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)

Give Everything, Gain Eternal Life

When we surrender every attachment we have to God, he gives us even more in return.

Homily for the Second Week of Lent, 2021

Conversation with God

Prayer is communication with God, and it is essential for Heaven.

Homily on the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, January 17, 2021.

We Have Work to Do

We can do better.

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.

Workin’ in the vineyard

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.

Remain in God, Remain in Love.

We must seek God first. Only then can everything we do be through God, with God, and in God.

Homily for the Memorial of St. Martha on July 29th, 2020.

Him Whom My Heart Loves

When we cannot find our beloved, our hearts are restless. This is the love with which God loves us, and this is the love with which God desires us to love him.

Homily for the Feast of Mary Magdalen, July 22, 2020.

Humility, Truth, and Morality

We must have humility to seek the truth. We must use the truth to inform our actions.

Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time.

The Humble Pursuit of Truth

In Romans today, St. Paul tells us that whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. Conversely, if we allow the Spirit to dwell in us, then we will have life. This Spirit is none other than the Holy Spirit. This raises an important question: how do we allow the Holy Spirit to dwell within us? St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that the Spirit of God dwells in us through our love. (Commentary on Romans, C. 8, L. 2, n. 626) Even though we received the Holy Spirit in Baptism and again in Confirmation, we drive the Holy Spirit out of ourselves when we sin. Venial sin damages and mortal sin destroys the relationship of love we have with God. The book of Wisdom tells us that God does not abide iniquity, sin, which logically means that our personal sin drives out the Spirit of God. (Wisdom 1:3, cf. Romans, C. 8, L. 2, n. 626)

Driving sin out of our lives is extremely challenging. It is a life-long endeavor, but it is not something we do alone. God assists us regularly with his grace, and He walks with us through this life. He has also left us with the holy Scriptures. Readings the Scriptures and meditating upon them can allow us to grow closer to God and can allow the fertile ground in our hearts to be readied for the Spirit of God to dwell. Christ teaches us in today’s Gospel that he reveals all these things to little ones. Why does he reveal them to little ones and not to mature adults? I can think of a number of answers to this question; however, the strongest answer, I think, is that children have not lost their sense of wonder about the world, nor have they lost their sense of openness to others. A child is not afraid to look up at the clouds and the stars and to see all sorts of shapes and plants and animals. A child, to the horror of many parents, is not afraid to go talk to someone they don’t know. A child trusts his or her parents, and, generally, anybody multiple feet taller than him or her. A child wants to learn everything and is always seeking out truth in adventures, in friends, and in stories. A child also recognizes that sometimes he or she is wrong. In other words: a child has humility. Zechariah, in today’s first reading, tells us that the Messiah will be humble as well: he will not ride into Jerusalem on a horse, but on a donkey.

These three traits of children, of wonder, openness or docility, and humility, are essential to growing in love. No matter how hard we try to hold on to these virtues, we struggle to maintain them as we age. When was the last time you just looked up at the clouds or stared at the stars? When was the last time you admitted—to yourself—that you might not be the most knowledgeable person about any given thing? When was the last time you allowed yourself to be taught? When was the last time you admitted you were wrong?

Not counting the question about looking at the sky, none of these are “fun” things to do. As hard as the questions themselves are to stomach, it gets worse when I recognize that the answer is, to every single one of them, “it has been longer than it should have been.” We live in a society that proclaims that truth is whatever we make it. This relativism, which started in the realm of morality, has infected every area of our society. If we don’t like a truth, if it makes us feel uncomfortable, society teaches us that it is OK to decide that it is not true for us. Society tells us that this is good. Society tells us that we should be comfortable and that we should never have to experience the trauma of being wrong.

Society is wrong.

There is truth, and it is universal. If something is true, that will not change. If you jump up, you will come down. This is a truth. Just as gravity doesn’t change based on our feelings and what we want it to do, neither do the observable properties of the universe, such as the behavior of air molecules, non-living RNA and water droplets, etc. A newly conceived child is a human being made in the image and likeness of God and therefore has a right to life no matter how we feel about the circumstances in which that child was conceived. No matter what our feelings are about something, no matter what our favorite political leaders tell us, truth does not change, because truth is grounded in God, and God does not change. This has been the teaching of the Church throughout all of time, and has been reiterated over and over again, for example, in the Second Vatican Council Document Dignitatis humanae (Of the Dignity of the Human Person), then again in  St. Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis splendor (The Splendor of Truth), and again by the saint in Fides et ratio (Faith and Reason). Fides et ratio specifically discusses how, as Catholics, we are not only able to, but must use our reason in conjunction with our faith, because our reason is a gift from God. The Catholic Church, despite what some people may say, has always believe that science is a good thing. Through science we learn about creation. When we learn about creation, we learn about its creator, that is, God.

After informing myself on matters like this, I know more about creation than before. I have learned more about the truth. As Catholics, we must take one further step after learning the truth: We must allow the truth to inform our actions. As a result of my study and research this week, I am wearing my mask more. This is neither a mistake, nor is it a fluke. It is intentional. This is not due to government mandating that I wear a mask; however, Christians are, in most cases, bound to follow civil authority. 1 I am wearing my mask more, because I have come to the knowledge that it is the right thing to do. After informing myself with information from sources that make it their business to know these things, doctors and physicists and chemists, I see that the evidence is fairly clear that they help. I didn’t think wearing a mask was important, but I was wrong. Masks are effective, especially when combined with social distancing, at preventing others from catching disease from me. While the research shows that a mask does not protect me, it does protect those around me, that is: the mask protects my neighbor. Is it perfect? No. But it is significantly and scientifically proven to be better than nothing.

I don’t do this (wearing a mask) because I want to: Honestly, I don’t. But what I want and what I feel… it doesn’t matter. God demands that I love my neighbor as myself, always. This is truth, and like the truth, this demand will never change. If I don’t love my neighbor, I cannot love God, because it means my love is messed up. If my love is messed up and I can’t love God, then I am not allowing the Holy Spirit to live in me. God asks us, on a regular basis, to do things we don’t want to do for the good of ourselves and the good of others. This is, in fact, the essence of Christian love: to sacrifice for the sake of my neighbor. This is something every married couple knows: “I don’t always get my way, because I love my spouse.” As a priest, I see the situation a little differently. Daily, priests pray about sacrifice and remember what Jesus did to save us. The crucifixion is simply a part of priestly spirituality. Jesus was tortured, beaten, and crucified for us. It wasn’t fun or enjoyable. I can’t imagine that he really wanted to do it (at least, on the part of his human nature). Most importantly, Jesus did not need to die for himself. He suffered and died purely because he loves us, his neighbor, so that he could eradicate and conquer the most primordial contagion known to plague humanity: sin.

Brothers and sisters, let us always seek the truth with openness and humility, like children do. Let us allow the truth to inform our actions so that we can truly love our neighbor, and in doing so, open our hearts to the life-giving Spirit of God.

Today’s Readings:
July 5, 2020
14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
Zechariah 9:9-10; Psalm 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-14; Romans 8:9, 11-13; Matthew 11:25-30