From Egghood to Birdhood
and other things they never told me
|Foreword||How come they never told me...||From Evidence to Faith|
|From Egghood to Birdhood||The God Whom We Serve||Good Teacher|
|The Son of Man||The Day God Went Crazy||Forgiveness and Reconciliation|
|The Great Unknown One||Faith, an Endangered Treasure||The Kingdom of God|
|Extending the Kingdom|
To him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think,to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20)Foreword
I wonder who it is that I am supposed to introduce in this foreword as author of this work ówhether it is Don Carlos MŠntica, member of the Nicaraguan Academy of Language, author of El habla nicaragŁense and of multiple essays on his countryís history, language, archeology and folklore; or Carlos MŠntica, National Advisor of the Cursillo Movement in Nicaragua and whose books, Para caminar en Cursillos and Pensando en Cursillos, continue to be published in Spain, Mexico, Venezuela, the United States, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Brazil, with translations into English and Portuguese; or Chale MŠntica, the servant of Jesus Christ, author of innumerable talks, courses and retreats that are imparted in communities and movements which he himself helped to start in various parts of the world; or simply Chale, the bohemian-spirited layman, friend of poets and artists, who plays the guitar and sings, and in the proccess compiles and publishes the largest collection of Cantares nicaragŁenses.
Nothing of the above will prepare us for reading this unusual work, if we overlook the fact that gives this book the stamp of the unusual and, in this sense, of the extra ordinary, namely, the fact that its author is a successful businessman, fully active in the business community. He is not a secularized theologian, or a professional writer, or a frustrated clergyman, or a clericalized bigot, or a repentant sinner who has withdrawn to a cave to expiate his faults, but an ordinary manóone who is in the world and was once enchanted by its mermaid songs; who shares modern manís concerns and challenges, yet knows the eternal answers of a Christian man; who can write on eternal truths in a relevant, vital and up-to-date fashion; who makes theology from experience and then writes it (behold now a true miracle!) in a way that anyone can understand. And, if that was not enough, he does it in a style that is amusing and sprinkled with humor.
All of this is unusual and extraordinary, at least in the Church environments I am used to. There are, no doubt, other laymen like MŠntica, but, quite unfortunately, we seldom see books written by such men.
From Egghood to Birdhood picks up some of the great truths that changed the life of a young man who, having received the best religious education, even at a university level, came to his thirty years of age and to the brink of abyss without getting to know the truly fundamental issues of our faith. His encounter with Jesus Christ in 1965 was to give a new meaning to his life, and a new dimension to his faith.
Throughout the book we find pieces of an unpublished, scattered work. Some talks emerged for evangelistic gatherings or spiritual retreats. Others were written in order to address particular issues and to respond to various concerns that life posed to their author. A few were given at solemn occasions that set before the author a specific topic. All of them bear the mark of personal testimony, and the authority of one who writes from experience. Not one of them was written in order to be published.
In fact, it is now time to confess that this book is being published almost against its authorís will. It is not easy to get Chale MŠnticaís permission to publish some of his many writings. Only the stubborn insistence of a dear friend is able to obtain that from time to time. This is the third time I am proud to proclaim such an achievement, counting on the complicity of his eldest daughter, who was in charge of confiscating the manuscripts.
I am motivated by a feeling I have had for over twenty-five years, which I have shared with Chale many timesóthat Nicaragua is like a laboratory that God has built within his Church, at this time in history, in order to try, to experiment and to implement a series of initiatives of the Holy Spirit that are afterwards conveyed to the rest of the Church.
You are going to experience, dear reader, how these talks and teachings ówhich, as I said above, are Nicaraguan experiences, conceptualized by Chale MŠntica in light of Godís Wordó do give a concrete response to the issues and questions that often come up in your communities or in the apostolic field the Lord has called you to.
These talks now come to your hands, with the same love and the same apostolic enthusiasm with which their author developed them, and I hope they will be helpful for your own enrichment and to give practical orientation to those who share with you the yearning for a more genuine Christianity, one that will be an effective answer to the problems confronted by todayís society.
Fr. Victoriano Arizti
Vitoria, Spain, June 1996
ContentHow come they never told me...
That God is a personal being
who dreamed about me from all eternity,
who loves me,
and, because he loves me,
wants my happiness,
and is omnipotent.
That Christians do not follow a doctrine,
but a personóJesus of Nazareth, the Alpha and the Omega.
I died, and behold I am alive for evermore,
and I have the keys of Death and Hades. (Rev. 1:18)
That God did not come into the world in order to save the righteousó
He came into the world in order to save people just like you and me.
That the Holy Spirit is not something that is given to us,
but Someone who gives himself to us and who works in us
inasmuch as we yield to him.
That a Christian is
a human being
chosen by Christ
in order to be like Christ,
to love like Christ and,
having been empowered by Christ
and incorporated into Christ,
to complete Christís mission in the world.
That being a Christian is only difficult when one is not a Christian.
That what Christ requires from me is
to believe in him and to trust himó
to believe that he can,
that he wants to,
and that he will act if I will, and
I allow him to take control of my life
and to give me a new way of being, of acting and of loving
through his Spirit.
That Christ hates sin
but loves the sinner
before he sins,
when he is sinning,
and after sinning.
That nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.
That I am not a sinner because I sin,
but I sin because I am a sinner. (Rom. 7:17)
That I cannot save myself
no matter how sincere my intentions,
or how strong my will.
If I were able to save myself, Christ would have died in vain.
That I will never die.
That he who will judge me on the last day
is the same who died for me on a cross.
That we shall one day be like him (1 John 3:2)
and that such was his intent from the beginning (Gen. 1:26).
That what no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man conceived
is what God has prepared for those who love him.
(1 Cor. 2:9)
That the whole creation waits with eager longing
for the revealing of the sons of God. (Rom. 8:15)
ContentFrom Evidence to Faith
Many people are still stunned when they hear a layman preaching. That is why itís worth remembering that, from the very beginning, it was the Lordís desire that fishermen, tax collectors, and people just like you and me would be the ones to carry the Good News of the Kingdom to all nations. Nowadays, the Lord is again calling mechanics and refrigeration technicians, accountants and doctors, engineers and people from all walks of life, to be his witnesses and to proclaim to the whole world that our God lives and is present among us.
I would like to begin this short talk with a passage that seems to me very appropriate for today. It is taken from chapter 3 in the Acts of the Apostles, and says:
Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour [i. e. around 3 p.m.]. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at that gate of the temple which is called Beautiful to ask alms of those who entered the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked for alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, with John, and said, "Look at us." And he fixed his attention upon them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, "I have no silver and gold, but I give you what I have; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and walked and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
While he clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomonís, astounded. And when Peter saw it he addressed the people, "Men of Israel, why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And his name, by faith in his name, has made this made strong whom you see and know; and the faith which is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all."
I invite you alll to visualize this scene. The Lord has healed a man lame from birth, who was known to everybody, and a big crowd gathers around Peter and John in order to find out who these magicians or these saints are, who have healed him with extraordinary powers. Peter is amused by the matter, and says: "Why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?" Something similar happens when people come to our community gatherings and say, "I want that white-haired man standing over there, or the fat one who is leading the gathering, or that other one with the big nose, to be the one to pray for me, because Iíve heard that they heal people." So we have to answer just like Peter did: "Brothers and sisters, none of us here has any healing power of any kind. All of us together would not be able to heal anyone of a cold. We are ashamed to admit that we are not very holy or very pious either. Among us there is only one who is holy, who heals and saves, and his name is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, in whose name we take the risk of facing ridicule so that his glory can be manifested among men."
In fact, the most important message of Peter in this passage I just read is his proclamation, "The one whom you delivered up and denied, God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses."
We too proclaim that Christ is alive, that Christ reigns, and that he has been given all power in heaven and earth. In this talk I intend to share briefly with you why we say that we are witnesses to the truth of all this.
I went to a school run by the Jesuits, in Granada, Nicaragua, back when students actually studied at school. And, among other things, one day we studied St. Thomas Aquinas and his proofs of the existence of God. Our philosophy teacher would then say, quoting St. Thomas:
"First Proof: The Uncaused Cause. Just look around and you will see that there is no effect without a cause. This seed was caused by this fruit, and this fruit by this tree, and this tree by another seed, which in turn was caused by another seed, till we go back to the very first seed that somebody had to create because it could not create itself. And you came from your father and mother, and they from your grandparents, and they from your great-grandparents, till we go back to the first man who could not have created himself but had to be created by somebody else; and it makes no sense to say that he was made by a Martian or by a first cell, because somebody had to create that cell or that little Martian, and the one who created them and was not created by anybody is the one we call God."
"Boy, was St. Thomas clever!", we all said, but we remained the same we had been up to that moment.
"Oh, but listen to the Second Proof", the teacher would then say; "The Order of the World:
"Look at something as ordinary as the leaf of a tree. Billions and billions of leaves in the whole world, carrying out every day chemical operations so complex as changing carbon dioxide into oxygen, through the action of light. Man, despite all his intelligence, has not been able to produce one single leaf or one single lab that can do what any leaf does.
"Or take a look at the human eye: billions of perfectly well-ordered cells, working together to make it possible for us to see, and if just one of them is not playing its role, the whole operation fails. Or look at the earthóa mere grain of sand in the cosmos. There are millions of galaxies, each of them millions of times bigger than the earth, and some of them so far away that their light, traveling 365,000 kilometers per second, has not reached the earth yet, and there are stars whose light we see today, but which actually ceased to exist thousands of years ago, and what we see is only the light that came out from them before they disappeared, and each of them occupies the right place without straying from its course.
"Or look at the microcosmóin the fertilized egg of a woman the chromosomes are present that will determine if the child will have the small nose of his great-great-grandmother, the intelligence of his grandfather and the bad temper of his father. All of this requires a superior intelligence that has shaped everything in the universe, and saying that everything fell into order just by chance is as absurd as if I went up to the steeple of the Cathedral with a lot of boxes of printing types, threw all the characters into the air, and when they fell down they spelled the complete works of Shakespeare on the stairsteps of the church."
There was no denying it. This argument by St. Thomas persuaded us through and through. "No way, Josť! Thereís got to be a God!", we said. And then came the Third Proof: All cultures of all ages have believed in God. All of them? Surely, every single one of them! The Chinese, and the Hindus, and the Vikings? Yes, sir! And the Eskimos and the Redskins? Of course! And the Indians of Mexico and of Nicaragua? Sure, so sure that if you want to know their names you can buy the book I wrote on Nicaraguan speech and there you can find them!
Oh boy, we said. That really gives you a matter for reflection! There must be some reason why all cultures of all ages have believed in God. "Well," the atheists came around and said, "what happens is that those ignorant people of other ages looked at the sun, the moon, the stars, the seasons, and the mechanisms of fertility, and when they could not give an account of them they turned them into gods and goddessesóthe Sun|God, the Moon Godess, the goddess of fertility, and so on.
But the atheists were not convincing. I only had to read the first chapter of the Bible, not to mention the encounter of Moses and other prophets with God, to realize that Jews and Christians not only did not believe that the sun and the moon were gods, but they clearly asserted that all of them had been created by a being that was superior to all of them, and who was the explanation for the cause of all things, for the order in creation, and for the fact that all cultures had come to the conclusion that such a God had to exist.
So I came out of school believing in God, but believing in the same way that some people believe that such and such toothpaste will prevent cavities but do not even brush their teeth. God was someone who had to exist, but who played no role in my life. Maybe he was a force, an energy, something immensely big that was supposed to inspire awe and respect, and about whom many strange things were said whose truth I would never be able to ascertain until I was dead, but which, just in case they were true, were a good reason for me to behave reasonably well, least I were to come to his presence one of these days.
Many years had to pass before I discovered that God is personal being, who has dreamed of me since eternity, who loves me and because he loves me wants what is good for me, and who is omnipotent. And that "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have beheld his glory" (John 1:14), "who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:6-11).
Brothers and sisters, what am I trying to say? I am trying to say that we sometimes meet people who think that we believe in God or in Jesus Christ because some day, when we were children, some priest or teacher persuaded us with arguments about the existence of God. Or that, throughout the centuries and in the midst of the most hostile environments and ideologies, people continue to believe in God because somebody told them he existed. Or that thousands and thousands of men and women left everything behind ópossessions, fame, riches and love, in order to follow him and serve him among the most miserable and dispossessed in the whole earth, among those who are rejected by society itself as human rubbish, so that, throughout history and to this day, hundreds of thousands of people have been willing to die, even in the most atrocious fashions, rather than denying their God and Lord.
And that does seem rather stupid. Because more absurd than believing in God is to believe that there are people who are able to die for something they have merely been told about, or because of a catechism that was thrust into their heads when they were young children.
It was not until August 13, 1965, that I discovered that we Christians do not follow a doctrine, but a person. That Muslims, Buddhists and all other "-ists" follow the ideas of a corpse, whereas we Christians follow a person who is alive today and is with us always, to the close of the ageó"Jesus of Nazareth, the one whom you delivered up and denied, but whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses."
We are witnesses to this because one day we had a personal encounter with Christ. And that is the only reason why we believe.
Others met him, perhaps, on the day they were baptized in the Spirit, when they sensed him moving within their hearts and moving their lips with other tongues, or their arms in praise, or when they heard his voice in prophecy. Still others might have met him when they experienced a peace that he alone can give, and a joy that no human trouble can take away from us.
Finally, others became aware that Christ is alive, that Christ loves them and that Christ reigns, on the day they came, out of curiosity and out of personal need, to a gathering just like this one, due to a cancer that had decreed their imminent death, or because of a child of theirs who was unable to walk, and then they were able to have firsthand experience of the reality of Christ who heals and of Christ who saves.
Brothers and sisters, I have said all these things because the purpose of this gathering is for those who do not believe, or for those who believe because somebody else told them or because they were taught when they were young children, we want them to be able to say what those men told the Samaritan woman in John 4:42: "It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world."
That is what these gatherings are for, brothers and sistersófor some to meet him as their total inner security, others as perfect peace and joy, others in experiencing in a living way the presence of the living God, and others in experiencing the healing of their diseases by the work of the same one who, two thousand years ago, healed so many sick people.
He is the same yesterday and today and forever, and he is among us because he promised so, and his name if Faithful and True. And he is the same one who says, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:20).
I encourage all of you, in the intimacy of your hearts, to invite Jesus Christ to come into his or her life. Thus, in the future, our praise will be as thundering as the praise of all those who know him. Let me end with the words of John in the introduction to his first letter:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of lifeó the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it... that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us (1 John 1:1-3). Amen!
From Egghood to Birdhood
I have been asked to talk about holiness, and the problem is that I only know one way to attain it. Not because I have not read of other alternatives, but because I once tried them and they did not work for me. But there is one that does work, and about which I want to speak to you from my own experience and with my own style.
A guy was asked one day, "What do you think God is like?" And the guy answered, "God is a fellow who spends his time spying on us to see if we are having fun and to prevent it at all costs." If I had been asked a few years ago, I would probably have answered the same. Adults have a more mature view, but there are many friends of mine who still go around wondering, "Why is it that everything I like is either expensive, fattening, or sinful?"
We Christians know better; of course. We know that the law and the moral principles that the Lord has given us are not intended to spoil all the fun in life and have us spend the worst possible time in this world so that we will some day receive an eternal prize, but, quite the opposite, that they are like the manufacturerís instruction manual, written by the one who made us and knows how we operate, so that we may perform in the best possible way as persons and as a human community, always seeking what is best for us and what he knows will make us happiest. Right?
I would say that the answer is yes... and no.
If what we are saying is that God has given us a law for us to be happy and not to screw us, the answer is yes.
If what we are saying is that a world that turns its back on God will soon turn into a hell, the answer is also yes, and we only need to look around us to see how true that is.
If what we are saying is that I am much more likely to be happy if I abide by the law than if I break the commandments, thatís something we know only too well from our own experience.
But if what we are saying is that those of us who try to abide by the law at all costs are having the best time ever, then thatís not so clear.
And if what we are saying is that by obeying the law in every detail, I, Chale MŠntica, such as I am, am experiencing utter happiness, then Iím being a hypocrite... and all of you are too.
In this talk weíre going to talk openly, and weíre going to try to see where the gist of the whole thing is. Why is it that the answer is sometimes "yes," and other times "who knows"? So please be very attentive, because we are going to be treading very difficult ground.
I think that an ordinary man functions more or less like this: We first discover inside ourselves a multitude of desires, passions, ambitions and inclinations, good and bad. Then at some point we discover and accept that there is something called morality, or ethics, or good habits, or the law of God, to which we must subordinate those desires and inclinations. If we succeed in subordinating them, we are good. And then people will say, "What a good man Mr. So-and-so is!"
Well, according to that law, morality, ethics and good habits, some of the things we would like to do are wrong and therefore we are not supposed to do them. And if we do them, then people will say, "This Mr. So-and-so is a rotter."
But it turns out that, in addition, there are other things which we would rather not do, because they require a big effort, or because they are dull or very difficult, or simply because we do not like them, but they happen to be good and therefore we ought to do them.
When we do these things, then people say again, "How good Mr. So-and-so is", even if he also does some of the wrong things. Maybe thatís the origin of our saying that, "If you sin and pray, you get even."
And so we move along, among things that we would like to do but should not, and things we would not like to do but should, and as the list becomes longer, what we are left with is the hope that, when we finish doing all the things we do not like, such as feeding the hungry, dressing the naked, visiting the sick, forgiving enemies, and so on, or when we finally stop doing all those things that are wrong but that we love to do (and this other list is longer), then there might still be a chance for us to do one day what we feel like.
We are somewhat like that man who earns a salary and who, after deducing the income tax, the Social Security, the fee for the union or for the party, the pension for the abandoned ex-wife and the money for the new wife that takes away from him for everyday expenses, plus the bills for electricity and water and rent, still hopes to have some surplus to be able to buy a pack of cigarettes.
When we continue to live this way, one of the following things happens to us:
1) Either we give up completely in our effort at being good and we accept that good opportunity, or the offer you cannot refuse, or at least we take a vacation and indulge in being bad in our leisure time.
2) Or else we become bitter, whining saints with a martyr complex.
And there is one thing that makes all of this worse, namely, that the more we listen to our conscience and heed its voice, we discover more evil things inside ourselves which call us on to a greater holiness and righteousness. That reminds me of an old pick-up that one of the brothers in our community used to have. One day it occurred to him to tighten all of its screws and nuts. When he did, many noises disappearedóthe strongest ones. But with the new silence, he began to notice other noises he had never heard before, and it took him much longer to eliminate those.
A saint will never feel that he is a saint, but the more progress he makes in holiness, the more he is aware of his sinfulness, because in his new silence he can now listen to many noises that earlier on, bewildered by his sins, he could not listen to.
The flesh, deprived of the things it claims and accused by the conscience at ever step, revolts and rebels, and then, as I said before, it either gives up or becomes proud thinking, "How holy I am!" That is, the flesh thinks the opposite from the real saint, but always with a martyr complex. Or is always trying to figure out how much God owes him for being so good, and how grateful God ought to be to have such an exemplary follower.
Brothers and sisters, that is the normal man. Unfortunately, that normal man also includes the majority of Christians, maybe the majority of those who are here tonight.
"Come on," you will probably say, "then what is it that Chale MŠntica wants now? I donít think heís telling us to do away with Godís law, or that heís saying that it makes no sense to continue struggling to become saints."
Brothers and sisters, what I have just said is nothing else than a brief summary of Pauline theologyóan exegesis of the letter to the Romans, where St. Paul says exactly the same thing, except he does so in a more elegant manner.
What we need now is an answer. If in following the law, doing what we do not like and refraining from doing what we love, what we can expect is a purer conscience which will show us more sins every day and all the noises our pick-up still makes, demanding from us more holiness every day to the point of exasperating the flesh which will then become more rebellious day by day, as can be seen in the lives of all those who have tried to become holy by the mere obedience to the law, where then is the solution?
The only solution is in Christ. So pay a lot of attention, because I am not sure if I will be able to explain this well.
What Christ is proposing us is at once something infinitely easier and infinitely more difficult than what I just described.
What Christ tells us is very simple: I have not come to torment you... I have come to kill you. This is something all the ascetics in the Church have always known. You are the ones who do not want to understand. I am not interested, either, in having you improve. What I want is to make you anew. Thatís what I told Nicodemus and what I explained to Paul, but you are not paying attention.
I am not interested in having you live, but in living in you myself. But you think Iím speaking in images and that I donít actually mean it.
I do not want to take away some of your time or your money or your tastes, your surplus time and dollars. What I want is you, together with your bad taste, and yet I donít have you.
When I have you, I will give you a new way of beingómy way of being, my way of thinking, of feeling and of acting, and then everything will be easy.
But unless you die, it will be very difficult for you to follow me. I assure you that my yoke is easy and my burden is light. You can choose between dying under the weight of an enormous burden, and taking my yoke. If you allow me to live in you, I will change you into the kind of person who can bear any yoke, and in addition I will be with you always to the close of the age, bearing the yoke together with you. Or have you ever seen an oxcart with just one ox yoked?
And thatís the key, brothers and sisters! There is no other. I know it is almost impossible to hand over everything to the Lordóall of our desires, inclinations, ambitions, with no cautions or misgivings. And yet this is much easier than what we have been trying to do up to now, which is to continue to be ourselves and at the same time being good. In fact, Scripture says: God alone is good.
We want to continue being ourselves, attached to a mind and a will that, only five minutes later, will run after money, ambition or pleasure, and at the same time we want to be good, chaste, humble, generous, and so on. Thatís like wanting to go to Cuba on a train. If you donít want to go to Cuba, donít go. If you like the train, stay on the train. What you cannot do is going to Cuba on a train.
Well, living as a Christian is impossible too... unless you are like Christ. If we are like Christ, or if we become more like Christ, every day, then being a Christian is the easiest thing in the world.
I have said many times that being a Christian is difficult only when you are not. That is, when you do not have Christís way of being.
Is it easy to perform an appendicitis surgery? For a surgeon it is.
Is it easy to calibrate a carburetor? For a mechanic it is.
Is it easy to make a chair? For a carpenter it is.
What you are able to do depends on what you are.
Is it easy to show generosity when you are not generous? No!
Is it easy to forgive when you are arrogant? No way!
Is it easy to turn the other cheek when you are not humble? Never!
Is it easy to forgive those who offend us? Only if I love them.
Is it easy to love? Loving those who love us is.
And loving those who hate us? Absolutely no!
So what can I do to love my enemies? Impossible, brother!óUnless you have Christís way of being, and Godís way of loving, for he delivered up his Son to death in order to save his friends and his enemies, and he makes the sun rise over the good and the evil. Thatís where the difference lies!
The answer to all these questions is that we can do none of these except inasmuch as we acquire Christís way of being.
Godís plan is that we should be able to live out Christianity in joy and peace, doing what we please, in the line of St. Augustineís maxim, "Love, and do what you will": living like that, because thatís what you are like; and you are like that because you are Godís son or daughter, and you have inherited your fatherís own way of being, as part of your inheritance. In fact, it is very easy to live the way God wants us to, when we are such as God is.
There are two ways we Christians can follow. One is the way of the Old Covenant, walking in the law, regarding Christianity as the observance of a series of precepts or norms of behavior that we will try to obey through the exercise of our own effort, even though our fallen nature rebels and drags us towards a way of acting that is quite often against the law of God. The other way is walking in the Spirit, waiting on God, asking God and collaborating with God (thatís for sure) in order to allow him to give us his own way of being, so that our behavior will then be free, spontaneous and joyous.
The opposite to this is desiring to fly like the eagles without being one, and thus spending your life fluttering like a beetle, or taking small jumps like one of those little birds that will never soar in their flight.
Talking about birds, here is another example that can be helpful: an egg can become a bird. Isnít that right? In fact, if we think a little about it, for an egg to become a bird is almost a miracle that seems impossible to us, while in real life any egg can become a bird... supposing itís a birdís egg, of course! And as for us, we are children of God.
What you cannot do is trying to fly while you are still an egg. Youíve got to become a bird first. Go from egghood to birdhood.
But there is something else, which is part of todayís lessonóYou cannot remain an egg all your life. Either you hatch or you rot. And thatís why sometimes our souls stink.
So thatís what could be happening to us: that one day we became children of God, but we have not finally become Christ, and we want to fly like him without being like him.
Letís think about our own situation. All of us here have experienced conversion. One day we had an encounter with Christ and were converted to Christ, like many people. They heard the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ, they understood that God loves them in a personal and infinite way, they heard what Christ did for all of us, and they decided to correspond to such a great love by re-directing their lives and their behavior in accordance with Godís law. And they started walking...
They experienced conversion to him, but they did not undergo conversion into him. They did not become Christ, they do not have his way of being. And thatís where trouble began. They wanted to walk in a different way without being different, to do works of generosity without being generous, to love as Christ without being as Christ, to act like new men while remaining the old men they had always been. They changed their attitude, but not their way of being. And brothers, I believe that being converted means above all turning into something else, becoming something else, a different person. The frog that becomes a prince, the TV character who becomes an animal have not just changed their attitudes. They have been transformed into something different. Either you are transformed or you will be in trouble.
And the Lord, who knows that, wants to transform you. Maybe what is really happening to us is this. Scripture says we are living temples of the Holy Spirit. But leaving aside the image of a temple, that can seem to us a little presumptuous, letís imagine for an instant that we are "living houses", a small hut in some barrio of the Kingdom.
And the Lord comes to us in order to rebuild this house. Maybe at first we like what he is doing, and we even find it amusing, because it looks like he has repaired all the plumbing, that he has fixed all the leaks in the ceiling, because he has fixed a few doors that would not open, and now thereís a whole lot of doors and windows open that used to be closed for us... We understand these are things that needed being done, that could not stay the way they were, that were harmful for us and made life unbearable. So we rejoice.
But all of a sudden the Lord starts shaking the whole house. We feel a real earthquake inside ourselves, a tremendous shock, and that scares us. Whatís the Lord doing? Some will even say, "Who does he think he is? Heís taking advantage of me!"
The explanation is quite simple. The Lord is building a very different house because he intends to dwell inside you, and the house he wants to live in is very different from what it used to be and even from what you thought it would be. He has now added a whole new wing to your old shed. He has replaced the floor, and you feel as if the floor you were standing on has bee removed, as if all the things you used to rely on and find support on have been removed and you have been given a whole new footing. He has erected defense towers, he has set gardens in your backyard that now looks more beautiful, and he has even replaced your very foundations. You are now built on a rock.
And you thought that the Lord had just come to do some repair work in your little house, to do some renovation of your quarters. You now think there is no need to exaggerate; you think it would have been enough for him to plaster your walls, so full of old cracks. It would have been enough to add one good coat of paint and hang a few ornaments that would make you more pleasant in your own eyes and in those of others.
But it turns out that the Lord is building a palace, or a cathedral, or a basilica, because his plan is to come and dwell in you and stay there.
"Behold, I make all things new", says the Lord (Rev. 21:5). He does not say: Behold I repair, I sew, I vulcanize, I mend, I reinforce, or I decorate all things, but, Behold I make all things new.
He wants new creatures, born again from on high, who have put on the new man. And since he is the owner he can do it, and no one can challenge him.
What I am trying to say is that youíd better not mess with God, unless you are willing to allow him turn you inside out like a pair of socks. God is no seamstress and heís not going to mend you. Even if you are still full of patches, his plan is much larger and you should place yourself completely in his hands and let him act.
Youíve already got inside you the genes of your father. Since the day of your baptism, you have the Spirit of God dwelling within you, and he is Godís way of being, Godís dynamis and omnipotence. He is the same who, on the day of creation, was hovering over the waters, and with whose power all things were made. Changing you, converting you, is going to be much, much easier than creating a universe out of nothing.
And this is, brothers and sisters, the most important point of our talk. Are you willing to allow the Lord turn you inside out like a pair of socks, to let yourselves be rebuilt, knowing that in order to do that he will have to demolish many things inside you, and even ravage you completely if necessary?
Iím asking you because, if you are not willing, then you are wasting your time, because the first step is desiring to be transformed and allowing him to kill us.
I always say that a Christian is a man who does whatever he desires to do, because he has inside himself the Spirit of Christ who gives him his desires. What we need to do is allow him to do with us whatever he wills, to turn is inside out till the image of Godís Son is formed in us.
The only problem with this theology is that it usually seems too good to be true. A person finds itís too simple to allow himself being transformed by God, and prefers to continue walking in the law, even though receiving from God this new heart is the quintessence of the New Covenant promised by God and inaugurated in Jesus Christ. God gave Israel the law as a gift. In fact, the law is good and, as Paul says, it takes us by our hand when we are young children in the Lord. But God also makes Israel a promise: that one day everything would be as at the beginning, as it was before the fall of Adam, and that the law would no longer be written on stones but he would give them a new heart, that is, a new way of being, and that he would write his law in their hearts. And this is the New Covenant.
I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean... A new heart I will give you, ...and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statues and be careful to observe my ordinances. (Ezekiel 36:25-27)
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)
It is in order to make all of this a reality that the Lord sent the Holy Spirit upon us. In the work of the Spirit in us the New Covenant is fulfilled... and most people are not even aware! Thatís why they continue walking in the law and not in the free grace of Godís Gift, in the Kingdom of God, where everything that is not grace is sin, as Paul says, and is sin because it falls short of Godís actual plan. They thus spend their lives kicking against the goads, and regarding discipleship as an unbearable burden and an uphill walk from one fall to another, without ever finding rest.
Just like many of you, 31 years ago I had an encounter with Christ and wanted to correspond to his love. I then made the firm decision to live in accordance to his commands. But his law was merely a mirror that would accuse me everyday showing my stains, reflecting the ugliness of my sins and defects. And there was nothing in the mirror that was able to save meóthe mirror did not include the power to change me.
Tired of kicking against the goads, I fell at his feet in full surrender one day. I acknowledged my powerlessness, and I admitted that everything is grace, and I accepted his invitation to die with him in order to rise again with him as a new man who, having been born again from above, from water and the Spirit, is able to walk everyday from one degree of amazement to another, discovering that the Lord is faithful to his promises, and today I am a witness of his new covenant.
I do not boast about what I am, but about what God has done in me. I am now determined not to place limits on his perfect plan, because "what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, [is] what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Cor. 2:9).
Let me end with a comparison that can be helpful. John Paul IIís encyclical Dominum et vivificantem speaks about the word of the Spirit in our "inner man". A famous sculptor was once asked how he had made such a beautiful statue. He said he hadnít actually made the statueóthe statue was already inside the block of marble, and the only thing he had done was to take away the unnecessary parts of marble. To me, thatís the inner man.
We are not what we seem to be. Each one of us is much more beautiful and perfect than people can see. We are in fact a master copy of God, of his own Son. But we have a lot of unnecessary parts, the dirt we have gradually collected from the world, the crust of our sins. Only the Divine Sculptor knows what there truly is inside us, and is determined to gradually remove the crust that we have in excess. Sometimes he does so with hard blows of his hammer, and that hurts. But more usually he just melts it with the fire of his Spirit and his love.
With the power of the Spirit he gradually removes the sin that is inside us, that is, our old fallen nature, and he transforms us into his image and likeness, thus giving us his own way of being, so that we can think the way he thinks, feel the way he feels, love the way he loves, act the way he acts. As this work progresses, it stops hurting. There is no more violent break inside us, but joy and peace.
Every once in a while the statue becomes dirty. Thatís true. The fact is we are in the world. Statues in the parks will also become dirty. Some of them spend more time dirty than clean. Let us seek to be clean. Let us allow him to cleanse us once and again, everyday if necessary. But let us not be content with just being clean. Above all, let us pray that the Sculptor would finish his work in us, that he would remove each day one more of the unnecessary parts, until the face of Christ which is inside us can be seen in all its clarity and purity.
ContentThe God Whom We Serve
To Steve Clark, a brother and a teacher
If at some point we have stared at ourselves because we needed to makes a lot of changes that were long overdue, we will now forget about ourselves. What we want to do now is to stare at God, and to have that vision show us what our relationship to him is supposed to be. Because a man will usually relate to God according to the vision he has about God.
Those of us who have met God through a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, our eldest Brother, have learned to see him as a close, friendly God, a deeply human God with whom we have learned to hold familiar conversation with a brother-to-brother intimacy. That was a necessary step for those of us who had the vision of a far-away, impersonal God. But that was just a first step.
Because Christ is truly all that, but he is also much more than that. When the Spirit of God came upon us, in what we have called being baptized in the Holy Spirit, he took upon himself to show us the Christ that had been glorified by the Father and established as Lord of heaven and earth. Christ now became for us the Lord worthy of all glory, in whose presence every knee would bow in heaven and on earth, and, without the need for anybody to tell us so, our natural impulse was to proclaim outloud his glory and praise. We naturally proceeded from conversation to adoration, from trust to reverence, from love to respect. One thing would not hinder the other. Christ continued to be everything he had already been for us, but now he was something else too. He was much more.
A few years later, during an international conference, I had a vision of his glory. (Those of you who think these things are reserved to saints may now laugh.) In the vision I saw an immense crowd in praise, and their arms were lifted towards a place located on the left side of my visual field. Then I turned my eyes to the place the crowd were looking at, and I saw the Hall of the Throne. Behind the Throne there was a group of angels. I had memories of some enormous bronze angels guarding the entrance to a monument in Spain, but then those gigantic statues looked like tiny, Christmas-ornament little angels when compared to the glory, the beauty and the power of these other angels. Their whole being radiated strength, dignity, and a manly braveness that only contrasted the transparency and peace in their eyes.
On the throne, naked as in his Resurrection, sat Jesus Christ with an iron scepter in his right hand. His majesty was indescribable.
I was then able to grasp a little of what Paul says in 2 Corinthians:
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven ówhether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into Paradiseówhether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knowsóand he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. (2 Corinthians 12:2-4)
I know that this vision then made its mark on my way of relating to Jesus Christ.
More or less at the end of 1974 or the beginning of 1975, in our charismatic prayer groups, we began to experience the presence of God the Father. In all of those groups, with no exception, those who were praying would fall to the ground and prostrate themselves, their faces on the ground, without being able to explain how or at what moment this had happened. All we know is that the presence of the Father is awesome.
This is what God told Moses from the burning bush:
"Do not come near, put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." ...And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. (Exodus 3:5-6)
When Moses implored God, "Show me thy face", God replied:
I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you my name ĎThe Lordí; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But... you cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live... While my glory passes I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen. (Exodus 33:19-23)
At Sinai, the sole presence of God filled the whole people of Israel with terror, while they stayed at a distance.
To Elijah, God said:
"Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord." And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle. (1 Kings 19:11-13)
This is Isaiahís description of his encounter with the Lord:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with to he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: ĎHoly, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.í And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: ĎWoe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!" (Isaiah 6:1-5)
Ezekiel recalls it this way:
I saw as it were gleaming bronze, like the appearance of fire enclosed round about; and downward from what had the appearance of his loins I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness round about him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. (Ezekiel 1:27-28)
None of these prophets saw God. These were merely glimpses of his glory; yet these simple servants of God were not able to resist his presence. I invite you to read the Book of Job once again. He who thought he had no sin and dared to appear before God as a righteous man, was finally able to understand his own smallness and his place before God, when God brought him face to face with his greatness and majesty.
In Revelation we see how the saints and angels relate to God. They too are overwhelmed by his glory, and therefore they do not cease to proclaim the holiness of God and to sing his praises, just as we shall do one day and for ages without end, because one cannot be in the presence of God without experiencing that the need to adore him emerges from inside.
All those who have experienced the nearness of God relate to him in a different manner. Even in the midst of his tenderness, there is something in his glory and majesty that compels us to adoration, to awe, to respect. We cannot continue to relate to him as we had hitherto. Our prayer does not yet have the seal of those who know God. In our worship gatherings, not all have the due attitude of one who has come in order to be close to God, in order to enter into his presence and to experience his immediacy.
Perhaps we envy those who had the opportunity to see him the way Moses or the prophets did. However, the Letter to the Hebrews tells us something that ought to change our attitude and lead us to an understanding of our dignity and of the greatness of what is taking place among us. The author of Hebrews says thus:
For you have not come [as the Israelites did] to what may be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers entreat that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, ĎIf even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.í Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ĎI tremble with fear.í
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood... (Hebrews 12:18-24)
Brothers and sisters, we do not yet have a clear notion of what takes place when we gather together as a people to worship the Lord. We who have been enrolled in heaven as Godís children (that is, we who have a "birth certificate" in the files of heaven, since the day we were born again from on high) join the triumphant Church of those who went before us in the joy of seeing Christ face to face, that is, we join our departed brothers and sisters, our parents, the saints, and myriadís of angels, in order to appear together in the presence of God and to praise him.
An individual who does not know how to behave in one of our gatherings or does not know where he is, does not know who he is talking to. An individual who, in his personal prayer, comes near to God in an irreverent way, is neglecting the fact that the Israelites were not allowed to come near the mountain because they could not endure his presence and live, and that it was Christ, with his blood, who tore for us the veil of the Holy of Holies, and that this is what makes it possible for us to draw near the throne of grace and enter his presence with confidence, without being destroyed by the fire and the tempest.
This talk will not make any sense for those who do not know God in the fullness of his identity, because I want to talk about how a manly man must relate to God, and someone who doesnít know or doesnít fully understand who he is talking to will never know how to relate to him.
What, then, should our relationship to God be like? It should be a personal relationship, because God is a personal being and not a cosmic force; and that personal being also regards us as persons, with that personal love with which we regard each of our children, and not the way one can look at the sand of the sea, even if that sand had emerged from our hands. Yet it is not properly a "man-to-man" relationship, a relationship between equals, even though Christ is a man and that man is our brother. In fact, he is infinitely greater than my brother the President, or my brother the Pope, or my brother the Emperorópeople whom we would not treat as equals anyway.
When God, in scripture, instructs on the way he wants us to relate to him, he normally uses one of the following four images. He wants our relationship to him to be similar to:
1. That of a son to his father.
2. That of a soldier to his officer.
3. That of a servant to his master.
4. That of a subject to his king.
Personally, I think it ought to be similar to all of those at once. Itís like the relationship I would have to my father if he were at once my king, my officer and my master, because God is all of those things at once, and I donít know how we could separate them.
In fact, he is my Father but he is also my Master and my Lord. And this is where our joy residesóin having a Master and being servants of a Lord who, nevertheless, regards us and cares for us with the love of a Father, and who is also the King of all that exists; in being aware that God is a personal being, who has dreamed of me from eternity, who loves me and therefore wants by happiness, and who is omnipotent.
I also believe that it is when we go alternatively from one of these images to another, so that one day we only look at God one way and the next day only in that other way, that we lose our right relationship to him. That is, when we are dirty and come to our King, or we are defeated and come to our Officer, but we forget that at that time he regards us with the love and understanding of a Father. Or when we come, like spoiled children, to the Father who forbids or commands us to do something, forgetting that he is also our Officer. Or when he asks us something or asks us everything, and we start whining, because we forget that we belong to him and that he is the Master and Lord of all that is ours and of ourselves.
I know itís difficult to grasp all of these images because he transcends all of them. It is difficult to explain how to relate to him because there is no other relationship in the world that will actually be the same. But there is one thing I know we must understand: God is not our comrade or partner, our buddy, our sidekick or accomplice. He and his ways, his power, his authority and his glory, his commands, his essence, his goodness, his tenderness, his justice and his holiness are as far above me as heaven is above the earth. It was he who came to man, it was he who came to me in order to save me, and it was he who established a covenant and a relationship with me. And this covenant is the covenant between omnipotence and impotence, between grace and sin, not a covenant or a relationship between equals.
In order to understand at least a little better the images God uses for explaining his relationship to us, I would like to take a look into each of them individually. We are going to begin with the father-son relationship.
Paul says in Romans 8:14: "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. ...When we cry, ĎAbba! Father!í it is the Spirit himself bearing witness..." For a Jew in the times of Jesus, a son is not the same as a young child. In modern society, sons and daughter par excellence are young children. When we approach the age of 18, we feel we are ceasing to be sons or daughters, and the thing we most long for is for our parents to stop being parents or acting as such.
But in Jesusí time, a son par excellence was an adult son, who was able to occupy his fatherís position. The father-son relationship was, in this sense, a relationship between two adults.
A stanza of Psalm 127 illustrates this kind of relationship:
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of oneís youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. (Ps. 127:4-5)
This is not the image of Daddy playing Indians and cowboys with his kids in the backyard. Rather, this is the image of a father-chief, surrounded by manly sons who defend him and who are willing to fight for him and for his interests. These sons the father regards as a blessing, in contrast to a modern father who thinks itís stupid to spend time forming his children, and who canít wait to see them leave the home.
This is also a relationship in which the father places all he has at his childrenís disposal. Itís like the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son, to whom the father says, "All that is mine is yours" (Luke 15:31). Our fatherís property is at our disposal, for us to squander it as the younger son did, or for us to manage it as the elder son did.
For the Jewish mentality, sons are a continuation and an extension of their father: in his reputation, which they must protect as much as their own; in his authority, which they must be able to use in representing him; in his character, being themselves just like their father, having his own way of being, of feeling, of acting; in his responsibility, caring for their fatherís business (at twelve years old, the young Jesus who was lost in the temple was already aware of this responsibility); and in his mission, by carrying out and completing their fatherís work.
A father lives and is perpetuated in his sons. Since we are Godís sons, we say that a Christian is a man who has been chosen by Christ, in order to be like Christ, and incorporated and enabled by Christ in order to complete Christís mission in the world, which is the mission that his Father entrusted him with.
This continuation of the Father is not merely biological but of character. We are supposed to be like him. Jesus said to the Jews, in so many words: "You think you are sons of Abraham, but in fact you are sons of Satan" (cf. John 8:39-44). He tells them this because they no longer reflect the faith of their father Abraham; they do not look like him at all.
All of this is what we are supposed to be for our Father, and it is thus that the Father wants us to relate to him. Not like young children who will hide or curl up in their daddyís knees, but like adult sons, brave, responsible, respectful, obedient, who by their own way of being are looking to their fatherís business, representing him and making use of his authority.
Letís now examine the officer-soldier relationship. We read in Ephesians 6:10-11: "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil." And then he goes on to describe the armor. To Timothy he says: "Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 2:3). We are supposed to be Christís soldiers, but some of our number are so irresponsible that they havenít even realized that we are at war, in a war that began in heaven before the creation of the world, but which has been moved to earth. We are involved in that war even if we donít want, and not wanting to fight will not only not protect you from anything, but will make your defeat absolutely certain. Only those who fight under Christís banner will survive the devilís attacks.
But our condition as soldiers must also reflect itself in our daily lives. When you are drafted by the army, your life changes radically. You are now subject to certain rules and to an authority. You are under military discipline. Your personal preferences are subordinated to the armyís needs. Sometimes you wonít be able to take a nap or go where you would have liked to go, or do what you would liked to do, but you will do what your officer says and go where you are sent or where your officer needs you. Itís not the right time to say, "Daddy, Iím tired, let me curl up in your arms," as you used to do when you were a young kid. Itís time to say: "Heavenly Headquarters, give your orders."
When you are at war, the safest place to be is with your officer in the battlefield, and well armed. Your safety resides in obeying him. If an army does not obey its commander, having been trained very well will be no use. If you desert, your penalty will be court-martial and dishonor.
It may be that all of this sounds too drastic to you. But thatís only because you are not aware that we Christians, by the very fact that we are Christians, are engaged in total war against the forces of evil, and that the commander of those forces does not sleep, but prowls around like a roaring lion. If we are in a war and if we have been recruited by Christ, we must be willing to live as soldiers. This means we will do whatever he commands us to do, and not those things which are of our personal liking.
But it also means that we will always try to act as a body and to remain together with our battalion. A lonely soldier is a dead man, and that is a well-known fact for those of us who once attempted to live our Christianity by ourselves or to engage in combat as snipers.
But a lonely soldier is not just an idiot, heís a dangerous fellow for those of his own side. Heís the one others will need to go rescuing. Heís the most likely to be captured. Heís the one who, because he acts outside all orders or plans, can spoil everything. If you are isolated, you are already in danger, and you are a danger for everyone else.
Letís now refer to the master-servant relationship. In Romans 6:17-23 St. Paul reminds us that we have been freed from slavery to sin, but we have merely shifted masters, since we now belong to Christ. He says in verse 19: "For just as you once yielded your members to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now yield your members to righteousness for sanctification."
In order to fully understand certain things in Scripture, it is often necessary to first understand how things worked in the times when the Bible was written. In the times of Jesus, you were either a slave or a free man. And any person could become a slave at any time, for various reasonsóbecause your country was attacked and defeated and the people were led to slavery, but also for more daily reasons such as not being able to pay a debt, as in the case of that man in the parable who owed ten thousand talents. Thus, a person could be sold with his whole family until the debt was paid for.
We are well aware that we have a debt to Christ which we cannot pay. We also know that the word "redemption" is merely a commercial term, meaning "ransom". Thus, Christ redeemed us with his blood, the same way you redeem a pledge at a pawnshop. Christ paid our debt with his blood, he bought our IOUísóbut not in order for us to be absolutely free, but, as Paul says, that we might live no longer for ourselves, but for him who died and was raised for us (cf. 2 Cor. 5:15). Thatís why he is our Lord, our Master.
Nevertheless, a slave or servant would not go around bearing chains all the time, nor would he spend the whole day cutting rocks the way we see it in motion pictures. A servant would often have a position of confidence, and sometimes could be a tutor for a prince, or even a minister of Pharaoh, as in the case of Joseph. I think this is our situation, since God has placed enormous responsibilities in our hands.
A servantís fortune came from and depended on his ownerís wealth. So you could be very rich and still be a servant. Thatís what Paul says about us: "All things are yours... and you are Christís, and Christ is Godís" (1 Cor. 3:21-22).
But above all these things, and whatever the particular situation or position of a servant could be, all servants had one thing in common: they had to do always and first of all óeven above the work commended to themó the will of their master. Thatís why I always say that the important thing is not doing much or little, doing big or small thingsóthe important thing is always doing Godís will. If Pharaoh says, "Joseph, go and do this errand for me," Joseph will not reply, "Iím sorry, Mr. Pharaoh, but Iím very busy working as your Prime Minister." Joseph must go, because before being the Prime Minister he is Pharaohís servant.
Joseph was a great man under Pharaoh. And we are greater than Joseph under the King of the Universe. Jesus goes to the point of saying about us that even the smallest one in his Kingdom is greater than John the Baptist, whom he called the greatest born of a woman. But our greatness comes from being servants of the King in the Kingdom of God.
That is why, like the humblest of his servants, we owe the Lord honor, respect and obedience, and we renounce ourselves and any personal preference in order to do always and above all the will of God.
Let us now see what it meant to be subjects of a king. David, who was a king, says in Psalm 99:1-3:
The Lord reigns; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake! The Lord is great in Zion; he is exalted over all the peoples. Let them praise thy great and terrible name! Holy is he!
For us it is difficult to understand what a king is, because the few kings that remain today are very unlike the concept of a king in the Bible. A king today is a far-away individual, occupied in his own things and separated from his people, and he will only appear in great solemn events. The one who actually governs is the Prime Minister.
But in Scripture, the model of a king is that of someone who served his people, and he did this in two very concrete ways.
First, he waged war against the enemies of his people, and he would lead his army himself. As we know, in the time of the Judges there was no king in Israel. Yahweh, the Lord of Hosts, was their only King, and he was the one who personally waged war on behalf of his people. That is the constant line in the whole Old Testamentóthe witness of a King who fights for his people. Samuel grudgingly anointed Saul, who was the first king of Israel.
The second function of the king was to do justice. He would solve conflicts, give sentence to condemn the wicked and to clear the innocent, and keep order in the midst of his people.
The people, in turn, corresponded to their king by showing him honor and respect, obeying his laws and serving him. Subjects would offer themselves in his service for a given time.
The Lord is our King, and he knows his office. David, who was also a king and who knew his duties, then dares to say to his King in Psalm 35:
Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me! Take hold of shield and buckler, and rise for my help! Draw the spear and javelin against my pursuers! Say to my soul, ĎI am your deliverance!í
Joshua does likewise when he enters the promised land in order to conquer it. He expects the Lord to wage war against his enemies. Thatís the same thing we ought to expect.
Christians today often trust too much in their own strength, neglecting the fact that our fight is not against flesh and blood, but against the hosts of the enemy, and that the enemyís power is much stronger than ours. We can conquer only if God is with us, heading and leading the battle, and if we fight with his weapons.
I often insist that itís not a matter of us fighting with Godís help, which would amount to making God our assistant, but of helping God in his warfare. Our slogan is, Christ and me are the overwhelming majority. If we place ourselves first, me and Christ, we are like a zero on the left of the number, which is worth nothing. But if we place ourselves after him, at his right hand, the more zeros we write, our worth will increase.
Because he is the King, he deserves all our honor and respect, and all our obedience. Because he is the King, the Lord judges us. "For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God," as Paul reminds us in Romans 14:10. As a judge he is slow to anger, but he will not leave the guilty unpunished. We must expect his judgment, remembering that judgment does not just mean punishment of the guilty, but also acquittal of the innocent.
And, once again, we must remember that in our four-fold relationship to him, as servants, subjects and soldiers, we are also sons and daughters of him who will judge us, and therefore we can also trust in his infinite justice and mercy.
The title of Teacher is often given to Jesus in Scripture. I think it is very important for all young people to know what kind of a teacher Jesus of Nazareth was and continues to be.
When I was in the university, I had two professors who were completely different, and their way of behaving influenced my studies and my relationship to them. One of them was called Mr. Hunter, and he flunked me in Human Geography, the only course I failed in all my university career.
Mr. Hunter was not concerned for his pupils. His classes were dull, but he would be very upset if you were distracted. He talked through his teeth and with a Southern accent, but he didnít seem to be worried by the fact that foreign students, like me, did not understand him. But the thing that made Mr. Hunter famous was his exams. Mr. Hunterís tests were designed to find out what it was that you did not know. Thus, they were designed to make you fail. His students feared him, but did not respect or love him or seek his company.
The other teacher was Carrol Quigley, professor of European History and of Political Science. He was a superior man. He would prepare his lectures very well, and the whole class was attentive to his words. If any one of us had a difficulty, he would stay after class and try to help us. He would often invite his pupils over to his house for some drinks. But above all, Mr. Quigleyís exams were designed to find out how much you knew. They did not include tricky questions, and would ask about things that were important or that would be really useful for our lives in the future. We all knew that he was very much interested in having us learn, and therefore in enabling all of us to pass. Mr. Quigley was not an easy teacher, but he was a good teacher, a just and committed teacher.
Many people, when they think about Christ, the Teacher, will probably think about Mr. Hunter. They imagine a God who tolerates man but who does not rejoice in him or in his company, a God who would like to condemn all of us in the final examination, and for that purpose carries a minute account of all the wrong or mistaken things we have done in our lives. Those who imagine him that way live a life full of fear, of course. They fear him but they do not love him, or follow him, or have a concern for being his friends.
The portrait that Scripture presents to us of Jesus, the Teacher, is rather like Mr. Quigley, except he is infinitely more beautiful and encouraging.
Mr. Quigley was concerned for those who did not know. Christ says that those who are well do not need a doctor, but those who are sick, and that he came to save that which had been lost, that is, those who had failed their courses. He does not rejoice in catching anybody unawares. To the woman who had been caught in the very act of adultery he says, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again" (John 8:11). The important thing is for her to learn the lesson and, since she has learned it, to pass the final exam one day. Like Quigley, he invites some over to his house or go to theirs. In the case of Zacchaeus, this visit changed his life.
But Christ has gone much farther than Quigley, because he has already told us what the only question in our final exam will beówe will be examined about love.
The incredible thing is that it seems to be the case that, even if we fail love, there still is a makeup test. In the Bible we read the story of a final exam with the Teacher. And the pupil does not pass this test on love. He is nowadays called the Good Thief, but he was not good, and he was not merely a thief, because thieves were not crucified. He was a criminal. His wrongs were many, and maybe his whole life was nothing but one big wrong from the beginning. He comes to the final exam with an extremely bad record, and his life is a very bad answer to the final question. But this man has faith in his Teacher: "Remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Luke 23:42).
Mr. Hunter would have said, "Damned you!" But Jesus said, Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise. I have taken your place on the cross and, not content with bearing your sins and mistakes, I have decided that all my merits be credited to your account.
According to our standards, no one in the whole Gospel deserves the least to be saved, as he has but a few minutes left to repair all the damage he had done, to pay all his debts. Yet there is no one in the Gospel to whom the certainty of final salvation is stated with such assuredness. That is because Christís attention is not focused on his sinful life, but in those words full of faith. The Teacher has discovered the only good thing in the life of this man, and then chooses that to examine him on that.
We have our faith focused on the Teacher. Let us not place it on our personal merit, like that Pharisee in the temple, because God sent his Son, not in order to condemn the world, but that the world be saved through him. As long as I am living here, I want to be as good as I can, because the Teacher has faith in me and I would not like to disappoint him. But in order to pass the final exam, I have faith in him, because he does not want to disappoint me.
By the way, I know, young men and women, that you think that what the Lord did at the cross with this man was not very fair. Neither was it fair for a righteous man to take our place on the cross. When you become parents or grandparents you will understand these things. Because, "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven...!" (Mt. 7:11).
ContentThe Son of Man
In memory of C. S. Lewis,
who opened our eyes concerning these truths
Sometimes we know, or think we know, a person, and after many years it turns out we really did not know who he was. I think the same can happen to us concerning Jesus. We have known him for years, but maybe we donít know what his real identity is.
Since you may think that I have gone mad or have already forgotten to whom I am giving this talk, let me remind you that when we talk about identity we are referring to that which makes us distinct from everyone else.
In this talk we are going to try to answer the question, "Who is in fact Jesus of Nazareth? What is his true identity? What makes him different from everyone else?"
Having walked side by side with him for many years is no guarantee of certainty. If you remember, this is the same question Jesus posed to his disciples, and they could not answer it: "Who do people say the Son of man is?", he asked. And then the disciples replied: "Well, some people say that you are Elijah, others say you are Jeremiah, others say you are John the Baptist." People just didnít know who Jesus Christ was.
Two thousand years later, many people continue to give the same answers as that day. They wonít use the same words, but the meaning is the same. Elijah and Jeremiah were great prophets; John the Baptist was a brave, moralizing leader. For millions of people, including many who call themselves Christians, Jesus is, above all, that: a great leader, a great teacher, a great moralist, a great prophet... but only that.
As often happens with misunderstandings, Jesus was in fact all that, and had those features in common with Elijah, Jeremiah and John the Baptist. But that is not his true identity.
What made him different from them? Since people were unable to answer, Jesus asked his disciples: "But who do you say that I am?" And only Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt. 16:15-16).
In this first part of the talk, what I would like to do is to demonstrate that Christ cannot be for us, above all, a great teacher, or a great leader, o a great moralist, or a great miracle-worker, or a great prophet. That he was in fact all of these things, but that this is not his true identity. That if Jesus is not, first and foremost, what Peter said he was ("You are the Christ, the Son of the living God"), then Christ is none of those other things. He is neither a great teacher, nor a great moralist, nor a great leader, but merely a fraud who does not even deserve our attention.
Iím sure all of us have heard many times expressions like this: "I believe in Christ! I believe that Christ is the most extraordinary Teacher that has ever lived; that his doctrine is the most beautiful, the most humane and at the same time the most sublime of all doctrines; that his personality is exquisite; that he is a leader worth dying for. But I cannot accept that Christ is God."
Brothers, I have heard that kind of thing even from many a priest. (You are well aware that itís not difficult to find weird priests!) And I think that all of these people are in their full right to believe or not to believe in the deity of Jesus Christ. What they donít have a right to do, because it is absurd, is to think that Christ is not God and yet continues to be a great leader, a great teacher, a great moralist, a great prophet. An individual who asserts such a stupidity has not even taken a quick glance at the first pages of the Gospel. He has not paid any attention to the things that this character says. Because any man who were merely a man and said the things that Christ says, does not deserve to be called a teacher or a leader or a moralist or anything of that sort. There are but two possibilities: either you call him a madman, a scoundrel, a cheat, or whatever you can think of, or else you call him the Son of God. One can spit at him, abuse him or kill him, or else one must fall at his feet and acclaim him as Thomas did, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28). But there is really nothing in what he says or in what he does that would allow us to reconcile the impossible. Either we worship him and we serve him as God... or we will be entitled to despise him and neglect him as one who is not worthy of being taken seriously. And now I want to explain why this is so.
In a certain way we have to accept that Christ was a great teacher. In fact, he says so himself to his apostles: "You call me Teacher... and you are right, for so I am" (John 13:13). One day some soldiers were sent to arrest him, and they came back to their officers with empty hands and this explanation: "No man ever spoke like this man!" (John 7:46). At one of the most difficult moments, when everyone wanted to desert Jesus, precisely because of one of those absurd things he said, Peter alone can exclaim: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:68).
Yet this is not the kind of teacher that those who want to see Jesus only as a teacher have in mind. Indeed, Jesus is a very strange teacher. A teacher will normally say, "I tell the truth," or, "I teach the truth." There may even be some teacher who thinks, "I have the truth." But Christ does not say that. He says: "I am the truth." And, brothers and sisters, thatís quite a different thing. Because, if he is the truth, in order to be his disciple it wonít be enough to listen to him the way you listen to a teacher. It will not be enough to believe what Christ says, but you have to accept what Christ is. And you have to have him, you have to be in him, because, if he is the truth, then I cannot be in the truth if I am not in him.
A leader may say, "This is the way you need to follow." Christ, instead, does not point to a way, but says: "I am the way... Follow me!" A Latin American singer, quoting an old adage from Chinese Buddhism, says: "I no longer mistake the moon for the finger that points to it." The world is full of leadersófingers pointing to moons and ways. Christ does not point to anything. Christ is that moon, and points to himself.
Neither is Christ the great miracle worker who brings those who had died back to life. Instead, he says, "I am the life." Thus he has rescued us from death, offering himself up for us. In one of the most tender passages of the Gospel, Martha, his friend for many years, but who, like many others, has not yet understood who Christ is, comes near Jesus and, with her eyes full of tears, says to him: "I know that [Lazarus] will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." Jesus replies: "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die" (John 11:24-25).
