Pope Francis on Always Being a Child

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Raising of Jairus’ Daughter, by Ilya Repin

Jairus the synagogue official loved his little daughter. So did the Lord Jesus. St. Mark narrates well in his gospel how much fuss and bother the Lord had to endure, just to get to the little girl’s bedside. But we know how much Christ loved little ones.

St. John Bosco died 129 years ago today. He loved little ones, too. In our Collect to begin Holy Mass today, we call him “father and teacher of the young.”

Pope Francis wrote something that I find very captivating in his letter to us about love and family life. In explaining the fourth commandment, the pope wrote:

Even if one becomes an adult, or an elderly person, even if one becomes a parent, if one occupies a position of responsibility, underneath all of this is still the identity of a child. We are all sons and daughters. And this always brings us back to the fact that we did not give ourselves life but that we received it. The great gift of life is the first gift that we received. (Amoris Laetitia 188)

The eternal Word of God gave us all our lives in the first place. Jesus gave Jairus’ daughter her little life in the first place. Then, to remind us of this sublime truth, Jesus gave the little girl her life back again, after she had succumbed to her illness.

We forget sometimes that God has given us our lives, as a loving Father lavishing His goodness upon His children. So Lord Jesus worked a miracle to remind us.

We are children. No matter how old or “wise” or important or knowledgeable or “professional” we become. We are our parents’ children, and we are God’s children. We did not give our selves to ourselves. God gave us us; God gave me me, through my parents.

When we remember this, I think we can continue to count ourselves—indeed we must continue to count ourselves–among the young. We need fathers and teachers. And our heavenly Father and Teacher will make sure we have the fathers and teachers we need in this world, provided we always remember how much we need them.

Clean of Heart

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Blessed are the clean of heart. (Matthew 5:8)  [click HERE for Spanish]

First, what does the Lord mean by heart? Does He mean the muscle? If you suffer from coronary artery disease, or mitral valve prolapse, or atrial fibrillation—does that mean that you have an unclean heart?

No. In the Bible, ‘heart’ means more than just the muscle. As the Catechism puts it, in the Bible the word ‘heart’ means the seat of moral personality. The heart has a spiritual dimension, involving our human search for truth and God.

That said, our hearts do, in fact, beat in our bodies. The Bible does not teach that we human beings have ethereal souls that just happen to find themselves trapped in clay. No. me, my heart, myself—it involves a mind and a body.

“Blessed are the clean of heart.” What then does He mean by clean? A ‘clean’ heart must mean: a mind and body perfectly united, and united with God.

Over the course of one 24-hour period this past week, I had a couple notable experiences which maybe will help illuminate this.

last-ritesFirst: I marched for life, in Washington, D.C. Like all of us who made the trip, I wanted to bear witness to God’s love for every human being. Pregnancy and birth might sometimes cause a lot of pain, and they always involve a mess of some kind. But pregnancy and birth are never ‘unclean,’ in the spiritual sense.

Sometimes babies get conceived after people make wrong decisions, even evil decisions. But a baby him- or herself comes to the world with nothing but pure divine love. There’s never been a baby that God didn’t want. That fact, that love—it trumps all judgment when it comes to any pregnancy. A baby, and the baby’s mother, always demand our pure love.

The judgment we can make involves recognizing abortion for what it is. The words “reproductive rights”—they’re nothing but an empty, purely hypothetical slogan. But abortion involves real, brutal violence. A pure heart doesn’t judge a mother for being a mother, nor a baby for being in the womb. But good judgment always excludes abortion.

I bring this up because it teaches us this: Our being alive, our being ourselves—it’s fundamentally clean. The all-pure God has willed that we exist. Therefore, to obtain Jesus’ promised blessing for the clean of heart—it can’t mean that something gets erased, as if it never was. Like a mother suffers through a painful, bloody mess to give birth, Christ suffered a terrible, bloody mess, nailed to a cross with thorns in His temples and scalp—so that we could be made clean, without being erased.

