Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Hope in the Cross and Resurrection (final talk of Saint Cecilia Mission)

When we ended last night,
we were talking about the perfection of the Cross:
In how we discover and experience God in the Cross.

So, “God with us” in our human experience
Is complete--perfect--in that
he goes all the way with us,
through suffering and death, and resurrection.

At the center of our understanding of the Cross
is the basic truth: he died for our sins.

But we learned from Saint Thomas Aquinas
that even one drop of his precious blood
would have washed away all sin;
so that makes the Cross an astonishing extravagance.

We might think of the scene in the Gospel
where the woman breaks a precious alabaster vessel
Pouring out a fragrant and costly ointment on our Lord’s feet.

And Judas said, what a waste!
He didn’t get it.

We see this same, supposedly “wasteful” extravagance
at the Wedding of Cana.
He created all that wine--far more than they really needed;
and at any rate, they’d already “drunk freely”--
so maybe Jesus should have made coffee for them?

And again, the “extravagance” in how we give ourselves away?
I think of Francis of Assisi.
His family thought he went too far.
Maybe they said, why this waste?

In fact, that’s precisely what people do say
when men and women choose
to give up the great good of marriage,
and enter religious life or the priesthood.

They’ll call a priest, “Father What-a-waste”!
That’s if he’s good-looking.
They never said it about me!

This is where celibacy, in Christianity, is unique.
In other religions, it’s about denial.
In Buddhism, the goal is the negation of all desire.
But not in Christianity!

For us, celibacy is about the resurrection.
It’s about expectation--and hope!

If you’re on your way to a great dinner,
You don’t stop and eat on the way.

And all anyone sees is that you passed up
a really splendid, extraordinary dinner,
then that means
what you’re waiting for must be truly awesome!

That’s what celibacy is about:
Passing by the great good of marriage,
to be a sign and witness
that something truly extraordinary lies ahead.

As much as we’re all about the Cross,
there’s no real understanding of it
without the resurrection.

It’s not about death, but life;
But sometimes a death comes first.
Sometimes it needs to.

Before we move from the Cross,
There’s still another aspect of how perfect
God’s Plan of Salvation--
and it has to do with how God involves us.

This is tricky to get right.

On the one hand, we have the undeniable fact:
The salvation of the human race is God’s gift.
We could not ever have saved ourselves.

Add to that:
God WANTS to save us; and,
God, who is all-powerful, CAN save us.

And then you have what the New Testament makes clear:
Trust him! Don’t be afraid!

So we have a lot of our fellow Christians who say,
look: God did it; we SHOULD trust him!
It’s complete, and even we can’t undo our own salvation.
So relax and ride the wave.

Now, I don’t agree with that, but--
I understand how they got there.
These fellow Christians are tapping into something that’s true,
And it would be a mistake just to dismiss this.

They’re wrong, but not totally wrong.
They’re right about emphasizing God’s being “for us”
and that all God’s power and desire
is bent toward our salvation.

They may even be “mostly” right;
You can get a recipe 99% right;
But leave out one, small ingredient
and you ruin the whole thing.

So what are they leaving out?

It is that God’s Plan was designed with our participation.
It didn’t have to be.
But that’s how God did do it.

This is what Saint Augustine said:
“God who created you without you
won’t justify you without you.”
He COULD--but he won’t.

And when you think about it,
isn’t that a more perfect,
a more complete healing and redemption of humanity?
Because this way, God is also healing, and reclaiming,
our freedom and our will.
Not working around it--but, in a sense, through it.

After all, that is what wrecked us:
the human will rejecting God and choosing self.

Back to the cooking analogy I just used.
If you have a child, you’ve done this.
You’re making a cake. You can do it without her.
Probably faster, and less messier, right?
And yet, you find something for your child to do.
Maybe you put the cup of raisins in your boy’s hand,
and then guide it to the mixing bowl.

I’m not asking why it’s important to the child;
I’m asking, why does the parent think it’s important?

It’s the same with God.

God wants us to be participants in his work of salvation.

And it begins at the Cross!
Jesus alone was on the cross;
He alone is our Savior;
Yet he was not alone!

Saint John, Mary Magdalene and the others who were there.
We think of his Mother:
Was she only a spectator?

This is where Mary’s role shines out.
You could say, perhaps, of everyone else,
Yes, they simply witnessed it and received the benefit.

But to quote Bishop Fulton Sheen again,
Mary is one person who, looking at Jesus, can truthfully say,
“This is my body; this is my blood.”

The instinct of faith tells us: Mary “participated” somehow.
You would have to have a heart of stone
to see her there, and not admit
that in some mysterious way, she shared in that Cross.

