Charity, the golden rule, and judging. Homily for 2/24/2019.

1Sam 26;  Ps 103;  1Cor 15:45-49;  Lk 6:27-38

Jesus spoke often about the most important virtue: charity (or love). The old standard was basic and legalistic: to love those who love you, to greet your friends and neighbors only. But in his ministry, preaching, and especially in His example, Jesus raises the bar for us: “A new commandment I give you, love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34). His love looks like that (crucifix). The foundation of charity comes from today’s gospel, and is sometimes called the “golden rule”: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” That’s the bare minimum, but Jesus calls us to something even greater. Love your enemies, and pray for those who mistreat you. From the cross, Jesus prayed even for His persecutors (Lk 23:34). In today’s gospel, He teaches multiple short phrases which are easy to say, but much more difficult to live. But Jesus shows us how to practice them—once again, we go to the cross. Taken together, these teachings help us to live out the high standard of charity, which would be impossible without His help, but with Him, isn’t only possible; it’s expected of us. We can do great things because of the God’s grace, which raises us beyond our natural abilities. So in our friendship with God, are we doing just barely enough to get by, or are we striving for great holiness? To answer that question, we might consider our attitude and respect in interacting with other people.

            When it comes to sin and vice, we usually have no problem giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt. But are we as lenient with others as we are with ourselves? Or let’s look at another perspective: wouldn’t we want others to forgive us when we sin? Jesus is saying that if we expect to receive patience and mercy from others—including God Himself—then we have to show patience and mercy to others. It’s in our best interests! And God provides us many opportunities to practice these virtues, right from the comfort of our own home. If your family is anything like mine was, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.

            Unfortunately, we’ve watered down the true meaning of the most important word in our language: love. I can love God, my mom, the dog, my sports team, and even food! We use the same word, “love,” to signify totally different realities. At its root, love isn’t a feeling, but a decision—it’s a choice we make—an act of the will. God is love (1Jn 4:8), which means that love is sacrificial, centered on the good of the other person, and that certainly has to include their eternal good. That’s why the man and woman who live together before marriage can’t possibly love one another because they’re not only putting themselves willfully into a sinful situation, but they’re saying it’s not a big deal to live with a person-of-the-opposite-sex outside of marriage. That’s not an ideal way to prepare for a future married life. Jesus elevates the standard of love by laying down his life on the cross. And then he calls us to do the same. Even St. Paul likens marital love to the cross—that spouses are meant to imitate Christ’s sacrificial love (Eph 5). Far from being mechanistic, true love goes beyond feeling and even death itself, all the way to the very essence of God’s life, for God is love.

            We have to understand Christ’s teachings in the proper context. An immediate example comes from today’s gospel: “Stop judging and you will not be judged.” Sometimes, Christians get labeled as being judgmental, or we may not speak out against injustice or sin because we fear that same label. But even here, we have to make a necessary distinction between judging a person and judging an action. If a child tries to put his hand on a hot stove or run out into traffic, we don’t ridicule or disparage him, but hopefully we’d point out the irrationality of the action. And yes, even if that person said, “I can do what I want with my body.” No. We most certainly can (and should) judge actions, especially if they go against reason, faith, or the natural law. But since we don’t know all the circumstances or internal factors, we can’t judge a person’s mind or soul. Perhaps by questioning the motive or beliefs, we can determine their reason for making that decision. So distinguishing between judging actions and person can help us lead others to the truth. But if we truly love someone, then we have to be concerned with their flourishing, and that extends to their eternal wellbeing.

St. John of the Cross once said, “At the end of our lives, we’ll be judged on our love” (CCC1022). He’s referring to love of God, of course, but also to love of neighbor. So let’s recommit to living out the virtue of charity with great generosity, so that when we’re called to account for all the blessings God gave us, we might hear those uplifting words: “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come share your master’s joy” (Mt 25:21).