Which brings me to the second thing I did. I gave a little talk explaining the Catholic rituals that accompany death. Yes–a day in the life of a parish priest, my friends: the March for Life and a talk about death.

The most-important concept for understanding our ceremonies for the dying and the dead is this: Jesus Christ died and then rose in the body. So we will rise in the body, too. Right now we find ourselves, mind and body, in a sinful and mortal state. But undying bodily life awaits us, on the other side.

unbornJust one thing separates us from the clean, immortal life of the resurrected Christ. Purification, cleansing. Our dying and our death, when united with Christ through the sacraments, do not mean destruction. The Last Rites purify us as we prepare to die. Then after we die, the funeral Mass and the prayers and sacrifices of everyone grieving for us, and all the prayers we make for all the souls in purgatory—these help clean us up, to make us like Christ risen from the dead.

My fundamental point is this: God made us for purity of life, for the cleanness of a mind and body perfectly united–a heart living, loving, beating, united with God’s love. He did not make us for violence, nor death, nor oblivion. Who we are—fleshy creatures, walking around on two feet, male and female, full of life, guided by truth and love for everything really beautiful—who we are is clean.

But we live in this world under the sway of confusion, violence, and death. And all that confusion, violence, and death ultimately stems from our own human sins.

So we need purification; we need to be cleansed. We need discipline. We need to choose the more difficult and challenging path, to take up our crosses and follow the Lord. Let’s accept the plan that God has to purify our hearts, as it unfolds day by day. Because the path God leads us down is ultimately the path to pure love.

An Open E-Mail to Cardinal Dolan

Your Eminence,

I’m sure you won’t remember me; we met for two seconds at the North American College in Rome in the spring of AD 2000, when you kindly expressed your wishes that we seminarian visitors from Washington, D.C., had enjoyed our spaghetti. But I have admired you for two decades; I devoured your rector conferences when they were published in Priests for the Third Millennium.

priests-for-the-third-millenniumAnyway, yesterday I found myself crying for joy from one eye, and for sorrow from the other.

There I stood, at the rally beginning my 19th March for Life, having just greeted an old friend from a former parish with his 13-year-old son, who was born between my sixth and seventh Marches—and here was the Vice-President of the United States speaking to us in person. The vice-president of the United States is one of us. And another one of us is “Counselor to the President!” Tears of euphoria. We can reasonably hope for an end to Roe v. Wade!

On the other hand, right beside me stood, among the fifty people on the bus from my parish, a little group of undocumented Mexican immigrants, marching for life here with me, with us—dedicated pro-lifers whose fruitful presence in our blessed land our pro-life president seems hellbent to do away with. Bitter, miserable tears of fear.

Anyway, I just want to tell you that, having admired you for two decades, I have never admired you more than during your Sanctuary Homily at the Basilica. I thank you for it, dear brother, from the bottom of my heart.

–Fr. Mark White

 

Divine Messages

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There is nothing hidden except to be made visible. (Mark 4:22)

When you get to see a double rainbow during your morning run, you praise the Lord for His kindness and mercy.

Because, as we know from participating in the life of the Church and reading our Scriptures: a rainbow indicates more than the occurrence of a particular refraction of sunlight owing to atmospheric moisture. A rainbow also betokens God’s promise. Of old the Lord spoke to Noah, saying,

I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth…that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all mortal beings. (Genesis 9:15)

So a person can find him- or herself out running, or walking the dog, or waiting for a bus, or walking into the office from the parking lot, and God spreads the bow in the sky to remind you, “I love you, child. I love the whole earth I have made. Stride into the future, just like Noah and his family did. Because I guide all things toward a good goal.”

God communicates with us. St. Paul gave everything in the service of this fact, as did his protégés Saints Timothy and Titus, as have all apostolic men and women throughout this Age of the Christ’s Church.

noah-covenantWe get God’s message not by idle dreaming, or by fruitless navel gazing, or by willful egomania—we get God’s message by believing in Jesus Christ. We believe that He spoke absolute truth and that He is absolute Truth. And we believe that He pours out a divine Spirit from heaven, to sanctify us and guide us to the goal.

