Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sharing About the Blessed Mother

This Friday morning, March 1st, I will have the pleasure of speaking about the Blessed Mother with Sean Herriot of Relevant Radio's Morning Air.  We will discuss Chp.5 of The God Who is Love, "Every Boy Needs His Mother (and Brothers and Sisters too)."  If you would like to tune in, I will be speaking with him from 6 - 6:20 a.m. CT, with a replay at 9 p.m.  Below is a list of articles and blog posts I have written about Our Lady

"Am I Not Here Who is Your Mother?" (A short explanation of what it means to be consecrated to Jesus through Mary)

"The Eucharist, Mary, and Redemptive Suffering"

"Did the Apostles Pray the Rosary?"

"Eve and Mary (the New Eve)"

"I'm 'No' on the Rapture, But 'Yes' on Mary's Assumption"

"Participating in the Obedience of Jesus"

"The Blessed Mother, Receiving Jesus From John (A brief thought on the Priesthood)"

"When Life Takes That 'Wrong' Turn"

"Mother Mary and Father Abraham"

"The Eucharist and the Assumption"

Hope you enjoy!

Why the New Pope will be POWERLESS

Cover of Pope Fiction

- powerless to change Church teaching, that is.  

Every time a new Pope is elected, the media begins to buzz as to whether or not this new Pope will be more "liberal," and bring Church teaching up to date with the "modern" world.  We even hear it among fellow Catholics.  
Will this new Pope:
  • ease restrictions on the use of contraceptives?
  • recognize same-sex "marriage"?
  • allow women to be ordained to the priesthood?
  • change Church "rules" on divorce and remarriage?
What these questioners fail to realize is that the Pope does not have the power to change these things.  Why not?  Because they are not his policies; they are Christ's.  

The world has shown itself to be a place of opinion, not moral conviction.  Its understanding of sexuality and the meaning of marriage has morphed in the past 50 years.  But Jesus' understanding has not.  Many, many Christian groups have slowly let go of elements of Christ's teaching in this area.  But the Successor of Peter, because Christ appointed him to share His own role of acting as a Rock to the faithful, cannot. (See here, here, and here.) Take an issue such as "same-sex marriage" - it is oxymoronic to the mind of Christ and thus, must be to the Pope's as well (and honestly, to anyone who believes that Jesus' words were not just those of a man, but God). 

The Pope's ministry is to strengthen his fellow bishops and all of the faithful in living out Christ's teachings.  He has no authority to change them. 

Please keep our new Pope in your prayers; he has a tough row to hoe - but in the end God will make his work fruitful.  A couple of verses to keep in the back of our minds as we pray:
"In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Jn.16:33)
"Whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith." (1 Jn. 5:4) 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

That Tight-Lipped Jesus ...

So here is a stream-of-consciousness post for you.  Stay with me though, there is a point:

On the drive to work today I was praying the Rosary and meditating on the Lord's Resurrection.  I was thinking of the women at Jesus' tomb.  Nothing could have prepared them for the absolute shock of the empty tomb - and definitely not for their encounter with the Resurrected Jesus.  I was struck how you and I are often so completely in the dark about all of the good things that God is doing behind the scenes, completely surprised when they break out into the light.  God seems to work in silence; He doesn't make us privy to His plans - just shocks us with their awesomeness.

Wait, that's not quite right.  Hadn't Jesus told His disciples, over and over, that He would be rejected by the chief priests and elders and be raised on the third day?  Yes, He had; but they didn't understand.  Jesus had told them exactly what was going to happen.  His crucifixion shouldn't have come as a shock - and neither should His Resurrection!

And here is what Jesus says to you and me.  We should listen closely so that we're not caught off-guard:

“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn.16:33).
Fore-warned is fore-armed.  We will suffer the Cross.  And if we stay united with Him, we will experience His Resurrection.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Confused By the Accounts of Jesus' Resurrection?

I can understand that.  When you put the Resurrection accounts in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John side-by-side you will notice discrepancies.  (Click one of the above links to open that gospel's account of the Resurrection.)  But these are apparent, and not actual discrepancies.

