Welcome !

Greetings to all who love to wander along the paths of the Holy Scriptures! The purpose of this blog is to share some of the insights of ordinary Catholics who have begun to delve into the mysteries of the Sacred Scriptures. Hopefully you will find these reflections inspiring and insightful. We are faithful to the Church, but we are not theologians; we intend and trust that our individual reflections will remain within the inspired traditions of the Church. (If you note otherwise please let me know!) Discussion and comments are welcome, but always in charity and respect! Come and join us as we ponder the Sacred Scriptures, which will lead us on the path into His heart, which "God alone has traced" Job 28:23.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Talitha Koum

Today's reading contains a phrase of Jesus that is never far from my mind, I even named this blog after it:

Mark 5:35-43
While he was still speaking, people from the synagogue official's house arrived and said, "Your daughter has died; why trouble the master any longer?"  
I don't know about you, but in my spiritual life, and in other areas as well, there are many initiatives that I have been drawn to, but failed to pursue because there are these voices that always whispers "who do you think you are? or "Everyone thinks that you are a fool" " you will fail, yet again" or the complacent: "what is the use and what does it matter?" and so on.  I am a coward, really, and prone to take no action rather than to risk failure or rejection so I let those voices speak, without much prayer and reflection on my part.  I began to feel the call to write a blog, and for a few years fell back into that old pattern.

"Disregarding the message that was reported, Jesus said the the synagogue official, "Do not be afraid; just have faith."

How many times, when I have allowed those voices to jabber on in my head (maybe even through the advice of others) have I missed hearing these words of Jesus?  In fact, I have failed to listen for His voice because all at once my soul is barraged with conflicting emotions.  A whirlwind of prideful self indignation, self loathing, complacency and and self justification undermine my confidence and stoke envy and jealousy.  Deadly! And it feeds the original fear that prevented me from waiting on the Lord for his saving response.

If you recall, while Jesus was on his way to Jairus's house he was held up by the woman with hemorrhages.  Jairus is in a panic, his daughter is dying, and Jesus tarries on the way.  I can hear the competing voices already in my soul if I were Jairus:  "Why would he do this to me?  I was here first! Does he not care about my family?  Does he not care about me?  Why should someone else come first?" These thoughts are stirred up versus: "Who do you think you are to presume that Jesus should rush to your aid when there are so many others who have waited longer and who are much, much needier.  Jesus does not love selfish people." Do you see the tug of war, can you feel the anxious whirlwind being stirred up?  Can you see where resentment can infest a soul if there is not time for reflection?  Can you understand how no action can seem to be the safest course?

In my cowardly heart, I often think it is better to not even try than to be rebuffed, or to fail or to work or to succeed and have no one notice or care.  If only in these moments I stop and reflect, open my heart and soul and listen; "Do not be afraid; just have faith."  Jesus does indeed stop and see to another's desperate needs along the way, but He has not forgotten about the sick little girl, he has not spurned nor resented the request of Jairus. He is not bothered by it.  He works according to a plan of eternity, and I think that if I am always so easily stirred up in anxiety and envy I will never be fit for eternity, I will never muster the courage that I need to be holy! And Jesus desires for me and for you to be holy, to dare to strive for sanctity!
"He did not allow anyone to accompany him inside except Peter, James and John the brother of James.  When they arrived at the house of the synagogue official, he caught sight of the commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly.  So he went in and said to them, 'Why this commotion and weeping?  The child is not dead but asleep.'  And they ridiculed him.  Then he put them all out.  He took along the child's father and mother and those who were with him and entered the room where the child was."
Jesus does not want me to be at the mercy of the voices (internal or from real people) that ridicule my desire for Him and my trust in Him. Voices that laugh at you for even thinking about developing a deep and intimate relationship with Him.  He allows me to wait on Him at times, to strengthen my trust and deepen my desire  for His life within me.  And in those moments of waiting I will call on Him to calm the commotion of fear, envy, self-condemnation and self-justification.  He will put out those voices of ridicule, but He will also draw forth from me strength and courage.  He will awaken me from my complacency.
He took the girl by the hand and said to her, 'Talitha koum,'  which means, 'Little girl, I say to you arise!"
That is why I named this blog Talitha Koum. I read countless other blogs that are better in so many ways, and I am very tempted to say "who cares and what is the use?" still am called.  I had to push past all the inner voices that tell me that this is a pointless enterprise, others have been there, done that and I have nothing new or better to add.  This may all be true, but I am still called.   I have to continue to seek the Lord in sending the naysayers away (these are mainly my own fears) and renewing the call.   I have to be completely humble about my talents or lack of them and whether or not any one actually cares to read a word I write, yet bold enough to respond to His call in my heart. I respond, write and hit publish and let it go, for what ever purpose He has in mind, even if it is only to just draw me closer to Him by developing a trusting  and a listening heart to bring to my family and those I encounter outside of cyberspace!  And when the fear in my heart rises up I wait on Him because He always comes and whispers "Talitha Koum."

