Tuesday, February 28, 2017

March 1, 2017: Lent is a time to change together

March 1, 2017

Lent is a time to change together

Do you think things can be turned around in our society without a massive conversion? Do you believe it will really help the world situation significantly if you yourself begin living more authentically? What is the point of Lent?

The readings summon us as individuals to convert as a community.  Joel 2: 12-18 is addressed to the whole People of Israel as a community; not just to individuals who see themselves acting independently of others. No one corrupted our society independently of others. And no one will reform it independently of others. Lent is a time to hear the word of God together and respond to it as a community.

It is not true to say that if we don’t act together, we should not act at all. But when we act as individuals in the Church (or in the human race!) we should do it in a way that will draw others to act with us. In spite of the fiction, the Lone Ranger is not nearly as effective as a posse. The word “posse” (Latin) means “to be able.” Anything we accomplish “alone and unaided” we recognize as exceptional.

Lent, then, is a celebrated season that calls for a communal response.

When Joel said: “Proclaim a fast, call an assembly; gather the people, notify the congregation.” he was talking to the whole People of Israel. To whom should we address this call today? To individuals? Parishes? Dioceses? Just the Catholic Church? All Christians? The whole world?

Matthew 6: 1-18 sounds like a contradiction of what we have just said about communal response. Jesus is saying the first thing we have to convert from is religion, and the first thing we have to convert to is spirituality. “Religion” as used here corresponds to what people mean when they speak disparagingly of “organized religion.” It is not really organization they oppose (even the most private, individual life must be organized to be effective), but a system of organized external observances without interior ordination to God. Since what is interior is, by definition, individual, personal and private, Jesus seems to be summoning us to convert to acting as individuals rather than as a community. That is not what he means.

The watchword for Christian authenticity is “both-and” as opposed to “either-or.” There are some “either-or’s” — the fundamental choice of the “blessing” or the “curse”: life or death; to live or not live by the law of God; to remain in the darkness or be led into the light. But the big errors in living out the religion of “God-made-human” come when we think we have be either divine or human; either physical or spiritual; either obedient or free; either surrendered to faith or guided by reason; either reliant on God or responsible for taking initiatives; either a Catholic or a Baptist! (Or Presbyterian or Methodist, etc. Is it possible to be both?) The correct answer to all the choices proposed above is “both-and.”

The last example was included for shock value. But think about it. The Baptists say they don’t know who is a Baptist. They accept anyone who is “saved.” They might not have fellowship with someone they disagree with, but they claim no authority to declare anyone wrong. “If you accept the Bible, then we can’t tell you how to interpret it.” So there is no contradiction in a Baptist who interprets everything in Scripture the way the Catholics do and joins the Church as both a “Baptist Catholic” and a “Catholic Baptist,” living by the best in both traditions. (For example, participating in Mass on Sunday but singing the hymns and putting twice as much in the collection!)
Catholics who accept the fullness of faith can claim or accept “double citizenship” through membership in any church that does not ask them to deny anything they believe, affirm anything they don’t believe, or stop doing anything the Church requires. (And few Protestant churches would demand any of the above). As long as membership is “both-and” it does not have to be “either-or.”

The choice we focus on during Lent is not either external observances or interior conversion of heart. It is both-and. But the question invites further exploration.

There is a new surge among Christians toward unity. Catholics and Protestants often find themselves participating in each other’s services. The question arises about Communion.

In practice we do what the bishop or pastor decides. But we need to ask what options there are in theory. Laws are always to be obeyed, but always according to the intention of the lawgiver. And we have to understand that intention in the light of our belief.

Catholics believe that “grace” is the favor of sharing in the divine life of God. The principal acts of grace — divine faith, hope and love — are in reality acts of sharing in God’s own activity. By faith, for example, we share in God’s own act of knowing.

Because we are both divine and human, our interior, divine act of sharing in God’s knowledge might “take flesh” in human concepts and words that do not perfectly agree with the truth we possess in faith. What we possess may differ from what we profess. Examples:

The Magi were “saved” by believing in whatever the star God sent was leading them to. “Where is he?” they said to Herod: “We have come,” not to “check him out,” but “to adore him.” They already adored Jesus Christ, and knew him as God, before they ever met him. This is classical “Baptism of desire.”

