Saturday, March 25, 2017

March 26, 2017: Conversion to a New Guidance System

March 26, 2017

Conversion to a New Guidance System
How do I make most of my decisions? Is it by common sense? By applying rules and doctrines to situations? By reflecting on things in the light of Scripture? By trying to discern the voice of the Holy Spirit in my heart?

The Entrance Antiphon calls us to rejoice in the Church (the new Jerusalem): “Be glad for her, you who love her; rejoice with her, you who mourned for her, and you will find contentment at her consoling breasts.” We may see many faults in the Church to mourn over. But if we love her, we will seek nourishment from her and we will find it. We just have to know where to look. And we have to look with the eyes of faith. This is to use God’s guidance system.

In the Opening Prayer we declare to the “Father of peace” that we are indeed joyful in our relationship with “your Son Jesus Christ.” We follow the Church through the season of Lent and into Easter “with the eagerness of faith and love,” knowing that we are being led into the fullness of life.

Through God’s eyes:
The Responsorial (Psalm 23) calls us to believe and affirm with faith that, in spite of all appearances, “the Lord is our shepherd; there is nothing we shall want.

1Samuel 16: 1-13 teaches us not to judge by appearances: “for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” If we want to be disciples of Jesus, it is not enough to accept what he sees and tells us; we have to learn how to look at things as he does.

There is a learning process here — we have to form the human habit of looking at things as God does — but first and foremost this is a gift of God. It is only by the divine gift of faith that we can share in God’s act of knowing. And this is what Christian insight is: seeing by sharing in what Christ within us sees. To be authentic disciples of Jesus, we have to convert to following a new guidance system: the divine light of God within us instead of the natural light of human reason alone. The Lord is our shepherd. If we let him show us truth and guide us, there is nothing we shall want.

The Light of Life:
Ephesians 5: 8-14 insists that we must recognize the difference between the guidance of Jesus and the light of this world, which shines through our cultural conditioning and the current trends and values in society. This includes the brilliance of shortsighted intellectuals who, in spite of their impressive knowledge are blind to what even the natural light of reason could tell them about God. In contrast to them St. Paul tells believers, “Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light.”

This is not a rejection of human reason. As disciples of God-made-human in Jesus we accept everything human as good. But it is a transcendence of the human, a “going beyond” what is merely human to live and see and act on the level of God. To be disciples of the divine-human Jesus we have to convert to living lives that are not just human but divine. The Lord is our shepherd; he leads us, not only along “right paths,” but to pastures our earthly minds cannot even dream of. He came that we might “have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10). But our life, our joy, can only be filled by what addresses our capacity for total truth, total goodness, total love. It is only through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that our “cup overflows.”

Light in the world
An underlying theme of John 9: 1-41 is that the light of God is available on earth, and we come into it through down-to-earth human actions. When Jesus opened the eyes of the man born blind he “spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man's eyes.” This is so earthy it shocks us; we would expect something more hygienic from God! Then he told the man, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” There wasn’t going to be any miracle until the man took a bath.

All this was to emphasize that we open ourselves to the divine by doing human things. We interact with a very human Church. We listen with our ears, read with our eyes, think with our brains, make decisions with our wills, carry them out into action with our hands and feet. God doesn’t just turn us on like light bulbs. To come into the light we have to be disciples, which means active learners.

John said, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:9). Jesus comes from above, but we meet him on ground level. We find him in “word and sacrament,” by gathering with other physical bodies for worship, through serious engagement with Jesus enlightening us through preachers, teachers and discussion groups.

The once-blind man asked the Pharisees, “Do you also want to become his disciples?” That is the question this Gospel asks us. How will I answer?

Insight: What human things do I need to do in order to open myself more to the divine light of Christ? How can I use my eyes, ears, mouth, hands and feet?

Initiative:  Get specific about how you will seek encounter with Christ through “word and sacrament.” How will you use Scripture, Eucharist, Confession? How will you look for Christ in the Christian community? Through what kind of interaction?

Friday, March 24, 2017

March 25, 2017: “Here am I, Lord, I come to do your will”

March 25 2017
Feast of the Annunciation

Here am I, Lord, I come to do your will
(Responsorial: Psalm 40)

The Church applies to Mary the promise made to Ahaz in Isaiah 7:10-14: “The Lord himself will give you this sign: the young woman [literally “virgin”] shall be with child and bear a son...”?