I don't know why, but this song comes to mind as I am finishing this post so I thought that I would share it!  It is by Matt Maher and it is called The Spirit and the Bride:
 "For every daughter whose never heard she's beautiful , let everyone who hears these words come!  For the Spirit and the Bride say come!"

Peace and Grace, Heidi

Friday, January 27, 2012

Seek First The Kingdom of Heaven

By Heidi Knofczynski

In the study of Matthew I realize that, more than any other of the Gospels, Matthew stresses Jesus as King, the son of David who comes to fulfill the Davidic covenant that has long been hoped for among the children of Israel.  Matthew is the Gospel of the Kingdom.  It is the also the Gospel that most concretely points to the Church as the visible institution of the Kingdom of Heaven.

"Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand"[i].  With these words Jesus begins his public ministry.  The Kingdom of heaven (or God) is central to the mission of Jesus, the phrase appears more than 30 times in the Gospel of Matthew alone.  Jesus proclaims it through parable, through the Law and the prophets,  through his miracles, through his apostles and most powerfully through his presence.  This Kingdom is obscure, yet powerfully present. It cultivates peace, yet it will disturb the status quo.  It is of our time, yet utterly transcendent.  It is inclusive, yet there are those who will not be allowed to enter it.  It transforms and transfigures even now in this world,  yet suffering, poverty, loneliness and injustice remain an ever-present reality.  It is attainable, yet beyond all comprehension; it is right now, tangibly present through the sacraments and ministry of the Church,  yet it is not a political realm but the foretaste of a spiritual realm not to be fully realized this side of the Resurrection.

We know that the coming of the Kingdom is the evangelion.  A word that has come down to us as the "good news", but actually , according to Pope Benedict XVI, carries with it a much more vibrant meaning.  It is a word that denotes action. The good news is an actively saving message that carries with it all the authority of the Roman Emperors. [ii] But, this evangelion is not the message of an earthly ruler, as the word would have indicated at the time of Christ (even many of the Jews of the time of Christ's proclamation had a more earth bound, nationalistic ideas of the messiah and what type of kingdom he would usher in[iii]).  These are the words of Jesus, who imbues them with messianic power and the authority of the Davidic Kingdom[iv].  Through his authority, this evangelium is not merely a saving message, it is the power of God, living, healing and restoring all who hear, receive and ponder this news, through the word and action of Christ and through the community of believers.   And it is not merely a political, temporal realm, but one that transcends the very boundaries of this world.

 How does this obscure yet powerfully active Kingdom then manifest itself in this world?  What is meant by this enigmatic phrase that Jesus proclaims throughout his ministry?  Is it a visible reality here and now?  Is it eschatological, to be realized only at the end of time?  What is the relationship between Jesus and the Kingdom?  In his book Jesus of Nazareth,  From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, Pope Benedict  leads the reader through various lines of scholarship about what Jesus and the Gospel writers mean when they speak of the Kingdom.  He points out that Church Father's identify three dimensions of the Kingdom.[v]

The first is Christological, Jesus himself is the Kingdom[vi]  "But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast our demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you"[vii]  These are the words of Christ as the Pharisees accuse him of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul, and they make it abundantly clear that in the presence of Jesus the living God is acting.  Pope Benedict says it much better:  “By the way in which he speaks of the “Kingdom of God”, Jesus leads men to realize the overwhelming fact that in him God himself is present among them, that he is God’s presence.”[viii]   This is the central dimension from which the others  flow.

The second dimension is a mystical, spiritual one, which locates the Kingdom in "man's interiority".[ix]   In the depth of the soul it is God who reigns, and sin is to be cast out, for one cannot serve two masters.  Either Christ and his Kingdom have dominion or sin.  In the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible introduction to the Gospel of St. Matthew, this is presented as the ethical aspect, and it reaches its fulfillment in the Beatitudes.  Prayer and good works, fasting and humility are essential for the Lord to have dominion in the soul.[x]

