Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2)
We all have crosses. And indeed, as Franciscan penitents, we are exhorted to take the words of Christ to heart and live them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mt. 16:24) Knowing that this is our call and living it, however, are two different matters. How often, when a cross is given to us, do we turn our faces, pray for deliverance, tell the Lord, “Not this cross, Lord. It is much too heavy for me! I will carry a cross, just not this one.” How fickle and frail we are! I was struggling last week with a cross of my own when I felt led to pick up the writings of Luisa Piccarreta. Here is what I read:
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding…” (Job 38:1-4)
This dramatic Scripture passage recounts the beginning of God’s rebuttal to Job’s complaint at feeling abandoned by God in spite of his righteous life. God’s stinging rebuttal continues from here as he asks Job where he was in all the glorious acts of creation. In the end Job is properly humble and contrite as we can see by his response: “See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer, twice, but will proceed no further.” Job’s reply is silence, and his silence is more eloquent than all he has said before.
John 12:24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
The power of forgiveness. We hear about it, we know about it, and most of us have experienced it. Those of us who take advantage of frequent confession—especially if we are prodigal children returned to the embrace of our Father—know very well the power of forgiveness and what it has meant in our own lives. But have we reciprocated that gratuitous gift to others? This is something we must examine ourselves thoroughly on, for it is one of the criteria we will be judged on and it is the true sign of a humble, contrite, and grateful heart.
John 1:1, 14 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
I have been pondering lately the importance of words. Our culture constantly bombards us with words—written, spoken, tweeted or texted, there is no escape. As with all things, it seems that an excess of anything cheapens the whole. On further examination there is a whiff of the diabolical in this.
St. John’s Gospel begins with the words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” No wonder the enemy wants to cheapen the word—he is trying to undermine the Word made flesh by drowning the Word in a trash heap of words.
Philippians 2:9-11 God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
In her Fatima apparitions, Our Lady told the little visionaries: “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” This was to follow a great chastisement in the world, including wars, sufferings, martyrdom. Our Lady also asked for the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart. There is an ongoing debate as to whether or not the requested consecration of Russia was done to Our Lady’s satisfaction. I personally try not to get drawn into such debates, feeling the issue is best left with the Holy Father and the Bishops. For my part, I have to examine whether or not I have done my part in fulfilling Our Lady’s Fatima requests.
John 14:10, 12 “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works….Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.
Every Christian, indeed every human creature, is called to humility. Certainly as Christians, we should be always aware that we are mere creatures, miniscule fragments in the Divine imagination. Pondering on our own smallness must always lead us farther down the path of humility. Christ must increase, and we must decrease. We all know that, but implementing it is often a tricky business.
Matthew 26:39 My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want, but what you want.
In some Christian circles, any form of suffering, especially if it follows a good deed, is seen as an “attack”. But, I think we do God a disservice if we are too quick to attribute these things to the evil one. I have often thought of what Sirach says about suffering:
“My child, if you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal. Be sincere of heart, be steadfast, and do not be alarmed when disaster comes. Cling to him and do not leave him, so that you may be honoured at the end of your days. Whatever happens to you, accept it, and in the uncertainties of your humble state, be patient, since gold is tested in the fire, and the chosen in the furnace of humiliation.” [Sirach 2:1-5]
Read this again: “If you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal.” How many of us know the truth of this first-hand! St. Theresa of Avila, once complained to the Lord about a trial she was undergoing, to which Jesus replied, “Teresa, that’s how I treat all my friends.” Teresa responded, “No wonder you have so few of them.”
Matthew 5:43-45 You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven…
I’m sure we have all heard the cliché line that a counsellor or therapist might use: “How did that make you feel?” The popular theory is that if we can identify our feelings, we can communicate more effectively and our relationships will improve. To paraphrase a 60s pop song, society is hooked on feelings.
Matthew 24:42 Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.
Most people in the secular world—and many believers as well—are afraid of death. Certainly a good deal of money is spent in first world countries in an attempt to live longer and put off the inevitable. In the past, some people even experimented with cryogenics so that they could be frozen in the instant after (or even before) death and thawed out once a cure was discovered for whatever had killed them. There is always a buck to be made off people’s desire to avoid death.
I recently watched a series of short videos by Jeff Cavins on the Rabbi-Disciple Relationship*. In the last video of the series, Cavins quotes Archbishop Fulton Sheen as saying that the reason we’re so afraid of dying is that “we have not practiced for it.” It is not difficult to picture Archbishop Sheen saying that, with his characteristic twinkle. But what did he mean?
Luke 21:9-19 When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky. “Before all this happens, however, they will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name. It will lead to your giving testimony. Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute. You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”
The Mass readings in November are somber in tone—dire even. The fact that the month preceding Advent offers Mass readings that are meant to shake us up, is an annual reminder that followers of Christ should guard against getting too comfortable; the Lord, through the Church, is warning us against complacency. We are not meant for this world and so the world will necessarily hate us. I heard a bishop say once that if you’re fitting in quite well with the world, you’re doing it wrong! Those of us striving to live “in the world, but not of it” would do well to check ourselves often. The pull of the world is subtle; before we know it, we can be pulled under! We must remain vigilant!
However, if we only look at the warnings in the November readings we are missing something crucial. Read again the last half of the above Scripture passage. The Lord is promising to be with us in all our trials in a powerful way. He promises wisdom to confound our persecutors; he promises the greatest reward of all for what we suffer in his name—eternal life with him.