Say Yes More Than You Say No

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

“Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
Give and gifts will be given to you;
a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.
For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you.”

The Gospel according to St. Luke 6:36-38

The best advice I received as a parent of young children was this: “Say yes more than you say no.” It’s a lesson that stayed with me long after our children left home because it applies to all relationships. The child psychologist that wrote that advice was referring to the spirit of “no” that we must guard against in parenting children with rigidity and close-mindedness. We can soften by saying “yes” in the important task of raising children with love, acceptance, and forgiveness. I thought of this as I read the gospel reading today for Jesus; the Master Psychologist is the perfect example of saying yes more than no. His mercy is his yes to us!

The response of mercy is the prerequisite of living as God’s child, you could say it’s in our DNA as a beloved child of the Most High God; woefully dormant sometimes, but it is there. The heart of the good news of Jesus is this: “God so loved the world that he gave…” and the entirety of his giving to us is revealed in Jesus’ actions and teachings. We witness the if/then of saying yes to God as Jesus lived among us giving practical insight into how to say yes more than we say no to our neighbor, be it our child, spouse, sibling, friend, co-worker, or acquaintance.

Perhaps you grew up under the supposition of God as Judge rather than of God as Lover; that kind of thinking can entangle us in a briary patch that only the Lover of our Soul can rescue us. Do you feel me? I think what hinders us in saying yes with mercy and acceptance to others is that we’ve deluded ourselves by believing this of the LORD because sometimes we transfer this thinking to our reactions to others. We so easily default to judgment in our thoughts, words, and actions that others have a hard time seeing mercy and love in us; it’s as though the word “No” is flashing with neon lights from our countenance. The LORD desires to purge us of this sin.

The remedy is the confession of the judgmental spirit we excuse in ourselves. But then, we must allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in choosing to say yes to others as the LORD says yes to us! What makes me think that I can do otherwise? Remembering “For God so loved the world that he gave…..” is helping to remove the proverbial log in my eye as I live beside others in this life; this is how I have been praying that truth over my life, “For Lois so loves God that she gives…..” Wow! That stops me in my tracks when judgment and condemnation begin to poison my thought life. It’s hard work, but Christ is yoked with us as we plow through the weeds that entangle us!

Today’s gospel reading happens to be one of the many “Come-to-Jesus” readings that are helping me relearn the LORD as Lover by unlearning the attitudes and actions I can accumulate in saying “no” to others through my judgmental thoughts and words. I invite you to pray with me the Gospel according to St. Luke 6:36-38

“[Lois] Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

Father, your forbearance and grace cannot be measured; it’s beyond my comprehension. Help me learn to extend my “yes” of love and acceptance of others. Holy Spirit, reveal all the thoughts I have that are contrary to love. Purge them from my mind.

“[Lois] Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.”

LORD Jesus, you rubbed shoulders with anyone and everyone, even those that we would avoid if left to our own devices. You love! No matter the creed or ethnicity or sexual identity or state of existence! Holy Spirit, expand mercy in me until I no longer see anyone as unequal to me. I love you so much that I choose to give acceptance to everyone. We are your children.

[Lois] Forgive and you will be forgiven.

Savior and Redeemer, you love me so much that you forgive me–my sins and failings, my raw edges, my pride, fear, and anger. I choose to love you so much that I desire to forgive others. I choose to love you so much that I extend grace rather than second-guessing judgment when I don’t understand another’s words or actions. I love you so much that I choose to look for you in another’s eyes; I choose to see your face looking back at me. I love you so much that I choose my countenance says yes to everyone, EVERYONE!

“[Lois] Give and gifts will be given to you;
a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap
.”

Father of all Good Gifts, you overwhelm me with your grace and mercy, your joy and peace. Your love is endless! Forgive me for putting limits on my love for others. You did not create me this way; would you recreate generosity of spirit in me? I don’t want to give by counting what it will cost me because it already cost you everything to love me. I choose to love you so much that I freely give the gifts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, and faithfulness to others.

[Lois]… the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you.”

Holy Spirit of God, I’m ashamed at how quickly I measure others by impossible standards! Forgive the stingy thoughts that creep into my unguarded mind. Train me to say yes to your love at the first hint of my withholding love from another.

