WAITING

I have learned to appreciate the posture of waiting over the last decade or so of my life. There are all kinds of waiting, but there is the silent waiting and yearning to see God come through for you. Sometimes our pain or desire is so private that we can’t bring ourselves to voice to the LORD what is so horrible or magnificent to contemplate. That is where I found myself about ten years ago during the Advent season-a tragedy in our family that turned our world upside down. We were robbed of hope and trust, and in exchange, grief so heavy to bear set into our lives for years. St. Paul reminds us that the Spirit of God knows the groanings of our hearts, good thing, for during that time in my life there were no words to form into prayer. Yet the LORD knew and he miraculously brought about healing and restoration, not instantly, but in his good time. Friend, do you ever let out a deep groan of pain over loss in your life? Or do you treasure some dream that you don’t dare put to words for fear of rejection or failure? I believe we’ve all been there from time to time.

I came across this quote a while back, “We can wait empty, or we can wait full. It all depends on what we do with the time. Those who wait empty get irritated or dissipated. Those who wait full get richer as time goes by. Those who wait empty; wait aimlessly. Those who wait full do something that changes them by the time they get what they are waiting for.” I like that! It is a constant reminder to me to take a deep breath, step back, and allow the LORD to reveal himself when he desires so. And he always does, not dramatically, but over time his recompense comes, steadily and surely out of ashes beauty emerges.

Have you noticed how much the Church turns our attention to Isaiah’s oracles during this season of Advent? The Holy Spirit inspired Isaiah to deliver the oracles about the coming of the long-expected Messiah with a familiar preamble of “On that day.” Isaiah’s words offered hope for the coming day that the LORD had ordained from the beginning. Isn’t that what we all need when we wait for God’s intervention in our circumstances? Isaiah wrote:

“It will be said on that day,
    Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him so that he might save us.
    This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
    let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

Isaiah 25:9

About 400 years of suffering in the darkness of the times ensued after the Old Testament period. The waiting was rife with the unremitting hopelessness of the human condition. For the Jews, they endured without a word from a prophet. Some waited empty–embittered by persecution and subjection but, there were a few, a remnant, that refused to lose the gift of expectancy, even when all signs pointed the other direction. They waited full of hope, HOPE in God, to reveal himself as the promised Messiah.

Then, one night in a forgotten town in a forsaken country, the Messiah made his humble entrance into the world in the most ordinary way–a birth. Six pounds of pure flesh filled the emptiness of the world! The scriptures say, “In the fullness of time…,” The Sovereign LORD knew what had to be fulfilled before he incarnated himself into our darkness. I also think he came because of those waiting full; the moment was according to plan, the right humans were in place. They saw hope revealed because they never lost sight of the truth that God is good! How they waited made all the difference for them and the rest of history.

I wonder, friend if during this particular Advent you are facing circumstances where the malignant enemy of despair has you in its clutches. You aren’t alone, many stand as witnesses before you to show that waiting was eventually satisfied and hope eventually fulfilled. Hope sometimes comes immediately, other times it unfolds as the years go by. What seems dreadful to us can come to life through the power of that 6 pounds of flesh incarnating himself into our humanity.

In these days of Advent, a season of waiting and penance, as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s first coming, let’s remember that He waits to be invited into our flesh and into our weakness in, the second coming of sorts. Come, LORD Jesus, we wait for you!

Perhaps the garish display of unforgiveness in our lives hides the wisdom of our Wonderful Counselor as he waits for us to invite him into our relationships. Come, LORD Jesus, we wait for you!

Our Mighty King may be waiting for us to stand down from our pride and fear and fall to our knees in complete surrender to his sovereign will in our lives. You may have a desire that is voiced only to the LORD, he hears your heart. Come, LORD Jesus, we wait for you!

Could it be that the Prince of Peace sits with us ready with his oil of peace to anoint every nook and cranny of our spirits with the peace that surpasses all understanding? Come, LORD Jesus, we wait for you!

Our Mighty God is mighty to save us from ourselves, which can be our worst enemy. He waits for us to stop striving to be junior Holy Spirits for the circumstances and relationships of our life. Come, LORD Jesus, we wait for you!

Everlasting Father, your psalmists so often proclaim that in silence and rest we enter into your presence. You know just how hard it is for us to wait, worse yet, to trust you will come through for us. Why do we doubt what has already been given to us in your incarnation into our flesh? You suffer with us, you celebrate with us, you redeem us. Come, LORD Jesus, we wait for you!

