Summary: Athanasius taught that God became human so that humans could be made divine. But even the baptized struggle with the profound negative impacts of original sins in our physical, emotional and spiritual lives.

Tuesday of the 26th Week in Course 2019

St. Therese of Liseaux

The connection between our two Scripture readings today is stark. The prophet Zechariah, writing a couple of hundred years before Christ, is in a society dominated by Hellenist culture, polytheism and utter contempt for Biblical faith and practice. In other words, it was a culture much like our own. But Zechariah is a prophet of hope and deliverance and triumph. He foresees a day in which the surrounding culture has so collapsed that if people see a person who believes in the True God, they’ll follow him in droves because God is with him.

Or her. Remember, the first words of the archangel Gabriel, whose feast we just celebrated two days ago, were “Rejoice, graced of God, the Lord is with you.” We say that prayer fifty times in every Rosary. When others see in us the presence of God, they will ultimately turn their backs on the trash they once valued and go with us on our pilgrimage to the heavenly Jerusalem.

Fast forward to our Gospel passage. The Gospel of Luke has a clear structure: once Jesus embarks on His ministry to this world, He sets His face toward Jerusalem. Jerusalem was meant by God and King David and all the great leaders of Israel to be a focal point for true worship. All people would be drawn there by its Truth, its Beauty and its Goodness to learn about and give praise to the One God, source of all Truth, Beauty and Goodness. The coming of the Son of God to Jerusalem was supposed to be the much longed-for “day of the Lord” where God and His people would have final victory.

But Christ’s disciples, like the surrounding Jewish culture, thought that day of triumph would be one in which the Messiah and His people would take up swords and battering rams and force the rule of God on the whole world by blood and fire. That’s why when the Samaritans refused to be hospitable to Jesus and His people, James and John, the “sons of Thunder” as they were known, wanted to call down fire from heaven to destroy Samaria. But the plan of the Father, the plan of Jesus His Son, was not to impose divine law from outside the person. That law is the law of love–love of God and neighbor–and diametrically opposed to the use of force to enforce that law. It’s absolutely incompatible with God’s will. So Jesus rebuked them, and rebukes everyone who thinks he or she can create a perfect society by imposing rules, by autocratic violence. No, if human society is to be truly human, truly humane, the change has to be accepted by human minds and hearts. That means by minds and hearts willing to be changed, to be made over in the image and likeness of the Divine Mind and the Sacred Heart.

That’s not easy. As our heart is made over into the Sacred Heart, we are being in a real sense “divinized.” Athanasius taught that God became human so that humans could be made divine. But even the baptized struggle with the profound negative impacts of original sins in our physical, emotional and spiritual lives. It’s like a spiritual carapace that prevents our growth into images of Christ. Pain, suffering and the spiritual challenges called the “dark night” crack open that carapace, that hard coating, that prevents our growth, and when our persons are liberated by that painful nut-cracking process, grace can pour in. It’s sanctifying grace coming through the sacraments, and actual grace coming by the direct action of the Holy Spirit.

Today we are especially united in prayer with St. Therese of Liseaux, the “Little Flower,” whose brief life was, in its later years, one of continual suffering and pain. She, in little more than twenty-four years, attained more sanctity than most could acquire in a thousand. She said, “holiness consists simply in doing God’s will, and being just what God wants us to be.”

I’ve been reflecting on her life of prayer, and our call to prayer. If we remember that our prayer is not aimed at changing God’s mind. God wills our good. We don’t pray so God will change. We pray so that we can change and be able to accept freely what God has for us, whether wonderful or painfully challenging. I think the Rosary–and this month is the month of the Holy Rosary–does that for me. Saying the Hail Mary over and over again is my mind rubbing against my heart, wearing away that spiritual hardness so grace can get through. I suppose prayer as a spiritual sandpaper is not the most inspiring picture, but it’s one of the ways we can be prepared to change our hearts and be made fit for the Divine image. St. Therese of Liseaux, pray for us.

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