Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Blog # 242 God Our Father

Blog # 242 God Our Father Many years ago on the occasion of the death of one of the members of the parish where I was serving as Pastor, a new and impressive insight came to me as I stood alone in the church at the side of the open casket. The people who attended the wake service all had left and I was waiting for the funeral director to return to close the casket in preparation for the Mass of the Resurrection the following morning and then to lock the church for the night. I can't remember when it was that I stopped thinking specifically of that particular insight but it was a good number of years ago. Then recently on the occasion of another funeral it came to me again. Both funerals were of a father of a family. One of the men was very wealthy. One of them was poor. Originally I came across the insight in a philosophy class back in the seminary when we were studying the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, a holy and learned theologian and philosopher back in the thirteenth Century. So the insight itself was not original with me. However I cannot remember anyone ever having applied it at a funeral the way it occurred to me to do on the occasion of those two funerals of which I am writing . I can't remember how the insight went in Latin, but in English it comes out like this: A son is never debtor to his father. As in the case of many theological and philosophical statements of truth, we may have to reflect a bit about them and ask a question or two in order to come away with the fundamental or complete meaning of what has been said. So here, to discover or interpret the full meaning of the expression at hand or to try to present it in a more simple form, it would not be correct to say : a father will never owe his son a dime. It does not say a father cannot enter into a contract with a son who is in the construction business or a son may never send his father a legitimate bill for the price of a retirement home he is building for his father. At its root level the insight takes its meaning from the fact that all the son has ever had, has now, or will have in the future would not be his unless the father gave it to him. I am not talking primarily about lolly pops when the boy was three, a basket ball backstop out in front of the garage, a job in the father's automobile factory, clothing, food, or money. I am thinking deeper than that. My friend Patrick was a red-headed boy. My friend Patrick's father was red-headed when he was young. On a yet deeper level there is even more the father gives a son. Without the father the son would have nothing. Everything the son can call his own can eventually be traced to its origin in the father. In a similar way we recognize the basic ongoing ownership of a copy rite by an author of a book or the ownership of a patent registered by its inventor with the Federal Government in Washington. Back to the funerals with which we began, the wealthy father had given more material gifts than the poor one , but both of them gave the gift of fatherhood, the unique gift that is identified and stands as the ORIGIN of a son or daughter's very existence. If we did not exist we would have to be nothing. It is as simple and profound as that. Were we to understand the meaning of what I am claiming here we would not only be permitted but compelled to say that God does not exist. To exist is to be identified in a limited experience of the verb to be. Whatever exists necessarily exists as someone or something, here or there, now or then, capable of being labeled or limited, which is impossible with God. All of this of course leads logically to the conclusion there is but one God and we cannot know God except in our limited human way by faith. When Jesus gave the command forbidding us to call anyone on earth our father He was proclaiming the truth of our faith that proclaims the uniqueness of God; there is nor can there be another. The fatherhood we know in reference to a human family is limited by the number of children begotten by the father of the family. The Fatherhood of God is universal. God is the Father of all who exist. Jesus claimed to be divine, one with God, equal to God. "If you knew me, you would know the Father too. ( Jn 8: 19; 14: 7). "The Father and I are one. (Jn 10: 30). 'Whoever has seen me has seen the Father". ( Jn 14: 9). His strongest argument for authorizing His claim to divinity was when on one occasion when He was arguing with the Pharisees He said of Himself : before Abraham came to be, I AM . (Jn 8: 58). There are no limits to that statement, not here, there, now or then, but always, everywhere, I AM. Some practical conclusions I have drawn out of all that went into this blog are these: God and God alone deserves our unconditional trust and total love; God is present in all of creation, willing it to be, and closer to all human creatures than any human person could ever be; God knows and loves each of us currently and uniquely throughout our lives; how thankful we should be to Jesus for having revealed Yahweh the unimaginable eternal God to us in a term we can understand, and then to teach us to address God as Our Father!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Blog # 240 The Whole Story ...a Matter of Life and Death

Blog # 240  The Whole Story...a matter of life and death.

There are three levels upon which a human creature may live. Level one is the basic level. We are created on that level. To be there is not a free choice on our part. The second level is built upon the first and includes it. The third level is based upon one and two and includes them. Here is a summary of a few points of Catholic theology regarding the three levels of living as a human creature.

LEVEL ONE: We are created as our first parents were created, in the “image and likeness” of God, then formed by our experience of truth through the use of our five natural senses. At best JESUS is known by people living on this level as an historical person two thousand years ago. In Himself, however, the glorified Jesus continues His mission on earth as a Prophet, calling, inviting ALL people to believe in Him through the work of evangelization introduced and described in the inspired writings of the New Testament and carried on by the members of His Body, the Church, in prayer, almsgiving, integrity of life, and giving witness and testimony whenever opportunities occur. DEATH on this level is seen as the end of life.

LEVEL TWO: We are informed by faith on this level. JESUS is seen on this level as Personal Savior, victim for sin, source of salvation, inspiration, and encouragement for those who accept Him as their personal Savior. DEATH is seen as “going to Heaven”.

LEVEL THREE: We are transformed by Sanctifying Grace on this level. Jesus is seen as Vine, King, and source of new life. DEATH is seen as our greatest act of love, unconditional trust and total love. It is our gift to God our Father and Creator of all that is and has ever been “ours”, through , with, and in Jesus, Whom He introduced to us, many years ago for most of us, as His Beloved Son, and to Whom He united us through Baptism as branches on a living vine, the Church. We are indeed doing more in our death than “going to heaven”!

The TRIANGLE is used to symbolize the human creator made to the image of the triune God, Father, Word, and Holy Spirit.

This symbol within the triangles on level two and three is made up of the two Greek letters chi and rho which are the first two letters in the Greek word for Christ.

The coloring is a symbol of the divine life possessed by Jesus as the Word of God and shared through faith and Baptism in a finite way through the gift of Sanctifying Grace.

Here are a few Bible texts to consider regarding “The WHOLE STORY - - - a Matter of Life and Death:

Jn 3: 3 “ I solemnly assure you, no one can see the reign of God unless he is begotten from above”.

Jn 6: 35 “I am the bread of life”.

Jn 6: 47ff “…if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you have no life in you”.

Jn 10: 10 “I came that they may have life…”.

Jn 1: 11f “Any who did accept Him He empowered to become children of God. These are they who believe in His name, who were begotten…,by God”.

Jn 20: 20 “Jesus performed many other signs as well – signs not recorded here – in the presence of His disciples. But these have been recorded to help you believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, so that through this faith you may have life in His name”.

Jn 15: 23 “Live on in me as I do in you”.

Gal 2: 20 “…and the life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me”.

Rom 6: 4 “Through Baptism into His death we were buried with Him so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so too we might have a new life”.

2 Cor 5: 17 “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation”.

Col 2: 13 God gave you new life in company with Christ”.

Col 3: 10 “What you have done is…put on a new man, one who grows in knowledge as he is formed anew in the image of his Creator”.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Blog # 239 What about Holy Thursday?