Now, how do we center ourselves in this journey? To one side lurks the danger of deaf and blind obtuseness. God wills to communicate with us, and He will communicate with us as He wills. We must remain open to Him always, in every little thing. Because nothing exists, except by the power of His love.

To the other side lurks the danger of irrationally seeing signs and messages in every little thing. Like, “Daggone, I didn’t hit that red light this morning! That must be the Lord telling me to march into my boss’ office when I get to work and demand a 50% raise!”

The way we center ourselves and avoid these dangers is: standing squarely within the fold of the Church. Growing constantly in our powers of discernment by actively participating in Mother Church’s prayers and ceremonies, studying Her teaching, going to confession every month, praying every day.

Lead on, o kind God of the covenant rainbow! Lead on, o Savior nailed to the cross. Lead on. We will do our best to hear You.

What Do You Mean, We? A Quiz and Two Lessons in Honor of St. Paul’s Conversion

Who wrote the Acts of the Apostles? St. Luke.

What is the book about? The beginnings of the Church. The beginnings of the mission entrusted by Christ to us human beings who humbly put our faith in Him.

For whom did St. Luke originally write the book? For Christians who spoke Greek, which means both Gentile and Jewish converts. At that time, Greek was the language that the world had most in common.

Saint Luke

St Luke

Who are the two most significant heroes of the Acts of the Apostles—other than the Holy Spirit, of course? Saints Peter and Paul.

How many times do we read about St. Paul’s conversion to Christ in the Acts of the Apostles? Three times. St. Luke narrates the event once, in chapter 9. Then St. Luke recounts St. Paul telling the story of his conversion twice. Once before to the Jews in Jerusalem, and once before the Roman procurator, on the Mediterranean coast.

The details remain the same in all three accounts. Lord Jesus spoke from heaven to the zealous Pharisee, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”

But when St. Paul told the story to his final audience, which included non-Jews, he added something. When the Lord spoke from heaven, He asked Saul about persecuting Him, and He also employed a common Greek expression to try to help St. Paul come to his senses: Saul, why do you kick against the pricks?

A yoked ox must learn to submit to the farmer. A prick, or goad, will stir an idle ox to action. But at first the ox doesn’t understand that the goad means, “Move!” So the ox kicks when pricked, instead of stepping forward. The kick just makes matters worse and exacerbates the pain. The ox has to learn that the prick means, “Step forward, dummy!”

Let’s take a lesson from Lord Jesus saying this to the young Paul. A farmer driving an ox knows more about what’s good for the ox than the ox does. Likewise, God knows more about what’s good for us than we do, left to our own devices. We prosper when we submit to God and obey Him.

Second, let’s take a lesson from St. Luke writing the Acts of the Apostles the way he did. Submission to God involves participating in the living, breathing institution that Jesus founded when He was on earth.

One thing St. Paul never thought was, “My relationship with God is my own independent, personal business.” He knew that he needed to belong to the People of God. The question was, “Who is the we? Who are we, the People of God?”

The answer he got: the one, visible Church founded by Jesus, presided over by St. Peter and his successors in office. An institution full of foibles, to be sure. But united nonetheless by the divine Gift, the Holy Spirit of Christ.

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Amoris Laetitia Catena, Part II

amoris-laetitia-coverChapter 4 of Pope Francis’ letter on family love explains the phrases in St. Paul’s famous I Corinthians 13. Three selections, dripping with wisdom…

