From Scribal Understanding to Holy Living

Mk 12: 28-34

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,
“Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Jesus replied, “The first is this:
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.

The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these.”
The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher.
You are right in saying,
He is One and there is no other than he.
And to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding,
with all your strength,
and to love your neighbor as yourself

is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,
he said to him,
“You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

____________

In this gospel Jesus was approached by a scribe, who inquired, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus responds, “…Love God with all your heart with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength.”  Jesus continues, “…the second is this: you shall love your neighbor as yourself, there is no other commandment greater than these.”   The gospel story ends with Jesus acknowledging the scribe’s correct understanding of the scriptures, as he encourages him to continue working and growing as He states, “you are not far from the kingdom of God.”

This last point is a very interesting and important to note, that is, how a scribe can understand so much of the Scriptures, and yet – according to Jesus  – still be “…not far from (or outside of) God’s Kingdom.” This profoundly simple point can easily be overlooked and missed!!!

If prayerfully considered in light of one’s life, it has the potential to be one of those “Wait, Jesus said what?” points that can almost make both Catholics and non Catholics briefly rethink, if not to almost hope in, the Church’s teaching about purgatory

Throughout Christian history and especially in the last 500 years since the Protestant Reformation, I believe many Christians have studied themselves into this scribal state – gaining a  great understanding of  God’s law and Word, the Scriptures – but who, for some reason, is still not yet in  (and working towards)  God’s Kingdom.

Why is the classic scribe, still “in route to” and “not yet in” God’s Kingdom?

Well, what some of these scribes fail to understand about God’s Word – is that an academic, intellectual or simple believing sense of the Scriptures – should be just our first step and response to that dynamic and living Word that is the Scriptures.

That first step – accepting, acknowledging and learning more about what is contained and taught in the Scriptures – must be followed by a second and more important step: becoming a doer of God’s Word.

There is a huge difference between being a doer of God’s Word and an understander God’s Word.  The evil one Satan, definitely understands – in the common understanding of what understanding means – more about   scripture than most who have ever lived one may argue, but is he saved?

Let’s be clear: only Jesus as the Living Word made flesh could understand the Scriptures fully, as it is a dynamic and living book that cannot be fully grasped by any living soul.  By grace and faith, we are able to grow and to understand more of what is in the Scriptures, however no one apart from Jesus can or ever will master understanding the Scriptures.

However one can, even without knowing all the mysteries of God, by grace and faith become a faithful, consistent and holy doer of God’s Word.  The history and testimony from the lives of the saints reveals that living out the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ Laws of Love in our human relationships is very possible by grace and faith!!!

Their lives also reveal that it is the obedience to and living out of God’s law that actually leads to a true and Spirit filled understanding of the Scriptures, even though many today think, desire and believe that this gift is given freely and frequently to all – with or without holy living. I’ll stick with what the saints have witnessed to myself.

In the New Testament’s Book of James, we are taught that “faith without works is dead.”  And while yes, studying the scriptures is a necessary prayerful work that illuminates the mind, heart and will, only in conjunction with the humble, contrite and prayerful struggle to obey and live out God’s laws daily that the deepest Scriptural knowledge, truths and ultimately relationship with God is given.

Only by prayerfully accepting each day the graced struggle to become a Simon of Cyrene – to willfully and intentionally bear the Cross as given to us – will God infuse the depth and breadth of wisdom that the immature scribe in us all is truly seeking…

Common sense from our natural lives will pound home this point more clearly.  In the same way the doctors become great doctors by doing medicine and great artist become so because of their great depth, commitment and willingness to enter into and to develop the core of their work, so is it also with God’s people – we come to know, love and understand the depths of the scriptures primarily by living it, not solely  by studying about it.

In fact, it is probably best to only know and memorize the Ten Commandment and Jesus’ Laws of Love – if we had only to two things  in the whole Bible to both  memorize  and live out. The OT Law tells us what love actually consists of and how to do it whereas the NT Laws of Love tells us who to love and the depth, breadth and manner that we are called to love them in – in the Loving Spirit and Truth of the OT Law!!!

