Thursday, 23 March 2017

Duty is gift

I wrote this post a couple years ago and just looked it up as I put together my talk for the next session in our Lenten Series.  This "duty is gift" idea has really transformed how I understand vocation and the sacrament of the present moment. It has greatly increased my ability to discover joy in ordinary time. I hope it will be a blessing!


"Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are the work of your hand."  Isaiah 64:8

I have been tripping up over the idea of "duty". This stubborn resistance to being told what to do. I have this association with oppression (okay, that's extreme) or unfortunate, toilsome obligation.  Mainly I suddenly recognized that I have been thinking of the execution of duty as something that I must begrudgingly do to repay God for all His providential goodness or in hopes of meriting a future reward. And though I don't like a lot of the things I am supposed to do, mostly because I don't feel very adept at doing them, I do them and hopefully can motivate myself enough with the thought of who will be benefited and how (ho-hum) it will please God, so boo-hoo, sigh and get on with it. 
It's like, I strongly want to love God with all I've got, I want to love others 'til my heart bursts and doing my duties is some burden I must carry out begrudgingly to fulfill those two commandments.

Except I'm totally wrong.

1) I am nothing. I have nothing but the gifts that God gives me out of love for me. From the air I breathe, the heart that pumps blood through my arteries, for those arteries themselves, to the family in my care, the roof over my head, the rivers and mountains that fill my scenery. Existence itself, awareness itself, nothing apart from Him
2) I can do nothing in my own power. I can not fulfil any of these duties by my own ability. If I am "good" at something, it is because He has given me this talent. If I am "bad" at something, well, I guess He's lovingly withholding that ability from me right now. Maybe He's giving me the gift of an opportunity to patiently develop some perseverance in learning a new skill or fumbling through. Lovingly calling me to accept the challenge of improvement. Maybe He's teaching me humility in reminding me of my nothingness. Doesn't matter why. I just trust that He is all and I am naught.
3)  God is love. If we are chosen to follow Him it is only that He can use us to co-labour with His plan of love for others.
4) That we are chosen is a gift.  Thus, that we are invited to co-labour is a gift. 
Thus, every ordinary duty  from flossing my kids' teeth, to scrubbing the toilet, to making dinner, to picking up dirty tissues for the zillionth time that day is  actually the gift of God giving me the freedom to choose to co-labour with Him in giving of myself in that little task. Every word of encouragement of act of compassion or duty I perform is not counted as some good I've done, merited to me, but yet another gift from God, merited to His glory: the grace to participate in His labour of love. My good-deeds magnify Him, not me.

So wait, do good works then and obedience have a role in salvation?

Of course.

Because isn't salvation to abide with Him? To be free to worship Him without fear, holy and righteous in His sight? To be in His presence, eternally loving and praising Him?  And  because I'm guessing salvation is not linear temporally - Heaven after death, but beyond space and time, then every YES to some ordinary duty is His gift to us to enter into His will. Every duty I freely assent to co-labour in is an immersion in his merciful love for me, salvation.

So, with that I will joyfully, and with great thanksgiving embrace my housework, my kids' squabbles, and all the other beautiful opportunities to love Him and lose myself. 

"It is our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere, to give Him thanks."

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Reflection on the Transfiguration

For the next four Sundays I will be leading an adult catechesis series in my Parish.  Each week we'll be reflecting on the previous Sunday's Gospel and our pastor's excellent homilies.  I've decided to share these here so that others may follow along. If you're interested I can send you a copy of the homily, just leave me a comment or email me.-->

 Here is my reflection for last week's Gospel account of the Transfiguration.  May it be a blessing.

Let us pray.

Father, we thank You for this day which You have made and have given us.  Thank You for this and every opportunity we have to gather together here to praise Christ in whom we place our hope and our fidelity.  We ask You to bless each one of us here with your abundant grace that we may grow in wisdom and knowledge from our time here and increase in faith, hope, and charity.  Open our hearts and our minds to receive what is   Bless our time here together this morning that in the spirit of this Lenten season we will be drawn ever nearer to You, O Lord. 

Jesus, I trust in You.

Our Father, who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, Amen.

This is the journey.
We were created by God to be beloved sons and daughters; to enjoy Him and abide with Him; to love, adore, and glorify Him forever.  To abide in Him, to trust Him completely, to walk with Him, to know Him and to know His presence.

But sin, along with disobedience, doubt, and distrust of God entered the world as did death.  We became alienated from our Creator, our Father, our God.

But God came to us, the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us!  He came in the person of Jesus to be one of us.  He loved us so much and He really wanted us to know who He was so we would believe in Him, believe in His promises, that we would trust in Him, and could have eternal life.

Jesus showed us the Father.
Jesus taught us to obey Him.
Jesus, by His passion and crucifixion, conquered the stranglehold that sin and death held over us.  Christ is indeed victorious.

