Tuesday, December 18, 2012

6 Christian Images for Newtown

I cannot imagine what the parents in Newtown are going through, especially those who have lost their children in this tragedy. As a mother, I know the pain in their heart is unspeakable and my heart breaks for them. Driving my car yesterday, I started to brainstorm, "what are some images from my tradition that can speak to the horror we saw last Friday?" I want to share 6 of them with you.

1. The first one is pretty obvious. Every speech we've heard since the event, particularly the speeches by President Obama, has used this quote. Jesus tells us in the Gospel of Matthew to "Let the children come to me" and "That the Kingdom belongs to such as these." In New Testament times, children were to be seen, not heard. They were the lowest of the low, the very bottom of the totem pole. So it was quite revolutionary for Jesus to give them so much attention and dignity. Jesus loved children and although they died, we can trust that the victims of this massacre are being held in His arms right now.

2. The next one is fairly obvious given the holiday that is coming up. God, when He decided that He wanted to come to Earth and save us, didn't come as a king in glory and majesty. He came as a little child. As the hymn "Come, thou long-expected Jesus" says, "Born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a king..." Again, another one "The coming of our God" says, "The everlasting Son comes down to Mary's womb; He bears our servitude to save us from our doom. O Zion, rise in haste to meet the meek and mild; Throw wide your arms; embrace the peace brought by this holy child." We Christians celebrate Christmas because we believe that God Himself, Creator and Sustainer of the world, came down to us in the form of a newborn baby. All children are God's children.

3. In the Gospel of Matthew, we read about how after Jesus' birth and after the Magi ran off, Herod ordered for all little boys under the age of two in Bethlehem to be killed in hopes of that he would kill Jesus and prevent Him from becoming king. Joseph had a dream about this warning him and so he took the Holy Family to Egypt and Jesus was spared. In many Christian traditions, these children are considered the first martyrs. After the events in Newtown, I saw a prayer to the Holy Innocents make its way around Facebook:

A Prayer To The Holy Innocents

Holy Innocents, you died before you were old enough to know what life means, pray for all children who die young that God may gather them into His loving arms.

Holy Innocents, you were killed because one man

was filled with hatred, pray for those who hate that God may touch their hearts and fill them with love.

Holy Innocents, you experienced a violent death, pray for all who are affected by violence that they may find peace and love.

Holy Innocents, your parents grieved for you with deep and lasting sorrow, pray for all parents who have lost young children that God may wrap a warm blanket of comfort around them.

Holy Innocents, those around you certainly felt helpless to prevent your deaths, pray for all who feel helpless in their circumstances that they may cling to God for courage and hope.

Holy Innocents, you who are now in Heaven, pray for all of us that one day we may join you there to bask in God's love forever.


4. Now, follow me to the other end of Jesus' life on earth. We believe that Mary was there at the crucifixion. She witnessed the little child who she had held close in the manger grow up and die a horrible death on the cross. She watched her Son bleed and breathe His last. In sculptures, like the above by Michelangelo, and other similar statues and paintings, Mary is depicted holding her dead Son in her arms. Mary knows what the parents in Newtown are feeling more than I ever could. True, Jesus was not taken from this world in the springtime of His youth, He was an adult when He was executed, but a parent should never, ever have to bury their own child.

5. John 3:16 states, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life." Not only does Mary know what it is like to lose a child. God the Father knows too. Now, since He is God, He knew the reason why His Son had to die. He saw the bigger picture. But I'm sure that did not lend much condolence to Him as He watched Jesus suffer and die. A Man He knew to be innocent, a Man who He had watched grow up and had such an intimate relationship with, dies of asphyxiation, bleeding, naked on a cross. He knew why His Son had to die that day, but it was still His Son He watched dying.

