In today’s Gospel Jesus is speaking from the same place He was for the Last Supper. In this passage Jesus is giving us His last will and testament. What is He going to leave to His followers? His love. That love includes not only Himself, but the Father and Holy Spirit. He fulfills His Last Supper promise: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” (John 14: 15-16) Jesus did die on the cross, but He did not leave us. As we see in His words He will come and dwell within us and the Father will come with Him. A few verses later Jesus promises to send us the Holy Spirit. Our inheritance from Him is the fullness of the life of God. We began that life the moment we were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (We remind ourselves of this treasure every time we bless ourselves in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.)
When you think about it, those we love do dwell within us. They are an intimate and intricate part of who we are. They are always in our hearts that are filled with love for them expressed in our concern, goodness, gratitude, humility, sacrifices, mercy, and generosity. In this Gospel passage Jesus expressed what was going to happen when He died and rose from the dead. Our inheritance from Him is the gift of Himself, the Father, and Holy Spirit dwelling within us. How does this inheritance affect our lives? The more we “use” our inheritance from Jesus, the more we recognize the gift of peace that He also promises in today’s Gospel: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” This is the peace we long for as individuals, families, communities, nations, and worldwide. Human efforts have helped us to defeat the countless powers that seek to separate us from God and one another (just ask a faith-filled veteran). Yet still, in all too many places around the world, there is violence, injustice, destruction and the abuse and taking of human life.
So, what is this peace Jesus is leaving us? It is the peace that comes from truly believing that He knows us as we are at each moment of our lives and is with us in all we say, do and think each day. This thought is expressed so clearly at the beginning of each of the four Eucharistic Prayers (for Various Occasions): “You are indeed Holy and to be glorified, O God, Who love the human race and Who always walk with us on the journey of life. Blessed indeed is Your Son, present in our midst when we are gathered by His Love, and when, as once for the disciples, so now for us, He opens the Scriptures and breaks the bread.” Obviously we need to accept His invitation to be renewed by our inheritance from Him through our heartfelt participation in the Mass every week. Jesus never tires of inviting us to open our eyes to His Love for us and His Presence to us. It is Jesus and our inheritance from Him, which is Jesus Himself, that lifts us beyond the confusion, challenges, and obstacles we face as individuals, families, communities, and nations. Only a nation under God can be one nation. It takes God to not only take away the confusion…but also to enlighten us with the truth of who we truly are and what we are ultimately capable of in the best sense possible.
One of the joys of being a priest is baptizing children. Before the ceremony begins, there is a lot of joy and enthusiasm in all who are present. How good it is to see how an innocent child, who is need of constant care and attention, brings such unity and joy. Along with their parents, who among us would not do anything to help these innocent souls to be healthy, happy, and cared for? The birth of a child is a Resurrection experience in that it raises the lives of parents especially to a new level of love. Sleepless nights and concern for any problems are sacrifices readily made for the good of a child. Newborn children along with anyone else we let into the depths of our minds and hearts raise us to a level in our lives that is energizing, encouraging, and inspiring.
Does our presence bring love, life, and mercy to others? When it does that is the power of the Resurrection in our minds and hearts. To bring love, life, and mercy to others means we do far more than avoid evils the Ten Commandments warn us against. Virtue and the love of God are far more than being able to say, “I didn’t kill anyone,” or “I didn’t commit adultery.” Virtue, living in union with the Risen Christ, and being part of His life means I do far more than avoid draining life out of others and myself through my words and actions. It means giving life by my thoughts, words, and actions at all times, in all places. It means far more than avoiding unfaithfulness to God and others; it means always being there, loving with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.
The Resurrection is far more than rising from the dead and evil and its consequences; it means living in Jesus and allowing Him to live in us. Our loved ones live in us and we live in them. Even our loved ones who have died are still very much a part of who we are. We are grateful for them and their love and goodness. As we see in today’s Gospel, the disciples were very much alive in the mind and heart of Jesus. In Jesus they and we are far more than grateful for His love and goodness, we become His love, mercy, and goodness.
