Back in March, Pope Francis released an apostolic exhortation all about the call to be holy, Gaudete et Exsultate. Within just a few days, the online world was discussing (and debating) the document. As often happens in our world of constant news and digital engagement, a few weeks went by and conversations about this exhortation died down. People began arguing about other topics. The release of this apostolic exhortation seems like a distant memory, and if you haven’t read it yet, you may be reluctant to do so. We often like to read and discuss whatever is trending in the world, so if the world has seemingly moved on, what good can come from perusing these words of Pope Francis?
1. Gaudete et Exsultate is a loving note of encouragement from our Holy Father.
As an apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate does not seek to define dogma or lay out a detailed analysis of the Church’s teachings about one particular topic. Instead, it is an apostolic exhortation that seeks to encourage us in our mission as Christians. In this document, Pope Francis clearly states that his aim “is not meant to be a treatise on holiness, containing definitions and distinctions helpful for understanding this important subject, or a discussion of the various means of sanctification. My modest goal is to repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities” (#2). Pope Francis did not write this document for a few scholarly people to pull apart and debate; he wrote it for all of us to read and learn from.
2. This exhortation takes us back to the basics of holiness.
In five pithy chapters, Pope Francis’s words remind us to stop over-complicating things and just be holy. As someone who tremendously enjoys learning about the intricacies of our Faith – especially as manifested in the liturgy – I sometimes face the temptation of forgetting the heart of Christ’s message. Like a Pharisee, I grow overly legalistic and proud, and let this overshadow the message of transformative love that floods the Gospels. In Chapter Three of this document, Pope Francis walks us through the Beatitudes, reflecting on how – looking at the Scriptures and the lives of the saints – we can embrace our call to holiness through this path that Christ lays before us. Pope Francis notes that:
“The Beatitudes are like a Christian’s identity card. So if anyone asks: “What must one do to be a good Christian?”, the answer is clear. We have to do, each in our own way, what Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount. In the Beatitudes, we find a portrait of the Master, which we are called to reflect in our daily lives” (#63).
3. There are some beautiful and profound one-liners.
I can always appreciate a succinct, thought-provoking statement that I can ponder for a while. To my delight, I found that Gaudete et Exsultate is full of these! No matter if he’s talking about the universal call to holiness (“To be holy does not require being a bishop, a priest or a religious”), the importance of cultivating peace in our world (“We need to be artisans of peace, for building peace is a craft that demands serenity, creativity, sensitivity and skill”), or the command Christ gave us to forgive others (“We need to think of ourselves as an army of the forgiven”), Pope Francis bluntly calls us forth to be holier men and women.
If you’ve been hesitant to pick up this document because it seems like “old news,” read it anyway – the reflection Pope Francis presents about holiness is needed in our modern world.
If you haven’t read this document because you think that it’s just for theologians and scholars, read it anyway – Pope Francis wrote it for us. In the conclusion, he states: “It is my hope that these pages will prove helpful by enabling the whole Church to devote herself anew to promoting the desire for holiness” (#177). He wants to help the whole Church, not just a privileged few.
If you’ve neglected to pick up this document because (based on opinion articles, headlines, and social media posts you’ve seen) you think it is chock-full of faulty teachings, read it anyway – the pope is not laying out incorrect teachings or false doctrine; he is encouraging us to be holy. While yes, there are some passages that seem a little vague and could be twisted in a variety of ways, I invite you to reflect on the pope’s words as you examine how you can practice sanctity in your own life.
“When he was in Bethany reclining at table in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of perfumed oil, costly genuine spikenard. She broke the alabaster jar and poured it on his head. There were some who were indignant. ‘Why has there been this waste of perfumed oil? It could have been sold for more than three hundred days’ wager and the money given to the poor.’ They were infuriated with her. Jesus said, ‘Let her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me. The poor you will always have with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them, but you will not always have me. She has done what she could. She has anticipated anointing my body for burial. Amen, I say to you, wherever the Gospel is proclaimed to the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.'” (Mk 14:3-9)
The gift of the woman at Bethany was not small. She came to Jesus with repentance and sincerity of heart; with her broken jar she anointed Him with the best that she had, holding nothing back. She gave to Christ from her heart.
Such sincere gift left her vulnerable in the eyes of others. They were irritated and criticized her gift. Why wasn’t she following convention? Why wasn’t she displaying kindness in the popular way?
Perhaps this woman knew what their reaction would be beforehand. Her actions were somewhat radical… but at the same time, they weren’t. Would one who truly loves hold anything back from the beloved? Nothing is wasted on Christ.
