Sunday, August 20, 2023

Gospel Reflection Matthew 15:21-28

There is some potential for scandal in today’s Gospel reading. We seem to get a different picture of Jesus than the loving, welcoming, compassionate, healing Savior that we encounter in other places in the Gospels. What parent could not identify in profound sympathy with the anguish of this woman who is simply trying to do whatever it takes for her daughter to be well? Yet Jesus and His disciples rebuff her several times. It looks like Jesus is not even living up to the teachings of loving His neighbor or blessing His enemies (Canaanites and Israelites having nothing less than a contentious history). Our neighbor, as we learn in the parable of the Good Samaritan, is everyone. Jew, Samaritan, and Gentile. I believe that these passages ask us to take a closer look. If we do, a profound outpouring of divine grace appears. 

We learn that Jesus withdrew to Tyre and Sidon. This was a pagan gentile territory. I think a fair presupposition for Jesus’ perfect life and ministry is that nothing happens by accident. More precisely, it is not a random act that brings Jesus to gentile territory on several occasions. He is doing the perfect will of the Father. 

If we hearken to the Old Testament, we learn that God chose Israel to be an instrument of His grace to the world. No Old Testament prophet says this better than Isaiah. Isaiah 49:6 says “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” Importantly, this verse refers to the Servant of the Lord. The Servant here was understood by the earliest Christians, who were all Jewish, to not simply reference Israel in the abstract but a particular individual. Jesus the Messiah. Today’s Old Testament reading from Isaiah tells of the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD and become His servants will be brought to the Holy Mountain. This reading is best understood in an eschatological sense, coming to perfection at the consummation of the present Age but asymptotically approaching until that time by the power of the Incarnation. 

Christ being present in a Gentile territory is momentous because it represents an important step in the Gentiles being grafted into the tree of Israel. Yes, Jesus is in Tyre and Sidon for a reason. He is the light to those nations. The light is present there, His illumination is a harbinger. Still, why does it not seem to shine brightly on everyone there in this passage, especially the anxious woman? 

We can easily lose sight of the fact that Jesus did many things for the sake of posterity. It seems reasonable to think that He desired future generations, those who would receive the faith handed down from the Apostles, to know about the faith of this Canaanite woman. Further, St. Augustine famously said that God wants us to persist in prayer, for our own sake. The way I understand this is that God may will to answer our prayer in the affirmative, but He wills to answer not the first but the 1,501st. If we couple these two ideas together, the passage now leaps off the page. 

What we see in the Canaanite woman, much like the gentile Syro-Phoenician woman, is that she persists in her faith. She is undeterred despite the rebukes. She continues to plead with the Lord and His disciples. We can perhaps surmise that she has run out of options. With no place to turn, she turns to the Jewish holy man who has reportedly done many signs and wonders. Or, it could be that she had a thirst for God. She knows something dark has come over her daughter that is beyond any natural cure. The spiritual/physical condition befalling the daughter can only be healed by light. Somehow, the mother knows this. We certainly resonate with the deep love she has for her daughter. What truly loving parent, we think, would not do everything for their child? Such a thought can only come from a position of love. God is love and the love any creature has, if it is indeed the agape love of willing the good of the other, originates in God. 

The petitions from the Canaanite woman betray a desire for the living God. She provides an example for all everyone by asking the Lord to have pity on her, to help her, and that merely the scraps from the table are sufficient. This could be a model prayer in itself. The woman knows that she is not owed anything from God. No creature has a claim on the Creator. She therefore humbly asks the Lord for grace. Grace in the most common parlance is unmerited favor. 

Still, why does Jesus rebuke the woman? First, to test the genuineness of her faith. There are many times in the Bible where we see tests of faith. For our sake, God wants to burn away the dross from our souls until the pure metal of refined faith remains. The Lord desires our hearts, minds, and the totality of our being. When we go to Him in prayer, it seems fair that He would want to know if we really desire Him above all else. Is it God we really want for Himself, or do we want Him simply as a means to an end? I think we see that the woman sought the Lord out of a pure heart, as evidenced by her humility. 

Secondly, perhaps knowing the woman’s faith was genuine, Jesus' verbal rebuke redounds to the benefit of those in the audience and for the sake of all who would learn of the account afterward. It was a teaching moment. There may even be times that parents have done this with their children. We take an extra second when they are asking or telling us something to peer into their soul. The way that we ask a question can communicate a great deal to the other person. Jesus relays the chronology of His mission. He first comes to the lost sheep of Israel. During this time there are brief, though significant, interludes into Samaritan and Gentile territory. The Apostles will then later take the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit to the ends of the earth, baptizing all nations. The light is Christ, carried by His followers. Thus, Christ is very much present to the Gentiles, even after His ascension.

One might think that in this passage Jesus calls the woman a dog, which is a perjorative reference to Gentiles. However, the context does not fit well with this interpretation. He is not just letting her know that Jews think Gentiles are dogs. I think the Lord is intimating the potential for risk in taking something good, like the wonderful grace of healing, and providing it in such a way that it would be trampled underfoot, abused, or taken for granted would be profane (think about Jesus opponents accusing Him of casting out demons by the prince of demons). The woman responds that the food scraps are sufficient and have great value; which we might understand as follows: there is nothing wasted in the giving of grace. Isaiah 55 tells us that God’s word does not return void. This must be true of anything done by the divine Word, Jesus Christ. There is no wasted divine action. On some level, the woman realizes that only a word from the Lord will heal her daughter. Even a scrap of grace is enough to get us through the hardest of times. In another place, Jesus warns against casting pearls before swine. There are certain situations where a hostile or unholy audience will try to trample upon or defame the grace of God. We must be wise to this. Yet, the woman in today’s passage clearly shows where the lines of delineation are between genuine, persistent faith and folly. 

Let us recognize the great example of faith, persistence, and love that the Canaanite woman exhibits and seek to emulate this in our own lives. May we receive God’s grace with humility and seek to share it with others. And may we be vigilant in our prayers for God to help those in most need of His mercy. 


Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Gospel Reflection Matthew 8:28-34

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus casts two demons into swine that careen off a cliff. The unclean is cast out into the unclean, and then into the deep abyss. Pigs root around in the mud and muck. They consume everything and anything, increasing their size indiscriminately until properly fattened for slaughter.  Where there is muck, sin, and debasement, demons flock and gather. Evil spirits gravitate toward their natural abode. In the process, they seek to turn men into pigs. They drive men into filth and thicken them up for the butcher. 

