Have you ever heard or had a negative reaction to some Church teaching?
There are plenty of times in the Gospels when people have negative reactions to Jesus' words. Thinking about their reactions can help us to think about our own.
Let's begin with the power of Jesus' Word as highlighted by several of the readings this week. He drives out demons by His Word. He rebukes a fever with His Word. A great catch of fish follows from obedience to His Word.
That kind of power can't help but provoke a reaction, so the readings also highlight how people respond to Jesus' Word. People are intrigued, filled with joy and filled with anger. In one episode, after He preaches in His hometown, we hear that all spoke highly of Him and that all were filled with fury!
St. Paul helps us understand how different people — sometimes the same people, sometimes even ourselves — can have these different reactions. In readings from 1 Thessalonians and Colossians this week, He speaks of how we have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. But we know that, while that's fundamentally true, the process isn't complete. That is to say: Even if we belong to the light, that doesn't mean we don't experience the darkness!
So the question becomes: How does the Word interact with both the light and the darkness in us?
We see the answer played out in Scripture. The light in us welcomes the Word with joy, just as some people welcome Jesus' word with joy. The darkness in us rebels against the Word, just as some people reject Jesus' Word. They think Jesus' Word isn't true because they don't want it to be true; they don't want it to be true because they don't want to change. So we see their reaction and we think "They're making themselves the judge of Jesus, rather than letting Jesus be the judge of them." But sometimes that's just as true of us!
It's interesting that such a mixture of light and darkness is exactly how the Catechism describes Purgatory: "All who die in God's grace and friendship (they belong to the light) but still imperfectly purified (they still struggle with some darkness) are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1030).
What if a negative reaction to Church teaching is an opportunity to begin that process of purification now, to let ourselves be judged by Jesus' Word, rather than measuring Jesus' Word by our own preferences? I know a spiritual director who sometimes says: "Well, it's either purgatory or now — you decide when you want to deal with that."
We celebrate the birthday of Mary this week (Sept. 8). Jesus, the Word made flesh, was the measure of her life. She received the Word, cherished and nurtured the Word, and brought forth the Word for the salvation of the world. This is a good week to imitate her, and let the Word become the measure of our lives.
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