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, October 30, 2012

The Sass Master in Mordor: A Meditation on Evil

One of the most terrifying insights into evil that I have ever read was in C. S. Lewis' second book of his space trilogy, Perelandra.  In this book the hero, a man named Ransom, was charged with protecting an un-fallen planet and its inhabitants from suffering a fate like that of Earth's. He finds himself engaged in a battle of wits with the Evil One, who has possessed the body of the arrogant and deluded Professor Weston.  This un-man (as Lewis names it) is trying to tempt the Lady who inhabits this paradise to break the one rule that has been given her by Maledil (Jesus/God).  The demonic corpse beguiles the woman with many subtle temptations to vanity and to envy.  His preternatural intellect and cunning are slowly winning, but every once and a while the woman (and Ransom) need to rest.  When the demon is "off-duty" with only Ransom for company what we see is something quite different from the sly subtlety of  his temptation of the Lady of Perelandra.

"He (Ransom) had full opportunity to learn the falsity of the maxim that the Prince of Darkness is a gentleman....It was not like dealing with wicked politicians at all: It was much more like being set to guard an imbecile, or a monkey, or a nasty child.  What          had staggered and disgusted him when it first began saying "Ransom.....Ransom....."  continued to disgust him every day and every hour.  It showed plenty of subtlety and intelligence when talking to the Lady; but Ransom soon perceived that it regarded intelligence simply and solely as a weapon.....Thought was for it a device necessary to certain ends, but thought in itself did not interest it." Perelandra; Scribner 1972; pg. 110
In fact, Ransom had to endure long hours of this Un-man amusing itself by mutilating animals and plants, or performing juvenile obscenities with the body it inhabited, and endlessly, pointlessly repeating his name over and over again: "Ransom, Ransom, Ransom" When Ransom would respond it would say "nothing".

I bring this up because on Tuesday I took the Sass Master (aka Sophia) and her two year old brother to participate in our parish's day to keep the vigil for 40 Days For Life at a local Planned Parenthood facility. I told her we were going to Mordor (yes, I have just gone from Lewis to Tolkien).  Mordor is a place where the goodness of creation is corrupted and manipulated to such an extent that it becomes hell to everyone  It is a place where identity is based solely on material productivity and therefore everyone loses their authentic and God given human identity (along with their God given human rights). Here human freedom is cast off for enslaving licentiousness under the watch of a despotic eye whose main strategy is to cut you off from your true identity and from any hope in anything beyond the breath and vapors of this world. But, I digress.

 I am being so dramatic because the world around me seems so sleepy on this subject, and the temptation to despair every time I engage in this battle is growing; a creeping awareness that in the face of powers and principalities, who am I?  The cunning of our enemy is formidable - to lull us into the sleepy complacency that abortion is simply a medical option for those who are in hard situations, relieving us, the larger community, of the burden of having to provide assistance for both a mother and a baby.  Or, if a person has a more awakened sense of charity , the enemy will corrupt the ideal of fighting for human rights, cynically diminishing our idea of what is a worthwhile human life to expend our resources on.  As a result we have impassioned people, who in the name of defending human rights, perversely end up on a slippery slope to despotism, placing the right to life on the shifting sands of the ever elusive concept of who is human enough to warrant the effort to defend said rights.  Yet, when we undermine the right to life, we undermine all our rights, and give the powers-that-be in a given time way to much authority over determining whose rights they will defend and uphold.

This battle is difficult to engage. But, engage we must, with prayer and endurance.  We who stand for the right to life to be firmly and decisively placed at the moment of conception will stand our ground.  We have truth and science on our side.  They have lies and distortions.  Do you know what I often discover when we firmly stand our ground in the face of evil?  That evil at it's core is tedious and infantile, and when it cannot dissuade you through cunning, it will simply provoke it's minions to taunting or obscene displays of profanity and silly, juvenile acts.  Hence the description of evil, and how banal and utilitarian it really is by C.S.Lewis, is truly insightful.