If this man is merely a man, then heís utterly crazy. Jesus says things like these: "I am the resurrection. I am the life. I am the light of the world. I am the bread which came down from heaven. I am the true vine. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end." And even more clearly, "When you have lifted [me] up... then you will know that I am." That I am what? "I am that I am." This is the name with which God reveals himself to Moses at Sinai. He and his Father are one.
But what I want to underscore is that this so-called Teacher does not say, "I know, I teach, I announce, I point to, I can, I lead," but "I am." Either Jesus is he who is, who was and is to come, the Son of the living God, or else he is nothing but an irresponsible madman to whom one could never ascribe the title of teacher.
Neither can one think of Christ as a great religious leader. Why? Because if religion is that which man has done to come near to God, if religion is the way to come to God, then Christ does not teach us how to come to God. Rather, he is the God who comes to man. He does not point to ways of reaching God, but exactly the opposite. He clearly says, "No one comes to the Father, but by me" (John 14:6). He does not come to open ways for reaching God. He comes to close all the ways that had been opened by man and by the so-called religious leaders. He is the only way. And no one comes to the Father except through the only way that is Christ.
He has not come, either, to teach us about God the way theologians and teachers do. Rather, he has come to reveal God to us by revealing himself to men. This is the meaning of the term Logos, the Word. The incarnate Word expresses what God is, the idea that God has about himself. And Christ reveals God to us by revealing himself. That is why he tells Philip, "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). Christ does not reveal God in the style of Israelís teachers, but making God present among us. "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14).
On the other hand, I insist, if Christ is not who he says he is, his very actions are ridiculous. For example, he often says to those who follow him, "Fear not, your sins are forgiven."
I know we have grown accustomed to forgiveness of sins. Jesus gave his disciples the power to forgive sins, and they forgive sins in his name and with his authority. So we donít realize the enormous wonder that lies behind all this.
Some years ago I met Fr. Fio Mascarenhas, who was later the Director of the World Office of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Rome. He is a priest from India (though his name has a Portuguese origin). This priest told me: "Chale, I remember that the thing that impressed me most in Christianity, and that was perhaps the reason for my conversion, was to listen that the God of Christians had the power to forgive sins. In Hindu religion the gods donít have that power, and hence the belief in reincarnation. Man has to reincarnate again and again in order to gradually purify himself of his sins."
We are talking of something that is truly sublime for millions of people. But if Christ is not God, the sublime becomes ridiculous, even comic. If someone steps on my foot or steals my wallet, despite the situation, I am fully entitled to say to him: "Brother, I forgive you." But letís suppose one of you comes back to his house at night, and when he is opening the door some criminals attack him, beat him up, rob him of everything he has, and even kill his whole family. At that moment I get there just by chance, see the whole thing, and tell the bandits: "Dear bandits, I forgive you." You rise up from the floor, your family rises again, and all of you together beat me to death: "What right do you have to forgive those criminals! Itís us who have suffered the aggression!"
Well, itís the same thing. I cannot forgive the wrongs that were done against others... unless I am God. Because if I am God, it is my law that has been broken; it is my children who have been harmed; it is my heart that has been hurt. And therefore I can forgive you, because I have been offended too. Brothers and sisters, if Christ is not God, his madness is worse than all of this, because he even dares to bestow on others the power of forgiveness that he possesses himself.
In addition, he is arrogant and conceited. But, curiously enough, neither his friends nor his enemies ever accused him of arrogance. Nobody ever said that Christ was conceited. And this seems curious to me because Christ dares to say, "Learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart" (Mt. 11:29). If Christ is not God, then lowliness is the very last of his virtues; but if those people are wrong and Christ is God, then it is true, as St. Paul says, that "he humbled himself" to the utmost (Phil. 2:8). He humbled himself to an extent that man is not able to conceive, because man is not aware of the distance that exists between being God and being human. He humbled himself to an extent of humility which is impossible for man:
Who, though the was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:6-8).
And death on a cross is the most humiliating death conceivable for man. But let us now descend to a ridiculous level. If Christ is not God, then what he did is little by comparison to the nonsense he said. It is so absurd that it is not worth paying attention to. Most of all when he goes on with his insistence on talking about himself. In Matthew 28:18 he says, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." In John 10:30 he says, "I and the Father are one." In Mark 12:37 he says that David had called him his "Lord"; in John 8:58, that he existed before Abraham; and to make things all the worse, he has said in v. 23, "I am not of this world."
That is why John feels necessary to explain that Christ is no extra-terrestrial astronaut, but rather,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it... [The Word,] the true light that enlightens every man, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. (John 1:1-5, 9-11)
As you know, other people have tried to see in Jesus Christ a great moralist. And he certainly was such, but not in the fashion of those who would like Christ to be merely a moralist.
If Christ is not God, then even as a moralist he is a disaster. To begin with, he would almost always be found in bad company. He was a friend to prostitutes, tax collectors, collaborators of the Roman invading imperialism, usurious moneylenders, and all this under the excuse that "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mt. 9:13).
He commends a prostitute because she spends a lot of moneyómoney that should have been given to the poor as must beóin some perfume for anointing him. Judas remarked, "Thatís an injustice! There are so many people in need!" But Jesus goes even farther when he chides the owner of the house, who had invited him over to dinner: "You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven" (Lk. 8:46-47), and this was because of that squandering of money and of love that she showed towards him.
In Luke 16 he praises an administrator because he forgives his masterís debtors a lot of debts that he had no right to forgive, and he praises him precisely because he has won friends for himself on the basis of someone elseís money.
In Matthew 21:31 he scandalizes everyone when he asserts, "The tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you."
In Luke 18, in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector who went up to the temple to pray, what this great moralist teaches us is that, between this perfectly virtuous manóbecause he indeed wasó, though full of conceit because he thought he would save himself by his merit, and this sinnerówho is not pretending before God, but is really a sinneró, but who acknowledges to be guilty, what Christ says is, "Iíd rather take the sinner."
To a woman who had been caught in adultery and that was condemned to death, he says: "ĎWhere are they? Has no one condemned you?í She said, ĎNo one, Lord.í And Jesus said, ĎNeither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin againí" (John 8:10-11). The moralists of Israel would stone an adulterous woman to death. This man, instead, writes down on the ground the sins of the moralists, and forgives the adulterous woman. As an extreme act, one of the few people to whom Christ promises Paradise (as if it were his) is nothing less than a thief, and this at the very scaffold.
So, brothers and sisters, let us thank God that Christ is no mere moralist. If he were one, then you and I would have been nailed to that cross. But he took our place, which is also a crazy actóto die for people like me!
Many today deny that which even demons proclaim outloud. In Mark 5:6-7, the Gerasene demoniac, "when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshipped him; and crying out with a loud voice, he said, ĎWhat have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.í" The case of the Capernaum demoniac in Luke 4:34 is similar: "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." Thus, even demons know it!
To the shame of all, it is the most incredulous of all disciples who says what no one else in the whole Bible had saidó "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28). He says it thus, with all clarity, for everyone to understand, because we are slower to understand and harder of heart than the very unbelievers and the demons.
For others, Christ was a great revolutionary. Those who say that have not read Che Guevara. For Che, a revolutionaryís first duty is not to let others kill him. He says so in his Memoirs. For Christ, instead, the very reason why he becomes a man is to let others kill him. Thatís more than enough for me.
Finally, there is one more error into which many people incur, which is to believe that if all of us were to follow the wise advice of this great teacher and moralist we would all live in a true Paradise. But, brothers and sisters, strange though this may seem to you, this is not completely true.
I know that if we all followed his doctrine, if we all lived according to his commands, we would live in a much better world. Thatís obvious. But that is not what makes Christ different from the rest of men. That does not make him unique. The world would also be much better if we all lived according to the teachings of Plato, Aristotle, or Confucius. So this is not what makes Jesus Christ different. The world has never heeded great teachers or followed their advice. What makes us think that it would be different in Christís case?
Oh, we way, itís because his doctrine is much better than the rest. Well, if itís better, that puts us in a much worse place. Because, if we were not able to obey the law that was given to Moses, which nobody fulfilled except Jesus, much less will we be able to live according to the Beatitudes or the New Commandment. If we failed our elementary school, how can we pass our high school?
That is why, if Christ only came to give us good advice, to give us a better morality than any other, a doctrine that is superior to the rest, then he came in vain and could have spared the trip.
But the Lord did not come to share his advice, or to give a new law so that, being forced to live it out, we would live in happiness. The perfect law had already been given, and he came to fulfill it, not to change it. Christ gave in order to give us power to fulfill the law, to give us his own Spirit, which is his own way of being, Godís dynamis and power, so that we might be and love with his own way of being and of loving. Now thatís the topic of a whole new talk.
Christ is not content with us just being good. Christ is not content with us just being better. Christ is not content with just forgiving our sins. Christ wants us to be like him. Christ wants us to be him. Christ wants us to be perfect as his heavenly Father is perfect, and he died in order to make all of this possible, and has given us his own Spirit in order to gradually make that possible in each of us.
Brothers and sisters, Christ is not a mere teacher, nor is he the greatest teacher. But for millions of Muslims, for millions of Jews and maybe for millions of Christians, thatís all that Christ Jesus is.
Now I ask you very seriously the same question that Jesus once asked those who had been with him for several years: "Who do you say that the Son of man is?" If you answer like Peter, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God," then the Apostle John has one word for you: "To all who received him... he gave power to become children of God" (John 1:12).
And yet, brothers and sisters, we have not actually answered the question, Who is Jesus of Nazareth? What is his true identity? And thatís because I am not asking who Jesus was, but rather who Jesus of Nazareth is today. Today Christ is something more than he was when he posed that question. There is something that the Incarnate Word had the possibility of not being but now is.
When the Apostle John tells us that "in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God," he is saying what Christ has been from all eternity. He is the Pantokrator, the sovereign Lord of all things and their creator. Through him and for him all things were created. John is answering with what Christ was from the beginning.
But today Christ is something more than he was before. When Peter replies, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God," he is responding correctly to what Christ is and continues to be. He is the Divine Word, made flesh in Maryís womb, who became a man in order to save usóthat is, he is the expected Messiah, the Christ, and at the same time the Son of the living God. Before that he was not a man, nor the Son of man, nor the Messiah. Today he is something more.
Jesus is the Word from all eternity, "begotten not made," as we say in the Creed. As Son of God he becomes the son of man, the son of Mary, when he is conceived in his motherís womb. Only then is he a man. Throughout his ministry he is also a prophet, a teacher, a miracle-worker, and a moralist. When he dies he becomes our Redeemer. When he gives us his Holy Spirit he becomes our Savior. Christ is all of those things, but he is something more. And this is something that originates in his death.
To begin with, he starts saying things he did not say before, things like: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me," and "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" (Mt. 28:18-19). He is now entitled to have all the nations of the earth submitted to him. And this time it is Thomas, the incredulous one, as I said earlier, the only one who teaches us the true and full identity of Jesus. In the presence of the risen Christ, Thomas falls on his knees and exclaims, "My Lord and my God!"
He is not just the man-God incarnate. Jesus is now, first of all and above all things, the Lord. This is after he had said, "It is finished... it is fulfilled." And, precisely because he has been obedient unto death, and death on a cross, a new title is now conferred upon him:
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed upon him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord [this is his new name], to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:9-11).
John is also aware that something has changed. That is why he now says in Rev. 19:11-16:
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war... And he has a name inscribed which no one knows but himself. He is clad in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God... On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, King of kings and Lord of lords.
You will perhaps ask for the reason of such a complicated exegesis, just to say that Jesus is the Lord. But it makes senses, because if Christ is truly the Lord, the Lord of everything that exists, and if that is his true identity, but he happens not to be truly your Lord, then, brother or sister, you donít know who Christ is. Christ is not for you what he truly is and is called to be.
That Christ is the Lord means that he has a claim on everything and on everyone. It means that he owes us absolutely nothing, and that there is nothing we can demand from him, that he has an absolute claim on us and is able to do whatever he does. It means that our condition is now as servants, because that is the condition he took on for usónot in order for us to be free, but, as St. Paul says, that we might live no longer for ourselves, but for him who for our sake died and was raised (cf. 2 Cor. 5:15).
A man can be admired. In the case of Christ, admiring him is not enough.
A teacher can be believed. In the case of Christ, believing what he says is not enough.
A moralist can be argued against. Christ accepts no arguments.
A leader can be followed. Judas followed him just like the rest.
What makes the Lord different from all others is that a Lord can give commands. He can command, "Follow me;" he can command, "Love me;" he can command, "Serve me;" he can command, "Believe in me;" he can command, "Obey my precepts;" he can command, "Fulfill the mission I have entrusted you."
He can command, "Come, O blessed of my Father" (Mt. 25:34). He can command that the same amount be paid to those of the sixth hour as to those of the ninth hour, because it is his will that it be so. Because "you are Christís, and Christ is Godís" (1 Cor. 3:23).
He can command to the fig tree, "Wither down!"; and to the tempest, "Be still!"; and to Peter, "Get behind me!"; and to the paralytic, "Rise!"; and to Lazarus, "Come out!"
So I ask youóIf Jesus is Lord, why do we announce his word as if it were a deodorant, pleading with people to accept him on considering the advantages they will derive from having him?
If Jesus is Lord, with what right do you protest against him for the death of your mother, your husband or your son?
If Jesus is Lord, why do you give him only the leftovers of your day and of your time?
If Jesus is Lord, why do you carry records and present an invoice for your work in his Kingdom?
Brothers and sisters, if Christ is really the Lord, but if Christ is not your only and absolute Lord, then I am very sorry to tell you that you donít really know who Christ is.
As in the case of Peter on the day of Pentecost, I have no choice but to proclaim to all of you: "Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified" (Acts 2:36).
But I am not proclaiming this in order to embarrass or grieve anyone. I am proclaiming it because at the beginning I said that in the true identity of Christ we too would find one more facet of our true identity. In the identity and greatness of Jesus, the Lord, our own identity is also involved.
David had written concerning Christ, "The Lord said to my Lord: ĎSit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstoolí" (Psalm 110:1). Concerning us, Paul says that he "raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:6).
God the Father has done with us, his children, the same he did with his only-begotten Son. This is such a lofty mystery, so high above our understanding, so far superior to everything we have seen or heard or have even been able to imagine, that, just like Paul, we must pray that
the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him... that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe, according to the working of his great might which he accomplished in Christ when he raised him from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come; and he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all (Eph. 1:17-23).
My brothers and sisters, I donít know if you understood what I just read. Christ sat at the right hand of the Father, and us he made to sit (not some day in the far-away future, but right now) in the heavenly places with Christ.
