Archive for the ‘by Msgr. Charles Pope’ Category

As a follow-up to my post about the “uplifting” Easter Sunday “talk” I heard that had nothing to do with the readings of the liturgy for that most glorious of all Catholic solemnities (Christ’s resurrection), I share with you the following uplifting comments from Msgr. Charles Pope.

“… Even now, though, the Lord, by the grace of His passion, death, and resurrection, has purchased for us a new life—a life transformed and increasingly free from sin, sorrow, regret, anger, greed, lust, and all forms of negativity. To be a new creation in Christ is to be more confident, serene, joyful, virtuous, and chaste. It is to live a life that is orderly and properly directed to our noble and glorious end: life with God forever. Jesus, in his resurrection, manifests this capacity for us to walk in newness of life.”

Easter Sunday Sermon – A Missed Opportunity

I heard a very beautiful, sentimental, loving, uplifting, tear-inspiring “talk” at Easter Sunday Mass this morning. No one could have left the church without loving the presiding priest due to his humble, sincere and loving demeanor and the message he conveyed along with his personal emotionally affecting anecdotes. The standing-room-only attendees applauded Father for his “homily”. I didn’t, but I understood why everyone else did because I was as emotionally moved as were they. However, Father’s “homily” did not relate to the readings in the least regard. In fact, they were not even referred to. The presiding priest was not our pastor. He is a priest from a far northern state who visits our Florida parish annually for Easter week and helps the pastor cover all the Masses. So many people come from all parts of the country and beyond to spend time in our beautiful climate and surroundings that our parish must have two Masses simultaneously on Easter Sunday. In addition to the Vigil Mass, we have four morning Masses, two in the church and two in the parish hall (for those for whom there is no room remaining in the church). There is also a Spanish Mass at 1:30 pm and a fourth (actually a fifth) English Mass at 3:00 pm.

Based on percentages that we are all familiar with, I can’t help but presume that many of our Mass participants do not attend Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of obligation. A gentleman sitting next to my wife told her that he had to walk around outside the church (our church has a marvelous prayer garden) before he could enter it. I took that as a feeling of guilt and if so, it was actually a healthy feeling for him to have. He did, however, probably along with 99 or more percent of the attendees, approach for communion (I can’t say that he or everyone else that approached actually received).

The point I’d like to make is that however emotionally moved everyone was, I didn’t hear anything in Father’s “homily” that might provoke a good many of his listeners to attend Mass next Sunday. I wouldn’t be surprised if some, if not many, don’t attend another Mass until next Christmas.

What a missed opportunity to inspire – more truly, to instruct – those who rarely attend Mass to do so every Sunday and holy day of obligation. And to remind them of the obligation to be in a state of sanctifying grace when they receive communion. Could priests not at least say “if you haven’t been to confession since you last failed to attend Mass on a Sunday or holy day of obligation, and yet were truly quite able to do so, please do not receive communion”? They could also add “you are welcome to come forth to “one of the priests” distributing communion for a blessing”. Okay, rephrase the message to be as gentle as you wish, but make the point! How else will they learn what they are missing out on, now, and might for all eternity?

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Part two of  Will you ever be able to truly say “I want for nothing more”?

If you read this post on Msgr. Pope’s blog, you will find many of his other outstanding reflections. For your convenience it is copied below with his kind permission.

The Pain of Greed

by Msgr. Charles Pope (posted with permission – source)

There is a text in the Office of Readings that speaks to the connection between greed, affluence and dissatisfaction.

The foreign elements among them were so greedy for meat that even the Israelites lamented again, “Would that we had meat for food! We remember the fish we used to eat without cost in Egypt, and the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now we are famished; we see nothing before us but this manna.” … [The LORD replied,] “To the people, you shall say: Sanctify yourselves for tomorrow, when you shall have meat to eat. For in the hearing of the Lord you have cried, ‘Would that we had meat for food! Oh, how well off we were in Egypt!’ Therefore, the Lord will give you meat for food, and you will eat it, not for one day, or two days, or five, or ten, or twenty days, but for a whole month—until it comes out of your very nostrils and becomes loathsome to you. For you have spurned the Lord who is in your midst, and in his presence you have wailed, ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt?’” (Numbers 11:4-6, 18-30)

I have written before about the Israelites preferring slavery in Egypt, with its melons, leeks, and cucumbers (here), but in today’s reflection I would like to emphasize how what we desire can eventually become loathsome to us. The Lord says that not only would He give them the meat they asked for, but that He would do so until it comes out of your very nostrils and becomes loathsome to you. In this way, He reminds us that our greed for earthly things will eventually bring us consequences that disgust us.

What is greed? It is the insatiable desire for more. By it, we desire far more than we need; in fact, we can never be satisfied.

  1. Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is emptiness (Eccles 5:10).
  2. All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied (Ecclesiastes 6:7).
  3. All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing (Eccles 1:7-8).
  4. Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, nor are the eyes of man ever satisfied (Proverbs 27:20).

In the passage from Numbers, God fed the people with the miraculous manna from Heaven. However, even food from the very hand of God is not enough for the faithless and the greedy.

The sinful drive of greed will always protest unless we, by God’s grace, learn to curb it. Greed will always make us think that we need more; that we need what we want, in the way that we want it, and exactly when we want it. And if we get all that, we are still not satisfied; we simply become more particular, fussy, and demanding. Indeed, we have never had so many consumer options, comforts, and conveniences; and yet I would say that on the whole we have never been more unhappy. In this age of comfort and convenience, psychotherapy and psychotropic medications are big businesses. Misery indexes, consumer confidence surveys, and opinion polls often show high levels of fear, dissatisfaction, and anger. It is the same with our health. We have never lived so long and been so healthy, yet we have never worried more about our health.

Yes, no matter how much we have, it is never enough; and we are all afflicted with greed to some extent.

Greed is one of the under-confessed sins of our time. It is always the other guy who is greedy, the one who earns more than I do; he is the greedy one.

No, greed is common a human problem, and it takes a heavy toll on us all by robbing us of gratitude, satisfaction, and joy with what we have. Greed robs us of the ability to enjoy life and to savor what is before us.

Even more, God teaches that greed punishes us with the very excess it drives us to desire. God says of this greed that it will sicken us with its excess: until it comes out of your very nostrils and becomes loathsome to you.

What does our present age with its unprecedented comforts and conveniences actually afford us? Stress, overwork, and worry seem to be our common lot. We are all in a big hurry to get somewhere, to get on to the next thing.

