February 29, 2012 - Wednesday of the First Week of Lent

Today's Readings

No one is beyond the forgiveness of God: not the people of Nineveh who, 3000 years later are still remembered as being particularly cruel, nor King David who killed a trusted soldier in order to cover up the affair with his wife. God will not spurn a humble, contrite heart. There is no sin which God will not forgive. The sins we have committed are not preventing us from being saved, but our defense of sin is. God wants to forgive us, but we hide our sins. No one can hide their sins except from themself. All our sins are being done in full sight of heaven and hell. God wants to forgive us, but we have excuses for why we committed the sin. God wants to forgive us, but we say that what we did is not a sin. God wants to forgive us, but we would rather pretend that we do not need forgiveness.

God is infinitely good. The smallest sin we ever committed is, therefore, an infinite offense. If we understood the enormity of God’s love for us, we would understand why there can never be a small sin. No matter what we have done, whether or not we would be judged by the world as very bad people, we need hearts contrite and humbled.

How will our hardened hearts become contrite, humble hearts? Only God’s grace can do this, but we accept this grace when we repent. Repenting means confessing our sin and committing to never do it again. We are in constant need of repentance because we are constantly failing. We must repent today and every day until we die. The alternative is to accept sin into our life, to stop fighting against evil, to compromise our soul; the alternative is a heart impenitent and proud.

Heaven is full of prostitutes and murderers and drug dealers and thieves and adulterers; the saints, with only one exception, were all sinners with contrite, humble hearts. When we are before the judgment seat of God, we will not need to defend our sins. Indeed, we must not try to defend the indefensible. It will not matter on that day how many sins we committed or what they were. Only our accuser will be concerned with that. It will only matter whether we repented of all of them. We are guilty; our only hope is forgiveness.

February 28, 2012 - Tuesday of the First Week of Lent.

Today's Readings

Our God is not deaf. He is not asleep. He is not far away from us. Our God is not busy. We have so much difficulty imagining an omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, eternal God that we invent difficulties that do not exist. We imagine that God must be too busy running the whole universe to listen to us. God is not like us. He is more attentive to each of us than we are to ourselves. He knows the life history of every mosquito. He knows when a hair falls off our head. We cannot fathom how attentive he is to us.

God does not hear us because we pray to him. He hears every word we speak all day long; he knows every thought we think. We may be tempted to imagine that when we turn to God in prayer, it is like picking up the phone and calling him. Not at all! We are more like a toddler picking up a toy phone and calling our father who is sitting right there watching us. God does not hear us better when we are in church or when our hands are folded or when we are looking up at a particular corner of the ceiling or shouting at the sky.

God is not inattentive, but we are. The difference between when we pray and when we are not praying is not God’s attention to us but our attention to God. Sometimes we wonder whether God is hearing our prayer. This is certain: he is. Our real concern should be with whether we are hearing him. God is with us always, hearing every thought, feeling, and word, but, when we finally turn to him, we act like he does not know us. We think that prayer is all about God, but, paradoxically, it is all about us. When we pray, we are not contending with an absent God but with ourselves: with our selfish, stubborn, obtuse natures.

When we pray, we may use many words or few, we might repeat a prayer or speak freely to God, we may invoke God’s name or ask a Saint to pray for us, we might read the Scriptures or sit in silence hoping to hear the Spirit speak within us, but we should not pile up words, as the Gentiles do, thinking that in their many words they will be heard. We are not trying to be heard; we are trying to hear.

February 26, 2012 - Monday of the First Week of Lent

Today's Readings

When it comes to saving for retirement, all the financial advisors agree: save early and save often. It would seem that the point of working is to produce a retirement account. As for your IRA or 401K, I cannot say, but for the most important retirement account we have, this advice stands. We have an account in heaven. The interest rate is phenomenal, and the market is never going to crash. There is a kingdom there that has been prepared for us from before the foundation of the world. There is a room there with your name on it, waiting for you to move in. We need to build up that account though; we need to start making deposits. God’s bank tellers are all around us: the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, strangers, the imprisoned, the sick. Whatever we deposit with them is going to be credited to our account.

The Church sets before us the fourteen works of mercy. The seven corporal works and the seven spiritual works. The seven corporal works include the six that Jesus mentions here and, because groups of seven are kind of the thing, adds burying the dead. A good practice this Lent would be to make sure that we do something for all seven. Feed the hungry, whether in person in a soup kitchen or by sending money in the rice bowl or donating to the food shelf. Give drink to the thirsty. Clothe the naked, and not only with your cast-off clothing that you wanted to get rid of anyway. Visit those in prison. Welcome the stranger, particularly the homeless, perhaps not into your own home, depending on your circumstances, but into a home. Visit the sick, especially the forgotten people in nursing homes. And bury the dead, come to a funeral, especially of someone who would not have had many people come.

Do these works of mercy generously, not as if only trying to check off a list. Do these works of mercy gladly, not only because people need your help, but because you need to be merciful. Do these works of mercy unreservedly, without too much concern for the worthiness of the recipient: be willing to be taken advantage of. When we arrive at the day of judgment, we do not want to be shocked by how low the balance is in our account. Start saving up now; make regular deposits. Save early and save often.

February 26, 2012 - First Sunday of Lent

Today's Readings

Why are there so many songs about rainbows and what’s on the other side? We’ve been told that rainbows are merely illusions, light refracted into its constituent parts by water droplets, but people do not write songs or poems or myths about light refracted by water droplets. They write songs and poems and myths about rainbows.

This attempt to deconstruct the rainbow, to explain it away is a danger in our modern scientific world. The danger is that we see through everything and soon there is nothing to look at anymore. “The rainbow is only refracted light. The rainbow is merely an optical illusion.” No. It is not only or merely anything. It is a gigantic stripe of every color that goes from one side of the sky to the other. If a person sees through a rainbow, then they no longer see the rainbow. Someone who can look at a rainbow and not see a rainbow is blind.

This problem of seeing through is particularly a modern problem, but humans have always suffered from this blindness. St. Peter writes in the second reading today that baptism is not merely the removal of dirt from the body. Somebody might see a baptism and say, “That’s it? That’s all? Just a little water, a quick bath?” They have seen through the baptism, so they cannot see the baptism. They cannot see a person saved through water and the Holy Spirit.

