Rescued – Part 1

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I am writing this blog post the day after Christmas. The day on which all Christians celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It was on this day that we were given the gift of hope and new creation. Why? Exactly why did Jesus come to earth? Was it merely to teach us parables and give us new commandments? No. He came to RESCUE us. I am sharing what I have learned from a tremendous book by Fr. John Riccardo. Rescued: The Unexpected and Extraordinary News of the Gospel is an amazing book and one that you should definitely read. Today I want to discuss the third part of this book.

Remember, in the last two posts, we learned how we have been captured by Satan because he HATES us. Satan’s ultimate goal is to destroy, degrade and enslave us. He’s doing a pretty good job at it, too. What did God do? Did he send others to see if they could free us? No. He came HIMSELF. We are so important to him that the creator of everything came to earth to fight for us.

“”The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.””

Luke 4:18-21 (NABRE)

Why would he do this? Why did Jesus take on human form? He did this to fight for you and me.

“Whoever sins belongs to the devil, because the devil has sinned from the beginning. Indeed, the Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the devil.”

1 John 3:8 (NABRE)

Wow. Jesus came down to destroy our enemy and set us free. If this was a movie we would see him getting into his uniform, gathering his weapons, putting on his face paint, and really gearing up for the battle ahead of him. The inspiring rock music would let us know just how serious and courageous this warrior really is and the big task that he has ahead of him. He would be muscular, athletic, and undaunted. Just looking at him would reassure you and make you think that everything will be okay.

Yet, I’ve never heard my church portray this version of Jesus. Have you? Is this new information to you, too? You hear about how Jesus is love, how he is compassionate and heals the sick, he teaches us parables so that we know that God loves us and forgives us no matter how bad we’ve been in the past, and that we can get to our Father only through Jesus. To be completely honest, I had always pictured Jesus as a wandering hippie who was trying to turn everybody’s heart to God. This Jesus in my mind was mild-mannered, softly spoken, and not very interesting. Boy, was I wrong!! Maybe it’s because when I read the stories about Jesus turning water into wine, giving the blind sight and raising people from the dead, it doesn’t seem “real” to me. It’s similar to when you were in history class and your teacher stood there telling you about past events in a flat voice that almost lulled you to sleep. Yet, how many times have you read a different approach to the same event and saw it in a completely different (and much more fascinating) manner?

Instead of just reading the words, let’s use the Ignatian method of reading scripture and actually put ourselves in those moments. There are so many examples, but I want to focus on just one. Let’s take a look at the woman with a hemorrhage.

“There was a woman afflicted with hemorrages for twelve years. She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and had spent all that she had. Yet she was not helped but only grew worse. She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak. She said, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.” Immediately her flow of blood dried up. She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him, turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who has touched my clothes?” But his disciples said to him, “You see how the crowd is pressing upon you, and yet you ask, ‘Who touched me?'” And he looked around to see who had done it. The woman, realizing what had happened to her, approached in fear and trembling. She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.'”

Mark 5:25-34 (NABRE)

You may need to read that a few times, but feel the emotions of hoplessness that the woman must have felt after suffering for so many years. She had spent EVERYTHING she had in order to be cured, but nothing worked. Then, somehow, she hears about Jesus. He can heal the sick. Others talk in amazement about the leper who was cured and the other man who had been possessed and how easily it seemed that Jesus was able to cure them. If he could cure leprosy and exorcised demons, then maybe he could cure her, too. She didn’t have money, but she had hope and faith. When she saw him in the crowd something made her go up and touch his cloak, knowing that just the slight touch would cure her. She had THAT much faith. And it worked!

Now flip it around and imagine being in the crowd trying to catch a glimpse of this Jesus character. You’d heard all the stories, too, and you were curious. What did he look like? How did he act? Would you be able to tell that there was anything special about him just by being near him? Then you see him stop and ask who had touched him. Hmmm, this was interesting. Where was this going? The guys traveling with him seemed to dismiss this reaction, but you can see on Jesus face that something happened. You notice a woman come out of the crowd to fall down in front of him. You are close enough to hear her story and read her face, which convinces you that every word she has spoken is true. This is amazing! The joy, amazement and awe on her face clearly beams out for everybody to see. Then lovingly Jesus tells her that her faith has saved her and to go in peace. What feelings do you experience from having witnessed this exchange? Can you imagine how much more powerful it would be if you were actually there?

