Spiritual Growth

th-10

This is the eighth and final part  in a series of short reflections on the eight general attributes of God that can known by reason, as set forth by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica.  I've been learning about St. Thomas and the Summa from Dr. Taylor Marshall and the online classes he offers at the New Saint Thomas Institute.  These reflections are the result of my meditations on each individual attribute during prayer.  As such, they are not meant to be deep theological discussions, but simple spiritual thoughts on the majesty of our God .  I pray you find them beneficial in your walk with Christ.

___________________________________________________________________________

"This I command you: love one another." (John 15:17)

"God is One." Thus, unity is the eighth attribute of God. As St. Thomas explains, God's unity--His oneness--is evident from His simplicity and infinite perfection. Moreover, quoting St. Bernard of Clairvuax, St. Thomas tells us that "among all things called one, the unity of the Divine Trinity holds the first place." (Summa Theologica, Prima Pars, q. 11, art. 4) In other words, the unity of love among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit reveals God's oneness above all else. "The highest exemplar and source of this mystery is the unity, in the Trinity of Persons, of one God, the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit." (CCC ¶ 813)

th-15

We share and participate in the Triune God's unity of love by following the two commandments Jesus gave us: 1. Loving God; and 2. Loving our neighbor as ourselves. (Matthew 22:36 - 40) One doesn't have to look around very long to realize that there isn't a whole lotta love in today's world. Perhaps that is why, for me at least, practicing the second commandment can be so difficult sometimes. But as Christians, our primary job in many respects is to bring forth the love of Christ into a fallen and loveless world. Indeed, as Jesus tells us, "[t]his is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35) It was this other-wordly, agape love that the pagans noticed when the early Christian's were being martyred for their faith: "See [ ] how they love one another . . . how they are ready even to die for one another." (Tertullian’s Apology, Chapter XXXIX.) When we, as Christians, fail to love one another, we make ourselves indistinguishable and no different from the world at large.

In His prayer to the Father just before entering into His Passion, Jesus expresses his utmost desire for all those who believe in Him to be united in love:

"And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me." (John 17:22 - 23)

Let that sink in for a moment. We must love one another, not only to identify ourselves as Christians, but also so the world will know that God the Father sent Jesus the Son to die for us. By loving one another, we show God's love for all. As St. Thomas states in his commentary on this passage, "nothing shows the truth of the gospel better than the charity of those who believe." As such, "we must try to live holier lives according to the Gospel; for it is the unfaithfulness of the members to Christ's gift which causes divisions." (CCC ¶ 821) Pretty high stakes.

I've been praying a lot lately asking God to give me a greater love of neighbor and to fill me with His supernatural love in order to do the same. During this time, I came across this quote of Father Basil Maturin from his book Christian Self-Mastery:

"The more we love God, the more we shall love man; the less we love God, the less we shall, in the true sense of the word, love man."

Simple enough. More love for God = more love for neighbor. But I needed something more practical and concrete. Leave it to C.S. Lewis to come to the rescue. In Mere Christianity, Lewis offers two practical pieces of advice I will leave you with. First, with respect to loving God, he says:

"Do not sit trying to manufacture feelings. Ask yourself, 'If I were sure I loved God, what would I do?' When you have found the answer, go and do it."

Then, with respect to love of neighbor, he explains:

"Do not waste time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him."

During this Holy Week, opportunities abound to do something for love of God and love of neighbor. By doing so, Jesus will infuse us with His "joy" so that our "joy may be complete." (John 15:11) And who know, maybe you will hear someone say, "See how they love one another."

God love you.

 

th-10

This is the seventh in a series of short reflections on the eight general attributes of God that can known by reason, as set forth by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica.  I've been learning about St. Thomas and the Summa from Dr. Taylor Marshall and the online classes he offers at the New Saint Thomas Institute.  These reflections are the result of my meditations on each individual attribute during prayer.  As such, they are not meant to be deep theological discussions, but simple spiritual thoughts on the majesty of our God .  I pray you find them beneficial in your walk with Christ.

___________________________________________________________________________

"And this is Eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent."  (John 17:3)

If God is infinite and immutable, it follows naturally that He also must be eternal.  This is the seventh attribute of God according to St. Thomas.  To be eternal means that God has no beginning and no end.  He cannot be measured by time.  Thus, St. Thomas says that "eternity is nothing else but God himself."  (Summa Theologica, I, q. 10, art. 2).  Moreover, this eternal nature applies to each of the three persons of the Trinity, not just God the Father.  "The Father is eternal, the Son is eternal, the Holy Ghost is eternal."  (Id. (quoting St. Athanasius)).

Like all of His attributes, God's eternal nature may seem at first like an abstract concept with little implication in our daily lives.  To the contrary, however, God created us to share in His eternal nature and His eternal life.  Perhaps the most quoted passage in the Gospels speaks to this truth: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life."  (John 3:16)  As created beings, we are not eternal in the same way as God, for we have a beginning.  But He did create us to have no end--life everlasting.  In other words, although each of us physically will die one day, our souls will live forever.  "Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day."  (2 Corinthians 4:16)  The only question then is where we will spend eternity.  As C.S. Lewis explains in Mere Christianity, this reality has some sobering ramifications:

"Christianity asserts that every individual human being is going to live for ever and this must be either true or false.  Now there are a good many things which would not be worth bothering about if I were going to live only seventy years, but which I had better bother about very seriously if I am going to live for ever."