So it should not surprise anyone, that while our group received a good deal of encouraging thumbs up, there were others who shouted out curses at us (along with the profane gestures) or who menacingly watched us as they repeatedly (and at a distance) circled the block we were on. But most silly, and disturbing, of all was the actions of an elderly man.  He had approached my friend Angie earlier.  She was holding a sign showing a baby in the 6th month of fetal development.  Apparently he wanted to know what we were doing.  He began to ask her what her sign said, and Angie cheerfully turned around to show him the picture.  As soon as he saw it he stopped talking mid sentence, grunted "OH" turned around and left.  Angie looked back at me, we both shrugged (Angie, who has a much more generous heart than me, actually smiled and said "I'm not sure what that was about.").  But that old guy had more to reveal to us about the depth of his soul.

As an elderly couple, who were taking our place, were busy getting set up and Angie and I were preparing to leave, a shabby pickup quickly drove up in the parking lot we had our backs to. I was holding the Sass Master, and she was resting her head on my shoulder, her face toward the parking lot while her brother was securely strapped in his stroller, when I felt a splash on my neck and Sophia jumped.  I turned around to see this old man with a spray bottle full of what I believe was water -  shooting it at us cackling the whole way!  Sophia was hit square in the face, (otherwise no one would have noticed because he was spraying us from behind and we were all covered in coats and long sleeves, as it was a bit cold out).

Was he defending the "right to choose"?  Was he just a weak-minded coward who gets his jollies pranking woman, children and the elderly?  What point was he making to spray a four year old girl in the face?  (My dear friend Angie - who only noticed what happened because of Sophia's startled yelp -  in her completely un-cynical and gracious heart thought that possibly he was spraying holy water on us....yeah, old men often bless a group by sneaking behind them to spray them cackling as they speed off).  In reality, C.S.Lewis sums up his actions, and the cause that provoked them perfectly, and also the actions of many other groups that stand against Truth:

"If the attack had been of some more violent kind it might have been easier to resist.  What chilled and almost cowed him was the union of malice and something nearly childish....Indeed, no imagined horror could have surpassed the sense which grew within him as the slow hours passed, that this creature was by all human standards inside out- it's heart on the surface and its shallowness at the heart.  On the surface great designs and an antagonism to Heaven which involved the fate of the worlds:  but deep within, when every veil had been pierced, ...nothing but a black puerility, an aimless empty spitefulness content to sate itself with the tiniest cruelties, as love does not disdain the smallest kindness." (Perelandra; pg106)
Actually, it was Angie's gracious remark that provided the best defense against this man's darkness.  How can his malicious intent stand when your target is so willing to shrug it off?  How can darkness prevail when you are with someone so focused on the light?

So what to do from here?  Stand our ground, fight the good fight and put on the armor of God (to which my fellow blogger, Joze, suggested that we add goggles to) and as Saint Paul wrote from his prison cell:

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if the is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you."  Philippians 4:8-9
And so we will!  The Sass Master (who -  true to her sassy nickname -  was completely unruffled by the incident and quickly concluded that since we were in Mordor that man must have been an orc) is ready, and so am I!  But with goggles!

photo by Heidi Knofczynski

Peace and Grace!

Sunday, October 28, 2012


http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c8/Christus_Bartimaeus_Johann_Heinrich_Stoever_Erbach_Rheingau.JPG; Author: Halffitt

 "As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Batimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging.  On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth he began to cry out and say, 'Jesus, son of David, have pity on me,' And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.  But he kept calling out all the more, 'Son of David, have pity on me.'  Jesus stopped and said, 'Call him.'  So they called the blind man, saying to him, 'Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.'  He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus,  Jesus said to him in reply, 'What do you want me to do for you?'  The blind man replied to him, 'Master, I want to see.'  Jesus told him, 'Go your way; your faith has saved you.'  Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way."

Oh to have the faith of good Bartimaeus!  To persist in seeking Jesus, not merely a great teacher, or wonder worker, but to have the insight to know who Jesus is and the humility to cry out to Him:  "Jesus, son of David,  have pity on me. "  To continue to cry out, even as the crowd rebukes and shushes him.  When Jesus does call him, before Bartimaeus even comes to him, he casts off his cloak!  Sister Anne Shields in her  podcast on this Sunday's readings remarked that a cloak was an especially important  item of clothing, it was warmth and shelter from the elements...and it was all the more important for a blind beggar, who once he had cast off that cloak in that sizable crowd and got to meet Jesus, how would he ever find it again?  But that did not matter to Bartimaeus, he was single-hearted in his quest to meet Jesus and then to follow Him.
 I am sure his humble poverty and desperate situation help focus his mind and heart on the Lord.  Yet,  in our time and culture, the spiritual situation of so many around us is no less desperate.   Do you believe that Jesus is more than just a great teacher and preacher?  Are you following the crowd of our time?  A crowd  of followers who base their faith on the abstract concept that the Lord is an example of a supremely good man, but, are blind to the authentic power of the Lord.  A crowd that may well have many good committees to belong to and charities to serve, yet neglects a deep, profound and personal relationship with Jesus, who though He is the Son of David, responds to the cries for mercy from His followers in profoundly personal ways.   Do you believe that this Jesus was crucified for you, and was raised for you?  Is He your personal Lord and Savior?  What cloaks your sight, what stifles your love for Him?

