The former things have passed away… Behold, I make all things new (Rev. 21:4-5)

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The Final Gift

It has been said by several mystics in the last century that the Immaculate Heart of Mary is the final giftImmaculate Heart Sunset resize that God is giving to the world for its conversion and salvation before the Second Coming of Christ.  The role of Mary in the divine plan of salvation and in our own spiritual lives is part of “the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God… that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might be made known…” (Eph. 3:9-10).  The Church has made known this mystery of Mary, planted as a seed in the soil of the Holy Scriptures and coming to full fruition in the life of the Holy Catholic Church.  So the saints have said that if people would come to the Lord through his Mother, He would welcome them and spare them from the evils of this age and from eternal damnation.  We see that all too few people have so far responded to this invitation and received this gift, but the offer is still open, precisely because it is the final one.

This corresponds well to what we find in the Gospel of John at the time of Jesus’ death on the Cross.  Jesus says to Mary: “Woman, behold your son!”  And then Jesus says to John: “Behold, your Mother!”  It’s important to read the very next verse, which begins: “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished…”

“After this… all was now finished.” This means that Jesus’ work wasn’t finished until He gave us his Mother as our own, and once He did so, his mission was complete.  The gift of Mary to us as our Mother was the last gift Jesus gave to the world before He died.  If people traditionally honor the last request of a dying man, how much more should we receive what the Son of God has given us just moments before He died!  So, as Mary was Jesus’ final gift to us before the end of his life, her Immaculate Heart is his final gift to us before the end of the world.

At Cana and at the Cross, Mary is at the beginning and the end of Jesus’ public life—and she was obviously at the very beginning of his life through the incarnation and divine maternity.  So we also find her to be present at the beginning of our lives: from the moment of our baptism, when she becomes our Mother—because at that moment we are adopted by the Father and become brothers and sisters of the Only-begotten Son—until the hour of our death, when she will be present at our final agony, as she stood next to the Cross of Jesus.  Then He will tell us once more to behold our Mother, to receive the gift, and then be carried in her arms into the Kingdom of Heaven.  We constantly pray to her to assist us now and at the hour of our death.

Jesus’ gift of Mary to us as our Mother is intimately connected with the Holy Eucharist, so she should be very close to our hearts. Blessed John Paul II made that clear in his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia (#57) when he wrote: “In the memorial of Calvary [which is the Eucharistic Sacrifice], all that Christ accomplished by his passion and his death is present.  Consequently all that Christ did with regard to his Mother for our sake is also present.  To her he gave the beloved disciple and, in him, each of us…  To each of us he also says: ‘Behold your mother!’ (cf. Jn. 19: 26-27).  Experiencing the memorial of Christ’s death in the Eucharist also means continually receiving this gift.  It means accepting—like John—the one who is given to us anew as our Mother.  It also means taking on a commitment to be conformed to Christ, putting ourselves at the school of his Mother and allowing her to accompany us.  Mary is present, with the Church and as the Mother of the Church, at each of our celebrations of the Eucharist.  If the Church and the Eucharist are inseparably united, the same ought to be said of Mary and the Eucharist.”  So Blessed John Paul says that at every Eucharistic Sacrifice not only are the mysteries of his death and resurrection manifested and communicated, but also the gift of Mary as our Mother, which is meant to be renewed at every Holy Mass.

In our lives, then, the paschal mystery of Christ finds its expression primarily in the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, but also in the precious gift of his Mother, who is intimately united to all his divine mysteries.

Mary, having suffered so much in union with Jesus on the Cross, has the most reason to rejoice in his resurrection.  A hymn to Our Lady during paschal time begins by saying:  “An angel greeted you, O Full of Grace…”  This sounds like the annunciation, but then it goes on to say, “Rejoice, for after three days your Son rose from the dead.”  So perhaps as the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary just before Jesus entered her holy womb, the same Archangel announced to her the resurrection, moments before Jesus manifested Himself to her in his risen glory, as the mystics say He did—and how could it be otherwise?

Then the hymn immediately leaps forward to Mary’s final glorification, exulting:  “Shine forth in splendor, New Jerusalem, for the glory of the Lord is risen on you!”  Our Lady shines forth in the power of the glory of the Lord, who has made her the Queen of Heaven.  The Queen wields the power and authority of the King insofar as He grants it to her.  It is his by nature, hers by grace.  As an earthly king holds all power for himself, but shares it as he wills with the queen, so too Christ the King has exalted his Mother and shared the authority of his reign with her, because He loves more than anyone He has ever made.  The picture I’ve posted here was not originally painted to depict the Queen of Heaven, but it has been used and accepted as such by a Mary the Queen resizenumber of people in the Church (like Fr Donald Calloway in his new book, Under the Mantle), for the beauty and power of its Catholic symbolism.  I think that any man with a chivalrous bone in his body would love this picture, would love to be knighted by his Lady, to serve her mission to gather souls for the Kingdom of Heaven.  It is a beautiful image of the ideal of manly devotion and love—and the willingness to fight to the death to defend the honor of the Queen—which is lost on so many souls today, either because traditional ideals of truth, beauty, and goodness mean little to them, or because they simply refuse to honor her whom the Lord honors so highly in Heaven.

But there is more.  The Queen, while the central figure in this picture, does not act alone.  See how the bright light (the Uncreated Light of God, for our purposes), shines upon her right side, running down her arm and even into the blade of the sword.  (I don’t know how it looks on your screen, but the darker the background is, the brighter the light looks.) So the power, the grace, is God’s, but the Queen, as Mediatrix of Grace, communicates it to us.  She has often been sent by God over the centuries to call us to repent and return to the Lord, and by his power she has worked many miracles.  So the Queen has authority from the King to consecrate “knights” for her service, who will labor for the triumph of her Immaculate Heart as she prophesied at Fatima, and who manifest the manly devotion which she inspires.  God is jealous to defend her honor against those who would reject, denigrate, or ignore her, and so he sets aside certain persons and gives them a special vocation to offer service and reparation to her, thus vindicating God’s righteousness and winning the grace of repentance for those who blindly (or even hatefully) refuse to honor the Queen.  Our Lady said to Sr Lucia of Fatima: “There are so many souls whom the Justice of God condemns for sins committed against me, that I have come to ask for reparation: sacrifice yourself for this intention and pray…”  While the ranks of the devout are mostly composed of women, this is an honorable thing a man can do: ask God to be taken into the service of the Queen, set apart to receive grace through her for the offering of reparation to her Immaculate Heart, and fruitful prayers and sacrifices for the salvation of souls.  Thus you will receive the full benefit of the Lord’s “final gift” to mankind, and many others will benefit as well.

