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 my 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, 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 in 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


I’ll Be Happy When….

I chuckled this week when a podcaster described a “new” problem referred to as the “I’ll be Happy When…” syndrome. The podcaster must not realize that it’s the human condition that has been with us from the beginning: always striving after the world’s empty promises only to be left empty and wanting more. What began with Adam and Eve’s deceived assumption that they would be happy when they tasted the forbidden fruit continues to this day with our preoccupation with what we can acquire through our efforts. Just like our ancestors we discover that happiness eludes us because it is always moving according to the measure of our dissatisfaction. This dissatisfaction with the present drives our striving after new ideas, new concepts, new things, new remedies. Granted it is within us to discover and innovate but when it is disordered it can consume us and suck the life out of us.

Consider today’s reading from Psalm 13 which begins with a question we may often find ourselves asking if we suffer from the “I’ll Be Happy When” syndrome. The psalmist pleads, “How long, O LORD?” and then proceeds to reveal his heart to the LORD, eventually concluding by remembering:

…I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.

The psalmist offers us a remedy for our discontent; when we recollect the LORD’s sufficiency, our minds shift our attention to our generous LORD. I, like the psalmist, sometimes find myself thinking about all the ifs and buts we are prone to place upon the LORD, ourselves, and those around us; it can take a lifetime to release our will to God. I grew up in an environment that inadvertently fostered a discontent with the present moment. The drive for the next thing to look forward to was consuming in those who influenced my life; it was an ill-fit for me. Happiness seemed to need to be scheduled with a whole lot of contingencies that drove contentment and peace into the future. The result was the restlessness that discontent fosters. Over the years I’ve witnessed up close the side-effects of the “I’ll Be Happy When” syndrome. Have you? Perhaps you even suffer from it yourself? Let’s consider today’s Gospel reading from Matthew and the other readings from Sacred Scripture and look for the remedy the LORD offers for this human condition we fight against.

The account of an altercation the temple tax collectors had with Christ’s disciples recorded in St. Matthew 17 is almost humorous to me. I kindle to the way Jesus flippantly instructs Peter to “go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax. Give that to them for me and you.” There was a duty that needed attention, instead of Christ allowing the disciples to fret about it, he gave an off-handed instruction as if to say “Meh, it’s not a problem, I got this.” Those twelve men suffered in varying degrees from the “I’ll be happy when…” syndrome just like we do.

What about you, friend? Do you wring your hands and murmur, “I will be happy when” I can get my taxes paid? I’ll be happy when life goes how I’ve scheduled it? I’ll be happy when this pandemic is over? I’ll be happy when all my social media friends press “like” on my posts? I’ll be happy when I make more money? Ohhh….there are so many ways that we undermine our peace in Christ by our thoughts and motivations, isn’t there? Mine is unique to me, yours are unique to you, but we both have the same problem. We do not trust God’s word to us just like Adam and Eve did not trust God’s word to them. We like to say we do, but when it comes down to it, do we? Can we release the death grip we have on our expectations? More often than not, I think we entrust ourselves to ourselves, pursuing ways to satisfy our own fearful and prideful pursuit of happiness.

Despite our disordered thinking, Jesus still says to us, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink.” (John 7:37) He is the definition of true happiness. As the Psalms declare in varying ways, God is the fulfillment of all our longings. He is what the prophets refer to when they say, “On that day….” Now, there’s the only contingency we should focus on because that day the prophets refer to is the beautiful realization that God is present here and now, in the only moment we are promised. How he must laugh at our striving! How he must grieve over our useless pursuits. Isaiah prophesies, I am paraphrasing a bit:

“I will lead those who are blinded by pride, fear, anger in a way that they do not know, in paths they have not known. I will guide them. I will turn the darkness of their “I’ll Be Happy When” thinking into light, I will make their rough paths that they think leads to happiness into level ground. These are the things I do and I do not forsake them.”

–Isaiah 42

As for me, I find it helpful to prayerfully my disordered “I’ll be happy when…” drives. Sitting with the LORD and allowing him to light my darkened thinking always brings light. I ask our Blessed Mother to intercede for me as I unpack the motivations behind each statement. She is the perfect example of contentment. I ask the Holy Spirit to fill me with His wisdom and discernment.

Making a habit of reading through the anthologies of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom, and Ben Sira in the Old Testament exposes us to all the human struggle to relinquish control to the LORD. What we discover are treasures that satisfy every longing of our hearts. They do not fade or become stale; in fact, they increase in satisfaction the more we pursue them. To get a foretaste of the books, I encourage you to read Proverbs 2.

LORD Jesus, You are our Alpha and Omega. You are our Sufficiency. You are our Happiness. Holy Spirit, help us to order our thoughts and actions as we pursue the treasures that give abundant life. Holy God, may we live and move and have our being in You!

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

Amen

Signs of Life

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

–Psalm 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

In A Word….”Selah”

Today’s readings from the psalms and oracles of the prophets serve as a soundtrack, as it were, for us as we have been considering the beginnings of God’s chosen people, the Israelites, recorded in Genesis. It’s not hard to recognize the same soundtrack plays as a backdrop for our own lives as we grow into our identity as God’s child. In fact, I believe that is why the psalms and oracles are so prevalent in The Liturgy of the Church, the words unite our spirit with the Spirit of God’s voice throughout the ages.

