Tuesday, January 29, 2013

How Much Does God Love You?

A few weeks ago on the social network Facebook, there was a discussion centering on the reverence shown (or sometimes not shown) at the reception of Eucharist.  Some were saying that there was an increase of an approach to Eucharist that did not seem reverent while others stated that they (mostly ministers of Communion) had only seen a few instances of a lack of reverence.  One of those commenting asked how would people react if Jesus was to appear to them in person.  Would they go up and pat him on the back and shake hands and say "How are you doin'"?  He obviously felt this was not the way one should reverently act if Jesus was to appear in person.
I commented that I felt that if Jesus were to appear to me, he would embrace me - not because I am anyone special - but because he loves me.  The person who asked the question fired back with a comment that I should "get over myself" and this would not be how it would play out should such an appearance occur.  Others liked my comment.
Obviously if Jesus were to appear in person to me I would certainly be awestruck.  But I stand by my comment about Jesus embracing me because that is the way our God is with us; our God loves us with an unconditional, boundless love no matter who we are or what we have done in our life.
I believe too often we forget how much our God loves us.  We often are feeling sorry for ourselves or feel that we do not have much worth.  We may have what is termed "low self-esteem."  But God has created us to be loved not only by him but by others.  All we need to do is to accept God's love and be grateful for it.  We might call sin when we fail to accept that love and do something that would stand in the way of our relationship with God.  But God never gives up on us - no matter what.
When we feel downhearted or do not see ourselves as worthy, we should remember again the words of Psalm 139:
You formed my inmost being;
you knit me in my mother's womb.
I praise you, so wonderfully you made me;
wonderful are your works.
Yes, we are wonderfully made by a gracious and loving God.  May we always be conscious of that fact and readily accept that generous and unconditional love.
Sometimes we may wonder if God really loves us when all sorts of things befall us: sickness, loss of employment; loss of a loved one, etc.  Yet God's love never ceases; God does not promise that our lives will be totally free from distress; even he (as a man in Jesus Christ) experienced all those things that humans experience.  God does not will that bad things happen to us but he leaves his creatures free and this often means that such freedom may be abused and may end up hurting others.  When we feel let down by God, it may be well to read the words of the great doctor of the Church - St. Francis de Sales- who wrote:
Do not look forward in dear to the changes of life;
rather look to them with full hope as they arise.
God, whose very own you are,
will deliver you out of them.
He has kept you hitherto,
and he will lead you safely through all things;
and when you cannot stand it,
God will bury you in his arms.
Do not fear what will happen tomorrow;
the same everlasting Father who cares for you today
will take care of you then and everyday.
He will either shield you from suffering,
or will give you unfailing strength to bear it.
Be at peace,
and put aside all anxious thoughts and imagination.
May God's love be with you always and bring you to peace.


Monday, January 21, 2013

I Have A Dream - A Martin Luther King Tribute Revisited

It was 50 years ago when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood at the base of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington to deliver what has become one of the most moving speeches in the history of American rhetoric. While there has been improvement in race relations in our country - part of the dream Dr. King had for the future of our country - there are still mountains to climb and obstacles to overcome in the way we deal with each other. What would Dr. King's dream be today? I am in no position to speculate on that; I would rather offer some of the things that I would still dream about in 2013.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day we will recognize that all people - men and women - are created equal and entitled to the same respect regardless of gender. I have a dream that women will be accorded equal pay for equal work (there has been some improvement here). I have a dream that in some countries where women are denied education it will be recognized that they have much to contribute to our society and need to have the opportunity to grow and learn.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

As I noted before, I believe there has been improvement in race relations in our country. The most obvious example of this is the fact that we now have a President of African-American descent - something that would have been unheard of in Dr. King's time. Regardless of our political affiliation we must see this as a major step forward in the acceptance of all races in our country. But hatred still exists - in some cases there is still hatred of those whose skin color is other than ours; hatred of certain people because they worship in a different way from the way we do; hatred because someone's sexual orientation is different from ours. I have a dream that one day we can put aside these hatreds and, as Dr. King stated: sit down together at the table of brotherhood (and sisterhood).

