Bearing Fruit in the Weeds

Repent and Believe: Metanoia not Fear WLR Homilies

Trust not fear.
  1. Repent and Believe: Metanoia not Fear
  2. Who do you say I am?
  3. Prudence (Cardinal Virtues Series)
  4. Called By Name
  5. Seek, Find, Worship, Show

About 40 yards to my right, between the school and the rectory, you will find a magnificent tree shading the whole courtyard area. The little deck/balcony that is part of the rectory incorporates this tree. Because of this, and due to its continuing growth, the tree is pushing the stairs out of alignment. Alas, we will have to add that to the maintenance list for our beautiful Cathedral grounds. 

The tree grew from a tiny acorn. Then it became, a seedling, then a small tree, then a medium-sized tree, and only after many years has it reached its maturity. All its power to bear heavy loads and to grow to the height of the buildings around it existed in the acorn.

This is like what our Lord speaks about using the mustard seed. The kingdom of heaven grows slowly, but it reaches to the heights. Nothing will stop it. Likewise, with the leaven – the yeast – it only takes a minuscule amount to cause the dough to rise – to double or even triple in volume. But it takes time. Note what Christ is telling us here: the kingdom grows slowly yet is fully alive from the beginning. He is the kingdom. In fact, it is his will that it grows slowly so that many more would have the chance for repentance and for the joy of knowing Christ!

With these thoughts percolating in our minds, let us turn to the first parable that Christ offers us today. The wheat and the weeds. Remember the parable of last week? In that parable, of the sower and the different types of soil, the Lord helps us recognize the obstacles to the flourishing life of grace in ourselves. Remember, we want to be good fruitful soil.

Today, to continue the analogy, Christ turns to our relationship with the other plants within the field. How do we react when another does not bear the expected fruit? In more literal terms, how do we confront evil, and why does it exist? And what purpose does it serve in our life as a disciple?

These are not sterile questions; many of the most brilliant minds of humanity, saints and sinners alike, have struggled with them. For example, when St. Thomas Aquinas summarized the objections against God’s existence in his Summa Theologica, the presence of evil in the world was objection number one.  We are in good company, then if these questions arise in our hearts as well. If we believe in God, all of these questions become some form of, “why does God allow evil to continue?”

Thomas’ answer –concise as always – is that “it is part of the infinite goodness of God, that He should allow evil to exist, and out of it produce good.”[1] Such a response merits reflection and prayer; these are the only means of us coming to see what Thomas gets at in so succinct a manner, which is also what our Lord proposes to us through the parable.

What good comes from allowing the plants and the wheat to grow together?  

First, before they bear fruit, the wheat and weeds are difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish. It is by their fruit you will know them. The growing time – remember the mustard seed – is necessary because God loves his people. He thus gives us time to grow so that we might have time to repent. Through the grace of repentance, God changes us from weeds to wheat.

As the Lord has been generous in giving us time to repent, so also he calls us to be generous in allowing people room to repent and grow from their mistakes. Rash judgments are not the way of the Father who gives his “children good ground for hope that [God] would permit repentance for their sins.” Giving people the benefit of the doubt, kindly admonishing people without judging their character, and looking for ways to empathize (understand the other person’s situation as they do) can all help us to extend the love we have received to others.

Augustine has this to say when we encounter evil, “let a man gently reprove whatever is in his power; what is not so let him bear with patience, and mourn over with affection, until He from above shall correct and heal, and let him defer till harvest-time to root out the weeds.”[2] As Augustine suggests, there are some evils which we should remedy and correct as possible. These are things that fall within our power. For example, parents have authority over their children to help them grow in the virtues. Pastors and priests likewise exercise responsibility in their parishes. But this also extends to friendships. Some of the closest friends I have are the ones who have lovingly told me I needed to repent of specific sins and who walked with me through the struggle. They became the instruments of my conversion from weeds to wheat. 

Nevertheless, the Christian will often confront situations in which evil comes about over which he has no power. He or she may not be able to stop some evils from happening. This is the situation portrayed in the parable; the Master forbids the servants from removing the weeds because doing so would destroy the wheat. Remember, God allows evil, and he brings good from it. Notice that this is a hidden process; the intertwining roots are under the ground. We don’t know how precisely this comes about. But we can be assured that God never permits evil without bringing some greater good from it.

The most perfect example of this is the Cross. The Cross is man’s total rejection of the Love of God Himself. Yet evil does not have the last say. Christ transforms it into the place of victory. Out of the Cross comes our salvation. Christ chooses to endure such great evil because he sees the great good: our salvation. Through the evil Christ suffered on the Cross, “man knows…how much God loves him, and is …stirred to love Him in return, and herein lies the perfection of human salvation.”[3]

Likewise, anytime we suffer evil in union with Christ, we show the world how much God loves them. The Kingdom of Heaven already triumphs because Christ, who is its embodiment, has already triumphed through his Cross and Resurrection.


[1] Thomas Aquinas, STh., I q.2 a.3 obj. 1

[2] Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels, Collected out of the Works of the Fathers: St. Matthew, ed. John Henry Newman, vol. 1 (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1841), 499.

[3] STh., III q.46 a.3 resp.

Groaning, Fruitful Soil

Repent and Believe: Metanoia not Fear WLR Homilies

Trust not fear.
  1. Repent and Believe: Metanoia not Fear
  2. Who do you say I am?
  3. Prudence (Cardinal Virtues Series)
  4. Called By Name
  5. Seek, Find, Worship, Show

Last November, my mom, a cousin of mine, a close friend, and I ran the Shiner Half-marathon. I know I don’t look like a runner…its because I’m not! I’ve never been particularly athletic. But encouraged by others for the sake of my health, I try to work out regularly. I’ve found that having a goal helps me be able to choose to workout. Because I recognize the value of the goal, I’m willing to sacrifice something in the present, to achieve something in the future.

You have had similar experiences yourself, I am sure, in your lives. In work, school, with your family, it’s a mark of maturity to sacrifice something good in the present (or in other words to endure suffering) to permit a greater future good to come about.

Perhaps the most salient human example of this is the work of raising children. Parents know that the work of raising a child from conception to maturity is often demanding. The process has its joys to be sure; however, sorrows, heartbreaks, difficulties, and sacrifices abound in the life of a parent. But rejoicing in the child come to full maturity or seeing virtue flourish in the child after so many difficulties make it worth it. Because you have the goal in mind, you are willing to sacrifice for your children.

This fact holds true for our spiritual life as well. If we recognize the end for which we strive, we will be capable of sacrificing to achieve it. We groan for freedom even as we find ourselves in a valley of tears. This earthly existence remains a prelude – to the full symphony to be revealed in the fulfillment of the ages. Heaven remains the end for which we strive.

Nevertheless, though it is not perfect, eternal life has already begun in us brothers and sisters. Consider: At your baptism, you received this life. If the life of God has died in us through mortal sin, he draws us back to him through the Sacrament of Confession – giving us the grace of repentance! God nourishes the life within us through the Eucharist – the foretaste of heaven, bread of angels, and pledge of future glory.

St. Catherine of Sienna a 14th Century lay Dominican renowned for her holiness, remarked, “All the way to heaven, is heaven, for Jesus said, ‘I am the way.’” Her genius was to recognize that heaven means communion with the Lord.

This is the strange and beautiful paradox of Christianity: We are a people who are already with the Lord, but not yet free of suffering. Yet even as Christ always remained with his Father – even in the darkest moments – so also, we remain with him in our greatest sufferings. Our communion will be perfected on the day of the final judgment. Nevertheless, already we have died and risen with Christ, and the life we live is no longer our own but Christ’s.

As Christians, if heaven is our goal, we must remove any impediments which prevent this life of Christ from flourishing and bearing fruit in us. We want to cooperate to become good soil where the Sower’s seed can bear fruit. What does becoming good soil involve?

To make the soil suitable for planting, first, we must plow it. From the soil’s perspective, this is a somewhat violent act. Thus Christ’s first warning is against the hard indifference borne of pride. We sometimes choose to be hardened soil to refuse the plowing of the sower. Hearing we do not hear and seeing we do not see because we believe in our self-sufficiency.  If your heart or mine has become hardened or indifferent to the knowledge and love of God, if we think we are self-sufficient, we need to repent. We must allow God to break into our hardened hearts. May He plow the soil of our hearts and implant within us once again the fit of his own life.

Once we have plowed, we then must remove the stones, fertilize the soil, and water it even as the seeds are planted.  This is necessary because the soil supports the seed’s life only through having nutrients within it to give. Christ’s second warning is thus against sloth – which is sorrow at spiritual good, which God wishes to give us. Sloth occurs when we know we should do something about loving God, we know we ought to love, that we ought to want to be virtuous, but we refuse to complete what love demands. We become lax about prayer and virtuous living – refusing to fertilize and water the soil of our soul. Or perhaps we  refuse to remove the stones in our lives, preferring to ignore them. These stones are the things that often lead us to sin.  When this happens, our hearts become “gross” and “rocky” weighed down by all the million and one other things that appear to us more important than the love of God. Eventually, we lose our love for God entirely because we have been a gross rocky ground where the word cannot grow to maturity.

