Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Post Just to Justify this Cat Picture...or Something More?

Look, I really wanted to show this picture. I took it at a French shop when we went to get some ear drops a few months ago (note the French toothbrushes in the background.)
I liked this cat hanging out on the shelf for a few reasons.
1.) I like cats
2.) This was a stuffed cat
3.) This stuffed cat was really randomly on the shelf
4.) It made me laugh (I still chuckle a little inside when I look at it.)

That was me - sideways.  In the foreground is the ear stuff.  It made the gunk in my ears come out.  

A little disgusted?  That's ok.  That's a part of life sometimes (parents, ever change a poopy diaper? My point exactly.)

My ear is blocked again lately so it looks like I need to use the ear gunk dis-integrator (my word, it's not actually on the ear medicine bottle.)  

Why do my ears get blocked more often than most peoples?  The Doctor told me once that "Some people just get blocked ears more easily."  I've accepted it.

But you know what I haven't accepted?

"Proper ear hygiene?"

Close, faithful blog reader, but you're way off! (I do properly clear my ears, thank you very much!)

I have not accepted all of God's love.  

Neither have you I'm willing to bet.  Love is a very hard thing to accept for most people especially when it's coming from God.  Why you may ask?

"No, I won't ask "Why?" but I will ask "How did you go from talking about a stuffed cat to blocked ears to God's love??"

That, faithful blog reader, is not the point.

"But I just.."

Moving on, love is hard to accept!  It's hard to accept because, when it's actually love - unconditional, total, free and desiring what is best for the other - we have such little experience of it (pure love I mean) that it's like a foreign invader when it comes knocking on the door.  "Can I trust it?  Everything else which I've let into my heart has ended up either hurting me or leaving me unsatisfied."  So we - in friendships, marriages, encounters with strangers, even our relationship with God - like to keep a nice, safe distance from the one trying to show us love.  We "tolerate" love but we don't let all of it in.  We may say thank you to someone who gives us a gift but do really receive all of the love being given through that gift (a gift is, after all, only a sign of love, a mere token and a reminder of the love of the giver.)

It is very hard for us imperfect human beings (who are fairly well acquainted with our own imperfection) to really believe and accept unconditional and unmerited love from a God Who simply loves us because He loves us because He loves us because He loves us.  Every other experience we've ever had of love on this earth from any other human being has been - at least to some extent - imperfect and conditioned.

No fallen human being is born with the ability to give or receive love in a perfect manner. This is intensified through the experiences of our lives; experiences which have often been very wounding and difficult.  

Have you ever held a kitten or a puppy which had been abused by a previous owner and was, because of that previous experience, afraid of you?  The proper instinct on our part is to want to try and reassure the animal "No, I'm not going to hurt you, you're safe!"  We hold the animal and know that, in reality "It is safe! Nothing is going to harm it!" yet the animal subjectively experiences the emotion of fear and, until it has an experience (perhaps continued experiences) of reassurance that you're nothing to be afraid of then it will just continue to be afraid of you.

I think it's a lot like that with God and His love.  He holds us in being knowing the objective truth "You're safe!  I'm not going to harm you!" but we interiorly and subjectively feel fear because, after all, every other experience of "love" which we've had from other people has never quite allowed us to feel "free to be me."

Now don't get me wrong.  Many parents are awesome parents and many children grow up with a strong, healthy self-esteem and a good sense of humble, self-confidence.  But, even ONE experience of a "lack of love" is a wounding experience which the heart can't help but remember.  And if not from parents, then from who? Teachers? Siblings? Friends? Bullies? Coaches? Bosses? Co-workers? Your Pastor? God forbid any of these but we all know the reality - imperfect people don't love perfectly.

Yet, even so, I CRAVE for perfect love!  You NEED perfect love!  There are parts of our hearts which are STARVING because they have never actually experienced true, unconditional love.  

That's where God wants to meet you today.  In whatever area of your life in which you feel unloveable God wants to say to you "I love you even here."  It is a beautiful way to pray when we feel most broken, most ashamed, most afraid, most undeserving and then to say to God "Father/Jesus/Lord, I need your love here.  I need you to love me even here."


Asking God "Why do you love me?" is I'm sure bit confusing for Him.  I'm sure He responds, "How could I not??"

It's like an absolutely, drop dead beautiful woman who says to her husband "Do you think I'm pretty?"  Is the husband not just a tad bit confused?  I'm sure he responds, "How could I not??"

Oh the gift of God's infinite, unconditional, and perfect love for each of us!  Perhaps God is asking us right now, "Will you accept my love for you?"  May we respond, "How could I not??"  

He deserves our yes.  We need to say yes.  

Nothing else will do.  Anything less is unacceptable (unlike accepting a tendency to having blocked ears.  That's acceptable.)


