The change of season from Summer to Autumn never fails to remind me of the words in the Book of Ecclesiastes that there is a season for everything; it’s the natural order. The changes of seasons are also a glimpse of the LORD’s faithfulness to us in the natural cycles of life. We used to have a perennial garden before we became apartment dwellers; observing the array of flowers from the early Spring bloom to Autumn dormancy gave me pleasure.
During the autumn of each year, we would harvest hundreds of bulbs from the original 7 Asiatic and Oriental Lilies we planted when we first started gardening. We would spread those bulbs throughout the garden and wait for them to trumpet their glory under the summer’s sky in symphony with the other bloomers throughout our garden. Seeds and bulbs; re-recreation at its best! And so the cycle would go each year. The plants never failed to perpetually glorify the Creator in just being what they were created to be. Throughout Scripture, gardens are the metaphorical image of our life with the LORD. I kindle to the glimpse of this that we are given in the book of Isaiah.
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
“For you shall go out in joy, and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign which shall not be cut off.”
In the New Testament, Jesus uses the image of a mustard seed for the perpetual propagation of God’s Kingdom here on earth. Mustard is similar to kudzu in that it is invasive, wildly winding its way through the soil. It quietly invaded the land. Interestingly, Jesus was speaking to Jews who valued order and had strict rules about keeping a tidy garden; they even had laws against planting mustard seed–it messed with their system! Jesus had the chutzpah to compare the kingdom of God to an invasive plant.
The problem was that many of the listeners and even some of his followers had lofty ideas about what the Kingdom of God should look like and how it should grow. In their minds, a militant order was foremost, that, and size. They probably envisioned the tall cedars of Lebanon rather than some untamed bush from a mustard seed, spreading wherever it pleased, messy, difficult to keep under control. What they couldn’t imagine is God’s Kingdom subtly and subversively taking over their well-ordered world.
Their vision of God’s Kingdom included a conquering hero, in the stature of the cedars of Lebanon. There vision of God’s Kingdom included a frontal attack on the empires and governments of the world. Power to the People! Their vision of God’s Kingdom did not include a small act of faith like a mustard seed. Their vision didn’t kindle to the idea of a subtle contagion spreading through one little beautiful life, one little act of hospitality, one little act of mercy, one little act of grace, one little act of forgiveness, one little act of trust at a time.
I wonder what this world’s kingdom would look like if our corners of God’s garden grew like mustard plants. Methinks that the Kingdom of God would invade the world with every seed of love, mercy, forgiveness, long-suffering, gentleness, peace, hope, and grace that we allowed the LORD to plant in the soil of our corner of the garden. And little by little, garden would unite with another’s garden, and then another’s and then, happy day, thetrees of the field would clap their hands!
I wonder what the LORD may be up to in our gardens. He, the Master Gardener, wants to tend us, pruning, fertilizing, and watering. He desires to cover us for necessary dormancy or expose us in due season to warmth and light. To everything, there is a season.
Holy Spirit of God, would you grant us the fortitude to remain in the soil of your everlasting love for us? Help us to sow seeds of your love with a patient and joyful spirit in our corners of your Garden.
Holy Spirit of God, would you grant us insight about the corners of our garden that are dark and untended? Help us sow seeds of hope and love where weeds threaten to choke us and crowd out your light.
Holy Spirit of God, would you re-create in the empty spaces or our gardens something of your beauty and goodness? Help us to cultivate your beauty for others to behold.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, it is now, and ever shall be world without end.
The Mass readings for today draw our attention to two men who lived hundreds of years apart but had the same trouble with their vision. They could see alright; it just wasn’t past the end of their noses. They suffered from self-preoccupation that caused a spiritual myopia. Let’s examine the problem these two men had and examine what led to their problem and what we can learn from them about our own spiritual myopia.
Firstly, let us examine Jonah, who was a prophet of Israel in the 8th century B.C. His vocation was to keep the Israelites eyes and ears open to the word of the LORD. He did such a fine job with it that the LORD told him to go to Nineveh (modern-day Iraq). And what did the LORD want Jonah to proclaim to the pagan Ninevites? He was to teach that the LORD’s compassion is boundless, not limited just to us (Israelites) but also available to them (Ninevites). Jonah was offended by God’s assignment, so much so that he allowed pride to rule in his heart. He hopped a boat and traveled away from the LORD’s presence in the opposite direction to Tarshish (modern-day southern Spain). Jonah did not seem to mind Spaniard pagans as much as he did Ninevite pagans.
The Scriptures mention two times that Jonah went away from the presence of the LORD. That choice was Jonah’s first indication of his pride; in effect, Jonah was telling God that the Ninevites don’t deserve his compassion. Another indication of Jonah’s pride was his anger that the LORD showed compassion to the people of Ninevah despite Jonah’s half-hearted message to them. They repented, and together as a city, they chose to worship the LORD. Ninevah was spared! Jonah should have been celebrating God’s great mercy toward them; instead, his pride consumed him. He argued with God about it. We don’t hear anything more of Jonah in the Sacred Scriptures. But perhaps Jonah’s spiritual myopia was cured once he examined his motivations behind his prejudice and anger.
Let’s turn our attention to a lawyer who lived in 1st Century A.D. His spiritual myopia wasn’t manifest in his anger toward God. No, he was a good and faithful Jew who lived by the Law of God. His disordered pride was indicated by a question he asked Jesus. St. Luke writes, “…but wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?‘” The need to justify one’s self quite often belies the doubt about one’s actions. Jesus, in his beautiful way, answers the lawyer with the timeless parable of The Good Samaritan.
