Friday, July 29, 2016

Caught In The Act Of Life

Caught In The Act Of Life

         Sooner or later, every child gets caught with their fingers in the cookie jar.  This pivotal moment is unpleasant for both child and parent.  The wise and just parent, who rewards good behavior, must now discipline their beloved child; and the child, must receive, and hopefully learn, the consequence of disobedience.
From the parent’s perspective, something painful but very wonderful, has happened.  Their child is one step closer to acquiring a righteous character.  The child, of course, cannot perceive the parent’s Good in this moment –he only can see what he desires.  Growing up is hard to do.  Raising a child is incomparably harder.  This is not surprising, as parenting is the task of God.
         This snapshot of Life, from God’s perspective, can unfold in only two ways: the child will choose to live for God, or, for Self.  The Man-Child will become Righteous, as in the image of his God; or Lost, as in his own self-created image.  The Man-Child has but one Life to be Judged, and the code of judgment will not be of the Man-Child’s Arrogance, but of God’s Truth –for the reward of a Righteous Life is Eternal Light, and the Consequence of living for Self is Eternal Darkness.
         This is what Jesus’ parable of the fishnet (MT 13:47) is about.  All the fish in the Net of Judgment were caught in the act –in Act of Life.  The Just, or Righteous, were gathered and saved. Those who were not of God, the Wicked, were thrown away.  Jesus concludes, “This is how it will be at the end of time: the angels will appear and separate the wicked from the just to throw them into the blazing furnace were there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.”  This is a sobering Truth that the world, and even many in our Church, either deny, or refuse to talk about.
         It is a painful Truth to ponder.  It causes us to wonder how the Just are deemed Righteous and saved; and how the Wicked are judged as Lost and thrown into the fire.  For, all of us have been caught -many times- with our fingers in the cookie jar, and as many times, we promised not to do it again.  We do not know how we are judged -Righteous or Wicked, but we do know what is righteous or wicked.  
         The Holy Spirit has given our Church the wisdom to connect Jesus’ parable of the fishnet with Jeremiah’s story of the potter’s wheel (JER 18:1).  Jeremiah watches the Potter form the clay on the spinning wheel.  When the clump of clay gets out of control, when it takes a form that is not congruent with the Potter’s Dream, the clump gets smacked down, and the Potter starts anew.  God then speaks to Jeremiah, “Yes, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in mine, House of Israel.”
         God, the Good Parent, disciplines the child he loves.  As long as we live, as long as the Wheel of Life still spins, God will give us another chance to be formed into His Image.  When we sin, when we choose to live according to Our Desires -in opposition to his Dream for us- we become disfigured, and in our sin, the Potter’s Hand of Mercy smacks us down.  We are, of course, usually blind to the Good in that Moment of Mercy, but something wonderful has just taken place.  We have been given another chance to become a Faithful Vessel of God’s Love –to live according to his Perfect Plan for us.
         We are given two stories of Truth: the parable in Matthew, of God’s Judgment; and the story in Jeremiah, of God’s Mercy –how do they co-exist?  Is the Clump of Clay eternally destined according to its form in that moment when the Wheel of Life stops?  Do I commit a sin of presumption –by banking on God’s Mercy?  If I say, ‘I am sorry’ knowing I will probably do it again, am I really sorry, can I expect Forgiveness?  I do not know the answers to these questions.  But, I do know what is expected of me, and, that in the end, the path I choose in this Life will lead to my Eternal Judgment.
         Lord, I want to be Faithful.  I want to live for you –in Truth and Love.  Do not let me wander from you.  Do whatever it takes.  I am hopelessly distracted by anxieties and selfish desires, and I can deceive myself for a whim.  Who I am, and who I want to be, are blurred by sin.  Holy Spirit, give me Eyes clarified by Truth, set them like flint, on my Lord Jesus.  Father, I acknowledge your Mercy as I confess my lowliness.  Jesus, by the Blood of your Cross, my Sins have been swallowed –consumed and forgotten.  I will follow you, by the Light of your Holy Spirit, into the Bosom of our Father.  This is my prayer.  Lord, you are my Hope.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Then I Shall Know

Then I Shall Know

There was a prideful Pharisee, Saul, who was seething with a zeal to destroy all followers of a false messiah he thought to be dead.  In one of the most pivotal moments of recorded history, this Saul was knocked off his horse -struck by a Truth so bright, that he, who thought he saw so clearly, was now blind.  He was smacked in the head by the Finger of God –out of the blue, the Glory of the crucified and risen Christ exploded upon him.  Dazed and too traumatized to ride his horse, Saul was lead by the hand to a destiny not of his choosing.  An overwhelming Grace of God had intervened into his life -disrupting his small, myopic reality.  Such was his introduction to Jesus, the God whom he was persecuting.
Forever changed by his encounter with God, Saul received a new name for his new identity: Paul.  His old life was shattered when his mortal mind was exposed to the Mind of God.  A New Man emerged when he was baptized into the Light of Truth.  Saul’s small world could not define Truth, so, Truth redefined Saul’s world -introducing Paul to the Mysteries of God.  Paul spent the remainder of his life expounding on this Revelation of Grace.
In his treatise on love, Paul wrote, ‘Now we are seeing a dim reflection in a mirror; but then we shall be seeing face to face. The knowledge that I have now is imperfect; but then I shall know as fully as I am known.’ (1COR 13:12)  Unlike the mirrors of today which produce clear, bright images, the mirrors of Paul’s time were polished metal, reflecting blurred images in dull hues.  He is saying that our finite minds and physical senses can only hope to perceive the infinite realm of the Spirit.  For now, we are reduced to humble reflections of the Realities of God.
Paul is saying that when we come into Glory, we will know as fully as we are known; that unbound by our feeble senses and finite minds, we will know God as he knows us, with a knowing that is unhampered by the limitations of this world.  If we were sealed in a cell, with thick walls of lead, in the bowels of the earth, we would not be hidden from God; he would still intimately know us and be present to us.  And if he chose to reveal himself to us there -to our crude senses buried in dirt- it would be as effortless as when he walked through the walls of the Upper Room after Pentecost.  What scripture is holding out to us is that, in Christ, we will come to know the Mind of God –dimly now, as we grope toward the Light, but fully then, when God’s Glory will be revealed. We will know with a knowing that transcends time and space -with the utter Fullness of God.
Paul illuminates these Mysteries in the three chapters of Colossians: ‘and what we ask God is that through perfect wisdom and spiritual understanding you should reach the fullest knowledge of his will.  So you will be able to lead the kind of life which the Lord expects of you, … thanking the Father who has made it possible for you to join the saints and with them to inherit the light. …He is the image of the unseen God … for in him were created all things … everything visible and everything invisible … Before anything was created, he existed, and he holds all things in unity.  Now the Church is his body, he is its head. …In his body lives the fullness of divinity, and in him you too find your own fulfillment, …and now the life you have is hidden with Christ in God.  But when Christ is revealed - and he is your life - you too will be revealed in all your glory with him.  …You have stripped off your old behavior with your old self, and you have put on a new self which will progress towards true knowledge the more it is renewed in the image of its creator; … and in that image there is no room for distinction between Greek and Jew …There is only Christ: he is everything and he is in everything.’
          In unveiling the Mysteries of God, Paul is opening our eyes to an unimaginable destiny.  God holds all things in Unity- all that ever was, is, or is to come.  And he desires us to share in that unfathomable Unity.  Not only to know the Love that flows between Father, Son and Holy Spirit; but to share in the Love of all whom he Loves!  Our destiny in Christ, our Communion with God, our Promised Inheritance, is the Singularity of his Love: of all the Love flowing within the Triune God; and of all the Love flowing from it –past, present and to come.  We will know the Mind of God.  We will know as fully as we are known.  We will exist in the Common-Union of God’s Love.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Stand By Me

Stand By Me (Isaiah 7:9)

         Stand By Me, the 60’s classic by Ben E King, is a love song that extols a lover’s faith in love…

If the sky that we look upon
Should tumble and fall
Or the mountain should crumble to the sea
I won't cry, I won't cry
No, I won't shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me.
It has become wildly successful because it stirs within us that irrepressible truth about the power of love. The lyrics were originally written for his bride.  Their lifelong marriage endured for fifty-five years.  The song was inspired by a 50’s gospel hymn, but the root of the eternal love it touts, springs from the Heart of God.
         Ben E King probably did not know the title of his song was written twenty centuries earlier:  Ahaz, king of the House of David, was besieged by more powerful nations.  His reign was threatened with ruin.  Instead of relying on the King of Kings, he chose to ally with the pagan king of Assyria.  At this, God sent his prophet Isaiah with these words, ‘The Lord Yahweh says this: …if you do not stand by me, you will not stand at all.’   
         Not unlike Ben E King, God has written a Love Song for us as well -his Holy Word.  It is forever beckoning us.   His call, to ‘stand by me’,  is a call to faith –not just to believe in God, but to believe in God’s Love for us.  We, like Israel, are a Chosen People.  The God who created the Universe, who holds it in Being, has chosen Us to love.  Like Ahaz, God is calling us to have Faith in his Love, to Believe that we will stand secure –that even if the sky should tumble or the mountains crumble, his Love will see us through.  And if human love has such power to endure, how much more, does the Love of Almighty God secure us in Hope?
         Father, I feel besieged –humanity is plagued by nihilism, corruption and violence.  The world I grew up in is gone.  What I hold dear is slipping through my fingers as I watch.  So why Lord, am I not terrified?  Where is the panic?  Can it be your precious Gift of Faith?  How else Lord, can I sing Ben E’s love song to you, my Beloved One? …
          When the night has come
          And the land is dark
          And the moon is the only light we'll see
          No I won't be afraid
          Oh, I won't be afraid
           Just as long as you stand, stand by me
         I Praise you my Lord and God –for every breath and heartbeat; for every goodness bestowed; for every trial you allowed; for every Promise you have kept.  Only Hope lies waiting those you hold in Love.  I place my life into your Tender Love.  I rest secure, for you Stand Eternal –you Stand By Me.

Friday, July 8, 2016

A Secret Place

A Secret  Place

But when you pray, go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:6)


          “Prayer is an Unnatural Act!” …A lifetime of rebelling against, and struggling with, prayer elicits from me this exasperating experience of my flesh.  But for Jesus, prayer was as Blood is to Life.  Throughout all four Gospels, he is portrayed as a man centered in prayer.  It nourished him –Body, Mind and Soul.  It rooted him in the Bosom of his Father.  It propelled him with a Power transcending all resistance to the Will of God.  It defined his existence and drove him to his destiny -the Cross.

 That we all resist the call to prayer decries our Brokenness.  This humbling admission is not in the least futile, for the offering of this Brokenness in prayer, is a Fragrant Fruit to our Merciful God!  That Jesus taught his disciples to pray as the first order of business, frames prayer as a Pearl of Great Price.  That he calls us to this Wellspring is our guarantee that we too can drink from it.

          When Jesus prayed, he retreated into the Love of his Father.  It was this Secret Place that he longed to share with his beloved disciples …as, he still, longs for us to know his Father’s love.   Prayer is above all, an encounter with God.  It is found in that Secrete Place in our heart, a Sacred Place, set aside for Divine Intimacy –a Private Room, where we shut the door on our endless distractions, where we avail our souls to the Spousal Love of God, where he rewards us with the Touch of the Father.

          Before teaching his disciples how to pray, Jesus first tells them how not to: ‘In your prayers do not babble as the pagans do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard… your Father knows what you need before you ask him.’   Generally, we have grown beyond the mindless multiplication of rote prayer, but our tendency toward “many words” is a problem we all must contend with.  Jesus reminds us it is not necessary to spend a lot of time explaining to God our needs which he already knows.  As, the more we speak, the less we listen.

As our prayer matures, we move beyond the laundry list approach -of just presenting our petitions.  We move from need-centered speaking, to God-centered listening.  Rarely do we, like Moses, hear God’s voice and converse with him.  Typically, we are more like Elijah, when he heard God speak in the whisperings of a “gentle breeze.” (1Kings 19:12)  Mostly, we encounter the Voice of God in Sacred Silence.  Not with the Empting of our mind, but rather, with a Quiet Infilling …of pondering his Word as it transforms our soul.

As a woman is said to be expecting -waiting for the arrival of her child- so should our prayer time be Pregnant with Expectation –with the Visitation of our Lord, with the Movement of his Spirit.  Elijah was expecting to hear God.  Without the quiet expectation of encountering God, we quickly resort back to words or wandering thoughts.

God’s Voice takes on endless forms as we ponder the day’s Scripture, or a verse that has been stirring in our mind: small insights; promptings toward good; nudging toward change.  How or when the Spirit percolates into consciousness endlessly varies; but that he wants to Touch, to be Received, is a certainty.  Every day, he is calling us to prayer, to enter into that Secret Place, to place ourselves into the Womb of his Love.  Our Father is in that Secret Place waiting for us, anticipating our time with him.

Father, open my ears and my heart in my feeble attempts to sit with you in prayer –that I may receive what you so desire to give; that I may give what you so desire to receive; that your Word will take flesh and be conceived in your Love.

Jesus, I want to know prayer as you knew prayer, to be rooted in the Bosom of your Father.  Plant me in the Peace of your Holy Spirit.  Free me to be stirred by his Whisperings.

Holy Spirit, release me from my pursuit of Self.  Fill me with an Uncontainable Desire to respond to your Love; to Exalt my God above all things; to Surrender into his All-Loving Will for my life.   Plunge me into your Secret Place.

Speak Lord, your servant is listening...

Friday, July 1, 2016

Forgiveness And Healing

Forgiveness And Healing

         Matthew, Mark and Luke (in chapters 9, 2 and 5 respectively) all recall the cure of the paralytic.   It is the quintessential Love Story: of friends who go to extreme measures to bring their buddy to the healing feet of Jesus; and, of the Merciful Love of God for a sinner.  The paralytic’s friends are so committed to seeing him healed that they tear a hole in the roof over Jesus, who is preaching to a standing room only crowd, and then lower him down on ropes.  In turn, Jesus is so impressed by the loving Faith of the four men that he forgives the paralytic’s sins –a Gift the paralytic was not even seeking.
         This story is compelling beyond the miraculous cure it brings.  It is the confluence or two seemingly disparate desires –the men and the paralytic seeking physical healing; and Jesus, seeking to heal the soul.  Adding to the Mystery of Love, Jesus rewards the paralytic for the virtue demonstrated by the Faithful Four.  It is a story where the unexpected result exceeds the miracle that was hoped for.  
         What appear at first glance, as disparate desires, are in truth congruent -both the Sick and the Savior desire wholeness.  Sickness and Death entered the world through Sin.  When we sin we separate ourselves from God.  Cut off from the Vine of Life, we become sick -in need of a Savior.  Like the paralytic, we lie in need of his Forgiveness and Healing.
Modern culture views man as possessing a body distinct from its mind and soul.  In Jesus’ day, body, mind and soul were indistinct –to the point that if you were sinful, you would be sick.  So when Jesus offered salvation, it was not just for our soul, but for our entire being- though he clearly and often, gave priority to the well being of our eternal soul over that of our mortal body.  When he healed, he said, “Your faith has saved you.”  The salvation he is offering us is then, holistic, not separate from our body and mind.  The paralytic went home praising God because he was made whole.
         The grace of salvation can and does restore our mind and body, but the profundity of restoring our soul, of re-introducing our spirit into the intimacy of his Holy Spirit, of reconnecting us to our Vine of Life, makes our reconciliation with God incomparable to the dim miracle of physical healing.
         Matthew concludes this story most intriguingly: ‘A feeling of awe came over the crowd when they saw this, and they praised God for giving such power to men.’ (Matt 9:8)  He uses the plural form “men”, not the singular form which would have referred inclusively to Jesus.  As a Catholic, it is natural to see how he is pointing forward to the precious jewel given our Church in the sacrament of Reconciliation, where the priest, in the name and person of Jesus, speaks today, those words we long to hear, “Your sins are forgiven.”
         Yet too, for me, Matthew is also pointing back to the Faithful Four, and to us, when we do what they have done.  They interceded for the paralytic, they brought a sinner to Jesus, they made known his needs to God.  They participated in the salvation of his soul.  They joined their Faith to his and opened the Floodgates of Mercy -unleashing God’s Forgiveness and Healing upon the paralytic.  Their Love impelled them to Believe, to dare to approach the Throne of God and beg his Mercy.  The Faithful Four foreshadow the Priesthood of Believers.  Jesus, the Eternal Intercessor for mankind, invites us to join in his intercession to the Father!
         Five verses later, Matthew reveals our Savior’s Heart, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  Go learn the words, ’What I want is mercy, not sacrifice.’  Jesus is Love.  Love is Mercy.  The Sacred Heart of Jesus is burning with the desire to shower us with his Mercy; and, he is calling us to join him –to be a fountain of his Mercy- to participate in his plan of Salvation, to intercede for his flock, to bring them and their needs to the feet of Jesus.
         Father God, I am still incredulous when you call me your child.  You know my sins, yet you woo me back over and again.  Jesus, you have healed me, forgiven me, and restored me without deserve, and then planted me in the fellowship of your Love.  Holy Spirit, let me re-Gift the Mercy I have received, let me not see the sin, but the sinner.  Give me the heart of The Intercessor.  Give me the zeal of those Faithful Four.