Simply put, who comes to understand the depths of love – any love – by studying and reading about it alone?  One must take and make a leap of faith to live that love in order to truly know it…

What did that scribe in the Gospel and many contemporary super-scriptured-up-Christians need, in order to actually enter God’s Kingdom? Simply to do more living of the Gospel, than studying of the Gospels…

When the scribe asked Jesus, which commandment was the greatest, I doubt if he expected to hear Jesus’ response linking TWO COMMANDMENTS  together into one great commandment. In doing so, Jesus clarified and simplified the scriptural criteria for what constitutes true knowledge and understanding of God’s Law.

Jesus taught that true knowledge and understanding of God’s Law is revealed in how we live and by our lives, not simply or only by what we claim to intellectually understand and give our accent to.

In contrast to our contemporary intellectualized and psychological understanding of what ‘understanding actually is,’ God’s Word presents and teaches that having Scriptural understanding requires more…

As reflected by the saints, it  requires one to be spiritually integrated and mature, having a  head (understanding/believing) plus heart (feeling and desire ) plus free will (action) that seeks to live daily by faith and in response to God through and in our relationships and communities…

I suspect, that if you are like myself and that scribe in the Gospel, you definitely still have a loooooong way to go before we catch up with the saints in living out God’s Word…

My prayer for us, is that as our inner scribe’s love of learning continues to grow, that God may grant us the grace to begin shifting our focus more on living out that simple ten cents of basic and core scriptural knowledge – the Ten Commandments – rather that seeking to understand (in the contemporary manner) Paul’s theology or some other deep scriptural and theological points…

My prayer is that, like the saints, we may move from primarily seeking to understand the Word in the contemporary and scribal sense, to living it with our lives – by strugglin’ to love, serve and to live justly in the various communities that we minister to daily.

My prayer is that by grace, we may accept the Holy Spirit’s invitation to let go of our youthful, milk based scribal understandings and to willfully accept each day – the mature struggle and food of the Cross – that God serves us daily in the everyday challenge to live the Ten Commandments and to Love our enemies.

May the Holy Spirit lead us in this endeavor, as we move and grow from being scripture and theology spittin’ scribes to simple, holy saints living out the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ Laws of Love.

In Praise of Our Mothers on Mother’s Day

I believe that for most orthodox Christians, their love of and for God the Son, Jesus, is arguably more paramount and more demonstrably expressed than their love of and for God the Father!!!  Why is this the case?

I believe the answer is very simple: Fathers have, can and are often experienced – at least traditionally – as being the more distant parent who both lays down the Law (The Ten Commandments) and who also brings justice to bear on all those who break it! Fatherhood’s traditional Law Giver/Defender/Judge persona and role in the family has often reflected and been experienced as more of an Old Testament – Yahweh like power and authority figure for many.  Of course, I beg that you please don’t get me wrong – as for the purposes of this essay, I make these simplistic generalizations – because my mother could lay down the Law and tear  a new hole in my butt when necessary, like many moms could, would and often did!!!

However, I also knew instinctively that my Mother did and always would, until the day she died – be the first person in line to embody the love of Jesus Christ for me in my life!!!  Whereas my dad had clear laws, limits and expectations (and quietly, so did my mom), I saw and knew that my mom – from her daily work and sacrifice – was the one who was gonna gather the disciples to teach me…  Who would walk throughout Palestine to find and heal me…  And was the parent who would be unjustly condemned, yet still willfully choose to carry and climb that Cross on Calvary for me – just as my Lord and Savior Jesus did!!!  If my dad was God the Father, then my mom was DEFINITELY Jesus, God the Son!!!

That is why on this Mother’s Day and on all Mother’s Days, we celebrate our mothers – and all who have mothered us – by carrying us in their wombs… by feeding us at their breasts…  by cooking, cleaning and dressing us in this school of life… by listening, caring for and healing us when we have been hurt, misunderstood and abandoned…  And by embodying and teaching God the Father’s Laws in a simple-to-understand and down-to-earth manner.   Today we remember, cherish and honor our mothers, who have willingly and truthfully – laid down their lives and climbed the Cross – so that we may not just have life, but that we might have it abundantly!!!

Let your praises sing out the joys of Motherhood today!!!  As God the Son, Jesus, is the only one given that we might be saved, so often are our mothers – our first known Saviors – who have given their very bodies and souls for our lives!!!