This post is also my final gift to you on Making All Things New.  The Contemplatives of St Joseph have received a mission from our archbishop that will consume all of my time, for a long time, and I will not even be able to dig up old homilies to recycle.  I ask your prayers for this mission, because I need to spend many hours a day in prayer in addition to all this work, if it is going to be fruitful (and if I’m not to burn out through excessive activity!).  We are to play an important role in the liturgical reform of the archdiocese, partly by celebrating and teaching the traditional Latin Mass, and partly by celebrating and teaching the Novus Ordo Mass as it was meant from the beginning: with reverence, solemnity, Gregorian Chant, etc.  We will also be involved in the spiritual formation of seminarians, to help insure that future generations of priests will also be rooted in both authentic liturgical life and in contemplative prayer, both of which are indispensable if the Church is to bear the fruit for which God has commissioned her.   This is all in addition to the our present community and contemplative life and several ministries.

This month marks eight years since I began the blog.  I’ve already written a lot more than I ever thought I would (well over a million words!).  If it were up to me, I would have a little cottage on the coast and spend the rest of my life praying and writing.  But I’m here to do the Lord’s will, and He is moving me in a new direction.  I trust that obedience will bear its fruit.

I will make the blog available indefinitely, since there is still much in the archives you can look through.  Hopefully before too long I will be free to distribute my new Mary booklet (which you can have for free), and I’ll put up a link for that when I can do so.  If it seems too tedious to trudge through the archives month by month, you can find links for all the posts, listed alphabetically, here.

So hey, it has been a great time, and I hope you have derived some benefit from what I have published here.  It’s worth all the time and effort if I bye-byehave been able to help some souls advance a little farther along the road of truth and love, of holiness and salvation. Pray for me as I will pray for you. Good-bye for now, and I hope to see you on the Other Side. And, as my old Unk Gene used to say: “God bless you and Mary keep you!”

The Spirit Yearns

[A homily from Pentecost 2002.]

When Christ sends his Holy Spirit, it’s because He’s got work to do: inside each of us, and through us, for the sake of the whole Church.  Therefore, many are the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Today is kind of a “spiritual Christmas.”  On December 25 people give each other gifts; but today is God’s Christmas.  God gives us gifts today because He’s sending us the Holy Spirit—the Gift, Himself, but He also comes bearing many other spiritual gifts.  We heard in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles that the first recipients of these gifts of the Holy Spirit were the apostles and the other disciples, Our Lady, and the other women.  They were all gathered in the Upper Room and waiting in prayer, for Christ had said, when He ascended, “Wait here for the Spirit, the promise of the Father, and you will be clothed with power from on high.”  So they were waiting for the Holy Spirit to come, and the Spirit did come, bringing many gifts.

7-gifts-of-holy-spiritNow, we often look to the Holy Spirit to give us gifts.  And that’s OK.  But now, what kind of gifts does the Holy Spirit bring?  On that first Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came down, did He give St. Matthew a fancy home on exclusive beachfront property on the Lake of Galilee?  Or, did He give St. Peter a bag of gold coins?  No, the Spirit didn’t give them those kinds of gifts.  Why not? Peter made a point of it in the next chapter; he said, specifically, “Gold and silver I do not have; but I give you what I do have”—and he healed the cripple.

So, the gifts that the Spirit doesn’t give—why doesn’t He?  I mean, there’s nothing wrong with material goods and even money, in themselves.  Well, the reason the Holy Spirit doesn’t give those gifts, aside from the fact that they can be occasions of certain sins, is because they don’t last.  “Moths and rust corrode; thieves break in and steal,” said Christ about earthly possessions, when He was counseling us to store up heavenly treasure for ourselves.  The Holy Spirit is concerned for our salvation, our eternal life and joy, so He gives the gifts that last.

When John D. Rockefeller, one of the richest men in the world, died, someone asked his accountant, “How much money did Rockefeller leave behind when he died?”  The accountant wisely replied, “All of it.”  That’s an important lesson.  You can’t take it with you.  And if you’re focusing on those gifts, material possessions or other things to give you a certain satisfaction or comfort right now, then you’re going to be without gifts, without provision for the life to come— which is the most important one.

Another one: I recently read this story about a man who had a very severe financial disaster in his life.  So he went to his pastor and just plopped down in a chair and said, “I’ve lost everything.” And the pastor said, “Oh!  I’m sorry to hear that you’ve lost your faith.” The guy replied, “Well, I didn’t say I lost my faith.” “Oh, OK; I’m sorry to hear that you lost your family and your health.” He said, “Well, no; they’re still there.” Then the pastor said, “Gee, then, I’m sorry to hear that you lost your character, and your moral conscience.” The man replied, “No, I didn’t say I lost those.” So the pastor said, “Well, then!  It looks like not only did you not lose everything, you didn’t lose anything of real importance!”

One of the messages of Pentecost is that God wants us to focus on the things that really matter, the things that the Holy Spirit brings to us, and wants to give to us, and wants to teach us.  The Holy Spirit has a job to do, which is enlightening us and reminding us of everything that Jesus said.  As Christ Himself said before He left, “This is what the Holy Spirit’s going to do: He’s going to remind you of everything that I said.”

We see in the gospel today, when the temple guards went out to arrest Jesus, they came back without Him, and their superiors demanded: “Where is He?  Why didn’t you bring Him in?”  They replied—such pious gendarmes!—“No man has ever spoken like that before!”  They didn’t dare lay a hand on Him because they saw that He was a holy man.  This is what the Spirit is trying to tell us: “Listen to Him, because no man has ever spoken like that before!”

Things like this have happened sometimes in history, and something similar to that happened, I think in the 1980s.  Maybe some of you have heard the account.  It was during the apparitions of Our Lady at Hrushiw in Ukraine, and crowds were gathering all around this church, and the Communist authorities, of course, sent out the police to disperse the crowd and make a few arrests, to make sure the people were suitably intimidated.  So they went out to do that, and at a certain point one of the policemen went back to his superior, and his superior said the same thing:  “Why didn’t you bring anybody in?”  He replied, “Because I saw the Mother of God, too!”  So he handed in his gun, and that was the end of his police service.

There are these moments when God breaks through into our lives, and this is the work of the Spirit, telling us, “Hey!  No man has ever spoken like that Man before.”  And Christ said, also in this gospel, when He was talking about giving the gift of the Holy Spirit, that it is something generous, abundant, overflowing: streams, rivers, of living water flow from those who receive the Spirit.  This is God’s gift to us.  Today, at Pentecost, the sluices of Heaven are open, and the grace of the Holy Spirit is coming down, and the Office even says that it rained enlightenment upon the apostles!  He wants to give us this gift, He wants to let it pour out, this flooding of goodness and love and grace and gifts to us.  But there’s still one person who can stop you from receiving that, from receiving that fullness of his gifts and his life…. you!

We’re the only ones that can get in the way, that can stop the flow of divine grace that gives us the Holy Spirit:  through our sin; through our closing ourselves off to God; through our negligence, our just not paying attention, or not caring, or not valuing the gifts of God for what they are.  We can do that, unfortunately.  We have a choice.  Either we’re going to have in us the Spirit of Truth or the Father of Lies.  There’s no middle ground.  And if we have the Spirit of Truth, we stand in God, in the Word of God, in the righteousness of God, and nobody can say anything against us, nobody can do anything to us.  And whatever they want to do, even if they do do something to us, if we’re standing in God, and the Spirit of Truth is in us, come what may, it’s like the children in the furnace in Babylon.  They were about to be thrown into this fire and burned to death, and they said to the king: “If our God can save us, then He will.  But even if He doesn’t, it doesn’t matter.  We’re not going to serve you or your gods!   So do whatever you want!  We’re standing for our God, our Savior.”

