Theological Meditations, Uncategorized

The Story of Sodom and the Importance of Perseverance

The readings for this Sunday reveal much about the nature of repentance. The first reading is taken from the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis. To examine the larger context: Abraham’s nephew Lot moves to the city of Sodom. Sodom and its sister city, Gomorrah, were known for their degeneracy and debauchery, so much so that God intended His wrath to come down upon the cities. Yet, prior to doing so, God warned Abraham that His wrath would fall upon the cities, and Abraham, knowing his nephew lived there, feared the safety of his nephew. He asked God, “Will you kill the good and the bad alike? Suppose you find fifty good men within the city – will you destroy it, and not spare it for their sake?” (Genesis 18:23-24) God then replied, “If I find fifty godly men there, I will spare the entire city for their sake.” (Genesis 18:26) Abraham continues with a similar line of questioning for the next several verses, and God responds similarly, each time using a smaller and smaller number of hypothetical people. By the time you get to verse 32, Abraham asks whether God would spare Sodom and Gomorrah if there were as few as 10 godly people living there, and God answers yes.

 

 

In the following chapter, we see what happens: because Lot and his family are the only righteous people in the city, God sends two angels to Sodom to save Lot. Yet, because the rest of the city was unrepentant, they suffered God’s wrath as He destroyed the city.

 

What is the meaning of this story? One level of meaning that I see is that Sodom and Gomorrah represent humanity in its fallen state. Yet, the state of fallen man contrasts, in the starkest possible way, with the state to which man is called, for which he was created – namely, the glories of heaven. The notion that God would be willing to save Sodom and Gomorrah no matter how small the number of godly people there were within them represents how the state of glory presupposes repentance for our sins. This repentance includes, necessarily, sorrow for having offended God by our sinfulness, a hatred of our sin, and a desire to strive for holiness. This is the first step – and the most indispensable part – of our salvation. Yet, the holiness that we attain in this life is nothing when compared to the glories of perfect holiness, which is the result of perfect union with God, the Source of All Goodness. Yet, in some sense it doesn’t matter: Padre Pio, the great 20th century Catholic mystic, wrote, “One doesn’t have to be worthy, they only have to be willing.” That is to say, it doesn’t matter how sinful we are, how unworthy we are of the things of God; God can make use of the desire for holiness, no matter how small, to transform us into saints.

 

Thus, the fact that God was willing to show mercy on Sodom and Gomorrah if there were any godly people living there – no matter how small – represents the fact that the desire for holiness, no matter how small, can be used by God to bring about the conversion, perfection and ultimately glorification of the sinner. Yet, the fact that God saved Lot and his family while destroying the rest of Sodom and Gomorrah represents another major point: those in Sodom and Gomorrah who God destroyed were unrepentant. This showcases the difference between the saved and the damned: the saved are those who recognized their sinfulness and turned from it, whereas the damned are those who were callous to their sinfulness, and thus were either oblivious to it, or do not care about it. There is thus a nuanced, though altogether important, distinction between those who are aware of their sinfulness and struggle against it, but don’t see immediate results, and those who don’t see any growth in holiness because they do not strive towards it. Human moral striving is completely and utterly dependent on the grace of God; nonetheless, Divine grace does not preclude, but in fact includes, human moral striving. Grace is what enables us to willingly strive towards God. Nonetheless, humans, as volitional beings, must accept and cooperate with God’s grace.

 

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah also points towards another important truth: namely, what happens as we strive towards salvation. God saved Lot, yet His wrath came down upon the rest of the city.  God saved a righteous man while destroying sinners. What this represents is when a person strives towards holiness, God infuses into the soul the desire and ability to partake in such striving; as a person accepts and cooperates with such gifts, God preserves and enhances it, just as He preserved and protected Lot; further, the more a person strives towards holiness, the more God gives them the strength to resist and overcome sin, thereby destroying sin just as He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.

 

What is relayed symbolically in the first reading, is said explicitly in the second reading, taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians. In chapter 2, verses 13 and 14, St. Paul writes, “You were dead, because you were sinners…He [Christ] has brought you to life with Him, He has forgiven us of every one of our sins. He has wiped out the record of our debt to the Law, which stood against us; He has destroyed it by nailing it to the Crosst.” Mankind, due to sin, was alienated from God; yet, through Christ, mankind and God were reconciled. Jesus reconciled mankind to God by dying on the Cross, conquering the forces of sin and death and making satisfaction for human transgressions. When we, by grace through faith, are united to Christ’s saving act, our sin is cancelled out, we die to our old sinful selves, and are given new life in Christ. This act of being granted new life in Christ is not merely “starting over with a blank slate”; it is God justifying and sanctifying human nature, purifying it of sin; it is God infusing into the soul the capacity to strive towards holiness, overcoming the effects of previous sins, and being granted to knowledge and virtue necessary to avoid future sin. It involves the destruction of sin within us, and the infusion, enhancing and preserving of holiness, just as God’s activities in Genesis 19 include the preserving of the righteous citizens and Sodom and Gomorrah and the destruction of the sinners.