There is a certain word that is often sung or implied as a theme and by heeding it I may receive the LORD’s help as I walk the path of salvation. The word acts as a pop-up reminder to us to remember who we are and to whom we belong as we tread our own way through the high and low places of our journey of salvation. Consider this paraphrase of Psalm 46.

God is [my] refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.  Therefore [I] will not fear …… Selah

…God is in [my] midst; [I] shall not be moved;
God will help ….
 Selah

….“Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”….
 Selah

The words of the psalmist convey the ever-present help of the LORD to us as the way to mindfulness of the LORD’s quiet presence to us. The psalmist ends each phrase with the word “Selah”, which means “forever” or “to lift up; exalt”, it’s presence in the psalm is a cue for us to pause or to take a breath allowing our minds to take in what the psalmist has proclaimed. It serves as a sacred and silent interlude for us to receive the LORD’s truth. Within this particular psalm there is the implication of the “if/then” of the fullness of God’s Covenant with us. He calls the people to “Be still and know that I am God,” to consider what the LORD in his mercy is trying to teach us as we live out our salvation: If you will remain silent, listen and linger with me, then you will know I am your fortress; I will be your salvation! Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? Yet in practice it can take a colossal effort to remain silent. I am sometimes tempted to rely on my own judgment to quickly plow through the interruptions of life or become so enamored by the shiny parts of life that I’m distracted from the reality of the LORD’s Covenant with me.

We see this evidenced in what we’ve been reading about the history of God’s people; how fear and pride dogged their path, how they allowed the so-called gods of the culture around them to lose sight of the LORD’s Covenant. Eventually fatigue from their striving to fit in with the culture wears them down. What I have observed in my own life is that if fear and pride doesn’t drive me to my knees before the LORD, fatigue certainly will. I need “Selah” for I weary of the tug of war between my own will and the LORD’s will…..that’s just like him, isn’t it? He allows us to come to the end of ourselves where we finally cease striving. It’s as if the LORD says, “Lois, I finally have you where I need you…..now, let’s consider how you are striving to achieve and acquire what comes from Me alone.”

Two other passages from the psalms and the prophet are included in the Liturgy today that draws our spirit into a “Selah”. From Isaiah 30:15, “By waiting and by calm you shall be saved. In quiet and in trust your strength lies.” And again in Psalm 124 we can imagine the psalmist seated on a mountainside of the rugged terrain of Israel. As he sits there, he is pondering all the “what ifs” of life and remembers the faithfulness of the LORD as his rock and refuge. In that “Selah” a song formulates in his mind and he begins to sing,

If it had not been the Lord who was on my side
    when people rose up against me,
then they would have swallowed me up alive,
    when their anger was kindled against me;
then the flood would have swept me away,
    the torrent would have gone over me;
then over me would have gone
    the raging waters.”

Friend, are there “what ifs” in your life? Do you sit still before the LORD as you ponder them?….Selah

Have you come through a time of celebration and are left with a sense of satisfaction and gratitude?… Selah

Were you following a path set before you when circumstances went sideways for you? …Selah

Has someone you trusted betrayed you? ….Selah

Has the pandemic brought about financial reversal in your life?… Selah

Do you tend to focus on what the LORD hasn’t done for you?… Selah

When you scurry after pleasures that are passing, do you….Selah?

The joy of our salvation comes through our own willingness to Selah; to be still and know that the LORD is forever faithful and true. Only He can truly satisfy.

LORD God, remind us that nothing is new under the sun. You never change and your responses to our own choices are the same as they were to our ancestors in the faith. LORD, you are faithful and true even when we are not. Slow us down, train us to embrace “Selah” in our posture before you.

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

Let It Be

When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

–The Beatles

My first encounter with the beauty of our Blessed Mother came through the 1968 release of the popular song, Let it Be, by the Beatles. What the Beatles communicated in that song, though not exactly scriptural, began to draw me to Mary long before I converted to Catholicism decades later. The notion that the mother of Jesus could speak words of wisdom to me intrigued me.

Later in life when I was a tenderfoot Catholic I began contemplating all the words of Our Blessed Mother and I found that praying, “Let it be” could usher me into the grace the LORD has for all who will magnify Him. How so? By observing this grace-filled woman, this perfect mother, we learn how to detach ourselves from our own notions about how life should go. Let’s use the Beatles song to expand on how Mary’s fiat leads us into wisdom.

“When I find myself in times of trouble…” Our Blessed Mother knew times of trouble, she knew what confusion felt like, she knew what rejection felt like, she knew what poverty felt like. Her response to those rugged realities– “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” reveals her humility. As we learn to respond rather than to react when the unexpected throws us off-kilter we leave room in our soul to reflect on the circumstances from the LORD’s point of view as Mary surely did. In that space of reflection we learn to listen to the Holy Spirit’s wise counsel. Though life may remain rugged, we may more readily accept the pratfalls of life as sacred ground for our spirit to rest in the LORD’s great love for us.