In the The God Who is Love, I wrote about several of the events that God used to shape my life.  From time to time I felt the need to streamline anecdotes.  There were details that weren't needed to come to my point and I felt that, had I included them, they would have weighed the story down unnecessarily.  (Readers want something that reads smoothly - not a story constantly interrupted to fill in this or that detail or piece of background info.) Everything I wrote was true; but it wasn't as full of an account as I could have written.  That gave me a new appreciation for the way the four gospels narrate the same events from Jesus' life in different ways.

Looking at the four accounts of Jesus' Resurrection, I would like to suggest a chronology for the events of Easter morning that, if kept in the back of your mind, will resolve the apparent discrepancies.  In a nutshell, I think that the women who visited Jesus tomb that morning went back and forth between it and the apostles more than once:

1.    Jesus rose from the dead.
2.    The guards outside the tomb fled.
3.    The women (Mary Magdalene,  Mary the mother of James, Salome, Joanna, and one or more  unnamed women) arrived at the tomb to annoint Jesus' Body, but found it empty.
4.    The women ran to the apostles to alert them that someone had stolen the Body.
5.     Peter and John raced to the tomb, saw the grave wrappings, and left.
6.     The women returned to the tomb and saw angels inside.  The angels announced Jesus' Resurrection.
7.     The women were frightened by the angels' appearance but (possibly after a delay) set out to carry the announcement to the apostles, when Jesus appeared to them.
8.     The women reported all of this to the apostles but were not believed.
9/10 Jesus appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  He also appeared to Peter.
11.    Jesus appeared to the apostles and disciples gathered in the upper room.

Each of the gospel writers streamlined these events in different ways - omitted one or more of the numbered events, or omitted one or more characters (human and angelic) in their telling of an event. The accounts do not disagree with each other but each is fragmentary.  None of the gospels claim to give an exhaustive account.  Quite to the contrary; John's Gospel plainly says, "Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name" (Jn.20:30-31).  

When you listen to the Gospel readings at Easter time, keep the eleven points above in your mind to see if it helps.  I would of course love to hear your thoughts about my stab at reconstructing the sequence of events that first Easter morning.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Transfiguration - Just a Stretch of the Legs

Something new regarding Jesus' Transfiguration jumped out at me while praying the Rosary. You remember the event: While Jesus was at prayer on a mountaintop, Peter, James, and John witnessed Him become “more brilliant than the sun.” Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus, and the disciples could hear them discussing His “exodus.” The scene culminated with a cloud overshadowing the mountain (as the Shekinah, or cloud of God’s glory, had when Moses received the Law on Mount Sinai) and God the Father proclaiming, “This is My Beloved Son, listen to Him.”

The new data that registered with me is actually preliminary to everything I just recounted: before the Apostles witnessed this, they had climbed a mountain! Traditionally Mt. Tabor, with an elevation of 1929 feet, has been identified as the spot. (Imagine the St. Louis Arch multiplied by three).  Those boys had to exert themselves a bit to “get into position” for the Transfiguration.

And that got me thinking about the energy we have to exert in our own lives. To make progress as Christians we have to work. God may have given us a new nature, but that doesn’t mean its “second nature” yet. (That sentence is crying out to become a bumper sticker.)  Seriously though, think about your day so far. How many words or actions do you regret?  I can think of a few. There’s no reason to become disheartened though. When the Apostles were climbing that mountain they had to exert themselves…but Jesus was right there alongside them. The Lord was exerting Himself, as they were exerting themselves. And the same is true for us. We have to do the work, we have to make an honest, concentrated effort; but Jesus is right there alongside us — and thanks to His resurrection and ascension, in us – working to get us to that next level. Without Him its impossible; but with Him, there are no limits.

