Sunday, March 1, 2015

Year B Second Sunday of Lent

Readings: Gen 22:1-2.9a.10-13.15-18; Ps 116:10.15-17.18-19; Rom 8:31b-34; Mark 9:2-10

One of the biggest societal challenges we face today is our collective loss of the ability to make distinctions, the ability to tell one thing from another thing, especially when the two things are inextricably bound together. A few years ago, a friend of mine, who teaches Philosophy at a well-known university on the East Coast, said he was tempted to take some of his classes for a walk around their campus. During this walk he was going to point out the differences between things they encountered: “This is a rock.” “This is a run of fencing.” “This is a metal pole to which a sign is attached. The sign, while attached to the pole, is distinct from it.” “That is a tree,” etc.

In light of God’s word for us today, I ask you to consider the distinction between hearing and listening. I submit that while it is impossible to listen without hearing, it is not only possible, but very often the case that we hear without listening. My use of the word “hear” in this context simply refers to the physical phenomenon of sound waves striking and vibrating our intricate human hearing apparatus. Listening, on the other hand, means something like, to pay attention and then to heed. Of course, in English, we a have word for this: “obey.” But our word “obey” finds its origin in the Latin word oboedire, which means to listen.

In our first reading we see a clear demonstration of what it means to listen to God. Indeed, what we have heard proclaimed is surely one of the most disturbing events in all of Scripture. God speaks and Abraham not only hears, but listens. As a result, he sets out to fulfill what God commanded him to do, which is to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, whose name, Yitz’ak, in Hebrew means “laughter.” Indeed, it seems that God is playing a cruel joke on Abraham. God promised our father in the faith that his descendants would be as numerous as the sands on the seashore (Gen 13:16). Yet, despite this promise, Abraham and his wife Sarah remained childless until after Sarah was well beyond child-bearing age (that their son was named “Laughter” refers to Sarah’s response at being told she was going to have a son).

The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, who also observed that “Purity of heart is to will one thing,” contemplating this awful episode in his famous work Fear and Trembling, wrote this about Abraham’s listening to God:
If Abraham had doubted as he stood there on Mount Moriah, if irresolute he had looked around, if he had happened to spot the ram before drawing the knife… then he would have gone home, everything would have been the same, he would have had Sarah, he would have kept Isaac, and yet how changed! For his return would have been a flight, his deliverance an accident, his reward disgrace, his future perhaps perdition. Then he would have witnessed neither to his faith nor to God’s grace but would have witnessed [only] to how appalling it is to go to Mount Moriah
Last Sunday we heard proclaimed God’s promise, made after the great flood, which he sealed by placing a rainbow in the sky, never again to wipe out all of humanity. It is safe to say that because Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only begotten son was a foreshadowing of what the Father would do in and through His only begotten Son, that God will never again ask such a terrible thing of anyone.

To hear and heed God is what it means to have faith. Faith is our response to God’s initiative towards us. But even our response is the grace of God at work within us. So it is God, who both begins and completes the good work begun in those who listen to Him (Phil 1:6). God, who loves us so much that He did spare the life of His innocent and only begotten Son, both pulls and pushes us towards Himself. But God does not pull and push us towards Himself with so much force that we're unable to resist. We must reject any theology that holds that God's grace is irresistible.

Transfiguration, by Gerard David, ca. 1450, via Wikipedia commons

It’s important, I think, not to be too distracted by the shiny object of Jesus’ Transfiguration. To be sure, it is a preview of His resurrection, albeit only understood as such after the resurrection. His appearing along with Moses and Elijah shows that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets. What we are to attend to are the words of the Father, who says to Peter, James, and John, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him” (Mark 9:7). After hearing these words, “They no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them” (Mark 9:8).

If we are truly followers of Jesus Christ, when we consider things that are inextricably bound together, yet distinguishable, the relationship between loving God with our heart, might, mind and strength and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves must be considered. While it is impossible to love God without loving our neighbor (1 John 4:20), there are ways we love God that are distinguishable from how we love our neighbors: prayer, fasting, and worship, to name only three.

