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The Cross of Christ and the Love of God
Palm Sunday begins the darkest and holiest week in the Christian calendar. It is the week when the power of Satan, sin and death do their worst to destroy Christ and His work. It shows the extent of the love that Jesus has for us and that He is willing to do or suffer ANYTHING to raise us up to Himself. Here are a few of the many lessons in the readings this week:
-Jesus voluntarily chose to be shut out of God’s sight to become one with our fallen nature in order to feel and suffer what we do. By sharing our sinful nature, we will share His glorious nature. By His wounds and love, we are healed. By our sufferings for His Name, others will be healed. The psalm that begins “My God, my God, why have you forgotten me?” ends in triumph and praise! We must understand this divine humility and accept what this divine love requires: our sanctification and holiness
-Jesus bore the sins of the world on the Cross. We must also carry our own cross. Each cross is unique and made of our own trials and sufferings. Each is designed to help our spiritual growth. Our cross is meant to crucify our egos and all that hinders our progress and prevents the flow of the Spirit and eternal life.
-“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Jesus forgave those who hated and crucified Him. He forgave Judas and would even forgive Satan if Satan would only accept it! We must do the same. We MUST forgive and pray for our enemies if we are to grow spiritually. It is mandatory.
-Although nearly all of Christ’s friends and disciples abandoned Him when push came to shove, these same weak and cowardly humans became those powerhouses that spread the word of God and willingly gave their lives to the Lord. They tested the extent of His forgiveness and it changed their lives. The same is true for us. We are slowly being transformed into the likeness of Christ.
-When Jesus shouted from the Cross: “It is finished!” it was a shout of triumph, not resignation that His life and sufferings were over. He knew that He had run His race and that salvation was ours. He knew that Satan was a conquered enemy. Satan knew it too.
What custom made cross am I to carry? Can I learn to experience joy in my cross knowing that it will lead to my sanctification if I let it? In what ways am I being transformed into the likeness of Christ? When my earthly life ends, will I be able to shout triumphantly: “It is finished!”? Do I take comfort in the fact that the disciples that knew Christ abandoned Him and were weak beings like me? Can I begin to pray for and forgive Osama Bin Ladin, the Taliban and Al Quaeda?
Do Others Recognize Jesus In Me?
In many of the Gospel accounts, Jesus is not recognized at first. Somehow, He looks different and not the same as He was when in the flesh. Soon, however, He is recognized through his personality, character, deeds and Spirit. He is also recognized in the breaking of the bread---the Eucharist.
The Lord’s Meal reverses the effects of the “apple” in the Garden of Eden. There the disobeying of the divine command brought a breaking of contact with God, thus, the onset of a spiritual nakedness. The Lord’s Meal allows us to recognize God in those around us, in the world and to begin becoming spiritually clothed again as Christ fills our spirits.
How is the presence of Jesus in a life manifested? Look at Peter in today’s reading for an example. He changed from being a coward who denied Christ three times (someone like me) to become a powerful temple of the Holy Spirit who was able to inspire 3,000 people to be baptized in one day! (Talk about a good stump speech and sermon!) The effect of the presence of Jesus in the early Church was a unity of Spirit that was joyful, prayerful and generous to the point of selling ones possessions to help those who were in need. They were devoted to the Church leaders, the Community, the prayers and the breaking of bread.
In the end, Jesus can look like anyone; including you and me!!!
Do others recognize the Lord in me? Do others come to me for comfort, prayer and to help build their faith? Who in my life do I recognize as being with Jesus? Do I recognize Christ in the breaking of the bread? Is my contact with Jesus through the Church making me a more joyful, p
How Strong Is My Faith?
Doubt hinders faith and implies a lack of trust in Jesus, His power and His resurrection.. Doubts delay the good intended for us. The children of Israel would have entered the Promised Land much sooner if their fears and doubts did not continuously drive them back into the wilderness. If Christians had faithfully lived their faith, the world might already be converted and Jesus may have already returned in glory.
That being said, I am grateful to the Apostle Thomas (Doubting Thomas) for demanding tangible proof of Jesus’ resurrection before he would believe. Thomas is a modern, hard headed, “show me” kind of a person! His doubts help give me confidence in my faith.
While looking for reasonable assurance of the truth of Christ’s resurrection is understandable and expected of thinking beings with free will, we can’t expect God to reveal Himself in a truly scientific manner to remove all doubts. While science is not the enemy of faith, I must not look to science to prove my faith. For example, my faith tells me that God created life while science gives me some hints on how He did it. Why would faith, something so critical to our salvation and growth, be needed at all if there is scientific certainty of the resurrection? The testimony of those who knew Jesus before and after his resurrection (including more than 500 people who experienced Him at one time) and the revealing of the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives are what should be expected.
For many in our secular world no amount of proof would ever be enough to have faith. It is the curse of the secular world view and has been around for thousands of years. As recorded in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk 16: 19-31) Abraham says that those who will not listen to the testimony of Moses and the Prophets would not be convinced even if someone were to rise from the dead. My doubts must have limits or I will have no faith.
What are the doubts to my faith in Christ? Do I expect to have absolute proof of my faith? What do I do to cultivate my faith and reduce my doubts? (Pray?, Read Scripture?, Meditate?, Spend time with Christians?, Act in faith?,
!Dare To Be Audacious!
God tells Abraham: Even though you are 75 years old, your life is just beginning! Get up and move to a country you have never seen! You and Sarah will have children as numerous as the stars even if you are both 100 years old! All nations will bless themselves by you! Abraham got up and went….. THAT is faith! The rest is salvation history.
Jesus tells Nicodemus: No one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above through the Spirit! Those of the Spirit will be like the wind. They will be and move mysteriously and have the power to move mountains both physical and spiritual! Then Jesus says the most audacious thing imaginable: God so loves the world that He sent Me so that all will not die but have eternal life! Eternal life is now and we are called to act the eternal life in the present. Jesus shows us how.
How is it done? Act through faith! Dare to believe the seemingly impossible good meant for your life and those around you can actually happen! Live life in the large sense since the actions of your life can be eternal even though you may only live a few more years! Take the types of risks that will require you (and others, through example) to grow spiritually! Believe in the power of prayer! Believe that you, like Abraham, are called to be a blessing and that the example of your life in Christ will bless future generations! Be filled with the Divine Audacity!
What steps can I take to begin my real life? What is holding me back? What mountains need to be moved? Will I dare to pray that this happens? Act now!
? Are You Ready to Be Resurrected?
Many have had partial resurrection experiences. Loosing one’s eyesight, getting it back and realizing the amazing color of the sky and stained glass is one. Recovering from chemical addiction and depression and feeling the newness of life within, a rebirth experience, is another. Some have had near death experiences or have recovered miraculously from critical illness and have discovered the meaning of their lives for the first time. Resurrection experiences require that we have in some ways died.
Ezekiel and his vision of the dry bones talks about the spiritual resurrection of the Jewish people after the Babylonian captivity. Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead restores a man to physical life (as did Elisha in the OT and St. Paul). Lazarus will physically die again. But, thank God, that is not the end of the story!
Jesus Himself IS the gateway to life everlasting and the resurrection! He has the power to give eternal life: those who die will still live and those who are alive will never die! Jesus calls us from sin and death to uprightness and life. His Spirit enables us to be and do what we could never be or do on our own. It is all a free gift! All we need do is accept it. Jesus wept for Lazarus, he now weeps fro us. Jesus calls us from our tombs: “Unbind (insert your name) and let (him/her) go free!”
In what ways have I had resurrection experiences? In what ways am I still dead? Am I ready to be and do what Jesus wants me to be and do in my resurrected life? Am I ready to emerge from the tomb.
In What Areas of My Life and In What Circumstances Am I Blind?
We all have our blind spots and tend not to see reality as it is. Much of it is self-induced to avoid pain and to fit into our culture. Today’s readings teach several lessons regarding spiritual light and darkness.
-God does not see as humans do. We see appearances while God looks within to see what is in our heart: motives, desires, ego delusions and darkness (self-blindness).
-Jesus came to bring sight to the blind and blindness to those who think that they see clearly. Avoiding the light of Christ makes our darkness even deeper. If we are not careful, our self-delusions will make us creatures of darkness.
-We become beings of the light by being willing to have the harsh but purifying spot light of Christ’s truth penetrate us and burn away the corrosion of our ego darkness.
-Once we are cleansed by the light, we will become reflected light of Christ and expose the darkness of what is in the world. This will not necessarily make us beloved by many.
-The first step to become a creature of the light is to admit to ourselves, God and another human being (thus the need for Confession) our darkness and blindness. By admitting our blindness, we will loose our guilt, shame and begin to change. By denying our darkness, our guilt will remain and our darkness will become deeper.
What areas of my life do I not want to be an “open book”? How do I judge others by appearances? In what ways do I try to hide my blindness? (For example, I tend to judge others for characteristics in myself that I don’t want to see.)
He is Risen! Live the Risen Life!
(Adapted from God Calling by Two Listeners)
As Jesus rose from the grave, we are to rise from all that hinders the risen life within and around us. The risen life is one of beauty, holiness, joy, peace and work inspired by love. Our thinking and actions are to show that we have risen from death to life.
Death was the last enemy destroyed by Christ so, with death, the victory of Jesus is complete. There is nothing to fear. Sin is conquered and forgiven as you live and move and work with Christ. All that depresses you, all that you fear, are powerless to harm you. They are phantoms. The real forces were conquered by Jesus in the wilderness, in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the Cross and in the Tomb.
Let nothing hinder your risen life. Rise from your fears and go out into the sunlight to meet your risen Lord! Each day will have much in it that you will meet in either the spirit of the resurrection or the spirit of the tomb. Deliberately choose the one and reject the other.
Christ lays His hands on you in blessing. Wait in love and longing to feel their tender pressure, and, as you wait, courage and hope will flow into your being, irradiating your lives with the warm sun of His presence. Unclasp your hands of your earth-treasures so that you may receive from the Lord’s hand the Easter Sacrament of eternal life..
How can I live the risen life? How can I reject the thinking of the tomb? As I go out to meet my risen Lord, what do I want to say to Him? What do I think He will say to me?
What do I need to let go of in order to receive what the Lord wants to give me? Will I spend time waiting quietly before the Lord to hear what He has to say?
What Do You Thirst For? Does It Satisfy?
In both the OT and Gospel readings today Israel in the desert and Jesus at the Samaritan well need water to quench a physical thirst. Today, however, much of the world is not thirsty for water but for something much deeper but just as real. People thirst for meaning in a world and culture that is large on consumerism and self-centeredness and short on a poverty of choice and self-forgetfulness. People try to find meaning in the usual sources that have always failed: possessions, power, lust, pleasure and greed to name but a few. There is also a strong thirst to avoid pain, suffering and responsibility.
Jesus makes it clear where the water that truly quenches comes from: association with Him. By being fed by His Holy Spirit we will find our deepest thirsts satisfied. This does not mean that we will not suffer in order to grow. Jesus promises heart-rest but not leisure, comfort and not pleasure. But, remember what Paul says in today’s readings. Let us exalt in our hardships understanding that hardships develop perseverance and perseverance develops a tested character, something that will give us hope and a hope that will not let us down because the love of God has been poured into our hearts.
What do I thirst for? (Recognizing that you are thirsty and being willing to determine what will satisfy it in the long run is a necessary first step.) Am I willing to simplify my wants and desires and to accept a sufficiency that will satisfy? Am I willing to loose my hold on a meaningless self-sufficiency in order to obtain the real treasure?
By Who’s Light Do You Shine??
Jesus says that we are the light of the world and that our light MUST shine so that others may see the Body of Christ in action, be saved and give glory to God through a changed life. But, by who’s light are we to shine??
Until recent centuries, mankind believed that the moon generated its own light. It isn’t much light but it is enough to guide our feet at night. The truth is, however, remove the sun and, the real source of light, and the moon is dark and gives no guidance. It is as dead as can be. It is only to the extent that the moon reflects the sun’s glory that it will shine with a beauty all its own. A beauty to guide our feet.
Psalm 27 says that the Lord MUST be our light and salvation. We must reflect His glory if we are to have any glory at all since we are His creation and any glory of ours is a reflection of His handiwork and love.
Reflecting His glory can change the world! We must do whatever is necessary to enable us to shine. Much of what reduces our radiance is the darkness of our ego and self-will. All my self-will will show others is greed, pride, self-centerdness and a whole host of other unlovely traits that I would like to hide from myself and others.
By reflecting God’s glory, He will make my feet as light as a does and set my steps on the heights. He will hide me under His roof and set my feet on a high rock; high enough to provide more reflected glory to light the path of others.
Who’s light do I reflect? What must I do to remove the mud and other dirt that keeps my light from shining? Am I willing to start working at this cleansing?
Am I Willing to Go Beyond the Written Law??
