A Willing Sacrifice

Greetings, friend.

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

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

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

    and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

    and to walk humbly with your God?

The Book of the Prophet Micah 6:8

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

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

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

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

Pray with me, friend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

A Living Sacrifice

Yesterday we celebrated the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Early Church at Pentecost, and now we enter Ordinary Time in the Liturgical calendar. The Church has prepared us through the extraordinary days of Lent and Eastertide for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Holy days, sacramental days, sanctified and set apart for us to enter into the eternal mysteries of our salvation. Ordinary Time is sacramental as well, but the eternal mysteries are revealed as we live and move and have our being in the unfathomable Truths of The Faith. Who can understand how this steadfast hope we have transforms us into the image of Christ? Just as day gives way to night and then day again, our lives rhythmically turn toward a beauty that surpasses our understanding. We are like bees to flowers–ever pursuing the truth in God’s ways and means so that we may taste and see the goodness of our LORD.

How can this unfold in our daily lives? I believe St. Paul says it best when he refers to us as living sacrifices that we offer every moment to our LORD; our very existence is an altar before our Triune God. That altar stands in the varied landscapes of life as we ascend into the fulfillment of who we are as God’s beloved. Sometimes it requires a lot of rock picking to build the altar of sacrifice; we approach with reluctant steps. Yet other times, we run to the altar with a skip toward all that is good, beautiful, and true.

Living sacramentally in every moment imparts these good favors from The Lover of our soul; the stuff of our existence suffuses with sacred significance. In effect, living the quotidian is kneeling before an altar where our humanity meets the divine, and we transform as we allow Christ to incarnate our flesh-soul, mind, and body.

Our Blessed Mother, the saint of all saints, whom we venerate today as The Mother of The Church, was the vessel of this mystery; she knew a thing or two about how the ordinary can become extraordinary. Let’s consider the disposition of Mary’s heart and learn how to kneel at the altar of sacrifice in all the happenstances of our lives. Artist, Fra Angelico, depicts Mary in a garden when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to her; I can imagine she may have been washing clothes or grinding wheat for bread or any other mundane task of a given day. So too, for us, what each day holds is not a vague or general mercy from a far-off God. God’s flesh sees each day as good, and with delight and wisdom, he comes to us in the monotony of our daily round and asks us to be his living sacrifice. How our Blessed Mother responded to the LORD’s coming into her ordinary moment is the exemplar for us,

The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God…Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

This same Holy Spirit comes to us in every passage of time inspiring us through the written Word, which is Jesus. Go figure that mystery out! The more we say, Here I am by immersing ourselves in the worship of the Mass and the written Word of God, the more our flesh is filled with his wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, piety, and reverence. This is how we build the altar of our life, this is how our lives transform into living sacrifices! The LORD Jesus comes to each of us according to our natures–the good, the bad, the ugly–and he waits for us to bow before him to echo Our Blessed Mother; the first receiver of Christ’s flesh, responded, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

So how does this play out for us, only the LORD knows, but I have an inkling. By praying the Word of God, we gather the courage to not only kneel at the altar of our life but also lay ourselves down on the altar. The humility of our Blessed Mother mirrors to us how to do that, My soul magnifies the LORD, and my spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour. As we treasure reading and meditating on the Sacred Scriptures each day, we magnify the LORD rather than the distractions and fascinations around us. Let’s do that together by praying with the Word.

LORD, I magnify you in this confusing circumstance, I know that You, O LORD, are my lamp, my God who lightens my darkness. With you I can break through any barrier, with my God I can scale a wall. (Psalm 18)

LORD, I magnify you in my motivations that would cause me to use words as weapons against this difficult person; change my mind so that the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart are acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19)

LORD, I magnify you in this relationship that requires more of me than I want to give. Search me, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Reveal any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139)

LORD, I magnify you in this decision I need to make, help me to be attentive to wisdom and incline my heart to understanding; then I will understand how to reverence you in this decision…[You alone I desire to honor] (Proverbs 2)

LORD, I present my body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to You, which is my spiritual worship. Train me in not being conformed to this world, so that I may be transformed by the renewing of my minds, so that I may discern what is Your will for my life—what is good and acceptable and perfect. [Romans 12]

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 Waste of Time?

