Straight away in the Gospels, the role of St. John the Baptist as the last prophet of Israel is established. The Jews, who were awaiting the New Covenant and the New Exodus that the LORD had inspired Isaiah and other prophets to foretell, gathered around this prophet who described the soon-to-be-fulfillment of the entirety of the Old Covenant God made with his people. Some discerned St. John the Baptist knew what he was talking about; others fought him and his message tooth-and-nail to the death. When Jesus arrives at the Jordan River to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies, St. John the Baptist declares to everyone, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world… .” Fitting words for this Jesus who would now take his place as The Sacrificial Lamb of the Old Covenant.
Yesterday, we entered Holy Week, the most sacred week of our liturgical year. The Church has been guiding us through the Sacred Scripture to this week of The Passion of Christ. Now she calls to us as St. John the Baptist called, “Behold the Lamb of God.” All the liturgies of this sacred and somber week will invite us to consider the Suffering Servant of humanity. As we transport with our imagination into the events of Holy Week, we are more than spectators; we are beholders; we are to enter into the drama of our salvation. The word “behold” means more than to glance or notice; it means to observe and discern. Moses didn’t just glance at the burning bush in the desert; he beheld it. Our Blessed Mother didn’t just nod to Archangel Gabriel’s word on the incarnation of Christ within her; she declared, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the LORD!” One thousand sixty-five times, the inspired Word of God admonishes us to behold; for in observing, meditating, and discerning what the LORD is communicating to us through our senses, he aims for us to see beyond ourselves into Salvation History. The LORD calls us to open our eyes wide open to our salvation!
You have noticed, no doubt, that The Church consistently includes readings from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah in our daily liturgy. Good reason! The book of prophecies is known as the “Fifth Gospel.” Though written hundreds of years before the Incarnation of Christ, the prophet foretells the reality of the promised fulfillment of the Old Covenant. Where once God’s people offered sacrifices of lambs for the atonement of their sins, The Lamb of God, The Messiah, would someday offer his life as the final sacrifice for humanity.
The readings from Isaiah during Lent have been rich with these prophecies, so rich that I find I’ve often prayed with Isaiah as I anticipated this Holy Week. I invite you to join me in praying the words of Isaiah from chapters 42 and 53.
The LORD says to us:
Beloved, here is my servant, Jesus, whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, Upon whom I have put my Spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations… Until he establishes justice on the earth; the coastlands will wait for his teaching… Behold my salvation!
Beloved, I formed my servant, Jesus, and set him as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, To open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness… Behold my salvation!
Jesus says to us:
Beloved, do you believe what you have heard?… Behold my life in your place!
I grew up like a sapling before you, like a shoot from the parched earth; I had no stately bearing to make you look at me, nor appearance that would attract you to me… Behold my life in your place!
I was spurned and avoided by people, I suffered, I was accustomed to infirmity, people even hid their faces, spurned me, and held me in no esteem… Behold my life in your place!
It was your infirmities that I bore, your sufferings that I endured, while you thought of me as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted… Behold my life in your place!
I was pierced for your offenses, crushed for your sins; I took upon me the chastisement that makes you whole, by my stripes, you were healed. You had gone astray like a lamb, you followed your own way; but the LORD laid upon me your guilt… Behold my life in your place!
Though I was harshly treated, I submitted and opened not my mouth; like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, I was silent and opened not my mouth. Oppressed and condemned, I was taken away, and you would have not thought any more of my destiny… Behold my life in your place!
When I was cut off from the land of the living, and smitten for your sin, a grave was assigned for me among the wicked and a burial place with evildoers, though I had done no wrong nor spoken any falsehood. But the LORD was pleased to crush me in infirmity… Behold my life in your place!
I gave my life as an offering for your sin… and the will of the LORD for you was accomplished through me. Because of my affliction, you shall see the light in fullness of days; through my suffering, I justified many, and your guilt I bore… Behold my life in your place!
I endured my Passion so that you would live in victory from sin and death. I surrendered myself to death and was counted among the wicked; I took away your sin and won pardon for your offenses… Behold Your life in my place!
“What lies behind us and what lies before us, are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
When Jesus came into Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, since they had seen all he had done in Jerusalem at the feast; for they themselves had gone to the feast.
