Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of articles on the theme, “Being Lifted Up In Christ as Catholic Men.”
How does God work to transform us? Beginning with the story of Abraham, Scripture tells the stories of numerous men and women who were changed because God intervened in their lives and lifted them up to his presence. We can point to Moses, Joshua, and King David. There are Miriam, Ruth, and Hannah. There are Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Hezekiah. And there are so many more. Each of these people shows us a different reflection of what it is like to be lifted up by the Lord. If we look at the New Testament, we see even more examples: Joseph, Mary Magdalene, Peter, Bartimaeus, the centurion at the cross, and more.
Writing about twenty-five years after Jesus ascended to heaven, St. Paul offered some explanations of what these people and so many others like them experienced as they were lifted up. Surely, in addition to reflecting on his own experience, Paul learned much of what he wrote from talking with other believers and learning their own stories. Thus he was able to show us in a broad, encompassing way what it is like when Jesus touches human hearts. Let’s look at a couple of places where this happens.
May You Be Strengthened . . . In a letter he wrote to the Christians in Ephesus, Paul offered a prayer for them: “I kneel before the Father … that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:14-19, emphases added).
You can see in the italicized phrases the kind of words Paul used to describe what it means for a human person to be lifted up to Jesus. One aspect of this lifting up has to do with our feeling “strengthened.” When we are touched by the Lord, we find in ourselves a new confidence, a feeling that we can do all things in Christ. We are so filled with enthusiasm that we feel we can face any challenge that life puts in our path. We have tasted the power of Jesus’ love, and we sense that this power, this strength, can be ours as well.
Related to a feeling of strength is the trust that Jesus is actually “dwelling in our hearts.” When he touches us and lifts us to his presence, we sense that he is very close to us—closer, in fact, than our dearest friend. We sense that he has always been in us, waiting for us to turn to him. All we needed was a measure of faith and trust, just enough to motivate us to seek him in the sanctuary of our hearts.
Knowledge and Love. But there is more to receiving Jesus’ touch than simply feeling confident in his power and his presence. It’s not just what we feel but what we come to know as well. From the time when Moses received the Law on Mount Sinai to the time when John received his prophecy on the Isle of Patmos, we see people being lifted up by the Lord and coming to understand God’s ways, his mind, and his purposes more clearly.
Of course, we will never receive any new revelation that is not compatible with what is in the Scriptures or in our Sacred Tradition. But whenever Jesus lifts us up, he helps us understand more fully the core truths that have been given to the church—truths like those contained in the Apostles’ Creed or the Lord’s Prayer or the Scriptures themselves. We come away from being lifted up with a greater clarity about who God is, who we are, and how the Lord wants us to live.
Finally, and most importantly, Paul tells us that the experience of being lifted up by the Lord is an experience of love that “surpasses knowledge.” It is the experience of being loved, accepted, and affirmed by the One who created us. It is the experience of being welcomed into the kingdom of heaven—and into Jesus’ loving embrace.
(Joe Difato is the publisher of “The Word Among Us” devotional magazine. To contact him, go to his website at www.joedifato.com. Many thanks to The Word Among Us (http://www.wau.org/) for allowing us to use his articles from their August issue. Used with permission.)
Questions for Reflection/Discussion by Catholic Men
1. The article begins with a list of Old and New Testament men and women “who were changed because God intervened in their lives and lifted them up to his presence.” In each case there is a huge difference between what they were like before and after being “lifted up.” How would you describe the difference in Peter and Paul’s lives before and after they were touched by the Lord and had a personal encounter with him?
2. How would you describe the difference in your own life before and after you were touched by the Lord or had a personal encounter with Him?
3. The article uses St. Paul’s prayer from Ephesians 3:14-19 to describe the various aspects of what it means for someone “to be lifted up to Jesus.” How would you describe it?
4. The article ends with these words: “Paul tells us that the experience of being lifted up by the Lord is an experience of love that ‘surpasses knowledge.’ It is the experience of being loved, accepted, and affirmed by the One who created us. It is the experience of being welcomed into the kingdom of heaven—and into Jesus’ loving embrace.” Have you experienced what it means to be “loved, accepted, and affirmed by the One who created us”? How would you describe that experience?
5. If you are in a men’s group take some time at the end of your meeting to pray for one another using the prayer from Ephesians 3:14-19.
(The discussion questions were created by Maurice Blumberg, a Trustee of the National Fellowship of Catholic Men (http://www.catholicmensresources.org/), and currently the Director of Partner Relations for Partners in Evangelism, (http://www2.wau.org/partners/), a Ministry of The Word Among Us to the Military and Prisoners. Maurice can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)