He Came For Us All

Who exactly did He come for?  He tells us He came for the hungry.  Have you ever been hungry?  Sure, hungry for food.  But what else have you hungered for?  Love?  Acceptance?  Happiness?  Then He came for you.  He came for all the starving, the anxious, empty, famished and unfilled.  He came for anyone who’s ever felt weak or hollow or faint.  He came for the unfed, the undernourished, the ones yearning and pining and wishing for more.  For the one’s who’ve never felt good enough, or smart enough, or pretty enough, or just, enough.  He came to feed you with Himself.

He came for the thirsty ones.  The ones whose hearts are dry and parched and lifeless.  He came to bring living water to the burning, dusty souls of the hopeless and the barren.  Your breathless, parched, baked and exhausted dreams will find a place in Him.  He came to flood you with hope, to submerge you in new life, to drench you in love.  He came to drown you in Himself.  He came for the strangers among us.  The outsiders who look different, talk differently and pray differently.  The visitors we didn’t expect.  The guests we didn’t invite.  He came for the interlopers, the intruders, the migrants.  He came for the wandering and the transient.  The ones not like us.  The ones who ought to learn English and try to fit in.  Only they don’t and they make us uncomfortable.  He came to make a home for Himself in that uncomfortable wound in our hearts that we allow our fears and judgments to make.  He came to draw us all to Himself.

He came for the naked.  He came for the defenseless, the helpless, the hopeless and the threadbare.  He came for the most vulnerable ones:  the baby in the womb, the disabled in the shadows, the elderly in empty rooms down long hallways.  He came for anyone who’s been stripped of hope, peeled of joy or divested of their rightful place.  For all of us left raw and wounded by the ways of the world.  He came to clothe us with Himself.  He came for the sick.  For anyone ailing or confined, broken down or diseased of body, mind, or spirit.  He came for the defective, delicate and disordered.  For the feeble, feverish and frail.  He came for anyone whose sick and failing attempts at doing it for themselves just haven’t worked out.  He came for the ones who are weak from trying; for the ones infected with the “me” virus; for the ones who just can’t do it anymore.  He came to save us from our suffering with Himself, hung on a Cross, dying for Love.

He came for the prisoners.  The ones captured by sin, barred in by despair, sentenced to death.  He came for the caged and the closeted, the apprehensive and the impounded.  For the shut-in, the shut-out, the locked up, the put away, the ones told to shut up.  For anyone who’s felt detained, constrained or forgotten.  For the ones who’ve made their own prisons, He came to be the key.  He came to be freedom for us all.  Jesus came for all the people who know what it feels like when we say “sin.”  The ones who hunger and thirst, the ones who feel alone and vulnerable, for everyone who is heartsick and imprisoned by a mess of their own making.  For the ones who’ve given up trying to find the answer.  Jesus came with the question:  “Will you marry me?”

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”

——-Matthew, 25:35-36

Depression and Christian Faith

Some nights you don’t sleep at all. And on other days, you can’t get out of bed. You don’t feel like eating anything, or maybe you eat everything in the house. The things that you used to enjoy seem lifeless to you now. You can’t focus, you can’t get started, you’ve lost all your energy to do anything at all. Sometimes you cry and other times you yell. Little things can set you off. So you stay in your room with the curtains drawn. It feels like hell. It’s depression.

This is more than “the blues” that all of us experience from time to time. Depression is a chronic physical and emotional disease that can lead to job loss, family dissolution, substance abuse, and suicide. Yet even now, after decades of study and treatment, many people remain ashamed of having depression. They try their best to hide it from their family and friends for as long as they can. They don’t want to admit that they need help. And sometimes Christians can be the worst at this. We think our faith should somehow protect us from psychological problems. Like the rest of our culture, we don’t want to seek help for depression. If we’re filled with the joy of our faith, how can we depressed? Well, I’ve got news for you, Christians are just as susceptible to depression as anyone else. Does our faith protect us from cancer or diabetes or heart disease? Then why should we believe that Christians can’t be depressed? The Bible gives us plenty of examples of folks who struggled with it. Moses, Elijah, David, Job, and Naomi all suffered emotional pain and depression, for a variety of reasons. Psalm 42 is a great example of someone struggling mightily with his faith and feelings of desolation, loneliness, abandonment, and despair.  

