Not Just Anyone Can Truly Serve the Poor

This is addressed to the true believing Christians out there who make daily and tremendous sacrifices to bring Christ to others.  It is especially to those among these ministers (lay ministers and those who are ordained) who see people who do not believe in God helping the poor and feeding the hungry and wonder….  Catholic teaching understands that Salvation is not automatically denied to people who do not profess belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior – if a goodhearted person is living every day seeking and serving love and justice, doing those things that Christ tells us to do, then Salvation is open to that person.  This can lead some to wonder what’s the point of spending time in worship and devoting oneself to religious doctrines and practices – and the many sacrifices that Catholic Christians are called to make in the name of Jesus – if any non-Christian who does truly good works can get to Heaven.

To you who are feeling doubt I say, in the words of our Lord, “Be not afraid!”  I do believe that as long as we lovingly serve the poor, we will be saved.  We should ask ourselves, however, “What is service of the poor?”  Yes, there are people who do good things, acts of charity, who don’t believe in God. They are giving the poor a service, a very important service: food, clothing, shelter, work, a kind word, patient attention, a friend to call on for any of these things – but are they raising the soul of the poor person to God? By doing good works, people are uniting themselves with Christ, knowingly or unwittingly, because Christ is the source of all Goodness.  But – are they uniting the poor people that they serve with Christ?

We must love one another with our whole selves, as Jesus loves us.  We cannot be like those at the end of time who go to Jesus and say “Lord,  Lord,” and he replies to them  “I never knew you.”  Infinitely better for him to say to us, “I was hungry and you fed me,  I was thirsty and you gave me drink…  Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

In truly loving one another with our whole selves, as Jesus loves us, we can, through our faith, mercy, and love, unite others  with Christ.  This is not something that any nonbeliever can do.  So, to those of you ministers and good Christians who are struggling, I say…

Who is peering into the depths of a homeless teenager’s soul to tell her, to show her, that God her Creator loves her beyond compare and suffers with her every moment in order to bring her deep, peaceful joy that never ends? Who will do that? The answer is you. Only one who deeply loves God, who “spends time in worship,” who has an intimate, daily, conscious relationship with Christ our Savior can fully know, love and serve God – and only that person can give to the poor what the world cannot give. Only you.

Words to Live By

Christian humility and charity are neither timid nor sappy – they are a radical recognition, a bold transformation of life: Metanoia.

Yesterday was the Feast Day of the patron saint of my home parish, St. John the Baptist. In his honor, I’m reflecting upon three phrases attributed to him in the Bible. This voice crying out in the wilderness gave us words to live by…

“… there is one among you whom you do not recognize…” (John 1:26)

We never know when we will have an encounter with the Divine. The truth is that wherever we go, in every moment of our lives, we are in the presence of God… God, who is always watching us… who is always loving us where we are…. If I truly become conscious of this truth in my every waking moment – how will my life change?

For the people of 1st century Israel, to whom John spoke these words, the meaning was of particular and immediate import. There was literally a person among them whom they did not recognize as being any different than anyone else. And, yet, although he was a human being just like them – he was profoundly different, because he was also God.

Christ Jesus walked among many unremarkably. The power of the Creator of the Universe was within him – but, to most, if their eyes even fell upon him, he was just some guy. Like so many strangers that we pass on the sidewalk, on the road, in the office, in the park, or in the mall, Christ seemed ordinary… dismissible. We think to ourselves now that it’s a shame, an utterly wasted opportunity, that some of the people back then went right by Christ without even knowing who he was. Yet… those strangers that we pass by every day… do we not know that they are images of God? And we pass them by without a single thought or care for them. Do we not know that Christ is within each and every one of us? Whenever we skirt around a homeless person, we are skirting around Christ. Whenever we say, Good Riddance, about a criminal who is put in prison, we are saying good riddance to Christ. Whenever we ignore the plight of the jobless or the hungry, of the lonely or the diseased, we are ignoring Christ in his sorrow. Whenever I am cruel to the person next to me, it is like I am piercing that person with a thorn… I am piercing that thorn into Christ.

I am only one person, limited, as every human is, and I cannot be everything to everybody. God knows. Being human like us, there were countless many who Christ Jesus could not help in person during his earthly life, countless many to whom he could not speak face-to-face while he walked upon the roads and through the fields, villages, and towns. His earthly mission was to open.

