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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Bishop Barron - God's Gift for You

Bishop Barron - God's Gift for You

Bishop Barron - God's Gift for You

Peace be with you. Friends we continue our exploration of these wonderful Old Testament readings for Mass. The one for this weekend taken from the fifty-fifth chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah, arguably the greatest of the Israelite prophets, and his book of course has been of enormous significance in the Jewish and Christian spiritual traditions. The passage for today is taken from what the scholars often call Deutero-Isaiah, meaning Second Isaiah. They speculated the first thirty-nine chapters of the book that we have were written by one figure. And then this second section, like forty through fifty-five, written by a figure they speculate who was writing around the time of the return of Israel after the Babylonian captivity. And that's why this beautiful section, and could I recommend to you, when you get home, read Isaiah chapters 40 through 55.

So it's not that long. Some of the most lyrical poetry, and I would say some of the deepest theology in the Old Testament is found precisely in these chapters. So our passage is from the fifty-fifth, the very end of this section, Deutero-Isaiah. And here's the line I want to focus on: "Thus says the LORD: All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; Come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk"! There's no principle it seems to me more foundational in the Bible than what I would call the principle of the primacy of grace. The principle of the primacy of grace. Grace comes first. The Bible presents above all, beginning to end, Old Testament and New, a religion of grace, "gratia," free gift, the free gift of God's love. That's how the spiritual life begins on the biblical reading. In so many other religions and religious philosophies, we find some version of this: God or the gods will love you and be pleased with you if you do the following things.

If you perform the following liturgical rites. If you perform the following moral acts, then God will bestow his love and his good will upon you. That's just not biblical religion. It just does not operate within that framework of a conditional love, but rather of an unconditional love. God gives, "gratia," free gift. Our task is to accept it. So listen again, "All you who are thirsty". Thirsty for what? For life, for meaning, for peace, for integrity. All the things that we want from the bottom of our heart. "All you who are thirsty, come to the water". I'm not putting you through hoops here. I'm not telling you got to do the following twelve things. No, come. And what's the water everybody? There's the water that satisfies our physical thirst, but here it's a water meaning the divine life. When Jesus speaks to the woman at the well, and, "You come to this well every day, don't you? And you're still thirsty. I want to give you water bubbling up in you to eternal life".

It's the same water we're talking about. "You're thirsty. Come. You have no money. I don't care; come. Receive grain and eat. Come without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk"! What are we hungry for here? Same thing. Meaning, peace, life, ultimate joy. "All right. All right", says, God, "I'm not making you pay for it. I'm offering it to you as a 'gratia', as a grace, as a free gift". The entire spiritual program is compromised precisely in the measure that we get it off the ground in terms of a conditional love. Let me say that again: no matter what you're doing that's good and right and so on in the spiritual order, if you get the program off the ground in the context of a conditional love, "I'm doing all this so that God might love me", the whole program is going to be skewed. You see what I'm saying? You might in fact objectively be doing and thinking and so on all kinds of right things, but if you're in that conditional framework, your spiritual life will not be in a good place.

Think of this everybody. The very fact that creation itself is a pure gift. God doesn't need the world. Creation adds nothing to his greatness. Why does God create? Simply to share his grace and his life and his glory. St. Paul said, "What do you have that you've not received"? You see what he means? Your being, your mind, your will, your passions, your talents, whatever you have, it was given to you. You didn't merit it; it was given to you as a free gift. In fact, the whole world is in gift form. That's the proper context for the spiritual life. That's why in technical language, we talk about "creatio ex nihilo". It means creation from nothing. Well, read that spiritually. That means creation that's not merited or deserved. Nothing comes prior to creation that is doing something that deserves it. No, it's "ex nihilo". It comes as a pure gift. Now, how beautiful: Isaiah's version is "Come to the water. Come on. If you're hungry, you're thirsty, come, come, eat and drink". The second reading for today gives us Paul's version of the same thing.

Listen: "What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness... or the sword? For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities... nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord". Amen. That's Paul's New Testament version of that same principle. What's he saying? What was made manifest in the cross and Resurrection of Jesus is a love that is greater than any opposition that's in the world. How do we know that? Because we killed God and God returned with the word of "Shalom" on his lips. The risen Jesus showing his wounds, but saying "Shalom" to his disciples, that is the graciousness of God in the face of the worst resistance the world can possibly offer, proving that neither sin, nor death, nor anything else can finally separate us from the love of God. God's love is greater than all of those things.

I've said this before, those who have followed me over the years, that one of the very saddest things I ever heard as a priest, and I heard it a few times, someone would say, "You know, Father, God just could never forgive me for what I did". There was some sin that the person considered so terrible that they thought, "God will never forgive me". See, but that's repugnant to what Paul's talking about here. "I'm certain that neither death, nor life, angels or principalities could separate us from the love of God". How can your sin separate you finally from the love of God? What I always tried to do when this would happen in a counseling, or confessional setting is say some version of Isaiah 55. "No, no. Come to the water. Don't worry about paying and cost. Come; receive grain and eat. Drink milk and honey, and come. Come to the water". What's being offered here is grace.

So in our Catholic theology, no matter what you do, all you need to do is seek the divine forgiveness and you'll receive it. Think now of the prodigal son and his father. The son who had rejected the father, humiliated him, run from him. But the moment he turns back, what does he receive? Grace upon grace, upon grace. That's what Isaiah, that's what Paul were talking about. Okay. I know maybe some of you are thinking, "All right, Bishop, I get that. But are you going a little too far here? Does this sound like just a form of Protestantism? What about all the laws that God gives us in the Old Testament and the New? The Sermon on the Mount isn't an abrogation of Old Testament law. It's a kind of intensification of it. Do we just lie back and say, 'Well, everything's fine. God loves me. So don't worry about it'"? No, no. Grace first. That's right, grace first. "Come to the water". The spiritual life must operate under that aegis, always within that context. But now listen: here's a text that I've always found very illuminating. Psalm number five. And here's the line. "But I through the greatness of your love have access to your house". Here's the Psalmist speaking, right? "I through the greatness of your love have access to your house".

Now, he's talking about the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. But see, can we broaden that out and speak of the house of the Lord as a symbol of the divine life? How do I have access to that house? How do you have access to that house? Not through our efforts. We can't act our way into the divine life. No, no. Thomas Aquinas says that faith is the door of the entire spiritual life. Accepting the grace offered to me to come into the house. Again, "I through the greatness of your love have access to your house". I don't knock down the door to God's house. I don't earn my way into it. No, no. By accepting grace, by accepting the invitation to come to the water, to come into the house. Okay. That's how we start. But now, now, once you're in the house, you're in the holy temple, you're in the divine life, how should you live? You should live in accord with the rules of that house. What that house is everybody is a house of love. That's all that God's life is.

And so indeed the Bible gives us, Old Testament and New, plenty of laws, plenty of prescriptions that you better do this, you better do that; don't do this, don't do that. Those are the laws that govern that house. So it's not simply a question of, "Yeah, through the greatness of your love I have access to your house". Terrific. That's how we start. But now God wants us, using our minds and wills and energies and powers and talents and individuality, fully to cooperate with that grace. Living as we should within that house, according to its rules. Okay. Is there a way to violate the rules of the house, but still be basically in the house? Yeah. We call those venial sins, don't we? Those are sins that we seek forgiveness for. We haven't left the house, but we have violated the laws of the house to varying degrees. And let's press it. Can you, through certain forms of behavior, leave the house? Yeah; you can. We call those mortal sins. God's fault? It's not God's fault.

God always says, all he knows how to say, is, "Come to the water. Come, receive grain and eat. Grace is offered to you". He's the father of the prodigal son. That's all he knows how to do. We haven't turned into a conditional love. No, no. God's always offering his love. But now we've got to live in accord with the rules of the house. And we should never abuse our freedom in such a way that we essentially leave the house. So no, no. Unconditional love. Yep. It's always how the thing starts. If it doesn't start there, we're on the wrong foot. But you remember something from the Gospel of John? John 15:14 is the line. Listen: Jesus says, "You are my friends if you do what I command you". Now, see, what's lovely about that, that is a conditional form, isn't it? You are my friends if you do what I command you. That means, now that you're in the house, now that you've come and you've drunk and you've eaten and you've come into the divine life, now act like someone who's the friend of Jesus. So grace first. Yes. Then our cooperation with grace. There's the spiritual life. And God bless you.
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