Then he returned to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. Now there was a royal official whose son was ill in Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, who was near death. Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” The royal official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “You may go; your son will live.” The man believed what Jesus said to him and left. While the man was on his way back, his slaves met him and told him that his boy would live. He asked them when he began to recover. They told him, “The fever left him yesterday, about one in the afternoon.” The father realized that just at that time Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live,” and he and his whole household came to believe…
The Gospel according to St. John 4:43-54
Something my mom used to say came to my mind as I meditated on the gospel reading for today. “Hope springs eternal.” She would tag on the line from the psalms as well, “Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” My mom knew what she was talking about, for she suffered all her life from a chronic disease that eventually took her life, yet her hope for healing never waned. The people that surrounded our LORD’s life as he lived among us were no different; there was always a sense of anticipation as Jesus came near to their reality. The crowds had heard or witnessed that this Jesus was more than meets the eye, and so they hoped!
It took great humility for that royal official to expose his need to this Jew; he could have ridiculed Jesus and the citizens of Israel for their belief in one God rather than the many Roman gods of his country. He could have ignored what the people were saying about Jesus. We don’t know if he had witnessed any of Jesus’ miracles, but he could have dismissed them as trickery and entertainment. He doesn’t do any of that; he boldly went to Jesus and requested out of the brokenness that only a parent can have for a child. Even when Jesus seems to rebuke the crowd, him included, for demanding signs and wonders, the royal official stays on point. Can you sense his urgency when he asks Jesus to come before his child dies? The royal official represents us, doesn’t he? We’ve all been desperate for hope from time to time. We’ve longed to be free from the sorrow we endure for others or ourselves. In God’s kingdom reality, nothing separates us from being in that crowd that day, for his story is our story. Jesus’ words and actions then are his words and actions now, and ever shall be! Hope does spring eternal!
The Church reminds us of this beautiful truth through the other Scripture readings for today’s Mass. Hear the Word of the LORD to Isaiah 65:17-21
Thus says the LORD: Lo, I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; The things of the past shall not be remembered or come to mind. Instead, there shall always be rejoicing and happiness in what I create; For I create you to be a joy and a delight; I will rejoice in you and exult in my people. No longer shall the sound of weeping be heard there, or the sound of crying; No longer shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not round out his full lifetime; He dies a mere youth who reaches but a hundred years, and he who fails of a hundred shall be thought accursed. They shall live in the houses they build, and eat the fruit of the vineyards they plant.
Years ago, the truth of Isaiah’s words; the LORD constantly recreating and restoring what seems dead to life came to me during the early Spring as I was cleaning up winter from our garden. I removed some decaying leaves from the soil and discovered “Hope Springs Eternal.” There beneath the refuse of the past season’s death were the tender green shoots of our Crimean Snowdrops lifting their delicate white caps upward toward the early Spring sun. They seemed to say, “Hello again, beautiful world, I’ve returned to glorify the Creator!”
LORD, there are seasons in our lives when we feel short on hope. Help us see beyond the present moment that threatens to steal our joy by eroding our hope in you, the God of Creation and Recreation. We look at the whole scheme of things happening to us or around us, and we wonder if you are still the LORD of the impossible. We bring our families to you and humbly ask you to recreate us into the fullness of life with you. We offer ourselves and our besetting sins that decay and destroy hope in you. We bring our world to you and urgently ask that you heal the unrest in war-torn countries before there is any more death.
We ask this in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, it is now, and ever shall be, world without end.
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.
As Jesus came down from the mountain with Peter, James, John and approached the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and scribes arguing with them. Immediately upon seeing him, the whole crowd was utterly amazed. They ran up to him and greeted him. He asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” Someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I have brought to you my son possessed by a mute spirit. Wherever it seizes him, it tears at him; he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and is withered up. I asked your disciples to drive it out, but they were unable to do so.” He said to them in reply, “O faithless generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you? Bring him to me.” They brought the boy to him. And when he saw him, the spirit immediately threw the boy into convulsions. As he fell to the ground, he began to roll around and foam at the mouth. Then he questioned his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” He replied, “Since childhood. It has often thrown him into fire and water to kill him. But if you are able, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “‘If you able!’ All things are possible to one who has faith.” Then the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” Jesus, on seeing a crowd rapidly gathering, rebuked the unclean spirit and said to it, “Mute and deaf spirit, I command you: come out of him, and never again may you enter him!” Shouting and throwing the boy into convulsions, it came out. He became like a corpse, which caused many to say he had died. But Jesus took him by the hand, raised him, and he stood up. When he entered the house, his disciples asked him in private, “Why could we not drive the spirit out?” He said to them, “This kind can only come out through prayer.”