The lawyer’s first indication of his disordered pride was his pressing question about what he could DO to inherit eternal life, as if he could control God’s acceptance of him. The narrative portrays the lawyer as a man of fervent attention to the black and white understanding of the Law of God. I can imagine he was a man that “crossed every t and dotted every i”; meticulous and precise in his adherence to the particulars, but sloppy in his attention to others. Jesus knew the lawyer’s lack of mercy, he would have disregarded the Samaritans (who didn’t follow the Law of God exactly like the Jews). Jesus’ description of the priest and Levite, who ignored the wounded man’s plight, staying as far away from that side of the road as possible must have stung the ears of the lawyer. His sense of the Law of God would have been blown out of the water by the Samaritan’s mercy and compassion to the wounded man.
The narrative ends with Jesus examination question for the lawyer: “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” I would like to believe that once the lawyer examined his own disordered pride, he would have been cured of his spiritual myopia.
Friend, do you find yourself in these men? I do. Take heart, for the Church remembers another man today who was cured of his spiritual myopia. He lived in the 13th century A.D., yet the culture of his day was suffering from the same epidemic of spiritual myopia as the men who preceded him. St. Francis of Assisi was immersed in the wealth and hubris of his society until the LORD got his attention in an encounter with a leper. St. Francis was instantly cured of his spiritual myopia when he repented of his disregard for the spirit of the Law of God. Before that vision, he loved himself and all the pleasure he was surrounded by; after that vision, he loved God with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength; and he died in his love and compassion for the marginalized and forgotten people of his day. St. Francis left us with a treasury of beautiful prayers that revealed his complete love for the LORD. One particular prayer comes to mind as we close.
Most High, Glorious God, enlighten the darkness of our minds. Give us a right faith, a firm hope and a perfect charity, so that we may always and in all things act according to Your Holy Will.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be world without end.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
–St. Matthew 18
The Liturgy of the Word has been drawing our minds to consider the innocence of children. Several times in the Gospels, Jesus draws a child to him to illustrate the relationship between God and humanity: his fatherly love for us his beloved children. He desires for us to childlike, living in our home which is the kingdom of heaven; he never planned that we would leave home so he shows us how to return home by becoming childlike in our faith. Jesus said:
“Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”
Jesus was teaching that childlike trust is a requisite to a spirit of gratitude. Can you imagine a young child saying to her father, “I’m better off fending for myself–I don’t need you to provide food, shelter, or protection for me. I’ll figure things out for myself.” No, children trust their needs will be met by their parents–they don’t even give it a second thought. A child will come to the dinner table without a thought to how the food was grown or from where the food came. A child doesn’t examine her plate, wondering if she can trust that the food is good for her. She just eats! When we aren’t childlike, we make life so complicated because we mistrust our Heavenly Father; therefore, we take on motivations, doubts, and behaviors that lead us away from home with our Heavenly Father. Do you find yourself doing that, friend? Running helter-skelter after whatever we think we need. Our Heavenly Father stands at the threshold of our home with his arms laden with every provision we could ever need.
Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms….
I’ve folded my arms around my children and grandchildren many times, embracing them with all the love I had for them. If a threat were to come at them, you bet I held them close to me while I used my other arm to protect and defend them. The threat may have been as simple as a sibling wanting to tickle them, or the threat may have been a real and present danger. The posture of Jesus here as he takes the child in his arms is an icon of our Heavenly Father’s love for us–his everlasting arms enfolding us and drawing us into his protection. We read of the LORD’s right arm protecting his children in the Old Testament; protection from others as well as circumstances. What’s his other arm doing? He is holding us to him as our Protector and Defender! Our Heavenly Father is the perfect father; his arms do not grow weary. Consider Isaiah’s words:
“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
A child trusts in her parents’ attention to her; the idea that she has to earn their love or she’ll be thrown out of the house and forgotten by her parent never enters her mind. Her parents are biased toward her; she is flesh of their flesh, bone of their bone; they will move heaven and earth for her. Likewise, our Heavenly Father doesn’t love us for what is in us, what we do and don’t do. No, he loves us for what is in him because we are his flesh and bone, the image of himself. He did move heaven and earth for us! His love is extravagant, without limit.
Do you know that the word extravagant is another word for prodigal? With this in mind, let’s consider the parable of the Prodigal Father and Sons. The extravagant rebellion of the younger son didn’t decrease the extravagant love his father had for him. As St. Luke puts it,
“…while he (the prodigal son) was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.”
Consider the older brother who didn’t rebel against his father, but he was extravagant in his hard effort to impress his father. All the son’s effort couldn’t increase the extravagant love his father had for him. The father says to him,
“Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”
Friends, we are the beloved children of the Everlasting Father! He has called us by name, and as Isaiah puts it, our name is written on the palm of his hand. This image comes from an ancient tradition; people would have the name of their tribe tattooed on their hands. People lifted their arms in greeting so that they could reveal who they belonged to; they, in turn, could identify the other as friend or foe, which could mean life or death if you were alone on the backside of a desert. Isaiah used this tradition to remind the children of God that they were protected by God, no matter where they were. It is the same for us today–all we need to do is be childlike and remember to whom we belong.
Pray with me a portion of The Litany of the Childlike.
Jesus, grant me… …Trust in Your Father’s providential care for me. …Trust in Your desire and ability to heal me …Trust that your Holy Spirit is constantly guiding me …Simplicity of heart. …Tranquility, confidence, and the peace that only You can give. …A heart full of gratitude. …The conviction that my worth comes from being the Father’s child and not from what I do. …The conviction that I am known and I am loved. …The conviction that You have a plan that is just for me. …The conviction that you delight in me. …The humility to see myself as You see me. …The freedom to try and fail. …The grace to run to you in times of temptation. …The grace to immediately turn back to You when I sin. …The grace to share with You everything that is on my heart. …The grace to rest in Your loving arms.