Is love merely a chemical reaction in the brain? No. There may be such a reaction, but it is not the essence of love. If you want to know about love, ask someone who has loved, not a neuroscientist. Is the Mass merely a lot of unnecessary words and rituals? Is the Eucharist just bread and wine? If you want the truth, you cannot ask someone who has seen through it all. You need someone who has seen the truth, the ineffable, wonderful, amazing truth.

That is Jesus in our Gospel today. He went out into the wilderness to fast for 40 days, the first Lent, and he came back with a vision for the people of Galilee: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel!” Jesus could see what we blind people miss. He constantly prayed and fasted. He is God, of course, and knows the Father and the Holy Spirit perfectly, but he also made certain that his human nature was able to see what we look right through. In fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, Jesus brought his human nature into right relationship with God.

Perhaps it is clearer how the other two practices of Lent relate to our relationship with God. If we want to be close to God, obviously we should pray, talking to him and listening to him. And almsgiving means serving the people he created. If I love God, I will pray and help others. These two are clearly important, but perhaps it is less obvious that if I love God I will not eat meat or give up desserts.

But fasting is the tool by which we are able to see the reality of the symbols. Like when we look at a drop of water through a microscope and see all sorts of living creatures swimming around that were invisible before, or we look at the sky through a telescope and see planets and stars and galaxies where there seemed to be nothing, if we are going to see to the reality of things, we need a tool; not a telescope or microscope but something else. That something else is fasting, and it is so very essential to the Christian life.

How is it that fasting allow us to start seeing things? It is not that if we fast long enough we will eventually start hallucinating. There are people who do that in other religions, but that is not the goal of Christian fasting. We know this because the good effects of fasting last even after you begin eating normally again.

For us, fasting is based on a hunger that is present in every human soul. Atheist or Christian or whatever religion, the hunger is present because God put it there when he created us. We experience hunger pangs of this spiritual hunger. It is painful to have a desire that cannot be filled. So we try to answer the hunger with various things: food, entertainment, alcohol, whatever. This hunger is why we eat too much. This hunger is why people get drunk. This hunger is why people jump out of airplanes and ride rollercoasters. This hunger goes under many names, but above all it is called Boredom. O wonderful boredom, the realization that I am not satisfied with what this world has to offer!

If we sit on the couch with a bag of potato chips, watching TV, we might quiet this hunger for a little while, but not very long. If a starving person cannot get food, perhaps they will chew on gum or something else to pass the time, but, when they have food, they will throw away the gum and begin to eat. So we also, when we get to heaven and live in the presence of God, will throw away whatever we have used to quiet our longing for God here on earth. Here and now it is painful to throw these things away. We must force ourselves to fast so that we do not forget what we really want, so that we do not forget what the longing is really for.

As we fast this Lent and rediscover our longing for God, we must be careful not to find a substitute for what we have given up. Particularly if you have given up television or the internet, you may find that you have literally hours of extra time each day. Now is not the time to become an avid reader of novels. Use the time for the other Lenten practices: prayer and almsgiving. Help those in need. Read the Scriptures. Spend some time in Adoration. If our fast is the kind of fast that God loves, it will turn us outward to God and to our neighbor.

Then, we will be able to see. A person who has not spent time fasting cannot see the love of God, but we can. We will look at rainbows and see a promise given thousands of years ago. We will look at the Eucharist and see the Body and Blood and Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. If we imitate Jesus this lent and fast for 40 days, we will begin to feel something. When our hearts are burning because we refuse to settle for anything less than God, when our whole bodies are on fire with desire, then we will walk around with our eyes wide open, then we will be able to see.

February 25, 2012 - Saturday After Ash Wednesday

Today's Readings

In the first reading, God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, tells Israel the proper understanding of the Sabbath. The point of the Sabbath is not so much to rest as to, for one day, do the work of God instead of our own work. God tells his people to “honor it by not following your ways, seeking your own interests, or speaking with malice.” This is also a good description of what Lent should be about. The true spirit of Lent, fasting, almsgiving, and prayer, is embodied in this idea of turning our back on our own interests. Of course, most people will still have to work during Lent at a job which serves their own interest. Not everyone can take 40 days of vacation to serve the poor. Still, just because a person cannot do something entirely does not mean they ought not do it partially. We would all greatly benefit if, for the next 40 days we all stopped following our own pursuits and began serving.

How easy it is to follow our own pursuits! Even many who claim to follow God only follow him after serving themselves. Jesus said to Levi, “Follow me.” How easy it would have been for Levi to have cleaned up his work and collected all the money sitting out on the table, first taking care of Levi’s priorities before getting around to Jesus, but, instead of telling Jesus to wait just a minute, without a thought for anything in front of him, “leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him.” The miracle recorded today is that Levi forgot. Levi forgot about the work he was doing. He forgot about the money he had collected. He forgot about whoever was next in line at the customs post. He forgot about his own interest and followed Jesus.

Again, not everyone can drop what they are doing to follow Jesus. Not everyone, but some can. Could you, like Levi, forget everything, leave it all behind and follow Jesus? Perhaps, like the rich young man, you would need to sell everything, close up shop, and then follow Jesus. Perhaps you are already where you belong, and what is left is to wake up every day and follow Jesus by doing your work with great love. The main thing is to follow Jesus, completely abandoned to his will, not doing what seems good in our own mind but having the mind of Christ.

February 24, 2012 - Friday After Ash Wednesday

Today's Readings

The Gospel today reminds us of the special experience of the disciples of Jesus. They did not need to fast because he was there. If they wanted to pray, they could just go find Jesus and sit at his feet and listen to the words he spoke. In the Gospels, Jesus only appears to us when he is saying or doing something of great importance, but the disciples lived with him every day. They ate dinner with him. They slept wherever he was sleeping.

The fact that the disciples did not fast teaches us about fasting. Fasting is supposed to create a longing within us. This longing is always present, but we usually answer it with food or television or other diversions. This longing is a longing for God. We only answer it with lesser things because it is difficult to know God in this world, but, if God were present as Jesus was present to his disciples, we would never eat when we were not hungry, we would never zone out with television.

If a hungry man cannot get food, perhaps he will chew on bark or something else to pass the time, but, when he has food, he will throw away the bark and begin to eat. So we also, when we get to heaven and live in the presence of God, will throw away whatever we have used to quiet our longing for God. Here and now it is painful to throw these things away, since it is easier to eat a bag of potato chips than to pray for an hour. Still, we force ourselves to fast so that we do not forget what we really want, so that we do not forget what the longing is really for.

