Sunday, May 29, 2011

Overcoming Temptation - Love vs. Fear

As I was preparing for confession recently, I was pondering why I struggle with particular sins. After all, as we heard in today’s Gospel reading (Jn 14:15-21), we show our love for our Lord by keeping His commandments. As Christians, whilst we certainly do love our Lord, we would all readily admit that we do not love Him nearly as much as we should.

So, if our love for Jesus leads to keeping His commandments; what is it that keeps us from obeying them? The obvious answer is “the opposite of love, of course”. But, what is the opposite of love? Our first inclination is to say that hate is the opposite of love, but this really isn’t true because our struggle with sin is not because we HATE the Lord.

Someone once said that the opposite of love is not hate; rather, it is fear. The all-encompassing message of our Lord Jesus Christ was “love”. His mission was driven by the love of the Father for the world (Jn 3:16), and by His own love for His friends (Jn 15:13). Yet in His preaching, Jesus often had to tell His disciples “Do not be afraid...”. That is why St. John says that perfect love casts out fear (1 Jn 4:18).

And this is what struck me during my preparation for confession. The times that I overcome my temptations to sin is when I completely entrust myself to God’s care. But, when I rely on my own strength that is when I fall. I also find that at times I fall because I am apprehensive to ask God for His help because I am afraid that I will still fall and thus make mockery of asking God for His help. This is when I realised that those times when I rely on my own strength, it is because I am practising the opposite of love. The times that I am afraid to lovingly and wholeheartedly trust the Lord are the times that I fall.

So, if we want to grow in our obedience to the Lord Jesus, we must let go of our fears, and entrust ourselves in full confidence to His love for us. He has promised that when we approach Him seeking help to overcome our temptations that He will give us the grace that we need (Heb 4:16).

And for those times that we still fail...well, thanks be to God, He is always ready to receive us with the words “Do not be afraid...”. That is one reason why I love the Sacrament of Reconciliation so much. When we confess our sins to the priest, it is the Lord Jesus Christ, acting through the priest, who is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we have made a good confession, and have a firm purpose to amend our live, we can rest assured that in the absolution pronounced by the priest, our sins are most certainly forgiven (Jn 20:23; 1 Jn 1:9).

Sunday, May 22, 2011

"Sola Scriptura and the Authorship of the Gospels"

Earlier this week I came across the link below which succinctly shows how most Christians’ belief about the authorship of the Gospels is an argument against the notion of Sola Scriptura.

His blood be on us and our children

I am busy reading the Part Two of Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth. As usual, his theological insights are invaluable; and as usual, there are a few things that really stand out more than others.
One of the more significant things he has had to say in this book concerns the curse that the Jews called down upon themselves when they demanded to have our Lord Jesus crucified. You may recall that Pontius Pilate was looking for an opportunity to deliver Jesus because he found no fault in Him; however, when he saw that he would not be able to have Jesus released without causing a riot, he resorted to washing his hands saying that he wanted no part of this execution. The Jews responded by saying “His blood be on us and our children”. In their ignorance, they were willing for God to curse them for shedding the blood of an innocent man, and even more than an innocent man – the Son of God Incarnate.
Now, that’s the way that I have always understood this passage, which is OK insofar as it goes. However, our Holy Father in his usual perceptive way has suggested that we look at this passage from a slightly different perspective – indeed he is suggesting that we look at it from the perspective of our Merciful God who does not delight in the death of the wicked (Eze 33:11).
Here is what our Holy Father has to say: 
When in Matthew’s account the “whole people” say: “His blood be on us and on our children” (27:25), the Christian will remember that Jesus’blood speaks a different language from the blood of Abel (Heb 12:24): it does not cry out for vengeance and punishment; it brings reconciliation. It is not poured out against anyone; it is poured out for many, for all. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God...God put [Jesus] forward as an expiation by his blood” (Rom 3:23, 25). Just as Caiaphas’ words about the need for Jesus’ death have to be read in an entirely new light from the perspective of faith, the same applies to Matthew’s reference to blood: read in the light of faith, it means that we all stand in need of the purifying power of love which is his blood. These words are not a curse, but rather redemption, salvation. Only when understood in terms of the theology of the Last Supper and the Cross, drawn from the whole of the New Testament, does this verse from Matthew’s Gospel take on its correct meaning.
The Gospel truth is that if anyone is covered by the blood of Christ, He is blessed and not cursed. So, not unlike Joseph being sold into Egyptian slavery (Gen 50:20); whilst the crowd was willing to call down God’s curse, God meant it as a blessing for them. By going to the Cross, our Lord Jesus gave His life for the sins of the whole world, including those who cried out for His crucifixion...and thanks be to God, for me too because I am just as guilty for His crucifixion because of my own sins.  
P.S. As a side note, I think that it is important to clarify that by saying the Jews called out for the crucifixion of our Lord, we do not attribute guilt to all Jews of all ages; nor even to all Jews who were living at the time of our Lord e.g. the people who demanded His crucifixion were not the same people who sang His praises on Palm Sunday. Unfortunately, a wrong interpretation on this point has been the cause for much anti-Semitic behaviour; behaviour which should be deplored as un-Christian because all men are created in the image of God. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Additional Thoughts on the Road to Emmaus

