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 are Beauty and Peace? The Ancient Philosophers Had Simple, Objective Definitions

blog11-10Every now and then we all run across a description or definition of something that captures its truth, yet at the same time respects its mystery. For indeed mere words can ever really be, or take the place of, the thing or person they describe. The reality is always richer than the descriptions we attempt with the grunts and scrawls we call “words.”

Such were my thoughts when I was rummaging through some old philosophy notes and came across two classic definitions that are moving in their simplicity, yet mysteriously accurate. Here they are:

  1. Beauty is the splendor of order. Yes, order is magnificent. Sometimes we speak of symmetry (Greek for “same measure”). Sometimes we speak of proportion (from a Latin word meaning that something is properly divided or shared). Musically, we speak of harmony (from the Greek harmonia, meaning agreement of sound) or of “concerts” (from the Latin concertare, meaning “to bring into agreement”). Yes, order is a beautiful thing that points beyond itself to purpose and design. Things in creation are not just here on earth haphazardly. They are not chaotically strewn about. Rather, things are intricately interrelated in multiple ways and at every level: atomically, molecularly, organically, ecologically, and cosmically. Such order, such beauty! Beauty is truly the splendor of order.
  2. Peace is the rest of order. This definition is even more mysterious. We all know that order brings peace, but why? When our lives are in order we sleep well. When chaos wounds order we are in distress and seek to restore order. The perception of order bestows a kind of satisfaction and fulfillment. For a moment we can stop and say, “It is well; things are as they should be.” This sense of well-being ushers in peace and serenity. Yes, peace is the rest of order.

These are just two brief thoughts to savor.

To those who understand the “order” of a Bach fugue, there is nothing more splendid. In this video the organist announces the theme with her right hand. Her left hand eventually echoes the theme, then her feet. And all the while the theme is also divided mathematically. Yes, math set to music. Enjoy the splendor of order (beauty) in this fugue.

"Been in the storm so long Children…." On the need to cultivate serenity in the midst of a culture war

There is little doubt that the that a kind of cultural war is being waged on many different fronts: abortion, euthanasia, the family, marriage, rampant divorce, cohabitation & fornication, homosexual activity, gay “marriage,” militant secularism and atheism, religious liberty, and so on.

While some may not like the image of war, the conflicts are so deep and intense, the tensions so live and the sides so clearly marked that we can little avoid the term.

In the midst of such a war however, we Christians and cultural warriors can too easily acquire an acerbic, hostile and cynical attitude, even with each other. We become too argumentative, debating every point, even when it is not necessary, and reasonable people may differ. Too easily we can insist on narrowly defining terms and priorities, and we become unnecessarily cynical if others embrace a broader (though still Catholic) set of concerns.

In some sense, many of us have “been in the storm so long children…..” that we ourselves become stormy and develop a kind of trigger finger, even among friends.

The Internet, with it is virtual (though impersonal) relationships does not help. Frankly it is just a lot easier to be nasty to people we have not personally met. Further we cannot always appreciate tones of voice, and other nuances in the written word, as well as we do in more personal interactions. Too easily we loose venom on the faceless people in the combox, with whom we might enjoy friendlier relations in a more personal setting.

In the fog of war, cultural war, we need to cultivate the serenity and joy that comes from knowing the Lord, rejoicing in the beauty of truth, and remembering that, though the battle is sometimes fierce, the final victory of the Lord and his Body, the Church, is assured, indeed, already won.

The paradox of winning this war, is discovering inner peace. Merely sharpening our apologetical weapons, (good and important thought that is), or taking our battle for liberty to the courts (necessary though that is), may win a certain debate or battle. But from a long-term, evangelical point of view, we will only win “the war” by a credible and paradoxical witness of serene peace that comes from having met the Lord. Otherwise, we too easily descend into the hostility that is unbecoming of Christians, and become more desirous of winning an argument than souls.

