Made for relationship

God said that it is not good for הָֽאָדָ֖ם (hā-’ā-ḏām) to be alone. That word, האדם, is often translated as “the man,” but the Hebrew meaning is really more like “the human.” God did not create humanity to be alone. He did not want us to be alone. He created us to be in relationship with him. He also recognized that we would need help in learning how to do this. God recognized that other humans, people like us, people made of the same flesh and bones that we are teach us relationship. How we relate with each other affects our relationship with God, and it directly impacts our happiness. The first relationships we encounter are within our families, and they form our understanding of relationships. The foundation of our families is the relationship between the husband and wife. “From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” The love between a husband and wife is also an image, an example, of God’s faithful love for us.

Unfortunately, sin got into the mix. Men did not understand the dignity of women and treated them as property. Moses saw this hardness in the hearts of his people, so Moses tolerated divorce. Sin further corrupted men and hardened hearts. By Jesus’s time, the major debate was no longer, “How can we overcome sin?” but, “What is the minimum bar for divorce?” Many Jewish rabbis taught, essentially, that no-fault divorce was permissible. When the husband was tired of his wife, he could get rid of her. After Rome took over, the wife was permitted to do the same. Sin has a way of multiplying that.

This is the situation in which we find Jesus today. He gets right to the point. Hardness of hearts—sin—is why Moses tolerated divorce, but God did not create us this way. God created us to love and to be loved by him. Marriage is an image of the always faithful love of God. God loves us so much, he is so faithful to us, that he became one of us and entered into our fallen condition, into the muck of sin, and accepted the punishment that we deserve for our sins in order to repair the relationship between God and us. Jesus came to destroy sin. Divorce existed because of sin. Since Jesus came to destroy sin, he had to destroy divorce also.

Jesus teaches us that two people joined together by God in marriage can never be separated. The question cannot be, “What is the minimum standard for divorce?” but must instead be, “How can we help Jesus destroy sin?” To destroy sin, we must recognize that marriage must always be true and faithful, and that it lasts until death. When a man and a woman say “yes” to each other at marriage, they must mean it. They must remember that “yes” every day of their lives. To deny that “yes” through divorce and remarriage allows sin to win. There are certain situations in which separation and civil divorce is still tolerated, such as abuse, but even in those situations the marriage still exists. Unless we can prove that the marriage didn’t actually happen through what we call the annulment process, Catholics are not allowed to marry again. This prohibition against remarriage can cause deep pain and suffering. We all know someone who has been through a divorce, and we know the pain and suffering involved in the wake of such a tragedy. We might wonder why the Church insists that remarriage is not possible after divorce, why can’t we let someone “move on” with their life? Jesus made it very clear in today’s Gospel reading. “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” This is a hard teaching, but God is the one teaching us, so we must follow this teaching.

This teaching is hard to accept in our society. It seems unfair. How can we tell someone that they aren’t allowed to get married again? How can we prevent someone from loving someone new? Unfortunately, our society has a mistaken understanding of happiness. We no longer place Heaven and eternal life as our highest goal. Our society has placed “me” and “right now” as our highest goals. What makes me happy right now? What makes me feel good right now? We have forgotten that we are all in this together. We have forgotten how important relationships are to our happiness here and now, and how important relationships are at bringing us to eternal happiness. We have forgotten that sometimes God does allow us to go through pain and suffering, but I can also tell you that God knows our pain. God became one of us. God, who made us, became incarnate of the Virgin Mary: God became a human being who was named Jesus. For our sake, he suffered. He was crucified by Pontius Pilate. He died and was buried. Then, something amazing happened. He rose from the dead. Jesus showed us that suffering, pain, and, ultimately, death are passing things. Suffering, pain, and death lost. In the end, we can unite all of our pain and suffering with Jesus’s pain and suffering, and he will transform it into new life. The pain which we suffer because of the breakdown of marriages must be united with the pain Jesus felt when his disciples turned away from him and left him. We can take all of that pain and give it to Jesus, and he will transform us. Yes, Jesus asks us to do hard things, and he demands that marriage be faithful for life, but he does not leave us without hope.

At the end of today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us that we must become like children to enter Heaven. When a child is hurt, who is the first person they run to? They run to someone who loves them unconditionally. Let us be like children. Let us run to the person who loves us more than anyone in the entire universe. Let us run to Jesus. When our relationships are struggling, run to Jesus and ask him to help. When someone hurts us, run to Jesus and ask him to help. When absolutely everything goes wrong, and the world crumbles around us, let us run into the arms of Jesus, who will always say to us, “I love you. I am glad that you are here.”

