"Grace builds on nature..."

Location: Quincy, Massachusetts, United States

It is, isn't it? All about me, that is.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Jesus was...

"His accusers stood around him, but did not charge him with any of the crimes I suspected. Instead they had some issues with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus who had died but who Paul claimed was alive." Acts 25: 18,19

I am going to indulge in a bit of a rant today. The verses above are from today's reading. I would like to draw your attention to the end of the second verse - "who Paul claimed was alive". Clearly, claiming that Jesus is alive, today, now, is a necessary part of proclaiming the Gospel. Paul understood this; yet, I sometimes wonder if anybody has truly considered the reality that Jesus is alive. In particular, I am referring to the way I hear others talk about Jesus. I commonly hear people say things like, "Oh, well Jesus was a carpenter" or "Jesus said such-and-such". Lately, I have begun to inwardly groan every time I hear someone refer to what Jesus said or did in the past tense. Why, you may ask?

Simply because Jesus is alive!!! He is not dead. He is with us always. If I you were in a room full of people who always referred to you like you were not there how would you feel? Think about it. Let it set in! As Christians this single fact must permeate our thoughts, actions, and words. When we constantly refer to Jesus in the past tense we do him a disservice. The fact is that what he said and did he still says and does.

Consider this as food for thought. The words issued from His very human lips 2000 years ago have since disippated in the air; thus there is a proper sense in which we say, "Jesus said". However, the fact remains that He is GOD incarnate; therefore, all the words he spoke with his human lips and tongue those many years ago were spoken by Him in His divine nature as well. This means those words are spoken eternally. In eternity there is no time; thus, Jesus' words are always present, now. When I read the Bible I always try to keep this in mind. It creates a much more intense sense of urgency when I realize that what I am reading is being said right now, not just in the past.

Further, from a strictly evangelical point of view I think it is better to say, "Jesus says, 'blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God'" rather than, "Jesus said, 'Blessed are the poor, etc'". There are more than enough people in this world that act like Jesus is dead and has been for 2000 years. As Christians, we should make every effort to proclaim the incredible fact that he is very much alive and with us today, speaking to and teaching his people. So, the next time you are tempted to ask someone, "What did Jesus have to say about X?" ask "What does Jesus have to say about X?" instead. Try it, you won't be dissapointed. You might sound like a fool to others - but isn't that what it is all about?

Jesus Christ is alive; he is the center of history and the center of each and every person's existence. "The Church believes that Christ, who died and was raised for the sake of all (cf. 2 Cor 5:15) can show man the way and strengthen him through the Spirit in order to be worthy of his destiny: nor is there any other name under heaven given among men by which they can be saved (cf. Acts 4:12). The Church likewise maintains that the key, the center and the purpose of the whole of man's history is to be found in its Lord and Master. She also maintains that beneath all that changes there is much that is unchanging, much that has its ultimate foundation in Christ, who is the same yesterday, and today, and forever (cf. Heb 13:8)" (Vatican II, "Gaudium Et Spes", >10).

"Stir up that fire of faith. Christ is not a figure that has passed. He is not a memory that is lost in history. "He lives! '"Jesus Christus heri et hodie, ipse et in saecula"', says Saint Paul, - 'Jesus Christ is the same today as he was yesterday and as he will be for ever"' (St. J. Escriva, The Way, 584).

Friday, May 26, 2006

Benedict XVI today...

Every Christian is bound to confront his own convictions continually with the teachings of the Gospel and of the Church’s Tradition in the effort to remain faithful to the word of Christ, even when it is demanding and, humanly speaking, hard to understand. We must not yield to the temptation of relativism or of a subjectivist and selective interpretation of Sacred Scripture. Only the whole truth can open us to adherence to Christ, dead and risen for our salvation.

Christ says: “If you love me ... ” Faith does not just mean accepting a certain number of abstract truths about the mysteries of God, of man, of life and death, of future realities. Faith consists in an intimate relationship with Christ, a relationship based on love of him who loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:11), even to the total offering of himself. “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). What other response can we give to a love so great, if not that of a heart that is open and ready to love? But what does it mean to love Christ? It means trusting him even in times of trial, following him faithfully even on the Via Crucis, in the hope that soon the morning of the Resurrection will come. Entrusting ourselves to Christ, we lose nothing, we gain everything. In his hands our life acquires its true meaning. Love for Christ expresses itself in the will to harmonize our own life with the thoughts and sentiments of his Heart.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

On Watch...

This morning, my wife asked me what I thought St. Paul was referring to when he exhorts believers to "watch" in prayer. She pointed me to one verse in particular:

"With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit. To that end, be watchful with all perseverance and supplication for all the holy ones" Ephesians 6:18

I responded by telling her that the word "watch" is generally bound up with the coming of the Lord. A better translation of “watch” might be "alert". I think it provides a clearer indication of the meaning of the word in modern English. Because we do not know when the Lord will come, either as individuals (when we die and face Jesus) or as a Church (when he comes again in glory) we need to be constantly ready to greet him. In particular, I was reminded of the parable of the wise virgins who had their lamps full of oil and their wicks trimmed. But this did not answer my wife’s question why we need to be so watchful or how we can possibly accomplish this feat. Fortunately, St. Paul provides the answer in the preceding text of Ephesians:

Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all (the) flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit. To that end, be watchful with all perseverance and supplication for all the holy ones

St. Paul says we can achieve a constant state of alert by drawing our strength from "the Lord and his mighty power". It is necessary to do this because we are fighting a war with fallen angels who will stop at nothing to see us ruined in hell. If we draw on the Lord's power and stand firm we will be able to resist the "evil day" that precedes the second coming (or even our own death, should be fall asleep prior to Jesus return).

