OBEDIENCE

In 1 Samuel 15:22 it says:  Obedience is better than sacrifice.  In this Lenten season of sacrifice, how can simple obedience be better?   We are called to obey the laws set down for us.  If we do not, then what good is our sacrifice?  Obedience is not a popular word in our present day culture.  People recoil from the word as from a hot flame.  Yet what sacrifice can bless the disobedient?

In Isaiah 58 we read: “This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:  releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.”  

Who are bound unjustly?  Anyone I hold in contempt or have a resentment against…especially those bound unjustly by me who doesn’t know all the details of their action.   We are here to add to the world.   We are not here to simply say “too bad for them” and then to do nothing.  In our haste in getting from here to there are we racing by those who need our assistance.   Mother Theresa said when we share our lunch a thousand are fed.  Can we share our lunch with coworkers who may secretly be hungry?   The immigrant “situation” does not call for us to turn our backs to their plight.  We are a nation of immigrants.  Let us not forget their quest for a new land and the opportunities here.

This is quite a tall order.  One in which I fail on most days.  But, the reward is said to be:  “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; Your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.  Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am!”

Lord, let me find ways to obey your commandment to love our neighbors!

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PRAYING FOR THOSE WHO PERSECUTE YOU

In Matthew 5:34-48, we read:  Jesus said to his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.  But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what recompense willyou have?  Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers and sisters only, what is unusual about that?  Do not the pagans do the same?  So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

We are urged to be perfectly loving.  It is difficult to be loving to all and especially to those who don’t like us or put us down.  What could Jesus have meant by that verse in Matthew?  I think He meant just what he said.  He doesn’t say “like” those who persecute you.  He says “love.”  That’s a much different action. 

To love is to want the best for that person, to care about their well being in spite of their behavior.  We are called to model Jesus.  As He hung from His cross in adject pain, he promised one thief that he would be with Him in paradise and he asked the Father to forgive his persecutors for “they know not what they do.”  I don’t know that I could have done that under the same circumstances.  That’s why Jesus is God and I’m not.  But what we are asked to do is to try – to shoot for perfection and be accepting of  just making progress.

In today’s world there are examples of people loving those who persecute them.  It came from the people who lived in the Amish village  in Pennsylvania who, after their young girls were murdered, they went to the home of the perpetrator’s widow and not only offered their sympathy but brought food and comforted her.  And, when the news media made a circus out of the event and came in droves to the school house, they tore the building down and planted grass where it had been.  Normally the news would never publicize the good that men do, but the murders were so horrific that they forgot themselves and broadcast their visit to the widow’s house.  The message left by the Amish still makes me inwardly stand up and take notice.  Their love of neighbor is exemplary. 

In attempting to be loving to all, I find my battle between my will and God’s to be tremendous.   I can come up with a few reasons I find it difficult to love certain people in the blink of an eye.  I have a strong sense of fairness when it comes to me.  But, Jesus calls us to love anyway.  If He could love from His cross, we can certainly try from our little crosses.  His commandments – to love God and love our neighbor could not be plainer.  

Lord, give me the grace to love!

SAUL, SAUL, WHY ARE YOU PERSECUTING ME?

St. Paul said “On the journey as I drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from the sky suddenly shone around me.  I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’  I replied, “Who are you, sir?”  And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting.’ 

In this year of St. Paul, I often think about this exchange.  The voice calling his name changed Saul’s life forever.  In all his writings, he glorifies Jesus Christ and Him crucified with such devotion, it is hard to imagine his previous life where he sought out “people of The Way” to torture and kill.  It is difficult to realize that he was present at the first martyr’s assassination. 

I’ve had my own conversion of heart.  It makes no sense to those who know me and it is a glorious gift to me.  I sought God for years and felt that perhaps the story of Christ might be a myth that people wanted to believe in.  The sheer number of Christians made me wonder if it was something the world needed to make sense of their existence.  I certainly could make no sense of mine. 

Today I am a believer.  I love my religion.  My mediocre world has been colored in the brilliant rays of faith.  I have received the gift!  Me!  Of all people!  I am gifted every day of seeing the people I meet and the conversations I have as an illustration of God’s love.  I feel I walk with God’s love and the Blessed Mother’s care.  The fact that I am nobody makes the truth that much more wondrous.

My God, my God, Why did I persecute you?

OUR LADY OF LOURDES

I see a picture in my mind of Bernadette digging in the dirt in front of a skeptical crowd who thought her to be out of her mind.  I see the little spring erupt and see her washing her face in the wet dirt as “the Lady” told her.   Why does God send Our Blessed Mother to a child to speak to us and hopefully change our hearts?   Why not a head of government or a popular figure in our world’s newspapers?  The message would seem to be annunciated on a higher level and in better language than “the Lady told me.”   I put myself in little Bernadette’s head and I can only imagine the fear she felt at being the laughing stock of her village.   Yet, her childlike obedience to Our Blessed Mother makes the choice of her to carry a message seem almost perfect.   Her innocense confirms the wonder of God and the important message of Lourdes.  How many chronically ill, mentally ill, or terminally ill bathed in the water at Lourdes?  How many found cures?  Out of the mouth of babes comes  a most important message and a most important messager.   The Mother of God, the Morning Star, the Refuge of Sinners appeared to a young girl and accomplishes what surpasses every word or thought. 