Love bears all things and hopes all things…

Married couples joined by love speak well of each other; they try to show their spouse’s good side, not their weakness and faults. In any event, they keep silent rather than speak ill of them. This is not merely a way of acting in front of others; it springs from an interior attitude. Far from ingenuously claiming not to see the problems and weaknesses of others, it sees those weaknesses and faults in a wider context. It recognizes that these failings are a part of a bigger picture. We have to realize that all of us are a complex mixture of light and shadows. The other person is much more than the sum of the little things that annoy me. Love does not have to be perfect for us to value it. The other person loves me as best they can, with all their limits, but the fact that love is imperfect does not mean that it is untrue or unreal. It is real, albeit limited and earthly. If I expect too much, the other person will let me know, for he or she can neither play God nor serve all my needs. Love coexists with imperfection. It “bears all things” and can hold its peace before the limitations of the loved one. (para. 113)

Each person, with all his or her failings, is called to the fullness of life in heaven. There, fully transformed by Christ’s resurrection, every weakness, darkness and infirmity will pass away. There the person’s true being will shine forth in all its goodness and beauty. This realization helps us, amid the aggravations of this present life, to see each person from a supernatural perspective, in the light of hope, and await the fullness that he or she will receive in the heavenly kingdom, even if it is not yet visible. (para.117)

Love believes all things…

This trust enables a relationship to be free. It means we do not have to control the other person, to follow their every step lest they escape our grip. Love trusts, it sets free, it does not try to control, possess and dominate everything. This freedom, which fosters independence, an openness to the world around us and to new experiences, can only enrich and expand relationships. The spouses then share with one another the joy of all they have received and learned outside the family circle. At the same time, this freedom makes for sincerity and transparency, for those who know that they are trusted and appreciated can be open and hide nothing. Those who know that their spouse is always suspicious, judgmental and lacking unconditional love, will tend to keep secrets, conceal their failings and weaknesses, and pretend to be someone other than who they are. On the other hand, a family marked by loving trust, come what may, helps its members to be themselves and spontaneously to reject deceit, falsehood, and lies. (para. 115)

Love endures all things…

Dr. Martin Luther KingHere the pope quotes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at length:

The person who hates you most has some good in him; even the nation that hates you most has some good in it; even the race that hates you most has some good in it. And when you come to the point that you look in the face of every man and see deep down within him what religion calls ‘the image of God’, you begin to love him in spite of [everything]. No matter what he does, you see God’s image there. There is an element of goodness that he can never slough off… Another way that you love your enemy is this: when the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it… Hate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe. If I hit you and you hit me and I hit you back and you hit me back and so on, you see, that goes on ad infinitum. It just never ends. Somewhere somebody must have a little sense, and that’s the strong person. The strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate, the chain of evil… Somebody must have religion enough and morality enough to cut it off and inject within the very structure of the universe that strong and powerful element of love.

[Click HERE for Part I of the Amoris Laetitia catena]

What Does ‘Fish for Men’ Mean?

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Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men. (Matthew 4:19)

Lord Jesus offered this invitation to the Galilean fisherman brothers, Peter and Andrew. He offers the same invitation to us: Come, Christian! Come, child. Follow me, your teacher and Lord. Follow Me, the one true Christ, into Whose mystery you have been baptized. And I will make you fishers of men.

He says this to us, right here and now, like He said it to Peter and Andrew.

They made their living pulling up their large nets, full of fish. They labored in the hot sun. They rowed; they hunted; they spread their nets; they waited.  Then they acted quickly, decisively. They pulled up the nets and dumped everything in the hull; they paddled hard to the shore; they sorted; they salted; the organized and stored.

But: To fish for men…What does it mean? Two-part answer. And I think we have to start here: “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.” (Isaiah 9:1)

We can fish for men because God caught us first. Almighty God has done two equally amazing things. He has laid out the heavens and the earth; He has knit everything together according to His design. He has given us life, existence. He has given us everything as a gift—above all, our very own selves. He has formed us, equipped us, empowered us, and presented us to ourselves, saying, Behold, child! I give you yourself as a gift!

And: Into this vast cosmos which He has arrayed so wonderfully, He Himself stepped, and He lived like us. He walked. He ate fried fish. He talked with His friends over a campfire. He has touched our homeland Himself, Personally, as one of Mother Earth’s citizens. The light of the world, Jesus Christ—tender healer, demanding teacher, crucified for us, risen, and ascended to the heavenly Jerusalem, the divine-human High Priest of our religion.

