The Advocate

Do you tire of all the hand wringing people are doing in their doubt that God will come through in our world’s current events? Are you weary of pundits who feed fear to us, profiting from our disordered attachment to what is happening around us? Anthony Lilies writes that we can always live as if this moment is the most desperate and the worse thing that has ever happened, and when we do, we are vulnerable to despair. Despair is anti-christ thinking, it is pervasive in the culture around us, and it can wreak havoc on our souls if we allow it. So what are we to do as Christians when we see what is happening in the culture? When we are left fretting over whether or not God will come through for us in what we perceive as the most tumultuous time of history. Enter Jesus’ words in today’s gospel reading:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father,
the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father,
he will testify to me.
And you also testify
because you have been with me from the beginning.

“I have told you this so that you may not fall away.
They will expel you from the synagogues;
in fact, the hour is coming when everyone who kills you
will think he is offering worship to God.
They will do this because they have not known either the Father or me.
I have told you this so that when their hour comes
you may remember that I told you.”

The Gospel According to St. John 15:26-16:4a

As I meditated on the gospel reading for today, I kind of felt like I was eavesdropping on an intimate conversation between friends, a kind of conversation in which you sense a certain onus in Jesus’ words to his closest friends. He knew the joy and tumult that lay ahead for them, but he also knew that they were the fulfillment of God’s Covenant in his Church. He had revealed the Father to them and lived out the Truth of God’s covenant with humanity. He had revealed to them the way out of their fear and doubt and into the divine communion of The Holy Trinity, but now his physical presence would leave them to fulfill his purpose to suffer for humanity. He would resurrect from his death on the cross and ascend to heaven to reunite with God. The fledgling disciples would not be left alone, for God would reveal himself even more! Simply put, Jesus, the Son of God, would change places with the Holy Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit would accomplish the providence of God even as the free will of humanity rails against it. And how he would do that is a mystery to us, but at least we know this; he fills one person at a time with his Holy Spirit’s hope and courage. Think about that for a moment. In light of the Scripture, what stirs in your spirit given the condition of our time in history?

The Catechism of The Catholic Church, in speaking of the revelation of God through the Holy Spirit refers to words written by St. Paul and St. Peter in their letters to the Early Church. “It pleased God, in His goodness and wisdom, to reveal himself and to make known the mystery of his will. His will was that men should have access to the Father, through Christ, the Word made flesh, in the Holy Spirit, and thus become shares in the divine nature.” CCC 51

God has not changed his mind about us. We have The Advocate of all time–God’s counsel is greater than the present threats of war, rising inflation, and crumbling morality; they don’t define what is going on. His love surpasses circumstances, and the testimony of that love in us reveals a higher path than the culture! Can we be confident of this? Can we live knowing that our present history wasn’t overlooked when he created us, became one with us, and filled us with his spirit? Can we live as the Early Church lived, confident that the Holy Spirit never ceases to advocate for us and that he always wins God’s case?

Jesus declared to his disciples what he declares to us, I have told you this so that you may not fall away.  Friend, we fall away from confidence in the sovereignty of our LORD when we wallow around in the mire of present circumstances. What he declared to his disciples, he declares to us right now! I have told you this so that when [your] hour comes you may remember that I told you. Friend, our hour has come to testify by our lives–attitudes, posture, words, thoughts–that the Holy Trinity is present and actively completing the work of the salvation of Creation. We have not been abandoned! We are here, now, moment by moment to allow the Holy Spirit to complete in us what was from the beginning: God is Love, and he romances all humanity back to his love. He will complete in us what he desires; he will complete in the events of this present time what he desires. All we need to do in response to his providence is to stop navel-gazing!

We often chant, Here I am Lord, I come to do your will as we celebrate the Mass, but can we chant those words in our moment by moment love for our Savior and LORD?

We pray I want to know Him, more than I know anything else, but can we pursue that knowledge when we are taken captive by the lesser things around us?

St. Elizabeth of the Trinity prayed that she would become the praise of God’s glory by bringing to completion what his Holy Spirit desires. Can we pray that for ourselves?

I read a priest’s prayer recently who was weighed down by the crushing responsibilities of shepherding his people during the traumatic years of the World Wars. He received a consolation from the LORD from the Spirit, “Child, I love you, I know all about your cares; I want you to bring them to me, but don’t bring your solutions.” OUCH!

Oh LORD, we get caught in the maze of earthy solutions and they lead us to more despair rather than to your faithful love for all humanity. Holy Trinity of God, we want to be confident that you know what’s going on, give us the courage to let go of our over-weaning fears and pride that keep us in that maze.

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

Nobodies

This past week The Church honored the memory of St. Damien de Veuster. It was said of Father Damien that there was nothing supernatural about him. He was a vigorous, forceful man with a big kindly heart in the prime of life and a jack of all trades. He was a man of determined tenacity to Christ his world, specifically the world of the leper colonies of Hawaii. Ambrose Huthison, who worked alongside him and became a close friend of Father Damien, said that “he loved to work with him in his crusade to put down evil. There was no hypocrisy in him.”

Fellow priests thought Father Damien was too uneducated; they believed he wasn’t up to the task. Yet St. Damien persisted in prayer and study and depended on the intercession of St. Francis Xavier to be chosen for the mission to the lepers. St. Francis Xavier was a priest who served The Church in Portugal, India, Japan, and China. He, as well as St. Damien, died in their service to the people they helped.

The Church honors the memory of Saints of Scripture and Salvation History during Eastertide who continued Christ’s mission of setting captives free. The people they served are the nobodies of history that remain nameless to us, yet they bear the name: Beloved.

***

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.  Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

The Gospel according to St. Luke 4:18-21

***

We read of the mission of the Early Church during Eastertide and we witness the disciples and followers Christing the world by setting captives free through the power of the Holy Spirit flowing through them.

The readings for today in The Divine Office and the Mass include two events from the Acts of the Apostles that embody the mission that Christ gave to the disciples. We recall Peter and John’s encounter with a nameless lame man in our Morning Prayer readings:

Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.  And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them.  But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

And then we read about Saints Paul and Barnabas’ encounter with a nameless lame man in our Mass readings:

[There was a] a crippled man, lame from birth,
who had never walked.
He listened to Paul speaking, who looked intently at him,
saw that he had the faith to be healed,
and called out in a loud voice, “Stand up straight on your feet.”
He jumped up and began to walk about.

The first saints-in-the-making saw the nameless nobodies and listened to their pleas for help, and they gave them Christ through the Holy Spirit flowing through their lives. Those nobodies, no doubt, had been crying out to other nobodies passing by for a long time, but someone different passed by them in these encounters. The disciples and apostles didn’t hear their pleas as noise; no, they stopped, looked intently at them, and listened. And it made all the difference for those nobodies! There have been multitudes of nobodies throughout Salvation History up to this very day who need someone to look intently at them, acknowledge their pain, and listen to them. And here we are Christing our corner of the world, living beside nobodies who wait for us to look intently at them. Isn’t the Holy Spirit just waiting for us to stop and listen?

The Saints in Salvation History chose to suffer as Christ suffered because of their deep love for God. They were ridiculed, ostracized, maligned, and persecuted, but they remained faithful to Christ’s mission to set captives free. Saints Peter, John, and Paul were martyred, and Father Damien became a leper himself. He chose to remain beside the lepers, and as he continued to fight against the prejudice and ignorance of his day, society gradually changed its mind about the “nobody lepers.”

Today we aren’t surrounded by the extremes of physical disease as our ancestors were, but I submit, that we suffer from the extremes of spiritual dis-ease–the blindness of pride, the lameness of fear, the deafness of pride–it emanates from the nobodies in our lives. Well, fellow saint-in-the-making, who is in your corner of the world just waiting for us to look intently at them and listen to the pain of their lives? How long have they been observing us as we come and go past them? How long have they been waiting for us to stand up for them in the face of prejudice and misunderstanding?

LORD, sometimes it’s not easy to listen to others’ complaints. We sometimes grow impatient with their fear, pride, and anger. Just as you bore our disease, may we love the nobodies that are difficult to love.

Holy Spirit of God, make us self-forgetful. Remove our self-preoccupation so that we may abide with the marginalized and forgotten in our corner of the world.

LORD, our Savior, and Healer open our eyes and ears to the reality of the nobodies in our life that need us to listen to them for you. Quiet our hearts so that we may join you in setting the captives free.

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 Kissing Gate

Today’s gospel includes one of the seven “I Am” declarations Jesus made to describe himself as the fulfillment of the promised Messiah, the Son of God. God revealed himself as “I Am” to Moses, and no first-century Jew would have missed the gravity of what Jesus was saying to them. God, in the flesh, came down to the ground of the commonplace to show us the way back to our Garden-identity as his beloved creation.

The particular images of Jesus as The Gate and The Good Shepherd are what I kindle to the most. My fondest memories of my past are of climbing Fig trees, walking through meadows, wading in streams, and climbing mountains, swimming through oceans. Those experiences in nature were, and continue to be, the portals to seeing God’s beauty and goodness. They draw me into the lofty expanse of God as my Creator and me as his created beloved. I can’t help but desire to love him and enjoy him forever when I meditate on Creation.

A long time ago, the LORD invited me to behold the beauty and goodness of the pastoral landscape of England. As I would trek through the hillside and meadows, I would often encounter kissing gates in the low stone walls that marked the boundaries of the terrain. The design of the kissing gate allows humans to pass in and out of pastures, but due to its unique design, they effectively prevent sheep from using the gate to enter another shepherd’s pasture. You’ll have to goggle the image to understand the swing action in the design of the gate. I’m just setting up the scene so that we can further appreciate what Jesus is declaring to us, his sheep.

It was on those treks that the beauty and goodness of the Creator led me to the consoling truth of Jesus Christ as my Shepherd as I recalled the many references to The Lord, as my Good Shepherd found in Sacred Scripture. I invite you to pray with me through the gospel according to St. John 10:1-10

[Jesus said to the disciples] Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit…

Beloved, I AM The Gate. You are safe with me here inside my sanctuary. I lead you by still water; I restore your soul. Why are you distracted by the thieves that would steal your peace? They are not welcome here; they do not enter here. Will you fix your gaze on me?

The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out...

