Jesus the man, Jesus the God

Happy Easter! Once again, God reminds us of his over-the-top, perfect, all-consuming love for you and I. He gave us everything to show us the path to both earthly and eternal joy.

Jesus the man gave us the ultimate human gift: his life. But he gave more than that. He lived among us, teaching us new ways of looking at life and at each other. He gave us a model for living that has endured for thousands of years and that is so effective it underlies the social structure of half the world. He endured humiliation, punishment, and a painful, gruesome, and worst of all an unjust, death. And at the climax of his undeserved agony, he asked God to forgive his tormenters, because, he said, they didn’t realize what they were doing. Jesus the man gave humanity a new Way to live.

Jesus the Christ gave us even more. He endured our abuse of him, our humiliation and, worst of all, our turning away from him. The One who created the world and the people of the world allowed those same people to kill their creator. He demonstrated for us what the truest love looks like. We rejected him, but he never lost faith in us and never turned away from us. And then he gave us even more.

He rolled aside the stone that lay between life and death to show us that there need not be “death.” Our God allowed himself to die in the flesh to show us that the flesh will rise again, and that the spirit never dies. Jesus went to Heaven, where there is no pain, no suffering, no tears. But he didn’t stay there. He returned to us. After all we had put him through, he came back to us to show us in the most convincing way possible that there truly is a heaven, that there is a place for us there, and the Way to get there is to simply walk hand in hand with Him.

…and I haven’t even started talking about the gift of God as the Holy Spirit. More on that later..

God bless you, and may you and your family have a most blessed Easter.

God’s there for you today

Sometimes devoted Catholics get discouraged. A proliferation of apathy toward religion seems to have taken hold in the world. We feel that Christianity is waning and will soon simply fade away. We’ll have “outgrown” religion. I don’t think so.

Elijah probably had similar thoughts. If it’s been a long time since you’ve read the First Book of Kings, Elijah is a story that might be useful to bring back to your memory. Particularly Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal. (Chapter 18 in 1 Kings.)

God was trying to get across to the Israelites that He was the only One. The Israelites were being stubborn, and even their kings refused to limit their worship. Statues of Baal and other “gods” were everywhere. So God, working through Elijah, came up with a demonstration; a contest between his one prophet and Baal’s 450.

King Ahab and the Israelites were already on God’s bad side and were suffering from a drought that Elijah said was the result of their lack of adherence to God’s law. Elijah challenged the King to line up 450 of his best “prophets” and to have them make sacrifices, praying to the false gods for rain.  He even resorted to a little Biblical trash talk, telling the prophets they needed to pray louder, because maybe their god was resting or off on vacation somewhere. Of course, there was no response from Baal.

Elijah then set up God’s altar. He sacrificed a young bull but then ordered the Israelites to soak it with water. Over and over again he told them to pour water on it until it was sopping wet, with water running onto the ground. With a word to God, the whole thing was consumed by fire.

Baal and 450 Prophets: 0; Elijah and the One True God: 1. Game over.

In some ways it’s your typical fire-and-brimstone Old Testament story. It’s one of a long line of stories of our spiritual ancestors forgetting about God and trying to do things their way, leaving it to God, working through a faithful prophet to call them home. The Old Testament seems to be devoted solely to the question of “God? God who?”

God always wins. It may take time, sometimes generations, but eventually, the Israelites say, “Oh, you mean God?!  Well, of course. Why didn’t you say so?” (I suspect our spiritual ancestors drove God a little nutso at times.)

But the whole point of all of the books of the Old Testament seems to be that God is infinitely patient with His children. And that hasn’t changed a bit. No matter how many times we turn away from God and get obsessed with something from this world, He always guides us back and then welcomes us with a loving embrace. As my Priest said yesterday, every time you make a good confession, they have a party in heaven.

God is always with us; even when we’re not with him.

God forgets. So should you

One of the greatest and probably least-appreciated lines in the Catholic Church is this: “I absolve you of your sins; go in peace.” That’s the moment in the confessional when, no matter what you’ve done, the Priest tells you that God says it’s okay; you are forgiven. God sent Jesus to give us this incredible gift. Jesus passed the authority to Peter who passed it on to every Bishop since, who delegated it to your parish priest, who just gave it to you. You have just been given the most incredible Get out of Jail Free card ever. From God to you.

And now that your sin has been taken away, don’t take it back. How many times does God forgive us, but we don’t forgive ourselves? Stop it! By that I mean stop carrying the guilt around. You did it, but you admitted it, you atoned for it, and God forgave you for it. It’s done; let it go.

Too much of our life’s “burden” is a sack full of guilt. We are still holding onto the guilt from that time in the second grade when we pulled that little girl’s hair and made her cry. Or when we flipped off the Honda driver who was annoyed by our sudden lane change. Or any one of the hundreds of other times we were less than fully-Christian. Do yourself a favor; make a list of those, take it with you to confession and LEAVE IT AT THE ALTAR. When Father says, “Go in peace,” do it. Leave! Go home! Get out of there! And leave the guilt behind.

Because you can’t be the loving Christian Jesus wants you to be if you are using up all your energy hauling around old guilt. You can’t carry God’s message if you’re too ashamed to talk to women with long hair or people who drive Hondas, or your mom or your coworker, or… Forgiveness is part of God’s plan, and it’s an important part. You need forgiveness to become the person God created. But, like the body and blood, eternal life and all the other facets of Christianity, we have to make the choice to believe it, and to accept it.

