Sunday, August 26, 2012

Redeeming the Time - a Catholic Perspective

As Catholics, we sometimes struggle to keep up the various acts of devotion that we practice – things like morning and evening prayers, the Rosary, reading the Scriptures, etc. We can be lured into thinking that we don’t always need to do these things because we are OK. After all, we still attend Mass every Sunday – granted, our minds might be wandering somewhere else, but hey – we’re just human and God understands. Right?

It’s very easy to fall into this way thinking because we often deceive ourselves into thinking that we are fine with God – but what we don’t realise is just how indifferent to God we can actually so often be. I think that another problem is that we don’t actually realise the impact that our little devotions can have. We think that they are insignificant – and this is exactly what Satan wants us to think. The Second Reading from last Sunday (Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B) deals with exactly this:

See therefore, brethren, how you walk circumspectly: not as unwise,
But as wise: redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
Wherefore, become not unwise: but understanding what is the will of God.
And be not drunk with wine, wherein is luxury: but be ye filled with the Holy Spirit,
Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual canticles, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord:
Giving thanks always for all things, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to God and the Father.
(Eph 5:15-20)

In the midst of this passage there is a curious phrase in which St. Paul exhorts the Ephesians to “redeem the time because the days are evil”. As a Protestant, my understanding of what St. Paul was telling Christians to do was simply not to waste time taking part in frivolous activities, but rather to spend time doing things that had eternal value. Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad interpretation of what St. Paul is saying – but it doesn’t do complete justice to St. Paul’s exhortation. It is true – but it is only the starting point of what St. Paul is really saying.

To understand what St. Paul is getting at, we need to understand what the word “redeem” means. Throughout the Scriptures, the idea of redemption has to do with buying something from another for the purpose of rescuing it. This (redemption) is essentially what Jesus Christ accomplished on the Cross of Calvary:
[Jesus] gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity and might cleanse to himself a people acceptable, a pursuer of good works.
(Tit 2:14)

In other words, the purpose of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Our Lord was to rescue [redeem] us from our sins so that we might live for God. And it is essentially this concept of redemption that St. Paul has in mind when he instructs us to “redeem the time”.
Later in the same letter to the Ephesians, and elsewhere, St. Paul teaches that Jesus and His Church are inseparably one (Eph 5:23; 1 Cor 12:12-27; etc.). Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church – and the Church is the Body of Christ. As Christians, we are members of that Body. Whatever happens to be the concern and activity of the Head also happens to be the concern and activity of the Body and its members – if Jesus is actively involved in the redemption of souls, then the Church too is actively involved in the redemption of souls.  This means that when we unite our prayers, works, joys, and sufferings to Christ, these very things become redemptive i.e. they actually achieve the salvation of souls. This is what St. Paul meant when he said that his sufferings filled up what was lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of the Church (see Col 1:24).
So, with this in mind, we return to our phrase “redeeming the time”...
St. Paul tells us that it is “because the days are evil” that we must “redeem the time”. In other words, St. Paul is instructing Christians to live godly lives because how we live and what we do will rescue the evil days in which we live. So, more than simply being a good use of time, or simply for personal edification, things like reading the Scriptures and praying actually have a salvific effect when united to the salvific work of Jesus Christ.
This was affirmed by the Angel who spoke to the children at Fatima before the apparitions of Our Lady when he said:
“Offer up everything in your power as a sacrifice to the Lord in reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners.”

Just as sinners are redeemed from their sin to serve God, so too we as Christians have the responsibility and ability (in Christ) to rescue these evil days for the service and glory of God.
So, next time you find yourself struggling to find motivation to perform some devotion, try to remember that your little act of devotion – as small and insignificant as it may seem to you – is infinitely powerful if it is united to the Lord Jesus Christ. Even a prayer as small as “Jesus I love Thee” is able to save a soul.
If we can remember this as we walk through our days it will become a lot easier for us to perform little acts of devotion – and so redeem the time because the days are evil. 
[If you would like to explore this topic a bit further, see here]

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Real Message of the Crucifix

