Brief Reflection on the Fifteenth Wednesday

In Exodus today, we heard the story of the burning bush. The bush was on fire, yet it was not consumed. This seeming contradiction is fascinating. Why was the bush on fire, and how was it not consumed?

In a very real way, the burning bush is a symbol of our souls. When God is present within our souls, when we allow Him to love us and work through us, our souls are lit afire with His presence much as the burning bush was. God, however, will never hurt us. He will not allow us to “fizzle out,” or going back to the burning bush: He will not allow us to be fully consumed.

Let us strive to live in the presence of God, so that he may light us on fire with his love.

Today’s Readings: Ex 3:1-6, 9-12; Ps 103:1b-2, 3-4, 6-7; Mt 11:25-27

Reflection for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Thursday)

In Exodus, the Jewish people were to slaughter sheep with the “whole assembly present.” Why was this such a big deal?

The Ancient Egyptians worshipped sheep. Specifically, the god in charge of the rising and the falling of the Nile—and as the Nile rises and falls, so does Egypt—was depicted as a ram, an adult male sheep. God was commanding his people, through Moses, to kill the gods of Egypt and mark their doorposts with their blood. This most certainly made a statement, and it also explains why it made sense to be ready to go right after the Passover meal: your people had just killed thousands of another culture’s gods. You need to get out of town. Quick.

By spreading the blood on their doorposts, the Jewish people were telling everybody that they believed in the God of Abraham. It was a public sign of fidelity, of faithfulness. An angel, with a superior intellect to ours, can tell a Jew from a non-Jew. Angels wouldn’t need to see the sign on the doorpost. More important was the sign on the hearts of the people as a result of visibly proclaiming their faith. Again, the Jews were smearing the blood of the gods of Egypt on their doors. This is not an activity done lightly.

Because they listened to God, the Jewish people were spared the wrath the consumed the first-born children of Egypt. But I’d like to propose thinking of this in a little different way than we are often accustomed: it was not their Jewish heritage that saved them, but their public faith in the God of Abraham. We can even see it as a foreshadowing of the final judgment, where we are judged by our actions. Those willing to put aside the gods of Israel were judged worthy. Those who did not suffered greatly.

Like the Jews in Egypt, we too mark our doorposts with blood. The Blood of Christ that we receive in the Eucharist—whether we receive both species or not—marks the door posts of our souls. We wash ourselves in the Blood of the Lamb at every Mass. During the Last Supper, Jesus transformed the bread and wine into his Body and Blood, and he told us to “do this in remembrance of me.” He did not ask us to simply remember him: he asked us to do this—to transform bread and wine into his Body and Blood and share it amongst ourselves. We remember that it was Jesus who died in giving us this gift. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”

The Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, was sacrificed in the New Passover, and we paint the door posts of our souls with Hid Precious Blood when we receive the Eucharist. How fitting is this imagery! The stakes of the New Passover are just as high. In the Old Passover, judgment was visited upon the Egyptians for their treatment of the Jewish people. In the New Passover, Christ—the Lamb of God—judges us for our treatment of every other person we encounter.

Jesus washes the feet of the apostlesIf we were judged solely on our merits and actions, we would be in sad shape. God knows this. He knows that we struggle and strive, but we still can’t be perfect. We plead for help, and when we make mistakes we have to beg for forgiveness. Jesus washes the feet of his apostles, and the apostles were not comfortable with this. When you wear sandals every day and walk around on dusty roads, your feet get dirty. The apostles knew who they were, and they knew who Jesus was. God was washing their dirty, nasty, grimy feet. God was making his apostles clean again. All the apostles needed to do was allow Jesus to minister them, to love them. Their job was to receive Jesus into the hearts, and to trust Him even when his actions did not make much sense.

To me, this action of Jesus washing the feet of the apostles sounds a lot like what happens in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Jesus, through the priest, enters into the areas of our life that are dirty, those of which we are ashamed, and He cleans us. He doesn’t do it half-way either. He cleans us totally, making our souls spotless of sin. He loves us so much that he will forgive us all our sins. We only have to be receptive to God’s mercy, and humble enough to ask for God’s grace and His forgiveness. We have to let God love us.

When we tell the priest our sins in confession, this is what we are doing. We tell God, in sorrow, what we have done, and through this action we demonstrate our faith that God will heal us. We profess that we have made mistakes, but that we know God is stronger than any sin. Then we are given a penance, a task that we must do. This penance helps us to grow in charity. Without charity, we are not true children of God. We do not stand a chance of remaining clean. We cannot truly receive Christ in the Eucharist. We cannot fully paint the door posts of our souls with the Blood of Salvation.

The Gospel today ends with Jesus calling us to love others as he loves us.

Jesus loves us enough that he forgave us all and died for us. Then he gave us his own Body and Blood as food for eternal life. He gave us this food to nourish us spiritually, and so that he could remain with us forever. He gave us this food so that we could grow in love and charity for God and for our neighbor.

Jesus loved us totally, and he is calling us to love others totally. As Jesus forgives without desiring revenge, so must we forgive and put aside our desire for revenge. As Jesus lives with us through every part of our lives—especially the hard parts, we must not avoid people because they have difficult lives. As Jesus feeds us spiritually, we do our best to nourish not only the bodies of those less fortunate, but we should also feed the spirit and minds of others through worship, prayer and study of Scripture.

On Holy Thursday, the first day of the sacred liturgies of the Triduum, we remember the Last Supper and the Washing of the Feet. We remember the charity that Jesus showed to all of us through his ministry on the earth and through his Church. Let us strive to mirror that charity in how we treat God and one another.

Readings: Ex 12:1-8, 11-4; Ps 116: 12-13, 15-16bc, 17-18; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15

Reflection for the Second Thursday of Lent

One thing that has always struck me as odd about today’s Gospel is that the rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus with cooling water, or to send Lazarus to his family. It could be that the rich man—who is never named—understands that he is helpless to do these things himself, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think that his desire for Lazarus to do these things shows that the rich man still doesn’t “get it.” He still wants other people to do all the work.

This would go right in line with the rich man’s way of life prior to his death and eternal punishment. In Jesus’s time, someone who wore purple had to get special permission from the emperor himself to do so and would undoubtedly be very rich. He also dined “sumptuously.” This tells us that the rich man had more material wealth than most people could imagine—someone like this would be one of the richest men in the world today—and did not share it with others who were, literally, lying at his doorstep. The rich man could have given Lazarus enough money for a lifetime and would not have even noticed; however, he did not.

The rich man suffered from the sin of greed. He always wanted more. More money. More clothes. More luxurious food. More servants to do things for him. He never looked outside of himself to the other to consider what someone else might need. The rich man turned his heart away from the Lord and in upon itself. All sin does this: all sin turns the person’s heart back in on itself. True love, in which a person desires to give of themselves to others, is perverted and becomes self-love, in which a person desires everything for his or herself and uses others in order to do so.

Jeremiah warns against this in the first reading. He tells us that the human who trusts in human beings and in created things is doomed and cursed. Only in God, Jeremiah tells us, can man have true hope. The Lord will reward each one per his or her deeds. Jesus tells us in the Gospels that we are called to be perfect, as our Heavenly Father is. The standard by which we are judged is a perfection. The only way we stand a chance is by opening our hearts to God and to others, so that we may love each other fully and truly, in a way that is proper to our relationship with the other.

The rich have a duty to help the poor, as the poor have a duty to help the rich. Spouses have a duty of mutual help. Other relationships have unique and special ways in which the persons involved are called to love one another. May we never forget to see every other person as a human person who is loved by God, and to treat them in accord with their value as God’s beloved child.

