Friday, February 27, 2015

The Mercy of God to Our Enemies

There is little doubt that the majority of us have looked upon the violence of the Middle East with sadness, disgust, or anger. Our brothers are being slaughtered and the poor and oppressed, which includes everyone and not just Christians, suffer doubly from the violence coming from both sides.
The Coptic martyrs who recently died for faith in Christ.

It has been a subject of intense prayer for me. I oscillate between desiring the destruction of our enemies for the sake of our brethren (cf., for example, Ps 18) and between praying for mercy upon our enemies.

I find it simple to see Christ on the cross saying "Forgive them for they know not what they do" (Lk 23:34) and say, "Of course, Christ did that because he's the Lord." Yet the very same prayer we pray every day commands us to "forgive those who have trespassed against us." I asked myself, in my heart, "Do I forgive them?" For indeed we are forgiven in the measure we forgive.

I became troubled that I could not formulate a concrete answer. I prayed as to whether I was so lacking in mercy and trust in God that I could not forgive my enemies who, despite their violence and power, are "like chaff driven by the wind" (Ps 1:4) and "like grass they wither quickly; like green plants they wilt away" (Ps 37:1). Because they all pass away and, from the perspective of history a brief period of time, they will also come to judgment. Violence begets violence, and many men have already come to a violent end. Some have perhaps met their end, regrettably, through torture. In death many had no chance to repent and in their obstinance have gone to meet their Lord and Creator.

We will all die and we will all be judged. Every day, with varying degrees of whole-heartedness (sadly sometimes not so much) I ask for God's mercy. But this Lent, this present moment, we should move outside ourselves and pray for His mercy on all men. This forces us to confront, by necessity the most horrible, unsavory, wicked, and disgusting parts of humanity. When we confront this we also confront ourselves, if we're honest. When we confront this in our hearts can we forgive? Can we intercede for them and pray that they turn from their wickedness? Will we turn from ours?

God, who is beyond eternity and beyond power, is Just, and His justice will endure forever and all men will confront his justice. But, indeed, "the judgment is merciless to one who has not shown mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment" (James 2:13). Throughout Scripture God is teaching us a lesson.

His Son descended into the depths of hell, that is to say the depths of human depravity (living and dead)--to the very bottom--in order to redeem it. By his blood all were redeemed for God, but not all are yet saved. Those of us who are living, Christians too, none are as of yet saved, but by faith in Jesus Christ we are guaranteed salvation. This is not to be understood as a covering, like a sheet of snow, over our depravity. We are told to run the race, endure to the end, and walk in the footsteps of he who is the Way.

Salvation means that, by faith, we believe in Christ crucified and risen. Through this faith and baptism we are joined to his Body. In being joined to his Body we are joined to His sufferings and also share in his consolation (cf., 2 Cor 1:5). As Christians we suffer for the sake of the world. Joined to Christ I would say, more powerfully, that we are sacrificed for the sake of the whole world and all upon it. In order to be sacrificed like Christ we look to his example in sacrifice: ever willing to reconcile everyone to the Father through Him.
The image of Christ, his Body, the Church, and us as well.

I then came to think: if we believe that God should strike our enemies down that would be a regrettable thing. For "If you, LORD, keep account of sins, Lord, who can stand?" (Ps 130:3). Those whom we look down on the most are perhaps more explicitly wicked than us, but we who relish in how wicked others are cover our own wickedness with injustice. All are sinful and all are guilty of contributing to this state of sin which we live in. 

Christ alone is "the light shining in the darkness"(Jn 1:15) and we, by joining ourselves to Christ in faith and truth, reflect that light in the same manner that He "reflects the refulgence of the Father's glory" (cf., Heb 1:3).

We do so by seeking forgiveness. We do so more so by loving others. We do it most perfectly by loving our enemies.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Jesus Expelled

[This was composed as a homily for Feb. 15, 2015, and modified for a written format. The Gospel is shown below for context and ease of reference]

So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee. A leper came to him (and kneeling down) begged him and said, "If you wish, you can make me clean." Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, "I do will it. Be made clean." The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.

Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. Then he said to him, "See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them."The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere. (Mk 1:40-45)

In the readings this week we may consider the primary themes that of 'expulsion' and 're-entry.' A man, in Leviticus, when he was declared unclean by the priest or by the community was expelled for the safety of the whole. He had to cry out “Unclean!” to warn others of his passing and live outside the community of believers.

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus cleanses a leper who comes to him. He says with heartfelt sincerity, “If you will it, you can make me clean.” Jesus, pitying the man, expresses his divine power and says, “I do will it. Be made clean.” But our Lord also gives him a command: Tell no one. Go to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses provides. Jesus is allowing this man to reenter the community and to join himself fully to the people of God.

Yet the cleansed man disobeys Jesus. We are not sure, but the evidence that the Gospel provides suggests that he did not go to the priest and instead he told everybody of the affair. At first glance, this man would seem to be doing Jesus a favor: he is proclaiming the power of God to the people and others, in turn, flock to him!

But in disobeying Jesus, this man effectively expelled Jesus from that same community he came to serve. The Gospel tells us that Jesus remained in a deserted place. Everyone “came to him from everywhere.”

Initially we may admire those in the Gospel who go to Jesus and seek him out, but the Gospel is framed in a way to make us pause and reflect on the truth it teaches.

Jesus wants to enter the community of believers but, along the way is stopped by a man seeking his mercy and his healing. We too go to mass, receive the sacraments, and seek Jesus in good faith; this I believe. Yet a multitude rush to Jesus when one receives what he desired. In our own hearts we have many competing desires, wants, and pains. While we recognize our need for Jesus, when all of these things in our heart rush to Jesus at once they may indeed be healed, but it also leaves Jesus outside of us.

Jesus wants to enter into our communities, our families, and our hearts. When we go to Jesus with our wants and needs we are, in a sense, in control. When we allow Christ to come to us we allow Him to be in control and to heal what he needs to heal at the core of our being. Our core wound is our separation from the perfect love of God.

Of course we should pray for healing and help, but when we get better or when we weather a storm, how often do we find ourselves returning to the same old sin, the same old habits, and the same old wounds over and over again? Sometimes going to Jesus isn't enough, and it isn't what will actually heal us. We need to allow Jesus to come to us and we need to receive Jesus on his terms.

This is difficult because Jesus may comfort us or he may challenge us. Many of us are in the habit of asking, but few reflect on the act of receiving His love and His grace, which he bestows readily and freely.

How, then, are we to allow Jesus to enter into our community, our homes, and our hearts? It begins, first, with prayer. Getting away for a moment and praying for ourselves, not just for our wants but for something far more important: His mercy. Jesus came to express the power of God, yes, but the power of God is expressed most profoundly in his love and mercy. Prayer prepares our hearts to seek and receive the Lord. Thus silence is also essential to receiving Jesus.

Moreover reading the Scriptures openly and prayerfully helps us to receive God. In reading Scripture without agenda or expectation of one, certain revelation we allow the word of God to speak to us. Scripture speaks to us where we are in our lives and, I guarantee to you, it also reveals to us what we need to hear—whether it is consoling, rebuking, or challenging.

Among other things are spiritual directors, the sacraments, the teachings of the Church—all given to us to allow us to meet Jesus according to His desires and not on our own terms. While some directions, some sacraments, and some teachings may seem contrary to us they work more deeply in that they teach us to be humble and they teach us to reflect on what we truly desire: the desire behind all desires. Namely, the One and True God who desires that we be one with Him as the Father and Son are one.

This day do not expel Jesus from your hearts, but hear His voice, do as He commands, and wait for Him. He will enter the homes of all who prepare a place for him.