One of the first major issues that the catholic church had to address in post-apostolic times was various forms of gnosticism. Gnostic beliefs can be simplified, and perhaps oversimplified, into a system that views the material world to be flawed to such a degree that some might consider it to be bad or even evil in the sight of a spiritual and good God. Flowing out of this belief there arose various challenges to crucial Christian beliefs, particularly the Incarnation and the Resurrection of Jesus. To some degree or another, one or both of, these beliefs were denied to be true by gnostics. The flesh was bad, and God, who is the utmost example of perfection and reality, would not descend to become flesh, and he certainly would not have remained in the flesh at his glorious resurrection from the dead.
This weekend we heard, during the Gospel, the Beatitudes. Last Lent I read Pope Benedict XVI’s incredible trilogy Jesus of Nazareth where he delves into the significance of the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are the doorway to God; by living the Beatitudes, we see the internal life of Christ. The Beatitudes are the spiritual biography of Christ, to read them is to read the heart of Jesus. It follows, then, that if we are to become like Christ, we need to pay particular attention to the Beatitudes.
Let’s look at the first beatitude: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Have you ever looked at this one and wondered what exactly it means to be poor in spirit? Is it to be depressed? To be sad? To exhibit melancholy? Nothing of the sort. I have it on good authority that a better translation of this first Beatitude from the Greek is “how fortunate are those who fight for the very breaths of their lives.” I imagine a man who is drowning, fighting, struggling to stay afloat, choking on the water, trying so hard to breathe and not to succumb to the grips of death that crash over him and pull him under. He is blessed if he fights it, if he does everything that he can, even though he holds on by a thread, to save his own life.
So it is in the spiritual life. We are blessed if we understand what is killing our souls and we fight against it in order to hold onto to eternal life. We all know which commands of God we break. We all know which situations in our lives that threaten to consume us and suffocate our love for God. We all know that situation that we don’t want to let go of, the situation that we desperately hold on to because it brings us comfort, even if it takes us far from God. I certainly know what it is in my life, and if you don’t actually know what it is in your life, take some time to examine your life closely.
Christ tells us that it is in this place that we are most blessed. It is here where we have the opportunity to fight for the very breath of our lives. Here is where we are given the chance to meet God by fighting to remain with him, fighting to carry a cross, rather than give into destructive behavior, whether that destruction is exterior or interiorly invisible. This is what is meant by being poor in spirit. It is a place of a desperation of sorts, but a desperation totally illuminated by faith and hope. It is a place where we don’t despair, but desperately cling to the goodness of God in complete and utter trust. And our reward? The Kingdom of Heaven. Every meaning and manifestation of that term becomes our possession, both now and in the future.
The call? To acknowledge that place in our soul and to get rid of our excuses for hanging on to it, and to fight its chokehold on our lives, whether that hold is subtle or ridiculously apparent. Fight it every day, and fight to remain close to Christ. You will not only remain close to him, but enter into his interior life in a deeply intimate way.
Today is the Feast of the Holy Family. We celebrate and honor this family because God, Jesus Christ, didn’t just take on flesh, but he truly took on human life. When he came he was born into a family, the family of Mary and Joseph. The Scriptures don’t talk a lot about the life of the Holy Family, but the things that it does mention are of great value.
1. The Holy Family is Chaste
The Gospels tell us that when Joseph found out about Mary’s pregnancy he sought to secretly put Mary away. Now there are many theories about Joseph’s desire here, including that his motivation was out of fear of being present with Mary who was so holy as to bear a child from God. Of course, Scriptures suggest that he did not know this until after he had decided to put her away when the angel revealed this mystery. Regardless, this is a possibility. Another thought is that Joseph did believe that Mary had been unchaste, or that he at least believed that this could cause scandal in the community, and so desired to distance himself from the accusations of unchastity. In any case, chastity is of great virtue to Joseph, as well as to Mary.
2. The Holy Family is Merciful
Despite Joseph’s initial intention to put Mary away, he desired to do so quietly as to not expose Mary to shame. Whatever he thought Mary might have done, he desired that she not suffer. He sought to balance justice with mercy. He sought to fulfill the righteousness of the law, but to not go beyond that and to spare Mary’s reputation.