In a recent blog I commented on Lk 24:13-35 which recounts the episode on the road to Emmaus (see here).
Given that this passage was the Gospel reading for this past Sunday, a few of us were discussing the passage earlier this week, and some additional (and interesting) insights which were shared – and since I found them so encouraging, I thought that I’d share them on my blog as well.
1)      Although the women had told the disciples of the resurrection, these two disciples were leaving Jerusalem, the place where Jesus was, for Emmaus. In short, whilst they were not looking for Jesus, He came looking for them (Lk 24:15).

2)      Although Jesus opened up ALL the Scriptures to them, still they did not recognise Him (Lk 24:27). As mentioned in my previous blog, the disciples only recognised the Lord Jesus in the Eucharist. This should at least cause those who hold to Sola Scriptura (and those who deny the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist) to raise their eyebrows.

3)      The Mass follows the same pattern as this passage i.e. the liturgy of the Word (in which the Scriptures are opened to us to show us Christ) is followed by the liturgy of the Eucharist (in which our Lord is revealed to us in a most intimate way).

4)      This passage can be seen as a summary of salvation history. The eyes of Old Testament Israel were veiled under the law; but with the Incarnation (i.e. the Presence) of Christ, the eyes of New Testament Israel have now been opened.

Of course, the depths that can be plummeted in this amazing passage are unfathomable...but I thought I would share this as something to encourage our meditation on the Scriptures. But even more, I hope that it would encourage us to spend more time with our Blessed Lord in Eucharistic Adoration, which for me has often been the most special time of meditation and prayer.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

All the Angels and Saints, Pray for Us

As Catholics we believe in what the Apostles and Nicene Creeds call “the communion of saints”. In other words, we believe that all saints everywhere united into one Church because there is only one Body of Christ. The faithful on earth (the Church militant), the faithful in Purgatory (the Church suffering), and the faithful in heaven (the Church triumphant) are all one and the same Church. And as one Church, we are all in communion with each other. In practice, this means that we pray for those suffering in Purgatory, and we ask the Saints in heaven to pray for us who are still pilgrims on this earth.  
However, a common misconception about us Catholics is that we worship Mary and pray to the Saints instead of God. The most common argument against the perceived Catholic practice is 1 Tim 2:5 where St. Paul tells St. Timothy that the Lord Jesus Christ is the only Mediator between God and man.
So, do we as Catholics really pray to Mary and the Saints? Well...yes and no. It depends on what you mean by “praying”. In the Protestant notion of “praying”, which refers to supplications that can be made to God alone as the Provider, the answer is a resounding “NO”. Only God is to be worshipped and only God is to be prayed to in that sense.
But there is a sense in which we “pray” to Mary and the Saints and I think that a good way to illustrate it is by a reference to an old Elizabethan English phrase. In the Dhouay-Rheims Bible (or the King James Version for that matter), a request of a fellow human-being was often phrased “I pray thee...” (e.g. Gen 12:13; 13:9, etc.). In this sense, the “praying” being done is simply a request. And it is in this way that we “pray” to Mary and the Saints. We are making requests of them as fellow, albeit glorified, human beings. And those requests usually take the form of asking them to pray to God for us.
Ultimately, when we ask our Lady or the Saints to pray for us, we are not doing anything different than when we ask a close Christian brother or sister to pray for us. We ask each other to intercede for us all the time. Does this mean that we deny that Jesus Christ is the only Mediator between God and men? Absolutely not! Rather, it emphasises this truth because the prayers of all the saints, whether in heaven or on earth, are always made in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The difference is that, because we on earth still struggle with sin, our prayers can sometimes be tainted with selfish or wrong motives, or we may simply be asking God for something that is contrary to His will. But the Saints in Heaven are perfect and freed from sin – and because they are that much closer to the Heart of God, their prayers will always be in line with God’s will.
So, let us never cease to pray for one another on earth, and may we never cease seeking each others’ prayers; but may we also be more diligent in seeking the intercession of the Saints, and especially our Holy Mother, remembering that God will hear their prayers because “the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).