Thursday, November 25, 2004

Thanksgiving

I just wanted to encourage all of you in your celebration of the Year of the Eucharist to note that Eucharist means "thanksgiving", making this annual celebration all the more poignant this year. Abraham Lincoln was a prophetic sage; when he immortalized this day in the American calendar, he was recognizing the importance of crediting God with our blessings, as a nation and as families who make up our nation. The celebration offers us the chance to return an investment to those who risked their lives to forge a new nation, those men and women dedicated to the belief that God created us good, noble, and free, possessing inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness: the missionaries and martyrs, the colonists and pilgrims, pioneers and patriots, the soldiers and slaves. We stand with generations of immigrants as well as those who worshipped and thanked the Creator long before anyone else arrived on this plentiful soil.
As Catholics and people of goodwill, we can honor the Lord this day by thanking Him for creating us good, for loving us into existence, crowning us with redemption, and sustaining us through the Holy Spirit. We can call upon the intercession of the cloud of witnesses at our Table, our spiritual family who we hope to join at the Eternal Banquet. Let us make this Year of the Eucharist, an entire year dedicated to thanksgiving, one in which we never forget the blessings remembered and hopefully felt this Thanksgiving Day. Let us join our domestic table to the Altar, and enthrone Christ in our hearts. Let us share our plenty with those in poverty. Let our nation grant such prosperity to those in need. Let us be the Salt which leavens the world, a Light to the nations, a City set upon a hill.
Let us praise and thank the God of Abraham and Sara, the God who led his people out of bondage and beckons us to Eternal Life. May we join our cross to His, place our hopes at His feet, and follow the Way of Truth and Life, this day and always. Amen!

Friday, November 12, 2004

We are all "spiritual semites."

It is very important, as Christians, to hold on to our Jewish heritage. While a significant part of the New Testament concerns the movement from the old covenant to the new--explaining the differences--it is abundantly clear that the new covenant presupposes the old. They are in continuity with each other. In fact, they can be called, in a certain sense, one and the same.
God made a covenant with a people he chose as uniquely his own. He loved them. He revealed himself to them. He forgave them even when they sinned. In their suffering, He promised them justice. He promised that he would send them his full salvation, blessing even the nations of the world. I repeat the last point--he promised that the whole world would be blessed through them. All this God has done and fulfilled in Christ. We have been blessed through the Jews, as Christ Jesus himself said: "Salvation comes from the Jews."
Gentile Christians are only wild shoots grafted onto the vine of Israel. This is abundantly evident from the scriptures, the liturgy, and from daily Christian life. Living at the seminary for the past year--praying from the liturgy of the hours each day, studying the scriptures, seeking the Lord--I have begun to identify myself with the Jews (as I understand them from the OT and common knowledge). I can honestly say that I "feel Jewish."
Christians should know how deep is their Jewish identity when they pour out their hearts to God in the spirit and words of king David in the Psalms, when they cry out to God in their suffering, when they pray the Benedictus or the Magnificat--proclaiming aloud their joy in the messianic fulfillment, when they worship God for his mighty deeds of salvation, when they feel wrapped up in the love of God, when they seek to do the will of God in all things.

The God and Father of Jesus Christ is the God of Abraham, Issac, Jacob, and Joseph. When someone believes in Christ becomes a Christian, they embrace faith in the God of Abraham and Sarah. It is indispensable for each new Christian to be taught the Old Testament, so that they might know the God to whom they are giving over their life (and from whom they are receiving life in return). It all makes me think of the story of the Moabite Ruth, and her words to the Israelite, Naomi: "Your people shall be my people, and your God my God." When a man becomes a Christian, he says these words to all the people of Israel. This is because he himself becomes an Israelite of the heavenly Jerusalem, and a son of Abraham according faith.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Put your hope in heavenly things, not on earthly things.

Some thoughts on the feeling that many have of the futility of service in a world that has a seemingly unending need--seemingly undefeatable evil.....