Developing legislation is difficult. The written law always has unintended consequences and loopholes are inadvertently (or not) created. According to the lawyers I worked with, there is no such thing as the “spirit” of the law, the written law is what must be dealt with or amended to a new written law. One cannot enforce the spirit of the law, only the letter.
Religious matters experience the same tension between spirit and letter. Much of the law in the Old Testament is based on case law and developed by religious lawyers. Laws were written that, logically, could be enforced since they had to do with behavior.
Jesus had a problem with this. He insisted that the spirit of the law, whether one’s motives are in accord with the desired physical outcome, is at least as important as the behavior. One can act lawfully while being lawless and chaotic within. (One name for them is People of the Lie and may be considered a definition of evil. Some of those who had Jesus crucified scrupulously followed the letter of the law.)
According to Paul, our “natural inclinations” are not good; they are prone to jealousy and rivalry. Ben Sirah in Ecclesiasticus notes that God gave us free will, and, if we choose, we can be loyal and obey the law of God. The psalmist indicates the work and commitment required to obey God’s law.
The law that Jesus preached cannot be expressed fully in writing since acting in a loving manner, doing what is best for the spiritual growth of oneself and others, is often case specific. It requires the work of the Holy Spirit to change my inner being and guide me into the proper response in the given situation.
Am I willing to move beyond the written law and work toward major interior change? Am I willing to do the hard work of growing into a truly loving person? Will I choose water or fire, life or death? Choose life today!
Are You Ready to Be a Citizen of the Kingdom of God?
Micah the prophet says that you already know what the Lord wants from you: to do what is right, to love loyalty and to walk humbly with your God. Jesus describes the faithful person in the Beatitudes as one who is poor in spirit, meek (or humble), merciful, clean hearted, a peacemaker and willing to be persecuted for the sake of doing what is right.
The words “poor in spirit” and “meek/humble” don’t resonate well in our society and smack of self-deprecation and the willingness to be a door mat for others who are not meek. In fact, these terms really mean accepting yourself honestly for what you are: a unique creation of God with skills and talents to be developed and used for the benefit of others as well as yourself. God, like a good parent, wants what is best for you and knows that acceptance of His will for you will give you fulfillment and joy. The opposite of these qualities is pride/willfulness which is the king of sins and is what drove Satan, the most splendid and beautiful of God’s creations, from His presence.
The acceptance of God’s will for you will enable you to inherit the Kingdom, be shown mercy, be contented, to see God and, in fact, be called His son/daughter.
Giving up pride and self-centeredness is the key. Are you willing to unlock the door to all that God desires for you? Are you willing to assess yourself honestly? Are you willing to leave the baggage of your ego and walk into the Kingdom? Are you ready to begin living your true life as a citizen of the Kingdom?
An Action Plan for Christian Discipleship
Repent---Be willing to listen, willing to learn, willing to change.
Listen for the Voice of the Lord--- He will tell you to: “Follow me” in a way that is tailored to your personality, skills, talents, spiritual gifts and station in life.
Respond quickly to the Voice---- Pray, meditate, read the Word, talk with other Christians to help discern/confirm the message. Then act quickly! (Obeying the written Word, including modifying our assumptions about money, is a mandatory first step.)
Observe the Results--- Jesus said we would do the same works he did: teaching, proclaiming, healing and other works of the spirit. The works would insure unity within the Body of Christ and not factions. (Note that there are now several thousand denominations!) As members of the Body of Christ you are to be in agreement in what you profess so that you are perfectly united in your beliefs and judgements. Creating more Churches is not the answer.
Be willing to Re-pent again and return to (1) above if your actions are not promoting unity within the Church--- Repenting is a continuous process and not a single action. Follow the love! (It isn’t a fuzzy feeling and may not feel good at all.)
Am I willing to listen and follow the Lord’s plans for my life and Church?
Am I Ready to Follow the Good Shepherd?
Jesus is the Good Shepherd and the Gate leading us to eternal life. He leads His flock and they follow His voice. He leads them to safe pasture and abundant life. He will lay down His life for his flock.
How does one follow the voice of the Shepherd? Deacon Stephen is a perfect example of how it is done. He is empowered with the power of Jesus. Like Jesus, he performs miracles and attacks untruth and evil. Like Jesus, he is accused by false witnesses. Like Jesus, he has a vision of the glorified Christ. Like Jesus, he is murdered for blasphemy. Like Jesus, he forgives his murderers. Like Jesus, he commends his spirit to God with his last breath.
Jesus died in His early 30’s. St. Stephen was probably about the same age. Jesus’ idea of a safe pasture and an abundant life are obviously not those of the world! Evil will not appreciate having someone shine a bright light to expose its motives, deeds and sin. If possible, it will destroy the evidence (Jesus and Stephen) rather than examine its beliefs and actions, repent and be healed.
While most Christians are not called to the martyrdom of Jesus and Stephen, we are all called to die to ourselves and confront the evil in our lives. The truth is, following the Shepherd may give us a shorter and unpopular (by the world’s definition) life here in the world. But it will be a life of meaning and a life that will bring life to others. Eternal life, the real life, will also be ours.
How do we respond?; with the words of the 23rd Psalm. The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing. Even were I to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil for You are with me. Surely Your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall live in the house of the Lord forever.
Do I expect that following Jesus will make my life easy? Am I willing to follow the Good Shepherd even if it required that I have a life like St. Stephen’s? Am I willing to die to myself? Am I willing to confront the evil in my life?
Are You Sure That What You Are Praying For Is Best?
Jesus said: “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do (Jn: 14:15)”. We have all prayed for outcomes and have seemingly received the exact opposite or it seems that nothing at all happens. How can this be explained? The words of Jesus must be taken in the context of the whole Gospel message. The following are a few of the points to consider:
-Faith is the only requirement to accomplish mighty deeds. It banishes evil, overcomes adverse circumstances and accomplishes all good in our lives. Works are necessary to express and activate our faith in Jesus.
-We must live in Christ. Once we live in Christ, to dwell on the material calls it into being. We must think only what will help, not hinder, our spiritual growth.
-Seek first the Kingdom and all else will be given to you. To attain the material, redouble your efforts to attain the spiritual.
-Pass on what you receive to bless others. Not passing on a blessing causes a stagnation that will result in a blockage to receiving further blessings.
-God can give physical blessings to all but spiritual blessings can only be distributed based on the condition of the individual. God does not dare give spiritual powers until we are ready. It would cause harm. This is one of the reasons why the goodness of our lives is so important.
-God answers prayer as quickly as possible but because our lives are so intertwined, seeming delay must occur to harmonize all in God’s plan.
-Agreeing to pray with others for something is not the same as agreeing that, without any doubts, it is the best thing to do and in accord with God’s will.
What must I do to increase my faith? What actions can I take to express my faith? If my thoughts were all to come true, would I bring only good into the world? Do I have blockages to blessings in my life? What must I do to resolve them? Am I too impatient to wait for the answer to my prayers? Am I too set on a specific outcome? Are my doubts hindering the blessings in my life?
Do You See the Hand of the Creator in Nature?
Nature has always been one of the great inspirations for leading people to God as they see the hand of the Creator in the created. Today’s readings from the Psalms and Acts highlight this path to faith. In Acts, Paul talks to the philosophers of Athens in language they would understand. He indicates that through one principle, God created the human race and all that is. God gave us a sense of the passing of time and wonder so that we may seek for and find Him since in Him we live and move and have our being. Psalm 148 is a Cosmic Hymn of Praise showing all created reality praising God in their own ways.
Nature has a strong pull for me to discover God and I have had some of my most memorable and meaningful experiences being in the mountains or at the seashore:
“Blessed be the Father,
Maker of sun, sand and sea,
Without whom these would not be.
He is the Bond between the Word of God and the Wind of God.
Honor to the Holy Spirit,
The Sustainer and Sanctifier of Life,
Without whom neither dolphin nor dove would exist.
The Spirit bridges the breach between God-Man and Ground of Being
Praise to the Son,
The Redeemer and Ransomer of Existence,
Without whom there would be no consciousness of wonder or praise.
He is the Joy and Laughter between the Creator of Life and the Breath of Life.
Glory to Father, Son and Spirit,
Lover of all that is,
Who makes all Whole and One.”
Do you see the hand of God in nature? What parts of nature speak to you? What do they say about the Creator? The warm sun and clean air are two of God’s greatest healers. Try to spend more time outdoors!.
Torn Between Two Loves
Today’s reading from the Gospel of John shows Jesus praying for His beloved disciples (including you and me) and, at the same time, yearning to go home to His Father. He is torn between two worlds and two loves. He loves humanity enough to die for while He is a sojourner here but longs to return to His real home and family. He says that unless He goes home, He will not be able to send the Holy Spirit to be with us. It is almost as if the Father can’t bear to be away from both of His family members (Jesus and the Holy Spirit) at the same time.
In a human sense, it is like the Patriarch Jacob being unwilling to let his son Benjamin go to Egypt since he believes that his son Joseph is dead and he could not bare to be without both of them at the same time (Gn 42:36-38).
In some mysterious way, by raising us to Himself, we will fill the longing of His own humanity and the heart of the Father to be loved. They long to take us to their home forever.
Am I torn between this world and the next? Do I long to go to my real home? How do I feel about the fact that both Jesus and the Father want to be loved for who they are and not just for what they can do for us? (Does this sound familiar?) Do I spend time with Jesus just to be in His presence and not to ask for anything?
God Gave the Gift of the Holy Spirit on the Church’s Birthday
Pentecost is the birthday of the Church; the day the Lord Jesus kept His promise by sending the Holy Spirit to be with us in His stead. The Holy Spirit reverses the impact of the confusion of language and the separation of peoples resulting from the pride of the Tower of Babel (Gn 11:1-9). It promotes unity by, for example, allowing St. Peter’s preaching of the Gospel to be understood by persons of many languages (Acts 2:1-11).
The Spirit of unity is what holds the Church, the Body of Christ, together. But within that unit is a diversity of gifts given to us for our own joy, growth and to build up the Church. As St. Paul said: There are different gifts but one spirit; there are many ways of serving but the same Lord; there are many activities but it is the same God acting in all.
God gives specific gifts to specific Church members as the Church has need of them. The gifts may not be obvious and require discernment to identify. In any event, it will require work on our part to develop and use them. If we don’t do this, God will remove the gift from us and give it to another who will blossom and yield fruit for the Kingdom. If you haven’t already done so, please begin exploring and using your God-given gifts! It may require a few risks but Jesus guarantees that you will be blessed in the process and find joy and fulfillment in your life.
What are my spiritual gifts? How can I use them to build up myself and the Church? Am I willing to take some leaps of faith? Am I willing to work with others to help discern and use my gifts? Am I willing to work with others to help them discern and use their gifts?
The Mystery of the Holy Trinity
The Holy Trinity is one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith. That is good! A God that I could fully understand would be too small and not be a God at all. It would be something created in my image and not the other way around.
Saints and theologians have been trying to figure out the Trinity for 2,000 years. Saint Augustine, one of the great Fathers of the early Church, spent a lot of thought and time trying to put the Trinity into philosophical and logical human language but wasn’t getting very far. One day, he had a dream. He was walking along an ocean shoreline and saw a little boy with a bucket walking up to the ocean, filling the bucket with water, walking back to a hole he had made and pouring in the water. Augustine asked the boy what he was doing. The boy said he was trying to empty the ocean. Augustine told him that was impossible and that he was wasting his time. The little boy replied: It is just as impossible for you to try to fully understand the Holy Trinity!
Sometimes metaphorical language and the physical creation are as far as we can go in describing this mystery:
“God is an ocean shore of sand, wind and sea,
all very different but makes one shore of the three.
The Father, the solid Rock of Creation, is the Ground of Being,
He is the maker of bolder and sand.
The Father is silent-barely a whispering sound,
as the Ocean and Wind embrace all around.
The Son, the Water of Life, is the liquid ocean,
Caressing the Rock and Wind with devotion,
The roaring waves beckon: Come!.
The Spirit if the airy Wind,
tinged with the salty tang of healing and holiness,
loving both Beach and Ocean as He blows,
Where?—Only God knows!
Without each: breath, wave and sea,
like Father, Son and Spirit,
neither shore, nor God, would be.”
Is the Trinity a hindrance to my faith? What is the best way for me to understand the Trinity? Are you glad that there is mystery in the Christian faith? Would you want to have a “god” that you could fully comprehend and have “in your hip pocket”?
Do I Trust God?
(Adapted from God Calling by Two Listeners)
Jesus teaches much about trusting in God, especially in today’s Gospel reading. The following are a few of the spiritual realities to help build your faith and trust.
-Do not be too ready to “do”; just “be”! Jesus said “Be ye perfect.” He did not say to do perfect things.
-Cultivate silence! and wait before God since God speaks in silence.
-The Lord made each of us as a master instrument maker makes a musical instrument. He would not ask of you anything that would destroy or strain. The strain comes only when you are serving another master such as the world, fame or the good opinion of others, or, carrying two day’s burden on one day.
