Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Confess that Jesus is Lord

On this Feast of St. Andrew, we hear a portion of Paul's Letter to the Romans in which he states "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." Now, this may sound like a rather simple formula, and some people take it to mean that the words are somehow "magical". Nothing could be further from the truth.
Paul is writing to those in Rome who have come to know Christ. Many of them were Jews, familiar with the Jewish Scriptures (much of our Old Testament) as well as the many other teachings of the famous rabbis that were used to determine how to live. In fact, there was a great controversy over whether or not one had to continue to hold to the various laws and traditions of Judaism in order to be a follower of Christ. As Paul was writing this letter (56-58 A.D., he was certainly mindful that not so long ago (49 A.D.), the Emperor Claudius had ordered the expulsion of Jews from Rome because of problems arising from this dispute. In fact, it could lead to financial, social and even physical ramifications if one were to state that faith in Jesus as Lord was the most important thing needed, and that His new covenant had superseded that Moses.
Paul wanted to make it clear that there could be no compromise in "confessing" faith. Now the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines "to confess" as meaning "to declare fain in or adherence to" in this context. By stating that a person had to confess that Jesus is Lord and believe in the resurrection, Paul was making them admit that merely following a set of laws, no matter how good, was not what save you. He clearly wants people to know that salvation is founded in and based on Jesus Christ, the Lord. So, even though it would be a rather dangerous thing for the Romans to confess this, it was necessary.
Now for us, the idea of confessing Jesus as Lord may not seem very important. After all, we freely are able to declare belief according to whatever religion we desire, with no fear of retribution. But just because we are free to say the words does not mean we are done. We also have to put them into practice. Just by saying the words, the Roman followers of Christ were forced to live their faith. Once they were identified as a Christian (although that term was used in Antioch, according to the Acts of the Apostles), the were ostracized by other Jews and certainly not favored by the Roman pagans. We, however, are in a different world. Our faith, our beliefs are considered "private", and in fact society does not want to confront anyone's faith. Therein lies the problem. The unspoken prejudice against having faith impact the public aspects of our lives is a tremendous pressure. And this can result in our saying the words privately or in the comfort of our churches, but not really "confessing" belief. This is the challenge for us. Do we allow society to silence us, to keep us from speaking of our faith? Or do we confess and proclaim that Jesus is Lord? If a law was passed that made it illegal to be a follower of Christ, would there be enough evidence to convict you? When was the last time you confessed - publicly and not in the context of church - that Jesus Christ is Lord?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Revealed to the Childlike

Jesus prays in today's Gospel (Luke 10: 21-24) and praises the Father because "although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike." It made me pause and consider what I see as "childlike". Most children confront things head-on, especially their own needs. They tend to say whatever is on their minds and have not yet developed the "filter" that usually prevents us from saying things that others may not deem polite. When children experience a new reality, they often are able to sum up what they see and feel pretty quickly. And children are fairly honest when asked what they think.
These also tend to be the qualities we find on adults who are labelled "childlike". This is usually used in a negative and disparaging way, as if they are somehow less than an adult. Jesus sees a value in this approach, however, especially when dealing with the Father. You see, our relationship with God should not have the hesitation, filter or avoidance that can be part of our relationships with other people. Since God already knows us completely, it is really rather ludicrous that we try to put on a good face for God. That is exactly what the Scribes and Pharisees tried to do ("O God, I thank you that I am not like these others...")
Whenever we try and come to God as if we were "wise and learned", we will invariably be disappointed. God loves us and wants us to love Him. God will take care of us and give us what we need (though not always what we want). God wants us to love others as we love ourselves. If we can approach God in this childlike way, we will come to know Him more and more, as He reveals Himself to us each day.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Watch For It

Well, the big day has come and gone. We now have the Third Edition of the Roman Missal as the new translation for Mass, and I must say it was a very good experience today. After all the mailings, inserts, presentations and discussions, people seemed to be open to the "active listening" that we have encouraged. Judging by the comments after Masses, most did pay close attention to the prayers of the priest, and appreciated the new, more poetic language. Even some of the more unusual words ( consubstantial, incarnate, etc.) once explained, seemed to be embraced. It will be an ongoing process for all of us, as we continue to explore the new phrasing and sentence structure that forces us to pay attention. And that is exactly the point of today's Gospel - stay alert, watch! Of course it is primarily watching for the coming of the Lord, but I also think that we need to watch the words we use when praying, and be alert for unusual or confusing phrases that we may not understand. These present opportunities for us to reflect, pray, investigate and seek understanding, so that the prayers of the priest may reflect our needs, or praise, our gratitude to God.
As we begin this Advent Season, I pray that we all will be alert to the many ways that the Lord comes to us each day. And, as we continue to use and come to appreciate the new translation, we should anticipate an increase in our understanding of the many ways God impacts our lives. All we have to do is watch for it!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Losing Your Life

