Reflection: Can you answer the question?

27 August 2017: Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

questionOne of the primary questions of our lives, whether we are converts or cradle-Catholics, active in our faith or if we haven’t practiced in a while, remains “Who is Jesus Christ?” Or in the words of Jesus Himself, “Who do you say that I am?”[1] Each and every one of us at some point must answer this question! Who do you say Jesus is? What place does He have in your life? Can you answer that question? I imagine that many of us would say something to the effect of, “He is my savior” or “He is the one who redeemed me by taking up the cross.”

Does the question end here with our verbal answer? Sure, we use words to explain our beliefs, to profess our reliance on God and to exclaim the truth and love of Jesus Christ, but at the risk of sounding trite, do you put your money where your mouth is? No amount of words, no matter how eloquent or well-thought, can make up for a lack of action on our part. Yes, we may answer with words, but we must answer with deeds as well. Peter answered this question by saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” but he also went out into the world, imperfect as he was, and lived the Gospel message, sometimes failing, but always turning back to Christ. Christ gave Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven because Peter responded and believed, allowing the Spirit to lead his words and actions to carry the Gospel to the world.

So is Christ a simple teacher or perhaps a just a mystic? Or is He much more that? Is He someone you turn to just when times get tough? Or does He inform your every action? Do you follow the Son of the living God in everything that you say and do? Let us pray that “our hearts may be fixed on that place where true gladness is found”[2], in the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ, because one day, whether it is now or later, you will hear the question, “Who do you say that I am?”

How will you answer?

Questions for reflection:

  • Does my verbal answer to the identity of Christ align with my actions?
  • How can I better reflect Jesus Christ in my words and actions?

References:

  • [1] Matthew 16.15
  • [2] Collect Prayer, 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

On the Journey: Prayer, Work, and Cookies

Augustine’s Confessions Book II, Chapters 6-10

“I long instead for innocence and justice, graceful and splendid in eyes whose sight is undefiled. My longing fills me and yet it cannot cloy. With them is certain peace and life that cannot be disturbed. The man who enters their domain goes to share the joy of the Lord. He shall know no fear and shall lack no good. In him that is goodness itself he shall find his own best way of life. But I deserted you, my God. In my youth I wandered away, too far from your sustaining hand, and created of myself a barren waste.” –Confessions II.10

Rocket01

CC BY-SA 3.0 by TimmyTruck via WikiCommons

What is the first time you remember you felt guilt from knowing you did something wrong? If you are anything like me, it was probably pretty early on in life. At my great-grandmother’s house up in the mountains, she used to have this wonderful cookie jar sitting on the counter. She always kept it filled with fresh cookies, and if for some reason it was empty, you could be sure that a fresh batch was soon to be ready, the sweet smell of chocolate chips wafting through the house. After all, what’s Grandma’s house without cookies?!

When I was 5 or 6, I remember thinking that I could get to that cookie jar. I had asked earlier if I could have one, but for some reason (probably due to an upcoming meal), I was told no. So, as many a small child will do, I took matters into my own hands. When no one was in the kitchen, I quickly pulled a chair over to the counter. If you know me, you know how short I am; well, I was short for my age then as well, so you can imagine the sight!

In any case, there I was with the chair at the counter, my objective in view. I climbed up, and reached as far as I could, just barely grasping the jar. I pulled it over, and opened the lid, seeing the forbidden objects of my desire: those precious chocolate chip cookies. I quickly took one out, replaced the lid, climbed down, put the chair back, and took the first bite into that delicious morsel.

It was probably the worst cookie I’ve had in my life.

Don’t get me wrong, the taste was absolutely wonderful! But I knew that I had done something wrong. As I finished the cookie, I realized that I had taken the cookie without asking, betraying my grandmother’s trust. Even though no one ever found out (or at least no one ever told me they found out), I felt absolutely horrible. In the words of Saint Augustine, “it brought me no happiness, for what harvest did I reap from acts that make me now blush?” (II.8)

And so it is with sin in our life. In these last chapters of Book II in Augustine’s Confessions, we find him reflecting on the mistakes of his youth, something which I think is common to almost every person. One of the constants of human existence in our fallen life is that of sin: we fall constantly, “for the soul defiles itself with unchaste love when it turns away from you and looks elsewhere for things which it cannot find pure and unsullied except by returning to you” (II.6). Often in life we seek fulfillment and pleasure in things that are not of God. Pick any of the seven deadly sins, and you find that they are all about replacing God for something of this world. Sometimes, this longing can even twist good things into bad, whether it is a good hobby, work in the Church, or love for another person. When we take our focus from God, everything starts to fall apart.

