What is the meaning of life? How do we cure all these diseases? Is lasting peace possible? Who am I supposed to marry?
All these questions plus countless more have lingered and ruminated in the human mind throughout the centuries. As a fan of science fiction and humor, I am reminded of the classic quip from Douglas Adam’s in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Asked about the meaning of life the answer was “”The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything is 42.” 42?! Really? Yes, the ultimate answer is reduced to a number. Nothing else matters except for 42. Obviously, Adam’s meant that reply for comedic purposes. But what if there really was an answer that easy or apparent. An answer that would solve all the world’s issues.
Well, exactly there is an answer to everything. Jesus. Yes. I said it! Jesus is the answer to everything. Wait, wait, wait. You might be thinking “Jesus is important and can solve BIG important problems, but not everything.” Or you might be more cynical: “Jesus only belongs in the realm of religion. He has nothing to do with science, politics, or just the practical issues of daily living!” Still more you might outright deny the significance of Jesus at all. “Jesus is not even a historical figure! He was a figure made up by the early Christians and now embellished like Santa Claus.”
Whether you have doubts, large or small, about this claim I simply ask you to listen to my rational. I promise you it makes sense and is quite intriguing. To avoid getting too technical and complex theologically, I am only going to focus on a few passages in the Bible to demonstrate my argument. Here is my basic argument:
Jesus is God
God is Perfect Love
Therefore Jesus is Perfect Love
Jesus is God
The Bible contains many passages that prove the divinity of Jesus. For a more complete and thorough outline of Scriptural evidence pointing to Jesus as God please refer to the link in the Related Resources at the end of the article.
Along with the connection between Genesis 1 and Jesus as always pre-existent, John provides us with seven sayings of Jesus that hark back to the original name of God in the Old Testament–“I AM”. In Exodus 3:13 Moses asked God his Name. The next phrase God replies, “I am who I am.* Then he added: This is what you will tell the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.” John desires his audience to make the connection between Jesus and this original name of God in the following passages: John 6:35; John 8:12; John 10:9; John 10:11; John 11:25-26; John 14:6; and John 15:5. When Jesus calls himself (I AM _____) it is clear that he is invoking that Jewish appellation for God.
God is Love
The first letter of St. John provides the clear and simple formula for God is love. According to 1 John 4:8, “Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.” Great! This provides the definition of God as being Love. But isn’t love arbitrary? Do it not mean something different based on the individual preferences? Don’t various cultures define love differently? Well, that may be the case. But I am going to define love as referred to in the Bible.
The most complete and understandable definition of love comes from St. Paul. In 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 the Apostle of the Gentiles wrote, ”
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated,d5 it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,e6 it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.f 8* Love never fails.”
Bringing it All Together
So far we have shown some biblical evidence for the divinity of Jesus and defined the God is love. Now you might still be wondering: how does this show Jesus is the answer to everything? Let us do a bit of an exercise. I want you to think about the worst interaction you every had in a relationship (i.e. a argument with spouse, conflict at work, disciplining a child, etc). If that interactive ended poorly, what caused it to end badly? One of the following vices probably prevented you and the other person from resolving the conflict: impatience, anger, ego, greed, lust, envy, or simple laziness.
Now think about that situation again. Instead of those vices insert a virtue into that conflict (i.e. patience for impatience). Love is not rude, it is not prideful, it is patience and kind. Tackling a problem with love will end the conflict. Guaranteed. Why don’t we follow this simple blueprint? It is because humanity suffers from sin. We are incomplete and only Perfect Love can fix us. Jesus is God. God is Perfect Love. Therefore, Jesus is Perfect Love.
Practicing patience and understanding helps to resolve conflicts. Limiting our egos leads to more collaboration. Human collaboration breeds humanity innovation and sharing of information. Innovation and freely sharing of information can be used to tackle more serious problems plaguing humanity such as hunger, war, and diseases.
Call to Action
How exactly can I have Jesus help me in my problems? All we have to do is to sincerely ask for help. Ask God for help. Ask your fellow neighbor for help. Be humble. Be thankful. The Litany of Humility is a powerful prayer to help me reignite my faith. Start by praying once daily. Next bring this prayer to Church and pray before the Blessed Sacrament. Jesus solves everything. It truly is that simple. The challenging part is beginning and continuing to rely on God for help!
From a young age, I always saw the world through a scientific lens. I needed to understand how the world works. When I attended college, that way of thinking applied to research papers and ensuring I had logical and concise arguments to articulate my interpretation of a particular historical event.
