MEDI TAT IONS
MEDI TAT IONS Hugh A . Buchanan
Hugh A . Buchanan
This book is for Dad, and al l who love him
Thank you, Dad, for sharing your reflections. From you we learn to see how God is always present and at work in our lives, we are encouraged to grapple with our insecurities and step out in faith, we are inspired to live wholeheartedly, and we are prompted to embrace the grace and love of God.
Fall in Love Attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ (1907–1991) Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.
I have this on my desk and let myself “stumble” across it. It reminds me of a relationship I cannot take for granted without losing the joy meant for me to have. - Hugh
There is an important and pretty strong message in the readings this week although it is tucked away in the second reading from Paul’s in his letter to the Corinthians. I can’t tell you how many times I skip the introductions, and really I shouldn’t. The second reading is only the introduction of Paul’s comments, so it would be easy to blow by and get to what he “really has to say.” That would be a mistake.
I do not think it takes a lot of reflection to suspect God wants something else, something more…a lot more. No surprise, He does. He wants you; all of you. He wants a relationship with you so that the rules aren’t what matter, the relationship is what matters. It will drive all that you do. Merton goes on later to add, “To have a spiritual life is to have a life that is spiritual in all its wholeness-a life in which the actions of the body are holy because of the soul, and the soul is holy because of God dwelling First of all, it isn’t just addressed to the Corinthians. While directly and acting in it.” addressed to them, Paul expands the audience vastly to include all those who “…call upon the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ.” Yes, that includes you and me and he is asking for your attention. His exhortation is to “…be holy”. Think about that for a second. What is he really saying? I think it is his forthright statement that you and I were created, by God, to be nothing less than saints. Perhaps it is only me, but when I think of holy people, saints I have found through reading and example, it is easy to remember Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ said it much more simply, urging all to fall in all the times I did not measure up to a vocation of “sainthood.” love with God and let that simple fact of love drive everything you do. It is revolutionary. Is that what God really wants? You know Yet we are called to be precisely that…saints in the kingdom. One it is and when we realize it, it is precisely his vision of you, His isn’t a saint after dying and joining the heavenly hosts. You have knowledge of who you really are which makes it all make sense. a decision now to choose what particular path you are going to Jesus only looks at you as a saint, a brother or sister worth trod in this life. The path is a little murky sometimes though, isn’t going to the cross for and standing with in front of the Father, it? How do I go about it? Is it just avoiding sin or obedience to the whispering your name to Him. Yes, you are worth that much in “will of God? Thomas Merton, in his book, No Man is an Island, the eyes of God. It calls us to be more than we are; to do more brings it to simple but dramatic grounding. He states, “Sanctity than we think we can. What is he is calling out to you about? does not consist merely in doing the will of God. It consists in willing the will of God. For sanctity is union with God…” I can Listen and pray with the Psalm this week and believe in Paul’s feel the tug of fear in me whispering, “I was afraid of that…now invitation to you in his letter. Write your conversation with Jesus I can’t simply ascribe to a prescription of following the rules and in the margins of your Bible. Listen to him tell you how precious make it...” you truly are to him…and let that guide you.
God wants something else, something more... He wants you; all of you.
Isaiah 49:3, 5-6
Psalm 40:2, 4, 7-10
1 Corinthians 1:1-3
You A re Invited
In September of 2011 I began a spiritual journey known in Ignatian circles as the 19th Retreat. It is a journey many others have taken as I explore and reflect upon the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. I am finding, with the help of a Jesuit director, that many of my commonly held beliefs about myself and my path were not really thought out that well. The Exercises are moving me along a path where my relationship with God is undergoing change. Not always an easy thing, but in this case, a very healthy one. Part of what I am learning is that there is new depth to Scripture I haven’t felt in a long time. God is using the readings my director is suggesting to reveal new aspects. Scripture is one way God communicates who he is, what kind of God he is and in some special ways, how he calls us all uniquely. God’s call is integral to the readings this weekend and it is a reminder it is something we need to think and pray about. Chances are, Jesus’ call to the Apostles along the shoreline wasn’t the first time Peter, Andrew, James and John heard the Lord. We have other Synoptic accounts where John the Baptist pointed Jesus out to Andrew. But this time it was different. Jesus was preaching the good news when he came to the water’s edge. His call to these rugged men was a one way ticket. Whether the fishermen knew it or only realized it later, they could not deny their decision to follow Jesus that day changed them forever. We talk often (I have too, in these weekly missives) that God is always calling us, he is always knocking on the door and is only waiting for our weak and humble acknowledgement that we need him. All that, is true. The trouble is we do not hear it or our busy lives prevent us even considering that God has a purpose to his call specifically for us. We may think that way, but part of the reason we miss the invitation is we are not “poor” enough in spirit to hear him. There seems to be a human short-coming that something must be right for it to happen. Johannes B. Metz wrote a short little essay on the “Poverty of Spirit” that my director gave me to consider. It was the first of the Beatitudes, if you will recall…to be poor in spirit. Metz seems to say that without this bedrock humility, we will not hear the invitation. “There is a moment, an hour, when opportunity knocks, when man can integrate the elements of his life and make them whole…it is not an ever-present one which he can, consequently manage as he will…” These humble fishermen along the shore grabbed hold of the invitation like they did their nets. They saw in Jesus the promise of making themselves whole and they left all to follow him. You and I have an invitation. Part of hearing it is finding a way to “dispose” yourself to hear the message God has only for you. You are unique to his creation. You are the only person EVER CREATED to have the relationship to God he wants with you. Don’t miss the chance to hear his voice and drop your nets.
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm 25:4-9 4
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Ordinar y People, E xtraordinar y God
I have often wondered how the Apostles could up and leave what they were doing after what could have been many years, I would imagine, and follow Jesus on a path that would never return them to the life they knew. James and John were in a family business! How much did their father depend on them to run their part of it? Think if the call came to you the same way. There you are working on the line, or managing accounts or delivering newspapers and someone says, “…stop what you are doing and come with me…” Can you imagine trying to justify going away to follow someone to yourself let alone to those with whom you may dwell or are responsible for? Yet, there was something in Jesus’ call that moved them; changed them. Perhaps they began just to hear what he was saying for the day, or for the next hour, but then they found that the life they knew could not be the same anymore unless they were tied to Jesus. They had the same worries and responsibilities that you and I do, but something changed them. They met someone whose call reached deep into their being and nothing would be the same again. Perhaps we haven’t heard the same words. Perhaps we heard but didn’t think it was meant for us. Believe me, I know how that happens. Perhaps we do not think God would touch us on the shoulder to do “important” work for him. Perhaps we think our lives are entrenched in the daily routine with people who depend on us and in the scheme of eternity; it makes no difference what we could change. Change would not be welcome on top of all of that! I believe this though, that an encounter with Jesus will mean that we, just like the Apostles, will never be the same again and the calling to do His will means the world can change…if that isn’t important, I simply do not know what is important. Hearing God’s call will elicit a response which we cannot refuse or diminish. We just miss the opportunity. As I reflect, there has probably been many more times I have chosen “not to hear” and continued my life in my own comfort, choosing to be lord over myself, instead of letting Jesus be who he is in truth, Lord of all. Jesus calls us; that is you and me just as he called the Apostles: amid the busiest parts of our lives. As Paul tells us, it isn’t us, but Jesus who is important, for we were not baptized by any other name. Unfathomable to us, our small talents turn out to be all He needs to change the world. The Apostles were just fishermen. They were not preachers, teachers, miracle workers, or great prophets. They weren’t types like Bill Gates, Barrack Obama or Warren Buffet. Neither are most of us, but the ingredients He wants to use are just where he wants them to be…inside you and I. How do I know? Because you are made exactly the way God wanted you made for his plan to save us. You want to change the world…make him Lord of your life, and the rest will happen. Pray for clear sightedness. Mark your Bibles with the passages that speak to you. Don’t leave the conversation one sided…He waits for you.
Psalm 27:1, 4, 13-14 6
1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17
There is mystery surrounding the understanding of the Body of Christ. I certainly have no special intuition, and do not claim to understand it all, but I have wondered about it. How is it that we are called a body when there seems to be such division? Even in the Church, among good people, there seems little that would draw us to a conclusion that we are one body, let alone the Body of Christ. What is in us that overcomes the divisions and brings us to a place where we can be viewed and act as one body?
God is in all things and in all of us. We are not apart from God. The Body of Christ is recognized when we discern the Spirit which is in each of us calling us to be the person God whispered to as he ushered us into being in the womb. We were all a thought in the mind of God before we were anything else. He used your name then, and he continues to call it. Like cells which are in themselves distinct living organisms, cannot be viable separated from the collection of cells we call our own body, we as disciples of Jesus, can not be eternally viable separated from the Body St. Paul points out that there are differences between people, which is Christ in the world. It is integrated inexorably into our obvious differences, for God’s purpose. We have gifts that vary humanity and the unity which joins us as creations of God. so that all may be a needed part of the whole. I can not fill in for your part in God’s plan for humanity. He created you for that “The Abyss, the Source, the Silent desert that is God is purpose. We are connected because for some divine purpose, never discovered in pursuing thoughts about God, but in we need each other to finish the work of Christ. There isn’t recognizing the intimate unity already present between a hierarchy which commands and obeys, but a body which God and all created beings.”2 grows and changes. But it isn’t obvious is it? We need help to see it sometimes. Thomas Merton was rocked to his soul on a Look to his call for you and find where he is leading you. “How street in Louisville when he realized the commonality of all men. is God calling you to embrace His purpose for your life?” is the It changed his life. Teilhard de Chardin would call it a taste for question for this week. For there is no doubt the call is there… being and a witness to the diaphany of God. On some given day a let yourself hear it and follow it wherever it leads you…and it will man suddenly becomes conscious that he is alive to a particular lead you to Him. perception of the divine spread everywhere about him…All he 1. Telhard de Chardin, Pierre, The Divine Mileu, Harper and Row Publishers, 1960. knows is that a new spirit has crossed his life.1 2. Lane, Belden C., The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, Oxford University Press, 1998.
How is God calling you to embrace His purpose for your life? Scripture Readings:
Nehemiah 8:2-6, 8-10
Psalm 19:8-10, 15 7
1 Corinthians 12:12-30
Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21
Rise, O Sleeper! from Psa lm 95 Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture,and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
The Psalm for this Sunday is the same song sung throughout the world to begin the day for those who try to keep the Liturgy of the Hours, the prayer of the Church. My grandfather had a copy of the Breviary which somehow came to me after
January 2012 his death. I did my best to say the morning and night prayers from the ancient, black, leather bound book for a year. Each morning I would say, “Lord, Open my lips and my mouth will proclaim your praise.” It would then be followed by Psalm 95…
would end. So there is always a call. There is always a voice. The repeated chorus in the Psalm urges us to act upon that voice when we finally do hear it ring true in our hearts. “Harden not your hearts…” Do not ignore the whisper of your name. Listen to the tugs during your prayer that point you “Come…” The Psalm opens with the Word to Him who made you. “Come”. We can miss the opportunity the Word offers us. It can just be an opening to Where to start? The Psalm helps us there the rest of the verse or it can be a herald too. Praise God and let the rest happen. prompting a deeper relationship. Fr. Brillet admonishes us: Gaston Brillet, in his book Meditations on We allow things to go on as if the Old Testament, asks a question that we believed that divine praise, brings forth the point. He asks, “Why do the an act that requires thought masters of thought and act so easily say, and practice, holiness and love, “Come!”? His own answer acknowledges demands scarcely any effort on that in the depth of our beings, “…we our part of attention, purification, are abominable sleepers. If we want to production, accomplishment… do something, we must be awakened.” Inertia is planted deep within us and our contentment to resign ourselves to our Praising God is something we are comfortable surroundings supplants our created to do (into eternity in fact), but willingness to take a ‘risk’ and be open to it is something that requires a cost from us…some effort, attention, purification, what God has to say to us. production, and accomplishment according to Fr. Brillet. There is a reason Yet we can not escape His voice. It is ringing forever around us if we can but hear. God for that and it isn’t because God needs it… cares too much for you to leave you alone we do. Spend time in your prayer praising to your own devices, knowing us better God. Write your praise in your Bibles. Get than we do ourselves. He knows where we started. Listen with your heart.
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9 8
1 Corinthians 7:32-35
L ove Never Fails
We hear in the second reading the phenomenal statement that “…love never fails…” In my edition, it is placed on a line all to itself and thus almost jumps from the page as the conclusion of the descriptive attributes which precede it. If it is true that love never fails, I wonder what it is that I have been doing…for the love I practice is filled with failure. Failures of patience, kindness and gentleness seem to abound. My practice of love doesn’t carry the day…perhaps that is the problem? It is. One cannot ‘practice’ love. The litany developed by Paul only describes what he sees in the love of Christ poured out for us. We can’t love by being patient; we are patient because we love. I remember when my father suffered from sun downers as a result of the anesthetic used during one of his surgeries in the last year of his life. In his delirium, he laughed and talked about (and with) people he had known throughout his lifetime, some of which I had never even heard of, drawn from his time in the Army during WWII and even friends from St. Mary’s High School! I didn’t hear him utter one negative word through it all. I marveled at the gentle tone and sincere affection he held for so many people. His natural state was on display unhindered by the usual defenses and what I saw was something that did not fail. He loved and it impacted all his relationships. He gave because it was a natural extension of 86 years of loving all those he came in contact with…seeing value in those he met and always commending the good in people. There is an Indian (from India) tale of a lover who knocks on the door of his beloved. “Who knocks?” “It is I,” said the lover. “Then go away. This house will not hold you and me.” The rejected lover went away into the desert. There he meditated for months on end, pondering the words of the Beloved. Finally he returned and knocked at the door again. “Who knocks?” “It is you.” The door was thrown open.1 Too often we want to make sure our imprint leaves a mark. Those who love deeply only feel the imprints of others they meet, unconscious of the impact their love has on all who see it. They are impressed with the imprint of the love of God and it marks them. Jesus tells us love will lead us into unexpected places if we let it nestle itself so deep within us it becomes who we are. God is love, John says. We catch glimpses every once in a while that changes who we are forever. Thank you Lord for those times. 1. Anthony de Mello, SJ, The Song of the Bird, Loyola University, 1983.
Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19
Psalm 71:1-6, 15-17 9
1 Corinthians 12:31–13:13
A Blessed Shattering
Jesus asked Peter to “…put out into deep water…” and Peter, wisely acting on his request, found fish aplenty. Astonished, the Gospel says, “…at the size of the catch…” Peter fell to his knees and does the first thing I think we all would. “…please let me put space between us…I do not belong this close to holiness.” I can relate to this sense of inadequacy in the presence of greatness. I am sure we have all experienced moments when someone enters a room or speaks to us unexpectedly; people whom we would normally not expect to even register on their radar. It would be like walking around a corner and meeting Mother Theresa or Gandhi or one of a host of ‘holy’ people in our eyes and have them say hello. We are people of the world, after all, not in the same league. It is a conclusion based upon a false premise. Each of the men in the readings this Sunday, Isaiah, Paul and Peter, easily recognized their unworthiness before God. They knew their past did not give them any right to stand in the presence of holiness itself, and live. Yet precisely to such as these (and us), God continues to turn, like bricks in a new structure, to build the Body of Christ. What we understand as our ‘worthiness’ isn’t the criteria God uses. He sees something completely different. Why are there stunning examples around us that show what it means to give our lives to Christ and yet we choose to follow them in only the most minimal terms at best? Is it because we would simply rather remain in the safety of our known lives and not risk the changes true conversion calls us to accept? How is it we try to retain the false picture of who we are rather than the true vision God knows is in us? Teilhard de Chardin challenges us almost brutally in his small book, The Divine Milieu, “How is it that the perspectives opened up by the kingdom of God do not, by their very presence, shatter the distribution and balance of our activities?” When the kingdom of God is seen as clearly as the perspective gained by the three men in the readings, it does shatter what we do and who we are because it shatters who we thought we were…and we cannot go back. The truth is we are called to no less a mission than that of Isaiah, Paul and Peter. Our worthiness is not the question. Our willingness is the question. Our penchant to stay close to the shore where the familiar allows us a false sense of control only leads us to sink into the sands. Jesus calls us to put out into the deep, to leave the familiar and trust in his Lordship. Step out and feel the waves beneath you and let the Lord lead you to the catch he destined you to make. It is a journey of a lifetime to be sure…yours and mine…don’t hesitate to start.
