Sunday, December 29, 2019

Loving Our Parents...Makes Atonement for Our Sins?

A few years back I wrote a post on our need to make "reparation" or "atonement" for the sins we commit after baptism. I shared that, although Christ's sacrifice makes atonement for the eternal debt of our sins, God our Father expects his adopted children to make amends for the temporal debt of their sins, which includes the damage we do to others as well as to our own souls. We do so, however, not under our own power, but by Christ's grace. Today, on the Feast of the Holy Family, our first reading contained some powerful statements on this subject. I'll quote from the NASB translation:
Whoever honors his father atones for sins.
and preserves himself from them....
Even if [your father's] mind fail, be considerate of him;
revile him not all the days of his life;
kindness to a father will not be forgotten,
firmly planted against the debt of your sins
 a house raised in justice to you.
(Sirach 3:3, 12-15)
It makes perfect sense. Every sin is a rejection of God's Fatherhood over us. We reject His loving, all-wise will to do our own thing. It's sin. This disfigures our soul, which is supposed to be taking on the image of His only begotten, Jesus. When we honor our parents, the earthly image of God put here by Him to guide us, we are in effect honoring God's Fatherhood over us and thus taking steps to undo the effects of our disobedience in our souls. In this way, we not only repair, or "atone," for sins; but we also "preserve" ourselves, take steps to protect ourselves, from falling into sin in the future. This honor we show to our parents is the triumph of Christ's grace within us, a manifestation of His obedience to Mary and Joseph out of obedience to the will of the Father! By Christ's power within us, we are overcoming sin and taking on the image of the Master.

The author of Sirach knew that the Lord sometimes calls us to atone for sin in this way while working against strong resistance. It can be somewhat easy to honor our parents in the normal circumstances of life, but we really have to overcome ourselves when we are called to care for a parent who fights our efforts, such as one suffering from dementia. This is when we really overcome the disfigurement sin has wrought in our souls via the grace-filled exertion it takes to remain firmly patient and kind in serving a parent. It cannot be done without Christ's grace, without Him loving our aging parents through us. We are called to become images of His own sacrificial love. Spiritually-speaking, this is about as lofty as it gets. Humanly-speaking, however, it feels horrible. It is an act of the will, made in union with Christ, the Ever-Faithful Son. [Believe me, I'm speaking to myself in this post.] The positive effects upon our souls are very real though — that is God's promise.

Addendum: If your Old Testament is missing the Book of Sirach, then this post is for you.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Riffing on the Star of Bethlehem

In my last post I mentioned attending a wonderful lecture by Philip Blaxton on Cardinal Ratzinger's The Spirit of the Liturgy. I was reminded of it again when I thought of the Star of Bethlehem. Cardinal Ratzinger had spoken of something changing within the cosmos with the birth of Christ - by taking on a human nature, God had wed himself to His creation, and it was thus forever changed. The Star of Bethlehem was a sign of this change, drawing the first Gentiles to their Jewish Savior.

Now there are many different theories as to what the Star of Bethlehem. While it is certainly possible that the Magi were drawn to Judea by a supernatural light, the majority of theories involve a celestial event - from a comet, to a supernova, to a conjunction of planets. Let's assume for a moment that one of those natural theories is correct - what an awe-inspiring example of God's almighty providence!

If the "star" was a natural event such as a supernova or conjunction of planets that coincided with the birth of Christ, then it was set in motion with the Big Bang. The universe was set in motion in such a way that this "star" would be visible in the Middle East at the exact time that God would make his entry into creation. What an amazing reminder that, despite man's capacity to sin and his attempts to unravel the divine plan, none of this occurs outside of God's loving providence. Before man's Fall, God already knew His Remedy! Man has his freedom, but God also retains His - and His freedom is exercised from eternity! The angels captured it perfectly, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!” (Lk 2:14)

Saturday, December 7, 2019

The Ten Commandments & The Image of God

Rembrandt, Moses Smashing the Tablest of the Law (1659)
Earlier today I attended a marvelous presentation and discussion of Cardinal Ratzinger's Spirit of the Liturgy. The presenter, Philip Blaxton, drew out so many points, and the thoughts of all of the other participants were so insightful. One of the ideas that stood out for me was the way that our worship and ethics are intertwined. It reminded me of speaking (many moons ago) with young people about the Trinity and of how the moral life we live as Christians is nothing less than a living out of our creation in the image of God - and I would add, in a special way, the image of God the Son.

God has revealed Himself as a Trinity of Persons: A Father Who knows pours Himself out completely in His Son, the Son Who pours Himself out completely to the Father in a return of Love, the Holy Spirit. And humanity is made in this image: We receive all we are from God and give ourselves back to him by pouring ourselves out in obedient love. The Ten Commandments are a no-nonsense statement of what it means to live in God's image:

Why don't we covet our neighbor’s spouse or our neighbor’s goods? Because God does not selfishly crave but generously gives.
Why don't we bear false witness? Because God isn't falsehood, He is Truth itself.
Why don't we steal? Because God isn't about taking but giving.
Why don't we commit adultery? Because God IS faithful love.
Why can't we kill? Because God is not about taking life, He is about giving it.
Why must we honor our father and mother? Because they shared in God's act of creating us. Because we image the Son in glorifying the Father Who eternally begets Him.
Why must we keep holy the Sabbath? Because God created time as a gift to us; and we in turn make a gift of time to Him.
Why must we not take the Lord's name in vain? Because God does nothing in vain. All of His acts are purposeful and good.

And why must we have no other gods but Him? Because there are no other gods but Him. All others are fakes. He is the one true God in Whose image man and woman are made; and there is no true happiness apart from union with Him, living out our creation in His image.

This is the Decalogue given to Israel, Greek for "ten" (deca) "words" (logue)." In time, God showed us how all ten are contained within the one Word (Logos), the Word who became flesh. Christ Jesus is the "image of the invisible God," Who "fully reveals man to himself," Who brings man to the "full awareness of his dignity, of the heights to which he is raised, of the surpassing worth of his own humanity, and of the meaning of his existence" (John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis, 4, 11).