On How Many Atheists and Christians Live Similar Beliefs…

Of course, as anyone knows, most atheists, by definition, do not believe in what the overwhelming majority of humanity has generally called, God.  As a matter of fact, atheists are historically and numerically a small minority compared to us who do believe in God.  Its my belief that at the heart of atheism lies the belief and lived reality, of simply choosing to do one’s own will, and not being accountable to anyone or anything but one’s self and one’s desires. If we briefly examine and compare the difference between one’s stated beliefs and one’s lived beliefs, I believe that the historical and numerical divide between atheism and what many today take as ‘Christian living’ is actually much less than many of us would like to admit!

A person’s stated beliefs, like one’s fundamental political or business, moral and social perspectives, can and do often change, grow and mature over the course of one’s life – especially if one is not super rich enough to evade many of life’s inevitable and very concrete daily struggles.  Our stated beliefs are those we proclaim openly in and to the community; they allow others to generally understand ‘who and what we are about’ or ‘what angle’ we are coming from: democratic, republican, Christian, atheist, conservative, liberal, feminist, etc. They allow others not only to better understand and/or to categorize us, but also, to some degree, to hold us accountable for our behavior in reference to these beliefs.

A person’s lived beliefs can be very different from one’s stated beliefs, and as such, by definition they are often not openly stated or shared with the communities that we are apart of. Lived beliefs are those we allow to truly guide how we live; those beliefs we struggle to willfully practice in our relationships and community lives. We have to hope, plan, seek and look for ways to practice our true lived beliefs.  Lived beliefs, if they are different from one’s stated beliefs, are generally hidden from most in the community.  To find them out, one often has to be ‘outted’ regarding them – with proof – before that person can be held accountable by the communities in which they live. Classic examples of this are the serial thief or the serial adulterer, both who publically proclaim their beliefs of respecting the property and personhood/relationships of others, only to eventually – be outted by proof – of what their real lived beliefs actually are.

What does this mean for the Christian? Well, it means that atheists are correct when they say that most Christians are hypocrites, except for the most holy among us (and that is probably notyou or me yet)!!!

It also means that those who are publically Christian in name, but who have no intention of acknowledging and prayerfully destroying their hypocrisy are very similar to atheists: they practically refuse to acknowledge and utilize the gifts of grace and the Holy Spirit given at baptism, which can actually transform them into a different – much holier person.  In short, though publically Christian – for whatever reason(s) – they always willfully choose to do their own will and refuse to live by and be held accountable to anyone or anything except their self and their desires.  It means they have truly accepted and live out the hypocrisy we have all been born into.

It also means that true Christian believers are those who not only recognize their hypocricy and failure, but who also – through the gifts of grace and the Holy Spirit received through baptism – prayerfully work daily toward reaching that hope, goal and day when their stated beliefs will actually become their lived beliefs. True Christian believers accept and acknowledge, but fight to change and eliminate the hypocrisy we find ourselves living in.

That day – of finding ourselves different from the atheists and being a true Christians – comes only by grace and often, after years of prayerfully picking up our crosses daily and striving to make God’s will our own by strugglin’ to live out the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ Laws of Love first and foremost in our lives.  Often, it comes only after years of prayers, when our prayer by grace has changed from being a discrete act done at church or before meals, to a real, living dialogue with God throughout the day…

On that day, our other naturally stated beliefs, like being good capitalists in our business dealings, good republicans or democrats, feminists or progressives, conservatives or liberal, etc. will no longer come first in our lives or will be argued forby using our Christian faith.  Like all the true saints, they will not fall away, but will seen and evaluated in light of our relationship with God.  As our publically stated Christian and lived out beliefs become one, all will see and understand the true love of God that we are both stating and living from.

On that day, we will no longer worry about being held accountable for what we really believe and will be willing to suffer for it as the real true Christians – the saints – have and are doing today with their very lives.

On that day, the community will increasingly recognize us as true, authentic and genuine Christians – the persons God has called us to be – as we lose the natural hypocrisy that we are born into and that has many living like true atheists.

