Does God Feel Pain?

“Oh, how painful it is to Me that souls so seldom unite themselves to Me in Holy Communion. I wait for souls, and they are indifferent toward Me. I love them tenderly and sincerely, and they distrust Me. I want to lavish My graces on them, and they do not want to accept them. They treat Me as a dead object, whereas My Heart is full of love and mercy. In order that you may know at least some of My pain, imagine the most tender of mothers who has great love for her children, while those children spurn her love. Consider her pain. No one is in a position to console her. This is but a pale image and likeness of My love.”
— Diary of St. Faustina Kowalska, 1447
AN EXCERPT FROM,  Diary of St. Faustina

I have no doubt that I have hurt other people with words and deeds. I have tried to practice a pattern of thought in which I ask God for forgiveness and for God to bless those I hurt years ago but will likely ever see again. Rarely, if by some act of chance I come into contact with any of those people, I do apologize and accept the fact that by my words or actions I hurt them. I do not try to hide behind excuses or the lack of maturity at a certain age. I accept what I have done and hope my apology does some good.

I also realize, now, that every time I hurt another human being, I also hurt God. Not only do I realize I have hurt God every by what I do, but also what I don’t do. I hurt God when I place his desire for me on a lower priority than my own desires. For such actions I am grieved and seek forgiveness

I realize I am so blessed to be loved by a God who is willing to bear so much on my account. I seek to be grateful for such grace. I understand it is grace I do not deserve.

In this world, the powers and principalities operate to cause God as much pain as they can. The fallen angels and Satan himself understand that to get human beings to defy God, ignore God, or to deny God brings pain to God’s heart. It is important that we grasp  the following truth, “Until we join with God and draw as near as we can to the Lover of our souls, can we not even begin to grasp how much God loves us.” I believe there is great truth in the saying, “No one can hurt you more than someone you love.”

I believe it is very important in our spiritual growth to be aware of the reasons we love God and that we give God sincere thanksgiving and acts of devotion as often as we can.  Whereas the enemy is always looking for an opportunity to draw us away from God and the grace God offers, I believe we should be looking for every opportunity we can to say and show by our actions that we love God and are thankful for all God’s graces.

Even now, as I write this words, I am reminded just how much I have been forgiven and just how much God does love me. Such a reminder leads me to end this post with the words, “God, Lord, Savior, Spirit, oh holy One in Three, I do love thee.”

 

“God loves me more than I can love myself.”

Ignatius of Loyola is quoted as saying, “God loves me more than I can love myself.” Ignatius makes this statement in his reference to why God allows individuals to experience spititual desolation. In this life, we need times of spiritual desolation to strengthen our faith.

Now it is important to know that Ignatius does not believe God causes spiritual desolaton, but allows it for redemptive purposes. God allows it for the purpose of conversion (not the classical “pray the salvation prayer” kind of conversion, but the process of salvation conversion when God’s children begin to wander away). God allows spiritual desolation in order to reveal to us our own level of spiritual commitment, and God allows spiritual desolation for the purpose of humility and thankfulness.

I believe that spiritual desolation is the way of the world. God is not the author of spiritual desolation. Spiritual desolation is a certainty due to the existence of the principalities and powers along with our own self-serving nature.  Our own broken nature wants to push God’s will to the limits. If it was not for God’s prevenient grace, we would all live in a state of a suffering spiritual desolation.

This has been a hard lesson for me to learn. It is a lesson every follower of Jesus must learn if they are going to grow in their faith and good works for the Kingdom. We will encounter spiritual desolation on a regular basis.

As for myself, I have no problem organizing a pity party when spiritual desolation strikes. Oh poor me, I think, will it ever be any better? Will God always seem so distant? Why am I go through this now? Everything seeks so negative during theses times of spiritual desolation. The intensity and duration of the time is never the same. It can be easy to be tempted to give up, think the desolation will never end.

But,  of course it will end in spite of how hard it can seem as we are going through it. Usually once we realize that we are in spiritual desolation and understand what the desolation is about we can then take action and resist. We can change our thought. We can take actions contrary to the spiritual desolation. Most important, we can trust that our going through this time will strengthen us.

Our God is a redemptive God. Our God does love us more than we can love ourselves. Our God will always give us the means of strength we need to go through and overcome desolation. It is Paul who reminds  us out of his own experience, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness. So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. “(2 Cor. 12:9 NRS)

 

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A Knack for Noticing and Doing

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Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.
John 14:1-3

“Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.”
— St. Therese of Lisieux

Our Lord is preparing a place for us. Why, because God really does love us. Our Lord wants all who will listen to his invitation that they are desired for the Kingdom of God that is now and the Kingdom of God to come.

