Friday, January 22, 2021
Before this week, I was starting once again to feel like writing was becoming easier. Words seemed to be flowing, capturing thoughts at least well enough, if not perfectly. But starting late last weekend, that kind of changed again. I've gone back to wondering, "What are words for?"
Well, that question is also the title of a song by Missing Persons. As you might've guessed, depending on your '80s cultural aptitude, that "What Are Words For?" Is our Friday traditio for this penultimate Friday of 2021's premiere month.
I almost did a coffee spit-take when a group of friends was lamenting the fact that up until this week 2021 seemed like 2020 extended and someone said something like, "Today is like December 48, 2020." It dawns on me that the past few years the theme of time's seeming acceleration is a fairly persistent theme of mine on Fridays. As Ferris Bueller observed: "I've said it before and I'll say it again: life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it."
Anyway, enjoy this song and, moreover, enjoy your weekend. Stop and look around a bit.
Wednesday, January 20, 2021
I was extended the privilege of preaching at Father Rene's Funeral Vigil. The homily at a priest's funeral Mass is usually reserved to his bishop. Below is my homily for this evening's service.
You may watch the Vigil on The Cathedral of the Madeleine's YouTube Channel here. My homily, which contains a few spontaneous remarks, begins at exactly the 23 minute point. __________________________________________________
Readings: Romans 6:3-4.8-9; Ps 27; John 11:21-27
Even as Christians, death stings. Death stings all the more when it comes suddenly and unbidden. Perhaps nothing causes us to face our own mortality more starkly than the sudden death of someone we know and love. Learning about the sudden and unexpected death of anyone evokes these words from a poem by John Donne:
Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind;Do not despair, there is hope! Saint Paul’s point in our reading from his Letter to the Romans, which soothes on one level and provokes us on another, is that because we have died, been buried, and rose with Christ to new life through the waters of baptism, we need not fear death. Certainly, Father Rene died, was buried, and rose with Christ to new life.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee1
Reynato Rodillas, whose fifty-ninth birthday is next week, on the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, lived the new life Christ graciously died and rose to give him as a priest. Leaving a promising career as a civil engineer, a beautiful fiancée, who did not know he’d gone to the seminary until he’d been there a year (Father assured me they remained friends), and, going against the wishes of his Dad, he pursued ordination to the priesthood. His decade or so ministering in our diocese constituted less than half of his priestly life.
Until he was incardinated into the Diocese of Salt Lake City- one of then-Bishop Wester’s last official acts here- Father Rene was a member of the Society of the Divine Word. The SVDs, as they’re popularly known, is a missionary order of priests. After serving in Germany and before coming to the United States, he served as the pastor of a very poor mountain village in the Philippines. The people of this village were too poor to support the parish. And so, Father Rene supported them.
It was at this point that, drawing on his family's farming roots, he began to raise food in earnest. The food he raised was largely given to the people of the parish. To earn money needed to build a simple Church, Father Rene presided at many funerals throughout Manila and the surrounding areas. As a good pastor, rather than having it built for them, Father Rene insisted that the people of the parish take ownership of their church by building it themselves. In response, parishioners would bring whatever they had to offer for the construction of this sacred place. He helped several young people from that village with their education, enabling them to rise from poverty.
In the nearly five years I was privileged to serve alongside Father Rene, I never saw him happier than in the heat of an August afternoon working in his amazingly fruitful garden. When I had a meeting or was teaching a class at that time of the year, I always went out back to see him working. He would stop, tilt his big, floppy hat back, wipe the sweat from his brow, and flash his big smile at me. It helped me immensely to see someone so happy with what they were doing. Of course, there were a few times when I arrived at the parish of an evening and had to usher his chickens, including two very non-cooperative roosters, back into the fenced yard.
For those who know Father Rene, you know he was quite introverted and retiring, even shy. He was a meek and gentle but very determined man. I know firsthand that the struggles of being a pastor really got to him at times. Many of us here know how painful and draining pastoral ministry is on occasion. This is why closeness to Christ through prayer is absolutely vital. Father Rene had a deep prayer life.
