Salvation

How do we save the Church?

How do we save the Roman Catholic Church? It doesn’t take much to see it’s having a crisis, at least in the West. Everyone seems to have an answer to this question. It was only a matter of time before I had to weigh in, so, here it is:

We don’t

We don’t save the Roman Catholic Church. I don’t have it in me to give life to the Church. Nor does any idea, any form of music or liturgy, or any programme. Jesus Christ is the life of the Church, and He alone is her saviour.

So… how do we save the Church? We don’t save the Church, the Church saves us. And this is our problem today: we don’t let the Church save us- we don’t let it give us Jesus. We’re the problem!

It’s not this silly priest, that senile Bishop, those clueless cardinals, or even our wonderful Pope Francis. It’s us–me and you–not accepting Jesus and chasing after Him with all our strength that is the problem. We’re not taking advantage of all the ways Jesus comes to us through His body, the Church, to recreate us in Him. We’re not chasing after sainthood.

‘How do we save the Church?’ Every answer is correct (well… nearly), and every answer is wrong, because in every answer we can find Jesus, and because every answer is not Jesus. It’s not what we need to do, it’s who we do it with and for.

There’s no hope in any of our reforms or programmes, or the chariots of Egypt! The people of God cannot hope in the strength of men. Not one of our clever schemes will save us. We can’t idolise the works of God.

I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing… As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love…  This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.’

[John 15:5,9-10,12]

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“Francis, go rebuild my Church, which you see is falling into ruins.”

What I’m saying is, we need to become saints! At the risk of sounding fanatical, saints are the solution to every real problem in the Church and the world, because Jesus alone is the solution. Jesus alone is the life of the world!

How can we receive God? How do we become saints? We have to encounter Jesus, and as we encounter Him, we become an encounter with Him. We need to rediscover, over and over and over, God’s love for us and our hearts response of love for Him, and we need to submit to this love of God. And submitting to the love of God, we must seek the love of God everywhere.

We have to let go of everything that is not Jesus, even the holy things which brought us Jesus in the past. When we become attached to anything, it destroys our poverty of spirit, and we become complacent, self-righteous, and closed to the Kingdom of God. We can trust our good deeds over the one who gives the grace to do them. We can trust our praying rather than Him we pray to. We can even fall by trusting in our receiving communion, rather than trusting Jesus-Host Himself.

I’m saying we must chase after the love of God with all our might, knowing that we can never pin Him down and capture Him. With all our hearts, all our souls, all our strength and all our minds, we must receive and submit to the uncontrollable love of God. We must let go of every attachment, every possession, every illusion of control we hold so dearly, so that we can give Him control.

When we do this, as individuals and as communities, then we will see the Kingdom of God coming, within and amongst us.

Pray for me, and God bless you!

 

Looking sin in the eye

‘1849 Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbour caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.”

‘1850 Sin is an offense against God: “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight.” Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become “like gods,” knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus “love of oneself even to contempt of God.” In this proud self- exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation.’
–Catechism of the Catholic Church 1849-50

I wanted to write about sin, so I looked it up, and I was not disappointed. The Catechism is a bit lofty and distant, but in that very way it has such beauty. I don’t say much about sin on this blog. It makes me uncomfortable. But I believe it is good to take a better look at sin, since it’s lent. Here, then, are my reflections:

Sin is separation from God; that is, sin is separation from the deepest Source of all things, and so is separation from all things. There is no harmless sin. Sin cuts us off from everything in existence, including ourselves. Sin is death.

Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it.’ Sin blinds us to God’s love, which is in fact the truth of all things. The whole world and everyone within it look ever more dead and cold, and as such more like objects to be used for ourselves.

Sin is when our will is set against God’s will, which is Himself. God’s will is not a matter of choosing one thing over another like our wills so often are. God’s will is life and love itself. Disobeying God isn’t just proud, it’s absurd. We choose what won’t last, and wouldn’t satisfy even if it did, over life itself! We try to be “gods”, but in doing so, we make the lives we are “gods” over, as pointless and futile as our small-minded desires.

Sin is both the action of separating ourselves from God, by an act of the will, and the resulting state of being separated from Him, in our wills and our living experience. When Jesus was upon the cross, he “became sin”, by truly experiencing the separation from God that is the wages of sin. But he was also perfectly without sin, completely obedient to God, even in this separation from God. He brought righteousness to sin, and brought God to Godlessness.

