Musing on 1 Cor 9:24-27

Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified. –1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Cinderella.

Every March in the United States, this word gets thrown around continually and casually.

We all know what it means — the “Cinderella” team — the underdogs who proved themselves to everyone; the team no one believed in; the ones whom no one gave a second thought to; the team that everyone glazed over while filling out their brackets. “Oh an 11-seed? They’re going down in the first round, for sure.”

This year, I’ve had the privilege to watch my hometown team, the Wichita State Shockers, become the Cinderella of the 2013 NCAA Championship Tournament. A nine-seeded team that beat four teams — including the two best in its region — on its way to the Final Four.

Yes, we all love those underdog stories, don’t we? We latch on to movies like Seabiscuit, Glory Road, We Are Marshall, Cinderella Man, Miracle, and Cool Runnings (which are all based on true stories, by the way). Why? Because we love to see those teams, those players who weren’t the best still succeed, even when all the odds were stacked against them.

They take a stand for themselves — they prove to everyone that they’re worth something, that they shouldn’t be underestimated, that they shouldn’t be counted out.

We love underdog stories, because the idea of an ‘underdog’ is based on prejudice. “Oh, this team has more money, a better coach, more talented players, a tougher schedule — so, they’re definitely going to beat this second-rate team of schmucks, no problem. Right?”

The idea of an underdog also is based on empathy — we don’t like it when other people underestimate us, and count us out. So, when we see another underdog succeed, it gives us hope. The ‘little guy’ can win, even when the world is stacked against him. David can beat Goliath, and he does.

So life is for us Christians. We are the underdogs; we have the disadvantage, seemingly, against all that we try to combat — the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Think about it.

Everyday, we wake up to our ongoing struggles against all of our erring brothers and sisters, who pressure us (sometimes with good intentions) into joining their escapades with “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll” — of rejecting our religion, our relationship with God simply to do what everyone is doing. We wake up to our own bodily desires, which were created good, but have been deformed through our own sinful nature, our predisposition to sin. We continue to pervert those gifts which God created good, because we believe that they will give us pleasure. And, lastly, and most frighteningly, we wake up everyday to combat all the demons of Hell, who have retained their angelic powers and use them to tempt us away from God — to give into our societal pressures, to give in to our own bodily desires, etc.

So, not only is the world against us, but the flesh and the devil, too!

How then — you might ask — can we possibly win?

And I would reply: How can we possibly lose?

We’re the underdogs! Our life as Christians is a classic underdog story. We win as any other longshot, counted-out team does: through Faith.

For athletes, it is faith in themselves, in their coach, in their teammates. For us, it is Faith in Our God, in our Church, in the Lord’s plan for us.

Train yourself for devotion; for, while physical training is of limited value, devotion is valuable in every respect, since it holds a promise of life both for the present and for the future. This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance. For this we toil and struggle, because we have set our hope on the living God, who is the savior of all, especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things. –1 Timothy 4:7-11

So, like those athletes — those dark horses, who find themselves down at halftime to the best team in the league — we draw on four components of our Christian faith to “run the race so as to win” so that we might win our “imperishable crown” :

HEART

We could also call this passion or desire. Think of those athletes when they say they give “110%” to their sport, to their team, etc. Let us think of HEART as that ability to give of yourself for your Teammates, for your Coach — in good times, in bad; in everyday practice, in a clutch championship game; always. I often see athletes use the Twitter hashtag #NoDaysOff.

Our Faith, our life of training for devotion, must be the same way. These athlete have such commitment and passion for their sport, their team, their way of life. Why can’t we do the same? We must have HEART — passion in our Faith, desire to live for Christ — to “win” in our lives of Faith.

SKILL

No basketball team is going to win in any game, let alone against the overall No. 1 seed, unless the players know the fundamentals. Many coaches describe this as “Basketball IQ.” Sure, sometimes a victory comes down to talent and talent disparity between one team and its opponent; but, as any basketball fan knows, talent doesn’t count for much if the talented players don’t have a high Basketball IQ — if they make bad passes, if they commit stupid fools, if they travel or carry the ball.

In our faith lives, we have something similar: we have four gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, and Knowledge.You can be a good Christian — you can have all the passion to be like Christ in the world — but how can you be like Him if you don’t know Him? If you’re not open to the Holy Spirit? If you have no fundamental knowledge of the Faith — of sin, of right and wrong?

Just as an athlete has to know his sport — know its rules, its strategies, its speed, its techniques, its competition — so, too, do we have to know our Faith. But, beyond that, we have to live it out. We cannot simply draw up the plays, but we must execute them as well. As St. Paul says to the Corinthians, No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified. (1Cor 9:27)

FOCUS

I didn’t know what better word to sum up this idea. I see those athletes who, in a critical game, do something wrong — they do something really stupid: commit a bad foul, turn over the ball, drop the baton, miss a block, etc.

And we sports fans scream and holler at our televisions “What the heck was that? How could you be so stupid?” But, then later, and sometimes not even one minute later, that same player does something awesome — intercepts the ball, breaks a record, or makes a huge shot. And you wonder “How can he be so bad one minute, and so good the next?” Because of focus — of that ability to “shake off” the bad and focus on the good. We Christians must do the same.

Sometimes we mess up. We sin; we fall away from God; we stumble in our lives of prayer and/or ministry. We do something stupid. But, we cannot be discouraged. Because, like that player, if we only focus on the bad, we cannot move forward and do the good. We will be stuck in an endless mental loop of “What if?” We will be focused on the past, instead of on the present and the future.

Yes, we need to correct our mistakes, but we also need to forgive ourselves (and our Teammates) when we mess up, when we do something stupid. We must have that persevering mercy for ourselves and others — we must have that resolution to forgive our mistakes, to sin no more, and to continue on our journey of Faith.

To be good Christians — to be like Christ– we must correct our faults, and focus on our ongoing mission of sharing Christ’s Gospel with others through our prayer and our example.

Think of it this way: at the end of a game, do people remember that you had 29 points, or that you committed four fouls?

SPIRIT

Lastly, a true underdog has to have spirit. Again, I don’t know how else to describe this idea of a ‘spirited’ competitor in one word. But, I recognize those dark horse athletes who look their much bigger, more talented, better coached opponents in the eyes and (through their body language) tell them: “I am not afraid of you.”

That indomitable spirit, that courage, to never back down and to never give up. That spunk, that grit, that determination to keep fighting — and to keep fighting with everything you’ve got until the clock expires. To fight nobly; to compete with dignity.

Win with humility, and lose with dignity, as my bishop once told my high school’s football team.

And, so we as Christians must do the same.

We should not be afraid to go toe-to-toe with the world, the flesh, and the devil. Because, weak though we are, we have the Grace of the Father, the Strength of the Son, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit to fuel us for our daily bouts against our three challenging opponents.

But, we cannot back down. We must have courage, fortitude, to keep running the race with faith in God and in His Love and Faith in us. We Christians must recognize that Christ’s grace is sufficient enough for us — He will get us through any fight, so long as we have faith in Him.

Remember St. Paul and his struggles, as he describes them in 2 Corinthians:

Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong. –2Cor 12:7-10

IN CONCLUSION

“…the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize… They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.”

So, brothers and sisters, we must allow the Spirit of God — the Spirit of Courageous ‘Spunk,’ shall we say — to dwell within us.

These four things — Heart, Skill, Focus, and Spirit — are the four qualities, the four ‘virtues’ that any true underdog must have to succeed in his endeavors, no matter how insurmountable they may seem.

Whether in sports or our lives of Faith, we underdogs must hold fast to these four things to win — we must hold fast to these gifts that God has given us. We must strengthen our passion for Him (Heart); we must learn about Him (Skill); we must learn to forgive like Him (Focus); and we must have the courage to face our enemies head-on (Spirit).

For, while our enemies might scoff and underestimate us and our Gifts — Our Faith in God — we should not. Because we are the underdogs, and God willing, we will be victorious in our struggles. We will “run so as to win.”

After all, what better underdog story is there than the seemingly ordinary Man Who died… only to conquer Sin and Death, and rise Victorious from the grave?

Amen. Alleluia, Alleluia!

Meditation on the Centurion for Good Friday

Author’s Note: This meditation was written on Good Friday, March 21, 2008.

A Meditation on the Centurion: For Good Friday

I had heard many thing about the man Jesus of Nazareth — I had heard stories of his miracles, how he healed the lame, cured the blind, cast out demons, and even raised the dead! I thought nothing of it — I know it was people making falsehoods to entertain themselves.

But today, I met Him! I met Jesus of Nazareth!

I helped crucify Him…

The day began like any other. We were brought three criminals to execute on Golgotha — one of them was Jesus.

I saw Him from a distance. He looking like a walking, often stumbling, wound. He wore a cap of thorns on His head, and I saw the scourge marks on His body. He was completely covered in blood. I wondered how He had strength to move — for I knew it must have been extremely painful to make any kind of motion. They had forced a man to help carry His cross, because He was too weak to do it all by Himself, and they did not want Him to die on the way.

They brought Him before me. I didn’t even think. I just did what I had always done.

First, I stripped Him of His robes. He did not cry out, but he winced from the pain. All the wounds on His back had been reopened, and He began to bleed profusely.

Most prisoners are very reluctant to be executed. Sometimes, I literally have had to thrown them down upon their cross.

But He — ever so humbly, ever so patiently — slowly laid Himself down upon the hard wood.

Then, I knew I would have to nail Him. I was surprised at His countenance — it was filled with blood and sweat. I could tell He was in complete agony, but there was something more to it. There was a loving gaze in His eyes, beneath the blood.

I wondered at what His crime was — what was it they had convicted Him of… that He deserved to die in this manner.

But then, caught in my reverie, I heard the people and my fellow soldiers yelling at me, “Nail Him! Crucify Him!”

I head the other prisoners being nailed to their crosses — they cried out in pain, but the people simply laughed at their suffering.

So, with the nail and hammer in hand, I stretched out His right arm upon the beam. I looked at Him —

Our eyes met.

I cannot describe what I felt. I knew in that instant that there was something different about this man — something… extraordinary.

