Forever and Always
by Fr. Jack McArdle
God is CONSTANT. In other words, He is the same yesterday, today, and always. A constant could be represented by a straight line. God is not a graph, moving from highs to lows on different dates, and on different occasions. Naturally, the only experience we have is our own. This experience of ourselves, how we function, think, feel, or reason, is bound to limit our ability to understand and grasp anything that is greater than us. We are human, and heirs to all that is human. We are in a process, an on-going state of evolution, a state of constant change. We experience this mostly through our moods, our humours, and our feelings. We are emotional creatures, and we must not forget that 'motion' and 'emotion' are expressions of the same thing.
One of my happier memories of childhood was travelling to Dublin on the train. The whole world was a wonder as I watched everything flying by. I was particularly struck by the telephone and electricity wires. My head moved in unison with them, as they dipped, and were lifted again at the next pole. It was years later when I discovered that life can be a bit like that. It is as if there were some sort of gravity pull that drags us down, until we regain control of things, and get back on an even keel again.
Life is a dynamic, always in motion. If I am not moving forward, then, I can be sure, that I'm moving backwards. To live is to change, and to live life well is to have changed often(Cardinal Newman). It is not possible for the human mind to gasp the concept of something that is constant, in season, and out of season. Even the Pyramids of Egypt are constantly being repaired against erosion. There is not a cell in my body that was there seven years ago. We are constantly grower bigger, sometimes wider, and always older.
Because God is constant, whatever his plan was in creation, we can be sure that it has not changed. God is Love, and he could never be anything else. It is God's essence and nature to love 100%. He created us to share his love with us, and to have us reflect some of his own attributes. In other words, he made us in his image and likeness. Imagine taking a mirror off a wall, shattering it on the ground, and then handing a piece of that mirror to each of a group of people. Each person possesses a part of the mirror. It is as if each person reflects some different aspect of God. No one person possesses all of the mirror, or the complete picture. It is together that we can unite as one, and reflect the face of God. That is why Jesus prayed "Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me, and I am in you". "By this will everybody know that you are my disciples, if you have love, one for another".
When God creates, he provides what is needed for that creature to live as he had intended in his creation. All of nature obeys the seasons. Very soon, the daffodils will be out again. The birds will begin to migrate again. The days will begin to get longer, and the weather will begin to get warmer. God's creation provides for these things to happen. He doesn't create something and then abandon it to its own devices. It is all part of an extraordinary pattern, and the order and evidence of this pattern reflects the order and glory of God.
I remember seeing a poster some time ago. It was of a cat, lying down, looking at me. The caption read "Does God seem far away? Guess who moved?!" God's plan is love, love, love all the way. Jesus said,
"They who see me, see the Father, and they who hear me, hear the Father who sent me." It is very important for us to remember that central point. When we look at Jesus in the gospels, we are looking at God in action. It was God who had pity on the widow of Naim, and raised her son to life again. It was God who wept at the tomb of Lazarus, or who wept over Jerusalem, because they rejected his love. His tears at the tomb of Lazarus wee not tears of despair, but tears of empathy for his friends Martha and Mary. It mattered nothing if the person was a pagan, a Samaritan, a prostitute, a tax collector, or an untouchable leper. If they stopped him, they were healed. There was no distinction between Jew or Gentile. God has no grandchildren; we are all children of God.
The whole gospel could be summarised in the story of the Prodigal Son. Remember, this story never happened. It was a story that Jesus used to teach us something very important about the Father. This son hit Skid Row with a vengeance. To the Jews, pigs were unclean, and must not be approached under any condition. The son in the story ended up feeding pigs. He reached the nadir of his decadence when he sank so low that he was willing to eat the food provided for the pigs. That was his 'bottom', to use a phrase that would be familiar to recovering alcoholics. The lesson of the story, of course, is that the Father stood with open arms to welcome him home, and he went to great lengths to celebrate that event. IT IS NOT POSSIBLE TO EXAGGERATE GOD'S LOVE FOR US. In "Bread That Is Broken"(Van Breeman), we are told that 'the saint is not the person who loves God, but the person who is convinced that God loves her'. St. John says "In this is love, not that we love God, but that God first loved us." To quote Van Breeman again: "Faith is to have the courage to accept God's acceptance".
Annie was in a Hospice dying of cancer. I was with her on a Friday evening. I had to go away for the weekend, and I had reason to believe that Annie would not be alive when I returned on Monday. I prayed with her, gave her Absolution, and anointed her with oil. I held her hands as I spoke to her. "Annie, pet, I don't know, but God might come looking for you at the weekend when I'm away. If he does come, I want you to know that your bags are packed and you're ready to go.". I looked her straight in the eye, and asked her "Sure you won't be afraid to meet him?" Her answer was instant "Father, I'm sure he's going to be very happy to see me!" (Yes, her body was in the mortuary when I returned on Monday).
