Because the Saints Said So, Catholicism, Faith, Holiness, Jesus, Saints, Scripture

Because the Saints Said So: Manifesting the Truth (St. Thomas Aquinas)

Speaking the truth is not the same as living truthfully. They ought to go hand in hand, without a doubt, but they are not one single matter. Why is this matter on my mind today? Because of this weighty declaration by St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest minds in the history of Christianity:

“As a matter of honor, one man owes it to another to manifest the truth.”

When I hear “manifest,” I think of something being revealed and made known in a way that the recipient has not experienced before. It is a tangible illustration. And when I hear “the truth,” my mind goes straight to Jesus. Surely though, the truth refers to every facet of God’s revelation though – from Natural Law to the words of Sacred Scripture to the daily applications of Christian morality.

We have a duty of honor to manifest the truth to others! By words, actions, proclamations, stories, lifestyles, choices, reactions, attitudes – the list can go on and on. Because there are so many ways to manifest the truth, perhaps we could consider that doing it well is an essential part of that duty.

It is natural, when you are certain of a truth and that truth has done something remarkable for you, to desire to share it with others. It is natural and it is good. Sometimes, in our eagerness or confidence though, we can be unfortunately misguided in our methods. Great intentions but terrible form. I’d wager we have all experienced this, both as the truth teller and as the recipient.

Do not hesitate to manifest the truth, my friends, but be sure to tailor your approach to the circumstances. Consider the audience. Consider your relationship with them. Consider their situation. What in their life could make them receptive to what you are sharing, or make them resistant? What do they know of you that would cause them to trust what you are illustrating? St. Francis Xavier wisely noted, “The better friends you are, the straighter you can talk, but when you are only on nodding terms, be slow to scold.” If what you are sharing contradicts what they have previously believed or how they have behaved, are you standing on fertile ground that is ready to welcome the seed of truth you are offering? Or are you coming at them with your proverbial finger pointed and a glint of pride in your eye?

One of the most important precursors to sharing the truth, whatever bit of truth it might be, is a humble recognition of your own need for that truth. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8).” If I say I am better than another person because I possess the truth, I am wrong. If I say I am better than the person I was before knowing that truth, I am on the right track.

In knowing our own need, we know why others need us to manifest the truth. If we truly “owe” our brothers and sisters the truth, as St. Thomas states, there must be a reason! Why do each of us need the truth? Because we are created by God, in the image of God, for eternal life with God. What I am trying to say is, intentions matter. If I am speaking the truth to another, it is not out of pride or judgment. I speak it because I hope they can know the love that I have experienced, and the joy, the strength, and the adventure that comes of knowing Him who is Truth. I speak it because I not only long to live my eternity in Heaven, but I long to have you there with me. If my intentions in manifesting the truth fall short of this (which they so often do), I do not stop trying to manifest the truth but I do keep purifying those intentions.

From our humility in accepting the truth for ourselves, comes change. Our lives must back up what we might say to another about the truth. When this is true, “saying” can become unnecessary in certain cases. The living speaks for itself and attracts others to the truth. No one expresses it better than St. John, I guess, for I go to him again: “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18).”

I write this as one who needs to hear it. As one who must pray from the soul, “Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling (Psalm 43:3)!” And my prayer goes on, “Make me a beam of that light of your truth.”

Faith, Jesus, Scripture

On the Water

Then he made his disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side toward Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And when he had taken leave of them, he went off to the mountain to pray.

When it was evening, the boat was far out on the sea and he was alone on the shore. Then he saw that they were tossed about while rowing, for the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them.

But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out. They had all seen him and were terrified. But at once he spoke with them, “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!” He got into the boat with them and the wind died down. They were completely astounded. 

They had not understood the incident of the loaves. On the contrary, their hearts were hardened.     Mark 6:45-52

I am much more familiar with Matthew’s account of Jesus walking on the water than I am with Mark’s. The number of words and actions that stood out to me upon my recent reading of this passage tells me that anytime I’ve studied this particular story of Jesus, I made use of only Matthew’s account.