The feelings that were experienced as crowds witnessed these actions were what caused Jesus to be so interesting. Yet, how often are we bored in church wondering how busy the breakfast place is going to be after we get out? How often do we dismiss the miracles that Jesus did? How often are we afraid to even say his name because it might ‘offend’ somebody? He wasn’t just a random hippie blowing through these various towns. He was awesome. He did things that nobody had ever seen before. The tales that went raging ahead of him had to seem unbelievable until you finally saw him and could absolutely believe everything that was said. This was a guy who caused tax collectors (the greediest, most affluent, and wealthy people in a town), prostitutes, gamblers and others who were only out for their own pleasure, to drop what they were doing and follow him. He drew crowds of thousands!! People had to tear open other people’s roofs in order to get their sick friends close enough for healing. Back when the population wasn’t very big, this was a huge deal. Think of Elvis, the Beatles, New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys, and One Direction all rolled into one. That’s the kind of presence that Jesus had. In fact, he had such an aura of power about him that the Pharisees instantly hated him and wanted him killed; Herrod had been so afraid that he had ordered all males under the age of 3 to be killed (and this was when Jesus was just a BABY). What person has that kind of power that exudes from him so that all can feel it without having to be IN his presence? This is Jesus, our Lord and Savior, who has come to destroy Satan’s hold on us. As I leave you this week with these thoughts to mull over I want to add just a little more kindling to the fire.

“For when peaceful stillness encompassed everything and the night in its swift course was half spent, your all-powerful word from heaven’s royal throne leapt into the doomed land, a fierce warrior bearing the sharp sword of your inexorable decree.”

Wisdom 18:14-15 (NABRE)

Captured – Part 1

Image by Ronald Plett from Pixabay

Today I am continuing to try to teach you what I’ve learned from Father John Riccardo’s book Rescued: The Unexpected and Extraordinary News of the Gospel. I highly recommend this book. If you get a chance, please read it!

In the first part we learned about why God created us and that we have a purpose. We learned about His incredible love for us. We know that we are more beloved to God than anything else that He has created. That’s all great, isn’t it? Then how come life is such a mess? If he’s such a loving God then why do terrible things happen to good people? Why is there poverty and hunger? Why do children die of cancer? Why do people suffer?

In order to figure this out we need to go back to before the beginning. The Bible doesn’t tell us EVERYTHING that God created, it only tells one part of it: our story. It doesn’t tell us everything that was in existence before God decided to start making our universe. We are given a hint, though, that God wasn’t alone. “Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26, NACBRE) Obviously there was somebody else with him. We already know that Jesus and the Holy Spirit were there (John 1:1-5). As you read through the Bible you realize that God just assumes that you know he has his Angel Corps working, too. In fact, after Adam and Eve are kicked out of Eden, God posts two sentries at the gate to protect the tree of life. “He expelled the man, stationing the cherubim and the fiery revolving sword east of the gard of Eden, to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Genesis 3:24, NABRE). You might wonder, like I did, why He didn’t come out and tell you about the angels at the beginning. After all, at least a couple of them have big parts in the Bible. Then I thought about all of the biographies I’ve read and they never tell you about stuff that isn’t very pertinent to the story. If I was writing a book about my life I wouldn’t have to tell you that I have grandparents because you would just assume that I did. God trusts that we don’t have to be given every little detail in order to understand what’s going on. As it becomes important we are given the information.

God created EVERYTHING, including angels. He gave them some pretty sweet powers and special jobs. There were the two angels that He sent to Sodom and Gomorrah and we can’t forget the angel Gabriel who appeared to Mary to tell her that she will be the mother of the Son of the Most High. Did we need to know what the angels names were who went to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah? Apparently not because they aren’t ever mentioned. So we can see that angels are very special beings who serve God and are with him all the time, even if we don’t know exactly how many there are or what each of them do.

In fact, we don’t even realize that we are introduced to one of the fallen angels at the very beginning of the Bible. We know that we’ve just been shown how we were expelled from the Garden and that Death entered the world, but we aren’t told that it was all due to a bitter and envious ex-angel, Lucifer, until much later.

“How you have fallen from the heavens, O Morning Star, son of the dawn! How you have been cut down to the earth, you who conquered nations! In your heart you said: ‘I will scal the heavens; Above the stars of God I will set up my throne; I will take my seat on the Mount of Assembly, on the heights of Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will be like the Most High!'”

Isaiah 14:12-14 (NABRE)

A translation of ‘O Morning Star’ is ‘Lucifer.’