As the Catechism explains, this means that "it is incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny." (CCC ¶ 1036)  Freedom is the key word.  We freely choose where we will spend eternity: either with Him in heaven or separated from Him in hell.  For "God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end."  (CCC ¶ 1037)  Again, it is our choice--those small (and sometimes big) decisions we make every day to either grow in holiness or turn away from it.

"The human will cannot be assaulted from without; it can only be betrayed from within, by a free decision which, multiplied, forges the chain of habit." (Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen)

Jesus affirmed this truth when he told the Pharisees: "My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me . . . No one can take them out of my hand."  (John 10:27-28)  Only we can take ourselves out of Christ's hands through unrepentant sin.  St. Augustine says that "as Christians, our task is to make daily progress towards God."  There is no such thing as standing still on the ladder of the spiritual life.  We are either climbing up toward eternal life with Him or descending downward to the everlasting abyss.

th-14

Holy Week is quickly approaching.  During these last weeks of Lent, let us walk with our Lord to Jerusalem so as to progress toward the victory of eternal life He won for us on Good Friday.  "The world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever." (1 John 2:15-17)

God love you.

th-10

This is the sixth in a series of short reflections on the eight general attributes of God that can known by reason, as set forth by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica.  I've been learning about St. Thomas and the Summa from Dr. Taylor Marshall and the online classes he offers at the New Saint Thomas Institute.  These reflections are the result of my meditations on each individual attribute during prayer.  As such, they are not meant to be deep theological discussions, but simple spiritual thoughts on the majesty of our God .  I pray you find them beneficial in your walk with Christ.

___________________________________________________________________________

For I, the Lord, do not change."  (Malachi 3:6).  Upon this verse, St. Thomas expounds on the sixth attribute of God: His immutability.  God cannot change.  He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  If He could change, God would cease to be perfect.  Indeed, as St. Thomas explains, it is "impossible for God to be in any way changeable."  (Summa Theologica Prima Pars, Q. 9, Art. 1)  Stated differently, "God cannot be moved," nor can He acquire anything new, or extend himself to anything whereto he was not extended previously."  (Id.)  Thus, St. James says in his epistle that "all good giving and every perfect gift is from the Father of lights, with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change."  (James 1:17)

Who would want to believe in a God that changes?  If that were the case, how could we ever truly know the path of salvation, or if we were on it?  Maybe He changed the rules and didn't give us the memo.  Still, as absurd as a mutable, changing God sounds, we, in fact, try to change God all the time.

My two oldest children pray the Our Father every night before bed.  My four year old daughter has trouble saying the word "thy," and instead it comes out "my."  So, she often prays, "My kingdom come. My will be done.  On earth as it is in heaven."  Funny and cute, right?  I certainly laughed the first time I heard her say it.  Then I realized: wait a second, that's the version I've prayed for most of my life!  And that is how we try to change God--by following our own will instead of His, or at least hoping to bend His will into conformity with ours.

Fortunately--as with all of His divine attributes--God gave us the perfect example to follow in Jesus.  For Jesus never changed in his perfect obedience to the will of the Father.  "I honor my Father" and "do not seek my own glory," Jesus told those who questioned His authority and divinity.  (John 8:49 - 50)  "I do nothing on my own . . . [but only] what is pleasing to him."  (John 8: 28 - 29)  But nowhere was Christ's ultimate obedience to the Father's will more evident than in the Garden of Gethsemane, as the full weight of humanity's sins bore down on him:

"He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, 'My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will."  (Matthew 26:39)

th-13

What great comfort there is in our Lord's asking for the cup--His Passion--to pass from him.  How often do we similarly ask God to deliver us from some hardship or to give us something that we think we need.   If we didn't ask for such things, we wouldn't be human.  All to often, however, we stop our prayer there.  But if we will continue, as Jesus did, and pray "yet, not as I will, but as you will," we will truly imitate our Savior.  Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done.  Therein lies true peace and joy.

God love you.

  

th-10

This is the fourth in a series of short reflections on the eight general attributes of God that can known by reason, as set forth by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica.  I've been learning about St. Thomas and the Summa from Dr. Taylor Marshall and the online classes he offers at the New Saint Thomas Institute.  These reflections are the result of my meditations on each individual attribute during prayer.  As such, they are not meant to be deep theological discussions, but simple spiritual thoughts on the majesty of our God .  I pray you find them beneficial in your walk with Christ.

___________________________________________________________________________

God is infinite.