Beatitude, from God’s perspective. Homily for 2/17/2019

Jer 17:5-8;  Ps 1;  1Cor 15:16-20;  Lk 6:17, 20-26

Most of us are familiar with Jesus’ famous teaching in the gospel of Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount. But today we read Luke’s version, where Jesus gives similar advice, while standing on a stretch of level ground. It might have been the same sermon told from a different perspective, but most likely, Jesus gave these teachings often. After all, we find such counsel in the Old Testament, like in Jeremiah today (“Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord”), and all throughout the Psalms, including today’s psalm: “Blessed are they who hope in the Lord” (Ps 1:1). The word “blessed” also means “happy”, and refers not to an emotional state, but to a fortunate situation. God will reward those who are faithful to Him. But there are differences between the two sermons. While Matthew includes eight blessings, Luke recounts four blessings and four woes. In Luke, immediately before this passage, Jesus has just chosen His 12 apostles. Now, notice how Jesus “raises his eyes to his disciples.” He speaks directly to his newly-chosen followers, which means that the beatitudes describe the actual condition of Jesus’ disciples. They are poor, hungry, weeping, and mistreated—just reading any of St. Paul’s letters to learn what he suffered for the sake of Jesus. And finally, instead of Jesus saying “Blessed are those who mourn,” like in Matthew, in Luke, Jesus says, “Blessed are you who are poor” and “who are weeping now.” There’s a more personal and immediate emphasis in Luke. But if we think about it, Jesus is the man of the beatitudes; He is poor, hungry, excluded, and hated, not only during His life of earth, but even today. As followers of Christ, then, we should expect nothing less for ourselves. In fact, Jesus still suffers and is persecuted in his members—in the Church. But in the midst of the pain and suffering, the light of the resurrection shines through, bringing us a joy and blessedness that the world cannot provide or understand.

            The beatitudes remind us to see things from God’s perspective, which is so different from that of the world. Why are the poor and outcast of this world the truly fortunate ones? Well, think of the many people that Jesus encountered during His life on earth: the poor, the crippled, the blind—those unable to help themselves. If they’d been strong and powerful, maybe Jesus wouldn’t have singled them out for personal attention. But he did, because they were weak. Our helplessness attracts God’s mercy and love. Think of the newborn baby who is completely dependent on the love and assistance of his parents; God wants us to rely on Him that much. A fundamental step in our friendship with Christ is to recognize our need for a Savior. And also our own inability to save ourselves. So often, Jesus allows us to share in his cross, because if we’re healthy and wealthy, then we usually overlook our need for Him. The poor don’t flaunt their achievements before God. “They don’t stride into God’s presence as if they were partners able to engage with him on an equal footing” (BenXVI, JoN,76). Rather, the poor rely on God to bestow His gifts as He sees fit; they’re grateful to live in closer conformity with Him.

            In the Old Testament, earthly riches were a sign of blessing. But in the New Testament, they’re a curse—not in themselves, but because they easily distract our attention from God. Thus, Jesus said, “Woe to you who are rich.” The beatitudes flip our understanding of true happiness, which isn’t found in riches, gratification, entertainment, or fame, but only in God. But we know this from experience: no amount of money or fame will satisfy us. Elsewhere in the gospel, the rich young man went away sad. In a different parable, Lazarus went to heaven, while the unnamed rich man suffered eternal torment, because he neglected the poor man on his doorstep. If we seek consolation in earthly riches, then we tend to rely only on those material possessions and not on God. Jesus said, “It will be difficult for one with riches to enter the kingdom of God” (Lk 18:24-25). So the beatitudes refocus our attention on our final end: the kingdom, vision of God, participation in divine nature, eternal life, rest in God (CCC1726). “The beatitudes confront us with decisive choices concerning earthly goods; they purify our hearts in order to teach us to love God above all things” (CCC1728). However, earthly pursuits do show us one thing: we have an endless desire for fulfillment. In fact, we have innate desire to see God. It’s an infinite desire, placed by God in every human heart in order to draw us to Himself (CCC1718). Unfortunately, people try to fill an infinite desire with finite things, and many go to great lengths to be loved by others. But in reality, we don’t have to prove to God that we’re worth loving. He already showed us that truth on the cross. Sacrificial, unconditional love. Jesus provides a heavenly banquet for those who are poor and hungry. God will satisfy our need. But those who are already full of earthly things have no taste for eternal delights. This is one reason why we fast for at least one hour before receiving Holy Communion: it’s meant to increase our hunger for the spiritual food that satisfies our deepest longing—union with God.