6. And then we get to Jesus Himself. Jesus died. He not only died, but He died in the most horrific way that the Romans could think of at the time. He walked into the garden at Gethsemane knowing He was going to die. As part of the mystery of the Trinity, we also believe that Jesus was God. So as fully divine as well as fully man, Jesus walked every day of His life knowing how and when He was going to die. And when the time came, it was not easy for Him. He prayed that His fate could be changed. He cried out on the cross feeling as if God the Father had abandoned Him in His final moments. He courageously went to His death, but "courage" does not mean without fear. It means not letting the fear paralyze you into inaction. It reminds me of something else that has been making it's way around Facebook:

This is Victoria Soto. She died a hero today. She hid her first graders in the cabinets and closets after hearing the gunfire. When the shooter came to her classroom, she told him that her students were in the gym. He then gunned her down and moved on. She saved the lives of all of her students. Please pass this on if you see it. She deserves to be remembered for her bravery.

The story is not entirely true, but as the facts come in, we do know that she did die trying to protect "her kids" and five other staff members did, too. They showed the exact same courage Jesus showed on the cross.

This is the image I want to end with. There is the face of a young child (maybe angel) with a halo, a symbol of holiness. That face is right next to the face of the suffering Christ with this crown of thorns. I think this sums up the points I made with the other images very well.      

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Joy! Reflections on Gaudete Sunday

Joy! I have a little trouble every time I hear that word. It's more than just a word for me. My mom's mom, the grandmother who died suddenly in the car accident that I talked briefly about a couple days ago, was named Joy. Of course I didn't call her that when she was alive, she was grandma to me. But since her death, I've seen and heard her name many, many times. And now, I cannot hear that word without thinking about her.

Yup, that's the stereotype.
Unfortunately, I cannot share a picture of her with you because she tended to run away whenever she saw a camera. And besides, she died long before digital photography became common place. I can try to paint a picture with words. Imagine the stereotypical Sicilian grandmother: short, stocky with dark eyes and dark curly hair. Always cheerful and a very good cook. Every year we had a cake walk at my school and she'd always bake a couple Barbie cakes (like this). I always made a point to win one. She babysitted me all the time. I remember playing at her house. I remember her helping me over the fence in the backyard so I could visit my friend who lived in the house behind hers. One of my last memories of her was of her crocheting in the front room of their house in the Ozarks (the house they moved to only a year or two before her death. They had previously lived near my family in Kansas City, MO).

After death, her influence on me got so much greater. I may never know what impact she had on me while she was alive because she spent my formative years with me. But I do remember and appreciate her impact on me since her death.

One of the most concrete ways that her death itself impacted me is that it still, to this day, affects how I deal with people who are mourning. When she died, I saw at least three very different ways of mourning. 1) My mother completely lost control instantaneously when we got the phone call. I remember my mom wailing and I went to her room to find out what happened. Between sobs, I got the whole story.

2) Then it was my turn to mourn. I didn't shed a tear or acknowledge any sadness for a couple of years. While my mom is the kind of person to express themselves dramatically on the spot, I'm the kind of person to stew over it for a while. I guess I was in shock for a while and then I got busy with other things. I guess I may have also had a sense of needing to stay strong for everyone else. I was in middle school before I started seeing a counselor regularly. (She died when I was in third grade.) And this is not simply the response of a young child. Only 7 years ago, a close friend of mine died and I didn't start mourning him until months later. So, when I walk into a hospital or hospice room, I have a lot of sympathy for the aloof family member who doesn't shed a tear and I often find myself wanting to defend such people against the other family members who are accusing them of not caring.

My mom is "On Time." I'm "Delayed." And I think by grandfather was basically "Cancelled."

3) My grandfather, her husband, ran away from everything. It wasn't instantaneous, but in the two or three years after her death he gradually abandoned the family that they had raised together. He sold all of her belongings without giving the kids a chance to pick anything up first. He burned all of his bridges to his old life with my grandmother. Unfortunately, I don't have much sympathy for people who react this way. I can sympathize with the family who is victimized by such people. I say victimized because when one person dies and another person disappears, you essentially lose two members of your family at the same time.

