The Feast Day of St. Benedict

Preferring Christ: The Rule of St. Benedict

Today is the Feast Day of St. Benedict of Nursia. St. Benedict is among the posse of saints that surround my life, interceding for me before the LORD, our God. The Rule of St. Benedict which is so revered in the history of The Church is a rich tapestry of wisdom that is tightly woven with Sacred Scripture to guide us in living our ordinary life in an extraordinary way.

The Rule orientates us to the knowledge that God is everywhere, all the time, and because of this, every element of our ordinary day is potentially holy. Ascending to this truth that seems a little homely reorients us to our created identity because we learn to recognize that daily life is the grist for the mill of our consecration to our Creator. Does your day-to-day life seem stressful, challenging, hum-drum, or dull? Then St. Benedict is your guide through the ordinary into the extraordinary life in God.

The title, The Rule of St. Benedict, is better understood in its ancient context of the Latin word, regula, or guidepost. The prologue of The Rule begins with this: Listen, my child….incline the ear of your heart. Hearing and listening are two different things. Have you ever spent time with someone who hears you but doesn’t incline their spirit toward you enough to listen to you? Worse yet, do we hear the Word of the LORD without our spirit leaning toward him in order to really listen? St. Benedict emphasizes the importance of turning toward Christ with the posture of a child leaning into him to hear every word of beauty, goodness, and truth. In this way we are trained in preferring Christ above all things which is one of St. Benedict’s favorite themes. Praying with St. Benedict as we pray Sacred Scripture helps us look at our world through interior eyes. It helps us become better listeners to our Father and, in turn, better observers of the people and events of our lives.

Early in The Rule, we are guided in three monastic virtues: obedience, restraint of speech, and humility. Hmm? That sounds like the folk in the sixth century were just like us. St. Benedict makes it clear that these timeless virtues are inseparable. As we practice these virtues, we gain everything the LORD has promised us of the abundant life with Him. We, like St. Benedict, live in a culture of protest, excessive self-promotion, and overweaning pride. You and I can choose from the vices of the culture or we can pursue the virtues of God’s Kingdom; how is it going for you? It’s hard work to swim upstream in our downstream society! So let’s briefly consider these primary virtues.

Here’s a little side note, each of these virtues has its own chapter in The Rule. Obedience gets 19 verses of attention; Silence gets one verse of attention, and Humility has a whopping 70 verses of attention! Take a knee with me at this observation!

Regarding the virtue of obedience, St. Benedict writes that the first step of humility is obedience without delay. He encourages us to, immediately leave all that is our concern and forsake our own will, with our hands disengaged from what seems urgent to us. I am driven by goals, so much so that finding balance in the daily round is a consistent prayer I offer to the LORD. Do you suffer from tunnel vision as I do? Disengaging my hands from what seems so important to me in a moment takes monumental effort sometimes. I am learning to appreciate the slowness that St. Benedict emphasizes throughout The Rule because it is in slowing down my pell-mell thoughts and actions I’m trained in obedience. What I am discovering as I slow down is there’s very little in life that is worth the whims and appetites of my self-indulgent grasping.

Regarding the virtue of Silence, St. Benedict writes Let us do as the prophet says: “I said, I will take heed to my ways that I do not sin with my tongue: I have placed a watch over my mouth… He draws our attention to the importance of silence with scriptures from the book of Proverbs: In too much speaking you shall not avoid sin. (Proverbs 10:19) And, Death and life are in the power of the tongue. (Proverbs 18:21) Oh, so much could be said here (pun not intended). I kindle to what fellow Benedictine oblate Norene Vest wrote about this: it seems to me that the more we love words, we tend to let ourselves be satisfied by them, thus stopping short of the true satisfaction [that comes from Jesus alone]. It calls to mind St. Paul’s observation that people are always learning but never understanding. I respond to that verse by praying, Lord, I don’t want to be so caught up in speaking about what I am learning at the expense of not understanding it and living it out. Lord, remind me that it is through listening and silence that you teach and lead me into rest.

And finally, regarding the virtue of humility, St. Benedict gives us extensive guidance, beginning with the straightforward point: the problem of the spiritual life is pride (self-exaltation); the remedy is humility. St. Benedict emphasizes the need to contemplate Sacred Scripture; it comes down to this, the more we immerse ourselves in praying with Sacred Scripture we become acutely aware of our prideful leanings.