Blog # 239 What about Holy Thursday? Once we establish the identity of the singular event in history of the physical death of Jesus on Calvary and the singular event in history of the Last Supper we can progress to the identity of our daily celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, beginning with those two events so long ago and continued through the years up to this very day on which I am writing this blog and the day on which you may be reading it. The task involves an awareness of several truths that are part of our treasury of faith and the task of seeing their relationship with one another. First of all we accept as true by faith the story of creation revealed in the Bible. We believe in one God, the Father, Word, and Spirit, eternal, all powerful, all loving, as the sole Creator of all that exists. If anything exists it is from God and belongs to God. We recognize this faith of ours as a gift over and above the other natural gifts that are ours simply as human creatures. We believe in the gift of human freedom and in consequence of this gift the possibility and reality of sin in the world from the very beginning and continuing down to our present day. We believe in God's promise to send a singular Redeemer who would bring forgiveness for the sin of all people. If we reflect upon it we can see in sin not only an offense against one another on the human level but an offense against God. If I steal your wallet that is an offense against you, whether I believe in God or not. I can seek and obtain forgiveness from you. Actual sin, however, by its very nature is also an offense against God and can be forgiven only by God. Consequently, how essential it was, though infinitely beyond our deserving or our wildest imagination, that Jesus when He came as our Redeemer claimed to be God's Son, equal to and one with the Father. However, as sin abounded grace did more abound. (Rom 5:20). Not only did Jesus bring forgiveness which would have brought us back to the innocence of Adam and Eve. Jesus brought an invitation to share, after being forgiven, through faith and Baptism His very life in the Trinity, His union with the Father though His self-giving love. ( Jn 17: 22,23,26). Through Baptism we are given this new life in Jesus. We are "born from above" as Jesus tried to explain it to Nicodemus (Jn 3:3). We become "a new creation" as Paul put it. ( 2Cor 5: 17). These texts, which are typical of several others, (John 10:10; 20: 30; 6:35; 6: 35; 6: 47; 1 John 3: 1) proclaim the same message of rebirth and new life in Christ and identify the salvation Jesus achieved for us by His unconditional trust and total love for the Father as experienced and expressed by His death on the Cross. Each of our seven Sacraments is a realization and experience of some particular aspect and task of the new life given in Baptism, nurtured in the Eucharist, restored when lost by serious sin in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, etc. The gift of Sacraments, sharing God's divine life, was won for us by Jesus on Calvary. The death of Jesus COULD and DID occur but ONCE in the entire history of the world. How do we come to an understanding of the truth of this statement? The Eternal Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us. His name on earth was Jesus. The Bible clearly identifies Jesus and the Word as one person, human and divine , as one of us on the one hand and equal to the Father on the other. The experience of death for a human being relates to all that we have, from head to toe, inside and out. With to love taken as meaning to give, and the more we love the more we give, Jesus reminded us "there is no greater love than this, than to lay down one's life for a friend." If we give it all, there is nothing left to give. This can happen only once in the life of any and every human person , including Jesus. Secondly, the Word, one with the Father, is eternal and infinite. Death is a limitation. The Word, without limits, cannot die. In Jesus, truly human, we can say God died. It could happen only once. If the death of Jesus were as far as the story went, we would be left with a knowledge and experience of that death as it was given in the Gospels and handed down through the generations until our day. It would be a precious memory but it would be a memory of someone else's experience. If this were God's plan, our faith and trust in the memory that was handed down as an expression of God's personal love for us could have been an instrument of God' forgiveness of sin and our restoration of innocence before Him. But the story takes the step of a day in time, away from the physical death of Jesus on the Cross. We find Jesus, on the night before He died, gathering with His chosen Apostles in the Upper Room to celebrate the official memorial of the liberation of God's People from the political slavery of Egypt. This time the celebration would apply to Jesus in the official act of liberating all mankind from the spiritual slavery of sin. Jesus had been living among us on earth for about thirty years. All that He thought and said and did was the will of His Father. All of it would reach its physical climax tomorrow in the unconditional trust and total love of Jesus on the Cross. In the midst of the official ritual of the annual Passover Supper Jesus took some of the bread that had been offered to God and said of it: "This is my body, which shall be given for you". Then He took the wine that had been offered and said of it: "This is my blood, blood of the New Covenant poured out for you for the remission of sins. Do this in memory of me." The unconditional trust and total obedient love that sent Jesus to His death on the Cross is the same unconditional trust and total obedient love with which Jesus spoke those words which transformed the bread and wine before Him into the sacrificial reality of God's Beloved Son, offering Himself now in a Sacramental mode as He offered Himself in a physical mode on Calvary. I see this illustrated by way of analogy like this: If I tell you while standing before you face to face I love you that is one way of doing it. If I move to Chicago and send you a letter from there saying I love you that is a different way of sharing with you the same love. Then if I moved to California and told you on the phone I love you that would be still another way of doing it but it would be the same love. It is something like this with the physical death of Jesus on the Cross and the Sacramental death of Jesus in the transformed bread and wine of the Passover Supper. In both instances the love that redeemed the world was the same total obedient love of Jesus for the Father and the Father's eternal love for us in Jesus. It is the same love we are invited to share when we offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass today and until the end of time, infinitely greater than awesome! Thank You, Jesus!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Blog # 238 Good Friday is about SALVATION

----------------BLOG # 238 Good Friday is about SALVATION Once. From the time scientists have begun to place the origins of the universe all the way back as far as billions of light years, on a certain evening about two thousand years ago in Jerusalem, once , in a single moment of history, Jesus gathered His Apostles in an "upper room' to experience what has traditionally been referred to ever since as "the Last Supper'. On the day following that experience in the Upper Room Jesus was crucified. Neither of these events as they were experienced in the history of creation by Jesus and the Apostles will ever happen again, though the universe may be at an early stage in its total existence. (cf Rom 6:9). Both events occurred in Jerusalem, within twenty four hours of one another. They are connected or related to one another in a more significant way than that. In fact ,in their theological identity they can be seen as one, the unique historical event that redeemed the world for all time.

