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Hell’s Existence a Good Thing? HUH?

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The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought of the Day:
19  My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, 20  you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins. 
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927    Pray for one another. One is wavering? … And another? … Keep on praying, without losing your peace. Some are leaving? Some are being lost? …Our Lord has you all numbered from eternity!

Can we relate even Hell to God’s love? It is the most unpopular of Christian dogmas and the one most widely disbelieved, even though Jesus clearly taught it on many different occasions. It is disbelieved mainly because it seems to most people to contradict the dogma of God’s love. And if we have to deny one of the two, then of course let’s deny Hell. Hell without God’s love is … well, just Hell. God’s love without Hell is still God’s love.
But in fact the two do not contradict each other. Far from contradicting God’s love, Hell manifests God’s love. It is the other side of the coin of God’s love.

The question exists in many people’s minds.

How could a good loving God create a place like Hell or even the kind of people that would deserve it?

Theologians and Biblical Scholars will tell you the Hell wasn’t created for mankind, and that hell is an effect caused by our decisions to sin, and even more, our decisions to not seek and claim the forgiveness that God promises.

They are right of course, they often are.

But that doesn’t answer the question, why would God create such a place?

The simple answer is, – there has to be a place that is an option to being in a place where you are loved.

This means because hell exists, so does a place exist where God’s love, His mercy, His care, His presence sustaining us exists.

The existence of Hell doesn’t mean God would force any human being to go there, that it is a place where a loving God would send someone to punish people who rejected Him, who chose to worship themselves, or inanimate objects.

It is simply the option for those who would not be in an intimate, loving relationship with their Creator. And as horrendous as hell would seem, cut off from everything that is good, everything that is love, that tells us how incredible heaven is, and what those who are in this incredible, intimate, merciful love of God will experience.

Something we have begun to experience now, here, together.

The question then is simple, will we, who know this, reveal to those who have wandered off that God loves them?

This about why I said that is the question, more than the question being why would people choose hell. I don’t think they do, as much as most would think. Think about it, and love them.

Heavenly Father, help us love those around us in such a way, that they know YOU LOVE THEM. Empower us with Your Spirit to show them the care, the mercy, the deepest levels of love, even as we embrace the cost, as Jesus embraced the cost to show us Your love. We pray this in His precious name, AMEN!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 154.

As Long As it Works Out Alright? Really?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

9 His wife said to him, “You are still as faithful as ever, aren’t you? Why don’t you curse God and die?”
10 Job answered, “You are talking nonsense! When God sends us something good, we welcome it. How can we complain when he sends us trouble?” Even in all this suffering Job said nothing against God.
Job 2:9-10 GNT

Celebrating the Eucharist is the most sublime and most sacred function of every priest. As for me, from the very first years of my priesthood, the celebration of the Eucharist has been not only my most sacred duty, but above all my soul’s deepest need.

For a while our dear God looks on and lets us lie between a rock and a hard place, and from our experience we learn that the weak, suffering word is stronger than the devil and hell’s gates. The devil and his followers can storm the fortress all they want. They will find something there that will make them break into a sweat and still not win the day; it is a rock, as Christ calls it, that cannot be overcome. Thus, let us suffer what we will; we will experience that God will stand by us to guard and protect us against the enemy and all his followers.

I think that the hands of a priest, rather than expressing routine gestures, must tremble with excitement when administering baptism or giving the absolution of sins or blessing the sick because they become instruments of the creative power of God.

As I finished reading my daily readings this morning, I pondered aloud if there was something up. I mean the reading in Luther in green and starting the book of Job (In my read through the Bible in a year) could be considered ominous.

As in… what’s coming that I have to be prepared for it by all this?

I mention this aloud, somewhat as a joke, and one of my co-workers said something to the extent of, “it worked out okay in the end, so as long as it works out alright…”

While I know that it all does indeed work out in the end, and that GOd has promised it all works out for good, it is hard in the midst of trauma to focus on the end result. Indeed, it is more than challenging, and while we talk about patience, persistence and prayer, we also must admit that there is a drain mentally, physically and spiritually to the repetitive trauma that life and ministry throw at us.

So how do we learn what Job advocated for, this idea that we should not complain, but welcome the suffering of life, simply, because like the blessings, it comes from God!

Even as I looked at what I just typed, it strikes me as wrong, as unjust, and to be honest, impossible. I might be able to teach this as a theory, but an honest reaction is that this is not how I think, normally.

The key word is normally.

What i need is what Luther wrote about at the end of that citation. That Christ is the rock that cannot be overcome. We can endure suffering and struggles, aware of God’s presence, that He stands by us and guards us, even in the valley of the shadow of death that David describes.

