Tuesday, July 31, 2018

‘Nitty Gritty’ Life and the Sacraments

The men’s group at my parish is doing a summer program called “The Bible and the Sacraments.” It’s very interesting and informative, and no, contrary to popular opinion, I’m not attending these sessions only because they feed us breakfast. That’s a nasty rumor started by, um, by everyone who knows me.

 Anyway, one of the presentations used an interesting phrase to describe our situation here on earth: “nitty gritty physicality.” This is the main reason the Lord instituted the sacraments. He offers us supernatural grace, but does it using natural elements, such as bread, wine, water, and oil.

We have to remember some things about our Creator and ourselves. As Scripture tells us, God is an eternal spirit. But He chose to create a natural, material universe, including our little planet. All the things on earth are material and physical, 100-percent natural.

The only exception is mankind. God, in His wisdom and by His love, created us with natural, physical bodies, but also gave us immortal, spiritual souls. Of all the beings in the universe, we men and women are the only “hybrids.” (And you thought the Toyota Prius was the first hybrid.)

God and the angels are all purely spiritual. The dirt and the grass and the animals roaming the forest are all purely natural. We human beings are both; we are part material and part spiritual, part natural and part supernatural. We are souls that have been enfleshed with physical bodies, or if you prefer, we are physical bodies that have been infused with eternal souls. This makes us unique.

Although we have eternal souls, oftentimes our souls are spiritually weak. God wants us to be in a strong spiritual relationship with Him, but we often focus all of our energies on the material aspect of life and neglect the spiritual component. The daily grind of life is “nitty gritty physicality.” Thankfully, God understands our weaknesses. He knows that we struggle with the spiritual part of our “hybrid” existence.

To help us draw nearer to Him, God makes His spiritual grace available to us through the part of our “hybrid” selves that is stronger: the physical, natural part. When God gives us His grace by way of the elements of earth, the Church calls it a sacrament, something sacred.

The Incarnation itself was the greatest example of God coming to us in a way we could better understand. The Second Person of the divine Trinity, Jesus Christ, did not take on human flesh just because He was curious about what it was like to be a man. No, He became a human being for our sake. He lowered Himself (completely humiliated Himself, actually) by entering into our natural, physical, nitty gritty, grimy, painful world. He did it because He knew human beings can relate more easily to natural things rather than spiritual things.

It’s God’s way of meeting us halfway. Sure, if God so chose, He could have hidden Himself away in the farthest reaches of Heaven and waited for us to become so spiritually enlightened that we ignored all the physical, natural aspects of our existence and entered into a vibrant and powerful spiritual relationship with Him. Throughout history some of the greatest saints and mystics have been able to do exactly that. But those folks are rare and special cases. For the rest of us, the natural, physical world is what smacks us right in the face every day; it’s what we can see and hear and smell and touch and taste.

So, the natural aspect of our lives, our “nitty gritty physicality,” is the main reason God gave us the sacraments. And one of the most nitty and gritty physical aspects of my life is breakfast, which is served when our parish men’s group gets together. You know, our study of “The Bible and the Sacraments” is so interesting, I would attend even if they did not feed us breakfast. Probably.

Friday, July 27, 2018

The Stain Conspiracy

A few weeks ago at a charity golf outing, I won a really nice raffle prize: a brand new white golf shirt. It looked just like something you’d see a professional golfer wear on TV. I tried it on and it fit perfectly. I felt just like a sweet-swinging tour pro, right up until the moment I grabbed a club and took a practice swing. Then I instantly reverted back to my old self, the left-handed lunging hacker. (Wouldn’t “Left-handed Lunging Hackers” make a good name for a rock band?)

Anyway, as I was enjoying fantasies of hitting the ball long and straight, engendered by my sparkling new white shirt, unbeknownst to me a series of urgent messages were being communicated across a high-speed network. The first message sent was this: “Whoa, the guy who got a C-minus in Freshman English just wrote the words ‘engendered’ and ‘unbeknownst’ in the same sentence. Whose work is he plagiarizing now?”

Unlike the plodding and congested Internet, with which we’re all familiar, this little-known network uses no wires and no computer servers. It operates exclusively with instantaneous telepathic thoughts shared between inanimate objects. As soon as I claimed my raffle prize, an observant bottle of ketchup at the banquet facility sent a message to his cousin, the bottle of ketchup in my refrigerator at home. Here is the message that was sent: “Alert! He just got a brand new white shirt!”