Once the seed germinates, we still must work against the weeds which spring up around the seedlings if we wish to bear fruit. These weeds and thorns are vices, which, if not removed from the garden of our soul, will choke the life of grace from our souls. Vices of lust, greed, wrath, and gluttony all represent habitually disordered dispositions towards things which of themselves are good. For example, gluttony is a disordered desire for food and drink. Food and drink are necessary to live. But if we love them more than the people around us or the God who created all, they become idols and can choke the life from us.

Liam in my Dad’s sorghum fields

All of this is hard work, but let us keep the end in mind, and recognize that it is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit in us. As Christ himself bore fruit through his sacrifice, so also as mature Christians, the Spirit bears fruit in and through us. In us, grace will multiply. If we offer our suffering with the Lord (even if we have brought it upon ourselves) with God’s help, we will continue to grow in all the virtues and especially in charity – “to him that has, more will be given, and he will grow rich.” Through us, even more magnificently, our actions can and will bear fruit in others as well. We will become conduits of grace through which others may come into a deeper relationship with God.

God calls us to bear great fruit in as Christ himself did! To the extent that we repent, run to the Lord, and offer him the sacrifice of our lives, the soil of our soul will bear fruit.  May we imitate his example and bear much fruit. 30x, 60x, 100x.       

Seeing the Truth Changes Everything

English Audio – Play here or subscribe in your favorite podcast player.
(Verision en espanol aqui)

When I was in high school, I returned to my elementary school to help teach the grade school kids about engineering using a robot we built. I remember thinking, as I walked in the door, “this place has become smaller.” But the truth, of course, was not that building had changed in size but that I had changed. We don’t notice it because, within ourselves, we change slowly, but as the years go by, we look up and ask ourselves, “when did that change?” Of course, as we change, the world also changes around us. The world sometimes dramatically changes because of events we have no little to no control over. For example, pandemics.

We change over time, and the world changes over time. The effects of those changes change the way that we see the world. They give us a new perspective, sometimes quite literally, on life. Think of how your life has changed in the past two months…what’s different now? What’s different in you? What’s different in your world? Have your priorities shifted? How have they changed?

Here’s another thing we don’t control but changes the world: the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Christ’s resurrection is the dawning of a new world – a new heaven and new earth in the language of St. John’s Revelation. Christ died for our sins, destroying death by his death, and Christ rose to give us hope.[1] This change in the world should inspire in us a change in the way we look at the world. This a gift of the Holy Spirit, whom Christ promises in the Gospel. The Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot accept, will change the way that we live – “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.”[2] What is the fundamental truth that the Spirit makes us realize? That Christ is in His Father, and we are in Christ, and Christ is in us! Jesus does not leave us orphans. The Spirit continues to make Christ present in us at every moment of every day. The Spirit of Truth makes it clear to us that the Risen Christ comes to us but by grace.[3]

So, just as we asked ourselves questions about how has this pandemic changed our lives, I suggest that we ask questions like, “how has the Resurrection of Christ changed my life?”

It is a wonderful characteristic of human beings we can adapt to a new and difficult situation when we encounter it. But the thing is if we don’t recognize what’s new in the world or what’s new in ourselves, we will not change the way we see the world, much less the way we interact in the world. Because we fail to recognize that the Spirit makes Christ present, it comes about that all too often, you and I walk around as if we had no hope.

Saint Peter in Tears by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617–1682)

St. Peter writes to newly formed Christian communities who are on the brink of despair and on the brink of losing faith because of this same experience. The people who made up these communities had professed their faith in Christ received baptism. Now, they experienced great challenges in their lives because of that faith. Most of them had been gentiles or pagans before their conversion to the faith. They had to adopt an entirely new way of living. St. Peter makes clear their baptism calls for a transformation in every area of their life. He mentions many of the important areas of life – marriage, and family, children, economic concerns, relationship with the state, to name but a few. St. Peter recognizes that this new way of living comes at a cost to these new Christians. He recognizes that they may, indeed, they probably will suffer as a result of the new life they live in Christ. Living differently – that is, living according to the love of Christ, which allows us to keep the commandments may mean – probably will mean suffering.

But St. Peter doesn’t just say, good luck with that suffering! No, he goes even further, he claims that suffering “for doing good, if that be the will of God, is better than suffering for doing evil.” Then he goes still further, saying, “rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed, you may also rejoice exultantly.”[4] St. Peter’s response to Christians suffering is neither to deny that suffering exists, nor to deny that it is evil, but rather to point Christians to its true meaning in light of the passion, death, and resurrection of the Lord. This is why he tells his readers, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” [5]

The act of “sanctifying Christ in our hearts” transforms suffering into a reason for our hope. But what does it mean to sanctify Christ? Notice that the Spirit makes us capable of cooperating to sanctify Christ in our hearts. The Spirit works in us to “sanctify Christ” by making us participate in Christ’s own life, making us aware of that participation, and helping us live accordingly – that is, to live with hope!

Our hope, brothers and sisters, flows from Christ’s promise, which is being fulfilled in our midst, that he will “not leave us orphans.” Indeed, we are not orphans, because we have “received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba, Father!” in union with the Son.[6]

Juan Bautista Maíno, 1615-1620, Pentecost

On biological level, a cry always implies a breath; we cannot cry out, if we lack breath. Spiritually, the same is true, we cannot cry out to Father without the “breath” of the Spirit. Our crying out then shows our ability to love the Father by participating in the Son’s own Love for the Father. At the moment of his death on the Cross, St. Luke tells us that Christ “crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last.”[7] These words are not a cry of despair, but a cry of love, borne from Christ’s knowledge that the Father loves him, and he loves the Father. 

The Cry of Christ is our cry. Andrea Mantegna, Crucifixion, 1457-1460

Especially when we suffer, the dying words of Christ on the Cross also become our cry. On that day, on the day in which we suffer while recognizing that we have the gift of the Spirit, we will realize that Christ is in his Father and that we are in him and he in us.[8]This participation makes us capable of offering our suffering as a sacrifice in union with Christ. Suffering in us reveals God’s love to the world because through it we can offer sacrifice in union with the Son.   When we offer sacrifice in union with Christ, we sanctify Him in our hearts. This is the truth, which changes our lives. He is the Truth that changes our lives. The Spirit of Truth makes us participants in Jesus Christ’s own life. We see with new eyes, and thus can give a reason for our hope centered on the fact that Christ rose from the dead to the glory of the Father.

Masaccio, Holy Trinity, (c. 1426-1428)

[1] STh., III q.53 a.1 resp.

[2] John 14:15

[3] St. Thomas, Commentary on John, 1923

[4] 1 Pe 4:13.

[5] 1 Pe 3:14–15.

[6] Ro 8:15.

[7] Lk 23:46.

[8] Jn 14:20.

Ver la verdad, cambia toda

Audio en espanol – play aqui o subscribir en su podcast player
(For English version click here)

Cuando estaba en la escuela secundaria, regresé a mi escuela primaria para ayudar a enseñar a los niños sobre ingeniería usando un robot que construimos. Recuerdo haber pensado, cuando entré por la puerta, “este lugar se ha hizo más pequeño”. Pero la verdad, por supuesto, no era que el edificio había cambiado de tamaño, sino que yo había cambiado. No lo notamos porque, dentro de nosotros mismos, cambiamos lentamente, pero a medida que pasan los años, miramos hacia arriba y nos preguntamos: “¿cuándo cambió eso?” Por supuesto, a medida que cambiamos, el mundo también cambia a nuestro alrededor. El mundo a veces cambia drásticamente debido a eventos sobre los que tenemos poco o ningún control. Por ejemplo, las pandemias.

Cambiamos con el tiempo, y el mundo cambia con el tiempo. Los efectos de esos cambios cambian la forma en que vemos el mundo. Nos dan una nueva perspectiva, a veces literalmente, de la vida. Piensa en cómo ha cambiado tu vida en los últimos dos meses … ¿qué es diferente ahora? ¿Qué es diferente en ti? ¿Qué es diferente en tu mundo? ¿Han cambiado sus prioridades? ¿Cómo han cambiado?

Aquí hay otra cosa que no controlamos pero que cambia el mundo: la resurrección de Jesucristo.

