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Friday, March 20, 2020

Jesus Is Waiting

It takes awhile to understand that Jesus isn't just fire insurance. All that we know at the beginning is that we're helplessly tied up in the sins that trouble us. We have these amazing desires, especially if we have faith. We see clearly what God is offering, and we want it.

The trouble is our sins, or more accurately, how we react to our sins. I think many of us take our awareness of our sin as an opportunity to tell Jesus that he made a mistake. This could go on a lifetime.

But with the mystic vision, we begin to see our sin as the remnant of our unredeemed self. Temptation is closely related; it's a call to prayer. The sin in my members, as it were, is a siren call to dark places. We don't like to go there, but fear and selfishness call us there, like a compulsion or a sickness. When the Scriptures call us "double-minded," they mean that we both love and hate the siren call. We are like two people: the one who loves God, and the one who loves the carousing in the dark places.

The siren call is a quicker hit, a bigger high. "Forget God! What good has it ever done to be good? Don't you deserve to be happy? What's the harm?" If Jesus isn't here, it's an easy win for the evil one. There's no rule, no reward that the system can offer, stronger than sin. Even to be told that a soul free of mortal sin is in a state of grace is not enough. What does that mean? For me, a state of grace meant I was merely acceptable, tolerated, not despised. No wonder sin looks so good!

But the reality was that I was the unfaithful wife of a devoted husband. No matter how many times he came to find me in the center of the city, binding up my wounds given by my abusive lovers, I would accept his kindness, his tender words, and then when I was well, I'd leave again. He never tires; he never fails to seek us. At some point, I started to believe that he loved me, and that he'd never stop. And that the trouble was me. Why would I leave this one who loves me so much? Even now, as my heart longs for that reckless passion, it passes in a moment. I am learning to love in return. I don't need to run. I tell him of wanting to run. I tell him of previous times I ran, and what it felt like.

I see the eyes of Jesus. I see his face. He's here now. No one needs to ask me if I care about my salvation. "My salvation" was too abstract. Heaven itself was too abstract. Let me see the face of Jesus. In his eyes, I am seen. I am Home.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

How Can We Offer Sacrifice In A Foreign Land?

Look at that first reading. I daresay I have never had an easier time placing myself in the scene. If my love does not grow now, it might be said rightly I have never believed. I watched a livestream of the Mass, and when the time for the usual reception of Holy Communion came, I had only tears. They have hardly stopped. I am wracked with waves of love and grief.

It remains beyond my understanding why anyone would willingly choose to be away from the altar. Never have I felt more at home than in God's house, where it pleases Him to remain as "God with us" in the Eucharist. My only pain is the day when He leaves us at night into Good Friday. It's like he is bodily there, in every church, on His throne. He does not reign with terror, but presides in quiet. We are home and safe; we are family.

Indeed, this is the true faith distilled: "And surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

Many people are afraid of God, which is to say they are guilty before Him. Yet the very reason His messengers say, "Do not be afraid" is because in the end, there is no fear in love.

One day soon, we will sing, "Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord!"

Monday, March 16, 2020

Come, Holy Spirit

I should warn you that I'm going to say "crazy" things. As the young people say, "It is what it is." It is good to tell people to follow the commandments. If it weren't good to follow the commandments, God would not give them to us. Still, we can easily imagine or we have seen laws become ends in themselves. Our Lord's opponents had made the Law an end in itself. A person who doesn't try to follow the commandments may not be malicious, but he is certainly blind. Sin blinds us, and we know this. Yet we are blinded in two ways: First, we cannot see God in His goodness; and second, we can only see ourselves.

And yet, in the end, there's little profit in keeping the Law as an end. "All these I have kept since I was a boy," said the rich young man. There is no ladder to God. This is why it says, "It does not depend on him who strives, or him who runs, but upon God's mercy."

I don't like to spend too much time talking about the "state of grace," though I suppose we should, especially in regard to the reception of Holy Communion. The reason we should not dwell on it though is that an ark full of strivers and runners gets to believing that if they are not conscious of a mortal sin, they are the good. The truth is that we have received all that we are that is good. Suppose grave matters are not strange or theoretical to us. If Holy Communion is a prize for the pious, the balance of us will ask, "Why can't I just be better?" or say, "I can't believe I did that!" The saints will be these far-off heroes and archetypes we will never reach. We will marvel, but never imagine that we will be like them. If we have enough "common" faith, we may prudently arrange that Christ's mercy in the sacraments is never far. Still, we'll end our lives simply common.

