“Be Not Afraid”

As I walked into Church this morning I almost ran into a tree. You heard that right. I was looking down at my phone (really, to pause the prayer I was listening to, honest!) and next thing I know, I realize that one more step, and a tree will be in my face.

Thank you, distractions. Thank you, tree. This may seem ridiculous to thank my distractions and the tree but bear with me.

crucifixion-salvador-dali.jpgI walked into the narthex, and not only were my glasses fogged up (because of my face mask), but the sun was shining brightly through one of the far windows, blinding me. “Sit where the sun is not in my eyes,” I told myself as I walked into the nave. I could barely see where I was going, but I found a spot to sit down and begin writing in my journal. I invited Jesus into all of me for Mass — all of my thoughts, even the darkest ones.

Does that seem strange, to invite Jesus into the darkness?

Mass began and I stood up. The blinding sunlight was coming through the window, right into my eyes again as I stood. “It will be gone when I sit down for the readings,” I thought.

The first reading was from Ephesians. I love Ephesians. Just a note to the reader, if you read the daily Mass readings everyday we will be going through most of Ephesians for the next two weeks. Today this struck me: “You…were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s possession, to the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:13-14). Our being sealed in the Holy Spirit is only the first installment. “There is so much more to come!” I thought. We are His possession, His sons and daughters. Our inheritance is His gentle care, His love, His tenderness.

The psalm verse “Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own” fits right into this.

Blessed the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people he has chosen for his own inheritance.
From heaven the Lord looks down;
he sees all mankind (Ps 33:12-13).

God is in charge. We are His people. He gives us everything.

We stood up for the Gospel and I was blinded by the light again. I tried moving to my right. The light was still in my eyes. I decided to just close them and listen to the Word.

“There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the darkness will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed on the housetops. I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more. I shall show you whom to fear. Be afraid of the one who after killing has the power to cast into Gehenna; yes, I tell you, be afraid of that one. Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins? Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God. Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows (Lk 12:2-7).”

I sat down for the homily. “Every cell of our body is known by the Lord,” the priest said. “Bring everything into the light.”

I laughed at myself. “I can’t hide from you, can I, Jesus?” I thought of the bright sunlight through the Church window that seemed to be chasing me and blinding me.

I remembered what I wrote in my journal at the beginning of Mass. “I invite You into all of me, all of my thoughts, even the darkest ones.”

Jesus wants to be there to heal! He wants to be in every part of us. We can think of every cell, but is that all? A cell is a material thing. What about the spiritual “parts” of us? Our memories, our thoughts, our intellectual ponderings.

Our feelings. Even the darkest ones. He wants to be there, too.

His light may feel too bright. It may burn at first, but the burning is purifying.

What do we know about Him?

Look at the crucifix. Do not be afraid. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

While we were still sinners? He chases us down. His light shines in the darkness. He wants to be in everything — in the distractions, in the falls. He is not afraid of our sins, even the darkest ones. He felt all of them in His death, and in the moment of His last breath, He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Having been sealed in the Spirit was only the beginning. We now live the redemption and claim our inheritance in and through Christ and His loving sacrifice. There is nothing we can give Him that He cannot make new, even our darkest sins. Because we were created “very good” God can bring good purpose to all! Even the distractions. Even the bumps in the road. Even the trees we may run into! Our inheritance is His gentle care, His love, His tenderness.

Be not afraid.

How are forgiveness and killing a virus related?

The readings for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time are particularly challenging.  If they aren’t, then you are already a saint! (Indeed, there are some of you out there!)  I will leave it to the reader to know them for the purpose of this article (see link), but here are some particular thoughts.

They are about forgiveness.  

Not holding grudges.

The overwhelming mercy of God.

Hard sayings.  

Things like:

“Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven” (Sir 28:2).

“None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom 14:7-8).

Whether we like it or not; whether we know it or not, we belong to our Creator.  He placed His life within us, and gave us FREEDOM to choose the good.  It is choosing that which is not good, namely sin, that leads to slavery and death.  By conquering death, the Lord offered us the opportunity of new life, again by our free choice.  When we are enslaved in our sin we are no longer free.

