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.

Wind-Song

In a few days, we will celebrate the Feast Day of Pentecost, which commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Early Church. The Church has regaled us in our Daily Office and Mass readings during Eastertide with the written evidence of the Holy Spirit’s dwelling in the life of the Early Church recorded in The Book of The Acts of the Apostles. The Early Church was not without conflict among the disciples and followers of Christ. Yet we witness how they came together because of the Holy Spirit’s power within them. The Early Church was not without suffering; the evidence includes events that seem to be going the wrong way fast and then suddenly they go the right way! Peter and other disciples were beaten, imprisoned, and stoned, but then they walk away free because of the power of the Holy Spirit at work, he uses deep sleep and earthquakes to free the disciples. He stops Paul from speaking too soon by changing the mind of his judge, he uses strong winds and tumultuous seas to direct a ship to the place where Paul was needed.

And then there are the amazing displays of the power of the Holy Spirit–the descent of the Holy Spirit gives believers the ability to speak in foreign tongues so that they could go out to the corners of the known world already knowing the language of the people the Holy Spirit sent them to. I could keep going, the book is bursting with The Holy Trinity at work through its Holy Spirit.

We read this past week from St. John, chapter sixteen, where Jesus spells out for the disciples what was ahead for them (the entire chapter is suffused with Jesus’ references to the power of the Holy Spirit and is worth a meditative read). In verses 12-15, Jesus declared:

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  He will glorify me because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason, I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

The Gospel according to St. John 16:12-15

It’s too much to take in, let alone understand, isn’t it? God’s ways are not our ways and we do well to remind ourselves of that before we make assumptions about how the Holy Spirit will work in and through us as 21st-century disciples. Think on Jesus’ words to Nicodemus recorded in the third chapter of St. John’s gospel:

The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

A few lessons over the years about the power of wind come to me now as I meditate on this wind of the Holy Spirit at play in our lives. Years ago, our family was camping on the Mogollon Rim in Arizona. We had hiked up the side of the rim and were ready for a break before ascending further. As we sat on an outcropping of rock amongst the towering Ponderosa pines, we were silent in our weariness as we ate our lunch. Our silence was required for what we learned about the Holy Spirit that day. The breeze along the rim moved the pines into a graceful whispering song. The song didn’t start because we became silent, it was there all along, but now as we settled into our surroundings, the breeze ministered to us It was a welcome relief to the summer heat we endured as we climbed, but more importantly, the moment became a portal for us to talk together about Jesus words to Nicodemus.

I was at a time when I longed to know what the Holy Spirit was up to in our lives. That moment opened my eyes to the heavenly reality that God is with us even when we question the circumstances of our lives. We can no more resist the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the events of our lives than a Ponderosa pine could refuse the wind’s effect on it. All we are to do is silence our minds and sit before the power of our Creator as the Holy Spirit is at play!

I read once about how the Holy Spirit responds to our dispositions; we are all uniquely fitted for God’s purposes, and just like the disciples, he places us in our corner of the world with certain gifts and abilities to sound the Beauty, Goodness, and Truth of The Faith. A flute is nothing more than some cleverly carved wood, that is until breath passes through it. Who can refuse to be moved by the beauty of Bach’s B minor Flute Sonata? As Bach, I have received giftedness from my Creator for such a time as this in my corner of the world; I could choose to hide in a corner because of doubts about myself, or I could allow the Holy Spirit of God to sound the Beauty, Goodness, and Truth of who I am as God’s beloved daughter. How can that happen? The gift of the Holy Spirit imparts to us wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and reverence. Just as Bach placed notes on a musical staff to compose his B Minor Flute Sonata, the Holy Spirit fosters in us a life to harmonize with our Creator. Through the music of our lives, we draw others into the grace and salvation Jesus extends to everyone.

