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So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.—2 Thessalonians 2:15

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Growing in Holiness | A Work in Progress

A previous post spoke of the goodness of friends and friendship. But what about when friendship goes sour, e.g., when an encounter with a colleague or business rival threatens to unhinge us? Or, what about when we encounter someone who presents a real threat to our health and well being. The moments when we are tempted to lose our cool are the times when we need to draw on a discipline founded on and rooted in God's grace. If we have been working at humbling ourselves and disposing our hearts and minds to God's grace, we are more likely to accept unpleasant and dangerous encounters with a certain equilibrium or peace of mind. If we practice the virtue of patience on a daily basis, seeking God's influence in our hearts and over our actions, we will more likely than not keep calm when others knowingly or out of ignorance provoke us, attempt to demean us and/or push one of our buttons, or threaten to harm us.

Knowing ourselves and putting Christ first in our lives are keys to avoiding sin. We must hear and respond to Jesus' command. The Lord speaks:
Anger 
“You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny.

Retaliation 
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you. 
Love for Enemies 
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."—St. Matthew 5:21-48
Jesus understands the human condition perfectly because He is the perfect Man, free of sin. He is one of us and much more—He is the Lord. He sees how easily grudges form in man. Grudges harden like cement in the noon day sun of summer. He commands us, for our own good, to make haste and be reconciled before things get really complicated.

Jesus understands that we are creatures. Creatures of need. We need to love and be loved. There are charitable and honourable ways to love, and there are corrupt and destructive ways to love. That is, there are ways in which we tend to corrupt love. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta understood Jesus' command. She said: Give until it hurts.
We must give until it hurts. For love to be true it has to hurt. It hurt Jesus to love us; it hurt God to love us because He had to give. He gave His Son. This is the meaning of true love, to give until it hurts.—Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.
Jesus teaches the way of sacrificial love. Each and every day millions of christians around the world face daily threats to their health and well being. They do not die because they are strapping bombs to their bodies. They are enduring attacks by brutish men by being faithful to God and loving their enemies. They are fighting the good fight. They are dying at the hands of terrorists and insurgents who misguidedly attempt to convert others through diabolical means. Christian men, women and children are routinely murdered by the very people Jesus commands us to love. How many of us can say that we would remain calm and ready to embrace death when faced with a gun pointed at our heads or a blade held at our necks?

Jesus understands that we need His grace and His peace, His love and mercy so that we can extend that love and mercy to others. If we ask, He will give us the grace we need. None of us deserve God's mercy. Yet, God offers Himself freely to all. Of course, not all accept God's invitation to eternal salvation and peace in and through Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, we must love those who reject Christ until they themselves arrive at the judgement throne of God and who will then know the truth. God delays His return so that as many souls that can be saved will be saved.

Pope Francis has spoken a lot about not judging, even comparing the temptation to judge with the activity of the devil. Ouch! Are we to not judge bad behaviour? Of course not. How are we to know what actions to avoid if we cannot recognize that which would put us in hell? How are we to do what is good and holy if not by evaluating the data and determining what is spiritually good and embracing that which God would have us do? We must not judge, however, the condition of another person's soul. We should avoid assuming we can read another's heart and know their intentions with 100% certainty. There may be room in that darkened soul for a ray of light to penetrate and transform his or her life. By absorbing one's enemy's bad actions and embracing the sinner with the love and grace given us by Christ, we can participate in God's rescue mission and, one sinner along with another, be rescued by God together.

Perhaps this post should have begun where Jesus began, since the above commentary might prove to be more readily understood if we knew that, with Christ dwelling within us, we are capable of obeying Christ's commands.

After Jesus proclaims the Beatitudes (St. Matthew Chapter 5), He calls his audience to their true dignity.
“You are the salt of the earth (Melach); but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
There is a play on words here.
  • Melech= King
  • Malach= Servant serving the King; Angel, Messenger
  • Melach= Salts, minerals (i.e., Melach HaEretz; salt of the earth)
  • Malech= Work; creative force, to make, or create, repair.
With our dignity restored by Christ, we can respond in conformity to Jesus' command to love. We can call on the Holy Spirit to inform our every action. When we fall short, we can make haste to the Sacrament of Penance and there, in the presence of the priest of God, confess our sins and receive absolution.

If we allow ourselves to be found by Christ, we can submit to His right judgement which allows us to see ourselves as we truly are. Jesus is the perfect mirror in which man, illumined by the Holy Spirit, can see himself created in the image of God. Prior to Christ's redemption, each person stands looking into a mirror that reflects his fallen nature. In a sense, each person sees himself staring back at him. Baptized, the mirror is polished clean. Our vision, still lacking clarity, requires the practice of daily prayer to dispose us to God's transforming love.

One parting thought—when we receive Holy Communion, the Body and Blood of Christ, the Father now sees in us His only-begotten Son. Keep that in mind the next time you receive the Most Precious Body and Blood of Jesus.
Communion Prayer
Heavenly Father,
thank You for the gift of Your Son Whose Presence now dwells within me.
Pour out upon me Your Holy Spirit, I humbly beseech You,
that I may offer Jesus my complete surrender.
I cast aside every obstacle, every egotistical concern,
every barrier to His love and peace
in the hope of being made perfect in Him,
so that through Him and with Him and in Him
I may one day, in the company of the saints,
look upon You and adore You.
Father, look upon me, your child,
and see only Your Son dwelling within me.
Help me to decrease so that Jesus may increase.
In Jesus' name. Amen.

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We are not just material beings, but spiritual persons with a need for meaning, purpose, and fulfillment that transcends the visible confines of this world. This longing for transcendence is a longing for truth, goodness, and beauty. Truth, goodness, and beauty are called the transcendentals of being, because they are aspects of being. Everything in existence has these transcendentals to some extent. God, of course, as the source of all truth, goodness, and beauty, has these transcendentals to an infinite degree. Oftentimes, He draws us to Himself primarily through one of these transcendentals. St. Augustine, who was drawn to beauty in all its creaturely forms, found the ultimate beauty he was seeking in God, his creator, the beauty “ever ancient, ever new.”―Sister Gabriella Yi, O.P.