In God's eternal plan for salvation there is no other redeemer coming after Jesus and there was no other before Him. Since the eternal Word and the historical Jesus, in human terms, 'constitute' a single person, all that Jesus did, His thoughts, words, and actions were divine as well as human. However, in the reality and limitations of His humanity, like us in all but sin, Jesus was to act as God only when called by the Father to do so, in obedience to the Father's will.

Thirty times in John's Gospel Jesus identifies Himself as sent by the Father and doing always the Father's will. This characteristic of Jesus is clearly focused and witnessed to in the Gospels, as for example: In Matthew 26: 39,42. "My Father,if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Still, let it be as you would have it, not as I... Father, if this cannot pass me by without my drinking it, your will be done!." ( Mark 14: 36; Luke 22: 42.) The following day Jesus went to the Cross.In John's Gospel He had spoken of this event as His " glory". (John 17 :1,2,4,5.). "Father, the hour has come! Give glory to your Son that your Son may give glory to you, inasnuch as you have given him authority over all mankind, that He may bestow eternal life on those you gave him...I have given you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. Do you now, Father, give me glory at your side, a glory I had with you before the world began." It would be the Father's will that Jesus would die on the Cross. That act of obedient love was to be Jesus' glory. Why was this so?

We answer that question by reflecting upon the identity of Jesus as the Savior of the world and secondly in identifying the death of Jesus as the "work" of salvation referred to by Jesus in Chapter 17 of John and also referred to by Jesus on the Cross as being "finished" in His death. (John 19: 30). Everything Jesus said or did added something to the complete event of bringing salvation to the world, such as, for example, His human awareness of the Presence of God, His sympathy and love for the poor and downtrodden, His patience, kindness, generosity, and prayer. Yet the greatest and essential action of all that went into the 'work' of His being the Savior was His suffering and death. Why was this?

Salvation was foreseen and symbolized in the liberation of the Chosen People of God from their political slavery in Egypt. The Salvation won for us in Jesus is our spiritual liberation from sin. Jesus is he Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Saved, we are free from the slavery of fear and guilt.

But what is the connection between suffering, death and salvation? "Father, if this could be done in another way let it be, but thy will be done!" There was no other way available. Jesus achieved His greatest glory in the obedient LOVE of His death on the Cross. The answer regarding the connection between suffering, death, and the glory of salvation is found in a consideration of the nature of sin and love.

God is love, and the whole story of creation, the work of God, is about love. To love means to give, and the more we love the more we give. From a friendly wave of the hand or a smile, to the fifty cents given to the man begging at the entrance to the subway, to the taking of a chance to lose your life jumping into a lake to save a drowning child, to love is to give. So Jesus said of love there is no greater love than to lay down your life for someone and we begin to discover the connection. ONLY IN DEATH CAN WE GIVE ALL THAT WE HAVE. Only in death can we experience UNCONDITIONAL AND TOTAL LOVE. ONLY GOD DESERVES SUCH LOVE. We call it WORSHIP.

Further clarity comes from a reflection upon the nature of sin. All actual sin, in one way or another and in one degree or another, is a conscious willful rejection or distortion of love. Sin is often brought on by cultivating an attraction to forbidden pleasure in place of love and consequently it is fitting that suffering, the opposite of pleasure, may be an effective tool in counterbalancing sin. I think I will do well to leave a considertion of the connection between Holy Thursday and Good Friday until tomorrow, even though, or perhaps because it is Easter!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Blog # 237 Holy Thursday is about Good Friday

