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.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

A Guide to Reflections

Two years have already gone by since I began reflecting on the weekday readings. Since these readings follow a two-year cycle, I've decided to direct readers back to the beginning of my reflections. The reflections for the 10th week in Ordinary Time begin on June 7, 2015. Please visit the blog post for that date to start over. There may be variations from time to time, but most of the reflections should follow fairly closely.

Sunday readings follow a three-year cycle. We are currently in Year A. If you care to read reflections for the Sunday readings, please visit the post from June 15, 2014, for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity Year A. In September, you will have to jump back to 2011 to pick up Year A at the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time. From there, you can follow the remainder of Year A and lead into Year B and Year C. 

Please watch this blog for new posts on various topics and perhaps for a new series coming soon.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Reflection for the 9th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – Decided in Heaven

As our story continues, we see Raphael guiding Tobit's son, Tobiah, on a journey. Along the way, they stop at Sarah's home. Since Sarah's father, Raguel, and Tobit are kinsman, Tobiah and his companion receive a warm welcome.

Even more importantly, when Tobiah sees Sarah, something clicks. It's love at first sight, and Tobiah immediately asks Raguel for Sarah's hand in marriage. To his credit, Raguel tells Tobiah what has happened seven times before, but Tobiah is adamant. He will marry Sarah.

Raguel then recognizes God's hand at work. “She is yours according to the decree of the Book of Moses,” he tells Tobiah. “Your marriage to her has been decided in heaven!”

Indeed it has. When Tobiah and Sarah retire to the wedding chamber for the night, the first thing they do is drop to their knees and pray for God's protection, mercy, and blessing. They receive all three, for Tobiah and his wife both wake up the next morning.

Friday – Amazement and Joy

Today's installment of the story of Tobit is filled with amazement and joy. First, Tobiah arrives home. His parents aren't really expecting to ever see him again, so they are both relieved and overjoyed to embrace their beloved child.

But something even more amazing is in store for Tobit and Anna. According to Raphael's instructions, Tobiah smears fish gall on Tobit's eyes and peels away the cataracts that have been blinding his father. And Tobit can see. The first thing he does is pray. “Blessed be God, and praised be His great name,” Tobit exclaims, “and blessed be all His holy angels. May His holy name be praised throughout all the ages, because it was He Who scourged me, and it is He Who has had mercy on me. Behold, I now see my son Tobiah!”

The joy doesn't even stop there. Tobiah can't keep his own news to himself any longer, and he tells his parents about his marriage to Sarah. Tobit and Anna are once again amazed and overjoyed, and they welcome their new daughter-in-law with open arms and blessings.

Joy has returned to the house of Tobit.

Saturday – One More Surprise

It seems as though things couldn't get any better for Tobit and his family, but God has one more surprise in store for them. Tobiah's traveling companion has an announcement.

After giving Tobit and Tobiah some excellent advice about almsgiving and prayer, Raphael, whom they have known only as the man Azariah, drops his bombshell.

“I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who enter and serve before the Glory of the Lord.”

Then he tells Tobit and Tobiah to pick themselves up off the ground. God has heard all of their prayers, Raphael explains, and He sent his angel as His instrument to carry out His will for Tobit, Anna, Tobiah, and Sarah.

The story ends, as it should, with Tobit praising God.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Reflection for the 9th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – Not Afraid

This week we follow the story of Tobit and his son Tobiah, Jews living in exile in Nineveh. Tobit is determined to obey God's law no matter what the cost. He has already been threatened with execution once for burying a dead man, but that wasn't going to stop him from doing it again.

When we first meet Tobit, he is about to sit down to a fancy meal, but he decides that he's missing something. Other people are hungry, and at least one of them should be able to share this fine supper. So Tobit sends Tobiah to find a God fearing person to eat with them.

Tobiah hardly gets out the door before he is met with a horrifying sight. One of their fellow Jews has been strangled in the street and his body left to the dogs and birds. Tobit springs to his feet when his son rushes back to get him. He dashes out, grabs the body, hides it in an empty room, and buries it after dark. Only then does he finally eat his supper, and then he does so in mourning rather than joy. The life of an exile, he reflects, is full of sorrow.

But Tobit is not afraid. Even when his neighbors mock him and remind him of the danger he is courting, he is determined to do the right thing. He knows that there is really nothing to fear when he is obeying God, and he trusts that God will care for him no matter what.

Tuesday – Not Perfect

Yesterday we met the righteous Tobit who is determined to follow God's commandments even in the midst of exile. Today, however, we see another side of Tobit. He is, we discover, just like everyone else: human and therefore definitely not perfect.

First, Tobit makes a rather foolish decision that has some serious consequences. He falls asleep leaning up against a wall in his courtyard, a move which results in eyes filled with bird-dropping-related cataracts. This freak accident leads to four years of blindness for Tobit.

His wife, Anna, goes to work weaving cloth to make enough money to support the family, and she does such a good job that her employer gives her a young goat as a bonus. Tobit hears the goat and jumps to the worst possible conclusion, accusing his wife of stealing the animal. Anna protests her innocence, but Tobit refuses to believe her.

Anna becomes angry and, with some justification, asks her husband, “Where are your charitable deeds now? Where are your virtuous acts? See! Your true character is finally showing itself!”

Tobit may be a pretty good guy for the most part, but just like the rest of us, he is far from perfect.

Wednesday – Two Prayers

To his credit, Tobit immediately regrets his harsh words toward his wife. He bursts into tears and raises his prayer to God, repenting his sins and begging for death. He cries out to God, trust Him and placing himself in God's hands yet also asking God to take him away from his life of misery.

Meanwhile, many miles away, a young woman walks along the edge of despair. Sarah has had seven weddings, but every time a demon has killed her new husband on their wedding night. Now a maid has accused her of strangling those men. Sarah climbs up to the highest point of her house, intending to hang herself and escape her misery, but at the last moment, she has second thoughts. She doesn't want to cause her father grief, and deep down, she knows that killing herself is wrong. So she prays, intending to ask God to grant her a natural death.

Instead, though, Sarah opens her mouth and proclaims, “Blessed are You, O Lord, merciful God, and blessed is Your holy and honorable name. Blessed are You in all Your works for ever!”

God hears the prayers of both Tobit and Sarah. He hears, and He answers. The angel Raphael sets off to begin his healing mission.