Friday, July 31, 2009

Imitation of Christ

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
1 Corinthians 11:1

Today is the Memorial for St. Ignatius of Loyola. He is best know for founding the Society of Jesus, or, better known to some, the Jesuits. St. Ignatius and his fellow companions had in mind a passion to bring the Gospel of Christ to all peoples. Within the next century of its founding, the Society would reach as far east as Japan, and as far west as the Americas. In fact, the Jesuits were largely responsible for bringing the Gospel to this continent. Much of South America, the northeast United States, and southeast Canada were settled and evangelized by the Jesuits.

Today's epistle is from St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians. Here, he concludes a paragraph of offering himself as an example to his fellow believers by telling them that they are to imitate him as he imitates Jesus. This can be seen in three degrees.

First, we must imitate Jesus. This is, of course, the fundamental call to discipleship. We become the followers of Jesus. As children, we seek to imitate everything we can about Jesus.

Second, we must imitate other followers of Jesus. This is one of the primary reasons why the Church proclaims various men and women to be saints. They have lived a life of what we call "heroic holiness". Therefore, the Church deems them to be worthy of imitation as we seek to follow Christ. We follow the saints as we follow Christ. We imitate the saints so that we may attain a closer imitation of Jesus.

Finally, we are called to be worthy of such imitation. We are to live in such a way that others may imitate us as we follow Jesus. This is very intimidating. But it is part of the equation. It calls for us to live very close to the Lord, which is what we are to be doing anyway.

Today, we look to St. Ignatius of Loyola to imitate him as he imitated Christ. St. Ignatius was a Spanish soldier of the sixteenth century. He wanted to be well known for his exploits as a soldier. However, he was wounded in battle and required a lengthy convalescence. During this time, he wanted to read about war heroes. Instead, all he had available to him was a Life of Christ and a book on the lives of the saints. He began reading and slowly was transformed. Now he yearned to live the life of a saint rather than that of a soldier. He began to study, was ordained a priest, and founded the Society of Jesus as a missionary organization.

The imitation of our Lord Jesus is the work of a lifetime. It is not some secret revelation suddenly discovered. It is not about a crisis emotional experience. It is about living in, with, and for the Lord moment by moment every day. In this ongoing relationship, we continue to discover more and more of what it means to imitate our Lord. Today, as we ponder the life of St. Ignatius, we are led to imitate a love and devotion to our Lord made manifest in a corresponding love and devotion to the reaching of souls without Christ. We do not need to travel to distant locations. Such people are all around us.

Today, let us think about our own imitation of Christ. Let us continue to draw near to Him. Think about imitating the lives of the saints in those ways that they reveal more of Christ to us. Let us also determine that, by God's grace, we will live lives worthy of imitation so that others who come after us may learn to imitate Christ in their lives as well.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Dwelling

Moses did exactly as the LORD had commanded him. On the first day of the first month of the second year the Dwelling was erected.
Exodus 40:16,17

The Dwelling, or the Tabernacle as it is also known, was designed by God. Moses was given careful instruction in the making of the Dwelling so it would be exactly as God intended. Those particulars comprise a large portion of the book of Exodus. Why was God so meticulous? It is because our God does not just communicate to us through words, but also through pictures. He uses symbolism to draw our attention to deeper truths about Him and our faith.

The Dwelling itself is one such example. God intended for it to be a sign of what heavenly worship looks like. He was also setting the stage for the coming of Christ, and showing us a spiritual picture of the Church. Israel's calendar is now shaped by the finishing of the Dwelling. It will inform much of their concept of God and worship.

In Catholic theology, we also see another meaning. The Ark of the Covenant is at the center of the Dwelling. That is because it houses the Ten Commandments, or put another way, the Word of God. Israel does not worship the Ark. They worship God who has shown Himself through the Ark. Catholics relate this to the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in our faith.

We refer to her by many names, one of which is the Ark. It is because our Lord Jesus, who is the Word of God, was housed (tabernacled) in her womb. Therefore, we ask for her prayers. We do not worship her, but rather we worship the One who dwelt within her. However, this still puts her at the center of so much that we do. It is in this sense that the Catechism states that such devotion to Mary is intrinsic to Christian worship. Just as the Ark which held the Word of God in the Dwelling was so central to Israel's worship, so Mary, who held the Word of God in her, is so central to our worship.

Why are so many so afraid of Mary? That is, why do these teachings seem so foreign and even evil to some? The truth is that the Church from its earliest days held such teaching to be a vital part of the Faith. Marian devotion begins early and becomes prevalent much before the Middle Ages. It is because the early Church in Jerusalem began at Pentecost with the coming of the Holy Spirit. Mary was there on that occasion. The Church prayed in her midst. They prayed with her. In the succeeding centuries we hear the Fathers of the Church making numerous pronouncements about her place in the Church. We also hear their prayers as they seek her intercession. It was only after the philosophy of rationalism had permeated the Church did so many draw back from these teachings about Mary.

I must confess that this has been an area of my faith that has been the hardest to deal with. My years of formation as a Protestant severely prejudiced me against her. But I have found in the short time since becoming Catholic that those I know with the strongest devotion to Mary are among the best examples of Christians that I have seen anywhere. It is not that they are perfect, or even theologically brilliant. It is that they lead quiet lives of humble peace and joy. In that, they are a shining example of the light of Christ in their lives. To them, there is no contradiction between a strong devotion to Mary and a vibrant adoration for our Lord.