The third dimension is ecclesiastical, and this is the interpretation that has gradually come to dominate (especially in modern Catholic theology)[xi], though it does not eliminate the other dimensions of the Kingdom of God (if one's theology removes the centrality of Christ then it ceases to be the Kingdom of God).  In the ecclesial interpretation of the Kingdom, “the Kingdom of God and the church are related in different ways and brought into more or less close proximity.”[xii]   Biblically, Matthew’s gospel is the most prominent in the ecclesial identification with the Kingdom[xiii]. Dr. Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston college, states that Matthew "clearly presents Jesus  as establishing a visible institution, headed by visible men.  Though the church is spiritual, ... she is also visible-just as you are spiritual (you have a soul), yet visible."[xiv] Jesus give Peter the keys and the authority to bind and loose, he establishes His Church, where worship and adoration of God are practiced and sins repented of and confessed are removed.[xv]  The apostles are given similar "royal authority"[xvi] and sent out to bring the evangelium to the world.[xvii] Again, this dimension flows from the identification of the Kingdom with Jesus, and the interior healing he imparts. The  Dictionary of the Bible states: “The identification of the kingdom with Jesus and the imposition of faith and moral regeneration by the inbreak of the reign of God in the mission of Jesus lead naturally to the identification of the kingdom with the group formed by Jesus himself.”[xviii]

It is this ecclesial interpretation that has undergone the greatest scrutiny, and some of this scrutiny has resulted in a current degeneration of an understanding of all three dimensions of the Kingdom of God as interpreted by the Church Fathers. Therefore Pope Benedict devoted some time in his book to going over more contemporary theological explorations of the Kingdom, especially in the wake of the Enlightenment and the Protestant exegetical revolution of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which had considerable influence over Catholic exegesis as well.

This has led to the speculation of some scholars in which the collective and ritual worship (and therefore the role of the Church) is downplayed in favor of individual morality.[xix]  Another area of theological thought is the rejection of any earthly Kingdom of God entirely.  This is a theology that sees that peace and justice do not and will never reign here in this world, therefore, the Kingdom that Jesus spoke of was " radically eschatological" and “referring strictly to the end times”. This eschatological approach has been termed “imminent expectation”.[xx] Eventually there has developed a more secular interpretation of the earthly Kingdom of God, which rejects what it terms as pre-Vatican II “ecclesiocentrism,”[xxi].
In the secular interpretation, the Kingdom is what our world should be and could be if we could remove all suffering and injustice.  From here the role of the Church in the Kingdom of God becomes less and less a place where the sacramental presence of Christ is mediated and proclaimed; for the Church can be divisive, and therefore a barrier to the realization of the Kingdom.   Even Christ himself becomes a divisive figure as this theology develops and his presence becomes a distraction to his true message, which is simply “the right formula for finally harnessing mankind’s positive energies and directing them toward the world’s future.”[xxii]  Now the Kingdom has lost all of the meaning the Church Father’s had originally discerned, it becomes no more than a world governed by peace, justice and the conservation of creation.”[xxiii]  God and religion itself have receded into the background and truth becomes a set of “customs”.   Faith, religion and “church” serve only the worldly political order, which Pope Benedict finds “is disturbingly close to Jesus’ third temptation.[xxiv]

In all of these current theories, the power of the Kingdom in this world is decidedly muted with the loss of the centrality of Christ, mediated through the ministry of the Church in the identification of the Kingdom.  They constrain the Kingdom to each individual’s interiority, or to the worldly action of the community of believers.  The Kingdom now relies on my personal morality exclusively, or on membership to a movement to create a Utopian Kingdom.  It does not rely of Christ, or on his sacramental presence in the Church that he commissioned.  If Christ has anything to do with it, it is at the end times; the eschatological “inbreaking of a new world” [xxv]where God would indeed reign, as (it would seem) he clearly does not in our world of greed and corruption, war and degradation.

At this point Pope Benedict takes on a passage in Luke to describe the mystery of the message of the Kingdom, and why the identifying it with Christ himself becomes the crucial point in understanding the message of the Kingdom in it’s complexity:  “Luke 17:20-21 tells us that, “being asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God was coming he answered them, ‘The Kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed [by neutral observers], nor will they say, “Lo, here it is!” or “There!” for behold, the Kingdom of God is in the midst of you.’” Benedict  goes on to discuss some of the different exegetical approaches to discern an understanding of the Kingdom of God as related in this passage:
“There is the ‘idealistic’ interpretation, which tells us that the Kingdom of God is not an exterior structure, but is located in the interiority of man…….There is truth to this interpretation, but it is not sufficient, even from a linguistic point of view.  Then there is the interpretation in the sense of imminent expectation.    It explains that the Kingdom of God does not come gradually, so as to be open to observation, but is suddenly there.  This observation has no basis in the actual formation of the text.  For this reason there is a growing tendency to hold that Christ uses these words to refer to himself: He, who is in our midst, is the “Kingdom of God” only we do not know him”[xxvi]
Pope Benedict goes on to say “the distinguishing feature of his message—is to be found in Jesus himself.  Through Jesus’ presence and action, God has here and now entered actively into history in a wholly new way.”[xxvii] With Jesus at the center, the lowliness and hiddenness[xxviii] of the Kingdom come into focus “through Jesus, God …rules as Lord—rules in a divine way, without worldly power.”[xxix] Worldly power comes and goes, but this Kingdom’s dominion is” over the world and over history, (God’s dominion) transcends the moment, indeed transcends and reaches beyond the whole of history.  Its inner dynamism carries history beyond itself.  And yet it is at the same time something belonging absolutely to the present.  It is present in the liturgy, in Temple and synagogue, as an anticipation of the next world; it is present in the life shaping power through the believer’s prayer and being:  by bearing God’s yoke the believer already receives a share in the world to come.”[xxx]