La resurrección de Cristo es el amanecer de un mundo nuevo: un cielo nuevo y una tierra nueva en el lenguaje de la Revelación de San Juan. Cristo murió por nuestros pecados, destruyendo la muerte por su muerte, y Cristo resucitó para darnos esperanza. [1] Este cambio en el mundo debería inspirarnos un cambio en la forma en que vemos el mundo. Este es un don del Espíritu Santo, a quien Cristo promete en el Evangelio. El Espíritu de la Verdad, a quien el mundo no puede aceptar, cambiará la forma en que vivimos: “si me amas, guardarás mis mandamientos.” [2] ¿Cuál es la verdad fundamental que el Espíritu nos hace darnos cuenta? ¡Que Cristo está en su Padre, y nosotros estamos en Cristo, y Cristo está en nosotros! Jesús no nos deja huérfanos. El Espíritu continúa haciendo a Cristo presente en nosotros en todo momento. El Espíritu de la Verdad nos deja en claro que Cristo resucitado viene a nosotros pero por gracia. [3]

Entonces, así como nos hicimos preguntas sobre cómo esta pandemia ha cambiado nuestras vidas, sugiero que hagamos preguntas como: “¿Cómo ha cambiado mi vida la resurrección de Cristo?”

Es una característica maravillosa de los seres humanos que podemos adaptarnos a una situación nueva y difícil cuando la encontramos. Pero la cosa es que si no reconocemos lo que hay de nuevo en el mundo o lo que es nuevo en nosotros mismos, no cambiaremos la forma en que vemos el mundo, mucho menos la forma en que interactuamos en el mundo. Debido a que no reconocemos que el Espíritu hace presente a Cristo, sucede que con demasiada frecuencia, usted y yo caminemos como si no tuviéramos esperanza.

Saint Peter in Tears by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617–1682)

San Pedro escribe a las comunidades cristianas recién formadas que están al borde de la desesperación y al borde de perder la fe debido a esta misma experiencia. Las personas que formaron estas comunidades habían recibido el bautismo y profesaron su fe en Cristo. Ahora, experimentaron grandes desafíos en sus vidas debido a esa fe. La mayoría de ellos habían sido gentiles o paganos antes de su conversión a la fe. Tenían que adoptar una forma de vida completamente nueva. San Pedro deja en claro que su bautismo requiere una transformación en cada área de su vida. Menciona muchas de las áreas importantes de la vida: matrimonio y familia, hijos, preocupaciones económicas, relación con el gobierno, por nombrar solo algunas. San Pedro reconoce que esta nueva forma de vida tiene un costo para estos nuevos cristianos. Él reconoce que pueden, de hecho, probablemente sufrirán como resultado de la nueva vida que viven en Cristo. Vivir de manera diferente, es decir, vivir según el amor de Cristo, que nos permite guardar los mandamientos, puede significar sufrimiento.

Pero San Pedro no solo dice: ¡buena suerte con ese sufrimiento! No, va aún más lejos, afirma que “mejor es padecer haciendo el bien, si tal es la voluntad de Dios, que padecer haciendo el mal.” Luego va más allá y dice: “alégrense en la medida en que participan en los sufrimientos de Cristo, para que también se alegren jubilosos en la revelación de su gloria”[4] La respuesta de San Pedro al sufrimiento de los cristianos no es negar que el sufrimiento existe ni negar que es malo, sino señalar a los cristianos su verdadero significado a la luz de la pasión, la muerte y la resurrección del Señor.Por eso les dice a sus lectores: “Veneren en sus corazones a Cristo, el Señor, dispuestos siempre a dar, al que las pidiere, las razones de la esperanza de ustedes.” [5]

El acto de “venerar a Cristo en nuestros corazones” transforma el sufrimiento en una razón para nuestra esperanza. Pero, ¿qué significa venerar a Cristo? Noten que el Espíritu nos hace capaces de cooperar para santificar a Cristo en nuestros corazones. El Espíritu obra en nosotros para “venerar a Cristo” haciéndonos participar en la vida de Cristo, haciéndonos conscientes de esa participación y ayudándonos a vivir en consecuencia, ¡es decir, vivir con esperanza!

Nuestra esperanza, hermanos y hermanas, fluye de la promesa de Cristo, que se está cumpliendo en medio de nosotros, de que él “no nos dejará huérfanos”. De hecho, no somos huérfanos, porque hemos “recibido un espíritu de adopción, a través del cual gritamos:” ¡Abba, padre! ” en unión con el Hijo.

Juan Bautista Maíno, 1615-1620, Pentecostes

A nivel físico, un llanto siempre implica una respiración; no podemos gritar si nos falta el aliento. Espiritualmente, lo mismo es cierto, no podemos clamar al Padre sin el “aliento” del Espíritu. Nuestro llanto muestra nuestra capacidad de amar al Padre al participar en el Amor del Padre por el Hijo.En el momento de su muerte en la Cruz, San Lucas nos dice que Cristo dando un fuerte grito, dijo: ‘Padre, en tus manos pongo mi espíritu,’ dicho esto, expiró.” [6]Estas palabras no son un grito de desesperación, sino un grito de amor, nacido del conocimiento de Cristo de que el Padre lo ama y él ama al Padre.

Andrea Mantegna, Crucifixion, 1457-1460

Especialmente cuando sufrimos, las últimas palabras de Cristo en la Cruz también se convierten en nuestro grito. En ese día, en el día en que sufrimos al reconocer que tenemos el don del Espíritu, nos daremos cuenta de que Cristo está en su Padre y que nosotros estamos en él y él en nosotros. Esta participación nos hace capaces de ofrecer nuestro sufrimiento como sacrificio en unión con Cristo. El sufrimiento en nosotros revela el amor de Dios al mundo porque a través de él podemos ofrecer sacrificios en unión con el Hijo.

Es cuando ofrecemos sacrificio en unión con Cristo, que más claramente lo veneramos en nuestros corazones. Esta es la Verdad, que cambia nuestras vidas. Él es la verdad que cambia nuestras vidas. El Espíritu de la Verdad nos hace participantes en la vida de Jesucristo. Vemos con nuevos ojos, y así podemos dar una razón para nuestra esperanza centrada en el hecho de que Cristo resucitó de los muertos para la gloria del Padre

Masaccio, Holy Trinity, (c. 1426-1428)

[1] STh., III q.53 a.1 resp.

[2] John 14:15

[3] St. Thomas, Commentary on John, 1923

[4] 1 Pe 4:13.

[5] 1 Pe 3:14–15.

[6] Lk 23:46.

Lent 2020: Excess and Defect

Every virtue is like a middle point between excess and defect.

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God

St. Gregory of Nyssa, De beatitudinibus

Want to grow in virtue this Lent? Beginning February 27, Dcn. Will and fellow Austin Seminarians will publish a series of weekly audio podcasts on the Seven Deadly (Capital) Sins and how, with God’s grace, we can work to replace them with virtue in our lives. To sign up to receive these weekly episodes by email text VIRTUE to 84576

You can subscribe on your favorite podcast player. You can also find the list of episodes below (updated each week with the links as the episodes become available):

  • #1 – Vice Precedence (Pride)
  • #2 – Vice Grips (Envy)
  • #3 – This Episode is More Vicious than Every Other Episode (Vainglory)
  • #4 – Vice Potato (Sloth)
  • #5 – All that glitters is not gold (Avarice)
  • #6 – Untamed Virtue (Anger)
  • #7 – Vice Cream (Gluttony)
  • #8 – Vice, Vice, Baby (Lust)

Virtue, vice, and the call to perfect flourishing

English audio

In June 1925 an elderly man collapsed while walking down an alley, when passers-by noticed his mortal peril, they quickly summoned a priest from the neighboring Church to administer the Sacraments. That morning, at first glance, there was nothing particularly remarkable about the dead man, except that when he was taken to the mortuary, chains were found to be wrapped around his ankles. After the death was announced in the paper the next day, his sister came to identify him as Matt Talbot.

Talbot was born some 69 years previous, to a large lower class, family who lived in near poverty, and he spent his years in that state. What’s remarkable about Matt Talbot is not the manner of his death but the manner of his life.

Because of this poverty, Matt was forced by necessity to begin working at age 11.

Though he was a hard worker and well-respected by his colleagues, the conditions were so bad that he longed for some sort of release some sort of escape from the drudgery and the pain of his everyday life. Like many in his time, he turned towards alcohol to find that escape.

Thus, by the time he was 14 years old, he was a full-blown alcoholic –  he spent nearly all of his free time and all of the hard-earned money that he didn’t use for food in pubs.

Many of us have been in or perhaps are currently in similar situations – perhaps we’re not alcoholics, but we have a drug of choice we used to escape our present situation the suffering that we endure – we might use pornography, drugs, sex, bingeing on food or drink, gambling, or shopping excessively. We might lie or cheat or steal in order to avoid our present reality. We avoid the demands of life by simply becoming apathetic – not caring at all about others.

