always recognize Him. He says, “What are you discussing as you walk along?” Jesus is very good at asking the right question. Their response is wonderfully ironic: “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?” This is great, because He is the only one who really does know. The Gospels often do fun things like that. Jesus doesn’t let on. He says, “What things?” He, of course doesn’t ask because He needs to know, but to get them to tell their story. We shall see a lot of this in Luke’s sequel, the Acts of the Apostles. Most Catholics have not had practice in telling their story. If you needed to tell your faith story, what would you say? Then Jesus unpacks the Scriptures for them, and explains what these events really mean. Notice that Jesus asked them to bring forward what they had, but it is He who teaches. This dynamic is familiar. In the accounts of the multiplying of loaves and fishes, Jesus asks the disciples to bring forward what they have, but it is He who feeds. We see this again in a resurrection encounter in John 21:10-13, also with bread and fish. For now, however, Jesus is opening the Scriptures for them. They knew the stories in the Scriptures, but it is only in the light of the risen Jesus that people can see the full significance of what they mean. I would also suggest that the events of our lives can only be fully understood in the light of the story of salvation. Jesus acted like He was going further, but they urged him to stay, showing hospitality. Hospitality is tough during this lockdown, but it is something for Christians to be pondering. “Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels (Hebrews 13:2).” We see them entertaining not only angels but Jesus Himself. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me (Revelation 3:20).” We are not only called to be hospitable to Jesus by welcoming other people, but welcome Jesus directly with our prayer and attentiveness to Him, His teaching and His presence in our lives, and our willingness to examine and change our lives in His Light. Pope Benedict was fond of encouraging people to take the time to let Jesus be “our best friend.”
Breaking of the Bread “And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight (Luke 24:30-31).” The taking, blessing, breaking and giving was, in Jewish practice, how the meal was begun. I haven’t seen any commentary on this, but it seems to me that that action would be the proper function of the host, and Jesus was a guest. When something doesn’t quite fit I want to know why. I suggest this is a larger truth: when we invite Jesus in, He is in charge, He is the Host, and He is the one who feeds. Christians would associate Jesus’ actions with the celebration of the Eucharist, and of course when we gather for the Eucharist, we are not the hosts; Jesus is the host. This would remind us we recognize Jesus in the Eucharist. After He vanishes, they asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures for to us (Luke 24:32).” Once again, we don’t often recognize Jesus at work in our lives until we reflect back afterwards, and then it becomes clear.
Then they shared the story with others and got it confirmed, and they learned they were not alone. We remember the Visitation, in which Mary went to Elizabeth, and her experience was affirmed. This is one of the (many) reasons we need Christian community.
Jesus is still walking with us.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Charitable Discussion

venn diagram

Right now there’s some really important conversation going on, and I am distressed that it is not being done well in many corners. There are three concerns: the spread of the virus, the destruction of the economy, and the deterioration of civil liberties.  They are all huge, and how we navigate the current situation is going to be enormous for human well-being in the future.

We must work together and follow proper procedures to defeat this virus.  It is only with the cooperation and sacrifices of all of us that this can be dealt with.  We remember that our actions impact many other people we cannot see.

Poverty kills. We cannot keep food coming without an economy. We cannot keep our healthcare system going without an economy.  When people bring up the economy, some will accused them of prioritizing money over human lives and being willing to kill people for their greed.  Wait a minute here. Think of how we usually work. Can there be any doubt that if we made all cars so they couldn’t go faster than 25 miles per hour that would save lives? Think of how many terrible accidents would be avoided.  It would inconvenience us and slowly reduce productivity, but it would save lives. Why haven’t people made the same case?  Life does have some risk, and absolute security does not exist on this planet.  We can have the discussion of how we balance the risks and the harms of the decisions involved. We don’t have to rule the discussion off limits.

If we are going to destroy someone’s life’s work, hope and dreams, and reduce them to poverty, they are going to want to ask if the particular rules that do it are necessary for our safety, or if they were just put together arbitrarily. When people think that rules are made that are inconsistent to the point of being capricious, that concern needs to be addressed. When someone says, “You are just being inconvenienced” they are demonstrating a lack of awareness and sensitivity. Some people are being inconvenienced. Some people’s lives are being destroyed.