Beloved, I AM your Shepherd. I call you; I’ve engraved your name on my hand; I know every hair on your head. I know every longing of your heart. I am beside you, leading you out from what you thought you were. You are malnourished from feeding in the wilderness. I saw you rootle around for everything you thought would tell you who you are. I AM your Good Shepherd, come to me, let me heal you and renew you, and transform you in this meadow replete with my goodness and mercy. I desire to lead you? Will you follow me and graze in this meadow?

When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers ...

Beloved, I AM not a stranger to you; why are you uncertain about what I say about you? Why do you still listen to the voices from the past who lied to you about who you are? Why do you listen to the voices of your present that want to steal your name and cause you to be afraid? Draw close to me and learn to know my voice; I will lead you where you should go.

Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly...

Beloved, I AM the Gate! I AM the Shepherd! It is me that you seek. It is me that your heart desires. Will you believe what I say about you?

How is it with you today, friend? Where do you fix your gaze? Is it causing you to fear and doubt?

Are you rooting around in a wasteland of regret and shame? Does the emptiness you feel cause you to hunger for the grace, mercy, and love that only Christ can feed you?

Do you feel far from home? In exiled because of your pride, fear, or anger? Is the exile leading you toward the death of your spirit?

Pray with me, friend.

You are my Shepherd LORD, I shall not want.
You make me lie down in green pastures;
You lead me beside still waters;
 You restore my soul.
You lead me on right paths
    for your name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff—
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    my whole life long.

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

Grace and Power

The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith...

 Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen.  But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. Then they secretly instigated some men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” They stirred up the people as well as the elders and the scribes; then they suddenly confronted him, seized him, and brought him before the council.  They set up false witnesses who said, “This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.” And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

Acts of the Apostles 6:7-15

It is Eastertide! The Church draws our attention to the early days of her actions recorded in the book of the Acts of the Apostles. I like the word Eastertide, for indeed, we witness the tide that changed the world: the Tide of Christ and his Church flowed to the shores of every place the Spirit of God sent the disciples. As the tide flowed, we read of men and women becoming the first saints of The Church. In today’s reading, we witness the courage and wisdom of St. Stephen before he becomes the first martyr of the Church.

Likely, we will not have to endure the extent of subterfuge against us or the persecution and martyrdom St. Stephen faced, but we each face daily circumstances that may be unjust, where gossip and slander against us test our courage as we swim against the tide of gossip and slander. The small sacrifices we make each day for the sake of love for our LORD are sometimes referred to as martyrdom of the self in that we learn to love our LORD more than our self-interest. What can we learn by observing St. Stephen’s character that will spur us on in our swim against the tide of the culture around us?

Stephen was a man of integrity. The Church recognized that he was full of faith and the Holy Spirit. When we choose to empty ourselves of every shred of self-interest, we make room for the presence of the Holy Spirit. I’m learning that if I am going to receive the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, I have to let go of my notions and ideas of how life should go for me and for those I love. I have to let go of the fear of what others may plot against me for my faith. St. Stephen may have expected life to turn out differently for him, but we observe that he was a man whose inclination toward Jesus motivated his responses and actions toward his persecutors.

LORD, my self-interests are often motivated by my obstinance and fear of rejection. And self-absorption sometimes drives me into overweening pride. I desire integrity so that my inner person prefers you and your will for me.

St. Stephen was wise, and the synagogue officials were envious of him and outraged by the Spirit with which he spoke. He was not attached to his reputation or proving his worth to others or defending himself against lies about him. He knew who he was as God’s child, and his eyes fixed on standing firm in that truth and responding to others from that truth.

LORD, free me from self-protection. Guard my tongue; I desire that all the words of my mouth echo the Truth, Beauty, and Godness of The Faith. I can waste a lot of words on a lot of stuff that doesn’t matter. I can use words as weapons for my insecurities. But I desire that you fill me with understanding so that what I say or don’t say is motivated by the wisdom of your Spirit within me. 

We learn from the next chapter of the Acts of the Apostles that St. Stephen, amid the stoning that would cause his death, “gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” The testament of those last moments of his life here on earth revealed the LORD’s faithfulness to him; St. Stephen had received the truth of Christ in his heart and mind; he stood up for the truth about Jesus, now Jesus was standing up for him, waiting to receive him into his presence.

LORD, I desire to fix my gaze on your glory. When I am frightened by the threats around me or the pain I endure, will you lift my chin to look you straight into your eyes? I desire to live in the confidence that you receive my spirit as I choose to remain confident in the truth that you are with me always, no matter what causes me fear.

St. Stephen was a forgiver. His last words echo Christ’s words from the cross, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” I’m tempted to cling to injustices and stew in resentments and regrets. I’m tempted to keep mental lists of grievances.

LORD, empty my memories of what others may have done to hurt me; may I only desire to forgive them and will their good. Would you give me emotional amnesia of offenses that can free me to center my heart and mind on you?

St. Stephen, pray for us.

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.

“Christing the World”

Jesus appeared to the Eleven and said to them:
“Go into the whole world
and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved;
whoever does not believe will be condemned.
These signs will accompany those who believe:
in my name they will drive out demons,
they will speak new languages.
They will pick up serpents with their hands,
and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.
They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

Then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them,
was taken up into heaven
and took his seat at the right hand of God.
But they went forth and preached everywhere,
while the Lord worked with them
and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.