That bottle of ketchup then promptly sent out the word to other items in my house: the bottle of mustard to his immediate right, the coffee mugs in a cabinet above the sink, and the jar of spaghetti sauce on a shelf next to the oven. Everyone leaped into action. Both the ketchup and mustard bottles started forming crusty films at their tops, which would prevent anything from exiting smoothly. Then they started inhaling to build up pressure within each respective container, sure to cause a sudden and violent discharge.

The coffee mugs shifted on their shelf, clearing a path for one mug in the far reaches of the cupboard to make its way to the front. This long-forgotten mug has a slight crack on the rim, perfect for allowing coffee to trickle out and dribble down the side of the mug and onto the drinker’s chest.

The jar of spaghetti sauce took no action, other than offering a knowing smile. He understood there was nothing special to prepare, as the left-handed lunging hacker’s eating habits were just as hurried and awkward as his golf swing. As the various objects made preparations, high-pitched giggling filled the kitchen.

Other items in the vicinity were copied as the urgent messages flew back and forth. Many offered to assist if needed. The Chevy Equinox began to form a film of tree pollen and dirt on its radiator grille, and placed an isolated clump of dried leaves on the center of the hood, strategically arranged to attract someone to lean over and brush them off. Oily rags sitting high on a shelf in the garage unfurled themselves so that the oiliest edge was now hanging down at shoulder height right by the doorway connecting the garage to the basement.

Needless to say, within one week of winning that shiny new white golf shirt, I was standing by the washing machine, frantically rubbing a stain-remover onto various red, yellow, and brown splotches. A half-hour later, when I pulled the shirt out of the washer and held it up, colorful smudges still were quite visible. I shrugged my shoulders and said to myself, “Oh well, I guess I can still wear this while working around the yard.”

At that moment, I swear I heard high-pitched giggling.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Is the Church Heading for Extinction?

Recently I read about a Catholic monastery in Quebec that is being converting into a Harry Potter theme park. The facility, which was once a thriving community of almost 200 prayerful monks, is now devoid of faith: no more monks, no more priests, no more Canadian Catholics who are interested in keeping the place open. So, it’s been sold to a company that thinks the beautiful old buildings look at lot like the fictional Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and they’ll try to attract hordes of Harry Potter fans.

Commenting on this story, the well-known online blogging priest, Fr. “Z”, made this observation: “Christ promised that the Church would prevail over all the attacks of Hell. However, he did not promise that the Church would survive where YOU live.”

That’s true. The Church founded by Jesus 2,000 years ago spread around the whole world, and at every moment since then there have been places where the Church is vibrant and thriving. But there are other places where the Church once was vibrant but now is dormant. For example, Catholic faith is on the verge of collapse in western Europe, and it is certainly in decline here in North America. Although Jesus promised us that the Church ultimately would be victorious, he did not promise that things will be peachy at every time and in every location.

A couple of days after reading that story, I attended a funeral Mass. The man who died was a very faithful Catholic who attended Mass every week. In the front pews at the funeral were about 20 to 30 of his descendants, his children and their spouses, and the grandchildren. During Mass, it became clear that none of them were familiar with the basic structure of Mass. They needed to be told when to stand and when to sit. They pretty much seemed confused the entire time.

As I sat there in the church, it struck me: “Wow, this is like that monastery in Quebec. All the faithful people are dying off, and the new generation is just not interested anymore.”

So, we have to consider the comment made by Fr. Z. Although Jesus offered a general promise that the Church ultimately would be victorious, will the Church survive were we live?

Mass attendance is way down; parishes are being closed or merged; and young people, born and raised as Catholics, are walking away from the Church in droves. In another 30 years, will all of our parish church buildings be like the Quebec monastery, converted to secular functions, such as restaurants, office space, daycare centers, or theme parks?

Maybe. It’s happened before. Maybe North America is next. Maybe in a couple more generations the Catholic Church will be a distant memory in this part of the world.

However, to paraphrase Mark Twain, the death of the Catholic Church has been greatly exaggerated. Yes, the number of people who take their faith seriously is dwindling. Yes, the secular culture is becoming outright antagonistic toward the Church, with believers being increasingly ridiculed and scorned. But a student of Church history will notice that oftentimes the faith of believers is most vibrant when Christians are in the minority and the Church is marginalized and even persecuted.

