“I wish to know Christ and the power flowing from his resurrection; likewise to know how to share in His sufferings by being formed into the pattern of his death. Thus do I hope to arrive at resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:10-11 Human beings have always been fascinated by the Mystery of Life and the Mystery of God. We want to live, as fully and richly as possible! We intuitively sense that there is a God, and that somehow in God there lies a missing piece to ourselves. We want to get connected. We have long suspected that somehow the Mystery of Life and the Mystery of God are vitally connected to one another. How are they connected? What is the secret to opening these two mysteries? The search to engage the Mystery of Life and the Mystery of God express man and woman’s desire for fulfillment — their search for their identity and their destiny. Mysteries Before we go further, we need to say a word or two about the nature of mysteries. Mysteries are not things to be understood. To try to understand them only generates exasperation and always ends in frustration. This is why we call them “mysteries”. Mysteries are movements: “dynamic” or power-generating movements. Mysteries yield their content not by being “grasped” with the human mind, but by being “entered into” with the whole of who we are. Because mysteries are movements, they are “entered into” by moving in a certain way. You “enter” into a mystery by teaching and disciplining yourself to move in a certain pattern. The entrance to a mystery is a particular Pattern of Movement. I What Nature Reveals of the Mystery of Life Everything in the natural world can teach us something of the Mystery of Life. If we pay careful attention, Nature itself shows us what lies at the heart of the Mystery of Life. Of all the things that make up the natural world, the Cycle of Seasons “speaks” most disclosively of the Mystery of Life: Autumn “speaks” of Dying, as the living earth surrenders what it is. Winter “speaks” of Listening, as the living earth lies dormant — receptive to new possibilities. Spring/Summer “speaks” of Responding, as the living earth responds to the energies alive within and around it. Together the natural Cycle of the Seasons set forth a pattern: Dying – Listening – Responding This pattern lies at the heart of the Mystery of Life. II What God Reveals of the Mystery of Life The Sacred Scriptures teach us about the Mystery of Life and about the Mystery of God. In all the Sacred Scriptures there can be found none more revealing a “word” about Life and God than that of the Christ, Himself. He is the living and divine Word of God: “In the beginning was the Word; the Word was in God’s presence, and the Word was God. He was present to God in the beginning. Through Him all things came into being, and apart from Him nothing came to be.” John 1:1-3 He became human… “And the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” John 1:4 …for the life of the world: “I came that they may have life and have it to the full.” John 10:10b Nothing in the Sacred Scriptures “speaks” more eloquently of both the Mystery of Life and the Mystery of God than Jesus, the Christ. Jesus teaches us that Dying is at the heart of the Mystery of Life: “From then on Jesus (the Messiah) started to indicate to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly there at the hands of the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be put to death, and raised up on the third day. At this Peter took Him aside and began to remonstrate with Him. ‘May you be spared, Master! God forbid that any such thing ever happen to you!’ Jesus turned on Peter and said, ‘Get out of my sight, you satan! You are trying to make me trip and fall. You are not judging by God’s standards, but by man’s.'” Matthew 16:21-23 “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16:25 Jesus also teaches us that Listening is at the heart of the Mystery of Life: “Not by bread alone is man to live but on every utterance that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4 “Sluggish indeed is this people’s heart. They have scarcely heard with their ears, they have firmly closed their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and under- stand with their hearts, and turn back to me, and I should heal them.” Matthew 13:15 “…the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who have heeded it shall live. John 5:25 Finally, Jesus teaches that Responding is at the heart of the Mystery of Life: “Having spoken this parable, He added: ‘Let him who has ears to hear me, hear… those thrown on good soil are the ones who listen to the word, take it to heart, and yield at thirty- sixty- and a hundredfold.’” Mark 4:9,2 “My mother and my brothers and sisters are those who hear the word of God and act upon it.” Luke 8:21 In his teaching, Jesus sets forth the same pattern we saw before: Dying – Listening – Responding Now consider the events in Jesus’ life. None “speaks” more profoundly of the Mystery of God than His crucifixion: “And I — once I am lifted up from the earth — will draw all people to myself.” John 12:32 “…no one comes to the Father but through me.” John 14:6b How does Jesus “draw all people to Himself” and “to the Father”? We learn how this is done from the Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. The Church celebrates these events and their meaning in Holy Week, the high point of the entire Liturgical Year. Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday “speak” of what God is all about and how one is drawn to Him. Holy Thursday and Good Friday “speak” of Dying. The dramatic events that describe Jesus’ dying teach us about a voluntarily laying down of our life in the hope of taking it up again. Good Friday and Holy Saturday “speak” of Listening. The events of Jesus ‘entombment teach us to anticipate the unexpected grace and a gift of new life. Holy Saturday Night and Easter Morning “speak” of Responding. The dramatic events that describe Jesus resurrection from the dead and appearance to His apostles teach us to lay firm, joyful hold of the grace and new life God offers. Here, at the heart of the Mystery of God as we see it revealed in Jesus, we again find the same pattern we saw before. The teaching of Christ and the events of His death, burial and resurrection set forth the same clear pattern we found set forth in Nature: Dying – Listening – Responding These three elements joined together form a movement of heart. They describe an attitude: a pattern of movement to take place in the human heart: “Your attitude must be that of Christ: Though he was in the form of God,he did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather, he emptied himself and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men. He was known to be of human estate, and it was thus that he humbled himself,obediently accepting death, death on a cross! Because of this God highly exalted him and bestowed on him a name above every other name, So that at Jesus’ name every knee must bend in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth, and every tongue proclaim to the glory of God the Father: Jesus Christ is Lord!” Philippians 2:5-11 Dying means dying to self, Listening means listening for the voice of God and looking for His grace in each moment and situation, Responding means responding to God’s will by laying hold of His grace in each moment and every situation we find ourselves. Dying – Listening – Responding describes the personal attitude we must have toward everyone and everything around us if we want to engage life fully. It is this personal attitude toward everyone and everything around us that will yield from them the reality of who they are and the fullness of all they have to offer. One enters fully into life by Dying, Listening and Responding. Dying – Listening – Responding also describes the personal attitude in which we must stand if we want to encounter God. It is an attitude that permits God to draw us to Himself, an attitude that enables us to enter communion with Him and to receive from Him gifts of wisdom, joy, strength and power. One is drawn to God by Dying, Listening and Responding. Dying – Listening – Responding describe the personal attitude that draws us not only into the Mystery of Life but into the Mystery of God as well: “I wish to know Christ and the power flowing from his resurrection; likewise to know how to share in His sufferings by being formed into the pattern of his death. Thus do I hope to arrive at resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:10-11 “If you really knew me, you would know my Father also.” John 14:7a “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; John 14:6a “I came that they might have life and have it to the full.” John 10:10b III About the Pattern Let’s take a closer look at the pieces of this Pattern of Movement that is so essential for engaging Life and encountering God. about Dying… Dying is the first piece to the Pattern, the first step to the Movement. “Dying” to what? Dying to what we are in order to be receptive to what we can become. Dying to what we think something is in order to be receptive to what something really is. Dying to our ideas about the way things are in order to be receptive to the way things could be. Dying to what our relationship has been in order to be receptive to what our relationship can become. Dying to conclusions in order to be receptive to possibilities. Dying to the structure built in order to be receptive to the movement taking place. Dying to what you were for me yesterday in order to be present to what you want to be for me today. Dying to the past in order to be born again in the present. Dying to a “self” of our own construction in order to be resurrected to a “self” of God’s new creation. We are forever dragging the past into the present, and by doing so, closing down all the vital possibilities of the present. We all have a personal history. We should carry the lessons of this history with us. But this is something far different than dragging the past into the present. The difference has to do with the baggage of expectations and conclusions. Expectations are “baggage” drawn from the past that narrow possibilities in the present. Conclusions are “baggage” drawn from the past that shut down and close out possibilities in the present. The reason that our expectations and conclusions are so dangerous to us is that our future is conceived in the possibilities of the present. The Mystery of Life is the dynamic movement of possibilities in the present, and God is the inexhaustible origin and dynamic source of these possibilities. We ought to have some sturdy expectations of ourselves but few expectations of others, our relationships or the things around us. We ought never to draw conclusions about either ourselves, others, our relationships or the things around us. The decision to die continually to what was yesterday, is the choice to be reborn, re-formed, and resurrected eternally in the possibilities of today. We do not die just to be dead. That would truly leave us at a “dead end”. The “dying” we are talking about is for something. It is for life. But God is the Author of Life, God is the inexhaustible origin and dynamic source of all life’s possibilities. Ultimately, our “dying” is for God. This “dying” only works if it is oriented to God — if it is for God. We die to our conclusions to live for God’s possibilities. “I solemnly assure you, unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit.” John 12:24 about Listening… The “dying” we have been speaking about is for a purpose. It is to create an emptiness that will permit receptivity. It is to create a silence that will permit attention. It is to create a poverty that will permit enrichment. It goes almost without saying, no one ever listens so well as the dead. We are never so open to possibility as when all assumption has been slain. When all preconceived ideas and self-drawn conclusions lie dead, then can the voice of God be heard — and it is to hearing the voice of God that our Mystical Dying, and for that matter, all dying is oriented: “…the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who have heeded it shall live. John 5:25 Only the mind of God can conceive the inconceivable. Only the imagination of God that can image the unimaginable. Only the voice of God speaks to us of inconceivable, unimaginable new possibilities. God and God alone inspires them in us and opens them up for us. This is true Hope, this is real Future, this is eternal Life . “Not by bread alone is man and woman to live but on every utterance that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4 The Mystery of Life is the coming to be of in-conceivable, unimaginable new possibilities; and God alone is the inexhaustible origin and dynamic source of them. You cannot “figure out” the Mystery of Life. It is a useless and futile effort to try to do so. Instead of figuring it out, we should be accepting the invitation to enter it. You cannot “engineer” an encounter with the Mysterious God, it is stupid and self-disintegrative to attempt it. Instead of engineering encounters, we should be placing ourselves in a position to allow ourselves to be drawn to Him. The Art of Dying, the Art of Listening and the Art of Responding are the Arts of Life eternal. They are also the arts of the knowledge of God. about Responding… In the end, we must have within us the will to respond to God. We must grab hold of the new possibilities He shows us and be willing to make use of the grace of who we are and what He provides us: “Since we live by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s lead.” Galatians 5:25 We must be ambitious in our dying for God, ambitious in our listening to God, and ambitious in responding to all God offers: “You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with all your mind.” Matthew 22:37 about the Pattern… What does the Pattern, as a whole, actually call for? It calls for a Movement of Heart toward the people and things around us. It calls for us to stand before the people in our life and the elements of our world in a sacred way: Dead… to our expectations of them, to our conclusions about them; Listening… for new possibilities about them and with them; Prepared to Respond… to the new things we see in them. This Pattern of Movement is the “Entrance Point” into Mystery. It is the attitude in which to stand in order to fully engage the Mystery of Life. It is the attitude in which to stand in order to be drawn by the Holy Spirit into the Mystery of God. This Pattern is the point of engagement for the Mystery of Life and the point of ascension into the Mystery of God. Here is a Pattern of Movement that opens us to infinite possibility, that gives us accesses us to a horizonless future, that inexhaustibly generates new life, that makes available to us all of Life’s richness, and that places us in a disposition to be embraced by the Author of Life and drawn by that embrace into a Mystery which no mortal could image or conceive of entering: Communion with God! “Anyone who loves me will be true to my word, and my Father will love them; We will come to them and make our dwelling place with them” John 14:23 IV Making the Pattern… Pattern making is a Movement of the Heart. The first piece, the Dying, takes place by retreating within. It is forged in prayer. It is not meant to be done alone, but in the company of Jesus, the Christ. He died first so that he might teach us the Art of Dying — of surrendering all that we are, all that we expect, and all that we imagine into the hands of Him who can fashion for us more than we could ever hope either to become or receive: “Those whom (God) foreknew, He predestined to share in the image of His Son, that the Son might be the first-born of many sisters and brothers.” Romans 8:29 “It is he (the Christ) who is…the beginning, the first-born of the dead.” Colossians 1:18 “To (God) whose power now at work in us can do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine — to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations, world without end. Amen” Ephesians 3:20-21 In the “Prayer of Dying” we bring our expectations and our conclusions about ourselves and others to the little Garden of Getsemani that lies within each of us. There we pray with Jesus: Abba (O Father), Let me die to myself in loving You. “You have the power to do all things… Let all be as you would have it, not as I.” [Mark 14:36] In this Prayer of Dying we let go of all that chains us to the past, that limits the possibilities of the present and that foreshortens the horizon of our future. The second piece, the Listening, takes place back in the activity of the world — moment by moment as we interact with the people and things around us. It too is forged in prayer. In every moment and each new situation you find yourself , pray the “Prayer of Listening”: Abba (O Father), Help me find more in this moment than I have come to expect; Help me see more in myself and in the people around me than I have concluded is there; Help me to listen for possibilities beyond what I know and what I think and what I am comfortable with. Help me to anticipate your unexpected grace; “My sacrifice to you, O God, is a contrite spirit; a heart contrite and humbled…” [Psalm 51:19] The third piece, Responding, takes place the moment we catch a glimpse of the unexpected grace in ourselves, in another or in the situation. Take firm hold of it! Responding begins when we take joy in what God has surprisingly brought to light in ourselves, in another or in the situation we find ourselves. It continues when we give thanks for it. It expands when we explore the new possibilities. It reaches fulfillment when we join our efforts to nurturing and supporting this new Grace to which God has given birth in ourselves, in another or in the world around us. “The one who sat on the throne said to me, ‘See, I make all things new!'” Revelation 21:5 “Everything is possible to a person who trusts.” Mark 9:23
By Father James Chelich