What we see in the passage is that God comes among us to put things into their proper order and place. Demons have no place among the children of God, who are in fact children of the light. The right place for man is with God, enjoying the Creator who is blessed forever. Jesus faces down the savage facade of the demons and sends them on their way. He makes clean the spiritual house of the demon-possessed men and restores them to their right minds. From here, they can begin a new life. For these men, the pig trough will never look as appetizing again as it once did. May it be so for us as we reflect on our own faith and conversion. 

Instead of welcoming Jesus as the healer and one who restores order, the people of Gadarene town want to cast Him away. I suspect many cities and towns today would react the same way if Jesus walked among us. Many would not want their lives disrupted. They are too happy to just walk around the savage demons blocking the road or take a long way around to maintain the status quo. Jesus came to usher in the Kingdom of God and banish the power of the evil one. He came because the way things are is not how they should be. Again, how easy it is to fall into the trap of becoming like swine, wallowing in our filth instead of letting the Lord clean us. 

Monday, June 19, 2023

Gospel Reflection Matthew 5:38-42

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus radically subverts our ideas of justice. When we follow the Lord’s teaching, we come to see that our conceptions of proper disposition and conduct must be aligned with the divine will in order for us to progress in happiness and enjoyment of fellowship with God. 

Our first reaction when someone does violence to us, physically, psychologically, or economically, is to respond in kind. I would even venture to say our inclination is often to respond disproportionately. If someone strikes us on the cheek, we want to hit them back even harder. We have all witnessed the “sue ‘em for everything they have” mindset in civil litigation, another example of a disproportionate response. Our culture of sin and vice encourages fantasies about retributive violence and glorifies vigilante justice. None of these modern ideas of justice carry any brief with the teachings of Jesus and His Church.

For many, when they witness injustice in the world, there is a rush to take up arms. This type of armament can be in the form of guns and gangs or social ostracizing and silencing. It seems as though asymmetrical and perturbed forms of retributive violence are part and parcel of the human condition. Jesus acknowledges as much through His pivotal teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. One of the problems with this condition is that we have come to almost revel in it and joy in perpetually rationalizing and taking matters into our own hands. We believe that we can always make things right by taking our own path. We can show the other person or put them in their place. Things will be put right and we are to do the racking, drawing, and quartering. Jesus gives us the better way. 

We can hold too fast to that which is temporal and fleeting at the expense of the eternal and permanent. Should we give up our lives to save it from the thief stealing our cloak? Should we involve ourselves in endless cycles of legal trauma trying to get back that which is already gone? Again, our sense of justice formed in the absence of divine light might indicate we answer in the affirmative. Jesus asks us to think again. 

Our sense of something being wrong when we experience injustice is a good thing. We should feel it in our souls. We should be moved to compassion. The questions of how we think about this and what exactly we do about it are important. If we are moved and motivated solely by passion, we will end up only serving ourselves and not God or our fellow man. On the other hand, if we listen carefully to the teachings of Jesus, we can begin to see the world through the lens of divine justice. We can step into the path of the Lord and walk with the One who was treated with supreme injustice. This walk does not move us to complacency or apathy. Quite the opposite. It moves us to rightly ordered action that enures to the benefit of our souls and the souls of others who suffer. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Gospel Reflection Mark 10:28-31

At the end of today’s Gospel reading, Jesus says “...many that are first will be last, and the last will be first.” God’s way of ordering things sometimes runs contrary to ours. And we do well to reorient ourselves. The sooner, the better. Those who are ‘last’, in the sense of not having worldly goods or pleasures, giving these things up for the sake of the Kingdom of God, or being deprived entirely because of injustice, will be ‘first’. The privation of goods now becomes seeds of abundance for later. 

Jesus asks us to trust in the cosmic justice of God. Our own sense of justice, while capable of latching onto the truly Just, is often skewed. Thus, we lean not on our own understanding when God has spoken for our benefit on a particular matter. Indeed, the Lord will render properly to each his or her due. One day everything will be properly ordered. Until then, disciples of Jesus are called to give things up for the Gospel. For some, this means committing to a religious life of poverty. For some, a life of chastity. For some, it means enduring persecution. And for others, it means a life of continual sacrifice of the self for the other. A thousand and one pangs of the soul, wrestling the ego into submission only for the battle to begin anew tomorrow. Whatever the Lord has called us to sacrifice, may the Holy Spirit strengthen us to do it with joy, peace, and hopeful hearts for a heavenly reward. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 17:1-11

Today’s Gospel reading continues with the Farewell Discourse. In these passages, from John chapters 13-17, we get a very intimate, first-hand account of the final hours of Jesus’ life and teaching. If you ever wondered what it would be like to be a ‘fly on the wall’ among Jesus and the disciples, the Farewell Discourse is a great place to start. 

In the passage today, Jesus says “Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.” The word ‘know’ in this verse intends to communicate a personal acquaintance or first hand experience. To have eternal life is to experience the life of God first hand. We are told in other places that this comes about through the life-giving power of the Spirit (John 3, et. al.). The mysterious and glorious interplay of Trinitarian relations is involved in each step of the Christian journey. This is but one reason why so much was at stake in the early Church over doctrinal matters concerning the nature of the Son and the Holy Spirit. 

To have eternal life is not to be a floating apparition. Eternal life is not an unending, mindless state. It is not going to someplace in the sky.  It is to have the “life of the Age’, to be a full participant in the age to come which is a remade and properly ordered cosmos. Eternal ife is a qualitatively different kind of life. It is elevated. Free from inordinate passion and malice. Free to worship and live in harmony as God intended from the beginning. 

Monday, May 22, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 16:29-33

In today’s Gospel, Jesus says “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world." Time and again, Jesus tells His followers to expect difficulty and struggle in the world. The world is the kingdom and dominion of the fallen ones. It represents the order of those powers, principalities, people, and systems opposed to God. 

We should be wary when things are going well for us in the world. It means that either we are not doing things God’s way or that our opponents are operating in a subtle manner. We must not be fooled into thinking there is some safe quarter within the world. However, we do not need to walk on eggshells. We do not need to be anxious about when the shoe will drop. We can trudge on circumspectly. The proper attitude of the Christian life is one of the virtuous mean. 

The Christian knows their pilgrimage is a trail of tears. They know that life gives fleeting glimpses of heaven. And we know, as the Gospel today says, that Jesus has overcome the world. The system of evil and death is in its waning days. 

We cannot see far from our vantage point; thus, we cannot always see clearly how Christ has conquered. Yet, if we look closely, the signs of His victory come into focus. We see the newly baptized coming into the Kingdom. We experience the forgiveness of our sins. We nourish our famished souls in the Holy Eucharist. We elevate our souls to God when we hear the music of the heavens. We sing with the angels and saints “holy, holy, holy.” The victory of Christ is evident if we look for it by its own phosphorescent-like illumination, and not by the dingy bulb of the world. 