Right out of the gate, I note that Jesus made his disciples go in the boat and leave him behind. It gives the impression that they didn’t want to leave, didn’t wish to be separated from him. They had just witnessed the miraculous feeding of the five thousand. They were likely amazed, but confused, and had questions for Jesus. I would guess they were looking forward to some time spent with Jesus without the crowd so the twelve of them could ask those questions and mull over what had happened. Instead, Jesus tells them to take the boat to the other side of the sea and leave him behind.

On their way they encounter high winds and waves. It is stressful, exhausting, and possibly frightening. And Jesus is not with them. They don’t know he’s watching them from the shore. They don’t know he is seeing their travail.

Then Jesus takes to the water. He begins walking across the sea. Easily could we think “He’s going to them.” Jesus must be walking to his disciples, his closest companions, friends, and followers. He sees their hardship and He is going to them. Thus my surprise when I read “He meant to pass by them.” What?! This is the line that baffled me when I read this passage recently. It’s been on my mind for at least a week. “He meant to pass by them.” He was simply going to walk by them and leave them to the storm? He wasn’t going to help? He wasn’t going to get into the boat with them and calm the wind? Really, Jesus? Why?

It took until today, thinking on this yet again, to change my tune. “He meant to pass by them.” As in, He meant to get close enough for them to see Him. Close enough for them to call to Him, to ask Him to help. Yes. That is what Jesus meant to do. Instead of keeping His distance, waiting out the storm, or even helping from afar – instead of this, He would draw near. He would help them in the midst of their trouble. He would make Himself personally available to them.

I’m not claiming this is the only possible interpretation of this moment in the Gospel. As far as what the disciples themselves realized about Jesus in that experience, I can’t speak to that either. I am simply speaking as a person of faith reading this passage yet again and considering the manner in which our Lord sometimes chooses to help His beloved ones. We might want Jesus to stay with us in the particular manner we prefer, but He says no, you must go forward in the way I’m instructing you. We may want Him to appear in our midst, in our struggles, and take over the helm of the ship. He instead draws near and waits for us to recognize Him and call to Him.

God’s help, His saving grace and guiding hand, often come in surprising ways. He’s apt to choose the less obvious, the less understandable manner of meeting us on our wind tossed boats. And in every instance He commands, “Do not be afraid!” Do not fear! Trust in me! Know that I am here, that I, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, am available to you. I am here. Be not afraid.

Faith, Holiness, Jesus

Enduring Faith

Today, my friend came home. For the last three years he has been serving a prison sentence, unjustly in many people’s opinion – including mine.  This man… well, I could spend this entire post summing up the goodness of this man and the effect he had on me during our time of closer friendship. But that isn’t the purpose of this post. The purpose is to honor the way, during the last three years, he lived the Scripture, “Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer” (Romans 12:12).

I didn’t get an opportunity to visit Pete while he was in prison. I sent a handful of letters and cards and occasionally received a reply. The tone of those replies, the statements he made, added to the stories and descriptions I heard from his family and friends who did visit him, came as no surprise to me. They were true to Pete’s character. True to the young man I knew better years ago; true to the man I have always assumed he has continued to be since then. No, they did not surprise me, but that’s not to say they didn’t move me.

Smack dab in the middle of his doctorate studies, ongoing cancer research at his job, and plenty of other endeavors and activities, Pete was punished for circumstances outside his control. He had reason to despair. He had reason to wallow and slip into depression. He had reason for anger. Yet, beyond a reasonable level of righteous anger, he indulged in none of these things. I’m not saying he didn’t have to struggle against them. I don’t know if there were days when they tried to sneak into his heart and fill him with discouraged resignation. I do know that he did not allow them to take over.

Throughout the three years, Pete remained a man of hope. He remained a man of patience. He remained, above all, a man of faith. We are exhorted again and again in Scripture to endure trials and tribulations with the attitude of Christ. We are called upon to take up our crosses and carry them in the path of our Lord. In the Gospels, Jesus does not assure us that we will see justice prevail this side of Heaven. He does not promise to relieve from our lives the suffering that comes our way. Throughout the rest of the New Testament, the Apostles reinforce these realities of life in Christ.

