Conversion

I'm coining a new phrase - Personal Mercy Warrior ("PMW").  I came up with it to juxtapose another phrase most of us today are all too familiar with - Social Justice Warrior ("SJW").  I think I'd rather be a PMW than a SJW.  Let me explain.

SJW's are all the rage these days (no pun intended).  Turn on the TV or log on to the internet for five minutes, and you'll see countless stories about protests, marches, and speeches against various societal inequalities in the areas of sex/gender, race, economics, etc. Many of these SJW's devote their entire existence to correcting these inequalities solely through group identity and macro, governmental solutions.  From their media-built pulpits, they scream about how men are oppressing women, whites are oppressing people of color, and the rich are oppressing the poor. "Justice," the SJW's say, demands radical change and action!.

One thing you rarely hear at a SJW rally, however, is any serious discussion of mercy.  That is a shame, because justice and mercy cannot exist without one another.  They are two sides of a coin.  Without mercy, justice becomes tyrannical. Without justice, mercy becomes mushy, sentimental and, in the end, incomprehensible.  For many SJW's, however, mercy has been subsumed within--even swallowed up--by justice.

I've been thinking and praying a lot about God's mercy lately. The depths of God's mercy are unfathomable.  When you boil it down, the entirety of Sacred Scripture (both the Old and New Testaments) is really just one long distillation of God's mercy towards us.  As part of that exercise, I've been reading St. Pope John Paul II's 1980 Encyclical Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy).  It is a beautiful exploration of God's Mercy and how both the Church and each individual can manifest that mercy in the world.  I think it is safe to say that when he wrote the encyclical in 1980, the future Saint had never heard the term "social justice warrior."  But you would never know that from reading the document.  Like most Saints' writings, Pope John Paul II's thoughts here are timeless and prophetic.  Several passages address the interplay between justice and mercy, at times as if he was writing directly to the modern SJW crowd.

First, the Saint recognizes that justice, in and of itself, cannot bring about meaningful change in the world:

The experience of the past and of our own time demonstrates that justice alone is not enough, that it can lead to the negation and destruction of itself, if the deeper power, which is love, is not allowed to shape human life in its various dimensions."

Shortly thereafter, he explains how modern "human opinions" misunderstand mercy in both idea and practice, therefore leading to the exclusive focus on justice:

These [human] opinions see mercy as a unilateral act or process, presupposing and maintaining a certain distance between the one practicing mercy and the one benefitting from it, between the one who does good and the one who receives it.  Hence the attempt to free interpersonal and social relationships from mercy and to base them solely on justice.

I have no doubt that today some SJW's see their efforts as a work of mercy.  And, to be sure, helping those that are oppressed can be a great act of mercy.  But by focusing on group identity and large-scale, government solutions--to the exclusion of the individual--it becomes all too easy, as John Paul II says, to maintain "a certain distance between the one practicing mercy and the one benefitting from it."  No matter how much I may identify or sympathize with a victim group, I can truly love only a person. I can only show mercy to an individual.  Yet, "true mercy is, so to speak, the most profound source of justice." Building on that, the Saint then goes on to discuss what many SJW's today fail to understand:

Mercy that is truly Christian is also, in a certain sense, the most perfect incarnation of 'equality' between people, and therefore also the most perfect incarnation of justice as well . . . However, the equality brought by justice is limited to the realm of objective and extrinsic goods, while love and mercy bring it about that people meet one another.

Equality!  Now there's something we can all get on board with (SJW's especially). But, as John Paul II explains, the pure justice practiced so often today limits equality to "objective and extrinsic goods."  Again, only mercy and love allow us to meet another person face to face--to see the image and likeness of God within, and treat the person with the dignity flowing from that.  The Saint then concludes:

Thus, mercy becomes an indispensable element for shaping mutual relationships between people, in a spirit of deepest respect for what is human, and in a spirit of mutual brotherhood.  It is impossible to establish this bond between people if they wish to regulate their mutual relationships solely according to the measure of justice.

To be clear, I'm not saying that certain inequalities and victims thereof do not exist. Nor am I saying that the idea of "social justice" (at least as understood and developed within the Social Doctrine of the Church) is not a necessary and often useful endeavor. What I am saying though, and truly believe, is that only through showing mercy and love to the individual, rather than seeking solely justice for a group, can we bring real change to our fallen world.  Of course, St. John Paul II expresses this better than I can:

Society can become ever more human only if we introduce into the many-sided setting of interpersonal and social relationships, not merely justice, but also that 'merciful love' which constitutes the messianic message of the Gospel.