So, it’s possible that the Church may be on the verge of an amazing revival here in North America. There are two reasons to be optimistic: First, Jesus is the head of the Church, and He promised He would never leave us or forsake us. And secondly, the Church has the answer to society’s biggest problems. If you haven’t noticed, as people have become more secular and more prosperous, they have become more miserable. Suicide rates are up, drug addiction is rampant, families are disintegrating, and depression and anxiety are commonplace.

Jesus and His Church offer the solution to our culture’s emotional pain: true forgiveness of sins and eternal life in Heaven.

Despite Harry Potter theme parks and closed parishes, I fully expect an amazing revival in the Church here in North America. The Good News of Jesus Christ is the message a desperate world truly needs. It may go out of style at times, but it is the truth.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Time for Guys to Talk about Health

Recently, I received an email message from my health insurance company. The subject line read, “Guys, we need to talk.” The email cited a study by the Cleveland Clinic, which discovered the following: 1. Men hardly ever talk about their health; 2. Men often don’t get medical help when they need it; 3. Men don’t know a lot about preventive care; and 4. Men would rather get a prostate exam from Captain Hook than actually TALK about getting a prostate exam.

OK, I made up that last one, but it fits in with the main thrust of the study, the fact that most men truly believe that talking about personal health issues is the second worst thing to emerge from 20th century society. The first worst thing, of course, is the notion that this particular question always must be answered: “Yes, but how do you FEEL about it?”

Let’s face it, guys just are not wired to be able to talk easily about stuff like that. I know I’m not. Although, to be honest, I have written about personal health issues in the past, such as: irregular heartbeat, loss of bone density, getting a colonoscopy, enlarged prostate, obscenely expensive ambulance ride, skin cancer, knee surgery, male-pattern baldness, and middle-aged onset ear hair. Yes, it’s true that I wrote about those personal topics, but I never TALKED about them. And the only reason I wrote about them is because a weekly column requires 52 topics per year. Since I can only come up with about ten legitimate topics in a 12-month period, the rest end up being my musing on the various things that are going on in my life. Just a heads up: if the Red Sox and Yankees stay neck-and-neck in the standings into September, expect at least six more columns on baseball. Yeah, even I’m dreading that.

Anyway, if I didn’t have this weekly column, then just like most men in the country, I too would have remained silent all these years about personal health issues. I guess, according to the experts, that’s not good. The Cleveland Clinic website lists the details of the study. Instead of bombarding you with a bunch of statistics (which are appropriate only with baseball-related columns), I’ll just summarize by saying the average American male doesn’t get regular check-ups often enough, doesn’t say anything to anyone when he experiences negative health symptoms, and thinks way too much about RBIs and way too little about PSAs. (If you’re not sure what those terms are, RBI stands for runs batted in, and PSA stands for something-something-something that has to do with detecting prostate cancer.)

The Cleveland Clinic also has a flashy marketing campaign called “MENtion it.” Get it? “Men” should “mention it.” (Some marketing firm got paid how much to come up with that?!) The “it” that men should mention is any type of pain, discomfort, or other health symptoms that could turn out to be a real problem.

That’s all well and good, and to be serious for one moment, it’s sad that there are thousands of guys who die every year from prostate cancer, heart problems, or an overdose of baseball statistics (see, I could only stay serious for one moment, which equals one-quarter of one run-on sentence), who could’ve survived if they saw a doctor at the first sign of something amiss.

So, fellas, let’s try to break out of our Neanderthal mindset. It’s OK to mention if something seems wrong health wise, and it’s certainly a very good idea to get a complete physical exam at least once a year. Who knows, after telling you your PSA level, the doctor might want to talk about the Red Sox and Yankees.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

When on Vacation, Don’t Forget Mass

We’re now in the middle of the summer vacation season, and one of the great things about being Catholic is that no matter where you go on vacation, you can attend Mass. What’s that? You don’t go to Mass on vacation? Really? Oh, that’s not good. Vacation is an opportunity to get away from work for a while, but you’re not supposed to get away from Church for a while, too. I think we need to have a little private talk afterward.

Well, for the rest of us who DO attend Mass on vacation, it’s interesting that regardless of where we are, the Mass is the same. It really reminds us that our Church is indeed Universal. The basic structure of the Mass doesn’t change from region to region, or from country to country. The Mass is the same whether you are visiting a vacation spot in the U.S., such as Miami, San Francisco, or New York; or whether you are visiting a foreign culture, such as Miami, San Francisco, or New York.