The words of the theologian Jacques Philippe come to mind, from his book, Searching for and Maintaining Peace

It is of the greatest importance that we strive to acquire and maintain an interior peace, the peace of our hearts. In order to understand this, we can use an image…. Consider the surface of a lake, above which the sun is shining. If the surface of the lake is peaceful and tranquil, the sun will be reflected in this lake; and the more peaceful the lake, the more perfectly will it be reflected. If, on the contrary, the surface of the lake is agitated, undulating, then the image of the sun can not be reflected in it.

The more our soul is peaceful and tranquil, the more God is reflected in it, the more His image expresses itself in us, the more His grace acts through us. On the other hand, if our soul is agitated and troubled, the grace of God is able to act only with much greater difficulty.

Philippe then goes on to articulate the need to cultivate this peace, this serenity, in prayer.

Acquiring and maintaining interior peace, which is impossible without prayer, should consequently be considered a priority for everybody….Otherwise, more often than not they would simply be communicating their own restlessness and distress. Often, we cause ourselves to become agitated and disturbed by trying to resolve everything by ourselves, when it would be more efficacious to remain peacefully before the gaze of God and to allow Him to act and work in us with His wisdom and power, which are infinitely superior to ours. For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: By waiting and by calm you shall be saved; in quiet and in trust your strength lies, but you would have none of it (Isaiah 30:15)….

He then clarifies that interior peace is not a mere quietism:

Interior peace has nothing to do with any type of impassivity, extinction of sensitivity, cold indifference or being wrapped up in oneself….Saint Vincent de Paul, the last person anyone would ever suspect of being lazy, used to say: “The good that God does is done by God Himself, almost without our being aware of it. It is necessary that we be more inactive than active.”….Only one who possesses this interior peace can efficaciously help his neighbor. How can I communicate this peace to others, if I myself do not have it?

Then comes the crux of the issue for us here, namely, that we should avoid fighting the wrong battle, and that inner peace is the paradoxical requirement for a true and effective Christian warrior, who battles not only a cultural war, but also his own inner war against temptation and sin:

The Christian life is a combat, a war, the scene of a constant and sometimes painful battle, which will not end until death — a struggle against evil, temptation and sin…. Saint Catherine of Siena says, “without war there is no peace”; without combat there is no victory.

But if the spiritual combat of a Christian is sometimes rough, it is by no means the hopeless struggle of somebody who battles in blindness and solitude, without any certitude as to the result of this confrontation. The victory is already won. The Christian fights, with a peaceful heart. It is exactly this interior peace which permits him to fight, not with his own strength, which would be quickly exhausted, but with the strength of God.

[Hence] interior peace is not only a condition for spiritual combat, but is quite often the goal itself. Very frequently, spiritual combat consists precisely in this: defending one’s peace of heart against the enemy who attempts to steal it from us.

Avoid fighting the wrong battle…., The first goal of spiritual combat, that toward which our efforts must above all else be directed, is not to always obtain a victory….it is to learn to maintain peace of heart under all circumstances, even in the case of defeat.

Perhaps a personal illustration will help. When I was a young priest, just 28 years old, I had the boldness that is not uncommon for a young man. I preached strong sermons and, even today, would not quibble with the content of those early sermons. I also tangled with some of my parishioners over certain liturgical abuses that were common at the time.

I took my concerns and frustrations about the liturgical abuses to my spiritual director who asked me if I loved my people. I was angry at his question. “Of course I love them!” “Nah…” he said, “Don’t give me the boilerplate answer, give me an honest answer.” I eventually admitted that, while I tolerated and served them, I probably couldn’t say I really loved them. “Alright,” he said, and then went on to say, in effect:

Now beg God for the grace to really love them, and you’re going to find a kind of serenity envelops you as your love for them grows. And you’ll correct the things you need to, and overlook, for now, the things that can wait, and you’ll know the difference. And when you do correct them you’ll be loving and serene. And as for your homilies, you’ll still be bold, but you’ll learn that there’s a big difference between speaking the truth in love, and just trying to win an argument. When people know you love them, you can tell them almost anything and they’ll listen. But they know the difference between someone who loves them and someone who’s merely trying to win an argument. And if you love them, you’ll preach with clarity,  but you’ll be patient, confident and serene. And believe me, people know and can tell the difference.

