Flesh-and-Blood vs. Divine Revelation

Jesus and Peter

If you go to Mass tomorrow (Sunday), the Gospel reading you’ll hear is Matthew 16:13-19.

Before I had a renewal of my faith at age 26, if someone had asked me who Jesus was, I would have likely replied in a manner seemingly similar to Peter, acknowledging Jesus as the Son of God who died to save us from our sins.  However, unlike Peter, my knowledge of who Jesus was came primarily from what I heard each week at Mass, in the Stations of the Cross which my family attended faithfully each Friday during Lent, and in my Religion classes in Catholic elementary school.  My knowledge of Jesus came from what I learned.  It was more academic than experiential.  It was revealed to me by “flesh and blood.”

The difference between the “people” to whom Jesus first referred in this Gospel (as well as the pre-renewal me) and Peter and the Apostles was that the Apostles experienced a desire for Jesus which resulted in a deep understanding of who Jesus was, rather than an incorrect or superficial knowledge.  Their desire was evidenced by the fact that they made a daily decision to keep following Jesus.  We know from what we read in John 6:66 and Matthew 19:22 that at various times for various reasons followers of Jesus could and would stop following him.  I have the free will to stop following Jesus anytime. My desire to keep following Jesus is a cooperation with the grace which our “heavenly Father” pours out upon me, as it was also for Peter and the Apostles.  As a result of my faithfulness, I experience a depth of God’s love for me personally which takes my knowledge of who Jesus is to truly heartfelt heights, far surpassing my merely human – revealed by “flesh and blood” – knowledge of who he is.

That’s why whenever I take the time to assess my faithfulness to my baptismal calling, the first and most important never-to-be-omitted question I ask myself is “What was my level of desire for God today?”

The Christian community and its young people

Recently, at a Sunday Mass, our pastor honored several young parishoners who had recently graduated from high-school and college.  It was a wonderful opportunity for recognition.  The graduates were affirmed by our pastor for their academic accomplishments, as well as for their participation in our parish.

In his Message for the 32nd World Day of Prayer for Vocations, St John Paul II offered the following pointed advice for youth:

It is in following Jesus that youth displays all the richness of its potentiality and acquires its full meaning.
It is in following Jesus that the young discover the sense of a life lived as a gift of self, and experience the beauty and truth of growing in love.
It is in following Jesus that they feel themselves called to communion with him as living members of a single body, which is the Church.
It is in following Jesus that it will be possible for them to understand the personal call to love: in matrimony, in the consecrated life, in the ordained ministry, in the mission ad gentes.

Having established that an ongoing encounter with the living Christ should be the highest priority for youth, JP2 also offered advice for the rest of us in the Church:

What is needed today is a Church which knows how to respond to the expectations of young people. Jesus wants to enter into dialogue with them and, through his Body which is the Church, to propose the possibility of a choice which will require a commitment of their lives. As Jesus with the disciples of Emmaus, so the Church must become today the traveling companion of young people, who are often marked by confusion, resistance and contradictions, in order to announce to them the ever-astonishing “news” of the risen Christ.

This is what is needed: a Church for young people, which will know how to speak to their heart and enkindle, comfort, and inspire enthusiasm in it with the joy of the Gospel and the strength of the Eucharist; a Church which will know how to invite and to welcome the person who seeks a purpose for which to commit his whole existence; a Church which is not afraid to require much, after having given much; which does not fear asking from young people the effort of a noble and authentic adventure, such as that of the following of the Gospel.

The entire message is well worth reading, and quite challenging.  Near the conclusion, JP2 offered this brief but magnificent prayer to Our Blessed Mother for young people:

O Virgin of Nazareth,
the “yes” spoken in youth marked your
existence and it grew as did your life itself.

O Mother of Jesus,
in your free and joyful “yes”
and in your active faith so many generations
and so many educators have found inspiration
and strength for welcoming the Word of God
and for fulfilling his will.

O Teacher of life,
teach young people to pronounce the “yes”
that gives meaning to existence
and brings them to discover the hidden “name” of God
in the heart of every person.

O Queen of the Apostles, give us wise educators,
who will know how to love young people and help them grow,
guiding them to the encounter with Truth which makes one free and happy.
Amen!

“…a deep, personal experience…”

From the quotable St John Paul II:

“I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil 3: 8). To know Christ! On this last stage of our Lenten journey we are encouraged even more by the liturgy to deepen our knowledge of Jesus, to contemplate his suffering and merciful face, and to prepare ourselves to experience the splendour of his resurrection. We cannot remain on the surface. We must have a deep, personal experience of the richness of Christ’s love. Only in this way, as the Apostle says, can we “know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible [we] may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3: 10).