When we are born we are embraced by the love, gratitude, and joy of our parents. We are raised to ultimate hope and joy in life when we see how we are embraced by the love, life, and mercy of God in Jesus. When we embrace the pure love, life, and mercy of God we become that very love, life, and mercy.
“How can you, a sinner from birth, preach to us, we who are teachers of the law?” Most likely, all of us who are even minimally educated in the catechism of the Catholic Church, find these words of the Pharisees to the man born blind rather disturbing. If you, like me, find yourself “rooting” for the blind man and wishing to slap the Pharisees upside the head…then thank the person who taught you your catechism. I say this because if it was not for our belief in the Catholic dogma of original sin, all of us would most likely have this Pharisaical reaction to human suffering.
But let me be clear, almost every Catholic (as well as most Christians) knows a little catechism about original sin, but very few get beyond the basic idea that original sin was the sin that Adam and Eve committed long ago in the Garden of Eden. True enough…that is a good start. However, if that is all we can say about this belief we fall prey to all sorts of troublesome thinking. And when we have troublesome thinking it leads to troublesome attitudes and when we have some troublesome attitudes we do some troublesome things and we form troublesome habits. We can even end up declaring a suffering innocent person a wicked sinner who has only himself to blame for his misery.
The Pharisees in today’s gospel are talking just like the “friends” of Job in the Old Testament. Recall how Job while suffering so much was continually badgered by his companions to confess his guilt and repent in order to recover his health and well being. But Job can’t think of any sins so he can’t repent. (If you haven’t read the book of Job lately, Lent is a great time to do so. If you don’t have the time read the whole 42 chapters, read at least the first three and the last three chapters. The middle part is all the badgering stuff.) At the heart of the problem is an ignorance that in many ways is very understandable. But it is very problematic. They do not take the story of creation and the Fall seriously. We know suffering is very much connected to the fact that evil has been done. Just as light is understood in relationship to darkness, we know evil needs to be punished and good merits rewards. These guys figure, “this man is suffering, therefore he is being punished”. They falsely conclude, “Since I am doing well, I am being blessed.” (This actually is a common attitude found in many modern spiritualities). And, let’s admit it…“faith alone without works” has produced an odd dependence on being good to receive God’s blessings. They say: “Be good, be blessed, be bad and God won’t bless you.” This can creep into almost all of our hearts.
There is a subtle but dangerous example of this ignorance in the political realm. Those who are “progressive” are almost incapable of seeing suffering as an inescapable universal part of life. They are always assigning blame and always ready to enact new laws, which place huge burdens on others. They themselves do nothing to help carry the load. Their quest for the painless life is filled with assigning blame here and there. Extracting crushing fines upon nations for the past sins of slavery is as wrongheaded as our “friends” in the story of Job. Or when a worker’s union sues it’s “host” company into bankruptcy, they may feel good about placing the blame for suffering at the feet of someone, but they only end up increasing the quota of suffering. God allows the “curse” of Adam because it can (when we understand the redemptive characteristic of suffering) lead us to life everlasting.
Well, with the Epiphany having been celebrated, Christmas is now over and it is time to make good on the resolutions we thought of starting for this Year of Grace 2017! The greatest of responsibilities we have is to look generationally…to growing what has been given to us and leave it to the next generation better than how we found it.
Our young people need encouragement today more than ever, especially in the ways of the faith. We live in a society that openly ridicules and mocks Christian values and the Catholic faith. I think that helping our children to set the priority of faith is among the most important things you can ever do for your sons/daughters. It is interesting that most parents have no problem “encouraging and incentivizing” their children to do all sorts of things such as doing their homework, taking care of their chores, going to Mass, and being nice to their siblings. Such actions do help teens to understand the importance of these things and certainly your expectations for them as parents who are concerned for their well-being, overall good, and future success.
