Waiting With The Church

Whenever I think of Advent, I think of John the Baptist.  The Baptist was the voice crying from the wilderness to the people of his generation to prepare the way for the Lord.  We are not spared of this message.  The Church is the voice crying out from the wilderness to our own generation, even if she confesses that “it is not I for I am not even worthy to loosen the laces of His sandals!”  She cries out to us, announcing that there will be a coming, a final coming, where the radical and redemptive love of Christ will prove wrong our popularized conception of sentimental love.  And this love will come when God wills it; not when it suits us.  We all must wait, even the Church.  We must learn, the Baptist teaches us, to be patient in our own preparation for the Lord’s coming.

But there will be those of us who, even with the most genuine religious convictions, will lose patience.  We may start to pose the question to the Church, as those who asked the Baptist: who are you and what are you doing if you are not the one who is to come?  The answer will come from the Church that she is a provisional messenger sent to prepare His way.  Yet, the answer may not satisfy our preconceived understandings of reality and  we may start looking elsewhere for this God who is to come.  And all too often, as St. Augustine teaches us through the example of his early life, this search for God elsewhere in lost of patience leads us to a wilderness of our own.  In this wilderness, we no longer cry out for a preparation for one who is to come, and for whom we are not even worthy to untie the laces of his sandals.  Rather, in this wilderness, we have replaced the one who is to come and even God himself is not worthy to untie the laces of our sandals.

No, my friends, we cannot disregard the messenger (the Church) and what she has to say simply because the voices that come from her are human.  The forerunner may only be provisional and not the reality that is God Himself, but the Gospels teach us that He only comes to those who love those He sent ahead of Him and take heed of their divinely-inspired wisdom.  In this season of Advent, the Church is calling us to prepare our lives in ways of faith, hope, love, and patience for Christ, the Ever Living Word.  How will we respond?

Have a blessed Tuesday!

The Message and the Messenger

Today’s Gospel really highlights the current state of affairs.  Allow me to dive a little bit into the Gospel itself, then I will explain what I mean by that first sentence.

Four things to understand from the current Gospel reading:

1. In Jesus’ time, any Jewish usage of “this generation” is generally not a good one.  “This generation” almost always referred to the people contemporary to the prophets, and they’re normally doing something wrong or acting in some inappropriate way that is detrimental to their relationship with God.

2. For Jesus, the elite of his time and their rejection of the Gospel message reminds him of petulant children who refuse to join in any kind of games, no matter how joyfully they’re played or how gravely they’re carried out.  This leads to the next point.

3. The message of the Kingdom of God was preached in two very different ways.  The adroit comparison between John the baptist and dirge children sing for another tells us that the Baptist’s way of delivering God’s message was quite serious and stern.  On the other hand, the comparison is made between the merry games of children and Jesus’ own delivering of God’s message as a bit more “relaxed” and less unbending.  Yet, in both instances, the petulant children refused to “mourn” and “dance” all the same.

4. This leads us to conclude that it was the message that was rejected and not the messengers themselves; although the rejection of the messengers would come as a natural consequence if the messengers fully exemplify the message.

The current generation is no different from Jesus’ contemporary generation.  We would like to pretend that if the message of Christianity is delivered in a different way, a “more loving” way, that we would take in every word.  But nothing is further from the truth.  We do not wish the message to be delivered in a more loving way, we simply wish the message to be changed to fit our own wants and wishes.  John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis have all delivered the Gospel message in very different ways because their personalities are so different, but their message is one and the same: love God first, love the Church, and love your neighbor.  While there is an overwhelming number of us who praise Francis, how many of us would readily admit that we place God before all else in our lives, that we love the Church as we should, and we love our neighbors as God intends for us to love them?  Unlike Jesus’ time, we may embrace the messenger of the Lord (although there will be a time soon where we will reject Francis for being too Catholic, I suspect), but like those of Jesus’ time, we are still rejecting his message, even if it is delivered by a loving man.

Let us then resolve to be better Christians by joining the baptist to mourn and Christ to celebrate.

Have a blessed Friday, friends!

Love Seeing

Today’s Gospel, from Mt 9:27-31, tells the story of two blind men calling upon Jesus for mercy as he passes by them.  In first century Palestine, blindness is seen as a curse of God upon the people inflicted with it since one’s sight is directly connected to one’s heart, i.e. I must be able to see God in order to love Him.  And yet, as we hear it throughout the Gospels, the people who were blind, deaf, mute, and lame are the people who exhibited the most profound faith in Jesus.  In this particular case, these two blind men seem to have exhibited great faith.  They did not ask Jesus if it is possible for him to restore their sights.  Instead, they cried out with the conviction of sinners who know they can be saved if only the Lord speaks the word, “Son of David, have pity on us!”

These men have been freed to love through their blindness.  In the same way, our sins and faults allow us to love properly.  In other words, for the Christian, the sinner is freed when he recognizes his own fault or failure so that he can proceed to learn and love as he would have himself loved.  This is the reason that the “gold rule” is so popular, for it asks that we bring judgment upon ourselves before we bring judgment upon others.  In this sense, the love that is freed is the love which proceeds in faith and hope.  It is the love that reminds us (sinners) that the Mercy of God demands that we give mercy when asked of us and to place hope in others that they will turn from their wrongs.  When we love in faith, we are able to “see.”  This seeing is the recognition of the Truth, Goodness, and Beauty of God intrinsically present within others, a piece of knowledge written into our hearts but, because of our sins, we have neglected to do so.  Thus, it is in love seeing that we, the sinners, see Love.