We are at “Mass.” The word “Mass” comes from the Latin word misa, which means to be dismissed, to be sent forth to make Christ present wherever we are. In addition to apostolic succession, which refers to the Church receiving her authority from Christ and the apostles, our being sent forth from here to demonstrate that the liturgy, which is our common work, has consequences in the world, is what makes the Church truly apostolic.

Our take away today is obvious: Listen to Jesus. During this Lent, what is Jesus saying to you? Are you taking time each day to listen to Him? Once you have heard what He is saying to you, are you willing to do it?

St Paul today tells us that following Jesus means embracing the Cross. In other words, if everything you think you hear the Lord saying to you is aimed at making your life easier and more prosperous in worldly terms, then I would suggest that you need to exercise better discernment, meaning you need to make a better effort to listen to Jesus, who speaks to us through Scripture and in prayer by the power of the Holy Spirit. “The end of the story is God’s glory,” John Martens observed about today’s readings, “but it requires hearing God's voice in the midst of trials, suffering, pain and loss, even when it seems to be God's voice commanding the suffering. Be patient and listen again, for the voice of God desires only our blessing."

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Dewi Sant- St David of Wales

Tomorrow is the traditional memorial of St David of Wales. It is more than a tragedy that, with the exception of St Patrick, much of the great Celtic-Christian heritage is being forgotten. After noting that St Patrick himself was likely a native Welsh-speaker, I wish to draw attention to St David of Wales, a towering figure of Celtic Christianity in his own right. Building on what we remember, St David is to Wales what St Patrick is to Ireland, that is, an apostle, one who was sent by Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit to preach the Gospel.

New icon of St David at his Shrine in St David's Cathedral

By most accounts, David lived his entire life in the sixth century, that is the 500s, but that is far from firm. If we were bound his life from the earliest possible dates to the latest it would stretch from 462 to 601. He was a native of Wales, not someone who came from somewhere else, like St Patrick, who first went to Ireland as a slave before being sent back as a herald of the Gospel. St David's mother, Non, is also revered as a saint, as is his teacher, Paulinus. St David's Cathedral stands on the site of a monastery he founded.

Most of what we know about St David is taken from the Buchedd Dewi, a hagiography written by Rhygyfarch in the late 11th century. While it is probably true that some of this account of David's life was taken from documents the author found in an archive, it is almost certainly not true for the entire account. Rather than finding this disturbing in any way, this is where things take a peculiarly Welsh twist: in Rhygyfarch's day the Welsh church was seeking to establish some independence for itself (something that, at least in my view, would've been healthy given the subsequent history of Christianity in Wales). The Welsh church had refused the Roman rite until the 8th century. In the 11th century the Welsh church sought a metropolitan status equal to that of Canterbury. This is likely the reason for the apocryphal story of David going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem where he was anointed as an archbishop by the patriarch.

St David's Cathedral

David can truly be said to have served as bishop and, later, as archbishop. He established several monastic communities and authored a monastic rule that was quite severe. For example, his rule prescribed that monks had to pull the plough themselves without draught animals. Further, it stipulated that the monks could only drink water and only eat bread with salt and herbs. David himself was known for his austere and ascetic lifestyle. He ate no meat and did not drink beer. It is partially due to this that St David's symbol, which is also the symbol of Wales, is the leek.

In a recent edition of the Roman Martyrology (2004), David's memorial (he listed with the Latin name Dávus) is confirmed as 1 March, the traditional date of his death. While David was Welsh and lived his life in Wales, his leadership resulted in many monks being sent to spread the Gospel throughout Wales, Ireland, Cornwall and other places as well.

Here is a link to a BBC article from 2010 on the now complete restoration of St David's shrine: "Pilgrim's progress for St David's Shrine." In addition, here's a BBC introductory piece on St David.

Dewi Sant yn gweddïo i ni

Friday, February 27, 2015

"And victory remains with love"

Crucifixion, by Matthias Grünewald, from the Isenheim altar piece, 1510-1515

It's a Friday in Lent. On days like this, words ought to fail us. The failure of our own words, of our ability to comprehend and articulate the greatness, the height, length, and depth of love of God's great love for us should drive us to God's word:
For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly. Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. How much more then, since we are now justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath (Rom 5:6-9)
Our Friday traditio is Jars of Clay with a wonderful hymn:

O break, O break hard heart of mine
My weak self-love and guilty pride
His Pilate and His Judas were
Jesus our Lord is Crucified

If all of this seems crude and terribly unsophisticated, even from a theological perspective, I would strongly urge you to lean into Lent much harder.