I love you so much that I give my thoughts, words, deeds to you without any measure. I love you so much that I choose to love as you have loved me, laying my life down in favor of the love you desire to give through 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

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

The Eye of the Needle

“Children, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God!
It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle
than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up,
knelt down before him, and asked him,
“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good?
No one is good but God alone.
You know the commandments: You shall not kill;
you shall not commit adultery;
you shall not steal;
you shall not bear false witness;
you shall not defraud;
honor your father and your mother
.”
He replied and said to him,
“Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.”
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him,
“You are lacking in one thing.
Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor
and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
At that statement, his face fell,
and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples,
“How hard it is for those who have wealth
to enter the Kingdom of God!”
The disciples were amazed at his words.
So Jesus again said to them in reply,
“Children, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God!
It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle
than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”
They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves,
 “Then who can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said,
“For men it is impossible, but not for God.
All things are possible for God.”

The Gospel according to St. Mark 10:17-21

The gospel reading for today includes a phrase that was understood by the Israelites, but unfamiliar to us. Jesus remarks to the disciples, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” What exactly was Jesus getting at? There were actually narrow gates named Needles Eye in the formidable city wall that surrounded Jerusalem. They were used when the city’s main gates were closed at night or during an invasion. They were built as security measures since a person would have to unload his camel of the load it was carrying and then carefully lead his camel through the low and narrow gate. Not an easy feat when you consider the 5-6 foot height of a camel, as well as the 300-1,000 pound load in the panniers, slung on each side of the camel! Not only was the camel too tall for the gate, but its load made it too wide for the gate. It was a slow process to unload the camel and then force the camel to its knees to scootch through the gate. An impossible feat, indeed!

It’s pretty clear that the requisite in receiving the abundant life promised to us by Jesus is detachment from anything that would weigh us down or hinder our progress in salvation and transformation. In effect, when we cooperate with Jesus’ mandate to unload ourselves of what we think defines us to follow him in this earthly kingdom, he is preparing our souls for the final entrance into the divine life with our LORD forever in the heavenly Kingdom.

The young man’s eagerness to get the law of God right is revealed in how he approached Jesus–he ran! Jesus, knowing the young man’s sincerity, looks into his soul; the narrative reads,

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him,
‘You are lacking in one thing.
..'”

That “one thing” is a depth of love that seeks to live and move and have our being in Christ alone! And that’s the tipping point, isn’t it? I find myself often running to Jesus wanting to do more out of my love for him while ignoring the load I’m trying to carry that will not fit through the proverbial eye of the needle. What’s in that load? Well, that’s as varied as humanity; the load contains an array of human endeavors unique to each of us. The young man carried the visible wealth of accumulation for that was his attachment. What’s in your load? I know what’s in mine!

Interestingly enough the The Church’s daily liturgy, prayers, and readings have included readings from the book of St. James and the Saints while we’ve been contemplating the gospel readings about following Christ. St. James and the Saints of The Church had to learn what we need to learn. What did they learn? As we lay down the load we’ve acquired from this earthy kingdom, he gives back the weight of his glory! And what makes up that weight? The eternal goods that Jesus speaks to when he said to his disciples, “I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly.” The one thing he asks of us is love of him first and foremost He desires to pour into our life the stable disposition of Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance that lead us in the faith, hope, and love of God. Then he gives more of the weight of his joy, peace, and mercy. And then his Holy Spirit pours in wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, holiness, and reverence! The Father of all good and perfect gifts then gives the seeds of charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity that grow and flourish. And the thing is, we easily carry those through the Eye of the Needle into eternity. What’s not to love about that one thing Jesus asks of us!?!

LORD God, giver of all good gifts, helps us to unload from our lives the other things we replace you with.

We desire the gifts from weight of your glory upon our lives. We want to live in the fullness of the abundant life here and now, and in eternity.

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

As it was in the beginning, 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

What’s in a Word: Obdurate

The Pharisees came out and began to debate with [Jesus],
seeking from him a sign from heaven testing him.
He groaned in his spirit and said,
“Why does this generation seek a sign?
Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”
And leaving them, he again he got in the boat
and went off to the other shore.

The Gospel of St. Mark 8:11-13

The daily gospel readings these early weeks of Ordinary Time can leave you breathless with the pace of St. Mark’s narrative, yet they have several reoccurring themes that are worth our meditation. One, in particular, is how Jesus responds to the ever-present Pharisees lurking at the edges of many of the beautiful actions of our Savior. The gospel reading for today follows the miracle of Jesus feeding the crowd of 4,000 plus hungry folk who had followed him.