The Gospel According to St. Mark 9:14-29
I’d be hard-pressed to choose a favorite gospel account of Jesus’ healings, but I know this one would be among my top choices. The interaction between the father and Jesus reveals guidance for my prayer life. The truth that “Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us,” is in full array in this encounter and we can receive the same graces through prayer with Jesus as the father and son received from his physical presence to them. Jesus’ life on this side of eternity was a prayer with our heavenly Father and he consistently invited the observers of his life into the same intimacy. His actions, healings, and teachings, his very flesh, was united with humanity to show us the way back to our created identity of intimacy with our Triune God, and that only comes through the communion of his body and flesh in The Eucharist and the communion of prayer with him.
The father was just another whobody to everyone else, but he was the very reason Jesus approached the folk surrounding him. Long before the father emerged from the crowd, Jesus knew him and how the father suffered for his son and how the son suffered because of an unclean spirit’s presence in his life. How life happened to them is not as important to Jesus; no need to connect dots in order to cast blame. It had happened to the father and the son, and now Jesus would happen to the father and the son. It is the same for you and me. We are like the father and the son sometimes aren’t we? We either suffer on behalf of someone or we are the one who suffers. Jesus sees us just as he saw the father and son long before that encounter. He knows what we silently carry in our hearts and soul.
Jesus comes to us without condemnation, and he sees into our heart, not our past. He doesn’t see how we may have fumbled, he doesn’t bring up what could have been or what should have been. No, he, the suffering servant of mankind absorbs our suffering as he did for the father and son, and then, healing transformation unfolds in us. He asks us the same question of us, “How long have you carried this, do you want to be made whole…what are you looking for?” He knew the father needed to pour out the pain he had carried before him. The act of speaking our pain before the LORD is a part of healing because it requires a humbleness to confess our need, doesn’t it? The psalmists often prayed, “Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me! O Lord, be my helper!” (Psalm 30:10) And I can’t help but hear Jesus’ words echoing in the encounter with the father and son,“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (St. Matthew 11:28-29)
“..If you are able, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “‘If you able!’ All things are possible to one who has faith.” Then the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!”
The scene unfolds in what I imagine to be an intimate conversation between Jesus and the father. Do you feel the father’s guarded hope as he says to Jesus, “If you are able…” Ever doubted like that? I have. When you’ve tried your best but your best wasn’t good enough or when you are so attached to a hindrance that you can’t believe it is possible to be free from thinking about it! When you suffer for another who has been seized by a spiritual or emotional disease that has withered them up, tossing them to the ground over and over. Helplessness is too anemic of a word to describe that kind of parental anguish. Jesus replies to the father, what he whispers to us, “All things are possible to one who has faith.”
The narrative of the account closes with Jesus’ words to his disciples, “This kind can only come out through prayer.” Interesting conclusion. Something worth remembering when we carry our or another’s struggle to Jesus. We can choose to ignore our pride, fret in our fears, or wallow in our anger, or we can pray, “I believe, help my unbelief.”
“Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us!” to reveal the impossible to those who seek him! He exorcises the evil spirit from the boy and takes him by the hand to raise him to stand. Did Jesus lose any holiness by touching the boy? No, rather he infused wholeness into the boy so that he and the father and the onlookers could witness the holy compassion of God that saves and heals, restores, and resurrects! How does that come about? What does that mean for us in our life of prayer with Jesus? St. Theresa of Lisieux wrote, “…prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.” What causes your heart to surge toward God? Joy, Hope, Faith or despair, doubt, and unbelief. It’s all the same to the LORD Jesus because in the surge, the upward glance, he stands ready to reveal himself to us in the embrace of intimate communion with him. How beautiful! How lovely! How mysterious the presence of God is to us, but as we incline toward Jesus, we are saved!
“The whole reason why we pray is to be united into the vision and contemplation of God to whom we pray.”
–Julian of Norwich
LORD Jesus, you took on flesh and dwelt among us to save us from the fear, pride, anger that cause us to doubt your love!
LORD Jesus, we are flesh of your flesh, restore us to wholeness of life in you!
LORD Jesus, open our eyes to recognize your presence before 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.
The eternal Truth that “Christ took on flesh and dwelled among us” is revealed in how Jesus lived in his Creation alongside humanity. He entered into the joy of celebration and the ordinary, as well as the misery of disease and death, hunger and fear, in sum, all facets of the human condition, to unite his flesh with us so that we may unite our flesh with him and receive the fullness of his salvation. It’s a profound truth that inspires and encourages me as I live my faith in the LORD in my corner of the world! Today’s reading is yet another glimpse into this truth and it’s revealed in how Jesus breaks through the darker side of the human condition.
