Between Life and Death

Today’s first reading from DT 30:15-20.

Here Moses offered the people two choices, life and death, and they must make a decision between the two.  Life and death in antiquity were realities that were taken much more seriously and less literally.  Life was not simply being alive, but it was living out one’s existence in fruitfulness in blessing and in the protection of God.  Death was not simply a physical end to one’s worldly life, but it was living out one’s existence in a barren land and time, void of God’s blessings and favors.  Life was a blessing; death was a curse.

And so Moses offered life and death to the people, and he urged them to choose life – not only for their sake, but for the sake of their children.  The choice was both restrictive and urgent.  It was restrictive in the sense that they must make a choice between the two; there was no third option.  It was urgent because the every action they make thereon would be an action that either drew them towards life or pushed them towards death.

Notice also that the choice was theirs and not God’s to make.  YHWH’s faithfulness was never a problem; it was the fickleness of the Israelites that was constantly leading them to unfaithfulness to YHWH.  And so, too, we have a choice to make.  Fence-sitting is not only an inappropriate posture when it comes to the spiritual life, but it is an impossible posture.  For everything we do either brings us life or death.  Lent is only beginning, and it is a good time for us to ask ourselves: what must I do to choose life?  And then do it!

Happy Thursday after Ash Wednesday, friends.

Waiting For God

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The advent season has arrived this past Sunday with the liturgical readings themed around anticipation.  As I sat in Mass listening to our pastor preached on waiting with anticipation I thought of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.

In Waiting for Godot, we have Vladimir and Estragon waiting with anticipation for someone by the name of Godot.  The two are somewhat absent-minded, and are even unsure if they are at the right place to meet Godot when he comes.  Vladimir and Estragon pass the time by doing the most mundane of things, like take off a shoe and then putting it back on again.  Waiting for Godot consists of two acts and in each act Vladimir and Estragon are waiting for Godot.  At the end of each act a boy comes to them and tells them that Mr. Godot sends word that he is unable to make it today, but he will make it tomorrow.  One could reasonably assume that if there is a third act, that Vladimir and Estragon will still be passing time with mundane activities while waiting for Godot, who will send word that he will come tomorrow but doesn’t show up.

As we work through Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, we get a sense of longing, of deep desire, for Godot.  The longing is so deep that it feels natural to Vladimir and Estragon, so much so that they do not realize that they’re spending their entire days doing absolutely nothing but waiting for Godot, only to have to wait another day when the boy shows up late in the day to inform them that Godot can’t make it.  I suspect that this sense of profound longing is the very same kind that our hearts have for God.  The Psalmist expresses this longing with intensity: “O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Ps 63:1) or “I stretch out my hands to You; My soul longs for You, as a parched land.” (Ps 143:6)

And so like Vladimir and Estragon, we must wait.  We must be patient and recognize that God will come to us in His own time and not when we have decided for Him to come.

Happy Advent, my friends!

A Brief Christmas Reflection

Christmas is upon us, and it is necessary to ponder this great mystery. Jesus, the son of God is also the son of Mary, the Uncaused Cause became born in time, the King of kings became the Suffering Servant, the God of all eternity took on the form of a babe in a manger.

The circumstance of Jesus’ birth ought to place human vanity and desires in check.  God came into the world as an infant, poorly lodged and barely clothed.  This was the condition of the entrance of the Divine into the world in which He created.  If this entrance is to teach us anything, it is that human desires for the comfort and riches of the world is all but vanity. Humanity, fallen from the state of grace, mistakes temporal goods for eternal happiness and clings to it.  Jesus’ birth is meant to reveal to us that temporal goods, no matter how greatly and abundantly possessed, can ever replace God, the object of the desire within every person’s heart of heart. For without His incarnation, humanity would still be lost in a fallen world without any hope of ever returning to its Father, the One for whom its heart truly longs.

So as Christmas day approaches us, let us remember on that day that Jesus is truly the reason we celebrate this holy day; that while we joyfully celebrate with our family we may remember that the reason for our celebration is God’s great love for us manifested in His own humble birth in Bethlehem a little more than two thousand years ago.  Let us, then, rejoice, not because of a few days off, but because the period of waiting and yearning is over.  Let us join in with the choirs of angels and the rest of creation and proclaim: Glória in excélsis Deo et in terra pax homínibus bonae voluntátis.  Laudámus te, benedícimus te, adorámus te, glorificámus te, grátias ágimus tibi propter magnam glóriam tuam, Dómine Deus, Rex cæléstis.

Merry Christmas, friends!

What Do You Seek?

