Ask and You Shall Receive the good Holy Spirit

cropped-me-with-pope-jp-ii.jpg

on my way down to kiss the ring of the fisherman, 3/9/00

Seventeen years ago today, I assisted at Mass with Pope St. John Paul II. He welcomed seminarians into his little chapel in the papal apartment every morning. Room enough for about 30 people, with half of them standing along the back wall. I’ll never forget how we got ushered in there at 7am, hushed, after passing through a chintzy metal detector and going up an old elevator—and there he was, kneeling in front of the altar, preparing to vest for Mass. Afterwards, we got to meet him in the library outside the chapel, and he encouraged us in our service to Christ.

On that day–March 9, 2000–the sun shone through the crisp Roman air. Spring was springing–just like it is here, in what I like to think of as the second-most-beautiful city in the world, Roanoke, Va.

This weather reminds us of the ancient origins of our English word for the 40 days before Easter. The word comes from “lengthen,” because the days get longer. “Lent” literally means “springtime.”

Which is why, when the Lord tells us, “Ask, and you shall receive,” we immediately blurt out: “Please! No snow this weekend!” He promised that He would lavish “good things” on those who pray. Snow ain’t no good thing.

st john paul iiBut, speaking of those “good things:” again we must briefly contend with a slight discrepancy in what our Lord said on two different occasions.

As we read at today’s Holy Mass, St. Matthew recorded the Lord, during the Sermon on the Mount, promising “good things” to those who pray. But when St. Luke recorded Christ’s teachings on prayer, He quoted Him as promising the Holy Spirit to those who ask.

So is it “good things” or “the Holy Spirit?”

Come on, people. This apparent discrepancy hardly poses the kind of tricky challenge we faced yesterday, when we had to clear up what the “sign of Jonah” was. This one is easy by comparison. After all, what thing could be as good as the Holy Spirit? The original Goodness from which all things flow?

So, if it be His will that snow fall this weekend, on the very night when we lose an hour’s sleep, then so be it. We can take it. God’s will be done.

By the day seventeen years ago when I had the privilege of kissing the fisherman’s ring on his finger, St. John Paul II had grown old and thoroughly enfeebled. His vigorous youth–when he hiked, and camped out, and said Mass on the back of a kayak for his college students–had vanished.

But he rejoiced in the Lord nonetheless. He rejoiced in the divine will. He rejoiced in the great mystery of Christ crucified, in the springtime–the mystery by which a spring will come that will never fade.

 

What Exactly is the Sign of Jonah?

jonah sistine chapel

Jonah by Michelangelo

 

We might ask for a sign from God. But no sign will be given to this generation, except the sign of Jonah.

Okay. But what exactly is “the sign of Jonah?” There seems to be a slight discrepancy. After all…

a. We read in Luke that the Lord says that “Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites.” As we read in the book of Jonah, the prophet went to the huge city and preached repentance for their sins.

But:

b. we read in Matthew that the Lord says that “Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.”

So is the “sign of Jonah” his preaching repentance in Nineveh? Or is it his little sojourn in his buddy the whale’s belly? Which is the sign, Lord?

Yes. The answer, as usual, is Yes. I think we touch the heart of the matter here—the matter of Lent, the matter of Christianity. The answer is Yes, when we re-phrase the question about the sign of Jonah. Namely, like this:

How are we supposed to repent? What stimulates repentance? Sometimes we repent because sin has unpleasant effects right now. For instance, dude repents of drinking too much last night, solely because he has a hangover. Or wife repents of being mean to her husband, because he won’t talk to her now.

But relying completely on this kind of stimulus for repentance exposes a soul to the gravest danger. Because the worst sins may not have unpleasant consequences in this pilgrim life. People might grow tired of Father’s tediousness during his sermons and decide to spend Sunday mornings somewhere other than church. Does this cause cold sores, or stiff knees? Does the house get struck by lightning? No, the tv works just fine. No immediate unpleasant consequences.

Charles Bosseron Chambers Sacred Heart of JesusWhat, then, can stimulate me truly to repent?

The one absolutely effective stimulus is: Contemplating Christ crucified and Christ risen.