When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
The Gospel according to St. Mark 6:53-56
These healings follow a series of encounters where Jesus revealed the salvation contained in his flesh by healing the sick, feeding the 5,000, and walking on water. The earthiness of Jesus in the narrative is something to ponder; his flesh infuses into the encounters and saves body and soul!
Jesus offers the same touch to us as he did to the sick and lame upon their mats, the isolated outcasts hidden in crowds. He walks up to the unseen boundaries of our lives and touches us. In Gennesaret he didn’t see an anonymous body lying on a mat, he saw his own flesh! The salvation contained within his touch poured into the lives of those sick in body and reached into their souls. His perfect flesh united with diseased flesh and restored what sin and death had stolen from humanity. The instant salvation from disease opened the heart and mind for the fullness of his salvation. That’s amazing grace, isn’t it?
“And all who touched [him] were made whole.” God’s purpose of incarnating the flesh of humanity was to recreate us into the image of himself, to make us whole! Rampant diseases are somewhat controlled by modern medicine, but the human condition of the sick in soul is pandemic; humanity is reaching in all sorts of directions to remedy what can only be remedied through the incarnation of Christ’s salvation poured into our flesh. How does this actually work? We receive insight into the ways of our LORD in this very gospel reading.
We can observe a few details in the encounters at Gennesaret that are required for us in our own day. The narrative reads, “… they rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was.“ The anonymous “they” reached for their diseased friends and relatives; therefore, they had to touch them in order to bring them into Jesus’ presence. You and I rub shoulders with the sick of soul in our corners of the world. The salvation we know is the salvation they need; it requires of us the use of our own senses to love and understand them, in other words, to pick up their mats and bring them to Jesus. Jesus touches through us, he listens through us and our lives become conduits of his healing to those around us.
What about the diseased lying on their mats? It may be that we are the one on the mat, sick of soul, helpless, and perhaps even in denial of our own need of the healing touch of our Savior. The morning of January 10 of this year I faced a startling realization about my life that I had successfully denied for 62 years! What brought me to that realization? The willingness to face a humiliating encounter with the LORD; in effect, I was laid out on a mat before him. He wasn’t the one humiliating me, he was the one whose touch reached deep into my mind and heart and revealed how my refusal to humble myself was infecting my soul. I felt the humiliation of the mat I had woven beneath me, even around me. And there were trusted individuals who offered the counsel of the Holy Spirit to me by carrying the mat of my existence to our loving and healing Savior through interceding for me in my low estate. A miracle did happen that day, at once I received the healing that could only come from the Incarnated Savior’s touch and I jumped off that mat for good, never to return. That’s the miracle! And like the sick who were healed, I heard Jesus say what he said to the woman who had struggled for 12 years with her disease (St. Mark 5:24-34), “[Lois], your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
Friend, how is it with you today? Do you find yourself carrying the mat for someone or lying on the mat? Have you isolated yourself from hope? Perhaps you recognize you are sick of soul. Jesus sees the flesh of our hearts that is scarred by what has happened to us or by what we do to ourselves. Jesus took on that flesh and dwelled with us so that his perfect flesh would be absorbed and destroyed in his death. And through his resurrection from eternal disease, he offers his perfect flesh back to us so that he may give us wholeness and holiness.
As we incline toward the LORD by receiving his body and blood, his touch reaches into our fear and anger and the pride that hinders our faith to believe and trust that he can heal the hidden disease of our heart; that he can recreate us into his image. It’s a humbling gesture to admit we will die without his flesh and blood, but that is how faith makes us whole!
LORD, Jesus, Savior, and Healer, we bow before you in humble adoration for dwelling with us, absorbing us, recreating us into your image.
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.
“Night and day among the tombs he was always crying out….“
Jesus and his disciples came to the other side of the sea, to the territory of the Gerasenes. When he got out of the boat, at once a man from the tombs who had an unclean spirit met him. The man had been dwelling among the tombs, and no one could restrain him any longer, even with a chain. In fact, he had frequently been bound with shackles and chains, but the chains had been pulled apart by him and the shackles smashed, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the hillsides he was always crying out and bruising himself with stones. Catching sight of Jesus from a distance, he ran up and prostrated himself before him, crying out in a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me!” (He had been saying to him, “Unclean spirit, come out of the man!”) He asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “Legion is my name. There are many of us.” And he pleaded earnestly with him not to drive them away from that territory.