Scripture scholars tell us the disciples believed in Jesus long before, through the Resurrection and Pentecost, they were able to recognize him as God. But if they knew him by faith, then interiorly they already knew him as God, whether or not they could have said this in words.

Did Jesus know he was God? Of course he did. From his birth “he has to be the Son of God and he has to know it.... But it is not necessary — and it is hardly probable — that this fundamental experience should from the beginning have taken the form of an intellectual certitude, of a clear concept.” In other words, as human and divine he always knew he was God. But as divine and human he could not always have said that in human words.[1]

Do saved Baptists, who by grace share in God’s own knowing act through faith, but who stoutly assert that the bread and wine of Communion are nothing more than a symbol of fellowship, really know and believe, without being conscious of it, that they are in fact the Body and Blood of Christ? If we are consistent with our theology of grace, we have to say they do.

Also, by our theology of “Baptism of desire,” if they believe unconditionally in the Bible and everything God does in fact intend to reveal through it, then they believe what the Bible really says about Eucharist — whether or not their limited human understanding, distorted by the controversies of the Reformation, allows them to affirm this particular doctrine.

So the Baptists may be Catholic after all! Interiorly, if not exteriorly. Where does this lead us?

2Corinthians 5:20 to 6:2: “We are ambassadors for Christ, God, as it were, appealing through us” — calling each other, calling the whole world to turn around together. Is it time we broadened our ministry to address everyone who will listen? Time to open our doors to everyone we recognize as having “become Christ” through Baptism? Is it time Catholics and Protestants applied to themselves what Paul applied to Jews and Gentiles:

Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.... In his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, the hostility between us.

He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body.... for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God....

Perhaps we could make this our principle focus as we recite the Responsorial (Psalm 51): “Be merciful O Lord, for we have sinned.

Do I see Lent now as a “Catholic” season, or one to share with everyone?

Participate in both Catholic and Protestant Lenten observances — preferably with the same people.

[1] Jacques Guillet, S.J., The Consciousness of Jesus, Newman, 1972, pp. 43-44.

Monday, February 27, 2017

In a generous spirit.. in a spirit of joy...

February 28, 2017
Tuesday, Week Eight, Year I

In a generous spirit.. in a spirit of joy...

Most religions include some kind of conscious giving to God. This can take the form of ritual sacrifices or of explicitly religious support of the poor or of what we recognize as “God’s work,” regardless of who is doing it. But Sirach 35:1-12 says the first of all gifts is to “keep the law.” This is a “great oblation.” We make it when we “observe the commandments,” do “works of charity… give alms… refrain from evil… and avoid injustice.

We have to give something. “Appear not before the Lord empty-handed.” But what gives value to the gift is the attitude of the giver. What God sees in our hands is the expression of our heart. We can’t “buy God.” “Offer no bribes, these he does not accept.” God does not want our gifts but our giving; that is, he wants us. And he wants us loving, because when we love we are like God, which is what we were created to be.

That is why the attitude with which we give counts more than the content. Gifts to God are measured by virtue, not volume. “The just one’s sacrifice is most pleasing….” This doesn’t mean we can’t please God when, as sinners, we do what we can. It means that giving is an act of relationship. If we don’t give with a sincere desire to be in the right relationship with God (and with others) our giving is pleasing to no one. We should remember that to ”have mercy” means to “come to the aid of another out of a sense of relationship.” Christian giving is not condescension; it is an act of recognition: we recognize God as God and Father, our brother as our brother, our sister as our sister. Christian giving is always supporting our family.

We have to give like God: “in a generous spirit… in a spirit of joy…. Give to the Most High as he has given to you, generously, according to your means.” God gives All. All he is, and all he has made he offers to us. And he asks for all in return. “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” This is what Jesus recognized and praised in the “widow’s mite”:

Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.[1]

All. “Sin” is mentioned in the Bible 367 times. “All” appears 4491 times. (”Love” 491 times). Jesus demanded all for All:

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and… in joy goes and sells all and buys that field.” None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.[2]

We can’t outgive God. “For the Lord is one who always repays, and he will give back to you sevenfold,” that is, in perfect measure.[3] Jesus said the same:

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

The measure is proportional, not equal. God’s measure is exponentially higher than ours. People who trust in God’s generosity will discover how great it is. To the upright I will show the saving power of God.