So what is the answer? To turn back to Him of course! We can do this through the sacraments, most especially through Confession and the Eucharist. We find through the Sacraments that “no caress is sweeter than your charity and no love is more rewarding than the love of your truth, which shines in beauty above all else” (II.6). In His love, beauty, and truth, we find true fulfillment, rather than in those things of the world, no matter how good they may seem. We must realize that everything we do, no matter how mundane, needs to be directed back toward God.

Mt._Angel_Abbey_(Marion_County,_Oregon_scenic_images)_(marDA0213)

Mount Angel Abbey Church, by Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives

I find this especially present in the maxim of Saint Benedict, “Ora et Labora,” or Prayer and Work. Everything we do can be turned toward God and sanctified. In the Benedictine sense, this takes the form of the daily prayers as “ora” and each monastery’s particular work, such as teaching in the case of my seminary, as “labora.” But from what I have seen in the various monks I’ve met over the years, it also means making the work itself a prayer. Why not offer up your daily trials and triumphs to the Lord, sanctifying every moment of every day? Of course we must set aside some time specifically dedicated to prayer, but all those other times can be directed to the Lord as well.

As we strive to direct our lives towards God, we begin to realize the limitless grace and mercy that is the Lord’s. Despite our past mistakes and current failings, we see that He is boundless, and so can repeat the words of Saint Augustine, “I avow that you have forgiven me all.” For God’s mercy is infinite; all we need to do is to turn back to Him.

These past few chapters have focused on the adolescence of Saint Augustine and the mistakes he made in his life. Next we head into Book III, where he will take us through his time of learning rhetoric and the beginning of his quest for truth, even if at first he was not looking in the right places…

UPDATE: 31 July 2016, 2215

Having just read Pope Francis’ final homily from World Youth Day, I think these words are especially appropriate:

That is our real “stature”, our spiritual identity: we are God’s beloved children, always. So you can see that not to accept ourselves, to live glumly, to be negative, means not to recognize our deepest identity. It is like walking away when God wants to look at me, trying to spoil his dream for me. God loves us the way we are, and no sin, fault or mistake of ours makes him change his mind. As far as Jesus is concerned – as the Gospel shows – no one is unworthy of, or far from, his thoughts. No one is insignificant. He loves all of us with a special love; for him all of us are important: you are important! God counts on you for what you are, not for what you possess. In his eyes the clothes you wear or the kind of cell phone you use are of absolutely no concern. He doesn’t care whether you are stylish or not; he cares about you!  In his eyes, you are precious, and your value is inestimable.

At times in our lives, we aim lower rather than higher. At those times, it is good to realize that God remains faithful, even obstinate, in his love for us. The fact is, he loves us even more than we love ourselves. He believes in us even more than we believe in ourselves. He is always “cheering us on”; he is our biggest fan. He is there for us, waiting with patience and hope, even when we turn in on ourselves and brood over our troubles and past injuries. But such brooding is unworthy of our spiritual stature! It is a kind of virus infecting and blocking everything; it closes doors and prevents us from getting up and starting over.  God, on the other hand, is hopelessly hopeful!  He believes that we can always get up, and he hates to see us glum and gloomy. Because we are always his beloved sons and daughters. Let us be mindful of this at the dawn of each new day.  It will do us good to pray every morning: “Lord, I thank you for loving me; help me to be in love with my own life!” Not with my faults, that need to be corrected, but with life itself, which is a great gift, for it is a time to love and to be loved.

You can read the rest here.


Up next time: the beginning of Book III

This is part of a continuing series, Companions on the Journey, which travels along with a particular companion in the spiritual life, one of the great saints, in order discover how some of their writings might be applicable to our everyday lives. Currently, we are traveling with Augustine of Hippo through his work, Confessions. You can take a look at previous posts in the series or read the introduction.

