Archive for the ‘Salvation’ Category

How Many Will Be Saved?

August 19, 2016

In this Sunday’s gospel, someone asks Jesus from the crowd, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Jesus replies, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” (Luke 13:24) Instead of quoting some particular figure, like one million or ten billion souls, Jesus says, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate…” We are left to wonder: in the end, will the number saved be numerous or few?

All-Saints by Fra Angelico, 1400's.In the Book of Revelation, St. John witnesses a vast number of saints worshiping God in heaven. He beholds “a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.” (Revelation 7:9) Note that this ‘countless multitude’ is different and much larger than the “one hundred and forty-four thousand marked from every tribe of the Israelites” that St. John enumerates several verses before. Jesus came to save souls not only from the twelve tribes of Israel. As the Lord declares through the prophet in Sunday’s first reading, “I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory.” (Isaiah 66:18) Based on this, we can confidently say that a great number will be saved.

On the other hand, in our gospel’s parallel passage from St. Matthew, Jesus says, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14) The ‘few’ who enter the narrow gate to life sounds smaller than the ‘many’ who do not. Based on this, it would seem that the number saved will be comparatively small.

However, “few” and “many” are relative terms which depend upon the context. For example, more than 18,000 Olympic medals have been awarded in the modern Summer and Winter Games and that is indeed many. But how many Olympic medalists have you personally ever met? Probably, at most, only a few. In a more tragic example, around 130,000 Americans die annually in accidents and that is awfully many. But at the same time, roughly 99.96% of Americans do not perish in accidents each year, making the 0.04% who do a relative few. The word “many” sometimes refers to a majority of people, but not always.

Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross to redeem all mankind. Even if there were only one sinner on earth in all of human history, it seems that Jesus would have become man in order to offer himself for just him, or her, or you. Suppose that the number of human souls condemned on the last day turns out to be only a dozen. Knowing how much our Lord loves each and every person, will not those twelve feel like many in the heart of Jesus and those billions he saves seem too few? In any case, Jesus never reveals to us whether most human beings will be saved or lost. Either outcome is possible.

Why was Jesus not more clear about exactly how many people would be saved? Because he knew how such knowledge would be harmful for us. He knew that if we were told that most people would be saved in the end, it would lead us into dangerous presumption. If we were told that most people would be lost, he knew it would lead us into poisonous despair. Jesus “did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.” (John 2:25)

Instead of providing us with some number or percentage, Jesus gives us some much more valuable and beneficial advice: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate (for whether you are saved or not depends, in part, upon you.)” God “wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.” (1st Timothy 2:4) And to “as many as did accept him, [Jesus] gave power to become children of God.” (John 1:12) Let us strive to cooperate with God, let us accept the Lordship of Jesus Christ in our lives, so that we may be numbered among “the few” who are saved and enter into life.

The Braod and Narrow Way, 1883.

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A True Story of Pain, Transformation, & Hope

August 20, 2015

My hometown friend, pro-life speaker Katie Stelter, spoke at our parish’s youth group this evening. Her story was made into this powerful docudrama, Metamorphosis:

“Are You Saved?”

May 13, 2011

Catholics take a modest approach to the question, “Are you saved?” We hope to be saved in Jesus Christ, and we can have some measure of confidence that we will be, but Catholics consider it presumptuous to say that our salvation is assured. The Catholic attitude is like that expressed by Paul:

“It does not concern me in the least that I be judged by you or any human tribunal; I do not even pass judgment on myself; I am not conscious of anything against me, but I do not thereby stand acquitted; the one who judges me is the Lord. Therefore, do not make any judgment before the appointed time, until the Lord comes, for he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts, and then everyone will receive praise from God.” (1st Corinthians 4:3-5)

After seeing the light on the road to Damascus, if anyone could be certain of their salvation one would imagine it would be Paul. However, in 1st Corinthians 9, Paul doesn’t speak as if he had Heaven already in the bag. He says:

“All this (becoming all things for all people) I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it. … I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Cor 9:23, 27)

Immediately following this, Paul warns the Corinthians about the necessity of remaining faithful lest they be condemned like God’s people during the Exodus:

“They were all under the cloud (like the Holy Spirit) and all passed through the sea (like baptism) and all of them were baptized into Moses (who imaged Christ) in the cloud and in the sea. All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink (like the Eucharist)… Yet God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert. These things happened as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil things, as they did. … Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.” (1 Cor 10:1-6, 12)