Amid the scoffing of the bystanders, Christ read the woman’s heart. “Let her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me…She has done what she could.” These words must have been a wealth of consolation for the woman. She had the guts to run to Christ and now He was hiding her in His bosom, acknowledging that her actions were beautiful and pleasing.
The woman cared little for human respect and public opinion. She gave glory to God in the best way she knew how, and let the others think what they wanted.
The bystanders thought that she should love God through charity to the poor. But the woman went far beyond mere external actions- she gave God her heart. This woman gave all that was most precious to her to Christ, without bothering about people’s opinions and envious thoughts.
What is in my alabaster jar? What is my gift of priceless worth that I am holding back from God for fear of the opinions of others? Dear Lord, help me to break my alabaster jar and give my heart to You.
My outraged Jesus, / by the weakness You suffered in going to Calvary, / give me enough strength to overcome all human respect / and all my evil passions which have led me to despise Your friendship. / I love You, Jesus my Love, with all my heart; / I am sorry for ever having offended You. / Never permit me to offend You again. / Grant that I may love You always; and then do with me as You will. (The Way of the Cross according to St. Alphonsus Liguori)
“For nothing will be impossible with God.” —Luke 1:37
St. Rita of Cascia is the patron saint of impossible causes. During her life, St. Rita faced countless situations that seemed hopeless and impossible. As a girl, her desire was to enter the convent, but instead she was forced to enter an arranged marriage with an abusive husband. Then as a wife and mother, she hoped to instill virtue and kindness in her husband and sons, but instead she watched them become entangled in a vicious, longstanding family feud. Through all this, her greatest goal—not only for herself, but for her husband and sons as well—was not any earthly happiness or success, but only Heaven.
Rita endured insults, physical abuse, and infidelities from her husband for many years. Such a man would surely seem a hopeless case. But gradually, through her patience and humility, Rita was able to convert her husband into a better person. As the family feud became more heated, he chose to become more amiable, trying to foster alliances instead of hostilities—which ultimately resulted in his betrayal, when he was murdered by a member of the opposing family.
Rita publicly pardoned her husband’s murderers, but her sons were not so forgiving. Together with her husband’s brother, they conspired to avenge his death. Rita could not persuade her sons to relent, and so she prayed fervently that they would never commit the mortal sin of murder. A year later, before any murder could be carried out, both sons died of dysentery.
At this point in her life Rita wished to enter the convent, but she was told that due to the scandal caused by her husband’s death, she would only be allowed to enter once the feuding families were reconciled. Now this, of all things, seems an impossible cause, no? Rita prayed to her patron saints, and before long her husband’s brother, inflicted with the plague, renounced his longstanding vendetta. A truce was formed, and Rita became an Augustinian nun, spending her days in meditation and prayer and, in later life, experiencing the stigmata.
At a glance, Rita’s story doesn’t seem particularly hopeful—rather, it seems like God answered her prayers by killing her family. Not the most upbeat story. However, Rita always had an understanding that this life is fleeting, and the length of our lives matters far less than the character of our souls. God allowed her husband and sons to die at a moment when He could take them to Himself and protect them for eternity. And He granted Rita, in her widowhood, the fulfillment of her childhood dream: to be wed to Christ alone. She was a saint amidst a family that didn’t seem all that saintly, and God used her for great things at every stage of her life.
When Rita was on her deathbed, her cousin asked her if she wanted anything from her old home. Rita asked for a rose from the garden. This was January—not the season for roses. But upon arriving in the garden, her cousin found a single, blooming rose, which was brought to Rita to gaze at as she prepared to meet God.
Whatever your impossible cause may be—a blood feud, a lifelong dream, or a rose in January—remember the truth that St. Rita believed in so fiercely: nothing, nothing, is impossible with God.
“See, my children, we must reflect that we have a soul to save, and an eternity that awaits us. The world, its riches, pleasures, and honors will pass away; heaven and hell will never pass away. Let us take care, then. The saints did not all begin well; but they all ended well. We have begun badly; let us end well, and we shall go one day and meet them in heaven.”
—St. John Vianney
1. Rita of Cascia / PD-US
2. Medieval portrait of St. Rita of Cascia / PD-US
3. Portrait of Rita of Cascia / PD-US
To say that someone sees through rose-coloured or rose-tinted glasses is a common idiomatic expression by which we describe someone as seeing something as being more pleasant than it is. The idiom implies that someone’s perspective on a particular reality, or on reality itself, is overly optimistic—rose-coloured, tinted, and glossed, softening the cold hard truth.
The origins of this idiom are unclear. It was clearly in common usage in the English language by the mid-19th century, and even then, it was used with various nuances of meaning.
O the joy of blossoming life! What a delicious thing it is to be young, and to see everything through rose-coloured glasses; but with a wish to be pleased, and a certain sunniness of mind, more in our power than we imagine (p.185)
Although, perhaps more commonly, the phrase would be used negatively to describe an outlook that has fallen prey to a rosy deception because of stubborn superficiality and an avoidance of the truth in its darker shades. See Fewell: A Series of Essays of Opinion for Churchmen (1846).
The phrase might also be used to speak of a blatantly false kind of optimism stemming from alleged naivety. Concerning the latter, the author of “The Ideal and the Real,” Mary Davenant, writes in Godey’s Lady’s Book (1843):
A man in love is easily deceived. I have seen more of life than you have, my dear, simply because I look at people with my own eyes, instead of through rose-coloured glasses as you do, and I never see a woman who appears so very soft and gentle that she cannot raise her voice much above a whisper, and whose every word and look betrays a studied forethought of the effect they are to produce, that I do not mistrust her sadly. Half of them are shrews, and the other half obstinate intriguers‚ I am much mistaken if Mrs. St. Clair is not a little of both. (p.160)
Reading that last excerpt, one almost wants to encourage the author to find herself a pair of rose-coloured glasses, and quickly at that! or at least to stop looking with her own eyes and to pull the shutter on those cynical lids.
Yet aren’t we all a little bit like this? For, at least from time to time, we judge others harshly—perhaps even ourselves; and as Catholics we may even look at the state of the world and of the faith in the world, and slip on the sunglasses of the cynic. To be sure, distinct from cynicism, there’s nothing wrong with a healthy critical outlook, in the sense of a rational and realistic perspective; but whatever the case, the rosiness of charity should always win-out.
The Rosy Blood of Christ
After all, through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, everything has been painted with the rosy, redeeming love of the Precious Blood (Col 1:19-20)—and for this reason nothing in the created order can fail to be used for the glory of God and the sanctification of the human person (CCC 1670). In sacramental theology, this is called ‘The Principle of Sacramentality’.
Thus, in all truth the Christian is both a realist and an optimist. For even if the perceived reality is dark and terrible, reality itself originates and culminates in Christ who is Light and Life itself, who shines in the darkness of each valley of death, offering the unshakable hope of joy in communion and beatitude, in the trudge of the workshop, the silence of prayer, the noisiness of the family home, and from the solitude of nature to the oppressiveness of the gulag.
We know that whilst God can see our sinfulness, in sending His Son to die for us, He has chosen to see us through the rosy blood of His Son in whom as new creations He beholds us as being “very good” (Gen 1:31).
To See as God Sees
To see as God sees, as Love Itself sees, is something to long for. The way St. Francis was able to see all people and creation like this is an encouragement to us; that by God’s grace we too can begin to see things through the rose-coloured glasses of God—through the Blood of Christ which has redeemed reality.
Putting the shades of meaning (pun intended) the world associates with the idiom rose-coloured glasses aside, we might define the rose-coloured glasses of the Christian, as looking with the eyes of faith, through the frames of hope, and the rose-tinted lenses of charity, by which we see as God sees, seeing things not so much as they appear to be, but as they were made to be, are called to be, and already are in some mysterious way in the Person of Christ.
Mary: God’s Rose-Coloured Glass
No one did this better than Mary—the supreme typus of the Church, whose faith, hope and love are the nourishment of the Church. In fact, the theological virtues were so perfect in Mary to such a point that she participated in the Paschal Mystery as completely and perfectly as it is possible for a creature. This brought Her into complete communion with the sufferings of Christ and thus in the work of Redemption as a helper par excellence, just as Eve was the helper of Adam in the work of creation. Hence the title, Co-Redemptrix; the prefix co- from the Latin com- meaning “together, mutually, in common”.
If we think of God’s rose-coloured glasses as being the veil of the Precious Blood which covers all created reality, it is inescapable that we recognise how Mary too is the rose-coloured glasses of God; for Jesus’ Blood came wholly and entirely from the virginal body of Mary, who alone was the proximate source of Christ’s human nature.
Therefore, when God looks at us in His Mercy through the Blood of His Son, He looks simultaneously through the Blessed Virgin Mary who from the moment of Her conception was preveniently redeemed by the Precious Blood, being fired in the charity of the Holy Spirit, and infused with His Sacred Breath, imparted through space and time, from the exhalation of Christ’s burning breath on the Cross and at the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost—just as a glassmith or glassblower fires glass and breathes into the molten mass during production.
Additionally, in the crafting of glass only those pieces that are free from defect, without any fractures, make it through the production line. Mary was indeed without defect—being free of the fracture of original sin and personal sin, thanks to the excellent craftsmanship of God.
