Thursday, December 26, 2013
Time Travel, Catholic Style
by Susan Fox
We moved to Arizona in 2002.
Ninety-three to 270 million years ago, Arizona was at the bottom of an ancient seabed.
Shortly after we settled in, I received a visit in my dreams from a giant prawn. I opened the front door. Easily six-feet tall, he was undulating in deep ancient waters in glorious pastel colors.
He looked puzzled. "What are you doing under water?" he asked me.
"I am not under water, Mr. Prawn. You, Sir, are out of time," I boldly responded.
Yes, and tonight is Christmas, and I am out of time. No my preparations for Christmas are done. I am not out of time in that sense.
Time is a creature of God, and God lives in eternity. So in relationship with God we can... go out of time. We can travel in prayer. Go back to moments in our own lives, or moments in the lives of Christ or the saints. With God, we can visit the moment of creation itself. Are you a science fiction fanatic? Become Catholic. We have time travel.
So I propose to take us out of time through prayer in order to answer questions bugging my friends, who are Muslim and those who are atheist. Did God take on human flesh? Was he born of a Woman on Christmas Day? Did He tell us of His plans in advance? And why the heck would He do such a thing? What kind of response should we make to God's self-revelation and sacrifice on our behalf?
My Muslim friend believes Jesus was a very holy man, but He did not die on the cross for the sins of others, for that would be unjust. I agree if they decided to string me up for the sins of the world that would be unjust, and pretty useless as well. But if it's true, that the Word, who was God, was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and then was rejected by His own, and killed, that might be the prism by which we can look at the Birth, Life and Death of Jesus Christ. Not to mention His Resurrection attested to by hundreds of witnesses.
St. Paul, one of the witnesses, wrote, "For I delivered unto you first of all, which I also received: how that Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures: And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day, according to the scriptures: And that he was seen by Cephas (Peter); and after that by the eleven. Then he was seen by more than five hundred brethren at once: of whom many remain until this present, and some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen by James, then by all the apostles. And last of all, he was seen also by me, as by one born out of due time." (1Cor 15:3-8)
Shh, now. Stop talking. We are no longer with St. Paul. Mother Eve has just heard her husband blame her for the entire Fall of mankind. "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate." (Gen. 3:12) Ouch, I bet she wondered what rock she could crawl under.
But she had her excuses ready as well when God asked her, " What is this that you have done?" She answered, "The serpent beguiled me, and I ate." She weakly referred to the serpent in the garden, which tempted her to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil --the fruit that God had forbidden them to eat!
In eons and eons of history, this has got to be the worst moment of time. Our first parents just lost that wonderful intimate time-traveling relationship they'd had with God since their creation. They lost their purpose in life. I am here, and it reminds me of many similar moments in my own life. How will we get out of this mess? I want to cry.
But if I did, I would miss the next part. Oh, I don't mean the punishments. Men have to work. Women bear their children in pain, and the snake crawls on his belly. It's the next part I love, and it's the first announcement of Christmas: (God is talking to the snake:) "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush you head, and you will strike his heel."(Gen. 3:15)
This is the first mention of the Redeemer and His Mother, the New Adam and the New Eve, whose sacrificial love would save us from the First Mess created by our First Parents. The birth of the Word Incarnate from the womb of Mary on Christmas was the beginning of the end for the serpent, the end of all resistance to God. That's why the demons of hell fear this Woman. She utterly terrifies them. With a Woman so powerful in salvation history, why are women upset about the importance of their role in the Catholic Church?
But let us move forward in time to the dedication of the temple in 2 Chronicles, chapter 6. King David wanted to build a temple for God, but he had too much blood on his hands. So his son, Solomon, built it.
Listen up. King Solomon is dedicating the temple that will hold the actual Presence of God. "But will God really dwell on earth with man? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!" (2 Chron 6:18) Then he prays that God will indeed hear his people from this temple, "and when you hear, forgive."
Ah still in a mess. But this is an early hint that God will come and dwell intimately with his people. God heard King Solomon's prayer. When he ended it, "fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple." Wow Christmas and Pentecost together! Now the priests could not enter the temple. And the people gave thanks, "For he is good, for his mercy endures forever." (2Chron 7:1-3) What else can you say after a miracle like that?
During this time there was always a barrier between man and God -- a curtain in the temple. This barrier was actually erected by man's sin. But it did not please God at all. I say this because as soon as Jesus died on the cross, God passionately ripped apart the curtain in the temple that separated man from God.
You see, when the first man and the first woman broke faith with God, they hurt Him. They erected the barrier. He had created the entire universe as a playground where He could be an intimate friend of Adam and Eve, and their children. But then the dark afternoon came when he searched for them, and they were hiding! "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?" (Gen: 3:11) For my Muslim friend, this is why God had to take on our weak human flesh, become man, it was so He could tear down the barrier man had erected against God.