Shortly before September 11th, 2001, I had a dream with Joy in it. She told me some things that at the time didn't make any sense. After the terrorist attack, however, it dawned on me that she had been telling me about that. She had been dressed in a stewardess outfit. Now, I don't claim any precognitive abilities, but I think that in some way we can all sense when something big is going to happen. It's kind of like animals before a natural disaster. They can feel something in the ground or smell something in the air and they start to run. Since we're more rational than the animals, we tend to ignore or suppress our urge to run. Like I did in regards to this dream. The dream made no sense until it actually happened. At least that's my theory.


So, when I saw Joy again in my dreams a couple of months into my pregnancy, my first thought was, "Oh great, what's going to happen now?" I had to work up the courage to ask my mom about it a couple of weeks later because I was so convinced that something bad was going to happen. My mom told me, however, that on her way to work, she frequently prays to God and talks to our dead relatives. She gave each of our relatives an assignment. My dad's dad was to watch over my dad. My dad's mom was to watch over my little brother. And Joy was to watch over me. So, that was it, my grandmother knew how scared and depressed I was living 18 hours away from my family and pregnant with my first child. She was just letting me know she was there. For the remainder of my pregnancy, I talked to her and prayed for her intercession often. I know she's still watching over us but maybe not as closely as she watched us while I was pregnant and the weeks directly after his birth.

Joy was the last woman in my family to be a housewife. As I am currently a housewife myself, I feel a bond with her in that. Of all of my grandparents, she was the one who was the most of a home-body and a caretaker. My dad's parents traveled everywhere. I got postcards from them all the time, but I rarely saw them until after my mom's mom died. Even Joy's husband liked to go out exploring, driving around and doing outdoorsy stuff.

On our way back to Syracuse from St. Louis for Christmas last year, my husband and I went through some pretty scary weather. Since Joy had died in a car accident due to icy roads, I took comfort knowing she was going to help make sure her granddaughter and unborn great-grandson were not going to have the same fate. I could just see in my mind's eye all three of our guardian angels led by my grandmother keeping our car safe. 

I guess you can say that my grandmother has acquired a bit of a mythological significance since her death. I see her interceding for me and our family. I know she's watching us making sure we don't royally mess up our first time parenting. So, when I hear the word "Joy" in the liturgy, I don't think of some abstract religious version of happiness. I see my grandmother's face and I know she's smiling down on us wherever she is.

Brothers and sisters:
Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again: rejoice!
Your kindness should be known to all.
The Lord is near.
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. -Philippians 4:4-7

Read the rest of the readings here: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/121612.cfm

Friday, December 14, 2012

8 Years as a Catholic

This past Wednesday was the eighth anniversary of my Baptism, Confirmation and first Eucharist. I still regularly surprise people who don't expect me to be a convert.They say I fit in way too much. I guess that's a compliment.

So, how did I get there? I was raised in a family that was largely non-religiously affiliated. My parents both felt like they had been forced to go to church as children and they didn't want to do the same thing to their kids. We celebrated Christmas and Easter, although the religious meanings of the holidays weren't high-lighted. I wouldn't say they were all about Santa and the Easter Bunny though. We weren't materialistic like that. I would say that my parents emphasized the family togetherness above everything else. Somehow, although I never went to church, it was engrained in me that there was a God and that God was infinitely loving and forgiving. I've tried out a number of different religions, but I've never questioned that fact.

I was a very religiously precocious child. I remember asking whether Adam and Eve were apes when I was in early elementary school. Every year when my mom took out the nativity set, I would play with it with my Happy Meal figurines making up my own stories about what happened. Some of my earliest memories are of meditating in my backyard trying to become one with everything. Well before the age of ten, I was already conversant in the belief of reincarnation and astrology.

