The Long Swim to Shore: Part Two

All Those Who Wander Are Not Lost

Die to the world by renouncing the madness of its stir and bustle.
–Tatian

To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story,
the light side and the dark side.
In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am
and what God’s grace means.
–Brennan Manning

True freedom consists in not being
attached to anything. It is in this detachment that
God seeks your soul in order to work His great marvels.
–Juan de Bonilla

After nearly eighteen years of serving our last congregation, Jeff felt like he was about to crack. He decided that we needed to get away for some time of quiet reflection and spiritual counsel. Thanks to the generosity of some dear friends we were able to go to a retreat center that is specifically designed to intervene with ministry couples in crisis, and they are legion! (We learned during that retreat that 1,500 Protestant pastors per month resign from ministry. The casualties of The Protestant Reformation fill history.) We couldn’t wait to get to the retreat. The journey into the Rocky Mountains couldn’t have been more appropriate. We felt much like the prophet Elijah fleeing to Mt. Horeb hoping to hear an answer for our deepening doubt. And we also needed to receive divine food to restore our failing spirits. Our prayer leading up to the retreat was for one thing–clarity. Our retreat was led by a godly couple that had served many years in an evangelical denomination. It was during that week-long retreat that included spiritual guidance and counseling, something gave way deep in Jeff’s person. There was a growing fissure in his spirit that he could no longer ignore. He became more willing to accept the lack of health in the evangelical Protestant position. Steps had to be taken. Neither of us knew what each of those steps was, but we knew in time God in his grace would make them apparent.

On a warm September day, we took a walk on a path that led into the woods that surrounded the retreat center. We were mostly silent, pondering the counseling session we had just finished with our counselors. As we walked it was as if God was whispering from the aspens that lined the path, “This is the way, walk in it, trust Me.” We climbed on top of a boulder to take in the beauty of God’s creation. We made decisions as we sat on that rock that day, decisions that would unfold in ways we could never imagine.

I made a quiet decision of my own one afternoon while meditating and praying at one of the several prayer stations that had been nestled here and there in the woods around the retreat center. The station was named “Grace” and a simple prayer rose up in me as I wept and grieved, “God of Grace, this does not belong to me it belongs to you.” Three things I began to pray for that day, two of which I share with you: I would abide with a quiet spirit alongside my husband and that Jeff’s eyes would be opened and his ears would hear what God desired to reveal to him. I remembered the words of Moses to the Israelites, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today…” Exodus 14:13. If I was to trust the grace of God, I was to be still and wait before Him.

The Land Between

Anyone looking at our lives from the outside during the events of the next few months after our decision to leave the Protestant ministry would describe our actions as drastic.  In fact, some did!  The spectators of our lives were befuddled and bemused. Seizing life in a rush and hurry to make something happen is considered a normal and commendable thing to do.  Excessive busyness, control, and self-advancement are the coinage of the culture and, unfortunately, it can be the same in the church’s culture, too. To do life any other way is a curious thing indeed. We felt like curiosities.  But we had a peace that passes all human understanding and an unshakable, yes even desperate belief that it was the hand of our loving Shepherd leading us down a path to only God knew where.  Our resignation from the church we served dramatically changed our life circumstances and our financial position. We sold our home and moved into a small apartment near the hospital where Jeff secured an entry-level job in patient access. Our income decreased by 2/3rds and our peace of mind increased a hundredfold! We often remarked to others and to ourselves that “our exterior world has shrunk significantly, but our interior world has expanded exponentially.”            

A line from a favorite song ran through our minds, “Meet me at the edge of the world…you and me love and no one near…walk me to the edge of the world..I’m waiting at the edge of the world.” For the most part, we walked to the edge of our world alone, and we really didn’t have anything left to lose. Our three children, all married with families of their own, lived in different parts of the country. As we took the deliberate steps away from what we had known for 34 years there was indeed some necessary isolation and waiting that we needed to embrace before we could turn toward the future.


Most people will not go forward until the pain of staying where they are is unbearable.

–Peter Scazzero


Don’t stumble on something behind you.

–Anonymous

An immediate sense of freedom from the disillusionment that had barnacled onto our lives was liberating. We were exhausted emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Our souls cried out for attention and rest. The joy that had withered began to restore to life, we were often told there was a visual difference in both of us.  We were now living where the margins of grace were wide and the goodness of God that we put our hope in filling our hearts and minds as we made room for quietness. The rest and peace of God returned.  Peace had been pushed to the margins of our lives for so long as we tried to keep our heads above the tide of discontent, doubt, and despair. Now the waters of our life calmed as our struggle to remain where we had been ended.           

But it was in the waiting, in the doldrums in God’s great ocean of grace, where God also had some work to do in both of our spirits and emotions. Some of the bewilderment over how life had unfolded was as easy to toss from our lives as weeds after a hard rain.  On the other hand, there were roots of misunderstanding about ourselves that ran deep.  Reconciling what life had come to was extremely difficult at times, we each had some spiritual climbing to do. We needed to unfetter ourselves from some internal enemies that we had dragged with us to the edge of our world. Now we were living the prelude of another transformation and the unknown that stretched before us challenged us to remain fearless. There were pitfalls and pratfalls along the way; however, the spiritual reading, prayer, fasting, and contemplation that had long been a part of the fabric of our lives became the rope that secured our lives in this new ascent of obedience.  Though we were making this journey together, the struggles of the climb affected us in different ways.

God comes like the sun in the morning- when it is time.
We must assume an attitude of waiting, accepting the fact that we are creatures and not Creator. We must do this because it is not our right to do anything else; the initiative is God’s, not ours. We are able to initiate nothing; we are only able to accept.  –Carlo Carretto


Because we do not rest we lose our way…Poisoned by the hypnotic belief that good things come only through unceasing determination and tireless effort, we can never truly rest. And for want of rest, our lives are in danger. –Wayne Muller


Lord Jesus, let me know myself and know Thee, And desire nothing save only Thee…Let me distrust myself and put my trust in Thee. Let me be willing to obey for the sake of Thee. Let me cling to nothing save only to Thee…Look upon me, that I may love Thee. –St. Augustine


I had some inner space to navigate in order to receive the grace of restoration that I needed in the place between what had been and what would be. My prayer from our retreat in the mountains, “God of Grace, this does not belong to me, it belongs to You,” became a mantra that enfolded and calmed me to the core as I stood by my man with a still and trusting heart.  That in itself was a lesson that was taking me a lifetime to learn.


Many writers have paralleled the journey of faith with climbing a mountain.  My own maturing as a Christian had sometimes meant that I ascended to Christ with some difficulty, my willful nature made for hard climbing lessons.  Most of those lessons were not overly wearisome because deep within me I longed to live as a person of integrity.  And when the ascent did become worrisome, the weather of adversity most often did not erode my faith, rather it increased my hope. I had been taught from an early age that we grow in holiness as we obey the Spirit’s leadership as we walk by faith;  to trust was to obey and to obey was to trust.  