Just before I entered RCIA  I was once mildly rebuked by a cradle Catholic - and one who was thought to be very devoted to the faith and in particular to social justice.  I was rebuked for using an admittedly protestant phrase in describing Our Lord.  I said He was our personal Lord and Savior.  She responded, rejecting the idea that He was our personal Lord and Savior.  She felt that to claim Jesus in such an individual way was selfish!  I remember quickly backing down from the comment, feeling rather idiotic, as if I had just mumbled some strange fundamentalist mumbo jumbo.  I was shushed,  and I was not as courageous as Bartimaeus.  This friend of mine was a cradle Catholic, and who was I to presume that she did not know how to practice her faith?    

That casual conversation really disoriented me!  I became Catholic, but I was really blinded to His presence in so many ways!  Much of this was due to my own weakness,  my need to follow the crowd so I did not look like some naive fool took precedence..(.although in retrospect a stronger formation in the Catholic faith would have gone a long way to redirecting my faltering footsteps - thankfully this has since changed a great deal).  I faithfully went to Mass, but my heart I cloaked, only what I could understand with my mind was allowed in, only what could be rationally explained was real, the rest of the stuff was more or less quaint traditions.  Jesus kept slipping farther and farther in to the background.

Until one day, I was confronted with my lack of faith in Jesus.  A longing for someone greater became an acute pain.  My blindness was revealed, and I cried out to Him, to Jesus the Son of God in prayer.  I reached out to Him, even though so many respected people around me diminished His divinity and rationalized His resurrection.  Only He had the words of eternal life, only He could save me.  I needed Jesus, the Son of David, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, to have mercy on me.  When Jesus responded to me,  when I once again knew that He was not just an abstract concept or a construct of the early Church, but that He was my Lord, He was my Master, He was my Lover....He was everything, and without Him I was hopelessly nothing, I was able to cast off that cloak that kept my heart away from my faith.

 I am Bartimaeus, and I suspect, so are you!  Because faith in Jesus is a relationship with Him!  It is heart and mind fully devoted to Him.  If you say you have faith, but your relationship with Him is more of a cold concept  than a passionate love, you need to cry out to Him as Bartimaeus did.  Do not fear the crowds rebuking you!  Reach out to Him! Cast off that cloak that keeps you from Him and let Him give you sight to see Him in the Eucharist, In the Scriptures, in your neighbor!  Show them the way, because there is nothing selfish about this personal relationship with the Lord!  Because of Bartimaeus' faith  and courageous persistence  other eyes were opened!

This is the year of faith!  Let us all cry out: "Son of David have pity on me!  I want to see!"

Peace and Grace to all of you!

Friday, October 26, 2012

God's Love in Nature

Lovely leaves in fall

Nature’s own secret is
A deep and passionate love.
Discover it in a shape,
On the ground or above.

A love cloud floating by in summer

Hear God’s own language: 
A whispering song, 
Or a fiery yell
His unending Love
For all of Nature to Tell.
Poetry and Photos
by Janet Goodwin
Bleeding hearts in spring
        The heart is happiest when it beats for others.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Book of Humility

“My Son, Conduct Your Affairs with Humility.”
-        a reflection on Mark 10:35-45 (NAB)
-        By Larry T 

At a social gathering a few weeks ago my friend Lois was describing a recent trip to Minneapolis when before she could finish, another friend, Sharon, energetically interrupted her with “Well, that’s just like . . .”, and launched into a description of her own recent trip to Chicago. Poor Lois wasn’t finished, but settled back into her chair with a sigh.  Just how many times do we hear, “WELL, THAT’S JUST LIKE . . .”? Is it a lack of humility and patience that causes us to trump someone else with, “WELL, THAT’S JUST LIKE . . .”? 

