5TH WEEK OF LENT: DIVINE PURSUIT

“So Jesus told them this parable: “Which of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of  them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness  and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices…Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” – Luke 15:4-5,7

God solicits each of us by dialogue no other soul can hear. His action on the soul is always for us alone. He sends no circular letters, uses no party lines. God never deals with crowds as crowds-they could only give him earthly glory-but what he wants is each soul’s singular and secret fealty. He calls his sheep by name; he leaves the ninety-nine that are safe to find the one that is lost…Once the soul becomes conscious of the Divine Presence, it…whispers to itself: “This is a message sent to me and to no one else.” – Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

In his poem: “The Hound of Heaven,” Francis Thomas shows that God views us each as significant individuals, but also that He is relentless in His pursuit of us. As the shepherd who searches for the one lost sheep tirelessly until he finds it, so too does God pursue us with patient persistence.

Unlike the sheep who has no design in mind to stay lost, we often attempt, with all our energy, not to be found by God. We believe our happiness is in our freedom. Yet, like Thomas in his poem, we don’t understand that happiness is not in being free, but in the proper use of freedom. Improper use of freedom leads us to sadness. Proper use of freedom leads us to happiness. In the former we are successful in evading God; in the latter we are found.

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4TH WEEK OF LENT: STRENGTH AND WEAKNESS

“Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” – Psalm 82:3-4

“THE STRONG AND THE WEAK”

“There is a law that is not in nature, at least not in raw nature, namely, “We who are strong should bear the infirmities of the weak and not please ourselves.” It is here that Christianity makes its most unique and distinctive pronouncement, and gives the supreme example of Divinity dying for the weakness and sinfulness of humanity. The Christian law is not “the survivor of the fittest” but ‘the survival of the unfit.” – Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

When Jesus was approached by people of means, who showed interest in His teachings, he told them to give what they possessed to the poor and then come follow Him. He saw that their weakness was not in poverty but in their wealth. One can’t love God and money, we are told. “Where your love is, so also will be your heart .”

The poor, by circumstance, know humility well. The rich, by circumstance, are apt not to know it at all.

The poor are more susceptible to manipulation by those with evil intent. For in their need they will often accept help from the wicked as well as the just. However, with the just,  there will be no strings attached; for charity is done out of duty to love. Responsibility, then, must fall upon those with the means and purity of heart, to protect those who are unable to protect themselves.

We all are weak in one respect or another. One does not need to be impoverished to know weakness. There are those of weak character who are also in need of healing. Christ emphasizes this in those whom he chose to be His apostles. The apostles were, initially, not the type of men most would have considered to be the best choice to further the cause of Christianity, nor ensure the growth of the Catholic Church.

But, God doesn’t choose the likely. Instead, He confounds by calling upon the unlikely to carry out his plan. His chooses not the strong, but the weak. He chooses not as subjective fallible men would, but as befits His infallible foreknowledge. He chooses not because of what one is, but because of what one can become.

“for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearances, but the Lord looks on the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16: 6-7

Within God’s vision is hope for us all.

 

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3RD Week of Lent: Our Union With God

It is difficult for non-believers and believers alike to understand, let alone accept, that God can relate to our regrets, sorrows and suffering. How can a perfect being empathize   with the imperfect? How can God feel what we feel as we endure the challenges of a chaotic and often merciless world; a world that, in the end, plays no favorites?

This brings to mind the question; Has God ever suffered?

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, through his wisdom, provides an answer to this question.

“Does God know anything about pain? Does God know what I suffer? Did God ever have a migraine headache, as if his head was crowned with thorns? Does God know anything about wounded hands and feet that are brought into to the accident wards of hospitals? Does God know anything about the starvation in India and Africa? Did he ever go without food for two days? Or three? Or five? Does he know anything about thirst? Does God know anything about homelessness? Was he ever without a home? Does he know what it is to be refugee? To flee from one country to another? Does he know what it is to be in jail? To be the victim of scourging? Does he know any of these things? Yes. God is in Christ reconciling the world to himself.”