Like Paul, every Christian is on a journey; the Church is on a journey. Let us not stop, brothers and sisters, or slow our pace. On the contrary, let us strive with all our strength for the goal to which God calls us.

From this Sunday’s readings

In this Sunday’s Gospel reading, Jesus describes our salvation – the kingdom of God, which begins on earth – in these terms:

On that day you will realize that I am in my Father
and you are in me and I in you.

He uses language which seems steeped in mystery.  I enjoy attempting to explore the unfathomable depths of mystery.  Here Jesus is touching on the mystery of the Holy Trinity.  I want to understand as much as I possibly can about the Blessed Trinity, because my destiny as a faithful Catholic is to abide forever in the cycle of Trinitarian love.

What is the “cycle of Trinitarian love?”  In the early pages of his book, My Beloved Son, Fr Lawrence Lovasik SVD says this about Jesus:

Jesus Christ is called “The Word.”  The Greek term which it renders, logos, means not only “word,” which is its nearest equivalent in English, but the thought which is expressed by the word,…

Based upon this, he offers an enlightening explanation of the Trinity, describing the cycle of Trinitarian love:

God is the fullness of being, the limitless ocean of all perfection and of all life.  He is Being Itself, the necessary Being, subsisting of Himself, and possessing the fullness of all perfection.

There is in God an altogether spiritual fatherhood.  He is Father, the principle of all the divine life in the Trinity.

Being Infinite Intelligence, God perfectly comprehends Himself.  In a single act, He sees all that He is – all that is in Him, the fullness of His perfections – and, in one thought, in one “word” that exhausts all His knowledge, He expresses this infinite knowledge to Himself.  This thought conceived by the eternal intelligence, this utterance whereby God expresses Himself, is the Divine Word.

(…)

The Father begets the Word because He communicates to this Word a nature not only like, but identical with his own.  Scripture calls the Word, the Son.

(…)

Because this Son is perfect, He possesses with the Father all the divine perfections except the property of “being Father.”…the Son ever dwells in the bosom of the Father who begets Him.  He dwells there both by unity of nature and also by the love which They mutually bear to one another.  From this love proceeds, as from one principle, the Holy Spirit, the substantial love of the Father and the Son.

Saint John Paul II summarized the cycle of Trinitarian love this way:

The Father begets the Son by loving him; the Son is begotten by the Father, letting himself be loved and receiving from him the capacity to love; the Holy Spirit is love given in total gratuitousness by the Father, received with full gratitude by the Son, and returned by him to the Father.  (General Audience 29-July-1998)

How do I know that my destiny as a faithful Catholic is to abide forever in the cycle of Trinitarian love?  Because that is what Jesus is telling us in this Gospel, which is confirmed by what we hear St Peter tell us in today’s Second Reading:

For Christ also suffered for sins once,
the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous,
that he might lead you to God.

Baptized in 1956 by the late Rev Albert Kaczmarek at Holy Trinity Church in Nanticoke PA

Baptized in 1956 by the late Rev Albert Kaczmarek at Holy Trinity Church in Nanticoke PA

Jesus willingly suffered and died because it was the only way in which he could lead me to God.  At my Baptism, I was baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus.  I was cleansed from the sin by which I deserved eternal separation from God, and I was freed to abide forever in the cycle of Trinitarian love.  All I need to do is to be faithful, to love Jesus and keep his commandments, as he tells us at the beginning of today’s Gospel.  Commandments like “love one another as I have loved you,” “deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me,” “if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive you,” “if you deny me in public, I will deny you before our Father in heaven,” “love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.”  Challenging, eh?

What happens if I am unfaithful, if I don’t keep the commandments?  If I fail in a serious way to keep the commandments of Jesus, I commit mortal sin.  Here’s some of what the Catechism teaches about mortal sin:

1855 Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him.

1861 Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back. However, although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God.

When I prefer to indulge my own selfishness instead of loving Jesus and keeping his commandments, I reject God’s love and Jesus’ saving sacrifice, and I no longer have the opportunity to enter the cycle of Trinitarian love, until I am reconciled to God through the Sacrament of Penance.

