The very first command that Christ utters in the Gospel to his followers is this direct and simple summons, “Follow Me.” And in a sense this may be considered to be the first commandment of the New Covenant, which builds upon its Old Covenant counterpart, “I am the Lord Your God, You shall put no strange god before Me.” But this summons is both an invitation and a command, for Christ never imposes on our free wills as if we were boot camp recruits. He desires only a freely given response on our part. But, like those first apostles, once we make that commitment there must be no turning back. The only one who turned back from the original twelve was Judas whose fate we might not wish to share. And where does that divine command to “Follow me” eventually lead? It takes one to wherever the master goes, which means it ultimately leads to the very brow of Calvary.
We just returned from an exhilarating trip to Great Britain and one of the most edifying aspects of our journey was discovering the many English martyrs who so heroically accepted their Lord’s challenge to “follow me” throughout 150 years of persecution during the 16th and 17th centuries. Continue reading
On Monday, August 21 several million Americans will witness a total eclipse of the sun. From ancient times solar eclipses, like comets, have been considered portents of singular events, either great or chilling, something like a celestial early warning system. I am not normally prone to make wild predictions based upon astronomical signs, but this year already seems to be filled with foreboding on many fronts, as though something great and terrible looms on the horizon. Being the 100th year of the Fatima apparitions in Portugal, many others have also expressed a sense of imminence, as though a significant spiritual storm is brewing the likes of which our generation has never seen. Like any premonition there is no real way to accurately predict what form that storm might take. But, as always, the best clues about the future often come from the past. Continue reading
We were made to be happy. Happiness is the desire and ultimate goal of every human heart. In practical terms a good definition of happiness might read, the anticipation or enjoyment of those things we perceive to be good. Few people would disagree with the first part of that statement. The tough part comes at the end, deciding what is truly good. Vibrant health is undoubtedly good, but can the same be said of a drug like heroin that provides a momentary euphoria, but destroys one in the end? Sometimes even a legitimate pleasure like alcohol can become harmful if carried to excess, thus it is necessary to distinguish between pleasure and happiness.
At best pleasure is a limited, and temporal, good. Happiness knows no such boundaries. We all have an insatiable capacity for it. Health and pleasure are to the body what happiness is to the soul. While pleasure may certainly lend itself to happiness, it cannot entirely replace it. Continue reading
All are Redeemed, but not all are Saved
“Never was there a worse sinner, and never was God kinder to one,” remarks the fictional character J. Blue in Myles Connolly’s classic novelette Mr. Blue. Although intended as an epithet for his gravestone, the childlike Blue innocently encapsulates the entire mystery of salvation into a single, plain-spoken truism. There is not one of us who could not make that motto his or her own, for it is only the kindness of God which allows any person to be saved. Nothing we can ever do merits such extraordinary kindness. All salvation is God’s pure gift.
Of course many in our secular culture do not see it that way. Today’s world is profoundly skeptical of a benevolent God. The belief that mankind can and will save itself, solve its own problems, and create its own sanguine future has become the new gospel. Continue reading
May 13, 2017 marks 100 years since an extraordinary warning was given to a skeptical world ─ a world which in 1917 was plunging ever deeper into dangers and darkness. That fateful year forever changed the established world order, and in ways that statesmen of the time could have hardly envisaged. A horrific European war was in its third destructive year as machine guns and trench warfare consumed millions of lives, mostly the idealistic flower of European youth. But rather than call off this senseless slaughter, the belligerents doubled down stubbornly because, as in any war, the calm voices of reason are invariably drowned out by the hysterical rhetoric of zealots.