Jesus, make me so childlike so that I can receive everything from you.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be.
The saints have always known that the power of good is something incalculable.
Today the Church draws our attention to the lives of 18th-century Korean martyrs: ordinary people–scholars, farmers, court officials, wives, and merchants. They were martyred for believing in and living out the Gospel of Christ in an anti-christ society. The Church regularly venerates the lives of Martyrs and Saints, for they are our people; they have gone before us into the worship of eternity. They are in communion with us in our suffering and worship; they stand as witnesses and interceders, cheering us on as we strive to live as saints-in-the-making in our corner of the world.
As the faithful on this side of eternity, we don’t know what we don’t know, but the Saints and Martyrs know what we don’t know. We have much to learn from them.
The Saints and Martyrs knew who they were–the beloved of God; created to enjoy him forever, to live their lives in living sacrifice to and worship of the Name above all names. Their eyes were fixed on heaven, and now in Eternity they know the fulfillment of our chief end; they are glorifying God and enjoying him forever. That makes my brain sweat, but in the Sacrifice of the Mass, we get a glimpse of this as the curtain is drawn back, and there we saints-in-the-making join those who lived and died glorifying God in worship.
The Saints and Martyrs knew how to live–in essence, their martyrdom didn’t begin with the last death blow for they were already crucified with Christ. They died daily to sin and death with every choice they made to be transformed into the image of Christ in them. Nothing, nothing could take their eyes off this purpose. Earthy pursuits as well as earthly concerns didn’t hold sway over them for they knew their life was in Christ. To die physically was to live in the fulness of God! Something comes to mind that St. Paul wrote to the persecuted Church in Rome, that the Spirit of God bears witness with our spirit in our corner of the world so when we suffer with Christ we may also glorify him before others. That is what we are about!
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!”it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him…I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us…If God is for us, who is against us? “
The Saints and Martyrs knew where they were going–in essence, their martyrdom did not begin with the last death-blow, because they were already crucified with Christ. They died daily to sin and death with every choice they made to be transformed into the image of Christ in them. Nothing, nothing could take their eyes off this purpose. Earthly pursuits, as well as earthly concerns, didn’t hold sway over them for they knew their life was in Christ. To die physically was to live in the fulness of God! Something comes to mind that St. Paul wrote to the persecuted Church in Rome, that the Spirit of God bears witness with our spirit in our corner of the world so when we suffering to Christ, we complete what was lacking in Christ’s affliction on the Cross.
May we never forget that Christ bore his sufferings for our salvation; why would we expect anything less. St. Paul reminds the persecuted Church in Rome that we are to present ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is our spiritual worship.
How do we present our bodies as living sacrifices? Well, by choosing not to go along with the tide of the culture that would remove us from the very One who created us and gave his life for us! We die to ourselves each time we say “no,” to any attitude, action, pursuit, or pressure that would drive us further from who we are created to be!
How is it with you today, fellow saint-in-the-making? Do the frustrations or sufferings of your life consume you so much that you forget who you are, what you’re about, and where you are going?
Do you feel isolated as you live your life with your eyes fixed on Jesus? Or perhaps, you find your eyes have been distracted by the shiny things you pursue? Perhaps fear of others and their empty power over you has gotten the best of you? Run to Christ, run to God in the Sacrifice of the Mass where we join the Saints and Martyrs who have struggled in some way as we do. Take heart. Don’t forget to remember who you are and that you are not alone.
As I close I would like to pray with you a paraphrased pray from the Letter to the Hebrews.
“Fellow saint-in-the-making, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.“
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, it is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen
“Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.“
When Jesus had finished all his words to the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave who was ill and about to die, and he was valuable to him. When he heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and save the life of his slave. They approached Jesus and strongly urged him to come, saying, “He deserves to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation and he built the synagogue for us.” And Jesus went with them, but when he was only a short distance from the house, the centurion sent friends to tell him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof. Therefore, I did not consider myself worthy to come to you; but say the word and let my servant be healed. For I too am a person subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, Go, and he goes; and to another, Come here, and he comes; and to my slave, Do this, and he does it.” When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him and, turning, said to the crowd following him, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” When the messengers returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
The words of the centurion to Jesus probably sound quite familiar to you, don’t they? We pray those words at every Mass in preparation to receive the Eucharist just after we have read the Liturgy of the Word. This is what I appreciate about the Liturgy of the Mass; as we read the Gospel we are connected to another’s interaction with Jesus, drawing us up into the eternal now of God’s Kingdom.
So, let’s consider the narrative as it applies to us as well. It is evident that the Roman centurion had won the hearts of the Jews there in Capernaum; the Jews spoke highly of this to Jesus. That in itself says something of the man because centurions were responsible for enforcing discipline from Rome that was very often counterculture to the Jews. We can also assume that the centurion believed Christ was a healer. He had apparently witnessed the healing work of Jesus in his interactions with the Jews, but he was an outsider. Rather than approaching Jesus himself, he asked some of his Jewish friends in the synagogue to request a word of healing from Jesus for one of his slaves, the centurion’s humility is revealed in this action. The narrative unfolds, the servant is healed with just a word from Jesus.
The immensity of Christ’s mercy toward the centurion and his slave in the gospel narrative is revealed in the healing the slave received based on the centurion’s faith. Now to the present day Church, in the reading of God’s Word in the worship of the Mass, the Liturgy ushers us from that gospel scene back into our lives. That is how God’s mercy works in our lives and we are reminded of that at every Mass!