This is what the Church is talking about when it says that final salvation is the result of Faith and Works. We become the kind of creatures that can exist in Heaven because we’ve actively cooperated with God’s activity. Maybe it’s a bit confusing to talk about Faith and Works as two separate activities; it’s really one fluid movement, beginning in God and returning to Him, through us. Listen to the Apostle Paul: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). It’s 100% God and, because of grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit, 100% us too!  We’re joined to Jesus, as He loves and gives Himself to the Father, through us!  We’re inserted into the very Life of the Trinity.

And like the Apostles, embracing Jesus’ desire to get us to the “top of the mountain,” leads to incredible realities. Like them, we get to pray alongside Jesus. And because of that, our prayer will change, will become more mature, will focus upon God’s will instead of ours. We get to hear Moses (the Law) and Elijah (the Prophets) of the Old Covenant speaking to us as we study Scripture. Divine Light enables us to see things about ourselves and our situation that would have been impossible before.

And this pattern will be repeated again and again in our lives, as Jesus challenges us to follow Him from one peak to the next, until we’re as high as we can possibly go –”Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Hebrews 12:22).

Friday, February 22, 2013

Jesus asks, "But Who Do You Say That I Am?"

Today the Church celebrates the "Chair of St. Peter"  - Jesus' establishment of the Papacy.  (If you would like to read more, you can click here, here, or here.)  What I want to focus on today is the question Jesus asked Peter, because it's the question he asks you and me - "But you, who do you say that I am?"  

Just last week the Holy Spirit gave me opportunity to repeat that question to someone.  A friend had emailed to ask if she could run a couple of religious questions by me.  When we sat down I expected a couple of factual questions about what Catholics believe or why we do this or that, but my friend dove straight into the deep end:  "I haven't been to church in a long time; but I believe that Jesus is God, and I believe that everything the Bible says is true.  But I also have a very open mind, so on a matter like gay 'marriage,' I think that so long as two people love each other and it makes them happy, they should be able to go ahead and get married.  I am like that on other matters too.  Am I going to go to Hell for that?  I think I try to be the best person I can; could I still go to Hell for thinking differently?"

Alright, first thing I did was to ask to back up from the question of going to hell for a moment and start with what she had told me about her faith.  I reflected back, "You told me that you believe Jesus is God, believe in the Bible; but then you also want to say that certain actions, that you know directly contradict Jesus and the Bible, are alright - so long as they make a person happy.  Seems to me that you are trying to hold two contradictory statements in your mind at the same time."  She smiled and shook her head, acknowledging that she understood that was exactly what she was doing.

I continued, "When you say that you believe Jesus is God, you are saying that you believe He created this world we live in and that He understands what will and will not ultimately lead to our happiness.  Our emotional reactions to something are not the real measure of what is good or bad.  A twelve year old boy might tell you that sniffing model airplane glue makes him feel happy; but you, with a wider knowledge base, understand that it can also damage his brain.  If we believe that Jesus is God and that He understands - objectively, perfectly understands - what leads human beings to happiness; then to say that He is wrong on some point doesn't make any sense.  You can't have it both ways."

"So far as who is going to heaven and hell, no one but God can tell you that.  What I can say is that He has told us - again, objectively speaking - which actions are compatible with the lives of his children and which are not.  But what factors lessen or increase a person's culpability for those actions ... only God knows a person's history - how much of the truth they have been exposed to, their thought processes, the movements of their hearts.  I don't despair for anyone's salvation; I pray for God's grace to be at work in them, just as I pray for it to be at work in me.  Heaven is the culmination of a relationship with God.  And like all relationships, a relationship with God is dependent on our response.  If you had never responded to your boyfriend's dinner invitations, you wouldn't have much of a relationship today.  God invites us to get to know Him in many ways:  meeting Him at church on Sunday, receiving the sacraments, reading that Bible that He went to so much trouble to bring to us.  Do we live our lives in the way He has asked us; or do we tell him that we know better and go our own way?  At the moment of death, when this life ends and everything around us melts away; will we find ourselves next to God or at a distance?  If at a distance then we will experience loneliness, and that loneliness will not end.  That is Hell.  But it was us who moved away from God, not the other way around."

