Thursday, March 15, 2018

New Heavens and New Earth

Seeing the seeds of the kingdom in human hearts
Isaiah 65:17-21 Thus says the LORD: Lo, I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; The things of the past shall not be remembered or come to mind. Instead, there shall always be rejoicing and happiness in what I create; For I create Jerusalem to be a joy and its people to be a delight; I will rejoice in Jerusalem and exult in my people. No longer shall the sound of weeping be heard there, or the sound of crying; No longer shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not round out his full lifetime; He dies a mere youth who reaches but a hundred years, and he who fails of a hundred shall be thought accursed. They shall live in the houses they build, and eat the fruit of the vineyards they plant.

The Biblical concept of a new heavens and a new earth is found in both the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament. But each Testament has a very different emphasis. Isaiah chapters 65 and 66 speak of a new heaven and a new earth, but clearly it is referring to an earthly manifestation of that newness. The Old Testament really lacked any sense that God would right all wrongs in the next life, after death. Rather, the Jews believed all would be set straight here and now on earth with the restoration of the Davidic Kingdom. Try to read the Old Testament through the lens of earthly fulfillment of these ancient prophesies; that was their original sense, what Scripture scholars call the “literal sense.”

The New Testament speaks of a new heavens and a new earth in the second letter of Peter and in Revelation 21. But the stress of this second half of the Scripture is decidedly different, it is spiritual and other-worldly. That’s one reason Jesus becomes so perturbed in the gospels with the Jews seeking a sign because their desire was for an immediately earthly good – food, bodily healing, more wine! – rather than waiting patiently for heavenly goods. Jesus wants them to turn their eyes more toward heaven.

Be careful not to take this emphasis too far, though. The two Testaments are only emphasizing one side or the other – earth or heaven – they are not excluding one or the other. The best view is always inclusive: both a new heaven and a new earth. Scott Hahn once shrewdly observed: “Don’t be so heavenly-minded that you are no earthly good.” That would capture the concern of the Old Testament. If we flipped that comment around, we would hit the highlight of the New Testament. That would say: “Don’t be so earthly-minded that you are no heavenly good.” In your Christian experience, especially when reading Sacred Scripture, do you tend to emphasize one more than the other: earth more than heaven, or heaven more than earth?

If you ever visit the Vatican, be sure to get a glimpse of arguably one of the most famous paintings of the Renaissance painter, Raphael. In the antechamber, the room you walk through before you walk into the stunning Sistine Chapel, you find one wall covered with the painting called “The School of Athens.” In the center of the Athenian crowd stand Plato and Aristotle, the central figures in the whole history of philosophy. Interestingly, Plato’s hand is pointing upward to the heavens, while Aristotle (Plato’s student) is pointing downward to earth. In his own artistic way, Raphael taught that the School of Athens also saw the need for a new heavens and a new earth, with a proper emphasis but no strict exclusion.

I believe the best way to balance both heaven and earth – and that is why we read the whole Bible – is to begin with our hearts. The first place we see the sprouts from the seeds of the new heavens and the new earth is not in heaven or earth, but in the human heart. I saw those sprouts last night at the Youth Mass. It was packed with people, they were standing three-deep in the back. Half way through the Mass, Deacon Charlie went to the sacristy to retrieve more hosts for consecration and Communion lest we run out. We had two special groups present: one hundred and fourteen teenagers at the end of their Confirmation retreat (not all from I.C.), and twenty people from our RCIA class.

After Communion I sat for a moment with my eyes closed. But my eyes of faith were wide open. In that crowd I beheld the beginnings of the new heavens and the new earth. Everyone in that Mass believed their true home was in heaven. But they also realized deeply that they must make a difference while they walk in this world. Every heart – including mine – was touched, however inchoately, to be both heavenly-minded as well as earthly good. That is the kingdom of God.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Sorry I am not Sorry

Finding good reasons to make a good confession
Ephesians 2:4-10 Brothers and sisters: God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ — by grace you have been saved —, raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.

Catholics love to come up with excuses why they should not go to confession. Therefore, it is the job of priests to convince them they should go to confession. I recently read the story of a German soldier who had been sentenced to death by the French authorities after World War II. But a young priest named Gaston wants to hear his confession before he meets his Maker. Here is how the story unfolds: “The soldier confesses his passion for women and the numerous amorous adventures he has had. The priest explains that he must repent to obtain forgiveness and absolution. The soldier answers, ‘How can I repent? It was something I enjoyed, and if I had the chance I would do it again, even now. How can I repent?’

