Monday, September 25, 2017

Monday - 25th Week of OT 2017 - Returning from Exile, Rebuilding Your Life



The Old Testament Books of Ezra and Nehemiah detail the 50-year period after the Babylonian Captivity. For over a hundred years, Jews lived and worked in Babylon, cut off from their traditions, their history, their rituals, their stories, and their worship.  A generation of Jews grew up without knowing about God freeing their people from slavery in Egypt, they grew up without knowing the promises God made to Abraham, without the knowledge of the ten commandments or the promised land.  They grew up only knowing the gods and practices of Babylon-- a culture which practiced child sacrifice, polygamy, and other behaviors condemned by Jewish law.

Imagine if your children or grandchildren knew nothing about their family histories, knew nothing about their heritage, in fact, they had adopted practices which were exactly the opposite of the truths of their faith.  In a way, not knowing their history, not knowing their faith, you would say, that they did not know themselves.

The Old testament reading today details the turning point in this sad chapter. In October 539 BC, so this time of year, two thousand, five hundred, fifty-some years ago, the Persian King Cyrus defeated the Babylonians. A year later King Cyrus decrees that he will allow the captive Jews to return to their homeland. What inspired the King to make this allowance? We heard today…”The LORD inspired King Cyrus of Persia” Cyrus even decrees that the Jews should be assisted in rebuilding the house of God—the Temple—in Jerusalem.

There is certainly a powerful spiritual analogue to this story of captivity and return. In our sin and ignorance, we are held captive, separated from God and the ways of the saving faith. Some Catholics fall away from the faith, some struggle to be free from very serious sins or addictions, for what seems like a hundred years. But, like Cyrus inspired by God, we receive the grace to break free from our sin, our addiction, our captivity, the fallen away Catholic comes home, the Christian struggling with sin is liberated.

But that gift of liberation and return, is given by God for a purpose. The returning exiles were tasked with rebuilding the Temple and recommitting to the works of God’s Holy Law. So, too Christians, freed from sin are tasked with offering right and beautiful worship to God, and must commit ever more fervently to the works of Christian Law, the works of mercy. We are freed from sin, that we may engage in the life of God, the life of mercy, to build up the New Temple of God, the Church, built with living stones.

As we heard in the Gospel, we are given the light of faith, not that it may be hidden under a bushel, but that it may be shared for the good of all, for the glory of God and salvation of souls.

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For the Holy Father, Francis, our Pope, that he may be aided by the Holy Spirit in leading those captive to sin home to right relationship to God through Holy Church. We pray to the Lord.

That all Christians tasked with the spread of the light of the Gospel, may be faithful to that same Gospel in every dimension of their lives. We pray to the Lord.

For all those who have fallen away from the Church, those whose lives are darkened by sin, for the conversion of all unbelievers and those who have fallen into error, and the conversion of all hearts.
For Pope Francis’ prayer intention for the month of September: “That our parishes, animated by a missionary spirit, may be places where faith is communicated and charity is seen.”

That the love of Christ, the divine physician, may bring healing to the sick and comfort to all the suffering.

For the deceased members of our families, friends, and parish, and all the poor souls in purgatory, for deceased priests and religious, and for those who have fought and died for our freedom.

O God, you know that our life in this present age is subject to suffering and need, hear the prayers of those who cry to you and receive the prayers of those who believe in you. Through Christ our Lord.


Sunday, September 24, 2017

25th Sunday in OT 2017 - The Mysterious Ways of God



For several weeks, our Gospels have contained some pretty challenging lessons. Where we find forgiving people difficult, Jesus teaches us that God forgives and we ought to forgive without limit. When most people were exalting the flashy faith of the Pharisees, Jesus extols the humble hidden faith of the poor widow, the repentant prostitute, blind beggar. Where most of us run away from crosses, Jesus teaches that his disciples must each take up their own cross.

The New Testament parables challenge us to grow in the practice of our faith, they shake us out of our complacency, and they often show us that God operates in ways quite different from the ways of man. Yes, challenging lessons as of late, yet, today’s parable of the Generous Landowner, is seriously puzzling, if not unnerving and somewhat vexing.

