Who is Observing your Normal?

My family has been confronted with the fallout of sudden death in the last several weeks, and I’m left pondering my own mortality and the legacy I leave my family. Will what my family observed in me encourage them onward in their faith in our LORD? St. Paul wrote to St. Timothy words that get right to the heart of what I’ve been thinking.

Beloved:
I remind you, to stir into flame
the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.
For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice
but rather of power and love and self-control.
So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord,
nor of me, a prisoner for his sake;
but bear your share of hardship for the gospel
with the strength that comes from God.

Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me,
in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit
that dwells within us.

II Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14

St. Timothy was a protégé of St. Paul’s, believed to be a teenager when he first came under the spiritual leadership of St. Paul. The two letters to him are full of encouragement and guidance. What St. Paul had learned himself about living The Faith, he passed on to a future spiritual leader. His hope for the young Timothy was that as he observed his norm, as he put it, Timothy would follow in his footsteps of spreading the good news of life in Jesus Christ.

The letters St. Paul wrote to St. Timothy may be read in just a few minutes, but, boy, oh boy, the spiritual nourishment contained in them can be feasted upon for a lifetime. The big takeaway for me, especially at my age and the role I’ve been honored with within my family, parish, and community, is that my “norm” better be worth observing!

The Holy Spirit has given each of us the privilege of stirring into flame the gift of God in others’ lives. I regularly need to sit with Timothy at the feet of St. Paul to receive the Holy Spirit’s power to do this well.

Firstly, I’m not to be a coward about how I demonstrate my faith and trust in the LORD before others. I have one husband, six children (I consider my daughter and sons-in-law my own after this many years), and 16 grandchildren, and quite frankly, I am most concerned about what they observe in me. I pray that they see in me the courage and humility to allow the Lord’s power to be in control of all my thoughts, words, and deeds. I do not want them to observe me elbowing my way into their lives, bossily taking over and trying to fix or change what God’s holy Spirit is already accomplishing in his good time and in his good way.

Secondly, I am to pray. St. Paul’s instruction about this privilege doesn’t show up until the second chapter, but in reality, it is the first thing he tells Timothy to do.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone…. so that [you] may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. 

I Timothy 2:1,2

Notice that St. Paul emphasizes how much prayer determines how we live our life. I desire to be a woman, wife, mother, grandmother, friend, and neighbor that leads a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. I want that to be my legacy! No matter what relationship we have in others’ lives, the LORD has tasked us with bearing witness of our love for and trust in him before others, and we do that best through prayer. I wonder if the quality of our life in God is determined by our quantity of prayer in all things?

There’s a difference between praying with confidence and praying with doubt. Could it be that when we worry about all matters that concern us (and the many that don’t), the less peace we enjoy? Could it be that worrying about the outcome of every little thing that concerns us in the life of our loved ones robs us of the witness of peace, godliness, and dignity?

What the LORD is faithfully showing me as I pray more and insert myself less is that it’s my responsibility to live a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. Do I still worry from time to time? You bet! But I don’t stay in the mindset very long before the Holy Spirit reminds me that I’m not him! You know what I’m talking about, wringing our hands thinking we are junior Holy Spirit and if we worry enough we can actually control things.

LORD, Teach us the norm of listening to you. Forgive us for striving with our own words and opinions before the observers of our lives. Teach us to pray so that we may see your will and purpose accomplished in the lives of our beloved.

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

Disordered Loves

Have you noticed the stark reality that our culture looks for love in all the wrong places? We are surrounded by people who are never satisfied and always grasping for love in the “next thing” that is paraded before them in the culture. Jesus tells a parable that reveals the tragic effect of disordered love, it’s referred to as The parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus.

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’  But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.  

The Gospel of St. Luke 16:19-25

The parable has nothing to do with wealth and everything to do with the tyranny of disordered love. The man was so consumed by what he could conjure up from this world’s goods to satisfy the hunger in his soul; this is never a good idea; is it? Created goods cannot satisfy the eternal longing of the soul for what is good, true, and beautiful. It’s also evident in this passage that the pursuit of disordered love in this life leads to eternal agony. There’s so much more we could consider in this parable but let’s leave it there, for now, and focus on what I believe the LORD desires to reveal to us in the parable. St. John wrote in his first letter to the Early Church,

Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world;  for all that is in the world—the lust (desire) of the flesh, the lust (desire) of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.

I John 2: 15-17

The parable Jesus told illustrates this warning from St. John’s letter. The reality is that once you are dead, there are no do-overs; the choices we make in this life determine our destiny. Our best course of action is to allow his Holy Spirit to reorder our lives here and now, not just to avoid eternal torment but to live the abundant life of God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. Living this way is like investing; the immediate dividends of joy, peace, and contentment pour into our lives here and now as we store up (invest) treasures in heaven.

