Sooner or Later Judgment Must Come – A Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent

There’s an old Johnny Cash song (“God’s Gonna Cut You Down”) that is rooted in today’s Gospel:

You can run on for a long time … Sooner or later God’ll cut you down … Go tell that long tongue liar, Go and tell that midnight rider, Tell the rambler, the gambler, the backbiter, Tell ’em that God’s gonna cut ’em down.

These verses go directly to the end point (judgment), but there is more to the story. First, there is mercy offered, then patience, and finally judgment.

Many today either dismiss judgment entirely or believe that judgment will result in instant entrance to glory.

Today’s Gospel contains a necessary balance. It speaks of God’s patience and care now but also of the day of reckoning, of judgment. On that day, He will adjudicate our “case”; the decision will be final; there will be no turning back.

Let’s look at this Gospel in two main parts:

The Proclamation of the Problem

The Gospel opens with these lines:

Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. Jesus said to them in reply, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”

What Jesus is saying is that is easy to focus on the sins of others, failing to discern our own need for repentance and mercy. Before God we are all beggars; all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (cf Romans 3:23). Every one of us is in need of boatloads of grace and mercy. While we may rightly distinguish that there is a difference here on earth between the sanctity of a Mother Theresa and the wretchedness of a Hitler, before God we all fall far short.

Sin surely affects the lives of others and we are not asked to be blind to that. It is important to learn from the example of others, both good and bad; the point is to learn. We miss the point if all we do when we see someone suffer the effects of sin is to say, “My, my, God don’t like ugly!” What about the ugly in us? What about our own sin?

To our all-too-eager question “What about them, Lord?” Jesus replies, “What about you? Work on your own issues and leave their final fate to me. Punishment doesn’t just come to others; if you don’t watch out it will come to you as well.” Just to make sure we get it, the Lord adds, “I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”

In effect, the Lord tells us to get serious about our sin and what it can do to us. The most serious problem in life is not the fact that we die or the manner of our death. The most serious problem we face is not Pilate or any political misfortune; it is not falling towers or any physical threat. It is not financial setback, or suffering, or losing our job, or losing our possessions. The most serious problem we face is our own sin.

We don’t tend to think like this. Instead, we minimize the maximum and maximize the minimum. We get all worked up about lesser things while ignoring greater ones. We are forever worrying about passing things like health and money but paying little attention to the things of eternity and to getting ready to meet God. Let our physical health be threatened and we are instantly on our knees begging God for deliverance, but let our sins pile up and sinful drives be eating at our very soul and we take little notice. We don’t seem to care about being delivered from things that are far more serious than mere cancer.

The Lord says, If your right hand causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body cast into hell (Matt 5:30). Pay attention, the Lord is saying that it is worse to sin than to lose your right hand!

If I were to lose my right hand, I think I would lament it for the rest of my life. The very thought of it gives me stabbing grief. Why don’t we think of our sin this way? Do you see how obtuse we are, how distorted our priorities?

One day the Lord looked at a paralyzed man and decided to cure his most serious problem. He said, “Your sins are forgiven.” Could the man’s sins have been more serious than his paralysis? Yes!

Thus, the Lord warns us that we ought to be more serious about our sins lest we perish, not merely losing our earthly life but our eternal life. The fact that the solution to our problem required the death of the Son of God indicates that we are in far worse shape than we think. Without our repentance and the magnificent mercy of God, something far worse than having a tower fall on us or our enemies kill us might happen. Elsewhere in Scripture the Lord says, I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him (Lk 12:4-5). The Lord is not counseling a cringing and avoidant fear but rather a respectful fear such that we are serious about judgment and understand that the result on that day will be eternal, unlike the passing quality of any earthly encounter.

Having portrayed the problem and underscored its seriousness, the Lord then reminds us that He is willing to help us, with His grace and mercy, to get ready. He sets forth a process in which we must cooperate, for judgment will surely come.

The Portrayal of the Process

The Lord tells a parable that sets forth the process in which we are currently engaged: a process of patience and mercy that leads to the finality of judgment. Note the following three steps:

1. ASSESSMENT There was once a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard and when he came in search of fruit on it and found none said to the gardener, “For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this tree and have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?”

Faith is a fruit-bearing tree. It is to bear the fruits of love, justice, and the keeping of the commandments. The Lord looks for these fruits and often, through our conscience and by His Word, assesses whether they are present.

Many claim to have faith, to be fruitful in what the Lord seeks, but it is He, as owner of the field, who sets the terms. We are not the judge in our own case. It is the Lord’s ongoing work to assess our progress and fruitfulness. He determines whether the necessary fruits are present.

Today, many people claim the right to assess their own status. They make bold proclamations that God would not “dare” to find them to be lacking in anything substantial. In presumption, many declare themselves to be safe, fruitful, and righteous.

This is not for us to say, however. In the parable it is the owner, the Lord, who makes the assessment; and note that in this parable He proposes that something significant is lacking.

Yet some interlocutor, here called the gardener but let’s call her the Church, asks for mercy and time. As we shall see, such mercy and time is granted, along with necessary supplies (grace) to help accomplish what is sought: the fruit of faith.

2. ASSISTANCE The text goes on to describe the prayers and requests of the gardener (in this case, Mother Church): Sir leave it for this year also. I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it. It may bear fruit in the future.

The Lord, the owner of the garden, not only grants the request but will also be the one to supply the necessary help to draw forth the fruits patiently awaited.

Indeed, the Lord sends us help and graces in so many ways:.