While at Saint Olaf, he loved to sit silently in the chapel next to his rectory before the Blessed Sacrament. He told me this place was his refuge. This echoes the words of the psalmist: “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.”2
His manner of presiding at the Eucharist was wonderful and came to him so naturally, there was nothing forced or affected about it. Celebrating Mass with and on behalf of God’s holy people was the center of his life. The only thing that rivaled celebrating the Eucharist was perhaps his love of singing.
Everyone who spent any time at all with Father Rene has a memory of him breaking into song. Despite life’s trials, he was a joyful person. The apex, then, was when, as he did his last several years at Saint Olaf, he would sing the Sacred Liturgy. He did it very beautifully.
Father Rene loved Our Lady. He prayed the Rosary daily. At his instigation, Saint Olaf parish prayed a communal Rosary each Sunday before one of the Masses on a rotating basis. Different groups from the parish, including the deacon, took turns leading the Rosary. Father Rene didn’t just mandate the Rosary and absent himself. He sat at the back of the Church in his alb, Rosary in hand, praying along with everybody. This was another time he was truly at peace.
The first time I saw Father Rene after he was made pastor of Saint James the Just was at the Bishop’s Dinner about a month after his move. Seeing me, he broke into that big smile, made a b-line to me, and gave me one of the biggest hugs I’ve ever received. He might not like me to say this, but we were both a little teary-eyed. After all, we’d been through a lot together. Like a good Father, at that and other moments, he made me feel loved. To my mind, this is the essence of priestly ministry.
Too often, we think of life in Christ, which is nothing other than life in the Spirit, as a big, noisy, glitzy affair. Most of the time, my friends, it isn’t. As the Apostle Paul laid them out in his Letter to the Galatians, the Spirit’s fruits are faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, patience, joy, kindness, peace, and love.3
As the late Christian singer-songwriter Rich Mullins, who also died an untimely, sudden death, once said: “I think there can't be any greater joy in life than knowing that someone else's life is richer because you lived.”4 There are many of us here tonight whose lives are richer because Rene Rodillas lived.
Endeavoring in weakness during the rapidly-passing time of mortality to live as a new creation, with the help of God’s grace, is what it means to be alive in Christ. As Jesus said to Lazarus’s grieving sister, Martha:
I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live,Characteristically, Jesus ends his pronouncement to Martha, his revelation, with a question: “Do you believe this?”6 It’s not a question one can answer with words, at least not convincingly. This question can only really be answered by the way you live your life. The day is coming when Christ will ask you this question.
and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die5
Father Rene believed with every fiber of his being that Jesus is the resurrection and life. The joys and sorrows of his priestly ministry only deepened his faith. By making the LORD his light and his salvation, Father Rene could face death, even an untimely death, without fear.
Tonight, as we keep Vigil with Father Rene’s earthly remains, entrusting him to the unfailing intercession of our Blessed Mother, let’s open our hearts to the Holy Spirit, the mode of Christ’s resurrection presence among and in us. It is the Spirit that animates us, making us, the Church, Christ's mystical Body. It is by living life in the Spirit that Christ is made present through us, just as he made himself present through the life and priestly ministry of our brother, Rene.
1 John Donne, “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”↩
2 Psalm 32:7 (New International Version).↩
3 Galatians 5:22-23.↩
4 Rich Mullins, Heart to Heart Interview with Sheila Walsh on Christian Broadcasting Network, 20 May 1992. Accessed 18 January 2021↩
5 John 11:25-26.↩
6 John 11:25.↩
Sunday, January 17, 2021
What Jesus says to Andrew and the other disciple of the Baptist in today's Gospel he says to all who would follow him: "Come and you will see." Being a Christian means being a follower of a way. As Christians, we insist on being followers of the Way inasmuch as we have experienced Christ as the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). Following Jesus is dynamic and moving, not static and stationary. To point out something obvious, he didn't summon the two followers of the Baptist to the nearest rock and urge them to sit down.
Our readings today follow last Sunday's celebration of the Baptism of the Lord. Front-to-back and side-to-side, these readings are about vocation. A vocation is a calling. Through the Holy Spirit, Christ calls you to follow him. At root, there is only one call: follow Christ. You received this call at your baptism. It was strengthened by a special sacramental outpouring of the Holy Spirit when you were confirmed. Following Christ is the primary vocation of every Christian.