Father Gaston, who wants to absolve the man who has been marked by destiny and who is about to die, has a stroke of inspiration and asks, ‘But are you sorry that you are not sorry?’ The young man answers impulsively, ‘Yes, I am sorry that I am not sorry.’ In other words, he is sorry for not repenting. That sorrow is the opening that allows the merciful priest to give the man absolution” (The Name of God is Mercy, xxv-xxvi). Catholics use their creative juices to cook up excuses for not confession; therefore priests must find even better recipes of reasons why they should confess. God only needs the smallest crack in the armor around our hearts to pour in his merciful love. Sometimes, just being sorry we are not sorry suffices.

St. Paul, one of the early pastors of the church, puts forward the best reason why Christians should approach Jesus’ merciful love and seek forgiveness of sins. He writes to the Ephesians: “God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions brought us to life with Christ.” Pope St. John Paul II in 1980 wrote a papal document called “Dives in misericordia,” (rich in mercy), based specifically on this passage from Ephesians. St. Paul and the pope both argued that the greatest reason to confess is the overwhelming mercy of God, next to which our sins shrink to insignificance. Sometimes in confession, after someone has listed their sins, I smile and reply, “That’s not so bad.” That always brings a smile to the penitent’s face. I do not say that to minimize the seriousness of sin, but I do want to maximize the greatness of God’s mercy. Imagine how tiny a golf ball would be next to the blazing sun, and that would be the size of our sins next to God’s burning merciful love. He is “dives in misericordia,” and with the slimmest of cracks in our armor, he can pour his mercy into our hearts.

Let me give you three good reasons to go to confession this Lent. This is the same advice I give to the school children. First of all, little children are scared to death that the mean old priest in confession is going to yell at them when they fess their faults. That may seem like a childish fear, but adults feel that as well. So, let me assure you that no priest will yell at you in confession. They teach us in seminary not to exclaim, “You did what??” in confession. You only see that in the movies.

The second thing is that priests can never reveal anything we hear in confession. We must take those sins to the grave. This is called the “seal of the confessional,” meaning our lips are sealed. For example, if a police officer put me in handcuffs and demanded, “Tell me what Dc. Greg said to you in confession!” Would I tell him? No. What if someone offered me a billion dollars to tell them what Dc. Charlie said in his confession, would I tell him? Well, maybe for two billion I would. No, of course I would not even for two billion, or three, or any amount of money. What if the pope himself asked what someone said in confession, would I tell the Holy Father? No, never. Of course, he would never do that, but you get my point. That is probably why God called only men to be priests: men have such terrible memories that we would never remember anything important someone tells us. You are safe coming to a male priest for confession.

And the third thing is the peace you feel after confession. I will never forget how one child was so nervous about making her first confession. But after she finished, she ran back to her mother waiting in the pew, and squealed, “Can I do it again??” God in his infinite wisdom, knowing how hard it is for us to swallow our pride and confess our sins, has hidden a special grace in his sacrament. For all who humbly confess their sins, they know the unique peace that comes from God’s pardon. I am convinced that in the sacrament of confession you can literally feel God’s grace, his embrace of love, he who is “dives in misericordia.” You may not leave confession and squeal “Can I do it again??” But you will feel good, and know God’s peace.

What are your excuses for not going to confession? We all have them and they are a mile long. However, they are only excuses for not being as happy as God wants you to be. In a word, it is happiness you will find when you go to confession. God does not need much of a crack in your armor to pour his rich mercy into your soul. He only needs you to be sorry that you are not sorry.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Primary Color of Humility

Seeing how the virtue of humility holds the secret to all relationships
Luke 18:9-14 Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity — greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

I am convinced the key to happy and healthy human relationships is the virtue of humility. Of course, we need all the virtues for human flourishing (to be the best version of ourselves, as Matthew Kelly says): prudence, justice, courage, temperance, faith, hope and love. But in the arena of relationships (relations with others and ourselves), humility reigns supreme. Let me give you a few examples.