So, let’s turn our attention to the Liturgy of the Mass. One of the most worshipful moments in the Liturgy of the Eucharist is when we kneel as a congregation of worshippers of the eternal Lamb of God and sing together with the angels, saints, martyrs, and the faithful who have proceeded us into the eternal worship of God. Our priest holds up the Host before us and declares, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Using the posture of our body to indicate the posture of our soul, we are preparing to receive the Eucharist, we kneel and bow our head recognizing our unworthiness; we pray, “Lord, I am not worthy for you to enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” It is a sober moment that moves me to tears as I think of how great Christ’s love must be for me in his sacrifice on the Cross!
Here’s the consideration for us today: How confident are we in the LORD’s mercy when we pray those words? Do we, like the centurion, believe that Jesus is already responding to our deepest needs? Do we expect mercy to flow over our lives, saturating us with virtue and hope? When we rise to walk toward our priest to receive Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist, do our spirits ring with affirmation that we receive salvation and healing as we respond with our “Amen”?
How is it with your soul today, friend? Do you find yourself in the centurion’s faith? Do you find yourself in the slaves dis-ease? Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Sometimes we forget that, me thinks.
Let’s pray as St. Faustina did before receiving the Eucharist, affirming our faith in Christ’s healing virtues poured into our lives as we receive his body and blood in the Eucharist.
“My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love You! I ask pardon of You for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love You!”
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Do you have people in your life that are difficult to love? Perhaps their attitude challenges your ability to be patient or to remain silent. Perhaps their words and actions cause you to lose your temper or to crawl under a rock and hide from them. Perhaps their very presence conjures up memories that cause you pain or resentment. I don’t believe I am the only one that has a difficult person or two in my life and, I also concede that I am probably considered as such to some people in my life. It’s the human condition! It is into this very condition that God chose to subject Himself. It is correct to assume that Jesus Christ himself was surrounded by difficult people. He knew a thing or two about dysfunctional relationships and the symptomatic resentments and bitterness that accompany them.
Grain of Sand One
What I find most challenging about Christ’s response to the difficult people in his own life is that he expects the same choice from me! There’s not one single reason I can offer up to him that would change His answer to me, not one! I’ve tried, oh, I’ve tried, to justify my feelings to Him about a difficult person by listing all the seemingly valid reasons I have for resenting them. And still, His answer is the same! He states it in varying ways but, it always comes down to how St. John penned it, “…love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.“
We know that if Jesus Christ is telling us to do something, he will show us the way to do it. If our heart is inclined to his lordship in all things, we can see our way forward in learning to love difficult people if we are willing to swallow the hard pill of loving others we don’t like. The Sacred Scripture provides several glimpses into how we can love as Jesus loved; learning from His example is the way forward into peace in all our relationships. I’m reminded of St. Paul’s words to the quarreling Corinthians, “God is not the God of disorder, but of peace.” He did not will that we would be disordered by self-love and so He remedied that by becoming flesh and dwelling among us to demonstrate how to love Him and those around us. No self-help books are needed other than what the Gospel reveals to us about Jesus’ character; truly we can solve all the disorder in our relationships if we will but follow His lead.
What should be our disposition toward other’s who may have failed or betrayed us? When we are surrounded by “difficult people” who have an agenda that is soul-sucking, much like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, we can follow Jesus’ cue. Recorded in Saint John, chapter 2 are some extraordinary words about Jesus:
“…Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all peopleand needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”
If Jesus wasn’t understood, why would we expect to be understood, and why do we “entrust” our heart to people when Christ didn’t even entrust himself to them? To “entrust” means to assign responsibility to someone. When we live in a way that we hold others responsible for our peace of mind or our sense of worth, we surely will be disappointed. We, in effect, set the other up for failing us. It’s not the other’s job to do that for us; it is the LORD’s alone. The sooner we release others in our life from this responsibility, the sooner we will find our way out of disorder into God’s peace. The difficult person may be a family member that we have a hard time relating to; the way forward is to ask the Holy Spirit to pour His gift of understanding into our life. Other times we have to shut the door on a relationship; I know that sounds like a rather hard-lined approach, but in reality, given the circumstances, what better choice is there to make? It is natural to expect to be loved and understood, but anyone who has been through the school of hard knocks quickly learns to lower expectations. Some of the hard knocks can be eliminated when we allow a relationship to end.
We tend to expect more of others than they are able or willing to give; we set ourselves up for disappointment when we do so. Do you recall the scene in Mary Poppins where Mary has just moved in as a nanny for the Banks children? As Mary is unpacking her carpetbag looking for a measuring tape, Michael and Jane ask her why and she replies, I use it to measure people, and I want to measure you. The children are then accurately measured by her magical measuring tape, then the children ask to measure Mary; the results are exactly what Mary figured: Mary is practically perfect in every way. We can look at others like Mary Poppins, measuring people with a judging spirit toward them while measuring ourselves “practically perfect” in every way. When we choose to consider others in the way Jesus considers others, we, in effect, never use our measuring tape. This sounds much more simple than it is, but when we stop entrusting ourselves to others we allow them to be who they are without any judgment on our part. It’s the old “walk a mile in my shoes” advice, or better yet, “there but for the grace of God go I.”
How could this play out in our relationship with a difficult person? Perhaps you have a person whose actions or attitudes challenge your patience, but because they are a family member or co-worker you can’t avoid their presence in your life. Rather than expecting them to change, we choose to remind ourselves that it is not our job to change others. The job is already taken, and the Holy Spirit is much more qualified than we’ll ever be. Remembering that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me” is true insofar as another’s words cannot change our identity as beloved children of our Creator. We can train our way (through the counsel of the Holy Spirit) into righteous confidence in ourselves and our ability to graciously relate to others despite whatever challenges our relationship.
Grain of Sand Two
I was speaking recently with my spiritual director about the difficulty I was having in a relationship. I was flummoxed by another’s words used against me and in my mind I felt I must confront that person with my frustration. To my question about what to do, she wisely responded that we are called to bear witness to Christ’s love. Her words immediately changed my outlook on the relationship. Lesson learned: I must ask myself if whatever is being said or done a moral matter or a relational matter? Another question I need to ask myself, “Are they doing this because they are strong or weak?” Asking those questions as a prayer is helpful in reminding me to see with eyes of compassion and mercy. Very often a grievance is based on the human error of reacting to an unfair word or action in a relationship not on mortal sin. The particulars of how that conversation came to be really don’t matter, the response must always be the same–I am called to bear witness to Christ’s love. How so? Loving the other in spite of what has been said and done can require enormous effort, especially when the offense is repeated, even habitual. I take encouragement from something Samuel Johnson wrote, “Kindness is in our power even when fondness is not.” I know! Easier said than done. You are probably thinking thoughts I think when once again I’ve been burned by the same person in the same way–it’s even too hard to feel kind let alone respond kindly. But here’s the thing, Jesus Christ very nature is love and his actions bore that truth out. While we may only be able to endure someone’s presence in our lives, Christ in us is able to love through us even when it is hard to feel kind.
St. Thomas Aquinas penned that “to love is to will the good of the other.” To arrive at this response can be glacial, but it can happen through the Holy Spirit working in us, transforming our perceptions about another. Decades ago, I began asking the LORD to form in me a merciful spirit in keeping with His ways; he provided me with eye-opening circumstances that revealed my presumptions about a co-worker. It wasn’t long before I could see my co-worker with new eyes; it didn’t happen overnight and, it did take many experiences to will her good instead of ill. Today we consider ourselves good friends; we enjoy each other’s presence. Only the LORD’s transforming grace can accomplish what we see as unbearable.
Grain of Sand Three
I came across a quote years ago that has stuck with me as a measure for my own challenges that pop up in different circumstances. “Everywhere you go, there you are.” It aligns with something Watchman Nee wrote in the helpful book entitled, Release of the Spirit. The LORD’s great purpose for us is to transform us into the likeness of Christ; as Catholics we refer to that as the divinization of mankind. Saint Peter puts it this way in 2 Peter:1:3-4: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature.“ In order for us to be partakers of the divine nature the LORD humbles us in different ways at different times in our life–all with the end goal of being so united with Christ that in Him we live and move and have our being. That is a tall order if left to our own devices.
I amend the above quote to illustrate where I am going with this thread of thought. “everywhere my willful nature goes, there my willful nature will be.” Watchman Nee put forth that we are all born with disordered thoughts and appetites which can lead to tremendous strain in our relationships with others and with the LORD. The Holy Spirit knows this of us and so he humbles us as we cooperate with him; we are trained by the Spirit, so to speak. Every trainer depends on the cooperation of the trainee–this is never more important than our training in holiness. If we refuse the Holy Spirit’s counsel due to our willful nature, he allows us to continue to digress in spiritual progress. He will come around again–“wherever you go, there you are“–bringing about another circumstance to nudge us again to choose his counsel.
St. Paul wrote to the Romans:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
The renewing of our mind requires our cooperation. The testings that the Spirit allows are the stepping stones of discernment. I will use own nature to illustrate how this unfolds. My can-do nature (others may say stubborn) predisposes me to resistance when I sense another’s phoniness. I used to spout off using my tongue as a weapon more often than I care to admit. Everywhere I went, there I was. When I decided to cooperate with the LORD, he disciplined me into humble submission through each encounter. As I allowed Him to break my will, he, in a beautiful way, released my own spirit from that disordered disposition of my heart.
Watchman Nee drew attention to our need to present ourselves as living sacrifices each time we are faced with our disordered will. He concluded that every person will eventually bow their knee to the LORD’s will, either in this life or the next. In light of my own disordered stubbornness, I could refuse to allow my will to be disciplined by the Spirit, but He will continue to bring me back around to the disordered thinking for another lesson in humility. Better to be purged of sin now than in purgatory!
Grain of Sand Four
Lastly, years ago another co-worker of mine gave me a seed of advice that stayed with me and grew fruit in my own life to this day. She made the comment that if Jesus could die, conquer death and raise again in three days, then she could at least pray for three days before concluding something is worth doing or not doing. That’s worth writing on a wall, isn’t it? We can employ this rule in all our relationships. How so? In my early years of marriage and learning to love my husband the Holy Spirit led me to realize that what I needed most in learning to love my husband (and everyone else, for that matter) is understanding. That three-day rule has proved to be the most helpful rule for understanding others. I would take a matter to prayer for three-days asking the LORD to grant his Spirit’s understanding to me. You know what? He did! Why was I so surprised by the grace? Little by little, I learned a few things from the three-day rule. When I kept my tongue, I allowed the Spirit of the LORD to teach me his ways and he would faithfully give his gifts of Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and Reverence. The astounding realization grew in me that there is very little in life to fret and stew over, three days allows room for the mind to marinate in God’s grace and not pride, anger, or fear. Then, if after the three days (I realize that some matters take much longer, but stay with me here) of prayerful ascension to the LORD about a matter, if words must be shared our spirit is in a better place to share them. It’s the difference between reaction and response.
