Today's Wisdom

Those who do not pass from the experience of the cross to the truth of the resurrection condemn themselves to despair! For we cannot encounter God without first crucifying our narrow notions of a god who reflects only our own understanding of omnipotence and power
Pope Francis

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Revenge for the Dead and The Fear of Death

It is almost impossible these days to count the number of the dead people in the sectarian/civil war going on in Syria. In spite of calls from the 3 Patriarchs of Antioch for an end to the war and a reconciliation between the warring factions, more blood is shed unnecessarily on the soil of Syria. Last night we had an important discussion at Jesus the King Church of the reaction a Christian would have if one of his family members was killed. The number of innocent people who died in this war is a sign that human violence still rules the earth one way or another.  It is a fact too according to Steven Pinker that humans are the only species who enjoy torturing their captives. In his most recent book "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined" published in October 2011, basing his claim on historical statistical analysis of the behaviour of humans, the Harvard Professor of Psychology, however, maintains that violence has declined significantly in the past few centuries. If this is statistically true, it does not mean that humans became angels, but rather in my opinion, that education in the Christian humanist West has increasingly recognized the good nature of humans and the dignity of every human person created in the image of God. This doctrine has been taught by the Church since the early Christian Era centuries. Yet, the reality of human beings unmistakably reflects a continuing war between the good that God implanted in us and the selfish character of sin in what St. Augustine termed "Original Sin." The wound of Original Sin still exists in all humans even if baptized. The work of Christ in purifying the person is not completed without the continuous cooperation by the person with the grace of the Holy Spirit.
If one of his or her family members was killed, a Christian naturally reacts with anger. Of course anger begets hatred and hatred leads to hell. Yet, in the complex drama of salvation, God always offers himself in the prayer and sacraments for reconciliation, repentance and healing. It is a long process for probably most people to truly forgive the abrupt killing and death of their loved ones. Forgiveness is fundamental to peace with oneself, the community and God.
The commandments of Christ in the New Testament demand Christians to forgive. Only read the Lord's Prayer: In praying to our heavenly Father, the Lord teaches us to ask God's forgiveness "And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Matt 6: 12). Notice the condition that we must forgive to be forgiven by God. We know that forgiveness is an act of the will in the vein of love which transcends mere emotions. If you want to succeed in earning an academic degree or a good career, you will surely make the necessary efforts. Our eternal life too requires efforts; for it is a great battle against the evil one. In the Letter to the Hebrews, it is written "In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood" (Heb 12: 4). Jesus Christ himself had to endure much suffering to the point of death on the cross because he willed to obey his Father and save us from hell. His glorious Resurrection was verified by his encounter with the Apostles and other disciples after his death and his own appearance to 500 followers in many places at the same time (for more, see Peter Kreeft's article here ).  In his sermon on the mount, he taught the throngs who went to hear him "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matt 5: 44) and "Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven." (Luke 6: 37). He who is blameless forgave on the cross those who crucified him to death saying to his Father "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." (Luke 23: 34). The amazing thing is that God does not need us but we need him. Yet he continues to love all; for "God is Love." according to the New Testament.

Another question begets itself especially for older people like me: Fear of death. Since early childhood humans need security which they ideally find in the care of their parents. As we grow, we relate to our own family and gradually make friends with our peers who either help us get closer to heaven or closer to hell. Those who have been to Catholic schools can tell the rest of us what they learned about the importance of moral education. It is true that Catholics and other Christians can lapse in their faith and morals as any one else. Yet they have received family and school education that should help them in the time of temptation or in the dark night of the soul as St. John of the Cross aptly expresses. Growth in age should be accompanied by growth in wisdom. This is why we see more old people than young ones praying in Church. However we should all pay attention that the end of life may be sudden and unexpected. This fact applies to all generations especially due to the individualistic and selfish way we are increasingly seeing today that breaks society by breaking the family. In this connection the Lord said "You also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an unexpected hour." (Luke 12: 40).
The persons who were killed in Syria in the past year died unexpectedly. They were living in peace before the "Arab Spring" so were many Egyptians massacred near Maspero in Cairo last year and in many other terrible incidents too in the past 17 months. Did they have a chance to repent before their death? "You also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an unexpected hour."  says the Lord. We can only ask God to give them eternal life in his mercy, but we cannot judge them.
Closing the discussion, Fr. Michel gave us an example of prayer and faith that he had witnessed in Egypt when he was only 12 years old. He visited the mother of a poor family with 8 children who were classmates. He saw how she obtained food for the family. Not by begging but by prayer and faith in God. She opened the window and shouted at God "Is this how you will feed my family when I have nothing?" In half-an-hour, a messenger knocked on her door and brought a tray full of fish directed by a Sister nun among the Sisters helping the poor. How God worked in the heart of this nun when the lady shouted remains a mystery. What is amazing is the persistence of this mother. After receiving the free tray of fish, she went again  and shouted "How am I going to feed my children fish without bread?" To this prayer, God responded too by sending a basket full of bread to the lady and her family. "Do you see what faith does? Do you see what prayer does? I have seen it." Said Father Michel urging us to have trust in God.

What did we learn here?
1. To all Christians, the Lord asks us to forgive. Not only that but he asks us to forgive and love our enemies. And to be able to love our enemies, the process starts with repentance in the Sacrament of Penance; healing in the Sacrament of the Eucharist; and prayer with the Church and individually everywhere we can.
2. To all Christians, the Lord asks us to be ready for death. Death is not the end for the Lord has risen and went on to his glory body and soul. He opened the way for us to eternal glorified life with him if we choose to follow him.
3. To all Christian families, learn and teach your young ones the moral commandments of God. Bring them to Church. Read with them the Scriptures and follow the teachings of the Church. Live the commandments of God at home, at school, at work, in the street and in bed; for living in the presence of God brings more blessings.
4. To all Christians, have hope in God, and faith that He will give you what you need. To St. Paul, Christ said "My grace suffices you".
What else can we hope for when Christ himself gives us his body and blood in the Eucharist?

Today's Quote

"Behold I make all things new." (Revelation 21:5)


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