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.

“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.

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.

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent 2021

LENT:

Getting Egypt Out Of Us!

Sometime around this fourth week of Lent I find myself scuffling in my lenten vows leaving a limp in my stride through the Lenten Desert. What I can vow on Ash Wednesday seems doable, even noble. This year, however, has been a particular struggle for me. Rather than allowing me to go through the motions of keeping my lenten vows that I THINK are good enough, the LORD has used the scuffle in my spirit to reveal a deeper sin in my life. Do you go through that?

Generations had come and gone since Joseph led the way for the tribe of Israel to escape famine. In the meantime, God’s chosen people had lost their way and fallen into the ways and means of the Egyptian culture. In today’s reading we find that the Israelites had just been freed of that 430 year bondage in Egypt in a stunning way because the LORD desired to get the Israelites out of Egypt–the slavery, the persecution, and the rampant idol worship of the culture. He called Moses to lead the way and one of the greatest stories of all time unfolds. The first step of the LORD’s deliverance is accomplished, and now the Israelites are in the desert around Mt. Sinai–a rag, tag tribe betwixt a rock and a hard place–of trusting the idols of Egypt and trying to remember how to worship God. Nothing about the desert appealed to the Israelites, they were moaners and groaners, a stiff-necked people who had a big problem. As we do, I might add. They had spent so many years immersed in a pagan culture that worshiped created things instead of the Creator. In spite of the pain they endured they were apparently comfortable with the Egyptian way. So not only did the LORD want to get the people out of Egypt to worship Him alone, he wanted to get Egypt out of the people! Hmmmm? This sounds a bit too familiar to us, doesn’t it?

This year in particular a memory has come back to me several times as I’ve gone to prayer with the LORD about what I am struggling against during this Lent. Decades ago our youngest child was climbing around on some landscape timber when she lost her balance and fell. She is a tough one, so she didn’t complain or cry, she just got right up and continued to play. A few days passed before I noticed some redness on her knee, I didn’t think much of it because she always had bruises, cuts and bumps on her body. A week passed and I started noticing that her gait had changed, she favored the leg with the bump. I rubbed some salve on it and sent her on her way. The bump continued to inflame, but it wasn’t until she voiced to me that she had an ouchie that I took her seriously. She laid down next to me and I began to prod at the inflammation, she winced. I noticed a light red line running down her leg from the bump; blood poisoning! Her and I tried to figure out what she had done to get the ouchie, she didn’t have an answer and I couldn’t remember which of her many falls might have caused it. It wasn’t until I placed more pressure on her leg that we discovered the source of her pain. She screamed and hollered once I became serious about the pressure of my kneading her leg. I didn’t stop though it took quite awhile. Eventually a 1& 1/2″ inch splinter with the circumference of a toothpick shot free from her leg! Success! That large splinter was finally expelled from the inflamed tissue around it. Immediate relief came from the threat of the infection, but it took time for the wounded tissue to heal and for the antibiotics to conquer the infection. She eventually got her stride back and was off to find another adventure where she would no doubt be left with more bruises and cuts.

I’ve been feeling a splinter in my soul’s flesh during this season of Lent. It’s been there quite awhile, years, in fact! What I am learning now, through the grace of God, is that he wants to do for me what he did for the Israelites. He desires to “get [poison] Egypt out of me.” There is an inflammation in each of our spirits that is caused by sin in us. Just like the Israelites, there’s an infection within us that if left untended, will destroy us. I am in need of liberation from the enemy of my soul– the bondage can take on the form of one of my greatest strengths and turn it in on me, infecting me with the sin of over-weaning pride. How about you? Is fear or anger or pride so deeply embedded in your life that you can’t recognize the source of that infection? Healing and transformation take a life time even with our willingness to cooperate with the LORD. No amount of vows or almsgiving or penance can substitute for the humility that comes when we expose the source our limp to our loving Father.

Healing Savior, you know our deepest wounds, you know how they affect our lives? Holy Spirit, Counselor, would you help us to recall where the wound came from?

If others caused our wound, would you grant us the spirit of forgiveness so that we can be freed from the oozing resentment and bitterness in our souls?

We scamper about in this good life enjoying the good things you have given to us, forgive us when we believe the lie of the enemy that our limp is not serious enough to stop us from playing hide and seek with You.

Oh, LORD, the wounds we cause ourselves when we forget to remember that You alone are God are infinite and ugly! Give us courage to see that we are our own worst enemy when we try to hide or refuse your healing hand.

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

Amen