      • He speaks in our conscience.
      • He has written His law in our heart.
      • He gave us the law.
      • He sent us prophets.
      • He punishes our wrongdoings in order to bring us to repentance.

* Before I was afflicted, I strayed. But now I have kept your word (Ps 119:67).
* But God disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Heb 12:10).

      • He sent us His Son, who established the Church and gave us grace and the sacraments.
      • He gave us grace and the sacraments.
      • It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. [That we be] no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ (Eph 4: 11-17).

Do you see how much God has done for us? He has graced us in every way. He has entrusted to the Church, in answer to her pleas, every necessary grace to bear fruit. Now He patiently waits. He looks to return again to seek the fruits that are necessary for those who claim to have saving faith, fruits that are necessary to be able to endure the day of His coming, fruits that are necessary for us to have the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14). Indeed, we cannot see or endure His presence without the fruit of holiness by His grace, for as Scripture says, Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Or Who may stand in his holy place? Only he who has clean hands and a pure heart (Ps 24:3-4). Only God can accomplish this, but He who made us without us will not save us without us. Thus, we must, by His grace, renounce our sin and accept His grace.

3. ACCEPTANCE – The parable ends very simply with this line: If not you can cut it down.

I’ve chosen the word “acceptance” carefully. Judgment is not so much God’s decision as it His acceptance of our decision to bear fruit or to refuse to do so; to accept or refuse His offer of the fruits of faith such as chastity, mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation, love of the poor, and appreciation of the truth.

On the day of judgment God accepts our final choice. It is not so much the passing of a sentence as it is the final recognition of the absolute choice that we have made. At this point it is no longer possible for us to change; what we are remains forever fixed.

As we get older it is harder and harder to change. We are like concrete that sets over time; like pottery, which begins moist and malleable, but whose shape is fixed when subjected to the fire.

Thus, the Lord teaches us to be serious about sin and about judgment. For now, there is mercy and every grace available to us, but there will come a day when our decision will be accepted and forever fixed.

The Gospel today teaches beautifully of God’s patience but also of our need for mercy. It warns us that the decision we make by the way we live our life will finally be accepted. Yes, there is a day of judgment closing in on each of us.

Pointing out how often we sang “Kumbaya, My Lord” will not suffice.

In today’s second reading, St. Paul warns us against presumption and trying to serve as judge in our own case:

Our ancestors were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all of them were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was the Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert. These things happened as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil things, as they did. Do not grumble as some of them did, and suffered death by the destroyer. These things happened to them as an example, and they have been written down as a warning to us, upon whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall (1 Cor 10:1:ff).

For now, there is mercy, but there will come a day of ratification, of judgment; a day when the question will be asked and the final answer supplied, not so much by God as by us.

Your flesh says, “No worries,” but the Lord says, “Repent!”

Here are more of the lyrics from the Johnny Cash song “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”:

You can run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down

Well, you may throw your rock and hide your hand
and hide your hand
Workin’ in the dark against your fellow man
But as sure as God made black and white
What’s down in the dark will be brought to the light.

You can run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down

Go tell that long tongue liar
Go and tell that midnight rider
Tell the rambler, the gambler, the backbiter
Tell ‘em that God’s gonna cut you down
Tell ‘em that God’s gonna cut you down
Tell ‘em that God’s gonna cut you down

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Sooner or Later Judgment Must Come – A Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent

The Remarkable Beauty of Fog

The time-lapse video below does a wonderful job of recording the beauty of fog. Most of us don’t remark on it in “real time”; it just seems to sit there and brood. Like clouds, fog is dynamic and undulating, moving so slowly that it rarely catches our attention. If time is collapsed, as is done in this video, the fog seems to flow like a river over the landscape, sometimes cascading like a waterfall. It is a beautiful sight. Put this in your wonder and awe file.

Praise the LORD, you from the earth,
fire, hail, snow, and fog, winds and storms
that carry out his command.
(Psalm 148: 7-8)

Fog: One of God’s wonderful creations!

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: The Remarkable Beauty of Fog

The Unique Hostility Directed Toward the Lord and the Church

The late columnist Joseph Sobran once pondered the special hatred of the world for Christ. He wrote,

Great as Shakespeare is, I never lose sleep over anything he said … By the same token nobody ever feels guilty about anything Plato or Aristotle said … We aren’t tempted to resist them as we are tempted to resist Christ (Joseph Sobran, Subtracting Christianity, pp. 1-2).

I have often contemplated this hostility toward and resistance to Christ and His Body, the Church; it is unparalleled. Few of the Protestant denominations experience this hatred. The Buddhists don’t seem to be subject to it. Even the Muslims are exempt despite the distinctly non-Western views that predominantly Muslim countries have on many social issues important to the American Left.

There is an almost visceral hatred for Jesus Christ and His Church that is so over the top, so irrational, that one has to marvel at it. The world doth protest too much. Why?

Is it fear? Perhaps, but the Church is not powerful enough to “force our views” on everyone, as some who hate us say that we do.

There is no rational explanation for the world’s intense fear of and hatred for Christ and Catholicism except to echo the words of Christ Himself:

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without cause’ (Jn 15:18-25).

Yes, they hated Him without cause—at least any rational cause. There must be a cause, but it is so irrational that I surmise it must be that Satan himself is interacting with our flesh. Satan hates Christ in a way that he doesn’t hate Muhammad or Luther. Christ is a true threat, so Satan rages; the world and flesh draw from this rage and fear.

