Developing the Desire For All that Really Matters

We live in an age where our comforts are many: air conditioning, electricity, running water, cars,  many of us have large house compared to fifty years ago, consumer products are abundant, cheap and easy to find, medical advances have staved off many diseases and improved the quality of life.

But comfort can confuse us and rob from us the one thing most necessary, the desire for God and to be with Him in heaven. This desire is our most essential desire and should be the focus of our whole life. It is to direct us to our proper end which is God and the things waiting for us in heaven. Jesus rebuked Martha for her focus on worldly concerns and told her that Mary, who preferred communion with him had “chosen the better part” and the “one thing necessary.” (cf Luke 10:38-42)

Creature comforts, when available to us in abundance as they are here and now have a way of misdirecting us. We are fooled into thinking that they are the source of our happiness and so we are always looking for the next worldly trinket or charm instead of God.

Even the way Church going Catholics and other Christians pray is alarming. Very often verbal prayers are heavily steeped in requests for better health, better finances, a new and more lucrative job, a more cooperative spouse, the success of some project and so forth. It is not wrong to pray for these things but when they so dominate our prayer it is almost as though we were saying to God, “Make this world a better place for me. Give me enough health, friends, and creature comforts and I’ll just stay here forever.”  Pretty sad really, but even our prayers can become too focused on this world and manifest that we have become forgetful that the greatest gift is God himself.

Our more recent fore-bearers saw things differently. A little as the 1oo years ago, most people in this world experienced life as brutal and short. Long hard days of physical labor, food supplies that were less sure, disease and poor medicine all led to lives that were  far less comfortable and more suddenly brief that what we in the west usually experience today. Some of the prayers of that time expressed that life was a vale (or valley) of tears and longing for heaven was a more common focus of  prayer.

We understandably have a natural fear of death, but as Christians we should increasingly long to be with God. With strong faith we can come to see our approaching death not as something to loathe but as the fulfillment of all our longings, for death opens the door toward God. The early Christians had an expression as recorded in the Didache Let grace come and this world pass away. Maranatha (Lord come). Amen (Did, 10)

Getting There – There’s an old Gospel Song that says, “I heard my mother say, ‘Give me Jesus. You may have all this world; just give me Jesus.’”  In my own life I heard people get to the mature point in their life when they could really say those words without any simulation or exaggeration. In particular I have in mind those I’ve been privileged to accompany toward death. For many of them these words become very real. My own mother died suddenly so I did not have the privilege of making that journey with her along the way. But My Father died after a year-long illness and my Grandmother too. I was able to walk with them in their final stages and I heard them say these words. And I knew it was time because only God can get you ready to say those words in a true and authentic way. I knew they really meant it and God was getting them ready for the great journey over to the other shore.

In the end, we have to desire heaven more  than this world and only God can cause this change and purge us from the many attachments we have to this world. It usually takes the dying process to get us there, though I suppose it shouldn’t have to. But, painful though it is to see, there is something quite beautiful about the  approach to death. I often see a letting go in those who approach death;  perhaps it is of worldly glories, old grudges, preoccupations and many worries. Little by little these things fall away and the “one thing necessary” replaces them. It is merely this:  that we sit at the feet of Jesus and wait for him to bring us over. There comes a moment when those who are dying with faith can truly saying the words of Psalm 27 : There is only one thing I ask of the LORD; this alone I seek: That I  may dwell in the LORD’S house all the days of my life and gaze upon his  beauty.

What do you want? What do you long for? Maybe it’s God! I know, its probably a lot of other things too. But if you’re faithful God can get you to the point where you can truly say: Give me Jesus. You may have all this world. Just Give me Jesus.

Pray to desire God above every thing and everyone. Pray along with this beautiful rendition of the Old Song: Give Me Jesus

Is God’s Love Really Unconditional?

I want to propose to you that God’s love really IS unconditional. However it should be stated from the onset that there are some problems presented by the assertion that God’s love is unconditional. For while there are plenty of texts from Scripture that teach that God’s love and grace are unmerited,  there is no real text that presents a “slam-dunk” assertion that God’s love is unconditional. There are even some texts that seem to teach that God’s love is conditional. For example:

  1. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him. (Jn 14:21)
  2. I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,  but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Ex 20:5-6)
  3. The Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God  (John 16:27).
  4. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. (1 John 4:15-16)

So most of these texts imply that God’s love for us is based on certain conditions. For example, whether we love his Son, or whether we keep his commandments. But while these texts are puzzling, they are not necessarily devastating to the notion that God loves us unconditionally. This is because it is possible for God to love us unconditionally from his side of the equation. And yet, from our side of the equation it may still be necessary that some conditions be fulfilled before we can receive this love unconditionally offered.

