Nobodies

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen




Grace and Power

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

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

Acts of the Apostles 6:7-15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. Stephen, pray for us.

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

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

Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I John 1:1-4

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

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

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

I John 4:17-19 (The Message)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen

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.

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

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”