We are assured instead that there will be crosses and trials. We are told flat out that “in the world [we] will have trouble” (John 16:33). The promised reward is only received in full when this life has finished. The justice is meted out according to God’s terms and timing, not ours. The relief from the suffering is not guaranteed until Paradise.

So many of us know these truths. We’ve heard them, read them, attempted to be accepting of them. In the moment though – the moment of darkness and pain – do we hold fast to them? There is no easiness in this aspect of the Christian life. It is why the stories of the martyrs and saints are such effective buoys of inspiration. We need to know it’s possible. We need to celebrate the lives of those who emanate the attitude of Christ as they carry their crosses. In them we gain encouragement to do likewise.

This is what Pete gives to those who know him. Whether he ever realized it or not, each day that Pete chose faith, hope, and charity in his attitude, thoughts, and actions during the last three years, he allowed Christ to make use of him. He became an extension of the example set by Christ for us all.

Pete isn’t a superhero. He’s not something other than what we are. Which means, we are all capable of acting in God’s grace to live with the attitude of Christ. In every circumstance – joy and suffering – from the most ordinary to the most extreme. By the Spirit of Christ, we are transformed. Let us live transformed lives. Let us honor those among us doing so right now.

Advent, Christmas, Jesus

Christmas is coming…

I don’t know about you but it can be awfully hard to remember what I’m preparing for during this season. Okay, not that hard. I mean, I’m buying presents, baking cookies, listening to Advent themed sermons on Sundays. Obviously it’s Christmas that we’re preparing for in these present weeks. Better put, it can be difficult to appreciate and understand the result of that which we’ll celebrate on the 25th. Contemplation is a lost art. Stillness of mind and heart can seem impossible or even counterproductive. We always have to be doing enough, saying enough, moving enough. I’m as susceptible to this as anyone. But if I quiet down and hold still, what might I find?

I might find that God is with me. I might find His presence to be full of consuming, transforming peace and joy and hope. All the things we wish for one another in our greeting cards, we’re walking through life surrounded by. They hang about us like the particles in the air of this room, invisible until we stop moving and look at where the light shines brightest.

Mary knew how to do it, always “[keeping] all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Joseph knew how to do it, aware that the actions he took to be the guardian of the Savior were more important than any words he could speak. So our record of him in Scripture holds no words of his own, only listening, hearing the Word of God guide him, and acting upon it. Simeon knew how to do it, waiting and praying year after year for God to reveal the Messiah. His preparation made him know that Messiah the moment he saw the Holy Family enter the temple.

“Don’t we love the word ‘with’? ‘Will you go with me?’ we ask. ‘To the store, to the hospital, through my life?’ God says he will. ‘I am with you always,’ Jesus said before he ascended into heaven, ‘to the very end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20). Search for restrictions on the promise; you’ll find none…. Prophets weren’t enough. Apostles wouldn’t do. Angels won’t suffice. God sent more than miracles and messages. He sent himself; he sent his Son. ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1:14).” (Max Lucado, Cure for the Common Life)

With a little practice now – taking a bit of time each day to pray, reading through the Scripture story of the arrival of my Savior, thinking over this extraordinary truth as I perform ordinary tasks – maybe come December 26 and into the new year, I won’t forget that God is with me. Christmas brought Emmanuel, “God With Us,” but every morning brings another day that He is with me, another day for me to acknowledge and thank Him for being with me, another day to speak and move and act in a manner that declares I know He is with me and I choose not to forget.

God is with us… may we always remain with God.
Advent, Christmas, Holiness, Jesus

Humble As the Incarnation

(Originally written & printed in “The Bells of St. Mary” parish newsletter.)

The Incarnation – the event of God becoming man, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, the Son, taking on a human nature – is the sort of event that alters the course of human history. It is the definitive move by God to usher in the great work of our salvation, thousands of years in the making. It is also, arguably, the most humble act of God.

There are dozens of ways to describe humility and dozens of examples of lives characterized by that virtue. As well, there are plenty of reasons to strive for humility in ourselves and encourage it in those we influence. However, no better description, example or reason can be found than Jesus Christ, Himself.

