Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Honey, You're a Shipwreck

Ash Wednesday.  Such a powerful service to attend.  To receive ashes on our forehead to remind us that form dust we come, to dust we shall return.   The Church is packed.  Isn't that intriguing?  On a normal weekend you don't find the pews that full.  At most Holy Days of obligation you find them sparse and rarely attended.  Then comes the day that reminds us that we are going to die.. and everyone comes.  There is something about that unity.   That bond.  That common ground.  A service in which everyone gets the ashes, regardless of faith or background, regardless of standing or sin.  We all march forward, we are one.  Human.  Dying.  Hoping for resurrection, but painfully aware of the need to pass through the span of a heartbeat to the gate of eternity.

Jesus reminds us in the Gospel for today that we must be authentic.  It's really about the heart isn't it?  God isn't interested in empty show or perfect rote.  He isn't interested in how much you've memorized, can quote word for word, or if you know the name of every object in the Sacristy.  He doesn't care if you're speaking Latin, Hebrew, or Arabic.  No, what he cares about is what is on the inside.  He wants to get rid of your heart of stone and replace it with one of flesh.   He loves you, and he desires that love back.  Everything you do then, he wants to be done with authentic love.  Not because you have to do this way, but because you are in a relationship and want to make the other person happy.

God says to the people in the book of the Prophet Joel, return to me with all your heart.  You know that really is an important thing about relationships, isn't it?  How important is it to have your entire heart into it?  I'm not talking about those ooey gooey feelings that sometimes come, though those are nice.   I'm talking about being 100% committed to the person you love.  I knew a guy once whose wife left him.  She came back.  During that time she was there only physically.  Sure they slept together.  They ate together.  They talked and did things with each other.  Yet, her heart was not there at all.  It was a hollow and empty relationship, her heart was always with the other man she had grown to love instead.  Their relationship never got better and eventually they divorced.  You see, the relationship was only one sided.  He was putting 100% into it, but she was giving less than all.  She was giving the actions... she just wasn't giving the heart.

No matter how we try, a relationship requires that heart felt commitment.  That choosing to love even when you don't want to.  That giving of yourself completely, even if you're angry.  Not just on the surface, but with every part of your being.  God wants us to know how much he loves us.  He talks about us as his spouse, his love, his very body.  All he asks for in return is the heart, all of it. Oh how sometimes we botch that up.  We go through the motions. 

That's what Lent is about.  It's about prayer, fasting, and almsgiving... but from the heart.  It's about giving up things that help you draw closer.  The Jewish people saw the heart as the core of what makes us human... to be fully human then is to be like God, to be like Christ.  So like Christ we go away in silence and prayer, we pray with others, we teach them to pray, we draw close to God every moment.  Like Christ we prepare ourselves for difficult times and decisions by fasting.  Like Christ we give everything we have, everything we are, both physically and spiritually for those in need.  That's what we need to do for Lent.  To give up things that are standing in the way of us having a heart of flesh.  To remove those things in the way and add those things that will mold us towards Christ. 

Yes, Ash Wednesday is just the beginning.. and Lent just a journey on the way... because we are heading to Easter.. and one of these days, all of us are going to die.  Every one of us has that in common.  Easter for us is coming.  It could be today.  It could be tomorrow.  It could be fifty years from now... it's up to us to be prepared.  40 days in the desert ahead of us, let's set our feet firmly on the right path.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Thus far a rather uninspiring thing

Tomorrow is the feast of Saint Agatha.  It's interesting that when we see her story we find that the Church has chosen two readings about two very different Kings, contrasting them as book ends.  What do Kings have to do with this amazing woman from the mid 3rd century? I think that in order to find that out we have to explore a bit of both her story, and theirs.