Chapter 1 of St. John’s Gospel (vv. 35-42) records an encounter between the Baptist’s disciples and Jesus. As Jesus walked by, John the Baptist proclaims to his two disciples, “Behold the Lamb of God!” and the two disciples immediately followed Jesus.  As Jesus notices them following him, he turned and asked them frankly, “what do you seek?”  They responded by asking him where he is staying and he invites them to “come and see” (Jn 1:35-51).  The entire exchange is deceivingly profound because there is much more going on than just a meet and greet.

The Baptist’s disciples were curious about Jesus and wanted to learn more about him. However, biblical scholars tell us that the disciples had no intention of immediately following Jesus to where he stayed; rather, they asked where he was staying so they may come and find him at another time if they so wished.  Jesus’ immediate invitation to them indicates his openness to receiving them, even if it was unplanned on their part.  The two men were surprised but went on to stay with Jesus and left that evening changed and convinced of Jesus’ Messiahship.  Because of this change they went on to proclaim this conviction to others, who are consequently also changed because of their encounter with Jesus, like Simon who is renamed to Cephas.

The question that Jesus asked those two disciples so long ago is the very same question He stirs our hearts with: what do you seek? This question, like water in a foundation, seeps through every part of our being, and it finds its formulation when we are in our early teens.   We may be distraught by the question but what we must realize when we begin to hear the question is God’s openness to receiving us, like His openness to those two disciples.  He is quite ready and His answer will always be, “come and you will see”.

Our response to this invitation will require faith, courage, and love.  We will need to have faith that God wants what is best for us and will never call us to a vocation that we will not find joy and peace in.  We will need courage in order to combat certain facets of our culture that tell us that joy is to be found in fame and fortune.  Finally, we will need love in order to respond generously to God’s invitation to “come and see”.  This love allows us to look beyond our own immediate determinations of who we ought to be and to genuinely discern who we are called to be by allowing God to enter our hearts and direct us towards where He stays.  When we are successful at allowing the Lord to take hold of our hearts, we will, like the disciples of John, be completely transformed by Him.

After two thousand years, Jesus’ question and invitation remains the same for all of us.  Our responses will depend on how faithful, courageous, and loving we are.

I return from my hiatus.

Happy Wednesday, friends.

5 Ways Fatherhood Has Changed Me

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I’m spending yet another year away from my family for Father’s Day because of obligations so I’ve taken a moment today to reflect about what drastic changes I’ve undergone since becoming a father.

1. I’ve become much more grateful

It’s not like I wasn’t a grateful man before becoming a dad, but something definitely changed with my thankful attitude since I’ve taken on the role as father.  I can still recall the first crying noises that Madison made after being born and how those tiny noises brought me to tears.  I remember when she first laughed, I thought it was the coolest thing and I tried so desperate all the time to get her to laugh, but I failed probably 95% of the time. All these moments are priceless-ly treasured in my heart and I’m forever grateful to God for His gift to us.  But I’m not just more thankful for my daughter, I am thankful for my wife; for the patience that she practiced in carrying our child in her womb, for her understanding of my busy schedule during certain months of the year, and for her continued love for me–a love that is so simple and unconditional.  Fatherhood has definitely showed me that the simpler and smaller things and moments in life are to be valued and cherished as much as those that are greater and more profound.

2. I’ve become more patient with repetitions and children activities

Teaching high school played an important role in forming my patience for the youth, but fatherhood has almost brought the virtue to near perfection…well, not quite near perfection, but it’s up there somewhere.  My daughter, like all other children, loves to play and she, like other children, loves to have a thing repeated a zillion times before moving on to another thing, only to have that new thing repeated another zillion times.  For instance, I’ve listened to Let It Go countless times–literally countless because the number of times probably approaches infinity.  And yet, because the joy I see in her eyes and in her smile, my patience grows, not out of necessity, but out of love.  Here, I’m reminded of a Chesterton quote:

“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.” 

And as #1 suggests, I’m also thankful that my 1.5 years old daughter could show me there is much to be grateful for in these repetitive acts.

3. I know better and am more willing to suffer for my loved ones

Beginning with the first nights with Madison as a new born, when sleep was understood only as a fantastic concept like that of unicorn and Santa Claus, to the sleepless nights spent with her when she became ill, to taking care to make foods that aren’t extremely spicy so she could eat it, to changing super soiled diapers that one simply cannot believe came from a human being, much less a baby.  From beginning to thus far, I’ve learned that those things that cause my wife and me to be inconvenienced or suffer are those things that benefit our beloved daughter.  I knew love required suffering, and fatherhood taught me what that looks like and how valuable it is that parents need realize this.

4. I’ve learned how to love my wife better

It’s a strange thing to say because it sounds like I wasn’t a good husband since I didn’t know how to love my wife correctly, and that’s precisely what I mean.  In the course of learning how to be a father, I also learned how to be in solidarity with my wife as we parent our child and, in doing so, I learned to listen (not with just my ears) to her needs and desires and to her joys and sorrows.  And by listening, I learned how to better love my wife.