On the Sandwiches We Serve in Our Victories

Both hard fought and unexpected victories – like the righting of a personal wrong and the seeing of justice served as an evil perpetrator is punished – are great opportunities for the tempering our mouths, hearts and imaginations in a manner not unlike those offered by our losses and sufferings. When experiencing a great loss or suffering, we must often learn how to talk honestly about it as we also learn how to accept its cross more humbly… In talking about our losses and suffering in life, we often have to pray and learn how to not blame others as we also pray for the grace to honestly accept our fair share of the credit for having them…

Often, with an unexpected and/or even hard won victory, as with the seeing of justice served, there is not just the celebration of the hoped-for moral good, but there’s also often present an ‘inordinate relishing’ that lingers in our hearts, minds and imaginations.  Please don’t get me wrong… Yes!  We are to experience, enjoy and celebrate moral goods – especially in the righting of a wrong and when an injustice is brought to justice, just as it is also in the achieving a hard fought victory in life, etc.

However the former, is often accompanied with a relishing of the suffering experienced by evil’s perpetrators, which belies and reveals a lack of God like love in our hearts. Let’s make the eternal case in point: does God really relish the suffering and loss of any souls in hell? Hardly not! Even in the celebrating of an unexpected or hard won victory, there can be an inordinate rise in that unhealthy kind of pride, which takes increasing credit for the victory, even when it is not due – at least, not due to ourselves but to the grace of God only!

I wouldn’t know, but I suspected some big lottery winner’s can attest to this fact… Initially giving glory to God but then talking ad nausea about how they’ve played the lottery for years and perhaps, even worked out a system which eventually led to their winning!

If we must learn to temper our very real life sufferings and to pick ourselves back up off the ground and – by grace – learn how to continue journeying forward; we must also learn how to temper our very real victories – even if they are expected and was worked hard for.  We must learn how to humble our minds, hearts and tongues by attributing these victories to all who assisted us in thier attainment as we also humbly learn to consistently give the glory to God for them.

A common occasion and invitation for doing this that is available to all: is not taking full credit for successfully realizing the potential of our gifts and talents which, by the grace of God and the sacrifice of many others – has resulted in personal blessings not realized by others in the community…  …like being moderately healthy or truly becoming financially independent or graduating from college or having and maintaining a career or even raising healthy and ‘successful’ children, being blessed with a loving spouse and marriage, winning that case against a perpetrator of evil, etc.  Whether worked and hoped for or unexpectedly received, each of life’s victories invite us to temper our response to them…

I’m not sure which is harder for you, but for me, it’s an easy call: it’s harder for me to temper my joy from hard fought victories than with the unexpected ones like the winning of a lottery ticket!!!  Truly and consistently giving worthy credit to others as I also humbly and gratefully give glory to God can be difficult for me, especially if I think that I worked hard for, earned or somehow deserve it!!!!  Don’t get me wrong, yes… I too and do, loudly exclaim the praises of God in those initial moments of the victory, but with each passing minute it seems that in all honesty, I find myself giving less glory to God as I increasingly take more credit for them as the hours pass.

In short, I often find myself praising the Lord at the outset – as the first piece of bread – and then piling on a huge stack of “mein the form of ‘what I did’ meat” – before ending with another thin slice of bread that praises and gives glory to God once again!!!  And just like that, the longer I’ve run my mouth and talked about the victory, the more I find that I’ve created a quite tasty and very big ‘pride sandwich’ which I’m all too willing to share with others… A pride sandwich is always like that huge-with–meat-falling-off corned beef sandwich on two thin pieces of rye bread that my dad used to buy us as kids…

On the graced and Spirit led occasions when that pride sandwich is absent, I find myself speaking both honestly and succinctly about the victories I have received.  I am able to give glory to God at the beginning like in my pride sandwich, but then I am able to acknowledge all those who’ve truly made it possible in the middle – as the meat and cheese – before, once again, praising God with an ending slice!  On these graced occasions, my hard work, sweat, and suffering in achieving these victories are honestly presented more like that thin layer of mustard or piece of lettuce – as a condiment– on that short, sweet and truly grace filled sandwich that I share with others.

My prayer for myself and for all reading this, is that with every victory in life – whether hard fought or unexpected like a lotto ticket – that we may serve more grace filled sandwiches than pride sandwiches to those in the communities where we walk, live and serve. Amen.

Proceeding when “sick days” are not allowed for our Crosses…

Scripture Reflection: Luke 9: 22-25              Year A   Cycle 1

23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.