Christ crucified and risen reveals:

  1. The extent and gravity of my sins and God’s divine love and mercy.
  2. The demands that God’s law makes on me and my ability to achieve a peaceful conscience when I put my faith in Him.

He would have had to suffer this much just for me, if I were the only sinner. And He would willingly have done so, because that’s how much He loves me. God’s justice demands nothing less than the sacrifice of the perfectly innocent Lamb. And He freely offers that sacrifice Himself, so that, when I put myself at His feet, I can rest my soul there, like a child.

First Sunday of Lent Homily, Lectionary Year A

the-fall

Once every three years, we read the account of the Fall of Man at Sunday Mass.  To begin Lent.  We remember that somewhere in the murky past, we human beings had at least one moment of purity, when we enjoyed a better life–a life without all the struggles we now have.

We weren’t always this way.  We did not always lurch through our experiences in such a Homer-Simpson-like manner.  Our hearts did not always start fluttering whenever we see a frozen yogurt machine or a chocolate-chip cookie.  We did not always have such a hard time concentrating on God’s Word, while meanwhile having such an easy time concentrating on why so-and-so should have spoken to me before speaking to that other person—how dare she snub me!

We would still live in that paradise, in that peaceful Garden of a bigger life—if only we human beings did not have such a hopeless penchant for false pride.

“Oh, okay, Mr. Serpent!  You’re saying we human beings actually know better than God?  Really?  Well, we wouldn’t necessarily have thought that…  But if you say so.”

False pride.  True pride would have said to the serpent:  “Wait a minute.  God made us.  He loves us.  He has the best plan.  Maybe we don’t understand His rules perfectly.  But we will understand, in the end.  All will come clear in God’s time.  Meanwhile, we trust our heavenly Father!”

But:  We human beings tend to confuse ourselves with God.  Satan preyed on this.  He tricked us into doubting the heavenly Father’s Providence.  And we fell.

televisionA question:  We know from experience what it’s like to live now after the Fall of Man.  But how could we possibly know anything about what human life would have been like before the Fall?  How can we say what kind of life Adam and Eve had, before they ate the fateful apple?

Anybody know the answer?  In the fullness of time, the un-fallen Eve and the un-fallen Adam gave us a window into what our life was originally meant to be like.  Who brought the Garden of Eden back to the earth?  The Blessed Mother and her Son. Lord Jesus and the Blessed Virgin enjoyed perfect intimacy with the Creator. That intimacy teaches us about what life was like in the Garden of Eden. And, of course, it teaches us about heaven, too.

Question 2Death.  We fell from grace in the garden, and our mortal nature kicked-in. We are dust, and unto dust we shall return.  Did God punish us by allowing this?

Well, our First Parents succumbed to false pride.  Therefore, all their children inherit human flesh bearing the humiliating mark of inevitable death.  Sounds like punishment.

But maybe death came as a remedy for the Fall?  We lost the peace of perfect friendship with the Creator, and so this pilgrimage comes with daily doubts and struggles.  Death means the end of all this confusion and strife, the human agony that the Fall has caused.  Death means that our “fallen-ness” doesn’t last forever.  Death means the Lord has opened up a doorway that leads to something else, something other than just a life of tv, and failed diets, and paying bills, and never quite getting everything right.

The intimacy of Jesus with the Father.  The hungry man Who feeds on God’s truth says to the tempting devil, “Man lives on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  The perfectly free, perfectly self-possessed man, united with the Creator, says to the tempter, “We owe our service to God alone, and we must not put His Providence to the test.”

christ-fastingNow, God may test us.  He may give us an unusually hard Lent.  A terribly frustrating Lent.  A Lent of good intentions that limp along lamely, well short of the mark.  If such be the Lent that the Lord has a mind to give us, so be it.  We will trust in His love and His mercy.  We will try to die to our own false pride.

If the Lord uses this Lent to draw us into a dark night of the soul, and we don’t feel His presence, and any good and hopeful future seems a long way off—we will praise and bless Him for it.  Nothing draws us closer to God than when He demands that we live by pure faith, without any consolations in this world.