You must discern how to follow Christ by considering what state of life he calls you to live. What is meant by "state of life"? Well, do you have a vocation to marriage, with its implicit call to parenthood? Are you called to live a single life, allowing you to devote yourself to God in this way? Are you called to participate in the charism of a particular religious order and fully live the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience? Both ordained and laypeople can belong to religious orders. Most of the ordained belong to the "secular" clergy, meaning they do not belong to a religious order but are called to serve the local Church under the authority of the bishop.
Finally, how you earn your living, support yourself and, if married, your family is also something you should prayerfully consider. If your state of life as described above is your secondary vocation, this might be called your tertiary vocation. The manner in which you live your life should not only be directed toward bringing others to Christ but, by the Spirit's power, bringing Christ to others. The best way to bring Christ to others is through service, what in the New Testament is called diakonia. It gets back to that oft-used quote, probably not uttered by Saint Francis but certainly smacking of the Franciscan charism: Today preach the Gospel and if you have to use words."
Christians follow a person, not a set of ideas or rules let alone a ready-made ideology be it of the right or the left. If you truly follow Jesus, he will challenge your preconceptions, disabuse you of your smug certainties, and invite you to engage reality with love and intense desire. Even though Andrew, Peter's brother, and the other disciple (usually considered to be John) seem to recognize Jesus as the Christ right-away and set out to follow him, they have no idea of the journey on which they're about to embark. Following Jesus is nothing if not an adventure.
God, as Pope Francis has noted more than once, is "the God of surprises." This is so, the Holy Father insists, "because he is a living God, a God who abides in us, a God who moves our heart, a God who is in the Church and walks with us; and he always surprises us on this path" (from Homily for Daily Mass 8 May 2017). If you don't believe this, ask your pastor to tell you the story of his vocation, or a religious sister of your acquaintance why she decided for foresake all and follow Jesus more closely, or ask a Christian couple you know and hold in high regard how they met and decided to marry each other. You'll hear about a lot of surprises!
When the disciples of the Baptist ask Jesus where he is staying, the Lord invites them to come and see. Yet, despite conveying that they spent the rest of the day with him, the inspired author never indicates a specific place. In other words, just where Jesus was staying is never disclosed. Nowhere can be separated into now here. It seems that after he left Nazareth, Jesus had no fixed location, no home to speak of. The point, it seems to me, is that to follow Jesus is to be on the way. The Second Vatican Council described the Church as a Pilgrim People, a people on the way (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church [Lumen Gentium], Chapter VII).
Jesus keeps us from settling for less than that for which we are made. In his book The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis put it like this:
Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.Once you are baptized, confirmed, and come into communion, you are incorporated into Christ's very Body, the Church. Hence, as Saint Paul tells the Christians of ancient Corinth, "you are not your own" (1 Cor 6:19). This doesn't mean that you give up your agency, your freedom, your ability to chose. It means that your encounter with Jesus has changed your life. This change of life is called "repentance," in Greek metanoia. The way of Jesus is the path of true freedom.
Friday, January 15, 2021
As I mentioned in a previous post, I'll take all the new beginnings I can get. Since the new year, it has become clear to me that I need a bit of a course correction. I don't need a 180° correction, or even a 90° turn. I think need something in the 45° range, which is still a pretty significant vector change.
At root, I just want and need to be happier. Understandably, last year things were very serious with the pandemic and everything else going on. I am glad I dealt with many of those issues directly, even if my doing so sat the wrong way with some people. Looking back, I am not full of regrets.
This is not to say that, like virtually everyone else, I can always find better ways to say/write what I am thinking and feeling. But I don't have any regrets. It's been observed that if you don't have enemies it's probably because you haven't stood for anything. As a Christian, it's important to love those who set themselves against you, to pray for them, to do good to them. This, of course, is far easier to write than to do.
My need to stop undercutting my own happiness (i.e., a choice to focus on negative things) became apparent to me well before the end of the last year. To remedy this, I obtained a copy of Max Lucado's book How Happiness Happens: Finding Lasting Joy in a World of Comparison, Disappointment, and Unmet Expectations. As I write this, I have only one chapter left before I finish it. It was a good investment.
