Thought Before Action: Do You Believe?

Alright, I’ve heard the Gospel; what’s next??

Before taking any further action, I need to do what humans are meant to do: think. I need to pause consider, for however long or short a time, whether I believe Jesus is who he says he is. Do I have faith in Jesus? If so, that faith will move me on to the next step.

Can’t Find Jesus in Your Life? Look in the Church.

One of the tricky parts about being a Christian is the fact that we worship a God who is invisible to our physical sight, even if he is “visible” to us by faith. We know that Jesus exhorted Thomas the Apostle (and us) to believe in him without seeing him:

“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20:27).

Up to this point in the Gospels, Jesus had been physically present to his disciples and so they were able to interact with him through their physical senses: they could touch him, see him, hear him, even smell him. In this verse, Jesus revealed something new, as he often did, by challenging their basic assumptions about who they expected him to be for them. He knew their expectations and basically said, “I’ve got something different in mind.” Classic Jesus moment right there.

From the moment of the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven until now, Jesus no longer interacts through the physical senses of his followers, unless he miraculously goes out of his way to give a particular gift to someone by appearing to them or allowing them to feel an unexplained hand on the shoulder or something like that, which is fairly rare. The ordinary way for the Christian to interact with Jesus happens not in a physical way, but a spiritual way. Of course, as Catholic-Christians, we can also point to the Sacraments as potential ways to physically interact with Jesus and receive grace from him. Even those, however, bring us to Jesus through signs, even as he is truly, really present within them. As Catholics, for example, we believe Jesus is really present in the Eucharist – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity – but our senses still only see and taste bread and wine, while our faith informs our spiritual senses to know that Jesus is there. And even if we decide to grant that the Sacraments are ways for us to interact with Jesus in a more physical way, I would only argue that it points to the extraordinary nature of the Sacraments that allow us to do so – it should only make us appreciate even more these miraculous gifts given to us by Jesus!

This “new” way of interacting with Jesus can make things pretty tricky for us as Christians. Many people have a very difficult time trying to interact with Jesus in a real way, while others make it seem like Jesus “speaks” to them all the time. Then, of course, this makes things even more frustrating for those who rarely, if at all, encounter Jesus in their daily lives: Why isn’t Jesus talking to me like he apparently talks to that person?!? I can’t seem to find him. Fortunately for us, Scripture can supply some help. I was reflecting on a scene from the Gospel of Luke the other day, in the 2nd chapter:

Now [Jesus’] parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom; and when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the company they went a day’s journey, and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances; and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions; and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when they saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” And he said to them, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:41-49)

Even when people were still interacting with Jesus through their physical senses, they sometimes couldn’t find him! As I was reflecting on this scene, there were a number of insights that came my way – we might even say Jesus was “speaking” to me through the reflection. Here are some quick bullet points:

  • They had their own expectations concerning the whereabouts of Jesus. How often do I seek Jesus according to my own expectations? Do I only consider looking for him where I want him to be?
  • Consider the immense amount of joy and relief when they finally found Jesus. They must have been so relieved! When we can’t seem to find Jesus in our lives, sometimes the reason for this can be that Jesus is allowing us to feel the emptiness caused by the absence of his felt-presence, all so that our joy can be filled up when he reveals himself to us again. It’s like he’s preparing us to experience deeper joy by allowing even our spiritual senses to feel like he’s missing from our lives.
  • This is the big point for me: They finally found Jesus in the temple, the place of communal worship. His response to them: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” If I can’t find Jesus in my life, the best place to seek him is in his Father’s house, the Church! It’s where he “must” be! So often when I’m feeling spiritually desolate, I look for new and exciting ways to encounter Jesus. These might provide fleeting moments of good feelings, but they ultimately fade away. What I need to do instead is return to the House of God, the place of communal worship, and there seek Jesus.

This passage provides me with great hope and encouragement that I, too, will find Jesus when it feels like I’ve lost him. Of course, I know he’s always present (Matthew 28:20), but I don’t always feel his presence. The most likely place for him to reveal himself to me is the same place where Joseph and Mary found him, which is the temple; for us as Christians, it’s in the Church. Above all, it would even be best for me to go to the place where he is present in the Eucharist, whether that is in the church-proper or in a chapel reserved for Eucharistic worship. He is truly there, waiting for me to come and visit. There I must go, there I will go, even now.

Sacred Triduum: The Prayer of Poetry

Today begins the Sacred Triduum, the holiest time of the year. In these moments, sometimes I feel so deeply my human weakness and inadequacy and I say like Romans 8: “I do not know how to pray as I ought.” Come Holy Spirit, aid me in my weakness.

As I’ve prayed this Holy Week, I have been assisted in my weakness by poetry depicting Christ’s Sacred Heart and his love for us amidst suffering. If your heart needs assistance in these days, here is the poetry I’ve been praying with.