I believe it was St. Thomas Aquinas who wrote that pride is disordered self-trust.  It seemed to me that in every upheaval that had accompanied my eventual obedience there was a redemptive moment when I realized that disordered self-trust had me in its grip.  If I was going to be transformed into the image of Christ through the circumstance, I had to loosen my grip on my pride.  I had long fought this rearguard of delusion in my soul that grew out of the seeds of the insecurities surrounding my own mother’s chronic disease that shadowed my life. I could have never restored my mother’s health through my own efforts yet somehow in my emotional formation I came to believe that it was up to me to shield people from suffering. That delusion led to a prideful determination that I would protect anyone I loved from suffering. The great tests of my faith had always been through circumstances around what I held most dear in my life–my family.  It was one thing to say, “Yes, I want to ascend the heights of grace, yes, I want to seek understanding by learning to trust.”  It was quite another thing to say, “Yes, I will choose to allow my husband or child or loved one to suffer through circumstances while God teaches me to trust and I learn obedience.”           

I read somewhere that suffering and death are the specters that brood and hover around the edges of fallen humanity.  Sometimes they stand just outside the boundaries of living in the present moment, other times they possess us.  The last 15 years or so of our pastoral ministry years had seemed possessed by personal and vocational suffering and death.  Looking back now I see how our loving Father was allowing the losses in life to draw our spirits into deeper consideration of the journey into The Catholic Church.  My daily journal entries expanded as I attempted to reconcile what was happening outside of me with what was happening inside of me.  What I had begun to notice about myself was as my husband’s vocational suffering increased I, true to the delusion at work in me, allowed my pride to run interference for him.  It was as if I believed I could shield him and protect him by carrying the burden of his own life up the incomprehensible ascent we seemed to be on.  When I finally came to the place where I could pray with my whole heart, “God of Grace, this does not belong to me, it belongs to you,” on the mountain that day, I didn’t just loosen my grip on fear and pride about our immediate circumstance.  I threw my hands wide open releasing years of disordered self-trust. The lightness of being that flowed over my spirit was liberating. My vision had finally cleared and what I saw about myself was not beautiful to behold.  I had imperceptibly turned into a safety director for Jeff and our service in ministry. I realized that I had been doing a lot of the busyness of churchiness removed from sincere motivation or desire! The subconscious motivator was to make Jeff appear more valuable in the eyes of decision-makers and denominational leaders in a denomination I no longer had confidence in and a movement I had serious doubts about.           

I had learned from reading St. Ignatius’ counsel on desolation and consolation that when the way becomes mired with confusion and frustration I need to seek discernment on where the feeling or circumstance was leading me.  The doubt and despair, when offered up to God, could become moments of conversion and intimacy with God. We both desired conversion to the likeness of Christ more than anything else.  Now as we were trying to find solid ground to stand on I was keenly aware that Jeff was grieving the loss of the identity he had in his vocation. My gut reaction was to make something happen to ease his own suffering, but  I had finally realized that I was helpless to protect Jeff, nor was it my job! The consoling would only come through living with the desolating. The God of Grace that I put my hope in would act in spite of my efforts and in the end, I knew it was up to Jeff to offer up his own despair. I needed to remain still and put my trust in God. I soon learned that Jeff, true to his nature, was quietly making peace with the circuitous journey of his years in pastoral ministry.  What appeared to me as his languid reckoning with our present circumstances in the land between nowhere and now here was in actuality another clarifying point of his own life’s conversion.


Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, a gentle Father and the God of all consolation, who comforts us in all our sorrows, so that we can offer others, in their sorrows, the consolation that we have received from God ourselves.  Indeed, as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so, through Christ, does our consolation overflow.  When we are made to suffer, it is for your consolation and salvation…And our hope for you is confident since we know that, sharing our sufferings, you will also share our consolations. –St. Paul to the Corinthians


In the midst of life’s gladness, the betrayal of others and our own infidelity at times force us by their pain to question whether there is anything or anyone worthy of trust or finally true in the world. –Catherine of Siena


The early days of living in the “land between” were filled with emotions that were bewildering. I (Jeff) often felt like I was treading water, caught in an unknown tide. Yet I knew in my gut that if I fought against whatever God was up to I would short shrift God’s purpose. A question dogged my thoughts, “Has my life come to this?” From my childhood, I had been an obedient and loyal person.  I had learned well that loyalty is a fine strength and I pursued my calling into pastoral ministry with the same sense of loyalty.  I did everything I was tasked with over the years in ministry thoroughly and obediently.           

Jeff found that in the later years of ministry, his loyalty was constantly challenged by a series of dilemmas that caused him to seriously question in varying degrees what had happened to himself, me, and to our family.  He had a gnawing realization that the more he had tried to retrofit his loyalty to please the people we served, the more misdirected he felt.  Something now had to give way and that something was inside of him. Someone has said that it can take years before we discover how to fit into our own souls. We both agree.  At least, for Jeff, it wasn’t until he allowed God to take the blinders off, through extreme circumstances, that he saw how ill in soul he was.             

It was not until we stepped away from the ministry that he began to ascertain that his character strength of loyalty had been driven to its extreme and had become the very thing that threatened his emotional and spiritual health.  The way he thought, the beliefs he once had, the people he admired, the things he had valued were all up for review. He had so convinced himself that what he was doing in his calling and service was enough for him yet he hungered for something more, he just had no idea where that hunger would be satisfied. There was some waiting, rethinking, and reassessing he knew had to be done.  And the time had come for him to face the hard questions of life.  The hardest one to answer was the one about himself, his loyalty, and his desire to please others.           

We came across a gravestone of a fallen veteran one day on a walk through a cemetery.  Its simple inscription echoed what Jeff had lived my life by, “Loyalty is my honor.”  In many ways, he felt he had turned into dust because of that loyalty.  Now, unlike the soldier, he had survived the skirmishes of battle and discovered that his loyalty had been misdirected.  That was hard enough to admit. But the startling revelation was that had it not been for the previous twelve years of battles, he would never have given up fighting. And God knew it! The question for him then was, “If what I have worked so hard to remain loyal to was God’s way of leading me toward further conversion, then what is He turning me toward?” And what is conversion? It is allowing ourselves to be transformed. What he had believed about his call and his gifts were true, but now they had to be reordered. He determined to please God, and God alone. In leaving the Protestant movement he had not retreated from God’s call, he had outgrown where he had served Him in that call. That realization led to other questions that led him into uncharted waters and the current in those waters would eventually lead him to peace and joy.  God had a chartered course that demanded his full attention. Now He had it!