Among the great saints, several were plagued by depression throughout some or most of their lives. These are people like us who were able to persevere through trials and sufferings with heroic faith and virtue. Yet some also had to fight depression every day. One of my favorites is St. Noel Chabanel who worked with the Huron Indians in Ontario, Canada during the 16th century. As a Jesuit missionary, Fr. Chabanel worked closely with the Hurons each day in the school and village. And he hated it. He disliked the natives, their culture, and their habits. He struggled just to be around them. He became very depressed. But he renewed his promise to stay with them for the rest of his life. He kept his vow and persevered until he died at the hands at one of the Huron men when he was just 36 years old. He offered the Lord his life of suffering and sadness and, in return, God gave him a martyr’s crown.  

Depression can be a kind of martyrdom. Just as any affliction can aid in our holiness if we give to our Savior. God never wastes any opportunity to draw us closer to Himself. Even in the midst of a dark depression, Christians can be assured that our Lord is with them. There’s nothing shameful about being depressed and nothing “un-Christian” about seeking help for it when you need it. Also, be aware of the people in your life and help them if they show signs of serious, lasting depression. Your concern could be exactly what they need but might not be able to ask for. We’re in this life together and we owe one another our kindness and compassion. We haven’t yet become so divided that we don’t still know how to care for one another. Suffering and sadness are both a part of life in this broken world, but we are all members of one body and when one of us hurts, we all do. Be kind.  

“Now I rejoice in my suffering for your sake and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s affliction for the sake of His body, that is, the Church.”

—–Colossians 1:24

Fathers In The Bible

“Our Father, Who art in heaven….”  Jesus gives us the most perfect of all prayers when His disciples ask Him to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1).  The image of God as our Father is a constant one throughout Holy Scripture.  We are the children of God; He is our Father.  The title of “father” is applied to other persons in our lives, other than God the Father.  Some Christians cite a verse in St. Matthew’s Gospel as a reason for denying this title to any person other than God.  In this verse, Jesus says:  “And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9).  Does Jesus really mean that we are never to use the word “father” except when addressing God?  Of course, it seems evident that He is not forbidding us to call our male biological parent “father.”  Holy Scripture repeatedly makes reference to biological fatherhood.  Most famously perhaps in Exodus 20:12 when God Himself commands us to “…honor your father and mother…”  It’s pretty clear that Christ wasn’t talking about our biological fathers when He was discussing our use of the title “father.”

Another use of “father” in Scripture is in reference to spiritual or religious leaders.  It is in this sense of the word that Catholics confer the title of “father” to priests of the Church.  Scripture has many references in this regard.  One review shows 144 occasions in the New Testament when the title of “father” is used for someone other than God.  The patriarchs of Israel, Jewish leaders and spiritual leaders are all called “fathers” in the Gospels and the Letters.  While Abraham was the biological ancestor of the Jews, Jesus also taught of Abraham’s spiritual fatherhood.  He once told a group of Jews that they were not Abraham’s “children” at all and that he was not their “father” because they were not of the same spirit as Abraham (John 8:37-44).  St. Paul refers to Abraham as “father” seven times in Romans 4:1-18.  When St. John writes to the spiritual leaders of the early Church, he refers to them as “fathers” (I John 2:13-14).  “I write to you, fathers, because you have known Him that is from the beginning…”  St. Stephen refers to the Jewish High Priests as “fathers” (Acts 7:1-2).  Most notably, St. Paul refers to spiritual leadership as “fatherhood” when writing of Timothy as “my own son in the faith:(I Timothy 1:2; II Timothy 1:2 and 2:1).  St. Paul writes to the church in Corinth to remind them that he is their spiritual “father”:  “I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.  For though you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus, I have begotten you through the Gospel”( I Corinthians 4:14-15).  Surely Sts. Paul, James, Stephen and John weren’t all in error in their understanding of Christ’s instructions about our “fathers.”

What Jesus was referring to in St. Matthew’s Gospel was the sin and pride of some scribes and Pharisees, who loved to be called “teacher” or “father.”  Their pridefulness pointed to themselves rather than to God the Father as the source of their authority.  When we understand the fatherhood of our spiritual leaders as subordinate to the Fatherhood of God, we come to a much truer sense of our Catholic priests as our “fathers.”  Catholics are following the examples of the Apostles by calling our priests “Father.”  In doing this, we recognize and honor a great gift God has bestowed on His Church:  the spiritual fatherhood of the priesthood.

“God, who alone is holy and who alone bestows holiness, willed to take as His companions and helpers men who would humbly dedicate themselves to the work of sanctification. Hence, through the ministry of the bishop, God consecrates priests…” Pope Paul VI (1897- 1978)