That’s how we have to be, living the life of the Holy Spirit.  Come what may, we’re not going to serve other gods.  We heard this last night, at Vespers, in the reading from Ezekiel.  The Lord said, “I will cleanse you of your impurities and of your idols.  And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit; I will put my Spirit in you.”  Now what kind of spirit is He going to put in us?  I said the “Spirit of Truth,” but there’s something else—and I got it this morning.  Believe it or not, God spoke to me this morning!   At least, somehow or other, something got into my head or my heart.  I asked a word from God for this Pentecost, just to know what’s on his mind at this moment, and I opened the Scripture. At first I thought it was a dud, because I opened and there was just an illustration on one page, and then footnotes on the other!  So I thought, “There’s no word of God here!”  But there was; at the bottom of the picture, there was a little caption, a passage from the book of Nahum, and it said, “The Lord is a jealous God.”   That’s what He’s saying.  I thought about that for a second, and then it came into my head: “Go to James!”  OK, I go to James and see:  “The Spirit He has made to dwell in you yearns unto jealousy.”  So, God is a jealous God.

But this divine jealousy isn’t something petty, like a jealous human lover or a jealous husband.  God made us, created us, wants us to love Him theJealous God way He loves us, and He does not stand for any competition.  No idols, nobody to get in the way.  He wants us!  He guards us jealously, and He deals with us in that way.  He will not tolerate other gods, other people or things coming in to take the place where his Spirit is meant to be and wants to be.  It’s not like: “I’m a jealous God, and I’m going to kill you if you do such and such.”  No; it’s: “I’m a jealous God, I love you!  I yearn for you!  Why don’t you love Me back?  Why don’t you do for Me what I do for you?  Why don’t you give your whole self to Me, like I give my whole Self to you?”  This is what the Spirit is saying; this is what it means.  The Spirit yearns unto jealousy—the Spirit whom God has sent to dwell in us.

So let us take this to heart, as we celebrate Pentecost, that the gifts of God are available to us, flowing like a river.  We can open ourselves up to them; we can receive them.  We just have to say “yes.”  They’re there for the taking, or rather, they’re there for the asking, because we have to come to God with open hands and open heart.  We have to seek the things that really matter, the things that are important in life, the things that go on, endure unto the next life.

This is the message of Pentecost now; this is the time to begin to live this life!  He sent the Spirit on the apostles and said, “This is my Church now.  Go on and start living what I preached to you for the past three years.  The Spirit is going to help you do it.  I’m going to be in you through the Spirit.”  That’s what the Spirit gives us: the main gift is Christ whom He brings to us.  Christ has ascended to the Father; the only way He’s with us now is through the Holy Spirit.   So, whether it’s the Holy Eucharist, the other sacraments, or the word of God, or any other way Christ is present to us, it’s through the Holy Spirit.  We have to connect with the Spirit, we have to receive and respond, knowing that this God, this Spirit dwelling in us, is a jealous God and wants us all for Himself.   And that should make us happy!  I mean, that should be the best news we’ve ever heard!   Not “Oh, no!  I’ve got a jealous God, so I can’t get away with anything!”  No, it’s rather, “Thank God, that God is so interested in me, that He loves me so much He doesn’t want to let go of me for one minute!  He does not want me to go to anybody else or anywhere else where I could possibly lose Him and my eternal happiness!”

So let us rejoice in this feast, receive the Holy Spirit and everything that God wants to give—be open, surrender, let Him do whatever He wants for you, and you will reap the rewards in this age and in the age to come.

The Fathers (of the Church), the Son, and the Holy Spirit

[A homily I gave in 2007 on the Sunday of the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council.]

We’re in a time of watching and waiting—not like Advent, during which we wait for the coming of the Christ, but the post-Ascension period in which we wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit.  This is an important time in the liturgical year—we are coming to the end of the long Lenten-Paschal season, and we need the grace of the Holy Spirit, not only to carry us through the rest of the year, but to revive and strengthen us in our fervor and our fidelity to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We still have a mission in life, and most likely it will only become more demanding with time, so we cannot afford to be indifferent to the Holy Spirit, the Source of every grace we need.

During this time of watching and waiting, we commemorate the Fathers of the first Ecumenical Council in Nicea in the year 325.  In a sense they were waiting for the Holy Spirit, too, because the doctrine of the Holy Spirit as consubstantial with the Father and the Son had not yet been formally defined, but in any case, the Fathers were gathered as the early disciples were, praying and waiting for the Promise of the Father, for they had an indispensable mission to accomplish.  The early Ecumenical Councils established and formulated the basic dogmas of the orthodox Catholic faith, which will remain in force until the Lord returns.  Some lesser teachings may be subject to change or modification, but the essential doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation are part of the permanent and unchangeable heritage of Christ, handed on to the Apostles and preserved intact—and liturgically celebrated—by the Church.

FarewellApostlesFor the Gospel today we have a section from the farewell discourse of Jesus, the concluding part which is his final prayer to the Father before He is glorified in his passion, death, and resurrection.  So He is leaving the world, but sending the Holy Spirit to be with those He has entrusted with his word, his Gospel of salvation.  Jesus is referring specifically to the Apostles in this prayer, but He also prays for “those who believe in Me through their word,” which means their successors in the apostolic ministry and all the faithful as well.  It is only through the Holy Spirit that the Church is not only led into the whole truth, but that the truth of the Gospel is handed down from age to age, clarified, deepened, and expressed in ways that are understandable to every age and culture.

So we have to back up a little in the farewell discourse to see what Jesus has to say about the Holy Spirit, whom we are praying and waiting for, the One who will clothe us with power from on high, as Jesus told his disciples.  But the Holy Spirit is not only given for our individual sanctification. He is given for the upbuilding of the entire Church, because the whole of the Church’s evangelical, sacramental, contemplative, and martyric mission relies entirely on the grace of the Holy Spirit for its fruitfulness in the work of bringing souls to salvation.

One task of the Ecumenical Councils was to affirm and define the divinity of the Holy Spirit as the Third Person of the All-holy Trinity.  We find the clearest testimony to the divinity of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel of John when Jesus says that the Spirit “proceeds from the Father” (15:26). This puts the Spirit on the same level with the Son who was begotten of the Father and who is one in essence with Him. This same passage is used in the original version of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, which the Eastern Churches still use today. (It is not quite accurate to call the Creed used in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches simply the “Nicene Creed.” All the Nicene Creed said about the Holy Spirit was: “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Everything else about the Holy Spirit was added later at the first Council of Constantinople.)

