Category Archives: God’s Love

Fear

It is good when fear motivates us to jump away from a coiling snake or to wear our seat belts.  These are examples of God-given reflexes and reason.  It is not good when fear motivates us to sin.  Much sin is rooted in fear.  It stems from a lack of trust in God.  Our fears are exploited by the powers of darkness and used to tempt us away from love and toward sin.  I am reminded of the line from the classic movie Poltergeist, “It knows what scares you.”

Virtually any sin we can think of can be traced back to some fear.  Virtually any fear can result in some type of sin.

We Americans like to talk about rights and justice.  Seldom do we get to the heart of the matter.  When we violate God’s moral or natural laws we are usually motivated by fears which fuel our lack of trust in God.  We also like to use the word “love,” but we fail to understand the word.  We think love is simply another pleasant emotion instead of a courageous, selfless act of the will.

We are taught that courage is a virtue and that fear is a weakness.  So, instead of admitting that we have sinned because we are afraid, we mask our sins under the cover of “rights” and “justice.”  This makes us seem courageous, but often it is just like Adam and Eve hiding from God and wearing “fig leaves” to cover their shame.  So, the first step is to recognize sin for what it is and choose God’s love instead (even when it’s really, really hard).  Otherwise we remain stuck in the circular rationalization of our sins.

Next, we must ask ourselves what we are afraid of.  When we acknowledge our fears we are better able to see how they pave the way for sin.  Is our sin rooted in a fear of what we might miss out on (some pleasure, perhaps)?  Is it rooted in a fear of increased responsibility?  Is it a financial fear?  Is it a health related fear?  Whatever the fear, there is likely a lack of trust in God that accompanies it.  So, we choose our way instead of God’s way, and we sin.  We violate God’s moral or natural law.  We choose fear over love.

“God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2Tim 1:7)  “There is no fear in love; but perfect love castes out fear; because fear has torment.  He that fears has not been made perfect in love.” (1John 4:18)

What are your fears?  You may have to dig deep to find some of them.  Can you choose God’s ways in the face of them?  Will you let perfect love cast them out?  Or will you remain crouched behind your right to do things your way?

Stones In Our Hands And Logs In Our Eyes

Luke 6:37 tells us not to judge.  But, we can’t stop there, because Matt 7:1-5 spells things out in more detail.  The message is that we are not to be judgmental hypocrites.  There’s no point trying to remove a speck from someone’s eye if you have a huge log in your own eye.  First, take care of your own sins.  Then, you have the proper perspective to help someone else grow spiritually.

When you make judgments about certain behaviors or attitudes, remember that you will be held to the same standard you are using.  For example, there’s no point in judging someone’s lies if you yourself make a habit of lying.  There’s no point in judging someone for watching or making pornographic videos if you yourself entertain pornographic thoughts and images in your own mind.  Don’t look with disdain upon someone who gossips if you gossip, too.  Clean up your own act before trying to help another clean up theirs.

Jesus took this to an even higher level in John 8 when he told an accusing crowd, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”  After those who wanted to condemn her had all left, Jesus said to the woman who had sinned, “I’m not going to condemn you, either.  Go, and sin no more.”

The crowd knew that the woman had sinned.  Jesus also knew she had sinned.  Jesus did not admonish the crowd for recognizing and hating sin.  We are supposed to recognize and hate sin (otherwise we can’t get the logs out of our own eyes).  Jesus admonished the crowd for not recognizing and hating their own sins and for wanting to condemn the woman for hers.  So, Jesus showed us the better way.  Recognize and hate sin, but treat sinners with love and mercy rather than condemnation.  We’re all sinners.  We all want love and mercy when we sin.  We should apply the “Golden Rule.”  Any condemnation is God’s decision, not ours.

“Go, and sin no more.”  Victory over sin is the ultimate goal of God’s love and mercy.  Notice, Jesus did not say, “I don’t condemn you, either, and I never will, so go ahead and keep sinning.”  If we continue to prefer sin over God’s love and mercy, condemnation may very well be the result.  Jesus left the woman with her free will and the choice to either obey him or ignore him.

In summary:  Hate the sin but love the sinner.  We are all sinners and need empathy for each other.  Make sure you hate and address your own sins, first (regular confession and genuine repentance).  Leave condemnation up to God (if you throw a stone it may bounce back and hit you).  Don’t condone sin in yourself or in others (judge behaviors, not souls).  The ultimate goal for all of us is to “go and sin no more.”

Facebook And The Refrigerator

Yesterday I was on a men’s retreat at my parish.  During lunch break one of the guys was looking at his phone and scrolling away.  I asked him if he was looking at Facebook.  “Yeah,” he said, “just killing some time.”  I nodded my head.  Then he said, “Facebook is kind of like standing in front of the refrigerator.  You open it up and scan through it to see if anything looks good.”  I laughed in agreement.