How’s the lenten journey going for you, fellow pilgrim? Do you ever wonder if you’re wasting your time on your lenten vows? It’s a question I asked myself recently; it’s a question I ask myself all the time, not just during Lent. I got to thinking about if Jesus ever wondered if he was wasting time being the Savior of the World? A quick survey of the gospel readings reveal that Jesus seemed to always be on his way to somewhere or leaving somewhere; entering and departing the circumstances of the human condition. A familiar phrase from the gospels goes something like this, “While they were on their way…” We know Jesus got tired; he wearied of people’s refusal to see things the way he saw them; got angry with hypocrites; and wept over people’s suffering. And we know Jesus often parted company with people to retreat into prayer. I wonder what he and our Heavenly Father conversed about during those prayer retreats; we can only imagine.

When questioned by the spectators of his life, he would reply that he was doing the will of the Heavenly Father. It follows that Jesus would never have doubted how he spent his time. It was the Father’s will to incarnate himself into our humanity; therefore, it was the Father’s will that he invested the entirety of his mind, body, and spirit in us! That just blows my mind! Every word that came out of Jesus’ mouth was motivated by the Father’s will! Perhaps when I stop questioning if I’m wasting my time, I will live all of my life as Jesus lived his life, and every word I speak or don’t speak will invest in God’s will. Rather than thinking interruptions and delays are a nuisance, I would see them as opportunities for investing in every little movement of my life. The here and there and to-and-fro of my life would become an investment of thanksgiving. Wouldn’t that be something?! To live and move and have my being in the will of my Beloved Father!

There are some questions I’ve started asking the LORD lately about doing his will as I’ve been meditating on the Sacred Scripture readings for our Lenten season.

When I fret or get angry over circumstances beyond my scope as your beloved daughter; am I wasting my time rather than investing trust in Your will? You answer, “Love righteousness…think of [my] goodness and seek me with integrity of heart.” (Wisdom 1:1)

When I insert myself beyond my rightful place as a child of God; am I wasting my time rather than investing obedience to Your will? You answer, “A jealous ear hearkens to everything, and discordant grumblings are not secret. Therefore guard against profitless grumbling, and from scoundrel mongering withhold your tongue.” (Wisdom 1:10-11)

What do I invite into my mind, body, and spirit when I waste energy on pursuits other than investing in Your wisdom? You answer, ‘Learn wisdom…for when you revere the holy precepts, you will find holiness…desire my Word; long for it, and you will be instructed.”

Who do I think is a waste of time? Do they need my emotional investment? You answer, “Beloved daughter, regard the life of the poor [in spirit]; do not keep needy eyes waiting. Do not grieve the hungry [in spirit]….do not turn your face from the helpless…in their pain, they cry out bitterly…listen to them for me.” (Ben Sira 4:1-4)

Am I wasting emotional energy on this relationship; it wears me down. They don’t care about what I have to say; why bother? You answer, “Beloved, ..let no one intimidate you…do not refrain from speaking at the proper time, and do not hide your wisdom…even to death, fight for what is right, and I will do battle for you…Do not let your hand be open to receive, but clenched when its time to give.” (Ben Sira 4: 23-31)

LORD, your very presence invests peace, love, acceptance, forgiveness, mercy, grace! You were always inviting us to join you on the way of abundant life here and in eternity. Every person, every circumstance, every suffering you encountered was an investment on our behalf! Jesus, you are still investing us with your Holy Spirit’s power to go and do likewise. Grant us new eyes to see, new ears to hear, and new hearts to love.

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

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

Amen

The Way of the Desert

I recently spent time in the desert Southwest where I admired the unique beauty of the desert landscape, not unlike the desert terrain that Jesus entered in the Judean wilderness in his 40-days of temptation from the enemy. Deserts can be harsh and unyielding to human control, yet when the season is right there is a certain beauty that grows out of those conditions. The truth of this caused me to pause as I embarked on this year’s Lenten journey. Could the dread we sometimes experience as we make our Lenten vows change into an eagerness to see the beauty the LORD has waiting for us as we make our way through the desert? Consider why Christ journeyed into the desert; his motivation was and always is love for us. Love led him to the desert, he didn’t need to prove his love by conquering the temptations common to us, but we do; and so he went to show us the way of love through the desert into the abundance of the love-life with him.

Our Catholic Faith refers to our growth in the beauty of holiness as the Purgative Way where we cast from our lives the bitter root of sin that our spirit accumulates when we do not guard our hearts. Much like a gardener tending his garden, our LORD desires to tend to our spirit so that the beauty of holiness can flourish in us. During the Lenten season, the Purgative Way is a journey of concentrated humbling. Humility, or humus, literally means “on the ground…earth” That is helpful to me as I consider that I get down and dirty with the LORD in this journey through the desert terrain of Lent so that his beauty can grow in me. The Sacred Scripture reveals God’s master plan for the landscape of our lives:

“Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.”

