A Healing Word

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.

Luke 7:1-10

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.

Amen.

Home Improvement

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.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Amen


Clean

“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,

Amen

“Which Ones?”

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my
understanding, my entire will – all that I have and call my own.
You have given it all to me. To you, Lord, I return it. Everything
is yours: do with it what you will. Give me only your love and
your grace. That is enough for me.

Salvation History is at the very heart a love story. God, the tremendous Lover of our Soul, created us to love him, not as the world loves (with strings attached) but as he loves. In God’s eyes, the covenant of love he made with us in creating us is not negotiable for it is perfect love. In our eyes, well……we are prone to wander from the Lover of our Soul. We, like the Israelites, forget to remember Who this lover is–and we are worse for the wear, are we not?

The biblical language of God’s love and his beloved communicates through the imagery of the covenant of marriage. What kind of marriage would we have with our spouse if all we were concerned with was ticking off the duties that accompany the covenant of marriage? The Israelites as well as the young man in the gospel reading for today seemed to measure their love God according to their adherence to the law of the covenant rather than giving themselves in complete union. What a stale and and unfulfilling understanding of God. I, too, can be carried away with that kind of mindset. Quite a while ago I began praying for the LORD to heal me from the thinking that I had to earn his love. As time passed, the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to who I am to the LORD. I am the beloved daughter of the Most High God. I am united with Him through Jesus Christ and His Church–I am counted among the beloved Bride of Christ. His holy Spirit counsels me in the way of this love. When I receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist in the worship of the Mass, I’m not just ticking off a duty. I am loving Christ in receiving his body and blood in the understanding of the consummation of the covenant of marriage. Why would I ever want to neglect the Lover of my Soul?

With this in mind, let’s consider the readings from the Old Testament books of Judges 2 and Psalm 106 that are the antecedents to the gospel reading from St. Matthew 9 . The writers describes the all-too familiar pattern of God’s people. They offended the LOVER of their soul over and over by abandoning Him for the “shiny things”, as I like to say, of the cultures they were immersed in. The young man in the gospel account was very much set on keeping the Covenant with the LORD by following the law of the Covenant. Here we see the two extremes of misconceptions of who we are in the eyes of the Lover of our Soul. In common language, the Israelites disrespected the Covenant in their lust after the created goods and the young man respected the duty in performance to the Covenant absent of complete union with the LORD. Either extreme, in essence, leaves the LORD as the jilted lover.

Let’s put ourselves in the young man’s encounter with Jesus in Matthew 9:

A young man approached Jesus and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, “You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Christ knew the young man better than he knew himself. The young man’s question, “Which ones?” reveals his heart. He was saying to Christ, “What do I have to do to love you?” rather than “How may I love you completely?” Jesus knew the young man kept the Commandments, but when it came to the essence of the commandments he was more concerned with what he loved rather than who he loved. And so, Jesus hones in on the heart of the matter, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Jesus knew of the man’s divided loyalty.

How’s it with you today? Is your loyalty to the Lover of our Soul divided? Perhaps you find yourself performing for God in keeping the commandments but you hold back in complete union with the Lover of our Soul?

As we pray the Suscipe of St. Ignatius of Loyola, may we allow the Holy Spirit to nurture in us complete love for the Lover of our Soul:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my
understanding, my entire will – all that I have and call my own.
You have given it all to me. To you, Lord, I return it. Everything
is yours: do with it what you will. Give me only your love and
your grace. That is enough for me.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

I’ll Be Happy When….

I chuckled this week when a podcaster described a “new” problem referred to as the “I’ll be Happy When…” syndrome. The podcaster must not realize that it’s the human condition that has been with us from the beginning: always striving after the world’s empty promises only to be left empty and wanting more. What began with Adam and Eve’s deceived assumption that they would be happy when they tasted the forbidden fruit continues to this day with our preoccupation with what we can acquire through our efforts. Just like our ancestors we discover that happiness eludes us because it is always moving according to the measure of our dissatisfaction. This dissatisfaction with the present drives our striving after new ideas, new concepts, new things, new remedies. Granted it is within us to discover and innovate but when it is disordered it can consume us and suck the life out of us.