Consider a simple thing like a car or a cell phone—great conveniences, right? Yet they seem to bring more stress. Our cars raise the expectation that we should reasonably be all over God’s green acre with little care for the actual human cost of making the trip and sitting in traffic. Our cell phones make us available at any time of the day or night; there is little or no quiet in our lives; relationships are more often virtual than real.

At some point it all starts to seem loathsome to us. We have more and more, the latest and greatest, the most recent upgrade—more and more until it comes out of our nostrils. We start to long for simplicity and for a time before we ever knew we “needed” all this stuff. Yet we cannot imagine how to pull free from so much of it. Life without a cellphone? Life without Facebook? Are you kidding? All of our gadgets and advanced technology have not freed us; they have ensnared us. And still our greed drives us to want more.

Scripture says, The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether they eat little or much, but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep (Eccles 5:12). And this is largely true. Despite all our labor-saving devices we are busier and more restless than ever.

Yes, God’s word is true. Greed ignites an insatiable desire for more. At some point, God’s remedy is to permit us to obtain so much that it becomes downright loathsome to us; through this we discover that less is more.

Simplicity may be difficult to achieve in times like these. Living in an Amish village is not an option for most of us, but deciding what is important and then focusing on it is a step in the right direction. To an age that cries out” “You can have it all,” we must learn to respond, “No, I can’t. We have to accept that “all” is too much and that less is more.

Affluence and abundance usually seem unambiguously good to us, but they are not; they bring human costs that we too seldom weigh. Scripture says, The rich may be able pay a ransom for their lives, but the poor won’t even get threatened (Prov 13:8). In other words, in our abundance we have too much to lose and so are easily threatened. There is a paradoxical kind of freedom that comes from having and needing less.

God’s Word is true. The text from Numbers above provides wisdom, as does this teaching from the Holy Spirit through St. Paul:

But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs (1 Tim 6:6-10).

This song in the video below says, “It’ll wear you out, dealin’ with too much stuff.”

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If you read this post on Msgr. Pope’s blog, you will find many of his other outstanding reflections. For your convenience it is copied below with his kind permission.

Just a Little Talk with Jesus Makes It Right

by Msgr. Charles Pope (posted with permission – source)

As we examine the Gospel for this weekend’s Mass we do well to understand that is about human desires and how the Lord reaches us through them. Prior to examining the text in detail, let’s consider a few things:

  1. What it is that really makes you happy? We desire so many things: food, water, shelter, clothing, and creature comforts. We long for affection, peace, and a sense of belonging. Sometimes we want stability and simplicity, at others we yearn for change and variety. Our hearts are a sea of desires, wishes, and longings. Today’s Gospel says that a woman went to the well to draw water. She represents each one of us and her desire for water is symbolic of all our desires.
  2. In reality, your desires are infinite. Can you remember a time when you were ever entirely satisfied, when you wanted absolutely nothing else? Even if you can recall such a time, I’ll bet it didn’t last long. That is because our desires are without limit.
  3. The well in today’s Gospel symbolizes this world. Jesus says to the woman, Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again. The world cannot provide what we are really looking for. No matter how much it offers us, it will never suffice, for the world is finite while our desires are infinite. In this way our heart teaches us something very important about ourselves: We were not made for this world; we were made for something, someone, who is infinite, who alone can satisfy us. We were made for God.
  4. The water offered is the Holy Spirit. Jesus said elsewhere, “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive (Jn. 7:37-39).
  5. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say about the meanings of our longings:

The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for. … With his longings for the infinite and for happiness, man questions himself about God’s existence. In all this he discerns signs of his spiritual soul. The soul, the seed of eternity we bear in ourselves, irreducible to the merely material, can have its origin only in God (Catechism # 27, 33).

  1. Scripture speaks to us about our desires: Of You my heart has spoken: “Seek His face.” It is your face O Lord that I seek; hide not your face! (Psalm 27:8-9). Only in God will my soul be at rest, he is my hope, my salvation (Psalm 62:1).
  2. Augustine wrote these classic words to describe our truest longing: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee” (Confessions 1,1).

With these in mind, let’s look at the journey that this woman makes to Jesus. Things start out rough, but in the end she discovers her heart’s truest desire. The journey is made in stages.

Rendezvous – Notice that Jesus is the one who takes the initiative here. As the Lord teaches elsewhere, It was not you who chose me, It was I who chose you (John 15:16). Jesus encounters a woman from Samaria at Jacob’s well. She desires water, but Jesus knows that her desire is for far more than water or in fact anything that the world gives. Her desire has brought her face to face with Jesus. It is a holy and fortunate rendezvous. Jesus begins a discussion with her about her heart’s truest longing.

Request – The discussion begins with a request. The text says, It was about noon. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” Imagine, God asking you for anything; what a stunning thing! What can she or anyone really give God? The answer is simply this: the gift of our very self. God has put a threshold before our heart that even He will not cross unless we first say yes to Him. Jesus’ request initiates a discussion, a dialogue of two hearts. As we shall see, the woman struggles with this dialogue. To be sure, it is a delicate, even painful process for us to accept the Lord’s invitation to self-giving. Something within us makes us draw back in fear. Scripture says, It is an awesome thing to fall into the hands of living God (Heb 10:31).

Rebuke – Sure enough, she draws back with fear and anger. She says, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?”—For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans. In our journey to God, we do not always trust or understand Him at first. Some are afraid to relate to God because they think they will lose their freedom or that they will have to change too much. Others loathe the commandments or fear that they cannot keep them. Still others are angry at the unexpected twists and turns of life and do not want to trust a God who doesn’t always give them what they want. The woman’s anger is not really at Jesus; it is at “the Jews,” with whom the Samaritans have a hostile relationship. This is sometimes the case with God as well. It is not always the Lord Jesus, or God the Father, whom people hate or distrust; rather, it is Christians. Some have been hurt by the Church or by Christians; others have prejudiced opinions influenced by a hostile media and world.

Repetition – Jesus repeats His offer for a relationship. He says, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” I don’t know about you, but I am mighty glad that the Lord does not merely write us off when we say no to Him. Jesus stays in the conversation and even sweetens the deal by making an offer to give her fresh, living water. The Lord does the same for us. First He gave the Law, then He gave the prophets; now He gives His Son. It just keeps getting better. First He gave water, then He changed it to wine, and then He changed it to His blood. Despite our often harsh rejection of God, He keeps the dialogue going.

Ridicule – The woman is still hostile and now even ridicules Jesus: “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?” To the world, the teachings of God often appear to be foolishness. People often dismiss religious faith as fanciful and unrealistic.