He put all things under him, both the things in this age but also in that which is to come; things in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth. And we, his Church, are the fulness of Christ our head, of him who fills all in all; we all constitute the total Christ. And because we are is body, then the lowliest among us, he who could be considered to be at the height of the soles of the feet of that body whose head is Christ, he who is the most unworthy... even that individual is above every rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named in this age and also in that which is to come, because all things have been placed under his feet!
That is, brothers and sisters, the true identity of Christ. And that is, brothers and sisters, our true identity.
To the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen (Jude 25).
The Day God Went Crazy
It is said that a peasant from the northern mountains of Nicaragua once went down to the seashore for the first time in his life, and wanted to see the ocean. When he came to the beach he stayed there in ecstasy, watching the immensity of the ocean, and for several hours he did not utter a word. All he did was to contemplate, in deep meditation. Then he stood up, took an empty bottle in his hands, went into the sea, and filled it with water. When he was asked what he wanted the water for, he replied: "In my town they donít know the sea. Iím taking this bottle to them so they can know what it is."
Thatís how I feel now. I have been asked to talk to you about grace, and trying to enclose all the majesty, the immensity and the beauty of grace in one talk is just as absurd as attempting to put the ocean inside a bottle.
The study of the theology of grace takes three years. At the end of that period one realizes that the mistake of great theologians was also that they attempted to bottle grace into words, definitions and concepts that reflect nothing of its glory. In order to understand what the sea is, you have to plunge into it. And then we can understand perfectly how delightful it is, and at the same time stand in awe at its immensity and its power.
The holy writers of the Old Testament never attempted to define grace. In order to explain it, they resorted to the words that God himself used when he revealed himself to Moses as the God of grace:
The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful (rahamim) and gracious (hen), slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love (hesed) and faithfulness (emet), keeping steadfast love (hesed) for thousands... (Exodus 34:6).
In God, grace is at once mercy that pities over misery (hen), loving steadfastness towards his own (hesed), unyielding solidness in his commitments (emet), wholehearted adherence of the whole being to those he loves (rahamim), inexhaustible justice (tsedeq) that is able to bestow on all his creatures the fulness of their rights, and to fill all their aspirations.
What God reveals to Moses is his own character, what God is. God is love. God is hesed. God is faithful. God is kindness and mercy. God is loyalty. God is grace!
With the same words they express that which they had experienced as Godís grace. And what they have experienced is that God, in a free, gratuitous way, out of sheer love, had chosen Israel and had made a covenant with them. They were to be his people and he would be their God. They are clear that this love of God for Israel and this choice had nothing to do with what Israel is, with what Israel has done, or with what Israel has or deserves. They are clear that this is pure grace of God, his free gift.
The Lord says in Deuteronomy 7:6-8:
For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his own possession, out of all the peoples that are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love upon you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples; but it is because the Lord loves you, and is keeping the oath which he swore to your fathers.
Then Paul says:
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of Godónot because of works, lest any man should boast (Eph. 2:8-9).
In order to express the sovereign and gratuitous character of that love, the Old Testament authors use the Hebrew word hanan. What hanan conveys is the idea of an immense kindness and favor from someone who is far superior to us, who is far above us and who does not have the least obligation to show such kindness. This is the free relationship between omnipotence and impotence, between sin and forgiveness.
Later on they come closer to the concept of grace with a key word that contains a new element and that adds something very important to what we are trying to explain. This word is hesed, which expresses that that kindness and love are constant, faithful, loyal, steadfast, unbreakable.
The word hesed has some affinity to the concepts of mercy and forgiveness, but the new and most important feature is that this hesed of God is eternal, constant and irrevocable. There is nothing that can change it, and it will never end.
Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have graven you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me (Isaiah 49:15-16).
I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness (tsedeq) and in justice (mishpat), in steadfast love (hesed) and in mercy (rahamim). I will betroth you to me in faithfulness (íemunah), and you will know the Lord (Hosea 2:19-20).
The steadfast love which God offers Israel is the love that stands even when Israel is unfaithful and breaks the Covenant. God will always remain faithful and will not change his mind.
In Hosea 3:1 the Lord says to Hosea: "Go again, love a woman who is beloved of a paramour and is an adulteress; even as the Lord loves the people of Israel." God has given them a law out of love, but when that law is not obeyed, Godís faithful and unchanging love is the cause of his forgiving the sinners. God moves the sinner to repentance and corrects him, but makes him righteous once again. That is, he restores his relationship of love with him.
In order to understand this notion that God "makes him righteous," let us remember that in Hebrew mentality righteousness or being righteous does not indicate an inner virtue, but a situation or legal status before God. Being righteous or just is being in a right relationship to God, being at peace with him:
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God (Rom. 5:1).
You can now see how hard it is to express all these things in a modern language. This hesed is not an isolated action, something that God does at one time and then forgets, but a way of loving that establishes a relationship, a covenant.
In this Covenant God expresses the way he wants to relate to his people, and at the same time the way he wants the members of his people to relate to each other. What God reveals to them and commands them is that they should relate to each other in the same way that God relates to them, with that same hesed. Hence the New Commandment, which both comprises and surpasses all the others, is that we should love each other as he has loved us.
As a result of his choice and as an expression of his Covenant, God promises to establish with Israel a type of relationship such that his power will always be available to Israel:
Behold, I make a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been wrought in all the earth or in any nation; and all the people among whom you are shall see the word of the Lord (Exodus 34:10).
Godís omnipotence was available to his people at all times. And it continues to be so: "He who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do" (John 14:12).
Grace is also Godís indwelling in his peopleóGodís presence, theophany. God dwells among his people. He leads them, he guides them, he protects them, he forms them, he sanctifies them. Later he will be Emmanuel, "God with us", and at the end of time, "He will dwell with them... and God himself will be with them" (Rev. 21:3).
This indwelling of God in us is not like having a relative or a mother-in-law living in your house. It is an indwelling that will gradually purify us, form us and transform us into God himself, giving us his own way of thinking, of desiring and of acting.
The Israelites understood it so. In the book of Wisdom we discover that wisdom is nothing else but God himself communicating with the creatures. Through wisdom, God gives creatures a reflection of his beauty and his truth, of the internal cohesiveness that holds everything together.
This wisdom which is God himself enlightens our understanding and leads us on the right path. In the future, the Holy Spirit will reveal all things to us. And this is so because everything that the Old Testament narrates is only a prefigurement of what is to come.
Grace is that, an many things more. St. Paul comes to the point of saying that "All is grace." Not because grace is many different things, but because it is like a light that, being one, breaks itself up into multiple colors.
In fact, St. John is the first to use the word "light" when he wants to speak about grace, and tells us that Christ, the Word, "is light and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5).
All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:3-5).
Like light, grace cannot co-exist with darkness, but overcomes it by dissipating the darkness of sin. Like light, grace is communicated when it gives itself, and yet we cannot say that we possess light; we could rather say that the light possesses us and surrounds us, and enlightens us, and helps us to see ourselves as we actually are (the Holy Spirit "will convince... concerning sin and righteousness and judgment," John 16:8) and shows us the path to follow.
Light is a fountain of joy, of security and peace, and shows us the reality of things (without it, confusion reigns). Walking in the light is living in truth, but it is also walking and living in the Kingdom of Grace, and not under the dominion of the law.
But, above all, light makes us similar to itself, to a certain extent. It is John who tells us that one day we will be like Christ, because we will see him face to face. Light does not change us into light, but enlightens us and gives us some of its own features. God has not yet made us gods, because we can only see him as it were through a veil, but he has made us divine. Grace divinizes us.
As I said at the beginning, the sacred writers needed to use many different words and comparisons in order to explain all of these things. When the Seventy translated the Old Testament into Greek (the version thus known as the "Septuagint", i.e. translated by "seventy"), they found a word which was later used in the New Testamentóthe Greek word charis, which is the one we now translate as Ďgraceí.
This word occurs 150 times in the New Testament, more than 100 of which are in the letters of Paul. It does not occur in Mark or in Matthew, who are the first evangelists. In Luke it occurs 8 times, and 3 in John, although, as we said earlier, John prefers to explain this with the notions of light and life. It was Paul and the Pauline writers who gave the word charis the meaning it now has.
Finally, the notion of grace is also applied to our response to such favors. This is evident in languages like Spanish, where the word for Ďthanksí is gracias, but in English it can also be seen in words like grateful. Thus, the notions of Ďgratitudeí and Ďgratefulnessí include the concept of Ďgraceí. When we say, "Thank you", or "Iím grateful," we actually mean, "I have received many graces from you, and therefore I express gratitude." The grace of the Lord also calls us to gratefulness and thanksgiving.
I think we can perceive that charis also has to do with Ďcharityí. Godís grace cannot be separated from his love. One could almost say that the grace which God reveals to Moses as his way of being is also a revelation of his way of loving. Grace is a manifestation of his love, with certain characteristics that show us Godís way of being. And God is love.
We can also discover that another derivative of charis is charismata, that is, the charisms or spiritual gifts. In fact, all charismatic gifts are, like grace itself, free gifts which we cannot deserve, but that God gives us in a gratuitous way (and Ďgratuitousí and Ďgratisí are also derivatives of Ďgraceí). We know that, in fact, charisms are not something that God gives, but that they are God the Holy Spirit at work within us and revealing himself through us.
Grace is like that: God himself dwelling within us and working in us. It was St. Paul who gave the word charis a much wider sense, which includes everything that we have said hitherto about grace.
And now please allow me the folly of summing up all that I have said in a single phrase I heard, from Thomas Merton, which I think will make all of this the simplest.
If grace is God at work, then who is Godís dynamis? Who is he who from the beginning was hovering over the waters, the one we know as the Power of God, the strong wind separating the waters of the Red Sea, and the strong wind of Pentecost, the one who generated Jesus in Maryís womb and then raised him from the dead?
If grace is God manifesting himself to us such as he is, who is he through whom God manifests himself to us? Who is he who through us manifests Godís power? Who is he who reveals Godís mind to us, and who shapes inside us, from one degree of glory to another, the image and the character of God?
If grace is God himself speaking to the sinner and calling all of us to conversion, who is he who will convince us of sin and of judgment, and through whom we have heard and understood Godís voice? Who is he who will teach us all things? Who is he to whom Jesus was referring when he told the Samaritan woman, "If you knew the gift of God", Godís endowment, the fountain that springs forth unto eternal life, so that you will thirst no more? Who, but the "sweet Guest of the soul"?
The phrase I listened to in a recording of Thomas Merton was the following: "Habitual grace is God inhabiting us, and actual grace is the Spirit of God acting in us."
The idea is not Mertonís. It is found already in St. Cyril of Alexandria, who noted how the Spirit of God works in us, sanctifies us, joins us to himself and makes us partakers of divine nature. We are his temple. He dwells in us and makes us similar to himself, and transforms us into gods by giving himself to us. But above all, it is found in St. Augustine, who often uses the word Ďgraceí to designate the Holy Spirit, such as in his Sermon 144. Other times, instead, he designates as grace the effect created by the indwelling of the Spirit of God in us.
Since he dwells in us, he makes us pleasing or agreeable in Godís eyes. Now Ďagreeableí is also a word that derives from Ďgraceí. We have found grace in Godís eyes, like Mary, the one who was full of grace, gratia plena. God put his eyes in the smallness of his handmaiden, and that is why all nations of the earth would call her ĎBlessed,í that is, Ďpleasingí to God. All of us are blessed.
Now I want to ask you to pay close attention, because we are going to take a big leap from the Old to the New Testament.
If the Israelites experienced the grace from God above all in the fact that God chose them as his own people, and in the covenant he established with them, which included on the one hand the Law and on the other the protection of Godís power which brought them freedom from slavery, Paul and the early Christians experienced the grace of God, above all, as the "gift" or "benefit" that God bestows on men, of attaining salvation.
"By grace you have been saved," says Paul (Eph. 2:5). For them, the supreme grace is the salvation that God offers in Jesus Christ.
God had manifested himself to the Israelites and had established a covenant with his people. He set them free from slavery by using all his power, he granted them forgiveness, and he gave them a law so that they would relate to each other the same way he was relating to them.
The Israelites lived under the law, and were unable to obey it. God then told them that he would give them a law, not written on stone, but on their hearts.
And it was then that God went crazy.
Christ Jesus... though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being born in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:6-8)
He had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:2-6).
The God of grace and kindness, rich in mercy, but who does not leave the guilty unpunished, then laid the sins of his people on the head of his Son. The scapegoat became the Lamb of God, the victim of propitiation for the sins of his people, who died for us once for all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth... He was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people..." (Isaiah 53:7-9)
What happened afterwards is imagined in a very ancient anonymous homily for Holy Saturday. Christ goes down to sheol and, coming near Adam, says to him:
I am your God, who for you and for all those who are to be born of you have become your son. And now I tell you that I have the power to proclaim to all who are in chains, ĎCome out!í, and to those who are in darkness, ĎBe enlightened!í, and to those who sleep, ĎArise!í To you I command: ĎWake up, you who sleep, because I did not create you for you to remain captive in the abyss. Rise from the dead, because I am the life of the dead. Rise, you work of my hands; rise, you who are my image, created in my likeness. Rise, let us go out of here, because I in you and you in me make up one indivisible person. For you I, your God, have become your son. For you I, your Lord, have put on your condition of a servant. For you I, who am above the heavens, have come to earth and have descended into abyss. For you I have become man, similar to a paralytic that has his bed among the dead. For you, who were expelled from the garden, I have been delivered to the Jews at a garden, and in a garden I have been crucified.
Behold the spits on my face, that I have withstood in order to give back to you your first breath of life. Look at the bruises on my cheeks, which I have undergone in order to reshape your deformed image in accordance with my image. Watch the marks of the lash on my back, which I have accepted in order to lessen the weight of your sins, which had been placed on your back. Look at the nails that have fastened me strongly to the tree, for I have accepted them for you, who maliciously stretched your hand towards the forbidden tree. I slept on the cross and a spear pierced my side, for you who in Paradise slept and gave origin to Eve from your side. My side has cured the sorrow of yours. My sleep brings you out of the sleep of the abyss. My spear removed that sword that was threatening you in Paradise.
Rise up, let us leave this place. The enemy took you out of Paradise. I am placing you, not in Paradise, but on the heavenly throne. I forbade you to eat of the tree of life, which was only an image of the actual tree. I am the true tree, I who am the life and who am united to you.
I placed a cherub to watch over you faithfully. I now grant that the cherub, acknowledging your dignity, may serve you. The throne of cherubim is ready. The porters are attentive and prepared, the nuptial room is built, the food is ready. The eternal tabernacles and dwellings have been embellished; the treasures of all gods have been open, and the Kingdom of Heaven is prepared from all eternity.
