Saturday, February 28, 2015

Always By Our Side

Today's reading is from Isaiah 43:1-7.  Again, it is a lengthy passage, so I won't copy/paste the whole thing here.

I have a lot of thoughts on this segment, but would encourage you to read it for yourself.  Read it through once, and become familiar with it.  Read through again, slowly.  Read it again very slowly.  Now spend some time praying with it, and allow God to speak to you from His Word.  You have just experienced Lectio Divina!

The theme of this entire passage is FEAR NOT!  Why?

  • He has redeemed you.
  • He will be with you.
  • He is the Lord your God.
  • He is the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
  • You are precious in His eyes.
  • He loves you.

    Rest in these promises this evening, as you prepare to worship Him tomorrow.  May His grace and peace be with you.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Priceless Food

Today's passage is the entire chapter of Isaiah 55.  It's a lengthy passage, even though it's only 13 verses.  Click the link above, and you will be able to read the entire chapter.

Just a few thoughts from this amazing portion of Scripture:

If we come to Him, listen to Him, call upon Him, forsake our sins, and return to Him...

  1. Our souls will live (v. 3).
  2. We will be partakers of His everlasting covenant (v. 3).
  3. We will experience His mercy (v. 7).
  4. His word will accomplish its work in us (v. 11).
  5. He will give us His everlasting sign (v. 13)--the unending Kingdom of God.
  6. We will know His abundant pardon (v. 7).

There is a theme in the readings from yesterday and today:  Come to Him, and rest.

There Is Rest for the Weary

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30

Key words we see:

- Jesus

   - Who?  "All who labor and are heavy laden."  We all feel that way at times,
      don't we?  Yet Jesus calls every one of us to Himself.

- Take...His yoke upon you
   -  A yoke?  Sounds like a burden.  But a yoke helps a team of horses or oxen
      pull together.  Picture Jesus coming alongside and helping bear the burden.

- Learn...from Him
   - We all want to learn from the best in our particular field of interest.  This

      is our invitation to learn from the VERY best!

- for your soul
   - A place of refuge from the clamor of the world.  A place of protection where

     we can be held close to His heart.

Just a few thoughts:

  1.   Stop worrying about the encumberances of life.  Find rest in Him.
  2.   Let it go.  (I Peter 5:7)
  3.   Even when we take His yoke upon us, we can be at rest.
  4.   He is gentle.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Mad As...King David?

Today's Psalm response is from Psalm 34:4-5, 6-7, 16-17, 18-19.  The psalm is beautiful, and full of great depth of meaning:

I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.
The face of the Lord is against evildoers,  to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted,  and saves the crushed in spirit.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.

I have to say, though, the little preface at the beginning of the psalm (added to let us know the why/when of the writing of this psalm) made me laugh out loud.  It reads:

A Psalm of David, when he feigned madness before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.

David was in the courts of Achish (also known as Abimelech), when word came that he was "the" David...
“Is not this David the king of the land? Did they not sing to one another of him in dances,    ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?”  So David knew he was found out.  His reputation had put him in a tough spot.  He was afraid now.  But, using his wits, he feigned madness.  Drool running down his beard and all."Then said A′chish (Abimelech) to his servants, 'Lo, you see the man is mad; why then have you brought him to me?  Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to play the madman in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?' ”

So this was the occasion of the writing of this psalm.  God had delivered David, in what would seem a very unorthodox manner.

There are times in my own life when I don't see how I should have escaped a situation relatively unscathed.  Or if a bit wounded, how I came out of the predicament at all.  God delivers us from temptations and tough times, still strengthened by His grace.  Even if we have to admit we're a bit mad...  :o)

"Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all."

The Least

‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’  Matthew 25:40

This is only a short portion from yesterday's Gospel reading.  But it says so much to us.  

Last night, I had the privilege of working with our parish St. Vincent de Paul Society.  Twice a week, our food pantry is open.  There are individuals available to help those who may have need with their rent or utility bills, and also helping with other resources (job search, community outreaches, etc.).