(Allow me to digress. I share this pearl last because it has been the most spirit-changing practice for me, so I highly recommend it as a general rule of life. The breaking of my will that the Spirit has accomplished through this little rule has spilled into other areas of my life. Regarding my disordered attachments to the shiny distractions of this life, if I am attracted to something and want to purchase it, I mostly give it three days on my Amazon Wish List before purchasing it. You can bet what happens. The Holy Spirit gives me insight during those three days about why I want the item. If it is disordered, I will not purchase it (most of the time, I’m on my way to perfection–wink, wink). It has even gotten to the place that I forget the impulse. It is a satisfying practice to come back to that wish list from time to time because I can see how the Spirit has worked to release my grip on “shiny distractions” a little more. With a prayer of thanksgiving, I press the delete button on my wishlist.)
Just as the Holy Spirit can bring me to the place where I can press the delete button on my disordered appetites, he can bring us to the same place with a resentment or frustration with another person.
Just as Jesus would not entrust himself to others for confirmation of his worth, he opens our heart and mind to the FACT-“I am the beloved child of the Creator God, his word about me is the only voice I am to trust.”
Is there a consistent theme running through your relationships? A theme or resentment or of expecting too much from others. Everywhere we go the Spirit wants to train us out of our disordered thinking and into Christ’s image.
Holy Spirit, soul of my soul, I adore You. Enlighten, guide, strengthen and console me. Tell me what I ought to do and command me to do it.
I promise to be submissive in everything you ask of me, and to accept all that you permit to happen to me.
Only show me what is your will.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“I will give each of you what your work deserves.”
We celebrate Labor Day here in the United States today. Did you know that the words liturgy and labor are akin to each other? Liturgy is multi-layered in its definition; the Greeks defined it as “the work of the people.” As Christians, we understand that the work we do is meant to be sanctified labor in our worship of the Creator in the daily round of our lives. Practicing Catholics understand another sense of liturgy; celebrating the Mass is our collected worship of the LORD through the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. We give God correct worship in assigning worth (worth-ship) to the celebration of the Mass. The Early Church Fathers understood and emphasized that the continuity of both senses of the word, liturgy, must be retained in our hearts and minds if we are to live the good life of our Faith. Somewhere along the way, humanity lost its sense of labor as worship of Almighty God. The Liturgy of the Church continually helps us recognize the Sacred Scripture’s emphasis of this in the last act of our worship in the celebration of the Mass, as a reminder to continue our worship of God in the labor we do.
The very last action in the celebration of the Mass is the blessing we receive from our priest. Do you remember how the liturgy unfolds in this final action? We bow our heads as we trace the sign of the cross over our mind, soul, and body while the priest asks God to pour out His blessing on us. This Sacred Tradition harkens back to the blessings that are found throughout the Scriptures. Usually, the blessing is given when someone is taking leave of another. In the liturgy of the Mass, we remember Christ’s blessing of his disciples.
“Then he [Jesus] led them out as far as Bethany and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.” –Luke 24:50-51
This is the intentional communication of this last action in our worship: The Lord has come into our lives, and in the same way that the Lord sent out His disciples, He is sending us out, too. The Mass ends with the Latin phrase that means “Go, you are sent.” We hear it as, “Go forth, the Mass has ended.” to which we respond, “Thanks be to God.”
Sent to do what? We are sent on the mission of all ages; we are sent in peace to bring peace into our corners of the world. We cooperate with the LORD to redeem our corner of the world through our labor. Our question today is, how will we take the good news of Christ into the quotidian labor of our lives? How can the labor of our lives bring worship to our LORD and Creator, and salvation to our corner of the world? The Daily readings this week have been drawing our minds to consider labor as worship; this is how St. Paul puts it in the letter to Colossians chapter 3:17:
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.“
If we worship the Lord through our labor, then we will look at everything we do, doing it in the name of Jesus. How is your offering looking these days? Consider the most mundane and boorish part of your labor; how would it change if our mind ascended to the LORD in worship every moment of that labor?
If we worship the Lord through our labor, then what do our words sound like to him and to others? Do our words assign Beauty, Goodness, and Truth to the Name of Jesus? Do our words reflect his beauty, goodness, and truth to those who labor beside us?
Here’s a thought, what about those who labor before us? Do we speak our gratitude to others for their labor, as we do to our Creator? Let’s get down and dirty with this one? In your workplace, who takes care of your lawn? Who serves you in the IT department? Who serves you by keeping the bathroom clean? Who supplies the kitchen? Who serves you in making your workplace an enjoyable place? Who serves you at the window or table when you dine out? We can give thanksgiving to them through our words of gratitude thereby, we give thanks to God.
If we worship the Lord through our labor, then what should our deeds look like to him and others? Do we join in on gossip and backbiting? Or do we elevate conversations by stopping gossip and backbiting in its track by finding the good in others? Staying silent can be an act of worship to our LORD, but acting on that silence by walking away from those conversations is an act of worship that may leave a greater impact on working out salvation in our corner of the world. Someone wisely advised me to use the “3-strikes and your out” approach to circumstances like this? If after you try three times to elevate the conversation by deflection with your words, walk away. The workplace could do with a little more exercise ofthe “3-strikes and your out” approach, don’t you think?
If we worship the Lord through our labor, then we take our cues from the actions of Jesus. Today’s gospel account reveals his labor in healing! That is, at the very heart, what salvation is; the salve of God’s grace and mercy pours over our lives, healing us, and that healing is also for all the people we encounter; it’s intended so. Do our words pour healing salve over another’s life? Do our deeds pour healing salve into another’s brokenness?