As we fast this Lent and rediscover our longing for God, we must be careful to not find a substitute for what we have given up. Particularly if you have given up television or the internet, you may find that you have literally hours of extra time each day. Now is not the time to become an avid reader of novels. Use the time for the other Lenten practices: prayer and almsgiving. Help those in need. Read the Scriptures. Spend some time in Adoration. If our fast is the kind of fast that God loves, it will turn us outward to God and to our neighbor.

February 23, 2012 - Thursday After Ash Wednesday

Today's Readings

“If anyone wishes to come after me….” How gently does our Savior invite us! Who can hear this offer and refuse? “If anyone wishes to come after me….” I do. What do I need to do? “…they must deny themself and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Here is that Lenten trio again: fasting, almsgiving, and prayer.

“They must deny themself” We do this through fasting, not only from food but also from all of the pacifiers we use to quiet our souls’ longing for God: entertainment and comfort and other pleasures. When we deny ourselves we experience a kind of suffering, but this suffering can be very addictive; it is actually joy.

“Take up their cross daily” Sometimes, when people talk about this verse, they speak of our cross as our suffering. Anything from arthritis to disabilities to other people can be called a cross. This is a half-truth. The central mystery of the cross is not that Jesus suffered and died, but that he suffered and died for us. A cross is not whatever difficulties we have in life. Everyone has difficulties. We take up the daily cross when we embrace suffering in order to assist another, either directly or by offering some suffering to God for them. Indeed any suffering we experience in life can be a cross, but only if we embrace it and offer it. We are most conformed to the cross when the work we do for others is the source of our suffering. Agreeing to help someone we dislike can be a way of the cross; from beginning to end we may be suffering physically or mentally or with wounded pride. Take up such crosses daily.

“Follow me” To follow someone simply means to be with them, wherever they go. Our way of being with God is prayer. Prayer is a conversation we have with God, and, like any good conversation, includes both speaking and listening. As we converse with God, chains will bind our heart to him. Then, no matter where the world goes, we will stay close to him.

Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving can seem cold and theoretical. Jesus is inviting us, in a personal way, to take up these essential spiritual practices. Above all, he is drawing our attention to the fact that he himself has taken them up already. In our Lenten journey, when it is difficult, we should remember that we are coming after Jesus.

February 22, 2012 - Ash Wednesday

Today's Readings

“The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.” This quote from T.S. Eliot comes in a play where a saint is tempted by many things but does not give in, and then the final temptation arrives: “To do the right deed for the wrong reason.” If Satan could convince us to not fast at all this Lent, he would. If not, he will try to get us to fast in a silly way, to give up chocolate chip cookies for Lent, as we eat brownies instead, or, perhaps, we obey the abstinence from meat on Fridays by having a feast of shrimp and lobster. If we are not taken in by any of this, the last temptation comes: “to do the right deed for the wrong reason.” We fast, in order to impress people. We fast, in order to lose weight. We fast, in order to fulfill some New Year’s resolution.

Jesus told us to love God above all things and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Love is the heart of Christianity, but our love is weak and disordered. We do not love God with all our heart and soul and strength, so we need to spend time in prayer this Lent. We do not love our neighbors who are created by God, our brothers and sisters, so we need to give away that which we love more than them, our money and our time. We do love ourselves, but we love ourselves in the wrong way; we should love ourselves like parents, with some discipline, having our best interest at heart, but, instead, we love ourselves like senile grandparents, over-indulging ourselves with candies and toys, so we need to start refusing ourselves treats sometimes. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are good for us. They should hurt. Our souls complain about being unselfish. Do not give in to the complaints! Our souls warn us that this is too much, too much prayer, fasting, and almsgiving; it will kill us: without selfish indulgence, we will die. Good! Let us die. Let us be nailed to the Cross with our Savior. Then, when Easter comes, he can raise us up.

Our souls are flabby and out of shape. The combined effect of all the sins we commit is puny, scrawny, pathetic souls. We are in serious need of spiritual exercise: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. If we make feeble attempts, we will get feeble results. It is 44 days from now until we celebrate the Easter Triduum, we get 4 days of introduction and then, on Sunday, the 40 days of Lent begin. The lazier we are, spiritually, the rest of the year, the more seriously we should look to these days as a time of intensive effort, P40X for the soul.

If we are going to make this intensive effort, we had better be sure that we are doing it for the right reason. If we fast and tell people about our fasting, if we give to the poor our money or our time and make certain that the world is aware of our generosity, if we pray so that others will see us, all that effort will be wasted. Only our pride will be strengthened; our souls will be weakened further.

Let us pray until we fall head-over-heels in love with God. Let us give away our money and time until we begin to love our neighbors as ourselves. Let us fast until our love for ourselves is no longer self-indulgent. When we look out and see the canyon between us and heaven, we want to move forward, we want to take the leap of faith, but we are afraid, afraid of many things, but especially frightened that we will begin to live a new life and soon fail and be laughed at for ever trying. Lent is our training ground, our opportunity to try out the life of the Saints. If we cannot be perfect all year-round, let us be perfect for forty days straight.

February 21, 2012 - Tuesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

St. James calls us “adulterers”. Why does he feel so free to use such harsh language? Because it is true. The accusation he is making is true of every sinful human being, including St. James himself, I am sure. He called us adulterers because like an adulterer we are unfaithful to our true love. We love God, but we keep stepping out on him. Whoever wants to be a lover of the world makes themself an enemy of God. There is no way to reconcile our love of God with our love of the world. It is adultery.

God is jealous. Like any true lover, he is not willing to have his beloved be unfaithful. So what should we do? We cannot hide our affair with the world from God. He sees all and knows all. Our unfaithfulness is done in his sight. When we go to God to admit our sins, our unfaithfulness, he already knows all about it. He wants us to admit it so that he can forgive us. If we are too proud to admit our inconsistency, then we have no hope. God resists the proud. But if we are humble and put ourselves in God’s hands, he will give us grace.

When we are tempted to sin, giving in never does the least good. Even if our struggle with temptation is painful, especially when our struggle with temptation is painful, we are accomplishing great things. When we resist temptation, we put up a defense against Satan. When we give in to temptation, we welcome the devil right in. And it will be harder the next time, harder to resist, easier for him to get in.