The temperatures in our area were subzero last night.  We still have several inches of snow on the ground, with many sidewalks not very clear.  One sweet lady had walked about two and a half blocks, and was going to carry four or five heavy bags of food, plus a sack of potatoes, all that way back--on foot, through the snow, in the cold.  I offered to transport her.  She was very reluctant, as we had "already done so much for her."  She finally accepted, though, and we were at her apartment in no time at all.  When she thanked me, and offered me a hug, it was my turn to gladly accept.  

When I returned to my car, I was so humbled.  I have often hear people speak of "seeing Jesus" in those to whom they have assisted or ministered.  That was my experience.  I felt I was not just doing it for that dear little lady, but for Christ.  I'm not sure I can adequately express the impact that short encounter made upon me.  

I do know I want to experience that again a multitude of times.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Who's in the Driver's Seat?

"The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, 
and he remained in the desert for forty days,
tempted by Satan.
He was among wild beasts,
and the angels ministered to him.

After John had been arrested, 
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
'This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel.' ”
 Mark 1:12-15

Today's Gospel reading is the same theme as every first Sunday in Lent:  Jesus in the desert, being tempted by Satan.  For most Christians, this is familiar territory.  For those who observe the Lenten fast, it is our example.  Christ spent those 40 days in preparation for ministry.  As we know from the other Gospel accounts (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13), Jesus spent that time fasting. 

Mark's account says the Spirit "drove" Jesus into the desert.  He compelled Jesus to go.  Matthew and Luke use the word "led."  The concept is of One who is surrounded by the Spirit, and is being pulled forward into something God wants Him to do.  Not "forced," but "led."

This morning, our pastor, Fr. Joe, said something very profound:  "The wilderness is not just a place of desolation.  It is a place of learning."

These Lenten fasts can sometimes seem to last fooooreeever.  In the midst of it, it is tempting to just give in.  Jesus was tempted to make bread from stones.  After all, He was hungry, and He was God in the flesh.  Why not?  Clearly, Jesus knew it wasn't the time for that.  During our fast, we will be tempted to give up our fast because "we just can't do it" for a full 40 days.  There is a beauty and strengthening in the discipline and tenacity of sticking to our fast.  

Even if we feel that the "wild beasts" of our lives (the temptations) are pulling at us, let's hold fast (pun intended) to our resolutions, and allow this time to draw us ever closer to Christ. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Live and Let Live

This is my short take on today's Gospel acclamation.

Our joy should come when someone comes to knowledge of Christ and enters into a relationship with Him.  We should not be overjoyed when a wicked person dies.

Because God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The People of God

Last night, my husband and I experienced a sort of "deja vu" moment.  We were visiting Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Garfield Heights, Ohio.  I am pretty sure the majority of Catholics in the United States see the face of Catholicism as white or Hispanic.  I am also pretty sure they are wrong.  Last night was a beautiful time of prayer and worship with our African American brothers and sisters.  It was, to me, a coming together of the best of all I've known as a Christian--the amazing wonder of the liturgy and the worship of a community of many colors.

For the first years of our marriage, most of them were spent in Highland Park, Michigan.  The congregation there was a beautiful palette of races.  Our times of singing and worship were heartfelt, full of passion, and a musical style that touched something deep within my soul.  Though I grew up in mostly-white southwest Kansas farm country, I have often felt there was a bit of the land of Africa in me, too.  Something about the fervor of it all resonates within me.

The typical American Catholic parish is not so.  Some, of course, more than others.  But I fear we are missing out on something very rich when we do not allow ourselves to fellowship with those of other races on an ongoing basis.  "We are one Body, one Body in Christ..."  And for anyone who thinks Catholics are too "unwelcoming" or keep too much to themselves, I give you one bit of advice:  visit Holy Spirit Church and get a new perspective on that matter.  ;o)

Since becoming Catholic, the liturgy speaks to me in a way too deep for words.  Thus, the combination of the two is something I am at a loss to describe.  (Heavenly?)
I will let the rest of this post speak for itself.

A Pleasing Sacrifice

I was planning to focus on one of today's Mass readings, but they all flow together so beautifully.  The readings are from Isaiah 58:1-9a, Psalm 59, and Matthew 19:14-15.  Each of them talks about how we are to fast and repent.  It's not about giving up "things" so much as having a heart that is contrite (remorseful, penitent) and a humble attitude.