When I was in third grade, one of my grandmothers died suddenly in a car accident. Her husband had always adored me and my parents let me spend a lot of time with him to help him through the loss. I wasn't the only person helping him through the loss and he remarried three years later. His new wife's church became his whole life. He practically lived at that church. He was there for several hours every evening and on Sundays singing and listening to fire and brimstone sermons and participating in altar calls. They called themselves "Southern Baptists" and their God was going to damn to hell any non-white, non-straight person who did not go to their specific church building in southwest Missouri. He started to intensely believe in this angry, vengeful God and he did everything he could to make sure I was saved. In the meantime, my other grandmother died and he told me she was in hell because she didn't go to his church (I think she was Presbyterian). I associated all this hate with the Christian God and if this was what the Christian God looked like, I didn't want to have anything to do with Him.
My grandfather would fit right in.

I looked into Buddhism and practiced it for a while. I took a quiz on Beliefnet that suggested that I might be a Unitarian Universalist, so I tried on that label for a while. I had a number of really good, really meaningful experiences as I explored my own spirituality. Due to my experiences with my grandfather, I didn't want to have anything to do with anything connected to Christianity. As such, I was part of the outsider/weirdo crowd in high school. And as part of that crowd, I gradually found myself more and more surrounded by practitioners of Wicca/Neo-paganism. I discovered that I liked that belief system and in February of 2003, I officially started my year and a day of study toward becoming an official witch as part of the coven of the guy I was dating. I graduated high school later that spring and I started college that fall.

In October of 2003 (I believe it was the 12th) I went to my first Catholic Mass. My first semester of college was very hard for me. I was away from everyone I had ever known. I could not do the caliber of work that was expected of me. I tried to be a physics major and my first physics professor was a nightmare. Someone I knew fairly well committed suicide. One of the main bright spots in my life was my World Religions class. For that class, the main project was to go to a religious service in a religion you had no prior exposure to. Now, one thing you need to know about my college, Truman State University, is that it is a dumping ground for all, and I mean all, of the Catholic private high schools in St. Louis. I was one of only two or three non-Catholics on my floor in the dorm. So, I decided to go to Mass with some of my new floormates.

[As a side note, while all of this was going on, I was experimenting with Christianity. I was not intending to convert. It was just that since I was so far away from my old life, I wanted to prove to myself that everything my grandfather did no longer had any power over me.]

So, it was a Sunday evening. I sat down in the back near the door. It was at the Catholic Newman Center so it wasn't really a traditional church. Mass was held in a multi-purpose room using a wooden portable altar and plastic stackable chairs. I had a notebook and pen with me and I remember one of the first notes I made was, "What is up with the boards with numbers on them?"(You know, the ones that have the song numbers on them.) Throughout the service, I had no clue what was going on. But I felt like I belonged. I felt like God was calling me to join the Church.

I was upset. I ran off to the sunken garden on campus to yell at God. I was a free-spirit! I was a tree-hugger! I still believed in reincarnation for crying out loud! How could God call me into such a structured, conservative church? I went back to the dorms and was sucked in to a midnight walk with one of my friends who was a fallen away Catholic. I shared with him my experience and he launched into a rant about all of the reasons why he left the Church.

He was for gay rights.........................check! So was I.
He was pro-choice..............................I was pro-life. In fact, I was the only one among my family     and friends who felt that way.
He was pro-death penalty..................I was against it. Again, I was the only person among my family and friends who felt that way.

...Wait a second! I've been pro-life and anti-death penalty for as long as I could remember. Long before I ever heard the lingo "consistent life ethic" I had one. In addition to being against abortion and the death penalty, I was against war, I was against euthanasia, I was for any and every policy that could help the poor...I had always been a weirdo among my family and friends. I constantly had to defend my views on abortion and the death penalty.


Why the hell had no one told me there was a billion people out there who agreed with me? For years I had thought I was a freak!

I started RCIA soon after. I had an even more intense experience at my first Eucharistic adoration. I felt like I had known every one there my whole life although I never met any of them before. I also felt as if everything in my life had been geared to that moment in time.