Lucas Cranach the Younger, Christ blessing the Children, Erfurt Angermuseum
Lucas Cranach the Younger, Christ blessing the Children
Today’s Readings:
October 7, 2018
27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
Genesis 2:18-24; Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6; Hebrews 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16

Pentecost: Responding to the Holy Spirit

Two thousand eighteen years ago, maybe give or take a few, something incredible happened. All the conditions were just right for God to do something incredible. God became man. He became one of us. He was no longer content to remain on the sidelines and watch us fall into sin, so he entered into history and showed us not only his love but also what each of us is capable of being. We celebrate this event every Christmas, bringing it back into our minds and hearts, and truly entering into the event of God becoming one of us.

We humans, though, we are a “stiff-necked people” in the words of Moses. We don’t like someone coming to tell us that we’re wrong. So we rejected God’s incredible attempt to show us his love, and we demanded for Jesus to be crucified, because we didn’t understand who he was. We relived this event 53 days ago, on Good Friday.

God was not content to let that be the end of things. Even though we demanded his death, he still loved us. He showed us that death was not the end for us, and that we are called to so much more. 50 days ago we relived this Resurrection, when Jesus rose from the dead. After Easter, Jesus spent 40 additional days with his apostles and his disciples, teaching them and living with them. (40 is a really important Bible number, but I won’t get into that right now.) At the end of that time, 10 days ago… ish…, Jesus ascended into Heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. Jesus left his mission to his apostles and his disciples: he left it to us. At his Ascension, Jesus sent us all out to spread the Good News and to baptize all the nations, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

But he didn’t leave us empty-handed. That’s not good enough for God, because today we celebrate another incredible gift God has given to humanity: the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son now lives within each one of us. Each one of us is a temple of the Holy Spirit, a temple of God. There is no need for a temple in Jerusalem, as the Jews once thought, because God lives within each of us! God lives within us, because he loves us so much that he cannot stand being separated from us! The Holy Spirit isn’t sitting in the tongues of fire above the heads of the people at Pentecost, the Spirit is inside of them. The tongues of fire come from the person being on fire with faith and love for God!

This same Holy Spirit lives in each one of us. He calls us to our ultimate goal: eternal joy with God in Heaven. He helps us achieve this goal of holiness by giving us many gifts. One gift is the gift of vocation. A vocation to married life, religious or vowed single life, or to the priesthood, teaches us how best to use the gifts that God gives us. The Bible tells us about some pretty fantastic gifts: prophesy, speaking in tongues, etc. The Holy Spirit continues to give us gifts today. Though they might seem boring, they are no less amazing: the gift of fortitude to a father defending his family, especially his daughters, from various ills in our society; the gift of patience to a mother of many children who always want attention; the gift of teaching to all who instruct our children in schools; the gift of wisdom to our grandparents. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Prayer can help us recognize these gifts if we are struggling to see them, and recognizing our gifts is crucial. When we recognize the gifts that God has given us, not only can we use them more effectively, but we are also reminded of God’s great love for us. By recognizing our gifts, we begin to recognize how generous God has been with each of us.

Prayer helps us to see all these gifts:

  • That God took on human nature, showing us the true dignity of our humanity.
  • That God died for us, destroying sin.
  • That God rose from death to show us the way to eternal life.
  • That God entrusts us with the mission: to spread the Good News to all the world.
  • That God continues to come and dwell inside each one of us.

That’s not even all of the gifts God has given us. God also gave us the life we live, the air we breath, the family we love, all of “our” possessions, the friends we’ve made, the jobs we work, and everything else. God made all of them, and he gave them to us. They are all gifts from God.

Once you and I recognize all these gifts God has given, only question remains: one question, which each of us must answer individually. Whether we want to or not, we must answer it, because our lives are how we answer. Once I recognize the gifts God has given to me, the question every one of us here must ask, what you must ask, what I must ask, what we must ask ourselves every day is this:

How will I respond to the gifts that God has given to me?

Note: this was written for May 20, 2018; however, I didn’t get it posted until June 3, 2018. I put the date for when the homily was given on the post, not the actual post date.

Today’s Readings
May 20, 2018
Pentecost Sunday
Various readings were possible for Pentecost Sunday. They are listed here.

Reflection for the Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time / Year A

Today’s Readings: Lv 19:1-2, 17-18; Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13; 1 Cor 3:16-23; Mt 5:38-48

Humility.

What a virtue!