While reading this morning I also came across a fine article here. The author is commenting on the Didache - an ancient Christian document most scholars agree dates from somewhere between as early as 50 AD to no later than 110 AD. While it is not a part of the biblical cannon it does shed light on how the early Christian community viewed the idea of keeping watch or staying on alert - particularly because many of the apostles and original disciples may have been alive while it was circulating. It is something to think about. Do we feel the urge to stay alert all the time? I think we would do well to listen to what the Didache has to say about staying alert:

Chapter 16. Watchfulness; the Coming of the Lord. Watch for your life's sake. Let not your lamps be quenched, nor your loins unloosed; but be ready, for you know not the hour in which our Lord will come. But come together often, seeking the things which are befitting to your souls: for the whole time of your faith will not profit you, if you are not made perfect in the last time. For in the last days false prophets and corrupters shall be multiplied, and the sheep shall be turned into wolves, and love shall be turned into hate; for when lawlessness increases, they shall hate and persecute and betray one another, and then shall appear the world-deceiver as Son of God, and shall do signs and wonders, and the earth shall be delivered into his hands, and he shall do iniquitous things which have never yet come to pass since the beginning. Then shall the creation of men come into the fire of trial, and many shall be made to stumble and shall perish; but those who endure in their faith shall be saved from under the curse itself. And then shall appear the signs of the truth: first, the sign of an outspreading in heaven, then the sign of the sound of the trumpet. And third, the resurrection of the dead -- yet not of all, but as it is said: "The Lord shall come and all His saints with Him." Then shall the world see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


Today, I received the following e-mail from someone very close to me:

In the URL of your blogspot, which do you mean:

Main Entry: idle


2 : not occupied or employed : INACTIVE
3 : LAZY

Main Entry: idol

1 : an image worshiped as a god; also : a false god
2 : an object of passionate devotion

Just curious! Have a great day!

Here is my response. Enjoy!

First, and this is just a kitschy little thing, Catholics are sometimes accused of worshiping idols. Other Christian brothers sometimes see statues of the blessed virgin Mary or Francis of Assisi and a person praying in front of it and think, "the poor Catholic is praying to that idol", so to speak. In truth, the statue is supposed function in the same way a photograph does. It simply reminds a Catholic of the person's life -- the ultimate purpose of which is to focus an individual's prayer on the glorious things Jesus did in that particular person's life which in turn leads to giving the Lord praise and thanksgiving. Sort of the same thing that happens when one reads about a missionary or a martyr and it inspires us in our faith. In my years as a Catholic I cannot think of one other Catholic I have ever met who did not understand this (though, there are probably some out there, particularly where Marian devotion is concerned). There is also the Catholic theology of intercessory prayer whereby we believe that the saints in heaven can and do intercede for us before Christ just like any believer down here might. But I digress, I am really just gently poking fun at a common misconception.

Second, I am a pessimist so I tend to relate well to Augustinian theology. So, there is a sense in which I know on my own I am "worthless", my worship is not "grounded" and is therefore "useless" -- or idle. When my worship of God is not the Spirit and truth, I am truly an "idle-worshiper".

The second meaning of the word is true as well -- not occupied or employed: inactive. As a disciple, I am called to always pray and worship... always. I don't always pray and worship; therefore, I am an "idle-worshiper" much of the time. It is something that I desire and strive for, yet I acknowledge that it is part and parcel with the process of sanctification. This is why my blog is titled "Grace Builds on Nature". Aquinas coined that. I understand it to mean that the Spirit works with me exactly where I am and builds from there.

Finally, the last meaning of the word, lazy. Well, I think I have said enough about that. ; )

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter
Acts 15:1-6
Psalm 122: 1-5
John 15:1-8

My father-in-law has as wonderful garden in his backyard. This year he has planted some fruit trees as well. While visiting this past Sunday he was telling me about how the fruit trees have to be pruned. Specifically, he explained that one must always and without exception prune the branches that grow straight up or vertically. He said that if these branches were not pruned they would not bear fruit. My thoughts immediately turned to the image of God the Father pruning branches (disciples) on the vine (Jesus) in order that they "bear much fruit".

Today's first reading is from Acts. I read how Paul and Barnabbas got into a serious disagreement with some Christians who were visiting from Judea over the need for circumcision. The Judean Christians were telling the Antiochian gentile Christians, "Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved."