Meditation: What am I giving to God? Do I give in the same spirit God does?

[1] Deuteronomy 6:5; Mark 12:43-44.
[2] Matthew 13:44-46; Luke 14:33;
[3] For the significance of “seven” see Monday of Week Six above, February 14. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

February 27, 2017: Perspective Changes Everything

February 27, 2017
Monday, Week Eight, Year I

Perspective Changes Everything 

The fact is that, though blessed by God’s light, we sometimes fail to walk in it. But for those with eyes to see, even our faults reveal God’s goodness by giving us the experience of his mercy. Sirach 17:19-27 assures us, “To the penitent he provides a way back, he encourages those who are losing hope.”

Why? Why is God so willing to forgive, to make it so easy to return to him? Why doesn’t he just give up on those who give up on him? We do. It is because, even though we are in the image of God, He is infinitely better.

How great is the mercy of the Lord, his forgiveness to those who return to Him! The like cannot be found in humans, for not immortal is any child of man.

Ben Sira is not denying the immortality of the soul, although in his time the Jews may not have known much about it. That is not his question or focus. What he is pointing out is that God relates to people from a different perspective than ours.

People can threaten us. We perceive them as able to diminish our happiness, take away what we think we need or want to keep, restrict our activities, even cut short our lives. So when people injure us or threaten to do us harm, we want to exclude them from our lives, ostracize them, lock them away in cages, even execute or exterminate them. This is because we recognize our existence as fragile, incomplete and tenuous. We are fixated on protecting it.

 Not so God. God doesn’t protect his life; he shares it. He doesn’t have to defend his existence; he gives existence to all that is. He sees everything from a different perspective:

Who in the nether world can glorify the Most High? …They glorify the Lord who are alive and well.

God’s only concern is to give life, enhance life, help every person to grow to the fullness of life. He is pure giving because there is nothing he needs to receive or defend. He is not afraid of losing anything, because he has everything.

Except our total surrender to his love.

God doesn’t “possess” our free will. He wont force it. He wants to win it. But he knows the only way to win love freely is to give love unconditionally.

So no matter what we do to him he responds with love. “To the penitent he provides a way back, he encourages those who are losing hope.” No matter where we stand in relationship to him: near or far, whether we think we are in favor or in disgrace, “Return to the Lord and give up sin, pray to him and make your offenses few.

Few. Diminish them. We don’t have to be perfect overnight, wholehearted in our first response. “Turn again to the Most High and away from sin.” Turn. It’s a matter of direction, of fundamental desire, of mind set. Just accept the goal and start. Life is a journey. So is love

This is the first call of the Good News. “In those days John the Baptizer appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near’…. Jesus “left Nazareth and… began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’” Metanoieite! Change your minds and hearts. New life is at hand. Accept it.

Meditation: Which direction am I facing? Do I need to alter course at all?  

Saturday, February 25, 2017

February 26, 2017: In God Alone

February 26, 2017

In God Alone

Are you ever anxious? Stressed out? Who isn’t? But how do you deal with it? What is your response? (And how does it work for you?)

The Entrance Antiphon gives the response God inspires: “The Lord has been my strength.” But not just strength to endure: He has led me into freedom.” We can be free of stress and anxiety. The bottom line: “He saved me because he loves me.” If he who is Power Itself, the Source and Sustainer of all existence, loves me and chooses to keep willing me into existence, even sharing his own divine life with me and uniting me to Jesus Christ as his continuing body on earth, what do I have to worry about?

The Church believes God wants us free of stress. In the Opening  Prayer(s) she asks, “Give your Church the joy and peace of serving you in freedom.” She focuses us on the mystery of our true identity, which puts everything else into perspective: “Form in us the likeness of your Son and deepen his life within us.” That life is “life to the full,” and it is eternal life. So what more do we need?

