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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.

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.

How To Become A Well Fed Sheep

Good ShepherdAre you a sheep or a goat?  It all depends on what nourishes you.

Ezekiel proclaims the message that the Lord says, “I myself will look after and tend my sheep” (Ez. 34).  The shepherd is one who proactively feeds and cares for his sheep.

Matthew 25 brings together the image of the ruler and the shepherd in one parable.  The Son of Man, seated on his throne as king, will be as a shepherd.  Indeed, he is like the shepherd mentioned in Ezekiel.  He brings together his sheep and gives them their inheritance in the Kingdom of God.  The king acknowledges their works in caring for those in need.  He even goes so far as to say that to serve the needy is to serve the king himself!

Yet, there is a twist.

The shepherd who proactively nourishes and feeds his sheep rewards his sheep for proactively feeding and caring for others.  How many of you have heard of sheep feeding other sheep?  Does this entire image fall apart then?  Is Jesus confused?

No, in this story the Lord invites us to probe the mystery of our salvation.

This reminds me of the prayer of St. Francis: It is in giving that we receive.

The sheep who feed others are fed in their feeding.  Caring for others nourishes the sheep.  Indeed, it saves them.

We who are called to be sheep have been created in such a way that we thrive, grow, and are nourished by caring for those in need.  For this reason, the sheep who hear the voice of the shepherd are guided to that nourishment.  And the voice of the shepherd we hear in the cry of the poor, the begging of the hungry, the sobbing of the prisoner, and the chattering teeth of the naked.  Even if we are not aware of it, we are hearing the voice of the king.

The voice and face of the king we can find wherever we find our suffering brothers and sisters.

The goats are the ones who do not recognize the shepherd’s voice.  They do not listen to the voice of the king in the poor, the hungry, the prisoner and the naked.  So they ignore the king.  Perhaps they stayed out of trouble.  Maybe they broke no laws.  But that is a life of saying “no” to doing evil.

Christianity is not a religion of “no” but of “yes.”  It is not a religion that focuses on the things we should not do.  Turning away from the desert of sin is only the first step.  We must also turn to green pastures.  We must listen to the king’s voice, who shepherds us to those green pastures where we are fed by works of charity and justice.

In other words, we say “yes” to all the good works about which the king would have us.  Every day, when we wake up, we can say “no” to sin, and we should.  In addition, we can say “yes” to virtue, especially the virtues of charity and justice.

When we pray at night we can ask ourselves the questions: “how often do I say yes?  How often do I look for the poor, the hungry, the prisoner, and the naked?  Am I proactively seeking to grow as a follower of Christ?  Am I actively seeking out the king in those who are in need?  Or am I satisfied with just staying out of trouble?”

If we are not proactively working for charity and justice we are already in trouble.  No one ever won any trophies for not breaking the law.  And no one will win a life in heaven simply by not sinning.  The inheritance of the Kingdom of God belongs to those who have been blessed by the heavenly Father.  And the heavenly Father blesses those who have blessed his Son, Christ the King, present in the least of his brothers and sisters.

 

 

We Are Only as Sick as Our Secrets and as Healthy as Our Confessions

Adam and Eve

Adam and Eve Hiding

In preparation for our mission, which will start November 2nd and continue until November 5th, I continue to reflect on the great gift of the sacraments.  Specifically, confession is our greatest aid towards healing of our sins.

We can recall in the book of Genesis of the first sin committed by our race.  In the beginning, Adam and Eve would walk with God in the Garden of Eden.  They enjoyed his presence and all was open.  Then, in secret, the tempter proposed to them an act of prideful disobedience.  Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit.

This story is allegorical of course.  Yet, it is a story that teaches us a few very important facts.  At some point, our ancestors disobeyed in a very serious way that the whole human race was plunged into suffering and death.

Also, shame, secrecy, and hiding accompanied this disobedience.  After they ate the forbidden fruit, they fled.  They hid from each other and from God.

This tendency seems to accompany us whenever we sin.  We want to keep them secret.  Sometimes we even keep them secret from ourselves.  Indeed, neither Adam nor Eve were willing to acknowledge their fault.  Instead, they blamed someone else.