Psalm 138:1-5, 7-8 11
Our worthiness is not the question. Our willingness is the question.
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
L ife in the Deser t
For a time in our lives, we lived in the desert in west Texas. I remember the first glimpse I had of seven foot tumble weeds and hardrock earth and thinking, “this is desert…???” I was amazed to realize there was life amid the desolation. I can also remember the mornings after a rain. The brown hues of the landscape were transformed into subtle purples, bright yellows and verdant greens. It seemed like life was hidden beneath some cloak which was whisked away by the winds and rain. It was a new paradigm for me and I have often returned to the desert in my mind during difficult times remembering that beneath the hard surface; God’s life endures and endures for me. The desert is a place where we can sift away the debris of our lives and discover the wholesome spirit planted by God within us and if we give it enough time and serious listening, we will also glean the whisper of the Lord’s purpose. It is difficult, though, is it not, to hear and understand what God is saying to us much of the time? It is so hard, in fact, we seldom take the time to do it. The practice of waiting without pushing our desires to the surface, what is called an apophatic approach to prayer; waiting patiently for understanding without projection, simply doesn’t happen without the pain, suffering and vision a desert paints into the process unmistakably. The fierce landscape is a parable of the place of prayer within us that is necessary to find God. Rare it may be, but we now have a chance over the course of the next 40 days to invite it into our lives.
...(c ontinued) 12
February 2013 (First Sunday of Lent)
The Gospel describes the path of Jesus from his baptism into the wilderness, driven by the Spirit, to discern how this favored son is going to fulfill the mission so clearly announced in the Jordan River. We have no Biblical clue perhaps in this reading, but it isn’t a stretch to know that Jesus had to struggle, pray and fast, to finally hear what his Father was saying…and he did. The temptations could not deter him from the path his Father laid out for him. It wasn’t easier for him as some may think…the temptation to save the world from its sins carried weight we can never conceive. Yet his example is an invitation to us to follow him, and now is the time. Lent is our chance to follow Jesus along his path. Don’t lose the chance to struggle, pray and fast for Jesus did show us the way to the Father…it’s just we don’t like to travel barefooted in the desert! Our feet hurt as our journey kicks up things about ourselves we do not particularly like to face. We stub our toes on all of the small sins we like to excuse and hold on to as part of “our character”. We break against rocks of our “safe” circumstance. But the Gospel is calling us anew during these 40 days to reconsider our place and wander in the desert for a while with the Lord. He will show you that the harsh realities of the difficulties so evident can not hurt you, but the blessings hidden until the rain can reveal them, are the real truth of his love for you. Don’t lose Lent. It is an invitation into the desert…to the harshness, healing and beauty which is there with God. Use it well.
Psalm 91:1-2, 10-15 13
Perfection. It is what the Gospel calls us to this week. To some (me included) it is a reminder of precisely the opposite; that we are all sinners. The gulf between me and perfection is indeed great and obvious upon even the most cursory of examinations. Being the human that I am, I can find myself rationalizing, not the behavior or the sin, of course, but mentally travelling to a place which says, “We all sin, we all need salvation. The measure isn’t that I have never sinned, but that I am sorry.” There is a fly in this ointment I apply. There is the fact I may not even realize the extent or the number of times I have wandered far from God’s path. I wonder how many of my own sins I do not even recognize any longer due to my own shortened vision. Are there instances where I made choices, hurt those I love and others whom I do not even know, because of my pride, my cowardice or even my apathy? I think there are and may be legion for I find even a short excursion through my past brings to mind a plethora of the incidents I know to the forefront.
It is radical indeed, this necessary call to holiness. It is, in the root, the purpose for which we are created. Pray about that small fact. You and I were created to be in effect, saints in the kingdom. We forgive ourselves our little lapses along the way, but the Gospel here is clear and it has its roots all the way from Leviticus! It jars us. It should. We are meant for the kingdom and we settle for much less. We try to muddle our own way, when there is someone who already is the way, right in front of us. Jesus says, “…follow me…” and we reply, “We want to Lord, tell me how.” He replies, “Follow me.” “I will go to Church, I will pray each day, I will read the Bible. Is that it?” Jesus will reply, “Follow me.” We all balk because we think we do not understand. But is that the truth? The radical message is we have to become someone new. We don’t become holy through what we do, but by who we are… and who we follow.
All of the readings should give us pause because they surface something we do not face all that often. What matters isn’t that I break the rules. What does matter is what (or who) resides deep inside me that guides what I think about, consider important and urges me towards decisions. What (or who) is it that leads me in ALL that I do? If it is only me, I am subject to the winds and whimsies of my fickleness. If it is God, and specifically Jesus as Lord, the person that I am changes. I can become “holy” to Talk to Jesus as you read and meditate with the readings this the extent I surrender my own defensive measures and begin week. What is Christ stirring in you? Write it down, don’t lose it. to depend on another radical way, that of following Christ. It is God has a purpose for you. Discover it. nothing less than a herald to holiness for which my salvation depends.
We don’t become holy through what we do, but by who we are...and who we follow.
Scripture Readings: Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18
Psalm 103:1-4, 8, 10, 12-13 14
1 Corinthians 3:16-23
A re You L iving in a Twilight Zone? We used to watch a television show when I was young called the “Twilight Zone”, created by Rod Serling. The show depicted ordinary people in extraordinary, sometimes supernatural situations. The lines between what was real and what was in the “twilight zone” was a tag line that Serling used to great effect to bring his audience into sympathy with the characters in the show as they struggled to understand what they were experiencing to what they knew was real. The series came to mind as I read through the readings this week. Abraham was called by God to go to a mountain and offer sacrifice…of his son. The parallels with the life of Jesus almost leap from the page. Isaac travels through the desert with his father, the wood of the sacrifice is loaded on his shoulders as he climbs the mountain, he is bound and laid upon the wood. They all point to the path of Jesus. I can’t dwell on that now, but read the full account in Genesis, in light of the knowledge of the New Testament and it will strike you like it did with me. Still Abraham (and Isaac I bet) had to wonder if all this is real, don’t you think? Where was the promise to come from if not from Isaac? How did the demands of God square with the world Abraham knew? Abraham decided to trust his God, believing that if he could give him a son in his old age, he could raise him from the dead. He broke through what his former experience told him to the reality of what God was doing for him. Again in the Gospel, Jesus is transfigured in front of Peter, James and John. Do you think they had to wonder where the reality they knew of life in the fishing boats was? Or was what they were witnessing the “reality” of life? Sometimes it is not too easy to figure this out is it? What is real to you, the life you try to lead in
Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18
March 2012 the ‘real’ world of business and the hectic and sometimes tragic circumstances which shout at us each day or the quiet reflective times in prayer or during worship? Does it seem you have to live in two worlds all the time? As Thomas Merton put it, “Yes, there is an ordinary world in which you live your normal life with your fellow men…While continuing to live in it and to obey its rules, you have to carefully learn a whole new body of truths which will seem to you senseless and incomprehensible, and you must add this superstructure of strange ideas on to what you see and know by your natural reason…This divisive and destructive pattern of life and thought is not the Bible message at all” (Merton, Thomas; Opening the Bible, 1970). And yet, I sometimes find myself bridging both worlds somehow, wondering where my feet are really planted. The truth is there is but one reality, the one we see so readily is not abandoned by the one we can not see. Jesus is fully alive in everything around us. St. Paul reminds us of that truth by asking us to consider who (or what) can separate us from the love of God. The end of chapter 8 of Romans crescendos with his assertion that “neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things…will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We are not separated, but joined through eternity. Think about the divisions in your life this week. Do you see Jesus in all the trials as well as the joys, walking arm in arm with you? Pray about whether the segmentations we construct are healthy or are they barriers to our relationship with him who loves you beyond what we can truly imagine.
Psalm 116:10, 15-19 15
God said: “Remember to rest.” This is not a lifestyle suggestion, but a commandment, as important as not stealing, not murdering, or not lying. We need Sabbath. We’ve all lived too long where we can be reached.”1
“Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.” (Luke 13:8b-9)
The poet, Rumi, once wrote: “What I want is to leap out of this personality And then sit apart from that leaping I’ve lived too long where I can be reached.” In a day of instant and constant communication, cell phones and emails, FaceBook and Twitter, I suspect that we all can identify with Rumi at some point, when the constant barrage overwhelms us. Certainly I do. I’ve lived too long where I can be reached. It can seem that we’re almost always over-stretched with too much to do. We come to the end of each day tired, yet conscious of what we’ve left undone. There’s always someone else we should have phoned, emailed, or attended to in some way. Our lives often seem like over packed suitcases, crammed to the brim, and still unable to hold all we need to carry along. What’s wrong here?
We spend a lot of time, or should, trying to assess and strengthen our relationship with God during Lent. We can lose our way because the season is long and interrupted with “important” things to do. But in reality there isn’t anything more important. We get mixed up thinking the things we see are the reality when in truth, the things we can not see outweigh in gravity for eternity, by wide margin. And relationship, by its nature and eternal design, takes time.
Whenever we feel that way, it’s a sure sign that we’ve lost a proper sense of time and purpose. Life is meant to be busy, but we’re also meant, at regular times, to have sabbatical, that is, Sabbath time, to rest and enjoy. Scripture tells us that God established a certain rhythm to time and we ignore it at our peril, I think.
Our faith is to be lived. If it is a Sunday exercise, and nothing more, you are only fooling one person…and it isn’t the Lord. Build in time for God this week. Let something go that eats up your time and devote “rest” to Him who said you need it, most remarkably, not for him, but for yourself. 1. Fr. Ron Rolheiser, Quoted from http://liturgy.slu.edu; The Center for Liturgy of St. Louis University
Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15
Psalm 103:1-4, 6-8, 11
1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12
L uke 15:11-32 A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began.
Prodigal Sons and Daughters
There are moments in each of our lives where we may have an insight into the scene of a son coming home to the forgiving embrace of his father. It may be when we realize that some action on our part has caused pain to another and we are moved to ask for forgiveness. It may be when we find the time has passed, after the death of a parent, when our words of sorrow are mixed with the emotions of guilt and an inability to now hear words of acceptance. There are some elements that seem to make a difference and one clearly in the story of the Prodigal Son, is the moment when we realize we do not deserve forgiveness and we search for mercy. In his haunting painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son, the Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn brilliantly captures the deep love that the father in this parable had for his son. Rembrandt’s painting is so effective, in fact, that many who have seen it have been brought to repentance and reconciliation with God. The priest and author Henri Nouwen had just such an experience. “When I first saw Rembrandt’s painting,” he wrote, “my intense response to the father’s embrace of his son told me that I was desperately searching for that inner place where I too could be held as safely as the young man in the painting. When I saw the tender way in which the father touched the shoulders of his young son and held him close to his heart, I felt very deeply that I was the lost son and wanted to return.” There is a graced moment when we know we are lost and need the embrace of a loving God. What keeps us away from Him? I found part of the answer this week when I heard the story of a troubled young lady, steeped in the clutches of prostitution and drugs. She found a way to the Lord, but hesitated because, “I’ve taken Jesus to some pretty bad places.” Her words made me realize that I too have taken Jesus to some pretty bad places. Memories of my failures still come to mind and now I realize a part of it may be that I too knew that I never traveled alone along those roads; Jesus was there too and I went ahead anyway. Could Jesus embrace me now?
There is a graced moment when we know we are lost and need the embrace of a loving God.
Her admission brought a ‘prodigal moment’ to me. I too knew the servants were treated well in the House of the Lord. I also knew my own pain and guilt, like hers, are washed away in the embrace of God. His promise to walk with me wherever I find myself has become that much more real to me. The Psalm makes even more sense now…“create in me a new heart, O Lord…” I saw the new heart in her and knew there was a new heart for me too. Take the time as we pass the midpoint of Lent to heal the places in others where we caused pain, reconcile with those who give us cause and find the path which leads us back to home…our Father is watching for us still.
Psalm 34:2-7 19
2 Corinthians 5:17-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
Tr usting in Trials There certainly seems to be a lot of pain in the world these days, does there not? There are times when Mary is watching the news where I simply walk out of the room. I can easily recall times in my own life, when the pressure of simply living without answers was extremely difficult. Would Mom’s cancer eventually be contained? Would my friend’s recent argument lead to estrangement? Would I be able to confront the truth about what my actions mean to those who love me? ‘Bearing’ isn’t automatic and certainly not easy many times. Paul gives us warning about this with his message this week. He tells us to “…bear our share of hardship…” There is “hardship” in living the Gospel? Yes, from our eyes there may be. But Paul goes on. He tells us to bear it with the “… strength that comes from God…”
There is strength in all of us which we use too sparingly. Scripture Readings:
March 2014 There is strength in all of us which we use too sparingly. God made us to be holy, that is, separated (the root of the word) from that which we see (and too often live) around us…the evil in the world. I heard a quote from Fr. Rolheiser he credited to his father, “Anyone can show me humanity; I need someone to show me divinity!” I think we all are made of sterner stuff than we know or realize. In fact, you are made to a perfect design by the perfect designer. We need to trust. We need to have faith.
wholly on the Word and promise he received from the Lord. Jesus was transfigured. We are transformed. “When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on earth?” Jesus wondered out loud when he was here. Will He? Where are you? Where am I? Lent is a time of listening. It is a time too, of bearing…
Write your thoughts in your Bibles this week. Spend time listening to God talk to Faith is a tricky word in our English you through the passages. Answer Him language. We sometimes understand it with your prayers, desires, pain and joys. to be synonomous with belief. It is much more than that. Satan believes there is a Christ. He has no faith. Jesus is looking for faith; the faith that says, “I rely on you no matter what happens, no matter what I see around me, no matter what I feel. I believe you made me to love you, because you loved me first.” A’Kempis reminded me this week that “Greater is Thy care for me than all the care which I am able to take for myself.” Looking at my own history, I can attest I am no substitute for the care that God can give, even caring for myself. Abram knew that. He had faith enough to leave all he knew and went forth, not knowing where he was going; depending
Psalm 33:4-5, 18-20, 22 20
2 Timothy 1:8-10
Words in the Sand
The passage from Isaiah which will be read this Sunday is for me one of the most beautiful in the Old Testament. The Prophet was encouraging the people by announcing a Word from God that eventual liberation will come to them. His emphasis was to look ahead and not dwell on the miracles of the past glory. He reminds them in verse 11, that the Lord God is the only savior. It was He who opened the sea to make a path. It was He who prompted the destruction of the Egyptian army amid the torrents of the Red Sea. Isaiah then juxtaposes the current situation in Babylon and says that God will make a way in the desert. “See”, the text almost jumps from the page, “I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” Perception just doesn’t seem that easy in our world does it. Often I feel pinned between competing objectives, even good ones, and can’t find the right choice without anguish and no small amount of struggle. Even determining what is right and wrong seems hard to discern sometimes. Health care or freedom; is that the choice? How do I deal with harshness, hardheartedness or simple apathy which seems to cause harm? Am I quick to point to the “sin” in others or do I excuse or perhaps worse, simply choose to ignore the sins I harbor within myself? I have often pictured the scene of Jesus kneeling in the sand, with the accused at his side and the righteous, believers pushing for “justice” to be done. I learn a lot about myself if I make the effort to see myself not as the accused here, but as the accuser. The pull to be with the crowd will suspend introspection and reflection that should accompany my actions. I can simply follow the trends or accept the “logic” of others to my peril really. Too often with this passage, I escape to the relative safety of the accused, seeing others exacting penalties I shouldn’t have to face, but careful reading says that is not the case here. The woman was guilty. The law demanded payment. The people were demanding it. Jesus writes in the sand the Gospel says. I wonder aloud, if I were there in the front with the crowd, what would he write about me? It gives me pause. Guilt of another always pales compared to my own when I really wrestle with it; so it was with the crowd beginning with the elders that day. It is not easy to give up grudges, hurts, injustice done to us. We find it an easy crutch, an excuse to justify. It isn’t easy to see ourselves as the “accusers” either. In reality we are both at different times. Jesus calls us away from those places for there is only death there. He calls us to life in forgiveness not only because we cannot live burdened by the heavy stones of malice, contempt, and hate, but we are created in our being to love. St. Paul urges us to let Christ take us over. In the last few days of Lent, invite Christ to dwell with you. Ask him what he would write in the sand if you were there. What you will hear and see is that he is inviting you to something new…for he makes all things new in himself. If we really understood that, we wouldn’t take small, hesitant, careful steps. We would abandon caution and run to him. Go ahead…run to him. He is waiting for you with his finger tracing grace-filled paths in the sand just for you.