The Church isn’t naïve. She knows we are living in “a world of fragile peace and broken promises.” But we aren’t just “here.” We are “sent.” “Send us as witnesses of Gospel joy.” We have embraced our being-in-the-world voluntarily. For us it is not just a fact, it is a mission. We are here to take the initiative. We know what the answer is to all the world’s problems: “Touch the hearts of all people with your love, that they in turn may love one another.”

Is it that simple? Yes, it is.

Something to Count on
Isaiah 49:14-15 says it all. When did we feel most secure and at peace? In the womb? In our mother’s arms as infants? Why?

First, we had nothing to do but be there. No tasks or goals to accomplish; no bills to pay or obligations to meet. We could just be. Secondly, we knew we were safe and loved.

The Responsorial (Psalm 62) encourages us to be this way with God: “Rest in God alone, my soul.” Jesus said it too:

Martha was distracted by her many tasks.... But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.”[1]

The rest of the Responsorial Psalm gives two reasons: “From him comes my salvation.... From him comes my hope.” This is the answer both to fears and to desires; to anxieties about losing what we have and to fear of failure in what we want to do. God will save us from what threatens our existence: “he is my salvation.” God will empower us to achieve our desires: “he is my hope.” Be at rest, my soul. But “only in God.” If we try to find security, fulfillment or peace in anything else, we will be disappointed. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Only in God is my soul at rest.”[2]

“Seek First...” And only
Jesus says this again in Matthew 6:24-34 and gets explicit about what we are not to worry about: the basics of survival: “your livelihood, what you are to eat or drink or use for clothing.” Or, for that matter, even staying alive: “Which of you by worrying can add a moment to your lifespan?”

This could be just stoic resignation, which is elevated to a higher level in the “Serenity Prayer” that Wikipedia attributes to the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. It was adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step programs, and widely distributed by the U.S. Army to the distressed in Germany after World War II:

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
The courage to change the things that I can;
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Seen in a Christian context, this is more than stoic resignation to things we can do nothing about. And Jesus is far beyond this. He begins and ends with monotheism: that there is one God, and to let anything but God have any influence in our life is idolatry. “No one can serve two masters.” This is the First Commandment: “I the LORD am your God... you shall not have other gods besides me.”[3] Therefore, Jesus says,  “Seek first [and only] his kingship over you, his way of holiness, and all these things will be given to you besides.”

Stress is fragmentation. In single-minded dedication to the service of God we find the freedom and the unity of peace.

Jesus teaches that God is not just our Lord; he is our Father. We can and should count on him to provide for us with a Father’s love. “Your heavenly Father knows all that you need.”

To convince us, he points to two things we know: God provides for the birds that don’t work, and for the flowers that die overnight; and we are more important to God than they are.[4]

Then he “zooms in” on what is more important in our own priorities: “Is not life more than food? Is not the body more valuable than clothes?” Jesus is saying, “If you keep yourself aware of God’s priorities and of your own, you won’t sweat the small stuff.”

Compared to who God is and the work we are invited to do for him, everything else is “small stuff.” It is the “unbelievers” who are “always running after” things like prosperity and success, status and security. We have only one goal to pursue: the holiness to be found in personal surrender to God, and the establishment of his reign over everything else on earth. They are one and the same: “So now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you? Only to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul....”[5]

Jesus also teaches us to find the “peace of the present moment.” He introduces the time factor: Why worry about tomorrow? “Let tomorrow take care of itself. Today has trouble enough of its own.”

Again, this is not stoic resignation, even that acknowledged in Scripture as the attitude of those who do not know what God offers after death:

Let us eat and drink,
For tomorrow we die.[6]

Jesus is saying something developed later by the Jesuit Pierre de Caussade in his classic book, Abandonment to Divine Providence. The only thing we need be concerned with is doing God’s will at the present moment. Period. And accepting whatever God is allowing to happen to us beyond our control at the present moment. We are not responsible today for what God wants us to do tomorrow (unless his will today is that we should prepare for it). If right here and now we are doing what God wants us to do here and now, it is foolish to worry about anything else. This assumes, of course, that we are engaging now in any necessary discernment about decisions we must be prepared to face in the future. Just live in the present moment.

