The Healing Power of Death in Christ

From the Office of Readings for All Souls Day we read from St. Ambrose:

Death was not part of nature; it became part of nature. God did not decree death from the beginning; he prescribed it as a remedy. Human life was condemned because of sin to unremitting labor and unbearable sorrow and so began to experience the burden of wretchedness. There had to be a limit to its evils; death had to restore what life had forfeited. Without the assistance of grace, immortality is more of a burden than a blessing.

Our world pushes every day to delay death, or even to “cure” it.  We see signs of this all around us.  Make up and surgery hides old age.  Stores like “Forever 21” promise youthful preservation.  Some with financial resources plan to place their dead bodies in a freezer with the hope of a kind of “resurrection” through technology.

Yet, the mentality behind these efforts sometimes misses one important point.  Life in this world, with all of its blessings, is unbearable.  Everyday we bear the weight of the stain of original sin: concupiscence, anxiety, grief, sickness, etc.  On top of that, we suffer under circumstances outside of ourselves: natural disasters, criminals, dictators, war, financial corruption, etc.

I don’t mean to be a downer here.  And I don’t mean to neglect the blessings God offers us in this world.  I am simply acknowledging what everybody already knows.  This world is not perfect.  It is far from perfect.  It will not be around forever.  And even though some of us live in happiness, this happiness is incomplete.  Also, our incomplete happiness should be further checked by our empathy for those who suffer greatly.

We find our happiness in God alone and in complete union with God.  Complete and eternal union with God is our true home.  So our bodies serve as vessels that carry us through the unpredictable waters of this imperfect world.  Death is the shoreline of the body’s destination.  There we disembark to our true home, if we have navigated according to the directions of our Savior.

If we persevere every day to use our bodies as Christ used His, we will also receive a new body like His.

We not only follow the directions of Christ, we also allow His body to join with ours in the Eucharist.  The Eucharist is our cure, our preservation, our eternal youth.


-Fr. Christopher Plant

Suffering and Glory

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”1

St. Paul refers to the kind of suffering that we experience as a result of not quite achieving full happiness here on earth.  There are many self-help books, psychological studies, and scientific pursuits that claim to offer now, or to attain in the future, happiness.

Some object that Christianity does not offer happiness because those who belong to it do not seem completely happy.  In fact, the many sacrifices and burdens of authentic Christianity and its devotion to the cross seem to be in direct contradiction to happiness.

All throughout his letters, St. Paul speaks about the happiness and joy that is ours through the Holy Spirit that dwells in us already.  At the same time, he addresses the reality that we are still suffering.  That, indeed, our happiness feels incomplete.

St. Paul carefully notes that this in-completion is real because the Holy Spirit is a pledge, a promise, that God will fulfill his promises in the end of our journey here on earth and not in the present.  Christ himself exemplifies this journey.  Indeed, Christ himself accompanies us on our journey of suffering.  God the Father raised Him from the dead at the end of His painful journey on earth.

Christ promises the same for us.

As we experience a kind of lack here on earth, we can remember that promise.  We can reflect on the glory that awaits us.  We can celebrate how the lack of happiness on earth only pushes us into a hope of the future, rather than laboring for it now in futility.

In anticipation of All Saints Day, we give thanks to God for our suffering, the path to future glory.

  1. Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Ro 8:18). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

Korean Martyrs vs Hell

Do you ever wonder what it would be like if things were like how they “used to be?”  We imagine that back in the day our American culture was not so hostile to Christianity.  The Catholic churches were full and everyone went to mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation.  Whether or not Christianity in the US was really as alive as many think it was is a topic for a different article.

I want to focus on our reality now.  We definitely live in a culture hostile to Christianity as a religion.  Christians are bombarded with false accusations of bigotry, judgmentalism, and hypocrisy.  Some of these criticisms are accurate.  Most are not.

There definitely is a gap between what Christianity is and what many think Christianity is.  A wise bishop once said that there are not more than a hundred people in the world who hate the Catholic Church.  But there are millions who hate what they think is the Catholic Church, but is not.

Now our response should not entail a pity party.  Many great thinkers and writers have commented on the hostility and confusion surrounding religion in general and Christianity in particular.  Sometimes we use this to feel sorry for ourselves and become defensive in the face of attack.

