A different perspective

Sometimes we get stuck in a rut. It can be in our leisure activities, our jobs, our home life, our prayer life, or anything. We may not even realize it’s happening. If we don’t realize it, we can’t do anything to get out of that rut. We can find ourselves in danger of taking things for granted, of not being as involved in things as we should, of losing interest in good things, of being led off in a bad direction.

Sometimes it takes a little bit of prompting from outside, a little bit of convincing us to put ourselves in a position to have a different perspective on things, to get us out of that rut.

I’ve been in a rut spiritually as of late. I didn’t realize it until I went to confession this past Saturday. Part of my penance was the rather strange command to add something new to my prayer life. My priest seemed certain in what he was saying, but spoke in extremely vague and nebulous terms. Perhaps he found it odd to receive such a generic prompt from the Holy Spirit. Perhaps not. Regardless, what was vague to him and probably would have been vague to anyone else wasn’t vague to me. I knew exactly what the Holy Spirit was trying to get across: Lectio Divina. Other practices would be good, but this would be the best for me right now.

Another recent example of this was my experience at Mass yesterday. I just joined the choir and attended my first practice this past Thursday. Yesterday was my first time ever singing in a choir at Mass. The entire Mass was… different. Not better or worse. Just different.

It’s difficult to describe. I really did have a sense that when I was singing I was praying twice, to reference a quote traditionally associated with Saint Augustine. The exact quote, which has apparently been shortened to what we say nowadays, is:

“For he that sings praise, not only praises, but also praises with gladness: he that sings praise, not only sings, but also loves him of whom he sings. In praise, there is the speaking forth of one confessing; in singing, the affection of one loving.”

I definitely noticed feelings of gladness and affection during Mass yesterday that were different from normal. I’ve always felt that way about the Mass, but those feelings were not quite the same. There was a much stronger sense of… I find it difficult to describe. A greater sense of sharing with others?

A different perspective indeed. It will take a while for me to absorb what that means.

When God actually asks something of us, he doesn’t so it out of capriciousness. It’s not like he needs anything at all, as he’s perfect in and of himself. But he loves us and wants what is best for us. I don’t know why Lectio Divina in particular would be a good thing for me to do right now. I don’t know why it’s important that I be in the choir right now. Maybe doing these things will make me a better person. Maybe these things don’t matter one bit for me at all, but somehow will matter to someone else in the future.

I trust God. So I will do what he asks of me.

Reading the Bible

This past weekend, one of my aunts sent me a link to a website devoted to a “new” translation of the Bible. She was seeking my opinion about their discussion on setting the dates for some of the historical events described in the Bible.

My response to her was that the people who made the website are completely missing the point. The Bible isn’t the recording of a sequence of historical events, to be analyzed in the manner of a history textbook. It is the written part of divine revelation, of God’s revelation of himself to us. Any analysis of the Bible needs to have as its foundation our relationship with God. Without that, we will miss the point of what we read and start our analysis with a grave error.

The message of Christ is often treated in this way. Many people read the Gospels and say that Jesus was a great teacher or a good example to follow. That’s part of the truth, but not the substantive truth. The substantive truth is that Jesus is our savior. He came not to give us a philosophy to live by, or a path to follow. He came to deliver us from bondage, to free us from the suffering of sin that we bring upon ourselves daily by our defiant wills.

If I read the Sermon on the Mount found in the Gospel of Matthew, I can analyze it all day long. I can find historical references to clever meanings behind Jesus saying to turn the other cheek, or carrying a burden two miles instead of one. I can parse the Beatitudes and come up with any number of interpretations for some of them. But if I do all of that without considering Jesus to be our savior, to be God making himself one of us to allow us to better understand how we are supposed to be, then I have failed.

Always keep that in mind when reading the Bible. The books that comprise the Bible were not written to give a historical record of events. They were not written to describe a particular way of living. They were not written to entertain. They were not written to outline a moral code. That may be at least part of what we get out of the books of the Bible, but that is not WHY they were written.

The purpose behind all 73 books, regardless of their literary genre, is to lead us to and then develop more deeply a personal relationship with Jesus. They go about it differently; poetry is different from parable, after all. But that relationship with God is the purpose.

We read the Bible to learn more about God, about Jesus in particular. Through learning more about Jesus we also learn more about ourselves, about who God made us to be.

If you don’t know where to begin when reading the Bible, start with the Gospels. The rest of the books only make sense in light of the ministry and teaching and example and sacrifice of Jesus.

Is any sin too great for God to forgive?

Rudolf Höss was the commandant of Auschwitz, one of the concentration camps established by Nazi Germany during WWII. He oversaw the deaths of more than two million people. Saint Maximilian Kolbe was among those millions murdered at Auschwitz.

Höss was captured after the end of the war and executed in 1947.

This is about all that most people know about him. It was all I ever knew about him before today. In all that I have ever learned about WWII, I only ever heard his name mentioned along with many other names connected to Auschwitz and the trials as Nuremberg. The guy in charge of Auschwitz, the guy with a name that sounded almost the same as Hitler’s deputy Rudolph Hess, the guy referred to by the prisoners at Auschwitz as an animal because of his casual brutality, the guy notorious for showing no remorse during his trial for the grave evil that he had done.

The world is primarily concerned with the historical record of the evil that he did. Any documentary or presentation on his life may state the fact that he was raised Catholic. It may state the fact that he began to grow disillusioned with the faith as a young teen when his priest broke the seal of the confessional, and eventually ceased being a practicing Catholic. That’s about the most you’ll typically hear about his faith.

But because of what happened between the end of his trial and his execution, more needs to be said about him. Even a man like Höss can have a change of heart and repent. Even a man like Höss can receive God’s mercy and be forgiven.

Saint Faustina Kowalska was a sister of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. She died young in 1938, in her early 30’s. Jesus appeared to her many times and spoke with her frequently about mercy. The image of Divine Mercy, of Jesus with one red ray and one white ray coming from his heart, was painted based on one of his visitations to her.

Two sisters from the same order as Saint Faustina have been traveling around the United States during this Jubilee Year of Mercy, speaking about the appearances of Jesus to Saint Faustina and the mercy of God that Jesus wishes to share with all of us. Part of the talk that these sisters give shares what every documentary should share about Rudolf Höss.

Rather than provide a transcript to read, here’s a video of Sister Gaudia giving the talk (it’s about an hour long) at a parish in New Haven, Connecticut. The part about Rudolf Höss begins around 37 minutes into the video.

St. Faustina and the Image of Divine Mercy

If there is hope for a man like Höss, then surely there is hope for me. Jesus, I trust in you.