Marriages that struggle and end in divorce have complicated causes and circumstances, to be sure. But I cannot help but wonder if husband and wife had been a little more humble and accepted some blame and extended a little more forgiveness (both of which require humility) the marriage might have been saved. Think about wars that have ravaged the landscape of human history. What would have happened if Hitler had been a little more humble – it is possible World War II might have been averted. The same holds true in any given work setting, in an office, in a factory, on the farm, in a church. The intrigue, gossiping, sabotaging, in-fighting, jealousy, egotism, ambition, and pride would all be swept away in an instant if each employee tried to be more humble.

Humility is also the key to unlock success in the spiritual world of relationships. What made Adam and Eve eat the fruit of the forbidden tree in Eden if not a lack of humility in obeying the command of God? Just be humble and do what God commands, we cry helplessly, instead of thinking you know better than God. But there is no need to blame Adam and Eve alone, you and I do the same thing every time we sin. We disobey God because we think we know better than he does. In our relations with the heavenly hosts, Mary, the angels and the saints, humility helps us see how much we depend on their prayers and protection, while foolish pride prompts us to believe we can go it alone. Humility is the reason for Catholic calisthenics at Mass: bowing, kneeling, standing and sitting. We humble ourselves by bending the knee before God. Humility is also the secret weapon in our battle against Satan. We are not stronger than him, we are not smarter than him, we are not more beautiful than him, we are not more clever than him, we are not more creative than him, we are not more strategic than him, we are not more daring than him. We can only be more humble than him because he does not possess a drop of humility. When we are armed with humility we can withstand the temptations and attacks of the Evil One, and his terrifying kingdom falls like a house of cards.

In our dealings with our brothers and sisters in Christ, our spiritual family, humility must be our watchword. Would the Protestant Reformation have exploded and shattered the unity of Christendom if spiritual leaders were more humble? Would the Catholics and Orthodox churches have split in 1054 if pope and patriarchs had been more humble? Would there have been heresies if heretics were more humble, or persecutions if persecutors had been less prideful? Even in relating to ourselves, isn’t the lack of humility really the root of vanity, and addictions, and ambitions and our greed, our laziness and our lust? A little humility would have healed all those disordered passions. How dramatically different would have been depicted the painting of human history over the wide canvas of creation if humility had been the primary color!

No wonder, then, that Jesus insists so emphatically on his disciples to be more humble. The parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector (publican) who pray in the Temple is ultimately not about prayer, but about humility. Jesus draws the conclusion why the publican’s prayer was deemed acceptable while the Pharisee’s prayer was rejected. Our Lord says: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” With one sentence Jesus has handed humanity the cure to the cancer that plagues all human relationships: from the bedroom to the boardroom to the bordello.

Today, pray for the grace to be more humble. You will not find happiness in any of your relationships without humility. And if everyone on earth tried to be more humble, we would turn the page to a very hopeful chapter in the book of human history.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Pen Pushers

Seeing how the world revolves around the finger of God
Luke 11:14-23 Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute, and when the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke and the crowds were amazed. Some of them said, "By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he drives out demons." Others, to test him, asked him for a sign from heaven. But he knew their thoughts and said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste and house will fall against house. And if Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that it is by Beelzebul that I drive out demons. If I, then, drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own people drive them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man fully armed guards his palace, his possessions are safe. But when one stronger than he attacks and overcomes him, he takes away the armor on which he relied and distributes the spoils. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters."

I am rather fond of the adage, “the pen is mightier than the sword.” It means obviously that the hands wielding pens to write books have changed human history more than military might. Emperors and dictators might demand obedience at the tip of a sword, but hearts are moved to willing obedience and saintly sacrifice at the tip of a pen. How many kingdoms and nations and empires have ascended to power and then descended to be just a footnote in the pages of history but the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John continue to chart the course of humanity’s future?

One pen I am personally grateful for is the one carried in the pocket of St. Francis Xavier. St. Francis was a close companion of St. Ignatius of Loyola, who started the mighty Jesuits. St. Francis traveled to India to evangelize my ancestors, and his hand may have baptized my great, great, great grandfather! A relic of St. Francis’ hand and arm (miraculously preserved from decay) travels all over the world, like St. Francis’ whole body did in the 16th century. St. Francis took up his pen to write to his spiritual brother St. Ignatius, saying: “Again and again, I have thought of going round the universities of Europe, especially Paris, and crying out like a madman, riveting the attention of those with more learning than charity: ‘What a tragedy: how many souls are being shut out of heaven and falling into hell thanks to you!’” My salvation owes more to the pen of St. Francis than to the politics of presidents or prime ministers.