Leviticus 19

During the Lenten season, I envision the LORD kneeling down with me in the “humus” of my life as we tend to the weeds that I’ve allowed to grow through my willful lack of attention. We clear away malice and envy, resentment and bitterness, gluttony and avarice, it’s tough work to destroy roots that go deep into our soil, but here’s the thing, beneath the tangle and decay of sin, the LORD has beauty ready to grow, permeating us with his holiness! There beneath the refuse of death, springs forth the tender green shoots of love, grace, peace.

I offer to you a helpful litany that is guiding me as I get down and dirty with the LORD this Lenten season. The author is anonymous.

The Fast Life

Fast from judging others;
Feast on Christ dwelling in them.
Fast from fear of illness;
Feast on the healing power of God.
Fast from words that pollute;
Feast on speech that purifies.
Fast from discontent;
Feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger;
Feast on patience.

Fast from pessimism;
Feast on hope.
Fast from negatives;
Feast on encouragement.
Fast from bitterness;
Feast on forgiveness.
Fast from self-concern;
Feast on compassion.
Fast from suspicion;
Feast on truth.
Fast from gossip;
Feast on purposeful silence.
Fast from problems that overwhelm;
Feast on prayer that sustains.
Fast from anxiety;
Feast on faith.

– Author Unknown

LORD Jesus, may our love for you lead us through this Lenten desert.

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

“I Do Believe, Help my Unbelief!”


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.

Amen

O Jesus, I Surrender Myself to You, Take Care of Everything!

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.

*Below is a link to the pdf of the novena:

To Everything There is a Season

The change of season from Summer to Autumn never fails to remind me of the words in the Book of Ecclesiastes that there is a season for everything; it’s the natural order. The changes of seasons are also a glimpse of the LORD’s faithfulness to us in the natural cycles of life. We used to have a perennial garden before we became apartment dwellers; observing the array of flowers from the early Spring bloom to Autumn dormancy gave me pleasure.

During the autumn of each year, we would harvest hundreds of bulbs from the original 7 Asiatic and Oriental Lilies we planted when we planted the garden. We would spread those bulbs throughout the garden and wait for them to trumpet their glory under the summer’s sky in symphony with the other bloomers throughout our garden. Seeds and bulbs; re-recreation at its best! And so the cycle would go each year. The plants never failed to perpetually glorify the Creator in just being what they were created to be. Throughout Scripture, gardens are the metaphorical image of our life with the LORD. I kindle to the glimpse of this that we are given in the book of Isaiah.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
    and return not thither but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
 so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.

  “For you shall go out in joy,
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
    shall break forth into singing,
    and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
    instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,
     for an everlasting sign which shall not be cut off.”

–Isaiah 55:10-13

In the New Testament, Jesus uses the image of a mustard seed for the perpetual propagation of God’s Kingdom here on earth. Mustard is similar to kudzu in that it is invasive, wildly winding its way through the soil. It quietly invaded the land. Interestingly, Jesus was speaking to Jews who valued order and had strict rules about keeping a tidy garden; they even had laws against planting mustard seed–it messed with their system! Jesus had the chutzpah to compare the kingdom of God to an invasive plant.

The problem was that many of the listeners and even some of his followers had lofty ideas about what the Kingdom of God should look like and how it should grow. In their minds, a militant order was foremost, that, and size. They probably envisioned the tall cedars of Lebanon rather than some untamed bush from a mustard seed, spreading wherever it pleased, messy, difficult to keep under control. What they couldn’t imagine is God’s Kingdom subtly and subversively taking over their well-ordered world.

Their vision of God’s Kingdom included a conquering hero, in the stature of the cedars of Lebanon. There vision of God’s Kingdom included a frontal attack on the empires and governments of the world. Power to the People! Their vision of God’s Kingdom did not include a small act of faith like a mustard seed. Their vision didn’t kindle to the idea of a subtle contagion spreading through one little beautiful life, one little act of hospitality, one little act of mercy, one little act of grace, one little act of forgiveness, one little act of trust at a time.

I wonder what this world’s kingdom would look like if our corners of God’s garden grew like mustard plants. Methinks that the Kingdom of God would invade the world with every seed of love, mercy, forgiveness, long-suffering, gentleness, peace, hope, and grace that we allowed the LORD to plant in the soil of our corner of the garden. And little by little, garden would unite with another’s garden, and then another’s and then, happy day, the trees of the field would clap their hands!

