Atonement

There are many who talk about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as atonement for sins.  If one turns to the theologians to see what this means, there are many different theories of atonement.  These include the idea of ransoming a captive from slavery and sacrifice. 

However, did you know that the word is literally at-one-ment, not a-tone-ment?  Pondering this became even more interesting, at least to me, when I was reminded that the suffix “ment” is added to a verb as a way of expressing the means or result of the verb.  At One is not a verb, so – how does this work? When we dig further, we see that at-one is English for the Latin verb meaning – to unite.  Thus, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection reunited humans to God.  

I doubt I am telling most of you something you did not already know, but sometimes different words can help us go deeper into the mystery of Jesus.  Thus, as I pondered this line of reasoning, I started to see that Jesus is the completion of the verb – to unite.  In other words: 

The reality of Jesus is that I have been at-oned with God.  

The problem is, I do not live at-one with God.  This is despite the fact that in Jesus, I have received everything I need to live rightly. 2 Pet 1:3. To understand this more fully, we can look at an ancient mystic who tells us that: “[n]o one who is in love with himself is capable of loving God. The man who loves God is the one who mortifies his self-love for the sake of the immeasurable blessings of divine love.” – Diadochus, 5th Century mystic.  This understanding is rooted in Mk 8:34 where Jesus tells us that a disciple must carry his or her cross and die to self. When we follow this directive, we increase our capacity to love God and to receive his love. In so doing, we live more and more fully the life of the at-oned; as one united to God who is love. 1 Jn 4:16.

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit pondering your own at-oned-ness with God. Ask him to help you see your reality as one who has been at-oned, and to help you surrender all that keeps you from living such status in the here and now. May we all learn to more and more fully live out our identity as one who has been at-oned with God. 

In Him,

dw 

Heaven is [Imperfectly] Now

Elizabeth of the Trinity tells us that Heaven is where God is, and God dwells within us.  However, it seems many people are sitting around waiting to die to start living.  If so, then maybe some thoughts on how to live Heaven now is merited.  

First, what is Heaven? It is a place of peace. How can we have peace in our uncertain world?  Conceptually, it isn’t hard to attain because Biblical peace has to do with right relationship with God.  Right relationship with God requires conversion and a life lived with a belief in Jesus and all he taught.  I said this is conceptually not too hard because conversion is difficult, and so, too, is maintaining peace in a world that always seems to be attacking our sense of peace.   

However, when one trusts that God only allows bad things to happen so that he can bring about right relationship and conversion, maybe finding peace in this world seems somewhat more achievable. One of my favorite spiritual authors says God has an art of bringing good out of evil. Maybe one way to live Heaven now is in humbly accepting the crosses that come our way by saying something like, “God, I look forward to seeing what masterpiece you will paint with this hurt and pain.  I look forward to seeing how you perfect my faith, hope, and love through these trials.” 

Of course, this doesn’t mean we cannot pray that God take evil out of our lives. Jesus, while in the Garden, prayed that the cross be taken from him.  When the Father, whose ways are beyond us, chose not to remove the cross, the world was redeemed.  If spirituality is about following Jesus, then there is nothing wrong with praying for crosses to be removed.  We just need to remember that if he doesn’t, then it has a purpose in bringing us closer to him. 

Second, living in Heaven is living in union with God who is love. When we look at the person of Jesus to see what this love looks like, we see a love that is not only self-giving, but selfless.  How can we be in union with God if we have not worked to shed our own selfishness and pride?  In addition to accepting the crosses that come our way, we can also make choices in how we live our day to day lives that help us die to self. We can become, in him, selfless people who live a life of self-giving love in the world today. 

No, living Heaven now by cultivating peace and perfecting charity is not an easy task. It is something that most, if not all of us, will fight to do for our entire lives.  Regardless, this is the path for those who believe in Jesus. This is living according to his teaching because discipleship mandates this path of dying to self and carrying crosses.  Mk 8:34.

