Marriage & Unmarriage in Heaven

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

I finally did it! I’ve envisioned this for a long, long time, but waited through a few years of formation, building a house, moving, unpacking, settling in, and several more months. Finally, this week, it seemed just about right. After talking with my spiritual director about it, I’ve finally tested publishing a podcast/audio version of my “weekly” reflection (below.) Let’s see if I can keep this up. If you’re interested, be sure to subscribe to the email updates (in the right-hand column) and/or the podcast feed. In future weeks I’ll work on the audio quality, intro music, and more. But to get started, here we go!

Just last week, my wife Suzanne made a joke around our kitchen island with some of our boys… she said, “Since your dad is married to me, his job is to help make sure I go to Heaven… so that I can remind him of all the mistakes he made for all eternity.”

Joking aside, this Sunday’s Gospel uses our idea of marriage as a backdrop for Jesus teaching us a bit about what to expect of the world to come.

Approached by Sadducees, some of His time who didn’t believe in the bodily resurrection, Jesus was asked about a hypothetical scenario rooted in the Jewish law of the time related to marriage. It was a question about a woman who had a succession of lawful marriages after one then another of her husbands had died, and to which of the men she would be married in heaven.

Jesus seizes the opportunity not to focus on their riddle about marriage, but rather to teach about the means to their question – what heaven is like, or even moreso, what heaven is not like.

Jesus takes the opportunity to point out indirectly that marriage in our current existence is a construct at the service of the church and society, but is not replicated in the life hereafter. He teaches emphatically about a life to come after our current life, pointing out that even Moses recognized God of the living, not of the dead. Jesus said, “those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God.”

In one fell swoop, Jesus teaches that our earthly states of single or married life don’t follow us into heaven, but serve to help us get there.

Maybe that’s good news to those of us living a single life – we get to go into heaven with that unattached life intact, but we don’t carry with us any of the earthly loneliness that can sometimes come with living a vocation to single life. Our entire focus for eternity is gazing upon and worshipping the awesome reality of the love and power of God.

Maybe that’s good news too, to those of us living a married life – we go to heaven as the individuals that God created us to be. Maybe it’s sad that we won’t be “married” to our spouse for eternity. Or, for some of us, especially with those of us who have a lot of mistakes for our spouse to remind us of for eternity, it might be reassuring to know that maybe we can still love our spouse and loved ones in a new way, but be more focused on our love and worship of God than on dwelling on the wins and losses of our life.

A challenge for us to consider in this new week, as we continue to journey through this month in which we especially reflect upon the last things and those who have gone before us, is how we can continue to support one another in our Christian journeys in order to be among “those who are deemed worthy to attain the coming age.”

Married or single, in this community of faith, how do you support those around you? As Paul wrote to the Thessalonians in the second reading, “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the endurance of Christ.” How can you support your spouse, your friend, your neighbor in this journey toward living in the love of God and sharing in the endurance of Christ more fully?

The more we care for our bodies, our relationships, these things in the world that God has given to us, but without becoming attached to them, the more we can be formed in the love of God and formed for the world that is promised to us for eternity. As the brother in the first reading from the second book of Maccabees said today, “It was from Heaven that I received these; for the sake of his laws I disdain them; from him I hope to receive them again… with the hope God gives of being raised up by him”

May God give us the grace to live with ever-decreasing attachment to the things of the earth, and ever-greater support of one another in running the Christian race, until that day when, God-willing, we can join together in the praise and worship of God in the world to come, joined with all those who have gone before us in the army of Saints.

A dirty cup of water

I saw something last night that really disturbed me. It didn’t all really click and set in at the time, but as the scene has continued to replay itself in my head over the last day, it pulls at my heart-strings.

At the moment, I’m in Little Rock, Arkansas with two of my sons. We’re spending a few nights here while they compete in the 50th anniversary World Championships of the ATA (American Taekwondo Association.)