It is important to remember that the most important responsibility a parent has for his/her son or daughter is not to ensure them of a quality education, give them a good earning potential, or even to provide for them the highest possible standard of living. The most important responsibility that a parent has for their children is to help get them to heaven! Everything else (physical health, athleticism, popularity, GPA, wealth, popularity, etc.) will fade away, but heaven lasts forever. Obviously, once they are old enough to move out and be independent, your responsibility shifts dramatically, however, it is often in those later years that many parents experience regret that their children no longer practice the faith or that they have given up on the Church.
Never underestimate the importance of these formative years. Parents, you basically have one shot to get it right! As the product of Catholic schools, I strongly believe in the value of a Catholic education. Sometimes parents who have sacrificed financially for their children to go to Catholic school have a hard time understanding why their children as adults stop going to church. Blessed Paul VI said that what the world listens to today is not teachers, but witnesses! The greatest way to teach is by example. And January 22nd is a perfect “field trip” for the parent/teacher to fill in the generation gap and put our faith into action. So, again, it’s time to plan our trip…call and reserve the bus seats to the March for Life Rally to the State Capitol.
Education has its role, but Jesus’ power has not limited to that of a teacher, but rather as a witness to the Father’s love. What can we do to better the chances that our children will cling to their Catholic faith in future both in times of joy and in times of distress? Let’s be witnesses being called by the Judge of the Universe to testify, in our small way, to the Gospel of Life.
We are entering the second week of our journey through this time of Advent to meet Christ at His coming to us on Christmas. Our Advent retreat helps us to open and focus our hearts on the Incarnation. This great mystery of God’s love to humanity is expressed in assuming the human nature by Logos, the second person of the Trinity, and by His coming to us in the form of an infant child. This was such a tremendous moment that the voices of the choirs of angels broke through the skies with the joyful song of glory announcing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will”. The hope of thousands of years of waiting was fulfilled with the child born in a stable in Bethlehem to the Virgin Mother Mary and her most chaste spouse, Joseph. This is such a great mystery that only a glimpse can be reflected in the joy of a couple welcoming their newborn child. So we can only imagine the joy that filled the hearts of Mary and Joseph when Jesus, the Emmanuel, was born into the world.
During this second week of Advent, on the liturgical calendar we celebrate two feast days of Mary. On December 8th we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and on December 12th we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Through these celebrations we honor Our Lady Mary who is the model of the Church, and the model of how we should live our own lives in response to God’s abundant graces. As the Church teaches us, Mary is the one who gave us Jesus Christ as His mother, but she also is the one who leads us to Christ as our own mother. She fulfilled this role especially during the time of Advent when she entered the journey with her husband Joseph to Bethlehem, the town of his ancestor King David. Mary is on the journey of faith with us. As we, she also awaits the birth of her child Jesus. Therefore, these two celebrations this coming week are a great opportunity for each of us to join her and Joseph on their journey. To allow her to take us with her to Bethlehem, and let our hearts be enlightened and filled with the warmth of God’s love and peace that comes to us in the infant baby Jesus.
These three topics really fit into the story of Lazarus that we hear in this week’s Gospel. The story of the rich man whose neglect of the poor is suppose to motivate us to generosity and love for those less fortunate than ourselves. Most of us can probably be more generous if we think about it, yes…or yes? So, let us take a lesson from Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States. Most of us know that he is one of the four Presidents carved in granite on Mt. Rushmore. But, are you aware that when he received the Nobel Peace prize in 1906 there was a rush of protests by many in the international community? As tensions built in Europe among the leading Presidents, Prime Ministers and Kings…“Teddy” brought the USA into the international spot light as a boisterous military man who represented a new way of doing government, the American way. In his Nobel speech he said: “No nation deserves to exist if it loses virtues.” A critic declared: “He was a disseminator of a doctrine that says there are dangers to the moral fabric of a nation from the cankers of a long peace.” It is so important that we see the error of this critic. The critic thinks that since peace is the primary objective of government, a nation should not risk losing its peace by debating moral issues of domestic or international concern. Roosevelt was not saying that long standing peace was the problem. He was saying that apathy and disinterest in moral issues that can accompany a comfortable life style can develop into oppression and enslavement of others. “Peace must be the bi-product of righteousness” he declared. Can you see a lesson in this for us today? To achieve and maintain peace one must be constantly willing to fight against evil within us and where it is found around us. Something similar should be said about fighting poverty. To help others achieve wealth it is necessary to help them lead productive and money saving lives. And, with an authentic understanding of Christian social justice, only those with money can best help those without it.