Consider today’s reading from Psalm 13 which begins with a question we may often find ourselves asking if we suffer from the “I’ll Be Happy When” syndrome. The psalmist pleads, “How long, O LORD?” and then proceeds to reveal his heart to the LORD, eventually concluding by remembering:

…I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.

The psalmist offers us a remedy for our discontent; when we recollect the LORD’s sufficiency, our minds shift our attention to our generous LORD. I, like the psalmist, sometimes find myself thinking about all the ifs and buts we are prone to place upon the LORD, ourselves, and those around us; it can take a lifetime to release our will to God. I grew up in an environment that inadvertently fostered a discontent with the present moment. The drive for the next thing to look forward to was consuming in those who influenced my life; it was an ill-fit for me. Happiness seemed to need to be scheduled with a whole lot of contingencies that drove contentment and peace into the future. The result was the restlessness that discontent fosters. Over the years I’ve witnessed up close the side-effects of the “I’ll Be Happy When” syndrome. Have you? Perhaps you even suffer from it yourself? Let’s consider today’s Gospel reading from Matthew and the other readings from Sacred Scripture and look for the remedy the LORD offers for this human condition we fight against.

The account of an altercation the temple tax collectors had with Christ’s disciples recorded in St. Matthew 17 is almost humorous to me. I kindle to the way Jesus flippantly instructs Peter to “go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax. Give that to them for me and you.” There was a duty that needed attention, instead of Christ allowing the disciples to fret about it, he gave an off-handed instruction as if to say “Meh, it’s not a problem, I got this.” Those twelve men suffered in varying degrees from the “I’ll be happy when…” syndrome just like we do.

What about you, friend? Do you wring your hands and murmur, “I will be happy when” I can get my taxes paid? I’ll be happy when life goes how I’ve scheduled it? I’ll be happy when this pandemic is over? I’ll be happy when all my social media friends press “like” on my posts? I’ll be happy when I make more money? Ohhh….there are so many ways that we undermine our peace in Christ by our thoughts and motivations, isn’t there? Mine is unique to me, yours are unique to you, but we both have the same problem. We do not trust God’s word to us just like Adam and Eve did not trust God’s word to them. We like to say we do, but when it comes down to it, do we? Can we release the death grip we have on our expectations? More often than not, I think we entrust ourselves to ourselves, pursuing ways to satisfy our own fearful and prideful pursuit of happiness.

Despite our disordered thinking, Jesus still says to us, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink.” (John 7:37) He is the definition of true happiness. As the Psalms declare in varying ways, God is the fulfillment of all our longings. He is what the prophets refer to when they say, “On that day….” Now, there’s the only contingency we should focus on because that day the prophets refer to is the beautiful realization that God is present here and now, in the only moment we are promised. How he must laugh at our striving! How he must grieve over our useless pursuits. Isaiah prophesies, I am paraphrasing a bit:

“I will lead those who are blinded by pride, fear, anger in a way that they do not know, in paths they have not known. I will guide them. I will turn the darkness of their “I’ll Be Happy When” thinking into light, I will make their rough paths that they think leads to happiness into level ground. These are the things I do and I do not forsake them.”

–Isaiah 42

As for me, I find it helpful to prayerfully my disordered “I’ll be happy when…” drives. Sitting with the LORD and allowing him to light my darkened thinking always brings light. I ask our Blessed Mother to intercede for me as I unpack the motivations behind each statement. She is the perfect example of contentment. I ask the Holy Spirit to fill me with His wisdom and discernment.

Making a habit of reading through the anthologies of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom, and Ben Sira in the Old Testament exposes us to all the human struggle to relinquish control to the LORD. What we discover are treasures that satisfy every longing of our hearts. They do not fade or become stale; in fact, they increase in satisfaction the more we pursue them. To get a foretaste of the books, I encourage you to read Proverbs 2.

LORD Jesus, You are our Alpha and Omega. You are our Sufficiency. You are our Happiness. Holy Spirit, help us to order our thoughts and actions as we pursue the treasures that give abundant life. Holy God, may we live and move and have our being in You!