 

On the Journey: Spring Cleaning and Attachment to Sin

Augustine’s Confessions Book II, Chapters 4-5

“But our ambition to obtain all these things must not lead us astray from You, O Lord, nor must we depart from what Your law allows.” Confessions II.5

Pears

By Keith Weller – USDA, Image Number K5299-1., Public Domain

Moving has a way of forcing a person to evaluate his or her priorities. As I packed my belongings at the seminary in preparation for my language immersion trip to Mexico and my Pastoral Internship during the next academic year, I realized that I had a lot of stuff to weed out. Some of it were things that I no longer used, or old clothes, or items that I didn’t really need in the first place. Packing gave me a chance to focus on what should be my priority, namely, my formation and preparation for the priesthood, and so I was able to divest myself of quite a few belongings. Many items I kept too, such as those relating to what I consider “central” hobbies or interests in my life: theology, astronomy, or writing (and, of course, Star Trek and Star Wars). All in all, it was a very freeing experience, being able to take stock of everything and discern whether or not it was truly necessary in my life.

All of that said, I must say this: attachment to material things is no small obstacle to overcome!

In this week’s selection, Saint Augustine shows us the danger of attachment to material things. He relates what I consider to be one of the most jarring stories in Book II of the Confessions: when he and several friends stole an enormous amount of pears from a local orchard. This tale may not seem like much, but when one takes into account Augustine’s motivations, the reader can see just how dangerous material covetousness can be. He uses this moment to show how we can be attached to the material world for its own sake, and even more diabolically, how we can even be attached to sin for the mere feeling that it provides. Augustine even admits that he “had no wish to enjoy the things I [he] coveted by stealing, but only to enjoy the theft itself and the sin” (II.4).

We must remember, however, that material objects in and of themselves are not sinful. One does not sin by owning the best computer or the fanciest boat. Sin enters the picture when these items are loved for their own sake, rather than for the end of true joy in glorifying God and building up oneself and others in a positive way. After all, as Augustine notes, “The life we live on Earth has its own attractions as well, because it has a certain beauty of its own in harmony with the world’s beauty” (II.5). The beauty of God and creation as seen through material things cannot be denied! But what happens when we move into excess? Is the fanciest boat or best computer really that necessary?

The danger comes when we attach too much importance to material items, and again, Augustine leads the way in this thinking: “They are of the lower order of good, and if we are too much tempted by them we abandon those higher and better things, Your truth, Your law, and You Yourself, O Lord our God” (II.5). In other words, when we attach an importance to an item, a feeling, or even a person, that is outside of this proper order of things, then we lose our focus and we fall back in on ourselves, leading eventually to sin; we follow Augustine’s footsteps directly into the pear orchard.

camel_needle_gifThe pear orchard, however, is not an endless trap! We must work to reexamine our lives, and place everything where it belongs. We do not sin by possessing material items, but I do believe that it adds a greater burden on our lives, for after all, Jesus Christ tells us that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt. 19.24). So let’s take a moment to examine our lives, our attachments, and discern where we can use a bit of spring cleaning.

Just don’t take away my books. Anything but the books!

Questions for reflection:

  1. Do I place inordinate attachment to anything in my life, outside of its proper order, whether that be a person, an object, or even an idea or emotion?
  2. How can I better re-order the priorities in my life so that my material possessions can help me become a better person, in terms of how I treat myself, how I interact with others, and how I relate to and worship God?

Up next time: Confessions II.6-10

This is part of a continuing series, Companions on the Journey, which travels along with a particular companion in the spiritual life, one of the great saints, in order discover how some of their writings might be applicable to our everyday lives. Currently, we are traveling with Augustine of Hippo through his work, Confessions. You can take a look at previous posts in the series or read the introduction.