So, through the inspiration and intercession of St. Pope John Paul II, let us be PMW's instead of SJW's, especially during this time of Lent.  May we personally (P) seek out the downtrodden and less fortunate in our midst instead of simply decrying social wrongs.  May we show mercy (M) to each individual we encounter instead of demanding merely justice for a group.  And may we be warriors (W) for this personal mercy, fighting to win souls for Christ, rather than faux warriors for bumper sticker justice.

"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."  (Matt. 5:7)

Saint Pope John Paul the Great, pray for us!

God love you.

(Pictured above, Image of Divine Mercy from St. Faustina Kowalska, painted by Eugene Kazimierowski)

Luke 23:34

His arms outstretched on the wooden beam;

The Father's will to see it through.

In the soldiers' eyes an evil gleam,

Driving the nails into his hands - one, then two.

__________________

No sooner the third nail pierced his feet,

Then lifted up towards the sky.

The malice of man He did there meet,

But forgiveness was his cry.

______________________

"They know not what they do," He said,

As taunts and curses increased.

Though most of the crowd wished him dead,

He showed mercy to the least.

________________________

A model of love He gave that day

to all men on the earth.

Forgivness and hope - a better way,

Abundant life; full of mirth.

_______________________

Too little we hear His cry today

in this age of blame and scorn.

"Remove that speck!" is easier to say

Than confronting the evil I've born.

_________________________

Though I cannot read another's heart,

My own faults I know deep within.

So I'll echo His cry and seek a new start;

"Forgive me Father, for I have sinned."

God love you.

Chaos seems to reign

Life nothing but pain

Existence without meaning

Happiness always fleeting

No hope or point at all

Eat and drink today, then wait for death to call.

__________

Order created by gift

A universe He did uplift 

Made man in His image and likeness

So that all might return to His highness 

Reason and intellect instilled

But the greatest gift was free will.

__________

Pride, anger, lust and envy

All the evil deep within me

Demons call with tempting lies:

"He doesn't love you, why even try?"

"Don't let Him rule you with an iron rod

Give into your passions; be your own god."

__________

But from a land called Galilee

Came the Son born to hang on a tree

To repair the rupture caused by sin

Reconciling the Father to all men

Gave His body and blood to pay an infinite debt

The victory is won; the table set.

__________

Still the darkness remains deep within our hearts

Since the Garden of Eden, the devil plays his part

A sickness in the soul; gains met with loss

Symptoms always worsen when eyes are off the Cross

The cares of this world blot out the rays of light

Many turn their backs; lose the will to fight.

__________

So "come to me" He says, "and I will give you rest"

"Pick up your cross and follow me towards that rocky crest"

"I cannot promise you leisure, or a life absent pain"

"But the suffering I endured merits your eternal gain"

"Have no fear my child, I'm present here and now"

"Upon the altar; a tiny Host; My love cannot be bound."

 

 

God love you.

 

 

 

The names of the twelve apostles are these: first Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.  (Matthew 10:2-4)

Tomorrow begins the Holy Triduum with the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper.  Certainly, our focus remains on the Lord and his institution of the Eucharist, the Mass, and Holy Orders.  But let us not forget those twelve men who sat down with Him that night to eat the Passover.  Over the past three years, they had seen the blind given sight, the lame made to walk, even the dead rise again.  Some had seen Jesus transfigured in glory.  All had seen him walk on water.  Most, if not all, from the very first moment they saw Jesus and heard his voice, gave up everything they had known in order to follow Him.  Yet despite all they had seen and experienced as the closest friends of the Christ, they still were not prepared for the horrific events to begin later that night when one of their own would betray their Master.

And, in some respects, that does not surprise us.  For while the Gospels give us more information and about some apostles and much less, if anything, about others, we see how, collectively, they often failed to understand everything Jesus was telling and teaching them.  In this regard, it can be easy for us to view them through a critical lens, wanting to hold them to a somewhat higher standard than ourselves because they walked and talked with our Lord--in the flesh--every day.  But doing so forgets that these were ordinary human beings like you and me.  More importantly, it overlooks that they were sinners in need of a savior, just like us.