Here’s the scene: Last night, we were having a quick bite to eat at a simple, local counter-service establishment. As we were sitting and eating, from across the room, I could see a man come into the restaurant, look at the counter and look around to survey whether anyone was noticing him, and then head to a trash can near the beverage counter. He didn’t look overly suspicious other than the way he came into the restaurant.  He looked tired and sweaty, but his clothes weren’t as rough or dirty as one might expect from a homeless person. But he proceeded to fish around in the trash can, find a plastic cup that wasn’t too dirty, and fill it with water from the soda machine.  He sat for a few minutes, savored the water, refilled the cup a bit more, took another big drink, and then threw the cup away, looked around again, and left the restaurant.

It was a hot day. I’m sure the man, if he was out walking on the streets, was in danger of heat exhaustion or worse. At the very least, he certainly needed a basic essential like water to even continue to survive.

I suppose that I was partially in amazement and partially in awe, but mainly just struck with wondering about him and his situation, that I didn’t jump into action to see if there was anything else I could do for him. (Ironic, at the World Expo of an organization whose motto is, “Always take action.”) I suppose that I also didn’t want to embarrass him or call attention to him because of how he had entered the restaurant and the way the whole scene had played out.

Like I said, though, that scene has continued to replay in my mind over the last day.

In this Sunday’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, we will hear Jesus tell the parable of the Good Samaritan to the scholar of the law who asked, “Who is my neighbor?”

In the parable, both a priest and a Levite come upon a man along the road who had been robbed, beaten, and left half-dead. Both saw him but passed by on the opposite side of the road, avoiding him and avoiding stepping in to help.

It took a Samaritan man, an outsider – an alien, to come along and take action.

The Samaritan man not only stepped in to provide immediate help, cleaning and bandaging his wounds and giving immediate aid, but then also took him to an inn, cared for him further, and arranged for the innkeeper to continue to care for him. He went so far as to say that he’d come back by to check and ensure that the stranger had been cared for.

This parable begs me to question how I had treated this “neighbor” with the dirty cup of water. Certainly not in the way that I hope and pray that I would. I can try to excuse it because of the way that it played out, and because I was focused on my sons, or other things. But I can also pray that I might find a better way to help in the situation next time.

Today, on our walk from the hotel to the tournament at the convention center, along the same little stretch of street – on the same block or the next block down from where we were last night, I saw an entirely different scene.  Another restaurant had put out a 5-gallon cooler of water and some cups for those passing by. There, I realized, was a modern-day “Samaritan” in the form of a business owner doing a good deed in the neighborhood.  It would be just as easy to ignore those on the street, to avoid the liability, or the cost, or whatever else. But here was a business owner who was choosing to take a simple step to make a difference for those who might need a simple drink of water.

“Who is my neighbor?”

What a great question to ponder. And what a great challenge to see and serve our neighbor in need… perhaps even more so in our modern society when it’s so easy for someone to slip through the door, steal some essential water in a dirty cup, and go otherwise unseen or ignored.

God, please grant me the grace to see my neighbor in need, to pass on his side of the road, and to help in the ways I’m able.

Christ’s Body: Change From the Outside

The Bread of Life & the Church's present scandal

I woke this morning to the sounds of the crickets finishing their evening chorus to the rising sun, and I laid in bed for a few minutes starting my conversation with God for the day. As I did so, the words of the Act of Contrition started to flow through my mind.

“And I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishment.”

I couldn’t help but continue to think about all of my own sins of my life and how I was truly sorry for them and wanted God’s grace to continue to get better, but also how tied to those sins was a just punishment. I prayed that someday, someone would have the sense to continue to pray for my soul after death as, hopefully, I underwent my own purification in Purgatory before going to be with God for eternity in Heaven.

Then, of course, my mind couldn’t help but turn to the current scandal facing the Church because of so many men in power who also sinned, and who also didn’t do the right thing when the situation called for it. The ongoing, renewed, and even bigger than imagined scandal of abuse of minors, covering it up, fostering and allowing an environment of sexual immorality – all of it is so terrible and heinous and unimaginable.  I detest all these sins by members of our own body, members of Christ’s body.

