Sunday, October 13, 2019

Grace Before and After

May Your grace, O Lord, we pray, at all times go before us and follow after and make us always determined to carry out good works. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

God's grace goes before us. We do nothing withour His grace. Without the favor that He pours out upon us, we wouldn't even exist. Without God's saving plan, we would still be dead in our sins. Without God's loving care, we would never be able to experience God's presence. Without God's desire for us, we would never get to Heaven.

So God's grace always goes before us, anticipating all our needs, providing all that is required for our lives and for our eternal salvation.

But God's grace also follows after us. We have free will, and we often misuse it and fall into sin. But God's grace waits for our repentance and showers forgiveness upon us. God's grace supports us in our suffering. God's grace calms us in our fears. God's grace heals our ills in God's perfect timing.

God's grace even urges us on to good works. We could do nothing without this grace. God gives us the ability to love. He whispers into our thoughts. He inspires our words. He nudges us to do good for others. At every step, His grace shows us the path we should take. Our job is to listen, to look, to discern, and to follow.

May Your grace, O Lord, we pray, at all times go before us and follow after and make us always determined to carry out good works. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(The prayer is the Sunday collect for the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time.)

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Interacting with Samuel, Part 5

Let's continue our journey through the First Book of Samuel. Remember, these questions are designed to help us interact deeply with the text, and more importantly with the Author of the text, i.e., God. They are meant to start up a meditation and a conversation that begin with God's Word and lead into a personal encounter with our Lord.

1 Samuel 9

*What does this chapter tell and show us about Saul's character? What is he like as a person? Which of Saul's features does the text emphasize?

*Is Saul cut out to be the king of Israel? Why or why not?

*Why does God choose Saul to be king? What point is He trying to make to His people?

*What might Saul think when Samuel invites him to the sacrifice and places him in the seat of honor? Does he understand what is going on? Why or why not?

*What might be Samuel's initial impression of Saul?

1 Samuel 10

*Samuel anoints Saul with a great outpouring of oil and kisses him. These are actions of consecration and homage that change Saul's status from private person to God's anointed. When have you experienced meaningful signs like these?

*Samuel gives Saul three signs to watch for; what are they? All three signs reveal that Saul is to take over the kingship, and they show him the responsibilities involved in his new duties. What do the three signs teach Saul?

*The Holy Spirit comes down upon Saul at Gibeah. Why is this important?

*Why doesn't Saul tell his uncle what has really happened to him?

*Samuel anoints Saul privately first and then “chooses” him by lot before all the people. Why does he perform this two-part selection? How is God in control of both events?

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Luke 14:26 – Hate?

“If anyone comes to Me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.”

Huh? What? Hate? Did Jesus really say this? What did He mean?

We all have lots of questions when we hear this weekend's Gospel reading. It's shocking and a little scary, and it wakes us up. And that's exactly what Jesus meant to do.

To understand Jesus' statement, we need to first off understand something about the expressions of the Semitic culture in which Jesus lived. This culture was prone to exaggerated statements that got people's attention by shocking the daylights out of them. And certainly that's what Jesus is doing here. He wants us to be shocked so we pay attention and think deeply about His words.

Second, we must understand the meaning of the word “hate” in the original language. When I say “original language” here, though, I don't mean Greek this time. I mean Aramaic, the language Jesus and His disciples used in their common, everyday speech. Aramaic doesn't have a structure of comparatives. There isn't a way to say greater or less, better or best, worse or worst.

So the word “hate” had a much broader range of meaning in Aramaic than it does in Greek or English. It could mean everything from despising someone to renouncing someone to detaching oneself from someone to loving someone less than another.

Even in English, we use the word “hate” more broadly than our first impressions suggest. We might say, “I hate it!” about beets and really mean that they don't suit our taste at all. We might exclaim, “I hate that I did that!” and mean that we renounce our action and are sorry for it. We might even remark, “I hate to say it, but...” and mean that we reject (more or less) having to express an opinion or a fact.

When we examine Jesus' words in the broader context of His teachings, we know right away that He is not telling us to despise people or hurt them deliberately. This is, after all, the same Jesus Who tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves and, even more, as He loves us. What He means here is that we must choose Him above all else in our lives, even the people closest to us. We must love Him more than we love them even to the point of detaching ourselves from them if we must.

We might wonder, then, why Luke chose to render Jesus' Aramaic word and Semitic idiom as the strong word “hate” in the Greek. Matthew did not. He translated the idiom rather than the word (and this helps us understand Luke's version better): Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me...” (Matthew 10:37). So why did Luke, inspired by the Holy Spirit, leave the word “hate” in place?

Perhaps he could see that people would need a strong message like this in the future. Perhaps he knew that the shock value of the statement would get people thinking and talking. Perhaps he realized that Christians would sometimes face difficult choices and need to hear strong words to help them choose rightly.

