God means business and proves it in several ways, according to Deacon James Sinacore of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Deacon Jim explains the meaning of God’s business and what it means to take an oath in the following homily, delivered on the second Sunday of Lent at St. John Vianney Parish, Northlake, Illinois.
Have you ever given any thought to how God lets us know that He means what He says?
Now, this may seem like a silly question.
After all, God is God.
He does not deceive nor can He be deceived.
Psalm 33 reminds us that the Lord’s word is true … all His works are trustworthy.
And even though we know this in our hearts we also know that our spirit is willing but that the flesh is weak.
And so, at times, God does something that makes us realize that He means what He says in other words that He means business.
Well, what does He do?
There are at least four things that we can mention here.
First, God sometimes speaks to our hearts and does not stop until we have accomplished His Will.
As an example, not that many people know that I was turned away from the Deacon Formation Program in the Archdiocese of Chicago back in 1995.
In my rejection letter, it suggested that I consider the Lay Ministry Program.
Well, that was going to happen right after pigs fly.
I knew I was being called to ordained service.
The reality of that had been made explicitly clear within me.
I was pursued by the “Hound of Heaven” … and the persistent churning in my soul motivated me to make the leaders of the Deacon Formation Program understand that.
The second thing God does to show us that He means business is to grant miracles.
The Israelites, for example, experienced a life-transforming event when they left Egypt and saw the Red sea open and were able to walk across on dry land.
This miracle made it very clear to the observers that God meant business.
The third thing God does is to grant apparitions.
In today’s Gospel reading, for example, Peter, James, and John witness an apparition of Moses and Elijah.
Moses represents the Law of God and Elijah represents the Prophets, both of which point to and are fulfilled in the Messiah.
And we learn that Peter was so flummoxed by this experience that he began talking and didn’t know what he was saying.
And from Peter’s reaction we can assume that even though he didn’t understand what was happening, he knew in his heart that God meant business.
The fourth thing that God does, and this is going to seem unbelievable but to show us that He means business, God takes an oath.
Now, unfortunately, most people these days don’t even know what an oath is let alone do they recognize its implications.
I honestly believe that many people go through the motions of taking an oath … but don’t recognize the moral obligation of what they are doing.
In general, an oath is a solemn pledge, often calling upon something sacred or invoking God Himself to help someone do as he promises.
There are only a few events in our culture where we see oaths being taken.
The most common of these is in a court of law.
When you go to the witness stand the bailiff asks you to raise you right hand.
He then says, “Do you solemnly swear that the testimony you’re about to give is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”
Nowadays, we simply respond by saying “I do.”
But in years past, we would respond by saying, “I do so help me God.”
When we take an oath in court, we pledge to tell the truth, knowing full well that if we don’t the judge can have us thrown in jail.
And this is why we appeal to God in the oath.
“I do. So help me God!”
You see, we’re asking for God’s help to do as we pledge so that we do what is right and do not incur a negative consequence.
In other words, an oath indicates that we-mean-business.
Well, at this point, let’s consider our first reading from Genesis.
We are all familiar with the account.
God speaks to Abraham and tells him to sacrifice his son Isaac as a holocaust.
In those days among the Israelites, a holocaust was conducted with a valued animal such as a lamb.
And Abraham knows exactly what this means.
To offer his son as a holocaust means that Abraham will have to put aside his own wants and completely give his son to God.
In other words, Abraham will have to slaughter Isaac and then burn his son’s dead body on an altar.
The rising smoke from the burning flesh will reveal the complete giving of the victim to God, who is in heaven.
Well, the text doesn’t mention a word about what Abraham was feeling but this must have been a harrowing experience.
Any of us who are parents can easily imagine the agony that Abraham felt as he ventured to the land of Moriah, knowing full well what was going to happen when he got there.
And we likewise can easily imagine the utter relief that he must have experienced when God interrupted the sacrifice.
We also can imagine his astonishment upon hearing that his obedience to God would result in a family of descendants that would be as countless as the stars in the sky and the sands of the seashore.
Remember, in those days, children and decedents were highly valued.
Nothing was more precious than flesh and blood.
And Abraham hears God tell him that he will have descendants so numerous that he won’t be able to count them.
In the face of something so unbelievable, how did Abraham know that such a thing would come to be?
God took an oath.
The text says: “[…] the Lord’s messenger called to Abraham from heaven and said: ‘I swear by Myself, declares the Lord, that because you acted as you did […] I will bless you abundantly.’”
God is making a solemn promise … in which He swears by Himself.
Remember, an oath is a solemn pledge, often calling upon something sacred or invoking God Himself to help someone do as he promises.
Who or what can God call upon to help Him do as He promises?
God is truth itself.
He is the fullness of holiness.
There is no one or nothing greater than God.
He swears by Himself and Abraham knows that God means business.
Well, let’s jump forward 6,000 years.
From the earliest days of our faith formation, we hear that God loves us and wants us in heaven.
As an example, we heard in our reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans that God is on our side.
If God did not spare His own Son from an agonizing death to set us free won’t He give us everything that goes with it?
This is indeed great news.
But because our perception and sense of trust is wounded by sin, how do we know that we will possess what God has promised?
How do we know that God pledges to bring to Heaven those who love Him?
How do we know that in this matter God means business?
Well, we have to remember that in God’s relationship with us He has taken an oath, a pledge of His Fidelity.
And you might say, well we didn’t hear God take an oath like Abraham did.
Is there anything around us that let’s us know that God took this oath?
Well, Let me ask you this.
What is the Latin word for a sacred oath?
Sacramentum, Sound familiar?
Until the end of the age, the sacraments bring a holy, spiritual reality into a fallen, physical world.
They are perceptible matter that conveys an unseen spiritual reality.
They make the invisible visible and are perpetual sensory reminders of God’s oath with His people.
The sacraments marry the spiritual order with the natural order and are an extension of the incarnation Jesus Christ who is true God and true man.
You see, just like Abraham, we can experience emotional upheaval as we go through the hardships of this world.
We can ask, “Lord, do you really want me to be in heaven with You? – because I wonder if I’ll ever make it.”
“Do You care about my struggles with holiness? – because I keep falling back into sin all the time.”
“Do you care about my ability to live the faith? – because this doesn’t come easily to me.”
“And when it comes right down to it, Lord, do You love me? – because at times I feel so alienated.”
And then, we walk into a Catholic church and it’s as though we can hear God say:
“Do I want you in heaven? Look and feel the cleansing waters of baptism that flow over your head and wash away original sin and all personal sin.”
“Do I care about your struggles with sin? Here. Listen to the words of the priest in confession as he says ‘Ego te absolvo’ and you hear with your own ears that your sins are forgiven.”
“Do I care about your ability to live the faith? Look, here is the chrism by which you are sealed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit.”
Feel the oil-smeared upon your head as you smell the sweetness of the perfume that lifts your awareness heavenward to where you are called.
“And do I love you? Look, here is the bread and wine that will become my very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity for you to taste and to eat so that you may be renewed from the inside out.”
“Why do you doubt? I have taken an oath.”
“I have made a solemn pledge to give you what you need to be with me in heaven and I make myself vulnerable to the loss of your soul if I do not come through on my promise.”
I give you the sacraments, which bridge heaven and earth.
What more could anyone want?
My dear friends … the oath that God took with Abraham 6,000 years ago was His way of letting Abraham know that He was dead serious in coming through on His pledge.
And it’s the sacraments that are perpetual reminders of God’s oath. His sacred pledge with all of humanity.
Whenever we receive any of the sacraments or observe someone else receiving the same there should be a little voice in the back of our head that says: