Sunday, January 29, 2012

Grace vs. Works?

Today in the Byzantine Catholic, and Orthodox churches we have the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee.  You know that scripture well, don't you?

Luke 18:9-14

9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:10‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector.11The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector.12I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.”13But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”14I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’

I haven't studied in a seminary, and I don't have a Masters or Doctorate in Theology.  I am baptized Roman Catholic, and practicing in the Byzantine Catholic rite.  My understanding, and you are invited to question, or correct me as you wish in the comments is that we can only be made holy, or righteous by God.  Nothing we can do, however good, charitable, self-forgetful, or sacrificial can restore the holiness, purity and beauty that the Creator endowed our souls with when He created them in the image of God.

My understanding is only God can create that which is good and loving.  God created Adam and Eve with untainted souls.  Then through the original sin of idolatry, Pride, the same sin that cast Lucifer and the thousands of fallen angels from heaven, tarnished the souls of Eve, Adam and of all their children save 2:  Mary, the Immaculate Conception, and Jesus, the Incarnation of God, true God, and true man.

Only God can forgive sins, and only Jesus, as our Savior, through his love and obedience and sacrificial death on the cross, could pour out his Precious Blood to cleanse us and make our souls brilliant with the light and love endowed by our Creator.

So we find in this brief Gospel passage several really important teachings:

  • Don't trust in one's own righteousness, no matter how good our works might be.  The pharisee fasted twice a week, gave 10th of his income; i.e. tithed.
  • Don't pray to God in a way that is prideful and boastful, offering thanks focusing on what we like and take pride in about ourselves, rather than focusing on God's attributes, especially his Mercy
  • Don't judge others, and regard others with contempt.  We see in this passage the pharisee is the archetype of someone that is doing the right things, on the surface, but maybe his motivation is a bit off. He has a species of moral relativism going where he is feeling pretty good about himself so long as he compares himself with thieves, adulterers, or government workers padding their own pockets at the financial detriment of those that are paying the taxes.  This is where the Protestants like to remind everyone, sometimes especially the Catholics, that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).
  • Do humble yourself before God.  The picture above is from Calvary Curriculum that I used for my 1st and 2nd graders is a coloring page showing the Publican prostrate before God.  I like this one better than the etching at the top, because this is my favorite way to pray when I am most in need of God to act in my life, and to fill me with his peace and love.
  • Our pastor, priest today told us it is so important to work on the virtue of humility because if we don't, Pride, at the orchestration of Satan, just like with Eve and Adam, will work and become predominant in its place.  He recommended we pray the Litany of Humility daily to grow in this virtue.  I do love this prayer, but am WAY far from modeling this virtue.
  • My favorite lesson from this is The Jesus Prayer.
  • Jesus, "I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other."  Hmm, what does that mean?  I would suggest reading from The Diary by St. Faustina to find out.  One of God's greatest attributes is Mercy.  Mercy is undeserved, ineffable, love and forgiveness that restores our soul to the purity, holiness, and beauty that the Father created in us.  How is this mercy available to us?  How was there no priest involved, and no work completed on the part of the penitent, other than falling prostrate before God, and pleading for his Mercy?
  • These answers are there in God's Word.  As our Pastor also reminded us today, the closer we grow to God, the greater we perceive our imperfections, and the more we implore God's mercy on  us.  We also grow more keenly aware of the great love and goodness that is God, that is the source of this Mercy, and the more we desire to grow in holiness, more toward the communion with the Divine for which we were created.
I am a Catholic, and I do believe that faith without works is dead.  Essentially I believe Proverbs 9:10,
"10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight."

Similarly in Psalms 111:10 we read, "10The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practise it* have a good understanding.  His praise endures for ever."

Good works lacking the grace of God in the soul will not make a person holy or good, or save that person's soul.  Rather, my belief is as in James, good works are the good fruit that should come from a heart humble before God, conscious of the need for God's mercy, for Jesus as Savior.  

I think that good works, including a forgiving, compassionate, non-judging heart are the good fruit that comes from a soul in the state of grace--the state of God's presence in the soul.  Not that that soul is as brilliant as the souls in heaven after they are washed in the Blood of the Lamb, but that they are rooted in the fear and Love of the Lord, and that the Holy Spirit is at work within them, taking their inadequacy, and weaknesses and through his Grace making the good will, love and humility bear abundant fruit that gives thanks to God, and attracts others to the source of the goodness-->God.

