If You Love Me . . .

At least once a week we recite either the Apostles’ or the Nicene Creed, a summary of the doctrines we accept as fundamental to our religion. They become especially meaningful as we receive newly formed candidates into the church, and when our young people receive the sacrament of Confirmation. At these liturgies it is common for the congregation to join in the profession of faith.

In addition to pledging adherence to the traditional Creed, the ten commandments, and the rules of the Church, it is even more important that we remind ourselves of Jesus’ teachings as recorded in the Gospels. For in Matthew, Chapters 5 through 7, Jesus calls us to a deeper interpretation of the Law. You have heard it said . . . (and he quotes an existing law) . . . but I tell you . . .

For several of the ten commandments, he adds a deeper rule that surpasses the apparent goodness, or righteousness, of the Pharisees: Do not kill is elevated into Do not be angry with another. Do not commit adultery is not enough: we must reject any lustful thoughts. As children of our heavenly Father, we are held to a certain standard of behavior that goes above and beyond loving those who love us. Anyone can do that! Our transformation into the people of God means that we become God-like in our love and prayer for enemies, not just for our friends.

At the Last Supper Jesus gave his disciples a “new commandment” that covers all the rest: to love one another as He has loved us. This is the very center of our Christian faith and the path to union with God, as urged by the principles of Vatican II. It is through love for others that we arrive at a deeper understanding of who God is and of our relationship with Him: If you love me, you will keep my commandments …. Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him. (John 14:15; 21)

And so, we need to profess fidelity to this law of love, so that we let others see that we are indeed the children of God in Christ.

Christian Creed: A Sequel

*   I believe in God the Father Almighty, in Jesus Christ his Son, and in the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Love that binds them and us together.
*   I believe in loving my neighbor and myself, as God loves us.
*   I believe in forgiving anyone who causes me pain.
*   I believe in praying for those who hurt me.
*   I believe in loving my enemies.
*   I believe that, as a Christian, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit live in me, and that I carry the Trinity to all I see or touch in this world.
*   I believe that God desires happiness and unending life for all souls he has created, and that is why he sent his Son to teach us how to live in harmony with one another.
*   I believe that Christ taught what he heard from the Father; that for these teachings he accepted rejection, cruel treatment and execution.
*   I believe that God’s law of love as taught and exemplified by Christ is the one thing necessary; that the law of love must be followed and cherished, thus drawing us into an unending place of joy and love.
*   I believe that I am called to relive the life of Christ in the unique circumstances given to me.
*   I believe that we who call ourselves Christians are called to imitate Christ in all things.
*   I believe that we are given the graces necessary to live by  the commandments of Christ.

Amen.

Past Imperfect, Future Perfect

A Grammar Lesson?? 

As a kid, I was one of those weird ones who loved grammar.

Yes, I know. What does this have to do with the Ascension? Bear with me. 

This week we celebrate the Ascension, a major feast that offers an opportunity to review the past of Christ’s life, and the future of our life with him in the Father’s dwelling place. It is precisely those words expressing TIME that led me to today’s meditation.

When I studied (and later taught) Latin, I was introduced to verb tenses different from those  in our own English language. In Latin, something wasn’t simply past: it could be past imperfect, which meant that it continued over a period of time. On the other hand, past perfect expressed an action that was completely over and done with. For example,  “I was writing (imperfect) this post, when my pencil broke (perfect).”

[You’ll be relieved that I don’t plan to get into the more complex verb forms, such as pluperfect, future perfect and the subjunctive.]

Yes, we grammarians are weird, but as with everything in life, there’s a spiritual lesson to be discovered here. “In grammar??” you say, incredulously. Yes, even in grammar. After all, the Catechism tells us that “God is everywhere.” St. Ignatius teaches us to find God in all things, and Thérèse of Lisieux Open Bookclaimed that everything is a grace. Let me explain.

All of us live in the past imperfect tense, that is, in a state of continuous imperfection. Our past has not only continued to accumulate events every second and every hour of every day, but our handling of these events are more often than not glaringly imperfect, in the sense of flawed. It is these past imperfect/flawed events that weigh us down with negative feelings such as regret, guilt, self-recrimination, and blame. It is for this past that Christ’s forgiveness and the Sacrament of Reconciliation have been given to us. Dwelling on the imperfect moments of our past squanders both our physical and spiritual energy, and deprives us of the peace that Christ offers us.

Though ascended into heaven, Christ is still present with and in us. In Christ and in Christ alone, is the future truly perfect, since he has gone to prepare a place for us in his Father’s heavenly dwelling, so that where he is, we also shall be. This is our future perfect, our perfect future.

Where, then, will our imperfect past have gone? It has now become Past Perfect, for in the merciful mind of God it is not only past and forgiven; it is totally forgotten.

May we all one day ascend with Christ to our perfect, timeless eternity.

Friends to the Rescue

They stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples gathered around him, he got up and entered the city.
(Acts 14)

Time and again, Scripture lets us know the value of friends, as in this passage from our readings today, May 16.

In a Gospel scene, Jesus is teaching in a crowded room, leaving no space for a paralytic to enter. Undeterred, his friends carry him up to the roof, remove some tiles and lower the paralytic into the room. “Seeing their faith,” Jesus cures the man.

Not long after my bout with pneumonia, I was describing to one of the Brothers how, in my delirium, I was unable to pray or even to mention the name of God. “That’s why, ” said Brother Gabriel, “we need to pray for our sick friends.” I wonder how many friends (and family) were praying for me at that time.

Friendship grows freely between persons who love each other and are concerned for the other’s well-being. There is no sense of obligation; the Love between friends is totally gratuitous.

Friendship is similar to spousal love in that it is ready to take on the burden of the other “in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer.” Friends cherish the same things, spurn the same things. They rarely disagree but when they do, they are careful not to belittle the other’s opinion.

friendlyFriends may be very different from each other. Still, they are enough alike in their thinking and values that they easily fall into a rhythm of togetherness marked by acceptance, spontaneity, and frequently delightful surprises. They love each other in the style that best suits the other. They never run out of conversation, as they share their thoughts from the most trivial to the deepest secrets of their soul. They are confident that secrets will be closely guarded, and never fear that they will shock the other, but will be held in respect and without judgment.

Blessed are the friends who are drawn to love each other through their shared love of the source of all Love. Here they reach the summit of human love and bask in the love of the One who called his followers “friends.”

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. . . I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my father. (John 15:13-15)

Proof of Faith

During this season when the Acts of the Apostles are read, we’re led to think about the early Church, its formation and growth. (Believe it or not, I used to think that these readings were boring! That tells us how God helps us grow.)

It was not only during the Apostolic period that the Church was faced with problems. What becomes clear is that there were many different “beliefs” plus challenges to those beliefs that cropped up from one era to another. This post is dedicated to brevity, so even if I knew them I can’t list the many heresies that invited constant clarification, correction and defense. Certainly, the most basic attack on faith today is atheism which still thrives and still gives rise to some form of apologetics. Next threatened is dedication to  mainstream religious practices that promote and require belief in what seems to be unbelievable.

Arguments over doctrines throughout the ages have led to un-Christian extremes of wars, bloodshed and martyrdom. This in turn leads to the disintegration of the religion that promotes such beliefs.

The problem is that we humans want evidence and certitude; logic and reasonableness. And the fact is, faith seems to elude these standards.

We don’t have a problem agreeing with the doctrine that says we’ve been made in the image and likeness of God, probably because it lifts us above the mud of our nature. However, our God-likeness gives us a mind, and the mind will simply not stop asking questions and looking for solid evidence. Even when God came to us as a touchable human being, we still wanted more. “Only show us the Father; that will be enough for us!” Phillip asks Jesus. “Give us a sign!” was the constant demand from people who had already seen many signs and who really didn’t want a sign because then they’d be forced to accept Jesus as the Christ.

Over the centuries, various proofs for the existence of God have been offered as absolute. (And heaven help you if your god is different from my god!) But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8)

Just what is this faith that Jesus hoped would fill the earth?

I think it’s safe to say that Christ wants us to believe in him — rely on him — enough to follow what he taught: a way of living that would actually imitate God; a way of treating one another as God treats us, forgiving us and making his sun to rise on the just and the unjust. This is how we become the “image and likeness” of God our Father. This is what the Kingdom of God looks like. We don’t start out that way; that’s how we hope to finish.

A wonderful insight as to to what constitutes proof of the existence of God is to be found in the May 1 issue of America magazine. In a review of a recent film “The Case for Christ,”  Jesuit Paul Lickteig writes:*

“. . . these movies are unlikely to convert unbelievers, because they demand a type of belief in God that requires unassailable evidence. The problem is that for those who live a life of faith, certitude is something that we seldom find. Evidence for God’s existence can always be questioned.”

Lickteig’s premise is that we Christians need to offer proof of Christ with our lives, not with apologetics.

“That we so often lack the capacity [I would say the “willingness”] to live our convictions—to practice love, mercy, fidelity and self-sacrifice—leaves the outside observer wondering not if Jesus existed, but if faith really matters. Where is the proof for that?

“… Faith in Christ costs a person everything. As Christians we will be asked to profess the equally implausible beliefs that Jesus rose from the dead and that we are supposed to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. (Really, which is harder to believe?)

“… The only proof we will ever have is observed in the power of Christ to transform the ways we live. The truth is that nothing other than the love of Christ, revealed in a Christian’s life, has ever, or will ever serve as proof for the existence of God.

In this, Lickteig echoes Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner who wrote that the Christian of today must be a mystic (i.e., one who is totally in love with God). Add to that these statements from other notable human beings:

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” G. K. Chesterton

“I would have been a Christian if I hadn’t met one.” Mahatma Gandhi

“So let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

The visible practice of Christ’s teachings is the only proof that can persuade others that God is real and, especially, that God is good.

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* “The case for (and problem with) “The Case for Christ””. Paul Lickteig, S.J. America May 1, 2017. For the complete article that appeared online April 6, check this link:
https://www.americamagazine.org/arts-culture/2017/04/06/case-and-problem-case-christ