I pray I learned that lesson. And over the years, a kind of serene joy has come to fill me wen I preach and teach. Only rarely now, do I loose that serenity in pastoral settings.

Peace is the paradoxical requirement for the Christian warrior. Without that peace, too often we end up fighting the wrong battle. All of us do well to be alert to the “Been in the storm so long….” syndrome. It can happen to the best of us, and we turn on those we love and lose our peace, and see our love diminish. And how can we give what we no longer have? That same song gives an important solution to our inner struggle for peace: I’ve been in the storm so long Children…..Oh give me (a) little time to pray.

We are Not Born Hating Anyone: Asking For the Grace to Tear Up "The Memo"

At the bottom of this post is a video of a large dog and a small cat who apparently never got the memo that they are supposed to fear and hate each other. As the video makes clear, they are bosom buddies who love to romp, play, wrestle and even snuggle. How unlikely, and yet, there it is before our eyes.

While the interactions between animals are mysterious and not to be compared with human relationships, and I can’t help thinking of humanity as I look at these animals. What would things be like if some of the “memos” we pass back and forth were never received or got lost?

I remember some years ago when the former Yugoslavia broke apart as the long reign of communism ended there. Good news, as Soviet style rule ended. But then, a horrible blood bath ensued as and the Bosnian, Serbians and Croatians turned on one another, rekindling old hatreds going back hundreds of years. I remember wondering how people who had lived largely without violence for so long could still hate each other so. It seemed that the injustices of the past predated most of the people who were alive now.

Bosnian babies were not born hating Croatian babies. Some one must have taught them to hate each other. Some one gave them “the memo.” So when the “strong man,” Tito left the scene, ancient hatreds which had continued to be handed on from parent to child, exploded. Looking with my American eyes, I wondered how the Bosnian, Croat and Serbian people could even distinguish each other. To me they all “looked alike.” But they surely knew the differences, drew the lines, and spiraled right down into the hell of hatred.

I realize that I may be over-simplifying things, but there is also the tendency to over complicate matters. The fact is, no child enters this world with an intrinsic hated of a whole group of other children. Some one teaches them that. That part isn’t complicated.

Another awful example of this was what happened in Rwanda in the early 1990s. There, the Hutu and Tutsi tribes had separated back in 1959. But suddenly in 1990 Civil war exploded and in 1994 a Tutsi Tribe undertook an attempted Genocide of the Hutu tribe killing as many as a million in a very short period of time. Some argued that the tensions went all the way to colonial times. But here too, most of grievances seemed to predate the soldiers and vigilantes who undertook to massacres. Who taught them this hatred? Who “gave them the memo?”

When I was a child I lived in Chicago, Ill. I never remember my parents ever telling me to hate or even be wary of Black people. I give them a lot of credit for that. Neither do I remember any awareness of Racial tension or hatred in my neighborhood. However, to be clear, I was still very young and the racial riots that Followed Dr. King’s assassination did not really register on my 7 year old mind.

But in 1969 we moved to Northern Florida (think “Southern Georgia”). And there the racial tension was in the air. I remember being confused and bewildered by the unexplained resentments and fears. I guess I was too young, and was a newcomer and had not read “the memo” which indicated that I was to be suspicious, hateful and in no way mix with “them.” I remember seeing the Black children on the other side of the playground and they were playing with some “really cool” toys. Not having read the memo I went to join them. I was rebuffed not only by fellow Whites, but also by some of the Black children who were unaware that I had not read the memo and considered my “incursion” unwanted and even threatening.

