Jesus is the Victor

Beloved: Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever possesses the Son has life….” (NAB, 1JN 5:5, 12) Oftentimes it seems like the world is “winning,” life is unfair, suffering doesn’t make sense, and good didn’t seem to triumph this time. While it’s true that sin abounds and evil is present all around us, we are unable to see the whole picture. We are unable to see the depth of another’s heart, and God’s ways are impossible for us to wrap our heads around. The Prophet Isaiah reminds us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (IS 55:8-9)

We are called to trust our loving Father, to live in faith and hope as we lovingly live the life he has given us. When we accept the eternal life that has been offered, when we accept the gift of renewal, and when we accept the gift of God’s grace, our lives are transformed as we enter a deeply personal relationship with Jesus in communion with his whole Church. In Jesus, we are victorious over this world, which frequently offers us death in sin; we have life because we have the Son of God, the one who conquered sin and death through his infinite love, mercy, and forgiveness.

Jesus, help me to remember your gift, the gift of life, eternal life, a life You possible through your Passion and love for me, when you defeated Satan and all his evil works. Now, draw me close to you, so that I may see the power of your salvation. Increase my faith. Give me your grace. Purify me, so that I may be one with you in victory over the temptations, trials, and tribulations of this life. May you be glorified forever. Amen.

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Freedom in Law

For many of us, we have grown to find rules restrictive and constraining. We don’t like to be told what to do, and we can feel overwhelmed, suffocated, or even enslaved by the rules imposed upon us. And there are many who believe this to be the case when it comes to religion as well. The thoughts go like this: “Why must I do certain things and not do certain other things? Why should I submit to some authority I don’t even see, just because a lot of other people do? Moreover, religious people don’t even follow their own rules and it all seems like hypocrisy.”

The Truth is that Jesus came to bring freedom, to release us from the slavery of sin, a slavery of which we are far too often unaware. If we are careful to consider rules in our world, we can quickly see the benefits. Traffic rules and civil laws keep society orderly. Other rules and laws protect the vulnerable in our world. These are just rules and laws. God gives us rules to follow from his infinite justice, flowing from his infinite love for us. The Incarnation perfects the law of the covenant between God and his people because he is the fulfillment of the promises of that same covenant.

Luke’s Gospel sheds light on this very issue. Jesus was teaching in the synagogue and was reading from the Prophet Isaiah: “’The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.’” (NAB, (LK 4:18-19) After returning the scroll to the attendant, Jesus said, “’Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.’” (4:21)

Jesus, the New Covenant of Love, is fulfilled and revealed in freedom. This freedom is not one free of rules or laws, but it is made possible by obeying his commandments. “For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, but whoever is begotten of God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.” (1JN 5:3-4) We are made free by obedience to the love of Christ.

Your Law calls me to freedom, Lord, a freedom from the chains and slavery of sin. Increase my desire for this life of love, and increase my faith, so that I may live more obediently according to your Law of Love. And let me share these same “glad tidings” with others, so that they also may come to know you and experience the joys of your freedom. Amen.

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Love Conquers Fear

Water was not only a symbolic element for the Israelites, but it was also an integral part of society at the time of Jesus. After all, many of Jesus’ followers were either fishermen or dependent on the fishing industry for their livelihood. The local economy was heavily influenced by this industry as well. So, it is natural that many scenes reported in the Scripture take place in or near bodies of water.

One such scene takes place after the miracle of Jesus feeding of the 5,000, and we hear about it in Mark’s Gospel: “Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side toward Bethsaida…. When it was evening, the boat was far out on the sea and he was alone on shore. Then he saw that they were tossed about while rowing, for the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them. But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out. But at once he spoke with them, ‘Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!’” (NAB MK 45-50) The disciples were afraid, perhaps afraid of the unknown, perhaps afraid of what they saw, the threat of the sea, or whatever else, but Jesus tells them not to be afraid.