Micah said God has “cast your sins to the bottom of the sea.” Don’t swim down there and pick them up again.

 

Forgive to live

God’s pretty sneaky sometimes. Take forgiveness for example. Jesus told Peter to turn the other cheek not seven times, not seventy times, but seventy-times-seven times. In other words, always. But what Jesus didn’t tell Peter, at least not directly, is that the forgiveness was for Peter’s benefit, not the benefit of the other person. We have to forgive to live.

Anger, resentment and jealousy kill us from the inside. According to an article posted on WebMD.com, one study said people who are frequently angry are 19% more likely to have a heart attack, and within the group of people with heart disease, angry people are more likely to have worse health outcomes than people who are calm. Anger kills.

Negative emotions are also contagious. In my own case, I have often seen that my mood impacts how I interact with other people. If I’m feeling grouchy, I’m more likely to snap at my wife, grandchildren, the dog, squirrels, other drivers, et al. And guess what happens to them? Yep, they are more snarly and snappy. Anger begets anger.

Today’s Gospel has Jesus telling his disciples to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. So, along with your Fitbit and your goal of fewer sugar snacks today, if you really want to be healthy, follow Jesus advice. In the words of St. John, “Little children, love one another.”

Does God cry?

I have often wondered whether God cries. God is all powerful and one would think He is too strong to cry. He is the great I Am, the Alpha, the Omega and everything in between. As modern scholar/philosopher/filmmaker Father Robert Barron puts its, God is so immense and unfathomable that, “if you understand, that’s not God.”

But does God cry? We know He gets angry. The Bible is filled with anecdotes of God’s anger boiling up over our faith-ancestors’ adolescent actions. People are getting smited right and left in the old testament. In modern terms, Jesus “lost it” in the temple when he chased all the money changers out with a home made whip. The word “Anger” might not be as common a phrase in the Bible as hope, charity or faith, but it’s definitely in the top fifty Google searches.

And we know He gets happy. Especially when one of us lost sheep finds our way home. “I tell you there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Lk 15:17). God feels anger, God feels joy, and God IS love. So does God weep?

I think He does. After all, for every one of those lost sheep who come home, how many are led astray to their death? How many people around us are dead in faith, captives of worldly pleasure? If God rejoices over the one who was lost and is found, surely he is heartbroken by the one thousand who become lost and are never found. To know love is to know pain. How much more for the one who IS love?

One of my most painful childhood memories is my mother sobbing over a favorite antique dish that two of her rambunctious children had broken (my brother pushed me). It wasn’t the scolding that hurt, it was Mom’s tears. It was the sadness that remained after the anger. Knowing my foolishness had caused pain to this beautiful woman who I loved was worse than any punishment she may have dished out.

Does God cry?

Forgiveness, the best resolution ever

Today I am your New Year’s Resolution Counsellor. Five cents, please (it worked for Lucy Van Pelt, didn’t it?). After much prayer and deliberation, and even more procrastination (which is what I’m best at) I have discovered the absolute best New Year’s Resolution: forgive somebody.

Over the Christmas Season this year I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about anger, resentment and forgiveness. Apparently, I was thinking about exactly what He wanted me to think about, because God put the Catechism of the Catholic Church in front of me a few days ago, and I read about that annoying line in The Lord’s Prayer. You know the one I mean: “Forgive us our trespasses…(good so far, I like being forgiven)…as WE forgive those who trespass against US.” My whole Catholic train comes screeching to a halt on that second part.

In His sneaky and lovable God-way, Our Father has multiple reasons for making forgiveness a two-part rule. First and most obviously, the world is a better place if we forgive one another. Sitting across the table from someone is easier if you’re not mad at the person on the other side, whether it’s your boss, your spouse or the President of Russia. The more we let bygones be bygones the less likely we will blow the world to smithereens. Forgiveness is a very practical tool.

But God has another reason. It’s good for us. Forgiveness is more important for the well-being of the forgiver than the forgiven. Don’t believe me? Try this exercise. Conjure up a picture of someone you’re mad at and think about why you’re mad at them. Got it? Okay, now honestly, how are you feeling? Irritable? Uptight? A little sick to your stomach, or on the verge of a headache? Anger and resentment are poisons as real as hemlock or nicotine.

Now imagine how your subject is feeling at this moment. Chances are, whatever you’re stewing over isn’t on their minds, at least not right now it isn’t. One of the most frustrating things about resentments is that the “resented” often don’t have a clue that you are mad at them. So who’s suffering the most because of your resentment, you or them?

Let’s take this another step. With the object of your resentment in mind, say a prayer right now. Have a chat with the Almighty. Hm. Nobody home, is there? When I am angry at someone, I almost always find that those are the days I can’t make myself kneel down and pray. When I’m mad, I’m mad, doggone it! I don’t need her, or God, or anybody! So there, bleah!

Paragraph 2840 of the Catechism explains why anger messes up everything. “Love, like the Body of Christ, is indivisible. We cannot love the God we cannot see if we do not love the brother or sister we do see.” The idea that love is a single, indivisible thing is new to me, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. It explained why everyone suffers when one person is mad, why the world just feels out of alignment. And why I feel so alone when I’m angry.

So give yourself a gift this New Year’s Day. Conjure up in your mind that person who “wronged” you. Realize they are just as human as you are and forgive him or her. Ask God to take away your anger. And let it go.

And then have a Happy New Year.