This is what unforgiveness, grudges, and resentment does to our hearts.  It enslaves us.  The slavery can be so “felt” that we have no idea how to get out. We don’t even feel like we have the capacity to act differently.  But all is not lost.

This is what the Lord does:

“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our transgressions from us” (Ps 103:12).

When we invite Jesus in, He brings the healing balm of love and mercy.  He stands in between us and the evil that hurts us.  He separates the evil from our hearts and sends it back to the spiritual nothingness that is the realm of the Evil One.

Now for the fun part!  It is time for an analogy. What Jesus does for us is like what soap does to a virus!  

It is commonly known that oil and water don’t mix.  Most people have observed the phenomenon of oil floating on top of water.  Adding soap is a way to make them mix.  The molecular properties of soap allow it to stand in between the oil and water.  It binds with different parts of the molecules in the oil and the water, bridges the gap between them, and creates a homogenous mixture.  (See adorable video link!)  The reason why soap and water work best for cleaning hands of a virus is because the soap destroys the oily layer of the virus and attaches to the genetic material inside, which is then washed away with excess water.  (See image). During our coronavirus crisis, the idea was put forth that one should say an Our Father while washing hands, in order to give the soap enough time to attach to the virus particles on our hands.

Isn’t it interesting that the prayer that Jesus taught us brings not only the spiritual healing we need, but also the material? By taking the time to pray while washing our hands with soap and water, the destructive material within the cell of the virus is washed away. In doing this we take good care of both our spirits and our bodies.

“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  

This phrase of the Our Father should remind us of Sirach 28:2 quoted above.  We must pray and ask for help from the only One who can help.  Just as washing one’s hands without soap is ineffective, so too is forgiveness without Jesus.  We desperately need the go-between.   Furthermore, as Jesus says in the Gospels today, forgiveness is a continuous decision.  “Not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Mt 18:22).  The number seven in Sacred Scripture is the number for wholeness, for completion.  Jesus makes it clear — complete forgiveness from the heart is necessary.  This is the forgiveness that He showed from the Cross, as He stretched out His hands from East to West, and prayed, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).

Every moment of every day, not seven times, but seventy-seven times, let us invite Him into our hearts, so that, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.

Baptism, Confession, and Wine Skins

One of the best ways to grow in prayer as a Christian is to pray with the Word everyday.  In the Catholic Church we are given daily Mass readings that take us through the liturgical year in cycles.  Right now we are in “ordinary time.”  We have special choices of readings during the Advent, Lent, and Easter seasons. Currently we are reading First Corinthians and the Gospel of Luke.  The Scriptures always seem to apply to the times that we are in!  I am convinced, that when Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” (Mt 11:15, 13:9, 13:43; Mark 4:9; Luke 8:8, Luke 14:35), He was not only echoing the prophets, (Is 6:10, 30:21, 35:5, 43:8; Zech 7:11; Jer 7:24, 35:15), but He was speaking to us.  He does this everyday in the Mass readings, and I will venture to say… 

It is essential for a Christian to read and pray with the Word of God everyday.

This week, in particular, I was struck by Jesus’ parable about the new cloak and the new wineskins.  He says:

“No one tears a piece from a new cloak to patch an old one.

Otherwise, he will tear the new

and the piece from it will not match the old cloak.

Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins.

Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins,

and it will be spilled, and the skins will be ruined.

Rather, new wine must be poured into fresh wineskins.

And no one who has been drinking old wine desires new,

for he says, ‘The old is good.’” (Lk 5:36-39).

This reminded me of something I read in my ESV Study Bible (a Protestant Bible) last week, commenting on 1 Cor 1:17, in which Paul said, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the Gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”  The comment in my ESV Study Bible was, “Hearing and believing in the Gospel, unlike baptism, is essential to salvation.”