I wonder what the LORD may be up to in our gardens. He, the Master Gardener, wants to tend us, pruning, fertilizing, and watering. He desires to cover us for necessary dormancy or expose us in due season to warmth and light. To everything, there is a season.

Holy Spirit of God, would you grant us the fortitude to remain in the soil of your everlasting love for us? Help us to sow seeds of your love with a patient and joyful spirit in our corners of your Garden.

Holy Spirit of God, would you grant us insight about the corners of our garden that are dark and untended? Help us sow seeds of hope and love where weeds threaten to choke us and crowd out your light.

Holy Spirit of God, would you re-create in the empty spaces or our gardens something of your beauty and goodness? Help us to cultivate your beauty for others to behold.

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

Labor Day

“I will give each of you what your work deserves.”

–Revelation 2:23

We celebrate Labor Day here in the United States today. Did you know that the words liturgy and labor are akin to each other? Liturgy is multi-layered in its definition; the Greeks defined it as “the work of the people.” As Christians, we understand that the work we do is meant to be sanctified labor in our worship of the Creator in the daily round of our lives. Practicing Catholics understand another sense of liturgy; celebrating the Mass is our collected worship of the LORD through the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. We give God correct worship in assigning worth (worth-ship) to the celebration of the Mass. The Early Church Fathers understood and emphasized that the continuity of both senses of the word, liturgy, must be retained in our hearts and minds if we are to live the good life of our Faith. Somewhere along the way, humanity lost its sense of labor as worship of Almighty God. The Liturgy of the Church continually helps us recognize the Sacred Scripture’s emphasis of this in the last act of our worship in the celebration of the Mass, as a reminder to continue our worship of God in the labor we do.

The very last action in the celebration of the Mass is the blessing we receive from our priest. Do you remember how the liturgy unfolds in this final action? We bow our heads as we trace the sign of the cross over our mind, soul, and body while the priest asks God to pour out His blessing on us. This Sacred Tradition harkens back to the blessings that are found throughout the Scriptures. Usually, the blessing is given when someone is taking leave of another. In the liturgy of the Mass, we remember Christ’s blessing of his disciples.

“Then he [Jesus] led them out as far as Bethany and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.” –Luke 24:50-51

This is the intentional communication of this last action in our worship: The Lord has come into our lives, and in the same way that the Lord sent out His disciples, He is sending us out, too. The Mass ends with the Latin phrase that means “Go, you are sent.” We hear it as, “Go forth, the Mass has ended.” to which we respond, “Thanks be to God.”

Sent to do what? We are sent on the mission of all ages; we are sent in peace to bring peace into our corners of the world. We cooperate with the LORD to redeem our corner of the world through our labor. Our question today is, how will we take the good news of Christ into the quotidian labor of our lives? How can the labor of our lives bring worship to our LORD and Creator, and salvation to our corner of the world? The Daily readings this week have been drawing our minds to consider labor as worship; this is how St. Paul puts it in the letter to Colossians chapter 3:17:

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

If we worship the Lord through our labor, then we will look at everything we do, doing it in the name of Jesus. How is your offering looking these days? Consider the most mundane and boorish part of your labor; how would it change if our mind ascended to the LORD in worship every moment of that labor?

If we worship the Lord through our labor, then what do our words sound like to him and to others? Do our words assign Beauty, Goodness, and Truth to the Name of Jesus? Do our words reflect his beauty, goodness, and truth to those who labor beside us?

Here’s a thought, what about those who labor before us? Do we speak our gratitude to others for their labor, as we do to our Creator? Let’s get down and dirty with this one? In your workplace, who takes care of your lawn? Who serves you in the IT department? Who serves you by keeping the bathroom clean? Who supplies the kitchen? Who serves you in making your workplace an enjoyable place? Who serves you at the window or table when you dine out? We can give thanksgiving to them through our words of gratitude thereby, we give thanks to God.

If we worship the Lord through our labor, then what should our deeds look like to him and others? Do we join in on gossip and backbiting? Or do we elevate conversations by stopping gossip and backbiting in its track by finding the good in others? Staying silent can be an act of worship to our LORD, but acting on that silence by walking away from those conversations is an act of worship that may leave a greater impact on working out salvation in our corner of the world. Someone wisely advised me to use the “3-strikes and your out” approach to circumstances like this? If after you try three times to elevate the conversation by deflection with your words, walk away. The workplace could do with a little more exercise of the “3-strikes and your out” approach, don’t you think?