All these things can easily become vices in our lives. A vice is a bad habit, a habit that doesn’t lead us to flourish. It is the opposite of virtue – a habit that leads to flourishing, to happiness, and ultimately to a deeper union with God.

Our good habits – the virtues – help us to be the people God calls us to be. Our bad habits – lead us more and more into sin.

We form these habits by doing things repeatedly; when we do things over, we tend to find them easier and easier to do. This works both in a positive and negative direction.

When we have virtue, it is easier to do what is good.

When we have vices, it is easier to do evil.

Habits are sticky – they are stable — we don’t change our habits immediately.

They are like a well-trodden cow path in a pasture or the bed of a river. It is not impossible, but it is difficult at first to change them.  

Matt Talbot found himself trapped in this vice of using alcohol. For about 10 years, he lived that way, and he lived a miserable life. And he did not even recognize his misery.

Have you ever had that experience where you see someone doing something over and over again, and you know it’s not good for them, but you know that you can’t make them change if they don’t want to?

See vice has this power. It clouds our judgment so that when we are trapped in a vice, easily mistake evil for good and good for evil.

Because of this, it always takes grace for us to escape from our vices, and to begin to recognize first that there are problems. Whenever we recognize that vice exists in our life, it is already God’s grace at work.

For Matt, that moment came one day outside of a Pub. That week he’d already spent all his money on drink, and so he stood penniless outside of the pub. hoping his drinking buddies would buy him a drink. When none did, he was humiliated, and his conversion began. Matt recognized his misery that day. That’s often the first way God may grab our attention if we are trapped in vice. We become sick and tired of being sick and tired.  

But this recognition of misery can lead us to two different ways: One to deeper misery, if we remain prideful, and the other to life, if we humble ourselves and ask for God’s help.

That day, in humility, Matt recognized that he was unable to overcome this vice by himself, and he turned to God. He walked from the bar to his mother’s home and then went to a church where he made a promise never to drink again and then went to confession.

That day Matt walked out of confession in a state of grace and received all the grace he needed to overcome sin in his life. Matt realized that he was called to something much greater than a life of misery – he was called to holiness – to flourishing – to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect.

In today’s gospel, Jesus Christ tells us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. That’s a daunting task; it seems impossible because humanly speaking it is.

But God never commands the impossible;

In Christ, we have received the command but also the gift of grace to fulfill it.

This isn’t just a call to natural flourishing or to a good human life; rather, God calls you and I to supernatural life with him. Our salvation, our being saved from our sin, is caught up with living a new life in Him. God gives us the grace to heal us and to raise us up to his own life. 

When you were baptized, you received this call and the grace to live out this call to holiness.

Yet obstacles to grace’s work in our lives do appear. Vices, if left unchecked, can prevent the flourishing of grace in our lives, just like they did in Matt’s life. However, difficult is not impossible.

That afternoon outside the pub, marked a true conversion for Matt Talbot, but it wasn’t as if everything was perfect. The next day for him, it was a struggle not to return to drink. As was the next day, and the next, and many days thereafter. The circumstances of his life had not changed. Matt still lived in poverty and did difficult work. Matt still had the temptation to drink; he was still tempted to try to use alcohol to alleviate his suffering.

So, what made the difference?

Trusting Faith. When he felt like he couldn’t make it another day, he chose to trust in God’s promise. He conformed his will to God’s will. 

He showed his commitment to his new way of life by taking practical steps to avoid occasions of sin and to choose to do acts of virtue: He began to rise early to attend mass, to spend time in prayer – just a little at first and then more and more.  He consecrated himself to our Blessed Mother. He taught himself to read so that he could read spiritual books. Instead of giving his money to the pub, he gave it to the poor.

God gives us free will as a gift so that we can choose to love him. He offers us salvation, and he wants us to choose this new life with him freely. God wills us to cooperate in our own salvation, as St. Augustine said: “he who created us without us, will not save us without our cooperation.” God’s grace is first and last and always but he wills that we cooperate with it.

Slowly, and by cooperating with God’s grace, the remnants of past sin from our lives can be removed.

If we wish to become perfect, we must trust in God as Matt did.

This trust, which is the virtue of faith, is the basis of everything; but it does not end there. through trusting faith, God works to make us like himself.  It is directed towards charity – being able to love as God loves. Faith is the beginning; charity is the end.

 So, it was with Matt Talbot; he became holier and holier day by day. He loved God and others more and more. The chains he died wearing were symbols of his total dedication to Jesus through Mary. Instead of being bound to sin and death, he was bound to God and life in the full. He was a prisoner of love.

Matt shows us it’s possible to go from a life of great vice to a life of great virtue by cooperating with God’s grace. He also shows that this process is difficult but it’s totally worth it.

In 3 days, we’re starting Lent. Lent is a time to especially examine our lives, perhaps these questions can help us to do that:

  •  Do I trust in God? How do I live that trust? Does my life show that I trust God?
  • Am I willing to give up my vices? Am I willing to work to change my habits to place my trust in God instead of in some created thing? Am I willing to do what it takes to learn to love as God loves?
  • Am I willing to cooperate with God’s grace in my life? Every day?
  • What practical steps can I take to trust God more? Do I need to reach out for help?

God wants you to flourish not just on a natural level but supernaturally with him forever. He wants your happiness. He sent his Son to suffer, die, and to rise in order to make holiness possible for us. How will we respond?

Espanol:

En junio de 1925 un anciano se desplomó mientras caminaba por un callejón, cuando los transeúntes notaron su peligro mortal,  rápidamente llamó a un sacerdote de la iglesia cercana para administrar los Sacramentos. Esa mañana, a primera vista, no era nada particularmente notable acerca de la muerte del hombre , excepto que cuando él fue llevado a la funeraria, encontraron cadenas alrededor de sus tobillos. 

El hombre, Matt Talbot, nació unos 69 años antes, en una gran familia de clase baja que vivía en la pobreza, y pasó sus años en la pobreza. Lo notable de Matt Talbot no es la forma de su muerte sino la forma de su vida .

Debido a esta pobreza, Matt se vio obligado por necesidad a comenzar a trabajar a los 11 años .

Aunque era un gran trabajador y muy respetado por sus colegas, las condiciones eran tan malas que ansiaba algún tipo de liberación, algún tipo de escape del trabajo pesado y el dolor de su vida cotidiana. Como muchos en su tiempo recurrió al alcohol para encontrar ese escape.

Por lo tanto, teniendo 14 anos, ya era un alcoholico- se pasó casi todo su tiempo libre y todos el dinero ganado que no utilizó para comida en los bares.      

Muchos de nosotros hemos estado o tal vez están actualmente en situaciones similares – quizá no somos  alcoholicos, pero tenemos nuestros propioas maneras de huir de nuestra situación actual del sufrimiento que padecemos – podríamos usar la pornografía, drogas, sexo, atracones de comida o bebida, juegos de azar o compras excesivas. Podríamos mentir, engañar o robar para evitar nuestra realidad actual. Evitamos las exigencias de la vida simplemente volviéndonos apáticos, sin preocuparnos por los demás.

Todas estas cosas pueden convertirse fácilmente en vicios en nuestras vidas. Un vicio es un mal hábito, un hábito que no nos lleva a florecer. Es lo opuesto a la virtud: un hábito que conduce al florecimiento, a la felicidad y, en última instancia, a una unión más profunda con Dios.

Nuestros buenos hábitos, las virtudes, nos ayudan a ser las personas que Dios nos llama a ser. Nuestros malos hábitos: nos llevan cada vez más al pecado.      

 Formamos estos hábitos haciendo cosas repetidamente; Cuando hacemos las cosas de nuevo, tendemos a encontrarlas más y más fáciles de hacer. Esto funciona tanto en una dirección positiva como negativa.      

Cuando tenemos virtud, es más fácil hacer lo que es bueno.     

Cuando tenemos vicios, es más fácil hacer el mal.     

Los hábitos son pegajosos, son estables, no cambiamos nuestros hábitos de inmediato.

Son como un camino bien formado en una pradera o en el lecho de un río. No es imposible, pero al principio es difícil cambiarlos, especialmente en el principio.        

Matt Talbot se encontró atrapado en este vicio de usar alcohol. Durante unos 10 años, vivió de esa manera, y vivió una vida miserable. Y ni siquiera reconoció su miseria.

¿Alguna vez has tenido esa experiencia en la que ves a alguien haciendo algo una y otra vez, y sabes que no es bueno para ellos, pero sabes que no puedes hacer que cambien si no quieren?      

El vicio tiene este poder. Esto nubla nuestro juicio, de modo que cuando estamos atrapados en un vicio, fácilmente confundimos mal por bien y bien por mal.