Jesus almost adopts this adage when he explains his power to cast out demons. The people think real power is a kind of physical force, like tanks and battleships. So they say: “By the power of Beelzelub, the prince of demos, he casts out demons.” When the Jews thought of power, they envisioned the armies of the Roman empire that had subjugated them. But Jesus replies: “But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.” The Jews thought that swords and spears defined strength, but Jesus believed that his little finger was stronger than the armies of Caesar or Beelzebub. Satan needs an army, but God needs only a finger. Michaelangelo depicted the power of God’s little finger in the fresco of the creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel. God’s finger reaches out to touch Adam’s finger, bringing him into existence and launching all human history. It was the finger of the Son of God that would recreate humanity into the Church and launch all salvation history. Jesus did precisely that through the pens of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John…and St. Francis Xavier.

Let me suggest to you a couple of ways you can be touched by the finger of God, and feel real power. First of all, read the Bible. Those seventy-three sacred books were not written merely by human hands, but they were co-authored by the Holy Spirit. I admit it can be hard to see God’s hand in the numbing details of Deuteronomy or in the savage battle of the Judges. But it is there. St. Augustine at first turned up his nose at the simple and unsophisticated style of the Scriptures. But after his conversion, he wrote hardly one paragraph without quoting some Bible verse, just read his Confessions.

And second read the writings of the saints, like St. Francis Xavier. You have probably already done that if you have read anything written by Pope John Paul II, or Mother Teresa. I would also suggest getting Bishop Taylor’s book on Blessed Stanley Rother. The saints knew better than anyone that the pen is mightier than the sword. They often died by the sword, but their writings are more alive today then the legacy of those who persecuted them.

“But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.” The world revolves not around the tip of a sword, but around the tip of a pen; indeed, around the tip of the finger of God.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Feng Shui

Seeing the hidden harmony in God’s creation
Matthew 5:17-19 Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”

Have you ever heard the term “feng shui” before? It refers to a Chinese philosophy that espouses that everything has a proper place and particular purpose in this world. Nothing is irrelevant or insignificant. And if you listen carefully, you can almost catch a hidden harmony in the cosmos. Now, my point is not to teach you Chinese philosophy today. But there is a little overlap with Christian spirituality. If you ever visit a Catholic cemetery, you will notice all the tombstones are usually facing the same direction, namely, east. Why? Christians believe that Jesus will return at the end of time like the sun rising in the east, and we all want to be facing the right direction when he returns! The Chinese call that hidden harmony between how we bury the dead and the rising sun “feng shui,” but we Christians call that faith. Christian faith allows us to see the deeper connectedness between all things, and ultimately our connection to God.

I feel very honored and blessed to have a quartet from the Fort Smith Symphony at Mass today. If you have never been to the symphony, you should definitely go. These guys are better than the Zac Brown Band! It is very easy to hear that hidden harmony that the Chinese call feng shui at a classical concert. Every instrument is indispensable, each one serves a specific purpose – from the thunderous kettle drums to the soft and sensitive violin. For the keenly trained ears of the maestro, who conducts the symphony, however, the harmony would be utterly shattered if each and every instrument did not find its proper place and fulfill its particular purpose. The Chinese would call the sounds of a classical concert a sort of musical feng shui. Johann Sebastian Bach might call that faith.

Jesus talks about a hidden harmony that exists even in the law, the Ten Commandments God gave Moses on Mount Sinai. Listen to how respectful Jesus is about the whole law of God, and even each of its tiny parts. He says: “Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter, will pass from the law, until all these things have taken place.” I sometimes hear people say, “I don’t need to go to confession. After all, I didn’t kill anyone or rob a bank!” That may be true. But have you told lies? Have you had lust in your heart? Have you eaten to excess? Some sins are like kettle drums and easy to notice (like murder), while other sins are spiritually softer and sound like a violin and therefore we can easily ignore them. A mature Christian, however, can hear a sort of holy harmony that reverberates through the whole law, and tries to keep all the commandments, from greatest to the least. The Chinese might call harmony in the law feng shui, but Jesus would call that deeper connection the vision of faith.