We see in the first reading King David is being lauded as the ultimate of Kings.   His Kingdom was the one where everyone had food on the table.  Israel was prosperous.  They were winning their wars.  Things were going so well in his time that he didn't even bother to go out and fight, just letting his commanders do it for him.  He was indeed the kind of King the people wanted when they demanded God give them a human one.  David, though, was far from perfect.  David was a man who had sinned terribly . He took another mans wife in adultery and then had that man killed.  David was confronted by the Prophet Nathan who used a parable to show David just how bad his sin was.  Nathan did not mince words, he told David that he was the man who had done wrong. 

Then we see in the second reading King Herod.  Herod has successfully bartered peace with the Romans, though at a great deal of cost to the freedoms of the people.  He had rebuilt the temple as well.  Was a good man? Probably not, but as far as King's go he wasn't the worst.  The Jewish people weren't starving to death by any means.  Herod too had his problems.  He had taken his brother Philip's wife as his own.  Just like David, Herod was confronted by a prophet.  John came to him in no uncertain terms and told him his sin.

Both kings had sinned.  Both kings had taken a woman to be their wife that they should not have.  Both were confronted by prophets.  They both had completely different responses.  King David repented of his sin, poured out his heart to God and begged forgiveness.  Herod?  Well he locked John up and treated him like a play thing, eventually beheading him.  One turned to God, the other to the world.   I think that is part of our first lesson. 

Through our Baptism we are consecrated as Priest, Prophet and King, right?  So if we put ourselves in the place of the Prophet in each of these pericopes we ask ourselves, are we fulfilling that role?  Are we standing up to those in charge?  Or are we simply trying to get by.   That doesn't necessarily mean to the King or the President, but there are people all over who are in positions of authority.  We as prophets are called to deliver the word of God, in season and out of season, when it's welcome and when it's not.  The challenge is to do so in love.  Pope Francis recently said that we cannot begin to speak about the justice(judgement) of God without first talking about his mercy.  Are we living that in our role of prophet?  Are we making sure to take a stand and deliver God's message to the world?

On the other hand, we have two Kings in the stories as well.  How are we responding to that word when delivered to us?  When the prophets in our lives come to us pointing out our mistakes are we turning to God in sorry and repentance?  Or do we reject them?  Are we going to be remembered like King David who constantly tried to do God's will, a man after God's own heart?  Or will we be remembered as Herod?  A man who lived a life of hedonism and pleasure, one who was supposed to be an example for the people, but rather did not point to God at all with his life.  The King of Israel in the old testament was described as the following:

he must not acquire many horses for himself, or return the people to Egypt in order to acquire more horses, since the Lord has said to you, “You must never return that way again.”   And he must not acquire many wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; also silver and gold he must not acquire in great quantity for himself.  When he has taken the throne of his kingdom, he shall have a copy of this law written for him in the presence of the Levitical priests.  It shall remain with him and he shall read in it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, diligently observing all the words of this law and these statutes,

Saint Thomas Aquinas told us there were four typical substitutes for God.  Power, wealth, pleasure, and honor.  Here in this one verse we see that God has declared that a King shall avoid all four of those.  Power - You will not get amount of horses.  Horses were a sign of military power.  Wealth - the King shall avoid gathering great quantities of silver and gold.  Pleasure - He shall not have a great deal of wives, but he is supposed to remain monogamous.  Honor - The king is required to consistently read the laws and statues, observing them in humility to remember that all glory belongs to God.

We can learn a great deal from that.  God showed us early on in Scripture that these four things were dangerous to our spiritual health.  Jesus encapsulated them in the sermon on the mount when he gave us the beatitudes.  The beatitudes are the antidote to those spheres of influence.  So much so that Father Barron says that the beatitudes point directly to Christ on the cross.. a man with no power.. no honor ... no wealth.. no pleasure.. he in his manhood is helpless and nailed to a cross.. he though the King of glory is treated as a common, unclean criminal.  The creator of the universe, he who made gold itself.. does not even have his own clothing left to boast.  The inspiration for the Song of Songs is here in pain, beaten, hungry, thirsty and in pain.  Yes, Christ on the cross teaches us that lesson... but that brings us to our last role, Priest.

