Tag Archives: Bible

Salvation By Faith or Works? {Part 2}

sun-16837_640…Continued from part one posted yesterday

Salvation is through grace! It is through the wondrous grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ that we can spend eternity with Him in Heaven. We do not earn grace, it is a gift given freely to us by Our Lord through His death and resurrection!

A gift is meant to be accepted. When you give someone a birthday present, you expect that they will open it! Furthermore, you hope that they will use the gift you gave them.

God has given us the gift of His grace through which we may have eternal life! To accept this gift is to put all our faith in the endless love and mercy of Jesus. To accept this gift we must accept the truth that Jesus if the Son of God. That through His death and resurrection, death has been defeated! To accept this gift means we accept all that Christ taught. And by our acceptance, we agree to live the way that He taught us to live. This is where the works come into play. Take a look at how Christ says we are to live our lives:

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven”  Matthew 5: 14-16

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”  He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:36-40

When Jesus gives us this greatest commandment, He quickly follows it with a second commandment.  Why?  Because they go together.  The first is an act of faith.  To love the Lord with all that we have.  The second is a commandment of how we are to treat others.  To believe in Christ, to have full faith in all that He taught demands that we live a life that shows His love in us through our own works.  Perhaps this is best described in Matthew:

 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’  And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’  Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;  for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,  I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’  Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:31-46

This makes it perfectly clear that is we profess our belief in God and in Jesus Christ His Son, we must take that belief and live it!  We must do as Christ did, follow in His footsteps, and express our faith through the works that we do.  For the good things we do here on earth even to the least among us, are done for the Lord.

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?  If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?  So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” James 2:14-17

This is not contradictory to Paul’s words. Rather, it is meant to go hand in hand! The gates of Heaven are open to us through the grace of Jesus Christ. Through His death and resurrection, He has given us the amazing gift of eternal life with Him in Heaven. To receive this gift is to accept all that He has taught. By acceptance of His teachings and His grace, we are called to live out our faith through our actions to shine Christ’s light to all among us! We are called to live like Christ.

We cannot earn Heaven. The price for our sins was paid by Christ. But that does not mean we merely state that we believe and are exempt from our actions. By our belief in the saving power of Christ, we also believe in His commandments, which demand action from us. By choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, we are denying the teachings of Christ, and therefore denying His gift to us. When we sin, we have failed in our call to love Christ above all and to love our neighbors. Through our faith in His saving grace, we know that sin is not the end. Through this faith we have hope that, despite our failings, through the grace of God we are healed. We are called to live this faith through our every action.

Salvation is by the grace of God which we accept through faith in Him alone as our Savior and which calls us to live as He did, to love Him, to love others, and to serve others in His name.

 *for more on this topic, check out one of my favorite blogs: Living the Reality of Jesus.

Salvation By Faith or Works? {Part 1}

Picture of a wooden Christian cross on Saint Cuthbert’s Isle, Holy Island, Northumberland. St Cuthbert’s Isle was a small island used as a retreat by both Aidan and Cuthbert. How do we get to Heaven? Is it by our own good works? Or is it through faith alone?  The question of salvation by faith alone or by faith with works is really not a question at all because the two work hand in hand together.

There are a number of passages in the Bible that are commonly used to defend sola fide, or the belief in salvation through faith alone.  If we look at these passages alone, it can be easy to see where this belief comes from.  But these passages are not meant to be read as small excerpts, but rather as a part of a whole.  If we read further, it is clear that faith and works go together.  For example, those who believe in sola fide may point to the following passage:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” John 3:16-18

But if we continue to read…

“And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.   For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.  But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” John 3:19-21.

By reading further on in this passage we can see that Jesus is telling us that our belief in Him should compel us to turn away from darkness and come into the light.  To stop from doing evil deeds and instead to do good deeds in the light of Christ so that others may see and know the Lord.

Here is another example:

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him. ” John 14:6-7

But by continuing to read on in the chapter Jesus explains that He and the Father are One, and he uses works as a means for His explanation.  Furthermore, Jesus then tells him that whoever believes in Him will do His works!

“Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.  Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.  I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”  John 14:8-14

Another example might be this:

“For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.” Romans 3:28

Again, by reading further into the passage we gain a clearer understand of just what Paul was saying:

“Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” Romans 3:29-31

We see that Paul is describing faith apart from works of the law in order to make known the greater point,  that is that salvation is for all.  Those who are familiar with the Jewish teachings, the Torah, the law, are not the only ones who can be saved through Christ.  God is the God of the Gentiles too, despite the fact that they were not following the same law.  And still, Paul reminds us that we are called to uphold that law!  The law of the prophets, that is fulfilled in Our Lord!

