Knowing Jesus - and Being Known by Him

(Homily for Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A)

Bottom line: Salvation involves more than a one-time acceptance of Jesus. What counts is not so much what we do for Jesus or what we know about him. What matters is knowing Jesus and being known by him: a daily relationship with Jesus based on intimate prayer...

Five Sunday's ago we listened to the Beatitudes - the opening of the Sermon on the Mount. Today we hear the concluding section. Jesus speaks about those who will and who will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Can you think of anything more important than this: where you and I will spend eternity?

Unfortunately, there has been a lot of confusion in this area - some of it, quite understandable, because we humans easily fall into wishful thinking. Wishful thinking about salvation has been around for a long time. In the fourth century, St. John Chrysostom wrote about people who quote John 3:36: "He that believes in the Son has everlasting life." They then conclude, he says, that it is enough to simply believe.*

But can it really be that simple? "By no means!" responds Chrysostom. He goes on to quote the words of Jesus, the words we just listened to: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord! Lord!' shall enter the kingdom of heaven."* (cf. The Faith of the Early Fathers, Volume 2, by William A Jurgen, #1163)

In our own day some people say that all they have to do is make an act of faith and they are saved - no matter what they do afterwards. They use slogans such as "once saved, always saved," and they speak about "eternal assurance." People who say this are not bad willed and they do have part of the truth. It is true we can have complete confidence in God's will for our salvation. We only need look at the cross. One drop of Jesus' blood can take away even the most horrific sin. From the divine point of view we can have eternal assurance.

But salvation involves not only God's will but the human will. While God's will is perfect and unchangeable, our wills vacillate. We all know that we have made big promises, then fallen flat on our faces. For that reason, St. Paul spoke about working out his salvation "in fear and trembling." (Phil 2:12) No one had greater faith than Paul, but he spoke about the possibility of losing his salvation even after preaching to others.

Sometimes people will ask, "If you died tonight, would you go to heaven?" That is good question, but to give a simple answer is tricky. If a person says, "no," it sounds like he has no faith. But if a person says, "yes," he may be guilty of presumption. St. Joan of Arc gave the best response. When they asked her if she were in God's grace, she said, "If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me."** Joan of Arc was barely nineteen years old and she had no formal education but she struck the right balance - total confidence in God combined with clarity about her limitations as a human being.

So, yes, we can have assurance about our salvation - but not about our own selves. Like St. Paul - and St. Joan - we are aware that we can lose the gift of salvation. Jesus tells us today that we shall attain salvation, we shall enter the kingdom of heaven only if we do the will of his Father.

And what is the will of the Father? Jesus does not leave us in the dark. He tells what is insufficient - and what is necessary to attain salvation. It is not enough, he says, to do great things in his name. Salvation requires something deeper, something more intimate. In order to attain salvation, we have to "know" him and he has to know us.

Let me give an illustration. I am big fan of the philosophy professor, Peter Kreeft. He teaches at Boston College and has written books that brilliantly explain and defend the Catholic faith. Suppose I go to Boston and show up on his doorstep. "Peter," I say, "I am one of your biggest fans. I've read your books and listened to your tapes. Please, can I spend the night at your home?"

Peter Kreeft would probably look at me and say, "I am sorry. I do not know who you are." Similarly, it does not suffice to have head knowledge about Jesus and to do things in his name. A person who relies on those things might hear Jesus say, "I never knew you." To enter heaven it does not suffice to know about Jesus; we have to know him - and be known by him.

When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Heaven is nothing more - and nothing less - than a personal relationship with Jesus who brings us to the Father in the Spirit, that is, as a part of the Communion of Saints.*** Heaven has to begin now or it will never begin.

To know Jesus is to build our lives on rock foundation. Before we do things in Jesus' name, we need to know him - to spend time in personal, intimate prayer. After his conversion, St. Paul spent time in Arabia. We do not know for sure what he did there, although apparently he did not found any community in Arabia. Some have speculated that he spent that time in intense prayer before going to Jerusalem to meet with Peter and the other apostles.

In a similar way St. Francis of Assisi took refuge in a cave above Assisi before beginning a ministry that would transform Europe. St. Francis, St. Paul - and the other great saints - devoted time to laying the foundation. You and I have a marvelous opportunity to do the same: This Wednesday we begin the season of Lent. I'd like to make a few invitations:

For Mardi Gras this Tuesday, why don't you come to the 40 Days for Life Kick-Off Rally? Prayer in front of Planned Parenthood can have amazing results. Abby Johnson, a woman who directed a Planned Parenthood clinic, has written a book telling how the 40-Days-for-Life prayer.**** I know that joining others in front of abortion clinics can be a profound experience of prayer.