The Pharisees, known to “strain at a gnat but swallow a camel,” floundered in their understanding and acceptance of Jesus. Jesus had just fed the large crowd, the word had spread, and now the Pharisees debated with Jesus’ ability to provide a sign from heaven. What?!? What seems so obvious to us illuded the Pharisees. Why? That is worth pondering because if we are not careful to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, we can become just as blinded by our pride. Have you ever been in conversation with someone who already had their mind made up about something and they were not interested in your perspective? They just wanted an opportunity to prove their point. In effect, they were saying, “My minds made up, don’t confuse me with the facts.”

Is it any wonder that “Jesus groaned in his spirit? He knew the heart of man; he knew the Pharisee’s hardness of heart caused their spiritual blindness. We know he healed some of them of their hardened hearts, but most remained intractable. Jesus’ dismay over humanity’s spiritual blindness wasn’t reserved for the Pharisees, though. A few verses later in the narrative, Jesus has a conversation with the disciples. The scripture doesn’t say it, but I imagine that Jesus once again groaned in his spirit over their lack of understanding.

Now the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat.  And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out—beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” They said to one another, “It is because we have no bread.”  And becoming aware of it, Jesus said to them, “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember?  When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” And they said to him, “Seven.”  Then he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

The Gospel of St. Mark 8:14-21

The Greek transliteration of Jesus questions to the disciples reads,

“Do you not perceive, nor understand? Do you keep an obdurate heart in you? Having eyes, do you not look? And having ears do you not listen? And do you not remember?”

Yikes, even the disciples (that would be you and me) missed the boat sometimes (pun intended)! It just so happens that as I set out to write my thoughts down about this scripture reading, I had a moment where I was a bit obdurate myself. (There are many synonyms for obdurate: stiff-necked, unrelenting, adamant, pigheaded, etc.) I greeted the LORD as I awakened, thanking him for the day ahead. It was a day I had already planned for prayer, writing, and reading. I thrive on order and stability, but sometimes my eyes are so fixed on how I think a day should go that I suffer from the same sight and hearing problems the disciples had. And, yes, I have to admit that I can become pharisaical in my determination to get righteousness right! Does that sound as funny to you as it does to me?

My day started with a plan in mind, but in the LORD’s mind, he wanted to restore my sight about the limitations of my health that I regularly try to ignore. The matter of my health is beside the point in light of how the LORD got my attention. I sensed him saying to me, “Lois, you are zealous for me, but sometimes you struggle with balance. The sign I’ve given you is clear; your body needs to lay down and rest. You have a choice now. Are you going to ignore the sign I’ve given to you, or are you going to pig-headedly force this day to go according to your big fat ego!” No, kidding, that’s just how the day started. At least on this day, I answered the LORD by remembering that I am his beloved daughter and that he desires holiness as well as wholeness for me.

What would have happened to the stiff-necked Pharisees if they would hadn’t been so hell-bent on proving their points with Jesus? They would have received all the graces of salvation that Jesus desired for them because he loved them. We know that eventually, the disciples learned to see and hear what Jesus was giving to humanity through his flesh in miracles and teachings. The disciples transformed into the freedom of spirit that comes from the humble acceptance that we are not in control and that life is not about us.

“Hardness of the heart” is another description used for obdurance, and that hits too close to home when putting that way, does it not? Jesus comes to us offering his grace and mercy as he did to the Pharisees, the crowds that pursued him, and the disciples that followed him. I ask you what I ask the LORD.

LORD, am I so consumed by concern about what’s happening around me that I don’t leave room to be surprised by your grace? You answer me: I know what you need, be more concerned that my kingdom comes into you. I’ll take care of everything else.

LORD, in my determination to gain the upper hand in this relationship, am I losing sight of your desire for me to humble myself? Even before this person who is a burr under the saddle of my existence? You say to me: Don’t second guess her; that’s my job. Pull out that tangle of thorns under your saddle.

LORD, am I following your commandments and precepts to impress others or to love the others? You answer me: “…without love for Me and others; you can do nothing.”

But what about So and So, LORD? Does she seem to look for opportunities to make me feel insignificant? You answer me: No one can use their words to “revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you” without answering to me. Rejoice and take heart, I love you, and that is all that matters! 

LORD Jesus, open our eyes and ears so that your kingdom may come into us!