I think that looking at the meaning of the incarnation of Christ and of his whole life and passion from a particular perspective sheds light on this dillemma. In these, he is shown to humble himself in being totally obedient to God's sending of him, and entering into the conditions of those in need, experiencing them himself. As he continues to serve these people, it becomes clear that the mission is too much--that the evil in the hearts of men (the very thing he came to remedy) is too strong for the numerically and geographically limited ministry he is doing. In the cross, he becomes swallowed up, so to speak, by the futility of his mission, and reaches the same end that those he came to serve and save all inevitably suffer: death. And yet all this was done in radical obedience to God, and in faith that God would not ultimately abandon him. And God will not abandon those who hope in him, those who have the loving obedience of faith in him. Because of Christ's obediance in service, though all seemed to have been loss and failure, God granted him abundant fruits. Both for him and those he was sent to.
So for us to live this in our lives, we need to follow the pattern of Christ. And this is why we need to (as is often said), "put our hope not in this world but in the world to come." If we put our ultimate hope in "what I (or we) can do" for the poor of the world, then we will be disappointed and despair because the work is too much for us (even collectively), there is too much evil in the hearts of men. But if we hope in heaven, which is God's work of "making things right," then we know that whether our service yields partial successes (for all successes in this world are partial), or yields failures, we can trust in God to bring about the fullness at the end of the ages. Rather than discouraging working in this world, hoping in heaven instead of in earth encourages working in the world. An activist view on life is thus seen to be surpassed by a active-contemplative life in God. Putting hope in this world ends up by dragging heaven down to earth, but putting hope in heaven lifts earth up to heaven.
We can do and are called to do great works of service on earth, individually and collectively, but it is an illusion to think that we can bring the kingdom of God in all its fullness into this world which is dominated by sin. Only God himself can bring it when Christ comes again. Having hope in God and in heaven is the remedy to the feeling of futility in service. And while the fruits of service are the beginnings of the kingdom, service--being obedience to God--makes the hope of THE FRUIT (which is of God's fruit in Christ) secure.

Peace.
- Mark John

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Martyrs & Demons

If you found your way over here from CatholicLand, you already know that Halloween is one of the most Christian holidays of the calendar year. And if you're just joining, you've jumped in for the best part. All Hallows Eve is a vigil preparing us for two sacred days to follow: All Saints Day and All Souls Day. All Hallows Eve is an opportunity to reflect on how very close we are to sin and darkness. Yet it is also a celebration that the Light is with us. Halloween is day to recognize that choosing Christ puts us at great risk; centuries of martyrdom and defamation teach us that. It is a day to reflect on our own mortality. Yet it is also a day to rejoice and make merry, because no dying, no demon, no power on earth can overcome the Love of God.

In this blog, I would like to explore in greater depth the necessity of understanding the power of evil, but also its antidote, a saintly life which chooses Christ above all else, witnessing the Gospel even unto a martyr's death. In choosing to juxtapose these two subjects, I am reminded of a piece from the original Fantasia. It begins with a visual representation of the Night on Bald Mountain, when the demons and ghouls hearken to Lucifer's call. They join in the dance macabre around the burning flames and their merriment reaches a fevered pitch before a lone knell sounds out from the valley below. The demons cower back in fear at the sound of the Churchbell and slink away back to their graves and shadows. Then, from the town, a winding queue of luminaries appears, gracefully progressing towards the forest. As the vigilant souls carry their lights into the forest, they illuminate the trees overhead, which resemble the vaulted ceiling of a cathedral. The breathtaking strains of Ave Maria fill the animation sequence as it fades into a haunting finish.

We must remember that there are two ways we can be haunted on Halloween. We can be haunted by great fear, or we can be haunted by the hallowed souls who lead the way to Christ. We can reflect on our sins and the horrors of the Devil, or we can look with great hope to the example of those possessing heroic virtue. For all the terror in the world, there is a more-surpassing goodness which calls on our senses. But perhaps you don't regard either? Perhaps you think the Devil is a myth? Perhaps you think martyrdom is the stuff of history? Perhaps it's time we explored the truth...