Without humility, we are like tyrants. Without humility, we cannot truly listen to others. Without humility, we cannot endure suffering. Without humility, we cannot grow to be the man or woman who God created us to be. The readings today show us the need for humility.

The first reading tells us not to bear hatred for our brothers and sisters, to take no revenge and hold no grudge, to not incur sin even if we might need to correct them. Without humility, we cannot do this! The golden rule, formulated here in Leviticus as “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” is a call to humility. This is a challenging command! When I make a mistake, sometimes I am able to realize it, but many times I don’t even realize when I have done it. If I knew about it, I would try my best to correct it. In these cases, the only way that I can grow is for someone to offer me correction. That is why correcting a brother or a sister in Christ is an act of charity!

But without humility, this can become the act of a tyrant. Humility helps us to recognize that we all make mistakes. We all have faults. When someone corrects us, we desire for them to do it out of care and love. When someone corrects me out of anger, spite or a desire for power I can feel it. I do not wish that feeling on others. It is painful! It is hurtful! When we have humility, we can recognize our faults—or at least that we have faults—, and we allow ourselves to be corrected and to correct others in charity and kindness.

As I mentioned, humility allows us to truly hear others. Without humility, we may be tempted to assume that we our always right, and that others are the ones who need to change. Whenever I am driving, I know that I am the best driver on the road. If something doesn’t go my way when I’m driving, it’s never because I made a mistake. It’s the other guy, who obviously never learned how to drive and wants to cause a wreck. Humility, by helping open us to correction, helps us to recognize that maybe, perhaps, I was wrong. Maybe the reason people keep brake-checking me and giving me the “single-finger peace sign” is because I did something wrong while driving. Maybe I should listen when my friend tells me that texting while driving is bad, and that, really, 20 over the speed limit is a bad plan.

Humility helps us to be open to the input of other people in our lives. Paul reminds the Corinthians today that they must be open to others: “If anyone among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool.” The wise one is the person with all the answers. When we think we have all the answers, we are not open to others.

Finally, without humility we cannot fully accept the gift of suffering. Suffering is not fun, and we should not seek it out for its own sake. But, when suffering is inflicted on us we have to deal with it. How we deal with it makes all the difference. Saint John Paul II wrote an encyclical letter called Salvifici Doloris where he searches for the meaning of suffering. Ultimately, however, why God allows suffering remains a mystery to us. This, in itself, is an experience of humility. We are called to recognize that we cannot and will not know everything in this life.

But we are not left alone in this struggle. We are not alone in seeking humility. God himself gave us the ultimate example of humility by suffering and dying on the cross. God become a human being. Think about this for a moment. The all-powerful and all-knowing God became a weak and defenseless baby, and then allowed other men to kill him. Nobody understood what God was trying to teach us until the Resurrection, when Jesus rose from the dead. God was teaching us that there is life after death—death has no power over us! But we must have the humility to accept that we will not always understand.

The Flagellation of Christ

We also learn humility through suffering because we often need the help of others to endure our suffering. We depend on others emotionally or physically. We are forced to exit ourselves and become a part of the larger community. The best way in which we can do this is by joining our suffering to Jesus Christ Crucified. The Crucifixion was grotesque, and in addition to the physical suffering, the spiritual and emotional suffering Jesus must have been immense. My most intense experience of suffering and pain was not due to a physical torment, but from emotions. Something had occurred which did not initially seem like a big deal at first, but I felt a betrayed. I did not even realize that this feeling was growing and growing inside of me until it completely overwhelmed me a few days later. I could not focus on anything, and I was very distraught. People who knew me could tell that something was very wrong. After a couple of days, I was finally able to bring it to prayer. I asked God to help me understand what he is trying to teach me, and I did my best to offer it up to him—but this is easier said than done. Eventually, God allowed me recognize that what had occurred was ultimately for my good. It still hurt, but it changed me. For the better.

 Icon of the ResurrectionWhen we suffer we can join our suffering to Christ’s suffering, and offer it for the salvation of souls—including our own—and the redemption of mankind. In a way, suffering makes us co-workers with Jesus on the Cross in a very special and unique way. Today’s Gospel doesn’t call for us to be crucified—not here at least, but it does call us to turn the other cheek, and to go the extra mile. These aren’t fun, and they often involve a little suffering. But these small experiences of suffering prepare us for the road ahead. They teach us the humility we need for the big suffering that will inevitably come to most of us.

Humility is fundamental to the Christian way of life. It can get us through our suffering. It can help us listen. It can help us be kind and compassionate in dealing with others.

Humility.

What a virtue!