The Lenten season reminds us of – and even makes holy by culminating with – Jesus’ Cross before His Resurrection. In today’s gospel, Jesus clearly uses and presents his own suffering and death in the Paschal mystery as a model for all who would follow after him. Here are three quick points to ponder and imitate regarding Christ’s example…

            We must imitate Jesus’s courage and look squarely at our crosses without sugarcoating them – and then faithfully choose to enter into the pain and suffering they offer by engaging, addressing and experiencing them in the light of Christ.

            We must begin the day with prayer, so that we may clearly see our crosses in the light of God – as challenges and blessings – and to not be blinded by them, which can easily stop us from  seeing, walking with and being used by God throughout the day.

            We must engage our crosses both truthfully and also hopefully, that by faith, we will come to know and experience that somehow, God’s love is being spread through them and also that somehow, our love will be further refined and made holy through them.

May God’s Holy Spirit guide and inspire us as we begin this Lent, gracing us with the willingness to engage and address our Crosses, seeing in them both blessings and challenges on our journey.

When Lent is Boot Camp…

There are many ways to envision the Lenten journey… Over the years, one of the most consistent images I have encountered to describe the Lenten journey is that of something akin to Boot Camp. If the majority of people reading this are like the author, a civilian, then most of us have no real experience of what Boot Camp is really like. Fraternity and sorority members have pledged their fraternities and sororities, yet pledging is a far cry from boot camp. In the face of such ignorance, my best guess is that the goals of Boot Camp are twofold: 1) to learn and become proficient at the basic military skills necessary to be a soldier 2) to learn about and adopt as one’s own, the military life as a soldier. If I’m even close to correct, then I believe the common image of the Lenten journey as Boot Camp is very much correct!!!

As Lenten boot camps go, I guess you can break them down into generally two categories: spiritual boot camps or moral boot camps.

In the standard moral Lenten boot camp, the focus is generally on giving up a specific sin or bad habit – something that we shouldn’t be doing anyway – like eating sweets, cursing or making unnecessary purchases, watching excessive t.v,, etc.. Unfortunately with this Lenten program, it is often too easy to forget to replace our sinful sacrifice with a healthy alternative! Thus, we find ourselves overly focusing on the loss and suffering (which some say is very Catholic ha, ha!) without refocusing that energy into creating a healthy alternative. Without a healthy alternative to build new virtue/character that replaces the old vice, moral Lents can often be in danger of either ending in an eventual failure or with one just “holding out until crossing the Easter finish line,” eagerly ready to return to old ways. However…please, don’t be dismayed if you are attempting this kind of Lent! Consider adding a healthy alternative to balance your sinful sacrifice. By the power of God’s grace coupled with both individual human grit and the prayers of Christians worldwide, people have been miraculously blessed during this holy time of the year!!! Remember, we simply can’t out work God when it comes to our salvation!

In spiritual Lenten boot camps, the focus is generally on things like increasing or integrating prayer throughout the day, reading more Scripture, attending an extra Mass or two throughout the week, daily spiritual reading or journaling, etc. One positive aspect of this kind of boot camp is that is seems to focus more on adding and building virtue/character than on the negative like eradicating bad habits and vices. On the surface this does appears much easier than the moral boot camp, yet upon further reflection I beg to differ…

…Ask anyone who has ever tried to regularly get up forty minutes early to pray daily how easy that was and how long it lasted… Even those who have established the practice for decades and can testify to its benefits, will share how they STILL sometimes find those initial waking moments barraged with arguments about why they should not pray, this morning, or what’s worse, that d e e p anti God feeling… Anyone who has started to consistently, humbly and prayerfully read the Bible knows, or has found out that, they will be changed –it is impossible not be! Grappling with these changes can be very difficult, maybe even life changing… imagine hearing God’s invitation to do the unthinkable like dropping all and going into a ministry?   If you still want to say the spiritual boot camp is easier, okay, let’s just agree to disagree. But at least let us agree that the spiritual boot camp has the potential to be much scarier!

Some Lenten programs can easily fall into both categories, for instance, a Lent focusing specifically on performing concrete acts of charity and service in the community, especially if it is performed in a prayerful spirit and real time and economic sacrifices are required. If we really examine it closely, most Lenten programs will force us to integrate and utilize aspects of both boot camps if we are to really “do Lent right.” Both boot camps have long histories among the saints, whose lives as models reveal to us how God will eventually lead us, by grace, to travel both roads in this journey.

If this year’s Lent will be a boot camp experience for you, may the Saints hold you in their prayers, as we will hear at Strugglin’catholic.com.