-Give thanks to God! even in seeming trials and worries. You cannot learn all of your lessons without them. They are necessary either for yourselves or those around you.
-Crucify the self-life! Every blow to the “self” is used to shape the real, eternal, imperishable you.
-Claim the Lord’s power! The same power He used to cast out devils is yours today. Use it. Otherwise it will be withdrawn.
-The Lord is your guide! Do not want to see the road ahead. Go one step at a time. The Lord rarely grants the long view to His disciples, especially in personal affairs. Faith is best cultivated one step, one day, at a time.
-Complete surrender of every moment to God is the foundation of happiness! The superstructure is the joy of Communion with Him. This is the House He is preparing for you.
-Be not afraid! It is to the drowning man that the rescuer comes. To the brave swimmer who can fare well alone, he comes not. Jesus waits until the storm is at its most violent before He rescues. This is meant to instill strength, confidence, joyful dependence and anticipation.
-You are not at the mercy of fate or buffeted by others! You are being led in a very definite way, and those who do not serve your purpose are being moved out of your path. Often the Lord will go before you to soften a heart here, to over-rule an event there.
-Don’t rely too much on feelings! They change like the weather.
-Nothing is by chance! Sacrifice and suffering are redemptive with the right attitude and are used to teach the individual or to raise or help others.
How much do I trust God? Do I spend enough time listening to God? Do I thank God for trials? Fear is an evil ally and the Lord never uses it to get His way. Do I use fear to control others? How can I cultivate living one day at a time? What power of God do I need to claim? Can I tell the difference between my ego and the Lord’s prompting?
Is the Kingdom of God Bigger Than I Think?
God is a God of mercy who wants all to be saved. He shows no partiality and will not be kept in anyone’s “hip pocket”. The Jewish people thought they had God all to themselves (in a “lock box”) but salvation history shows otherwise. They were temporarily estranged from God because they were rebellious and not doing God’s will. God was particularly harsh on them because He had shown so much of Himself to them and they still killed prophets and acted idolatrously. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus gives the same warning to Christians: It isn’t those who call on God that will enter the Kingdom but those that do the will of the Father. He will tell many Christians (as he told the Jews), even those who perform miracles and cast out demons in His name: I never knew you. Depart from me!
According to St. Paul (Romans 2: 12-16), when those who do not have the written Law behave, through their inner sense, as the Law dictates, they are a law unto themselves. They have demonstrated that the Law is engraved on their hearts as the New Covenant was predicted by the Prophets (Jerimiah 31: 31-34). Many gentiles evidently fit into this category during Paul’s time. Today, many others (of non-Christian faith or those who have no faith) may be in the same category. They may be doing the will of the Father none-the-less. Can I be absolutely sure they are not? They may not have the full Christian truth but does that mean that their beliefs contain no truth that I can learn from?
If not all who call on the Lord will enter the Kingdom, will there be those who do not call on the (Christian) Lord that will? The answer, I pray, is: yes. The “spiritual” Church is much larger than our buildings and organizational structure! God willing, all will enter the Kingdom of Heaven and none be excluded. None of us is perfect but, hopefully, we are all “good goats”.
Does being a Christian make me prideful? Do I think I have God fully understood? Am I rebellious? Am I sure I am doing God’s will? Do I pray that all people will enter God’s Kingdom? Do I pray for those of other faiths and those of no faith? Can I learn anything from these non-Christians?
Am I a Person of Integrity?
The Lord makes it abundantly clear in today’s readings that while outward worship and actions are good, they must be preceded by interior (spiritual) worship and action. Beyond sacrifice and other rituals, the Lord wants mercy, fidelity, knowledge “of” God (not just “about” God), thanksgiving and integrity. The Lord wants our “insides” (our character and motives) to match our “outsides” (what others see).
While we may at times change our insides by first changing our outsides, ultimately we want our spirit to control our actions. For example, Jesus wants us to be spiritual givers first and worldly givers second. We are to give of our prayers, thoughts and love first. We are then to give of the world’s goods, including money, as they are given to us.
Jesus was very tough on those Pharisees who were self-righteous, critical of others and refused to discern that they were wounded and needed a spiritual doctor like everyone else. To avoid doing the same we must give to all whom God sends to us. We are to give according to what is needed, not according to what is “deserved” or on their relationship to us.
Jesus comes to those that are in need of a spiritual doctor and are willing to face up to that fact. He doesn’t come to the self-satisfied.
Am I satisfied with my own holiness and attitude toward “sinners”? Am I in need of spiritual help? Do I give enough of my time and prayers to others? Am I a person of integrity? What do I need to ask the Lord to heal me of? As with physical surgery, am I willing to face the pain of spiritual treatment?
We Are A Kingdom of Priests!
In both the Old and New Testaments the people of God are to be a kingdom of priests, a chosen race, a holy nation, a people to be the personal possession of the Lord’s. While in the Old Testament priests were a group of men chosen to offer sacrifices to Yahweh, in the New Testament only Jesus is called a priest because of His self-sacrifice. While we were still estranged from God, Jesus chose to die for us to prove the depth of His love. Jesus expects us to follow Him and do what He did for those whom He leads to us. Today’s Gospel reading gives a clear picture of what He expects of us. We are to teach/proclaim the Good News, shepherd the lost, cure disease, cast out devils and even raise the dead! He will empower us use these and other spiritual gifts as He gave it to his disciples when they were ready.
How are we to become ready? Do not trust in your own power to provide for yourself. Learn to trust God to provide by living one day at a time. Pray for an increase in faith. Use your current gifts and resources for the glory of God. Be obedient and humble as you use the gifts since we are only messengers for Christ. While the laborer is worth his wage, we are not to use our gifts only for money (i.e. to provide only for those who can afford it).
Do I accept the fact that I am to be a member of a kingdom of priests? Am I learning to recognize the gifts that the Lord has given me to use for the benefit of others? Am I learning to be ready?
Are You Becoming A Christ-like Person?
The prophet Jeremiah is probably the most beloved and Christ-like person in the Old Testament. God knew him and called him to be a prophet from his mother’s womb.
His fidelity to the Lord caused him suffering and hardship his whole life until he was finally murdered in his old age by his own countrymen in Egypt. He had the most amazing and intimate conversations with the Lord, as if talking face-to-face. After his death he became the “patron saint” of Israel, loving and praying for his people and Jerusalem (2Mac 15: 14-16).
Jesus makes it clear that His disciples will be treated in the same way that He was treated. If the religious leaders and people called Him a devil, we will experience the same. If He experienced ridicule, hatred and all that goes with that, we should be prepared for the same. Since Jesus was murdered to silence Him, His followers should expect to have to die to themselves in many ways whether or not we will be murdered for the Name of Jesus. Jesus gives a warning: We must not disown Him before men or He will disown us before the angels.
But Jesus encourages us on! We are not to be afraid of those who can only kill the body. The Father loves us and knows us so well that even the hairs on our heads have been counted! The Spirit will empower us to speak the words of Jesus when the time is right.
We will be given all that is necessary in this life plus life everlasting!
Am I becoming Christ-like? Am I willing to suffer for my faith? Is my faith more important to me than anything the world has to offer? Am I willing to die to this life, myself and this culture to have a meaningful risen life here and now?
Jesus Is A Radical!
The old hymn about a sweet, meek and mild Jesus is not about the Jesus of the Gospels! He said that He did not come to bring peace, but a sword! Families would be torn apart because of Him—even putting each other to death! When told that His mother and brother wanted to see Him, He made it clear that He considered His real family those who listen and obey the word of God! He said that if you weren’t willing to give up everything that you hold dear, you were not worthy of Him! Jesus called the religious leaders of his day hypocrites who loved money and were like white-washed tombs filled with the bones of dead men and all kinds of corruption and rottenness! Jesus hung out with prostitutes, tax collectors, Samaritans, lepers and all who were considered unclean and rejected by Jewish society. (Today He would hang out with the Taliban and Al Quaeda members!) He criticized the holiness code, the temple sacrifice, the priesthood, the morals and the pretentious, prideful attitudes of His people. He did not try to free His people from Roman rule but instead said the Jews should love their oppressors! He said that the temporal powers should be given what was appropriate and even beyond—going two miles with a Roman soldier if pressed into service instead of only the traditional one mile! One should turn the other cheek if treated unjustly for His name. Jesus, like Jeremiah, was put to death partly because He was considered a traitor who was disruptive of society and because it was the only way to shut Him up!
The real Jesus has always been a radical and, sadly, too radical to be taken at His word by 2,000 years of society including our own. Real Christianity has rarely, if ever, been tried!
Are you willing to follow a radical Jesus? Am I too comfortable with the status quo in my family, Church and society? What is this radical Jesus calling you to do today? What is He calling the Church to do today? What needs to change in our society? How am I to get involved?
Am I Becoming More Child-Like As I Age?
Jesus reveals the Kingdom of God to the child-like (not the childish). It is so important that unless we become like children we shall not enter the Kingdom. I’ve always found it interesting (and tragic) that we tend to loose our child-like qualities to get on in the “Real World” and then, as we age, we need to return to what we once were. Here are some thoughts from God Calling by Two Listeners that hint at the importance of our Great Return to the child -heart.
-Seek in every way to become child-like. Seek until you find, until the years have added to your nature that of the trusting child. Not only for its simple trust must you copy the child-spirit, but for its joy of life, its readiness to laugh, its lack of criticism, its desire to share with all.
-When a loving child is by you is the nearness only that you may provide protection and help for that little one? Rather, too, that in that little child you may find joy, cheer and comfort in its simplicity, its love, its trust. So too is it in your power to comfort and bring joy to the heart of Jesus and your Father.
-Do you not know what it means to feel a little trusting hand in yours, to know a child’s confidence? Does that not draw out your desire to love and protect? Think what the Lord’s heart feels when, in your helplessness, you turn to Him, clinging and desiring His love and protection. Would you fail that child, faulty and weak as you are? Could the Lord fail you? Know that it is not possible!
-Bow in anticipation as a child bows in anticipation of a glad surprise being prepared for it by one who loves it. Bow in such a way just waiting to hear the loving word to raise your head and see the wonder and joy of your surprise!
Psalm 131 says it all: Lord, my heart is not haughty. I do not set my sights too high. I have taken no part in great affairs, in wonders beyond my scope. No, I hold myself in quiet and silence, like a little child in its mother’s arms, like a little child, so I will keep myself.
What do I need to do to become more child-like? How can I help the children in my life to keep their beautiful natures?
How Do I Need to Cultivate Myself?
The Lord sends His blessings equitably to all of us like the rain and seed that fall on a field. However, we will only grow from the blessings and pass them on to others to the extent that we have done the footwork of preparing ourselves to receive it.
Jesus talks about the different types of soil that the seed of God’s Word may fall on as if they refer to different types of people. While this is true, it also characterizes me at different points of my life. When I have heard the Word without doing the work of meditating and applying it to my life, I have lost it and the benefit it would have been to me and those around me. There have been times when the pursuit of pleasures and riches have choked the Word that was planted in my heart. At other times, the need to fit in and be accepted by my peers has caused me to harden my heart and fall away. Also, thank God, there are times when I am receptive and the seed in me may blossom to produce fruit that will last. I pray that, over time, my self-cultivation will make me increasingly receptive to God’s grace even though I know that at times I may become parched or stony.
I know that God’s Word will not return to Him void but will accomplish that for which it was sent. If I am unfruitful, God will pass on the blessings to others that are prepared for them.
What type of soil does my heart consist of right now? Is my heart capable of accepting the seed of the Word and producing good fruit? What do I need to do to make myself more receptive and fruitful?
Do I Want to “Pull Weeds” In My Church?
If I try to eliminate all that is evil and sinful in my Church, will anyone (including me) be left? Remember, Jesus was always associated with sinners and those needing a doctor. If I want to be where Jesus is, I need to be with and love the sinful, the weak, the outcast, the despised….in short, the human. Jesus became human to love and redeem our nature.
The parable of the “Wheat and the Weeds” should be taken in the context of the rest of Scripture especially similar parables of decision such as the “Prodigal Son” (Luke 15:11-32), the “Friend at Midnight” (Luke 11:5-8) and the “The Two Sons” (Matthew 21:28-32).
The Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds makes the point that the Church, like the world itself, is a mix of good and bad. The disciple should not be discouraged by this but be confident that God’s grace will triumph and evil will be vanquished in God’s own good time. The refusal of the householder to allow the slaves to separate the wheat from the weeds while they are still growing is a warning to the disciple not to anticipate the final judgment of God by a definitive exclusion of “sinners” from the Kingdom. The judgment of God alone will eliminate evil. Until then, there must be patience and the preaching of repentance. We should all pray that love and mercy will triumph over judgment with others and ourselves!