Each of us has his or her own particular problems.  But we all have one problem in common:  We are members of the fallen human race.  And the Lord offers us all a common solution to our problem:  Faith.  Faith in Jesus Christ and faith in the heavenly Father Who, out of pure love, sent His eternally begotten Son to live a human life, so that we sinful human beings could get to heaven.

We want the intimacy with our Creator that we lost when our First Parents fell, the intimacy that we hope to have in the heaven that Jesus won for us. Indeed, we do have that intimacy even now—when the Spirit leads us stumblingly out into the desert, into the dark cloud of pure Christian faith.

Human Freedom +Amoris Laetitia Session

We read at today’s Holy Mass: This is the fasting I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke. (Isaiah 58:6)

sistine isaiahWhat does it mean for man truly to reign over himself in freedom? We need to know that, in order to co-operate with it. As we read: above all sacrifices, the Lord demands my co-operation with the true freedom of my neighbors. Not to mention: my co-operation with the true freedom He wills for me, myself.

Freedom comes from knowledge. We can only make free choices about things that we know and understand. Human knowledge extends only so far, so human freedom extends only so far. We don’t have absolute freedom. Only God knows everything, so only God can act with absolute freedom.

But we human beings do have it in us to reign over all the other creatures in the material cosmos. For us to serve anything beneath us means slavery. And we can’t enslave ourselves to each other, either. Which means we must cultivate free minds.

How about if we strive during Lent 2017 to attain genuine independence of thought? If I have an independent mind, I will know how to respect my neighbor’s right to exercise his or her independent mind.

How? By smashing my interior idols. God alone has absolute authority to teach me the truth. I must offer Him constant access to my mind. By keeping silence. By reading unfamiliar things. By listening to others patiently. By speaking only what I know to be true. By eliminating gossip from my life altogether.

amoris-laetitia-coverThe free person is not the one who serves nothing. The free person is the one who learns from God and serves Him out of love. When I live this free life, I will know how to respect everyone else’s right to live it, too.

We had an illuminating parish study session on Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia yesterday evening. Since Lent is supposed to be hard, I distributed a six-page handout and gave some pop quizzes.

We agreed, I think, that we possess a shining nugget of gold. Namely, the image of marriage which we behold when a man and a woman exchange vows before a clergyman and the holy altar–and then go home and start making babies.

This image shines with a particular light: the light of God giving life. Human beings can and do bind themselves to the service of such a mystery. And our conjugal service to God the Giver of Life goes to the death, just as Jesus went to the death to espouse Himself to His people.

In order for sex or marriage to make sense, they must mean the same thing. Neither prudish nor crass, we recognize our own origins in this reality. And we recognize in Christ crucified, in His sacred wounds, the revelation of the meaning of life. Eternal Love made us to be His friends forever.

Which brings me to this: The more times I read Amoris Laetitia, the less I get out of it. I’ll give you my current bottom line on it.

Catholics living in “irregular” sexual situations can and do receive Holy Communion all the time, without consulting the parish priest. Perhaps they do so with tranquil consciences. No one gets scandalized who doesn’t know. The communion lines at our parishes here in Roanoke are anonymous-enough places.

If someone initiates a conversation with a parish priest about his/her irregular sexual situation, it’s because s/he does not have a clear conscience about it. Trying to shepherd souls lovingly, I of course cannot close the door on such a conversation with a “get away from me, sinner!”

But, by the same token, saying, ‘go ahead and receive Holy Communion,’ seems to me like closing the door in a different way. I have read Amoris Laetitia three times through, and have yet to find anything that convinces me that it makes sense to tell people having sex outside of canonical marriage that they’re fine.

Sed contra: In an interview with the National Catholic Register, Cardinal Coccopalmiero proposed this case:

Think of a woman who lives with a married man. She has three little children. [Note: Apparently the man’s children; not hers.] She has already been with this man for 10 years. Now the children think of her as a mother. He, the partner, is very much anchored to this woman, as a lover, as a woman. If this woman were to say: ‘I am leaving this mistaken union because I want to correct my life, but if I did this, I would harm the children and the partner,’ then she might say: ‘I would like to, but I cannot.’

