Saturday, August 04, 2012

How do you agitate an unreasonable person?

You try to reason with him!

Thursday, April 05, 2012

The benefits of mystery

It's been 40-plus long days that I've been walking with Pope Benedict with his book Jesus of Nazareth - Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, and as I've come to know for some time now, the holy father is truly a master teacher. Even though we've seen so many times the passages in the Gospels describing the final week of Jesus' time before the cross, Benedict has brought such a deep insight to these texts. I never regret reading the Pope Benedict XVI's books, even when they are a little difficult, but this is pretty easy reading, so it's all the more enjoyable.

I've written every day for more than 40 days now and we've finally come to the end of my Lenten reflections for the year. There is one more chapter to go, but as it is on the resurrection of Christ, I have determined to leave that to the 10 days after Easter Sunday. I won't say that it's been easy for me, because spending time to read the text, reflecting on it and then writing each entry has taken me an average of two hours a day. It can really get taxing. But seeing as how I've pretty much done a poor job with my other Lenten observances, this is one that I've not failed in, so that gives me reason for joy.

I only hope that if you've been reading, I haven't let you down. Not many people can better the pope in bringing Christ out of a text, and I'm most certainly not one of them. I only hope that you've gained something too.

In the last short portion of the chapter on Jesus' death and burial, Pope Benedict basically summarises the entire book so far. He warns us that in the midst of the exegesis and study of the Gospel texts, we must not get too caught up by getting the facts straight. We must leave room for wonder, because, after all, we are finite minds trying to put a finger on an infinite God's plans. We will always fall short. If we were tasked to save the world, I don't think any of us would have chosen the way that God chose to do this. This makes the entire salvation story something of a mystery. It is, at the end of the day, something beyond our minds and our understanding.

A friend I was speaking with today shared that at a church session yesterday, he was asked what he expected his heaven to be like; he was asked what would be in his version of heaven. He posed that same question to me and my response to him was that in my personal experiences with God, he has hardly given me what I wanted, but he's always outdone my expectations. Every time I tell the Lord that I really want something,  I almost never get it. I would feel disappointed, let down, sometimes even upset that "me, a faithful servant, cannot even get this one request". Sounds like the brother of the prodigal son, if you ask me. Yet, in all of those situations I could remember, God had always given me something that later proves to be even better than what I had imagined. He had his way, and he's won me over. A couple of years ago, I made the decision never to impose any desire to him anymore. I would tell him what I think is the best, and then go on and tell him that since he knows the best, that he could just give me the situations he thought was best for me. I've had to make adjustments here and there, but on the whole, he's never let me down. That's why, for me, I don't need anything for heaven. I know that his promises are real and he will keep his promise. He tells me that heaven is better than the best prize I can get anywhere here, and I believe him. I trust that I will truly be happy with him, even though heaven is sometimes described as endless praise and perpetual adoration of God's face, and it sounds tiring. I know that it's better than I imagine, so if that's what it will be, then I can't wait to see what that's like.

Mystery is good. It reminds us that we don't know everything. It demands faith to have a bit of meaning. It means that we have to make our calculations, be discerning, and eventually, take a small leap. When we don't know, that's when we can leave ourselves in the hands of someone who does know. We will probably never fully understand why Jesus had to die on the cross, why he did this or said that. But we can learn to place our trust in him and allow him to lead. Trust is the all-important element in faith. And this is what we need to give to God. If we trust him, we will strive to live our lives in a worthy manner, we will do what we can to learn and discover God, and we will embrace the deep mystery that is God's lasting love for us mere creatures.

God bless you and may you have a blessed triduum to the celebration of Easter.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

The blessings of suffering

In the last few days I've been thinking about the effect of the cross in our lives. On Monday, it was on the right way to worship God. It is more than mere words; it is a song that is sung with our lives lived in full conformity to God's will. Yesterday's reflection headed in the direction of living our lives in the context of the cross, not just accepting the cross as a matter of history, but realising that it is affectual in our lives. We are the body of God, and thus are affected by his action.

The most extreme of examples in participating in the cross is martyrdom. In today's portion in Chapter 8 of Jesus of Nazareth - Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, the pope discussed how the early Christians really saw true nobility in martyrdom. He points out some of the heroes of early Christianity who gave their lives for the Lord, such as Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp and Lawrence. Each of them saw martyrdom as an act of total consecration and total union with the suffering Christ.

Are we to go out there and look for martyrdom then? The view the world takes of martyrdom is very different from what it was then. It seems like martyrdom is a religious radical's way of making a statement. But it really isn't like that at all. Christian martyrs would never back down when challenged to deny their faith. They would rather give up their lives than to denounce Christ. They suffer and die for their faith. This is quite different than attacking someone else for their faith (or lack thereof).

The challenge is, therefore, not for us to go out there and invite trouble, but to stand ready to defend Christ to the very end. And let's face it, we have our own challenges to faith in our time, but people coming to our doors and forcing us to deny Christ at gun-point is not something that happens regularly (thank God). The best and most practical way we can defend Christ is by facing our day-to-day challenges with courage and faith.