-St. Mark 16:15-20

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about how the disciples moved forward with remarkable courage and strength after Christ’s ascension into heaven and the indwelling of his Holy Spirit. He believed and encouraged them to take the Faith to all the known corners of the world in their day with seemingly not a thought given to how they each had cut and run from him when he was arrested, tried, crucified, and died for them. Cowards, yes! But something happened in the after of Christ’s Passion, and that something was the Someone of the Blessed Trinity–the Holy Spirit of God.

Sometimes I forget how world-shaking the reality of Christ’s gospel was to the early followers of The Faith. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus, just before his ascension, tells his followers to go forward and share what they had witnessed about Jesus in all the nooks & crannies of the world. And they did it, which is amazing to consider for at least in their own nooks & crannies, they knew their enemy, but somewhere else? Not so much. They knew nothing about what was ahead of them other than what Jesus told them would happen–driving out demons, speaking a new language, healing the sick–and also there’s the bit about the certain persecution and martyrdom awaiting them because of their obedience to go forward. I believe that if I were in their sandals, I would have asked Jesus if I could just stay home and tell Bible stories to my grandchildren! Wouldn’t you be tempted to respond that way, too?

Near the end of the narrative, St. Mark includes this detail: “But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.” That reality made all the difference. The LORD worked with them and confirmed them in their faith; that is what made courageous followers of Christ out of cowards. As The Church’s Liturgy shines the light on the acts of those courageous followers in these days leading up to Pentecost Sunday, we notice that the Holy Spirit accomplished through them what he promised. He also accomplished in them what was promised. And that is what gives me the courage to do the same. St. Paul and St. Peter, and other disciples wrote letters that explicitly spell out for new followers of Christ who they were and what they were to be about and by extension, who we are and what we are to be about. I take heart from the letters to the early believers, for it is in the reading, meditation, and prayer with them that the Holy Spirit trains me in courage, hope, and perseverance in “Christing the world,” as spiritual writer Caryll Houselander put it. Those words hold weight for us when we consider that Ms. Houselander could identify with the uncertainties that the disciples stepped into; she herself faced significant childhood difficulties, two world wars, neurosis, and a disease that eventually took her life.

Lately, I’ve really been challenged in Christing my world; it’s a little scary to allow the Holy Spirit to mess with the system of control I’ve developed over my lifetime. I know the message of hope that the Gospel of Christ gives! I can recount the stories of healing and transformation like it’s my own family history. I can write about and teach others the Truth, Beauty, and Goodness of our Faith. Yet when it comes to living side by side with the good, bad, and the ugly around me, I’m often flummoxed because what I know I believe in my head to be true isn’t what I experience in my relationships.

I’ve been hearing the LORD say to me what he said to his cowardly disciples, “Beloved, I desire to work with you and confirm my identity in you.” Caryll Houselander wrote, “One must always have God before one in order to live in any atmosphere.” Do you have trouble living in every atmosphere that you encounter, you are not alone? Our human condition likes control and we can easily worship it more than worshiping God. The disciples had to let go of control or they wouldn’t be up to obeying Christ’s desires for them and the world. Yikes! Am I ignoring what Christ has called me to when I keep a tight grip on maintaining control in order not to be too uncomfortable, too challenged, too vulnerable? Again, Ms. Houselander wrote that “Christ is everywhere; in Him, every kind of life has a meaning and has an influence on every other kind of life.” So in reality, Christ has gone before us as he did for the early disciple. All we have to do is show up as other Christs simply to love others more than we love our sense of control!

LORD, I want to believe that you are working with me as I Christ my world, but sometimes I have serious doubts about how that can be possible in the world right here in front of me. Holy Spirit of God, fill me with your love and patience.

And LORD, I believe you want to confirm your identity within me, but I’ve got a long list of memories that have already convinced me you couldn’t possibly see past the doubts I have about myself or how I’ve failed to let loose of my control. Holy Spirit of God, fill me with courage and hope.

LORD, I desire that my life would have a healing influence on every other life I meet. Holy Spirit of God, fill me with your understanding.

I ask all this in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

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

Amen

Before the Cross, After the Resurrection

Last week, we beheld Christ’s Passion, entering into it with eyes wide open to see the lengths God takes to prove his unfathomable love for us. This first Monday after Easter, we enter into The Octave of Easter, where the Church will draw our minds through the epistle readings to behold the after of Christ’s resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit. To help us appreciate the gravity of the Holy Spirit’s power in our lives, we must never forget the before of Christ’s cross. An old saying goes, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!”

I want to consider with you two moments of that “before”; moments where Jesus beheld us in our low estate as one who betrayed his love and then as one who denied his love for him.

St. Matthew records Judas’ moment of betrayal in the account of The Last Supper when Jesus had just announced to his friends that his love for them would be betrayed by one of them. Just after dipping the bread, at the same time as Judas’ dipped his bread into the bowl of wine, Judas asks, “‘Surely not I, Rabbi?’ Jesus replied, ‘You have said so.'” (St. Matthew 26:25) Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote, “Being singled out by Jesus never means being isolated.” At that moment, Jesus singled out Judas by looking into his eyes, and he gave him an out, a way back from his pride-induced, misconceived treachery. Jesus’ still included him as a friend, but at that moment, Judas hardened his heart and isolated himself beyond redemption in his refusal of Christ’s loving embrace. He regretted it, but he did not repent, and then in his self-imposed isolation, he gave up hope. Judas represents all that we despise in ourselves-pride, fear, anger, dishonesty, and veniality-our despicable me! Yet Jesus peers into our eyes, desiring us and loving us.