There is a saying: “you’re only as sick as your secrets.”

When we keep our sins secret, they behave like battery acid.  They sit on the surface of our soul.  It would seem tolerable at first…even harmless.  Yet, over time the acid eats away at our soul, our joy, our peace, and our serenity.  In this way, our sins become far more destructive then they were when we first committed them.

The shame hurts us and distorts our vision of ourselves.  We tend to beat ourselves up over our sins.  Or worse, we simply get so used to them that we no longer feel any shame, guilt or remorse (a lot of self-help and psychology books suggest this as a solution!)

The Lord knows the pain and the curse of sins kept in secret.  So he gave us the sacrament of confession and set aside human beings to be his ears and his heart…the ordained priests.  Confession is that place where God searches for us and asks, “where are you?” just as he did in the book of Genesis.

It is the place where the grace of Jesus Christ washes away the acid of secret sins.  It is the place where shame is conquered by grace.  And perhaps the most unique advantage of confession is that we get to be ourselves, good and bad, and we experience the loving and accepting company of a fellow Christian, whose unique role is to hold that conversation in strict confidence, listen to us with a loving heart, and help us as we continue to do our best to change our behaviors.

Parish MissionOur mission coming up in November (2-5), will include some time for confession.  Get ready for it now, especially if you haven’t done it for a long time.  Remember that you are as sick as your secrets and as healthy as your confessions.

Recreation and Mission

Parish MissionPerhaps you may have heard that Resurrection Church will have a mission November 1-5.  What is a mission?  It is a time of rest and recreation for all of us as a parish.  It is an opportunity for us to do what I talked about last week…take a break from the work of the Lord to spend time with the Lord of the work!

It will be a time of comfort, conversion, and community.  The theme this year will focus on our rich life of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.  This will be a great time to get to know a little more about your faith and take that brief time every evening to pray just a little bit more.    It’s also a chance to enjoy some snacks and refreshments while spending time with your fellow parishioners.

Fr. Tony Judge

Fr. Tony Judge C.Ss.R.

What’s more, Fr. Tony Judge C.Ss.R. will be leading the mission.  He has years of experience of leading parish missions and retreats for parishes all over the nation.  He also offers the mission in both English and Spanish!

I want to tell you a little secret about myself.  Every year we priests are required to go on a retreat.  Every year that I go, there is a part of me that does not want to.  Why?  Because I have so much to do!  I’m so “busy!”

Yet, once I arrive I can feel all the noise of my life calm down.  After I leave from retreat, I feel renewed, refreshed and refocused.  Priorities become clearer and I gain the necessary perspective to let go of things over which I have no control.  I experience serenity.

This mission coming up in November is your opportunity to experience the same.  Each evening beginning November 1-5, you can experience the serenity that helps you refocus on the most important thing in your life, your relationship with Christ and His Church!

(P.S.  child care will be provided)

The Glory and the Cross

Christ on the CrossWhen we think of the glory of God, certainly we can imagine the angels and saints in radiant splendor, offering up to God praise and thanksgiving.  We can imagine a majestic house of worship bedecked with fine jewels and a towering throne upon which sits the Son of the Most High.

This is a fitting image for the glory of Christ our King when he returns again.

At the same time, we know that the glory of the Lord means the Lord shows himself for who he really is.  We might be surprised what happens in John 13.  As Jesus sat with his disciples to share his last supper with them, and he gave himself at that moment in the Eucharist, Judas left to commit his act of  betrayal against him.

Then immediately after that, Jesus says, “now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him.”

How is he glorified?  How is he showing to the world who God really is?

At that moment, he did not refuse obedience to God the Father.  He gave of himself even to the point of experiencing betrayal from those closest to him.  Indeed, the hour of his great glory took place on the cross.

Stretched out in a horrifying way, Jesus bears witness to his glorifying love, and that of the Father for his children.  He loved us and loved us to the end.

Is it any wonder then, that we celebrate the Exultation of the Cross this Sunday?