Think I’m exaggerating? It seems to be fine for excerpts from the Quran to be studied in public schools, but just try to put anything from one of the gospels into the curriculum and the outrage (closely followed by lawsuits) is nearly instantaneous. The annual “Christmas war” now targets not only nativity scenes and Santa Claus (a secular remake of St. Nicholas, by the way) but even the colors red and green!

Sobran said it well: Christ makes people lose sleep in ways that others do not. His words and teachings touch a core that others never do. That the world bristles is a compliment. Jesus Christ must be taken seriously. You may be mad, or sad, or glad, but no one goes away from Jesus Christ unchanged or merely “informed.” His words have an authority that demands a response. The world seems to know this and thus bristles. Some love Him and some hate Him, but few are neutral.

Why is this so? Could it be that Christ really is who He says He is: Lord and God? Could it be that it is His voice echoing in every conscience? This strange, irrational, excessive fear; this anger toward and even hatred of Christ attests to the truth of His claim to be the one whom we will either love or hate. One cannot serve two masters (cf Mat 6:24).

Shakespeare’s words don’t make anyone lose sleep; neither do Plato’s or Aristotle’s. Why is that?

To every secularist and atheist, I direct these questions: Why do you protest Christ and His Church so much? Why do you exaggerate our power? If we really are irrelevant, if our “day is over” and we are laughably outdated, then why the fear, anger, and protest? Do our “myths” scare you? If they are mere myths, then why fear them? Why don’t you direct the same anger toward Buddha or Muhammad? Is it that still, small voice in your conscience?

What is it? Why your sleepless wrath?

Sobran observed the odd spectacle that there is greater intensity for Christ from His opponents than from His friends:

Sometimes I think the anti-Christian forces take Christ more seriously than most nominal Christians do … [Indeed] Such a strong and unique personality [as Christ had] could only meet strong and unique resistance. That is why Christians shouldn’t resent the resistance of those who refuse to celebrate his birth [and protest us doing so]. In their way, these people are his witnesses too (Joseph Sobran, Subtracting Christianity, pp. 7-8).

So, while it is irksome, take the special hatred of the world toward Christ and His Church as a compliment. Somehow, we are viewed as a unique threat. Despite all the scandals, despite the timidity of our clergy and laity, we apparently still pose a threat. It must be Christ shining through in spite of us. Shine, Jesus, shine!

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: The Unique Hostility Directed Toward the Lord and the Church

Learning the Lessons of Lazarus and the Rich Man

The well-known story of Lazarus and the rich man was read at Mass this morning (Thursday of the Second Week of Lent). On one level the message of the story seems plain enough: neglecting the poor is a damnable sin. However, there are other important teachings: about death, judgment, Heaven, and Hell. Those teachings are hidden in the details, but the subtlety is part of the story’s beauty. Let’s take a look at some of the teachings, beginning with the obvious one.

1. Neglect of the poor is a damnable sinThere was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.

The vision of Lazarus’ poverty is dramatic indeed. The unnamed rich man (dubbed Dives by some because it means “rich” in Latin) does not so much act in an evil way toward Lazarus as he does commit a sin of neglect and omission. He seems undisturbed by and removed from Lazarus’ suffering. This neglect, this omission, this insensitivity, lands him in Hell. The rich man died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes.

Care for the poor will be a central theme of our judgment, as is made clear in the Gospel of Matthew (25:31 ff), in which Jesus separates the sheep from the goats, the just from the unrighteous, based on whether they cared for the least of their brethren. To those who failed in this regard the Lord Jesus says, Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt 25:41).

How best to care for the poor is a matter of some dispute, but that we must care for them is clear. Hence, the rich man who neglected Lazarus is now in Hell. This is a call to sobriety about the reality of judgment; we must consider whether our care for the poor is what it should be.

2. Although he is in torment, the rich man has not changed The rich man, in torment, raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he cried out, “Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.”

Notice that the rich man still fails to see Lazarus’ dignity. In effect, he still sees Lazarus as an errand boy. Though he has to look up to see him, the rich man still looks down on Lazarus. He does not ask Abraham to send Lazarus to him so that he can apologize for his sinful neglect and seek his forgiveness. Rather he merely wants Lazarus to serve him. Even though he is in torment, the rich man is unrepentant. Although doesn’t like where he is, he does not reconcile with Lazarus or even realize that he should do so. This rich man is hardened in his sin. While Lazarus was alive, the rich man never recognized his dignity, and he remains blind to it.

Over time, sin hardens our heart. The more we remain in sin, the harder our hearts become, and the less likely it is that we will ever change. Why is Hell eternal? Look at the rich man: He cannot and will not change; his decision, character, and demeanor are forever fixed.

There is an old litany that goes like this: Sow a thought, reap a deed; sow a deed, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny. The mystery of the world to come is that our character is forever fixed. The Fathers of the Church described this mystery as being like clay on a potter’s wheel. As long as the clay is moist and on the wheel, the potter can shape and reshape it, but there comes a time when the clay form is placed in the kiln to be fired, fixing its shape forever. It is this way for us when we come before God, who judges us by fire (cf 1 Cor 3:12-15).

Fire will forever fix our character; this judgment through fire will either purify us or bring us condemnation. The fixed quality of the human person is illustrated in the rich man’s unchanged attitude.

3. The rich man does not ask to come to Heaven – It is very strange that the rich man does not ask that he might come to Heaven; rather, he asks that Lazarus be sent to Hell.