My goodness.  If we take the words “unlike baptism” out then this statement is true.  One thing we like to say in the Catholic Church is, “Both/And.”  It is both baptism and hearing and believing in the Gospel!  Baptism is clearly required as the normal means of salvation.  Jesus told His disciples to baptize all in Matthew 28:19.  Baptism was done throughout the Acts of the Apostles so that the Holy Spirit would come upon all who believe.  Does God need Baptism to infuse the Holy Spirit?  No.  But we do, because Jesus told us to do this! God is so loving and powerful that He can and will dwell in His people (Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel, the prophets…etc!) for the purpose of drawing all to Himself in love.  We assent to this teaching of Christ and the apostles that we are to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins and we then receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

You may be wondering what this has to do with new/old cloaks and new/old wineskins.

The new wine is the new covenant.  It is the Gospel!  In order to receive the Gospel we must be cleansed through Baptism.  When we are baptized we are completely cleansed from Original Sin.  We put on the white garment of Christ and receive His light and truth, living in the Holy Spirit. Our old wine skins are made new, so to speak. The salvation that Jesus won for us through His death and Resurrection is ours.  The blessed Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – make their dwelling within us. (see Jn 14:15-17). We belong to the family of God.  We are anointed priest, prophet and king. Living in Christ, we offer our lives to God as priest, (this is the universal priesthood of the faithful that all the baptized share), we live and proclaim the Word as prophet, and in freedom, we direct our lives towards Heaven through our daily choices as king. 

This is our birthright as the baptized faithful.

We cannot receive the fullness of Gospel unless we are baptized.  We cannot receive the truth that Jesus laid down His life for us in freedom and that He forgives us all our sins.  We hide.  We are afraid.  In baptism we are claimed for Christ.  His divine life is poured into us through the symbolic action of water pouring on our heads.  His Cross is on our foreheads (see Rev 7:3).  We never need to fear again.  Jesus’ own baptism is a theophany event in the three Synoptic Gospels (Mt 3:13-17; Mk 1:9-11; Lk 3:21-22), in which the Father and the Spirit are manifest.  Further, Jesus tells Nicodemus in the Gospel of John, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:5).  In the same discourse of Paul that is mentioned above, he says, “For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me” (1 Cor 4:15b-16).  His clear teaching throughout the discourse is that it is Christ who baptizes and sends the Holy Spirit — not the minister — and that he has become their spiritual father, in Christ.  If we are to imitate Paul, are we not, also, to imitate Christ?

One other glorious thing that is our birthright as the baptized faithful — the other Sacraments.  These are the means, instituted by Christ, to continue living in Him.  They strengthen us on our journey.  Every sacrament that we receive is like a “power-up,” if you will.  The power to live in Christ is strengthened and renewed. This now brings me to confession.  After we are baptized, of course we fail, everyday, in living out God’s will.  Proverbs tells us that even the righteous man “falls seven times and rises again” (Prov 24:16), and the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the means to “renew our wine skins,” so that the Gospel can continue to renew our hearts.  There are no greater words for a sinner than the words of absolution: “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit.”

Who absolves?  Christ.  Through the ordained minister, fulfilling the ministry of the Church.

Renew your wine skins!  Receive the Word.  Everyday!

Living Sacramentally.

I am back to readings reflections. In the first reading yesterday we hear from St. Paul, who is speaking about the “collection for the saints,” which is the collection for the suffering Church in Jerusalem. This is his reminder to the churches that we are part of a greater Church, the Church of Jesus Christ. We are His body, and as such, we are called to nourish every part of it. Everything we have and everything we are comes from the Lord. It is fitting to give back to Him in gratitude.

St. Paul is adept at using old proverbs to teach the lesson of generosity: “…whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Cor 9:6b; cf. Prov 22:9). Jesus, of course, is the original teacher of this lesson, (whether as the Word who has spoken from eternity or the Incarnate Word who dwells among us!) St. Paul speaks of giving according to the heart, and out of the love that we have for one another.

What (or Who) is the Source of this love?