It’s like, by the Mystery of the Incarnation, a divine portal was created to the kingdom of God – and by his death and resurrection that portal was opened to all. Not all will pass through, because we must choose to do so – we must choose to follow Christ. In order to fully and truly encounter the Divine and enter, eternally, the kingdom of God, we must recognize God’s love for us and choose to follow Christ. My mission (say it with me) limited as I am, is to love Christ… and I do that by loving others as Christ loves me. I do that by recognizing my cruelty to another as cruelty to Christ my beloved… and I repent and ask forgiveness.

I carry out my mission of love (which is your mission, too) limited as I am, by recognizing the gifts that God has given to me, in His infinite love for me, and then giving those gifts in the service of those in need of healing, nourishment, guidance, compassion, and light, wherever I can. There will be times when I falter, times when I fail. But, I will recognize my failures as human weakness – and I will not deplore my human weakness but, rather, unite my struggles with the struggles of Christ as he carried the Cross of Salvation to Calvary. Divine and human, it was only with pain that he could place that key into the lock and grant our freedom. He dreaded, he suffered, he was tormented and ridiculed, he fell flat on his face along the way – but he persevered because of love. Christ loves divinely – infinitely and intimately. Profess my love for him as I might, I cannot recognize him in others – and therefore love him in others – unless I recognize him in me.

“He must increase; I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

Do I recognize and love Christ within me? Do I recognize and give forth the particular gifts that God has given me? This is what true Christian charity is all about – this is the heart of true Christian humility. It is not overly sentimental, it is not hanging my head down himself abasing shame. God chooses to make a home inside of me… Christ dwells in me in a personally particular way, lovingly unique – as Christ dwells in everybody. Christ is everyone… Christ is you and me and them. Christ IS. That is what we, as Christians, need to be able to see. I open my heart to God’s loving presence and let Christ live in me… through me… through the gifts that are particularly unique to me, which he knows so intimately.

This recognition of Christ is the encounter with the Divine that pulls us through the sacred portal to the fullness of truth, the fullness of life… into the kingdom of God. For, as Christ is ever present, so is the kingdom, so is the loving and saving presence of God. We encounter the Divine, not only in the life to come, but also here and now.

And that’s pretty radical.

“Metanoia, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2)

unpublished work © 2015 Christina Chase

What Does That Mean? The Law of Christ

An app for random Bible quotes spit out this piece of Scripture the other day:

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.”[1]

Briefly breaking it down:

What is the law of Christ? “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.”[2]

And how does Christ love us? Christ loves us by bearing our burdens. The sorrows of the world are so heavy, heavy as the weight of the Cross upon the heart of God. Three times did Christ fall to his knees, fall to the pavement, fall flat on his face beneath the weight of our burdens. And then, he was nailed to that Cross and died.

Because he loves us, Christ carries our burdens and transforms them into ways to Heaven. No longer need we be weighed down by the burden of our cares, our sorrows and woes, our blood and our tears. We will not be ground into dust beneath the weight of suffering. No, rather, we will be lifted up. Christ bears our burdens with us, in love, and when we bear one another’s burdens, in solidarity with Christ’s love, then our sufferings – those sufferings that we carry as burdens of love – will open the portal of Paradise to us. Our heavy hearts, heavy with the weight of love, will be pierced open to silently reveal to us the sublime, profound glory of God’s endless love. With one true glimpse of the beatific vision, we would deeply know the abiding joy of peace. In loving one another as Christ loves us, in bearing each other’s burdens as Christ bore ours, we will die to self-centeredness as Christ died on the Cross, and we will be raised up to new life as Christ rose.

A foretaste of Paradise awaits us here in the burdens of those around us, near and far. That taste, that glimpse, will be wasted and lost if we don’t bear those burdens with our fellow human beings. If we don’t sympathize with the sorrowful and the confused and offer our hands for them to hold… if we don’t suffer with the hungry and offer our own bread for them to eat… if we don’t forgive the wicked and forbear the annoying… if we don’t administer to Christ when he is suffering in the least of our brothers and sisters with the same love and compassion with which he administered to us – then we will not fulfill the law of Christ. And by not fulfilling the law of Christ, we, ourselves, will not be fulfilled. We will not know the fulfillment of our souls, hearts, minds, and bodies. We will neither experience the wafting scent of Paradise now, nor live in the endless Bliss forever.

We need to be like Christ in what we say and do – in all that we are.