Because I was a non-Christian convert, I was asked to wait the following Easter out. I got very close to a well-respected, dying old man though. I was initiated off schedule in the middle of advent because we wanted me to get baptized while the elderly man was still alive to see it. So, on December 12th, 2004 on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Gaudete Sunday, I was baptized, confirmed and received communion for the first time in the same multi-purpose room I had attended October the year before.

Fast forward to eight years later:

I just graduated with my Master's in Pastoral Studies where I was trained as a hospital chaplain. I'm married to great guy who I met a couple months after my baptism (and didn't start dating until two years after that). I'm the mother of an adorable seven month old. I regrettably live half-way across the country from where my story started and I hope to get to move back soon.

I'm still a free-spirit and tree-hugger. The analogy I like to use is that of a river. I have discovered through my conversion (and marriage) that I'm like water. Without banks, I will go everywhere and not get anywhere. I need the structure to channel my energies and I just can't make my own structures, they need to be imposed from the outside. I still hold to a consistent life ethic. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about reincarnation. Of course it's contrary to Catholicism, but what throws me is that my "memories" of "my last life" are so vivid, I have a hard time believing it's entirely my imagination. I'm still searching for an explanation of those without resorting to reincarnation.

To use another analogy, I see my conversion to Catholicism as a marriage. For better or worse, I'm going to be Catholic until the day I die. Sometimes I'll disagree with the Church, sometimes I'll have a lot of questions, but I still love Her and support Her. I'll never leave Her. Some mornings I'll wonder to myself "What was I thinking when I became Catholic?", some mornings I'll wake up happy to see the world through Her eyes. (Exactly like with my husband, sometimes I really don't like him, but I'll always love him with all my heart.) I will be Catholic named Mrs. Ryan when I reach the pearly gates and (St. Barbara pray for me) I'll receive last rites before I get there. [Side note: I've already received last rites once before James was born because of the complications involved. So, I've already had all of the Sacraments (at least once) I can get as a woman in the Church. Go me!]


Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Way: Reflections on the Second Sunday of Advent

"The Way" was one of the first names of the new Christian movement as it gradually distinguished itself from Judaism. We find this name in the book of Acts as Saul (later known as Paul) is looking for followers of "the way" (Acts 9:1-2). Now, you ask, what does this have to do about this week's readings? The first reading talks about God making the ground level for His people, Israel, while in the Gospel, John the Baptist exhorts all to make the way straight for the Lord. In our religious journey, God supports us on our way and we are called to make a path for the Lord to our hearts.

In one of my classes in college, a professor introduced this icon for group prayer and meditation. She said that the part of this icon that spoke most to her was the small space between the two figures in the foreground. It reminded her of two main facts:

1) The way of righteousness is narrow (Matthew 7: 13-14)

2) God's open love for us all and an invitation into the life and the light of the Trinity

On the first point, the right way is a lot harder than the easy way. Our faith is counter-cultural in many ways. Our culture encourages us to seek immediate pleasure, our faith tells us to be patient. Our culture tells us that "stuff" will make us happy. All we need is to acquire more possessions. We are even, often told to look at other people as objects to possess. Our faith tells us that true and lasting happiness can only be found in God. Our faith teaches us that people are not objects, they are to be respected and loved having been made by God in God's image. Going against the crowd is hard. It's much easier to go with the flow and make the popular decision rather than the right one.

It takes a lot of work to make a way for God by following God's will. There is good news here, though. We are called into a relationship with God. Being in relationship, we can count on God to meet us on the road. We are not expected to make the path completely on our own.

Through the Holy Spirit, we find strength to fight against sin and to nurture our relationship with the Divine. As we make a path for God, God comes into our lives. This is not to say that God will make life all of a sudden much easier. We will still encounter hardship. But with God, we can hope that things will get better and we know that we are not alone. Both this hope and this sense of companionship somehow makes us feel better, even if the hardship does not go away. We know that whatever we go through, God with us can go through it together.