On the Journey: Cast Off Your Old Self

Augustine’s Confessions Book II, Chapters 2-3

I strayed still farther from you and you did not restrain me…For your almighty power is not far from us, even when we are far from you.Confessions II.2

To be Christian is to be in conversion, but that also means that we must recognize our past and God’s presence even in our darkest moments. Here in these two chapters, we find a stark picture of Augustine prior to his conversion to Christianity, seen now through the eyes of Augustine the believer. He recognizes the depths of his depravity and his continued descent into sin and lust, and at the same time recognizes that even though it seemed that God was not present, He was, in fact, always there: “How presumptuous it was for me to say that you were silent, my God, when I drifted farther and farther away from you!” (II.3). Even in the depths of sin, lust, and fornication, Augustine recognizes that God was still present, all at once never impinging on Augustine’s free will, but always waiting for the future bishop to return to His loving embrace.

800px-Hans_Speckaert_-_Conversion_of_St_Paul_on_the_Road_to_Damascus_-_WGA21655

Hans Speckaert (circa 1540–circa 1577) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Before I was baptized, I lived a life typical of many young people bound up in the world. I was also in school part time, but didn’t really apply myself. My existence consisted of living day-to-day, not really caring about those outside of my immediate reality, and sometimes even less.

Despite my continued spiritual quest through the New Age movement, God was essentially not part of my life, but he was certainly still present. I searched for fulfillment in all the wrong places, and like Augustine, “I should have awaited your [God’s] embrace with all the greater joy” (II.2). I found that while He was not a part of my life, I was certainly a part of His; in other words, He was always present, a fact that I can see so clearly now that I can hardly believe that I didn’t see it before.

I never saw him working through my parents. Through my mom’s and dad’s encouragement, or my sister’s willingness to be with her little brother (even when he was annoying). I didn’t see Him in the presence of my grandparents, who did so much to support my sister and myself, particularly my grandmothers, who constantly showered love on both of us and prayed for us every day. I never saw his presence in that of my teachers, who tried to push me beyond my own self-imposed procrastination-laden limits. In short, I was blind to His love present in the actions of others, and I wouldn’t begin to discover it until I was nearly 20 years old.

When we are mired in selfishness and sin, we are blind to God, our neighbors, and ourselves. Sin and vice cut us off from the divine life, and leave us empty, thrown askew into the world, to the point to where sin itself becomes the goal, in order to meet the expectations of the world, rather than seeking the goal that is heaven:

Nothing deserves to be despised more than vice; yet I gave in more and more to vice simply in order not to be despised. If I had not sinned enough to rival other sinners, I used to pretend that I had done things I had not done at all, because I was afraid that innocence would be taken for cowardice and chastity for weakness. (II.3)

But of course, we have hope, so much hope! Following Jesus Christ, we find that God is in fact always present in our lives, no matter what the mistake, misstep, or sin. We may find it difficult to approach His love, especially amidst a world that has, in many cases, confused sin for virtue, vice for love.

Like Augustine, let us begin to move toward God and heed the words of Saint Paul:

Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph. 4.22-24)

Questions for reflection:

  1. Where has sin and vice made me blind to God’s presence in my life?
  2. How has God worked through other people in my life in order to draw me closer to Him?

Up next time: Confessions II.4-5

This is part of a continuing series, Companions on the Journey, which travels along with a particular companion in the spiritual life, one of the great saints, in order discover how some of their writings might be applicable to our everyday lives. Currently, we are traveling with Augustine of Hippo through his work, Confessions. You can take a look at previous posts in the series or read the introduction.

+JMJ+

On the Journey: The Importance of Reflection

Augustine’s Confessions Book II, Chapter 1

For love of your love I shall retrieve myself from the havoc of disruption which tore me to pieces when I turned away from you, whom alone I should have sought, and lost myself instead on many a different quest.Confessions II.1

Mirror

By Cgs (GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Self-reflection is, I think, largely a lost art in today’s world. So often we hear about people going about their daily lives, merely allowing the unrelenting pull of existence to carry them where it will, living without intentionality. We often fail to look at where we have been, and so miss where we might go, where the Lord is leading us, where the Spirit speaks to the still quiet recesses of our hearts. Our lives are filled with noise, and so we fail to hear not only the Lord, but our own inner voices as well, and simply allow ourselves to be swept away.

