"Brothers and sisters: As God is faithful, our word to you is not "yes" and "no." For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was proclaimed to you by us, Silvanus and Timothy and me, was not "yes" and "no, " but "yes" has been in him. For however many are the promises of God, their Yes is in him; therefore, the Amen from us also goes through him to God for glory. But the one who gives us security with you in Christ and who anointed us is God; he has also put his seal upon us and given the Spirit in our hearts as a first installment" (2 Corinthians 1:18-22)
As a Deacon of the Catholic Church I am invited to go from the altar and the ambo into the streets - into a world filled with disappointment and pain. Let's be honest. That is so often the lived experience of so many people. This world is filled with wounded and needy people. I am one. In these streets - and in this world - I have the privilege of giving to others what has been freely given to me, the great gift of God, His "Yes", Jesus Christ. He is the One in whom all the promises of God find their response; the One who is the answer to every human question, the fulfillment of every authentic human need, the balm of healing for every human wound, the satisfaction of every authentic human desire, and the Way to authentic human freedom and flourishing.
One of the obstacles that I find in giving Him to others is a wall that is often built around human hearts and minds. There are so many misconceptions about religious faith. So often in ministry, one finds oneself not being asked to actually respond to someone's heartfelt hunger for God, but rather, being subjected to automatic replay messages from the past, laden with misconceptions concerning who - or even if - God truly is. That is why I shared these three key biblical passages at the beginning of this reflection. They reveal the very heart of a God who is very much alive. He is the answer to every human question. He alone is able to quench the desperate thirst that still drives men and women into the desert.
The word "Gospel" literally means "Good News". There is Good News! God has revealed Himself to us. He is not hidden. The word "revelation" literally means to "unveil", to make known. This is what occurred, is occurring, and will occur in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the Self-Revelation of God. This God who fashioned the Universe is not simply a principle to be reflected upon, leading us to a set of propositions. He has been manifest, unveiled to us in His Son, Jesus Christ. It is in receiving this Divine Self-manifestation, hearing this "Yes" and believing, that we find the very meaning of our own lives as we enter into the life of faith.
As a young man, I began the practice of law, a profession that provided a backdrop for decades of my life. I was an assistant Prosecuting Attorney in Steubenville Ohio. The Chief prosecutor, my "boss" was a truly good man, in search of life's deeper meaning. He was also a non-practicing Jew who had lost touch with the great faith of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Yet, his upbringing had planted a hunger for God in him. There was no pretense in this man. He was also misunderstood by others. His professional competence, though quite effective, led to his developing an external air that others often misread as haughty. I knew better.
One morning, right before I was to appear in Court, I walked in on my friend in a sad and vulnerable moment. Circumstances in his personal life had left him with no more wind in his sails. He was depressed and groping for a Rudder. I empathized with Him and listened as he unpacked his pain. At the end of this precious moment, this meeting of persons, he looked right into my eyes and shared words that would change my life: "Keith, if I were ever to believe as you do, God would have to become a human being, a person, as real as you are sitting in front of me." I responded, "He has done just that my friend". I then proceeded to share with him God's "Yes", Jesus Christ.
That experience deepened my lifelong passion to be able to give God's "Yes" to others. That is what St. Paul is doing in the passage with which I began this article. He is addressing very real people in the church at Corinth. They were struggling to keep their faith alive in a culture that militated against its claims. Sound familiar? They were also at odds with one another in a nascent Christian community beset with discord. Sound familiar? He kept his message wonderfully simple, reminding them that in Jesus Christ they could find the Father's "Yes" to the deepest longing of their hearts -that in and through Jesus Christ, they were also called to give themselves back to God, and, in so doing, they became the bearers of the Gospel for others. That was the message that I shared with my friend. That is our message to the world of our own age.
This holy exchange, where God gives Himself to us and we reciprocate by giving ourselves to Him, forms the foundation of all of the wonderful letters of St. Paul. He understood it well because he lived it. That's right; He lived in the "Yes", the holy exchange, and was being transformed in its fire. He wrote to the Philippians Christians in the second passage with which I began this reflection, concerning the "Kenosis" of Jesus Christ. This Greek word is unparalleled in our common parlance. We simply have no word with which we can translate it.
In this age inebriated on the stale wine of self love, the word "Kenosis" offers the new wine of self - gift. This majestic word breaks open the deeper meaning of the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. God "emptied" Himself for us! He "poured Himself out like a drink offering" for us! He became who we are, as the author of the letter to the Hebrews wrote, "in all things but sin" (Hebrews 4:15) so that we could become like Him and find our way home into the very fellowship of the Trinity. In Him we are actually joined in the family circle, embraced within the Trinity of love. Now, living in Jesus Christ, we hear the very "Yes" of God to our deepest human need. If this is true, how are we to respond to such Love?