Sister Miriam James Heidland, S.O.L.T., writes that salvation is the ongoing process of allowing the LORD to re-order our loves. St. Ignatius referred to this process as detachment. You and I can’t simply will our salvation in one fell swoop; we must live it day by day in detaching ourselves from this world’s order. And what we discover is the generosity of our LORD as we cooperate with his Spirit in re-ordering our loves providing a bounty of goodness for us to attach to that lasts through eternity.

St. Paul really honed in on the problem of disordered loves and the solution for it in his letter to St. Timothy. St. Paul reminds his young protégé that,

We brought nothing into the world so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

But as for you, [beloved], shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you were made.

LORD God, we are already wealthy because we are your beloved children. Will your Holy Spirit continue to pry our fingers away from our disordered attachments to this world so that our hands are open and ready to receive the abundant life in the “here and now” and the “then” that our Savior, Jesus Christ, died to provide 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

Carry your Lamp

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.”

–Jesus

Jesus said to the crowd:
“No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel
or sets it under a bed;
rather, he places it on a lampstand
so that those who enter may see the light.
For there is nothing hidden that will not become visible,
and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light.
Take care, then, how you hear.
To anyone who has, more will be given,
and from the one who has not,
even what he seems to have will be taken away.”

The Gospel according to St. Luke 8:16-18

Jesus uses the tangible incandescence of a candle to illustrate the spirit of salvation. The spirit of salvation as light is even referenced in secular culture because we, as humans, innately know that goodness and beauty of character can bring the light of hope into a world that has lost its hope. It is the Light of Jesus that humanity searches for, and he has given us the privilege to carry the true Light of Life.

I am drawn to light, aren’t you? Whether it’s a candle in the early morning or the dawn of a new day, light kindles our spirit with anticipation. When Jesus taught us about the power of light, he wasn’t referring to the lamp or the wick. Sometimes I can confuse what Jesus desires from me by thinking it’s up to me to kindle hope in others. I’m not the fire! Good thing! The privilege and responsibility of being the lamp and the wick is enough. I am in his hands to place wherever he desires to put me, for he knows where the flame from the fire of his salvation reflected in me needs to shine.

So, just how do we shine? Well, we don’t do anything. Light simply shines in response to the action of the one who lights the candle. St. John recorded Jesus’ words to us on how he enflames us with his light.

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.

–St. John 8:12

I still sing to myself a line from the old Sunday School song, “…brighten the corner where you are” to remind me to be the wick and lamp for the light of Jesus in my corner of the world. It’s not always easy for us to shine in dim corners full of fear, anger, and pride, but remember, it’s not our job. Jesus ignites, and we carry his light to wherever he sends us.

Maybe the light in your lamp is just a smoldering ember, as the prophet Isaiah puts it. You are at a loss on how to be in your corner. The prophet Isaiah perfectly describes how we are to BE when he wrote God’s instruction for us:

By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, in quiet and in trust your strength lies.

Isaiah 30:15

Isn’t that the light our world needs; when we shine this way, others will draw toward the Light of Jesus within us! Just like a candle flame in a darkened room, a calm spirit in the dark shadows of life shines brightly. Our strength is from the LORD, and it is he who shines through us into those dim corners. His mercy kindles the fire in our souls, and in his beautiful way, he can calm all the useless struggles of humanity and gather them into his peace if we will but carry our lamp into our corner of the world.

Light of the World, we welcome you to ignite the flame of your love and mercy in every relationship and circumstance of our lives. May we be the calming presence that reveals the light of your salvation.

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.

“Lord, only say the word…”

…A centurion there had a slave who was ill and about to die,
and he was valuable to him.
When he heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to him,
asking him to come and save the life of his slave.
They approached Jesus and strongly urged him to come, saying,
“He deserves to have you do this for him,
for he loves our nation and he built the synagogue for us.”
And Jesus went with them,
but when he was only a short distance from the house,
the centurion sent friends to tell him,
“Lord, do not trouble yourself,
for I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof.
Therefore, I did not consider myself worthy to come to you;
but say the word and let my servant be healed.
For I too am a person subject to authority,
with soldiers subject to me.
And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes;
and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes;
and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him
and, turning, said to the crowd following him,
“I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”
When the messengers returned to the house,
they found the slave in good health.