In this, my brothers and sisters, we have known the grace of the Lord: in that he loved us first, and has given us his own Son so that whoever believes in him might have eternal life.
Throughout the centuries, various authors develop new explanations of grace, and each of them stresses one of its aspects, though none of them comes to the point of explaining it completely, because it continues to be impossible to express in words the whole greatness of Godís love. It took God, not centuries, but thousands of years, to manifest it and to reveal it, not with words but with the manifestation of himself, of his relentless love, of his eternal faithfulness, of his tenderness, of his infinite favors, with the liberation of his people and the redemption of the whole human race. The perfect expression of this crazy love was his incarnation in time, and the delivery of his Son for our salvation. All is grace!
The great gift of God was, at the beginning, God himself that became manifest to Israel as I am, and who committed himself to his chosen people through a covenant in which he involved his whole power in order to set them free from slavery. He wanted to convey to them his way of acting, giving them a law that would teach them to act as he does: with an infinite, gratuitous and unbreakable love, and to relate to each other in the same way.
Since the old covenant was not enough, at a given moment God went crazy and established a new covenant. This time he would not write the law on tables of stone, but in our very hearts.
This time, Godís gift was his own Son, whom he gave over to death for us. He did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. In him the fulness of Godís power was manifested, and he set us free from the bondage of the devil, of sin and of death.
He showed us how we were to relate to each other, not as a written word but by loving us to the extreme, and commanding us to love in the same way he loved us.
And this Son, the night before his death, knowing that it was not part of our nature to love as God had loved us, just as it was not part of the Israelitesí nature to obey the law of Moses, he promised us his own Spirit, the Gift of God that was announced to the Samaritan woman: the love of God that has been poured on our hearts. He is the one who writes the law on our hearts, giving us the same way of being of God, and Godís way of loving.
In the Spirit of God becomes manifest not only the power of God, but this power is communicated and imparted, in order to do the same things as he did and even greater, in order to carry the Good News to the last corners of the earth with the signs that accompany preaching, and in order to be able to obey the law and to overcome the devil.
Having been sent on the day of Pentecost in order to call together the New Israel from among all the peoples of the earth, he now joins us to Christ in order to form with him one Body, whose head is Christ.
He who promised to stay with us to the end of the age now inhabits our hearts through the Holy Spirit, in union with the Father. We have now become children of God, brothers and sisters of Christ, living temples of his Spirit and heirs of heaven, in order to sanctify us, which amounts to divinizing us, because God alone is Holy.
The gift is now complete. It is complete and gratuitous. All is grace. God has given himself over to us, and dwells wholly in us. He works in us and through us. There is nothing we can do to deserve this. But the merits of Christ have been credited to us.
Today we are pleasing in Godís eyes. We are blessed. We are called to create a new world together with the Father, with the Word for whom all things were created, and with the Holy Spirit who is now once again hovering over the whole creation in order to renew the face of the earth. We have been called to carry on the redeeming work of Christ, as the mystical body of Christ which is an extension of Christ in history. We have been called to start and to expand the Kingdom of God on earth. We have been called to bring all things to unity under Christ. We have been given a mission of gods. In order to carry this out, we bear God himself within us. One day we shall see him face to face and shall be like unto him.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them." (Rev. 21:3).
They shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads. And night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever. (Rev. 22:4).
ContentForgiveness and Reconciliation
I met my Lord at the precise moment when many things in my life were beginning to crumble down, including my family. I now have a family that is very much united and very happy, as a fruit of reconciliation and of the Lordís mercy. That is why, on addressing the topic of family as the target and instrument of reconciliation, I can do it with praise and thanksgiving to the Lord of all tenderness.
Iím a Nicaraguan, and I come from a country where the human family is nowadays deeply divided at all levelsóchildren against parents, wives against husbands, brother against brother. This division is today our greatest sorrow, and the task of reconciliation is the most difficult challenge that the Lord poses to his people.
I visit the U.S. with some frequency, and I am sad to discover that, even though in a different way, American families are divided too, and their division is very deep.
Since statistics are very helpful to make our talks look better, I decided to gather data about the situation of Catholic families in the United States, and I found some data that are frankly quite interesting.
From 1973 to 1983, the rate of divorced Catholics increased from one in every seven to one in every four marriages. While the divorce rate in the general population of the U.S. increased in 50 percent, during the same period the divorce rate among Catholics increased in 90 percent.
All of this speaks to us about a divided family, about a division that alienates and separates people. But the picture is only complete when we look into the situation of our children.
From 1957 to 1979 the incidence of suicide among the youth increased in 230 percent. The figure doesnít tell us anything, until we realize that this increase is ten times higher than the increase in suicide among the adult population. The arrests of white young people under 18 increased in 2730 percent, and the number of murders committed by white youngsters in 310 percent. In the U.S., 40 percent of the murders nowadays are committed by young people between 16 and 24 years old.
The number of illegitimate births rose 800 percent among girls between 15 and 19 years old, despite the generalized use of contraceptives. In 1982, 33 percent of people above 12 years of age used some drug in a more or less customary way, but the percentage went up to 64 percent among high school seniors. More than one third of them had experimented other illegal drugs in addition to marijuana. (Pastoral Renewal, Nov. 1983, p. 40).
Statistics are just too cold and too impersonal. We run the risk of seeing only figures where there are real people involved. Each of these young people has a name and a family which could be ours. Behind every integer lies a disintegrated personality. Thereís something that is not working the way God intended it to work. Thereís someone who is broken inside.
In the face of this kind of situations, man wonders what is going wrong, where his failure is. We Christians know the answer: no matter how different the road one might have followed, the point of departure is always the same. All of our failures, both personal and social, have their root in the inner breakdown of man through sin, and in his separation from God.
This is what our bishops reminded us of in the Synod of 1983: "The divisions that disturb our worl are at once a terrible and revealing sign, and a bitter fruit of that intimate division produced by man through sin, that alienates him from God, from himself and from others."
We need to listen to the voice of the Church that is continuously reminding us that the root of our troubles is inside our own hearts. Modern man insists in looking for the cause and the solution to his problems outside his heart. This can be seen both in the case of the divorced woman who asserts that everything will be different with this new husband, and in the young revolutionary who asserts that the new change will finally bring peace.
Unfortunately, divorces and revolutions come one after the other without yielding the expected results. As the root is the same, the fruits are the same.
We do not need an elaborate theology to know that this is true. Even the most complex theology becomes plain and obvious when our own existence teaches us the truth. Family is perhaps the context where we can most clearly verify the existence of that destructive force we carry within us, and which we call sin.
One day we choose a girl, the woman of our dreams, whom we love deeply, for whom we would be willing to do anything, and to whom we want to commit our whole life in order to build a home with her that will be a true paradise. We lack nothing, we have everythingóa sincere desire, a firm decision, the necessary love and the person we ourselves chose to make all of this a reality.
But even that dream crumbles down. The reason is that we carry inside ourselves something that will soon begin to surfaceójealousy, grudge, resentment. And happiness is blurred today by anger, and tomorrow by incomprehension, and the next day by mockery and sarchasm, by alienation, by the distance and silence of two people who are drifting away towards lack of love. The sin within us has begun its process of division and destruction.
When this happens, we wonder what has taken place. And, like St. Paul, we answer that "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate... So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me" (Romans 7:15, 17).
I know that among you there are people who are suffering. There are people with deep wounds in their souls, caused by the sins of others. And there are people who have done a lot of harm through their actions or omissions, possibly without intending to, possibly against the people they loved most. It would be better if that had not happened; they would like to start all over again; but they think this is impossible. But with God nothing is impossible.
Iím on my return trip from the impossible. I know the way back. The way God offers us to come back from the impossible is the same he offers to come back from sin to his friendshipóthe way of reconciliation through repentance and forgiveness.
I said just a while ago that man today is broken inside. Psychiatrists tell us that this inner breakdown, in a very high percentage, is caused by two big factors: guilt, and resentment or grudge.
This is something God knows quite well, because heís the one who fashioned us and knows better than anybody else how it is that we work. Everybody knows that a diesel car cannot run with gasoline. Itís not just that it wonít run, but that if we try it, we spoil it. It will be broken inside. God knows that a family cannot work with grudge, because it was made to work with love. And because God knows this, and in addition to that he wants our good and loves us, he then does something we donít always understandóhe calls us to repentance, and he commands us to forgive. And he does so because repentance and forgiveness are the only cure and solution for guilt and grudge that are destroying us.
Young people, too, were made to work with love. So when they donít find it, they look for a replacement, or simply refuse to walk. Sometimes they will only experience a tremendous vaccuum inside, and they try to fill it up with strong experiences. In other cases, they are filled with hatred or grudge that moves them to violence.
Behind their rebelliousness and their drugs, behind their escapism, behind their violence, we must diagnose a failure in their inner engine. Something is lacking. Something is broken. No matter what fuel he or she is using, it has to be changed. That is, he or she needs to repent and go back to the fuel he was designed for.
And, brothers and sisters, we were ultimately designed to work with God. We cannot run without him. Man was made to run with Godís life, with the Spirit of God. This is what Genesis tells us, that God blew his own Spirit into dust in order to give us life. When man, through sin, loses the Spirit of God, he becomes mere dust once again. That is, heís now mere flesh and is subject to the laws of the flesh.
This is what our faith teaches us: that man, apart from God and without the help of the Holy Spirit, carries within himself a destroying force that we call sin. Unless we draw near and unite ourselves to God once again through reconciliation, unless the Lord gives us a new heart, unless we are born again from on high, unless the Spirit of God shapes us in the image of Christ, unless Godís power acts in our lives... in sum, brothers and sisters, unless we are saved by Jesus Christ, we will continue to fail, despite our best intentions and our greatest efforts, and a destroyed family is the clearest proof to this great truth.
Even though the topic of my talk is not reconciliation to God, all that I will say from now on presupposes this reconciliation and vital union to him. It is through him, with him and in him that everything else is possible.
It is good to know what the Lord commands us to do, but it is also necessary to understand why he commands what he commands. Everything is easier and clearer when we understand the Lordís ways.
There is a parable that can be very useful for us to have a better understanding of the Lordís purposes and ways. It is found in Matthew 18:23-35, and in it the Lord explains to us to some extent what the Kingdom of God is like. We will find a deeper meaning in it if we remember that in Romans 14:17 we are told that the Kingdom of God is living in righteousness, peace and joy. And thatís what the Lord wants for us: a life in righteousness, full of his joy and peace. This is the parable:
Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ĎLord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.í And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But that same servant, as he went out, campe upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, ĎPay what you owe.í So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, ĎHave patience with me, and I will pay you.í He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ĎYou wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?í And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.
Brothers and sisters, we Christians need to allow the Word of God to challenge us. The Lord repeatedly says in Scripture that he will only forgive our trespasses if we ourselves forgive those who offend us. That is something very serious, something we need to get clear on: forgiving is not something optional that we can do or left undone, but is a command.
However, I think it is important for you to understand why it is that the Lord commands us to forgive. It is worth discovering at all times, behind every command of God, the love and the tenderness of a Father who loves us.
The Lord often uses his parables to explain to us what God is like. In this parable, the first thing we find, as we look at the amount of this manís debt, is a God who loves us so much that he allows us to accumulate incredible debts. One could say that he doesnít even keep a record of the things he gives us or of the debts accrued.
It is obvious that the intention of the parable is to show us that what we owe God is something we would never be able to pay. But thatís what God is like, and he allows for these things because he is Love.
But the thing doesnít stop there. The Lord teaches us something even greater and more beautiful: the only thing this man in the parable dares to do is ask for patience so he can pay. He doesnít even think about asking for more. However, this man on his knees leads God to compassion, and God goes far beyond the manís request. Of his own will, he grants the total cancellation of all his debts.
What this parable teaches us is that Godís kindness is much larger that anything we could imagine or anything we dare expecting from him. St. Paul says that what eye has not seen, or ear heard, nor have we even been able to imagine, is what God has reserved for those who love him. We who are the Lordís friends know that very well. Thatís what heís like.
The parable also teaches us that God does not forgive in a limited way. He does not keep, as we do, even a little IOU that can become a tool for pressing on the debtors. Iím talking about that IOU of the old unpaid debt, to be charged to that person who still owes it to us, and which we produce every once in a while to rub on his or her face. This can be our wife or our husband. This can be anyone who has been unlucky enough to become indebted to us.
Godís cancellation is total. What the parable teaches is that when God forgives, itís a whole new start. When he cancels a debt, the IOUís are destroyed. Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And when something is taken away, it is no longer there.
The meaning of forgiveness in the Bible is very different from what we mean by that. In the world, if you forgive me, then you are the good one who in your immense generosity has deigned forgiving me; I continue to be the bad one who wronged you. I am merely a pardoned or paroled criminal who is allowed to walk freely on the streets, but who continues to be a criminal whose record is being kept somewhere.
But with God, things are different. When God blots our sins, no trace is left of them. They have never existed. Not even St. Peter will be able to find them in his heavenly accounting books when he looks for them. So I can come to you and to God clean and unblemished.
But thatís not because someone stole my record at the police headquarters. Some say that what happened is that someone filled it with his own blood and made it illegible. But in fact, something greater than that has happened: when God forgives us, he also justifies us. That is, he makes us just.
It is not just the record that has disappeared. The criminal has disappeared too. The criminal exists no more, and the reaso he exists no more is that he is dead. It is said that he was crucified together with his attorney. So Iím now a new creation. Iím a different person, I have been born again from on high, I have no sin and no past.
My brothers and sisters, it is not possible to keep a healthy, loving relationship with somebody else if this person makes us feel constantly accused. Or if we, despite his forgiveness, always feel tormented by our past failures. The Lord knows this, and that is why he wants and expects that, once your faults have been deleted, you will forget them too.
And you, sister, please do not wield your virtues as a big stick to attack your husband or to make other peopleís faults more obvious. The Lord is even greater and more virtuous, but he does not humiliate us with his holiness but encourages us and extends his hand to us so we can come closer to him and be lifted up towards him.
A few years ago a lady came to me asking to be prayed for. In her view she was a martyr of her husband, and no one had ever seen so many virtues bound together in one single volume of devotion and holiness. However, I began to feel inside myself an unexplainable rage. It was the Lordís wrath. Then I suddenly opened the Bible in front of me, and without looking for a particular passage, I read aloud. The text was Micah 7:4-6, and said:
The best of them is like a brier, the most upright of them a thorn hedge... Guard the doors of your mouth... for... the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a manís enemies are the men of his own house.
The lady turned pale. Her home was a hell. Her husband had become an alcoholic. Our false martyr had all the virtues, except the ones she needed the mostómore comprehension, more humility, more love. She was into the bad habit of torturing people with her virtues. Each of her merits was an invoice somebody else had to pay.