If we worship the Lord through our labor, then we take our cues from the actions of Jesus. Today’s gospel account reveals his labor in healing! That is, at the very heart, what salvation is; the salve of God’s grace and mercy pours over our lives, healing us, and that healing is also for all the people we encounter; it’s intended so. Do our words pour healing salve over another’s life? Do our deeds pour healing salve into another’s brokenness?

Jesus, we offer you worship through how we labor when we reveal your goodness in our work, help us to see our labor with the eyes of worship.

Jesus, we offer our words in our labor as offerings of your beauty to others, tame our tongues, help us as we offer our worship to you in the way we speak.

Jesus, we offer the deeds of our labor in sacrifice of worship, thanking you for the ability and privilege we have to use our bodies to glorify you, sanctify every deed we do. May our every action worship you our Creator God.

May the words of our mouth and the meditation of our heart be acceptable to you, our LORD, our Rock, and Redeemer.

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

Amen.

Glory Be

My bet is if I say, “Glory be to the Father,” to you as a practicing Catholic, the remainder of the prayer would roll off your tongue back to me, “…and to the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As it was, in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be world without end.” To say that the Glory Be is embedded in our Catholic identity would be an accurate conclusion. We have prayed The Gloria, and extended Glory Be, in chant or song when we celebrate the Mass since about 380 A.D. I counted up how many times we pray the Glory Be each day as a response in the Liturgy of the Hours: we pray it at least 38 times starting with Morning Prayer and concluding with Night Prayer. So, why does the liturgy of the Church train our minds to weave this sacred tradition of prayer into our daily lives?

We, in our finite existence, recognize the LORD’s infinite existence, we bow our minds to that truth when we pray the Glory Be. It takes time and not just a little bit of effort, on our part, for our hearts to believe what we pray, doesn’t it? To entirely abandon our desire for control is no small undertaking so The Church, in her wisdom, inches our minds closer and closer to detachment from the world’s ways and means through a habit of prayer.

I kindle to something St. Irenaeus wrote, “The glory of God is man fully alive”, we can stretch that truth a bit to read, “When I live fully alive to God I give him glory.” We can conclude that when we die to the world we are more fully alive to God’s glory. Praying the truth of the Glory Be with this understanding trains us in wisdom; it becomes a prayer of detachment from the sways of the culture. We may get to the place where we appreciate the beauty of God’s creation and the goods it provides for us without depending on them for our joy and peace of mind. I can imagine the LORD smiling as we pray the Glory Be because we ascend to him each time and with baby steps, we gain his Spirit’s wisdom. That gives him glory!

So how does praying, “As it was, in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be, world without end.” train us in the Spirit’s wisdom? It anchors us. I don’t know your life; however, I know mine. I NEED anchoring. Elsewise, I’m tossed to and fro by what is happening around me in the world. I remind myself through this prayer that the constancy of God from the beginning remains because He never changes. His faithfulness is new every morning, as the prophet Jeremiah wrote. When I stop my runaway thoughts to pray instead of wallow in distress, I glorify this constancy of our Triune God, and his Spirit grants me understanding and wisdom. Do you ever get carried away with angst or despair at what you see happening around you? Then pray, “Glory to 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.”

Knowing and believing that the love of God that spoke this world into existence and remains faithful through all time, enfolding us here and now and into the future liberates us from counting on this life to give us a security that only comes from God alone. Praying the Glory Be is a clarifying prayer in that believing what we are praying moves our eyes off the tide of changing history. We learn to give glory to God when we enjoy his blessings, remembering that he is the Giver of all good things. And then when the tide changes and we feel unsettled, God faithfully clarifies for us the way through that tide until we gain our equilibrium once more.

Praying the Glory Be is a calming prayer in that the weight of God’s glory settles down on us, enfolding us in the secure knowledge that “All is well, and all manner of things will be well.”* Much like a weighted blanket calms anxiety for a body that is agitated, the LORD in his goodness rests down upon us the glorious weight of the splendor of his eternal presence. It is a Presence that endures through all times and events (Psalm 145). We aren’t created to be hand-wringers, tossed to and fro by every possible change that comes along. No, we are created for eternal life with God here and now, we are created for peace. When we fix our gaze on the Kingdom of God knowing that “as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be world without end,” the weight of this truth presses our disordered reactions into responses secured in the knowledge and understanding that “Eternal life is [knowing God].” (St. John 17:3)

Father, you are near to all who call upon you. The more we call upon you, the more we learn to know ourselves. Transform us as we give glory to you.