The Gospel according to St. Luke 7:1-10

This gospel passage is a powerful model of faith; it is so poignant that a rendition of the centurion’s request of Jesus is our prayer in the Communion Rite before the Liturgy of the Eucharist in the worship of the Mass. We pray together the Lord’s Prayer asking for God’s kingdom to come into us. We ask for the bread of life to satisfy what we lack in this life, and we ask for forgiveness and deliverance from evil. We declare that the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and forever. We kneel before the feast of our salvation, Christ’s body and blood, perceived as bread and wine.

Just after our priest has consecrated the bread and wine, he holds the host up before us and proclaims, Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb. We respond in praying, Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the world and my soul shall be saved just before receiving the real presence of Christ in his body and blood, soul and divinity in the form of bread and wine. Friends, does that moment in the Mass gets to you as it does to me every time? I am a prideful sinner who needs this saving nourishment in the form of bread and wine to transform me. In truth, we all entrapped by the sin in our fallen world.

What can we observe in this narrative that will increase our faith as we pray the Mass? We see that the centurion had power and authority over the people because of his position in the Roman occupation of Israel. We observe his concern for his servant and, more importantly, the esteem he had for Jesus. On the other hand, Jesus had power and authority beyond human understanding! We aren’t sure exactly what the centurion expected other than immediate relief from his problem. But, his faith in Jesus made all the difference in the world for the centurion and his servant. What was in the centurion’s mind and heart that opened the door for the centurion’s servant’s healing from his suffering? It was the humble acknowledgment that he was helpless.

The acknowledgment that he was not worthy opened before him the way of salvation for his servant, but also, I believe, for himself! No one can encounter Jesus and walk away the same as they were before. The disposition of our soul toward Jesus determines our faith and trust in the eternal truth that his passion and sacrifice are our salvation, healing, and hope. This is why we kneel in prayer in the worship of the Mass and as well, in the moment-by-moment surges of the heart toward the reality of the Cross! St. James wrote, Humble yourselves, in the sight of the LORD, and that he will lift you up. The crucifix is the symbol of the central truth of our Faith–Christ suffered death, hell, and the grave for the sake of humanity, and now he intercedes before the Father for us. That should humble us!

I need reminding that the power and might in Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection are the answer to my deepest longings. For this week, in particular, I have knelt before him, asking for relief for my children and grandchildren’s suffering as we walk together through the long valley in the shadow of death. My ability as a mother and grandmother to comfort is only through Christ’s saving grace at work in our suffering. And so, I humbly bow and say,

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof. Only say the word and my loved ones shall be comforted.

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.

He Must Increase, but I Must Decrease

Today The Church remembers the Passion of St. John the Baptist. He was the last prophet of Israel; he lived and died in the appointed place in history as the forerunner of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. It was his passion for God in the way he lived and in the way he died that we are remembering today. The Saint’s passion was for the fulfillment of God’s promise of the Messiah. That zeal prevailed above the threat of persecution and martyrdom! I believe that is why the daily liturgy includes the Canticle of Zechariah at the beginning of each day. What Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, said at his birth is what our heavenly Father says to us. “You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the LORD to prepare his way…to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

He must increase, but I must decrease.

St. John the Baptist

St. John the Baptist lived up to that proclamation; he lived up to what he said was his entire desire, Christ must increase, but I must decrease. On the surface, death looks like the absolute decrease of one’s existence, but he knew differently because his hope was in the fulfillment of God’s promises. Doesn’t that make you want to stand up straighter as a beloved child of God? It does me!

What can we learn from St. John the Baptist as we live out the desire for Christ to increase while we decrease? The mass reading from the Epistles today provides guidance for you and me on how to be courageous in our passion for Christ to increase in us. St. Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians:

When I came to you, brothers and sisters,
proclaiming the mystery of God,
I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom.
For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you
except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling,
and my message and my proclamation
were not with persuasive words of wisdom,
but with a demonstration of spirit and power,
so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom
but on the power of God.

I Corinthians 2: 1-5

As Christians, our hope comes from outside, not from what we can conjure up from the culture around us. Once we come to the place that St. Paul refers to when he wrote I resolve to know nothing except Jesus Christ, we cease striving for we have discovered the extraordinary truth that we are the beloved child of the Most High God, from him and through him all things flow, He is enough! Our striving decreases in us when we know nothing except Jesus Christ. He changes our very nature, and we become passionate, as it were, to live as forerunners for Christ in our corner of the world just like St. John the Baptist.

St. John the Baptist’s very life was a demonstration of spirit and power, as St. Paul put it. He would not allow the status quo of the religiosity of his day nor the ho-hum business-as-usual culture to stop him from shining Christ to his world. He hoped despite his circumstances because his faith didn’t rest not on human wisdom but in the power of God. I desire that, don’t you?

