All Things New

Just watched The Passion of the Christ again.

Just teared up again at only one scene.

Just watched said scene twice.

Just teared up again.

Each time.

This:


Of all the truth in Sacred Scripture, only this line from Revelation 21:5 gets me every time. I’ve written and thought on it so much (like here, about strawberries in Heaven), and yet these words of the Lord at the end of time still do something.

It’s because I have sinned. The people I love dearly have sinned. We all have sinned and  our sin has made us hideous. The world is ugly because of us. And we cannot do a thing about it. The sun isn’t as sunny because of our sin. The breeze isn’t as fresh because of our sin. The peony isn’t as fragrant because of our sin. The strawberry isn’t as sweet, the birdsong isn’t as breathtaking, and we are not as glorious as God made us to be (not even close) — all because of my sin.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s words on sin have affected me deeply this past Triduum:

SheenSin

Because I now know the horror of my past sins. I don’t know them in their full terror yet: that I will know only when Jesus makes it known when He judges me before everyone. But I do know now how ugly my sin made me. And I need Jesus to make all things new: I need Him to make me new.

*Note: Though Jesus does not speak “See, Mother, I make all things new” in the Gospels (He speaks so in Revelation 21:5), Mel Gibson’s decision to have Him say this during His Passion is very worthy. He tells Mary, His Mother, not to worry, because He will make all this suffering and sorrow into a beautiful new creation. Jesus is only beginning to re-create and renew.

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American Idolatry

m_americanidollogo630_113011As 2017 begins, I’d like to share how we all can make this new year a better one. First, we can must stop committing American idolatry. Here’s what I mean:

  1. Idolatry is worshiping, loving and serving someone/thing other than God. Here’s why idolatry is stupid and wrong: because no one except God can save you. He made you, He saves you, and He raises you from the dead (no matter how decayed you are in the grave). No one and nothing else can do that. So when we love a person more than we love God, when we love a thing more than we love God, we’re entrusting ourselves to something that will fail us in the end. Even we ourselves will fail ourselves in the end.
  2. And that’s the problem. We entrust ourselves to money, science, technology, education and career. Those are all great tools to help us serve God and others, but they are not gods! And we’re the dumber for thinking and living like they are.
  3. Even worse, we trust in our favorite celebrities and politicians as if they are all mighty and all perfect. We think Taylor Swift will save the world, we have recourse to Donald Trump, we find hope in Hillary Clinton, we hang on Pope Francis’ every word, and we believe in ourselves.
  4. But the only person we should ever really believe in is Jesus Christ. We cannot believe in anyone else! Because everyone else dies! And they stay dead! But only Christ came back to life, and only He can make you come back, too.
  5. Never believe in yourself. It’s a useless lie. Because even you die. I stopped believing in myself long ago when I realized the problem with me is me, and the only solution is He who made me and can remake me into a saint. Just think about it, really think about it…
  6. So if we all let God remake us into saints, this 2017 and forward will be really something. The best way to start is to pray, asking Him to give us the grace to let Him do what needs to be done.

 

Hillary and Donald Are Just Like Me

presdebate

Yes, I watched the debate.

No, I don’t know much about either candidate.

But I do know that they are just like me. This is how:

When I make promises and do not keep them. When I cheat and steal. When I objectify and lust. When I hoard things and am greedy with money. When I deceive and hide the truth. When I pretend to know what I am doing, and what I am talking about. When I refuse to pray for others and only pray for myself. When I think I am a god and everyone else is deplorable. When I claim to be Catholic Christian, but live like a pagan and heathen. When I say I care, but don’t do anything about it. When I claim to be pro-life but ignore families who need help with their children. When I say we need to help the poor but I live like royalty. When I talk about their flaws but ignore my own. When I call them hypocrites but am just like them.

And that is also why we have the presidential candidates that we do. They reflect who we are as citizens: what we think of, what we do, what we love, what we worship. We will only have better leaders if we ourselves become better, virtuous citizens.