St. Luke records the moments of St. Peter’s denial of knowing Jesus by writing, “At that moment, while he was still [denying Christ], the cock crowed. The LORD turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the LORD; how he had said to him, ‘Before the cock crow today, you will deny me three times.'” The same eyes that peered into Judas’ eyes over his cup of salvation peered into Peter’s from this suffering for our salvation. Just as Jesus offered forgiveness and restoration to Judas, he offered it to Peter. Yet Peter’s response after his denial reveals a different heart, a soft heart that “wept bitterly.”

The events recorded in today’s epistle reading from Acts 2 happen after Christ’s resurrection and the tender restoration encounter beside the Sea of Galilee between Jesus and Peter. Peter isn’t hiding anymore because he now loves Jesus more than himself. The descent of God’s Holy Spirit has filled Peter and disciples and followers of Christ with his amazing grace and courage. And now we behold Peter on the way to becoming the most successful failure of all time.

Why Peter and not Judas? It has something to do with Peter’s heart, but more importantly, it has everything to do with Peter’s faith. Though skittish at times about the Truth of Jesus and Jesus’ belief in him when he declared to him, “…You are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (St. Matthew 16:18), Peter never gave up hope.

We find ourselves, don’t we, sometimes in both men’s redemptive moment when Jesus beholds us, and we weep when we realize what we have done? Some stop weeping as we lose hope, and some weep bitterly as we hope. When we weep bitterly before our loving LORD over our sin, our “before” falls away, and our ever-after opens up before us. That is what we see in Peter, and because of the same Holy Spirit, our “before” can fall away to our ever-after.

What does Jesus see in our before? Are we like Peter or Judas? Peter’s before and after reveals a coward now courageous; short-sighted, now wise; inflated ego, now humble; impetuously angry, now understanding. Wishy-washy, now the rock on which Christ will build his Church.

Perhaps you can already see how your “before” of this lenten season is being transformed into the ever-after Jesus desires for you.

Perhaps you remember the weight and suffering of the guilt of betrayal and denial of God’s love for you, and now you live in an ever-after of faith in Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection on behalf of you.

Jesus, indeed, singles us out and looks into our eyes, and asks, “Child, do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me? Do not fear; I am with you ever after.”

Oh Father, lead us into our ever-after with you, deepen our love, hope, and faith.

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.

“Behold the Lamb of God”

Straight away in the Gospels, the role of St. John the Baptist as the last prophet of Israel is established. The Jews, who were awaiting the New Covenant and the New Exodus that the LORD had inspired Isaiah and other prophets to foretell, gathered around this prophet who described the soon-to-be-fulfillment of the entirety of the Old Covenant God made with his people. Some discerned St. John the Baptist knew what he was talking about; others fought him and his message tooth-and-nail to the death. When Jesus arrives at the Jordan River to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies, St. John the Baptist declares to everyone, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world… .” Fitting words for this Jesus who would now take his place as The Sacrificial Lamb of the Old Covenant.

Yesterday, we entered Holy Week, the most sacred week of our liturgical year. The Church has been guiding us through the Sacred Scripture to this week of The Passion of Christ. Now she calls to us as St. John the Baptist called, “Behold the Lamb of God.” All the liturgies of this sacred and somber week will invite us to consider the Suffering Servant of humanity. As we transport with our imagination into the events of Holy Week, we are more than spectators; we are beholders; we are to enter into the drama of our salvation. The word “behold” means more than to glance or notice; it means to observe and discern. Moses didn’t just glance at the burning bush in the desert; he beheld it. Our Blessed Mother didn’t just nod to Archangel Gabriel’s word on the incarnation of Christ within her; she declared, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the LORD!” One thousand sixty-five times, the inspired Word of God admonishes us to behold; for in observing, meditating, and discerning what the LORD is communicating to us through our senses, he aims for us to see beyond ourselves into Salvation History. The LORD calls us to open our eyes wide open to our salvation!

You have noticed, no doubt, that The Church consistently includes readings from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah in our daily liturgy. Good reason! The book of prophecies is known as the “Fifth Gospel.” Though written hundreds of years before the Incarnation of Christ, the prophet foretells the reality of the promised fulfillment of the Old Covenant. Where once God’s people offered sacrifices of lambs for the atonement of their sins, The Lamb of God, The Messiah, would someday offer his life as the final sacrifice for humanity.

The readings from Isaiah during Lent have been rich with these prophecies, so rich that I find I’ve often prayed with Isaiah as I anticipated this Holy Week. I invite you to join me in praying the words of Isaiah from chapters 42 and 53.

The LORD says to us:

Beloved, here is my servant, Jesus, whom I uphold,
            my chosen one with whom I am pleased,
Upon whom I have put my Spirit;
            he shall bring forth justice to the nations…
Until he establishes justice on the earth;
            the coastlands will wait for his teaching… Behold my salvation!