LORD Jesus Christ, grant us the courage and passion that St. John the Baptist exemplified in his living and dying.

Decrease in us the spirit of fear, pride, and anger that is borne of the darkness in our souls. We ask for the increase of all that is good, right, ans true in us, and grant us the courage to live in the power of your name.

Glory be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

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

Amen

A Deserted Place

When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist,
he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.
The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns.
When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick.
When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said,
“This is a deserted place, and it is already late;
dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages
and buy food for themselves.”
He said to them, “There is no need for them to go away;
give them some food yourselves.”
But they said to him,
“Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.”
Then he said, “Bring them here to me,”
and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass.
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven,
he said the blessing, broke the loaves,
and gave them to the disciples,
who in turn gave them to the crowds.
They all ate and were satisfied,
and they picked up the fragments left over–
twelve wicker baskets full.
Those who ate were about five thousand men,
not counting women and children.

The Gospel according to St. Matthew 14:13-22

We’re familiar with Jesus feeding vast crowds but have you ever wondered about what went on in the in-between of Jesus’s public ministry? Observing how the narrative unfolded is what has caught my attention this week. Let’s consider it together, for I believe we can learn much from the in-between of Jesus’ life here on earth. “When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” The disciples had just informed Jesus that his cousin John, the last prophet of Israel, had been executed for proclaiming the Kingdom of God is at hand…the long-awaited Messiah had come who was his cousin, Jesus. The God-ness of Jesus not only knew John had just suffered and died before the disciples informed him, but his holy Spirit was also with John in all the moments leading up to and after his death, and Jesus would have even welcomed him into God’s Kingdom! Mind-blowing! The God-ness of Jesus had inspired the prophets of Israel’s history with his holy Spirit-ness to predict that John would be the very one to proclaim the coming of God’s Kingdom on earth! Does your mind rattle a bit at that? The God-ness of Jesus is beyond our comprehension!

You and I can’t be God, but we can be godly humans, so, let’s consider the human-ness of Jesus as we read that sentence again, “When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” We often read about Jesus withdrawing from the people around him, and the purpose for it always appears to be the same—prayer and rest. There is something about this particular choice that Jesus regularly made that can benefit us. I know I write this often, but it bears repeating, Jesus came to us, as one of us, to show us the way to unity with God. When we choose to live and move and have our being according to Jesus’ way of living, we understand the necessity of solitude to recollect ourselves so that we respond to life in the attitude of prayer, rather than the reaction from our sinful leanings toward anger, fear, and pride.

Consider that Jesus just received nerve-wracking, soul-wrenching information; notice that he didn’t react in an angry rage over the injustice. He didn’t wring his hands in fear over what John’s death meant for his human-ness. Jesus didn’t declare that it was finally his turn to get all the attention. No, anger, fear, and pride did not have a place in Jesus’ heart and mind, for he is perfect…but we are not! I believe that following in Jesus’ footsteps by regularly seeking the LORD by withdrawing from whatever is consuming us, for a moment or for days, allows room in our soul for us to recollect who and what we are in the eyes of our Beloved Father.

Jesus withdrew by himself, yet he wasn’t alone. His God-ness filled that place, making a sanctuary of recollection and prayer. The sorrow Jesus felt was real, and it was tragic. I imagine his Human-ness needed to take in what had just happened and sit with it for a while, to meditate and collect himself. The wisdom in making that choice makes me consider what I would do. Any kind of news can tip us over at a moment’s notice—death, yes, but also the disruptions of life. Jesus shows us that When we consciously withdraw ourselves–physically, mentally, or emotionally–from what seems urgent, we allow the Holy Spirit to speak to us about what is most important. Do you know what I find to be true in those times? What I’m tempted to get worked up over always loses its momentum in my emotions if I simply withdraw to a deserted place to have a little talk with Jesus. It can be tough to suspend my reactions about what is happening around me when I ignore the LORD’s desire for me is prayer and meditation with him. Knee-jerk reactions are often rife with overweaning anger, fear, and pride. It sets us up for dissembling into a Me, Myself, and I-ness: the myopic and fractious self-talk. You know what I mean, going round and round in a cul-de-sac of self-promotion or self-pity or self-protection that always leads us back into ourselves, and we become septic in our delusion that somehow it’s all up to us to figure life out.

