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I have always loved the Acts of the Apostles and have often recommended it to those who are approaching the Bible for the first time. Filled with colorful narratives, adventure, martyrdom, persecution, and journeys by sea, it makes for stimulating reading indeed. But I love it especially because it shows us the excitement of being a follower of Jesus. Long before there were parishes and dioceses and the Vatican and other institutional structures, there was this band of brothers and sisters who were so overwhelmed and energized by the fact of the resurrection that they went careening around the world and to their deaths with the message of Jesus.
It also features some wonderful exemplifications of Christian preaching, for it relates to us some of the earliest kerygmatic proclamations of the apostles. If we attend carefully to these speeches, we can learn a lot about good preaching, but also a lot about the nature of Christianity. A particularly fine example is the sermon given by St. Peter on Pentecost morning and described in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.
We hear that Peter stood up with the Eleven and raised his voice. First lesson: all legitimate Christian teaching and proclamation is apostolic, which is to say, grounded in the witness of the first intimate followers of Jesus. Bishops are entitled to preach precisely because they are successors of the apostles; priests and deacons are formally commissioned to preach by bishops. This is to assure that what preachers say is not just a matter of private opinion or the fruit of the present cultural consensus, but is rather rooted in the experience of those who knew Jesus personally.
So what does apostolic preaching sound like? Peter says, “Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Notice, first, the strength, confidence, and edginess of this proclamation. There is nothing weak, vacillating, or unsure about it. This is not a preacher sharing his doubt with you or reveling in the complexity and multivalence and ambiguity of faith. This is a man speaking (in a loud voice) about his absolute conviction. And what is he convicted about? “That God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Christos, the Greek term for Messiah from which we derive the English word Christ, has the sense of anointed, which implies the new David, which means the fulfillment of the expectation of Israel. Good preaching always puts Jesus in relation to Israel, for he makes sense only kata ta grapha (according to the Scriptures). A Jesus abstracted from the history of Israel devolves in short order into a mere religious teacher or teacher of timeless spiritual truths.
And not only is he Christ; he is also Kyrios (Lord). This term had, at the time of Peter and Jesus, both a Jewish and a Roman sense. On the Jewish reading, it designated Yahweh, the God of Israel, for Adonai (Lord, in Hebrew) was the typical substitute for the unpronounceable tetragrammaton, YHWH. Paul, who continually calls Jesus “Lord,” says that Jesus was given the name above every other name, by which he means the name of God.
Preaching that leaves the Divinity of Jesus aside or in the shadows is, therefore, not Apostolic preaching. Now Kyrios also had a Roman sense, since Caesar was called Kyrios, meaning the one to whom final allegiance is due. Do you see how edgy and subversive it was to declare that Jesus is Lord, and by implication, Caesar is not? And do you see why those who made that claim usually ended up imprisoned and/or put to death? A twentieth century Anglican bishop memorably expressed the insight as follows: “When Paul preached, there were riots; when I preach, they serve me tea.”
Notice, next, that Peter is not tickling the ears of his hearers: “God has made both Lord and Christ this Jesus whom you crucified.” He’s not pulling any punches or trying to win friends and influence people. About as bluntly and clearly as he possibly can, he names the sin of his audience. And this is precisely what “cuts to the heart” of his hearers. Trust me when I tell you that abstract spiritual principles, tired bromides, and timeless moral truths don’t cut people to the heart. And so they cry out, “What are we to do?” Peter’s sermon continues: “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins.” Every truly evangelical sermon should be a call to repentance, to turn one’s life around. If it doesn’t lead to contrition and a conviction to change, it has not cut to the heart. Mind you, this doesn’t entail moralizing in a brow-beating way, but rather the presenting of the message of Jesus in such a clear and compelling way that people naturally see how they’ve fallen short and want to change.
Peter concludes: “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Followers of Jesus are a holy nation, a people set apart. We have renewed minds and wills; we should profile ourselves distinctly against the backdrop of the world. If we think and act like everyone else, we haven’t taken in the Gospel. Relatedly, if all we hear from the pulpit is what can be heard on talk-shows and in discussion groups and in political conversations, we haven’t heard the Gospel.
Finally, we are told that, “Three thousand persons were added [to the Church] that day.” I know that everyone and his brother tells us not to worry about numbers and there is indeed truth to that. For God wants us to be, not successful, but faithful, as Mother Teresa said. However, like it or not, the Bible is interested in numbers. And good preaching, if it is truly evangelical, is meant to draw people into the Church. That they are staying away from the Church in droves today says, I would suggest, something rather negative about the quality of our preaching.
To all preachers, I might recommend a careful consideration of the kerygmatic sermonizing in the Acts of the Apostles. If you preach like Peter, they might not serve you tea after every homily, but they will know that they’ve been cut to the heart.'
Ignoring the Obvious
‘He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done. So, the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation”’(John 11:43-48)
I could never understand how the chief priests and Pharisees responded to witnesses reporting such a mighty miracle. How could they ignore the obvious conclusion? They could not deny the miracle. Instead, they adopted the absurd policy of denying the one who performed the miracle! Ironically, they were trying to save the man-made tabernacle (holy place) by destroying the true tabernacle (Jesus).
Why couldn’t they recognize the Saviour they had long awaited? The answer is simple: They didn’t want to! Accepting Jesus as the Christ could cost them everything, so they wilfully closed their eyes to the Truth!
Whenever we choose comfort and turn a blind eye to the Truth (knowingly or unknowingly), we are in the company of these people. Wilful blindness is a deeprooted problem in many of us.