Monday, February 23, 2015

How do I evangelize?

As we saw the Sunday before last (see "Who can make me whole again?") sin is deadlier than leprosy, as well as deadlier than anyone or anything else that can kill the body. We all need healing. The kind of healing Jesus came to give is the kind He gives to the paralytic man whose friends, at the beginning of the second chapter of St Mark's Gospel (2:1-12), lowered him down in front of the Lord, who then said to the paralyzed and bedridden man, "Child, your sins are forgiven" (Mark 2:5). It was only in order to demonstrate that He possesses the power to forgive sin that He physically healed the man, saying, "'But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth' - he said to the paralytic, 'I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home'" (Mark 2:10-11).

We read about scenes like the one in which Jesus healed the paralytzed man throughout, not just the Synoptics (i.e., Matthew, Mark, and Luke), but all the Gospels. Another example that stands out is Jesus casting demons from the Gerasene demoniac in the eighth chapter of St Luke's Gospel. This poor man was naked and "did not live in a house, but lived among the tombs" (Luke 8:27b). When Jesus stepped out of the boat, which made its way across the Sea of Galilee from Galilee to Gerasa, He was greeted by this tormented man. Just as in the synagogue, the Lord is addressed by one of the demons who possessed the man. The demon who recognized Jesus, greeted Him saying, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me!" Jesus, after a brief interrogation, then proceeded to cast them out of the man and into a herd of swine, thus restoring the man to his right mind.

Jesus' manifest power over the spirits caused the Gerasenes to fear Him. As a result of their fear, they asked Him to leave them, which He then set about doing. But the man who Jesus healed asked to come with Him. Jesus told the man, "Return home and recount what God has done for you" (Luke 8:39a).

This man, formerly crazed, out of his mind, who lived naked, dirty, alone, and often chained up, but was now restored, heeded what the Lord told him to do, apparently without complaining, or remonstrating with Jesus: "The man went off and proclaimed throughout the whole town what Jesus had done for him" (Luke 8:39b).

Telling others what Jesus has done for us is the very essence of evangelization, which we often seek to reduce to apologetics, to mere arguments. In a homily he gave back in 2010, George Niederauer, now Archbishop-emeritus of San Francisco, recounted a story about a British working man who was in the habit of drinking all of his wages at the bar, as recounted by Dr. William Barclay, a Presbyterian Scripture scholar, who authored an invaluable, multi-volume commentary on the New Testament:
Consequently, he was behind in the rent, his wife had begun to pawn their furniture, and there was little food on the table. One day he went to a Christian temperance meeting and turned his life around. He stopped drinking. Now there was food on the table and money for the rent. His family was delighted. However, his co-workers were not; they had lost their drinking buddy. They teased him endlessly, and one day one of them asked him sarcastically "Do you really believe Jesus Christ turned water into wine?" The man answered, "I don’t know about that, but if you come over to my house I’ll show you how he turned beer into furniture!"
Recalling and recounting what Jesus has done and continues to do for me strikes me as a very good Lenten practice.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

I love blogging

I found (yet another) social media platform, Bloglovin.

So, here's the point and pitch of this post: Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Christ can live in you

In my estimation, St Mark's Gospel is beautiful for what I like to call its fierce brevity. Our Gospel for this First Sunday of Lent, which tells us about when Jesus emerged from the wilderness after spending 40 days fasting and praying, all the while being tempted by Satan, as well as being ministered to by angels, is one of my favorite Gospel passages.

Jesus came to usher in the reign of God, the kingdom of God. Of course, the kingdom will not be realized in full until His return in glory. In the meantime, Jesus' disciples, whom Dallas Willard helpfully designates "apprentices," are to be about the work of establishing God's reign, which is not only not of this world, but stands in stark contrast and even contradiction to it. Bringing about God's kingdom, being small pockets where God reigns supreme, is really what the Church, the ekklesia, the assembly, exists to do/be.