Now a large herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside. And they pleaded with him, “Send us into the swine. Let us enter them.” And he let them, and the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine. The herd of about two thousand rushed down a steep bank into the sea, where they were drowned…
“…Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.” Then the man went off and began to proclaim in the Decapolis what Jesus had done for him; and all were amazed.
St. Mark 5:1-13; 19b-20
The scripture points out straight away that Jesus and his disciples sailed to the other side of the sea to the city of Gerasa, one of the ten cities of the Decapolis east of the Jordan river (present-day Palestine or The East Bank). It was predominantly Gentile, who were considered unclean by a law-abiding Jew, but Jesus never let conventions stand in the way of his mission to bring the Light of the World to all people. On several occasions recorded in the Gospels, Jesus knowingly hangs out with “other” people: social-misfits; diseased; despised; unclean–the nobodies of lost causes.
An outcast demonic is the welcome party for Jesus and his disciples as they land on the shore of the Decapolis, and he did not waste any time for at once he came from the tombs where he lived. He was among the worst of the worst of all of society–an exemplar of Satan himself. Let’s take that in for a moment. Now, let’s reflect on why this exorcism is included in the Gospels. The Church teaches us that all of Sacred Scripture is written for the purpose of our salvation; with that in mind, I make a habit of placing myself in the sandals of my ancestors in The Faith to understand the depth of the salvation God grants us through Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son. Join me in reflecting.
LORD God, the malignant enemy of my soul, tries to drive me into a dystopia of death in my spirit. He lurks in all the temptations that lead me away from the abundant life you have given me. Sometimes, what attracts me appears shiny and enticing, but they are the enemy’s glittering shackles and chains lying in wait for me as soon as I act on the temptation. A manacle and chain wrench around me and I am dragged toward the tombs. Above the dark path, the gate that reads “Pride…Fear…Anger.” Just beyond, I see them there. I see engraved on tombs “Lust of the Eyes,” a stone’s throw away I see engraved on tombs “Lust of the Flesh,” and over there in the deep shadows, I see engraved on tombs “Boastful Pride of Life.” The further I’m dragged I start to forget who I am as your beloved daughter; I forget my name!
Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him, there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
I John 2:7-17
I look back from where I came, and I see you coming toward the shore of this dreadful place: something within me starts to remember some truth about me so, I run to you despite these death chains. I fall before you, splayed out in my weariness. You see my bruises, you’ve heard my cries, with incredulity you whisper to me, “I died for you, I’ve already been to those tombs where I conquered death, hell, and the grave. Why did you go looking for your name there? You don’t belong there!” And you say to me, “What is your name?”.
What is my name? As soon as I can remember my name, I’ll be free! It takes a bit; longer than I’d like because I have a legion of voices in my head enticing me to run back to the tombs and climb into one of those graves. But then I dare to look into your eyes! Oh, Jesus, I remember you! You are the Son of the MOST HIGH GOD! I suddenly go limp; something has fallen from me. I look back to see what it could be and see what was once, the glimmering manacle and shiny chains now all rust and decay. They’re scattered into thousands of pieces fleeing back to the tombs!
You take my hand and lift my body, now light as a feather, to stand on the two feet that I’d forgotten how to use! And I gaze into your beautiful eyes to answer you, “I am Lois, your beloved daughter!”
Jesus, Son of the Most High God, help us to never forget our name!
I 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!
“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.
The Surrender Novena* was written by Fr. Don Dolindo Rutolo and handed down to us in the praying tradition of The Church. I’m sure you are familiar with it as it seems to be the go-to novena for so many who struggle with surrender, I being among them. A few years ago, I learned that Fr. Rutolo was a contemporary of St. Padre Pio, this gave me pause as St. Padre Pio is another saint who stocked me. Through a fortuitous encounter during a long recovery from a surgery that went very wrong, my priest introduced me to St. Padre Pio. Since that time, I often pray the Surrender Novena with St. Padre Pio, for he lived a life that demanded surrender to the LORD’s purpose at great cost. Today I would simply like to share with you one of my journal entries during one of the many times I have prayed this heartening novena. Pray with me as I pray with you, friend.