The Homeless Man & The Body of Christ

Homeless girl sleeping on a bench in the night mysterious atmosphere

The other morning, I took our dog on our usual walk down the street and around the park. While in the park, we came across an older lady from our church who I’ve seen around town from time to time, collecting and bagging up aluminum cans and plastic bottles. She was at it again that morning in the park, pulling a couple of bottles out of one of the trash cans and putting them into the bag she was carrying.

From time to time in the past, when I had seen her doing this, I had briefly wondered why she did it – it never seemed like she needed to try to recycle them for the money, but I didn’t know, and I didn’t ask. The other morning when I saw her doing it again, though, it made me wonder…

The power of Christ’s blood

From the Catecheses by Saint John Chrysostom, bishop

Crucifixion_woodcutFrom the Catecheses by Saint John Chrysostom, bishop

If we wish to understand the power of Christ’s blood, we should go back to the ancient account of its prefiguration in Egypt. “Sacrifice a lamb without blemish,” commanded Moses, “and sprinkle its blood on your doors.” If we were to ask him what he meant, and how the blood of an irrational beast could possibly save men endowed with reason, his answer would be that the saving power lies not in the blood itself, but in the fact that it is a sign of the Lord’s blood. In those days, when the destroying angel saw the blood on the doors he did not dare to enter, so how much less will the devil approach now when he sees, not that figurative blood on the doors, but the true blood on the lips of believers, the doors of the temple of Christ.

If you desire further proof of the power of this blood, remember where it came from, how it ran down from the cross, flowing from the Master’s side. The gospel records that when Christ was dead, but still hung on the cross, a soldier came and pierced his side with a lance and immediately there poured out water and blood. Now the water was a symbol of baptism and the blood, of the holy Eucharist. The soldier pierced the Lord’s side, he breached the wall of the sacred temple, and I have found the treasure and made it my own. So also with the lamb: the Jews sacrificed the victim and I have been saved by it.

“There flowed from his side water and blood.” Beloved, do not pass over this mystery without thought; it has yet another hidden meaning, which I will explain to you. I said that water and blood symbolised baptism and the holy Eucharist. From these two sacraments the Church is born: from baptism, “the cleansing water that gives rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit,” and from the holy Eucharist. Since the symbols of baptism and the Eucharist flowed from his side, it was from his side that Christ fashioned the Church, as he had fashioned Eve from the side of Adam. Moses gives a hint of this when he tells the story of the first man and makes him exclaim: “Bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh!” As God then took a rib from Adam’s side to fashion a woman, so Christ has given us blood and water from his side to fashion the Church. God took the rib when Adam was in a deep sleep, and in the same way Christ gave us the blood and the water after his own death.

Do you understand, then, how Christ has united his bride to himself and what food he gives us all to eat? By one and the same food we are both brought into being and nourished. As a woman nourishes her child with her own blood and milk, so does Christ unceasingly nourish with his own blood those to whom he himself has given life.

-Second Reading in the Office of Readings (Liturgy of the Hours), Good Friday

The Triduum

The three holiest days of the church year.

Tonight, the table hosts a meal.
Tomorrow, the cross provides a place of execution.
Saturday, the tomb becomes a holding place for a man’s body,
a place of sorrow and of wondering.

But then, the table, the cross, and the bodies of men
become altars on which the daily sacrifices of life are
united to the eternal sacrifice of Christ the High Priest.

God renews His eternal “Yes” to mankind.
“It is very good.”
“I make all things new.”

The end leads back to the beginning.
The beginning of these three days is tied to their end.
The three days in one.
The pivotal day of eternity.

Which pattern? Adam or Jesus?