As we prepare to finish up the liturgical year, the readings during these weeks all revolve around the theme of the "end days", both personal and global. Today is no exception, when He says that "one will be taken, the other left". This reflects what actually happens, since not all are dying at the same time. His primary concern is what we do with the time we have on earth - how we live is more important than how, when or where we die.
One of the most powerful lines in today's gospel (Luke 17: 26-37) for me is "Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it." It seems to point out a plan for living, and rightly takes our attention and concern off of the eventuality of death. Every one of us will die, that is a given. But if we spend our time on earth trying to prevent our death, we will never really live. That is a real key for me, since I, like everyone else, sometimes worry too much about death. Every moment I spend thinking about my death is a moment I am not spending living well.
So, how can we lose our lives for His sake? I think it means that we have to pay more attention to letting go of our own desires and priorities and put others first. This is very difficult, since there is no guarantee that anyone will put our interests first. But that is, perhaps, why this is the key to saving our own lives. I imagine that all those who have sacrificed their lives for others throughout history, whether soldiers, first responders, or acts of bravery, completely understand that these acts were the means by which they gained eternal life. And even small acts of self-denial, when done so that another may be helped, are ways that we begin to accept the gift of eternal life that is offered to each of us.
"My way or the highway" may sound like a statement of power and control, but it really is the attitude of a loser. You may gain a small measure of satisfaction by having things your way now, but if you are not willing to lose that life, you just might not gain the eternal one that God is waiting to give you.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Everyone Is Important

In today's Gospel (Luke 15: 1-10), Jesus speaks about the importance of every single person to God. By using the example of a shepherd who loses one sheep or a woman who loses one coin, He emphasizes that each individual has value. Now we might not think that losing a single sheep is a big deal, especially if there are ninety-nine others. But we need to remember something: most shepherds were not the owners of the sheep, but rather the caretakers of sheep that belonged to someone else. Do you think it would be a big deal if, say, your bank called you and said "Sorry, but we misplaced 1% of the money you had on deposit with us"? I know I would think it was a big deal! In the parable, the woman who had ten coins and lost one tore the house apart in order to find it. Again, what is the big deal - it was one coin! But what would you do if, instead of using a bank, you kept all of your money in the house and misplaced 10% of it? The perspective changes, doesn't it?
In this same way, Jesus wants us to know that every one of us is important to God. Now, unlike the sheep or the coins, we make a conscious decision to move away from God. We sin by making choices that separate us from God. And God does not force us to return. That is why He said that there is great joy over one repentant sinner, because he or she is then reunited with God. Every single person is valuable to God, and God does not want to be separated from any one of us. You are not only loved, but also valued by God. And God is always ready to welcome you back. Just as any parent, God wants to be close to all His children. And He is waiting for the day when all of His children will be together, back home with Him. That, my friends, is the heaven that awaits us.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Using GPS

Today's Feast of All Saints gave us the Gospel of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5: 1-12). It is presented to us in the context of reflecting on those who have "made it", the saints who are in heaven. For those who are old enough to remember, the Baltimore Catechism had a question that is particularly important in thinking about this feast. "Why did God make you? God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, so as to be happy with Him forever in the next." Our reason for being is to get to heaven. We get there by following the Beatitudes. Jesus gave us these as a sort of road map - a set of directions.
I have a GPS that I use to help me navigate from one place to another. I simply put in the place I want to reach and "Jack" (sorry, but I just couldn't live with a woman's voice telling me where to go all the time - reminds me too much of my mother!)
Anyway, Jack tells me when to turn and how far to go, and if I follow his instructions I will get there. Sometimes I make a wrong turn, and Jack's voice tells me that he is "recalculating". He will come up with an alternate route and sometimes even tells me to make a u-turn.
If I am trying to get to heaven, I also have a GPS. Not a Global Positioning System, but God's Positioning System. These are the beatitudes. They will certainly not get me to the place where society will bestow power, prestige, wealth and other things that so many desire. Rather, they will help me get to the true goal of my life - heaven. sometimes I make a wrong move, forget to follow the directions or maybe intentionally take a detour. Just as Jack will recalculate, so too God helps get me back on the right road. But I have to listen. I must admit, sometimes I just turn Jack off and try it on my own. But I usually mess it up and turn it back on. I do that with God also.
Perhaps you are that way too. Maybe you have turned God off and have found yourself a little lost. The great thing is that God will help you and "recalculate" so that you can get back on thee right road. Just remember to think of the Beatitudes and follow your spiritual GPS - God's Positioning System!