When I finish How Happiness Happens, I plan to read Brother David Steindhl-Rast's Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer : An Approach to Life in Fullness. I've concluded that at present there are plenty of critics. I am grateful for those who have the gift of doing this directly and charitably. But, at least for now, I feel the need to fly a slightly different course.
Last weekend I had the chance to spend some time listening to music. It's been awhile. I listened to Foo Fighters sing "Times Like These" live on SNL last November. It was a great show with Dave Chappelle as guest host. Dave's monologue was superb, watch it. It's the kind of thing we need to hear. Dave deals with the complexity and humanity of our current moment while making us laugh, especially at ourselves, which is invaluable. If you want to cut to the chase, go to 14:23 and watch until the end.
Peace and blessings. Hang in there. God is good. Because God is good, there is hope. Easter is always happening.
Sunday, January 10, 2021
Today we mark the end of the Christmas season. This is unique to the United States. For most Catholics throughout the world, Christmas ended last Wednesday, 6 January, the traditional observance of Epiphany. Roman Catholics in the U.S. observe Epiphany on the second Sunday after Christmas. But rather than shorten the season, Christmas in our country extends until today’s feast.
An “epiphany” is a sudden revelation. On Epiphany, we celebrate the revelation of Jesus’s Lordship to the nations, that is, to the Gentiles. Not being Jewish, the magi represent the nations. Our reading from Acts connects today’s feast with Epiphany. What we heard proclaimed is a section from Acts 10 known as “the Pentecost of the Gentiles.”
The descent of the Holy Spirit upon Mary and the apostles, as described in the second chapter of Acts, occurred on Pentecost. Pentecost is a major Jewish feast. In the Second Temple period- the period during which Jesus lived, along with Pesach (Passover) and Sukkot (the Festival of Booths), Pentecost (in Hebrew Shavuot) was one of the major pilgrimage festivals.
During the Three Pilgrimage Festivals, Jews came from all over the known world to Jerusalem to celebrate. Pentecost means “Fifty Days.” Shavuot is also called “Pentecost” because it occurs fifty days after Passover. During this festival, Jews celebrate God’s giving the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. Christians call our celebration of the descent of the Holy Spirit, which we revere as the birth of the Church, “Pentecost” because we observe it fifty days after Easter, our Passover.
In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus’s frightened followers as “tongues of fire while they were in hiding during this festival for fear of their lives.1 Their response was to be so emboldened as to leave their hiding place and start proclaiming the Good News that is Jesus Christ, crucified, risen, ascended, and now present in this new and powerful way.
Jews from many nations, who spoke many different languages, were able to understand what these Spirit-filled Christians preached in their own language.2 The Holy Spirit is how the risen Lord remains present among us, in us, and through us. Being present to us through the Holy Spirit is more a powerful and intimate presence than if Jesus had not ascended. One way Christ is really present in the Eucharist is in the gathering of the baptized.
In response to Peter’s preaching, the inspired author relays that all “who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day.”3 And so, from the Church’s beginning, the way a person becomes a Christian is by being baptized.
The scene of our second reading is the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion. Along with members of his household, Cornelius had come to faith in Christ. Peter went there to catechize these Gentiles. Our reading is Peter’s teaching the group, a primitive version of RCIA. It bears more than a passing resemblance to his preaching at the Pentecost in Jerusalem.
Where Peter’s preaching in this passage differs from what he said in Jerusalem is the recognition that they are Gentiles: “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.”4 In his message, Peter alludes to John’s baptismal ministry in the River Jordan and Christ’s anointing with the Holy Spirit.5
If we follow the story a little farther, in response to Peter’s preaching, the Holy Spirit “fell upon” Cornelius and his household.6 As a result, they were baptized. Hence, this is the Pentecost of the Gentiles, the beginning of the preaching of the Gospel to the ends of the earth, expanding God’s one covenant with humanity to all people everywhere.
What is God’s covenant? It is captured well by the prophet Jeremiah, to whom God said: “Listen to my voice; then I will be your God and you shall be my people.”7 What does God say? In today’s Gospel, he says to and about Jesus: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”8
Later in Mark’s Gospel, at the Transfiguration when Jesus appears with Moses and Elijah, indicating that he is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, God says, again, “This is my beloved Son” before telling the awe-struck disciples, “Listen to him.”9
What does Jesus say that we should listen to? Quoting the Law, he says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength’” and “‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”10
As Paul forcefully reminded the Christians of ancient Galatia, it is baptism, not circumcision, that is the mark of God’s new and everlasting covenant. Unlike circumcision, everyone can be baptized, which is why the apostle insists:
For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus11Christianity is universal or it is nothing.