Crazy stuff. We are not born hating anyone, any race, or ethnicity. Some one teaches us that. And this very fact increases the total disgrace that such hatred is. There is an old phrase that talks about “burying the hatchet.” You may call me naive, and simplistic, even myopic, but I wonder, what might happen if we could just “tear up the memo.”

I hope most of you know me by now well enough to understand that I am no moral relativist. I am not suggesting there is no such thing as truth, right or wrong, injustice etc. Neither am I one to dispatch slogans like: “Can’t we all get along?” or “Coexist.” For these sorts of slogans often rest on faulty premises that there is no real truth to announce or protect. But honestly, some of the hatreds we struggle with go back to things long gone, that predate any of us here today, and which, quite frankly, are not even grievances we know much about.  There are just some “memos” that need to go to the shredder.

The Catechism makes some very helpful observations:

Deliberate hatred is contrary to charity. Hatred of the neighbor is a sin when one deliberately wishes him evil. Hatred of the neighbor is a grave sin when one deliberately desires him grave harm. “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”….

Peace is not merely the absence of war, and it is not limited to maintaining a balance of powers between adversaries. Peace cannot be attained on earth without safeguarding the goods of persons, free communication among men, respect for the dignity of persons and peoples, and the assiduous practice of fraternity. Peace is the tranquility of order. Peace is the work of justice and the effect of charity…..

Injustice, excessive economic or social inequalities, envy, distrust, and pride raging among men and nations constantly threaten peace and cause wars. Everything done to overcome these disorders contributes to building up peace and avoiding war: Insofar as men are sinners, the threat of war hangs over them and will so continue until Christ comes again; but insofar as they can vanquish sin by coming together in charity, violence itself will be vanquished and these words will be fulfilled: “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. (CCC # 2303,2304, 2317)

Well, if nothing else, enjoy this video of two animals who never got “the memo” that they are supposed to be mortal enemies, and consider joining me in the dream that some of us humans too will never get “the memo.”

Photo Credit above: From the Zazzle Catalog

On the Memorare of Memorial Day

memorial-dayMemorial Day, for many, means the beginning of Summer. To others, it is a day off to shop. But, as I am sure you really know Memorial Day is a day to honor those who have died in the service of this country.

The word “memorial” comes from the Latin Memorare which is in an  imperative meaning: “Remember!” So, Memorial Day is “Remember! Day.”

This is a day to remember that there are men and women who have died so that you and I could live with greater security, justice and peace. May these fallen soldiers rest in Peace. We owe them a debt of gratitude and our prayers.

In a secondary sense we can also honor those today who currently serve in the military since they have placed their lives on the line for our security and peace.We will have a second opportunity to thank those who still live on Veterans Day.

God bless them all, and may the dead rest in peace.

The Love of one’s country (Patriotism) is related to the fourth commandment. The Catechism teaches:

It is the duty of citizens to contribute to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity and freedom. The love and service of one’s country follow from the the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity. (CCC # 2239)

The Lord himself makes it plain: No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13).

My Cousin, John Clem, has blogged on how his parish celebrated Memorial Day by remembering the cost, the high cost, of war in human terms: HERE: Eyes Wide Open

Never forget the price others have paid for our freedom. Pray for our fallen soldiers of every generation and their families. Perhaps you might use this video as a way to meditate on the sacrifices they made. Here the text of the song “Mansions of the Lord” and the video follows:

To fallen soldiers let us sing,
Where no rockets fly nor bullets wing,
Our broken brothers let us bring
To the Mansions of the Lord

No more weeping,
No more fight,
No prayers pleading through the night,
Just Divine embrace,
Eternal light,
In the Mansions of the Lord

Where no mothers cry
And no children weep,
We shall stand and guard
Though the angels sleep,
Oh, through the ages safely keep
The Mansions of the Lord

Photo Credit above: The U.S. Army via Creative Commons