Friday, May 19, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 16:20-23

Life is rhythmic and cyclical. The book of Ecclesiastes tells us there is a time for everything. Weeping and laughing. Mourning and dancing. We are from the dust, and to dust we shall return. Our existence in space and time is corruptible, insofar as we are composed, the breath of God and dust, and are then subject to decomposition. Joy is vain. It slips from our grasp the moment we gaze upon it. Grief is constant. We wade through the floodwaters of this valley of tears until we are eventually overcome by the crashing waves. 

Through the storm of life, with its respites of calm and monotonously blasting gales, Jesus speaks to us. He offers words of comfort in today's Gospel passage. Comfort that does not, and cannot, come from the world of ashes and decay. The Lord says that anguish will come before a joy that is not vain. Happiness, the quietude of our wills, can be snatched away from us now. But not forever. Our hearts will rejoice when they are no longer breakable. 

The Christian message has been fraught with tension from the beginning; the already-but-not-yet. Jesus is already Lord of all, but the instantiation of His Kingdom across the cosmos is not yet fully realized. Jesus is already raised from the dead and exists incorruptibly; we are not yet like Him. Creation groans in travail. Still, Jesus promises that our longing to be with Him is like the birth of a child. Agony will dissolve into bliss. Death will be swallowed up by life. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 16:5-11

Much of what Jesus says seems counterintuitive. He tells us to turn the other cheek instead of striking back in violence. He tells us to walk an extra mile if compelled to walk the first. He tells us that it is better for Him to leave His earthly ministry than to stay. As St. Paul says, the wisdom of God is deep and rich and unsearchable. 

How could it possibly be better for God among us to leave us? Perhaps only if God the Holy Spirit then comes to dwell among His people. We are not left without the presence of God within us and among us. Perhaps only if we can understand a shred of the divine plan for human redemption, seeing that, like a flower, each flower petal is slowly opening up toward the eternal sun. The first petal must give way so the innermost buds can be nourished. We see through the glass darkly now, but later…

Jesus unequivocally tells us the Holy Spirit is a ‘He’. “...I will send Him to you…He will convict the world…” The divinity of the Holy Spirit is given to us, if even somewhat opaquely, in these passages. But not only these. The early Church prayed and thought, and prayed and thought some more, before articulating what had God revealed for the sake of furthering the Kingdom and spreading joy far and wide. 

We behold the great mystery of the inner life of God with wonder and awe. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each at work in our redemption and deification. As the Spirit comes to convict the world of sin and righteousness and condemnation, He does so in perfect harmony with the Son who gives Himself and the Father who is glorified in the Son. 

Monday, May 15, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 15:26—16:4

In today’s Gospel, Jesus again tells His disciples to expect persecution. And this even unto death. Opposition to the Kingdom of God is fierce. The hostility is often much more than we can fathom. We read about martyrdom in our time. We know we should expect ill-treatment. It comes in ways obvious and subtle. What is unique about the Christian faith, and the call to radical discipleship, is that this state of affairs must not force an inward turn. 

Instead, Jesus still calls us to love our enemies. He calls us to bless those who persecute us. There is no chip on our shoulder. The other shoe will drop. But we do not walk in trepidation. Jesus tells us He has overcome the world. If we abide in Him, we abide in the life of God, the giver of all life. If we are grafted into that life, we have a life that cannot be taken from us. We have happiness and fellowship that is not fleeting. The Holy Spirit is our constant companion and often reminds us that we are pilgrims on a journey toward something greater. 


Friday, May 12, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 15:12-17

One of the things Jesus says in today’s Gospel reading is “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.” Then, He says “You are my friends,” and “I have called you friends…” There is no greater love than what Jesus does in laying down His life for us. He calls us His friends. He gives Himself up for us, and continually gives Himself to us in the Holy Eucharist because we are joined to Him in friendship by grace. 

Because of the way He was killed and how our imagination works, our thoughts can easily drift to the idea that Jesus’ life was taken. We often speak of this way when a person passes away. We say they ‘lost’ their life or they were ‘robbed’ of life. This is not the case with Jesus. 

Jesus was indeed brutally killed by Romans at the insistence of the vocal Jewish religious leadership contingent in Jerusalem. Yet, we must always recall that He willingly came into the world and willingly allowed these events to transpire. Nothing forces God to act. Nothing extrinsically compels the Son of God to take on human flesh. Nothing and no one can mandate that Christ suffer and die for the sins of the world. The incarnation of the Lord Jesus, His life, and His sacrificial death are simply the overflowing divine love. The love that exists eternally in the Triune God infuses itself into creation. There can be no greater love than Jesus laying down His life because there can be nothing greater, and therefore no greater love, than God. 

Much is made of the difference between how the Church has defined love, willing the good of the other (as other), and how the modern world has perverted this definition into a reductionist, emotivist description of the concupiscible. The absurdity of the colloquial ‘love is love’ is sharply contrasted with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. There is love, which is what Jesus does and shows, and then there is something else. 

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 15:9-11

In today’s Gospel, Jesus says “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love.” Throughout the Farewell Discourse, Jesus issues several conditionals with a similar theme. For example, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Conditionals involve an ‘if/then’. When the condition is true, meeting a sufficient condition will always produce the event or outcome provided in a valid statement or syllogism. 

While it is true that God always loves us unconditionally, we choose how we respond to the outpouring of divine grace. The Christian life is a living and active response to God. God always makes the first move. While we were still yet sinners, Christ died for us. God gives us everything, including the grace and individual capabilities to say ‘yes’ to Him every day. 

What guarantees - because of the One who grants such a guarantee - that we will remain in the love of Christ is that we keep His commandments. For instance, that we love God above all and love others as we love ourselves. And that we obey the other things He teaches us through Sacred Scripture and His Holy Catholic Church. Such obedience must not be thought of in a slavish or arbitrary sense. Rather, we heed the teaching of Christ and His Church because God tells us that in so doing our joy will be complete. We can indeed be free from what truly enslaves us, which is sin. Obedience and discipline in Christ bring this freedom. 

It is for our eternal beatitude that we become who God created us to be. We also reap benefits in the here and now, by having peace with God and with our fellow man. God does not love us or guide us because He stands to gain anything. His love for us is an outpouring of the divine life, and His commandments to us are so that we may fully enjoy that life to the utmost.  