He looked at me, and seeing the nails in my hand, He nodded His head and closed His eyes.

My heart was racing — my hands were now shaking so badly that I could hardly hold the nail on His wrist.

I couldn’t stop — I had to do it. The voices of the crowd had drowned away in my mind — and I could only think of Him.

I raised my arm and hoped that I would hit the nail. I closed my eyes — I didn’t want to look.

Bang!

I opened my eyes — the hammer had hit — the nail had pierced. His wrist was now covered in blood.

I repeated my movements — I hit the nail again and again. Each time it drove deeper into His flesh — but He did not cry out.

He only winced with pain.

After the nail had pierced completely, I ordered my fellow soldiers to nail His other hand and feet.

I did not desire to nail Him again.

Again, He was nailed, and I could only watch as the other soldiers mocked Him and spat on Him as He was being nailed to the cross. The spectators did not help either — they shouted at Jesus and insulted Him as He laid there motionlessly.

Then, a sign came. A fellow soldier brought it forward. It said: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

“What is that?” I asked the other soldier.

He merely snickered and replied, “His title…”

The soldier took the sign to the head of the cross.

“Hail, King of the Jews,” he laughed, as he nailed it above the criminal’s head. Then, he spat in Jesus’ face.

I almost could not look — it was too gruesome.

Then, they lifted Him up. I helped to put the cross in its correct post — I did not want it falling over. I could not bear that!

So, He hung there —- Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.

Many of the Jewish priests and religious leaders came and mocked Him. They told Him to come down from the cross if He truly was the Son of God.

Then, I heard Him cry out —

“Father, Forgive Them, For They Know Not What They Do.”

It was too much — I tried to hold back the tears.

I did not know who this man was — but I knew He was innocent of any crime.

He hung there for three hours — form midday until three in the afternoon. Some of the other soldiers cast lots for His clothes, but I did not want to.

Finally, He said —

“I Thirst.”

I immediately took a sponge, soaked it in some of my wine, put it on a reed, and pressed it to His lips.

I wanted to do anything to help ease the pain — even if only for a moment.

Some of the people nearby said He was calling for Elijah, one of the Jewish prophets. I took no notice. I only wanted to help Him.

Finally, His hour came! I marveled at how He had managed to live so long, considering all of the blood He had lost and the suffering He had endured.

He lifted His head — raised His eyes to Heaven and said —

“It Is Finished! Father, Into Your Hands, I Commend My Spirit.”

Then, he bowed His head and died.

At that moment, I knew — I understood who He was.

“Truly,” I said aloud, “this man was the Son of God!”

Some of my companions were going to rebuke me, but there was too much chaos.

Apparently, the curtain of the Jewish temple had split in two, and the Jewish leaders were in frenzy.

We were ordered to break the prisoners’ legs so they could die quickly.

One of the soldiers was going to break Jesus’ legs, but I told him, “No! He is already dead!”

The soldier looked at me in disbelief, so I took up my spear and pierced Jesus’ side.

Immediately, water and blood came flowing out.

And everyone was now convinced that Jesus had already died.

Most of the people left — some went away wailing and beating their breasts.

But — a small group came forward. There were several women and three men. One of the women said to me, gently touching my hand —

“Will you please,” she whispered with tears in her eyes, “help us take my Son down?”

She lifted her eyes to Jesus, and I knew she was His Mother.

I wanted to comfort her in her sorrow — to console her — but I could only agree to help. To do whatever I could for her and for Him.

Two of the men helped me take His body down, while the third supported His Mother. I gently took out the nails that had pierced His hands and feet, and the men placed Jesus’ body in His Mother’s arms.

Whatever heart I had left broke at that moment.

I saw the Mother gently hold and rock the bruised and beaten body of her Son — just as a young mother would hold and rock her newborn baby. She held Him tightly and her tears fell upon His blood-covered face.

Then, with all of the motherly tenderness in the world, she kissed His forehead and pressed Him close to her heart.

Her soft fingers wrapped around His head, and she slowly lifted the cap of thorns out of His wounded skull.

As she placed it beside her, I saw that some of the thorns had pierced her gentle fingers, and her hands were now covered with blood.

The men finally convinced her to let them bury Him. She simply nodded her head at their request, and relinquished her Son’s body to their devoted arms.

I watched quietly as they carried Him off to a nearby tomb. I wished to follow them — or, at least, return to the city.

But, I could not.

His Sacrifice has left me too humble to move.

Musing on God the Holy Spirit

Author’s Note: This is the third of a three-part series of musings on Each Person of the Holy Trinity. This musing is on God The Holy Spirit. Read the Musing on God The Father and the Musing on God The Son.

Musing on God The Holy Spirit

Last night I prayed – ironically enough – to the Holy Spirit for some guidance on what to muse on in today’s post.

I flipped through the Bible, especially the Epistles of St. Paul, because – let’s face it – when (my man!) St. Paul wasn’t writing about Jesus Christ, he was writing about the Holy Spirit. Seriously.

Then, I’d like to think I got my inspiration, because I began to wonder at the term “Spirit” (as opposed to “Ghost”) and what it means for us when we call someone, or something, “spirited.”