A Landowner goes out to hire workers for his field—a common practice in Jesus’ time, as it is still today. He hires workers in the morning, he hires workers at midday, and then in the evening, he calls more and more people to work in his field. Then the work day ends and he calls the workers together to receive their wages, but strangely those who have been working the least amount of time, he pays first. And he pays these people, who only worked a half-hour, 45 minutes, a full day’s wage. The workers who were there from the beginning of the day are a little upset when they receive the same daily wage.

Most of us hearing this parable would be quite upset if the same thing happened to us. It’s unfair. It seems unjust.

How does the landowner explain this apparent injustice? He says, “Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?'
If you were one of the workers, would you be satisfied with that answer? Who in Jesus’ time or in our time would say, “Oh yeah, that makes sense.” No, there is still something unresolved. One person worked nine hours, the other worked nine minutes. Like a little kid who gets the smaller piece of dessert than his sibling: “Not Fair!” It doesn’t compute, it doesn’t make sense.

And that’s one of the points of the parables: to find that place that doesn’t quite make sense. To help us understand things not from an earthly point of view, but from a heavenly point of view. What did we hear in the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah? “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.”

Is God’s Wisdom, similar to human wisdom or different? Simply judging by the number of people who do not learn from their mistakes, God’s wisdom is far greater. Is God’s love, similar to human ways of showing affection or is it on a whole different level? The cross shows us, God’s love is greater.

The ways of God are often mysterious for the same reason the ways of parents seem so strange and unfair to their children. The parents sees so much more, they see how the piece of candy will spoil the child’s dinner, they see how a late bedtime will make the child cranky the next morning, they see how failing to discipline the toddler will lead to a spoiled teenager. The child sees from a very narrow point of view and often sees their parents actions as unjust, unfair.

 Analogously, we see from a very narrow perspective, a small point in time. So it is possible that things we see as unjust, aren’t from God’s perspective, who sees the whole of space and the whole of time, who sees all that is, and all that can possible be.

Just in the last month, we live in the wake of multiple hurricanes, earth quakes, floods, innocent people dying at the hands of terrorists. We see the wicked prospering, as the poor grow hungrier.
Today’s parable, challenges us to see even these tragedies from the divine perspective. Why does God allow these things to happen? God’s ways are not our ways. Perhaps all these events are opportunities for faith. Perhaps they are opportunities for the Church to reach out to the hungry with the food they need, to comfort the suffering with Gospel charity.

We may be quick to question the motive and wisdom of the Landowner, but likely knew some things that the indignant workers did not. What if he saw in his compassion that those who waited all day needed to feed their families; as they stood in the hot sun, anxiously, worrying about paying their bills, their debts, they began to be overwhelmed by a sense of failure. Yes they only worked for a half-hour, but doesn’t the landowner, God, see the suffering of the whole day. Who are we to be passing judgment on the mysterious ways of God.

I think that’s one of the problems of our age: it’s very judgmental toward God. Many, who claim to be unjudgmental, are actually quite judgmental toward the rules of the church, the commandments of the bible. They judge the moral teachings of the Church to be wrong, outdated, antiquated or backward. But making such judgments doesn’t make them so.

Our faith is mysterious. As Pope Benedict said, you can only see the beauty of the stained glass, from the inside.

Though his ways are difficult to understand. God promises understanding to those who seek it. He promises peace to those who pursue it, in Him.

When we come to Mass, we open our hearts to listen to God’s word speaking to us in the confusing events of our life. We hear him inviting us to trust in him, to unite our sufferings to him. Whether good or bad things happen around us, we are called to trust, whether certain commandments are easy or hard, whether we understand them or not, we are called to be faithful. Whether we are blessed with abundance, or receive much less than we think we deserve, we are called to give thanks.
Let us resound with the words of the Psalm: The LORD is just in all his ways and holy in all his works. The LORD is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth”  for the glory of God and salvation of souls.