And he was correct. Christians of every time and place have needed a strong reminder to put Christ first in their lives and keep Him there. Those who faced martyrdom, for example, sometimes had to tune out the pleas of their grieving families. “Remember us!” they may have cried. “Think of us! What will happen to us if you die? Can't you just say the words they want to hear without meaning them in your heart?” “No,” the martyr had to respond. “I love you, but I love Jesus more, and I will not renounce Him for anything in the world, even if it means leaving you behind.”

Maybe the scenario wouldn't even be as dramatic as martyrdom. Picture a family in poverty. The man has a chance to earn some extra money, but it would mean doing something morally wrong. His wife might encourage him to ignore his conscience just this once. “It's not much,” she might urge, “just a little thing, and think of how much that money would mean to our family. Couldn't you just do it for us?” But the husband, if he truly follows Christ, would have to refuse. He would have to put God's moral law first, trusting that God would provide for his family.

Divine love must always take priority over human affections. We must always choose Christ even when that means acting against the wishes of our families and friends. We must always strive to draw our human love up into divine love and to allow God to love our dear ones through us. Sometimes this might not look like love to them or to the world. As we detach ourselves from the world and follow Christ, our choices and actions might even seem like hate in human eyes. But it is not hate. It is a love stronger and deeper than any other, for when we belong to God Who is Love and when we are filled with His love, we can love our fellow human beings in a whole new way, a way that leads to eternity.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Have You Ever Thought About...

How often do we reflect on the “little things” of Scared Scripture, a word here, a phrase there, an event that at first glance doesn't seem too important? The Bible is packed with such details specifically designed to lead us to a greater understanding of God's Word.

Each of the short reflections in my latest book focuses on a detail from an all-too-familiar story in the Gospels or the Acts of the Apostles and uses that detail as a lens through which to view the story in a new way. This fresh perspective, in turn, broadens our experience of Scripture and leads us to a deeper encounter with God in His Word.

If you're interested, please click on the book cover below to link to Amazon. Thank you!

Sunday, August 18, 2019

An Old English Prayer

O beloved Lord! O good Judge!
Have mercy on me, eternal Ruler.
I know my soul with sins is grievously wounded;
Save it, Lord of heavens,
and heal it, Author of life,
because You most easily can of all physicians
of those who may be far and wide.
O, bright Lord, Creator of people!
Soften Your mind to me for goodness,
give Your mercy to Your wretched one.
He is wretched who here on earth
day and night fights for the devil
and works his will; woe to him for that pleasure,
when he those recompenses has and beholds,
but he that evil may abandon before.
He is blessed, who here on earth
day and night obeys the Lord
and always works His will; well for him of that labor,
when he those recompenses has and beholds,
if he an entirely good end accomplishes.
O, Light of lights! O Joy of life!
Grant to me, honor-blessed King,
when I ask for heaven for my soul,
eternal mercy. You are unquestionably God,
You have and You rule
alone over all earth and heavens
of wide creations. You are true Measurer,
alone over all earth-dwellers,
just as up in heavens You are Savior God.
Not any of men can praise You;
although You may unite us around wide ground,
men over world, around all middle-earth,
we can never express, nor know that truly,
how noble You are, eternal Lord.
Yet the host of angels up in heavens
wise together do not begin to say,
they cannot ever express, nor know that measurement,
how glorious You are, mighty Lord.
But it is a great wonder, Ruler of angels,
though You know it Yourself, Lord of victory,
how glorious You are, mighty and power-strong,
King of all kings, living Christ,
Creator of all worlds, Ruler of angels,
Power of all hosts, Lord Savior.
You are the noble One Who in former days
joy of all maidens beautifully brought forth
in Bethlehem that walled city for men as comfort,
for all as mercy for sons of ages,
for those who believe in the living God
and in that eternal light up in skies.
Your power is so glorious, mighty Lord,
so that not any of earth-dwellers know
the mystery of the powers of the Lord,
nor that any of the rank of angels know
the highness of the King of heavens.
I confess to You, almighty God,
that I believe in You, beloved Savior,
that You are the great One and the power-strong One
and the gracious One of all gods
and the eternal King of all creatures,
and I am the little one for You and the wretched man,
the one who sins here exceedingly often,
day and night, I do as I should not,
at times with work, at times with word,
at times with thought, grievously guilty,
treacherous enmities often and frequently.
But I implore You now, Lord of heavens,
and pray for myself to You, most excellent of sons,
that You may show mercy to me, mighty Lord,
High-king of heavens and the Holy Ghost,
and may protect me, Father almighty,
that I may be able to work Your will,
before I from this transitory life depart.
Refuse me not, Lord of glory,
but grant to me, honor-blessed King,
permit me with angels up to journey,
to sit in sky,
to praise heaven's God with holy voice
always without end. Amen.