It is the unending love by which all creation exists, and only one part of Creation is capable of returning this love in gratitude — man. The love of God freely flows into the hearts of His people for the purpose of freely flowing forward into life and abundance. For Jesus said, “I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10). St. Paul is reminding the Corinthians, and us, that all we have is from God in the first place! There is nothing…nothing…that is good, true, and beautiful…that is not foreseen or given by the Father. Paul quotes Psalm 112 to make this point: “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever” (Ps 112:9). He further makes the point and tells us of the necessary response of gratitude: “For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God” (2 Cor 9:13). Charity, ultimately, is giving back the gifts we have already been given. It is by grace that these gifts multiply.

The idea of “many thanksgivings” should cause us to think of the Sacraments, and in particular, the Eucharist. As we receive the Sacraments we receive the life of God — His grace — in abundance, and we continue to grow in grace upon grace. “For from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (Jn 1:16).

I once asked a young person in my life, “Why do you think I go to Mass?”

“Because you have to; it is a rule that you choose to follow,” he said.

“Oh no,” I said. “It is because I want to. What we are doing when we go to Mass is giving of ourselves, our life, our time that has been given to us, back to the Lord, and He, in turn, gives us Himself in His Word and in His holy food. This food sustains me. It gives me life!”

Grace upon grace. That is what it is all about. A gift of the heart — given from the heart and received in the heart.

God continues to give Himself through the Sacraments (but not exclusively so), so that we can live in the freedom to truly love. When Jesus gave us the Great Commission to unleash the Gospel (cf. Mt 28:19), He called us to do the same. We are called to give of ourselves, sacramentally, to others. We are to be a visible sign of an invisible reality: Christ living within us. There are the actual Sacraments of the Church, through which God gives us life and love, and it is by this life and love that we, too, give others life and love. Our sacramental giving and receiving with Jesus is His means of sharing His life and love with the whole world, resulting in joy-filled gratitude!

This is the Sacramental worldview that we so need today. The Good News is that God has planted Himself into the hearts of His people, by our creation. We are made in His image and likeness, which means that His goodness is within us. If this were not true, then no one would ever turn back to Him. God is asking each one of us to share His love with others, that by our example, we can be a sacrament to others — a sign of His eternal love for the entire world.

He tell us this through the prophet Isaiah: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Is 55:10-11).

See this adorable film clip from the movie, Hook. See how the little boys search carefully for the Peter Pan they once knew — the spark of innocence and joy. (Be like little children). We are to search for Christ in others the same way the little boys search for Peter Pan in Robin Williams’ character, Peter. (May he rest in peace in the arms of the Lord Jesus!)

https://youtu.be/EMIAIJg9Ftg

Novena to Blessed Solanus Casey-Day 9

Day 9 — Feast of Blessed Solanus — The Potter and the Clay

Throughout this Novena we have learned about the lives of the many saints whose feasts led up to this day, as well as the faith and holiness of Fr. Solanus Casey.  Today let us consider these themes together in the light of the first reading.  The themes from the past 8 days:

  • Recognizing Jesus in others;
  • The blessings of marriage and family-life;
  • Conversion of heart leading to unity, peace, and joy;
  • Suffering well with Jesus; giving our trials in every moment;
  • Living in gratitude and thanking God ahead of time;
  • Noticing little blessings that grow our lives in Christ;
  • Simple faith that encourages others;
  • Giving hospitality to others and listening to Jesus in them.

All of these themes were manifest in the life of Blessed Solanus.  He was like the potter in the first reading today, and he allowed the grace of Jesus Christ to flow through his actions and words into other people. 

“This word came to Jeremiah from the LORD: Rise up, be off to the potter’s house; there I will give you my message. I went down to the potter’s house and there he was, working at the wheel. Whenever the object of clay which he was making turned out badly in his hand, he tried again, making of the clay another object of whatever sort he pleased. Then the word of the LORD came to me: Can I not do to you, house of Israel, as this potter has done? says the LORD. Indeed, like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, house of Israel” (Jer 18:1-6).