Friday, September 22, 2017

Friday - 24th Week in OT 2017 - Truth and Mercy must remain united


Since last Thursday until this Saturday the first readings have been from St. Paul’s first letter to Timothy.  Timothy was a young convert who came to the Faith via Paul’s preaching and teaching.  And he became the bishop of the important city of Ephesus when he was still pretty much a young man.  Paul wrote this letter to him personally for encouragement and advice on how to administer this great responsibility.

About 30 years later, St. John would address part of the Book of Revelation to the Church at Ephesus, and it is really interesting to compare the state of the Church in Timothy’s time and the state of the Church when John wrote to them.

Ephesus was the most prestigious cultural, commercial, and most important political center in Asia minor. It was known for having many temples, including a very prominent temple to Artemis. We know from the book of Acts that even though Christianity was opposed by the merchant class in Ephesus, the new faith spread quite rapidly.

When St. John wrote to the Ephesians in the book of Revelation, he praises the them for remaining in the truth. Particularly, for opposing the false teachings of the Nikolatians. The deacon Nicolaus, from the book of Acts, apparently hadn’t turned out to be such a good choice. Nicolaus had been falsely teaching that it was okay for Christians to try to blend in with the culture, taking part in pagan temple worship and the…temple prostitution.

So when we hear in the reading today, Paul urging Timothy to protect his flock from false teachers, it seems like Timothy had heeded, at least the first part of Paul’s instruction.

However, St. John reveals that the Ephesians were failing to live up to a very important Gospel tenet. He says that they had “abandoned their first love” and had given up on the good works, the works of mercy, which are so fundamental to the Christian life.

So the Ephesians were outstanding in holding to the truth, they knew their catechism, but they were neglecting the works of mercy. Perhaps, they had allowed that love of money, which St. Paul warned them against, to keep them from the charity we are called to be Christ.

As Catholics, we don’t choose between Catechism and Charity. We must be both wholly committed to right doctrine AND wholly committed to the works of mercy. "Gracious love must meet truth; righteousness and peace must kiss" Psalm 25 says. Pope Francis, is keenly aware of this, as is evidenced in his prayer intention for the month of September. Truth and Love are united in Christ, the Saints always hold fast to both, and so must we, if we wish to be effective in the building up of the kingdom, for the glory of God and salvation of souls.

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That all Christians may hold fast to right Christian teaching and engage in right Christian action.

For those who have fallen into error, for Catholics who have grown lukewarm in their faith, for those who have left the Church, for their conversion and the conversion of all hearts.

For Pope Francis’ prayer intention for the month of September: “That our parishes, animated by a missionary spirit, may be places where faith is communicated and charity is seen.”

That the love of Christ, the divine physician, may bring healing to the sick and comfort to all the suffering.

For the deceased members of our families, friends, and parish, and all the poor souls in purgatory, for deceased priests and religious, and for those who have fought and died for our freedom.

O God, you know that our life in this present age is subject to suffering and need, hear the prayers of those who cry to you and receive the prayers of those who believe in you. Through Christ our Lord.


Thursday, September 21, 2017

September 21, 2017 - St. Matthew - Our longing for conversion



Conversion stories are powerful. To hear of a great sinner, turning his life over to God, always moves us and resonates with us. In conversion stories, we humbly acknowledge how our lives would have been different had God not been searching us out, we recognize in them the movement of grace that stirs in our own lives and changes them forever, we get a sense of that two-fold yearning: man’s yearning for God, and God’s yearning for man.

St. Matthew was trapped in a cycle of sin. The tax collector extorted his own kind, cheating the people he collected from. For this reason, tax-collectors like Matthew were despised, and grouped together by their contemporaries in the same breath as the murderers, assassins, thieves, robbers, criminals, and prostitutes. No good Jew would even marry someone who had a tax-collector in their extended family!

But while sitting at a custom’s post, Matthew saw a man who would not only change his life, but the history of the world, forever. He followed the Christ, and invited him into his home.
Matthew, of course, would be chosen by the Lord as one of the Twelve, and would carry the Gospel after the Lord’s death and resurrection throughout Persia and as far as Ethiopia, where he was martyred on order of the king.