What’s the difference between praying to the trilogy of ourselves and the Holy Trinity? When Jesus withdrew to pray he was with his holy Self! We can assume his human-ness meditated on his God-ness. Was his prayer the action of reminding himself of who he was and why he had subjected himself to the emotions and feelings of human-ness? Was his prayer the action of reminding himself of what he was about for he knew his purpose? We don’t know! But Jesus returned from that deserted prayer and fed the hungry crowd because that’s what he was about.

Jesus, the biggest obstacle for us to withdraw from our SELF is sinful nature! You know us better than we know ourselves. But it’s difficult sometimes to entrust ourselves to you in prayer because we forget that you shared in our emotions but you did not react in sin, you responded out of your holiness. Oh, LORD, grant us wisdom to see our overweaning reactions are caused by sin at work in us.

Through your incarnation, you became one with us. Through your suffering and death for us, you showed that suffering and surrendering is the path to unity with you. Will you reach your hand out to us again, and pull us away from our sinful delusions? May we seek solitude in prayer with You so that you may reveal to us any anger, fear, or pride that keeps us from uniting with you through prayer.

Your Passion for us opened the gates to Eternal life before us. Remind us that the courts of heaven are surrounded by prayer. And it is only in the intimacy of prayer with you that we may enter into them here and now. Remind us that there are crowds in our corner of your world, waiting to observe in us an inkling of this abundant life. Would you show us today who is hungry for you, the Bread of Life?

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

New Every Morning!

Today’s morning prayer and the responsorial psalm in today’s Mass readings draw our minds into considering the constancy of Creation. The morning prayer from Psalm 65 proclaims the faithfulness of God:

You care for the earth and water it,
    you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
    you provide the people with grain,
    for so you have prepared it.
 You water its furrows abundantly,
    settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
    and blessing its growth.
 You crown the year with your bounty;
    your wagon tracks overflow with richness.
 The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
    the hills gird themselves with joy,
 the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
    the valleys deck themselves with grain,
    they shout and sing together for joy.

–Psalm 65: 10-14

Beautiful; isn’t it? The comeliness of creation is my muse, and stepping into it never fails to draw my attention to the Beauty, Goodness, and Truth of God’s abundant love for me. It just so happens that as I write this I am staying at a big old farm in the rolling breaks of the Missouri River; quintessential South Dakota! I’m surrounded by grazing sheep and cattle, and undulating fields ripe with wheat, corn, clover, and timothy. The harvest will yield more of a bounty this year because of the rain our region has received. It is this cadence of God’s creation that inspires in me a certain hope and gratitude. The words of the prophet Jeremiah have been on my lips as I awakened each day,

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore; I will hope in him.”

Creation to me is at once a playground, classroom, and sanctuary where God waits for me to join him. I’ve joined with Him this particular week as I romped barefoot around this acreage. I contemplated his Word to me as I chewed on a wheat stem; certainly, a farmer’s thing to do. We laughed as we observed twin fawns leap from the fencerow into the farmyard on their newborn legs in the cool of each evening. The LORD reminded me of the prophet Isaiah’s words:

[On that day…] the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
    and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
    and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
    the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

Isaiah 35: 5-7

Are you waiting for joy to happen while you try to make sense of a circumstance? Take a leap of faith to know you will soon leap like a deer in whatever might weigh you down at the moment. Thank you, LORD, for reminding me that when life seems all effort and no rest, you invite me onto your playground so that I may leap for joy in spite of it all.

Creation has been a classroom for me this week as I observed my husband work to clear the fencerows of volunteer juniper trees. How did those seeds get there? To put it carefully, birds carried them in their little bellies and deposited them upon the ground while they rested on the fences! He told me they were a nuisance to farmers when it came time to fix a fence since the juniper actually envelopes the fence as it grows. I also observed as I walked through the cornrows each morning, how quickly the corn grew from one day to the next because of the ideal growing conditions this year. The LORD reminded me of the parable of the weeds and the wheat in which he reminded his disciples that, the bad seed grows alongside the good seed in spite of our diligent attention to destroy them. Do you sometimes wonder how God is going to redeem a situation that seems like it’s going sideways? The psalm for today’s responsorial psalm came to my mind as I interceeded for my dear nephew, Andrew, who needs to allow the LORD to do a lot of week picking.

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’  He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.  Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.

The Gospel According to St. Matthew 13:24-30

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Although [you] go forth weeping,
carrying the seed to be sown,
[You] shall come back rejoicing,
carrying the sheaves. 

Psalm 126

Farming is hard work! Interceding for others is hard work! It can be discouraging some years and encouraging other years. The LORD taught me that even during times when the hard work of intercession causes me to weep, I must persevere in what appears to me, are less than ideal growing conditions! Ever been there, friend? Take heart, the LORD speaks into our lives, Teach me, LORD, that just as the order of your creation always wins the day, you conquer over the weeds of injustice and rampant evil. You will lift your scythe, and justice will prevail! I’ll persevere in tending to Andrew through interceding for him, and I’ll trust you for the harvest.