One of the saddest facts about the souls in Hell is that they would not be happy in Heaven anyway. After all, Heaven is about being with God. It is about justice, love of the poor, chastity, the heavenly liturgy, the celebration of the truth, the praise of God. God is at the center rather than us. The fact is, many show by the way that they live that they do not want many of these things. Why would someone who has disliked, even hated, these things will suddenly become enamored of them at the moment of death? Someone who ignores or disdains God and considers His faithful to be hypocrites would hardly be happy in Heaven.

The rich man demonstrates this by the fact that he does not ask to come to Heaven. He surely does not like where he is, but he shows no repentant desire for Heaven, either. The teaching, though subtle, seems clear enough: the souls in Hell have little interest in Heaven despite their dislike of Hell.

4. The Great Reversal – Abraham further indicates to the Rich Man and to us the “great reversal”: My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.

We spend a lot of time trying to be on top in this world. We want comfort, wealth, position, and power. The Lord warns here that we ought to beware the great reversal that is coming. Lazarus, who was poor, is now rich; and the rich man is now poor.

Jesus teaches this elsewhere: But many who are first will be last, and the last first (Mk 10:31). Mary remarked that He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down the mighty from their thrones but lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty (Lk 1:51-53).

This is the great reversal. We so want to be rich and comfortable in this world, running from any suffering or setback. But the Lord warns of riches, How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God (Mk 10:23). Yet still we want to be rich. He also says, Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:27) Yet still we run from the cross and suffering. In the great reversal, many who are first in this world will be last in the world to come.

We cannot assert a direct correlation between success here and loss in the world to come, but neither should we ignore the teaching that striving to “make it” in the world and “be somebody” can be a dangerous path. And if we have amounted to something, we’d better humble ourselves through generosity to the poor and associating with the humble. The goal of worldly success is a dangerous one, for the great reversal is coming. Better to be found among the humble and the poor, or at least well-associated with them, than to be mighty and high. Yes, beware the great reversal!

5. Refusing the truth of Revelation is a damnable sin – The rich man does not repent to God, nor does he seek to be reconciled with Lazarus; but he does have some concerns for his brothers, for his family. We need not assume that the souls in Hell have no affections whatsoever. However, their affections are not for God and what He esteems. And so the rich man, still viewing Lazarus only as an errand boy, asks Abraham to dispatch Lazarus to his family carrying a warning. Perhaps a vision from the grave will convince them!

But Abraham indicates quite clearly that they have the clear witness of God through Moses and the prophets. In other words, they have the Scriptures, the very Word of God, to warn them. The rich man insists, “Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.” Then Abraham said, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”

The last point is dripping with irony, considering the fact that Jesus would rise from the dead. Abraham says clearly that there are many sinners who are so hardened in their sin that no matter what the Scriptures say or what the Church solemnly teaches, they will never be convinced. This is so very true today; many remain hardened in their sins. No amount of Scripture or Church teaching will convince them that they are wrong. This is what happens to us if we remain in unrepented sin: Our hearts are hardened, our minds are closed, and our necks are stiffened. In the end, this story teaches that such hardness is damnable.

These are five basic teachings from a well known parable. We do well to heed these lessons!

This song, “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham” amounts to a wish that we will find our way to glory. Heeding the lessons of this parable is surely one way to find our rest in God.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Learning the Lessons of Lazarus and the Rich Man

Suicide is Contagious: Don’t Let it Spread by Supporting Assisted Suicide

The Maryland physician-assisted suicide bill has been passed by the House of Delegates and is now being considered by the state Senate.  The House bill is numbered HB 399, and the bill cross-filed in the Senate is SB 311. We have every reason to be very alarmed by these developments. Other states are considering similar legislation designed to advance, assist, legalize and normalize the suicide of those who no longer see a reason to live.  Meanwhile, a law legalizing assisted suicide in the District of Columbia took effect in 2017.

Be very careful, dear reader, before you allow a narrow and flawed notion of compassion to bypass a more serious moral reflection.  Suicide is almost never a purely private act. If some are killing themselves it is more likely that others will too because it is either an option they had not previously considered or it prompted those who were already thinking about it to actually do it, especially when it is glorified in the media or the appearance of social approval is given.  Sometimes, people feel obligated to commit suicide when others are doing it.  See Report of the Secretary’s Task Force on Youth Suicide. Vol. 2: “Risk Factors for Youth Suicide,” (Davidson & Linnoila eds. 1991)(Dept. of Health and Human Services); Phillips, “The Influence of Suggestion on Suicide,” 39 Amer.Socio.Rev. 340 (1974).

Suicide rates increase dramatically when a famous person takes his or her own life.  And in places like Oregon, where assisted suicide has been legal since 1997, the overall suicide rate of healthy individuals is more than 40 percent higher than the national average.

Yes, suicide is contagious, especially if it is legalized. This is not only because is leads others to consider it, but also, because it leads many to begin expecting and requiring it of the sick and dying. We have already seen this in the terrible effects of legalized abortion. Infants with poor prenatal diagnoses are aborted at rates approaching 90 percent. Parents in such situations are often pressured both by doctors, family members, and their own desires for a “perfect” child, to abort.  To legalize killing is more than to simply permit it in rare circumstances, it is to unleash it; increase its numbers by widening expectations of when it can and “should” be used.

One person’s “right” to legally commit suicide, eventually becomes my duty to commit suicide. This is NOT a merely private decision. Yes, indeed, suicide is contagious. Every human person who is growing elderly or struggling with physical or mental disability, or diagnosed with progressive illnesses such as Multiple Sclerosis, COPD, Alzheimer’s are going to be the first to come under threat.