Jesus is situating our life between two poles: its beginning in God and its end in the Kingdom. If we are in union with Jesus as the Alpha and the Omega, we will live in peace.

Christ yesterday and today,
The beginning and the end,
Alpha and Omega:
All time belongs to him
And all ages.
To him be glory and power
Through every age for ever.[7]

“Your toil is not in vain”
1Corinthians 4:1-5 gives the coup de grace to stress. We are “stewards of the mysteries of God.” Our first concern is just to be “trustworthy,” faithful to the Lord. Paul says, “The Lord is the one to judge me,” so it “matters little” what anyone else thinks. We work only for God, and for others only in the measure and manner that we believe God desires. We don’t have to please any boss but God. People may think what they want of us, but “at the time of his return” Jesus will “bring to light... the intentions of hearts.” The name for this is freedom. “Rest in God alone, my soul.”

Are you living for one thing or for many? Can the many be found in the one?

Keep saying “Lord, do this with me, do this in me, do this through me” and relax

[1] Luke 10:40-42.
[2] Matthew 11:28.
[3] Deuteronomy 5:6-9.
[4] Compare this to Jonah 4:5-11.
[5] Deuteronomy 10:12.
[6] See this presented stoically in Ecclesiastes (Quoheleth) 9:5-10 and 1Corinthians 15:20-34; and with disapproval in Wisdom 2:8-9, Isaiah 22:12-13,.
[7] Easter Vigil Mass: Preparation of the candle.



The Seventh Week of Ordinary Time: The book of Sirach. also called Ecclesiasticus, invites us to reflect on creation, life and relationship to God.

Invitation: To grow in desire for wisdom and commit ourselves to discipleship.

Ask yourself in prayer and others in discussion, for each statement below: “Do you see this in the Scripture reading? What response does it invite?

Sirach 1:1-10: We need to seek wisdom where it can be found; in God’s word. 
  • The first step into discipleship is to declare yourself a learner through some visible form of concrete commitment.
  • Knowing I am committed to grow as a disciple is a mystical experience.
  • We don’t realize we are committed until we don’t feel like doing it any more.
Sirach 4:11-19: Those who want wisdom “love life,” because they want to grow. 
  • We win God’s favor” just by desiring to grow in wisdom.
  • Desire must pass into action. Perseverance is the true measure of desire.
  • Wisdom is “appreciation for spiritual things,” and the “habit of relating everything to our last end.”

Sirach 5:1-10: What makes meditation on Scripture “work” is a practical focus. If you don’t get any great thoughts, just ask, “How can I respond, what can I do
  • Meditation requires us to make decisions with confidence, but depends on recognized powerlessness.
  • If we don’t invest time in prayer, the rest of our time will be wasted.

Sirach 6:5-17: When we choose our friends, we are in fact choosing our way of life. Our choices are all influenced by the communal choices of our culture. 
  • Like attracts like. If we live by our ideals we will bond with people who support them. This leads to “communion in the Holy Spirit.”

Sirach 17:1-15: The basic truths are often the ones we seldom look at.
  • We know we are like God because we can recognize intention in the structure of things, follow the Creator’s thought process and admire and praise him for it. Animals and atheists can’t do this.
  • “Fear of the Lord” is fear minus fright; that is, perspective.
  • To appreciate a principle, we have to live by what follows from it. A disordered life blocks truth. Obedience to God frees the mind from enslavement to error.

  • Ask deeply and honestly, “Who is God for me?”
  • Do I truly want “wisdom”? Enough to become a committed disciple?
  • Is my lifestyle different from that of my friends? Why is that?
  • How has “fear of the Lord” freed me to see and appreciate truth?

Friday, February 24, 2017

February 25, 2017: Fear Minus Fright = ?

Saturday, February 25, 2017
Week Seven, Year I

Fear Minus Fright = ?

Sirach 17:1-15 takes us “back to basics.” But the basic truths of life are often the ones we never look at deeply. And seldom think about. Our loss.