Image © rghenry –

After the switch of liturgical seasons mid-week at Ash Wednesday, it might be hard to remember that just last Sunday, the Gospel reading at Mass reminded us that “No one can serve two masters… You cannot serve God and mammon.” (c.f. Matthew 6:24)

In that Gospel, Jesus put before his followers the choice between serving the things of God, or being mastered by and serving the desires of the flesh on earth.

Fast forward to this weekend, the first Sunday of Lent, and we find the story of Adam and Eve tempted by the serpent in the Garden of Eden (the fall that led to Original Sin), contrasted against the story of Jesus tempted by the devil at the end of his fast of forty days and nights in the desert.

Between Adam’s temptation in the first reading and Jesus’s temptation in the Gospel, the second reading ties the two together:

Just as through one transgression condemnation came upon all,
so, through one righteous act, acquittal and life came to all.
For just as through the disobedience of the one man
the many were made sinners,
so, through the obedience of the one,
the many will be made righteous.”
– Romans 5:18-19

This Sunday, Adam is presented as the “type” (defined as “a person or thing symbolizing or exemplifying the ideal or defining characteristics of something”) of the one who fell for the temptation of the devil and chose the things of the flesh – the fruit of the tree in the garden that he had been commanded to avoid.

Jesus is presented as the new Adam, the true ideal who chooses the will of God and the ways of God, even through the three-fold temptation of the devil. First, the devil asks Jesus to turn stones to bread, calling upon his bodily hunger. Then, the devil calls upon Jesus’ trust in God’s word that he would command angels to bear him up and protect him, tempting him to throw himself from the parapet of the temple. Finally, the devil appeals to the power of God, tempting Jesus to worship him in order to gain all the kingdoms of the earth.

In this choice, Jesus faced the same reality he placed before his followers in last Sunday’s Gospel: Will you choose the things of God or the things of earth?

Adam chose the things of earth, Jesus chose the way of God. And immediately after this choice in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus begins his ministry in Galile and starts to call his disciples.

Through Adam’s disobedience, humanity encountered the judgement that stems from the effects of original sin. Through God’s choice to send his only son to save us, and through Jesus’s obedience and eventual crucifixion and resurrection, humanity enjoys the benefits of the in-flowing of God’s grace and Holy Spirit.

Our choice: Which pattern?

As our Lenten journey begins, we have the choice presented to us again, for the second Sunday in a row: Will we choose the ways and the things of the earth, or will we choose the ways and the things of Heaven?

Will we follow the pattern of Adam, or the pattern of Christ?

The deliberate sacrifices, penances, and spiritual exercises we invite into our daily routines in our Lenten journey present the opportunity for us to invite Christ more deeply into our hearts and minds. Let us pray for the grace to daily choose to conform our lives and our very being more toward his will.

In time, we might find ourselves choosing to sacrifice a little comfort in order to help provide for another person’s deeper needs, conforming to the pattern of Christ who avoided the temptation to turn the stones into bread.

In time, we might find ourselves trusting in God even more in the highs and lows of life, without taking risks or cutting corners and trusting him to save us when we throw ourselves from the parapets of daily life, following the pattern of Christ who trusted in God but did not put him to the test.

In time, we might find ourselves resting contentedly in what God provides for us and in the peace of his loving embrace, despite the trials of daily life. In this, we will find ourselves conforming more to the pattern of the Christ who wouldn’t worship Satan to gain the principalities of the earth, but instead kept his allegiance to the true God and thus carried all souls with him to the promise of eternal life.

Or, in time, we find ourselves falling more and more into the trap of the sins which pull us further into mammon: Pride. Envy. Wrath. Gluttony. Lust. Sloth. Greed.

In the desert of this Lenten journey, let us pray for the grace to see the moments of each day when we have the choice between God and mammon, between conforming to the pattern of Christ or conforming to the pattern of Adam. Let us pray for the grace to see the right choices, to carry our crosses, and to grow in our faith life and our journey towards God and heaven.