3. The Holy Family is Obedient to God
The Holy Family resisted no hardship, refused no cross in order to accomplish God’s will. Do you think it was easy to flee to Egypt with a small child and stay there for several years to protect that child? Probably not, considering that the Holy Family was not wealthy. They uprooted their lives in order to do the will of God.
4. The Holy Family is Devout
The Holy Family fulfills their religious obligations. They completed their religious purifications, they completed the dedication of Jesus, they journeyed to the Temple to worship, they praised God, and they raised Jesus in a household of virtue. We have religious obligations even today, whether we acknowledge them or not. While the ceremonial laws of the old covenant have been abrogated by Christ, we nonetheless have the duty of religion: to worship God and to participate in the corporate body of Christ. We also have the obligation to be obedient to the teachings of Christ: his call to prayer, his call to mercy, his call to honor marriage, his call to take up our crosses, his call to almsgiving, his call to repentance, his call to preach the truth, his call to judge right from wrong and not to confuse the two.
5. The Holy Family is Willing to Suffer
The Holy Family embraces their suffering even if they do not understand it. The Flight to Egypt is a good example of this. Another is the prophecy of Simeon, when he tells Mary that her heart will be pierced by a sword because of Jesus’ mission. She does not shy away, but takes these words into her heart and ponders them. And she follows Christ to the Cross, and watches her Son murdered. The Holy Family does not shy away from embracing the suffering of God because the suffering of God, especially when we do not understand why it is happening, always makes us more Christlike.
When we look at the Holy Family today, we see an example of what our families should be. Of course, no family is as the Holy Family is. We are imperfect people, but we must strive to imitate them. We must start with chastity, respecting our states in life: if we are single, we must remain celibate, if we are married, we must respect the vows we have made. We must be merciful to each other, we must remember that each member of our family is human and makes mistakes, forgiveness must abound. We must be obedient to God and devout. We should pray as a family, encourage one another to do what is right, and to rely on one another when we need help. We should each serve as a witness to the others in our families that when being obedient and devout is difficult that it is possible to hold on. Parents, your children, whether they are 2 or 42, need you to be a Christian example of self-emptying sacrifice, carrying your own cross so that when their crosses become difficult, you can be a tool of God’s grace to spur them on. We must be willing to suffer. We must bear one another’s burdens. We must be willing to tell each other the truth no matter how much it hurts. We must be willing to do difficult things in order to get our family to heaven.
And that is one of the primary reasons we are born into families. We are given these particular souls around us in order to help to sanctify each other, and strengthen one another so that our journey’s to heaven don’t have to be something we accomplish alone. Look to the Holy Family today and let us begin to be more and more like them.
+Jesus, Mary, and Joseph+
Pray for us.
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed which no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, wearing fine linen, white and pure, followed him on white horses. From his mouth issues a sharp sword with which to strike the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, King of kings, and Lord of lords.
-Revelation 19:11-16 (RSV-CE)
This is my favorite image of Christ in Scripture. It reminds me more than anything that Christ is sovereign over the universe, and over my life. When things seem out of control, and that God is losing, I look here and I am reminded that Christ is Faithful. God has made promises and he will follow through with them. The enemy will be fought and he will lose. Christ is True. What he teaches, even when I do not understand, even when I do not agree, even when I want more than anything for it to be false, is true. And truth always works for the good of the soul. Christ judges. He is a savior, but he also judges, and in his judgment he makes war. He makes war against sin. And this is what I need, perhaps more than anything in my life right now: a God who is a warrior and fighter. A God who fights for me! A God who takes sin by the balls and deals harshly with it.
His eyes are flames of fire. Fire is an amazing thing, is it not? It has the power both to destroy and to refine. When I look at Christ, will I allow the fire of his soul to refine me like silver in a furnace, or will I allow the fire to utterly consume me? When he judges my actions, do I repent or do I defiantly hold on to them? On his head are many diadems. He is not just the King of the Jews and the Christians. He wears many diadems, he wears them all. He is King of every nation. He is King of every planet, of every star, of every galaxy and galaxy group. Jesus Christ is the King of the entire universe, of all that is visible and invisible. And his name is known by nobody but himself. He is incomprehensible. He is beyond my understandin. His ways are unknown to me, and I cannot counsel him.