Jesus three times referred to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Truth.  What will the Spirit of Truth do?  Precisely as Spirit of Truth, He will teach us all things and bring to our remembrance all that Jesus has said. The Spirit will guide us into all the truth, speaking what the Father tells Him to, glorifying Christ by declaring to us his word. So the Holy Spirit is the Life-breath of the living Tradition of the Church, leading her into the full truth about Christ and the Holy Trinity. The Spirit will safeguard the revelation, the heritage of Christ which He gave to his apostles, and will bring it to fresh vitality generation after generation.

That is what the Spirit does for the Church. For the world, Jesus says this of the Spirit: “He will convince [or convict] the world concerning sin and justice and condemnation.” The sin Jesus refers to is unbelief, the justice (or perhaps vindication) is his return to the Father after having completed his mission, and the condemnation is the judgment pronounced upon the devil (16:8-11). In terms of this passage the mission of the Spirit in the world is to call unbelievers to faith, to instruct them about the unique and absolute claims of Christ—based on who He is and what He has done for us—and to warn them of the condemnation that awaits those who would follow the evil one. Yet this task is difficult, for the world “neither sees Him nor knows Him.”

With the individual believer, the Spirit is more intimate. Once Jesus said that the world doesn’t know the Holy Spirit, He said to his disciples: “but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” That was just before Jesus said that He and his Father would come to us and make their home with us. So the Trinitarian indwelling is here completed. With us and in us—that is how God wants to be. We have to rely heavily on the Spirit of Truth in this age of widespread deception. We so need to be reminded of all that Jesus said; we need to be led fully into the profound truth about God, the Church, the world, and even about ourselves. The Spirit is entirely Self-effacing, glorifying the Father and the Son; it is through the Spirit that the Father and the Son dwell in us and act in the world today. We need to pray to better recognize the Holy Spirit, to know Him, to love Him with that flaming intensity that only He Himself can inspire.

Jesus has great love and solicitude for his Church.  At one point in his earthly ministry he likened himself to a mother hen who wanted to gather all her little ones around her, and at another as a shepherd with his flock.  We see in Jesus’ final prayer to his Father the same care and concern for his disciples.  He refers to them several times as “those whom You have given Me.”  He is concerned for them because He has to leave them so that He can return to the Father. So He prays: “I am no more in the world, but they are in the world… Holy Father, keep them in your name…that they may be one, even as we are one… keep them from the evil one… sanctify them in the truth.”

The Lord still has the same concern for his Church, his flock, his disciples.  The author of the Letter to the Hebrews says that now that Jesus has returned to Heaven, He lives to intercede for us with his Father.  Now we are the ones whom the Father has given Him, we are the ones that need to be kept safe from the evil one and to be sanctified in the truth.  This is why the Holy Spirit was sent to the Church and remains until the end of time.

But we have to receive this Spirit, be obedient to his word and inspirations, living by the grace of the sacraments and prayer, perpetuating the life of the Church in our own time and place.  The Fathers of the Church have defined and formulated the revelation given by Christ to the Apostles and have handed it down to us.  But we need to do more than hand it down to others.  We need to appropriate its meaning for ourselves and bear fruit by allowing the Spirit to live and breathe in us here and now, so that the Faith will not simply be an ancient collection of teachings, but rather a dynamic way of life that can effectively unite us to the living God, that can be an inspiring witness to others that the word of Christ is true and is the way to salvation.

Jesus said the world will hate us for preaching his word [indeed: see what reaction you get from “the world” when you speak the truth about abortion, sexual morality, “gay marriage,” etc], but at the same time we would have Jesus’ own joy within us, the joy that comes from living in the Spirit of Truth, and knowing that one day we too will go to the Father, and share in the glory Jesus has had with Him before the world began.

It all begins now, with our daily faithfulness to the word of God: those who are found worthy of the Father are those, said Jesus, who have kept his word.

Two Ascensions

[A homily on the feast of Our Lord’s Ascension 11 years ago, when the feast fell on May 9, as it does this year.  I attach absolutely no significance to this.]

As you know, we’re celebrating today the Ascension of Christ, the King of glory, into Heaven.  Which Ascension?  There are two of them; did you know that?  Well, the first one was witnessed by nobody.  The second was witnessed by the apostles.  Now the first one, which we could perhaps call his theological or spiritual Ascension, happened shortly after He rose from the dead.  If you remember when He met Mary Magdalene outside the tomb, He said to her, “Don’t touch me, because I am not yet ascended to my Father.”  Then a week later He said to Thomas, “Touch me.”  So, by then He had already ascended to his Father.  This is something that is invisible to any sensory examination, but what was happening there was really the essence of the mystery that we’re celebrating.  The Ascension of Christ right after his resurrection from the dead was the completion of his glorification.  We know from the theology of Saint John that the glorification of Christ includes his passion, his death, his resurrection and his ascension.  It’s one package of the Glorification of Christ, and it’s not finished until He ascends to Heaven, until He rises up and returns to the Father, glorified as man and, as we’ll see later, opening the gates for us to enter too, to ascend to the Father.

That was his personal triumph and fulfillment, as He said just before He left the world. He said to his Father in his “priestly” prayer: Father, I’m coming to you.  I did everything that you wanted Me to do and here I come to you.  So He completed his work on earth and He went to the Father and was glorified.  That’s how He was able to give the Holy Spirit.  Probably that Ascension happened that same day of his resurrection because Saint John says earlier in the gospel—when Jesus was saying, “I will give you the Holy Spirit, the rivers of the living water will come from Me”—that the Spirit wasn’t yet given because Jesus was not yet glorified.  Then on the night of Easter, He came to the Apostles and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” so obviously He had been glorified fully and was able to give the Spirit.  That’s the Spiritual Ascension which is really the meaning of this feast, where Christ returned to the Father to receive glory from the Father and the ultimate reward, so to speak, for becoming man for our salvation, accomplishing the Father’s will on this earth.

ascensionNow, the other Ascension is the one that we’re most familiar with, and the one you can actually draw in icons because it was something witnessed by the apostles.  This was basically the termination of Christ’s appearances to the apostles after his resurrection.  It says in the Scripture that He appeared to them over the course of forty days, talking to them about the Kingdom of God.  Well, after the Ascension, this second Ascension, He didn’t appear to them anymore and talk about the Kingdom of God, because He sent the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit would, as He said, lead them to the whole truth and remind them about everything He ever said to them about the Kingdom of God.  So He didn’t have to keep coming back and forth like that to appear to them and talk to them.  He did that to shore up their faith in his resurrection and to continue his teaching and his presence among them for a short time.  He said, now the time has come that I am going to send the promise of My Father, I’m going to send the Holy Spirit, so you wait here and I’ll be back—or someone will be back. My best friend the Holy Spirit will be back.  That’s the way that Christ will be with his people, his Church, until He comes again.

So, this ascension is like something to put some closure on the apostles’ experience of having their Master with them all the time.  If He just sort of went “poof” and disappeared and then never showed up again, they’d be scratching their heads and wouldn’t realize what happened to Him.  But this way He could explain to them that He had to go the Father, and they could see Him going to the Father.  They could see Him being lifted up on a cloud.  Now Christ, in order to go the Father, didn’t really have to go “up.”  He didn’t have to go vertically to the Father, but there’s a symbolic value to that because there is—especially in ancient religions—a natural assumption that Heaven is up and Hell is down.  It’s anthropologically based on a scale of values where high values are “up” and the low values are “down.”  So Heaven is up and Hell is down.  Christ didn’t have to go up.  He just had to pass into that dimension where his Father was and where He was always in communion with his Father.  But that was for the benefit of the apostles.