I have wind chimes hung in the windows of our third-story apartment; they serenade the days of late Spring, Summer, and early Autumn. The wind chimes are not instruments of beauty because of the uniqueness of each pipe. Its beauty begins with the breeze that wafts through its design. Like chimes, we, The Church, are individuals created in the image of our Creator. “Where two or three gather together,” the Holy Spirit creates a symphony of praise and worship. The pipes are like the flute as the Holy Spirit pours through his gift to the world around us. When we are gathered together like a windchime, serenade our corner of the world with the fruit of the Spirit singing from our lives, so to speak: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control as we grow alongside others. We say that iron sharpens iron; it is living in communion with The Church where the fruit flourishes, where the beauty, goodness, and truth of our lives rub shoulders together to create the music the world needs!

Holy Spirit of The Most Holy Trinity, silence our agitated hearts, sweep through our minds with your breath of transformation.

As we live in our corners of the world, sing through the endowment of gifts and abilities given to us by our Creator.

As we live alongside others, may we serenade the ones we find hard to love with love, acceptance, and forgiveness.

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

Before the Cross, After the Resurrection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enslaved

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

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


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


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


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

II Kings 5: 1-15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen

A Healing Word

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.

When Jesus had finished all his words to the people,
he entered Capernaum.
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.

Luke 7:1-10

The words of the centurion to Jesus probably sound quite familiar to you, don’t they? We pray those words at every Mass in preparation to receive the Eucharist just after we have read the Liturgy of the Word. This is what I appreciate about the Liturgy of the Mass; as we read the Gospel we are connected to another’s interaction with Jesus, drawing us up into the eternal now of God’s Kingdom.

So, let’s consider the narrative as it applies to us as well. It is evident that the Roman centurion had won the hearts of the Jews there in Capernaum; the Jews spoke highly of this to Jesus. That in itself says something of the man because centurions were responsible for enforcing discipline from Rome that was very often counterculture to the Jews. We can also assume that the centurion believed Christ was a healer. He had apparently witnessed the healing work of Jesus in his interactions with the Jews, but he was an outsider. Rather than approaching Jesus himself, he asked some of his Jewish friends in the synagogue to request a word of healing from Jesus for one of his slaves, the centurion’s humility is revealed in this action. The narrative unfolds, the servant is healed with just a word from Jesus.

The immensity of Christ’s mercy toward the centurion and his slave in the gospel narrative is revealed in the healing the slave received based on the centurion’s faith. Now to the present day Church, in the reading of God’s Word in the worship of the Mass, the Liturgy ushers us from that gospel scene back into our lives. That is how God’s mercy works in our lives and we are reminded of that at every Mass!

So, let’s turn our attention to the Liturgy of the Mass. One of the most worshipful moments in the Liturgy of the Eucharist is when we kneel as a congregation of worshippers of the eternal Lamb of God and sing together with the angels, saints, martyrs, and the faithful who have proceeded us into the eternal worship of God. Our priest holds up the Host before us and declares, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Using the posture of our body to indicate the posture of our soul, we are preparing to receive the Eucharist, we kneel and bow our head recognizing our unworthiness; we pray, “Lord, I am not worthy for you to enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” It is a sober moment that moves me to tears as I think of how great Christ’s love must be for me in his sacrifice on the Cross!

Here’s the consideration for us today: How confident are we in the LORD’s mercy when we pray those words? Do we, like the centurion, believe that Jesus is already responding to our deepest needs? Do we expect mercy to flow over our lives, saturating us with virtue and hope? When we rise to walk toward our priest to receive Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist, do our spirits ring with affirmation that we receive salvation and healing as we respond with our “Amen”?

How is it with your soul today, friend? Do you find yourself in the centurion’s faith? Do you find yourself in the slaves dis-ease? Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Sometimes we forget that, me thinks.

Let’s pray as St. Faustina did before receiving the Eucharist, affirming our faith in Christ’s healing virtues poured into our lives as we receive his body and blood in the Eucharist.

“My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love You! I ask pardon of You for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love You!”

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

Amen.

“Which Ones?”

