Sunday, July 29, 2012

Gospel For Today

SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (B)

The story of the loaves and fishes -- this is one of those Gospel stories that most Catholics are fairly familiar with.  Even the average "pew potato" knows the basic outline.  Jesus is there with His disciples and a large crowd gathers, some five thousand people.  There is not enough food to feed them all, but one little boy has five barley loaves and two fish.  Jesus takes that meager meal, gives thanks, and has His disciples distribute it among all the people.  Everyone ate their fill, and there were even leftovers.  Miraculously, those leftovers were enough to fill twelve baskets -- more than the original food they started with!  This story is looked upon not only as one of the great miracles Jesus performed, illustrating His divinity, but also a sign to us that it is Christ who feeds us in our lives, through the sacraments, and through our relationship with Him.

So we feel like we know the story, and there is a danger to that.  The danger, when we are a little too familiar with something, is that we tend to no longer see it.  How many of us at Mass today will hear the opening lines of the Gospel reading and think to ourselves, "Oh, that's the story of the loaves and fishes.  I know that one," and then tune Father out and not listen to the reading?

Do we really know the story as well as we think we do?  How many of us are familiar with that other miraculous multiplication of food spoken of in today's first reading?

"A man came from Baal-shalishah bringing to Elisha, the man of God, twenty barley loaves made from the firstfruits, and fresh grain in the ear.  Elisha said, 'Give it to the people to eat.'  But his servant objected.  'How can I set this before a hundred people?'  Elisha insisted, 'Give it to the people to eat.  For thus says the Lord, 'They shall eat and there shall be some left over.'  And when they had eaten, there was some left over, as the Lord had said" (2 Kings 4:42-44).

There are obvious parallels between this and today's Gospel.  A man of God is given a few loaves of bread.  From that small bounty he feeds a large multitude of people.  And not only does he feed them all, but there is even some left over.  It is said that the Old Testament is revealed in the New Testament, and the New Testament reveals the Kingdom of God.  The people of Israel had as a part of their faith this story of Elisha, a holy man of God, feeding the multitude with a few loaves of bread.  So when Jesus did the same, the first thing that many in that crowd would think of was the miracle of Elisha.  "This man Jesus," they would think, "is truly a holy prophet."  Indeed, while Elisha fed a hundred men with only twenty loaves, Jesus feeds five thousand men with five loaves.  The miracle Elisha performed was just a small sign pointing to the greater miracle of Jesus.

So we must ask, is this miracle of Jesus itself pointing to something greater?  Let me recall for you some images from today's Gospel reading:  a crowd gathers...  bread is brought forth...  He takes the bread and gives thanks...  the bread is distributed to the assembled people.  Sound familiar?  Does it perhaps sound like something we experience every Sunday?

Yes indeed, this miracle was itself pointing to an even greater miracle, that gift of Christ in the Eucharist.  From the one loaf of Christ's body, many millions and billions are fed each day -- and there is always more left over.  Christ is an inexhaustible source of grace and nourishment for His people.  

We will be hearing more from John's Gospel in the coming weeks, and expounding upon this Eucharistic theme.  For now, I want to point out one more aspect of today's reading, and that is the very last line.  After this miracle of feeding the five thousand, Jesus "withdrew to the mountain alone."  Quite often we see Jesus going off alone to pray and fast, usually before or after some great work such as we hear of today.  I'm convinced that Jesus was an introvert.  He loved His work among the people, but it must have drained Him.  Where did He find His strength to carry on His great mission?  By taking the time to retreat away from the crowds and connect intimately with His Father in prayer.  I mention this because I know sometimes we all need a reminder that it is perfectly okay for us to take a break.  If Jesus needed quiet time, what makes us think we don't?  We all have great spiritual tasks to perform.  Maybe it is not feeding five thousand people with only five loaves of bread.  But our task, as baptized Christians, is to go and make disciples of all nations.  That's no small feat.  We are called to combat the forces of evil in this world and be evangelists for Christ.  We cannot effectively do this if we are burned out and exhausted.  

So give yourself permission to take a day off.  God recommends it -- He commands us to keep the Sabbath holy.  Especially today, on the Lord's Day, devote yourself to prayer, not to work.  Spend time in silence and stillness, not in noise and commotion.  And above all else, remember to tell your Heavenly Father "thank you" for all that He has done to feed you during your life.

