The Land

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When Moses is speaking to the people and he speaks of “the land” he is speaking literally of the Promised Land. He wants the Israelites to know that God will give them a place to live and to thrive.

What does this mean for us?

“The Land” is the moment of time in front of us. It is the choice within our spirits that we have every moment. Every moment is set before us, in which we can choose to love God and walk in His ways. We enter each moment and occupy it just by living in it and experiencing it. Just like the Israelites, Christians cross the Jordan via Baptism, and life and death is set before us. We have the eternal blessing of life in Christ as a son or daughter of the Father — if we but heed His voice and hold fast to Him.

The law of the LORD is our hope; it is our roadmap, our guide. Stay on the road, follow the map, and we prosper. Does this mean there won’t be any potholes? Absolutely not, for even the Son of Man experienced potholes, in terms of those who rejected Him. Again, “the land” is the moment of time in front of us. We can choose to occupy each moment yoked to Him, knowing in our hearts that His way is the way of life.

Return to Me with your Whole Heart

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We cannot give anything that we haven’t already received. We hear in the prophet Joel that the ministers of the Lord are to say,

“Spare, O LORD, your people,
    and make not your heritage a reproach,
    with the nations ruling over them!
Why should they say among the peoples,
    ‘Where is their God?’”

God’s heritage is to give generously, abundantly. We receive and give back. Firstly we have received life and all that sustains life: a home, food, clothing. God’s legacy is to give!

Our response is to receive with joy and gratitude. And then to offer our lives back to Him. It is like a cycle of giving and receiving, except it never ends; it never stops…

Unless we stop receiving, and forget the Giver.

“Even now, says the LORD,
    return to me with your whole heart,” again, the prophet says.

Every Lent we are reminded to return to the Lord with our whole Selves. We are called to remember the divine Giver of life and sustenance who is gracious and merciful and full of compassion. There is nothing that we have that doesn’t come from Him, including our very breath and our freedom.

In freedom we are encouraged by the psalmist to say,

“For I acknowledge my offense,
    and my sin is before me always:
‘Against you only have I sinned,
    and done what is evil in your sight.’”

We all have used our freedom for evil, and yet God is ready to renew our spirits. He is always waiting and knocking at the door of our hearts. We choose to open it to receive His divine life. Paul says to the Corinthians and to us: “we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.”  Let us not allow these gifts pass is by! Turn to Him and allow Him to make us righteous! It all comes from Him — so much so that “he [the Father] made him [the Son] to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” We become His righteousness through the Spirit of life and love that He has breathed into us.

When we receive and give back in freedom, the cycle continues, and the reward is within our hearts. Our closeness, our intimacy…with the One who gives… increases. It is its own reward. It is joy and peace in our hearts, living His divine life. The eternal now.

The Kingdom of God is Within You

(Luke 17:21).

A meditation on the Readings of the Day (USCCB.org)

Such words to describe our God in Hebrews (12:18-19). Words cannot describe. Eyes cannot see, eyes haven’t seen. Ears cannot hear, ears haven’t heard. The magnificence. The glory. God is so good we cannot imagine. We hardly can experience His goodness because we can’t believe anything can be that GOOD.

But we know in faith that He is.  He IS.  Goodness itself.  That which can be touched is something merely some thing good, not goodness itself!

Why would we beg that no message be further addressed?  Because none other needs to be heard.  Once God is experienced and accepted in His fullness nothing else matters.  The faith He asks is of us this: to know that His words are Truth.  To trust.  To surrender.  To be patient.

What does it mean to ponder God’s mercy within [God’s] temple?  (Ps 48:9).

It means to ponder God within ourselves, for He has placed Himself in us. His mercy resides in and flows from our hearts, where He has placed His very Self. It can be grasped only through pondering, through meditation on Him, in Him. The glory, the mercy, the love of God is “grasped,” (if you will), by a purposeful assent into Him. The glory of the New Covenant is that His temple is in our hearts! Because of this, His glory and power flows through us to others, to the world. As Scripture says, He gave them authority over unclean spirits.

Dear Christians, this is our birthright. Ours is a spiritual kingdom, the kingdom of God, and our bodies are the Temple. The kingdom of man has no power over the kingdom of God. Let us live in Him. Amen.

