Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Fire which Burns and Saves

Today marks the end of Pope Benedict's papacy. I am sad. There are many things written and said by Pope Benedict for which I am grateful to God. Here is one.

This is a paragraph from Spe Salvi, his encyclical from November 30, 2007, on the topic of the meaning of Christian hope. When words become separated from their origin, they loose their meaning and their effect. We have to relearn Christian words and concepts. Hope is one of those words.

This encyclical is powerful and especially for me personally for several reasons. First, written just over a year after my dad's death, hope and judgment were still heavy on my heart. Second, he published this encyclical on November 30th, the feast of St. Andrew. I try to pay attention to such things as patron saints. Third, portions of this encyclical have popped up into my prayer life on several occasions. 

This is one of those passages. This passage, paragraph 47, makes me think about my own efforts in this world. Are they good enough for Jesus Christ? Was my homily prepared? My counsel in confession clear? Am I making full use of my gifts to be a priest? I entrust all of these efforts to Jesus Christ, the "fire which burns and saves."
Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Saviour. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgement. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire”. But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God. In this way the inter-relation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love. Indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ's Passion. At the moment of judgement we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy...The judgement of God is hope, both because it is justice and because it is grace. If it were merely grace, making all earthly things cease to matter, God would still owe us an answer to the question about justice—the crucial question that we ask of history and of God. If it were merely justice, in the end it could bring only fear to us all. The incarnation of God in Christ has so closely linked the two together—judgement and grace—that justice is firmly established: we all work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). Nevertheless grace allows us all to hope, and to go trustfully to meet the Judge whom we know as our “advocate”, or parakletos (cf. 1 Jn 2:1).
Thank you Lord, for Pope Benedict XVI!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Women of Faith

A few weeks ago, Sr. Mary Alma, of the School Sisters of Christ the King, presented to the women of SDSU and Pius XII Newman Center. Her talk was "Women of Faith." It was such a beautiful talk I had meant to share my notes as soon as I could. Sr. Mary Alma spoke of three levels of believing. 1st, that God exists, 2nd, who is this God, 3rd, who is this God for me?

  That God exists: This is a good beginning and it is the place many people start in the life of faith. It is reasonable to believe, faith compliments and crowns reason. To understand and help others with basic belief it is good to know apologetic arguments, which also shore up our own belief. Especially the proofs of St. Thomas Aquinas. Go to Article 3 in this link to read the Saint in his own words, especially the section titled: "I answer that."

  Who is this God? We know who God is by reading the Scriptures and knowing Jesus. Jesus is the full revelation of who God is. Consider Matthew 16 and the exchange with the disciples at Caesarea Philippi, here our Lord asks them two different questions. Who do people say that I am? Who do you say that I am? Peter answers, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." See also how God is revealed in Luke 15 in the merciful father of the prodigal son. See how God is revealed in John 8 and the woman caught in the very act of adultery. Our own knowledge and estimation fall short of the beautiful reality.

Finally, consider Matthew 11 when Jesus tells us to learn from him. Does God ask us to learn from his omniscience or his omnipotence or some other divine attribute? No. Those things can be known by reason. Jesus asks us to learn the thing that only He can reveal about God. "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart."

  Who is this God for me? Who us Jesus for you? He is the one who is in love with you. How do we know? When you are in love you give your life for the beloved. Jesus' cross is the testimony of his saving love for you. How do you respond? How can you respond unless you have received and abide in this truth. Jesus is Emmanuel, "God with us." This is what he does. He gives himself in love so that you may sin no more.

  How to Live Your Faith: We can bring great joy to the heart of God by living our faith in straightforward manner. Remember the story of the Canaanite Woman, she comes and asks Jesus to heal her daughter, Jesus replies that food of the children should not be given to the dog. Is Jesus insulting her? No, he is challenging her faith and giving her room to exercise it. As she persists, Jesus responds, "O woman, great is your faith!" Imagine the joy on Jesus' face as he encounters substantial and enduring faith in the heart of this woman. Imagine how, in your own testing, he awaits to greet you with the same joy. "Great is your faith!"

 We also can live our faith by simple communions in the midst of our day. Whenever we change form one activity to another: sleep to waking, dorm to class, one class to another, and anything else, we open our hearts and minds to the presence of God in our soul. Perhaps a simple formula, "Jesus, I believe you are here in my baptized soul, I want to walk with you." Or something less formal, either way to become aware of and responsive to his life giving presence. Be a strong woman of faith in this year of faith.