 

‘1851 It is precisely in the Passion, when the mercy of Christ is about to vanquish it, that sin most clearly manifests its violence and its many forms: unbelief, murderous hatred, shunning and mockery by the leaders and the people, Pilate’s cowardice and the cruelty of the soldiers, Judas’ betrayal – so bitter to Jesus, Peter’s denial and the disciples’ flight. However, at the very hour of darkness, the hour of the prince of this world, the sacrifice of Christ secretly becomes the source from which the forgiveness of our sins will pour forth inexhaustibly.’
–Catechism of the Catholic Church 1851

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This lent, let us turn ever more fully from sin in all its forms, to the Lord Jesus Christ our redeemer. Amen

God bless you!

Mary: Hinge of Salvation

“Let it be to me according to your word.” Lk 1:38

On these simple words, swing the entirety of Creation’s destiny. By Mary’s Yes, God entered and recreated the whole world. By Mary’s humble Fiat, we receive our Salvation, the God-Man Jesus Christ.

But why would God do this? Why would He make His plans so dependent on a creature? Why would He allow anyone else to assist in His plans, let alone be fundamental to them?

Because that’s God. God is humble, and has shared even His greatest work, the salvation and recreation of the universe, with His own creatures. God’s salvation is not just effective, but also intimate, acting not just upon us, but within us (if you don’t believe me, look at Mary when she was pregnant!). And so, God decided to save us from within Mary’s own freedom, so that God’s saving act would be hers too, and so she would be perfectly united to her Saviour.

God’s glory is not diminished a bit, but magnified, by Mary’s crucial cooperation, and the cooperation of all in accomplishing our salvation. By working through His lowly creatures, God makes Himself manifest in them as well as to them.

And the Virgin Mother, is the lowliest of all. That is why she accepts this life, this Son of God, from the lowly God, and why she has glorified God above all the angels in heaven.

If Jesus is the door through which we get to the Father, Mary is the hinge on which this door swings.

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God bless you

 

His love first

I would like to ramble a little about the love of God, please bear with me.

The place of complete love, is the body of Christ. It is broken, bruised, bloody, naked, transfigured in light, holy, resurrected, immersed in God, humble, raised up, simple, ridiculous, shocking, terrifying, vulnerable, pierced, and spread open for all. Here is the complete, unconditional gift.

However lowly you are, Jesus is below you. Upon the cross, his arms are open wide to embrace you; his flesh is exposed and his blood pours out, so that nothing is kept from you; and there is a hole in his side, so you may enter his heart. However rejected you are, Christ is more. However far you are from God, however beaten to a pulp your soul, Christ is with you even in your spiritual destitution. For our sakes, he became sin. Don’t let that be explained away or watered down.

The Word of God was made one with humanity, with suffering, failure, sin, and death, that all of these may be resurrected in him. He gives himself perfectly, that we may receive him, and so give ourselves perfectly in him.

To receive his love, to receive him, is the first thing. Lately I’ve become so caught up in myself, trying to bring love, to give myself, to give God, that I have neglected to look to receiving his love. Not that I’ve been working hard and neglecting prayer. I was trying to “spiritually” be a servant of God, set on doing his will. But this was impossible, insofar as I neglected to look to God as my saviour, as the one who loves me truly. “By this we know love- that he laid down his life for us.” [1Jn 3:16]

I had made the mistake of looking to the cross primarily as the work I must join; that I must love and suffer for the world with Jesus. This is true, but we must be united to the cross, to the body of Christ, as our salvation first, and consequently as our vocation. By our lowliness, our sin, our death, we enter Jesus’ body, broken and given up for us in complete love. Only then, may we be the body of Christ, the place of complete love. “We love, because he first loved us.” [1Jn 4:19] Once we receive his love, once we are united to him, our very existence in him means being given up for others, united to his holy cross.

To guard against this mistake, we ought to be keenly aware, that we need salvation constantly. It is not singular events, but a continuous reliance on Christ crucified. We never move on from salvation, but live it out, work it out, in God’s grace.

