Friday, February 26, 2010

Christ, our Source of Truth

To one degree or another, every one of us is a teacher. Mostly, by our example, but also by our words. With the relatively recent expansion of the various forms of media, this fact is becoming more and more evident. The world is filled with teachers. Therefore, it is also filled with students. In a certain sense, one is both teacher and student in the midst of other students and teachers.

Before anyone can become a teacher, he must first be a student. For example, a little child is a student and everyone around him is his teacher, whether they know it or not. We even continue to be students as we get older, following the example and teachings of those around us. We are, as it were, students in the school of life. This school is precious, fragile, and brief. And because of this, we want to have the best of teachers for all the courses taught in this life.

Who is the best teacher in this school? Let us cut to the chase: It is the one who will teach us the truth in its fullness. The school of life is too important to waste time with a teacher who does not teach the truth. What, precisely, do we want to learn? First and foremost, the truth about God. Then, we want to know the truth about life - it's meaning and purpose. We also want to learn the truth about morality (i.e. "What is the good that I should do? What is the evil that I should avoid?").

A long time ago, someone proposed the idea that there is no such thing as truth. According to this individual, nothing is certain; everything is relative, that is, things change from person to person. God existed only if you believed he existed; the purpose of life is what you decided it to be; certain attitudes and behaviors were good only if you believed they were good; they were evil only if you believed they were evil. In short, each person could become like a god of his own universe. Many men and women, even to this day, embraced this idea. It seemed quite attractive, even quite liberating. However, it has brought nothing good in its wake.

Take, for example, morality. If you do not believe that certain actions should always be avoided, or that certain actions should always be done, then you do not have a defined moral goal for your day. You might decide that you will do anything as long as you do not get into too much trouble. In this way, you become an easy student of those teachers who do not teach the truth. They will have a profound effect - perhaps even control - over your moral decisions. Among the young, the clearest example of this is what we call "peer-pressure." We must be aware, though, that this continues well into adulthood. There are many examples of this, but it is especially evident in the realm of business and politics.

Dear brothers and sisters, the Lord Jesus Christ is the Best Teacher. He teaches truth. Some find His doctrines- which He gives to us in the Scriptures and in the teachings of the Catholic Church - to be too difficult. But what is better? To live by truth, or to live by falsehood? Isn't it a frustrating thing to go in the attractive direction of the false teachers for years, only to find out that it was the wrong way? That is far more painful than making the heroic effort to follow the way of truth. Fortunately, in this regard, God is merciful.

If you do not already have one, get a good Bible. Let me suggest that you read one of the Gospels straight through in one sitting. You will begin to hear the words of the Good Teacher Jesus Christ. And you will come to understand that the truth is real and that it is good for you.

God bless you.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Christ, our Life and our Light

Today, the Catholic Church celebrates Ash Wednesday, the day when people have ashes placed on their heads in the form of a cross. This day is the beginning of a more intense period in the life of Catholics; they are to pray more, to be more charitable, to make more sacrifices, and to be ever more firm in their duty to avoid sin. When the priest places the ashes on the people, one of the things he may say is: "Remember, man, you are dust and to dust you shall return."

These words are rather stark. They remind us of our mortality, of our death. One may wonder why the Church has us think of this sad reality. After all, death is the greatest frustration of our desire to live. We wish that suffering and death were done away with, that they could be eliminated from human experience. Even when we accept the reality of death, we still try to ignore it. And yet, Ash Wednesday forbids us to ignore death. On the contrary, we are to face it. "Remember, man, you are dust and to dust you shall return."

One of the reasons death is so difficult is that we do not know exactly what it is. We may understand it from a biological perspective, but we do not understand it as a human experience. Death remains unknown to us because we are among the living. It is precisely in this regard that we must turn to the Lord Jesus Christ. Ash Wednesday leads us rapidly to a profound consideration of the most important reality in the entire universe - the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When He died, He entered into the realm of death. He entered into the darkness of death - He who once said, "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12)

Here, then, is the call of Ash Wednesday: We must be followers of Christ. Since He is perfect, and we are imperfect, there is always room for us to improve in following Him. We can grow, we can start over. Whatever the case, we can have a living friendship with the Lord Jesus, who Himself passed through the realm of death and emerged victorious in His resurrection. This friendship with Christ is our hope. Not only does this friendship help us to see death differently, but it is also the cause of our own victory over death. This friendship, which must grow and mature, begins at baptism.

Dear brothers and sisters, if a living friendship with the Lord Jesus can help us face the reality of death with hope and with courage, then it can also help us in every other aspect of our lives. Perhaps now would be a good time to turn again to Him who alone is the Savior of the world.

God bless you.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Christ, the Source of our Freedom

Praised be Jesus Christ!

One of the most prominent characteristics of the lives of men and women today is the fast pace of life. People are very busy - at least, they often say they are busy. Too busy for things which have no tangible benefit. If something does not bring in money, move us toward the completion of a task, or have an immediate and pleasant sensible effect on any given situation, it is deemed to be a waste of time. This seems to be a good disposition to have; after all, money is good to have, accomplishing tasks is also good, and it is good to feel well. However, lurking beneath the surface of this disposition is an insidious and oppressive form of idol worship.