“Bear each other’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

© 2015 Christina Chase



[1] Galatians 6:2

[2] John 15:12

What Would You Do? A Holy Hour Moment

After I don’t know how long a lapse, perhaps as long a lapse as I have been consecrated to the Sacred Heart, I finally did, well, something of a holy hour. All I did was watch Catholic TV.  It was nothing intellectually stimulating or even inspiring.  It was more like something that wasn’t bad for me, which I had to get through.  And, yet, I was given, through God’s grace, a little (rather flooring) moment of insight.

A program about music was being aired, one that was filmed at a beautiful ArchAbbey. This caused me to think about all of the beautiful churches that are closing their doors in my area.  It’s been bothering me.  My own parish church is one that seems to always be threatened with the ax, because our income is low and the cost of maintaining the 120-year-old building — a beautiful building — is high. It’s strange to me how it seems as though the churches that are the least attractive to look at are the ones that are thriving, their doors safely open.  Of course, it’s not the beauty of a church that brings true worshipers within.  Art devotees may worship beautiful things, but God is not a work of art, nor a beautiful building.  God is God, who alone is worthy of worship.  And I do believe that God is grieved the most, not by the churches that are closing, but by the hearts that are closing.

Where is God truly to be worshiped?

Does the architecture of the church have to follow just such a pattern with just so many stained-glass windows done in just such a style? Are beautiful grounds with a beautiful landscape at the background necessary?  What kind of music is appropriate so that God may be worshiped?  Does it really matter?  No.  No matter how grand a cathedral or a church or a choir — God is always worshiped in the heart.

Which begs the question:

Are the doors of my heart open for worship?

A little later in the hour, I was wondering what God wants me to do. If, in true worship, I give myself to God, then what does that mean?  What will that look like, what will I be doing?  I remember Jesus’s conversation with Peter:

Jesus: “Peter, do you love me?”

Peter: “Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus: “Then, feed my sheep.”

So, how do I feed his sheep? If I am a writer, and I believe that I am a writer, then, perhaps, my act of writing is an act of evangelization.  It is a way of spreading the Gospel, the good news, a way of bearing Christ to people so that they may have an encounter with him.  It is, of course, not I who will produce such a moment, such an encounter, but God — God’s grace working through me.  Will that feed his sheep?  Is this what I’m supposed to do… because it seems to me that it isn’t direct and intimate enough.  It isn’t strong and vital enough… it just isn’t enough.

Along this line of thinking came this thought:

What would I do if I could do anything?

If I had the power to be some great and vital person, an extraordinary and active person of influence throughout the whole world, what would I do? Would I herd people into beautiful church buildings?  Would I guilt them or coerce them, trick, threaten, or cajole them into Divine worship and prayer in front of marble alters and gilded artistry?  No.

I would want to speak a word of kindness to people. I would want to soothe their souls, slake their feverish brows, heal their wounds, ease their burdens, and share in their woes.  I would want to love them.  And I would hope that, by loving them, they would love as well and know all of the truth, goodness, peace, joy — the fullness of life that is loving.

Sound familiar?

Yes, that’s right. I would want to love, so that they would love one another as I love them — and that, of course, is Christ.

Shocking.

God’s Way

God did not condescend to become one of us in order to push us together in places of worship so that we could recite and respond by rote, surrounded by pretty things. I do believe that God wants us to come together in our love of God and, with all of our skills and talents for beauty and inspiration, praise His Holy Name — so that we may then be further inspired to love God and one another and to go forth throughout the whole world to love.  The beginning and the point, the source and the summit of life, is love. Real love.

Sometimes, I wish that God had just come down in a more visibly or intellectually obvious way, with undeniable signs pointing toward the Church and toward doing what is right. Don’t you?  Everyone would just follow along then, a no-brainer.  But… that isn’t love.  And God is love.

God creates each and every one of us in His own divine image and likeness — by loving, through loving, for loving.  The holy heights, depths, and breadths of real love are most readily and joyfully received and lived through a committed life of faith and the practice of self surrender, self-sacrifice, self gift.  Knowing this, we see how Christ Jesus truly is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Not everyone will “get it right” — but everyone is able to be loved and to love.  What God, in real love, wants for humankind is not so different from what we want for the world when we also love humbly, selflessly, and generously: to love and to be loved.

“Love one another as I have loved you.”

So, now I’m thinking that, maybe my acts of evangelization, my writing, won’t inspire people to come to the fullness of faith and life in the worship of God through the teachings and community of Christ in the Catholic Church — I don’t know. But, if what I do and say, if who I am, inspires someone to love, to really love… then God’s grace has worked through me and, in that tiny little moment, in that tiny little whisper, I am most closely emulating Christ.  I can’t always bring people to Christ — but I can always bring Christ to people.