“You were a seal of perfection, full of wisdom, perfect in beauty.

In Eden, the garden of God, you lived; precious stones of every kind were your covering: Carnelain, topaz, and beryl, chrysolite, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, garnet, and emerald.

Their mounts and settings were wrought in gold, fashioned for you the day you were created.

With a cherub I placed you; I put you on the holy mountain of God, where you walked among fiery stones.

Blameless were you in your ways from the day you were created, Until evil was found in you.”

Ezekiel 28:12b-15 (NABRE)

Both Isaiah and Ezekiel tell us that Lucifer was part of God’s group of angels, but then out of his own free will, he became evil. God didn’t create him to be evil. Everything that God created was good. So how did Lucifer become evil?

“But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who are allied with him experience it.”

Wisdom 2:24 (NABRE)

Okay, I think I’m starting to see the picture. To be sure, though, let’s take a look at the definition of envy. “A feeling of discontent or covetousness with regard to another’s advantages, success, possessions, etc.” per Dictionary.com. What other words can be substituted for envy? Hatred, ill will, malice, prejudice, resentment, rivalry, coveting, maliciousness, spite…

Isaiah says that the Devil’s problem was he wanted to be more powerful than God. Then Ezekiel states that the Devil lived in Eden and was placed among the most precious things, and that he had been good until the day that he came down with a case of the Evil. Why? Due to Envy. What did the Devil envy? Here he is, hanging out in Eden, enjoying the beautiful weather and looking at everything God has created. There are plants, fish and creatures of every kind. Everything is great! But then…. God created humans. Humans weren’t created to serve as slaves for God (despite what some other ancient myths would have you believe), instead they were created to be equal with the angels. And God loved them so much!! Apparently He loved them even more than the angels because they seemed to have a special relationship. Knowing God and how things go in the grand scheme of things, Lucifer probably figured that the angels would have to serve these creatures who were not nearly as powerful or special as they were, and that these humans were destined to be as great, if not greater, than him! This is where the feeling of discontent regarding another’s advantages and success comes in. Why should a powerful being like him have to serve those gross humans?? So he came up with a plan and carried it out with great success, for the most part. Sure he was kicked out of the garden, but so were the humans and now they would also be subject to Death. Death is a power that we can’t control. No matter what you do, Death will eventually get you and everybody you love.

That’s why there is evil in the world. HATRED. RIVALRY. MALICE. RESENTMENT. The Devil HATES you. He doesn’t hate God. HE HATES YOU. He knows the kind of forgiving love that God has for all of us, so it’s the Devil’s job to make sure that you turn from that love. Not only does he want to separate you from the love of God, but he wants to degrade and enslave you. I guess in one way that also gives him more power than God; the power and control that he holds over drug addicts is often more powerful than any willpower or love of God. Think of any of the other sins: lust, greed, gluttony, sloth, wrath, envy, prejudice. If you have fallen under the spell of one of these, then you know the power and control that the Devil holds over you. It’s not easy to shake off, but God loves us and has given us the Devil’s playbook so that we can learn the strategies that are employed against us and how we can twart them. But that will have to wait until next time…

God Will Take Care of Him

“Let us lie in wait for the righteous one, because he is annoying to us; he opposes our actions, Reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training. He professes to have knowledge of God and styles himself a child of the Lord. To us he is the censure of our thoughts; merely to see him is a hardship for us,

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Because his life is not like that of others, and different are his ways. He judges us debased; he holds aloof from our paths as from things impure. He calls blest the destiny of the righteous and boasts that God is his Father. Let us see whether his words be true; let us find out what will happen to him in the end. For if the righteous one is the son of God, God will help him and deliver him from the hand of his foes. With violence and torture let us put him to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness and try his patience. Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him.” ~Wisdom 2:12-20 (NABRE)

Even though this passage comes from the book of Wisdom, the story is very familiar to us. You would think that this was one of the Pharisees writing an internal memo to the rest of the group. These were the guys who should have known this story because they were the men of God. Yet, they acted it out as if they had been memorizing their lines and rehearsing for their moment.

Let’s pretend, though, that we don’t know this story. We don’t know about Jesus and the crucifixion. With this in mind, go back and re-read that passage. Now what do you see? I see a rough street gang who is angry at the world and doesn’t care who comes down the street next because they need a target. Is it due to envy? Jealousy? An incorrect sense of injustice? They see somebody who represents what they want, but don’t have, so they are going to take out their rage on him. Why? It doesn’t make sense to me.