If the founding of the Church is part of this great evangelion, than there should be more concrete evidence of it; why didn’t Christ “leave the world with another sign of his presence so radiant that no one could resist it”[xxxi].   Here Pope Benedict turns to the scriptures telling of the temptation of Jesus and he hears the question of Satan to Jesus in the first temptation: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”[xxxii] This could easily be restated today as “If you claim to be the Church of God then start by making sure that the world has bread”[xxxiii]  The bread theme will permeate the whole Gospel, for Christ at another time does feed hungry people with miraculous bread , just as God fed the Israelites with manna in the desert and, in both instances the, Eucharist of the Church is foreshadowed.  But why does Jesus feed the multitude then, when at this moment he says “Man does not live by bread alone”[xxxiv]

And here is where Pope Benedict makes a beautiful statement on the interior disposition of those who seek first the Kingdom of Heaven, and it resonates with the sacrifice of the Mass that we celebrate:
“The miracle of the loaves has three aspects…It is preceded by the search for God, for his word, for the teaching that sets the whole of life on the right path,  Furthermore God is asked to supply the bread.  Finally, readiness to share with one another is an essential element of the miracle.  Listening to God becomes living with God, and leads from faith to love, to the discovery of the other.  Jesus is not indifferent toward…..bodily needs, but he places things in the proper context and the proper order.”[xxxv]
 This ushers in another narrative on bread:  the Last Supper, “which becomes the Eucharist of the Church and Jesus’ perpetual miracle of bread.”[xxxvi] Jesus himself has become bread for us, and this gives depth to his statement to “repel the tempter. ‘Man does not live by bread alone…….but by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.

The point the Benedict makes with this temptation connects with those who try to establish the Utopian Kingdom that does not have God at its center; that is that:
 “when the ordering of goods is no longer respected (seek first the Kingdom of God), but turned on its head, the result is not justice or concern for human suffering.  The result is rather ruin and destruction even of material goods themselves.”[xxxvii] 

 Benedict’s chief example of this is the negative outcome of Marxism, and the aid that the West gives third world countries that pushes aside “indigenous religious, ethical and social structures and filled the resulting vacuum with its technocratic mindset.[xxxviii]”  I can think of the contraceptive mentality that was surely undertaken to relieve the world’s excessive poverty and “overpopulation” but has led to disastrous population declines in Europe and has fed horrific outbreaks of Aids in Africa. We cannot see what our “charity “will really mean unless we “resist delusions and false philosophies and to recognize that we do not live by bread alone, but first and foremost obedience to God’s word.”[xxxix] Our goodness comes from God, and when we try to accomplish good without God, we” give stones instead of bread.”[xl]

We must all cultivate a seeking, listening heart when we go to Mass to receive the Eucharistic Jesus, the living and active presence of the Kingdom of God.    We cannot do it merely in our interiority, or we will be overwhelmed by the wounds we have sustained, and the fear that we are insignificant and overlooked.  From this point we will be vulnerable to creating a kingdom for ourselves.  The interior encounters with God are made fruitful even in the ordinary and sometimes banal liturgies we participate in, when we humbly submit to “something greater”[xli] than the entire world can contain.

In my own life it is in the most mundane and ordinary moments that I have received the most mystical and profound encounters with God.  It is with deep gratitude that I give credit to the Church with her (sometimes banal) liturgies that she has been entrusted with for cultivating in me listening heart; a heart that does not discount the miracle of the Eucharist, just because I do not understand it, or I do not always perceive consciously as it truly is. I have faith that the Church that Christ founded has the authority to consecrate, and reconcile.