A final word, from St. Augustine…

While we are traveling the way of the Lord, you see, we should at one and the same time be fasting from the vanity of the present age, and feasting on the promise of the age to come; not setting our hearts on this one, feeding our hearts lifted up to that one.”
– Sermon 263A

“No divisions among you”

Today’s Second Reading, from the first chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Church at Corinth, is very appropriate in our current world and political climate:

“I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that all of you agree in what you say,
and that there be no divisions among you,
but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.
For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers and sisters,
by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you.
I mean that each of you is saying,
“I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,”
or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.”
Is Christ divided?
Was Paul crucified for you?
Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel,
and not with the wisdom of human eloquence,
so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.”

– 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17

A New Heart

5th Sunday of Lent, Year C

Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery, Poussin (1653)

Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery, Poussin (1653)

Something New

Remember not the events of the past,
the things of long ago consider not;
see, I am doing something new!
Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
– First Reading (Is 43:18-19a)

St. Paul opens his Letter to the Romans speaking of those who “became vain in their reasoning” and fall into idolatry and many sorts of adulterous and unnatural acts of the body, even calling them “heartless”. (Rom 1:24-32 NABRE) He continues referring to this hardness of heart later in his letter, teaching that he has mercy upon whom he wills, and he hardens whom he wills.” (Rom 9:18)

But Christ came to begin something new. The Word, the second person of the Trinity, was the fullness of Truth and the fullness of reason. He was, in fact, the personification of the truth of natural law written into our human hearts.

He knew the temptations that we each face, and the falls that we may occasionally have in this life, and He came to redeem us from them.

We with Hardened Hearts

And in today’s Gospel, the story of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus comes face to face with one of us with hardened heart…

The Pharisees press Jesus…

“Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.
So what do you say?”
They said this to test him,
so that they could have some charge to bring against him.
Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.
But when they continued asking him,
he straightened up and said to them,
“Let the one among you who is without sin
be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.
And in response, they went away one by one,
beginning with the elders.
So he was left alone with the woman before him.
Then Jesus straightened up and said to her,
“Woman, where are they?
Has no one condemned you?”
She replied, “No one, sir.”
Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
– John 8:5-11

God himself comes face to face with a heart hardened with sin, and shows himself as what he is: truth, love, and mercy.

In fact, he also faces the crowd with hardened hearts and asks them to consider softening them. He asks them to drop the stones from their hands and accept a softening of their own stony hearts.

He extends mercy, shows love, and asks her – and them – to return to truth.

New Hearts, True Hearts

A frequent reading in the Liturgy of the Hours through Lent has long been one of my favorite passages of the Bible. It speaks precisely of God’s desire to take our hardened hearts and replace them with new hearts, hearts of the flesh of truth.

I will sprinkle clean water over you to make you clean; from all your impurities and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you so that you walk in my statutes, observe my ordinances, and keep them. (Ezek 36:25-27)

Oh, how I love this passage. How I love the gentle mercy of Jesus. How I love the idea of my own heart, hardened by sin, being made new by Jesus. Softened, re-made into a heart of flesh.

I, like every other man and woman, have fallen short in living the life of grace that God gave me in the waters of Baptism. I have fallen out of relationship with God.

I am thankful that, through the redemption won on the cross, Jesus is able to extend his hand, turn back those who would stone me, and offer me a new heart of flesh. I long to be in His truth and grace, and to keep His commands.

Praise God for the gift of mercy in reconciliation, which allows us to return to Him and sing, as the Psalmist, “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.” (Ps 126)

We’re Ready, Lord

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Wedding Feast at Cana

Wedding Feast at Cana

This Sunday’s Gospel comes from the beginning of the second chapter of John (John 2:1-11). It’s the familiar story of Jesus’ first public miracle at the Wedding Feast at Cana.

Leading up to that event, it’s interesting to consider everything that happened in the first chapter of John: We hear the famous “In the beginning was the Word..” testimony, then the introduction of John the Baptist – the forerunner, then “The Word became flesh”. John came to give testimony, then “the next day”, Jesus called Andrew and Simon Peter to follow him. Then “the next day”, Jesus found and called Philip and Nathanael.