And maybe that’s exactly what God wants from me.

© 2014 Christina Chase

The Charity Case Tries Charity

Integrity, I have heard it said, is the quality of a person whose actions correspond to his or her beliefs.  So, I, who believe in Christian love and charity, ask myself as night comes on: “Was Christ integral to what I said and did today?”  How do I know I’m not just preaching for other people to see, just another Pharisee, a hypocrite…?

I’m going to look over the last couple of days to see what I have done, starting from the day I wrote my most recent Bible Burst (For As the Body) which motivated me to think on my works.  Presenting in list fashion will be most efficient.  But, I warn you, the list of works is pathetic.  If my sister is sick, I can’t go to her house and make her supper.  If a child falls to the ground in front of me, I can’t pick him up and carry him to his mother.  If I see anyone in physical need or peril, I can’t lift a finger to help.  Literally.  The muscles of my legs, torso, arms – and, yes, most of my fingers – are too weak for me to even move them.  I’m the one who needs supper to be made for her – and fed to her.  I’m the one who needs to be carried.  But, that is absolutely, positively, utterly and completely no excuse for me not to be charitable.  This little list could be so much longer if I had integrity… but, here it is:

I woke up Wednesday morning and would have liked to have gotten out of bed, but waited 20 minutes before waking my parents for assistance – they needed the sleep.

I stayed on the bedpan an extra five minutes without saying that I was ready so as not to interrupt my parents who had become involved in doing something else.

On Thursday, I wrote a short email to a disabled woman, whom I’ve befriended online and who is mostly homebound, sending her a couple of pictures.  (That felt like an act of charity.)  And, through Facebook, I sent one sentence to my former home health aide who moved away in order to let her know that I’m thinking about her and to tell her that she’s awesome, because I know she needs to hear it.  (That felt like an act of friendship.)

Also on Thursday, I gave one of my current home health aides a Snickers bar for her birthday, along with a pretty birthday card that quoted Jeremiah: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  She is not a religious young woman (kind of a fallen away Catholic) and her very secular life is full of difficulties and hardships.  I did not intend the card for evangelization but, rather, as actual comfort, inspiration and hope.  All I said when I gave it to her was, “Well, with all you’ve been through this year and with your plans for this coming one….”  That was it.  And I was even uncomfortable with that.

Lastly, I’ve been trying, for several days, to figure out how to forgive someone that I have called my friend and who has always boldly called herself my friend – but who has lately been unreliable, disappointing, and just….  Argh.  I don’t know.  Her life is a mess, it’s no wonder she screwed up and let me down.  But, it still hurt… and I still have to forgive her, not just say that I do.

This is a sad little list.  It’s not even pathetic in a good way, just paltry.  It seems like most of the so-called acts of charity that I can think of are merely attempts at being less of a charity case myself.  I’m always the needy one.  I don’t think that delaying my needs for a few minutes really counts toward “works”.  I also prayed for others, praying the rosary (something that I try to do every day, so it often feels like a chore) but I can’t say that my heart was in it.  The Divine Mercy chaplet that I prayed for the people of embattled Africa was a little more heartfelt.  And I can’t even think of anything I’ve done today, except offer my day to God – whatever that means, for I’m often very unsure.  Heavy sigh.  But… as I think about it more… I did what I did as a Christian – I only did most of the things on this list because my faith prompted me, like an inner stirring of the Holy Spirit.  Before I was a Christian, I was much more selfish than I am now.

I know there is nothing that I need to do to prove my love to God, for God knows what’s really in my heart – but, perhaps that’s why I’m so concerned…?  I say that there is nothing that I must, or really can, do to prove my love, and, yet, Jesus asked Peter, after the Resurrection, whether or not he loved him.  Peter had to declare three times (corresponding with the three times that he denied even knowing Jesus) that he did love Jesus, saying, “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you.”  And after each declaration of love, Jesus told Peter to do something.  Kind of like, “You love me?  Then do this.”  So, our love for Christ requires action.  We have to do something about it – it’s that kind of love.  It’s not the warm and fuzzy, content-to-sit-on-your-couch-and-bask-in-the-glow kind of love.  I think this particular passage of Scripture is stating that to love Christ is to serve Christ.  The two are inseparable.  For God’s love is action.  And we are meant to love one another as God loves us – with action.

I think it’s important to remember, though, that doing good works, performing acts of charity, is not anything that we do for God.  These are not gifts that we give to God.  These are simply necessary actions inherent in being loving people.  That’s who we are created to be.  When I fall short of who I truly am by not being an actively loving person, I am not in error because I broke a rule and made God angry with me.  I’m in error because I’m not really me.  Maybe it’s more like God is sadly disappointed with me when I don’t live up to my full potential, when I don’t love as I was created to love – kind of like the way I feel about my friend.  The difference is that, I think, for God, forgiveness is not an act of forgiveness, like it will be for me, mere human that I am.  Forgiveness, for God, is being.  – – Oh, I am so not God…

… as it should be.

Christina Chase

For As the Body

My weekly writing project (blogged at Bible Bursts) inspired a new category for Divine Incarnate, “works”. This is the Scripture passage, which was randomly selected for me at Bibledice.com, that is compelling me to closely examine the actions of my day and share them with unabashed candor.

Bible Bursts

Show me the money.

James 2:14, 26

What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?

For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

There’s a song from the movie musical My Fair Lady that I love, Audrey Hepburn singing to the man who would woo her, “Don’t speak of stars shining above, if you’re in love, show me.  Don’t say your heart’s filled with desire, if you’re on fire, show me.”  She didn’t want him to just tell her pleasing things.  She didn’t want mere words.  She wanted action.

In my relationship with God, who alone is worthy of all love, all honor, all glory, I extol praises and profess my belief in Christ Jesus, His Only Begotten Son, my Lord and the Lord of all.  I keep a…

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Lord, Live Your Life through Me

When I consecrated myself to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I knew that there was part of the Consecration that would be difficult, if not impossible, for me to do because of my severe physical limitations.  (It’s hard to get around, I stay home a lot.)  Mass attendance on the first Friday of each month is recommended, with five in a row prescribed.  Hopefully, I will be able to do this… but I’m not counting on it.  Meanwhile, I will participate in the Eucharistic Liturgy in the best way that I can: by watching a televised Mass and praying to receive Spiritual Communion.  To help facilitate spiritual participation and communion, I will be choosing and presenting a prayer, meditation, or scriptural passage that’s conducive to true worship.

This month’s facilitator is St. Ignatius of Loyola, who eloquently speaks to the crux of what I was poorly attempting to write about in my last post:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.

You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours; dispose of it entirely according to your will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is sufficient for me.

This is exactly what God calls me to do, exactly what I have such a hard time doing.  This is the life of Jesus Christ, his human nature crying out to God the Father: “not as I will, but as thou wilt.”  (Matthew 26:39.)  This is the self-giving love of Christ on the Cross, surrendering to Divine Will, pouring out his life’s blood for me.  And this is what is celebrated in the Eucharist of every Mass: the surrender of the self to the will of God in humility and love.

So what does that mean to me and for me?

There is nothing that I can give to God that God has not already given to me.  God doesn’t need monetary tribute or burnt incense or a sacrificed portion of grain or meat.  Even the little things that I “give up” during the season of Lent are not for God – the sacrifices are for me, to help me recognize that material things and self-centered pleasures do not constitute my identity or the fullness of life.  By letting go of daydreaming (my personal Lenten sacrifice) I can turn my mind more fully to God and be more deeply aware of the true gifts and talents that God has given me.  When I use these gifts for God – including my personal liberty, memory, and understanding – then I am fulfilled as a human being.  I’m closer to becoming the person that I was created to be – I am closer to knowing the profound depth of God’s love and to experiencing infinite joy.

From today’s Psalm (51):

should I offer a burnt offering, you would not accept it.
My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.

To truly participate in the Eucharistic Liturgy, then, symbolized by the bread and wine brought to the altar, I give my whole self to God.  I consecrate and offer my person and my life to Divine Love Itself, to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Like Jesus, I seek and choose God’s will.  This is full participation in the Eucharist – in Christ’s Paschal Mystery.  Transformed through redemption, I received the gift of Christ’s love, thus entering into full spiritual communion.  And then I am able to do the things that God wants me to do each day: setting aside my selfish pursuits and indulgences, my self-righteous indignations, and going forth, in the ways in which I am uniquely able, “releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing [my] bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when [I] see them, and not turning [my] back on [my] own.”  (Isaiah 58)

So, why don’t I DO it?    Why do I have such difficulty just being gentle sometimes?

Lord, I want to be like you.  I want to give you my whole self.  Come, live your life through me.

Christina Chase