No Catholic can or should ever support legislation that permits physician assisted suicide, or other form of suicide.  Let’s consider first what the Catechism teaches about euthanasia/assisted suicide, how it defines it and why it is wrong:

Those whose lives are diminished or weakened deserve special respect. Sick or handicapped persons should be helped to lead lives as normal as possible. Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia [or assisted suicide] consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable. Thus an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator. The error of judgment into which one can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded.

Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of “over-zealous” treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one’s inability to impede it is merely accepted. The decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected.

Even if death is thought imminent, the ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted (CCC 2277-2279).

Thus the Catechism defines euthanasia/assisted suicide as the intentional ending of a life, whether by direct means such as injection with deadly drugs, or indirectly through the refusal to provide food and/or water. The distinction between euthanasia and assisted suicide lies in who initiates the final act that actually causes death, the patient himself (assisted suicide) or a third party (euthanasia).

One cannot emphasize enough that simply refusing or withdrawing burdensome treatments, or allowing the dying process to proceed once it has naturally begun by not providing machines such as ventilators that are unlikely to be therapeutic, is not euthanasia/assisted suicide. Church teaching does not require that one pursue every treatment possible. The patient must discern carefully with information supplied by his medical team along with an assessment of his personal resources—spiritual, psychological, emotional, familial, and financial—whether or not a particular treatment is excessively burdensome. However, even for an imminently dying person, basic care (which usually includes nutrition and hydration, even if administered through a tube) must be provided.

Pain management for those with terminal illnesses, for those with degenerative diseases, and for the dying is allowed and encouraged, even if the medication has the unintended side effect of shortening life. Arguments that dying is too painful and therefore a patient should be euthanized or assisted in dying are not valid, because it is very rare today that pain cannot be managed reasonably through advancements in the growing specialty of palliative care.

Let’s consider some other reasons, both religious and natural, that we should oppose assisted suicide/euthanasia. I’ll begin with the natural reasons that should concern us all, including those of different faiths and those with no faith tradition. Then I’ll move to the religious reasons that should influence us who believe.

Legalized assisted suicide grants death-dealing authority to certain persons, i.e. medical professionals; this in turn results in irreparable damage to the doctor-patient relationship.  Introducing death as a medical treatment option that can be offered by health care professionals fundamentally transforms a trusted profession that has been solely dedicated to healing for millenniaIt is because of this dedication to healing that doctors have enjoyed such respect and trust from their patients and society as a whole. The idea that government can give death-dealing power to certain individuals means that they can also enforce and regulate it. With an already broken healthcare system plagued with a spending problem, it is not difficult to imagine that assisted suicide will be an easy “fix” to our spending problem and legitimate treatment options will be refused.”

Legalized assisted suicide will likely lead to poorer healthcare and increased pressure on the sick, the elderly, the disabled, and the traumatically injured. Those who advocate for the physically and mentally disabled have good reason to fear that pressure will be applied to euthanize the disabled and those who have been in traumatic accidents. As the concept of “a life not worth living” grows, and as the idea gains traction that disability (even milder forms) is a fate worse than death, those who struggle with disability may well be easy targets for those who advise suicide. Some may feel pressured to no longer be a “burden.” Many will have the sense of their dignity being lessened. More can be read here: Disability and Euthanasia – History and Concerns.

As noted, granting individuals the right to end their life ultimately threatens us all because it implicitly denies the dignity of the dying. Failing to understand this dignity will lead to poorer care and will increase pressure on the elderly and dying to end their lives prematurely so that they are no longer a burden. In other words, the “right to die” too easily becomes the “duty to die.” What begins sociologically through pressure not to be a burden, soon enough becomes economically necessary because insurance benefits may vanish. And one can’t ignore the possibility of eventual legal pressure. The experience in the Netherlands is particularly sobering. More can be read on that here: Euthanasia Law in the Netherlands.

There are many more reasons to oppose euthanasia/assisted suicide purely on rational grounds. You can find more of these here at the archdiocese’s Transform Fear website.

Now I would like to move on to those reasons that originate from our faith in Jesus Christ.

One of my privileges as a priest is to have accompanied many people on their final journey toward death. I’ve also accompanied their family members. In making these journeys, I have discovered that some of God’s greatest and most necessary work takes place in and during the process of natural death.

Natural death is an important part of life that should be respected and accepted, not rejected. Some very important things happen on our deathbed that assist us spiritually, psychologically, and emotionally. These things happen not only to us but to our loved ones as well.

I have seen pride melt away; I have seen powerful contrition for past sins emerge. I have seen gratitude intensify, both in the one who is dying and in the loved ones who surround him or her. I have heard beautiful words like, “I love you,” “I am proud of you,” “I will miss you.” I have seen people let go and let God take over. I have seen forgiveness, tenderness, appreciation, and love being shared as never before. There is also the beautiful gift of listening and waiting, along with the learning of lessons that will never be forgotten.

I do not say that there is not grief and emotional pain; there is. But that is not all there is; there is beauty and love, too. And these are important and necessary. Perhaps some of the most necessary and profound things take place on our deathbed and at the deathbed of others.

Supporters of the legalization of assisted suicide and/or euthanasia might argue that these beautifully human and transformative moments also occur when one takes death into his own hands. I have no doubt that many tearful goodbyes are shared and some reconciliation among family members occurs as well. But there is a very different quality and a transparent authenticity within these moments when one has surrendered his/her life and control of it over to God.

The dying process helps us to receive the Kingdom of God like a little child, and God says this is necessary for us. As God directs Samuel, Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature … For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (1 Sam 16:7). Even in the painful sight of once-strong individuals reduced to weakness, there is a kind of strange beauty and we must ask the Lord to give us the “eyes to see” (cf. Mt 13:16).