This is the fourth attribute of God according to St. Thomas.  This means that God is "eternal and boundless," (Summa Theologica I, q. 7, art. 1) "that which has no end, no limit, . . . and therefore cannot be measured by a finite standard."  (Catholic Encyclopedia)  The idea of God's infinity most often applies to His not being limited by space and time.  Indeed, as King Solomon declared, "the heavens and earth cannot contain You."  (1 Kings 8:27) Likewise, the Catechism explains that God is "without origin and without end."  (CCC ¶ 213)

The infinite nature of God also applies to His perfections, such as His wisdom, beauty and power.  Yet two things illustrate this reality more than all others: God's infinite mercy and love.  There is a popular saying we've all heard that goes something like this: "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me."  Really, this is just a clever way of illustrating that as humans, our mercy often is finite and limited.  For God though, through the person of His Eternal Son Jesus Christ, this expression is non-existent.  Indeed, His mercy towards us is unlimited--infinite--no matter how many times we "fool" Him.  Unconvinced?  Stare at a crucifix for a few minutes.  "He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?"  (Romans 8:32)

And God's infinite mercy flows directly from His boundless love for us.  A love, as St. Paul tells us, from which we can never be separated: "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."  (Romans 8:38 - 39)

In John's Gospel, Jesus asks the first two disciples that began following him, "What are you looking for?" (John 1:38)  He's asking all of us that same question.  The answer, I believe, is that more than anything, we are looking for His infinite love and mercy.  One doesn't have to observe the state of the world long, especially in the increasingly secularized West, to see that people desperately are thirsting for God's love and mercy--whether they know (or will admit) it or not.  More powerful than any physical thirst, it is a spiritual thirst for Truth and the Eternal.  But what we forget--or don't even realize--is that as much as we thirst for Him, God thirsts for us even more.  Jesus told us so on the cross:  "I thirst."  (John 19:28)

A beautiful prayer attributed to Mother Teresa of Calcutta describes Jesus' unfathomable thirst for us better than anything I have ever read.  The prayer is somewhat unique, in that it is Jesus speaking to us, as opposed to us speaking to Him.  My favorite audio recording of the prayer is by Father John Riccardo, who is a parish priest in the Archdiocese of Detroit and the host of the daily podcast "Christ is the Answer" available on iTunes.  I encourage you to take ten minutes or so to listen to the prayer, and in doing so, I pray that you will be drawn closer to God's infinite mercy and His boundless love.

God love you.

2 Comments

th-10

This is the third in a series of short reflections on the eight general attributes of God that can known by reason, as set forth by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica.  I've been learning about St. Thomas and the Summa from Dr. Taylor Marshall and the online classes he offers at the New Saint Thomas Institute.  These reflections are the result of my meditations on each individual attribute during prayer.  As such, they are not meant to be deep theological discussions, but simple spiritual thoughts on the majesty of our God .  I pray you find them beneficial in your walk with Christ.

___________________________________________________________________________

"God is good all the time; all the time God is good."

The author of this often-repeated phrase, as far as I can tell, is unknown.  But no matter its origin,  St. Thomas certainly would agree with the statement.  In fact, he explains not only that God is good, but that he is the greatest or supreme good.  Stated another way, nothing is more desirable than God, for all "other things are deficient in comparison."   (Summa Theologica I, q. 6, art. 2)

Deep down, we know this to be true, but the secular culture we live in wages an all-out war to convince us otherwise.  Lots of things are more desirable than God, the culture tells us: money, material possessions, power, fame, success, beauty, physical pleasure, entertainment, political ideology, etc.  This list could go on and on.  What the culture doesn't tell us though, is that none of those things will fill the God-sized hole in each of our hearts.  St. Augustine may have said it best:

"With You there is true rest and life untroubled.  He who entered into You enters into the joy of his Lord, and he shall have no fear, and he shall possess his soul most happily in Him who is the supreme good.  I fell away from you, my God, and I went astray, too far astray from you, . . . and I became to myself a land of want." (Confessions p. 81)

It's simple, really. When we try to fill that hole with anything other than God--when we want things more than God--we actually end up in "a land of want," "far astray" from Him.  What better time than Lent to fill our hearts with Him and discard all the empty promises of the world.

I was reflecting on this recently while reading the first chapter of John's Gospel, where the priests and Levites were questioning John the Baptist as to who he was.  Was he the Messiah, Elijah, the Prophet?  He answered them simply by saying: "I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, Make straight the way of the Lord."  (John 1:23)  The Lenten imagery in this statement immediately struck me.  Indeed, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once wrote, "Lent recalls the forty days of our Lord’s fasting in the desert, which He undertook before entering into His public ministry."  We too then go into the desert of our hearts during Lent, praying and fasting in imitation of Jesus and to prepare for his coming Passion, death and resurrection.  And our goal is nothing more than to "make straight the way of the Lord," as St. Thomas explains in his commentary on John's Gospel:

"The way, prepared and straight, for receiving the Lord is the way of justice, according to Isaiah (26:7): 'The way of the just is straight.' For the way of the just is straight when the whole man is subject to God, i.e., the intellect through faith, the will through love, and actions through obedience, are all subject to God. "

Make your way straight and receive God this Lent.  Fill your heart,  nay your entire being, with Him--the greatest good.  Temptations no doubt will come while in the desert; they did for Jesus.  If and when they do, remember these words from St. Louis De Montfort:

"[Jesus] is our only Master, who has to teach us; our only Lord on whom we ought to depend; our only Head to whom we must be united; our only Model to whom we should conform ourselves; our only Physician who can heal us; our only Shepard who can feed us; our only Way who can lead us; our only Truth whom we must believe; our only Life who can animate us; and our only All in all things who can satisfy us."  (True Devotion to Mary, pp. 29 - 30).

God love you.

th-10

This is the second in a series of short reflections on the eight general attributes of God that can known by reason, as set forth by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica.  I've been learning about St. Thomas and the Summa from Dr. Taylor Marshall and the online classes he offers at the New Saint Thomas Institute.  These reflections are the result of my meditations on each individual attribute during prayer.  As such, they are not meant to be deep theological discussions, but simple spiritual thoughts on the majesty of our God .  I pray you find them beneficial in your walk with Christ.