Today, let us stand in awe of the power of God and the ways of God.  Today let us be His messenger when we perform the corporal works of mercy, i.e. feed the hungry, visit the sick, welcome the stranger, bury the dead, etc.   Let us walk as courageously as Bernadette through our day and be an example of Jesus or Our Blessed Mother – not for our own glory, but in gratitude for the gift of our life.

ENCOUNTERING OUR LIMITATIONS

Along Life’s path we  meet our limitations.  We also meet our fulfillment in some areas and our frustrations in many others.   As it states in “My Daily Life” by Anthony J. Paone, S.J. he states, “Being human means having a nature which is united in some ways and divided in other ways.”  Anyone who reads St. Paul’s letter to the Romans where he speaks of wanted to do good and ending up doing what he doesn’t want to do understands this struggle between the push and the pull of our natures.  It can tire us at best and take us to despair at worst.

I never understood what it was in me that allowed me and made me desire to do what was wrong.  Why did I go against my better judgement?  Was it all about the original sin…my lowly nature…thanks to Adam and Eve’s disobedience?  Could I throw up my hands and say, See?  It’s just too hard for me to do good, to obey the principles of the ten commandments and Jesus’ commandments of loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves?

The virtue of obedience to spiritual principles, of which I am well aware on most days, often seems impossible.  The natural evils of fire and floods and the moral evils of war and abuse are blanketed throughout our world.   The world’s woes make my limitations seem harmless in comparison.  I think what happens to me is that the wrong I want to do seems harmless.  It seems like fun and may even be folly, but in comparison with the greed, war, and impossible situations found in life – seems innocent.  In the shadow of darkness, our little black spot seems inconsequential.

I think the grace of realizing our weakness in sin despite our desire to do good is proof positive that we need God.  In repentance, we find a small path back to Him.  The decision to grow in holiness through our repentant spirit will clear away our wreckage so that we may walk in the light of God once again.  Through the grace of confession we walk to our God in Holy Communion with renewed awe.   Being true to ourselves, being honest about our failings, is not an exercise in futility, but is a way back home to our Savior.

FEAR OF THE LORD

We all have a natural fear.  If we saw a wild animal coming at us, we’d run in the house as fast as we could.  We have three kinds of fear – one is servile fear (fear of God’s punishment),  but we have to move beyond that to mixed fear (where fear of God’s punishment and not wanting to offend Him) and then, ultimately, through the love of the Holy Spirit and His grace, we come to not wanting to offend God…this is called Fear of the Lord.  The Holy Spirit is the giver of this virtue.  We have great sorrow that we ever offended God in our life.  As we say in confession, “but most of all, because they offend You…”  This gift fills us with a great desire to never be separated from God.

Of late, I felt separated from God and locked into my own selfish desires.  My daily attendance at Mass drifted off (I blamed the weather) and my prayer life only a small percentage of what it has been in the past.  I fall into despair when I think about this slippage and get filled with scrupulosity (which takes away from my memory the gift of God’s mercy).  According to Saint Louis Marie de Montfort in Preparation for Total Consecration, the saint says Our Blessed Mother can help us remove these scruples that make us forget His mercy.  We have to ask the Mary and the Holy Spirit to help us with this scrupulousity.

Today as I write this, I have made a decision, thanks to a dear religious friend of mine, to begin again.  And to stay away from near occasions to sin as I refill my soul with knowledge of God’s mercy.  I wish the same for you!

THE PRESENT MOMENT

Spiritual reading and prayer and, in fact, our whole spiritual life is sparked in our recognizing God’s calling in the present moment.  It doesn’t depend on our past life or what, if anything, resides in our future.  The consciousness of the present moment is the needed ingredient in following God’s will when faced with a decision. 

I believe God’s will for us is to live life fully.  Our sins, through our thoughts, words and actions, set us up for not recognizing the next right thing to do.  If I am a sinner who has not gone to confession and has not lived to regret my sins through self-examination, the chance of me connecting with God will be slim to none.  There should be a period of confession and a time for the remorse and guilt to help us practice different behavior.  This practice is, at first, seemingly impossible.  After fighting through our spiritual laziness by doing the right thing, we are in a much better position to live fully in the present moment.

Living fully a moment at a time leads to living a full life.  The battle changes, but the rewards are swift.  We have to stay awake to recognize God’s love and forgiveness.  We have to stay awake to recognize when we are going astray.  Our insides will warn us if we have cleared away the wreckage of the past.  If we do not get the warning, perhaps more contemplation and study is called for.

The will and designs of God are the life of the soul.  In whatever manner this divine will touches our mind, it nourishes the soul.  If we are meant to listen to the man in front of us, then we will feel new when we do.  We will have listened to the still small voice and we be filled for doing so.