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 15:1-8

In today’s Gospel, we read that Jesus is the true vine. We are grafted into Him and, if we remain in Him, we will bear fruit. If we do not bear fruit, then we are cut off from Him. What fruit comes forth when we abide in Christ? St. Paul tells us “...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…(Galatians 5:22-23). 

The fruit we bear comes from our being nourished by the flowing waters of new and eternal life in Christ. By conversion, faith, baptism, continual repentance, and walking in daily humility before God, we abide in the true vine. Abiding is not meant in a passive sense, as if we are joined to the true vine and then all we do is just sit there. We must take an active role in following the Lord Jesus. The passive branch is the one that will wither away just as much as the branch that rebelliously cuts itself off. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 14:27-31

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus says that He gives peace “Not as the world gives…” In the Christian context, the’ world’ typically means the powers, principalities, people, and the various ways they organize, which are opposed to God. 

When the world gives something, it does so with strings attached. The world gives with conditions. The world gives because it wants something in return. Your company gives you a raise because they want to incentivize you to keep making more money for them. You get elected to an office or chosen for a leadership position because of what people think you will do for them. 

The world gives things in a backhanded way. In a certain sense, the world does not really give at all. Because there is never a net gain of anything meaningful or lasting when we trade with the world. Two worldly powers might agree to a peaceable end to armed conflict. But this agreement will be for the sake of economic or political expediency, and will only last until one side believes it can take advantage of the other side again. A large and well-known company will sponsor a charitable event or champion some cause, not for the sake of the suffering and not for genuine justice. The company takes these ‘rational’ market actions for the sole means of increasing profit. Such a company will flit about from one cause to the next, marching to the beat of the Wall Street drummer. They only care about one thing, and it is not giving anything. After all, return on investment is not about giving. 

No, the world does not give; the world takes. Peace cannot come from any worldly source or mechanism. Nothing in creation, no matter how grand, can satisfy our deepest longing. No creature can deliver us lasting happiness. Only the unconditional, infinite, everlasting love of God can bring us happiness. Only the peace given by the Son of God can bring true peace to our lives and rest for our souls. All other paths become subtly winding roads filled with shiny objects and distractions that eventuate in our demise. Only when our souls find rest from earthly desires, selfishness, and greedy ambition can peace reign. Peace reigns from above and comes to us. As we receive it, we are transformed. Those who spurn divine peace in Christ in favor of worldly peace will, after many pulls on the rope, find only a dry well. 

Monday, May 8, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 14:21-26

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells His disciples “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.” Loving Jesus is intimately bound up in doing what He says. 

Imagine a person living in feudal times pledging loyalty to a king. But every time the king issues a proclamation or promulgates a law, that person does the exact opposite or nothing at all. Moreover, the person actively works to sabotage the kingdom. He rips down official postings that contain the king's laws and penalties. He aids and abets the king’s enemies. The king would look upon these actions as disloyalty. When confronted by others, the individual professes to loyalty the king. “I am truly your subject, oh king!” he says. 

However, almost as soon as these words are spoken, the professing subject again contravenes the king's laws. Soon, he stands before the king in judgment. The subject tries to make the same defense; he really was loyal to the king in his heart, he revered the king “deep down.” He felt it. The subject argues that his disobedience of the king's laws is not evidence of loathing the king. He argues that loyalty is more than obeying rules, it is a matter of the heart. 

The wise king quickly calls out this faux duplicity of nature and equivocation of terms. The actions betray the man. There are not two selves acting, but one. The mouth speaks what is in the heart. The hands do what the heart desires. Loyalty is demonstrated in actions, not just fleeting private thoughts. Loyalty to the king means doing what the king says. The subjects cannot simply change the meaning of words out of whole cloth. They can certainly try. Yet, they will be dismayed when they hear another subject change the meaning of the word ‘hug’ to mean thumping another on the head with a blunt object. Sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander. 

When the Lord Jesus says “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me,” we are meant to understand that our love for Him is evidenced by our obedience. This does not reduce grace to legalism, for it is ‘all grace’, as it were. Instead, it forces us to reckon with our own moves to rationalization and duplicitousness. We cannot have our cake and eat it, too. If we love Jesus, we will keep His commandments. If we do not keep His commandments, we do not love Jesus. To some, this sounds harsh and demandingly perfectionist. When we receive grace with humility, especially through the sacraments and Church teaching, we might see that what Jesus asks is not too far beyond nor too high above us. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can become holy. If we stumble, we can receive forgiveness and the strength to press onward toward our heavenly goal. 

If Jesus is Lord and King of the Universe, then our loyalty to the King is demonstrated in our listening to what the King says and doing what He says to do. Voluntarism might raise some big-picture questions about this, but we can sidestep this problematic predication of divine action in favor of superior explanations, such as an intellectualist account. In any event, what we cannot do is redefine words to justify our actions. We show that we keep the greatest commandment by keeping the others. Not as mere blind rule followers, but as those walking in the light toward happiness. 

Friday, May 5, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 14:1-6

Today’s Gospel reading continues the Farewell Discourse (John ch. 13-17).  Jesus says to the disciples “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” This of course echoes what He says elsewhere, such as in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 6, we hear “do not be anxious for your life, what you will eat, and not for your body, what you will wear…” When we think about the ‘hard’ sayings of Jesus, teachings that seem very difficult, if not impossible, for us to actually do, the discourses on worry are probably near the top. I think it’s easier to love our enemies and give them the shirt off our backs than it is to quiet our anxiety. 

It’s important to note that anxiety about life is not a modern phenomenon. Jesus spoke these words to a first-century audience. In our day, we face the same problems, manifested differently. We worry about money and taxes. Our country and children. We get bombarded with inbound messages and communications, and then communications about how much we are getting bombarded with messages perpetuating the worship of material goods. We hear and think too much about ‘technology’ and all its wonders. We are inundated with the ideas of ‘progress’ we have made as a human society. Perhaps in some areas of life, there has been some progress, depending on how this term is defined, as well as the basis for comparison. Another topic for another time.  In any event, where no progress has been made at all is reducing human anxiety. Our hearts are troubled about much. The default human condition post-Fall is worry. It seems to fit with the narrative of being banished from paradise and toiling for our next meal. We sing for our supper. We worry about whether we will hit the right notes and if the audience will put bread in our jar. But Jesus comes to rectify this. In Christ, we no longer need to labor under the heavy burden of a troubled heart. 

In the direst moment before proceeding to His agony and passion, Jesus understands the concern His disciples have and reminds them to have faith. To trust in God fully is the surest path to relieve the weight of worry. Alas, like many aspects of the faith, our first thought is that this is easier said than done. It sounds like a platitude. “Don’t worry, be happy!” Who can do that? Importantly, who can actually be that way? The short answer, I think, is no one. At least no one without the help of the Holy Spirit. 