In precisely these cases, based on one’s intention to change and the impossibility of changing, I can give that person the sacraments, in the expectation that the situation is definitively clarified…How can she leave the union? He [her civilly married spouse] will kill himself. The children, who will take care of them? They will be without a mother. Therefore, she has to stay there.

I see problems. Instead of saying, Yes, of course, go to Holy Communion! I would ask if she thought she should tolerate her husband’s suicide threats, since they are no less aggressive than threats to her life. I would ask if he had sought to obtain an annulment, so they could be married in church. I would try to point out to her that she was being exploited.

In other words, with all due respect, I think the Cardinal’s case is not very convincing.

Would love to read you thoughts, dear reader!

 

Ash-Wednesday Homily

These days everyone demands “transparency.” Transparency in decision-making; transparency in government; “transparent” accounting. And why not? Honest people tend not to have something to hide.

But in the gospel at Holy Mass, the Lord tells us to keep secrets—namely, our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving during Lent. “Transparency” makes a nice buzzword. But we have to face the facts about the obscurity in which we find ourselves.

Pope Francis ashesAfter all, we frequent church precisely to acknowledge that what we cannot see exceeds in greatness what we can see. We walk by faith–faith in divine mysteries.

At the font, when each of us received the sacrament of Baptism, everyone there saw the ritual. But only from heaven could they see the whole thing: the cleansing of the soul by Christ’s Precious Blood and the supernatural unification with His Body.

And what could be less “transparent” than the Mass? The angels see Jesus, risen from the dead, in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. But we do not see Him with our eyes. This Catholicism thing is a pretty daggone obscure business.

Even more: Can I claim to be transparent to myself? Sure, I want the government to operate in a transparent manner. But do I operate in a transparent manner? I hardly understand the inner workings of my own appetites and desires. It takes a lot of work even to achieve enough clarity with myself to see how big a sinner I am.

But it’s not hopeless. All this obscurity is not meant to last forever.

The mysteries of our faith promise resurrection. Lord Jesus rose from the dead. In His risen Body, He possesses utter human transparency: Himself, body and soul, irradiated with divine light.

We believe in this. And we hope that we, too, will rise and share in that brilliant human transparency.

In the meantime, we struggle in obscurity. We pray in secret, fast in secret, and give alms in secret. Our Father above sees what is hidden. And He will repay our obscure sacrifices with the glory of His perfectly clear light.

Worrying, Conscience, Obedience

dont-worry-be-happy-bobby-mcferrin-cd-cover-artYour heavenly Father feeds the birds of the air and clothes the flowers of the field, even though they neither sow nor reap nor toil nor spin. Are you not more important than they? So do not worry. Your heavenly Father knows what you need. (see Matthew 6:26-32)

Comforting. Almost enough to make you sing ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy,’ by Bobby McFerrin. But the Lord had a little more to say.

Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Do not worry about tomorrow. Today has plenty of evil.

So maybe our song should be: “Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh. Landlord said your rent is late; he might have to litigate. Don’t worry. But avoid evil.”

Anyone know the phrase contemptus mundi? Anyone know Latin? I think we could translate it: contempt for the world’s business.

Let’s start with this: Human beings seek happiness. That’s what we do. Squirrels seek nuts; dogs seek squirrels; human beings seek happiness. We would be just fine if we knew clearly what will make us happy. But we don’t.

Some people seek happiness in a full belly or a heady buzz. Some seek happiness in the esteem and honor of men. Some try to get happy by piling up money. Some want to become little Mr. or Mrs. Perfect.

crispy_bacon_1But none of it really satisfies. No one ever gets anywhere near real wisdom without realizing: This world and its business cannot, in and of itself, make me happy. I won’t truly find happiness–peaceful happiness–until I get to heaven. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.”

Now, there’s a bit of a debate swirling around the upper echelons of the Church these days. The subject is: how the Church should interact with someone’s conscience.

I guess we could paint two cariciatures, depicting the extremes. On the one end, mindless Catholic lemmings who obey their priests like robots. I get up and say, “No meat on Fridays during Lent!” Then everyone marches home mechanically, takes the bacon out of the fridge, and drops it into the garbage, like a factory machine with a robotic arm.