Teach Me Thy Way, O Lord

A meditation on the Readings of the Day. See Readings on USCCB.

Discern the message well.  Turn to Him and say “Teach me your ways, O Lord.”  When you turn you will see His arms wide open like the Father in the familiar Prodigal Son story.  You will see them wide open on the Cross in Jesus, who carries our sins and sends His Spirit to wash our sins away from our souls.

I can humbly ask, “Is God my teacher?”  He taught the pagans of Ninevah through His prophet Jonah.  They listened and repented.  What kind of society was this?  Something we do not hear in today’s reading was that they had a king.  Ninevah was the capital of Assyria, a people who had just plundered and conquered the northern tribes of Israel.  When Johah went through town with the message the king took note.  Verses 6-9 tell us: 

When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had this proclaimed throughout Nineveh: “By decree of the king and his nobles, no man or beast, no cattle or sheep, shall taste anything; they shall not eat, nor shall they drink water. Man and beast alike must be covered with sackcloth and call loudly to God; they all must turn from their evil way and from the violence of their hands. Who knows? God may again repent and turn from his blazing wrath, so that we will not perish.”

The King led the people.  The psalm verse says, He guides the humble to justice and teaches the humble his way.  The king was humble and listened and discerned well, leading the people into repentance, and the Lord relented of the evil that He had threatened to do.  I use the word relented on purpose, for when speaking of God it is a more appropriate translation.  

Why?  Because as we pray in the psalm, we know God’s love and compassion are from of old.  Goodness and kindness are His essence; God does not repent of evil, because evil only exists in His absence.  To relent is to mitigate a harsh intention.  To repent is to express sincere remorse.  The evil that was to come to the Ninevites was a consequence of their own actions, not an act of God.  They repented.  God relented of allowing the consequences of their evil actions that were going to come about through His permissive will.

St. Paul tells us in the second reading that time is running out — that the world in its present form is passing away.  For people of faith this is true everyday, every moment, not just presently.  We know that we pass from former ways to new ways, that through Baptism we die to sin spiritually and are born into eternal life with our Creator.  Jesus conquered death by dying.  We, too, as a people of faith turn to the Father every moment.  We live in Christ.  We continually live through His death, and His Resurrection.  Unlike the Ninevites, we have the Holy Spirit present in our hearts teaching us and strengthening us for the journey to Heaven, which will pass through our own death.  Nothing in this world will go with us through death except our relationship with God.

Today Jesus proclaims the Kingdom in the Gospel reading.  It is interesting to note that Jonah’s proclamation was via the negative way, “you shall be destroyed.”  Jesus’ way is different.  Indeed, He says to repent, but He does this by saying, Come after Me. Last week He said, “Come, and you will see” (Jn 1:39).  He is our King, but He is no earthly king like the Assyrian king who put on sackcloth.  He is our God With Us who beckons us to follow His ways every moment.  He is the God Man who heals all our infirmities, and who accompanies us in our suffering.

His arms are wide open.  All I need to do is look at a crucifix to see the love that God has for me.  And you.  All He asks is for us to live in His love.  When we do this, the world in its present form passes away.

When the Son of Man is Lord of all; when He is Lord of ME

Reflection on the Readings of the Day 

This is our goal — for Jesus to truly be Lord of our Selves — body, soul, and spirit. This is the goal of every Christian, and the seed that leads to the goal is planted within us by our Baptism — the seed of hope. We can read all about this theological virtue in the Catechism (1817-1821), but CCC 1821 has particular significance to me this morning, because it quotes St. Teresa of Avila:
Hope, O my soul, hope. You know neither the day nor the hour. Watch carefully, for everything passes quickly, even though your impatience makes doubtful what is certain, and turns a very short time into a long one. Dream that the more you struggle, the more you prove the love that you bear your God, and the more you will rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end” (St. Teresa of Avila, Excl. 15:3).

