People Don’t Change, Except When They Do

In the second reading at Holy Mass on Sunday, St. Paul tells us to have the same attitude as Christ. [CLICK por español.]

St. Paul in Prison by Rembrandt

Which attitude, exactly? He emptied Himself. He humbled Himself. God Almighty–the Creator, eternal Wisdom–became obedient unto death, in the holy Incarnation. The attitude of humble devotion to the will of the Father.

Now, speaking of attitudes–what’s one rule of thumb that a wise observer of human nature lives by? People don’t change.

The bride who imagines that her obtuse, self-centered, thuggish fiancee will miraculously change into a prince, by virtue of marrying her–that’s a woman living in a dangerous dreamworld.

Or the employer looking to hire someone who thinks: Well, her old boss says she’s lazy, and a complainer, and a gossip–but if she could work here, she could become diligent and creative and motivated! That’s a self-deluded boss asking for misery.

People don’t change. Except…

They do. The prophet Ezekiel:

If he turns from the wickedness he has committed, and does what is right and just, he shall surely live. (Ez 18:27)

Catechism puts it like this:

The human heart is heavy and hardened. God must give man a new heart. Conversion is first of all a work of the grace of God, who makes our hearts turn to Him. God gives us strength to begin anew. When we discover the greatness of God’s love, our heart is shaken by the horror and weight of sin and begins to fear offending Him… [paragraph 1432]

Interior repentance is a return to God with all our heart, an end of sin. Conversion entails a desire to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy, and trust in the help of His grace… [paragraph 1431]

The same Holy Spirit who brings sin to light is also the Consoler who gives the human heart grace for repentance and conversion. [paragraph 1433]

People don’t change. But God does change people. By His holy Incarnation, and the Redemption He won for us, by humbly doing the will of the Father.

We encounter an exquisite irony here. Certainly, beyond a shadow of doubt: God does not change. What He is, which is the all-in-all: it’s eternal. We might think grandpa is stubborn and stuck in His ways. But that’s nothing compared to the immovable-rock-like permanence of the divine Being.

That said, what St. Paul declared did, in fact, happen: God took upon Himself an attitude, the attitude of humility and self-sacrifice. God didn’t change by doing this. He did, however, touch our stubborn and weary human nature with His grace by doing it. He touched our stubborn and weary human nature with His grace in order to overcome our stubbornness and weariness. The Unchanging entered the human race to change us–to change us back from bad to good.

So let’s never kid ourselves. Imagine you were the father in the Parable of the Two Sons (which we will read at Holy Mass on Sunday), and you had a son with such a sullen attitude that he simply spitted out No! whenever you asked him to help you. If you had to contend with such a miscreant son, you would want to tread very lightly when it comes to investing such a brat with any real responsibilities. People don’t change.

But: On that particular day, the day of the parable… On that day, this person did change.

Catechism-of-the-Catholic-CHurchThe punk made his usual petulant reply. “Help? No.” But then he thought better of it. Some new vision of things entered into his mind. The son saw what he had never been able to see before: His stubborn self-centeredness was wronging his good and kind father. Not to mention the fact that he was condemning himself to shiftless misery by being too arrogant to take a risk.

For the first time, the son perceived: I don’t have to live like this. It would be better; it would be happier; it would even really be easier, for me just to get up and walk out into the fields and see what’s going on. Let me see what contribution I can make. Maybe I could learn how to do something helpful.

So the son strode out into the field…

God’s grace can convert even the hardened sinner. Because the life that Christ embraced in His incarnation–the humble life, dedicated to obeying the heavenly Father–that life alone offers a human being genuine happiness. Whenever, by God’s gift, we catch a glimpse of the Christ-like life, we want to live it. We want that peace–the genuine, unshakable joy of co-operating with God.

Young ladies–give up the idea that you’re gonna change your man by your own magic arts. It won’t happen.

But may none of us ever give up on the idea that Christ can change people. Christ can, and does, turn sinners into saints.

Two Bible Wonders

El Greco ChristI think we can say that two wonders of the Bible actually go together.

Wonder #1: The Lord Jesus certainly lived a human life, with a human body like ours–and a human soul like ours. But we cannot successfully psychologize Him. Because His human soul enjoyed an interior communion with Almighty God that we cannot fathom.

He behaved like an admirable man in just about every respect. But: If He did not, in fact, know things about God’s plan that only His mind knew, then we would have to dismiss Him as a lunatic. The speech we hear at Holy Mass today: either the words of the uniquely knowledgeable prophet or the ravings of a madman.

So, to put Biblical Wonder #1 in a nutshell: Jesus of Nazareth possessed, during His pilgrim human life, divine knowledge.

Wonder #2. From the depths of this ineffable divine knowledge that Jesus possessed, He expressed this particular mystery, namely: All the dead bodies that fill the tombs, and cemeteries, and columbaria of the earth–all of them will rise.

ezekiel bonesNow, our own humble human knowledge allows us to detect the existence of God–the immeasurable power which has brought all things into being. But we see only a march of time that appears to end with death. Jesus, however, tells us what we don’t know and can’t see now: God wills not death and an end, but life and a glorious eternity.

The prophet Ezekiel foresaw it: Piles of bones, looking at first like so much wasted calcium strewn on the ground, suddenly rattling and chirping and forming again into the noble human body. The Lord Jesus confirms this with his divine knowledge: This rattling, and chirping, and re-forming will happen, not just in one boneyard, but in them all.

The two wonders go together. 1) Jesus’ oracular knowledge and 2) the mystery of life’s ultimate triumph over death. No co-incidence there. The Lord Jesus knows only what He Himself will bring about.

Apostles in Good Times and Bad

Tell my rebellious people, Thus says the Lord! Whether they heed or resist, they shall know that you are my prophet. –Ezekiel 2:4-5

St. Francis Xavier
St. Francis Xavier
It is the mission of the Church to communicate to the world the sublime truth about God. This mission includes teaching the truths of faith and morals. Sometimes people embrace the Church’s message with great enthusiasm. On the other hand, some people do not like to hear that they are doing wrong.

In the course of His teaching, Christ reminded His fellow Jews that they could not take their friendship with God for granted.

He taught them that being a true Israelite is not a matter of who your parents are, but of loving and obeying the heavenly Father. He taught them that the true Israelite is not the one who sacrifices bulls and goats, but the one who sacrifices selfish interests for the good of others. Above all, the Lord Jesus taught that He Himself is the Lord of Israel, Who became man to save His people.

For everyone seeking the truth, the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ is the most delightful and wonderful thing ever.

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Rattle and Hum

There are many readings from Scripture on the Solemnity of Pentecost.

ezekiel bonesMy favorite one is Ezekiel 37:1-14:

The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he led me out in the spirit of the LORD and set me in the center of the plain, which was now filled with bones.

He made me walk among them in every direction so that I saw how many they were on the surface of the plain. How dry they were!

He asked me: Son of man, can these bones come to life? “Lord GOD,” I answered, “you alone know that.”

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