Today I want to tell you how I see a hidden harmony in this whole school. Each student and every teacher contributes his or her unique sound to the educational symphony that is Trinity Junior High. Sometimes we think it is only the really smart students or the outstanding athletes or those who win awards and honors who make this school special. They are important, of course. But they are only half of the harmony of Trinity. There are also some student who may not make all A’s, or stand out in sports, or excel in extracurricular activities. Your softer sounds, like the violin in a symphony, like the smallest letter of the law, are the other half of the harmony of Trinity. I don’t want any student to think you don’t count or you don’t matter here at Trinity.

Be careful, boys and girls, don’t write someone off, or ignore them, or be mean to someone just because you can’t hear the music they contribute to this school. Sometimes students even transfer from one school to another because they don’t get along with another student. I can understand that, but that also makes me sad.  Why? Because you missed the hidden harmony among all the students and teachers who make up the symphony here at Trinity. There would never be a symphony if we were all kettle drums.

Praised be Jesus Christ!


Learning from children how to grow in health and holiness
2 Kings 5:1-15AB Naaman, the army commander of the king of Aram, was highly esteemed and respected by his master, for through him the LORD had brought victory to Aram. But valiant as he was, the man was a leper. Now the Arameans had captured in a raid on the land of Israel a little girl, who became the servant of Naaman's wife. "If only my master would present himself to the prophet in Samaria," she said to her mistress, "he would cure him of his leprosy." Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha's house. The prophet sent him the message: "Go and wash seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will heal, and you will be clean." But Naaman went away angry, saying, "I thought that he would surely come out and stand there to invoke the LORD his God, and would move his hand over the spot, and thus cure the leprosy. Are not the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be cleansed?" With this, he turned about in anger and left. But his servants came up and reasoned with him. "My father," they said, "if the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, would you not have done it? All the more now, since he said to you, 'Wash and be clean,' should you do as he said." So Naaman went down and plunged into the Jordan seven times at the word of the man of God. His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

Can you always tell the difference between being childish and being childlike? I think we can learn a lot of wisdom from children, but we have to keep this difference in mind: not every word that falls from their lips is a pearl of great price. Here is an example where it was. I was at a family’s home for supper recently and the ten year old daughter asked me: “Why do you drive your car to church for Mass while Fr. Pius walks across the street?” Caught completely off guard, I stammered some lame answer saying: “Well, I might have an emergency and have to rush to the hospital.” To which she calmly retorted: “Well, you can just walk back across the street and get your car.” After some thought, I realized she was right and I was just making excuses for being lazy.

On the other hand, sometimes children are simply being childish and speaking from immaturity and ignorance. It is amazing what children will do for a free dress day in Catholic school so they don’t have to wear their uniforms, or for a pizza party. They would gladly jump off the Arkansas river bridge and plummet to their death as long as I promised them a Sonic drink. There is nothing particularly wise and noble about that, and we do not want to imitate that behavior. “Childlike” teaches us what to do, while “childish” tells us what not to do.

Naaman, the Syrian general, tries to figure out the difference between childlike and childish behavior in 2 Kings. He suffers from the dread disease of leprosy, and a Jewish slave girl suggests he seek healing in Israel. When he finally relents and goes (against his better judgment), the prophet Elisha (Elijah’s protégé) tells him to wash in the Jordan River seven times. Naaman thinks this is childish tomfoolery, and complains: “Are not the rivers of Damascus, the Abana, and the Pharpar better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be cleansed?” Naaman sounded a lot like me making excuses for my laziness driving across Rogers Ave. But when he finally accepted this childlike wisdom, what is his reward? We read: “His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.” Because he listened to childlike wisdom, he was rewarded with childlike skin. The spiritual symbolism is obvious: listening to childlike wisdom leads not only to health but also to holiness.

Let me ask you again: can you always tell the difference between being childlike and childish? Someday you may enjoy reading Robert Fulghum’s book called All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. He tries to tap into that childlike wisdom we all learned (but have since forgotten) when we were five years old, such as: put things back where you found them, keep your hands to yourself, share your toys with others, clean up your own mess, be kind to one another, and live a balanced life of work, play and study. How often as adults and leaders we ignore these basic rules for a happy life by making excuses for our laziness or our ego or our pride, just like me and just like Naaman. But when we remember a little childlike wisdom, we can grow in health and holiness.