When I fist entered seminary, I received a it of advice from my mom: from the beginning, keep a journal. She recognized the importance of self-reflection, and encouraged me to develop this skill which, I eventually found, became indispensable in my daily life. The journal has ebbed and waned over the years: sometimes there are consecutive daily entries, and sometimes I may go several weeks without writing anything down. I have tried, however, to keep my mom’s advice, advice that has helped to shape not only my experience in seminary, but to shape so many other aspects of my life as well. Self-reflection, if we hope to grow closer to God and embrace our humanity to its fullest potential, is indispensable.

In his first chapter of book II, Augustine endeavors to show just how indispensable reflection can be. He realized that in order to move forward in his spiritual journey, he needed to look back as well: “I must now carry my thoughts back to the abominable things I did in those days, the sins of the flesh which defiled my soul. I do this, my God, not because I love those sins, but so that I may love you. For love of your love I shall retrace my wicked ways” (Confessions II.1) Here we see two main points regarding self-reflection which must not be forgotten:

  1. While we do indeed turn inward, at its core, reflection isn’t merely something to look back and see how good or bad we are, but it should in fact help us to turn outward toward God, giving Him thanks and asking for His grace and mercy.
  2. Sometimes self-reflection is not a pleasant process; in order to grow, we must accept both the good in our lives as well as those areas in which we have fallen in order to gain a true self-understanding of where we stand before God.

In the end, Saint Augustine did not take on this task because he loved his sinful past, or even to put on a show to display how great a sinner he was, and so how holy he had become after his conversion, but rather he took on the task of self-reflection to grow closer to God. He knew that in order to more fully unite himself to the Holy Trinity, he needed to reflect on the “different quests” of his life, seeing in those moments where God had been the entire time. So, too, can we look at those different quests in our lives, discovering the presence of the Lord in both the smallest moments and biggest breakthroughs, in times of failure, and in times of triumph.

This is the key: in everything we do, we must set as our goal to grow closer to Him, whether it is self-reflection, or daily work, or taking on some new adventure. In this way, we begin to truly “seek the things that are above” (Col. 3.1).

Questions for reflection:

  1. Do I undertake a daily examen, or even journaling,  in order that I may more fully reflect on my life?
  2. How can I live to be more intentional, rather than letting the tides of the daily grind sweep me away?

Up next time: Confessions II.2-3

This is part of a continuing series, Companions on the Journey, which travels along with a particular companion in the spiritual life, one of the great saints, in order discover how some of their writings might be applicable to our everyday lives. Currently, we are traveling with Augustine of Hippo through his work, Confessions. You can take a look at previous posts in the series or read the introduction.

+JMJ+

Movie Review: Risen

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of seeing Risen, the story of a Roman soldier investigating the events following the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. I also saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens for a fourth time, but that’s beside the point… (Thank you to a generous benefactor who gave me a theater gift card at Christmas!)

Synopsis

risen posterClavius, a Roman soldier (ranked Tiberian) is tasked by the local procurator, Pontius Pilate, to investigate a series of events following the crucifixion of Yeshua, a man that some of the Jews are claiming to be the Messiah. After Yeshua’s body disappears, Clavius interrogates several people in an attempt to find the missing body. He then proceeds to hunt down the followers of Yeshua, only to discover Yeshua himself, after which he accompanies His disciples as they proceed to the Sea of Galilee. During all of this, Pontius Pilate simply wants to wash his hands of the whole thing and seeks to end the affair before a coming visit from the emperor.

 Clavius and the disciples are pursued by Roman soldiers as they travel to Galilee, led by his former aid, Lucius. After convincing Lucius to let them go, they arrive at the Sea of Galilee where the disciples meet once again. Clavius, a hardened soldier, finds himself struggling with matters of faith and belief, and in the end, after experiencing the Ascension of the Lord, finds himself a changed man.

My thoughts

Do you remember the old biblical epics like Ben Hur? This isn’t Ben Hur. But at the same time, it’s not quite as syrupy as Touched by an Angel (although I did love that show). The writers did take some liberties with the biblical texts, but nothing too major; simply enough to inject the main character into particular events, such as the apostles fishing on the Sea of Galilee (cf. John 21). The movie was slow in parts, mostly during the interrogation scenes where Clavius is attempting to find the disciples. When he does track them down, I found Clavius’ transformation somewhat moving. At this point he encounters the person of Jesus Christ, and he struggles with what his duties as a Roman soldier ask of him while at the same time seeing Jesus right before his eyes.