Jesus, your Word tells us, “Blessed are those who are pure in heart for they shall see God.” You wouldn’t promise that if you didn’t mean it! With every upward surge of our heart, we glorify you, enlighten our darkened understanding of who you are.

Holy Spirit, foster in us a spirit of indifference toward the world. Train our desires to always give glory to you, and you alone.

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

Home Improvement

By wisdom a house is built,
    and by understanding it is established;
by knowledge the rooms are filled
    with all precious and pleasant riches.

Proverbs 24:3-4

Today The Church honors the parents of Our Blessed Mother, Mary. The oral tradition of the early Church conveyed their names as Joachim and Anne and they are honored by The Church for their faith in the Covenant with God. They represent the entire quiet remnant that for generations faithfully lived their lives following the Shema. We know that they practiced their faith and established in their home an atmosphere for the coming of the Messiah.

The fruit of their faithfulness to God’s Covenant was Mary then ultimately the long-awaited Messiah Jesus. What we know of Mary is her humble and obedient spirit, her knowledge of God’s promises fulfilled in the Messiah, her charity toward others and most importantly the hope she put in God’s promise fulfilled in Jesus. These I believe is what we desire for ourselves and for our families.

The Shema that Sts. Joachim and Anne surely lived by remains a map of life for us here and now as we raise our families in The Catholic Faith.

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

The Shema is a sort of checklist for us as we live each day inclined to the LORD and listening to Him. The following quote by James Clear came to my mind as I was writing my thoughts down about the practice of the Shema. “Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.” So what is our goal as Christians that sets the direction of our lives? “To love the Lord God with all our heart, soul, and might.” What is the system that will lead us to this goal? The Shema offers the atomic habits, so to say, that will compound our growth and progress in reaching our goal for ourselves and our families.

How do we then achieve our goal in our family life? The daily habit of reading the Sacred Scripture writes on our hearts the truth, goodness and, beauty of our Faith; it embeds in our mind who we are and what we are to be about. Mary knew the prophecies of the Old Testament about the Messiah. She didn’t pick them up by accident. Her faithful parents’ practice of the daily reading of the Sacred Scripture and worship of the LORD in the synagogue formed in Mary wisdom, understanding and, knowledge.

Do we arrange the priorities of life below our priority to teach our children to love and honor God above all things? Stop and think about that. Do we consider building our family’s foundation of faith our ultimate purpose. The habit of daily prayer together and the reading of God’s Word must be the foundation of wisdom, understanding and, knowledge for our children to build their lives on.

It is our sacred responsibility and privilege to magnify the LORD before our children. Talking about our Faith when we “sit in our house” is a tall order. Fewer and fewer families have the habit of “family time” let alone “family worship”. The burden of responsibility relies on our parental stick-to-itivness. Remember the goal? It is up to us to practice atomic habits to achieve that goal. You may be thinking how can we do this? I’m glad you asked!

Incorporating our faith in God a little here and a little there as you “walk by the way…when you lie down….when you rise” wins the day. The habit of arrow prayers throughout the day can stay with a child for a lifetime. My mother would pray the psalm, “Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” over me when I struggled against melancholia. That prayer has come from my own lips many times for myself and as I parented our children. I now have opportunity with some of my melancholy grandchildren to pray that over them.

The priority of keeping Covenant with the LORD through the Sacraments of our Faith builds the foundation of faith in God for the next generation. Weekly worship at Mass isn’t just a duty, it’s a privilege; we, with our families, gather together to show our gratitude to God for becoming our LORD and Savior, Jesus Christ. Foster an atmosphere of anticipation about worshipping at Mass. If we feel that way, our children will follow. Living our life of faith in the LORD is a frontlet before the eyes of our children, so to speak. Our habits imprint on the doorposts of our children’s lives. The consistency of our practice of The Faith is paramount and with the Holy Spirit’s leadership we are given the fortitude we need.

LORD, you promise us in your Word that if we raise our children up in the habits of our Faith they will not depart from them. Help us to Shema you; to hear and obey you as we strive toward the goal of our children and grandchildren knowing You and loving you with all their heart, mind, body and soul! Sts. Joachim and Anne, pray for us. Blessed Mother intercede for us.

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

Amen