Let me leave you with another glimpse into childlike wisdom from Isaiah 11:6, which prophesies how peaceful things will be with the arrival of the Messiah, who he envisioned as a little boy. The prophet says: “Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat; The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.” Perhaps there might be a little more peace today if a little Child guided us.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Know and Love

Knowing Jesus by loving all his brothers and sisters
John 2:13-25 Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, "Take these out of here, and stop making my Father's house a marketplace." His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, Zeal for your house will consume me. At this the Jews answered and said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking about the temple of his body. Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken. While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, many began to believe in his name when they saw the signs he was doing. But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.

To really get to know someone else, and to let someone else really get to know you, are never easy things to do. We can say we know someone when we learn their name, and that is certainly a good start. It is said that President Bill Clinton (our former governor) and Archbishop Peter Sartain (our former bishop), both had an uncanny ability to remember people’s names. But that gift would not do them much good here in Fort Smith unless they also learned people’s maiden names, because everyone is related to every else in this town! I am the most eligible bachelor in this town because I am not from here, but what good is that??

It is not very easy for me as pastor to get to know all the parishioners in our parish because we have over five thousand people registered at Immaculate Conception. I have learned many names, but I have also noticed that some people sneak out the side door after Mass and do not want to get to know me, or let me get to know them. They are afraid if I know them, then I will ask them to volunteer for something or ask for a donation. And they are right, I will! Why? Well, because those activities – of giving your talent and your treasure – make you a better Christian, not just a pew potato. Only if we get to know each other can we begin to love each other.

It seems Jesus also struggles with knowing others and others knowing him. Jesus gives the Jews a hint of his mission by sharing how he will rise from the dead by comparing his bodily resurrection to rebuilding the destroyed Temple. When he said he would rebuild the Temple in three days, he really meant the temple of his body rising from the dead. Jesus wanted to share the biggest achievement of his life with them, but their hearts were closed, and they didn’t understand. St. John describes Jesus’ disappointment saying: “But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.” You might recall that even our Lord’s closest followers, even Peter the Rock, abandoned Jesus when he was asked about Jesus by the salve girl in Caiaphas’ courtyard. Peter answered: “I do not know him.” Can you imagine hearing your best friend say that about you?

Romano Guardini wrote a brilliant book about Jesus simply called, The Lord, in which he touched on Jesus’ feeling of loneliness. He wrote: “If we peruse the accounts of the Evangelists for a word of someone who loved him, not only as a drowning man loves his rescuer, or a disciple his master, but who loved the person Jesus of Nazareth, we do find something. Not that Christ ever had a genuine friend” (The Lord, 222). Jesus often felt like he walked this world alone. Because people did not know Jesus, they did not love Jesus.

I believe the first step in getting to know Jesus is by loving him in our brothers and sisters. We read in 1 John 4:20: “whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” Let me give you some striking examples you may be familiar with. Msgr. Jack Harris works with death row prisoners. He knows them by name and loves them and prays for them and prays with them. Fr. Harris knows Jesus because he has first loved Jesus’ brothers and sisters on death row. Dc. Greg Pair works with the Hope Campus for the homeless in our community. For Dc. Greg, the homeless are not a statistic, or an amorphous mob of people (like the television show “The Walking Dead”), but persons with names and mothers and fathers and a past, and dreams for a future. Dc. Greg knows Jesus because he has first loved his poor brothers and sisters. Think about your own life. The more people we love, the better we know Jesus; the more people we choose not to love means the less we know Jesus. Try to bring to mind anyone you have trouble loving – a bitter ex-spouse, a domineering boss, someone from another country who speaks English with an accent (like I did when I arrived in this country), etc. – and I am convinced that it is our lack of love for them that keeps us from knowing Jesus.

To know someone it is not enough merely to learn their name, especially if you live in Fort Smith, you also have to learn their maiden name and you discover they are related to everyone in Fort Smith. The same is true for Jesus. It is not enough to know Jesus’ name; you also have to discover he is related to everyone in the world – because everyone is his brother and sister. And only when you love everyone (without exception), do you really get to know Jesus. Otherwise, we only love Jesus as a drowning man loves his rescuer.

Praised be Jesus Christ!