Memorial of St. Anthony the Abbot


Today The Church honors the memory of St. Anthony of the Desert. He is known as the Father of all Monks because of his inspiring perseverance in holiness. It is said that when he heard the words from St. Matthew 6:34: “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today,” he gave away everything and went outside the village to live a life of praying, fasting, and manual labor. What sets St. Anthony apart was that he wasn’t just a hearer of the Word; he desired to become what Jesus proclaimed; he desired to be another Christ. He told many wanna-be monastics who came to visit him that the key to the ascetic life was perseverance, not to think proudly, and treat each day as if it were the beginning.

We have just crossed the threshold into the new beginning of a calendar year. At least for me, the Memorial of St. Anthony has been divinely planned because I have been examining some of the patterns of my own life that require Holy Spirit-given perseverance to become more humble like Christ. In a frenzied world that has lost its center, I can be whipped around by the tail, or get so caught up in trying to control the beat of my life that I lose my breath in effort and striving. Sometimes my life sounds to me like clanging gongs and crashing cymbals as St. Paul wrote. The asceticism of St. Anthony and other monastics entices me, beckoning my heart to retreat from the noise that surrounds me, even the noise within me! I can’t retreat to the edges of the world, but I can retreat into a solitude of the heart through the monastic understanding that all of life is sacred, and God is present to me as much as I will allow him to be.

The word ascetic has negative connotations in a society that turns to superficialities, comforts, and conveniences to solve the deep hunger of our lives. The thought of denying ourselves anything sends chills up the spine. Nevertheless, the self-discipline and intentional practices of self-denial that Christ proclaimed are true for every age. We can take our cues from the hard-won wisdom of the monastic life as it is modeled after Christ’s teaching.

The common theme in the monastic tradition of reverence toward the LORD is striking. Saint Athanasius wrote of St. Anthony, “Anthony was not known for his writings nor his worldly wisdom, nor any art, but simply for his reverence toward God.” Christine Valters Paintner wrote in one of her many books on Celtic monasticism, [To reverence God] “is to see all of creation as woven together in holiness and to live this truthIn this loving act, we begin to knit together that which has been torn; we gather all that has been scattered.” She writes that when we begin to see the Earth as our monastery no matter where we are, our reverence for the LORD can bring Christ’s healing presence to the world. Oh, I desire that for myself?

On the outside, the monastic tradition looks restrictive and rather tedious. But don’t you ever rail against the restrictions of the dull routine of our lives? I’m learning that the more I’m reverent to the LORD, the more I see life with all its dull bits as an offering to him. I’m becoming more aware that the ground I am standing on is holy ground ablaze with God’s presence. Instead of turning to a distraction like eating too much, drinking too much, playing too much, speaking too much, working too much–I can take an ascetic perspective by simply slowing down and recognizing that the very distractions I run to are leading me farther away from becoming another Christ in my corner of the world.

When I begin to understand this, all of life becomes sacramental as I reverence the LORD, in that I persevere in the knowledge that God is making all things new in each moment. Our Catholic Faith is a sacramental faith, not just in how we worship at Mass, but in how we live our ordinary lives deliberately reverent of the LORD. The monastic tradition of our Faith embraces this intentional way of life: we all can benefit from that example! As I knead the dough for our bread for the week or as I fold our laundry I enter into sacramental worship before the LORD God with the work of my hands. And I respond as Moses and probably many monastics before us by taking off my proverbial sandals for the ground beneath me is holy ground, prostrating myself in the very stuff of earth from which I was created.

My burgeoning desire is to follow Christ in the steps of the monastic tradition where Christ calls to us to live mindful of who we are with more intentionality at becoming another Christ. Just as Jesus lived, monastics unite themselves to the rhythm of God’s providence. Words like reflect, linger, savor–can become the music of our life when we choose to NOT to worry about tomorrow when we choose NOT to distract ourselves with soul-sucking pursuits when we choose NOT to acquire more of the stuff of this world.

How about you, friend? Do you find yourself more agitated by life as you try to keep pace with the world around us? Are there some deliberate steps you know you need to make to slow yourself down, to slow your family life down? As you embark on this calendar year you may want to ask yourself some of the questions I’ve been examining the hindrances in my life to how I reverence the LORD.

What am I distracting myself with that is hindering my holiness and robbing my joy? Jesus answers, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,  but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” –St. Matthew 6:19-21

Am I allowing this day’s trouble to overrule trusting in the LORD? Jesus answers, “…do not be anxious about your life, … Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? …Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin …  seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” –St. Matthew 6: 25-33

What peace of mind am I missing out on by delaying my decision to persevere in holiness and wholeness in this particular area of my life? Jesus answers, “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” St. John 14:26,27

Oh, Jesus, we long for your transforming grace in our lives. Holy Spirit, teach us how to reverence you, Blessed Trinity whom we adore!

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

As it was in the beginning, it is now, and ever shall be, world without end.

Amen

The Right Time

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.

Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.

St. Mark 1:14-20

Today’s gospel reading from St. Mark follows right after a messy situation that had gotten St. John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, arrested and eventually martyred at the hands of a tyrannical king. The gospel reading is also a turning point, a place marked in time and space (the right time) where a new king and a new kingdom, not of the world but of eternity, would rule.

On the heels of the arrest, the narrative immediately moves to Jesus proclaiming that the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. What time was fulfilled? I’m not very good at keeping track of time or details or calendars; I’m just not! I don’t believe that Christ was looking at a calendar or triggered by a timer when he made the statement to the disciples. The time he was referring to is called kairos, time measured according to God’s providence. According to chronological standards, the Roman Empire occupied the land of Israel and cruelly ruled over God’s people (Does this sound familiar to you?) Jesus was drawing his disciples’ attention away from chronological circumstances into kairos, into the kingdom of God. Jesus’ proclamation of God’s kingdom sounded nothing like their reality, but all who followed him began to see the possibilities of peace and contentment, forgiveness and healing, hope and mercy.

The gospel reading includes a detail that is a very Chronos thing to do, “…he saw James the son of Zebedee and John, his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets.” Mending nets calls to mind the “the stuff of our ordinary and often disappointing human experience” that Eugene Peterson eloquently writes about in many of his books.

God’s Word reveals how the stuff of our ordinary and often disappointing human experience is the very stuff that God uses to create and save and give hope…nothing is unusable by God. The LORD uses everything and everybody as material for his work, which is the remaking of the mess we have made of our lives.

Just as Peter and Andrew and James and John lived in an appointed time and place, doing the stuff of the ordinary day-to-day life, Jesus comes to us with the same proclamation, “the time is fulfilled.” Sooner or later, we all become dissatisfied with an ordinary that is not united with God’s extraordinary Kingdom. Fulton Sheen wrote that,

“..all the human satisfaction of the cravings of the body and soul have one defect; they do not satisfy forever…[we] restrict ourselves to [ways and means] that will never completely satisfy.”