Fr. Solanus did the work of God day-by-day, greeting people, feeding them, listening to them, and interceding for them.  Were all his prayers answered right away?  No, but God, the true Potter, continued to work the clay to form it according to His will.  This is how prayer works.  Saint Paul says “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28). God will take every part of our lives and make it into something good. There is nothing that He cannot use for our good.

We are the clay, but we can also be the potter!  The families that we grow up in are the trinitarian image of God’s love that continually form us, pick us up when things are going badly, and start anew.  The saints we meet in our everyday lives are God’s forming hands that encourage us and pray for us.  (Blessed are we to have even one of these saints of God in our lives!).  Just as God showed Jeremiah what He can do through the example of a potter, God shows us what He can do through everyday saints like Blessed Solanus.  We are called to be imitators!

Today, on his feast day, let us ask Blessed Solanus to intercede for our Church, that we will be the image of the most loving and merciful Jesus to our families and to our world.  Let us pray that as the potter, in the image of the divine Potter, we will be patient and gentle;  and that as the clay we will receive with joy and gratitude the blessings the Potter gives.  Amen.  Alleluia!

Prayer for the Canonization of Father Solanus Casey

O God, I adore You.  I give myself to You.

May I be the person You want me to be,

and may Your will be done in my life today.

I thank You for the gifts You gave Father Solanus.

If it is Your will, bless us with the Canonization of

Father Solanus so that others may imitate

and carry on his love for all the poor and suffering of our world.

As he joyfully accepted Your divine plans,

I ask You, according to Your will,

to hear my prayer for…(your intention)

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

“Blessed be God in all His designs.”

The Weeds and the Wheat

A meditation on the readings for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

We are the wheat. From the beginning we were created “very good” (Gen 1:31). Let us consider different types of weeds that are among us. Some are extremely invasive. Some not so much. Some even have pretty flowers that may look good from afar. When we get closer we can see that they are weeds. They will eventually take over that which surrounds them.

There are a few ways to combat them. There are “shock and awe” herbicides — these not only kill the weeds, but they will kill everything around them. There are selective herbicides that are designed to kill only the weeds and nothing else around them. These herbicides indeed work, but sometimes there are unforeseen consequences to using them. Often these herbicides will poison the soil or water in the future, or they are poisonous to other types of life. The perfect selective herbicide has not been created. In fact, it cannot, because none of us can foresee the ultimate consequences of our selective killing.

There is another way — to sow more good seed. This is the way of the Lord. Sowing more good seed takes patience. It takes Love. It takes willingness to suffer with the weeds, and to suffer for those surrounded by them.

Ultimately, it takes Wisdom. Lady Wisdom. It takes trust in her Source.

True Wisdom is from the Lord. One who has her recognizes such. One who has her recognizes that the Lord is the only source of justice and is Master of all.

His power is manifest in weakness, or at least what the world deems as weakness.

His kindness, patience, and “lenience” (Wis 12:16) is hope for those who suffer amidst the weeds — those who may even feel attached to them.

All in His time. All will be well.

Listen to the Holy Father on the Weeds and the Wheat…and Patience.

Lectio Divina: He Knows My Name…and Yours

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, and I just “went” to Mass in my living room with my beloved family.  This pandemic has given us the opportunity to change our ways of doing things — a hidden blessing is that we talk about the readings together.  I teach the Bible, but I usually don’t force this upon my own family…(They often remind me that they get enough through everyday conversation, lol).  Today I couldn’t help myself.  For reference, click the link for the readings from Mass today, the 4th Sunday of Easter: USCCB.

St. Peter begins in the Acts of the Apostles: “Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed: “Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:14, 36).

Granted, the readings for today skip over a wonderful review by Peter of Salvation History (skipping Acts 2:15-35), still, I asked the family the following question, knowing that they could answer it:  “Who is Peter talking to?”

“The Jews,” my oldest daughter said.

YES!  The Jews.  The reading continues, saying that they were “cut to the heart” and they asked what they should do.

“Repent and be baptized!” Peter said.