Beloved, I formed my servant, Jesus, and set him
            as a covenant of the people,
            a light for the nations,
To open the eyes of the blind,
            to bring out prisoners from confinement,
            and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness… Behold my salvation!

(Isaiah 42)

Jesus says to us:

Beloved, do you believe what you have heard?… Behold my life in your place!
           
I grew up like a sapling before you,
            like a shoot from the parched earth;
I had no stately bearing to make you look at me,
            nor appearance that would attract you to me… Behold my life in your place!

I was spurned and avoided by people,
            I suffered, I was accustomed to infirmity,
people even hid their faces,
            spurned me, and held me in no esteem… Behold my life in your place!

It was your infirmities that I bore,
            your sufferings that I endured,
while you thought of me as stricken,
            as one smitten by God and afflicted… Behold my life in your place!

I was pierced for your offenses,
            crushed for your sins;
I took upon me the chastisement that makes you whole,
            by my stripes, you were healed.
You had gone astray like a lamb,
           you followed your own way;
but the LORD laid upon me
            your guilt… Behold my life in your place!

Though I was harshly treated, I submitted
            and opened not my mouth;
like a lamb led to the slaughter
            or a sheep before the shearers,
            I was silent and opened not my mouth.
Oppressed and condemned, I was taken away, and you would have not thought any more of my destiny… Behold my life in your place!

When I was cut off from the land of the living,
            and smitten for your sin,
a grave was assigned for me among the wicked
            and a burial place with evildoers,
though I had done no wrong
            nor spoken any falsehood.
But the LORD was pleased
            to crush me in infirmity… Behold my life in your place!

I gave my life as an offering for your sin…
            and the will of the LORD for you was accomplished through me.
Because of my affliction,
            you shall see the light in fullness of days;
through my suffering, I justified many,
            and your guilt I bore… Behold my life in your place!

I endured my Passion so that you would live in victory from sin and death. I surrendered myself to death
            and was counted among the wicked;
I took away your sin
            and won pardon for your offenses… Behold Your life in my place!

(Isaiah 53)

A Waste of Time?

How’s the lenten journey going for you, fellow pilgrim? Do you ever wonder if you’re wasting your time on your lenten vows? It’s a question I asked myself recently; it’s a question I ask myself all the time, not just during Lent. I got to thinking about if Jesus ever wondered if he was wasting time being the Savior of the World? A quick survey of the gospel readings reveal that Jesus seemed to always be on his way to somewhere or leaving somewhere; entering and departing the circumstances of the human condition. A familiar phrase from the gospels goes something like this, “While they were on their way…” We know Jesus got tired; he wearied of people’s refusal to see things the way he saw them; got angry with hypocrites; and wept over people’s suffering. And we know Jesus often parted company with people to retreat into prayer. I wonder what he and our Heavenly Father conversed about during those prayer retreats; we can only imagine.

When questioned by the spectators of his life, he would reply that he was doing the will of the Heavenly Father. It follows that Jesus would never have doubted how he spent his time. It was the Father’s will to incarnate himself into our humanity; therefore, it was the Father’s will that he invested the entirety of his mind, body, and spirit in us! That just blows my mind! Every word that came out of Jesus’ mouth was motivated by the Father’s will! Perhaps when I stop questioning if I’m wasting my time, I will live all of my life as Jesus lived his life, and every word I speak or don’t speak will invest in God’s will. Rather than thinking interruptions and delays are a nuisance, I would see them as opportunities for investing in every little movement of my life. The here and there and to-and-fro of my life would become an investment of thanksgiving. Wouldn’t that be something?! To live and move and have my being in the will of my Beloved Father!

There are some questions I’ve started asking the LORD lately about doing his will as I’ve been meditating on the Sacred Scripture readings for our Lenten season.

When I fret or get angry over circumstances beyond my scope as your beloved daughter; am I wasting my time rather than investing trust in Your will? You answer, “Love righteousness…think of [my] goodness and seek me with integrity of heart.” (Wisdom 1:1)

When I insert myself beyond my rightful place as a child of God; am I wasting my time rather than investing obedience to Your will? You answer, “A jealous ear hearkens to everything, and discordant grumblings are not secret. Therefore guard against profitless grumbling, and from scoundrel mongering withhold your tongue.” (Wisdom 1:10-11)

What do I invite into my mind, body, and spirit when I waste energy on pursuits other than investing in Your wisdom? You answer, ‘Learn wisdom…for when you revere the holy precepts, you will find holiness…desire my Word; long for it, and you will be instructed.”

Who do I think is a waste of time? Do they need my emotional investment? You answer, “Beloved daughter, regard the life of the poor [in spirit]; do not keep needy eyes waiting. Do not grieve the hungry [in spirit]….do not turn your face from the helpless…in their pain, they cry out bitterly…listen to them for me.” (Ben Sira 4:1-4)

Am I wasting emotional energy on this relationship; it wears me down. They don’t care about what I have to say; why bother? You answer, “Beloved, ..let no one intimidate you…do not refrain from speaking at the proper time, and do not hide your wisdom…even to death, fight for what is right, and I will do battle for you…Do not let your hand be open to receive, but clenched when its time to give.” (Ben Sira 4: 23-31)

LORD, your very presence invests peace, love, acceptance, forgiveness, mercy, grace! You were always inviting us to join you on the way of abundant life here and in eternity. Every person, every circumstance, every suffering you encountered was an investment on our behalf! Jesus, you are still investing us with your Holy Spirit’s power to go and do likewise. Grant us new eyes to see, new ears to hear, and new hearts to love.