In fact, if we look closely, I think we can see ourselves in them--through their very own words.  I choose here Peter, the impetuous "leader" of the apostles (always named first in the Gospels) upon whom Jesus founded His Church and gave the keys of the Kingdom; Thomas, often called "doubting"; and John, the disciple whom Jesus loved" and author of the fourth Gospel.  For the purpose of this exercise, certainly other apostles could be chosen, but the Gospels put more words on the lips of these three (together with more information about them) than most others.

So, as we prepare for the Triduum and the glorious coming of Easter, let us put the words of these three apostles into own mouths and place their actions into our own lives.  Perhaps we are not so very different from them after all:

  • Have you ever cried out, like Peter, "Lord, save me!" as you began to sink in the tumultuous waters of this life, asking Jesus to reach out catch you after you tried walking out toward Him?   (Matthew 14:28-32)
  • Or maybe, during times of stress and confusion in your life, you've said to Jesus "Lord, [I] do not know where you are going; how can [I] know the way?"  (John 14:5-7)
  • Nevertheless, during times of great spiritual consolation, or simply after Jesus is made present on the altar during Mass, you've no doubt cried out like John, "It is the Lord!" (John 21:7)
  • And during those mountaintop moments, I bet, like Peter, you've said "Lord, it is well that we are here," wanting to pitch your tent on that mountain and stay there with Jesus forever.  (Matthew 17:4)  During those times, you confidently declare with Peter, "I will never fall away." (Matthew 26:33)
  • But such highs sometimes seem all too brief, and in darker moments of despair, perhaps related to the death of a loved one, maybe you've said, like Thomas, "let us go also, that we may die with him."  (John 11:16)
  • Or instead of humbly asking for God's will to be done, have you demanded of Jesus, like John (and his brother James), "Teacher, [I] want you to do for [me] whatever [I] ask of you," seeking some type of material comfort, power or prestige?  (Mark 10:35-37)
  • Perhaps, during severe times of doubt and testing, you longed for--if not demanded--physical proof of faith in Christ, saying, like Thomas, "unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe."  (John 20:25)
  • Or, even worse, in order to avoid the ridicule of others, or just to get along with the world, maybe you've denied Jesus in words or actions, saying multiple times like Peter "I do not know the man!" (Matthew 26:72-74)
  • But, also like Peter, you know of our Lord's unfathomable mercy, and after weeping bitterly over your sins, you've approached the great sacrament of reconciliation, saying with Peter "I am a sinful man, O Lord" (Luke 5:8); wash "not my feet only, but also my hands and my head."  (John 13:9)
  • And then, washed clean by the blood of Christ, you see things anew, and cry out with Thomas "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28-29)
  • Restored to a state of grace, you've no doubt stood beneath the Cross on Good Friday like John, your arms wrapped around the Blessed Virgin Mary, taking her into the home of your heart, as you hear Jesus exclaim "Behold, your mother!"  (John 19:27)
  • And having seen Christ's love poured out on the Cross, you say Him, like Peter, over and over again, Lord, "you know that I love you."  (John 21:15-17)
  • Finally, when all is said and done, when you've come to that realization that nothing in this world can fill that hole in your heart, you've fallen on your knees and said "Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God!"  (John 6:68-69)

Yes, I think there's some Peter, Thomas and John in all of us.  At least I know there is in me.

Saints Peter, Thomas and John, pray for us!

God love you.

We all experience darkness at some point in our lives.  But what comes after that darkness--how we choose to respond to it--usually determines the course of our earthly lives and beyond.  Just as God gives us small foretastes of heaven from time to time in order to remind us that this world is not our true home, so He allows us to suffer desolation when we separate ourselves from him through sin: the darkness of Hell.

I've been reading the book of Exodus as part of my Lenten journey this year.  As is often the case with Sacred Scripture, the typology, symbolism and foreshadowing of Christ and the New Covenant contained within the Exodus story has been truly eye-opening.  Christ as the new Moses, the slavery of the Israelites v. the slavery of sin, and the parting of the Red Sea as a type of Baptism are just a few examples that come to mind.  Yet one short passage in Chapter 10 has spoken to me more than any other so far: the plague of darkness.  Recall that God--working through Moses and Aaron--had sent eight plagues upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians--none of which had yet convinced Pharaoh to release the Israelites from slavery.  Pharaoh's heart remained hardened.  For the ninth plague, "the Lord said to Moses, 'Stretch our your hand toward heaven that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.'"  (Exodus 10:21)  Then "there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days; they did not see one another, nor did any rise from his place for three days."  (10:22-23)

A darkness to be felt - the words literally jumped off the page at me the first time I read them.  As I prayed and meditated on the passage, it struck me how well these words described all those times in my life when I've been away from God.  I can vividly recall occasions where this "thick darkness" consumed me; a darkness felt in the very depths of the soul.  Even more, this darkness can be so pervasive that it causes us to lose sight of God and prevents us from seeing the needs of others in our life.  It can be so all-consuming that we lose the desire and ability to "rise from [our] place," pick up our cross, and follow Christ once more.