Of course, we’re stretching the analogy here, as glassblowing isn’t a technique used in the fashioning of the glass used in eye-wear (in fact high-tech plastic is commonly used today), but nevertheless, on the created side of things, Jesus in His human nature together with Mary, form the two lenses which make up the rose-coloured glasses through which God sees the world in His Mercy.
God’s Rosy Bias
In another text from the 19th-century, rose-coloured glasses were used in reference to the bias stemming from affectionate ties in “personal kindness”. Perhaps this is the best reason we can give as to why God wears His rose-coloured glasses—crafted as Mary Immaculate and as the Word Incarnate: simply because of God’s freely chosen, outrageous and wonderful bias of personal kindness, by which He sees us through Mary, in the image of His Son, and in the likeness of His Triune Self.
Thank God He sees us through rose-coloured specs.
Putting on the Specs
May we too, especially in this month of May, through our Marian devotion, see through this Blessed Rose-Coloured Glass who is Our Lady, tinted by the Blood of Christ, so that with a hopeful gaze we might see the rosy presence of God flourishing in our lives and in our world. A world which is sorely in need of the glasses on offer from the Optometrist on high.
 The Free Dictionary, http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/rose-coloured+glasses
 The Baroch, Chzeck classic, Labyrinth of the World and Paradise of the Heart (1623) by John Amos Comenius is often posited as an early example (or even as the source) of the phrase—minus the rose-colour: “Just then Delusion on the other side remarked: ‘For my part, I present you with these glasses through which you must examine the world.’ After he fixed the glasses on my nose, everything immediately assumed a changed aspect… As I learned later, the lenses were ground from the glass of Assumption, and were set in horn-rims called Habit.” (Chp 4).
However, this saying may have older origins, since it is known that using transparent stones as reading aids was practiced at least since the 10th century, and magenta glasses were at least used in the 15th century.
 Thanks to Sven Yargs for the following gathered references, Origin of Rose-Tinted Glasses, https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/257566/origin-of-rose-tinted-glasses
 “Elliotson’s Principles and Practice of Medicine,” in The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal (December 13, 1843), p.19, accessed from Google Books, https://books.google.com.au/books?id=oLo1AQAAMAAJ&pg=PA 369&dq=%22rose+colored+glasses%22&hl=en&sa=X&ei=5OacVY3LLoauyQTq94fQBg&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=%22rose%20colored%20glasses%22&f=false
Someone told me a few weeks ago, in the middle of a martial arts related discussion, “I think that stuff is cool, but I don’t do martial arts. I am a lover, not a fighter.”
It is no exaggeration to say that I have been thinking about that pretty exhaustively ever since.
I have been thinking about it because my initial reaction was, “That’s a contradiction in terms.”
I did not voice that thought because I did not want to start a controversy with a half-formed thought that I wasn’t prepared to defend. I have been examining it ever since, however, and I am pretty well convinced that my initial gut reaction was correct. How can you love anyone or anything without being willing to fight, at least in theory? Being a lover without being a fighter is impossible.
I admit to taking that a little bit out of the context in which it was spoken. We were discussing martial arts and it is quite possible to love without doing martial arts. For instance, Jesus never did any martial arts, as far as we know. Neither did the vast majority of the saints. Even the military saints, who presumably practiced their craft in one form or another, as often as not gave it up at some point to become monks.
So it isn’t martial arts or military training per se that I mean when I say that being a lover without being a fighter is impossible. However, martial arts is a handy example of what I am trying to get at. Too often, I think, our pacifism is not motivated by love or compassion, but by denial or indifference. My reticence to begin a discussion about this is a prime example. I didn’t hold back because I cared about my colleague’s sensibilities but because I didn’t care enough to begin a dialogue.
If my wife or daughter are attacked, the “I’m a lover not a fighter” dichotomy is instantly revealed for the hogwash it is. At that moment I had better become a fighter, or I am a lousy lover. The kind of “love” that refuses to fight for the beloved’s well-being is not worthy of the name.
Of course, fighting takes many forms. The most enlightened and effective form of fighting is the form that eliminates a conflict before it can occur. It preempts the danger, ideally by turning the enemy into a friend, or by finding a mutually acceptable compromise, or by avoiding the circumstances that would lead to conflict, or finally by preempting imminent attack so effectively that it neutralizes the threat before it can become fully developed.
Suppose we have fully developed this enlightened approach and our family is perfectly safe. We have no threats impending on ourselves or our family or friends. Are we now justified in considering ourselves a lover and not a fighter?
I contend that no, we can’t. Firstly, because that is not actually the case. We are not perfectly safe. We are in the middle of an all-out spiritual war, we just don’t see it.