Consider the following example. Let’s say I walk up to you and you are carrying two large boxes filled with books you value. I am holding two other boxes filled with cash amounting to $50 million in large bills. I offer these boxes to you freely, without charge. No strings attached. My offer to you is unconditional. Take them, they are yours. So, my offer is unconditional. However, from your perspective there is a condition. You must first put down the boxes filled with books you value and then take up the boxes filled with money that I offer. Hence there is  a condition you must meet to receive my unconditional offer. MY offer is unconditional but you must overcome an obstacle. Your full arms must be emptied. The condition is not on my side but on yours. Hence, the quotes above which seem to place conditions on God’s love my only be conditions from our side of the equation. God can love us unconditionally and offer his love for free. But in order for us to receive and experience that love it may be necessary for us to empty our arms from sin, from worldly attachments and the like. We cannot carry both sets of boxes. We cannot serve God and Mammon. So it is possible to argue that God’s love IS  unconditional even as we accept texts like those above which declare that something in us must change for us to truly receive this unconditional offer of God.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:6-8)

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the Beloved. (Eph 1:4-6)

for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. (Rom 11:-29)

I would further like to propose to you that God’s love never fails. I will go so far as to say that even the souls in hell are loved by God. How could they continue to exist if He did not love them, sustatin them and provide for them? God loves because God IS love and that is what Love does, it loves. We may fail to be able to experience or accept that love, and that inability may at some time become permanent for us. But God never stops loving. How could he? God does not merely have love, He IS love. And love cannot NOT  LOVE for it pertains to love that it love. God has not stopped loving the souls in Hell. How could He? They surely refused to empty their arms to receive his embrace but God’s love for them has never been withdrawn. How could God not be love?

There was a man who had two sons (cf Luke 15). And one of those sons sinned horribly against him but then returned with repentance and received the embrace of his Father’s love. The other son was resentful and refused to enter the celebration with his Father and his brother. And the Father pleaded with him to enter the celebration and, I suspect, offered him too the embrace of love. Did the son enter the celebration? We do not know for the biblical story ends. But not really. For you and I finish it with our lives. The Father offers us the embrace of his love in the glory of the heavenly celebration. Will you and I enter the wedding feast or will we stay outside brooding and resentful. The Father’s offer is unconditional. But for you and me, from our side of the equation, there is a condition. We must enter to receive the unconditional offer. What is your answer to the Father’s pleading? Will you enter? Finish the story

I have posted this video before. it does a beautiful job of depicting God’s plaintive and loving call that echoes down through time: “Adam Where are You?!” It presents well the great drama of God’s love and our choice.  The video concludes with God  saying, “Won’t you come in from the darkness now before it’s time to finally close the door?!” What will you answer?

The Problem of a Designer God

Some years ago on a certain Sunday the Gospel of the Narrow Road came up wherein Jesus warns that many are on a wide and easy road that leads to damnation and only a few are on the narrow road that leads to salvation. I went on to preach of this warning of Jesus and of the real possibility of hell taught by him in  this and other passages. After Mass a woman came to me and said, “I didn’t hear the Jesus I know in your words today.” I said to her, “But ma’am I was quoting him!”  Unfazed she simply waved her hands dismissively and said, “We know he never said that. The Jesus I know would never have spoken like that.”

It is one of the more arrogant trends of our modern culture to refashion revealed religious truth and God himself  according to our modern preferences. Many moderns want all the consolations of faith but none of its demands. God himself must be rendered harmless so many simply refashion him and what he has said. At times I’ll run into someone at the store who has not been attending Mass faithfully and I will call it to their attention. It is not uncommon that they will respond, “God doesn’t care if I go to Church or not.”  “Oh really?” says I, “Then why do you suppose he put it in the Ten Commandments that we should keep holy the Sabbath?'” No answer usually, sometimes a shrug. I usually add: “And why did Jesus warn that if we do not eat his flesh and drink his blood we have no life in us?” (Jn 6:53).

Many people have a designer God. A “God who doesn’t care if _____ (fill in the blank).” A God who consoles but never commands. The real God who reveals himself in the Scriptures and doctrine of the Church has been set aside by many. In his place is an idol. A god that many people construct to suit themselves. There is an old saying, “God made man in his own image. Ever since we seem intent on returning the favor.”

I want to ask you to ponder that the refusal to submit ourselves to God as he actually reveals himself is a form arrogance. But as with most things modern we try to recast it as something else. We like to think that we are being  “open-minded,” “broad and inclusive.” But in the end it is we who are the measure of truth in this scenario. Truth is not something to be discovered and submitted to, it is whatever I say it is.

I once saw a bumper sticker: “Don’t believe everything you think.” Not a bad invitation to some humility. Too often we think today that something is so just because I think so. It is not always so. Faith, on the other hand,   invites us to trust in God who reveals the truth to us,  a  God who is truth and can neither be deceived nor deceive. Faith is surely a gift, but it is a gift that requires great humility. Someone outside of me, to whom I must answer defines what is true and I am invited to yield and trust. Only faith and humility can be real antidotes to the arrogance of our times.