Debido a ésto, siempre se necesita gracia para escapar de nuestros vicios y comenzar a reconocer primero que hay problemas. Cada vez que reconocemos que el vicio existe en nuestra vida, es la gracia de Dios que esta trabajando .

Para Matt, ese momento llegó un día fuera de una cantina. Esa semana ya había gastado todo su dinero en bebidas, por lo que se quedó sin dinero fuera de la cantina. esperando que sus amigos bebedores le compraran una bebida. Cuando ninguno lo hizo, fue humillado y comenzó su conversión. Matt reconoció su miseria ese día. Esa es a menudo la primera forma en que Dios puede llamar nuestra atención si estamos atrapados en el vicio. Nos enfermamos y nos cansamos de estar enfermos y cansados.

Pero éste reconocimiento de la miseria puede llevarnos a dos caminos diferentes: uno a una miseria más profunda, si seguimos orgullosos, y el otra a la vida, si nos humillamos y pedimos la ayuda de Dios.      

Ese día, con humildad, Matt reconoció que no podía superar este vicio por sí mismo, y se volvió hacia Dios. Caminó desde el bar hasta la casa de su madre y luego fue a una iglesia donde prometió no volver a beber nunca más y luego se confesó.

Ese día, Matt salió de la confesión en un estado de gracia y recibió toda la gracia que necesitaba para vencer el pecado en su vida. Matt se dio cuenta de que estaba llamado a algo mucho más grande que una vida de miseria: estaba llamado a la santidad, al florecimiento, a ser perfecto, como nuestro Padre celestial es perfecto.

En el evangelio de hoy, Jesucristo nos dice que seamos perfectos ya que nuestro Padre celestial es perfecto. Esa es una tarea desalentadora; parece imposible porque humanamente hablando lo es.

Pero Dios nunca ordena lo imposible;      

En Cristo, hemos recibido el mandato y también el don de la gracia para cumplirlo.      

Esto no es solo un llamado al florecimiento natural o a una buena vida humana; más bien, Dios te llama a ti y a mí a una vida sobrenatural con él. Nuestra salvación – la sanación de nuestro pecado y nuestra nueva manera de vivir en Él vienen juntos.  Dios nos da la gracia para sanarnos y elevarnos a su propia vida.        

Cuando fuiste bautizado, recibiste eéte llamado y la gracia de vivir el llamado a la santidad.

A veces, aparecen obstáculos para el trabajo de la gracia en nuestras vidas. Los vicios, si no son eliminados, pueden hacer muy difícil el florecimiento de la gracia en nuestras vidas, tal como lo hicieron en la vida de Matt. Sin embargo, difícil no es imposible. Tenemos la capacidad de ser Santos por la gracia de Dios.

Esa tarde fuera del pub, marcó una verdadera conversión para Matt Talbot, pero no fue como si todo fuera perfecto. El día siguiente para él, fue dificil la lucha para no volver a beber. Y asi fue el día siguiente, y el siguiente, y muchos días después. Las circunstancias de su vida no habían cambiado. Matt todavía vivía en la pobreza y teniaun trabajo difícil. Matt todavía tenía la tentación de beber; todavía estaba tentado a tratar de usar alcohol para aliviar su sufrimiento.

Entonces, ¿qué hizo la diferencia? 

El don de confiar en Dios. Cuando sintió que no podía hacerlo otro día , decidió confiar en la promesa de Dios. Conformó su voluntad a la voluntad de Dios.       

Mostró su compromiso con su nueva forma de vida al tomar medidas prácticas para evitar ocasiones de pecado y elegir hacer actos de virtud: comenzó a levantarse temprano para asistir a misa, para pasar tiempo en oración – solo un poco al principio  y luego más y más. Se consagró a nuestra Santísima Madre. Se enseñó a leer para poder leer libros espirituales. En lugar de dar su dinero al pub, se lo dio a los pobres.      

Dios nos ha dado el libre albedrío como un regalo para que podamos elegir amarlo. Él nos ofrece la salvación, y él quiere que libremente  elijamos esta nueva vida con él . Dios quiere cooperar en nuestra propia salvacion, como San Agustín dijo: “El que creó a nosotros  sin nosotros, no nos salavara sin nuestra cooperación.” La gracia de Dios es primero, último y siempre, pero él quiere que cooperemos con él. 

Lentamente y cooperando con la gracia de Dios, los restos del pecado pasado en nuestras vidas pueden ser eliminados .      

Si deseamos ser perfectos, debemos confiar en Dios como lo hizo Matt.     

Esta confianza, que es la virtud de la fe, es la base de todo; pero no termina ahí. Es a través de la fe confianza, que Dios trabaja para hacernos como él. Está dirigido a la caridad: poder amar como Dios ama. La fe es el comienzo; La caridad es el fin .     

Así fue como el Venerable Matt Talbot; se volvió cada dia más santo. Él amaba a Dios y al prójimo más y más. Las cadenas con las que murió, eran símbolos de su total dedicación a Jesús a través de María. En lugar de estar atado al pecado y a la muerte, estaba atado a Dios y a la vida en su totalidad. Era un prisionero del amor que lo habia hecho libre.  

Matt nos muestra que es posible pasar de una vida de gran vicio a una vida de gran virtud cooperando con la gracia de Dios.  También muestra que éste proceso es difícil, pero totalmente vale la pena.      

En 3 días, comenzamos la Cuaresma. Es un momento para examinar especialmente nuestras vidas, tal vez podemos preguntarnos:  

      

  • ¿Confío en Dios? ¿Cómo vivo esa confianza? ¿Mi vida muestra que confío en Dios?
  • ¿Estoy dispuesto a renunciar a mis vicios? ¿Estoy dispuesto a trabajar para cambiar mis hábitos y depositar mi confianza en Dios en lugar de en algo creado ? ¿Estoy dispuesto a hacer lo que sea necesario para aprender a amar a Dios?   
  • ¿Estoy dispuesto a cooperar con la gracia de Dios en mi vida? ¿Todos los días?
  • ¿Qué pasos prácticos puedo tomar para confiar más en Dios? ¿Necesito pedir ayuda?     

   

Dios quiere que prosperes no solo a nivel natural, sino sobrenaturalmente con él. El quiere tu felicidad. Envió a su Hijo a sufrir, morir y resucitar para hacer posible la santidad para nosotros. ¿Cómo responderemos?     

Identity, Envy, and Excellence

For english audio: Click here

I’m part of the seminary basketball team – yeah that should tell you how slim the pickings are for athletes at the seminary. But I’m a solid B-string bench warmer, and I have come to enjoy playing this sport if what I do can be called playing the sport.

Now, if you’d asked someone when I was about 16 years old, if they ever thought I would be part of a basketball team, they probably would have laughed. I certainly would have. I played a few pick-up games with close friends in high school and college, but I’ve never been exactly athletic!

Part of the reason for that is that when I was about 10 years old, I began quitting sports activities because I was not naturally gifted at them in comparison to others around me. When I looked around and compared myself to others (or was compared by others), I found myself lacking in the athletic department.

You see, the truth is like many young people, despite my protestation otherwise, I placed an unhealthy level of concern about what others thought of me. Though I could not have articulated it as a youth, I had developed at least the beginnings of the vice of envy. I compared myself with others, and I was sad because I came up short athletically. Because I knew I couldn’t be the best and I was afraid to fail, I rejected athletic activities. I feared to try because I knew I’d be judged by others and found wanting.

Because of this, I tended only to do those things that I thought I was good at. Thus, my life became consumed with academic pursuits. The result of this is that for many years I missed out on an entire part of life because I was too proud to do something when I thought I could fail. I refused to try something, avoiding athletic stuff at all costs because I wasn’t naturally perfect at it. And because I never was willing to risk failure, I did not develop that part of myself.

I found my identity in labeling myself as a “smart kid.” If I knew I couldn’t be the “smartest” kid, the best, I at least could find some sense of identity, some place in the world from knowing I was counted among the “smart kids.” I found my identity at school in getting As, doing robotics, and reading and hanging out with “smart kids.”

Yet how fragile this identity was! A bad grade, a teacher who didn’t like my style of work, getting a good grade but a grade lower than my friends – these things could shake my very identity out from under me. Thus, out of envy and pride, I was led to a host of sins because I was grasping after the identity – trying to hold on to “smart kid.” The envy in me was also present in many of my classmates in an overly-competitive system, where we measured the value of people by the grades they received on tests. It was exhausting.

How my life began to change when I encountered the Lord as a person with whom I could have a relationship! Slowly, and gently he has peeled back the layers of sin and revealed to me that my deepest identity is found in Him.

I think that something like the envy I experienced is happening in the second reading today.  Paul founded the Corinthian church and loved them dearly. The entire letter to the Corinthians is an exhortation to be united in Christ.The Christians community of Corinth (a port city) was composed of a rather diverse group. They had rich and poor, they had Jews and gentiles, and these groups were often at odds with one another.  They judged one another’s worth by their differences.

