Monday, April 13, 2015

Witnesses of Divine Mercy

Can you name the times when Divine Mercy has reached out and grabbed you by the hand--ushering you to a fresh start or a new beginning?  If you're like me, maybe it has happened at times when you least expected it.  Such is the surprising way that God's grace works. 

If we are going to be the witnesses of the Lord's merciful love that the world so desperately needs, we should be able to identify and name such moments in our own lives.  Here are just a few which come to my mind:

  • In Baptism and Confirmation:  If you were claimed for Christ in Baptism as an infant, as I was, perhaps you have had a glimpse of your entire life as a gift.  Grace upon grace, freely given though sometimes spurned, may offer the best interpretation of my life.  In Confirmation, whether fully conscious of it or not, I chose to say yes to this baptismal gift.  After all, Christ wants each of us to be sons and daughters in him, guided by his very Spirit, not orphans wandering aimlessly.  In many ways, my entire life's journey has been an ever deeper appropriation of these graces: "No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit" (Jn 3:5).

  • In the Presence of Family and Friends: Have you had at least one family member or friend who has helped enkindle or rekindle the light of faith in your heart?  Our fidelity to the Gospel gives honor to such mentors and spiritual ancestors, who have left us an inexhaustible inheritance.  My life has been marked by the timely words of wisdom, the challenging questions, and the uplifting encouragement of countless Christs in everyday disguise.  This is all mercy and grace precisely because I have not earned or deserved any of it:  "It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain" (Jn 15:16).

  • In the Gift of Reconciliation: If you have not yet heard Christ himself express forgiveness and consolation through the ministry of the priest, keep on listening :)  Since the first time I realized that the seemingly frumpy fella with food in his beard was speaking words that only the Lord himself could have directed to my heart, I've found myself more and more open to confessing my need for Divine Mercy.  Even if there is no sage advice during a given visit to this extraordinary Sacrament, the words of absolution always bring me healing and wholeness ("through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit").  This gift flows directly from Christ himself, of course, who not only forgave sins but also empowered his Apostles to do so:  "...He breathed on them and said, 'Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them'..." (Jn 20:22-23).

  • In the Living Word of the Gospels:  One of the great blessings of my adult life has been a rediscovery of the Gospels.  The Word of God is a living, two-edged sword, and there is no more direct or powerful way to experience it than by pondering the Gospel each day in communion with the Church universal.  Whenever I've been open to hearing a word from the Word, the Gospels have never failed to deliver.  Pondering and praying the Scriptures has helped me understand the story of my life in the context of life's greatest story:  "Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?" (Lk 24:32).

  • In Christ's Eucharistic Presence:  How else can my easily hardened heart be transformed, except by encountering the Lord in this greatest of gifts?  One special revelation for me has been the powerful presence of the Christ at Eucharistic Adoration.  Visits to Adoration have fueled my desire to return to the celebration of the Mass with new eyes.  They have helped me realize that we all need to share our experience of meeting the Risen Lord on the road: "Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread" (Lk 24:35).  

We are living in the time of great mercy.  We are called to become channels of Divine Mercy.  To those who may know that I have not shown as much mercy as I profess to have received, please accept my apologies--and thank you for your patience!  To those who may think of me as stuck in my past sins, please know that the Lord is doing his best to continue changing me--and thank you for your understanding!

From John Paul II's canonization of St. Faustina at the dawn of the third millennium, through his promulgation of the feast of Divine Mercy on the second Sunday of Easter, to his providential death on the eve of this feast 10 years ago, we continue to be flooded with reminders that this is the age of Divine Mercy.  (For a heart-thumping account of this history--linked to the amazing message of our Lady at Fatima--check out Michael Gaitley's The Second Greatest Story Ever Told, available as an MP3 talk or as a recently released book.) 

In both word and deed, Pope Francis has famously continued St. John Paul II's focus on mercy.  By recently announcing an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, which will begin later this year, Holy Father Francis is inviting each of us once again to return to the Father who awaits us with love beyond all telling. The opening words of this papal bull sum up the Good News of the Gospel:

"Jesus Christ is the face of the Father's mercy" (MV, n. 1)!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Only One Son


Many sons have inspired others with religious insights.
Some sons have achieved profound enlightenment.
Only One Son has had an answer for death.
Many sons have been wrongly condemned and executed.
Some sons have been cradled, lifeless, by their families.
Only One Son has returned to kiss and crown his mother.
Many sons have considered themselves prophets.
Some sons have foreseen their own deaths.
Only One Son has predicted and delivered his own resurrection.
Many sons have left this world senselessly slaughtered.
Some sons have returned in visions to console family and friends.
Only One Son has come back to let people touch his transfigured flesh.
Many sons have taught the golden rule.
Some sons have actually lived what they taught.
Only One Son has died and risen to prove it true.
Many sons have been hanged on a tree to die.
Some sons have done so for the sake of others.
Only One Son has returned to eat and drink with his friends.
Many sons have inspired others after going to their graves.
Some sons have thus made the world a better place.
 Only One Son has left the tomb in order to make all things new.

Many sons have prepared a last will and testament.
Some sons have thereby provided great riches posthumously.
 Only One Son has promised to stay with his people until the end of time.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Behold the Lamb of God

The lamb embodies innocence and vulnerability.  The Lamb of God also personifies purpose and intentionality: His perfect innocence and absolute vulnerability in the face of evil are at the service of his mission.