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

"I'm Leaving on a Jet Plane" and Spiritual Works of Mercy

I'm going back to France tonight but before I do I want to ask for your prayers for someone someone very dear to me.  My friend is very sick and suffers a lot from day to day and I really want her to feel God's love and His presence.  

I consider praying for others to be perhaps one of the highest acts of love which we can perform.  This is because in praying for someone we offer a spiritual "work of mercy" by interceding for them before God.  We seek to bring that person closer to God through our prayer.  We intend for the people we pray for to have precisely what they need which is, at the end of the day, God's Will to be accomplished in their lives.  When we love someone we want what is best for them and, through prayer, we ask God to give them His best graces, to bring about His will in their lives.  Sometimes His Will is to draw someone very close to Him  through suffering. It is a high paradox that the choicest graces in this life amount to and bring about great union with Christ on the Cross.  The Cross is the greatest gift which we can be given.

May the gift of the Holy Spirit's consolation also be given.


A Second Adam to the Fight, and to the Rescue Came

Mark 7:1-13 was the Gospel passage for today's Mass. I want to zero in on the last lines and share some thoughts and (later) a hymn by the guy pictured above: Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman.

The final verses of today's Gospel read, 
"You nullify the word of God
in favor of your tradition that you have handed on.
And you do many such things."

Perhaps you've heard before that the only thing we human beings can really claim as our own is our sin.  Everything else is given to us by the grace of God right down to our very lives but oh.. our sins are our own making.  

Our first parents, the first Adam and the first Eve, very quickly broke the chain of the beautiful Tradition (capital T) of God's Word.  God intended for His Word to be passed down  in the fullness of its integrity by passing it on from one generation to the next.  This is even how the Scriptural, written Word of God came into being.  The tradition of God's Word was, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, written down in various forms i.e. histories, poems, epics, proverbs, songs etc.  God wrote in human words after He spoke through human speech.  The written Word of God, Scripture, came out of and is dependent upon god's "spoken" Word through a Sacred Tradition.  We still participate in this transmission of God's "Family Tradition" in the Church which discerns what is or is not grounded in that "Family Tradition."

Now, the first Adam and Eve broke the Tradition of God's Word by introducing a unique element all their own called "sin."  Man's word" began to speak against God's Word.  Not good.

However, God did raise up "a second Adam to the fight and to the rescue came." (From one of my favorite hymns Praise to the Holiest written by Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman) However, this time instead of "Eve" taking flesh from "Adam," the "New Adam" (Jesus, the Son of God) took on flesh from the "New Eve," Mary.  As the first Adam and Eve were intended to be without sin (and were brought into being without sin) so Jesus and Mary were without sin.

God's Word, literally took on flesh, entered "Family Tradition" so to speak.  I say literally and not literarily because God's Word is not limited to "literature" in the written, Scriptural Word. In fact, even Scriture itself attests "The Word became flesh."  God's "Tradition" entered right into the human "tradition" or rather the human condition; sin. The deficiencies of man's "creation" (or rather "uncreation") and tradition was confronted with Divine Truth in the flesh; the Incarnate Word of God. God's Word came in the flesh to introduce an "ever ancient, ever new" Tradition to the scene of our human drama (or rather, "family drama.")

God comes in the New Adam through the New Eve to rescue what sin destroyed; God's creation.  We no longer have to be linked to the broken chain of sin which is the only real thing humanity can claim as it's singular "creation," its own, very special "tradition."


So what's your favorite "human tradition?" No, no I don't mean traditions like dinner with the family every Sunday or putting up the Christmas tree every year on a particular day.  I mean, what's your favorite sin which you won't let God purify you of? (and this is hypothetical, I don't want any comments with lists of sins you've recently committed! :) )
How do you tend to "nullify the Word of God" with your own words, your own sinful "human traditions"?  (remember, not all human traditions are sinful!)

Don't get me wrong and don't get Jesus wrong either! "human tradition" here means the kind which nullify the Word of God (celebrating Christmas, for example, is a great human tradition which must please God tremendously when we do so out of love for Him.)  What sins and sinful tendencies do you need God's Incarnate Word - Jesus - to confront?  What parts of your life need to be disconnected from the human tradition of sin so that they can be linked back up with God's love and truth?

  Our favorite sins....
Unfortunately, we "do many such things."  
Thankfully, God's mercy has the final Word.
That Word's name is Jesus.

God's Word took on flesh
Born of the Virgin Mary.
That enfleshed Word,
the real presence of Christ,
remains with us in the Eucharist
and He lovingly waits for you, for
your real presence.


Monday, February 3, 2014

Same Picture, Different Theme! ... On True Spirituality

Alright, so honestly part of the reason I'm using this picture again for this post is because I really like it! How often do you see two streets named Mary and Joseph at an intersection?