There will always be unknowns and there will always be various threats to our safety, to our emotional or financial stability, to the integrity of our relationships, etc. What overcomes this fear is our trust in God, a trust fully founded in love. God loves us with an incomprehensible and infinite love, and if we are able to live in that love, we will live without fear. In John’s First Letter, we hear, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.” (1JN 4:18) That is true of judgment and in all other aspects of our lives. Love conquers even our fears.

Jesus, I trust in you. Increase my trust and increase my love. Take away all my fears and doubts, as my faith grows ever stronger in your love and care for me. Allow me to abandon myself entirely to you, laying all my fears at your feet, and leaving them there as your trusting child. Jesus, I trust in you. Amen.

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God is Love

Our call to love is reiterated again for us today in the First Letter of John: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.” (NAB, 1JN 4:7-8) If we wish to unite ourselves with God, then we must unite ourselves to love, and love is action.

We oftentimes think of romanticized love that conjures up all kinds of feelings and emotions, but love is action, putting another before ourselves. Love requires humility, where we recognize the inherent dignity of each other; we are, after all, each created in the image and likeness of Almighty God. Love implies commitment, dedication, and consistency. Even when one considers that moment of “falling in love,” it turns out not to be a moment at all. There isn’t one single thing that a person does for us that evokes such feelings and emotions. Rather, it is the consistent pattern of behavior over time that yields love; it is the continual presence and commitment of the other who is concerned for us and our wellbeing.

Jesus’ love for us isn’t a mere historical event or a single act revealed in a Roman execution. His love for us is continuous, without beginning or end. He is with us at every moment of each day. He continuously lays down his life for us, sustains us, showers us with his grace, gives us the gifts of the Spirit, comforts us, has mercy upon us, forgives us, and graciously blesses us in so many, many ways.

Lord, you call all people to yourself in love. It was this love which manifest itself so perfectly in your Holy and Sacred Passion, where you laid down your very life for me. Give me courage and strength through humility, that I may act according to your Holy Will, to love those whom you have put in my life, so that I may be more perfectly united to you. Amen.

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The Spirit Dwelling Within

We may have heard the phrase that “Christians live in the world, but are not of the world.” While it is true that we are temples of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of God dwells in each of us, the world is occupied and oftentimes driven by the Evil One, the spirit of darkness and death. We are nevertheless assured of God’s presence in us, however, as John tells us in his letter: “Those who keep [God’s] commandments remain in him, and he in them, and the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit whom he gave us. You belong to God, children, and you have conquered [the Evil One], for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. We belong to God, and anyone who knows God listens to us, while anyone who does not belong to God refuses to hear us. This is how we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit.” (NAB, 1JN 3:24, 4:4, 6)

We have nothing to fear in this world as we are members of the Body of Christ, the same Christ who conquered death and sin. There is nothing in this world that is more powerful than the love and grace of God, and we, as children of the Father, have the freedom to live according to the Law of Love, for we have received by faith, through grace, the indwelling eternal Spirit of God. In the words of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom come … on earth as it is in Heaven.” We bring about the Kingdom of God in this world as we live virtuously, by loving God and our neighbor through the faith we have received and in the hope of eternal life in the perfection of that same Kingdom in Heaven.

When I am frightened or challenged by the spirits of this world, give me confidence and strength to turn to you, Lord, realizing and remembering that you have already defeated the Evil One, his offer of sin, and the consequence of death. I am a child of the Kingdom; I am a child of God, and the Spirit that dwells in me is greater than any spirit in this world. Allow me to be a light in this world of darkness and despair, where sin seems to abound, to make known your love in all that I do. “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done.”  Amen.

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Long Live the King!

The joyous Twelve Days of Christmas have been celebrated, and as we bring the Christmas Season to a close, we commemorate a special manifestation of our Lord, the Solemnity of Epiphany. Our Gospel today, tells us of magi coming from the east, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?” We sometimes refer to these magi as “wise men” because of accounts of them being pagans from the East, astrologers, and interpreters of dreams, but our Gospel doesn’t tell us how many magi sought Jesus. We can only assume there were several of them, each accompanied by other family members and many servants, along with loads of supplies and provisions. Their journeys to Judea most likely took between 4 to 12 months, and were constantly met with the difficulties, trials, and threats of the wilderness. They knew the stars, however, and they followed a new star, one that was believed to reveal a new ruler of the people, a newborn king that would unite the human and divine by his death.

When Herod heard of their quest, he was deeply troubled. Nearly forty years earlier, Herod was chosen by the Roman Senate and given the title, “King of the Jews.” The Roman Senate sent Herod to Judea to maintain and monitor the emperor’s interests in the region, ruling over the Jews. Herod, a convert to Judaism, had financed and completed incredible construction projects, including the magnificent expansion of the Jewish Temple. Four walls, including the Wailing Wall, still remain in place from his construction efforts. Hearing of a “new” king would most certainly have meant that he was to be replaced, and this infuriated and enraged Herod.

As we know, Herod plotted to use the magi. After assembling his priests and advisors and getting information about where this king would be born, Herod sent the magi on their way with instructions to return to him with the identity and location of this newborn king so he himself could do homage. The magi, who were very attentive to their dreams, were warned not to return to Herod, and when he realized the magi had foiled his plan, Herod ordered the execution of all the infant first-born sons in the region.

We oftentimes believe and act like we are kings of our own lives. We live day-to-day as if we are autonomous and independent rulers, and would never give up our power and control. And sometimes, we destroy whatever we may see as a threat to our independence, authority, position, title, or wealth. The reality is that none of this belongs to us – all that we “have,” even our talents, gifts, motivations, and good desires, all come from God. We can be like the magi, make a life-changing journey, and present our most precious gifts to our true King, lay all of our treasures, even our very lives, at the feet of Jesus; or we can seek to destroy anything and everything for which we feel threatened, even that which is perfect, beautiful, good, and true.

Some questions to consider: Who sits on the throne of my heart? Is it Jesus? Is Jesus the ruler of my life? Is it he who drives me and motivates me in my relationships with others, in my efforts at work or school, and in my dealings with those less fortunate, the marginalized, or the poor? Am I allowing the fear of “losing” something, perhaps my position, power, or prestige, to keep from acknowledging and submitting to the true King?

Heavenly Father, allow me to imitate the “wise” magi. Give me the courage and humility I need to release myself from the pursuits common in this world and to put Jesus on the throne of my heart, to be ruler of my life. Take away my fears so that I live according to your will and for your glory. Amen.

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Sacrifice & Forgiveness

The Twelfth Day of Christmas!

We are reminded today that Jesus not only came to fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament, but also to undo the Fall of humanity. The loss of Eternal Paradise by our First Parents came through sin, and death became its result. “This is the message you have heard from the beginning: we should love one another, unlike Caine who belonged to the Evil One and slaughtered his brother.” (NAB, 1JN 3:11-12) Murder is clearly a sin and violation of the Law, but Jesus brought us a new Law of Love, where even the sin of anger, the basis and motivation behind murder, leads to the same judgment: “But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” (MT 5:22) “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life remaining in him.” (1JN 3:15)

The Gospel of Jesus Christ IS the Gospel of Love, for Jesus is himself love eternal. We are all sinners and rightly deserve death, but we, as children of God, have received the Good News of Jesus with certainty, and “we know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers. The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. Let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.” (3:14, 16, 18)

We have been culturally deceived by childhood movies and fairy tales, along with our cultural norms, into believing love should not entail sacrifice, that it’s supposed to be “happily ever after,” but the Truth of love can be found in the Passion of our Lord, in reflecting upon his great love, after having been physically and mentally tortured, beaten, humiliated, abused, abandoned, and crucified, while dying on the cross, he utters, “Father, forgive them.” (LK 5:34)

Lord, make me a person of forgiveness and mercy. I have been forgiven much, yet I hold back mercy, love, and forgiveness from others. Take away my anger and fill me with your love, your True love, love that knows sacrifice, love that knows You. To lay down myself means, at a minimum, to give up my selfishness, my desires, and my ego for love of you. Give me the grace and gifts I need, and when I am tempted, let me remember your Great Passion and see the Crucifix from which you spoke forgiveness. Amen.

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