Psalm 126:1-6 21
It was about this time a couple of years ago, when we seemed to be going to funerals every other day. Today, that time came back to me as a coworker’s father passed at the age of 98. While I did not know him, the sharing at the funeral indicated he was a wonderful man, tough to the turmoil of the world and yet loving, prayerful and gentle to those who surrounded him. Hope and assurance that would he would join his Lord, filled the room and the Church. Another middle aged man who I came to know is losing his battle to cancer. His physical body is riddled with tumors and he is in no little pain. During my visit with him, he shared that although death is coming upon him quickly, he is ready. He looked at me with eyes wide and said, “I have had a good life, many live much longer and never know what I know.” He was talking about all of the loving people who took the time to stop and say goodbye. All of the people he knew were still praying for his journey. All of the people God gave him in his life as gift. And he knew that Jesus, his friend of many years, would welcome him home. Finally it is the anniversary of a young man who died tragically alone and desperately depressed. His relationships were stormy and trust was limited. He did not know where to go and in the end could find no one to comfort him. We especially feel bad about this young man as we were not aware of his suffering and failed to help out of our ignorance. Sometimes it is very difficult to deal with how we feel and what our mind and faith are telling us. We know that Jesus cried for us, and I believe he cried for the young man too. I am often reminded that the obvious pain we see around us in the elderly or suffering may be dwarfed by many of those in the pews who are in pain and do not show it. We are called as a people in covenant with the Lord to minister to each other…to be the arms, ears, hands and feet of Jesus to each other. How is it that there can be pain so close of which we are unaware? Part of what happens as we move through these 40 days of prayer and heightened awareness of God in our lives is to mold our dispositions to the Will of God. “Disposition” in this sense points to our willingness to seek and follow Jesus in his mission…it calls us to listen and adapt ourselves, not to our own desires but to those of the Lord. Our paths are strewn with obstacles though, are they not? Pray the Psalm this week sincerely and listen to what God has to tell you. “Create a clean heart in ME” is a calling not only of the Psalmist, but for each of us during our journey to Easter. The visit by the Greeks was enough for Jesus to know his hour was coming. His disposition to what the Father was calling him to do was so clear he knew the sign as we may know that a breeze is teasing us on a hot afternoon. Lent is a time for us to ask God to help us hear him…spend time doing that this week. Write your prayers in your Bibles and listen for the small voice who calls for you to respond.
Psalm 51:3-4, 12-15 22
The mystery of Jesus becomes clearer as he approached Jerusalem through the Gospel journey we have followed up to now. I have wondered what was happening in the mind of Jesus as he approached Bethany. His attachment to Lazarus is clear from the story and the prior references to the house of Martha. Who was this Lazarus that Jesus calls “friend” even before he calls his disciples by that term? Lazarus is only mentioned in relation to Martha and Mary. We never hear a word from him although we do from his sisters. Some accounts have it that Lazarus had abided by the custom of the day, taking in his unmarried sisters. I wonder if there was another reason.
I think so and I think it caused him pain. “Jesus wept,” the Gospel tells us. It is the shortest passage in the Bible and one of the most poignant. He cried because of the love for Mary, Martha and Lazarus. I think he also cried because some would be blind to who he was and would only see a threat. The raising of Lazarus brought the wrath of the Sanhedrin. The Gospel reveals it was at this moment they were determined to find cause to kill him. I think Jesus knew that already. He knew that bringing life to someone would bring death to himself. Some of those he came to save rejected him. Part of the Lenten journey reminds me that sometimes I have done the same awful thing. I think it is a certainty he cries for me too when that happens and he still Many of you know that before my father’s passing he was a brings me life despite what it means to him. He weeps because significant focus of my activities as the need for additional care there is no bottom to his love for me. escalated in the last year of his life. He spent most of his days confined to a wheelchair, struggling to see through eyes battered Jean Vanier confesses whenever he reads this passage he sees by glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration. His once the invalids in his L’Arche community. His picture isn’t the strong strong legs wouldn’t hold him up any longer, much to his dismay. Lazarus taking care of his sisters, but the other way around. The He lost track of the subject as we had our little talks about golf or Greek word in the gospel, “asthenes,” can imply this. My time the kids or plans for the next day. It was difficult for him knowing with my father reinforces that picture for me too. I think it easy his body and some of his mental capacities were slipping away. to see Jesus with the two women caring for a broken man, and At the same time his smile still sparkled as he recalled a song loving him through his pain. It turns the story upside down from or tried to tell a joke. I knew those were special days then and what I used to think…it is the same picture when someone prays that instinct has been confirmed through the years. What I heard for me to overcome my weakness, forgives my ingratitude, loves when I cared for dad over and over as I tried to face his reality me through my selfishness. I can be a spiritual invalid. I also was the only response that made sense; the response of the know Jesus calls me from my self-hewn grave to life. gospel, “He will rise.” And somehow I knew it is true because of Jesus is calling all of us as we “…keep our Lenten promises,” as Lazarus…and Jesus. Dad said. Loving us, raising us from our many small deaths and And Jesus, what did he know? Did he know that once he raised walking toward Calvary all the time. It is a gift. Pray through the Lazarus his own fate would be sealed by the powers in Jerusalem? Gospel in earnest this week. Be Lazarus.
Psalm 130:1-8 24
April 2014 (Palm Sunday) doing the ‘right’ things or even being the ‘right’ kind of person. What he was calling me to was recognition of him as my Lord; the one who loves me beyond measure and who yearns for my companionship. It was when an eternal relationship began for me.
We read and re-live in the readings the first of two pivotal moments in all of expended history. Easter will break upon us soon, but for now it is the darkness of the Passion. Jesus on the cross knew the distance between he and his Father. He knew the desolation of being alone. “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani,” he called out to his Father. Yet he knew that in that moment the world was being saved; you and I were saved. My experience so long ago connects me to that instant on the cross and I can do nothing but weep as I realize my own weakness in the face of the little trials All moments in time or in one’s life are not equal. There are I meet each day. moments where the rest of our existence, even into eternity, is decided; moments we cannot forget because forever we are Holy Week is upon us. The time to witness for ourselves of the changed. There is always an open door to Jesus, it is true. We enduring love God has for each of us. Your Lenten walk, no matter can experience something that changes our hearts at any time, how far you may have strayed from your original intentions, has but then, that becomes one of the times I am talking about here. led you to the brink of the Passion. Take the time this week to step along the path with Jesus. Follow Him with the crowd amid The passage from the letter to the Philippians marks one of those the dust and noise. moments for me and I cannot read it without re-experiencing, re-confirming that particular point in my life. It meant that I no Listen as the nails are pounded deep into the wood. Yes, we were longer could live the way I used to live nor be the person I once there, as the hymn reminds us, with the crowd, for we share the was. Among a throng of 45,000 other people, I stood alone with same transgressions. Christ and asked him if he would be my Lord. In the time it took to read the few words from the pen of St. Paul, I stood convicted We also share the same salvation. Good Friday is a day to of my own apathy, my own weakness, my own sense that what remember that we are a saved people…because He loves us Jesus was calling me to wasn’t a life of meeting deadlines, more than we can know. May you perceive His healing touch.
Psalm 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24 26
The Voice of God
Do you, like me, find the passage in the Gospel where Jesus says that those who belong to him hear his voice, more than a little disconcerting? What does the voice of God sound like? What is He saying to me? What is the message, or is there a reason I can not hear?
could recognize his own because he lived with them and cared for them each day. He knew every unique feature about each one and could pick them out no matter how many other sheep were crowded with them. The one that would wander off and get lost; the irritable one; the one who would insist on their own space; the one who seemed always to have something to say… It is the last question I am most fearful of finding an answer. The bleating his desires! world is filled with many voices I do hear. Some of the voices are so dominant, I hear little else. Can it be that the voice of God is And he would never leave any behind because they were all pushed so far away, I am deaf to its content? Is it I do not want precious to him. to hear because it means change to what I think I want to do… even when the “what I want to do” is something good…yes, I We hear his voice when we stop to listen. We hear his voice when find I can escape by working hard at good things in the ordinary we make time for the inconsistencies of life. We hear his voice sense. “How can I hear your voice Lord?” I might ask. “It seems it when we overcome the darkness of a moment with the light of love. We hear his voice when we ask that his will be done…and is really important to be able to hear you!” believe it will be. But every once in a while I will pause in the silence of prayer on an ordinary afternoon and a voice is so clear I cannot ignore Jesus has a song waiting for you to hear. Take the time this week it or push it away from me. God does not come screaming but to listen for it. Read the scripture and expect his voice to sing whispers, sings even, through the tumult I would ordinarily through the passages. Write your response in themargins, record construct to keep myself within my own safe womb. And the your prayers, hurts, tears. He is calling your name. voice tells me, “Yes, you are mine…for no one can take you out of my hand…” In the time of Jesus, shepherds would bring their sheep to town and the only place to keep them safe was to put them in a sheepfold with the flock of all the other sheep. Shepherds didn’t brand or clip ears back then. When it was time to leave, the shepherd would call his sheep and they would know his voice and leave. I think it is just as important to know that the Shepherd, indeed, also knew his sheep. Despite the crowded sheepfold, he
Psalm 100:1-3, 5 27
Revelation 7:9, 14-17
Costly L ove
April 2013 (Eastertide)
I wonder if Paul and Barnabas knew what they were starting. I doubt they thought about the repercussions or eventual growth their introduction to the Gentiles of the “Good News” could bring to the Church. I think they were simply following what they believed God was calling them to do. And it changed the world. Consider that effect. Listening to God can change the world). The truth is you and I have a very small view of the world. Despite the advancement of technology and rapid communication, what we “know” is in a pretty small circle. How much can we truly affect what is going on? The readings seem to tell us the impact can be great, because it isn’t the same old paradigm. There is something new to bring. Paul and Barnabas brought back startling news that led to rejoicing. Something unheard of was occurring; people without the heritage of the Jews were embracing “Christianity”. It was in Antioch, not Jerusalem, people were first called Christians…the impact of Paul and Barnabas continues to this day. So what was so new?
so I won’t elaborate except to say we need to pay attention when Jesus told his disciples, “I am with you only for a little longer…” What would hearing that statement do for your attention? I don’t think you nor I would miss the next few words…and what were they? “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you…” Read it again. What do those words really mean? The Jews up to this time knew they were to “…love their neighbor, as themselves…” I think we apply this standard much more often, because we rationalize that we have bigger hearts than we really do. We use it as a bullwhip to build expectations rather than to soften our hearts and really listen. Jesus is calling us to something radical. As Jean Vanier says: “Here Jesus is calling his disciples not only to love others as they love themselves, but to love as he – Jesus – loves them. That is what is new…”1
How does Jesus love? We know, yet we do not embrace it…because it hurts There is import in first and last things. sometimes! It calls us to be vulnerable… I have said that in these pages before who wants to do that? Living in close
Psalm 145:8-13 28
communion brings our weaknesses to the forefront and exposes our strengths as the temporary expedients they so often are… it means we risk much. I have been to many funerals in the last few weeks. What I see are people who loved much and really did not count the cost. The separation is painful, but I have yet found anyone who would trade their pain if the price was to lose the experience of the relationship they now mourn. They know the gift. There is a gift for us too, as we are called to be disciples…in fact Jesus says, that is the one trait someone can use to truly recognize his followers. Love is a word that means more than Webster’s snapshot…it entails how we live under the banner of the love of Jesus…it might be harder if we didn’t have someone who loved us that way…but we do. Talk to him this week about the obstacles and struggles you have in living up to his call to love. Read his answer in the passages of this week’s readings…and jot down what you hear.
1. Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John; Vanier, Jean; Paulist Press, 2004.
L aying Down Our L ives
April 2012 (Eastertide)
It has been a year, today, since that This is why the Father loves me, Tuesday just after Easter that my father because I lay down my life passed from this life to one we believe in order to take it up again. to be eternal, with the same Father, Son No one takes it from me, and Holy Spirit we call upon as we cross but I lay it down on my own. ourselves each time we pray. The year, as I have power to lay it down, many of you already know through your and power to take it up again. own experience, was punctuated with This command I have received memories, a special closeness with my from my Father. siblings (and cousins who grew up with us living next door) and some tears…as it I think it tells us a lot about Jesus and should be. about the journey we need to travel in I am also finishing up 40 weeks of special order to know what God is calling us to reflections and prayers through the and for what. Few other passages say as Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. I am much to us, if we can dwell long enough recollecting the journey through the to take it in. We are full of our own desires, weeks of the Exercises and the change in wants, anxieties and turmoil. We depend my relationship with God the Father and on a myriad of various stimuli to help us Jesus his Son. My mornings from 7:10 to discern our next actions. Rarely, unless 8:00 are more sacred to me as it marks the we engage consciously and regularly, do time I spend uniquely with God, talking we pause long enough to hear the small about His will and my walk. Let’s just leave voice in soft breeze that caused Elijah to it that there have been many difficult talks hide is face.1 It is apparent in what Jesus and a few that were simply full of love. says that his obedience to the Father was paramount in all he did, to the extent Both experiences came to the fore as I it governed who he was. Barclay insists read through and tried to wrestle with the that “Sonship for him, and sonship for us, readings this week, and what seemed to could never be based on anything except speak the loudest was the final few words obedience.”2 It is an obedience based in of the Gospel: love and faith.
Psalm 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 29 29
His cross and passion was tied to his confidence that he would rise also. It may be an axiom that anything worth getting will come with a price. Think how valuable you are to God in that the price was the sacrifice of his Son. I dare say, there have been many moments in my own life where opportunity to follow Christ was squandered and beat down because of my cowardice or simple unwillingness to pay the price necessary. I think also, without mistake, Christ makes it clear his sacrifice isn’t something he couldn’t stop if he desired. It was a voluntary sacrifice borne out of his love of his Father and certainly not simply a victimization of the circumstances of which he was a part. No. He did not “lose” his life. He gave it up for us. We need to think about what that calls us to do as we choose Christ. Do we “lose” our lives or is it more that we find it by giving what we have. Pray this week that the Easter blessing of the resurrection occur now, in your life; yes in the very moments we can give to each other. God’s plan involves you…make no mistake. 1. Barclay, Willam; The Gospel of John Volume 2, The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1975. 2. 1 Kings 19
1 John 3:1-2
The One Who Wal ks With Us
“But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel...” Like much in the Gospels, I think the two men were wrestling with the same turmoil we do. The story tells us plainly that the If you are looking for the greatest Resurrection story, I would truths of life have not really changed from 2000 years ago and our submit to you to look no further than the Gospel for this Sunday. reactions are the same. The disciples and we are caught in the Two men, walking on the stony road that took them from a city same paradigm. We also try to shape the God we want instead to a small town, talking about the events of the day, their hopes, of recognizing the God who is. Jesus is not going to be someone dashed in the tragedy of death of Jesus. I don’t know where they molded to fit our impressions and needs. He wants us to know were ultimately going, but I have been in the same conversation. Him, and when we do, all of a sudden, everything changes. I have vainly tried to grasp the meaning of tragedy, misfortune and disappointment, especially through losses I neither comprehended nor could affect. I have even questioned why or how such things can happen under the banner of a loving God. Have you?