"The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs." -- Psalm 145.

Gospel For Today

SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (B)

The story of the loaves and fishes -- this is one of those Gospel stories that most Catholics are fairly familiar with.  Even the average "pew potato" knows the basic outline.  Jesus is there with His disciples and a large crowd gathers, some five thousand people.  There is not enough food to feed them all, but one little boy has five barley loaves and two fish.  Jesus takes that meager meal, gives thanks, and has His disciples distribute it among all the people.  Everyone ate their fill, and there were even leftovers.  Miraculously, those leftovers were enough to fill twelve baskets -- more than the original food they started with!  This story is looked upon not only as one of the great miracles Jesus performed, illustrating His divinity, but also a sign to us that it is Christ who feeds us in our lives, through the sacraments, and through our relationship with Him.

So we feel like we know the story, and there is a danger to that.  The danger, when we are a little too familiar with something, is that we tend to no longer see it.  How many of us at Mass today will hear the opening lines of the Gospel reading and think to ourselves, "Oh, that's the story of the loaves and fishes.  I know that one," and then tune Father out and not listen to the reading?

Do we really know the story as well as we think we do?  How many of us are familiar with that other miraculous multiplication of food spoken of in today's first reading?

"A man came from Baal-shalishah bringing to Elisha, the man of God, twenty barley loaves made from the firstfruits, and fresh grain in the ear.  Elisha said, 'Give it to the people to eat.'  But his servant objected.  'How can I set this before a hundred people?'  Elisha insisted, 'Give it to the people to eat.  For thus says the Lord, 'They shall eat and there shall be some left over.'  And when they had eaten, there was some left over, as the Lord had said" (2 Kings 4:42-44).

There are obvious parallels between this and today's Gospel.  A man of God is given a few loaves of bread.  From that small bounty he feeds a large multitude of people.  And not only does he feed them all, but there is even some left over.  It is said that the Old Testament is revealed in the New Testament, and the New Testament reveals the Kingdom of God.  The people of Israel had as a part of their faith this story of Elisha, a holy man of God, feeding the multitude with a few loaves of bread.  So when Jesus did the same, the first thing that many in that crowd would think of was the miracle of Elisha.  "This man Jesus," they would think, "is truly a holy prophet."  Indeed, while Elisha fed a hundred men with only twenty loaves, Jesus feeds five thousand men with five loaves.  The miracle Elisha performed was just a small sign pointing to the greater miracle of Jesus.

So we must ask, is this miracle of Jesus itself pointing to something greater?  Let me recall for you some images from today's Gospel reading:  a crowd gathers...  bread is brought forth...  He takes the bread and gives thanks...  the bread is distributed to the assembled people.  Sound familiar?  Does it perhaps sound like something we experience every Sunday?

Yes indeed, this miracle was itself pointing to an even greater miracle, that gift of Christ in the Eucharist.  From the one loaf of Christ's body, many millions and billions are fed each day -- and there is always more left over.  Christ is an inexhaustible source of grace and nourishment for His people.  

We will be hearing more from John's Gospel in the coming weeks, and expounding upon this Eucharistic theme.  For now, I want to point out one more aspect of today's reading, and that is the very last line.  After this miracle of feeding the five thousand, Jesus "withdrew to the mountain alone."  Quite often we see Jesus going off alone to pray and fast, usually before or after some great work such as we hear of today.  I'm convinced that Jesus was an introvert.  He loved His work among the people, but it must have drained Him.  Where did He find His strength to carry on His great mission?  By taking the time to retreat away from the crowds and connect intimately with His Father in prayer.  I mention this because I know sometimes we all need a reminder that it is perfectly okay for us to take a break.  If Jesus needed quiet time, what makes us think we don't?  We all have great spiritual tasks to perform.  Maybe it is not feeding five thousand people with only five loaves of bread.  But our task, as baptized Christians, is to go and make disciples of all nations.  That's no small feat.  We are called to combat the forces of evil in this world and be evangelists for Christ.  We cannot effectively do this if we are burned out and exhausted.  

So give yourself permission to take a day off.  God recommends it -- He commands us to keep the Sabbath holy.  Especially today, on the Lord's Day, devote yourself to prayer, not to work.  Spend time in silence and stillness, not in noise and commotion.  And above all else, remember to tell your Heavenly Father "thank you" for all that He has done to feed you during your life.