A spirited person, according to the dictionary, is one who is courageous, energetic, animated and lively. We call them “spirited” because they have an unusual – or extraordinary – amount of “spirit.” They’re passionate and zealous – they have an unusual sense of freedom and preciousness of life.

There is one example of such a “spirited” person that immediately came to mind: St. Peter, giving the post-Pentecost evangelization speech. Full of the Holy Spirit, he stands on the rooftops and speaks to the masses, full of life – no longer doubting, afraid, or indifferent. He is passionate, courageous, and animated in his manner and his speech. And the people notice.

He is a spirited individual, in this instance, because he is filled with the Holy Spirit.

An individual is called “spirited” because they are lively – they are full of “life. And, as we hear in the Scriptures, it is the Holy Spirit who gives us this life. (See Romans 8)

…for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. –2 Cor 3:6

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. –John 6:63

For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace… But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead, will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. –Rom 8:6, 11

Yes, the Spirit gives life, and gives it in abundance. But, I say we should ask the question: “How? How does the Spirit give us life?” (Again, I would argue) He gives life by:

  • Creating and sustaining us
  • Moving us
  • Uniting us

After all, there’s a reason we call the Holy Spirit the “Author of Life.”

CREATING AND SUSTAINING US

Tradition tells us the Holy Spirit, with the Other Two Persons, took part in creation of the Universe and Humanity.

Let Us make man in Our Image, after Our Likeness… –Genesis 1:26

And, some theologians have interpreted the “mighty wind that swept over the waters” in Genesis 1:2 as the Holy Spirit and His First Movements of Creation.

But, as we tend to attribute Creation to The Father, let us focus more on Spirit as the Sustainer of Life.

In the Scriptures and the liturgies, the Holy Spirit is connected with or manifested as things in nature that sustain life – fire, wind/breath, water, and clouds. We realize how important any of these things are in the natural cycle: clouds bring shade and rain; water quenches our thirst; fire keeps us warm in the cold; and wind is what we inhale and exhale daily.

But, whereas these things sustain physical life, the Spirit sustains our spiritual life – our relationship with The Triune God.

However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him… So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh- for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. –Romans 8:9, 12-14

When we sin mortally, we no longer have the Spirit of God dwelling within us. Thus, we must beg for God to restore the Spirit to us through our repentance and by confessing our sins.

But when the Spirit dwells in us, which we pray it always does, we recognize ourselves as Temples of the Holy Spirit. We must ensure our spiritual and physical well-being, because the Spirit of God is in us – and that is a precious gift. If we do not take care of ourselves (again, spiritually or physically) we may lose that gift.

Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are… Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. — 1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19-20

We must continue to see the Spirit of God dwelling in us – sustaining us and all our brothers and sisters. Let us take care to treat ourselves and others with dignity, and to act as Temples of the Holy Spirit; for we “have been bought [for] a price,” so let us rightfully glorify the Lord as such. Let us glorify the Spirit, Who is within us.

MOVING US

In a very over-simplified analogy, if we are like a car or some other vehicle, the Holy Spirit is not only our fuel tank – which sustains our travel – but it also our engine. It is what enables us to move. While we might decide which direction we want to take, it is the Spirit dwelling within us that enables us to move. But, when we take our hands off the wheel, and let Him take over, He will guide us where we need to go.

My pastor put it in a different way: when you bike against the wind, it’s strenuous, difficult, and exhausting. When you bike with the wind, it’s a breeze (ha, pun intended). You feel relieved, because the wind is doing half of the work for you. So it is with the Holy Spirit. You will still have trials – there will be hills to bike up – but with the Wind at your back, it’s always so much easier than going against It.

(Side note: That’s why I’m so thankful to live in a windy state. The Holy Spirit is constantly working around us and with us!)

The Chair of St. Peter in the Vatican, above which is a large stain-glass window of the Descent of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is not only the fire that keeps us warm, but the furnace – the boiler – that fills our souls with a Divine Heat and propels us closer to God by doing His Will. I like to think of the Spirit as a driving wind – it drives, leads, guides, pushes, propels, fills, accelerates, and moves simultaneously.

For any number of Biblical examples of being led or guided by the Spirit, you need only to look at the prophets, Kings David and Solomon, the Apostles (post-Pentecost), and Jesus Christ Himself.

Truly, the Spirit is not only within us, He is around us. He tugs at our hearts from inside our beings – He leads us onward from His Inner Presence.

In Him we live and move and have our being. –Acts 17:28

Read more on Movements of the Spirit from this blog.

UNITING US

A closer look at the stained glass above the Chair of St. Peter.

And, because the Holy Spirit is within us, His Presence enables a grand union: between God (The Father and The Son) and His children.

Only think: the Spirit that is within you is the same Spirit that proceeds from God The Father and God The Son – from Their Eternal Love for One Another.

For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. –Mt 10:20

Yet, even as the Spirit unites us to the First and Second Persons of the Trinity, the Spirit also unites us to all our brothers and sisters – whether on Earth or in Heaven. For, as (my man) St. Paul writes:

To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good… But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills. For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. –1 Cor 12:7,11-13

As discussed earlier, we must recognize the Spirit of God in others and treat them as Temples of the Holy Spirit. Also, we must recognize that our brothers and sisters are our spiritual family because the same Spirit that dwells in them dwells in us also.