God bless you

Broken saviour for broken souls

I see more and more clearly, that I am broken, and it’s scaring me. But I also see, that I have a broken saviour.
Why the God-man? Why the cross? Because God heard our cry, and saw our wounds, and dived in.
He did not come in strength, to impose goodness from outside; nothing can be truly fixed from outside itself. Instead, he came as one of us, as one of the oppressed. He came to be broken with us, for us, and to us. To give us his life, and that we may give our lives with him and through him.
That we should find his life in our death, and that we may die with him, the death in love that brings resurrection.
He fills our brokenness, our death, our poverty, with the life that is love, the love that is sacrifice, the sacrifice that means resurrection.
By the cross, Jesus is there in suffering, to bring us love, and that we may suffer in love with him, in humble and hopeful obedience to God, united to his cross, and so his resurrection.
Jesus did not die on the cross so that we don’t have to. He did not die to misdirect divine retribution. He died, to fill all the suffering and brokenness and sin in the world, to unite it to himself, to envelop it in the love of God, in the life of God, and to offer it to God.
He died, not to conquer these things from the outside, or to complete any transaction involving them, but to embrace them completely , and thus radically transform them.

And so, I am broken. But Jesus is broken with me, and in me. And I let him have my brokenness and weakness. I offer it through him, and with him, and in him, to God the almighty Father.

God bless you

“This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God; that the Son of God may be glorified by it.”

Why do we love God? Part 2

[Part 1]

We cannot love for anything except love. Then what about the one without love? How could someone without love, ever begin to love? Perhaps, with no choice on their part, they might spontaneously begin to love. But if they don’t choose to, and so it doesn’t come from them, is it really them that loves? If they suddenly have a new will for something, ex nihilo, is it not a different will, and so a different person?

But they could not choose to love on their own either, as they don’t have the love necessary to motivate the choice, and so they are “slaves to sin”, incapable of love (but, according to St. Anselm, still have free will, as they couldn’t lose love without their consent, if they had it). The only way they could ever love again, is by the great miracle known as grace, somehow implanting love with free consent.

I believe grace is the mysterious working of God’s own love, deep inside the sinner, revealing true love to them, and revealing love’s absolute supremacy. It is an experience so radical that the will voluntarily surrenders itself, taking on a new foundation beyond its imagination. The will realises that God’s love is greater than it. In a moment of awe, the will drops all its desires, and accepts God’s love as its own.

In the depths of the sinner, Jesus Christ is revealed, encountered even, and yet revealed as a mystery so profound, it is impossible to grasp, except by its own light- “Unless you believe, you will not understand.” (Is 7:9). The reason we can trust this light, is not because it reflects whatever light we had before, but because it illuminates everything else so gloriously.

‘We love because he first loved us.’
1 John 4:19

‘Faith knows because it is tied to love, because love itself brings enlightenment. Faith’s understanding is born when we receive the immense love of God which transforms us inwardly and enables us to see reality with new eyes.’
Lumen Fidei n.26

Perhaps the analogy of a heart transplant applies here. Thanks to modern technology, we can actually live off of mechanical “hearts” (although maybe it’s not quite “living”, as there’s not a real heartbeat…), but eventually, we’ll need to have a heart of flesh transplanted.

‘A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.’
Ezekiel 36:26

We cannot give ourselves a heart transplant. When we finally receive a living heart, the difficulty arrives of whether our bodies accept the new heart, or reject it, to their own destruction. The new heart is foreign, and the original body must give a verdict; yet if it chooses to accept the new heart as a part of itself, and so submit itself to the new heart, it will only be able to do so, because of the new life being given by the heart. And, should the body reject the new heart, it will also only have the strength to do so, because of the life from the heart- “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.”

When the heart is changed, the whole body is affected, transforming our whole realities. The heart becomes the body’s, but even more, the body become’s the heart’s, as the heart gives it life, and the body only receives it. And so, by the new heart, it becomes a new body. Likewise, by God’s grace, given entirely gratuitously, but accepted freely, the believer becomes a new creation.

So, we love God, not because if we do, He’ll be good to us, but because He has already been so good to us. “You did not choose me, but I chose you”. We love God because He first loved us.

God bless you!