Do I want to create a “pure” Church by eliminating those who disagree with me? How would I feel if I were “weeded out” of the Church? Do I think that being “weeded out” would help my spiritual growth? When I recognize that I am becoming judgmental, what should I do?
What Is the Kingdom of Heaven Like?
“As your word unfolds, it gives light and even the simple understand.” (Psalm 119:130)
The Kingdom, like Life itself, is a mysterious and growing entity. Like a small seed, it contains everything necessary to flourish once it has been planted in good soil. It then becomes a shelter and home for lost souls (as like birds). Like yeast, it modifies its environment and causes everything around to be lifted up and risen like Jesus lifting creation to Himself. Like a developing pearl, it may appear worthless until it matures like a blessing left by someone and waiting to be discovered in one’s heart. Like a dragnet, the Kingdom brings in all, but unlike the world, there is no waste in nature since God created no junk! God will use all of creation. The only part of nature that has the power to frustrate God’s purpose is humanity with its free will.
Does it take wisdom to discern the true worth of the Kingdom? Yes, the wisdom of the little child and not the world. This is the wisdom that sees the hand of a loving father in all things. The wisdom that realizes that even in lowly circumstances, the Kingdom that is planted in one’s soul will blossom into absolute beauty and perfection like a bud, a bird and a baby. Once planted and watered with Love and the Word it will grow by its own life force and nothing will stop the blessing it will mature into. Nothing, that is, except my own pride and heard heartedness.
Do I perceive the Kingdom growing in and around me? Do I recognize the wonder of small beginnings? How can I help cultivate the wisdom of the child in myself and others?
How Well Do I Feed The Poor?
Today’s Gospel reading reminds me of a very important but uncomfortable point about following Jesus: I am to feed others (physically and spiritually) out of my abundance. Just as the disciples were expected to pass on the food to feed the crowd, I am to pass on the surplus blessings God has given me to feed others. This goes beyond the 10% I am to give to the Church. I am to give of my excess time, talent and treasure to feed the poor.
Jesus was not a middle-class person and I suspect that He is not happy with the comfy middle- class lifestyles that American’s and western Europeans live at the expense of the poor. (Remember: He was not happy with the very comfortable Pharasee’s of His own day.) I suspect that He would tell many of us to sell what we own and give it to the poor since we are to learn love and interdependence, not self-sufficiency with a few charitable crumbs for the poor to ease our consciences. He will care less about what we give and more about what we have left! It is obvious that the American Dream and lifestyle is not sustainable if the rest of the world’s population is to be treated justly. We can learn to slowly give it up voluntarily and receive the blessings of doing so or it will be forcibly taken from us someday by the 80% of the world’s population that can scarcely get clean water and one good daily meal.
Jesus promises, through His example, that if we trust Him with the little that we are and have, He will use that and transform it into divine superabundance like manna in the desert! We will also begin living the only life worth living.
Do I trust the Lord with who I am and what I have? What can I do to learn interdependence and love? How can I reduce my need for independence and self-sufficiency? What can I do to learn to become uncomfortable with the American Dream and lifestyle? How can I get more directly involved with the poor (with whom Jesus dwells)? How can I use my home and goods to provide hospitality to God’s children?
Who Saves Me From the Storms of Life?
During most of my life, if I were in trouble, I’d worry, obsess and take many actions to either fix or run from the problem. When my own efforts failed, I would bargain with God telling Him I would do such-and-such if He would get me out of the mess I was in. More often than not, He would leave me drowning in the mess until I gave up my own efforts to save myself and relied on Him only by cooperating with His grace, accepting needed correction/guidance/consequences and trusting the process.
God seems to work like a life guard trying to rescue a drowning person who has one hand on the lifeline and the other flailing to save himself. The rescuer must then get the drowning person to stop the frantic splashing by letting the person become more helpless and exhausted and, therefore, easier to save. Psalm 40:1-2 tells a little more about God’s method of rescue. Not only does He save me (He pulled me up from the seething chaos), He gives me security (He sets my feet on a rock) and guides me on my way (He establishes my goings).
Jesus says: Courage! It is I! Don’t be afraid! He bids me to go to Him across the unknown and dangerous paths of my life. When I fall (which I certainly will) He will save me and ask: Why do you doubt? Why do you have so little faith in Me?
Do I try to save myself first and only ask for God’s help if that fails? Do I bargain with God? Am I learning to let God take the lead in guiding me and solving my problems? How do I respond when Jesus asks me: Why do you doubt? Why do you have so little faith in Me?
How Is the Holy Spirit Asking You to Grow?
The Holy Spirit always seems to be pushing folks beyond their comfort zones and into new territory. The direction of the push always seems to be towards greater love, greater inclusivity and a greater range for the Kingdom of God.
It was only over time that Israel’s perception of God grew from that of a tribal war God to the loving father of all people. In today’s Gospel reading the human side of Jesus was just beginning to understand where the Holy Spirit was leading. He was sent to the lost tribes of Israel to bring them back into the fold but was confronted with non-Israelites who had greater faith than anyone he met in Israel! What was he to do? Pray always and listen to the Holy Spirit! Go towards the faith and act with compassion and love! If the Canaanite woman had been less preserving, Jesus may have walked on by. But he recognized that the Holy Spirit was talking to him through this mother pleading for her child’s life. He listened and it changed the face of his ministry by leading him to his saving death at the hands of those who would prefer a tribal war god whom they could keep in their pockets.
Where is the wind of the Holy Spirit leading me? Is it in the direction of greater love and inclusivity? How will I respond to this call?
Who Do People Say That YOU Are?
When Jesus asked His Apostles, “Who do people say that I am?”, the answers centered around a Prophet (maybe even a miracle-working prophet). While this is one of the roles of Jesus, in His personhood He is so much more: The Messiah!, The Son of God! No one could discern Jesus’ true identity unless He or the Father revealed it.
Most people when asked this question (Who are you?) will indicate what they do for a living or some of their roles (father, friend, sister, etc.). While this may define one’s social identity to some degree, it doesn’t say much about who one really is. Who one is is primarily who one is on the inside (including the subconscious) and who one is in relationship to God and the rest of Creation.
If asked, I may say something like this. I am a person striving to grow to be a saint. I am a person striving to become the unique being God created me to be. I am a person developing my God-given gifts to use for His glory, my joy and the benefit of as many beings as possible. I am a person who has a long way to go to remove (with God’s help) all of the junk in my heart and head.
If Jesus walked by, looked intently into your eyes and heart, and asked “Who are you?”, how would you respond? How would the people you know respond to the question if asked who you are? Do you think there would be a difference in the two responses?
Am I Following Jesus?
Jesus makes it very clear in today’s Gospel. The only way we will discover the meaning of our lives and live their full God-given potential is by carrying our crosses and following Him. (Our crosses are the uniquely tailored means that God is using to lead us to Himself through suffering and purification.) He wants us to make holiness (wholeness) our number one priority and to grow continuously in His love until we attain union with God.
How do I know if I am growing in holiness? Some of the following questions will help if answered honestly.
-Do I desire/long to grow in holiness/wholeness?
-Am I developing a greater sense of gratitude toward God?
-Am I developing an increasing trust in God?
-Am I growing in intimacy with Jesus?
-Am I willing to humbly submit my will to God’s will?
-Am I developing a simplicity of lifestyle that will allow me time to work on my spiritual life and that promotes Godly values?
-Does the thought of God predominate my life?
-Am I developing a deeper sense of peace regardless of circumstances?
-Am I developing a more positive attitude towards God, others, myself and the world?
-Am I developing self-control and being open to change (repentance)?
-Am I becoming more generous?
-Am I willing to change my old ways of thinking, acting, judging and speaking?
-Am I developing more of the fruits of the Holy Spirit? (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control)
-Do I have a God-centered (not self-centered) prayer life?
Are You a “Binder” or a “Loosener”?
“The only thing you should owe to anyone is love for one another for to love the other person if to fulfill the law.” Romans 13:8
“Lord….your judgments are generous.” Psalm 119: 39
Jesus indicates that we should lovingly correct our brothers and sisters in the faith if that is required. We all need correction at times. That is one of the purposes of the faith community: to help us grow by holding us accountable for our behaviors. The more lovingly it is done, the easier it is to accept.
What does the binding and loosening statement of Jesus mean? It should be taken in the context of the rest of Scripture and not as an isolated statement. Earlier, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about not judging others if we don’t want to be judged, removing the log from our own eyes before correcting our brothers/sisters and loving others as we love ourselves. In this wider context, Jesus may mean that we should recognize and correct the wrong in ourselves first if we intend to correct our brother/sister compassionately. In this wider context, Jesus may mean that if I bind others, I am in effect binding myself. If I compassionately loosen another’s bonds, I will experience compassion.
When Jesus talks about treating an unrepentant brother/sister like a pagan or a tax collector, what does he mean? He spent most of his time in the company of these ritually impure people to try to bring them into the fold of the Kingdom of God. He did not cast them away but continued to search for them as a shepherd searches for the lost black sheep.
Do I hasten to “bind” people (cast them out of the Church) or do I compassionately try to loosen their bonds? Do I try to interpret Scripture in the most lenient way possible or the most judgmental/critical way possible? Do I recognize that by binding others, I am opening myself up to being judged?
Forgiveness is a Process of Learning How to Love!
“Her many sins are forgiven, hence, she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven loves little.” Luke 7:47
“Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who persecute you.” Luke 6: 27-28
“Whoever is without love does not know God for God is love.” 1 John 4:8
The parable of the unforgiving servant must be read in the context of the rest of Scripture; especially the words of Jesus. God/Jesus is love and does not torture anyone! Forgiveness is an aspect of love. Individuals decide whether or not to forgive someone and, in effect, torture themselves by their own lack of love and forgiveness! Forgiveness is a process and not a single act. My own experience has taught me that I must often work on forgiving someone who has deeply hurt me. The 77 times Jesus says I must forgive someone might not refer to a person hurting me 77 times but to the number of times the thought of a single hurt comes to mind and I must again forgive for the one offence! As long I choose to think about the offence, I will need to keep forgiving.
I must learn to forgive others as often as needed for my own salvation and growth as a being created in God’s image. It has nothing to do with the other person asking for forgiveness or deserving forgiveness. It has nothing to do with being treated like a door mat since I don’t have to associate with the person if I think he/she is dangerous to me. The person doesn’t even have to be alive to be forgiven or to ask forgiveness from them.
I once wrote a long letter to my father who had at the time been dead for more than 20 years expressing my anger and forgiving him. I had to work on forgiving him for a couple of years before the process of forgiveness was complete. By doing so I learned to forgive myself since I realized how much I was like him. In the process I changed greatly. I had been an alcoholic who didn’t know how to love or live and suffered from various problems such as huge panic attacks and major issues with authority figures. All of this disappeared while working the forgiveness process! I learned that I was my own jailer!
Who do I need to forgive or ask forgiveness from? Do I recognize that forgiving is in my own selfish best interest since not forgiving keeps me in bondage? Do I recognize the good in my enemies and those who hate me? Do I recognize that my enemies are a mirror and may be telling me more truth about myself than my friends will?
Am I Like Jesus……….or Jonah?
Jesus said: If you bring forth what is inside you, what you bring forth will save you. If you don’t bring forth what is inside you, what you don’t bring forth will destroy you.”
The Gospel of Thomas (1st century AD)
Jesus was always trying to get his Jewish contemporaries to understand that though they were a people chosen by God to cultivate knowledge of Him, it was not because they were smarter or holier than others. He was trying to dispel a particularly ugly kind of nationalism that is very common today. It is a patriotism that says: “God is on our side. My country, right or wrong. Might is right.” Jonah exemplifies this attitude. He does not want God to forgive a hated enemy that wiped out nearly all of Israel or see them repent. He wanted to see them punished, wiped off the planet forever. He didn’t care that the people (or animals!) of Nineveh had no hatred of the Jewish people and were only trying to live out a sane life with their families. It was their government (that they had no part in choosing) that liked to rattle its saber and make the world bend to its will (sound familiar?). The Jews of Jesus’ day did not want to see that they were blind and had a dark and ugly shadow in their personal and collective characters that would destroy them if they did not recognize it and repent of it.
It is no different of me. If I think that I am not capable of the worst forms of evil if I were put in the right situation I am only fooling myself. How can I break this tendency? I must recognize my dark side and not pretend that it isn’t real. I must recognize that I am no different from anyone else and it is only circumstances and the grace of God that keeps me in check. I must recognize the potential for evil in myself, repent, and ask God to be healed. I must recognize that in doing God’s will is my joy and meaning in life. It is it’s own reward.
Do I recognize the evil that I am potentially capable of? Do I want to see my enemies (or the enemies of my country) burn in Hell for eternity? Do I ask the Lord to heal me of my unloving thinking and repent? Can I find joy in the good fortune of others, including those I don’t particularly like?