We also try to shape the God we want instead of recognizing the God who is.
...(c ontinued) 30
May 2014 (Eastertide)
Karl Rahner recognized, during a moment of inspired prayer, the futility of remaking God to our own image. Speaking to the Lord in the clarity of inspiration, he acknowledged that, ‘God does not intend to illuminate“...my own particular inner perception of You (God), no. You, Yourself, as You speak Yourself through Your Spirit into my heart, and as You silently meet me in the events of my life, as the experience of Your indwelling grace” (Prayers for a Lifetime, 1996).
it is the story that tells us the Resurrection is real, we can recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread and that He will continue to be with us as we journey along our paths.
We are not pulled out of the world to find God. God is here among us, working within us and in the events that swallow us in their wake. Births, sickness, even death are all part of the wonderful journey with him. Why is this recollection so important? Because
Allow Him to move you to places where you can hear only His voice.
Acts 2:1-14, 22-33
Allow Him to move you to places where you can hear only His voice. Spend time with Him. Walk with him. Write your thoughts and prayers in the margins of your Bible. The path to your own Emmaus is before you. Jesus wants you to recognize Him too.
Psalm 16:1-2, 5, 7-11 31
1 Peter 1:17-21
Does Christ Make a Difference?
May 2012 (Eastertide)
My time with the Exercises of St. Ignatius is almost at an end, but perhaps, in a very real way, it is simply the beginning. Certainly my relationship with Christ is different today because of the last nine months. We talked together each day. Scripture came to me not as lessons to be learned or history to be revealed, but as a relationship blossoming. God was actually trying to talk to me, saying things like, “This is who I am, listen to me. Do you not know that I love you in a way no one else can. Let it change you.” Something was changing and since God doesn’t change, it only remains that I must have. If my experience is real, shouldn’t it show? It is a hard question. I really do not think I want to act differently, but if I am changed, won’t that happen? What will it mean to all my other relationships, especially the ones most cherished? A piece of this reality is depicted in the first reading and reinforced by the Gospel and I think we need to pay attention to it. Barnabas had a pretty intimidating charge, did he not? What was it about Paul for him to take such a chance with the Apostles? Paul exhibited something Barnabas could sense, see, feel. Barnabas came to believe that Paul knew Christ in a way he didn’t and he trusted him. This week one of the priests at Manresa asked a question that has bid me to pause, reflect and try to come up with an honest answer. The Gospel was about Phillip, but it could have been me. Phillip spent the large part of three years with Jesus and yet when it came time to recognize the Father in him he could not do it. “Show us the Father and that will be enough for us...” It would be enough for all of us I would dare say. Poor Phillip hadn’t “gotten it yet.” I won’t say I would have either. The question was penetrating though. Do you (meaning me and you) live your life so that someone could come away knowing Christ a little better? Would they see Christ working through you?
Would they see Christ working through you? I know of the old adage which states if you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? I am not totally sure. Sometimes I do not live my life entirely that way and it is my failing. God is calling us to live so that He shines through. I do not think it is done by a lot of preaching or with any words at all...how does our relationship with Christ govern who we are? Paul must have done that for Barnabas. He could see Christ in Paul. Can anyone see Christ in me?
Can anyone see Christ in me? Scripture Readings:
Psalm 22:26-28, 30-32 32
1 John 3:18-24
A Place Prepared for Us
May 2013 (Ascension Sunday)
I wonder if we can even capture the moment in our imagination of the day Jesus left the Apostles and others behind on the mountain. They saw Jesus being raised from the earth, giving words of encouragement and direction even then. I think what is lost to us now, in all our sophistication is that they knew it was the PERSON of Jesus who was there. It is not just a vaporous ephemeral spirit, but the human form, who actually walked on earth, ate with the disciples, healed people, died and now rose before them. It is hard to wrap our minds around the concept, for too much of the time we think of heaven as a place of spirits or being, separate and different from the “bodies” we know. But it is a place where the human bodily form of Jesus resides...and he promises, ours will too. I think Jesus is calling us to think further also. He wants us to believe he is preparing a place for us, me and you, to be with him... “... so you can be where I am also...” It isn’t some dream, but how often is thought (or prayer) given to this aspect of your life? Yes, stop to think about it for a moment...your life isn’t just about what goes on around you now...it is also about what occurs when this stage of our life is done. There is an eternity ahead... We somehow can’t capture reality as Jesus knows it...but he wants you to. Jesus said he is preparing a place for us. That “place” is being “prepared” even as we live in the reality of which we know...even now. What is the preparation of which Jesus is describing? I offer you to think and pray about it, as I think much of it is happening as we move through the lives we live, in the relationships we form, in the responses we make to those in need, to the humble acknowledgement we inevitably come to when we see how little we deserve the gift which is Jesus. Pray to the Jesus who is sitting there next to the Father this week. The Jesus who knows what you are going through, yes, the Jesus who understands you and loves you. It is easy to see from the readings the Apostles were inflamed with the love of God...his Resurrection was a reality in their life and the momentum of the experience never subsided. They knew Jesus was preparing a place for them...Has the promise subsided for you? Use your Bible to read through the readings this week and take the time to write out your thoughts. What is God saying just to you? Write your replies, prayers, complaints and praise in the margins...it is a great conversation that will someday happen in person, face to face. No time like the present to practice it a bit.
Psalm 47:2-3, 6-9 33
Messy L ove
May 2012 (Eastertide)
Whenever we get into the messy topic of “love” there is huge danger the speaker and the hearer are on completely different pages. “Love one another,” Jesus commanded. As you read through the scriptures, there are few places we hear “I command you...” This must be an important point to Jesus for him to emphasize it so...and it is, since he elaborates enough for us to see it is linked to giving up his life for us...on a cross. Yet we still prefer, I think, to define love ourselves, without the elaborations. I can find many examples in my most precious relationships where my definition only went far enough to avoid interrupting my own agenda. I know that I can be pretty inventive when it comes to excusing myself from the true calling of love. When I make the boundaries, I can avoid the dangerous commitments that could entangle me in the heated ‘messiness’ relationships always bring. I read something from Blake recently that talked to me: “And we are put on earth a little space, Look on the rising sun: there God does live, And gives his light, and gives his heat away; And flowers and trees and beasts and man receive Comfort in morning, joy in the noonday.
That we may learn to bear the beams of love; ...For when our souls have learn’d that heat to bear, The cloud will vanish; we shall hear his voice, Saying: ’come out from the grove, my love & care...”
The “messiness” is precisely where love is lived. It is where the ‘beams of love’ are felt. We are hurt. We forgive. We hurt. We plead for mercy and understanding. Humanity is filled with both and Jesus is in the middle of it because our deepest truth is found only when I give myself over to love and all the implications it entails. Pray about the boundaries you set with those you love. We all do. We become aware of the depth and meaning of love by living it, with its sacrifices and joys, not by building walls to protect ourselves. The blessing encircling our whole life is the discovery that the love of God surrounds us, moves us, heals us...redeems us; all amid the turmoil of this short span in eternity which we call ‘our’ life. And sooner or later, during the tumult, we find the real truth. It is not that I have made time to think of God amid all my “troubles”, but rather, that God made time to think of me.
Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48
Psalm 98:1-4 34
1 John 4:7-10
Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize, it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate. ( D. Bonhoeffer)
L iving Stones
May 2014 (Eastertide)
Mary Ellen and I had a chance to go to Rome a couple of years ago in celebration of our 40th wedding anniversary. Some of our children were even able to join us. It was a marvelous trip, one that will not easily slip from memory for the rest of our lives. We did many of the things tourist always do, visiting the large churches, museums and simply walking the many little thoroughfares with fountains and stone everywhere we journeyed. The solidity and permanence of the marble was a strength and beauty one has to see to know the affect it has. Michelangelo, famous for the Sistine Chapel as well as his “David,” remarked that primarily he was born to sculpt and he could even envision the work of art within the block of marble before he started to carve. His task was to free it from the stone. I think a little of that is going on between the readings for this Sunday. Peter is trying to help us understand the invitation of becoming living stones and the important vision of what it means to be in the Body of Christ. Stones can be pictured as large, immovable, heavy objects, useless unless they are connected somehow into a structure. The living stones of Peter draw on the power of Christ to join us to his Body. The emphasis is to see that the path or “way” is in communion with Christ through the Community of Believers. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, “Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate” (Life Together). It is a choice as Bonhoeffer indicates. Reflect for a minute on the words Peter used, “...let yourselves be built into a spiritual house...” There has to be some acceptance and molding. This isn’t a house which we are building. It is a community which Christ is building and we are the stones he is using to do it. We get caught sometimes, building our own structures though, don’t we? Somehow we confuse the effort, and end up disappointed when the walls fall. But Jesus will always tear away the accretion to His Body that isn’t a part of his plan. It is our role to discern, accept and participate. That is one reason that partnership in our spiritual walk is so important. Fellowship, spiritual direction and common worship all help bind us to the real structure that is Jesus. Stones; they have many uses from building spaces to live in to inspiring art to contemplate. Living stones that Peter names and Jesus describes have the same characteristics. Jesus is the sculptor who is freeing you while the stone you are is “carved” through our walk in this short span of eternity. Part of the Ignatian Charism I am growing to respect is the fact we have to spend time thinking about who we really are...the maxim of “know thyself.” Spend some time this week imagining what your stone looks like. What are the characteristics, color and hue? How have you taken to the formation Christ is hewing from the rock that makes up who you are. Those fortunate to belong to a fellowship, may spend some time reflecting on how the regular meeting of believers allow for the building of the Body in our midst, for there is no doubt that he is building his Body...for he has said it, and it is true.
Psalm 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19 37
1 Peter 2:4-9
L ife Forever Changed
May 2013 (Pentecost Sunday)
It was many years ago now, but I still remember it vividly. We were traveling with a group of people who were enlivened by the Holy Spirit. I was going along not as a participant, but as a companion to my wife and her friends. Kansas City was alive with people proclaiming “Jesus is Lord!” I would agree and take another bite out of my hamburger. It was akin to nodding my head at an acknowledgment the traffic light was red. I had heard the words and agreed without the slightest sense of their meaning or consequences. The evening of the first day, we were gathered in a huge stadium. Me and 45,000 others. It wasn’t like I didn’t believe in my head that God was God or that Jesus came and died. Formative catechetical teaching did have some affect, even on the slow-witted. The words could be repeated easily from my childhood. Then something happened. I was invited to take the message seriously. I came to a decision point where the dichotomy of the way I lived was in stark contrast to what I thought I believed. I had to decide whether my behaviors matched what my faith called me to...they didn’t and I was overcome. The Holy Spirit...yes, the third person of the Trinity, wouldn’t let me alone that night. It wasn’t the words, I had heard them before. It was the Spirit of God who placed the choice before me: “Before you I place life and death, choose life...” he kept saying. Then I had to answer the question...the one we all have to answer. Is Jesus really your Lord? Do I place His will in front of what I think my own is? Do I really believe that my fate rests in his saving act thousands of years before? Do I really believe it is Jesus who is in effective control or did I hold on to the notion it was all up to me. The giant billboard in the stadium was lit with the message: “Every knee shall bend...” What is going on? “Every tongue confess...” Is that for me? “...That Jesus Christ is Lord..” Yes, it was and still is for me...and you. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the sign that God is still alive and in our midst...and the gifts which manifest themselves are meant for something. “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit,” the second reading intones. It isn’t a quick hit that gives enthusiasm and then abates...it changes you forever. There is one other important point we need to remember. Jesus only has one plan for salvation. There isn’t a backup plan just in case the first one runs into trouble. The remarkable part is that you are part of that plan. You have a place in the everlasting plan of God. I can imagine the conversation between Jesus and the angels. “Jesus, what is the plan? How did it work out?” His answer: “I found these 11 guys and I left them to carry on the message...” I’m sure the angels had a laugh. We would ask, “What is the real plan...???” But Jesus knew the power of the Holy Spirit...believe it can change you...it will. Great things are in store...proclaim Jesus as your Lord and see what I mean.
Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-31, 34 38
1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13
A Father to the Fatherless
May 2013 (Holy Trinity Sunday)
I remember the ride home from the cemetery distinctly. Mary’s dad had finally succumbed to the many maladies which plagued the last part of his life. For four years, Mary had driven twice a week or more to see to it that he made it to his doctor’s appointments, insure he was eating right, struggled to get him through dialysis and simply wrapped any and all other “free” time around being a caregiver for him. He had not always been the most appreciative through her growing up years. There were hurts and disappointments as there is in any relationship. The hurts dealt by a father can be acute and perhaps they were particularly so for her. But Mary was determined the past would not keep her from loving her father. It was a decision she made to forgive and love him in the present. Now he was gone.
your task as the next generation...the one on the doorstep. I didn’t get it then...but it became very clear with the passing of my own father. Jesus knew his disciples well. He knew how they would feel once he left so he reminded them in many ways that he is never separated from them. The Holy Spirit is the gift that bridges the gap and reinforces that we are not orphans left on our own. The Son and the Father are one and this triune God is the One who gives us life, loves us through hard times and shares the joys. It is the same God who helps us experience the world as he means it to be, that is in relationships shared in his presence. Peterson writes in his recent book, “If God’s presence and work are not understood to define who we are and what we are doing, nothing we come up with will be understood and lived properly.”1 I think Mary understood this intuitively. She knew the world through a triune lens that encompassed the presence of a God who told her that love conquers hurt, that fathers are as fragile as they are strong, and that a relationship-filled world is the place of God.
She saw in the man who was her father, a side he often tried to hide; one of fear, one of weakness, one of losing control over those aspects of one’s life we take for granted when we are young. In the end she was spared the pain of carrying hurts after he died and there was peace in her about how their relationship healed. I thought as I drove, that Mary was contemplating a little time of comfort. No more running hither and thon keeping watch I realized as I drove toward home, I too would have to face the and dealing with the stress only caregivers can know about. But same realization some day and it came all too quickly. Her example helped me to see the reality that love is not limited to that is not where she was in her mind. the life we share now or some emotion we confuse as reality. “I am an orphan now.” Mary almost whispered the words, yet it We set boundaries by our own short-sightedness. In truth the carried through the car as if it were screamed in a microphone. love of God surrounds us. Decide now to open yourself to that Despite the struggle she carried as little girl and through her realization. Write in your Bible your thoughts and prayers...God experience of shouldering the care of this man, she knew the will answer you in ways we cannot even imagine. value of the love of her father and she knew that an important 1. Peterson, Eugene H., Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, chapter in her life was about to begin...the one where the lessons William B. Eerdmans Publishing; 2005. of your parents have to be carried by you now, because that is
Psalm 8:4-9 39
June 2012 The first reading from Exodus recalls the event which the Israelites confirm their acceptance of the law from Moses and seals their understandings through a blood sacrifice. Only a few chapters later they would turn away from the God who brought them out of Egypt and make a god of their own to worship. I do not have to reflect long to find examples in my own life where my assurances of love to God and those I love fall to the god of my own selfishness or pride. I can relate to these people who were tired of waiting for Moses to come down the mountain.
Although the term is still used in legal circles, it is rarely invoked today. Covenants are “binding” promises we make. A wedding covenant is a good example which is easy to grasp. The husband and bride are “bound” together, amid promises of fidelity and love, and before witnesses. Even in the Old Testament and reinforced by Jesus, “...the two become one flesh...,” bound so inextricably together that “...no man may put asunder...” The Old Testament depicted God’s relationship to Israel as a covenant relationship. God and people were bound together in commitment. My NJBC states this covenant differed from one between equals. “...the relation of Yahweh and Israel is, like created universe, the result of a positive action of Yahweh... completed by a positive response of Israel...” (77:74). The passage will go on to say it would be ratified by the sprinkling of blood, on altar and the people. Blood was the ultimate symbol of life. Some believed the Spirit of God resided in blood. It gives me pause to think of that concept when I receive Eucharist.