We need our minds and hearts prepared fully by the grace of God to let go of what concerns us, for it is all in God’s hands if we are truly honest. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we are able to take proper stock of ourselves and realize our need for humility. In turn, this leads to a deeper realization of our creatureliness. From here, we must come to terms with how little we ultimately control. It is our zeal for control and our dissatisfaction with anything less than omniscience that drives us to worry so much. If we listen to Jesus, He speaks to us the same words He spoke to His disciples “let not your hearts be troubled.” 

When I was in grade school, we learned the old Shaker song “Simple Gifts.” I find myself surprised that the lyrics and melody come so easily to mind, and also saddened that I forget them so often. 

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,

'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain'd,

To bow and to bend we will not be asham'd,

To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning we come round right.

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 13:16-20

Today’s Gospel reading comes from the Farewell Discourse of St. John’s Gospel. Jesus says many important things in John chapters 13-17. Toward the end of the passage today, after He washes the disciples’ feet, He says “whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” In this context, the verb ‘receive’ means to actively lay hold of, emphasizing the volition and assertiveness of the one taking hold. There is of course an excellent connection to our faith. Through God’s grace, we do not respond with apathy or indifference when we realize we are the Prodigal Son, that God is calling us out of the pig pen. We get up and go. 

The Catholic faith is not one of passive receptivity. It is an active, living faith. It is a faith that works through love. The Holy Spirit calls us, and we respond in penance and charity. We walk daily in humility before the Lord. We serve others as He exemplifies in the washing of the disciples' feet. 

The Son tells us that whoever receives Him receives the Father, who sent the Son. The Son tells us also that whoever receives those whom the Son will send also receives the Father. To be an Apostle means to be sent. It follows that whoever receives the Apostles receives the Son, and therefore receives the Father. We actively lay hold of the Father and the Son, in the sense of our strong ‘yes’ - through word and deed - to be participants in the Heavenly Kingdom. But this only comes about because we receive the teaching of the Apostles. Should we think the teaching of the Apostles ended when the last of this group passed from the earth? Not at all. For the Lord Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church. 

So, the teaching of the Apostles continues. And this has been handed down successively from the founding of the Church until today. The Apostolic teaching is preserved and explicated through the Holy Catholic Church. To willfully deny the Apostolic succession of bishops and ordained leaders and teachers of the Christian faith is to ultimately deny the words of Jesus. Such a denial would prevent us in the most real sense possible from receiving the Son, and therefore prevent us from receiving the Father. Appealing to Scripture alone as the only preserved Apostolic teaching futilely ignores that Scripture nowhere explicitly or implicitly makes this claim, and further ignores how foreign such a concept is to the context in which the Scriptures were written. 

Thankfully, the Lord Jesus founded a Church and sent Apostles, who passed down to their successors the truths of eternal life. These truths are contained in Sacred Scripture and the magisterial teachings of the Church. Whoever receives the Apostolic teaching receives the Apostles, and whoever receives the Apostles receive the One who sent them. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 14:6-14

In today’s Gospel, we read Jesus’ very direct words “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” If this was said by anyone other than the Son of God who is very God Himself, we might easily dismiss what He says. 

The world sometimes loves a lot of what Jesus said and did, but has a great struggle when He says He is the only way to the Father. The whole dying on the cross for the sins of the world thing and being raised again is also a sure stumbling block. Lots of head-scratching at this. Surely, there are many ways to heaven. Nobody has a corner on religious truth. Basically, if you haven’t murdered someone (and maybe even if you did) you’re going to heaven. We’re all going to heaven. Especially the dogs. What these sentiments represent, I believe, is a manifestation of what sociologist Christian Smith and his colleagues termed Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. While this seems like a loaded term, it does quite well in describing the cobbled-together tapestry of contemporary beliefs to which many people practically adhere. Think of the ‘religion’ you’d find in a Hallmark movie and you’ll be pretty close. 

Today is the feast day of St. Phillip and St. James. Imagine going back in time and giving them a quick rundown of what some people today think Christianity is. As they toiled and endured persecution, it was not for the faith to be perturbed into a self-help program.

We can be assured that the Christian message has been polluted, or altogether eschewed, when it evinces nothing about sin, the primacy and necessity of grace in man’s salvation from hell (the consequence of sin and rejection of grace), and the means by which God provides this grace in His only begotten Son Jesus Christ, who is truly God and truly man. When Jesus says that He is the way to the Father, we can take Him at His word. Or not. But we cannot put words in His mouth. Now, a person could be skeptical that Jesus actually said these words. That’s a different argument. And it’s not that compelling of an argument, because the Christian Church has been saying the same thing since the very beginning. Different sources, different places, very early and close to the death of Jesus, and all very consistent. 

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. This does not mean that a person who never heard the name “Jesus of Nazareth” is condemned to hell. It simply means that if and when a person is saved, however the grace of God comes to them, it is by the sacrificial death of Jesus. It means that if and when a person is raised to glory on the last day, regardless of when they died or how they died, they are doing so because Jesus defeated death by His resurrection. 

The definite article (‘the’) in John 14:6 does not cause us to act in a presumptuous triumphalism. Any triumph we participate in is the triumph of Jesus. It is not our own. We live in humble reception of divine grace each day. We deny ourselves and take up our crosses. We are mere beggars, trying to show other beggars where the food is. Salvation, blessing, and happiness start and end with God. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 10:22-30

 Gospel Reflection John 10:22-30

It is fitting that on the feast day of St. Athanasius, we read the Lord Jesus say “The Father and I are one.” This is but one of many passages that were held up by the Church Fathers as they articulated and defended the divinity of the Son of God. Of course, the great churchmen were not simply proof-texting. The entire narrative theme of Scripture and the New Testament, not to mention the consistent testimony of the apostles and their successors, was that Jesus Christ was truly God with us. God the Son became man. The eternal Logos of God had come, as St. John writes earlier,  to ‘tabernacle’ among man. 

St. Athanasius was an ardent defender of the divinity of Christ. Despite many hardships, he persevered in teaching the truth of the faith and was very theologically influential at the council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. Opposing Athanasius, and those aligned with him, were the Arians, so named after Bishop Arius who claimed that the Son of God was not truly God. The Arian heresy has never died out. Many people today take up his mantle, declaring the Son of God to be the most exalted creature or some other thing that is ultimately repugnant to the faith. Unitarian Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, are firmly in this camp. 