The Humility of Jesus
“Though in the form of God, Jesus took on the form of a slave. Coming in human likeness He humbled Himself and became obedient even unto death.” Philippians 2: 6-8
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart.” Matthew 11:29
“Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom before you…” Matthew 21:31
Compare the difference between Jesus and the Jewish elders in today’s readings. Jesus, though God, was humble, willingly took on a human body and chose to live like us even to the point of dying a horrifying and humiliating death like many of His Jewish contemporaries to demonstrate the love of God! The elders, on the other hand, had such a misplaced pride in their lowest common denominator humanity that they actually refused the gift of having that humanity raised to its highest level as a child of God!
Am I different? Sometimes I wonder. I recently saw a documentary that indicated that in the next few decades the percentage of persons in the United States greater than 85 years of age would increase to 20%. Many would be in horrible condition: having to be spoon fed, having to have their diapers changed and many not even knowing who they are. I was scandalized and told my wife that if I ever even came close to that point to please shoot me as I don’t want to live like that. Only later did I wonder if Jesus would have responded in the same way? Or would He have recognized that teaching others to love by ministering to me in my horrifyingly abject and sick humanity is a blessing that requires me to give up my self-centered pride and meaningless control? The answer is obvious.
Am I too proud to have others minister to me and insist that it be a one-way street? Am I afraid to show others my less-than-perfect real self and insist that they see only my good and strong side? Do I recognize myself in the fallen humanity of the elders of Israel? Can I learn to humbly accept the gift of God and be changed by that into the likeness of the lowly and humble Christ?
Are We Good Tenants of the Lord’s Vineyard?
In today’s reading from Isaiah (8th century BC), the Prophet describes Israel as God’s vineyard and its people/leaders as its tenants. The Lord was looking for a bountiful harvest of blessings given all the care He had shown Israel. However, “He expected fair judgment but found injustice, uprightness but found cries of distress.” (Isaiah 5: 7) What is this “justice” and “uprightness”? Justice has to do with actions of right or wrong based on fairness and the Law while uprightness has to do with the attitude behind the deed. Upright persons whose duty was to uphold justice were being pushed aside by a greedy elite. As a result, they were demoralized and silent. In this way not just justice was being destroyed. The fabric of Israel’s life as a people was deteriorating. Ultimately, Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians and Babylonians because their entrenched behavior and attitudes could not be corrected by God.
Fast forward 800 years to the 1st and 2nd centuries. Had the situation changed much? Not according to Jesus. The religious elders and elites had again demonstrated that they were beyond the correcting of their injustice and unrighteousness. The Vineyard was to be given over to others (the Christians) who would produce the fruits of justice and righteousness. Jerusalem and the Temple, the center of Jewish life, were destroyed in 70 AD by the Roman Emperor Titus. Palestine was devastated and the Jews ejected from the area in the 130’s AD by the Romans.
Fast forward 2,000 years to the 21st century AD. Look around! Open your ears! Do you see and hear the cries of the oppressed in our world? Do you smell the rot of unrighteousness and taste the bitterness of lack of justice? Do you think that the Christianity of a rich, spoiled, powerful and increasingly secular nation is producing the produce that the Lord desires?
Beware the rotten fruit! For example, remember that false obedience is the rotten fruit of fear. If I am afraid of loosing my cushy life, I may give lip service to religion but I will be doing everything possible to protect and increase what I have to be able to be self-sufficient. The produce that Jesus wants is born in the soil of peace, sown in prayer, watered by trust and bearing flower and fruit in joy.
Am I more concerned about my own well-being or that of the Kingdom of God? Is my life different enough from the secular world that others know that I am a Christian by the way I live? True Christianity has always flourished in poor and persecuted cultures. If you had to live a poor and persecuted life to be a Christian, would you do it? In what ways can I, with God’s help, increase and improve the quality of my fruit?
Dreams of the Heavenly Wedding Feast
The parable of the Wedding Feast is another of Jesus’ great teaching stories than has the power to change your life. Jesus chose parables as His primary mode of communicating His word because they are easy to remember, they capture our attention and imagination, they are simple enough for a child to understand and can be complex enough to intrigue scholars. They are not, however, a form of communication to use to give clear, exact directions. Jesus’ parables cannot be reduced to a simple moralism and generally have more than one meaning. They have such depth that we can go back to them again and again and continue to learn something from them.
Dreamwork techniques can be used with the parables of Jesus to re-experience the story in a personal way to enliven our spiritual lives. The purpose here is to experience the story through its re-enactment rather than using just our rational minds to understand them. Following is one of the techniques you can use with this parable.
Let yourself grow quiet and become aware of God’s presence, opening your consciousness to the spiritual energies and gifts contained for you in this story.
Have the story read to you or read yourself.
Recreate in your imagination the starting point of the story in as much sensory detail and movement as you can. For example, who is sitting next to you? What is he/she wearing? What does the King look like? What is the conversation about? What color is your floor cushion floor? Let your imagination do anything it wants with these and any other details since none of these are indicated in the text.
Once started, let your imagination spontaneously carry on the story. Trust it to carry you wherever you need to go, even if it takes you away from the text. You may find yourself involved as a participant in the action of the story and/or having a conversation with one of the characters.
When you come to a suitable stopping place, close the experience, express thanks to God, and gently bring yourself back to normal consciousness.
Write down the details of the experience. Then give the experience a:
Title: Let it come to you spontaneously.
Theme: State the major themes or issues which surfaced.
Affect: What were the dominant feelings? List them in order.
Question: What question is the experience asking of you? What is the experience trying to help you become conscious of? What question do you want to ask? What is your response to the question asked? What is the response to the question you asked? Don’t censor your response!
What does this experience teach you about the Kingdom of God and the Heavenly Wedding Feast? How did you feel about the person being ejected from the banquet? Did you check to see if you were wearing proper clothing? What does proper clothing mean? Did the King look at you? Did he say anything?
Do Jesus and Politics Mix?
“Jesus, as he realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, fled back to the hills alone.” John 6:15 (New Jerusalem Bible)
Jesus and politics mix like oil and water: they don’t! The only time recorded in Scripture that Jesus literally ran for the hills was when the crowds tried to make him a politician!
The sorry story of politics in Israel can be discerned by reading the Books of Samuel and Kings. Virtually every king became changed in a very negative way by the wealth, power and luxury bestowed on him. This is one of the reasons Jesus refused the offers of Satan in the desert temptations. He knew that these things corrupt souls and avoided them like the plague. He knew that bending His will to the will of God was critical in all things and thus refused all forms of pride related to human power, wealth and pleasure. His example shows that worldly power and spiritual power really don’t mix which is why the Lord looked on the request of Israel for a king “like all other nations” to be a rejection of Him..
When Jesus responded to the Jewish leaders who were testing him to “give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and give to God the things that are God’s”, he was making a subtle attack on the Roman Emperor Tiberius. The Emperor’s, in their arrogance, where beginning to look on themselves as gods and thus demanded allegiance of every citizen as both God and King. Jesus was indicating that Caesar was not God but a worldly man whose authority was given to him by God. By his answer, Jesus raised the debate to a higher level. Those who hypocritically asked about tax in respect to its relation to the law of God should be concerned rather with repaying God with the good deeds that are His due.
Jesus called King Herod, a master politician, a fox: a lone predator, one who is deceitful and greedy, one who will do anything to keep hold of his power. Pontius Pilate, another master Roman leader, was the one who showed that he believed that all truth was relative by his question: “What is truth?” To these politicians, keeping power was the most important thing in life. They became evil by this and choose to destroy those who would present evidence of their wrongdoing (look at John the Baptist) rather than examine their conduct, be convicted, repent, and healed.
Today, in the United States, we expect our leaders to try to stay in power and lie in the name of compromise. We choose to believe lies. We expect our leaders to look after ME first, our community second, our state third, and only then to look after the good of the country. We will always get leaders that mirror us. If we want our leaders to be different, we need to change and, as Jesus did, put the will of God and the needs of our brother/sister citizens ahead of our own desires.
Am I willing to change so that we can elect better leaders? Am I willing to learn to not accept lies and short term solutions to protect my interests and the status quo? Am I willing to accept the fact that life and doing God’s will do not revolve around me and my desires?
The Prophets and the Love of God
Jesus, in today’s Gospel reading, says that the commandments of love of God and neighbor sum up the whole Law and the Prophets. The Law spells out what righteousness is while the Prophets kept trying to bring a wayward Israel back to the Covenant of Love. The following are a few passages of the Prophets that show God as a loving parent: teaching, correcting through discipline, pleading and, finally, suffering the consequences of his child’s poor behavior. All out of love! I wish that there were more such Prophets today!
“You have been told what is good and what the Lord requires of you. Only that you do what is right, love goodness and walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8
“When Israel was a child, I loved him. It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, who took him in my arms. I drew him with human cords and bands of love. I fostered him like one who raises an infant to his cheeks. How can I give you up Ephraim?” Hosea 11:1-8
“You alone of all the families of the earth have I intimately known. That is why I shall punish you for all of your wrongdoings. You have sold the upright for silver and the poor for a pair of sandals. You have crushed the heads of the weak into the dust and thrust the rights of the oppressed to one side. Father and son sleep with the same girl and thus profane my holy name. You lie down besides every alter on clothes acquired as pledges. Yet it was I who brought you up from Egypt and for forty years led you through the desert. It was I who raised up prophets from your sons. Is this not true? ” Amos 3
“Now, you say that what the Lord does is unfair. Now listen, is what I do unjust or is what you do unjust? When the upright abandons uprightness and does wrong and dies, he dies for the wrong that he has done. Similarly, when the wicked abandon wickedness to become law-abiding and upright, his past sins will not be remembered and he will save his own life. Repent, renounce all your crimes and make yourselves a new heart and new spirit. Why die! I take no pleasure in the death of anyone. Repent and live!” Ezekiel 18
“I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers which they broke. The new covenant will be different. I will place my law within their hearts. No longer will they have the need to teach others how to know me. All from the least to the greatest shall know me for I will forgive their wrongdoing and remember their sins no more.” Jeremiah 31:31-34
“The Servant of the Lord bore our infirmities, our sufferings he endured. He was pierced for our offences and crushed for our sins. Upon him is the chastisement that makes us whole. By his stripes we are healed. Through his sufferings, my servant shall justify many and their guilt he shall bear.” Isaiah 53
If I heard someone standing on the street corner saying these things, how would I react? Do I ever get the urge to say these things out loud to others? What stops me?
Am I A “Do-As-I-Say, Not-As-I-Do” Christian?
Many of us were raised, or raised our own children, with the “do as I say, not as I do” method of child rearing. Do you think that it worked well? Given the fact that children learn more from watching than listening the results are not likely to be very successful. Mostly children will learn to spot hypocrisy (especially as teenagers) or become well-meaning hypocrites themselves. It was no different for leaders of adults in countries like Israel.
The Prophet Micah had much to say about the 8th century BC religious and political leaders of his day. Every level of government, every leadership elite, appears to be grasping for one thing: money. It is this that blinds them to their moral responsibilities. This is why they were so insensitive to the evil all around them with the result that they lead their peoples astray. Their belief that since the Lord was with them, no harm would come to them was proven tragically wrong when Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians and Babylonians.
Jesus had the same problem with the scribes and Pharisees of his day. “You must do what they tell you but do not be guided by what they do since they do not practice what they preach.” (Matthew 23:3) The Romans destroyed Jerusalem and Israel within 100 years of Jesus’ prediction that the Temple would become a mound of rubble.
Jesus and Paul, by their example, show how leaders should lead. We have only one teacher and authority: Jesus. Those wishing to be the greatest must serve all. Paul indicates that he treated his followers as a father treats his children: urging, encouraging and appealing to all to live a life worthy of God. Paul worked day and night so as not to be a burden to his “children”. Paul exhorts his followers to “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.”
The people and leaders of both Micah’s and Jesus’ day were pious to the core and sure of God’s presence while, at the same time, acting with great injustice, greed and hypocrisy. When God’s grace alone is stressed and not his righteous justice as well, they could feel safe while living on the brink of disaster. Are we different today? Do we presume God’s mercy and not his justice? The Bible clearly warns us against having such an attitude.
Do I stress God’s grace and not his justice? In what ways do I take God’s grace and mercy for granted? Am I certain that God is on my (our) side? Do my actions draw others to Christ or repel them? Do I talk the talk without walking the walk? What do I need to change with God’s help?
Meditating On the Heavenly Wedding
The words and parables of Jesus are excellent sources of material for meditation. The goal is to bring these stories and words to life for me and to help me to experience them in a new and personal way.
The meditation should be done in the context of a five step process:
Read the Scripture slowly two or three times.
Meditate on the passage using one or more of the techniques noted below.
Pray/Dialogue with God. Using a journal may be helpful.
Listen/Contemplate for and on the voice of the Holy Spirit.
Derive Fruit by determining how you will apply what you learned to your life.
Different saints developed different modes of meditation based on their personality type. For example:
Ignatius of Loyola (founder of the Jesuits) had a past orientation and used the five senses and imagination to bring the scene to life. Become one of the rejected wedding attendants. What do you see, hear, smell, taste and feel? How did it feel to be rejected?
Augustine of Hippo had a present orientation using the feelings and creative imagination to bring the words to your present circumstances. If Jesus look at you and said: “Stay awake for you do not no the day or the hour”, how would you respond to Him? How would you apply this to your life?
Thomas Aquinas had a future orientation using the rational thought process and intuition. His works stand the test of time and are being used for more than 700 years! He developed logical truths asking questions like: who, what, when, where, how and why. What is the relationship between being prepared and staying awake since all ten of the wedding attendants fell asleep? What does staying awake mean?
Francis of Assisi had an action filled approach to meditation that used the five senses, and is flexible, free-flowing and what we would call “spirit filled” and often used nature as a source. Imagine that you are one of the attendants who needed oil and locked out of the celebration. It is the next day and you decide to write a letter explaining to the bride and groom why you were not present. The approach may be whatever you like: anger, apologetic, resentful, explanatory or something else.
Which of the above meditative methods most matches my temperament? Which is the most difficult for me to use? Can I derive fruit for my life from each approach? Did I like journaling? How easy was it to sit and listen to the Holy Spirit?
Are You Ready For More Responsibilities Within the Kingdom of God?
In today’s Gospel parable, the King indicates that those who invested his money with diligence will be given more responsibilities since they were faithful in small matters (dealing with earthly treasure). In Luke’s account, the servants were given the responsibility of governing cities, the number based on how much they increased the master’s money.
The servants who, out of either fear or laziness, hid the master’s money and gave it back without investing it were treated harshly. They were deprived of their treasure (a part of themselves) and, by their inactivity, were diminished and became self out-casts.
In the time of Zephaniah the Prophet (first half of the 7th century BC), Israel expected a Day of Yahweh, a day when Israel would be exalted above all nations while all of their neighbors would, in effect, become slave of Israel. With Zephaniah, the Day of Yahweh was redefined as a Day of Wrath for Israel due to its lack of righteousness and justice. The inhabitants of Jerusalem were prideful and hoarded their treasure to become self-sufficient and thus not dependant on God. They needed to have their treasure taken away and be cast out to remove their pride, self-sufficiency and to grow spiritually. Jerusalem was later destroyed by the Babylonians.
In today’s reading from Thessalonians, Paul warns us to be vigilant since another Day of Wrath, a Day of Judgment, was coming. We are to remain sober and awake; “putting on the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet that is hope for salvation.” (1Thes 5:8)
Imagine that you are the servant that received the two talents. What are the risks involved and how will you handle it? What rewards, if any, will be available if you deal well with this money? In interpreting this parable for your own life, do you receive more than money? If so, what else do you have for which you may be responsible? Why does the master punish the servant who kept his money safe? What is wrong with simply protecting what you have? How might this parable affect the way our Church ministers?
Am I a “Good Goat” or a “Not-So-Perfect Sheep”?
“I was hungry and you NEVER gave me food, I was thirsty and you NEVER gave me a drink…….” Matthew 25: 42-45 (Jerusalem Bible)
There is a story (perhaps legendary) that W. C. Fields, in his old age, was seen by a friend feverishly studying the Bible. His friend, knowing that Fields was never a religious man, asked him: “W. C., what are you doing?” Fields responded: “I’m looking for loopholes!”
While I don’t advocate looking for scriptural loopholes like an unscrupulous corporate lawyer or legislator, it is worth reading a passage of scripture in several translations if you want to get a fuller understanding of the meaning behind the ancient Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic words since they often had a greater depth of meanings than can be conveyed in English.
In Jesus’ allegory of the sheep and goats in the Last Judgment, while the sheep are not told that they are blessed because they ALWAYS did the right thing, the goats are condemned for NEVER doing so. This is Good News (Gospel) to me since I know that I am a sinful man and always will be imperfect as long as I am in the flesh. I may often do the right thing but by no means do I always do so. I don’t believe that I know anyone who either ALWAYS does the right thing or NEVER does the right thing: helping to relieve the pain and suffering of another human being.
I know that Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God, will lead me to safe pasture and will perfect me in His own time and manner. We, as members of Christ’s Church, His Body, have His Word! May the Lord give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of Him. May our hearts be enlightened that we may know to what hope we are being called. (Ephesians 1: 17:18)
Do I recognize that I am not a perfect sheep? Who do I think that the goats are? Is it possible that I am a good goat slowly being transformed by the Good Shepherd into a healthy sheep? Do I pray for the goats?
“Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways.” Isaiah 64:4
“What I say to you, I say to all: WATCH!” Mark 13:36
In today’s reading from Isaiah, the Jewish community had just recently returned to Judah from the Babylonian captivity after Babylon was conquered by the Persian Cyrus in 539 BC. They were appalled! Jerusalem was in ruins, its walls were torn down, its buildings were burned to the ground, the Temple was destroyed. They were threatened and tormented by their neighbors, including the Samaritans (mixed ethnic peoples brought in by the Assyrians 150 years earlier to replace the deported Israelites), who did not want to see Jerusalem rebuilt. They did not believe that the Messianic promises to David could be fulfilled without rebuilding the Temple and monarchy. They finally finish building the Temple in 515 BC. The Davidic monarchy was never really restored. Their lives were still very hard and they waited for God to come down and save them by making Israel the king of nations.
Fast forward 550 years. Jesus predicts that this second Temple will be torn down like the first. (This happened in 70 AD.) The Messianic promises to David were not to be fulfilled in the way that Israel expected. Israel will conquer but it will be a spiritual conquering of love through the Messiah Jesus, the Son of David. Jesus warns all to flee Jerusalem and not to try to save the City through misguided Messianic hopes when they see it being attacked by the Romans. God’s Kingdom will come gradually through the Church. The final establishment of the reign of God and the destruction of evil will come at a later date and time that only the Father knows. Jesus warns us to keep busy at our God-appointed tasks and remain watchful.
In this first week of Advent, we are watching and waiting for the return of Jesus. As His birth was a complete surprise to all regarding who the Messiah would be and what He would do, His second coming will be a surprise and may be different than what we expect. We are to watch, wait and be prepared for His return. “He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus.” (1 Corinthians 1:8)
How am I preparing for the birth of Christ? How am I preparing for Christ’s return? Are the preparations different? In what ways are they different?
How Am I Making A Straight Path for the Lord’s Return?
The Prophets were inspired speakers proclaiming divine messages to correct the social injustices of their times and to encourage a purified worship of God. This Love of God-Love of Man connection can be discerned in today’s Psalm: “Faithful love and loyalty join together, saving justice and peace embrace.” (Psalm 85:10) While the messages of the Prophets were meant for their own time, they often had a timeless quality that could be used to help read the signs of the times in the future. These implications for the future may not have been recognized by the Prophets themselves.
For example, today’s reading from Isaiah regarding “preparing in the desert a way for the Lord and making a straight highway for God” was referring to the upcoming return of the Israelites from captivity in Babylon to Judah in 539 BC. This return was foretold by earlier Prophets and seen as a direct intervention by God with God leading the captives home. In New Testament times, John the Baptist saw this prophesy in its greater fulfillment in the coming of God in the human form of the Messiah.
At the end of the first Christian century, the writer of today’s epistle indicates that we should be trying to hasten the day of the Lord’s return by straightening the highways of our lives. What we are waiting for is the new heaven and new earth where uprightness will be at home. While we are waiting, we should do our best to live blameless and unsullied lives so that He will find us at peace. (2 Peter 3: 13-14)
How am I trying to hasten the day of the Lord’s return? How am I straightening my life? How am I preparing a way for the Lord in my heart?
Am I Called to Be a Prophet?
“Do not stifle the Spirit or despise the gift of prophecy with contempt.” 1 Thes: 5:19-20
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to bring good news (the Gospel) to the afflicted.” Isaiah 61: 1
The task of a prophet is not so much to foretell as to pronounce God’s will, to mediate God’s view of a situation, sometimes backing this up with prediction. It is a call to bring others back into the embrace of a loving God. In today’s Gospel reading, John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets, is repeatedly called a “witness” which is what the term “martyr” means. According to the Bible and tradition, many of the prophets, including John the Baptist, were killed for their outspoken witness to the truth of God.
According to today’s reading from Isaiah, a prophet is called to bring good news (the Gospel) to the afflicted, sooth the broken-hearted, proclaim liberty to captives, release to those in prison and to comfort those who mourn. (Isaiah 61: 1-2) Do you ever talk to others about your faith? Do you ever listen to those who are hurting? Do you provide hope for those who are in the darkness of addictions or lost to the amoral systems of our society? Do you try to relieve the sufferings of those living in the misery of self-imposed mental prisons? If you do these, or a myriad of other similar things, to bring the love of God to a world desperate for love, you are performing some of the tasks of a prophet!
Don’t minimize this gift or hold back if the Spirit wants you to speak! You may not be asked to die for your faith like John the Baptist or bring the message to millions like Billy Graham, but you are called, as a part of the Body of Christ, to let your life speak of the Good News that is Jesus! There is no greater calling!
In what ways am I a prophet based on what I have just read? How can I increase my witness of Christ? (For example, become or accept the comfort of a Stephen Minister, serve food at the City Mission, join the Outreach Committee, start a Bible Study in you home, become a Hospice volunteer, etc.)
What If Mary Said No?
Imagine for a moment that you are a very young woman being confronted by an angel with the message given by Gabriel to Mary. (see Luke 1: 26-38) How might you react? How might your father react? What if you lived in a culture where you could be stoned for being pregnant out of wedlock? How would they react if you told them that God was the father? Do you think that you would say “Yes” to the proposition?
There is no indication in Scripture that Mary was the first one approached with this proposition. Young women may have been rejecting it for centuries thus hindering the time of God’s revelation of the birth of the Messiah. Looking at the history of Israel from Abraham to the time of Mary, it is absolutely astounding that the Lord’s will was accomplished through such a torturous path of events and people seemingly hell-bent on preventing God’s grace! Even in Jesus’ own lineage there are very improbable women who may have received the angelic proposition. Ruth was a foreigner. Rahab was a harlot, a madam at a drinking house. Bathsheba was a married woman who was raped by King David who also had her husband murdered. Tamar was a victim of incest by her brother. Who would believe that good could come out of such a maelstrom of fallen humanity?
But, thank God, it DID happen! The Messiah was born to one courageous young woman who was willing to believe the angel, put aside her fears, transcend her cultural norms and risk everything for the love of God!
Scripture tells us that we can hasten or hinder the return of Jesus by living or not living holy and saintly lives (see 2 Peter 3:11). It is possible that if our Christian ancestors had allowed Jesus to live in them, to use them to express the divine, than long ago the world would have been drawn to Him and He would have returned to claim His own. He is still waiting for us to say: Yes! Will you do it?
In what ways can I hasten the coming of Jesus? If I were Mary, would I have said Yes?
What is God asking me to do? Do I have the courage and faith to do it?
The Mystery of Evil
The massacre of the Innocents is only one of many evil acts portrayed in the pages of the Bible. Many of these acts, the ruthless destruction of the inhabitants of the Promised Land portrayed in the Book of Joshua for example, were considered God’s will at the time but today would be considered genocide and evil. So, what is evil? The dictionary gives a bland definition amounting to morally wrong actions and wickedness. I am neither going to try to give a better definition of evil nor am I going to single out persons as evil (something that is done all too often today). What I know is that we all commit morally wrong deeds and all require the mercy of God and the major transformation of our characters. I know that evil deeds affect my relationship with God, others and my self and that being aware of this may help me to avoid thoughtless wicked deeds.
Evil deeds affect my relationship with God. An evil person presumably has no concept or belief in a loving and just God, if there is a belief in God at all. He cannot subordinate his will to anyone or anything, not even his Creator. Pride is king. To reduce my evil tendencies, I must cultivate a positive, loving world view and must be able to subordinate my will to a power that is greater than my self and accept being only a creature.
Evil deeds affect my relationship with other beings. An evil person presumably does not see beings outside of himself as equal to himself. They are considered to have no feelings, not be human, or in some way not be worth the dignity of being treated like a living being. To reduce my evil tendencies, I must never scapegoat anyone, any living creatures or any group, even enemies. I must be able to put myself in the others shoes.
Evil deeds affect my relationship with my self. An evil person presumably has no conscience or ability to realistically evaluate himself or his behavior. He has no ability to see himself as capable of being wrong or making a mistake. To reduce me evil tendencies, I must cultivate an inner life and be able to tolerate and sit with the pain of being an imperfect and limited creature. I must be willing to grow spiritually and recognize the reality of projection.
