Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Preparing for the Master's Return: What Does God Expect of Us?

Jesus told many parables about his going away and then coming back. These parables created a expectation about Jesus' second coming. We are not only to expect this coming, but we need to prepare for it, because Jesus expects certain attitudes of us in preparation for his return.

The first expectation is vigilance. We do not know the day or the hour of God's return. We must be ready, awake, with our lamps alight as Jesus speaks about in the parable of the 10 virgins. We have to be listening and waiting for his coming, anticipating it.

Vigilance however, is not sufficient. We need to welcome the Lord when he comes. We must be attentive to his return so that we can know when he is coming and then joyfully receive him when he does.

Moreover, God expects us to be generous as we wait for his return. Jesus told a parable about the servant who was waiting for his master's return. When the master returned, the servant waited on the master without expecting any gratitude or compensation. The servant said, "I am just a useless servant. I did what I was supposed to do." God expects us to give him what is his. He looks for produce of what he has given us. Generosity is not just toward the Lord but also toward our neighbor. Recall the parable of the servants who beat their fellow servants when the master was away. Because they did not act with love and compassion to their fellow servants, the master did not treat them with compassion upon his return.

In addition, God expects us to be temperate as we wait for his return. We are not to get lazy or slothful about life or assume that the master is not coming because he delays. This is the message in the parable about the 10 virgins, five of whom were too lazy to bring along oil for the lamps when the bridegroom was away.

The Lord expects us to invest what he gives us. Think of the parable of the coins. The master gave his servants coins to invest and expected a return on them. The servant who buried his coin and gave it back to his master without any interest was condemned for being lazy. God has given us all gifts and responsibilities, and he expects us to invest ourselves in faith, in the Church, in other souls, in proclaiming the Gospel, in a life of service, in a life of prayer. God has expectations of us, through the vocation and gifts he has given, and he expects a return.

Think of the words of the Our Father. "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." The many parables which Jesus tells about the master going away and then returning are to help us prepare for the Master's coming. We will have to give an account of how we use our time. God expects a harvest. Did we give him 100%? Did we give ourselves to our vocation so totally we were able to bring forth life through it? Did we hold back because we lacked trust in God, or because our faith was small, or because we felt broken or ashamed? Did we get lost in sin, in addictions, in the things of this world? Did the things of the world distract us so that we lost sight of what the Spirit was teaching us? What does God expect of us upon his return? He expects us to have done what he gave us to do, and to have done it with generosity, love, and faith. Are we meeting his expectations? It is best to get ready, for we know neither the day nor the hour when the master is returning.

--Father David Mary Engo, FBM

The Greatest Commandment

The people God had freed from slavery and brought to the land of promise were never to forget the manifest blessings they had received from the hands of the Lord. Because the Israelites experienced God’s compassion when they were slaves in Egypt and throughout their trek in the desert, they were to show compassion to those they met who were in desperate straits. Because they had once been oppressed as aliens, they were not to oppress aliens in their land. Because God had shown them kindness and mercy, they were to show kindness and mercy to others. The grace of God teaches us, that as the Lord is our portion, there is enough in him to satisfy all the desires of our souls.

C. S. Lewis wrote: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” Faith provides a context in which we can look at the world we live in. Because we have been loved by God, we have the capacity to love the people and things God loves. Mindful of God’s superabundant love for us, let us ponder these words taken from Psalm 18. "I love you, O Lord, my strength, O Lord, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer" (Ps.18:2). Because the promises of the Lord are strong enough to support us at all times and in all places, we have reason to claim Him as our cornerstone, our strong defense and our companion in all life’s challenges. We are in this world as a ship at sea, tossed up and down, and in danger of being cast away. We need an anchor to keep us sure and steady. The love of God, the grace of Christ, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, are our sure anchor and the reason for our hope. Because our citizenship is in heaven, we must keep our gaze focused upon the things that are above, where Christ is seated in glory at the right hand of the Father.

We, who turn our gaze towards God, exist because God keeps His gaze fixed on us. We love Him because He first loved us and His love compels us to love others in the same way we have been loved. We cling to God with childlike abandon, knowing that we are His beloved children. There is nothing more affirming and life-giving than this reciprocal relationship of love. Because God has loved us, we can rest assured that He will always be there for us as our rock, our refuge and our fortress whenever we are in distress. We have reason to hold firm because we have received from God’s loving abundance grace upon grace (Cf. Jn. 1:16). All fullness is in Him and from Him we hope to receive all that makes us wise, happy and holy. The faith that accepts mercy blossoms into the joy that is unspeakable and full of heavenly light. Saint Peter wrote of this in his first epistle. "Although you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and rejoice with an indescribable joy that has been touched with glory, because you are receiving the fullness of your faith, the salvation of your souls " (1 Pet. 1: 9).