Who is the Priest?  Jesus is the High Priest, our example.   Herod and his friends were asking a very powerful question... they were trying to figure out who Jesus was.  They were confused by him.  Some thought he was a reincarnated prophet, others simply a new one.  The incarnation confronted them with that question though... Who is Jesus?  What is he worth to us?  What does his existence mean to us? 

Saint Agnes believed so strongly that Jesus was worth dying for, that she went to her death after much torture to protect her virginity out of a promise to him.  She was surely tempted to give up to those spheres herself.  When they were asking her to give in and have sex?  She turned down the momentary pleasure for the Kingdom of Heaven.  When they threatened to kill her and tortured her?  When they offered her a spouse with wealth just to give in?  Oh how easy it would be to give in for the honor of being restored to our former place, not to be treated as a fugitive.  Oh how tempted might that rich man been on top of it.. if I just do this... I'll live... I'll be fine... When they berated her and made fun of her.. sent her to a brothel to be abused and raped, would she have been tempted to regain her honor by just giving in?  She chose the cross.. she chose death.

That's true power.  That's true honor.  That's true wealth!  How much more pleasure can one have than to be a part of the beatific vision? We, too, are challenged to be counter cultural.  Being so intent on Jesus on the cross that we go forward with that as our goal.  Giving up everything else.  Focusing intently on carrying our own cross, to our own Calvary.  There is no resurrection with the cross.... there is no Christianity without the cross.  We must become Christ in the world.  As priests, prophets and kings... we are to reach out into the world.. wagging our fingers in the face of those in charge and saying this is what true Justice is.  Feeding the poor, the widow, the orphan.  Helping the refugee.  Visiting the sick and those in prison.  Being a good king who avoids wealth, power, honor and pleasure to rather provide protection, hope, and love to all those we are responsible for.. and we are responsible for everyone.  Remember who asked "Am I my brothers keeper?"  Finally, leading the way by pointing to Christ.. by learning who Christ is ourselves, spending time with Him and with the inspired word, and then leading others to understand who he is.  That question, "Who is Jesus?"... the answer to that question has the power to change eternity for everyone you meet... But you've got to invite them into that world..

"You may be the only bible that someone ever reads." 

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

I never promised you a bed of roses

In tomorrow's Daily Mass we see Jesus sending out his apostle's two by two.  This is indeed a significant moment in the history of our Church.  Most biblical theologians see it as a training mission, one in which they are being prepared for what will come after Christ has ascended.  There are some very powerful images there.  One of the major things we see though is that the Twelve have been entrusted with both the mission of Christ and the authority.  They do not go out impotent but rather casting out demons, healing the sick, and preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom.

The thing is though, that in taking on Jesus mission and authority, they also took on his lot(CCC 765).   They weren't just accepting Christ's abilities, nor his eloquent speech, but rather they were accepting his lifestyle, his mission... even his death.   We see that in the future events of their own deaths.  All but John were martyred, and John only because boiling him in oil didn't work.   They each took the mission so seriously that they went to their death proclaiming the Gospel.  Even Peter, who thrice denied Christ, was crucified for his faith.   Refusing to reject Christ, he begged to be crucified upside down, because he didn't deem himself worthy of being crucified in the same manner as his Lord.

Just think of that for a minute.  How much trust that takes.  How much faith. My friend Deborah shares stories about her friend the "Brown Dog."  Today she was speaking about how Brown Dog never rejects what she offers him as food.  He simply trusts her.   Sometimes he doesn't like it and turns away, yet he always tries it.  Always trusts that it must be good for him or she wouldn't put it before him. That's faith.  Right there in one image of a trusting friend, this dog that comes into her life, not quite a pet but not quite a stranger.  