Our human mind tends toward the belief that to do great things we must be greatly acknowledged and honored. Success is achieved by audacity and notoriety. What do we make then of this Heavenly King born in the quiet of a hidden stable? What could be accomplished by such an entrance into human history? Why would God decide to come in this manner, without a display of pomp and power?

What we make of it ought to be exactly what Christ stated in the Gospel: “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (John 13:15). This Advent, consider the effectiveness of humility. Like Christ, you can enter the scenes of life with humble actions and attitudes yet working for great and glorious things. Trusting not in the power of ourselves but the power of God in us, we can do more than we could imagine. With willing obedience to God the Father’s laws and guidance, you will become a conduit of His love, mercy, strength and compassion.

No work of our own, good as it may be, can produce what God’s work can produce. No words of our mouths can convey truth as well as His words. No outreach of ours can reap the changes in this world like His outreach can do. When we submit ourselves to the Lord as His son or daughter and servant, He humbles Himself yet again, as He did at the Incarnation, and works through us in this world. Amongst our families and friends, in the daily grind of the workplace, in the quiet times of prayer, God will include you in the work of His hands. He may bless you with the rewards of your humility here and now, but without question, “your reward will be great in Heaven” (Matthew 5:12), where the Lord keeps for you “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (1 Peter 1:4).

Prayer for Humility
Lord Jesus Christ, I pray that you may fortify me with the grace of your Holy Spirit, and give your peace to my soul, that I may be free from all needless anxiety and worry. Help me to desire always that which is pleasing and acceptable to you, so that your will may be my will.
Grant that I may be free from unholy desires, and that, for your love, I may remain obscure and unknown in this world, to be known only to you.
Do not permit me to attribute to myself the good that you perform in me and through me, but rather, referring all honor to you, may I admit only to my infirmities, so that renouncing sincerely all vainglory which comes from the world, I may aspire to that true and lasting glory that comes from you. Amen.
~St. Frances Cabrini

Faith, Jesus, Scripture

Seeds & Soil

I think it’s a combination of the yard work yesterday and the significant but unresolved discussion last night about the growth of faith. I woke up today with the parable of the Sower in my mind. It’s one of my very favorite passages, possibly my favorite parable, but I haven’t read it in quite some time.

Jesus is speaking, yet again, to a great crowd. He stands in a boat, just off the shore, while the crowd assembles on the beach, eager to hear from this great and mysterious teacher.

And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they had not much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched; and since they had no root they withered away. Other seeds fell upon thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” (Matthew 13:3-8)

Later the crowd waits. Jesus is pausing in His preaching and His twelve disciples gather around Him. They question Him on His method. “‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ And he answered them, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.'” (13:10-11) They likely feel the weight of this privilege, but they realize that they too need help to understand what Jesus has told them. Later they will receive the powerful gift of the Holy Spirit to understand all truth (John 14:26; 16:13) and preach it themselves, but for now they depend upon Christ to enlighten them with His words.

Jesus knows this need and He proceeds to explain to the Twelve, “Hear then the parable of the sower. When any one hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in his heart; this is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is he who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the delight in riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is he who hears the word and understands it; he indeed bears fruit, and yields, in one case a hundred-fold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (13:18-23)

There are so very many things that impress themselves on my mind from this teaching of Christ. I will keep myself to only two here though. One is the role of the Sower. The Sower of “the word of the Kingdom” is God, Himself. When we present ourselves to Him, admitting our need for Him and His Word, He sows. When we hear His Word proclaimed and taught, He sows. When we pray and entrust ourselves to Him, He sows. Even when we are not prepared, not certain, He sows. Faith is a gift of God. It is not created against our will and so we do hold a role in its inception in our hearts, but we cannot create it ourselves. We are to be soil, receivers of the seed of faith sown by our gracious and saving God. Pride would have us believe we can save ourselves. Woundedness would have us believe God will not come through. Modern mindsets would have us believe we can know all things by our own power. But it is God who created us and it is God who has made it clear that we need Him and His Word.