___________________________________________________________________________

God is perfect.

The second attribute of God according to St. Thomas comes straight from the lips of Jesus himself: "Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect."  (Matthew 5:48)  Unlike divine simplicity, God's perfection isn't as hard for us humans to wrap our heads around.  As St. Thomas says, we call perfect "that which lacks nothing."  Indeed, God lacks nothing, meaning he cannot improve.  He's as perfect today as he was yesterday, and as perfect today has he will be tomorrow.  Any created thing we call "perfect" in this world is but a reflection of the Creator's divine perfection.

While God gave each us the reason (mental ability) to comprehend His perfection, He chose to reveal completely that perfect nature by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, the God-man, to suffer and die for our sin.  "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father."  (John 14:9)  As the Catechism explains, "Jesus presents himself as our model.  He is the perfect man, who invites us to become his disciples and follow him.  In humbling himself, he has given us an example to imitate."  (CCC ¶ 520)

Not only is God's perfection revealed in Christ himself, but also in His perfect suffering and sacrifice.  "You were ransomed . . . with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot."  (1 Peter 1:18-19)  "In suffering and death his humanity became the free and perfect instrument of his divine love which desires the salvation of men."  (CCC ¶ 609)  Moreover, Christ's perfect suffering and sacrifice on the Cross results from His perfect love for us: "It is for love of us that he is on the Cross with his arms stretched out, fastened to the wood more by the Love he has for us than by the nails."  (St. Josemaria Escriva, The Forge ¶ 191)

Our job in this life is to imitate Christ's perfection through our daily battles and sufferings.  Jesus doesn't stutter when he says "be perfect!"  (Matthew 5:48)  "The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross.  There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle."  (CCC ¶ 2015)  As Ash Wednesday quickly approaches, I encourage you to pray and meditate on ways you can grow in holiness during Lent.  Whether it is increasing the time spent in prayer, starting a new devotional practice, or engaging in the corporal or spiritual works of mercy, do it with the goal of encountering Jesus anew every day.  But whatever the case may be, remember these words from St. Gregory of Nyssa: "Christian perfection has but one limit, that of having none."

God love you.

3 Comments

jesus-carrying-cross

"Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me."  (Matthew 16:24)

"[A]nd whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me."  (Matthew 10:38)

___________________________________________________________________________

When I went to bed the night before, I really hoped it wouldn't be there the next morning.  But sure enough, there it was.

The morning started like most: a way too early alarm clock signaling the dawn of a new day.  (If it's not the alarm clock, it's the pitter patter of little feet followed by "Daddy I want some juice" that wakes me up.)  I fumble for my phone, turn the alarm off, sit up, and look to my left.  It's lying on the floor leaning up against the wall.  I think to myself, "How am I possibly going to carry this thing again today?"

You see, my cross is a massive, unwieldy, burdensome beast--fifteen feet high and eight feet across.  Physically, the only way to carry it is by putting the long beam across my shoulder, just below where the two beams intersect, and dragging the monstrosity behind me.  And so I get out of bed and commence the chore.

My shoulder and back are still a little sore from the day before, but I manage to carry the cross into my study.  Fortunately, the room has double doors, so I'm able negotiate the cross through.  As I drag it across the room in the darkness, it slips off my shoulder and lands on the floor with a loud thud.  Surprised that it didn't wake up the rest of the house, I decide to leave it where it lays.  As I stare at the cross on the floor, I look up and notice that the top of the vertical beam is pointing directly towards a crucifix hanging on the wall nearby.  In an instant, I'm reminded that the Eternal Son of God had to carry his cross too prior to being nailed to it.  I light some candles near the crucifix, get down on my knees, and spend some time in prayer with the Creator of the universe who became man and died for me.

Before I know it, the sun is starting to rise outside.  As much as I would like to stay here talking to my Savior, fatherly and work duties call.  I end my prayer, blow out the candles, and turn around to pick up my cross.  Miraculously, it's almost weightless.  What had been heavy and almost immovable when I woke up now seems light as a feather.  I turn back to the crucifix with a smile and hear Him say to me "my yoke is easy, and my burden light."  (Matthew 11:30)  I mutter to myself, "Why do I always forget that?"

With the suddenly light cross in tow, the rest of the morning routine at home goes smoothly.  I meet my two oldest children (6 and 4) in the kitchen and get them cereal.  I'm able to stand the cross up against the kitchen counter almost effortlessly.  My children never notice the cross, despite its massive size.  I have noticed though that on mornings I skip my prayer time with Him, they sense that daddy is carrying something heavy.  From there, I'm able to get myself and the kids ready to leave for school and out the door.  As if it were a small piece of driftwood, I toss the cross into the bed of my truck, load up the kids, and take them to school.  I'm at peace.  More importantly, I'm thankful that the cross is so light today.