John the Baptist and Iraq

The beheading of JBapIt appears that in some places not much has changed.  Herod beheaded John the Baptist because of his witness to the truth of his unlawful and incestuous marriage.

Today, especially in Iraq and Syria, IS literally beheads Christians because of their witness to the truth of Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, news outlets in the United States speak little of this horrendous persecution.  What Christians are going through in that region dwarf the persecutions under Emperors Diocletian and Marcus Aurelius in ancient Rome.

There are a few lessons to be learned here.  First, religion was not, is not, and will not ever be a private matter.  This is especially true of the biblical religions such as Islam, Christianity and Judaism.  They believe in a God of history, a God who is intimately involved in the lives of human individuals, communities, and entire civilizations.  Part of his involvement includes divine law which guides how we are to live together.

Because of this, biblical religions, if they remain faithful to the public aspect of their faith, will always influence everyone around them even if they claim that religion is strictly private.

This leads to a potential for great and transformational good as well as great and destructive evil.  Jesus Christ calls his disciples the light of the world and a leaven of the Kingdom of God.  This means that Christians are to influence the world by bringing the light of Christ to bear on all.  This takes place through gentle charity and mercy in both words and deeds.  It includes a civil aspect in that Christians must engage in the public sphere of politics and institutions in order to be that transformational leaven.

Because of that, the history of the world shows how Christianity forever shaped and molded the entire world.  It also shows how the influence of Christianity threatened the existence and power of those who wished to impose other kinds of orders.  These powers include the governments of Ancient Rome (initially), Nazi Germany, and Communist Russia.  Christianity diametrically opposed, by it’s very existence and mission, the worldviews and influence of these powers.  This is especially true in the case of the Catholic Church, which exists as a tangible and global institution.

In these cases, this diametric opposition motivated these powers to deal with Christianity in a most brutal matter–oppression, forced conversion, and murder.  Since much has been said about Christians doing the same in it’s own history, I need not do more than to mention it.  I propose only to concentrate on the topic of Christian persecution because of current events, which are under-reported.

In Iraq and Syria, non-Muslims, especially Christians, are slaughtered by the thousands and driven out of their homes by the 10’s of thousands.

children-iraqThat this takes place in the modern world shows the need for constant vigilance in maintaining a culture of friendship and religious tolerance based on the dignity of the human person and the recognition of religion’s place in the public sphere.  It also necessitates strong opposition to all forms of religious persecution by the media, the public, and governments.  Such opposition should include the possibility of the use of force in the form of sanctions, blocking of resources, and diplomatic pressure.

Let us pray for the end of all religious persecution, a growing friendship among Christians and Muslims, and peace among nations.

Prophecy Causes Indigestion?

JeremiahI say to myself, I will not mention him,
I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it (JER. 20).

Jeremiah struggles to speak in the Lord’s name because of what it costs him.  Many mock him because of his message and perhaps because of the way that he delivers it.  He must “cry out.”

Indeed, serving as a prophet of the Lord can cause us great difficulty.  Perhaps the example of parents with their children illustrates this.  I visited one family where a mother of many struggled to remind her teenage children of their obligations to serve in the community.  This particular family took responsibility for cleaning the streets in their area.

For some reason, perhaps because of the characteristic foolishness of youth, they preferred to walk the streets like gangsters rather than clean the streets like Christians.

Yet, she spoke with so much force and passion, that they would ultimately obey, even as they complained while they did it.  I personally believe that they also listened to their own consciences and acted on their natural ability to do good.

Many times, the people to whom the Lord sends a crying prophet do not listen and do not obey the Lord.  What is a prophet to do?  If one is truly dedicated and open to the power of the Holy Spirit, nothing can stop such a one from speaking on the Lord’s behalf…not even themselves.  Like Jeremiah, to be silent when they are prompted by the Lord to speak can be painful, like fire in the heart.

I like to call this “holy indigestion.”  May we all be filled with such power so that we can prophecy the Lord’s message of love, mercy, repentance, and service!

Anglicans Joining Catholics

We live in a very significant time in which the Catholic Church has made it easier for Anglicans to enter the Church and live in a space that is a bit more familiar to them.

This space is called the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.  What is that?  It is a Church entity that is within and part of the Catholic Church which allows for Catholics who were formally Anglican to continue to enjoy their theological, pastoral, and liturgical life that was uniquely Anglican but not at all opposed to the life of Catholicism.  Indeed, this ordinariate enriches the Catholic Church.

You probably have a million questions about this.  But I think the best place to start is with the ordinariate’s website:

http://www.usordinariate.org/index.cfm?load=page&page=160

Also, as an example of why Anglicans are moving so quickly into the Catholic Church, watch this video from EWTN featuring Fr. Steve Sellers, a priest of this ordinariate (who is also one of the teachers at Resurrection Catholic School in Houston, Texas):

Let’s continue to pray for the unity among all Christians!

The Pope, The Pillars, and the People

Jesus, in his great generosity has given to you and I the Pope.  That’s how he works.  He always sends to us an individual through whom he rules us, teaches us, sanctifies us, and unites us.  In Exodus, we hear the story of how God gave Moses to the Hebrews.  We also hear this in Isaiah 22 when God gave Eliakim to Israel.

In both of these examples, these chosen men worked tirelessly to govern, to teach according to the law of the covenant, to sanctify through the liturgical rites, and to unite by representing God to the people and the people to God.

How wonderful it is that Jesus Christ does the same!

Jesus Sends the DisciplesNow there is one thing we must understand about Jesus.  He could have stayed on earth in his glorified form after his Resurrection.  Indeed, he was the chosen one sent by the Father.  Yet, he who was sent also sends: “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (Jn. 20).

Who does he send?  One of the ones he sends is Simon-son-of-Jonah.  Upon Simon’s proclamation of faith, Jesus gives him a new name…a name that signifies the nature of his mission.  He was to be the Rock of the Church.  What does this mean?  It means that the members of the Church, you and I, will always have assurance from Christ that the gates of hell shall never prevail against us.

The means by which Christ assures this is the rock.  Peter, and his successors, the popes, each serve as the rock.  They serve as the rock, like Eliakim in the book of Isaiah, who was “like a peg in a sure spot” for Israel.  The popes are given the keys to the Kingdom of God and the vocation to bind and loose.  This hearkens back to Eliakim, who was given the keys to the “House of David,” so that “when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open” (Is. 22).

Our wonderful Lord, in a way that is surprising yet not uncharacteristic, gives us the Pope to govern, teach, sanctify, and unite his Church.Peter and the Keys

Yet, it does not stop there.  The structure of the Church does not end at the rock.  The apostles are the pillars and the people are the living stones.  All of this structure is built around Christ, the cornerstone!

The Holy Spirit fills this structure with life, light and love.

Then this whole structure is offered to God the Father.  In no other place is done more powerfully than in the Eucharist.  And in no other place is this structure repaired more effectively than in the sacrament of Confession.

So, that’s it then.  The Pope has the keys and all the authority and no one else does, right?  Wrong.

You see, the pope also represents the entire apostolic life of the Church.  The apostles and their successors, the bishops, also share in the work of binding and loosing.  For that reason, our own bishop can bind and loose.  He is the chief teacher in his diocese.  He is the ultimate spiritual and juridical authority in his diocese.  He can lay down rules and make exemptions, impose and lift excommunications, forgive and not forgive sins (in the case of the unrepentant), and perform exorcisms.  All of the presbyters (commonly called “priests”) assist him in this mission for all the people in his diocese.

Pope w PeopleSo, it stops there, right?  Wrong.  This apostolic authority flows to the people of God as well.  Parents serve in this task in their own households for their children by teaching them in word and example.  They create a household of forgiveness and devotion to our Lord.  Lay leaders in the Church, such as catechists, teachers and professors, do the same.  They, and many other members of the Church, grant access to our Lord Jesus Christ, in communion with the rock and the pillars.

Our Lord Jesus Christ does this so that we can all be united in a union symbolized by the pope.

All of us are connected to the capstone, Jesus Christ.  And all of us, together, proclaim with Peter that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

 

 

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