There are two basic reasons why He ascended to Heaven.  Number one, to prepare a place for us and number two, to send the Holy Spirit.  So He said, “it is good for Me that I go because this is going to be better for you.”  He’s going to go prepare a place for us.  He is seated at the right hand of the Father; again, this is kind of a metaphor. Christ does not have to be “seated” anywhere, for He fills the whole universe.  God the Father doesn’t have a right hand, being pure Spirit.  But it’s a powerful symbol and it means, in all these ancient cultures and religions, to sit at the right hand of the King, was to be practically on a par with the King and to receive all the privileges and glory of the Kingdom.  It’s like Joseph when he was elevated to his position of power in Egypt.  The Pharaoh took off his signet ring and said, here this is yours.  Whatever you do is law, whatever you say is law.  He said, the only thing that is not yours is my throne.  The Father goes even beyond that: He says to Jesus, you can have my throne too, as well as all my power and authority.

Christ went to Heaven to prepare a place for us because He wants us to be with him at the right hand of the Father to share that glory, to share that reign over the universe.  Several times, in the book of Revelation, it says that the saints, the faithful who are saved, will reign with Him.  It doesn’t just say they will serve Him but it also says, they will reign with Him.  We will join Him in his reign over the universe.  So, in order to secure our place in Heaven that He’s preparing for us, He sends us the Holy Spirit but again, that was the way He wanted to be with us.  He didn’t want to leave his disciples; He wanted always to be with them.  So, by sending the Holy Spirit, that was a way for Him to be with them, to continue to teach them, to lead them, to love them, to be with them, and help them on their way back to Heaven, to the place that He had prepared for them.

Finally, this is related to his is preparing a place for us; it’s what the angels said to the apostles after He ascended into Heaven.  Angels are really no-nonsense kind of beings.  They always cut right to the point.  Here Christ ascended in glory; the disciples had never seen anything like this. He has ascended into Heaven on a cloud and they’re all standing there with their mouths hanging open, and these angels show up and say, why are you looking up at the sky?  Get busy and do what He told you!  What they said right after that was: the One that you saw go up like that is going to come back like that on a cloud.  And Christ said about Himself, to others during his earthly ministry, the Son of Man will come back on a cloud from Heaven with the angels.  So, He’s going to return.  He’s going to descend once more.  He descended, so to speak, in his Incarnation, He ascended after He rose from the dead, and then He’s going to descend again, but not a humble, hidden descent, like the Incarnation, but a descent in glory.  He’s going to come back.  He said, I’m going to prepare a place for you, then He said, I’m going to come back for you.  I’m going to come back and get you, so that, where I am you may be also.

So, let us then join the angels in glorifying Christ, for his love for us and for all that He has done for us, and for all that He is doing for us and all He’s going to do for us, all He’s preparing for us.  Then, we too, when we have this awareness of what God has done for us in Christ and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit and everything He’s holding out and offering to us, we will go away, just like the disciples did, worshipping God.  When He ascended, they worshipped Him, and then what?  They were to be, and we’re to be too, found in the temple constantly singing the praises of God.

On Spontaneity and Purity of Heart

[A homily for the Sunday of the Blind Man, from 5 years ago.]

There are several healings of blind men in the Gospels, but today’s is unique (Jn. 9:1-38).  It is much more elaborate than the others, and the whole event and the accompanying dialogues are points of departure for theological reflection.  We are offered here not simply the fact of a divine healing, but the deeper meaning of Jesus’ giving sight to the blind.

For our point of departure, let us look at the first few verses.  Jesus and his disciples came upon the blind man, and immediately the disciples began their own theological reflection: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  It was commonly assumed that physical infirmities were a punishment for sin, either one’s own or that of one’s ancestors.  Jesus immediately challenged that assumption by saying: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.”  The Lord does not deny in principle that there is no relation between sin and suffering—for this relation will certainly be manifested on Judgment Day!—but that in this case, the man was afflicted not because of sin but in order that God’s glory and power would be revealed in him at the hands of Jesus.  We cannot assume that a physical infirmity has a spiritual cause, but we cannot categorically deny it, either.  We have to be in the grace of the Holy Spirit to know the difference.

The next question might be whether or not spiritual infirmities have a spiritual cause, and this must usually be answered in the affirmative.  If we are spiritually blind—and this relates more directly to us that physical blindness—then, yes, most likely it is because of our sin that we are thus afflicted.  So we ought to take a closer look, if the glory of God is to be manifested in us as well.

I read something recently that sheds some light on this issue, from the Dominican Father Simon Tugwell’s book on the Beatitudes.  The Beatitude SONY DSCin question is, of course, “Blessed are the pure of heart,” because to be healed of spiritual blindness is to be given the capacity to see God.  And to see God is the ultimate goal of our existence, yet we are called to discover his presence in this life as well, for if our souls are so blinded by selfishness and sin that we cannot recognize his presence in faith here and now, we will not be granted the eternal, unhindered vision of Him when all the veils are finally removed.  To acquire a pure heart is to be healed from spiritual blindness.

Tugwell says that to have a pure heart is to have an interior life that is “unmuddied” by sin, which clouds our spiritual perception.  He writes: “A very important factor here is what we may call Christian spontaneity.  It does not, perhaps, in the last analysis, matter all that much what you do with forethought; what really matters, what is really revealing, is what you do without thinking… what you do when you do not have time to work out how to respond.  It is this that will reveal what kind of person you are, and that is what is important.  After all, the kingdom of heaven comes like a thief in the night (1Thess. 5:2), with a suddenness which will not allow us to work out how we are going to react.”

This, I think, is an important point.  Our spontaneous reactions to other persons and situations reveal to us, and to others, who we really are.  If we spontaneously react to people and events with anger, fear, suspicion, hatred, defensiveness, unkindness, criticism, or merely irritation, then we are in fact angry, fearful, suspicious, hateful, defensive, unkind, critical, and irritable people. The evidence is uncontestable. This is the measure of our actual purity of heart (or rather, lack of it), even though we may be struggling to overcome these things.  It is in fact the present state of affairs, even if we are working to correct it, and we ought to honestly and humbly admit it.  This issue of Christian spontaneity is something like saying actions speak louder than words, but it is more to the point.  It’s more like saying unrehearsed actions and words speak louder that rehearsed ones.  St Thomas Aquinas says that as long as we have wrong desires (that is, if our interior is not yet pure), even if we do not give in to them, we are not yet virtuous.  We may be on the way to becoming virtuous, but we’re not there yet.  There may not be prayers in liturgical books that say, “O God, re-create my spontaneity!”—but the reality to which this points is essential for our spiritual growth and hence the healing of our blindness.