The basic meaning of the sign in biblical thought is the symbol which indicates the existence or the presence of that which it signifies; it directs the attention to the reality signified.[1]

The Church is the “symbol” the “sacrament,” which indicates the existence and presence of Jesus on earth. And calls attention to him.[2]

Whenever he is asked for a sign, Jesus says emphatically that “no sign” will be given but the “sign of Jonah.” Except once. When asked to send “manna from heaven,” he promised the Eucharist.[3]  The risen body of Jesus was a sign to those who saw him, and is still a sign to those who see him present in Eucharist. Since Jesus’ ascension into heaven the “sign of Jonah” is the Church, the visible body of Jesus risen and active in his members.

The Church, Eucharist and Mary are the kind of sign that “indicates the presence of that which it signifies.” Mary was this to Elizabeth:

Why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.[4]

And this is the sign we should be.

Jesus is present in us. “The virgin shall bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel” —which means, “God with us.” As long as Jesus lives in his body on earth, he is “with us.” We are his embodied presence.  His presence is visible through our lifestyle. However we live, Jesus wants to reveal himself living with us, in us and through us. Our way of living, acting and speaking should be the sign that reveals the presence of Jesus in us.

Whatever we do, Jesus wants to do it with us, in us and through us. Wherever we go he wants to go with us, be in us and act through us. Everyone who encounters us should encounter Jesus along with us, present in us, speaking through us. As “soon as they hear the sound of our voice” they should feel, whether conscious of its source or not, something within them “leap for joy.” Does this sound crazy?

In Hebrews 10:4-10 Jesus says, “a body you have prepared for me.” We are that body. At every moment the passionate thrust of our heart should be, “Here am I, Lord, I come to do your will.

Whatever God asks or allows to happen to us, we answer with Mary in Luke 1:26-38, “Let it be with me according to your word.” Then we are the sign of Jonah.” We are  “Emmanuel.”[5]

Initiative: Imagine the Hail Mary addressed to you. What adaptations are needed?


Same Day: March 25, 2017
Saturday, Lent Week Three

It is steadfast love, not sacrifice, that God desires.

The Responsorial (Hosea 6:6  and Psalm 51) says God wants us to know him. The verse continues: “…and the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” God wants disciples.

Hosea 6: 1-6 shows us the predictable path of discipleship.

The starting point, as often as not, is seeking an escape from pain. “In their affliction they shall look for me.”

When we are “in the pits,” all we want is a return to ground level: a basically human, reasonable way of life. We want God to “heal” our human natures and “revive” us, as in “re-vivify,” make us alive again. We have hope that he will.

But our hope is focused on healing: restoring the level of life we received at creation, from which we “fall short” by following appetites, emotions and the culture instead of reason. (The common Scriptural word for sin is hamartia: to “miss the mark”). We want God to “raise us up, to live in his presence,” because sin is separation from the Good, the True and the Beautiful that are found in God as Creator, the truth that clarifies our own being; the goodness which, rejected as goal, puts disorder into everything we do. As long as we are “in the pits” we cannot focus on God in himself; we go to God to escape pain. That is why most people went to Jesus.

But once out of the pits and restored to ground level we begin to “lift up our eyes to the mountain.” Now, feeling the intrinsic longing of our human nature for the “more,” we say,  “Let us know, let us strive to know the Lord.”

This is a distinct and very important phase of discipleship. Now we are able to look at God just in order to know him. We can hear his words without immediately focusing them on our woundedness. Now we can be students of God’s mind and heart.

This activates another level of hope: hope in enlightenment for its own sake; that is, for the sake of knowing Truth and Goodness as such; for the sake of knowing God. We may struggle with the discipline of discipleship, and feel discouraged when prayer and reflection seem fruitless. But our new hope tells us, “Certain as the dawn is his coming.” We await him like “the light of day,” with hope that he will “come to us like... spring rain that waters the earth.” We hope for union with him whose Light is Life: life on the level of God.

Now the focus turns to perseverance.  God speaks out of experience: “Your piety is like a morning cloud, like the dew that passes away.” Discipleship requires commitment. As Woody Allen said about success, “Eighty percent of it is just showing up.”

But we need to show up with the right attitude, and the attitude is need. In Luke 18: 9-14 Jesus tells us “those who exalt themselves shall be humbled, while those who humble themselves shall be exalted.” Discipleship is not accomplishment. It is begging. With “a heart contrite and humbled.”

Initiative: Seek to know God. Seek it with efforts, but receive it as gift.

[1]John McKenzie, Dictionary of the Bible, “Sign.”
[2] See Vatican II, “The Church,” no. 1;  Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 770-776, 1108.
[3] Matthew 12:39, 16:4; Mark 8:12; Luke 11:29; John 2:18-22, 6:22-59.
[4] Luke 1:39-45.
[5] The classic book by Pierre De Caussade, S.J., Abandonment to Divine Providence, makes this the sum and substance of the whole spiritual life.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

March 24, 2017: “I am the Lord your God: hear my voice.”