"Jesus asked the apostles and He is asking you, 'Who do you say that I am?'  You answered, 'God.'  Alright.  Now what are you going to do about it?"

My friend has a good head on her shoulders and love in her heart.  I am excited to see what this next year holds for her.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Beauty of "Catholic" Sex - Why It's Good for the Baby

One of the hazards of being off school for a snow day is that you might be channel surfing and get sucked into watching an episode of Katie Couric's new talk show. There was a story I just had to hear:  A fertility clinic had accidentally implanted another couple's child into a woman's womb.  I am absolutely thrilled to say that the woman this happened to never contemplated abortion.  She said that her first thought was, "What if someone had accidentally been implanted with my child?  I would be on my knees begging her to carry my child to term."  And she did.  She and her husband contacted the other couple with the news that they had another child on the way - and they were overwhelmingly grateful that their child was going to be allowed to come into the world.  Nine months later, after the healthy birth of a boy named Logan, the woman at the heart of the story was told that her body was unable to endure another pregnancy.  Still wanting to welcome the children she and her husband had partnered with the lab to create, the couple hired a surrogate to carry their twin girls to term.

The story reminded me of a short post I wrote in 2009 where, with the help of The Office's Michael Scott, I talked about the dark side of IVF (in vitro fertilization).  The most shocking thing that I had discovered about IVF was how many "extra" embryos - human beings - are created in the laboratory, but never inserted into a mother.  (That's standard practice.)  There are over 400,000 frozen embryos in the United States alone!  Those are human beings in suspended animation.  Since I wrote that post, even the mainstream media has caught wind of how a higher percentage of children conceived through IVF are born with significant birth defects, in comparison to their normally-conceived peers (9 percent vs. 6.6 percent).  As with the story on Katie Couric, these are problems - serious problems - that God wants to safeguard us and our children from.

The Magisterium of the Church (the teaching office exercised by the pope and bishops) has always been clear that IVF is not compatible with God's will.  Before I say anything further let me state categorically that the Church has never, and will never, look down upon anyone conceived through IVF!  No matter how a person is conceived, he or she is a human being and has the same dignity as every other human being.  (That goes for a person conceived through an act of fornication, adultery, IVF, and even rape.  If the Church believed differently then we wouldn't have canonized saints, such as St. Martin de Porres, who were born out of wedlock.  Give it a hundred years and we could very well have a saint who was conceived through IVF.) You won't catch me condemning parents who have used IVF either; the vast, vast majority have done so with no awareness of its difficulties or the Church's teaching on the subject.

In addition to the problems with IVF cited above, why do the Church's teachers - the shepherds to whom Jesus committed His flock - feel compelled to speak out against the use of IVF?   

To safeguard the dignity and well-being of the child.  There are truths we have to keep in mind:

1.  A child is not an end, a good (to be sought in a lab), but a person with his or her own inviolable dignity and rights.
Yes, we experience the yearning to be parents to a child of "our own."  But the child is not our property; the child is his or her own person, with his/her own rights.

2.  Every child has the right to be conceived through an act of love between its parents.
The child is a person, and persons are meant to come into existence through the sincere, bodily gift of his/her mother and father to one another.  (The child is not a product that a doctor can mistakenly implant in the wrong mother.)

Last year a friend shared his niece's plight with me:  At age 16 she discovered that she was conceived through IVF.  She also discovered that she was the sole surviving embryo of several that had been created.  She confided in her cousin (my friend's daughter) the sense of shame she felt - her brothers and sisters being allowed to die, so that in a sense, she could live.  It messed with her mind.  She was angry with her parents. Not to mention her initial reaction - "I was made in a lab?"

3.  Sex, by its very nature, is love-giving and life-giving.
Everyone thinks the Catholic Church's oppostion to contraception is crazy, but it both maintains the reality of the sexual act and the dignity of the child(ren) produced by it.  What do I mean?