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus warns us that if we are to be saved, we must not be among those who acknowledge Him as “Lord, Lord” but fail to do God’s will:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.'” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Those condemned seemed surprised that they are refused entry into Heaven. This is why Catholics do not rest in a self-assurance of Heaven (that judgment belongs to the Lord.) Our part is to ceaselessly strive to cooperate with the saving grace of Jesus Christ as we “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling” as God does His work in us. (Philippians 2:12)

Christ’s Boat — Tuesday, 6th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

February 15, 2011

Perhaps you’ve noticed at Mass that most of our prayers are directed to God the Father. That is why you see me looking up so often. I’m looking up to our Father in Heaven as I speak to Him. From time to time, while I’m looking up, I can’t help but notice the ceiling. Take a look for yourself. It often reminds me of a boat’s wooden hull. That is really quite appropriate, because the Church is a boat and it is an important boat to be in.

The old ark was a boat built by Noah in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through the waters of the flood. The new ark is our Church, the boat built by Christ, in which many are saved through the waters of baptism. Jesus’ boat has the cross for its mast and its sails are filled by the winds of the Holy Spirit. The Catholic Church, the bark of Peter, is the only vessel that navigates safely through the dangerous waters of this world.

As the Church Fathers frequently said, “Outside the Church there is no salvation.” But how should we understand this teaching? Restated positively it means this: that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church, which is his Body. Basing Herself on Scripture and Tradition, Bride of Christ teaches that she, the Church, is necessary for salvation. As the Second Vatican Council repeated in modern times, Jesus “himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.”

It must be noted that this teaching is not aimed at those who do not know Christ and his Church through no fault of their own. “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do His will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.”

“Although in ways known to Himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please Him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.” If we love all men, we will naturally desire to share the truth and blessings of the Church’s Gospel with everyone. Think of it this way: while it is theoretically possible for anyone to swim the English Channel, it is a far easier crossing if we take the ferry. In the same way, it is not a matter of indifference if people come into the Church or not. The journey is much safer and easier if you’re in the boat.

Remember not underestimate the importance of the Church. In the end, all those who will be saved will be saved through their relationship, known or unknown, with the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church Jesus founded.

And do not underestimate the importance of the Mass. All the graces that flow into souls pours forth from the Catholic Church through this sacrifice we celebrate. The Mass takes the sacrifice of Calvary from then and there, through space and time, to here and now, and applies its power and effects to our world today. (What we’re doing here is a very important thing.)

And finally, do not underestimate the importance of remaining in the Church. May we never forsake it. We have to stay in the boat with Jesus Christ, because without Him, none of us can walk on water.

Outstreched Hands — Monday, 23rd Week in Ordinary Time—Year II

September 6, 2010

The Lord said to Moses in Egypt, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky, that hail may fall upon the entire land…” Moses stretched out his hand, and the Lord rained down hail upon their enemies.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the land of Egypt, that locusts may swarm over it and eat up all the vegetation and whatever the hail has left.” Moses stretched out his hand, and the Lord sent locusts upon their enemies.

Finally, the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand, over the sea, that the water may flow back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and their charioteers.” Moses stretched out his hand, and the Lord hurled their enemies into the sea.

Centuries later, the Lord Jesus Christ said to a man in the synagogue, “Stretch out your hand.” The man stretched out his withered hand and it was healed, but the scribes and the Pharisees were enraged and plotted against Jesus. This time, it was not the Lord’s enemies who were to bear the terrible onslaught, but the Lord Jesus Himself. Jesus realized this, and freely accepted it, for the sake of you and me.

Saintly Vigilance — Thursday, 21st Week in Ordinary Time—Year II

August 26, 2010

The usual reading of today’s Gospel sees Jesus warning His followers to be ever watchful and prepared for the coming of the Lord. When we hear his image of a mud-brick house being broken into (or literally, dug through) we think of the devil as that thief, robbing us of the treasure in our souls. This interpretation is good and true. We should be vigilant in the keeping of our own immortal souls. But let me suggest that He teaches us another lesson as well, for Jesus words are autobiographical.

Jesus is that “master of the house.” He is the husband in His household, the Church. And Jesus did know the pivotal hour of night to “stay awake” and “keep watch” in the garden of Gethsemane. When His enemies arrived, Jesus did not allow His household be broken into and robbed. He said, “…If you are looking for me, let these men go.” He did not lose any of His own which the Father had given to Him.

“Who then is the faithful and prudent servant, whom the master has put in charge of his household to distribute to them their food at the proper time?” Jesus is that faithful and prudent servant, who feeds us our needed food. And seeing His suffering servant’s love, God the Father, who the master of all, has placed Jesus over all His property.

Yes, we should be vigilant in the keeping of our own immortal souls, but Jesus’ example suggests something more, to be have concern for the care of others’ souls as well. Who has God entrusted to you? Perhaps family members come first to mind, but think of your friends, co-workers, and others as well. Ask yourself in what ways you can be of good to their souls as well. God rewards those who love like this with a greater glory than just salvation alone.

Gift of Self — 5th Sunday in Easter—Year C

May 2, 2010

I would like to begin today by telling the beautiful story of a gorgeous young woman named Leah Darrow. Leah grew up in a strong Catholic family in Oklahoma, but when she was in high school she says that her Catholicism started to get “fuzzy.”  By the time she was in college Leah says she had become a “Catholic But.” She would say, “I’m Catholic, but I don’t agree with the Church’s teaching on cohabitation,” or, “I’m Catholic but I don’t see the problem with a couple who love each sleeping together before their marriage… I think the Church is behind the times.”

One evening at college she saw a reality TV show called “Americas’s Next Top Model,” with Tyra Banks and thought to herself, “I’m pretty cute, maybe I could be on that show.” She tried out and got on, but lost the competition, yet she was resolved not to let her TV elimination mean the end of her modeling career. And she was rather successful.  She still recalls her excitement at receiving her first paycheck with a comma (a comma!) in it.

Leah eventually found herself at a photo-shoot high above 5th Avenue in New York that would change her life forever. She came to pose for an international magazine which wanted to help her develop a more risque image. They brought out a number of itsy-bitzy outfits for her to wear.  She picked one out and shooting began. Now Leah says that every model knows not to look at the flash when the photos are being taken (and she insists that she didn’t look at the flash) yet while she was posing, a vision flashed in her mind, three images in the span of perhaps a second or two. This is what she saw:

She saw herself standing in a large white space in the immodest outfit she was wearing. In this scene she wasn’t in pain, but she had the sense that she had died. In the second image Leah was looking up, holding out her open hands at her waist, with the knowledge that she was in the presence of God. In the third and final image, another white flash hit her eyes and Leah saw herself holding her hands all the way up, offering to God all that she had, but in that moment she realized that she was offering Him nothing. For her entire life up to that point, with all of the blessings, talents, and gifts that God had given her, she had wasted them all on herself. If she had died at that moment, Leah knew that she would have nothing to offer Christ.

She came back to reality when the photographer said, “Leah, Leah, are you OK?” She shook her head and said, “No, I can’t.” He said, “Ok, we can go over here.” And she said, “No, I can’t .”  She ran back to the makeup counter, changed back into her own clothes, and ran down 5th Avenue, balling her eyes out, afraid that she might be losing her mind.

She called her dad and said, “Dad, if you don’t come get me I am going to lose my soul.” Dad drove across the country to New York, and when he arrived she wanted to leave town, but he said he couldn’t wait to see the sights; Central Park, the Empire State Building, the Carnegie Deli, “But first we go to confession.” She made a good, tearful confession spanning the ten commandments like she was ordering off the dollar menu: ‘Two number ones, four number twos…’ She came out like a new woman, healed.  Today she goes around telling her story and supporting an organization that promotes modesty in young lades’ dress.

Leah says she was living a very selfish life before her conversion. Perhaps she was confused, as many in our culture, about the nature of true love. In English we use the word love in a broad and ambiguous way.  We say, “I love that TV show. I love the Packers. I love my children. I love my wife. I love God. I love my dog.” But all of these loves are different in kind and degree. When we say, “I love pizza,” or, “I love wine,” it is not really pizza and wine that we love so much as  ourselves.  I love myself, and that’s why I consume pizza or wine. Yet, not all love is easy, warm, and fuzzy. True love is a sacrifice, and often feels that way.

As St. Paul tells us in the first reading, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” And Jesus says in the gospel, “I give you a new commandment: love one another.” Love how? “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” How did Jesus love us? Through a total gift of self.