The visuals and costumes were wonderful and seemed to be fairly accurate, although the language used was typical of such movies. As always, Hollywood uses British accents to give the impression of a foreign locale and some Elizabethan English to add a flavor of historicity, although they weren’t consistent on this point.

I really enjoyed seeing the crucifixion and the events following it from a different perspective. Was the re-telling perfect? No, of course not; it is is Hollywood after all, but compared with some recent biblical movies, I feel that it was very well done. I think we often forget that there were many people and events surrounding the crucifixion of Christ, and this movie helps to put some of that context back into the story.

The performances were fine, and I especially enjoyed Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), Peter (Stuart Scudamore), Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth), and Yeshua (Cliff Curtis). I wish that the characters were a bit stronger though, with a bit more development of Clavius and Lucius and perhaps more depth/background added to Yeshua and the disciples. If these two things had happened, not only would the movie be extended to a full two hours (it seems a bit short at 1 hour, 47 minutes), but it would have made a decent movie into a potentially great movie.

Content

These are simply my observations. Personally, I think teenagers would be fine, as well as  mature pre-teens. In the end though, please don’t take my word for it; read as many reviews as you can or, better yet, go see it yourself.

Sexual content: There is a brief mention of Mary Magdalene’s profession, but it isn’t stated specifically. There are a couple of scenes where men appear with no shirts.

Violence: Most of the violence takes place in the first 15 minutes of the movie during a large battle scene. During this battle, swords, shields, and spears are used. You see people get stabbed or killed, but the person is usually turned in such a way as to not see the actual insertion of the weapon. If you do see the stabbing head-on, there is no blood spilled. All of the blood shown is either from the after-effects of battle or during the crucifixion scene.

During the crucifixion, there is quite a bit of detail shown. You will see blood running down Jesus’ face and from his wounds. He is also show as being stabbed with the lance. The crucifixion is also described in detail later in the movie.

There are scenes where dead bodies are examined. These bodies have been exposed to the climate of the Middle East for several days, and so are in various states of decomposition. Finally, there are some chasing scenes.

Language: There is no profanity, although there is some name-calling.

Drinking/Substance Abuse: You will briefly see some drunken Roman soldiers.

Content compared to other movies: While there is violence, there is hardly any gratuitous gore or blood shown being spilt. There is more blood compared to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but the vast majority of it is either dried blood from battle or what you see during the crucifixion. The crucifixion scene itself is detailed but much less graphic compared to The Passion of Christ. There is less violence than The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies, and I think considerably less violence, blood, and gore than the Lord of the Rings Trilogy (although all of it involves humans in this movie, rather than orcs and uruk hai).

Overall rating from The Believing Astronomer: 3.5 out of 5 stars for a good faith-based story, use of source material, nice cinematography, and managing to avoid gratuitous violence (although there are extended battle scenes), along with staying away from interpretations that were too far-fetched, but lack of character development.

Other reviews:

 

 

 

On the Journey: Moving with the Torrent

Note: Regular readers may notice some changes. Please hang in there while the dust settles; I will be posting an update on said changes (including background on the new address and blog title) this weekend. You can still expect reflections on faith, literature, and current events, but I also want to include more science (and specifically astronomy) based content as well. As always, I reserve the right to post as frequently or infrequently as needed, due to my primary duties and busy schedule as a seminarian and graduate student in Theology. Pax.

Augustine’s Confessions: Book I, Chapter 16

But we are carried away by custom to our own undoing and it is hard to struggle against the stream. Will this torrent ever dry up? How much longer will it sweep the sons of Adam down to that vast and terrible sea which cannot easily be passed, even by those who climb upon the ark of the Cross?Confessions I.16

Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings; for it is well that the heart be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited their adherents. -Hebrews 13.9

Bhs_int_classroom_la

Not for the faint of heart! Photograph of Battlefield High School, taken 2 Feb. 07 by K.D. Reeves. Public domain, free for public use and consumption. Complies with Prince William County School photo use guidelines. Via Wikimedia Commons

Being a teacher is tough. I know. Even though I was not in education any great amount of time, I worked in both the private and public systems. My experience ranged from being an assistant in a program that welcomed students with the most difficult situations and histories to teaching English in a small Catholic school.