Matthew responded, not to the orders of a military leader, but to the invitation of the Savior. The Lord desired for Matthew so-much-more-than the old sinful life, as he does for all of us. Jesus called Matthew from sins which alienated him from God and his neighbor, to the new communion of the Church, and to a life of freedom and grace.

The liberation and happiness the Lord brought to Matthew’s life is available to us if we but trust the Lord, and leave behind selfishness, fear, and ego-centrism.

Jesus dined in the homes of tax collectors and sinners in order to satisfy their deepest hungers—to reveal to them the truth for which they longed in their deepest being. As the Lord feeds us at the Eucharistic table today, may we recognize in Him our hearts deepest longings, and trust him as he sends us out on the mission of spreading the Gospel according to our own ability, for the glory of God and salvation of souls. 

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That all Christians may have the courage to confess their sins and to courageously follow the Lord’s call to spread the Gospel.

For all those trapped in cycles of sin or addiction, that they may heed the Lord’s invitation to mercy and freedom.

For Pope Francis’ prayer intention for the month of September: “That our parishes, animated by a missionary spirit, may be places where faith is communicated and charity is seen.”

That the love of Christ, the divine physician, may bring healing to the sick and comfort to all the suffering.

For the deceased members of our families, friends, and parish, and all the poor souls in purgatory, for deceased priests and religious, and for those who have fought and died for our freedom.

O God, you know that our life in this present age is subject to suffering and need, hear the prayers of those who cry to you and receive the prayers of those who believe in you. Through Christ our Lord.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

September 19, 2017 - St. Januarius - Miracle of the blood



Saint Januarius or San Gennaro is the patron saint of Naples, Italy, and he died in the last great persecution by the Roman Empire, that of Emperor Diocletian. Little is known about his life other than in the year AD 305, he and his companions were beheaded for refusing to worship pagan idols. 
Connected with this feast is the miracle of the liquefaction of the martyrs’ blood, which is kept in a reliquary in Naples.  Four times a year—the first Saturday of May, today September 19 and some day during the octave of his feast, and sometimes on December 16—his blood which is kept in a large reliquary is brought out for the Church to venerate. 

This feast is celebrated with great festivity in Naples and many towns in southern Italy.  Over a million people will gather in the Little Italy section of New York today for festivities as well.  Both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have made pilgrimage to Naples to witness this miracle.  You can even watch youtube videos of the miracle occurring.

This miracle has been going on for centuries and is one of the most scientifically studied religious phenomenon in the world.  Scientists have been unable to come up with an explanation. 
Why does God perpetuate this miracle? For one, it reminds the world that He is God of awe and wonder, and awesome works, and strange ways. The miracles of the saints show us that God is at work in human history. Just as the healing miracles of Jesus, as we heard in the Gospel, show us that God is at work, God can bring healing to desperate situations.

I think the miracle of the liquification of the blood also shows our modern world that not everything can be explained with science.  Science is not the great savior of the world. There are limits to human reason, things which we must accept by faith.

This miracle also reminds us that the blood of the martyrs continues to have power. The blood of Januarius, spilled for Christ, encourages us, and reminds us that God sees and treasures our sufferings for the Church.

Is every petition we make to God answered exactly as we wish? Is every request for a miracle granted? Perhaps not. But every drop of martyrs blood, every ounce of suffering for the sake of the kingdom has value in God’s eyes and power—our fasting, our penance, our mortification, the mockery we endure for the faith.

May the sufferings of Januarius and the martyrs continue to speak powerfully to our fallen world, and work the great miracle of the transformation of our hardened hearts for the glory of God and salvation of souls.

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That religious indifference in our country and around the world may be transformed to radical commitment to the Gospel of Christ.

For the transformation of all attitudes which lead to war, violence, racial hatred, and religious persecution.

For deeper devotion to Immaculate Mary, for the conversion of Atheists, hardened sinners, lapsed Catholics, and the conversion of all hearts.

For Pope Francis’ prayer intention for the month of September: “That our parishes, animated by a missionary spirit, may be places where faith is communicated and charity is seen.”

That the love of Christ, the divine physician, may bring healing to the sick and comfort to all the suffering.