  I give credit to the Saints that the Church has nurtured, for showing me that the Kingdom of God is present and powerful even in the midst of hell on earth, like Maximilian Kolbe in an Auschwitz starvation chamber.  In him the Kingdom of God radiated and overflowed to all who suffered with him, not miraculously relieving their suffering, but giving them strength for the next minute and then the next.  Imagine, the Kingdom of Heaven reaching even in the pit of Auschwitz, could there be a greater miracle?

This enigmatic Kingdom of God radiates out from Christ. This evangelion, this active message of salvation in Christ, who is the Kingdom of God and is alive and present in the Mass - in the Eucharist and the Word -  is proclaimed and sent forth through the ministry of the Church to sink deeply into the interiority of each individual in the pews. Here all three aspects of the Kingdom of God that the Church Fathers discerned are present, and Christ is the power at the center of them.  And from the collective worship and reception of Jesus through the sacraments we are awakened to the others that surround us, and empowered by Christ’s passion we can be a source of renewal, for the world, even, like Maximilian Kolbe, in the darkest most hopeless places.  But all is done through the Lordship of God that is made present in the sacramental presence of Christ, through the ministry of the Catholic Church.

"Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."

Copyright 2012, Heidi Knofczynski

Thursday, January 26, 2012

On Making Mistakes

Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul
January 25th, 2012
Sharon Nelsen

“Go out to all the world and tell the Good News!” was selected as the responsorial for the Feast of the Conversion of Paul.   For St. Paul, who made a lot of mistakes in his life and who proclaims “We know that all things work for good for those who love God,” (Romans 8.28) there’s no parenthetical exclusion about mistakes, past or present.  So, how do our mistakes fit in with working to the good and good news?  Recently I was prompted to deeper reflection on this topic because not only did I make a mistake, an error in judgment, but after the first one, I followed up with another one!  One would think that after the first one, I “should have known better.” 
As I reflected on this in my morning prayer, the story of Jesus healing the two blind men came to mind, particularly that “Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.” Yet the recipients “went out and spread word of him through all that land.”  (Matthew 9.27-31)
I was trying to imagine the fully human Jesus saying to himself afterwards, “I should have known better.” Somehow it didn’t quite fit.  However, I could imagine his only human developing disciples saying something such as, “Those thoughtless guys have jeopardized your whole work in this area.  We’ve got to make an example of them or you won’t be able to teach anywhere!”
This healing story in Matthew is followed by another, the healing of a mute, a fact that amazed the crowds who said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”  But the Pharisees said, “He drives out demons by the prince of demons.” (Matthew 9.33b-34) 
As I imagined myself in this gospel story, I began to see Jesus marvelously attending to immediate requests in the midst of continuing to teach the broader message about the Kingdom of God.   In his own process of human experience, he was working out the real and potential conflicts between the “how many” and the “who needs?”  How others reacted doesn’t appear to have been the issue for Him. 
In the light of this Gospel passage, I began to see something in myself that went back as far as I can remember:  Whenever anyone has asked me to do something, to “help” in some way, my focus shifts entirely on that request, and if I can help, I do.  The plea before me somehow eclipses the bigger picture, even when (in the bigger picture) my helpful response has not been the best choice for myself or for others.
I recalled the responses of others to my errors in judgment:  Some have embraced me with compassion, reassuring me that even though I made a mistake, I am not a mistake, now or ever, and I do belong here.  Some have remained silent, yet supportive, affirming compatibility in the understanding that this is the route of our human journey.  And, a few have pounced on me, as if they were waiting for this opportunity.
If I am open to it, I have discovered that truth erupts boldly within my life experiences, especially in the things I wish I hadn’t done.   Whether pleasant or unpleasant, I have seen what really is within myself and another rather than what I have imagined or assumed.
Where am I now, today as I write this?  I am a step further into the preposterous place of desiring to praise God with all my heart for my “mistake.”  I am moving consciously into that realm because through this event, I have been experiencing a shift, a transformation of a lifetime habit of making choices based on another’s request or needs.  Until this recent event, my deeply embedded pattern has obliterated every consideration other than the immediate.  
I know that I have been set free, transformed.  I am no longer a slave of my lifetime pattern.  The valleys of my brain connectors have been exalted through the power of Jesus.   Though I fell short, I am truly experiencing once more that all things work to the good for those who love God.
I cannot conclude my story of transformation without also giving credit to my own dear friend, Father Edward Joseph Flanagan.  I connect my own experience of “thought transformation” with his great charism of transforming the way society took care of abandoned boys as he worked tirelessly to transform boys one at a time.  His legacy of transforming brains definitely includes mine, and this, my friends, is Good News!  

Thursday, January 12, 2012

"Speak Lord...