"This pregnancy was an accident."  Bull.  An accident is when something goes wrong.  If a pregnancy resulted from your lovemaking then biologically everything went exactly right - it couldn't have gone better!  Contraception has twisted how we see reality.  A child is never an accident, never some unforeseen by-product of a night of romance.  

Creating a new life is an inseparable part of the sexual act.  And those who do try to separate it out, eliminate it, are doing something against nature.  Only by ignoring that obvious truth can an individual - or a society - speak of the growing child as an "accident."

When a Catholic husband and wife make love, they give their whole selves to one another.  There is nothing about their fertility that needs to be suppressed or treated as a hindrance to their love for one another.  If they are practicing NFP (natural family planning), and come together during a time in the wife's cycle when they believe her to be infertile, and if a pregnancy should result; then they understand that their child is anything but an accident - a surprise, sure; but never an "accident"!  That child is the result of their love - a beautiful gift entrusted to them by God.  That child is its own person, brought into existence to enrich the world and spend eternity with God.  

The child did not come into being to meet a need felt by the parents.  The child is the fruit naturally springing from their love.  They are there to love the child - to pour themselves out for the enrichment and growth of this new person.  In doing so they will be enriched - both in the way they image and make present the love of God, and in the love their child returns to them.  But it is an enrichment that takes place while safeguarding the dignity and rights of the child.

The vast majority of people who have sought IVF have done so innocently, without anyone raising even one of these issues with them.  They know that they want to give their love to a child and have never heard its darker side or the moral problems associated it.  The Church's vision of sex and procreation safeguards the dignity of the child as well as prevents horrible situations like that being experienced by my friend's niece or young Logan from today's Katie Couric show.  Someday Logan will hear the story of his conception.  There is the silver lining of the woman who respected his life enough to carry him to term ... but there's so much else there that will likely be difficult to hear.  And it doesn't have to be that way.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

St. Francis of Assisi's Paraphrase of the "Our Father"

A few months back I wrote a post sharing how the Our Father can be used as a template for times of personal prayer.  I was happy to discover that Saint Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), Founder of the Friars Minor, did exactly that.  Here he is praying the first half of the Our Father:

O our most holy Father,
our Creator, Redeemer, Consoler, and Savior,
“Who are in heaven”,
in the angels and in the saints,
enlightening them to love, because you, Lord, are light,
inflaming them to love, because you, Lord, are love,
dwelling in them and filling them with happiness,
because you, Lord, are the Supreme Good, the Eternal Good
from whom comes all good
without whom there is no good.

“Hallowed be your name”:
may our knowledge of you become ever clearer
that we may know the breadth of your blessings,
the length of your promises,
the height of your majesty,
the depth of your judgments (Eph 3,18).

“Your kingdom come”:
so that you may rule in us through your grace;
enable us to come to your kingdom
where there is an unclouded vision of you,
a perfect love of you,
a blessed companionship with you,
an eternal enjoyment of you.

“Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” :
that we may love you with our whole heart
by always thinking of you with our whole soul
by always desiring you with our whole mind
by directing all our intentions to you
and by seeking your glory in everything
with our whole strength,
by spending all our energies and affections
of soul and body
in the service of your love and of nothing else (Mk 12,30).
And may we love our neighbors as ourselves (Mt 22,39)
by drawing them all with our whole strength to your love,
by rejoicing in the good fortunes of others as well as our own,
by sympathizing with the misfortunes of others
and by giving offense to no one.

Monday, February 18, 2013

A Grateful Dad

I have not felt well the past few days, but the silver lining has been the way my kids have expressed their affection and taken care of me.  Getting me this or that, getting themselves this or that so I could rest on the couch - they are extremely generous little souls.

I am a grateful dad in another sense too. I remember attending Mass a couple of Sundays after my oldest, Brennan, was born and as the Eucharistic prayer began, just weeping in a loving awe at the realization that swept over me:  My little boy, the most important person in the world to me, was loved by Jesus. Jesus had stretched out His arms and let nails be driven through them for my child. I was grateful that Jesus had died for me, but now I felt an unspeakably deeper gratitude because He had laid down His Life for my child !  After Lily's birth, that gratitude doubled.