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Amen

Signs of Life

“[The righteous person] is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.”

–Psalm 1

One of the favorite things I liked to receive as a child was a connect the dot coloring book. Every page of the book was a new adventure as I traced my way, one dot at a time, to solving the picture puzzle. I would occasionally decide to start with the mid-point and trace forward or backward just to shake things up a bit. Connecting dots is still satisfying for me and I do it every day as I pray the Daily Office of prayers and readings of The Church. The practice of it connects me to the central point of the panorama of Salvation History: Jesus and His Church. Through Jesus and The Church, we connect the Old Covenant with the New Covenant lived out in the history and letters of Early Church.

There is a prevalent theme revealed in today’s readings, or should I say connect the dot picture, as we consider the Gospel in Matthew 12 as well as the Old Testament readings. In reading them we are able to trace our finger to the answer Jesus gives to the skeptical scribes and Pharisees who demanded a sign that Jesus was the expected Messiah.

 “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.”  But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.  For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.  The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.

The scribes and Pharisees not only knew what the Old Covenant proclaimed about the promised Messiah, they had memorized much of it. And why? So that they would recognize the fulfillment of the Old Covenant when the Messiah Jesus entered history and established His Church in The New Covenant. Here they were speaking face-to-face with the promised Messiah standing before their eyes; they could touch him, see him, hear him, they even dined with him! Yet they still wanted a sign, their doubt and skepticism and their dislike of what Jesus had to say messed with their own connect the dot picture about God and His Covenant.

How does Jesus respond? He begins with a sign named Jonah and connects himself to him declaring, “Something greater than Jonah is here.” He then connects to another sign named Solomon then repeats, “Something greater than Solomon is here.” I can’t image how exasperated Jesus must have been! A concrete wall comes to mind.

Let’s consider something else about the signs of God’s faithfulness that is recalled in the readings today. The psalmist sings about the righteous person, the person who keeps covenant with the LORD, comparing their life to a tree:

“The righteous person is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers
.”

The prophet Isaiah describes it another sign by declaring how the streams of living water flows over those who keep covenant with the LORD:

For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
    and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring,
    and my blessing on your descendants.
They shall spring up among the grass
    like willows by flowing streams.

Here the Creator is offering up the signs of the fidelity of his creation to usher us into the reality of eternal truths. The sign of the TRUTH’s arrival in humanity, fulfilled in the WORD made flesh and living among us–Jesus. A sign revealed in Christ’s Church, the New Covenant and its Sacramental Tradition in the practice of worship of The Most High God.

When we begin to understand that Jesus is the Living Water of The Covenant fulfilled, we can envision ourselves as trees in the soil by streams of water. We open ourselves to planting our life in the soil of the Word and the celebrations of The Sacraments as we keep covenant with Christ. And as a tree innately thrives when water is abundant, we see how the fruit of the Holy Spirit grows in us as we drink from the Word and receive the Sacraments of His Covenant with us. The word sacrament itself means “a sign of the spiritual reality”. To avoid The Sacraments is to deny the reality of The New Covenant, in fact, it is to deny that Christ is the Son of God (sounds like the scribes and Pharisees, doesn’t it?)

So we’ve come back to Jesus’s response to them in today’s Gospel. “Something greater than [Jonah, Solomon, trees, water and fruit] is here.” In other words fellow Pharisees, we cannot choose what we like about what Jesus teaches and ignore the parts of the His New Covenant that mess with our own connect the dot pictures. Furthermore, if we disregard the conditions of the Covenant as practiced in our Sacramental Faith we ignore the central point of our salvation which leaves us all scribbles and no picture.

How about you? Are you so tangled up in your skepticism about the truth of Jesus and His Covenant that you are all scribbles?

Do you ever ask yourself, “What’s the point of my life?” or “What’s the point of keeping covenant with God in the Sacraments when the stuff around me brings me more pleasure?” 