How much more so you and I?  Many of us want the Gospel to bring us a bed of roses.  There are many preachers out there who proclaim that life will be sweet and bring you lots of wealth and pleasure, all you gotta do is jump..   but Jesus challenges us to something more.  He challenges us to share not just his mission, not just his authority.. but his lot.   He challenges us to live like him.  We often forget what that looks like.   In this short verse we see though two things that Jesus tells his apostles they must embrace: poverty and trust.   He sends them out without any possessions.  He tells them to take no money.  No extra things.  Simply trust in God to provide their food, their shelter, their needs.  He wants us to be like Brown Dog. 

Unlike Brown Dog, you and I also have been given faculties that allow us to think for ourselves.  To go beyond just the taste of the food, but to understand that what God gives us in our bowl is good for us.  That sometimes it might taste sour or bitter, but if he is the one providing it... then it's something we must consume.  Sometimes life gives us a tepid bowl at best.  Our loved ones are sick and dying.  Our friends are aching and hurting.  Our own bodies wracked with pain day in and day out.  We could become bitter ourselves, very easily.  It's at times like these though that we look for that example.. that true living out of the beatitudes.. to Christ on the cross.

Christ asked for his cup to pass from him.  It was very bitter indeed.  Then he did what all of us must do... he stood up and declared, but your will be done.  He drank the cup.  Wracked with pain on the cross they offered him vinegar, then gall.   How bitter and horrible these things.. Mother Teresa challenged us to see a new reality though... under the crucifixes in her homes she had the words "I thirst" painted... she believed that when Jesus said I thirst on the cross he was speaking of his love for us.  The Psalmist says "Like a deer yearning for running streams, my soul thirsts for you, Lord."  How much more so does it make your eyes open to think of Jesus on the cross thirsting for you and I?  "I thirst for you."

I've been meditating on the beatitudes lately.  I've been thinking of how they exemplify Christ, how they are a gift..    Some see them as a rule, guides.. things to be lived by.. Laws... I see them as a promise.  A promise that when we open our hearts, our intellect, our will to the Holy Spirit, then He will begin to live out these fruits through us.  The fullness of what it means to be human.  This morning as I walked up the aisle to receive Jesus in the Eucharist a sense of overwhelming awe struck me.  I've felt awe before.. but not like this.  I've even experienced longing, fear, dread... but not like this..   It was as if someone was whispering in my ear "This is holy ground."  I wanted to remove my shoes and fall prostrate on the ground.   I am not worthy.   I wanted to cry out like Isaiah "Lord I am a man of unclean lips!"(Isaiah 6:5) I still received Him, I still cherished his presence in my hands.  It left me drained and shaken, longing for more.

I'm like Brown Dog, you know?  I just want to trust everything he puts in front of me.  I want to consume what he offers... and yet, instead of vinegar he offered me today(and every day!) his very self.  Wow!  Think of that for a moment.  I deserve nothing.  I haven't earned anything.  If he were to put the worst of the worst in front of me, it would be well within what this man deserves.  Rather though, Christ says take and eat.. this is my body, given for you.  If you're not feeling worthy?  and oh man, there are so many times I don't... so much so that I often make sure I am last in line... why?  Because I realize I am a dog too... remember though,  even the dogs eat the scraps from the masters table. (Matt 15:27-29)

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Monday, February 1, 2016

Sometimes it feels just like I'm falling in the ocean

It has been a couple of days since I have last written.  My mind has been occupied with many things.  Today, though, I feel it necessary to put words to the page.  As the readings begin to speak of Absalom and King David, I am reminded of our own relationships with our own children.  Absalom was not content being a prince of the kingdom.  He decided he knew better than his father.  He began to subvert his ways, telling others 'if I were in charge, I'd have time to judge for you.'  He saw flaws in the political system, and he used them and the happiness they brought to undermine his fathers rule.  David upon hearing what his son had done took his men and fled into the countryside to pray.