By reflecting on what the Archbishop has said, it can be seen that we and God are connected. However, we must wonder how this can have come to be with such a chasm that separates us from Him. Man himself is incapable of traversing such an expanse.

In all the major religions of the world, man reaches out to God; with all his petitions, praise and sorrows. Yet only through Christianity does God come to man. That is how the chasm is bridged. And by being here He made himself available to all that we experience. He was like us in all things; suffered all things, including temptation. He was marked by all that marks man save sin. For He is God incarnate and by His divine nature is incapable of sin. However, He feels the pain we feel because He gave Himself to it on the cross. And by His sacrifice we are saved from the ravages of sin.

“But he was wounded for our iniquities, he was bruised for our sins: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his bruises we are healed. - Isaias 53:5

This is how we are united with God. Through the second person of the Holy Trinity we come to know the love of God for us. We find ourselves recipients of a love that is yet beyond our capacity to fully comprehend. We come to know that His love comes with a price. A price to be paid, not by us, but by Him. Because only God could bear such extreme demands of body, mind and spirit. Have you ever wondered how and why you are able to endure the pain and suffering from your trials; when you thought it impossible? You are able to, and will always be able to, because all has passed through Him first.

There is yet another important benefit that we fortunates receive through this union. Christ’s intercession for us ended not on the cross, but continues to this day. Even though the imprudent exercise of free will by men and women has wrought disorder upon the world, and sadly, at times, in the name of God; still Christ stays God’s Hand and gains Divine Mercy for the contrite of heart. He gains this favor for us by showing God the  scars He received in paying the debt for our salvation; and further supports His plea on our behalf by saying: “See how I love them.”        

 

 

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2ND WEEK OF LENT – Judgement; Measure for Measure

Jesus said, “Don’t judge and you will not be judged: do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” – Luke 6:37-38

JUDGING OTHERS”

Judging our fellow human beings is as perplexing as the perceiving of colors on a spinning top. When it is at rest, or on a fixed state,…we think we can well judge his character.  But when we see him in the whirl of motion of everyday life…all his goodness and badness blur into indistinctiveness. There is so much goodness at one moment, badness at another, sin in one instance, virtue in another, sobriety at one point, excess in another, that it is well to leave the judgment to God…. 

The way we judge others is very often the judgment which we  pronounce upon ourselves…Every dramatist, scriptwriter, novelist, and essayist who attacks the moral law has lived against it in his own life. These men may not know it, but in their writings they are penning their own autobiography…. – Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, GUIDE TO CONTENTMENT

At times the good that we do is to offset some bad that we have done. We may give our attention to amend our inattentiveness elsewhere. We offer charity in recompense for being uncharitable. We express contempt toward atrocities when in our hearts we know that our own thoughts and behavior have been other than honorable; all in an attempt to balance the scales of justice. In and of themselves, these good works are commendable; yet would be of more value if their provider did so not to ease a guilty conscience, but rather to fulfill a merciful heart. 

And if we are true to ourselves we come to realize, because of our own weaknesses and failures, that we are in no position to judge others. Our efforts would best be spent in straightening our ways and living right in the movement  toward spiritual perfection. And, in so doing, we discover that we no longer have the desire to measure others; because we now understand that the concerns of judgment belong only to He who is flawless, and bears neither speck nor beam in eye as we.  

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Lent and The Paradox Of The Cross

LENT

The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday; with the participants being marked with ashes and the words “Repent and believe in the Good News” are prayed. The expectation is to imitate the example of Jesus’ prayer and fasting in the desert by our prayers, fasting and charitable works. Lent is a time for all followers of Jesus to examine their consciences and reflect on changes each can make in their lives and resolve to incorporate them, not just during the Lenten season, but as a permanent improvement as they strive to grow spiritually and perfect their souls in Him. “In this sense, Lent is a movement from one point of view to another, or, perhaps, from one interpretation of life to a different interpretation.” – Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

Lent is a forty day preparation for Easter Sunday; beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending at the Triduum (the three-day period which includes Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday). As discussed above, this forty day observation is in commemoration of Jesus’ isolation from all, when He allowed Himself to be tempted by the devil. And through Satan’s failure to win Him over to sin, ensures that Satan can never defeat God. For the  great deceiver can never deceive the One who is incapable of deceiving or being deceived.