Heres’s another question many decide not to answer. “What’s the point of weekly worship at Mass or the Sacrament of Confession?” Oh, friends, we are on our way to withering away by all our skepticism about Christ and His Church when we forego the life-giving waters in the practice of the Sacraments of our Faith. Something greater than our skepticism is here among us, it is Christ’s presence in the reading of Sacred Scripture and the receiving of The Church’s Sacraments.

Jesus, in you we live and move and have our being. Place your hand upon ours so that we would allow you to connect the scribble we’ve made of our lives in the signs you have given us through The New Covenant, Jesus in your Church.

In the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Jacob, Part I

“Truly, the LORD is in this place and I did not know it…How awesome is this place! This in nothing else than the house of God, the gateway to heaven.”

Genesis 28:16-17

The Church offers up a template for transformation that the LORD desires for all his creation in today’s reading from the Old Testament. In Genesis 28: 11-22, we find Jacob in a place that the LORD will use to initiate His transformation. What is behind him is an angry brother and a disappointed father whom he had deceived. What is before him is a path that will includes pitfalls and pratfalls and the formation of a dysfunctional family that eclipses any reality television. The journey will include deception handed back to him many times over, but in the end Jacob will deserve the title “Patriarch of the Faith” that he is remembered for. The first place of his transformation is at Bethel, a sacred place for his grandfather Abraham. Apparently this knowledge had not been passed down to Jacob. This is a clue about his upbringing and it’s a cautionary tale for us. Moses later records the LORD’s instruction to the people of Israel that was woven into the culture of family life.

 “Hear, 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.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

The culture relied on oral tradition and the passing on of the truth depended upon the parents fidelity to this understanding. Perhaps Jacob was forgetful about his family history and the stories that conveyed their faith in God or Isaac had neglected the passing of the baton of faith which included the stories of Abraham’s exemplar trust in the LORD. What we can learn from this is how foundational to a child’s life is the example of faith in the LORD that can be observed in our own lives and in giving examples of the LORD’s faithfulness through the twists and turns of life.

“… And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep.  And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!  And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.  Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”  And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.

So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it.  He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear,  so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God,  and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”

Genesis 28:11-22

The encounter that ensues between Jacob and the LORD begins with that “certain place” where decades earlier his grandfather, Abraham encountered the LORD (see Genesis 12) and though Jacob seemed to be unaware of that fact, the LORD chose that place to initiate Jacob into the reality of the LORD’S presence. Jacob was between a rock and a hard place, pun intended, and the sooner he recognized the omnipresent God, the sooner his spirit would be reordered into the man God desired him to be. I believe it is the same for us. The LORD is hounding our tracks as the psalmist puts it, the “greyhound of heaven” who is waiting for us to stop ignoring him and see life as it is, not what we delude our minds into believing.

A stone becomes his pillow and then a memorial. Here is another clue for our own transformation–the needed the rest that we often plow past in our striving as human-doings. The prophet Isaiah puts this truth like this, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” Jacob was on his way toward the humility required for transformation, and rest is what ushered him into the awareness of God’s presence, a dream follows.

The dream that fills his sleep is a magnificent theophany where the divine touches the temporal; where the veil between earth and heaven is pulled back and Jacob’s eyes are opened to the presence of the tremendous Lover of his soul. His response, “Truly the LORD is in this place and I did not know it!” What the LORD did to remind Jacob of who he was, where he was going, and what he was to be about is exactly what our transformational moments are like when we recognize the presence of the LORD; when we are humbled by the reminder that God is God and we are not! Jacob exclaimed that that place was the house of God (Bethel); “the gateway to heaven“. I wonder how many gateways to heaven are never opened by us because we are too busy running away from something or running to something or because our fear and pride saturate our life with busy-ness or self-delusion.

Jacob’s response upon waking from that dream brings to mind the experience of getting my first pair of glasses when I was about 11 years old. I was having trouble in school because of the nearsightedness we soon found out that I had. The optometrist’s office was on the 5th floor of the tallest building on our town square. When the time came for me to put on my new glasses, the wise optometrist led me to the window and instructed me to look down on a very familiar street. He placed my glasses on my head, and my 11 year-old brain was blown away by what I could now see that I could not see before It was the autumn of the year and the maple trees were displaying their brilliance, I had always enjoyed observing the change of seasons but now my joy had been increased because of the detail I could see. What before were watercolor images to me became pristine in their texture and detail!