Is it a Right to remain Ignorant?
Mr. M is a hardcore atheist. He says he believes in Science, but purposely avoids anything which Science struggles to explain. His wilful blindness doesn’t allow him to see things on their own merits. Everything is filtered through his ‘I know there is no God’ lens.
Lately, I started recognising some ways in which I am wilfully blind. As an example, last week, a policeman stopped my car to test my breath for alcohol. As a non-drinker, I always considered myself a safe driver who doesn’t pose a danger to others. However, although my alcohol level is always zero, I have sometimes failed to get enough sleep before taking the wheel. A drowsy driver is as dangerous as a drunken driver!
Wilful blindness can affect how a faithful Christian interprets Scripture. That is why it says the Gospel I read is my own gospel. Antony reads Antony’s gospel; Joseph reads Joseph’s gospel and Mary reads Mary’s gospel! Each one interprets the Scriptures in their own way! We tend to give greater importance to verses that give us comfort and overlook verses that could challenge us! For example – A nondrinker who sees the warning against the ‘drunkard’ and ignores warnings against other sins is wilfully blind. A husband who sees the ‘submissive wife’ in Scripture but misses the Christ-like husband, who must love his wife and give himself up for her, is also wilfully blind (and vice versa).
A preacher I know used to quote Luke 12:32 which says,“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom”. Every time, attendees responded with familiarity. Then, he would ask whether anyone knows the very next verse. Nobody could ever answer the question. It says, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor”. The first verse is, in fact, a pre-assurance that we need not fear to do the latter, but we tend to ignore the whole message and stick to what is comforting. This is wilful blindness.
Eyes become useless when the mind is blind
Two thousand years ago, during His trial, Jesus told Pilate that He came into the world to testify to the Truth. Everyone who belongs to the Truth, listens to His voice. Even though Pilate asked Him to clarify this statement, he didn’t pursue his question. He probably knew that knowing the Truth would hinder him from what he was about to do. He had to turn a blind eye towards the Truth to keep his position and reputation.
Can we do a better job? In fact, it doesn’t need a great effort on our part! We simply need to turn our eyes to the Lord and keep them open. He, the Light of the World, will come into our hearts to illuminate the darkness so we can see clearly.'
Last week, I posed a question to my students as our class began. “If a nuclear missile struck us in the next few seconds, and we all died, would you go to Heaven? Raise your hand, if you think you would definitely go straight to Heaven.” I was surprised that only one girl put up her hand, but I was pleased that the rest did not, because we cannot hope for what we are certain of. Hope is a virtue that we need until the day we meet our Maker. We should pray daily in the hope that God will have mercy on us, but none of us can be certain of our eternal destiny until we meet God face to face.
Then it occurred to me, that their restraint might not be about hope at all. So, I asked them: “How many believe that you would go to Hell if died this minute?” About five of them raised their hands. Since these were girls of very fine character, I asked one of them: “Why do you think you’re going to Hell?” She answered, “Because I’m not nice. I don’t take any BS”. I asked another, and she said much the same thing.
I almost fell over. “Where did you get the idea that holiness is about being nice? And why do you think that being assertive is contrary to holiness?”
We live in a culture dominated by the tyranny of niceness, where it is more important to be nice than to be truly good. Niceness has become more important than Truth. That’s why I find it so hard to get teenagers to raise objections in class. If they hear anything they disagree with, or they wish to dispute a point, they remain silent. They’ve learnt that arguing, asking difficult questions, or challenging the teacher is disrespectful.
We don’t live in a culture of debate anymore. When I was young, I watched a show called The Great Debate. They’d debate controversial issues, then the audience would vote at the end. We no longer see programs like that, and very few schools have debating clubs. To use a phrase coined by Pope Benedict XVI, we live under the dictatorship of relativism. Relativism is the tyrant behind the tyranny of niceness. Relativism denies that there is absolute Truth. It denies that there are absolute moral precepts, or that certain actions are intrinsically wrong (such as abortion, active euthanasia, adultery, contraception, pornography and fornication). So, it naturally follows that if there is no Truth, there’s nothing to debate; because debate is about uncovering Truth. In a relativistic culture, everyone has their own truth, and everything must be tolerated, except the belief that some actions are wrong and there is absolute Truth. That’s a nice culture, a very agreeable one, where debate must be shut down because it results in hurt feelings.
Therefore, students who challenge a point in class are castigated for not being nice. Argument has been openly discouraged. Just accept what you’re being taught. And what is being taught is not at all controversial. Why not? Because it’s not nice to talk about controversial things like abortion, fornication and homosexuality, for example, because these are ‘divisive’, and someone could be offended. In other words, Truth takes a backseat to sensitivity. So, the most fundamental modern moral directive – the one commandment that replaces the Ten Commandments of old – is: “Thou Shalt be Sensitive”. Love has now come to mean sensitivity.
We’ve all heard the expression “The truth hurts”. Speaking the truth can cause people to feel uncomfortable. It is not ‘nice’ to make people feel discomfort, but speaking the truth is sometimes the most loving thing you can do. Having your stomach sliced open with a scalpel isn’t a nice experience, but my doctor did a very loving thing years ago when he cut me open to remove a cancer. Not nice, but loving.