Artwork by Ronald Barba

But the thing that just popped out to me is the verse before the Gospel, from Amos 5:14:

"Seek good and not evil so that you may live, and the Lord will be with you."

That pretty much sums up the whole Christian life, doesn't it?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Life or Death Decision

I open with an apology for not posting yesterday.  I have some good excuses!  The Oremus study instructed us to reflect on the passage that most spoke to us (from the previous days' readings).  It was Ash Wednesday, so a busy day for me.  And...I just didn't get to it.  :o)

For the next several days' reflections, I will choose one of the daily Mass readings.  We have a reading from the Old Testament (usually--sometimes a New Testament reading), a Psalm, and a reading from one of the Gospels every day.

Today's Old Testament reading is from Deuteronomy 30:15-20:

"Moses said to the people:
'Today I have set before you
life and prosperity, death and doom.
If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God,
which I enjoin on you today,
loving him, and walking in his ways,
and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees,
you will live and grow numerous,
and the LORD, your God,
will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy.
If, however, you turn away your hearts and will not listen,
but are led astray and adore and serve other gods,
I tell you now that you will certainly perish;
you will not have a long life
on the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and occupy.
I call heaven and earth today to witness against you:
I have set before you life and death,
the blessing and the curse.
Choose life, then,
that you and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your God,
heeding his voice, and holding fast to him.
For that will mean life for you,
a long life for you to live on the land that the LORD swore
he would give to your fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.' ”

The key phrases/words:



The choice set before them mirrors the choice given to Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis:  the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Adam and Eve had the same options Moses is giving to the Israelites in Deuteronomy.  If they chose one tree, they would continue to walk in communion with God.  If they chose the other tree, they would know God's judgment.

The consequences of their actions seem a bit unfair to us.  After all, why should it matter if one chooses to eat from a certain tree?  What is the problem with walking in our own ways?

The answer is love.

Though that may appear a bit simplistic, think it through.  The God who made the universe, and who knows the beginning from the end, asks for us to love and obey Him.  He gives us the option of choosing.  But the beautiful thing we see here is that He tells us the outcome of each decision.  He gives us the 4-1-1, the "heads up," the insider's very clear.

Join me in choosing life.  I vote for life, prosperity, and blessing over death, doom, and curse!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Truly, My Hope Is In You

What a beautiful psalm to meditate upon, as we begin Lent tomorrow!  It seems as if this could have been the song in Jesus' heart as He entered the wilderness.  He was in a dry and thirsty land, yet found His refreshment in His Father's presence.

We all have those "dry" times in our lives.  It seems we are walking in a spiritual desert.  All around us appears as a wasteland.

Oh, but let us gaze upon Him in the sanctuary.  There, we will find a fountain to replenish our souls.

For His steadfast love is great!

Ready for Lent???

Monday, February 16, 2015

Unfathomable Love

Today's reading is from Romans 8:31-39.  Rather than re-post the entire passage, you can read it at the link provided.

Key thoughts on this passage today:

- God is for us.  He's on our side!

- He gave Jesus up for us.  He provided the means of our salvation.

- He loved us that much.

- He is the only one who could judge us, yet is the one who provides justification for us.

- Jesus intercedes for us.  I don't know about you, but that really amazes me.  The only one who could
   condemn is the one who prays for us.  No condemnation.

- NOTHING can separate us from His love.  Nothing.  Zilch.  Nada.  Wow.

This is not a 50 Shades kind of love, friends.  This is the real deal.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Stop! In the Name of Love!

Today, I read our local newspaper's "Valentine edition" for the weekend.  Though I usually enjoy reading it, this time I was so disheartened.

One large headline read, "Being true to who she really is:  A transgender woman shares her journey.

I won't go into great detail.  The summary is that a local man, who has a wife and two small children, has recently begun therapy to become the woman "God made him to be."  He has full support of his wife, several family members, and his local church.

This article ran right below the usual "Street Talk" column, in which the editor asks local people a question.  When they answer, each individual gets their picture in the paper, along with a short quote of the answer offered.  This week's question:  What is your ideal Valentine gift?