Rock of Ages

There is an everlasting home
Where contrite souls may hide,
Where death and danger dare not come–
The Savior’s side.

It was a cleft of matchless love
Opened when He had died;
When mercy hailed in world’s above,
That wounded side.

Hail, Rock of Ages, pierced for me,
The grave of all my pride;
Hope, peace and heaven are all in Thee,
Thy sheltering side.

There issued forth a double flood,
The sin-atoning tide,
In streams of water and of blood
From that dear side.

There is only fount of bliss,
In joy and sorrow tried;
No refuge for the heart like this–
A Saviour’s side.

Thither the Church, through all her days
Points as a faithful guide;
And celebrates with ceaseless praise
That spear-pierced side.

There is the golden gate of heaven,
An entrance for the Bride,
Where the sweet crown of life is given
Through Jesus’ side.

– M. Bridges

O Soul of Jesus

O Soul of Jesus, sick to death!
Thy blood and prayer together plead;
My sins have bowed Thee to the ground,
As the storm bows the feeble reed.

Deep waters have come in , O Lord!
All darkly on Thy human  soul;
And clouds of supernatural gloom
Around Thee are allowed to roll.

My God! My God! and can it be
That I should sin so lightly now,
And think no more of evil thoughts
Than of the wind that waves the bough?

Shall it be always thus, O Lord?
Wilt Thou not work this hour in me
The grace of Thy passion merited,
Hatred of self and love of Thee?

Oh, by the pains of Thy pure love
Grant me the gift of holy fear;
And give me of Thy bloody sweat
To wash my guilty conscience clear?

Ever, when tempted, make me see,
Beneath the olive’s moon-pierced shade,
My God, alone, outstretched, and bruised,
And bleeding, on the earth He made.

– Fr. Faber

St. Francis Xavier’s Hymn of Love

O God, I love Thee for Thyself
And not that I may heaven gain,
Nor because those who love Thee not,
Must suffer hell’s eternal pain.

Thou, O my Jesus! Thou didst me
Upon the cross embrace;
For me didst bear the nails and spear
And manifold disgrace;

And griefs and torments numberless,
And sweat and agony;
E’en death itself–and all for one
Who was Thine enemy.

Then why, O blessed Jesus Christ,
Should I not love Thee well?
Not for the sake of winning heaven,
Or escaping hell;

Not with the hope of gaining aught, not seeking a reward;
But, as Thyself hast loved me, O ever-loving Lord?
E’en so I love Thee, and will love, and in Thy praise  will sing;
Solely because Thou art my God
And my eternal King.

 

Suffer With Jesus [SERMON]

Listen to Deacon Bryan’s homily from this morning. First, read this Gospel passage (Matthew 15:21-28):

At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.
And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out,
“Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!
My daughter is tormented by a demon.”
But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her.
Jesus’ disciples came and asked him,
“Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.”
He said in reply,
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, “Lord, help me.”
He said in reply,
“It is not right to take the food of the children
and throw it to the dogs.”
She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps
that fall from the table of their masters.”
Then Jesus said to her in reply,
“O woman, great is your faith!
Let it be done for you as you wish.”
And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.

Jesus reveals his love for this woman through a strong challenge so he can boast about her great faith when she perseveres in prayer. Let’s imitate her great humility before the Lord!

Revisiting the Cafeteria (Audio Sermon)

Revisiting the Cafeteria

Cafeteria Christianity was a popular discussion a few years back. The 4th Chapter of Luke shows a people accepting Jesus when they like what He says, and the same people rejecting Jesus when they don’t like what He says. What He says is true, whether we like it or not.

Full Text:
We find something very peculiar in the 4th chapter of Luke’s Gospel. Jesus picks up the scroll of Isaiah and reads from it: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me – he anointed me – I’m going to help out the poor – I’m going to set the captive free – I’m going to heal the blind – I’m going to bring freedom – it’s going to be great. And when He finishes reading, He says, in verse 21: Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. And this next verse is what we want to examine: verse 22: And all spoke highly of Him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He continues the sermon, prophesying how the people are going to respond, reading their souls and declaring what is hidden. And they hate it. Verse 22 had them loving Jesus, hanging on His every word. Now look at verse 28: When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. The drove him out of town, led him to the edge of the hill and wanted to throw him off.
What happened here? At the beginning of the sermon they loved him. By the end they wanted to kill him. What happened?
It’s here we need to pause and bring this home. Have I ever done that? Has it ever happened that I praised God in one breath, and with the next, I cursed Him? This is the radical reality of humanity: I have the capacity to bless and curse with the same breath. I had a professor in the seminary who told us that when he wakes up in the morning, his first reflection is this: By 2PM this afternoon I have the ability to do the worst act possible to humanity. Are you able to acknowledge that for yourself? In the human person is the potential for absolute greatness. In the same human person is the potential for absolute and utter destruction.

