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Weekly Message 03-09-08: CheesefareSunday -- First Day Of The Great Fast

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First Day Of Great Fast

As we are about to think about, pray and meditate on the miracles of forgiveness in the life of Christ during this sacred season, we turn our thoughts to miracles. The word `miracle' is common currency these secularly-laden days. It can easily be applied in current usage to nonsensical show biz triumphs, medical breakthroughs and bizarre coincidences. We are as likely to encounter its usage on the sports page of a newspaper as in a religious text. But it certainly was not always like that.

The miracles of forgiveness began and were initiated with the Birthgiver of God, who by the grace of God became her Maker's maker and her Creator's mother. She contained within her womb the uncontainable God, so she is happily referred to as platitera, she who is more spacious than the heavens! And it all began with her person so that sin could be erased and forgiven.

In this period of secularistic pervasive nonsense abounding, some have tied themselves in knots trying to find rational explanations for the miracle in general and particularly for the miracle of forgiveness. There is no doubt among believers that all miracles are not pure acts of fiction on the part of gospel writers as is evident from secular historians of the first-century describing Jesus as a wonder-worker.

Because He is the son of the living God, Jesus Christ is not limited in any way. Entering the physical world as a perfect human being, He can do all things. For non­believers, Jesus is no more than a gifted preacher and the miracles no more than fanciful hoaxes, or embellished yarns to inspire the faithful.

Miracles to the understanding of genuine believers are deliberate acts of Almighty God with specific purpose and meaning. A new focus is more on what Jesus did than what He said. But to the thinking person, both are convergent on and revelatory of the same truth. His actions and his words tell us the same story. Numerous miracles or sins were worked so to confirm his vocation among us; they are not at variance with each other. He entered the world that man's original transgression and its effects inherited by succeeding generations would be overcome and with repentance, forgiven and forgotten.

Of the four gospel writers, John the Evangelist who is also known as the Theologian, is the one who most consistently and powerfully refers to Jesus' miracles as "signs." In working these signs Jesus reveals his own divine dignity and awesome glory. At the very conclusion of his gospel narrative, John writes, "Jesus did many other miraculous signs that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that by believing you may have life in his name" John 20: 30, 31. In SS. Matthew, Mark and Luke's gospels, miracles are often meant to signify the imminent coming of the kingdom of God, in St. John's gospel they are signs of the identity of Jesus. Essentially, they signify that Jesus is the Son of God. The miracles of forgiveness then, do show the imminent coming of God's kingdom in individual hearts and souls and as the final evangelist insists, they give evidence to Jesus Christ not only as Messiah, but as Saviour and Redeemer as well.

Miracles were offered to those who with faith approached him and on their individual and personal account. Miracles were not worked for his own identification, but for the benefit of man. "Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man's testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man" John 2: 23 - 25.

What made the miracles of Jesus stand out for people of his time was not that they were enacted in the world, but that God acted in the world in very particular  and significant way. He was forever emphasizing forgiveness of sin if the condition of repentance was fulfilled and met. For western secularists today, the miracles of forgiveness can seem less like a language and more like a code, But it is not an uncrackable code. By digging into the details of the gospel accounts and by discovering more about the mindset of first century Jews, scholars have been able to decipher these remarkable stories and accounts and thus shed new light on who Jesus Christ is.

The Knot of Vipers by Francois Mauriac tells, the story of a husband and wife who are tangled up in world of unforgiveness and recrimination. Their relationships with their children caused a drift to develop between them. According to her, he had not shown enough concern for their five-year-old daughter when she became ill some thirty year before. According to him, she lived only for her children, paying no attention to him once they wore born, and found her purpose in life as a mother, certainly not as wife. And so for years they slept in separate rooms. Neither was willing to take the fits. step to reconciliation. Each night he would lie awake and wait for her to come. Likewise, she would wait for him to appear in the doorway and offer words of forgiveness. But neither would. Break the cycle that had begun years before. Unforgiveness described them; they were two individuals living a life of constant exasperation and mutual loathing.

Our wounds are most often caused by someone close to us. Like blunt knife, they tear into our tender psyches. We learn to live with these wounds, getting so used to them that some unresolved matters are off limits for discussion. We avoid them for the sake of pseudo peace. Life demands that we get around these difficult areas somehow so that we can function as a family, but issues never resolved translate to hurts never healed. A scab may develop for protection, but the infected incision never fully heals and sometimes quietly bleeds.

