Friday, February 19, 2010

Lenten Discipline

The Season that God lends us to become holy has begun. Lent is a marvellous occasion to focus on eternity and the dust that our bodies shall become. "Remember, thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return!" In a few short words we are told about our ancient origins and reminded of our destiny.
When the priest said those words with the imposition of ashes on our forehead he also signed us with a cross. Lent is a journey we pilgrims make to the Cross of Christ and then beyond to the glory of His Resurrection.
On this journey we are told by the Lord that we need to shed our preoccupation with the world, the flesh and the devil. To do so, we are told in Matthew's Gospel (6: 1-18) to give more time to prayer - God; to fasting - self discipline; and to almsgiving - needs of others. So the big three are:
Lest we lose ourselves and our souls in the world we must confront this world. In modern jargon we can call the temptations of the world the 3 W's - work, wealth and welfare!
So often we are overly consumed with work, that our occupation becomes a hazard to heaven. Our career and with it the ego's ever consuming appetite can eclipse the need for God. So the good Lord reminds us during Lent to prayer more, to refocus our attention on his Presence in our lives. He insists that the prayer must be private, from the heart, not just some external attention at Mass. He must become LORD of our lives.
In our age of materialism the want for things is overwhelming - just visit any sound and visual technology shop to appreciate the insatiable thirst for more sensual satisfaction. But the more we want the less we have, spiritually speaking. To offset this deadly drain on our spiritual wellbeing we think of others during Lent. We give so that we can receive. We can give in money or even better in time spent with the lonely, the sick, shut ins, etc.
Lastly, the inordinate drives of our fallen nature clamour for too much attention - be it physical, psychological or emotional wants. Remember we have a fallen - not corrupt - flesh that constantly seeks attention. If we lose the bridle it tends to control us - hence obesity, gluttony, lust and so forth. We are in control of our bodies. We manifest this control and bolster our spiritual strength by fasting and self denial from sensual delights to the palate over Lent. Whatever you do make it worthwhile, athletes do so for a game and we are in the game for eternal life as Christ's athletes.
Finally, the last word is on tactics. The First Sunday of Lent focuses on temptations. The Lord leads us through the lessons on temptations, so let's follow Him.

Temptations are not sins in themselves. Yet they can incite or predispose us to sin. If you play with fire, eventually you’ll be burnt. Toy with temptations and in the end you will succumb. On the other hand it is by overcoming temptations with virtue that we grow stronger and holier. It is by competing with better tennis players on the court that one’s game improves.
We are all weak humans, easily misled and confused. If Satan is likened to a hunter who is in search of prey, then he pursues us with stealth, noting our weaknesses and calculating our moves. He is the master of seduction who patiently plots our fall. In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke), we read about the temptations of Christ. We note how Satan waited until Our Lord was hungry before he tempted Him with food. Like an expert hunter, be assured—especially if you are pursuing a chaste life—that Satan, like an expert hunter who is shrewd and brilliant, is watching and waiting for you. He prepares his assault from afar, ready to strike you when you least expect it or when your guard is down.

First, he wants to disarm you from prayer, which is your armour and protection. Once you are more vulnerable, he gradually chips away at the fortress of your soul. Slowly but surely, he encourages imperfections by suggesting that you are too harsh on yourself. There is no need to go to Confession, and after all, others don’t go and they are good people. In time, those imperfections become venial sins that further distance you from grace and sanctity.
In order to tempt you into mortal sin, he masquerades evil as good. He sets the bait with exceptional care and provides the exact place, occasion, and circumstances. Seduction requires a snare that we can call an occasion of sin. How many young people every weekend frequent pubs and discos. Some of them may think that there is no evil in such places. It is true that the building, as such, is not evil. Yet, it is also true that in those places, late at night, drugs, alcohol, deafening music, empty conversations, obscene language, immodest clothing and sensual body dancing are instrumental tools of the Evil One that degrade our sexuality.