To use an analogy, however, take the legend Roberto Clemente. Most lovers of baseball know him as one of the greatest players and greatest hitters who ever lived. A baseball "saint," to be sure. The lesson is this: Go back far enough, and young Roberto was a kid with a bat and a glove, who loved the game. He was great because he forgot himself, and played for the sheer love of the game. There was a certain striving, sure. But no one would say that the practice and working out was the love. Rather, the effort makes the love fruitful. You cannot be great until you can see greatness, until it seems possible.

But it's God's love, not our own. We cannot leave the place of striving until we are small. My worst failing, and my greatest victory are nothing compared to the love of God. I can offer my mite, because it is as nothing; it is not the labor of my hands, but the fruit of His cultivation.

I have become aware that I am His, and He is mine. No matter the seeming distance between us, His love is now the ground of my existence. Not in my head, but in my heart, where what I believe and do is decided.

Not long ago, I thought that my tendency toward sin was an alien presence, that warred against my mind. In a certain sense, this is true. Everyone who knows the commandments and breaks them is at war with themselves. But what is this alien presence, truly? It is that part of myself which does not mystically know that he is loved. I may have intellectually believed it, confessed, and taught it for a long time. But the mystic-knowing sees Christ sitting right next to me. He's not a concept or idea anymore. He's right here. I know in this mystic-knowing that I don't want to begin again; I don't want to be a beast he must make alive again. He's my friend, and he always was.

This is why the saints have whole loving conversations with him, and the smallest lapses will be deep regrets that nevertheless last only a moment. They're not crazy; they're in love. They're not chasing Him; they've been caught. The rest of it is to stop hiding parts of themselves from their Lover and Healer.

Don't get married, unless you have to. To be naked and unashamed before another sinner is just about the craziest thing in earthly terms you can do. We rightly warn people that another person cannot fill any of us. But what a crazy thing, to be so vulnerable that we're tempted to let them try it! It seems to me we got the analogy backward: Looking for someone with whom we can be completely safe, writing songs, poems, and stories about it for thousands of years, and the truth is, the Lover of all is more trustworthy than all noble lovers who ever loved!

I never liked, "Of course he isn't safe. But he's good". Wherever that came from. It seems like it glorifies sheer terror of God. What we mean is, "I'm no longer in control, and that's fine." We cannot hold on to fear. We must trust, or we remain bound. We cannot grudgingly surrender; we do, or we do not.

An Odd Thanksgiving

This terrible coronavirus has clarified something important about the adoration of God: Mass still goes on. The one sacrifice God commands is that of Calvary, and it goes on. Strictly speaking, we don't need to be in attendance. Our obligation in normal times is truly a gift of thanks, that we can join the sacrifice of our lives to that Sacrifice. Made in a bloody manner once, and in an unbloody manner in the Mass thereafter until the end of time.

It is crucial that we understand that when the priest refers to "my sacrifice and yours," there are two distinct sacrifices, and they are not the same. Quite honestly, when things go bad in Catholic thinking, it's right here. We lose the sense that the relationship is one of verticality firstly and primarily. I think we get envious of our Protestant brethren in some ways, and rightly so. They are generally better at loving each other than we are. I went to one parish 3 years, and I think only my small circle of friends knew my name.

But even if they ban public Masses for safety and public health, the Mass goes on. Jesus said, "And after I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself." And He is faithful to do it.

All manner of confusion and error creeps in, when we think Mass is about us, instead of Him.

At the risk of putting words in the mouth of Jesus, recall what the Sacrifice means: I don't have to die again, but if I did, I'd do it again, just for you.

There's no relationship more personal than that. It's almost silly to call them "Holy Days of Obligation," because the "obligation" is to let Jesus show me and tell me he loves me! I think I can handle that!

Once I understand that Jesus has never stopped loving me, that the "problem" in the relationship is me, and that the Holy Trinity loves me more than I dare imagine, a whole bunch of things that seem like impositions at first become joyful. This is what Jesus meant when he said, "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light." On the worst ever day of your walk with Christ, Jesus said, "I will die to bring that one back, Father." We can know this in our heads, but until we stop hating ourselves, it can't penetrate our hearts.

I pray that you let the love of Christ penetrate your hearts. Let it overwhelm your self-image. When you confess your sins, perhaps add in, "I'm sorry that I don't understand your love for me, deep inside. Help me to understand."