One more example:

“Yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.” Galatians 2:16

Reading further…

“But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor.  For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:17-20

If, even though we have faith in Christ, we resort back to bad habits, Paul says that we are then transgressors, sinners. Isaiah 53:5 tells us But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.” Because of Christ we have been saved and now are called to live to God with Christ within us. Christ did not sit and simply state His belief in the Father, He lived it. He healed the sick, comforted the sorrowful, performed miracles, helped the poor and the sinners. He was so active that He could scarcely even get away for rest without people following Him.

So where does all this leave us? Back to the question I asked at the beginning, how do we get to Heaven? By citing these examples does that prove that we need to earn salvation? No!

Salvation is through grace! It is through the wondrous grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ that we can spend eternity with Him in Heaven. We do not earn grace, it is a gift given freely to us by Our Lord through His death and resurrection!

…Since this is already quite lengthy, I will post the rest of it tomorrow.  To be continued! 🙂

Where Are All the Miracles?

Extra! Extra! Read all about it –  Jesus of Nazareth heals a bind man!

Can you imagine the headlines if that happened today?  A simple man from an average family suddenly heals people: the deaf hear, lepers are cured , and even the dead are brought back to life!  Oh the news would be all over it!  I can just imagine the twitter responses, social media debates, TV coverage, radio announcements, and the opinion of “experts” as they try to make sense of it all.

Jesus performed hundreds of miracles and there are many more done throughout the Bible.  So where are all the miracles now?  Some people look at the vast accounts of miracles in Scripture and wonder why we don’t see these today.  Have the miracles come to an end?  Or are we just not seeing them?

Miracles most certainly still occur, but you have to believe.  Pharaoh refused to believe Moses and the miracles God was working through him.  Even in Jesus’ time, there were those who refused to believe He actually walked on water or healed people.  When miracles occur in today’s world…do we believe?

When we look at miracles in the Bible, many times they occur through someone.  God parts the Red Sea through Moses.  God sent rain through the prayers of Elijah. Jesus fed 5,000 with the loaves and fish of a young man.   These miracles are sometimes performed by God through the use of earthy materials.  God gave water to drink through Moses and a rock in the desert.  It didn’t merely appear, but gushed forth from a rock.  Jesus rubbed clay on the eyes of the blind man so he could see.

Perhaps we don’t see the modern day miracles because we are too focused on the people or objects and not on the God who allows them to do so.  What if instead of seeing the water from the rock in the desert as a miracle we said “Oh that’s not a miracle!  That’s simply a man who stumbled upon a rock filled with water at just the right time….perhaps he studied geology?”  Or what if we looked at the feeding of the 5,000 and said “That’s not a miracle!  God didn’t feed those people it was that little boy who brought food.”  Or if we saw the healing of a blind man and scoffed saying, “God didn’t heal him!  It was this mud here…it must have medicinal powers.”

These rationalizations seem silly to us as believers in Christ.  It seems obvious that these were miracles, not mere coincidence.  But there are those who disagree.  Who look for a rational explanation instead.  They cannot open their hearts and eyes to see the hand of God!

This is the same sort of rationalization that is applied daily to miraculous things!  A young child recovers from a rare disease.  Scientists and doctors look at this and say well yes that is because of such-and-such medicine and through the hard work of Dr. So-and-So.  But what if that medicine is merely the tool for God, much like the clay Jesus used to heal the blind man?  What if that doctor is just the person God chooses to act through, much like Moses parted the Red Sea through God?

Sometimes a miracle is out of the blue and sudden.  Sometimes it is through the work of another person.  But that doesn’t make it any less a miracle.  Maybe Jesus isn’t walking up to people and curing their blindness…but look at what God has given us instead!  With glasses, contact lenses, laser surgery and more, people can see!   Moses isn’t standing next to us tapping a rock so we have water to drink…instead God has given the knowledge and ability for us to have plumbing systems, irrigation, and wells to have water.

There are those who say that God must not care or must not be real because if He were…we would see miracles all over!  But I disagree.  I know God cares and I know He is real!  I believe it in my heart and I see the proof of His miracles in all forms all around me!  From medical advances to advances in technology, we cannot forget that although men created these things, God created man and without Him, none of it is possible!