Sunday's reading from 1Samuel is the beautiful story of the prophet being called out of sleep, into service for the Lord. Having been dedicatd to God by his mother, Hannah, before his birth, this account relates the dramatic recognition of Samuel, with the help of the priest, Eli, that his time has arrived. In the Hebrew Scripture, I have found three powerful "epiphanies", if you will, that illuminate God's revelation to individual's that can help us discern our own unique calling.

The first is the story of Jacob's dream on his journey to Haran in Genesis 28. After he awoke from his sleep, Jacob exclaimed, "Truly,...the Lord is in this place and I knew it not!"(v.16) Jacob vowed that if God remained, protected and sustained him, then the Lord would be his God. His realization that that the Lord was with him, "in this place", must be ours, too. God is not only found in the church, the temple, mosque or synagogue. God is in all places, at all times. It is impossible for us to be without Him. He envelops and embraces all things, and all creation is a manifestation of His love for us. And because He is everywhere, it is possible for us to be in a constant relationship with Him. And we should be open to a communion of the heart with the One who loves us, and is always with us.

St. Alphonsus Liguori, writing about the importance of silence, said that Our Lord had spoken to St. Theresa of Avila, saying, "I would willingly speak to many souls, but the world makes so much noise in their hearts that My voice cannot be heard." The prophet Samuel was asleep when God spoke to him.(1Samuel 3) But Samuel was unfamiliar with the Lord's voice, so he needed Eli to help him discern.

Since the Lord found St. Theresa's 16th century world noisy, imagine what He thinks of the clamorous, constant self-inflicted "jibber-jabber" of 21st century America? How is He heard amidst the clatter? God speaks to us through our friends, our family and even those who hate us. He speaks to us in events, through our joys as well as our personal tragedies. In all our relationships, and in the people who drift into and out of our lives, God's voice may be heard. Eli was present for Samuel. We may also need an "Eli" to help us decide among the din, whose voice is the Lord's. Or, we may be an "Eli" for others, through listening, talking, praying or simply being present. But we must realize that God is calling, and like Samuel, we need to listen.

In Isaiah 6:8, he says,"Then I heard the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?" "Here I am," I said, "send me!" Once we acknowledge God's Presence, and that He speaks to us, we have a choice to make: Do we give ourselves to Him, or, do we "harden our hearts" and reject His call?

Concerning our response, Trappist monk Thomas Merton wrote, "All our good acts are acts of consent to the indications of His mercy and the movements of His grace...which seeks nothing to respond, by goodness, to Goodness, and by love, to Love. Let us not only exist, but obey in our existence. For the full fruitfulness of spiritual life begins in gratitude for life, in the consent to live, and the greater gratitude that seeks to be dissolved and to be with Christ."

So, we begin with gratitude, with giving thanks in all things. Isaiah knew that he was not his own, he was the Lord's. And in thanksgiving, gave himself back to his Creator. Every moment of our life is grace. And when we recognize, not by hearsay but by experience, that in His love, God has given us everything, including His Son, then there can only be one response to God's summons: "Here I am, Lord! Send me!"

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Arise Jerusalem!

The readings for today, the Feast of the Epiphany are a joyous way for us to end our Christmas celebrations (although the official end is tomorrow with the celebration of the baptism of the Lord)!  Isaiah 60 1-6 should fill every heart with joy!  But how often our joy is mingled with sorrow, and it takes a prayerful heart not to let this world distract you from the only path that leads to this:

Rise up in splendor Jerusalem, your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.  See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; but upon you the LORD shines, and over you appears his glory.  Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.  Raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you:  your sons come from afar, and your daughters in the arms of their nurses.

Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow, for the riches of the sea shall be emptied our before you, the wealth of nations shall be brought to you . Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall come bearing frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the LORD

It is a reading that fills the heart with gladness and hope!  But, today as I was driving home from my adoration hour, listening to We Three Kings along the way, I was deeply moved by a jarring verse that magnifies the joyous mysteries of the Incarnation:

"Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume; Breaths of life of gathering gloom; Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding dying, sealed in the stone cold tomb."

 How mysterious and how profound!  Who is this God, who not only shed his heavenly glory to encounter us in human flesh, but He will also endure "sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in the stone cold tomb."  Am I that entangled in this weary, sinful world that I need this glorious King, this beautiful child to sacrifice so much for me?  In fact, I am, and I often find that I have no idea how to break the hold that sin and fear have over me, so deeply it abides in me.  His love is deeper still, alleluia.  And I too, like the Magi desire to follow the beauty of his light were ever it will lead me, but how can I stay focused on the light of lights?