Yet even in the darkness, God never abandons us.  Because His light--the light of Christ--"shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."  (John 1:5) No matter how thick the darkness may be or how deeply it is felt, the Light will always break through if we but open our eyes a little to see it.  The Light may seem distant; the rays may be tiny at first.  But inevitably, at some point, God opens the curtains to the darkened intellect of our minds, calling us to Himself,  reminding us of His love, mercy and forgiveness.

Of course, how we choose to respond to the darkness--and the eventual cracks of Light--remains totally up to us.  Although the plague of darkness initially caused Pharaoh to relent and let the Israelites go, he quickly changed his mind; his heart hardening when he learned that the Lord also demanded that he let the Israelites take their "flocks and herds" with them.  (Exodus 10:24-28)  "Get away from me," he said to Moses (10:28), but really he was saying this to God.  For as miserable as the darkness was, Pharaoh preferred it over the will of God.  "[T]he light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light."  (John 3:19-20)  And so it is with  us sometimes.  Perhaps we've lived in darkness so long that our eyes have become used to it, fooling us into to believing that we can actually see reality.  In that condition, the Light is a shock to the senses, and--like coming out of a darkened theater into the sunlight--we cover our eyes and curse the illumination.  Or, sometimes, as appealing as the Light may be initially, there is something we are unwilling to give up--the "flocks and herds" representing the pet sins in our lives that the Evil One has convinced us we cannot live without.  So we retreat back into the familiarity and false comfort of the darkness.

It does not have to be so.  Jesus tell us: "I am the light o the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."  (John 8:12) As much as we yearn for this light of life--for deliverance from the darkness--Jesus desires to give it to us even more.  And no matter how many times we turn him away, shutting our eyes to the Light and returning to the darkness, he will never stop seeking to shine His Light upon us.  The painting above illustrates this truth as well as anything I've ever seen.  It sits on my desk at work, and sometimes I feel like I could gaze upon it for hours.  Notice how Jesus appears to be in a darkened forest (or perhaps a garden) as he approaches a wooden door, carrying the Light he seeks to give all men.  The door has not been opened for some time, evidenced by the growth of brush and brambles over and about it.  Gently, he knocks on the door.  "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him . . ."  (Revelation 3:20) "Open the door or your heart to me," He says, "you have been in darkness long enough.  Don't you realize that I too suffered the darkness when I walked this earth?"  Indeed, though He was without sin, Jesus experienced the agony of the effects it, taking on the sins (past, present and future) of the entire world into his very being--a darkness felt so much that he sweated drops of blood.  (Luke 22:44) We have a Savior who knows what true darkness is; a Savior who conquered that same darkness of sin and death the Cross.

St. Augustine wrote: "[O]nce a man cries out from the depths, he rises because his very cry will not suffer him to be at the bottom for long."  So as we approach the end of Lent and the start of Holy Week, let us cry out to God and allow Him to raise us out of the depths of darkness.  For He intended from the beginning of creation for us all to be "sons of light and sons of day . . . not of the night or of darkness."  (1 Thessalonians 5:5)  And then, on that glorious Easter morning, may we all bathe anew in the Light of His Resurrection.

God love you.

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Readings for Wednesday of the Fourth Week in Advent: Song of Solomon 2:8-14; Psalms 33; Luke 1:39-45

"Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage." Psalms 33:12

Out of all the peoples and nations on earth, God chose Israel through whom he would reveal Himself and begin the arc of salvation history.  Yet, as we read in the Old Testament, time and time again--and despite the wondrous things He had done for them--the Israelites turned their back on God and lost their way. Still, God remained faithful to his promises, always welcoming them back with mercy and compassion, blessing the nation He had chosen.

Our nation is in great need of blessing today.  Like the Israelites of old, this country has turned its back on God and lost its way in so many respects.  Sin, hatred and division seem to rule the day.  But it wasn't so different a little over two thousand years ago.  Despite everything Israel had done wrong over the centuries, God still brought forth his Son not only to redeem Israel, but the entire human race.  That hope and chance for redemption remains today for this nation and every single one of us.  As Advent winds down, pray that God will bless our nation, and that as a whole, we will return to Him, falling down on our knees to worship the King of Kings.