Blog # 237 Holy Thursday is about Good Friday Hung in a cluster on one of the walls here in my house I have, among thirty four Bible texts, eight crucifixes of various sizes, and a single plaque depicting Jesus and the Apostles at the Last Supper. I created it as an expression of the importance I see theologically for us to have an awareness of the absolute connection between the event of what we celebrate each year on Holy Thursday and that of the following day on Good Friday. Since we have begun to celebrate these events in the evenings rather than in the mornings many more people in our parishes have the opportunity of being present for them after their day of work. I think the predominant flavor or goal of Holy Thursday has been the fellowship and love for one another we should have as Christians as we gather at the table to eat together in joyful recognition of the presence and value of the love we share in Jesus and then, in response to the washing of the feet ,the humility and service role of Jesus reflected in the actions of the celebrant with an invitation that we should follow His example. The celebration of Good Friday seemed to emphasize and elicit our sympathy for Jesus and repentance for our sins in light of the pain and suffering He willingly and generously endured to atone for our sins. This is all good, true, and a source of spiritual blessings, but I feel there may also be a danger of being unaware of the essential theological relationship that exists between these two days of Holy Week. However without an awareness and appreciation of the theological relationship between the two events of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion we would be missing the full meaning purpose and value of both of them. For both Jesus and the Apostles on the evening of the night before He died, the event they were commemorating and celebrating was the liberation of the Chosen People from the slavery of Pharaoh in Egypt with Moses identified as the instrument of God in guiding His people to freedom. At God's command the Feast was celebrated annually. Great details were given in the choice of the animal to be sacrificed in preparation for the meal and in various details of a ritual to be followed at the meal itself. Christians today and as far back as I can remember are accustomed to refer to the ceremonies of Holy Thursday as the "Last Supper" of our Lord. However the Gospels of Matthew Mark and Luke very significantly refer to it as "the Passover". The "Passover Supper" or Exodus from Egypt was always identified with a twofold liberation, first the historical escape from the slavery of Egypt under the leadership of Moses and secondly the spiritual liberation from the slavery of sin awaited in hope to be led by the promised Messiah who was to come. Even in the historical moment when Jesus walked among them the Apostles had difficulty at times understanding and applying the full teachings He shared about Himself and His ministry. It was by the Holy Spirit Whom Jesus promised would come upon them they and the Church would be enabled to receive, understand,and apply the meaning and share the power of His life death and Resurrection until the end of time. The Gospel writers however did clearly understand and indicate to us their awareness of the meal we have come to refer to as the Last Supper was actually seen as their celebration with Jesus the celebration of the liberating meal of Passover. (cf. Mat 26: 17 - 19; Mark 14: 1, 12, 16; Luke 22: 7,8. It might be a good introduction to Blog # 238 coming up tomorrow to conclude this one with this insight: What was going on for Jesus, for us, and for the world on Calvary was going on at the Passover supper Jesus celebrated with the Apostles the evening before, but in a different mode.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Blog # 236 Suffering - 4