"The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs." -- Psalm 145.

--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Gospel For Today

SIXTEENTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (B)

Today's readings highlight just a few of the many times in the Scriptures God refers to mankind as sheep.  Take the first reading for example, from Jeremiah 23:1-6.  The Lord is chastising those who were supposed to be seeing to the well being of the Israelites.  "Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture...  You have scattered my sheep and driven them away.  You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds.  I myself will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands to which I have driven them and bring them back to their meadow; there they shall increase and multiply.  I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble..."

The Scriptures refer to us as sheep more often than our fragile egos might care to admit.  As anyone who has been around sheep can tell you, this is not a complement.  Cute and cuddly as they are, sheep are stupid, fearful, and easily led.  You may object to being cast in this light.  You may feel that you are a critical minded, intelligent, free thinking individual -- not just a sheep following the herd.  But as Agent K famously said in Men In Black, "A person is smart.  People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it."  Look around you at the general human condition.  Look and see how easily we follow the latest fashion trends, the current fads, and how desperately the majority of us want to fit in.  We say we want to be unique and "do our own thing" but inside most of us want desperately to be anything but different.

How else do you explain things like the "flock of seagulls" hair styles of the 80's, the baggy pants of the '90s, or the habit of certain young men wearing their pants half falling off, that seems to not want to go away?  Or looking back in time, the wide ruffled collars of the late sixteenth century?  Modern man is not unique in our ability to follow the herd.  

And we do the same thing in the moral world, don't we?  How many of us, after hearing a report of some public opinion poll, start to question our own convictions?  If we are told that "the majority of Americans" favor something which we oppose, we start to wonder if perhaps we are in the wrong, as if moral truths are something democratically voted on.  We also take our moral cues from famous people that we look up to.  If we like a film that an actor has starred in, or really like a singer's music, we are also tempted to follow their lead in other matters, as well.  This is why we have the strange phenomenon of Hollywood celebrities and rock stars being given public platforms to talk about politics, social justice, and ethics.  

There are so many voices out there begging for us to follow them.  The many Scripture references to people as sheep speak to one important truth -- we are creatures that desire to be led.  We need it, it is within our very nature.  This is not a bad thing.  We are hard wired to seek out an authority.  Our Creator made us this way, because He is the ultimate Authority -- the Author Himself.  The key to our happiness lies in recognizing and following His voice.  

But if we do not listen to the voice of our true shepherd, we will seek out the voice of others.  And so we get led off in all sorts of ridiculous directions.  

The people in today's Gospel reading are just like us today -- just like people of every age -- desperate for the voice of a good shepherd to lead them.  They heard about Jesus and His Apostles.  And when they did, they "hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them."  Jesus, when he "saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd."

Jesus is called the Good Shepherd because of His divinity.  He is God, come to earth, our maker in the flesh.  Only He can lead us to true happiness.  He is the fulfillment of God's promise in Jeremiah, the shepherd appointed to us to that we may no longer fear and tremble.  Our choice is simple -- we either listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd, or we follow the voice of another.  But follow someone, we will.  

And where can we hear our Good Shepherd's voice spoken today?  The Catechism of the Catholic Church, when it speaks about the pastoral office of the bishops, the successors of the Apostles, quotes from St. Ignatius of Antioch.  St. Ignatius wrote around the year 100 AD.  He was the second bishop of Antioch -- St. Peter was the first, ordaining Ignatius bishop of that city before he left for Rome.  It is said that Ignatius was taught the Christian faith by the Apostle John.  

This Father of the Church, who learned his faith at the feet of the Apostles, tells us this:  "Let all follow the bishop, as Jesus Christ follows His Father, and the college of presbyters (priests) as the apostles; respect the deacons as you do God's law."

It is within the Catholic Church that the Shepherd's voice is heard most clearly.  The Church, after all, is the mystical Body of Christ.  So if Christ is our Shepherd, it should not be surprising that some within that Body are called to share in his pastoral office.  How amazing it is that God has deigned to share His authority with us mere men!

While some few are called to be shepherds, the majority (myself included) are called to be obedient sheep.  This does not make us any less of the Body of Christ, for Christ Himself was obedient to the Father.  Remember that Christ, in addition to being the Good Shepherd, is also the Lamb of God.  Christ is both shepherd and sheep, and so His mystical body is both shepherd and sheep, as well.  This is why the best shepherds among us, the holiest priests and bishops, realize that they are also sheep who follow Jesus Christ.  There is, after all, only one True Shepherd.  Our human shepherds within the Church only share in Christ's pastoral office, just as they share in His priesthood.  