As science recognizes that all humans are connected and related because we descend from common ancestors, we Christians know that we are spiritually related because we have The Same Father, The Same Savior, and The Same Sanctifier all dwelling in us.

Generally, we treat our family differently than other people. We look out for them; we help them, even if we are ashamed of them; we sometimes think “If they weren’t my family, I don’t know if I would do this for them.” Hopefully, we don’t, but sometimes that is the case. We take special care of our family members because they’re family – and sometimes for no other reason.

Whether they’ve abused our generosity, disowned us, or hurt us (and themselves) repeatedly, we still care for them, even if we don’t love them.

But, we should do this for all people – because we are One Family in Christ. We are the Church. We are all sanctified by the One Holy Spirit of God.

Shouldn’t we take care to make sure that those in whom the Spirit dwells are loved and cared for? Shouldn’t we go out of our way to help them and forgive them, despite all they’ve done?

We shouldn’t help someone only because they’re family. We should help, love, and guide all people because God asks us to be One Body – One Spirit in Christ.

But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary… But God has so composed the body… so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. –1 Cor 12:20-26

So, let us pray to God The Holy Spirit, that He may continue to sustain, move, and unite us in Christ and His Church. Amen. +CHS

Musing on God the Son

Author’s Note: This is the second of a three-part series of musings on Each Person of the Holy Trinity. This musing is on God The Son. Read the Musing on God The Father and the Musing on God The Holy Spirit.

Once again, how to begin?

Knowing, loving, and serving God The Son is the ongoing journey of Christianity: to (attempt to) understand Christ’s relationship with us as His Church, and to love and serve Him as members of His Body – as His adopted brothers and sisters.

But, let us muse instead on the relationship between The Father and The Son, for how can we ponder The First Person without thinking of The Second? The Two Persons are infinitely connected by Their Eternal Love, which begets the Third Person of the Trinity – the Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ identity as The “Son” (as He as revealed to us, and inasmuch as we understand the word in our modern culture) is inherently derived from His Relationship to The “Father” (again, inasmuch as we understand the word):

Love creates our identity (who we are) and binds us inseparably with our beloved, to the point that we would not exist without the beloved. A husband without a wife does not exist. A wife without a husband is a nonentity. Thus a husband and a wife could look in each other’s eyes and say “Thank you for creating me” without fear of idiocy. Husbands are created by wives. Love makes our identity dependent on another.

All identity is created by love. The identities of “husband” and “wife” are merely good examples of this fact. The truth is actually all-encompassing. Consider how the identity of everyone in a family is created by their loving relation to one another:

You cannot be a father or a mother without a child. Thus, in a typical paradox of love, the child creates his mother, for prior to the existence of the child the “mother” did not exist. The child creates his father in the same way, and none would deny that it is the mother and father who create the child in the physical act of love. — “Love Creates Us”

Again, the terms “Father” and “Son” have been revealed to us, because through their use, we can begin to understand the Mystery of the Trinity, though we will never be able to comprehend it fully (in this life).

So, why would God use the terms “Father” and “Son” to describe the relationship between The First and The Second Persons of the Trinity?

Because, the relationship between a father and a son, either Divine or human, I would argue, is based on three points:

  • Inheritance
  • Reflection
  • Love

There obviously are other aspects, but these three all tie in with each other. And, again, this is a crude way to define human and Divine relationships, but we must work with what we can.

INHERITANCE

Because a son inherits from his father. Historically, the firstborn son inherits his father’s property, title, and so on. More modernly, he might inherit his father’s business, debts, etc. Whatever belongs to a father will belong to his son. Across the ages, though, the eldest son inherits the father’s responsibilities at his death. He must become the head of the household; he must look after his widowed mother and fatherless siblings; he must look after whatever his father has left him (property, debts, instructions in his will).

Likewise, Jesus inherits many duties from His Father: He is sent by the Father, as He tells us many times in the Scriptures.

I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father [Satan]… If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. — John 8:38, 42

He also ‘inherits’ His Divine Authority from The Father: “He (The Father) gave Him (Jesus) authority to execute judgment, because [Jesus] is the Son of Man” (John 5:27); and “But even if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone in it, but I and the Father who sent Me.” (John 8:16)

Thus, because The Son inherits His Authority from The Father, He is able to act as a proxy for The Father.

Recall the Parable of the Wicked Stewards: When the harvest time approached, [the landowner] sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. The vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. He sent another group of slaves; and they did the same. But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. –Matthew 21:33-40

REFLECTION

Consider the idea of the proxy – someone whom you send on your behalf to complete a task which you cannot. In an essence, this person is able to speak and act for you – with your equal authority. He (or she) is allowed to act as you, seemingly, – as a ‘second you,’ as it were.

Jesus – God The Son Incarnate – is able to act as The Father’s “proxy” not only because He is Equally God, as The Father is; but, because He is a reflection of the Father – His Second Self, as it were.

Today, we might say that The Son is the “spitting image” of His Father.