Yes, we live in a world of mass shootings, of nuclear weapons, global warming, increased hatred because of religion, ethnicity, and even social status. Yes, we live in a world of man-made toxins, antibiotic-resistant germs and economic instability. But still we should not let our hearts be troubled. God does keep His word. The Holy Spirit is here now, with us, seeking to guide us, and comforting us when we allow the Spirit into our lives in spite of all which seems so threatening.

Since we live in such difficult days, should we not seek to make it a little better by our own actions as well as what the Holy Spirit is doing? Is not the best way to win against spiritual desolation to do contrary to how it makes us feel? Instead of increasing our worry about ourselves, let us seek to make those little sacrifices St. Therese calls upon us to make. Offer smiles to frowns, offer worlds of love and peace in place of those who words spoken from ego and hate, and look for small ways to make the lives of others better.

Our Lord will come for us soon enough, either through the end of days or the end of our days. Our Lord will come and take us to the place prepared. It is there we will finally see the good our little sacrifices have done. Until then, just by our desire to live contrary to the direction this world wants to take us we will find places of consolation and joy.  Amen.

Soul Happiness

“The human soul, by its very nature, is endowed with the faculty of knowing God and the capacity for loving Him. The intelligence of the soul, transporting itself above all that is created and finite, has power to raise itself even to the contemplation of that Being who alone is uncreated and infinite, who is the source of all good and all perfection; it is able to form of Him an idea that is clear and accurate and indelible. The will of the soul is made to love this sovereign Good, which the understanding presents to it. The desires of the soul, which no created object can ever satisfy and which reach far beyond the limits of this life, tend necessarily toward a Good that is supreme, eternal, and infinite, and which alone can content the soul and make it happy.”
— Fr. Jean Nicholas Grou, p. 3-4, AN EXCERPT FROM, THE SPIRITUAL LIFE

Though many of this country’s founders were deists, they did grasp the truth that the pursuit of happiness was a key drive for humankind. The make this ideal part of the fundamental aspects the rights this country would offer. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are written into the constitution of this country.

I used to enjoy finding a cartoon in the newspaper that showed a smiley face and said, “Happiness is…” and then would add things like getting and ice cream cone, a new puppy, a warm blanket, etc.. I know this dates me in a couple of ways. First, that I read a newspaper, and secondly, the fact that I could remember this cartoon. The point being is that happiness is seen as being relative to each person.

In the both the Old and New Testament, the word of happy can and is often translated as blessed. The idea being that in order to be truly happy, the ultimate source of that happiness must come from God.

Today, people spend a lot of time and money seeking happiness. Yet, today, it seems that people are more depressed and angry than any other time human history. Why is this? Why is it that suicide rates are going up? Why are there more mass shootings, more murders and more violence in this country? Are people killing themselves and others because they are happy?

Antidepressant Use Up 400 Percent in US. The report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics found that 11 percent of Americans over the age of 12 takes an antidepressant, with about 14 percent taking the medication for more than 10 years. (psychcentral.com/news/2011/10/25/antidepressant-use-up-400-percent-in-us/30677.html) Did you get that? The use of antidepressants is up 400 percent! It doesn’t seem that the pursuit of happiness is being very successful.

I believe, and through experience found to be true, that the only real happiness we can experience for any length of time, is the happiness we can receive from God-given spiritual consolation. This spiritual consolation cannot be created by our desires but it should be one, if not the most important desire, we can receive. For from true spiritual consolation come the ability to transform our thoughts and lives in such a way that we can discover the true good spoke of in the beginning quote of this post.

Blessed (Happy) is the one who comes in the name of the LORD. We bless you from the house of the LORD. The LORD is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar. You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you. O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.
(Ps. 118:26-29 NRS)

Lectionary Sermon for August 11 2019

Understanding God’s Expectations

I have a difficult time imagining what it was like to worship in the Old Testament when worship involved the sacrifice of animals. I read the words, but I do not want to let an image form in my mind. It seems so savage, so out of place, unlike the God who is love.

Then, I read, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.” (1 Sam. 15:22 NRS) And, “For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.” (Ps. 51:16 NRS)

God did not expect sacrifices for God’s pleasure but to remind God’s people of the price for sin, the consequences of sin, is death. But it seems as if, in times gone past, and still today, people will take something God has said and twist it in a way that makes them think, “This is how to influence God. This is how we can live as we choose, and God has to forgive us.”

