Sunday, March 22, 2009

1. There is a saying there is no one so blind as the one who will not see. Such is the case of those who opposed both the man born blind and Jesus. They simply would not see that Jesus was from God. All they could see was that Jesus healed on the Sabbath, which in their opinion was a violation. They could not consider that someone regained their sight on the day when we are supposed to put all our trust in God to care for us. Furthermore, although they did not even know the blind man (recall that they had to call the parents to ask them is this your son, who you say was born blind? (John 9:19), they presumed that he was full of sin since his birth, all because he had been born blind. As the events unfolded, they became more blind to the truth.
2. Saint Augustine reminded us that sins blinds the sinner. All sin, large or small, dulls the senses. If we go keep sinning, eventually we become blind to our faults and cannot see things the way they really are. That is why those who go to frequent confession are able to confess more accurately what they are doing than those whose confession is infrequent. Unfortunately, sin in one area of life, be it pride, willfulness, lies, unkind speech, theft, unforgiveness, or the multitude of means of impurity, these sins affect the whole of one’s life. Unrepented, unconfessed, unchecked, unforgiven sin in any area of life will not only weaken weaken the whole person, but it can lead to the loss of faith in Jesus Himself.
3. Be warned! Do not think that this loss of holiness or faith could not happen to you. The pharisees who opposed Jesus studied the Bible every day, yet they did not recognize Him or turn to Him for help. One of the sorrows that grieved Jesus the most in the Gospel was the refusal of people to realize that they needed God’s forgiveness. All of us do. Even consider those pharisees who were following Jesus. Some of them were more concerned about being insulted than in receiving what Jesus was offering - the true light to see things as they really are. And so Jesus had to say to them - “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains (John 9:41). If we do not see the need for God’s mercy and forgiveness given to us through Jesus, then we are in darkness.
4. On the other hand, there is an opposite movement on the part of the man born blind. Jesus smeared mud on his eyes and instructed him to wash in the pool of Siloam (which is a prefigurement of Baptism). There, he regained his sight, or in other words, he was illuminated- the light was able to enter into him and he could see. But the man received more than the gift of sight, he received faith. With his eyes, he was able to see Jesus was a man. But with the gift of faith, the man was able to see much more. He could see Jesus as Lord and God- which is how things really are. At first, he gives the witness - the man called Jesus made clay (John 9:11). Later he was asked, what do you have to say about Him, since He opened your eyes? (John 9:17), the man was able to say he is a prophet (John 9:17). The third time, the man argues with the pharisees and insists that Jesus comes from God and does God's will- Jesus is Holy (John 9:30-33). Finally, he says to Jesus I do believe Lord (John 9:38) and worships Jesus.
5. Of course, the question that this event raises is: who do I say Jesus is? Can I see Him for what and who He really is, or is something blocking my vision of the truth?
6. Everyone acknowledges that Jesus was man. Some people even believe that Jesus was a great man. Many people also recognize that Jesus was a prophet- that is, sent by God. But that kind of faith is not enough to be considered a Christian. The truth is that Jesus is Lord and God. The primary act of belief for a Christian is not to believe in a list of things (as important as those things are), but to believe in a person- Jesus- and adore Him as our only Lord.
7. That being said, Saint Paul says You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord (Ephesians 5:8). We did not simply receive Light. We are light. Jesus said that we are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). And one does not light a lamp and put it under a basket (Matthew 5:15). We are called by God and given the light of faith to illumine the world. And so we cannot permit sin to have a place in our lives any more. We must live as if faith in Jesus makes us different from the world of darkness. And when we fall, we must turn back to Jesus in the Sacrament of Penance to remove the darkness and restore us to the Splendor of Light.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Sacrifice of Abraham, Our Father in Faith

