Advent day 17

In the first reading from Zephaniah, I read this verse: “She listens to no voice, she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the LORD, she does not draw near to her God.” (3.2) I read it over and over. I’ve been praying to draw closer to God, that He will draw me to Him, especially during this advent season. But maybe I’m not listening, not accepting correction, not trusting. It seemed like Zephaniah was talking directly to me. Like he was warning me.

So I pray to God that He will help me listen, accept correction and trust because I’m certainly not able to do it on my own. That’s the thing about being in a relationship with God. My feeble efforts amount to nothing. All the goodness and virtue and growth comes from Him, not from me.

Help me heed this warning and place all my trust in You, my God. Help me to listen and to accept the correction that You send. Draw me close to You.

Thankful Thursday

This week I am grateful for going outside of my comfort zone and saying “Yes” to hospitality. I was delighted to spend a lazy day with an extra little girl in the house. We baked, hiked and ate ice cream. I pray for the grace to say “Yes” to the Holy Spirit’s promptings more often.

I’m also grateful for a friend reaching out to me and providing some much needed outside perspective on a difficult situation with which I am struggling. Thank God for words of encouragement and for sane responses to illogical problems.

 

We are family

It’s been on my heart recently that my extended family relationships are not all that I’d like them to be. I have two brothers whom I speak to only rarely though we are on good terms; a still-living grandmother and grandmother-in-law whom I love; a mom and a dad; not to mention my mother and father-in-law, nieces, nephews and brothers and sisters-in-law. I love all these people dearly, but I rarely see them, much less converse with them. Part of the reason for this lack of family connection is certainly the distance–we live in New England, they live in the Mid- and Southwest. Even still, many far-flung families seem to have vibrant relationships full of communication. Why not mine?

For my part, it’s sheer laziness. It is difficult for me to put forth the effort. As an introverted type, communicating my thoughts in spoken language is not my strength. Why don’t I write letters? I could. Again, laziness. Love is a verb, not a feeling. It’s a choice, an action. St. James says “Faith…if it has no works, is dead” (2.17). Love is the same. Relationship cannot survive without communication, without some tangible proof of love.

So I pray to God to spur me on to love those he has given me, to inspire me to show them all a tangible proof of my love for them.

The consequences of killing Saul, or Why I shouldn’t criticize priests

Well, I finished the gospel of Matthew and decided to go back to the Old Testament for my lectio divina time. I began the second book of Samuel. King Saul has died during a battle with the Philistines, a young man reports to David. Saul had tried to kill himself by falling on his sword, but his life was still lingering. He asked a passer-by, the young messenger to David, to give the final blow. The man acquiesces. David, in terrible grief, asks him, “How is it you were not afraid to put forth your hand to destroy the LORD’s anointed?” (2 Sam. 1.14)

Think about this a minute. This is the same Saul who tried to kill David on three separate occasions; who twice came out to kill him in the wilderness (and on both occasions David could have killed Saul but spared him); who consulted a witch, against God’s express commands; who the Spirit of God abandoned (1 Sam. 16.14). Saul was not a good king, not a good example to his people, or a good worshiper of God. And yet David, the man after God’s own heart, defends him and respects him, in life and in death.

What does this have to do with priests? Roman Catholic priests are the LORD’s anointed. They have been chosen by God to be His ministers. They are in persona Christi –in the person of Christ. These men, however, are human, and like Saul, sometimes make poor choices. Sometimes they are bad examples and poor reflections of Christ. Like me. Like you. What can I learn from David? Each and every priest is God’s anointed, whether he acts like it or not. Whether he gives good homilies or not. Whether he follows the rubrics of the mass or not. My response to him should be always one of mercy. Like David, I need to defend and respect God’s anointed. Most especially, I need to pray.

 

The Kingdom of God is NOT concerned with equality

Last night I was talking to my Dad about the corrupting idea of “fairness.” It seems rampant in our age. From Facebook posts of children and young adults whining, “It’s not fair!” to philosophers positing the unfairness of children being brought up by families to gay “marriage,” our society is inundated in a culture of “rights” and obsessed with seeking to make life “fair” for everyone (read: uniformity). One catch: you have to be lucky enough to survive the pre-natal period in order to enjoy any of these things.