But then Jesus comes and changes everything. The law changes to love. What we miss many times, because latently we really do not want it to be too close, is that our relationship to God changed from corporate to personal. It was not only addressed to the nation, it was addressed to us individually. Moses told the people, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words of his.” Don’t miss that Jesus changed it when he met with his Apostles that last night before he died. The covenant was sealed not with the blood, but with “...my blood...” His covenant binds us to God through him who shed his blood for us...or more correctly for me. I can no longer generalize my sinfulness or my redemption because Jesus didn’t generalize it...it was personal. Dwell upon the deep mystery of the Eucharist and the covenant promise which binds you to Jesus. Pray that you can find space to dwell in union with him and ask him what it means for you to be one with him...the answers you hear can only bring life. Write your thoughts and prayers in the margins of your Bibles. God is reaffirming his love for you each day...take time to listen.
Psalm 116:12-13, 15-18 40
Mark 14:12-16, 22-26
One of the nice things about my job now is to be immersed in this Jesuit world of Ignatian spirituality. I am meeting and forming strong relationships with committed people in various ministries around the country who have found strength and direction in the Exercises, but I think more especially, in the requirement for a daily examination of the events, relationships and circumstances in their lives as they impact their relationship with Jesus. My meager attempts to copy have been inconsistent both in the frequency and in the quality of my efforts, but the readings for this Sunday are calling me to reconsider and to discover again this daily blessing.
St. Ignatius of Loyola
Jesus is challenged in the house of one of the Jewish leaders when a woman comes to anoint him with tears and oil. What I find remarkable is not that Jesus forgave the woman her sins. Jesus is consistent throughout the gospels, calling a person to consider their departures from grace and repent, that is, to change their lives to embrace God again. What is different is the emphasis in understanding the gravity of our decision to ignore the depth of sinfulness in our lives. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits wanted to establish an active order of religious men, not cloistered away, but active in the world, trying to change it to reflect the love of God in all their relationships with each other. Ignatius was fairly flexible in the rudiments he demanded of his flock except for the twice daily requirement to examine their consciousness. He wanted them all to be acutely aware of their sinfulness and the love of a God who can and wants to forgive. He wanted them always to live in the one relationship which mattered and to be cognizant that all they did during the day mattered to that relationship.
marriages which mark milestones? It isn’t a testament to persistence as much as a recognition of the strength of forgiveness. We are creatures who hurt each other as we live together, sometimes grievously. I can understand how someone who has much to forgive, and knows it, can find places in their hearts to love those who forgive them. Jesus says more though. He said, “But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” That is remarkable and should give us pause because it places much weight on acknowledging the gravity of our sinfulness. What does it mean to place ourselves ahead of God? We lose our deep need for forgiveness.
God calls us to love each other. We can not do that without forgiveness; forgiveness for each other; forgiveness from God. The gospels make it clear that there is nothing more urgent for God, for he sent his Son to tell us so. Take some time each day this week reflecting on the moments in your day. Try to remember the places where God gave you opportunities to meet him in the everyday circumstances of your life. I can tell you it will illuminate the close Forgiveness and love are linked inexorably. proximity of Christ throughout your day The deeper the relationship, the more and the deep meaning of forgiveness. this makes sense. Why do we celebrate
2 Samuel 12:7-10, 13
Psalm 32:1-2, 5, 7, 11 41
Galatians 2:16, 19-21
We have a gift, given in love and given to share. Don’t hurry through the readings for this weekend. We can read too fast and think we understand because they are so familiar. But for this weekend especially, slow down and try to listen with an expectant ear. God does have a message for you. I have found sometimes it is a good practice to find a place where you can read the passages out loud. Listen to your own voice as the words mix in your ears. It is the voice God gave you and the one He wants you to use to talk to Him. Listen as God would. What does the Gospel story tell you about your own longings and searches for freedom from affliction? Where have you looked to escape the things that have plagued you? The woman only wanted to be cured. In a small departure from the account we read this week from Mark, Matthew’s account says that the woman thought, “If only I could touch the tassel of his cloak...” Tassels were sewn in the corners of their garments as prescribed in Numbers 37, to remind them to obey the law in the Torah. Good Jews would look down at their feet as they walked and remember not to stray from the path of God. Many would have tassels which would drag on the ground behind them. The woman saw this as a way to get to Jesus, simply and humbly. Both accounts convey the deep conviction of this humble woman. Jairus was a man of means, probably used to issuing commands rather than begging for help, yet he too came humbly. And both came with urgency for their needs were apparent and demanding. Sometimes our true needs are not as apparent. How many times do we respond to those who inquire, “I’m doing fine, how are you?” as if trying to convince ourselves as much as those we meet. Perhaps the story gives us a clue as to how to approach God; humbly, admitting we don’t know the answers and begging for his touch. Perhaps at other times, it is moving us to reach out and take the risk of touching the “tassels” in faith that God is the source of our healing. And perhaps there are times, when those around us bring Jesus to us and we awake to hear his words calling us to rise if we make space to but hear him. It may also be true, that you, yes you, bear the imprint of God’s calling through Jesus, to be one to bring healing. Do not rule it out. I pray this week you can hear the whisper of Jesus, calling you to rise. Write your thoughts in the margins of your Bible. Set aside the time. It is the only gift you can really give back to God besides your love.
Hear, O Lord, have mercy on me, Lord, be my helper. (Psalm 30:11) Scripture Readings:
Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24
Psalm 30:2, 4-6, 11-13 42
2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15
Soul Pr uning
After years of reading and trying to absorb the Scriptures, there is always more in the readings than I expect, buried in the passages. Perhaps we lose much because of the cultural idiosyncrasies of the Jews, which we can only try to understand. But the effort is worth it when we occasionally stumble over something and what we bump into sticks to us. Such is the case with Amos. He was a prophet chosen by God to give a very unpopular message to the Northern Kingdom at a time when king and country were feeling pretty good about themselves. Amos saw and God told him to tell “...my people, Israel...” they had embraced pride and violated the Covenant that saw all Israelites as one people, without distinction. Amos announced a reckoning and was finally told to leave. Amos replied, “I was no prophet, nor have I belonged to a company of prophets; I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores.” Amos was telling Amaziah that he was not interested in earning his living as a prophet and denounced the “professional prophets which dotted the land. He was acting at the prompting of God. In fact he was a “...dresser of sycamores...” What does that mean? The fruit of the sycamore is related to, but smaller than the fig. According the JBC, it was the food of the poor, a fact that indicates that Amos too was among those poor. At a certain point, the dresser had to puncture the fruit so that it would grow large enough to become edible. God chose a dresser of the sycamore to puncture the contented demeanor of the Israelites, especially the rich and ruling elite, predicting their eventual doom at the hands of an enemy. The inequities and hardships the rich imposed to keep the poor in squalor were at the core of Amos’ message and is a reason he is known as the prophet of social justice. But the fact remains he was called out of his role and he had to follow God in his new path. His own small world was punctured so that he could grow. I can think of many ways I am like the fruit of the sycamore. Content to grow where I am, something disrupts me and punctures the fruit of what I have toiled to grow and I sit and ask God, “Why?” But that isn’t the question is it? Amos didn’t ask why. He discerned God calling him and he went. Perhaps the question is more of a petition and an acknowledgement that God has much in store for me, blessings for which I can not envision, but I can’t receive the way I am...the divine dresser will prune and care for me—my part is to ask how to embrace it. Paul reminds us that we were blessed before the world began. God redeemed us forgives us our sins and “...makes known to us the mystery of his will...” Do you trust that? Do I? There are too many instances to which I can point that indicate that I wanted to control where I am going and didn’t want the pruning. Spend time with God this week. Talk to him about the blessings in your life and what he wants you to do with them. And trust yourself to the love you will find.
Psalm 85:9-14 45
Your Precious L ife Time is a precious commodity for all of us. We are limited in many respects, by the time we grant for certain priorities in our lives. We allocate large slices to our occupations or vocations. What is left is divided between commitments to school, our children, church activities or some other pursuit that we have, through some discernment process (even if that process is dominated by some measure of apathy or undirected circumstance) given a measure of importance. Time is important because God only gave us a certain span before we will be called out of this existence. The mere limitation should emphasize that the life which surrounds us is really a wonder, something that is rare and should be recognized for what it is, a gift to be cherished, and not to be squandered. A quick review of my week always reveals what is truly important to me no matter what I say is important. Sure I plan to spend time in prayer or spiritual reading, but when I reflect, the time I actually devoted to either, I find is too often was pushed to the fringes when I was dozing in my chair or even propping my head on my pillow, while still expecting to pray...didn’t
July 2012 happen and I bet you already knew that without me elaborating. It is humbling to be honest with how I actually live my stated priorities. I always feel inadequate to the task. I take heart that Jesus knows me and my intentions, dwells on my small excursions in prayer and scripture and blesses me with the knowledge that He loves me, despite the inadequacies of my results. With that knowledge about ourselves (if I may generalize), we often can recall those people who have graced our lives and served as an example of what is truly possible. I lost one such person this week as Fr. Walt Farrell, SJ, at age 96, went to be with the Jesus he knew, the Jesus of whom he was a companion, the Jesus who walked with him through 75 years of Jesuit life. I am humbled that God even gave me the opportunity to know him, but then again, God knows me and probably saw I needed this giant of spiritual life to glance against my own. It wasn’t in my plans. I am glad it was in God’s plan for me. He interrupted what I thought was important in my life with an example of what was truly important; a relationship with Jesus that sees us through all trials.
Psalm 23:1-6 46
I think the disciples were looking for a little rest after their journeys in the countryside. But the day brought something else and Jesus helped to show how to deal with that “interruption”. I think I am an interruption sometimes. It is good to know that the Lord will still take the time to be with me anyway, isn’t it? Separate yourself for some space this week. Give yourself the moments God can use to refresh you and teach you many things. After all, we only have so much time...and the good news is ...that is all we will need.
...the life which surrounds us is really a wonder, something that is rare and should be recognized for what it is, a gift to be cherished, and not to be squandered.
Teach Us to Pray
The Gospel relates the request of the Apostles to Jesus to help them learn to pray, “...as John taught his disciples...” The record shows nothing about John teaching disciples to pray except that he did draw a band of followers (his disciples went to Jesus to see if he was the Messiah) and they must have set an example of prayerful people for the Apostles to put the question this way...
Sometimes God does give us a sign that we can’t miss. In the last week I had a cousin who fell seriously ill and we were preparing ourselves for the worst. The family rallied and prayed persistently that he would recover or that somehow we would find a way to connect to God’s will in this situation. He will be leaving hospital soon, recovering from near death to the dismay of the doctors and medical experts. His life and our life should not be the same ever again not only because of his recovery, but because of the intimacy we touched in our common, persistent prayer. We should be marked by this experience of prayer no matter what happens now. But somewhere deep in me I fear I won’t still be awed by this expression of the power of prayer and unity with the family six months from now or a year from now or ten years from now. I know that I have lost similar close encounters to change as a result of prayer because I didn’t fundamentally integrate it into my prayer from a point of intimacy.
The question is a little unexpected to me...why would the Apostles ask Jesus to teach them to pray? If we assume they were all Jewish men, familiar with the scripture and the inside of their place of worship, wouldn’t you think they ‘knew” how to pray, perhaps, just as we look at ourselves and think we “know” how to pray? But they saw something else happening when Jesus prayed to his Father that didn’t happen when they prayed. An intimacy that they (and all too often me too) didn’t share. I think they were hungry for the closeness to Father they saw in Jesus when He prayed. They all knew this fact: He knew to whom he prayed. The Catechism states it well when it says “Man is in search of God.” We are in search our whole lives really. We may ignore the Jesus tells us we can have the same intimacy. The prayer he left search, but our hearts intimately knows that the need to find us is simple and direct. It recognizes God’s holiness, asks humbly God is deep within. Prayer is a way, a door to find a pathway to for our daily needs, acknowledges our sinfulness by asking for the person who wanted you to be born...perhaps the only one forgiveness, promises to forgive others and asks for relief from at the time...it is a gift for those who do not spurn the invitation. the work of the evil one. Isn’t it odd then that he goes on, telling the story of persistence in prayer? Could it be that our failure Pray about the time you spend with God this week. What are often lies here? I know I can recall many “sincere” efforts toward you looking for? What are your hurts, pains, disappointments, a regime of prayer that is disrupted and lost. Perhaps we give worries? What are your joys? He is answering your prayers. Don’t up when the outward signs are not what we think the “answer” miss the message. Write your thoughts down somewhere, in should be. I think both the Gospel and the first reading give us your Bibles for that must be what the margins are for...after all, much to reflect upon as we compare our meager efforts to those we can spend a lot of time in the margins...don’t do it this week... who live their lives in communion with God. fill them up.
Psalm 138:1-3, 6-8 47
Five L oaves, Two Fish
The readings this week could steer our minds to a notion of being fed and feeding others. We may even reach a conclusion that God provides for our true needs...all the time...and really without our asking for it. We confuse our wants and needs all the time, however, because our perspective isn’t usually one of eternity, but of worry about tomorrow. It wouldn’t even be bad if we could simply live in the present, but we do not, do we? The people of the Gospel aren’t that much different from us today. Once satisfied, the immediate reflex is to put something (or someone) in place so tomorrow is secure...at least in our own minds. There is another side too, that would be good fodder to dwell upon as you contemplate the readings this week. While Jesus is certainly capable and worthy of being “giver”, notice that he simply does not walk around and feed everyone or provide manna from heaven which falls into everyone’s hands. He uses “unworthy” vessels, like you and me to find and distribute, see and console, feel and heal. It is not a matter of “worthiness”. It is a matter of “willingness”. I would proffer too, He looked to those within his community of followers to extend themselves to embrace the task, a point too easily dismissed as unrealistic, impossible or ridiculous. Mark’s Gospel is more direct, “Feed them yourselves” Jesus said. Spend some time taking the implications of that statement into your spirit. There are times I like to read Scripture and try to imagine which character in the stories I may most resemble. My imagination allows me to ponder the question of how I would react in their situations. Then I have to think about how I have reacted in times similar to theirs, because if I look hard enough, I can find places
2 Kings 4:42-44
in my past which mimic theirs. It gives me a better understanding not only of the message in the passage, but a better look at who I am. In Sunday’s readings I am much closer akin to Elisha’s servant and Phillip than anyone else. I can think of all kinds of practical reasons why something will not work, even when it is God telling me to do it! Practicality is a good thing most of the time, do not misunderstand, but we need to realize that occasionally, when God wants something done, it can be a hindrance. How do we get around that? Perhaps by setting aside the limits we impose on God. Can I become like Andrew a little more? Andrew probably had the same thoughts running through his head as Phillip did. He looked and listened though and found a boy with a few fishes and loaves. With a little, Jesus worked much. Look for the possibilities and believe God can use you for great purpose. Does that sound impossible for little ole’ you? It isn’t. It just may be part of the plan that when need is apparent and the means is yours, we should dispel the doubts and trust God has a Way that overcomes our shortsightedness. In the end it is the Body of Christ who needs to respond...and you and I are a part of the call to respond.
With a little, Jesus worked much. Pray this week as you read the Scripture for God to help you see yourself as he sees you and that you can see His possibilities around you. Write in the margins of your Bibles your prayers, complaints, thanksgivings and conversation. Jesus wants you to recline with him for a while...and he will feed you.
Psalm 145:10-11, 15-18 48
When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” He said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little [bit].” One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves* and two fish; but what good are these for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people recline.” Now there was a great deal of grass* in that place. So the men reclined, about five thousand in number. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted. When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.” So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat. (John 6:1-13)
What is Most Impor tant?