In the nursing homes of this land are people who once ran businesses, raised families, and led communities. Now many have returned to a kind of childhood, even infancy. Some cannot walk, some have to be fed, some can no longer talk, some clutch dolls, and some must wear diapers. All this seems so horrible to many, but important things are happening. These are not conditions that any of us would willingly choose or wish upon another. However, not one of these losses, even the significant loss of intellectual capacity in such diseases as Alzheimer’s, diminishes worth or dignity. I do not want to minimize the pain that accompanies these losses—and the pain is not limited to the patient alone. Often family members and caregivers undergo significant stress and experience the pain of our Blessed Mother at the foot of the cross. But again, something important is happening.

Are those in nursing homes really so different from you and me?  Maybe death and dying are the “place” where all worldly status, all privilege, all inequalities are leveled and we simply become who we are. Are we not all little children to God? Does He not have to provide for every one of us in our need? Does He not have to feed us, clothe us, and enable us to speak? Perhaps it is just that with the elderly and dying the illusion of self-sufficiency has been shed. The Lord says, Unless you change and become like little children you will not inherit the kingdom of God (Mat 18:3).

As Catholics, we can never affirm the world’s claim “My body is my own and I can do with it as I please.” For a believer, this is simply not true. Scripture says, You are not your own. For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body (1 Cor 6:19). We are the steward, not the owner, of our body; we belong to God. As disciples, we seek to imitate Christ as He surrendered to His own impending death and gave us His Body at the Last Supper: This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me (Lk 22:19).

As Christians, we must once again reaffirm our acceptance of the cross. No one likes the cross—it is a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles (1 Cor 1:22)—but we have been taught by Christ that the cross is both necessary and saving. And we must insist, at least among our own number, upon the belief expressed by St. Paul: So we do not lose heart. Though our body is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Cor 4:16-18).

Think carefully before you support assisted suicide/euthanasia through some notion of “compassion.” The truest compassion is to want for someone what he or she truly needs in order to be saved. Ultimately, only God can say what this is. We do not have dignity because we can control our own lives; we have dignity because our life is in God’s hands.

The archdiocese’s Department of Life Issues and the Maryland Catholic Conference have been working with coalitions such as Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide to warn people about how the bills threatens vulnerable populations, including those who are sick, elderly, disabled, or who lack adequate, affordable healthcare.

Suicide is Contagious! Don’t Let it spread. Please become informed and act against the legalization of assisted suicide/euthanasia.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Suicide is Contagious: Don’t Let it Spread by Supporting Assisted Suicide

“And in the Morning Watch the Lord … Cast a Glance” – A Meditation on the Look of the Lord

There is an astonishing verse in the Exodus account, which is read this week in the Office of Readings. The Lord had parted the waters of the Red Sea with a strong eastern wind and the Israelites had just made the crossing with the Egyptians in hot pursuit.

And in the morning watch, the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud, cast a glace on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic (Ex 14:24).

Just one look … that’s all it took! One can imagine many other ways that God could have stopped them: lightning, angelic forces, etc. Instead, He merely “cast a glance.”

Was it an angry glance? The text does not say. I would speculate that it was a look of love, for if God is love, how could it have been anything else?

Why, then, the panic among the Egyptian forces? Perhaps it was like the reaction of those accustomed to the darkness, who wince in pain when beautiful light shines. Love confronts and drives out hate the way light drives out darkness. Love is what it is; it cannot be something else. To those held bound by hatred, though, love is like kryptonite. Thus, the Egyptian army falls at the glance of God, panics at the weakness it experiences. Yes, love can be like kryptonite.

I propose that despite the panicked result, God’s glance was one of love. God does not change. Even when we speak of His wrath or anger, we are speaking more of our experience than of what is in God. God is love and so He looks with love. That we experience something other than love is a problem in us, not in God.

Indeed, sometimes we see the look but miss the love. In the Gospel of Mark is told the story of a rich young man who sought perfection but somewhat on his own terms. Jesus looked at him with love and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mk 10:21). The young man saw the look and heard the words, but missed the love. As a result, he went away saddened.

And lest we reduce God’s look of love to one of mere sentimentality, we ought to recall that God’s look of love can also convict us and move us to repentance. Peter’s denial of the Lord is recounted in all four of the Gospels. Simon Peter was in the courtyard of the high priest warming himself by the fire; he had just denied knowing the Lord for the third time when the cock crowed. The Gospel of Luke recounts, The Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had told him, “Before a rooster crows today, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly (Lk 22:61-62). Here was a look of love that caused pain, but it was a healing pain that led to repentance.

For those of us with deeper faith, we learn to count on the look, the glance of God, to save us. An old hymn says, “Though billows roll, He keeps my soul. My heav’nly Father watches over me.” Another says, “His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.”

Yes, the glance of God may make you feel sad, or mad, or glad; but it is the look of love, always seeking to console us or to set us right and bring about healing.

I have a large icon of Christ in my room. In my opinion, what icons from the Eastern tradition do best is to capture “the look.” No matter where I move in the room, it seems that Christ is looking right at me. His look is intense, though not severe. In the Eastern spirituality, icons are windows into Heaven. Hence, this icon is no mere portrait that reminds one of Christ; it is an image that mediates His presence. When I look upon Him, I experience that He knows me. He is looking at me with a knowing, comprehensive look.