The Magi, listened and watched and followed the star.   When they reached the place where Jesus was they "prostrated themselves and did him homage".  They had been searching all this time and now they found Him and in joy, the first thing they do is adore Him.  That is the first and greatest gift we can give the Lord.  Our single-hearted adoration.  From that point we can offer him all the gifts we have, but even then, we must lay them down at his feet and listen, and let the Lord direct our paths. The Magi listened and returned home by a different route.

 The joy of the Magi in finding the Lord is tinged with sorrow at having learned that the rulers of this world do not wish to do Him homage, but to destroy Him and the salvation He has to offer us.  Each of us also knows that the joy of Christmas is tinged with the knowledge that this feasting and celebrating is only a dim foretaste of what is to come if, we persevere in the promise of this revelation of salvation.  But alas, we are still in this sinful world that distracts and contrives by force or our own folly to lead us away from salvation.  It takes great discernment and sacrifice to keep on following Jesus.  We must be prayerful and alert like the Magi so that we are led by the True King, and not the false kings of this world!

Glorious now behold him arise,  King and God and Sacrifice; Alleluia, Alleluia Earth to heav'n replies.
O Star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright, westward leading, still proceeding Guide us to Thy perfect light

Merry Christmas to all,
Peace and Grace as well

Friday, January 6, 2012

Surprised by Hope: by NT Wright

Report by  Elizabeth Dyer

In the gospel of Matthew 6:9-15, Jesus teaches his disciples “This is how you are to pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and do not subject us to the final test, but deliver us from the evil one” (NAB).
In the gospel of Luke 11:1-4, the disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.”  Jesus says to them in reply “When you pray say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.  Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test”. (NAB)
These words make up the Lord’s Prayer, a familiar prayer that is offered in Christian circles throughout the world. At the heart of this prayer, our Lord teaches us to pray for “the kingdom to come”. What do these words mean? Author NT Wright addresses this question in his book Surprised by Hope. He states that this whole book is an attempt to reflect the part of the Lord’s Prayer where it says “thy kingdom come, on earth as in heaven.”  Wright says of this prayer “this remains one of the most powerful and revolutionary sentences we can ever say.”  Yet, he argues, most Christians do not fully understand what they are asking God to bring about when they pray this prayer. 
Wright begins his book by examining the ancient pagan and Jewish beliefs regarding life after death.  The pagan belief in life after death either denied any future afterlife, or the afterlife was envisioned as an eternal existence as a disembodied soul.  Some Jews developed similar beliefs as the pagans, but other Jews believed in a future resurrection.  They envisioned the resurrection not as life after death, but a new bodily life after a bodily death. 
The resurrection was an event in the future when all the righteous would be raised bodily from the dead. Evidence of the Jewish belief about resurrection can be found in the Old Testament scriptures such as the Book of Daniel 12:2-3 and the Second Book of Maccabees 7:9-11 .  By the time of Christ, many Jews had a belief in a future resurrection.  One example of this belief is in John 11:24, when Martha indicates her belief in the future resurrection of her dead brother, Lazarus, on the last day. 
Wright states that the Jewish people did not believe that one person would rise from the dead before all the others.  They envisioned a resurrection as an event that would happen to all the righteous at the same time.  That is why, when Jesus told the disciples after the transfiguration not to tell anyone “until the son of man is raised from the dead”, the disciples were confused.  They understood about resurrection, but they did not expect one person, let alone one that they thought might be the Messiah, to rise from the dead before all the righteous were raised in a complete event.
The Jewish people envisioned the kingdom of God as an earthly kingdom.  They were expecting the Messiah to bring about God’s kingdom by force, with Israel as the beneficiary. The temple would be restored, and God’s justice would reign on earth. Throughout his life, Jesus redefined the concept of the kingdom of God.  Jesus was not bringing about an earthly kingdom; he was bringing about a kingdom where God would dwell among his people. God’s new kingdom will be a new creation. In Wright’s view, understanding resurrection is the key to understanding the kingdom of God. 
Wright argues that the scriptures are clear on the matter of resurrection, even if Christian believers are not.  In Romans 8:23, the apostle Paul speaks of the “redemption of our bodies.”(RSV)  In Romans 8:11, Paul clearly states belief in the future resurrection of the body. “If the spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his spirit who dwells in you.” (RSV)  Salvation does not mean simply going to heaven when we die. It means, “Being raised to life in God’s new heaven and earth.”  At the resurrection, heaven comes down to earth.
Wright points out that not just human beings are renewed in God’s kingdom, but all of God’s creation will be renewed.  He cites Romans 8:19:
“For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (NAB)
Paul considers that the created world shares its destiny with the followers of Christ.  All of creation shares in the suffering brought about by sin, and it shares in the redemption and future glory in the kingdom of God.
Wright addresses briefly in Surprised by Hope the question of what happens to the dead immediately after death. Wright argues that life after death is a two-stage process. There is an intermediate state of existence or life after death before life after life after death. He envisions life immediately after death as a state of restful happiness in which all the dead are
“held firmly within the conscious love of God and the conscious presence of Jesus Christ while they await that day.”
Evidence of this intermediate state of life after death is found in scripture. Christ says to the thief, “today you will be with me in paradise.” It should be noted that Wright, an Anglican, argues in his book against a belief in Purgatory.
Christians believe Christ was raised from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.  Wright believes that it is important to have a clear understanding of the connection between Christ’s bodily resurrection and ascension to heaven in his embodied risen state. Christ is not present with the Father as a disembodied soul, he is present with the Father embodied and resurrected. How is this possible?
Wright acknowledges that the ascension is a mystery that we do not fully understand. However he indicates that when the Bible talks about heaven and earth,
“it is not talking about a non physical and a physical world, but two kinds of what we call space, two different kinds of what we call matter, and also quite possibly…two different kinds of what we call time.” 
Wright recommends C S Lewis’ world of Narnia in the Chronicles of Narnia as useful in explaining how these two worlds of heaven and earth can interconnect with one another.  When Christ returns, according to scripture, these two worlds will be visible to one another, and will fully integrate with one another.
Wright teaches that heaven and earth are two different dimensions of Gods creation, and that the ascended Christ is:
“available, accessible, without people having to travel to a particular spot on earth to find him”
and Christ is already ruling the world as Lord and interceding for his followers at the Father’s right hand. It is through the presence of the Holy Spirit and the Church and the Sacraments that Jesus is present with his followers.
Wright states that Christ is present with us, even though we are often times not aware of His presence:
“The lordship of Jesus: the fact that there is already a human being at the helm of the world: his present intercession for us-all this is over and above his presence with us.  It is even over and above our sense of that presence, which of course comes and goes with our own moods and circumstances.” 