Apart from your birth, your baptism is the most important thing that has ever happened to you. It is wonderful that our Catechumens, who are preparing for baptism at Easter are with us this morning. It bears reminding ourselves that baptism, not holy orders, or any other sacrament, is the fundamental sacrament of Christian life.
Through the waters of baptism, you are reborn as God’s child. In baptism, you die, are buried and rise with Christ to new life. This means eternal life is not the life that begins after mortal death but starts now.
Just as Jesus’s identity as God’s only begotten Son was confirmed by the Spirit descending like a dove and the voice of the Father calling him his “beloved Son,” your identity as God’s beloved son/daughter is confirmed when you receive the sacrament of confirmation.12
After being baptized by John and spending forty days and nights in the desert fasting, praying, and being tempted by the devil, Jesus began his proclamation of God’s Kingdom: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”13 When translated literally from Greek, Jesus's exhortation is “Be repenting and be believing,” it is continuous. For Christians, now is always the time of fulfillment. One of the statements made on Ash Wednesday as you receive ashes is “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”14
In light of our collective loss with Father Rene's passing, it is important to note that the Mass of Christian Burial begins with the rite of reception of the body. As the casket is brought into the church, a white pall is placed over it. The pall is a baptismal garment. Between this ritual act and the sprinkling with holy water, these words are said: “In the waters of baptism [our brother/sister] died with Christ and rose with him to new life. May he/she now share with him eternal glory.”15
As God’s beloved child, eternal glory with Christ is your destiny. Live in light of your destiny: “Be repenting and be believing.”
1 Acts 2:3.↩
2 Acts 2:5-6.↩
3 Acts 2:41.↩
4 Acts 10:34-35.↩
5 Acts 10:37-38.↩
6 Acts 10:44.↩
7 Jeremiah 7:23.↩
8 Mark 1:11.↩
9 Mark 9:7.↩
10 Mark 12:30-31; Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18.↩
11 Galatians 3:27-28.↩
12 Mark 1:11.↩
13 Mark 1:15.↩
14 Roman Missal, Ash Wednesday, Blessing and Distribution of Ashes.↩
15 Order of Christian Funerals, The Funeral Mass, Introductory Rites, sec. 160.↩
Friday, January 8, 2021
Healthy democracies require disagreement, debate, and, yes, compromise. It does require us to agree on some fundamental things. I hope more than a slight majority of my fellow citizens now grasp this. I also hope that we now collectively see why keeping political discourse civil is so important.
Because I posted the first Friday traditio of this still-new year on New Year's Day, this is the second of 2021. A thought occurred to me this week that what precedes the so-called Kenotic Hymn in the second chapter of Saint Paul's Letter to Philippians is important and often neglected. The hymn, which begins in verse with verse 6- "Who though he was in the form of God..."- is precisely that, a hymn. This means it was sung by early Christians and subsequently used by the apostle to highlight an important point he was trying to make. The first five verses provide the context for the hymn, give you the reason why Paul used it.
What is that point? The answer to this question lies in the first five verses of this chapter:
If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others. Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus...The heart of this passage seems to be the exhortation to "humbly regard others as more important than yourselves." Doing this is how you imitate Jesus, who, even though he was God, did not lord his divinity over the world but rather served the world like a slave, not a master. Yes, it is very difficult because, at a very deep level, we are programmed, to use a technological metaphor, to act out of selfishness, putting our own interests first.
To be clear, this is a Christian thing, not a secular thing. Paul addressed his letter to the Church in ancient Philippi, not to everyone. This is one more lesson, too, that the Church is not to seek worldly power and dominion. What many Christians in the U.S. today mistake as persecution is merely the loss of political power, of cultural hegemony, of having sway and having it their way. In reality, these losses should be celebrated, not lamented. The lowest ebbs in Church history have been when the Church has sought and attained political power.