The Book of Hebrews says of Jesus, No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account (Heb 4:13). Christ’s look in the icon in my room is not fearsome; it is serene and confident.

Particularly in Mark’s Gospel, there is great emphasis on the eyes and the look of Jesus. The following expression, or one like it, appears more than 25 times in the Gospel of Mark: And looking at them He said, …

Looking on Christ and allowing Him to look on you is a powerful moment of conversion. Jesus Himself said, For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day (Jn 6:40). And in the First Letter of John we read, What we shall later be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (1 Jn 3:2).

Keep looking to the Lord through the art that most moves you and especially in the Most Blessed Sacrament. Look at Him and let Him look at you. Be not dismayed as were the Egyptians of old. God is love and therefore His look is always one of love, no matter how we experience it.

The Lord is casting a glance at you right now. What do you see?

This video is a collection of clips from the movie The Passion of the Christ, set to music. It shows many of the looks of Jesus as well as some that come from us. Look for the “looks.”

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: “And in the Morning Watch the Lord … Cast a Glance” – A Meditation on the Look of the Lord

The Mature Christian

As a kind of follow-up to yesterday’s Gospel of the Transfiguration, we do well to reflect a little further on the Lord’s intention in leading Peter, James, and John up a high mountain. The Church teaches us His purpose in the Preface for the Second Sunday of Lent:

For after he had told the disciples of his coming Death, on the holy mountain he manifested to them his glory, to show, even by the testimony of the law and the prophets, that the Passion leads to the glory of the Resurrection.

In this way, not only was He preparing them for the difficult days ahead but also leading them to a more mature faith, one that could see beyond the Friday of the Passion to the glory of the Resurrection.

I recently attended a diocesan workshop on evangelization and leadership development, at which the moderator, Jim Lundholm-Eades of the Leadership Roundtable, gave an outstanding presentation. In it, he gave a remarkable, concise description of the mature Christian that flows well from the Lord’s intention for his apostles:

“A mature Christian knows that Jesus is risen from the dead and he or she lives out of that knowledge and experience.”

So beautifully said! Permit a brief reflection on this.

As I have pointed out in other posts, “knowing” in the biblical sense is more than an intellectual knowing; it is an experiential knowing. To “know” that Jesus is risen from the dead is to experience that Christ is alive and changing our life, that He is present to us and leading us to a deeper relationship with the Father. It is a relationship of mutual love that is transformative and empowering.

The mature Christian is not a perfect Christian but is living a life of hope, a life of confident expectation of God’s help. He has already seen sins put death and new graces coming alive. As a result, he has come to know that this growth will continue if he cooperates with God’s grace. He has a proper sorrow for his sins and humility on account of them—but not despair or humiliation, as if God would leave him forever beset by his sins. A mature Christian cooperates with God’s grace and mercy knowing that through that grace and mercy he will win in the end.

There are, of course, still sufferings to undergo, but they can be endured with greater trust and a lively hope. The mature Christian knows that God has permitted them for a reason, and He will surely release new blessings if he walks in faith. The mature Christian is not easily unsettled by difficulties or trials; he endures them with the courage that faith has. This is because he has come to know and experience that Jesus is risen from the dead and that the final destination for those of faith is victory and glory.

The mature Christian also knows that there is a battle to engage, both personally and in the world; it is a battle for souls. However, since he knows that Jesus has risen form the dead, he knows that the outcome of the battle has already been decided; he knows which army will ultimately win. Therefore, apparent setbacks or losses are not devastating. On Good Friday all seemed lost, but Jesus rose on Sunday morning. So, too, for the Church and all who battle for the truth and choose the Kingdom of God. We preach the gospel and seek to live it both in season and out of season, whether popular or ridiculed. The mature Christian is serene because he knows that Jesus is risen from the dead and that He has already won the final victory.

Yes, a mature Christian knows that Jesus has risen from the dead and lives out of that experience. How mature are you?

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: The Mature Christian

The Cross Is a Fruit-Bearing Tree – A Homily for the Second Sunday of Lent

The Second Sunday of Lent always features the Transfiguration. The first reason for this is that the trek up Mt. Tabor was one of the stops Jesus made with Peter, James, and John on His final journey to Jerusalem. It is commonly held that He did this to prepare His apostles for the difficult days ahead. There’s a line from an old spiritual that says, “Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down, sometimes I’m almost to the ground … but see what the end shall be.” That is what the Lord is doing here: He is showing us what the end shall be. There is a cross to get through, but there is glory on the other side.

There also seems a purpose in placing this account here in that it helps describe the pattern of the Christian life, which is the Paschal mystery. We are always dying and rising with Christ in repeated cycles as we journey to an eternal Easter (cf 2 Cor4:10). This passage shows the pattern of the cross in the climb, the rising, and in the glory of the mountaintop; then it is back down the mountain again only to climb another one (Golgotha) and through it find another glory (Easter Sunday). Yes, this is the pattern of the Christian life: the Paschal mystery. Let’s look a little closer at three aspects of today’s Gospel passage.

The Purpose of Trials Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray.

We often pass over the fact that they had to climb the mountain, no easy task. Anyone who has been to Mt. Tabor knows just what a high mountain it is. The climb to the top is almost 2000 feet and steep as well. It would have taken the better part of a day and probably had its dangers. Looking down from the top is like looking from an airplane window out on the Jezreel Valley (a.k.a. Megiddo or Armageddon).

So, here is a symbol of the cross and of struggle. The climb was up the rough side of the mountain; it was exhausting, difficult, and tested their strength.