On the other end of the spectrum: Priests never challenging anyone about anything. They just talk like Obi Wan Kenobi, saying, “Well, sure the sixth commandment officially says, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery.’ But what does your heart tell you? Stretch out with your feelings, Luke! Put on the blast helmet, and do whatever you want!”

Lord Jesus started by saying: “Repent, and believe the Good News.” God is God. Righteous and holy and wonderful. He will provide. Today you will confront plenty of evil. Recognize and renounce your own evil, and your heavenly Father will guide you through, and He will lead you to the higher goal.

I guess the easy thing to say would be: When it comes to exercising our consciences, we need to come down right smack in the middle of the spectrum between blind obedience and unchecked license. But I don’t believe that.

Luke on approachYes, of course, the Lord communicates directly with every individual soul, in the inner sanctuary called the conscience. Yes, He has put each of us into our own hands by giving us the power to think and act freely. Yes, only the particular individual knows enough about his or her own situation to make a prudent judgment about how to act.

But what kind of priest would start with anything other than what Jesus started with? Repent! We sinful human beings must first question ourselves, doubt ourselves. We must give the benefit of the doubt not to our own opinions, but to the Word of God. In order truly to attain freedom, we have to renounce our own self-justifying opinions and obey the Ten Commandments and the laws of the Church.

It’s not that God doesn’t love us with fatherly kindness. He wants nothing more than to share His friendship with us. He wants us to flower and flourish like the freeborn children of heaven He made us to be. He wants us to be a holy rule unto ourselves, with Him guiding us sweetly, by His interior promptings, toward heavenly bliss.

But if we imagine that this friendship of ours with God can begin with anything other than us repenting of our sins and going to confession, then we live in a dream world. If I think I’m smarter than Holy Mother Church and her ancient teachings, I’m kidding myself. If I feel that being God’s friend is easy, I’m friends with a god other than the real God.

Contemptus mundi. And contemptus sui. Contempt of myself. Not that I hate myself and want to destroy myself. But that I recognize: I have a very profound problem. I desperately want happiness. And I’m desperately ignorant regarding how.

Our heavenly Father knows how to guide us to real happiness and freedom. And He does it by giving us clear commandments to obey.

Death on the Sixth Commandment

We read at Holy Mass: A man shall cling to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh…No human being must separate what God has joined. (Mark 10:7-9)

Such ringing clarity about marriage comes as a wonderful antidote to news reports about transgender bathrooms. Economic and social revolutionaries can and do find inspirations in the words of Christ. But sexual revolutionaries run into a brick wall. Because Jesus of Nazareth was death on the sixth commandment.

marriage_sacramentBetter to pluck out your eye than look at a woman lustfully. Better to cut off your hand than use it to sin. Lord Jesus revealed that when God spoke from Mount Sinai condemning adultery, He condemned every sexual thing—except the one, honest act that makes marriage marriage, through a lifetime of fidelity.

Now, we would be fools to think ill of sex. Our churches would be empty without it. The Lord’s severity hardly proceeded from fussy prudishness on His part. He was celibate, but no prude. To the contrary, when He spoke about sex, He evoked the Garden of Eden, where the original divine command resounded: Be fruitful and multiply!

But when it comes to the union of man and woman as one flesh, the holiness of Christ utterly prohibits anything cheap, anything fleeting or libidinously selfish. He chose us for ecstasy and communion that lasts forever; He offered His celibate body on the cross to consummate our everlasting marriage with God. There’s no room at the foot of His cross for anything other than chastity.

Doesn’t mean He won’t forgive our falls. He knows what Adam’s sin has done to our human powers of self-control. When we succumb to temptation, He picks us up and gives us a fresh start, helping us to pursue again the serenity of perfect sexual honesty. Christ never gets tired of pardoning us weak sinners when we repent.

But the idea that any fruitless, short-term sexuality could peacefully co-exist with the holiness of Christ? His own words utterly anathematize this. Following Jesus means believing wholeheartedly that sex is only for marriage, and marriage is for life.