While many of my evil inclinations have a component resulting from nature and nurture, grace and free-will also have a major role in blame or mitigation. A person may have strong evil tendencies but not have the power to express it completely. Those in authority can and do create the most chaos and evil (as in today’s Gospel reading). Those with less power can generally do less evil.
Will evil be vanquished? Jesus says “Look, I am making the whole of creation new. I will wipe away all tears and there will be no more death, mourning, sadness or pain.” (Revelations 21: 4-5) In the interim we are asked to wait on the Lord and reduce the evil in our own character and lives. If you feel uncertain about what is good and struggle with an issue, that is good! Consider that much of the evil in the world is committed by those who are absolutely certain that they know what they are doing!
Do I recognize my own evil deeds? Do I believe that God loves “evil” people? How do I avoid treating others as scapegoats? Am I willing to sit with my own inner darkness? Do I project my own un-lovely impulses into others?
Jesus’ Early Years
“Oh, how I love your Law! All the day long it is in my mind. I have more understanding than all my teachers for your decrees are my study. I am wiser than the elders because I observe your commandments.” Psalm 119: 97-100
“Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my father’s house?” Luke 2:49
Early Christians were very curious to learn about the details of Jesus’ life. The first Gospel, Mark, makes no mention of Jesus’ youth. Matthew and Luke, written ten to twenty years later using Mark as a source, contain narratives of his birth and infancy and Luke gives the one account of Jesus as a pre-teen. In the apocryphal infancy gospels of the second century, such as the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, Jesus is portrayed not only as a child prodigy but a child terror, performing mischievous and nasty miracles. These accounts are ethical embarrassments but were extremely popular and are preserved in numerous languages.
In some ways Jesus seems to have been a precocious but typical pre-teen, self-absorbed and not understanding why Mary and Joseph would be worried about him after not finding him in their caravan and searching for him for three days. (If he were my child I would have told him that I didn’t care if he was in his Fathers’ house but if he ever did that again while living under my roof he would be grounded until he was 30 years old! Maybe that was actually the case since we don’t hear anything more of Jesus until he was an adult.) After that event he lived under Joseph and Mary’ authority but you can tell that he was always questioning and challenging typical authority as teenagers and young adults do to this day.
What we know for sure is that Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature and in favor with God and people as he matured (Luke 2:50). We also know that he was like us in all ways except that he didn’t have a sinful nature (although you wouldn’t know that based on what the religious authorities thought of him!) (Hebrews 4:11). He often talked about how blessed it was to be child-like and that only those who were so would enter the Kingdom of God (Mark 10: 13-16). Perhaps, the best way of knowing about Jesus as a youth is to think back on ourselves when we were young and at our most graceful or to watch our young children or grandchildren grow.
What can I determine of Jesus’ child-like character by looking within myself or watching my children/grandchildren? Do I recognize the wisdom and grace of childhood and youth? Are there youthful characteristics that I have lost and need to re-acquire to enter the Kingdom? How can I help the youth in my life to grow to maturity while still retaining their blessed child-like natures?
You Are the Lord’s Servant and Child!
“Here is my Servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom my soul delights.” Isaiah 42: 1
“God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power and because God was with Him, he went about doing good……” Acts 10:38
“Whoever believes in me will perform the same works that I do myself and will perform even greater works.” John 14:12
While Jesus is our Lord and Savior, the unique Son of God, He makes it very clear that our destiny is to become like Him in all ways. With His grace and power acting through our faith, mighty deeds will be accomplished that are in accord with God’s will. If we think less of ourselves, this is not humility but a form of pride and laziness. We must learn to accept our status as God’s children and are being transformed into the likeness of Jesus.
What a calling! What a destiny! Can anything be more exciting and joyful? Can anything provide more hope and purpose for our lives than Jesus, His mission and His plans for us? We are to change the world for the better through His name and when we go beyond the veil He will use us in other ways. How? Who knows, maybe we will be used to bring salvation to other creatures on other planets! Whatever it is, it will be good and beyond our wildest dreams!
Practice the acceptance of your status by referring the top three quotations to yourself using your name and adjusting for gender. How does it feel to say: “I am God’s child. Today He has fathered me. God has anointed me with His Holy Spirit and with power therefore I go about doing good. I am God’s servant and His chosen one. God delights in me.” Let this become part of your prayer and meditation this week.
How Does the Lord Speak to Me? How Well Do I Hear?
“Samuel, Samuel……Speak Lord for your servant is listening.” 1 Samuel 3:10
“Follow me.” John 1: 43
“It is God who, for His own generous purpose, gives you the intention and the power to act.” Philippians 2: 13
“Make the most of the present time for it is a wicked age. That is why you must not be thoughtless but must recognize what is the will of the Lord.” Ephesians 5: 16-17
How does God speak to you? Do you hear words in your head like the Lord speaking to Samuel? Do you hear words outside of yourself like Jesus calling Philip? Do you get strong hunches which lead you outside of your comfort zone in a good way that is also good for others? Do you hear the voice of God when your Pastor speaks? Do you recognize the voice of the Lord in some other way?
Regardless of how, it is important to discern the will of God for your life by being alert and open to the Holy Spirit every day. We do this through prayer, meditation/reflection, contemplation/silence, Scripture/other spiritual reading, consultation with other spiritual friends, common sense and experience.
While in the flesh, we will always live with uncertainty but our trust in God’s loving care must be sufficient to live without absolute certitude. One way of improving your discernment skills is to look at your past and make a list of your good decisions and your mistakes. Look for clues to determine why they were good or poor decisions. Use what you learn in making future decisions. Discuss these decisions with someone you trust.
We will always make mistakes. We must be honest enough to admit them once we are aware of them. One guideline I’ve heard indicates that if your will is consistently for the good and you are willing to suffer with the uncertainty when the good seems ambiguous, than grace, working through your subconscious, will always be one step ahead of your conscious mind in the right direction. You will do the right thing but you won’t know that at the time but only by looking back. Ultimately, if we do our best, we can trust St. Paul’s words: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
How does God normally speak to me? Do I spend enough time listening to the Holy Spirit? Do I have spiritual friends that I can discuss my decisions with? Do I learn from my mistakes or do I keep repeating them?
What Are The Obstacles To God’s Grace In My Life?
“Come back disloyal children, I want to cure your disloyalty.” Jeremiah 3:22
“Repent, and believe the Gospel….” Mark 1:15
Jesus asks us to repent. Repent of what? At least part of the answer has to do with a change of heart in our attitudes towards possessions, pleasures and power (In traditional terms, the World, the Flesh and the Devil.) These are all limited goods that we try to use to make ourselves feel safe in a very insecure world. They are not bad in and of themselves except when we try to make them into absolute goods and the center of our lives. Possessions have to do with our relationship with our neighbors. Pleasure has to do with our self relationship, especially regarding our bodies. Power has to do with our relationship with God.
How did Jesus respond to these three human challenges to a growth-filled and Godly life? Look at the wilderness temptations of Jesus in chapter 4 of Matthew and Luke. Satan’s attempt to have Jesus turn stones into bread is a temptation to use his power for his own pleasure. Satan’s attempt to have Jesus worship him in order to receive the kingdoms of the world is a temptation to make possessions his God. The temptation to throw himself down from the top of the Temple was a temptation to use power wrongly. In all cases, Jesus refused. He insisted that God must be the center of ones life with no compromises.
What are the remedies we must use to overcome these temptations? According to the 6th chapter of Matthew the answers are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Prayer helps us keep the temptation to power under control. Fasting, or self-discipline, is used to discipline our bodies and keep our instincts under control. (It is more than controlling food and drink). Almsgiving, which is more that just giving money and goods to the poor, is meant to give a proper balance to our relationships with others.
Each time I don’t pray, give in to pride, or trust my own freedom and power rather than God’s, I enlarge the obstacles to God’s grace in my life. Each time I pray, submit myself to God’s will or use my body or God-given resources for the benefit of others, I am opening myself up to the love of God and His grace.
In which of the three areas are my temptations the greatest? How can I increase the subordination of my will to God’s? Have my possessions become my God? Have my addictions to bodily pleasures gotten out of control?
Is My Individualism in Accord With the Christian Message?
“Knowledge inflates with pride but love builds up. Thus, through your knowledge, the weak person is brought to destruction, the brother for whom Christ died.” 1 Corinthians 8: 1 & 11
“Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.” Matthew 25:40
The Corinthian Christians had a slogan: All of us have knowledge. They evidently thought that this “knowledge” made them superior to others. It was their “knowledge” that allowed them to overlook an incestuous relationship in one of their members and to consider some spiritual gifts superior to others in a way that was disrupting their Eucharistic celebrations.
Paul proposes charity as a cure for the rivalry among the various kinds of knowledge/wisdom that inflated the ego and the sense of superiority and self-importance. Also, some of the Greek philosophers encouraged a form of individualism among the pagans that Paul had to correct with an emphasis on community.
By combining community and charity (brotherly love), Paul defines what Christian freedom is. Many decisions that were considered relevant only to the personal relationship with God have social consequences. This is nothing new. The Old Testament is filled with stories that indicate that we are our brother’s keeper and that sin/grace affect both the individual and the community.
Our culture of “rugged individualism” is not only untrue (whether or not we believe it, our actions affect others and the actions of others affect us), it is contrary to the Gospel message of Jesus. Our decisions have moral components that must be based on the value and needs of others and on mutual responsibility within our communities and country.
How do my beliefs about social responsibility conflict with the Christian message? If I were alive in the 19th century, how would my beliefs and actions have affected Native Americans, slaves, the poor and women? Would Jesus be happy with my rugged individualism? Does my sense of entitlement allow the destruction of other cultures and the Earth? What do I need to do to accept and act on an interdependence that is both real and in accord with my stated Christian beliefs?
Am I Prepared for Death?
Today’s Old Testament reading indicates that death can occur at any age and in any circumstance but that God has the power to raise the dead and reverse our corruption. At this point in time (8th -9th century BC), there was no fixed concept of life after death in the Hebrew faith. It is only in the mid-2nd century BC that the idea of an afterlife is clearly expressed (see 2 Maccabees 7:9) While the Old Testament only hints at life after death in late pre-Christian Judaism, Jesus proclaims it boldly: There is life after death beyond anything we can comprehend. “I am the resurrection. Anyone who believes in me, even though that person dies, will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:24-25)
What attitude am I to have toward death? Our secular culture teaches us to pretend that old age and death don’t exist and that we should stay as busy and “wired” as possible so as not to let their reality cross our minds. As usual, when it comes to the ways of the world, we are called to do the exact opposite. We are to learn to welcome aging and the wisdom it brings. We are to prepare for death and learn from it as early in our lives as possible to hold lightly the things of this life through detachment. The truth is we are dying from the moment we are born. (Now in my mid-50’s I can certainly say that there are many things that I can’t do that I did when I was younger and to try some of them would kill me!. I suspect that it will get worse!) Saint Paul expresses this detachment in Phillipians 1: 20-25: “Christ will be exalted now as always in my body whether by my life or by my death.”
Jesus’ human nature rebelled against the pain of the crucifixion. Nonetheless he accepted it because it was God’s will: “Father, take this cup away from me but let it be as you, not I, would have it.” (Mark 14:36) Jesus teaches that we must hold on loosely to the things of life and be willing to let go without looking back: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 9: 62) To the extent that I am filled with faith, hope and love, I am able to detach without fear since “love casts out all fear.” (1 John 4:16-18) Jesus chose the path of suffering and warned his disciples that those who wished to follow him had to take up their crosses and do the same. (Matthew 16:24-26) We all suffer the cross of physical deterioration and death.
In order to die well we must have dress rehearsals for it throughout our lives. This is not morbid but empowering. It gives us the ability to move forward with our life in ways we would not do if we had no awareness of our mortality. One way is to take one day each month and try to live that day as I would want to live my last day on Earth. Another is to consciously learn to accept the age I am, to begin learning to grieve my losses and be willing to grow spiritually through the wisdom of detachment.
Do I see death as a graduation to a higher level of life? Do I believe that at death, life is not ended but just changed? How do I act when I have to endure something contrary to what I want? When I am depressed or lonely, do I have a greater tendency to rush to the mall or liquor cabinet than to visit someone in need of companionship? What wisdom m I learning by accepting my mortality?
Who Are The “Lepers” In My Life?
“Feeling sorry for him (the leper), Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him and said to him: I am willing, be cleansed.” Mark 1:41
“Run to win.” 1 Corinthians 9:24
Until recently, leprosy was a horrible, untreatable disease. While the victim would not be in physical pain because the deformity and destruction of nerve endings would kill the sensation of pain, the emotional pain would be enormous. A person with this contagious disease would be an outcast from family, friends and society, living outside of the community and thus not receiving loving care, nurturing and the religious consolation of going to the Temple to worship. The Old Testament notes only two cases where God cures leprosy so it can be assumed that a diagnosis of leprosy would be a sentence to lifelong loneliness and despair. Even those with a simple skin disease like eczema (which I have) would be quarantined until it was determined not to be leprosy, perhaps for many weeks.