We have been grafted into Christ through baptism and are called to live in the obedience of faith. Like Him Who fulfilled the will of the Father we are to lay down our lives for the life of the world. We imitate Christ, not only in proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom but also in enduring persecution for the sake of the Gospel so that the power of God might be manifested in our weakness. In times of adversity we are anointed with the oil of gladness with which Christ was anointed priest, prophet and king.

When the teacher of the Torah asked Jesus to pick greatest commandment from among the 613 laws of the biblical Torah, Jesus quoted the central commandment of the Jewish faith: “Hear O Israel. You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind" (Deut. 6:5). The love of God is the first and foremost of the commandments. The substance of the law, therefore, is love. Our love for God cannot be mere words. It must be an all-consuming fire that transforms us into a sacrifice of praise that is acceptable before God the Father. As scripture says: if you want to love God Whom you cannot see, love the human being whom you see standing in front of you. We manifest our love of God through our love of neighbor because, as scripture tells us, “God created man in His image; in the divine image He created him” (Gen. 1:27). Every human being is a dwelling place of God and we pay homage to God by reverencing the sanctuaries in which He dwells.

The Talmud recounts the martyrdom of Rabbi Akiva. As the executioners were torturing him, the renowned rabbi recited the Shema, concentrating on fulfilling its words: to love God "with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might." His students were surprised when they heard him recite this final Shema. When they questioned him, "Master, even to this extent?" He gave this reply: “All my life I have been troubled by this verse, ‘you shall love God... With all your soul.’ As I have explained its meaning: ‘all your soul’ -- even if they take your life. I have always wondered if I would have the privilege of fulfilling this mitzvah. Now that the opportunity has arrived, shall I not seize it?" He handed over his spirit as he pronounced the final word of Shema, "God is one." At the hands of the Romans, he accepted the reign of Heaven while sacrificing his life.

May we live our lives totally united to God and find our final resting place in Him when our life's journey is ended.

Father Jerome Machar, OSCO

Monday, October 20, 2014

What Matters to God Is Every Human Person

When God came into the world, not much of the world mattered to God. He came as a homeless child laid in a manger in a barn. Yes, the wise men brought gold, incense, and myrrh to the child, but the gold did not go far. How do we know this? Because we find Mary and Joseph bringing Jesus to the Temple and offering two turtledoves which was the offering of the poor, the offering of those who could not afford a lamb. Jesus grew up poor. He sent his apostles out in poverty, without a second tunic and no money bag and no pouch. What matters to God are not the things of this world.

What mattered to God was Lazarus the beggar who slept at the poor man's gate. What mattered to God was Zacchaeus the tax collector  who was lost in sin. God cared about Mary Magdalene out of whom he cast seven demons. What mattered to God was the man born blind from birth whom he healed. The woman caught in adultery whom he saved and told to sin no more. The daughter of Jairus whom he raised from the dead and gave back to her family. The thief on the cross whom he brought into paradise with him when he died.

At one time, Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees who showed him a coin and asked him if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not. Jesus said, "Show me the coin," and then asked whose image and likeness were on it. When he was told that they were Caesar's, Jesus said, ''Then give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God." Caesar's coins bear Caesar's image, and God's people bear God's image.

We are made in the image and likeness of God, and we are what matters to God. God wants what is God's. He wants the lost sinner, symbolized in Jesus' parable of the lost coin and the lost sheep. God loves us and he came to save us. What matters to God is every single person. He wants every single person to be rich in grace, virtue, fortitude, and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit. God wants every single person to come to salvation, because he came to redeem everyone made in his image and likeness.

God did not pay attention to the things of this world. God paid attention to us for we are made in his image and likeness and we belong to him.

--Father David Mary Engo, FBM

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Prison Door Is Wedged Open by the Cross of Christ

The Prison Door Is Wedged Open by the Cross of Christ

St. Paul speaks of slavery under the law. Jesus purchased us from slavery and we are free, but we retain our free will and can choose slavery in our lives. St. Paul says, “Do not submit your selves to slavery again.” 

Because we are human beings, we have an inclination to sin. We keep going back to slavery and put ourselves into slavery again instead of going forth into the freedom of God. God knows us better than we know ourselves. God understood that just setting us free was not enough. He had to initiate a way to keep the doors open to himself. We are in the prison of sin, but Jesus opened the prison door by his sacrificial death on the cross. And once we realize that, just like anyone who has been in prison, we see that the door is open to freedom from sin and we run out once we see that the open door that leads to Jesus. 