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

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

Amen.

“The-Saint-Who-Stocks-Me”

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

–St. Elizabeth of the Trinity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Friends in High Places

The saints have always known that the power of good is something incalculable.

–Sigrid Undset

This month of November is, for Catholics, a month of remembering those individuals who have gone before us into eternity. We concentrate our intercession for their souls as they await judgment. But every day of the year offers moments to join our prayers with the Saints who have gone before us, who are before the Throne of God in worship, praise, and intercession for us. They are our mentors and guides as we make our way to Eternity; they surround us, interceding for us, the Church here on earth! (Book of Revelation 5-22).

There are saints among us, as well; saints-in-the-making. The ordinary people in our lives whom the Holy Spirit has placed there to spur us on and intercede for us. No doubt you can think of the names of the people who the LORD has sent at the right time in the right place to walk with you in our journey in sainthood. St. Paul lists a cadre of people in his letters who were nobodies by the world’s standard but were a part of the community of saints-in-the-making who assisted him.

I have benefited from the influence of a handful of individuals over these last few decades of desiring to know God more deeply. Let me tell you about one saint-in-the-making that came along beside me to introduce me to another completed Saint. I was a water fitness instructor for years, and in those years, I came to know Sister Margretta Doyle, who regularly came to swim during my early morning shift at a local health facility. Sister Margretta’s winsome spirit was contagious, and it wasn’t long before I positioned myself in the pool next to her so that I could learn from her life. The attractiveness of her life and her obvious love and devotion to Christ and His Church was a gift to me at a tumultuous time in my life. I desired stability, order, and purpose. The circumstance of my life had shown me that there are some things in life that simply cannot be easily manipulated. I was in a situation that wasn’t getting better, and the unpleasant realization of this wouldn’t go away. Have you ever felt that way, kind of painted into a corner that you did not choose? The common mentality that surrounded me focused on external solutions for that deep ache of my soul. You’ve been there, I am sure. When you realize that prized comforts no longer bring enough comfort. When you hear the emptiness of constant conversations and cultural noise does nothing but wear you out. When superficialities that once gave you a sense of false contentment now suck the life out of you. That’s where I was at, I was seeking depth and integrity. The Holy Spirit knew this, of course, and that’s why Sister Margretta was appointed to me, a guardian saint-in-the-making for the journey that was ahead.

One day, Sister Margretta wisely asked me if I had ever heard of St. Benedict. I had in the historical sense, but my knowledge of him was woefully limited (I didn’t grow up in a faith tradition that accepted the fullness of the truth of the Communion of Saints). What followed that conversation was the beginning of the fulfillment of a spiritual longing I had had for much of my life. I studied the life of St. Benedict with Sister Margretta and a group of men and women who were beautiful examples to me of how enlivening my life as a Catholic could be.

Through the witness of St. Benedict, I learned the LORD’s wisdom on how to live an ordinary life ordered according to God’s precepts. I witnessed how life-giving it could be if I allowed His Holy Spirit to order my life by the charism of St. Benedict’s life. St. Benedict faced the same challenges in the 6th century as in the 21st century–nothing new under the sun! The culture that is antichrist is perpetual and will be to the end of the age. The Rule of St. Benedict is based on the teachings of the Gospel and offered me hope for living in the mire of the antichrist milieu.

As I opened myself to St. Benedict’s example, I noticed a common thread among the men and women who have passed through the scrim of eternity. St. Benedict faced down the challenges of his day by choosing a way of life and an attitude of mind that mirrored Jesus. The dictum to listen as the foundation of spiritual growth threads through the entirety of the Rule of St. Benedict. His rule begins with, “Listen carefully, my child, to my instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.” St. Benedict and all the Saints teach us not to base our judgments, goals, or sense of worth on what we see around us. We benefit from the story of their lives that live on in the Tradition of The Church.

When we are tempted to fix our gaze on what we can see, touch, hear and taste, we can study the lives of the Saints whose gaze was fixed on heaven in the midst of poverty, disease, persecution, and even death. Another practice we can do is pray with the Saints of the day. Our liturgical calendar cannot exhaust the many men and women who are, right now, praying before the throne of God for the salvation of the world.