The Third Day

Then, in today’s Gospel, “On the third day…” falls our wedding.

Right out of the gate, we’ve come through the Christmas season in which we recall and celebrate “The Word made flesh” in the person of Jesus Christ, we see his public manifestation at his Baptism as the Christmas season ends, and we’re propelled right through the calling of the first Apostles and into the middle of Jesus’ first miracle.

Jesus doesn’t waste any time, and yet it’s notable that this “first wedding” falls on the third day – preparing us for the wedding feast of the Lamb coming later, on our next “third day” at Easter.

I’ve always loved the way this story unfolds… the wedding party has been continuing, and the guests have drunk fully of their host’s generosity.

When the wine runs dry, Mary takes the concern to her son first. At first, he seems to pushes her away. But she just turns to the servers, saying, “Do whatever he tells you.”

So much to learn from Mary – first, that she’ll always turn to our Lord on our behalf. Second, she trusts that if we listen and follow his way, he will provide. Third, he responds to her prompting.

The Miracle

And then the miracle. The servers cooperate with Jesus and fill the stone water jars as instructed, and without any hesitation, Jesus has them draw from them and take it to the headwaiter, who observes that it’s not water, but the finest wine to date!

I’d imagine that at that point, those first disciples were sold! In fact, the Gospel concludes noting how “the disciples began to believe in him.”

The Water, The Wine

What might that water represent for us in our lives today? What might the wine it becomes represent?

In the second reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 12:4-11), we hear about the many talents in the body of Christ…

Brothers and sisters:
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;
there are different forms of service but the same Lord;
there are different workings but the same God
who produces all of them in everyone.
To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit
is given for some benefit.
To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom;
to another, the expression of knowledge according to the
same Spirit;
to another, faith by the same Spirit;
to another, gifts of healing by the one Spirit;
to another, mighty deeds;
to another, prophecy;
to another, discernment of spirits;
to another, varieties of tongues;
to another, interpretation of tongues.
But one and the same Spirit produces all of these,
distributing them individually to each person as he wishes.

And the verse in the Alleluia before the Gospel reminds us:

God has called us through the Gospel
to possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ

Grace + Water = Wine?

We’re called to let the grace of God work through us and our God-given talents, and how we live the Gospel, to help lead by example, and to DO things that create positive change in the world around us.

What is the “water” in the world around me today? What could use the grace of God sweetening it into fine wine?

  • Does my wife need a bit more of my time to help strengthen our relationship and keep us close?
  • Does one of my sons need an extra hug, some encouragement, or just some time shooting some hoops together at the end of a rough day at school?
  • Does that older lady need a hand getting out of church and into her car in that thin layer of ice?
  • Does that guy need a hand getting that pile of lumber into the back of his truck?
  • Does that fearful expectant mother need a little bit more encouragement and prayer?

Live It… Proclaim It!

The more we tune into that grace and focus it into the way we live our daily lives, the more we’ll become “other Christs” – Bread Alive in the world today for others. We’ll see more of the water of daily life around us becoming the fine wine of grace-touched hearts and lives.

In one of the hymns at morning prayer in the breviary this week, this verse caught my ear:

The faith that first must be possessed,
Root deep within our inmost breast;
And joyous hope in second place,
Then charity, thy greatest grace.

In Christs’s coming, the three heavenly graces have been revealed and imparted to us: The faith of Baptism, the hope inherent in his call, and the charity his grace bids us impart to the world around us. Between last week’s Gospel and this week’s, we’re ready to encounter the world, bringing our Christian character to this Ordinary time.

We’ll not only live, but we may even lead others to sing with us the Psalm… “Proclaim his marvelous deeds to all the nations!”

Like the first disciples who followed you from those first few days, into the wedding at Cana, and then on your journey, we’re ready, Lord. Thank you for your call. Thank you for your grace. Help us to do your work today.