For the deceased members of our families, friends, and parish, and all the poor souls in purgatory, for deceased priests and religious, and for those who have fought and died for our freedom.

O God, you know that our life in this present age is subject to suffering and need, hear the prayers of those who cry to you and receive the prayers of those who believe in you. Through Christ our Lord.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Monday - 24th Week of OT 2017 - Lord, I am not worthy




At every Mass, before receiving Jesus in Holy Communion, we echo the words of the Centurion, “Lord I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof.” Even the priest who has been consecrated by the bishop to preside over these sacred mysteries says that he is unworthy to receive.

Jesus remarks that not in all of Israel had he found such faith. And you can be sure that there were many people who considered themselves to be very faithful, particularly the Pharisees.

In claiming our unworthiness to receive Holy Communion, is not a superficial act of self-degradation. We are able to come forward to receive the Lord not because we are so great and so good, but because God is so good.

When we express our unworthiness, when we kneel throughout Mass, when we genuflect when we come into the church, when we bow before receiving holy communion, we are expressing something very important for Christians, we are expressing our Reverence for God.

Reverence is having the respect we ought to have for God.  St. Theresa said, that if we really understood the greatness of the miracle that took place at Mass, we would fall flat on our face.  Because the God of the entire universe is here.  The same sacrifice that opened for us the way to heaven, takes place here in this church, on this altar, for us.

When we realize God's majestic glory, we conclude that He doesn't owe us anything. Thus, we see life as a gift and a privilege. Realizing our unworthiness we acknowledge the reality of our humanity. We see ourselves as unconditionally loved and superabundantly showered with God’s mercy. Our every breath is a grace.

There is a joy in unworthiness. There is a joy in kneeling, in submitting to not an arbitrary authority, but a true one.

Last week, I spoke of the moral therapeutic deism which has infected many Christians, who come to Church only to get something, to have their self-esteem boosted, to have their sins explained away. But reverence purifies us of such self-centeredness. Reverence brings us to our knees in the presence of God, and brings us joy in knowing that He is God and we are not.

May this Holy Eucharist today deepen our reverence and deepen our joy, that we may be faithful proclaiming Christ’s saving Truth to the ends of the earth, for the glory of God and salvation of souls.

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May the Church deepen in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, particularly in the reverence which helps us adore and proclaim the ineffable love of God.

For Pope Francis’ prayer intention for the month of September: “That our parishes, animated by a missionary spirit, may be places where faith is communicated and charity is seen.”

For the sick and afflicted, the homebound, those in nursing homes and hospitals, for victims of natural disaster and inclement weather, those who suffer from war, violence, and terrorism, for the mentally ill, those with addictions, the imprisoned, the unchaste, for the comfort of the dying and the consolation of their families.

For the deceased members of our families, friends, and parish and all the poor souls in purgatory, for deceased priests and religious, and for those who have fought and died for our freedom. We pray.

Incline your merciful ear to our prayers, we ask, O Lord, and listen in kindness to the supplications of those who call on you. Through Christ our Lord.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

24th Sunday of OT 2017 - Highs and Lows, Chaos and Harmony, Joy and Sadness



This has certainly been a week of highs and lows. While citizens of Texas sought to rebuild their lives after the devastating Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma caused catastrophic damage to several Caribbean Islands and the Florida Keys resulting in loss of life and home. In the wake of both storms, however, there has been a tremendous outpouring of charity, of which we have an opportunity to share in this weekend, with a collection at the doors of the church after Mass.

Here in Cleveland, we’ve seen a spectacular display of talent and sportsmanship in our local Major League Baseball Team, with a new American League Record of a 22-game consecutive streak breaking a record that has stood for a hundred years. Even a non-sports fan like me can appreciate that tremendous accomplishment.

Liturgically, this week celebrated two of my favorite feast days: the feast of the exaltation of the cross on Thursday, and Friday, the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. Here are two feast days in which we reflect upon how God’s goodness brings light to times of great darkness, how the cross, and the tears of the Blessed Mother can signal the defeat of evil. I’d like to repeat an invitation I make from time to time: if you have weekday mornings free, try to come to daily mass. There you get to celebrate with the Church these amazing mysteries of our faith.