 

This requires grace on God’s side. Yet, on our side, it requires perseverance. It requires not only an acceptance of, but a constant loyalty to, a constant seeking of, the things of God. And this is the meaning of the Gospel reading for this week: In the parable from Jesus read this week, as presented in the Gospel according to St. Luke, chapter eleven, a man has a visitor late at night, and he, lacking a sufficient amount of food to feed his guest, knocks on his neighbor’s door asking for a loaf of bread to feed his visitor. The neighbor is initially hesitant to do so, as it is late at night, and he is tired. Yet, Jesus concludes, “I tell you, if the man does not get up and give it to him for friendship’s sake, persistence will make him get up and give his friend all he wants.” (v. 8) The message that Jesus is attempting to get across is that persistence in the spiritual life pays off. It is not that God is obliged to give us what we want. God is the Sovereign Lord of All, which means that God has authority over everything else that exists, but  nothing has authority over God. It is also not that God, as an omnipotent being, gets anything from answering our prayers.  Rather, the point that Our Lord is trying to make the opposite of persistence is hopelessness. If we do not have the confidence to ask for God’s assistance, if we don’t have a constant, radical openness to His gifts, and a desire to accept and cooperate with these gifts, then the foundation of the virtue of hope is gone.

 

It is through such spiritual persistence that we cooperate with God as He takes our desire for holiness and helps it to grow into the glories of heaven, the glories of union with God. It doesn’t matter how small our desire for holiness; if we have confidence in God and persistence, it is possible for us to attain salvation. And Christ promises that we will receive an answer to our prayers, the perfection of our striving: “So I say: Ask and it will be given you; search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (v. 9) Jesus can make such a promise precisely because it is He who nailed our sins to the Cross; it is He who merited grace for us; it is He who gave us the promise of the Holy Spirit, by Whom we are united to, and become partakers of, Jesus’ saving mission.

 

 

Sources:

  1. To read the readings for this week, see: https://www.catholic.org/bible/daily_reading/?select_date=2019-07-28
Theological Meditations, Uncategorized

Suffering for the Name of Christ

In the period following Easter, many of the first readings during Mass have been derived from the Acts of the Apostles, describing the ministry of the Apostles in the immediate aftermath of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection. The reason why this has been the focus is because the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, in liberating us from sin, doesn’t concern some abstract reality outside of us; rather, it renews our relationship with God, and in so doing, renews the heart/soul and mind of man, moving us to a greater love of God and neighbor.

 

We see this in the ministry of the Apostles. They were willing to travel long distances, to far away places, frequently subjected to persecutions of all sorts (ultimately resulting in the death of all but one of them, with John spending the final years of his life in exile).  They were on fire with the love of God and the love of souls, with the desire to glorify God and save their fellow man. And that is because what they encountered was a real spiritual phenomena, a spiritual phenomena whereby they were liberated from sin, and whereby this same liberation was made possible for others. So, moved by a sense of gratitude towards God, they embarked on their Divinely-mandated mission of preaching the Gospel, of leading the early Church.

Continue reading “Suffering for the Name of Christ”

Theological Meditations, Uncategorized

The Fear of God, the Fear of Men, and Divine Mercy

Give thanks to God, for He is good, His Mercy endures forever. Let Israel say: “His Mercy endures forever.” Let the House of Aaron say, “His Mercy endures forever.” Let those who fear the Lord say, “His Mercy endures forever.” In danger I called out to the Lord; the Lord answered and set me free. The Lord is with me; I am not afraid; what can mortals do against me? The Lord is my helper; I shall look in triumph over my foes.

-Psalm 118: 1-7

 

Last Sunday, the Second Sunday in Easter, is Divine Mercy Sunday. It is all too appropriate to celebrate God’s Infinite Mercy immediately after Holy Week and Easter. God’s Mercy and Love is the antidote to despair, for God so loved us that He was willing to empty Himself to the point of becoming man and dying on the Cross. Think about it: God is infinite and omnipotent, infinitely above man, yet He chose to become man, to manifest Himself within the confines of the limited, finite, broken state of man. God, the Source and Author of Life, experienced death. If God was willing to go to such an extreme to reconcile mankind to Himself, if He could bring life even from death, one should never doubt His desire and ability to bring you to the fruits of His saving act. The only thing standing in between yourself and salvation is your willingness to embrace Christ.