Now that would be a miracle… virtuous citizens…

Scary Jesus

jcjudgeenhMost of us are familiar with merciful, loving and forgiving Jesus…

But there is a side of Christ we often overlook, a side that is justice, holiness, judgment, and power. And it is scary, especially for us who love the Lord and do not want to sin.

Here are two things that Jesus says that frightens me (really smack me with holy fear and trembling), because I never want to hear Him say these to me or to those I love:

—–1)

“Not every one who says to me, `Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, `I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.‘ (Matthew 7: 21-23, RSV)

Can you tell which part scares me? Yes, the part I italicized and bolded: “I never knew you…”
Think about it: for God Himself to say that He never knew you, you who He created, you who He knew from even before He made the universe, and suddenly He “never knew you.” What does that even mean?

It means that God made us and does know us through and through, better than we know ourselves. But, He made us to be a certain way: He made us to be good, true, beautiful, loving, and holy. But when we choose to live in sin, when we choose to be evil, to be liars, to be disfigured, hateful and wicked, we become unrecognizable to God. He did not make us to be cheaters and murderers and demons. He made us to be His beloved children.

And so, our sins alter who we were destined to be, our sins deprive us of our destiny, and we choose (through our lives of sin) to become disfigured and unfamiliar to God, because we ourselves have become unfamiliar with God and no longer know Him either.

If God, almighty maker Himself does not know us, then who can? I am truly lost if He never knew me. I am truly gone if He tells me to depart. I am truly evil if He calls me that.

—–2)

“But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God.” (Matthew 22:29, RSV)

As for the scary part here: if God Himself says that I am wrong… then I am wrong absolutely. Think about it: the Creator says you are wrong! The sculptor of stars, seas and summits has declared you to be wrong. The omniscient, all-knowing, and infinite mind! I cannot be any more in error if Truth Himself says I err, and since I want to know the truth, to live in the truth, and to be truthful, being so wrong terrifies me.

For me, those are the two most horrific things that Jesus says in Sacred Scripture. I have many favorite, non-scary, lines from the Bible, but those are for another post. For now, just know that we must read God’s Word seriously. When He Himself who made time speaks, His words are forever. When Truth Himself speaks, His words are THE truth.

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Judgment Day Jesus

Child Will Miss This

Child will miss this,
Will miss wind on her skin,
Miss this air lifting her cries,
Whisping her voice to the skies.

Child will miss sun on her hair,
Warming each strand
As Mother’s hands braid
And comb them into a crown.

Dad will miss the sound
Of Child’s laughter,
The only sound that
Blooms into music in life hereafter.

Child will miss Brother and Sister,
Will miss the rivalry
And the revelry of sharing
Family together.

Child will miss this world
As much as the world is deprived
Of who Child could have been
If only Child had not died
While yet inside

Mother misses Child,
As her tears have testified.
And Dad prays for Child,
Never to neglect.

Brother and Sister neither forget
Their friend,
Though they have never met,
They long a reunion

Perhaps in dream and pondering,
Merely wandering their fantasies
At who Child could have been
If Child were named rather than maimed.

Child will miss herself,
Will miss discovering her life
And miss knowing the love
We were meant to give her.

 

Evan Pham – May 12, 2016 – In honor and memory of children, motherhood, fatherhood, and siblinghood lost to abortion.

My Worst Fear

Recently, a friend and I were talking about our greatest fears. Among all the truly terrible things in this fallen world, from terrorism to child abuse, from torture to betrayal, from murder to rape, from among all these things and everything between, I am most afraid of this:

I fear becoming evil.

I fear becoming a terrorist, I fear being an abuser, a torturer, a betrayer, a murderer, a rapist. I fear becoming evil more than I fear being terrorized, abused, tortured, betrayed, murdered, raped.

The only thing worse than being a victim is being a victimizer.Murderer

Because I never want to hurt the people I love. I never want to take away someone’s beloved. And I never want to forfeit my soul, forfeit my God and the New Heaven and New Earth He will make for you and for me when He returns.