He writes that we must, by our ever-ascending actions, erect a ladder, like the one which the proud and fearful Jacob beheld in his dream in his flight from duty and responsibility. Daily life offers plenty of opportunities to learn how to descend and ascend the ladder of humility. As we practice humility, the ladder is lifted by the LORD to heaven; I like that! Yet, some days when I’ve forgotten to allow the LORD to teach me this way, the Holy Spirit remains on each rung with me, guiding me. How about you, friend? When you face an old struggle and bristle at someone’s words or actions, does pride knock you off the ladder of humility? I regularly find myself flat on my backside, wondering how I could fall off the ladder again!

When we follow the guideposts in St. Benedict has provided us, we receive the remedy for the consumer-driven society that peddles discord, disenchantment, and dis-ease. We live in the chaos of evil times, full of anxiety, anger, and the noise of modernity! St. Benedict shows us the path away from it into preferring Christ over all things (no matter how entertaining or attractive they are) and abiding in the dailiness of our extraordinary life with God.

Let’s pray with St. Benedict:

O Lord, I place myself in your hands and dedicate myself to you. I pledge to do your will in all things: To love the Lord God with all my heart, soul, strength

I desire to prefer nothing to the love of Christ…To desire eternal life with spiritual longing…to pray often. To ask forgiveness daily for my sins, and to seek ways to amend my life…Not to desire to be thought holy, but to seek holiness…Never to despair of your mercy, O God of Mercy.

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

A Banner Day!

Happy Independence Day to readers in the United States! July 4, 1776, was the day we declared independence from the sovereignty of Great Britain. We celebrate, memorialize, display our nation’s flag, and we send fireworks into the sky to remind us of that pivotal day that Frances Scott Key poetically wrote about in The Star-Spangled Banner: O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

I’ve noticed during my morning walks that our flag is more visible as we near this day. In some sense, we believe hanging our flag identifies and unifies us, at least symbolically. I notice flags from other countries as well in my multicultural city. Often the national flag of a home country will hang just below the United States flag to identify the origin of the residents as well as honor their earned citizenship in the United States. I notice other flags that represent allegiance to causes, some noble, some not so much. Observing the increase of flags these days draws my mind to what the Sacred Scripture has to say about banners which is the ancient word for flag.

Today we celebrate this banner day in United States history because this day represents the hard-won victory over oppression and bondage. It’s probably no coincidence that the Holy Spirit has drawn my mind through the Liturgy of the Hours and the daily Mass readings this past week to consider the safety and security of my identity as God’s beloved daughter and the peace of abiding in God. Just as he led our forefathers in The Faith out of oppressive bondage in Egypt into The Promised Land, he leads us out from our own bondage to the ruler of sin and death. Diablo is one word used for Satan that gets at what oppression does to us–the accusations from the malignant enemy of our soul scatters us, dissembles us, and sends us into exile. We lose our identity because we forget who we are as God’s beloved!

It was Jesus Christ alone that waged war against the enemy of our soul once and for all, and uniting ourselves to him means every day is a banner day for us. As Catholics, we daily celebrate and memorialize the battle Jesus waged against death, hell, and the grave and his resurrection from the dead. In the worship of the Mass, we lift his victory banner in the way we worship him and in the way we live our lives. In effect, we, like Moses, build an altar of our life and name it The LORD is my banner. (Exodus 17:14,15)

We know the truth of the psalmist’s declaration: Surely, my boundaries have fallen in pleasant placesI will delight in God…I will dwell with God….my soul waits patiently for God alone, for my expectation is from Him….the praise of God is on my lips….my soul waits patiently for my God…

When we abide in God in this, our sacramental faith, the LORD leads us to where we remember who we are, and we declare with our heart, mind, and soul the beauty, goodness, and truth of our LORD. The psalmist wrote:

You have set up a banner for those who fear you

  to rally to it out of bowshot. Selah

Give victory with your right hand, and answer us

    so that those whom you love may be rescued.

Psalm 60:4,5

Why does the psalmist cue us to selah (pause) at this truth? As we rally the scattered pieces of our soul under the LORD’s banner of love, we live into the victory he has already won for us. Our identity as God’s beloved forms in us as we dwell with God. The LORD tells prophet Jeremiah to set up this banner and proclaim it, do not conceal it. (Jeremiah 50:2) We are the refugees of sin who have discovered peace under the sovereignty of the LORD God. As we carry this banner we declare the majesty and glory of the Lord and beckon the observers of our lives to unite with us to seek refuge in the spacious boundaries of the pleasant place that is our inheritance.