Jesus desires to withdraw us from the corruptible to the necessary–“the one thing”–the abundant life where worth and success aren’t measured by clocks and calendars. In telling the fledging disciples to leave everything that is under their control for he would make them fishers of men evokes the Kingdom of God’s law to love him with all our heart, mind, body, and strength and to love others as we love ourselves. It’s the abandoning of our self-control and our notions of satisfaction that draws us into the counterintuitive practice of detachment from all things to follow Jesus, our Savior, into our kairos identity.

Jesus calls his disciples to repent and believe in the gospel. Changing our minds about how we live in Chronos-time requires the power of the Holy Spirit rearranging our mindset. Perhaps you struggle to see the draw of following Christ as satisfying. Perhaps you enjoy mending nets far too much to think about the good Jesus has in store for you. Perhaps you don’t see the need to repent of anything.

Or perhaps your eyes are fixed on what is happening around you in society, and it causes you to fear. Maybe the thoughts about the trajectory of our government mess with your understanding and faith in the LORD’s providence. Perhaps the lackluster mending of nets causes you to doubt the LORD’s presence to you. Perhaps you haven’t repented of your emotions, and you can’t see how Jesus can satisfy you.

Jesus comes to each of us in the time and space we are in, and he asks us to follow him. The way we follow him makes all the difference. Whether we are satisfied with life or dissatisfied with life, Jesus aims to lead us to the Kingdom of God where satisfaction, joy, and fulfillment are out of this world!

Oh, Jesus, you know us; you created us. You know how taken up we can be by what is happening around us, whether we enjoy it so much that we ignore you or whether we fear it so much that we doubt you. LORD, would you draw us into your Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven?

We ask this in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

As it was in the beginning, it is now, and ever shall be, world without end.

Amen

Light

I kindle to light (pun intended)–bright sunshine, the liminal light of a candle, twinkly lights on a Christmas tree, and I even like flashlights. My appreciation for flashlights increased during a recent visit to one of our children’s families. During the first night, I groped my way through a dark hallway to the bathroom, and I stepped onto some stray legos! Let’s just say the words that escaped my mouth are not a part of my day-to-day vocabulary. The next time I got up during the night I used my phone’s flashlight app to light my way. That memory came back to me this past week as I’ve contemplated the many scriptures in the daily readings that drew our attention to a theme of light. I, like the Israelites, can lose myself in groping around in a conjured darkness of my mind or emotion. Have you been there, too? You know what I’m getting at: a spiritual night falls, and you keep stepping on stray pieces of regret or careless words that linger from time already passed. St. John wrote:

“God is light, and in him, there is no darkness at all…walk in the light.”

I John 1

The Light that God sheds on us abides no darkness; he desires that we walk in his Light. Walking forward rather than stumbling around in our darkened understanding requires increased faith that God’s Light became flesh and lived in the darkness with us. Walking forward requires remembering that the LORD has walked the path before us, dazzling this dark world with hope, mercy, and grace. Jesus absorbed all the darkness of the world for us so that his Light would banish our darkness, lightening our way and enlightening our hearts and minds! Much more than that flashlight did for me in a darkened hallway.

Yesterday we celebrated The Feast of the Epiphany, which was the manifestation of The Light of the World, Jesus Christ, to the magi. Great timing! Niggling thoughts about the purpose of life tend to crowd into this time of year as we cross the threshold of a new year. Those thoughts may be caused by the anticipation of what might be ahead of us or what is behind us. This yearly exercise of self-examination needs a light that is not of this world; we need a new Light; so to speak. We need the Light of the World to grant us the peace of mind that he alone can give. A peace that is enduring and stable no matter what day of the calendar year it may be. St. John wrote to The Early Church:

“Beloved, I am writing you a new commandment to you, which holds true in him and among you, for the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining…remain in the light

I John 2

That small word, “remain,” is the kindling for the light God alone gives in every moment that passes. Do you have moments where the thoughts of the past and future threaten to extinguish trust in the true Light of Life? You may even be thinking those thoughts right now as you look at the calendar for 2022.

I came across a phrase a while back, “Don’t fetch fears.”  As I learn to “remain” with the LORD present in each moment, I recognize how pointless it is to fetch fears about the unknown. I can picture the times when one of our children would run into my arms out of fear of something; I didn’t pooh-pooh their fear because I knew how fear felt. No, I would soothe them with a back rub and quietly hold them while their heartbeat slowed and their body relaxed into my arms. The heavenly Father is in the present with us, but we, like children, can be held captive by our fears when we fetch all kinds of what-ifs, can’t we? I imagine that the LORD responds to me in the same way as I did to my children’s fears. Shhhhh. Remain here in my arms, dear daughter.

Here’s another phrase I came across that assists me in learning to remain present to the LORD. “Don’t stumble on things behind you.” I’ve wasted many moments consumed by the past; something I said or didn’t say, or something that I did or didn’t do, or something that happened or didn’t happen to me. Even great memories from the past can cause me to stumble. Years ago, we moved from one part of the country to another. We left behind my dream home, cherished friendships, and a great climate that didn’t include arctic winters. The transition was hard on me for a lot of reasons. I wasted many moments thinking about what was behind me instead of what could be in the present. I was stumbling around with self-pity, anger, and resentment about why the LORD had changed things so dramatically for us. Words from an oracle of Jeremiah’s tiptoed into my snagged emotions as I prayed one day, which changed my perspective entirely!

Thus says the Lord:
Stand at the crossroads, and look,
    and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way lies; and walk in it,
    and find rest for your souls.

Jeremiah 6:16

When I allowed myself to look at the ancient paths God walked with his people in the Old Testament, sunshine broke into my restless emotions because I realized that the good way, the good life, that God grants is not about where I live or how comfy my life is. The rest my soul desired settled in once I stopped stumbling on things behind me.

I’m wondering Friend if you share some of my struggles? As the dawn of the new year is breaking open before us, are you groping your way through emotional or spiritual darkness, stepping on the sharp edges of an untended life?

Jesus, true light, illumine our darkness.

Is fetching fears a pass-time for you? When we’re preoccupied with the “what ifs” of life, so consumed by those thoughts that we even worship them with our unconscious and conscious thoughts, we only need to invoke the Holy Name of Jesus into our thoughts, and he will pierce our self-imposed darkness. 

Jesus, God of peace, fill us with your peace.

Do you find yourself spending more time looking back or looking ahead as a way to distract you from where you are? The disordered attachment to what was or what might be cast a shadow over the present. That’s not where Jesus has fixed his gaze; why do we? 