God sent the people a warning and a clarification in the past. Through a Holy man, a spiritual servant of God named Isaiah, “Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more.” (Isa. 1:10-12 NRS)

God is seriously upset by their behavior. God calls His chosen, misguided, unfaithful people the names of two places that represented an evil God would not tolerate. God calls them Sodom and Gomorrah, two places that God destroyed. God seems to make it clear that God is not fooled by their “religious” behavior. God is not impressed with their attempts to influence. God is never impressed what we call worship.

God goes on to say, “When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” (Isa. 1:15-17 NRS) Right behavior is a priority in order for there to be right worship.

The writer of Psalm 50 really clarifies this when the psalmist speaks a word from God that says, “Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me; to those who go the right way I will show the salvation of God.” (Ps. 50:23-51:1 NRS) A person, a people, a country nor even a church needs the right priorities if there is to be true worship.

We do not sacrifice animals anymore. There is no need for this activity. Why, because Jesus became the sacrifice for sin and through his death, by our sharing in his death through the Eucharist, the Thanksgiving, we share in the Christ’s sacrifice and in the reality of a resurrection. God does not lie, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:23 NRS) Jesus was paid the wages owed to us and we were given a promise of life we did not earn.

But the expectations have not changed. God still expects us to “cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” This is what God expects.

It never ceases to amaze me what some people think the Christian faith is all about. Many, many people believe it is about going to church. Others think it is about going to only a particular kind of church. Some think that no church needs to be involved and they can worship God on the golf course or bass pond as well as they could in any building. Some think faith is saying they believe in “religious facts” or creeds. Some believe it is a crutch, a rite of childhood or praying some kind of prayer that gives a person a get out of hell for free pledge.

The word faith, as far as the New Testament is concerned, is a word meaning constancy in awareness of obligation to others. It is not just believing in “religious facts” or prayers or buildings or our opinions. It is a constancy in our awareness of our obligation to God. Have you not heard the term, in good faith, when comes to money, agreements, or contracts? Faith has to do with trust, a solemn promise, an oath we strive to keep. Faith is judged by its actions.

A writer, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, which is a very powerful influence to be under, once wrote, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1 NRS) It is trust that God would not lie to us. It is a commitment to God that gives assurance. It is a conviction that we have an obligation. The same writer goes on to report, “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.” (Heb. 11:3 NRS)

This is not blind faith. This is not a commitment to some kind of magic or spiritual hallucination. It is faith that is based on the track record of God. God has a very good track record. When God says something will happen, it will.

This is where religion, sacrifice, obligation, and trust bring us to a point of decision. You see, in this country, we live in a time of immense social pressures. Pressures on what we should believe, how we should live, what we should buy, choose or follow.

And if, if we want to follow Jesus and believe that the church is his creation, we face the pressure of which church to attend. We have almost countless choices. In the town I live in, a relatively small college town, there are over 60 churches in a ten-mile radius. Each believes its practices are the right ones. Each believes they have the truth that we need to be faithful, yet if we used the standard of, “cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow,” how many of these churches’ budgets would show these practices are the dominate focus?

Very likely, the large majority, if not all these churches’ budgets would show that most of the money collected goes to maintaining their particular church. This is a reality. This is not to condemn these churches, it is just a reality that comes with a church divided. Someday this will not be the case.
Religions have always had problems in focusing on the reason for their existence. Any social organization that exists must pay the bills that come with their existence. Any social organization must deal with the limitations of their own certainty and the faith that is required of them.

Jesus once went to a town and began to teach the people about the reality every human being faces. What we all must face is just what will be believe? What will we decide is important? Will we be able to even believe in God when there are so many things we cannot understand?

Jesus tells the people, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Lk. 12:32-34 NRS)

Jesus indicates that God will take care of them. Jesus declares that God knows what they need. Jesus also affirms again what God had been telling and telling and telling those who will but listen, “cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” This is how to please God. This is what gains you merit in heaven. This is what counts for all eternity.

Then Jesus shares a story. He tells the story a man who tells his servants that he is going to a wedding and wants them to be ready for his return. Today, it would be like the owner of a company telling the workers that he must take a trip and wants them to be ready for a big program when he gets back. Jesus says if the master finds out they do this when he returns, the master will serve them. No those of you who work for some else, don’t expect this. This seems silly. Why would any master or employer do this? They would not.

But our faith is not just a faith of serving God, our faith is in a God who serves us. This was the faith Jesus demonstrated.

So, from a time past comes a call to us, “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” (Isa. 1:16-17) And if we do this, God lets us know what God will do in the very next verse

Come now, let us argue it out, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.
(Isa. 1:18 NRS)

Amen.