I walked to the top of a wooded knoll each morning, and in that little sanctuary of shade, I worshipped the LORD. As far as I could see to the north, west, east, and south, I saw the fields ripening for harvest; corn, wheat, timothy, and clover. The smell of freshly cut timothy wafted in the breeze, I asked the LORD to make of my life a sacrifice that smells as sweet as the timothy. I marveled at the verdant growth around me and felt as though creation indeed was singing with me the LORD’s praises! I bow my head and worshipped the LORD joining the psalmist in declaring,

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
    who alone does wondrous things.
Blessed be his glorious name forever;
    may his glory fill the whole earth.
Amen and Amen.

Psalm 72: 18,19

A Willing Sacrifice

Greetings, friend.

Over the past week, I picked up on the theme of sacrifice that wove through the daily Mass readings. It was like looking at the picturebook, Where in the World is Waldo? Sacrifice popped into focus in several of the Sacred Scriptures. The timing of this theme has caused me to stop and meditate many times; it seems the Holy Spirit is up to something with me as I anticipate stepping into a circumstance I would just as soon avoid if left to my own emotional leanings. Avoiding something or someone(s) that causes me discomfort is too often the default setting for me–the sacrifice seems too great! Do you ever do that?

The Mass reading from the Old Testament today is the culmination of a week-long consideration of what it means to live sacrificially. The LORD’s message to the prophet, Micah, tells us that he requires mercy not sacrifice. What would that look like in my life? I sense that my notion of sacrifice needs to realign with God’s way. Does worshipping the LORD at Mass and immersing my spirit in the Daily readings qualify as a sacrifice? They are acts of love, yet try as I might I couldn’t reconcile these, my preferred choices of demonstrating my love to our LORD, with what the prophet told his people was an acceptable sacrifice.

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;

    and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

    and to walk humbly with your God?

The Book of the Prophet Micah 6:8

Other questions came to my mind this past week when I read what the psalmist declared I will sacrifice to you with a willing heart… What qualifies as a willing heartIs my willingness to love on those who I prefer to be around sacrificial enough? How deep does my willingness to sacrifice my time and attention to others go? Do I have to actually make time for those whom I would just as soon avoid? Those questions made me a little uneasy as I examined the content of my thoughts about some relationships in my life. I felt the press of the Holy Spirit on my conscience.

Then, if that’s not enough, I read of the whole Martha/Mary thing! It was as though the Spirit of God pulled up a stool in front of me and looked me straight in the eyes! Has that ever happened to you? I could almost hear God laugh as I said to myself, I’ll just skim over this part. Never a good choice when reading God’s Word to us! St. Luke’s gospel places the encounter Jesus had with the dutiful young lawyer who questioned what he had to DO to inherit eternal life right before Jesus’ visit with Martha and Mary. Jesus tells the infamous parable of The Good Samaritan to show what it takes to enter into eternity. He ended by telling him the one who showed mercy to the outcast had what it takes to abide with God forever. Then Jesus visits Martha (who seemed to have the same problem as the young lawyer) and Mary. Martha, so busy sacrificing her time and energy to make everything just perfect for a dinner party, confronts Jesus, of all things, complaining about her sister’s lack of busyness. I imagine she looks over her sister sitting at Jesus’ feet, snuggled as close to him as she could be. Mary is simply sitting there loving Jesus and hanging on his every word; she does not seem bothered by Martha’s accusation. Her posture leans toward Jesus, her eyes fixed on him. Jesus listens to Martha, then looks at Mary, then looks straight into Martha’s eyes to tell her that the one thing he needed from her is simply, love. Yikes! Does he mean that all my activity and sense of duty are not enough to show my love for him? Lord, have mercy on me!

A letter St. Maximilian Kolbe wrote came to mind as I struggled to make sense of all my unease about sacrificial love. Kolbe, who was martyred in the place of a young Jewish cellmate at Auschwitz, wrote:

“Let us remember that love lives through sacrifice and is nourished by giving. Let’s remember that not everything which is good and beautiful pertains to genuine, essential love because even without those other things love can be present, indeed a perfected love. Without sacrifice, there is no love. Sacrifice the senses, taste, hearing, and above all, the mind and the will in holy obedience. I wish for you and for myself the best appreciation of sacrifice which is the unconditional willingness to sacrifice.

Pray with me, friend.