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit analyzing your own view of Heaven. Ask him how you can live more fully, even if imperfectly, in Heaven in this space and time. Ask him how you can live a peaceful life amid all of the distractions in this world, and how you can better keep your eyes on the long-term goal of perfect perfection through all the challenges and blessings that fill your life. Ask him to either remove your crosses or to be your Simon, as is necessary for your own perfection.  Ask him to be your strength in weakness as you learn to better cooperate with grace in this process of becoming one with Him. 

In Him,

dw

On Being Selfish

The other night as I was driving to Bible study, I realized that I was getting grumpy. I found myself wishing that I could stay home and watch TV.  I asked myself, is this voice in my head accurate? Would I rather live vicariously through fake people living in made up / unrealistic social situations or study the word of God with people who have become my friends?  I smiled at myself, rejected the voice telling me I should be home, and forgave myself for being selfish.  Then the thought occurred to me that being of service is selfish when understood in the proper context.

In Galatians 2:20, Paul says, I live no longer I.  Taking his train of thought, I ceased to exist at baptism.  When I say this I mean that the unique person God created still exists, but like Paul, this person exists as a part of a larger whole.  This has at least two major implications.  

First, throughout my life, I have tagged certain beliefs about myself onto my God-given identity.  I have created a perception of my identity, which is founded both on my God-given identity and other beliefs that I have come to associate with myself. Any aspect of my own personal belief about myself, which is not of God, needs to be removed, and this is predominately the work of the Holy Spirit with some cooperation from me. 

Second, baptism united me to the body of Christ.  Therefore, like Paul who talks about this new person as one living a life focused on the person, Jesus Christ, so too should my life focus on living with him, in him, and through him.  This doesn’t mean a focus solely on Jesus, but all others who are likewise united to Him through baptism. It also means focusing on all of those called to be members of his body for we are incomplete without them.

As I pondered this truth, it occurred to me that service can be viewed as selfish. It is selfish to care for others because in caring for them, I care for myself. It is selfish to give to others because it is giving to myself for they are a part of me.  

I know this sounds a bit ridiculous. However, the thought process helped me turn my self-pity into a joyful encounter with others.  I was able to laugh at myself and to let go of the perceived burden of serving others, which was in fact no burden at all.  I see where this view might help me to laugh at myself in the future when I feel burdened by doing for others, and to go joyfully towards serving the needs of others. In time, the Holy Spirit will remove the false aspects of Debra as a distinct person apart from Christ, and I will no longer need a crutch like this to help me go in the right direction. Until then, humor is my best weapon against pride and selfishness.

During this season of preparing for Christmas, many of us are likely to experience fatigue, feeling overwhelmed, and the like.  Maybe this revised view of self and service can help you laugh and surrender your burdens to him, and to serve others with joy. 

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit pondering your own life in Christ.  How do you view service to others?  Does the idea of self-care as acts done for the good of the body of Christ make you look at the world a little differently? Does it give you some ideas on how you can continue preparing for the coming of the one in whom you have your existence? Spend some time in prayer thanking God for the community of believers, and asking Him how you can help bring all others back to Him. 

In Him,

dw 

For the Glory of Your Name

This past weekend, I was preparing to help put on a retreat, and I didn’t put as much effort in as I should have.  When I was driving to the church, I prayed that my mediocre preparation would not have a negative impact on the people attending the retreat.  In response, I heard, “for the glory of my name.” Peace settled over me, until I got to the Church. 

Before going forward with the story, I want to explain why the phrase, “for the glory of my name” brought peace.  The phrase (which is actually, “for the sake of my name”) comes from something I learned in my Old Testament Prophets class. During the Babylonian exile, Ezekiel tells the Israelites that he would uphold his end of the covenant, despite their failure to do the same. He was going to bring them home, not because of anything they did, but to prove to other nations that the God of Israel was faithful.  

So, what I heard was, “I will care for my people despite any weakness in you.  I will lead them to me.” I knew in that instant that I was just an instrument through which he would do as he pleased. All I needed to do was surrender.  

When I arrived at the church, I started hauling boxes in from my car. One of the boxes flipped over, and the vegetable tray container broke open, and spilled out on the floor. As I reached to pick everything up, I discovered that the fruit tray had also broken open. Luckily, it spilled out in the bag. Less mess.  As soon as that was straightened up, something else fell to the floor. In the course of 45 minutes, I dropped several things.  I stepped away from the setup, and went to find a quiet place to take a breath.