I’m not a historian, but as I understand it, totalitarian governments often start during a crisis, and, of course take extraordinary steps to deal with it (so far so good).  But then, there continue to be more and more authoritarian decisions that seem less and less necessary to deal with the crisis, but if you question them, you are immediately attacked for being unconcerned about the crisis and the well-being of the nation. It is the nature of human beings that people in power tend to think they should have more power. Our country was founded on limited government with checks and balances to keep this in check, and many countries that did not do this fell into totalitarianism. This was dramatized in George Orwell’s book Animal Farm. If it ever becomes out of bounds to challenge government practices, we are in dangerous territory.

That said, I cannot overemphasize the importance of being responsible when challenging. When people who are protesting details of the lockdown leave their cars and gather close together closely without masks, they are making their opponents’ case for them. When someone says, “If you are afraid you can stay inside, but don’t make everyone else do it.” They are not taking into account that they are affecting more than themselves and risking more than themselves.  They are risking other people they come into contact with. We think of the people who work in grocery stores who can’t control who they come into contact with. We think of the health care workers who have been working long hours and who have not been seeing their families for fear of infecting them.  These are unprecedented times, and strong action is called for, so it would be good to be careful about assuming the worst too easily about our elected officials.

How we deal with this time will have deep and lasting effects on our future. The conversations we have are essential to that.  If we want others to take our concerns seriously, it would help to take their concerns seriously. If we want them to give our motives the benefit of the doubt, it would help to give their motives the benefit of the doubt. May charity rule our hearts.

 

Believing Thomas

believing thomas

We all know the story of Believing Thomas. He didn’t believe until he saw the risen Jesus and touched His wounds.

“Jesus said to him, ‘Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed (John 20:29).’” For years I wondered “Why?” Why is that better?  In days when I was dealing with atheists and wrestling with questions about God’s existence I thought that it would be a lot easier if the risen Jesus would just appear to everyone like He had appeared to Thomas and let is examine His hands and His side. It is certainly not beyond His power.

We see a situation in which John does not see, but believes. He is a model for all of us. “He bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial clothes there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed (John 20:5-8).” It was significant that the cloth for the head was not with the others but rolled up in a separate place, because that suggested this was not the work of grave robbers.  The first thought would be the body had been stolen, but what grave robbers would roll up the cloth and put it aside?  It didn’t add up.  That was enough to convince him, and he believed. This is not the first time the Gospel of John suggests people putting the clues together. “The next day, the crowd that remained across the sea saw that there had only been one boat there, and that Jesus had not gone along with his disciples in the boat, but only his disciples had left (John 6:22).  This made people suspect something was up.  We, of course know that Jesus didn’t need a boat, He just walked.

A very interesting book called The Love Dare by Stephen and Alex Kendrick with Lawrence Kimbrough deals with intentionally building love within a marriage.  It had a section that was eye-opening for me.  “A woman deeply longs for her husband to be thoughtful. It is a key to helping her feel loved. When she speaks, a wise man will listen like a detective to discover the unspoken needs and desires her words imply. If, however, she always has to put the pieces together for him, it steals the opportunity for him to demonstrate that he loves her.”  I had always thought that saying, “If you don’t understand I’m not going to explain it to you” was an exercise in gratuitous cruelty, but this makes sense.  God also calls us to be attentive and thoughtful, to put together the pieces, to “connect the dots,” to discover Him and His will for us. This is not, of course, because He needs us to make Him feel loved (He needs nothing from us), but it is a way we become more engaged and give ourselves more deeply, more completely to Him, which is what we need more than anything else.  Of course, unlike a human spouse, God knows our abilities completely and will never fault us for failing to figure out something that is beyond our ability.  If the risen Jesus were to appear to each one of us and do the “stick your finger in the nail marks” thing, we would not have to engage much of our brains.  We are only complete when we are totally His, and this involves more and more of ourselves responding to the call and seeking. We remember, when we are seeking Him, He has already found us.