If you are a young man who may be hearing the call to be a shepherd, please mark your calendars for Aug. 8.  On that day, at St. Ann's parish in Charlotte, men of high school and college age of our diocese are gathering for a Vocations Awareness day, designed to assist young men in exploring and discovering God's will in their lives.  Our bishop, Peter Jugis, will be there, as will many priests and seminarians from our diocese.  For more information, contact Vocations Director Fr. Christopher Gober at 704-370-3327 or vocationsmail@charlottediocese.org.  

God bless, from one sheep to another!
~Matt

--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Gospel For Today

FIFTEENTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (B)

Last week we wrote about how we are not the ones to convert anyone to Christ, that is the work of the Holy Spirit.  Nevertheless, it is our duty to go out and spread the Gospel, to be good Christian witnesses, and assist in the work of the Holy Spirit to bring sinners knowledge of God's love.  Conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit, but God allows us to help in that work.  It is a wonderful duty!

In today's Gospel reading, Christ is again speaking of evangelization.  The reading is a brief one, from Mark 6:7-13.  In it, Jesus sends the Apostles out two at a time.  He instructs them to bring nothing with them but the sandals on their feet, the tunic on their back, and a walking stick.  They are not even to pack a second tunic!  And this is what He tells them:  "Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave.  Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them."

Are there lessons here for our own work of spreading the good news?  You bet.

1. Strength in numbers.  Let's face it.  Talking with someone about faith, sharing your experiences with them, especially if you do not know them well -- that can be pretty intimidating.  It is nice to have a friend to encourage you and take some of the pressure off.  We are a better witnesses as a community than any of us are as individuals.  If even the Apostles hand-picked by Jesus needed friends as they went about the work of building the Church, what makes us think we can do it alone?

2.  Travel light.  Ok, so maybe you need more than a tunic and a walking stick these days.  But there is still an important message for us here.  First, none of us should be too attached to material possessions.  After all, our faith tells us that this world is passing away; we need to work for that treasure in heaven which will not pass away.  That's where we find true value, not in our clothes, cars, computers and the like.  But there is another important lesson here about how to effectively spread the Gospel.  Leave your baggage at home.  I'm talking about whatever emotional baggage you might have.  You don't need it.  You are better off without it.  And whatever it is, it is not going to help you be a better Christian witness.  We live for Christ.  Christ brings us peace.  Don't just tell people that -- you have to show them.  And that's hard to do with emotional baggage in tow.

3.  Be where you are.  "Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave."  What on earth does that mean?  When you enter a house, stay in the house until you leave the house?  Um.... ok, that's easy, right?  No, there is more to it than that.  Jesus would not have wasted his breath on pointless and redundant statements.  So what is He getting at?  How many of us find our minds wandering in class, and we begin to think about our plans later that day instead of listening to the professor?  How many of us, when we are talking with our friends, find ourselves thinking about what we are going to say next, instead of listening to what our friends are telling us?  How many of us, when having conversations with others, are in a completely different place in our minds?  We cannot do that and be effective Christian witnesses.  When you are with someone, be with that person.  This means your body and your mind.  When they speak, really listen to them.  This is about truly being present with the people around you.  When you enter a house, stay in that house until you leave.  Don't let your mind wander off to the next task you have to do.  Be present, and in the present.

4.  Not everyone will welcome you.  It's ok.  The last advice that Jesus gives us here is about what to do when we are not welcomed.  It will happen.  This can be frustrating to people trying their best to spread the message of God's love.  If we are doing the work of God, cooperating with the Holy Spirit, you'd think we would have a 100% success rate!  But we don't.  No one does, not even the Apostles themselves.  Why not?  There are two sides to evangelization.  Someone has to preach the message.  And on the other side, there has to be someone ready to receive the message.  You could be the most effective communicator in the world, but if the other person is determined not to listen to you, there is not much you can do.  We could drive ourselves bananas trying to convince someone who has already decided not to listen to us.  Jesus says don't worry.  Just shake the dust off your feet and move on.  There are others out there who are ready to listen, and they need us to bring them the Good News.  Besides, we don't know what seeds we may have planted with those hostile to the faith, that may blossom some day in the future.