His comment reminded me of a talk I once heard from a priest who was teaching a class on Catholicism.  The priest was introducing the idea that all of us have a built in longing for God, but we seek things other than God to appease that longing.  He quoted St. Augustine as saying that “our hearts are restless, oh God, until they rest in you.”  Then, he shared his own experience of something that is familiar to most of us.  It is the tendency to open the refrigerator door and stand there looking for something, even when we’re not really hungry.

I think it was G.K. Chesterton who said, “Every man who ever knocked on the door of a brothel was looking for God, but he just didn’t realize it.”  Whether it is the brothel door, the refrigerator door, the pantry door, the log in page of Facebook or any number of endeavors, we all look for something besides God to appease our longing for God.  Actually, it’s not something but someone we are seeking.  It is a longing that can only be satisfied by a relationship with God, for only God can provide the pure, unconditional love that we crave.  If we seek that relationship in anything or anyone other than God, we will eventually find ourselves unfulfilled, frustrated or disappointed.  We may even find ourselves addicted, constantly returning to that which can never fully satisfy, and that which ultimately leaves us empty and restless.

Close the refrigerator door.  You’re letting all the cold air out.

Does Love Exist? The Burden Of Proof.

When I say, “I love my family,” most people respond, “That’s wonderful!”  When I say, “There is a God,” many people demand, “Prove it scientifically!  You now bear the burden of proof!”  Yet, there is more empirical evidence to support the existence of God than my love of family.  Why such doubt and skepticism about God?

It is complained that “Religion has caused wars, deaths and oppression.”  Has not love triggered the jealousy of many a murderer?  Has not love broken the hearts of people and led to crimes of passion?  Was it not love for a beautiful woman that launched a thousand ships and led to the destruction of Troy?  Isn’t it love that people seek after, often to the point of despair and anguish?  Isn’t it really a longing to love and to be loved that imprisons and oppresses many a heart?  Why do we not hear anyone demanding that the existence of love be proved scientifically?  Why has the burden of scientific proof not been placed on those who love?

Can love ever be scientifically proven to exist?  Is it simply a chemical reaction or a firing of nerves?  Where does love come from?  What exactly is a “broken heart?”  How many people would be satisfied by a scientific explanation of why their lovers were unfaithful to them?  Is love simply an evolutionary adaptation for human mating?  Why am I able to love people that I cannot or will not mate with?  Why am I able to feel love, or affection or sentiment towards a childhood toy?  Why form attachments to inanimate objects or places?  When I say, “I love being here,” no one responds, “Prove it!”

A woman may want a man to prove his love for her.  He may try with all his might to no avail, or he might succeed.  The outcome depends on the woman and her level of trust.  Different people will draw different conclusions.  Does he love her or not?

It has been hypothesized that there is no such thing as pure altruism.  Every good deed has an ulterior motive no matter how generous or self sacrificing it may be.  A good deed is partly done to make the doer feel “good” in even the slightest way.  Hence, the act is not purely altruistic, since it contains the least bit of selfishness.  So, can love really exist at all?  Are we all just walking around foolishly believing in something that does not even exist?  “No,” says the lover.  “My love is real.”

The belief in love is not based on science but on faith.  We give and receive love in good faith, all the while risking the possibility of a broken heart.  Why is it so hard, then, to believe in God?  The poet who writes, “I’ll say goodbye to love” has done so from a broken heart.  Those who reject love have been hurt.  I think the same applies to God, for God is love.  God does not cease to exist, but, in our wounded state, we may reject his existence.  Science cannot resolve such a dilemma any more than it can conclusively determine if, or exactly how much, I love my family.

What I Hear Pope Francis Saying

There’s been some controversy surrounding recent comments by Pope Francis.  I don’t know why, other than maybe because of people trying to spin his words to fit their political agendas.  But, like it has been noted elsewhere, there is no left or right, there is only Catholic.

Nothing the Pope has said even remotely suggests a departure from Church teaching.  He has said, “Heal the wounds.”  The only thing that heals the wounds caused by sin is the Gospel.  Spreading the Gospel is the Church’s primary mission.  Always has been, always will be.  Pope Francis is simply calling the Church to focus on the Church’s primary mission so that other desirable outcomes will follow.  He is essentially saying, “Don’t put the cart before the horse.”

How can we expect the world to understand certain moral principles if their hearts have not been transformed by the Gospel?  We can’t.  To use the Pope’s medical analogy, it’s like spiritual triage.  The hemorrhaging needs to be stopped first.  Then other treatments can be applied.  If a person is bleeding to death, the other treatments don’t matter.  If a person has not been saved and transformed by the Gospel, it does little to reason with them about morality.  When we don’t help people to see the Gospel we come across as legalistic moralizers.  Legalism does not heal wounded souls.

I also believe the Pope’s comments echo the old adage, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  He is calling Catholics to a higher standard of love and compassion that looks beyond the wounds and sinfulness and sees the face of Jesus in each person.  Each person needs the Gospel to heal their wounds.  Then each person can become another healer.