And so the carnage ground inexorably on until March 1917 when the Russian troops who were bearing the brunt of mayhem finally revolted and brought down their Czar. Continue reading
They are often referred to as the Seven Deadly Sins, though this is something of a misnomer. Pride, Envy, Wrath, Sloth, Avarice, Gluttony, and Lust are more correctly called the Seven Capital Sins from the Latin capitas, or head, because they are not so much direct actions as attitudes or “habits of mind.” As such these habits may predispose one to more concrete sinful activities. These are the root or source of particular sins. One does not commit a direct act of envy, for instance, but envy in the heart can lead to malicious gossip, lying to discredit or harm another’s reputation, sabotaging a co-worker’s promotion, or even murder. These seven deadly dispositions are the underlying, root causes of many evils. They are the motive power behind sinful actions.
Because these seven pathological attitudes lurk deep in the heart and soul of man they have great potential to corrupt. Genesis itself attests to such evil spirits lurking within through the story of Cain and Abel. God warns Cain even before he has sinned, “Why are you so resentful and crestfallen? If you do well you can hold up your head, but if not, sin is a demon lurking at the door: Continue reading
Q. What is Prayer? In our earlier parable we used the image of a ladder which is meant to illustrate two things. First it lifts the mind and heart out of its usually mundane sphere by clearing away much of our mental clutter. Secondly it offers us a heightened perspective on reality; allowing one to freely experience the more spiritual, reflective parts of human nature. But prayer must also go beyond our inner thoughts and consciousness. Simply stated, it is an ongoing conversation we carry on with God. Because it is extremely difficult to develop a true friendship without conversation, as we all know, it is often the quality of our conversations that will determine the level of friendship.
There are many different kinds of conversation that we might have, with another person – or with God. For instance, when the phone rings and we hear a strange voice on the other end trying to solicit our opinions or to sell us some product, what kind of relationship does that represent? It immediately established the relationship of buyer and seller. For some people prayer is just that, a business transaction with God, trying to get something they may want out of God and at the least possible cost. Continue reading
Fact: We inhabit a world filled with danger. Many of those dangers are remote or small enough that we can easily take precautions against them ourselves. Locking a car door or exercising care when crossing a busy intersection are obvious examples. But other dangers lie beyond our ability to personally control: criminal acts, cancer, or invasion by an enemy force. That is why societies maintain police, hospitals, and a standing military. We rely on doctors and pharmacists to protect us from diseases that we ourselves cannot even understand much less control.
If there were no threats to our life, security, and happiness such professions would have no reason to exist. But life, as we well understand the older we get, is beset by many dangers, both hidden and visible. Some dangers we can reasonably control, either personally or as a community, but what about those dangers over which we have no plausible control? To whom shall we turn for protection when a particular danger is so grave or overwhelming that no human power is adequate to deal with it? Continue reading
There was once a kingdom ruled by a wise but very mysterious wizard who lived reclusively in a very high tower set at the edge of a beautiful and productive valley. The wizard was a generous hearted ruler and quite concerned for the welfare of all the people living there but, alas, the tower had no entryway allowing any person access, either to it ─ or to the wizard who lived there. Perhaps that last statement is not strictly true. Many years before the present time there had been one small doorway leading to a spiral staircase inside the tower, but this vital portal had long been lost; buried under a great landslide. So many ages had passed since the disaster that even the general location of that ancient portal had long faded from men’s memories. Continue reading
Has Christianity lost its moral relevance in the modern world? I live in a state where two thirds of the electorate recently agreed that physicians ought to be allowed to prescribe a lethal toxin to a dying patient as a substitute for pain medication. Apparently the Christian message no longer resonates with a large percentage of the populace. Could this possibly reflect a fragmented Christianity whose continued doctrinal and moral disunity has reduced even the Ten Commandments to debatable talking points? After all a church itself splintered by countless divisions can hardly expect to hold the attention of the masses. But until the rupture in this body (of Christ) is truly resolved, there seems to be little chance that Christianity can ever heal itself much less the world.
In order to correct such problems one must first address the fundamental cause of that religious cleavage. Ironically, it is the very thing that ought to unite Christians that has proven to be the most significant stumbling block to unity. For it is the Eucharist itself that has polarized Catholics and Protestants into opposing camps for 500 years now. Continue reading