Sunday, November 29, 2015

Judges and Judgment (2015-11-29, Advent)

SUNDAY 29 November 2015   [ advent – week 1 ]

• Jeremiah 33:14-16  • Psalm  25 • 1 Thessalonians  3:12-4:2 • Luke 21:25-28, 34-36 •

Bibliography:   John Henry Newman, “The Immortality of the Soul” (Bk. I, Serm. 2) Parochial & Plain Sermons (1891), San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997.

 [__01__]  The judge, or the judges, in a courtroom are, in some ways invisible or obscure to us.   They may even be avoidable.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offered this legal and spiritual counsel, “Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge.” (Matthew 5:25)

Jesus suggested the possibility of a detour around certain judges and magistrates.

I reflect on this theme of the judge and the judgment, because this is the first Sunday of Advent, and in our Gospel reading, Jesus reminds of the importance to pray that we can stand before the Son of Man.

Jesus will, one day, be our judge.

The Good News, however, is that through the Holy Spirit, through the sacraments of the Church, he is also our ADVOCATE, our helper, our adviser.

He is within our conscience in both the legal trials and True-and-False questions of life.

In the Book of the Exodus, just before the crossing of the Red Sea, the Lord encourages Moses to continue forward. As we recall, Moses did not enjoy public speaking, and all the encounters with Pharaoh.  At this point, Moses feared he would drown in the water.  And, at this critical moment, Moses is told, “The Lord himself will fight for you, you have only to keep still.” (Exodus 14:14)

 [__02__]    Thus, in this regard, we need not fear or run from the Day of Judgment, the day that our souls come before God.  We are only called to pray and prepare for this day and to know what the judge expects of us. 

[__03__]      In this case, we see that God’s judgment was against Egypt and in favor of Moses’ people. They were being rescued and taken to the Promised Land.  They only had to keep still, to keep calm.

 [__04__]    Isn’t this calm, this tranquility very difficult to attain  or maintain, in a time of judgment?

The snowboarders and skaters at the Olympics may be calm during their performance….but they appear a bit more nervous just as the judges post the numerical scores for the medal-rankings.

[__05__]    Naturally, we would also be nervous because judgment would indicate that something is going to change.  Perhaps, I should settle out of court or avoid this judge?

 [__06__]     The judgement or the Day of Judgment is, however, not meant to scare us or frighten us but simply to remind us that there is a life beyond this world.

Jesus himself said: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth; where the rust and moth consume and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven.” (Matthew 6:19-20)

Do we believe – with all of our heart, mind and strength – in a life beyond this world?

John Henry Newman observes that we can, in a sense, conclude this by a process of elimination.  That is, we know what is meant by the fragility and limitations of this life. We see that individuals and even institutions may not endure forever.

That is, while it is healthy – spiritually healthy – to  long for a life beyond this world, it is also quite apparent that natural and created things do break down.

Thus, when we would speak of eternal life, we do not speak of our purely physical existence, but rather our soul, our spiritual life. We are a unity of body-and-soul.

The soul is also what makes us distinctly human and rational.  Our soul gives us free will and not merely instinct.  Our soul gives us a conscience and not merely a memory.  Our soul gives us a sense of what is good and evil not only for me but for another.

In our soul is the impetus to seek forgiveness or to forgive another person.

While these aspects – FREEDOM, CONSCIENCE, FORGIVENESS – are certainly demonstrated by our SPEECH or ACTION, can we not say that they exist apart from them?

God gave us, created in us, a soul.

It is our souls which make us unique, non-repeatable ... once born, a copy will never be burned.

It is not DNA or physical attributes or chemistry which make us known to God and to another but rather our soul.

The Holy Spirit, as our ADVOCATE, would also be our original soul mate.

[__07__]    Recently, Pope Francis declared that the year 2015-2016, from the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of December 8, 2015 until Christ the King, 2016 would be the YEAR OF MERCY.

Pope Francis prays and calls for all Catholics, priests and people to reflect on and seek God’s mercy.

Here at Our Lady of Lourdes, we observe this on the evening of Monday December 7 with the availability of priests for confession from 6:30 pm to 9:30 pm. This information is also in our bulletin and website.

[__08__]     We are called to seek God’s mercy and to be aware of the judge and judgment in our lives and also of the visible and invisible in each of us.
Is the judge the one we try to avoid?

After all, no one wants to go to court, RIGHT?

Jesus had said…. ,  “Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge.” (Matthew 5:25)

Jesus is not, however, an ordinary judge …but our understanding of judgment, in general, can help us and guide us.

[__09__]   Several years ago, I was called for and served for about a month as a juror in the Hudson County courthouse at Journal Square in Jersey City.

As we may all be well aware, one of the responsibilities of the judge is not only to instruct the lawyers, the defendant, the prosecutor, the plaintiff, BUT ALSO ..the jury, the members of the jury were also instructed.

Of course, the members of the jury could attempt to – or might succeed in avoiding the judge’s instruction. After all, we went home at night. We were not sequestered. How much could the judge really know or see of us?

Now, that trial lasted for about 30 days, but we were not in court all day long or every day consecutively. One day, I left the courthouse and took the PATH train.  I went to my regular place of work in another city and in another state. I was now 20 miles away from the courthouse. There was no judge in sight.

It was, to me, quite a coincidence that I should see one of the other jurors walking down a city street. He did not see me. I did not acknowledge him. I just keep walking.

I thought… I guess this is why the judge tells you not to discuss the case outside the jury room.

In some legal and metaphysical way, I felt the judge was present to us, to both of us.

[__10__]    I use this as an example of how someone’s instruction exists not simply physically, but also spiritually.

When strive to follow the 4th commandment – Honor thy father and thy mother that thou might have a long life on the earth – we do so not simply because our father or mother is over our shoulder. In fact, would we not do so because we believe in the eternal soul of our deceased parents.

When we confess our sins in the sacrament of penance and reconciliation, we recognize that our actions do not have merely physical or material consequences, but rather spiritual and eternal significance.

What is important is not only what we can see but what we cannot see.

[__11__]   In the legal courtrooms of a county or state or federal government, the judge bases a decision based  on what is VISIBLE even if visibility requires an electron microscope or if “visibility” is defined by a fingerprint or phone conversation.

Thus, we try to hide from or avoid such judges. Sometimes, we succeed.

[__12__]    However, from Jesus, as our judge, we gain not by hiding but by disclosure.

And, we disclose not simply what is visible but also what is invisible.

St. Francis de Sales writes that God is a merciful judge and not an angry judge.
(Francis de Sales, “Ch. IX, On Gentleness Toward Ourselves” Part III, Introduction to the Devout Life, p. 112)

This same judgment – this same patience – is what we need when we examine our lives, examine our consciences.

Francis de Sales suggests that when we become aware of our sinfulness, we are not to be excessively anxious. Remember the words to Moses at the Red Sea:
The Lord himself will fight for you, you have only to keep still.” (Exodus 14:14)

This same stillness is valuable, is it not, when we discover the sinfulness or fault in another person. That is, while we may find fault with another, it does little good for us to act with rage and vengeance.

Or, St. Francis de Sales writes, if a judge speaks very impetuously and passionately, he is not punishing the actual faults but only what he perceives to be the faults.

The same is true in ourselves. That is, we become distressed at our faults, at what we can see. We always begin with what we can see.

However, the Lord wishes to forgive and strengthen us, in our souls – where we cannot see – and so we will – through his grace not only be forgiven what has already happened but be stronger for the challenges not yet visible in the next trial.    [__fin__]    

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