Translated by Amy Troolin

Friday, August 2, 2019

Notes from the Hours: Peace

In today's Office of Readings, we reflect on parts of Psalm 35. One line in particular stood out to me as I prayed this familiar psalm yet again: “Great is the Lord Who delights in the peace of His servant.”

How often do we think about that? God delights in our peace. The word for “peace” in Hebrew is shalom, and it refers not just to a lack of conflict but also to a completeness, a wholeness, a soundness, a sense that everything is in its place and everything is as it should be.

This peace is what God wants for us, and He is extremely pleased when we embrace it. Notice that I say “embrace” it, for we don't get this kind of peace on our own. No matter how hard we try, no matter how many self-help techniques we practice, no matter how much we long for this peace, we cannot achieve it by ourselves. This kind of peace is a gift from God, and we can only (and must) accept it.

Yet God delights when we accept the peace He longs to give us. When we become the kind of human beings He wants us to be, whole, complete, sound, orderly, attuned to the right things in the right ways, then God rejoices with us. And we cling to Him, well aware that He is the source of this deep peace that cannot be shaken by the changes this world continually throws at us.

Lord, grant us this peace that You may delight in us and we may truly delight in You all the way to eternity. Amen.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Lost Prayers #17

Prayers Before Communion, Part 2

Act of Love
Ah! my God, the true and only love of my soul, what more couldst Thou do to induce me to love Thee! Thou wast not content with dying for me; Thou didst wish to institute this holy sacrament, to give Thyself entirely to me, and thus unite Thy whole Heart to the heart of a creature so vile and ungrateful as I am. And what is more Thou Thyself dost invite me to receive Thee; Thou dost ardently desire that I should receive Thee. O infinite love! incomprehensible love! a God wishes to give Himself to me!

My soul, dost thou believe all this? What art thou doing, or what hast thou to say? O God, infinitely amiable, the only object worthy of all love, I love Thee with my whole heart; I love Thee above all things; I love Thee more than myself – more than my life! Oh, that I could see Thee loved by all! Oh, that I could make all hearts love Thee as much as Thou dost desire! I love Thee, O most amiable God; and in loving Thee, I unite my miserable heart to the heart of the Seraphim, to the heart of most holy Mary, and to the Heart of Jesus, Thy most holy Son. Thus I love Thee, O infinite Goodness, with the love with which the saints, with which Jesus and Mary love Thee. I love Thee only because Thou art worthy of my love, and through the sole motive of pleasing Thee. Begone from my heart, all earthly affections, you tend not to God. Mother of pure love, most holy Mary, help me to love that God, Whom thou dost desire to see so much loved.

Act of Humility
O my Saviour! who am I that Thou shouldst invite me to receive Thee for the food of my soul? Is it possible that Thou, the God of infinite purity, shouldst come and dwell in my heart, which has been so long the abode of Thy enemy, and the sink of so much sin? Lord, if Thou wilt Thou canst make me clean. Say but the word, and my soul shall be healed. I come then, O my amiable Saviour, to receive Thee this morning, but I come covered with shame and confusion at the sight of my sins, but full of confidence in Thy mercy, and in the love which Thou does bear to me.

Act of Sorrow
O God of my soul, I am sincerely sorry for not having hitherto loved Thee. Instead of having loved Thee, I have, for the sake of my pleasures, offended and despised Thy infinite goodness; I have turned my back upon Thee; in a word, O my God, I have voluntarily lost Thee. Lord, I am sorry from the bottom of my heart, for all my sins. I hate above all things the offences, whether mortal or venial, which I have committed against Thee, Who art infinite goodness. I hope Thou hast already cleansed me from the stain of sin in the sacrament of penance, but I desire to become still purer in Thy sight. Vouchsafe then to wash in Thy blood this soul, which Thou dost wish soon to make Thy dwelling-place.

Act of Desire
O my soul, the happy hour is arrived; Jesus comes to dwell in my poor heart. Behold the King of heaven, thy Redeemer and thy God, coming to thee; prepare thyself to receive Him with love; say to Him with the most ardent desire: Come, O my Jesus, come to me; I desire to receive Thee. Before Thou dost give Thyself to me, I desire to give Thee my miserable heart; accept it, come and take full possession of it. Come, my God, make haste; do not delay. O my only and infinite good, my treasure, my life, my love, and my all. I would wish to receive Thee with that love with which the most holy and loving souls, with which Immaculate Mary received Thee. With their Communion I unite this Communion of mine. Most holy Virgin, my Mother, Mary, behold I am going to receive thy Son. I would wish to have thy heart, and the love with which thou didst communicate: give me this morning thy Jesus, as thou gavest Him to the shepherds and to the Magi. I wish to receive Him from thy most pure hands: tell Him that I am thy servant, and that I am devoted to thee; and when He comes to me, He will look on me with a more loving eye, and will unite Himself more closely to me.

From The Treasury of the Sacred Heart, 1878