Aha!  Baptism!  So I asked the question, “What is the big deal about Baptism, and what does it have to do with today’s readings?”

The answer is everything (not my family’s answer!), when we consider the Rite of Baptism in the Catholic Church.  The rite begins with questions, and the second question is the most relevant to today’s readings.  

“What is the name of the child you bring for Baptism?

Our given name is so important, especially when we are baptized.  This is our adoption, through Jesus, into the Holy Family of God.  We become tabernacles of the Holy Spirit, imbued with the theological virtues of faith, hope and love.  We are brought into the Blessed Trinity of Love.  We are washed clean of Original Sin, given the light of Christ, and we “put on” the white garment of Christ.  All this is done with our own name, and in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

In the psalm today we chant, “The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want” (Ps 23:1).  He leads us and guides us, for HIS name’s sake.  He gives us everything we need.  This psalm is good to remember and to pray, especially when we move to the second reading, where we hear from St. Peter again.

Peter begins, “If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps” (1 Pt 2:20b-21).

This man whom God made Lord and Christ suffered for us (recall first reading). This man said to us, “Follow me.” (Many times in the Gospels). When we are baptized we put on His garment, we receive His light — for a glorious purpose — to share in His victory over sin and death. St. Peter concludes, “For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls” (ibid, v. 25).

Why do we follow Him?

Because He is the Good Shepherd, but not only this. He is the gate. “Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture” (John 10:9), Jesus says in today’s Gospel.

How do we know to go through Him?

The answer is earlier in the Gospel reading: “But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (Jn 10:2-3, my emphasis).

Do we see the importance of our name?  Do we see why the Church asks for this name for Baptism? When He calls our name… when we hear His voice… we remember, and we follow!

Jesus is always calling our name, because we belong to Him through Baptism.

Recall Mary Magdalene on Easter Sunday — when did she recognize the Lord, her Shepherd?

“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’” (Jn 20:16). We read this only a few weeks ago.

Fast forward to another book in the Bible. Jesus echoes the words of Peter from today in the Book of Revelation. Here is ‘the rest of the story’:

“He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels” (Rev 3:5).

Jesus is our Shepherd, our Defender.  He knows our name, and we know Him.  The Father sees us and loves us through Him, and brings us into union with the Trinity, in the Holy Spirit.

Power, Humility, Sobriety, Vigilance

“Clothe yourselves with humility
in your dealings with one another…

Be sober and vigilant.
Your opponent the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion
looking for someone to devour” (1 Pt 5:5b, 8).

What is the Christian vision when it comes to the words above?  

Jesus before Pilate.  Jesus on the Cross.  

“Jesus answered [Pilate], ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above’” (Jn 19:11). 

It is a scandal. The devil tried to devour the Lord, indeed.  The devil is incapable of understanding the Law of Love. 

St. Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,  but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,  but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor 1:22-25).

To look at Jesus before Pilate and see power and vigilance is foolishness to those who think that power is getting the most attention, getting the most votes, having the most people watch or listen to you, or having the most money. These are all worldly cares.  Signs are also “of the world” because those who see them are still tempted not to believe.  Our Heavenly Father gives us signs of His presence everyday and we discount these signs because of our worldly cares and attention.  

At least I do, anyway.

Power is the ability to see things the way our Creator sees things. It is living in the Spirit of God — living the law of God because it is written on our hearts.  Living the Law of Love means looking at the person across the aisle, the table, the Church, the border, the ocean…and forgiving them and seeking abundant life for them.

To be sober and vigilant is to choose to believe without seeing.  It is to choose to believe that God will take care of me, of us: to remember His promises, and to know, by faith, that we are in His hands.

This is foolishness to the world.  This is foolishness to politicians.  This is even foolishness to some Catholics and other Christians.  This is foolishness to anyone who seeks a worldly solution to a spiritual problem.  The root of the spiritual problem is UNBELIEF.

The letter from Peter quoted above also says, “Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you” (1 Pt 5:7).  