Yes, teaching is tough. As a teacher, you are left with the responsibility of forming young minds, of helping them grow and become well-formed individuals. Your job extends far beyond school hours. The Lord knows how many late nights I spent up as a teacher! It is not for the faint of heart, for teaching is one of the greatest tasks a person can undertake.

And yet, there are teachers out there who lead their students astray. Whether through imposing their own personal ideologies or teaching outright error inside the classroom or outside the classroom, it is sad to note that some teachers do not lead their students down the right path, and this is what Augustine speaks about in this week’s passage. He recognizes that many of his instructors not only taught contraditions, but taught outright error as well. I know that many reading this may think that surely it is not so bad today (even I bristle at all of this), but I wouldn’t be so fast to make that assumption. While I have been blessed to work with some of the most gifted educators who deserve far more credit than they have received (specifically those in the Catholic school and those who worked with students who experienced Emotional Disturbance), I have also recognized that many parts of the system are broken, particularly in public schools. False ideologies trump truth and more money is thrown at the problem, rather than trying to spend the existing money more responsibly.

Educators have a lot of hard work ahead of them, and we need to pray for those dedicated teachers who seek to teach and form their students properly! But, that’s not what this post is about. This post is about the student…

Christ the Teacher icon

Christ the Teacher Icon

Augustine recognizes that even though some of his teachers led him down wrong paths, he was more than willing to follow them: “It is true that I learned all these things gladly and took a sinful pleasure in them. And for this very reason I was called a promising boy” (I.16). Augustine acknowledges that even though teachers have a certain responsibility, so to do the students. As we journey on the spiritual path, we should and must look to others for guidance. But those whom we seek need to be well-founded in the truth.

Let’s look at science: would you trust an established scientist who presents peer-reviewed research, or the guy selling snake oil or other “get well quickly” schemes in order to treat an illness? Would you look to an experienced cosmologist to teach you about the universe or the conspiracy theorist who sees shadows around every corner?

But what about our faith? How does all of this apply to Christianity? As Catholics, we have the authority of the Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium. Clinging to the Word of God, looking to the history of the Church, and allowing ourselves to be rightly guided by our shepherds, we can grow closer to the Lord. Some practical ways to do all of this are to read Scripture daily, study the lives of the saints, and get to know the Catechism. In the next few days, I will pass along some helpful hints on reading Scripture and staying with it.

There is one true teacher, but we as students must choose to follow Him.

Questions for reflection:

  • What can I do to better inform myself about my faith?
  • Have I allowed myself to be carried away by strange teachings?

This is part of a continuing series, Companions on the Journey, which travels along with a particular companion in the spiritual life, one of the great saints, in order discover how some of their writings might be applicable to our everyday lives. Currently, we are traveling with Augustine of Hippo through his work, Confessions. You can take a look at previous posts in the series or read the introduction.

Third Sunday of Advent: Rejoice! (Reflection)

Third Sunday of Advent – Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday

Zephaniah 3.14-15, Isaiah 12:2-3, 4, 5-6

Philippians 4.4-7, Luke 3.10-18

2015122258pope

Pope Francis at today’s Mass for Gaudete Sunday, via Catholic.org. The color is rose, not pink! Real men wear rose…

“Rejoice in the Lord always!”[1] Rejoice! During this Advent season, we have so many things for which we can rejoice: family, friends, celebrations, but do we remember the reason for which we should truly be rejoicing? My friends, that reason is, of course, Jesus Christ. As we proceed through Advent, we prepare for His coming, readying our hearts for the Nativity of our Lord. What a beautiful time of year this is!