His robe is dipped in blood. He has poured out his blood for us, for me. He loves us, loves me. He is the Word of God. He is God, and he is the one who has dwelt among us. This God who is beyond knowledge, who is faithful, true, just, consuming, and ruler of all that exists has descended in pure, infinite love, to this ugly rock hurtling through this microscopic corner of space, full of rebels, to pour out his life and his love for those same rebels. His robe proclaims his mission, to eradicate sin from our lives, not to eradicate us! This is why he fights! He desires to save us and return us to what we were meant for.
And the armies of heaven wear fine white linens and follow him on white horses. We truly are coheirs with him if we choose to fight in his army. We become the brothers and sisters of Christ and we inherit from the Father what Christ inherits, and we fight alongside him, helping to eradicate sin and bring more into the great army. He strikes the nations and rules them with an iron rod. Ultimately, God’s will cannot be prevented. Our free will is totally free, but it at all times boils down to two choices: God or not God. All of our choices are simply these two option disguised as other things. And on his thigh is a tattoo: King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the authority over all authority. Is the highest lawgiver. He is the highest judge. He is the highest giver of mercy. Every good thing is but a shadow of Christ.
It ihas been especially important to me this week to remember that Christ is king and judge and it is he who makes the rules and he who will judge me, and no other. But more importantly, it has been important for me to be reminded that he does not leave me to the wolves, but he fights for me and if I so desire, I can fight alongside him with all the hosts of heaven.
What did I do this morning? I put together this awesome chart about marriage, divorce, and annulments. It takes you chronologically from the moment vows are taken through civil divorce and beyond.
Hopefully the chart answers the most basic and fundamental questions about annulments.
I indirectly wrote about this yesterday in my reflection about my mother’s death (read deep, it’s there) but in the season of Advent, this is a theme that is impossible to ignore.
The mercy of God’s Incarnation. The Incarnation, that is, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity taking flesh, is an incredible act of mercy and love by our God. John 3:16 proclaims this loudly to all. God loved the world. He still loves the world, and will always love the world. He loves us so much that he cannot stand the thought of any of us being lost to Hell. In his mercy he sends his Son to become one of us! He became man so that he could not only atone for our sins, but also that by sharing our nature, we might share in his. He came not only to forgive us, but to remake us. His mission does not stop at atonement, but really only begins there. His mission is to make us a people after his own heart, as David was a king after his own heart (Acts 13:22).
But in order to become that, we have to heed John the Baptist’s cries in the desert: prepare the way of the Lord! We have to give up sin. All sin. We can hold nothing back. And we especially need to give those things to God which we are most afraid to give up, things that we are most afraid will hurt us if we follow God’s will. That is where God’s mercy is going to be most abundantly poured into our souls because it is the place where we experience the biggest wound, and it requires the greatest amount of the heavenly ointment of God’s presence to heal us.
I’ll give you an example from my own life. I have kept it no secret on my blog that I experience same-sex attraction. I used to think that this was my big C cross, the giant thing in my life that I needed to give to God, the thing that hurt the most. But it isn’t. The bigger cross is something that lies much deeper, and it is the fear/dread of being alone, and my SSA is only a small part of that. When I say I am afraid of being alone I don’t simply mean solitude, because you that know me, know I enjoy solitude, enjoy keeping to myself. But it is a much more profound alone-ness, a fear of my soul being alone, being abandoned, a soul that does not know another soul intimately and vulnerably in an inexpressible way.
THIS is where God is waiting to pour his mercy into my life. But it requires me to prepare the way for him. I prepare the way by confessing all of the ways in which I have tried to fill this loneliness, I should say, the illicit ways I have tried to do so, and then resolving to give those things up. And then it finally requires me to put a deep trust in the promise that God will provide for me in this struggle of my soul, that he will meet the need of my soul.
