The Resurrection Problem

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The idea of bodily resurrection is not congenial to my modern mind. I even find it offensive on some level. Fortunately, my modern mind is not the final arbiter of truth, nor will truth always be found congenial to it. The truth has often been limited by my modern mind to verifiable material phenomena and relativistic opinions and feelings. These do not encompass truth in its entirety and often do not contain any truth at all.

In the depths of human perception and experience, there is a still point where phenomena that transcend ordinary experience present themselves. If I am distracted or too sure of the limits I set on myself, others, reality, and God, I will either fail to perceive the deeper aspects of truth or dismiss them as pathology and superstition. I do this far too often and it is more a sign of cowardice than intellect.

Any scientist acquainted with quantum phenomena knows that truth is stranger and more real than human fiction. Keeping the resurrection at arm’s length, either with denials or maudlin acceptance of it, will only serve to keep me buried in the familiar tomb of the self-limiting parameters that I stubbornly continue to set upon myself, others, reality, and God.

My cynical and pseudo-intelligent approach to the resurrection problem only keeps me buried and blind. I simply need to stop setting limits on reality. I need to think again. And again.

Holy Week

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Holy Week: What do the stories of Holy Week say about God, and about us? During Holy Week, we hear stories about some very unpleasant human behavior. The truth is, these unpleasant realities of human nature are always with us. The events of the past are the events of the present. Holy Week isn’t mythology. It also isn’t a historical collection of stories about Jews and Romans and past events. Holy Week is about us, right here and right now.

Then and now, in the midst of this, there enters the troubling figure of Jesus of Nazareth. He was just as misunderstood then as he is now. Not much has changed. Who is this mysterious and troubling figure? Jesus of Nazareth was and is a sign and a contradiction: a sign of God’s enduring love that contradicts all our petty prejudices and small-minded attitudes toward one another and God. He confounded religious authorities then and he confounds and contradicts them now, especially those who think they own him. Jesus confounded the pre-scientific mind as much as he confounds the scientific mind.

These stories do not sit well with modern minds and for a reason. It isn’t because they are pre-scientific nonsense. The problem is we tend to reflexively approach them with an automatic literalism that substitutes for intelligence. We are too proud of what we think we know, just like the religious authorities in the stories.

Holy Week is a wake-up call for us to see with new eyes and new minds. The word repent is based on the Greek word metanoeite, which means to go beyond the mind you have. It implies making a decision to turn around; to face a new direction.

What do the stories of Holy Week say about God, and about us? If we persist in our smallness of thinking and smallness of being it always ends in the persecution and crucifixion of anyone and anything that contradicts our cherished and institutionalized illusions. We will even go so far as to reject and kill God and justify it according to our own rules and laws.

If the world comes to an end at our hands, it will be deemed necessary and perfectly legal, carried out by people certified sane by their peers in the court of human law, national interest, and religious orthodoxy. But God gives us another way, another truth, and another life if we are willing to accept such a possibility and such a sacrifice of our cherished illusions about ourselves.

What do the stories of Holy Week say about God, and about us? The events of the past are the events of the present. Holy Week isn’t only about Jews and Romans; it is about us. Holy Week confronts us not as history but as current fact.

The Silence of St. Joseph

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In the gospels, Joseph speaks no words. There is not one documented saying from him. He did not speak but instead listened to God. He must have known that no learning takes places while the mouth is open. Faith is based on first being still and listening, then knowing who God is. This kind of listening and knowing always comes with a call to change and live in a new direction.

Faith, based on listening, is a deeper way of knowing and it reveals new possibilities and directions that were not apparent before. Long before Joseph, Abraham heard the voice of God and was called out from the familiar into the unknown, against the odds and contrary to the apparent facts. Like Abraham, Joseph also heard God’s voice and received a mission which he could only undertake in faith, against the odds and contrary to the apparent facts.

Today, I pray for the grace to be still and listen to God’s voice speaking in my heart and in the events around me, so that I, too, may follow God’s will.