James 2:14-19, 26

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?15If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food,16and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.  18 But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith.19You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder.26For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

When Luther translated the Bible into German he put James, Hebrews, Jude, and Revelation at the end and doubted their authenticity.  There are plenty of other verses in the books he did not doubt that echo the teaching above in James.

Let's listen to the Lord himself in Matthew 7:
21 ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven.22On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?”23Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.”

What do you think?
1/30/12 Update:
Just found this great quote from the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI from in Deus Caritas Est:
in addition to their necessary professional training, these charity workers need a “formation of the heart”: they need to be led to that encounter with God in Christ which awakens their love and opens their spirits to others. As a result, love of neighbour will no longer be for them a commandment imposed, so to speak, from without, but a consequence deriving from their faith, a faith which becomes active through love (cf. Gal 5:6).

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Liebster = sweetheart, beloved person, darling

n. sweetheart, beloved person, darling 
adj. dear, darling; beloved, liked very much; affectionate, loving 
adj. favorite, preferred above others; liked or loved above others

Wow!  If you are looking for someone that fits this description than you need look no further than Patricia at I Want to See God.  She has a beautiful, heart longing for God, following in the path of St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face blog.  She is also one of the most unabashedly loving and caring persons you will find here in the Catholic Blogging Community.

Thank you, Patricia.  You are one of the persons I am so grateful to have met since beginning this last May. If you hadn't given me the award, and already received it from two others you would be on my list of 5.

What are the requirements for receiving this award?

Your blog must have less than 200 followers (ID easily met this requirement - good thing there wasn't a minimum requirement :)  I just yesterday took off my follower widget (or is it gadget) because I am lacking in humility and want to keep the mystery of my follower number alive in hopes that you too might follow this blog thinking it is somewhere under 200 and not well under 200 as it actually is.

You need to select 5 other blogging buddies to receive the award as well.

Since Patricia gave me this award, I have begun following bunch other blogs she, and the blogs she awarded, awarded.

Some of these are really excellent, but since they already have their awards, and I am a new follower, I will tell you 5 of my favorites, even if they may have already received this same award.  

First Liebster goes to Mary at The Beautiful Gate.  Mary's blog is how I found Patricia's blog.  Mary is one of the most faithful commenters in the community.  She also started the The Community of Catholic Bloggers.  Mary sets a good example for me in that she speaks her heart of faith, and is someone always seeking to learn more and do the work required to follow after Jesus with fervor.  She also models the point that our faith sharing is what is most important, and not the controversies whether between Catholic believers or between Catholics and other believers, or non-believers.   Mary has already received this award from Patricia as well, but I am giving her another, anyway.  She is also my intercessor in the Community of Catholic Bloggers, and if you've read my blog, you know that this can be a full-time job, and somehow she continues praying for me!

Second Liebster goes to Anne at Imprisoned in my Bones. Anne left my first comment and became my second follower back in May.  I followed her back and was so happy with what I read there, and who I found writing there.  Anne is another good example.  She is a mother of five, including an oldest son that is discerning a call to serve Christ as a Priest.  Her job is to help young mothers through the WIC program, and besides the vocation of wife and mother, she is now offering everything she does for the love of God for the intention of Priests.  She posts regularly to her blog, sometimes poetry, sometimes guest homilies, sometimes reflecting on her family, job, vocation, etc.

Third Liebster goes to Noreen at Rosary Mom.  Noreen is in similar place as me in life--Mom to children in school, and besides blogging, we also share that our families live in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago.  Besides her rather obvious devotion to the Blessed Mother, Noreen is active in posting and keeping prayer vigil as part of the 40 Days Campaign--that is really a 365 day campaign to plead for the intercession of the Blessed Mother to change hearts and minds and end the killing of the unborn.

Fourth Liebster goes to Barbara at Suffering with Joy.  Barbara is the member of the Community of Catholic Bloggers that I am praying for this year.  Barbara loves the Lord and wants to grow in holiness and has a spiritually mature understanding of the meaning of suffering, and a gift for sharing meditations and helpful thoughts as we navigate this valley of tears.  Here is a quote from her site, "Our suffering, offered to God, can be a source of grace for the salvation of others."

Fifth Liebster goes to Colleen at Thoughts on Grace.  Colleen posts regularly and actually has multiple blogs.  She is a spiritual director in real life, as well as a church secretary.  Her husband is a deacon and she loves him, and thanks God regularly for him.  She loves her grown children and her young grandchildren.  Her writing reflects a woman that has been lifted from painful memories . . . well that understates it, she was victimized in her childhood by her father, and while that might send many into despair and wondering "How could a loving God . . . . ", and rejection of faith, instead she was lifted up from this by God's grace, and light, and she has the gift for sharing that faith and peace with others.