After dropping the kids off, I pull into the parking lot of my office building.  As I lower the tailgate to retrieve the cross, a sense of uneasiness comes over me.  I go to pull it towards me and onto the ground, but the cross is heavier than it was when I left home.  This often happens.  I really don't like taking the cross out in pubic for everyone to see.  In fact, some days it seems easier just to leave the cross at home altogether, but I know that's not an option He gave me.  Besides the obvious physical challenges in getting the cross into my office (through narrow doors, tight corners and all that), its the way others look at it (and me) that's really unnerving.  Some people laugh out loud, mockingly asking "where are you going with that ridiculous thing?"  "Following Him," I reply.  Some of them become interested and ask more questions, some don't.  Other people look at it with brief curious fascination, then go about there own business as usual.  Still others avoid--at all costs--even looking at the cross, immediately diverting their eyes downward when it comes into sight, or sometimes, fleeing the room or building all together.

But there is a fourth category of people I encounter, both in my office building and anywhere else I take my cross: those carrying their own crosses.  Admittedly, its a much smaller group than the other three, but numerous enough to see them almost anywhere I go.  I'm always fascinated by the different sizes of the crosses they carry--some much smaller, some even larger--than mine.  Many of them have radiant smiles on their faces, reflecting an almost other-wordly joy at the privilege of carrying their cross.  Some are much more somber, and you can see the weight of their cross has them stumbling, sometimes even falling.  Without fail, however, when this happens, one or more of the other cross bearers will come to the aid of the struggling person.  "Here, let Him help you," I often hear them say, as they help the struggling person to his or her feet and share the burden of the cross--all while carrying their own as well.  More times than I can count, one of these selfless individuals has come to my aid when my cross had me at the breaking point.  A few have told me that their name was Simon.

I finally arrive at my office and set the cross against the wall facing my desk.  The rest of my workday proceeds in routine, uneventful fashion.  Some days, I get so distracted with work, stress and the anxieties of life that I never remember to look up at the cross,  despite its size and the fact that it is right in front of me.  Other days, even those when I'm really busy, I'm constantly reminded of its presence by taking brief pauses to lift my heart to heaven and thank Him for carrying His cross so that mine doesn't have to be so heavy.  On the former days when I don't do this and ignore the cross, it always seems even heavier when I go to leave the office for home.  This day, however, I stayed close to Him, so the cross isn't nearly as hard to carry as I depart.

I arrive home to beautiful children happy to see daddy.  Some play time, dinner, baths and bedtime follow in that order--all with my cross in tow that the little ones aren't aware of.  We kneel down at the edge of one of their beds for prayer time before they get tucked in.  We recite the prayers they have memorized, then each says what we are thankful for that day.  We end the prayers by telling Him that we love Him and make the sign of the cross.  As my son crawls into bed, I rub my shoulder.  "Did you hurt your shoulder today, daddy?" he asks.  "No son," I reply, "I just had to carry something today."  "What?" he asks curiously.  "A cross like the one Jesus had to carry," I answer him.  "Why?" he asks.  "Because Jesus asked me to," I tell him.  As I turn out the lights and kiss him, he asks, "Is it heavy?

"No buddy, it's not.  Not anymore."

___________________________________________________________________________

"Jesus carries the Cross for you: you . . . carry it for Jesus."  (St. Josemaria Escriva)

How big is your cross?  How heavy is it?

Although it sounds paradoxical, in many respects, being a disciple of Jesus Christ might be easier if each of us did have to carry an actual, physical cross around with us everyday.  First, it would allow us always to be aware of the immense weight we carry from our own sin and the trials, tribulations, anguish, and anxiety of life.  More importantly, it would constantly remind us that our Blessed Lord carried his cross so that our's is not so burdensome.  Instead, all too often, we internalize our pain and suffering, bearing our crosses in misery while never asking for His help, or the help of those Simons he puts in our life to pick up our cross when we drop it.  This is not to say that carrying our cross should be or will be easy, for Jesus never promised us that.  Carrying our crosses means not only denying ourselves, but dying to ourselves.  The good news, however, is that He provides us the tools (prayer, fasting, almsgiving, frequent reception of the Sacraments, etc.) necessary to carry it with joy, despite the self-sacrifice it requires.  Jesus expects us to carry our crosses willingly.

Second, hauling an actual cross around would be a constant reminder of how much Jesus suffered carrying his cross.  I've already written about the immense suffering caused by the crowning with thorns.  Consider that by the time He was given His cross to carry on the way to Golgotha, He had been: (1)  beaten severely; (2) scourged to within an inch of His life, His mangled flesh hanging off His body; and (3) had a crown of thorns driven into His scalp, resulting in major trigeminal neuralgia, which caused indescribable pain from any minor movement.  As he dragged the cross behind him, every time it hit a rock or hole in the ground, the wounds on his back would have been reopened, and the crown of thorns would have caused sharp knives of pain throughout his body.  I've always thought that this clip from the Passion of the Christ is a great depiction of Jesus carrying his cross.

Finally, although in reality our crosses our invisible, people should still be able to see them.  Moreover, they should see us carrying them with joy and not despondent sorrow.  Otherwise, our faith looks unattractive, even miserable.  Jesus says to us "Why are you terrified?  Do you not have faith?"  Being His disciple and carrying our cross can be terrifying.  But like he did on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus calms the winds and storms of our lives.  (Mark 4:40)  He then gives us supernatural grace to do things we never thought possible.