LORD, unconditional willingness to sacrifice my desires for you enables me to love the way you want me to love others. It is a struggle sometimes.

I am not always willing to be fair in my thoughts and actions toward those in my life who are not easy to love…I hear you say to me from your cross, Without sacrifice, there is no love.

You never withhold your love from me, but sometimes I am unwilling in how I love others because of my resentments and assumptions…I hear you say to me from your cross, Without sacrifice, there is no love.

It is easier to be close-minded about differences with others than to be willing to open my heart to them, yet your mind is wide open to everyone…I hear you say to me from your cross, Without sacrifice, there is no love.

My love for others can sometimes be conditional because I am unwilling to be vulnerable to the pain they might cause me…I hear you say to me from your cross, Without sacrifice, there is no love.

LORD, have mercy on me when I take two steps forward and three steps back in being willing to offer myself as a sacrifice of love to everyone around me!

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.

A Banner Day!

Happy Independence Day to readers in the United States! July 4, 1776, was the day we declared independence from the sovereignty of Great Britain. We celebrate, memorialize, display our nation’s flag, and we send fireworks into the sky to remind us of that pivotal day that Frances Scott Key poetically wrote about in The Star-Spangled Banner: O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

I’ve noticed during my morning walks that our flag is more visible as we near this day. In some sense, we believe hanging our flag identifies and unifies us, at least symbolically. I notice flags from other countries as well in my multicultural city. Often the national flag of a home country will hang just below the United States flag to identify the origin of the residents as well as honor their earned citizenship in the United States. I notice other flags that represent allegiance to causes, some noble, some not so much. Observing the increase of flags these days draws my mind to what the Sacred Scripture has to say about banners which is the ancient word for flag.

Today we celebrate this banner day in United States history because this day represents the hard-won victory over oppression and bondage. It’s probably no coincidence that the Holy Spirit has drawn my mind through the Liturgy of the Hours and the daily Mass readings this past week to consider the safety and security of my identity as God’s beloved daughter and the peace of abiding in God. Just as he led our forefathers in The Faith out of oppressive bondage in Egypt into The Promised Land, he leads us out from our own bondage to the ruler of sin and death. Diablo is one word used for Satan that gets at what oppression does to us–the accusations from the malignant enemy of our soul scatters us, dissembles us, and sends us into exile. We lose our identity because we forget who we are as God’s beloved!

It was Jesus Christ alone that waged war against the enemy of our soul once and for all, and uniting ourselves to him means every day is a banner day for us. As Catholics, we daily celebrate and memorialize the battle Jesus waged against death, hell, and the grave and his resurrection from the dead. In the worship of the Mass, we lift his victory banner in the way we worship him and in the way we live our lives. In effect, we, like Moses, build an altar of our life and name it The LORD is my banner. (Exodus 17:14,15)

We know the truth of the psalmist’s declaration: Surely, my boundaries have fallen in pleasant placesI will delight in God…I will dwell with God….my soul waits patiently for God alone, for my expectation is from Him….the praise of God is on my lips….my soul waits patiently for my God…

When we abide in God in this, our sacramental faith, the LORD leads us to where we remember who we are, and we declare with our heart, mind, and soul the beauty, goodness, and truth of our LORD. The psalmist wrote:

You have set up a banner for those who fear you

  to rally to it out of bowshot. Selah

Give victory with your right hand, and answer us

    so that those whom you love may be rescued.

Psalm 60:4,5

Why does the psalmist cue us to selah (pause) at this truth? As we rally the scattered pieces of our soul under the LORD’s banner of love, we live into the victory he has already won for us. Our identity as God’s beloved forms in us as we dwell with God. The LORD tells prophet Jeremiah to set up this banner and proclaim it, do not conceal it. (Jeremiah 50:2) We are the refugees of sin who have discovered peace under the sovereignty of the LORD God. As we carry this banner we declare the majesty and glory of the Lord and beckon the observers of our lives to unite with us to seek refuge in the spacious boundaries of the pleasant place that is our inheritance.

Friend, do you feel exiled from the goodness of the LORD’s presence? How come? What chains have been wrapped around you that bar you from believing that complete surrender to the LORD means complete freedom from oppression? The LORD’s arms are open to the refugee who seeks a home where beauty, goodness, and truth is the declaration of independence from the malignant enemy of souls. He reaches for you and me, beckoning all who are weary and heavy-laden to come to him.

I invite you to join with me in praying together with the psalmists:

Sovereign LORD, we shout for joy over your victory over death, hell, and the grave; we lift our banners in the name of our God.