Karinann is also one of my favorite blog authors and commenters, but Patricia did a wonderful job in giving her the award, already.  She writes and reads faithfully and whole-heartedly, and her comments teach and encourage.

I weakly apologize that these awards are all to people and blogs that anyone that comes here is already familiar with, but I think they all qualify both for the particulars -- less than 200 followers--although all are well ahead of me, and because they are all beloved people, loving, and supportive and encouraging, and praying for others who spend some time out here.  I think the award is supposed to lead new visitors to your sites, but this post most likely won't accomplish that.

Friday, January 13, 2012

In Truth, Jesus is the Son of God

Jesus was nailed to the cross at 9 a.m.

From 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. there was darkness all over the land.  Jesus was on the cross not for 3 hours, but for 6 hours, after being brutally scourged, and after being beaten and abused by the Temple guards, leaders, and people before being handed over to the Romans.

Some meditations say that from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. was when Jesus experienced the soul torments of hell that come from sin.  

These meditations teach us to flee from sin as all sin contributed to the suffering and death of Christ from the original sin to the sins before the Incarnation, to the sins of all those living with the knowledge and understanding of Salvation History.  These meditations also teach us to flee from hell by not turning our eyes, understanding and hearts to the right or to the left, but instead everyday, under the guidance, sanctifying grace, and coaching of the Holy Spirit, remaining faithful in prayer, reading and studying the Bible, and taking God's and Jesus's commandments as musts, not guidelines or recommendations for how to live our lives.

Why did Jesus yell out "My God, My God, why have you deserted me?"

I have heard this explained as similar to when a father needs to hold down a son for a necessary but painful medical treatment.  He keeps his son from moving through act of will, because he knows it is for his good, but he tends to avert his eyes from looking at the face of his child, because it is more than his father's heart can take.

Maybe God the Father, who did not spare his Son for our salvation, averted his inward gaze away from his Son during this time because while he willed for this atoning sacrifice of his beloved Son so that we might have eternal life, joy, love, and communion with him forever, in this moment where his son was nailed to the cross, abandoning his divine power to escape the agony, and suffering the internal soul torment due to our sins, he looked away as his Father's heart was so pained to see the one he loved so much suffering internally, in addition to his external torments, what no one before or since has suffered.  Jesus had never experienced this before, and now here in his worst suffering he doesn't feel the gaze of his father.

It was also Jesus invoking the prophetic words of Psalm 22 written 1000 years earlier by King David.

"But Jesus gave out a loud cry and breathed his last.  And the veil of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  The centurion, who was standing in front of him, had seen how he had died, and he said, 'In truth, this man was the Son of God.'" Mark 15:37-39

Fr. John Bartunek in The Better Part in meditations on Mark 15:21-29 reminds us, 
The souls of those faithful men and women who had trusted in God, and in God's promise during the centuries before the Incarnation were not yet in heaven.  They had died in friendship with God, but the gates of heaven were still closed, because no one had yet atoned for the sin of mankind that had closed them in the first place.  Now Jesus comes and achieves the atonement.  And the first thing he does is go and announce the good news to the souls who were waiting their redemption. . . . Now the mystery of God's saving love is revealed to them in the piercing, loving gaze of their Savior.  Now they can experience what they longed for with vibrant faith and faithful hope, the full presence of God as they await the resurrection of their bodies and the final judgment. . . . 

Christ's self-sacrifice on the cross reveals that God's love for weak and selfish sinners has absolutely no limit. . . . Love is self-giving for the good of the beloved. . . . His love has no limits . . . . 

Paraphrasing Fr. Bartunek . . . Jesus loved us so much that He:
  • Left the Heavenly Glory to become one of us
  • He lived among us
  • He worked and suffered the grind of ordinary life
  • He taught and healed and revealed God's heart
  • He founded the Church to extend his presence and grace throughout all time
  • He let himself be betrayed, humiliated, condemned, mocked
  • He subjected himself to excruciating physical torments
  • He hung helpless on the cross in our place
  • He took upon himself our sins, suffering internal torments, also in our place
  • He the Creator and Lord of all, did not have his life taken from him, he laid it down for us his friends
  • His love was completely self-giving
  • His love has no bounds
Truly, Jesus is the the Son of God.  Truly, Jesus is one of the three persons in one God, one of the Glorious and Holy Trinity.  As God, He knows:
  • Jesus is always with you
  • Jesus understands you completely
  • Jesus's compassion toward you is more perfect than you can imagine
  • Jesus knows that you don't know this
  • Jesus longs for you to know this because . . . 
Jesus yearns for you to trust him.  He knows this isn't easy for you.  It may be easy in a given moment, but how constant are we in this trust?

