God is God

The Responsorial Psalm at Mass today reminds us that “a sacrifice of praise” is integral to the worship of God. 

In Psalm 116, the speaker is praising God particularly because God has listened to his prayers and saved him when he was in great need and distress. How often do  we remember the fate that would await us if it wasn’t for the salvific act of Christ on the Cross? And do we give praise to God for our deliverance? How often do we take a moment to praise God for our health, for our loved ones? Even the little blessings we experience, like a hug from a friend or a warm bed, are occasions to praise God.

But beyond what God has done for us, he deserves our prayer simply because he is God! The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “Praise is the form of prayer which recognizes most immediately that God is God.” (2639) Though the psalmist in today’s readings has gone through hard times, he does not rail against God. He realizes that God is God, and he deserves worship; a “sacrifice of praise.”

The little vexations in our daily lives can be useful when it comes to developing an attitude of praise to God, especially when things don’t go our way.

This morning, after coming in from the frosty January chill, I made homemade hot chocolate. After whipping the ingredients into a frenzy, I popped a mug of the mixture into the microwave to heat it and to create a nice, thick topping of foam. Distracted for a moment, I turned back to the microwave to see that my cup runneth over! Hot chocolate foam was boiling all over the inside of my microwave. 

Moments of frustration like this one can train us to become people of praise! When things go awry, we can curse, we can complain, or we can say, “Praise God!” 

When my cocoa was ruined, praising God was not my first impulse! I was ticked off. I felt betrayed. I was hungry and cold, and-it-was-such-a-gloomy-day-and-I-just-went-to-Mass; aren’t I virtuous; don’t I deserve a reward!? But in situations like this, when we choose to speak out the simple words, “Praise you Lord!” with as much sincerity as we can muster, our attitude changes. We remember that, actually, we don’t “deserve,” and that we are called to love and serve God whether things go our way or not.

When we practice praising God during these seemingly insignificant moments of frustration, this kind of spiritual exercise eventually translates into life-long faithfulness and a docility to the will of God. In other words, it makes us like Christ, who, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.” (Philippians 2:6)

The Catechism says that we owe God honor and glory “simply because HE IS,” (emphasis added by author) not because he has behaved in a way that we think God should. No matter what happens in our day, or in our life, God is God and he deserves our praise.

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Christine Hanus is a thwarted idealist who, nevertheless, lives quite happily in Upstate NY. She is a wife and mother of five grown children.

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Stay on Target

In the first Star Wars movie made, “A New Hope,” the rebel forces (the good guys) are trying to destroy the formidable Death Star. On a mission to fire a shot into its only significant vulnerable point, one of the fighter jets barrels down a dangerous trench on the surface of the Death Star—enemies following closely on his tail. Suddenly, the flyer of the fighter jet starts to panic.  His fellow pilot exhorts his comrade in a steady, firm tone to, “Stay on target!” The first pilot continues to waver, and again, his companion urges him, “Stay on target!” (Spoiler alert…they are ultimately victorious.)

Today’s gospel reading reminds me of this scene from Star Wars. It is Jesus himself who reminds us to “stay on target.”

When the world seems to be going haywire, we, like the people in today’s Gospel reading, start to ask Jesus, “When, Lord, can we expect things to be put right? How much longer can this go on?” We are assaulted on every side: sex trafficking, gender ideology, terrorism, and even the buying and selling of aborted baby parts. “How long” indeed! There are no clear answers from our Lord to this question, but he remains faithful and so should we.

We do know that “the day of the Lord” will come unexpectedly, like the flood came in Noah’s time. Jesus warns his disciples, and he warns us, that we must not become distracted. “Do not go off, do not run in pursuit” of some sort of false messiah or sensational “answer to all our problems”.

We need to focus on the basics…that never changes. We are called by Christ to be steady, to continue as his faith followers, growing in virtue, keeping his commandments, abounding in charity. In the fight against the most formidable enemy we will ever have, we must “stay on target.” As it says in the Book of Proverbs 4:25-27, “Let your eyes look straight ahead and your gaze be focused forward. Turn neither to right nor to left…” Herein lies our victory!

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Christine Hanus is a thwarted idealist who, nevertheless, lives quite happily in Upstate NY. She is a wife and mother of five grown children.

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Looking Down On Others

It is hard not to “look down on” other people when they disagree with us. This is especially true when our opinions are well supported by facts and expert opinions. Those who hold different viewpoints than we do can seem ignorant at best and at worst…dangerous. Today’s First Reading reminds us that this temptation to judge others affected the earliest Christian communities as well. 

This reading makes even more sense when Chapter 14 of the book of Romans is read in its entirety. It should help all of us realize that, when it comes to opinions, even regarding the best way to draw close to God, we need to refrain from judging others. If the people we are tempted to look down on are motivated by true love of God and neighbor, this will go a long way in making their actions fruitful, even though it may not be the “ideal.” 

In our parish communities for example, while we may fume over this or that issue, God is looking at the heart and writing straight with crooked lines. And while there will be situations in which there is a “right” and “wrong” way to do things, St. Paul’s words guide us as we seek to improve.

