Time to Upgrade

The world often tries to present itself as the latest and the greatest, but that’s only true on the surface—if at all. The Scriptures see the world as old and outdated, as passing away:

      • For this world in its present form is passing away (1 Cor 7:31).
      • The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever (1 John 2:17).
      • For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Cor 4:18).

The tennis player in the commercial below is using an outdated racquet, and it hinders her game; it’s time for her to upgrade her equipment. This is true for each of us, too. The Lord says to each of us,

      • My friend, come up higher (Lk 14:10).
      • If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (Col 3:1-2).

Upgrade your life. Rise above fleshly and passing things to spiritual and eternal ones. Step up to higher and better things. Accept the upgrade of grace, which will permit you to reach your full potential.

It’s time for an upgrade!

 

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Time to Upgrade

Four Gifts of Grace – A Homily for the 6th Sunday of Easter

The Gospel for Sunday has a number of “sayings” of the Lord Jesus, which together amount to a kind of litany of love. It is a setting forth of the gifts that He, by His grace, is accomplishing and will accomplish in us. Let’s consider the wonderful gifts of grace.

I. PowerJesus said to His disciples, “Whoever loves me will keep my word.”

Here is a fundamental theology of grace: keeping the commandments and mandates of the Lord’s Word is the fruit of His love, not the cause of it. The Lord says that if you love Him, the keeping of the commandments is sure to follow. Note that we do not initiate this love, God does. Scripture says, We love because he first Loved us (1 John 4:19).

No one can give what he does not have, and no one can possess what he has not received. God is the author and initiator of love. Love always starts with Him. The Lord is not setting up some sort of loyalty test here, as if He were saying, “If you love me, prove it by keeping my commandments.” That is not the gospel! The gospel is that God loved us before we were ever born, before we could do anything to merit His love. He loved us when we were dead in our sins, and He took the initiative to love us even when we hated Him and crucified Him.

If we will accept this love, it will enable us to love God with the same love with which He loves us. With His love in us, we will begin to love what He loves and whom He loves. We will love holiness, forgiveness, mercy, justice, compassion, chastity, and generosity. We will love our brethren—even our enemies. Why? Because God loves them. When His love is in our heart, so is His love for them.

Do you understand this? Love enables us to keep His Word, to live it and to love it. When I was young, I dated a girl who liked square dancing. At the time, I thought square dancing was silly, but my love for her meant that I started to love what she loved; I came to love her family, too. If we let love have its way, it changes our heart and our desires.

If you let love have its way you will keep the commandments. The keeping of the commandments is the fruit of love, not its cause. Love is the power of grace at work in us to love what and whom God loves. Jesus says, If you love me, you will keep my commandments (John 14:15).

II. Presence – [Jesus says,] and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.

One of Jesus’ great desires was to restore us to unity with the Father. Jesus was crazy about His Father and earnestly desired to have us know Him and love Him more deeply.

If we will but accept the Father’s love and His shalom, offered through Jesus, we will have a tender and joyful relationship with our Abba, our Father. Jesus often described His Father almost as doting. He is like a shepherd who leaves the 99 in search of the one. He is like a woman who loses a coin, sweeps diligently to find it, and then celebrates by throwing a party more costly than the coin itself. He is like a father whose son effectively tells him to “drop dead,” but who, when the son finally returns, runs out to meet him and has a feast in celebration.

Do you grasp this? The Father loves you and Jesus has reconciled you to Him. Now run to Him; run to Abba, God. If you take one step, He’ll take two, and then He’ll start running to embrace you!

This is the gospel message: Jesus Christ has reconciled us to the Father at the Father’s own request. The Father loves you. Now run to Him and watch Him run to you. He does not want distance; He wants intimate presence, love, and embrace.

III. Perfection – [Jesus says,] I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.

We all know that the Christian journey is not accomplished in an instant. Rather, we make this journey with God, the Holy Spirit, who teaches us and makes us mindful of all that Jesus has done for us and taught us. Little by little, we are given a new mind, a new heart, a new walk, and a new and better life. May God who has begun a good work in bring it to perfection (cf Phil 1:6).

If we are open to Him, He is faithful, and He will do it. The process may be slow, but that is only because we have foreheads of brass and necks of iron (cf Is 48:4). God is faithful and patient. I am a witness; if He can change me, He can change you. He has promised to do so, and He will.