Accepting the Insult of Being Called a Dog

“Our Lord’s love shines out just as much through a little soul who yields completely to His Grace as it does through the greatest . . . Just as the sun shines equally on the cedar and the little flower, so the Divine Sun shines equally on everyone, great and small. Everything is ordered for their good, just as in nature the seasons are so ordered that the smallest daisy comes to bloom at its appointed time.”
— St. Therese of Lisieux, p. 4-5
AN EXCERPT FROM, THE STORY OF A SOUL

In my lectio reading today, the Gospel passage was the account of the Canaanite woman who sought healing for her daughter.  Jesus seems rude to her. Matthew, one of Jesus’ closest followers reports, “He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” (Matt. 15:26 NRS)

To be referred to as a dog was one of the worst insults a person could receive in that time. It was intended to humiliate, degrade, and completely marginalize a person. You would think such an insult would result in the woman reacting to Jesus with insults of her own. This is not what she does. Instead, Matthew tells us she replies, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” (Matt. 15:27 NRS)

We do no know if Jesus knew this woman would answer in this way. We do know that Jesus admired her faith and granted her the request she had brought to him. She had accepted the insult as an opportunity for mercy. We can learn from this story to accept those insults that are thrown our way and change them into opportunities for our faith to grow.

Some of us have been called names all of our lives. Somethings even people we love or like will attribute to us a label or make fun of us with a name. It is foolish to react. This may seem difficult to discern, but our willingness to accept the derogatory will result in our being given gifts from the divine.

Do not worry about what you are called, but instead, see the possibilities, the positives that even the most ill intended name can offer if we but just embrace it in our desire for the Lord. We all are sinners. What name could possibly be worse? We all are at sometime in our lives an enemy of God. Think of the horrible names this world creates for perceived enemies.  Yet we are told, “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.” (Rom. 5:10 NRS)

For such grace and love, I am willing to accept any insult, even the insult of being called a dog.

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Twice Died, But Buried Only Once

“A sculptor who wishes to carve a figure out of a block uses his chisel, first cutting away great chunks of marble, then smaller pieces, until he finally reaches a point where only a brush of hand is needed to reveal the figure. In the same way, the soul has to undergo tremendous mortifications at first, and then more refined detachments, until finally its Divine image is revealed. Because mortification is recognized as a practice of death, there is fittingly inscribed on the tomb of Duns Scotus, Bis Mortus; Semel Sepultus (twice died, but buried only once). When we die to something, something comes alive within us. If we die to self, charity comes alive; if we die to pride, service comes alive; if we die to lust, reverence for personality comes alive; if we die to anger, love comes alive.”
— Fulton J. Sheen, p. 219
AN EXCERPT FROM, PEACE OF SOUL

In a letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul, an individual transformed by an encounter with Jesus the crucified, writes these difficult words, “So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh –for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live.” (Rom. 8:12-13 RSV)  How are we to put to death the deeds, the practices, of our bodies?

The deeds, practices, are in fact the desires we have developed in living for ourselves. These desires are things we believe will bring us happiness or satisfaction in life. They are the goals we create for ourselves we believe will satisfy our own selfish nature. They are the products of our limited insights and understanding of the purpose for which we are created. They are the things we do and strive for rather than what God wills for us.

The greatest danger to our spiritual lives comes from within us. There is a saying, “The heart wants what the heart wants.” This is often used as an excuse for behavior that is selfish and blinded to what is moral, what is good, and to the pain and hurt that our wants, desires, or goals may cause. We are very good at self-deception. We are also very easily deceived when seduced by temptations focus at creating desires and thus deeds of the body.

To put to death these deeds, practices, goals of our selfish nature, we must receive a new heart, a new life from God. God spoke to a man named Ezekiel about a promise God makes. God said to Ezekiel, “I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, so that they may follow my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them. Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” (Ezek. 11:19-20 NRS)

God gives us the ability to replace the deeds, practices, that are created by our self-deceptive desires with desires that lead to the true meaning of life. This is not an instantaneous process. It works over time and commitment. God does what God does out of love, a love for us. God’s gift of love, known as grace, gives us the ability to move from a love created out of self-motivation, to a love that is Spirit guided. However, because our selfish nature does not die easily, we must replace the deeds, practices, and goals of this nature with the deeds, practices, of a new God-given nature.

I often hear religious people quote Paul’s words to the Christians in Ephesus, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God– not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” However these people usually do not, for whatever reason, also add what Paul says next, “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Eph. 2:8-10 NRS) These good works, deeds, practices replace the deeds, practices, and desires of our body (self-created desires) denying these desires and the goals they create for us life. Only when we understand this do we begin to grow in the life for which we were created.

It is my prayer that I am able to also die twice, but only be buried once. So I join with the Psalmist who cries out to God, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.”  (Ps. 51:10 NRS)

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