The Lord created humans out of earth, and in his own image he made them.” We don’t just exist. If we can see the hand in front of our face, we know it has no reason to be there, nothing within itself to explain its existence. Nor does anything else in the universe. Sirach says we are “created.” There is a self-explanatory Being whose existence is such that it needs no explanation. A Being who obviously, unimaginably just “is.” By nature. And this is the name God gave himself: God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.”[1]

We only exist because “HE WHO IS” gave and is giving us existence. Right now. He is saying, “Beeeee….” and holding the note. That makes our existence intelligible. We can look at the hand in front of our face and see it for what it is. This is no small thing.

“In his own image.” We know we are like God because we can recognize intention in the structure of things, know why different parts are there and how they are related to each other. We can follow the Creator’s thought process and admire it. Praise him for it. Animals and atheists can’t do this. Animals see that things work but not why. Engineeers can explain why things work, but must stop there. Their inquiry does not extend to what things are. Metaphysics (the “philosophy of being”) explains the why of the why, the reason behind the structure, the Person whose intention we can understand and approve. Knowing this allows us to see beings for what they are. And it makes relationship possible with their Creator. In this we discover ourselves.

God helps us do this, both through our natural power of intellect — “he endowed humans with a strength of their own” — and through revelation: “With wisdom and knowledge he fills them… and shows them his glorious works, that they may describe the wonders of his deeds and praise his holy name.” We do this in the Gloria at Mass: “Lord God… we worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory.”

The key is “fear of the Lord.” This is not fright. Fear minus fright is perspective. We see what God is compared to us and we respect him. For Ben Sira, to keep this perspective in mind is the “beginning” and the “fullness” of wisdom” (1:1-20). Without it our understanding is reduced to groping and our will deprived of direction. There is no ultimate intelligibility, beginning, end or order in the universe or in our lives.

Sirach says that, in practice, to really appreciate the principle, we have to live by what follows from it. “If you desire wisdom, keep the commandments and the Lord will lavish her upon you, for the fear of the Lord is wisdom and discipline” (1:26-27). A disordered life — sin —  blocks truth. Obedience to God frees the mind from enslavement to blind appetites and the culture.

God can guide those who have a sense of perspective: “Good and evil he shows them… he has set before them a law of life as their inheritance.” We echo that: “The Lord’s kindness is everlasting to those who fear him.”

Meditation: How has “fear of the Lord” freed me to see and appreciate truth?

[1] Exodus 3:14.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

February 24, 2017: The Seductive Power of Culture

February 24, 2017
Friday, Week Seven, Year I

The Seductive Power of Culture

When we see how things go on this earth and the paths that people follow, what overwhelms us is the seductive power of culture.

Children grow up in Christian homes. Their parents have the faith and form them in it. But once out of the house, the youth stop going to Mass. The last thing on earth youth want to hear is that they are “conformists.” But in fact, their behavior is predictable. They will conform to the attitudes, values and behavior of their peer group. First in college; later in business and politics.

They were taught that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. But in fact, they follow the way of the world, accept the truth as filtered through their society, and their life is like everyone else’s.

Like everyone’s in their peer group, that is; they think they are free and different, but they are only free from the truth the Church teaches and different from the peer group of their parents. They swallow uncritically the assumptions of their chosen environments and blend into the scenery. They don’t stand out.

Sirach 6:5-17 is realism. If we think we are free spirits we are naïve. It is true we form ourselves as persons by our choices; that is what makes each of us unique. But it is also true, although not admitted, that our choices are all influenced, and most of them pre-determined, by the communal choices of our culture. So Sirach says, “Choose your friends.” When we choose our friends, we are in fact choosing our way of life, whether or not we are aware of it. Do you find this hard to accept?

Language: what words do you find acceptable and why? Dress: who chose the image you are projecting? Food and drink: how original are your habits? Spending: what are your thought-out priorities? Family life: How is yours visibly different from others; what sets the daily schedule?  Housing: what is the “right” kind of neighborhood? Work: what determined your choice of career? Work-ethic: whose rhythm are you dancing to? Reading: who are your favorite authors? Conversation: what do you talk about? Avoid talking about? Morality: What is acceptable: in your work, social life, political choices? Does your behavior raise eyebrows among your peers? Make them uncomfortable?