About a decade ago, my wife and I had the opportunity to travel to Austria. No, not the place with the kangaroos; I mean the place in Europe, with Vienna, and Mozart, and where everybody speaks German, except for the shop owners in the tourist areas who speak perfect English and can instantly covert dollars to euros in their heads, and can, for example, convince a naïve bumpkin from Connecticut that paying 50 euros for a commemorative “Sound of Music” coffee mug is a real bargain. Even though Julie Andrews’ face is kind of faded now, I still use that mug.

When we went to Mass in Vienna, we recognized all the parts of the Mass, even though everything was in German. The sound system was lousy, so even if we knew German we probably still would not have understood everything—and this made us feel even more at home.

By the way, any chance we can have a few second collections in our parishes dedicated to purchasing 21st century sound systems? Just sayin’.

There is really no excuse for not going to Mass while on vacation. Of course, there’s no excuse for not going to Mass when we’re home either, but that doesn’t stop many Catholics from coming up with very creative excuses. The most common excuse for not going to Mass while on vacation is: “I don’t know where a church is, or when the Mass times are.” Actually, the most common excuse is: “Oh, my head! How many Peña Coladas did I have last night?”

But nowadays we can’t use the ol’ excuse, “I don’t know what time Mass is!” There are websites that can instantly tell us the church locations and the Mass times. One website is called simply, Masstimes.org. You just type in the city and state, or the zip code, and it lists all the Catholic churches in the area and the Mass times. It even tells you what language will be used. Although the website does not describe the quality of the sound system.

So, during your summer vacation this year, take time to relax and get away from the stress of work for a while. But don’t get away from God. Make sure you go to Mass. You’ll have a chance to be in Communion with the Creator of the Universe. You’ll also be able to thank Him for the blessing of being able to go on vacation in the first place all. You know, a lot of people can’t afford that luxury. And going to Mass still will be worthwhile even if the sound system is lousy.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Have a Ball with that Point

Imagine this scenario: manufacturing facilities around the globe mass-produce a particular consumer product, but the people who regularly buy this product never use over 80-percent of the items they purchase. And of the small number of items that are put to use, the purchaser only utilizes about ten-percent of the item’s capacity.

If we’re talking about automobiles, this would mean a person purchases five new cars, then leaves four of them sitting in the driveway, and uses only one of the cars to drive to the local convenience store once per week. Or if we’re talking about a different consumer product, say, Pop Tarts, this means a person purchases an 8-pack, opens one and takes two small nibbles before throwing it away, and then leaves the other seven Pop Tarts sitting in the kitchen cupboard indefinitely.

This is silly, right? Why would people purchase a particular product in large quantities and then eventually throw most of them away without ever being used? Surely, nothing like this happens in the real world? Well, it does happen. And don’t call me Shirley.

This scenario happens every day with a very common consumer product: the ballpoint pen.

Every person in the United States already owns enough ballpoint pens to last them their entire lives, even if every person lives to be 100. The middle drawer of every desk, plus the junk drawer of every kitchen, plus the briefcase of every businessperson, plus the backpack of every student, plus the supply cabinet of every company, plus the shirt pocket of every engineer already contain enough pens to serve our collective writing needs until the year 2525. And that’s true even if everyone suddenly stopped typing email and text messages with keyboards and started writing all communications with pen and paper. Of course, that would require a whole lot of paper, and I’m not sure we have that many trees anymore. Also, based on the sloppy handwriting of some people, especially me, the amount of clear communication taking place probably would plummet.

If you go into a Staples store, regardless of the day of the week or time of day, what is the busiest aisle? It’s always the “writing instruments” aisle. All those people perusing the ballpoint pens, gel pens, pencils (both wood and mechanical), markers, and highlighters do not actually need any of those items. They have dozens of them back at their offices and/or homes.

Whenever I visit a Staples store, no matter what I need, I always make a quick pass through the “writing instruments” aisle, just to see if something new and interesting has hit the market. And even though I have enough pens at home to last about a thousand years, at least half the time I buy something.

Remember a few weeks ago when I wrote about being addicted to sports? Well, my supply of ballpoint pens is almost as bad. Whenever my wife says, “Really? You bought MORE pens?” I defensively reply, “Well, at least I’m not addicted to buying automobiles or Pop Tarts, OK?”

Imagine you wake up tomorrow morning and news reports declare that the world is out of oil; no more gasoline, no more heating oil, nothing. That would drastically alter our lives and throw the world into a panic.