A local psychologist wrote about the adverse psychological effects of the tyranny of niceness. It tends to bring about a split in one’s entire personality, a dis-integration of the character, because instead of speaking honestly, one has to remain silent, or say nice things, regardless of whether or not they are true. I have had colleagues who say the nicest things, the most positive things, when they know they are not being sincere. “How was that field trip?” “It was great!”, they glibly answer, but when you question them further, they eventually admit that it was a disaster – a complete waste of time. Why did they say it was great? They’re stuck for an answer. It’s the tyranny of niceness. If we speak frankly, we’ll look like cranks or ogres. When I started teaching, one Principal always told us that we were all doing a wonderful job. He knew that wasn’t true. Only some were doing a good job, but it’s not nice to too honest. This kind of personal dis-integrity can have serious adverse consequences down the road, both psychologically and spiritually.
Well, holiness is not niceness. Holiness is heroic faith, heroic hope, and heroic charity (supernatural love of God). Jesus is Holiness itself, the perfection of holiness, the fountain of all holiness. But read the Gospels. He wasn’t nice, especially to the Pharisees. St. Paul wasn’t always that nice. Note what he said to the Galatians: “As for me, brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why do the attacks on me continue?… Would that those who are troubling you might go the whole way, and castrate themselves!” (Gal 5, 11-12). Not a nice thing to say, but Paul is a saint. Study the life of St. Padre Pio, one of the greatest saints in the 20th century. He was not always nice, but he was a man of heroic charity.
The letter to the Romans wasn’t nice at all, by today’s standards. It would be horribly offensive to a large number of people: “Let us conduct ourselves properly, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealousy… make no provision for the desires of the flesh.”
Sexual integrity is so important, because sexual immorality affects our ability to relate to each other. It affects marriage, which is the foundation of the family, the fundamental unit of society. Sadly, most people today, including educators, are silent on sexual morality, because they fear causing offence. Unfortunately, some priests and bishops have become disciples of the tyranny of niceness, which is why we rarely hear about controversial issues from the pulpit.
How do we prepare for the Second Coming of Christ? By growing in holiness and personal integrity. Lust above all has the power to destroy that integrity. Neurosurgeon Donald Hilton has recently written about the effects of pornography on the brain. The research is very disconcerting, especially in light of the revelation that 87% of college males and 31% of females view pornography. He says that pornography causes a disruption of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is essential for human beings to desire appropriate pleasures in life. Without it, we would not eat; we would not procreate, nor would we even try to win a game of checkers.
Addiction is caused by overuse of the dopamine reward system. When the neural pathways are used compulsively, dopamine is decreased. The dopamine cells begin to shrink or atrophy. The pleasure reward centres of the brain crave dopamine, so the brain re-wires itself. The “pleasure thermostat” is reset, producing a new “normal” state. To feel normal, the person must capitulate to their addiction increasingly to raise dopamine to high enough levels.
That is the case with all addictions, but especially sexual addiction, which establishes itself very rapidly and is the hardest to overcome.
Most importantly, Hilton points out that the frontal lobes of the brain, located just above the eyes, also atrophy, and these lobes have important connections to the pleasure pathways in the brain, so that pleasure can be controlled. The frontal lobes are important in our ability to make judgments. If the brain was a car, the frontal lobes would be the brakes. When they atrophy, a person’s ability to process the consequences of the addictive behaviour is impaired. This neurological decline is analogous to brake pads wearing out in a car. People who suffer from frontal lobe damage are impulsive, acting without any thought about consequences. They are compulsively fixated on certain objects or behaviours. They experience sudden and unpredictable mood swings and their judgment is impaired.
Dr. Victor Cline, in his essay on the effects of pornography on adults and children, says that it dramatically reduces a person’s capacity to love, resulting in a dissociation of sex from friendship, affection, caring, and other emotions that are part and parcel of healthy marriages. He says a person’s sexual side becomes dehumanized, and many will develop an “alien ego state” or dark side, “whose core is antisocial lust devoid of most values”.
The consequences this has on marriage are devastating. Cambridge anthropologist Dr J. D. Unwin examined the effects of sexual restraint and sexual abandon in 86 cultures, spanning 5, 000 years. He found that cultures practising strict monogamy exhibited “creative social energy”, culminating in “the zenith of production”. However, cultures in which there was no restraint on sexuality deteriorated into mediocrity and chaos, without exception.
As time goes on, sexual restraint in our culture continues to loosen. As it becomes more sexually abandoned, we are witnessing a steady decline in marriage. The consequences of marriage and family breakup, as any teacher knows, are calamitous.
Real men are becoming rare in western society. Many of our male celebrities are stuck in a perpetual adolescence. A boy does not have control over his passions, but is led by them. A man possesses himself by governing his passions and subjecting them to reason. A boy loves things for what they do for him, but a real man loves another for who they are, not for what they do for him. Many young couples give up on marriage because they have not learned to rise above hardship through an act of the will. Many think life—and marriage—is about non-stop exhilaration.
To be truly happy, we need to take St. Paul’s words seriously: “Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealousy… But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.”
In the struggle for personal integrity, we have to cultivate chastity in ourselves and foster it in our children. It is impossible to grow in holiness and prepare for eternal life without chastity. We have to be careful and prudent parents, assertive parents. We need to stop being so nice. Tell them the truth with compassion and consideration. Witness to the truth which they are being cheated of. It is a sacred duty which we must not shirk.'
On the Road to Hell
“I am ready to go to Hell,” I thought. “Why not? God hates me. I hate God. I hate everyone. Most of all, I loathed myself. I wished I had never been born. My life was devoid of hope, joy, and meaning. Every year was worse than the last. I felt trapped. Eternity in Hell was not a future destiny for me. It was an ongoing, present reality. I believed the pains of Hell would be awful, but living with pain, although horrific, can become tolerable. After all, some people live with chronic pain their whole lives. So, I convinced myself that I could deal with being in Hell forever. Life is full of suffering, so I thought Hell would just be more of the same. At least, in Hell, I could finally be free from God.
