Praise, Blame, and the Passion

God became man. The holy prophet St. John the Baptist testified to this fact. Then the Christ worked miracles, including: healing the sick, deaf, blind, and paralyzed; liberating the possessed; raising the dead, and—perhaps most exquisitely of all—providing excellent wine for the guests at a wedding.

A charming, hopeful, wonderfully ‘positive’ three-year ministry. Tons of good feelings about it, all over Galilee and Judea. If facebook had been around, lots of Likes. Everyone’s ready for more good stuff.

Then the God-man proceeds to say:

I know that you do not have the love of God in you… How can you believe, when you accept praise from one another and do not seek the praise that comes from the only God?

Wow. A spiritual punch in the face, by the charming miracle-worker who had so many Likes.

Is this fair? After all, don’t we human beings naturally seek each other’s praise? It takes a very rare individual, indeed, to live with absolute indifference to the opinions of others. Yes, hopefully we grow up enough to get past the popularity anxieties of high-school. But even mature adults desperately desire the praise of their co-workers and family members; we want above all the praise of the people we most respect. No one can endure the disapproval of your fellow man without some anxiety and unhappiness.

But: God is not unfair. I think the operative word in the sentence in John 5:44—“How can you believe when you accept praise from one another, and do not seek the praise that comes from God?”—the operative word is believe.

God did not become man in order to be admired. He did not become man in order to get honor and respect. He became man in order to win our faith.

What’s the difference? My respect and admiration for others proceeds according to standards that I have, and that I apply. I praise because someone or something measures up to my bar. By praising or blaming, I claim to understand enough to judge.

But can we fruitfully meditate on Christ’s Passion from this point-of-view? Can I consider myself competent to praise or blame anyone’s actions in the unfolding of the death of the Christ? I have no standards that I can apply here. All I can do is to believe that this is God, revealing His judgment.

The world, the human race, I myself—all evil enough to crucify God. Worthy of blame and condemnation for killing the sinless Lamb—Who stayed in the bosom of the Father’s will, even when all the human praise that came His way turned into contempt.

The crucifixion of Christ judges me. But it also reveals: God does not condemn me according to this just judgment. Rather, He’s prepared to let me start over–with my faith in him, in Jesus Christ, as the most-basic criterion of judgment that my mind will use.

Conclave Liturgical Anniversary

Pope Francis waving

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, became pope on Wednesday of the fourth week of Lent, 2013. The conclave lasted only a day–the Cardinals entered the Sistine Chapel on Tuesday. Four years ago today, according to the liturgical calendar.

At daily Mass, this fourth week of Lent belongs to John 5. On a sabbath, Lord Jesus told a sick man, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.” And the man did as ordered.

Can God break the sabbath? I think we have to say No to that one. He consecrated the sabbath Himself with His own blessed rest at the beginning of the world, His happiness with all that He had made.

But, His work isn’t over until…the fat lady sings? History moves; God moves history. God, in His blessed, undisturbed peace—He works. Each morning He gives us the new day. A fresh gift, healed of the weakness and weariness of yesterday.

History moves, with God working, giving life and renewal. Springtime 2013 held great promise. New pope, new evangelization, new hope for the Gospel to light up the world.

I’ll say that four years ago today, I never could have imagined the ways in which Pope Francis would choose to love us. He has brought me to my knees. I guess I love him like I love the cross-country coach I had in high-school, who made us run until we vomited.

But God knows what He’s doing. He said to the man He had healed: “Look, you’re well. Do not sin anymore.” That’s what He says to us each morning. He gives us new birth by His mercy. Do good. Avoid evil. Rock on.

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.

At Work While Resting

My Father is at work until now, so I am at work. (John 5:17)

One of the great ironies of history: the Pharisees turned doing nothing into an intolerable burden. No job could have been more demanding than properly resting on the sabbath. The toil of the week might have been fraught with worries, but on the sabbath you had to be especially careful.

One of the great ironies of my own personal life: Nothing relaxes me, nothing soothes me or gives me rest, like a nice long run. Perhaps you non-runners will dismiss this as sheer insanity. But everyone can relate somehow. We find genuine rest not in supine couch-slouching but in some activity that harmonizes with a rhythm we have inside. Could be gardening, clubbing the little white ball around the dale, bridge or pinochle, kicking the soccer ball, downing beers in the Martinsville speedway infield, reading a book…In other words, in order to rest, we do something that requires attention and effort.

The Son of God became man to do the work He sees His Father doing. What does Christ see His Father doing? Only He Himself can answer that question completely. But, at the very least, He sees His Father doing what we see His Father doing—which is everything that gets done, except sins.

Make the sun rise, sustain the earth in existence, move us to do any good that we do, keep the possibility of heaven out there for another day—all in a day’s work for the heavenly Father. And He does it all day, day in and day out, 24/7, 365 or 366 days a year, for the entire length of the history of the universe.

Ought we to say, “Lord, we love You and we appreciate it. But You are working too hard. We are wearing You out. Take a day off and relax.”

No. The Lord has no trouble sustaining His unimaginably enormous workload. Being the Creator and sustainer of all things does not exhaust Him. It is, in fact, His pleasure. To work every good work that is worked provides God with a perpetual sabbath. He could do infinitely more work effortlessly.

The same thing goes for the Son made man. Did it exhaust Christ to teach the truth to the human race? Did He get tired of healing the sick and feeding the multitudes? Did it wear Him out to take all our sins on His back, carry them to Golgatha, and incinerate them on the altar of the cross?

No. Even descending into hell did not tire the Lord Jesus. He woke up refreshed, talked to Mary Magdalen, walked all the way to Emmaus, and He was still fresh as a daisy when He came to the upper room at supper time.

We must, however, obey the commandment and keep the sabbath rest. The Pharisees were right in this respect: Resting on the sabbath distinguishes the people of God. The pagans slave themselves and squander their vitality with fruitless agitations. But Israel heeds the law of Moses, which recounts the serene holiness of the Lord’s day.

So, how do we keep it? How can we act and rest at the same time, to the glory of God, Who moves the heavens without breaking a sweat? There is only one way: By believing in the Son Whom He has sent. Faith in Christ is the most fruitful work and the sweetest rest.

Sunrise at Ben Gurion

We are sitting at our gate, watching the sun come up, wishing we could start the pilgrimage all over again. There are many things to report…

At the empty tomb

Before most of you dear readers went to bed on Sunday evening–after the glorious victory–we were already in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher.

We celebrated Holy Mass in the tomb of Christ itself, receiving the Lord’s Body and Blood in the very place where He rose from the dead.

…I neglected to mention earlier that some of us enjoyed camel rides by the Dead Sea…

…We visited the Mount of Olives:

At the top of it, the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven. On the slope of it, He taught His disciples the Our Father. He descended it on a donkey on Palm Sunday–we walked down the ancient pathway that He used.

At the bottom we prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.

In the Garden of Gethsemane

…We made the Way of the Cross right where the Lord Jesus made it…

…We visited the Pools of Bethesda. The Blessed Mother was born nearby, in the home of Joachim and Anne, near the Sheep Gate of the ancient wall of Jerusalem, near the Temple.

St. Anne, pray for us

Schema, people: I have much more to tell. But it will have to await the gracious period of denouement after a holy pilgrimage.

We will board our flight home shortly. See you back in the homeland.

Saying goodbye to Jerusalem Regency hotel