Jesus, our way and our life, fix our gaze on You.

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

As it was in the beginning, it is now, and ever shall be, world without end.

Amen

The Beloved: Feast Day of St. John, the Evangelist

When I realized that today is the feast day of St. John the Evangelist, and that I am privileged to share my thoughts about St. John, I didn’t know where to start! The Holy Spirit has guided me in my journey into the fullness of our Faith using the incredible gift we have in St. John’s contemplative narration of Jesus’ life as well as his letters to the Early Church. St. John’s gospel is quite different than the other three; it is more like a conversation between friends. Yes, we observe Jesus’ compassion and passion as Jesus spoke his salvation into others, but St. John draws us to see Jesus right here, right now in our daily round. Salvation is a noun, yet as we live our life, it is a verb that unfolds through the extremes and the mundane of our life. I need that reminder so that I will allow myself to be saved from myself through living my ordinary life. Learning to live intimately inclined to Jesus as the Lover of my Soul has been a hard-fought battle. It wasn’t until I reclined in conversation with the Jesus of St. John’s gospel that I saw him beholding me!

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.”

Seeing or beholding is a prevalent theme St. John uses throughout his gospel narrative. He begins his gospel with the words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…What has come into being in him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darknessand the darkness did not overcome it…And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory.” St. John proceeds to narrate the fullness of this truth by pleading with us to “come and see”; to behold our Savior through contemplation.

Take a moment to place the palm of your hand close to your face. What do you see? What can’t you see? In essence, what St. John is asking us to do is to pull away OUR palm (our SELF) and see what lies before us. Do you have trouble with your vision? Is it hard for you to see the life our Savior desires for you? I’ve struggled most of my life to look for God with my palm in front of my face. Through tremendous healing, I learned to remove my palm from my vision. Beholding the LORD through John’s eyes was transforming. What I saw in that light was that I am the beloved daughter of the Most-High God. I kindle to that word, “beloved.”

Today’s mass readings include a passage from one of St. John’s letters to the Early Church that begins with the greeting, “Beloved,” and concludes with, “We are writing this so that our joy may be complete.” Isn’t that what we long to know? That we are beloved and that our joy can be complete. Seem’s impossible sometimes, does it not? How do you feel about yourself and your life right now, right this minute? Is there a permeating understanding that you are God’s beloved and that joy is complete because of it? Or are you still waiting for some next thing to make you feel Beloved and joyful?

Beloved:
What was from the beginning,
what we have heard,

what we have seen with our eyes,
what we looked upon
and touched with our hands
concerns the Word of life —
for the life was made visible;
we have seen it and testify to it
and proclaim to you the eternal life
that was with the Father and was made visible to us— 
what we have seen and heard
we proclaim now to you,
so that you too may have fellowship with us;
for our fellowship is with the Father
and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
We are writing this so that our joy may be complete.

I John 1:1-4

Eugene Peterson wrote that the two most difficult things to get straight in life are love and God. Do you agree with that? I’ve come to believe it to be true in my own life. I know how messy my understanding of God has been and how that affected how I received his love and gave love to others. Is it just me, or do you struggle to detach “love” from approval and performance from abuse or neglect? For much of my life, I saw God as Judge, period. It wasn’t until these later years of my life that I’ve allowed myself to consider God as Lover, it has and continues to save me!

A turning point for me was a moment I shared with our eldest grandchild when she was eight months old. I was taken up in the wonder of Margot, the dimples on her tiny hands that would one day emerge as knuckles, her blue eyes that were so much like our sons, every detail of her existence swept me up in a love that only a grandparent can know for a grandchild. I adored her as I had never adored anyone else! We sat alone one day on the floor as she watched a Baby Einstein video. Observing her delight in the show caused me to delight. She would turn to me and look at me and smile and giggle, then point back to the television as if to invite me to watch the show with her. Into those moments, I dropped that proverbial palm from my face, and the LORD spoke very clearly to me, “Lois, I know that you could gaze at Margot for a long, long time, you would move heaven and earth for Marguerite to remain safe and secure in your presence and your love for her. Lois, I adore you more than you can adore Margot. I enjoy you; you are a pleasure to love; you are MY beloved daughter! Will you adore me as I adore you?” Tears poured from a wound that had never healed, a wound caused by conditional love and harsh judgment, a wound that infected my understanding of God, my Father. What followed was a journey guided by St. John’s gospel and letters.

God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love. We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First, we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.

I John 4:17-19 (The Message)

I’ve learned that God desires to dwell with ME! Where once I felt I had to get things just right, say the right things, look the right way, perform in a certain way, I now see him sitting on the floor beside me. He doesn’t reject me; he adores me! There is nothing that would ever change his mind about me.

Friend, do you have a wound that festers in your life? A wound that blinds you to the truth of God’s love for you and infects how you love others. God adores you!

What are the messes you have made because of your fear that God will not come through for you or that you have to earn his love? God still adores you!

Does your fear, your pride, or your anger cripple you? Stand in line. Our first parents acted on their fear but God still loved them. God did, God does, and God will always adore you!

Lover of our Soul, teach us to see you; to behold you; to adore you!

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

As it was in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be, world without end.

Amen

“The-Saint-Who-Stocks-Me”

Remain in Me. It is the Word of God who gives this order, expresses this wish. Remain in Me, not for a few minutes, a few hours which must pass away, but remain… permanently, habitually, Remain in Me, pray in Me adore in Me, love in Me, suffer in Me, work and act in Me. Remain in Me so that you may be able to encounter anyone and anything; penetrating further still into these depths. This is truly the ‘solitude into which God wants to allure the soul that He may speak to it,” the prophet sang.‘”

–St. Elizabeth of the Trinity

I was visiting a friend recently, and I noticed a new picture on her wall of one of the Saints of the Church. I commented on it and asked if the saint was her patron saint. She replied, “No, it’s The Saint-Who-Stocks-Me!” She went on to explain how the writings and prayers of the saint had compelled her so many times in her walk with the LORD. I knew what she was getting at because I had had the same experience with St. Elizabeth of the Trinity. I had talked with my spiritual director about how the timeliness of St. Elizabeth’s prayers and letter at a point in my life was a surprise blessing for me. She said that St. Elizabeth had chosen me. My experience confirmed what she said. And now, since hearing my friend’s title for the saint on her wall, I refer to St. Elizabeth as The-Saint-Who-Stocks-Me. Her prayers have so melted into my prayers that, at times, I’m not sure who’s voicing my prayer, me or St. Elizabeth through the power of the Holy Spirit praying through me!