I did not believe that God was a personal, loving God. I believed God’s involvement in the universe was like winding up a clock and walking away. I did not want to love or serve Jesus because I did not trust Him. I made my own plans to be successful and happy, but they did not include God. As time passed, my dreams failed to come true. Although I worked harder, life got worse. I was doing things my way, but I was miserable.
So, I started praying earnestly for God’s help, but only for the great cosmic Santa Claus to give me what I wanted. Despite my prayers, my life became a long series of failures. God did not submit to my desires, so I became angry and bitter. I asked God for help, but He always seemed to say,“No.” I concluded that God was mean and selfish. I exhausted myself trying to follow my dreams, but instead of achieving success, I kept losing jobs. Every year, I made less money. My life and my dreams were disintegrating. The harder I tried, the further I got from my goals. I blamed God for making my life as miserable as possible.
I gave up on God, the Church, my family and myself. Hate stormed within me like a hurricane. My relationships with my wife and children collapsed. I began to drink heavily, and I isolated myself from everyone because I could not stand people. I would spew torrents of criticism, profanity, sarcasm, ridicule, and contempt at my wife and children. Self-contempt and anger became my closest friends. As my life became darker, I stopped praying altogether, and I started to blaspheme.God was the enemy. He was responsible for my horrible life. My selfcentred life was spiralling into the abyss.
Next, my health started to fail. In the space of two years, I developed low thyroid hormones, lymphoedema, and sleep apnoea. I began to lose vision in both eyes, so ended up havings even eye surgeries. I lost depth perception, became claustrophobic, had trouble walking, and had panic attacks. Eventually, I was no longer able to work. I was a broken man, reduced to a fearful wait for death.
I told my wife I was ready to go to Hell. To her credit, she remained calm. She told me that if I was going to Hell, I should do some research on Hell. Thank God for YouTube, I found a talk given by Father Ripperger on Hell entitled The Four Last Things: Hell, Heaven, Death and Judgment. Before hearing this lecture, you could have written my knowledge about Hell on a post-it note.
As I listened, I had to pause at the twelveminute mark. I needed a break because I was overwhelmed. I did not want to hear another word and sat with head bowed head, covering my face with my hands. Eventually, I screwed up my courage to continue listening. If I intended to become a permanent resident of Hell, I needed to brace myself for whatever was coming next. It got worse, much worse. After forty-one minutes and forty-nine seconds, Father Ripperger finally concluded.
Did God allow me to Suffer?
I closed my eyes and begged God for mercy. Father Ripperger literally scared the Hell out of me. I came to a stark realization that all the sufferings of my entire life were not equal to being in Hell for a few seconds. I begged God to allow me to live long enough to receive the Sacrament of Penance. However, the earliest opportunity for Confession was three long days and four very dark nights later. Since it had been a while since my last Confession, I divided my sins into categories and wrote them down on a full sheet of paper, so I could remember them all.
When I was finally able to relieve my anxiety by confessing everything, the newly ordained priest who heard my Confession quietly murmured, “Wow.” As he absolved me from my sins, the amazing grace of God cascaded abundantly over me, filling my heart with peace and love towards God, freeing me from the crushing fear of hell.
I finally realized that I was the source of my suffering, not God. My suffering led me back to God. If I had been granted a quarter of what I wanted, I would have continued on my merry way, forgotten God altogether and wound up in Hell. Mercifully and lovingly, God allowed me to self-destruct, so that I could receive the greater gift of His mercy. I thank God now for all my suffering. It was a gift from God.
God’s grace changed my life completely. Instead of intense hatred in my heart, I now have love for Jesus and all people. Although my dreams have not come true – I am still unemployed; my health has not improved much; relationships with some family members are still damaged; I still have bouts of anger and struggle with depression – now that I trust in God, I have hope for the future and for my eternal destiny. I am better than I used to be, but I have a long way to go. By God’s grace, I will become the person He wants me to be. I cannot do it without Him. Even though my past sinful conduct was never what God wanted, He can take the ruins of my life and rebuild something more splendid than anything I could ever imagine.
Rule out the lies
Many people have suffered much more than I have. My adversities pale in comparison. For people who suffer so profoundly that it can seem that the sole purpose of life is to suffer and die, I do not have any good answers for you other than to say, “I am sorry.” Am I saying that horrific torment is your fault? No, but your tribulation is not in vain. It can be offered in union with Christ’s unspeakable and undeserved agony. Our earthly life can be cruel and incredibly painful, but although it seems that our misery will last forever, we are only here on this earth for a very short time. Put your trust in God who will render justice for every evil ever committed and restore those who suffered with infinite love and grace.
God will make all things new again (cf Revelation 21:5). “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4
Although none of us want to endure any sort of pain, there is no way to avoid it. Some people disobey God’s commands in a vain attempt to evade discomfort or enjoy some dubious pleasure. Often, the consequences of their decisions cause them greater anguish. We would like our lives to be continuously happy and easy, as it will be when we go to Heaven. If our lives on Earth were blissful all the time, we could become apathetic and forgetful of God. “If God loved us, He would not let us suffer” is a lie from the pit of Hell. We are often willing to endure hardships in our professional lives, or for a sporting goal, while expecting that our faith lives will be easy and problem free all the time.
