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Monday, January 22, 2007

You Want to be a Saint? Watch out for this!

The devil has snares for everyone. A common snare for believers who actively seek God day by day is what I call avoiding God with God. It consists of avoiding the inspirations of grace by substituting religious activities of one's own choice. Only God can judge this sin since only He knows what inspirations were given, but a person who knows a person really well can also suspect it. An example is a person who is always starting new spiritual books or projects without finishing them (because just when it takes real committment she loses interest), or anther person who is praying or watching a spiritual program on tv while there is a crying child in the other room. To the outsider the person is constantly involved in spiritual activities and looking very busy. (But then the outsider will wonder why there is so little apparent fruit of all this devotion?) Or another example is the priest who always bases his homily on the easier of the 2 or 3 Scripture passages assigned to the mass of the day. Over time you will notice that controversial topics such as abortion or our sinfulness and need for repentance are never mentioned. This type of error is what divides the saint from the saint-like.

The essence of following God lies in obedience to His Will and not our works by themselves.
For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.(Hosea 6:6)
Thus the spiritual life has to be a continual dying of our will in submission to His. The root of this error lies in continually choosing how we will follow God instead of what He has chosen for us, which is why I call it avoiding God with God. The activities in themselves are good, but they are out of place.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
(Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8)

The way to avoid this is to develop our own rule of life. That is we set up a schedule for all our spiritual devotions, but be ready to respond to God's inspirations at the drop of a hat like a soldier awaiting deployment. Then we have to organize our priorities for any given moment. Basically the priorities are putting others ahead of ourselves, and asking God to help us to know when we are avoiding Him. A big help is to remember that usually the right thing to do is the thing we would rather avoid doing. Then if we remember to offer everything to God throughout the day we'll find we won't go too far wrong.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Repent Now and Forgive!

The first step to get to God is to repent. That is why John the Baptist was sent as a forerunner, to prepare people for the coming of Jesus by telling them to repent. In all Biblical accounts of a person encountering God, the person's immediate reaction is to feel sinful and unworthy.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, (See Luke 5: 7-9)
It is kind of like finally meeting someone you greatly admired for the first time, maybe even a rock star or a celebrity. You are completely aware of your nothingness. You want to throw yourself at their feet. Or being called to your boss's office. You walk in and suddenly you feel 2 inches smaller and all you can think of is how bad your work has been lately.

In fact, it is said that encounters with God start out bitter and end sweetly in peace, and encounters with the devil start out sweetly but end in agitation. The devil can create feelings of agitation and fear and manic elation but cannot create the feeling of peace and true joy.

A person who rejects God cannot stand long in His presence. That is why he can not be in Heaven, because it would be unbearable torment. He sends himself to Hell because there is no other place to avoid God after death.

I had my first major repentance experience many years ago when I was still Muslim (years before 911 in fact). I was lying in bed and couldn't sleep. I suddenly saw the truth of my whole life and what tied my sins together and what animal I most resembled. In cold tears I got out of bed and fell to the floor in a prolonged sejdeh. I stayed in that position for I don't know how long perhaps half an hour thanking God for showing me the truth and begging His forgiveness and resolving to change my ways.

It was a terrible experience but afterwards I had a feeling of lightness and peace that is hard to describe. Now in looking back I know it was the work of the Holy Spirit.

Now a great way to start this is to tell God you're sorry for all your sins and ask for the grace of repentance. Then a great next step is to forgive everyone who's ever hurt you. Recall the parable of the unmerciful servant.

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?"

Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

"Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

"The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

"But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded.

"His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.'

"But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.

"Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

"This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."

So lying in your bed one night (after you have repented), make a list of all the people you know, go down your list and mentally forgive everyone for anything and everything. Do this every night no matter how difficult for several nights. And pray. Ask God to reveal the truth to you.

These actions will make you open to the Holy Spirit, and will bring you closer to God.

Theological Speculation

The following is theological speculation on my part and stricly reflects my own limited understanding of theology. Wherever it deviates from the magesterium, it is wrong and the magesterium is right:

In Heaven the primary reward is entering the eternal Beatitude, which means contemplating the Face of our Father (said in anthropomorphic terms). To use a human parallel, it is like a mother watching her sleeping child's beautiful face or a lover contemplating his beloved. The lover never gets tired of gazing at his beloved. He is forever finding new perspectives and delights in his beloved's face. A new angle of how the light hits his beloved's nose, how adorable that wrinkle is, etc. In the same way but on a deeper level in Heaven all the saints and angels are contemplating the Father. And each is getting different insights and unique joys. And none ever get tired or bored because an eternity is not enough to exhaust the mysteries of the Face of our Father who Art in Heaven. And in addition, since human history is still being played out here and there is such a thing as the communion of saints, our Father is communicating to His saints and angels individually what they need to know about what's happening on Earth. The saints in their blissful contemplation are made aware through our Father about news of their loved ones on Earth (called the Church Militant), prayers involving them, and our Father's Divine Will concerning them. (Thinking this part through finally put to rest for me the fear of being spied upon by angels and saints when I am in awkward situations and also explains to me how a saint in Heaven can hear all our prayers without being omniscient. They're not looking directly at us, they only see what our Father reveals to them about us.)