Tugwell goes on to say: “We must unmuddy the very source of our reactions, so that our spontaneity itself is transformed.  This can only come about through the Holy Spirit.  He is given to us by God to be in us a source of living water, welling up from our own hearts… But purity of heart is not just a matter of our own interiority… If we have a clean heart, it is because God has given us a clean heart… It is God dwelling in us who gives us a true interiority that is genuinely ours, but is not simply our own… Western man…does not feel secure about his identity, and feels that as a grievance.  In response to this, he generally tries to find ways of bolstering up his ‘Ego’, to reassure himself that he is something…”  We ought rather embrace the “no longer I, but Christ,” which is one of St Paul’s most profound insights.

“If we can unmuddy the source of life in us, if we can allow God to re-create us from deep within, so that there is a pure life in us, Christ’s life as well as our own, then this must inevitably affect the way that we are and the way that we see.  There is an interaction between seeing and being.  The kind of person you are affects the kind of world that you see… And conversely what you see affects what you are.  If you see the world as a rather grim affair, you will become a grim person.  If you see the world as a place where there are butterflies, you will probably be a rather more light-hearted kind of person.  If our life is rooted in God, so that the wellspring of life in us is God, then we shall see as God sees… If we have a pure heart, a source of life welling up from the eternity of God, then what we shall see is God.”

This is a very important teaching.  Attaining purity of heart is the healing of our spiritual blindness.  Purity is not merely a matter of trying to avoid impure thoughts or actions.  It is a much more thoroughgoing inner transformation.  It determines how we see the world and other people, and hence how we will spontaneously react to them.  And if the life of Christ through the grace of the Holy Spirit really is the source and driving power of our whole inner life, then we will see as God sees, and our unrehearsed words and acts will reveal that we are in fact Christ-like people, both inside and out, and we will bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit in all our actions and relationships.

When Jesus healed the blind man, the first thing the man saw was the face of God, that is, the face of God incarnate in Christ.  This is symbolic of the movement from darkness to light, from inner blindness to sight, from a muddy interior to purity of heart.  The Gospel makes it clear, however, that it was not only a physical healing of blindness.  For when the man saw Jesus the second time, he fell down and worshiped Him, recognizing, with his new-found spiritual vision, the presence of God in Jesus.

We must begin with the humble admission that we are still spiritually blind, still not pure of heart.  Even a quick examination of our spontaneous reactions (whether external or internal) will give us plenty of evidence for that.  The greatest error that could be made here is to claim that we can see when in fact we are still blind.  Jesus made that clear to the Pharisees, who resented the fact that He implied they were still blind, when He said to them: “Now that you say, ‘we see,’ your guilt remains.”

Let us also realize that, unlike the blind man in the Gospel, it is our sin that is the cause of our spiritual blindness, because only sin can destroy purity of heart.  If we do not yet see everything as God sees it, if we do not yet recognize the presence of God everywhere, if we spontaneously react in unkind or self-centered ways, then we are still suffering from a sin-induced spiritual blindness, a lack of purity of heart.

So let us pray fervently—and not mechanically as we may do every day as we pray psalm 50(51)—“Create in me a pure heart, O God!”  Let this be our constant entreaty to the Holy Spirit as we prepare for his coming at Pentecost.  This matter is too important to be tossed in the mental dustbin with hundreds of other long-forgotten Sunday homilies.  We need the grace of the Holy Spirit to effect a radical change in our inner lives—we can’t afford to remain how we are!  It is crucial for our own salvation and our beneficial influence upon others that our inner life is free from all the darkness that is all too often revealed in our spontaneous reactions.  The Lord can heal us, can enlighten us, but we must want it with all our hearts, and diligently strive to co-operate with his grace.  For our goal is nothing less than complete purity of heart—nothing less than to see God.

On Spiritual Thirst and Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches

[Here is a homily for the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman from ten years ago.  I’m glad I saved all these!]

Christ is risen!  Today’s gospel (Jn. 4:5-42) is a gospel for the thirsty.  If you are not thirsty, if you’re self-satisfied and complacent, and think that everything in your life is just as it should be—especially in your spiritual life—well, you can go home now.  The rest of you can stay and listen, because this is a gospel for the thirsty.

Now we meet in this gospel a thirsty woman.  She didn’t, perhaps, know how thirsty she really was, or didn’t really know in what her thirst christ_and_the_samaritan_womanconsisted, although Jesus knew that.  So He led her into a little encounter by saying that He was thirsty, to put her at ease, though to start with it didn’t.  We can see by her whole dialogue that she was very unhappy.  She was a complainer.  Kind of like the paralytic from last week, although he was more of a whiner; this woman is a little more arrogant, but she was still an unhappy complainer about her life.

Jesus was coming to her to make things better for her, but first He had to help her recognize what her thirst was all about.  Perhaps it was a thirst for love, for security, for fulfillment, but she was looking in the wrong places.  She tried to satisfy her thirst with men, and she went through quite a few of them.  Obviously, that didn’t work, because she was still thirsty, and her life only got more and more unhappy: not only personally, but socially, too, because most likely she was ostracized from the whole community for her behavior. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be going to get water in the heat of the day; she would’ve gone with everybody else in the early morning, when they usually get water.  But she was probably a persona non grata with the whole community, so she had to sneak off at a different time, by herself.  So she was very unhappy and lonely.

But Jesus, before He could just “fix” everything for her, had to make her realize a couple of things. One of the things was that her unhappiness was her own darn fault.  Oftentimes we point the finger at something else for our unhappiness.  No matter what happens in life, we find ways to be unhappy.  If we don’t get what we want, we’re unhappy.  Or if we do get what we don’t want, we’re unhappy.  Even if we do get what we do want, we’re still unhappy, because we’re afraid we’re going to lose it, or that it’s not going to last forever, or whatever.  We can always manage somehow to be unhappy.  But we have to realize, then, that our unhappiness is fundamentally of our own making.

I just read this story recently; it’s more of a parable, I guess, about a man who was a construction worker, and he would come to work every day, just like the oPeanut-Butter-Jelly-Sandwichther guys on the job, and they would all bring their lunch to work.  He looks in his lunch bag, and says, “Yuck; peanut butter and jelly again.  I hate peanut butter and jelly!”   And he would complain like that.  And every day, the same thing:  “Peanut butter and jelly again!  I hate peanut butter and jelly!”  So finally, the other guys who were eating lunch with him said, “Well look, if you don’t like peanut butter and jelly, just tell your wife to make you something else!”  And he says, “What do you mean, my wife?  I’m not married—I make my own sandwiches!”

This is the problem that we have, and that the Samaritan woman had.  She was “making her own sandwiches.”  And we “make our own sandwiches”—and then complain about them!   Because we don’t like it, and it’s the same old stuff every day.  Well, Jesus is trying to tell us that we don’t have to do that!  Things can change, with his help, with his presence in our lives.

But we also have to realize that once we know wherein our happiness lies, we do have to make some changes.  The Lord didn’t just wave his hands over the Samaritan woman and say, “Now there: everything’s perfect for you!”  She had to make some changes in her own life: she had to stop the behavior that she was engaged in, and she also had to change her attitude about life.