Sometimes, being a Christian can be pretty dark. There are often times when God feels distant from us – what St. John of the Cross called “the dark night of the soul”. This feeling of dryness and separation has been felt by the most eminent of the Saints. In our own times, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta often spoke of the “emptiness” that she felt, even though her life was evidence that she walked closely with Our Blessed Lord every day.
But there are also other times when we can feel distant from God due to our own faults. In our broken humanness, we can say and do things that separate us little by little from the grace of God...until we reach a point where we don’t even recognise God anymore (or ourselves for that matter).
The week gone by has been one of these kinds of weeks for me. As I was examining my conscience last night in preparation for Reconciliation, I saw that little by little I had been guilty of distancing myself from God – an unkind word here, a bad thought there, and so on...and so on...and before I knew it I was looking back at a detestable wretch. But thanks be to God, this is not where things end for us Christians – despite how bad we, or things around us, might get. On my knees before God, I looked up...and before my eyes was the Crucifix.
As I knelt before that Crucifix last night, I realised something. I have crucifixes all over my house – almost one in each room. I am surrounded by them. But seldom does this really touch me. And this really convicted me last night. As much as I see crucifixes in our home and in our churches, I have been guilty of not truly seeing. As much as I encounter crucifixes in my day, seldom do I really encounter them. I dare say that this is probably true for many of us Catholics. Why is this? Is it because we are so surrounded by crucifixes that we take them for granted? Possibly...but, I think that there is something that goes deeper.
Kneeling before that Crucifix last night, I came to appreciate why the Crucifix is so important, and this is because I suddenly grasped the real message of the Crucifix – and realised that I have missed it. And missing the real message of the Crucifix is the root cause of why we are so prone to take the crucifixes that surround us so for granted.
What is the real message – the real CORE message – of the Crucifix? It is this: God loves us! Three little words – so easy to miss; but also three infinitely immense words – with equally immense consequences:   
On the Crucifix we behold that Christ died for us. Why? Because GOD LOVES US! This is how St. Paul said it in Romans 5:8:
“...God proves His love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us”.
That is the message of the Crucifix! Look at the Crucifix again...what do you see? Do you see it? Do you see that God loves us?
Behold it in the face our Blessed Lord – GOD LOVES US!
Behold it in His nail-scarred hands – GOD LOVES US!
Behold it nailed to His beautiful feet – GOD LOVES US!
Behold how it flows from His open side and crown-pierced brow – GOD LOVES US!

This is why the Crucifix is so important for ALL Christians – not just Catholics. Sadly, Protestants tend to scorn the Crucifix in favour of an empty Cross because, they claim, the empty Cross tells us not only that Jesus died, but also that He rose again. Because this is true may empty crosses continue to abound! But, what an empty Cross is not able to do is portray God’s love in the way that the Crucifix does. So, may crucifixes abound even more!
As Christians, our calling is to love God and to love others...and the Crucifix helps us to do this. This is because it is only as we perceive God’s love for us in the crucified Christ that we can actually learn what it means to love. St. Paul reminds us:
“ imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Eph 5:1-2)

As we walk through our homes, or into our churches, and whenever we behold the Crucifix, may we be reminded afresh of God’s infinite love towards us.
And, if the image of the Crucifix that surrounds us every day isn’t continually changing us, may we take some time to remember again the message of God’s love that we have missed.

Behold, O good and sweetest Jesus,
I cast myself upon my knees in Thy sight,
and with the most fervent desire of my soul
I pray and beseech Thee
to impress upon my heart
lively sentiments of faith,
hope and charity,
with true repentance for my sins
and a most firm desire of amendment.
Whilst with deep affection and grief of soul
I consider within myself
and mentally contemplate
Thy five most precious wounds,
having before mine eyes that which David,
the prophet, long ago spoke concerning Thee,
“They have pierced My hands and My feet,
they have numbered all My bones."

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Blessed Virgin and the Beloved Disciple

In a previous blog I presented some basic arguments why we as Catholics believe that Mary is our Mother – one of which came from the Gospel of John. Over the past couple of days, I was reading the Gospel, and I came across the passage again in which Our Lord gave Mary to be our Mother. As I was reading though, I noticed something that I hadn’t noticed before.
For ease of reference, here is the passage again:
When Jesus therefore had seen his mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, he saith to his mother: Woman, behold thy son.
After that, he saith to the disciple: Behold thy mother. And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own. (Jn 19:26-27)
The common position of Protestants regarding this passage is that Our Lord wasn’t doing anything more than simply entrusting the care of His earthly mother to the disciple John before He died. In my previous blog I mentioned some arguments against the typical Protestant position which show that Jesus was doing so much more than simply entrusting the care of Mary to another before He died. But as I was reading the passage a couple of days ago, something else occurred to me. I noticed that Jesus FIRST addressed Mary, saying: “Woman, behold thy son”. THEN He addressed “the beloved disciple” saying: “Behold thy mother”.
Common sense tells us that if Jesus were simply entrusting His earthly mother to the care of the disciple John, surely He would have addressed St. John first. But He didn’t. He first addressed Mary; then addressed St. John. This was certainly no accident. Rather than Jesus entrusting Mary to the care of St. John, He was entrusting the care of St. John to Mary. And not just that, but as I mentioned in my previous blog, by addressing Mary as “Woman” and not addressing St. John by name, He showed that His intention was universal – “Woman” because Mary is the new Eve (see Gen 2:23); and “the disciple” because the “beloved disciple” throughout the Gospel of John refers to all those who would later come to believe in Christ.
As brethren of Our Blessed Lord, we need to put our faith in Him and trust that He knew what He was doing when He gave us His Mother to be our Mother. He knew that the Church as the family (or household) of God needs a Mother. A family without a mother is a broken home – and so God the Son knew that His own family would not be complete unless He gave His Blessed Mother to be our Mother too.
May we learn to love her as Jesus Christ did. Just as Christ obeyed the 4th Commandment of His Heavenly Father (see Ex 20:12) by bestowing His glory upon His Mother; may we too love and honour Mary. May we renew our devotion to her knowing that she will always faithfully lead us to Her Son encouraging us to do whatever He tells us (Jn 2:5). And like St. John, may we take her into our homes and be faithful in leading our children to her – because she is the surest way to lead our children to Jesus.