Is there any way to resolve these matters, heal the hurt, stop the bleeding, reunite separated souls kept prisoner in their own worthless values of sinfulness? The only power that can stop the inexorable stream of painful memories is the faculty of forgiveness. It is as simple as that. Forgiveness is God's ability for coming to terms with a world in which, despite their best intentions, people are unfair to each other and hurt each other deeply. Forgiveness is an experience like none other. It is no wonder that God offers it so eagerly because it is so necessary. There is a reckless clarity in the power of forgiveness and is most familiar in our understanding of the Lord.

It is only the soul of man which has died many deaths and cried many tears of repentance to be able to then come to understand the portrait of God in such humility to embrace a long lost and unworthy son in the parable of the Prodigal.

"Addiction" might be the best word to explain the lostness that so deeply permeates contemporary alienated society. Our addictions make us cling to that which the world proclaims as the keys to self-fulfillment: accumulation of wealth and power; attainment and status and admiration; lavish consumption of food and drink; and sexual gratification falling to the dimension of idolatry, without distinguishing and most often confusing lust and love, ascribing to the creature more devotion than to the Creator. These addictions create expectations that cannot but fail to satisfy our deepest needs. As long as we live in these worldly delusions, our addictions condemn us to futile quests and distant countries.

Oblivious to the disappointment man causes to the Creator who loves him above all else, more than anyone else in the world, we then set off on our return journey to the embrace of our Creator God. Because in spite of everything, the fact remains unchanged: we all still have a Father in heaven, regardless how we sin and separate ourselves from him and the other equally true fact is we are and remain a child of God. No matter what happens, we remain daughters or sons of the eternal Father.

Just as the recalcitrant son, there is within us an unbreakable thread of truth, giving hope, "I will go to my Father..." How especially comforting is this truth in time of alienation and separation!

Miracles are simply defined and understood as extraordinary events that surpass natural or rational explanations and thus inspire awe and wonder. They are divine interventions and participations that became a closed book with the fullness of revelation. They are an expression of God's self-revealing power and dominion over the forces of nature, an inside look at the working and abiding love of God manifested by the Holy Spirit working in the life of man to render him becoming more fully "the image and likeness of God" Genesis 1: 26.

The miracles of forgiveness are a sign from heaven of hope for all people. Christ assured us He came for all mankind so they are a means whereby God is understood as all­inclusive. Where there is good will, there is grace, bringing that capacity "to wonder", derived from the root Latin, mirari, that is, the essence of hopefulness, growth and serenity, even in adversity and loss. From this perspective we find most miracles come quietly and at need. They reassure us we are not alone in a hostile world, that there is spiritual purpose to our lives, unfolding day by day.

The readiness of God always to forgive sins is a factor repeatedly dwelt upon throughout the length and breadth of his revelation to us in Scripture. It is relied upon with trust by the believer. Prayers for forgiveness are frequent and include reminders of the inclusive love of God for his people.

Because it was man who departed from the established norm in paradise, because it was man who deviated, because it was man who chose separation from the source of life, reconciliation, apology and forgiveness is totally necessary. Ultimately speaking, therefore, the readiness of our eternal Father to forgive is the outcome of his own attitude towards all his creatures as well as of his relationship with his covenant people in particular.

Forgiveness always presupposes sincere repentance on the part of the sinner; a radical change of heart, a turning away from sin and acknowledgement of the wrongness of his ways which is usually made in public in the life of the Church. The penitent appears seeking forgiveness before the priest confessor.

As long as the prescriptions established by God himself are ignored, God refuses his forgiveness. We are told when forgiveness comes, when the conditions have been met and fulfilled, when forgiveness comes, it has the effect of obliteration of sin completely, covering it, and causing it to be forgotten by the eternal God. The first most important development which the New Testament adds is that forgiveness comes through Christ alone, no Allah, no Mohammed, no Indian gods or dervishes can forgive man. From the very outset of his earthly ministry, Jesus claims and exercises the power of forgiveness, vindicating his claim by healing the sick. Forgiveness of sin is, in fact, an integral and primary element in the work of redemption. Jesus' forgiveness presupposes not merely the disposition of sincere and humble repentance mentioned but even perhaps more importantly, faith in Jesus Christ himself and his ability and power to impart the forgiveness of God.

May this sacred season be known to us as the time of forgiveness, the time for reconciliation, the time of apologizing to our God for offending and demeaning our own nature made in his image, for detracting from our dignity and that of others in sinning against them and for denouncing his sovereignty over our lives when we sin. May this be a period and time of purification of soul, of cleansing of conscience and inspiration to live lives of glorifying God without limitation.

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