By Deacon Don Griffith
These last few weeks we have heard our Blessed Redeemer preach the sermon on the plain. Before expounding on today’s readings I’d like to briefly summarize these last few weeks. Firstly, our Savior gave instruction on the blessings and the woes in which He teaches His disciples not only to be detached from earthly desires and to not seek satisfaction or consolation only in this present life with no thought of the life to come, but also that our earthly circumstances of life do not necessarily translate to the same status or circumstances in the Kingdom of God. Next, having taught about the dispositions of the interior life, our Lord then teaches how these interior dispositions should be shown outwardly in our interactions with others. It is a new way of acting, and our Lord, knowing and anticipating the redemption He would merit as He hung upon the cross, in a sense calls His disciples out of sin. As if He said Even sinners love those who love them, but I have called you out of sin so you are to love your enemies; even sinners do good to those who do good to them, but I have called you out from sin, so you are to do good even to those who hate you. That brings us to today. Having taught His disciples about this newness of life and how from the inside out, it causes a new way of acting, our Savior then addresses His reason for teaching them and at the same time, their pride at having been taught. Our Lord addresses spiritual blindness. We are effectively blind when we are in darkness, when there is no light. We can be blinded also when there are problems with the eyes themselves. The reason for teaching them is so that He can shed His divine light. He is the Light of the World, and He calls us out of darkness and into His light. He is illuminating His disciples with His divine light, so that by His grace, when He calls other to Himself through His disciples, they will not be blind leading the blind. He addresses the pride of His disciples by speaking about the wooden beam in our own eye. Both of these types of blindness frame this little sentence which to me, seem to be the very point of our Lord’s preaching over these last weeks. No disciple is superior to the teacher; but when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher. We cannot have the beatitudes, we can not act the way He desires for us to act in this life unless we are like Him, like the Teacher. To do that, to be like the Teacher, like Christ, we must be in His light, we must be illuminated by His light. In that way, we are able to see with His light those obstacles, whether in our hearts or in our eyes, that prevent us from seeing Him clearly and prevent us from living in a manner pleasing to Him.
Without taking anything away from the hurt and pain caused by terrible crimes and abuse, in my own prayer for the Church I believe there is something greater going on, if I may be permitted to speak in this manner without seeming to trivialize the very real suffering people have experienced. But this something greater going on is the erosion, even the outright assault upon Christian values, not only in our country, but even around the world, in places that have been identified as Christian for millenia. Greed, an attitude that resources and people are expendable Marriage being 1 man and 1 woman, abortion on demand, euthanasia, the separation of the marital act from the context of marriage solely for bodily pleasure, the rejection of natural family planning and in its place some means contrary to the moral law, male and female He made them, Lust, Pride Gluttony. Just a great deal of turmoil. There is no one answer, but I believe a good place to start is a renewed and strengthened desire for holiness.
Every renewal of the Church(27) is essentially grounded in an increase of fidelity to her own calling.(UR 6). The fidelity of the baptized is a primordial condition for the proclamation of the Gospel and for the Church’s mission in the world. In order that the message of salvation can show the power of its truth and radiance before men, it must be authenticated by the witness of the life of Christians. “The witness of a Christian life and good works done in a supernatural spirit have great power to draw men to the faith and to God.(CCC2044). On her pilgrimage, the Church has also experienced the “discrepancy existing between the message she proclaims and the human weakness of those to whom the Gospel has been entrusted.” Only by taking the “way of penance and renewal,” the “narrow way of the cross,” can the People of God extend Christ’s reign.(CCC853). The Lord Jesus, the divine Teacher and Model of all perfection, preached holiness of life to each and everyone of His disciples of every condition. He Himself stands as the author and consummator of this holiness of life: “Be you therefore perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect”. Indeed He sent the Holy Spirit upon all men that He might move them inwardly to love God with their whole heart and their whole soul, with all their mind and all their strength(217) and that they might love each other as Christ loves them.(LG 40). Therefore in the Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness, according to the saying of the Apostle: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification”.(215) (LG 39). In everyone, the weeds of sin will still be mixed with the good wheat of the Gospel until the end of time. (CCC827). The new life we received in Christian initiation has not abolished the frailty and weakness of human nature, nor the inclination to sin which remains in the baptized such that, with the help of the grace of Christ, we may prove ourselves in the struggle of Christian life. This is the struggle of conversion directed toward holiness and eternal life to which the Lord never ceases to call us.(CCC1426). This conversion is an uninterrupted task for the whole Church. (CCC 1428).