Secondly, because the only reason any of us has any safety is because, somewhere, somehow, someone is fighting to make that possible.
Thirdly, because even though my family and I are safe, that does not discharge my responsibility for charity. We must not forget that subsidiarity is balanced by solidarity.
Throughout this world countless people are under attack every day. There are homeless and immigrants a few miles from your door, if you live in most American cities. There are more than 600,000 children being murdered by abortion every year in our country. 20.9 million people around the world are held in slavery. Children are being abused, exploited, raped, murdered, tortured, and forced to do all of these things as child soldiers. Women are being abused by their husbands and boyfriends, probably on your block or in your apartment complex. Within your city there are hundreds of elderly who have not had a visit from a family member in months or years.
As Catholics we believe that all people are beloved by God and all are worthy of being loved, wanted, and cared for because of that. Of course we are required to show love first and foremost to those closest to us (subsidiarity). However, we are still responsible in some degree to all and for all (solidarity).
This is why we, as Catholics, cannot claim to be lovers but not fighters. Love in a fallen world requires fighting, because the world is horrendously dangerous. Threats are all around us. We cannot allow that to paralyze us with fear or hopelessness. Jesus has died and risen. The war is won, it just isn’t over yet. We must be cheerful, but we must fight.
One day we will stand in judgment. On that day we will see a crowd of children, too vast to count. They will be bearing the scars of their abuse: saline burns, limbs torn off by landmines or industrial machines, physical scars, mental and emotional scars, and spiritual scars. All of these wounds will be glorious, not limitations but badges of glory, transfigured in the Mercy that suffered with them and for them. They will look upon their abusers and murderers: abortionists, terrorists, pedophiles, pornographers, drug dealers, unscrupulous politicians and business owners. They will look upon them with love and mercy and say, “We forgive you.”
I suspect a large part of the eternal fate of such people will depend upon how they react to that forgiveness, either humbling themselves and accepting it, or hardening their hearts and despairing. But that is not our concern, right now.
Those children will also look at us. It is good to think about what they will say to us.
What will they say to me? Will they say, “Thank you for everything you did for us. For all your prayer, fasting, sacrifice, sleepless nights, donations, risks; everything you did and suffered on our behalf to give us a whole, healthy, and happy life”?
Or will they have to say, “We forgive you for turning your back on us.”
And how will I respond?
Whatever they say to me, Jesus has already told us what He will say: “Whatever you did for one of these, the least of my brethren, you did it for me.”
Ash Wednesday is a fairly busy day in many places. People cram into churches and receive ashes in the form of a cross (or a big blob, depending on who is distributing them) on their foreheads. Many churches offer small midday services with readings from Scripture and a distribution of ashes for people who cannot attend Mass that day. Also, as controversial they may be, some places offer “drive-thru” ashes so that people don’t even have to leave their cars to receive ashes!
I find it admirable that so many people begin Lent by receiving this outward sign of our sinfulness and need for God’s mercy. Yet, I think it is important that we place our enthusiasm in the right places. I have heard a variety of stories in which Catholics focus more on getting ashes than receiving the Eucharist, and these stories make me a little sad. Then, I think about the times in my own life when the main motivation to get myself to Mass on Ash Wednesday was that afterwards, I would be able to compare foreheads with my friends—and I realize that I do not appreciate the gift of the Eucharist.
Many of us get enthusiastic to receive ashes each year as Lent begins, but we pay no attention to the fact that we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ each week—or several times a week. Should we be proud of this fact?
Personally, I am ashamed of myself. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with taking Ash Wednesday selfies or comparing foreheads with others, but if I’m placing more of my focus on this external marking than on our Eucharistic Lord, I think there is a problem. I cannot count how many times that I have focused more on ashes or some other external aspect of Mass than the gift of the Eucharist!
Ash Wednesday is long gone, and we won’t receive ashes again for many months (that’ll be a nice Valentine’s Day present in 2018!). Yet, while we won’t receive trendy crosses on our foreheads for quite some time, we have the opportunity to receive Jesus Christ. Will we open ourselves up to the graces that He wants to pour out on us? Will we let ourselves be changed as we eat His flesh and drink His blood? The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that:
“Communion with the Body and Blood of Christ increases the communicant’s union with the Lord, forgives his venial sins, and preserves him from grave sins. Since receiving this sacrament strengthens the bonds of charity between the communicant and Christ, it also reinforces the unity of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ.” (#1416)
Isn’t this amazing?
Receiving ashes on our foreheads is cool, but consuming Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is infinitely better.