Accept No Substitutes

A division occurred in the crowd because of him. (see John 7:40-53)

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what theologians and secularists say about Jesus. A direct personal and numinous encounter with God, and an inner transformation (metanoeite),  are the deciding factors in one’s spiritual life. There are no valid substitutes for this.  Opinions and postulations, even official ones, mean nothing if they do not resonate with a personal experience. You cannot live vicariously on the experiences of others, even those of saints, and be truly alive. You must “get a life.”

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Although what is best in religion can reflect a numinous relationship with God, it is beyond words and images, and even beyond religion, because it is pure relational love. It is an encounter with the source, the substance, and the summit of reality itself. For some Christians, Jesus is that source, that substance, and that summit. Unfortunately, for more than are willing to admit it, he is a substitute for it and a defense against it. For others, he is simply irrelevant.

There is a division in the crowd and a division within some of us because we have not yet adequately addressed our relationship with the one thing necessary. Some of us have accepted substitutes, of which there are many.

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Remember and Return

They forgot the God who had saved them, who had done great deeds in Egypt. (Psalm 106:21)

Love is the center of everything; it binds together the forces and the elements that comprise created reality; it is the source, substance, and summit of life. God is love and we are love, in our deepest identity, but we forget. When we forget or choose to forget, we disconnect from the one thing necessary and become victims and purveyors of harmful illusions. That’s when the trouble begins. That’s when the suffering of the worst kind enters the world. But there is a way home.

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Suffering can serve as a reminder that love is the center; the only center. With God’s ever-willing forgiveness, mercy, and love, we can remember and return to our true selves.  Love always calls you home. It’s not too late.

Choices

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It was a sad day at work today. I accompanied one of my patients during the last moments of his life. He was a nice fellow and mostly kept to himself. Never married. Few friends. He was quiet and gentle. He wasn’t all that old. 70-something. His problem was an addiction to fast food. For decades, he ate and ate only the wrong things. He ate his way to obesity, diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, renal failure, and finally, respiratory failure. For years, the care team tried and tried to reach him, but no matter how ill he got, no matter how much counseling and education we gave him, he kept gorging himself on massive amounts of salt, fat, sugar, meat, chips, cheese, and sugary drinks. In the end, he could not breathe against the girth of his abdomen or the fluid from the salt retention and heart failure. There weren’t enough drugs in the world to save him from the food he chose to eat. He literally ate himself to death.

I stayed at his bedside this afternoon because his family didn’t come. I held his hand, gave him a few re-assuring messages of love and support from myself and the care team. I eased his discomfort and watched him breathe his last. The saddest part was, it did not have to end that way. His condition was completely avoidable. As I sat there with him, I looked at the shelves in his room stacked with salty and sugary snack foods, and the trash can filled with fast food burger wrappers. There will never be a question in my mind again that fast foods can become a deadly addiction.

I decided to share this for a reason. I am asking you to never do this to yourself or your family. Don’t let advertising and convenience kill you and your children. God created so many healthful foods you can enjoy without harming yourself or anyone else. Please educate yourself and choose wisely. I am tired of seeing people suffer and die from avoidable diseases caused by poor food and lifestyle choices. We were created for something better than this.

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Spiritual Pride

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To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

Lenten prayer and reflection this year has revealed something to me about myself that I find deeply disturbing: I tend to feel hurt, disappointed, and angry when I think someone else is neglecting the gifts of God; the gifts of being alive and human. Then, I become highly critical of that person. But,…what about my own neglect and abuse of God’s gifts? All too often, my personal habit is to find fault with others; to see their blind spots and sins. In my analysis of someone else’s shortcomings, I am engaging in a sin worse than theirs: spiritual pride. If my awakening to God only serves to make me condemn others, it would be better for me to go back to sleep.

Lord, save me from my blindness, my lack of compassion, and my spiritual pride. Let me see my own sins clearly, instead of focusing on others. (As if my own sins aren’t enough!) I have a very long way to go and only your mercy can get me all the way home. God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

“Without much prospect of immediate self-improvement, one can be confident only in the prospect of God’s mercy. There is no reality for a human being other than the mercy of God.” – Fr. Michael Casey, OCSO

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