What Do We Believe? We say that we believe in God. But for most of us, most of the time, this remains an idea somewhere in our head. We say that we believe that God became “flesh” in Jesus — that He joined Himself to what we are: human beings in bondage to the addictive power of Sin, so that we might be able to become what He is: whole, holy and free (Ref. 2 Cor 5:21). But again, for most of us, most of the time, this remains just a concept in our mind. We also say that we believe that Jesus died for our sins and those of the whole world, that by his death and resurrection he broke the addictive power of Sin over our lives, and that He offers us forgiveness and the possibility of a new life. This is a compelling thought. It moves us to reflection and inspires great sermons and books. But even here, for most of us, most of the time, it remains a thought enshrined in our heads. Is there any way of expressing what we believe that knocks at the door of our heart rather than rattles around in our head? A way that urges our heart to open itself to what we say we believe? Saint John, the disciple who stood at the foot of Jesus’ cross with Mary, his mother, found a way. In his first letter he writes: “We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.” 1 John 4:16a Just one little verse? And at first glance not a very remarkable one at that! But hold on. Give this little verse some careful attention. Change it to the first person and begin to say it slowly — repeating it over and over again: “I have come to know and to believe in the love God has for me.” Stand in front of a mirror, and as you look at your reflection, continue to slowly repeat the words. Emphasize the words “love” and “me”: “I have come to know and to believe in the love God has for me.” It is hard to keep saying these words without some kind of response forming in your heart. You can feel your heart either resisting the words or wanting to open to them, either growing hard or becoming warm. Why? Why would your heart resist these words, and what can we learn from the resistance we feel? How often have you been told that you are not good enough to be loved? How may times and in how many ways have you been told that you are not beautiful enough, that you are not capable neough, that you are not intelligent enough? This message has been hammered into us since we were a small child. We have hear it said so many ways and felt its sting so many times that it has disqualified our hearts for love. We have even been lead to believe that we must earn God’s love and that in His eyes we will never be “good enough”. This is totally false. God loves you — unconditionally! And the only thing God asks is that you open your heart to His love for you — that you let it in. This does not mean that God accepts everything that you do. You do not even like everything that you do. There are a lot of sad and destructive things that you would stop doing if you could. God accepts and loves you — as you are. You are good enough, beautiful enough, intelligent enough and capable enough for God to love you and to love through you. The beginning ot true religion is to accept this and to open your heart to it. We don’t change in order to earn God’s love. The acceptance and experience of God’s love “works” its own change in us. This is the truth and mystery that we will examine in this boolklet. Saint John’s little verse becomes a key that can open our heart to the things that we say we believe: “I have come to know and to believe in the love God has for me…” …in the love that became flesh for me in Jesus, …in the love that was poured out for me on His cross, …in the love that radiates toward me from His open heart, …in the love that I feel stirred into flame in my own heart when I read on the Word and receive the Eucharist, …in the love that remains with me always: in all things, through all things, to the end of all things. Chapter I Grace: “The Love God has for us” “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, Glory as of the only Son coming from the Father. And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John 1:14,16-17 (Revised Standared Version) In the New American Bible, this same passage reads: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we have seen his glory: The glory of an only Son coming from the Father filled with enduring love… Of his fullness we have all had a share — love following upon love. For while the law was given through Moses, this enduring love came through Jesus Christ.” Grace is God’s Love. It is the personal and uniquely powerful love that God has for each of us, a love that He freely and unconditionally offers everyone of us. Saint Paul writes in the Letter to the Ephesians: “But God is rich in mercy; because of his great love for us he brought us to life with Christ when wwe were dead in sin…This is not your own doing, it is God’s gift; neither is it a reward for anything you have accomplished…” Ephesians 2:4-5, 9 In the Letter to the Romans, he adds: “I am certain that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principlaities, neither the present nor the future, nor powers, neither height nor depth nor any other creature, will be able to seperate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39 Grace is a Divine “Energy” Grace is Divine Love: the Divine Love shared by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit within the Blessed Trinity. It is the Divine Life they share together. It is the very power of God. The Grace that we experience as created beings is the radiation of this Life-giving Love from within the Blessed Trinity. It radiates from God outward into the whole created universe where it creates and sustains life, and works in and through all things for the good. Grace is experienced as a life-creating and life-sustaining Love/Energy flowing from God — a Divine Energy! The movement and work of Grace in our hearts and in the world is directed by the Holy Spirit. This is what we mean when we say that the Holy Spirit is: “…the Lord and giver of life…” The Creed at Mass Grace Comes to Us from a Heart Laid Open The great Old Testament prophet Ezekiel was given a vision. An angel showed Exekiel a new temple: “Then (the angel) brought me to the entrance of the temple, and I saw water flowing out from beneath the threshold… I saw water trickling from the southern side. Then when he had walked off to the east with a measuring cord in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and had me wade through the water the water which was ankle-deep. He measured off another thousand cubits and had me wade through the water which was now knee-deep. Again he measured off a thousand and had me wade; the water was up to my waist. Once more he measured off a thousand, but there was now a river through which I could not wade; for the water had risen so high it had become a river… He asked of me, ‘Have you see this, son of man?’ Then he brought me to the bank of the river, where he had me sit. Along the bank of the river I saw very many trees on both sides. He said to me… ‘Wherever the river flows, every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live… wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh… Along both banks of the river, fruit trees of every kind shall grow; their leaves shall not fade, nor their fruit fail. Every month they shall bear fresh fruit, for they shall be watered by the flow from the sanctuary. Their fruit shall serve for food, and their leaves for medicine.'” Ezekiel 47:1-12 Ezekiel saw a great river whose life-giving waters begin with a small trickle from the open doorway of a temple. One day Jesus was in the Temple in Jerusalem and he said to the crowds: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19) Many of his listeners thought that he was referring to the ancient temple building. Saint John added a note of explanation: “Actually he (Jesus) was talking about the temple of his body.” (John 2:21) Saint John wants to make clear that Jesus, himself, is the real temple! The temple that Ezekiel saw in his vision is Jesus. But what of the trickle of water that Exekiel saw flowing flowing from the open doorway of the temple? Saint John, at the end of his Gospel, carefully describes what took place on Calvary just after Jesus died on the Cross: “When they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. One of the soldiers thrust a lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out. This testimony has been given by an eyewitness, and his testimony is true. He tells what he knows is true, so that you may believe.” John 19:33-35 The water coming from the open heart of Jesus is of great importance to Saint John. What signifigance does it have for him? Earlier in his Gospel, Saint John records Jesus saying to his disciples: “If anyone thrists, let him come to me; let him drink who believes in me. Scripture has it: ‘From within him rivers of living water shall flow.'” John 7:37-38 Again, Saint John added his own note of explanation: “He (Jesus) was referring to the Spirit that those who come to believe in him were to receive.” John 7:39 The “living water” clearly refers to the Holy Spirit. But there is something more to this image of a flowing “river of living water”. Saint Paul grasps the whole meaning when he writes in his letter to the Romans: “…the love of God has been poured out in our heart through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:5 “Living water” also refers to Grace, “the Love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Grace is what the Holy Spirit brings and “pours out in the hearts of those who believe?” And so Saint John wrote: “…while the law was given through Moses, this enduring love came through Jesus Christ.” John 1:17 Grace is the “water” that Ezekiel saw flowing from the Temple in his vision. This mighty river of Grace begins in the Heart of God. It flows from the open heart of Jesus, the “Temple” — God become human flesh and blood. From here it flows through the entire world making all things new and fresh, restoring life in every form, and producing from the trees that grow along its banks both the food and medicine that will nourish and heal the human world. As we will see, these “trees” in Exekiel’s vision are women and men who believe, those who open their hearts to “the love of God that comes to them in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” For the moment however, it is important to see that the Heart of God, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, is the source and beginning of Grace. “This is the Christ we proclaim while we admonish all women and men and teach them in the full measure of wisdom, hoping to make every man and woman complete in Christ. For this I work and struggle, impelled by that energy of his (Christ’s) which is so powerful a force within me. Colossians 1:28-29 Grace Transforms or Changes Things by its Flow Above we described Grace as Divine Energy. Ezekiel saw this Love/Energy flowing from the Temple of God (Jesus) as a mighty river bringing life and healing everywhere it flowed. There is something important about Grace to be learned here: Grace “works” by its flow. Electricity is an example of how energy changes or “works” things by its flow. Electricity lights light bulbs, heats heaters and runs motors by flowing through them creating light, heat and motion. Grace moves and transforms everything in the universe by freely flowing into them, through them and around them. Grace “Works” Through Hearts Laid Open The one thing, however, that Grace cannot freely flow through is the human heart. While Grace surrounds us at all times and sustains our being and life, it is not free to flow through us. God created our hearts inviolable. This means that the human heart has doors that can either be opened or remain closed to everyone and everything around us. They cannot be forced open, even by God. God created each of us with the dignity of freedom: the ability to say “Yes” or “No’. We can choose to say “Yes”, and to open our heart to the flow of Grace; or we can choose to say “No”, and keep our heart closed to its flow. The decision to open our heart to the Love of God is a critical one. It is a choice between life and death. Moses tried to explained this to the Hebrews in the desert just before they entered the promised land: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding His voice, and holding fast to Him. For that will mean life for you, a long life for you…” Deuteronomy 30:19-20 The Heart Has Two Doors Did you know that the human heart has two doors? It does! — a front door and a back door. Jesus refers to them both: “On one occasion a lawyer stood up to pose him this problem: ‘Teacher, what must I do to inherit everlasting life?’ Jesus answered him: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Do this and you shall live.'” Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-3?? Luke 10:25-28 Jesus tells the lawyer that if he wishes to live and to inherit everlasting life, he must open both doors of his heart: the front door to God and the back door to the people and world around him. The decision to open these doors has a great deal to do with God’s Love and the way it “work” in us and through us. Saint John explains it this way: “When anyone believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, God dwells in him and he in God.” 1 John 4:15 “If we love one another God dwells in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.” 1 John 4:12 Saint Paul explains the same thing in his own way: “May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith, and may charity be the root and foundation of your life. Thus you will be able to grasp fully Christ’s love, and experience this love so that you may attain to the fullness of God Himself.” Ephesians 3:17-19 But the message of Saint John and Saint Paul is the same: two doors to the heart must be opened in order… to “inherit everlasting life”, to “grasp Christ’s love”, and to “experience this love”. Both doors to our heart need to be opened for Grace to flow through us. Both need to be opened for Grace to “work”. The Door of Faith and the Door of Charity Faith throws the front door of the heart open to God. When the front door of the heart is open to God in faith, it creates a passageway between our heart and the Heart of God along which Grace, the Love/Energy of God, begins to flow into our heart. We experience reconciliation with God and peace within ourselves. We also experience the promise of an inner healing and transfromation of life. But nothing really changes in ourselves or our relationship with others or the world around us. The back door needs to be opened! Both the front and the back door of a house need to be opened if fresh air is to flow through it! (Ref. John 3:5-8) Charity throws the back door of the heart open to others and to the world. Charity is doing deeds of love in the name of God. These deeds need not always be great things, they can be small things like a compassionate word said or a few moments of attention given. But great or small, they must be done in the name of God and for His sake; not as we usually do them — at our convenience and for our own advantage or benefit. “The gift you have received, gift as a gift.” Matthew 10:8 The motivation for opening the back door of our heart comes only when we have first opened the front door. When we open the front door to God in faith, we experience the love of God for us personally — “We come to know it”. This experience of being loved urges us to open the back door of our heart to others and the world around us. We can only give what we ourselves first possess. And when it comes to love, we can only give that which we have been given. Real love is a free and unconditional gift — a gift with no strings attached. It can only be received as a gift. And once received, it can only be given as a gift! When we do small acts of love for others in the name of God who first loved us, we give as a gift the Love we have received as a gift. The Divine Energy that is the Love of God joins itself to our act of charity and can now flow completely through us. Things begin to change! Things begin to “break loose” both within us and in our relationships with others and the world around us. We begin to be transformed into a new person: one who is… “…formed anew in the image of his Creator.” Colossians 3:10 When we see and experience the power of the love of God at work in us and through us, “we come to believe in it! When only the front door of the heart is opened, when there is faith but not charity, then there is reconciliation with God and peace but no change. When only the back door of the heart is opened, when there is charity but not faith, then there is genuine kindness but no power for change. Change, and the power for it, is a matter of both doors being open and Grace flowing freely into and through the human heart. Transformation in our lives is the result of the flow of Grace through our hearts. The Life of Grace is a Holy ‘Communion of Loves’ The life of Grace can be described as a holy “communion” of two loves: God’s love and our’s. The Love/Energy of God flows from His Heart into our own when we open our hearts by believing in the love that God has for us. Once within us, this Love/Energy seeks to unite itself to some loving act of our own — some gift of who we are or what we have that will now be given to another in God’s Name and out of gratitude for the love we have received from Him. Joining itself to our act of love, God’s Love/Energy passes out into the life of the world and the people around us. God’s Love/Energy magnifies and multiplies a hundred-fold the life-giving and healing effects of our act of charity. The Gospel story of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes (Luke 9:12-17) is a perfect example of this “communion of loves” at work. Jesus gave thanks to God and blessed the five loaves and two fish in God’s Name. He then instructed his disciples to distribute them as a gift of love to the crowd of five thousand. The small morsels were now the gift of both Divine and human love. They were miraculously multiplied by the Grace that joined them. While we may not always see such an immediate effect of our acts of charity when they are joined to the Love of God and done in His Name, we will none-the-less come to know of many miraculous things that will have taken place in the lives of people as a result of the union of God’s Love with our’s. Saint Paul wrote to the Christians at Ephesus: “To Him (God) whose power at work in us can do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine — to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations, world without end. Amen. Ephesians 4:20-21 God created woman and man to be united with Him in a Holy “Communion of Loves”. You might say that God created us to be the ordinary means by which His Grace would sustain and nourish the life of the world. Gifts lead to Possibilities, and Possibilities to Choices In teaching the first Christians about the Life of Grace, Saint Paul emphasized how total, complete and unconditional was the free gift of God’s Grace to each of us: “I am certain that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principlaities, neither the present nor the future, nor powers, neither height nor depth nor any other creature, will be able to seperate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39 But Paul went on to say: “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Romans 12:2 Saint Paul makes two points. He tells us that we must be transformed by the renewal of our minds. As we have seen, this renewal and transformation takes place by the flow of Grace that begins at the front door of the heart with Faith and is completed at the back door of the heart in Charity. But Paul also warns us not to conform ourselves to this age. God’s Love and love in the world are two very different things. God’s Love has no strings attached; love in the world has all sorts of strings attached. God’s Love is freely given; love in the world comes with a price tag. God’s Love invites; love in the world manipulates. God’s Love wants only acceptance, love in the world wants compliance. We are all very much immeshed in the world and, wether we realize it or not, the world’s brand of loving attaches itself to us. Living the Life of Grace, in the way we have been describing it, will sooner or later come into conflict with our old patterns of loving. We will find ourselves feeling the tension between them. This tension alerts us to the fact that it is time to make some choices. Will our way of relating to the people and things in our world be through a holy “Communion of Loves” or will we continue to go it alone? Will our life be formed in the pattern of giving as a gift that which we receive as a gift or in the pattern of getting all we can get at the least expense? If we are to resolve the tension we feel, we will have to make a choice: either to renounce the new way of loving or the old. Receiving the free gift of God’s Love opens up the possibility of living our life in a new and completely different way. And new possibilities inevitably lead to choices. As the new Love takes root in us, it will ask that we renounce the old: that we renounce a love that is self-centered and self-seeking for one that is self-surrendering and self-giving; that we renounce a love that is other-using and other-manipulating for one that is other-attentive and other-blessing. The choice will be between our old ways of loving that isolated us and placed us in constant competition and conflict with the world and everything in it, and a new way of loving that connects us to God, to others and to the world around us in a life-giving way. Amazing Grace… “All of us, gazing on the Lord’s glory with unveiled faces, are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image by the Lord who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18 Grace, the Love of God for each of us, is the Lord’s “glory” that transforms us into His image. Chapter II Hail Mary, full of Grace! On his cross, Jesus gave all of his “beloved disciples” in every age the truly remarkable woman to be their mother: “Near the cross of Jesus there stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. Seeing his mother there with the disciple whom he loved, Jesus said to his mother, ‘Woman, there is your son.’ In turn he said to the disciple, ‘There is your mother.’ From that hour onward, the disciple took her into his care.” John 19:25-27 Mary is remarkable because she is a woman of Grace. We can learn a great deal from her about Grace and how it works in our lives. Let us look at a scene from her life described in the first chapter of Saint Luke’s Gospel: “In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. Upon arriving, the angel said to her: ‘Rejoice, O highly favored daughter! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women.’ She was deeply troubled by his words and wondered what his greeting meant. The angel went on to say to her: ‘Do not fear, Mary. You have found favor with God. You shall conceive and bear a son and give him the name Jesus. Great will be his dignity and he will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He will rule over the house of Jacob forever and his reign will be without end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be since I do not know man?’ The angel answered her: ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; hence, the holy offspring to be born will be called Son of God. Know that Elizabeth your kinswoman has conceived a son in her old age; she who was thought to be sterile is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible with God.'” Luke 1:26-37 If we pull out the underlined portions of this passage, we see more clearly what God is saying not only to Mary but to us all: “Rejoice, O highly favored daughter (or son)! The Lord is with you. You have found favor with God.” Our initial reaction might well be the same as Mary’s: “How can this be?” How can God’s “favor” (Grace) be mine? How can Grace be at work in my life? The explanation is the same for us as it is for Mary: It is the free gift of God and the “work” of His Holy Spirit: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” The whole passage now comes to the great question the angel was sent to ask: Will you allow God’s favor (Grace) to work in your life? Just as the angel waited for Mary’s response, he now waits for ours! Mary Teaches Us How to Respond to Grace It is by personal example that Mary teaches us how to respond to God’s invitation to open our hearts to His Love and to let it “work” in our lives. Responding to the Invitation: The First Step “Mary said: ‘I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me as you say.'” Luke 1:38 Mary’s first response to God’s offer to have His Grace work in her life is an unreserved act of faith. With a clear “Yes” she throws open the front door of her heart to God. By example, she teaches us that our first response to God must be to give Him a loud and clear, but very human, “Yes”: Yes! I will take the risk, God, and open my heart to Your love! I have been hurt and manipulated in the past, all too often in the name of “love”, and so this is not easy for me. I need you to know and understand this, Lord. That is not all: Your Love will have to embrace me as I am. I am so weary of trying to be something I’m not. I need to be loved as I really am. For my part, Lord, I will not hide or withhold any part of who I am from You I will expose it all to Your Love for me. Now that You know this, I can say… Yes! I accept Your offer! I don’t understand how you are going to do the impossible in my life. But yes! Let it be done! This “Yes” must be without reservation or exception. We can neither hold back nor hide any part or area of our life from God’s Love. The reason why Grace works so little effect in the lives of many believers is that their “Yes” to God is conditioned and qualified by so many reservations and exceptions that the front door of their heart is barely open an inch to God’s Love. Responding to the Invitation, The Second Step: “Thereupon Mary set out, proceeding in haste into the hill country to a town of Judah, where she entered Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leapt in her womb. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and cried out in a loud voice: ‘Blest are you among women and blest is the fruit of your womb. But who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me? The moment your greeting sounded in my ears, the baby leapt in my womb for joy. Blest is she who trusted that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled.'” Luke 1:39-45 Again, notice the portions of the passage that are underlined. Mary’s next and immediate response to God’s offer to have His Grace “work” in her life is to hasten to throw open the back door of her heart to someone in need. For Mary, at that moment, it happened to be Elizabeth who was six months pregnant in her old age. Again, Mary teaches us by example: If we want God’s Love is to “work” in our life, we must… Proceed in haste each day and enter into the house of someone’s need. Feeling God’s Love and acceptance for us, we are invited by the very Love we have received to take just a little bit of whatever we might have and offer it to the need of someone around us. This might be a bit of our time and attention, an encouraging word, a helping hand, or assistance out of our means. Whatever we have to offer, we offer it lovingly, in the name of God who first loved us: “I offer this piece of myself to you in love, and in the name of the Love that first loved me in Jesus Christ, my Lord.” The last step is to trust: Trust that the Lord’s words to you will be fulfilled. With both of the doors of your heart open, Grace will work the most astounding changes within you and in the world around you! Jesus said: “Everything is possible to a person who trusts.” Mark 9:23 Prayer Holds the Doors of the Heart Open Prayer is how we hold the doors of our heart open to the Love that God has for us. Without prayer the doors of the heart all too quickly swing shut to leave us once again in the darkness, closed in upon ourselves, ready to brood over past injuried and nurse old bitternesses. Nothing holds the front door of the heart wide open to God’s Love like the Prayer of Praise. The Prayer of Praise joyfully addresses God in thanksgiving. It asks nothing of God except to give God glory and honor for the goodness of His Love. We repeat the name of Jesus over and over again while we thank God for His Love. At the same time we let ourselves feel the warm waves of God’s Love moving toward us, bathing us and washing away every worry that fills our mind and every anxiety that grips our heart. A Prayer of Praise might sound something like this: Jesus, I thank you for your Love. Jesus, let your Love unbind the tensions and anxieties that grip my heart. Jesus, let your Love lift the worries that fill my mind. Jesus, let your Love dispel any fear within me. Jesus, I rejoice in who You are for me: my Friend, my Redeemer, my Brother, the Physician of my Soul. Jesus, I praise you. Jesus, I thank you. Jesus, I love you. If the Prayer of Praise holds the front door of the heart wide open to God’s Love, then the Prayer of Intercession holds the back door open. The Prayer of Intercession asks something for others: family, friends, neighbors, the poor. But it is most powerful when it asks something for our enemies and those who have injured us. In the Prayer of intercession, we mention their name to God and share with God their situation and our true feelings about them. We then specifically ask God to give them the good things we know that they need. We ask God to protect them, and to bless them, to make His Love known to them and to renew their life. Mary, herself prayed to keep the doors of her heart wide open to the Love of God. As we will see below, she prayed in Praise upon visiting Elizabeth and she prays in Intercession at the foot of Jesus’ cross. Mary Teaches Us a Pattern to the Life of Grace “Then Mary said: My being proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit finds joy in God my savior, For he has looked on his servant in her lowliness; all ages to come will call me blessed. God who is mighty has done great things for me, holy is his name; His mercy is from age to age on those who fear him. He has shown might with his arm; he has confused the proud in their inmost thoughts. He has deposed the mighty from their thrones and has raised up the lowly to high places. The hungry he has given every good thing, while the rich he has sent empty away. He has upheld Israel his servant, ever mindful of his mercy; Even as he promised our fathers, promised Abraham and his descendants forever.” Luke 1:46-55 This passage of the Gospel of Saint Luke is a song. It is Mary’ song, and she sings it in praise of God’s Grace in her life. Even in her song of praise, Mary continues to teach us the way God’s Grace can “work” in our life. The key word is “lowliness”: “God looks on his servant in her (or his) lowliness.” v. 48 What is this “lowliness” all about? Perhaps the words “littleness” and “emptiness” can best describe it. “Littleness” means to bring ourselves down, close to the earth; to plant our feet firmly on the groung; to stand in the honest and true stature of both our strengths and our weaknesses. It also means that we know the truth about ourselves and are willing to face it. “Littleness” means that we refuse to make excuses for our shortcomings — we acknowledge our sins, when we commit them, as wrong and we readily seek the help and strength we need to overcome them. Standing in this pasture, we allow ourselves to feel very much in common with all our fellow human beings, we taste our limitedness and we know our need for God. “Emptiness” is emptying ourselves of Self. We tend to get full of ourself: of self-satisfaction, of self-importance, of self-sufficiency, of self-determination. “Emptiness” means that we have our own thoughts, ideas and opinions, but that we set them aside for a moment and ask God to show us something more or appreciate something from a different angle or a wider perspective — perhaps to allow us to see things from His point of view. It also means that, while we have our own feelings and first impressions, we are willing to set them aside for just a bit to let God carry our hearts to a greater depth of feeling — to feel things with His Divine Heart. “Emptyness” means knowing what we need and want to do, but setting our will aside for a moments in order to listen for God’s will in the situation before us. The “littleness” and “emptiness” we are describing are voluntary and God-oriented. We do not make ourselves “little” and “empty” to impress others or because we lack self-confidence and have a poor opinion of ourself. We make ourselves little (of right stature) before God. We empty ourselves for God. To complete the description only one thing more must be added: expectation! The “littleness” Mary sings about expects to be lifted up; and the “emptiness” expects to be filled: God raises up the little; He fills the empty with every good thing. v. 52, 53 The Attitude in which Grace “Works” “Littleness” and “emptiness” describe an attitude — an attitude of receptivity and expectation. This is the kind of attitude to which God readily responds. It is the human attitude in which Grace “works”. It is called Humility. Humility is the soil of the heart that invites God to sow the seeds of new beginnings in our life, and that encourages God to nurture those seeds into powerful changes in our life. The opposite attitude is one of being puffed up, full of Self, autonomous, independent, the master of our own destiny. It is called Pride. Pride is a heart closed to God and barred against Grace. The Pattern by which Grace “Works” Mary’s Song sets forth a pattern that we are called to embrace: We becoming “little” so that God can lift us up; we emptying ourselves so that God can fill us. And… When God lifts us and fills us to meet our need in the present moment, we hasten to make ourselves little and empty again in the next. If we linger in our “up” and “full” mode we soon drift from being filled with God to being filled with ourselves. We begin to work off our own wisdom and energy and not His. That with which God has filled us for the need of one moment we want to make work in the next — but it never works! The position to which God lifts us in one situation we want to remain in for the next — and it is certain to be the wrong one! A deep depression always follows. In the Life of Grace, after we have once been lifted and filled, we voluntarily make ourselves “little” again to await the next rising, and voluntarily “empty” ourselves again in anticipation of the next filling. This is the way we keep our spiritual balance.. “I assure you, unless you change and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of God. Whoever makes himself lowly, becoming like this child, is of greatest importance in that heavenly reign.” Matthew 18:3-4 Does this mean that we deny or deprecate our self-worth or our talents and gifts? Not at all. Our self-worth is based upon the fact that we are children of God, in living communion with Him. This means that we allow God room to take the initiative within us in every moment and situation we find ourselves. But it also means that we respond to God’s initiative with our whole being: with all our heart and with all our soul — with every talent and gift we have. We continue to have our plans, to follow our course and to do our work; only now in everything we do, we pause to let God in — to shape our thinking, to expand our sensitivities and to take the initiative according to His will. “Every scribe who is learned in the reign of God is like the head of a household who can bring from his storeroom both the new and the old.” Matthew 13:52 When we make ourselves “little”, and “empty”, God really does take the initiative and act in our behalf: He turns things around, He gives depth to what we can feel and expands what we can see, He opens up new possibilities, He inspires hope, He provides us the strength, fortitude and endurance we need in the moment that faces us. If we look back on the text of Mary’s song, we see that it is a song in praise of God acting on her behalf. In the deepest sense her song is the song of every man or woman who has ever opened their heart to the Love of God: “Then Mary said: ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit finds joy in God my savior… God who is mighty has done great things for me, holy is His name.” Luke 1:46-47,49 Chapter III Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us… The Saints work in communion for the success of the saints. This means that the Citizens of Heaven work in communion with Jesus for the success of all of us on earth. They work on our behalf through love and prayer. This is the great doctrine of the Body of Christ and the Communion of the Saints. Mary does this in a particular way. She does her work from the foot of the cross: “Near the cross of Jesus there stood his mother…” John 19:25 As we saw earlier, the cross is the throne of God’s Grace. Jesus on the cross is the very picture of the Heart of God laid open to the world. It was from his cross that Jesus gave Mary to be the mother of of every woman or man that comes to the cross — that seeks to open their heart to God’s Love. “Seeing his mother there with the disciple whom he loved, Jesus said to his mother, ‘Woman, there is your son.’ In turn he said to the disciple, ‘There is your mother.'” John 19:26-27 Mary stands with us before Jesus as our Mother in Faith, to pray with us and to teach us how to open our hearts to “the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus, our Lord” (Romans 8:39). She also stands with us as our Mother in Charity, wanting to pray with us and teach us how to walk in the power of “the love of God (that) has been poured out in our hearts.” (Romans 5:5). Mary is both our tutor and our advocate in the Life of Grace. She stands at the front door of our heart, to pray with us and tutor us in a longing desire for God and God alone (Faith). She also stands at the back door our our heart, to pray with us and tutor us in a true and genuine doing of the deeds of love for other’s in Jesus’ name and for Jesus’ sake (Charity). Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee; Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God and my mother, Pray for me a sinner now and at the hour of my death. Amen. Mother of Those Beneath the Cross and Those on the Cross It is not just at the foot of the Jesus’ cross that Mray stands. There are other crosses on Calvary. Saint Luke, in his Gospel, describes a dramatic conversation that took place on Calvary between Jesus and the criminals crucified with him: “One of the criminals hanging in crucifixion blasphemed him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Than save yourself and us.’ But the other one rebuked him: ‘Have you no fear of God, seeing that we are under the same sentence? We deserve it, after all. We are only paying the price for what we’ve done, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ He then said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you enter upon your reign.’ And Jesus replied, ‘I assure you: this day you will be with me in paradise.'” Luke 23:39-43 This scene reveals the stark truth about us all. In one way or another, we have all been crucified by the world and we find ourselves hanging on a cross of our own heartache. Nor are we completely innocent victims. We have all done our share of crucifying others: either out of our pride and greed or out of anger and bitterness. If what Saint John tells us in his account of Calvary is true, Mary was present to this conversation between Jesus and the criminals crucified with him. As a mother, her heart must have spoke in love and prayer to the heart of each of those criminals crucified with Jesus. Her prayer is certainly not difficult to imagine: “Open your heart to Jesus!” The Gospel of Luke tells us that one of the criminals did and that the other did not. The one that did found himself, that very day, in Paradse. What about us? The two criminals crucified with Jesus stand for us, and Mary has one and the same prayer and counsel for us all: Open your heart to Jesus! …to Jesus crucified out of love for you (the front door of your heart); …to Jesus crucified in the least of your sisters and brothers (the back door). Like the criminals crucified with Jesus , the choice is ours: we can open our hearts to Grace offered us — a Grace that can heal us, restore us and lead us to eternal life; or we can keep our hearts closed to the love and salvation offered — a refusal that seals us in on ourselves to be consumed by our own bitterness and anger. This refusal and the heart that it holds imprisoned in bitterness and anger is the very definition of Hell. O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell. Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of thy mercy. Chapter IV “…our daily bread…” “Give us this day our daily bread…” Matthew 6:11 Have you ever wondered what “our daily bread” might be? It has a lot to do with the Life of Grace. Let’s take a moment to unfold its meaning. A clearer rendering of this verse might be: “Give us this day our bread for the day.” But let’s unfold it just a bit further: “Dear Heavenly Father, Provide us all that we need in this moment.” Our “daily bread” is everything that we need in the present moment — all that we need, not only to endure it and survive it, but everything necessary to respond to it fully and pass through it with joy and in peace. To live the Life of Grace means that in every moment and in each situation we find ourselves, we ask and expect God to provide everything we need by way of strength, fortitude and love, right-judgement and understanding, knowledge of the Truth and that which will give life. Not only will God provide all that we need for the moment, He already has provided it! It is already ours: “Praised be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has bestowed on us in Christ every spiritual blessing in the heavens!” Ephesians 1:3 We need only open our hearts to it and claim it! We are always praying as if we are trying to get something out of God when in fact He has already provided us everything we need. The key is to open our heart to Him and claim it: God, however, gives us what we need only for the moment and situation we face. He does not give us what we will need for the moment after this one. God gives us our “daily” bread — our “bread for the moment”. He does not give us our “weekly bread”, our “monthly bread” or our “bread for the whole project” or enterprise we have embarked upon (our marriage, family, mission, ministry, etc.) Why not? First, because this is the only way we will be able to preserve our sanity. Life is lived successfully and with joy only when it is lived in the present moment, not when it is lived in the moment past or the moment to come. But there is an even richer reason. We were created by God “in His image and likeness”. This means that we were made to live in communion with Him. Everything we need for the moment and situation at hand is already ours, we need only open our heart to God in the present moment and claim it. And everything we need for the moment and situation that follows the one at hand will be provided for us as well, if we open our heart in that moment to God’s presence and claim it. God’s presence and Grace must be turned to and claimed, moment by moment and situation by situation. Nothing else preserves the living communion with God that we were created to enjoy. Incredible and unbelievable? Yes, it is! But that is just the problem: we don’t really believe it. We don’t trust it, and so we don’t open our heart to it. But that is not all there is to tell of our unbelief. If the whole truth is to be told, we don’t believe it because down deep we don’t want to believe it! We have our own agenda and our own plan for what we want done in this moment, and in the moment after this, and in the moments after that. We want what we want and, frankly, we want to be able to get it ourselves. If this should fail, then perhaps we might want God’s help to get it — but the bottom line is that we still want what we want. Even among the Godly we play the same game: we want to build the Kingdom for God for Him, or if that fails, to build the Kingdom with a little of His assistance; rather than see His Kingdom built at His initiative, out of a living communion of will and energy with us. We are perpetually angry with God because He did not make us independent and autonomous — a self-made, self-contained, self-determined woman or man. And then we get angry with Him all over again because he won’t help us get what we want when we want it. Our addiction to our own autonomy and our own will restrains us from opening the doors of our heart to God’s presence and Grace. You might say that we are starving to death at a banquet all laid out and provided for us. I think that this was Jesus’ point about the person without a wedding garment in the parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22:1-14). The person was not clothed with the Humility that makes communion possible. If you think about it, Jesus was really talking about us! In a passage in the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah says: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and pure, choice wines — juicy, rich food and pure, choice wine.” Isaiah 25:6 The “mountain” that Isaiah speaks of is Calvary. Calvary is the place were God, in Jesus, establishes the new Life (Covenant) of Grace. The food that Isaiah says God will provide is Grace — “our bread for the moment”. In another passage, Isaiah delivers an invitation in the name of God: “All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come receive grain and eat; Come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk!… Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare. Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life.” Isaiah 55:1-3 This is an invitation to live the Life of Grace. It is a call to respond to God, to “heed” Him in each moment and every situation. Grace is grace. I mean by this that Grace is a freely given, lavishly provided for gift in every moment for those willing to open their heart to it, for those willing to be loved by God, for those willing to live a life in communion with God. It is a gift that can never be received by those wanting to stand independent and autonomous: those who refuse communion with God, their fellow human beings and the world around them. Nor can it be received by those who seek to be indulged by God rather than loved by Him. A lover stands free to give all that is best. A lover is trusted to give everything that is necessary. The real issue in all of this is whether we are willing to let God be God, and allow ourselves to be loved by Him. Ultimately, only love can heal us and rebuild our world. It is all the work of Grace. We cannot think or talk ourselves or our world “right”. Nor can we engineer them “right”. Good intentions, firm resolutions, the best plans, and the most noble projects by themselves are doomed to fail. Only a love greater than our own can save us — a love freely given, entering the heart with warm welcome, and there given human flesh and blood in works of charity that announce the Good News to others: God is real! Forgiveness is available! Healing is possible! IX. The Life of Grace The Life of Grace is “bread for the day”: freely given and lavishly provided for us in every moment and each situation if we open our heart to it: “You heavenly Father knows all that you need. Seek first His kingship over you , His way of holiness, and all these things will be given you besides.” Matthew 6:32-33 The Life of Grace is the pattern of “littleness” and “emptiness”: “littleness” with the expectation that we will be lifted; “emptiness” with the anticipation that we will be filled: “I am the little one before the Lord, let it be done to me according to Thy word.” Luke 1:38 The Life of Grace is Faith and Charity. This is God’s “Way of Holiness”: both doors of the heart thrown open — the front door to God and God alone in every moment and situation, and the back door to the needs of our brothers and sisters: “May Christ dwell in you hearts through faith, and may charity be the root and foundation of your life. Thus you will be able to grasp fully Christ’s love, and experience this love so that you may attain to the fullness of God himself.” Ephesians 3:17-19 Now we return to the great question: Will you allow God’s Grace to work in your life? This is no more and no less than to say: Will you let God love you? The angel waits for your answer as he did for Mary’s. How will you respond? Open the doors of your heart: to God with the clear “Yes” of Faith and to the need of your sisters and brothers in Charity. Form your life in the pattern of voluntary “littleness” and “emptiness”. Accept the “bread for each moment” God offers you: Turn to God in each moment, open your heart to His love for you, and claim His Grace. X. A Daily Devotion I have come to know and to believe in the love God has for me! “God is rich in mercy; because of His great love for us He brought us to life with Christ when we were dead in sin.” Eph 2:4-5 I have come to know and to believe in the love God has for me! “God’s love was revealed in our midst in this way: He sent His only Son into the world that we might have life through him.” 1 Jn 1:9 I have come to know and to believe in the love God has for me! “The way that we came to understand love way that he laid down his life for us; we too must lay down our lives for each other” 1 Jn 3:16 I have come to know and to believe in the love God has for me! “When anyone believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, God dwells in him and he in God.” 1 Jn 4:15 I have come to know and to believe in the love God has for me! “If we love one another God dwells in us, and His love is brought to perfection in us.” 1 Jn 4:12 I have come to know and to believe in the love God has for me! Lord, help me to open my heart to You; help me, also, to exercise a true and generous love for others in Your name. “May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith, and may charity be the root and foundation of your life. Thus you will be able to grasp fully Christ’s love, and experience this love so that you may attain to the fullness of God Himself.” Eph 3:17-19
All Three Parts By Father James Chelich
THE COMMANDMENTS Part I Principles of Personal Integrity Father James Chelich – 2000 1. The secret to loving and following the Commandments is to DESIRE the KIND OF WORLD to which the Commandments lead. A WORLD in which… people strive to understand and honor the integrity of each person and element in creation, people stop and think about what they say and do and then ask themselves what they would do differently, people are more grateful than they are demanding, people pay heart-felt attention to their families of origin and are motivated to forgive, to heal, and to grow, violence is abhorred not glamorized or fantasized as entertainment people look at your spouse, find them attractive, value your relationship and think about how they might honor it, people take more delight in what they have than dwell on what they don’t, greed does not go unbridled A WORLD where there is… no multi-generational poverty, no disenfranchised class, no alienated segment of society, no permeant “losers”, no root of bitterness across generations. A WORLD in which the goal of the social order is redemptive: the re-enfranchisement, inclusion, and integration of all in a life-giving whole. If you have no desire for that world, then the Commandments make no sense and become only constrictive rules of “do” and “don’t”. 2. The Commandments are a GIFT from a loving God who takes seriously humanity’s longing for a world where people live in right- and life-giving relationship with God, with one another and with the elements of nature around them. The Commandments are the REVEALED PATH to that world. 3. This kind of world requires PERSONAL INTEGRITY. This kind of world will never come to be without personal integrity, a SPECIFIC KIND of personal integrity. The Ten Commandments are these PRINCIPLES OF INTEGRITY. I, the LORD, am your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. You shall not have other gods besides me. A whole and free human being: 1) acknowledges the existence of a Power and a Wisdom greater than their own, 2) walks in this world not as a “god” but as a creature made in the image and likeness of God, 3) seeks to know and lived the principles of constructive relationship with God and all things. You shall not take the NAME of the LORD, your God, in vain. God is not a power to be manipulated or a force to be controlled but a Person with whom to interact. The name of GOD is a gift given in friendship. Calling on the name of God makes us aware that we are connected to existence in a personal, not an impersonal way. The name of God is not a weapon for abuse. Remember to keep holy the sabbath day. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord, your God. No work may be done… Stopping, being silent, reflecting, listening and being grateful are absolutely essential to remaining human and to preserving a humane world. Honor your father and mother. You must pay attention to the personal origin of your life, not deny it or live in resentment of it. You owe your parents understanding of their wounds and weaknesses, resolve to heal and rectify them in yourself, gratitude for the blessings they were able to give, and a resolve to build upon all that was good and noble in them. You shall not kill. Dealing death to any human being, under any circumstances, inflicts a deep trauma to the human person and the fabric of mankind. Even if done in defense it requires remorse, cleansing and spiritual healing. You shall not commit adultery. The sexual bond of husband and wife is sacred. It is the dynamic in which life is conceived, a school for intimate relationship, a supportive context for personal growth, the foundation of the family, and the most elemental cell of human community. To violate it is to violate all of these. You shall not steal. Trust is the foundation upon which human community is built. Your honesty is connected to the peace and security of others. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Honesty is the foundation of Justice and Freedom. The truth of your word is connected to your freedom, the freedom of others, and justice for all. You shall not covet your neighbors wife. Even in your thoughts, the bond of each person with their husband and wife is sacred and inviolable. You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods. Envy will distort your gifts, erode your talents, destroy your creativity, consume your mind and burn down the world. THE COMMANDMENTS Part II Principles of Social Integrity Father James Chelich – 2000 Building on a foundation of PERSONAL INTEGRITY (the Ten Commandments), God also reveals principles of SOCIAL INTEGRITY. In setting forth SOCIAL COMMANDMENTS, God reveals moral principles of critical concern for a healthy human community. The SOCIAL COMMANDMENTS call for a specific character to the social order: If one of your kinsmen in any community is in need in the land.. you shall not harden your heart nor close your hand to him in his need. Instead, you shall open your hand to him and freely lend him enough to meet his need… Deuteronomy 15:7-11 You shall not go about spreading slander among your kinsmen; nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor’s life is at stake. Lev. 19:16 A proactive concern for others must be fostered in society’s ethics and in the social order. Indifference to the plight of others is a moral evil. When your countryman becomes so impoverished beside you that he sells you his services, do not make him work as a slave. Rather, let him be like a hired servant or like your tenant, working with you…Do not lord it over them harshly, but stand in fear of your God. Leviticus 25:39-43 You shall not defraud a poor and needy hired servant, whether he be one of your own countrymen or one of the aliens who live in your communities. You shall pay him each day’s wages before sundown on the day itself, since he is poor and looks forward to them. Deuteronomy 24:14-15 No one shall take a hand mill or even its upper stone as a pledge for debt, for he would be taking the debtor’s sustenance as a pledge. Deuteronomy 24:6 If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you shall return it to him before sunset; for this cloak of his is the only covering he has for his body. Exodus 22:25-26 Provision must be made in the social order to protect the vulnerability of those who have fallen on hard times. You may never remove a person’s means of sustaining themselves. Opportunity to recover must be extended. When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not be so thorough that you reap the field to its very edge, nor shall you glean the stray ears of grain. Likewise, you shall not pick your vineyard bare, nor gather up the grapes that have fallen. These things you shall leave for the poor and the alien. Lev 19:9-10 Provision must be made in the social order for those who live in destitution. You shall not act dishonestly in rendering judgement. Show neither partiality to the weak nor deference to the mighty, but judge your fellow men justly. Lev 19:15 Rigorous honesty and uncompromised fairness is essential in the social order. You shall not curse the deaf, or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but you shall fear your God. Lev. 19:13-14 Stand up in the presence of the aged, and show respect for the old; thus shall you fear your God. Lev. 19:32 Social structures and procedure must respect the basic human dignity of all, especially the weak and impaired. When an alien resides with you in your land, do not molest him. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you… Lev. 19:33 There is to be no distinction between the treatment of the native or the foreigner. At the end of every seven-year period you shall have a relaxation of debts, which shall be observed as follows. Every creditor shall relax his claim on what he has loaned his neighbor; he must not press his neighbor, his kinsman… Deut 15:1-2 Provision must be made for individuals to reorganize and manage debt with a view to their renewed ability to meet their responsibilities. Seven weeks of years shall you count — seven times seven years — so that the seven cycles amount to forty-nine years… This fiftieth year you shall make sacred by proclaiming liberty in the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you… Lev 25:8-12 The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine, and you are but aliens who have become my tenants. When one of your countrymen is reduced to poverty and has to sell some of his property…what he has sold shall remain in the possession of the purchaser until the Jubilee, when it must be released and returned to its original owner. Lev. 25:23-28 The opportunities of the next generation must not be foreclosed upon by the negligence or poor choices of the generation before. Neither shall you allege the example of the many as an excuse for doing wrong, nor shall you, when testifying in a lawsuit, side with the many in perverting justice. Exodus 23:2 “Everyone does it” is morally unacceptable. By the provision of these Social Commandments there is: no disenfranchised class, no alienated segment of society, no permanent “losers”, no root of bitterness across generations. The goal of society is redemptive: the re-enfranchisement, inclusion, and integration of all in a life-giving whole. The human world of God’s design is free of multi-generational poverty and abject destitution. The social world to which the Commandments lead is a world where all have opportunity and all are responsible for the ways in which they use opportunity. THE COMMANDMENTS Part III Jesus and the Commandments Father James Chelich – 2000 “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was in God’s presence, and the Word was God… Through Him all things came into into being, and apart from Him nothing came to be… The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” John 1:1,3,14 Jesus is the Word of God become flesh. As the divine Word of God, Jesus is the author and origin of the principles of Personal Integrity (Ten Commandments) and the principles of Social Integrity (Social Commandments) we find in the Old Testament. Jesus “fills full” the Commandments that call for Personal and Social Integrity Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I have come, not to abolish them, but to fulfill them. Matthew 5:17ff You heard the commandment… ‘You shall not commit murder.’ What I say to you is: everyone who grows angry with his brother shall be liable to judgement. You heard the commandment… ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ What I say to you is: anyone who looks lustfully at a person has already committed adultery with them in their thoughts. Through Jesus, with him and in him we find the ability to live the Commandments and bring into reality the just world to which they lead. “The law is holy and the commandment is holy and just and good…Romans 7:12 (But) I am weak flesh sold into the slavery of sin… Even though I want to do what is right, a law that leads to wrongdoing is always ready at hand. My inner self agrees with the Law of God, but I see in my body’s members another law at war with the Law of God in my mind…(Romans 7:14,21-23) What a wretched man I am! Who can free me from this body under the power of death? (Romans 7:24) God sent his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh as a sin offering thereby condemning sin in the flesh, so that the just demands of the Law might be fulfilled in us who live…according to the spirit. (Romans 8:3-4) We are brought into right-relationship with God by Christ so that living in him and He living in us we might be able to live the Commandments in their fullness. “To those who are called, Jews and Gentiles alike, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.” 1 Cirinthians 1:24 Jesus alters the Ritual Prescriptions for Worship and Community Membership Jesus changes the way people and things are made “clean”: no longer from the outside in, but from the inside out: Look! There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! John 1:29 If we acknowledge our sins, he who is just can be trusted to forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrong. 1 John 1:9 Here me, all of you, and try to understand. Nothing that enters a man from outside can make him impure; that which comes out of him, and only that, constitutes impurity… Thus did he render all foods clean. Mark 7:14-19 Jesus changes religion. The Temple is no longer a building made of stones in Jerusalem. It is a the body of believers in Jesus who are built up as living stones with Jesus the keystone. The sacrifice is no longer sheep and bulls. It is the presentation and offering of one eternal sacrifice: Jesus, the Lamb of God. Because Jesus is our God come to be with us, the whole essential dynamic of religion is radically changed: it is no longer worshiping before God, it is now living in communion with God. You will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem… An hour is coming, and is already here, when authentic worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth. John 4:21,23 Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up… He was talking about the temple of his body. John 2:8-21 This is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks upon the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life. Him I will raise up on the last day. John 6:40 I solemnly assure you, no one can enter into God’s Kingdom without being begotten of water and Spirit. John 3:5 Let me solemnly assure you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. John 6:52 Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples. ‘Take this and eat it…this is my body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them. ‘All of you must drink from it…for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, to be poured out in behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins. Matthew 26:26-28 ‘Do this as a remembrance of me.’ Luke 22:19 I have given them the glory you gave me that they may be one, as we are one — I living in them, you living in me — that their unity may be complete. John 17:22-23
Fr. James Chelich
GOD IS ONE
Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.
There is only one God, not three. But the One God reveals Himself, and is experienced by humanity as three “Persons.” These “Persons” are distinct in that one is not either
of the others, but apart from this distinction each possesses all that the others are, and they possess one and the same mind and will. Although this is an unfathomable mystery, it is important not to dismiss it from consideration. It has profound meaning for humanity. It is the key to our existence in the created world. Our purpose here is not to analyze what these “Persons” are, but to receive what God has revealed them
to be, and gain an insight into how these “Persons” are One God. It is here that the treasure lies for humanity.
GOD IS THE FATHER,
GOD IS THE FATHER’S WORD – THE SON,
GOD IS THE FATHER’S SPIRIT – THE HOLY SPIRIT
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations.
Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit. Matthew 28:19
God is the Father and Source of all Being.
He conceived of all that came to be.
God is the Word of the Father,
Who is the expression of the mind of the Father:
In the beginning was the Word;
The Word was in God’s presence, and the Word was God.
He was present to God in the beginning.
Through him all things came to be…
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,
and we have seen his glory:
the glory of an only Son coming from the Father
filled with grace and truth…
No one has ever seen God, it is God, the only Son,
ever at the Father’s side, who has revealed God.
John 1:1-3, 14, 18
All that the Father is, is in the Father’s Word; and all that He is,
is given in the service of the Father’s mind and will:
If you knew me, you would know my Father too.
The Father is in me and I in Him.
The Father and I are one.
All that the Father has belongs to me.
I do nothing by myself.
I say only what the Father has taught me.
God is the Spirit of the Father, the Father’s Power
Who unfolds all things as the Father conceives them
and the Father’s Word expresses them:
I will ask the Father and He will give you another Paraclete –
to be with you always: the Spirit of truth… John 14:16-17
When the Paraclete comes,
the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father –
and whom I myself will send from the Father –
he will bear witness on my behalf.
All that the Father is, and all that the Father’s Word expresses, is in the Father’s
Spirit, and all that He is, is given in the service of the Father and the Father’s Word:
He will not speak on his own, but will speak only what he hears…
In doing this He will give glory to me,
because He will have received from me what He will announce to you.
GOD IS LOVE
God is love,and he who abides in love,
abides in God and God in him. 1 John 4:16b
Between the Father, the Father’s Word, and the Father’s Spirit there is a dynamic, interactive Love of an utterly unique character – constantly self-giving, totally self-surrendering, it results in a unity complete, and yet an integrity preserved. In this unity, all is possessed by each as a gift received, and nothing is retained by any as a possession held. This unity is the One God. This Love is the origin of the universe. The Greek word given in the Bible for this constant, unreserved self-empting of one into the others is kenosis. At every moment, in every moment all is given as a gift,
and simultaneously all is received in return as a gift, but multiplied infinitely. At the core of Christian faith is the belief that the unreserved gift of self, at the heart of the Love that is God, always returns to the Giver infinitely multiplied.
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.
Live on in my love. John 15:9
The words and deeds of Jesus were collected and compiled by the early Christians under the inspiration of the Father’s Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16). We know them as the Gospel accounts attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Matthew, Mark and Luke’s accounts of Jesus’ life are noticeably similar to one another. We see Jesus leaving Nazareth in the region of Galilee where he had been reared as a child, and moving to a small fishing village. There he begins to teach. His words are compelling and draw more and more people. The love expressed in his words has a remarkable effect on many, who find that they are healed in body and mind. A blind man is restored to sight, a deaf man recovers his hearing, a woman is cured of the chronic bleeding that drains her strength away, a cripple is able to walk, a withered hand is restored to its full use. As he journeys around Galilee, down to Jerusalem, and into
the regions east of the Jordan River, the same things happen to people everywhere he goes. In reading all this one can easily get the impression that Jesus was a magician, that he had the power to perform miracles to amaze and draw the attention of the crowd. Some might say that he was an amazing faith healer: people brought him what they wanted fixed in themselves and he fixed it! Is that really what was at work in Jesus? John, the writer of the fourth Gospel, strongly suggests something very different.
John gives us a lens through which he asks us to look at and under-stand Jesus.
The lens, for John, is love. In his Gospel account he calls himself, “the disciple Jesus loved.” (John 21:7) His Gospel is filled with the word love, as he recalls the words of Jesus:
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.
Live on in my love. John 15:9
I give you a new commandment: Love one another.
Such as my love has been for you,
so must your love be for one another. John 13:34
Just Father, the world has not known you, but I have
known you; and these men have known that you sent me.
To them I have revealed your name, and I will continue
to reveal it so that your love for me may live in them,
and I may live in them. John 17:25-26
He who obeys the commandments he has from me
is the man who loves me; and he who loves me
will be loved by my Father. I too will love him
and reveal myself to him. John 14:21
John’s teaching letters in the New Testament are written around
the same theme:
Beloved, if God has loved us so,
we must have the same love for one another. 1 John 4:11
We have come to know and believe
in the love God has for us. 1 John 4:16a
God is love, and he who abides in love,
abides in God and God in him. 1 John 4:16b
We have seen his glory:
the glory of an only Son coming from the Father
filled with enduring love… John 1:14
John suggests that what people encountered when they met Jesus and he spoke to them was not a magician performing miracles or a faith healer performing cures, but something much more profound. John presses us to understand that in the presence
of Jesus people encountered the Source of their Being. Jesus himself says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9). In his face, his words, his very being, they experienced the undying love of the God and Father who called them into existence. Some of these individuals immediately distanced themselves from Jesus.
They kept him mentally, emotionally, and I suspect even physically distant. Perhaps they sensed that to allow themselves to draw too close would mean that everything would change within them and around them. Others, however, looked him full in the face and drew into their hearts, minds and bodies the undying Love of God for them expressed there. Then, indeed, everything changed! When I get to Heaven I plan on looking up the guy who had his sight restored. I plan on asking him what it was like
to be healed of his blindness. I suspect that he will look at me and say, “That was the least of the things that got healed in me that day! It was the most visible at the moment, and it really was pretty spectacular to the crowds looking on, but let me assure you, it was the least
of the things that the Love in Jesus healed and drew back into right order within me.
I also plan on talking to the woman who, after years of chronic bleeding, was restored to full strength and able to stand tall and straight again. I want to ask her what it was like to feel the healing of her body. But again, I suspect that she will just look at me with puzzlement and say, “Dear man, that was the least of the things within me that was healed and regenerated!”
We have come to know
and believe in the love God has for us. 1 John 4:16a
Some things only the experience of the Love that conceived you and called you into being can heal in you: the wounds of abuse, the bitter resentments accumulated over the years, the anger retained and stored, the quick temper and tendency to violence. And there are some things that only this Love can restore to you: your sense of the value of your existence, the importance of your life, the purposefulness of the things that happen to you on your life’s journey, your freedom, your ability to love and to
be connected to the world in love – your very humanity!
PERFECT LOVE CASTS OUT ALL FEAR
God is a mystery of unconditional, self sacrificing, out-flowing Love that leaves no part of self withheld, but casts the whole of self into whatever it gives or expresses. This is the Love that created the universe. This is the Love that conceived you and spoke your soul into existence. The potential to Love in this way is what makes humanity unique in all of God’s creation. It is the hallmark of God’s “image” in us. (Genesis 1:27)
Men and women, however, grew afraid of this Love that is their origin and called them into being. Fear of this Love seeded their hearts with dark suggestions: If I love, what will be in it for me? If I give, how much will I receive in return? If I give too much, will I have enough for myself? If I give all, will I be left with nothing – empty and alone? Here is an example of how fear and these dark suggestions work in you.
You are moved to do something to show your love for your spouse, a close friend or even someone you don’t know well. When you encounter them you find that they are in an irritable mood and are abrupt with you, maybe even rude to you. Fear grips your original good intention, and the resentment that grows from fear whispers to you: “They don’t deserve this. They won’t appreciate it!” You find yourself saying:
“I’m going to give them a taste of their own medicine. I am going to withhold it.” The good that was in you to do is arrested and withheld by the fear that grips you. Resentment is spawned from the fear, and anger flows from the resentment.
But ask yourself: Who really gets punished by not following through with the good you intended to do? Do they? Or do you? The truth is that something dies in you. Something dies in you when you do not follow through with the expression of love you have in mind, and hope dies in the world because an expression of selfless love was not poured out into the world.
The human heart and the human world have grown suspicious and even cynical
of the Love that is God. The Gospel accounts tell us that when people encountered Jesus, most of them drew back in fear – fear of the kind of Love they found in him.
In many this fear transformed itself into malice toward him. They sensed that if they embraced him, this Love would take possession of them and everything would change. They had good reason to believe this, for the only world of human relationship they had ever experienced was constructed on a conditional, contractual love which always looks to its own interests – a love which withdraws itself at the first sign of not being appreciated or gaining some return. Among the clever and the wise of their world, every gift of self calculates the return it will receive on its investment, and this is considered, “the intelligent thing to do” – a mark of sophisticated wisdom found in those “who get ahead” and are successful. In reality it takes a terrible toll, because this fear-based way of loving (and being) leaves a person “dis-eased” in mind, spirit and body – progressively more suspicious and even hostile to others in a way which easily erupts in violence. With every gift of self withheld, with every expression of love withdrawn, a man or woman violates his spiritual nature (the “Image of God” in him). His health of mind and body is weakened and something dies in his soul. It is his humanity.
This fear-distorted way of loving is also toxic to the order of creation, and all the creatures and elements in it. All things in creation are designed to unfold fully, without reservation, according to the pattern of their design and the laws of their nature. Nothing is withheld or withdrawn once given. In contrast, we human beings are inclined to lay hold of things in nature with only our own calculated advantage
in view. We quickly dismiss the integrity of the elements of the natural world and disregard how they are connected to each other in a life-giving way. Violating them
in this way, we use them to achieve the personal gain we have in mind. This has left the created world around us scarred and dying – the air poisoned, the water polluted, the atmosphere weakened, and more and more of the creatures that call our planet “home” facing extinction. Man and woman, who were created to be stewards
of the earth, have become its exploiters. It is not without reason that the Scriptures tell us, “all creation groans and is in agony even until now.” (Romans 8:22) – waiting for the healing and regeneration of humanity. “Indeed the whole created world eagerly awaits the revelation of the sons of God. (Romans 8:19) The good news is that this is possible!
Love had no room for fear;
rather, perfect Love casts out all fear…
1 John 4:18
Those who opened their hearts to Jesus found that the Love that is God which is expressed in Jesus casts out all fear from their hearts, and leaves their minds, bodies and spirits in a healthy harmony. Anger, resentment, bitterness and hostility are swept away. This interior restoration of right order is the first phaseof the regeneration God’s Love accomplishes in a person. It is the work of the Spirit of the Father (the Holy Spirit). The healing continues to unfold and is sustained as long as the soul returns to rest in this Love. Possessed by the Love they receive in Jesus, those who open their hearts to him begin to love boldly and unconditionally simply because it is in them to do (Luke 19:8). They give generously because it is of their true self to do so (Luke 21:1-4). They love without thought of return, and in so loving they find another, truer self in place of the old – a self at peace and able to see the world in true perspective, a self whose joy is in expressing itself outward into the world.
This second phase of regeneration happens closely upon the first. It too is the work
of the Spirit of the Father (the Holy Spirit), Who has taken seat in their soul and inspires them to love as God loves. The result is a human being restored to the Divine image in which she was made – the human spirit regenerated and prepared to embrace the world in all the beauty and goodness it has to offer:
All of us gazing on the Lord’s glory with unveiled faces,
are being transformed from glory to glory
into his very image by the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18
We were created to love because it is in us to love, to give because we are moved to give, to do the good because we see the good that can be done – and in all this, never to pay any attention to whether it is abused, appreciated or even noticed.
THE LOVE THAT IS “OF GOD”
This is my commandment:
Love one another as I have loved you. John 15:12
God’s revelation of Himself as a trinity of “Persons” in a relationship of unreserved, self-surrendering Love is of more than theological importance. Fundamentally it asserts that God is not, as most of humanity has assumed, a solitary ego governing
the universe, who creates rules for us to follow in order to win his approval and gain
a reward. Christianity asserts that God is a Mystery of Self-surrendering Love.
In all that God shows us, in all that God asks of us, God seeks to draw us back into
the embrace of the Love which restores the human body, mind and spirit to right order. Then, in the embrace of that Love, we learn to love as we are loved.
There are three dimensions to this Love that is of God:
The Love that is of God
wants to know and honor the integrity of each person,
living creature and element in the natural world.
This is how the Creator loves each element in His creation. This is how the Creator loves us. Although God created us, and our existence is totally dependent upon Him, God does not use or manipulate us. God knows and honors the integrity of our person: our thoughts, our dreams, our fears, our strengths, our weaknesses, and the work we are given to do. Experiencing ourselves so loved by God, we are called to extend this same love to others. And further to extend it to the various creatures and elements in the world around us. The Love that is of God wants to know and honor the integrity
of who another person is: their thoughts, dreams, fears, hopes, strengths, weaknesses, and the work they are called to do. The Love that is of God wants to know and honor the integrity of each creature or element it engages in the natural world.
The Love that is of God
understands and respects the relationship
that each person has with others,
and that each creature and element
has with other creatures and elements in the natural world.
This is how God loves each element in His creation. This is how God loves us. God understands our connection to our family, our friends, and those with whom we work. God understands our need for food, clothing, and shelter, as well as for tenderness and affection, and productive labor. God does not seek to destroy these relationships but to honor them and bring them into right order. Being so loved, we are called to do the same with our fellow human beings, and with the elements of the natural world around us. The Love that is of God never seeks to manipulate or destroy someone’s relationships with others. Rather it seeks to preserve and strengthen them. The Love that is of God wants to understand how each element in the natural world is linked in
a vital way with each other element, and would never act in a way that would threaten or violate this living bond.
The Love that is of God
is moved to contribute constantly
to preserve and enhance the life of each person,
creature or element in the natural world.
This is how God loves each element in His creation. This is how God loves us.
God puts what we need in the path of our experience and understanding. Often it stretches us to see it and lay hold of it. Sometimes we are unable do it alone, and must do it in collaboration with others. In the process we are invited to become more than we have grown accustomed to being. This is by design. Being so loved, we are called to love our fellow human beings, and the creatures and elements of the natural world around us in the same way. The Love that is of God looks for the good in someone
or something. Seeing the good, it is moved (inspired by the Spirit of the Father)
to contribute to it in some way. The Love that is of God never withholds the good
it is moved to do, nor does it withdraw the good once given.
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets.
I have come, not to abolish them, but to fulfill them.
This gives us a whole new way of viewing God’s Commandments. Human beings
and the elements of the natural world have an integrity. This integrity commands respect. They also have a created connection to one another that preserves in them
a balance of life and health. This connection commands respect. The same is true
of God. God has an integrity that commands respect. God also has a created connection to every person, creature and element in His creation, as God seeks
to preserve it in a balance of life and health.
The Commandments train us to recognize and honor the integrity of God, and each person and element in the natural world. The Commandments prompt us to grow
in our understanding of and respect for the created relationship that God, every person
and every element in the natural world has with one another. The Commandments urge us to receive the Love God extends to us and to contribute to and enhance the unfolding of the full potential of every person, creature and element we come in contact with. The Commandments provide a path back into right- and life-giving relationship with God, each other, our world and all things in it.
APART FROM ME YOU CAN DO NOTHING
No more than a branch can bear fruit of itself apart from the vine,
can you bear fruit apart from me. John 15:4
The restored life to which the Commandments lead can only be reached if we follow them in the embrace of the Father’s Love and in the company of the One who expresses the Father’s Love for us perfectly: Jesus, our Lord. Otherwise the human heart fails in the effort, and fear again enters in and takes possession of the human spirit. Then we find ourselves using the commandments not as a path to life but as another weapon with which to assault and manipulate others. Jesus says:
He who obeys the commandments he has from me
is the man who loves me. John 14:21
Many people read this Scripture verse to say that keeping Jesus’ commandments proves that you love him. Actually, Jesus is saying (and the original Greek actually says) just the opposite: You have no hope of being able to keep his commandment
to, “love one another as I have loved you,” unless you are in the embrace of his love – unless you are being loved by him. The verse correctly reads: “The one who obeys the commandments he has from me is the one who is being loved by me.”
His message is clear: you have to be loved in order to be able to love.
LOVE, THEN, CONSISTS OF THIS…
Love, then, consists of this: not that we have loved God,
but that God has loved us…
God’s love was revealed in our midst in this way:
He sent his only Son into the world
that we might have life through him.
1 John 4:10, 9
You will not be able to love any differently than you experience yourself being loved. This is a universal truth about human life. If you don’t know that you are loved by the Source of your Being, if you don’t consciously open yourself up to receive that Love and personally experience it, then there is no way you are going to be able to truly love another or live in harmony with the natural world. You will only fall back into a fear-based way of being in the world and a suspicion-based way of connecting with the people and things in it. Further, you cannot bring your internal world of body, mind and spirit, or the external world of people and things around you back into right order on your own. If you could love rightly on your own, then you would. And if we could engineer our world back into shape on our own, then we would. We have tried again and again, and failed. The problem lies, as God tells us, in the human heart:
More tortuous than all else is the human heart,
Beyond remedy; who can understand it?
I, the Lord, alone probe the mind and test the heart… Jeremiah 17:9-10
Acknowledging this truth lays the heart open to God. This is why authentic Christian life begins with an act of humility: a confession of the utter poverty of our love.
This is also why a confession of the poverty of our love begins Christian worship
Lord, it was the intention of my heart
to express love in a word or action.
I felt Your inspiration to do it!
Then something was said or done
that made me question doing it.
I grew afraid and withheld my love –
and something died within me.
Lord, have mercy!
Lord, I expressed my love in word and act,
and I knew the joy of doing it!
Then something happened
that made me question having done it.
I grew suspicious and withdrew what I offered in love –
and a ray of hope died in the world.
Christ, have mercy!
Perfect Love, You cast out all fear.
Take possession of my soul and set me free
to love as I am loved by You.
Lord, have mercy!
May Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us
our sins, and bring us to everlasting life. Amen.
The whole dynamic of Christian worship at Mass is designed to open us up to receive the Love God is offering us in Christ – to be “taken hold of” by it, to be possessed by it.
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.
Live on in my love. John 15:9
A question arises out of these words of Jesus, a question that cuts to the core
of religious faith:
Have you experienced the love of God for you?
Have you experienced the abiding Love of the One Who is the Source of your Being? Have you experienced the Love that pronounced your soul into existence at the moment the seed and the egg came together in the embrace of your father and mother, and the first embryo of your physical existence was formed? With the passing of time many things can draw you distant from this Love. It can happen with the acquisition of things, or prestige, or power. With the passing of the years many things you experience can make you doubt the existence of this Love: disappointment with
your parents or those upon whom you were dependent, abandonment at a point when you were vulnerable, the experience of betrayal in friendship or love. When you look into your heart, how many brooding complaints do you nurse inside you as a result
of these disappointments. Have they not left you cynical about this Love? Isn’t it time to step beyond your cynicism and to come back to center about what is truly most important in life?
God is present everywhere. But to “receive” God’s presence – to become aware of it, to sense its power, to allow it into our being and therefore to permit it to become powerful in us, with us and through us – requires something on our part.
Receiving the Father’s Love
The Father’s Love, the love of your Creator for you personally, is received simply by asking. You find a time and a place to be alone and in quiet. You examine your heart for all the things in which you hoped you would find fulfillment and peace, and all the people from whom you hoped you would receive a love that filled the void within you, and you humbly acknowledge that none of them were sufficient: all of them left your inner spirit, in some measure, restless. You bow your head and let it fall into your hands, and whisper from the depth of your being:
Father, love me! Let your love break through
all of the barriers I have raised against You,
and let me experience your love for me.
Do this often. Be persistent and don’t give up. The barriers we erect to keep God
at a distance and barred from our awareness can be many, not all of them even known
to us. This prayer of longing desire pierces those barriers and God will not fail
to break through.
Receiving Jesus, the Word of the Father
Awareness of the presence of Jesus and knowledge of him is received simply, in two exercises. First, each day read a short portion of one of the Gospel Accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John). Be in a place where you can be alone and it is quiet.
Before you read, pray within you:
Jesus, Word of the Father,
Who are you?
Make yourself known to me!
Read for about two or three minutes. Then pray again:
Jesus, I want to know you.
Make me conscious of your presence near me.
Help me to sense your thoughts speaking to mine.
Second, before as many things as possible that you have to do during the day, pause and consciously pray in your mind:
Jesus, do this with me.
Focus my attention on what is really going on here.
Hold my tongue, and help me to listen.
Prompt me as to what I should say or how I should act.
Do this before as many things as you can. It will soon become a living habit, and awareness of His presence near you in any situation will grow stronger and stronger.
Receiving the Holy Spirit
Like receiving the presence of the Father’s love for you and the presence of Jesus with you, receiving the Holy Spirit is a function of awareness, attention and confidence.
First, pay attention to the prompting of the Holy Spirit within you. These are the little nudges, the spontaneous inspirations, and the more solid convictions that well up within your mind and heart urging you to express affection, voice encouragement,
or do something good or just. You need to know that these are caused by the Spirit
of the Father, the Holy Spirit seated within you. Do not ignore them. Pay attention
to them and move with them: express the love that you are moved to express, even where it may not be welcomed. Do the good that you are moved to do, even when
it will not be appreciated. For a Christian to intentionally ignore these promptings is
a sin of omission, and to push them aside out of anger, resentment or bitterness is
a descent into the old darkness that holds the world in bondage.
Second, stop complaining about people that are dysfunctional and situations that are bad. Instead, in the face of them, do something good, and do it in the name of Jesus.
In the name of Jesus, I offer this word (or act)
to the power of God’s Spirit!
Then watch. Pay attention to the effect that the good you do has on the situation. Perhaps it will appear almost insignificant at first, but study the faces and body language of the people around you. The power of the Holy Spirit has taken up the good you said or did and is at work within them. This is what Peter did when he encountered the cripple on his way into the Temple to pray (see Acts 3:1-8). If you have been complaining about someone or something, go back and say or do something good, and do it in the name of Jesus. If you do this often enough you will begin
to recognize how many powerful ways the Holy Spirit takes up the good that you
do and works with it. You will be amazed. You will grow in confidence that the Spirit of the Father surrounds every good word you say and every good work you
do when you consecrate it to God and His healing will.
THE ONE WHO BELIEVES HAS ETERNAL LIFE
May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith,
and may charity be the root and foundation of your life.
Thus you will be able to grasp fully, with all the holy ones,
the height and depth of Christ’s love,
and experience this love which surpasses all knowledge,
so that you may attain to the fullness of God himself.
Faith asks that we believe that the Creator and Source of our Being loves us and that He has entered this world in the person of His Son to express the depth of His love for us. Faith asks that we receive His Love and invite it to take possession of us. Faith asks that we allow His Love to not only work in us but through us – pouring out into lives of those we meet and on to the elements of creation we handle.
Faith asks that we love as we have been loved – never withholding the gift of self God inspires us to give or withdrawing Love’s gift once given. Faith believes that this unreserved gift of self, born out of God’s love for us, always returns to the giver infinitely multiplied. Every act of Love leaves us changed – greater in soul and more deeply in communion with the Source of Our Being and with all things that surround us. Faith believes that every man and woman was created to be such a soul, and can become such a soul. Faith invites every man and woman to do so.
There are in the end three things that last:
Faith, Hope, and Love,
and the greatest of these is Love.
1 Corinthians 13:13
I give you thanks, O Lord,
that I am fearfully, wonderfully made. Psalm 139:14
In all of the universe that we have thus far been able to view with our sophisticated technology, Earth is the only place where the stuff of creation has achieved conscious awareness, and the ability
to look at itself and talk about what it sees. I am of course talking about you and me – human beings. We are as a whole, and each
of us as individuals is an astounding achievement of creation, unknown at this point to exist anywhere else. We are the only part of creation that can look out and wonder with awe at all the rest
of creation around us. We are the only part of creation that can see the good in something and draw it out so that it can serve the life and the joy of all. We can take a block of wood, fashion a tongue for it, write a song for it, and then sing the song with the wood;
and by so doing draw a whole forest into the song.
The logic behind belief in God is really quite simple. If the stuff
of the universe can produce a creature with the capacities we have, then it is quite reasonable to assume that in the stuff of the universe or behind it is an intelligence that is more than what we are.
And with just a quick look around at the vast expanse of existence, it is quite logical to assume that this intelligence is infinitely more than what we are. What is this intelligence? Who is God?
The question is important because we, along with everything around us, extending to the farthest reaches of what might be,
were fashioned to be a part of the whole by the One Who Is.
“God said…” Is it really so hard to believe that God would reveal something of who God is by speaking? After all, we are the only part of Creation that can ask questions and listen to the answers. God reveals for relationship. Only from God can we learn how
to live in a community of life-giving love with God, with our
fellow human beings, and with the elements of Creation around us.
Only from God can we learn to enter the mystery of being a person.
Father Jim Chelich
The Catholic Faith teaches that…
There is an…order of knowledge, which man
cannot arrive at by his own powers: the order of divine revelation. Through an utterly free decision,
God has revealed Himself and given Himself to man. (Catechism of the Catholic Church #50)
God who reveals Himself and gives Himself to man,
at the same time brings man to superabundant light
as he searches for the ultimate meaning of his life.
(Catechism of the Catholic Church #26)
The invisible God…addresses men and women
as his friends, and moves among them, in order
to invite and receive them into His own company. (Catechism of the Catholic Church #142)
His will was that men and women should have access to the Father,
through Christ, the Word made flesh,
in the Holy Spirit,
and thus become sharers in the divine nature. (Catechism of the Catholic Church #51)
by Father James Chelich
Jesus said: I am the light of the world. No follower of mine shall ever walk in darkness, no, he shall possess the light of life. John 8:12
Jesus also said: You are the light of the world…your light must shine before men… Matthew 5:14
Children of Light know how to pierce the darkness where ever it exists.
Children of the Light know how to transform love into matter and matter into love.
At Saint Thomas the Apostle School we awaken our children and young people to their dignity as Children of the Light.
This was God’s gift to them at their Baptism.
We teach them the Arts of the Children of the Light.
We train them in these arts and hold them accountable for practicing them, even as we hold each other accountable for practicing them.
Speaking the Truth
Why are we disappointed when our children fail to speak the truth the first time we ask for it? We should be well aware that adults as well as children often fail to tell the truth out of fear. What is of greater importance to forming human character is that, having lied, a person afterwards thinks about it and then returns and amends what they said with the truth.
Children of the Light are trained to identify in themselves the fear that causes them to cover up the truth, and then to summon the courage to return with the truth when and where it is called for. The Children of the Light believe that the truth is essential if one and all are to be free.
Naming the Darkness for What It Is
All too often, when a person senses that something is wrong in a situation, they are strongly dissuaded from voicing their feelings and trying to identify the wrong-at-work. This coercion to be silent and unquestioning comes from their prior training in counterfeit politeness or through outright social pressure. Children of the Light are encouraged to sound out their feelings, to give them expression, and to accurately name the wrong-at-work – calling it what it is.
Extending Compassion, Even Where it is Disapproved
People do not like to think that they are capable of suppressing compassion. But this is often a carefully inculcated feature in the way they were brought up. In a variety of ways they are given to understand that there are borders at which their charity, patience and mercy must stop. Some people are to be included and some are to be excluded from their compassion and vital concern. Children of the Light are trained to identify these borders and to ignore them. For Children of the Light mercy has no borders, and their vital concern extends to all.
Using One’s Strengths to Encourage and Lift Up the Weak
Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, talents and disabilities. Upon discovering their strengths and talents, people are tempted to compare themselves to others – especially those weaker than themselves and less gifted in these ways. This leads them to see themselves as superior to the weak and less gifted, and to take pride in this distinction. People then try to feel strong by using their talents and strengths to oppress or belittle the weak. This, however, only leads them in the wrong direction: to a deeper and deeper insecurity about their own talents and strength. They then turn to others who are strong and talented in the same way in the hope of mutually supporting one another’s collapsing self-confidence. They tell themselves: “we must be strong because we are stronger and more talented than them!” Children of the Light are trained to discover their strengths and talents and to take genuine joy in them. They are taught, however, that strength or talent is given only for the encouragement and service of those who are weaker than themselves in this way. Children of the Light learn to experience their personal strength through encouraging and lifting up those who are weaker or less talented than themselves. Only in this way will their confidence in themselves and their strength or talent grow. The Children of the Light bring hope to the lives of the weak and give them reason not to turn to violence against those who humiliate or oppress them.
Seeing the Beauty Around You
Children of the Light are taught to notice the beauty in the world around them, to pause in their activity and draw the beauty into themselves, to delight in it and to give God praise for it. Children of the Light learn that only when they can see the beauty in the world around them will they be able to see the beauty in themselves. Children of the Light know themselves to be beautiful, even without the permission of others.
Seeing the Goodness in Others
Children of the Light are taught to see the good as well as the not-so-good in themselves and in others. They are taught to establish a healthy boundary between themselves and the not-so-good in others. They are also taught to establish healthy personal patterns of thought and behavior to contain the not-so-good in themselves. Children of the Light see the good in themselves and in all others. They value it and make efforts to encourage it to grow. They see, value and encourage the good even in those from whom they know they must stand at a distance.
Laughing Heartily in Joy
Children of the Light are taught to laugh heartily at themselves and the idiosyncrasies of life, and to find joy in the success of others. They train themselves never to laugh at or at the expense of another.
Weeping Deeply in Sorrow
Children of the Light are taught to allow themselves to feel sorrow and to express it. They are trained, however, to feel and express the sorrows of others — not just their own. This brings them into solidarity with humanity.
Sacrificing Self to Provide for Others
Children of the Light are taught that it is noble to sacrifice themselves to provide for the necessities of others. They are taught to do this anonymously, without drawing any attention to themselves. They desire those for whom they provide to be left wondering at the providence of God, rather than admiring them. This is important for Children of the Light, for they see themselves as the agents of God’s providence for the blessing of others and, instruments of awakening humanity to the existence of God. This is their greatest joy.
Drawing Light from Light
Children of the Light are not “a light unto themselves” They understand that the same venial and sometimes dark things that work in others, work also in them. Alone, their own light will all too easily be overshadowed and then extinguished by personal doubt, weakness, fear or sadness. Children of the Light live from The Light – God’s light, not their own. The fullness of God’s light shines in Jesus. The Children of Light know that He is with them always, and that his power firmly holds the world and all things in it. Children of the Light are taught to make conscious contact with His presence throughout their day, and to consciously seek wisdom and draw strength from Him. This brings them unassailable freedom, confidence and joy in living.
Father James Chelich – 2003 (revised 2007)
is Jesus’ promise of the gift of the Divine Spirit.
John 14:16-17 I will ask the Father and He will give you another Paraclete – to be with you always: the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot accept since it neither sees him nor recognizes him; because he remains with you.
In Catholic Faith, Tradition is the Holy Spirit at work in the Church doing exactly what Jesus says the Holy Spirit is sent to do.
is the presence and action of the Holy Spirit
in the Church
IIa. TRADITION is the Holy Spirit reminding the Church of the words and deeds of Jesus.
John 14:26 The Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will instruct you in everything, and remind you of all that I told you.
It was the Holy Spirit who was active in the preaching of the Apostles as they accurately recalled the words and deeds of Jesus, preached them and then accurately explained their meaning. It was the Holy Spirit who was active in the assembly of the Church when it discerned which of the written collections of Jesus’ words and deeds and which of the collections of the Apostles teachings were authentic and which had been corrupted. Thus did the Church canonize (define as authentic) the Scriptures and form the Bible.
IIb. TRADITION is the Holy Spirit guiding the Church as it discerns and defends the truth about Jesus and the truth in Jesus when it is controverted.
We can see an example of this in the life of the early Church recorded in the Bible. The assembled apostles write to the Gentiles who have come to faith in Jesus concerning the controversy about whether they are to be
circumcised and follow Jewish ritual law:
Acts 15:28-29 It is the decision of the Holy Spirit, and ours too, not to lay on you any burden beyond that which is strictly necessary, namely,
to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals, and from illicit sexual union.
Saint Paul warned: “A time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but, following their own desires, will surround themselves with teachers who tickle their ears. They will stop listening to the truth and wander off to fables.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4) How, then, are we to know the truth with certainty.? Jesus provided for this in the Church:
John 16:13 When he comes, however, being the Spirit of truth he will guide you to all truth.
TRADITION is the articulated truth (Doctrine) the Holy Spirit leads the Church to know and embrace.
It is clear that Saint Paul knows about a body of truth about Christ
to which he must be faithful:
I Corinthians 11:2 I praise you because you always remember me and are holding fast to the traditions just as I handed them on to you.
I Corinthians 15:3-7 I handed on to you first of all what I myself received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,; that he was buried and, in accordance with the Scriptures, rose on the third day; that he was seen by Cephas, then by the Twelve. After that he was seen by five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still alive, although some have fallen asleep. Next he was seen by James; then by all the apostles…
I Corinthians 11: 23-25 I received from the Lord what I handed on to you, namely, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took
bread, and after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This I my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper, he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’
IIIa. TRADITION is both Oral and Written:
2 Thessalonians 2:15 Therefore, brothers, stand firm. Hold fast to the traditions you received from us, either by our word or by letter.
IIIb. TRADITION guarantees that Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.
Hebrews 13:8 Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God
to you; consider how their lives ended, and imitate their faith.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Even while the Holy Spirit was inspiring Saint Paul and the other apostles and leading them to articulate the truth about Christ, it is evident that they understood that they were contributing to a growing body of articulated truth about Christ which could not be contradicted or set aside, and to which they were accountable in their preaching and teaching:
Galatians 2:1-2, 9 I went up to Jerusalem again with Barnabas, this time taking Titus with me. I went prompted by a revelation, and a laid out for their scrutiny the gospel as I present it to the Gentiles – all this in private conference with the leaders, to make sure the course I was pursuing, or had pursued, was not useless. …Those who were the acknowledged pillars, James, Cephas and John, gave Barnabas and me the handclasp of fellowship, signifying that we should go to the Gentiles as they to the Jews.
is the Church
in whose offices and members the Holy Spirit is active.
Saint Paul understood that the Holy Spirit was present and at work in the Church, and that the Church carried within her the Holy Spirit’s guarantee
of the truth of its teaching:
I Timothy 3:14-15 I am writing you about these matters so that if I should be delayed you will know what kind of conduct befits a member of God’s household, the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.
1 Corinthians 12:27-30 You, then are the body of Christ. Everyone of you are a member of it. Furthermore, God set up in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracle workers, healers, assistants, administrators, and those who speak in tongues.
Matthew 16:13 Jesus…asked his disciples this question: ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptizer, others Elijah, sill others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ ‘And you,’ he said to them, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ ‘You are the Messiah,’ Simon Peter answered, ‘the Son of the living God!’ Jesus replied, ‘Blest are you, Simon son of Jonah! No mere man has revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. I for my part declare to you, you are ‘Rock,’ and on this rock I will build my church, and the jaws of death shall not prevail against it. I will entrust to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you declare bound on earth shall be bound in heaven; whatever you declare loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’
“traditions” are not TRADITION
1) patterns of cooperating with grace used in the reform
of one’s personal life,
2) patterns of personal and communal prayer and piety,
3) modes of witnessing Christ before the world.
These are evidenced in the lives of the saints and emulated by the Church or individual members of the Church because they prove helpful to sustaining spiritual health and growth in the members, and unity in the whole body.
In Catholic faith there is a clear distinction between TRADITION and “traditions.” “Traditions” can change. TRADITION does not change.
An example from Jesus’ teachings: Matthew 23:23
You pay tithes on mint and herbs and seeds (“traditions”) while neglecting the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and good faith (TRADITION). It is these you should have practiced,
without neglecting the others.
An example in the Worship of the Church:
The Constitution on the Divine Liturgy, Vatican Council II, Chapter 1, #21
The liturgy is make up of unchangeable elements divinely instituted (TRADITION), and elements subject to change (“traditions”).
These latter not only may be changed but ought to be changed with the passage of time, if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything
out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become
By Fr. James Chelich, 2001
This teaching was originally published in four parts.
The teaching is presented here in its entirety.
Part I of IV
In the Book of Revelation, Saint John records a series of visions he received. In these visions Saint John sees Jesus. He is shown God and the Saints victorious in Heaven. He is then shown the forces of evil that would come against the forces of Good on earth throughout time. Finally he is shown the ultimate victory of God and those that cling to Him, and the coming of a complete New Creation in Christ. The visions Saint John was shown concerning the struggle between Good and Evil on earth throughout time describe the bondage of sin and the horrendous consequences of sin. They also describe the persecution of believers. These visions can be listed as follows: The Opening of Seven Seals The Sounding of Seven Trumpets The Woman Pursued by the Dragon The Seven Bowls of Plagues The 1st Battle, the Thousand Year Reign and the 2nd Battle The question is, how do you read and interpret these visions? Some have chosen to read them as a foretelling of a sequence of specific historical events that either have already happened or will happen. This has sent them back through the last two thousand years of human history trying to connect individual historical events and personages with elements of the visions (the 1st trumpet, the 4th seal, the 3rd bowl, etc.) Although people have been doing this from the time of Saint John down to today, this whole approach has never won acceptance from the Universal Church and has been rejected as a proper reading of the visions by a great many Christian leaders and teachers. Another way of reading this sequence of visions, championed by none other than Saint Augustine, is to see in each of the visions a statement and dramatic illustration of the same essential truths: 1. The wages of sin is death… (Romans 6:23a) The visions illustrate the truth of the consequences of sin in violence and destruction visited upon the human community and the physical world. 2. Who can free me from this body under the power of death? (Romans 7:24b) The visions illustrate the truth of the addictive hold that sin can have on the human soul to the point of becoming a “possession” driving a person to actions that are insane in their cruelty and demonically manipulated. 3. The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord. (Rom 6:23b) If the Son frees you, you shall really be free. (John 8:34ff) The visions illustrate the truth that salvation and freedom are available through faith in Jesus and by setting our hearts to doing all that he asks. 4. You are the light of the world…Your light must shine before men so that they may see goodness in your acts and give praise to your heavenly Father. (Matthew 5:14ff) You will suffer in the world. But take courage! I have overcome the world. (John 16 33) Here we come to the whole point of all the visions Saint John received and that are recorded in the Book of Revelation: God wants his children (and Jesus wants his disciples) to understand what is really going on in the world around them; He wants them to understand their vital role and why they are persecuted; He wants them to know where, in the end, it is all heading. A great struggle between good and evil is going on in the hearts of men and women of every time, and in the world around them. Called by God, redeemed by Jesus and regenerated by the Holy Spirit, Christians are “living invitations” to the people around them and to the circumstances in which they live—“invitations” to turn to God, to repent of sin, to heed the principles of life and to find life eternal. Christians are living members of the Body of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 12:1-27). They are not victims but His witnesses (see Acts 2:32-33 and 3:15). Their sufferings are purposeful—to the very same purpose as the sufferings of Jesus himself: the offering of salvation, the winning of souls and the healing of the world (see Philippians 3:10-11). In these visions Jesus assures his disciples of every time and place that his victory over sin and death is theirs. With him they can live lives triumphant and free even in the mist of oppression. And with him they will live eternally in a real Heaven. In the end evil will fall, sin will be defeated and Satan’s manipulations bound forever.
ABOUT THE END TIMES – Part II of IV
What About the Rapture? Thousand Year Reign? Being Left Behind?
a foretelling of a sequence of specific historical events that will happen in the last one thousand years of human history then… The picture is that first of all the Devil will be bound in the abyss for a thousand years. Then those who have been martyred for Christ will rise… Then there will be a period of a thousand years in which Christ and all his saints will reign. After that, for a brief time the Devil will be released. There will follow a final struggle and the general resurrection of all men… (William Barclay Commentary on the Revelation of John, p. 186-197) The Catholic Church has never accepted this interpretation of Chapter 20. The doctrine of a particular earthly reign of Jesus in the last one thousand years of human history is not found anywhere else in the New Testament or in the canonized doctrinal teaching of the Church. Then how are we to understand the imagery and message of Chapter 20? St. Augustine provides us the key. Augustine sees: The 1000 Years as a symbolic number of years standing for the time between the first coming of Christ on earth in Bethlehem and the second coming of Christ at the end of time. The Reign of the Saints as the entire course of the history of the Kingdom of God established by Christ: the Church on earth united to the Saints in Heaven throughout the passage of human time. The First Resurrection as every Christian’s sharing in the resurrection of Christ by virtue of their Baptism into Christ. Through baptism into (Christ’s) death we were buried with him, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life… Romans 6:4 The “judgement” given to the Saints as the witness Christians give to the truth and the invitation they offer to salvation in Christ; Also the binding and loosening of sinners through the sacraments of the Church. The judgement of condemnation is this: the light came into the world, but men loved darkness rather than the light…He who acts in truth comes into the light. John 3:19-21 You are the light of the world…your light must shine before men so that they may see goodness in your acts. Matthew 5:14-15 Whatever you declare bound on earth shall be bound in heaven; whatever you declare loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Matthew 16:18-19 Some Taken, Some Left Behind as the particular judgement on each soul upon dying and appearing before Jesus. It is appointed that men die once, and after death be judged. Hebrews 9:27 The Last Judgement as the judgement Jesus describes in Matthew 13:36-43, Matthew 25:31-46 and Mark 13:24-27.
On the basis of Chapter 20 of the Book of Revelation…
Catholics do not anticipate a bodily resurrection of the heavenly Saints 1000 years before the end of earthly time. Catholics do experience resurrection and life with Jesus, and communion with the Saints in Heaven in their daily lives. Catholics do not anticipate a physical presence and rule on earth of Jesus and the Saints of Heaven in the last 1000 years of earthly time. Catholics do experience Jesus’ living presence with and in them (his saints on earth), and the power of his grace working through them to overcome evil, restore justice, heal the consequences of sin and regenerate life. Catholics do not anticipate a military battle to take place outside the City of Jerusalem in the land of Palestine. Catholics do experience, within their own hearts and the world around them, a battle between good and evil justice and injustice. This battle takes place every day outside and all around the walls of the spiritual City of Jerusalem, the Church of God (see 1 Timothy 3:15). Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Trial, or distress, or persecution, of hunger, or nakedness, of danger, or the sword? …Yet in all this we are more than conquerors because of him who has loved us. Romans 8:35,37
ABOUT THE END TIMES – Part III of IV
We are already living in the End Times.
We are already at “the last hour.” Already the final age of the world is with us, and the renewal of the world is irrevocably under way; it is even now anticipated in a certain real way, for the Church on earth is endowed with a sanctity that is real but imperfect. Christ’s kingdom already manifests its presence through the miraculous signs that attend its proclamation by the Church. (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 670) Using the imagery of the vision in Chapter 20 of the Book of Revelation, we can draw a deep and profound understanding of the “End Times” and of our situation as Christians in the world. The End Time sare all time from the First Battle and Victory of Jesus over sin and death which took place in his earthly life, his death and resurrection, until the Final Victory of Jesus with his saints (the members of his body) over sin and death. This Final Victory takes place in the Last Judgement at the end of time (see Matthew 25:31-46). The Second Battle is the struggle between good and evil that takes place around us every day until Jesus’ Second Coming for the Last Judgement. In every time throughout all time, a great struggle between good and evil goes on in the hearts of men and women and in the world around them.
We are His Witnesses! Acts 2:32-33 and 3:15
Christians are living members of the Body of Christ. In every time throughout all time, Christians are “living invitations” to the people around them and to the circumstances in which they live—“invitations” to turn to God, to repent of sins, to heed the principles of right-relationship and to find life eternal in a living relationship with Jesus. God, in Christ, was reconciling the world to himself, not counting men’s transgressions against them, and he has entrusted the message of reconciliation to us. This makes us ambassadors for Christ, God as it were appealing through us. 2 Corinthians 5;19-20 God’s overriding purpose in all the visions recorded in the Book of Revelation is to instill in Christians in a clear awareness of their vocation and the importance of it in God’s plan of salvation. The visions also make clear to Christians that, despite the seeming chaos of the world at times and all the monstrous power of evil that can be seen at work around them, God is still firmly and unquestionably in change of where things are going and how they will turn out.
If we hold out to the end we shall also reign with him. 2 Timothy 2:11
In the vision of Chapter 20, Jesus assures his disciples of every time and place that his victory is theirs—both the First Victory and the Second. The saints (on earth and in Heaven) “reign” with Jesus: with him they live lives on earth that are triumphant and free; they “rule” even in the midst of oppression and persecution; their faith, their commitment to virtue, and the power of God working through them “renders a judgement” on the people and events of their time; By the power of God’s grace and through the “word” of their witness, evil will fall, sin will be defeated and Satan’s manipulations will be bound forever; and their life extends eternally in a real Heaven. Thanks be to God who has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Be steadfast and persevering, my brothers and sisters, fully engaged in the work of the Lord. You know that your toil is not done in vain when it is done in the Lord. 1 Corinthians 15:57-58
The Visions of Saint John “Reveal” more than they “Foretell”!
The visions recorded in the Book of Revelation describe the kinds of events that have taken place or that will take place. They speak of the ravages of evil and the consequences of sin in war, interpersonal violence, disease, the poisoning of the air, the soil and the waters. They also speak of waves of persecutions launched against believers. With rare exception, they do not identify a specific historical event or foretell a sequence of specific historical events. Each vision does not add to the “foretelling of what is going to happen next” (e.g., WWI, the rise of Hitler, WWII, etc.) Each vision fills out the description of a single picture of the kinds of things to expect throughout the “End Times,” and how the power of God will be present and at work.