When confronted with passages from today’s Gospel reading about the unity of the Son and the Father, Arians will typically argue that Jesus could only mean the Father and the Son were united in will and purpose. Analogous to their case would be when two people are aligned in a partnership of some kind. These individuals are ‘one’ in accord. The problem with this way of understanding the text is that it creates unsustainable tension when read in the broader context of the totality of Jesus’ recorded claims and self-understanding. Mere unity of purpose in the Father and the Son would not have been that controversial, certainly not enough to get Jesus on the short list of blasphemers worthy of death. 

What the Arians continue to miss, and what St. Athanasius proclaimed, was that the divinity of Jesus Christ the Son of God, is the great mystery that Sacred Scripture and Apostolic teaching demands we affirm. By ignoring the proper communication of idioms and by foisting philosophical presuppositions that inherently limit what cannot be limited, the mystery of the incarnation - the inner life of God - is essentially reduced to a proposition that can only be contained within the creaturely mind. Arians draw a firm line on what they will accept as revealed truth and mystery, and therefore ultimately make God in the image of man. 

We affirm with St. Athanasius that the Son of God is truly God. Of the same essence as the Father. God from God. Light from light. True God from true God. Begotten not made. Every Sunday we confess our faith and give our assent to the truth given to us directly from God through the teachings of God Himself in Christ and the Apostles. 

Monday, May 1, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 10:11-18

In today’s Gospel, Jesus says He is the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. Too often we take this for granted. 

We see the wonderful images of Jesus carrying a single sheep and do not think that it would have been completely crazy for a shepherd to die for the flock in their care. The ordinary shepherd would not put himself in unreasonable danger. After all, such a shepherd is just doing their job. Some occupational hazards are acceptable, but nothing too extreme. If a wolf comes along or a treacherous mountain pass presents itself, the hired shepherd will only put up so much effort before turning away to save their own skin. In the end, it’s just a business proposition. 

We are not a business proposition to God. There is no cost/benefit analysis done on whether it is worthwhile to gather us when we have gone far astray. God loves us so much that He gave His only begotten Son to be our Shepherd. He is a shepherd that not only places Himself in danger but gives His life - even for the single lost sheep over whom the whole of heaven rejoices. 

For anyone or anything else, the intrinsic limitations of creatureliness would put an upward limit on the totality of sacrifice made for the life of the sheep. For any creature, there would be a weighing of the scales to decide whether the effort would be worthwhile. But the Son of God does not operate this way. He is unbounded Love and unshackled from creaturely constraints. He can go after the one without forsaking the ninety-nine. He can lead and unite the flock of His creation. He can lay down His life of His own accord and take it up again. 

Without the Good Shepherd, we would all ultimately be lost. Forever wandering barren hillsides, fighting with each other over the last drop of water from wasted river beds. We would be chasing mirages of green pastures that would only disappear before us in delirium as we plunged off the cliff. The hired shepherds would just stand there, heckling our demise. But God…

The Good Shepherd loves us and lays His life down for us. He takes it up again to lead us. He beacons us to verdant pastures and babbling brooks of life-giving water. He walks beside us through the dangerous passes, His rod and His staff comfort us as He pulls us to freedom and life. His feet are sure, and His hand is strong. He never wavers and never stops gathering. 

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 10:1-10

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus says that “he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.” There are many voices calling out to us every day. Do we recognize the clear voice of Jesus amid the cacophony of noise in the world? 

To hear Jesus’ voice, we must be tuned into the right frequency and channel number. Like radio communications, the Lord speaks to us through a certain ‘band’ or ‘spectrum.’ When we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit, our reception antennas, our ‘receivers’  to hear things in this spiritual radio spectrum, are repaired and tuned in. But sometimes we choose to turn to a different channel. We tune Jesus out. Sometimes we don’t want to listen to His station because we want to hear the live feed from the City of Man. So, we change the channel. And what usually comes to us in this cacophony of voices is like a siren song of sin. It pulls us in and we become complacent, not deigning to move the dial. 

The thing with being rational creatures informed by sense experience is we cannot turn off incoming messages. Sure, we can place ourselves in a natural setting or ‘off the grid’, but this is very difficult to sustain for most people and comes with several of its own difficulties. Reading the Desert Fathers makes evident that ‘noise’ can come to us in every setting. Changing our surroundings can help, of course. Reducing our consumption of what is commonly now just called ‘content’ is a great blessing. But the spiritual noise and competition for our attention and focus will always be present. 

For most of us, we can only adjust the frequency and channel number of where we receive our broadcast. Sometimes, the Lord will break through the other stream we have tuned into and call us to change the channel. Turn back to the heavenly station so that we can hear His voice, for that is where we are nourished by the words and song of eternal life and where we are truly happy. Sometimes we will recall the happiness we had when hearing from the Lord and turn the dial back. The grace of God reaches through and prompts us to recalibrate. This shift back means we listen to His voice in prayer, Mass, reading Sacred Scripture, the Sacraments, singing spiritual songs, speaking of spiritual things, reading of heavenly things, joyful fellowship, acts of service, penance, almsgiving, viewing art that lifts the souls to God, listening to music that elevates the spirit to the Creator, and so forth. 

Let us ask the Lord to help us stay tuned into His channel. May we continually hear the voice of Jesus the Good Shepherd calling out to us and leading us. May we follow the voice of truth and not become distracted or dismayed from our heavenly goal by the myriad noises vying for our attention. 

Friday, April 28, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 6:52-59

Today’s Gospel reading continues the Bread of Life Discourse. At the end of the passage today, St. John writes “These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.” The synagogue is where the rabbis taught Torah. From here the wisdom of the sages was dispensed. Holy writ proclaimed. For Jesus to teach in a synagogue that was not in his hometown, but an adopted, temporary home for an itinerant rabbi, is quite interesting. The local rabbis must have wanted to what more. Perhaps they heard about the signs. 

Indeed, there was a great deal of interest in what He had to say about Torah. Jesus taught a wide variety of people, spanning socio-economic class and education. There is something captivating about this combined with the loud thunderclaps wrought when Jesus says that His flesh must be eaten and his blood consumed for one to have eternal life. What could this possibly have to do with Torah and living as God’s Covenant people? Nothing and everything. 

If Jesus does not speak in the Person of God, if He does not have divine authority to speak as the author of the Torah itself, then His words must be dismissed, even despised, by His countrymen. On the other hand, if Jesus speaks in the very Person of God, then what He says opens up the heart of Torah and the very author of it is expounding upon its purpose and deepest meaning. 