Hang on till the end
I am not trying to minimize your pain. I pray for people who suffer. However, Peter’s words resonate with me, “Lord, to whom shall we go. You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68) Without God’s love, we will have no joy or peace.
Do not leave the Church. Hold on to your faith. Keep praying and talking to Jesus who knows your hardships better than anyone. No matter what comes your way, do not abandon the source of love, peace, hope and joy. In the eternal darkness, there is only hate, fear, despair and torment.
It is not easy to endure misfortune, but in Heaven all sorrow will vanish, and eternity will be gloriously filled with unimaginable happiness. I remember in the past being irritated by those happy Christians talking about finding joy in the Lord Jesus, and I thought they were a bunch of hollowheads. Listen to someone who has hated God. Jesus is the answer and His Church’s sacraments bring us hope and healing for our distress. Suffering does not get the final word.
Lord God, we thank you for your unending grace and mercy which you lavish upon us. Help us to face the battles of life with strong faith in you. As we bear the sufferings of this life, we look to a future filled with hope. Amen.'
Answer: Here’s some good news for you. We never have to worry about earning God’s love or His delight!
My sister recently had her second child, my nephew, Felix. He’s an adorable baby, but like most newborns, he doesn’t do much. He just sleeps, eats and cries with, perhaps, a smile every now and then. He can’t do a lot for his Mom. He has never said, “I love you”, or given her a Mother’s Day card, or done the dishes for her. (On the contrary, he usually makes messes!)
But you know what? My sister is crazy about him! She loves him unconditionally. It is beautiful to see how tender she is with her son, how she sacrifices so much for him without asking anything in return. She constantly tells him how much he is loved, how cute and cuddly he is, and how delighted she is with him.
Why? Why does she love this little creature that never did anything for her? Because he is her child – that’s why! There doesn’t need to be another reason. She loves him simply because he belongs to her. He is her creation. He is her son.
God feels the same way about each one of us! He is a good father, and we are His sons and daughters. Even when you were only one cell within your mother’s womb, He still knew you personally and delighted in you. Even when you make a mess of your life, He still calls you tenderly to turn back to Him.
This desire in your heart to “do more for God” is good, but you should realize that what you do for God is simply a loving response of gratitude for the infinite love He has bestowed upon you. You should want to give more, to the point of giving everything – every last piece of your life – to Him. Give it all back to Him because He gave everything to you.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux said, “Where everything is given, nothing is lacking.” When you bring Jesus the little you have, and lay it in His arms, He transforms it into a glorious gift. So, what more can you do for Him? Firstly, do your daily duties with more love and devotion. As you do the dishes, do them for love of God, as if you were serving Christ Himself. When you vacuum the floor, don’t see it as simply another chore. Do it because He is the unseen Guest in every home. When you go to work or school, “do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). God has already given you the gift that you should lovingly offer back to Him – your life.
A good way to do this is through the Morning Offering – a prayer that offers everything in your day to Him. From the depths of your heart, ask Him to dwell within you always, so that you may lovingly do your daily duties well. Just as the baby, cries out frequently for aid and attention throughout the day, remember to send up your prayers to God who will always listen attentively.
O Jesus, through the most pure heart of Mary, I offer You all my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day, for all the intentions of Thy Divine Heart in adoration, reparation, thanksgiving and petition. O, my Jesus, I desire today to gain every indulgence and merit I can for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. Amen.'
Happiness is a ring on your finger
Have you ever wondered why the finger next to the pinkie is traditionally the one with the wedding ring? The Chinese came up with this explanation.
Let’s try a simple exercise. Join your hands in prayer with the fingers pointing up. Now move your palms with the fingertips still touching each other. Bend both middle fingers downward so that the tips of these fingers are now pointing down and the backs of both fingers are touching.
Allow the hands to remain in this position, then try pulling back the thumbs and allowing them to touch again. This is quite easy. The thumbs represent your relationship with your parents. In your childhood, you live with them and important decisions can’t be made without them, but at some point in life, you usually start making decisions on your own and move out. You separate physically from them.
Now, try the same motion for the index finger. Notice that it is also easy to do this with your index and pinkie fingers, which represent siblings and children. You will not be living with your siblings or your children all your life.
Finally, try to move the ring fingers, which represent you and your spouse. It is impossible unless you separate the middle fingers. So, what do the middle fingers bent downward represent? – The sacrament of Matrimony. When a man and a woman make vows of commitment to each other until death, they are bonded by God into a one flesh union, as husband and wife. If the middle fingers are separated it is easy to pull the ring fingers away from each other. So, spouses can only be separated by death, or by breaking their covenant with God and each other.
Today, we see a lot of confusion about the meaning, value and purpose of marriage and an increase in broken families. Tension between spouses is amplified by the modern world’s exclusion of God from relationships. When marriage is about personal fulfillment, people become preoccupied by the flaws, shortcomings and failures of their spouses and of others.
Perhaps this is why Pope St John Paul II, anticipating this degeneration of modern society, exhorted the people of Australia, “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live. Do not be afraid to take a chance on Peace – to teach Peace, to live Peace… Love between man and woman cannot be built without sacrifices and self-denial.” When they fail to do this, we have chaos in the family and chaos in the world. He also reminded the people of the United States that “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”
Protect each other
When the woman caught in adultery was brought before Jesus(Jn 8: 3-11), those who condemned her dragged her into the middle of the crowd to expose her shame and humiliate her publicly. Jesus unexpectedly responded by unmasking their own sinfulness, instead of embarrassing her further. When the crowd melted away in reaction to his challenge, He (the only sinless one among them) forgave her and encouraged her not to sin again.