A few years ago there was a popular catchphrase going around, called Cafeteria Christianity. The basic principle is this: take a buffet. There are lots of options. There are lots of things that I really like, and possibly lots of things that I don’t really care for. I take what I want; I leave the rest.
For a buffet, that’s all good. That’s actually the point. Take as much as humanly possible of the stuff you love, and leave the rest.
That doesn’t work, however, for Christianity. Jesus, I like what you say here, I like what you did here, and I’m fine with that line over there. But, I don’t like this, I don’t like that, and I’m not a fan of that either. So, I’ll just take what I like, and leave the rest. You think that works with Jesus? Do you think that works as a Christian? Christianity is not a buffet of take its and leave its.
This is what happens in chapter 4 of Luke. The people were loving what Jesus was saying about healing and restoration and all these good tidings, and so they accepted Him. As soon as He started saying things that made them uncomfortable, things they didn’t like, they rejected Him. They rose up against Him. They tried to kill Him.

Let’s bring this into your lives a little more clearly. So we found that picking and choosing works well at a buffet; in fact, that is the point of the buffet.

Another image: sports fan. There are a few types here, fair-weather and die hard. Die hards wear the jersey everywhere they go. They talk about the team in the personal plural: We did this; we did that. They act like they are actually on the team. Then you got the fair-weather fans. They wear the jersey when the team is awesome; talk about the team when the team is great. But when the team falls down, loses games, the jersey comes off, the channel is changed, and the thought of them disappears almost altogether.
And guess what: that’s all fine, because it’s sports. You’re free to love them or leave them, according to your whim. But Christianity is not like that. You don’t get to put on your Jesus jersey when You like what He’s up to and hide it away when He’s gone too far. With Jesus, it’s all or nothing.

A closer example: dating. A young man finds a girl he likes. He’s totally into her, wanting to spend all the time with her. He loves her. He likes the way she dresses, he likes the way she looks at him, he likes the way other guys are jealous cuz she’s his girlfriend. What do you think she would say if he comes up to her and says: Hey, I’m really into you. I love the way you dress, I love the way you look at me, and I totally accept all this. But this stuff over here, these parts of you, I’m not into them. I don’t accept them. Actually, I reject that part of you. How do you think she reacts? Slap. Turn around, walks away. Silent treatment. Actually, what he just said was the classic break up speech, from end-this-thing-now 101. You don’t do that in a relationship that you want to continue. You would never speak like that. You gotta work that kind of stuff out in a very different way. Because real love says this: I’m yours. You’re mine. I’m all in. I choose all of you for me, and you’ve chosen all of me for you. For better or for worse, we are each other’s, and we aren’t going anywhere else. This is the gift of total love.

So what do you think it looks like in the relationship above all relationships, the relationship with the God who made you, redeemed you in Christ, and breathes life into you as often as you breathe? Do you think it would be any less than that of dating. Do you think it’s okay to accept parts of Jesus, and reject other parts of Jesus? Jesus, this arm of yours, this leg, this half of you I accept. But the rest, that has to go. Do you know what you end up with? A broken Jesus. It’s called the crucifixion. Our rejection leads to the crucifixion.

It works with a buffet. It can even work with sports. It doesn’t work with relationships and it definitely doesn’t work with the Person, the message, the teaching, the religion of Jesus.

If it was a manmade thing, you have all the rights you want. Take this, leave that. But my religion, the religion I’m trying to preach to you, is not manmade. It’s revealed. It came out of Heaven and has been given as a gift to humanity. And it’s a package. I either receive it all, or I reject it all. Because as much of it as I reject, that much has it become my own religion, and it can no longer save me.

Father, do we really need to receive the Holy Eucharist to go to Heaven? In John chapter six verse 53 Jesus says: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.
Father, do we really need to see a priest to have our sins forgiven? In John chapter 20 verse 23, speaking to the apostles, Jesus says: Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.
Father, I’ve got my own thoughts on marriage. Matthew, chapter 19, verses 4-6, Jesus says: Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator made them male and female and said, for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together no human being must separate.

So often I hear someone say: “Well, of course I don’t agree with everything.” I hear this all the time. What don’t you agree with? What part of Jesus’ body are you trying to rip away? This is His teaching, not ours. It’s an all or nothing thing. I either defer to God or I don’t. I either trust in God or I trust myself. Whether it’s easy or not. Whether you like it or not.

No, there is no middle ground here. I am either a verse 22 person or a verse 28 and 29 person. I either accept Jesus, and everything that comes with Him, like in verse 22, or I reject Him, like in the 28th and 29th verse.

Real fans walk with their team, winning season or losing season.
Real love accepts the other, completely, fully.
Real Faith accepts all of Jesus, His teaching, His words, His ways, His worship, or it rejects it all.

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