“Jesus, I trust in you. I surrender myself to you, take care of everything.” It is the surrendering that is hard, there are some things I have a loose hold on, and others things are in my death grip! I pray these words in so many moments of my day because I do trust in you–praying the words are like exercise for my soul and mind, little sprints of affirmation to loosen the tensions that can overwhelm my mind and steal my joy. Surrender is the hurdle to jump before the finish line. The problem seems to me, that the finish line seems to always move farther away from me the more that I allow your Holy Spirit to train my heart and mind in holiness and wholeness. St. Augustine rings in my ear, “I am restless until I find rest in you.”
Me, myself, and I, a dysfunctional trinity of a life lived with narrowed vision, clenched fists, and halting steps, walking the path toward oneness with you. You seem to allow me the pratfalls of hard lessons learned, but I’m still on the path. I, like the father of the convulsive son, say to you, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” I don’t know how you can make my life a life of complete trust in you, so I struggle in this place with doubt and fear, and not just a little bit of pride! I, like Jacob wrestling with you until you clear my vision, will step back on the path, limping from the struggle of surrender to your sovereign will, yet my feet will fall in step again. I will let go of the arguing spirit within me and trust you as a child held in your embrace. A child who trusts, not needing explanations from you about the how and why and when of my life. I don’t need to understand my past or control my present or see how it all ends. I am a beloved daughter in the arms of my Beloved Creator.
Jesus, I trust in you. You already know what the path of holiness holds on this day. I have no idea, nor would I want to know. I just want to walk peacefully on the path of surrender.
Jesus, I trust in you. You have created my body with a mangled spine, for what reason, I do not know. Help me to walk, quite literally, the path of healing. Like the paralytic, I answer your question of “Do you want to be healed?” with a resounding yes and a whisper in your ear, “I do believe, help my unbelief!”
Jesus, I trust in you. You are my portion, overflowing the banks of my doubts. Pouring out your blood into the newly discovered nooks and crannies of my soul that need to be emptied of pride! Right now, I suppose we are passing yet another fork in the path of holiness where I am forced to answer your question, “Do you love me more than this?”
Yes, LORD, you know that I love you!
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Do you have people in your life that are difficult to love? Perhaps their attitude challenges your ability to be patient or to remain silent. Perhaps their words and actions cause you to lose your temper or to crawl under a rock and hide from them. Perhaps their very presence conjures up memories that cause you pain or resentment. I don’t believe I am the only one that has a difficult person or two in my life and, I also concede that I am probably considered as such to some people in my life. It’s the human condition! It is into this very condition that God chose to subject Himself. It is correct to assume that Jesus Christ himself was surrounded by difficult people. He knew a thing or two about dysfunctional relationships and the symptomatic resentments and bitterness that accompany them.
Grain of Sand One
What I find most challenging about Christ’s response to the difficult people in his own life is that he expects the same choice from me! There’s not one single reason I can offer up to him that would change His answer to me, not one! I’ve tried, oh, I’ve tried, to justify my feelings to Him about a difficult person by listing all the seemingly valid reasons I have for resenting them. And still, His answer is the same! He states it in varying ways but, it always comes down to how St. John penned it, “…love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.“
We know that if Jesus Christ is telling us to do something, he will show us the way to do it. If our heart is inclined to his lordship in all things, we can see our way forward in learning to love difficult people if we are willing to swallow the hard pill of loving others we don’t like. The Sacred Scripture provides several glimpses into how we can love as Jesus loved; learning from His example is the way forward into peace in all our relationships. I’m reminded of St. Paul’s words to the quarreling Corinthians, “God is not the God of disorder, but of peace.” He did not will that we would be disordered by self-love and so He remedied that by becoming flesh and dwelling among us to demonstrate how to love Him and those around us. No self-help books are needed other than what the Gospel reveals to us about Jesus’ character; truly we can solve all the disorder in our relationships if we will but follow His lead.
What should be our disposition toward other’s who may have failed or betrayed us? When we are surrounded by “difficult people” who have an agenda that is soul-sucking, much like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, we can follow Jesus’ cue. Recorded in Saint John, chapter 2 are some extraordinary words about Jesus:
“…Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all peopleand needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”
If Jesus wasn’t understood, why would we expect to be understood, and why do we “entrust” our heart to people when Christ didn’t even entrust himself to them? To “entrust” means to assign responsibility to someone. When we live in a way that we hold others responsible for our peace of mind or our sense of worth, we surely will be disappointed. We, in effect, set the other up for failing us. It’s not the other’s job to do that for us; it is the LORD’s alone. The sooner we release others in our life from this responsibility, the sooner we will find our way out of disorder into God’s peace. The difficult person may be a family member that we have a hard time relating to; the way forward is to ask the Holy Spirit to pour His gift of understanding into our life. Other times we have to shut the door on a relationship; I know that sounds like a rather hard-lined approach, but in reality, given the circumstances, what better choice is there to make? It is natural to expect to be loved and understood, but anyone who has been through the school of hard knocks quickly learns to lower expectations. Some of the hard knocks can be eliminated when we allow a relationship to end.