March 24, 2017
Friday, Lent Week Three

I am the Lord your God: hear my voice.”

The Responsorial (Psalm 81) is incomprehensible. It is impossible to summarize these readings — just as it is impossible to begin to grasp what “I am the Lord your God” means. We could sit silent in front of this mystery for the rest of our lives.

So read Hosea 14: 2-10. Then re-read it. Then read the Responsorial Psalm — all of it. Then start over. Read Mark 12: 28-34. It is saying the same thing. Keep reading until you realize you don’t understand any of it and yet have grasped the meaning of all of it. Then sit in silent wonder before your God.

Return....” What does it mean that God says this? Not just a human; God himself. What depth and breadth and length and height does it contain?

“Say to him, ‘Forgive all iniquity.’” Who is saying this to whom? Who is he, that we dare, are encouraged, to say it? Who is this God we are dealing with?

We shall say no more, “Our god,” to the work of our hands.” We don’t bandy words with God. If we say it, we need to mean it. At least mean that we will sincerely and perseveringly try. With “steadfast love” we will work against the idolatry of our hearts embodied in the “work of our hands.” In all we do.

How long do we have to think about that before it gets real? Our culture has removed the labels from our idols. They go by legitimate names. What reveals them as idols? As idols for you? Yours.

I will heal their defection. I will love them freely.” What does this mean — when it is God who says it? God doesn’t act, heal or love on our limited level. What does this mean on his level? What does it encourage me to feel? To do?

I will be like the dew for Israel... he shall strike root and put forth shoots.” We have to read Psalm 1. God is talking about disciples: those who “meditate day and night.”

They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.

Do these words mean anything to you? What have they inspired you to do? Have you grasped their meaning, under the imagery? Have you really? Do you believe it? You don’t unless you are doing it. Or else you haven’t really understood what you believe. “Let those who are wise understand these things. Let those who are prudent know them.”

Look up what “know” means in Scripture. It means to get in bed with. To touch every part of. To lose yourself in. To possess totally in total surrender.

Do you “know these things”? Then become a disciple.

This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful (Joshua 1:8)..

I am the Lord your God: hear my voice.”

Initiative: Be awed. Stand before the mystery of God. Let it fill you.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

March 23, 2017: “Idolatry” Means Dividedness

March 23, 2017
Thursday, Lent Week Three

“Idolatry” Means Dividedness

If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” This Responsorial (Psalm 95) is a “survival principle!

God tells Jeremiah (7: 23-28) that from the day the people left Egypt until now he has “sent untiringly” prophets to guide them. But they won’t listen. And, “when you speak… they will not listen to you either!” Do we?

Isn’t God’s word constantly available to us? Can’t we pick up the Bible any time we want? Aren’t the “prophets” preaching every Sunday? Every day, even, for those at daily Mass? Don’t children have parents and teachers, and all of us friends God uses to help us? Do we listen?

God’s conclusion is sobering: “Faithfulness has disappeared. The word itself is banished from their speech.”

The word is “commitment.” How often is it used? Does it stop divorces? Does the commitment of Baptism (the most radical in human life) stop people from giving up Mass, leaving the Church? Are we conscious of breaking our commitment, our covenant with God, when we sin? God’s self-description is “steadfast love.” Is “steadfast” the word that characterizes our pledged love?

It could be. Would be, God suggests, if we would just “Listen to my voice.” If we would just read his word with open minds and hearts, everything could be different for us. Discipleship “works.”

In Luke 11: 14-23 Jesus identifies another problem; the root problem, really. The Scriptural word for it is “idolatry,” which we no longer understand.

“Idolatry” means dividedness. It is the contrary of the First Commandment:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.

“All” means all. One hundred percent. Nothing left over. If we are committed to God as God — to the One God as “Lord alone” — we have made an all-inclusive choice. No other choices can call it into question. Anything that does is an “idol.” A false god. A created value we have made comparable, even if not equal, to God. Comparable enough for us to compare them and choose between them. If “Thy will be done” is not absolute for us; if it does not pre-determine every choice, we are idolaters. To some degree, we all are.

God’s answer was to send his Son. The practical answer to idolatry is to make an idol of Jesus: but a true one. Christianity “works” if we make the person of Jesus our abiding focus. Religion itself can offer idols. We can divide our devotion between various doctrines, laws and practices. We can lose Jesus in our focus on prayers to say, devotions to follow, practices to observe. We can be loyal or disloyal to popes, priests and bishops without connecting to Jesus. They can command and preach without referring to him. This gives “aid and comfort” to idolatry. Jesus says, “whoever does not gather with me scatters.” “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

Initiative: Narrow your focus to Jesus. Then broaden it to include everything else.