We will be transformed by the renewal of our mind (cf Rom 12:2), for the Holy Spirit will bring to our mind all that the Lord is and all that He taught. Let the Lord change your mind and heart. If He does that, the rest will follow. Sow a thought, reap a deed; sow a deed, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny—and it all begins with the mind.

One of the gifts of grace is the renewing of our mind, and it leads to total transformation.

IV. Peace – [Jesus says,] Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. You heard me tell you, “I am going away, and I will come back to you.” If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father; for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe.

What is the gift of peace? Peace is shalom; it is more than the absence of conflict. It is the presence in the relationship of everything that should be there. Peace is the experience that everything is all right.

For us, peace is access once again to the Father. It is being able once again to walk with Him in love, in and through Jesus Christ. We don’t just walk with Him in some earthly garden paradise, as Adam and Eve did. Rather, we walk with Him in Heaven. In Jesus we are seated with the Father in honor at His right hand.

So, what does it mean when the same Jesus who said, “The Father and I are One” (Jn 10:30), also says, “The Father is greater than I” (Jn 14:28)?

Theologically, we can distinguish two ways of understanding this text. Many theologians emphasize that Jesus is referring to His human nature when he says, “The Father is greater than I.” As God, He is equal to His Father, but as man, He is less than His Father. Other theologians remind us that, even in terms of His divinity, the Father has a certain greatness as the source in the Trinity. All the members of the Trinity are co-eternal, co-equal, and equally divine, but the Father is the Principium Deitatis (the Principle of the Deity). The Father eternally begets the Son, the Son is eternally begotten, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from them both. Because Jesus proceeds from the Father from all eternity, He is in effect saying, “I delight that the Father is the principle of my being, even though I have no origin.”

Devotionally, Jesus is saying that He always does what pleases His Father. Jesus loves His Father. He’s crazy about Him. He’s always talking about Him and pointing to Him. By calling the Father greater, He in effect says, “I look to my Father for everything. I do what I see Him doing (Jn 5:19) and what I know pleases Him (Jn 5:30). His will and mine are one. What I will to do proceeds from Him. I do what I know accords with His will.”

This is the source of our peace. With Jesus, we love the Father and always do what pleases Him. Jesus “goes to the Father,” but He takes us with Him, for we are members of His mystical Body. In Jesus, we enter the holy of holies and sit next to the Father in love and intimacy.

Here, then, are some important gifts of grace. It is up to us to lay hold of them and to live out of them. The Lord promises them to us, so they are ours. If at times they seem distant, reach out and take back what the devil stole from you. These are gifts of the Lord’s resurrected grace.

This song that speaks of peace and presence, not to mention power:

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Four Gifts of Grace – A Homily for the 6th Sunday of Easter

What Conscience Dreads and Prayer Dares Not Ask

The Collect (Opening Prayer) for this week’s Masses (27th Week of the Year), though directed to God, teaches us that our prayer is not always about things with which we are comfortable. It sometimes leads us to examine areas of our life in which we struggle with sin or we struggle to desire to be free of sin. Here is the prayer:

Almighty ever-living God,
who in the abundance of your kindness
surpass the merits and the desires of those who entreat you,
pour out your mercy upon us
to pardon what conscience dreads
and to give what prayer does not dare to ask.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.

After asking for God’s mercy and acknowledging that He offers us more than our minds can grasp, we make the following two requests:

  • [May you] pardon what conscience dreads.
  • [May you] give what prayer does not dare to ask.

[May you] pardon what conscience dreads.

The Catechism states the following regarding our conscience:

Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths (# 1776).

Our conscience is not merely what we think or what it pleases us to think; it is the voice of God echoing in our depths. Whatever rationalizations we use to try to suppress our conscience, the voice of God still calls us deep inside. Deep down, we know very well what we are doing and we know when it is wrong. No matter how many “teachers” we find who will tell us what our ears want to hear, that voice is still there.

I suspect that this is why the world and its devotees are so angry at the Catholic Church—we remind them of what God says. If our teachings were merely regarded as outdated opinions, the world would not hate us, would not be at war with us. No matter how emphatically people deny that their consciences trouble them, deep down inside they know better. The louder these denials, the less we should be convinced. Why are they forever insisting that the Church change her teachings? If we’re just a pathetic and outdated institution, why do they care what we teach? Because deep down they know that we are right and do not like to be reminded of it.

Our words, the words of Christ, touch something; they prick the conscience and remind people of things they know inside but would rather forget. The voice of God echoes within, convicting them and inciting within them a godly dread of sin and its ultimate consequences.

This is true for believers as well, who, though not as openly hostile, would still prefer to avoid the voice of their conscience and do not enjoy the holy dread of sin it engenders. Note that not all sorrow for sin is from God. St. Paul distinguishes godly sorrow (which draws one to God for healing) from worldly sorrow (which deflates the sinner and has him despair of God’ healing love or of being able to change). The proper dread that conscience incites is always a call of love from God, who bids us to repent and return to Him.

Still, we avoid what conscience dreads. Who likes to experience fear or negative feelings?

However, prayer must often ask us to look honestly at the less pleasing things in our life. This prayer bids us to listen to the dread of conscience (dread of sin and of its due punishments) and to seek pardon.

[May you] give what prayer does not dare to ask.

Some argue that the translation of this clause is not a good one. The Latin used is quod oratio non praesumit. Some prefer a softer translation in which the phrase asks God to give us the things that we are not worthy of requesting, things we do not presume to ask for because it would be too bold for us to do so. Such a translation does not offend the Latin text but does seem to miss the overall context: asking God to help us to overcome personal resistance.

We have already seen how and why many of us resist what conscience dreads and would rather be not hear the voice of God echoing inside, but consider that we resist asking for many things out of fear.

The classic example of this is St. Augustine’s request that God make him chaste … but not yet! Though he could see the value of chastity, Augustine enjoyed his promiscuity and was afraid to ask the Lord to remove something he liked.

There are many things we dare not ask for because we fear actually getting them. The attitude is “Ask not lest ye be answered”! For example, many are not ready to be chaste or to be more generous; they fear the changes that such things would bring. In such situations perhaps one could pray, “Lord, if I’m not chaste, at least give me the desire to be chaste,” or “Lord, if I don’t share sufficiently with the poor, at least give me the desire to do be more generous.” If we begin to desire what God is offering, we will be more chaste and generous we want to be. The fear of what prayer does not dare to ask abates. Then we are ready to ask God for what He really wants to give us.

The prayer is asking us to look at our resistance and fear and to pray out of that very experience rather than suppressing or denying it.

Consider well, then, the beautiful, though difficult and daring invitation of this prayer. Though directed to God, it also bids us to look within and to admit our fears and our resistance.

God Can Make a Way Out of No Way: A Meditation on the Role of Adversity

St. Paul in Prison, Rembrandt

Adversity comes to every one of us. The word’s Latin roots speak to the way in which things can turn against us; the winds, instead of moving us along, turn toward and against us and our progress seems stalled or even reversed.

But has it? Or does adversity have a hidden, benign, or even good purpose?

Consider the following teach from St. Paul, which arose from his own adversity. He is in prison, yet writes this:

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. … Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death (Phil 1:12-14, 19-20).

One can hardly imagine a set of circumstances more adverse for a missionary on the move than to be confined to a prison cell, unable to preach freely. Nevertheless, with the Holy Spirit to teach him, St. Paul can say that what seems adverse has actually served to advance the Gospel. His willingness to suffer for the truth of the faith both gives him credibility and bestows boldness upon others.

By God’s grace, the most adverse and paradoxical of situations can bear fruit. The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians. Find a place where the Church is being persecuted and you will find a place where she is growing. At the cross, Satan thought he could kill Christ and be done with Him, but instead, he released Christ’s full power. This is a lesson that seems to continually escape Satan and the world: God can make a way out of no way! When Satan does his worst, God releases the best.

What in our life has at the time seemed adverse but has actually turned out to be a blessing? It is important to reflect on this often because adversity takes an initial emotional toll. Discouragement, anger, fear, or depression can result if we do not quickly recall the paradox of the cross and God’s ability to write straight with the crooked lines of this word and to advance through even the strongest of headwinds. Adversity can help to clarify and strengthen. Persecution can purify us. Those who scoff at and challenge our beliefs can help us to clarify the truth even more. The lamp of truth is most precious and shines most gloriously in the deepest darkness.

While irksome, what seems adverse can still advance the cause of the Gospel. We need not desire adversity, but when it comes we should trust that God has permitted it, for a season and for a reason. If the greatest paradox of all, the cross, could release glory and open a way out of no way, so can our sufferings and adversities if we unite them to that cross.

God can make a way out of no way.

How Does Idealism Negatively Affect Marriage?

Those who seek to strengthen Holy Matrimony and stem the tide of failed marriages propose many remedies, among them better catechesis, improved marriage preparation, and greater emphasis on the sacrament in sermons. All of these are fine ideas and necessary steps, but let’s also ponder a deep but often unexplored root of the trouble with marriage today: idealism or unrealistic expectations.

Although we live in cynical times, many people still hold a highly idealistic view of marriage: that it should be romantic, joyful, loving, and happy all the time. It is an ideal rooted in the dreamy wishes of romantic longing, but an ideal nonetheless. Amor omnia vincit! (Love conquers all!) Surely, we will live happily ever after the way every story says!

Here’s the problem: Many want their marriage to be ideal, and if there is any ordeal, they want a new deal. Yes, many are wandering about thinking, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for,” to borrow from a U2 song.

There is no such thing as an ideal marriage, only real marriage. Two sinners have been married. A man and a woman with fallen natures, living in a fallen world that is governed by a fallen angel, have entered into the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Like the graces of any Sacrament, those of Holy Matrimony are necessary not because things are wonderful, but because they are oftentimes difficult. Marriage is meant to sanctify. Like baptism, it offers graces that unfold gradually. The graces unfold to the degree that, and at the speed with which, the couple cooperates with God’s work.

It takes a lifetime of joy and challenge, tenderness and tension, difficulty and growth, in order for a husband and wife to summon each other to the holiness that God gives. Some of God’s gifts come in strange packages. Struggles and irritations are often opportunities to grow and to learn what forgiveness, patience, and suffering are all about. These are precious things to learn and to grow in. Frankly, if we don’t learn to forgive we are going to go to Hell (see Mt 6:14-15). Even the best marriages have tension; without tension there is no change.

This may not describe the ideal, happily-ever-after marriage, but it describes the real one: full of joy, love, hope, and tenderness, but also sorrow, anger, stress, and disappointment.

The real problem does not necessarily come from our ideals about marriage, which are good to strive for, but from the fact that we conceive of these ideals within a hedonistic culture.

Hedonism is the “doctrine” that the chief goals of earthly life are happiness and pleasure. (The Greek word hedone means “pleasure.”) In the hedonistic view, any diminishment of pleasure or happiness is the worst thing imaginable, a complete disaster. Many insist on a kind of God-given right to be happy and pleased. Even some devout Christians fall prey to these exaggerated notions and excuse some selfish and sinful behaviors by saying, “God wants me to be happy doesn’t He?” When the Church (or an individual) suggests that someone should do what is difficult, they react, not with puzzlement, but with downright indignation, as if to say, “How dare you get between anyone and what makes him or her happy!”

Our notion of an ideal (happy, fulfilling, blissful) marriage is seen through the lens of hedonistic extremism. If the ideal marriage is not found, many feel a need—a perfect right—to end it in search of greener pastures.

This is just more evidence of our instant gratification culture that is used to “Rush shipping,” “Buy it with one click,” and “Download now.” If the ideal marriage is not evident very soon, the disappointments and resentments come quickly.

There is a saying that “unrealistic expectations are premeditated resentments.” How quickly unrealistic notions of the picture-perfect marriage are dashed on the shoals of reality.

Somewhere, not only in the Church’s marriage preparation programs but also in our work of assisting personal formation, we need to teach that unrealistic expectations are ultimately destructive. Our ideals are not the problem per se; we must become more sober about our conception of these ideals through the lens of hedonism and instant gratification. Growth takes time. Life moves through stages. Marriage is hard, but so is life. Cutting and running from the imperfect marriage—as some do rather quickly today—is not the solution. Sure enough, one imperfect marriage leads to another and perhaps yet another.

In the past, even the relatively recent past, people tended to stick things out, to work through some differences while agreeing to live with others. We would do well to regain something of this appreciation that earthly life is a mixed bag, that there are going to be challenges. Marriage is no different. Though we may idealize it, we should be aware that we are setting ourselves up for resentment and disappointment if we don’t balance it with the understanding that marriage is hard because life is hard.