Pope Francis just wants every Catholic to be like Jesus.  Jesus loved people first and then helped them see what they needed to do better.  Catholics have faith.  Catholics have hope.  Catholics need to make sure we have godly love before all else, for it is the greatest of the three and the only one that remains for eternity.

I love Pope Francis.  There’s nothing wrong with a loving kick in the pants to keep us on track.  The Gospel is what the human heart fundamentally craves.  The Gospel is what will draw people to Christ and his Church.  Then, with transformed hearts, their lives will be open to Church teachings.  Thank you for your shepherding, Pope Francis.

The Little Flower

I received the ten part documentary DVD set Catholicism for my birthday last week.  I had already seen some of the episodes on PBS and EWTN, and also in the men’s group at my parish.  It’s nice to have my own set, though.  I think Fr. Barron did an excellent job on the series.  I love how he traveled all over the world, even to my home town, to demonstrate the universality of the Church.  He also did a good job of going into some theological depth without completely losing the viewer.

Today I watched an episode that highlighted St. Therese of Lisieux, “The Little Flower.”  She has become an important influence in my spiritual journey.  It’s funny when I think back on my cradle Catholic days as a young man.  I used to ride my bicycle across town to visit a high school buddy of mine.  On the way I sometimes passed a Catholic Church called “Little Flower.”  I didn’t even know what that name meant.  I had no idea it was even named after a person.  I never visited that parish and I never learned about St. Therese and her nickname.  Now The Little Flower is a role model for me.  Just shows how clueless I was about my own faith back then.

In the episode, Father Barron talked about the “little way” of St. Therese and her view of holiness.  He related how St. Therese imagined that she could lift her arms up to God like a little child and He would, of course, reach down to lift her up.  In this way, she sensed that God could raise her up so very high because of her “littleness.”

While I was watching this episode, my toddler twins would periodically come into my room to see what I was doing and to say some childlike things to me.  My little daughter came in and, like she and her brother so often do, said with a smile, “You pick me up?”  I immediately saw in her the very essence of The Little Flower’s “little way.”  I reached down, picked her up, and to her delight and mine, lifted her high above my head.  Then I gave her a big hug and told her I loved her.

St. Therese, The Little Flower, pray for us!

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God’s Magnifying Glass

Last night I had a spiritual “Aha!” moment.  It was one of those times when so many things come together at once that it takes a while to let it all sink in.  It is still sinking in, but I can safely say that it is a pivotal point in my spiritual journey.  I have a fresh awareness of someone I have known all of my life.  I heard, for the first time, a verse of Scripture that has been read to me all of my life.  I don’t know why it took me so long to finally hear it with my heart and not just my ears.

 

I was watching The Journey Home television program on EWTN.  The show interviews people that have converted or reverted to Catholicism and allows them to tell their stories.  The guest was Marie Romine, an actress and former Presbyterian.  In the midst of telling her story, she suddenly said, “Mary is a magnifying glass.”  I slightly cocked my head like a confused dog and wondered for an instant, “What does she mean by that?”  In the next moment, she quoted Luke1:46, “My soul doth magnify the Lord.”  Then she said, “If you really want to know Jesus personally, look through Mary.  She magnifies her Son.”  Then, it hit me.

 

I suddenly realized that I had never heard that one, little verse explained so simply, so eloquently and so powerfully.  All of the technical, apologetic, theological explanations about Mary that were in my head suddenly captured my heart and embraced it.  Of course, I knew that Mary is all about Jesus, her Son.  I knew why we Catholics honor her as we do.  I knew how to argue the Protestant view and the Catholic view of Mary.  I knew the purpose of praying the Rosary.  Then Mary wrapped her arms around me, quieted my brain, and opened my heart to hers.  After all these years, my head and my heart finally connected.

 

I looked through the magnifying glass of Mary’s heart and saw Jesus, nothing else.  I was looking at The Master through the heart of the perfect disciple.  It was like looking through pure glass, free of dirt, dust, defects or deformities.  The glass magnified Jesus wherever it was aimed, and nothing could obstruct the view or distract from His beauty.  This magnifying glass was a heart full of grace, and it brought new focus to my faith.

 

Every question that my heart had ever asked about Mary was answered by, “My soul doth magnify the Lord.”  Every Catholic devotion, prayer and teaching about Mary could be summed up in her words.  I realized that the heart of every disciple is destined to be like her grace-filled heart.  Before John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, or any other disciple, Mary knew Jesus personally and loved Him perfectly.  Her soul, like ours, was created to magnify the Lord, yet she has always fulfilled her purpose to this day.  That is why, as we gaze through her soul’s magnifying glass, we can truly say,

 

Hail, Mary, full of grace!

The Lord is with you!

Blessed are you among women

And blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.

 

Holy Mary, mother of God,

Pray for us sinners,

Now, and at the hour of our death,

 

Amen.

From now on, I will see Mary in a wondrous, new way.