Jesus does not simply do things for His Father – He does things like His Father.

A few years ago, my theology teacher used me and my dad as an analogy of this Divine Resemblance. My dad and I have similar mannerisms, similar personalities, similar senses of humor. So, when my theology teacher met my dad at a parent-teacher conference, she could definitely see the resemblance between us. Using this as an example to the class, she said she could see my father in me, and me in my father; and that by knowing one, she knew the other.

So it is with The Son and The Father (although on a Divine and humanly incomprehensible level):

If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? —John 14:7-10

LOVE

As discussed above, our identities as “parent” and “child” come from love. Similarly, Jesus’ relationship with His Father is also characterized by Love – such a Love that we can only imitate in our limited human capacities, for it is a Love we cannot comprehend, though we see it working in our lives.

This Love between The Father and The Son is so powerful and immense, The Holy Spirit proceeds from it.

It is out of Love for His Father and for us that Jesus becomes man, dies for our sins, and rises again. It is out of Love for His Father and for us that Jesus continues to reveal Himself and make Himself present to us again each day – through prayer, through the liturgy, and so on.

But, here is the point we must take away: we are also called to share in this Love – to imitate it and reciprocate it as best as we can.

For Jesus tells His Apostles and us: “Just as the Father has loved Me, so I have loved you; abide in My love.” (John 15:9)

But, then only three verses later, He says: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

So, Jesus is inviting us – asking us – challenging us to Love one other as The Father Loves Him, and as He Loves The Father.

This is an impossible challenge for us while we are in this life, but we must ask for God’s Grace to attempt, in every human way that we can, to share in this Mysterious, Divine Love by loving God and neighbor:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. –Luke 10:27

Musing on 1 Cor 2:2

“NON ENIM IUDICAVI SCIRE ME ALIQUID INTER VOS NISI ISEUM CHRISTUM ET HUNC CRUCIFIXUM.” – PAULUS

“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you, except Jesus Christ and Him Crucified.”  –St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 2:2

A Musing on Remembering Christ Crucified

A few months ago, I was at a conference where the speaker at breakfast was a former Pentagon official. He began his speech by telling us what his typical days at the Pentagon were like, one day in particular. He said he had drank several Cokes that morning, and had told his coworkers he needed to step out for a moment, and walked down the hallway to the restrooms.

“Had I known in that moment, that was the last time I would’ve spoken to my coworkers, I would’ve said something different,” he told us.

He exited the restrooms and was beginning to walk back toward his office, which laid on the outer-most ring of the Pentagon (with a window looking out toward Virginia) when the plane hit the building.

He went on to describe how he survived those next few seconds, minutes, hours – the third degree burns on his body, the weakness in his muscles and lungs, the feeling of being on the edge of life, and the encouragement and comfort he felt when the hospital chaplain read the Psalms to him.

He had survived the terrorist attack at the Pentagon on September 11. His trip to the restroom, and various other circumstances, ultimately had saved his life, but the coworkers who had remained in the office where he’d worked had all died in the attack.

His memory of his coworkers and that day live on in his memory and on his body, as his burns are still visible, and still painful. He said every day, with every speech he gave, he remembered 9/11 and his coworkers and the others who died. He could never forget. It was thanks to God that he was alive, he told us, and he gave thanks for that every day.

Today, he shares his story with others, and continues to spread Christ’s message through his ministry. But, he understands that he lives thanks to Another.

St. Paul understood this, too. After persecuting the early Christians, and seeing a vision of Christ himself on his way to Damascus, he understood that he was living on “borrowed time.”

Just as the 9/11 Pentagon survivor saw that he was alive (physically) thanks to Christ and His Mercy, St. Paul recognized that he was alive (spiritually) thanks to Christ and His Cross.

We, as sinners, recognize the saving merits of Christ’s passion, as without them, we would have a chance to be with Him in Heaven when we die.

O My Dying Jesus, I kiss devoutly the Cross on which Thou didst die for love of me. I have merited by my sins to die a miserable death; but Thy death is my hope. Ah, by the merits of Thy death, give me the grace to die, embracing Thy Feet, and burning with love for Thee. (The 12th Station, St. Alphonsus Ligouri’s Stations of the Cross)

St. Paul mentions the saving graces of Christ’s Cross throughout his letters, but in 1 Corinthians, he marks that his ministry is centered on the remembrance of that Sacrifice which won our freedom from death.

“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you, except Jesus Christ and Him Crucified.”

For the 9/11 survivor – in every speech he gave, every move of his burned body, every prayer he uttered – he remembers that he was saved from death that day, and remembers and prays for those who died.

St. Paul – in every teaching, every sermon, every shared meal and prayer – remembered the important work he had been commissioned through his ministry. He remembered Christ’s Mercy and Love – which He demonstrated through His Passion, Death, and Resurrection.

In those moments of his ministry, St. Paul walked a spiritual pilgrimage through Jerusalem to Calvary with Christ. The Crucified Lord was beside St. Paul, helping him draw others to the foot of the Cross, to remember the Sacrifice that took place there.

And, so do we, too. We remember. We commemorate the Crucified Lord with every Mass and, during Lent most especially, we make that spiritual pilgrimage through Jerusalem to Calvary by praying the Stations of the Cross.