The Corinthians were at odds with one another for many of the same reasons we remain divided and at odds with one another today. They disagreed about liturgy; they disagreed about some moral issues; they disagreed about politics. If they’d known about tamales or Jamaica’s, they probably would have disagreed about how everything should be done.

It is telling how Paul says that they describe themselves. They identify as belonging to a particular leader. Saying “I belong to Chloe” or “I belong to Cephas” is a not so subtle way of saying, “I am a special type of Christian and you aren’t.” This type of identification is rooted in comparison and bears the vicious fruits of envy and division.

Paul rebukes the Corinthians for such division, which he finds incompatible with Christian discipleship. On the night before he dies, Christ prays that we may all be one as he and the Father are one.

The persons of the Blessed Trinity are in unceasing and perfect communion with one another. The Son is not threatened by the goodness of the Father or the Holy Spirit. There is no envy or division but only total self-giving. This type of giving takes nothing away from the person giving, rather expressed their deepest identity.

You and I are called share the very life of the Trinity, through union with Christ. Thus, the Christian life is about communion, rather than competition. Christ invites us to put away our envy and jealousy and recognize that our deepest identity – the deepest reality of who and what we are – is found in Him.

Each of us finding our identity in Him will be able to give ourselves totally away and in so doing, find our deepest fulfillment. This is why St. Paul invites the Corinthians (and us) to “be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.”  We are one in Christ.

In Christ, differences do not cease to be present between the members of the body – you are not me, and I am not you, any more than the head is the same as the foot – but instead of being divisive, they become opportunities for charity and admiration.

The sin of envy is overcome primarily through genuine admiration. When I see the goodness of someone else (especially their strengths, which I lack), I have two choices:

On the one hand, I can allow myself to fall into envy by going into the mode of finding my worth through comparison. If I do this, I will probably begin to complain, to degrade the other person, or degrade myself. I will find every opportunity to destroy the goodness I see present because I operate from a sense that their gain is my loss.

On the other hand, if I recognize that my worth comes not from a comparison but from my identity in Christ, I can exercise the virtue of admiration/gratitude. I will see the other person’s goodness not as a threat to my identity but as a gift to be received. What is more, I begin to see that God has also given me gifts that I should share with others.

This past weekend the seminary basketball team was comfortably winning against a team, and so the coach put me in to give me a chance to play. I realized that competitive as I am – I wanted to win – I was playing more for excellence and the joy of playing than to win. It was a joy to play basketball, and when I scored a basket, the joy of the team was palpable.

The Seminary Basketball Team

When I compare myself to others, I’m not that good at basketball. But that does not mean I have nothing to offer. But that moment, the joy I brought others would not have been possible if I refused even to try to play out of pride. If envy had overtaken my heart, I also would not have had the chance to receive the gifts God offers me through the brothers around me. 

This change is marked by a move in our hearts from the desire to be the “best” to a desire to be “excellent.” As Christians, we are called to excellence in Christ. My excellence does not threaten you, and your excellence does not threaten me. In fact, by helping you be excellent in Christ, I strive for excellence as well. When I know who I am in Christ, I am free to share my talents and strengths with others and to receive those of others around me gratefully. In both the giving and the receiving, we can admire the goodness of God, who makes it all possible.

Even our weaknesses, if we are humble enough to let them be known, become places of growth in Christ. We help each other grow as God’s own instruments, rejoicing in the strength of the other and sharing his burdens because through our communion in the Lord, they mystically become our joy and sorrow. All of us who are baptized share in this Body and the Eucharist which we celebrate is the sign and realization of this unity. We give thanks to God for the gift of our redemption and by being united to Him, we are united to one another and praise him for the way he loves us through others.  May we be one in Him who died and rose for us.

The Delightful, Defenseless, Demanding Baby

A little over 22 months ago, my life changed when my nephew Liam was born. Our family rejoiced because of the birth of a new generation of Rooneys. We all knew Liam was coming for the nine months before that, but there was something about finally being able to hold him. We might know a lot about a person, but before we interact with them, we don’t know them.  But, when I was holding Liam for the first time, I knew him. I knew my nephew and I loved him. Encountering Liam for the first time changed life for my family and me.

Liam after he was born!

We know a human person through a human body. The person reveals themselves through their body, and the body reveals the person. Without even choosing it, Liam revealed himself to me and that revelation significantly changed my life – I knew I was an uncle. A new relationship was created.

Twenty-two months ago, my life changed because a baby was born. Babies always change lives. Two thousand years ago, every person’s life changed because another baby was born: A Baby who is God and who reveals God. During this great feast of Christmas, we celebrate that God humbly reveals himself to us by becoming a man. In that revelation, a relationship is created. God binds humanity to himself.

The radical claim of Christianity is that the Word who spoke creation into being became a Baby who could not speak a word. God becomes incarnate. He takes on flesh and blood. He takes on a human mind and a human will. He assumes humanity to himself. He became like us in all things but sin.

He is born of a woman, and through his humanity, we get to meet divinity. When we look at the little baby in the manger, we see the face of God. The infant Jesus lying in the manger reveals God. When he smiles, God smiles. When he cries, God cries. When he grasps the finger of Mary or Joseph or a shepherd, it is God grasping the human hand.

This is fundamental to Christianity, and if we recognize it will change our lives. On this night of the nativity, “the defenseless love of God, his humility, and his kindness came into view: he exposes himself to us in the heart of this world”[1] God comes to us in a way that we can receive Him – as a tiny infant.

When I pray and think about the fact that Jesus became a tiny baby, three ideas come to mind.

The first is that babies are delightful. They bring us great joy. What a joy it has been to see my brothers and their wives rejoice in my niece and nephew! They rejoice in each new ability – even the smallest hint of a smile from my three-month-old niece is enough to bring joy to our hearts. Every new day is a new adventure with a child. Children invite us to have a new delight in the world, but more importantly, they invite us to delight in them. Christ becomes a delightful child, that we may learn to delight in God as he delights in us as his children.

Me and my niece Cecilia (about a month old in this picture)

The second thought I have is that babies are defenseless. They are vulnerable. Harmed by sin, our hearts are defensive. All too often in our attempts to love, we have been hurt. Because of this, we place walls up around our hearts for protection. A baby can melt those walls completely because a baby is so very vulnerable. He or she cannot protect themselves. Babies do not threaten us. They simply invite us to love.  The child Jesus offers no threat. As an infant, he was not a threat to anybody. Jesus Christ depended on his parents just like every other child born into the world. He needed their help to live. He was small and helpless. He needed to be protected. Out of supreme love, the Word makes himself vulnerable in this way. The wood of the manger foreshadows the wood of the Cross. God opens himself to being harmed to show us that he does not threaten us but wishes to love us. From the Crib to the Cross, his entire life shows us this love. Christ becomes defenseless to melt our defensive hearts, so we can love him.

Yes, meeting the Baby of Bethlehem, we see that God chooses to become an infant who draws us out of ourselves and toward God. He opens the door for us to meet him as a person and awaits our response. This brings me to the third idea: Babies are demanding. Babies have many needs that the ones who love them must fulfill. Being a parent is demanding. When they arrive, babies demand from us that we change many things if we care for them. Parents and families have to mold to the needs of the infant in their midst. Think of all the things that parents sacrifice for their children: sleep, food, money, opportunities, time, their own expectations. Parenthood means living for the other in a radical way.

So also, the infant Jesus gently demands something from us.

The child of Bethlehem gently invites us to love him…and responding to that invitation love means changing our lives. He comes in love, inviting us to love him, making himself defenseless and delightful. If we respond in love, it will demand everything, and we will receive everything.  If we choose to love him, meeting this child will change our lives. It will mean a radical reorientation of our hearts to the love of God and love of neighbor. Love demands everything of us not because God needs our love but because in loving Him, we will be completely fulfilled.

Brothers and Sisters, if you have been far from the Lord, do not be afraid to let him love you today. Do not be afraid to receive the Christ Child into your arms. Look upon him, and more importantly, let him look upon you with love. He comes for you. Let your heart be melted by his gaze, delight as he smiles upon you. Then let your heart respond with love. He takes nothing; he gives everything. O come, let us adore Him.


[1] Benedict XVI, The Blessing of Christmas, trans. Brian McNeil (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2007), 71.