Chair-of-Peter Homily

mount-kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro

Jesus: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter: “You are the Christ.”

An old saw in the Catholic world has it, “The Church is not a democracy.” Indeed, a King rules: our Lord Jesus, the Christ, enthroned in heaven. St. Peter declared it on the first Pentecost: “Jesus is exalted at the right hand of God.” (Acts 2:33)

Winston Churchill said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others. True enough, when it comes to running affairs pertaining to this world: democracy seems like the best choice from a bad lot.

But Holy Mother Church cannot operate as a democracy, because She exists solely to love and serve Her heavenly King. The Church cannot operate as a democracy for the same reason that creation itself, the cosmos, cannot operate as a democracy. The Creator rules creation, and the Creator rules the new creation–the Church of the Christ.

Copy work for the Telfair Museum of Arts and Sciences

From Moneterrey Square, Savannah, by West Fraser

We need a shepherd. I mean, our souls.

Democracy may offer the greatest prospect for a nation’s prosperity in this world. But if we try to worship democracy as something sacred, we will wind up with a handful of dust.

If we worship the “sacred democratic nation,” the politicians will just wind up looking at each other uncomfortably and asking themselves, “Are these people bowing down? Yeesh! We’re not the worst bounders in the world, but we are egomaniacs who love the sound of our own voices. These people are worshiping a dirty business.”

St. Peter declared the bedrock of all truth, “Jesus is the Christ.” With that declaration, the Lord established the Chair from which Peter and his successors govern the pilgrim Church on earth.

Here’s an analogy. If we can honestly bring ourselves to believe that all the atoms in the universe democratically organized themselves into things like Niagara Falls, or Adele’s vocal chords, or Mt. Kilimanjaro; if we think that the oceans, and the planets, and the sun and moon, arrived at their state of harmonious motion through consensus among themselves—then we can say that religion ought to involve democracy.

But, since the idea that the Hudson River found its course by taking a poll; or that Shakespeare got his genius through a fair election in Stratford upon Avon; or that the city of Savannah, Georgia, has such beautiful trees in its squares because the voters elected them—since these ideas are patently absurd, let’s just rejoice in the fact that the hierarchical organization of our Church makes the same amount of sense as the beautiful, hierarchical organization of the universe.

Giving and Getting It All

The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise. That they are vain. (I Corinthians 3:20)

The wise of the world. Like Oprah Winfrey or Mark Twain. Like Socrates. Like the framers of the US Constitution–Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Co. Like the entrepreneurial geniuses–Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Elon Musk. Or the gray eminences of Hollywood–Samuel Jackson, Shirley MacLaine, Denzel Washington, or Meryl Streep. Even the the sage of the ultimate mystery, NCAA bracketologist John Lunardi.

joe-lunardi[Click HERE to read in Spanish.]

All their thoughts–about who will get into the tournament, or about how to make money, or write a book, or please an audience, or govern a country–all of those human brainwaves: completely vain, saith the Scriptures.

Let’s go a step farther. Who’s the wisest Christian who ever lived? Gotta be St. Thomas Aquinas, right?

Near the end of his life, someone asked him about all his voluminous writings of wisdom. He said, “It’s all straw.”

Something transcends it all. By comparison with its wisdom, the deepest thoughts of men mean nothing. And that something is Christ crucified.

St. Paul went on to write: “So let no one boast of human beings, for everything belongs to you…the world, or life or death, or the present or the future: all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God.”

Wow. But how to understand this? How do we understand St. Paul telling us that everything–as in: the whole cosmos–belongs to us? To try to understand, let’s work our way down, in order to work our way up. We have to let the commands of Christ humble us utterly, so that His sacrifice can utterly exalt us.

In the gospel at Sunday Mass we hear Jesus tell us: “Offer your left cheeck to the one who strkes your right. Love your enemy. Pray for the one who persecutes you. Do all of this to live as children of your heavenly Father, Who makes His sun rise on everyone, and Who loves everyone perfectly.”