If I am a victim, the Lord can heal me (as he has before). If you are a victim, the Lord can heal you, too (just ask Him, let Him). Some of the most abused victims in Church history (e.g., St. Maria Goretti, St. Joan of Arc, St. Jean de Brébeuf, and even the Lord Jesus Himself) even went on to become beloved, beautified and beatified in God’s grace!

But if I am the evildoer… if I choose to be malicious and to remain in evil, if I refuse to repent and persist in perversions, then I am lost. I lost myself and hid myself from Heaven. Then I become evil: forgotten, forsaken, forever.

And the more evil I do, the more evil I remain. Until it is almost impossible to turn around… because I might even forget and even doubt I can turn back to God. He forgives all who repent (see Luke 15:11-32), but what if I do not let Him love me? What if I become so prideful that I believe my sins are greater than His mercy?

It could happen. I can be that stupid. And I am that free to choose.

And that is why becoming evil is my worst fear, and it should be yours also.

Please pray our worst fear remains merely a possibility.

But if it has become a reality, let us pray we turn back to the King so He can make us new.

Forgiveness is For Giving (not withholding)

Hello! This post is unlike anything I’ve shared before: it’s an actual academic exegesis I wrote for my Synoptics class. You know how I sound when I write casually, now hear how I sound as a wannabe-scholar… (I promise, there are some really amazing things I learned and want to share with you!) The paper is based on one of my favorite verses in all Scripture, Luke 7:47: Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.

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Luke 7:41-50 (RSV)

[41] “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. [42] When they could not pay, he forgave them both. Now which of them will love him more?” [43] Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, to whom he forgave more.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” [44] Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. [45] You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. [46] You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. [47] Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”  [48] And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” [49] Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” [50] And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Introduction:

Ideally, the entirety of Luke 7:36-50, known as “A Sinful Woman Forgiven,” would be explored and discussed. However, the confines of this essay restrict us to an abridged reading covering only v.41-50, which exudes yet a great deal of wealth for faith that seeks understanding. The scene opens with Simon the Pharisee inviting Jesus to dine with him, which our Lord accepts. At table, a seemingly notorious woman approaches the Lord and begins to do him homage in the presence of Simon and others at table. Seeing this, Simon secretly criticizes Jesus for allowing this woman to even touch him, “for she is a sinner,” at which point, Jesus addresses a parable and lesson to Simon, and to us as well.

The Parable and the Pardon:

To help understand this parable in Luke 7, we must know the value of a denarius. In New Testament times, a sole denarius was a standard day’s wage,[1] and so in Jesus’ brief parable, one debtor owes fifty days’ worth of wages, whereas the other owes 500 days’ worth. Because the creditor cancels both debts, the difference between the debtors, with one owing a far larger amount, is important for grasping the message Jesus seeks to impart. Firstly, that the debtors cannot repay their debts, though the amounts owed would normally be repayable (unlike the debt owed by the unforgiving servant from Matthew 18:21-35), shows that perhaps unforeseen problems (e.g., debilitating injuries or disease) have arisen and made the debtors incapable of repayment. Allegorically, our debilitation is the sin of Adam, as well as all subsequent personal sin. Some bear greater sin than others, but all remain debilitated by Original Sin until Baptism, and then debilitated again with each following grave sin committed. Thus, sin is not merely debt but debilitation also.

Our Lord then says a peculiar thing in mentioning love with his question in v. 42, the original Greek of which is agapēsei (ἀγαπήσει) and means a love more nuanced toward willingness and commitment.[2] This is strange, for the business relationship between debtors and creditors usually do not involve love of any real sort, much less agapic love. Appreciation, gratitude and further indebtedness would be more fitting, but here actually lies the potential for love: the creditor in cancelling debt acts not only generously, but acts charitably,[3] acts as a benefactor who need not do such a thing out of lawfulness, but out of lavishness, out of love. Justice calls for the repayment of debt, but love becomes possible when a great debt is given, or rather, is forgiven as a gift to the debtor,[4] a gift of such immense cost that its giving transforms any stranger into a benefactor, into a lover, and any stranger into a beneficiary, into a beloved, for such great love moves the beloved to love freely in return. Thus, our Lord brings love into the parable of debt to reveal that the relationship is not one of economic basis, but of intimacy. He is priming Simon to “reconsider the meaning of [the sinful] woman’s actions – not the repayment of a debt, as though she were a slave girl or prostitute, but an expression of love that flows from the freedom of having all debts cancelled.”[5]