We do this by not complaining about our jobs, our ministry, our neighbour, the food we have on the table, and so on. We live our lives full of hope, and full of gratitude that we have jobs to keep us going, food on our table, clothes to wear and a shelter over our heads. Every time we go on Facebook or Twitter, we represent our faith. When we live our lives without morals or gratitude, or when we give in the to smallest of temptations, the lack of efficacy in Jesus' death rubs off to others. This is not because his death was not enough. It is because we do not let it take full effect in our lives. And this is with reference to the normal things in life. We will also have real trials. "In the trials of life we are slowly burned clean", the holy father says (p. 240), yet, if we cannot live life with gratitude for the good things in life, how will we possibly see the trials of our lives as purifying?

What do you regularly complain about? Perhaps it's a good time to list them down, look at them objectively, and consider how blessed you are. What do you suffer from? Perhaps it's a good time to accept them as a cross you can carry with our Lord, and once again, we'll realise how blessed we are, to have the honour of entering into the mystery of the cross in a special, personal way, in union with Christ.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Living life in the context of the cross

In the whole period of Lenten reflections with Pope Benedict XVI, we've strolled through Jesus' agony, arrest, trial, crucifixion and death. We will also look at his resurrection (Chapter 9 of Jesus of Nazareth - Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection), which I will reserve for focus starting Easter Monday, 9 April. In the mean time, going through Jesus' final week in Jerusalem and coming face to face with his obedience, we are faced with the ultimate question: how does his sacrifice, his obedience, his cross, affect us today? It seems like for many Christians (dare I say "most"?) "appreciating" and "seeing" our Lord's death for us is one thing; relating his sacrifice to our daily lives is another.

What does the cross mean for us? When we look at the event of the cross, and consider that there could have been an imaginable number of ways that God could have chosen to save us, we can recognise that the cross is really a deep mystery. But, reflecting seriously on the event, we will find that we are drawn into the cross. Through it, God invites us to live our lives in the new context. He adds a new perspective in which we can (and should) live our lives.

Paul's letter to the Romans reveals this more clearly: "I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (12:1). We are called, too, to present our bodies as a living sacrifice. The idea is to offer our very existence to God, and undergo a process where we are transformed by God, and thus become more "god-like". Our bodies must be penetrated by God's Word in order to be made presentable gifts to God, made perfect through Jesus' perfect offering.

This union essentially means that it's a two-way relationship. As Christians, we are not called to be passive lovers, only sapping on Jesus' limitless gift. No, This way of living makes Jesus' righteousness something "external" to us. The full effect of Christ's sacrifice is achieved by drawing us to himself. That's why we are described as the "Body" of Christ, not merely external entities trying to follow his example. Acceptance of his love and grace includes an incorporation into his body.

Life in the context of Jesus passion and death, is a life lived differently. No, it isn't something that is easy, but it's something that must take root somewhere within us, and allowed to grow to its potential. When we have learnt to give up our wills for God's will, we know we're making great progress. We should not view life as a separate event from the cross of Christ; we must instead grow to be involved in it more than ever before.

Monday, April 02, 2012

The right way to worship

From re-looking at God's gift in answer to the demand of justice, we turn nicely to the aspect of the right worship of God. Worship is to give God his due. And what is God due? He is infinitely good, and therefore deserves infinite praise, infinite love and honour. But how do we, as human creatures, finite by nature, give infinitely to God? Again, it seems like an impossible task. And again, we look to Christ's infinity to make up for our limited capability.

This limitation was discussed before in respect to giving God worship and sacrifice. The temple sacrifices, the sacrificial bulls and lambs, were powerless to take away sins. And so are our sacrifices. I think, therefore, that the best we can do in our worship to God is to recognise our limitations, and humbly admit to his perfection. How do we do this? How do we live it?  Looking at the psalms, we see a clear answer: "Sacrifice and offering thou dost not desire; but thou hast given me an open ear" (40:6). What is an open ear for?

Obedience has replaced the temple sacrifices. "Living withinand on the basis of God's word had been recognised [in Scripture] as the right way to worship God" (Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth - Holy Week: From Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, p.232). The more we direct our life, our very existence toward God, the more we accomplish true worship.

Above any praise and worship song or any spontaneous praise we can offer on the most elaborate stage or with the best music, this – obedience – is the best way to worship God. Because by obedience to his word and will, we acknowledge his perfect will and our imperfection. And in doing his will, we are transformed slowly by every action, to what God has made us to be.

If we have lived this Lenten period, giving up our TV time and social media and our chocolate, but cannot follow him in the deepest parts of our lives, how are we to grow in this life with God? Our sacrifices, in the first place, should stem from the desire to obey all that God asks of us.

Jesus is the prime example of this obedience. He was the most perfect of any flesh, being one with God. Yet, when human nature crept in to tempt him, our Lord Lord surrendered his will to the godly goal. Even though our obedience will still fall short, whenever we do will to act in obedience, Jesus' obedience makes up for what we lack. On the cross, Jesus offers perfect worship to God on our behalf. This is why so much emphasis is placed on Jesus on the cross.

Central to the Christian life are what is symbolised by the blood and water that came gushing forth when the soldier pierced Jesus' side: In Baptism, we are taken up into Christ's obedience, and in the Eucharist, "the Lord's obedience on the cross embraces us all, purifies us, and draws us into the perfect worship offered by Jesus Christ" (p. 235). We then, embrace our Baptismal promises, and seek regularly to be nourished by his Body and Blood.