Who God Actually Is – Raised Catholic episode 119

The following is a transcript of a Raised Catholic Podcast episode. To listen to the episode, click here.

Hi friends. This week I’m beginning a short series of reflections on the very rich Gospel readings that come after Easter, particularly in this past week during what is known as the Octave of Easter or the eight days from Easter Sunday to the following Sunday. Maybe you went to a mass or a church service on Easter Sunday and maybe it was wonderful, and gosh I do hope so, though I have heard some stories of some rough experiences and for those, friend, I am so sorry. Or maybe you didn’t go to church at all, and believe me I understand that too, but as I read the Gospels from this Octave week, I kind of wish that these were the stories we got on Easter Sunday because they are a great picture of very messy people trying to make sense of a miracle. And maybe these stories can help we messy people living in a time of a very messy church, to ponder just what it is we actually believe, why we believe it, and, like the disciples did, to begin to think about what happens next.

When it comes to matters of faith, why do we believe what we believe?

Much as today’s America-centric, political power-amassing, clericalist, gun-rights advocating, culture warring, so called ‘traditional’ Christianity would have been unthinkable and even antithetical to the first disciples, the humble servant-God dying on a cross made no sense to His early followers, no matter how much He explained it to them in advance. They were looking for a kind of a hero who would overthrow the government and free the Jewish people, and they were confounded along the way by His teachings that were as small as a mustard seed and as simple (and as hard) as love for all people, so in the aftermath of the death of Jesus, the disciples found themselves hopeless, desolate, and fully believing that they were abandoned.

And they believed this so strongly that when the women came with news of Jesus’ miraculous rising, still they continued their somber, gloomy walk, and when Jesus Himself started walking beside them and explaining it all to them step by step, still, they would not see. 

And I’m wondering, what is it that we, and even so many of our priests and religious leaders today, just do not see about who God is? And how can we open our eyes to the presence of a kind and good and risen Christ who is walking with us in our midst, today?

I think that sometimes we don’t recognize Jesus because He does not look like what we expect Him to look like. In the reading on Easter Monday, Mary Magdalene was greeted by Jesus Himself, but she thought He was the gardener. It was only after Jesus called her by her name that her eyes were opened. Maybe we can learn to listen in to the voice of God calling us by our names too, because He still does this, friend, still today. You and I are fully known and fully loved, and each of us is called by God by name. This is such good news.

On Easter Tuesday, we read of the women’s experience with an empty tomb and literal angels telling them that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead, but the men would not believe their witness. Jesus Himself told Mary to “go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” And when Mary Magdalene, the first to witness Jesus rising from the dead, did as He said and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” they did not believe her. They could not see. And so this history of ignoring or overlooking the witness of women in the church goes way back all the way to Easter week, and honestly, this theme could be its own episode, but for today it is clear that the disciples’ own bias prevented them from experiencing the best news ever, the Good News of the Resurrection, and this us leads to the question: Where do our own biases prevent our encounter with the hope and joy and even miracles of God?

When Jesus came alongside the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, the scripture says:

“And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing as you walk along?” They stopped, looking downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?” And he replied to them, “What sort of things?” They said to him, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him.

But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place. Some women from our group, however, have astounded us: they were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his Body; They came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive. Then some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him they did not see.”

And he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!”

And from there, Jesus unpacked and interpreted everything for His friends, but still, they did not recognize Him.

When it comes to matters of faith, why do we believe what we believe? 

Do we, like Mary, need to feel known and seen by God in order to believe? Do we allow our biases to get in the way of knowing who God really is? Do we, like Thomas, require a physical, experiential encounter with God so that we can follow Him? Why is it so hard for us to believe the stories of Jesus that are so readily available to us in the scriptures, and which have been told to us so many times before?

I believe there’s a key that unlocks all of this for us and it’s these four words that the disciples spoke to Jesus on the Road to Emmaus. The words are: 

But We Were Hoping

“But we were hoping’ is a dangerous way of thinking that turns our eyes away from God who is toward the God that we want Him to be. The picture of what we want God to be can come from our family patterns, on what they prioritized when we were young, or in what we learned in church in the cradle of Catholicism, or in what faith leaders we listen to today. In their time, the disciples hoped for a victorious, powerful, battling God, so I guess it’s fairly logical that they could not recognize or see the humble, self-sacrificial God who is. Practical Thomas hoped for a God who could confound all of his doubt and prove His case, so it makes sense that he could not experience a God that he did not understand. In our society today, it seems clear that our image of God, even in many places in the church, has shifted away from who God is – the merciful One who serves and encourages us to love one another to a God who amasses political power, who quiets dissent, who fights on behalf of ‘culture’ or ‘government’ when it is clear from the example of Jesus that this is just not who God is. As author Anne Lamott says, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” Oof.