P.S. This passage from St. Therese’s Story of a Soul seemed relevant, but I couldn’t find a good place for it in this post:

‘One evening, not knowing how to tell Jesus how much I loved Him and longed for Him to be served and honoured everywhere, I thought with sadness that not a single act of love ever ascended from the gulfs of hell. I cried that I would gladly be plunged into that realm of blasphemy and pain so that even there He could be loved forever. Of course that could not glorify Him, for all He wants is our happiness, yet when one’s in love one says a thousand silly things. This didn’t mean that I did not want to be in heaven, but for me heaven meant love and, in my ardour, I felt that nothing could separate me from Him who had captivated me.’

P.P.S. I should perhaps mention, that I originally wrote this with the teaching of John Piper, a leading proponent of “Christian hedonism” in mind, but was uncomfortable attacking the ideas as his, because I feel I really don’t know enough of his teaching to make judgments. Perhaps it is more subtle than it seems… The bit about salvation and condemnation just for God’s glory is definitely his teaching though.

P.P.P.S. I’d also like to say, I have here said some things on matters beyond my comprehension (particularly the end, on grace), and ask you for whatever correction you believe is needed. I feel quite confident of what I have said, but I don’t have the confidence of if I knew the exact same was taught by great saints, that I would very much like.

Why do we love God? Part 1

Do we (or should we) love and serve God because as a result we will be happy, or because it is good in itself? Some claim we should, not because it is right, or moral, or good, but because it is what’s best for us (I’m thinking of so called “Christian hedonism”). I believe that we ought to love and serve God, even if it would only bring us pain and suffering.

My basic reason, is that selfishness destroys love. We cannot love for a purpose. It is always for its own sake.

‘Love me for a reason,
Let the reason be love.’
-The Osmonds/ Boyzone

The Osmonds got it. Hedonists can’t. It is impossible to love God above all things, if you love Him because of anything, including the pleasure He can give. Perhaps this isn’t clear without properly defining love.

‘By this we know love, because He [Jesus] laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.’
1 John 3:16

Love is revealed upon the cross. Not in the resurrection, or the ascension, or the glorious return of Jesus, but in his death. Love is pure gift, not pure desire.

Perhaps Hedonism is the natural development of Calvinism (or perhaps just some forms of Calvinism), with its doctrine that God Himself is both gracious (forgiving) and just (condemning) only for the sake of His own glory. If God saves or damns us for His own sake (without giving us a say) why shouldn’t we only be saved, loving and serving Him, for our own sake? Dare I say it, this God resembles no faithful spouse, but a promiscuous woman, who gets her self esteem by being desired, and from who she can “have” and who she can reject, and those she “has”, only desire her for their own pleasure.

But those who desire chiefly to be desired, to be a good to be consumed (as opposed to a person to commune with), are hardly even shells of real people. They do not give away all they are, but only the product they believe is desired, and always hold something back (at the very least their will is guarded tightly). And as their consumers only want the product, their consumers will never give all that they are either. They seek to possess others by being desired as a possession (whether they allow themselves to be possessed or not), and so all they are is primarily marketing; pretending to be desirable. They themselves are not being people, and they are not considering others as people.

On the other hand, those who desire in love to give themselves away entirely, are whole people. And those who accept them, must also give themselves entirely, because another person cannot be received while your own person has not been given; we must make space if we are to receive love. To encounter others in love, we must be surrendered, just as a knight must take off his armour to be touched. Both parties seek to belong to the other entirely, and so are mutually submitted, and enter into a profoundly humble communion, and are made one. Those who seek to be desired, can never be loved as perfectly as those who seek to love. Those who seek to be worshipped, can never be adored as perfectly as the One who seeks to be a pure gift. If God sought His own glory, He would be glorified less, not more. [This has beautiful applications to marriage, the Church, the Holy Eucharist, the Incarnation and Crucifixion, the descent of Holy Spirit, and I suspect much much more] As Jesus himself put it,

“All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Matthew 23:12

God is perfect in Himself, and nothing could ever be added to the infinite God. So why in heavens would God the Son ever be incarnated as a human, capable of suffering and unhappiness? What could God Almighty have left to gain from this? What is there or could there be that is not already His, merely by its existence or possibility? What necessity could command God to become man, that God may be satisfied? Nothing. Creation, the incarnation, the cross, our redemption, and all things, were not for God’s sake; that is, not for God’s good, but for God’s will. Only because God is good: Only because God is love.