Clearly there are many other problems that contribute to today’s high rate of divorce, but an overlooked root is the expectation of an ideal marriage. Yes, many want their marriage to be ideal, and if there is any ordeal, they want a new deal. (We would do well to remember that in a world full of adults behaving like this, it is the children who really get a raw deal.) This is a deeper and less discussed cultural root of our divorce problem, a deep wound of which we should become more aware.

Reminders on the Road to Victory – A Witness to the Truth of a Teaching from St. Catherine

One of the great battles in the spiritual life is mastering our emotions, by God’s grace. Our emotions are not evil, but they are unruly and easily manipulated by the world and the devil. Our own flesh (fallen nature) also contributes to the difficulty of self-mastery.

Yet as I have often testified, if we are faithful to the Lord and to prayer, growth in the spiritual life happens. Many of my once-unruly emotions have become more stable and are more quickly assuaged when they arise. I feel very good and confident about the progress I have made because I know it is the Lord who has accomplished it. Yes, I did my work: prayer, spiritual direction, Scripture, confession, Mass, and psychotherapy, but I know it was the Lord. For example, I remember awaking one morning and realizing that some very deep hurts from the past were gone. I couldn’t say when they had left; it seemed as though they had just evaporated. God was signaling me that it was over; they were gone, just gone. I felt a forgiveness, even a compassion, for those who had hurt me. I knew that I wasn’t the one who had accomplished this. Without God’s grace, I was prone to cling to my anger and resentments and rehash the injustices I had felt. Thankfully those feelings have never returned.

Anxiety was always the unruliest of my emotions. Beginning at ten years of age I would have crippling bouts of anxiety and panic. During these periods I could barely sleep and would obsessively ruminate over the fears that seized me. As a boy, I was terrified of various things: a house fire, someone breaking in and killing our entire family, etc. As I grew older and had more duties and responsibilities, I would have periodic attacks of extreme anxiety about assignments or about presentations/sermons I had to give.

The sporadic nature of these bouts seemed to confirm their demonic source. I could go for months, even years at a time, and be fine; suddenly, and usually for no apparent reason, I would feel an overwhelming panic or anxiety. For example, when I had been a priest for over ten years and been preaching and teaching with ease, I suddenly went through a period of grave anxiety over my Sunday sermons. I would worry all week long about the upcoming sermon.

Whether or not these were satanic attacks, the fact is that demons are opportunistic. They found doorways in my psyche and I, with the Lord, knew that deliverance prayer alone wasn’t going to be enough. The doors had to be closed. The work of grace and my cooperation with the Lord was going to have to win the day.

The heart of the battle occurred during a ten-year period, from my mid-thirties to my mid-forties. The medicines were these: prayer, spiritual direction, psychotherapy, sacraments, liturgy, the purification of the intellect (since most feelings come from thoughts), and learning by grace to trust God.

As in any battle, the victories came, but there were also setbacks and relapses. Little by little, trust triumphed over anxiety. A more stable, serene, and confident joy became my set point.

Now in my mid-fifties, I can say that the most recent ten years have been largely and increasingly victorious. I am seldom anxious about anything today. Thank you, Lord, and thank you also for all who have helped, guided, consoled, and encouraged me in my journey!

Every now and again, usually for just a moment (or no more than a day), I am reminded that I hold this treasure in an earthen vessel and that I need to stay “prayed-up”; I need to maintain the disciplines I have learned. Maybe it is a dream in the middle of the night from which I struggle to recover. Perhaps it is just a memory that seems all too real. Maybe it is the looming possibility of a new duty. Thanks be to God, though, the reminders are brief and whatever anxiety comes is manageable. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to God for this gift!

St. Catherine of Siena writes of these “reminders” in her major work, The Dialogue of Divine Providence. God the Father teaches her why He permits them:

Sometimes I resort to a pleasant “trick” with [the spiritually mature] to keep them humble …. For the sensual emotions slumber [even] in the perfect soul but they do not die. This is why, if they relax their efforts, or let the flame of holy desire grow dim, these emotions will awaken. It is essential to remain in holy fear of me …. Otherwise … the emotions seem to be asleep and it seems that they do not feel the weight of great sufferings or burdens. But then, in some tiny thing that really is nothing (that they themselves will later laugh at), their feelings are so aroused that they are stupefied. My providence does this to make them grow and go down into the valley of humility. [I do this] to give them give opportunity for merit, to keep them in the self-knowledge whence they draw true humility, to make them compassionate instead of cruel toward their neighbors so they will sympathize with them in their labors. For those who have suffered themselves are far more compassionate to the suffering than those who have not suffered

(The Dialogue of Divine Providence, p. 145).

We still need pricks and blows lest in our progress we become prideful or think that something is so far in the past that we forget to be grateful for our deliverance. The point is that we should never lose heart nor think that all progress is lost when we see a simple reminder of our frailty. With God we are strong, but only with God. Salutary reminders of this are necessary and the Lord, who loves us, provides them.

An Image of Grace in a Paul Simon Song

gospel musicI’ve got my Gospel glasses on and my holy hearing aids in; I’m seeing and hearing God in strange places. There are several Paul Simon songs that bring holy thoughts to me, even if he didn’t mean them that way. One them is this one (followed by my commentary):

When I was a little boy,
and the devil would call my name
I’d say, “Now who do … who do you think you’re fooling?”

I’m a consecrated boy

Singer in a Sunday choir

Refrain: Oh, my mama loves me, she loves me
She get down on her knees and hug me
Oh, she loves me like a rock
She rock me like the rock of ages
And she loves me
She love me, love me, love me, love me

When I was grown to be a man
and the devil would call my name
I’d say, “Now who do … who you think you’re fooling?”

I’m a consummated man
I can snatch a little purity

Refrain: My mama loves me, she loves me
She get down on her knees and hug me
Oh, she loves me like a rock
She rock me like the rock of ages
And loves me
She love me, love me, love me, love me

And if I was President
and the congress call my name
I’d say, “Now who do … who you think you’re fooling?”

I’ve got the presidential seal
I’m up on the presidential podium

Refrain: My mama loves me, she loves me
She get down on her knees and hug me
And she loves me like a rock
She rock me like the rock of ages
And love me
She love me, love me, love me, love me
She love me, love me, love me, love me
She love me, love me, love me, love me

Here’s my commentary, wearing my Gospel glasses and with my holy hearing aids in:

When I was a little boy, and the devil would call my name. We live in a fallen world, governed by a fallen angel, with fallen natures. And even the youngest find that these thrice-fallen forces reach them. Scriptures are clear in saying that the devil is prowling through the world like a roaring lion seeking souls to devour. We are to resist him, solid in our faith (cf 1 Peter 5:8).

I’d say, “Now who do … who you think you’re fooling?” There is a power within the soul to refuse Satan’s voice. Where does this power come from? It comes first from our freedom, from our will. It also comes from the voice of our conscience, the voice of God that echoes in the depths of our soul saying, This is the way walk in it (Is 30:21). Even the youngest children know basic right and wrong. It is not hard to appeal to them to understand what they’ve done wrong. But because of the weakness of our human nature, our inclination to selfishness, and our tendency to justify sin, we need additional help.

I’m a consecrated boy; singer in a Sunday choir. This describes a young man who has been consecrated in Baptism and is walking within the life and sacraments of the Church. The Sacrament of Baptism and the life of the Church give us additional insight to understand that the voice of the devil is seeking to deceive us. But human soul and intellect—illumined by the consecration of Baptism, the other sacraments of the Church, and strengthened by the fellowship of the Church —further strengthen us to be able to say to the devil,

“Who do you think you’re you fooling? I’ve been consecrated and I’m living my life in the light of God’s truth as expressed in the Church. I see your darkness for what it is and I’m not fooled. It is error; it is deception. It is darkness, not the light! I am no fool because, consecrated in baptism, the wisdom of God has reached me.”

Oh, my mama loves me, she loves me. She get down on her knees and hug me, oh she loves me like a rock. She rocks me like the rock of ages, and loves me. She loves me, loves me, loves me, loves me. And this “mama” is Mother Church, who loves us as a mother. She is our mother because we have come forth from her womb, the baptismal font, having been conceived by the chaste union with her beloved spouse, Jesus.

She is Mother Church, Christ’s bride, and oh, how she loves us! Down on her knees in prayer for us, she reaches out and embraces us. Yes, she loves us!

It will be noted, that the word “love” occurs seven times in the song’s refrain. Mother Church loves us sevenfold. Is it the seven sacraments? Is it the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit? Is it the seven corporal works of mercy? Is it the seven spiritual works of mercy? Yes, and more besides! It is love in all its perfection.

And in her sevenfold, prayerful love that embraces us, she loves us like a rock. This is the rock of Peter upon whom Christ, the rock of ages, builds His Church.

When I was grown to be a man – All of us are called to the maturity of Christ.

  • We [must] all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. So may we no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of erroneous doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes (Eph 4:13-14).
  • Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults (1 Cor 14:20).

Our Mother Church raises us to be mature in the fullness of Christ’s truth.

And the devil would call my name – Still the devil calls. He does not give up, hence we must remain ever-vigilant. So the song still says, “… who do you think you’re fooling?”

I’m a consummated man. Yes, we are called to full maturity in Christ, as stated above.

I can snatch a little purity. The strength to resist the devil comes from the maturity and purity that come to us in our walk with Christ and by the ministry of His Bride and our Mother, the Church. The purity and maturity of our faith help us to see even more deeply how the devil tries to fool us. Then we can reject him in strength, and with certainty and clarity.

Oh, my mama loves me, she loves me. Yes, she does! The Church just keeps on loving us. Sadly, many walk away from the Church in young adulthood. For those who come to maturity in Christ, the ever-stronger devil requires an even stronger capacity on our part to say, “Who do you think you’re fooling?” This comes through our maturity, wrought in us by our Mother, the Church. She raises us up in the faith to be strong and mature, teaches us the Word of God, bestows His sacraments, and gives us Holy Teaching. Thank you, Mother Church, for loving me like a rock!

The last verse gets a little strange and must be interpreted allegorically, not politically.

And if I was President – In other words, even if I should rise to the highest worldly power, even should I become a great leader.

And the congress call my name – While to modern American ears this refers to the people gathered in Washington, D.C. (the U.S. Congress), the word “congress” itself comes from two Latin roots: con (with) and gradi (go or walk). “Congress” means “coming or being together with,” or more literally, “going with.”

Scripture often warns of those who gather against us, telling us that they are often gathered by Satan himself. Jesus warns of the “synagogue of Satan” (Rev 3:9; 2:9). “Synagogue” is just the Hebrew word that means gathering or “congress.”  The Book of Psalms also warns of those who gather against us:

Rise up Lord against the rage of my enemies. Awake, my God; decree justice. Let the assembled peoples (Synagogus) gather around you, while you sit enthroned over them on high. Let the Lord judge these people (Psalm 7:7-8).

The devil often calls our name through pressure groups, through our desire to be popular, or through those who are together against us tempting us to do wrong. And thus this verse reminds me that even should I rise to the highest places, with many gathered about me pressuring me to do wrong or trying to intimidate me, yet still will I say to the devil, “Who do you think you’re fooling?”

I got the presidential seal. In other words, I have the highest seal, the seal of the Holy Spirit!

I’m up on the presidential podium. That is, I have the highest office, the office of prophet. I am one who speaks for God by this office! And despite the hatred of the world that comes to me from proclaiming God’s Word, and despite the gathering of my enemies all around me, yet still will I proclaim God’s Word as God’s prophet!

And through whatever hatred comes from those who gather against me, my mama loves me, she loves me like a rock. Yes, I have the love of my Mother, the Church, and my Lord, Jesus Christ, who is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer.

You may say, “Well, this is all a bit much. And your interpretation is surely far from what the lyricist probably ever intended.” That’s fair enough, but with my Gospel glasses on, I see Christ everywhere. With my holy hearing aids in, I hear Jesus all the time.

 

A Meditation on the Beautiful Gift of Sleep

deep-sleep=giftOne of God’s greatest gifts is that of sleep, especially deep, peaceful sleep. Alas, like many hyperactive and overstimulated moderns, I sometimes struggle to find deep sleep. My mother often said that she was a light sleeper, so maybe I also got it from her. But when deep sleep does come, what a wonderful gift! A deep night’s sleep can be so refreshing, truly one of life’s great pleasures.

Some of the Psalms speak of sleep. This Psalm speaks with gratitude of the gift of God to fall asleep quickly and to sleep deeply:

I will lie down in peace and sleep comes at once for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety (Ps 4:9).

Another Psalm speaks to us of how God blesses us while we sleep:

In vain is your earlier rising, your going later to rest, you who toil for the bread you eat, when he pours gifts on his beloved while they slumber (Ps 127:2).

What a magnificent thing to think of God bestowing blessings on us while we slumber! The image I have in mind is that of a parent coming to the bedside of a sleeping child and gently kissing him on the forehead, making sure he is all tucked in for the night.