I have a feeling that a great many of our deepest struggles boil down to fear of being alone. Maybe we were married for a long time and now we find ourselves widowed and don’t know how to deal with that, and so we end up settling into the first relationship we get into no matter what. Maybe we have never had a serious relationship, and now we are approaching our 30s and we are fearing that it will never happen for us, and our soul reaches towards despair. Maybe we want to desperately have children, but God has not given us that blessing yet, and we harbor great sadness at not having a child to hold. Maybe we are afraid to seek an anulment because to find out that our marriage wasn’t actually a marriage will only compound the loneliness we experienced during and after our marriage and divorce. Maybe we were picked on and bullied as a child and now that we are in our early 20s we party all the time and make bad decisions to impress people so that we finally feel wanted.
It is not hard to imagine that most of our struggles may originate in these or similar places. But Christmas proves that these things are not true. Humanity is not alone. God is near, God is now one of us, and he desires to enter and dine with us. He knocks on the door of our souls, asking us to let him in, let him into the deepest recesses of our souls. Let us take these remaining two days to prepare to answer the door and allow Christ into these places and begin to give up the sinful things we do to attempt to fill these hurts in our hearts.
Sometimes God gives us gifts that we don’t even realize are gifts until some time later. In these final days of Advent, God has given me one such gift. Up until this week I had viewed this gift as a curse, a curse that would follow me for the rest of my life, tainting and eliminating all of the joy I was supposed to experience at this time of the year. Today is the day that my mother died three years ago. And while it was, and still is, painful, God, in his infinite wisdom, has brought good out of my sorrow. In this goodness, I have found opportunity to reflect upon faith and life, and I want to share this with my friends, and my family, especially my family.
1. Be Prepared For Death
One of the main themes we witness in Advent is the message of John the Baptist: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight the path.” Not unlike Israel, our lives exist in anticipation of the arrival of the Lord, the arrival of the Kingdom. Jesus may arrive at any moment to take our souls into eternity. We will not know the hour. I did not expect my mother to die when she did and I can only wonder if she herself expected to die when she did.
Death can come to each of us unexpectedly. I read the news and I see a small child gunned down in an act of road rage, I see terrorists kill Germans at a Christmas market, I see ambassadors mowed down, I see a wedding party crushed by a falling tree. None of these people expected, when they woke up, that they would never return to their homes, that they would take their final breath that day. None of us are guaranteed those things. We make plans daily as if we will live forever. But some day, those plans will not materialize.
We must be prepared to meet the Lord. We must do as John the Baptist calls out for us to do: make straight the crooked path. This means first and foremost that we must begin to root out sin in our lives. We have to confess our sins to the Lord and then we must resolve to live for God. Whatever that sin is: an addiction, sloth, spiritual negligence, a relationship we shouldn’t be in, sleeping around, gossiping, we must give it up. And if and when we backslide, we must continually give it up to God. We must prepare ourselves to receive God and to be received into God’s presence. We do not want to be caught unexpectedly in sin as the bridegroom comes back, there is no repentance in death. Lucky for us, it only takes a fraction of a second to turn our hearts, right now, in this moment, back to God.
It is now the hour for you to wake from sleep, for our salvation is closer than when we first accepted the faith. The night is far spent; the day draws near. Let us cast off deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.
2. Live Without Regrets
This isn’t some hokey message about grabbing life by the horns and not letting go. This is about forgiving yourself of your past. There is nothing that you can do to make the mistakes of the past completely disappear. To live on in regret of your past mistakes does nothing but hurt you. There was a very long time after my mother died that I lived in regret for the tensions I experienced with her. I beat myself up every day for those things. But when I brought them to a priest in Confession, he told me that I needed to give that to God, there was no benefit in dwelling on those things. We have all done things we are not proud of, things we did when were different people than we are today. They are a part of all of our stories, and we can either learn and grow from them, or we can let them slowly darken our hearts.
3. Accept Change
Following big events in our lives, many changes inevitably take place. Our first temptation may be to stop them. If we prevent them, we believe that we can somehow maintain normalcy. We may try to hold on to specific traditions, outings, relationships, or lifestyle choices. But a death, a birth, or a marriage always change these things. Just as we can not hold onto our past through regret, we fight a losing battle if we hold onto our past through the rejection of change. In my own case, I recognize that by losing a family member, the family dynamic has fundamentally changed. I can’t say that that those new dynamics make me happy, but I also can’t say that they are unexpected. I could try to live in the past and try to recreate every good memory I have, but it is unrealistic. Change is here I must allow God to cultivate deeper growth in my soul.