Add to this seduction his carefully chosen clientele, who are shrewdly placed before you as counsellors and friends. God has his servants, and Satan has his slaves. Some are patently aware of it; many, however, are not, for they are slaves primarily of sin and useful tools of his trade. One inmate of a security prison which I used to visit, remarked how corrupt young men became after being in jail with hardened criminals. These young ones left prison, after serving a term for drink driving, with an adept knowledge of and inclination for criminal activity, not to mention additional contacts.
Cast a backward glance over your life and recall how many times you were initiated into evil by the advice, behaviour and conduct of your mentors or companions. On many occasions it was the encouragement of ‘friends’ that enticed you to drink or to indulge in sexual exploits. Some of them may appear as good people, as Christians, to offer help when you were depressed or troubled. In the Old Testament, Job when troubled was tempted to sin by three counsellors who came to offer him their assistance. In the end, he provided them with counsel (see Job 3-31).

Every temptation presents itself as an attractive offer to the mind. Before Satan can enter your heart as he did the heart of Judas (see John 13:27), he must knock on the door of your mind. All temptations begin with a thought in your mind or as an image that evokes pleasure. Once the mind has assented to the temptation, the will consents and at that very precise moment we sin and grace is lost.
Be fortified this Lent then with prayer, fasting and good works so as to be healthy and holy in soul and body, and thus ready for the Lord when He calls you home.
God bless you

Thursday, October 8, 2009

God is a family


God is a family. It sounds strange because God is a pure Spirit. Is God married with children? How can God be a family? God is not just a family but in the act of creation he left his imprint in our very fabric so that we on earth would mirror what he is in heaven.

We read from the first book of everyone's Bible about the creation of our first parents. Adam and Eve were both created in God's likeness or image. Not that God has an image. He is no grandfather figure with the big santa beard. God is more than a benign grandfather. But he is the Father.

The Father is one of three Persons in one Godhead. We are told by heaven itself that Jesus is God's Son the second Person of the Trinity. Note that we are told, it is a revelation that is divine that Jesus is the only begotten Son of the Father. The word begotten does not mean created but given. Jesus was eternally begotten that is there was never a time when he was not the Son of the Father. If the Father is the thought then Jesus is that thought uttered as the Word.

So God in giving us his Son was always a Father and once a father always a Father. So God sounds fairly family orientated with the Father-Son relationship. Note too that it existed eternally. Before the incarnation when the Son took a human nature from Mary he and the Father were pure uncreated divine Spirits who are eternal, infinite, all powerful, all knowing etc. So the family imagery is devoid of bodies and thus genders. The Father is body less yet he bears all the characteristics of fatherhood such as strength, creativity, provider.

Every human family comes from marriage and it consists of a husband and wife, male and female. Both genders are equal yet different. God created them to complement each other in every respect. Before the Fall when there was only innocence, immortality and happiness - perfect bliss existed in Eden. When Eve eventually became pregnant then she became a mother and Adam a father. So we have the original earthly family.

The question then is asked if that is how God created us where is the female component in the heavenly family? First, there is no marriage in heaven. Marriages are to get us to heaven. Once there we won't want to be married because there will exist a more intimate and personal bond than human marriage. But is there a motherly image in heaven? There is no goddess in heaven as there are no genders in heaven. God is the fulness of being and as such bears within his divine nature all the hallmark characteristics of both genders. We can perceive in the Holy Spirit who is equally God and bodyless certain feminine traits such as life giving, nurturing, comforting, and so on. So God being above our nature possesses all that is good in both genders without being of a specific gender himself.

We call God Father also because the work of creation is attributed to him, but not exclusively. Being a transcendent Being, outside of the cosmos he casts his power into the universe, as an imminent Being to bring forth life within the womb of the universe. I suppose that is why some refer to the world as mother Earth. It is a mother in the sense that it receives life from without. How? Let true science tell us and not Dawkins. Recently at Lake Eire after much rain we witnessed the vast array of animal and plant life that poured forth from the womb of nature.