So, let us continue to do so. May the Crucified Lord be in our thoughts, words, and actions during every moment of our day – especially those moments when we are actively ministering to others, as St. Paul did. Let us walk with Him to Calvary and commemorate His Sacrifice for us.

The Prayer to Jesus Christ Crucified

My good and dear Jesus, I kneel before you, asking you most earnestly to engrave upon my heart a deep and lively faith, hope, and charity, with true repentance for my sins, and a firm resolve to make amends. As I reflect upon your five wounds, and dwell upon them with deep compassion and grief, I recall, good Jesus, the words the prophet David spoke long ago concerning yourself: “They have pierced my hands and my feet; they have counted all my bones!”

Lord, we also offer a special prayer for those who died on September 11, 2001. May their souls, and all the souls of the faithfully departed, through the Mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen. +CHS

Musing on Mercy & Justice

les-miserables-posters-jackman-crowe

The Mercy of Valjean and the Justice of Javert

Author’s Note: This musing is based on my knowledge and understanding of the musical “Les Miserables” and its movie adaptation that was released in theaters last December. I fully admit I have never read the book “Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo, and I realize there are differences in characters, plot, etc. between the musical and its source material. Still, I hope you enjoy it!

Meditation on Mercy & Justice from “Les Miserables”

In 19th century France, the starving teenager Jean Valjean, in desperation, steals a loaf of bread to feed himself and his family members. For his crime, and various escape attempts, he is imprisoned for 19 years. Upon his release, he finds little welcome in the world outside prison. He is treated as an outcast, because of his brand as an ex-convict. He struggles to find food and shelter, as few are willing to help him. As he sleeps in a graveyard, a bishop finds him and offers him food and shelter for the night.

Later that night, Valjean takes advantage of the bishop’s kindness by stealing his silver. The police arrest Valjean and return him to the bishop, as Valjean claims that the bishop gave him the silver as a present. The bishop confirms Valjean’s story, and by doing so, saves him from returning to prison:

“And remember this, my brother,
See in this some high plan.
You must use this precious silver
To become an honest man.
By the witness of the martyrs,
By the passion and the blood,
God has raised you out of darkness” (Valjean Arrested / Valjean Forgiven)

Because of this act of mercy, Valjean realizes the sinfulness of his life as a criminal and commits himself to God. Valjean expected justice, but received mercy instead. He sees and experiences the bishop’s and, more importantly, God’s love for him. And thus, sees his unworthiness, and desires to change his ways by committing himself to God.

And, because of the bishop’s single act of mercy, Valjean, in turn, becomes an apostle of mercy – spreading Christ’s love and forgiveness throughout the rest of his life.

Because of Valjean’s commitment to mercy, he:

  • rescues a man who was trapped under a cart;
  • reveals himself as the ex-convict Jean Valjean, to save an innocent man (whom the police had identified as Valjean) from going to prison;
  • saves the prostitute Fantine from jail and ensures she receives medical care;
  • saves Fantine’s daughter Cosette from her unloving caretakers and adopts her as his own daughter, continuing to provide for her;
  • joins the revolutionaries, trying to help as many of them as he can, and ultimately saves Cosette’s boyfriend, Marius;
  • spares the life and career of his ruthless pursuer, the policeman Javert; and
  • continually gives money to the poor and various charities, etc. throughout the course of the story.

Conversely, the police inspector Javert, who pursues Valjean after he broke parole, has committed himself to justice. He simply cannot allow himself to do anything except what is right by the law. He tells Valjean:

“Men like me can never change
Men like you can never change…
My duty’s to the law…
Dare you talk to me of crime
And the price you had to pay
Every man is born in sin
Every man must choose his way” (The Confrontation)

He believes that men are set in there ways: they are either good or bad, and their choices prove their character. Because Javert has dedicated himself to following the law and punishing those who do not, he believes he is a good man. Those whom he pursues, like Valjean, because they broke the law, are bad.

And neither can change. Good men cannot become bad; and bad men cannot become good.

Yet – unlike Valjean, the apostle of mercy – Javert is an administer of justice. No long-term goodness comes from his actions; he does not directly impact anyone’s lives for the better. He arrests and imprisons those who commit crimes; he “cleans the garbage off the street” (Look Down). He has no sympathy for the poor, and only looks to please the rich.

Valjean spreads his virtue through God’s grace and love; Javert spreads his through his position and the force of the law.

The difference source of their virtues results in different lives, different impacts, and different fates.

Even so, Javert admits that “every man is born in sin,” but will not admit that he is guilty of any sin, seemingly, except for original sin. He is committed to goodness, perfection, and the law.

But, after Javert infiltrates a group of rebels and fails in his deception of them, Valjean spares his life and allows him to go free, allowing the rebels to believe he did kill Javert. Later, Javert catches Valjean as he carries the unconscious Marius home; Valjean pleads for Javert to let him take Marius to a hospital, and he will return and “all our debts are paid.”

Yet, as Valjean walks away with Marius on his back, Javert tells him to stop. Valjean continues to walk away, and Javert cannot bring himself to shoot Valjean.