This kind of love, one that proceeds from faith, allows us to move beyond the selfish desire for love of ourselves by admiring our own accomplishments and well-doings in order to move towards the recognition of our own sins and faults.   This is the kind of love that only embraces and never judges for it has brought judgment upon itself in order that it to love in the first place.  Thus, the good and meaningful Christian life is not consisted in self love, but love for neighbor and God.  For the Christian, the meaning of life lies in loving the Truth and following that Love with faith.

Happy Advent and Friday, my friends

Christianity Is Worth Doing Badly

An often misunderstood aphorism from G.K. Chesterton tells us that “if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”  Chesterton is not suggesting that we shouldn’t put forth any effort into the things worthy of our doing.  He is, however, suggesting that those things that are worthy of our doing are normally things that we ought to do, even if the results are poor.  In other words, while differential equations are left to expert mathematicians and medicinal prescriptions are left to those professionally trained in medicine, things like child rearing and educating or cooking for one’s family are worth doing, and because they are worth doing, they ought to be done by everyone, even if the results for some may turn out badly.

Chesterton’s diagnosis of the modern world is that we leave things that ought to be done by all, the things most worthy of doing, to be done by a few because we expect good results without wanting to put in the effort.  For instance, he worries that mothers might simply want to rid themselves of the task of rearing children and therefore entrust such duties to daycare (or nannies).  But, as Chesterton sees it, childrearing is a task worthy of all parents since parents carry out the task in love, whereas the daycare and nanny carry out the task for monetary gain.  Thus, the most basic of things to us are things worth doing and they are worth being done by all of us, no matter how poor the results.

Today’s Gospel warns us that not everyone who claims Christianity is actually a Christian.  In fact, Jesus tells us that the ones who truly love him must do the will of his Father.  In other words, the message of the Gospel is a message that is not just to be heard, but a task to be lived out.  And the task of Christian living is not a task charged to ordained presbyters, vowed religious, or professional theologians; rather, it is a task charged to all of us.  Some of us may be able to live out the Gospel better than others because we have learned to perfect certain virtues.  And some of us, and I belong to this group, may look like a bunch of amateurs while living out our Gospel calling because we still have all these attachments of the world.  Yet, if Chesterton is to be believed, we cannot write off our amateur Christian living and entrust it to those we deem “holier” than us.  We cannot live with the attitude that says, “I just can’t do it, but I’m sure someone else better than me will.”  The task of the Gospel is worth doing, and it is worth doing badly.

Childlike

As I read today’s Gospel reading, one thing jumped right out at me: God reveals Himself to the childlike.  There is much to be pondered here.  The child sees value and delights in truth and beauty in a way that is most honest and revealing.  The child does not ponder about the intrinsic beauty of a daisy, she is simply taken in by it and allows it to touch her by it simply being what it is.  She appreciates it as a daisy and she finds joy in discovering it and playing with it.  In this same way, children understand that love is love.  For children, love means no trickery and it gives itself in full because there is no quantity that can express love; thus, the little girl who just learned how to count tells her mom that she has run out of fingers and toes to express how much she loves her.  There is no complexity to reality; there is only beauty and wonder.  It is no wonder, then, that we are so fond of our childhoods.  We yearn for simplicity and sanity.  That apostle of common sense, Gilbert Chesterton, understood how important it is to be childlike.  For that reason, he suggests that “the madman is not the man who has lost all reason, but the madman is a man who has lost everything except his reason.”  Let me conclude by quoting Chesterton once more:

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

Happy Advent and Tuesday, my friends.

Awake From Sleep

1463963_259940534155696_737434886_nYesterday began the liturgical season of Advent.  It is a season of hope; a season built around longing for and anticipating the Word Incarnate.  Oddly enough, the readings of the beginning of the liturgical year are readings that remind and warn us about the end of the Church here on Earth.  Yet, this is not too strange since that small beginning of the entrance of little baby Jesus is best recognized by the magnitude of its ending at the final fulfillment, that which we call the Second Coming.  Throughout all of this, we must realize that the Second Coming is not a separate even; rather, it is a fulfillment of that single event still in progress from the moment those words reached Mary’s humble ears.

For this reason, Advent is not merely a return to historical longing and fulfillment by Jesus, but it is our own entrance into the mystery of God Incarnate, God becoming flesh, entered into history, and made it His own.  As the Nicene Creed professes: “And the Word became flesh and dwell among us.”  This dwelling among us means that God has made himself subject to suffering and death.  In other words, He knows the human condition most intimately.

And so St. Paul writes, “You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”  Indeed, we shall know neither the hour nor the day that we will be called to stand in front that Son of God, as the Gospel tells us.  We must not put down our guard and “sleep” our earthly lives away.  We must live lives faithful and worthy of that Son of God.

For on that last day, we cannot say to him “Lord, you have no clue what it is like to live a short life, to suffer, to mourn, to love, to lose, and to die.”  And yet again, on that last  day we cannot say to the Lord that the eternal One, the Lord Who exists outside of time, cannot possibly be sympathetic or empathetic of our own human condition.  For He is not only sympathetic to our own humanity, but he literally lived it.

It will be the Son of Man who judges, and he lived a human life from the womb of His mother to the stone tomb.  In his living that human life, the Gospels tell us, he encountered numerous people from different positions in society, as we all do.  Then on the end of days, from his countenance shall be seen every single human face since all are his brothers and sisters.  And we shall have to raise our heads to those faces, the innocent faces of children, the worn-out faces of the poor, the tear-filled faces of parents who weep for their children lost at war, the embittered faces of our enemies.  We shall have to raise our heads to that countenance, and a voice shall come from it that will say, “what you did, or did not do, for the least of my brothers.”  That voice will not die or fade away.  It will fill our eternity.  If we are able to raise our heads with the confidence of the forgiven sinner towards that countenance of the Son of man, it is only because we have taken heed of St. Paul’s calling to us: the hour now for you to awake from sleep.

Happy Monday and Advent, my friends!