Friend, do you feel exiled from the goodness of the LORD’s presence? How come? What chains have been wrapped around you that bar you from believing that complete surrender to the LORD means complete freedom from oppression? The LORD’s arms are open to the refugee who seeks a home where beauty, goodness, and truth is the declaration of independence from the malignant enemy of souls. He reaches for you and me, beckoning all who are weary and heavy-laden to come to him.

I invite you to join with me in praying together with the psalmists:

Sovereign LORD, we shout for joy over your victory over death, hell, and the grave; we lift our banners in the name of our God.

We know that you’ve won the battle for us and gained the victory for us. As we celebrate and worship you in the worship of the Mass, we reach for you in your heavenly sanctuary and receive salvation by the victorious power of your hand.

Some trust in this world’s power, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. We are brought to our knees by the bondage to sin, and we fall, but because of your victory over sin, we rise and stand firm in the expanse of your bountiful land.

We declare with our heart, mind, and soul that The Lord is my Banner! You are the One under whom we are reunited with our created identity. You are our Savior; we have found refuge in you; we bear your name!

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

Follow the Leader

“Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”

Follow is a theme that extends across the entirety of Sacred Scripture, a template, as it were, for understanding who we are as the created, not the Creator. In the story of Creation, God gave Adam and Eve all the goodness of his Creation. But, he also instructed them not to eat from the tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil. What did the first man and woman do? They chose not to follow God’s desire for them. Humanity has had trouble following God for time immemorial; it is the human condition.

Fast forward through a long history of the fickleness of humanity caught in a predictable cycle of following God and not following God. God put on flesh and dwelt among us. What are Jesus’ first words to his fledgling disciples? Come, follow me. He was now their rabbi from whom they would learn how to walk on the path that Adam and Eve left–the path that leads toward the abundance of the good life God designed for us! He would show them the highway of holiness that leads to the kingdom of God.

Others would join Jesus on his journey: the benefactors of his miracles and his teaching. There were those in the crowds that followed Jesus who were waiting for the hope of Israel. They longed for a savior to free them from Roman oppression. Their interest was for a revolution, so they followed him with mixed motives. And there were the Pharisees in the crowd that actively opposed Jesus yet followed him out of curiosity. What were they all wanting to find by following Jesus? Where did they assume Jesus was going?

The preamble to the gospel reading for today includes the healing of a leper who was an outcast of Jewish society; the healing of a servant of a Roman centurion who was an outsider among the Jewish people; and the healing of a woman overlooked by society. On the evening of that particular day, a great crowd gathered around Jesus that brought the demon-possessed for exorcism, and loved ones carried their sick to Jesus for healing. These followers received from Jesus an inkling of the hope that he indeed was the long-promised Messiah. Now, let’s consider the gospel reading from St. Matthew that The Church holds up for us today.

When Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other shore. A scribe approached and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” Another of his disciples said to him, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But Jesus answered him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead.”

The Gospel According to St. Matthew 8:18-22

What was Jesus really saying to these men? We can assume the two men who spoke with Jesus knew his reputation aforementioned. One man, a scribe, another, a disciple of Jesus. The scribe was already following the Law of God, and the disciple was already following Jesus to some degree, but it appears they hadn’t fully embraced what Jesus meant when he said, follow me. Apparently, both needed to examine their motives for following Jesus. And Jesus’ response to them gets at two obstacles we face when following Jesus. Our comfort and our identity.

The scribe must have treasured the safety of knowing where he would lay his head to rest each night? Jesus responds that following him requires the abandonment of expectations and control over what we think is comfort and stability. Do you ever struggle against the drive to have control over how each day will go for you? Maybe you don’t fret about the pillow you will lay your head on at night, but the need for comfort drives other obsessions. Perhaps you have your life so scheduled that the possibility of surprise and interruptions would tip you right over. Jesus reveals the path of life to us in his good time and his good way. Surprise! God’s grace and mercy aren’t meted out according to our schedule! And this can mess with our notions on how to be a follower of his. To let go of the control of matters great and small is often the hardest thing to do in following Jesus. Jesus knows what we cannot understand until we abandon our expectations and follow him; he desires to lead us to the rest, peace, and security that surpasses our understanding of stability.