Today’s Readings: Jer 17:5-10; Ps 1:1-2, 3, 4 & 6; Lk 16:19-31

Reflection for the Second Monday of Lent

In the first reading today, Daniel is begging the Lord to have mercy on the Israelite people despite their many sins and failures. This plea is also in the today’s psalm, which asks the Lord not to “remember not against us the iniquities of the past; may your compassion quickly come to us, for we are brought very low.” This has been a common theme throughout the first week of Lent: recognizing our failures and asking God to forgive us.

Jesus reminds us in the Gospel that the Father is merciful, and that we are called to be merciful like him. “For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” If we do not love, if we do not have mercy, then how can we expect God to have mercy on us? Many parables have a similar message, and we even find it in the Our Father, where we ask God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

These words can strike fear into our hearts, because they force us to recognize that our salvation depends on how we treat others—and we are terrible to other people sometimes! While we must do our best, our best isn’t enough. We know that for man it is impossible to enter Heaven. Only God can bring us to Heaven. So let us ask God to help us forgive and have mercy on others, so that we might grow in these virtues, so that at the end of our days when we meet God we will be greeted with a God’s superabundant mercy and love that we tried to give to others.

(Sorry about this being late!)

Today’s Readings: Dan 9:4b-10; Ps 79:8, 9, 11 & 13; Lk 6:36-38

Reflection for the First Monday of Lent

In the first reading today, God’s law for dealing with other people is set forth for us. It ends with the statement: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” The psalm, referring to this law, calls it “perfect” and “refreshing” to the soul. So many of the problems we have today would be solved if we kept this commandment in mind. Sometimes we forget that every person has their own unique set of circumstances and struggles that they confront every day. Despite all that, we are called to see this person as a beloved child of God. If we truly are able to see others as beloved children of God, we will treat them as Jesus teaches us in the beatitudes, and as he reminds us in the Gospel today. We will give care and comfort to those who need it.

If we truly love someone, we care for them enough to care for the people in their lives. We get to know them, and often to develop our own relationships with these people in the lives of those we love. A similar dynamic must be present in our relationship with God. If we truly love God, then we must care about the physical and spiritual well-being of those who God loves. This, however, is the challenge, because God loves every person. If we hate another person, we are hating one of God’s beloved children. Even worse, we are in a way hating God, because he dwells within each and every human being.

The Gospel ends by reminding us that we will be judged at the end of all things. We will be judged on our ability to love. If we truly loved God and neighbor, we will enter into the kingdom. If not, we will suffer eternal punishment. Love can be challenging. It doesn’t mean that we always agree with the other or even necessarily like them very much. It might mean that we have to offer correction to those who have lost their way, or do other things that we don’t particularly enjoy doing. But we are called to love.

Today’s Readings: Lv 19:1-2, 11-18; Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 15; Mt 25:31-46

Reflection for the Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time / Year A

Today’s Readings: Is 49:14-15; Ps 62:2-3, 6-7, 8-9; 1 Cor 4:1-5; Mt 6:24-34

We can have only one master. Who is our master? God wants to be our master, but do we let him?

The Gospel today lists many other masters people can have throughout their daily lives: what to eat, what to drink, what to wear. All these things come from the material world. They are things that we think that we can control. We go about thinking that clothing, food, status, wealth are the most important things. They aren’t. Is it important to have adequate food, clothing and money? Yes. But when it becomes the focus of our lives—that’s when we run into problems. Why do we think that these things are important? Perhaps we think that because we can control these things, they are a measure of our self-worth. When we have these things, maybe we think that it shows what kind of job or career that we have: another modern measure of self-worth.

What about other people? Do we try to emulate the right people? Do we want to be like the rich and famous? Why is that life style so attractive? The rich and famous always look happy on the outside, but are they? I think not. The number of celebrity divorces, suicides, and the general malaise around Hollywood is a pretty good indication that something is wrong. But they have everything—why aren’t they happy? They have made power or fame or money or pleasure into their master. And if we want to emulate them, then we will do the same. And we will be unhappy.