Christ didn’t need any human being.
So yes, he didn’t need Mary;
yet he chose to “need” Mary.

Here’s God’s extravagance again.
When we talk about the gifts God gave Mary,
All of them presage something like them being given to everyone.
She began her life, conceived without sin.
But that’s what God wants for us: to be immaculate.
She is the Mother of God;
Yet her Son said,
everyone who does my will
is my mother, and brother and sister.

Mary is crowned in heaven?
But Saint Paul says, we will all receive crowns.

And nothing pleases Mary more!
She said: “My soul magnifies the Lord.”
And her perfect cooperation with her Son
has “magnified” his work of salvation.

So Mary, as the perfect example
of how we answer Christ’s invitation,
not only to accept the salvation that flows from the Cross,
but also to take up the cross and to share in the task;
And where Mary has gone, we follow!
Now, a bit ago I talked about
how many of our fellow Christians get this wrong,
and end up saying, Christ does it all, we do nothing.

That mirrors how we Catholics get this wrong.
We hear Jesus say, take up your cross.
We hear him say, if you love me,
keep my commandments.
And we hear his warnings
about what we face if we fail to forgive,
if we fail to care for the least of his brothers and sisters.
Be watchful, he says: you might be taken, or you might be left.

So we hear all the cautions; and we can go too far,
And hold back from trust--and hope.

Our salvation isn’t just one item
on God’s infinite “to-do” list:
His being Creator and being Savior
is all one thing--and it’s all him.

Remember what Saint Paul said:
“If God be for us, who can be against us?”

So salvation isn’t a Lazy-Boy chair: just lie back!
It is a lifeboat.
But, fellow Catholics,
realize Christ is paddling toward you--
not away from you!
He’s trying to drag us in.
If we work with him,
we have excellent reason to hope!

In planning for our participation in the work of salvation,
One thing we realize is that salvation
isn’t just an individual thing,
Any more than sin--the original problem--
is solely a problem on an individual level.

In ways we really have a hard time unraveling,
sin goes beyond our own choices,
and involves others, affects others,
and in some way,
we develop sinful structures in society.

Last night, we heard from Saint Paul
how all Creation is affected by sin.
Somehow Creation has been made subject to “futility.”
As if it was all one big “misfire.”

The world is still good--very good--and beautiful,
and it is pregnant with God’s goodness;
yet something wrong was introduced into Creation
by humanity’s first sin.
That something is corruption and death.

And that, plus the evil that men do to one another--
either by direct action, or by neglect--
explains all the suffering in the world.

Once more, we can marvel at the perfection of the Cross!
Notice what God did.
He did not say, I will save you through escape.
You’ll escape your human experience,
and we’ll just forget about it.

Notice, when he delivered Israel
from slavery in Egypt, he took them out--
but they didn’t forget. Every year, they remember!

By putting the Cross at the center of salvation,
what is most hateful about human history
isn’t avoided or papered over.
It is transformed.

Something similar happens in the sacrament of confession.
In every sacrament,
we speak of the “matter” of the sacrament--
the ordinary things that God’s power acts on,
and transforms, and works through.

So the “matter” of the Mass? Bread and wine, right?
They are transformed--into God’s own Body and Blood!
Each of the sacraments can be looked at that way.

Do you know what the “matter” of the sacrament of confession is?
Our sins!
God takes the most horrible, awful and worthless thing
we can offer, and his power turns it into something wonderful!

This is one of many reasons I love being a priest!
And why I invite men to consider it:
Because I get to be a witness--
and an instrument--of that miracle!

And that, of course, is what the Cross is.
What do we say: He was crucified for our sins.
All the sins of the entire world. All the corruption.

And so Saint Paul says--I can imagine him shouting this:
“O death, where is your victory?
“O death, where is your sting?”

Paul loved the Cross--
and when we understand better what it is,
how can we not? Of course we do!

So one of the questions from last night:
What about suffering? Where does it fit in?
One thing we do is bring it to the Cross,
And Christ condescends to let it become part of the Cross.

This is the meaning of the advice,
my mother and yours, gave us: “Offer it up.”

Any suffering, great or trivial, take it to the Cross,
And what was worthless or evil can be transformed.

There’s something wonderful here.
Christ says to us, to every person:
There is not a single atom of human experience,
Not a single tear, that is not precious to him.
And there is nothing that will not be redeemed!

All this time, you may have been waiting for me
to talk about Resurrection.
But I played a trick on you:
that’s what we have been talking about!

Notice when our Lord rose from the dead,
as different as he seemed to be in so many ways,
he still had his wounds!