The natural desire of the disciple to bury his father was not wrong, but it seems Jesus knew that the man struggled with divided loyalty. Jesus’ hyperbole seems harsh to us, but consider this: the identity we have in our families can sometimes become a stumbling block to how we understand God’s love for us. Whether or not we have the blessing of a loving father or mother, we are the beloved child of our heavenly Father. We may be so mired in feelings of rejection from certain relationships within our families that we are conditioned to believe we are unlovable or unworthy. This can hinder us from receiving the unconditional love Jesus wants to reveal to us as we follow him. It is a love that is beautiful and life-giving, a love that honors us with a new identity! By following Jesus, we can receive freedom from the brokenness of our past. Jesus knows what we cannot understand until we follow him; just as he healed the diseases of the body, he desires to give us a new identity.

Jesus, we desire to follow you so closely that the light of your presence guides us on the path of the abundant life you desire for us.

Jesus, teach us how to take each step that leads us away from our fears and doubts about who we are.

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

Beams and Splinters

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Stop judging, that you may not be judged.
For as you judge, so will you be judged,
and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.
Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye,
but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?
How can you say to your brother,
‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’
while the wooden beam is in your eye?
You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first;
then you will see clearly
to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.”

The Gospel according to St. Matthew 7:1-5

Jesus begins his discourse with the words, stop judging. The judging Jesus refers to is the kind of judging that arises from our disordered nature! It is how we narrow our vision in our myopic measure of others. This instruction Jesus gives rightly orders our thoughts and motives by exposing our jump-to-conclusion assumptions about what is happening around us. The love and mercy of Jesus extend to us, and the wisdom and counsel of his Holy Spirit can free us of the wooden beam of self-preoccupation. Spiritual discernment in the tradition of The Church helps us discern the bitterroot of a judgmental spirit that fester from disordered pride, fear, or anger.

Jesus, who knows our minds better than we do, uses the metaphor– wooden beam and splinter–to magnify how disordered we become when we ignore what God desires for us to love him by loving others. God said to his people in the Old Testament:

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Leviticus 19:18

The mandate remained the same when God took on flesh as our Savior to show us how to love. A lawyer came to Jesus and put a question to Jesus. He asked him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus responded, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” But apparently, the lawyer got a little uncomfortable about how far he had to go to love people, so he asked Jesus, Who is my neighbor? The same answer Jesus offers to the man, he offers to our question on how to remove the wooden beam in our eye: extend mercy to everyone!

The command to love is continued through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as he counsels the apostles as they write letters to The Early Church. St. Paul writes to the Galatians,

 ..You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Galatians 5:15

Do thoughts about others ever consume you? Do you ever forget to remember to love others or keep your mouth shut? Stand in line! The best advice on how to love was given to me by a friend recently who quoted St. Paul, “We are called to bear witness to Christ’s love, grace, and mercy.” Those words are changing my perspective on some significant relationships in my life. Another question she recommended I answer was: Are they doing this because they are strong or weak? Allowing the Holy Spirit to grant us insight into our relationships brings order to our disordered judgments.

St. Thomas Aquinas penned, To love is to will the good of the other. To arrive at this response can be glacial, but it can happen through the power of the Holy Spirit working in us, transforming our perceptions of others and our self-perception. The saying goes, hurt people, hurt people; the hurt we have endured from others may blind us with the wooden beam of a harsh spirit. And, it follows, that the pain the other has endured may cause them to react to us harshly.

Often a felt-grievance is based on the human error of reacting to an unfair word or action in a relationship. We see it all around us; we see it in ourselves. Someone must stop the dysfunction in our relationships; Jesus clearly states it begins with us. I know how difficult it can be! The wooden beam is often tightly wrapped with pain caused by those closest to us resulting from generational dysfunction. Or it can simply be the colliding with others that’s common in the crowded world we live. The particulars of how we get to the place of having a judgmental spirit don’t matter; the response must always be the same–We are to bear witness to Christ’s love. Samuel Johnson wrote, “Kindness is in our power even when fondness is not.” Indeed! You may be thinking thoughts I think when once again I’ve been burned by the same person in the same way–it’s even too hard to feel kind, let alone respond kindly. But here’s the thing, Jesus Christ’s very nature is kindly, and his actions bore that truth out. While we struggle to endure someone’s presence in our lives, Christ, in us, can love through us even when it is hard to feel kind.

Friend, the LORD God, in His abundant love and infinite mercy for us, stands beside us, waiting for us to allow his Holy Spirit to gently remove the wooden beam from the eyes of our soul. He knows how the wooden beam got planted in our eyes. He knows why we struggle as we live alongside other people who also have wooden beams in their eyes!

Holy God, your command to love others is real hard sometimes! Grant us the depth of love you have for us as we extend your love to others.

Jesus, our Saviour, fix our gaze on the Wooden Beam of the Cross that you willingly suffered and died upon for our sake. Grant us the courage to get over ourselves and move through the power of your Cross at work in us!

Holy Spirit of God, give us discernment and wisdom as we live beside others. Grant us new eyes to see and new ears to hear.

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 Little Foxes Steel the Vine

The Old Testament reading for Mass today is well worth our consideration. As is The Church’s way, we are offered the daily scripture readings that require more than a cursory glimpse, for in keeping with the Sacred Tradition of the Church–all of Sacred Scripture is written for our salvation. As we open our spirit to the Holy Spirit’s inspiration contained in the written word, we are tutored on how to live the virtues in order to fight the good fight against the vices of sinful thought that can lead to sinful actions which are on display in the narrative of Ahab and Jezebel. So, with that in mind, let’s examine the reading to discover what the Holy Spirit desires to accomplish in our thoughts, motives, and actions.

If you have been following the daily readings in the Old Testament, then you know much of the backstory of King Ahab and his wife Jezebel. I bet you already know today’s recorded event won’t end well for them. Ahab and Jezebel refused to accept God’s authority over them by acting on the many vices that festered in their spirits. Those actions eventually led to a messy ending for them where God’s justice was served. Let’s pick up the narrative of I Kings 21: 1-17 as the extent of their spiritual disease reveals their evil; I will paraphrase parts of the lengthy narrative.

Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel
next to the palace of Ahab, king of Samaria.
Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard to be my vegetable garden,
since it is close by, next to my house.
I will give you a better vineyard in exchange, or,
if you prefer, I will give you its value in money.”
Naboth answered him, “The LORD forbid
that I should give you my ancestral heritage.”
Ahab went home disturbed and angry..
.

[Ahab seethed in his anger, complaining to his wife Jezebel]

His wife Jezebel came to him and said to him,
“Why are you so angry that you will not eat?”

[I wanted something Naboth had and he wouldn’t give it to me!]

His wife Jezebel said to him,
“A fine ruler over Israel you are indeed!
Get up.
Eat and be cheerful.
I will obtain the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite for you.”

[Jezebel used the power of Ahab’s office as king to plot against Naboth with lies and accusations to paint him into a corner that he would not be able to get out of alive]

And they
[the bribed accusers] led Naboth out of the city and stoned him to death.
Then they sent the information to Jezebel
that Naboth had been stoned to death.

[Jezebel went in to the king with the “good” news]

“Go on, take possession of the vineyard
of Naboth the Jezreelite that he refused to sell you,
because Naboth is not alive, but dead.”
On hearing that Naboth was dead, Ahab started off on his way
down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite,
to take possession of it.

Such evil people! Such duplicity! Such injustice! But wait, let’s consider the heart and soul of Ahab and Jezebel. A small parable comes to mind from another Old Testament book; The Song of Solomon 2:15. It reads:

Catch us the foxes,
    the little foxes,
that damage the vineyards—
    for our vineyards are in blossom.

The putridity of Ahab and Jezebels’ behavior reveals that somewhere along the way, they had little foxes that snuck into their minds and began to damage them from the inside out. Those little foxes had names: pride, lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, anger, and envy: the seven vices. Those vices motivated their actions and ended in God’s judgment against them.

This is why The Church keeps the Sacred Scripture ever before us. This is why our Triune God sends his Holy Spirit into our lives to grant us his wisdom to live our lives. The Holy Spirit gifts us so that we may fight against the vice that motivates us to act unjustly toward another. Because of Christ’s Passion for us, we can confess those vices and be forgiven. Because of Christ’s resurrection from death, hell, and the grave, we can be strengthened in virtue and transformed to live in the abundance of a well-tended vineyard!

How does the vineyard of your soul look today? Are their little foxes running amuck in your heart and mind? If you are anything like me, friend, you regularly have to walk the wall of your vineyard looking for the holes that allow the little foxes into your soul. The Holy Spirit comes alongside us as we examine the wall, giving us the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, helping us repair what has broken down in us. The Church comes alongside us, as well, to give us the Sacrament of Confession and the Daily Examine as tools for the repair. Sometimes I need to do minute-by-minute examinations of my thoughts and motivations; do you feel me? I invite you to pray with me the prayer of examen with the seven vices with the seven virtues.

Triune God, please grant me your humbleness to remove my prideful self-promoting thoughts and actions.

Grant me your purity and self-restraint to remove my lustful striving after more; for excess.

Grant me your patience to remove my judgmental assumptions that lead to an angry spirit.

Grant me your temperance to remove my gluttonous consumption of all the distractions that I use to ignore the sickness in my soul.

Grant me your kindness to remove the envy of others that traps me in comparisons, jealousy, and self-loathing.

Grant me your forbearance to remove the sloth of spirit that causes me to sink under the weight of what I perceive is demanded of me or causes me to despair that I will never change.

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

 

A Living Sacrifice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen

Wind-Song

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen

The Advocate

Do you tire of all the hand wringing people are doing in their doubt that God will come through in our world’s current events? Are you weary of pundits who feed fear to us, profiting from our disordered attachment to what is happening around us? Anthony Lilies writes that we can always live as if this moment is the most desperate and the worse thing that has ever happened, and when we do, we are vulnerable to despair. Despair is anti-christ thinking, it is pervasive in the culture around us, and it can wreak havoc on our souls if we allow it. So what are we to do as Christians when we see what is happening in the culture? When we are left fretting over whether or not God will come through for us in what we perceive as the most tumultuous time of history. Enter Jesus’ words in today’s gospel reading:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father,
the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father,
he will testify to me.
And you also testify
because you have been with me from the beginning.

“I have told you this so that you may not fall away.
They will expel you from the synagogues;
in fact, the hour is coming when everyone who kills you
will think he is offering worship to God.
They will do this because they have not known either the Father or me.
I have told you this so that when their hour comes
you may remember that I told you.”

The Gospel According to St. John 15:26-16:4a

As I meditated on the gospel reading for today, I kind of felt like I was eavesdropping on an intimate conversation between friends, a kind of conversation in which you sense a certain onus in Jesus’ words to his closest friends. He knew the joy and tumult that lay ahead for them, but he also knew that they were the fulfillment of God’s Covenant in his Church. He had revealed the Father to them and lived out the Truth of God’s covenant with humanity. He had revealed to them the way out of their fear and doubt and into the divine communion of The Holy Trinity, but now his physical presence would leave them to fulfill his purpose to suffer for humanity. He would resurrect from his death on the cross and ascend to heaven to reunite with God. The fledgling disciples would not be left alone, for God would reveal himself even more! Simply put, Jesus, the Son of God, would change places with the Holy Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit would accomplish the providence of God even as the free will of humanity rails against it. And how he would do that is a mystery to us, but at least we know this; he fills one person at a time with his Holy Spirit’s hope and courage. Think about that for a moment. In light of the Scripture, what stirs in your spirit given the condition of our time in history?

The Catechism of The Catholic Church, in speaking of the revelation of God through the Holy Spirit refers to words written by St. Paul and St. Peter in their letters to the Early Church. “It pleased God, in His goodness and wisdom, to reveal himself and to make known the mystery of his will. His will was that men should have access to the Father, through Christ, the Word made flesh, in the Holy Spirit, and thus become shares in the divine nature.” CCC 51

God has not changed his mind about us. We have The Advocate of all time–God’s counsel is greater than the present threats of war, rising inflation, and crumbling morality; they don’t define what is going on. His love surpasses circumstances, and the testimony of that love in us reveals a higher path than the culture! Can we be confident of this? Can we live knowing that our present history wasn’t overlooked when he created us, became one with us, and filled us with his spirit? Can we live as the Early Church lived, confident that the Holy Spirit never ceases to advocate for us and that he always wins God’s case?

Jesus declared to his disciples what he declares to us, I have told you this so that you may not fall away.  Friend, we fall away from confidence in the sovereignty of our LORD when we wallow around in the mire of present circumstances. What he declared to his disciples, he declares to us right now! I have told you this so that when [your] hour comes you may remember that I told you. Friend, our hour has come to testify by our lives–attitudes, posture, words, thoughts–that the Holy Trinity is present and actively completing the work of the salvation of Creation. We have not been abandoned! We are here, now, moment by moment to allow the Holy Spirit to complete in us what was from the beginning: God is Love, and he romances all humanity back to his love. He will complete in us what he desires; he will complete in the events of this present time what he desires. All we need to do in response to his providence is to stop navel-gazing!

We often chant, Here I am Lord, I come to do your will as we celebrate the Mass, but can we chant those words in our moment by moment love for our Savior and LORD?

We pray I want to know Him, more than I know anything else, but can we pursue that knowledge when we are taken captive by the lesser things around us?

St. Elizabeth of the Trinity prayed that she would become the praise of God’s glory by bringing to completion what his Holy Spirit desires. Can we pray that for ourselves?

I read a priest’s prayer recently who was weighed down by the crushing responsibilities of shepherding his people during the traumatic years of the World Wars. He received a consolation from the LORD from the Spirit, “Child, I love you, I know all about your cares; I want you to bring them to me, but don’t bring your solutions.” OUCH!

Oh LORD, we get caught in the maze of earthy solutions and they lead us to more despair rather than to your faithful love for all humanity. Holy Trinity of God, we want to be confident that you know what’s going on, give us the courage to let go of our over-weaning fears and pride that keep us in that maze.

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

Nobodies

This past week The Church honored the memory of St. Damien de Veuster. It was said of Father Damien that there was nothing supernatural about him. He was a vigorous, forceful man with a big kindly heart in the prime of life and a jack of all trades. He was a man of determined tenacity to Christ his world, specifically the world of the leper colonies of Hawaii. Ambrose Huthison, who worked alongside him and became a close friend of Father Damien, said that “he loved to work with him in his crusade to put down evil. There was no hypocrisy in him.”

Fellow priests thought Father Damien was too uneducated; they believed he wasn’t up to the task. Yet St. Damien persisted in prayer and study and depended on the intercession of St. Francis Xavier to be chosen for the mission to the lepers. St. Francis Xavier was a priest who served The Church in Portugal, India, Japan, and China. He, as well as St. Damien, died in their service to the people they helped.

The Church honors the memory of Saints of Scripture and Salvation History during Eastertide who continued Christ’s mission of setting captives free. The people they served are the nobodies of history that remain nameless to us, yet they bear the name: Beloved.

***

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.  Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

The Gospel according to St. Luke 4:18-21

***

We read of the mission of the Early Church during Eastertide and we witness the disciples and followers Christing the world by setting captives free through the power of the Holy Spirit flowing through them.

The readings for today in The Divine Office and the Mass include two events from the Acts of the Apostles that embody the mission that Christ gave to the disciples. We recall Peter and John’s encounter with a nameless lame man in our Morning Prayer readings:

Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.  And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them.  But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

And then we read about Saints Paul and Barnabas’ encounter with a nameless lame man in our Mass readings:

[There was a] a crippled man, lame from birth,
who had never walked.
He listened to Paul speaking, who looked intently at him,
saw that he had the faith to be healed,
and called out in a loud voice, “Stand up straight on your feet.”
He jumped up and began to walk about.

The first saints-in-the-making saw the nameless nobodies and listened to their pleas for help, and they gave them Christ through the Holy Spirit flowing through their lives. Those nobodies, no doubt, had been crying out to other nobodies passing by for a long time, but someone different passed by them in these encounters. The disciples and apostles didn’t hear their pleas as noise; no, they stopped, looked intently at them, and listened. And it made all the difference for those nobodies! There have been multitudes of nobodies throughout Salvation History up to this very day who need someone to look intently at them, acknowledge their pain, and listen to them. And here we are Christing our corner of the world, living beside nobodies who wait for us to look intently at them. Isn’t the Holy Spirit just waiting for us to stop and listen?

The Saints in Salvation History chose to suffer as Christ suffered because of their deep love for God. They were ridiculed, ostracized, maligned, and persecuted, but they remained faithful to Christ’s mission to set captives free. Saints Peter, John, and Paul were martyred, and Father Damien became a leper himself. He chose to remain beside the lepers, and as he continued to fight against the prejudice and ignorance of his day, society gradually changed its mind about the “nobody lepers.”

Today we aren’t surrounded by the extremes of physical disease as our ancestors were, but I submit, that we suffer from the extremes of spiritual dis-ease–the blindness of pride, the lameness of fear, the deafness of pride–it emanates from the nobodies in our lives. Well, fellow saint-in-the-making, who is in your corner of the world just waiting for us to look intently at them and listen to the pain of their lives? How long have they been observing us as we come and go past them? How long have they been waiting for us to stand up for them in the face of prejudice and misunderstanding?

LORD, sometimes it’s not easy to listen to others’ complaints. We sometimes grow impatient with their fear, pride, and anger. Just as you bore our disease, may we love the nobodies that are difficult to love.

Holy Spirit of God, make us self-forgetful. Remove our self-preoccupation so that we may abide with the marginalized and forgotten in our corner of the world.

LORD, our Savior, and Healer open our eyes and ears to the reality of the nobodies in our life that need us to listen to them for you. Quiet our hearts so that we may join you in setting the captives free.

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 Kissing Gate

Today’s gospel includes one of the seven “I Am” declarations Jesus made to describe himself as the fulfillment of the promised Messiah, the Son of God. God revealed himself as “I Am” to Moses, and no first-century Jew would have missed the gravity of what Jesus was saying to them. God, in the flesh, came down to the ground of the commonplace to show us the way back to our Garden-identity as his beloved creation.

The particular images of Jesus as The Gate and The Good Shepherd are what I kindle to the most. My fondest memories of my past are of climbing Fig trees, walking through meadows, wading in streams, and climbing mountains, swimming through oceans. Those experiences in nature were, and continue to be, the portals to seeing God’s beauty and goodness. They draw me into the lofty expanse of God as my Creator and me as his created beloved. I can’t help but desire to love him and enjoy him forever when I meditate on Creation.

A long time ago, the LORD invited me to behold the beauty and goodness of the pastoral landscape of England. As I would trek through the hillside and meadows, I would often encounter kissing gates in the low stone walls that marked the boundaries of the terrain. The design of the kissing gate allows humans to pass in and out of pastures, but due to its unique design, they effectively prevent sheep from using the gate to enter another shepherd’s pasture. You’ll have to goggle the image to understand the swing action in the design of the gate. I’m just setting up the scene so that we can further appreciate what Jesus is declaring to us, his sheep.

It was on those treks that the beauty and goodness of the Creator led me to the consoling truth of Jesus Christ as my Shepherd as I recalled the many references to The Lord, as my Good Shepherd found in Sacred Scripture. I invite you to pray with me through the gospel according to St. John 10:1-10

[Jesus said to the disciples] Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit…

Beloved, I AM The Gate. You are safe with me here inside my sanctuary. I lead you by still water; I restore your soul. Why are you distracted by the thieves that would steal your peace? They are not welcome here; they do not enter here. Will you fix your gaze on me?

The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out...

Beloved, I AM your Shepherd. I call you; I’ve engraved your name on my hand; I know every hair on your head. I know every longing of your heart. I am beside you, leading you out from what you thought you were. You are malnourished from feeding in the wilderness. I saw you rootle around for everything you thought would tell you who you are. I AM your Good Shepherd, come to me, let me heal you and renew you, and transform you in this meadow replete with my goodness and mercy. I desire to lead you? Will you follow me and graze in this meadow?

When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers ...

Beloved, I AM not a stranger to you; why are you uncertain about what I say about you? Why do you still listen to the voices from the past who lied to you about who you are? Why do you listen to the voices of your present that want to steal your name and cause you to be afraid? Draw close to me and learn to know my voice; I will lead you where you should go.

Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly...

Beloved, I AM the Gate! I AM the Shepherd! It is me that you seek. It is me that your heart desires. Will you believe what I say about you?

How is it with you today, friend? Where do you fix your gaze? Is it causing you to fear and doubt?

Are you rooting around in a wasteland of regret and shame? Does the emptiness you feel cause you to hunger for the grace, mercy, and love that only Christ can feed you?

Do you feel far from home? In exiled because of your pride, fear, or anger? Is the exile leading you toward the death of your spirit?

Pray with me, friend.

You are my Shepherd LORD, I shall not want.
You make me lie down in green pastures;
You lead me beside still waters;
 You restore my soul.
You lead me on right paths
    for your name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff—
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    my whole life long.

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