So I have a mental image of our Father--unfortunately the best I can do is picture the crystal ball the witch used in The Wizard of Oz made large and beautiful--being surrounded by and gazed at by hordes of saints and angels in their different ranks. All the saints and angels have a look of bliss, but with different degrees of joy and sorrow, which is to emphasize that they are getting individualized impressions and messages from the our Father's beautiful Face.

If I could draw this I would not depict our Father both because of my restricted mental conception and also for it to symbolize that only the saints and angels in Heaven get to see Him, I'd place something in front of Him to obstruct our view and just show the ranks of saints and angels. I'd place this image in the top half of my painting separated by clouds to symbolize Heaven. Then I'd also include in the drawing the Figure of Jesus Christ standing a little bit apart to symbolize that He is seated at the right Hand of the Father. I might protray Jesus looking kind of like Janus, to symbolize His dual nature so His Divine Nature can contemplate our Father while His Human Nature is looking down at us through a break in the clouds. Or I might cleverly contrive to place Jesus at an angle so that it looks like He is both contemplating our Father and looking down at us at the same time. Then Jesus's gaze downward could lead to a group of Christians standing in a circle contemplating Christ on a giant crucifix. The scene on Earth would directly parallel the scene in Heaven. The expressions on the faces of these Christians would then--like the faces of the saints and angels in Heaven--all show bliss, but with differing degrees of sorrow and joy and understanding. I'd depict the Holy Spirit as a dove hovering above the crucifix and the Christians and below Jesus at the halfway point.

I can think of many things to make this picture interesting, such as showing non-Christians going about their business in a bazaar and depicting Hell further down where people are morosely looking at their feet and or looking with hate and snarling at each other or something. They would not be standing in a circle but in disarray.

My theological insight conveyed by this image?

That Christians are uniquely privileged to have the ability to receive a foretaste of our true joy in Heaven, entering our eternal Beatitude, by contemplating Jesus Christ. While we have yet to attain to Heaven, but even now we can contemplate Jesus, whether on the cross, in the gospel, in prayer, in the Holy Sacrifice of Mass, in the faces of other people, etc. And since Jesus is our Mediator to God the Father, our contemplation goes both ways. While we are contemplating Jesus, He is contemplating us! (we are His beloveds), and through the inspirations of the Holy Spirit is thereby communicating the Divine Will of the Father to us. We are not worthy to know the Father right now, but we may get to know His Will for us through our Mediator, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Reason for the Crucifixion of Our Lord

If you liked the story that illustrated the reason for the incarnation here, then you might also like this story that illustrates the reason for the crucifixion, taken from here:

When Marvin was a young teenager (around the 1930s or early ‘40s, I imagine), he asked his father if he could go with the other kids to some entertainment event (he didn’t say what kind). His father said it wouldn’t be appropriate and told him no. Marvin said he was going anyway, and headed out.

“If you go out without my approval,” his father told him as he reached the door, “this house will be locked when you get home, and you’ll have to sleep somewhere else.”

Marvin refused to back down. He left. He enjoyed the event.

That, he said, was the short part of the night.

When he got home he found the house dark, the doors locked. Even that window in the basement that the kids could sometimes work loose was locked tight.

Marvin stood in the dark, thinking about his options. It wasn’t winter, but it was fall and the night was getting cold.

He remembered a sort of loft in the chicken coop which his brother and he had appropriated as a “secret place.” It had a sort of a mattress and a ratty quilt.

He went into the chicken coop and climbed up. The “mattress” was there, but the quilt was gone.

Lacking other options, he lay down on the mattress and curled up in a fetal position. The cold wind blew in through the cracks. The coop stank of chicken droppings. There was no way to sleep. He lay there in the darkness hugging himself, shivering. The hours passed slowly. He wondered if he could make it through the night.

Then, at last, he heard a door open. He heard a creaking sound as someone climbed the board ladder to the loft. Someone put a pillow under his head, lay down and held him close, and pulled a quilt over both of them.

In the darkness, he heard his father say, “Marvin, when I said that if you disobeyed me you’d have to find another place to sleep tonight, I didn’t say that I would sleep inside.

And so that pastor taught his son the true meaning of the Incarnation.

Wish I’d had a dad like that.

Wait. I do.

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