From every mountainside, let freedom ring. And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

Those stirring words at the conclusion of his speech will resonate for years (and perhaps centuries) to come in our nation's history. Yet there are still places on this earth where freedom does not yet ring, where people are still subjugated because of their ethnicity, their creed or other reasons. Dr. King also quoted from Isaiah in his speech where he looked for a time when every mountain and hill shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight.

I have a dream that one day peace will reign again in the mountains of Afghanistan, in the cities and towns of Iraq; that peace will come and Israelis and Palestinians can sit at the same table; that war will not be the answer for the peoples of the Koreas. Is this too lofty a dream to have?

In the past month in our nation we have heard the reaction of many as they witnessed the tragedy in Newtown. Calls are being made for better gun control. It is hoped that a reasonable ground can be found in this debate, preserving the second amendment rights of gun owners but finding a way to halt the progress of violence in our nation. In an earlier part of his speech, Dr. King made these remarks not often quoted: Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

It is interesting to note that less than three months after this remarkable speech was delivered, grief overcame this nation when its young President lay dead in a Dallas hospital, the victim of violence. We need to heed these words of Dr. King again today. May we go forward to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow with a faith in our national purpose, a faith in our God who wants us to become a peaceful nation, and a faith in each other regardless of creed, political affiliation, gender, race, or sexual orientation. May God continue to bless us and bless the United States of America!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

When I was in formation for the diaconate in the Roman Catholic Church in the early 1990s, our priest director of formation would always greet us with the salutation Peace, Love, and Joy.  It is in that spirit that I wish everyone a most blessed New Year as we begin another year on this fragile planet we call earth.  Those three words - peace, love, and joy - are my wishes for this new year.
PEACE:  Wouldn't it be the most wonderful thing in the world if during 2013 we could see peace return to this world.  It is a prayer that has been on many lips and in many hearts but we cannot help but wonder if we will ever see the day when people can live in harmony.  War is still being fought, peoples are still being enslaved or being oppressed by tyrannical governments, and day after day we hear and read about stories of abuse against women and most recently in my own country attacks on little children.  Jesus came into this world to bring peace but many of us still need to learn about his message and bring that message to others.  If we cared more about the needs of others rather than just our own, we might see the beginning of a glimmer of what could eventually become true peace.  Remember that peace is not just the absence of war - it is an attitude of caring and concern for others.
LOVE:  True peace can only be brought about when we understand what true love is.  Again, love is not just a romantic notion only seen when two people "fall in love" and make plans to share their lives together - although this is certainly part of love.  True love is when we care for the other even when things are not so romantic or when things are rough in our lives.  It means caring for the other even when we are angry with each other.  It also goes beyond the love between two people and reaches out to embrace all others - even those we may not particularly like, but being there for them in their need.  It means caring for the poor and unfortunate in our society - the homeless, the abused, the abandoned.  Government programs can certainly help these people but programs - whether governmental or private - must be laced through with a love for those being served.  Jesus reached out to many during his ministry on earth and he loved them all - the blind, the leper, the sinful woman, etc.  As disciples we must do the same.
JOY:  Joy is not just feeling happy about something.  True joy is a deep feeling of knowing that we are loved by our God even when we mess up.  Joy is knowing that we can be of service to others.  Joy is finding true satisfaction in the career of our choosing so that we can use our talents and skills to benefit others.  Jesus brought joy into the lives of the many he touched but that joy did not mean that at times there would not be suffering - as he himself experienced.  God does not want us to suffer but suffering is a part of the human condition and knowing that there will be an end to it sometime can give us the joy that we need to continue on.
My wish, then, for the new year for all are those three words: that your lives will be filled with peace, love, and joy.  Happy New Year!