Now we know from the Gospels that Jesus’ self-giving wasn’t always a ordeal. It was often joyful. Jesus enjoyed going to weddings, dinner parties, and spending time with His friends. But Jesus’ acts of love were the most powerful and manifest when they were hard, as when He was on the cross.

Self-gifting love powerfully good. Someone can live a life of great fame and wealth, but without self-gift their life will account for nothing.  This is the world of difference we see between George Bailey and Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life.

Difficult self-gifting love is also the most powerful witness. Some theologians have speculated that Jesus could have redeemed in other ways besides the cross. (Perhaps a single cry from the infant God-Man would have been enough if that had been the divine plan.) But Jesus dying for us on the cross communicates a powerful message about His love for us. Jesus said, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The way we love should be a witness, it should make us stand out.

Earth is a training ground. Our life here on Earth is training for Heaven. In Heaven, self-gifting is the rule and the norm. If that’s not the sort of thing we are interested in, there will be no place for us to be at home in heaven–and there is only one other place for us to go forever. In today’s second reading, Heaven is seen “coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” It is a revealing description, for spousal relationship prepares us for the life of Heaven.

We are all called to marriage and parenthood, either natural or spiritual. Some are called to live single lives, to enter religious life, or be ordained, in a fruitful spousal relationship with Christ and/or His Church. Others are called to natural marriage and to fruitfulness seen in their spousal love and its natural or spirital children.

Self-gift is the life of marriage. What if there is a priest who does not pray, who does not serve, but who seeks only his own comfort? Such a priest will eventually leave his priesthood. So it is with a natural marriage. If one spouse seeks just their own pleasure, their marriage will seem empty. But if both spouses seek to make a self-gift to the other, they will both be satisfied. Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all thing will be added on to you.” If we go for self-gratification, even that escapes us, but if we focus on self-gift, satisfaction comes as well. This is the reason for the Catholic tradition of a crucifix hanging over a husband and wife’s bed.

Jesus has given us a new commandment: love one another. As He has loved us we should love one another. Such love is powerful. It should make us stand out as disciples of Christ. And it prepares us for the life of Heaven, where self-gift is rule.

Leah Darrow Interview on the Drew Mariani Catholic radio show (4/30/10)

Leah Darrow Talk to a Boston Catholic Women’s Conference (2/27/10)

Sin Means Death — 5th Sunday in Lent—Year C

March 21, 2010

The scribes and the Pharisees were jealous of Jesus. When He came to the temple all the people gathered round Him to listen to Him teach. His words were compelling; the truths of God taught with gentle mercy. All the people were flocking to Jesus and this made the scribes and the Pharisees deeply jealous. We ourselves must beware of jealousy, for it can lead us to hate the good and condemn the innocent.

The scribes and the Pharisees bring before Jesus an adulterous woman and say to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”

This scene raises some questions. For instance, how did Jesus’ enemies know where to find an adulteress when they needed one? It’s unlikely this affair was discovered just that morning. It must have been known from days, weeks, months, or even years before.

This prompts another question: if this affair had occurred much earlier, then why had the Jews not executed judgment on this woman before now. There seems to be two reasons for this. First of all, under Roman rule, the Jews had no authority to impose the death penalty on anyone. We will see this come into play in the Passion, where the Jewish leaders must convince Pilate that Jesus is an enemy of the state if they are going to do away with this “blasphemer.”

But there is another reason, too. Even though the Law of Moses had commanded death for certain sins, based upon what I’ve read the actual use of capital punishment for sins was very, very rare among the people of Israel, even before the Romans came along. And, as we can see in this scene, not even the scribes and the Pharisees are really serious about applying the law in strict and absolute terms. If they had been, they would have brought along the adulterous man for judgment too. Where is he? He was just as guilty as her, if not more (considering their culture.)

So the penalty of death was very rarely employed for punishing sinners, but then why were these severe punishments in the Old Covenant at all?  It seems that the point of those rarely applied laws was to teach an important lesson, a lesson repeated over and over again in countless ways throughout the Old Testament, a lesson for the Jews and a lesson for us today:

Sin is serious stuff, because sin leads to death.
Sin brings us death in our bodies and our souls.
Sin means death.