Blog # 236 Suffering - 4 Colossians 1: 24 has this to say: "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 sufferings of Christ for the sake of His Body, the Church." I do not think St. Paul's valuable insight into the identity and function of suffering is the conscious experience of many. The part of it that may have to be clarified in order to help it become more commonly applied and fruitful in our daily Christian awareness and experience of suffering in a new light is his reference to "what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ". On first reading, we might tend to ask : "What could possibly be lacking in the sufferings of Christ? With an emphasis upon the divinity of Christ as the Eternal Word of God nothing could be seen as lacking. The Word of God, infinite and one with the Father and the Spirit, is infinite in perfection with them. However, focusing upon the humanity of Christ, the person of Jesus is equal to us in all but sin. Our limited human capacities relating to time talent and energy were experienced by Jesus in a similar human way as they are experienced by us. From time to time in obedience to the Father Jesus would act and speak as God but even here He was limited by His human capacities. Jesus was never less than the Father was calling Him to be. We could be the same. The human limitations both in the historical life of Jesus on earth and in us are rightly identified as limits but not as a lack in the sense of something sinful or contrary to obedience to the Father. Neither Jesus nor we are ever expected to give more than we possess. When Paul wrote the words of the text we are considering Jesus had already left the earth in the glory of His Resurrection and Ascension. The fact of a lack in the sufferings of Christ in Colossians is given in the present tense. We are seeking its meaning in the experience of Paul thirty or more years after the Ascension of Jesus and for us two thousand years later today and for the Catholics coming after us all the way to the end. Here is how I put it together. A key element in understanding Paul's insight is our faith in the identity of Jesus as the sole Savior of the world, of all of Creation and of all people. The primary work or means of accomplishing salvation was the unconditional total love of Jesus on Calvary. There God in the flesh of Jesus suffered, was crucified, and died on our behalf . Light shone upon darkness and by the Father's will the darkness was overcome. We can detect in the tragedy and evil of the terrible suffering of it a call from the Father for us to realize the evil of sin, to be strengthened in our resolve and Baptismal promise to avoid sin and whatever would tempt us to sin, as well as the goodness of God in revealing through the suffering of Jesus the Lamb of God the human root of the forgiveness of our sins. All of this was true during the time Jesus lived on earth. But after His glorious Resurrection and Ascension Jesus is free of the limits His humanity placed upon Him while He walked on earth as one of us. Now there are no limits of time for Him, in His risen flesh He lacks the ability to suffer; He cannot die. Yet history continues and sin continues to be real. I could possibly imagine the Father and Jesus asking us to suffer in His place as it were, vicariously, as Jesus did in history, now in us in our suffering borne for the salvation of sinners in Jesus' name today. This in His divine mercy the Father does, but in a better way, beyond our imagination. A basic theological principle proclaims that God will not call anyone to a specified task without providing the means necessary for performing that task. We see this applied in the identity or task given to St. Joseph to head the Holy Family, or the identity given Mary to be the mother of the Messiah. So in the present situation we are considering. Through Baptism a person is raised to a new supernatural relationship with God. We become a new creation, sharing the life and love of Jesus as a branch shares the life of a vine to which it is attached and the life of which it shares. Jesus lives in us, calling and enabling us to sanctify our thoughts words and actions in His love. Applied to our sufferings this means that in our moment of history here on earth we who suffer can fill up in our own flesh what would be fitting reparation for sin on the part of Jesus, but impossible without us for Jesus to experience in His resurrected glory. I think we can see in this a meaning of Paul's statement of "filling up" in our flesh what is lacking in the sufferings of Jesus. No wonder the experience brought Paul joy! What about the phrase : "for the sake of His body, the Church ?. " I see two meanings or applications of Paul's words. The first is to see here a basis and invitation to praise and thank the Father for the special grace given the Church to share the redeeming suffering of Jesus, and the joy that can be ours in place of the alternative of experiencing suffering in some other less meaningful merely natural human way. Then in the wake of the recent tragic scandal of the clergy abuse of children, with the Church losing respect and esteem among many, I have experienced blessings in my priestly ministry won as I feel, by people who have experienced suffering consciously aware of their suffering being experienced in union with Jesus for this very purpose, 'for the sake of' the Church'. I have not lost confidence in the Church. I love the Church as the living Body of Christ today.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Blog # 235 Suffering - 3

Blog # 235 Suffering - 3 The letter to the Philippians (3:10) has this to say: "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 that I may arrive at resurrection from the dead." Know, power, share, formed, pattern, hope, and arrive. By way of analogy I see those Biblical words as I see the various tools I keep in a small tool box here in my office and another in the trunk of my car. Both the words and the tools have their complete meaning and value in reference to a specific use or need I might have here in the house or in my car. I'll just make a brief comment on the words here to see how they become sacramentals for me in interpreting the Bible. Know implies possession of truth. Power implies an ability to change, move, create, or do something. Share speaks to me of friendship, generosity, and love. A pattern speaks of a guide, model, or sample. Hope springs from desire. Arrive implies a goal has been attained, something, somewhere, what has been desired is in hand. Just sit down some time and apply these words to the text from Philippians and see what happens. It has become a very rich text for me and very insightful in reference to the spirituality of Paul. To know Christ, theologically, yes, identified as the eternal Word of God, and God-Among-us called Jesus, but also personally as a human friend who knows me and loves me as only God can do. The power coming from the resurrection of Jesus is the power to believe as a gift of the Holy Spirit, the power to conquer every temptation and to avoid every sin, the power to pray and to work toward justice and peace in the world around me and the power to conquer death and live forever in the eternal love of the Father. What is Paul asking for when he says he wants to know how to share in Christ's sufferings by being formed into the pattern of His death? Is Paul asking for crucifixion? No. Paul was asking to share the pattern of Christ's death, the UNCONDITIONAL TOTAL LOVE of worship that only God deserves and only death can produce. John in Chapter 24:31 has Jesus say:"the world must know that I love the Father and do as the Father has commanded me. Come, then! Let us be on our way." And after saying this He went to Gethsemane. There He prayed to the Father one more time: "Thy will be done". The crucifixion was not about suffering. It was about love. This is something like it is for the high school football team that starts its practice sessions here in Georgia in August. That experience includes sweat but it is not about sweat. It is about football. If we know what God's pattern for death is about. and what God's pattern for Baptism is about and we apply this knowledge to the Crucifixion we can understand what Paul was seeking. He was seeking to live in his life the unconditional total love that Jesus lived throughout His life, day by day, moment by moment, then brought to its perfection in His unconditional total obedient love for the Father on Calvary. That was the pattern of His death. Following that pattern, after heroic dedication, many challenges and much suffering in his apostolic journeys, Paul climaxed his life with the unconditional total love of martyrdom. He willingly suffered martyrdom with the power won for him by the crucifixion of Jesus. His hope to arrive at resurrection from the dead was secure. That security was not unique to Paul. It is at the heart of the message of salvation in Jesus. It is an essential element in the Gospel message we as professed Christians, one as we are with Jesus through faith and Baptism, are called to know, live, and share with those around us. Again we have a long blog so I will save a couple of other texts on suffering until tomorrow. May the Lord be with you!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Blog # 234 Suffering - 2