Another note of interest:

Local clergy member offering Ashes2go
Lisa O’Rear-Lassen, the pastor at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, will be offering Ashes2go on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 18 in the square from noon to 2 p.m.
O’Rear-Lassen will be standing at the entrance to the public parking lot behind the former Cool Beans building and will be offering to impose ashes on anyone who walks or drives by.
“I will be in vestments so I will be identifiable,” she said. “All are welcome. I will impose ashes on a drive through basis also. I have done Ashes2go with the community of St. Patrick in Brunswick for the past two years and it has been a blessing to all involved. I’m excited to be offering this in Wadsworth.”

Please tell me you understand my dismay.

Today's prayer meditation is from Psalm 139:1-18.  This is one of my favorite passages from the Bible.  Whenever I'm feeling down, it is so refreshing to read this Scripture, and remember how much God loves me.  Even in the darkest times, He is there.

I offer this passage to you, with no commentary on my part today.  I ask you to read it, meditate on it, and let God speak His love to you.  Our world's version of love is so skewed.
Lord, thou hast searched me and known me!
Thou knowest when I sit down and when I rise up;
    thou discernest my thoughts from afar.
Thou searchest out my path and my lying down,
    and art acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.
Thou dost beset me behind and before,
    and layest thy hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high, I cannot attain it.
Whither shall I go from thy Spirit?
    Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend to heaven, thou art there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there thy hand shall lead me,
    and thy right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Let only darkness cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to thee,
    the night is bright as the day;
    for darkness is as light with thee.
13 For thou didst form my inward parts,
    thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise thee, for thou art fearful and wonderful.
    Wonderful are thy works!
Thou knowest me right well;
15     my frame was not hidden from thee,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.
16 Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance;
    in thy book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.
17 How precious to me are thy thoughts, O God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
    When I awake, I am still with thee.


Friday, February 13, 2015

Long-Term Lease

Today's Scripture portion is John 15:1-17.  This is the "Vine and the branches" passage.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.  You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you.  Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.  If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.  If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you.  By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.  As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love.  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.  These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.   “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.   You are my friends if you do what I command you.   No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.  This I command you, to love one another."
It may seem a bit redundant, but it is well worth reading through three times:  once to get the gist of the passage; once, at a slower pace; once, very slowly to let it just speak to your heart.

There are some very obvious (and some not so obvious key words in this section:

- Abide
- Vine
- Branches
- Fruit
- Love
- Friends
 Let's focus on the first word for today.  The word "abide" has three different meanings given on  
  1. to remain; continue; stay
  2. to have one's abode; dwell; reside
  3. to continue in a particular condition, attitude, relationship, etc.; last
There's a lot to consider, isn't there?  We should remain in Christ, continue to walk in His ways, and stay on His path.  We need to abide with him, dwell in His presence, and reside in the life He offers.  And, we need to continue--have a consistent attitude of following, cultivating our relationship with Him, and, well, staying put!

So...thought for the day:  Is your place of residence a short-term contract or a long-term lease?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Come Along on the Journey!

I received an e-mail a couple of days ago.  I knew the answer to the questions (I was being asked) would be found in old blog posts.  As I scrolled along, I realized I have been blogging for over 8 years now!  My first post was in August, 2006.  A lot has changed in that time.  My sons have grown into young men.  We have been settled in our community over 9 years now.  Life has had its ups and downs, but here we are!

One of the new(er) things I've done over the past few years is join a women's Bible study group in our parish.  I had wanted to participate long before I had the availability.  Once able to become part of the group, though, I have never looked back.  The group is filled with women of all ages, from early 20's, to much older.  :o)  We have single women, married women, moms of little ones, moms of teens, moms of adults, grandparents...well, we pretty much have it covered!  The beautiful reality of it, though, is that we are all on a journey of faith together.  We all want to grow in our relationship with the Lord.  We encourage one another, laugh together, and cry together.  These women are such a blessing to my life.

This week, we began a study called "Oremus."  It is an 8-week study on prayer--a challenge to take that quiet time with Christ every day.  (Our group will stretch it out longer, as we only meet every 2 weeks or so.)  One of the types of prayer we are learning is known as, "Lectio Divina."  Basically, that means praying Scripture.  We have a daily guide that supplies a Scripture passage.  We are encouraged to read it, read it again slowly, then read it again very slowly.  We are to take time, slow down, and listen to what God is speaking to us through that particular portion from the Bible.