In the midst of the suffering I need to experience His love, and there it seems even more sweet, more rich, more real, more comforting. In the midst of the struggle, when I take a breath (Psalm 46) and slow down, I can realize He is my God, He is my fortress, Luther is absolutely correct, aware of God”s presence we can echo Job’s welcome – suffering simply then becomes a tool by where we realize even more the blessing of being God’s people,

Which is where the other two quotes come in, and the role of the sacraments. You see, as much as it is a privilege, and my sacred duty to distribute the body broken and blood shed for the people of God, I need to receive it, I need to realize the blessing that it is, the presence of God there in my hands, even as it is given away and shared. Francis is right, as we administer the sacraments our hands should tremble, as should the hands of those who receive it.

For there, at the altar, over the font, at the bedside, there is the inescapable presence of God, there specifically for the people I am ministering to, and there for me. It is at that point I can release all the stress, and the pain. I can find hope for reconciliation, I see God’s mercy helping me realize my sins are taken away. It is there peace overwhelms us, and we realize God has answered our prayers, and come to us.

So even before it all works out in the end, we find what we need, what makes the difference, even if on a Monday we begin a journey like Job’s.

God is with us.

He is our sanctuary, our place where even Satan’s hordes and suffering cannot separate us from God.

Lord, as we struggle in life, help us not look past you. Help us to realize we dwell in your presence, that Your Spirit is there to comfort us, and enable and empower us to endure, and minister to others, revealing to them Your healing and grace. We pray this in Jesus name. AMEN!




Burke, R. L. (2012). Adoration in the Formation and Life of Priests. In A. Reid (Ed.), From Eucharistic Adoration to Evangelization (p. 145). London; New York: Burns & Oates.

Luther, M. (2007). Sermon at Coburg on Cross and Suffering. In P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey (Eds.), P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. Krey (Trans.), Luther’s Spirituality (p. 159). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 207). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

Dwelling in Jesus…is more incredible that we can know (for now)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the Day:
1  You have been raised to life with Christ, so set your hearts on the things that are in heaven, where Christ sits on his throne at the right side of God. 2  Keep your minds fixed on things there, not on things here on earth. 3  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4  Your real life is Christ and when he appears, then you too will appear with him and share his glory!
Colossians 3:1-4 (TEV)

97      Renew each day the effective desire to empty yourself, to deny yourself, to forget yourself, to walk in novitiate census, with a new life, exchanging this misery of ours for all the hidden and eternal grandeur of God.  (1)

Since teaching through Colossians a couple of years ago, these words in red above seem to resonate with me more and more.  I have written about them before, and will probably do so again. 

I think they are critical for us to understand, this idea of our “real life”, a life which seems hidden, a life which is easily overlooked and forgotten, a life that is found at the throne of God.

THat’s where we belong, it is our eternal life.  The life that began when God circumcised our hearts, cutting away the sin and unrighteousness as He baptized us.  That was the conversation in the previous chapter in St. Paul’s letter to these saints.

But in chapter 3 he gets to the impact of that cleansing, the difference it makes in our lives today, and every day that will come.  He talks of our eternal life as our real life, our reality.    He urges us to set our hearts on this dance with God the Father, Son and Spirit.  The dance we’ve been invited too, and see glimpses of, even if our mind cannot clearly picture it.

If our mind cannot, our hearts and soul can be set on this.  For our hearts are better at knowing we are loved, knowing we are forgiven, and being able to accept the mysteries that our minds can’t fathom.

But as our hearts settle there, we dwell in the peace of God, we lose ourselves, yet find our life in Jesus.  For everything changes, from our priorities, to our relationships, from what we “need” to how we view those around us.

So today, think about the glory of heaven and come to realize with your heart that not only do you have a place there… you are already in His presence… 

and rejoice in that peace!

 

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 556-558). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Augustine’s confession and the reality of Monday

Devotional Thought of the Day:

11  No! I can’t be quiet! I am angry and bitter. I have to speak. 12  Why do you keep me under guard? Do you think I am a sea monster? 13  I lie down and try to rest; I look for relief from my pain. 14  But you—you terrify me with dreams; you send me visions and nightmares 15  until I would rather be strangled than live in this miserable body. 16  I give up; I am tired of living. Leave me alone. My life makes no sense. 17  Why are people so important to you? Why pay attention to what they do? 18  You inspect them every morning and test them every minute. 19  Won’t you look away long enough for me to swallow my spit? 20  Are you harmed by my sin, you jailer? Why use me for your target practice? Am I so great a burden to you? 21  Can’t you ever forgive my sin? Can’t you pardon the wrong I do? Soon I will be in my grave, and I’ll be gone when you look for me. Job 7:11-21 (TEV)

