Taking the Other Seriously

Today’s reading comes from LV 19:1-2, 11-18

Too often do modern Christians, along with modern critics of Christianity, focus on one facet of the law of love for neighbor that they completely ignore the other.  Take for instance this verse from the passage:

You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart.
Though you may have to reprove him,
do not incur sin because of him.
Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
I am the LORD.”

What we immediately hone in on is the second to last bit when YHWH directs the Israelites to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  But what about the first part of that commandment – the bolded part?  What about the part when YHWH is telling the people that there is a time when it is necessary to tell another person that s/he is sinning?  Or, and this is more interesting, that by not reproving our brothers and sisters in their sinning that we incur sin because love demands that we take them serious enough to help them become holy.

Let us then not forget this very first part of that commandment.  It is important for us to remember that if we love others as we do ourselves that we would correct them in their mistakes.  The mistake, of course, is to think that in reprimanding the one we love, we hate him or her.  But this is silly.  Just as we do not literally hate ourselves after we realized we had made a mistake, and yet we also reprove ourselves so that we can act differently in the future under the same circumstance; it is therefore also necessary that loving others like we love ourselves demands the same approach.

Charity precludes hostility, maliciousness, a spirit of revenge-seeking, and bearing grudges; but it also precludes indifferentism and relativism.  Love, St. Thomas tells us, means willing the good of the other as other, and this willing this good will require us to take them seriously enought to tell them what’s bad.

Happy Monday of the first week of Lent, 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!

Love Longs But Doesn’t Possess

Ps 130:5-6 – I wait for the LORD, my soul waits and I hope for his word. My soul looks for the Lord more than sentinels for daybreak.

The Psalmist expresses so well our relationship to God: one of yearning and waiting.  Truly, the person who loves God is a person who longs for Him.  But this longing and yearning isn’t limited to our relationship with God; rather, it extends to our very own loving relationships as well with those whom we love: spouse, children, family, and friends.

The condition of the lover to the beloved is one of limited knowing.  In other words, because the beloved is a person with so much more than what is physically available to our senses that her being is communicated more than by our own empirical assessment of who she is.  The lover who mistakenly believes that he knows the entirety of his beloved’s being is one who seeks to possess rather than to love, for genuine love longs for instead of trying to possess the other.  This is the reason that Scriptures are filled with instances of people longing for God.  And once this longing is fulfilled, the peace is so overwhelming that death seems but a trivial occurrence – Lk 2:29-32

Likewise, when we, in our own human relationships, seek to genuinely love, we must therefore learn to long and yearn for those whom we love.  We yearn for them to reveal to us who they are, and we then embrace those revelations.  Without self-revelations we can never know anymore about our beloved than those things that are superficial and physical, marked by our own determinations of what they mean, and this is terribly dangerous because our determinations of others can be perilously biased.

Thus, whereas love that takes on the form of possession will take after the “you are mine” motto because it seeks to take control and take charge, love that takes on the form of longing and yearning will take after the “I’m yours” motto since it expresses that it is open to receiving what the beloved is willing to reveal to it, and it thirsts for those revelations.  Therefore, we wait and we long for our beloved’s revelations.  And when those revelations come and we can love deeply and peacefully, the bumps and obstacles within those loving relationships are but trivial occurrences of a fallen world.

The Need for Service

The strangest part about the readings of the beginning of the liturgical year is reminder and warning about the end of the Church here on Earth.  And 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 learn to 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, the season of 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 we profess daily in The Angelus, “…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  This dwelling among us means that God has made Himself subject to suffering and death.  In other words, God knows the human condition, and He knows it 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”. (Rm 13:11)  Indeed, we shall know neither the hour nor the day that we will be called to stand in front of 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 Christ.  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 and space, cannot possibly be sympathetic or empathetic of our own human condition since God is not only sympathetic to our own humanity, but our God literally lived it.

No, my friends, we will have no excuses once we greet our God on that last day.  It will be the Son of God 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.

Recognizing this truth will demand that our families, schools, and communities take care to form us into people whose lives are worthy of Christ.  The life worthy of Christ is one that serves others and not the self.  And this formation recognizes that these virtues founded upon love of neighbor cannot be built overnight, nor are they formed by short periods of engagement and detachment.  Indeed, the love of and for our brothers and sisters, especially the most vulnerable in our communities and world, is a life-long habit of virtue that we will need to constantly work on in order to have growth.

Actions and Words

Jesus’ parable of the two sons teaches us an extremely important lesson in what it means to follow Christ.  The verbal rebellion followed by complete obedience by the first son is contrasted with the verbal obedience and failure to act by the second son.  Jesus’ adversaries recognized that it is the first son who truly loves his father, since he has carried out the task that was asked of him.  So, Jesus seemed to question them by this story, are the teachers of the Law who claimed such noble love for God and yet fail to do His will that truly love God? Or, are the prostitutes and the tax collectors, those who received John, Jesus’ predecessor, who delivered the message and commands of God and allowed the message and commandments to transform them who are the true lovers of God?

It is curious that some of us think that Christianity solely means taking on the identity of ‘Christian’.  I think we all know what Christ thinks of such ‘lip-service’ mentality.  To nominally claim Christianity does not mean that we are Christians.  To to be Christian involves following the radical calling of Jesus, often demanding that we abandon worldly attachments and relationships in order to follow him.  This means that we will need to be personally transformed, brought to conformation with the virtue of Christ, which will lead us to serve one another.  We will leave comfort behind in order to follow Christ, but this is the only way for us to be Christians.

Thus, it is not only the sacrament of Baptism that identifies us with Christ, but rather all of the other six sacraments also work to help us live our Christianity.  Why? It is because following Christ forms a new relationship between us, the disciples, and God, which allows us to understand that following Christ will mean having to carry a cross.  This is what it means to be conformed to Christ; insofar as Christ understood this both of himself and of his mission, we therefore must also understand this.  In this sense, each sacrament merits a particular kind of grace in order for us to be able to take on the task that God has reserved for us.

Once we grasp who Christ truly is and what he wants of us, we will have to answer his question, “Which of the two did his father’s will?”  Will we, imperfect Christians as we are, be like the first son; we may not like what God has called us to do but we do it anyway?  Or will we be like the second son; we wear a Christian identity, we readily advertise this identity to others, but we refuse to forgive when forgiveness is asked and we only see human dignity in those whom we favor?  Let us pray that God gives us the strength and courage to be like that first son.

Happy Thursday, 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.