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

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

Amen

“The Mat of our Salvation”

The eternal Truth that “Christ took on flesh and dwelled among us” is revealed in how Jesus lived in his Creation alongside humanity. He entered into the joy of celebration and the ordinary, as well as the misery of disease and death, hunger and fear, in sum, all facets of the human condition, to unite his flesh with us so that we may unite our flesh with him and receive the fullness of his salvation. It’s a profound truth that inspires and encourages me as I live my faith in the LORD in my corner of the world! Today’s reading is yet another glimpse into this truth and it’s revealed in how Jesus breaks through the darker side of the human condition.

When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

The Gospel according to St. Mark 6:53-56

These healings follow a series of encounters where Jesus revealed the salvation contained in his flesh by healing the sick, feeding the 5,000, and walking on water. The earthiness of Jesus in the narrative is something to ponder; his flesh infuses into the encounters and saves body and soul!

Jesus offers the same touch to us as he did to the sick and lame upon their mats, the isolated outcasts hidden in crowds. He walks up to the unseen boundaries of our lives and touches us. In Gennesaret he didn’t see an anonymous body lying on a mat, he saw his own flesh! The salvation contained within his touch poured into the lives of those sick in body and reached into their souls. His perfect flesh united with diseased flesh and restored what sin and death had stolen from humanity. The instant salvation from disease opened the heart and mind for the fullness of his salvation. That’s amazing grace, isn’t it?

“And all who touched [him] were made whole.” God’s purpose of incarnating the flesh of humanity was to recreate us into the image of himself, to make us whole! Rampant diseases are somewhat controlled by modern medicine, but the human condition of the sick in soul is pandemic; humanity is reaching in all sorts of directions to remedy what can only be remedied through the incarnation of Christ’s salvation poured into our flesh. How does this actually work? We receive insight into the ways of our LORD in this very gospel reading.

We can observe a few details in the encounters at Gennesaret that are required for us in our own day. The narrative reads, “… they rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. The anonymous “they” reached for their diseased friends and relatives; therefore, they had to touch them in order to bring them into Jesus’ presence. You and I rub shoulders with the sick of soul in our corners of the world. The salvation we know is the salvation they need; it requires of us the use of our own senses to love and understand them, in other words, to pick up their mats and bring them to Jesus. Jesus touches through us, he listens through us and our lives become conduits of his healing to those around us.

What about the diseased lying on their mats? It may be that we are the one on the mat, sick of soul, helpless, and perhaps even in denial of our own need of the healing touch of our Savior. The morning of January 10 of this year I faced a startling realization about my life that I had successfully denied for 62 years! What brought me to that realization? The willingness to face a humiliating encounter with the LORD; in effect, I was laid out on a mat before him. He wasn’t the one humiliating me, he was the one whose touch reached deep into my mind and heart and revealed how my refusal to humble myself was infecting my soul. I felt the humiliation of the mat I had woven beneath me, even around me. And there were trusted individuals who offered the counsel of the Holy Spirit to me by carrying the mat of my existence to our loving and healing Savior through interceding for me in my low estate. A miracle did happen that day, at once I received the healing that could only come from the Incarnated Savior’s touch and I jumped off that mat for good, never to return. That’s the miracle! And like the sick who were healed, I heard Jesus say what he said to the woman who had struggled for 12 years with her disease (St. Mark 5:24-34), “[Lois], your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Friend, how is it with you today? Do you find yourself carrying the mat for someone or lying on the mat? Have you isolated yourself from hope? Perhaps you recognize you are sick of soul. Jesus sees the flesh of our hearts that is scarred by what has happened to us or by what we do to ourselves. Jesus took on that flesh and dwelled with us so that his perfect flesh would be absorbed and destroyed in his death. And through his resurrection from eternal disease, he offers his perfect flesh back to us so that he may give us wholeness and holiness.

As we incline toward the LORD by receiving his body and blood, his touch reaches into our fear and anger and the pride that hinders our faith to believe and trust that he can heal the hidden disease of our heart; that he can recreate us into his image. It’s a humbling gesture to admit we will die without his flesh and blood, but that is how faith makes us whole!

LORD, Jesus, Savior, and Healer, we bow before you in humble adoration for dwelling with us, absorbing us, recreating us into your image.

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

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

Amen.

What Is Your Name?

Night and day among the tombs he was always crying out….