I suppose the real end game in the “designer god” phenomenon is to render God harmless. In the video below Fr. Robert Barron examines the movie Avatar and the theological premises of the movie. The basic religion on display in the movie is a “Hollywood approved” religion where God is depersonalized and becomes a kind of benign “force.” Someone (something?) we can tap into at will, but always on our terms. This Hollywood approved god does not speak or demand but rather just an animistic, pantheistic, impersonal force who is available to us when we so wish. Hardly the real God of which Scripture says: It is an awesome thing to fall into the hands of a living God (Heb 10:31) or again, 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). The designer god can be manipulated and controlled and invoked as we wish. The designer god is quite harmless really, never asks questions, never requires obedience. The designer god is always on our side. The real and Biblical God is a person who addresses us intelligently and takes initiative that requires a response on our part. We cannot control or manipulate him and he speaks a truth that may often challenge us. Not someone the modern age seems very willing to accept. In the end let’s be clear, the designer God is an idol.

In case you don’t want to see the whole video due to limited time, Fr. Barron’s critique of the “approved religion” of Hollywood begins at 4:40 minutes. The whole video is good however!

Joy is from God

There is something deeply mysterious about joy. It is deeper than mere laughter, it is more than an emotion. Joy seems to combine both serenity and excitement along with a touch of humor or laughter. It seems to come as pure gift, emerging sometimes in an instant, sometimes as a gentle tide welling up. Perhaps its context is good news, or a humorous moment, Perhaps it exists with the satisfaction of a completed task or a reunion after an absence. It does not seem to be a learned response at all. It just is, it’s just there! Even the youngest infants show joy. It comes with the soul and is there from the start.

What is joy? It is the gift of God. We can only receive it, not cause it. It is gift.

I know that, in places, the Scriptures seem to command joy as though we could cause it. But notice those same Scriptures put that command in a context. For example, we are to not to “joy” but  to “rejoice.” That is, we are to recall and revisit the joy the Lord has given us. Elsewhere the Scriptures say “Be joyful” but then add “in the Lord.” For joy is of God and comes from him.

Joy is an unmistakable foretaste of heaven. It leaps down from heaven and draws us up there for a time. For the Christian, joy should grow as we journey ever closer to that place where “joys will never end.”

Joy to you as you watch this remarkable video and glimpse the joy of God on infant faces:

  • Ex ore infantium, Deus, perfecisti laudem
  • (From the mouths of infants you have perfected praise O God)
  • Psalm 8:3


God Loves You. He Even Likes You.

Every now and then we need to be reminded that God really loves us. Some of us struggle with this notion especially when we have sinned or experienced a shortcoming. Some times we don’t feel very lovable. But consider this:

  1. Before you were ever formed in you mother’s womb God knew you and loved you (Jer. 1:4)
  2. God knit you together in your mother’s womb (Ps 139:13)
  3. You are fearfully wonderfully made (Ps 139:14)
  4. Every one of your days and deeds were written in God’s book before one of them ever came to be. (Ps. 139:16)

So God knew you and planned for you. You cannot earn his love you already have it. In fact you had it before you were born, before you had done anything. As for your sins God knew all about them too. Sin does not cancel God’s love but it does limit and ultimately sever our acceptance of that love. “Ah but what about Hell?” you might say. Yes a great tragedy, but do you suppose that God’s love does not extend there also? After all God does not destroy the souls in hell. He still sustains and provides for them. He loves them still. It is they who do not love him or His kingdom and he will not force it on them.

So face it God loves you, he even likes you. He does not love you because you deserve it. He loves you for “no good reason.” His love cannot be explained in any human terms. He loves you simply because he does, because he is Love. If you have never experienced this love, get on  your knees and ask for this necessary gift.

Maybe these videos will help. The first one is a beautiful musical reflection by Don Francisco “I’ll Never Let Go of Your Hand” (available at iTunes).  The Second one I have posted before about a young firefighter who powerfully  experiences the unmerited love that God has for him.

What is Distinctive About the Biblical Revelation of God?

There is much talk today about how we, despite our theological differences are all really worshipping the same God. Is that true? We might like to think that under all this diversity is really a unity but the fact is that there are some pretty radical differences in the understanding of God. So radical that I do not think we can really affirm wishful slogans like the one above. There is only one true God but many have imagined other gods who are not God, surely not God as he reveals Himself in the Bible.

Another common problem today is to presume that the Biblical insights about God are not really unique but merely borrowed from other ancient cultures. Zeitgeist the movie makes this claim. But the truth is that the Biblical tradition, while having some similarities to other things ancient, departs radically from most ancient and modern philosophies. The Biblical Revelation really IS unique and transcends many Ancient and modern errors.

Here are two videos by Fr. Robert Barron that make these points well.