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my
understanding, my entire will – all that I have and call my own.
You have given it all to me. To you, Lord, I return it. Everything
is yours: do with it what you will. Give me only your love and
your grace. That is enough for me. —St. Ignatius of Loyola

Salvation History is at the very heart a love story. God, the tremendous Lover of our Soul, created us to love him, not as the world loves (with strings attached) but as he loves. In God’s eyes, the covenant of love he made with us in creating us is not negotiable for it is perfect love. In our eyes, well……we are prone to wander from the Lover of our Soul. We, like the Israelites, forget to remember Who this lover is–and we are worse for the wear, are we not?

The biblical language of God’s love and his beloved communicates through the imagery of the covenant of marriage. What kind of marriage would we have with our spouse if all we were concerned with was ticking off the duties that accompany the covenant of marriage? The Israelites as well as the young man in the gospel reading for today seemed to measure their love God according to their adherence to the law of the covenant rather than giving themselves in complete union. What a stale and and unfulfilling understanding of God. I, too, can be carried away with that kind of mindset. Quite a while ago I began praying for the LORD to heal me from the thinking that I had to earn his love. As time passed, the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to who I am to the LORD. I am the beloved daughter of the Most High God. I am united with Him through Jesus Christ and His Church–I am counted among the beloved Bride of Christ. His holy Spirit counsels me in the way of this love. When I receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist in the worship of the Mass, I’m not just ticking off a duty. I am loving Christ in receiving his body and blood in the understanding of the consummation of the covenant of marriage. Why would I ever want to neglect the Lover of my Soul?

With this in mind, let’s consider the readings from the Old Testament books of Judges 2 and Psalm 106 that are the antecedents to the gospel reading from St. Matthew 9 . The writers describes the all-too familiar pattern of God’s people. They offended the LOVER of their soul over and over by abandoning Him for the “shiny things”, as I like to say, of the cultures they were immersed in. The young man in the gospel account was very much set on keeping the Covenant with the LORD by following the law of the Covenant. Here we see the two extremes of misconceptions of who we are in the eyes of the Lover of our Soul. In common language, the Israelites disrespected the Covenant in their lust after the created goods and the young man respected the duty in performance to the Covenant absent of complete union with the LORD. Either extreme, in essence, leaves the LORD as the jilted lover.

Let’s put ourselves in the young man’s encounter with Jesus in Matthew 9:

A young man approached Jesus and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, “You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Christ knew the young man better than he knew himself. The young man’s question, “Which ones?” reveals his heart. He was saying to Christ, “What do I have to do to love you?” rather than “How may I love you completely?” Jesus knew the young man kept the Commandments, but when it came to the essence of the commandments he was more concerned with what he loved rather than who he loved. And so, Jesus hones in on the heart of the matter, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Jesus knew of the man’s divided loyalty.

How’s it with you today? Is your loyalty to the Lover of our Soul divided? Perhaps you find yourself performing for God in keeping the commandments but you hold back in complete union with the Lover of our Soul?

As we pray the Suscipe of St. Ignatius of Loyola, may we allow the Holy Spirit to nurture in us complete love for the Lover of our Soul:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my
understanding, my entire will – all that I have and call my own.
You have given it all to me. To you, Lord, I return it. Everything
is yours: do with it what you will. Give me only your love and
your grace. That is enough for me.

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

Amen.

Signs of Life

“[The righteous person] is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.”

–Psalm 1

One of the favorite things I liked to receive as a child was a connect the dot coloring book. Every page of the book was a new adventure as I traced my way, one dot at a time, to solving the picture puzzle. I would occasionally decide to start with the mid-point and trace forward or backward just to shake things up a bit. Connecting dots is still satisfying for me and I do it every day as I pray the Daily Office of prayers and readings of The Church. The practice of it connects me to the central point of the panorama of Salvation History: Jesus and His Church. Through Jesus and The Church, we connect the Old Covenant with the New Covenant lived out in the history and letters of Early Church.

There is a prevalent theme revealed in today’s readings, or should I say connect the dot picture, as we consider the Gospel in Matthew 12 as well as the Old Testament readings. In reading them we are able to trace our finger to the answer Jesus gives to the skeptical scribes and Pharisees who demanded a sign that Jesus was the expected Messiah.