Another, high point this week was on Tuesday evening. We had wonderful attendance for the first segment of Bishop Robert Barron’s video series on the Pivotal Players of Catholicism. We watched with wonder and awe a beautiful video on the Life of St. Francis of Assisi, and had a delightful discussion of the video afterwards.

Thursday, in addition to the liturgical celebration, was also the one-year anniversary of the passing of our beloved Father Wendelken. The anniversary of the death of a loved one is always bitter sweet. Their absence is felt, life is different without them, but one also looks back upon very fond memories with gratitude for the blessing of being a part of their life.

And then, of course, beginning the week, was the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and yesterday, (Friday) another terrorist attack in London.

Highs and lows, grace and chaos, causes for happiness, causes for sadness, fear, and anger. What is the meaning of all of it? What do we do with all these experiences, feelings, and emotions? I believe our scripture readings give us some important insights.

Firstly, from our second reading. St. Paul reminds the Christian that our life is not our own. “For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's.” No matter what happens in life: a job promotion or months of unemployment, a bountiful harvest or sweeping famine, the death of a loved one or a new baby brought into the world. Whether there is chaos or harmony, peace or war, we belong to Christ and in all that we do, and through everything that is happening around us, we must persevere in the Christian life, we must follow the commandments of God, we must persist in prayer, and we must reach out to those in need.
In fact, one might say, that in times of joy and prosperity it is easy to bless God and thank God, but it is in times of adversity that our faith is truly put to the test. Catastrophic storms, terrorist attacks, family deaths, these things cause our faith to be tested. And during these times, and in times of temptation, we must recommit to our faith all the more: that we belong to God and our called to be saints.

Pope St. Gregory the Great spoke of why the saints are triumphant in the spiritual life through temptation and even the threat of physical death. He said,  "The saints, therefore, do not live and do not die for themselves.  They do not live for themselves, because in all that they do they strive for spiritual gain: by praying, preaching and persevering in good works, they seek the increase of the citizens of the heavenly fatherland.  Nor do they die for themselves, because men see them glorifying God by their death, hastening to reach him through death". So in the good times and bad, we must call to mind frequently, that we belong to God and are called to be saints.

The second insight from the scriptures this week helps us to understand what we are to do with all these powerful emotions caused by life’s storms. When terrorism strikes, when innocents lose their lives, when people we love betray our trust, we experience anger. And if that anger is not dealt with properly it can fester and transform into resentment, bitterness, and hatred.

As Christians, how are we called to deal with anger? The readings repeat it over and over again, Jesus repeated it over and over again: forgiveness. For Jesus, forgiveness is one of, if not the defining characteristic of the Christian. Jesus Himself, pleads forgiveness from the cross: forgive them, for they know not what they do.  Peter in today’s Gospel asks, how many times should I forgive my brother, as many as seven times?  Jesus answers, I say to you, not seven times, but seventy times seven times.  Forgive without limits.

Forgiveness is hard. We all love to be forgiven. When we make a mistake, when we act out of anger, when we accumulate a debt, we love to be forgiven. But forgiving the mistake, forgiving another’s foolishness, forgiving a debt, is much more difficult.

But the urgency to forgive is evident in the Gospel today: he who does not forgive, shall not be forgiven by the higher authority.

In the beatitudes, Jesus proclaims Blessed are the merciful. Showing mercy, forgiving debts, letting go of anger through forgiveness, is the path to blessedness, it is the Christian way. And when we begin to practice absolute forgiveness, when we begin to take this stuff really serious, miraculous things occur: inner wounds begin to heal,  we stop becoming irritated at minor setbacks and annoyances; an unshakeable peace begins to grow inside of us; we begin to turn less to earthly things to numb our feelings, and turn more to God in thanksgiving for sharing in the cross of Christ. Who wouldn’t willingly give up their resentments for those great gifts from God!

In this celebration of Holy Eucharist, amidst the storms of this earthly life, we are reminded that we belong to God and called to a life of mercy and blessedness in this life, so that we may share in the eternal blessedness of heaven, for the glory of God and salvation of souls.