Applying the military boot camp’s goals to your present quest, we pray that in your spiritual boot camp… 1) You learn about and become proficient at the basic spiritual skills of prayer, mortification/asceticism, worship, etc. that are necessary for you now to grow in accordance with God’s will and in holiness   2) You will learn anew and/or re-adopt and recommit to life as a Christian disciple and the Jesus’ Cross. As a civilian is transformed into a soldier, may your boot camp continue and jumpstart, by grace, your transformation from a good person into a truly holy saint of God.

On the Complaint that the Church Needs to Change…

While sitting in church last Sunday, a fellow parishioner turned to me and, after lamenting the low attendance at Mass, asked what’s going to happen here when we die? I responded, that others will replace us just as we replaced those who came before us…. And just like life triggered in us the need for God and a faith community, the same thing will happen to others and they will fill our seats.

The parishioner then responded, “I just simply think the church needs to change! I think the church needs to change if they’re going to get more people in here.” I whispered back, “…yes the church may need to make some changes and is changing, but I also think it’s the people who need to change too.”

Sitting there thinking about our brief exchange, I had to stop myself, as I began asking questions of this parishioner to myself like: Are you living the faith in a manner that invites others to what you have and experienced in the Church… or are you living a private faith that simply enjoys its treasury of blessings and then goes home to chill? When was the last time you invited someone to come to Mass? What is your active ministry in this Church, or are you like most too busy for an active ministry? Who in and what in this Church needs to change so bad? What have you done to bring more people into the church?

Prideful and feeling like a military person (which I am not) who was listening to civilian complain about America’s woes, but then glibbly slips in how they have never voted or served because of some easily forgettable reason, I had to humbly remind myself that no one knows the heart of another or how they are standing before and serving the Lord! Yes, thanks to the Spirit, I was able to give myself a severe self-check right there in church!! Aware of my bad attitude that accompanied these good questions, I refocused on praying the Mass and didn’t share them with the parishioner. However the questions did stay with me, especially the one about living out an evangelical faith.

The challenge of living the Gospel is always ongoing and difficult for all Christians. It’s easy to hold the faith as a personal spiritual treasury, a place for us to personally be restored and empowered… but it is hard to acknowledge the Gospel’s universal call and mandate (to us in the pews especially) to share and live it always and with all. Sharing the Gospel is not force-feeding it to others; it is simply living the Gospel in our speech and actions in an open and inviting manner.

It is so easy to believe the lie that spreading the Gospel is optional for us in the pews and that it is primarily the job of the clergy, religious and the institutional church. The rush to judge our clergy, religious and institutional church and the willingness to repeatedly gloss over our own gross sins – reflects the universality with which this lie is held by “the faithful.” Even the sweetest believer in the pews – if the right topic is brought up – can unmercifully straight crucify the clergy and/or church in a record time that will have Mr. Guinness knocking at their door about the new world record! [Hmmmm…. what is this topic for you?]

Sharing one’s faith with others – especially when our secular culture holds that it is a private manner and faith discussions are frowned upon in the public sphere – can be daunting. It takes courage, vulnerability and the willingness to be unpopular in doing so. Please believe me – there is a cost – at work and in public – for standing on the faith. I worked in Catholic high schools for over two decades and still found that people were afraid of being ridiculed or worse, when faith discussion surfaced in the teacher’s lounge. It often got very quiet as many were all ears but unwilling to enter into discussions, as they were STILL scared or CONDITIONED not to speak and share – even in a supposedly openly religious context where the open exchange of ideas was suppose to be welcome! Why? Because even today in many Christian institutions – there is still a cost of being too orthodox or not being politically correct on certain issues, etc.

Despite Christians being force fed secularism, consumerism and various other “-isms” 24/7, we Christians are scared to take the initiative and to simply share with another Christian, for fear of being charged with or being confronted by our brothers and sisters with proselytizing or over zealousness! Don’t believe me? When was the last time you said yes to that Jehovah Witness at your door?

Many are often so willing to talk about how the church should change – and yes this is true in many regards – but often these are the very same people who are hesitant to acknowledge that they/we are first and foremost the church, not its buildings and institutional structures! Yes the church has to change, and that change begins with me/us – the person in the mirror (Church) – to quote Michael Jackson.