That's where the Holy Spirit plays His part.  God is timeless, and can afford to be patient.  He sees things on the scale of eternity.  We need to trust in His plan, trust in His promise, and know that no effort we make to bring sinners the message of His love will be wasted.  

And that's good news!

God bless, and have a great week,
Matt

--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Gospel For Today

FOURTEENTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (B)

Here is a question all Christians should ask themselves at one time or another.  What can you do to convert anyone to the faith?  The answer may surprise you.

Nothing.

There is nothing at all you can do that would convert anyone's heart to Christ.  That is the work of the Holy Spirit.  Simply put, it is not your job.  But wait!  Didn't Christ command His church to go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey all He commanded, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit?  Yes, He certainly did.  But that is not the same as actually converting someone.  We can (and should) preach the Gospel.  We can tell others of our faith, we can explain what we believe and why we believe it.  We can teach others right and wrong.  We can live our lives to be good Christian examples of God's love.  We can do all of these things.  And someone may very well be drawn to the Christian faith through our example.  But we cannot and will never directly convert a sinner's heart to grace.  That is a work that must be accomplished between that soul and God.  But we can help facilitate that process.

What an awesome responsibility God has given to allow us to help in the salvation of souls!  It reminds us that He is the Creator and we are His creatures.  We are instruments that sound best when we allow ourselves to be played by the Master.  We need to allow God to work His will in our lives.  God has always worked His will in the world through people chosen to be His messengers and instruments.  Today's scripture readings tell us of just a few.    The first reading is from the prophet Ezekiel, one of many prophets sent by God in the Old Testament to His chosen people.  The second reading is from St. Paul, the apostle to the gentiles, spreading God's word among many new peoples (in this case, the Corinthians).  And of course the Gospel today from Mark speaks of Christ Himself, the ultimate instrument of God's will, bringing His gospel message to His own home town.  And we must remember that the Incarnation of Jesus was itself accomplished through the cooperation of another of God's humble creatures, Mary.

But there is something interesting going on in today's readings.  We see these people willingly doing the work of God, and so you would think things would turn out successful for them.  But read what happens when Jesus preaches to his own friends and neighbors in the synagogue.  "Where did this man get all this?" the people ask.  "Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?  Are not his sisters here with us?"  In other words, the people gathered who heard Jesus preach were saying, "Who does this guy thing he is?  Why should we listen to him?  This is just Mary's son.  You know, that skinny kid who used to follow James around all the time?  Yeah, that's right, the carpenter.  He builds chairs for a living.  He's nothing special, so why is he up there acting like he can teach us?"  They didn't listen to what Christ was saying.  The gospel passage concludes with, "So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there... He was amazed at their lack of faith."

This past weekend I attended a Theology of the Body conference in Simpsonville, SC, and one of the speakers was Dr. Ray Guarendi (the popular Catholic radio psychologist).  In one of his talks, Dr. Ray asked the audience a series of questions.  
1. Is there a God?  (Yes.)
2. Is He all powerful and eternal? (Yes.)
3. Is Jesus Christ God? (Yes.)
4. Was Jesus, on earth, in full communion with God the Father? (Yes.)
5. Was He sinless? (Yes.)
6. Did He fulfill perfectly God's will? (Yes.)
7. Did He convince everyone who heard Him to follow Him? (No.)
So if Jesus couldn't even do it, who do you think you are?

I'm sure I am paraphrasing Dr. Ray a bit, but his point is a valid one.  None of us are perfect, and even the one who was perfect didn't have a 100% success rate in converting sinners.  Neither will we.  It is important for us to realize this, with humility, but not to let it be an excuse not to spread the Word of God among those in our spheres of influence.  

Look at today's first reading carefully.  God is sending Ezekiel to preach to the Israelites, whom he describes as "rebels who have rebelled against me."  He warns Ezekiel up front that it will not be an easy task.  God says they are "hard of face and obstinate of heart."  But that should not stop Ezekiel from doing his job.  The passage ends, "And whether they heed or resist... they shall know that a prophet has been among them."  

That single phrase is so important, for it gives us our job description as evangelists.  God gives each of us free will.  We each can decide to accept or reject Him.  There is nothing you or I can do to force anyone to come to Christ.  God Himself cannot -- and will not -- force anyone to love Him.  God is not like that, He respects the freedom He gave us.  But we can extend the invitation.  We can open the door, and hope they will walk through it.  We can remove obstacles that may be standing in their way.  We can offer them eternity.  But only they can accept the gift.