So, that is the message for me this week. Christianity can still be called "The Way" for two prime reasons. We are to be in relationship with God and like all relationships, our relationship with the LORD is a two way street. We make a way for God into our hearts and our lives. God supports us on our way through life.

Look at the readings yourself: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/120912.cfm

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Thomas Merton's Prayer for Peace

I just finished Passion for Peace, a collection of articles written by Thomas Merton and I wanted to share this prayer with you. It was written by Merton and read in the House of Representatives in the height of the Cold War. I think that it has a lot to say to our own time as well.


Prayer for Peace

Almighty and merciful God, Father of all men, Creator and ruler of the universe, Lord of all history, whose designs are without blemish, whose compassion for the errors of men is inexhaustible, in your will is our peace.

Mercifully hear this prayer which rises to you from the tumult and desperation of a world in which you are forgotten, in which your name is not invoked, your laws are derided and your presence is ignored. Because we do not know you, we have no peace.

From the heart of an eternal silence, you have watched the rise of empires and have seen the smoke of their downfall. You have seen Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece and Rome, once powerful, carried away like sand in the wind. You have witnessed the impious fury of ten thousand fratricidal wars, in which great powers have torn whole continents to shreds in the name of peace and justice.

And now our nation itself stands in imminent danger of a war the like of which has never been seen! This nation dedicated to freedom, not to power, has obtained, through freedom, a power it did not desire. And seeking by that power to defend its freedom, it is enslaved by the processes and policies of power. Must we wage a war we do not desire, a war that can do no good, and which our very hatred of war forces us to prepare?

A day of ominous decision has now dawned on this free nation. Armed with a titanic weapon, and convinced of our own right, we face a powerful adversary, armed with the same weapon, equally convinced he is right. In this moment of destiny, this moment we never foresaw, we cannot afford to fail. Our choice of peace or war may decide our judgment and publish it in the eternal record. In this fatal moment of choice in which we might begin the patient architecture of peace. We may also take the last step across the rim of chaos. 

Save us then from our obsessions! Open our eyes, dissipate our confusions, teach us to understand ourselves and our adversary. Let us never forget that sins against the law of love are punishable by loss of faith, and those without faith stop at no crime to achieve their ends!

Help us to be masters of the weapons that threaten to master us. Help us to use our science for peace and plenty, not for war and destruction. Show us how to use atomic power to bless our children's children, not to blight them. Save us from the compulsion to follow our adversaries in all that we most hate, confirming them in their hatred and suspicion of us. Resolve our inner contradictions, which now grow beyond belief and beyond bearing. They are at once a torment and a blessing: for if you had not left us the light of conscience, we would not have to endure them. Teach us to be long-suffering in anguish and insecurity. Teach us to wait and trust.

Grant light, grant strength and patience to all who work for peace, to this Congress, our President, our military forces, and our adversaries. Grant us prudence in proportion to our power, wisdom in proportion to our science, humaneness in proportion to our wealth and might. And bless our earnest will to help all races and peoples to travel, in friendship with us, along the road to justice, liberty, and lasting peace; But grant us above all to see that our ways are not necessarily your ways, that we cannot fully penetrate the mystery of your designs and that the very storm of power now raging on this earth reveals your hidden will and your inscrutable decision.

Grant us to see your face in the lightning of this cosmic storm, O God of holiness, merciful to men. Grant us to seek peace where it is truly found. In your will, O God, is our peace.


Thomas Merton (1915-1968)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Justice: Reflections on the First Sunday of Advent

Reading this Sunday's readings, I was struck by the word "justice." There seems to be so little justice on the world. Children die. Innocent people get blown up. The poor get poorer while the rich get richer. And all the while, in our own lives, we see time and time again the bad get rewarded while the good get punished. Is this God's justice? What does God's justice look like? Why can't we have God's justice now?