            One beatitude has always puzzled me: “Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.” Does God expect us to be sad and sour-faced? No. But there are two types of mourning, best characterized by two of the apostles. The first kind is a hopeless self-pity, which mistrusts love and truth, and turns inward upon itself. Judas is an example of this first kind; struck with horror at his fall from grace, he loses hope and hangs himself in despair. St. Peter shows the other kind of mourning; he weeps because he has denied his best friend. Yet the gaze of Jesus restored him to grace, and Peter wept bitter tears of repentance and conversion. We, too, need to recognize that our sins aren’t only horrible for us—they’re an infinite offense against God, who’s more than our best friend—He’s our Father. And yet, God always waits to restore us to His love. Perhaps the saddest scene in the Bible is Our Lady standing at the foot of the cross. Her heart wasn’t hardened at the injustice or the pain, but she offered herself in union with her Son’s sacrifice. In this moment above all, Our Lady exemplifies true com-passion (the word means “to suffer with”). Which is exactly what Jesus shows us in our own weakness and sorrow. Not that He immediately takes away our suffering, whether that’s a physical illness or some other crisis. Even God the Father didn’t take away the cross from Jesus, but He did send an angel from heaven to strengthen Him. In our pain and mourning, Jesus suffers with us, thereby enabling us to find meaning in human suffering.

            St. Therese once said that we come with empty hands before God. Hands that are filled with material possessions have no room for God’s gifts. But God can fill only those hands that are completely empty and ready to receive. After hearing these beatitudes again today, perhaps we might reflect on the following questions, “Do I delight more in God’s love or earthly possessions?” And “In whom do we trust?” Every dollar and coin in our country has the words, “In God we trust.” But do we actually trust more in the money or in God? As human beings, we’re made in the image of God, but sometimes we refashion God in our own image, and try to bend God’s commandments to suit our lifestyle. Or we complain about challenges and setbacks, or even turn away from God when they come. We probably all know people who blame God when things go wrong. Instead, that’s the time to turn even closer to the Lord and to allow Him to heal and strengthen us. Human suffering would make no sense at all without the resurrection, but we know the end of the story: suffering and death leads to the resurrection. As St. Paul said in our second reading, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins.” But then he continues very emphatically, “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Where Christ the head has gone, we, the members of His body hope to follow. Those who are poor and weeping now will be satisfied in the kingdom of God, as long as they persevere to the end in the grace and mercy of Jesus. Although counterintuitive, the beatitudes are the assurance that those who trust in the Lord will be rewarded, maybe not according to our expectations in this life, but certainly in the life to come.

Jesus’ call to Peter through a miraculous catch of fish. Homily for 2/10/2019

Is 6:1-2ff;  Ps 138;  1Cor 15:1-11;  Lk 5:1-11

Call and response. God’s call and the human response. The Scriptures and human history show that God’s call to everyone is the same—a personal and real call to holiness—but the circumstances and the human response varies. Some people turn down God’s offer. But today’s readings give us God’s personal call to Isaiah and Peter. It was the same radical call—to go on mission—and their response started them on the path to becoming the saints they are today.

            Let’s consider Peter’s call in the gospel today. If you’ve ever told someone you’d gone fishing, the first question is invariably, “Did you catch anything?” Peter was from Bethsaida, on the Sea of Galilee, and so fishing was his livelihood—not simply a hobby or recreation. However, in the gospels, he doesn’t appear very successful at it. As a fisherman, though, Peter knew that the ideal time for fishing was at night, in the shallow water. And yet, for all his hard work, he had caught nothing. Now, he and his companions were cleaning the nets by hand, which wasn’t an easy process. And then they’d go home to their families with a sore back and calloused hands, with absolutely nothing to show for it. Perhaps they wouldn’t even eat that day.