When we contemplate the Bible’s description of St Joseph’s treatment of women, we see the same compassionate behaviour. When he was told that Mary was with child, Joseph was unwilling to expose her to shame. Jesus and Joseph both followed the same action plan. The woman before them should not be publicly shamed, but treated with respect and kindness.
My wife and I are not perfect. We both have our share of weaknesses. When I became her husband, I received a special grace to be her champion, so that her deficiencies, faults and failures are not exposed to anyone, even close family members.
When I, as a husband, fail to fulfill this mission, then an attitude of disapproval poisons our family life and needs to be remedied. Even before our marriage, we had often spoken about this. Both of us had seen plenty of examples, among our family and friends, of a husband or wife badmouthing the other at social events. Recently my wife pointed out an opposite example. We had known this couple for a long time, but recently, when my wife interacted more closely with the wife, she noticed weaknesses in her character. My wife told me something that made me seriously consider my own attitude in this area. She said that in all the years we had known and interacted with this couple, her weaknesses had never been exposed because her husband shielded her so well.
“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire” (St Catherine of Siena). Becoming the person God meant you to be is not easy or quick to achieve. Short-term sacrifices won’t keep the fire blazing. In the early stages of my marriage, I was motivated to go out of my way to serve my wife. I did this with sincerity, but also some discomfort as I stretched myself to meet her needs. However, I became inordinately proud of myself for doing so.
Those affectionate courtesies that dominated the early phase of my marriage began to diminish because I started to feel that I had done enough to earn the respect I desired. Then I realized that a few considerate actions, were not going to convert anyone in my family, because my intentions were self-centred.
If I wanted to lead my wife and kids to Heaven, I needed to engage in a lifetime of self-sacrificial actions. Marriage isn’t a contract where each of the partners gives 50% and gets 50%. It is a covenant relationship where each of the spouses gives 100% of what they have to give and receives the wholehearted support of their spouse. As Pope St John Paul II put it so well, “Love consists of a commitment which limits one’s freedom. It is a giving of the self, and to give oneself means just that: to limit one’s freedom on behalf of another.” (Love and Responsibility).
So, I began to treat my wife and children as if I were hosting the Holy Family in my home as honoured guests. Sometimes my actions aren’t noticed or appreciated, but the Holy Family never fails me. They taught me true joy and I have never had more refreshing sleep.
The next day I get up and do it all over again, not relying on my own strength but by depending on the Lord’s mighty power. I believe family life is strangled by service that is limited and calculated. However, service that costs us something – that is sacrificial – invigorates and inspires reciprocal loving service. This is the path to sainthood.
Lord Jesus, help me to contemplate The Holy Family. In this age, when the attack on the family is so fierce, help me to spend more time in prayer with the Holy Family so that I may care better for my loved ones. Help me to unselfishly grow in holiness so that I may lead my family to encounter your unfailing love and mercy. Amen.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, protect our families.'
The stories from The Bible have always fascinated me. This incident in the life of King David had a great impact on my life (2Samuel 16:5-13).
Accompanied by his soldiers, David was fleeing for his life from His son Absalom, who was attempting to usurp his throne. He encountered a man named Shimei (a member of the same clan as Saul, the previous king). Shimei cursed and hurled insults at King David. David’s men were incensed and asked for permission to behead Shimei for this outrage.
David’s reply is very inspiring.“What business is it of mine or of yours, … that he curses? Suppose the LORD has told him to curse David; Who then will dare to say, ‘Why are you doing this?’” David also told his servants, “Perhaps the LORD will look upon my affliction and repay me with good for the curses he is uttering this day.”
This legendary king had the power to dispose of Shimei in an instant by uttering just a word. Instead, he chose to take the long view and regard the incident from God’s frame of reference. He knew that nothing in his life, not even the smallest thing, happens without God’s knowledge and permission. Instead of taking Shimei’s insults personally and responding in anger, David saw this event as an opportunity for God to work in his life.
We could all learn from this beautiful story. When we encounter unpleasant situations, we tend to be hostile toward the people who cause them, which can escalate the problem and cause further trouble. However, if we look from God’s perspective and respond like David, a happier outcome may result. It doesn’t mean that we never get hurt or upset by unkindness or misunderstanding, but when we adopt David’s attitude, we can react more graciously. God can change any negative situation in our lives to something beautiful if we allow Him to.
The difficult and challenging situations which occur in our lives are a great opportunity to recognize our strengths and weaknesses. When everything in my life is going very well, I may appear to be very patient and kind, but the minute a person behaves harshly toward me, my reaction shows me how much grace I need in this area.
Our primary purpose in life is to become holy. As Pope Francis says, “Do not be afraid of holiness. It will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy. ”When God permits a painful and difficult situation to happen in your life, allow it to sanctify you. Rather than reciprocating with petulance, use this incident as an opportunity for spiritual growth.
Lord Almighty, You have graciously cared for me at every moment of my life. Even when I am beset by troubles, I know You hold me safely in the palm of Your hand. Help me to trust You in every adversity and react with gentleness and kindness.
Sister Lucia Dos Santos, the oldest visionary of the three children at Fatima, shared a troubling prediction before her death in 2005. In a letter to Archbishop Carlo Caffarra (now Cardinal), she wrote:
“The final battle between the Lord and the kingdom of Satan will be about Marriage and the Family.”
She also wrote that those who work for “the sanctity of Marriage and the Family” would always face intense opposition because it would be “the decisive issue” in this great battle.