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

Recreation

“What lies behind us and what lies before us, are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson


When Jesus came into Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him,
since they had seen all he had done in Jerusalem at the feast;
for they themselves had gone to the feast.

Then he returned to Cana in Galilee,
where he had made the water wine.
Now there was a royal official whose son was ill in Capernaum.
When he heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea,
he went to him and asked him to come down
and heal his son, who was near death.
Jesus said to him,
“Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.”
The royal official said to him,
“Sir, come down before my child dies.”
Jesus said to him, “You may go; your son will live.”
The man believed what Jesus said to him and left.
While the man was on his way back,
his slaves met him and told him that his boy would live.
He asked them when he began to recover.
They told him,

“The fever left him yesterday, about one in the afternoon.”
The father realized that just at that time Jesus had said to him,
“Your son will live,”
and he and his whole household came to believe…

The Gospel according to St. John 4:43-54

Something my mom used to say came to my mind as I meditated on the gospel reading for today. “Hope springs eternal.” She would tag on the line from the psalms as well, “Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” My mom knew what she was talking about, for she suffered all her life from a chronic disease that eventually took her life, yet her hope for healing never waned. The people that surrounded our LORD’s life as he lived among us were no different; there was always a sense of anticipation as Jesus came near to their reality. The crowds had heard or witnessed that this Jesus was more than meets the eye, and so they hoped!

It took great humility for that royal official to expose his need to this Jew; he could have ridiculed Jesus and the citizens of Israel for their belief in one God rather than the many Roman gods of his country. He could have ignored what the people were saying about Jesus. We don’t know if he had witnessed any of Jesus’ miracles, but he could have dismissed them as trickery and entertainment. He doesn’t do any of that; he boldly went to Jesus and requested out of the brokenness that only a parent can have for a child. Even when Jesus seems to rebuke the crowd, him included, for demanding signs and wonders, the royal official stays on point. Can you sense his urgency when he asks Jesus to come before his child dies? The royal official represents us, doesn’t he? We’ve all been desperate for hope from time to time. We’ve longed to be free from the sorrow we endure for others or ourselves. In God’s kingdom reality, nothing separates us from being in that crowd that day, for his story is our story. Jesus’ words and actions then are his words and actions now, and ever shall be! Hope does spring eternal!

The Church reminds us of this beautiful truth through the other Scripture readings for today’s Mass. Hear the Word of the LORD to Isaiah 65:17-21

Thus says the LORD:
Lo, I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
The things of the past shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
Instead, there shall always be rejoicing and happiness
in what I create;
For I create you to be a joy
and a delight;
I will rejoice in you
and exult in my people.
No longer shall the sound of weeping be heard there,
or the sound of crying;
No longer shall there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not round out his full lifetime;
He dies a mere youth who reaches but a hundred years,
and he who fails of a hundred shall be thought accursed.
They shall live in the houses they build,
and eat the fruit of the vineyards they plant.

Years ago, the truth of Isaiah’s words; the LORD constantly recreating and restoring what seems dead to life came to me during the early Spring as I was cleaning up winter from our garden. I removed some decaying leaves from the soil and discovered “Hope Springs Eternal.” There beneath the refuse of the past season’s death were the tender green shoots of our Crimean Snowdrops lifting their delicate white caps upward toward the early Spring sun. They seemed to say, “Hello again, beautiful world, I’ve returned to glorify the Creator!”

LORD, there are seasons in our lives when we feel short on hope. Help us see beyond the present moment that threatens to steal our joy by eroding our hope in you, the God of Creation and Recreation. We look at the whole scheme of things happening to us or around us, and we wonder if you are still the LORD of the impossible. We bring our families to you and humbly ask you to recreate us into the fullness of life with you. We offer ourselves and our besetting sins that decay and destroy hope in you. We bring our world to you and urgently ask that you heal the unrest in war-torn countries before there is any more death.

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.

Enslaved

(I will be using the word, “Selah” as we meditate on the Scripture passage today. You can learn more about this word from my blog entitled In a Word: “Selah,” posted October 9, 2021. “…The psalmist ends each phrase with the word “Selah”, which means “forever” or “to lift up; exalt”, its presence in the psalm is a cue for us to pause or to take a breath allowing our minds to take in what the psalmist has proclaimed. It serves as a sacred and silent interlude for us to receive the LORD’s truth.”)

Naaman, the army commander of the king of Syria,
was highly esteemed and respected by his master,
for through him the LORD had brought victory to Syria.
But valiant as he was, the man was a leper.
Now the Syrians had captured in a raid on the land of Israel
a little girl, who became the servant of Naaman’s wife.
“If only my master would present himself to the prophet in Samaria,”
she said to her mistress, “he would cure him of his leprosy.”
Naaman went and told his lord
just what the slave girl from the land of Israel had said.
“Go,” said the king of Syria.
“I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.”
So Naaman set out, taking along ten silver talents,
six thousand gold pieces, and ten festal garments.
To the king of Israel,
he brought the letter, which read:
“With this letter, I am sending my servant Naaman to you,
that you may cure him of his leprosy.”