In the beginning of the Gospel of St. Luke, we meet the young Virgin of Nazareth named Mary who embodies the answer. She said "yes" in response to God's "Yes", and the dance of love began. In that exchange of "Yes's" - Life was formed within her; a Life that was the Light of the World, a Life through Whom the world itself would be re-created anew.
So, it can be with each one of us. Our "yes" to the "Yes" of God can become a dynamic, daily, moment by moment "yes" - offered in a life of surrendered love. In that exchange we are refashioned and made new through grace. In that exchange we participate in the continuing Redemptive mission of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. We become His Body - His hands, His Heart, His feet and His mouth and, in a mysterious and wonderful way, the world is re- created in Him, refashioned as He continues to speak His "Yes" to the Father.
The Church Fathers, who gathered for the Second Vatican Council, spent much time in prayer and reflection on this great and marvelous exchange, this "Yes" of God in Jesus Christ. In what I find to be one of their most inspiring writings, entitled "Joy and Hope" (Gaudium et Spes), The "Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World", they wrote four paragraphs which I have reflected upon and tried to unpack for decades in my own life. They led to my own vocational response to God's invitation, first as a layman and now as a cleric, a Deacon of the Catholic Church.
These words informed much of the writing - and became incarnate in the life - of my hero, the late Servant of God John Paul II. Historians note that he, then a young bishop, helped to craft them. I conclude this reflection on God's "Yes" by setting them forth in their totality for my readers. Please, read them, pray, read them again, pray, read them again....let them change you. Print them off and place them on the wall of the room within your home where you most often reflect on the love of God and seek to hear His voice. They provide a lens through which we can grow in our comprehension of who Jesus Christ, the "Yes" of God, truly is in order to respond to the invitation to carry forward in time His redemptive mission.
After all, He still reveals Himself to those who hunger and thirst for God. We are the ones now called to manifest and reveal His love in a world that is waiting to be reborn. We are all invited into the continuing "Yes" of God, Jesus Christ:
"The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. It is not surprising, then, that in Him all the aforementioned truths find their root and attain their crown. He who is "the image of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15), (2 Cor. 4:4.) is Himself the perfect man. To the sons of Adam He restores the divine likeness which had been disfigured from the first sin onward. Since human nature as He assumed it was not annulled, by that very fact it has been raised up to a divine dignity in our respect too. For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin. (Heb. 4:15.)
As an innocent lamb He merited for us life by the free shedding of His own blood. In Him God reconciled us (2 Cor. 5:18-19; Col. 1:2O-22.) to Himself and among ourselves; from bondage to the devil and sin He delivered us, so that each one of us can say with the Apostle: The Son of God "loved me and gave Himself up for me" (Gal. 2:20). By suffering for us He not only provided us with an example for our imitation, (1 Pet. 2:21; Matt. 16:24; Luke 14:27.) He blazed a trail, and if we follow it, life and death are made holy and take on a new meaning.
The Christian man, conformed to the likeness of that Son Who is the firstborn of many brothers, (Rom. 8:29; Col. 3:10-14.) received "the first-fruits of the Spirit" (Rom. 8:23) by which he becomes capable of discharging the new law of love. (Rom. 8:1-11.) Through this Spirit, who is "the pledge of our inheritance" (Eph. 1:14), the whole man is renewed from within, even to the achievement of "the redemption of the body" (Rom. 8:23): "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the death dwells in you, then he who raised Jesus Christ from the dead will also bring to life your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who dwells in you" (Rom. 8:11). (2 Cor. 4:14.) Pressing upon the Christian to be sure, are the need and the duty to battle against evil through manifold tribulations and even to suffer death. But, linked with the paschal mystery and patterned on the dying Christ, he will hasten forward to resurrection in the strength which comes from hope. (Phil. 3:19; Rom. 8:17.)
All this holds true not only for Christians, but for all men of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way. For, since Christ died for all men, (Rom. 8:32.) and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery. Such is the mystery of man, and it is a great one, as seen by believers in the light of Christian revelation. Through Christ and in Christ, the riddles of sorrow and death grow meaningful. Apart from His Gospel, they overwhelm us. Christ has risen, destroying death by His death; He has lavished life upon us (The Byzantine Easter Liturgy.) so that, as sons in the Son, we can cry out in the Spirit; Abba, Father. (Rom. 8:15 and Gal. 4:6; cf. also John 1:22 and John 3:1-2)"
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