            Enter Jesus, a teacher from Nazareth, located about 20 miles from the Sea of Galilee. In other words, not very close to the water and clearly not a fisherman. Peter already knew Jesus, having hosted Him in his home (Lk 4:38). But Peter was likely preoccupied with the frustration and failure of the previous night. He had already disembarked, but Jesus asks to get into his boat—Jesus wants to be with him personally. Peter continued to listen to Jesus speaking the word of God. But then Jesus gave the challenging command: “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Humanly speaking, this command made no sense at all, and Peter recognized that instantly. Plus, what would everyone on the shore think of him, throwing the nets into deep water during the day? They may have ridiculed him. But already in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus had healed Peter’s mother-in-law, and many others in the home. So he knew that Jesus was no ordinary preacher. But the nets, plural? They had just finished cleaning them! “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets” (Lk 5:5). Despite any misgivings, Peter trusts Jesus at His word, and brings in such a tremendous catch that nearly sinks two boats.

            We can apply this gospel to our own lives in several ways: 1) Jesus meets us in our ordinary circumstances. He encountered Peter in the act of fishing, Matthew at the tax collector’s post, Paul on the road to Damascus. We’re often surprised by the encounter with Christ, that He comes to us under the appearance of such ordinary things as the waters of baptism, the bread and wine of the Eucharist. In the gospel, Jesus’ divinity is hidden under the veils of His humanity. But Peter’s perspective changes; originally he called Jesus, “Master”, but after the miracle, he calls him “Lord.” The Hebrew people, who weren’t permitted to utter the holy name of God, substituted the name, “Lord,” for God (cf. CCC209). So by calling Him, “Lord,” Peter is confessing the divinity of Jesus, for no mere man could produce such an abundant catch. And this miracle is a microcosm of the Church: how could 12 ordinary and not-very-well-educated men transform the entire known-world in the course of a generation? It happened through the grace of God. The miraculous catch of fish foreshadows the multitude of men and women that would enter the boat of the Church through the preaching of the apostles. Jesus rewarded Peter’s faith, not only with a personal call to be his friend and a fisher of men, but also to become the first pope. He didn’t choose John for this role, who was the most devoted and enthusiastic of the 12, nor Matthew or Judas, who were likely the most intelligent of the group. Jesus chose Peter, who was initially slow to believe and who denied Him three times, protesting that he didn’t even know the man (Mk 14:71). By that time, Jesus had already changed Simon’s name to Peter, which means “rock” (Jn 1:42). This should give us hope, because we are ordinary and weak, and yet Jesus calls us by name to extraordinary holiness, and He is the source of our strength and fidelity.  

            2nd lesson: We trust in the word of Jesus, even if we don’t understand His reasons. Or to put it more succinctly: God will provide; He always does. It doesn’t mean things will be easy. But as Jesus says repeatedly in the gospel: “Do not be afraid.” Don’t be afraid of facing opposition or ridicule for being a Christian. Friendship with God outweighs any earthly relationship. Isaiah responded eagerly, “Here I am, send me!” He knew that God would be strong in him. Peter’s faith brought about an abundant miracle: he invested a little, and Jesus gave a lot. So we can always trust that Jesus is in complete control, even if that’s not immediately apparent.

            3rd lesson: We should feel unworthy in the presence of God, but this sense of unworthiness should draw more attention to Jesus and His mercy. We can’t let personal sins and weaknesses keep us from seeking God. In fact, “faced with God’s fascinating and mysterious presence, we learn our own insignificance” (CCC208). Isaiah and Peter understand this completely. But because God is holy, he can forgive the person who realizes his own sinfulness. God has purified us, like Isaiah. And despite our sinfulness, Jesus still calls us His friends (Jn 15:15), beginning on the day of our baptism. Even though Peter said, “Depart from me…” he spent the whole rest of his life following Jesus. Peter’s reckless love for Jesus transformed him, even leading him into the hostile courtyard of the high priest. And tradition tells us that Peter asked to be crucified upside-down, because he didn’t feel worthy to die as the Lord.