We hear a lot about hope in the Scripture readings for today. The author of Hebrews desires our eagerness in service to our neighbor for the fulfillment of hope until the end. He reminds us of God’s promise to Abraham, and how it is fulfilled in Jesus. Hebrews talks about this hope as the anchor of the soul, sure and firm, which reaches into the interior behind the veil, where Jesus has entered on our behalf.  He entered by taking on my sins. When I, living in hope, seek to make Jesus Lord of my life through my choices every moment I have the assurance in my spirit of rejoicing as Teresa speaks.

In the Alleluia antiphon we hear from whom these graces come, ultimately.  The antiphon is from Ephesians, “May the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ enlighten the eyes of our hearts, that we may know what is the hope that belongs to our call” (Eph 1:17-18). Jesus tells us in the Gospel of John, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (Jn 6:44). It is the Father who draws us to the Son through the seed of hope, and the Holy Spirit nourishes the seed so that we bear the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

As we are drawn to the Son we hope in Him presently and eternally. When we are in need, He is there as Lord of all, even our sinful Selves, for we were made for HIM.

Who are we to be?

Today in the first chapter of Hebrews we hear,
“…in these last days, he spoke to us through the Son,     
whom he made heir of all things
and through whom he created the universe,
    who is the refulgence of his glory, 
the very imprint of his being,
 and who sustains all things by his mighty word” (Heb 1:2-3).

I admit that I had to look up the word refulgence. It means shining out. In its verb form it means expressing intensive force. The meaning of this word is significant. How did Jesus do this? How did He shine? How did He make His way known? How did He express intensive force?

By loving. By dying — literally — by submitting to the forces that were outside of him and that were outside of human control. And He forgave them as it happened.

He knew what was within His control, and that was control of Himself (His SELF), manifested in a choice to love those who were persecuting Him. Self-control is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. We live in Christ through the Holy Spirit and manifest the same fruits [“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal 5:22-23)], when we continue seeking to be like HIM — making the choice to love. And He accompanies us in every moment.

God the Father, who created and sustains all things through His mighty word sees US through His Son. He sees US through the Son’s sacrifice on the Cross. When we join Jesus in this sacrifice…when we pick up our cross and follow Him, he brings us into His inner peace and joy…to the Resurrection.

This is who we are to be — the refulgence of the Father, living in the Word through the Holy Spirit who is living in us through our Baptism. This is how we are to act as Christians.

Lord Jesus, lead us, heal our Nation.

Heavenly Father, hold us close.

Holy Spirit, make it so.

Amen.

Just Love.

What could be in the mind of God, that He would come to live with His creation…subject Himself to it?  That He would be born as a helpless baby in poverty?

Love.  Just Love.

We have such issues with this word love.  We all want it.  We feel it inside and it can overwhelm our bodies with feelings of warmth and joy.  We all long to give it.  Why then, is love so confusing?

Because it is so hard to accept what love really is: a gift of Self.

In my previous post on love I tried to convey that learning to love others begins by loving your Self, and that the essence of God is God’s own love for Himself, in the Son, through the Holy Spirit.  In the Christmas season we celebrate the greatest gift of this divine love — God made man, Love Incarnate — Jesus.  God’s gift of Himself to humanity begins as a helpless baby, and not only that, He was born to die.  Does this seem crazy?  Indeed it does…even St. Paul, speaking of the Cross, said as much: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor 1:25). 

We can give ourselves love by gentleness with our mistakes, and compassion to our weakest parts. The fruits of the Holy Spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal 5:22-23) — are born and nourished in ourselves and towards ourselves, in freedom. The fruit ripens in our actions towards others.  And what happens when the ripe fruit falls to the ground (in humility)?  The seeds are then planted for new fruit.

It is one of the paradoxes of the Christian faith that we gain all things by giving ourselves away. Jesus, born in our hearts, shows us the way.

Love Your Neighbor as You Love Your Self

“Learning to love your Self is the greatest love of all!”Whitney_Houston_–_The_Greatest_Love_of_All.jpg

I’d like to attempt to defend a thesis: We, ourselves, need to learn to love others, and we do this by learning to love our SELF.

I will begin by sharing an interesting memory regarding this song by Whitney Houston.  I was sitting in an airport restaurant with my father in December, 1985.  Her song, “The Greatest Love of All” came on over the PA. This conversation had a great effect on me. Now as an adult this memory has given me insight not only into my father, but myself.