The readings this week urge us to consider what we truly value. Our earthly dwelling-time may be but a dot on the eternal timeline God has envisioned for us, but it is an important space of time. Unique creations, all of us, we have purpose planted in our being, a God-seed that pulls and tugs at us to recognize the eternal, the valuable grace of God touching us. We get confused though, don’t we? I know I do. I invest time and energy into the temporary, the stuff that complicates life because I place more value in it than that which will always remain. When I think of what is really important to me, it always comes down to relationships with those that are a part of my life. What can not be replaced are the people that have influenced and shaped my character, showed me true value in a loving Lord and invested time, trust and, no doubt, some pain, believing in me. We all have family, friends and one Savior who have done that with and for us. Some of you know that we lost our nephew to Leukemia a few years ago. I think of him when this Sunday comes up because it marks the last time I saw him alive. I prayed with him that Sunday and found the courage and love of a remarkable young man. We talked hesitantly about the kids and his young wife, and how God has blessed him. I remember he was worried about them, but so weak he knew others were going to have to help where he could no longer. His wife still grieves, spending time at the cemetery still. My sister spends a great deal of time with her and the kids, recognizing that healing is a long process. She lives the values love pushes to the forefront and I admire her. I remember, as I walked away from my conversation with him, I thought about the time I spend with my children, my father, my wife, my siblings. What I value, someone told me once, is revealed in where I spend my energy. I don’t know if that holds all the time, but it gives me much to pray and contemplate about what I do value, cherish, would die for. In the end, we have only so much time here to say I love you, and realize that my “treasure” lies in these relationships of love. There is one relationship yearning for your voice too, one who speaks your name to his Father because you are one He values... talk to Him as the weekend progresses. Write your conversation down in the margins in your Bibles...it can help you capture who and what you value most...and perhaps you will glean a little about how important you are to the one who died for you.
Scripture Readings: Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23
Psalm 90:3-6, 12-14, 17 50
Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11
Do You Real ly Believe?
What is the work of God in the world today? What is our part in this work? Jesus faced this question 2000 years ago and the answer is still the same today. “...Believe in the one he sent...” The point is to take the message to heart, for to believe is not just something we do with our heads. Believing means to remove the barnacles of our “old self” and put on a new self, a new righteousness, to become a person who lives in the truth. How do we do that and live in the world we find around us today? Do not think I have the answer for you...you have the answer for you. Jesus came that we may have life...his life within us. We are created to realize that discernment of his will is not only possible, it is a part of the discovery process God integrated into our makeup.
Believing means to remove the barnacles of our “old self ” and put on a new self... to become a person who lives in the truth. It was always puzzling to me how the ancients always seem to know when God was talking to them. Abraham, Moses and the Prophets could distinguish God from the Evil One...how? Even as late as New Testament times, Paul, careened to the ground by a vision was not confused by who it was that addressed him by name. Could he have been swayed in his own thinking that it was the devil trying to confuse him from his mission? I think so...but he didn’t. Paul knew it was God. Would that it were so simple in our lives! But the reality of the question, the truth of the answer is that it is. We may not hear a voice, clear and concise, but we will have many other ways God will use to make his will clear to us. Much of the time in my own life that has been through a series of events which help frame the question and the answer or via the advice of people close to me who I know have cultivated a strong relationship with Jesus. It didn’t happen when I did not make time for stillness and prayer. There is wisdom to be found in the silence of prayer and reflection. Sincerity of heart in trying to do God’s will, leads us down correct paths. I think God blesses our decisions when we try intently to place his will as primary and ask if what we are trying to discern aligns. Believing in Jesus, listening to Jesus...it should change our lives enough for us to understand and see it in the way we handle our relationships and live. Only you can reflect on that...ask yourself the tough question...if I really believed in Jesus, what would it mean...what would be different...?
Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15
Psalm 78:3-4, 23-25, 54 51
Ephesians 4:17, 20-24
A Cloud of Witnesses
One of the projects I undertook when I briefly retired in 2007 was to fill an entire wall in our living room with black and white pictures of our family. I found old photographs of all shapes and sizes depicting grandparents, uncles and aunts and any other relative from the past I could find to provide some visible history of our family story. My hope was to somehow bring it to life for our grandchildren and that they might get a sense of those people who gave us family identity and established the traditions we still carry out. The stories (and we all have the stories, don’t we?) of those who came before us serve to entertain us, inspire us and solidify the momentum to continue worthwhile tradition. The reading from Hebrews gives me that same sense. There is immense comfort and strength in realizing I am at one end of a long line of REAL PEOPLE, witnesses who lived, loved and died with faith. I have a heritage in the Communion of Saints and so do you. St. Paul describes it wonderfully as a “cloud of witnesses.” There are so many, we can’t fathom the extent...it’s just a cloud. When we lived in Texas we often took people to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. We learned the cave was discovered when explorers saw what they thought was a cloud of smoke escaping from a mountain cave. What they saw were millions of bats on their way to their evening meal. It was not possible to discern the small animals individually; only as a mass of collectively active and purposeful creatures. I think of Carlsbad when I read this passage as it gives me a visual of the indescribable collection of people, including people we knew in life, in one voice giving praise to God and pleading for us. My daughter-in-law lost her mother this week to the health problems which plagued her over the course of the last few years. Living with my son and their children for the last few months, the family and grandma grew even closer, coping with the miseries endemic to the end of life. Mom (grandma) is now a member of the witnesses to the Lord St. Paul talks about. She is also still so fresh in our memories that we still feel the connection—presence really—as we share our stories about her. The connection to the Communion of Saints is just as close; the witness is just as real, as Laura is to us now despite the separation in this life. Picture that when you stop to pray this week. You can never be truly “alone” in your prayer as you are joined through the eternity by more ancestors that you can count, clouds of them. We are but one more in a long line of souls in God’s creation, connected through eternity. It’s a picture for us to grasp...and to join.
Scripture Readings: Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10
Psalm 40:2-4, 18 52
Watch Your L ife
I spent 2009, along with many in the Church, trying to absorb the writings of St. Paul. His voice continues to echo through much of what I read and think about especially considering the events of the past three years and the current national conversation. I will try not to let it dominate these few words, but again, the second reading to the Ephesians brings some practical advice that shouldn’t be missed.
Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15-16) Ours is a life which should be recognized as gift from a loving God. I have found, however, that much of my daily living is caught up in the confluence of worry, activity, events and the sundry multitude which complicate life. The time for “...watching carefully...” is drowned in a cacophony of busy-ness. To believe that the people of the New Testament had more time in their lives for reflection and prayer is to deny the truth that every generation has challenges which demand more attention than anyone is able to give. They had the same basic troubles we have today, perhaps even more perplexing considering they were occupied by a foreign power with little sympathy from the ruling religious leaders. I am amused by the speculation that the pace of today’s technology is shrinking our horizons and impinging to a greater extent than our ancestors on our time and energies.
There was a headline in the Wall Street Journal I still remember with a banner announcing a “Century in Ten Years”. In reality every generation bemoans the devils which usurp our time and attention. St. Ignatius knew the travails of secluding time to reflect and pray in our daily schedules. As the leader of the Jesuits, he was flexible with most of his rules preferring to encourage his followers to understand the culture and introduce Christ gently. The one rule he steadfastly refused to alter was the mandate to spend time in prayer reflecting on the day and the encounters with Christ which occurred that day. Yes, you do have encounters with Jesus...every day. I think we will be absolutely astonished how often Jesus presented himself to us and we were so occupied that we missed him. The exercise St. Ignatius demanded of the Jesuits was meant to remind them of these occasions. They were to perform an examination of consciousness, or in other words, acknowledge that Jesus was active in their day and spend time trying find him in the events and people which entered (maybe even interrupted) their day, ask forgiveness for their blindness and trust in his loving forgiveness. How often I go to sleep worrying about what I have to face tomorrow. That isn’t what St. Paul or St. Ignatius envisions as a Christian approach. Be wise, they encourage. Recognize God is not apart from you and with everyone you meet. There is reason and purpose with what you find yourself engaged, even if evil is prominent on the horizon. Relish the opportunity God has...only for you. Write your reflections in your Bibles. Listen to the voice of God in his song from the pages...it is a love song of God only for you.
Psalm 34:2-7 53
I don’t know how often Jesus accepted the invitation to dine with the Pharisees, but my instinct is that it wasn’t all that often. The people, the reading explains, “were observing him carefully.” I surmise the capture of attention had an element of allure that includes the relative rarity of the event.
embrace the very things we often run from, as a path to find God. Jesus asks the Pharisee and us to abandon human standards, to see through his eyes and to act without analyzing for long term effects and structural perpetuity. Evil prospers sometimes. It is counteracted by love expressed in open, uncalculated actions. Most of the Hebrews were simple people engaged in all the daily, perhaps petty affairs of the day, not building lasting monuments. Most of our days are built around the same routines and we can believe what we do does not really matter in the long run. McKenzie reminds us the wisdom of the Old Testament propels a truth about the mundane and ordinary we miss at our own peril:
Jesus’ attendance and the advice he gave to the host, says something about who this Pharisee was to Jesus, I think. Perhaps he was much like the rich young man who asked Jesus how to gain everlasting life. In that encounter, Jesus looked at him with love, and told him to sell what he had and follow him. While this Sunday’s passage doesn’t allude to this message, there is a detachment Jesus is asking his host to consider and to do. He For it is in these petty affairs that they must realize their was inviting him to give up the way the world looks at him and do destiny, whatever it may be. It was wisdom to know that right. Today, we might say, “...do justice...” Feed those who cannot the management of one’s life and affairs is important, repay you, do not look for recompense from the world, avoid the and that what happens to a man is determined, in the road paved with accolades. There are eternal ‘standards’ which last analysis, by what he is. do not match well with our day to day experience. If there are The Gospel doesn’t tell us the reaction of the Pharisee to Jesus’ simple ones like ‘feeding,’ are there more? comments. I wonder if he scoffed at the idea of opening up his treasure to those who simply cannot appreciate it. I like to think he did take it to heart, because it gives me some hope for myself. How do I consider the “things” that make up “who I am?” The ordinary and the sketchy parts of my life do help define me. (Sirach 3:18) Where do I spend my time? What do I think about? How do I handle the manifold interruptions and pain in my own life? Am In his defining work, The Two-Edged Sword, John McKenzie I open to embrace the change Jesus calls me to? I pray I can...I spends no little time on the iniquity in the world and he challenges pray I do. us to believe in a counter-intuitive calling of God. McKenzie invites us to a place where our comfort or even our happiness Write in your Bibles your questions, sorrows, confessions, joys. It is not the governing motive for action. He calls us, in fact, to is a conversation worthy of God’s time...and yours.
Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find mercy in the sight of God.
Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29
Psalm 68:4-7, 10-11 54
Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24
Luke 14:1, 7-14
Responding to Pover t y
September 2013 encouraged others to intentionally live that way. Why? She could find in the unique dependence on God an understanding of His great love for her and others in her life. She was also less than reticent about reminding us all that we have a share in relieving the most desperate in the world.
How do you view the poor and downtrodden of the world? I have traveled sufficiently to see poverty up close in many different countries. Their plight is not a fiction nor is it an exaggeration. Yet, Christ taught that the poor were blessed. We certainly do not view them that way very often, do we?
How we do this is a struggle. The balance between our own needs and the needs of those God placed in our care and the many that desperately need help is hard to strike and is seldom even faced. Do we sacrifice our own children’s future for someone we do not even know? I don’t really think that is the choice and it distorts the question. The choice is to discern how God is calling us to love in response to his own love for us. We find difficulty and struggle right in front of us... how do we react? What is God’s will in the moment? Are there choices or do we allow ourselves to be funneled down “accepted” courses without thought or discernment? For I think it does come down to making a choice which ultimately depends on a sustained relationship of love with a Savior who wants you to know him.
Several years ago I read on the recommendation of one of the Jesuits, On Pilgrimage, by Dorothy Day. Dorothy was a radical in many ways and across many decades, from inaugurating the Catholic Worker in the thirties to protesting the war in the 1960s. One thing everyone recognized, friend and foe alike, was the fact she lived her beliefs. There were many articles in the Catholic Worker about voluntary poverty as a way to spiritual But if we haven’t cultivated a relationship freedom. Dorothy embraced poverty and with Jesus, how will we discern his will
Psalm 113:1-2, 4-8 55
in a moment of choice? I would submit we all struggle with these moments if we face them at all. The difficulty of doing just that is perhaps the reason for most apathy regarding the poor. We really would rather ignore the problem or think the Church (rather than the church) or the government or some philanthropic agency tied to that mission needs to do something. To travel that path is to miss the invitation to know Christ in the person and need before you. I believe our choice is less radical than we think, although Dorothy Day’s recommendations still ring as Mary and I slim down our lifestyles. The simplicity of quiet time, unencumbered with haste gives us a hint. Prayer, quiet, reflective moments, spiritual reading and knowing people trying to travel the same path are another good beginning; opening our eyes to the needs immediately around us is yet another. All are stretches on the path we need to walk to find a God of love. Read the scripture as though God was trying to talk directly to you this week... because that is precisely what he is doing...write your thoughts, impressions and prayers in the margins of your Bible... capture the conversation...and do not fear the choice. 1 Timothy 2:1-8
Re-Ordering Our L ives
I was blessed last weekend to participate in a conference retreat at Manresa with many members of my family. There is a special grace that seems simply to radiate from the ground at every step when one can share time with those closest to you amid the holiness of dedicated time with the Lord. I certainly knew God was close and anticipated a good few days, but He did more than that this weekend. And it started with a question which grows out of the statement of St. James in this Sunday’s readings.
house and the quiet places of holy ground might make listening a little more effective. We rarely live in such an environment though, and it is easy to think that apart from it we cannot function to the extent Christ calls us to function. But is that true? Is there a way to tell when the turmoil is such that we know we have to re-group? There is.
Not every confusion or trouble means we are in chaos, but disorder very well may, as James proclaims. In what “order” do At the first conference on Friday evening the Retreat Director you place your priorities? Does your Christian profession find challenged us all to consider the disorder in our lives. Disorder expression in your demeanor? How about your choice of casual can be a signal to look at what we are pursuing, how we are living, pursuits? Your relationships? What really comes first in your life? what values are truly guiding our actions. We go astray by losing our purpose, the purpose for which we were created to pursue, Generally during the retreat on the last evening, retreatants “...to know, love and serve God in this life...” Some of you who are have the opportunity to receive an anointing after praying for old enough, will find that these words stir some remembrance of one another. God pointed out what order should look like to a time when things were straightforward...the answers were all me in the hushed Chapel. Typically we sit as a family for the in the Catechism! We are now, for better or worse (that isn’t the conferences, so each in turn, a father would go forward to pray question), in a world that has choices in abundance; voices that over his son; a son would go forward to pray for his father. Each can attract and repel all at the same time and they come faster in turn would move to the center and receive from the priest an anointing proclaiming the healing which just took place. The than we can really evaluate. presence of the Holy Spirit in the room was palpable as healing after healing was being wrought before one’s eyes.
Disorder can be a signal to look at what we are pursuing, how we are living, what values are truly guiding our actions.
We were like little children with the arm of Jesus over our shoulders. Consider your path this week. Take time to pause for a while and talk to Jesus about your priorities and the disorder in your life as you perceive it. Then ask Him what to do with it. In reality, the answers we so long to find are written in our hearts I could see and feel the blessing of father to son this weekend. and despite the chaos which sometimes surrounds us, can be God wants you to know it from his own hand. Believe in him. found. Admittedly, the peaceful surroundings of the retreat Write your conversations in your Bible...
Wisdom 2:12, 17-20
Psalm 54:3-6, 8 56
One Flesh Whenever I read Genesis, I am struck by the fact that God created us at all. He could have left the garden intact for his own enjoyment. It is not like God needed to create us. He did create us though (and that means all of us to this day) and only because he wanted to... he wanted to express his love in the way love best exemplifies itself, and that is in creation. The readings pound home the message that we are meant to live in relationship. Marriage is a special one that comes so close to reflecting the love God has for each of us. St. Paul uses it as a metaphor for portraying the relationship of Christ and the Church. So even if you are not married, you have to recognize God wants us to pay attention to the love expressed in marriage and he paints a good picture of what that should look like all the way through the Gospels. A few years ago the relationship of husband and wife was made much more concrete for me. Mary and I were attending a series of meetings entitled “Couples Prayer” led by friends we knew very well. In fact, during one period in our early years as a married couple, we met once a week with them and other couples to pray. So you can infer we were already familiar with the way they prayed, their relationship with God and even many details of married life only people who have prayed together for a number of years can know. During the series, they were leading us through an exercise helping us to practice ways to pray as a couple. Mary and I had done this before but since we left the small couples group years before we fell into a time where we were “too busy” to do this...our attendance at the series was a way to reinvigorate a practice we knew was something we should be doing. During the exercise, as we were praying, I had a strong sense that God was trying to break through to some ground in me that was new, yet old. I remembered this line from Genesis, “...a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh.” First and significantly, it didn’t say she left her mother and dad...it said I had to. The man clinging to his wife was a picture that I hadn’t contemplated.