Secondly, the parable lays out a bluntly difficult scenario for those who receive the seeds of faith. Christ presents “whens,” not “ifs.” When the evil one attempts to steal away the seeds; when tribulations and persecutions come because of this faith; when the cares of the world and the desire for the things of this world rise up – these are not hypotheticals and the results when the faith has not yet taken root in good soil are not either. I’ve seen it and experienced it: the uprooting, the withering, the choking out. Good soil… understanding: this is the aim to be taken. To humbly open your heart and mind to truth as revealed by God and proclaimed by His teaching Church. To take up the work of understanding, of growing strong, lasting roots of faith. To let Him take hold by His Word. To “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6) To avail yourself of the rich resources of faith. To be a member of the “household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:15) To be good soil. And in good soil, oh the gloriousness of the fruit borne by those seeds sown by the Divine Sower.
Catholicism, Faith, Hope, Jesus, Love, Scripture

The Fundamental Decision

(originally written for/printed in “The Bells of St. Mary” parish newsletter)

If questioned on what it means to call yourself a Christian, how might you respond? Do any of the responses that come to mind reach to the heart of what it means to live under the title of Christian?

Pope Benedict XVI looks to the disciple, John, for an answer: “We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us” (1 John 4:16). This, our pope states, is “a kind of summary of the Christian life.” Indeed, coming to this belief in God’s love is the “fundamental decision” of the Christian’s entire life. Caught up in the ways of the world and settling for rote prayers and surface-only principles, many men and women carry the title of Christian their whole lives without facing this decision. But for those who do face it, this decision brings transformation.

Faith and hope are made possible; perspective on this life in the context of eternity is gained; obedience to God’s commandments becomes an honor; worship provides nourishment of the soul; prayer holds the rich depths of personal conversation with the Holy Trinity. By this fundamental decision to believe in God’s unwavering, self-offering love, the grace gained in the soul at baptism is activated and all aspects of living as a Christian are infused with meaning.

This single fundamental decision can then be reaffirmed in each particular decision to love, serve, obey and worship. In the daily circumstances of family and work and play, all can be placed under the sovereignty of God. A person can then, with practice and maturity, love as a response to Love. Virtue will be preferred to vice not merely to avoid ill consequences but because the heart recognizes and honors the great, unmerited gift of God’s saving love.

For some, the fundamental decision to believe with the whole heart and mind in God’s love is met with hesitation. There are what might be dubbed “fundamental doubts.” (1) How is it possible, with me being me and God being God, that He could love me so completely? (2) Can I ever be sure in my belief? (3) Do I have the capacity to respond well enough if I dare admit the extent of God’s love for me?

To those struggling with the first doubt, Jesus Christ, who is the embodiment of God’s love, points out that He did not come “to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Awareness of our unworthiness need not produce despair but rather humility and a determination to abandon that which would hold us back from the full acceptance of God’s transforming love. It is not in God’s nature to be inconstant or to love partially. Though we know we are undeserving, we need never entertain the question of whether God wholly loves us.

And to the second doubt is offered the response that faith can indeed be certain. Our world equates faith with superstition or unrealistic idealism but truly the faith of the Christian, when understood and experienced, does not fall into either category. Certainty can be gained in the heart as a gift of the Holy Spirit through prayer and self-surrender. Certainty can be gained in the mind by committed, ongoing growth in knowledge and understanding. When there is a question or an instance of confusion, face it and seek answers. A sincere search for truth will always find truth. The authors of Scripture, the writings and lives of the martyrs and the saints, the summary of the faith found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church – all offer their insights for the sake of our edification in faith.

Thirdly, to the question of our capacity to love in response to God’s infinite love, God Himself answered at the dawn of creation: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). Made in the image of God, we are created with the capacity to love as He loves. We can grow ever more faithful, generous, joyful, merciful and forgiving as He is all these things to the fullest degree. There is no limit to our capacity to image Him and therefore honor Him.

The fundamental decision to believe in God’s love is a matter of saying yes to who God is and who we are as our truest selves. It is carried out in simple, humble ways as we move through our days, relate to one another, and worship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is a decision, if reaffirmed unto the last hour, which will carry us into eternal life.