However, prison can become comfortable, and so, when things get tough, we might run back into the prison because we were comfortable there at least to a degree. However, Jesus has pried the prison door open with his cross. You cannot lock yourself in prison again. The cross of Jesus is wedged in the prison door and keeps the door open, and we can always walk out at any time. We can release ourselves from prison again through the sacraments, the gifts of baptism, confession, Eucharist, the anointing of the sick. These keep the door to our prison open. 

God allows the door to be always open for sinners who return to their prison of sin. They cannot shut the door to his mercy. Even the gift of the anointing of the sick, the last rites, is a way to present the love of Jesus Christ in the last hour. The door to God’s mercy is always open, and sometimes God himself goes in and carries the person out of the prison of brokenness when that person will not walk out themselves. The power of the sacraments carries them out of this prison. 

There is a constant flow of grace in the Catholic Church, a flowering of grace at every moment. The wounds of Christ were not healed over in his hands, feet, and side. The wound in his side is the Church which is ever flowing with the blood of mercy and the water of forgiveness. 

We can pity the Pharisees who always considered the external as a way to salvation. Christ called them to interior change. In his discourse with the Pharisees, Jesus, thinking of people caught up in sin, said, ‘Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you.' (Luke 11:39-41)

God sees the charity in one’s heart. God knows a person’s behavior and he understands that some people may be away from him, but he sees the charity in their heart. Almsgiving makes them clean on the inside, even if they are not behaving very well on the outside. Some people who have turned away from God can be more godlike in their lives than those who pretend to be godlike, because God sees their heart of charity. He knows a loving heart when he sees it. Charity covers a multitude of sins. 

It is good to reflect on the freedom that God gives us. The chains with which we lock ourselves up are no longer usable because the chains are broken and the locks no longer work. We cannot lock ourselves away from God or go back in our prison and close the door where he cannot enter. The cross is holding the door open and, if we do not go out to God ourselves, at the very last moment, through the Sacrament of the anointing of the sick, he may come into us and carry us out. And praised be God forever. 

--Father David Engo, FBM

Extending Mercy to Sinners

   Saint Paul reminds the members of the church of Ephesus that they have reason to rejoice. Even while they were trapped in their sinful ways, God called them to fullness of life in Christ. This calling is the greatest gift anyone could hope for. It is offered to each of us even before we ask for it. If we cling to Christ we shall never be miserable, but if we separate ourselves from Him, we shall never know true peace. God chose us in Christ to be holy and fully alive in the Spirit before the foundations of the world were made. We were predestined to be adopted children of God through the blood of Christ and the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit. Because the world has been lulled into insensitivity and driven to the brink of self-destruction, we are obliged declare loudly and clearly the good news of salvation. 

            Because God has shown gracious mercy to us, we can extend mercy to those we meet, offering them a way out of the hell that their habitual sin has created. Through the sacrificial love of the Son, God does not encourage sin, neither does He glibly excuse it away. However, He does conquer the power of sin over us and shows us the path to conversion and holiness. Pope Francis put it this way:  “Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators.  But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.”  (The Joy of the Gospel, # 47)  

            I do not want to deny the reality of sin. Neither do I wish to ignore the moral teaching of the Church. However, some of us strive so hard to right the wrongs of sin that we forget to show compassion and mercy for sinners. As we seek to proclaim the Good News we must always remember that He who was sinless took to himself our condemnation as sinners so that we might live in the holiness of grace. Through baptism into Christ all people have been given a share of the blessings Christ won for us by His Paschal Sacrifice. These graces are the fruit of a love that allowed the beloved Son to die so that sinful sons and daughters might live. 

        Here’s the rub. In order to share in the spiritual blessings of the kingdom, we must take responsibility for and confess our sins. In his first epistle, Saint John wrote: “If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing. If we say, ‘We have not sinned,’ we make Him a liar and His Word is not in us” (1 Jn. 1: 9-10). We need to examine our hearts and then humbly ask that they be recreated. God is the author and giver of all blessings, but He can only forgive those who repent of their sins and choose to live in the fullness of grace in Christ. We are invited to make Christ the source and summit of our lives.  

Through faith we come to believe that God makes forgiveness and grace available to everyone. Through faith we surrender ourselves to the love and will of God who alone can make us whole. We rejoice because Christ has conquered sin and death and freed us from our bondage. To conclude, I would like to read a prayer that Bill Wilson was inspired to include in the Big Book. 

The Third Step Prayer 
God, I offer myself to You-  To build with me  and to do with me as You wilt.  Relieve me of the bondage of self,  that I may better do Your will.  Take away my difficulties,  that victory over them may bear witness  to those I would help of Your Power,  Your Love, and Your Way of life.  May I do Your will always! 

Fr. Jerome Machar, OSCO