Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Esther's Prayer: Fear

“And save me from my fear!” 

Esther had good reasons to be afraid. Even though she was King Ahasuerus' queen, she was in grave danger. Not realizing that his queen was actually Jewish, the king had agreed to Haman's plan to exterminate the Jews. Now Esther's foster father, Mordecai, has given her a task only she can perform. She is to go before the king and plead for her people. 

But there's a catch. No one can come into the king's presence without having first been summoned. To do so is to risk death unless the king extends his royal scepter to the visitor. Esther has no way of knowing if the king will welcome her, but she agrees to try, even if it means losing her life.

Even so, she's still terrified, and at the end of her long prayer, she exclaims, “And save me from my fear!” She turns her fear over to God and asks Him to deliver her from it. The Greek word here is rūsai, which carries overtones of healing, freedom, protection, and rescue. Esther recognizes that her fear is as much of an enemy as those trying to kill her people (she uses the same verb when she asks for deliverance from them!), but she also understands that she can't overcome it on her own. Only God can save her from her fear.

The same is true for us. Like Esther, we fear many things, and sometimes we let our fears overcome us so they begin to control our minds and hearts. But no good can come of this. This kind of crippling fear will hold us back and perhaps even harm us spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically.

So we must follow Esther's lead and cry out to God for help. Every time our fears threaten to overwhelm us, we should pray, “And save me from my fear!” We should give over our fears to God and put our trust in Him, knowing that He will deliver us if we let him. And then we let go and we carry on, for God will take care of us in His great love.

Lord, save me from my fear.

(Greek definitions come from Perseus-Tufts.)

Monday, September 18, 2017

Opportunities for Intercession

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone... (1 Timothy 2:1)

It's easy to get caught up in our lives and needs and forget to pray for others, but God calls us to intercede for everyone, to lift them up to Him and to ask that His will be done in their lives. This doesn't have to take a long time. We don't have to recite elaborate prayers or list dozens of requests. All we need to do is lovingly present those around us to God, and this is something we can easily incorporate into our daily lives. 

Here are a few opportunities for intercession:

1. Pick out the saddest looking person in the room, and ask God to wrap him or her in joy.

2. Pray for the check-out clerk at the store.

3. Pray for other drivers, especially when they aren't driving very well.

4. When you read or listen to a news story, pray for the people involved.

5. Smile at the person next to you in line, and say a quick prayer for him or her.

6. Read the obituary section of the newspaper, and pray for the deceased and their families.

7. Say a prayer for the person who makes you upset or angry.

8. Pray for the person sitting next to you (or in front of you or behind you) at church.

9. Lift up a prayer for the parent whose child is screaming in a public place.

10. Pray for your co-workers, students, teachers, etc.

11. Lift up your priests and pastors to God.

12. Pray for the sick and for the souls in Purgatory.

The possibilities for intercessory prayer are endless if only you look for them, recognize them, and take advantage of them. The people around us need prayer. All of us need prayer. That's why St. Paul urges “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone.”

Friday, September 1, 2017

A Litany of Gratitude

“...give thanks in all circumstances...” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Jesus, hear us.
Jesus, graciously hear us.
God the Father, have mercy on us.
God the Son, have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit, have mercy on us.
For the gift of life, we thank You, Lord.
For the gift of salvation, we thank You, Lord.
For Your great mercy and forgiveness, we thank You, Lord.
For every grace, we thank You, Lord.
For the supernatural life in our souls, we thank You, Lord.
For Your divine indwelling, we thank You, Lord.
For eternal life with You, we thank You, Lord.
For all virtues, we thank You, Lord.
For our Baptism, we thank You, Lord.
For our Confirmation, we thank You, Lord.
For the Holy Eucharist, we thank You, Lord.
For the sacrament of Confession, we thank You, Lord.
For every sacrament, we thank You, Lord.
For all our prayers, we thank You, Lord.
For Sacred Scripture, we thank You, Lord.
For Sacred Tradition, we thank You, Lord.
For the Magisterium, we thank You, Lord.
For the Holy Church, we thank You, Lord.
For Mary, our Mother, we thank You, Lord.
For all the saints and angels, we thank You, Lord.
For our Holy Father, the Pope, we thank You, Lord.
For our bishops, priests, and deacons, we thank You, Lord.
For our family and friends, we thank You, Lord.
For our talents and skills, we thank You, Lord.
For our joys and delights, we thank You, Lord.
For every blessing, we thank You, Lord.
For our trials and sorrows, we thank You, Lord.
For the challenges we face, we thank You, Lord.
For the opportunities to grow, we thank You, Lord.
For everything we learn, we thank You, Lord.
For all the beauty around us, we thank You, Lord.
For everything You do for us and give us, we thank You, Lord.
For Your infinite love, we thank You, Lord.