Indeed Simon understands, for Jesus responds that he “judged rightly” with his answer, but then Jesus does another peculiar thing. The Lord, while having turned to face the woman, asks Simon in v. 44, “Do you see this woman?” Jesus here is addressing Simon, but is looking at the woman, and doing so implies that Simon, though he sees the woman, does not truly see her. In asking Simon from this posture and gesture, Jesus invites Simon to “adopt Jesus’ own view of matters concerning this woman,” to see her as he sees her, to stand in his place and look upon her, to “no longer viewing her as [merely] a ‘sinner’ but as one who loves extravagantly.”[6]

Jesus’ address to Simon is also toward us, for we also should imitate the Lord in seeing others not as mere sinners, but as beloved siblings in Christ. Furthermore, the Lord is calling us to also love him and neighbor extravagantly, as the woman loves. From vv. 44-46, Luke’s comparison of Simon’s lack of bare minimum hospitality with the woman’s overwhelming hospitality is also an allegory: Jesus is the divine guest to the household of man. He visits not for merely his enjoyment or sake, but exclusively for ours, and is yet met not only with inhospitality, but even with open hostility from his host.[7] The allegory continues as Luke reveals the woman expresses love with prodigality similar to that of the prodigal father from Luke 15. Her experience of the Lord’s mercy and love moves her to go beyond basic hospitality that society calls Simon to provide, and so Luke compares in vv. 44-46 the coldness of Simon with the woman’s affections, presented here as a table for emphasis, reproduced from Brendan Byrne’s text:[8]

SIMON

I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet,

You gave me no kiss,

You did not anoint my head with oil,

THE WOMAN

but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.

but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet.

but she has anointed my feet with ointment.

With the case of Simon, as the host he should have extended courtesies to Jesus, and that would have been socially enough. Yet, the woman not only extends the courtesies, but humbles herself before the Lord in ways that would have been inconceivable for Simon to have done. Simon should have provided water for Jesus to wash on his own, should have welcomed the Teacher with a kiss and anointed his head, yet the woman not only gives water, but gives water drawn from her tears of love, and dries the Lord’s feet with her own hair, which is seen in New Testament times as a woman’s pride and glory. Moreover, the woman, like the centurion from just prior in Luke 7:6, does not consider herself worthy to kiss the Lord on his divine face, but only on his feet, and does not even dare anoint the Lord on his crown, but reaches for his feet alone. Her humility in act and her extravagance in provision show her gratitude and reflect the forgiveness she has experienced from Jesus. To forgive and seek forgiveness is an act of humility and extravagance both for the penitent and the person offended: humility because pride prohibits repentance from the sinner and prohibits mercy from the one sinned against, and extravagance because parsimony restricts atonement by the sinner and restricts charity by the one wounded.[9] The allegory deepens here and finds completion in v. 47, but before continuing, the term kiss deserves special discussion.

Of the four Gospels, only the Synoptic Gospels employ the term kiss, and of the Synoptics, Luke makes most use of the term. All three Evangelists present Judas betraying Jesus with a kiss, but only Luke presents kisses elsewhere in different pericopes: once in the parable of the prodigal, and thrice here regarding the repentant woman. The appearances of kisses is telling in Luke, since his first kiss is here in Luke 7, bestowed on the Lord by a sinner on behalf of repentant sinners, and the next kiss is that of God (through the person of the prodigal father) upon repentant sinners in Luke 15’s parable. Luke’s final kiss is Judas’. One can then read that Luke’s intent is much like how he closes some of his pericopes with open endings: what will we choose next? Will we join the celebration of the younger brother’s repentance and safe return, or stay in the darkness of resentment? Will we let the last kiss upon our Lord be that of betrayal, or will we kiss him again with love and gratitude from his forgiving us?