It is interesting to note that the act of circumcision is not unlike the act of pruning. In both cases, you are removing a piece of biological matter from a living being. This got me thinking about how circumcision was viewed by Jews in the first century. It is clear from scripture that some Judean believers firmly thought that it was necessary for salvation to be physically circumcised. They might have argued that before Christ came, it was necessary to be circumcised to be a member of God's covenant people, why not after? Was not Jesus a Jew, circumcised in accordance with the law? Did he not tell us explicitly that not on jot or tittle of the law would pass away? Did he not keep the whole of the Law perfectly? Is a disciple greater than his teacher? When did Jesus every verbally condemn the practice? The gospel accounts are silent. We neither see Him coming out in favor of or against the practice. If you were a first century Jewish Christian, what would you think? I would probably argue against Paul, too.

So, where did Paul get the idea that Gentiles did not need to be circumcised in order to be saved? Simple, he knew the Old Testament better than the Judeans. It is clear from several Old Testament texts that the physical act of circumcision was meant to signify something much deeper than simply membership in the chosen people – it was meant to signify a choice to “befriend the alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.” Deut 10:19. How do I know this? Because just three verses before this the Moses tells the Hebrews, “Yet in his love for your fathers the LORD was so attached to them as to choose you, their descendants, in preference to all other peoples, as indeed he has now done. Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and be no longer stiff-necked.” It is a wonderful testament to Paul’s wisdom that he could see the connection between “befriending aliens” (gentiles) and circumcision of the heart, not the flesh. There is also a verse in Jeremiah that speaks to this:

“If you wish to return, O Israel, says the LORD, return to me. If you put your detestable things out of my sight, and do not stray, then you can swear, "As the LORD lives," in truth, in judgment, and in justice; then shall the nations use his name in blessing, and glory in him. For to the men of Judah and to Jerusalem, thus says the LORD: Till your untilled ground, sow not among thorns. For the sake of the LORD, be circumcised, remove the foreskins of your hearts, O men of Judah and citizens of Jerusalem; Lest my anger break out like fire, and burn till none can quench it, because of your evil deeds.”

There is a clear connection here between men of Judah circumcising their hearts and a time when “nations use his name in blessing, and glory in him.” The gentiles who were disciples in Antioch certainly used God’s name in blessing and gloried in him. This is because Jesus has grafted them onto Himself, the true vine.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus explains how the Father prunes every branch on the vine so that it bears more fruit. It is easy to see that this pruning process is akin to the circumcision of the heart. Through the process of pruning, the Father strips us of all that does not sanctify us. We are then able to produce a bountiful harvest of good works, as we love “the alien”. It is by this spiritual circumcision of the heart that believers are grafted into the community of believers, Christ’s body, the Church. As St. Paul would so succinctly say years later in his epistle to the Romans, “One is not a Jew outwardly. True circumcision is not outward, in the flesh. Rather, one is a Jew inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart, in the spirit, not the letter; his praise is not from human beings but from God.”

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Tuesday the fifth week of Easter
Acts 14: 19-28
Psalms 145: 10-11, 12-13ab, 21
John 14: 27-31a

The scripture readings from today's mass really struck me. First, I read Acts 14: 19 - 28. It was impressed upon me that Paul's preaching of the gospel had effects that go from one extreme to another.

Yesterday, the readings described how Paul heals in crippled man in Lystra. "When the crowds saw what Paul had done they cried out in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in human form.” The crowd thinks they are Zeus and Hermes come down to earth. Of course, being good pagans they run off to find some oxen to sacrifice to them, which in turn causes Paul to completely pop his cork and run into the crowd to tell them to stop. Further reading reveals that his protestations had little effect. Lovely! So here I saw an example of how those who preach the gospel can sometimes be mistakenly worshiped as god, rather than the true God.

Back to todays reading where I found Paul (probably still in Lystra) getting stoned. Talk about a 180! This happened because some Jews from Antioch and Iconium "won over the crowds" (the same crowd from the previous verses? hum...). The stoning was so bad that the attackers presumed that Paul was dead and left him for such. When the disciples gathered around him he got up and went back into the town. What courage! The fickleness of the crowd is a great counterpoint to yesterdays reading. We see that sinful human beings cut off from the grace offered to us in Christ Jesus are all to willing to worship "gods come down to us in human form" - as long as the particular god in question is not THE ONE TRUE GOD.

Another thing that caught my attention was how Paul left Lystra and goes to Derbe and then returns to Lystra (where he was both worshiped and stoned... Hey, that just reminded me that Jesus was worshiped as he entered Jerusalem and then murdered the following Friday! He then left and came back to encourage the disciples... Anybody see a pattern?) and he encourages the disciples there by saying " “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” If anybody would know, it is Paul.

So, what is our consolation for all of this hardship? I found the answer in today's gospel reading:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid."

Truly, this peace that Jesus gives us is not of this world. The peace we all too often run after would have us worshiping false gods or trying desperately to "stone" our relationship with the one true God. The peace Jesus gives affords me to rest in the knowledge that despite the hardships that I experience, I do not need to be afraid because Jesus has won for us a prize of inestimable worth, our salvation. When we abide in Christ's peace and patiently endure the hardships of life we can truly say with the psalmist:

"Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your kingdom!"