Let us pray.

Dear Lord, increase our gratitude. Give us hearts of thankfulness and praise. Fill us with Your love that we may pass it on to all those we meet. Amen.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Devouring God's Words

When I found Your words, I devoured them; Your words were my joy, the happiness of my heart, because I bear Your name, Lord, God of hosts. (Jeremiah 15:16)

Jeremiah had discovered something remarkable, something precious, something fascinating, something that excited him to no end: God's words. Sacred Scripture. God's voice speaking through a written text. The inspired and inerrant Word of God. God's love-letter to His children. The story of God's careful guidance of His people. The testimony of God's continual mercy for human beings who sinned over and over again.

Jeremiah recognized God's words for what they were, and he devoured them. He eagerly took them into his mind and heart. He made them part of his very being. And those words became his joy, the happiness of his heart. He learned that he was God's child, that he was part of a covenant family, that he belonged to God and was beloved by God. 

Jeremiah, of course, had only the parts of the Old Testament that had been composed by his time, and he had to read them from handwritten scrolls. He wouldn't have had his own copy either. He would have read the scrolls at the Temple. In fact, during Jeremiah's time, a scroll containing Deuteronomy was discovered during repairs to the Temple.* This text had probably been lost for many years, and it caused quite a stir when it was reintroduced. No wonder Jeremiah was so excited. God was speaking to His people anew. 

Our situation is quite different. We have much greater access to God's words than Jeremiah ever did. We can read God's words whenever we want, wherever we want. We keep paper copies of the Bible in our homes and e-books on our phones and tablets. Multiple translations are available online. What's more, we have the rest of the story. We have the entirety of God's revelation in the Old Testament and the New Testament. But do we appreciate God's words as much as Jeremiah did? Do we devour them? Do we recognize them for what they are? Do we read them and study them and meditate on them and pray them? Do we make them part of our very being? Do we greet them with joy and happiness of heart? Do we accept them as God's loving gift to us?

Lord, may we find Your words and devour them as Jeremiah did. May You speak to our minds and hearts through Your Sacred Scripture. May we make the effort to listen to You in Your Word and to know You better and love You more and more. Amen.

* Hyatt, J. Philip. “Jeremiah.” Encyclopaedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jeremiah-Hebrew-prophet. Accessed 13 August 2017.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Casting Anxiety

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7)

God wants us to humble ourselves under His hand. Our human nature tends to rebel against this. We want to be in control, but let's face it, we're not. We are dependent upon God for everything: our lives, our talents, our treasures, even our very breath. If God stopped sustaining us for even a moment, we would just disappear. To be humble is to recognize this fact, to understand and accept our position in relationship to God. It is not to cut ourselves down but simply to acknowledge that God is God and we are not and that we belong totally to Him and are completely reliant upon Him. 

What's more, being under God's mighty hand definitely isn't a bad thing. God's hand is mighty, in the Greek krataios, strong, powerful. But God's hand is not mighty in such a way as to crush us but rather to protect us. We have an all-powerful Guardian, Who, if we humble ourselves and snuggle under His sheltering hand, will care for us in every way. 

God will do even more than that. He will exalt us, raise us up, when the time is right. He will raise us up out of our miseries. He will, one day, in due time, raise us up right out of this world and into Heaven where we will see Him face to face. 

But we must place ourselves humbly in His care first. God is a gentleman. He will never force Himself upon us. He offers us grace upon grace, but He requires us to respond freely to that grace day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute all the way to the very end of our lives on this earth. Then He will raise us up to Himself at just the right time. 