There is a better way.

DaisiesJesus reminds us to look outside at the world around us. The flowers—what person is clothed so beautifully as a flower? The birds—are they not able to find food? But we worry about all of these things, and we don’t realize that God will work with us to make sure that we have what we need. Jesus asks, “Are not you more important than they?” Indeed, we are. Jesus promises us that if we seek the Kingdom of God, all that we need will be provided. The Lord has not forgotten us, and he never will. The first reading, in just a few sentences tells us that this is impossible!

“Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.’ Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” (Is 49:14-15)

The Lord wants to love us, but to do this we must be open to this love. By serving the Lord, we are opening ourselves to his love, because we only truly serve those that we love. We may have a job where we “wait on” or “serve” somebody, but we aren’t really serving those people because we desire to do so. We are serving them for the sake of something else—to provide for ourselves or our families. By following the Lord’s commands and laws, we serve him. By stewarding the gifts that God has given us, we are serving him. God knows when we are serving him and when we are not, St. Paul reminds us that “he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts.” We cannot trick God, but we can serve him. We can serve him because we desire to love him. When we serve him, we open our hearts to him and allow him to love us.

So let us remember we can only have one true master: God. But he is a loving master, who rewards us endlessly when we serve him.

Reflection for Sts. Cyril and Methodius on Valentine’s Day

Today’s Readings: Gn 6:5-8, 7:1-5, 10; Ps 29:1a & 2, 3ac-4, 3b & 9c-10; Mk 8:14-21

The Gospel today is a little strange. Jesus is talking about leaven in bread. There doesn’t seem to be any context around this. The disciples appear confused as well. They assume he must be speaking of the fact that there is only one loaf of bread on a boat with 13 men. Jesus, however, rebukes them for thinking in this way. He reminds them of the two major feeding miracles that he had just performed. What, then, is Jesus trying to tell us when he said “Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod?”

Leaven is the rising agent in bread. A little bit of yeast, and an entire loaf of bread rises. It is a tiny ingredient that has an enormous effect on the outcome of the loaf of bread. Without it, it will not come out correctly, it won’t taste correct—it won’t be good bread! If we see the bread as our lives, then the leaven are the tiny things we believe that we take for granted. We don’t know exactly what these would have been for the Pharisees or for Herod, but we can see what they are for us.

Today is Valentine’s Day in the USA. The feast of St. Valentine has morphed into a generic celebration of love. A modern “leaven” is the idea that love is just a feeling that comes and goes. It does not involve a deep, lasting commitment. This belief is at the center of so much of modern life, and it corrupts us! When there is no deep commitment in love, we cannot relate to each other properly and we cannot see each other as worthy of love. We are built to love. When we corrupt the meaning of love into something lower than it is, we lose part of what makes us human.

Sts. Cyril and Methodius (and the real St. Valentine, too!) show us a path out of this. Cyril and Methodius loved God and their neighbors so much that they created the Cyrillic alphabet so that the people could communicate with one another and so that they could read scripture. This was no simple task, and I’m sure that there were days when the saints wanted to give up, but they stuck with it until the end. True love is desiring the good for another, and the highest good is union with God. These men devoted their entire lives to bringing the un-evangelized people of Eastern Europe to God. It was difficult, and they were often criticized, but they persevered out of true love.

love the sinner, hate the sin

Introduction

I recently attended a Catholic Men’s Conference, and one of the topics was love. In today’s society, it is not seen as a manly trait to consider topics such as love. In today’s society it unfortunately seems that to be manly requires one to be a womanizing philanderer with little to no moral compass. Hedonism and relativism seem to rule the perception of manliness.

This got me thinking about a variety of topics, but one phrase that kept coming back was “love the sinner, hate the sin.” I’ve never personally liked that phrase. My parents always told me not to hate anything. Therefore, I am hesitant to truly hate anything.