This afternoon in my lectio divina I read Matthew 20.1-16, the parable of the householder and the vineyard. In it, Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a householder going out to hire workers for his vineyard. The first bunch he hires at the beginning of the day; the next group a few hours later; another group even later; and finally, he hires the last workmen with only one hour of the workday left. When he pays them, he begins with the last group, giving them a full day’s wages. The first group gets excited because they think surely they will receive more pay than was agreed upon, since the slackers who only worked one hour were paid for working twelve. Surprise, surprise, the first group is paid exactly the same as all the others. They are indignant. “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat” (12, emphasis mine). In modern English: “That’s not fair!” The householder explains that he has not, in fact, done anything wrong to them. “Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go” (13, 14). Jesus ends with the words, “So the last will be first, and the first last” (16).

The workers in the vineyard, from those who worked all day to those who worked only one hour, are all in the Kingdom of God, yet there is a certain inequality. There are those who give their entire lives to God, working, suffering, sacrificing. Then there are those who spend their lives as they wish, concerned with no one but themselves, and have death-bed conversions. Both–and all in between–make up the Kingdom of God.

So this concept of fairness, equality. I do not think those words mean what you think that they mean, my fellow Christians. Yes, St. Paul says that, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3.28). He is talking about our ability to be members of the Kingdom of God. Under the Old Covenant, Jewishness was a requirement to be an heir of God’s promise to Abraham. Under the New Covenant, there is no such requirement. All are invited, but not all will accept the invitation.

This push in our society for fairness and equality is contrary to the Faith. It is a denial of what makes us human, what makes us male and female, what makes us different members of the Body of Christ, having different gifts and abilities and contributions. God loves all, but He gives to each what He wills according to His inscrutable knowledge of all things and His vision of all time. So our primary job is to love: to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Not to make sure our neighbor has everything we have (yes, basic necessities), not to make our neighbor exactly like us (male and female He created them), but to love them. Love concretely, love actively. Not feelings, but actions. How will they know we are Christians? By our love (John 13.35), not by our equality.

Too Much of a Good Thing is Bad

A few days ago I was restless, nervous, anxious. The only thing that brought me peace was adoration or private prayer. I tried to read my Bible, but more than a few verses and I was back to that feeling of anxiety. I tried to read St. Teresa of Avila’s autobiography; same result. Picking up a book by my favorite author lead to sighs and tossing it aside after a few moments. Even Facebook, texting, and reading email, my normal diversions when I begin to feel restless all brought on anxiety and that feeling of “this is pointless” and “I’m wasting my time.” I spoke to my confessor about it. His diagnosis–I read way too much and I need to cut back.

Too much Bible reading? Too much spiritual reading? Too many emails about how to grow in faith and virtue? Yes. There can be too much of a good thing, where that good thing actually becomes harmful. I had reached my saturation point with the printed word.

Now instead of reading three emails per day about the faith, I read none. Instead of four separate books of the Bible for lectio divina, I read one. Instead of a chapter of spiritual reading, I tackle a paragraph. Even in non-spiritual reading I have tried to cut back. Sometimes we have to take a break from the doing and just…be. God will tell us, through anxiety, through restlessness, through discontent, when our lives are out of balance.

Look to Him. Rest in Him. Stop doing so much and take time to be. “I am who I am,” says the Lord of all Creation. May I be who He created me to be.

Guiding Light

Without You I am lost. I am in darkness. I think I know the way, but all my grasping for control only serves to entangle me more into the mire and muck. So send out your search party, Lord, I pray! Your little, stupid sheep thought she knew better. Again. Oh send out Thy light and Thy truth; let them lead me, let them bring me to Thy holy hill and to Thy dwelling. Ps. 43.3

Confused

“Be angry but do not sin…”(Eph. 4.26).

Is anyone else confused by this? I understand that anger is an emotion and therefore not sinful in and of itself. It’s the action in response to the feeling that can be sin. And there is righteous anger and non-righteous anger. I’m pretty sure that 99% of the time, my anger is non-righteous. That is, it comes from me not getting my way because someone impeded my will or needs me to bend to his/her will. I can think of very few instances where my anger was righteous.