Our relationship with God is never very close if we are unfaithful to him. If I loved him as he loved me, I would never sin; I would never abandon him in search of what only he can offer me. God has come from heaven to earth to be with us. He comes as close as he possibly can, inches away, but these last inches cannot be crossed by him lest he destroy my free will. Is God too far away? The distance between you and God is the arms length that you hold him away at. The only thing stopping God from embracing you totally, is your own will. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

February 20, 2012 - Monday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

St. James speaks today of the humility of wisdom. What is the humility of wisdom? It can be easily seen by looking first at its opposite: the pride of fools. So many people, whether on television or Facebook or among friends, loudly and assuredly speak on topics which they do not understand. Two kinds of people are absolutely sure: someone who after years of study has reached a few limited conclusions and someone who does not know the first thing that they are talking about.

Even when we can be absolutely sure, wisdom still insists on humility. I am sure that it is wrong to kill a baby, whether it has been born or not, and I believe that maturity and study has not made me less confident in this belief but more. Humility will never make me question whether perhaps circumstances can exist where killing a child is a good thing, but humility, the humility of wisdom, does make me cautious. Those who are ignorant of the great evil of killing are not pure evil themselves. There are probably people who work at Planned Parenthood who genuinely, although wrongly, are trying to do good.

Humble wisdom comes from God. The wisdom from heaven is first of all pure since no lie can be a part of wisdom. It is peaceful, not violent even when faced with uncontrollable foolishness. It is gentle, not pushy or sarcastic or mean-spirited or rude. It listens to others, and can be convinced that it was wrong or misunderstood some aspect of the question. It is full of mercy, because we realize that we are sinners in need of mercy. It bears good fruits, spreading truth and righteousness in the world. It is without partiality: it does not favor any conclusion in the search for truth. It is without hypocrisy: there is no hidden agenda.

This kind of wisdom comes only from God. It is a supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit. We cannot learn to be wise. We cannot fake such profound wisdom. We would go wrong in one direction or another: being unsure of what is true or being certain of our own opinions. If Christians could work no miracle except to be wise with this gift of the Holy Spirit, that would be convincing to the world. If we would let God give us this gift, letting go of personal opinions and prideful confidence, we would be shining examples to the world.

February 19, 2012 - Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

God says that he is tired of us. “You burdened me with your sins and wearied me with your crimes.” How should we understand this statement since God, who is all-powerful, cannot actually be wearied. One way of understanding this verse is to apply it to Christ. Even though this reading was written centuries before Christ, it is a prophecy and therefore we can understand it as applying to Christ who by carrying the Cross for our sins actually was burdened with our sins and wearied with our crimes.

However, we also can understand it of God in the divine nature. What wearies us more than futile labor? A man is not wearied of digging if he finds the treasure he is seeking. The teacher is not wearied by hours of work if the students are learning. The parent is not wearied by their teenage children who obey them. But digging a hole and finding nothing, and teaching the same point over and over again, and seeing your children make the same foolish mistakes over and over again is very tiring.

God is wearied and burdened because we his children are very frustrating. He tries to make things easy for us, but we make them hard for ourselves. He created us to announce his praise, but we ignore him. He tells us exactly what we need to do to be happy, and we try to find happiness anywhere else.

So God, who still is not giving up on us, begins again. He wipes out our offenses. He forgets our sins. He gives us a second chance and the third chance and a 576 millionth chance. He does not want us to fail; he wants us to succeed. He is not trying to make us into something monstrous. He is not trying to convince us to be something boring. Everything he does is to make us into exactly what we want to be. We might not even know what we want, but he does.

Is real forgiveness possible in this world? Is it possible to have our sins wiped away and forgotten, as if we had never sinned? Not superficially. On the surface of things, people remember. Our debt remains; our shame remains; the consequences of our choices remain. We can never go back to that fork in the road and take the other path. But this is just the surface of things. In reality it does not matter what the other people think or what they remember about us. Even the consequences of our actions, the life situation that we have ended up in for good or ill, partially through luck and partially by our own fault, is not that important. Only one thing really matters, has God forgiven us?

Because if God has forgiven us, and he no longer remembers our sin, then it really is as if we had never done it. The forgiveness of God has the power to change history. After forgiveness our sin only remains inasmuch as we love God more for having forgiven us. Once God has forgiven us, what does shame matter? It does not. Once God has forgiven us, what do we care if people judge us? We do not.

When the Pharisees today see Jesus forgive the sins of the paralyzed child, they doubt his ability and authority. Fine, but when he proves his ability and authority by healing the child, they ought to have run right up to him and said: “Me next! Forgive me!”

There is one who is not pleased by the possibility of forgiveness. That one is he who refuses to be forgiven, Satan himself. When we sin, he uses his every ability to prevent us from being forgiven. Fear, shame, and excuses are all used to try and separate us from the love of God.

When we have sinned, we become afraid of God. This is the devil trying to keep us sick by making us afraid of the cure. The solution is love. We cannot really be afraid of someone we love and who we know loves us. God loves us. He loves us more than we can imagine, more than anyone else has ever loved us, and more than we have ever loved anyone in this world. What could we possibly be afraid of?

When we have sinned, we become ashamed of what we have done and unwilling to admit it. This is the devil trying to keep us injured by making us hide our injury. The solution is humility. We would not be ashamed to admit weakness unless we wanted people to think that we were perfect.

When we have sinned, we begin to make excuses. This is the devil trying to keep us unhappy by lying to us about where happiness can be found. The solution is trust. Who are we going to trust has the key to happiness? If we can trust that God's plan for us will make us happy and if we can trust that God has given us the church to reveal his plan for us, then we will not be fooled by any thoughts we have and excuses we come up with for why we can find happiness in sin. Left to our own devices, we will come to crazy conclusions about what is sin and what is not. If we trust that there is someone wiser than us who is looking out for us, we will not believe the lies.

However many promises God has made us, there is a yes revealed in Jesus Christ. Will he forgive our sins? Yes. Will he make us the person we wish we were? Yes. Does he have a place prepared for us where we will be happy forever? Yes. God makes extravagant promises, but he is fully capable of fulfilling every one of them, and he has fulfilled them in Jesus Christ.

In Jesus, there is a yes to everything we have ever wanted. Perhaps when you were a little child you wanted a particular toy, and when you grew older that toy changed every year, and now what you want more than anything else has a different shape from that toy, but really what you wanted never changed. You wanted to be happy, and you still want to be happy. Whether you want a new car or to win the lottery or a happy family, you really just want to be happy. And Jesus is saying yes.