Edward Armitage Call of Apostles fishermenWe can fish for men because this Light of God has shone. The net we use? Nothing less than that same eternal and glorious light. Why would any human being toil and labor in vain, alone and friendless in a windswept universe arcing towards nothingness? No: our Maker made everything with a plan. He piled up the mountainsides for a reason. And Christ reveals the reason: everything Almighty God does, He does for friendship, for communion, for love. Orphans under a silent sky? No. When we pray, we pray to our Father. And He hears us, and loves us, and knows what we need a hundred times better than we do.

An analogy. For twenty-five years I have cherished a particular possession I have. It has traveled with me, through a dozen moves from seminary to parish to parish to parish. And it weighs a lot, like ten or fifteen pounds. It’s the collected works of William Shakespeare, all his plays and poems in one big book, with excellent essays about them all. The Riverside Shakespeare.

This ten-pound object could hold any door open, or serve as a tv stand, or keep a picnic blanket from fluttering away in the wind. But that’s not why I love this possession so much; that’s not its purpose. I love it because I can read it.

In the same way, a human soul can pursue all kinds of things–like fleeting pleasures, or selfishness, or worldly power. Or a human soul can sink into slavish laziness. But the true reason why a human soul exists is: friendship with God in Christ. When we live in the friendship with God that Jesus offers us, then we know ourselves, and we are ourselves.

Part Two of what ‘fishers of men’ means. In the net, the fish come together. We fish for men because the light of God draws us together, together in Him.

I’m not going to get into politics right now, other than to say this: Inauguration Day left me with the sense that our USA is experiencing a profound identity crisis.

A special day for patriotism. Indeed, we take pride in our great nation. But patriotism is meant to offer us a firm sense of who we are as a people. When we proudly say, I am an American! My home is the USA! that should have a clear meaning, a meaning that calms and comforts the soul. But we Americans struggle with that right now. We struggle to find the comfort of a calm home that embraces with sweet harmony all the people who live here.

Lord Jesus has the answer. People, come together around Me! He tells us Christians: fish with that net. Jesus Christ, alive and well, pouring out His Holy Spirit through His Church—He can and does purify, elevate, and ennoble the minds of everyone Who lives in His friendship, so that we can live in fruitful harmony together. Gathered around Him, each of us can exercise every particular faculty of our own unique, individual selves, and it’s all for the good of everyone around us! Jesus gives us that kind of communion. The life of God is perfect peace. And that peace fills the hearts of those who live in Christ, giving us a sacred bond of friendship.

Fish for men! He commands us. The Light of God has shone. Man can live free. Man can know and be himself. And mankind can live and flourish in common harmony—when we get caught up in the beautiful net that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Transition, Inauguration, the New

At Holy Mass today, we read St. Paul quoting from the prophet of Jeremiah. The prophet promised a transition to a new covenant. The Holy Spirit would move the heart of man. In our Gospel reading, we witness the Lord Jesus inaugurating the life of His Church by choosing His twelve Apostles.

St. Paul points out, “what has grown old is close to disappearing.” The world is old. At today’s presidential-inauguration ceremonies, the Cardinal Archbishop of New York read Solomon’s prayer in Wisdom 9; Solomon asks God to give him the wisdom to build the Temple in Jerusalem. Our new president swore to uphold the covenant by which we live in this land, the U.S. Constitution. We pray for justice and peace on earth. But all the things of this world are very old; they’re all on their way out; our life on earth ends in the blink of an eye.

Every day, however, the Lord pours out His Spirit. That is always new. Our life with God, by the grace of Jesus Christ, is always new.

In his inaugural address, our new president emphasized the significance of the transition taking place today. His slogans rang hollow, like politicians’ slogans usually do. But this particular gentleman solemnized his presidential inauguration with chilling, tone-deaf messianic pretensions.