So how to deal with non-righteous anger? It cannot be stifled, pushed down, buried because then, like a volcano, it will come spewing out once enough pressure has built up and injure those closest to the blast.

What do I do? How can I be angry and not sin?

volcano

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

One of my favorite Christmas carols is “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.” It’s an English carol with origins in the 19th century, so probably Anglican, but I won’t hold that against it. The first verse is as follows:

God rest ye merry, gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
For Jesus Christ our Savior
Was born on Christmas Day,
To save us all from Satan’s power
When were gone astray:
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy,
O tidings of comfort and joy.

The idea of God and comfort has been running around in my mind for well over a month. When I had my conversion to the Catholic Church, I probably went overboard. I felt perhaps that I needed to prove myself to God, to show myself worthy, or something. And so I indulged in fasting, traditional observances of holy days, night watchings, etc. Not that any of these are bad, but if undertaken for the wrong reason, that is, not for love, they are.

And so God became, or maybe already was, an authority figure whose approval I had to gain through novenas, fasting, Little Office, rosaries, adherence to traditional practices…actions. My spiritual actions were a check-list, while what He desires is relationship. Fasting out of love. Rosaries because I wanted to spend time with Him. But I didn’t get that (nor have I yet completely). God was demanding, exacting, just. How could I ever measure up?

What I’m beginning to learn is that He is Love. Sure, He’s just. Saying God is Love doesn’t mean it’s okay to go on sinning, to go on doing what we want to because God will love us anyway. He loves me when I sin, but if I choose to continue in my sin, to ignore His Love that calls me to Himself and perfection, He will, in His Love, give me what I have chosen–a life without Him.

Even in the Old Testament, when God seems to be a God of wrath and destruction (context, people) He exclaims through Isaiah: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned” (40.1). And, “I, I am he that comforts you” (51.12). And in the passage that Jesus reads aloud in the Nazareth synagogue (Lk. 4.16-21), “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me….to comfort all who mourn” (Is. 61.1-2). In the last chapter of Isaiah, God compares himself to a mother who comforts her child, “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem” (66.13).

David says to God in the Psalms: “I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me” (23.4). And again: “Show me a sign of thy favor…because thou, Lord, hast helped me and comforted me” (86.17). And “Let they steadfast love be ready to comfort me (119.76).

The prophet Jeremiah, speaking of the fulfillment of God’s promise, prophesies, “I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow” (31.13). The minor prophet Zechariah also speaks of this future happiness, “Cry again, Thus says the Lord of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem” (1.17).

Jesus fulfilled these prophetic words when He said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5.4).

But what started all this thinking about God and the concept of comfort was my reading of 2 Corinthians. St. Paul calls God “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction” (1.3-4). Why does He comfort us? Well, because He is a Father to us and “so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (1.4). He goes on to use “comfort” many more times in the letter, but the other examples are how we are to act as comforters to each other.

In his second letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul again mentions God as a God of comfort when he says, “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word” (2.16-17).

So there it is. God is a Father who comforts us. From the Old Testament right through the early Church, it is repeated again and again. God comforts His people. That’s not to say He desires our lives to be easy! No, he knows that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5.3-5). Jesus did not promise His followers a life of ease and comfort in the modern sense–a state of physical ease and freedom from pain or constraint. He says, “Take my yoke upon you” (Matt. 11.29); “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16.24); “In the world you have tribulation” (John 16.33). But He also promises “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11.30);  “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16.33).

I can take comfort in that.

My prayer for 2015

During my lectio divina time I am working through Ephesians. It’s a rich book, thought-provoking. And I’m only on chapter 2. One section has particularly stuck with me for a few days, however, and that is the prayer that St. Paul says he prays for the Ephesians. He says,

“I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe…” (1. 16-19).

This will be my guiding text and prayer for 2015.

I pray, O my God, that you will give me a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of You. Enlighten the eyes of my heart. Grant that I may know the hope to which You have called me (eternal life, a place in the communion of saints, sanctification); the riches of Your glorious inheritance with the saints (the beauties of heaven, the joy of seeing you face to face); and the immeasurable greatness of Your power in me. Your grace is sufficient for me, for I know that Your power is made perfect in my weakness (2. Cor. 12.9). Thank you for my weaknesses. Use them to Your glory. Amen.