We tend to expect more of others than they are able or willing to give; we set ourselves up for disappointment when we do so. Do you recall the scene in Mary Poppins where Mary has just moved in as a nanny for the Banks children? As Mary is unpacking her carpetbag looking for a measuring tape, Michael and Jane ask her why and she replies, I use it to measure people, and I want to measure you. The children are then accurately measured by her magical measuring tape, then the children ask to measure Mary; the results are exactly what Mary figured: Mary is practically perfect in every way. We can look at others like Mary Poppins, measuring people with a judging spirit toward them while measuring ourselves “practically perfect” in every way. When we choose to consider others in the way Jesus considers others, we, in effect, never use our measuring tape. This sounds much more simple than it is, but when we stop entrusting ourselves to others we allow them to be who they are without any judgment on our part. It’s the old “walk a mile in my shoes” advice, or better yet, “there but for the grace of God go I.”
How could this play out in our relationship with a difficult person? Perhaps you have a person whose actions or attitudes challenge your patience, but because they are a family member or co-worker you can’t avoid their presence in your life. Rather than expecting them to change, we choose to remind ourselves that it is not our job to change others. The job is already taken, and the Holy Spirit is much more qualified than we’ll ever be. Remembering that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me” is true insofar as another’s words cannot change our identity as beloved children of our Creator. We can train our way (through the counsel of the Holy Spirit) into righteous confidence in ourselves and our ability to graciously relate to others despite whatever challenges our relationship.
Grain of Sand Two
I was speaking recently with my spiritual director about the difficulty I was having in a relationship. I was flummoxed by another’s words used against me and in my mind I felt I must confront that person with my frustration. To my question about what to do, she wisely responded that we are called to bear witness to Christ’s love. Her words immediately changed my outlook on the relationship. Lesson learned: I must ask myself if whatever is being said or done a moral matter or a relational matter? Another question I need to ask myself, “Are they doing this because they are strong or weak?” Asking those questions as a prayer is helpful in reminding me to see with eyes of compassion and mercy. Very often a grievance is based on the human error of reacting to an unfair word or action in a relationship not on mortal sin. The particulars of how that conversation came to be really don’t matter, the response must always be the same–I am called to bear witness to Christ’s love. How so? Loving the other in spite of what has been said and done can require enormous effort, especially when the offense is repeated, even habitual. I take encouragement from something Samuel Johnson wrote, “Kindness is in our power even when fondness is not.” I know! Easier said than done. You are probably thinking thoughts I think when once again I’ve been burned by the same person in the same way–it’s even too hard to feel kind let alone respond kindly. But here’s the thing, Jesus Christ very nature is love and his actions bore that truth out. While we may only be able to endure someone’s presence in our lives, Christ in us is able to love through us even when it is hard to feel kind.
St. Thomas Aquinas penned that “to love is to will the good of the other.” To arrive at this response can be glacial, but it can happen through the Holy Spirit working in us, transforming our perceptions about another. Decades ago, I began asking the LORD to form in me a merciful spirit in keeping with His ways; he provided me with eye-opening circumstances that revealed my presumptions about a co-worker. It wasn’t long before I could see my co-worker with new eyes; it didn’t happen overnight and, it did take many experiences to will her good instead of ill. Today we consider ourselves good friends; we enjoy each other’s presence. Only the LORD’s transforming grace can accomplish what we see as unbearable.
Grain of Sand Three
I came across a quote years ago that has stuck with me as a measure for my own challenges that pop up in different circumstances. “Everywhere you go, there you are.” It aligns with something Watchman Nee wrote in the helpful book entitled, Release of the Spirit. The LORD’s great purpose for us is to transform us into the likeness of Christ; as Catholics we refer to that as the divinization of mankind. Saint Peter puts it this way in 2 Peter:1:3-4: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature.“ In order for us to be partakers of the divine nature the LORD humbles us in different ways at different times in our life–all with the end goal of being so united with Christ that in Him we live and move and have our being. That is a tall order if left to our own devices.