Now imagine you wake up tomorrow and news reports announce that companies will no longer manufacture ballpoint pens. People would shrug and say, “Huh, I guess I won’t waste as much time anymore when I visit Staples.” That news would have no impact on our lives at all (unless we were employed by Bic, Paper Mate, Pilot, Pentel, Uni-ball, Zebra, etc.)

So, what’s the point of all this? Ball, of course.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

‘Two-By-Two’ Beats Lone Ranger Ever Time

In this week’s gospel reading, from the 6th chapter of Mark’s gospel, Jesus sent out the Twelve disciples on a mini missionary trip. Jesus instructed the Twelve to “take nothing for the journey but a walking stick—no food, no sack, no money.”

Wow! No food? No money? I don’t know about you, but I would never even THINK about leaving home on a trip without plenty of money (or at least plenty of credit cards).

However, Jesus sent His disciples out on this missionary journey without any resources at all. They had to depend completely on the kindness of strangers for their daily food and lodging. Again, I don’t know about you, but personally, instead of depending upon the kindness of strangers, I’d much rather depend upon the credit line of my VISA card.

Well, actually, I misspoke. Jesus did NOT send them out without any resources at all. Scripture tells us that He “gave them authority over unclean spirits.” So, in reality, Jesus gave them a fantastic resource for their journey (even more valuable than a wallet full of VISA cards). He gave them the power of God. The Twelve went out on this mission completely dependent upon God for their daily needs—and that was more than enough.

Jesus also gave them another very important resource for the journey. He sent his disciples out “two by two.” Jesus gave them a precious resource that would not have been available if they had gone out alone: the resource of companionship, support, encouragement, and a shoulder to cry on when things went poorly.

Think of these two scenarios: First, a solitary individual is sent by Jesus to preach in the countryside. When the people in a particular village mock him and tell him to get lost, this person heads off to the next village. As he walks alone, he starts second-guessing himself. “Boy, that was terrible,” he mutters. “I couldn’t get a single person to listen to me. I don’t know why Jesus sent me on this mission. I can’t do this. I’m such a loser.” By the time he shuffles into the next village, he’s so discouraged and depressed, all he wants to do is sit under a tree and have a pity party for himself.

How different it is when two people are sent together. After the villagers mock them and tell them to get lost, they head off to the next village. As they walk, one of them says, “Boy, that was terrible. No one listened to us.”

The other replies, “Yeah, those folks were cranky, all right. Nothing like the people we met three days ago. Remember how kind they were to us?”

“Good point,” the first one says, “Maybe the people in the next village will be kind, too. But even if they’re not, what’s the worst that can happen? They laugh at us? They tell us to get lost? No big deal. Hey, you know what? I’ve got a good feeling about this next village. C’mon, let’s hurry up so we get there before dinner time!”

Well, you get the idea. When two people work together, they can commiserate together, encourage each other, and help each other to get over disappointments more quickly and be able to laugh about it.

This event in the gospels should be an important lesson for us all. The Christian life is not meant for a bunch of Lone Rangers. We need the support of each other to keep from getting discouraged. That’s why we’re called to gather each week as a community of believers and worship the Lord together.

It’s practically impossible to live a vibrant, joyful Christian life in solitude. If we try to do it alone, it’s just not going to work. We need the fellowship and support of other believers.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Volunteering for the ‘Shhhhhh Patrol’

Last month I volunteered to work at the Travelers Championship golf tournament in Cromwell, CT. My grueling duties included standing right next to the best golfers in the world and watching them make amazing shots. I also had to hold up a skinny sign that read “Quiet please,” and say, “Shhhhhh,” to the fans. In return for this back-breaking labor, I received a new golf shirt, a nice hat, an insulated tumbler, two passes to attend the tournament all week, free parking, $17 per day meal money, and the opportunity to meet a bunch of really nice people who also volunteered.

So, yeah, it was the most arduous and demanding job of my life — as long as you don’t count all the other jobs I’ve ever had.

Over the years I’ve become more and more fascinated by the game of golf. During the summer months I play approximately two or three times per month — and I play quite poorly, I might add. But no matter how lousy I play, no matter how often a potentially decent round is ruined by a quadruple bogey on the last hole, I still enjoy the experience and look forward to playing again soon. (Hmm, this also could be a sign of a psychological disorder, but let’s not go there.)

At the Travelers, being able to stand literally ten feet away from the most talented golfers on the planet as they hit balls farther and straighter than I’ve ever even dreamed of, is a mind-boggling experience. Now, I realize there are many people who find golf extremely boring. For example, my wife joined me one day at the tournament and after a few hours she said, “Wow, golf is even slower than baseball.” (See last week’s column for my thoughts on the tedious pace nowadays of my favorite sport, the National Pastime.)