And therein lies the conclusion of the allegory, for in v. 47, not only has the woman shown great love to the Lord for his having forgiven her,[10] but Jesus has also forgiven us our many sins and we, as the character of Simon, have yet to show the Lord such love and gratitude. We have not been forgiven little, for we have even been forgiven for crucifying the Son of God with our sins, but then why do we love so little? And why do we love not only the Lord so little, but also our brothers and sisters who are no worse than we? In fact, we who come after the Lord’s Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension have far more to be thankful for compared to the repentant woman, and so we also are far guiltier since we have in malice sinned against the greater gift of the Lord’s full revelation. Thus, we should in repentance and reconciliation, through the sacrament of penance, express even more love than the woman here, for we have been forgiven far more.[11]

The Lord then declares to the woman: “Your sins are forgiven,” something that at this point is already obviously clear to the woman. Rather, Luke here suggests Jesus not as addressing the woman alone, but to Simon and his tablemates who were questioning the situation, and not merely to Simon and the others, but to us readers also. Jesus here is not assuring the woman of his forgiveness (for such had been done), but is declaring to Simon and the onlookers that the woman is now reconciled with God and with God’s people and should be treated and related to as such by the community,[12] and not as a “woman of the city, who was a sinner” (v. 37). The others at table, however, are not concerned about this restoration of a lost sheep into the fold, but rather turn to critique Jesus in v. 49 with words that hearken back to Luke 5:21, when Jesus earlier forgave the sins of the paralytic. How important it is for us not to follow in such critique, which may tempt us when we ourselves are grievously wounded and do not desire our offender to be reconciled with us or with Heaven. To prevent such further resentment toward a forgiven sinner, Jesus reemphasizes in v. 50 that indeed the woman’s faith has saved her and she is free to go in peace. Here, faith is not to be misunderstood as the instrument of her forgiveness, for the Lord alone forgives, but as the requirement to even seeking repentance in the first place. Faith is necessarily bound to metanoia, for “those who reject faith reject the everlasting life that Christ offers to the world.”[13] Lastly, the peace Jesus mentions in v. 50 is not limited to the woman’s personal and “‘spiritual’ well-being… but speaks of a restoration … to the full social intercourse from which she has been excluded.”[14] The woman was once lost but has now been found.

Conclusion:

Luke closes this pericope with an open ending, as mentioned earlier regarding the kisses found in the evangelist’s Gospel. Such endings challenge readers to imagine what Simon and the others at table will do, and ultimately what readers themselves will do. Will we love much since we have been forgiven much? Will we love the Lord extravagantly, fearlessly and without shame before others who may judge us as sinful and untouchable, perhaps even as unforgiveable? Will we ourselves in turn forgive others much since we ourselves have been forgiven infinitely more?

[1] Hahn, Scott, ed., Catholic Bible Dictionary, (New York: Doubleday, 2009), 211.

[2] Catholic Bible Dictionary, 553.

[3] The word forgave in vv. 42-43 is from the Greek charizomai and connotes “by way of gift,” as in charity. See: Johnson: 127, note #42.

[4] Johnson, Luke Timothy, The Gospel of Luke, (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1991), 127.

[5] Joel B. Green, Gospel of Luke, 312.

[6] Green, Joel B., The Gospel of Luke, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997), 312.

[7] Byrne, Brendan, The Hospitality of God, (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2015), 88.

[8] Ibid., 87.

[9] The parable of the Prodigal Son and Father in Lk. 15 further elaborates this nature of forgiveness.

[10] Johnson, Luke Timothy, The Gospel of Luke , 128. The woman’s love is the effect of the Lord’s forgiveness, not the cause of the Lord’s forgiveness, as can be misread in various translations. The preceding parable in vv. 41-43 also requires such a reading in v.47.

[11] Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, II-II, q. 72, a. 11.

[12] Green, Joel B., The Gospel of Luke, 314.

[13] Catholic Bible Dictionary, 764.

[14] Green, Joel B., The Gospel of Luke, 314.