So I challenge myself and all of us to believe in miracles.  To look for them and indeed to find them as often as possible!  And when we do witness truly miraculous event, let us pray that our hearts and eyes will be opened to God’s goodness and that we will see all He has done for us!  Glory to God, who reigns forever and ever.  Amen.


Creation, Science and Faith

Last night I had a terrible headache…the kind where you don’t want to even keep your eyes open.  So after dinner as my husband and I were sitting on the couch relaxing, I handed over the remote for him to choose whatever he might like to watch as I would likely only half listen with my eyes shut anyway.  My husband is a geologist and so chose to watch a National Geographic Amazing Planet program that discussed the forming of earth through plate tectonics and the capabilities, both destructive and otherwise, of volcanoes, earthquakes, and so forth.  As I heard the woman begin to describe the earth as an upset stomach belching forth lava, I fought back a chuckle and fully intended to sleep through the remainder of the program.  But try as I might, the woman narrating the film with peculiar metaphors and overly dramatic warnings of the earth’s future demise caught my attention and I ended up listening to the entire program.

It was quite interesting really.  I have never been one for science but it was intriguing to hear the theories behind the earth’s formation, scientific evidence behind the plate tectonics that shape our planet, and so forth.  What I found most interesting, was how all of these theories seemed to fit well with the creation story I believe in, even though there was a noticeable absence of any mention of God.  This led to a discussion between my husband and me about God and faith as it relates to science.  Scientists desire to explain the why and the how behind everything.  Faith is believing even in the things you cannot understand.  Many people view these as separate things that cannot be combined.  You either believe in science, or God.  But why? 

In the program last night, they showed an animated model of earth forming.  The image was one of the sun in the background as miscellaneous space rock collided together and began to circle around a fiery center which they explained was earth’s core.  The image was striking to me because even as I watched it, I could picture the same image with the hands of God turning the molten rock together to form our planet.  The only difference from my image and theirs was that theirs contained more confusion.  The narrator reached a point in her explanation where she explained that they do not know what drove the space material to combine into our planet, nor why it formed the way it did, being able to sustain life in ways that other planets cannot.  I felt like raising my hand saying “I know! I know!”  To me the answer is simple; the earth formed the way it did because God formed it.  It was not just a random act of space with no rhyme or reason; it was the plan of our Almighty Creator!

The program described the beginnings of earth as essentially a ball of fire, with magma eventually cooling on the outermost layer to form our core.  The density of clouds and gasses produced eventually became rain which caused water to form on the earth.  The fertile soil from the volcanic material was cause for a wide variety of plants to spring forth out of nowhere. And of course eventually the circulation of bubbling molten rock beneath the earth’s surface moved the plates around creating a wide configuration of continents before settling on seven continents the way we know it today.

Now let’s compare that with the Bible’s account of creation:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.   Then God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so. God called the expanse heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.   Then God said, “Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so. God called the dry land earth, and the gathering of the waters He called seas; and God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them”; and it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good. There was evening and there was morning, a third day.” Genesis 1:1-13

If we combine this with the scientific approach, it all seems to make perfect sense.  A formless void rock forms as the Spirit of God moves it into position. The water was formed through a separation between the waters above in the atmosphere which rain down to water on the surface.  The water was gathered into one place, land in another, to form continents.  The ground was extremely fertile and every type of vegetation came to be.  Science tells us these things happened largely due to the earth’s inner core.  And I say sure!  That makes sense to me.  Our God is a very intricate creator.  It makes perfect sense in my mind that He would create our earth the way He did, with plates and magma and everything.  Let’s read on into Genesis:

“This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven. Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the LORD God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground. But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground. Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” Genesis 2:1-7

Now doesn’t that mist rising from the earth to water it sound an awful lot like the scientific belief of steam from within the earth coming forth to create gas and then water?  And the Bible definitely had this recorded way before modern science “discovered” it!