Jacob’s eye-opening encounter with God at Bethel blew his mind. Jacob, who had seen his world with the distortion of greed and deception, had been taken to the window of reality where God corrected his sight to the beatific vision that is forever at play before the eyes of those who trust in the LORD and by faith realize that “Surely, the LORD is in this place“.

How’s it with you, friend? Are you running from something you regret or running to something you dread? Perhaps running isn’t even involved and it’s more like sloth; the insipid spiritual laziness that mires us in the rut of self-preservation. Either way, the LORD is purposefully hounding our tracks desiring to lead us into the divine life that is ours when we are completely abandoned to His sovereignty in our lives.

Do you rest in the LORD? Do you allow yourself to receive His peace by simply stopping in a cease-fire from the striving and dis-ease that pervades our culture. I’m a strong advocate for purposeful silence where we refuse the distractions of what is happening around us so that we may be fully present to the LORD.

Father, teach us to trust in you by choosing to rest in you. Help us to close our ears and eyes to the clamor of the culture. Lead us through our pitfalls and pratfalls into the confidence of knowing who we are and what we are about as a child of God.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

“Lord Jesus, Receive my Spirit.”

The seventh chapter of the Book of Acts is a nail biter–the first recorded martyrdom of the early Church. St. Stephen was chosen to be the go-to-apostle for that moment in the Church’s history. Why St. Stephen? We understand from the chapter proceeding today’s reading that St. Stephen was a deacon of the infant Church and he was known for being wise, full of faith and the Holy Spirit. It was written of him that he was full of grace and power, doing great wonders and signs among the people. In short, a holy man who knew who he was, to Whom he belonged and what he was about. St. Stephen inspires me!

As I considered the reading for today there were some take-aways that I help to increase my own faith as I strive for fidelity to my Saviour. Here are just a few. The interchange between the unbelieving countrymen and Stephen begins with some harsh words:

Stephen said to the people, the elders, and the scribes:
“You stiff-necked people
….”

Not the best way to make friends and influence enemies, right? The problem for the people was what he was declaring about them was not new to their ears, throughout the Old Testament the LORD often referred to Israel as stiff-necked because of their constant forgetting to remember who they were–the Chosen People of God. No wonder these first century Jews were infuriated with St. Stephen’s summation of their actions.

As I think of my life, regretfully, I’m uncomfortably aware of some of my own stiff-necked leanings. There have been times when I’ve been seized by rigid stiff-necked stubbornness; convinced of my own perspective or by hard-heartedness against someone who didn’t align with my way of thinking. I’m not proud of those moments. More bothersome is when I am more often seized by my own posture; when I spend too much effort on looking to the right and to the left, looking behind me–keeping my head down to look at what’s around me. When I choose only to see the distractions around me, I’m too easily flummoxed into inertia and doubt. And what does the LORD whisper to me when I’m stuck in that posture?

” [Lois] Guard your heart with all diligence, for from it flow springs of life…. Let your eyes look forward; fix your gaze straight ahead. Make a level path for your feet, and all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your feet away from evil.”

We also see in St. Stephen’s response to the mis-guided accusations of the crowd surrounding him an example for us all when we are locked in our regrets about the past or our fears of rejection or when we are too prideful to change our mind. What did Stephen choose to do? He looked up!

But Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit,
looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God
and Jesus standing at the right hand of God,
and Stephen said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened
and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

St. Stephen was so convinced that the LORD’s presence surrounded him that his natural response to the fray around him was to look into the eyes of his Saviour. St. Stephen’s vision beyond the perilous reality led him to where he was headed, and he stayed the course! LORD, help us all!