When we find ourselves wringing our hands over the influence of the antichrist culture that we live in, we can recall that Saints lived in antichrist cultures, too. Just as St. Benedict stepped through eternity into my life to walk beside me, there is a Saint whom God desires to draw you to when you need them most. Ask the LORD to choose someone for you from the great cloud of witnesses that surround us.

We are all saints-in-the-making. Like Sister Margretta, whose life inspired my faith, we have observers of our life who the LORD wants us to inspire with our presence. They may be as close to you as a family member or as unknown to you as a grocery clerk. As saints-in-the-making, someone is always observing us. We are placed in their lives to spur them on in The Faith.

Father, you know who and what we need every moment. We thank you for the saints-in-the-making you have placed in our lives. We thank you for the gift of communion with the Saints who surround your throne!

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

Amen.

Jacob, Part I

“Truly, the LORD is in this place and I did not know it…How awesome is this place! This in nothing else than the house of God, the gateway to heaven.”

Genesis 28:16-17

The Church offers up a template for transformation that the LORD desires for all his creation in today’s reading from the Old Testament. In Genesis 28: 11-22, we find Jacob in a place that the LORD will use to initiate His transformation. What is behind him is an angry brother and a disappointed father whom he had deceived. What is before him is a path that will includes pitfalls and pratfalls and the formation of a dysfunctional family that eclipses any reality television. The journey will include deception handed back to him many times over, but in the end Jacob will deserve the title “Patriarch of the Faith” that he is remembered for. The first place of his transformation is at Bethel, a sacred place for his grandfather Abraham. Apparently this knowledge had not been passed down to Jacob. This is a clue about his upbringing and it’s a cautionary tale for us. Moses later records the LORD’s instruction to the people of Israel that was woven into the culture of family life.

 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

The culture relied on oral tradition and the passing on of the truth depended upon the parents fidelity to this understanding. Perhaps Jacob was forgetful about his family history and the stories that conveyed their faith in God or Isaac had neglected the passing of the baton of faith which included the stories of Abraham’s exemplar trust in the LORD. What we can learn from this is how foundational to a child’s life is the example of faith in the LORD that can be observed in our own lives and in giving examples of the LORD’s faithfulness through the twists and turns of life.

“… And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep.  And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!  And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.  Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”  And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.

So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it.  He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear,  so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God,  and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”

Genesis 28:11-22

The encounter that ensues between Jacob and the LORD begins with that “certain place” where decades earlier his grandfather, Abraham encountered the LORD (see Genesis 12) and though Jacob seemed to be unaware of that fact, the LORD chose that place to initiate Jacob into the reality of the LORD’S presence. Jacob was between a rock and a hard place, pun intended, and the sooner he recognized the omnipresent God, the sooner his spirit would be reordered into the man God desired him to be. I believe it is the same for us. The LORD is hounding our tracks as the psalmist puts it, the “greyhound of heaven” who is waiting for us to stop ignoring him and see life as it is, not what we delude our minds into believing.

A stone becomes his pillow and then a memorial. Here is another clue for our own transformation–the needed the rest that we often plow past in our striving as human-doings. The prophet Isaiah puts this truth like this, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” Jacob was on his way toward the humility required for transformation, and rest is what ushered him into the awareness of God’s presence, a dream follows.

The dream that fills his sleep is a magnificent theophany where the divine touches the temporal; where the veil between earth and heaven is pulled back and Jacob’s eyes are opened to the presence of the tremendous Lover of his soul. His response, “Truly the LORD is in this place and I did not know it!” What the LORD did to remind Jacob of who he was, where he was going, and what he was to be about is exactly what our transformational moments are like when we recognize the presence of the LORD; when we are humbled by the reminder that God is God and we are not! Jacob exclaimed that that place was the house of God (Bethel); “the gateway to heaven“. I wonder how many gateways to heaven are never opened by us because we are too busy running away from something or running to something or because our fear and pride saturate our life with busy-ness or self-delusion.

Jacob’s response upon waking from that dream brings to mind the experience of getting my first pair of glasses when I was about 11 years old. I was having trouble in school because of the nearsightedness we soon found out that I had. The optometrist’s office was on the 5th floor of the tallest building on our town square. When the time came for me to put on my new glasses, the wise optometrist led me to the window and instructed me to look down on a very familiar street. He placed my glasses on my head, and my 11 year-old brain was blown away by what I could now see that I could not see before It was the autumn of the year and the maple trees were displaying their brilliance, I had always enjoyed observing the change of seasons but now my joy had been increased because of the detail I could see. What before were watercolor images to me became pristine in their texture and detail!