The truth is, we have a mission.  We are sent by our Lord Jesus Christ to proclaim the Gospel to the nations.  Hostile, ignorant, and confused people are included in these nations.  Many of them will not accept the Gospel no matter how we proclaim it.  In Luke 7 Jesus describes those who do not listen to his message no matter what:

                                                                    For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine; and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of man has come eating and drinking;                                                                             and you say, ‘Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35 Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”1

This constitutes a simple rejection of our message.  Yet, for some, rejection of the message is not enough.  Some want to kill the message.  We see this with the Jewish leadership, such as the pharisees and chief priests.  They were directly responsible for handing Jesus over to the Romans to be crucified.

Today, Christians are literally being handed over to death all throughout the world.  The pharisees and chief priests have been replaced by Communist dictators and Islamic terrorists.  Christians are killed by atheistic secularists on one side and religious radicals on the other.

How do we respond?

The Korean martyrs Sts. Andrew Kim and companions provide us an example.  We celebrate their memorial on September 20.  These martyrs, canonized in 1984 by Pope John Paul II, stood with great courage and love before the threat of death in 19th century Korea.

The Korean government threw St. Andrew Kim, the first native Korean to be ordained a priest, into prison.  How did he respond?  Not with complaints nor with self-pity.  He responded by writing a letter of encouragement and thanksgiving to his fellow Korean Catholics.

He recognized three things in this letter, which can be read in the Office of Readings for September 20, in the Proper of Saints.

First, that persecuted Christians follow the example of their founder, Jesus.  Jesus, who IS the Gospel message, was killed:

Dearest brothers and sisters: when he was in the world, the Lord Jesus bore countless sorrows and by his own passion and death founded his Church.

Second, that persecuted Christians, by bearing their sufferings without compromising their mission as disciples, actually advance that mission:

Now he gives it (the Church) increase through the sufferings of his faithful.

Third, that the powers of hell which work through these persecutions will not prevail against the Church:

Hold fast, then, to the will of God and with all your heart fight the good fight under the leadership of Jesus; conquer again the diabolical power of this world that Christ has already vanquished.

If the Korean martyrs held this attitude in the face of death, what should be ours in the face of cultural persecution?

We should respond first by reflecting on the fact that God allows these persecutions so that we may serve as humble, courageous, and lovKorean_martyrsing witnesses in a world that badly needs them.

Second, we should encourage each other, just like Fr. Andrew Kim, recognizing that we do not really fight other people, but the forces of hell trying to steal as many souls as possible.

Third, we should look at the enemies of the Church not with hostility.  Rather, we should look at them with the eyes of Christ crucified, who said, “forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”  At the moment of his death he said, “I thirst.”  He thirsted for our salvation.

Let us thirst for the salvation of others.  Let us recognize our own sufferings in the name of our Lord as instruments of satisfying the thirst of our Crucified Lord, against whom the powers of hell will not triumph but have already been defeated.  Therefore, we look past the superficiality of our sufferings and into the deeper victory of the Christian.

  1. Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Lk 7:33–35). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.


Is Sin a Result of Suffering?

This coming Sunday we will hear about the condition of the man born blind.  Some would believe that this blindness resulted from his own sins or the sins of his parents.  Even today, people come to me who believe that God punishes them with suffering because of their sins.  As a corollary, many believe that they are doing well because they are living a good life.

Yet, Jesus suffered a horrible, agonizing, and humiliating death.  His ministry came to a disastrous end (apparently).  Would we say that this is the result of his own sins?

Then there are the other figures in scripture: Job, Jeremiah, Joseph, and almost all of the prophets suffered greatly at the hands of evil people and natural calamities.  But these stories make clear that they suffered not as a result of their sins.

Jesus sets the record straight.  God does not cause the existential crisis of suffering.  He does not orchestrate our suffering as a result of our sins.  But he works through it.  Jesus makes evident through a visible miracle the infinite and invisible power of his divinity when he healed the blind man.  He also reveals his plans to heal all of us in a final way.  Then, through the worst evil that ever occurred in the history of creation, the killing of the Word made Flesh, Jesus revealed who God really is, in his love, patience, and mercy.

Through this, God cured our far deeper blindness.  This is a blindness that outlasts even the darkness that overshadows us at our death-the blindness of sin and not knowing the God who creates us and loves us.

Reflection for April 2, 2017

Why does God wait?  We experience suffering and times of anxiety.  We call out to God and ask the question, “how long, Lord” (Psalm 13)?  This same expression we can imagine exhaled from the hearts of Mary and Martha when Jesus finally showed up two day after hearing about his friend’s serious illness.  He loved his friend, Lazarus.  Yet he seems to delay.  Martha and Mary say to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11).