I found myself asking, “God, is this your way of encouraging me to do better in my preparation next time?  Are you using this as a way of making sure that I don’t procrastinate as much next time? Did you choose something that only impacted me instead of the entire retreat? No. I quickly realized that it was another force was at work; a force that was trying to make me doubt the promise of his faithfulness.  I thanked God, and got back to work.  Some things still went wrong, but I kept my peace.  

Trusting in God can be difficult when we do not know his ways.  He doesn’t always come to our aid the way we expect. He allows things to happen that make us question whether he is there. I don’t know about you, but I have often thought, “if I were God, I would have done it this way…”   The entire Bible tells us that even when he isn’t working as we would like, he is always faithful. He always brings good out of evil. He always has our eternal good in mind, and sometimes that has to take priority over our physical good in that moment.  Regardless of how things seem, he is always faithful. 

I know that nothing I have said means that I should settle for lesser effort in my preparation. He is still calling me to do my best.  The difference is that no matter how much work I put in, it is still him and his faithfulness that makes the difference. He is the God who saves. 

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit asking him to show you where he is working for the sake of his name.   Where is he calling you to trust in his faithfulness instead of on your own works?  How has he shown you his faithfulness in the past, and how that can lead you to assurance in how he will work in the future? Spend some time thanking him for his faithfulness, even when you do not do your part.  If you are new to the path, then look to Scripture and learn of his faithfulness through the lives of the ancient Israelites.  He who led his people out of captivity in Egypt continues to lead us all to the Promised Land. He leads us one dropped item of responsibility at a time.  

In Him,

dw 

On Becoming

Life is a journey of becoming one with God. What does this union look like?  There are those who experience consolations and/or exercise in spiritual gifts. Are these evidence of union?  Good question. 

I think the answer is yes, these are evidence that we are becoming one with God.  However, we know from the spiritual theologians that consolations can become just that, the consolation prize.  It is possible to get caught up in the goodness of these secondary fruits, and stagnate. 

So, what is the answer? Well, there are likely many ways to answer the question.  The thesis that seems the most obvious to me goes something like this.  First, we know from 2,000 years of experience that the process of becoming one with God includes three things: 1) the purgation of sinful tendencies, 2) illumination in regards to heavenly things, and 3) a growing sense of union with God. 

How are we purged of our sinful tendencies? Again, history tells us that the Holy Spirit has different ways of achieving this objective.  I think it safe to say that it starts with discipleship; with following the Christ.  Jesus tells us that following him means dying to self and carrying our crosses. Mk 8:34.  In at least one tradition, this has been interpreted as practicing virtue, which includes detachment from worldly things, and trusting that God is in control, even when bad things happen. One is something that we actively pursue, and the other is something we passively accept.  

I suppose it is important to state that there is a difference between giving up or being a victim to circumstances and using prudence and prayer to determine our way through these difficulties.  Understanding this nuance, in my experience, is an on-going lesson in living and learning. Still, it seems there is some degree of actively navigating the situation and trustingly giving control over to God.  

Thus, as we learn to live a life of virtue and how to navigate life’s circumstances with the aid of the Holy Spirit, we open the door, and allow Him to purge us of the things that keep us from being united to Him.  We learn to open our minds to Him, and we begin to better understand heavenly things. 

As we are purged and illuminated, we undergo the interior change Paul talks about in some of his letters.  We start to see the fruits of the Holy Spirit. We experience the transforming power of grace.  We see our life choices become more like the choices of Jesus.  We experience peace, joy, and an ever-growing sense of love.  In my opinion, love is the biggest key to knowing that one is becoming united to God.  The more we are transformed into selfless, self-giving love through grace, dying to self, and cross carrying, the more united we are to God, who, according to John, is love. 

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit praying for a greater understanding of spiritual truths.  Ask him to guide you through the stages of purgation, illumination, and union.  Ask him to help you desire only things of him. Ask him to transform you into that which you were made to be – one with the God who not only loves you, but calls you to be one in him. 