I make the Apostle Paul’s prayer for his readers my own this afternoon:  "I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Eph.3:17-19)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

ABC's "Zero Hour"

So I watched the first episode online last night - can't resist me an X-Files-ish hour of television.  The show definitely kept me interested, and believe me you will not see the revelation at the end of the first hour coming.  I will tune in again to see where this is going.

Like many historical conspiracy theories of late, Zero Hour, plays fast and loose with history and its writers are clearly not making any attempts at accuracy regarding the beliefs of Catholic Christians or others.  They're simply grabbing religious terms that people have probably heard, filed away in the back of their minds, and the show's writers are able to throw in to add an air of the mysterious/spiritual to the telling of their story.  I'll give you a few examples:

The Rosicrucians are the secret society at the heart of Zero Hour.  They are portrayed as a group within Catholicism, especially interested in mysticism and the End Times, dating back to the second century.  Alright, historically Rosicrucianism dates back to the early 1600's, and it was actually quite anti-Catholic.  

Zero Hour goes on to reveal that during World War II, "the Church ... without the knowledge of the pope," ordained "twelve new apostles," to save the world from the Nazis.  "The Twelve" were entrusted with guarding some relic hidden beneath a Bavarian cathedral that, if discovered by the Nazis, would set in motion the end of the world.  "The Church" in this case seems to refer to the Rosicrucians within the Catholic Church. (As I finished typing that sentence I realized how completely crazy this show sounds; should I give another hour of my life to seeing where it goes?)

Quick theological reality check:  Within Christianity "the Twelve Apostles" is only and ever used to refer to those men who encountered Jesus after His Resurrection and were established by Him as the unrepeatable foundation stones of His Church (Rev. 21:12-14) - and Peter in an utterly unique way (Mt. 16:17-19).  So any talk of a new group of the Twelve is simply an impossibility.  And "the Church" ordaining without the knowledge of the pope?  What does that even mean?  This transformation of the Rosicrucians into an ancient religious order within the Catholic Church makes for some interesting story telling possibilities, but it it also creates a Christianity with only a passing resemblance to the actual Faith.  Keeping all of this in mind, I was still left scratching my head when a Rosicrucian Catholic priest (in Nazi Germany) lamented, "Not even God can save us now ... only the Twelve." Clearly, not a well-catechized guy.  I don't know what they are teaching in that universe's Rosicrucian Catholic seminaries, but it's nothing I would devote my life to.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

How Do You Respond to "Have You Been Saved?"

I bet you've been asked that question at least once in your life (and it came from someone who sincerely desired the best for you.)  Depending on which Christian denomination you were raised in, you might have been a bit stymied for an answer.  Considered globally, it's a small minority of Christians who hold that salvation is a one-time event.  They are mistaken, but innocently so; it is what they have been taught, and they have been shown a selection of biblical passages that seem to support the notion.  But those passages are divorced from a multitude of others that give a fuller explanation of Jesus and the Apostles' teaching on salvation - not to mention the Church's uninterrupted historical understanding from the time of Christ until today.

So how do I respond to the question, "Have you been saved?"  Here is the brief, nuanced answer that my youth minister (Paul Masek) shared with me many moons ago:
"Yes, I have ... I am also in the process of being saved right now; and in the future I hope to be saved - to obtain final salvation with Christ in heaven."
I think it is a marvelous answer.  Let me provide a couple of verses of Scripture in support of each its parts:

Yes, I have been saved
"He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5)

"Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you" (1 Peter 3:21)

I am being saved
"Work out your salvation with fear and trembling for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12-13)

For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love." (Gal. 5:5-6)

"..but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7)  
I hope to be saved
From Ash Wednesday's second reading, "Brothers and sisters ... We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God ... we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain" (2 Cor. 5:20; 6:1)

"Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we share in Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end" (Hebrews 3:12-14)
As I said, these verses can be multiplied.  Chapter 6 of The God Who is Love can provide you with more.  Hope your Ash Wednesday is going well!