At the same time, I think it can also be very difficult to rejoice, or at least to take the time away from our busy schedule in order to rejoice. Those same items I mentioned above for which we are joyful can hinder our focus on the real reason for joy. Preparing for family visits might have us running errands all over the place, or Christmas lists might have us focused on shopping. Or perhaps more serious concerns keep us from rejoicing… Maybe we have to choose between paying an electric bill and buying gifts. Perhaps there has been the death of a loved one. Or maybe the winter weather has put us in a depressed mood, despite the much needed rain and snow!

So how are we to rejoice then in this season? How do we reorient ourselves towards the true reason for rejoicing as we look expectantly for the coming of our Savior?

Well, one practical thing we can do is turn to others. In this season of Advent and the coming season of Christmas, it is important to remember those who are missing something, whether they are missing dry clothes, a hot meal, or the pleasure of family and friends. The Gospel today tells us that “whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none.  And whoever has food should do likewise.”[2] We shouldn’t leave Church and act as if nothing we do here has changed us. We must go out into the world and be a force for good, allowing the Lord to work through us in our words and deeds, showing those around us that “the Lord is near”[3] and he is ever-faithful in His promise to remain with us all the days of our lives.

There is another way we can reorient ourselves towards joy, more so than any of the other things I have mentioned thus far: simply turning to the Lord Himself. After all, how can we show others that the Lord is near if we do not first believe and act on it ourselves? For no matter what is going on in our lives, in the moments in which we rejoice or in the moments in which we might despair, we must recognize that the reason for our joy never ceases, as God has “a single motive for choosing”[4] us, for coming to us in the child Jesus, and that is His never-ending love for us to bring forth our salvation through that small child in the manger who will one day hang on the cross.

By Idobi (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Idobi (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

A voice crying out from the wilderness reminds us of this love, and the presence of the Lord in our lives. We hear it in today’s Gospel: while John was in the womb of Elizabeth, he foretold the coming of the Lord; now on the banks of the Jordan, he foretells the coming of Jesus once again, proclaiming that Christ will “baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”[5] In this baptism with the Holy Spirit, we are made a new creation and are truly given a reason to rejoice: we have new life in Christ and “can cry out with joy and gladness.”[6] He never ceases to call us, and in our baptism we find true life and happiness.[7]

Finally, not only do we have this enduring promise, but He makes it easier to attain joy and hope than we can possibly imagine: He comes to us, right here and right now. We don’t have to travel far, we don’t have to do anything complicated, we just need to turn to His love and mercy in the sacraments. In the Sacraments, “the Lord is in our midst”; in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, he renews us in His mercy, and in the Eucharist, He will renew us in His love. We only need to have confidence in Him.[8] Take advantage of the treasures He has given us in the faith, these tangible and real signs that echo the voice of John the Baptist as he cries out to us proclaiming the presence of the Lord.

My dear friends, in this season of Advent, on this Gaudete Sunday, we have a true reason for joy. As we look to His coming at Christmas, we find a hope and peace that no thing or person in this world can satisfy. Let us enter His infinite love, becoming signs of that love ourselves, and “Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.”[9]


 

  • [1] Phil. 4.4
  • [2] Luke 3.11
  • [3] Phil. 4.5
  • [4] CCC 218
  • [5] Luke 3.16
  • [6] Responsorial Psalm Verse
  • [7] CCC 30
  • [8] Zeph. 3.17
  • [9] Responsorial Psalm Verse

Note: I am back after exams and the end of the semester. Thank you for the prayers!

There is One King

As today’s Feast of Christ the King draws to a close, let us remember that in the end, there is only one true King, one Victor. We cannot serve two masters. We must serve the King, our Savior, He who desires to reign in our hearts:

Salvator Mundi

Photo by Toby Hudson CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons

“He is our king. He desires ardently to rule our hearts, because we are children of God. But we should not try to imagine a human sort of rule — Christ does not dominate or seek to impose himself, because he “has not come to be served but to serve.”

His kingdom is one of peace, of joy, of justice. Christ our king does not expect us to spend our time in abstract reasoning; he expects deeds, because “not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord!, shall enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of my Father in heaven shall enter the kingdom of heaven.” -St. Josemaria Escriva

Let us then invite the King into our hearts, preparing the way for Advent, for His coming in the manger, and go out into the world to spread His message of love and truth in word and action. Pax.