Later, in the post-communion song the minister of music sung and proclaimed that “the fight is not ours, the fight is the Lord’s.” The priest gave an ending prayer reminding us “to be hopeful, to not be discouraged and to remain strong in the faith.” I nudged the parishioner and we both chuckled.

I agree whole-heartedly! It is the Lord’s fight, but we have to be His hands, feet and voice as we take up the battle in our daily lives. We do have to remain hopeful and seek not to become discouraged; we must also continue to pray for and not judge others if and when they momentarily succumb to it while on this pilgrimage. We must also pray for the Spirit to give us the self-awareness to self-check ourselves when we do!

May Spirit speak through and use each of us this week as we continue fighting the fight and running the race of faith. Amen.

Martyrdom, Anyone?

A famous quote attributed to Tertullian states that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.”   This quote speaks to how the real life sacrifices and martyrdoms that are faithfully suffered by Christians, often breathes new life, hope and charity into the community of believers. It testifies to the transformative power of God’s grace and love to draw others into the faith after witnessing another’s faithful suffering unto death.

Regarding Christian missions and ministry, martyrdom is rarely if ever one’s first or the most popular choice! Martyrdom in the classical and literal sense, leads directly to one’s bodily death and is usually accompanied and associated with much torture and long-suffering. Even after decades of Christian service and sacrifice, who can confidently say they would choose martyrdom, especially if their executioners gave them an opportunity to continue living for simply publically denouncing/renouncing their Christian faith (this is called apostacy)?

As Catholic American, few if any of us will find ourselves confronted with literal martyrdom and the challenge of apostacy, as many of our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters often do today.   Even so, as an America Catholic the reality and call to martyrdom may still eventually find its way into our lives as we journey towards the Kingdom of God. In as much as sin, evil and death is an inescapable part of human life, the path of martyrdom – even if not a literal death – will almost always somehow find its way into our lives via some form or another. What are some of the ways that martyrdom can surface in our lives as Americans?

Supporting a holy and just social issue: People actively work for just and holy social issues may find themselves experiencing some form of martyrdom because of their work. It can materialize in the form of quietly discontinued friendships or as a limiting of professional or academic opportunities by those who misunderstand or are outright opposed to their chosen social cause or issue. Some may even find themselves digitally or legally targeted and in the cross hairs of their opponent’s hired guns…

Living with illness: Living with and caring for a loved one with a serious illness or struggling to live with an illness oneself can also result in an experience of martyrdom. Caring for the ill requires a very real time, economic and emotional investment. Some illnesses in themselves – like cancer, mental illness or AIDS – carry the additional burden of misunderstanding and stigmatization, and can result in a very real loss/death in many different ways.

Specific kinds of vocational/work: Specific work choices, especially those service vocations requiring an inordinate amount of time, sacrifice or danger and which can spill over into the personal and family lives of the participants may yield martyrdom – especially in one’s personal and family lives. Common examples include the police officers, firefighters and physicians – people choosing these service vocations often experience a very real martyrdom, often in their personal relationships.

Faithfully living out Christian family and marital lives: Any Christian marriage and family seeking to publically live out and proclaim their faith in our contemporary secular society will undoubtedly experience some form of martyrdom at the hand of those who eschew, misunderstand or feel threatened by the religious and spiritual aspects of life.

Consistent and dedicated work at growing spiritually: Finally, any person who seriously embarks on and consistently undertakes the spiritual journey, seeking to grow in holiness through daily prayer, meditation and service will almost always experience a real personal martyrdom of their ego, as the Holy Spirit works to transform them from simply being good people to eventually becoming holy (and yes there is a difference). Responding to God’s call to grow in holiness will necessarily bring us personally to the Cross, which few, even those on the journey – willingly embrace.

It is easy to see how each of these life choices can result in a very real social martyrdom, martyrdom in personal relationships and even a personal/private martyrdom in one’s person.

Unlike the often short but horrific reality of literal martyrdom, these forms of martyrdom are often experienced over a long period of time and can extend to almost our whole lives.

Yes, the Gospel’s call to love, serve and bear the Cross awaits us daily. Whether immediate or long term, this call and invitation more often results in the martyrdoms of those who are willing to accept it.

Yes, our common call to bear our Cross is a common call to martyrdom.

Martyrdom, Anyone?