Yet another Psalm speaks of the blessing of not having to get up in the middle of the night (to take care of you know what):

I will bless the LORD who gives me counsel; even in the night he admonishes my kidneys (Psalm 16:7).

Yes, an unusual blessing that God would keep watch over my kidneys! Many of the translators, finding this peculiar, translate it that God keeps watch over our hearts at night. Now that’s a nice thing, too, but the first meaning of the Hebrew word kilyah is “kidney.” There’s something earthy and practical about God keeping watch over our kidneys. Thank you, Lord! Not having to arise several times at night allows me to sleep more deeply. Thank you, Lord, for watching over my kidneys!

So yes, restful and peaceful sleep is such a great gift, a blessing itself, and also a source of blessings. Grant us, good Lord, a restful night and a peaceful slumber!

Dr. Ralph Martin, commenting on a teaching by St. Therese of Lisieux, has this amusing and consoling reflection on the relation of sleep and prayer:

Therese shares about her own long struggle to refrain from falling asleep during prayer times and offers some interesting advice:

I should be desolate for having slept (for seven years) during my hours of prayer and my thanksgivings after Holy Communion; well I am not desolate. I remember that little children are as pleasing to their parents when they are asleep as well as when they are wide awake; I remember, too, that when they perform operations, doctors put their patients to sleep. Finally, I remember that: “the Lord knows our weakness, that he is mindful that we are but dust and ashes.

[Dr. Martin observes]: Those of us who are parents know that we sometimes love our children even more when they finally go to sleep! Therese’s message is one of great confidence in God’s love for us. He knows our weaknesses and loves us anyway. If we just do the little bit we can, he’ll be able to continue the process of transformation even if prayer is sleepy and dry … little by little, even imperfect prayer will change us (Dr. Ralph Martin, The Fulfillment of All Desire, pp. 283-284).

Of course it is also clear that one of the more unpleasant experiences in life is to have a restless or sleepless night, especially if it is accompanied by anxiety or fear. In the worst years of my struggle with anxiety in my mid-thirties, I was actually afraid to go to sleep. I would often fall asleep and then within an hour be startled awake, racked with fear and wrestling with a demonic presence in my room. Somehow, in falling asleep, all my psychological and spiritual defenses seemed to shut down and I would awaken to terrors and fearsome assaults. Those were the difficult years when I feared, as late night drew on, that it was time to try to sleep.

The Book of Job well describes the nights I once experienced:

When I say, “My bed shall comfort me,
My couch shall ease my complaint.”
Then you [O Lord] affright me with dreams,
and with visions terrify me.
In bed I say, “When shall I arise!?”
But the night drags on;
And I am filled with restlessness until the dawn (Job 7:13-14; 4).

I used to keep a printed version of this on my nightstand. And in those dark nights at three in the morning I read it out loud as a kind of complaint to God.

Thanks be to God, I am delivered from those awful times. Thank you, Lord! But I am sympathetic to those whose bed provides no comfort and whose couch permits no sleep. It is an awful thing and a difficult cycle to break. I can only, with sympathy, encourage them to make the journey I’ve had to make: growing in trust, finding greater serenity, and taking back what the devil stole—the gift of a restful night and the peace and serenity the Lord wants to give.

Ah, yes, the gift of restful sleep and quiet nights! It is a beautiful gift to seek from the Lord each night. In the night prayer of the Church, there are these beautiful lines:

Protect us Lord as we stay awake, watch over us as we sleep, that awake we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep rest in his peace.

The office ends with the beautiful wish: May the Lord grant us a restful night and a peaceful death. The Salve Regina having been sung, the lights are switched off and we rest in the arms of God.

Here is one of the most beautiful Night Prayer Hymns:

God, that madest earth and Heaven, darkness and light;
Who the day for toil hast given, for rest the night;
May Thine angel guards defend us,
Slumber sweet Thy mercy send us;
Holy dreams and hopes attend us, all through the night.

When the constant sun returning unseals our eyes,
May we, born anew like morning, to labour rise;
Gird us for the task that calls us,
Let not ease and self enthrall us,
Strong through Thee whate’er befall us, O God most wise!

Guard us waking, guard us sleeping, and when we die,
May we in Thy mighty keeping all peaceful lie;
When the last dread call shall wake us,
Do not Thou, our God, forsake us,
But to reign in glory take us.