The beginning of the kingdom, which is within us, is repentance. I think it's important to note that, according to Jesus, repenting comes before believing. Very often we think believing precedes repenting, but this is to reduce faith, pistis (the word translated in this passage as "believe"- which, I think, is a very weak translation) merely to intellectual assent to a proposition or proposal. As we saw a few Sundays ago (see "If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts"), even the demons believe that Jesus is Lord.

The Greek word used in this passage for "repent" is a variant of the word metanoia. Metanoia is a call to literally turn around, to have a change of mind, a call to convert. It's easy to lose sight of the ordinary way words are employed theologically; to convert simply means to change from one thing into something else, as in "She converted a trash can into a lovely planter in which she now grows flowers." Hence, the call to those would heed Jesus is to be transformed, converted, not into something, or someone, else, but precisely into who God created and redeemed you to be.

We call the process of conversion "sanctification," being made holy, which is the vocation of all the baptized. It is significant to note that, in addition to the older and more familiar "Remember you are dust..." formula, the other statement the Roman Missal gives us for the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday, which is right out of today's Gospel, is- "Repent, and believe in the Gospel."

As for the word "believe" in our passage today, it is, as alluded to above, a weak translation of a variant of the Greek word pistis. In koine Greek pistis is to gnosis what faith is to knowledge in English (the two are not opposed, but complement each other). Pistis means being persuaded and, as a result, coming to trust. This happens through experience, which is why repenting precedes believing. As used in non-scriptural ancient Greek texts, pistis referred to a guarantee, or a warranty. So, generally-speaking, when used in Scripture, pistis (i.e., faith/believing) is God's warranty, or guarantee, which we can only trust by experiencing it for ourselves first-hand. Jesus is God's guarantee. Hence, Jesus' call to repent is a call to trust Him when He says, "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe [this] good news."

In the first volume of his trilogy on Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI noted that Jesus is "called autobasileia, that is, the Kingdom in person. Jesus himself is the Kingdom; the Kingdom is not a thing, it is not a geographical dominion like worldly kingdoms. It is a person; it is he" (49). In this dimension "Jesus leads men to realize the overwhelming fact that in him God himself is present among them, that he is God's presence" (49). Of course, after His death, resurrection, and ascension Christ sent the Holy Spirit, which, as Luke Timothy Johnson, in his book Living Jesus: Learning the Heart of the Gospel, pointed out, "is the mode of Jesus' resurrection presence to the world" (15).

In his song "Live This Mystery," Michael Card sang, "The mystery of life in Christ/Is Christ can live in you." Christ can live in you by the power of the Holy Spirit, which is why the kingdom of God is within. Everything hinges on your inner transformation, your repentance, you conversion, which is Christ's work, done by the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ's work is your work, if you are His disciple, His apprentice. As a result, this work, which is designed to lead you to the Cross and beyond so that you may take hold of the life that is truly life (1 Tim 6:19), requires your full, active, and conscious participation .

Hearkening back to our first reading, Jesus did not come merely to usher in the "new and everlasting covenant" between us and God. Jesus is the new and everlasting covenant between us and God, as we concretely experience each time we receive Him in the Eucharist.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

"How long shall they kill our prophets"?: Remembering Malcom X

Perusing my Twitter feed this morning I ran across a link to Tim Stanley's article in Great Britain's Telegraph newspaper alerting me to the fact that today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X: "Malcolm X's assassination robbed the world of a Muslim civil rights visionary." At least from where I sit, I think Stanley is spot on (see "MLK/Human Rights Day- X Factor Ed(Add?)ition").

Stanley begins his article by noting that, at the time of his murder at the hands of agents of the Nation of Islam (the radical group with which he had be associated until his conversion to Sunni Islam), Malcolm was not held in high esteem, even by the liberal media. It is not much of an exaggeration to say that, in many quarters, his untimely death was seen as something largely positive.

"Fifty years on," Stanley notes, "Malcolm’s reputation is very different. With a better understanding of what Malcolm really thought and what he really stood for, he now stands out as a prophet of the civil rights era and the embodiment of black pride."

In terms of religion, Malcolm was not content to wait for an ethereal kingdom that was to come, a view tailor-made to let the gross injustices he experienced first-hand as a black man in the twentieth century United States stand.