For I bore about a shattered and bleeding soul, impatient of being borne by me, yet where to repose it, I found not. Not in calm groves, not in games and music, nor in fragrant spots, nor in curious banquetings, nor in the pleasures of the bed and the couch; nor (finally) in books or poesy, found it repose. All things looked ghastly, yea, the very light; whatsoever was not what he was, was revolting and hateful, except groaning and tears. For in those alone found I a little refreshment. But when my soul was withdrawn from them a huge load of misery weighed me down. To Thee, O Lord, it ought to have been raised, for Thee to lighten; I knew it; but neither could nor would; the more, since, when I thought of Thee, Thou wert not to me any solid or substantial thing. For Thou wert not Thyself, but a mere phantom, and my error was my God.  (1)

Yesterday’s sermon was on the slaughtering of the innocents, and the despair of Israel as the children were led away into captivity.  An odd way to begin the year, I thought.  I included statistics that were overwhelming, the number of martyrs, both those who died without denying Jesus, and the number of lives cut short before their 

It’s enough to make you stagger, to bluntly reveal our brokenness, to tear our hearts apart by simply being honest.  Even those who helplessly look on are devastated and struggle to find God, and even more, we often push away the comfort He would give us.  

Often times, we are too polite, to bound by a sense of hospitality, to address these things.  We want to shove the pain into some dark corner or our soul  We are afraid to be honest with God, to openly cry about the pain, to admit the anger, to let ourselves be purged of our bitterness.

Augustine tried to find such solace, he couldn’t escape the pain. Neither could Job.  But it is as they confess this, as they struggle with the god they cannot see, that they cannot fathom, that hope begins.

I understand them, perhaps all too well.  When I am at such points, overwhelmed, I want to run and hide.  To find solace in a place like Lake Ossipee, NH.  To dive into the fictional works I love, of earlier times in history, or the worlds of Tolkien or Feist. I long to be someplace other.  To replace prayer with the study of theology, to replace the sacred times, the sacramental life with busyness serving others.  Ministry can be a great place to hide in the illusion of self-preservation known as denial. 

David knows this grief, as did Solomon.  the emptiness, the lack of the peace we pursue. You can’t read the Psalms without noting it, or Ecclesiastes without finding the bitter pain of a life that seemed only to be defined by vanity.

It is in facing that vanity, that lack of peace, that emptiness that we can realize our need for God.   That we can understand what faith is, that we can understand how intimate the relationship is, where God teaches us to desire and pray to see His Kingdom come and will be done. 

Stop running, cry out with your soul until you can be still. For then you will know that He is God, know He is here, and that He is your refuge.  For being still is not possible until we deal with the pain that would have us fight or flee. It is then, broken, wounded, weeping, that we come to the cross, and indying to ourselves, we find Him.

There, at the cross, worn out and weary beyond measure, you will be still; ou will find what Agustine and Job, David and Solomon all found, and what transformed them.  A God who comes to us… and brings healing and peace.

AMEN.

 

Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Images, Filters, and Reconciliation

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day
5  Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you. 6  It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful. 7  If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. 2 Corinthians 4:5-7 (MSG)

592    Don’t forget that you are just a trash can. So if by any chance the divine gardener should lay his hands on you, and scrub and clean you, and fill you with magnificent flowers, neither the scent nor the colors that beautify your ugliness should make you proud. Humble yourself: don’t you know that you are a trash can?  (1)

For the last few days, I am seeing more and more of my friends pictures with filters over them.

Some filters are rainbow colored.  Some are black and white.  A lot I’ve seen are a translucent copy of the papal flag, Even seen a few confederate flags the week before the supreme court decision.

And I guess I don’t understand it.  Either personally or pastorally.

First, personally.  When I am relating to friends and people, is what your filter speaks of the most important thing about you?  Is it what symbolizes you so much, that it must block who you are?  Is that what you want to divide you from me, what must stand between us getting to know each other, getting to care for each other?  Is that filter the primary lens through which you want to be viewed?

Or can I get to know all of you – not just the one aspect that filters the rest of you from me?

Secondly, as a pastor, I am concerned about the same issue.  About people seeing you through just one lens, about it hiding who you are from others.  Like I said, I have friends with just about every filter there is.  And I have people I struggle with, who also “wear” those filters.  They range all over the map, different personality types, different careers, talents, hobbies,  Some are nice, some annoying.  Yet the effect is dividing FB and other social media into groups, hiding the diversity, hiding who people really are.  What is worse is that these groups divide people, not reconcile them. It isolates us from each other, or it causes us to put on masks, so we aren’t seen opposing others.  I know not many are putting on these filters to divide themselves from others, but isn’t that the effect at the end of the day?