We should not judge how well we are performing our task based on how many come to Christ because of us.  The truth is no one will come to Christ "because of us."  Anyone who comes to Christ does so because they have responded to the work of the Holy Spirit on their hearts.  It is never "because of us."  But have we done our part to extend that invitation?  Have we done our part to open that door?  Whether they accepted or rejected the message, did they know there was a prophet among them?

In my work as your campus minister at WCU, there is a lot I cannot do.  I cannot make anyone go to Mass on Sunday.  I cannot make you go to Confession.  I cannot make you live chaste lives.  I cannot make you pray.  I cannot make you do anything at all.  All I can do is invite.  All I can do is provide opportunities.  All I can do is love and pray.  And then I get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.  This is my particular role and this time and place.

What is yours?  Who is in your sphere of influence?  Who is God putting in your life and asking you to be witness to?  Do those people know there is a prophet among them?

~~~~
BONUS:  Did you read that bit about Jesus being the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon and get a bit confused?  Did you scratch your head and say, "Wait a minute, I thought Mary was a virgin all her life, so where did these brothers and sisters come from?  There is a really helpful article on the Catholic Answers web site about Mary's perpetual virginity and the "brothers" of Jesus that does a wonderful job of explaining this seeming contradiction (which is not really a contradiction at all).  I recommend it to you.
~~~~

Pax Christi, and Happy Sunday!
Matt

--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723


Sunday, July 1, 2012

Gospel For Today

THIRTEENTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (B)

"Do not be afraid.  Just have faith."  

These are the words of Jesus to the doubting synagogue official in today's gospel reading (Mk 5:21-43).  A little girl, only twelve years old, had died.  Her father had gone to get Jesus, because he had heard of the great miracles He was performing and knew Christ would be the only one who could save his child.  When Jesus arrived, the synagogue official told the father not to trouble Jesus any more, because his daughter had already died.  Jesus simply told him, "Do not be afraid.  Just have faith."  They went in to see the daughter and found her alive and healthy.

What wonderful words for us to remember today.  Imagine Christ speaking these words to you.  The entire Christian faith is contained in these two simple commands.  

This is the essence of what it means to be a Christian.  Do not be afraid.  Why not?  Because Christ has come, and He saves us, giving us no reason to fear.  Just have faith.  Faith in what?  Faith in the Son of God who has come to restore us.

Today's first reading from the book of Wisdom speaks of our original condition (Wis 1:13-15; 2:23-24).  "God made man to be imperishable, the image of his own nature he made him." What is God's nature, but existence and being itself?  God's nature is life, and love.  And we were created in that image.  "God did not make death," the author of Wisdom assures us.  Indeed, death is antithetical to what God is.  "For he fashioned all things that they might have being; and the creatures of the world are wholesome."  

So why is there sickness and death in this world?  Why do we worry and fret?  Why do we fear?  All these things come not from God, but from the devil -- and from ourselves when we listen to those evil influences in our life.  We know (or should know) the story of the fall.  Adam and Eve, our first parents, decided to listen to the serpent in the garden instead of the God who made them.  They were disobedient and unrepentant when their sin was discovered. They were cast out of paradise, and illness and death entered into the world.  

The Christian story is the story of God working through man's history to set things right again.  This is why Christ came to us -- to conquer death.  And He did so in a way that our human minds would never have imagined.  For the Second Person of the Trinity did not merely snap His fingers and do away with death, but He Himself died on our behalf.  He took death unto Himself and made it the very portal to everlasting life.  And He still today offers redemption to us by granting the grace needed to choose life over death, to choose holiness over sin.  

And so we can sing with the psalmist today, "I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me!"  

As a Christian, you should not fear death.  For your savior Himself died, and came through the other side -- He will be waiting faithfully for you there, to "lift you up from the netherworld and preserve you from among those going down into the pit" (to paraphrase today's psalm).  And if we have no reason to fear death any longer, what else shall we fear?  What else can Christ not help us to overcome?  There is nothing our Lord cannot help us to get through by giving us the grace needed to come out the other side whole, and indeed stronger.

"Do not be afraid.  Just have faith."  Christ speaks these words to you today.  Listen to Him.

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WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723