Blog # 234 Suffering - 2 Here are a few more reflections on the question of suffering in the world to help us recall and proclaim an authentic Christian identity of suffering as well as to help us determine and develop our personal response to suffering in our own life now or in the future. First, suffering is real. Much suffering, however, could and should be avoided. And this according to God's will and plan for us. For example the suffering of a headache on the morning after a night on the town. Or the suffering of heart problems stemming from high blood pressure that is a result of bad eating habits, lack of exercise, toleration of excessive anger, etc. Yet in spite of all that we might do to avoid or eliminate it, suffering is real. All of us have suffered, do suffer, or will suffer. So we have questions about suffering. Does it have any meaning or value? How does suffering fit into our notion of an all powerful all loving God? We believe that no reality is real by accident, or, in other words, outside or apart from the creating power of God. Nothing that exists exists without God willing it to exist. So we can look to God for any meaning or value suffering might have. And since God is identified as love, we can and should seek something that has to do with love in whatever solution we come to with regard to the problem of suffering. That insight places the 'problem' of suffering in the proper framework. How, then, can love be found, developed, and expressed in suffering? A key insight here is to see suffering as a gift, a gift from God to us as an expression of God's love, and as a gift from us to God as an expression of our trust and love for God. In our free decision to accept and respond to suffering as a gift from God we grow in the perfection of our love for God and become more worthy of God's love for us.. In the trust that it takes to love God this way we become more loveable to God. The trust Jesus expressed in Gethsemani and on the cross of commending Himself into the hands of the Father can be ours by force of our union with Jesus in faith and Baptism. Speaking in human terms it becomes easier now for God to see the image of His Beloved Son in us and love us as He loved Jesus. ( John 17:25).This opportunity for us to trust and love God in suffering is surely among the upermost values and greatest meaning to be found in suffering. Yet I think it is still unfamiliar to many in their sufferings. As gift, suffering also brings us to the truth about ourselves, the absolute truth that we are not God. We are not in total control; we are not all powerful. We have needs that can only be fulfilled outside of ourselves. Humility is the virtue that calls us to realize and accept this truth about ourselves. Suffering offers humility, which for those who believe in God, is a gift of God's love. Suffering has that potential value and meaning. Suffering also has the ability to build character, offering us courage, patience and trust that could not be found without the experience of suffering. Suffering among Christians is the suffering of Jesus in us. Others have an experience of their God being with them, in the sense of blessing them and giving them support encouragement and hope for healing in their suffering, but we, in addition to these real benefits, as Catholic Christians, have our God within us . As a consequence, in our sufferings we can make up for what is lacking in the sufferings of Jesus for the redemption of the world and for the sake of His Body which is the Church. All suffering can be transformed into love, That is its primary value and meaning. Without an awareness and living out of this, suffering can be wasted. I have reserved more Biblical texts on suffering for tomorrow.