I have it on the best of authority that as they climbed they were singing gospel songs like these: “I’m comin’ up on the rough side of the mountain, and I’m doin’ my best to carry on!” and “My soul looks back and wonders how I got over!” and “We are climbing Jacob’s ladder; every round goes higher, higher.”

This climb is like our life. We have often had to climb, to endure, to have our strength tested. Perhaps it was the climb of earning a college degree. Maybe it was the climb of raising children or building a career. What do you have that you really value that did not come at the price of a steep climb, of effort, of struggle?

Most of us know that though the climb is difficult there is glory at the top if we but persevere. Life’s difficulties are often the prelude to success and greater strength.

Though we might wish that life had no struggles, the Lord intends a climb for us, for only the cross leads to true glory. Where would we be without some of the crosses in our life? Let’s ponder some of the purposes of problems in our life.

God uses problems to DIRECT us. Sometimes God must light a fire under you to get you moving. Problems often point us in new directions and motivate us to change. Is God trying to get your attention? Sometimes it takes a painful situation to make us change our ways. Proverbs 20:30 says, Blows and wounds cleanse away evil, and beatings purge the inner most being. An old gospel song speaks of the need for suffering to keep us focused on God: “Now the way may not be too easy, but you never said it would be. ’Cause when our way gets a little too easy, you know we tend to stray from thee.” It’s sad but true: God sometimes needs to use problems to direct our steps toward Him.

God uses problems to INSPECT us. People are like tea bags: if you want to know what’s inside them, just put ’em in hot water! Has God ever tested your faith with a problem? What do problems reveal about you? Our problems have a way of helping to see what we’re really made of. Through trials, I have discovered many strengths I never knew I had. There is a test in every testimony. Trials have a way of purifying and strengthening our faith as well as inspecting it to see whether it is genuine. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These trials are only to test your faith, to see whether or not it is strong and pure (1 Peter 1:6).

God uses problems to CORRECT us. Some lessons we seem to learn only through pain and failure. When you were a child your parents told you not to touch the hot stove, but you probably really learned by getting burned. Sometimes we only realize the value of something (e.g., health, a relationship) by losing it. Scripture says, It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees (Psalm 119:71-72), Before I was afflicted, I strayed. But now I keep you word (Psalm 119:67).

God uses problems to PROTECT us. A problem can be a blessing in disguise if it prevents you from being harmed by something more serious. A man was fired for refusing to do something unethical that his boss had asked him to do. His unemployment was a problem for him and his family, but it saved him from being sent to prison a year later when management’s actions were discovered. In Genesis, Joseph says to his brothers, You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives (Genesis 50:20).

God uses problems to PERFECT us. Problems, when responded to correctly, are character-building. God is far more interested in your character than your comfort. Scripture says, We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady (Romans 5:3), and You are being tested as fire tests gold and purifies it and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold; so if your faith remains strong after being tried in the fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day of his return (1 Peter 1:7).

So, the climb symbolizes the cross, but after the cross comes the glory.

The Productiveness of TrialsWhile he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But he did not know what he was saying. While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”

All the climbing has been worth it. Now comes the fruit of all that hard work! The Lord gives them a glimpse of glory. They get to see the glory that Jesus has always had with the Father. He is dazzlingly bright. A similar vision from the Book of Revelation gives us more detail:

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned, I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars … His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades (Rev 1:12-17).

Yes, all the climbing has paid off. Now comes the glory, the life, the reward for endurance and struggle. Are you enjoying any of the fruits of your crosses now? If we have carried our crosses in faith, they have made us stronger and more confident. Some of us have discovered gifts, abilities, and endurance we never knew we had. Our crosses have brought us life!

The other night I went over to the church and played the pipe organ. It was most enjoyable, but it was the fruit of years of hard work.

Not only have my own crosses brought me life, but the crosses of others have done the same for me. I live and work in buildings that others scrimped, saved, labored to be able to erect. I have a faith that martyrs died to hand on to me and that missionaries journeyed long distances to proclaim. See, trials do produce!

St. Paul says that this momentary affliction is producing for us a weight of glory beyond all compare (2 Cor 4:14). In Romans he says, For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Rom 8:18).

An old gospel song says, “By and by, when the morning comes, and all the saints of God are gathered home, we’ll tell the story of how we’ve overcome. And we’ll understand it better, by and by.”

So, the glory comes after the climb. This is the life that comes from the cross. This is the Paschal mystery: Always carrying about in ourselves the dying of Christ so also that the life of Christ may be manifest in us (2 Cor 4:10).

The Pattern of TrialsAfter the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.

Notice that although Peter wants to stay, Jesus makes it clear that they must go down the mountain and then walk a very dark valley to another hill: Golgotha. For now, the pattern must repeat. The cross has led to glory, but more crosses are needed before final glory. An old spiritual says, “We are climbing Jacob’s ladder … every round goes higher, higher, soldiers of the cross!”

Yes, this is our life: Always carrying about in ourselves the dying of Christ so also that the life of Christ may be manifest in us (2 Cor 4:10).

There are difficult days ahead for Jesus and the apostles, but the crosses lead to a final and lasting glory. This is our life, too: the Paschal mystery, the pattern and rhythm of our life.

Here is a rendition of the song “We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder.” The lyrics say that “every round goes higher, higher.” One can picture a spiral staircase as each round is pitched higher and higher musically. This is the pattern of our life: we die with Christ so as to live with Him, and each time we come back around to the cross or glory, we are one round higher and one level closer to final glory.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: The Cross Is a Fruit-Bearing Tree — A Homily for the Second Sunday of Lent