Jacob’s eye-opening encounter with God at Bethel blew his mind. Jacob, who had seen his world with the distortion of greed and deception, had been taken to the window of reality where God corrected his sight to the beatific vision that is forever at play before the eyes of those who trust in the LORD and by faith realize that “Surely, the LORD is in this place“.

How’s it with you, friend? Are you running from something you regret or running to something you dread? Perhaps running isn’t even involved and it’s more like sloth; the insipid spiritual laziness that mires us in the rut of self-preservation. Either way, the LORD is purposefully hounding our tracks desiring to lead us into the divine life that is ours when we are completely abandoned to His sovereignty in our lives.

Do you rest in the LORD? Do you allow yourself to receive His peace by simply stopping in a cease-fire from the striving and dis-ease that pervades our culture. I’m a strong advocate for purposeful silence where we refuse the distractions of what is happening around us so that we may be fully present to the LORD.

Father, teach us to trust in you by choosing to rest in you. Help us to close our ears and eyes to the clamor of the culture. Lead us through our pitfalls and pratfalls into the confidence of knowing who we are and what we are about as a child of God.

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

“You Act Just Like your Father!”

Saints Philip and James, Martyrs

Have you ever been told that you act just like your father? What’s it like to hear that? I imagine it is a good thing to hear if you value the attributes passed on to you. A grateful child will often strive to reflect their father values as a way to honor their lives. This thought came to me today as I contemplated the Scripture passages in today’s readings (May 3, 2021) as The Church remembers and celebrates the lives of Saints Philip and James (The Lesser). These early Saints not only acted like Jesus, the Incarnate Father, they gave their lives in honor of Him. They stand with the other 12 pillars of the early Church as inspiration and encouragement for us as we, too, endeavor to act just like our Father in heaven.

Saint Paul writes to the believers in Corinth an admonition to remember that they have received the Gospel because there were men and women willing to reflect the image of Christ to the world and proclaim His Good News. He writes a mini-lesson on the Passion and Resurrection of Christ emphasizing that the resurrected Christ appeared to the faithful before his ascension into heaven. The passage ends, “After that he appeared to James, then to all the Apostles. Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me.” I wonder why St. Paul makes a point of mentioning the appearance to the apostle St. James. Perhaps St. James had an impact on St. Paul in his early days as a Christian, who knows!

Saint John records in his gospel an encounter St. Philip had with Jesus, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father...” We see here that St. Philip is remembered for his desire to SEE the Father. There’s a theme in these two apostles lives that we can learn from as we live in what we know now as the Apostolic Mission of the Church. The age of Christendom that the apostles gave their lives to establish has eroded under the tide of societal ideologies where the Truth of Christ’s Gospel has “died the death of a thousand qualifications” as Antony Flew once concluded. And now, you and I are called to be the saints-in-the-making for such a time as this, this Apostolic Age version 2 so to speak? How can we, as Saints James and Philip impact society with the Truth of the Gospel?

Recently I came across something what Pope Francis said about the the necessity of “white martyrdom” of those living in countries where freedom of religion is restricted. As we consider our own country and the growing restrictions on religious expression and freedom of speech, we must not delude ourselves into thinking that if we just keep our head down and continue to be a good neighbor, it will be enough to turn the tide against the escalating hatred of The Faith and the freedom to express that Faith here in the United States. Our white martyrdom is upon us, some of us on the frontline of public debate endure the “cancel culture” mindset every time they speak up for the Truth of Christ. They join the martyrs in this Apostolic Mission we are in now in the 21st century. The bloody martyrdom of Saints James and Philip came about because they did not waver in bearing witness to the Truth of the Gospel. Currently white martyrs are being marginalized, slandered and maligned, even imprisoned. Are they losing relationships because of their stand for the Truth of the Gospel? Probably. Does everyone around them cheer them on in their faithfulness to Christ and His Church? Certainly not! Will their lives end in a bloody death? I hope not!