Although I personally have not seen extraordinary results (like saving the life of a baby) I do know that others have. A few weeks ago I was having my car lubed. One of the attendants noticed my collar and asked if I knew Fr. Ed White. I said, "yes, are you one of his parishioners?" "No," he said to me, "my wife and I were going into a Planned Parenthood for an abortion and Fr. Ed was praying there. We stopped and talked with him - and decided to keep our baby!" The baby is now fifteen months and is, as the man told me, "our greatest treasure."

I am telling you this because prayer changes things - and especially it changes the one who prays. Prayer - a personal, intimate relationship, with Jesus is the rock foundation. One of the most powerful prayers is to join others in the civil rights struggle of our day - the pro-life movement.

So that is one invitation: Forty Days for Life. I would like to briefly mention two others: Dr. Robert Fontana will be giving all-day retreats for marriage couples ("Marriage Jackpot"). Few things are more important to our society and our Church that strong marriages. A good marriage opens the door to prayer for the husband and wife - and for their children.

And for our youth, we will be having a Theology of the Body Retreat. Sr. Miriam James will give the opening presentation. Then Kristine Mauss and Dario Mobino will give separate presentations for young men and young women. Bishop Joseph Tyson will give the final talk and celebrate Mass with our young people. Please do not miss this wonderful opportunity.

Forty Days for Life, Marriage Jackpot and Theology of the Body retreats are wonderful opportunities to discover and grow in one's relationship to the Lord. It is daily relationship that often requires daily forgiveness and healing. Here at St. Mary of the Valley we will use Lent to prepare for the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Easter renewal of baptism.

Remember: Salvation involves more than a one-time acceptance of Jesus. What counts is not so much what we do for Jesus or what we know about him. What matters is knowing Jesus and being known by him: a daily relationship with Jesus based on intimate prayer. Amen.


*Wishful thinking about salvation reached an amazing level here in Washington State in the murder of a pastor's wife. When the evidence led police to the pastor himself, some members of his congregation said that, although it was terrible, it did not affect the pastor's salvation because he had accepted Jesus as his Savior and that assured his salvation. After his one-time act of faith, nothing else mattered. The local media of course were delighted to publish quotes that made Christianity look like nonsense.

**The Catechism quotes those words of St. Joan as the conclusion of its explanation of Grace. (#2005)

***That was my major quibble with the Dawn Treader movie. At the end, Reepicheep gets into his boat in order to sail to "Aslan's County." But in the movie (not in the book) Aslan is standing on shore seeing him off! One does not get to Aslan's country by waving good-bye to him. The only real reason for traveling to that place is because He is there.

****And like Caleb in the Bible, a young woman named Lila Rose has gone into hostile territory to bring back a report on what is happening inside Planned Parenthood clinics. Her report would seem unbelievable - except for the fact that she used a hidden camera to record what is taking place in those abortion clinics. Here is what the National Catholic Register had to say about her work:

On Dateline NBC’s “To Catch a Predator,” young-adult actors contact suspected pedophiles and pretend to be teenagers willing to have sex. After a suspect exhibits an ample willingness to have sex with a child, police throw him to the ground and haul him away in handcuffs.

“Thanks to mainstream programs like 60 Minutes and Dateline NBC, undercover journalism has exposed some of the most repugnant wrongdoings that have afflicted our society,” Breen said.

Sackin, of Planned Parenthood of New York, said those associated with Live Action Films are “anti-choice activists” and not undercover journalists. The Supreme Court, however, makes no legal distinction between large, traditional media organizations and the nontraditional journalist, often referred to as “the lone pamphleteer.”

I encourage you to watch her videos and support Live Action.

Spanish Version

From Archives (Ninth Ordinary Sunday, Year A):

2008: Be My Rock

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

my bulletin column

SMV Bulletin (be patient - sometimes we have problems uploading)

Parish Picture Album

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World Over - Unplanned - Raymond Arroyo w Abby Johnson and Fr. Willy Raymond

Letter from Pro-Life Leaders to House Speaker John Boenher:

Dear Speaker Boehner,

Planned Parenthood, a scandal-plagued abortion organization, must be held accountable for abusing innocent young victims while receiving hundreds of millions in federal dollars each year.

They must be defunded of federal tax dollars, and now is the time to do it. The House vote in support of Rep. Mike Pence’s Amendment No. 11 to the Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011 (H.R. 1) to prevent government funding for the nation’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, is an excellent start.

However, the House vote on the Pence Amendment is nothing more than symbolic unless it remains intact through the legislative process. Defunding Planned Parenthood must be a non-negotiable in the Continuing Resolution and we urge you to accept nothing less than this outcome.

The fact that Planned Parenthood was caught aiding and abetting sex traffickers proves that it is not safe for women and young girls. What goes on in offices and clinics of Planned Parenthood, as Live Action's videos show is both saddening and shocking. That it has often been done using taxpayer dollars is indefensible...

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