I have to confess that I am not a big fan of shrines for saints. The reason is that when I am at a shrine, it always seems like the saint is someone so “plastic” they could not possibly have been a real person. The shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton is not like that. Rather, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton is presented as an ordinary person, who quest for God was a response to extraordinary grace.
This means that we cannot let ourselves off the hook. We too are called to holiness, and even though we might feel ordinary, we have available to us God’s extraordinary grace. And if we respond to this grace, we too can become a saint.
I grew up in rural America, and it did not take much for something to get me excited. Life is kind of average and ordinary. But when I was little, visiting relatives, there was the day I rode on “The New Road.” I had heard relatives talking about it, and there was a great deal of build up to the day it would actually be open for people to use. It was a four lane divided road that was an upgrade from the small, cracked road that served as the US route before. The level of excitement as we awaited its opening was amazing.
And when it did open, it was amazing. It was smooth. And big. Because of the road’s width, there was a better view of the landscape. Because of the road, a driver could go faster. It did not matter that what the “New Road” was for a while was really a divided highway that only went a few miles. In fact, the original length of the road is only one exit to the next today, as the road has been expanded. But the smoothness of the road, the beauty of the view, and the speed of the vehicle made it all worthwhile. So when the image of rough ways becoming smooth comes up in the Advent readings, I think of the “New Road” because it is a suitable image of the excitement of saying yes to God.
Sometimes the Christian life is presented in such a way as to make it seem easy. Jesus is the kind teddy bear, and not only does he never demand anything of us, he makes all things feel good. While this type of feel good religion is tempting, Jesus never embraced such a religion. Persecution. Division. Not Peace. Conflict. Even Death. The life of one who follows the gospel is not automatically good. In fact, some would call the age we live in today the age of the martyrs, as Christians are being persecuted and killed all over the world.
The good news is that for people who have total trust in Jesus, like the widow a couple of days ago, the grace and love of God can see them through anything. Jesus mentions the difficulties so that we do not go into intentional discipleship blindly. Rather, he wants us to know that while it will not always be easy, we will also face whatever comes in the power of this relationship with Jesus.
It can feel at times like God has rejected us. Such is the question in today’s first reading. The recent events of our lives, those violent acts that have made the news can cause the feeling of rejection. But how often are the evils in our world the result of human sin?
To be sure, in some way, all evil is the result of the fall from grace. All evil arises from sin, for God is only goodness. What humans need always to recall is the constant need for forgiveness and conversion. Every sin we commit contributes to the proliferation of evil in our world. So ask God for the grace of conversion.
Violence just seems to be endless. Again and again there are stories on the news about this mass shooting, or that violent attack. Hardly a few days go by when it happens again. I wonder how to make sense of it all. Sometimes it can be hard to find the presence of God in our world. Sometimes it feels as if sin is winning. It feels like death has the upper hand.
And violence is only one type of challenge. We have loved ones who die, we have diseases and illness, we have hardships of all kinds. And if there is one thing about the Solemnity of the Commemoration of all the faithful departed, it is that God continues to give to us time and again mercy and forgiveness. Praying for the dead is the concrete sign of that mercy. While God hates sin, God loves us. God gives us every single opportunity to be saved.
I have never liked mornings. I do not like to have to get up early (as my mother can attest). I can have the best of intentions and motivations about what the next morning will mean, but at the time morning actually comes, I am weak. This has been a particular challenge in religious life, because things start early. But my feeling about mornings, and my reactions to it, help me to understand better what Saint Paul says about moral and spiritual choices.
Saint Paul tells us that he sees the good but does the bad. Now, he wants to do the good, but there are times when the bad seems good and so he sins. The spiritual life can expose fickleness. Just like Saint Paul, we can see the good and do the bad. The only help we can find is the help that comes from grace. Only with God’s grace, and our full cooperation with it can we both see the good and do it.
The first reading today compares two men. The power of one of the men led to sin and death. The power of the other man led to salvation. How is it possible that two men could impact us so differently? Simple. The one powerful action by the fully human and fully divine man was enough to save. It overcame the detriment of the sinful action. We can be saved.
This happens when we open our hearts to the gift from the man of life. When we trust in Jesus, we open our souls to the forgiveness and mercy which saves. We are able to receive the grace of God. We become more and more alive because of Jesus. So, you can trust in the actions of the one man of sin, or place your lives into the divine and human person of Jesus.
I am like a three-year-old. I want to do things myself. I do not want to be helped, even when that help could make things easier. Even though I know faith is easier when accepting God’s grace, God’s help, I like the control of doing things on my own. And it is in this that I fail. It is when I give in and believe it is not about faith in God, but rather about faith in my own works, it is then I turn my back on God and deny him. And this is true in my faith life.
Yet Saint Paul makes it clear. It is all about faith. It is all about believing in what God can do. It is in recognizing the grace that God freely gives so that I can acknowledge him and what he is about. It is about trusting God. God keeps His covenants. God keeps promises. And God is ever so generous in helping us to believe.
There has been a lot of controversy around Confederate War Memorials. Whenever a memorial is put up, the reason for the memorial is important. Hence, the controversy. The gospel today mentions those who put up memorials during Jesus’ day. Memorials to the prophets, whose message was not heard or believed. Prophets were killed. To erect memorials to them now is seen as hypocritical.
When we rely only on human effort, we run the risk of hypocritical memorials. All have sinned Saint Paul writes. All have fallen short of the glory of God. How can we ever put our trust in human effort alone? Truth is, we do not. We put our trust in the way, the truth and the life, the Lord Jesus Christ himself.
This eleventh chapter of Luke’s gospel is an interesting one. It appears to be centered, for the most part, around the idea of prayer. We hear Luke’s version of the Our Father. Then there is a parable about the need for persistence in prayer. There is the questioning of the source of Jesus’ power, which reminds us of the ways in which we can doubt the good deeds of others. Today the focus is on the power of a sign. Jonah and Solomon are mentioned as examples of signs given already. And to those who doubt, no sign will be given. It is not unlike when Jesus went to his hometown. No miracle was performed because of a lack of faith.
This is a stark reminder that when we go looking for signs we must be careful. We cannot look for signs in place of Jesus. Rather, Jesus is the sign. Jesus is the person longing to give life, love and grace to a new relationship. We do not need the signs of others, for Jesus is already here.