In order that we become like the Teacher, we must allow ourselves to be fully trained. To look in the spiritual mirror of the Church’s teaching on faith and morals, to pray for the grace to conform our lives to the Crucified Christ, and to live a life of poverty, chastity, and obedience. On our own, this task is impossible, but nothing is impossible with God. As we prepare for the Holy season of Lent this week, let us take some time to look at our lives in His light, with His mercy, and ask to know where am I living Christ’s life and where am I not in my family, where am I living Christ’s life and where am I not in His family-in this community, and where am I living Christ’s life and where am I not in His world.
The Heart Speaks
By Deacon Mike Jacobs
The blind cannot guide the blind. We cannot reform others without reforming ourselves. In order to do good we have to become good. Everything we do depends on what we are in our hearts. “For it is out of abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.” What Jesus does in this Gospel is invite us to look into our hearts and to cooperate with Him in making our hearts like His; that is, to make what we are inside match what He is in His own mind and will and heart. And why does He do this? It is so that our lives will count for something, will “bear fruit” on this earth. It is so that when we die the world will be different for our having lived.
Everything changed with Jesus’ coming. The real power is not with the powerful anymore; nor the real productivity with the most productive. We do not have to be brilliant or talented or strategically placed in order to change history or have influence on the world. In fact, those who think they are changing the world are probably having the least effect of all. For example, throughout history and to this day rulers and nations have spent enormous energy on wars to rearrange national boundaries, and we spent hours in history class learning about it! But changing frontiers and governments has about as much effect on real human history as changing the lines on notebook paper while someone else is doing the writing. The real action, the action that counts and the actions that make people different forever takes place within the human heart. The only changes that endure are the ones that take place in the heart. Everything else is ultimately trivial.
St John of the Cross compares the heart to a glass window with a ray of sunlight shining on it. If the glass window is dirty, “the ray cannot illuminate it, nor transform it completely into its light; its illumination will be in proportion to its clearness. If, on the other hand, it is absolutely clean and spotless, it will be illuminated and transformed in such a way as to appear to be the luminous ray itself and to give the same light”. (AS II, 5, 6) God is the divine Sun shining upon our souls, desiring to invade them and penetrate them, completely transforming them into His light and love. Before He does this, however, He waits until the soul resolves to free itself from every “creature stain”, that is, the stains of sin and inordinate attachments. As soon as God finds that the heart is free from mortal sin, He immediately fills it with His grace. This precious gift is the first step in the great transformation which the Lord desires to bring about in us. The more we become purified of all sin and imperfection, and of even the slightest attachment; that is, in proportion as we conform our will to the will of God, not only in serious matters of obligation but even in the least details of perfection, the more capable we become of being entirely penetrated and transformed by divine Grace.
Grace, the gift of God which makes the soul a participant in the divine nature, is poured forth into the soul in proportion to its degree of interior purity, which always corresponds to its degree of conformity with God’s will. Therefore, the soul that wished to be totally possessed and transformed by divine Grace, must in practice strive to conform fully to the will of God, “so that there may be nothing in the soul that is contrary to the will of God, but that in all and through all its movement may be that of the will of God alone. (AS I, 14, and 23)
The problem with the news media is that the news they report is not really significant, but by focusing on it they make us think it is. Ten people praying can affect history more than an army invading a country. One man surrendering his whole heart to God while dying in a hospital is more important in the real history of humanity than the victory of a presidential candidate. A hundred years from now none of us now living will care who was president during this decade or see any advantage to ourselves in anything he did. We will be grateful in heaven to many people, but only for the love they gave us and for the ways they helped us to know and love God. Nothing else anyone does for us will matter then, because we will see how totally insignificant it was in terms of lasting effect.
The truth is, we can love God and other people with our whole hearts whether the government makes us rich or poor, whether the environment keeps us healthy or makes us sick, whether the military protects us or lets us be invaded, whether our houses are broken into or not and whether we are murdered on the street or live to be a hundred. What is really important for us, what is making the only history that counts and what we really should be following as news, is what is happening that will help us know God, love God, and what contributes to establishing the reign of God on earth. His is the only reign, the only history the human race really has.
So who are our guides? To whom do we listen? Do we think that what is reported in the news really matters or is our focus on the Good News that began with Jesus Christ? Where do we go if we follow guides who are so blind they cannot see one step beyond the grave or, cannot see beyond the economic and political concerns of the country? (How much time would Jesus would have wasted worrying about the stock market?). Why do we bother to criticize, much less to hate, politicians or anyone else, they can only affect our physical wellbeing? Jesus says, “Check your own valve systems first, then decide if you have anything to be concerned about.”
O my God, for what great things have you created me! You have created me to know You, to love You, to serve You and not as a slave, but as Your child, Your friend, living intimacy with You, sitting at Your table, enjoying Your presence, O Jesus, You have said, “I will not now call you servants, for the servant knows not what his lord is doing. But I have called you friends, because all things whatsoever I have heard of My Father, I have made known to you”. (Jn 15:15)