For my Catholic readers I urge you to a recovery of this aspect of our faith. To those who are not Catholic, I urge you to a prayerful consideration of the teachings of the early Church regarding Mary. You will find in her a true and gentle mother whose only concern is to direct you to Jesus her Son, the Word of God. She is the Dwelling, but we seek the One who dwells within.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Do You Believe?

"I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
John 11:25,26

Today is the memorial for St. Martha. Martha was the sister of Lazarus and Mary of Bethany. Today's Gospel is taken from the well known incident in which our Lord raised Lazarus from the dead. Mary is often thought of as the more loving, or worshipful of the sisters. Martha is known for being busy with work. But today we see Martha's faith.

When she heard that Jesus was coming she went out to meet Him (v. 20). While she lamented that if Jesus had come sooner He could have saved her brother, yet she adds, "even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you," (v. 22). She struggles to believe even in the midst of her deep grief. Our Lord's response to her is the verse above. He is not promising a resurrection, but rather asserting that He Himself is the resurrection. He is asking Martha if she truly believes He is the Messiah. Martha gives as good a profession of faith as Peter did in Matthew's Gospel: She said to him, "Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world," (v. 27). We know the rest of the story. Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. But what has transpired in this conversation? Jesus reveals Himself uniquely to Martha and she responds in faith.

It's important for us to grasp the meaning of this conversation. We often ask God to help us with the various issues we face in life. We are looking for answers. However, Jesus is telling us that He did not come to provide the answers, but that He Himself is the answer. His statement about being the resurrection and the life has specific meaning to our salvation. But for us that statement could just as easily look something like this: "I am your finances; I am your job, I am your health care; I am the solution to your marriage problems", etc. Instead of looking for solutions, the Lord wants us to look to Him. In that we will find all the answers we need.

When Jesus had finished this statement, then He asks Martha, "Do you believe this?" It's the same question He's asking us. He wants to know if we think He is all sufficient for every need. Because when we say, "yes", we are showing that we truly believe in Him. This was Martha's response. Is it ours?

If we continue to rely on Jesus and our various strategies, then we do not truly believe. We are, in effect, saying that our Lord is not sufficient. We are really trusting in our own strength and ingenuity. God does need any such props. If we will abandon it all and trust Him fully, then we will see the miracles of "resurrection" in our lives as well.

The question, again, remains: "Do you believe this?" May our Lord find us all answering with a hearty, "Yes, Lord, I believe."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The "Whole" God

“The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God,slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity,continuing his kindness for a thousand generations,and forgiving wickedness and crime and sin;yet not declaring the guilty guiltless,but punishing children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation for their fathers’ wickedness!”
Exodus 34:6,7

Here is a great contrast! God reveals Himself to Moses, and to us by extension, as being simultaneously merciful and just. This usually presents an incongruity in our minds. We tend to gravitate to one or the other side of this equation. God is either merciful, or He is just. Since our view of God shapes our view of ourselves and of the reality surrounding us, we find ourselves responding in the same way as we view God. If we see Him as merciful, then we tend to be more easy-going, forgiving, and merciful. If we see Him as just, then we usually want justice both for ourselves and others around us.

Yet, here we find that God is both of these things at the same time. There is no contradiction. He is not a compromise of these things. That is, He is not partly merciful and partly just. He is completely merciful and completely just. How is He both at the same time?

While God has revealed Himself to us in many powerful ways, there are still a multitude of things that we cannot possibly comprehend about Him. He is beyond us because He is God and we are finite human beings. We only have the capacity to understand a very small part of who God is. We need only ponder for a moment the mysteries of the Trinity, or the Incarnation, to see that there are many mysteries of God far beyond our grasp.

But we do have a small piece of the puzzle in this passage. God responds to us according to our response to Him. If we seek Him, believe in Him, and work to obey Him, He is merciful. As the Psalmist says, "As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on the faithful. For he knows how we are formed, remembers that we are dust," (Ps. 103:13,14). However, if we reject Him and choose our own sinful ways, then He will be just and bring the just punishment upon us.

Can we live with a God like this? Absolutely! Who would have it any other way? We innately know there must be a just rendering sometime. It wouldn't be fair to see the wicked prosper and never pay any price for their wickedness. We all have an innate sense of justice that tells us there must be justice in the end. However, we know that we all want mercy, because we do not always get it right and we hope that God will forgive. So we find that this is, indeed, exactly how God treats us.

To believe in God requires a proper perspective of God. We must believe in Him as He is, not as we think He is, or hope He may be. We can only truly know Him if we will accept this fact. God is indeed fearful to those who choose to live in sin. But to us who believe, He is merciful far beyond our understanding. Let us then draw near to come to know this great and awesome God we serve. Let us be content to live with the mystery and choose to believe to the salvation of our souls.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Work of God

"You have committed a grave sin. I will go up to the LORD, then; perhaps I may be able to make atonement for your sin."
Exodus 32:30

Someone once said about the Christian life that we should work as if everything depends on us and pray as if everything depends on God. I think most of us understand the first part. I'm not as certain we are truly grasping the second.

In today's first reading we hear the story of how Moses received the Law from God. As he came down from the mountain, he found the Israelites were engaged in an idolatrous party with the golden calf. It is this incident which leads to the verse above. Moses realizes that the people will die if he does not plead for God's mercy. So he goes to pray.

A portion of this conversation is preserved for us. Moses asks to bear the punishment of the people. God tells Moses that each person must answer for himself (v. 33).