So, what I need to do is eagerly and ardently follow Jesus’ instructions at the end of today’s Gospel:

Whoever has my commandments and observes them
is the one who loves me.
And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father,
and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”

Going an entire day without uttering a prayer shows how weak my love for Jesus must be.  Going for days at a time without reading the Bible shows how weak my love for Jesus must be.  Not being able to share my faith with others (as St Peter instructed us today) shows how weak my love for Jesus must be.  Spending hours upon hours in front of the TV shows how weak my love for Jesus must be (even if it is EWTN!).  Wasting on lottery tickets or at Mohegan Sun the money with which the Lord has blessed me shows how weak my love for Jesus must be.  Denying by contraception the new life which the Lord wants me to bring forth shows how weak my love for Jesus must be.  Viewing pornography shows how weak my love for Jesus must be.  There are so many ways to indulge my selfishness; so many ways for me to fall out of love with Jesus.

I need to love Jesus.  My love for Jesus should be growing deeper and deeper as time goes on.  When I fail, Jesus wants me to humble myself and appeal to his mercy by making a good Confession.  And then continue striving to love him more and more.

Knowing Jesus personally

One of the primary elements of being a Catholic should be our personal love relationship with Jesus, lived out in a daily striving to know, love and serve our Lord so as to abide in full communion with Him.  Each of our days should include “our own constantly renewed experience of savouring Christ’s friendship and his message.” (Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, n. 266)

Unfortunately, many Catholics, enamored of and craving the comforts, satisfactions and experiences of life, are blocking out that which they should recognize as the truth and the meaning of life, prompting Pope Francis to plead:

I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”. How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. (The Joy of the Gospel, n. 3)

HerbeckThis week, Catholic missionary disciple and evangelist, Peter Herbeck of Renewal Ministries, has dedicated his five weekday radio programs to helping us to understand exactly what it means to know Jesus personally, and how we can nurture a personal relationship with Jesus.  Each of Peter’s daily talks is only about 12-minutes long.  They will be available for several weeks in the Renewal Ministries audio archive.  For your convenience, here are links to each day’s segment:

May 19
May 20
May 21
May 22
May 23

How to reflect on Sacred Scripture

Francis - Palm 2014The Jesuit training of Pope Francis was very evident in his Palm Sunday homily.  The type of reflection on the Gospels proposed by our Holy Father is exactly that which St Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order, taught to his followers, and recorded in his Spiritual Exercises.  Both St Ignatius and Pope Francis realize how the Holy Spirit can work powerfully in this type of scriptural reflection to lead us to know, desire and follow Jesus in a more heartfelt way.

st-ignatius

…if the person who is making the Contemplation, takes the true groundwork of the narrative, and, discussing and considering for himself, finds something which makes the events a little clearer or brings them a little more home to him—whether this comes through his own reasoning, or because his intellect is enlightened by the Divine power—he will get more spiritual relish and fruit, than if he who is giving the Exercises had much explained and amplified the meaning of the events. For it is not knowing much, but realizing and relishing things interiorly, that contents and satisfies the soul.  (Second Annotation)

If you’re unfamiliar with the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, this talk presents a nice overview in the first 45-minutes.

“…for us Christ is everything.”

Why should I desire Jesus more and more? How am I a participant in the building of His Church?  I certainly found some answers in this talk given by Cardinal Piacenza a few weeks ago, posted by Dom Mark yesterday.  I was really WOW’ed by it.  So simple, yet so profound.  Here are a few lines that stopped me in my tracks for reflection:

…the meaning of the world is a Person, a Person who is the presence of the Eternal in the world. Hence, he is also the meaning of my life.
(…)
To live solely from Christ is to live everything else because of Christ—this is what it means to be Christians.
(…)
The martyrs were willing to part company with their limbs rather than parting company with Christ.
(…)
Christ, who down here on earth no longer has a visible face, nor hands, nor feet, takes me and makes use of me and through my hands succors the poor, with my feet goes out to meet my brothers and, through my heart, loves.
(…)
In the measure in which each one of us opens himself up in this way to the action of Christ, we give him the possibility of living in certain existential ways that he was unable to live in his individual human nature, on account of the earthly conditions to which he was subject, through the reality of the Incarnation.
(…)
Each one of us is an original brushstroke in the great portrait painted by God throughout sacred history….. I am called to reveal, in some sense, a new feature of the face of Christ. Each one of us is a brushstroke in the fresco, a tile in the mosaic of the perfect Man.

Prior to this, I had never heard of Cdl Piacenza.  Now I want to hear any talk or homily he gives, and read anything he’s ever written!