            These readings also parallel the Catholic Mass, for we repeat “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts” at each Mass. And as in the gospel, Jesus feeds the people first with His word, and then with physical food, so also Christ feeds us in the Mass first with the Scriptures, and then with the Eucharist. At each liturgy, we also recall our own unworthiness when we say the prayer, “I confess to Almighty God…” then “Lord, have mercy” and finally, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

            One way to bring all these elements together, practically speaking, is through Eucharistic adoration. Adoration is a logical extension of the Mass, where we come into the presence of Jesus, truly present, though hidden from our physical eyes. We’re blessed that our church is open all day, and we have Eucharistic adoration in the chapel on Wednesdays, and throughout four nights of the week. Jesus asks to borrow some of our time, to come away with Him alone. Sure, others might be around, but Jesus wants to encounter us personally, to speak to us, and to reveal Himself more fully to us. In adoration and prayer, we stop what we’re doing to listen to the Lord. All earthly pursuits weigh us down, and to be honest, we’re not as effective as we think. But time spent with Christ is always worthwhile and we find that Jesus rewards those who trust Him. No, we aren’t even worthy to enter His presence, but He’s healed us and He desires us much more than we desire Him. Our efforts are fruitless without the grace and presence of Christ. So through it all, we have to cultivate a healthy balance between two important verses from Scripture. Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5). And St. Paul added, “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). I encourage you to sign up for an hour of weekly adoration, and to make time to visit Jesus in the Eucharist every day, maybe before or after work. If a daily visit to church is impossible, then we can carve out time to be with the Lord in our home. This may require creativity amid the distractions of family life, but God wants to encounter us personally and daily. He can produce an abundant miracle with the little that we give to Him. He calls us to become saints, and that begins by spending time with Him each day in prayer. At the end of today’s gospel, after that powerful encounter with Jesus, Peter and his companions “left everything and followed him.” Are we willing to do the same?

A prophet boldly speaks God’s message. A prophet prepares for persecution. Homily for 2/3/2019

Jer 1:4-5, 17-19;  1Cor 12:31-13:13;  Lk 4:21-30

The Old Testament is full of unwilling prophets: Moses complained about a speech impediment, Gideon tested God several times, Jonah tried to run away, and Jeremiah protested that he was too young. But the Lord reassured Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you” (Jer 1:5). His direct calling from God was to be a prophet. Now, prophecy isn’t primarily about foretelling the future, because a prophet first and foremost speaks the Word of God faithfully. That’s why the prophets often began their message with: “Thus says the Lord God…” A prophet is called to speak God’s authentic word to His people. So why were these men so unwilling? Well, the prophets had to deliver a challenging message regarding sin, judgment, and repentance, and so they always faced opposition. Persecution: that was the ultimate sign of being a true prophet from God. The Church links our first reading with today’s gospel because of the similarities between Jeremiah and Jesus. Both men were consecrated from their mother’s womb; both were likened to a sacrificial lamb; both were rejected by their own people; both called out the injustices of the religious leaders and were eventually condemned to death. As Jesus said, “No prophet is accepted in his own native place.” By calling Himself a prophet, Jesus links his destiny to that long line of Old Testament prophets who suffered rejection or violence because of the unpopularity of their message.

            Now what’s all this got to do with us? Well, at our baptism, we were given the privilege and responsibility of being prophets. We were anointed with oil and sent to proclaim the good news about Jesus Christ. God called us and appointed us, like Jeremiah—before we were born—to be a prophet to the nations. A prophet speaks the word of God, regardless of the consequences, even if it makes people uncomfortable. For example, John the Baptist was the greatest of the prophets, and he was so passionate about his message and the conversion of Herod that it cost him his life. Jesus Himself is neither driven—nor intimidated—by public opinion. The people drove him out of the town and wanted to hurl him down headlong. But “Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.” Being a loyal Christian and speaking God’s message today is a risky business. In other countries it might mean physical death or bodily harm. In our own country, it may mean threats, lawsuits, or being ridiculed on social media. Certainly it means being misunderstood. But persecution is nothing new for a follower of Christ. And so, especially in a world where Christian values are unpopular, we’re called to encourage those already on the right path and to call out those who are straying. So don’t be afraid to stand up for the truth. As St. Peter said, “Always be ready to give a defense for the hope that is within you, but do it with gentleness and reverence” (1Pet 3:15). Why did God choose and call us to be prophets? Not because of any accomplishment on our part, but only out of sheer gratuitous love (cf. CCC218).