We know that St. Stephen’s life did not end well by man’s standards; some would even surmise that he failed. However, we know the rest of the story. He joined the many martyred saints because he stood firm on the Truth of history and refused to allow what was happening to him in his persecutions to detract him from that Truth. At the end, St. Stephen’s words live on as a response for the Church as we live in a society that grinds its teeth at Truth with a stiff-necked anti-christ assumption on how life works. In spite of the fear and anger we may feel as we, too, are surrounded by a mad crowd, we must persevere! Is courage to do what is right a challenge for you? St. Stephen’s last plea to the LORD infused him with courage to endure. He had already been filled with the spirit of LORD and he knew his destination was not determined by the crowd. No, Jesus was standing, ready, arms open to receive his spirit!

“LORD Jesus, receive my spirit.”

LORD Jesus, transform our spirits with confidence in the truth that you are waiting to receive our spirits in every moment! We only have to let go of our grip on self-preservation.

LORD Jesus, we desire the faith, wisdom, and integrity of St. Stephen, but you know how stiff-necked we can be about our own ideas, rights and privileges. Forgive us when we’d rather tune into the voices of our society than listen to your Truth, Beauty and Goodness. Would you restore a right spirit within us?

LORD Jesus, when we walk the life of Faith with a wobble from always looking back to what has happened rather than looking forward into Your eyes, help us to fix the gaze of our eyes upon you.

St. Stephen, pray for us.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Amen


D.T.R.: Define the Relationship

St. Peter —

“The Most Successful Failure of All Time”

Today’s, April 8, 2021, first reading in the Mass is from the book of The Acts of the Apostles, otherwise referred to as Acts. The book itself appears right after the four Gospels that proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. Good news, indeed, for in reading the gospel accounts of Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John we learn from Jesus, God Incarnate, God with skin on, how to act on the good life our Creator offers to all who will believe that Jesus IS the Son of God. The books that follow contain the acts of The early Church as they proclaimed Christ to the world, they are the sequel, so to speak, about how the Truth, Beauty and Goodness of Jesus Christ begins to take hold in the disciples and followers of Jesus Christ. That sequel, however, has no end; it continues through time into eternity. When we read of how The Catholic Church was established through St. Peter and his disciple, we can recognize how the death and resurrection and ascension of Jesus yielded the magnificent transformation in his disciples that he had promised. With the descending of The Triune God’s holy Spirit recorded early in Acts, everything changed for his followers. Men and women who were once washed up ne’er-do-wells were filled with the fullness of God’s spirit and emboldened by the Truth. They suddenly knew who they were and what they were about! We recognize it in the action of St. Peter in today’s readings.

Chapter 3 recalls St. Peter’s fearless zeal in declaring that Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecies in the Old Testament on the coming of the Messiah, Jesus, who was sent to bless the world. St. Peter, considered the most successful failure of all time KNEW this because he had had a number of moments that defined the relationship between himself and Jesus. Peter’s transformation from his once fallible, weak, fickle, impulsive, and undependable nature BEFORE the resurrection of Christ and the indwelling of the Spirit of God. His transformation to the bold Peter we hear from in today’s reading was one filled with fits and starts, much like mine I might add. How about you? We can glimpse the beginning of Peter’s transformation with his answer to Jesus’ question on a road just outside of Caesarea Philippi. We read of that encounter in St. Matthew 16:

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 

When Jesus Christ declared that apostle Peter was the “rock” (Matthew 16:18) on which he would build his Church it certainly wasn’t on what was visibly attractive about Peter’s faith in Christ at that point in his life. He declared it because of Peter’s answer in their conversation along the road; He knew that this saint-in-the-making would eventually prove his love for Him. We can observe that God’s sense of humor and his consolation settling down on a man with a nature much like ours, fulfilling a purpose much greater than himself. Does this give you hope? It does me. When I fail at representing the good news of our LORD Jesus Christ, I think of St. Peter. When I’m quick to judge, I think of St. Peter. When I fret over sins of my past, I think of St. Peter. When I’d rather hide from a conflict over theological Truth, I think of St. Peter.

Considering the questions that Jesus asks of his disciples and his detractors is intriguing for me. I find that they are questions I myself need to answer. In doing so I am able to define my relationship, to have my own D.T.R. with Christ in as much as I allow the Holy Spirit to probe my heart and mind for the answer to those questions. Try it sometime, I think you will find that as you answer those questions in prayer and meditation you will open yourself up to the transformation Jesus desires to accomplish in your life just as he did in St. Peter’s life.