Among those who have been at the forefront of this battle is a humble husband and father from Michigan who is now on the path to beatification. Irving “Francis” Houle was a devoted husband, a loving father to five children and was dedicated to the service of God as a fourth degree Knight of Columbus. In his later years, he became the first married man and father to bear the stigmata.
From the age of 67, he suffered through an experience of the crucifixion every night between the hours of 12 am and 3 am. He said that he offered up this excruciating pain, for those who were tempted to commit sins of the flesh during that time. Sometimes he could see them. Most were 25-40 years old – the age that most people become parents.
The attack on marriage and the family is pervasive and has left many confused and depressed. Young people are now being taught to accept and celebrate distortions of God’s beautiful plan for human life and the family. However, the greatest weapon Satan is using to attack families is pornography, because it is hidden like a deadly cancer destroying marriages and souls.
Even Christian men and women who practise their faith are not spared this particular temptation.
Strong families can have a tremendous impact, because they are the pillar and foundation of society. So, our ancient enemy – the devil – is working hard to break families down, hoping that the whole of society will crumble as family breakdown increases.
Now is the time to strengthen families, especially fathers, who no longer understand the profound importance of their role in the home. We need to fortify them with our prayer, offerings and support to enable parents to trust in God’s promise to sustain us. Perhaps it’s time to swallow pride and reconcile with your spouse, or time to discern growing your family. We are all called to greater fidelity to our vocations and to earnestly seek holiness.
I know I am never likely to bear the stigmata like Houle, but my husband and I definitely bear the stigma of having 13 children. They are physical manifestations of our love for each other and our “Yes” to life – a resolutely counter-cultural decision amidst the culture of Death. Choosing each other and embracing the sacrifices that come with raising children (spanning from a tiny baby to a tall teenager) is our daily battle. Even now, I’m trying to remember the last time I had more than 5 hours of unbroken sleep, but I’m happy to add this to the mound of offerings that will be used to defeat our common foe.
I’m also humbled by this man on the path to sainthood who sacrificed his sleep and comfort for hundreds of people he has never met. We will need his intercession for families as the final battle unfolds.
I take courage from Sister Lucia’s final words, where she bids us not to fear Satan’s attack, for “nevertheless, Our Lady has already crushed his head.” So, although it feels like an uphill battle, we know who will have the final victory.'
As the coronavirus convulses a planet without immunity, people are locked down, dreams are shattered, plans and projects are exhausted, markets and social lives are disrupted, public worship and community gatherings are restricted, and everything has become miserable. However, this viral villain, sowing seeds of death, gives you an opportunity to reflect on the vulnerability of your very being and your need to turn towards the Lord to build up solidarity between all of us. It is time to reset your goals to live a better life in the expectation of a glorious future. If you are prudent, you will confront yourself to put all your trust in the Lord and reflect on your limitations.
The disciples were traumatized by the arrest and crucifixion of their master. They were startled and bewildered by His appearances after the Resurrection and his command to prepare for the coming of the Holy Spirit. In lockdown, to protect them from arrest, they prayed for the power to face the challenge Christ had given them – to go and make disciples of all nations. The frightened apostles were transformed into fiery preachers and evangelizers when they were anointed by the power of the Holy Spirit. In this time of distress and difficulty, ask the Holy Spirit to transform you. With the power of the Holy Spirit, you can also change the face of the earth by going out to make disciples of all nations, starting right now with yourself and the people in your home.
When Alfred Nobel invented a powerful but stable explosive, he asked a friend to help him name it. This Greek scholar directed him to this Bible passage. “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1: 8) The Greek word for power is dunamis, so he named it dynamite.
You could say: “I shall receive explosive power, like dynamite when, the Holy Spirit comes upon me.” When you feel empty and sad, pray to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, whom you received at your Baptism and Confirmation, is like a sleeping giant within you. In the Old Testament, only a few people were chosen to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. But the prophet Joel received this message from the Lord: “Afterwards, I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (Joel 2:28) predicting that the gift of the Holy Spirit would be available to everyone. Do not bury this valuable gift. Call upon the Holy Spirit daily.
The Holy Spirit is much more contagious than any virus in the created world. Humanity across the globe is locked down, but not without purpose. You need to permit the Holy Spirit to take control of your life. Let us be hopeful that He may actively re-create the world, so that He may prevail in our thoughts, imaginations and philosophies throughout our daily lives.
Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit,
that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit,
that my work, may be holy too.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit,
that I may only love holy things.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit,
to defend all that is holy.
Guard me, O Holy Spirit,
that I may always be holy. Amen.
The long season of Lent has prepares us to delve once more into the mystery of the dying and rising of the Lord Jesus. As I have been contemplating the events of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, my mind has turned, again and again, to the brute fact of pain. Perhaps this was conditioned by a recent conversation I had with Jordan Peterson, who commented that pain is somehow metaphysically basic. What he meant was that even the most skeptical philosopher would have to admit the existence of pain and would have to deal with it. Try as we might to flee from the world of matter, our bodies and our minds simply will not permit us to set aside the fact and the problem of suffering.
Everyone suffers and at a variety of levels. Babies suffer from hunger and thirst, and their piercing cries remind us of it. All of us have experienced at some point cuts, blisters, bruises, broken bones, infections, rashes, and bleeding. If we live long enough, we develop cancers; our arteries clog up and we suffer heart attacks and strokes. Many of us have spent substantial time in hospitals, where we languished in bed, unable to function. Innumerable people live their lives now in chronic pain, with no real hope of a cure. And as I compose these words, thousands of people around the world are dying, gasping for their last breaths.