Still, let us look back at what Moses says to God: "Ah, this people has indeed committed a grave sin in making a god of gold for themselves! If you would only forgive their sin! If you will not, then strike me out of the book that you have written," (vv. 31,32). I don't honestly think I would have prayed a prayer like that. But it's actually in keeping with what we find elsewhere.

Our Lord prayed that his persecutors and executioners would be forgiven. Stephen, the first martyr of the Church, did the same. St. Paul echoed the same sentiment when he wrote, "I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren," (Ro. 9:3). The heart of the true intercessor is the heart of God. It is the willingness to give up one's own life in order to save the guilty party. Such prayer requires one to live close to God, share His heart, and have a deep and lasting compassion for sinners.

We have all sinned. We are all in the same boat. This alone should keep us on our knees pleading for those we know and love who yet remain in danger of the judgment. Yet, as I mentioned, we often find ourselves doing just about everything else. We think that through conversation or work they will be saved. There is some truth to that. As I mentioned, we also need to work. But the greater work is on God's part. We cannot do this. We must have His grace and it is imparted through such intercessory prayer.

Who's on your prayer list? How often are you mentioning them before the Lord? How fervently do you pray for them? Do you believe God will indeed answer? Let us heed the Scripture which says, "The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects," (Jms. 5:16). Then let us turn to continuous, fervent, faith-filled prayer. God has promised to listen and He will do the work.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Super-Abundant Love

When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, "Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted."
John 6:12

Beginning today and running for the next several weeks, the Church reflects on the sixth chapter of John's Gospel in the Sunday Mass readings. This chapter is so critical to us because it is so full of the doctrine of the real presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. We begin the passage with the story of our Lord miraculously feeding the 5,000 with the five loaves of bread and two fish.

This story is recorded in all four Gospels. It highlights its significance. Very few stories outside of the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord are recorded in all four Gospels.

Here we find the crowds following Jesus. He has them sit down. Then He uses some bread and fish brought by one of the boys there. He blesses them and they feed the whole crowd. That's where the story ends for most of us. It is indeed a miracle. But what's interesting is what is said at the end of the story: Jesus directs the disciples to gather up all the fragments so that nothing is lost. When it is done, they have 12 baskets left over. It would be enough of a miracle to feed the 5,000. But Jesus goes beyond that to give them more than enough. Why?

I borrow from the priest who said Mass this morning at our parish. He noted that it is indicative of the fact that God always gives more than enough. He is showing us that His love for us is not only enough, it's more than enough. He invites us to come and sit at His feet, listen to His teaching, and receive of Himself. He will always give us more than we can ever comprehend.

Our problem is that we often don't believe this. Our Lord reaches out to us with this super-abundant love, but we are usually refusing it to seek love elsewhere. This is the essence of sin. We try to find what is legitimately offered to us in a way that is outside the bounds of what God has provided.

Today, I am trying to allow this super-abundant love to find a home in my heart. I am guilty of turning the Lord away in unbelief. I am caught in the snare of the enemy who is always trying to convince me that he has something better. But the Lord is still on the hill offering me more than enough bread. I will go and receive what He offers, and there will be plenty left over.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

St. James

We hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.
2 Corinthians 4:7

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of St. James. St. James was the elder son of Zebedee. He and his brother, John, were among the first disciples of our Lord. St. James was the first apostle to be martyred.

The verse above is from the first reading of today's Mass. It tells us that we hold within us the wonderful treasure of God Himself. God has chosen to work this way to bless us, restore us to His friendship, and show His immeasurable glory and power to a world still in doubt of Him, but desperately in need of Him. St. James was a man who was a great example of the truth of this verse.

He and his brother, along with their father, were fishermen. These were not educated or eloquent men. They are not what we would think of as being ideally suited for the job ahead. We would look for seminary trained men, men of high education, men of charismatic personality, and skilled in logic and rhetoric. We have no indication that James was any of these things. In addition, James and his brother were known as the Sons of Thunder. This presumably indicates that he was a man of deep passion and a quick temper. This does not sound like a good candidate for beginning the kingdom of God. But Jesus thought otherwise.

Our Lord saw in James a true diamond in the rough. He called both sons to follow him and they did. They literally left everything to become the disciples of Jesus. They spent 3 years with Him learning of His teaching, observing His example, and training to take over upon His ascension. We see a number of times when they failed. Once they asked for the most prominent positions in the kingdom. On another occasion they, along with the other disciples, contended as to who would be the greatest. James is not at the cross when our Lord dies. He is among the others who fled. Yet, there came a point when James finally became the man our Lord knew he could be. He was filled with the Spirit along with the others on the day of Pentecost. He obeyed the commission of our Lord by joining with the other apostles to preach the Gospel of our Lord. Finally, there came a day when he needed to lay down his life for what he believed. The Scripture tells us very little about this. We read only that Herod killed James the brother of John with the sword, (Acts 12:2). What the Scripture has summarized, tradition has filled in. We have recorded for us the following story from Eusebius, an early Church historian. He cites Clement of Alexandria, a second century catechetical teacher as his source.

The man who brought him (James) to trial, on seeing him bear his testimony, was moved, and confessed that he was now a Christian himself. Accordingly, he says, they were both led away together. On the way, the other man asked James to forgive him. And after brief consideration, James said, "Peace be to you," and kissed him. And so both were beheaded together.

Though he did not possess the essential qualities for such a task in himself, once our Lord was living in him, he was transformed. This does not mean that he was perfected, but it does show the surpassing power of God.

It is the same for us. God will inevitably call us to do things we are not naturally qualified to do. But as we rely on Him, He will show His surpassing power through us so that the glory may be to Him and not to us.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Third Day

"Be ready for the third day.."
Exodus 19:11

God is coming to meet with Israel. He calls them to sanctify themselves; that is, to prepare themselves inside and out to meet with God. He gives them two days to do this for He will meet with them on the third day.

The third day is very significant in Scripture. We see its use in a few places, most prominently in the resurrection of our Lord after His crucifixion. The third day represents the fulfillment of God's plan. On this occasion it will be the first time that God will come down to speak to His people since their deliverance from Egypt.

What does the third day mean for us? It may mean a lot of things. It may represent a special time of devotion to God. It may also reflect the ways in which we prepare ourselves daily to meet with God.

I know there are many advocates for the idea of making prayer the first thing we do when we wake up. While I may like to greet the Lord upon rising, I find that I am much more attentive if I clean myself up first.

Then there is Mass. I remember not too long ago dressing up to meet with someone of importance. I thought to myself, if I do this for people, why don't I do the same for God? I was used to wearing a polo and slacks to Mass. Now there's really nothing wrong with that. It's acceptable attire. But I wanted to look my best because I would be meeting with Jesus in the Eucharist. So I started wearing a coat and tie. I want to look my best for the Lord. I know the Lord looks on the heart and all of that. But I also know that our outside appearance often reflects the inside state of the heart. When a person dresses up, not to show off for others, but to honor the Lord, hopefully it also reflects a corresponding attention to the inner appearance as well.

This idea of the third day also brings to mind the idea of waiting. We hate to wait, but God is very fond of it. He is not in a hurry. He uses waiting to teach us many things: patience, faith, peace, and more. He does this because He loves us. He is busy making us holy, which is to say, He is fashioning us after Himself.

Perhaps you find yourself in the midst of a first or second day, awaiting the third. Use the time to sanctify yourself in preparation. Allow God to train you in the time of waiting. Be confident that the third day will come- and it will indeed be worth it all.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Devotion To Jesus

On the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark John 20:1

Today is the Memorial of St. Mary Magdalene. Often when we think of her, we think of what she was. But the Church has proclaimed her a saint because of what she became.

This passage from the Gospel shows the intense devotion St. Mary Magdalene had for our Lord. It is indicative of her life after the Lord delivered her from demons and forgave her sins.

We read here that St. Mary Magdalene came to the tomb very early, while it was still dark. She could hardly wait to get there. The Jewish Law required that she wait out the full time of the Sabbath. But as soon as that was fulfilled, she went out to the tomb. Though she believed Him to still be dead, she wanted to be close to our Lord. When she found the tomb empty, she ran to tell the apostles. Peter and John ran to the tomb to see the things she had said. When they saw the tomb was indeed empty, they left. But she remained. She stayed even though there was nothing to stay for. She still wanted to be close to the last place she could associate with our Lord.

The Gospel story continues by telling us that St. Mary Magdalene went into the tomb and saw two angels (v.12). For most of us, this would have changed everything. But not for her. She is so grief stricken that even the sight of angels has no effect on her. She is looking only for our Lord. Only when He is finally revealed to her does her sorrow turn to joy. She is so elated at seeing Him that she won't let Him go (v. 17).

St. Mary Magdalene was the first to see our Lord raised from the dead and to proclaim that resurrection to the others. She is the first evangelist. She is blessed with such a privilege because of her great devotion.

I long to have that same level of devotion. Why don't I? Is it because, as our Lord said on another occasion, "Whoever is forgiven much loves much," (Luke 7:47), and I have yet to grasp the depth of sin from which I was delivered? Is it because I am too distracted by the cares and things of this world? Is it because I place more stock in what I can see and understand than in what I cannot see or understand? Is it all of this and more? Yes, I believe it is.

God, grant me such love and devotion. Grant such loyalty and steadfast faith! May we indeed have the love and devotion we see exemplified for us her!

St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Family of Jesus

"Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?"
Matthew 12:48

This has become a popular proof text among those who wish to disprove the perpetual virginity of Mary; that is, those who do not believe that Mary remained a virgin for all of her life. It's a passing point and not really the point of this passage. The Church has taught from earliest times that Mary was always a virgin. There was no dispute about it until after the Protestant Reformation 1500 years later. The Church explained the presence of brothers as being more distant relatives, as anyone of kin was referred to as "brother" in New Testament times. But the point of the passage is something else.

Jesus is telling us here that there are no "perks" positions. Even His own mother and brothers did not have a free pass to heaven. If they did not obey the will of God, they would be lost like any other. Jesus is telling us that we have no reason to rely on anything else but the grace of God. It doesn't matter if we have family connections, or we are associated with a prominent church or clergyman. We all stand on equal footing before God.

The question Jesus raises in today's Gospel is very appropriate for our own times. Who are the mother, and brothers of Jesus? Our Lord answers His own question: "For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother," (v. 50). So the question for each one of us is, do I really do the will of God?

We are not talking here, of course, about discerning one's vocation, or various things we are praying to understand. Rather, we are referring to the issue of obedience to what we know is the will of God. Do we obey the Word and the teaching of the Church? If we do, then our Lord is telling us we are truly a member of His family.

This flies in the face of the modern notion that we are all God's children. It is true that we are all created by God and, therefore, rightfully belong to Him. But we become His children by birth- rebirth. When we are born of water and the Spirit, we become a child of God (Jn. 3:5). There are a few elements that go into such a birth. First, there is faith. Secondly, there must be a clear resolve to forsake sin and strive after holiness. Third, there is baptism. Finally, there is a willing submission to the Church, who guides and teaches us to live for God.

"Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?" It is a question worth pondering each day. Jesus continues to issue it in the hopes that many more will respond. Hopefully, each of us can answer with sincerity, "Here I am Lord. I will obey the Father. I will be a member of Your family."

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Search For A Sign

"An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign,"
Matthew 12:39

We all do this in one way or another. We want a sign from God. We want to know if He will indeed come through as He said He would. Such signs are born out of unbelief. But wait a minute, someone may say, what about Gideon? Gideon is a great example of such unbelief. God granted his sign, not to endorse the method, but in spite of it.

But there's more going on here. Jesus had already performed many miracles. What more do they need? The fact is that their demand for a sign is to put Jesus on trial and them in the judgment seat; the exact opposite of the ways things truly are. To ask God for a sign is to place ourselves at the center and God on the periphery. It is to see ourselves as being in control and God as serving us. In other words, the whole notion is born out of a topsy-turvy view of reality.
The request for signs reveals unbelief, pride, and a deficient sense of who God is. I hope it is very obvious, then, why our Lord ascribes such an action to an evil and unfaithful generation.

As I said, we do this in a variety of ways. We try to bargain with God, we think God needs to prove Himself to us, etc. It is all entirely out of line. God will not respond to it. The person who functions like this can expect to hear one thing from God- silence.

God will not be pushed around, manipulated, or set up for some kind of deal. God will be loved, trusted, and obeyed. This may sound very harsh. But the truth is that when we choose to respond to God in this way, we find that things turn out a whole lot better anyway. That's because God is much smarter and wiser than we are. He also has our best interests at heart which, ironically, we do not always have. We must have things in the right order. God must be in control and we are to serve Him.

Today and always, may we come to the end of such seeking after signs, and place ourselves without compromise into the faithful and loving hands of God.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Regarding Shepherds

Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock...
Jeremiah 23:1

His heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd
Mark 6:34

Today's readings focus on the role and ministry of the shepherd. Jeremiah prophesied against those who did not shepherd well. I have known some people who seem to share the same sentiment. I am sorry to say I have been among them at times. They blame things on others in their lives. Typically it is our fathers who come in for the worst of it. We say it is because of things he did that we are like we are. Then there are the vast numbers of people who have left the Church because they didn't like things their pastors said or did. And, of course, we are always fond of heaping numerous reproaches upon those in our government.

These all reflect various levels of authority, or shepherds. It is true that there are some who are worthy of the rebuke of Jeremiah's prophecy. Certainly the shepherds of his day were, and some of our own are as well. But I believe there are many more who are sincerely trying to do the best they can, but fail simply because they are human and not divine.

Today's passages are not intended to cause us to see people as good guys or bad guys. It is not to provide an opportunity to point the finger and say how bad someone is doing as a shepherd. Rather, we are to see that the best of us will fail and so we need a shepherd that is better than all of us. We need Jesus.

The Psalmist says, "The Lord is my shepherd." Our Lord Jesus Christ announced to us, "I am the good shepherd." In our Gospel reading we are told that on this occasion our Lord saw the crowds and was moved with deep compassion because they were like sheep scattered without a shepherd. Our Lord is a good shepherd and He is continually seeking the lost sheep. He longs to be the shepherd of us all.

Only Christ does it perfectly. The rest of us fail. We fail as parents, teachers, leaders, pastors, and government officials. We all fail. There are no exceptions to that statement. We need to be a bit more patient with those who lead us. We need to pray for them. We need to think what it would be like to be in their shoes. While it may be tempting to think we would do a better job, we should rather soberly reflect on the weight of their responsibility and try to help in any way we can.

I know I have failed many times. I think there are a fair amount of people out there who think I am a jerk and Jeremiah's prophecy applies to me. If any of those people are reading this, I am truly very sorry for my mistakes. With that in mind, I am asking God to help me be fair to the shepherds in my life and pray for them continually. Then I am also asking to be reminded that Jesus is my true Shepherd, and He will never fail. So I should go to Him continually.

Today, if you are a shepherd who has wronged your sheep, don't waste a moment to go and ask their forgiveness. And if you are a sheep who has been bitterly holding on to your grudge against your shepherd, then give it up. Be reconciled to them, commit to pray for them, and surrender all to the true shepherd of our souls.

May our Lord, the Good Shepherd, guide us all safely home through the various pitfalls of this life as we daily turn to follow the sound of His voice!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Many and All

Many people followed him, and he cured them all.
Matthew 12:15

Note the words "many" and "all". They are not interchangeable. The text does not read that "all" followed Him and He cured "many". This almost seems to be the way people see it. That is, there seems to be the fear that if we follow Jesus, perhaps we will be the exception to the rule that He is able to cure "all". Maybe He won't be able to help us. Is this why so many stay away? Better to not try than to be disappointed? Perhaps. There is, unfortunately, a lot of disappointment in the world.

The text indicates that Jesus healed people of various diseases. In our experience, we do not see everyone healed who prays to Jesus. Is there a contradiction? Not at all! Rather, healing is now expanded to cover a great many more areas. Sometimes that is physical. There are numerous stories of people healed from various ailments. But often that is not the case. Instead, Jesus cures us from things that are much deeper.

Jesus came to save us from our sins. We could say He came to deliver us, heal us, or make us whole. It's all the same. Salvation is complete- wholistic, if you will. It is not just our bodies that are saved, but our souls as well.

So can Jesus really help us in our modern age? Can He cure anxiety, depression, addictions, and a host of other maladies plaguing our society? Yes, He can. And, yes, He will- if we will come to Him and follow Him.

Oh that the passage did read that "all" followed Him! But it doesn't. Instead, we have to settle for "many" who followed Him. And of the many, our Lord's own words elsewhere tell us that only few will finally choose the narrow way of eternal life. I wish it were not so. I know of so many who need the cures of Jesus, but for varying reasons do not come to Him. If only we would come, we would be healed.

I must confess that I am guilty of repeatedly keeping Jesus at arms length. I am usually afraid that He will take something from me. But I have found that each time I truly surrender to Him and follow Him rather than hold out, I am cured. I have found no exception to this. I am not always cured the way I wanted to be. But, nevertheless, I am always cured.

May this day find each of us not holding ourselves away from Jesus anymore, but rather that we would choose to become one of the many who follow Him and one of the all who find ourselves cured.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Flesh and Blood

They shall eat its roasted flesh... But the blood will mark the houses where you are. Seeing the blood, I will pass over you.
Exodus 12:8, 13

Flesh and Blood. These were the means by which the Israelites were finally delivered from Egypt. It is one of the most potent pictures in the Old Testament of the salvation won for us by our Lord Jesus Christ at the cross. "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." Our Lord was our sacrifice. Through His broken body and poured out blood we were delivered from the slavery of sin and given free passage to the Promised Land of eternal life.

On the night before our Lord was betrayed, He established a permanent means by which the sacrifice of the cross would be clearly seen. He established the Eucharist. Since that time, Christians have made it a central part of their worship to partake of His Body and His Blood.

As Catholics, we believe that the Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood of Christ. We do not take these merely as symbols. Though there is obviously symbolic meaning, it is more than that. It is truly Jesus. This is a mystery, but we are firmly convinced this is what He has given us. "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed," (Jn. 6:53-55).

Today is Friday. It is the day when we specifically focus on His death in the same way that we focus on His resurrection each Sunday. This is why Catholics traditionally fast, at least from meat, on Fridays. It is to remember in a specific way the sacrifice our Lord made for us. This sacrifice, though offered once for all time, is perpetual in its efficacy. In good old fashioned holiness/Pentecostal language, the Blood still flows from Calvary. It means that the one sacrifice of Christ is still setting people free from sin today.

I happen to be part of a parish that offers daily Mass. This is an increasingly rare privilege in an age of decreasing vocations to the priesthood and a corresponding decrease in the piety of many of the people. Yet, I am thankful for this opportunity. In receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord each day I am forgiven of my sins, and strengthened to live out His call to a holy life. With Christ in me, I am sent forth to serve others in His name. Today, especially, I think on these things as I remember His passion- the great love He had in giving His life to redeem ours.
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren, (1 Jn. 3:16). By the grace of God may I be faithful this day and every day to bring Christ to the people! God grant that other souls will find the deliverance from sin today for which our Lord gave His life. Amen!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Come To Jesus

"Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light."
Matthew 11:28-30

In yesterday's Gospel we heard, "No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him," (Mt. 11:27). Some people see in that verse the idea that Jesus has only selected a few to come to know God. But as He continues in today's Gospel, we hear Him issue the call to "all". It isn't that Jesus is selective, it's just that there are unfortunately many who will refuse to hear His call.

The Gospel is seen so clearly here. God comes to us incarnated in His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. He issues His invitation to everyone with the promise that whoever comes to Him will truly find rest.

We all labor and are heavy burdened. We labor to free ourselves from our burdens. But they can really only be relieved by "the yoke" of our Lord. A yoke sounds heavy, but Jesus says His is light. That's because He's really the one carrying all the weight. But the key to all of this is to truly come to Jesus.

Many times we think we come to Him, but we are really still keeping Him at arm's length. The truth is that we are still laboring all the while using language that makes it sound as if we are resting in Christ. To come to Jesus requires the full abandonment of self. We can't hold anything back. He is asking for it all, and until He has it, we are left to labor on our own.

Jesus tells us that we must learn of Him. To be a Christian is not just to know about Jesus, but to know Him. It is to receive Him and to learn to allow Him to reproduce Himself in us. This is why He tells us He is meek and humble. It is to encourage us to come to Him, but it is also to show us the traits that we are to be imitating.

I hear Jesus call and I long to respond from the very depths of my being. But my old habits are so ingrained. I have labored for so long that I cannot grasp this idea of rest. I have spent a lifetime developing attitudes that are virtually the opposite of meekness and humility. Still, our Lord issues His call. If I will but listen and respond, then I will truly find rest; and so will all who take Him at His word, abandon themselves, and come to Jesus.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

It's All About God

Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and lead the children of Israel out of Egypt?" He answered, "I will be with you."
Exodus 3:11,12

Moses has come a long way since he tried to bring deliverance by his own hand in Egypt. He thought killing the Egyptian would signal to the Israelites that he was to be their deliverer (see Acts 7:25). Now, after having spent 40 years in the desert, he is on the other side of things. Rather than being confident of his own abilities, he has no confidence in them. But the principle is the same- he is still thinking only in terms of his own strength. He is not considering God's.

Faith is about abandoning ourselves to God. When God calls, we answer and obey. God always calls us to do things that we cannot possibly accomplish in our own strength. That way we must rely on Him, and when it is accomplished, it will be clearly seen that it was done by the power of God and not by our own understanding or strength.

The real difficulty is getting ourselves into this place where we can truly let God be everything. The Scripture says that man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart, (1 Sam. 16:7). So when God uses someone, we have a tendency to think it is the person doing it. Consequently, we also have a tendency to think that if God is calling us to do something then we will have to do it on our own. But that's not true. In fact, it's just about the opposite of the truth. The truth is that we must learn to get out of the way so God can truly use us. It is all of God when His work is accomplished.

Getting back to Moses, he thought he could deliver Israel in his own strength. It took 40 years in the desert to re-train his thinking. What was he doing all that time? We don't know. But from the little that we do know, it doesn't seem like it was anything grand or glorious. It was just normal living. He got married, had a son, and tended sheep for his father in law. Normal living has a way of training us in humility and faith- if we will let it. It's learning to pray and trust God in the menial things of life that we are trained for greater things. We must be faithful with a little before He gives us more.

I find myself today still in the place of discerning exactly what God is saying to me. In the meantime, He is being very faithful to train me in normal living. I am beginning to see how very much I still need to learn. Going back to yesterday's thought, it's not so much about information, but transformation. I know a lot of things, but I really need to learn how they're to be lived out. I hope it won't take 40 years. But if it does, then I hope and pray I will be ready for God's mission when I encounter him in the fire and hear Him call me to the impossible.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Knowing and Living

As for you, Capernaum... it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you."
Matthew 11:23,24

This passage reflects two essential truths: 1) there will be a judgment, and 2) it will be largely based on what we have had the opportunity to know about God. Every week we proclaim in the Creed our faith in Jesus Christ who "will come in glory to judge the living and the dead." We know judgment is a reality, but we often do our best to try to ignore it. But it is better to reflect often on this coming Day so that we will be ready when it comes.

Here in America we have been abundantly blessed with a wealth of knowledge about our Lord and His Gospel. I am very thankful for that. But with such knowledge comes the responsibility to live by it. The more we know, the more we are accountable for. "To whom much is given, much is required."

The uncomfortable truth is that most of us know much more than we live out. And here's the subtle deception: many of us think that if we know a truth it is the same as living it. But it's not. How many of us know that we are not only to love our neighbor, but our enemy as well? Does that get lived out at the office, or even driving to the office? We know that we are called to love people and use things, but it often gets reversed. We continue to buy things we really don't need and neglect the poor who really do need. Remember that in one of the key passages where we are actually given a criteria for the day of judgment we find that it is based on how we treated the poor- the least of our Lord's brothers (see Mt. 25).

The Lord is willing to bear with our weaknesses. That is, He sees our efforts at living out the Faith and, even though we often fail, He extends His everlasting mercy and grace. But what we must also remember is that when we choose to ignore parts of the Faith and intentionally indulge our sins, that is a different story. The person who lives in such a way is sinning the great sin of presumption and should not count on mercy, but judgment in the last day. Thus, our Lord continually calls out to us in love to repent.

I know much more than I am living out. Today, I want to search for one thing that has been a blind spot and ask God's help to begin living that part of the faith out in accordance with what I know. I can't allow for any excuses. It must be God's way. Because when it's all said and done, I don't want to finish worse than Sodom.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Death By Degrees

Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Matthew 10:39

We find or lose our lives by degrees. It typically happens in installments.

We find our lives by daily choosing our own will over that of God. It is important to realize that it is indeed an either/or decision. It cannot be both. Sin has turned our heart away from God. We do not naturally desire the things He commands. Without a conscious effort to choose His will, we can be pretty sure we are pursuing our own- contrary to His. This is what our Lord means when He refers to finding our life.

To lose our life means just the opposite. We choose to follow God's will contrary to our own. Again, this takes place by degrees. It comes in installments. We do not choose once to follow the Lord and that settles it for a lifetime. Rather, we must choose daily, even moment by moment, that we will obey God. As we do, we are losing our life. Incidentally, we may be persuaded to see in this verse the call to martyrdom. We may think that Jesus is telling us that if it comes down to it, and we must give our lives for our faith, then we must be willing to do so. Certainly, that is a part of it. But we will never choose martyrdom if we have not chosen the smaller "deaths" on a daily basis. This call of our Lord is something that must be lived out every day.

So how will I live this out? Well, it's Monday, and Mondays are crazy, as they are for many of us. There will be many demands made on my time. Numerous people will be asking for my help. It can all get pretty crazy sometimes. Thanks be to God! For He has provided the perfect setting for me to learn to die daily. I will have multiple opportunities today to choose the cross rather than my own comfort. I pray I will be up to the challenge, and, if I fail, that by God's grace I will keep trying.

What about the smaller "deaths"? There are so many. Will I choose the cross in my meals? In slight conveniences? In comfort? With my leisure time? In my family? The list goes on and on. The truth is that we are faced with this decision countless times throughout a day.

Must we fulfill this command perfectly or risk damnation? I doubt it. One would have to be perfected. Yet, there is no mistaking that this is the road the Lord calls us to travel. By His grace we will succeed.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Faith Or Finances?

He instructed them to take nothing for the journey
Mark 6:8

This verse shows a contradiction to an idea very prevalent in the Church- that God's work requires money. Don't take this the wrong way; I am not trying to discourage giving. Neither am I denying the practical realities of ministry in a modern context. But in the final analysis ministry can be done without a dime. This is so because ministry is based on God's power and not our resources.

In today's Gospel we read of our Lord sending out the Twelve on their first evangelistic campaign. They were given authority to cast out demons and sent to preach repentance. Word and power combined in that the disciples did indeed call people to repent as well as cast out demons and heal the sick. They did all of this without an ounce of material resource at their disposal. Jesus specifically forbids them to take bread, bag, or money. Rather, they were to rely on the hospitality of those they would encounter. In truth, they were to rely on God alone.

It is not completely true that faith and finances are polar opposites. One may have a great amount of faith and resources as well. But often it is the case that the more material things we have, the less we tend to rely on God. We begin to think that we can handle it on our own.

At the risk of appearing to indict the Church, I wonder how closely we're listening to this message. The spate of fund-raising plaguing the Church right now is in direct proportion to a lack of faith- lack of faith on the part of the Church as a whole, many individuals notwithstanding. If we prayed like we only had God and nothing else, I believe we would see more of the power that is referenced in this passage. I believe the Church would be much more effective in Her mission to bring the Gospel to the nations.

Here in America we have plenty of money. That may sound ridiculous given the current economic climate. But by the world's standards, we still have a lot of money. We tend to see the biggest issues as financial ones. We also tend to think that the answer to most problems is to raise more money. However, the truth is that the biggest issues are spiritual, and that the answer to them is faith-filled prayer. A praying Church will accomplish so much more than one that is highly organized and financed.

Again, I am not trying to say that money has no place. A person's checkbook is a great indicator of his spiritual condition. The more one loves and worships God, the more he will find himself giving. Nevertheless, we have to free ourselves from our relying on money- our faith in it, if you will. Our ultimate trust can only be in one place. As long as it is our money, it cannot possibly be in God.

I invite all who read this to join with me in committing ourselves to prayer. In this let us petition our Lord for a renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit that those oppressed by unclean spirits will be delivered, the sick will be healed, and those lost in sin may find their eternal salvation through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us pray that our nation will be consumed by a spirit of repentance so that the healing power of God may flow through our land.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Living Above My Station

"No disciple is above his teacher,"
Matthew 10:24

When our Lord said this He was referring to the fact that we as His disciples must expect persecution of one sort or another. But I see in that simple statement a challenge to just about everything in my life.

For instance, if our Lord was born in poverty, how is it that we as His disciples seem to assume we should live in prosperity? He embraced simplicity, we clamor for more and more. There are more examples. But the point here is to allow the statement to be the criteria for evaluating numerous things in our lives.

I am on the poorer side of the scale by modern American standards. Still, I live at a much more affluent level than our Lord, or virtually anyone else living in His time. How can I simplify my life? How do I learn to be content with much less? How do I truly imitate my Lord?

Another example would be how easy or hard life is. Our Lord lived a typical life as far as we know. That would mean long hours of manual labor with necessary food (but not much more than that) and none of the conveniences that we take for granted (like indoor plumbing for example). In light of this, why do I complain about my job in my air-conditioned (or heated in the winter) office with my computer, microwave, email, telephone, etc.? I think you get the point.

I am asking myself today how I can come closer to imitating my Lord in His life. How do I live simpler? How do I become more content? How can I patiently endure adversity? How do I carry a cross?

No one is greater than his master. Certainly I am not greater than my Lord. God grant me the forgiveness for arrogantly living above my station and the grace to embrace the standard He has set before me!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Led By The Lord

"I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt,
Genesis 46:3

Egypt stands in as a symbol of the world. It represents our former lives of sin. It is what God delivers us from. So why is it that God is leading Jacob to go there?

This story occurs after Jacob has found out that Joseph is alive and a leader in Egypt. Going there will mean blessing for him and his family. It will mean the preservation of God's chosen people of Israel. But Egypt is big and scary. It is an idolatrous place. It is full of sin. Why would anyone go there who intends to follow the Lord? Very simply- because God said to do it.

God doesn't call us to understand the big picture. He doesn't need our approval of His plan. He calls us to walk by faith. It means there will be times- many times- when we won't know where we're going or anything else about it. But we must go. We must obey. This is faith.

The other thing that comes out of this story is that God's plans are bigger than we are. Jacob doesn't know or understand all the things that God will do as a result of his going to Egypt. He just obeys. But God's plan is bigger than Jacob, his family, or his immediate situation. God will allow Israel to be enslaved by the Egyptians for 400 years. Then He will deliver them by His power. It becomes such a key picture to foreshadow our Lord's work to deliver us from our sins.

Today I do not hear God telling me to go anywhere or do anything. I am tempted to think that perhaps I am missing Him and that I need to do something. But that misses the point of the story. The key is obedience whether that means I am on the move or staying put.

Regardless of what it means, I pray that I will be faithful to follow God's direction- always!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

God is Good

I've spent the last week in Kansas visiting with family from my wife's side. We really had a great time.

I discovered that driving continuously for a number of hours can be really good for one's perspective. I had lots of time to think. What I discovered is that I really spend too much time being too uptight about too many things that really don't matter in the long run. There's a wonderful peace that comes with letting go of all the issues and just placing one's mind and heart in God. It's not an irresponsible, escapist attitude. From the way I read Scripture, it's faith.

Blogs tend to have the inherent weakness of making one feel that he either does have all the answers, or ought to. We are deceived into thinking we're an authority about something, even if it's just our own lives. But it's not really true in many cases, and especially not in mine. I am not an authority. I am a learner. In fact, I am only beginning to learn how much I have to learn.

So with this new found joy and peace, I am completely enjoying this day, which has actually been very hectic, but also loaded with many grace-filled moments.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable Gift!