Reminder – Jesus now re-frames the question by reminding the woman of the obvious: Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again. What she is relying on can’t come through for her. The world’s water does not satisfy us; the world’s delights are transitory. They promise ultimate satisfaction, but soon we are thirsty again. The world is the gift that keeps on taking; it takes our money, loyalty, freedom, and time, while giving us only temporary—and ultimately unsatisfying pleasures—in return. It’s a bad deal. Every one who drinks from this well be thirsty again.

Re-upping the offer – Jesus says, “… but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Here the Lord speaks of happiness and satisfaction that he will give, that grows in us and makes us more and more alive. The “water” he offers (as noted above) is the gift of the Holy Spirit. As the Holy Spirit lives in us and transforms us, we become more and more content with what we have. As the life of God grows in us, we become more alive in God and joyful in what He is doing for us. This is what the Lord offers us: the gift of a new and transformed life, the gift to become fully alive in God. I am a witness of this. How about you?

Result – The woman has moved toward Jesus; she has warmed to His offer. She says, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Here is the result of the Lord’s persistence. Thank God that He does not give up on us. He keeps calling, even when we say no, even when we sin; He just keeps call our name!

Requirement – Jesus wants to give this gift, but first He must help her to make room for it. For the truth is that she has unrepented sin. A cup that is filled with sand cannot be filled with water. The sand must first be emptied out and then the cup cleansed. Thus Jesus says, “Go call your husband and come back.” The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.” Now she does what most of us do when we are in an uncomfortable spot: she changes the subject. She attempts to engage in a discussion about where to worship. Jesus is patient and answers her, but ultimately draws her back to the subject at hand: her heart and what her desires are really all about.

Reconciliation – At this point the conversation gets private; we are not permitted to listen in. It is just between her and Jesus. But whatever it was, she is elated and will later declare, “He told me everything I ever did.” There is no sense in her tone that Jesus was merely accusatory. Rather, it would seem that Jesus helped her to understand her heart and her struggle. An old song says, “I once was lost in sin but Jesus took me in and then a little light from heaven filled my soul. He bathed my heart in love and he wrote my name above and just a little talk with Jesus made me whole.” Here, Jesus reconciles her with God and with her own self.

RejoicingThe woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?” They went out of the town and came to him.” Do not miss that little detail: she left her water jar. She left behind the very thing she was depending on to collect the things of the world. What is your “water jar”? What do you use to gain access to the world and to collect its offerings? For most of us, it is money. Scripture says, For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Tim 6:10). At any rate, the woman is joyfully empowered to leave this enslaving water jar behind. Freed from its load, she is able to run to town and declare Jesus to others. Her joy must have been infectious, for soon enough they are following her out to meet the Lord!

This is the journey of a woman who represents each one of us. This is our journey, out of dependence, out of an enslaving attachment to the world. It is our journey unto Jesus, who alone can set us free. Here is our journey to understand that our desires are ultimately about God.

You can listen to this homily here: Just a Little Talk With Jesus.

I have it on the best of authority that as the woman joyfully journeyed back to town, she was singing this gospel song

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If you read this post on Msgr. Pope’s blog, you will find many of his other outstanding reflections. For your convenience it is copied below with his kind permission.

Advice from the Lord in Overcoming Anxiety

by Msgr. Charles Pope (posted with permission – source)

When we read today’s Gospel (from the Sermon on the Mount) we must be careful not to misinterpret its basic vision. Jesus is not telling us what to do, but rather is offering us something to receive. The wrong way to interpret this Gospel is to think that Jesus is just saying, “Stop worrying.” We all get this advice from people every day and it isn’t very helpful. This is not what Jesus is saying, for remember that in the Sermon on the Mount He is describing the transformed human person. What He is teaching us here is that as He begins to live His life in us, many of our anxieties will diminish and go away.

The transformed human person trusts God and is able to see God’s hand even in the difficulties of life. It is this trust growing in us by God’s grace that diminishes and ultimately removes fear. Trust God and fear lessens. This is the gift that Jesus offers in this Gospel.

We can distinguish three particular aspects of anxiety that Jesus sets forth: possessions, paternity, and priority. Let’s examine each and see how the Lord wants to free us from them.

I The Problem of Possessions – The text says, No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Mammon is variously understood as riches, greed, or possessions. In an extended sense it can refer to the agenda of the world, which is focused essentially on material things, and which ties our dignity to only those things.

Whose slave are you? The Lord is clear that we cannot serve mammon if we wish to serve Him. The Greek word translated here as “serve” is δουλεύειν (douleuein), which more specifically means to “serve as a slave.” We miss the strength of the text when we fail to notice the slavery aspect. It may happen in our culture that one works at a job, yet after work hours goes home and is free from obligations. Hence we tend to believe that we can serve both God and mammon. But the Greek word used here describes a slave, not a servant. A slave is wholly given over to the will of his master. The Greek word is thus more intense than the English translation.

The Lord is saying, “You’re either going to be a slave of the Lord or a slave of the world.” The honest truth is that most people are slaves of the world, of mammon; slaves to riches, greed, and the agendas associated with them. These worldly things tend to completely consume us so that when we hear of some demand from God, we feel overwhelmed—even angry—that something “more” is required of us. Our anger at God is a sign that we are slaves to mammon.

We are usually too proud to admit that we are slaves of the world, but most of us are, to a large extent. The world and its demands press on us, taking up nearly all the oxygen in our life. It is this terrible slavery that is a huge source of our anxiety and from which the Lord offers to free us. The Lord describes the anxieties that flow from slavery to mammon; to the world, its riches, and its agenda:

I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear …. Why are you anxious about clothes? Do not worry and say, “What are we to eat?” or “What are we to drink?” or “What are we to wear?”

Still anxious! For us who live in the Western world, the anxiety about merely having such things has receded a bit. In general, we are well-supplied and may not worry about whether we will have clothes or food. But even though we have them in abundance, still we worry about them obsessively. For example, we may worry about whether we have the right clothes, if they are fashionable, if they look good on us. We worry about whether we have too much fat or salt in our diet. Many people are obsessed with what they eat. We have never lived so long and been so healthy, yet we have never been more anxious about our health! We have plenty of food and still we worry about it! Worry, worry, worry. Anxiety about these things is a sign that we are slaves to them. Scripture says, but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep (Eccles 5:12).

The Lord offers to live His life in us so that we will not be slaves to mammon, but rather slaves to Him. We may not like the image of slavery, but I have news for you: we are so small and powerless that we are going to be slaves of someone; it might as well be the Lord! Being wholly devoted to the Lord and what pleases Him breaks our obsession with the world, money, possessions, popularity, and fashion.