Here are some of the many questions Jesus asked of Peter and the other disciples, the accounts surrounding the spoken question are a great place to begin your D.T.R. with Jesus.

“Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29)

“Do you love me more than these?” (John 21:16)

“Why are you terrified?” (Matthew 8:26)

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but not do what I command?” (Luke 6:46)

“If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why are you anxious about the rest?” (Luke 12:26)

Holy Father, our hearts know St. Peter’s heart all too well. Forgive us for our fumbling attempts to follow you in all ways. Fill us with your holy Spirit, exchange our waffling pride and fear with the courage to not only say, but to live out–“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Amen

      

The Return

The word Lent derives from a Middle English word lenten, meaning springtime. I kindle to that image as I consider that the purpose of Lent is to lead us into Christ’s passion through a season of examination and growth that will renew our strength and determination to love the LORD God with all our heart, mind and strength. We take up this practice every year, sometimes with a sense of duty or dread about the fasting, almsgiving or penance, but I believe we are missing the point of this our Catholic tradition. If we are not mindful of God’s desire to renew us as springtime renews the earth, Lent can be seen as a burden. Lent is more than making resolutions or enduring a penance by taking on something we think will be extraordinarily difficult. If we consider that it was Jesus zeal for us, his beloved, that led him into temptation like our own in order to reveal that he alone is our life-giving Savior, then we come closer to understanding Lent as a gift not a burden. Jesus alone delivers us from evil. Satan the enemy of our soul is the tempter, but Jesus is the conquerer!

The Liturgy of the Word during these 40 days of Lent offers us the armor, as it were, to journey with Jesus into this higher calling beyond enduring temptation to “proving” our desire for Him alone. I learned awhile back that when the term “40 days” is used in scripture it is usually associated with a period of time that includes trouble and hardship for the purpose of “proving” someone. Proving in the sense that you proof yeast, allowing time for the enzymes to activate in its environment of water and flour. Well, the environment we live in is rife with temptations that diminish us, intended to waste us in its concoction–the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life.” St. John goes on to say that this [concoction] “is not of the Father, but is of the world.” ..

Let’s consider another purpose of the daily readings during Lent. When we read the WORD, we are reading Jesus Christ, we are hearing Him say to us all we need for our salvation. His Spirit penetrates our hearts and minds with the sharp awareness of our own sin. If we choose, this Bread of Life, the Word of God, will raise in us new life. We enter into the temptation and penance of Lent with the daily Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist in Mass as our weapon and our sustenance for endurance and transformation. In consuming the Word, Jesus himself, the LORD offers us food for this journey as we align ourselves with the truth that the LORD’s strength is sufficient. He also offers us insight into the vices that keep us from his new life!

I recognized this gift of armor and the awareness of our sin as I considered the theme of return in today’s readings. The psalmist cries out to the Lord to “remember His mercies” In every instance of God “remembering,” we see that it always includes an action. God never forgets His Covenant or His people. He doesn’t suffer from memory lapses about us, no, to “remember” means God has us on His mind and he is ready to act is we allow him to. In the lenten season He is drawing us away, up into a desert for us to recollect his mercies as we suffer our temptations.

The prophet Joel’s words are read today just before the proclamation of the Gospel: “Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart; for I am gracious and merciful” And then the Gospel reading from Matthew teaches us how to return to Him with a lesson on forgiveness that Jesus taught His disciples. Do we need to be reminded of that today? I know I need to remember that a forgiving spirit guides me in returning to the LORD in order to be renewed and to become like him!

As we consider the greatest temptation of our life is to forget how much you love us and desire us, remind us that you always have us on your mind and you are waiting for us to always have you on our mind.

LORD God, we ask that this season of Lent be a season where we allow You to penetrate our spirits through our fasting, almsgiving and penance. May we allow you to prove us so that we would grow into the life you desire for us. Bring springtime to our hearts as we walk with you during this Lenten fast. Renew a right spirit within us!

In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Amen