Happy New Year, everyone!
One spiritual truth that we need to keep in mind is that it’s the good things that distract us from Jesus. For many people, the devil doesn’t tempt us with sinful things because it doesn’t work. So, he tempts priests to think more about his people than Jesus—that’s my problem. He tempts parents to think more about their children than Jesus. He tempts us to think more about COVID than Jesus. What have we been discussing during Christmas get-togethers? Did we talk about important things, such as how we’re doing spiritually, our deep hopes for the next year, where we want to grow, and the best graces of 2021? Or did we talk about COVID, and problems in the world? Did that help? We seem to talk about everything except Jesus, the Person Who loves us.
Today’s Second Reading is about the intimacy for which the human heart is made, that is the intimacy with the Father and with Jesus—this is what the devil attacks. Being aware of this is where we want to grow this upcoming year. The Reading says, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God” (Gal 4:4-7).
When St. Paul writes, ‘so that we might receive adoption as children,’ this raises the question: Is everyone a child of God? Even atheists? If everyone’s already a child of God, then about what adoption is St. Paul speaking? This is a nuanced issue in the Bible (Cardinal Albert Vanhoye & Peter Williamson, Galatians in Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, 142-143). 1) God has only one natural son, Jesus; He’s the only child Who shares the Father’s nature. Every other child of God is adopted. 2) God loves everyone, and, in the Bible, certain texts allow us to say that every person is a child of God. 3) Texts like the Prodigal Son show us that mankind has run away from home, and, in a certain sense, thrown away its birthright. 4) ‘God sent his Son… so that we might receive adoption as children.’ Obviously, you can’t receive adoption if you’re already a child of that parent! So there’s a new and real gift when Jesus makes us sons and daughters of the Father. And part of that gift is intimacy with Him!
Think about it this way: Many people talk about God in the abstract, but few talk about the Father. If I were to ask you about your relationship with the Father, what would you say? Because most of us don’t know Him personally. We know God abstractly.
This is what St. Paul is getting at: ‘Because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Dad! Father!”’ ‘Dad’ is what ‘Abba’ means. You know, sometimes when I lead prayer with some of you privately, I want to start by saying, ‘Dad, we love You…’ but I don’t, because I think none of you are ready to hear that kind of intimacy.
Could I ask: How many of you talk to the Father by calling Him, ‘Dad’? Or do you use another affectionate word? Here’s another question: How would you feel if you called your own father, “Mr…”?
I understand that some cultures are different, but St. Paul is trying to let us know that we can call God, ‘Dad!’ or another affectionate word in our own language, that we can talk to Jesus and not just God in the abstract.
Today is the solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. We’re celebrating her maternity. We know that when Jesus was on the Cross, He made her the mother of all of us. She’s our Mother. That’s why it’s beautiful and appropriate when Filipinos call her ‘Mama Mary.’
The devil doesn’t want you to do this; he wants you to keep away from intimacy. So, I see four levels of distractions: 1) Sin: All sin takes us away from the Father. 2) Good things: E.g. Discussion about COVID, how to fight COVID, how to fight for civil liberties, how to help other people, education, career, health. These are good things, and we should give them our attention, but not at the expense of intimacy with Jesus. 3) The things of God: Do you know how many Catholics talk about the liturgy rather than Jesus? They talk about the problems of the Church, but if you ask them about Jesus, they have nothing to say. So many devout and conservative Catholics, including many priests, do this. And it’s because their prayer life is hollow. 4) God in the abstract: This is very subtle. When we talk about ‘God,’ is it intimate or abstract? Sometimes people will ask God for help, but not the Father; they’ll ask why God allows bad things to happen, but not why the Father allows them. If you’ve talked to Ricky, our Director of Community, he always talks about ‘the Lord,’ because God is the lord of his life, and it’s a Biblical expression of familiarity.
Here’s one game changer for 2022: Start praying to Jesus and talking about Him with others, and do the same for the Father, and for the Holy Spirit, and for our Mother, Mary. And, whenever you talk to some staff members here or parish leaders, see if you can talk about the Father, Jesus, the Spirit, or our Mother!
The First Reading says: “The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you” (Num 6:25). This is a sign of intimacy, that God wants to smile upon us.
Many believe this is the actual burial cloth of Jesus, now referred to as the Shroud of Turin, because that’s where it’s presently located:
You can see very faint features of a face. However, when the image is photographed, the negative reveals very clearly a face.
The evidence that this is Jesus’ face is very strong, and, if that’s correct, then this is the face that shines upon us, one that is peaceful, that died for us. Artists have done their best to extrapolate from this what Jesus might have looked like.
And a Canadian artist took the dimensions of Jesus’ face, made them feminine, and produced what he thought our Mother’s face would look like.
Focus on these faces, and on their names. One thing about which I’m so happy, is that many people who are new to our parish family or have returned to the faith talk about ‘Jesus’! They are going to do very well spiritually, because their foundation is so strong! We all need to strengthen our foundation this year. Focus on these faces, and on the names of Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit, and Mother.