‘But we were hoping’ we had a culture-warring God.

‘But we were hoping’ for a God who aligned with our politics.

‘But we were hoping’ for a God who would champion the cause dearest to me.

The truth is that ‘but we were hoping’ is an impediment to intimate knowledge of the God who actually is, and who He actually is is way better than anything we could have hoped for.

On the long road to Emmaus, Jesus explained to the Disciples the scriptures and the history and all of the things that had happened. But it was not until He took bread, broke it, said the blessing, and gave it to them that they understood just who it was that had been accompanying them all that time. It was only then that they could admit to each other that “their hearts were burning within them as He was teaching and speaking on the Road. That sacramental encounter enabled the disciples to look back and make sense of all that had come before. And, friend, a sacramental encounter – what St. Augustine called an “outward sign of inward grace”, is available to us as well. 

The Christian life should be one that moves from ‘but we were hoping’ to ‘hearts burning within us’. Moving from a God we make in our own image to the God who is better than what we could imagine is a journey of maturation in the Christian life, of knowing God as the Father in the Prodigal Son story, the one who runs toward us while we are still a long way off. The God who pays a full day’s wage for a partial day’s work. The one that crosses a street to provide compassionate care for someone the culture calls an enemy.

Fr. Greg Boyle, of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, preached a homily based on a scripture from 1John, which was written after Eastertide and Pentecost, when these confused and discouraged disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and finally understood the God who is. Fr. Greg read, 

““We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us — we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.”

And when Fr. Greg was finished reading the passage, he looked out at the people and he said,

“When one knows the God of Love, fire all the other gods.”

And I believe that’s our work, friends. It’s the work of Easter. In this season of miracles, let’s get to know what the God of Love actually sounds like. Let’s hear Him call us by our name. Let’s walk with Him. And then, let’s fire all the other gods. For us, our dear ones, and our church, give us clarity O Lord, we pray, amen.

Thanks so much for being with me today, friend. If you need me, you can find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites or on my website at kerrycampbell.org. Thanks so much for rating, reviewing, subscribing and most importantly, sharing this podcast with a friend.  That really makes a difference in growing our community, so thanks. If you’d like to support this podcast financially, there’s a way for you to do that in the show notes, along with some resources related to today’s episode, so do check all of that out, but before we go, let’s pray together.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.

Oh God who walks with us, help us to recognize you as you call our name, as you unpack the past, and as you reveal who you actually are. Jesus, help us to learn to know you and follow you. God please help those in authority in your church to do the same. Help us to fire all the other gods. In His name, wrapped in the mantle of our mother, Mary, and alongside our friend, St. Mary Magdalene, we pray, amen.

Thank you so much for listening today, friend. Continued Easter blessings to you, and I’ll see you next time.

Show Notes

This week we’ll look at the rich Gospel readings from the Octave of Easter and learn the importance of moving into an understanding of who God actually is rather than the God we make that mirrors us and what we want Him to be. The journey from ‘but we had hoped’ to ‘hearts burning within us’ is available to all of us. 

If you’d like to connect with me, ⁠⁠⁠find me on Instagram⁠⁠⁠ or ⁠⁠⁠at my website⁠⁠⁠.  If you’d like to ⁠⁠⁠help support this podcast financially⁠⁠⁠, there’s now a way to do just that, and thank you – visit me ⁠⁠⁠on my page at buymeacoffee.com⁠⁠⁠! Thanks as always for sharing, subscribing, rating, and reviewing, as this helps our community to grow!

Thanks as always to my friend, Peter Vaughan-Vail, for providing the beautiful harp music you hear in this and every episode.

Here are some resources I hope will help you to engage with this week’s topic in a deeper way for yourself:

1. Song: ⁠Open the Eyes of My Heart⁠, by Audrey Assad

2. Song: ⁠Good Good Father⁠, by Chris Tomlin

3. Book: ⁠The Return of the Prodigal Son⁠, by Henri Nouwen

4. Journal Prompts:

Have I heard Jesus ‘call me by name’ through prayer or some other experience? Do I feel known and seen by God? How can I help cultivate this understanding in my spirit and make room for God to speak directly to me?

What biases might be preventing me from seeing God as He actually is?

What parts of my family or church history might be impacting the way in which I understand God today?

5. Daily readings from the Octave of Easter, starting with ⁠Easter Monday⁠

6. ⁠Animated short:⁠ the story of the lead-up and aftermath of the crucifixion and resurrection through the Gospel of Luke from the Bible Project.inter

7. Video podcast: ⁠Interview with Fr. Greg Boyle on Jesuitical⁠

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