Notice, David's first response is to go and consult God.  We see so many events here that prefigure Christ's own journey to the mount of olives to pray for God's will.  King David and Christ both go to the mount of olives.  They both go with their companions.  They both are insults.  David is cursed by Shimei, and Christ being treated as if he were a thief.  They both had men who loved them step up and try to defend them.  David's guard wanted to lop off Shimei's head, and Peter tried to do the same to a Roman guard.  In both cases, the King instead sought peace.  The King sought to do what God had planned, not his own. David tells his men, who knows that God did not plan it this way?  That he did not send Shimei to curse me?  He felt he deserved it.  As do I.  As do I.

Then we come to the true King, Jesus himself in the gospel driving out a demon.  This demon claims his name is Legion.  A legion is a roman unit, a measurement of the size of an army.  That's over 5000 in number.  This possessed man was not the person you would expect to come to a Jewish Rabbi.   He was a gentile, that alone made him unclean.  Yet, he also lived among the tombs... the dead... then on top of that?  He lived in the area were the pigs were! Oh my, how horrible this man must have been to the Jewish mindset of first century Palestine.  No one would want to touch him.  No one would want to be around him.  To do so, would have made you unclean too! 

Jesus though reaches out to this man.  He finds his sickness.  He heals it.  He casts out the 'Legion' into a herd of swine, which then runs off a cliff into the water to die.  Our modern sensibilities see this as a cruel thing... all those animals!  I think though, that we are to look at the spiritual significance of what just happened.  This man was possessed by many things, he was in slavery to demons.. to his sins.  Jesus freed him from those.  The thing is though, we are taught by Sacred Scripture, that if those sins aren't destroyed... they'll come back and multiply. 

“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, he passes through waterless places seeking rest, but he finds none.  Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes he finds it empty, swept, and put in order.  Then he goes and brings with him seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. So shall it be also with this evil generation.”

Just cleaning up the outside, the visible.. isn't enough.  It requires emptying the house.  It requires kicking out the demons, the sins.   It requires then having something to stop them from coming back.  Jesus was showing that all of those sinful things... the demons... the pigs.... they were not just being cast out.. they were no longer pursuing the man, they had been destroyed.  In fact, it reminds us of the Exodus doesn't it?  The Israelites had left Egypt with all it's sins behind, it's idolatry, it's gluttony, it's animal like Gods... but it wasn't enough to just leave was it?  Pharaoh and his army pursued them!  Chased them!  They were going to bring them back into slavery.   The sea opened it's mouth at God's command, and swallowed the army.  It destroyed those influences, those sins.  It freed them from slavery.  So too was this man freed.  

That brings us to the truth of that situation... the truth of our own situation.  Jesus extended the Exodus to gentiles too, in this one moment he revealed that God's salvation was not just to the Jews, but to tall of mankind..  in one act, he had reached out to the vilest of the vile.. the sinner of sinners.. the person that no one wanted to touch.. the other... and he made him whole.. he didn't stop there though.. he said "“Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.”  In one amazing gesture, Jesus took the 'other' and turned them into a missionary for his kingdom.

Oh how much we can learn from this.  Too often we see to degrade the other.  We find the lowest fact on them, the dirtiest secret, and we try to discredit them.  Just look at politics around us?  Jesus though says I choose, who I choose.  There isn't a saint who existed, who didn't start out as a sinner.  In fact, the greatest of the saints often began as the greatest of the sinners.  God isn't looking for a perfect man and woman.. just one who is willing to try.  He is ready to cast out those sins that keep you in bondage.. the bring you into his presence and to drive those demons into the sea.  All we have to do is let Him into our home... into our heart.   You see, if you leave the house empty.... they'll just come back.... if you fill it though.. fill it with the light of Christ.. then he will cast them out and keep them out.

That's because Jesus is the King.   David was a man after God's own heart.  Even though his kid decided he had a better idea of how to do things, even though he undermined his word, even though he caused a split in the kingdom... how did David respond?  He loved him.  When Absalom was killed, David gave one of the most painful lines of text in the entirety of Scripture:  "O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you--O Absalom, my son, my son!" 

Isn't it the same for us as parents?  Our children aren't always going to choose the same path as us.   Sometimes it's going to be a better one.   Other times?  Well we just hope they learn from their mistakes.   They might unite our world.  They might drive a wedge up the middle.  They might love or hate.  They might undermine and spread rumors about us.  Yet, in the end... if we truly love them?  We would rather that we could die in their place.   If I, sinful wretch that I am, am capable of this kind of love?  How much more so God?

At the same time, we must also realize that we are children of the King, royal princes and princesses.  How often do we turn to our own paths, trying to make things better in our own way?  Do we sometimes ignore what God has told us is for our own good, and try to redefine it to what we think is better?  Then we end up with cracks in our relationships, a house filled with dark things, we have our own herd of swine chasing us through the dry bed of the sea.  Are we ready yet?  To turn it all over to God?  To trust him and to follow him?  After all, he's already done that which David cried to do.. he's already died in our place.. that we might live with Him forever. 

Lent is coming soon.  It's time to get the army off your back.  It's time to let Christ into your heart fully, so that there is no room for anything from the evil one to take up residence.  Sin is like that.  It begins to multiply.  What was once a little venial thing?  Will eventually grow into something heinous, something mortal.  It's better to take care of all of it now.. to run to Christ in the sacraments, throw ourselves at his feet and say, "You are Jesus Son of the most High God.  Have mercy on me, a sinner."  It's time to start clinging to God instead of to our sins, because God is going to lead you through the ocean to freedom.. your sins are just going to try to take you off the cliff with them.

His servant and yours,

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Getting to Know You

In the readings for tomorrow's daily Mass, the Feast of Saint Thomas Aquinas,  we continue our survey of the second book of Samuel.   In this particular reading we see King David's response to God's promise to him.  God has just promised him an everlasting kingdom, that David's throne will last forever.  David wanted to build a house for God, but instead God built an eternal home for David!  We see David as the quintessential king of the Jewish earthly Kingdom.  Scripture claims that David was a man after God's own heart. (Acts 13:22)  This particular pericope shows us exactly why.  David's response is not to gloat, his response is not to cheer and brag;  no, David responds with great humility.  He wonders in a prayer of thanksgiving who he is, or who his family is that God has even allowed them to come this far, let alone make such a generous and merciful offer to him.   He prays for his people.  He submits himself to God's will completely, proclaiming God's words to be truth and life.

David realizes as the Church proclaims today that God's word is truth.   It can be trusted.   It does not return to him void, but it accomplishes the task for which it was sent. (Isaiah 55:11, CCC 215)   That's because God himself is truth.  He doesn't just have that characteristic, but he is the source of all truth.  (CCC 2465)  That is why we as Catholics do not believe in relativism.  We believe that truth itself is static, it does not change.  That's because truth exists outside of ourselves.  If it only existed inside of us, as some sort of intellectual endeavor, then every person is right.   That would mean believe that Hitler, Bundy, Stalin, etc. were all right in their actions.  Their belief that people should be murdered was truth... it just wasn't our truth.  "You do you, and I'll do me" the kids say.  "We will agree to disagree."  "Your truth is yours, but I believe...."  That is a dangerous slope.  One I do not wish to tread down.

Jesus gives us another way.  He tells us in the Gospel that the light of God cannot be hidden under a basket, but that God's word must be placed like a city on a hill, for all the world to see.  God's truth is not something that is hidden, it's not some Gnostic truth that can only be found with the right words, right rituals, or right amount of intelligence.  Rather, God's truth is evident through reason, logic, and rational thought.  Nature itself calls out to the existence of God and to the basic truths of our universe.  God has given us a Natural Law, one that calls out to not only his existence, but to an order.... It calls out to a static truth, a source of truth outside the human experience, a truth that says some things are just wrong... period.. no matter who does them, no matter what they believe... It says that in essence, it doesn't matter what your opinion or my opinion is.. the truth is not affected by opinion.. but exists in and of itself.