1. If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31b). These words of Saint Paul to the Romans give us great comfort. But I often wonder about Abraham our father in faith. In what did he take comfort in? Especially when God asked him to sacrifice his only son (Genesis 22:1-18). Maybe it was not all that surprising a request. After all, many peoples throughout history have practiced human sacrifice. The prophets even condemned the Israelites themselves for sacrificing their children to the demon god Moloch. In this hemisphere, the Aztecs and others also practiced human sacrifice. And today, many people are willing to kill the unborn and the elderly for the sake of money or comfort or medical experimentation.
2. Anyway, what did Abraham think? God had promised him a son, and descendants as numerous as the sand at the seashore and the stars in the sky. Isaac was not even born until Abraham was 99 years old. Now Abraham is 111 and God asks him to sacrifice his son. Well, we do not know what he was thinking. We only know what he did. And that is, when God called him, Abraham answered, Here I am. And he stood ready to do God’s will, however hard it might have been.
3. But note that God did not require Abraham to go through with it. So many false gods have demanded the death of the innocent, but the True God did not require such a thing. But even though his hand was stayed, Abraham did sacrifice his son Isaac to the living and true God, because he would not withhold anything from God. Because of Abraham’s fidelity and trust, God swore that He would bless Abraham abundantly. And not just Abraham, but all of his descendants. But not just those either. God promised to bless the whole world, just because Abraham trusted in His word.
4. We need to think about that for a moment. Abraham obeyed God in one instance, and every person who ever lived afterward received a blessing. How often we consider that if we just got our way, everything would be okay. Or maybe we act out of fear, not wanting to obey God’s commands out of fear of not having enough money or enough property or enough friends. Many people who otherwise desire to live the Gospel think it is totally insane to be fruitful and have more than two children, even if it means surgery or taking powerful drugs.
5. But it’s not just that. Students cheat because they are afraid of the hard work that studying requires. People lie because they are afraid of what will happen if the truth is told. Some refuse to forgive because they are afraid of being hurt again if they let things go. Some people are afraid to go to confession because they are afraid to admit their sins out loud. Whether he was afraid or not, I cannot say (I'm, sure that he was), but when God called, Abraham said Here I am, and trusted God, and so everyone of us has been blessed.
6. The story of Abraham’s sacrifice is amazing enough by itself. Abraham had no idea of the resurrection, or anything about Jesus. When we consider his sacrifice in the light of Jesus Christ, it becomes even more amazing. For these events of long ago pre-figured the salvation won for us by the Son of God on the wood of the Cross. Isaac carried the wood up the mountain, Jesus would carry the wood of the cross up the hill of Calvary. The ram caught in the bramble was sacrificed in Isaac's place, we call Jesus The Lamb of God. There would come a time when God would offer His own Son in sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus would beg His Father if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will (Matthew 26:39). On the day of the crucifixion, on the hill of Calvary, there would be no word from above to stop the nails from being driven into Jesus’ hands. There would be no command to prevent the crown of thorns from being pushed onto His head, no suggestion even that Jesus should not be scourged, or that the lance ought not to be thrust into his side.
7. It was not the son of a creature but the Only Begotten Son of the Creator who was sacrificed for the forgiveness of sins. And if Abraham’s obedience to God resulted in blessing for the entire world, how much more powerful is the obedience of the Son of God who offered Himself for our sake? And if God loves us so much as to offer His Son for our redemption, what do we have to fear? What is preventing us from repenting of our sins and turning to the Lord for forgiveness? How could we possibly doubt His love? What keeps us from obeying His word and instead preferring our own will?
8. Saint Paul said: Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2). It is time to admit that we have sinned. It is time to ask God for forgiveness. It is time to go to Confession, to receive the Mercy which God desires to bestow on us. It is time to start anew doing good, so when God calls our name, we might say Here I am. And the whole world will be blessed if we do.

Monday, March 2, 2009

My First 5k Race

Saturday, I ran my first 5k in a competition. It was bitterly cold, and there were 3000+ participants. I am not much of a runner. Generally I do not like to run, preferring to ride a bicycle or walk. But it seemed a 5k would be a good test of fitness and give me a goal at which to aim. Only twice or three times before in my whole life have I run 3 miles without stopping. Usually I cannot wait to quit. Other runners talk about the runner's high, but I have never experienced any such thing.