In my own experience, I have been a part of many diverse communities within the church and each one tends to judge the other. As a homeschooling mom, I have felt misunderstood by non-homeschooling Catholics, but when I was heavily involved in Catholic schools, I sometimes felt discredited by the homeschool community. In the past, my husband and I have reverently led music (with the guitar) at Mass and were told by several individuals that our “contemporary” music was not appreciated. On the other hand, I was recently disgusted when one of our greeters at church was making small talk with other parishioners about how “out of touch” the traditional Latin Mass was. I, myself, have harshly judged individuals in each of those camps for one reason or another. Aye Yai Yai! 

Our society at large no longer seems to value calm, respectful dialogue. Our churches and our families should be havens of respite in which we are still invited to share our viewpoints freely. In our parishes, and especially in regard to the liturgy of the Mass, there are many uneducated Catholics with good hearts who need to be willing to learn more about what the Church teaches and why. There are many Catholics whose education and experience allows them to share a more well-informed perspective, and they must wait until a good opportunity arises in which to help educate others, remembering that education can sometimes make a person impatient and/or proud. 

As usual, our good God is calling all of us to stay close to Christ in humble prayer. We need to stop treating our own individual preferences as law and looking down on those who have differing opinions. Yet we need to constantly discern what the essentials of our faith practices are so we don’t lose our way.  And everything we do must be done in a true spirit of love for God and neighbor, so that we can have a clean conscience before God.

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Christine Hanus is a thwarted idealist who, nevertheless, lives quite happily in Upstate NY. She is a wife and mother of five grown children.

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Let Us Adore Him, Christ the Lord

The Gospel reading today is powerful and touching. A sinful woman, recognizing her sinfulness, ministers to Jesus by washing his feet with her tears, drying them with her hair, anointing them with fragrant ointment. In effect she is saying, “I know I am not worthy! I am so sorry! You are so good, so strong, so loving, so wise, that I can only find peace when I am bowed down before you, desperate to connect with you, but utterly aware of my unworthiness even to touch your feet. But I make bold to do it because your love compels me to be brave.”

It would be very counter-cultural to grovel like this! To acknowledge a God who is the supreme authority and the ultimate arbiter of what is right and wrong, what is true and not true. To say, “Whatever you will, I will do,” clashes with our sense of independence and self-determination. Over time, a distorted idea of “freedom” has become a kind of American religion. 

Even for those of us who acknowledge that there is a God and proclaim Christ as King, we sometimes don’t perceive how much like the Pharisee in this Gospel story we are. We might invite Christ into our home, but we are always watching him to make sure he behaves as he ought. As long as Jesus stays in his proper place, we will gladly serve him and further his Kingdom. Wait….what? 

We must constantly reassess out attitude toward God and toward Christ. One exercise we can do to remind ourselves of who we are and who Christ is, is modeled in this Gospel reading. We can literally get down on the floor and figuratively kiss the feet of Jesus. It is so healthy (and Catholic) to use the bodies that God has given us to demonstrate our love and devotion to him and our sorrow for our sins. 

How readily we can forget the reverence and the obedience that is due to Christ! We are his beloved, but we are also his servants. I thank God for the woman in this Gospel reading who reminds us WHO CHRIST IS… He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We are the sinners. His laws are perfectly just and one day, we will stand before his judgment throne.

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Christine Hanus is a thwarted idealist who, nevertheless, lives quite happily in Upstate NY. She is a wife and mother of five grown children.

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“If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” 

I have often considered this question since I first heard it many years ago. Some of the “evidence” that we are Christians might be the charitable work we do, such as helping to feed the poor. This kind of service elicits approval from others and is therefore comparatively easy to carry out. But living our Catholic faith should also challenge us significantly at times. We may even be  perceived as trouble-makers…just like Jesus was. 

Jesus is the Suffering Servant foretold by Isaiah in today’s First Reading. He was persecuted and misunderstood for what he said and did. He suffered because he was obedient to the Father, and if we want to follow Christ, we will suffer due to our obedience as well. 

The first Christians were certainly persecuted for following Christ. The early followers of Christ talked about Jesus, preached about Jesus, and performed miracles in his name. They lived differently. There was plenty of “evidence against them,” and they sometimes suffered greatly for it. All but one of the apostles, for example, died a martyr’s death.

So how do we know what God is calling us to? How radical should we be as we seek to follow Christ? What if something we say or do draws blank stares, or offends someone, or worse? 

There are several practical things we can do to discern what God is calling us to in the moment, and to find the courage to follow Christ wherever he may lead. Most importantly, we must open ourselves more fully, more continually, to the Holy Spirit and try to respond to his prompting. We must be willing to look like a fool for Christ! Also, when we feel intimidated in these situations, we can use the words of Scripture to strengthen ourselves. Today’s First Reading, for example, unites us with Christ as we pray, “The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced.”

If we come from a place of humility, love, prayer, and a strong sacramental life, God will give us the grace we need to live our faith more boldly and in a way that bears fruit. 

Certainly we are called to serve God by coming alongside others in their need, loneliness, or trouble. But we must also be willing to do that which is less socially acceptable. The Suffering Servant is our model.

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We welcome Christine Hanus as a new contributing author on our Diocesan team!

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