As the Lord’s life and His will begin to replace our own life and will, our obsession with the world’s demands diminishes and its power over us is broken. As we grow into a deeper relationship with the Lord, our ties with the world and concerns about worldly agendas fade. As the ties are loosened, our anxiety diminishes.

You and I, in our flesh, are not going to stop worrying, but the Lord, living His life in us, isn’t worried at all. As His power and influence over us grows, the worries lessen, and the anxiety goes away.

This is the gift that the Lord is offering us if we but let Him take greater possession of our hearts. How do we do this? Through the medicine of prayer, the sacraments, Scripture, and spiritual reading. Gradually the Lord’s heart, mind, and will transform our heart, mind, and will to be like His.

II The Problem of Paternity – Jesus wants to draw us to a deeper relationship with His Father. A common spiritual problem, even among those who develop something of a relationship with Jesus, is finding the Eternal Father to be distant or remote. To many, the Father is a stranger. They have surely heard of Him and read of Him in the Scriptures, but He is a stranger. Some even have a sort of fear of Him. This may be because they think of certain Old Testament texts, or perhaps because their earthly father was stern or remote. Whatever the problem, the Lord Jesus wants to lead us to His Father. Note that the phrase, “your heavenly Father” occurs twice in this passage and four times in Chapter 6 overall. There are two other references to the Father as “God” in today’s Gospel, and it is in Chapter 6 of Matthew that Jesus teaches us the “Our Father.”

All of these references to the Father, in close proximity to the invitation “Do not worry,” cannot be overlooked. Having a closer relationship with the Heavenly Father is an antidote to anxiety. Our Heavenly Father knows what we need. He cares for birds, flowers, and countless other things. Thus He is willing and able to care for us. To embrace and experience His love for us is to experience a lessening of our anxiety.

Perhaps an illustration will help: When I was six years old, I had a fear that someone would break into our home, or that something bad would happen during the night. When my Father was home I didn’t worry. In 1968, he left for Vietnam and was gone for a year. During that year I had an extended bout of this fear; Daddy was gone and I felt unsafe. In 1969, he returned and my fears went away. I didn’t cause them to go away; it was not an act of the will on my part. It was simply this: Daddy was home.

You and I may not be able to dismiss our fears and anxieties by a simple act of the will, but to the degree that our “Daddy-God” is near and we feel His presence, our fears just go away.

This is a critical gift that Jesus wants to give us: a deep experience of, and love for, His Father. It is our perceived distance from the Father that causes our anxiety. When we truly experience that our Heavenly Father “knows what we need,” we find our fears melting away.

Seek this gift from Jesus: that you know and love His Father and that His presence will be close at hand. Then watch your fears dissipate. The Lord Jesus can do this for us. Read the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) slowly. Understand that the parable is really about the Father more than it is about the sons. Jesus is saying, “This is what my Father is like.”

III The Problem of Priority. The text says, But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. One of our greatest struggles is to have proper priorities, and in the end, to do just one thing. This third matter (priority) is similar to the first (possessions), but it is more about choices and direction rather than things and allegiances.

The simple truth is that we have a lot of trouble deciding what is most important and learning to make good decisions. This causes a lot of grief and anxiety for us. We want too many things. We want to please too many people. We are too easily distracted from our goal. In many ways we have not even fully clarified our goal.

What is it that you want? What is the one thing that guides every other thing that you do? You may say, “God,” or “the world,” or maybe “my career.” But the fact is, a lot of people don’t really have a clear answer. They want a lot of things and have never really sat down and determined the one overarching goal of their life. Because of this, they run about chasing this thing and that, and experiencing lots of anxiety along the way.

Imagine a man driving north to New York from Philadelphia. He knows that Philadelphia is his destination. Along the way he sees lots of signs, but is quickly able to determine which ones pertain to his journey and which ones can be ignored. If he sees an upcoming fork in the road with a sign that says, “95 South Baltimore,” he ignores it and continues on his way, experiencing no anxiety at all about doing so.

But now imagine another man, one who is not sure where he is going; it may be New York or it may be somewhere else. Frankly, he hasn’t thought about it all that much; he just lets life happen to him. Now this man sees that sign for “95 South Richmond.” He struggles to know whether he should take that fork or not. The sign makes him anxious. Should he or shouldn’t he? Then when he makes the choice, he wonders whether he did the right thing. His anxiety is even greater now. He keeps looking back, second-guessing himself, and wondering. He is anxious because he did not first determine his real destination.

Many people live this way. They have no real priority, no firm choice. Even if they have some vague direction (e.g., “I want to be happy”) they have little idea what it really takes to get there. And frankly, they don’t want to know the specifics all that much. Commitments and decisions are eschewed. Strangely, though, in trying to avoid a decision or commitment, they are not any less anxious; in fact, they are more anxious. Every intersection is bewildering to them. “What should I do?” “Which way should I go?”

The Lord wants to save us from all this anxiety. He offers us the grace to become clear about what we want and where we are going. As He begins to live His life more fully in us, our mind gets clearer; our heart desires with greater clarity. When Jesus’ own life begins to replace our own, we want what He wants. He wants the Kingdom and its values. He loves His Father and everyone and everything that His Father loves.

And so do we. By grace and by degrees, the Lord begins to change us, to clarify things for us. Increasingly, our life becomes about only one thing: “I want to die and leave this world loving God and His kingdom; I want to be with him forever.”

Received, not achieved – In all three of these areas please remember that the Lord is not merely saying to us that through our own power we must serve only God, experience Him as Father (Abba), and seek first the Kingdom of God. If it depended on us, we would never be able to do it!

No, what the Lord is doing here is painting a picture of the transformed human person. He is showing us what we will experience if we let Him live His life in us and transform us. This work begins in us and continues when we get down on our knees and beg the Lord to do it. It begins and continues when we are serious about having a steady diet of prayer, Scripture, Church teaching, the sacraments, Holy Mass, and holy fellowship.

Now if you want to stay anxious and fretful, fine; but if you seek serenity, then invite the Lord into your life every day. Stay faithful to spiritual practices. If you do, I promise (I am a witness) that you will see your anxieties lessen, your fears abate, your serenity grow, and your confidence strengthen. The choice is yours.

The clip below, from the movie City Slickers, speaks of doing just one thing. (Please pardon the slight profanity.)

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If you read this post on Msgr. Pope’s blog, you will find many of his other outstanding reflections. For your convenience it is copied below with his kind permission.

Pass the Salt and Put on the Light – A Homily for the 5th Sunday of the Year

by Msgr. Charles Pope (posted with permission – source)

In the Gospel today the Lord describes metaphorically what a Christian is and what He expects of us. Note five things about what God says:

I The Definitiveness of His Proclamation – The text says, You are the Salt of the earth. … You are the light of the World. … But if salt goes flat it is good for nothing. … No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket.

The Lord is definitive in two ways. First, He says, “You.” He is not talking just to people long ago or to the person next to you. He is not merely talking to your pastor or the Saints. He is talking to you. You are salt. You are light. You. It’s too easy to say, “Look at what the Lord is saying to those people long ago near the lakeside.” It’s not long ago; it’s now. It’s you.

The second way that the Lord is definitive is in saying that both images depend on us; if we are not salt and light then no one else will be and we will have utterly voided our worth.

  1. The metaphor of salt: You are either salt or you are nothing; in fact, you are good for nothing. As Christians, we have signed up to be specialists. This means is that if we go off and do something else instead, we are nothing and are good for nothing. It’s an all-or-nothing scenario. Jesus says that if you have decided to be His disciple you are either going to do that or else be nothing. You may go on to be a doctor, lawyer, teacher, laborer, or social worker, but the Lord has plenty of those (and so does the devil). Your first and only mission is to be a true and uncompromised Christian; everything else is mere commentary. You may be a great doctor, but if you don’t do it as a clear and visible Christian you are nothing. You may be a skilled social worker, but if you don’t do it as a Christian you are good for nothing. Any non-believer can be socially useful as a doctor or social worker, but only a Christian can be a Christian. If you don’t do “job one,” you are nothing. If you supply your children with every good thing, but do not act as a Christian witness to them and bring them to Christ, you are good for nothing. Any parent can provide his children with material things, but only a Christian can give them Christ. Got it? You’re either salt (a true Christian) or you are nothing.
  2. The metaphor of light: The Lord says that you are the light of the world, not merely a light. What this means is that if we do not shine, the world is darker; no one can take our place. If we don’t shine by living our faith and proclaiming it, the world is in darkness. Buddha can’t help. Mohamed can’t pull it off. Science and humanism can’t substitute. Either we are light or there is none. Some may call this arrogant, but I just call it Scripture. The Lord said it, not us. We are either light or else the world is dark. And if the world is getting darker, whose fault is that? We need not go far. Too many Christians fulfill Isaiah 56:10, which says, Israel’s watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge; they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; they lie around and dream, they love to sleep. You may be an exception, but too many Christians are not.

Therefore, notice the definitive pronouncement the Lord makes here. We Christians are either with the Lord or we’re nothing. We’re either light or the world is in darkness.

II The Dynamics of Salt – When Jesus says that we are the salt of the earth, what are some of the lessons we can learn? Consider these four things:

  1. Salt seasons. Christians are called to add spice to life, to bring beauty, joy, and hope to the world. Joy is the surest sign of a Christian. Even our keeping of the Commandments is a source of joy, as we experience God’s power to put sin to death in us and bring forth order, self-discipline, and holiness. Hope, too, ought to distinguish us from a world that is often cynical and thinks sin is inevitable. To this world we are not only to declare that the Commandments are possible and bring joy, but to demonstrate it in our lives. We are to be zesty, passionate, alive, and free from sin in Christ. Yet, sadly, we Christians are known more for what we are against. Too many Christians are not spicy; they do not really add flavor. They are more like bored believers, depressed disciples, fearful faithful, and frozen chosen. In our best moments, look what spicy things the faith has contributed: Art, music, churches, hospitals, universities, the scholastic and scientific methods, and holidays (a mispronunciation of Holy Days). Our tradition and Scriptural teaching of justice, mercy, love, and the dignity of the human person has blessed the world. Do you bring spice to the lives of others? Do you bring hope and joy? Scripture says, Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15). That means that people notice hope in you! Do they? How?
  2. Salt preserves. Before refrigeration, people often used salt to cure or preserve meat. The salt killed bacteria and other microorganisms that caused rot and decay. As Christians, we are called to prevent further decay in this sin-soaked world. The truth that we proclaim is meant to preserve people from the decay of sin and overindulgence. Chastity, justice, generosity, and the proclamation of the truth, are like salt that preserves this world from decay. We must be salt. If we are not, nothing else is. You are the salt.
  3. Salt heals. In the ancient world, salt was used on wounds. It helped to stop bleeding, killed bacteria, and prevented further infection. So, too, the Christian faith. Through our doctrinal and moral teaching, and our living of it, we are called to bring healing to this world, which is wounded by sin, strife, war, jealousy, anger, bitterness, retribution, promiscuity, unfaithfulness, greed, and countless other errors. The Word of God and His plan is a healing medicine for what ails this world.
  4. Salt burns. Yes, salt stings when applied to wounds. We Christians aren’t just sugar and spice and everything nice. When salt is applied to wounds it burns and often brings out loud protest. The truth stings, too. The truth of the Gospel can be irritating to a world that is wounded by sin. But despite the protests of the world, the sting is a healing one. It is driving out the disease of the world and preventing further infection. Just because people protest the Church and howl in complaint at the truth of the Gospel does not mean we have done anything wrong. In fact, protests often show that we are doing exactly what we must.

III. The Destination of Salt – The Lord says that you are the salt of the earth. He did not say that you are the salt of the Church. For salt to be effective it has to get out of the shaker! Too many Christians are bold in the pew but cowards in the world. They will speak of the faith in the relative security of the Church and among certain friends, but don’t ask them to preach to their spouse, their co-worker, or even their children; that’s too scary. And don’t even think about asking them to knock on doors, or to go to the local mall and witness, or to stand in front of an abortion clinic.

Salt in the shaker is useless. It has to come out of the shaker in order to make any difference. You don’t salt salt. Witnessing to fellow Christians may have a limited benefit, but it is not really the true destination of salt. The salt has to go forth. When the priest or deacon says “The Mass is ended go in peace,” he might as well be holding up a salt shaker and shaking it!

It’s long past time for the salt (you and me) to go forth. Consider these observations about life in our country today:

  • In the last fifty years there has been an increase of more than a 500% in violent crime.
  • There are more than half a million abortions each year.
  • Since 1970, the divorce rate has quadrupled. The overall number of divorces may have declined recently, but it is due more to people not getting married in the first place.
  • More than 40% of children today do not live with both their biological parents. Since the 1970s, the percentage of children living in single-parent homes has tripled.
  • As the family has broken down, here is what has been happening to our young:
    • a quadrupling in juvenile arrests,
    • a 400% increase in births outside of wedlock,
    • one million teenage pregnancies annually,
    • three million teenagers treated annually for sexually transmitted diseases,
    • a 200% increase in the rate of teenage suicide,
    • a drop in average SAT scores,
    • two-thirds of high school students have experimented with illegal drugs.
  • In the schools, one cannot pray or mention religion, yet condoms are freely available and all sorts of aberrant and alternative lifestyles and philosophies are openly promoted.
  • Parental consent is required for a child to go on a field trip or to get an aspirin, but in many states abortion referrals can be made without parental consent.
  • Our neighborhoods are devastated by poverty, injustice, crime, and despair.

All of this has happened on our watch. It’s time for the salt to work. The world needs the salt to get out of the shaker and do its work of seasoning, purifying, and preserving.

IV. The Details of Light – Jesus goes on to say, Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father. Let’s consider four things about this light:

  1. The CAUSE of the light – Notice that little word: “Let.” We are to yield to Christ, to allow Him to shine through us. He is the cause of our light. Let your light shine. There’s an old gospel song that says, “When you see me trying to do good, trying to live as a Christian should, it’s just Jesus, Jesus in me.”
  2. The COST of the light – The light is to shine, but there is no shining without burning. Shining costs us something. It may be Christ’s light, but it shines through us. This means sacrifice. It means letting Him use you. It means not always sleeping when you want to. It means not just sitting at home and saying, “Ain’t it awful.” It means getting out and getting involved. It means getting “out there” and risking a few things. It means being visible, targeted, and identified with someone (Jesus) who is hated by many. And in a world that prefers the darkness to light (cf. John 3:19-21), it means being called harsh, out-of-touch, and hateful. There is no shining without burning.
  3. The CONCRETENESS of the light – Letting our light shine is no mere abstraction. Jesus speaks of deeds. Shining involves concrete behavior. Your light shines by the way you live, the choices you make, the behavior you exhibit. It shines when Christians get married and stay married, stay faithful to their commitments, and are people of their word. Our light shines when we tell the truth instead of lying, live chastely instead of fornicating, are courteous and respectful instead of rude. It shines when we respect life, drive safely, and shun reckless and risky behavior. Our light shines when we clean up our language, give to the poor, and work for justice. It shines when we refuse to purchase pornographic, violent, or other degrading materials. Our light shines when we love instead of hate, seek reconciliation instead of revenge, and pray for our enemies instead of cursing them. It shines when we walk uprightly and speak the truth in love, without compromise. That’s when our light begins to shine.
  4. The CONSEQUENCE of the light – God is glorified when our light shines. We do not act or get involved merely to vent our own anger or to fight for our own sake. We are light to glorify God. It is not about our winning, it is about God shining and being glorified. When we do get involved, too often we seek merely to win the argument rather than to glorify God. Often we act in order to garner praise rather than to have God glorified. We need to pray for good intentions, for it is possible to do the right thing for the wrong reason. The desired result is God’s glory not our glory.

OK, now pass the salt and turn on the light!

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If you read this post on Msgr. Pope’s blog, you will find many of his other outstanding reflections. For your convenience it is copied below with his kind permission.

Picture This! A Homily for the 4th Sunday of the Year

by Msgr. Charles Pope (posted with permission – source)

The Gospel passage on the Beatitudes is one of the most familiar. Yet the Beatitudes are difficult to understand because many of them are paradoxical. We do not usually refer to the poor as blessed, but rather the well-off; we do not typically call those who mourn blessed, but rather the joyful.

The word “beatitude” itself means “supreme blessedness.”

First, it is critical to understand that beatitude is not something we achieve; rather it is something we receive. The Beatitudes declare an objective reality as the result of a divine act. The use of the indicative mood in the passage should be taken seriously; we should not transform it into an imperative. In other words, the Beatitudes are more of a description than a prescription. Jesus is not saying that we should be poor or meek and then God will bless us. Rather, He is saying that this is what the transformed human person is like; that this is what happens to us when He begins to live His life in us and transform us; that this is what our life is like when His grace and the power of His cross bring about in us a greater meekness and poverty of spirit; that we will experience being blessed.

Beatitude is a work of God and it results when we yield to His saving work in us.

With this understanding we can see the Beatitudes not as a prescription of what we must do, but a description of what a human being is like who is being transformed by Jesus Christ.

Second, we should consider the Hebrew roots. The Greek word makarioi in today’s text is rendered as “blessed,” but it also corresponds to the Hebrew word asher, which is more of an exclamation. It could easily be translated, “O, the blessedness of ….” When translated this way, it emphasizes that something is being described rather than prescribed.

Third, we must examine the Greek linguistic roots. Makarioi, (blessed) literally means “to make long or large.” We are enlarged or enhanced as a result of God’s blessings. Thus, the term “blessed” as used here describes a kind of stable, serene, confident joy that one receives because of God’s blessings.

Fourth, we should look at the Greek cultural roots. In pagan times, makarioi (blessed) referred especially to the happiness of the gods. They had achieved a state of happiness and contentment in life that was beyond all cares, labors, and even death. They lived in some other world away from the worries and problems of ordinary people. In taking up this term to translate the Hebrew asher, the New Testament teaches on the stability of beatitude, if it is from God. To a large degree it is a stable, deep, and serene beatitude not greatly affected by the vicissitudes of this world; because the world does not give it, it cannot take it away.

There is an old saying that happiness is an “inside job.” Too many people try to find happiness in the world, which is fickle and unstable. The Lord wants to confer on us an inner beatitude that is deeply rooted, stable, and not easily swept away by worldly conditions. In the Beatitudes, the Lord paints a picture of this state of blessedness.

This helps to explain the paradox of some of the Beatitudes. We are still blessed even when poor, mourning, or persecuted. Further, we are confirmed in blessedness by such realities, because they serve as reminders that we are not at home in this world and that God and His kingdom are our preoccupation and the source of our true beatitude.

Let’s explore the Beatitudes and remember that Jesus is saying, “When I begin to live my life in you and put the sinful flesh to death, you will experience the following blessings.”

Blessed are the poor in spirit for the kingdom of God is theirs.

Who are the poor in spirit? They are those who, by God’s grace, have their true treasure increasingly in Heaven rather than earth. They are poor to this world but rich to God. They have learned to depend on God.

All of us are dependent on God, but we may not realize it. The poor in spirit are those who have come to peace in the knowledge that they depend on God for every beat of their heart, for every good thing they have. Humans strongly resist any such sense of dependence or lack of control. Many strive to acquire wealth, power, and resources in order to create the illusion that they are in control—they are not. Ultimately this whole system will fail. It is a recipe for frustration and unhappiness.

Further, control is like an addictive drug. The more we get, the more we need in order to feel less anxious. Our modern age illustrates this. Consider, for example, modern medicine, through which we can control things we never could before: are all our fears gone as a result? No. Humans have never lived so long and been so healthy, yet, we have never been so anxious about our health. Our medicine cabinets are filled with prescriptions and over-the-counter medications. And still we worry! Control is an illusion, an addiction all its own. In the end, it seems we can never have enough of it to feel sufficiently “safe.”

How blessed are those who delight to depend on God, who realize that every beat of their heart is His gift and that everything they have is from Him and belongs to Him! Not only do they realize this; they delight in it. They are blessed because they are free of the countless fears that flow from the endless quest for illusory control.

Now Matthew adds “in spirit” to “the poor” because not all who are materially poor are thereby freed of the obsession with wealth, power, and the need to control. To be poor is not necessarily a measure of what is in my wallet, but what is in my heart.

This world is not the Kingdom, but Heaven is. How blessed are those who delight to know and experience that there is a Heaven! They may be poor in the eyes of this world, but who needs most of it? They already have the Kingdom by faith and that Kingdom is growing for them. The kingdom of this world, however, is passing away.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Who are those who mourn? They are those who, delighting in the Kingdom of Heaven, see the awful state of most of God’s people. They see that so many do not know God or why they were created. They see others willfully locked in sin and darkness. They see still others who are victims of the sins of injustice and oppression. And because of this they mourn, and moan, and pray. This beatitude is the basis of intercessory prayer and deepening love for sinners. Because I mourn, I pray for the world.

The object of this beatitude is rooted in the Kingdom of God and its values, not the passing values of this world. If my car gets scratched or the stock market goes down and I may mourn, but that’s not the type of mourning referred to here.

How blessed are those who mourn over what really matters and who pray! God will console, strengthen, and encourage them. He will cause their mourning to bear fruit in prayer and action for others. To mourn is this way is to be blessed. It is a grief that “hurts so good,” because we know that it brings abundant blessings for the world as it intensifies our prayer and our own commitment to God and His Kingdom.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Anger is a difficult passion. It can be frustrating, but it is a necessary zeal for what is right. Aristotle spoke of meekness (praotes) as the proper balance between too much anger and not enough. Sometimes we merely vent our anger, but at other times we fail to be angry enough, allowing evil and injustice to go unaddressed and un-resisted. How blessed are those who, by God’s grace, have authority over their anger! They do not vent their anger unnecessarily or excessively. They have the zeal and courage to stand up for what is right and to express righteous indignation at sin and injustice.

The meek have authority over their anger and other passions and thus will inherit the earth. Self-control conserves resources, using them appropriately; unrestricted passions dissipate resources, squandering the gifts of God.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.

Many fight God and ridicule the values of His kingdom. Chastity, forgiveness, and mercy are objects of particularly derision today. Many hunger for anything but God; wealth, power, popularity, the latest fad—anything but God.

How blessed are those who hunger and thirst for the righteousness and justice of God and the values of His Kingdom! God will satisfy them with the joy of living under His law and they will rejoice to see the wisdom of His ways. They hunger for God’s word and devour it when they find it. They rejoice to see God put sin to death in them and bring about virtue. They are excited and satisfied at what God is doing in their life. They are blessed indeed.

Blessed are the Merciful for they shall obtain mercy.

We live in a world that often prizes revenge and the destruction of one’s enemies, but Scripture teaches that the measure that we measure to others will be measured back to us (Matt 7:2). We are also taught that if we do not forgive others we will not be forgiven (Matt 6:15), and that merciless is the judgment on the one who has shown no mercy (James 2:12). It is misguided and just a bad idea to go around condemning others and “throwing the book” at everyone.

How blessed are those who, by God’s grace, have experienced His mercy and share it with others! They are able to leave most vengeance to God. Though they correct the sinner, they do not feel the need to exact revenge. By showing mercy, they will experience mercy from God. They are blessed indeed.

Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God.

The Greek here is better translated as “single-hearted.” It is so easy for feel torn by contrary drives and wishes. The Book of James says that the man of two minds is unstable in all his ways (James 1:8).

Blessed are those who can say, with St. Paul, [T]his one thing I do. … I press on to the prize marked out for me in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:13), or to say with the psalmist, There is only one thing I ask of the Lord: to dwell in the courts of the Lord and behold his face (Psalm 27:4). How blessed to be single-hearted, to be centered on one thing, to have but one purpose, to be undivided and uncompromised!

Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God.

Everyone loves peace but only some are really working for it. True peace can only be based on the truth. Being a peacemaker is more than being a nice guy and overlooking things. True peacemakers announce the Kingdom and bring souls to Christ; they strive for righteousness and justice and announce its demands. How blessed are those whom God inspires with a dedication to such work! They are indeed sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the Kingdom of God.

In life we are going to suffer, so it might as well be for something decent and noble. How blessed are those who, because they love God and His kingdom, are hated by this world! At least they share a common lot with Jesus. They know that only false prophets are loved by all (Lk 6:26). There is a paradoxical serenity that comes from this sort of persecution because it is a sign that we are no longer of this world, that the world has lost its hold on us and thus hates us (Jn 15:19). Forsaking this world and hated by it, they are blessed because the Kingdom of God is theirs in abundance.

In all these ways, the Lord paints a kind of picture for us of the transformed human person. He says, “This is what begins to happen to you as I live my life in you.”

One of my mentors over the years has been Fr. Francis Martin, a great scholar of Scripture, teacher at the Dominican House of Studies (among many other places), and author of numerous books and articles. He has also had a great ministry to priests over the years, through the giving of retreats. Here are some of his reflections on today’s Gospel:

Filed in: Uncategorized

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If you read this post on Msgr. Pope’s blog, you will find many of his other outstanding reflections. For your convenience it is copied below with his kind permission.

Incarnation and the First Letter of John

by Msgr. Charles Pope (posted with permission – source)

In the weekday Masses following the Christmas octave we celebrate the Word becoming flesh. We read from the First Letter of John, which emphasizes the Incarnation of Jesus and demands that we experience the Word becoming Flesh in a practical way in our own lives.

Fundamentally, the Incarnation, the Second Person of the Trinity becoming flesh, means that our faith is about things that are real and tangible. As human beings, we have bodies. We have a soul that is spiritual, but it is joined with a body that is physical and material. Hence it is never enough for our faith to be about only thoughts, philosophies, concepts, or historical facts. Their truth must also touch the physical part of who we are. Our faith must become flesh; it has to influence our behavior. If that is not the case, then the Holy Spirit, speaking through John, has something to call us: liars.

God’s love for us in not just a theory or idea. It is a flesh and blood reality that can be seen, heard, and touched. The challenge of the Christmas season is for us to allow the same thing to happen to our faith. The Word of God and our faith cannot simply remain on the pages of a book or in the recesses of our intellect. They must become flesh in our life. Our faith has to leap off the pages of the Bible and the Catechism and become flesh in the way we live our life, the decisions we make, and the way we use our body, mind, intellect, and will.

Consider this passage read at Mass during the Christmas season. This excerpt is fairly representative of the tone of entire First Letter of John.

The way we may be sure that we know Jesus is to keep his commandments. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him. This is the way we may know that we are in union with him: whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as he walked (1 John 2:3ff).

Note some teachings that follow from it:

1. Faith is incarnational. What a practical man John is! Faith is not an abstraction; it is not merely about theories and words on a page. It cannot be reduced to slogans or pious sayings. It is about a transformed life; it is about truly loving God and making His Commandments manifest in the way we live. It is about the loving of my neighbor. True faith is incarnational, that is to say, it takes on flesh in my very “body.”

Human beings are not pure spirit. We are not just intellect and will; we are also flesh and blood. What we are cannot remain merely immaterial. What we are must also be reflected in our bodies, in what we physically do.

Many people spout this phrase too often: “I’ll be with you in spirit.” Perhaps an occasional physical absence is understandable, but after a while the phrase rings hollow. Showing up physically and doing what we say is an essential demonstration of our sincerity. Our faith must include a physical, flesh-and-blood dimension.

2. A sure sign – John said, The way we may be sure that we know Jesus is to keep his commandments. Now be careful of the logic here. The keeping of the commandments is not the cause of faith; it is more the fruit of it. It is not the cause of love; it is the fruit of it.

In Scripture, “knowing” refers to knowing on more than an intellectual level. It refers to deep, intimate, personal experience of the thing or person. It is one thing to know about God, it is another thing to “know the Lord.”

John is saying here that in order to be sure we have deep, intimate, personal experience of God, it must change the way we live. An authentic faith, an authentic knowing of the Lord, will change our behavior in such a way that we keep the commandments as a fruit of that authentic faith and relationship with the Lord. It means that our faith becomes flesh in us. Theory becomes practice and experience. It changes the way we live and move and have our being.

For a human being, faith cannot be a mere abstraction; in order to be authentic, it has to become flesh and blood. In a later passage, John uses the image of walking: This is the way we may know that we are in union with him: whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as he walked (1 John 2:6). Now walking is a physical activity, but it is also symbolic. The very place we take our body is physical, but it is also indicative of what we value, what we think.

3. Liar? – John went on to say, Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not keep his commandments is a liar. This is strong language. Either we believe and thus keep the commandments, or we are lying about really knowing the Lord and we fail to keep the commandments.

Don’t all of us struggle to keep the commandments fully? John seems so “all or nothing” in his words. His math is clear, though. To know the Lord fully is never to sin (cf 1 John 3:9). To know Him imperfectly is still to experience sin. Hence, the more we know Him (remember the definition of “know”) the less we sin. If we still sin, it is a sign that we do not know Him enough.

It is not really John who speaks too absolutely. It is we who do so. We say, “I have faith. I am a believer. I love the Lord. I know the Lord.” Perhaps we would be better saying, “I am growing in faith. I am striving to be a better believer. I am learning to love and know the Lord better and better.” Otherwise, we risk lying. Faith is something we grow in.

Many in the Protestant tradition have a tendency to reduce faith to an event: answering an altar call, or accepting the Lord as “personal Lord and savior.” But we Catholics do it, too. Many Catholics think that all they have to do is be baptized; they don’t bother to attend Mass faithfully later. Others claim to be “loyal” or even “devout” Catholics, yet dissent from important Church teachings. Faith is about more than membership. It is about the way we walk, the decisions we make. Without this harmony between faith and action, we live a lie. We lie to ourselves and to others. The bottom line if we really come to know the Lord more and more perfectly, we will grow in holiness, keep the commandments, and be of the mind of Christ. We will walk just as Jesus walked and our claim to faith will be the truth and not a lie.

4. Uh oh, is this salvation by works? No, but it is a reminder that we cannot separate faith and works. The keeping of the commandments is not the cause of saving or of real faith. Properly understood, the keeping of the commandments is the result of saving faith actively present and at work within us. It indicates that the Lord is saving us from sin and its effects.

The Protestant tradition erred in dividing faith and works. In the 16th century, the cry when up from Protestants that we are saved by “faith alone.” But faith is never alone; it always brings effects with it.

Our brains can get in the way here and tempt us to think that just because we can distinguish or divide something in our mind we can do so in reality. But this is not always the case.

Consider, for a moment, a flame. It has the qualities of heat and light. We can separate the two in our mind, but not in reality. I could never take a knife and divide the heat of the flame from the light of the flame. They are so interrelated as to be one reality. Yes, heat and light in a flame are distinguishable theoretically, but they are always together in reality.

This is how it is with faith and works. Faith and works are distinguishable theoretically, but the works of true faith and faith itself are always together in reality. We are not saved by works alone, or by alone. They are together. Faith without works is dead (James 2:14). In other words, faith without works is a nonexistent concept; it is not a saving or living faith. Rather, as John teaches here, to know the Lord by living faith is always accompanied by keeping the commandments and walking as Jesus did.

So faith is incarnational. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, really and physically. So, too, our own faith must become flesh in us, in our actual behavior.

Below are the words to a Christmas carol that is unknown to most Americans (unless you happen to be very familiar with Renaissance music). It is an early Spanish carol by an unknown 16th century composer. The gist of the carol is that the Word (Jesus) has shown His love for us by becoming flesh. Mary, who has real faith, would do anything for Jesus, but has nowhere even to lay Him down. The song rebukes this rich world for its lack of faith manifested in love and cries out, in effect, “Won’t you at least offer some swaddling clothes to the one you have forced to be born in a stable?” The world’s true faith must be made manifest by its acts of love. Here are the original words and the English translation of this incarnational Christmas carol:

Verbum caro factum est                      (The Word was made flesh)

Porque todos hos salveis.                   (for the salvation of you all.)

Y la Virgen le dezia:                            (And the Virgin said unto him:)

‘Vida de la vida mia,                           (‘Life of my life,)

Hijo mio, ¿que os haria,                     (what would I [not] do for you, my Son?)

Que no tengo en que os echeis?’         (Yet I have nothing on which to lay you down’)

O riquezas terrenales,                                    (O wordly riches,)

¿No dareis unos pañales                    (will you not give some swaddling clothes)

A Jesu que entre animals                    (to Jesus, who is born among the animals)

Es nasçido segun veis?                       (as you can see?)

 

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