Sunday, July 22, 2012

Rest and Peace

Homily 16th Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle B, 2012
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr., pastor, Saint Joseph's, Dalton, GA

After their first mission of evangelization, the Apostles returned to Jesus and he saw that they were tired, so he invited them to “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” What was Jesus looking for? Rest and peace – physical and spiritual. This rest and peace echoes the Seventh Day, when God rested from his labors – the creation of the universe and mankind in his own image and likeness. So this rest and peace signifies the eternal rest we all long for in heaven.

What was the crowd looking for? Also rest and peace. Why were they lacking in rest and peace? Not only because they were tired from the long run to beat Jesus and his Apostles where they were going, but also because they were tired and troubled from the burdens of the world, a spiritual fatigue. They ran those ten miles because they were looking for something that the world couldn't give them: an interior peace, tranquility, and serenity.

This longing is written on the human heart. All the desires of the human heart can only be satisfied in heaven, but we don't know how to get there. He had to teach them because the people could not find peace. Why couldn't the people reach this peace? Because they were looking to the world to satisfy this longing. As with the people of Jesus' time, so also today: we look for the world to satisfy this desire written in our heart. And concretely, this takes many forms today: Alcohol and drugs. Gluttony and shopping. Gambling and risk taking. Fantasy and violence. Sex and porn. These actions take a good and misuse them or use them inappropriately. All in a search for peace, which only comes temporarily.

The devil is right there to encourage us. After we engage in these things, we find that they do not satisfy, and usually we feel nauseous, miserable, or disgusted. The devil tells us what to do next time - increase the quantity and potency - which only leads to addictions, broken relationships, and self-destruction.

The devil promises paradise, but he delivers something else: emptiness, self-loathing, bitterness, alienation from others and from God. By offering substitutes for true peace, he promises us heaven, but ultimately separates us from God. That is the definition of hell, being apart from God.

So, “When Jesus disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” In today's Gospel people come to Jesus hungry and tired. He doesn't offer a quick fix. Instead, he begins to teach.

What does he teach them?  We see it summarized in the Sermon on the Mount. He begins with the Beatitudes and then gives us a Catechesis on the Ten Commandments. These teachings shows us the attitudes and manner of living that lead to true fulfillment.

Satan uses things that are good in themselves - food, drink, sex in the context of a loving marriage, enjoyment, relaxation, even self-esteem - and he perverts them by misusing them or using them disproportionately. All these things are a foretaste of heaven when used as God intended. But the devil tells us that this is all we need, not what they signify. He takes our desire for heaven and twists it to separate us from God.

The philosopher Josef Pieper puts it this way (Schall, p. 146): “Man as he is constituted, endowed as he is for a thirst for happiness, cannot have his thirst quenched in the finite realm; and if he thinks or behaves as if that were possible, he is misunderstanding himself, he is acting contrary to his own nature. The whole world would not suffice this ‘nature’ of man. If the whole world were given to him, he would have to say, and would say: it is too little.”

Yes, our desires can only be fulfilled by the transcendent God. But St. Thomas Aquinas adds something interesting. In heaven, he says, “the blessed will be given more than they ever wanted or hoped for.” Basically, he is saying that even though we may see our human desires as vast and great, in fact, they are not great enough, and indeed they are nothing when compared to the infinite God. And St. Paul would anticipate this when he said, “eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and it has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him”.

Fr. James Schall puts it this way, “God exceeds all our other pleasures not by denying our other pleasures exist, but by maintaining that God is more delightful than even these.”

Now, Jesus doesn't only teach. He also equips us to live his teachings. Through the sacraments, he offers us forgiveness, renewal, and strength for the journey. He offers us an experience of heaven right now. And for all the longings of our heart, we find them in Jesus, who as Saint Paul says, “is our peace”.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

God Particle or God Person?

Homily 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B, 2012
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr, pastor, Saint Joseph's, Dalton GA

This week, we've heard a lot in the news about the so-called “God-particle”. The discovery of the Higgs bosun particle helps physicists understand where mass comes from. While the media always likes to hype these things, it certainly is a great contribution to our understanding of the universe. It does not have anything to do, however, with the existence of God. Originally it was to be called the "taking the name of the Lord in vain" particle (*cough*), because the scientists looking for it were frustrated that it was so difficult to pin down, but they shortened it to “God particle” and the name stuck.