Of course scientists believe this took millions, even billions of years to take place.  The Bible says seven days.  What are we to believe?  The importance of the Genesis accounts on creation is that God created everything with purpose and as unique creatures.  I believe that the creation story splits it into seven days for a few reasons: 1) to emphasize the importance of taking a day of rest to worship the Lord and 2) to emphasize that God did not merely create the earth and let nature take its course, seeing what random things would come to be.  But rather that each portion of creation was designed by God and created thusly.  This is not to contradict the Bible.  The Bible is not legend.  It is the Divine Word of God and is truth.  However, we cannot know the exact meaning of a “day” even with the mention of morning and evening.  While this sounds like a typical day, we cannot know if it was literally 24 hours.  We also cannot know whether it was written as an exact chronological account or if it was split up as such to emphasize specific points.  In fact, the order of plants, then animals, and finally man that we read in Genesis 1 is changed in Genesis 2 which places the creation of man first, with plants and animals created afterward for the man. This shows us that the chronological timing is not the focus here.  The focus should be on the f act that God did create everything as individual events and with a specific purpose.  The answer to how long it took to form the earth is, in my mind, irrelevant.  Especially when we consider the Creator.  One thing that fascinates me is the concept of existing outside of time and space.   Days, weeks, hours, years, are all human constraints.  God is not a mere human.  He does not exist within our given time frames.  He is always present, in the past, present, and future.  This is beyond our comprehension. 

“O LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, And are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O LORD, You know it all. You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is too high, I cannot attain to it.” Psalm 139:1-6

God is everywhere at all times.  While this knowledge is too wonderful for us to ever understand, it is truth. 

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:8

Therefore, the exact number of hours as we know them to be that it took to create the universe is not for us to know.  God is the beginning, He is the end, He is all things in between.  Nothing can exist outside of God.  

We do not need to have all the answers.  This we know:  God created the earth with divine purpose.  It did not just happen to create itself from nothing.  The theories of science may very well be true.  Perhaps earth did form the way the National Geographic woman explained in the program.  But it was not an accident.  It was God who directed the magma to flow, the seas to form, rain to fall, and plants to grow.  It was God who created every living thing.  If creatures evolved in some way it was because God willed it so.  Whether this took one week or billions of years in time as we know it is outside our understanding and does not matter.  God created it all.

Although I started the program with a splitting headache and my mind was racing a mile a minute comparing scripture to the scientific theories presented, I went to bed with my head feeling at ease and my body relaxed.  Despite the lack of mention of God within the program, the sheer awesomeness of earth’s beginnings shout the glories of the Creator even without saying His name.  The thought of this awesome power from such a loving God filled my heart with gladness and peace knowing that I am loved by the Divine Creator of it all.

“Let the glory of the LORD endure forever; Let the LORD be glad in His works” Psalm 104:31

How to Pray

There are many forms of prayer; meditation, praying with your own words, using prayers that have been written and passed on, reading scripture, and so forth. Prayer is communicating with God. Thanking Him and praising His name for the wonders He has done, asking Hid forgiveness for the times we have failed, and imploring His assistance in times of trouble. While there is no right or wrong way to pray, there is sometimes a debate over how to pray the right way. Some people feel that reciting a memorized prayer isn’t as sincere. I believe that the best way to pray is the one that connects you to God the most. It may not be the same for everyone. For me, I like to pray in many ways.

I love to pray through memorized prayers such as the Our Father, Hail Mary, Prayer to the Holy Spirit, and so forth. Some might say that by simply reciting prayers, it is not from my heart. That could not be further from the truth! The reason I love these prayers and the many many more I did not list is because, quite honestly, sometimes my words do not seem enough. I cannot always come up with what I want to say. So I rely on these prayers, tried and true by the Saints before me and by Christ Himself! In Luk 11:2-4 the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray. He responds with the Our Father. In Luke we hear the angel Gabriel say to Mary, “Hail, favored one, the Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:28) This is the beginning of the Hail Mary. In Luke 1:42 and 43 we read of Elizabeth’s words to Mary, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” These prayers come right from the Bible. How can I expect to speak as eloquently as Jesus Himself? Or how can I come up with better words to implore Mary’s intercession than those of the angel Gabriel and Saint Elizabeth?

When we practice anything in our lives, there are certain steps and procedures we follow. To practice as an athlete may mean a specific regimen of workouts, specific exercises, even a particular diet. If learning to dance, there are certain steps, positions, stretches that you must learn. But to follow only these would not allow you to be the best you can be. You have to do some work on your own. On the opposite side, if I only danced to the music without any training, or if I did not bother with specific training as an athlete and followed my own schedule, I would not be the best I could be either.