After thinking about the phrase some more, I’ve realized that there is a lot to unpack in it. In that simple 6 word phrase, you can actually learn everything you need to know about how to treat your fellow man.

In this series, I will present three primary topics: “What is love?”, “I am called to love?” and “I am my brother’s keeper?”

While my point of view is undoubtedly Catholic and I lean on St. Thomas Aquinas’ heavily, I have done my best to incorporate non-Catholic philosophers below. For example, I have found that Aristotle’s writings on several of these topics are most excellent.

What is love?

No, really, what is it?

Aristotle writes that to love is “wishing for [them] what you believe to be good things, not for your own sake but for [that person’s].” (Rhetoric ii, 4) Technically he calls this philia, which can be translated in a number of ways. In Greek, philia is a broad term of friendship, and includes love. Aristotle later writes:

[Love] has various forms—comradeship, intimacy, kinship, and so on.

Things that cause [love] are: doing kindness; doing them unasked; and not proclaiming the fact when they are done, which shows that they were done for our own sake and not for some other reason.

According to St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:4-6

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.

Combined with the writings of Aristotle, we see that love is not about the giver—it is receiver. Love often requires sacrifice from the giver to the receiver. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) It becomes apparent that love will at some point require one to freely sacrifice for the sake of another. Love, however, is not just sacrifice. To truly love is to wish and to do good things for another person, not taking into account one’s own desires. Furthermore, all true friendships are based in love.

What is good?

If love is wishing and doing good things for another person, it would help to know what is good. Contrary to what many would have you believe: not everything that feels good is good for them, and not everything that feels bad is bad them.

I must start with the basis that it is possible to know the truth about things. Aristotle takes this as a given when he writes that “we have to start with the known, and ‘known’ has two meanings: there are things known to us, and things known absolutely.” (Ethics i, 4) Furthermore, he states that: “it is our duty to give first place to truth.” (Ethics i, 6) I may write an article on truth later, but for now it must wait.

There are two definitions of good. The first, most commonly used definition, states that it is plain and obvious what is good. Good brings pleasure, wealth, honor, etc. The problem with this definition is that it changes. When a person is under stress, they will change their definition to include stability. Some people think that being constantly entertained and not having to think is good. Some people think that good health is the only good. A better definition is needed. A person cannot wish good things for someone if what is good constantly changes!

The second definition of good is that which brings us closer to our final goal. It is not easy to always define what is good, because many people do not realize what their final goal is. Mankind does have a final goal, to be with our Creator after our earthly life is complete. (That sentence alone can probably spawn half a dozen articles.) The tricky part is determining what we must do to be with our Creator. Luckily, because we are able to determine the truth, we can figure this out.

This is where the Catholic Church comes into the picture—it has done a lot of this work for us. The church has had a lot of people with a lot of time to think. The church says that to be with our Creator, we must become like our Creator. We can do this by living the virtuous life, because “the goal of a virtuous life is to become like God.” (CCC 1803) The four cardinal virtues are prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. (1805) They are the basis for morally good acts (1804) We can strengthen virtue through education, good acts and perseverance through hardship. (1839) The three other virtues—faith, hope and charity—are theological virtues. These are virtues that we use to relate to God and inform us on how to live morally. (1813)

Summary

To sum it all up: to love is to wish and to do good things for others. Good things and actions are those which lead to a life strong in the virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance, faith, hope and charity.

In two weeks: I am called to love?

Bibliography

The following sources were consulted but not directly referenced while writing this article.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part 3 “Life in Christ”, Section 1 “Man’s Vocation: Life in the Spirit”, Chapter 1 “The Dignity of the Human Person”:

· Article 5 “The Morality of the Passions”

· Article 7 “The Virtues”

Common Nonsense: 25 Fallacies About Life … Refuted, Rev. Cliff Ermatinger, L.C.

Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas Aquinas, I-II, 18; 26, 4. http://www.newadvent.org/summa/2.htm