 

In the readings for this week, we get a glimpse of the effects of Divine Mercy. The second reading is taken from the first chapter of the Book of Revelations. St. John describes his predicament: after spending a lifetime preaching the Gospel, he was then sent into exile to the island of Patmos off the coast of Turkey (v. 9). He then speaks of how he received his first revelations while on Patmos, those revelations which would go on to form the text. He hears a voice commanding him to write everything he hears, and when he turns around, he sees Christ standing behind him (vv. 10-16).

 

St. John then falls to the ground and begins to worship Him upon seeing Him (v. 17). This is the first effect of Divine Mercy: it releases us from the bondage of sin to serve the living God (Hebrews 9:14). To live and act in service of the Lord, to be a slave of Christ (as St. Paul was accustomed to calling himself [see, for example, Romans 1:1]), is true freedom. To be a slave of Christ means that our consciences are bound to God, it is incumbent upon us to serve God. Yet, God is, in fact, the source of our freedom. Sin is the term used for a type of evil more specifically called “moral evil.” Evil is the privation of some due good – that is, when some good that should be present in a particular person, thing, action, or situation  is absent or has been corrupted. Such a definition of evil is only fitting. Think about it: God is the Creator of the universe. God is also All-Good. If an All-Good – that is, perfectly good – God could cause or create something evil, then He wouldn’t be perfectly good, and therefore wouldn’t be God. Hence, everything that exists, by virtue of being created by God, is by its nature good. Yet, evil exists. Evil must thus not be a positive quality – that is, a quality that has some existence – but rather stems from the corruption or loss of some quality that should be there. Moral evil, or sin, are evil acts that we willingly chose to engage in. Moral evil is contrasted to natural evil (things like natural disasters or disease).

 

Insofar as man chooses to sin, he corrupts himself. Sin thus serves as an obstacle to man being all that he was created by God to be. The God-man, Jesus Christ, freed and purifies us of sin. This enables us to serve God. But since human life comes forth from God as its Ultimate Source, and is ordered back towards God as its Most Final End, to serve God is what makes man, man. Through sin, and the subsequent service of the Lord that follows, we become all that we are meant to be.

 

Divine Mercy thus, first and foremost, brings about the transition from being a slave to sin to being a slave of Christ, a slave to God, which is true freedom. But the second effect of freedom is seen in the first reading, taken from Acts of the Apostles, chapter 5, verses 12-16. It describes the Apostles performing miracles during their ministry. The power of God working through them was so strong, that, according to verse 5, people were healed even when St. Peter’s shadow fell upon them.

 

These events are described within the first few chapters of Acts. Thus, one shouldn’t be shocked if these event did take place, historically, sometime shortly after the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, in the very early years of the Apostles’ ministry. What this reading shows is that which was implicit in the second reading: namely, Divine Mercy isn’t merely the pardoning of sins in a legalistic sense, that is, God saying, “I’ll forget about your sins, now here’s a get-out-of-jail-free card.” Rather, Divine Mercy, far from being something external to the self, is something at work within us. The Apostles witnessed the Resurrection of Our Lord. They saw the pledge of Eternal Life made manifest in that event. Then, fifty days later, after Jesus had ascended into Heaven, they were filled with the Holy Spirit. After witnessing the Resurrection and being filled with the Holy Spirit, the Apostles began to preach the Gospel, perform miracles, and ultimately died as martyrs. In doing so, they brought many people to salvation.

 

But, when you look at verses 17-42 – the verses immediately after the ones we read this past Sunday – we see the story of the Jewish religious leaders arresting the Apostles and putting them in jail, during which time they tried to persuade the Apostles to stop preaching before finally flogging them. But, as the rest of the text continues, the Apostles did not stop preaching.

 

And this shows one of the effects of Divine Mercy at work within us: namely, the recognition that God, in having mercy on us, has destroyed and conquered sin. Jesus died on the Cross, but in doing so, He conquered death. He allowed Himself to be the victim of human sinfulness, but in doing so conquered human sinfulness. Trust in Divine Mercy thus creates a sense of humbleness before God which leads us to be bold before men. It is a sense of fear of the Lord which protects us against fear of the world, fear of sin, fear of men. It creates a sense of servitude towards the Lord which lays the basis for freedom from the things that bind us within our fallen, broken existence.

Continue reading “The Fear of God, the Fear of Men, and Divine Mercy”

Theological Meditations, Uncategorized

The Logic of Easter

Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven. … Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her, ablaze with glory from her eternal King, let all the corners of the earth be glad, knowing an end to gloom and darkness. Rejoice, let Mother Church rejoice, arrayed with the lightning of His Glory. … This is the night, when Christ broke the prison-bars of death and rose victorious from the underworld. Our birth would have been no gain, had we not been redeemed. O wonder of Your humble care for us! O love, O charity beyond all telling, to ransom a slave You gave away Your Son! O necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the death of Christ! … This is the night, of which it is written, “The night shall be as bright as day, dazzling is the night for me, and full of gladness.” The sanctifying power of this night dispels wickedness, washes faults away, restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners, drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.