A couple of weeks ago I spent some time in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.  The tempest of life had me down a bit, and my human weakness was at the forefront of my thoughts.  I opened Sacred Scripture and turned to St. Paul's second letter to the Corinthians.  As if Jesus had touched me on the shoulder to get my attention, I read this:

"Therefore,  I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:10)

Our weakness is our strength in Christ.  Carrying our crosses often results in hardships, persecutions, and restraints, but Jesus is there with us every step of the way, carrying His cross too.  His was much bigger and heavier than ours.  So, as Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen often said, "Go into the world and tell every person you meet that there is a man on the cross!"

God love you.

 

 

 

 

3 Comments

th-3

I'm often amazed how Sacred Scripture speaks to us in new and different ways each time we read it, even if it is a passage we are familiar with or have read countless times before.  I had this experience recently when reading St. Luke's account of the birth of John the Baptist. (Luke 1:57-80)  Recall that the angel Gabriel had visited John's father, Zechariah, to announce to him that his wife, Elizabeth--advanced in years and no longer able to have children--would bear a son "filled with the Holy Spirit" to "make ready a people prepared for the Lord."  (Luke 1:5-17)  But Zechariah did not believe the angel's words, and therefore was struck mute until John's birth. (Luke 1:18-20)

Eight days after Elizabeth gave birth to John, they took him to the temple to be circumcised.  (Luke 1:59)  After writing on a tablet that the baby would be named John, immediately Zechariah's "mouth was opened and his tongue loosened."  (Luke 1:64)  He then speaks what we now call the "canticle of Zechariah," prophesying about the coming Messiah and John's role in preparing His way.  The following passage repeatedly jumps off the page at me:

""[T]hrough the merciful compassion of our God . . . a dawning from on high will visit us, to shine light on those sitting in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet onto the path of peace." (Luke 1:78-79)

More beautiful or poignant words have never been spoken to foretell the ultimate event in all of human history--God becoming man and entering the world so as to die for our salvation.  Only a God with unfathomable "merciful compassion" would humble himself to the point of taking human flesh and "become[] obedient to death, even death on a cross."  (Philippians 2:8) But come He did on a cold December night almost 2015 years ago, splitting time into.  Though He came as a helpless babe born in a cave,  the dawning light he would shine on the world sitting in darkness could not be contained, allowing each of us the chance to become partaker's in God's divine nature.  "God became a man so that following a man--something you are able to do--you might reach God, which was formerly impossible to you."  (St. Augustine, Commentary on Psalm 134, 5)

As the song we often sing at Mass during Advent proclaims: "Rejoice! Rejoice! Emanuel shall come to thee O Israel."  And rejoice we should, for He comes to each one of us to "guide our feet on the path of peace." The path that leads to true joy on this earth, and the path that leads us to everlasting life with Him.  But we first must be willing to stand in His light and accept this great gift--bright and painful to our senses as it may at first be.   The Son provides no illumination to those who prefer to remain in the darkness.    Although standing in His light exposes our weakness, our sin, our humanity, it allows us to step out of the "shadow of death."  Indeed, through Jesus, "[d]eath is swallowed up in victory.  Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?"  (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)

If you are a parent, you know the indescribable joy you experience in watching your children open their gifts on Christmas morning.  Consider then, for a moment, the joy God feels when one of his children opens, and accepts, the gift of His Son, and he or she allows His light to shine upon them.  So, as Advent draws to a close, and we anxiously await the birth of our Lord tomorrow night, I pray that you will step out and fully bask in Jesus's shining light, and in so doing, become "the light of the world." (Matthew 5:14)  I leave you with these words from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:

"God has done everything; he has done the impossible: he was made flesh. His all-powerful love has accomplished something which surpasses all human understanding: the Infinite has become a child, has entered the human family. And yet, this same God cannot enter my heart unless I open the door to him."

Merry Christmas and God love you!

 

Could-you-not-watch

For most of my days as a Protestant Christian (and a lukewarm one at that), I really had no idea what the season of Advent was all about. At best, I understood it do be sort of a pre-Christmas build up.  Kind of like putting the nativity scene in your front yard right after Thanksgiving so everyone can gaze upon it throughout the month of December.  At worst, it was just another goofy thing that those Catholics did.  Even after my journey toward the Church began, I still associated Advent only as a preparation for Christ's entry into the world through the Incarnation.

Thankfully, I now better understand the purpose and meaning of Advent as a season of penitential preparation for both Jesus's birth into the world on Christmas and His glorious return at the end of the age when all people "will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory."  (Luke 21:27)  It is this second part that really hit home with me during Mass this past Sunday (the first Sunday of Advent).  In the Gospel reading, Jesus, after discussing the signs that will precede His second coming, warns the disciples to be on their guard for that day:

"Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.  For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth.  Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man."  (Luke 21:34-36)

As Jesus tells us, no one except the Father knows when "that day" will be.  (Matthew 24:36)  But we do know one thing for certain:  each of us will die one day and "stand before the Son of Man" to be judged.  As such, Jesus's warnings apply equally to all of us, even if we may no longer be walking the earth when He returns.  Needless to say, direct warnings from God demand our attention.  The aforementioned passage from St. Luke's Gospel contains a warning and an instruction: (1) do not become drowsy; and (2) be vigilant.  Let's look at each of these and what they mean for us.

DO NOT BECOME DROWSY . . . AND LET THAT DAY CATCH YOU BY SURPRISE!