Furthermore, Christian teaching sees in Mary the perfect feminine image and model for all women. She is both Virgin and Mother and the Queen of all heaven. So the reality of the Kingdom that awaits us is familial, Mother, Son and Father. We of course who are reborn in Baptism are the adopted sons of the Father in the order of grace. God has only one true Son who partakes of his nature and we know that is the Lord Jesus, to think otherwise is to fall into error – such as mormon teaching. But as adopted children we should trust our Father in heaven and pray his prayer often asking that Kingdom will one day come.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Christ Crucified

Crucified Christ

The question posed by the Lord to the Apostles was: Who do people say I am? The answer provided was generic and politically slanted: ‘Some say you are Elijah, some John the Baptist and some a prophet of some kind.’ Then, the Lord addressed the same question to Simon alone, for the pronoun used is in the singular: Who do you [Simon] say I am? The answer astounded all when he said: ‘You are the Messiah, or the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ In Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 16:18) the Lord, in reply, asserts that Simon’s response was inspired by God and that he would be the Rock, [which in English is Peter] upon which I will build my Church. Ever since that moment the Church of Christ has had a visible rock, or Pope, established by God to protect and safeguard his teaching.

Then Christ foretells his death. Simon Peter speaks out and is rebuked. What has happened? At one moment Peter was acclaimed as prince of the Apostles and then he is likened to the devil! He fell from sanctity to sinfulness, from saint to satan. Why did Christ refer to Peter in this manner? The term satan means adversary - the Evil One who opposes God's will. Peter opposed the will of God, he attempted to separate Christ from His cross. Hence the words of the Lord: ‘The way you think is not God’s way but man’s’.

Yet Peter's motives were humanly noble, he showed true compassion for the Lord and sought to prevent him from any possible pain. So humanly speaking the primate of the Apostles judged rightly, he spoke as many of us would speak for someone that we love. Christ however was divinely motivated for He sought not comfort but crucifixion. In short, the Lord was born to die, he came into the world to bear the cross. It was the purpose and culmination of his life. Only in time did Peter learn this, as do we!

How often in the hospital after the demise of a loved one, I hear words that convey human compassion but lack divine motivation. It matters little, to some, how their beloved die provided that it be devoid of physical pain. One easily forgets that eternal life for some may be an eternity of pain; and spiritual pain is far greater than the physical. The final moments of this life should be focused on how we enter eternal life, the state of the soul and its communion with the divine.

Often members of the family being afraid of any supposed unpleasantness deny the final ministrations of the priest to the dying but console themselves later that they provided the deceased with physical pain relief. I personally would much prefer to suffer much physical pain here before I die knowing that it would diminish my spiritual purification awaiting me in preparation for heaven.

Note that Our Lord tells us that the cross is not an option. God insists that if we want to follow Him to Heaven we must pick up our cross and follow Him (Mark 8:34). Our cross is suited only to us, so nobody should go in search of another. Although at the outset another cross may seem lighter it will become too burdensome. Each person has their own particular cross. We need to embrace it in imitation of Christ and follow Him. We do not bear the cross alone. The Lord goes before us to guide us and to inspire us. Along the way we shall be tempted by the Adversary, Satan, to abandon the Cross and with it Christ Himself. Thus, it is paramount that we focus our eyes - the windows of the soul - on Christ alone.

Your Cross
St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622)

The Everlasting God has in His wisdom foreseen from eternity the cross that He now presents to you as a gift from His inmost Heart. This cross He now sends you He has considered with His all-knowing eyes, understood with His divine mind, tested with His wise justice, warmed with loving arms and weighed with His own hands to see that it be not one inch too large and not one ounce too heavy for you. He has blessed it with His Holy Name, anointed it with His graces, perfumed it with His consolation, taken one last glance at you and your courage, and then sent it to you from heaven, a special greeting from God to you, an alms of the all merciful love of God.

Friday, September 4, 2009

He has done all things well

He has done all things well – omnia fecit bene! Mark 7: 31-37

Another successful miracle, one might say, well done Lord. We are told that ‘their admiration was unbounded’, that is, without any limits. We also note that the crowds admiration was directed at what was done. It concerned the spectacular, the extraordinary, the sensational, the big time events…. Crowds are like that, though, always being swept away by the big event, the euphoria of the moment. Often crowds, being impersonal clusters of individuals, are easily moved by what is ‘happening’ be it the football finals or the rock concert and lose sight of themselves and the why it is happening.

Why did the Lord, after all, heal this fellow? Because God cares! A seven year old girl told me: “God is caring and nice.” After all, I suppose she has a point, if God isn’t then who is! But that begs two questions: “Is Jesus really God?” and if so, “Do we really know what motivates the divine Mind?”