We know that you’ve won the battle for us and gained the victory for us. As we celebrate and worship you in the worship of the Mass, we reach for you in your heavenly sanctuary and receive salvation by the victorious power of your hand.

Some trust in this world’s power, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. We are brought to our knees by the bondage to sin, and we fall, but because of your victory over sin, we rise and stand firm in the expanse of your bountiful land.

We declare with our heart, mind, and soul that The Lord is my Banner! You are the One under whom we are reunited with our created identity. You are our Savior; we have found refuge in you; we bear your name!

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

Follow the Leader

“Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”

Follow is a theme that extends across the entirety of Sacred Scripture, a template, as it were, for understanding who we are as the created, not the Creator. In the story of Creation, God gave Adam and Eve all the goodness of his Creation. But, he also instructed them not to eat from the tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil. What did the first man and woman do? They chose not to follow God’s desire for them. Humanity has had trouble following God for time immemorial; it is the human condition.

Fast forward through a long history of the fickleness of humanity caught in a predictable cycle of following God and not following God. God put on flesh and dwelt among us. What are Jesus’ first words to his fledgling disciples? Come, follow me. He was now their rabbi from whom they would learn how to walk on the path that Adam and Eve left–the path that leads toward the abundance of the good life God designed for us! He would show them the highway of holiness that leads to the kingdom of God.

Others would join Jesus on his journey: the benefactors of his miracles and his teaching. There were those in the crowds that followed Jesus who were waiting for the hope of Israel. They longed for a savior to free them from Roman oppression. Their interest was for a revolution, so they followed him with mixed motives. And there were the Pharisees in the crowd that actively opposed Jesus yet followed him out of curiosity. What were they all wanting to find by following Jesus? Where did they assume Jesus was going?

The preamble to the gospel reading for today includes the healing of a leper who was an outcast of Jewish society; the healing of a servant of a Roman centurion who was an outsider among the Jewish people; and the healing of a woman overlooked by society. On the evening of that particular day, a great crowd gathered around Jesus that brought the demon-possessed for exorcism, and loved ones carried their sick to Jesus for healing. These followers received from Jesus an inkling of the hope that he indeed was the long-promised Messiah. Now, let’s consider the gospel reading from St. Matthew that The Church holds up for us today.

When Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other shore. A scribe approached and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” Another of his disciples said to him, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But Jesus answered him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead.”

The Gospel According to St. Matthew 8:18-22

What was Jesus really saying to these men? We can assume the two men who spoke with Jesus knew his reputation aforementioned. One man, a scribe, another, a disciple of Jesus. The scribe was already following the Law of God, and the disciple was already following Jesus to some degree, but it appears they hadn’t fully embraced what Jesus meant when he said, follow me. Apparently, both needed to examine their motives for following Jesus. And Jesus’ response to them gets at two obstacles we face when following Jesus. Our comfort and our identity.

The scribe must have treasured the safety of knowing where he would lay his head to rest each night? Jesus responds that following him requires the abandonment of expectations and control over what we think is comfort and stability. Do you ever struggle against the drive to have control over how each day will go for you? Maybe you don’t fret about the pillow you will lay your head on at night, but the need for comfort drives other obsessions. Perhaps you have your life so scheduled that the possibility of surprise and interruptions would tip you right over. Jesus reveals the path of life to us in his good time and his good way. Surprise! God’s grace and mercy aren’t meted out according to our schedule! And this can mess with our notions on how to be a follower of his. To let go of the control of matters great and small is often the hardest thing to do in following Jesus. Jesus knows what we cannot understand until we abandon our expectations and follow him; he desires to lead us to the rest, peace, and security that surpasses our understanding of stability.

The natural desire of the disciple to bury his father was not wrong, but it seems Jesus knew that the man struggled with divided loyalty. Jesus’ hyperbole seems harsh to us, but consider this: the identity we have in our families can sometimes become a stumbling block to how we understand God’s love for us. Whether or not we have the blessing of a loving father or mother, we are the beloved child of our heavenly Father. We may be so mired in feelings of rejection from certain relationships within our families that we are conditioned to believe we are unlovable or unworthy. This can hinder us from receiving the unconditional love Jesus wants to reveal to us as we follow him. It is a love that is beautiful and life-giving, a love that honors us with a new identity! By following Jesus, we can receive freedom from the brokenness of our past. Jesus knows what we cannot understand until we follow him; just as he healed the diseases of the body, he desires to give us a new identity.

Jesus, we desire to follow you so closely that the light of your presence guides us on the path of the abundant life you desire for us.

Jesus, teach us how to take each step that leads us away from our fears and doubts about who we are.

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