It’s been three years since St. Elizabeth began stocking me. You see I had reached a point in my life where after three surgeries to give me relief from a genetic disease failed to stay the deterioration of my physical abilities. I was in a dark place, unable to see any good coming out of the physical suffering. I was more focused on what I had lost than what I might find. And then came St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, offering me insight and wisdom from her physical suffering with Addison’s disease that eventually took her life at age 26 in 1906. Me, I suffer because of loss of ability and chronic pain, but it is unlikely I will end in a physical death because of it. I had so much to learn and so much joy and hope yet to discover! St. Elizabeth stocks me as a persistent companion along the path of holiness.

The first words recorded from her final days begin with the Latin word, Nescivi–“I no longer know anything.” That’s quite a declaration coming from a nun who consumed the Word of God as breath itself! I think, though, I know what she was getting at. We come to the place in life where we realize all that we thought was sure, dependable, and controllable illudes us. I echo her thoughts, for I no longer know anything that I thought I knew before permanent deterioration set in. Have you been in a place where your spirit screams Nescivi? We can say with St. Elizabeth in response to an altered reality, “I no longer know anything. I do not want to know anything except ‘to know Him, to share in His sufferings, to become like Him in his death.'”

The LORD’s ultimate goal for us is to conform us into the image of Jesus, our LORD with skin on. How he allows life to unfold to accomplish that perfection in us varies, but it will always include suffering in some form or another. According to the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament, God redeems suffering: “It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” St. Paul wrote to the Colossians, “I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” As uncomfortable it is to take in this truth, it does offer hope. My physical suffering isn’t unique when I consider this truth, and learning from St. Elizabeth’s short life is how the LORD opened my spirit to acceptance of life as it is and freedom from the futile doubting that delays spiritual transformation.

St. Elizabeth prayed, “O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me to forget myself entirely so as to be established in you as still and as peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity. May nothing be able to disturb my peace…” She desired that every moment of suffering from Addison’s disease carry her into the depths of God. She asked Him to pacify her soul and make it His heaven. When I read that, I regretted the time I had wasted being agitated by what God had allowed in my life. I began to recognize that He chose me as his beloved daughter, and nothing escaped his divine plan for me. I began praying with St. Elizabeth in her prayer, “Come into me as Adorer, as Healer, as Savior. O Eternal Word, Word of my God, I want to spend my life listening to you; I want to be completely docile, ready to learn everything from You. Then, through all nights, all voids, all weakness, I want to fixate on you always and to remain under your great light.” 

What about you, friend? Is your spirit bogged down in the miry clay of disappointment and regret? Do you wonder if God is a loving God intimately acquainted with your existence? The Saints of the ages have suffered and questioned God’s love, too. They stand as witnesses to us, sometimes weeping with us, sometimes instructing us, always cheering us on in the good fight of Faith in God. The Saints do stock us because they have eternity’s perspective to offer us if we will but seek the LORD in the Communion of Saints.

Dear loving Father, into your hands we commit our spirits.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be, world without end.

Amen.

“And who is my neighbor?”

The Mass readings for today draw our attention to two men who lived hundreds of years apart but had the same trouble with their vision. They could see alright; it just wasn’t past the end of their noses. They suffered from self-preoccupation that caused a spiritual myopia. Let’s examine the problem these two men had and examine what led to their problem and what we can learn from them about our own spiritual myopia.

Firstly, let us examine Jonah, who was a prophet of Israel in the 8th century B.C. His vocation was to keep the Israelites eyes and ears open to the word of the LORD. He did such a fine job with it that the LORD told him to go to Nineveh (modern-day Iraq). And what did the LORD want Jonah to proclaim to the pagan Ninevites? He was to teach that the LORD’s compassion is boundless, not limited just to us (Israelites) but also available to them (Ninevites). Jonah was offended by God’s assignment, so much so that he allowed pride to rule in his heart. He hopped a boat and traveled away from the LORD’s presence in the opposite direction to Tarshish (modern-day southern Spain). Jonah did not seem to mind Spaniard pagans as much as he did Ninevite pagans.

The Scriptures mention two times that Jonah went away from the presence of the LORD. That choice was Jonah’s first indication of his pride; in effect, Jonah was telling God that the Ninevites don’t deserve his compassion. Another indication of Jonah’s pride was his anger that the LORD showed compassion to the people of Ninevah despite Jonah’s half-hearted message to them. They repented, and together as a city, they chose to worship the LORD. Ninevah was spared! Jonah should have been celebrating God’s great mercy toward them; instead, his pride consumed him. He argued with God about it.  We don’t hear anything more of Jonah in the Sacred Scriptures. But perhaps Jonah’s spiritual myopia was cured once he examined his motivations behind his prejudice and anger.

Let’s turn our attention to a lawyer who lived in 1st Century A.D. His spiritual myopia wasn’t manifest in his anger toward God. No, he was a good and faithful Jew who lived by the Law of God. His disordered pride was indicated by a question he asked Jesus. St. Luke writes, “…but wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?‘” The need to justify one’s self quite often belies the doubt about one’s actions. Jesus, in his beautiful way, answers the lawyer with the timeless parable of The Good Samaritan.

The lawyer’s first indication of his disordered pride was his pressing question about what he could DO to inherit eternal life, as if he could control God’s acceptance of him. The narrative portrays the lawyer as a man of fervent attention to the black and white understanding of the Law of God. I can imagine he was a man that “crossed every t and dotted every i”; meticulous and precise in his adherence to the particulars, but sloppy in his attention to others. Jesus knew the lawyer’s lack of mercy, he would have disregarded the Samaritans (who didn’t follow the Law of God exactly like the Jews). Jesus’ description of the priest and Levite, who ignored the wounded man’s plight, staying as far away from that side of the road as possible must have stung the ears of the lawyer. His sense of the Law of God would have been blown out of the water by the Samaritan’s mercy and compassion to the wounded man.

The narrative ends with Jesus examination question for the lawyer: “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” I would like to believe that once the lawyer examined his own disordered pride, he would have been cured of his spiritual myopia.

Friend, do you find yourself in these men? I do. Take heart, for the Church remembers another man today who was cured of his spiritual myopia. He lived in the 13th century A.D., yet the culture of his day was suffering from the same epidemic of spiritual myopia as the men who preceded him. St. Francis of Assisi was immersed in the wealth and hubris of his society until the LORD got his attention in an encounter with a leper. St. Francis was instantly cured of his spiritual myopia when he repented of his disregard for the spirit of the Law of God. Before that vision, he loved himself and all the pleasure he was surrounded by; after that vision, he loved God with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength; and he died in his love and compassion for the marginalized and forgotten people of his day. St. Francis left us with a treasury of beautiful prayers that revealed his complete love for the LORD. One particular prayer comes to mind as we close.

Most High, Glorious God,
enlighten the darkness of our minds.
Give us a right faith, a firm hope and a perfect charity,
so that we may always and in all things act according to Your Holy Will.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be world without end.