Damned if I’ll live in the debt of a thief!
Damned if I’ll yield at the end of the chase.
I am the Law and the Law is not mocked
I’ll spit his pity right back in his face
There is nothing on earth that we share
It is either Valjean or Javert! (Javert’s Suicide)

Javert cannot reconcile himself to accept that has received mercy, and – though unwilling – has shown mercy in return. He cannot accept that he lives because of the goodness of a criminal; and, because of this, he jumps off a bridge into the river, ultimately killing himself.

He gave me my life. He gave me freedom.
I should have perished by his hand
It was his right...
Can this man be believed?
Shall his sins be forgiven?
Shall his crimes be reprieved? (Javert’s Suicide)

Here is the difference between the two, and the focal point:

As Javert could not accept, justice and mercy are not mutually exclusive. One can accept both, as justice is what we deserve from God, but mercy is what we receive. A man can change, but only through God’s mercy.

Through our sin, we fall; through God’s grace, we rise.

Justice and mercy are both virtues; neither is a weakness. And, because we have received mercy from God, we must show mercy to others (as Javert could not understand or accept). Justice, or giving someone his/her due, is also a righteous thing. In our society, we recognize that those who commit dangerous crimes should be kept apart from the public for safety.

But, as Javert did not understand, there must be a balance between the virtues. In some cases, we can and should show mercy; in others, we might not have that ability (such as a judge during a court case).

The hard part is knowing when to show justice, and when to show mercy.

But, when we pray, we cross our fingers right over left – mercy over justice. We pray for mercy; we appreciate when others are merciful to us; and we hope that our mercy toward others is not abused.

Yet, that is the risk with mercy. Like love, it is a virtue that many can take advantage of. Just so, we have taken advantage of God’s mercy toward us by continuing to sin; still, he continues to show us mercy, despite repeatedly injuring Him.

So, we must – to the best of our ability – show mercy to our brothers and sisters. And when they abuse our ‘pity’ and ‘leniency,’ we must show them mercy once again, in the hopes that they will realize our love for them and change their ways.

The rippling effects of mercy, seemingly, flow out much farther than those of justice. In Valjean’s case, through the bishop’s mercy toward him, many lives were saved and changed for the better. In Javert’s case, many criminals were imprisoned, and he advanced further in his career.

Thus, we should continue to cross our fingers right over left – mercy over justice. For “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy” (Matt 5:7)

For further reading about Les Miserables and Catholicism, check out this FOCUS blog post. Kudos to its author! Very well written, and much shorter than my stuff. 🙂

Essay on the Crucifix

Essay on the Significance of the Crucifix

Author’s Note: This column/essay was written in 2007.

One of the most distinguishing characteristics of any Catholic church usually hangs over the tabernacle – a crucifix, adorned with an image of the body of Jesus of Nazareth. Unlike other Christians, Catholics put a big emphasis on the crucifix, rather than simply on a cross. It seems awkward that, as Christians with such a devout respect for human life, we should put so much spiritual stress on an instrument of torture and suffering. However, the crucifix has a deeper message that is important for all men to realize.

The most important aspect of the crucifix is that it serves as a reminder that Christ’s sacrifice won our salvation. By dying for us on Calvary, Jesus built a bridge to Heaven with two boards and three nails. The Son of God became humanity’s bronze serpent (c.f. Num 21:4-9) and “died for us, that all of us, whether awake or asleep, together might live with him” (1 Thes 5: 9-10).

As the means of our salvation, the Cross of Christ is a source of joy and hope. St. Paul even goes so far as to say, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal 6:14). Also, Jesus’ selfless sacrifice redeemed Adam’s original sin – “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor 15:22). In addition, the crucifix is not a symbol of death but resurrection. The Letter to the Romans assures us, “If we have been united with him in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection” (Rom 6:5). Thus, the crucifix is not a simply a form of execution, but rather is a symbol of new life in Christ.

Similarly, the crucifix is a daily reminder of God’s infinite love for humanity (c.f. John 3:16). The Second Person of the Trinity took on our human nature to personify the Suffering Servant that Isaiah said would be pierced for our offenses and crushed for our iniquities (c.f. Isaiah 53:5). God loved us so much that He willingly accepted death, and through it, He “purchased for God men of every race and tongue” (Rev 5:9). Ultimately, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross calls us to love one another as God has loved us by laying down our life for our friends (c.f. John 15:12-13).

For us as Catholics, the crucifix is also important because it parallels the Eucharist. Just as the body of Christ is presented on the cross, so the Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary is re-presented in an un-bloody way at the Mass. The symbol of the crucifix, like the Eucharist, echoes what Jesus told His disciples at the Last Supper: “This is my body” (Mark 14:22). Additionally, the presence of Jesus’ body on the cross, especially at the Mass, reminds us of St. Paul’s words, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Cor 12:27).

Ultimately, the crucifix is more than just an instrument of torture – it was the means of salvation for all of humanity. As such, we as human beings should give it due respect. It was not simply the cross that saved us, but Jesus Christ’s self-sacrifice that made our redemption possible. In the end, the crucifix echoes the words of Christ for all eternity:

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt 16:24).