Over the past week, the Gospel readings have contained many scenes of healing from Jesus’s public ministry. We know that Jesus performed many miraculous healings during His life and continues to do so today. The healing springs of Our Lady of Lourdes, whose feast we celebrated on Saturday, have brought about countless healings that have baffled doctors and defied human understanding. We know that Jesus’s healing power is still active today. But reading about all these healings also raises an uncomfortable question: What about the people who don’t receive physical healing? What about the people who make pilgrimages to Lourdes, seeking a cure, and leave with no physical change? What about saints like Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, who prayed constantly and yet suffered an excruciating death? How do we reconcile the fact that God allows some people to be freed entirely from the burden of their disease with the reality that many who pray desperately for healing still suffer and die?
We can begin to understand this mystery through the story of Jesus healing the paralytic:
And when he returned to Caper′na-um after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; and he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question thus in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your pallet and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—“I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.” And he rose, and immediately took up the pallet and went out before them all; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”
Jesus does eventually heal this man, but His first action shocks everyone in the room: He forgives the man’s sins. This is not why the people went to such lengths to bring him before Jesus. Not only was this not what they were asking of Him, it was an act that seemed blasphemous! How could He forgive sins? But Jesus did this both to reveal His divinity and to put first things first. The people were asking for a physical healing, but Jesus wouldn’t settle for just that. He knew that unless this man received forgiveness of sins, unless he received the healing of his soul, he would never be truly healed. Jesus’s ability to make the man walk again is a manifestation of His healing power, but the most miraculous thing about this story is that the man’s sins were forgiven. That is the part that matters most. Jesus was asked to perform a quick fix—to heal just the man’s body—but He gave the man what he didn’t know he needed, healing him inside and out.
Some are granted both spiritual and physical healing, some just spiritual—but that spiritual healing is the greater priority, the most important thing. Unless our souls are healed and our sins forgiven, we are unwell, and if we are healed interiorly, we can bear any physical suffering. We can ask for healing and confidently expect our prayer to be answered: for regardless of the path we are called to follow, whether we are to give God glory through allowing Him to heal us physically or by offering up our sufferings, He will heal our souls, and His grace will shine through us. If our story is not to be one of miraculous healing, then He wants to give us the grace to bear our sufferings with joy and recognize their great purpose. If we earnestly ask to be healed, He will not fail to give us the interior healing that transcends any physical maladies. Ultimately, Jesus wants us to be healed both spiritually and physically; it pains Him to see us suffer. He wants us to be physically healed, too, but He also knows that we will certainly find physical healing in Heaven, and sometimes He uses our sufferings to help us—and the other souls for whom we offer our sufferings—to get there. Let us look to Pier Giorgio Frassati, who despite his terrible illness never wavered in his joy. He was not granted physical healing, but his soul was fully restored and awakened, and because of that he was able to see even his trials through the lens of grace. The promise of healing in the Gospel stories is there for each of us. When we haven’t found the cure that we’d hoped for, we don’t need to despair or worry that we will be forgotten. We are not forgotten. Everyone’s story is different, but He desires each of us to receive the most precious of gifts: interior healing of the soul, forgiveness of sins, and the promise of Heaven.
But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, nor hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth. —Apocalypse 3:16
When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him. —Mark 6:20
Someone once asked me: “From a scale of zero to a hundred, with zero being the Devil and a hundred being God, how Catholic are you?”
At that point in time I was somewhat flummoxed by the question. (The desired percentage was apparently 60%; to aim as close as possible to 100% was deemed fanatical.)
This evening at Mass in my home parish, the priest preached on the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist.
“The problem was Herod’s ambiguity. He kept John the Baptist like a court jester, for entertainment because he liked to listen to him. He refused to listen when John chastised him for taking his brother’s wife Herodias.
“Who is Jesus to you? Did He just produce a philosophy for how to live as good men? If so, then what’s the point of being Catholic?”
Christ is Truth, and Christ is a Person. Christianity is not merely a set of rules or guidelines for an earthly life of virtue; it is not a list of propositions for us to grasp. Rather, it is we who must allow ourselves to be grasped by Truth, the Person of Christ.
The priest continued, “Don’t you feel pained when someone you love is ambiguous? Better for them to be outright angry, than nice one day and horrid the next!”
We are all meant to undergo theosis, to be divinized in growing into our true identities as children of God. He loves us wholeheartedly; He suffered and died for us. Let us not mock His complete gift of self by being half-hearted in response – our lives must be fully given over to Him, in a glorious song of love.