Jesus, we offer you worship through how we labor when we reveal your goodness in our work, help us to see our labor with the eyes of worship.
Jesus, we offer our words in our labor as offerings of your beauty to others, tame our tongues, help us as we offer our worship to you in the way we speak.
Jesus, we offer the deeds of our labor in sacrifice of worship, thanking you for the ability and privilege we have to use our bodies to glorify you, sanctify every deed we do. May our every action worship you our Creator God.
May the words of our mouth and the meditation of our heart be acceptable to you, our LORD, our Rock, and Redeemer.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
My bet is if I say, “Glory be to the Father,” to you as a practicing Catholic, the remainder of the prayer would roll off your tongue back to me, “…and to the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As it was, in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be world without end.” To say that the Glory Be is embedded in our Catholic identity would be an accurate conclusion. We have prayed The Gloria, and extended Glory Be, in chant or song when we celebrate the Mass since about 380 A.D. I counted up how many times we pray the Glory Be each day as a response in the Liturgy of the Hours: we pray it at least 38 times starting with Morning Prayer and concluding with Night Prayer. So, why does the liturgy of the Church train our minds to weave this sacred tradition of prayer into our daily lives?
We, in our finite existence, recognize the LORD’s infinite existence, we bow our minds to that truth when we pray the Glory Be. It takes time and not just a little bit of effort, on our part, for our hearts to believe what we pray, doesn’t it? To entirely abandon our desire for control is no small undertaking so The Church, in her wisdom, inches our minds closer and closer to detachment from the world’s ways and means through a habit of prayer.
I kindle to something St. Irenaeus wrote, “The glory of God is man fully alive”, we can stretch that truth a bit to read, “When I live fully alive to God I give him glory.” We can conclude that when we die to the world we are more fully alive to God’s glory. Praying the truth of the Glory Be with this understanding trains us in wisdom; it becomes a prayer of detachment from the sways of the culture. We may get to the place where we appreciate the beauty of God’s creation and the goods it provides for us without depending on them for our joy and peace of mind. I can imagine the LORD smiling as we pray the Glory Be because we ascend to him each time and with baby steps, we gain his Spirit’s wisdom. That gives him glory!
So how does praying, “As it was, in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be, world without end.” train us in the Spirit’s wisdom? It anchors us. I don’t know your life; however, I know mine. I NEED anchoring. Elsewise, I’m tossed to and fro by what is happening around me in the world. I remind myself through this prayer that the constancy of God from the beginning remains because He never changes. His faithfulness is new every morning, as the prophet Jeremiah wrote. When I stop my runaway thoughts to pray instead of wallow in distress, I glorify this constancy of our Triune God, and his Spirit grants me understanding and wisdom. Do you ever get carried away with angst or despair at what you see happening around you? Then pray, “Glory to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be world without end.”
Knowing and believing that the love of God that spoke this world into existence and remains faithful through all time, enfolding us here and now and into the future liberates us from counting on this life to give us a security that only comes from God alone. Praying the Glory Be is a clarifying prayer in that believing what we are praying moves our eyes off the tide of changing history. We learn to give glory to God when we enjoy his blessings, remembering that he is the Giver of all good things. And then when the tide changes and we feel unsettled, God faithfully clarifies for us the way through that tide until we gain our equilibrium once more.
Praying the Glory Be is a calming prayer in that the weight of God’s glory settles down on us, enfolding us in the secure knowledge that “All is well, and all manner of things will be well.”* Much like a weighted blanket calms anxiety for a body that is agitated, the LORD in his goodness rests down upon us the glorious weight of the splendor of his eternal presence. It is a Presence that endures through all times and events (Psalm 145). We aren’t created to be hand-wringers, tossed to and fro by every possible change that comes along. No, we are created for eternal life with God here and now, we are created for peace. When we fix our gaze on the Kingdom of God knowing that “as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be world without end,” the weight of this truth presses our disordered reactions into responses secured in the knowledge and understanding that “Eternal life is [knowing God].” (St. John 17:3)
Father, you are near to all who call upon you. The more we call upon you, the more we learn to know ourselves. Transform us as we give glory to you.
Jesus, your Word tells us, “Blessed are those who are pure in heart for they shall see God.” You wouldn’t promise that if you didn’t mean it! With every upward surge of our heart, we glorify you, enlighten our darkened understanding of who you are.
Holy Spirit, foster in us a spirit of indifference toward the world. Train our desires to always give glory to you, and you alone.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen
“By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.“ Proverbs 24:3-4
Today The Church honors the parents of Our Blessed Mother, Mary. The oral tradition of the early Church conveyed their names as Joachim and Anne and they are honored by The Church for their faith in the Covenant with God. They represent the entire quiet remnant that for generations faithfully lived their lives following the Shema. We know that they practiced their faith and established in their home an atmosphere for the coming of the Messiah.
The fruit of their faithfulness to God’s Covenant was Mary then ultimately the long-awaited Messiah Jesus. What we know of Mary is her humble and obedient spirit, her knowledge of God’s promises fulfilled in the Messiah, her charity toward others and most importantly the hope she put in God’s promise fulfilled in Jesus. These I believe is what we desire for ourselves and for our families.
The Shema that Sts. Joachim and Anne surely lived by remains a map of life for us here and now as we raise our families in The Catholic Faith.
“Hear (Shema), O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
The Shema is a sort of checklist for us as we live each day inclined to the LORD and listening to Him. The following quote by James Clear came to my mind as I was writing my thoughts down about the practice of the Shema. “Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.” So what is our goal as Christians that sets the direction of our lives? “To love the Lord God with all our heart, soul, and might.” What is the system that will lead us to this goal? The Shema offers the atomic habits, so to say, that will compound our growth and progress in reaching our goal for ourselves and our families.