As a pastor, as I was thinking about these filters this morning, Paul’s image of us being a bunch of ordinary pots, unadorned, unpainted.  It is what inside us then that makes the difference.  Just like in St. Josemaria’s garbage can.  You can have a pot filler with glorious flowers, or one filled with fertilizer.  You can have a pot that is cracked that is filled with gold, and you can have a beautifully painted chamber pot.   (those were the pots that were used prior to the invention of indoor plumbing) We can be garbage cans, filled with trash, or cleaned and repurposed for something.

it is scripture that tells us what it takes to take something common, ordinary (the original definition of profane btw) and make it something beautiful, something incredible.  It’s not the filter that makes us special, it isn’t our pride, or that in which we take pride that makes us more valuable.  In fact, it in our humility, where we reach out to other for help, when we realize we need to sit down and talk rather than force our views down the throats of those who have different filters, or are unfiltered folk.

Yes, that includes bluntly discussing some things, like morality. We need to approach each other, even in disagreement, peacefully, desiring the best for each other.  Will we disagree on what is best?  Perhaps!  But unless we drop the filters, how will we ever know if someone has something we need to hear?  How will we be able to offer them something that will help them?

And for my fellow believers, are those filters helping you do what God has called you to do?

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 1413-1416). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Is Easter Wasted? Was His Death and Resurrection Meaningless?

Devotional Thought of the Day:
Featured image8  If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us. 9  But if we confess our sins to God, he will keep his promise and do what is right: he will forgive us our sins and purify us from all our wrongdoing. 10  If we say that we have not sinned, we make a liar out of God, and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:8-10 (TEV)

3  I passed on to you what I received, which is of the greatest importance: that Christ died for our sins, as written in the Scriptures; 4  that he was buried and that he was raised to life three days later, as written in the Scriptures; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 (TEV)

142    Domine!—“Lord!” Si vis, potes me mundare.—“If you will, you can make me clean.” What a beautiful prayer for you to say often, with the faith of the poor leper, when there happens to you what God and you and I know may happen. You won’t have to wait long to hear the Master’s reply: Volo, mundare!—“I will! Be made clean!”  (1)

Yesterday, after seeing all the “He is Risen” memes and comments in my e-mail and on FB and Twitter, I tweeted a question:

“I keep reading; He is risen! But few share the reason that is good news. Because Jesus rose, we will share in not only His death but rise 2.”

You see, if the death, burial and resurrection has no specific meaning to you; for you it is wasted.  For you it simply becomes a historical matter, something to discuss and create papers and blogs and podcasts debating.  But all of that effort is a waste of time, if there is nothing that is gained (or lost ) at that moment when Jesus dies, and rises from the dead.

“He is risen!  Alleluia!”  We cry this, yet there must be more to that praise.

Look again at the reason Christ dies, he dies for our sin! 

Those amazing words come flying out at us. He dies to take on our sin, to be beaten for our iniquities Isaiah tells us.

Don’t bother denying it, God already had John take care of that issue.  If you didn’t sin, you are calling God a liar.  Even worse, by saying it, you’ve sin against God again!  Everyone has sinned, Pope Francis, Billy Graham, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther, St. Peter, St Paul, Abraham, Issac, Israel, you and I.

Yesterday I had a great conversation after church, about the tension between logic and faith.  One of the things discussed was the reliability of faith in God.  The problem is that neither logic nor faith are things able to be proven; they are things to be used.  I gave the following illustration, getting to people to discuss why the glass is either half full or half empty.  While they were discussing this, I took the glass and drained its contents.  “You see,” I said, “you can talk all you want about the glass, but its purpose is to provide a way to drink the liquid we desire.”  (Well it was only water, and I desired something different, but you get the picture)

So it is with faith (and logic)  They are things we exercise, the foundational blocks by which we view and live in the world.  They need to grow in focus; They need to be challenged and refined.  But if faith isn’t used, if logic isn’t applied, it becomes useless, a distraction.

The same thing with the death for our sins, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.  It is a nice hobby to have to create philosophical, apologetic and theological treatises about, but that is not why Christ died,

He died so that your sin and mine, would be erased!  That like the man with leprosy, we would be sure of God’s desire to cleanse us, and the fact He has.  To do so took the blood of Christ Jesus, but it did the job perfectly. With Christ’s resurrection, that sin we would deny, no longer needs to be denied, hidden, repressed. We don’t have to call God a liar, or be separated from Him.  He is here…with us, comforting us of our brokenness.

That is something to praise Him for, to shout of His glory and mercy to all the world.

or as we say at my parish,

Pastor;  Alleluia!  He is Risen!

People:  He is Risen indeed1

Pastor:  What does this mean?t?

People:  We too are Risen!  Alleluia!

AMEN

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 463-466). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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