En Espanol

Hace poco más de 22 meses, mi vida cambió cuando nació mi sobrino Liam. Nuestra familia se regocijó por el nacimiento de una nueva generación de Rooneys. Todos sabíamos que Liam estaba llegando para los nueve meses antes de eso, pero había algo acerca de finalmente poder abrazarlo.Sabemos que podemos saber mucho acerca de una persona sin conocerla. Conocemos a una persona humana a través de su cuerpo. La persona se revela a través de su cuerpo y el cuerpo revela a la persona. Cuando estaba abrazando a Liam por primera vez, lo conocí. Yo conocía a mi sobrino y lo quería. Encontrar a Liam por primera vez cambió mucho la vida para mí y mi familia. Sin siquiera elegirlo, Liam se me reveló y esa revelación cambió mi vida: sabía que era un tío. Se creó una nueva relación.

Hace 22 meses, mi vida cambio porque conocí a Liam. Hace 2 mil anos el nacimiento de otro bebe cambio la vida de todas las personas desde el principio hasta el fin del mundo. Hoy, en esta gran fiesta de Navidad, celebramos que Dios se nos revela humildemente al hacerse hombre. En esa revelación, se crea una relación. Dios ata a la humanidad a sí mismo.

La afirmación radical del cristianismo es que la Palabra que habló de la creación se convirtió en un Bebé que no podía hablar una palabra. Dios se encarna. Él toma carne y sangre. Asume una mente humana y una voluntad humana. Asume la humanidad para sí mismo. Se hizo como nosotros en todas las cosas menos en el pecado. Él nació de una mujer y a través de su humanidad llegamos a conocer la divinidad. Cuando miramos al pequeño bebé en el pesebre, vemos el rostro de Dios. El niño Jesús acostado en el pesebre revela a Dios. Cuando él sonríe, Dios sonríe. Cuando llora, Dios llora. Cuando agarra el dedo de María o José o un pastor, es Dios que está agarrando la mano humana.

Esto es fundamental para el cristianismo y si lo reconocemos cambiará nuestras vidas. En esta noche de la navidad, “el amor indefenso de Dios, su humildad y su bondad aparecieron a la vista: se expone a nosotros en el corazón de este mundo” Dios viene a nosotros de manera que podemos recibirlo. Como un pequeño bebé.

Cuando oro y pienso en el hecho de que Jesús se convirtió en un bebé pequeño, me vienen a la mente tres ideas.

La primera es que los bebés son encantadores. Nos traen una gran alegría. ¡Qué alegría ha sido ver a mis hermanos y sus esposas regocijarse en mi sobrina y sobrino! Se regocijan en cada nueva habilidad. La más mínima sonrisa de mi sobrina de tres meses es suficiente para alegrar nuestros corazones. Cada nuevo día es una nueva aventura con un niño. Los niños nos invitan a tener una nueva delicia en el mundo; pero lo más importante es que nos invitan a deleitarnos con ellos. Cristo se convierte en un niño encantador, para que podamos aprender a deleitarnos en Dios que deleite en nosotros.

El segundo cosa es que los bebés son indefensos. Son vulnerables.Dañados por el pecado, nuestros corazones están a la defensiva. Con demasiada frecuencia se nos hemos lastimado en nuestros intentos de amar. Debido a esto, colocamos muros alrededor de nuestros corazones para protección. Un bebé puede derretir esas paredes por completo, porque es muy vulnerable. Él o ella no pueden protegerse a sí mismos. Los bebés no nos amenazan. Simplemente nos invitan a amar. El niño Jesús no ofrece ninguna amenaza. Cuando era un bebé, no era una amenaza para nadie. Jesucristo dependía de sus padres al igual que cualquier otro niño nacido en el mundo. Necesitaba su ayuda para vivir. Era pequeño e indefenso. Necesitaba estar protegido. Por amor supremo, la Palabra se vuelve vulnerable de esta manera. La madera del pesebre presagia la madera de la Cruz. Dios se abre a ser dañado para mostrarnos que no nos amenaza, sino que desea amarnos. Cristo se vuelve indefenso para derretir nuestros corazones defensivos, para que podamos amarlo.

Sí, al encontrarnos con el Bebé de Belén, vemos que Dios elige convertirse en un bebé que nos saca de nosotros y nos acerca a Dios. Él nos abre la puerta para que lo conozcamos como persona y espera nuestra respuesta. Esto me lleva a la tercera idea: los bebés son exigentes. Los bebés tienen muchas necesidades que los que los aman deben satisfacer. Ser padre es exigente. Cuando llegan, los bebés nos exigen que cambiemos muchas cosas. Los padres y las familias tienen que adaptarse a las necesidades del bebé en medio de ellos. Piensen en todas las cosas que los padres sacrifican por sus hijos: sueño, comida, dinero, oportunidades, tiempo, sus propias expectativas. La paternidad significa vivir para el otro de una manera radical.

Así también, el niño Jesús exige algo de nosotros.

El hijo de Belén nos invita a amarlo … y responder a esa invitación amor significa cambiar nuestras vidas. Él viene en el amor, nos invita a amarle, haciéndose indefensa y encantador. Si respondemos con amor, exigirá todo y lo recibiremos todo. Si elegimos amarlo, conocer a este niño cambiará nuestras vidas. Significará una reorientación radical de nuestros corazones al amor de Dios y al prójimo. El amor nos exige todo, no porque Dios necesite nuestro amor sino porque al amarlo seremos completamente satisfechos.

Hermanos y hermanas, si han estado lejos del Señor, no tengan miedo de dejar que los ame hoy. A todos: No tengas miedo de recibir al Niño Jesús en tus brazos. Míralo y, lo que es más importante, deja que te mire con amor. El viene por ti. Deja que tu corazón se derrita con su mirada, alégrate mientras te sonríe. Entonces deja que tu corazón responda con amor. Él no toma nada; Él lo da todo. ¡Oh, vengan, adorémoslo!

Autonomy, Humility, and St. Joseph

Last summer, I was with my Godson’s family. We were all swimming in their pool. The 5-year-old brother of my Godson had just become good enough at swimming to make it across their pool unassisted and he absolutely loved showing me how he could do it without help. It was amazing to see his growth from the last year in the ability to swim well.

Most kids love to show parents and other adults what they are capable of doing, don’t they? It’s natural and good that they want to because they are learning how to do things on their own – they are learning autonomy. It brings them delight when they know that those who love them delight in them and their new abilities.

We want to help our kids to grow into a healthy sense of autonomy – the sense that “I am able” — it is really important. “I want to do it myself,” and “I can do it” are the verbal signs of this growth in autonomy. And this is a really good thing. We want our children to grow up and know that they are able to do things.

At the same time, we all know that kids need help. They often can’t do what they need to survive. Sometimes kids try to be too autonomous, too independent…like when the toddler tries to run across the street, or the 4-year-old tries to pour the milk by himself, or the kid wants to put his clothes on by himself ( and takes 30 minutes to do so).  Thus, we not only want our kids to have a sense of autonomy, but we also want them to learn to ask for help when they need it and gratefully receive that help.

It’s a hard job as a parent to go back and forth between helping and encouraging kids to do things themselves. If we let them do too much, they might get hurt or fail. If we let them do too little, they will never know their own abilities.

What’s interesting is that the same thing often happens in our relationship with God

God, our Father, wants us to be autonomous in the sense that he wants us to exercise our freedom for love. But we also have to realize that our ability to do that flows from God. The fact is that in relation to God, we are like little children, and we need his help. When we forget this, our sense of autonomy can be twisted into pride, which prevents us from receiving salvation.  

Advent invites us to shatter this pride, to recognize that we need God’s help and to desire his entrance into our lives.  It means coming to recognize that we are his children. God invites us to receive his gift of salvation like a child with joy and gratitude. The Church places before our eyes today two contrasting examples of how we can respond to God’s gift of salvation. Ahaz pridefully rejects God’s gift of salvation and Joseph humbly receives the gift of salvation.  

During the reign of Ahaz, other nations threaten the kingdom of Israel. God promises to deliver his people from these threats through Isaish, and he commands Ahaz to ask for a sign that this deliverance will occur. Ahaz refuses to ask for a sign because to do so would mean recognizing that he needed God’s help.

If you read the rest of the book of Isaiah, you will find that Ahaz makes agreements with other nations in order to grasp the security he desires for Israel. These agreements lead Israel to worship other gods. The result is the Babylonian exile.Ahaz’s pride causes the destruction of the kingdom of Israel. Because of his pride, Ahaz cannot see that the security he desires for himself and his kingdom is right there if he will just allow God to work.

Nevertheless, God continues to act. Like a good Father, he acts in the best interest of his children despite the fact that they refuse his gift. Despite the Ahaz’s refusal, God promises a sign. “A virgin will conceive and be with Child.” Where is the ultimate fulfillment of this sign but in the humble Virgin of Nazareth, who conceives by the power of the Holy Spirit and brings forth Jesus?

Joseph is also faced with a difficult situation: He finds his wife, Mary, pregnant, although they had not lived together yet. One can imagine Joseph’s anguish; he loves Mary, and it seems that he has been betrayed by her. Worse, it seems she has broken the law of God, and the punishment for such a crime is death. On the one hand, Joseph desires to spare Mary’s life because he loves her; on the other, as a just man, he desires to do what the law commands.