I amend the above quote to illustrate where I am going with this thread of thought. “everywhere my willful nature goes, there my willful nature will be.” Watchman Nee put forth that we are all born with disordered thoughts and appetites which can lead to tremendous strain in our relationships with others and with the LORD. The Holy Spirit knows this of us and so he humbles us as we cooperate with him; we are trained by the Spirit, so to speak. Every trainer depends on the cooperation of the trainee–this is never more important than our training in holiness. If we refuse the Holy Spirit’s counsel due to our willful nature, he allows us to continue to digress in spiritual progress. He will come around again–“wherever you go, there you are“–bringing about another circumstance to nudge us again to choose his counsel.
St. Paul wrote to the Romans:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
The renewing of our mind requires our cooperation. The testings that the Spirit allows are the stepping stones of discernment. I will use own nature to illustrate how this unfolds. My can-do nature (others may say stubborn) predisposes me to resistance when I sense another’s phoniness. I used to spout off using my tongue as a weapon more often than I care to admit. Everywhere I went, there I was. When I decided to cooperate with the LORD, he disciplined me into humble submission through each encounter. As I allowed Him to break my will, he, in a beautiful way, released my own spirit from that disordered disposition of my heart.
Watchman Nee drew attention to our need to present ourselves as living sacrifices each time we are faced with our disordered will. He concluded that every person will eventually bow their knee to the LORD’s will, either in this life or the next. In light of my own disordered stubbornness, I could refuse to allow my will to be disciplined by the Spirit, but He will continue to bring me back around to the disordered thinking for another lesson in humility. Better to be purged of sin now than in purgatory!
Grain of Sand Four
Lastly, years ago another co-worker of mine gave me a seed of advice that stayed with me and grew fruit in my own life to this day. She made the comment that if Jesus could die, conquer death and raise again in three days, then she could at least pray for three days before concluding something is worth doing or not doing. That’s worth writing on a wall, isn’t it? We can employ this rule in all our relationships. How so? In my early years of marriage and learning to love my husband the Holy Spirit led me to realize that what I needed most in learning to love my husband (and everyone else, for that matter) is understanding. That three-day rule has proved to be the most helpful rule for understanding others. I would take a matter to prayer for three-days asking the LORD to grant his Spirit’s understanding to me. You know what? He did! Why was I so surprised by the grace? Little by little, I learned a few things from the three-day rule. When I kept my tongue, I allowed the Spirit of the LORD to teach me his ways and he would faithfully give his gifts of Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and Reverence. The astounding realization grew in me that there is very little in life to fret and stew over, three days allows room for the mind to marinate in God’s grace and not pride, anger, or fear. Then, if after the three days (I realize that some matters take much longer, but stay with me here) of prayerful ascension to the LORD about a matter, if words must be shared our spirit is in a better place to share them. It’s the difference between reaction and response.
(Allow me to digress. I share this pearl last because it has been the most spirit-changing practice for me, so I highly recommend it as a general rule of life. The breaking of my will that the Spirit has accomplished through this little rule has spilled into other areas of my life. Regarding my disordered attachments to the shiny distractions of this life, if I am attracted to something and want to purchase it, I mostly give it three days on my Amazon Wish List before purchasing it. You can bet what happens. The Holy Spirit gives me insight during those three days about why I want the item. If it is disordered, I will not purchase it (most of the time, I’m on my way to perfection–wink, wink). It has even gotten to the place that I forget the impulse. It is a satisfying practice to come back to that wish list from time to time because I can see how the Spirit has worked to release my grip on “shiny distractions” a little more. With a prayer of thanksgiving, I press the delete button on my wishlist.)
Just as the Holy Spirit can bring me to the place where I can press the delete button on my disordered appetites, he can bring us to the same place with a resentment or frustration with another person.
Just as Jesus would not entrust himself to others for confirmation of his worth, he opens our heart and mind to the FACT-“I am the beloved child of the Creator God, his word about me is the only voice I am to trust.”
Is there a consistent theme running through your relationships? A theme or resentment or of expecting too much from others. Everywhere we go the Spirit wants to train us out of our disordered thinking and into Christ’s image.
Holy Spirit, soul of my soul, I adore You. Enlighten, guide, strengthen and console me. Tell me what I ought to do and command me to do it.
I promise to be submissive in everything you ask of me, and to accept all that you permit to happen to me.
Only show me what is your will.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.