He has done so much for us.  Lord, please give me the grace to more faithfully pray:

Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in you.  

Jesus, Son of God, I trust in you.  

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

"You are God’s chosen race, his saints; he loves you, and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same." (Colossians 3:12-13)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Closer Than Your Breath

Yes, another music video post, but this is so good!  I only recently stumbled on it, and thought you would love it!

"Come to Me" by Bethel Music featuring Jenn Johnson 

I am the Lord your God,
I go before you now.
I stand beside you
I’m all around you
And though you feel I’m far away
I’m closer than your breath
I am with you
More than you know

I am the Lord your peace
No evil will conquer you
Steady now your heart and mind
Come into my rest
And oh, let your faith arise
And lift up your weary head
I am with you
Wherever you go

Come to me, I’m all you need
Come to me, I’m everything
Come to me, I’m all you need
Come to me, I’m your everything

I am your anchor, in the wind and the waves
And I am your steadfast, so don’t be afraid
Though your heart and flesh may fail you
I’m your faithful strength
And I am with you
Wherever you go

Come to me, I’m all you need
Come to me, I’m your everything
Come to me, I’m all you need
Come to me, I’m your everything

Don’t look to the right or to the left, keep your eyes on me
You will not be shaken, you will not be moved

I am the hand to hold, I am the truth, I am the way
Just come to me, come to me
Cause I’m all that you need

Monday, January 2, 2012

My Son's Essay for Grammar Class

My son just finished this.  At first he wanted me to help him print it without reading it, but that was fairly impossible, as I had to do the double-spacing, add the header and before I knew it, noticed quite a few grammar problems that needed to be fixed, since it was for his Grammar class.  This is beautiful.  I want to share it because that is what blogs are for, right?

My son has ADHD symptoms, he's not on medication, and we actually argue quite a bit while attempting to get his homework done over days, or hours--lots of hours, and he tends to mess and horseplay with the younger kids, in which case one of them tends to get hurt.

That and the fact that this past two weeks my husband and I have been having more than our usual amount of tenseness in the marriage, meant that this essay was a sight for sore eyes.  A little divinely orchestrated pick-me-up so I don't go to bed this night without realizing my blessings, and how loved I am by my son, and by my God.

Mother Essay

I am so blessed to have a mother that loves me as much as my mother loves me.  Mothers are supposed to help us with guidance through our struggles and the hard times, which we are going through in our lives.  My mom cared for me since I was a baby, and she watched me grow up to a seventh grader.  She’ll continue to watch me grow with love and compassion until I move out of the house.  
She does so many more things that a normal mom would not even think of doing for me!  She is an all-around mom.  She does so many things for me and my family.  Last summer she took care of me and my brother and sister through the whole summer, every single minute of every single day.  She had to take work off that whole summer, because she loved us.  My mom could have just done the easy way out of it, which is sending us to day camp, but we hated that, so instead of working, she had a fantastic summer with us instead.
I love my mom so much, that the words in this essay cannot not even come close to expressing the love and respect I have for her!  She comes to as many of my sports games as she can possibly come to.  She is always there for me when I am having the worst day of my life, to the best day of my life.  When I am feeling sad or disappointed in a friendship, or any other thing, I can always come to her and talk about it, and in the end I don’t even feel sad about it because she fills me with joy and laughter.  When I’m in a bad mood, she’ll just talk to me about the stuff that I have recently been doing that is fun in my life.  That will always cheer me up.  When I am feeling lonely, or bored, she will talk to me, whether it is a short talk or a long one.  She makes me and my whole family happy when she is around.  She never gets tired of me even when I am crabby for two days.  She will always be there for listening and caring about what I have to say.
She makes me lunches on Tuesdays and Thursdays too, and they are delicious!  She does all of my laundry, and it is not that easy when you do it twice a week.  My mom and I are slowly becoming closer, and we fight less and less, day by day.
My mom is always taking me and my family to fun things!  She takes us to the movies, restaurants, sports games, and many other fun things!  If I had to choose any mom in the whole world, I would choose my mom!  The English dictionary does not have enough words to describe how much I care and love my mom!  She helps me in everything I do.  You name it, and she helps me through it!  Without her it would be very, very, very hard to go through my life!
I thank you from the bottom of my heart for everything that you did, doing, and going to do for me!  Mom, I love you so much!  I would put a million exclamation points if I could, but this is Grammar class!