“I love this song!” I exclaimed.

“I don’t!” my father said.  “It’s wrong!”

“Wrong?  How can it be wrong?” I asked.

“The greatest love is to love God, not to love yourself,” my father replied.

“But didn’t Jesus say to love our neighbor as we love ourselves?” I asked.

“That’s not what it means!” my father argued.

Let me interlude with a little background.  At the time I was sixteen, and it hadn’t even been a year since I met my father.  He took me on a ski trip to Park City, Utah, with the rest of his family: his wife, her two sons, and my half sister and half brother (from his other previous marriage).

I want to add another short, more modern story about a conversation that I recently had with my daughter.

“President Trump is the perfect example of loving yourself too much,” she said.  “Otherwise he wouldn’t say those things about other people all the time!”

“Oh no,” I said, “he absolutely loathes himself.  If he loved himself he would never say that about anyone, not even his worst enemy.”

She looked at me quizzically.  I explained to her that we express outwards what is inside of us.  If the chatter inside of our heads is constant criticism, that will also be expressed outside of us.  We can fool ourselves and believe that we will be more loving to others by hating ourselves.  In reality this is impossible.  We give from what is inside of us.

Think about it.  We cannot give what we do not have.  It is the lie of Satan to believe that we can actually love from hate.

In the beginning humanity was tempted to believe that the Love of our Creator was not enough…that He was holding out on us. “But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’” (Gen 3:4-5).  Satan tricked us into thinking that we have to know hate (evil) in order to be like God, who is all loving.

God the Father shows us differently, through His Son, Jesus.  Love can only flow from love, and He showed us the greatest love of all.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).

But what does this mean?  Is there more?  Let us look to St. Paul, who said, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

“While we were still sinners…” is such an important phrase. I have talked about this before. God never waits for us to be better before He loves us.  He loves us right now.  St. Paul also says, “He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of His own mercy…” (Tit 3:5). We cannot do anything ourselves in order to be loved more by God. It is already there.  He is never holding out, waiting for us to be better.

The essence of the Trinity is that God loves Himself.  The three persons of the Trinity are God’s love of Himself in the Son and the fruit of this love between the Father and the Son is another loving person, the Holy Spirit.  There is no chicken/egg argument here. God just IS.  God. Is. Love. Eternally. Period.  God’s love of Himself is therefore the greatest love of all, and there is no human love without it.

Let us apply this to ourselves.  We, too, can love ourselves in the Son, through the Holy Spirit.  We do not do this eternally (yet), because we are created beings who live in time. We make choices. We grow both spiritually and materially.  Our spiritual capacity is to grow in the Love of the Trinity.  This begins by loving our SELF, in Christ.  Our material capacity is to die, in Christ, who raises us up (He will literally resurrect us!) and seats us at His right hand, in the presence of the Father, through the Holy Spirit. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Rev 3:21).

Back to my story.  My father loathed himself.  He bought into the lie that he wasn’t enough, and that by hating himself he could love God more.  Again, this is a lie.  I would venture to say that this is the lie that most fathers who abandon their children have bought into.  I will say it again — one cannot love others when he hates himself. This is an important truth for all parents, and most especially, me.

We all have heard the adage, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.”

We get this wrong too!  We end up hating the sinner because we are tempted to define others by their sin.  This also happens personally; we hate ourselves when we are defined by our sin, whether it is done by others or our own selves.  Again, let us allow St. Paul to teach us. “Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me” (Rom 7:20). Sometimes the teaching of Paul in Romans 7 can be very confusing, but what he is saying is that sin is not me — it is not my SELF.  Sin is something outside of me that needs to be removed. The shame that came from believing the serpent’s lie is not me; however, I have taken it on as a burden.  Shame is a burden that does not come from God — it comes from sin. The Good News is that shame is removed by Love, and this burden is completely removed by Jesus through His suffering and death on the Cross.  This is why Jesus tells us to pick up our Cross and follow Him, “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mt 11:30). When we decide to follow Him, we have new life in Him.