ABOUT THE END TIMES – Part IV of IV
The “Last Hour” and the Resurrection of the Dead
The resurrection of all the dead, “of both the just and the unjust” (See Acts 24:15 for Saint Paul’s reference to this), will proceed the Last Judgement. This will be “the hour when all who are in the tombs will hear (the Son of Man’s) voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgement” [CCC 1038] (See John 5:28-29 for the full text of Jesus’ words). (See 1 Corinthians Chapter 15 where Saint Paul speaks of the resurrection of the dead in some detail. ) If we have died with him, we shall also live with Him; If we hold out to the end we shall also reign with him. 2 Timothy 2:11
The Last Judgement
Then Christ will come “in his glory, and all the angels with him… Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at his left… And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous in to eternal life” [CCC 1038]
(See Matthew 25:31-46 for Jesus’ full description of this.)
(Jesus also makes additional references to the Last Judgement in Matthew 13:36-43 and Mark 13:24-27.)
“The lives of all of us are to be revealed before the tribunal of Christ so that each one may receive his recompense, good or bad, according to his life in the body” 2 Corinthians 5:10
In the presence of Christ, who is Truth itself, the truth of each man’s relationship with God will be laid bare. The Last Judgement will reveal even to its furthest consequences the good each person has done or failed to do during his earthly life. [CCC 1039]
(Jesus’ full statement in John 12:46-48 is worth pondering.) Then through his Son Jesus Christ (the Father) will pronounce the final word on all history. We shall know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and of the entire economy of salvation and understand the marvelous ways by which his Providence led everything to its final end. The Last Judgement will reveal that God’s justice triumphs over all the injustices committed by his creatures and that God’s love is stronger than death. [CCC 1040]
(See 2 Peter 3:1-15a for Saint Peter’s explanation of the seeming delay in Jesus’ second coming.)
The New Heavens and the New Earth
The Kingdom of God will come in its fullness. After the universal judgement, the righteous will reign for ever with Christ, glorified in body and soul. The universe itself will be renewed. [CCC 1042] Sacred Scripture calls this mysterious renewal, which will transform humanity and the world, “new heavens and a new earth.” [CCC 1043]
(See Revelation 21:1-8 for Saint John’s vision of the coming of a new heavens and a new earth.) It will be the definitive realization of God’s plan to bring under the single head “all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth” [CCC 1043]
(See Ephesians 1:7-10) For man, this consummation will be the final realization of the unity of the human race…Those who are united with Christ will form the community of the redeemed, “the holy city of God, “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” She will not be wounded any longer by sin, stains, self-love, that destroy or wound the earthly community. The beatific vision, in which God open Himself in an inexhaustible way to the elect, will be the ever-flowing well-spring of happiness, peace, and mutual communion. [CCC 1045]
(See Revelation 21:9-27 for St John’s complete vision of this.) For the cosmos, Revelation affirms the profound common destiny of the material world and man. [CCC 1046]
(See Romans 8:19-23 for Saint Paul’s teaching on this.) The visible universe, then, is itself destined to be transformed, “so that the world itself, restored to its original state, facing no further obstacles, should be at the service of the just,” sharing their glorification in the risen Jesus Christ. [CCC 1047] When discussing the Book of Revelation and other books and passages of the Bible that narrate miracles and other supernatural events, the question usually comes up as to how to interpret these accounts. I follow a number of simple rules that guide my reading of the Bible as a Catholic believer. First and foremost, I refuse to read the supernatural out of the accounts recorded in the Sacred Scriptures. God has acted in human history in both natural and supernatural ways, and continues to do so. I always begin by assuming that the passage describes accurately what happened or means what it says in the plain sense of the words. This does not make me or anyone else a fundamentalist or a literalist. If the plain-sense-of-the-words description or meaning of the words contradicts what is recorded in the Holy Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John)—either the teachings of Jesus or the personal portrait of Jesus recorded in the Gospels—I know that I am interpreting the meaning of the test or passage inaccurately. I immediately move to look for another meaning. I believe Jesus is “the image of the invisible God.” The four Gospels are my first norm for interpreting the rest of the Bible. That is why I counsel people to constantly read the Gospel portraits of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Finally, I check out my interpretive conclusions against orthodox Catholic Church teaching and other orthodox interpreters of the text or passage. To my constant amazement, I usually discover that the Church does not hedge in each passage of the Scriptures with a strict interpretation, but actually assumes that as a believer, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I can receive the objective meaning and personal message on my own. Please note: CCC page references are from the Catechism of the Catholic Church
Fr. James Chelich
August 27, 2000
Without faith, you see yourself standing alone before the hard realities of the human world.
With faith, you see yourself standing next to Jesus and the power of God is all around you.
Without faith, you have to solve the problem yourself.
With faith, you simply have to do something that moves in the right direction.
Without faith, you see your words and actions move as far as your wisdom and energy can take them.
With faith, you see God multiplying your efforts for the good, thirty-six and a hundred fold. .
Without faith, you see only your own efforts, and grow resentful of those who fail to do what you do.
With faith, you see your actions moved by the Hand of God, and woven with the actions of others into the fabric of justice.
Without faith, you will grow to hat injustice, but it will not stop there. You will grow to hate a multitude of things more.
With faith, you grow to love the life of all things.
Without faith, Justice cannot be attained.
With faith, it is a reality ready to break forth at any moment.
What God Has Revealed About Life After Death
By Father James Chelich
CCC is an abbreviation for Catechism of the Catholic Church. The paragraph number is referenced. Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ. (CCC #1021) The Continued Existence of the Soul “Moses in the passage about the burning bush showed that the dead rise again when he called the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, God is not the God of the dead but of the living. All are alive for Him.” Luke 20:37 The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God — it is not “produced” by the parents — and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final resurrection. (CCC #366) Judgement Upon Death “It is appointed that men die once, and after death be judged,” Hebrews 9:27 “The lives of all of us are to be revealed before the tribunal of Christ so that each one may receive his recompense, good or bad, according to his life in the body.” 2 Corinthians 5:10 (See Luke 16:19-31 – The Rich Man and Lazarus) Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of death, in a particular judgement that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven — through a purification or immediately, — or immediate and everlasting damnation. (CCC #1022) Heaven (Eternal Life) We enter into eternal life by FAITH… “Indeed, this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks upon the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life. Him I will raise up on the last day.” John 6:4 “The Father loves the Son and has given everything over to him. Whoever believes in the Son has life eternal.” John 3:35-36 …working through LOVE (Charity). (Ephesians 3:17-19) “Come, you have my Father’s blessing! Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink.. I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me…” Matthew 25:31-46 Those who die in grace and God’s friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ. They are like God for ever, for they “see Him as He is,’ face to face. (CCC #1023) This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity…is called “heaven.” Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness. (CCC #1024) In the glory of heaven the blessed continue joyfully to fulfill God’s will in relation to other men and to all creation. (CCC #1029) Hell (Eternal Death) Hell is not a punishment inflicted by God. Hell is the consequence of human choice. Hell is “self-exclusion” — the refusal of Jesus’ offer of communion with God and all things through a personal bond with him. “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him avoids condemnation but whoever does not believe is already condemned for not believing in the name of God’s only Son .” John 3:17-18 “Out of my sight, you condemned, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels! I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink. I was away from home and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing.” Matthew 25:31-46 (See also Matthew 5:22,29; 10:28; 13:42,50; Mark 9:43-48 — especially Matthew 13:41-42) We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him, But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves… To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell.” (CCC #1033) The Power of Choice “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life then, that you and your descendants may live,by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him.” Deuteronomy 30:19b-20a “The judgement of condemnation is this: the light came into the world, but men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were wicked.” John 3:19 Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed, by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back. However, although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgement of persons to the justice and mercy of God. (CCC #1861) Final Purification (Purgatory) “All of us, gazing on the Lord’s glory with unveiled faces, are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image by the Lord who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18 Final purification is part of a larger spiritual process called “transformation in grace”. St Paul tells us: “You must put on that new man created in God’s image whose justice and holiness are born of truth.” (see Ephesians 4:17-24, Colossians 3:5-17) This transformation begins with an act of faith and a decision to follow Jesus. It continues to final purification in this life or in the next. Jesus says, “You must be made perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48 All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. (CCC #1030) The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of those eternally lost. (CCC #1031) One might ask: Imperfectly purified from what? The answer is: Sin. Actually, however, the question is better asked: Imperfectly purified (or perfected) in what? The answer is: purified in love and perfected in the arts of communion with God, others and all things. The Last Judgement “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, escorted by all the angels of heaven, he will sit upon his royal throne and all the nations will be assembled before him. Then he will separate them into two groups…” Matthew 25:31-46 In the presence of Christ, who is Truth itself, the truth of each man’s relationship with God will be laid bare. The Last Judgement will reveal even to its furthest consequences the good each person has done or failed to do during his earthly life. (CCC #1039) Then through his Son Jesus Christ (the Father) will pronounce the final word on all history. We shall know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and of the entire economy of salvation and understand the marvelous ways by which his Providence led everything to its final end. (CCC #1040)
Fr. James Chelich, 1992
Jesus told his disciples quite plainly to expect that the Cross and suffering would be as much a part of their lives as it was a part of his own: “If a man or woman wishes to comes after me, they must deny their very self, take up their cross, and follow in my steps.” Mark 8:24 This is not because God enjoys human suffering. He abhors it and is constantly seeking to bring it to an end. As a Divine Physician He seeks in every way to both relieve the symptoms and heal the cause: “Though I stooped to feed my child, they did not know that I was their healer.” Hosea 11:1-4 We see this so clearly in the life and ministry of Jesus: “People…came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured; indeed, the whole crowd was trying to touch him because power went out from him which cured all.” Luke 6:17-19 Nor does God “send” us crosses to bear. Suffering entered the world when sin was born in the human heart. When we rebelled and broke away from God, we headed full steam down the path of getting what we wanted, when we wanted it and the way we wanted it. In the process, we turned the whole universal order of things upside-down. Everything that had been in a life-giving order was thrown into chaos, only to settled into new patterns — patterns of suffering and pain. Things that once worked together to create life and preserve health now worked at odds with one another to deal death — within us, between us, and in the world around us. You could say, and quite literally, “All hell broke loose!” This is the terrible truth of the consequences of sin. The only way back to life and sanity is to re-connect with God. The only place this can take happen is in the human heart, where it all first went wrong. The way this is done is by surrendering our rebellious will to God: “My God, I offer myself to You — to build with me and do with me as You will. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Your will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Your Power, Your Love, and Your way of life May I do Your will always!” AA, The Big Book In his death and resurrection, Jesus won for us the power to defeat our worst enemy — our Self-will! Jesus invites us to open our hearts to him and claim this power. “Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me…” Matthew 11:28-29 Jesus’ “yoke” was to do the will of his heavenly Father (John 6:37-40). We “take his yoke upon our shoulders” when we surrender our Self-will to God. Jesus unites us in a life-giving communion with God. The surrender of our Self-will establishes this relationship and God begins to act on our behalf. It is God who overcomes and defeats our self-absorbed, self-consuming willfulness that causes so much pain and suffering to ourselves and to others. When the human heart re-connects with God the suffering within us, between us and in the world around us begins to come to an end. When pain and suffering touches the life of a disciple of the Lord, we call it “the cross”. When it comes we do exactly what Jesus did: we call out to God to preserve us. We specifically ask God to rescue us and heal us. In the face of our cross we pray in the same way that Jesus prayed in the face of his cross: “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup from me; yet not my will but Yours be done.” Luke 22:42 We ask God to remove our suffering and we believe that He desires to do so. But we also trust that if our suffering continues, it will be for a purpose: for a redemptive purpose, for the same redemptive pur-pose that Jesus suffered. And so we invite Jesus to be present in our suffering and to endure it with us. We believe that the suffering we share with Jesus remains no longer just a mindless evil, but that it is laid hold of by the Holy Spirit and “ordered” to the redemption of human hearts. Perhaps the heart of someone as close to us as a member of our own family will be softened at the sight of our faith and opened to the presence of Jesus in our suffering. When we say that we “offer up” our suffering we mean that we offer our suffering to Jesus and join it to his suffering so that in us (his Body) he can continue his work of touching and redeeming human hearts. This is exactly what happened in Jesus’ suffering on Calvary. The heart of one of the criminals crucified with him softened at the sight of it and opened to the love God: “‘We are only paying the price for what we’ve done, but this man has done nothing wrong… Jesus, remember me when you enter upon your reign.’ And Jesus replied, ‘I assure you: this day you will be with me in paradise.'” Luke 23:41-43 The suffering of Jesus was an invitation to Grace — the most eloquent of his entire life. It was his greatest “work”. Nothing so powerfully knocked on the door of the heart of humanity. The early Christians understood this and wished to share in this “work”. Saint Paul wrote: “Even now, I find my joy in the suffering I endure for you. In my own flesh I fill up what is lacking in the suffering of Christ for the sake of his body, the church.” Colossians 1:24 The early Christians did not want to suffer, nor did they seek to suffer! What they did want and actively seek was to share in Jesus’ work; and His “work” was to touch hearts and to invite those hearts to open to the love of God. In the face of suffering the early Christians asked God to take the “cup” from them. But they lived not by their own Self-will but by the life-giving will of a Father whose loving purpose they trusted in all things. What was God’s will? God’s will was not that they suffer. God’s will was that all hearts might be touched and saved (John 3:16-17). The first Christians were willing to risk and endure anything if it would advance that end. All they asked was that Jesus be in it: His love would endure where they knew their own would not; He would preserve them whole and entire through everything and anything. “You will suffer in the world. But take courage! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 “Know that I am with you always…” Matthew 28:20 Saint Paul did not want to suffer any more than any of the rest of us, but he so much wanted to share in the life and work of Jesus, his Lord, that he wrote: “I wish to know Christ and the power flowing from his resurrection; likewise to know how to share in his sufferings by being formed in the pattern of his death. Thus do I hope to arrive at resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:10-11 One day when Jesus was still a baby in his mother’s arms, Simeon told Mary that she was to share in the “work” of her Son: “You yourself shall be pierced with a sword — so that the thoughts of many hearts may be laid bare.” Luke 2:35 Mary, like every Christian after her, would be invited to join her suffering to those of Jesus, “so that the thoughts of many hearts may be laid bare” — so that the hardness of many hearts may be pierced, softened, and opened to the truth and the healing power of Jesus — a power that triumphs over suffering and death. Christians hate suffering and strive in every way to relieve it. When suffering comes to us or to others, we ask God in prayer to remove it and to heal. We pray with one another and over one another. We believe that God wants to heal and we believe in His power to defeat evil. But we understand that one day our “hour” may arrive — an “hour” in which we are asked to join Jesus at his cross in the greatest of all his redemptive works. If and when that “hour” should come for us, we ask the courage to stand before God and pray as Jesus’ prayed: “‘My soul is troubled now, yet what should I say — Father, save me from this hour? But it was for this that I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name!’ Then a voice came from the sky: ‘I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.'” John 12:27-28 Many people today laugh at the notion of “offering” their suffering to Jesus. I wonder if they realize what they are laughing at? Remember, there were two criminals hanging with Jesus on Calvary. One heard and recognized the invitation in Jesus’ suffering, the other one laughed..