Anyway, although my training is spotty and my abilities weak, I showed up at 7:30am with thousands of other hopefuls to sign up for and run in the 5k associated with the Cowtown Marathon. I had just enough time to affix my number to the front of my jacket and place the chip tab onto my shoe, as they were already calling the participants to line up at the start. The ambient temperature was about 34°F, but the wind chill was about 26°F. At the starting line I maneuvered myself into the thick of the crowd so as to get protection from the wind. I jumped up and down to stay warm.

After what seemed like a couple of false starts, we were on our way. At first, I could walk as fast as everyone around me was running. Eventually, the group began to spread out a bit and I could run ahead. I was looking for others to get behind, both to protect me from the headwind, and to give me a pace to follow. Unfortunately, one can hardly ever find someone running exactly the same speed.

I was wearing thin socks, liners really, with my shoes and was therefore regretting it early on. But as time wore on, my feet warmed up and were comfortable. My head got a little warm, but I was afraid to take my hat off or adjust it. The wind was cold and I did not want to lose my body heat. Near the end, I unzipped the pit zips in my jacket.

There was only one watering station along the way, around mile 2. That was the only time I slowed to a walk. But I did not stop and as soon as my water was finished, I was running again. I was contemplating whether I should walk, but hoped that we would see the finish line soon. Then I saw it and I knew that I could run all the way. For the last 150 yards, I tried to speed up. After I crossed the finish line, I was hoping for a cup of sports drink, but all I could find was water. (Later, I came across a beer distributor giving out free beer, but since I was driving, I did not imbibe.)

The clock time for my run was 36+ minutes, but my chip time was 34 minutes exactly. It was a pleasing experience. I ran all the way, without fighting a great urge to walk. My 10:54 mile pace was reasonable in my estimation. All in all it was a success. Another good thing is that Sunday I was not sore or cramped in the least. In fact, I felt much better than the other day, when I ran only 2 miles, and my pace was not any different. Although I cannot say that I am addicted to running, I will be thinking about doing this more often.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Deep Cleansing

1. Part of our Lenten meditation is over the meaning of the sacrament of Baptism. The word “baptism” means “to plunge” and in Baptism, we have been plunged in the water and the Holy Spirit. In Baptism, we received the gift of new life from God, we have been chosen to be His beloved sons and daughters.Saint Peter compares Baptism to the flood which Noah and his family weathered in the ark. Just as the flood destroyed the evil in the world so that there could be a new beginning, Baptism washes away Original Sin, so that we might receive live as a new Creation. In truth, Baptism is much more powerful than the flood was. For after the flood, it was only a matter of a generation, and the world was filled with sin once more. But Baptism permanently changes those who enter into the new Covenant of the Blood of Jesus. At the flood, the world got wet, but in Baptism we were plunged in the Holy Spirit.
2. Saint Peter reminds us that Baptism is not just about getting wet. If that were all it was, we would be no better off than the world after the Flood- having the promise of God, but with no essential change. Saint Peter tells us that Baptism is not the removal of dirt from the body, but an appeal to God for a clear conscience. In other words, Baptism does not simply wash us on the outside, its cleansing power goes to our core. In Baptism, sin is truly washed away and we become new. It is true that we continue to have our inclination to sin. And after Baptism it is indeed possible that we might sin and even sin very seriously. At the same time, Baptism is our First Reconciliation with God, when the power of God Himself destroys the power of sin operative in us. That is, God makes us righteous, He changes us. We still have our human freedom which we can misuse, but we are not depraved, we are not worthless, we are not contemptible because in Baptism we have been made anew.
3. Still, our human freedom remains. Many of us would have to admit that we have not lived according to the life of holiness required by Baptism. Therefore, we must hear once again the words that Jesus announced as He began His preaching. The kingdom of God is at hand! Repent and believe in the Gospel! Each day we enter the battle with temptation and sin. We fall prey to the darkness of doubt. And so each day we must come to repentance. No matter how far along we are on our spiritual journey, we have need of a deeper conversion. We must acknowledge our personal sins, and God’s goodness. We must depend upon our Lord for the grace to be holy. And the Lord can make us holy.