How do we then achieve our goal in our family life? The daily habit of reading the Sacred Scripture writes on our hearts the truth, goodness and, beauty of our Faith; it embeds in our mind who we are and what we are to be about. Mary knew the prophecies of the Old Testament about the Messiah. She didn’t pick them up by accident. Her faithful parents’ practice of the daily reading of the Sacred Scripture and worship of the LORD in the synagogue formed in Mary wisdom, understanding and, knowledge.
Do we arrange the priorities of life below our priority to teach our children to love and honor God above all things? Stop and think about that. Do we consider building our family’s foundation of faith our ultimate purpose. The habit of daily prayer together and the reading of God’s Word must be the foundation of wisdom, understanding and, knowledge for our children to build their lives on.
It is our sacred responsibility and privilege to magnify the LORD before our children. Talking about our Faith when we “sit in our house” is a tall order. Fewer and fewer families have the habit of “family time” let alone “family worship”. The burden of responsibility relies on our parental stick-to-itivness. Remember the goal? It is up to us to practice atomic habits to achieve that goal. You may be thinking how can we do this? I’m glad you asked!
Incorporating our faith in God a little here and a little there as you “walk by the way…when you lie down….when you rise” wins the day. The habit of arrow prayers throughout the day can stay with a child for a lifetime. My mother would pray the psalm, “Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” over me when I struggled against melancholia. That prayer has come from my own lips many times for myself and as I parented our children. I now have opportunity with some of my melancholy grandchildren to pray that over them.
The priority of keeping Covenant with the LORD through the Sacraments of our Faith builds the foundation of faith in God for the next generation. Weekly worship at Mass isn’t just a duty, it’s a privilege; we, with our families, gather together to show our gratitude to God for becoming our LORD and Savior, Jesus Christ. Foster an atmosphere of anticipation about worshipping at Mass. If we feel that way, our children will follow. Living our life of faith in the LORD is a frontlet before the eyes of our children, so to speak. Our habits imprint on the doorposts of our children’s lives. The consistency of our practice of The Faith is paramount and with the Holy Spirit’s leadership we are given the fortitude we need.
LORD, you promise us in your Word that if we raise our children up in the habits of our Faith they will not depart from them. Help us to Shema you; to hear and obey you as we strive toward the goal of our children and grandchildren knowing You and loving you with all their heart, mind, body and soul! Sts. Joachim and Anne, pray for us. Blessed Mother intercede for us.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean.” –Matthew 23:25-26
As I’ve meditated this week on the gospel reading from Matthew 23 for today, I’ve been more curious about the Pharisees that seem to lurk around every encounter Jesus has with the people. They had it out for Jesus, always looking for a way to trap him or discredit him. The strong language Jesus uses against them causes me to sit up and take notice since, I’m sorry to say, there are vestiges of the pharisaical attitude in me sometimes. I like to place myself in the gospel scenes in my imagination in an effort to learn from other’s mistakes. That’s not always comforting, praying today’s passage being one example.
The scribes and Pharisees were a zealous lot; their intentions were noble. Their concern for what the Roman occupation was doing to their culture and religious beliefs propelled them in driving everyone to follow the letter of God’s law as a national agenda. Enter God, with skin on, whose law is love, peace, grace, and mercy. This Jesus, who emphasizes the spirit of the law with unmatched zeal, is a threat to the rigid beliefs of the scribes and Pharisees.
Jesus speaks to us today.
Like the Pharisees, when we pretend to be someone or something we aren’t and become obsessed with how we appear to others, we crowd our minds and heart with thoughts of comparison and competition, and even resentment. You say to us: you’ve missed the simplicity of my love for you with your thousand qualifications. You trouble your soul at the expense of those from whom you seek approval. Be the beautiful human I’ve created you to be. Stand down from proving yourself, dear one, become as a servant whose only thought is to keep your eyes on your Master.
Like the Pharisees, when we hide our insecurities behind our hubris, more concerned with what don’t do, we lose focus on what matters. Jesus says to us, don’t block the road of holiness with the debris of your shoulds and musts. Take my hand and allow me to lead you with love and understanding, learn to walk my way.
Like the Pharisees, when we keep a tight grip on our possessions and time, parsimoniously extending ourselves for others by measuring out just enough to appear holy before others. Jesus says to us, don’t nickel and dime your way before others and stop nitpicking other’s acts of generosity. Do you remember how I generously gave my life up for you? It never occurred to me to keep score because it is not in me. I’m the Eternal Giver of all good things you do likewise.
Like the Pharisees, when we strive to appear squeaky clean to others yet practice secret vices and sins, Jesus says to us you forget that I’m more concerned about what you look like on the inside so let’s do some heart-cleaning. Unlock and open wide to me the closets you think I can’t see. Allow my Holy Spirit to light your darkness and sweep away those tattered rags you like to wear when you are alone.
Like the Pharisees, when we attempt to look good by making others look bad, it always comes back to bite us. When we shove our sense of what’s right and wrong with no regard for love, peace, mercy, and grace, we cut ourselves off from the LORD’s presence in our lives. Jesus says to us, come to me, lay down your arms, and allow me to enfold you in my goodness, you’ll start seeing others differently the closer to me you stay.
LORD Jesus Christ, your Law is love, and your gospel is peace. You created us to live and move and have our being in your reality, not the ones we conjure out of our pharisaical motivations. Holy Spirit, grant us the understanding we each need to reflect your love and peace in all we think, say, and do.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,