C.S. Lewis famously argued that Jesus was either a liar, lunatic, or Lord. He cannot be merely a good moral teacher or wise sage. He claimed to be God. He claimed to speak as God. One could think He was lying or crazy. But one cannot make Jesus into anything one wants Him to be. Simplified, Jesus is nothing or everything. If He is not God, then He is nothing. If He is God, He is everything. If He is God, then we must receive His word and His flesh and blood in the Eucharist by faith. If He is not God, then all of these things can be dismissed. Most people in the audience hearing the words in today’s passage were in this latter category. But some of His disciples understood that He has the words of eternal life. In His grace and love, God always gives us the same choice. 

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 6:44-51

Today’s Gospel reading continues the Bread of Life Discourse from John 6. Jesus says He is the bread of life and “...whoever eats this bread will live forever…” If Jesus is the bread of life, and whoever eats the bread of life will live forever, then it follows that whoever eats Jesus will live forever. There have been so many attempts to spiritualize these words away or to reduce them to mere metaphor just like other efforts to domesticate Jesus and make his teachings more palatable (no pun intended). I submit this simply cannot be done without doing violence to the text or presuming one knows more about what Jesus meant than He did. 

If Jesus only meant these words in a spiritualized way, where eating Him conveyed a sense of obedience, discipleship, being nourished by His words, and so forth, then there would have been no controversy at all. Yet St. John takes great pains to highlight the fact that nobody in the audience ‘got’ what Jesus was saying at first and when the Lord doubled down on His claims, as it were, most of the people became upset and left, writing Him off as insane. 

Of course, eating the Lord Jesus is insane. It’s crazy to think you can eat another person and live forever. On certain presuppositions, nothing in Sacred Scripture is even possible. But Jesus is in the business of taking our hard physical and metaphysical boundaries and blurring them a bit. He re-draws the lines around the borders of our life where nature and grace are firmly divided. This gerrymandering of the map of reality is deeply distressing. We can’t make sense of it. We want things back the way they were before Jesus came into our lives before these words hit our ears so that we can reattach to the sultry illusion of control. 

Jesus is not particularly interested in our remaining shackled to illusion. He makes plain that He is the Son of God, speaking in the Person of God. No mere man is telling us to eat Him. I think this is important to bear in mind as we place ourselves at His feet and listen. This is one reason why Jesus as the bread of life is no mere metaphor. 

It is true that we are nourished by the word of God. The teachings of Jesus and the Apostles present to us the way of eternal life. Faith in Jesus working through love. To leave things here, though, would be an incomplete picture. Bound up within the teachings of Jesus is the unequivocal claim that He is the bread of life and we must eat Him to live. 

Inquiring into the specific ‘how’ of this is to ask the wrong question because it presupposes the ability of finite intellects to penetrate the mind of God. I believe we are better prepared to receive this revelation from God if we do not think of God as ‘apart’ from the world.  If we do not place limitations on divine action. If we remember that the creative activity of God entails the continuous donation of being to all things that are not God. If we keep in mind that dividing the human and divine natures in Jesus Christ is the wrong course of action. This is just a sampling of apophatic moves and does not give us a demonstration of how we eat the flesh of Jesus. Rather, it can help shed the hubris clinging to us like Velcro so that we can take Jesus at His word and eat His flesh in faith. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 6:35-40

Today’s Gospel reading comes from the Eucharistic discourse in John 6. Jesus unequivocally says He is the bread of life. Those who come to Him, who “eat His flesh and drink His blood,” as we will soon read, will never hunger and also have eternal life. 

In these passages, Jesus has much to say about the will of the Father. Sometimes Christians make the will of God too mysterious or out of reach. Yet a great deal of God’s will is told very plainly to us. For example, in today's passages, just five short verses, the will of God is explicitly referenced three times. 

In most cases, people want to know if it is God’s will that they take a certain job or marry a certain person. Vocations are important. So is marrying the right person. What is more important is the bigger picture. The ‘macro’ will of God, as it pertains to the salvific mission of Christ and the Church, is the most important thing in this context. Put differently; there are many ways to make a living, many places to live, possibly many people you could marry, etc. But there is only one way of rightly ordering life. One Kingdom. One God. One Lord. If we lose our understanding of the big picture of God’s will, we surely will not get the (relatively) smaller things right. 

Today’s verses tell us the will of God is that the Son become Incarnate. The Son came down from heaven in perfect accordance with the Father’s will. We also learn the will of God is that Jesus should not lose any of those the Father gave to Him. We know the will of God is that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life. As we can see, the will of God is nothing but our good. To say God is love is most certainly not a platitude or any kind of new-age spirituality. We are willed (loved) into existence. Love keeps us in existence. And the love of God is continually reaching through every fiber of the created order to reach us and fix what ails us. The will of God is mysterious because God is mysterious. Yet we are able to understand enough of God's will, because of the perfect work of the Son, that the right response is evident: repentance and faith. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Gospel Reflection Mark 16:15-20

Today is the feast day of St Mark the Apostle. The Gospel reading comes to us from the sixteenth chapter, the very end of St. Mark’s Gospel. This is the so-called “longer ending” of this Gospel, as there is a scholarly dispute about whether the manuscripts containing these passages are early enough to be genuine and/or are authentic Markan authorship. The Church has traditionally received the long ending of Mark as inspired revelation. 

In these passages, we read a variation of the Great Commission. Jesus commands His disciples to go forth into the world, proclaiming the glad tidings. Mark 16:15 usually reads “...proclaim the Gospel to every creature…” This is of course not wrong per se, but the words in the original Greek are more literally rendered as “proclaim the Gospel to all the creation.” I think this latter translation is more powerful and evokes the cosmic redemptive work of Christ. 

St. Paul writes in Romans 8:19-22: 

“For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now…” 

The rebellion of rational creatures against God affects the entire created order. A great dislocation has occurred;  the world is out of joint. Things do not work as they should. Something has gone terribly wrong. The victory over sin and death won by the Lord Jesus through His death and resurrection means that not only will mankind be redeemed from the futility of sin, but that the entirety of creation is being put back into joint. Everything that is wracked by sin will be cleansed. The contagion is being cured. The healing balm of Christ’s blood was shed for the restoration of what God made so that it will be wholly good again. 

We can therefore see the powerful evocation in Mark 16:15; proclaiming the great victory of Christ to all of creation. Nothing is left unaffected by the outpouring of divine grace. In an eschatological motif, the prophet Isaiah tells us “the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all.” (Is. 11:6) The glad tidings, the Christus Victor proclamation, is not only for mankind but for everything God made. 