When you gain friends, first test them. And be not too ready to trust them.” What determines their values? What truths are the foundation for their attitudes? Where are they leading you?

There are friends, boon companions, who will not be with you when sorrow comes.” When you become an alcoholic. Pregnant. Deprived of a God you know how to deal with. Without a faith to pass on to your children. When you realize your life is meaningless; empty. When your soul desires to soar. Who will you talk to?

Faithful friends are a life-saving remedy; those who fear the Lord will find them.” If you stay in bounds you will make friends with those you meet there. And vice-versa.

Those who fear the Lord behave accordingly. And their friends will be like them.” Like attracts like. If your standards are clear, you will bond with people who support them. This leads to “communion in the Holy Spirit.”

Guide me, Lord, in the way of your commands.” He will, if we choose friends who will walk with us.

Meditation: Is my lifestyle different from that of my friends? Why is that? 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

February 23, 2017: Read, Reflect, and Respond

February 23, 2017
Thursday, Week Seven, Year I

Read, Reflect, and Respond

Discipleship is all about conversion. God has no reason to give us more light if we don’t intend to walk by it. In John’s Gospel Jesus is identified as Light and Life interchangeably: “In him was life, and the life was the light of all people…. to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power….” Power to live and act: “to become children of God.” [1] In fact, when one meditates on Scripture, what opens the door to its meaning is a practical focus.

The three “R’s” of Scriptural meditation are “Read, Reflect, Respond.” But sometimes our reading and reflection seem barren: we don’t get any great thoughts. No problem. Just ask, “How can I respond, what can I do that will express belief in what I have just read?” Look for a concrete action, no matter how trivial it seems. And do it. Then you will have meditated successfully on Scripture.

And you will probably have found the key to the real meaning of the passage.

What blocks meaning is self-reliance. Oddly, meditation requires us to make decisions with confidence, but depends on recognized powerlessness. When God calls us to something, if we think we can do it, we haven’t understood the full dimensions of the “it.” God calls us to do what God alone can do. By grace. We need to look for the divine dimension even in ordinary decisions.

Sirach 5:1-10 says, “Rely not on your wealth; say not, ‘I have the power.’” Here “wealth” means anything that enables human action on earth: wealth of knowledge, talent, energy, resources: none enables us to live or act on the level of God. Only responsive union and interaction with God sharing his own divine life with us does that. Jesus is the vine, we the branches Apart from him we can do nothing.[2]

Rely not on your strength in following the desires of your heart.” Will power is not enough. To think so is the fast track to discouragement. If we don’t invest time in prayer, the rest of our time will be wasted. Most of us learn this the hard way. Prayer is not our first priority.

Delay not your conversion to the Lord. Put it not off from day to day.” We intend to “get more religious” someday. When the pressure eases up. When we have more time. When we are older. After we have had some fun. Become accepted in a group. Made a team. Made some money. Sirach answers: “Some day, dumb day!” So does Jesus.[3] Before that day comes, you will have wasted half your life. Or all of it.

When Ben Sira says, “Of forgiveness be not overconfident,” he is not putting limits on God’s mercy. He is just telling us how it works. God “has mercy” by calling us, empowering us to act. If we don’t, we suffer the consequences of whatever we do and don’t do. God will forgive us whenever we turn to him. And he will “take away,” annihilate, all our sins, as if we had never committed them. But lost time is lost time. Jesus promised we would “bear fruit, fruit that will last.” But not if we don’t plant. Not if we don’t receive his word in prayer, water and weed around it.[4]

“Happy are they who hope in the Lord.” They “yield their fruit in its season.” The season is now.

Meditation: What am I waiting for? What do I intend to do “someday”?

[1] John 1:4,12.
[2] John 15:5.
[3] Luke 12:15-59; Matthew 5:25.
[4] John 15:16; Matthew 13:3-23; Galatians 6:6-10.