            A good person can’t stand idly by while injustice prevails, such as when the innocent are slaughtered or mistreated. Today, there’s a profitable business in killing the vulnerable—the executives at Planned Parenthood make a killing in more ways than one—and this enables them to support candidates who perpetuate the slaughter by legislation. Human trafficking and the pornography industry also come to mind as injustices that produce financial gain at the expense of the innocent. So we can never remain silent in the face of evil, even if we might lose a friend or fear being labeled. We need to cultivate firmly-Christian convictions—always with love and respect for others—without encouraging sinful behavior. Ultimately, whatever we do must be done out of love, not to win an argument or to support a political party. Like Jesus at Nazareth, we must be charitable, forgiving, and honest, aware that persecution will be our lot. St. Paul said that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” To love means to will the good of the other. And at the root, that means their eternal good. We may have to say something difficult like: “It’s because I love you that I can’t attend your wedding outside the Catholic Church or support you living with your boyfriend. It’s because I love you that I’m putting filters or limits on technology.” Why do we go to great lengths to try to blend in with a culture that’s so hostile to Christian values? We permit violent video games in the home and then wonder why so much violence occurs in public. We watch TV shows or movies that are harmful for the soul, and justify them because they’re artistically impressive. Our culture hates Christianity and yet we try to appease it by our silence, or worse, by becoming complicit in the evil. But eternal salvation is worth infinitely more than public opinion, a pat on the back, or a five-star parent rating. Nor can we let ridicule derail us from our quest for personal holiness and following the commandments of God.

            Satan has already been working overtime against human life this year—he knows his time is short. After all, January was the anniversary of the tragic Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. And less than one week the New York legislature not only passed but also “celebrated” a sickening abortion law, the Virginia General Assembly proposed a similar law here. The bill rightfully failed, but how horrific that this bill was even introduced in the first place! As Bishop Burbidge rightly noted, “Abortion of a baby in the final stage of pregnancy borders on infanticide.” Not that an earlier-term abortion is any less staggering, but our own governor alluded to the fact that he might be willing to stretch the border even further. We’re seeing an open hatred and disrespect for the inherent goodness of every child. Our bishop continued, “The governor’s statement and this bill demonstrate how far abortion advocates are willing to go in taking the life of a precious child.” At this critical moment in our Church and society, I echo our Bishop’s call “for all the faithful to advocate for the right to life of all people, including the unborn and those children whose lives are at risk even during the process of birth.” We have inform our elected officials where we stand on these issues, and how every human person has the right to life. I encourage you to read the Bishop’s full statement and to subscribe to for more updates.

            If we consider ourselves followers of Christ, then we should courageously prepare for persecution. In fact, we should be ready for the same things that Jesus faced: rejection, persecution, death . . . but then resurrection. Without giving in to sarcasm, hatred, or self-righteousness, we must recall that Christ’s message is exactly that, His message. Therefore, it’s not for ourselves alone, nor should we fear personal rejection, because they’re not rejecting us, but Christ Himself. In the end, “Prophets speak out about injustice, yes—but in the hope that all will repent and be saved by receiving the love of God” (John Bergsma). Or as Jesus Himself said: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). We continue to seek the mercy of God for ourselves, our legislators, and all people in need of conversion.            

In this time above all, God needs you and me to be His prophets, to be bold in speaking the truth, even if other people have closed their minds to it. Remember, we’ve been empowered through baptism, and we’re strengthened with the Eucharist to be heralds of the good news that Jesus Christ suffered, died, and rose from the dead because of his tremendous love for us. Love is a Person, Jesus Christ! And even He chose to become a tiny baby in the womb of His Mother, Mary. By sharing in Christ’s prophetic duty, we become His living witnesses by our example of faith and love, and by offering to God a sacrifice of praise. Will this mission be easy? The tide rises higher, and the threatening clouds grow darker, as the devil’s work goes on around us. Christian values and even common sense itself are under attack. But remember God’s promise to Jeremiah, and by extension, to each one of us: “But you, stand up and tell them all that I command you. Be not crushed on their account as though I would leave you crushed before them . . . I have made you a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass . . . They will fight against you but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord” (Jer 1:17-19).