When I was in sixth or seventh grade we had a new girl attending our school. I had no idea who she was, but she was in a few of my classes so I knew of her. For the most part I was too involved with my friends and my interests to really pay attention to random new people. Until one day after gym class we were in the locker room waiting for the bell to ring and release us to our next class. My best friend and I were sitting there chatting about something when we heard a commotion. I looked up and saw that almost all of the other girls had surrounded this new girl and had her pinned up against the wall. I don’t remember what they were saying to her, but it wasn’t nice and they were kicking at her. I told them to knock it off and tried to wade my way into the group, but they started to kick me. I ran to the gym teacher’s office and told her what was going on. She came out and let those girls have it! For the next several weeks I was NOT a favorite among the other girls, but that didn’t bother me because I really didn’t have much use for them. Well, that new girl looked on me and my friend as her heroes and she attached herself to us. After a few months she ended up transferring to another school, but every once in a while her cousin (who was also in our class) would tell us that she still talked about how great my friend and I were.

I don’t understand the mindset that says, “That person is different than me so I need to go beat them up or hurt them in some way!” As long as they aren’t bothering me, hurting others or infringing on my rights, I don’t care what they do. Let them live their life! If I’m infringing on their right, then I would like to hear about it in a mature and non-violent fashion. What does violence solve? In our modern world all it does is cause more violence and the losers end up harboring hurt feelings which then typically flare into more violence. It’s a horrible circle that doesn’t ever seem to end.

We all know that in order for us to be saved, Jesus had to die on that cross. So in this one case, violence and jealousy actually led to a very good end for everybody (except Jesus). Look back at that passage and read the last few sentences where they are planning to do evil. How can they feel that even if they aren’t about to test the son of God, that they should be following through with that kind of behavior? How can they feel justified? It’s because the whole thing is about THEM and how THEY FEEL. The feelings of others don’t matter. They are self-centered and selfish. They don’t want to be judged, but yet they are judging somebody else. They are offended that he considers them to be impure and yet they don’t see that they are being the hypocrites because they ARE impure and debased! How could they have changed this? They could have improved their behavior and shown that they weren’t any of the things he thought they were! If you know that you aren’t being impure, then what does it matter what the other person thinks? Just because he calls himself a child of the Lord doesn’t mean that you have to test him to see if it’s true. Because guess what, if it is true? You’re in big trouble!

All Things Bright and Beautiful

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God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living. For he fashioned all things that they might have being, and the creatures of the world are wholesome; There is not a destructive drug among them nor any domain of Hades on earth, For righteousness is undying. For God formed us to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made us. But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who are allied with him experience it. ~ Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24 (NABRE)

Death. To you and me that means we cease to live here on earth. Yet, at the beginning death was not part of our existence. God made Adam and then gave him a warning.

The Lord God gave the man this order: You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die.

Genesis 2:16-17 (NABRE)

Did Adam know what “death” meant? Did he realize what the consequences really meant? If he had, do you think he would have eaten the apple?

What happens when we die? Some people believe that nothing happens. You just cease to exist. Others believe that you go to Heaven (or Hell, if you were bad enough). This is the big unknown in life. After all, all those who have experienced death aren’t here to tell us about it. There are some near death experiences where people say that they have been reunited with loved ones, that they end up in God’s presence and essentially are taken to a Christian version of heaven.

Heaven is being back in God’s presence. Hell is the absence of God. Think about it. God is love. God is light. When you are filled with love and light, you are filled with such joy! That is just a hint of what it will be like to be back in His presence. God loves us so much that he doesn’t want to be separated from us completely. This is why he has given us a “second chance.” When we die and leave our physical presence here on earth we then pass onto another plane of existence where we continue to live in a different state of being. It is the hope and promise of being back in His existence that gives us the fortitude to suffer through our lives.

What’s the harm of believing in God and His love for us? If I believe that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior and that God is the only way, then I believe that I will one day pass onto the next realm where I will be reunited with loved ones and, most importantly, God. There is no death because through Jesus Christ death was arrested and we will live forever. In this way we are still the creatures that God created and we are imperishable. No matter what, if you believe, death no longer has any hold over you.

I would like to recommend a book to you that I feel is something that every Christian should have on their bookshelf. I read it every year, usually around the anniversary of my sister’s death, because it bolsters my hope and belief in the fact that I will see my loved ones again. The book is Imagine Heaven by John Burke.