God love you.

 

 

Readings for Tuesday of the Fourth Week in Advent: Isaiah 7:10-14; Psalm 24; Luke 1:26-38

"And the angel departed from her."  Luke 1:38

Today we once again hear the Annunciation as recounted in St. Luke's gospel.  It strikes me how abruptly the story ends.  Mary proclaims her fiat--be it done to me according to your word--and then, almost as soon as he appeared, the angel Gabriel is gone.  He doesn't tell her exactly what's going to happen next, or even when she will conceive.  He doesn't leave Mary with any instructions.  Having just been told the best news ever given to humanity, Mary is left to wonder, "What next?  Now what do I do?"

And so it is with us, when we say "yes" to God, when we agree to pick up our cross and follow Him, we wonder, "What next?  What exactly am I supposed do to now?"  Fortunately, as she always does, Mary provides us the answer.  For we know that no matter what else Mary did after Gabriel's visit, she remained patiently obedient to God.  More specifically, she remained obedient through prayer and the following of God's commandments.  So, as the birth of our Lord gets ever closer, let us imitate Mary's obedience through prayer, love of God, and love of neighbor.  Like He did for Mary, Jesus will take care of everything else.

God love you.

 

Readings for Monday of the Fourth Week in Advent: Judges 13: 2-7, 24-25; Psalm 71; Luke 1:5-25

"And when he came out, he could not speak to them, and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple; and he made signs to them and remained mute."  Luke 1:22

In today's Gospel reading, St. Luke introduces us the Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, and recounts how the angel Gabriel came to him in the temple and pre-announced John's birth. But Zechariah did not believe the angel's words, and therefore was struck mute until John's birth. (Luke 1:18-20)  After he emerged from the temple, all Zechariah could do was make signs to the people to try to explain what he had just seen.

I can relate to Zechariah.  Too often, I feel mute and unable to speak about God to others.  Sometimes I feel like nothing I could say will truly do Him justice or fully explain what it means to be a disciple of Christ.  But like Zechariah, it is those times when our "signs" or actions can speak louder than words.  For often, we can "proclaim [His] wondrous deeds" (Psalm 71:17) through how we treat others more effectively than through forms of evangelization.  Ultimately, charity wins more hearts to Christ than persuasive theological arguments.  So if you find yourself mute these final days of Advent, show others the love of Christ through your signs.

God love you.

 

Readings for Friday of the Third Week in Advent: Isaiah 56:1-2, 6-8; Psalm 67; John 5:33-36

"Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed."  Isaiah 56:1

The closer it gets to Christmas, the more hectic our lives seem to be.  Shopping, parties, kids getting out of school, traveling, making plans for the Christmas day meal, etc.  It's constant go, go, go and do, do, do.  This would seem to conflict with the idea of patiently waiting during Advent--a time to slow down and prayerfully reflect and prepare ourselves for His coming.  Although we certainly should seek that inner disposition of peace during Advent, the words from Isaiah in today's first reading remind us that, in fact, Advent is also an active time of waiting.  A time to "do" something.  Not merely mindless activity or what the world tells us to do, but doing righteousness--those things that lead us into a deeper, more intimate union with God.  Opportunities for righteousness are all around us.  There are nine more "shopping days" until His "salvation comes . . . and [His] deliverance revealed."  Let's turn them into righteousness days.

God love you.

Readings for Tuesday of the Third Week in Advent: Zephaniah 3:1-2, 9-13; Psalm 34; Matthew 21:28-32

"And he answered, 'I will not'; but afterward he repented and went."  Matthew 21:29

"I will not!"  How many times we say that to God throughout our lives.  As C.S. Lewis wrote, ultimately, each person lives his or her life based on one of two mottos, either "Thy will be done," or "my will be done."  Thankfully, as Jesus reminds us in today's Gospel reading, even when we say "my will be done," there is always the opportunity to change our minds, repent, and do the will of the Father.  That is why Jesus taught is to pray "Thy will be done" in the Our Father prayer.  It is a daily decision to pick up our cross and follow Him, and praying "Thy will be done" as often as possible helps give us the grace to say "yes" to Him.  "This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles."  (Psalms 24:6)  Continue to cry out to the Lord for the grace to do His will.  His plans for us are better than anything we could ever imagine.

God love you.