We wouldn’t have objected had it been otherwise;
but oh, how beautiful that he kept them!
And shows them!

He is not ashamed to show his wounds.
We never need be ashamed, either!
And when we have our bodies back,
in the resurrection, in some fashion,
I think--I can’t prove it--
but I think we’ll still have our wounds, too.

You don’t have to agree with that.
But if I’m right, it will mean that our scars
aren’t something we have to hide.
We can boast: this is who I am; and see where I am!
Look what Jesus did for me!

So in this last part of our time together,
let’s get right into the resurrection.
What do we believe?

We believe that in death, our soul and our bodies separate.
Our body dies but our soul lives on.
At the moment of our death,
we cross from this world of time into God’s time.
Into eternity.
We talk about “time” beyond death--
but no one knows just what that really means.

At that moment, we face our individual judgment day:
Heaven or hell.
And if either we take heaven for granted,
or if our fear of hell is beyond what’s healthy,
Remember what I said earlier about balance.

God’s whole will is bent on getting us to heaven.
Will we surrender our will to his, and work with his grace?
It’s like the guy who, on his judgment day, says God,
All my life I prayed to win the lottery--
and you know all the good I could have done with it.
But you never answered my prayer!

And God said, gimme a break: you never bought a ticket!

So let’s be watchful--but let’s be hopeful!

I don’t want to dwell on hell,
but I don’t want to minimize it.
Jesus talked about it--a lot.
He wanted us to take it seriously
and be serious about avoiding it.

If we didn’t have mercy offered to us,
That’s where we’d all end up.

One clear and hopeful thing our Lord said--a lot: Show mercy; you’ll get mercy. Forgive; you’ll be forgiven.
Don’t forget the least of these; I won’t forget you.
And finally, when it was all but too late,
A thief said, remember me; and he did!

What about purgatory?
Purgatory is not a third place.
It’s the anteroom to heaven.
No one headed to hell goes there--
because it can do them no good.

Purgatory is the hospital that heals the wounds left by sin.
We’re already forgiven by that point.
Everyone in purgatory is 100% forgiven! Saved!
They are saints--but they need some finishing-up.

Now, I’m not saying no one bypasses purgatory.
One way to understand self-denial and penance
is that we are trying to have this life be our purgatory.
But what I am saying
is that everyone in purgatory becomes a saint.
Because everyone in heaven is a saint.

I can’t recall who said it, but the pain of purgatory
May be this: that we are right at the threshold of heaven,
And even if our “time” there is measured in seconds,
It’s a suffering to face any delay at all.

Now is heaven the final chapter?
A lot of people think so. But no!
There’s one more chapter: Resurrection.

In addition to the individual moment
of judgment each of us receives,
There will come, at some final moment,
a conclusion to all human history as we know it.
This is what we call the Second Coming.

A lot of people are interested
in what will happen in the world between now and then.
It’s actually always been that way.
In the Old Testament, God’s People
would be in trouble, and they’d wonder,
maybe God will come and put it all right.

In the New Testament,
we have people wondering, when will it happen?
Will it happen soon?

Remember, the Apostles asked Jesus about this.
And how did he respond?
I would argue that the majority of his responses
weren’t about satisfing curiosity about the time or the events,
but instead to say, Be ready!

Let’s fast-forward to the Day, at last!
“The trumpet will sound,”
Saint Paul tells the Corinthians,
“and the dead will be raised,  incorruptible”;
“in an instant,” “in a twinkling of an eye.”
“And we shall be changed.”

That’s the moment of resurrection.
We will have our bodies back.
New and improved!

It’s very important
not to end the story of salvation too soon.
That’s what, I fear, many do:
they imagine “salvation” is, we get to heaven.
We’re happy souls in heaven--
and our bodies are no longer a concern.

But notice: Jesus did not come back
from the grave as merely a soul.
He said: I am not a ghost--
“a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.”
And he eats a piece of fish in front of them.

Why is this important?
This is what we’ve already talked about:
There is absolutely nothing of God’s Creation
that he does not plan on redeeming.

And this is important because it means
that everything about us--
and every choice we make--matters.

Look at how a lot of people think today--
including a lot of Christians:
Sin isn’t so much about what you do with your body--
but what you think and intend in your soul.
The body is just a shell.
It’s for utility--and for pleasure--but that’s it.

But no: what God shows us
is that the body and soul were made for each other.
That separation, in death, isn’t the goal!
It’s temporary and unnatural.

So, for one, Catholics honor the body even in death.
It’s not just dust to scatter.

That’s why some of the sins
God warns us against
seem mostly to be about our bodies:
gluttony, being unchaste, and being lazy.
It can be hard to see how these impact the soul.