Does this mean we are perfect? Indeed, even Jesus fell three times, yet not through sin. But He has shared with us the burden of sin! We fall consistently: “the righteous falls seven times and rises again” (Prov 24:16).  He is with us when we fall, and especially when we refuse to get up.  He continues to stand at the door of our heart.  He continues to knock. He is always there in our spirit, encouraging us and drawing us to Himself, and thus to the Father, through the Holy Spirit.

We are consistently growing in new life with every loving choice we make. Every choice for self-giving love is a sharing in Christ’s love, whether we realize it or not — and even whether we are Christian or not.  The reason is because God is Love, and He planted the seed of His love within us at our creation. When we give love we give God.

Therefore, Love of others begins by loving ourselves.

The Kerygma, as given to St. Catherine of Siena by the LORD

From the dialogue On Divine Providence by Saint Catherine of Siena, virgin and doctor

The eternal Father, indescribably kind and tender, turned his eye to this soul and spoke to her thus:

‘O dearest daughter, I have determined to show my mercy and loving kindness to the world, and I choose to provide for mankind all that is good. But man, ignorant, turns into a death-giving thing what I gave in order to give him life. Not only ignorant, but cruel: cruel to himself. But still I go on providing. For this reason I want you to know: whatever I give to man, I do it out of my great providence.

‘So it was that when, by my providence, I created man, I looked into myself and fell in love with the beauty of the creature I had made – for it had pleased me, in my providence, to create man in my own image and likeness.

‘Moreover, I gave man memory, to be able to remember the good things I had done for him and to be able to share in my own power, the power of the eternal Father.

‘Moreover, I gave man intellect, so that, seeing the wisdom of my Son, he could recognise and understand my own will; for I am the giver of all graces and I give them with a burning fatherly love.

‘Moreover, I gave man the desire to love, sharing in the tenderness of the Holy Spirit, so that he might love the things that his intellect had understood and seen.

‘But my kind providence did all this solely that man might be able to understand me and enjoy me, rejoicing in my vision for all eternity. And as I have told you elsewhere, the disobedience of your first parent Adam closed heaven to you – and from that disobedience came all evil through the whole world.

‘To relieve man of the death that his own disobedience had brought, I tenderly and providently gave you my only-begotten Son to heal you and bring satisfaction for your needs. I gave him the task of being supremely obedient, to free the human race of the poison that your first parent’s disobedience had spread throughout the world. Falling in love, as it were, with his task, and truly obedient, he hurried to a shameful death on the most holy Cross. By his most holy death he gave you life: not human life this time, but with the strength of his divinity.’

Wednesday Audience of Pope Francis: Jesus is close to us in our weakness.

It is such a beautiful thing to contemplate: that God is closest to us in our weakness…in our sinfulness.  I feel like a broken record but Romans 5:8 has been so important to me in the last three years of my Christian journey: “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Pope Francis hits it home with his Wednesday Audience.  Read it all.

Some gems:

“Jesus’ first public act is therefore participation in a choral prayer of the people, a prayer of the people who went to be baptised, a penitential prayer, in which everyone recognises him- or herself as a sinner…We never pray alone, we always pray with Jesus. He does not stay on the opposite side of the river – “I am righteous, you are sinners” – to mark His difference and distance from the disobedient people, but rather He immerses His feet in the same purifying waters. He acts as if He were a sinner.”

Jesus’ baptism was His first public death-to-self.  He leads us to the Father in every action, even Baptism.

“This is the unique greatness of Jesus’ prayer: the Holy Spirit takes possession of His person and the voice of the Father attests that He is the beloved, the Son in whom He fully reflects Himself.”

In the same way, we who are in Christ through Baptism share in His sonship.  We, too, are the beloved of the Father!

“Jesus did not descend into the waters of the Jordan for Himself, but for all of us. It was the entire people of God who went to the Jordan to pray, to ask for forgiveness, to receive that baptism of penance…Jesus gave us His own prayer, which is His loving dialogue with the Father. He gave it to us like a seed of the Trinity, which He wants to take root in our hearts. Let us welcome him! Let us welcome this gift, the gift of prayer. Always with Him. And we will not err.”

 

Lord, give us eyes to see and ears to hear! Amen.