In Him,

dw 

… And They Laid Him In The Tomb

Yesterday, while waiting for the Good Friday service to begin, I was really struck by the impact the bare altar had on me.  All of the candles were gone. The altar cloth had been removed.  Crucifixes were wrapped in purple cloth. The tabernacle was there with its doors wide open, and it was empty.  It really brought home the fact that we were remembering the day Jesus was crucified and buried for our sins.  

As I pondered sin and its grievous nature, I realized how little I appreciate the depth of my sins.  While a part of me knows that my sin is grievous, a part of me wants to think, I’m a good person. I only do small, venial sins.  I’m only responsible for a thorn in his crown, one that is just scratching his skin.  Nothing could be further from the truth. 

I know I’m telling myself a lie, but I have yet to find the eject button that would clear the decks and allow me to more fully appreciate the extent my sins played in his death.  I have yet to find the key to this deeper appreciation for what he did for me, which would lead to a deeper conversion, and a closer walk with him.  I am still too proud to take responsibility for that which I knowingly do. 

I have gotten close a few times.  For instance, yesterday, I was reading from Knowing the Love of God by Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange.  He promoted a reflection on the malice of sin, even venial sin. By this he meant that God calls us to live the divine life. He is there beckoning us to him, and we choose earthly treasures over the amazing gift that he offers.  How appalling is that – that I would choose a metaphorical bobble over the glory, power, and might of the Lord our God who created me to be in union with him? He also talks about how sin blinds us to the malice of sin.  Unfortunately, he also talks about the fact that the conscience always knows when we are choosing incorrectly, even when we ignore our conscience.  We are culpable, even though we lie to ourselves about the grievousness of even the slightest sin. 

Still, the part of me that longs to balance between the things of the world and the things of Jesus’ kingdom struggles to admit my guilt. To experience something that leads to deeper conversion requires change, change that I resist.  So, the blindness to the malice of sin continues.  

At the same time, Jesus preaches a message of hope. In fact, he sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within us.  The Holy Spirit is a source of grace, and grace is the answer to our sinful nature.  Grace is something that beckons gently without overriding a person’s will. It is easy to overlook unless we build habits of looking for it and following its lead. So today, let us commit or renew our commitment to relying on grace to lead us from sin; to bolster us in the pain of changing from things of the world in favor of God who is love and the ultimate fulfillment of all of our needs. 

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit sitting in awareness of the stark reality that he died for you.  Invite him to melt your heart at least a little today and every day as you learn to take more responsibility for your sinfulness.  Ask him to show you how to cooperate with grace and move towards a less and less sinful life. Ask him to help you suffer your own crosses as you make changes in your life, and learn to live a life in Christ more and more fully. 

In Him,

dw 

What Are You Willing To Give Me?

In Mark 26:14-15 Judas asks the chief priests what they would give him to sell out his master.  Apparently 30 pieces of silver was Judas’ price.  

In our earthly bodies, our soul and flesh are constantly battling against each other.  The flesh desires good, but often settles for the short term pleasure of earthly goods. The soul longs to curb the body’s earthly desires in favor of the greatest good, which is God.  Jesus explains this to us when he talks about people who want to be disciples needing to carry their crosses and die to self. These requirements of discipleship should never been interpreted as God wanting us to suffer, but his desire for us to achieve the fullness of life Jesus longed to give us.  Jn 10:10.

From the lives of the saints, we can see that by sacrificing the goods of the world in favor of God that much joy, peace, and love come from this countercultural behavior.  We see how people feel more fulfilled and satisfied because God created us to live in union with him. Jesus took on human flesh to restore the link to such union by his life, death, and resurrection. He came to show us how to achieve it through obedience and dying to our desires for lesser goods.

Still, because of this battle we often sell out our efforts to the holy life in favor of these earthly goods. A couple of examples: some, like Judas, seek monetary rewards and the comforts that go with it.  For others, it is ambitions that fuel their pride and set them against their brothers and sisters in Christ.  