Along comes Jesus. He not only healed lepers, he allowed them to come to him and even touch him! This would make Jesus unclean and an outcast. Jesus had no problem being identified with a suffering and rejected humanity. He demonstrated that pity was useless unless it was accompanied by action to relieve the suffering of a person. Love of God and man was to overcome the fear of the evil of disease.
Today, leprosy is no longer the scourge that it once was. It has been replaced, however, by others with conditions that many in our society believe render them unclean and outcast: those with HIV/AIDS, homosexuals, pedophiles, women who have had an abortion, those of the Islamic faith and persons with various forms of severe mental disorders. The list can go on and on.
In today’s epistle, Saint Paul indicates that we should run the race of our life of faith to win. This means running, not away from the lepers in our society, but toward them with the compassion and loving actions that Jesus showed to the lepers of his day. Will you do it?
Who are the “lepers” in my life? Do I recognize that it is only the grace of God that keeps me from becoming a societal leper? Why would I rather scapegoat others as lepers than face my own real fears and evils? How can I avoid the trap of scapegoating those who are different than me? What can I do to relieve the suffering of the outcasts? Can I put myself in their shoes?
What Are You Doing Here?
“What are you doing here, Elijah?” 1 Kings 19:9
“This is my Son, my Beloved, listen to Him!” Mark 9:7
How would you respond to the question that the Lord put to Elijah in today’s Old Testament reading? Elijah knew inwardly through the still small voice why he was there. It was the same thing that he heard out loud on the mountain 800 years later: to listen to God’s voice. Today we are invited to listen in on the conversation between Jesus (the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets), Moses (representing the Law), Elijah (representing the Prophets) along with Peter, John and James (representing the Church…us). What are they saying? If you were in Peter’s shoes, what would you say (I’m sure I’d be more dumbfounded than Peter was.) What would you do? How would the experience change you?
You can personally partake in and answer these questions using the meditation and dream work techniques below:
Meditation Technique: Read the scripture slowly 2 or 3 times. Meditate on the passages with either a past orientation (as if you were actually present at the Transfiguration as either yourself or one of the characters) or in a present orientation (as if God or Jesus were addressing the words to you in your current circumstances). Pray/Dialog with God/Jesus and write the conversation in your journal. Contemplate/listen to what the Holy Spirit is telling you. Derive fruit by writing down how the experience will change your life.
Dream Work Technique: After you have read or listened to the story several times, recreate in your imagination the starting point of the story in as much sensory detail and movement as you can. Let your imagination spontaneously carry on the story trusting that it will take you where you need to go. When you come to a suitable stopping place, close the experience and give thanks to God for what He has shown you. Write down the details of the experience in your journal. Give the experience a title, a theme and describe your feelings. What question is the experience asking of you? What is the experience trying to help you become conscious of? What question do you want to ask? What is the response?
Am I becoming more accustomed to using meditation and dream work techniques? How regularly do I write in my spiritual journal? If I haven’t tried them yet, what is holding me back? Am I ready to be transfigured to become more what Christ wants me to be? What am I doing here?????
How Important Is the Church to Me?
“Christ is the head of the Body, that is, the Church.” Colossians 1:18
While the word “Church” (ekklesia) is used only twice in the Gospels (in Matthew), there are many New Testament images that represent the church including, among others, God’s bride, a flock, a building, a vine and the new Jerusalem. A favorite Old Testament image of the Church appears in today’s reading: Noah’s Ark. The Church, like the ark, saves us from the flood of worldly spiritual destruction. The Church, like the ark, gives life, provides nourishment and protects us. It provides love, community, encouragement and opportunities to grow like those on the ark experienced in a family setting. The Church, like the ark, will lead us to a new life in a new world.
So, how important is the Church? Evidently, many Christians don’t think that they need the Church. They may, for example, think that it is full of hypocrites or is unnecessary; that they can survive and grow just fine without its blessing and support. Or maybe even that they have arrived and don’t need to grow and change anymore. This has certainly not been my experience nor has it been the experience of those I know who don’t regularly attend Church. In the past five years I have developed musical, writing, counseling and teaching skills through the Church. I have become less obsessed with worldly things and thus learning about the freedom to learn to love and serve the Lord through the guidance of the Holy Spirit as revealed within the Church. I am slowly learning my place in the world and that without Christ and His wonderful mission and the life He is calling me to, much of life, what the culture thinks is important, is pretty meaningless. Would I have developed my gifts and grown without the aid of my Church family? Absolutely not! I would have stopped growing and would have begun to die spiritually.
What about the future? I know that life is a journey and I am called to continuous growth in Christ. I suspect that the next five years will be as surprising as the past five, perhaps even more so. The Church and all it represents will continue to be the main light in my life for growth in holiness and meaning.
So, how important to you is the Church? How has it fed and nourished you over the years? Have you had the opportunity to grow through service within the Church? Have you seen members of your Church family grow? (If so, tell them!) Does their growth provide you with encouragement and hope? Am I pulling my weight in the Church? Do I have hope in the future because of my faith in Christ and His Church?
Do I Have Faith for My Journey?
“I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel. My heart teaches me, night after night. For you will not abandon me to the grave nor let your holy one see the pit.” Psalm 16: 7 & 10
In today’s Old Testament and Gospel readings we get a glimpse of how God, working through the Holy Spirit, leads us: step-by-step, not giving any more information than is needed beforehand.
Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son Isaac even though God promised that blessings would come through this same son! How would this paradox be accomplished? Abraham didn’t know. It only became clearer as he neared his sacrificial destination, Moriah (in some languages meaning wind, a reference to the Holy Spirit). God provided the sacrifice: the goat and the Lamb of God, His only Son.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus makes His first prediction of His passion on His journey to Jerusalem, the sacred city. He knows that He is to be sacrificed but the Spirit has not yet revealed to Him all of the details. At this point He knows that He is to suffer greatly at the hands of the elders, chief priests and scribes and then killed. Awhile later, in the second prediction, He knows that He will be turned over to men and killed. They may not all be Jewish authorities. Only in the third prediction as He neared His destination did it become clear that He would be humiliated and rejected by His own people but killed by the gentile Romans. This meant that He would be crucified. How could the Son of God be killed? As a man, Jesus may not have fully understood the paradox. He only knew that He would be raised from the dead after three days and trusted His Father for the rest.
The truth that was progressively revealed to Abraham and Jesus may have been neither pretty nor to their liking but they trusted God and His love for them. As Saint Paul says: “I am convinced that neither death nor life……nor anything else will be able to separate us from the love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 8:38)
It is the same with us. We are all on our life’s journey and headed for a destination prepared by God. We do not know what will transpire between now and our arrival. If we have faith in Christ, we can be sure that what we need to know will be revealed and that the love of God will see us through.
Am I prepared to proceed on my journey to wherever God leads? Am I willing to be content with not having all of the answers beforehand? Do I trust God enough to know that even if pain and suffering are in store for me that God will use it for my growth and the good of others? Do I believe that ‘God will provide’ when I am confronted with the paradoxes of life?
What Will the Holy Spirit Find In the Dark Rooms of My Inner Temple?
“Stop making my Father’s house into a market place.” Mark 2: 16
“I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, my flesh.” Romans 7: 18
“Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit?” 1 Cor 6: 19
In today’s Gospel reading, we see Jesus expressing great anger at what He finds in the Temple at Jerusalem. It isn’t that the sellers and buyers were doing something forbidden by the Jewish law that infuriated Jesus. They were fulfilling a legitimate function by converting foreign currency to temple money and allowing sacrificial animals to be purchased. But, as usual, Jesus is more concerned with why an action is being performed; what is the inner motive behind the exterior act. The buyers and sellers were making large profits at the expense of those coming to the temple to offer sacrifices; many of whom were poor. They were after the almighty buck more than realizing that they were performing a holy service in the presence of the Almighty in perhaps the holiest place on earth!
Today, the Temple of Jerusalem is long gone and our bodies have become the temple of the Holy Spirit. But even Saint Paul says that he realizes that nothing good resides in him, that his actions and motives may be at cross purposes. So, over time, the Spirit of Jesus entered Paul’s tabernacle and started violently throwing out what needed to be discarded and completely rearranging the inner furniture so that He could be a proper guest at Paul’s house! The cleansing was so complete and Paul’s identity so altered that he even had a change in name from Saul to Paul! Paul suffers the extreme makeover and cooperates with it as he is enabled. It must have felt like death. In the end, however, he is joyful, thanking God for the love that has been shown to him by allowing him to become the greatest saint of the Church.
So, how does the Holy Spirit want to change you? How does He want to rearrange your inner furniture? What will the Holy Spirit find as He breaks down the doors of dark, dank and dingy inner closets and shines His purifying but painful light on its contents? What do you think that your new name will be? You can get a start by reviewing the Ten Commandments from today’s Old Testament reading (Exodus 20). Maybe you can get rid of some of your inner contents before Jesus comes and really guts the place!
You Are God’s Work of Art!
“Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them.” John 6:11
“I am the bread of life.” John 6:25
“We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus, for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life.” Ephesians 2:10
“You are what you eat!” While this maxim is not in Proverbs, it should be! Its meaning has never been truer than in the case of today’s readings. This miracle, the feeding of the thousands, is the only miracle of Jesus recorded in all four Gospels (including twice in Matthew and Mark). It is the story of Jesus as the new Moses, feeding the people like Moses did with manna in the desert twelve centuries earlier. Even more, it is the premonition of Jesus as the Bread of Life, feeding us with the spiritual food of His Body and Blood: “Take and eat. This is my body given for you.” (Matthew 26:26)
Why are we to eat of this spiritual food? The answer is given in the letter to the Ephesians: we are God’s work of art, created in the image of Jesus. When God wanted to express a beautiful thought, He created a flower or other beauty in nature. When He wanted to express to man who He was, He created a very beautiful character. We are what we eat. The more we eat of this spiritual food in all its forms (including the food of prayer and meditation on the life of Jesus and His teachings), the more we will grow into the image Jesus has for us. We will each still be unique creations but we will contain the evidence that we have been with Jesus, that we are spiritually related. He will empower us, through the Holy Spirit, to perform the works that will spread the Kingdom of God and give us lives of infinite joy and meaning. Let us go to the feast, eat abundantly, and claim the eternal life that Jesus has in store for us!
How important is Holy Communion to me? Do I recognize that this spiritual food is really the Body and Blood of or Lord Jesus? Do I commune with Jesus in prayer and meditation? How does it feel to be a unique piece of God’s work of art? How are you being molded and shaped? Does it hurt? Are you slowly being transformed into a source of life to those around you?
How Do I Show Jesus to Others?
“Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” John 12:21
“Anyone who loves his life looses it, anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me.” John 12: 25-26
“During his life on earth, he offered up prayer and entreaty with loud cries and tears to the one who had the power to save him from death.” Hebrews 5: 5-6
“I shall teach your ways to the wicked and sinners shall return to you. Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.” Psalm 51: 14, 16
As we approach the end of Lent and all of the interior work it entailed, we should increasingly be able to show Jesus to others by means of our lives and our words. Our lives should reflect the fact that we are following a crucified savior who loves us enough to suffer with us. We should be able to show our brokenness to others and show how God has heard our loud cries and seen our tears and saved us from death by giving us a life that is really worth living and not just survival. Our actions and our words should reflect our testimony so that we can proclaim the praise of God and lead the broken to return to the Lord.
If someone asks us why we are Christians, how do we respond? How do we do this with words? We need to be able to say, in five minutes or less, how our lives were before our healing by Jesus, how Jesus entered our lives, and how our lives are now.
For example, I could say that I am an alcoholic and that my father and brothers are alcoholic. I have suffered with mental illness ranging from depression, obsessive/compulsive thoughts, panic and extreme fear through much of my life. I am blind and partially deaf. I have often wished I were dead, even as young as eight years of age. I thank God my life crumbled in middle age and that I had to let down my artificial walls of self-sufficiency and learn to be healed through the power of God in the 12-Step programs. It was there that I learned acceptance, love and the gradual healing that God intends for many human problems. God healed me of my alcoholism, panic, obsessions, sarcasm and fears but it took time and much foot work. It was often noticed by others before I even recognized that I had changed.
God continues to work miracles in my life. In the past five years I have developed musical, writing, teaching and counseling skills through the Lord working through our pastor (my spiritual director) and the Church. I have become less obsessed with worldly notions of success and am learning to trust the Holy Spirit to guide me in and to freedom. I am slowly learning my place in the world by means of the wonderful mission of Jesus and his plans for my life. What about the future? I believe that the Lord will continue to heal and lead me as long as I continue to grow in faith and willingness to change, practice obedience and strive with passion to the wonderful goal that the Lord is calling me too.
What is my testimony? Am I prepared to write a five minute summary of what the Lord has done with my life? Am I willing to share this with others?
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