Whew.  Okay.  All that to say, I'd like to have you join me in this journey, too!  I'll share my thoughts, and encourage you to do the same.

Today's passage was the oft-quoted passage from Jeremiah 29:11-14:

"For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.  You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart,  I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile."

Jeremiah was a prophet through some of the most horrific times of Israel's history.  When this chapter was written, the people were in exile in Babylon.  They had been ripped away from their homes and taken there by Nebuchadnezzar and his army.  And yet, Jeremiah offered them God's words of hope and promise.

A couple of things stood out to me:  God's part and our part.

On God's part:

- He knows the plan.
- He hears.
- He wants to be found by us.
- He will restore us.
- He will bring us back.

For God's part, yes, He had "driven them" into other nations and places.  He "sent" them into exile.  Remember, though, that this occurred after many, many years of the prophets warning them to turn from their idolatrous ways.  It wasn't some whim of a mean Man in the sky.  He wanted them to live the very best life--following His ways and reaping the benefits of that life--but they were determined to live their own way.  Thus, the exile.

But in His great love, the promises were offered.  "I will restore you.  I will return you."

On our part:

- We need to call upon Him. (Come and pray.)
- We need to seek Him.
- We will find Him.

In light of His part, our part doesn't seem so difficult, does it?  If you're like me, though, you know we humans try to make it as difficult as possible.  I am stubborn and, like the Israelites, I am determined that my way must be the right way.  The truth of the matter is that if I call upon Him, come to Him, and seek Him, I will find Him.  He will show me His ways.  That path is so much better than the one I would take on my own!

Rest in these great words of promise today.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts as well!

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Stepping Off the Edge of the Cliff

Imagine this:  you are hiking up a long, winding trail on a beautiful mountainside.  The flowers are wafting their early summer scents through the warm air.  The hummingbirds are darting to and fro, seemingly effortless in their flight.  The path is not smooth, but the rocks do not hinder your progress.  Occasionally, a tree limb or root cause a short detour.  But always, always the path is there, winding its way to the peak.

Suddenly, as you place one sure foot in front of the other, there is a drop off--sheer rock below you for hundreds of feet.  A loose pebble finds its way down into the apparently bottomless span before you.  One foot slips, and down you tumble.

Scary thought, isn't it?  It makes my heart pound just to ponder it!

Our faith journey can be similar to this.  We find small detours, yet always wind our way back to the truth.  We traverse the course before us, this odyssey we call "life," and push forward.  Sometimes a dark shadow falls across our way.  Sometimes we face torrential rainstorms that prevent any evident progress.  Yet we press on and on, ever upward.

But what about that precipice?  What happens when everything we have believed to be true suddenly gives way, and we begin a downward spiral?

In other words, what happens if we lose our way?  Our faith?

Some from the "once saved, always saved" persuasion might say you were never really on the path.  You only thought you were heading up the right trail.

Some would say the yawning canyon is only a diversion.  You will return to the right route after passing through the dark valley.

Some would say you have finally found Truth.

I have recently learned that, while there are a large number of individuals returning to belief in God, there are also thousands turning away from that track.  They are signing themselves onto the "maybe there's a God, but maybe not, so I'm probably an atheist" corps.  They see this as an alternate course, but one that is more realistic and less in the Neverland world of religion.

I am no theologian.  I am definitely not a philosopher.  I am a sojourner.

I will not pretend to have the answers to all their questions, but I would be willing to point them to those who have far more knowledge and understanding--the Trail Masters who have studied and know the terrain far better than I ever will.  (These are the great theologians, apologists, authors, and philosophers:  many, many saints; Dr. Scott Hahn; Fr. Robert Barron; Patrick Madrid; George Weigel; and Peter Kreeft, just to name a few!)

If you feel like your feet are slipping, don't hit the bottom of the chasm before you reach out to the hands of those who have traveled this way before (Antony Flew left his long-held atheistic beliefs to believe in God; C.S. Lewis, a great thinker and self-proclaimed atheist became a very strong believer in God; Josh McDowell...there are many others).

For the Truth is not in that long, rock-filled crevasse, but along the rock-strewn path before it.