Jesus and his disciples came to the other side of the sea,
to the territory of the Gerasenes.
When he got out of the boat,
at once a man from the tombs who had an unclean spirit met him.
The man had been dwelling among the tombs,
and no one could restrain him any longer, even with a chain.
In fact, he had frequently been bound with shackles and chains,
but the chains had been pulled apart by him and the shackles smashed,
and no one was strong enough to subdue him.

Night and day among the tombs and on the hillsides
he was always crying out and bruising himself with stones.
Catching sight of Jesus from a distance,
he ran up and prostrated himself before him,
crying out in a loud voice,
“What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?
I adjure you by God, do not torment me!”
(He had been saying to him, “Unclean spirit, come out of the man!”)
He asked him, “What is your name?”
He replied, “Legion is my name.  There are many of us.”
And he pleaded earnestly with him
not to drive them away from that territory.

Now a large herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside.
And they pleaded with him,
“Send us into the swine.  Let us enter them.”
And he let them, and the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine.
The herd of about two thousand rushed down a steep bank into the sea,
where they were drowned…

“…Go home to your family and announce to them
all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.”
Then the man went off and began to proclaim in the Decapolis
what Jesus had done for him; and all were amazed.

St. Mark 5:1-13; 19b-20

The scripture points out straight away that Jesus and his disciples sailed to the other side of the sea to the city of Gerasa, one of the ten cities of the Decapolis east of the Jordan river (present-day Palestine or The East Bank). It was predominantly Gentile, who were considered unclean by a law-abiding Jew, but Jesus never let conventions stand in the way of his mission to bring the Light of the World to all people. On several occasions recorded in the Gospels, Jesus knowingly hangs out with “other” people: social-misfits; diseased; despised; unclean–the nobodies of lost causes.

An outcast demonic is the welcome party for Jesus and his disciples as they land on the shore of the Decapolis, and he did not waste any time for at once he came from the tombs where he lived. He was among the worst of the worst of all of society–an exemplar of Satan himself. Let’s take that in for a moment. Now, let’s reflect on why this exorcism is included in the Gospels. The Church teaches us that all of Sacred Scripture is written for the purpose of our salvation; with that in mind, I make a habit of placing myself in the sandals of my ancestors in The Faith to understand the depth of the salvation God grants us through Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son. Join me in reflecting.

LORD God, the malignant enemy of my soul, tries to drive me into a dystopia of death in my spirit. He lurks in all the temptations that lead me away from the abundant life you have given me. Sometimes, what attracts me appears shiny and enticing, but they are the enemy’s glittering shackles and chains lying in wait for me as soon as I act on the temptation. A manacle and chain wrench around me and I am dragged toward the tombs. Above the dark path, the gate that reads  “Pride…Fear…Anger.” Just beyond, I see them there. I see engraved on tombs “Lust of the Eyes,” a stone’s throw away I see engraved on tombs “Lust of the Flesh,” and over there in the deep shadows, I see engraved on tombs “Boastful Pride of Life.”  The further I’m dragged I start to forget who I am as your beloved daughter; I forget my name!

Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him, there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

 I am writing to you, little children,
    because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.
I am writing to you, fathers,
    because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
    because you have overcome the evil one.
I write to you, children

    because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers
    because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men
    because you are strong,
    and the word of God abides in you,
    and you have overcome the evil one
.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

I John 2:7-17

I look back from where I came, and I see you coming toward the shore of this dreadful place: something within me starts to remember some truth about me so, I run to you despite these death chains. I fall before you, splayed out in my weariness. You see my bruises, you’ve heard my cries, with incredulity you whisper to me, “I died for you, I’ve already been to those tombs where I conquered death, hell, and the grave. Why did you go looking for your name there? You don’t belong there!” And you say to me, “What is your name?”.

What is my name? As soon as I can remember my name, I’ll be free! It takes a bit; longer than I’d like because I have a legion of voices in my head enticing me to run back to the tombs and climb into one of those graves. But then I dare to look into your eyes! Oh, Jesus, I remember you! You are the Son of the MOST HIGH GOD! I suddenly go limp; something has fallen from me. I look back to see what it could be and see what was once, the glimmering manacle and shiny chains now all rust and decay. They’re scattered into thousands of pieces fleeing back to the tombs!

You take my hand and lift my body, now light as a feather, to stand on the two feet that I’d forgotten how to use! And I gaze into your beautiful eyes to answer you, “I am Lois, your beloved daughter!”