There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves; it is not my nature. —Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey
My God, I choose all. I do not want to be a saint by halves. I am not afraid to suffer for You. I fear only one thing — that I should keep my own will. So take it, for I choose all that You will. —St. Thérèse of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul
No one in the world can change Truth. What we can do and should do is to seek truth and to serve it when we have found it. —St. Maximilian Kolbe
Christ is not valued at all, unless He is valued above all. —St. Augustine
fanatic(noun): Latin fanaticus “mad, enthusiastic, inspired by a god.”
enthusiastic(adj.): Greek enthousiastikos, “inspired,” from enthousiazein “be possessed or inspired by a god”, from en+Theos, “in God.”
On the face of it, Christ’s words seem obvious: of course we’ll obey Christ because we love Him! Yet, when it comes down to it, loving the Lord and living His commandments feel like two entirely different propositions.
Well, first off, we, as Christians, are defined by His Love. Jesus said,
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
We know we are broken and desperately in need of the Love of Christ, and we love to be loved by Him, enjoying the warmth of His Love pouring down upon us from His Heavenly window through His Presence on earth in the Blessed Sacrament.
But His Presence and Love are also most truly keenly felt in the Cross. As He was “obedient unto death, even death on a cross,” so we also are called to the same perfect obedience by living in true accord with the commands of Christ. What are His commands? He gave us two: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
How do we love God and our neighbor? Telling them we love them, and thinking about how much we love them, are a fine start, but do thoughts and words alone constitute genuine love?
According to St. Paul, love is manifold.
Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends… So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
The essence of love—what love is—is the union of the multiple qualities of virtue. Look at all those active verbs St. Paul uses to show what love is all about. Love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” What can’t love do? Only one thing: love can never end. In some translations, this is rendered: “Love never fails.”
Love this strong, this pure, this beautiful is utterly invaluable. How awesome that we can share in the very essence and Life of God Himself, Who is Love. Yet Love, though freely chosen, is not without a price: since the Fall, Love is uniquely and intricately bound up with suffering in this world.
Love a person, and they may deceive you, abandon you, deny you, betray you. Love any mortal creature, and again you are risking much: they can hurt you, disappoint you, test you, and even the most perfect will, sooner or later, die.
In the words of C.S. Lewis, “There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”
Love hurts. Sacrifices and sufferings freely accepted out of love cost us much, and the cost seems heavier than the reward when Heaven seems so far off in time and space (appearing to confine us here on earth). But this kind of an approach to love, as though we could ‘earn’ our way to Heaven, seems shallow. At the end of the day, when we tally up our good deeds and (if we’re feeling especially confident!) nod contentedly because they so clearly outweigh our sins, do we find the joy and peace for which we long in this score-keeping with God?
No, not really.
Our hearts want something else. Something more. The sufferings we endure: are they really to be borne indifferently for the sake of love? If so, they seem to only have value insofar as we can ‘convert’ them to proofs of love. But what if the very moments of suffering, though apparently loathsome and difficult in themselves, are not merely the means, but the very essence of the Christian Life, the moments when we meet our Beloved Lord Heart-to-heart? What if this moment of trial and terror is not merely to be offered up and set aside as quickly as possible, nor again to be relished with a ghastly ‘heroic’ delight, but seen and embraced as the Cross of Christ, given to us? What if these moments of suffering, offered for love, are the very stepping stones to sanctity?
If this is the case, then everything has value. Getting back to the words of St. Paul, love literally embraces absolutely everything. Yes, love means suffering so often in this world, but no suffering, however great, can detract from the overwhelming share in the Life of God which we embrace when we love.
Why endure the pain of Love? Because we are, by nature, called into communion with the One Who is Love, and the pain is the price of the great joy fulfilled only in Him, for Whom we long. For, “You have formed us for Yourself,” Dear God, and truly, “our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.”
The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, (John 14:15), National Council of the Churches of Christ, 1971, accessed 17 December 2016, https://www.biblegateway.com.
If your brother sins, rebuke him;
and if he repents, forgive him.
And if he wrongs you seven times in one day
and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’
you should forgive him.
Sr. Febronie served as subprioress during Therese’s early years in Carmel. She reproached Therese for teaching the novices that they could go straight to heaven after death, calling this presumption. “My sister, if you desire God’s justice, you will have God’s justice,” Therese answered her. “The soul receives exactly what she looks for from God”…
This conversation took place in 1891. The following January, Febronie was among those who died during the flu epidemic. She appeared to Therese in a dream a short time later. Therese saw Febronie was suffering. She looked as though she was confirming that Therese had been right. She was in purgatory, because she had expected to receive God’s justice rather than his mercy.
Here once more we see the importance of our participation in our sanctification. God even allows us to choose the method by which he will judge us! If we believe he will send us to purgatory because we have not been good enough, then he will. If we trust him to make up for our lack of perfection, he will do that instead.