How is it possible to say this? Simply by pointing out this fact: Most people - if not all - who have this disposition do not worship God. In fact, they give little or no time at all to the question of God (does He exist? and what does that mean for me?). They see prayer as useless and they sometimes even mock it. They claim that they simply do not have enough time to worship God and they make no effort to know Him. In this way, they place the practical things of this world above God - and this constitutes the worship of false gods, false idols. In living only for this world, they create false gods out of all the things of this world. And they serve these gods every chance they get.

Because the worship and knowledge of God is discarded by those trapped in this sad situation, their lives become plagued and oppressed by two other things. The first thing is this: All of their relationships are seriously wounded. For them, their relationships must be useful. Their family members and friends are treated not according to who they are, but according to what they can do. If someone can bring in more money, accomplish many tasks, or bring pleasure, then they are accepted. But if they can't bring these things, they are rejected. This rejection is not always spoken, but it exists nonetheless in the human heart. It is always bad.

The second thing that befalls those who live only for this world is that they have a distorted view of themselves. Either they define themselves by their successes or by their failures. If they define themselves by their successes, they become both arrogant and insecure. If they define themselves by their failures, they become despondent, that is, they despair.

Here we must return to the question of God. Faith in God will liberate us from this sad way of living. When we say "faith in God," we are not talking about a belief in some ambiguous higher power, or a belief in a kind of spirit-world. Rather, we are talking about faith in the one God; the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob; the God of Moses and of the true prophets; the God who became man in Jesus Christ. This faith in God liberates us. It sets us free by making it possible for us to live, to act, to think, and even to feel according to the truth. When I have this faith in God, first, I worship Him alone and I seek to live my life in a manner that is pleasing to Him. This is what governs my days. Second, I recognize that all those around me are created by God's wisdom and love. Therefore, I have to love them. I have to accept them because of the dignity they have from God. Third, I no longer have to define myself according to my external circumstances, according to my successes or my failures. Neither must I define myself according to the sufferings or injustices that I may have endured. Instead - and this is what liberates me - I define myself according to what God has declared. I become aware that God created me in His wisdom and love, that He loves me, and that He has a good plan for my life, even when I face hardships.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us not be deceived. Living only for this world oppresses the human spirit. It prevents us from loving others and it even prevents us from loving ourselves. But living for the God of Abraham, the God who took to Himself a human nature in the womb of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, this is what sets us free.

God bless you.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Christ, the Center of Our Lives

There is a specifically Catholic way of understanding human history. First, history is not a circular reality. It does not repeat itself over and over again. Neither will it reset itself at some given time. History is a linear reality. It has a definitive beginning and a definitive end. As a linear reality, it has a central point. Think of a large wooden beam resting on a fulcrum. It has a beginning at one side of the beam, and an ending at the other side. In order for it to balance, the fulcrum must be at the central point of the beam. For human history, its beginning is when God created all that exists. And it does have an end, a moment known to God alone.

What, then, is the central point of human history? It is the holy life, teachings, sufferings, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the divine fulcrum upon which human history must rest, must find its reference point.

"The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." (John 1:17)

The great drama of human history needs truth, it hungers for truth, it must find its balance on truth. Without truth, this drama is chaotic, dark, and fearful - it loses its balance. One of the worst ideas that pervaded the minds of men and women in the twentieth century was the false notion that there is no such thing as truth; that everything is relative, that nothing is absolute. Really, this was simply a masked rejection of truth altogether. According to this illusion, each individual can create his own religion, his own morality. Something is wrong only if someone - or a majority - believes it is wrong. Many people believed that this was the highest expression of freedom and progress. But what did it accomplish? We only have to look at the twentieth century: From the godless ideologies of Nazism and Communism, to weapons that eliminate and cripple entire populations; from the perverted belief that terrorism can bring justice, to the anti-human philosophy which declares that human life can be defined and treated as inconvenient and unwanted, to the ever increasing drama of gang violence and school shootings which, it must be said, is born of the deadly mentality which suggests that human life is not a gift to be cherished, and that human beings do not possess a God-given sanctity and right to exist. All of these evils, which can trace their origin to previous times, enjoyed tremendous and unfettered success in the twentieth century and are already seeking to dominate the twenty-first century. It is clear that the century of human progress was, in fact, the century of the greatest threats to the human family. And all this because many people refused to love truth. It was as if the wooden beam of human history decided to ignore the fulcrum of truth. Any attempt to balance the beam became futile.

Our lives also are linear realities. Their definitive beginning was when God created us at the first moment of conception. Their definitive end in this world is death - the time and manner of which is already known to God. We, too, must have a central point and it must be the Lord Jesus Christ. Let this be clearly understood: we must love God's truth. That is, we must order everything in our lives around His truth. If we do not, our lives will lose their balance. They will become chaotic and this chaos will have a profound effect on us. One of its most profound effects will be on the relationships we have with others - relationships such as marriage, family, and friends. Without truth, including moral truth, these relationships are wounded and can even be ruined.

Dear brothers and sisters, since Christ must be the center of our lives, it becomes necessary for us to first know Him. By the plan of His eternal wisdom, He has entrusted the Catholic Church with the mission of teaching the fullness of truth. Learn the teachings of the Catholic Church. A very good book to have is the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Here you will find a concise presentation of the Catholic Faith which comes to us from the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.

God bless you.