Jesus, Son of the Most High God, help us to never forget our name!

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

As it was in the beginning, it is now, and ever shall be, World without end!

Amen

Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle

“It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”

…I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests.  At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose to appoint you as a servant and witness…”

Acts of the Apostle 26: 12-16 (St. Paul’s Defense before King Agrippa)

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, and rightly so since he was the lead apostle of the early Church in bringing The Faith to Gentiles (that’s most of us). I’ve always been intrigued by Saul/Paul’s life, for it is a dramatic testimony of God accomplishing the impossible that he is known to do. Right? St. Paul’s conversion reads like a sci-fi account–blinding light from heaven, the thundering invisible voice, and sudden blindness. But what we know of St. Paul required such a conversion, for he was a man hell-bent on his self-righteous agenda. Saul/Paul’s zeal was matched by no other. Christianity, known as The Way, spread across the Roman Empire like fire across a dry field, and that messed with Saul’s pharisaical convictions. True to his nature; however, his zealous defense of the Jewish Faith to the ‘nth-degree messed Jesus’ system. Jesus had other plans for Saul’s life. And Saul’s zeal was no match for Jesus!

Saul/Paul’s life stands out to me since I, too, am a person known for zealous pursuits. That zeal, some call strong-will, has been displayed by me a bombastic-bull-in-a-china-shop type of pounding the path beneath me as I pursued one of the many points I’ve tried to prove over my lifetime. Not proud moments, to be sure! Thank goodness for Saul/Paul because I’ve learned from how the Holy Spirit transformed him that it is possible for me, too. Though I’ve never been made blind by the literal light of Jesus’ presence before me, I’ve certainly been knocked down off my high-horse time and time again. It wasn’t until I stopped trying to climb back on that horse that the LORD Jesus was able to work with the dust and dirt surrounding me in the fall to bring about the necessary humbling. There is a phrase from St. Paul’s testimony before King Agrippa that echoes how the LORD got my attention after a hard fall because of my disordered pride:

“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.

I never viewed my zealous point-proving as kicking against any goads. The imagery of a goad, a spiked-stick used for driving cattle, hit my backside in that moment of my fall: It was when the Spirit said to me, “Lois, this isn’t their problem, it’s yours!” that I felt his conviction deep in the hard flesh of my heart! Another realization came over me as well, “Everywhere I go, there I am.” I imagine Saul/Paul must have had been hit with a similar awareness in the dust that day. For Saul/Paul to hear that his actions persecuted the LORD God he was valiantly striving to protect could have been the very thing that blinded him, who knows. It certainly was mind-blowing for me!

Friend, do you kick against the goads, we may kick against the goad differently, but the kicking has the same motivation born from pride, fear, anger–we want to go our own way? Those disordered attitudes and actions kick against the Spirit’s movement in our lives. Over-weaning pride gets me every time and threatens to set me on a path away from the LORD’s desire for me. The Holy Spirit, like the farmer, desires to gently, sometimes dramatically, guide me back, and he’ll do that in countless ways. When I begin to recognize that humility will guide me to abundant life, then I begin to see self-will fall like scales from my life.

Are you tired of kicking against a goad in your pride, fear, or anger? Is there a restlessness hidden beneath those motivations, a restlessness that may knock you off your horse? Can you see how your disordered attachment is persecuting Jesus? Strong words, I know! But I have to endure that kind of blinding realization.

Saul’s eye-opening experience after his blindness took a few days, and he needed his companions to help him back on his horse so that they could lead him to the appointed place of his physical healing from blindness. I believe the Holy Spirit works the same way in us. It takes time and a willingness to be led to our healing; humility is the only remedy. I could recount one by one each of the moments my disordered pride led me off the path of salvation and down the shadowed path of soul-sucking death. I, like Saul, can only answer for myself what Saul asked while he lay there in the dirt, “Who are you, LORD?”. Who is the LORD of my personality, emotions, thoughts, and actions? Only when I answer these questions can I rise and stand on my feet and reach out to the Holy Spirit, to be led into the divine purpose for my life!

LORD Jesus, everywhere we go, there we are. How do YOU feel about how we show up before you? Holy Spirit of God, grant us your perspective on ourselves.

LORD Jesus, we are blinded by the Truth of your Word to us, lead us in the direction you desire to take us? Holy Spirit, lead us even when we’re kicking and screaming against you.