The second verse here is not really a separate sentence in the Greek. The word translated as the imperative “cast” is really an aorist participle “having cast” or in Greek epiripsantes. This word starts a clause that modifies “humble yourselves.” So casting your anxiety on God is part of being humble. When we think about that, it makes sense. Anxiety is merimna in Greek, and it literally means something divided. Anxiety and worry divides us, breaks us into pieces, fractures our minds and hearts and sometimes even our bodies. It tears us apart. It can also be a form of pride. When we let anxiety overtake us and break us down, we are really trying to take control over things we can't change (and fussing because we can't change them) rather than trusting in God and allowing Him to work things out for us in His caring way. When we let go of anxiety, we humble ourselves before God and recognize that His is indeed in charge and will do exactly what is best for us.

Why? Because He cares for us. The Greek verb here is melō. God is concerned for our welfare, concerned in a deeper way than we can even imagine. He takes a personal, loving interest in each one of us. He wants us to be in Heaven with Him forever, and He gives us all the grace we need to get there. We, in turn, must humble ourselves before Him, casting our anxiety on Him and accepting this grace that God may exalt us into His presence and into His arms for all eternity.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Consolation

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, Who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

Our God is the God of consolation. He comforts us in all our afflictions. So says Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians. But what does that mean? Let's take a look at the original Greek for some clues. 

The two verses quoted here begin with a blessing, eulogētos in the Greek. We are praising God, acknowledging Him, showing our commitment to Him. Why? Because He is worthy of our praise and adoration simply because of Who He is in Himself. He is God, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, all-wise, all-everything. So we begin with praise.

Then we recognize what God does for us. He is the “Father of mercies and the God of all consolation.” The Greek word for “mercies” is oiktirmos, and it points to the deep love God has for us. He knows our miseries, and He is compassionate toward us because of them. He understands us perfectly, and He sympathizes with us in all our difficulties. Even more He empathizes with us, for He became one of us and stepped into the midst of our human suffering. 

Further, this “God of all consolation” actually “consoles us in all our affliction...” The Greek noun and verb used here are paraklēsis and parakaleō, and they are both characterized by intimacy. The consolation or comfort or encouragement that God gives us is personal, designed especially for us and emanating from the God Who is closer to us than we are to ourselves. God meets us in the midst of our suffering, wraps His arms around us, and comforts us in a way that is exactly suited to our situation. He loves us deeply for who we are, each and every one of us, and He treats us as the individuals we are, giving us precisely what we need, first and foremost, intimate contact with Him.

But Paul doesn't stop there. We have a task, too. Actually we have two tasks. First, we must accept God's consolation and respond to it. We must allow ourselves to be comforted, to open ourselves to God's love, and to trust Him to console and encourage us in the way He knows is best. Then, we must pass that consolation on. We must give to others what we have received from God. We must step into another's suffering and love that person in the midst of it. We must offer a personal comfort out of love that expresses true sympathy and even empathy for the situation of another. 

In other words, we who are God's children must imitate our Father, loving as He does and passing along the great gifts we receive from Him, especially the abundant consolation He provides in all our afflictions. 

(Information about Greek vocabulary comes from http://www.biblehub.com/.)

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Two-Way Street of Love

In Path to Freedom: Christian Experiences and the Bible, Jean Corbon reminds us that “To love means to give oneself and to receive” (33). It's a two-way street. When we love, we desire the absolute best for the loved one and do all in our power to help him or her achieve that best, even if it means sacrificing ourselves. Jesus did this to the utmost extent on the cross when He suffered and died for all of us, His loved ones, that we may have the absolute best, eternal life. 

But there is another side to love. When we love, we must also be open to receiving love from others. Jesus shows us how to do this. He allowed a woman to wash His feet with her tears and wipe them with her hair. He allowed Mary Magdalene to anoint him with costly perfume. He allowed Simon of Cyrene to take up His cross and help Him carry it. He allowed Veronica to wipe His face. He needed none of these gestures. But He accepted them. He allowed Himself to be loved.

We live in a culture that values independence (at least on the surface). People often believe that if they accept help from others, it will mean that they are weak and dependent, that they can't care for themselves or that there is something wrong with them. This, however, is a form of pride that turns away from love. Certainly there are times when offers of help are deceptive and self-serving, but there are also many times when those offers are extended out of love, out of a desire to give of oneself and help the loved one achieve the ultimate best. Then receiving that love becomes an act of beautiful, humble love in its own right.

Indeed, love is a two-way street, giving and receiving in imitation of our Lord.