5. I’m a better pray-er 

One very astonishing thing that I noticed from my daughter is her complete dependence on us as parents and her candidness.  Madison is completely dependent on us to get things for her, especially when it comes to food or changing her diaper.  She’s also not shy about coming to either one of us to take our hand and lead us to something that she wants or something that she wants to do.  And she does this countless times a day.  As I reflected on this awhile back, I realize that my utter dependency on God is like Madison’s utter dependency on me.  And yet, she goes to me and asks for whatever she wants, and I may say no, but she never gets in trouble for asking.  Then, I asked myself, why do I not go more often to God for things or just to chat?  Madison has taught me that I’m utterly dependent on God and that I should go to Him more often.

 

 

 

Jesus: The Son Of God, Part I of 2

God According To First-Century Judaism

In chapter nine of his work titled The New Testament and the People of God, the New Testament scholar N.T. Wright argues that first-century Judaism’s belief can be summed up as creational and covenantal monotheism.  Surrounded by various beliefs in divine beings like Epicurean gods who are as far away as possible from their own world and a Stoic god who ends up being synonymous with nature itself, the Jewish tradition saw their God as a kind of combination of both and yet utterly different in His nature and relationship to Israel than the two.  For the Jews, YHWH was not only the One who interacts within the created world, but is the One Who has created all things.  We can find evidence of this throughout the part of the biblical text we now call the Old Testament.  Take for example chapter 40 of the Book of Isaiah where YHWH is praised for His mighty powers and wonders that He has done, and the many Psalms that sing of YHWH’s glory and mercy.  Indeed, for the Jews of Jesus’ time, the belief in YHWH can be summed up in that daily Jewish prayer: “YHWH is our God, and YHWH is One”.

Classic Jewish monotheism’s belief in God was twofold.  First, this Jewish tradition believed that God was first in the order of existence, was One, and created all things; and second, that God called Israel to be His chosen people.  Because of this, God was seen as completely other than the world, but also is continually active within the world.  This is a God who is to overthrow the pagan gods and powers of those nations belonging to these pagan gods.  And in His vindication, He will free His people from oppression of these pagan worshipers, as well as show the nations His glorious name.

Son Of God In First-Century Palestine

James DG Dunn reminds us that whatever we may say about Jesus’ title ‘Son of God’, we cannot claim that first-century Christians had the same understanding as our own Nicene profession of this title in mind when they posited it of Jesus.  Divine sonship was not something novel to the Early Christians.  In fact, the title ‘son of God’ was a title ubiquitously used in reference to many people in the time of Jesus.  Take for instance the various attributions of divine sonship to the legendary heroes of Greek mythology, like Dionysus and Heracles.  Or take for another instance where the title ‘son of God’ is found throughout the scriptural texts as being attributed to Israel, Israelites, and the king.[1]

Divine sonship, or attribution of divinity, in the first two centuries of Palestine is liberally used when talking about men for numerous reasons.  First, we need to understand that early Christianity was not inhibited by a fear of attribution of divinity to men because they did not approach the predication as modern day Christians approach it.  Dunn tells us that when this predication is used in these first centuries “in reference to individual human beings it could denote anything from a righteous or pious man, one who lived in close accord with the divine, to a heavenly or semi-heavenly being, including or the way particularly kings and rulers and especially wise or gifted or inspired men.”[2]  As a result, those who are seen as “son of God” are not necessarily seen as, to borrow Nicene terms, begotten by God from before all ages and consubstantial with God.  Rather, these men are seen as people who reflect the goodness of God through living their lives in accordance with the divine law.

Drawing from various evidence of the ancient world, Dunn argues that because of the variety of beliefs about the divine and humanity that when the ancient people spoke of someone as being “son of God,” it is not positing anything about a divine relation insofar as their natures are concerned; instead, it is a reflection of the person’s relationship to the divine in terms of their living out the divine mandates.  This leads Dunn to conclude that “there is little or no good evidence from the period prior to Christianity’s beginnings that the Ancient Near East seriously entertained the idea of a god or son of god descending from heaven to become a human being in order to bring men salvation, except perhaps at the level of popular pagan superstition.”[3] Thus, we can reasonably conclude that first-century Christians did not understand Jesus’ divine sonship as contemporary Christianity does.


[1] Ibid. 15 – Here Dunn provides the reader with a list of Old Testament text ranging from Ex. 4:22  where Israel is called God’s firstborn son to II Sam 7:14 where God tells David that his descendent will be a king who will be a son of God.
[2] Ibid. 18
[3] Ibid. 22

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!