...(c ontinued) 58
October 2012 It brought to mind all the other things I was clinging to rather than the person God was telling me should be my most important, intimate friend. Things were getting in the way of our relationship, not because they were right or wrong things to do in themselves. They were wrong because I was giving them priority over her...my confession. Things had to change...prayer was going to be an important part of the transformation. But God wasn’t through. He wanted to reinforce the importance of us praying together by showing me that praying alone for a better relationship with Mary wasn’t the path I needed to take. It really struck me as a revelation that the “...two became one flesh.” What did that mean from God’s point of view to me? Perhaps, and this I do believe, God had been looking for this “one flesh” called Buchanan for a long time. We hadn’t prayed together for a while and I realized that the “one flesh” was her and I in union, before him. I could imagine him saying to us, “Well now, there you are, I have been looking for you...” He could recognize us in the one flesh again. Our prayers united, I recalled the commitment we made together so many years before...the three of us in union. There was critical purpose in that union intricately connected to my own path to God. He joined me to another as my path to him...not an individual who just happened to be married to another person. St. Paul says that the relationship of Christ and his church bears resemblance to that of husband and wife. You may not think of doing this but it is important to having a good relationship with Christ in truth. Can you picture Christ ‘clinging’ to you as God describes in the first reading? Can you imagine Christ with you, so close that he joins with your prayer to the Father so that the Father sees his son when he sees you? Pray about that vision of the Father this week. (Note: You don’t have to be married to understand this...you just have to be honest in your prayer.)
Psalm 128:1-6 59
God A midst the Terror There are several books that have had impact on me when I read them for the first time. There are a few that had an impact the second time I read them and I have found through the years, it is the second time through that things hit harder. There are several I could recommend, but one comes to mind when I stumble across the readings for this Sunday; it is Victor Frankel’s, Man’s Search for Meaning. Dr. Frankl was among the few who survived the ravages of the concentration camps of Hitler during WWII. He described his experiences in the camps, losing all he had including family, friends, in fact, all he knew of his former life. At one point he was stripped of everything including his clothes. He remembered the time as he wrote about it afterward, “...our nakedness was brought home to us; we really had nothing now except our bare bodies...” Drawing on his experience as a psychologist, he studied men sharing this nightmare. He found that there were men who lived with God amidst the terror which became the daily bread of the condemned. At one point he described their conversation sharing the glory of a sunset or the sound of a birdsong or seeing the simple branch of a tree in the springtime. They knew their sufferings were not in vain and there was still a God who loved them. “It is not what life owes you,” Frankl writes, “but what you owe life.” There is meaning in what we are living through. There is meaning to what we bring to our suffering.
They knew their sufferings were not in vain and there was still a God who loved them. ...(c ontinued) 60
October 2013 Frankl indeed discovered there is meaning in suffering and in fact, holds a view that only then can we realize the potential God designed into our beings, and in a certain way, to know him. The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity—even under the most difficult circumstances—to add a deeper meaning to his life...Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not. As I then contemplate the readings I know I live in a world in conflict. We all know families grieving loss and I even know some souls imprisoned, frozen in fear of what may become of them. For many, the impact of their situation brings despair, loneliness, desolation. For us too, the events that make up our own personal history can bring the same “...strife and clamorous discord...” can they not? The readings tell us, to have faith:
For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not be late. The rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live. ...and the Psalm urges us to praise God, singing joyfully and to not miss the message of the saving act of God. It isn’t easy to praise God when we are suffering or afraid. God asks us to rely on Him, to be patient, but do not stop working. Frankl’s story of a Jew suffering the Holocaust will remain with me as a reminder to see through desolation to salvation. Frankl’s story reminds me there are crosses for which it is my role to carry. Spend time with the readings this week. Write your thoughts and prayers in the margins of your Bibles. Include the names of those God brings to mind and date the page at the top. God is speaking to you through those pages. Believe in the message.
Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9 61
2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14
L ift Up Your Eyes to the Mountains
Born and raised in Michigan, I really never had an appreciation for the mountains. After all, for much of my life I thought Mt. Elliot was at 3,000 feet. About 30 years ago, however, Mary and I took a job transfer and we found ourselves residents of El Paso, Texas, living on the side of a mountain with desert all around us! The Psalm for this Sunday proclaims, “I lift up my eyes toward the mountains; whence shall help come to me? My help is from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” I remember many mornings as the sun sent streaks of red and gold through the peaks and I would look out at the mountain from my backyard thinking how wonderfully made is the creation of God. I found I could talk easily to the creator while taking in the power and beauty of the scene. God seemed close. I’m not sure why such views evoke a response in our spirit such that God seems more accessible, but a few of decades of reading convinced me I am not alone with these realizations. Our prayers seem nearer to Him, more effective. But of course, He is always that close to us, loving us, desiring our prayers no matter where we are. We know that our God is always listening to our prayers and petitions because He never “slumbers or sleeps.” The Lord is our Guardian, our protector and our shield against all true harm. It all stems from the fact that God loves us unconditionally. He does not separate himself from us. There is only space between us because we place it there. We sense our inadequacies and failure, but He looks at his creation (that’s you) and rejoices in you...and he listens to your heart. From where does your salvation come? Moses knew. St. Paul and Jesus urge patience and persistence in our prayer so that it can manifest it in the way we live. Carve out time to talk to Him, walking slowly through the passages in your Bible. Listen for His encouraging words and write your response in the margins of your Bible. There is a conversation waiting...look to the mountains for salvation awaits...
Psalm 121:1-8 62
2 Timothy 3:14–4:2
Can You Drink the Cup?
There is a lot to think about in the readings for this Sunday. No doubt, many a homily will focus on our role as servants and the example of Jesus, and that is after all, a central theme. I would like to offer a second theme which was crystallized for me by Henri Nouwen in his small book, Can You Drink the Cup?1, for I think, for me, the meaning of this Sunday will reside in the deep spiritual challenge this question continues to bring to me. Nouwen recalls the reading from Mark’s Gospel at an early morning Mass at the Daybreak Community and the momentous realization of what is really being asked of each of us. “Suddenly the words ‘Can you drink the cup?’ pierced my heart like the sharp spear of a hunter. I knew at that moment—as with a flash of insight—that taking this question seriously would radically change our lives.” What was it? It was a sudden realization that the cup holds sorrow, pain, loss, and also joy and blessing...the same ingredients found through committed relationship and all of life. Is it possible to hold the cup in my hands without recognizing the hands that yearn for companionship, brotherhood? Can I lift the cup without realizing the weight of my brothers and sisters in want all around me? Can I drink the cup without absorbing the hurt of those dealing with loss and pain? What happens when we finally realize that the Gospel story we hear politely ‘homilized’ each week is a calling to something radical. Shouldn’t the message “...shatter the distribution and balance of our activities...”2 Jesus knew the cost of drinking the cup. He knew the price was a cross on a hill in full surrender to his Father’s will. He held us all in his outstretched hands and begged forgiveness for us all. He carried the weight of our sins and resolved the relationship of man to God, once and for all and drank the cup the Father sent him for our sake. James and John didn’t understand the cost...most of the time, even knowing the story, we do not either. Nouwen closes insightfully, reminding us that, “...as we drink the cup, we drink the cup that Jesus drank, but we also drink our cup... that is the great mystery of the Eucharist. The cup of Jesus, filled with his life, poured out for us and all people, and our cup, filled with our own blood have become one cup...” It is more than a ‘sign’, it is a reality we need to pray for the courage to understand. 1. Nouwen, Henri J.M., Can You Drink the Cup?, Ave Maria Press: Notre Dame, Indiana, 1996. 2. Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre, The Divine Milieu, Perennial Classics: New York, 2001.
Psalm 33:4-5, 18-20, 22 63
Have you ever wondered why God doesn’t seem to answer your prayers? I know I have. During times of stress, anxiety and pain especially, I have prayed for intervention or healing or something that I have pictured that would ease the situation, either for me or for whoever I am praying for....but sometimes it seems the prayer goes nowhere, doesn’t it? Does God “hear” our prayers? All the readings (last week too) talk about the efficacy of our prayers, but the following verse from Sirach really touched me:
The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds, judges justly and affirms the right, and the Lord will not delay. The “clouds” of doubt that we perceive can not stop our prayers. Indeed God does hear and responds to each of us. We may not recognize it at the moment. Our vision may be vastly different from God’s vision of what is needed. Our pain, guilt, apprehension or other “clouds” are hindrances to our sight. A friend once pointed out to me that all of our prayers are answered but from an eternal viewpoint. Unfortunately, we are burdened much of the time by an incredibly short horizon, but the unbounded love of God will not delay in answering. We need to accept it, even when we do not understand. Perhaps even now you are burdened with serious concerns, anxiety, worry. Many are...me too. We must have faith that the outcome we experience and live through is the one God wants for us because he only wants good for those who love him. “I have a plan for you; a plan for good and not for evil...” The good plans of God exceed all we can ever hope for. Trust in his goodness. Trust in his love. And talk to him constantly...it is never unanswered. I have found that it helps to keep a small notebook and jot down what it is you are bringing to God. Write even your frustrations and doubts and include them in your prayer to the Lord. Then read through the journal once or twice a year, perhaps when you can set aside some extended time at a retreat. I suggest that you will be surprised as the answers to yesterday’s concerns were addressed and lost in the next “crisis” you found yourself facing. God is constantly in conversation with you....join him.
Scripture Readings: Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18
Psalm 34:2-3, 17-19, 23 64
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
What Would You Have Jesus Do For You? I have never been to the Holy Land, so I do not know exactly what the path through Jericho 2000 years ago may have been like. I did live in the desert for a good stretch of time and visited many small dusty towns as we traveled to and fro. So I can use my imagination to picture this juncture in Jesus’ journey. Apparently Jericho was only 15 miles from Jerusalem. Jews within that distance were expected to travel to Jerusalem for the feast. Not all could and instead would line the streets pleading for prayers. I would think it would have been even fuller as everyone knew the itinerant Galilean teacher would be traveling through their town. Bartimeaus was waiting for him too. There is some meaning in this little story about the son of Timeaus Mark inserts, that may surprise us if we pay attention, for there is more than a cure that occurs along the way. Teachers would talk to the crowds as they walked along the way. Followers and would-be followers would be hanging on to every word trying to understand who this person is and what he could bring to their small occupied world. I am sure there was much hope that he could rattle the nested (perhaps infested) pillars of power to make a difference in their lives. He could and he did but not as they anticipated. I am sure the route was one of bedlam as Jesus talked, people responded and the inevitable, “What did he say? Ask him this...Jesus, listen to me...I need to know...”
he didn’t have the right to stop the whole entourage! Their protestations didn’t halt a persistent voice of pain and need though, and Jesus heard him. His calls of “Son of David” (the only person to call Jesus that in Mark) meant this blind beggar was connecting Jesus to a Messianic line, the line of the promise. We should observe what comes next. Jesus asks him what he would have him do. “Master, I want to see.” As I dwell upon his request and despite the apparent obviousness, I think I would be tongue-tied if Jesus walked into my living room and said, “What would you have me do?” Solomon may have known, do I? The request is important. He didn’t ask for his “sight”—he asked to see and then “...followed him on the way.” To see for Bartimeaus meant to see Jesus and know he had to follow. Jesus became the end for which he would live and the lens he would use to see the world.
I am reminded that at one point Jesus responded to the Pharisees, “...but you say you see, so your sin remains.” We think we see but I challenge that when we can walk past need and sorrow and not give aid; to know there is pain and not give comfort; to realize there are those imprisoned and not visit, we are blind. Do we think we have important things going on and can’t stop what we are doing? Do we miss the calling of those Jesus wants us to hear? Thomas Merton, in his small book, Thoughts in Solitude, strikes a chord when he said, “A life is either all spiritual or not So Bartimeaus’ raving was doing nothing but interrupting the spiritual at all...Your life is shaped by the end you live for...” “important” message Jesus was giving to the “selected” crowd who were surrounding him. His shouting was denounced because What do you live for? What do I live for? The dusty road in Jericho more important things were going on and he should stand aside, gave new vision to a blind beggar. In many ways I am the same accept his condition and continue to pray, perhaps, but certainly and need to say too... “Lord, that I may see.”
Psalm 126:1-6 65
Good News for Those Who Come Up Shor t
We have idioms we use everyday that help us explain in shortcut terms what we mean. They are expedients which compress the meaning of something into a few words. “You hit the nail on the head,” “I have a lot on my plate, “ and “He came up a little short” are a few you may have heard. Idioms can also give a little insight for they all have origins...but that is another story.
arrive sometimes to find our ladder on the wrong wall and we look down and wonder how? Why? If truth and grace prevail, it will reveal to us all the poor, irrational, often unloving decisions we made. We will remember all the relationships we trampled upon. That revelation is precisely the gift of the moment for this hated tax collector. Jesus gave Zacchaeus the opportunity to see it wasn’t that he made damaging mistakes, but what mattered Coming up a little short is something I can understand because was what he was going to do next as he understood the gravity it is a part of my repertoire. It isn’t hard to reflect for a brief of what he did in the presence of a forgiving God. His life was moment and easily tab from place to place and memory to changed forever in the moment. memory to where I have not lived up to the gospel calling. I truly believe, “...you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; The gift continues. Jesus will do that for you. and you overlook people’s sins that they may repent.” In fact, I depend on it, so the words of the first reading are good to recall Jesus joyously cried, and dwell upon. God does love all that he has made, including me; including you. Today salvation has come to this house because But I am seldom, if ever, worthy of love. Zacchaeus was short in more than stature. He was despised because he collected tolls for the Romans and simultaneously filled his own coffers. As a chief collector, one can imagine, he had considerably invested in his life style because he was willing to sacrifice the good will of his neighbors and probably a good dose of skepticism from the Romans themselves. Do you think he started that way, with that end in mind? Have you ever considered the path he must have travelled to attain his position? Like us I fear, he made little compromises which led to other compromises. Small steps led to larger ones. Have you ever found yourself in a situation when you wondered, “How did I ever let this happen to me?” I know that when I minister at the jail, I can perceive this thought in the expressions of the women who sit before me. All too often we
this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and save what was lost.
Jesus came to save what was lost. We are lost when we are in the wrong places even if we think we know where we are going. Jesus can set us aright and help us to see as his Father sees. I don’t know how many times I read this story and did not realize that Jesus called him down from a tree...so that he could save him by climbing up upon one. We find ourselves trapped in our own trees. Jesus frees us. Don’t lose the conversation Jesus invites you to; spend time with Him talking about where the invitation leads...and write it down in your Bibles.
Psalm 145:1-2, 8-11, 13-14 66
2 Thessalonians 1:11–2:2
Do You Real ly L ove Your Neighbor? Christ’s answer to the Pharisees concerning the greatest commandment always resonated with me. I have prayed, at times intensely, about what it means to ‘love God with my whole heart, my whole soul and my whole mind’ and most of the time I realize that I am woefully equipped to accomplish it. How do I do that in a world so demanding of exactly the same complete allegiance to it? I can believe there are spiritual forces, evil in intent, happily celebrating my every decision to choose myself over this complete call to love God. It is even easier to deal with it in that context. But what I find increasingly more demanding is that the dissonance I find in myself is not simply between a believing and an unbelieving world where evil is apparent, but in the debate between those who call Christ their Lord. H. Richard Niebuhr speaks bluntly about it in his classic work Christ and Culture: ...not only pagans...but believers who have accepted him find it difficult to combine his claims upon them with those of their societies...more frequently the debate about Christ and culture is carried on among Christians and in the hidden depths of the individual conscious, not as the struggle and accommodation of belief with unbelief, but as the wrestling and reconciliation of faith with faith. There is tension in the very act of reconciling my faith with my walk; with what I think God is calling me to and what the world and sometimes the Church, says God is calling me to; and sometimes it is with good people of faith who challenge my conception and assumptions. In an unusual insight, drawn from the same author, Jesus’ interpretation of loving one’s neighbor was to give up his life to overcome the evil we carry and express in one way or another each day. While I am called to love my neighbor as myself, Jesus loved his neighbor as only God could.