It’s time that we start learning from our life experiences, instead of complaining about them.  That doesn’t get us anywhere; we just walk around with a “woe is me” attitude all the time. We’re just going to be stuck in the same rut that we’ve dug for ourselves and never get out.  We have to recognize first in us the desire for something more than our own “peanut butter and jelly sandwiches”: something that is going to change our life, that can change our life.

Jesus comes and says, “If you only knew what’s possible for you!  If you only knew what is the gift of God, and who it is that’s offering this gift to you, offering something that’s not merely going to make you feel good for a little while, like all the other things that you’re searching for in your unhappiness, but something that’s going to be a life-giving spring inside you that never runs dry, that always supplies you with what you really need to be happy!”

But, as often happens when the Lord (or somebody else at the Lord’s bidding) touches a sensitive nerve in our life, we immediately become evasive and change the subject, which is exactly what this woman did.  She finally got it, though; that’s when the enlightenment came.  She left behind her water jar—symbol of her former life—and ran to the town, telling everyone: “I have found the One!  Come and see!”   And so she, at that moment, received her enlightenment.  Tradition says that she later on became a saint, and they call her St Photina, which means “the enlightened one.”

We have to finally “get it,” too.  The Lord is going to be speaking to our hearts, speaking to our thirst, if we’re ready to come to Him and to listen, to recognize the need that we have, and be willing to make the necessary changes in our life that are going to dispose us toward enlightenment.

Enlightenment does not fall out of the sky.  Enlightenment is something that comes at the end of a long process of purification, of learning, of struggling, of growing, of opening your heart.  It’s been waiting there all the time, but we just can’t receive it—we have too many obstacles inside ourselves to accept it, to experience it and to live in it.  So we have to go through this whole process.

First of all, we have to start by recognizing our thirst—that our thirst is for something beyond the cheap little satisfactions that we’re trying to squeeze out of this life.  There’s something more than that.  We have to recognize where our thirst really is: Jesus spoke of a hunger for the Bread that endures unto eternal life.  Our hunger, our thirst and our desire have to be for that which transcends the things that just pass, and we can’t be satisfied with something less than God wants to give us.

We can’t just be self-satisfied, complacent, and unwilling to make that difficult inner journey to discover our thirst, and to see what it is, inside us, that’s gnawing away at us, perhaps, and to realize that there’s something that has to be done, something that has to change, in order to let Christ fulfill that thirst.

We may be like that Samaritan woman, and have all kinds of reasons to complain why our life is not happy—whatever it is: something happened to us in our childhood, or something happened to us yesterday, or whatever—and many things that happen to us do hurt or affect us, and we have no control over them. But we have control over how we’re going to respond to them, what we’re going to do about it. Nothing can force us to be miserable.  Nothing can force us to be depressed, to be angry: those are the products of our own thoughts and emotions that we choose to apply in any given situation or event.  It’s up to us.

We can choose: we’re free beings, we can decide how we’re going to respond to something, if we learn to live in a way that is not pure reaction—instant, emotional reaction to everything that happens.  We can think, we can pray, we can decide how we’re going to react to situations, and we don’t have to be miserable all the time, making peanut butter sandwiches and then complaining about them.  There is something that we can do for our life so that we don’t have to just carry this “cross” of our own making and be grumbling and resentful at life because it didn’t give us a better treatment.  We have no excuse for complaints.  This is the message that Jesus is giving to us.

Then, once we recognize our thirst, and the place we have to go to slake it, then we have to look at our other attitudes that have to be healed.  Then, when we find a healing of our attitudes, and we realize that the presence of the Spirit in us empowers us to make the necessary changes in our life, to recognize our true thirst and to fulfill it, we’ll realize that we need much less than we think we need to be happy.  And the happiness that we do find in God, will be a lasting, rich, rewarding, true happiness—and that will really satisfy our thirst.

Then we will come to that deeper enlightenment about what’s really true in the gospel, and our relationship with God comes alive for us, personally.  Then, we can tell others what we have found.  But we have to be what we’re preaching, first.  That’s a real hard thing; preachers are always afraid to preach, because we know we don’t practice what we preach, but we have to, and we have to at least try to embody the message, or else we will not be credible.

There’s a story about Gandhi, that this woman came to Gandhi with her son and said, “My son is eating sugar, and it’s not good for him!  Tell him not to eat sugar!”  And Gandhi said to her, “Come back in two weeks.”  She said, “OK.”  And so, two weeks later, she comes back, with her son, and Gandhi says to him, “Don’t eat sugar.”  And she said, “That’s all?  Why did it take you two weeks, just so you could say, ‘Don’t eat sugar’?”  And he said, “Because, two weeks ago, I was eating sugar.”

You have to embody what you preach.  You have to be doing it yourself before you can tell somebody else to do it.   That’s why we have to go through the process of personal purification, conversion, enlightenment—and then we can say, I can show you the way now.  I can point to you the way, the truth, and the life.

If we only knew the gift and who it is that offers it, and what He can do for us, how he can heal and enlighten and fulfill us, we would open our hearts wide to receive that gift, we would leave behind the leaky water jar of our attachments, narrow-minded attitudes, and all that closes us off from true life and joy.  Then we would begin to worship in spirit and in truth, and walk the path of the enlightened followers of our Lord Jesus Christ.

On Wanting to Be Healed and Getting Up and Walking

[Here is a homily for the third Sunday after Easter, from 2004.]

Christ is risen!

We’ve just heard the account of the healing of the paralytic [Jn. 5:1-15].  Recently I had the opportunity to spend some time with a paralytic.  She’s not exactly a paralytic, but for all intents and purposes she might as well have been.  She was in the hospital with a very serious and life-threatening illness and basically couldn’t move from her bed.  I was reflecting upon that in light of today’s Gospel: what it means to be a paralytic and what it means to be healed.

A paralytic—or Laura, in this case—couldn’t do the most simple things for herself because she was in so much pain.  The pain itself was paralyzing; it wasn’t that she couldn’t walk.  She was in so much pain that she couldn’t do anything, so every little thing had to be done for her by either someone visiting her or by the nurses who came in to take care of her.

To be a paralytic is to be in a state of helplessness and infirmity and utter dependence upon someone else—upon everyone else—and that is wherejesus-carrying we find ourselves, often enough, or where we ought to find ourselves, in the sense that this is what the human condition is like.  We don’t want to accept or acknowledge that fundamentally we are weak and infirm and unable to do much of anything by ourselves, and are utterly dependent upon others and things outside of ourselves. In our society we try to create an opposite illusion—that we are strong, and independent, and self-sufficient, and invulnerable—but eventually life catches up with you and teaches you the truth.

When I was at the hospital there in Seattle, in the waiting room of the surgery wing, I was surprised: it was a huge waiting room.  It was full of people, waiting because one of their loved ones was being operated on at that moment—and it was like that the whole day!  As soon as one operation was done, another one was beginning; more people came in, and another one was done: dozens of them, in one day—and that was just an ordinary day, in the activities of one hospital, in one city.   Multiply that by all the cities and all the hospitals all over the world, and millions of people are in this condition of serious infirmity. So when I’m talking about someone I know, it’s not just an isolated case.  It’s an icon of humanity, of the human condition, in its state of existential weakness and need.  One of the first things that we have to do is to accept and acknowledge that, and not try to create the opposite illusion.