This seems to imply that Jesus should not have delayed.  He should have been there to heal his friend, if he loved him.  Yet, Martha expresses some hope that, in the future, he will be raised from the dead.  She looked only to the future.

Now Jesus says something incredible.  He says that the future reality for which she hoped is NOW present.  He says that HE is the Resurrection!  It’s already here!  During these remaining days of Lent, we reflect on the reality that Lent focuses our attention on the present.  We are in a place of waiting and death.  We are also in a place of experiencing the Resurrection in the midst of it.  So Lent is meant to be a season of joy in the middle of our sorrow.

Jesus was glad that he was not there when Lazarus died.  Why?  “So that you may believe.”  Lent allows us to experience a time of apparent delay.  We beg the Lord to come and refresh us, heal us and our relationships now.  “If he was here we would not have experienced those things that cause us misery,” so we say.  The Lord seems absent.  But then he comes in unexpected ways and displays his power before us…so that we may believe and our belief and understanding of our Lord may deepen.

Religion and Spirituality

During the parish mission that we had this week at St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, our mission presenter said something rather interesting about the idea that one can be spiritual but not religious.  One would be hard pressed to hear people say exactly what each word means and how they are different.  Usually, the person seems to say that they believe in a higher power but they don’t follow an “organized religion” (is there such a thing as unorganized religion?).

Our presenter, Mike Patin, was able to frame it another way.  When someone says that they are spiritual and not religious, they mean they don’t need others to connect to God.  If I am spiritual but not religious, I do not see the point of joining any church or group.

When Catholics profess the creed, they say that they believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.  The Catholic Church is apostolic because she believes that all that she knows about Jesus, she has received through the preaching of the Apostles.  In other words, everything that we know, do, and say in our faith has been handed down to us over the centuries by the Holy Spirit, through the apostolic church community…through others!  And together we preserve, live and hand on that faith.

Pope Benedict once said that we get to know God by getting to know the people that know God.  Not only that, in some way the human race is like a prism through which God sends his divine life.  And each human person displays a unique color of that divine light.  So, in every person we can see God’s light and certain characteristics of God.

In some way, we can say that we cannot be spiritual without also being religious.  Which is to say that we cannot have a spiritual relationship with God without having a religious relationship with each other.

Lifting Heavy Burdens

How many times have you and I felt like the laws of the Church were like heavy burdens?  The scriptures allow us to see more deeply into this experience.

On October 12, we read from Luke 11:

The Lord said:
“Woe to you Pharisees!
You pay tithes of mint and of rue and of every garden herb,
but you pay no attention to judgment and to love for God.
These you should have done, without overlooking the others.
Woe to you Pharisees!
You love the seat of honor in synagogues
and greetings in marketplaces.
Woe to you!
You are like unseen graves over which people unknowingly walk.”

Then one of the scholars of the law said to him in reply,
“Teacher, by saying this you are insulting us too.”
And he said, “Woe also to you scholars of the law!
You impose on people burdens hard to carry,
but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them.”

It seems almost comical when the scholars of the law draw attention to themselves.  Without missing a beat, Jesus chastises them as well.  With their words and teachings they imposed heavy burdens but did nothing to help them.

We who know the law, who know what is evil and what is good, also know what it is like to carry the burden of the “flesh.”  On October 12, Paul mentions in his letter to the Galations that we know the works of the flesh.  When he mentions “flesh,” he is referring to that part of us that is sinful and at war, as it were, with that better part of ourselves that wants to do God’s will.

The burden of this war can weigh us down and even crush us.  Those who go to confession with the experience of confessing the same sins over and over again can really relate to this.

The scholars of the law were guilty of making these burdens heavier by failing to acknowledge the great difficulty of living according to God’s will.

Jesus, who is the chief teacher and the law giver, has every authority to impose whatever burdens he wishes upon us.  Yet, he knows our weaknesses and our strengths.  His deep compassion for us moves him to lift more than one finger.  He allows his entire body to be lifted up on a cross to touch the hearts of every single one of us.

In this way, in the words of St. Paul, “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5).  Jesus lifts us up with him and helps us carry our burdens so that they do not crush us.  Rather, they become occasions to lean on him.

We can also do this for others by looking for those with burdens and lending a helping hand.

Why Catholics Must Vote

Should the Catholic Church be involved in politics?  Isn’t it supposed to focus on God and getting to heaven?

The answer to the second question is yes, the Church is supposed to focus on God and getting to heaven.  The answer to the first question is yes, the Church should be involved in politics, because the Church is supposed to focus on God and getting to heaven.