To truly practice our faith we need a mixture of prayer. For me, those prayers I have had memorized from my youth are like the basic stretches and workouts I need to practice my faith. I pray these lovely prayers as a sort of backbone for my prayer life. Then I add in my own “workouts.” My own way of moving to the music as I speak the humble and sometimes scattered thoughts in my head.

Each person may have a different form of prayer that connects them to the Father more deeply and that is ok! I pray through these memorized prayers, through mediation, through the words of my own heart, through walking silently in nature, through painting, through singing. What other forms of prayer do you use to talk with the Lord?

His Wondrous Word

All through childhood, into my teens, and even through college, I have been on stage.  I danced for many years before beginning to pursue theatre instead.  I performed in various children’s theatre productions and community theatre productions.  I even studied theatre in college and chose to make that my major.  I performed in musicals, plays, and a few small commercials.  My roles ranged from chorus to leading parts.  I taught theatre classes to children in a wide variety of venues and for varying age groups and experience levels.  Once I met my husband, I decided I wanted to focus on our family and life together rather than pursuing theatre.  Because of this decision, I haven’t been on stage in about two years.  And despite how much I enjoyed it, I have found that I don’t miss it.  Perhaps at some point in my life I will perform again or will again teach theatre, but for right now, I am happy with my decision and truly feel this is where God wants me to be.

When we moved over the summer and joined our new church, I wanted to volunteer in some way.  I decided to help out with the Confirmation classes but still wanted to help out with the Mass in some way.  We are called to use our God given talents to give back to the Lord and so I decided that with my background in theatre, perhaps I could use that gift to give back through proclaiming the readings during Mass.   I signed up to help out, went through the training session with our Priest, and quickly began being assigned to read during Mass. 

It was surprising to me when I found myself so nervous to do my first reading!  I felt so nervous that Sunday morning.  I was nervous even as we got to church and took our seats.  When the time came to do my reading, I went up front and began to proclaim God’s Word.  I felt such peace while I was reading.  I was so relieved!  I sat back down with my husband who whispered that I had done a good job.  After Mass our priest told me I had done nicely and several parishioners expressed similar sentiments.  I thought to myself, now that I have done it once, I won’t be so nervous the next time!

 Wrong.  Since that first time I proclaimed the readings a few months back, I find myself feeling the same nervous-like feeling before each reading.  And I again find myself at peace during the reading itself and afterwards.

 I began thinking about this.  I practiced, prayed, and certainly have been in front of people before.  Why have I been feeling so nervous?  Just because I haven’t been on stage in awhile?  Then I thought of something else.  The peace I felt while proclaiming.  I thought of the people in the congregation watching and listening intently as I proclaimed the Lord of the Lord. 

 Then I thought back to the shows I performed in.  I thought of the people in the audience who were there just for a good time.  I thought of the lines I would rehearse and rehearse until they were memorized.  One of the exercises we would do to memorize lines would be to repeat them so many times that you could recite all your lines without any thought whatsoever.  We could go through our lines at lightning speed with no emotion attached or thinking involved.  The purpose of this was so that during the show, we didn’t have to think about our lines, we could just act and it would come as second nature.  And if we messed up a line here or there, we could fake our way out of it and no one would know the difference.

 And that right there is exactly what makes it different.  Proclaiming the readings in Mass is only similar to acting in that you are in front of a group of people and are speaking.  But it is so much different.  So much more.  When I am doing a reading at Mass, I am not reading the words of a playwright.  I am proclaiming the very Word of God.  I am not simply reciting lines and acting excited as a performance to an audience who has paid money to be entertained.  I am reading the Word of the Lord, carefully, and with His Spirit guiding me.  Any emotion needs to come from Him and through me, to reach out to the congregation.  I may have experience in performing, but this is not a performance.

 God sends His Spirit to us in many ways.  He calls us to many things.  I could have signed up to be a greeter, to sing in the choir where I could blend in with others, or various other ways to participate in Mass.  But I felt that I was called to proclaim the readings during Mass and I think now I know why.  I have been given the gift of performing.  I may not be the best actor around, and I may not pursue it anymore, but nevertheless, I am comfortable in front of people.  I can speak clearly and loud enough for everyone to hear me.  And I believe God was calling me to use these gifts in the Holy Mass.  But more than that, I believe that I was called to begin proclaiming because through the nerves I felt preparing, through the peace I felt while reading, I gained a greater appreciation for His Word.  I realized the reason behind my nerves is perhaps a small realization of how great our God is to speak His Word to us.  Maybe it wasn’t a “stage-fright” type nervousness as I had thought at first, but instead a strong desire to adequately proclaim His Word so that the people may hear His message.  I realized that the peace I felt while reading was truly His Spirit working through me.  It was as if God was saying, “Do not be afraid, I am here.”  It is God through His most Holy Spirit who speaks through me and sends me His peace so that I may share His Word with the church.  His Word is Holy and should be treated as such.  With this new experience, I feel I am truly seeing just how wondrous His Word can be.  Our God truly is awesome and amazing and we are so blessed to have His love, His guidance, and His Word in our lives. 