Brothers and sisters, if the Lord has already paid all of our debts with his blood, why do we insist on bleeding others out to pay for theirs?
In contrast with Godís mercy, the parable shows us the pettiness of manís heart, which keeps a record even of the smallest debts.
There are many ways to seize someone by the throat as the man in the parable. One of them is precisely through continuous reproach, through accusation, through this perpetual inventory of each and every one of the faults committed since the wedding night, through mistrust, through jealousy. Itís like spending your life murdering someone with a small shaving blade. It doesnít kill, but it bleeds the other person out until the relationship and the love finally wither and die.
I think we all can imagine what a marriage would be like if the spouses knew how to forgive each other the way God forgives. It involves coming before each other totally justified, a new creation, in order to start a completely new life all over again. And this is possible if you want.
Finally, Christ tells us that not forgiving has its consequences, and will not be left unpunished. He says that, if we are not reconciled to him óbecause we insist on not forgiving those who trespass against usó we remain enslaved to the devil and the flesh, which then do with us whatever they want and lead us from death to death and from destruction to destruction.
All of us are, to some extent, actors in this parable. If forgiving is an obligation, itís better for us to feel in the obligation to forgive, even if it is only in order to attain forgiveness from our God. But it is even better for all of us to understand what Godís intent is when he commands us to forgive, so that we are able to discover his love even behind his commands.
I have a friend who is very dear to me. Some time ago he wrote something very intimate and personal, which in a certain way gave a new perspective to my life and to the lives of many other persons. Itís a piece of his own life, and I would like to share it with you. It is written like a tale, but I know itís more than just a tale. He called it The Collector of Wounds, and it goes like this:
The Collector of Wounds
In this world there are collectors of the strangest vanities, of things tangible and intangible.
I met a man who collected wounds. He had a huge album of all the wounds people had inflicted on him. There was a whole variety. Enormous, open and bleeding wounds of atrocious disappointments, of tremendous ingratitude; irregular wounds from bites of hatred, of slander and of that kind of truths that everyone wants to keep hidden and somebody decides to uncover with a rash gesture, as when the sheet is removed from a corpse at the morgue. He even had an album of tiny wounds, hardly visible, but in which the poison of envy was still shining.
He was fond of opening his album of wounds and spending long hours savoring the salty flavor of the blood that dripped from each page, and which was his own blood. There are many collectors of wounds like this man, and their lives are bitter.
Then I met another man, who collected expressions of kindness. He had an album too, which he thought was necessary when he started his collection, but he was only able to paste on it a few of these expressions of kindness, because afterwards he had no time. The expressions of kindness that he gathered were living and flying in his room, filling it with a light like the light of the rainbow.
He could not leaf through his album, because expressions of kindness came by themselves to his hands in endless flocks and swarmed in his room.
There were great expressions of kindness from an open heart, from long, endeared friendships, from beings who knew how to pour love out abundantly.
There were rare expressions of kindness, from hard men, surprised in an unexplainable instant of softening, and there were even tiny expressions of kindness, hardly visible, sprinkled with milk like an infantís kiss.
There are many collectors of kindness like this other man, and their lives are sweet.
Something funny happens when you are old. You remember yourself at different times, and it looks as if you were looking at other menís lives. These are the first signs of dotage, the dawn of old age. But itís also a time when some things become quite clear.
Between the collector of wounds and the collector of kindness, you are the only difference, my Lord!
I met both of those two men. And I say "two" because, even though they are one person, they are totally different. The new man whom my Lord transformed, I love dearly. We were fortunate to travel together in the new life that began when Jesus came to us. When you walk with collectors of kindness, such as he, you get to see many things clearly.
I have also known many collectors of wounds. Their pain is all the more painful to me because it is a deliberate, stubborn, proud pain. Collectors of wounds are usually tied up by a fine string of pride that hinders them from taking that simple leap of forgiveness towards peace and joy. They will not necessarily be punished by God, because in their resentment and rancor they are already bearing their own punishment.
Perhaps you are now beginning to discover the infinite love of God that lies behind each of his commandments. I would now like to share with you something I wrote a long time ago, and which I think can help you gain a little deeper insight into Godís intent.
This is an imaginary dialogue between a woman and the Lord, but I think this is valid for all of us. Some of you may find it similar to your own prayers. I would ask that for a moment we place ourselves in the Lordís presence and try to complete this dialogue, making it into an actual conversation between Jesus and each one of us.
What I visualize is a lady talking with Jesus, and the conversation goes more or less like this:
She: Lord, forgive me! Iím really sorry for having grieved you. My debt is so big!
He: I see your heart and I know you are sincere. Of course I forgive you. I told Peter we needed to forgive, not seven times, but seventy times seven, and that at the end of just one day. How would I not do the same Iím asking you to do? How would I proclaim one thing and the act differently?
Now thereís something I want to ask of you: I want you to forgive that offense that So-and-so caused you (your husband, your wife, your son, etc.). Do you remember?
She: How wouldnít I remember! I canít almost think of anything else!
He: I want you to forgive him.
She: But I canít forgive him after what he did to me.
He: Why do you see the speck that is in your brotherís eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see things differently. Let him who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.
She: But you know all the harm he caused to me, and how I have suffered!
He: But of course I know! If he had not harmed you, you wouldnít need to forgive him. It is precisely because he has made you suffer that you need to forgive him.
She: But itís all the same for him whether I forgive him or hate him! None of my things concerns him at all, and maybe he doesnít even remember the past. I think heís not even interested in your forgiveness, much less in mine.
He: Iím aware of that. I havenít said he needs you to forgive him. He has already forgotten the whole thing, even though you continue to remind him as often as you can. What I said is that you need to forgive him.
She: Why me?
He: Well, because youíre the one whoís suffering. Look at your own face. See how you change and how you destroy yourself inside at the sole idea of having to forgive him. Many of your ailments come from these rancors and grudges you have held in your heart.
She: In other words, youíre now going to come up with the story of turning the other cheek....
He: Was it any use to you to strike back as you did? It is because of not turning the other cheek that both of you have ended up injured, and I donít mean just once. A time came when neither of you did what you really wanted. You only reacted to each otherís actions, and stopped being free. Thatís why you both were dragged into this state of affairs. Turning the other cheek means that our actions must not be determined by the actions of others, but by our own will, by what we would really like to do. I know what you really wanted at that time and what you continue to want even now. And thatís not what you now have.
She: Lord, one canít win the day with you!
He: But one can enjoy. And joy is gain.
She: Well, then, Iím going to forgive him, but just because youíre asking me to.
He: Thatís a good start. You have to forgive, not because you feel like forgiving him, but because I command you to. I have already said that quite clearly: "I you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Mt. 6:15). But thereís one thing I want you to be clear aboutóyou are not doing me any favor. I do you the favor of commanding you to forgive, because this is for your good, like the rest of my law. Neither do I command this so that you will feel more virtuousóI command it so that you will be happier.
She: As far as Iím concerned I wouldnít forgive him, but Iím going to for his sake.
He: Thatís not true. You just said he doesnít care whether you forgive him or not.
She: Oh, well, then, if he doesnít care, I wonít forgive him!
He: Just a little while ago you were asking me to forgive all your trespasses. And you know thereís been a great many of them. You even felt entitled to claim my forgiveness. Now I, who am your Lord and your master, ask you to forgive one single thingóthe thing that hurts you the most, and youíre saying no! Donít you thing youíre putting things upside down?
Now gird your loins and listen: Where were you when I built the vault of heaven, when I set a limit to the ocean, when I shaped the mountains, when I played with galaxies between my fingers? O little worm of mine, my beloved! Donít you think that hatred, rancor or vengeance are a much more serious fault than the thing youíre refusing to forgive? Isnít this a sin of pride and arrogance, the very sin that caused the fall of Lucifer? You yourself are also sinking in a hell built by your rancor. The Christianís only revenge is forgiveness. And your revenge is going to be a big one, because I donít just want you to forgive him but to love him as I love you.
Do you know why I wonít forgive you unless you forgive? Simply because my forgiveness would be of no use to you. I love you all the same. I love you always, even at this time of rebellion on your part. But, you see, even with my forgiveness you would continue to be unhappy.
Iím even willing to let you enter heaven even if you donít forgive. But I ask and clarify: Do you think heaven can really be heaven for somebody who does not forgive? Can it be heaven if you live together with him in eternal rancor? If there can be no heaven without love, how can there be love or heaven without forgiveness?
She: But, Lord, what face can I put on to tell him I forgive him...?
He: Now that you mention your faceóyou no longer have the face I gave you when yo began to love him. At your age, everyone is responsible for the face he or she has. Your face has become hard. Your eyes have ceased shining. Thatís a pity. One cannot have light in the eyes and shadows in the soul, because the eyes are the mirror of the soul.
She: Okay, Lord, I forgive him.... but donít ask me to forget it.
He: You have understood nothing at all. It is remembrance that torments you. If I gave you amnesia, you would not suffer any longer, but neither would you enjoy as I want you to enjoy.
She: Youíre right, Lord. But I canít guarantee that I will never remember it. I often remember unwillingly. But I promise I will not lick my wounds, I will not sit down to remember the past, or blame him anymore.
He: Thatís all Iím expecting of you. Leave the rest to me. Allow me to heal those memories and the wound this left in your heart. Do you understand now? I didnít just want to forgive your sins; I also wanted and want to heal you of the harm that the sins of others have left in your heart.
Thatís the end of the dialogue. Brothers and sisters, the salvation Christ offers to us is not just in heaven, nor does it consist only in forgiving your sins. The Lord wants to save your marriage, your relationship to your children; he wants to save your health and your joy. He wants to save you as a whole. One of the things the Lord wants to save you from is the harm that the sins of others have caused in your heart. Your contribution is forgiveness. The Lord will take care of the rest.
Now I would like to talk about repentance and reconciliation.
Perhaps, as you understand the immensity of Godís mercy and love, or as you understand the magnitude of the harm you have caused to others, you now feel tormented by feelings of guilt. You may even have thought sometimes, or someone might have taught you, that God enjoys having you feel guilty, or that we all expect that the least you can do is feel guilty for all you have done.
But thatís a big lie. God does not want to harm you, and feelings of guilt are harmful. But, in addition, they do not lead to reconciliation. They led Judas to despair, but not to repentance. Feelings of guilt never come from God. They come from the accuser, from him who was a murderer from the beginning.
Let me explain myself. A friend of mine says that guilt is saying, "How evil I am!", whereas repentance is saying, "What a fool Iíve been! How different all things would have been if only I had acted differently!" Repenting means changing your attitude and starting to act in a different way. Thatís what God expects of youóthat from now on you will act that other way that would have made you happy, or that would have saved you a lot of bitterness.
Reconciliation is simply the embrace between repentance and forgiveness. It is the encounter between one who says, "Iíve been foolish, I did wrong. Please forgive me. This will not happen again," and the one who says, "I have been foolish too in not forgiving you, and have unnecessarily borne the bitterness of rancor. Of course I forgive you!"
You will say this seems all too easy. I will say it is, when both parties rely on the love and faithfulness of our Lord Jesus Christ. Many times, in these years of serving the Lord, I have seen how a single minute was enough for two spouses who were estranged and mutually tormented by their lack of love, by their silence or by deep wounds, to find again the way to happiness through reconciliation. I invite you to try the same today.
You will say you have already tried it. But this time it can be different. The difference may lie in the possibility that, having reconciled yourselves to God first, you both hand over your marriage and your family to the Lord; that you show him, as a pleasant offering in his eyes, your mutual repentance and forgiveness, and ask him to give you a new heart so you can love each other the way he commands you to. But this time you will not just rely on your own strength, because thatís the strength of the flesh, but rather on the faithfulness of the living God who established a sacramental covenant with you they day of your wedding, and on the power of the Holy Spirit who will now inhabit your hearts through grace.
The reconciled couple can then, and only then, become an instrument of reconciliation for the whole family, and an instrument for many other things. First of all, as a witness to unity. Our children reject marriage and dispense with it to live together in concubinage, because they have ceased to believe not just in the sanctity of marriage but in the need or the possibility to marry just one person forever. Statistics prove them right. Through our reconciliation and harmony, we need to demonstrate to them that marriage is possible and worthwhile.
We also need reconciliation in order to form our children on the basis of a single mind, the mind of the husband and the wife who, having agreed together as a result of ongoing dialogue, work as a team for the sake of their children, instead of acting as two rivals who contend for their love or their acceptance by competing with each other in a race to see which of the two grants them maximum freedom or maximum luxury and gifts. If they do the latter, they will destroy their children, who will in the end manipulate their differences in order to make the most of them. These will be spoiled children, corrupted by their own parents, because they lacked the necessary unity to form them in discipline and obedience.
Finally, the family is an instrument of reconciliation just as it has been so often and in so many places an instrument of division, of hatred, of resentment, of discrimination, of manipulation, of oppression, of rivalry, of cruelty, of lack of love, of promiscuity, of vice. A family will shape others according to its own character.
Whether we like it or not, our countries will never be more than their families are. It is by itself symptomatic that modern revolutions and all the manifestations of non-conformity are led by youngsters who have just left adolescence and are dominated by a spirit of rebelliousness and licentiousness. I know many of them, and a very high percentage come from destroyed homes.
Just one final recommendation: When you reconciled yourself to God, it is most likely that you only confessed your serious sins, your mortal sins. I have sometimes found marriages that were destroyed by that kind of sin: adultery, physical abuse, manifest cruelty. Or by big sins that others committed against themóslander, envy, etc. But for each one of these, there are 99 marriages that never knew what it was that tore them apart. Thatís what we call "moth sins," which, just as the termites that destroy lots of American houses, cannot be seen, cannot be detected, cannot be accused, we donít repent of them, and they are not done away with until the damage is done. These are your greatest enemy.
Moth sins are lack of dialogue, mockery, sarchasm, rudeness, yelling, vulgarity, accusation, mistrust, jealousy, rejecting your spouse sexually, squandering, lack of love, unconsciousness. It is these small things, and others like them, that can undermine and corrode your house without your noticing it. They begin by alienating and separating the spouses, but if they are not detected and corrected on time they can end up by destroying your home.
All of you are very holy, and perhaps you donít think your marriage is threatened by big, conspicuous sins. But the Lord invites us to be perfect, as the Father in heaven is perfect. Let us now draw closer to him, who is now become an offering on the altar, and once reconciled to our brothers, to our spouses and our children, let us also hand to him our moth sins, so we can begin a new life of unity together in our family. Our family, having received the benefit of reconciliation, can now be also an instrument for reconciliation to our children and to all men. Glory to the Lord!