Jesus first warns us not to let our hearts become drowsy such that the day of His coming catch us by surprise like a trap.  This theme of not becoming drowsy and staying awake is a recurrent one in the Gospels.  For example, after the parable of the ten virgins, Jesus tells the disciples to "stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour."  (Matthew 25:13)  Similarly, He said "'[b]e sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into.  So too, you must be prepared . . . ."  (Matthew 24:43-44)

The idea of being awake for God can be seen in the Old Testament as well.  For example, Isaiah tells the people "[a]wake, awake, put on strength, arm of the Lord! Awake as in the days of old, in ages long ago!"  (Isaiah 51:9)  And again, "[a]wake, awake, Zion; Put on your strength, Zion."  (Isaiah 52:1)  Further, in the Psalms, David speaks of awakening in relation to his closeness with God: "[a]wake, my soul . . . I will wake the dawn."  (Psalm 57:9)  "When I awake, let me be filled with your presence."  (Psalm 17:15)

This idea of staying awake seems easy enough in theory, but much more difficult when applied to our everyday lives.  Indeed,  Jesus's own hand-picked apostles had trouble staying awake during some of the most important events of His earthly life.  First, when Jesus took Peter, John and James up the mountain to witness the Transfiguration, the three apostles "had been overcome by sleep," and not until "becoming fully awake" did they see "his glory" and Moses and Elijah standing with him.  (Luke 9:32).  Once again, it was Peter, John and James who couldn't stay awake in the Garden of Gethsemane before our Lord's betrayal and arrest.  (Matthew 26:36-46)  Three times Jesus asked the apostles to stay awake and keep watch while he prayed, and three times he found them asleep.  "[Y]ou could not keep watch with me for one hour?" he asked after finding them asleep the first time.  (Matthew 26:40)  He then said to them, "Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test.  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."  (Matthew 26:41)  Their flesh was weak indeed, for Peter, John and James fell asleep twice more before Judas and the crowd arrived.  (Matthew 26:42-47)

Like Peter, John and James, our flesh is weak as well.  But what causes us to become drowsy and unable to stay awake?  Jesus gives three specific examples: carousing, drunkenness, and the anxieties of daily life.  (Luke 21:34)  Carousing and drunkenness are mortal sins that directly cut us off from God, which, among other sins, St. Peter and St. Paul explicitly warn us about.  (See e.g. Romans 13:13; 1 Peter 4:3; 1 Corinthians 6:10)  Some of us struggle with these sins more than others, to be sure.  But the third example Jesus gives--the anxieties of daily life--has universal application to us all.

Indeed, it is these anxieties in our daily lives that can cause us, often unknowingly, to become drowsy and lose sight of God.  It could be large anxieties like stress at work, difficulties in our marriage, the challenges of parenting, financial problems, health issues or the like.  Or perhaps its just the daily grind of responsibilities and challenges we face each day: chores around the house, finding time to exercise, running errands, shuttling the kids to school and extracurricular activities.   No matter how big or small, these daily anxieties can add up to create a drowsiness or apathy toward our relationship with God.

Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said "[w]e do not lose our souls simply by doing bad things, we lose our souls by omission . . . and we usually are not conscious of the neglect."  The daily anxieties are like a slow dripping faucet.  We don't pay much attention to them at first.  We say, "oh I'm just too busy today, I'll give God some time tomorrow."  But tomorrow turns into the next day, or the next day after that . . . or never, and we fall asleep.  Then one day, usually unexpectedly, God says "this night your life will be demanded of you," (Luke 12:20) and there we are standing before Jesus, caught by surprise like a trap.

But it doesn't have to be that way.  As long as there is air in our lungs, there is still hope.  There is still time to wake up.  As St. Augustine tells us:

"Lift up your heart so that it will not rot on earth.  You will not remain without treasure, but will possess without worries in heaven what you have to guard here in fear.  And so let us wake up!"  (Sermon 60, 7)

BE VIGILANT AND PRAY!

So how do we stay awake and keep from becoming drowsy?  Jesus tells us to "be vigilant at all times."  Being vigilant means carefully noticing problems or signs of danger.  Its the exact opposite of neglect.  How do we be vigilant?  PRAY!
Sadly though, prayer usually is the first casualty inflicted by the anxieties of our daily lives.  Too often, it's the first thing we are willing to give up, consciously or otherwise, when the anxieties of life start piling up.  In order not to become drowsy, however, prayer has to be the one thing we are completely unwilling to abandon.  We must "pray without ceasing" as St. Paul tells us.  (1 Thessalonians 5:17)  The following quotes from Archbishop Sheen hit the nail on the head (If you haven't figured it out yet from reading this blog, my love for Sheen is immense):
"No one makes a resolution not to be holy.  We just do not commune with God."
"No soul ever fell away from God without giving up prayer."
"The first step downward in the average soul is the giving up of the practice of prayer, the breaking of the circuit with divinity, and the proclamation of one's self-sufficiency."
My personal experience has shown all of these statements to be true.  Even one day of not making time for prayer seems to throw my soul out of whack.  I'm restless, more irritable, prone to anger and impatience, and more susceptible to the temptations of the world.  If one day of neglect turns into to two or three, the malady intensifies, and holiness becomes but a distant memory.  It is only by resuming prayer--reconnecting the circuit and communing with God--that I am able wake up.
In conclusion, this Advent, consider committing yourself to a daily prayer routine.  If you already have a daily routine, consider increasing the amount of time you are giving God in prayer each day.  Finally, consider committing yourself to a Holy Hour - at least an hour of prayer once a week in adoration before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.  Again based on personal experience, I promise you it is impossible not to fall more deeply in love with Jesus when praying and/or reading Sacred Scripture in front of the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ.  Jesus is asking, can you "keep watch with me for one hour?"  Say yes.
Simply stated, daily prayer and adoration are sure fire ways to stay vigilant, not become drowsy, and prepare yourself to stand before the Son of Man.  "We appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain . . . Behold now is a very acceptable time, now is the day of salvation."  (2 Corinthians 6:1-2)  Are you ready?