The scribes and the Pharisees round up a known adulteress and set their trap against Jesus (which is the only thing this is really about for them.) Jesus’ enemies will try pitting justice against Jesus’ mercy. They’re thinking to themselves, “Surely he’s not going to tell us to stone her, that’s not his way. He says he ‘has come not to destroy, but to seek and to save what is lost.’ So when he tells us not to stone her, then we’ve got him. He’ll be telling us to disobey the Law of Moses, and then we’ll have a charge to bring against him.”

“So Jesus… what do you say?” Jesus says nothing. He stoops down and writes with His finger on the ground the only thing we have record of Him writing in the entire Gospels. What did Jesus write? We don’t know. The Greek verb used indicates that Jesus was writing letters or words, and not drawing disinterested doodles or drawing a line between the accused and her accusers.

A common explanation is that Jesus’ finger was writing on the ground the names of sins, sins which those in the crowd had committed, sins which the finger of God had written of long before, on the stones of the commandments atop Mount Sinai. Perhaps Jesus wrote the words: “Sacrilege, Rebellion, Adultery, Theft, Deception, Coveting.”

The accusers continue harassing Jesus, but He rises again, and gives his well-known reply. The crowd of evil doers slowly scatters, and Jesus is left there alone with the woman. The threatening mob is gone, and you think that the woman would flee, but the woman does not run away. She knows she has sinned. She knows that she cannot run away from her sins or from God. She stays there before Jesus.

Jesus rises again and says to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
She replies, “No one, sir.”
Jesus says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

Jesus condemns the sin, but not the sinner. Jesus is merciful, but He is not indifferent to the prospect of her continuing in sin, nor is he indifferent to us continuing in our old sins. He does not say, “Go, and live as you will: presume on my deliverance: for however great your sins may be, it doesn’t really matter one way or the other.”

Jesus does not say this, for sin means death, and Jesus died to free us from sin and death. So let us come before Jesus to receive His pardon, but then let us go forth seriously and, from now on, sin no more.

Encountering Jesus in Prayer — Baptism of the Lord—Year C

January 11, 2010

At Jesus’ baptism, the Father spoke to Him from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Today, our Father wants you to hear Him say to you, “You are my beloved child and with you I am well pleased.”

This may be hard for us to hear. Maybe we think to ourselves, “I’m certainly not Jesus.   How could God be well pleased with me? Our past and present sins of come to mind and we feel pained by guilt. In times of prayer and in our daily life we are burdened by the thought that we are not the person God wants us to be. We think, “If only I were better, if only I could be perfect, then I could live and pray like the saints and God would love me.” If we think like this, our thinking has it backwards.

It’s not that God decides to love the saints, or us, only after we have achieved holiness by our own incredible feats of strength, endurance and personal sacrifice. Here’s the secret to the saints: the knowledge of God’s love and pleasure toward them came to them first, the saints’ great holiness only followed. Saints are not self-made men and women. It is by accepting God’s embracing love for us that we’re empowered to live incredible lives of love. We live like saints if we live in the truth that God loves us already.

To bear this point out, I would like you to try a thought experiment.  (You may close your eyes if you think it will help.) Imagine if you were a completely perfect person, totally free from sin, and free from guilt and fear before Him. Now pray to the Father in heaven imagining you’re this perfect version of yourself.

If you’re like me, imagining this makes it much easier to approach Him, to love Him, to praise Him, to thank Him and to feel His love for you.

And now, still imagining you’re this perfect person, consider the day or the week ahead of you.  What kind of attitude do you feel towards your life?

Again, if you’re like me, you find it much easier to see the future not so much as a burden, but with a certain eager calm. You view your life as an great opportunity to serve and to love from out of the abundance of love that you feel.

It’s not just your imagination that makes you feel this way.  It is the Holy Spirit confirming a truth in you. And the truth is that when the Father looks at you He doesn’t see the unlovable wretch of your fears, He sees something much closer to this perfect person.  By our baptism into Christ, we are loved as God’s daughters and sons, but maybe we not living like the saints we so admire because we’re tripped up by fear and self-doubts, thinking that for us intimacy with God remains a thousand miles away. The Father wants you to be confident, peaceful, and joyful in His love for you. In this way of His, He will lead you out of sins which history proves that your own efforts alone cannot conquer. Compared to the self-imposed yoke of our own anxious strivings to holy, the way of accepting God’s love for us is easy and light, and it actually works. We will live like saints when we accept the truth that God loves us already.

