A Story to be Shared

As we approach the culmination of Advent and, on Saturday, celebrate the birth of our Savior, my thoughts turn to a story by Henry Van Dyke, the Story of the Other Wise Man. Artaban prepared to leave with the three other wise men, but missed them by just a few hours. He never managed to catch up, to them. While following the star he encountered people in need. He had sold all of his possessions to go on this journey and purchased three majestic gems: a sapphire, a ruby, and a pearl to give the king.

Artaban, when he finally reached Israel, became a wanderer throughout Israel and Egypt, always searching for the king he could not find. He consulted scholars, disciples, and sought him ought, but he could not find the king for whom he searched. He sold the sapphire and the ruby he had brought to give to the new-born king, who he did not know, to assist those in need, asking himself, “Should he risk the great reward of his divine faith for the sake of a single deed of human love?” (p. 16)

Finally, after 33 years of searching, “Worn and weary and ready to die, but still looking for the King, he had come for the last time to Jerusalem […] and something whispered in his heart that, at last, he might succeed.” (p. 29) Yet, in the final encounter of Artaban’s life, he surrendered the pearl, his final treasure, to save a poor, helpless soul in desperate need. He never made it to meet his king, who was being crucified that day, in fact, at that same moment. The other wise man’s final lament tragically proclaims, “Not so, my Lord! For when saw I thee an hungered, and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw I thee a stranger, and took thee in? Or naked, and clothed thee? When saw I thee sick or in prison, and came unto thee? Three-and-thirty years have I looked for thee; but I have never seen thy face, nor ministered to thee, my King.” (p. 33) In Artaban’s dying moments, a sweet voice proclaims to him, “Verily I say unto thee, inasmuch as thou hast done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, thou hast done it unto me.” (p. 34)

This story speaks to me during this time of year for so many reasons. How many of us fear that we’ve only just missed to best moments? That if only we had been born a decade earlier, if only we had not fallen into a particular sin while young, if only I hadn’t made that one decision 30 years ago, that if only things were different I would be able to meet Jesus Christ face to face, that following him would be easier? How many of us, on the search to find Jesus Christ, look around us to see the world and the people around us, offering the poor souls we encounter the gifts we have? How often do we not recognize the face of Christ in these same people? How often do we seek to retain that joy of Christmas, only to find out that our journey to meet our King is going to be a life-long journey?

This story proposes so many questions to our hearts, uncomfortable and challenging questions. When we are wandering through the world, seeking an answer for the infinite longing of our hearts, we are like the great crowds in the Bible who sought Jesus: “many wanted to see Jesus, to be healed by him, to meet him.” (Luigi Giussani, Why the Church?, p. 20) Having taken on human form, Jesus could not have tended to all of his flock himself. “Unable to visit all the towns and villages, he began to send his closest followers to the places he could not reach.” (Giussani, p. 20)

We never know the power of our own witness to our faith in Jesus Christ. We do not know the impact it will have on the hearts of our family, our friends, and even ourselves. If Artaban had not met the disciples of Jesus, he would not have learned that “Those who seek [the King] will do well to look among the poor and the lowly, the sorrowful and the oppressed.” (Van Dyke, p. 27) If the apostles and disciples of Jesus had not gone to the ends of the earth, and if the story of Jesus, the story of God’s infinite self-giving love for all humanity, had not been told from generation to generation, none of us would have know. Our faith is a story to be shared, because in each unique story of coming to know Jesus Christ we see another side of his glory. We see another side of his love. We see another side of his mercy.

Contemplating the Christ child this Christmas, let us ponder the question: what is the love story God wants to write in my heart?

Do I know Him?

As I prepared for this weekend, a few lines from the second reading, from St. John, kept haunting me:

Those who say, “I know him,” but do not keep his commandments
are liars, and the truth is not in them.
But whoever keeps his word,
the love of God is truly perfected in him.

This is strong language. St. John does not use the term “liar” lightly. None of the Biblical authors do! These lines forced me to consider a question: “How do we know?” Perhaps, even more pointedly, my heart proposed a question to me: “Do I know Him?”

Let’s start with what “knowing” isn’t: to know is not to understand completely. We will never fully understand God. He is utterly beyond our comprehension. It isn’t just God, though, who we cannot fully comprehend. We will never fully comprehend another human being. We may get to know them, but we won’t fully understand them. If you look at a couple who has been married many years, the spouses can still be surprised by one another. These surprises delight us, because they are not something we expect from that person.

So what does it mean “to know”? When we come to know something or someone, we allow that thing or person to influence our minds and shape how we see the world. Some examples might help understand.