 “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.”  But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.  For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.  The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.

The scribes and Pharisees not only knew what the Old Covenant proclaimed about the promised Messiah, they had memorized much of it. And why? So that they would recognize the fulfillment of the Old Covenant when the Messiah Jesus entered history and established His Church in The New Covenant. Here they were speaking face-to-face with the promised Messiah standing before their eyes; they could touch him, see him, hear him, they even dined with him! Yet they still wanted a sign, their doubt and skepticism and their dislike of what Jesus had to say messed with their own connect the dot picture about God and His Covenant.

How does Jesus respond? He begins with a sign named Jonah and connects himself to him declaring, “Something greater than Jonah is here.” He then connects to another sign named Solomon then repeats, “Something greater than Solomon is here.” I can’t image how exasperated Jesus must have been! A concrete wall comes to mind.

Let’s consider something else about the signs of God’s faithfulness that is recalled in the readings today. The psalmist sings about the righteous person, the person who keeps covenant with the LORD, comparing their life to a tree:

“The righteous person is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers
.”

The prophet Isaiah describes it another sign by declaring how the streams of living water flows over those who keep covenant with the LORD:

For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
    and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring,
    and my blessing on your descendants.
They shall spring up among the grass
    like willows by flowing streams.

Here the Creator is offering up the signs of the fidelity of his creation to usher us into the reality of eternal truths. The sign of the TRUTH’s arrival in humanity, fulfilled in the WORD made flesh and living among us–Jesus. A sign revealed in Christ’s Church, the New Covenant and its Sacramental Tradition in the practice of worship of The Most High God.

When we begin to understand that Jesus is the Living Water of The Covenant fulfilled, we can envision ourselves as trees in the soil by streams of water. We open ourselves to planting our life in the soil of the Word and the celebrations of The Sacraments as we keep covenant with Christ. And as a tree innately thrives when water is abundant, we see how the fruit of the Holy Spirit grows in us as we drink from the Word and receive the Sacraments of His Covenant with us. The word sacrament itself means “a sign of the spiritual reality”. To avoid The Sacraments is to deny the reality of The New Covenant, in fact, it is to deny that Christ is the Son of God (sounds like the scribes and Pharisees, doesn’t it?)

So we’ve come back to Jesus’s response to them in today’s Gospel. “Something greater than [Jonah, Solomon, trees, water and fruit] is here.” In other words fellow Pharisees, we cannot choose what we like about what Jesus teaches and ignore the parts of the His New Covenant that mess with our own connect the dot pictures. Furthermore, if we disregard the conditions of the Covenant as practiced in our Sacramental Faith we ignore the central point of our salvation which leaves us all scribbles and no picture.

How about you? Are you so tangled up in your skepticism about the truth of Jesus and His Covenant that you are all scribbles?

Do you ever ask yourself, “What’s the point of my life?” or “What’s the point of keeping covenant with God in the Sacraments when the stuff around me brings me more pleasure?” 

Heres’s another question many decide not to answer. “What’s the point of weekly worship at Mass or the Sacrament of Confession?” Oh, friends, we are on our way to withering away by all our skepticism about Christ and His Church when we forego the life-giving waters in the practice of the Sacraments of our Faith. Something greater than our skepticism is here among us, it is Christ’s presence in the reading of Sacred Scripture and the receiving of The Church’s Sacraments.

Jesus, in you we live and move and have our being. Place your hand upon ours so that we would allow you to connect the scribble we’ve made of our lives in the signs you have given us through The New Covenant, Jesus in your Church.

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

Amen.

Leaving Egypt

Sometimes around this fourth week of Lent, I find myself scuffling in my lenten vows leaving a limp in my stride through the Lenten Desert. What I can vow on Ash Wednesday seems doable, even noble. This year, however, has been a particular struggle for me. Rather than allowing me to go through the motions of keeping my lenten vows that I THINK are good enough, the LORD has used the scuffle in my spirit to reveal a deeper sin in my life. Do you go through that?

