Monday, June 29, 2009

Is the Day Gray or Blue?

Depending on where a person stands~ the sky can be blue or gray. Their view is dependent on what their eyes happen to see at that present moment. This concept is not difficult to understand. We know that weather changes and we are subject to the elements. The same is true for many things like political, racial, social, historical events. All another way of saying there are two sides to every story...and in reality there are often more than merely two sides. We may feel very strongly, in many cases, in favor of one side or another and this is common the world over. We identify most with the side we're on.

The same concept above is not always applicable in every situation. Is it? Imagine a mother who chooses to leave her child in a dumpster or in a field to die because she doesn't want to be responsible for him. We all would know that this is wrong and could hardly find ourselves, "supporting" such a decision. Nearly every human being on the planet, if asked, "Was the mother's decision right or wrong?" would undoubtedly say, "Wrong." Certain streams of reality run much deeper than others.

Getting back to the subject of weather we know that "weather" is present within the atmosphere of our planet. If a person enters a rocket ship and flies straight up through the atmosphere there will be a point where weather is no longer present yet it is common on Earth. If you've ever flown through a storm you'll understand this very easily. On the ground it is raining, you go through some bumps and can't see a thing outside your window...then suddenly the sun comes out, the sky is blue again and you see the clouds beneath you. Your perspective is relative to your position.

Getting back to the mother and child. There isn't a way to "fly above" this situation. Where can she go once her child has died to escape her terrible decision? She could live where it is sunny or where it constantly rains and nothing will change her internal life. The majority of people will never experience a situation as grave as this mother. However, there are lesser decisions that we make, daily, that can also serve to deeply affect our hearts and minds. There is an unseen portion of the human person, a divine part, that tells us that lying is wrong, that cheating is wrong, that cowardice is wrong. There is a place within each of us, a conscience, that exists and stands "above" our particular cultural or social norms. There is an absolute sense of right and wrong within each of us that can have a variety of specific differences the world over. In some cultures it is seen as admirable to kill a lion with a spear and carry it's head back to the village on said spear...people in the U.S. might not "support" such a practice and even vehemently oppose it. Yet in some areas of the world, specifically where there are lions, and lions are a threat to life and property of loved ones...we can see, "how someone might think differently." However, our basic appreciation for bravery or courage doesn't change...we merely express the same character trait, in this case bravery, in various ways.

Is the day gray? Yes. Blue? Yes. But something runs much deeper in the human heart and soul regardless of where a person lives. Something much deeper calls us to goodness and truth~ to compassion and mercy~ to love to the degree that we are able to love. We are all called to identify and "be good" (to quote E.T.) to one another..this goes beyond culture..this goes far above the weather.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Capernaum and Into Him

It was God's desire to make us~and even further to be with us and come to us that His ultimate desire to draw us into Himself might be realized~ into His life~ into the being of God that we might know Him, be with Him and be in Him.

Then they came to Capernaum, and on the sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught.
The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.

In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; he cried out, "What have you to do with us, 13 Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are--the Holy One of God!" Jesus rebuked him and said, "Quiet! Come out of him!"
The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.
All were amazed and asked one another, "What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him." His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.

On leaving the synagogue he entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John. Simon's mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told him about her. He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her and she waited on them.

This morning I remembered a time when I was in Capernaum, in Israel, along the Sea of Galilee. In Capernaum there is the remains of an ancient synagogue which has a mosaic floor from the first century. The floor and part of the foundation is from the time of Christ. Saint Peter's house is also there. At first it was amazing to be standing in a place with such historical significance and such beauty. Archaeologists have uncovered many items from this city (which was destroyed at the time of the Roman persecution) including several millstones. Millstones are large circular stones used from grinding grain (or anything else that required grinding) and it is believed that millstones such as these are what Jesus Christ was referring to when he said taught that it would be better for a person to be cast into the sea (with a millstone around his neck) than to cause "one of these little ones" to sin.

On our tour of Capernaum we were given time to look around on our own. I went and got my bible and began looking up passages that referred to the very place I was sitting. I had been to other sites and done similar things but there was, for me, something very special about this place. It was, in fact, where Jesus chose to center His ministry; this is where some of His disciples came from and there I remember being first struck by the overwhelming reality that Jesus Christ was a man.

This may not seem like much of a spiritual experience but for me it was astounding. Like many people I grew up hearing a great deal about Jesus Christ being God...King of Kings...Lord of Lords...Ascended to Heaven...seated at the right hand of God the Father. I heard a great deal of things that were good and true about Jesus Christ as God but I remembered hearing very little about Jesus being a man. It makes sense to me, of course, that if a Person is fully God and fully man that the "God-part" would be stressed. But there, in Capernaum, I came more face-to-face with Jesus the man.

It is true that we can't fully comprehend the Spiritual realm. In fact it is true that there is more about it that we don't understand about it than what we do understand. We are men and women bound on one level to our humanity though we are, like Christ, both divine and human beings. That which we see with our eyes has it's origin in the divine as it comes from the mind and heart of God. We are able to see because it pleased God to give us sight and to allow us to experience His wondrous creation. Amazing.

The point I would like to make is that it is the humanity of Jesus Christ that allows us to more fully experience the spirit within us as humans. The advent of Jesus Christ revealed to us that He was the God-man that we might become more fully divine. The heart of the Gospel is that we are no longer bound by sin and death because Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, chose to be bound by sin and death for us that we might choose to be made alive with Him. As surely as Jesus Christ was put to death for our sake in flesh we, who inherited death in the flesh, might inherit life in the Spirit. Many would falsely believe themselves able to ascend to divinity on their own merit, their own effort, or by their own way. Jesus Christ came to demonstrate the falsehood of this belief.

