The Epic Battle

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This week had me pondering the epic battle of good versus evil. For me, the devil is real. The devil is not a person or living thing. The devil is an embodiment of all things that are the opposite of God. It is a detail of a bigger picture, a detail found in how people treat one another. I came to appreciate the reality of the devil not through folklore and scary stories, but through deeper understanding of free will and sin. I always tried to help my students understand that God created all things with love and goodness. All things are inherently good. He gave us everything we need to be good and do good. He gave us grace, reason, and a conscience. He even gave us His son. But beyond that, He loves us so much, that He also gave us free will. We are not bound but free to do what we wish even though His greatest wish is for us to be with Him. We can choose good or evil. We are always being pulled in one direction or another. The measure of those decisions is our closeness or distance from God and one another. The devil would prefer us to be separated from God. One can’t help but see how our world is falling farther and farther away from God as we live in the post-Christian era of modern times and the effect it is having on our way of life. We are growing more suspicious, distrusting, selfish, angry, and all manner of other disagreeable adjectives. With this, I turn to Scripture. In the temptation of Christ in Luke 4: 6-8 , the devil takes Jesus and shows him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant and says, “I shall give to you all this power and their glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me” and Jesus says, “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.” Jesus turned down the offer. This means the devil is in charge and remains in charge except for those who ally themselves with God. The devil is real. Jesus does not need the devil. Jesus is all-powerful and mighty. Good does prevail. Always. Jesus gave His life to make sure of it.

St. Michael, the archangel, defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him we humbly pray,
And do you, O prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God,
Thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits,
Who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

Posted by Jill Fischer
Tags: jesus, god, evil, devil

The First Commandment

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The Ten Commandments are the laws handed down to Moses some 3500+ years ago. There are some differences in wording and substance between what the First Commandment is for the Jewish people and some Protestants and what we have been taught as Catholics. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has a very good table comparing the wording of the laws as received in Exodus, and given in Deuteronomy compared to our tradition. The Catechism also contains an extended commentary on the Ten Commandments starting with CCC# 2052.

The immediate question is, what is the role of the Old Testament commandments for our faith today? To help answer this, the CCC makes reference to the story of the rich man, one we just recently heard in our Sunday scripture. In this story the rich man asks what he must do to have eternal life. Jesus’ first answer is, following the commandments. This gets supplemented by the rich man to “go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and then come follow me.” In this exchange, Jesus does not abolish the importance of the Law but rather adds the importance of imitating Christ as a means of salvation. The Ten Commandments, these “ten words” frame the terms of the covenant with our God. The CCC speaks of the Ten Commandments as showing us what is required in loving God and our neighbor; what Jesus called the two greatest commandments (CCC#2067). The First Commandment has a variety of forms, all of which capture these love commands, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me…It is written: ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” In God’s first “words,” he is making himself known as the God who has now taken action in our world. Secondly, God demands a giving up of all other idol worship, a call for fidelity to Him alone. Finally, comes a statement of responsibility for us, as God is loyal to his people, we should by this covenant, be loyal to Him. What is unspoken, is that this relationship, this covenant, is to be the most important “law” in your life. This First Commandment, gives us our vocation…to love and serve God. This First Commandment initiates our relationship with God. 

Within this commandment is held the three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity (love). We are offered the gift of faith, by God revealing his identity. We are given the gift of hope by His fidelity to us. We experience God’s charity in his first coming to us, and in response, calls us to love Him and all of his creation. Our entire faith is a response to this First Commandment. Our task is to use these virtues in establishing, and enhancing our relationship with God. The trials in life, are meant to be endured in God’s honor. The promises we make or are made for us in our sacraments, hinge on this relationship with God. The commandment also serves as the precepts of love we achieve with each other in a holy life. 

What is the difficulty with hearing, understanding, and accepting this first, this greatest commandment? We don’t see God, and more importantly, we do not feel God in our lives. It is one thing to believe the “historical” God who helped the Israelites and even to believe in Jesus, who 200 years ago walked this earth. But God, what have you done for me lately? Some characteristics of God may help. God is active but he is not imposing. Out of pure love he offers. We can refuse. It is not God who fails to speak, but we, who in our busy-ness, fail to listen. God can be seen in everything and in every moment, we can choose to see him or not. God doesn’t save us from suffering, for reasons we will never fully know, but by allowing his Son to suffer, God guarantees us that he is present and it will eventually be alright.

This First Commandment also centers us in a moral framework of objective truth. If we listen to God, then we must obey him. If we choose not to listen to him, then we decide what is right and wrong, depending on our mood, our energy, and our needs. Yet, if we search our hearts, the decision of what is right and wrong has to come from somewhere, and it is not us. Any other source beside God will lead to survival of the strongest and is the source of disobedience to our First Commandment…when we make ourselves a deity. If we decide to listen to God, we have the benefit of accepting a voice beyond us that reminds us that there can be no compromising on the most important values of life. The First Commandment tells us that God cares about us AND how we act. Steady observance of this First Commandment brings us closer to God. When we lose God as the primary source of our life, when we substitute “idols” of money, fame, power, or if we even stop listening for God’s voice because we distract ourselves with work, leisure, or pursuing our own desires, we have disrupted the very first understanding of what our life means…"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind (Luke 10:27).”

Even God Made the Clouds

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The recent cloudy days remind me of an encounter I had with a homeless man four years ago. I had just completed three years of college seminary and was helping at the Milwaukee Cathedral's Outdoor Café. The Café serves lunch to the city's homeless. Having returned from college seminary, I was feeling pretty proud of myself and contracted the contagious graduate "know-it-all" disease. I was ready to go out to the world and evangelize with the vast knowledge I had acquired.

After serving the food at the Café, I sat with one of the men. I made small talk with him while seeking for an opening when I could impart the theology I learned. The opening never came and I began to get frustrated and lose interest. As the man continued to eat, I absently said, "I wish it was a sunnier day." The man paused in between eating and replied simply, "Even God made the clouds."

Even God made the clouds. In one short sentence I learned more lessons from this homeless man than a theology class could have taught me and I was humbled. One of the lessons I learned was what it meant to be grateful. Here was a man who found what true gratitude looks like. That no matter the circumstances, there was always something to be grateful for, especially when things do not go out way. Whether it be a sandwich on a hungry day, an opening for theology not appearing, or clouds in the sky, there is always something to be grateful to God for. Sometimes that means even being grateful for the things we wish were different.

I think about that homeless man every time the sky is dark with clouds. Yes, even God makes the clouds.