When I read the Gospel of John there is a logical flow to his account of the Gospel events. His entire gospel is masterfully written and laden with tons of symbolism. As a cradle Catholic, I heard John 6 [Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse] preached frequently during the Mass. It took years of analyzing this chapter and critically viewing it before I realized the genius and truth contained in Christ’s message. Inevitability my close reading of John 6 led me to this conclusion– the evangelist truly believed that Jesus was the literal bread of life that gives humanity eternal life! I give three strong pieces of evidence for this case:
Jesus as a Good Teacher
I think most people would agree with me that Jesus’ followers considered him a good teacher. Jesus could relate to an array of people: rich, poor, fisherman, tax collectors, sinners, and strangers alike. Secondly, Jesus taught using a plethora of means including: sermons, parables, and miracles to name a few. A quality in any good teacher is consistency in content along with the ability to clarify their subject content should disputes arise. In the bread of life discourse in John 6, Jesus presented both his teaching consistently and clearly. Within a span of 24 verses [John 6:35-59] Jesus mentions point blank at least 6 times he is the bread of life. In verse 35, Jesus states, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” Verses 38, 48, 53-58 also support the Nazarene’s intrepid claim.
It’s all Greek to Me
There are a variety of Greek words for the English verb “to eat”. Jesus says in John 6:54, “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him on the last day.” The Greek word that the Evangelist uses in this verse is trōgō. Trōgō translates as “chew” or “gnaw”. Why would John use such a fleshy and literal word for eat in this context? This translation only makes sense if we accept that Jesus literally meant that he is the bread of life. John even goes on to use trōgō in verses 56, 57, and 58– a grand total of four times!
Loss of Followers
The evangelist writes in John 6:66 that many people who followed Jesus from the start of his ministry left him never to return. They were scandalized by the teaching of Jesus as the bread of life. I thought long and hard on this point. Why would many of Jesus’ followers leave him if he only spoke symbolically that he was the bread of life?
Well, if Jesus truly did intend for his claim that he is the “bread of life” to be interpreted figuratively, I doubt many followers would have left him that day. I mean think about it! People tend to become disenchanted with a leader when his or her message becomes too scandalous to bear. I doubt a man speaking figuratively, and poetically, would gather such scandal. Jesus repeatedly claimed “I am the bread of life”. He never qualified that assertion to be taken figuratively. Such difficult news may have been too much for these fair weather followers to swallow.
Most Holy Eucharist
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324). It is a non-negotiable belief. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Saint John knew of the importance of this sacrament and he stressed it frequently in Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse. Through my Catholic faith, I accept Jesus’ claim that he is the bread of life. I ponder this question of Jesus frequently: Will you also go away? I ultimately hope that my answer is consistent with Peter’s response, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:67-69).
According to Cardinal John Henry Newman, “It is very difficult to give resentment towards persons whom one has never seen.” I have seen and experienced this phenomenon before. In those moments you are driving and someone suddenly cuts you off. An immediate reaction is anger or annoyance. Another instance of frequent prejudgment occurs when we first meet a new person. Sometimes our instincts are correct. Sometimes our initial bias is wrong.
Let us try a short experiment. Listen to the following quote. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg states, “I think unconscious bias is one of the hardest things to get at”. What thoughts popped into your head when you heard her name? Perhaps this name meant nothing and that is certainly fine. Actually, that is good because that means no bias exists now. If you know of Ruth Bader Ginsberg then it is likely depending on your past experiences, worldview, and or morality whether you view her positively or negatively.
Whether you agree with her judicial decisions or not, I hope we can all agree that her statement is true. Unconscious bias is tough to overcome. While bias acts as a predictive element for various situations in our life, we all have suffered saying something dumb or making an assumption that makes us look foolish. Even today I had to battle my preconceived notions and even slipped up in assuming something at work that later proved me wrong. I don’t want you to fall into the same foibles as me so here are five ways to overcome bias and make your relationships smoother.
According to Thomas Merton, “Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.” Pride clouds our perception. It limits our purview. The days where I struggle most with prejudgment are the days that I struggle the most with the sin of pride. Listening to the news, regardless of your political affiliation (IT HAPPENS ON BOTH SIDES) the bias is so obvious it almost jumps off the television.
Humility widens our ability to emphasize with others. Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. When that happens, our past prejudices are forced to change. Our skewed perception meets reality. St. Vincent de Paul plainly wrote, “Humility is nothing but truth, and pride is nothing but lying.” Prejudice is a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or truth. If you want to begin to overcome bias—start with being humble!
Never Assume, Ever!
I assume you know that old adage about assuming—right?! The one that says: “You know what happens when you assume?” Or should I clarify? In case you never heard that saying refer to the meme below
Too far? Perhaps. Basically, we should never, ever assume because you could make an a** out of you and me! In all seriousness, assuming occurs when we use past patterns or behaviors of events or people to predict something that will likely happen now/in the future. While assuming does lead to being right sometimes, I have learned that the benefits of being right don’t outweigh that awful feeling learning you are actually wrong (JUST THAT 1 TIME). Assuming more often than not perpetuates and deepens prior bias. Be safe. Never assume!
Education, Reeducation, Continuing Education
“Prejudice is the child of ignorance,” purported English essayist William Hazlitt. Learning more about the item or person that you are prejudiced towards will naturally lead to a broadening of your understanding—so long as you approach education with an open heart and mind.
As a parent of special needs children, I hold a special place for children (and adults) with disabilities. While our society is definitely making gains in mental health and disability awareness, many prejudices still persist—especially regarding autism spectrum. Some of the remarks people have made when hearing my sons have autism include: “You know vaccines cause autism!” or “Are you looking into a getting your son cured? These comments are biased and uneducated.
Initially, I let this bother me. Ironically, penchant for special needs children is a bias as well. I need to separate my personal view on the matter sometimes and realize that some people may not be aware of autism. Without that awareness and education it definitely makes why others may have a prejudiced view on an important issue dear to you. As George Whitman put it, “All the world is my school and all humanity is my teacher.”
Put Priority on Individuals and not the Collective
Along with seeking humility, avoiding presumption, and continuing education, another way to overcome bias is to view people as persons. I see this all the time at work—many times I fell (and still fall) into this habit. My toughest interactions with clients, customers, acquaintances, and even my children happens when generalize the group instead of understanding the individual’s needs. Failure to place priority on the individual leads to generalizing.
Generalizing is not necessarily bad in and of itself. Reducing individuals to the collective gets problematic when it is done hastily and without thinking. Treat the person before you (whether that be your spouse, customer, neighbor, etc) with the utmost dignity. That simple attitude will go a long way in broadening your viewpoint and limiting bias.
Talk it out
The fifth and final way to overcome bias is arguably both the simplest and most overlooked—talking. Twentieth century psychology Rollo May wrote, “Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.” When all other methods fail just talk. Communicate. Learn from others. You don’t have to adopt others’ belief if it is contrary to your own, but to overcome bias talking helps you better understanding their viewpoint.
Prejudice exists because we live in a fallen world. We are blessed to be living in the unique age of social media. No other time in human history has information traveled as quickly nor connected as many people as now. This is both a good and bad thing. There are more opportunities for learning about others, but also there are a ubiquity of opportunities for prejudices to persist and worsen. Prejudice can be overcome. We need to ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of humility, avoid presumptions, be open to learning daily, treat everyone with dignity, and be willing to communicate. Like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I have a dream that one day my children will not be judged by their disability or other outward appearance, but by the content of their character! Do you believe as well?
What are the qualities of a good doctor? Is it talent alone? Medical training? Ability to communicate? Or a combination of these skills plus others?
Medicine is a broad field and so is the term doctor. I always have been interested in the process of healing, treating, and combating infirmities. I even contemplated getting thought about pursuing a science degree in college! Lately, my wife and I have been re-watching Grey’s Anatomy from the beginning of the series. While I don’t condone the morality of many of the characters, I do admire their strong desire to best care for their patients.
Humanity Needs Healing
Humanity is a broken race in need of healing. People suffer from physical, mental, and spiritual illnesses. Outwardly and historically, physical ailments have been most obvious and most attention focused to resolve. As someone who suffers from anxiety and depression, I am pleased with the efforts made in the 21st century to spread more awareness of mental illnesses. What has definitely fallen by the wayside is spiritual health.
Side effects from failings to treat spiritual health include the following: selfishness, greed, envy, laziness, lust, despair, and self-doubt to just name a few. We need spiritual healing just as much, actually more so than other kinds of healing. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 386,
Sin is present in human history; any attempt to ignore it or to give this dark reality other names would be futile. To try to understand what sin is, one must first recognize the profound relation of man to God, for only in this relationship is the evil of sin unmasked in its true identity as humanity’s rejection of God and opposition to him, even as it continues to weigh heavy on human life and history.
The false philosophy of materialism rejects the idea that humanity is in need of spiritual healing. This is a dangerous and slippery slope to follow. While Jesus is the Ultimate Divine Physician, God sometimes raises up particular saints whose writings provide prescriptions to remedy sin. These individuals are known as the Doctors of the Church. This third installment of Spiritual Surgeons will focus on probably one of the least known Doctors—St. Lawrence of Brindisi.
The Capuchin Franciscan’s ability to promote peace amidst strife, Scriptural shrewdness, and voluminous insight on the Virgin Mary rightly place him among the greatest spiritual specialists.
According to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in his March 23rd, 2011 General Audience, “Thanks to his mastery of so many languages, Lawrence was able to carry out a busy apostolate among the different categories of people.” Living during the 16th century, the Franciscan priest was a key figure in refuting the heresies of the Reformation. Benedict XVI described the diplomacy of Lawrence as effective against the Protestants arguments. “With his calm, clear exposition he demonstrated the biblical and patristic foundation of all the articles of faith disputed by Martin Luther.
Along with the German pope’s accolades, St. Lawrence maintained the peace promoted by his predecessor and spiritual father—St. Francis of Assisi. In his First Sermon for the Feast of St. Francis St. Lawrence declared, “‘God is wonderful in his saints’ for if the works of nature are marvelous much more marvelous are the works of grace.” At select points in history God raises up saints to combat the errors of the time. Just as St. Francis was raised to fight the corruption of the 12th century, St. Lawrence fought charitably against the errors of the Protestant reformation.
Another gift the Holy Spirit granted St. Lawrence was an ability to interpret Scripture both skillful and faithfully.
The Apostolic Doctor’s Three Sermons for the Feast of St Francis displays his penchant for reading and applying the Bible. He makes frequent references to Old Testament figures such as Jonathan, Jacob, Daniel, Mordecai, and Moses to describe how God clothes a “lesser” figure with grace. Lawrence wrote in his First Sermon, “As the servant is sometimes dressed in nobler clothes than the Lord, so it will be permissible for me to say that Francis is the more wonderful Crucified than Christ, as God has so arranged for His greater glory.” Wow! His high praise of Francis definitely resonates with the biblical tradition that God selects the imperfect to testify to Divine Love and Truth.
Master of Mariology
Before researching this post, I honestly knew very little about St. Lawrence of Brindisi. As impressive as his diplomacy and academic knowledge are what impressed me most about the Apostolic Doctor is his mastery on the subject of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Pope Benedict XVI referred to the Capuchin saint as “a highly qualified Mariologist” (March 23rd, 2011 General Audience). According to Cuthbert Gumbinger, O.F.M. Cap, S.T.D. in St. Lawrence of Brindisi, Apostolic Doctor, “Specialists in Mariology declare that the sixty-two sermons of Lawrence’s Mariaele form a complete summa of this matter, prominent in Marian literature not only at his time, but ever since!” (emphasis mine).
A reflection on the Annunciation demonstrates Lawrence’s masterful understanding of the significance of Mary. Hail, full of grace; the Lord is with you.’ This is a new form of greeting, never heard by another, never encountered before,” Lawrence writes. What makes the Capuchin priest exemplary in his study of Mary is the combination of simplicity and unwavering truth. In his First Sermon in the Mariale, Lawrence reflecting on Revelation 12 tells us,
Moreover, for this has She been clothed with the Sun, that we might know, that just as the Sun, one though it be, nevertheless illumines each and every man and warms with its heat as if it had been founded by God for each individual man, for there is not one who can hide himself from its heat;94in the same manner the Virgin Theotokos is the Mother of each and everyone, thus common to all as the very own Mother of each.
Here in this sermon Lawrence seamlessly discusses all four major doctrines pertaining to Mary: Her Virginity, Motherhood, Assumption, and Excellent Virtue (Immaculate Conception). Never have I read such a clear, consistent, and intriguing homily on Mary.
Although St. Lawrence of Brindisi is not a household name like an Augustine or Therese of Liseux, his sundry of vocations throughout his life as a diplomat, teacher, preacher, and scholar are second to none!
Collect Prayer from Feast Day for St. Lawrence of Brindisi
O God, who for the glory of your name and the salvation of souls bestowed on the Priest Saint Lawrence of Brindisi a spirit of counsel and fortitude, grant, we pray, that in the same spirit, we may know what must be done and, through his intercession, bring it to completion. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.