God has made promises, and he will fulfill those promises. He already has begun to fulfill his promises. He has given us the Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts, and no matter where we are or what we are going through, the Holy Spirit has the power to make us happy.

You and I have sinned. You and I have sins in our past and in our present. God is tired of us. He is tired of waiting for us to change, but that does not mean that he is going to give up on us. He is going to keep trying. Let us, you and I, do God this favor and let him make us happy.

February 18, 2012 - Saturday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Those who teach are under a heavier judgment than those who do not. It is difficult enough to live one's own life correctly, righteously. We are likely to go wrong in so many ways. What a great burden it is then to be responsible not only for one's own actions, but how another person interprets your teaching. I understand what I teach and the limits of what I mean and the exceptions, but I probably do not convey all of that in what I say.

So what are we to do then, since no one can believe unless they have been taught but no one can teach without making mistakes? Those of us who have taken on the great responsibility to teach the faith, whether by a commission of the Church or a special call from God, must dedicate our tongue to the Lord. Someone else might be sarcastic or flippant, someone else might discuss gossip or speak of useless things, someone else might express their own opinion on matters political or religious, but we teachers of the faith will not.

Would it not be better if priests and deacons identified more with the laity, dressed and acted more like everyone else? No. This comes from a good intention, for it is clearly true that priests and deacons are merely men like any other man, but it is mistaken because it does not account for the supernatural Gospel which these men carry.

If out of my mouth comes a preaching of the Gospel, the good news of salvation, then it is absolutely essential that there be no chance of confusion between my own opinions and the teaching of Jesus Christ, and how much more necessary that there be no confusion between my own sins of speech: insulting someone or imprudent topics, and the teaching of Jesus Christ.

By choosing to accept the commission of the Church to teach, we give up our right to express opinions lest the truth of the Gospel should be watered down with private opinions. We give up our right to complain about bad service in a store lest that should seem part of the Gospel. Every Christian teacher is a prophet and every prophet must go into the desert so that their message can be heard apart from the noise of the city. If a Christian teacher brings out into the desert some of the noise of the city in their own speech, where can they go and be heard?

February 17, 2012 - Friday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

When Martin Luther was inventing his new version of Christianity, where he decided that whatever he happened to think was right was definitely right, thereby claiming for himself the infallibility that he denied the Church, he ran into a difficulty in that part of the New Testament clearly contradicted his interpretation of St. Paul. A more humble man might have begun to question whether the interpretation was correct. Martin Luther was not a humble man. He considered himself able to judge the epistle of James: these parts he liked, these other parts he did not like.

He wanted to say that faith justifies apart from works. This is mostly because he did not know the meaning of the word “justify”, which means to change a person into someone who does just works. Our faith is not something we hold onto separately from who we are. Our faith changes us. Faith is not a passive possession; it is an active principle.

If our faith justifies us, that means that our belief in God makes us into a better person, but this is not necessarily true. St. James points to an obvious case: the demons. They believe in God but they are not made into better people. We do not need to go to the supernatural realm to find that this is true. People like those Christians who protest at funerals or a child-abusing priest prove the principle right here on earth. They believe in God, but it does not do them much good.

So faith by itself is not sufficient for justification; something more is needed. St. James calls it “works”, but the principle of these works is love. Jesus tells us to believe, but he also tells us to love. Faith without love is dead. I cannot merely wish good things for the poor. “Bye. Keep warm and well-fed.” I have to love them. “Love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus said that. Faith is not enough.

Faith does not require anything from me. I can believe and then go on living as I always have. Faith is cheap; love is costly. Whoever wishes to follow Jesus must deny themself, take up their cross, and follow him. Does this sound like faith? No. Faith cannot lift a cross. Only love can do that. Faith tells us that we should follow Jesus; love is what does the following. Faith tells us who we should love and who loves us; love is what does the loving.

February 16, 2012 - Thursday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

What St. James warns about in the first reading today is a real temptation for anyone involved in service to the Church. Of course in principle, everyone is equal, and it is not as if the clergy actually desire to ignore the poor and give special treatment to the rich, but there are bills to pay. Not only all the regular bills, but if we want to do any particular service to the poor, we will probably need money to do so. And just like that bank robber said the reason he robbed banks was because that is where all the money is, so too the reason we have fundraisers and dinners and other events that cater to the rich is because they are the ones with money to give.

So what should we do? Should we ignore this reading and continue giving special treatment to the rich? Or should we follow this reading and make no distinction between someone who could give the church $1 million and someone who is barely able to give $1? For surely it is not reasonable to expect a person to give $1 million without a little special treatment, dinner in the rectory or a meeting with the bishop.

I do not think that St. James was ignorant of this difficulty. Undoubtedly, there were some very wealthy Christians who were able to provide for the community, and if they are anything like wealthy people today, they probably wanted a little partiality. Perhaps we do not know of any particular cases with St. James, but there is one recorded in Scripture about St. Paul. He converted a rich woman named Lydia, and then stayed in her house while he was working in Philippi. He converted other people in Philippi, but only Lydia gets a special mention. Probably there were other Christians who would have let Paul stay in the house, if they had had houses with room for him. It is not that Lydia was more generous than the others, but that she had more to give.

I do not think that St. James is telling us to treat the rich with less respect. When the rich man comes in with gold rings and fine clothes, we should pay attention to him and say, “Sit here, please.” But then when the poor man comes in with filthy clothes, we should pay attention to him and say, “Sit here, please.” The only solution is to show partiality to everyone.

February 15, 2012 - Wednesday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

St. James tells us to be quick to hear and slow to speak. This is very good advice. When someone else speaks, listening is an act of great humility. To listen to someone else is the best way to tell them that they are important, important enough to listen to. But we do not only listen for the sake of the other person, for their feelings or so that they will think well of us. If we did that, we would be hypocrites. We listen because we genuinely believe that we do not know everything. It is not possible to be a Christian without humility. “If anyone thinks that they are religious but does not bridle their tongue, they deceive their heart: their religion is vanity.”

St. James also tells us to be slow to anger. The relationship between the anger and Christianity is not easy to parse. On the one hand, Jesus says things like turn the other cheek. On the other hand, Jesus was angry and made a whip and cast all the money changers out of the Temple. So there must be such a thing as righteous anger. But St. James's reason why we should be slow to anger is that anger does not accomplish the righteousness of God, and that is correct. Anger does not accomplish anything. Anger is about stopping something. Sometimes it is necessary to stop evil, but what does that accomplish if we never start doing good?

There is a lot of evil in this world. No matter where we look, we are likely to find someone doing something wrong. It is too easy to just be angry. There will never be a shortage of reasons to be angry. So what if, instead of getting angry, we decide to do something positive. Anger does not accomplish the righteousness of God, so we should work to accomplish the righteousness of God.

The world needs changing. If we commit ourselves to doing good in this world, we can change the world. There are so many things we cannot control. Rather than becoming angry at our weakness, we should accomplish whatever we can. I cannot stop selfishness, but I can stop being selfish. I cannot force the government to take care of the poor, but I can take care of the poor. I cannot force people to follow the true morality, but I can, to the best of my ability, assisted by God's grace, be moral.

February 14, 2012 - Memorial of Saint Cyril, monk, and Saint Methodius, Bishop

Today's Readings

Temptation comes from three sources. These are traditionally listed as the world, the flesh, and the Devil.

Temptation from the world is the temptation of money, fame, and power. The world tempts us with the possibility of controlling other people and having people adore us. The temptation of the world is to be more successful than other people. The temptation of the world is to want to be higher than everyone else. Success is meaningless if we are not more successful than other people. But the Christian denies this temptation. It is illogical. We should be glad that other people are smarter and more talented than us. We are not perfect. The Christian is glad to see success wherever it exists and does not give in to any desire to be better than others.

Temptation of the flesh is the way that our body weighs us down. It is the temptation for entertainment, for relaxation, for eating, for sexual pleasure. Each of these has its proper place, but the body would have us give it constantly. One dessert is not enough. One movie is not enough. If we listen to the body, we will make ourselves unhappy. The body is happiest when we do not give it everything it wants. Give it good food in the proper amount, give it sleep when it is needed and the amount we need, give it exercise even when it is not inclined, and the body will be strong and useful. Give in to the temptations of the flesh and the body will be weak.

Temptation by the Devil is rarer than the others. Only in certain circumstances does the Devil need to get involved. Usually we make a mess of things all by ourselves. When he sees us getting along, trying to follow God, he comes in and steers us toward one of the other temptations. Just as he did with Eve, he makes us believe that God’s laws are unreasonable. He encourages in us the feeling of rebellion: who is God to tell us what to do? Often this question is enough and we are fooled until we realize once again that sin does not have the power to make us happy.

God does not tempt us, but he does give us the power to fight all temptation. He wants us to be happy, and the only things standing in the way of our happiness is our temptation to sin.

February 13, 2012 - Monday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Jesus “sighed from the depth of his spirit.” I think we all know how Jesus felt. The Pharisees were pestering him for a sign. Of course, Jesus had, at least twice, fed crowds with a few loaves of bread and a couple fish. He healed the sick, the blind, and the deaf by the thousands. Still, the Pharisees were demanding a sign.

Jesus could have just given in. This must be at least partially where that sigh came from. Jesus knew that he could have said, “What do you want? Just name it.” He could change the color of the sky, turn mud into a person, summon 12 legions of angels, or whatever. He could literally have done anything. He could have just started taking requests and fulfilling them as they were spoken. The Pharisees want to test Jesus here; they want to try him out like we might try out a new gadget on Christmas day.

This demand for a sign shows a basic misunderstanding about faith. Faith is a gift from God. Faith is not something we do; faith is something God does to us. The Pharisees, like most people today, thought that their faith was the result of weighing both sides, thinking about it, and coming to a judgment. They are asking for a sign because they want more evidence before making their decision. But what evidence would have been sufficient? Anything can be thrown into question. Maybe it is just an illusion. Perhaps Jesus was a space alien with advanced technology. Maybe it was all just a dream. Maybe you are dreaming now and you will wake up in a minute and realize that this is all imaginary.

There is no argument, there is no evidence, that could convince us perfectly. Our brains are not perfect. If faith came from within us, it would have no surer footing than any other thought we have. Faith, however, comes from outside, from God. If we lack faith, we should not demand signs from God, we should not invent elaborate schemes to prove or disprove him. We ought to pray. If we ask God for faith, he can give it to us; he can give us a faith that does not rely on our weak intellect, that is not subject to the whims of our limited mind.

February 12, 2012 - Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

I am sure that there are people all over the world right now who are hearing a homily that suggests that Jesus was kind while the law was cruel. The Jews cast the lepers outside the community, while Jesus was willing to touch the leper. What nonsense all that is! Who made the law that said that lepers had to stay away from other people? The Lord did, the God of Israel, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus is the God of the Old Testament.

This is a good law. It does not say that the people should kill the lepers on first sight, but it also tries to prevent the spread of disease. Jesus does not touch the leper because the law was wrong. He touches the leper because Jesus is more powerful than leprosy.

In our readings today, we clearly see the difference between the law and grace. Our first reading is from the Old Testament, the covenant of the law, and the Gospel is from the New Testament, the covenant of grace. The readings deal with the same problem: leprosy, but in different ways. The law deals with it as the law deals with all things: by separating, cutting off, preventing the illness from spreading, pointing out and making clear where the evil was lest anyone else be infected. There is no cure, only clarification.

Jesus, who came to give us grace upon grace, does something else. He takes away the leprosy of the man. He rebukes it, and immediately it is cast out. He proves that he is more powerful than the law. Where the law is on defense, he is on the offense. He is able to make things better rather than simply prevent them from getting worse. The law is like a castle with outer and inner walls, trying to prevent the hordes from rushing in. Jesus is like a knight who rides out to defeat the spreading evil.

In a community without antibiotics, when someone catches leprosy, the best anyone can do is prevent the leprosy from spreading to another person. St. Damian Molokai went to live with the lepers and care for them. After 12 years, he caught leprosy himself and died 4 years later. St. Damian is an inspiration and a martyr, showing us God’s love, but he also is a proof of the correctness of the law.

That an individual could go and give up their life serving the very sick is a vocation and a sacrifice, but not everyone should go and become sick. Some people should stay back and do research into a cure, as we have today. Some people should stay back and raise their families. It does no one any good to have whole communities infected with a disease. If another disease comes along that is very contagious, some people should go and serve the sick in quarantine even at the cost of their own lives, but not everyone should go. There is nothing wrong with this law. It is wise and prudent, but grace is stronger. Until Jesus came, people were only able to stop the spread of disease, but he was able to cast out the disease itself.