You see, Christianity, like Kierkegaard noted in virtually all his works, is not only something that should not be imposed, Christianity that is Christianity cannot be imposed. Christendom is a perversion of Christianity. Rather than lament, Christians should see our present circumstances as an opportunity to follow Jesus more faithfully, which means putting ourselves at the service of others. As Pope Francis often notes, too often the Church has become self-serving, too worried about preserving itself, its institutions, and, therefore, not focused on serving others, especially those most in need. This is the only way to regain the Church's lost credibility.
This is not to say that Christians should hole up, separate ourselves, refuse to participate in the political and cultural aspects of the societies in which we live, including running for and holding elected offices. Far from it! It is about how we participate and how we serve the common good, not whether or not we ought to do so. We are to do so but in a way consistent with the teachings of Christ, who said: “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed [in] with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch of dough was leavened” (Luke 13:20-21). While I fully embrace preaching the Gospel and making disciples of all nations, I sometimes think the Church does better where Christians are in the minority.
It was kind of difficult coming up with the song for our traditio today but Lauren Daigle's acoustic cover of Matt Maher's "Lord, I Need You" strikes me as a good one:
Sunday, January 3, 2021
He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, saith the Lord.1 These are the words of Christ; and they teach us how far we must imitate His life and character, if we seek true illumination, and deliverance from all blindness of heart. Let it be our most earnest study, therefore, to dwell upon the life of Jesus Christ.
His teaching surpasseth all teaching of holy men, and such as have His Spirit find therein the hidden manna.2 But there are many who, though they frequently hear the Gospel, yet feel but little longing after it, because they have not the mind of Christ. He, therefore, that will fully and with true wisdom understand the words of Christ, let him strive to conform his whole life to that mind of Christ.
What doth it profit thee to enter into deep discussion concerning the Holy Trinity, if thou lack humility, and be thus displeasing to the Trinity? For verily it is not deep words that make a man holy and upright; it is a good life which maketh a man dear to God. I had rather feel contrition than be skilful in the definition thereof. If thou knewest the whole Bible, and the sayings of all the philosophers, what should all this profit thee without the love and grace of God? Vanity of vanities, all is vanity, save to love God, and Him only to serve. That is the highest wisdom, to cast the world behind us, and to reach forward to the heavenly kingdom.
It is vanity then to seek after, and to trust in, the riches that shall perish. It is vanity, too, to covet honours, and to lift up ourselves on high. It is vanity to follow the desires of the flesh and be led by them, for this shall bring misery at the last. It is vanity to desire a long life, and to have little care for a good life. It is vanity to take thought only for the life which now is, and not to look forward to the things which shall be hereafter. It is vanity to love that which quickly passeth away, and not to hasten where eternal joy abideth.
Jesus Walks on the Water, by Ivan Aivazovsky, 1888
Be ofttimes mindful of the saying, The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing.3 Strive, therefore, to turn away thy heart from the love of the things that are seen, and to set it upon the things that are not seen. For they who follow after their own fleshly lusts, defile the conscience, and destroy the grace of God.
Thomas á Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (Book I, chap 1)
Three years ago I was up late because it was my last night off for the holidays. The thought of returning to my regular routine on 4 January 2018 had me feeling anxious. I can't even remember how I ran across a website that featured Thomas á Kempis's classic spiritual text The Imitation of Christ. Therefore, I can remember why I cited the passage I did on that snowy night three years ago.
Especially in light of the year just past, like a lot of people, I suppose, tonight I feel anxious about what lies ahead as 2021 begins in earnest tomorrow morning. It was this feeling of anxiety that caused me to remember the snowy late night Wednesday, 3 January 2018. I don't mind admitting that "I have not [yet] the mind of Christ. Each year my New Year's resolutions boil down to striving to conform my whole "to that mind of Christ."
And so, this Sunday night, I pray for the humility necessary to fully understand with true wisdom Christ's words. I begin with the words he spoke to his frightened disciples who were in a boat as Jesus walked across the water: "Do not be afraid" (see Matthew 14:22-33; Mark 6:45-52; John 6:16-21).
Peace to all who read this as you embark on the first full week of the new year. Remember, at Christmas we celebrate Emmanuel, God-with-us. Remembering that God is with us is how you keep Christmas alive all year.
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