The saints became saints by overflowing with God’s love for them, by receiving His acceptance, approval and pleasure. These are gifts which He always wanted to give them, and He would do the same for us, if only we would let Him. So when you pray the Our Father today do it as the Father’s beloved son or daughter. And whenever you pray, or in whatever you do, do it in the liberating and empowering truth: “You are my beloved child; with you I am well pleased.”

Tuesday, 3rd Week of Advent

December 16, 2009

Is it more important to say the right thing, or to do the right thing? As people like to say “Talk is cheap,” but “Actions speak louder than words.”

Some Christians say that if we merely confess Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior then we are assuredly saved. But Jesus Himself says that ‘not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

It is easy to feel righteous like the chief priests and the elders if we subscribe to the right and enlightened opinions, but we should be humbled by the fact that scandalous sinners have turned to Christ and today harvest more fruit in the vineyard than we do.

We have to do more than talk a good game, we have to show up on the court. For example, you say you oppose the killing of the unborn? Good! But what are you doing to end it? Do you pray for mothers and their babies? Do you march for life?

You say that hatred between peoples should end. Absolutely! But is there someone here that you cannot bring yourself to pray for, or say “hello” to in the hallway?

You say that we must care for people in need. Indeed, and Jesus says the same. But do you give of your time, talent and spending cash until it hurts a bit, like an actual sacrifice?

If I were to end this homily here and now with an exhortation that you should go out into your world and to work hard for good in that vineyard, you might decide to listen and your life might change a little bit for a little while. But I would not expect your life change a great deal, unless you also respond to another calling; the calling from our Father that you work in another vineyard first. This vineyard is within you, it is an inner-vineyard. You work it alongside Christ in prayer and what you harvest from it is intimacy with God.  Of this encounter, St. Augustine wrote:

“Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!  You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you.  In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created.  You were with me, but I was not with you.  Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.  You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.  You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you.  I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.  You touched me, and I burned for your peace.”

In the labor of prayer (and it does take a daily effort) you encounter God. He surprises you with gifts of consolation and peace, and you overflow with His love. This overflow is what makes the saints the saints. It is what makes their holy lives possible. The saints are not self-made men and women. Their cups runneth over within them, and it is from out of this abundance that they love the vineyard of the world and work in it for the better.

You say that you believe in God, and in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. So come to the work of prayer each day, or your devotion and service to God will remain forever little more than lip-service.

Thursday, 20th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

August 20, 2009

It can be important to remember that not every person and deed in the Bible is meant to be emulated as a model for us. Oftentimes the Scriptures are just recording the facts; the misdeeds and sinfulness of humans in need a savior. This is frequently true in the Old Testament where today we see Jephthah vowing to do an evil thing. There is a lot wrong with what Jephthah did.

First of all, human sacrifice was loved by the false gods surrounding and often infecting Israel, but it was absolutely forbidden under the Law of the Lord. Jephthah was disobeying that Law. He vowed to do something evil for the Lord, which is a self-contradiction. Finally, why did Jephthah promise to sacrifice the first person he saw—why did he not offer himself for the sacrifice?

Perhaps it was easy for Jephthah to vow a human sacrifice when he thought it would only cost him a stranger or one of his servants. But to offer his firstborn, or he himself, that was beyond his imagination. In this context, let us ponder and grapple with this strange mystery at the center of our faith:

Jesus Christ, God’s only and unique Son, allowed Himself to be sacrificed by sinners for His Father’s victory; for the salvation of God’s people.

What makes this divine sacrifice so different from Jephthah’s? Why is the one glorious and the other abominable?

Jephthah’s sacrifice was pointless and unnecessary, it was not needed to save God’s people. God fully planned to lead Israel to victory over the Ammonites even before, and without, Jephthah’s evil vow. On the other hand, the divine self-offering was necessary to save God’s people. (For His part, Jesus’ total self-offering, even to the point to death, was not a “necessary evil,” but a necessary good.) Theologians speculate and debate about whether our redemption could have come about under different circumstances, but Jesus spoke more than once during His life of the necessity that He go up to Jerusalem, to suffer and die, for our salvation.

Another importance difference is that Jephthah intentionally killed his innocent daughter (which is the definition of murder) by his own hand. The Father did not murder His Son, nor did the Son commit suicide. Jesus was killed by sinners.  The Father and Son permitted this, endured this, and made of this the perfect sacrifice for the salvation of the world.