-The Exsultet

 

How can he who has died to sin yet live in it? Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His Death? We were indeed buried with Him into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the Glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.

-Romans 6:2-4

 

Let Christians offer sacrificial praises to the Passover Victim. The Lamb has redeemed the sheep: the innocent Christ has reconciled sinners to the Father. Life and death contended in a spectactular battle: the Prince of Life, Who died, reigns alive.

-Sequentia Prayers, Easter Sunday

 

 

 

Yesterday, Catholics throughout the world celebrated Easter, by far one of the most important holidays in the liturgical calendar. The Resurrection forms part of the lens through which we as Christians view all things. It attests to how the Cross was not God’s defeat at the hands of the forces of evil, but rather was God’s VICTORY over the forces of evil. As such, it is the promise of what lies ahead for those united to Christ’s Cross.

 

On the Easter Vigil Mass – the Mass celebrated the night before Easter – we read nine different readings, spanning the story of the Creation and the Fall, the Exodus, various Old Testament prophesies that point towards the Resurrection, a mediation on the Resurrection taken from one of the New Testament Epistles, and finally a Gospel account of the Resurrection. In contemplating these readings, those who attend Mass hear the entire story of our salvation – how man was created by God for the sake of union with God; that man’s relationship with God was severed by sin, which caused death to enter into the world; that God initiated His plan of salvation through the covenant with the People of Israel; and that this covenant pointed towards or prepared man for the Advent of Our Lord, Who, by His Incarnation, Death and Resurrection, conquered the forces of sin and death and bought for us by His Blood salvation.

 

Any one of these readings could be analyzed to give us a deeper understanding of the Resurrection. But, let us look at the Old Testament text that is often quoted the most when speaking of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, namely the Book of Exodus.

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Theological Meditations, Uncategorized

Do Not Be Afraid!: The Cross and Existential Dread

Pope St. John Paul II was fond of the phrase, “Do not be afraid!” This should, in many ways, be the motto of anyone who places their faith in the Cross.

 

 

There is a reason why the Cross is so central to Catholic spirituality and devotional life. When one looks to the Cross, they see not only a man being tortured and killed. They see not just God being tortured and killed. But they see the greatest paradox of all, one that gives hope to humanity: in taking upon Himself suffering and death, the Almighty God conquered suffering and death. In allowing Himself to be victimized by our sin, He conquered our sinfulness. It is not fallen man’s victory over God, but God’s victory over the Fall.

 

It should seem utterly strange that Christians take as their primary symbolism of self-identification a torture device. But at work within the Cross is God’s plan of salvation. What looks like a hopeless situation, a situation that should instill within us a sense of complete hopelessness – the Creator of the universe being subject to suffering and death – is in fact the foundation of our hope!

Continue reading “Do Not Be Afraid!: The Cross and Existential Dread”

Theological Meditations, Uncategorized

Palm Sunday: Choosing Barabbas Over Jesus

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week. Holy Week is the last week of Lent, and thus is the week leading up to Easter. As such, it is a time to reflect upon the Death and Resurrection of Jesus with particular intensity.

 

 

In most Catholic Churches, at least of the Latin Rite, it is traditional to read stories from the Passion narrative. I think there is an important lesson to learn here. By reading the Passion narrative on Palm Sunday, we see the contrast between what transpired on these two days: those same people who welcomed Jesus in a kingly manner on Palm Sunday were the same people who chose Barabbas over Him just a few days later.

 

A lot of people reading the Gospels may say, “What hypocrites!” Others, seeing how Jesus’ death was initiated by a traitorous disciple and executed by the collusion of various religious and political leaders among the Israelites and Romans, may say, “Poor people! How easily manipulated by whatever happens to please them at that moment!”

 

 

The thing is, it is easy for people who have explicitly made the choice to accept Jesus, and who know Who Jesus Is, and who love Jesus, to say that. Such a person would, if present at the Way of the Cross, not be counted among those who would beat, spit on, or mock Jesus. In a word, hindsight is 20/20.

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Theological Meditations, Uncategorized

Prodigal Man: The Transition from a Life of Illusion to a Life of Truth

I know it’s been a while since I posted, but as they say, better late than never.

 

 

I believe that the readings from a few weeks ago (the Third Sunday in Lent) really touch on the heart of Lent. Easter celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus, which was the fulfillment of His Mission. In returning from the dead, Jesus defeated the forces of sin and death, proving they no longer have the final say, but HE does. In order to reap the fruits of Christ’s Death and Resurrection, we need conversion, that is, a turning away from or rejection of our sin and an attachment to the One Who alone provides salvation, and thus true happiness. Lent is thus a meditation on the nature of repentance.

Continue reading “Prodigal Man: The Transition from a Life of Illusion to a Life of Truth”