Amen

Childlike

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

–St. Matthew 18

The Liturgy of the Word has been drawing our minds to consider the innocence of children. Several times in the Gospels, Jesus draws a child to him to illustrate the relationship between God and humanity: his fatherly love for us his beloved children. He desires for us to childlike, living in our home which is the kingdom of heaven; he never planned that we would leave home so he shows us how to return home by becoming childlike in our faith. Jesus said:

“Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”

Jesus was teaching that childlike trust is a requisite to a spirit of gratitude. Can you imagine a young child saying to her father, “I’m better off fending for myself–I don’t need you to provide food, shelter, or protection for me. I’ll figure things out for myself.” No, children trust their needs will be met by their parents–they don’t even give it a second thought. A child will come to the dinner table without a thought to how the food was grown or from where the food came. A child doesn’t examine her plate, wondering if she can trust that the food is good for her. She just eats! When we aren’t childlike, we make life so complicated because we mistrust our Heavenly Father; therefore, we take on motivations, doubts, and behaviors that lead us away from home with our Heavenly Father. Do you find yourself doing that, friend? Running helter-skelter after whatever we think we need. Our Heavenly Father stands at the threshold of our home with his arms laden with every provision we could ever need.

Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms….

I’ve folded my arms around my children and grandchildren many times, embracing them with all the love I had for them. If a threat were to come at them, you bet I held them close to me while I used my other arm to protect and defend them. The threat may have been as simple as a sibling wanting to tickle them, or the threat may have been a real and present danger. The posture of Jesus here as he takes the child in his arms is an icon of our Heavenly Father’s love for us–his everlasting arms enfolding us and drawing us into his protection. We read of the LORD’s right arm protecting his children in the Old Testament; protection from others as well as circumstances. What’s his other arm doing? He is holding us to him as our Protector and Defender! Our Heavenly Father is the perfect father; his arms do not grow weary. Consider Isaiah’s words:

“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

A child trusts in her parents’ attention to her; the idea that she has to earn their love or she’ll be thrown out of the house and forgotten by her parent never enters her mind. Her parents are biased toward her; she is flesh of their flesh, bone of their bone; they will move heaven and earth for her. Likewise, our Heavenly Father doesn’t love us for what is in us, what we do and don’t do. No, he loves us for what is in him because we are his flesh and bone, the image of himself. He did move heaven and earth for us! His love is extravagant, without limit.

Do you know that the word extravagant is another word for prodigal? With this in mind, let’s consider the parable of the Prodigal Father and Sons. The extravagant rebellion of the younger son didn’t decrease the extravagant love his father had for him. As St. Luke puts it,

…while he (the prodigal son) was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.” 

Consider the older brother who didn’t rebel against his father, but he was extravagant in his hard effort to impress his father. All the son’s effort couldn’t increase the extravagant love his father had for him. The father says to him,

Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” 

Friends, we are the beloved children of the Everlasting Father! He has called us by name, and as Isaiah puts it, our name is written on the palm of his hand. This image comes from an ancient tradition; people would have the name of their tribe tattooed on their hands. People lifted their arms in greeting so that they could reveal who they belonged to; they, in turn, could identify the other as friend or foe, which could mean life or death if you were alone on the backside of a desert. Isaiah used this tradition to remind the children of God that they were protected by God, no matter where they were. It is the same for us today–all we need to do is be childlike and remember to whom we belong.

Pray with me a portion of The Litany of the Childlike.

Jesus, grant me…
…Trust in Your Father’s providential care for me.
…Trust in Your desire and ability to heal me
…Trust that your Holy Spirit is constantly guiding me
…Simplicity of heart.
…Tranquility, confidence, and the peace that only You can give.
…A heart full of gratitude.
…The conviction that my worth comes from being the Father’s child and not from what I do.
…The conviction that I am known and I am loved.
…The conviction that You have a plan that is just for me.
…The conviction that you delight in me.
…The humility to see myself as You see me.
…The freedom to try and fail.
…The grace to run to you in times of temptation.
…The grace to immediately turn back to You when I sin.
…The grace to share with You everything that is on my heart.
…The grace to rest in Your loving arms.

Jesus, make me so childlike so that I can receive everything from you.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be.

Amen

Labor Day

“I will give each of you what your work deserves.”

–Revelation 2:23

We celebrate Labor Day here in the United States today. Did you know that the words liturgy and labor are akin to each other? Liturgy is multi-layered in its definition; the Greeks defined it as “the work of the people.” As Christians, we understand that the work we do is meant to be sanctified labor in our worship of the Creator in the daily round of our lives. Practicing Catholics understand another sense of liturgy; celebrating the Mass is our collected worship of the LORD through the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. We give God correct worship in assigning worth (worth-ship) to the celebration of the Mass. The Early Church Fathers understood and emphasized that the continuity of both senses of the word, liturgy, must be retained in our hearts and minds if we are to live the good life of our Faith. Somewhere along the way, humanity lost its sense of labor as worship of Almighty God. The Liturgy of the Church continually helps us recognize the Sacred Scripture’s emphasis of this in the last act of our worship in the celebration of the Mass, as a reminder to continue our worship of God in the labor we do.

The very last action in the celebration of the Mass is the blessing we receive from our priest. Do you remember how the liturgy unfolds in this final action? We bow our heads as we trace the sign of the cross over our mind, soul, and body while the priest asks God to pour out His blessing on us. This Sacred Tradition harkens back to the blessings that are found throughout the Scriptures. Usually, the blessing is given when someone is taking leave of another. In the liturgy of the Mass, we remember Christ’s blessing of his disciples.

“Then he [Jesus] led them out as far as Bethany and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.” –Luke 24:50-51

This is the intentional communication of this last action in our worship: The Lord has come into our lives, and in the same way that the Lord sent out His disciples, He is sending us out, too. The Mass ends with the Latin phrase that means “Go, you are sent.” We hear it as, “Go forth, the Mass has ended.” to which we respond, “Thanks be to God.”

Sent to do what? We are sent on the mission of all ages; we are sent in peace to bring peace into our corners of the world. We cooperate with the LORD to redeem our corner of the world through our labor. Our question today is, how will we take the good news of Christ into the quotidian labor of our lives? How can the labor of our lives bring worship to our LORD and Creator, and salvation to our corner of the world? The Daily readings this week have been drawing our minds to consider labor as worship; this is how St. Paul puts it in the letter to Colossians chapter 3:17:

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

If we worship the Lord through our labor, then we will look at everything we do, doing it in the name of Jesus. How is your offering looking these days? Consider the most mundane and boorish part of your labor; how would it change if our mind ascended to the LORD in worship every moment of that labor?