When he read the letter,
the king of Israel tore his garments and exclaimed:
“Am I a god with power over life and death,
that this man should send someone to me to be cured of leprosy?
Take note! You can see he is only looking for a quarrel with me!”
When Elisha, the man of God,
heard that the king of Israel had torn his garments,
he sent word to the king:
“Why have you torn your garments?
Let him come to me and find out
that there is a prophet in Israel.”


Naaman came with his horses and chariots
and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house.
The prophet sent him the message:
“Go and wash seven times in the Jordan,
and your flesh will heal, and you will be clean.”
But Naaman went away angry, saying,
“I thought that he would surely come out and stand there
to invoke the LORD his God,
and would move his hand over the spot,
and thus cure my leprosy.
Are not the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar,
better than all the waters of Israel?
Could I not wash in them and be cleansed?”
With this, he turned about in anger and left.


But his servants came up and reasoned with him.
“My father,” they said,
“if the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary,
would you not have done it?
All the more now, since he said to you,
‘Wash and be clean,’ should you do as he said.”
So Naaman went down and plunged into the Jordan seven times
at the word of the man of God.
His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.


He returned with his whole retinue to the man of God.
On his arrival, he stood before him and said,
“Now I know that there is no God in all the earth,
except in Israel.”

II Kings 5: 1-15

The Old Testaments’ stories of God’s intervention in human circumstances are intriguing to read as all of Sacred Scripture. Everything within it is necessary for our salvation, and we know that the story of Scripture is the story of us. Meditating on the Word of God allows room for his Holy Spirit to direct our lives, transforming our minds, in sum, saving us from ourselves.

Namaan’s attitude toward what the LORD required him to do for his physical healing from leprosy gets at the disposition of the heart that the LORD desires from us. Humility is the path of salvation from ourselves and the mess we can make of our relationships. And then there is a lesson for us through the actions of the nameless servant girl and other servants who were in the background of Namaan’s existence.

Namaan was enslaved by leprosy, yet he was a commander in the formidable Aramaen (modern-day Syria) army; he was not an Israelite; he was an enemy of Israel. Nevertheless, the LORD had brought him victory. “He was a mighty man of valor, but he had leprosy.” We are or have been in Namaan’s sandals, haven’t we? We walk the tightrope of what others know of us–how we are identified based on what we do and how we measure up. It is always honoring to our LORD when we conduct ourselves with integrity. But what comes after the comma of our public self is what is most important about us. There is where our loving LORD desires to bring to order in us his divine image. Namaan’s problem was leprosy was obvious, but it is clear the LORD was after another enslavement by his disordered pride.

He bristled at St. Elisha’s directive to go and wash in the Jordan river 7 times and responded out of his disordered pride:

But Naaman went away angry, saying,
“I thought that he would surely come out and stand there
to invoke the LORD his God,
and would move his hand over the spot,
and thus cure his leprosy.
Are not the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar,
better than all the waters of Israel?
Could I not wash in them and be cleansed?”
With this, he turned about in anger and left.

We know the story ends well for Namaan, but, left to his own devices, it wouldn’t have, had it not been for the voices of the nameless servants in the background of his life. The little servant girl to Namaan’s wife had the courage and faith in the God of her ancestors to speak up with a beautiful response to Namaan’s disease. Considering that she was a little girl taken captive and enslaved in a raid by Namaan’s Syrian army against her home and family, her response is striking. To Namaan, she was just one of the many spoils of war. In God’s eyes, she was an instrument of healing.

The other nameless slaves, who very well could have been captives themselves, intervened when Namaan wanted to stomp away from the ground where his healing lay:

But his servants came up and reasoned with him.
“My father,” they said,
“if the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary,
would you not have done it?

The motivation of the slaves’ courage to intervene is observed in how they addressed their master, “My father…”. They honored their master.

Friends, do you find yourself in the narrative? I do! As I’ve spent time in meditation on this Scripture, the LORD has reminded me of a few things.

As in Namaan’s life, the enslavement to a physical illness or disability can be healing for our spirit’s deeper disease of Pride, Fear, and Anger. Suffering is the gift from our Suffering Servant and Savior to draw us back to who he created us to be–a beloved child created in his image.

Like the enslaved little servant girl, circumstances that we are in through no fault of our own could make us bitter if we don’t recognize God’s providence is always at work to save us from the unjust suffering of our lives.

Like the enslaved servants of the honorable Namaan, the LORD places us in the lives of others to love and honor them, even make intercession for them. We give of our love through mercy and grace, courage and perseverance to serve the LORD by serving others despite what may be discouraging circumstances in our lives.

Our LORD and Savior, we say with Namaan, we know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel. LORD, we desire to worship you with our entire being, but that includes some humiliation and unwanted circumstances from time to time. Would you help us to humble ourselves as Namaan did? Would you help us to forgive others and desire the best for them as the little servant girl did? Please help us to consider our service to others as an offering to you who died serving us! As you destroyed death, hell, and the grave to resurrect us to live with you, may we continue your work of salvation in and through our circumstances and the suffering of our lives.

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