Generations had come and gone since Joseph led the way for the tribe of Israel to escape famine. In the meantime, God’s chosen people had lost their way and fallen into the ways and means of the Egyptian culture. In today’s reading, we find that the Israelites had just been freed of that 430-year bondage in Egypt in a stunning way because the LORD desired to get the Israelites out of Egypt–the slavery, the persecution, and the rampant idol worship of the culture. He called Moses to lead the way and one of the greatest stories of all time unfolds. The first step of the LORD’s deliverance is accomplished, and now the Israelites are in the desert around Mt. Sinai–a rag, tag tribe betwixt a rock and a hard place–trusting the idols of Egypt and trying to remember how to worship God. Nothing about the desert appealed to the Israelites, they were moaners and groaners, stiff-necked people who had a big problem. As we do, I might add. They had spent so many years immersed in a pagan culture that worshiped created things instead of the Creator. In spite of the pain they endured, they were apparently comfortable with the Egyptian way. So not only did the LORD want to get the people out of Egypt to worship Him alone, he wanted to get Egypt out of the people! Hmmm? This sounds a bit too familiar to us, doesn’t it?

This year a memory has come back to me several times as I’ve gone to prayer with the LORD about what I am struggling against during this Lent. Decades ago our youngest child was climbing around on some landscape timber when she lost her balance and fell. She is a tough one, so she didn’t complain or cry, she just got right up and continued to play. A few days passed before I noticed some redness on her knee, I didn’t think much of it because she always had bruises, cuts, and bumps on her body. A week passed and I started noticing that her gait had changed, she favored the leg with the bump. I rubbed some salve on it and sent her on her way. The bump continued to inflame, but it wasn’t until she voiced to me that she had an ouchie that I took her seriously. She laid down next to me and I began to prod at the inflammation, she winced. I noticed a light red line running down her leg from the bump; blood poisoning! She and I tried to figure out what she had done to get the ouchie, she didn’t have an answer and I couldn’t remember which of her many falls might have caused it. It wasn’t until I placed more pressure on her leg that we discovered the source of her pain. She screamed and hollered once I became serious about the pressure of my kneading her leg. I didn’t stop though it took quite a while. Eventually, a 1& 1/2″ inch splinter with the circumference of a toothpick shot free from her leg! Success! That large splinter was finally expelled from the inflamed tissue around it. Immediate relief came from the threat of the infection, but it took time for the wounded tissue to heal and for the antibiotics to conquer the infection. She eventually got her stride back and was off to find another adventure where she would no doubt be left with more bruises and cuts.

I’ve been feeling a splinter in my soul’s flesh during this season of Lent. It’s been there quite a while, years, in fact! What I am learning now, through the grace of God, is that he wants to do for me what he did for the Israelites. He desires to “get [poison] Egypt out of me.” There is an inflammation in each of our spirits that is caused by sin in us. Just like the Israelites, there’s an infection within us that if left untended, will destroy us. I am in need of liberation from the enemy of my soul–the bondage can take on the form of one of my greatest strengths and turn it in on me, infecting me with the sin of over-weaning pride. How about you? Is fear or anger or pride so deeply embedded in your life that you can’t recognize the source of that infection? Healing and transformation take a lifetime even with our willingness to cooperate with the LORD. No amount of vows or almsgiving or penance can substitute for the humility that comes when we expose the source of our limp to our loving Father.

Healing Savior, you know our deepest wounds, you know how they affect our lives? Holy Spirit, Counselor, would you help us to recall where the wound came from?

If others caused our wound, would you grant us the spirit of forgiveness so that we can be freed from the oozing resentment and bitterness in our souls?

We scamper about in this good life enjoying the good things you have given to us, forgive us when we believe the lie of the enemy that our limp is not serious enough to stop us from playing hide and seek with You.

Oh, LORD, the wounds we cause ourselves when we forget to remember that You alone are God are infinite and ugly! Give us courage to see that we are our own worst enemy when we try to hide or refuse your healing hand.

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

Amen