39259442

The scribes and Pharisees constantly were demanding that Jesus give them a "sign" that he was the Son of God.  Somehow, seeing Jesus restore sight to the blind, making the lame walk and raising the dead back to life weren't enough to make them believe His claim of divinity.  Despite performing numerous miracles, Jesus's response was always the same though -- no sign will be given, except His coming death and resurrection.  The Gospels recount several instances of this:

"Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, 'Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.'  He said to them in reply, 'An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet.  Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights."  (Matthew 12:38-40; see also 16:4)

"While still more people gathered in the crowd, he said to them, "This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah."  (Luke 11:29; see also 11:16)

"At this the Jews answered and said to him, 'What sign can you show us for doing this?'  Jesus answered and said to them, 'Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up."  (John 2:18-19).

Almost two thousand years later, nothing has changed.  Like the scribes and Pharisees then, we often demand signs or some sort of end-all, be-all proof that Jesus was who He claimed to be.  Several months ago, I had a secular-progressive friend (and fallen-away Catholic) say to me "I just wish God left more definitive evidence that he exists."  My response was rhetorical and went something like: "You mean Jesus coming back to life three days after being tortured to death isn't enough evidence?"  I then expounded on that point, explaining how Jesus's resurrection is the only plausible explanation for the sudden rise and vast expansion of Christianity over most of the known world by the end of the first century, despite the fact that it was illegal and punishable by death.

St. Augustine beautifully explains what Jesus's resurrection means for us in this context:  "Out of his mercy . . . He [did not] hide from us His truth.  The Truth, clad in flesh, came to us and healed through His flesh the inner eye of our heart, that afterward we might be able to see Him face to face."

We have a great advantage over the scribes and Pharisees who demanded a sign during Jesus's earthly ministry.  Whereas Jesus merely spoke to them about the ultimate sign of his coming passion, death and resurrection in foreshadowing, symbolic language (i.e. being in the "heart of the earth for three days and three nights" and raising the "temple" three days after being destroyed), for us, His resurrection and victory over sin and death is a reality that allows us to "see Him face to face."

Once we accept the reality of Christ's passion, death and resurrection, ask His forgiveness, and accept His mercy, "signs" of His divinity and God's existence begin to pop up all around us.  Driving home from work one evening last week, I looked up into the sky and noticed the sun breaking through the clouds in a way I had never seen before.  Although it was almost completely overcast, small breaks in the clouds had allowed multiple individual rays to beam down all the way to the ground.  It truly was one of the most beautiful, majestic things I have ever seen.  I immediately realized that I was looking at a small piece of heaven, and that only a God who would take flesh and die in order to redeem humanity could (and would) create such beauty.

I find that such occurrences - "signs" -  happen almost every day: the smile of my four month old son, the sound of the rain and thunder during a stormy night, a humming bird getting nectar from a flower on my back porch, the quiet stillness of a candle flame lit early in the morning.  These signs, and so many others, remind me daily of God's love.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church ("CCC") states this perfectly:

"As a being at once body and spirit, man expresses and perceives spiritual realities through physical signs and symbols.  God speaks to man through the visible creation.  The material cosmos is so presented to man's intelligence that he can read there traces of its Creator.  Light and darkness, wind and fire, water and earth, the tree and its fruit speak of God and symbolize both his greatness and his nearness."  (CCC 1146 - 1147)

When I'm cooperating with God's grace, maintaining a relationship with Him through prayer, and keeping His commandments, I see God in the most simple things of creation.  He's there, speaking to me, reminding me of His constant presence.  The signs are everywhere.  But in times when my heart and intellect are darkened by sin; when I turn my back on God's love and mercy, the signs seem to disappear.  Instead of seeing God in everything, I -- by my own choice -- see Him in nothing.  In fact, like Adam and Eve after the fall, I try to hide from God, desperately hoping that he won't see me in my nakedness.  Perhaps that is why the scribes and Pharisees were unable to recognize any signs and miracles Jesus performed -- their hearts simply were too hardened to accept them.

It is during those dark times, however, that we must turn back to the ultimate sign -- Jesus's passion, death and resurrection -- for that likely is the only sign we will be able to recognize.  And we have but to ask for His mercy, for as Jesus tell us "[a]sk and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you."  (Matthew 7:7)  So if you are having trouble recognizing God's presence, seeing His majesty in creation, feeling His love in your everyday life, don't demand, as did the scribes and Pharisees, that He give you a sign.  Instead, start over from the beginning and remember the only sign that matters.  In the words of St. Josemaria Escriva, "[m]ay you seek Christ, may you find Christ, may you love Christ.  These are three very distinct steps.  Have you at least tried to live the first one?"