"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone," Isaiah prophesized about the coming Messiah, "For a child is born to us, a son is given us ... They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:2-6)
Isaiah also prophesized that "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel." (Isaiah 7:14)
This is an interesting prophecy because it is a sticking point with both my atheist and Muslim friends.
The atheist believes it was not fulfilled because Jesus is called Jesus, not Immanuel. Never mind that St. Matthew wrote, " She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus (meaning Yahweh saves), because he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" (which means "God with us").
As far as the atheist is concerned, we don't call him Immanuel all the time, and so the prophecy was not fulfilled. However, we do say, "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death." This is a clear recognition that we regard little "Yahweh saves" as God in our midst, Immanuel.
The Muslim has another problem. She believes passionately that the Mother of Jesus was a virgin because the Quran tells her so, but she doesn't know why. In her religion, Jesus is a prophet, but only a man. Now Mohammed was a prophet, but his mother was not a virgin. So why would Jesus need a virgin mother, and Mohammed didn't?
Mary's cousin, Elizabeth, answered the question. Greeting Mary, pregnant with Jesus, she said, "Who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?" Now doesn't that sound like Moses when God gave him his task to free the people of Israel from slavery? But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" (Exodus 3:11) He didn't feel worthy for the job. Yet Moses delivered the Jews from the cruelty of Egyptian slavery and the murder of their sons. His mission -- another great Hint of future events -- sounds remarkably like that of Jesus, first born of all Creation, who delivered us from the slavery of sin by His death on the cross.
Elizabeth rejoiced in Mary's presence because she knew Mary carried the Infant God, and she was the Woman in Gen. 3:15, who through her obedience would crush the head of the serpent. It was God's power that would do the crushing, but with Mary's cooperation. And in the end evil will be defeated. Didn't St. Juan Diego feel the same unworthiness when meeting the Virgin Mother of God, Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1531, a lady of "unearthly grandeur wearing clothing as "radiant as the sun?" God painted Our Lady's image on Juan Diego's tilma, and within 20 years, nine million polytheists who were practicing human sacrifice were converted to Christianity. No wonder the demons flee in terror when the Blessed Mother arrives on the scene.
Now Abraham also gave us a Hint of what was to come. So let's go watch his prophetic action. Abraham is on a very dismal trip, taking his only son up to the Mountain of the Lord to sacrifice him to God. Isaac is carrying the wood of his own future sacrifice upon his back, making him a type for Christ carrying the wood of the cross on his back. Isaac asks his father, where is the animal for the sacrifice? Abraham answers, "God Himself will provide the lamb for the sacrifice." And indeed, centuries later, when Jesus meets St. John the Baptist as an adult, John greets Him with the words, "Behold the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world."
Isaac wasn't sacrificed, but Jesus Immanuel, was.
Did God really come to dwell on earth with man? Yes, and instead of a television camera on the event, God sent his angels to alert the shepherds in the field: "I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." (Luke 2:10-14)
Providentially, those shepherds were both curious and talkative, so they were great at spreading the news of the event as soon as they found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger - exactly as predicted!
Did the people living in darkness see a great light? According to Jesus's disciple John, they did, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." (John 1:1-6)
Jesus Himself confirmed this: "I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life." (John 8:12)
John also said that His own people did not receive Jesus: "The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. (John 1:9-13)
Sounds like what is happening today. Atheists pasted billboards up this Christmas with the words, "Who needs Christ during Christmas? NOBODY."
"Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:12-13)
This is where my story and yours begins. I used to be a terribly insecure and sensitive person. My whole childhood I felt like I was the Prophet Hosea's three miserable children named "Disaster," "Unloved," and "Not-my-people." But once I started asking the question, "God, what are you teaching me in this experience?" He answered me, just like He did with King Solomon. The fire came down and burned up the sacrifice. I was freed from the slavery of sin in Christ.
In my perception, I was no longer named "Disaster," I was no longer "Unloved," nor was I "Not-my-people." Instead, I was "Gift." I was "Beloved," and yes, I completely belonged to God. I received the POWER to live as a child of God. This is the greatest power of the Christian life. To understand one's unique identity in Jesus Christ is the highest calling of man, and leads to the greatest happiness possible on this earth. With this understanding one can endure illness, mockery, rebuke, persecution, tribulation and death with peace and joy.
For my dear Muslim sister, the purpose of the death of Jesus Christ was so that He, who is God, could in His human flesh drag humanity back into communion with Our Father. Jesus Christ personally tore down that barrier man erected against God with our sin. He did it with great passion and great joy.
A priest friend of mine once saw Jesus dying on the cross. With a sad look on his face, the priest said, "Jesus, is that You suffering up there?" Jesus grinned. "Yes, it is Me. And I am happy." The priest was surprised. He said, "Jesus, why are You happy when you are suffering?" Jesus responded, "I am happy because I am dying for you."
"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14)
"And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known. (John 1:16-18)
For my atheist friend, why not join the party? I'll serve prawns.