As we (re)enter into Jerusalem with Jesus and his closest disciples for the Triduum, the three days celebrated as one, let's keep our eyes fixed upon the Lamb.  For, wherever it flows, the blood of the Lamb brings wholeness and holiness, authentic liberty and liberation.

After all, God's chosen people had been freed from slavery and death by marking their homes with the blood of a lamb.  For centuries thereafter, they had commemorated this event by sacrificing a Passover lamb and eating its flesh.  The lamb represented their powerless plight in the face of abject suffering; its blood was a sign of the intimate bond between God and the Israelites.  It was as if the Lord of hosts wanted innocent blood to flow once again through his people.

Within this covenantal context, at their final Passover meal together, Jesus offers his disciples the interpretive key which will unlock the next day's mysterious gift of his innocent life:

"Take and eat; this is my body...this is my blood of the covenant,
which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins."

(Mt 26:26-27)

Moving forward, there will be no more animal sacrifices in the Temple for the followers of Jesus.  Rather, following his command, they will consume the flesh of the Lamb of God and will mark the members of his new covenant with his blood. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Ultimate "N" Word

The Arabic letter "N"

"But when then the Son of Man comes,
will he find faith on the earth?"

(Luke 18:8).


There seems to be a "zero tolerance" policy regarding use of the "N" word in the U.S. these days.  The effective ban on this word seems appropriate given malingering racial tensions and tragic explosions of violence in recent months, not to mention an all-too real racism which still exists in the minds and hearts of many.

There is another "N" word, however, whose use seems to be drawing much less attention.  Indeed,  there seems to be a general indifference in the U.S. toward scores of people in the Middle East who are effectively being branded with a scarlet letter "N", then persecuted and slaughtered.  As has been widely reported, the fascist Islamic State has been marking the homes of Christians with the Arabic letter "N", to identify them as followers the "Nazarene." 

According to St. Jerome's commentary on the Matthew 2:23 reference, the title "Nazarene" fulfills no one isolated prophecy about Jesus, but rather it points to the general testimony of the prophets that the Messiah would be despised.  So, is it ironic--or prophetic--that ISIS is helping to fulfill this prophecy even now?  After all, as the Risen Christ made clear to Saul on the road to Damascus some twenty centuries ago, he is present in his followers: "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting" (Acts 9:5).

Moreover, perhaps it is time to ask whether it is ironic--or prophetic--that radical secularism wants to stand by indifferently, even in the face of this effort to eliminate the despised Christians in the Middle East.  After all, though secular fundamentalism claims to propose "tolerance" as one of its highest values, it seems to be rushing toward a "zero tolerance" policy for religious people, particularly Christians. 

Religion is accused of being the source of tensions and evils in the world, and Christians are accused of being as violent as anyone else (despite facts to the contrary regarding religion and violence); meanwhile, radical secularism demonstrates an ever-greater tolerance for sacrificing the lives of the weakest in the name of some alleged "greater good."  The innocent by-standers of drone bombings, the unborn and the elderly, migrants fleeing political and economic anarchy, incarcerated felons:  For radical secularism, sometimes those who are most vulnerable need to die, in order that the strong can continue to thrive.

And Christians seem to be increasingly expendable, unless they too are willing to profess such a vision of "social progress."


So, given this state of affairs, would you mark yourself publicly with the sign of the Nazarene? 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Overcoming Obstacles to Divine Mercy

It's almost axiomatic: No one is perfect.  And, as we like to say in my family, everyone needs a fresh start from time to time.
However, when Jesus reveals his Father as our merciful Father, people of all stripes rush to condemn him, crying out "Crucify him, crucify him!"  The Divine Mercy which we claim to need somehow seems threatening and even repulsive.  So what prevents us from accepting the gift of God's love? 

There seem to be at least four main attitudes designed to mire us in our present state:
  1. "I am more than worthy."  Welcome to the world of the Pharisees, past and present-day.  Our relationship with God is purely transactional:  Rules are made and followed in order to control the god of my making.  If we play the game well, then our heavenly business partner owes us goods and services accordingly.  We don't need any gifts--let alone the merciful work of a Savior--because we have pulled ourselves up by our proverbial bootstraps.
  2. "I am too unworthy."  Take a look at the inverted pride of the Pharisees:  Our sins are so much bigger than the finite and ultimately impotent god whom we've concocted that we are irredeemable.  We have cashed in too many chips too many times, and the goodness of the feeble heavenly helper cannot match our depravity.  Divine Mercy is circumscribed within the limits of our own making; the rules are the rules, after all, and we've broken them to the point where they are un-fixable.  And so are we.
  3. "I feel fine."  Get a load of the "what matters in life is trying to be a good person" mindset:  What is most important here is our artificially inflated self-esteem.  As long as we feel like we're doing our best, what more could our little pet god want from us?   The measure of love is not to love without measure, as the saying goes, but to decide how much we feel like doing.  Whether or not we do it is irrelevant.  We ask for no help and need no divine assistance because we are trapped in the warm fuzzy web we've woven for ourselves.
  4. "I am all good."  Watch the whiplash of the subjective self when it starts striving:  When spiritual seekers have ventured beyond mere rules and worldly pleasures, we search for higher levels of self-exaltation.  We long for a level of wisdom and insight so as to comprehend all of life's mysteries.  What matters most is to become one with, and equal to, any ultimate spiritual realities.  The fullness of life is found within us, so there's no need for any offer of salvation.  Why would we want to be saved from our Selves?