Malcolm X

It seems to me that the function of a prophet, for the most part, is not to mystically and magically foretell the future (we can leave that to the spiritualists of all stripes), but to diagnose what ails us and to simply point out the devastating effects of our dis-ease with each other and so with God. In fact, the Scripture reading for Morning Prayer this Saturday after Ash Wednesday notes this with clarity:
Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow. Come now, let us set things right, says the LORD (Isa 1:16-18a)
This is perfectly consistent with Pope Francis' call to the Church this Lent to resist what he calls "a globalization of indifference." In His own words, our Lord told us that He was sent "to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free" (Luke 4:18). Because we're not angels, there is no such thing as "spiritual liberation" that does not also include both mind and body.

"Nowadays," Stanley points out, "we’ve been trained by media portrayals to see Islam as politically radicalising and divisive." It is important not to forget, he continues, that Islam "helped transform Malcolm from a black leader who preached separation into a proponent of the hope that African-Americans could advance as part of a broader coalition with oppressed people – something closer to a socialist. Now advocating democratic participation." As proof, Stanley cites this quote of Malcolm's, made after his conversion from the weird sectarian version of Islam espoused by the Nation: "It's time for us to submerge our differences and realize that it is best for us to first see that we have the same problem, a common problem — a problem that will make you catch hell whether you're a Baptist, or a Methodist, or a Muslim, or a nationalist."

It would've been a shame pass over this anniversary in silence. No matter what your view of Malcolm X, who was murdered when only 39 years-old, I hope we can all agree that we were deprived of a valuable voice and, at least in my view, we've been poorer for it.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Miserere mei, Deus

It seems fitting, more than fitting, that King's College Choir singing Psalm 51, known by its first words in Latin, Miserere mei, Deus ("Have mercy on me, O God") is our Friday tradito for this first Friday of Lent. Of course, Psalm 51 is the first Psalm for Morning Prayer each Friday. Just as all Sundays, including those during Lent, are, in effect, "Easters," that is, celebrations of our Lord's resurrection, all Fridays, excepting those on which a Solemnity falls, are "Good Fridays," that is, a day we recall the greatest act of love imaginable.

God is kind and merciful, slow to anger and quick to forgive. In short, God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son to ransom us from sin and death. Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to save it (John 3:16-17).

The word "Lent" comes from the old English, "lencten," which means "spring." So, Lent is a time of re-birth. Lent prepares us to renew our baptismal promises at Easter. Lent is not a time for despair, but a time of joy born of hope and gratitude.

A clean heart create for me, God;
renew within me a steadfast spirit
Do not drive me from before your face,
nor take from me your holy spirit
Restore to me the gladness of your salvation;
uphold me with a willing spirit

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday: Lent begins

Since sharing my views on things these days seems to anger quite a few people, I'll go ahead and lead off my post for Ash Wednesday by simply stating that chief among the questions I truly despise is, "What are you giving up for Lent?" In the first place, it's none of your business- pray, fast, give alms in secret and all that (Matt 6:1-8.16-18). I know, God knows, and my spiritual director knows. Among my reasons for disliking this question is not because what I am giving up is some great secret, or that I would never tell anyone. Along the way I may well divulge some of what I am doing and not doing for Lent. Primarily it is because these things are means to an end, not ends in themselves. Let's be honest, the reason most people ask others that question is because they're dying to tell the person they ask what they are giving up. At the expense of sounding harsh, I don't care what you are giving up for Lent. Even so, may God draw you closer Himself through whatever you're doing or not doing for Lent.

I am not in a position to say if my approach to Lent over the years is typical or not. Suffice it to say for many years I was pretty indifferent to Lent as a season of doing anything extra. From the time I became Catholic in 1990 until about 2006 or 2007 I simply endeavored to do what the Church asks of me: to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstain from the meat of warm-blooded animals on Fridays of Lent, unless a solemnity, like the Annunciation or St Joseph, fell on Friday, or possibly St Patrick's day, when the bishop might issue permission to forego Lenten discipline. But for several years, beginning around 2006-2007, I became a kind of Lenten enthusiast, who sought to go over and above. Over the past four or five years I have found a ways of observing Lent that help me strike a better balance and stay focused on what this whole exercise is about: drawing closer to God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.

