If we love God, he promises that he will love us and reveal himself to us. So how do we love God?
I look forward to Advent every year. It is one of my favorite liturgical seasons. I’ve written before on the stillness and peace that this time of year brings with it.
This year, that stillness has been harder than ever to find. From what I understand, we have just as much (if not more!) COVID running around the planet as before, but society is simply done with it. Everybody is out shopping, decorating, and doing all those other things that people do to get ready for Christmas. Hopefully, all these people are doing some sort of spiritual practice to prepare for our annual celebration of the Nativity of Jesus Christ so that they’re ready inside as well as out.
Perhaps it is because the last year and a half have been unnaturally slow, but this Advent feels more frantic and disconnected than usual. Perhaps it’s the weather, which waffles between beautiful and somewhat chilly. Perhaps it’s all the usual things happening this year that didn’t last. Perhaps it’s the virus hanging over my head. Perhaps it’s all the fights and arguments and division sown in the last year which has leached into our faith. Perhaps it’s just that I’m older or just tired. But I’ve struggled this year to connect with Advent.
My natural response in times like this is to ask, “what do I need to be doing differently?” The problem is, I’ve already done that. I’ve made some good changes. They’ve helped. But I still feel off. So what’s the issue?
It’s hard to say where it is, but when we’ve run out of answers, the only place we can reasonably turn is to God. We must put our faith in him, trusting that he can save us from sin and death. We must put our hope in him, believing that he will choose to save us. We must love him, valuing him more than any other prize. Finally, we must trust that God will give us the grace we need. As long as we continue to turn to our heavenly Father, with all of our weaknesses and struggles and frustrations, we can trust that he will give us grace sufficient to overcome any obstacle. Even an Advent that feels a little disconnected.
Because let’s face it: no matter how rough Advent might seem to be, this season is meant to orient us toward Jesus Christ. Perhaps this year, he’s simply orienting me to trust him a little bit more and me a little bit less.
God’s covenant love is providential, abundant, and mind-blowingly generous.
God always works to lead us back to himself, because he loves us too much to be separated from us.
Homily for the Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B.
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.
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
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)
When we surrender every attachment we have to God, he gives us even more in return.
Homily for the Second Week of Lent, 2021
Prayer is communication with God, and it is essential for Heaven.
Homily on the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, January 17, 2021.
The actions in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021 were disgraceful. We all have a part to play in healing this country.
Homily on January 7, 2021.
Let’s be honest: we’ve all been upset by this parable at some point. If we zoom out a bit, it helps us see the glory of what Jesus is telling us in the parable of the workers in the vineyard.
Homily for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.