  • When we were young and learned our numbers for the first time, it changed the world for us. We could now count things and understand quantity. Everything became different because we came to know our numbers.
  • Let us go back to that married couple I mentioned. When a person first met his or her spouse, the spouse-to-be was a total mystery. The man and woman did not know each other well. Over the years, though, the spouses come to know one another more and more. As they come to know each other, the way they see the world changes. Their understanding of reality is different, because they know this other person.

When we come to know God, it means that we have allowed him to enter our minds and teach us. We allow him to change how we see the world. As we come to know God, we begin to see the world through his eyes: we see the beauty of creation, and we see the horror of sin.

The process of coming to know things—one could call this the process of education—is a risky process, because it changes us. What is other than us, that which is not us, becomes familiar to us by entering our mind and residing with us in a mental, but real, way. If the process of education doesn’t change us, if we do not change as we come to know things and people, we have learn nothing.

As we come to know God, we can more fully imitate Him and love Him. We experience his love more fully, because we know it better. We have seen it. Because we have seen God’s love, we can then love those around us more freely, because we have learned how to do it from God. We seek to know God so that we may fulfill the deep desire in our hearts: to love and to be loved.

But is this all even possible. Is knowing, as we are called to do, even possible?

Some deny it is possible to know anything. This lens of doubt and suspicion started at least as far back as Descartes, and is the core of many modern philosophies. If it isn’t possible to know anything, if there is nothing outside of me that can change me, that can alter how I see the world, then the logical approach in life would be to do whatever is best for me.

Some deny that it is possible to know anything beyond the material. This reductionist view of the universe takes away the beauty of our humanity! If it were true, things such as beauty and love become chemical byproducts of our bodies. How sad would that be if it were true? To deny our ability to know beyond the material results not only in a denial of truth, but in a reduction of our desire. If we believe there is nothing beyond this life, then slowly, over time, we will lose our very human desire to survive death and seek the infinite.

The ability to know is at the core of our humanity: it is by knowing the other that we fulfill the most basic human desire: to see and to be seen by another. Look at Adam in the Garden of Eden. Until he knew and was known by Eve, he was not fulfilled. Until he could love and be loved, know and be known, see and be seen,—all of these are different faces of the same action—he was not fulfilled.

In our world, knowing the other is a very challenging thing to do, because something quite sinister gets in the way: sin. To repent from sin helps us to see the other more clearly. It removes the gunk in our eyes and in our minds that clouds our perceptions of the world. Sin clogs our vision. Lust, for example, prevents us from seeing the value of the other. When we lust for power, for money, for people, it means that we want to take something which not us and possess it. It is a desire to make things a part of myself so I no longer have to admit my weakness, so I no longer have to admit that I need someone other than myself for my fulfillment. We could do a similar analysis with each of the seven deadly sins.

Christ suffered the effects of sin and conquered them so that we could convert our lives, repent, and follow him. When we repent and turn back to him, our vision is slowly cleared, the clouds lift. The Sacrament of Confession is a very important part of this process. We are all witnesses to the Resurrection of Christ who conquered sin and made it possible to repent, to convert, to not only to know each other but to know God. Christ showed us how our deepest desire will be fulfilled. We can love and be loved infinitely and forever. This love can conquer death itself.

At the beginning of Lent, we were told to repent and believe in the Gospel. Let us continue to convert our lives and follow Christ, so we might experience the glorious knowledge of the Resurrection.

Today’s Readings:
April 18, 2021
Third Sunday of Easter, Year B
Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; Psalm 4:2, 4, 7-8, 9; 1 John 2:1-5a; Luke 24:35-48

Do I know anything?

Knowing something or someone changes us. If it doesn’t, we haven’t learned anything.

Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter, 2021.

(posted April 22, 2021)

Reflection for the Fourth Monday of Easter

Non-Jews are also called to the kingdom of God! What fantastic news! This is made clear in today’s first reading. Peter is called to declare clean all foods which God has created. (I will try to write an article about all the reasons this is important in the somewhat-near future!)

Right after declaring the dietary laws unnecessary, Peter baptizes an entire household—this would have included the husband, the wife, any children, and any slaves living there—of Gentiles. The reading makes special note that they received the same gifts as the Jews in their baptism. When the Christians hear that these non-Jews received the same gifts, they did not become angry and jealous: they glorified God!

This is one way we can identify true Christian charity (a.k.a. love): it is overjoyed to be shared. True love cannot be turned in on itself, it must be shared. This is especially emphasized in Saint Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

Today, let us try to be joyful with all around us, because God has called them to salvation. Perhaps through our example of living in Christian joy, they may recognize the gift God has given to us and seek it for themselves.

Today’s Readings: Acts 11:1-18; Ps 42: 2-3, 43: 3, 4; Jn 10:1-10 or Jn 10:11-18

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