There are two quotes that have helped me enter into and, dare I say, benefit from Lent the past few years. The first is by James Kushiner, an Orthodox Christian, who succinctly noted- "A discipline won’t bring you closer to God. Only God can bring you closer to Himself. What the discipline is meant to do is to help you get yourself, your ego, out of the way so you are open to His grace." This helps me to think about what I might give up, that is, not do, for Lent as well as what I will do.

The second quote, which I received second hand in an article, is from an Ash Wednesday homily delivered by English Passionist Fr Harry Williams quite a few years ago:
It is a pity that we think of Lent as a time when we try to make ourselves uncomfortable in some fiddling but irritating way. And it’s more than a pity, it’s a tragic disaster, that we also think of it as a time to indulge in the secret and destructive pleasure of doing a good orthodox grovel to a pseudo-Lord, the Pharisee in each of us we call God and who despises the rest of what we are
His point, at least as I take it, is, You are loved by God and whatever you do or choose not to do for Lent must have this as its basis.

The ashes we receive are a sign of hope, not despair. Let's not forget that even though Lent is penitential, penance that is truly Christian is joyful. In other words, there is no need during Lent to pretend that Jesus Christ isn't risen from the dead and reigning at the right of the Father, or that the Holy Spirit goes AWOL for six weeks each year.

It seems to me that there are three fundamental spiritual disciplines taught us by our Lord Himself that constitute any genuine Christian spirituality. The Church reminds of these each year in our Gospel passage for Ash Wednesday: prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. One way to look at these is that fasting is what you plan to give up (i.e., not do) during Lent, alms-giving is what you plan to do positively for others. Prayer? Prayer is really and truly the bedrock of life of with God, of Christian life. Prayer is something almost all of us need to "waste" way more time doing. Fasting without prayer is dieting. Alms-giving without prayer fails to bring hope, to meet the deepest human need, the need that only One can meet.

My prayer for everyone reading this is that God will draw you closer to Himself during this holy, joy-filled, season.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Who can make me whole again?

Readings: Lev 13:1-2.44-46; Ps 32:1-2.5.11; 1 Cor 10:31-11:1; Mark 1:40-45

"I do will it. Be made clean." It's difficult for me to imagine any words Jesus could speak that would be as beautiful as these words spoken to this leper.

Time and again, after caving into what Francis Spufford, in his book, with which I have a few qualms, but one that also bothered me in all the right ways, Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense, dubs the HPtFtU (i.e., Human Potential to F@*# things Up- an original name for original sin), I come to Jesus and say to Him, "If you wish, you can make me clean."

This potential, which for me is a tendency, at least with regard to certain things (more than I care admit), is more deadly than leprosy. The Lord Himself warned His followers not to "be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul," but "be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna" (Matt 10:28). As a result, I have an unhealthy fear of myself.

Never yet, even once, has Jesus withheld His mercy from me. Each time He says, "I do will it. Be made clean." I don't know why He gazes on me with such tenderness. I have no clue as to why my plight moves Him to pity. I am stubborn, prideful, recalcitrant (look it up- see 2b).

Christ Healing a Leper, by Rembrandt, 1650-55

Like Spufford, belief in God, faith in Christ, has not magically removed my HPtFtU. Quite the contrary:
I have not been told to take it easy because I'm OK and you're OK. Instead I have been shown the authentic bad news about myself, in a perspective which is so different from the tight focus of my desperation that it is good news in itself (pg 64)
That I need Jesus is good news, indeed. It's the best possible news there is, which is why, like the cured leper in today's Gospel, I can't help but tell others not only what Jesus has done for me, but what He continues to do for me, even as I try not game His love and mercy by living in a presumptive manner.

This is the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is the day we acknowledge that we are dust, and unto dust we shall return. But, as Christians, we acknowledge death in the fervent hope that from dust we shall rise again, or, as St Paul stated it- "when this which is corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility and this which is mortal clothes itself with immortality, then the word that is written shall come about:

'Death is swallowed up in victory.

Where, O death, is your victory?

Where, O death, is your sting?'" (1 Cor 15:54-55).

Jesus, I trust in You.

It's hard to believe that this is my 2,900th post here on Καθολικός διάκονος.