We can imagine these words of the psalm as coming from Christ, but not as coming from Jephthah:

“Sacrifice or oblation you wished not,
but ears open to obedience you gave me.
Burnt offerings and sin-offerings you sought not;
then I said, ‘Behold, I come.’”

While Jephthah transgressed the Law by his sacrifice, Jesus uniquely and perfectly fulfilled it, at great personal cost to Himself. Christ is the model we should emmulate.

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year B

August 17, 2009

Their boat set out for a deserted place along the Sea of Galilee. But the word got out and lots of people “hastened” there, that is, they eagerly ran on foot, and arrived there faster than Jesus and the apostles could.

Why did those people run? They ran because they anticipated good things. They ran because they believed their desires would be fulfilled. In a word, they ran because Jesus and the Apostles had given them hope.

What can we hope for as Christians? Can we hope that if we stay close to Christ and to His Church that we’ll go to heaven someday?   Yes.  But is that all there is?  No. Our hope in Christ is not only for the time beginning once we’ve died.

Moments ago we heard Psalm 23, a psalm commonly heard at funerals. Though we tend to associate it with the holy dead, the blessings this psalm speaks of are for the living as well. For example, in the Gospel, Jesus leads the Apostles to a place beside restful waters to refresh their souls. He teaches the vast crowds that come many things, guiding them in right paths, and giving them courage. He has the people lay upon the green grass and, breaking bread, He spreads a meal before them.

We can confidently hope that Jesus will do these things for us.

Jesus wants to give you peace.  But what is peace? It means, in part, being liberated from worthless worry, having anxiety at all. As Christ inspired St. Paul to write the Philippians,

“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.  Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus wants to teach you wisdom, and give you the courage you need to live it. Jesus Christ, teaching through our Church and its Scriptures, proclaims to you truths that the world doesn’t know and isn’t going to teach you. Jesus not only tells you how to live well but empowers you to do it too through the Holy Spirit alive within you.

Jesus wants to give you the bread you need. In a few moments, you will be receiving the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ in His Eucharist. And in addition to that, Jesus doesn’t only provide for you on this one day at Church. He provides for us all week long in the world out there. We pray for “daily bread”, and this is not just food, but whatever it is we need. Christ is rich, and wants to give you good things. If we a frugal and generous, He will provide us with whatever we need.

There is a lot of hopelessness about our times and the way things are headed, but we Christians should live with hope about our lives and about the world we live in. Now bad things are going to happen, but with Christ, a more glorious resurrection always follows the cross. With this truth in mind, we should be a people of hope.

At the same time, we should be wary of unchristian hopes, which are too worldly. Consider the crowds that eagerly flocked to Jesus. They held hope in this world because of Him. Unfortunately, their hope was often because they thought Jesus might become some militant, revolutionary messiah, who would ascend to the throne of David by slaying the Roman armies that occupied Israel. They were invested in hopes that he would establish a kingdom for Israel that would provide them with cheap food and easy money for the rest of their lives. John’s Gospel says that after the miracle of the loaves they wanted to carry Jesus off and make him king. The people wanted change, but Jesus wasn’t interested in their kind of change. Jesus knew that changing this world would be ultimately fruitless, unless we ourselves could first somehow be changed.

Our world is broken, but man is more broken more by sin. Give two sisters identical dolls, or give two brothers identical trucks, and a short time later you might come back to find them fighting over the exact same toy. Even if you handed everyone on earth everything they wanted, there would not be peace. The problem isn’t out there somewhere, the problems always in here. Money can do good things, but wealth in not our salvation. Good laws can help people, but politics are not our salvation. Christ is our salvation.

Christ is real and active with power in the world out there, but He tends to work from the inside-out.  That is to say, the kind of change that He is interested in usually begins within souls, like ours. Christ first changes Christians, and then through us, He transforms the world.

He wants to give us trusting peace inside, so we can live with freedom. He wants to give us contentment inside, as the antidote for our over-consumption. But first and foremost of all, He wants to give you prayer inside.

If you only hear one thing I say, this is the final and most important thing: A Christian has to pray, every single day. Daily prayer is the means to our conversion. Daily prayer is the first step to transforming our world. Daily prayer is the key to realizing our hopes, for this life and the next.

Christ has good things He wants to give you. So run to Him, with eager hope.