If we worship the Lord through our labor, then what do our words sound like to him and to others? Do our words assign Beauty, Goodness, and Truth to the Name of Jesus? Do our words reflect his beauty, goodness, and truth to those who labor beside us?

Here’s a thought, what about those who labor before us? Do we speak our gratitude to others for their labor, as we do to our Creator? Let’s get down and dirty with this one? In your workplace, who takes care of your lawn? Who serves you in the IT department? Who serves you by keeping the bathroom clean? Who supplies the kitchen? Who serves you in making your workplace an enjoyable place? Who serves you at the window or table when you dine out? We can give thanksgiving to them through our words of gratitude thereby, we give thanks to God.

If we worship the Lord through our labor, then what should our deeds look like to him and others? Do we join in on gossip and backbiting? Or do we elevate conversations by stopping gossip and backbiting in its track by finding the good in others? Staying silent can be an act of worship to our LORD, but acting on that silence by walking away from those conversations is an act of worship that may leave a greater impact on working out salvation in our corner of the world. Someone wisely advised me to use the “3-strikes and your out” approach to circumstances like this? If after you try three times to elevate the conversation by deflection with your words, walk away. The workplace could do with a little more exercise of the “3-strikes and your out” approach, don’t you think?

If we worship the Lord through our labor, then we take our cues from the actions of Jesus. Today’s gospel account reveals his labor in healing! That is, at the very heart, what salvation is; the salve of God’s grace and mercy pours over our lives, healing us, and that healing is also for all the people we encounter; it’s intended so. Do our words pour healing salve over another’s life? Do our deeds pour healing salve into another’s brokenness?

Jesus, we offer you worship through how we labor when we reveal your goodness in our work, help us to see our labor with the eyes of worship.

Jesus, we offer our words in our labor as offerings of your beauty to others, tame our tongues, help us as we offer our worship to you in the way we speak.

Jesus, we offer the deeds of our labor in sacrifice of worship, thanking you for the ability and privilege we have to use our bodies to glorify you, sanctify every deed we do. May our every action worship you our Creator God.

May the words of our mouth and the meditation of our heart be acceptable to you, our LORD, our Rock, and Redeemer.

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

Amen.

Hunger Seeking Bread

“One does not live on bread alone,
but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”

The timing of my weekly bread baking and the reading of the Gospel for today couldn’t be more apropos. While I’m writing these thoughts, the aroma of the loaf of sourdough bread baking in my oven has awakened my appetite; I wasn’t hungry before the bread started baking, but now….now I am anticipating the taste of butter on freshly baked bread. I’m counting the minutes until I can remove the bread from the oven, then I’ll count the minutes until the bread will cool enough for me to slice into it. My mouth waters at the thought of it! I’m consumed with a yearning for that bread in my oven, and no slice of store-bought bread is going to satisfy that need!

I wonder if the people who listened to Christ’s teachings on hunger and thirst for bread and water knew something of what I am feeling just now as my bread is baking? I wonder if they allowed their minds to go beyond their physical hunger and thirst into the appetite of the soul Jesus was awakening in them? They were familiar with the Old Testament’s scriptures that foreshadowed The Bread of Life that would be fulfilled in the New Covenant. They would have known the psalms and oracles from the Old Testament that we are reminded of in today’s readings. Let’s consider how from the beginning the LORD has whetted humanity’s appetite for the fulfillment of His promise in the body and blood of our Savior Jesus Christ.

The psalmist describes the faithfulness of the LORD in psalm 145 by saying, “The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.” The LORD prepared his people for the ultimate Bread from Heaven that would satisfy the hunger and thirst of their souls. The writer recalls what the ancient Israelites had learned about this heavenly food through the physical hunger they had in the dessert after escaping slavery in Egypt. The LORD poured forth manna from the heavens to satisfy their desires. He brought forth springs of fresh water from the rock to slake their thirst. In delivering them from slavery, He blessed them with the created bounty of bread and water to draw their minds beyond reality to the freedom that comes from the LORD alone.

The eyes of all look hopefully to you,
    and you give them their food in due season;
you open your hand
    and satisfy the desire of every living thing.

Psalm 145

Then through his holy prophet Isaiah, he beckoned His people to himself as their Source of Life. A life lived in covenant with Him. The covenant that made satisfaction between God and humanity for all of time. He drew them through their physical hunger to consider the everlasting covenant that would be fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah. This God/Man would be THE Bread of Life, and the grace would be that we would recognize that our soul’s deepest hunger is satiated in Him.


Why spend your money for what is not bread;
your wages for what fails to satisfy?
Heed me, and you shall eat well,
you shall delight in rich fare.
Come to me heedfully,
listen, that you may have life.
I will renew with you the everlasting covenant,
the benefits assured to David.

Isaiah 55:13

Something our priest said to my husband and me near the completion of our journey to The Roman Catholic Church has come to mind as I have meditated upon the Gospel readings during these days that surround the Bread of Life Discourse that we read yesterday at Sunday’s Mass. Father Fitzpatrick said to us, “You have been hunger seeking bread and now you have found The Bread who has sought your hunger for all these years.” You see we had never been fully-satisfied with the “store-bought bread,” so to speak, that we had hoped would satisfy our deepest longings. We were left weary and malnourished, our hunger drove us to the transcendent Mystery (“to shut the mouth”) of the Triune God present in the holy sacrifice of The Mass and the Truth, Beauty and Goodness of The Faith.

Has it been that way for you, friend? Have you been trying and trying to feast on the created goods of God’s creation and the distractions of this life but still find yourself hungry? I like how Bishop Barron describes how the satisfaction in things and experiences fades away. It is like a fireworks show, bursting before us as we ooh and ahh, but fading away, leaving the sky empty. Leaving us wanting more. We are created for perfect happiness with God and that is ultimately given through the receiving of Christ’s body and blood in The Eucharist. Why settle for eating the stale bread of this life? In the celebration of The Mass the heavens open with God’s bounty of grace through the memorial of Christ Jesus sacrifice for us–pouring into our hunger, filling us with the food that lasts forever.

We still eagerly anticipate the celebration of the Mass? Do you? Do you recognize it as the source and summit of your life? Do you believe it is the only feast that will heal your malnourished soul? Do you prioritize celebrating the Mass above all the things and distractions you enjoy?

Does your spiritual appetite make your mouth water when you hear the priest pray over us the words of Christ,

“Take, eat: this is my body…Drink [from my cup] this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Matthew 26:27, 28

We are hunger seeking Bread, Jesus Christ is the Bread seeking our hunger!

Oh, LORD Jesus Christ you are our salvation, the source and sustenance of our lives. In consuming you we receive the peace that passes all our understanding.

We are infused with your love, mercy and faithfulness and you feed us with the fruit of your Spirit.

May we hunger and thirst for you in the holy sacrifice of the Mass!

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

Amen.