In effect, there are always worldly things that beckon us to sell out our relationship with God. Luckily, when we realize that we have gone astray, we have recourse to the restoration of this relationship by asking forgiveness and receiving his mercy.  

At the same time, we need to realize that while he is merciful and loving, we cannot achieve the true treasures of the world and eternal life without striving with all of our might to stay at the table with Jesus instead of walking away with Judas. 

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit analyzing your life.  Where are you selling out Jesus for things of the world? Where are you focusing too much on his mercy, and not enough on the true benefits of living more fully in the life of Christ? Where are you continuing to sell yourself short by taking the goods of the world when you could be living your life with him, in him, and through him.  Spend some time seeking self-knowledge on these points, and then spend some time asking forgiveness and basking in his love.  Jot down some notes on how you can curb your earthly treasure hunt, and refocus on the higher objective of Heavenly goods. 

In Him,

dw 

… And One Of You Will Betray Me

Scripture tells us that at the Last Supper, Jesus told the Apostles that one of them will betray him. What an awful word – betrayal. When we use this word, we can mean a variety of things, including an act that causes someone to lose trust in us or outright disloyalty. 

Why did Judas betray Jesus? The Bible doesn’t tell us, but over the years I have hears several theories on this matter.  One theory I heard was that he didn’t expect them to condemn Jesus to death, and he wanted the money for the poor.  It is also possible that he wanted the money for himself.  

I also read that maybe Judas was disillusioned by Jesus’ view of Messiahship, and he wanted to force Jesus to become the Messiah that he wanted him to be.

A third theory is that Judas acted with Jesus’ permission because it was necessary to achieve God’s plan of salvation. The word usage adds some credence to this because the word used in this sentence is paradidōmi (Greek word using Latin letters).  According to Strong’s, this word is more commonly used in Scripture as delivering something, including delivering someone up to authorities. So, the connotation is more like Judas delivered Jesus over to the authorities for trial. In other words, this translation takes out some of the negativity of betrayal.   (For more on the usage of paradidōmi in Scripture: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g3860/kjv/tr/0-1/). Given the reaction of the Apostles to Jesus’ statement and Judas’ demise, this point doesn’t make much sense.  Still, it might help us in our analysis of our own spiritual lives. 

Another theory, based on the Lukan Gospel’s wording, is that Judas came under the influence of the Devil. (Luke 22:3: “Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, …”). So, Judas didn’t act under his own influence, but that of the Devil. 

As stated yesterday, the purpose of the blogs this week is to focus on the behavior of these Biblical characters in an effort to grow in self-awareness; to more fully stand in the light of truth.  The spiritual life can be seen as a cycle of on-going self-awareness, leading to conversion, resulting in an encounter with mercy, which leads to an ever deepening love of God. Through these cycles, we grow in our commitment to God, learn to cooperate with him to avoid occasions of sin, and grow ever more in union with God. Such union is then perfected in Heaven.  

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit asking him how your own behavior is similar to that of Judas. Be open to hearing how you, like Judas, betray Jesus.  Consider all of your behaviors that are disloyal to your belief in Jesus.  How have you failed to be trustworthy in your relationship with Jesus? How about in your role in the Body of Christ; in your apostolic works. Do you justify behaviors because the ends justify the means, even though the means are not according to His teachings? Have you struggled in your relationship with him because he doesn’t behave according to your expectations? Are you struggling with demonic temptation, and need the freedom provided by Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection? Don’t be afraid to be open to truth. God loves you. If the Holy Spirit shows you some areas where you are betraying Jesus, just ask for his forgiveness, know that you receive it, and revel in his love. 

In Him,

dw 

… and the Chief Priests Plotted

This week, I hope to analyze the people involved in Jesus’ passion as a way of challenging us to see how these people and their actions might shed light on how we, too, contribute to Jesus’ passion in our own time and in our own way. As you read this series of blogs, be asking the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to the areas of your life where he wants to work. Remember, it is his job to heal us of our propensity to sin.  It is our job to learn how to surrender, to be open, and to cooperate. 

— 

In John 12:10, we read that the chief priests plotted against Jesus.  Why? Again, I do not know with certainty, but I can speculate.  

On the one hand, there were those priests who were proud, and maybe they didn’t like feeling that Jesus was usurping their power and their influence over the other Jews. 

There were likely those who saw Jesus as leading the crowds away from the true faith, and wanted to lead them back to the fullness of Jewish tradition; to the fullness of living out the covenant of God’s chosen people.  I mean, let’s face it, bad things happened to Israel when the people of God were not living within the covenant. 

Maybe some of them were feeling like sinners despite the fact that they perceived themselves as living the covenant perfectly.  These self-righteous ones might have been challenged by Jesus’ message.   Jesus said he came to heal the sick, not the healthy. Maybe they were starting to realize that they were sick, and in need of healing. Maybe these feelings were uncomfortable, and they didn’t like feeling uncomfortable. 

It is even possible that for some, he was challenging them to review their beliefs about covenantal living against the way they were living their lives. Maybe they didn’t like the discrepancy being pointed out to them. 

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit asking him how you try to put Jesus, or at least his teachings, to death in your own life. Be open to where you are living a lukewarm spirituality by living both in the world and living out the covenant incompletely.  Ask him to help you understand all of your motives for being Christian.  Is there at least a small part that wants to do the bare minimum so as to attain Heaven instead of Hell?  Is there a part  of you that holds onto what you were taught by your parents? Is it for the friendships that develop at your church events?  How much is based on an encounter with Jesus that called you to conversion, and to a life dedicated to knowing and serving the one you love? We all have room for improvement in our lives, and sometimes we need the Spirit of Truth to come in and shake things up.  Let him enter, the King of Glory.  The fullness of life can only be attained by letting him in more and more fully throughout our lives. 

In Him,

dw 

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

Many of us celebrated Palm Sunday yesterday, the day Jesus enters Jerusalem for the Passover.  At mass, it is common to read the Gospel staring with the last supper through Jesus’ burial.  The passage about his entry is filled with hidden meaning that maybe not all of us know.

First, when you look at a map of Israel, you would be correct to assume that the most direct route between Galilee and Jerusalem would be to walk southwesterly, and approach the city from the north.  In fact, according to a few estimates on the internet, this route, the one through Samaria, was at least one day faster than the other route, the route most chosen by the Jews because of the hostile relationship between these two peoples. This other route went due south along the Jordan, then west through Bethany, the Mount of Olives, and approached the city of Jerusalem from the east.

Which route did Jesus take? While there is evidence in stories like the woman at the well that he travelled at least once through Samaria, but for this final Passover, the Bible is very clear that Jesus came through the Mount of Olives.  So, instead of entering from the north, Jesus would have come in from the east. This is important because in Ezekiel 10:19, God’s glory is seen leaving Jerusalem through the eastern gate. So, it should be little surprise that God would return to Jerusalem through the same gate. Add to this that Ezekiel prophecies that God would return through the eastern gate. Ez 44:1-3.

How many were traveling with Jesus? How many participated in this triumphal entry?  I do not know, but a lot. This journey was taken simultaneously by all Jews living northeast of Jerusalem who wanted to avoid Samaria while heading to Jerusalem for this mandatory feast.  One estimate on the internet is that there were roughly 400,000 people living in Galilee around the time of Jesus. Not all were Jews, not all Jews were able to travel, and some might have opted for the Samarian route. We have no clue how accurate this estimate is, but we know that Galilee was a very fertile region, and with these facts, we can imagine a large throng of people traveling with Jesus. 

During this trip, Jesus worked miracles and preached to the people.  Just flip through Luke 9-19 to see all that he did on this journey.  Imagine the throng of people walking with him, witnessing his work, and then imagine what they were likely thinking as they approached the eastern gate that day.

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit imagining yourself approaching the eastern gate with the throng.  Imagine how the experience of traveling for 4-6 days down the southern route to Jerusalem would have impacted you.  Imagine yourself grasping the mystery that Jesus is the Messiah, and how you might have reacted.  As he climbs upon the donkey, allow Zechariah 9:9 come to mind, “your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”  Spend some time interacting with these people, with Jesus, and imagine the joy of knowing your God has come home. 

In Him,

dw