Faced with a difficult situation, Joseph does something that Ahaz does not and which shows his virtue. Though he is afraid, he goes to the Lord in prayer. He deliberates – he does not act rashly but takes time to think about the best thing to do – in the presence of the Lord.

In the words of St. Jose Maria Escriva:

Joseph “didn’t fulfil the will of God in a routine or perfunctory way; he did it spontaneously and wholeheartedly. For him the law … was not a code or a cold list of precepts, but an expression of the will of the living God. So he knew how to recognize the Lord’s voice when it came to him so unexpectedly and so surprisingly. St Joseph’s life was simple, but it was not easy. After considerable soul-searching, he learned that the son of Mary had been conceived through the Holy Spirit

http://www.escrivaworks.org/book/christ_is_passing_by-chapter-5.htm

 Because of his humility, when the Lord speaks through an Angel, Joseph is ready to receive the message and act upon it.

Both men’s situations are similar. They both feel they must do something. But what a difference humility makes. Ahaz rejects the message out of pride; the other receives the message and submits himself to it. The pride begets a fall; the humility brings glory.

Let’s return to the pool. Though Joseph is capable of swimming across the pool by himself, he also knows that he should not swim without an adult present. When there is an adult in the pool, he is free to have the joy of swimming because he knows that someone is going to be there if he gets in over his head.

This is the kind of humble autonomy that we need in the spiritual life and that St. Joseph had. He knew he needed God’s help, and he desired that help. So in his need, he goes to God. He places himself as a child in God’s care. Then he is able to act freely and with great joy. Being in the presence of the Father makes him capable of becoming the foster Father of the Son of God to his eternal glory.

The question is, will we also turn to Our Father in every moment, so that we also may welcome the Christchild in our midst with the salvation he brings?

Espanol

El verano pasado, estaba con la familia de mi ahijado. Todos estábamos nadando en su piscina. El hermano de mi ahijado de 5 años acababa de ser lo suficientemente bueno para nadar como para cruzar la piscina sin ayuda y le encantaba mostrarme cómo podía hacerlo sin ayuda. Fue sorprendente ver su crecimiento desde el año pasado en la capacidad de nadar bien

A la mayoría de los niños les encanta mostrarles a los padres y a otros adultos lo que son capaces de hacer, ¿no es así? Es natural y bueno que quieran porque están aprendiendo a hacer las cosas por su cuenta, están aprendiendo autonomía. Les deleita saber que quienes los aman se deleitan en ellos y en sus nuevas habilidades.

Queremos ayudar a nuestros hijos a convertirse en una sana sensación de autonomía, la sensación de que “soy capaz”, es realmente importante. “Quiero hacerlo yo mismo” y “Puedo hacerlo” son los signos verbales de este crecimiento en la autonomía. Y esto es algo realmente bueno. Queremos que nuestros hijos crezcan y sepan que pueden hacer cosas.

Al mismo tiempo, todos sabemos que los niños necesitan ayuda. A menudo no pueden hacer lo que necesitan para sobrevivir. A veces, los niños intentan ser demasiado autónomos, demasiado independientes … como cuando el niño intenta correr por la calle, o el niño de 4 años trata de verter la leche solo, o el niño quiere vestirse solo (y tarda 30 minutos en hacerlo).

Por lo tanto, no solo queremos que nuestros hijos tengan un sentido de autonomía, sino también que aprendan a pedir ayuda cuando la necesiten y que agradecidamente reciban esa ayuda. Es un trabajo difícil como padre ir y venir entre ayudar y alentar a los niños a hacer cosas por sí mismos. Si les dejamos hacer demasiado, podrían lastimarse o fallar. Si les permitimos hacer muy poco, nunca sabrán sus propias habilidades.

Lo interesante es que a menudo sucede lo mismo en nuestra relación con Dios. Dios, nuestro Padre, quiere que seamos autónomos en el sentido de que quiere que ejercitemos nuestra libertad por amor. Pero también tenemos que darnos cuenta de que nuestra capacidad para hacer eso fluye de Dios. El hecho es que, en relación con Dios, somos como niños pequeños y necesitamos su ayuda. Cuando olvidamos esto, nuestro sentido de autonomía puede convertirse en orgullo, lo que nos impide recibir la salvación.

El Adviento nos invita a romper este orgullo, al reconocer que necesitamos la ayuda de Dios y de pedir su entrada en nuestras vidas. Significa llegar a reconocer que somos sus hijos. Dios nos invita a recibir su regalo de salvación como un niño con alegría y gratitud. La Iglesia pone hoy ante nuestros ojos dos ejemplos contrastantes de cómo podemos responder al don de salvación de Dios. Acaz rechaza orgullosamente el regalo de salvación de Dios y José recibe humildemente el regalo de salvación.

Durante el reinado de Acaz, otras naciones amenazan el reino de Israel. Dios promete liberar a su pueblo de estas amenazas a través de Isaish, y le ordena a Acaz que pida una señal de que ocurrirá esta liberación. Acaz se niega a pedir una señal porque hacerlo significaría reconocer que necesitaba la ayuda de Dios. Si lees el resto del libro de Isaías, encontrarás que Acaz hace acuerdos con otras naciones para tratar de comprender la seguridad que desea para Israel. Estos acuerdos llevan a Israel a adorar a otros dioses. El resultado es el exilio babilónico. El orgullo de Acaz causa la destrucción del reino de Israel. Debido a su orgullo, Acaz no puede ver que la seguridad que desea para sí mismo y su reino está ahí si solo permite que Dios trabaje.

Sin embargo, Dios continúa actuando. Como un buen padre, actúa en el mejor interés de sus hijos a pesar del hecho de que rechazan su regalo. A pesar de la negativa de Acaz, Dios promete una señal. “Una virgen concebirá y estará con el Niño”. ¿Dónde está el cumplimiento final de este signo sino en la humilde Virgen de Nazaret, quien concibe por el poder del Espíritu Santo y da a luz a Jesús?

José también se enfrenta a una situación difícil: Se encuentra a su esposa, María, embarazada, aunque no habían vivido juntos todavía. Imagina la angustia de José; él ama a Mary, y parece que ella ha sido traicionada por ella. Peor aún, parece que ella ha violado la ley de Dios, y el castigo por tal crimen es la muerte. Por un lado, Joseph desea salvar la vida de Mary porque la ama; por el otro, como hombre justo, desea hacer lo que ordena la ley.

Ante una situación difícil, Joseph hace algo que Acaz no hace y que muestra su virtud. Aunque tiene miedo, va al Señor en oración. Él delibera, no actúa precipitadamente, sino que se toma el tiempo para pensar en lo mejor que puede hacer, en presencia del Señor.

En las palabras de Jose Maria Escriva, el cumplimiento de la voluntad de Dios de San Jose:

“no es rutinario ni formalista, sino espontáneo y profundo. La ley…no fue para él un simple código ni una recopilación fría de preceptos, sino expresión de la voluntad de Dios vivo. Por eso supo reconocer la voz del Señor cuando se le manifestó inesperada, sorprendente. Porque la historia del Santo Patriarca fue una vida sencilla, pero no una vida fácil. Después de momentos angustiosos, sabe que el Hijo de María ha sido concebido por obra del Espíritu Santo.”

http://www.escrivaworks.org/book/christ_is_passing_by-chapter-5.htm

Debido a su humildad, cuando el Señor habla a través de un ángel, José está listo para recibir el mensaje y actuar en consecuencia.

Las situaciones de ambos hombres son similares. Ambos sienten que deben hacer algo. Pero qué diferencia hace la humildad. Acaz rechaza el mensaje por orgullo; el otro recibe el mensaje y se somete a él. El orgullo engendra una caída; La humildad trae gloria.

Volvamos a la piscina. Aunque Joseph es capaz de nadar solo a través de la piscina, también sabe que no debe nadar sin un adulto presente. Cuando hay un adulto en la piscina, es libre de tener la alegría de nadar porque sabe que alguien va a estar allí si se mete por encima de su cabeza.

Este es el tipo de autonomía humilde que necesitamos en la vida espiritual y que San José tenía. Sabía que necesitaba la ayuda de Dios, y deseaba esa ayuda. Entonces, en su necesidad, él va a Dios. Se coloca como un niño al cuidado de Dios. Entonces puede actuar libremente y con gran alegría. Estar en la presencia del Padre lo hace capaz de convertirse en el Padre adoptivo del Hijo de Dios para su gloria eterna.

La pregunta es: ¿volveremos también a Nuestro Padre en cada momento, para que también podamos dar la bienvenida al Christchild en medio de nosotros con la salvación que él trae?