Saint Thomas Aquinas saw this miraculous nature of the universe and spent a great deal of his life studying and writing about it.   His genius has formed the philosophical nature of our faith as we have come to know it today, and has been a major influence on mankind.  He was indeed a light for God, shining throughout time to lead people to the truth.  He worked tirelessly to explore proof of God through scientific and philosophical means, and indeed wrote many documents proving just that. As a Protestant I believed in Scripture Alone... oh, how sad that must make the Father when he has given us such beautiful insight into his nature throughout the ages.  Two thousands years of writing completely ignored, reason and logic out the window, a church pushed to the side out of ignorance.. yes, a city on a hill that Luther tried to put a basket over.

You see, the Catholic church sees dogma as a light along the path of faith, a light to illuminate our path and make our footing secure. (CCC 89) God shines his light into the darkness and nothing is hidden from it.  There is a catch though.  In order for us to be the light of the world, we must come into a closer union with Christ.  It is a shame when the love of Christ is hidden behind a lukewarm spirituality.  His heart must ache terribly at all the grace that is refused by his children out of their own free will.  We must find a way to express that light, to bring that heart out into the world.  It finds its fullest expression in mercy, peace and love.

Those were the qualities of King David that God saw as a heart after his own.  A merciful, peaceful, loving King.  You and I are baptized as Priest, Prophet and King.  Jesus Christ is the epitome of that role.  Thomas Aquinas saw him as the ultimate end, the meaning to all things.  If you want to understand peace?  Look at Christ on the cross.  You want to understand joy?  Look at Christ on the cross.  You want to understand the beatitudes?  Look at Christ on the cross.  You want to understand patience?  Look at Christ on the cross.  You want to understand mercy?  You guessed it, Christ on the cross... Obedience.. humility... despising earthly things... detachment.. all found in this one man, this one figure, this one God.  

Whoever wishes to live perfectly should do nothing but disdain what Christ disdained on the cross and desire that which he desired, for the cross exemplifies every virtue.  (Collatio 6 super Credo in Deum)

Aquinas saw the glory of who God was.  He wrote volumes upon volumes about the mystery of God.  In the end though, he came to realize that God was so much more than we can describe with mere words.  God is so immense, so beyond understanding that Saint Thomas declared before his death when asked to continue writing he simply stated "I cannot, because all that I have written seems like straw to me."  At that point Thomas had gone beyond the point of trying to capture God in mere words, and sought only Christ himself.  He desired only one thing for all his labor, Jesus.

We have much to learn.  Knowledge is indeed important.  St. Jerome said "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." (CCC 133) We need to spend time with the written word of God in order to understand who God truly is.  Reading the writings of Saint Thomas and the early Church Father's is a worthwhile endeavor, something we should all strive for.   The wealth of information there is something beyond value, something that should never been hidden or taken lightly.  However, the goal is not knowledge.. it's relationship.  The goal is Christ himself.  It's not getting ot know an equation, but a person.   It's not memorizing a text, but having a conversation. 

Jesus taught his disciples in parables.  Those parables were not intended to be hidden and coveted as a knowledge that only a select few were given.  Rather, they were to become the teaching of his Church.  His Church is here to lead us, to guide us, to teach us... but more especially to bring us into relationship with the God of the universe.  That's what the Sacraments are all about.  That's what the Eucharist is all about.   Book learnin' can only take us so far.. we must spend time with Him.. we must receive Him.. we must listen directly to Him.  That is why the Sacred Scriptures declare that the Church is the pillar and source of truth (1 Timothy 3:15), and the Church in turn declares that the Eucharist is the source in summit of our faith(CCC 1324), because in the end this is about a marriage... between God and man.  You have been invited to that great wedding feast, as both a guest, and as a member of the bride..... In the end, it's all about Christ!  Do you know your husband?  Do you know your Lord?  It's time to get whatever is standing in the way out of the way, to look up at Him during the Mass and say "Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief."  (Mark 9:24)

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."