But at times like this it is useful to remind ourselves about faith and science. The catechism says, (159) “Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth.” “Consequently, methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are.

So it should not matter whether a scientist is atheist or believer; the only thing that matters is that he or she is a good scientist, and in doing good science is at the service of all mankind.

So then, how to we understand faith? In today's Gospel, we read that Jesus was “not able to perform any mighty deed” because “he was amazed at their lack of faith.” Is this an example where the Lord, for whom all things are possible, was unable to work a miracle? Is he bound by faith, that he cannot perform a miracle without faith?

In a certain sense, yes. For while God is all-powerful, and nothing is impossible to him, as the catechism says (160) "To be human, “man’s response to God by faith must be free... therefore nobody is to be forced to embrace the faith against his will. The act of faith is of its very nature a free act.”

So God does not force faith upon us, nor does he ask us to abandon our reason and have what many call “blind faith” (as a pejorative) . (156) The assent of faith is “by no means a blind impulse of the mind.” One can come to an understanding that there is a God Creator through the use of reason, many such proofs exist. But, (156) What moves us to believe is not the fact that revealed truths appear as true and intelligible in the light of our natural reason: we believe “because of the authority of God himself who reveals them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived.” We reach the logical conclusion that if such a God exists, we have to deal with the consequences of that reality, namely that such a creator must be all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful.

The miracles of Jesus, that everyone knew about in today's Gospel, were invitations to faith in him.  As the Catechism says (156), So “that the submission of our faith might nevertheless be in accordance with reason, God willed that external proofs of his Revelation should be joined to the internal helps of the Holy Spirit.”; they are “motives of credibility”... which help us come to believe in him.

This brings us to the most important question. In what do we put our faith? The object of faith is a person: not ideas or ideas about God, or philosophies or scientific theories, but a person. On your wedding day, you don't say “I do” to the idea of marriage, you say “I do” to a person. The catechism speaks of it in terms of relationships. (154) Even in human relations it is not contrary to our dignity to believe what other persons tell us about themselves and their intentions or to trust their promises (for example, when a man and a woman marry) to share a communion of life with one another. If this is so, still less is it contrary to our dignity to “yield by faith the full submission of... intellect and will to God who reveals,” and to share in an interior communion with him.

So, in saying “I do” to faith, you are placing your full hope and confidence in God in all things, and this is done freely. (150) Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed. God has made this possible by becoming one of us. So that we can see, touch, hear, and believe. (151) The Lord himself said to his disciples: “Believe in God, believe also in me.” And through our faith in Him, (152) It is the Holy Spirit who reveals to men who Jesus is. This relationship with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is continually deepened and renewed as are all relationships.

How do we come about this faith? (153) Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him. (154) Believing is possible only by grace and the interior helps of the Holy Spirit. But it is no less true that believing is an authentically human act. So it is a gift, but it requires a response, cooperation.

What are the characteristics of faith?

First, (157) Faith is certain. It is more certain than all human knowledge because it is founded on the very word of God who cannot lie... [Saint John Henry Newman] “Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.”

Second, (158) “Faith seeks understanding”: it is intrinsic to faith that a believer desires to know better the One in whom he has put his faith and to understand better what He has revealed; a more penetrating knowledge will in turn call forth a greater faith, increasingly set afire by love... In the words of St. Augustine, “I believe, in order to understand; and I understand, the better to believe.”

Third, faith is necessary for salvation. (161) Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation. Believing that God exists, through reason and faith, means nothing if we don't also believe in what he has revealed to us: that humanity is broken through sin and needs a Savior, and (John 3:16) “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

Fourth, perseverance in faith is not to be taken for granted. (162) Faith is an entirely free gift that God makes to man. We can lose this priceless gift, as St. Paul indicated to St. Timothy: “Wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith.” To live, grow, and persevere in the faith until the end we must nourish it with the word of God; we must beg the Lord to increase our faith; it must be “working through charity,” abounding in hope, and rooted in the faith of the Church. Doing as Saint Paul says (Phil 2:12), “working out our salvation with fear and trembling.

Finally, faith is the foretaste of eternal life: (163) Faith makes us taste in advance the light of the beatific vision, the goal of our journey here below. Then we shall see God “face to face,” “as he is.” So faith is already the beginning of eternal life.

For Christians, it's not about the discovery of the “God particle”, it's about the discovery of the “God person”. Finding him in faith leads us not only to the meaning of life and the universe, but to the fullness of life in heaven.