LORD Jesus, we despair, sometimes, at how hard it is to learn from you? Holy Spirit, our times are in your hands. Slow us to your pace.

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

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

Amen

Memorial of St. Anthony the Abbot


Today The Church honors the memory of St. Anthony of the Desert. He is known as the Father of all Monks because of his inspiring perseverance in holiness. It is said that when he heard the words from St. Matthew 6:34: “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today,” he gave away everything and went outside the village to live a life of praying, fasting, and manual labor. What sets St. Anthony apart was that he wasn’t just a hearer of the Word; he desired to become what Jesus proclaimed; he desired to be another Christ. He told many wanna-be monastics who came to visit him that the key to the ascetic life was perseverance, not to think proudly, and treat each day as if it were the beginning.

We have just crossed the threshold into the new beginning of a calendar year. At least for me, the Memorial of St. Anthony has been divinely planned because I have been examining some of the patterns of my own life that require Holy Spirit-given perseverance to become more humble like Christ. In a frenzied world that has lost its center, I can be whipped around by the tail, or get so caught up in trying to control the beat of my life that I lose my breath in effort and striving. Sometimes my life sounds to me like clanging gongs and crashing cymbals as St. Paul wrote. The asceticism of St. Anthony and other monastics entices me, beckoning my heart to retreat from the noise that surrounds me, even the noise within me! I can’t retreat to the edges of the world, but I can retreat into a solitude of the heart through the monastic understanding that all of life is sacred, and God is present to me as much as I will allow him to be.

The word ascetic has negative connotations in a society that turns to superficialities, comforts, and conveniences to solve the deep hunger of our lives. The thought of denying ourselves anything sends chills up the spine. Nevertheless, the self-discipline and intentional practices of self-denial that Christ proclaimed are true for every age. We can take our cues from the hard-won wisdom of the monastic life as it is modeled after Christ’s teaching.

The common theme in the monastic tradition of reverence toward the LORD is striking. Saint Athanasius wrote of St. Anthony, “Anthony was not known for his writings nor his worldly wisdom, nor any art, but simply for his reverence toward God.” Christine Valters Paintner wrote in one of her many books on Celtic monasticism, [To reverence God] “is to see all of creation as woven together in holiness and to live this truthIn this loving act, we begin to knit together that which has been torn; we gather all that has been scattered.” She writes that when we begin to see the Earth as our monastery no matter where we are, our reverence for the LORD can bring Christ’s healing presence to the world. Oh, I desire that for myself?

On the outside, the monastic tradition looks restrictive and rather tedious. But don’t you ever rail against the restrictions of the dull routine of our lives? I’m learning that the more I’m reverent to the LORD, the more I see life with all its dull bits as an offering to him. I’m becoming more aware that the ground I am standing on is holy ground ablaze with God’s presence. Instead of turning to a distraction like eating too much, drinking too much, playing too much, speaking too much, working too much–I can take an ascetic perspective by simply slowing down and recognizing that the very distractions I run to are leading me farther away from becoming another Christ in my corner of the world.

When I begin to understand this, all of life becomes sacramental as I reverence the LORD, in that I persevere in the knowledge that God is making all things new in each moment. Our Catholic Faith is a sacramental faith, not just in how we worship at Mass, but in how we live our ordinary lives deliberately reverent of the LORD. The monastic tradition of our Faith embraces this intentional way of life: we all can benefit from that example! As I knead the dough for our bread for the week or as I fold our laundry I enter into sacramental worship before the LORD God with the work of my hands. And I respond as Moses and probably many monastics before us by taking off my proverbial sandals for the ground beneath me is holy ground, prostrating myself in the very stuff of earth from which I was created.

My burgeoning desire is to follow Christ in the steps of the monastic tradition where Christ calls to us to live mindful of who we are with more intentionality at becoming another Christ. Just as Jesus lived, monastics unite themselves to the rhythm of God’s providence. Words like reflect, linger, savor–can become the music of our life when we choose to NOT to worry about tomorrow when we choose NOT to distract ourselves with soul-sucking pursuits when we choose NOT to acquire more of the stuff of this world.

How about you, friend? Do you find yourself more agitated by life as you try to keep pace with the world around us? Are there some deliberate steps you know you need to make to slow yourself down, to slow your family life down? As you embark on this calendar year you may want to ask yourself some of the questions I’ve been examining the hindrances in my life to how I reverence the LORD.