Jesus is God and Jesus is Man. Jesus is a Person. Now that we have the key ingredients let’s qualify some words here: Jesus is NOT a human person, as we are, but a divine Person [remember the Trinity, three Persons and One Godhead] who has two natures: the human one he took from Mary, and the divine one which was His from the beginning. Think of a coin - which hopefully will leave your pocket at the Collection – it is ONE object but has TWO sides. Jesus is ONE person with TWO natures.

Two words need to be grasped to understand this riddle: nature and person. The first is what he is the second is who he is. Nature refers to the type of being, its capacity for action. The nature of a pen is to write not to fly, birds fly and dogs bark – such actions are proper to their natures. What limits the capacity of the nature is the individual. For example, this inkless pen cannot write, a wingless bird cannot fly and a mute dog won’t bark – [probably an advantage – one might claim!].

Our mute man was limited in his capacity for action because as an individual, a bloke, of some standing for he had legs, he could not speak, yet speaking is proper to the human nature. Once again we find that it is the individual person who limits the nature. Eileen who has a gummy leg tends to lean not because human nature leans, as such, but because Eileen does! Or Ben Down a great fellow but on account of his bad back is bent forward and thus readily responds to his name!

So now we understand that it is the person who limits the nature. The nature should function to maximum capacity, if the person is one hundred percent. Now if Jesus as a divine Person and God’s Son always possessed the divine nature of God, equal to the Father, then when he took upon himself our human nature from Mary, at the Annunciation, that would have caused the human nature to be unlimited and perfect in every regard. Hence Jesus was and still is the perfection of humanity. So the little girl is somewhat right, Jesus as God would want to be nice and fix all that was able to be fixed – to make all things new!

We are told moreover that he has done all things well – omnia fecit bene! Not just the big events but the small details of life have been done well. Daily our media presents us with success stories of this celebrity or that billionaire. The big people always catch our attention, the important people; such as Michael Jackson, Teddy Kennedy… We should pray for them, remember them. However, of equal importance are the little people and what they do.

In God’s book and that’s where the records are eternal, it is the little things done with great love that will matter more than the big things done with no love at all. How do I know that? Well, Jesus spent thirty of his thirty-three years on earth giving glory to God by doing little things, the daily chores. For there is no record of any miracle worked over those thirty years at home in Nazareth. Now that is one very important lesson.

As the Lord was the best success story in the little details of daily living – for he did all things well – so too on Father’s Day it is important that we remember all the little things done by our dads. The daily unseen tasks of fatherly love should not be forgotten. We owe our fathers much love and respect. They not only gave us life but they fostered that life in so many ways. And even if our father failed us in some manner don’t forget nobody is perfect and we have only one father.

We turn to our heavenly God who cannot fail us and remember that He is our Father. We have a personal God and not some remote impersonal force. God is all about person to person contact. When the Lord healed the deaf mute, who needed His assistance – God is always there for our needs, not always our wants – he takes the man aside. For the miracle is private, the healing is personal. This man has lived in silence, contemplation, sudden noise would be alarming and cause harm to the soul. Our Lord’s primary concern is always our supernatural well being, the spiritual state of our soul. This isolated soul encounters spiritual power in a human manner. The Lord physically touches the impaired organs with divine hands. The finger of God touched his ears and tongue. That which was un-whole was made whole by holy hands.

Today that finger of God is still present in the world. At every Baptism human hands convey divine grace via words and water to give eternal life to a soul. Even this gesture of touching the ears and tongue is present in the Rite of Baptism after the anointing with Chrism. Be they young or old it is the finger of God that anoints the elderly and sick; the finger of God that conveys the ‘bread of life’ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist; the finger of God that conveys divine forgiveness in the Tribunal of mercy.

Are such events any the less important than this healing? In both cases, God as a divine Person, through simple, human gestures, administers in a personal mode – not for the sake of sensation or the crowd – healing and divine power.

As we approach the birthday of Our Lady on Tuesday, we ask our heavenly Mother to help us to imitate her Son and to do all things well. Even the little things at home: the dishes, the beds, cooking, mowing, cleaning, whatever needs to be done - we want to do it well. When in doubt about the quality or quantity of effort you require just ask yourself: ‘What would Jesus do?’