I am not sure it could be made clearer.  We are in a spiritual battle, which means that it is on the inside.  Jesus told us to follow Him.  He promised us abundant life if we follow His ways. Do we believe?

The inner battle against the powers that seek to devour us, to divide us, is found in our hearts and in our choices (free will).  Following Him means dying with Him.  This may or may not be a material death.  He, as the author of life, will determine that.  

There is no power of ours that can add a second to our lives.  There is no human wisdom that can trump even the foolishness of God.

It is the power of God, living in us, that can and will save the world from all its ills.  We unleash the power of God when we surrender to His love.

A Prophecy for the Ages about Life for the Soul

See daily Mass readings at USCCB

Thus says the Lord GOD:
I will take the children of Israel from among the nations
to which they have come,
and gather them from all sides to bring them back to their land.
I will make them one nation upon the land,
in the mountains of Israel,
and there shall be one prince for them all.
Never again shall they be two nations,
and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms.

No longer shall they defile themselves with their idols,
their abominations, and all their transgressions.
I will deliver them from all their sins of apostasy,
and cleanse them so that they may be my people
and I may be their God.
My servant David shall be prince over them,
and there shall be one shepherd for them all;
they shall live by my statutes and carefully observe my decrees.
They shall live on the land that I gave to my servant Jacob,
the land where their fathers lived;
they shall live on it forever,
they, and their children, and their children’s children,
with my servant David their prince forever.
I will make with them a covenant of peace;
it shall be an everlasting covenant with them,
and I will multiply them, and put my sanctuary among them forever.
My dwelling shall be with them;
I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Thus the nations shall know that it is I, the LORD,
who make Israel holy,
when my sanctuary shall be set up among them forever. –Ezekiel 37:21-28

I didn’t mean to do a Lectio post today but this reading speaks to something that has been on my heart for three weeks — since the time that I last received Holy Communion. Holy Communion is sustenance for the spirit; just as a healthy meal feeds the body, the Eucharist feeds the soul. This whole chapter from Ezekiel speaks to me about the Eucharist, because it is about life, and the Eucharist is life for the soul.

The reading is from Ezekiel 37, (I recommend reading the whole thing), in which God tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the dead, dry bones. He is told to do this in two stages: prophesy to the bones to hear the word of the LORD, saying, “Listen! I will make breath enter you so you may come to life,” and then to prophesy to the breath, saying, “From the four winds come, O breath, and breathe into these slain that they may come to life.”

Wow. I want to make an important point about Ezekiel: he had never received the Sacraments but God was clearly working through him. Remember this. This event occurred almost 600 years before Jesus. God was speaking particularly about the unification of the two kingdoms: Israel and Judah. They were in exile, both physically and spiritually. God was preparing to bring the dead back to life — God is always wanting to unify His people! This prophecy is indeed one for the ages.

The Church teaches that God normally works through the Sacraments, especially Baptism. We are encouraged to do what we can within our own natural powers to be fed supernaturally through the Sacraments, but it is clear from Ezekiel that God can and will work outside the Sacraments.

This is so important in our times today. I firmly believe that God is calling us to seek Him in the depths of our spirits — the depths of the life He has already breathed into us. We all have become complacent. God is calling us to unity, to recognize the beauty and glory of the life within us, and the life within the persons near us. We are unified through His life — the seed of the Gospel already planted within us. He has made an everlasting covenant through “His servant David” who is our KING. He is our Shepherd and He has made His dwelling with us — His sanctuary is our HEARTS!

This prophecy is for us, too. It is not just for the ancient people of Israel and Judah. It is for us TODAY.

It is time for the Baptized to truly understand the Spirit dwelling within, and the power of God, through intercession of His people, to heal.  It is through our action, in Christ and through the Holy Spirit, that the world will know the holiness of God. 

Indeed, the Eucharist is the source and summit, but any liturgy on earth pales in comparison to the divine, eternal liturgy celebrated for all time in the heavenly realm. The heavenly liturgy is as near as our choice to participate in it in every moment. And we do, as our priests continue to offer the Holy Sacrifice on earth, and we “lift up our hearts,” in union with them!