4. Never Stop Praying
If there is one thing I wish I had done more of while my mother was alive was pray for her. Of course, I let go of this regret, and I learn from it. I am learning to pray for my family more consistently. Sometimes I am so caught up in my own cross, that I forget others have crosses and they need prayers. I am doing my best to remember to pray for them, that they would receive the grace, that all of us might receive the grace, to prepare for the Lord. I pray for each of us to have a deeper relationship to God, a deeper reliance on God, and a deeper desire and strength to prepare our hearts to receive him through the abandonment of sin and weakness, that we may all follow him no matter the pains and struggles that may bring for us.
But I am also trying to remember to pray for my mother. If I don’t, who will? I wish I could say that her death has greatly increased how much devotion I have for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, but I cannot. But I am trying, trying to remember to pray more often for them.
Finally, as I have been reflecting this week, three years seems like such a long time. I look at all that has happened in that time, and it all seems to have happened so long ago. Just one example is that when I look at the friends I spend the most time with these days, the people I am the very closest to, most of them I did not even know yet when my mother died, and I feel like I’ve known these people forever. And yet, there are days, like today, where I woke up and it seemed so recent, like I had just received that fate-filled text message a few seconds before. And though some days are really hard, I take this yearbook quote to heart today because I can’t think of a profound and sophisticated way to say it:
Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.
This morning as I prayed the Liturgy of the Hours, I looked over to my Advent wreath with all four of its candles burning bright and I thought, “we’re there.” Sure, Christmas is still a week away, but hope is complete, it is at full capacity. Just as there are no candles unlit in my wreath, there is no shortage left in hope, it is brimming over into the universe in full. We wait in expectation for Christmas, but it is already Christmas in our hearts, because Jesus is already there even though he hasn’t come yet in the flesh.
Of course, this is all liturgically speaking, because as we know, in reality, Jesus already has come in the flesh. The ever growing hope and joy of Israel and all the nations came to its abundant fullness 2,000 years ago, and the expectation of the Savior was fulfilled for us for all times and places. This last Sunday of Advent reminds me of all that. I have no reason for fear. No reason to lose hope. No reason to doubt God. No reason to get down on myself. No reason to look elsewhere for joy and satisfaction. I only need to draw near to the babe in Mary’s arms. No matter if he is sleeping in a manger, or sleeping in a boat, or celebrating at a wedding, or multiplying loaves and fishes, praying alone, he is always God, and always accomplishing my salvation. He is always the Lord.
Don’t judge me, but I’m coming back to blog.
In the three months since I decided to stop blogging, I realized just how much blogging had been a part of my life and how much I actually missed doing it. I tried doing a new side project that was a little more formal and structured writing about the Faith, but it was daunting. I want to be back here, on my blog, doing what I do.
So there you go, I’m back to blogging. And just in case you didn’t notice, my url is new (turns out my old one was purchased by someone in the last few weeks). Please make sure you bookmark deusnobiscumblog.com and NOT deusnobiscum.com
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Up through most of August I believed that this coming week I would be returning to blogging. But as I’ve struggled to come up with new content that isn’t simply a rehashing of old topics I’ve written about or paraphrasing something somebody else has written, I’ve realized two things. First, I’ve lost my passion for blogging and writing. The Internet is fast and demanding and requires an ever evolving and fresh persona to draw in new followers and retain your loyalists. I just don’t have that passion anymore. Second, the Internet doesn’t need me. I offer nothing you can’t get elsewhere. Oh what about my unique perspectives? Well I don’t know about that anymore. Better to let someone more qualified write about such things. I kind of just want to slide into relative peace and oblivion, I don’t need to be a D-list blogger with a micro-following of people who think I’m rad for believing whatever it is they think I believe. That is so contrary to my desires as an introvert.
So, there you have it. You’re witnessing the very last post of Deus Nobiscum, a blog almost 9 full years in the making. I’ve enjoyed it, and I’m thankful for all my followers and those who have commented both to be supportive and to criticize. But it’s time to move on to other things. Thanks again!