God’s kingdom means the sovereign rule of God, which Jesus taught was breaking into the present world.  This is what Jesus intended when he taught us the Lord’s Prayer.  We are praying for God’s sovereign rule to triumph in our world.
In the third and final section of Surprised by Hope, Wright addresses the question of the practical consequences of belief in a bodily resurrection.  Understanding resurrection helps us to understand our mission as disciples of Christ. He states;
“Resurrection doesn’t mean escaping from the world; it means mission to the world based on Jesus’ lordship over the world.”  Wright concludes that, “What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it.” We as Christians are “agents of transformation” on earth. He continues: “What you do in the present-by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself-will last into God’s future.” 
These are all actions that Wright calls “building for God’s Kingdom.” 
As Christians, the scriptures tell us that, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, we are to build for the kingdom in the present. Wright uses the analogy of a stonemason building a cathedral as an example of disciples of Christ building for God’s kingdom.  The stonemason who makes the bricks for a cathedral may not know in particular where the bricks that he made are to be used. He probably does not even know the plans that the architect has created.  In fact, the stonemason may never live to see the entire cathedral built.  However, he trusts that the architect knows what he is doing, and his work will not be in vain.  The mason is not building the cathedral; he is building for the cathedral. The bricks that he creates are simple and small in the beginning.  However, the architect can use them and enhance them to create a masterpiece.  As scripture states in 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (NAB).
Practically, Wright argues that as Church we are to embrace the good things occurring in the world around us, yet always being careful that we are not asked to do something against the gospel.  As Church, we are also called to engage the evil that we see around us and not to withdraw from the world as if the world is itself corrupt. Wright acknowledges that this is not an easy walk, but a path that the gospels call the followers of Christ to walk.
In Surprised by Hope, Wright leaves the reader an urgent message to the Church and to all Christian believers. He quotes Ephesians 5:14, “Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”  Much of the world around us is living the sleep of death.  Because of sin, the world is dead to the light of Christ.  Sin is death to both the person that commits the sin and others touched by the sin.  Christians, he argues, have been asleep too long. Through our baptism, we are called to live in the new world created by Christ resurrected. We are called to awaken the world through our own personal holiness. Wright states,
“The whole world is now God’s holy land…and …we must not rest as long as that land is spoiled and defaced.”
God’s kingdom has already broken into the present with Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. We are not waiting for the end of the world for God to put things right.  When we pray “thy kingdom come”, we are praying that God’s sovereign rule be implemented more and more in the present. Wright states: 
“Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in His creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow non-human creatures; and of course every prayer, all spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather that corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world-all of this will find it’s way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will make one day”.

 copyright 2012, Elizabeth Dyer