This may seem confusing if we think that politics and the mission of the Church are two separate things.  But that is completely false.  Often when we hear the demand, “keep politics out of the Church,” what we are really hearing is “keep God out of politics.”

To be clear, the Church does not teach that it should be the political power that rules our country.  In fact, the Church does not allow clergy to run for political office.  Nor can clergy command people to vote for a particular candidate.

This is because it is not the role of the Catholic hierarchy to identify with politicians or with partisan interests.

At the same time, in the words of Archbishop Charles Chaput:

[The Church] has every right—in fact an obligation—to engage secular authority and to challenge those wielding it to live the demands of justice.  In this sense, the Catholic Church cannot stay, has never stayed, and never will stay “out of politics.”  Politics involves the exercise of power.  The use of power has moral content and human consequences.  And the well-being and destiny of the human person is very much the concern, and the special competence, of the Christian community (Render Unto Caesar, Chaput, pg. 218).

For this reason, the Catholic Church serves as a teacher and guide for the holy people of God.  She teaches nothing but the message of Jesus Christ, which belongs in every aspect of human life, including and especially politics.

Then the Catholic faithful, the laity worshiping at Mass, hear that message and prayerfully, courageously, and faithfully apply that message in public life, including the political process.

Jesus said in Mark 12:17, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  Jesus made clear that His people are citizens of heaven and of earth.

As we pass through this time on earth, we are on our way to heaven.  Our way to heaven is to help our brothers and sisters on earth.

And we Catholics help our brothers and sisters on earth by rendering unto our political process what belongs to it: our involvement, our influence, and our vote.  And we render unto God what belongs to Him when we vote in order to keep God in politics.

Confession Heals the Unknown Sinner

Confession1In John 4 Jesus sits at the well with the Samaritan woman and has a conversation with her that would transform her for life.  A turning point in that conversation takes place when Jesus tells her secrets about her life.  He knew that she was living in an illegitimate relationship and had been divorced 5 times.

This did not drive the woman to shame.  Rather, she acknowledged him as a prophet.  Finally, Jesus revealed to her who he was: the Messiah.  The woman ran to tell the whole town about him.  She described him as the one who told her everything about her.

Why was she not driven to shame by this man who told her about her little dark secret?  It was because he KNEW her and he was the Messiah.  And the Messiah loves the ones that he knows.

During Lent, we try our best to not hide ourselves from the Lord but allow him to tell us about ourselves, even the darkest parts of ourselves.  You see, Jesus knows you.  And he loves you.  The greatest human desire is to be known and loved.

There is no more powerful way that we can experience that then in the sacrament of confession.  When the sinner confesses, they are telling the Lord what he already knows.  Indeed, it was the Lord, through the Holy Spirit, who revealed to the sinner their sins.  When the sinner confesses before the priest, Jesus listens, knows, loves, forgives, heals, and sends us out to sin no more.

In confession, we are no longer unknown sinners.  Rather, we are known and loved daughters and sons of God the Father.

Chalk the Door for the Three Magi

Three magiA tradition of Epiphany invokes the Magi’s blessing upon the household that hosts the party. Guests typically read a brief, responsive liturgy that includes the biblical account of the Magi’s visit and then “chalk the door” with a series of marks.

The markings include letters, numbers, and crosses in a pattern like this:
20 † C † M † B † 14
The numbers correspond to the calendar year (20 and 14, for instance, for the year 2014); the crosses stand for Christ; and the letters have a two-fold significance: C, M, and B are the initials for the traditional names of the Magi (Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar), but they are also an abbreviation of the Latin blessing, Christus mansionem benedicat, which means, “May Christ bless this house.”
I have copied a format for this prayer that you can do together as a family at home to celebrate Epiphany.
Peace be with this house and all who dwell in it, and peace to all who enter here. In keeping the feast of Epiphany, we celebrate the Magi’s search for the infant king, the Christ child’s appearing to the world, and the peace and hospitality shared between the Magi and the Holy Family.
Let us hear again the Magi’s story:
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him,
“In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

This is the word of the Lord.


Thanks be to God.
(Participants now take turns using the chalk to make part of the Magi’s blessing on the inside lintel of the front door: )
May this home in the coming year be a place where Christ is pleased to dwell.
May all our homes share the peace and hospitality of Christ
which is revealed in the fragile flesh of an infant. Amen.

©Copyright 2014

Get Adobe Flash player Plugin by wordpress themes