A very commonly quoted verse in the Bible (1 John 4:8) ends with some very famous words: "God is Love." What does this have to do with justice? Pretty much everything, because we aren't talking about the warm-fuzzy love you get when you're cuddled up with your sweetheart. We aren't talking about blind love that accepts everything and everyone. We're talking about God's love. God's love isn't blind (although it doesn't list all our faults either). God's love isn't based in any kind of fleeting emotion (God loved you before you were born and He'll love you long after you're dead to this world). God cannot contradict himself and if He is Love, he cannot do anything that is contrary to Love.

That is where justice comes in. God loves everyone equally and immeasurably. God isn't really in the punishing business, although He certainly hates sin. God wants us to be in a close relationship with Him, He does not want us to stray from him. So, no, I'd argue that the "justice" we see in the world is not God's justice at all. In many cases it's an attempt to mimic God's justice. Whether you personally like it or not, Muslims living under Sharia law are attempting to live according to their understanding God's justice here on Earth. Although America wasn't founded as a strictly Christian nation (again, sorry for bursting your bubble), it's laws were profoundly influenced by Judeo-Christian values because, heck, all of the western world has been influenced by Judeo-Christian thought. So, you can say much of the world tries to imitate God's justice, but looking at the world we see that we clearly fail frequently and miserably.

So, what does God's justice really look like? Let's take a look at today's readings, especially the second one.

Brothers and sisters:
May the Lord make you increase and abound in love
for one another and for all,
just as we have for you,
so as to strengthen your hearts,
to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father
at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones. Amen.

Finally, brothers and sisters,
we earnestly ask and exhort you in the Lord Jesus that,
as you received from us
how you should conduct yourselves to please God
and as you are conducting yourselves
you do so even more.
For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.-1 Thes 3:12-4:2
 There's that word, "love," again. The word translated as "love" used here is "agape" (By the way, "agape" is the same word used in 1 John 4:8, the more you know). "Agape" is commonly defined as a "selfless, spiritual love as shown in the example of Jesus Christ." Christians know what Christ did. He taught and He healed and, ultimately, He died a horrible death out of love for us. Love is the key to knowing God's justice and not just any love, but self-sacrificial love.

Here's the word itself: "Agape"

Let's bring this discussion down to Earth, shall we? Where do we see that kind of love today? In the movie theater shooting last July, no fewer than three of the victims died trying to shield others. In the Sikh Temple shooting, a priest (I'm sure that's not the right word, but google isn't helping me) died trying to take the shooter down. Just two days ago, a man died saving his wife from an armed robber. Everyday someone somewhere dies to save someone else. And there are little signs of sacrifice, too. As I write this, a picture of a police officer giving a homeless barefoot man boots is going viral. Recently, a bus driver risked her life saving a handicapped child on her bus. These are all actions of that "agape" love that the Bible talks about.

So, what is keeping us from perfectly mirroring God's justice in the world today? The number one reason: sin. We are in a constant battle against sin. God helps us in this battle, but sin will never be totally conquered until the very end. As the Gospel reading says:

Jesus said to his disciples:
"There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars,
and on earth nations will be in dismay,
perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves.
People will die of fright
in anticipation of what is coming upon the world,
for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
And then they will see the Son of Man
coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
But when these signs begin to happen,
stand erect and raise your heads
because your redemption is at hand.

"Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy
from carousing and drunkenness
and the anxieties of daily life,
and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.
For that day will assault everyone
who lives on the face of the earth.
Be vigilant at all times
and pray that you have the strength
to escape the tribulations that are imminent
and to stand before the Son of Man."-Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
 The Son of Man will one day return and destroy the evil in this world once and for all. Then, all of the injustice that we listed in the beginning will no longer happen. God's justice, God's love, God's agape will reign. This does not mean that we can sit idle waiting for the time to come. As Jesus says in Matthew 25, "Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me." We need to continue to try to model God's justice here on Earth, but we can have hope that one day God's justice will completely reign. 

This pic actually came from Drawception. How cool is that?

Look at the readings yourself: