You will show me the path of life (Eccl 2:1-11)

Recently I spent an hour with one of my dear friends. The room was quiet as we spoke together. Now in her eighties, she is no longer able to walk about freely and falls are frequent. She told me that her memory is going, making it difficult to carry on a conversation for very long since the topic quickly vanishes from her mind.

Together we gazed out of her large window at the beautiful trees that grew in the front yard. With a sigh we both realized that Jesus was beginning to take her into the wilderness of his Heart, that place of unknowing where we all are eventually invited to restfully trust in him as he leads us to glory.

But as it is written:

‘What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,
    and what has not entered the human heart,
    what God has prepared for those who love him’” (1 Corinthians 2:9 NABRE).

Questions about life’s meaninglessness, about the way in which our days pass like vapor, about how all that we do and accomplish seems to vanish without a trace as we age, these burden not just the heart of Qoheleth in today’s first reading, but at certain points in our lives these questions haunt us too. I once heard that the book of Ecclesiastes identifies the question to which the whole of Revelation is the answer. In this quickly changing world, all that our life has been seems to slip through our fingers, and our heart longs for life, true life, life that is a treasure that neither moth nor rust can destroy.

“You will show me the path to life,
    abounding joy in your presence,
    the delights at your right hand forever” (Psalm 16:11).

Both Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians and the Psalmist see life as a great river rushing toward a goal prepared for us by God where we will find joy and delight at his right hand forever. How different is this message from the distressing observations of Ecclesiastes in our First Reading today:

“One generation passes and another comes,
but the world forever stays.
The sun rises and the sun goes down;
then it presses on to the place where it rises.
Blowing now toward the south, then toward the north,
the wind turns again and again, resuming its rounds.
All rivers go to the sea,
yet never does the sea become full.
To the place where they go,
the rivers keep on going” (Eccl 1:4-7)

There is something cyclical in this description of continual, unending, “coming and going” of things. In this reading there is no sense of the enduring, of divine gift and guidance and mission, of an end which has been ordained for all things by God. Instead, the more things change, as the saying goes, the more things stay the same, endlessly repeating to seemingly no purpose.

Today many experience life in this way. Not being grounded in the fertile soil of God’s action and love, much of what constitutes activity in our world seems to have no real meaning. I believe that during the pandemic many began to feel this way. The tasks they had been doing in their jobs were now no longer satisfying to them, no longer seemed purposeful, no longer worth devoting their whole life to. They began to seek something more meaningful to do with their careers.

It is ultimately only God who truly defines us and the purpose of our lives, their unending purpose.

This discouraged sigh of Qoheleth whose voice we hear in Ecclesiastes may escape also now and then from your heart. However, Saint Paul encourages you not to give in to this sense of futility and hopelessness. Instead, take on Paul’s own strength, faith, and hope when he cries out, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6 NABRE).

Praying with this passage of Scripture

Lectio Divina is a way of listening to God as he speaks in his Word. It is a practice of communicating with God through Scripture and attending to God’s presence and what he wishes to tell us. In this slow and prayerful reading of the Word of God, we allow ourselves to be transformed by the Spirit who forms us into the image of Christ. There are four movements in Lectio Divina: Read (lectio), Meditate (meditation), Pray (oratio), Contemplate (contemplation).

Begin by finding a still space to pray. Breathe deeply and become quieter within. Abandon any agenda, worries or thoughts you bring to this prayer and entrust these things to the merciful care of God. Ask for the grace to be receptive to what God will speak to you through this Scripture reading. Grant me, Jesus Divine Master, to be able to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God and your unfathomable riches. Grant that your word penetrate my soul; guide my steps, and brighten my way till the day dawns and darkness dissipates, you who live and reign forever and ever Amen

Read (lectio)
Begin by slowly and meditatively reading your Scripture passage out loud. Listen for a particular word or phrase that speaks to you at this moment and sit with it for a time

I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?” I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.

I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun. (Eccl 2:1-11

“You will show me the path to life,
abounding joy in your presence,
the delights at your right hand forever” (Psalm 16:11)

Meditate (meditatio) – Read the same passage a second time. As you re-engage the text, let the word or phrase that stood out become your invitation to speak from your heart with God who wishes to share his heart with you. Allow this word or phrase to wash over you and permeate your thoughts and feelings. You may wish to repeat this phrase quietly and gently for a period of time

Pray (oratio) – Read the text a third time. Listen for what God is saying to you. Speak heart to heart with God. Notice the feelings that this conversation with God raises up within you. Share with God what you notice about your response to this conversation. You may wish to return to repeating the phrase quietly and gently, allowing it to permeate you more and more deeply.

Contemplate (contemplatio)
Read the text a final time. Now be still and rest in God’s embrace. Ask God to give you a gift to take with you from this prayer. You might ask God if he is inviting you to do some action, for instance, make some change in your thoughts, attitudes or reactions, in the way you speak or how you treat others. Thank God for this gift and invitation as you conclude your prayer.

Photo Credit: Negative Space via Pexels.com

Jesus is always passing by (Mt 9:9-13)

“As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew. He said to him, ‘Follow me.’”

In the Gospel passage that recounts the calling of the tax collector, Matthew Jesus shows us that he is where we are. Whether we are living a holy life, struggling with temptations inundating us like a hurricane, or lost in the mire of vice or sin, Jesus is always passing by.

Jesus is not passing by intent on avoiding us. He is passing by in order to see us, to show us that we are seen with the eyes of respect and love. Jesus sees us, as we most deeply are. He delights in us, for he has made all things good.

There are many reasons why I want to avoid your gaze, Jesus. I don’t feel worthy. I don’t know how to respond to you. I’m afraid. But here you are, passing by, seeing me as you saw Matthew.

I can imagine Matthew with either an arrogant gaze—by which he defended himself from the hatred of his fellow countrymen—or a defensive, sullen, withdrawn attitude as he isolated himself from their disdain. Jesus looked into Matthew’s eyes, eyes that had known only rejection from others, and for the first time Matthew knew that someone truly saw him. Someone had seen his wounds, his fears, his desires, his folly, his sin, and his potential.

You saw him, Lord Jesus, and you called him by name and you invited him to live in your presence. You wanted him to be both your disciple and your apostle. In following you, Matthew was to embark on the adventure of metanoia and mission, to proclaim your glory to the world. In fact, he did both immediately.

“And [Matthew] got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples.”

The rich young man had walked away sad, unable to really give himself over to the following of Christ. Matthew, on the other hand, jumped up, immediately corresponding to the grace of his call. To the one who had really seen him—who did not consider simply that he had betrayed his people by extorting their money and overcharging their taxes—to this Lord and Master he entrusted his whole life.

This one loving look of the Savior that expressed a commitment to his dignity and a willingness to care about him, changed his life forever.

Pope Francis in his peace message published on December 17, 2021, invited us to have the eyes of Christ for each other. He called it the “culture of care.”

“The culture of care … calls for a common, supportive and inclusive commitment to protecting and promoting the dignity and good of all, a willingness to show care and compassion, to work for reconciliation and healing, and to advance mutual respect and acceptance…. May we never yield to the temptation to disregard others, especially those in greatest need, and to look the other way; instead, may we strive daily, in concrete and practical ways, to form a community composed of brothers and sisters who accept and care for one another.”

When I am hurt or angry, I have to admit my eyes are not caring. My gaze can be arrogant or withdrawn or sullen. Jesus’s gaze alone restores to us the joy of life, the kind of happiness that radiates from our soul through our eyes. When you see a person perfectly at peace or someone who spends a lot of time in prayer, you can see that radiance, that happiness. Their eyes have a depth to them that cannot be fathomed.

Allow Jesus today to see you as he passes you by. He is there to call you again and again to follow him. When you have followed him, turn then to cast eyes of concern and respect and acceptance on your brothers and sisters. For it may be that they will only know the gaze of the Lord through your eyes, and his gentle compassion through your words.

Praying with this passage of Scripture

Lectio Divina is a way of listening to God as he speaks in his Word. It is a practice of communicating with God through Scripture and attending to God’s presence and what he wishes to tell us. In this slow and prayerful reading of the Word of God, we allow ourselves to be transformed by the Spirit who forms us into the image of Christ.
There are four movement in Lectio Divina: Read (lectio), Meditate (meditation), Pray (oratio), Contemplate (contemplation).

Begin by finding a still space to pray. Breathe deeply and become quieter within. Abandon any agenda, worries or thoughts you bring to this prayer and entrust these things to the merciful care of God. Ask for the grace to be receptive to what God will speak to you through this Scripture reading. Grant me, Jesus Divine Master, to be able to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God and your unfathomable riches. Grant that your word penetrate my soul; guide my steps, and brighten my way till the day dawns and darkness dissipates, you who live and reign forever and ever Amen.

Read (lectio)
Begin by slowly and meditatively reading your Scripture passage out loud. Listen for a particular word or phrase that speaks to you at this moment and sit with it for a time.

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”


Meditate (meditatio) – Read the same passage a second time. As you re-engage the text, let the word or phrase that stood out become your invitation to speak from your heart with God who wishes to share his heart with you. Allow this word or phrase to wash over you and permeate your thoughts and feelings. You may wish to repeat this phrase quietly and gently for a period of time.

Pray (oratio) – Read the text a third time. Listen for what God is saying to you. Speak heart to heart with God. Notice the feelings that this conversation with God raises up within you. Share with God what you notice about your response to this conversation. You may wish to return to repeating the phrase quietly and gently, allowing it to permeate you more and more deeply.

Contemplate (contemplatio)
Read the text a final time. Now be still and rest in God’s embrace. Ask God to give you a gift to take with you from this prayer. You might ask God if he is inviting you to do some action, for instance, make some change in your thoughts, attitudes or reactions, in the way you speak or how you treat others. Thank God for this gift and invitation as you conclude your prayer.


Photo Credit: Wilfredo Mendoza via Cathopic

Need refreshment? Find your “deserted place” today

At daybreak, Jesus left and went to a deserted place.

In today’s Gospel reading, we enter into just one of Jesus’ “days.” He had been teaching and healing non-stop for 24 hours at least. After he had left the synagogue [before today’s reading picks up], he went to Peter’s house, where he was asked to heal Peter’s mother-in-law who lay in bed with a severe fever. Jesus rebuked the fever and she immediately got up “and waited on them.” I imagine that meant cooking dinner, giving Jesus a bit of refreshment near the end of a busy day.

However, at sunset the house began to crowd with endless people pleading throughout the night for healing and hope. And now at daybreak, “Jesus left and went to a deserted place.” These are the words that are used in the Gospel of Luke to introduce the hours of solitude in which Jesus would be alone with his Father in prayer. These words are never used to indicate that Jesus was taking a break. He didn’t leave to escape the noise and demands of the crowds who needed him, but to reconnect with the Source of his Life, the Fire of the Love that burned within him, his purpose, his desire. His great need was to stay in communion with the Father, and it was from this communion that he gained the strength and energy to give, to serve, to love, and eventually to lay down his life.

Saint John Paul II seemed to get his cue from Jesus himself. He received his drive, and his purpose, from prayer. The Pope’s schedule, according to Andreas Widmer, author of the book The Pope & the CEO: John Paul II’s Leadership Lessons to a Young Swiss Guard, ran something like this: The Pope rose before 6:00 and prayed in his private chapel before visitors joined him for Mass at 7:00. After Mass and an hour or two in the office, he would greet official visitors at 11:00, and then give his general audiences which were followed by lunch where he was joined by various Vatican staff. His lunches were the opportunity for him to be brought up to speed on what was happening in the various offices of the Vatican. Often he invited guests specifically to engage in a vigorous discussion on various theological or philosophical issues that concerned the life of the Church. After lunch, the Pope headed for the rooftop gardens of the Papal Palace to walk and talk with God. After this time of quiet prayer and rest, there were several hours of office work and more audiences until dinner at 8:00 where guests dined with him once more. After dinner he returned to reading and writing and praying well into the night, only turning out his lights at midnight or even later. We can imagine that this was a leisurely schedule compared to his schedule while traveling.

Widmer recalls that when John Paul II returned after being weeks on the road he didn’t head straight for his own apartment and collapse for a few days in exhaustion. As he arrived at the Vatican, he would stop and greet all the staff who had gathered to welcome him home and inspect the Swiss Guard lined up in honor formation, talking to each one and shaking their hand.

Widmer, who was a twenty-year-old Swiss Guard at the time and who was, like his fellow guards, in peak physical condition, describes how the young Swiss Guards were unable to keep up with the energy level of Saint John Paul II. He shared in his book how he tried to remember even once when he saw that schedule taking a toll on the pope. He couldn’t remember John Paul II ever exhausted, bleary-eyed, burnt out, irritated. The Swiss Guards who traveled with him on those trips were 40, 50, 60 years his junior, yet they returned home exhausted. The Pope instead was filled with energy and ready to pour himself out for others.

Just like Jesus, just like Saint John Paul II, each of us has a mission in life. Each of us has demands, is busy, has an overcrowded schedule. Each of us must deal with the rapid force of endless change and the fear of the uncertainty of what is right around the corner, the endless unknowns that could upset our life. Each of us is called in our vocation to pour ourselves out in response to whatever God asks of us.

Take your cue from Jesus today. Find your “deserted place” to recharge, regroup, renew. You may be able to stay there for moments, or it may be hours. You may find your deserted place in the car on a long commute or at night when the house has grown silent and all your family members are sleeping. Wherever it is and for whatever length of time you are able to be there, cherish your “deserted places” to commune with your God who will renew your energy, return your joy, and recharge your purpose in life.

Image Credit: Josef August Untersberger, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Feast of the Assumption: Slip your hand into Mary’s hand

My mother is in the final stages of Alzheimer’s. In the lovely summer weather this year, she and dad have spent a couple of hours every afternoon sitting outside in the lovely garden where she lives. Listening to the birds, watching the squirrels play, and enjoying the flowers and trees has always been a blessed way for mom to spend her leisure moments, particularly in these last fifteen years. I am so grateful to God that my parents have had this very special final year together.

Even as the whole family has found a new and blessed rhythm of being with mom and surrounding her with love and experiences of  beauty that are familiar to her on this earth, we all know that this will probably be the last summer that we will have this gift.

I find my comfort in the Feast of Mary we celebrate today, Mary’s Assumption into heaven. The Collect for today’s Mass lifts our minds and our hearts:

O God, who, looking on the lowliness of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
raised her to this grace,
that your Only Begotten Son was born of her according to the flesh
and that she was crowned this day with surpassing glory,
grant through her prayers,
that, saved by the mystery of your redemption,
we may merit to be exalted by you on high.

Heaven is the final goal.

Even as mom and we enjoy these precious moments in the beauty of nature, the glory of creation, I remember that heaven is the final goal. From the moment of his glorious rising from the dead, Jesus has been lifting up our hearts, lifting them up above this earth, above this place of exile, above this vale of tears. He rose from the dead. He ascended into heaven. The Spirit descended upon the apostles in the Cenacle. And today we celebrate the assumption of Mary into heaven.

On this day we celebrate the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever virgin Mary, who having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory (Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus 44). Pius XII affirmed in this dogma of the assumption of Mary, the elevation of Mary’s body to heavenly glory. We celebrate today the moment at which Mary was “taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, when her earthly life was over, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things” (Lumen Gentium 59). 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians” (CCC 966).

And so we spend these days with Mom, these final months of life before Life with joy in our hearts, yes mingled with the sorrow of knowing she won’t be with us, but with transparent and joyful gratitude. She has already received the Anointing of the Sick and the Apostolic Blessing at a point in which she seemed to be approaching the end. Now even as we cherish the beauties of creation on this earth, we know Mom is ready for eternity. Even as we enjoy those precious moments and share those selfies with her that we’ll keep forever, we remember that this life is put a preparation for eternity. Mary who has gone before us, body and soul, reminds us of this particularly on the Feast of the Assumption. There in heaven, the Mother of Jesus and our mother enjoys forever the beatific vision that is our hope, the hope of all Christians. What Mary now enjoys in heaven is promised to each of us:

Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through man, the resurrection of the dead came also through man. For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life, but each one in proper order: Christ the firstfruits; then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ.” (Colossians 15:20-23)

According to Pope Benedict XVI:

“By contemplating Mary in heavenly glory, we understand that the earth is not the definitive homeland for us either, and that if we live with our gaze fixed on eternal goods we will one day share in this same glory and the earth will become more beautiful.

“Consequently, we must not lose our serenity and peace even amid the thousands of daily difficulties. The luminous sign of Our Lady taken up into Heaven shines out even more brightly when sad shadows of suffering and violence seem to loom on the horizon.

We may be sure of it: from on high, Mary follows our footsteps with gentle concern, dispels the gloom in moments of darkness and distress, reassures us with her motherly hand” (Benedict XVI, General Audience, August 16, 2006).

If you are accompanying a loved one or friend in the last months or years of their life, or if you yourself are soon to enter your eternal home, slip your hand into Mary’s hand. Make beautiful memories in these days, cherish all the blessings you have on this earth, and also keep your mind and heart lifted high. Mary is your hope, the promise of a Life after this one, a Life that will never end, a Life of eternal joy. As you cherish the moments you have here, prepare for the eternal and unending forever that is our final destination, where Mary awaits to receive you her child.

Mary our Hope, assumed into heaven, pray for us.

Image Credit: Charles Le Brun, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

God is longing for your heart

To the words that begin our first reading at Mass today…

Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth,
vanity of vanities!  All things are vanity!

…let us add these words of St. John of the Cross:

“To be perfectly united to God by love and will, the soul must first be cleansed of all appetites of the will, even the smallest” (Ascent of Mount Carmel).

In the language of St John of the Cross, the word “appetites” refers to disordered inclinations or affections for oneself or creatures, we could say the “vanities of the world,” tendencies which are more or less contrary to God’s will.

In talking about the value of Ignatian Spirituality for leadership in his book Heroic Leadership, Chris Lowney talks about his being driven by the “I-want-it-so-badly” virus, a type of a modern formulation of the “vanity of vanities” of Qoheleth. Lowney shares how he so wanted to get to the top of company, to be wealthy, recognized, have the best house and the most exciting life. He wanted it so badly that it seemed it must be right precisely because he wanted it so badly.

Sound familiar?

How subtle are the deceptions of the evil one. This absolute certainty that God is on our side might be a delusion. Often it is one of the signs that we are after things that fall under the category of “vanity of vanities.” Maybe it is not God’s design for us that we have the things we so badly desire, but only an “ego itch” actually leading us astray as we chase after our vanities and vainglory. “Disordered inclinations and affections for oneself or creatures.”

In the second reading today, St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians teaches us simply, clearly, leaving us no wiggle room to justify collecting our vanities here on earth:

Brothers and sisters:
If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above,
where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.

And lest we think that these words are some fantasy or imaginative contemplation of Christ in heaven, Paul clearly lays out in no-nonsense and practical terms what this means for us here on earth:

Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly:
immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire,
and the greed that is idolatry.
Stop lying to one another,
since you have taken off the old self with its practices
and have put on the new self,
which is being renewed, for knowledge,
in the image of its creator.

So, brothers and sisters, cherish these words today, these words of God who is longing for your heart, “put on the new self.”

Indeed, my friends, God says to us all, “If today you hear [my] voice, harden not your hearts.”

Image Credit: Image by Daniel Reche from Pixabay.

Sift through your options selflessly, honestly, obediently

“Have you never read this?” There is a touch of irony in Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel as he responded to the Pharisees who rebuked his disciples for plucking grain on the Sabbath. Jesus began his response to the Pharisees with the words “Have you never read this?” precisely because these leaders prided themselves upon their knowledge of the Scriptures.

“Have you never read this?” They had read, Jesus intimated, but had not read to understand. They had not read with soft hearts. They, perhaps unconsciously, had read to verify their own positions, their already determined conclusions. They had understood, or misunderstood, the Word of the Lord to confirm their own word to their own benefit.

How many times Jesus could say these words to me, “Kathryn, have you never read this? Have you not yet understood my heart? Are you still so undiscerning of what truly gives me joy, what pleases me the most?”

I remember as a young sister that being on time for meals, which meant arriving early and waiting prayerfully to say the meal blessing, was an important custom and expectation in our community. There are many values enshrined in this practice: respect for the community, obedience to the will of God as indicated by the schedule, taking one’s rest prayerfully. However, one day on my way to dinner I noticed a sister forty years my senior unloading a car by herself. I hesitated because to assist her would mean that I would arrive late to dinner. Making a quick decision, I stopped to assist her. There were two goods, two values at stake: punctual obedience and generous service. I chose the value of generous service at that moment, regardless of what others would think of my walking in late to dinner.

This certainly was a decision of little consequence, and doubtless you have been faced with many situations of more grave import in your own life. But this Gospel helps us sift through our options more selflessly, honestly, obediently.

Let’s look more closely at the Gospel. The Pharisees objected to Jesus that his disciples by plucking the grain were “working,” a kind of reaping, and therefore it should be avoided as it was considered working on the sabbath day. Jesus responded to the Pharisees: Have you not read how David and his followers went to the tabernacle at Nob near Jerusalem and asked bread of the priests there. There was no bread available there except for the twelve old loaves of showbread which were prescribed to be eaten only by the priests. The priests, in mercy, gave this bread to the hungry men, as Jesus himself in his mercy did not stop his disciples from plucking the grain along the side of the path. And have you not read, Jesus continues, that on the Sabbath, the busiest day in the week for the priests, they themselves break the rules of the Sabbath in order to carry out the functions of worship in the Temple. The commandment of God to keep holy the Sabbath didn’t refer to all work universally, Jesus intimated, but work for worldly gain.

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” Jesus says at the end of this reading. In this Gospel passage today it is clear that Jesus was not using this phrase to justify behavior that was wrong. Instead he used Scripture itself to show the Pharisees how their understanding of the Law in its more complex and cohesive sense was inadequate. He called them to a greater and more inward sense and assimilation of the heart of the Law not to a lesser one. And, indeed, he called his own disciples to such higher standards in the Sermon on the Mount. “You have heard it said…but I say to you.”

Jesus makes clear that he didn’t come to relax the commandments of the Law, to negate them in favor of something new that would make it easier for his disciples. Rather, he pointed out on a number of occasions that the teachers of the Law had missed the point. And that is what we need to be attentive to. Often the phrase “it is mercy God desires, not sacrifice” is thrown out in a conversation to justify not keeping God’s law. God understands and has mercy. He doesn’t really expect us to keep his law. After all, he is so merciful….  So let’s not expect someone to obey the call to discipleship with all its consequences. That clearly is not what God in his mercy expects of us. That, however, is clearly not what Jesus was saying in the context of this Gospel passage. Jesus loved each one who came to him, with great patience and mercy, and at the same time invited them to become “perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).

“Have you never read this?” Or if you have, have you missed the point? We don’t want to miss the point. Going back to my example above, communion of life and charity is the point of community life. At that moment, communion and charity was greater served by my stopping to help a sister unload a car than by my walking past her to be with my sisters at prayer before the meal. Though I “broke,” so to speak, one rule, I lived it inwardly in my service to the sister who needed assistance. If instead, I had stopped to offer assistance because I thought it was stupid to have to keep rules and I had been looking for a chance to act as a free agent and to cherish my own self-importance or greater enlightenment, even if I had justified my action with the words of the Lord himself: “it is mercy I desire and not sacrifice,” I would have missed the point. I would have misused the words of Wisdom itself to justify my own selfish autonomy and resistance to authority. And in the end, it would be I myself who would have suffered from my own self-will, my hardened positions, even if justified by the words of the Lord himself.

Image Credit: Loli Casaux via Cathopic

Lectio Divina on Genesis 12

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him….

Abram worshipped the God who was known in the East as El. Creator of all, El was the Eternal, the Mighty, the Highest God. God calls on Abram, living with his father Terah and his wife Sarai in Haran, a city in upper Mesopotamia, to leave his country, his people, his father’s house and go to a land that he would be shown. God makes a covenant with Abram, promising to make Abram’s descendants into a great nation. Abram obeys and trusting in the promise made to him, sets out on the word of the Lord.

On the surface, in a quick reading, this seems like it was a great opportunity for Abram. He just had to go and he would be given a country and prosperity.

But…

Go where?…

God said to Abram, “Go to a land I will show you.”

That is, walk into the unknown, into the darkness, into the uncontrollable, into trust….

Do you trust ME, God was saying? Do you trust ME enough to leave your homeland and go to a country I will give you, where I will bless you, where you will be the father of many nations?

In this scriptural meditation, we will reflect on what made it possible for Abraham to trust God and put his entire future in God’s hands.

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you…”

Abram heard the voice of God calling him to leave everything he knew, the place that was safe, all that was calculable and to travel to this “somewhere” that he would be shown. It would be a place of God’s choosing. A place prepared for him in God inestimable and unfathomable plans.

And Abram went. Why? He was going to the land that God would show him. This God who called him was real.

Abram put his future into God’s hands. As Joseph Ratzinger says in his book Faith and the Future, “He had met God and placed all his future in God’s hands; he dared to accept a new future that began in darkness.”

Pause: when have you been forced or invited to walk into a future that was not bright with hope? That wasn’t clear and certain? That was shrouded in darkness and that depended upon another? That depended entirely on God? Joseph Ratzinger states that Abraham could do this because “he had met God and placed all his future in God’s hands.” It is a daring move to respond to the invitation of God when we meet him, when we discover that God is too real to ignore, when we are certain that God is calling us somewhere we aren’t sure we want to go….

Abram went trusting in the word of God that had come to him. He asked no proof, no guarantee, he just went.

The future that God was proposing took precedence over what he had achieved and accumulated in the present. He had settled down, quite a wealthy man. He was set for life.

And at this moment, precisely when he thought he was set for the rest of his life, God said to him, “Abram, get up and leave all of this and go to a place that I will show you.”

God opens up for us a limitless horizon

At times our present rhythms of life, our current goods we’ve amassed, our personal relationships we’ve settled into can imprison us. When God calls us, and he does, he opens up for us a limitless horizon, a horizon that can only be calculated by the infinite God who holds it in his hand.

Abram, by leaving his present life and walking into the adventure of an unknown future discovered his true destiny, his authentic identity, the reason he was put on this earth, the place he was to play in the drama of salvation history.

We are citizens of heaven

Abraham is a man on the way, on God’s way, a stranger wherever he goes.

“By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise” (Hebrews 11:9-11).

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews encourages us who walk on this earth to yet long for a better country—a heavenly one (cf. Hebrews: 11:15). “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14).

Pause: we are citizens of earth and citizens of heaven. How would remembering this help you as you walk through the transitions of your life. All of us are called to leave our “homeland” many times. Each time the voice of God is speaking to us of a future of hope. He is gradually helping us emerge into our true identity and reach our final destiny.

St. Paul writes about people whose minds are set on earthly things. And he reminds the Philippians: “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:19-21).

I have to admit that in those circumstances, both happy and difficult, in which I need to leave where I’ve been to move to where I am meant to be as I walk into the future, my focus is too much on what I’m leaving, what I no longer have, what could happen, what I can’t control. What Abraham teaches me is that he went because he trusted that the God who promised his future was real and trustworthy. He trusted a YOU not a future goal. He deemed that God was able to provide for him all that he needed in order to fulfill his promises. Indeed, the most important thing is to comprehend that faith is always faith in a YOU before it is a faith in a series of beliefs.

Deepening your reflection:

  • How does Abraham give you courage as you walk through your life?
  • What does it mean to you to be a citizen of heaven?
  • In what ways does God want to meet you today?

Photo Credit: Image by kien virak from Pixabay

Lectio Divina on Joel 2

Ah, my Lord, how we dishonor you when we approach you with anything less than expectation, wonder, and praise. Sometimes the Lenten season overtakes the whole year: sorrow and penance, self-improvement strategies and pleading for mercy, memories of the way we’ve messed up and knowing we can’t entirely make things right on our own.

After his resurrection, Jesus filled his disciples with joy and wonder. We can’t skip that part of the story. We can’t neglect absorbing Jesus’ divine love and unendingly tender mercies with overflowing gratitude for all he pours out on us through his paschal mystery.

Ash Wednesday thrusts us into a penitential season with the reading of Joel:

“Even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

13 Rend your heart
    and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
    and he relents from sending calamity.
14 Who knows? He may turn and relent
    and leave behind a blessing—
grain offerings and drink offerings
    for the Lord your God.

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion,
    declare a holy fast,
    call a sacred assembly.
16 Gather the people,
    consecrate the assembly;
bring together the elders,
    gather the children,
    those nursing at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room
    and the bride her chamber.
17 Let the priests, who minister before the Lord,
    weep between the portico and the altar.
Let them say, “Spare your people, Lord.
    Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn,
    a byword among the nations.
Why should they say among the peoples,
    ‘Where is their God?’”

Then the Lord was jealous for his land
    and took pity on his people.

And there the reading ends. The passage is a perfect beginning for Lent, but also for any point in our life when we are in a difficult time, bearing the crushing weight of the cross, or sorrowing for sin.

However, we never really get to pick up this prophet’s vision and understand how the Lord takes pity on his people.

In this scriptural meditation, we will look closely at the Lord’s reply which immediately follows this Ash Wednesday passage. I have made bold and underlined words and phrases to bring to your prayerful awareness as you are reading the Lord’s response to his people who are crying out to God that he might spare them. In italics are my interjections.

19 The Lord replied to them:

“I am sending you grain, new wine and olive oil,
    enough to satisfy you fully;
never again will I make you
    an object of scorn to the nations.

Note: it is the Lord who will feed and honor his people, satisfying them fully and forever. The LORD will do it.

20 “I will drive the northern horde far from you,
    pushing it into a parched and barren land;
its eastern ranks will drown in the Dead Sea
    and its western ranks in the Mediterranean Sea.
And its stench will go up;
    its smell will rise.”

Note: the Lord will free and protect his people, completely liberating them from their enemies. The LORD will do it. He will act. He will get things done. He will start things moving in the direction of our joy.

Then Israel replies:

Surely he has done great things!
21 
    Do not be afraid, land of Judah;
    be glad and rejoice.
Surely the Lord has done great things!
22     Do not be afraid, you wild animals,
    for the pastures in the wilderness are becoming green.
The trees are bearing their fruit;
    the fig tree and the vine yield their riches.
23 Be glad, people of Zion,
    rejoice in the Lord your God,
for he has given you the autumn rains —why?—
    because he is faithful.

Note: stop and shout it out! “Because he is faithful!” We can be glad and rejoice, we see the desert turn into an oasis because he is faithful. The fig trees on the terrace yield their riches because HE is faithful. Our Ash Wednesday reading earlier in this second chapter of Joel made it clear that we were NOT faithful. Here now is the key to our joy. Even though we are not faithful, GOD IS FAITHFUL. And he can do all things. He will do all things. He has pity on us and can reverse the most terrible consequences of our weakness and sin.

He sends you abundant showers,
    both autumn and spring rains, as before.
24 The threshing floors will be filled with grain;
    the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.

Note: pay close attention to the next section. God understands clearly what his people, what you and I, have been through…”the years the locusts have eaten.” He declares: I will repay you for all you have lost, I will make it up to you for the lean years and will fill you until you are full. To what purpose? So that “you will know that I am in Israel,” says the Lord. I am here, he says, “I am the Lord your God.”

25 I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—
    the great locust and the young locust,
    the other locusts and the locust swarm
my great army that I sent among you.
26 You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
    and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
27 Then you will know that I am in Israel,
    that I am the Lord your God,

    and that there is no other;
never again will my people be shamed.

28 “And afterward,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

Note: the Lord prefers working wonders, creating joy, causing us to burst out with praise, assure us with his fidelity calling forth our faith and fidelity. God prefers to be pouring out his gifts, which is where it all started with creation in Genesis. “Let there be….and God saw that it was good….” It is in God’s nature to love, to give, to overflow with goodness, to pour out his wonders on his people.

So, my friend, here are three ways to live in wonder at God’s fidelity:

Have the courage to let God restore you

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.” To allow God to restore us for the pain, the loss, the failure, the marginalization, the injustice, demands a fierce yielding to him. I know that that many times I am clinging to me, my own ideas of myself, my future, what’s best for me. I cling to my own resentments, my own ideas about God and what he should be doing. It is only when I have the courage to allow God to restore me in his own way, on his own terms, and in his own time, that I discover that the desert busts into bloom in surprising ways that perfectly satisfy all my dreams and fill me with happiness and contentment. It is always just right. It is always surprising. “Surely the Lord has done great things!”

Surrender to God’s authority over you

“I am the Lord your God…and there is no other.” To surrender is to put one’s full weight on someone or something. When we surrender to our bed at night, we relax and allow our whole weight to rest on the surface beneath us. It involves letting go, a release of effort, the melting of our tension and fear. Surrender involves great trust. God’s power over us is not that of a despot or someone out to see us fail or suffer. In this passage of Joel says, the Lord says:

26 You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
    and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
27 Then you will know that I am in Israel,
    that I am the Lord your God…

Stop searching as if you had to find something that probably doesn’t exist

I have to admit I spend too much time looking for things that are right in front of me. Yes, this applies to keys and other things I habitually lose. And it also applies to God’s love, his mercy, the miraculous and wondrous way God is active in my life. In this passage from Joel, the Lord is making a promise to them by virtue of his own faithfulness to his people. When I search about for light, hope, a way forward, it is usually hampered by my awareness of my own infidelity. God is faithful because he cannot be anything less than faithful. He cannot be anything less than entirely true, wholly loving and completely good. Stop searching and see that you are surrounded by the sea of perfect love.

I invite you to pray quietly with this verse of Joel:

23 Be glad, people of Zion,
    rejoice in the Lord your God,
for he has given you the autumn rains —why?—
    because he is faithful.

Deepening your reflection:

  • In what areas can you shout out: “The Lord is faithful!” In what areas of your life is that difficult?
  • Have you been aware of the way God is acting in your life? What are some of the things you notice about how God acts?
  • Is your spiritual life marked more by lamentation or praise? Is God asking you to develop either of these more in your prayer at this time in your life?