But pain is by no means restricted to the physical dimension. In many ways, psychological suffering is more acute, more terrible, than bodily pain. Even little children experience isolation and the fear of abandonment. From the time we are small, we know what it is like to feel rejection and humiliation. A tremendous psychological suffering arises from loneliness, and I have experienced this a number of times in my life, particularly when I started at a new school in a city I did not know. Commencing one’s day and having no realistic prospect of human connection is just hellish. And practically everyone has had the dreadful experience of losing a loved one. When the realization sinks in that this person, who is so important to you, has simply disappeared from this world, you enter a realm of darkness unlike any other. And who can forget the dreadful texture of the feeling of being betrayed? When someone that you were convinced was a friend, utterly on your side, turns on you, you feel as though the foundation of your life has given way.
But we haven’t looked all the way to the bottom of the well of suffering, for there is also what I might call existential pain. This is the suffering that arises from the loss of meaning and purpose. Someone might be physically fine and even psychologically balanced but might at the same time be laboring under the weight of despair. Jean-Paul Sartre’s adage “la vie est absurd” (life is absurd) or Friedrich Nietzsche’s “God is dead” expresses this state of mind. Having surveyed these various levels of pain, we sense the deep truth in the Buddhist conviction that “all life is suffering.”
Now I want to take one more important step. There is a very tight connection between pain and sin. Most of the harm that we intentionally do to other people is prompted by suffering. In order to avoid it, avenge it, or preempt it, we will inflict it upon others. And this is the leitmotif of much of the dark and roiled story of humankind. To bring it down to earth, just consider how you behave toward others when you are in great pain.
My gentle reader is probably wondering by now why I have been dwelling so insistently on these dark truths. The reason is simple. During the holiest time of the year, the Church places before us an image of a man experiencing practically every kind of pain. The Roman cross was perhaps the most wickedly clever instrument of torture ever devised. The person whose infinitely bad fortune it was to hang from it died very slowly of asphyxiation and exsanguinations, even as he writhed in literally excruciating (ex cruce, from the cross) pain. That’s how Jesus died: at the limit of physical suffering, covered in bruises and lacerations. But more than this, he died in equally excruciating psychological distress. His closest friends had abandoned, betrayed, or denied him; passersby were laughing at him and spitting on him; the authorities, both religious and political, were mocking and taunting him. And dare I say, he was also in the grip of something like existential suffering. The awful cry, “God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” could only have come from a sense of distance from the source of meaning.
However, the one who hung upon that terrible cross was not just a man; he was God as well. And this truth is the hinge upon which the Paschal Mystery turns. God has taken upon himself all of the pain that bedevils the human condition: physical, psychological, and spiritual. God goes into the darkest places that we inhabit. God experiences the brute metaphysical fact of suffering in all of its dimensions. And this means that pain does not have the final word! This means that pain has been enveloped in the divine mercy. And this implies, finally, that sin has been dealt with. Once we understand that God’s love is more powerful than suffering, we have lost, at least in principle, the motivation to sin.
These wonderful Easter days teach us that pain, in point of fact, is not metaphysically basic. The divine mercy is metaphysically basic. And in that is our salvation.'
My best friend recently lost a terrible bout with cancer. It was heart-wrenching to watch her suffer for so long, only to pass away in the end. She was one of the most devout people I knew. Why does God allow good people to suffer?
Thousands of years ago, a man named Job wrestled with that very same question. Why is it that good people suffer, while it seems like sinners prosper? At the end of the book of Job, God answers Job out of a whirlwind and says, in essence, “My ways are not your ways!”
But after Job came Jesus. And Jesus radically changed the nature of suffering.
Since Jesus was—God-in-the-flesh, He could have avoided all suffering. Being divine, He could have avoided all mental or physical pain from illness, injury, rejection, death of a friend, torture or death. But He chose to feel those things because He is Emmanuel—God- withus! Jesus knew that suffering was part of the human condition, so He chose to become “like us in all things but sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
Suffering was not part of God’s original plan. It entered the world because of original sin. When our first parents had turned away from the blessings that God had planned for them and sought to make themselves into gods instead, the result was death, trial, tribulation and pain. However, God did not make suffering as a punishment. No, it is a healing remedy, because suffering teaches us that love costs.
Consider this—when a mother stays up taking care of her sick child, it is arduous—but it is also an act of love. When a father works hard at a stressful and difficult job to put food on the table for his family, it is a onerous—but it is also an act of love. When a brother puts up with an annoying younger sister, it is challenging—but it is an act of love. We could not learn to love if it were not for suffering.
When your friend was going through cancer treatments, I’d imagine that many people helped her out in a variety of ways. They cooked for her, they drove her to appointments, they gave her encouragement, they prayed for her— and in all of these ways, the people around her learned how to love sacrificially, in imitation of Jesus.
When we are suffering, we can be conformed to Christ. Going through cancer teaches us the virtues of courage, perseverance, humility … and when we offer it up in union with Christ as a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1), we participate with Him in the salvation of the world! Every suffering we endure can help us grow in virtue. Remember—we are never closer to Jesus than when we are hanging upon the Cross with Him.
Ultimately, Jesus never promised happiness in this world. Rather, He promised the Cross. But, He also promised that He would never abandon us, and that all things work for good for those who love Him. From an eternal perspective, your friend’s suffering and death brought about her sanctification and innumerable graces were bestowed on her and many others—graces that we will only understand when we meet Christ in eternity!'