Why did God create us? Because God is love. As St. Francis de Sales said,

‘God has placed you in this world not because he needs you in any way–you are altogether useless to him–but only to exercise his goodness in you by giving you his grace and glory.’

Some believe, we are made in order to give God glory, by means of His grace and goodness to us (unless you are condemned). To St. Francis, we are made that God can be good and gracious to us. Some believe we are made to praise someone; St. Francis de Sales believed we are made because Someone is praiseworthy.

Love is never selfish. It is impossible to love for any reason except for love, because as soon as there’s a reason, it’s not love. Love is a crucifixion, and so demands absolutely everything: it can’t be for the purpose of anything, because that thing must also be sacrificed. Love either rules supreme, playing by its own rules, or doesn’t exist. As soon as we give in order to be repaid (whether on earth or in heaven), it’s just an investment. There’s no longer love or even morality, only thrift.

[I think this is a good time for a break. Go, get yourself a cup of tea, and then come back for part 2]

Saved through his resurrection

[In my last post, I wrote “The resurrection of the dead does not undo or repay the gift of the martyr’s life, but makes the gift lasting. This is the treasure in heaven for every good work: that our gifts shall endure forever in God, in whom all good works are done.” This struck me as absolutely wonderful, and thoroughly in keeping with the gospel. However, I realised afterwards, that this was an understanding of heaven and life everlasting which hadn’t mentioned Jesus, or his death and resurrection, and so what I said was either wrong or incomplete, and so I set to work.]

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, entered into our suffering and death, that in these we may find the one who said, “I am the resurrection and the life” (Jn 11:25), and be united with him. He died, that he might bring life to death. Death tried to digest him, corruption tried to destroy him, but instead life incorruptible burst forth in the tomb itself. His life and his gift, were perfect, divine, and had no weaknesses to be attacked, and so his gift was perfect, a living sacrifice, and unbreakable. In giving up his life it suffered no decrease, but was unleashed upon the world.

When the martyr offers up their life, they do so with Jesus, and in Jesus, and through Jesus, and so their gift is united with his; they enter Christ’s own sepulchre, and by the abundance of Christ’s life, their offering is made perfect, and raised in Jesus himself. There is no resurrection except in union with him who is the resurrection and the life.

Our complete offering of our lives, is united to Christ’s complete, perfect and divine offering of his own life, and perfected by this union, so that we appropriate the life of The Life.

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me.” John 14:6

We unite ourselves to the way and the truth and the life, by following his way, accepting his truth, and so living his life. We must take up our crosses and follow him, believe in Jesus, and eat the Bread of Life. We must follow Jesus to death, that we may die with him and live with him.

The choice of this present life, is how to live. I can walk through life my own way, and I will one day arrive at my grave, where the worms await, to rot away my life of corruption. Or I can follow Jesus, walking the way of the cross, arriving at his cross and his tomb, where the perfect, incorruptible Son of God met the moment of our corruption and overcame, where life was swallowed by death, and burst forth so abundantly he swallowed death.

‘for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ…

‘So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven…

‘When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
   “Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

‘The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.’ 1 Corinthians 15:22,42-49,54-58

God bless you!

P.S. I actually stumbled upon the passage from 1 Corinthians last, after having completely forgotten it (apart from, I guess, subconsciously). I was actually hesitant with these thoughts, for fear that they were not in scripture, or were an invention of my own mind. Glory to God, that He allowed me to forget, that I might follow the apostle’s thinking, and see the perfect unity of revelation!

God bless you!

P.P.S. (11th August) I forgot to include how this involves the sacraments of the Church. I feel it is too late now, and I don’t have anything extraordinary to say on it anyway, but I will add quickly:

‘For we are buried together with him by baptism into death: that, as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.’ (Rm 6:4)

And the Holy Eucharist is both the once for all sacrifice upon the cross, and the risen Bread of Life, as he said,

‘He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me: and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me.’ (Jn 6:57-58)

I haven’t said much, and I can’t say about the other sacraments, but I’m sure, as they demand and enliven our lives, they too must flow through the cross and the holy sepulchre and the resurrection.
One last thing I’d like to add:

‘He is risen, he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him.’ (Mk 16:6)