What am I distracting myself with that is hindering my holiness and robbing my joy? Jesus answers, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,  but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” –St. Matthew 6:19-21

Am I allowing this day’s trouble to overrule trusting in the LORD? Jesus answers, “…do not be anxious about your life, … Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? …Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin …  seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” –St. Matthew 6: 25-33

What peace of mind am I missing out on by delaying my decision to persevere in holiness and wholeness in this particular area of my life? Jesus answers, “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” St. John 14:26,27

Oh, Jesus, we long for your transforming grace in our lives. Holy Spirit, teach us how to reverence you, Blessed Trinity whom we adore!

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 Right Time

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.

Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.

St. Mark 1:14-20

Today’s gospel reading from St. Mark follows right after a messy situation that had gotten St. John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, arrested and eventually martyred at the hands of a tyrannical king. The gospel reading is also a turning point, a place marked in time and space (the right time) where a new king and a new kingdom, not of the world but of eternity, would rule.

On the heels of the arrest, the narrative immediately moves to Jesus proclaiming that the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. What time was fulfilled? I’m not very good at keeping track of time or details or calendars; I’m just not! I don’t believe that Christ was looking at a calendar or triggered by a timer when he made the statement to the disciples. The time he was referring to is called kairos, time measured according to God’s providence. According to chronological standards, the Roman Empire occupied the land of Israel and cruelly ruled over God’s people (Does this sound familiar to you?) Jesus was drawing his disciples’ attention away from chronological circumstances into kairos, into the kingdom of God. Jesus’ proclamation of God’s kingdom sounded nothing like their reality, but all who followed him began to see the possibilities of peace and contentment, forgiveness and healing, hope and mercy.

The gospel reading includes a detail that is a very Chronos thing to do, “…he saw James the son of Zebedee and John, his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets.” Mending nets calls to mind the “the stuff of our ordinary and often disappointing human experience” that Eugene Peterson eloquently writes about in many of his books.

God’s Word reveals how the stuff of our ordinary and often disappointing human experience is the very stuff that God uses to create and save and give hope…nothing is unusable by God. The LORD uses everything and everybody as material for his work, which is the remaking of the mess we have made of our lives.

Just as Peter and Andrew and James and John lived in an appointed time and place, doing the stuff of the ordinary day-to-day life, Jesus comes to us with the same proclamation, “the time is fulfilled.” Sooner or later, we all become dissatisfied with an ordinary that is not united with God’s extraordinary Kingdom. Fulton Sheen wrote that,

“..all the human satisfaction of the cravings of the body and soul have one defect; they do not satisfy forever…[we] restrict ourselves to [ways and means] that will never completely satisfy.”

Jesus desires to withdraw us from the corruptible to the necessary–“the one thing”–the abundant life where worth and success aren’t measured by clocks and calendars. In telling the fledging disciples to leave everything that is under their control for he would make them fishers of men evokes the Kingdom of God’s law to love him with all our heart, mind, body, and strength and to love others as we love ourselves. It’s the abandoning of our self-control and our notions of satisfaction that draws us into the counterintuitive practice of detachment from all things to follow Jesus, our Savior, into our kairos identity.

Jesus calls his disciples to repent and believe in the gospel. Changing our minds about how we live in Chronos-time requires the power of the Holy Spirit rearranging our mindset. Perhaps you struggle to see the draw of following Christ as satisfying. Perhaps you enjoy mending nets far too much to think about the good Jesus has in store for you. Perhaps you don’t see the need to repent of anything.

Or perhaps your eyes are fixed on what is happening around you in society, and it causes you to fear. Maybe the thoughts about the trajectory of our government mess with your understanding and faith in the LORD’s providence. Perhaps the lackluster mending of nets causes you to doubt the LORD’s presence to you. Perhaps you haven’t repented of your emotions, and you can’t see how Jesus can satisfy you.

Jesus comes to each of us in the time and space we are in, and he asks us to follow him. The way we follow him makes all the difference. Whether we are satisfied with life or dissatisfied with life, Jesus aims to lead us to the Kingdom of God where satisfaction, joy, and fulfillment are out of this world!

Oh, Jesus, you know us; you created us. You know how taken up we can be by what is happening around us, whether we enjoy it so much that we ignore you or whether we fear it so much that we doubt you. LORD, would you draw us into your Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven?

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

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

Amen