Paparazzi of Jesus

In last Sunday’s Mass we heard the Gospel story of Jesus cleansing the leper (Mark 1:40-45). 

“A leper came to him [and kneeling down] begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.”  Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him , and said to him, “I do will it.  Be made clean.”  The leprosy left him immediately and he was made clean.  Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once.  Then he said to him, “See that you tell no anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.”  The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter.  He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.  He remained outside in deserted places and people kept coming to him from everywhere.”

 Jesus tells the man to keep his cleansing quiet.  And he doesn’t simply request this, he warns him sternly.  We see this in a number of passages regarding healings.  In Mark 7:36 Jesus orders that crowd not to tell anyone of the healing of a deaf man;  “But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it.”  In Matthew 9:27-31 Jesus heals two blind men and warns them sternly to tell no one, but again they spread the word everywhere.  In Luke 8:49-56 Jesus brings Jairus’s daughter back to life and instructs her parents to tell no one of what happened.  These instructions can seem contrary to the work of evangelization and spreading the good news of Christ.  I have often wondered, why would Jesus want to keep his healings a secret?

I think the reason behind the secrecy can be seen if we imagine these healings in our present day.  The paparazzi seems to catch every person with even an ounce of fame.  The good and the bad, they plaster photographs and stories across magazines, television shows, internet stories, etc.  Things that may be controversial get even more media attention.  And the stories are almost always blown way out of proportion.  Maybe the initial photographer was simply reporting a couple getting married, but the story will quickly turn to the bride’s demands, possible pregnancy, adulterous scandals, anything and everything, true or not, will become associated with the new couple.  Can you imagine what they would do with a story of the Messiah healing people? 

The people who were healed by Jesus didn’t mean to ruin him by spreading the word of their healings.  They were simply overcome with joy at what the Lord had done and just had to tell someone!  I’m sure they heard Jesus’s warning to keep it a secret, but in their excitement they may have forgotten or figured that people will find out sooner or later anyway.  By spreading their news, crowds began to gather so that Jesus couldn’t even enter a town!   The stories probably grew out of control, and not all for good.  As Jesus’s fame grew, so did his “paparazzi.”  And while more people grew to learn of Jesus and came to know him as the Messiah, people began to grow in doubt too.  Herod heard about what was happening.  The rumors that reached him were that perhaps John had been raised from the dead after Herod had him beheaded.  Or maybe Elijah had appeared (Luke 9:7-9).  Herod was determined to find out what the truth was behind these rumors.  And the more the news of Jesus spread, the easier it would be for Herod to find him.  Later, the chief priests and elders began to question Jesus’s authority (Matthew 21:23-27, Mark 11:27-32, Luke 20:1-8).  They simply couldn’t believe the stories they were hearing and were determined to find Jesus guilty of something.

I think Jesus knew that their hearts would be hardened.  That they would not all be willing to accept all the he had to offer them.  And Jesus knew that before his time on earth was over, he had things to do, a mission to accomplish.  So by telling those he healed to keep their healings a secret, I believe he was simply seeking to carry out his work without the paparazzi following his every move.  Perhaps his stern warnings were a warning of what would happen if the stories spun out of control.  If authorities questioned him, and heard rumors they did not like, and sought to kill him. 

Jesus is kind and loving, filled with compassion and moved  with pity for those who were suffering.  He wanted to heal people, in body and more importantly in spirit. He wanted to cleanse people, not only of their bodily afflictions but of their sins.  He wanted people to believe in him.  But he knew that the paparazzi of his day would not allow these miraculous stories to be told as the truth and to be shared in love.  For this purpose, I believe he sought to keep his miraculous healings a secret from these paparazzi in order to carry out his work here on earth, all he while knowing that the news eventually would be spread worldwide by his apostles and all who believe in him.