When people become cynical about the church, or people disparage the Gospel, Christianity, morality and the things related to faith and salvation, the answer of Christ often comes to my mind:If you KNEW the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”
That oration of St. Peter must have been pretty incredible, if it converted three thousand souls in one day! I often think about church growth—it is part of my “ministry” as a priest and part of my “job” as an administrator of a parish. Why is it that some churches are growing and others are in decline? And why is it that overall in America, at this time, churches in general are in decline? At the outset, on the day of Pentecost, three thousand people, who woke up that morning, not knowing what Christianity was about, were converted and gave their lives to Christ. How did that happen?
None of us are likely to see tongues of fire on our heads, the way that the Holy Spirit came on the Apostles. But all of us have tongues of fire in our hearts, the light of the Holy Spirit burning in us. It is up to us to stoke the fire and spread the message. Come back tomorrow to learn the various languages of the Gospel and how to speak them.
As for receiving Christ, we have a chance to do so daily through prayer, and (at least) weekly through the Holy Eucharist. One of the reasons we pray and receive Christ through Communion is to be empowered as His children, to have joy and confidence. So that as we “receive Him”, we feel endowed with purpose—that we are to see ourselves as His children, with the Lord as our benevolent Father, and if, we are His children, then we will inherit His Kingdom, the most “powerful” thing of all.
Doubts are normal! Thomas was really a lot like us. We aren’t likely to see Jesus walk into our office today and show us His hands and His side. But we can see Christ in so many things—in nature, in our own gifts, in beautiful things that defy rational explanation, and in the lives of many who are faithful to Him.
How, then, do we see Christ? We see Him through the eyes of faith, which are sharpened through the eyes of vulnerability. Make yourself in some way vulnerable to the Lord, whether it is in the spiritual intimacy of prayer, or the difficult task of forgiveness, the humility needed in the sacrament of confession, or in the selfless act of service to others. Make yourself vulnerable to the Lord and you will “see” Him and have the joy that the Disciples had when they saw the Lord.
The blood of Christ, both His shedding it for us, and us partaking of us, is what allows us to “pass over” from death to eternal life. It is the only way by which we can do this, the only thing that will spare us from death. We still keep Pascha (the new Passover) as a feast to the Lord.
The more important lesson we learn from Pontius Pilate is that it is not only important to seek after and know truth, but to stand up for truth. And this is where Pilate fell short. And he fell short because of peer pressure, popularity and his desire for job security. Our unwillingness to stand up for the truth today is still affected by these things.
In His human experience, He did not succumb to temptation. He maintained His love for His Father at all times, He remained obedient at all times. He showed us what it is to love, and to empty oneself of all pride. Not only is Christ a faithful “high priest” in the service of God, but He also showed (and continually shows) us what mercy is.
You don’t have to have the perfect marriage, the perfect children, the perfect home or the perfect anything else. God expects an effort. And in prioritizing what to do, it doesn’t matter if your laundry sits in a pile on the couch for a few days if you have had to take care of sick children, or have had a difficult week at work. God doesn’t expect perfection—He DOES expect effort.
When you put more emphasis on something, it becomes more important to you. When something is important to you, you put more emphasis on it. So whether you lead with your heart and your treasure follows, or you lead with your treasure and your heart follows, make sure that your heart and your treasure are both directed, in some measure, towards the Lord.
If God our Father is ready and happy to restore us, we should be happy to restore one another. After all, no one has sinned against me MORE than I have sinned against God. So, if I expect God to forgive ALL of my sins, then I should be willing to forgive the sins of others. And I should rejoice, rather than resent, when someone “comes back” and “makes it right.”
And this image, of the kind and forgiving father is the image we should all have of our Lord. He waits for us to make our way back. He waits to embrace us and welcome us home. Our burden is to make the journey. We don’t have to wonder what His reaction will be. It will be one of great joy.
Repentance is our way of “correcting course” in our spiritual lives, to get back on target. And this is done in the same way the Prodigal Son made his correction. First you must “come to yourself” and realize you are off the mark. And then you must make the journey back.
The gap between what is and what should be is called sin. For sin is not only “missing the mark,” and doing the wrong thing, sin is failure to do the right thing. Indifference, for example, is a sin. The way for closing that gap is called repentance. And this is the theme on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son—closing that gap through repentance. The theme of Lent is the cleaning of our bodies, our temples, so that they shine with the radiance of the most beautiful Cathedral.
And when one strives to be humble, his prayer becomes the prayer of the Publican, because he realizes that he needs God’s mercies in order to overcome his shortcomings. The prayer of the Publican, “God have mercy on me a sinner,” is the root of the “Jesus Prayer,” which says “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”