…Today we are not merely transferring power from one Administration to another, or from one party to another…For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost…That all changes – starting right here, and right now, because this moment is your moment: it belongs to you…January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again…

…Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system, flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now…The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action.

I tried to think of oratorical parallels. The gentleman who stood in the same place eight years ago had more than his fair share of messianic delusions of grandeur, too. But as President Trump spoke, this speech echoed in my mind:

Of whom ought we to think today?

The innocent and defenseless unborn children in the womb?

Tomorrow a lot of people will march in Washington, a Million-Woman counter-inaugural parade. They will stand up for a certain number of things I certainly believe in, like: this president is a shameless bastard and an obtuse dumbass. But pro-lifers received a dis-invitation to tomorrow’s Woman’s March.

Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway regards herself, like I do, as “a member of the pro-life rank and file.” The pro-life rank and file will march on Washington a week from today, as we annually do.

I think we should rejoice that pro-lifers will finally have some real political power. May they use it to build the culture of life.

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Should we think today of the poor people who have to live in fear of losing their healthcare? Or the undocumented who have to live in fear of deportation?

Should we think of the dogged journalists who really don’t appreciate the way our president brazenly lies to them?

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We have been here before, and the USA has lived to tell the tale. We have had ill-equipped presidents who didn’t know much of anything. One of them served from 1856 to 1860. But not all of them handed off to their successors a nation on the verge of Civil War…

In his speech today, the president painted the picture of a blighted, bleeding nation. Thank God that’s not really the state our nation is in. We know how to love our neighbor. Let’s keep doing it.

 

 

The Mercy of Baptism

He is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. (John 1:33)

St. John the Baptist washed sinners in the Jordan River. People came from all over the Holy Land to repent of their sins and receive John’s baptism.

baptismDid St. John the Baptist invent baptism? Not exactly.

The ancient Temple in Jerusalem had water baths for pilgrims to cleanse themselves in. Ritual washing goes way back. Water cleanses our bodies. So the religions of mankind have added a spiritual dimension to this cleansing power. In other words, “baptism” is as old as the human race; St. John did not invent it.

But John did administer baptism to God Himself, the God-man Jesus Christ. Not because God needed cleansing. But because God wills to use water to baptize with the Holy Spirit, through His Church. Lord Jesus commissioned us to “go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

John said it: Christ baptizes not just with water, but with the Holy Spirit. Jesus pours out divine grace along with the water. So, yes: Catholic baptism is a religious cleansing ritual, similar to such washings in other religions. But that’s not all Catholic baptism is. Because here Christ acts through the ritual washing. God Himself produces invisible effects on the soul of the one baptized.

Jesus died and rose again for us, and He ascended into heaven. Through the sacrament of baptism, our High Priest applies to the baptized person the fruits of that mystery. Christ makes a Christian, a new anointed one. He unites the baptized person to Himself. Baptism cleanses us of sin. But the “cleanness” brought about by Christian baptism involves more than just pardon for personal sins. It involves unbreakable solidarity with Jesus Christ. In Baptism, Christ marks the soul with a permanent character. He “brands” the soul, so to speak, as belonging to Him.

Now, God possesses a firmness and permanence beyond what we can even imagine. We think of mountain ranges and vast oceans as being permanent fixtures, but they have nothing on the permanence of God. We also have a tendency to think that everything depends on us clever human beings. But it doesn’t. God works effects through His sacraments, effects that go beyond what we can understand. Baptism means God uniting Himself with us on His terms, not ours. As St. Paul puts it, “God must prove true, even if all men are fickle.” (Romans 3:4)

baptism-holy-card1If you pay attention to the Catholic press, you may know that lately various prelates and ecclesiastical big-wigs have emphasized the importance of “pastoral accompaniment.” We need to accompany everyone with supportive love, regardless of whether we approve or disapprove of how they behave.

To understand this, I think we need to meditate on what God affirms when He pours out the Holy Spirit on us in the sacrament of Baptism. He assures us: I made you in the beginning, and I made you out of love. I made you to reign in happy blessedness, as a member of the divine household. The nonsense of this world does not control your destiny. I will only good for you. I have a detailed plan for your life, which leads ultimately to heaven.

This doesn’t mean that baptized people can’t wind up in hell. You or I could wind up in hell tomorrow, if we don’t watch our p’s and q’s. Our choices have consequences. God’s law binds. The Lord does not lower His expectations of the morals of those He unites with Himself through baptism; he raises those expectations. God help anyone who knowingly chooses to break God’s law.

But if we think that Christianity simply means: “me being a good person,” we have missed it altogether. Because we are not good people.

Christ came to save us because we are sinners. We’re sinners who all deserve to go to hell. As St. John Paul II put it, in his encyclical on Christian morals:

No human effort, not even the most rigorous observance of the commandments, succeeds in…rendering God the worship due to Him…This fulfillment can come only from a gift of God. (Veritatis Splendor 11)

God loves sinners who deserve to go to hell. He died for sinners who deserve to go to hell. He came to affirm the truths that He affirms through the sacrament of baptism: Sinner, I love you. Sinner, I made you for happiness and glory. Sinner, I have a plan for you.

“Pastoral accompaniment” hardly means just chumming around and ignoring the Ten Commandments. Hanging out and talking sports hardly counts as “evangelization.” Much as I personally enjoy doing it. We can’t hide the fact that the Gospel of Jesus Christ makes very challenging demands on us, precisely in order to help us find true happiness.

But we also can’t forget that all human beings fundamentally stand on the same footing before God–namely that His mercy can and does overcome all our evil. When we baptized people know we have done wrong, we can get right again by going to “second baptism,” also known as…confession. We can go again and again, because God never tires of forgiving.

Christ’s infinite and omnipotent mercy really is the pre-eminent power that reigns in the Church. Which is because, when everything is said and done, His infinite, omnipotent mercy is the pre-eminent power that reigns over all things.

So let’s help each other, and let’s help everyone we know, respond humbly to that bounteous divine love.

More Hebrews 2 + Our-Father Question

He is able to help those who are being tested. (Hebrews 2:18)

Every day we beg our heavenly Father, “lead us not into temptation.” Thoughtful Christians rightly wonder sometimes about this petition. Would our good God lead us toward evil? This prayer doesn’t really make sense!

dog-cuffsThe problem here comes from translating Greek into English. To us, “lead” sounds like what a dog-owner does when taking Fido out for a walk. Fido prays, “Don’t lead me down the street with the mean Doberman! Lead me to the fire hydrants instead.”

But the Greek doesn’t imply this. It implies that God possesses the power both to protect us from temptation and to help us resist it when it comes.  God Himself wills no evil and tempts no one. He has made nothing that is evil in itself. In fact, within ourselves, in the depths of our souls, He has endowed us with powers of goodness that we don’t even know about yet.

That’s why our pilgrim lives involve ‘tests.’ If instinct alone guided us, we wouldn’t confront any tests. We would just chase squirrels and never become any better or worse.

But we have more than instincts inside us to guide us. We have the power to discern. We can strive and struggle to overcome every destructive impulse, and thereby blossom as the good people God made us to be.

Temptations come because we are actually better than we think we are. With God’s help, we can resist, and that brings out the hidden good person within. Being tempted is not a sin; the sin is to give in.

So let’s fight. Let’s hold our tongues instead of carping and gossiping. Let’s try to see the good in others, instead of judging them harshly. Let’s possess ourselves in patience, instead of flying off the handle. Let’s exercise our bodies and minds in prayer and wholesome enterprises, instead of letting ourselves grow dim-witted and lazy.

Yes, our pilgrim lives involves tests. We must pray daily for the grace both to avoid them, if it’s best for us to avoid them, or endure them, if it’s best for us to fight and win.

With God’s help we can pass the tests we have to take. We can earn A’s. Because “He is able to help those who are being tested.”