So why are we learning today about epidemiology? What does leprosy have to do with Church? First disease is a human concern, and all that concerns humans concerns God. He loves us. Second, leprosy is a symbol of sin. Sin is like a disease. Sin is like leprosy. What leprosy does to the body, eating away at it, destroying it piece by piece, is what sin does to the soul. We can easily see leprosy working on the body, but it is more difficult to see how sin works on the soul.

And sin is contagious like a disease. If I am mean to you, you will be mean to someone else, and they will be mean to another person. If I steal from you, you will steal from someone else, and then they will steal from another person. Our entertainments are infected with sin. How can someone watch television anymore and hope to remain clean of lust and sarcasm and disrespect?

People act as if the moral law is unnecessary and oppressive and then wonder why the world is filled with selfishness and unhappiness. Sure, it would be wonderful if men could look at women dressed in any fashion whatsoever and see them as a whole person, but most men cannot, so women should dress modestly. It would be wonderful if people would care for the poor freely and generously, if every poor person were surrounded by people trying to assist them, but they do not, so we should pay taxes that go toward food and shelter for the poor.

The world is not perfect, so we need a little oppression. And not only the world, but we ourselves are filled with contradictory desires. Not everything we want to do is good. We need some laws that tell us not to do some things, even if we want to do them really badly. These laws serve to quarantine the evil that is within us. So long as we need this defense, we should not complain of being restrained.

But grace is greater than the law. Better than putting down the parts of our soul inclined to do wrong, is encouraging that desire within us to do right. God gives us the grace to do right, if we will choose that. As St. Paul says, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” If we do what is right, we can stop not doing what is wrong.

And when what is good has begun to spread in our soul, we can be contagious too. St. Paul imitates Jesus Christ, and tells us that we should imitate him. So the good spreads from Jesus to Paul and from Paul to us. And not only Paul, but all the saints in the whole world. What if goodness started spreading like an epidemic?

This would not be possible without grace, but with God all things are possible. Being kind to people even when they are cruel to us would be impossible if it were not for grace. We could keep it up for a little while, but we would fail, but grace gives us unlimited energy. We will always have enough energy to do good, so long as we stay connected to God in prayer.

If life is without purpose, as most people imagine, just filled with whatever meaning we can invent, then the best we can do is have a law that prevents people from hurting each other. But life does have a meaning, life does have a purpose, every morning when we wake up, there is something that we should accomplish that day. If we do that with all our hearts, we do not have to worry about what we should not be doing.

February 11, 2012 - Saturday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

This is the second story we have where Jesus feeds a lot of people with just a little food. In the other story, there are 5000 families, five loaves, and two fish. This time there are only 4000 families, and Jesus starts with more food: seven loaves and a few fish. Also, more food is left over the first time, twelve baskets full versus seven baskets full.

Some scholars think that Jesus only did it one time and the Apostles remembered the numbers differently and made it into two stories, but St. Mark considered the difference between the two stories so important that out of only about 11,000 words in his Gospel, he devotes 160 to tell the story the first time and another 140 to tell it this second time. This would be sort of wasteful just to get both sets of numbers down. No, Mark either wrote both down to let us know that it all happened twice or, and this is more likely yet, because he wants us to compare the two events and learn something.

If we are going to learn something, we should begin with the disciples. Did they learn anything? Last time, they told Jesus to dismiss the crowd. This time, they trust Jesus. He calls them, not at the end of one day, but after three days of teaching. Last time, the disciples went to Jesus as it was getting late in the day, because they were afraid that he did not know that the people are hungry; this time, they trust him. Jesus knows that the people need to eat, and he cares that the people need to eat. After two days someone could have accused Jesus of letting the people starve to death, of being uncaring, but Jesus knew that he could provide for the people when the people needed providing for.

Sometimes it seems as if we are not being provided for because we see a need in the future and do not have the solution right now. We do not know how we are going to get over the next mountain which we see looming on the road ahead. Jesus wants us to stop worrying about the next mountain and focus on the road under our feet. Right now, we are still afloat. We have everything we need for right now. The concerns of each day are sufficient; do not be anxious about tomorrow.

February 10, 2012 - Memorial of Saint Scholastica, Virgin

Today's Readings

Today we heard how God, through the prophet Ahijah, divided the kingdom of Israel into two parts: Israel in the north and Judah in the south. God told Solomon that he would do this because of his unfaithfulness, taking the kingdom away from his son, but leaving him the city of Jerusalem and the surrounding area. Tomorrow we will hear about how Jeroboam, the new king of Israel, tells the Israelites to stop worshipping in Jerusalem because he is concerned that if the people of Judah and the people of Israel worship in the same temple, they will not stay divided. So he builds idols for the Israelites to worship instead. Technically, he claims that these idols are images of the God they had always worshipped, but this still breaks the First Commandment.

The Israelites, after 1000 years and mixing with other people, became the Samaritans, while the people of Judah became the Jews. We know the animosity that existed between the Jews and the Samaritans in Jesus’ time. The Samaritan woman who spoke with Jesus still wanted an answer to the question that Jeroboam had raised: should we worship in the Jerusalem Temple or not? Jesus tells her, “You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.” So he confirms, in case there was any doubt, that Jeroboam did wrong.

Why would God give Jeroboam the kingship of Israel, knowing full well that he would lead the people into a perversion of true worship? It was unfortunate that the majority of Israel was handed over to “worshipping what they do not know”, but it was necessary. The wealth of Israel was in the north, so the king of the Jews would never again be as powerful as King Solomon was. We have seen how power and wealth corrupted King Solomon. By weakening the country, he strengthened the faith. In dividing the kingdom, most of the Israelites lost a proper understanding of their faith, but if Israel had remained united, the sort of place that the queen of Sheba was amazed by, the whole nation would have been lost.

Let all of us, living in the richest, most powerful country in the world remember this: God is not concerned for kingdoms or nations or corporations. His only concern is individual people. He will destroy anything, no matter how much we value it, to bring us back to him, to make us happy.

February 9, 2012 - Thursday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Who could have imagined that Solomon, the youth who asked God for wisdom because he knew that he was not equal to the task of ruling Israel, would become a corrupt old man with 1000 sexual partners. After beginning so well, Solomon ends so badly.