...(c ontinued) 68
November 2012 Yet he gave us needed insight with his response to the scribe. How do I even begin to understand the extent of the commandment to love my neighbor (remembering as Merton states, it is not merely a helpful suggestion, it is the fundamental law of human existence)? My understanding of my neighbor is all too often encumbered by my reticence and what is really unfounded fear. Jesus calls me to trust that loving God wholly has consequences that will be realized in acts of love with my neighbor and that I will discover meaning in a deeper relationship with God as I open myself to the needs of others around me. There is probably personal truth for me in the fact I cannot align myself with the poor without looking at them eye to eye, listening to their stories and giving them my time. The loneliness and pain from within a prison or sickbed can only be understood for me with â€œsacrificeâ€? of time and presence. The encounter changes me in a way that helps me somehow and I think Jesus was trying to emphasize that link in connecting the two passages. Yes, we can do much with our treasure and we should. The needs of those whom we do not see are just as real and I believe it is the mission of the church (with a small c) to bring hope to the world through encounter with each other. However, God leads one to realize the call in some action, for it is in action that we discover God in our midst. Pray about your own response to the totality of love Christ calls us to with God and what his purpose is for you in that one statement. It may be quite different from mine, and then again, it may lead you in a direction you cannot predict and a discovery that our connection to the poor is necessary for us. Write your story in the margins of your Bible this week as you pray over the readings. God wants a conversation with you. Begin today.
Psalm 18:2-4, 47, 51 69
Resurrection A l l A round Us I went walking through the nature trail which winds around the north end of the property at Manresa this week. The air was cool and shafts of light penetrated the clouds loosely piled on top of each other in the sky. Many of the trees already bereft of leaves, looked petrified, almost white against the grey background. We have many old elms, long lost to the ravages of disease standing like pillars. Multicolored vegetation spread across the floor of the woods and crept up the side of lifeless trees while close by, young saplings stretched to the waning autumn sunlight. The living and dead, young life mixed with tired branches spoke to me of the life which surrounds us and how precious a gift it is. It is a gift God gives to each of us uniquely. It is part of his plan for us to discover him, get acquainted with him, laugh with him, cry with him, share the joy of birth, the pain in death and ultimately to trust him with everything. I lost a mentor, friend, leader and brother in the faith this week which shivers through me cold, pale like the trees on my walk. Yet his life of faith in Jesus and his perpetual example of a man built for God pulls me towards the realization that our God is a God who brings life eternally to us...my friend had faith that moved all who knew him. The world is different today because he is not with us and yet his spirit is with us. It is a path to faith and we shouldn’t miss the signs.
There is resurrection all around us as an answer to the lie that death robs us of life. It is a journey we are all on, yet we squander much of it; I did. The years went by and I found comfortable places in the underbrush to let things grow around me without absorbing the meaning and purpose of the life I was given to cherish and hold. But sometimes, there were moments that shook me...shafts of light that illuminated something beautiful and I had a glimpse of the love of God. My bride’s laughter and tender embrace, the cries and shouts of grandchildren, the wise smile from an aged father; the grateful countenance of someone who cannot repay a small act of kindness; they are not things that shake the world, but they are the “stuff” which moves all who live in it. There is resurrection all around us as an answer to the lie that death robs us of life. It doesn’t. It only closes a chapter, moves us to another place. We cannot buy it, it is gift and valuable. There is a passage in Dante’s Paradise which sticks in my memory:
Sometimes a thing’s so valuable it may never be bought with other coin, but drags the scale of every balance. (Dante, Paradise) ...(c ontinued) 70
November 2013 My friend Jim was one who dragged the scales. His salvation was real. So is yours and mine. It brings the assurance that an immortal prize awaits us, one so valuable, that all other things pale to insignificance. The people we encounter during the journey of discovery are part of the life meant to show us truth. We discover Jesus in family and friends and somehow we know that the Way to the Father, through Jesus leads to eternal life; to know the Father and the One that the Father sent. Jesus called it the Way and told us the Way was a person, Himself. Seeking the face of God and trusting in the search is a calling for all of us. Jesus did not come to be just a â€œmeansâ€? to another goal. He is the goal. Pray about your relationship with the Lord as you go through the readings this week. Think about the people he has cast into your life through the many relationships you cherish. Look deep and an everlasting, eternal illumination will be found...assurance of everlasting life. Listen to Him call you. Answer Him by writing in the margins of your Bible. The conversation never ends. Trust it; have faith it is God who calls you. As for me, I will remember Jim and rejoice in the knowledge he has now seen the face of God... something he knew would happen all the time I knew him.
2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14
Psalm 17:1, 5-6, 8, 15 71
2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5
Holy E xpectation
We can not know the hour, the Gospel tells us. Only the Father knows the day and the hour. There are hints though, which give us a clue for our own life sometimes. There aren’t many fig trees nor do I believe I have ever seen one, but I can imagine what Jesus describes for I have seen vestiges in my own life. The leaves which sprout that I have seen are the tender hands of caregivers administering chemo or the soft voice of someone close telling us, “...do not be afraid.” The month of November is set aside by the Church for a time to remember all those who added stitches to the fabric of the life which is ours, but are no longer where we can see them. November 14th was the anniversary of my mother’s passing. She died after only four months of battling lung cancer. She is gone and yet strangely still present. I see her on occasion in the gait of my sister and the laugh of my brother. Gone from where I can see her, she still marks her place in my life with loving moments of remembrance. While she was determined to live, Mom also knew how to die. She talked about the “cure”, but I think she knew that God was at the door calling her home. She recognized the signs, and knew where she was going. I suppose it takes courage. That, at least is the common paradigm. “I hope I have her courage.” I don’t know. Perhaps it is courage...or perhaps it is simply practicing what Jesus was saying all along. “Be ready...” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in his book, The Divine Milieu, says that while, “... it is vain to speculate as to the hour...we have to expect it...Expectation, anxious, collective and operative expectation ...” I don’t know if I have that yet, but if it is what I saw years ago in my mother’s smile and warm eyes, I at least know what it looks like. It means laughter and love of life. It tells me not to stop loving and cherishing the life God gives me now and to be grateful when it is done. Chardin says that our expectation is the most distinctive characteristic of our religion. I think, properly practiced, he could be right.
It isn’t the fact that we can be separated from this life that should give us pain. It is the possibility of being separated from Him who cared enough to love us into life. Scripture Readings:
It means we believe that while death ends this part of life, it doesn’t end the relationship that we can have with the God who made us and the Savior who redeemed us...right now. Expectation happens when we know who we are going to be with because we have loved them now. It is distinctive because we believe in a person who loves us beyond death and invites us to be with him and that is different from what the common culture tells us. C.S. Lewis reminds us in his Reflections on the Psalms, that it isn’t the fact that we can be separated from this life that should give us pain. It is the possibility of being separated from Him who cared enough to love us into life. God bids us to come and shine...as she is shining...happy anniversary, Mom.
Psalm 16:5, 8-11 72
Hebrews 10:11-14, 18
Waiting in the Deser t
December 2013 (Advent)
Desert landscapes have long been a place of discernment and prayer; of asceticism and solitude. The early church writings are a chronicle of the meaning which can be found there. A few years ago I was fortunate to stumble across a book entitled, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes by Belden C. Lane. It rekindled some remarkable scenes in my memory of my time in Texas during the late 80’s and early 90’s. I discovered the mystery that is inherent in the stark environment and the book made me return in spirit. Belden talks about an indifference, known as apatheia to the desert fathers, and an attentiveness which are important poles in anyone’s spiritual life. Indifference is fostered because one is forced to let go of all the unimportant in your surroundings and key into what is critical. We all have a tendency to hang on to things. But life in the desert is harsh. It isn’t just the lack of water. There is harm in every turn from animals to insects to simply losing one’s orientation. We will find, sooner or later, we are burdened and won’t know why. The same virtues are the difficult parts of being able to pray. Attentiveness to the movements within us is not easy to learn. The Archbishop of Canterbury responding to a question of whether he prayed said, “yes, every day for about a minute...it just takes 29 minutes for me to get ready to do it.” I think we have a tendency to move from one thing to another with little thought or what your grandparents may have described as “...just sitting with the problem.” It is foreign to move from one thing to another slowly and deliberately. Belten puts it bluntly: “Plagued by a highly diffused attention, we give ourselves to everything lightly. That is our poverty.” We can’t see the gentle growth that is being nurtured when we can keep still. Our time in Texas taught us a lot about deserts. There is much growth that can’t be seen until the torrents of the sky open and release life giving water to the parched earth. Then the glorious color of plants you weren’t aware were there, fill the floor under the mountain. The earth in the desert “knows” enough to wait. God is always cultivating our souls, even in our desert times, maybe especially so. As St. Paul urges, be patient. We can’t see the growth, but be assured, it is there. The difficulty is the stillness, the waiting for some sure sign and there is none. God isn’t normally going to manifest himself that way. The gift is in the struggle, in the search, in the waiting. Advent is a time to walk a little way in the desert. Find some “alone” time to spend with the Lord each day this week. Read His Word and jot down your thoughts and prayers. His gentle conversation will confirm what you already know...even if it is only for a minute.
Isaiah 35:1-6, 10
Psalm 146:6-10 73
Mat thew 1 :18-23 Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.”
The Beginning that Reveals the End
December 2013 (Advent)
It is the extraordinary event of history...all history. God breached the chasm that separated us, renewing a relationship that will last for eternity. I have often talked about how we should notice and pay close attention to the beginnings and endings of things. I am reminded Advent is a place of beginning for us. It also hints at the endings. We can hear echoes in the readings for this Sunday and directly in the second reading for midnight Mass (Timothy 2:11-13). “For the grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of the great God and of our savior Jesus Christ.” The birth can only be understood fully by realizing the purpose for which this small child entered the world. In a book by Fr. Stanley, SJ, the scholar talks about the contrast between celebrating our own birthdays, other anniversaries and memorials. Our celebrations are a look rearward at the day we were born or a walk through the past. We are looking backward and recalling. Christmas is distinctly different. It is different because “...it is meant to be celebrated principally not by looking backwards, but by anticipation of the future.”1 You and I make one entrance to this world. Jesus, uniquely, will make two. Christ is to come again and this is the fact that absorbs the attention of the Church. The consequence of the innocent birth of Jesus will bring salvation to humankind; incredible. How can we fathom the depth of love that precipitated God offering His only Son to the world? Even during extraordinary moments of meditation, I shudder as I try to take in the gravity of the moment. The truth is that even for one as insignificant as me, one whose “hands” are not “sinless” and whose heart is not “clean”, God sent His Son. He knew I could not “...ascend the mountain...” So Christ came to me...and you. His purpose is to save and the pathway is to love. We have a brother in Christ. He wants you to know him and experience his loving presence in your life. In the hours before Christmas, give yourself the gift of embracing the Christ who knows you and loves you ...and will come again. Merry Christmas to you all... I thank you for your prayers and the many encouragements you have sent through the year. God Bless, Hugh
Psalm 24:1-6 75
Ack nowledgments All Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Bible, Revised Edition © 2011, which is available on the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) at www.usccb.org/bible/. The primary Scripture passage for each weekly meditation is emphasized with bold print at the bottom of each page. All references to books, magazines, or other primary sources are cited by footnotes. Much appreciation is extended to the various artists whose photographs, paintings, and other forms of artwork grace these pages. Specific credits are listed below: Cover Image, Stained Glass Pane, Jikido https://www.flickr.com/photos/jikido/359906804
Page 20, Tears, Mait Jüriado https://www.flickr.com/photos/mait/4416393193
Page 5, Fishing Net on Pier, Matti Mattila https://www.flickr.com/photos/mattimattila/4451640240/
Page 23, Cros Cheilteach “Explored”, Sean Molin http://www.flickr.com/photos/seanmolin/5584078173
Page 7, Wafers—Artist Unknown jimmyabbottsblog.blogspot.com/2011/06/body-of-christ.html
Page 25, Father and Son, Val Buchanan Page 26, Jesus, Roverto Ferrari http://www.flickr.com/photos/roberto_ferrari/123399240
Page 10, Fishing Boat, Matt Hintsa http://www.flickr.com/photos/matt_hintsa/2463668414
Page 27, The Shepherd & His Sheep, Hel Muthess http://www.flickr.com/photos/helmuthess/12085154356
Page 12, Big Sky Over Texas, Michael H. Whitten https://www.flickr.com/photos/28673298@N03/13572096375/
Pages 30 and 31, Winding Path, Carol Smith http://www.flickr.com/photos/clsphotos/4719783663
Page 13, Prickly Vista, Michael H. Whitten https://www.flickr.com/photos/28673298@N03/13696802665/
Page 33, (mountains), Neonquark https://www.flickr.com/photos/neonquark/4740784725
Page 17, Master Bedroom, Andrew Wyeth http://www.artandframing123.com/prints/Framed%20prints%2010/ fMasterbdrm.jpg
Page 35, Sydän Ovessa, Anssi Koskinen https://www.flickr.com/photos/ansik/2166450083/
Page 18, Return of the Prodigal, Rembrandt Public Domain
Page 35, Rome Montage, Val Buchanan
Ack nowledgments Page 40, Wedding Bands, Johanna Ljungblom http://www.freeimages.com/photo/821326
Page 63, Chalice, Nina Mathews flickr.com/photos/21560098@N06/8299109942
Page 41, Statue of Ignatius Loyola, Elyce Feliz https://www.flickr.com/photos/elycefeliz/6534228709/
Page 64, Sky Symphony, Kevin Dooley https://www.flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/5192063662/
Page 43, Christina’s World, Andrew Wyeth http://www.andrewwyeth.org/Christina-World.jsp
Page 67, Zacchaeus, Joel Whitehead http://edmondmanning.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2006/11/zacchaeus-1.jpg
Page 44, Tree at Achurch, Frances Carter http://www.flickr.com/photos/francescarter/8951045514 Page 49, Loaves and Fishes, Mira66 flickr.com/photos/21804434@N02/4739074036 Page 50, Hugh & Mary Ellen’s 40th Anniversary, Val Buchanan Page 52, Carlsbad Canyon Bats, Tolka Rover https://www.flickr.com/photos/eob/55433625/
Page 68, National Shrine of the Little Flower, Lisa Pasquinelli https://flic.kr/p/8mVRf1 Page 69, Close Up Of Statues On Tower, Nick Michaelson https://flic.kr/p/4GFrKc Page 69, The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower, http://ww1.hdnux.com/photos/22/57/30/4912692/3/622x350.jpg
Page 55, Uganda Boys, Val Buchanan
Page 71, Red Bridge—Manresa Retreat Center, Brian Callahan https://www.flickr.com/photos/shinsanbc/3707462980
Page 57, Manresa Stairwell Stained Glass, solorunner1 https://flic.kr/p/91ft5E
Page 73, Desert Flower, Henry T. McLin https://flic.kr/p/co32sU
Pages 58 and 59, Hugh & Mary Ellen in Rome, Val Buchanan
Page 74, Nativity, Bourn, Steve Day https://www.flickr.com/photos/therevsteve/5833163534
Page 60, In Darkness, Wendy Longo http://foter.com/photo/in-darkness/
Page 78, Baby Hugh, Val Buchanan
Page 62, West Texas Sunset, Phil (zrim) https://www.flickr.com/photos/zrimshots/160378653/
Reflections on the Sunday readings.