He humbled Himself on Earth, in Capernaum and elsewhere, that we might be exalted with Him in Heaven. Therefore we must also humble ourselves on Earth by submitting to His desire and accepting His initiative. Jesus Christ walked here that we might ascend to Him.

Through Him, with Him and in Him in the unity of the Holy Spirit...ONE God forver and ever!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Judge Not?

I have encountered several occasions where people have said to me, "Yeah Rob, I agree with you, but you can't judge other peoples' behavior...Jesus taught us not to judge." This statement of others usually comes on the heels of a conversation in which I have stated that a certain behavior (I'll avoid specifics here) is wrong or sinful. I realize that though I might add a perspective that might not be identical to others I found the following article written by Jim Blackburn very solid and probably better than I could have done myself. Please read it and let me know what you think.

Judge Not? by Jim Blackburn

As an apologist at Catholic Answers I often get calls and e-mails from people dealing with the immoral behavior of others who are close to them. They are unsure of what, if any, action they can or should take in the matter.

Typical examples would be dealing with an adult child who’s living with her boyfriend or coping with an adult sibling who has announced that he is gay. The callers often struggle with whether to allow the child or sibling to practice the immoral lifestyle in their home. Do I have to let them spend the night? What do I tell my kids? How do I deal with this in a loving way? Can I truly love my neighbor while rejecting his immoral lifestyle?

Often people in these situations have tried to take some action already, only to be shot down immediately with the accusation that they are being "judgmental," that the Bible teaches us not to judge others, that they should just mind their own business. "After all," they’re told, "I’m not judging you and you shouldn’t be judging me. Read the Bible." But is that really what the Bible teaches?

When pressed to show where the Bible supports this, those who can come up with any response at all usually point to Jesus’ words found in the Gospel of Matthew, "Judge not, that you not be judged." Most people will stop there, with the clear conviction that the Bible teaches that we are not to pass any form of judgment on others. A closer look at this Bible verse and other related verses, however, uncovers a different understanding of Jesus’ teaching.

First, let’s look at the full context of Jesus’ words:

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, "Let me take the speck out of your eye," when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. (Matt. 7:1-5)

If we break this passage down line by line, it becomes clear that Jesus was not telling his disciples that they could not ever judge the behavior of others. Rather, he was cautioning them to live righteous lives themselves so that their judgment of others’ behavior would not be rash judgment and their efforts would be effective in admonishing their neighbors.

"Judge not, that you be not judged." By itself, this statement could be construed to mean that one may escape even God’s judgment simply by not judging the behavior of others. Of course, everyone is judged by God, so this cannot be a proper understanding. Jesus goes on to reformulate his statement in a positive way: "With the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get." Jesus indeed expects his disciples to judge but he warns that they, too, will be judged in a like manner.

This is reminiscent of the line in the Lord’s Prayer, "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us" (Matt. 6:12). Much more than a simple warning that God will treat us as we treat others, this is an appeal to each of us to be as much as we can like God in the way that we treat others. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, "there has to be a vital participation, coming from the depths of the heart, in the holiness and the mercy and the love of our God. Only the Spirit by whom we live can make ‘ours’ the same mind that was in Christ Jesus" (CCC 2842).

In the next two lines Jesus cautions against hypocrisy: "Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?" Judging hypocritically is not effective. A petty thief admonished by a bank robber only scoffs at his admonisher.

Jesus then explains how to judge rightly: "First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." Much to the point of this article, there can be no doubt that those final words—"take the speck out of your brother’s eye"—are, indeed, permission to judge so long as it is done rightly.

Other Bible passages which seem on the surface to indicate a condemnation of judging others’ behavior may be treated similarly in their full context. The idea of rightly judging the behavior of others can be found throughout the New Testament.

Jesus told the Jews, "Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment" (John 7:24).

He instructed his disciples what to do if someone sins against them:

Go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matt. 18:15-17)

It is not possible to follow Jesus’ instructions without being "judgmental" of another’s behavior.

Paul, too, exhorted right judgment of other Christians: "For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. Drive out the wicked person from among you" (1 Cor. 5:12-13).

Also, "Do you not know that the saints [i.e. Christians] will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, matters pertaining to this life!…Shun immorality" (1 Cor. 6:2-18).

A look at the Old Testament reveals similar teaching: "You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor" (Lev. 19:15).

Clearly, contrary to what many would prefer to believe, the Bible exhorts us to rightly judge the behavior of others. The Catholic Church teaches likewise but cautions us just as Jesus did the disciples:

Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:

* of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;
* of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another's faults and failings to persons who did not know them;
* of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor's thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way: "Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another's statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved." (CCC 2477-2478)

Having said all that, there is a big difference between judging another’s behavior and judging the eternal state of his soul. The latter judgment belongs only to God. Jesus addressed this type of judgment too:

The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself, and has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment. I can do nothing on my own authority; as I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. (John 5:22-30)

Clearly, in this context, Jesus was speaking of judgment as condemnation or eternal damnation. Such judgment is reserved to him alone.

So, when faced with the immoral behavior of loved ones, how can we be sure to rightly judge behavior? In Jesus’ own words, we must start by taking the logs out of our own eyes—by making sure we are doing the best we can to live lives of good example. We must also strive to form our consciences correctly so that we know sin when we see it. Finally, we must not jump to conclusions about another’s culpability in sin. Doing all this will help to ensure that our admonitions are seen as the loving actions we intend them to be—meant to help our loved ones live their lives in ways that are pleasing to God. Only then can our efforts be effective in helping to take these ugly specks out of our brothers’ eyes.