Whose fault is that? It is not God’s fault. God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond any other human before the time of the Holy Spirit. It is not Solomon’s wives’ fault: they were merely following the religions that they grew up with. Who could have taught them better? Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Solomon could not possibly have loved all these women. Jacob had two wives and could not love both of them. If Solomon had had only one wife, he would have taught her about the God of Israel, the only true God. It is Solomon’s fault. After having every advantage: wisdom, visions of God, and the example of his father, he abandons the faith that he knows is true.

Solomon has a faithfulness problem. He has one thousand wives. He was unable to be faithful to one. He worships all sorts of gods. He was unable to be faithful to one. If I were trying to do a little psychoanalysis of Solomon, I would suggest that his troubles might go back to his mother. He knew that his mother was the wife of another man, whom his father had killed. Even if David gave him the best example he could, he could not correct this bad example. This knowledge must have haunted Solomon his entire life. Whether this was why he chose to have so many wives or why he went along with them in their worship, we do not know, but Solomon’s parents could not be faithful and he could not either, not to a wife and not to God.

For all his wisdom, Solomon could not see this. He knew so much about the world and the sky and the stars but not about himself. Do not make the same error as Solomon. We all have weaknesses. We are all lacking in certain areas of human development. Whether it is because of our upbringing or genetics or whatever, this is the area where we must be particularly open to God’s grace, for it is the place where we are most vulnerable.

Solomon should not have asked for wisdom. God offered him whatever he wanted and Solomon should have asked God for a different gift. He should have asked for faithfulness.

February 8, 2012 - Wednesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

The story of our first reading today is both history and symbol. The queen of Sheba is like one of us: she goes from her native land to a land where she has heard that there are great wisdom and riches. That land is Israel, the Promised Land, a symbol of heaven. The king of that land is King Solomon, and he is a symbol of the Lord, the king of the kingdom of heaven. This is fully appropriate since King Solomon received his wisdom from the Lord, so it is the Lord’s wisdom which the queen of Sheba hears.

The queen brought questions to the king. I think that many of us have a few questions we would like answered. Let us believe confidently that just as King Solomon was able to explain ever question which came from the heart of the queen, so God someday will be able to explain to us every question in our hearts.

After the king had answered every question that the queen asked, he showed her the riches of the kingdom. She is impressed not only by what the king possesses but by how the royal ministers are seated and how the royal servants are dressed. When we visit the kingdom of heaven, we will be impressed by how the saints are seated and how beautiful the angels are.

Last of all, when she saw what was offered in the Temple of the Lord, she was breathless. Someday our breath will be taken away when we finally understand the sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

The queen had heard stories in her native land about the kingdom and King Solomon, but she had thought them too fantastic to be true. Now she sees that they did not capture half of the truth. When we hear descriptions of heaven, let us not think that such descriptions exaggerate how wonderful heaven is. The reality of heaven far exceeds anything that we can imagine.

But the queen did not show up empty-handed. No, she brought 120 talents of gold and a great deal of spices and jewels which she gave to the king. While we are here, preparing to visit the kingdom of heaven, we must get ready a gift for the king: gold by which the king is glorified, spices which are the fruit of our labors, and jewels which beautify the soul and are formed by the heat and pressure of suffering.

February 7, 2012 - Tuesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

“Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!” King Solomon’s point is that we cannot put God in a box. God is not in anything. When we say he is in eternity, we simply mean he is not in time. When we say that he is in heaven, we mean that he is not on earth. Yet when we say that he is not in time or on earth, we mean that he is not limited to time or earth, but he is obviously present to us where we are on earth, in time. The only place that we say God is not is in our sins, yet he remains fully powerful over our sins though he allows us the power to disobey him.

King Solomon knew all this because he was wise. He did not imagine that he had actually created a house for God. Impressive though it was, it was as nothing in God’s sight. He created the galaxies, would he now live in a small building of stone and metal? Of course not!

Here we have a tension. We call this church the house of God, yet is he any more present here than on top of some mountain or in your kitchen? Some people use this argument to say that we should not have churches or that our churches should be functional buildings, a church on Sunday mornings and a movie theater the rest of the week. Consider how much space is wasted by this large sanctuary where only a few people sit. Consider how much heat is wasted by these tall ceilings. Has all this been done so that God could fit in here? Yet he fits in a small chapel, he fits in the smallest enclosed space, and then again he does not fit in any of these.

No, a house of God does not need to be large so that God would fit, but it does need to be large enough that our idea of God can expand. This one building is set aside as the house of God, not because he needs protection from the rain, but because we need to be reminded that he exists. An auditorium would be so much more efficient than a church, but we would impoverished. If we cannot set part of our city aside to be exclusively the dwelling of God, how would we possibly set part of our minds aside from worldly concerns to think about God.

February 6, 2012 - Memorial of Saint Paul Miki and Companions, Martyrs

Today's Readings

Jesus went around healing people by the thousands. If he was able to do that, why hold back at all? Even though we accept that illness and suffering are the result of original sin, that God does not make us suffer, yet he holds the cure to all our suffering and can end it at any moment. So why does he let us suffer? It might be our fault; it is our fault, but still, how could God, who loves us, look on and see our pain without granting healing?

Certainly God could by a certain miracle suddenly remove all bodily suffering in the world by healing everyone who is sick or injured, but what then? People will be injured or sickened the next hour after the miracle. If the greatest good that could be achieved in this life was a mere removal of suffering, then God would do that every hour of every day, but we are made for something more. We are made to live the life of the blessed forever.

Death is not the greatest evil. Suffering is not the greatest evil. The greatest evil is a separation of our souls from God. Just as we will gladly undergo painful surgery with the hope of lasting benefits or endure the pain of exercise with the hope of stronger bodies, we should not fear the suffering of this world but rather hope that it will prepare us for the next. Our own suffering often accomplishes the real purpose of living.

Why does God permit the suffering of this world? We know why. Why does a parent permit their child to be stabbed with needles or have a tooth pulled? Because allowing some suffering now prevents greater suffering later. This does not take away our need to serve those who are suffering. It does not mean that we can forget about the suffering in the world, especially the suffering created by our own choices. It means that suffering can be necessary and can result in good.

Suffering is always evil but suffering can lead to compassion, endurance, patience, and humility and these are great goods. If all Jesus wanted to do was stop all suffering, there was no need for him to become a man and dwell among us; God could have done that at any time, but since he knew that permitting suffering was necessary in a world with sin, he instead came down to suffer with us.