Being a volunteer at the tournament was fun, but it was a bit constricting, as I had to do a five-hour shift in the same location. The course is so vast and beautiful, I was getting antsy, wishing to wander around and see the sights.

Also, after thirty or more groups of golfers went through my area — each group requiring me to employ my “Quiet please, Shhhhhh” skills — I realized I had raised my arms in the air more often than an entire Pentecostal church. Good thing that skinny sign wasn’t heavy.

There was one somewhat awkward episode. One afternoon I was assigned to Shhhhhh Patrol in one to the corporate skyboxes overlooking the 17th green. This was great for me, as I was in the shade the whole time. By then, even with gallons of sunblock, my fair Irish hide was starting to get a bit too pink.

However, as we all know, one side effect of alcohol is that it disables a person’s volume control dial. As the afternoon wore on, one particular group of corporate pals were no longer grasping the concept of “Quiet please.”

I’m pretty sure volunteers are not supposed to conk people on the head with the “Quiet please” sign, but drastic situations call for drastic measures, I always say.

No, I’m just kidding! I didn’t conk anyone with the sign. I don’t want tournament officials to prohibit me from volunteering again next year just because of a goofy joke in the newspaper. But to be honest, after the 50th time of pleading, “Quiet please, I’m begging you, sir!” the thought did occur to me that a whack on the noggin might be appropriate.

Volunteering at the Travelers Championship was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. But I wish they had let me keep the “Quiet please” sign. I know a few people I’d like to wave it at.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Faith Needed for Miracles

This week’s gospel reading contains one of the most startling statements in all of Scripture. Jesus returned to His hometown and, frankly, it did not go very well. The people were skeptical and suspicious of Him, and the Bible explains, “He was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people.”

Whoa, what gives? He was not ABLE to perform any mighty deed?! It doesn’t say Jesus decided not to perform miracles; it says He was not able. How can this be? What’d He do, forget to take his Mighty Deed Multi-Vitamins that morning?

How can Jesus not be ABLE to work a miracle? I mean, He’s the Son of God, one-in-being with the Almighty Creator of the universe. And yet, after returning to His hometown, He couldn’t even do a simple card trick? Amazing.

When Jesus came back home to Nazareth, He went into the local synagogue on the Sabbath and taught with incredible wisdom. Did the townsfolk say, “Wow, this is great. Local boy makes good! We’re so proud of him.” Nope. Instead they sneered, “Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary?” The Bible tells us “they took offense at him.”

I’m not surprised the locals mocked and ridiculed Jesus. Sinful human nature can make people awfully shallow and stupid at times. (Hence our need for a Savior.) What bothered me for a long time, though, was the fact that Jesus was not ABLE to perform any miracles. It sure seemed like his supernatural powers must be limited.

Is it possible that the power of the Almighty is not all that mighty? Nope, it turns out my concerns were unfounded. There was nothing wrong with Jesus’ supernatural powers. The key is to understand the nature of God. God is all powerful and all-mighty, yes, but He also is all-loving. And love never forces itself on someone.

Love is a two-way street. For love to be genuine, both parties must freely enter into the relationship. Anything less would not be love; it would be coercion. It’s the same with God. He created us for one purpose: to enter into a loving relationship with Him. But in order for that love to be genuine, we must be free to say no. This is why God created us with free will. (C.S. Lewis observed that history demonstrates God’s decision to give us free will was a very risky thing to do. But apparently, God thought it worth the risk.)

God could have created us without free will. He could have made us into obedient little robots who always do the right thing and worship Him. That would’ve spared the world a lot of heartache and misery, but it would not be true love. It would be coercion.

The people in Jesus’ hometown had free will. They were free to accept Him or reject Him—just as we are free, two thousand years later, to accept Him or reject Him. Unfortunately, they chose to reject Him. The last line of the reading says, “[Jesus] was amazed at their lack of faith.”

No miracles occurred that day, not because Jesus’ power was limited, but rather because of the lack of faith of the people. Jesus is a gentleman. He never forces Himself on us. He needs our permission—our faith—before He will use his supernatural powers to change our lives.

Jesus could have done hundreds of spectacular miracles in His hometown. His power was ready and raring to go. But the people did not believe He could do it, so nothing happened. It’s the same today. If we have faith, if we use our free will to embrace the love of Jesus, He has the power to work miracles in our lives.