The Prodigal Son had a problem accepting the Father's love. He couldn't accept the fact that the Father was ready and willing to restore him to his place as the older member of the family. He just asked to be accepted as a hired servant, because he didn't think himself worthy of anything else. This is an obvious and frequent mistake to make. We forget that GOD LOVES US BECAUSE HE IS GOOD, totally irrespective of whether we are good or bad. I could summarise what I'm trying to say here by stating that I am really happy to be judged by God when I die….I wouldn't trust people at all!
There's a scene in the gospel that has its own little twist of humour. It seems Peter is beginning to get the 'hang' of what Jesus is all about, so he throws in a question just to test that his impressions are correct. "How many times should I forgive my brother? Seven times?" Peter was being really generous in suggesting seven times, because, surely three or four times was more than enough. Imagine his surprise to be told "Not seven times, but seventy times seven times". Wow! In the language of the day, seventy times seven times was one way of expressing something that was endless, a number that was outside all the boundaries. That shook Peter, just as it should shake us. However, it is important to remember that I'm not speaking here about what we should do. Rather I am speaking of how God understands love and forgiveness. "To err is human; to forgive is divine". When Jesus called Peter, we are told that "Jesus looked at Peter". Later on, after Peter denied him, we are told again "And Jesus turned and looked at Peter."
That shook Peter to his foundations because he saw that the look hadn't changed one bit. The love and acceptance was still there. That is why Peter could write "Always have an answer ready to give to those who ask you the reason for the hope that you have". There were two others crucified with Jesus on Calvary. They both probably deserved to end up as they did. Certainly one of them admitted that they deserved their fate. This one may never have said a prayer in his life. He may never have gone to a synagogue, and he may have treated others with great selfishness and greed. However, right there at the very end of his life, he turned to Jesus, asked for help, and was promised heaven that very day. It's never too late for God!
I baptised a baby some time ago. A beautiful healthy baby, very much welcomed by parents, family and friends. Both parents came from quite extended families, so the church was fairly full for the occasion. I walked up and down in front of the people, with baby Carol in my arms. I told them that she was the most important and the most loved person in that church that day, and she wasn't doing a thing to merit any of that. All she had to do was to be, just to exist, to be present. I spoke to her parents on her behalf "You wanted me. You have me, and now you had better look after me, because I could never manage on my own". I told them how wonderful it would be if she could carry this into life with her, in her relationship and attitude towards God. "You wanted me. You created me. Therefore, you will just have to look after me, because I could never manage on my own." To know that she is loved by God by just existing, by just being, and not trying to earn it, or to meet some self-imposed expectation of a God that has never existed; that, indeed would be a wonderful gift. She received many presents on the day of her Baptism, but this didn't cause her the slightest concern! Later on, she will strive to repay, to reciprocate, to 'get even' for the goodness of others, because life will teach her that there are really no free lunches. There's no such thing as Santa Claus!
We are all familiar with the story of God's creation in the Garden. What I am saying here is that the Garden is still on offer. Jesus ran after us, touched us on the shoulder, and whispered "The Father sent me to tell you that he wants you to return to the Garden, where he has a big hug waiting for you". That message is at the kernel of the gospels. Jesus even offers himself as a guide to bring us Home, because "no one can come to the Father except through me". That welcome hug was there even for the Prodigal Son, who had walked away from his father's love, and chose to go his own way. What wonderful Good News it is to know that the Garden is there for us, and the welcome hug awaits us. Jesus complained that "the sin of this world is unbelief in me". "When the Son of Man comes will he find any faith on this earth?" On top of what I have just stated, I would go one step further, and say that the Garden is NOW.
Some years ago in the US there was a television programme that was based on some sort of organised chaos. One of the items had four people in a supermarket with empty trolleys. The whistle blew, and they were off at full speed, grabbing all they could from the shelves on either side. When the whistle blew a second time, they made their way to the check-out. Each had mixed emotions. "Oh, I never saw that. I should have taken more of those, etc. " The goods of each person were checked, and the person with the highest value of goods was declared the winner.
Just imagine the following scenario: I get a committed Christian and I put him in the show with his own trolley. He is in no hurry. He picks up a loaf of bread, and heads down to the butter section. Then he makes his way across for a pint of milk, meanwhile picking up, and replacing items that fell from one of his competitor's trolley. When they get to the check-out he immediately becomes the focus of attention, derisive laughter, and cynical comment. "What on earth are you about?" one of them asked. "Did nobody tell you about the competition? What are you smiling for anyhow?" The man turned to the questioner and quietly replied "Actually, my Father owns the supermarket! A loaf of bread, a pound of butter, and a pint of milk is all I need for today. I'll be back to-morrow".
There is nothing I will get when I die that I'm not offered now. The road to heaven is heaven. In the next few Insights I intend looking at how damaged and fragile our human nature is. This will lead us on to look at what Jesus has done to set things right again, and make it possible for us to return to our former glory. Of course, of ourselves, we are not 'ready-made material' for heaven! Any claim, right, or entitlement we have is totally and completely as a direct result of the salvation earned for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Before we even consider what Jesus has done for us, it would be good to be ready and willing to put our hand in his, and let him lead us Home. That is the greatest and the only thanks he asks for.
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