THE PARADOX OF THE CROSS

Jesus carried the cross an estimated distance of 650 yards. Which is a little less than a quarter of a mile. The same distance many may walk leisurely in the morning with a cup of coffee in hand or in mowing one’s lawn on a warm summer day. But for one who had just been scourged within an inch of His life, undergone intensive interrogation, suffered abuse and had little if any sleep or nourishment, that distance must have seemed like that which one would run in a marathon.

[Pheidippides, a Geek messenger, legend sates, was sent from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated in the Battle of Marathon(in which he had just fought), in 490 BC. It is said that he ran the entire distance without stopping and burst into the assembly, exclaiming “Victory,” before collapsing and dying.} 

It as been debated whether Jesus would have been able to carry His cross that distance considering the state of His condition. Historians tell that those condemned to crucifixion would carry the cross-bar and not the stem of the cross. Still the weight of the cross-bar was between 80 to 110 pounds. It has been shown that even a healthy man of Jesus’ presumed stature would not be able to carry the cross-bar the distance from the beating, on a path, known as the Via Dolorosa or the “way of suffering” (which was a narrow street of stone, probably surrounded by markets and crowded at the time), to the crucifixion site at Golgotha.

Along the way a centurion, anxious to get on with the crucifixion, forces a North African onlooker, Simon of Cyrene, to carry the cross; after the third fall of Jesus. Jesus follows along still bleeding and sweating a cold clammy sweat of shock, until the journey from the fortress Antonia to Golgotha ends.

To answer the debate of how Jesus could have carried the cross under His dire condition one must look beyond the physical. Jesus is referred to as the “Son of Man” and the “Son Of God.” He was both human and divine in nature. The cross he carried was made of wood, but, in truth, was composed of the sum total of humanity’s sufferings from the trials of body, mind and spirit. All of which were derived from original sin. Jesus was not sent by God to overthrow Roman Rule, but rather “to turn the world upside down in order to turn it right-side up”(G.K. Chesterton), through the conversion of human hearts from sin in order to reconcile God with His people.

To accomplish this reconciliation there must be a sacrifice. For a soul can only be cleansed of sin by the shedding of blood. And for all mankind to be forgiven, God would have to offer Himself in sacrifice. A life not to be taken, but given. It was only the unimaginable perfect love of God that could make the burden of man’s sin, which was the substance of the cross, manageable enough to be carried by Jesus. By divine love alone can the unbearable be borne ; and men and women set free from the burden of sin.

Simon was at first forced to carry Jesus’ cross. And when the journey was done, Simon may very likely had to again be forced; but this time to leave His side. For when the cross that lay upon the shoulder of God lay upon his, the role of his own sin became apparent in this act of deicide. And he too felt the cross made manageable, for his burden, along with that of humanity, had already been borne by this savior, and was now lifted from all  through divine pardon. Simon was the first of many who are called to take up their cross and follow Christ.

So the cross itself is a contradiction-a paradox. It has both a vertical stem and horizontal cross-bar. Vertical represents life, while horizontal represents death. And hanging in the intersection is Jesus the Christ. Who through His death and resurrection has triumphed over death and removed its sting. And in so doing fulfills the promise made to us all; that by following Him we too will do the same.

And with His last breath the Son Of Man bowed His head in death. Three days hence, in the rising of the Son Of God was heard “THE WORD” proclaimed, as was once uttered by the dying Pheidippides; “VICTORY!”