By contrast, I remember noticing in church one Sunday a young girl, maybe sixteen or so, all dressed up, all painted, polished and bejeweled, and that was an image of that illusion of self-sufficiency, independence, strength and the rest.  I remember thinking to myself, “Which of those two is really the icon of humanity: the painted girl, or the woman in the hospital bed?”  I came to the conclusion that it was the woman in the hospital bed, because that’s closer to the reality of where we stand—especially when we’re without recourse to God.

The situation of the paralytic is sometimes so difficult, as Laura told me, that the pain is so bad that you can’t even pray.  It just takes up all the energy of your body and your mind, and you can think of nothing: all you can do is hang on for life—literally.  At that point, you need somebody to help you, to bring you to God.  That’s why, in other stories in the Gospel, the paralytic was brought by somebody to Jesus—because he couldn’t bring himself.

So we also need to support each other, to rely on others to bring us in our infirmity and need to God—to the place where healing comes from.  This is the next step; it’s not that we have to say, “OK, we’re weak, sick, and helpless,” and then just wallow in that without any hope.  That’s only the first part of the picture; we have to respond to it a way that opens us to the grace of God.

I also found it interesting that one of the nurses who was helping Laura was an older, Ukrainian lady.  She was of the “old school” but she really knew her stuff, because in the old country she was a hospital administrator, but she could only be a nurse here, because in the U.S. they would never accept her credentials.  She would come in and say, “Laura!  You still lying in bed?  Get up and walk!  Is this what you do at home?  Come on!  Walk, walk, walk!”   She was encouraging her to walk, because even when you’re sick like that, your body has to have a little bit of movement and activity, in order for things to start functioning well.  When you’re under anesthesia for eight or ten hours, everything in your body goes to sleep—your head may wake up, but all your guts are still “sleeping” and it might take days for them to start functioning again.  So you need some encouragement like that.

On the other hand, there’s something that we have to do ourselves—something that only we can do.  We have to make the choice to turn to God who can heal us, who alone can heal us.  We can’t heal ourselves—you have to be aware of that—and we can’t just try to make an illusion for ourselves of self-sufficiency and think that this will carry us through, because healing doesn’t come from ourselves; it has to come from God.

In the gospel, this paralytic shows us what not to do.  He was certainly aware of his situation—he’d been sick for many years—but he seems to have sort of resigned himself to be a suffering grouch for the rest of his life, because even when the Healer came to him and said, “Do you want to be healed?” the first thing he started doing was complaining!  “Oh, I don’t have anybody to take me into the water, and then if I try to crawl in there somebody gets in before me so I’m just stuck here; I’ll never get healed.”   But the Lord didn’t ask him any of that stuff!  When the Lord said, “Do you want to be healed?” He was not just asking a rhetorical question, as if “In your dream of the Good Life, would you like to have perfect health?”  No.  He was in a very practical situation, intervening in that man’s life at that moment:  “Do you, with this particular sickness that you have had for the last 38 years, do you want to be healed—now?”   And the man could not “get” it.  But the Lord had mercy on him and healed him anyway.

There’s a kind of condition to that, because when we receive a healing from God, God is also asking us to take responsibility for our healing—to take responsibility for our life.  When things change like that, we have to change our lives, and it’s clear in the gospel that Jesus meant that because, when He saw him a little while later, He said, “Look, now you are healed.  Sin no more, lest something worse overtake you”—which, first of all, means that there is something worse than being sick with a physical illness. The Lord was warning him: “If you don’t take responsibility and respond personally in a good way to what I’ve done for you, then it’s going to be worse than it was before.”  And the thing that is worse than physical illness is the hardening of the heart.  Do you know why?  Because that is something that God, without our cooperation, cannot heal!  He cannot heal a hard heart in this sense, if our will is against Him—if we do not will Him, invite Him, choose to be healed.  The one place that we can make off-limits to God—if we want to—is our own heart, our own soul and spirit, because God will not violate our freedom.

That’s something that we have to be aware of when we are seeking healing for our life.  You have to start with that awareness, and accept that fact, that we are in a state of infirmity, dependence and need.  But we shouldn’t rebel against that and try to be like that painted girl that I mentioned earlier, because health, success, wealth, prestige and all those kinds of things tend to breed arrogance, pride, a sense of false invulnerability, and superiority over others—whereas the experience of infirmity and need can create in a person the nobility that comes from the struggle, and the humility that comes from having to reach out to someone to help you, and also the confidence, courage and peace that come from faith and hope in God, who is the only One who can truly heal.

So we come to God when He asks us that question, and we should listen in our prayer for that question: “Do you want to be healed?”  Don’t just “blow it off,” either: “Of course I want to be healed, I’m in pain!”   Well, no; think about it: do you want to be healed?  Do you want, really, to take i_have_overcome_the_worldresponsibility for living as a healed person, as a new person?   We also have to be aware that we’re never going to be totally free from all pain and suffering; we may be healed of one thing, but life will bring its own stuff with it.  If you haven’t already suffered from some serious illness or injury, chances are that you probably will sometime later in your life, because that’s the human condition—that’s how life works down here.

The Lord told us that there would be suffering in this life.  But He said, “Take courage, because I have overcome the world.”  He has the power not only to heal bodies but to make us new inside—if we choose that, if we allow Him to do that.  He has to work with our free will; we have to hand over our will and say, “Yes, I want to be healed; I want to go on living in a new way, a transformed way”—on a more profound level of existence.

Some people seem to be on a permanent search for healing.  They never quite attain it, for in fact they secretly don’t want it.  They would rather simply attend endless healing conferences, at which they can endlessly make their woes known.  What would happen if they actually were healed?  There would be no more need for healing conferences!  They would actually have to get on with the business of living life, and there would be no further opportunity to seek sympathy from others.  How unhappy they would be if they were thus healed!  Well, in that case I suppose they would go to a healing conference to deal with their heartbreak over not needing to be healed anymore.

St. Paul tells us that the meaning of the Resurrection is to walk in newness of life, and this is what the Lord wants to give to us.  He comes to us and asks not only “Do you want to be healed of this illness” but “Do you want newness of life?”  Do you want to be transformed?  Do you want to see things in a new way?  Do you want to be raised up to a level of living in the grace of the Holy Spirit in a way that transcends the pettiness and the superficiality and shallowness of the world around us?  We have to walk in the newness of life that comes only from Christ.  We must embrace Him.

As you come to Holy Communion today, listen for the voice of Christ who says, “Do you want to be healed?” And then answer with your whole heart, turn over your will, your life, your resolution to be new, to be different, and say: “Yes, Lord, I want to be healed.  You alone can heal me.  Give me this newness of life.”  And then we will hear in our own hearts what He said to the paralytic: “Rise, and walk!”

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