—Connie Rossini, Trusting God with St. Therese
God longs to extend His mercy to us. He doesn’t want to have to deal with us in terms of justice instead of mercy. He would rather forgive us than punish us, but sometimes justice is what we choose for ourselves. When we judge others harshly instead of forgiving readily, we adopt an economy of justice. When our motivation to perform good deeds stems from a desire to “earn” our holiness instead of out of love for our neighbor, we are are measuring in terms of justice instead of mercy. When we despair over our weaknesses and feel we can never be good enough, we reject the wideness of God’s mercy and cling to justice instead. When we compare ourselves to others, wonder why we have more or less or different gifts than anyone else, and wish we could even out the scales, we are choosing to operate under a prevailing sense of justice.
But fixating on justice alone will not get us to heaven. Jesus didn’t die on the Cross because it was just; He did it out of pure, boundless love for us, love that defied justice. Unless we cultivate a sense of mercy, then we are asking for harsh treatment. Jesus wants better for us. He wants us to trust Him so greatly and to be so sure of His great mercy that we don’t despair in our sinfulness but rather call on Him right away to cover our faults. There is no sin too great for His mercy. He wants to swoop in and rescue us, but sometimes we push Him away out of pride. Once we acknowledge that we can’t do it ourselves, that we would be crushed by an economy of justice, then we can begin to embrace His economy of mercy. And when we understand the incredible gift of God’s mercy, we will be able to demonstrate it to others, joyfully forgiving again and again and again.
During Advent and Christmas, I often think of the Holy Family. I look at the poor and homeless in my community in relation to Mary and Joseph as they sought shelter in Bethlehem. Glancing at manger scenes, I contemplate the poverty of the Holy Family, and the impoverished in my community. I ponder their flight into Egypt, and think about refugees, fleeing from persecution. This year, however, I have frequently found myself thinking of someone else.
“John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” ~Mt 3:1-2
This passage from Scripture was proclaimed on the Second Sunday of Advent, and we heard John the Baptist urge people to prepare themselves for Christ. Each year, this same message of repentance and preparation from John the Baptist is spoken during Advent. Yet, how often do we really think about this saint and his words?
I often push away thoughts of John the Baptist during Advent, and instead choose to focus on the Holy Family. The image of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph is a lot cozier than that of an outspoken, blunt prophet who wore clothing made from camel hair and ate locusts! John the Baptist makes us uncomfortable. Yes, his appearance—from a modern standpoint—is rather strange. Even more than that, his message is unsettling to us. John the Baptist reminds us that we actually need to change our lives and hearts as we prepare for Christ. His words cause us to recall that in the mist of our warm and happy preparations for Christmas, our internal, spiritual preparations are most important.
As I look to John the Baptist’s words of wisdom in preparing for Christ, I also have begun to think about how I would react to his words if I lived at the time of Christ. Would I listen to the outspoken, passionate John the Baptist as he called for repentance and later stood up for the sanctity of marriage? Would I listen to John the Baptist as he directed people to Christ?
Of course, I’m not living two thousand years ago, when John the Baptist walked the Earth, so it’s hard to say what my reaction to him would be. However, in our modern world, there are people who—like John the Baptist—call for repentance. People who stand up for the sanctity of marriage. People who proclaim God’s Truth, even when it is unpopular. People who direct others to Christ. Will I hear what they–especially the pope, the Vicar of Christ–have to say? Furthermore, will I listen to John the Baptist’s message, and change my life so I may accept Christ fully?
St. Benedict gives us a remarkable example of discipline. His simple motto, Ora et labora—pray and work—is still relevant to our own lives, so many centuries after his death. We need both prayer and work in order to live a truly Christian life and finish the race. If we were to embrace prayer without also embracing the work that comes along with our calling, we would stagnate. God has given us the incredible gift of cooperating in our own salvation; He calls us to offer our daily work up to Him. We can’t just sit back and expect Him to fix all our problems; instead, we suffer, and we unite those sufferings to His sacrifice. When we are guided by His will, our labors bring us closer to God.
Likewise, our work loses its meaning if it is not grounded in prayer. We can’t pretend that everything in our lives is within our own control, that if we work hard enough, we can fix the problems before us and improve the state of our own souls. We cannot do anything except through the grace of God. Ultimately, our salvation will come from His mercy, not from our own efforts. Before we begin the work of His Kingdom, we must first turn to Him in prayer, knowing that He cares for us and that His will is beyond our understanding. Rooted in His love, we will be able to carry out His work.
Let us pray to St. Benedict that we might learn discipline, so as to stop making excuses and to stop settling for less than the glory to which we are called. May we acknowledge our weaknesses and temptations so that we can face them, and may we call upon God in prayer so that our efforts will be directed toward His will.
Image: Fra Angelico / PD-US
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