 

 

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St. Valentine’s Day

Valentine (Valentinius: Latin) was a Roman Priest at the time of emperor Claudius, a persecutor of the church. Claudius had an edict to prohibit marriage of young people; based on the theory that unmarried soldiers fought better than married soldiers because married soldiers might be afraid of what may come of their families should they be killed in battle.

Valentine lived in a permissive society where polygamy was quite the norm. Yet many seemed to be attracted to Christian faith. Polygamy presented an obvious problem to the church which thought marriage very sacred between one man and one woman for life, and it was to be encouraged. The idea of marriage in the Christian church was what Valentine was about. So he secretly married many because of the edict.

Asterius, one of Valentine’s judges in the violation of Roman law, had a blind daughter. Valentine was supposed to have prayed for her. The young girl healed with such astounding results that Asterius himself became a Christian.

In 269 AD, Valentine was sentenced to a three-part execution of beating, stoning and finally decapitation, all because of his stand for Christian marriage. His last words, we are told, were in a note to Asterius’ daughter. He inspired today’s romantic missives by signing it, “from your Valentine.” Valentine has come to be known as the patron saint of lovers. – (compiled by  Father O’Gara of Whitefriars Street Church, Dublin, Ireland)

Although his name remains on the list of officially recognized saints, there is enough confusion surrounding the true identity of St. Valentine that the Catholic Church discontinued liturgical veneration of him in 1969. Each year the day on which St. Valentine is commemorated is February 14th.

 

When I say I love pizza, the New York Giants or another person; Do I mean that love in the same sense? Common sense tells me no. Because only one of those three previously mentioned is deserving of love.  However, in the english language there is but one word for love used for a variety of circumstances. There are, in reality, three types of love that pertain to person-to-person relationships.

Eros, is known as “erotic love.” It occurs in the early stage of a man-woman “romantic” relationship. Often it is depicted, in a novel way; when a smitten couple is impaled by an arrow delivered from the bow of a scantily clad cherub named “Cupid.” Eros is based strongly on emotions; Eros is physical.

Plilos love, is the love based on friendship between two people. Philos is a higher type of love than eros. It is a mutual love in a give and take relationship.  Philos is mental. Each of these first two loves must develop to a higher degree.

Agape love, is that highest degree of love. It is unconditional. It is the love of God for man, and the love of man for God. It is selfless love that holds concern solely for the good of the beloved. Agape is spiritual.

 

“I am the light of the world: he that followeth me, walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”-John 8:12

“Christ is our light; if we are walking away from the sun (for the sun is our symbol of Christ), the shadows are before us. This is one of the reasons we have Catholics afflicted with every manner of psychosis and neurosis, afraid of these lengthening shadows, of the phantoms and fears and dreads. As we walk away from Christ, the further we go, the longer the shadows that appear before us-the resentment, the aggressiveness, just as soon as we are checked and told that we are walking from the light. If however, we walk toward the sun, and intensify our love of Christ, then all the shadows are behind us-all the remorse and regrets. As the sun comes more and more into our life, all these things pass away. Fears are gone, remorse is swallowed up in the intense love of Christ.” – (Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen)

As we can see, light and love are companions. Where there is light, there is love and where there is love, there is light; and both are good because they are of God’s essence.

Why is our love more complete and purer when we are closer to Christ?  Because as the intensity of the light increases, so too does the love that overcomes the shadows of our indiscretions.  Intimacy with Christ impels that all our relationships be pure, just and honorable. Through this intimacy the other love types we experience are then complete in their goodness because of a divinely influenced application of those loves. When we become completely lost in Him, we are found completely in love. In the love that emanates from Him, one finds the strength to do no wrong. True love knows no ego, no pride, no envy, no unkindness, no impatience-no self. Only when love radiates from a selfless and pure heart can it then be nearing perfection. Love’s goodness is found in the light, not in darkness.

This movement toward Agape love is not a biological process of adjustment urged on by outside stimuli in keeping with an evolutionary theory. Rather it is a maturing process, spurred on by a conscious intellectual and spiritual effort, where movement toward the end that is sought ceases at the fullness of perfection.

All movement requires a mover. God is the mover and conserver of the universe and all it contains, including humanity. And when all comes full circle, we, through that movement toward perfection, guided by His will, shall return to Him; where perfection begins and ends. We will then have achieved Agape love – love without imperfection; accompanied by truth without flaws and life without end.

Love cannot be hoarded. It cannot be kept to oneself. For love is valueless unless it is offered to another. Valentine understood this principle and was willing to violate Roman law and put his life at risk to ensure that love would not be diminished, nor marriage marginalized; and for it he was martyred.

“A bell is not a bell ’til you ring it-A song’s not a song ’til you sing it-Love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay-Love isn’t love “til you give it away!”- (Oscar Hammerstein II)

 

 

 

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Obedience

“For as by the disobedience of one man, many were made sinners: so also by the obedience of one, many shall be made just.” (Romans 5:19)

Contained in traditional marriage vows is the phrase: “To love, honor and obey.” Most are comfortable with the words love and honor; although there are many who know not their true meaning. But the word obey sends disconcerting shivers up most spines. To submit or conform in action, can be used to define the term obey. For many in the modern world, who live by the lyrics of the songs, “I’ve Got To Be Me” and “My Way,” every effort is made to avoid the utterance and practice of obedience. In the age of the self, obedience is regarded as an affront to the independent man and woman. The deterrent to obedience is that it requires self-denial; a loss of self. There exist, however, objective guiding principles that compel obedience; which, in turn, fosters the goodness in life.

Those who abhor the notion of obedience fail to realize that it is an integral part of their lives. For we are inescapably dependent upon much. We exercise obedience in our work, our relationships and even in the games we play.

The game of golf can neither be played nor enjoyed if one is disobedient to the mechanics of the swing and rules of the game. Suppose that I chose not to obey the proper use of the golf club by inverting it. By gripping the head of the club and then attempting to hit the ball with the grip one finds that the execution of the shot would be far from what would be considered successful. My disobedience here would make for a bad outcome. Further, in disobeying the rule that states “to play the ball where it lies,” I decide to place my ball in a more advantageous position. This disregard for the rule would be unfair to my opponent, be contrary to the right playing of the game, and compromise integrity. The integrity for which the game of golf is so highly respected. Through my disobedience, by perverting the rule and use of the club, I have made a travesty of the game. And in so doing, have undermined the inherent goodness that is found in the sound fundamentals and rules of golf.

The complete definition of obey is as follows: is to submit or conform in action to some guiding principle, impulse, or one’s conscience. We must admit that there is occasion for us to practice obedience; especially in regard to those things we deem important. Even in bad habits; do we not obey the impulse to do that which brings us temporary relief from unresolved troubles? We may obey the call of alcoholic beverages or the lure of popular opinion, as example, if it satisfies our need. Sadly, too often, we do not consider the long-term harm that this misguided obedience can inflict upon us. Do we regularly disobey any such summoning? In general, the answer appears to be no, because it requires denying the self. Even though, in the end, it would be for the good of self to disobey on such occasions. Disobedience to subjective truth and obedience to objective truth then demands much, for it is an act of the will; requiring sacrifice and commitment.

Obedience can lead to a good or bad end. In choosing to cross a heavily trafficked thoroughfare, on foot, when the crossing signal allows one to do so, would make one fairly certain of arriving safely at the other side. The price to pay for disobedience in this instance may be quite unwelcome. However, in properly obeying the “walk/don’t walk” signal, one will likely be around to disobey another day.

We are all subject to obedience; and we do obey. Whether in right reasoned obedience influenced by common sense, or in imprudent obedience to the harmful things that can enslave. Whichever path you choose in life you will be influenced by events, situations, people or ideals. Each will impel obedience. It would be wise to follow Jiminy Cricket’s timeless advice: “Always let your conscience be your guide.”

When faced with a moment of truth, that to which one gives obedience, will either set one on a course toward unimaginable joy or unfathomable misery.

 

 

 

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