But how can we say that Christ has triumphed over sin, suffering, and death when it’s obviously still very much a part of this world?

We are stuck in the reality that we are made for eternity; for happiness and union with our God, but we are living in a world that is broken; full of sin, pain, suffering and death.  As Christians we do our best to avoid sin and we repent and seek forgiveness when we do, we certainly try to make this world a better, more loving place, we strive to reduce the pain and suffering we see in others.  Yet, we ourselves still experience pain, suffering, and death.  Jesus himself experienced the ultimate in pain, suffering, and death, furthermore, Jesus promises us that if we are to follow him we will be required to pick up our crosses and embrace suffering and death.  In the first letter to the Corinthians it says that Christ crucified is folly to the Greek and a stumbling block to the Jews.   Before he became Pope, Benedict XVI reiterated that this is because there can be no love without suffering.
Anyone who really wanted to get rid of suffering would have to get rid of love before anything else, because there can be no love without suffering, because it always demands an element of self-sacrifice, because, given temperamental differences and the drama of situations, it will always bring with it renunciation and pain….When we know that the way of love–this exodus, this going out of oneself–is the true way by which man becomes human, then we also understand that suffering is the process through which we mature. Anyone who has inwardly accepted suffering becomes more mature and more understanding of others, becomes more human. Anyone who has consistently avoided suffering does not understand other people; he becomes hard and selfish.”
(From: “God and the World: A conversation with Peter Seewald” 2002)

What really stands out to me about the Transfiguration is the juxtaposition between our finite, natural world and the infinite, supernatural reality that overlays, informs, and completes it.   I think it’s important to point out that there are two common beliefs about the supernatural out there in the wider world that we need to avoid:  one belief is that there is no such thing as the supernatural.  That if you can’t measure or test something empirically then it isn’t real.  The second is the gnostic belief that there is a spiritual or supernatural reality which is in stark contrast to the physical world. This belief sees everything physical – the body, the world etc. as evil and to be rejected while the soul, the spiritual is good.   Christianity of course rejects the first belief but it also rejects the second.  Christianity firmly holds that everything God created was good.  Sin has disfigured creation, we say we are broken people, that the world is broken.  But Christianity is not about liberating our souls from wretched bodies and leaving this world behind. No! Christ’s coming into the world marks the beginning of a new creation, in which everything is being and will be redeemed. Yes, there will be a new heaven, but there will also be a new earth. We believe in the resurrection of the Body and the life everlasting. 

As I was saying: What really stands out to me about the Transfiguration is the juxtaposition between our finite, natural world and the infinite, supernatural reality that overlays, informs and completes it.  At the transfiguration, the supernatural reality of Jesus, His Glory, was physically manifest, it peeked through the veil into our world.  Peter, James, and John saw what they saw with human eyes. It powerfully reminds us that humans are uniquely both physical and spiritual creatures!   It reminds us that God is not only the Creator of both our mortal bodies and our eternal souls, but also that He ministers to our whole person. The new creation is breaking into the old and we are in it and we are part of it and as Christians we are co-labourers in this transformation; in this world but not of it.

God sent His only Son into the world at a particular time and in a particular land, but He sent Him for people of every time and every land.  God physically revealed Himself by appearing in flesh at a particular time and place in history, and God has continued to reveal Himself ever since.
The man of Jesus, who lived and died in Palestine two thousand years ago, saved his contemporaries from sin and death through His Passion and His death on the Cross, but the Bible also recounts that during His public ministry He forgave sins, He raised the dead.  But Christ Jesus lives for all time (He was in the beginning with the Father and the Holy Spirit and He will be in the end. He is the alpha and the omega) and He has triumphed over sin and death for people of all time. 

It is into this reality of an infinite, perfect, all-loving God moving in a finite, imperfect, often unloving world that we must understand our hope. Christ is Victor, now and forever.

Discussion Questions 
1.   Give an example of a time someone’s patient suffering, self-sacrifice made love abound.  Did this experience of another’s love draw you closer to an awareness of God’s love for you?
2.   When in your life has God caused goodness, love, and holiness to emerge from your own struggles, suffering and pain?
3.   Father Peter’s homily reminds us that in order to keep our hope in times of difficulty we need to pray, partake in the Sacraments, and recollect upon the graces that we have received in our lives.  These three practices nurture our relationship with our Father and remind us that God is very much present and active in our lives and that we are his beloved children.  For the encouragement of the others in your group, testify how you have grown closer to God through these practices.   
4.   According to the Bible, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and with all your strength; you shall love your neighbour as yourself.”   We can’t do anything without God, so in order for us to fulfill that commandment, He gives us every necessary grace.  That means He ministers and gives graces to our hearts, our minds, our souls, and our strength -or our physical bodies, that is to our whole humanity.  This is especially true of the Sacraments.  Take an inventory of the Sacraments and how they minister to the various aspects of our humanity.

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