Now enter, John Denver. What does the Rocky Mountain High guy have to do with Lazarus and generosity? Yep, being from Denver, he was a “tree hugger” of the 70’s. A constant theme of his music is the love and respect of unspoiled nature. I recall vividly, clinging to a sense of a natural high on life…as so many of my friends sung the praises of artificial highs with drugs, alcohol and short term pleasures. But, removing the personal life and philosophy, I have to admit his music (with its lilt and movement) allowed me to believe that the simple joys of life are better than so many artificially induced “highs”. I never understood the need to go out and “get high” or “get drunk”. My physical constitution would just make me miserable and sick. Rather joy in life must be a bi-product of living a good and productive life. Just think how much more money we could spend on helping the poor if we didn’t spend so much on “artificial highs”. How I wish John Denver was still with us writing songs. I think him being older…he would probably have matured in his philosophy and outlook on life. But alas, his love of nature took a “new age” and “pantheistic” turn and his hunt for greater natural highs led to his death. If only he would have discovered the greatness of St. Francis of Assisi.
St. Francis loved nature (another “tree hugger’) and he blessed many pets. But his Catholic faith gave him a deeper appreciation of “brother sun and sister moon”. His faith clued him in on the fact that all this beauty is made by a God who is beauty itself. We must abandon our hunt to possess and own for ourselves as much natural beauty as possible. We must seek to love the ONE who made it all in the first place, “nature’s God” as our founding fathers declared. It is this spirit and this spirit alone that enables us to give and be generous. But alas, too many hearts have been spoiled by the pro-choice, pro-contraceptive culture so God’s hand behind nature’s beauty is all but lost.
I’m reading a new book: “Evangelical Catholicism”. I’ve seen those two words many times before…but I’ve never seen them together…and may I say…it’s about time! Some Protestants refer to themselves as Evangelicals…so what does that word mean? To evangelize means to talk to someone with enthusiasm so they consider your ideas. We Catholics do this all the time when we talk about football, food, friends and fun. It’s too bad we don’t have the same enthusiasm when it comes to our faith at times. My Protestant friends felt very comfortable to include yet another topic…the most important one of all…faith!
Faith is our free response to God’s revelation of Who He is and what He wants us to do to stay united to Him. Faith is essential to our temporary happiness here on earth and to our eternal happiness in Heaven. In fact, there’s nothing else that compares with the gift of Faith. That was the feeling of the four men known as…Evangelists. They were so enthused about what they had learned that they wrote down for all posterity…the Good News that salvation is to be found by believing in Jesus Christ and abiding in Him! But evangelizing didn’t end with them.
Evangelizing is required in every time and place…generation to generation. That means that we…who have heard and know the Good News, are called to share it enthusiastically with others We may be very different in our professions, but we all share the same purpose…which is to get to Heaven and take as many other people with us as possible. God is always there to help us accomplish our purpose and during this Year of Mercy, He is offering special graces to assist us in knowing our Faith, living our Faith, treasuring our Faith and sharing our Faith and to offer the message of Faith with Mercy and charity. Yes, God is offering special graces to help us confidently and enthusiastically discuss the Faith with others…so as to motivate them to appreciate how important faith is and to move them to discover that the fullness of Faith is to be found in the Church that Jesus established 2000 years ago…the Catholic Church.
How will this be done? By Evangelical Catholicism! It is never too late to promote the RCIA classes where we’ll explain the truths and the treasures of the Catholic faith. Please…help us gather many into this process. Be an evangelist by enthusiastically speaking to your family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and strangers and getting them to come to the classes. Come with them and relearn the faith yourself. Then you will truly be living: Evangelical Catholicism!