God is with us and we need to live like He is, in the covenant of peace. 

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:37-39).”

Amen!

Do we BELIEVE?

For more on partaking in our hearts of the Heavenly Banquet, read this by St. Gregory Nazianzen (click link).

REMEMBER

What is the Lord going to do for us next week?

This may seem like a silly question, because He has already done it.

Do we remember? Do I remember? What has God done for me?

This week I was praying with a friend over FaceTime, and my prayer was to remember.  “Lord, help us to never forget what You have done for us!  You will bring us out of this great trial.  We will triumph in You.  Help us to remember, in gratitude — every day…Every moment.  Please help us to remember.”

Jesus knew how important remembering is.  We saw this in the readings throughout this week, beginning with the Resurrection of Lazarus on Sunday.  It is beneficial to remember this story of Lazarus in the light of another one in the Gospel of Luke.  Jesus told a story about a rich man who neglected a poor man, (named Lazarus), at his door.  He never saw him.  Both men died, and Lazarus was in the bosom of father Abraham, while the rich man was in Gehenna.  The rich man, unable to participate in this beatitude because he never saw and he never heard, pleaded with Abraham to warn his brothers — surely they shall see and hear! “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And [the rich man] said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ [Abraham] said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead’” (Luke 16:30-31). Do we see the irony?

Part of remembering is looking and listening, noticing and hearing.  Humans are capable of listening without hearing.  We are capable of hearing without doing.  We are capable of seeing without believing.  We all have these amazing senses that are meant to help us learn, not only in the mind, but in the heart. It is here that we choose to remember, where we choose to live in gratitude.

What did the Pharisees and those who killed Jesus forget? We are reminded in this week’s daily Mass readings.

–They forgot about their ancestors, who grumbled against the LORD in the desert, yet through the repeated intercession of Moses were saved from pestilence and death (cf. Num 21:4-9).

–They forgot about Susanna, who “trusted in the Lord wholeheartedly” (Dan 13:35) when she was falsely accused.

–They forgot about Daniel, strong in the Holy Spirit, who spoke out and defended her (cf. Dan 13:45-46).

–They forgot about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who refused to serve a false god, even if it meant facing a painful death in the furnace (Dan 3:17-18).

–They forgot about Nebudchadnezzar, the pagan Babylon king, whose heart turned when he saw the power of God, and exclaimed, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who sent his angel to deliver the servants who trusted in him; they disobeyed the royal command and yielded their bodies rather than serve or worship any God except their own God” (Dan 3:95).

And finally, they forgot the prophets, especially Jeremiah and Ezekiel, both whom we read today and tomorrow in the daily Mass readings:  

–They couldn’t see that what they were doing, and what they were about to do, is what their ancestors did to Jeremiah: “All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine. ‘Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail, and take our vengeance on him’”  (Jer 20:10).

–They couldn’t see that Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophesy of Ezekiel, “My dwelling shall be with them; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Thus the nations shall know that it is I, the LORD, who make Israel holy, when my sanctuary shall be set up among them forever” (Ezek 37:27-28).

Do we remember?  Do I remember? What has God done for me?

“Remember the marvels the LORD has done” (Ps 105:5).

“In my distress I called upon the LORD and cried out to my God; From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears” (Ps 18:7).

Lord, help us to remember that You dwell with us in our hearts, right here, right now.  You have made Your dwelling with us; You are one with the Father, in the Holy Spirit, and You are tabernacled in our hearts.  We implore You to help us to remember! 

You are the way.  

You are the truth.  

You are the life.  

You alone bring us out of the darkness.  You are calling all people to Yourself.  May we be one in You. May we abide in You, in sickness and in health.  May we carry our Cross with You, knowing that You lead us into eternal life of peace and joy.

May we remember the marvels You have done in our personal lives, and live in hope and gratitude for what You are about to do. Amen.

Jesus, I trust in You!