In a deep friendship, trust develops, and things are believed without being proven, but with good reason.  There comes a point where we decide it is not absolute, but there is enough reason to believe.  One could always say, “I’m not convinced yet; I need to see more.”  If someone doesn’t want to trust you, there will never be enough to convince them. But imagine being able to take a meter and read the level of friendship someone has for us. That would be less work, wouldn’t it?  But perhaps that is exactly the work that we must do to build friendship.

It also means that we have the ability to decide that no one can be trusted and everyone is out for what they can get and will turn on you the minute it is to their advantage. Then, of course, we will avoid being disappointed, but we shut ourselves out of so much.  We don’t get very far without faith.

When people want proof that does not require them engaging, stressing, taking some risk, then there can never be true friendship.  “The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said, ‘Why does this generation seek a sign? Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.’ Then he lift them, got into the boat again, and went off to the other shore (Mark 8:11-13).’”

Although faith is a gift, it is also a choice. “And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil (John 3:29).”

God calls us to give ourselves to Him deeply, fully, and freely.  This means more effort, but it is eternally worth it. So why did Jesus give this special moment to Thomas? God knows what each one of us needs, and knows it better than we do.  He will give us what we need, but not necessarily what we want.

 

 

Peter Reconciled

peterdoyoulove

Dear Folks,

As we continue to celebrate Easter, we look at the resurrection accounts in the Gospels. This Sunday we look at the Gospel of John, and Jesus appearing to His disciples. As we join the story (John 20:19-31), Peter and the beloved disciple (generally believed to be John) had seen the empty tomb, and the risen Jesus had a very nice chit chat with Mary Magdalen. The disciples are in a locked room, cowering in fear, but He appears to them and says, “Peace be with you.” Clearly, no lock-down can keep Jesus out now.  His greeting of peace is important for several reasons. Since they didn’t do such a hot job on Good Friday, they would naturally wonder if Jesus was going to be mad at them, and perhaps give them a serious smiting.  Jesus is here to bring peace. This seems very much like what He would do, but we need to consider something He had said earlier, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household (Matthew 10:34-36).”  So what are we to make of that?

I would suggest that real peace comes from facing division and healing it, rather than covering it over.  That sometimes means that an absence of visible conflict may just mean that there is a problem, but it is kept hidden and not acknowledged. In the Gospels, refusal to recognize one’s sinfulness is a very serious thing.  We remember at the end of the story of the man born blind: “Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, “Surely, we are not also blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, “We see,” so your sin remains.’ (John 9:40-41).” We also remember the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). The Pharisee did lots of good stuff, but because of that, he didn’t see a need to change, or even acknowledge his sinfulness. The tax collector had probably committed a lot more sins, but recognized his sinfulness and was repenting an on the road to doing better.  He came out justified but the Pharisee did not.  It’s okay to be where we are, but it’s not okay to stay where we are.

Looking at John 21, we see Jesus and Peter having an important conversation. They have had breakfast, and are sitting by a charcoal fire.  This reminds us that on Good Friday, Peter was standing next to a charcoal fire to keep warm when he denied Jesus (John 18:18 and 18:25) We are taught that the sense of smell is the most powerful sense for evoking emotional memories, so imagine Peter, his mind right back there to his moment of failure.  Jesus asks three times, “Do you love me?” and counterpoint to Peter’s threefold denial.  We notice Jesus didn’t need to rub his face in it (“Gee, Peter, remember when you said you would lay down your life for me and I told you…”). Peter knows, and Jesus knows he knows.  Jesus is not looking to prolong the hurt, but to bring reconciliation.  He had to recognize where he was, but didn’t need to spend time wallowing in guilt. He would need that energy for doing the work that Jesus was giving him to do.  That was where his focus needed to be.  A surgeon must cut in order to do good, but tries to cut as little as possible and do the most amount of good.

Jesus brings the gift of peace.  We will not know its fullness until the end of our journey (1Peter 1:3-9), but we can get a taste of it when we encounter Jesus. We all are sinners, and we all suffer from others sins.  We can look from that pain and say, “Jesus, you can make me whole; you can bring me to peace.” We can live in hope for the complete peace of heaven, and strive for peace now. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:9).”

Blessings, joy and peace,

Fr. Jim