Here I am led to think of St. Francis of Assisi and his animal friends. To many, this is a trite medieval fable. Yet, if we look closely, we should see a very direct connection to the wider implications of Christ’s mission and the words from today’s passage. Through special graces, St. Francis was given a taste of the cosmic order harmoniously restored. When God is our light and life and death and corruption are no more, the competition between creatures will cease. Everything will once again exist as a peaceful symphony displaying the glory of God. Until then, we must tell everyone - and everything! - about this great hope. Perhaps not necessarily by going to the nearest zoo and preaching to the bears, although some saints might find you a kindred spirit in this exercise (St. Anthony of Padua, perhaps). Rather, we look for opportunities to proclaim the breadth of Christ’s victory. We must expand our scope and our vision of the new heavens and new earth. We must look back to Genesis 1 and take up our mandate to be proper stewards of the earth. We must see that John 3:16 speaks of God’s love for the cosmos, for all of the created order, and we must extend that same love. Doing so will help us better understand how radical the Gospel is, and how radically Jesus calls us to reorient our thinking and the whole of our lives.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 6:22-29

In today’s Gospel, Jesus says “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” We find teaching along these same lines in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 6, Jesus says “So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?  All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness,* and all these things will be given you besides.” 

In one sense, these teachings seem at best slightly analogous. One pertains to how we wrongly prioritize our lives and fritter about in needless anxiety. The other begins an extended discourse on the bread from heaven, the Lord Jesus. But there is an important connection. The food that endures for eternal life, the food that Jesus gives us, is Himself. We trust in God to provide it, knowing how limited our control is over our circumstances. Knowing that we cannot build or make it ourselves. We must look to God for it. Our daily anxieties can be addressed only by yielding our wills to God. 

How do we ‘work’ for Jesus, though? Wouldn’t such work go against faith? Only if we maintain a false dichotomy where nature and grace are at odds. We can look at our passage today in John 6 and make a connection to Matthew 6. We must seek the Kingdom of God. We must align our lives with Christ, becoming full participants in His Kingdom. The ‘work’ we do is not a work-based salvation whereby we do enough good things and come out on the right side of the scale. Rather, in submitting to the Lordship of Christ, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we pattern our lives after Jesus. We love the things God loves, and do the things God loves to do. We seek to have the Lord Jesus in all ways possible, desiring God above all. The summit of this union in the temporal, earthly realm, is the Holy Eucharist. The imperishable food of Christ endures for eternal life because each time we partake of it we are in a very real way ‘divinized’ - made partakers of the divine life through the mystery of grace in the Sacrament. 

Jesus says "This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent." The term ‘believe’ in this context does not merely entail mental assent to the truth of a proposition. It means a radical reorientation of life. It means repentance, turning away from, the things of the world. Turning away from world systems of money, power, lust, greed, and corruption. It means total trust in the provision and providence of God. Depending upon His guiding hand in every aspect of life. It is to look at the Son and see the Father. It is to live indwelled and sealed by the Holy Spirit, guided to eternal truth and life. It means to follow in the footsteps of the Son, which means hardship in this life. It means caring and loving when no care or love is reciprocated. We believe in Christ, the One sent by God, by faith working through love. In this, we accomplish the work God has for us in this life as we prepare for eternal life. 

Friday, April 21, 2023

Gospel (and Philosophical) Reflection John 6:1-15

The Gospel reading today gives us St. John the Evangelist’s account of Jesus feeding the 5,000. Yesterday, we heard from the third chapter of John’s Gospel that God does not ration His gift of the Spirit. Whereas all creatures are limited, God is not. The limitless love and being of God are displayed in the miraculous feeding of 5,000 men from just five barley loaves and two fish. To dismiss this event, or other signs and wonders of Jesus, as merely symbolic is to admit a limitation in God and therefore reduces the Creator to the creaturely. Today’s Gospel provides an opportunity to reflect on the miraculous, as this is one of Jesus' most well-known signs. 

Of course, we cannot reproduce or comprehend the ‘how’ of multiplying food exponentially in a short period of time. Perhaps God acted here at the quantum level, and maybe if this is the basis of physical reality then that level is where divine action originates. The risk in trying to analyze the miraculous through an explanation rooted in the natural sciences is not necessarily that God is ushered out, although this is certainly a risk in some cases, but that the causal order is conflated or reduced. God is the primary cause of all that is. All physical (and spiritual) reality depends upon God at any moment that it exists. The substances or fundamental elements of the world do not persist inertially, despite the pressing desire of some to read their metaphysics exclusively from mathematical equations or abstractions in physics (or forego metaphysics altogether). It just does not work in the end to think things of the cosmos persist on their own when we consider what finite substances are and what it means for them to exist here and now or at any time. Only by artificial, analytical means, like creating examples with many qualifications and cafeteria-style, a la carte, unsystematic hypothesizing, can we reasonably think, in the end, that something in the world can be without God causing it to be at the most fundamental metaphysical level. 

With this said, we must also say that God delights in secondary causes bringing about effects. We would say that these secondary causes can be directed by God in certain ways to bring about effects that do not normally obtain. This is perhaps one way of thinking about divine signs and wonders.  When we zoom in on just the natural processes and neglect their primary cause, we can forget that secondary causes are unable to operate on their own. Secondary causes may achieve different ends, or follow different paths of manifestation when the primary cause so directs. Signs from God, what we call miracles, are instances where secondary causes are directed by God to more clearly and unambiguously draw people’s attention to Him. Signs are elements of divine grace penetrating through our recalcitrant intellects and wills bent away from our loving Creator. 

So we say that the way God acts is not in a contingent, finite manner. His action is of a different order than anything within the world. As mentioned above, each aspect of the cosmos is caused to exist by God at every moment it exists. God is not distant from the world, stepping in to intervene from time to time. Rather, the essence of God weaves through every strand of the cosmos, the causal and teleological basis of all that is, whenever and wherever it is. God remains utterly distinct yet not apart from His creation. When signs and wonders happen, what we call miracles, we see God causing things to be in a different way than we customarily experience them. We should not be surprised at this. After all, as Chesterton said, the sun rises each day because God says 'Do it again.” 

The laws of physics, as commonly understood, might be one way to help us understand how the world usually goes, what we can expect ceteris parabis. Yet, there are times and places when things are not ceteris parabis. The Son of God among us in the context of His salvific mission is a shining example of God getting the attention of those whom He loves so much. As we read later in today’s passage “When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, "This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world." The signs Jesus gave to demonstrate His divinity and Messiahship were unmistakable to anyone paying attention. Even those dozing off in class had to take notice. Eternal love was breaking into the world to defeat sin and death in the most decisive way.