So here it is again though, this time, for the purpose of inspiring a related albeit different topic than yesterday.

I'd like to talk about true spirituality.

I spoke before of the "intersection" of two humble paths, two humble lives wherein the Way - Jesus Christ - was led through life unto adulthood.
I noted how Jesus entered our world in the context of a family.
True story.

If we "zoom in" a little bit with our meditation we see (still of course with a backdrop of family/communal life) one person in particular who models "true spirituality" not just for Christians but actually all of humanity.  That person is Mary.

Blessed Pope John Paul II speaks of a "feminine genius" located in the person of "woman." Woman is by her very nature the exemplar of humanity in relation to God. Why is that? Because it is of the nature of woman to receive the gift of self which man offers to her.  This receptivity, when it is authentic, is naturally fruitful and a child results.

Mary, as the perfect woman, the New Eve, is THE model to look to for what true and authentic human spirituality is all about because she is the one who perfectly received the gift which God offered to her, namely, His Word (i.e. the Son.)  Because of Mary's full yes to the full gift of God we have been fully redeemed.  In the fullness of time God took on a full human nature in the womb of a woman "full of grace."

The human heart (spiritually speaking) is analogous to woman's womb as it i is the "place" of receptivity and fruitfulness.  God is always giving, always offering Himself to us.  He knocks, so to speak, incessantly at the door of our hearts and desires (akin to a husband propositioning to his wife) that the person invite the gift of Himself which he offers.  This is why marriage and human sexuality (when it is authentic!) is the best "icon" we have (the Bible makes ample use of the marital image) of God Who is madly in love with the beautiful people He has made in His image (He Who Is perfect beauty itself sees Himself reflected in us, His image.)

Mary, who makes a full and constant yes to God becomes the perfect exemplar of what a human being ought to be: God's beloved.  She is the one who shows us "true spirituality" because she always receives what God offers, always says yes to His will (which is always in our best interest,) and is maximally fruitful based on her union with God.In other words, in Mary we see an authentic human being.  No wonder God chose her to be the one who would give humanity to His Son and raise Him to be the New and Perfect Adam (with the help of the just man Joseph of course.  Imagine how holy and manly Joseph must have been!  He was the man who taught the God-man how to be a man!  That's powerful!)

A question to ponder: If Mary had not said yes to God would Jesus have entered into our world?
Further, if you don't say yes to God then how many lives, how many "worlds" will Jesus not be able to enter through you? Through your love? Your prayers? Your positive influence?

"God created you without your consent 
but He will not save you without your consent." - St. Augustine

What would happen if you gave God your full consent? Your full, uncompromising, unlimited "yes?"  What happens if you say yes to God's Will?

I predict miracles.  At least, that's what happened when Mary said yes.  What could God do through you if you let Him has His way in you?

"Be it done unto to me according to your word...and the Word became flesh."


Sunday, February 2, 2014

At the Crossroads of Family Life

Christ Himself said "I am the Way..." 

I find it interesting that, at one point in history, God chose to intersect two humble lives living two humble paths so that, from this intersection, all mankind might find the Way.

Judging from the picture about you may be able to guess who I am referring to.

Why did God do that?  Why did God choose to come to us within the context of a family?  If you ask me I think, partly, because He had always intended to come to us wthin the context of a family - think Adam and Eve in perfect, loving harmony.  Humans were made in God's image as "male and female."  Both individually and together human beings reflect the image of God. It's that and word I want to highlight (or italicize rather...)

The family is an icon of our Trinitarian God because a family is a loving communion of persons just like God is.  "God is love" as 1 John 4:16 has it.  And how could God be love if He were not a unity of persons since love can only be where there is someone who loves AND is loved.  (The Father loves the Son Who returns that love - that love is itself the Holy Spirit.)

"Ok, stop, Matt, with your philosophizing and get to the point!"

Here's my point!  LOVE Himself entered our world at a particular POINT in history.  That POINT, that intersection in time and space was a family!  Through human hearts God makes His Way to other human hearts.

Is God allowed to be God (Love) in you?

Or is it more of a one way street right now?

How is God trying to make His Way to other people through your life right now? Concretely, what does that look like?

The reason many don't believe in God is because they don't see Him reflected through His living images.  The Saints really are the greatest "proof" of God because it becomes very difficult to deny His existence when you experience Him living  in and through another.

How's that saying go?  If being a Christian were against the law would there be enough evidence to convict you?

What evidence of God's existence does He want to produce in your life?

"If you are what you should be you would set the world on fire." - St. Catherine of Siena

A good place to start being who you really are? (i.e. God's image of love in the world.)

Your family.