Who cares about the physical expression of love?
Men, women, mix-and-match?
And the answer is that the body
is as much a key to our identity
and our eternal vocation as our soul.

This is why, I think, a lot of people
don’t get the Church’s teaching on contraception,
and on artificial technology for conceiving children.
They’ll say, look, as long as there’s love--
that’s our soul in action--
does it matter so much about the physical details?

One answer, it seems to me,
is to try to imagine human life
if we’d never been given a body in the first place.

We wouldn’t know what it is to taste anything.
Imagine all the ups and downs of life without any emotions.
No thrill of victory; no agony of defeat!

I don’t know what “suffering” would mean without a body.
Now we might say, that’s good, right?

You and I would never wish suffering on anyone else.
But what would we be, had we never suffered?

Would you be a better person; a truer friend;
more compassionate--
more joined to the fate of others--
If you’d never suffered?
For myself, I can’t see it.

And then, of course,
the one thing that would be strictly impossible
without a body is to be a life-giver.

When God created us with a body,
He gave us a promotion:
We move into a privileged place very near God.

Now you say, no that’s the angels.
But look at this.

Only God is the Creator.
But there is one moment
when we come whisper-close to being like God,
and doing what only God can do:
And that’s create something out of nothing.

And that is when a man and woman come together.
We call it “procreation” because we don’t do it without God;
But it’s the moment when humanity is most God-like.

Angels can’t do that.
We couldn’t do it without a body.

And another way to put it:
only with a body do we realize
what it means to be a life-giver.

This is why chastity is important--
whether we’re single or married.
If it’s just about pleasure--and about the self--
Over time we wreck our understanding of ourselves:
This part of ourselves isn’t about what I get;
but what I give.

This is why separating life-giving
from love-making simply can’t work.
Once we do that, we lose what love really is,
Love is always about life.
But separating them, we get a shadow; it‘s incomplete:
Just like the body without the soul
or the soul without the body.

And this is why, all the best intentions notwithstanding,
The current experiment in saying,
anyone can marry anyone,
because it’s only about love, won’t work.
Because it’s also about being a life-giver.
Man, woman, child; Marriage, sex, family.
It all goes together.
It’s how we were built.

Now, at this point, people will say:
This is very hard; it’s unfair. It’s too much to ask!
Those couple moments always open to life?
To wait for marriage? To stay married?
To forego marriage?

I’m not going to be glib about it.
But please consider this.
One the things you who are parents,
learn from being parents--
And for the rest of us,
We see this in our parents--
is that this is an unavoidable,
costly part of both loving and giving life.

I should have one of you parents come up and say this:
It is in having and raising children,
you really discover yourselves,
and what life is, and what love is.
That’s not to say you only discover love when children come.
But when children come--it’s a whole new dimension.

And I think I should say one more thing
about the question of marriage,
Beyond how we’ve always understood it.

This isn’t about whether anyone is allowed to love.
Truly loving, caring for, being a friend, a companion,
giving oneself generously, sacrificially:
There is no law that forbids this!

But the acts proper to marriage?
I go back to what the resurrection confirms:
Our bodies aren’t incidental or a shell; they are who we are.
And they tell us what being fully human means.
And that is where we see
our fundamental orientation toward giving life.

And we see this not just in actually having children;
but in how at each stage of our life,
we are either turned inward or outward.
We give life through all we do in life, young or old.

I’ve known people in their 20s who seem empty and dead;
And people in their 90s fertile and generous.
And so have you.
I realize some of what I’m saying isn’t easy.
But that’s the thing about love.
There is no easy way.
The only “easy” way is not to love at all.

Now, God could have avoided all this by not giving us bodies;
But then, that means he wouldn’t have made human.
We simply wouldn’t be us, at all.

So the question I was supposed to answer tonight was,
why do we hope for resurrection?
The resurrection of our bodies
means the redemption of all that we are.

Our hope isn’t to be less human,
or to escape being human,
But at long last,
to know what being human really is!


Mark Milliron said...

What a treat! A wonderful Sunday homily, a humorous Fr. Jamie story, and three rich, fantastic talks. My wife and I deeply appreciate your time and effort, Father Fox. Thank you!

Jennifer said...

Thank you for another meaningful post. Celibacy has been a wonderful blessing in my life, so thank you for writing about it. I'm sure you would have made someone a wonderful husband. But priestly life is more noble, for sure. :)

Fr Martin Fox said...


I'm glad you and your wife were blessed. I was glad to be with y'all.

I had more Fr. Jamie stories, but I thought more about our Lord, less about my friend Fr. Jamie or myself, was best. (I know Fr. Jamie would agree!)