“And in the hour of darkness…” Allow me to use my own experience with “the hour of darkness” to show how our Blessed Mother comes to us speaking words of wisdom. In the years before I officially converted to The Catholic Church, I devoured books written by contemplative Catholics. My spirit kindled to reading about the sacramental life of The Church, especially when the life of Our Blessed Mother was the topic. My spirit opened to belief in her intercession for me. One afternoon in the midst of a collection of grief-filled realities, I was feeling the seer of pain from an unspeakable tragedy our family was enduring. The hours, months, years were filled with dark hours! I cannot say I put Mary to the test but, somewhere deep down I hoped that she would be my Mother as I was being a mother in the midst of loss and grief. A moment came when I dropped to the floor from physical exhaustion of the trauma; I began to pray. Who did I pray to? The LORD of course, but who was there holding me, weeping with me, crying out with me the extreme of my emotions? It was Our Blessed Mother! I cannot articulate the infused comfort and hope my spirit received that day, but I experienced the “lifting up of the lowly” that Mary declared in her Magnificat.

“And when the night is cloudy…” When we are on our last tether and we can’t see our way through a dilemma, if we listen, we hear the echo of Our Blessed Mother say to Jesus, “[She] has no wine.” When our resources don’t measure up to the expectation of others, if we listen we can hear her say, “Whatever He says, do it.” And what do we do when Christ abundantly supplies? We do as Mary, we reflect on God’s goodness and treasure it in our heart.

“I wake up to the sound of music…” As we pray the rosary of our Blessed Mother we join Mary in contemplating the joys of the life of our Saviour. He laughs, he celebrates; when He walks in He literally lights things up! And we can imagine Mary laughing right along; why? For she knew that “He who is mighty has done great things!” We receive the same peace and joy when our mighty Saviour does great things in us!




The Return

The word Lent derives from a Middle English word lenten, meaning springtime. I kindle to that image as I consider that the purpose of Lent is to lead us into Christ’s passion through a season of examination and growth that will renew our strength and determination to love the LORD God with all our heart, mind and strength. We take up this practice every year, sometimes with a sense of duty or dread about the fasting, almsgiving or penance, but I believe we are missing the point of this our Catholic tradition. If we are not mindful of God’s desire to renew us as springtime renews the earth, Lent can be seen as a burden. Lent is more than making resolutions or enduring a penance by taking on something we think will be extraordinarily difficult. If we consider that it was Jesus zeal for us, his beloved, that led him into temptation like our own in order to reveal that he alone is our life-giving Savior, then we come closer to understanding Lent as a gift not a burden. Jesus alone delivers us from evil. Satan the enemy of our soul is the tempter, but Jesus is the conquerer!

The Liturgy of the Word during these 40 days of Lent offers us the armor, as it were, to journey with Jesus into this higher calling beyond enduring temptation to “proving” our desire for Him alone. I learned awhile back that when the term “40 days” is used in scripture it is usually associated with a period of time that includes trouble and hardship for the purpose of “proving” someone. Proving in the sense that you proof yeast, allowing time for the enzymes to activate in its environment of water and flour. Well, the environment we live in is rife with temptations that diminish us, intended to waste us in its concoction–the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life.” St. John goes on to say that this [concoction] “is not of the Father, but is of the world.” ..

Let’s consider another purpose of the daily readings during Lent. When we read the WORD, we are reading Jesus Christ, we are hearing Him say to us all we need for our salvation. His Spirit penetrates our hearts and minds with the sharp awareness of our own sin. If we choose, this Bread of Life, the Word of God, will raise in us new life. We enter into the temptation and penance of Lent with the daily Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist in Mass as our weapon and our sustenance for endurance and transformation. In consuming the Word, Jesus himself, the LORD offers us food for this journey as we align ourselves with the truth that the LORD’s strength is sufficient. He also offers us insight into the vices that keep us from his new life!

I recognized this gift of armor and the awareness of our sin as I considered the theme of return in today’s readings. The psalmist cries out to the Lord to “remember His mercies” In every instance of God “remembering,” we see that it always includes an action. God never forgets His Covenant or His people. He doesn’t suffer from memory lapses about us, no, to “remember” means God has us on His mind and he is ready to act is we allow him to. In the lenten season He is drawing us away, up into a desert for us to recollect his mercies as we suffer our temptations.

The prophet Joel’s words are read today just before the proclamation of the Gospel: “Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart; for I am gracious and merciful” And then the Gospel reading from Matthew teaches us how to return to Him with a lesson on forgiveness that Jesus taught His disciples. Do we need to be reminded of that today? I know I need to remember that a forgiving spirit guides me in returning to the LORD in order to be renewed and to become like him!

As we consider the greatest temptation of our life is to forget how much you love us and desire us, remind us that you always have us on your mind and you are waiting for us to always have you on our mind.

LORD God, we ask that this season of Lent be a season where we allow You to penetrate our spirits through our fasting, almsgiving and penance. May we allow you to prove us so that we would grow into the life you desire for us. Bring springtime to our hearts as we walk with you during this Lenten fast. Renew a right spirit within us!

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

Amen