Mark TwainNow, Who must this man be, Jesus, to issue such commands? No human being ever made the sun rise, or prevented its rising. No human being has ever known better than God when it should rain, or when it should stop raining.

When Jesus speaks, we hear the voice of the One Who owns and operates everything. He knows every human mind, and He knows that not one of them contains enough knowledge to judge a human soul. If I think so-and-so is my enemy, I may have my human reasons for thinking that. But it could be that God gave me so-and-so as a friend. What I know for sure is that God made so-and-so to be His, God’s, friend.

The doctrine of Christ utterly humbles us. Because Christ’s wisdom is not human wisdom. It is divine wisdom. Jesus is something other than a wise sage, something completely different from an “expert.” Jesus is a man with God’s Mind in His Head. God owns and operates the cosmos, whole and entire. And everything that God owns and operates, Christ owns and operates. And everyone that God loves, Jesus loves. And that’s everyone.

Now, does everything that Christ owns and operates belong also to us? Including His universal love?

Lord Jesus stretched out His arms on the cross not just for those who love Him, but also for those who hate Him. They took His cloak, His tunic, and His sandals. They beat and battered Him. They scourged Him and spat on Him, and yet He peacefully offered more. He opened His Hands and relaxed His Feet for the nails. And, as the hammer fell, He loved the very men who pounded the spikes into His flesh. He gave everything and held nothing back for Himself. He gave His very life’s breath to His enemies.

An utter fool, the Uncreated Divine Wisdom. An utter fool for love, His Blood dripping to the ground below, as He said, “Father, forgive them,” about the men who at that moment mocked Him and spat with contempt on His wounded ankles.

But the Fool for Love reigns. Even hanging on His Cross, Christ our God owned and operated everything, with His infinite divine power and knowledge. And at that moment, He handed it all to us. The cosmos. And His infinite Love.

For free. For nothing. As a gift.

He made this gift to both those who love Him and those who hate Him. God gave to sinners the gift of His loving friendship. All things work to the benefit of the friends of God, by His power and grace. Not because we are good, or wise, or cute–but because He is generous: We have it all.

Morning Run in Charleston

west-fraser-charleston-harbor

West Fraser paints Charleston and environs with a native son’s love

(from the “On-A-Little-Vacation” file…)

The sun rose high over Colonial Lake through the crisp, semi-tropical-winter air, dappling the reflecting-pool waters. Orange light warmed the bricks and stones of Broad Street. Beyond the austere statue of William Moultrie in the Battery’s White Point Garden, James Island saluted from across the Ashley River.

The Gibbes Museum of Art has a gallery of 18th-century Charleston portraits and furniture. The wall placard refers to “the abhorrent economic system” that built this stylish little peninsular metropolis. On the cobblestones around the 250-year-old Customs House, your blood runs cold imagining manacled men and women bought and sold on this spot.

In the distance, Fort Sumter reigns, like a ghost king, over this whole little watery realm. Yes, the 2005 Ravenel Bridge over the Cooper River asserts the 21st century, jutting a pair of concrete tire-jack colossi into the sky. And on the suburban bank of the river, the USS Yorktown evokes the 20th century.

But, in my mind, Charleston belongs to Mary Chesnut and the 19th century. Here’s a selection from her diary, April 12, 1861:

Anderson will not capitulate…I do not pretend to go to sleep. How can I? If Anderson does not accept terms at four, the orders are, he shall be fired upon. I count four, St. Michael’s bells chime out and I begin to hope. At half-past four the heavy booming of a cannon. I sprang out of bed, and on my knees prostrate I prayed as I never prayed before.

There was a sound of stir all over the house, pattering of feet in the corridors. All seemed hurrying one way. I put on my double-gown and a shawl and went, too. It was to the housetop. The shells were bursting…I knew my husband was rowing about in a boat somewhere in that dark bay, and that the shells were roofing it over, bursting toward the fort. If Anderson was obstinate, Colonel Chesnut was to order the fort on one side to open fire. Certainly fire had begun. The regular roar of the cannon, there it was. And who could tell what each volley accomplished of death and destruction?

The women were wild there on the housetop. Prayers came from the women and imprecations from the men. And then a shell would light up the scene…