I believe what Pope Francis was getting at in his reference to white martyrdom is a clarion call for you and me. We may not be a well-known apologists or public figure; however, we live our lives alongside neighbors, fellow employees, even family members that would allow the Truth of the Gospel to “die through a thousand qualifications.” If we are going to “look just like our Father” by being transformed into the image of Christ we are going to be confronted with choices every day that require a dying to our sense of self-protection. Do those around us know us for our faithfulness to the social teachings of Christ’s Church? Do we have the moral backbone to honor Christ’s image in us if we are threatened by their rejection or marginalization?

The white martyrdom of believers who face repeated trials in bearing witness to Christ, can be terrifying. When we are tempted to despair over the isolation we may have to endure, we need to remember that the blood of the martyrs was the seed of The Church, and now we must stand up for the Truth they died to protect. We join the company of believers around the world as we stand for this Truth, in doing so we can water The Church with our faithfulness and courage.

Father, grant us the courage of Saints Philip and James. May we make our own white martyrdom as a total offering to You where we not only die to ourselves, the world, and its allurements, but we stand against the tide of our culture’s denial of You.

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

Amen

D.T.R.: Define the Relationship

St. Peter —

“The Most Successful Failure of All Time”

Today’s, April 8, 2021, first reading in the Mass is from the book of The Acts of the Apostles, otherwise referred to as Acts. The book itself appears right after the four Gospels that proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. Good news, indeed, for in reading the gospel accounts of Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John we learn from Jesus, God Incarnate, God with skin on, how to act on the good life our Creator offers to all who will believe that Jesus IS the Son of God. The books that follow contain the acts of The early Church as they proclaimed Christ to the world, they are the sequel, so to speak, about how the Truth, Beauty and Goodness of Jesus Christ begins to take hold in the disciples and followers of Jesus Christ. That sequel, however, has no end; it continues through time into eternity. When we read of how The Catholic Church was established through St. Peter and his disciple, we can recognize how the death and resurrection and ascension of Jesus yielded the magnificent transformation in his disciples that he had promised. With the descending of The Triune God’s holy Spirit recorded early in Acts, everything changed for his followers. Men and women who were once washed up ne’er-do-wells were filled with the fullness of God’s spirit and emboldened by the Truth. They suddenly knew who they were and what they were about! We recognize it in the action of St. Peter in today’s readings.

Chapter 3 recalls St. Peter’s fearless zeal in declaring that Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecies in the Old Testament on the coming of the Messiah, Jesus, who was sent to bless the world. St. Peter, considered the most successful failure of all time KNEW this because he had had a number of moments that defined the relationship between himself and Jesus. Peter’s transformation from his once fallible, weak, fickle, impulsive, and undependable nature BEFORE the resurrection of Christ and the indwelling of the Spirit of God. His transformation to the bold Peter we hear from in today’s reading was one filled with fits and starts, much like mine I might add. How about you? We can glimpse the beginning of Peter’s transformation with his answer to Jesus’ question on a road just outside of Caesarea Philippi. We read of that encounter in St. Matthew 16:

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 

When Jesus Christ declared that apostle Peter was the “rock” (Matthew 16:18) on which he would build his Church it certainly wasn’t on what was visibly attractive about Peter’s faith in Christ at that point in his life. He declared it because of Peter’s answer in their conversation along the road; He knew that this saint-in-the-making would eventually prove his love for Him. We can observe that God’s sense of humor and his consolation settling down on a man with a nature much like ours, fulfilling a purpose much greater than himself. Does this give you hope? It does me. When I fail at representing the good news of our LORD Jesus Christ, I think of St. Peter. When I’m quick to judge, I think of St. Peter. When I fret over sins of my past, I think of St. Peter. When I’d rather hide from a conflict over theological Truth, I think of St. Peter.

Considering the questions that Jesus asks of his disciples and his detractors is intriguing for me. I find that they are questions I myself need to answer. In doing so I am able to define my relationship, to have my own D.T.R. with Christ in as much as I allow the Holy Spirit to probe my heart and mind for the answer to those questions. Try it sometime, I think you will find that as you answer those questions in prayer and meditation you will open yourself up to the transformation Jesus desires to accomplish in your life just as he did in St. Peter’s life.

Here are some of the many questions Jesus asked of Peter and the other disciples, the accounts surrounding the spoken question are a great place to begin your D.T.R. with Jesus.

“Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29)

“Do you love me more than these?” (John 21:16)

“Why are you terrified?” (Matthew 8:26)

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but not do what I command?” (Luke 6:46)

“If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why are you anxious about the rest?” (Luke 12:26)

Holy Father, our hearts know St. Peter’s heart all too well. Forgive us for our fumbling attempts to follow you in all ways. Fill us with your holy Spirit, exchange our waffling pride and fear with the courage to not only say, but to live out–“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”

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

Amen

      

What’s That in Your Hand?

The Lord said to [Moses], “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A rod.”  –Exodus 4:2

Before God revealed himself to Moses on the backside of the desert around Mount Horeb [Sinai], he caught his attention through a burning bush. And Moses turned aside to look at the burning bush, this was not simply a glance, Moses beheld the sight. And that made all the difference for Moses and eventually for God’s enslaved people. To behold is to gaze and discern–I kindle to that. We could say Moses clapped his eyes on the burning bush and entered into a stunned suspension of thought at the mystery of God revealed! “When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here am I.Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground. And he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.”

God waited for Moses to behold the theophany and once he did, God revealed himself to Moses! By rights, Moses could have been consumed by the fire of God in that moment, but God invited Moses into the posture of anticipation, indeed, of worship! In spite of Moses’ fear and trembling at the sight, he proceeded to tell Moses where to go! Of all things! Moses, a fearful man, reluctantly ask God a question, “’Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?’  [God replied], ‘But I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought forth the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God upon this mountain.’” Follows is another comeback from Moses about his doubts about this mission God had in mind. Me thinks God must have been wearing thin on patience by this time, yet there’s no indication of that, in fact, God reveals more of himself to Moses by revealing his holy name.

God’s holy name, “I am who I am” discloses the penultimate, up to that point, nature of himself, we could spend so much time mining the depth of his revealed name here, but let’s move on to what that name exposed about the nature of God in that moment. He instructed Moses to speak for him in what would become one of the most fascinating revelations of the lengths God will go to to keep his covenant with his creation. He tells Moses to say for him, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt; and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt, to the … land flowing with milk and honey.”’

The LORD knows Moses–he’s intimately familiar with Moses’ doubt, fear, and his speech impediment. He, too, sees Moses’ afflictions and he want to bring him out of the slavery he has to those afflictions. Not only does God plan to free the Hebrew slaves, he plans to transform Moses. God’s love for Moses is so great that he seems to concede when Moses puts up his arguments about what he has in mind. In response to Moses’ doubts: The Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A rod.” The rod was most likely a staff or walking stick but more importantly to Moses the rod defined his own limitations–“Who am I but a shepherd?”

Moses story is my story, it’s everyone’s story. I like Moses can doubt my own abilities, I can fear change. I find myself sometimes questioning the LORD about his providence and my role in it. I am reminded of something Sister Ruth Barrows wrote about the position we find ourselves in from time to time:

“… God is always working to bring us to an awareness and acceptance of our poverty, which is the essential condition of our being able to receive him, and the petty frustrations, the restrictions, the humiliations, the occasions when we are made to feel poignantly and distressingly hedged around, not in control of the world, not even in control of that tiny corner of it we are supposed to call our own, are his chosen channel into the soul. It is the one who has learned to bow his head, to accept the yoke knows what freedom is.”

Sister Ruth Barrows, o.c.d.

The LORD used a the burning bush to draw Moses into his presence, and in doing so invited him to learn to bow his head, to accept the yoke he had for him. Freedom would follow in the moment he was willing to reveal what was in his hand. In one fell swoop he let Moses set him free. He worked with what Moses was able to hand over to him. In the same way, the LORD sees me in my tiny corner as he did to Moses–infinitely patient yet stubbornly persistent in his great love for me and for his great providence to be accomplished through me. He waits for me to turn aside and behold him! The LORD asks of me, too, “Lois, what is in your hand?……What identity do you hold onto?…..What limitations have you put on yourself because you are afraid of what I might ask from you?….What is hedging you in that keeps you from trusting that I know what I am doing?”

Eternal Burning Bush, you patiently wait for me to turn aside and to fix my gaze upon you, forgive me for the time I’ve wasted chasing after a burning twig.

Sovereign God, the ground around me is your holy ground, it is not MY ground to protect. Teach me to move, and live, and have my being on your holy ground!

Great Shepherd, I open my hand to you, releasing the walking stick of my existence. I accept the yoke your desire to place on my shoulders. Lead me toward freedom.

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

Amen

*To learn more about what the LORD does with what we have in our hand, see my post, “Nothing But A Walking Stick”