I’ve often thought that our Holy Bible could be retitled The Book of Humility because so much of it concerns humility – either having it, or not having it. Was it the lack of humility that caused the Hebrews to be stiff-necked? Was it the lack of humility that caused the Pharisees and Scribes to ignore the word of God as taught by Jesus? And how many times did our Lord preach humility and extol the virtues of the humble?
The gospel reading for October 21st, the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, is from Mark 10:35-45:

35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”
36 He replied, “What do you wish (me) to do for you?”
37 They answered him, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.”
38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”
39 They said to him, “We can.” Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized;
40 but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
41 When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John.
42  Jesus summoned them and said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt.
43 But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;
44 whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.
45 For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 

At least part of this reading concerns the obvious pride and lack of humility of James and John. And allegorically it might address the lack of humility of all mankind. In verses 43 and 44 Jesus gave his disciples a quick, but direct lesson in being of service to others. 

How many of the Pharisees heeded Jesus’ example of humility as related in the gospel of Luke? 

8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him,
9 and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place.
10 Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’ Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table.11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
-LK 14:8-11 NAB 

Was our Lord underscoring the words in chapter 3:17-18 of The Book of Sirach written two-hundred or so years earlier?

17  My son, conduct your affairs with humility,
and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts
18 Humble yourself the more, the greater you are,
and you will find favor with God.

But what is the Christian definition of humility? Father John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary defines it as: 

The moral virtue that keeps a person from reaching beyond himself. It is the virtue that restrains the unruly desire for personal greatness and leads people to an orderly love of themselves based on a true appreciation of their position with respect to God and their neighbors. Religious humility recognizes one's total dependence on God; moral humility recognizes one's creaturely equality with others. Yet humility is not only opposed to pride; it is also opposed to immoderate self-abjection, which would fail to recognize God's gifts and use them according to his will.

Was Jesus telling me to always treat others with respect and dignity? While in conversation with another person do I live it by patiently allowing them to complete a sentence before I begin speaking? This Sunday when I approach the ambo to read Holy Scripture to the assembly do I remember that my task is to read God’s word to his people in a meaningful way, rather than impress the assembly with my speaking ability? Do I always remember to open the car door for my beautiful wife? Is letting my friend Lois tell her story about the Minneapolis trip without interrupting being humble? Just how many opportunities in everyday life do we have to practice humility? Wow, I’ve got a lot of things to work on!

Blessings to All

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Platitudes or Blood, Water and the Spirit (revised)

Since we have not posted anything yet this month, and I have some posts in the works but not complete, I am re-posting an earlier reflection.  But we have exciting news:  Look for a new contributor to our blog to be posting this weekend.  Larry T. has recently joined us and we are blessed to have him!

Beloved:  Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God, and everyone who loves the Father loves also the one begotten by him.  In this way we know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey his commandments.  For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments and his commandments are not burdensome, for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.  And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.  Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 
This is the one who came through water and blood, Jesus Christ, not by water alone, but by water and blood.  The Spirit is the one that testifies, and the Spirit is truth. 1 John 5:1-6

Pope Benedict XVI in his book Jesus of Nazareth explains verses 6-8, the verses about water and blood and Spirit this way:

  "Here John very obviously gives the motif (of blood and water) a polemical turn against a form of Christianity that acknowledges Jesus' Baptism as a saving event but does not acknowledge his death on the Cross in the same way.  He is responding to a form of Christianity that, so to speak wants only the word, but not the flesh and blood.  Jesus' body and his death ultimately play no role.  So all that is left of Christianity is mere "water"-without Jesus' bodiliness the word loses its power.  Christianity becomes mere doctrine, mere moralism, and intellectual affair, but lacks any flesh and blood."

Saint John is speaking about Christians who want to be saved, but not by the flesh and blood offering of Jesus in His redemptive death on the cross, but by baptism alone. They wanted the water, but not the blood. And without the water and blood, both, in our daily lives and in Church we are reduced to mere moralists.  In our current day, because we are fast loosing our belief in objective morality (the Commandments) we are often the most tyrannical of moralist:  moralists with no moral grounding!

This brings me to a Facebook debate, and a particularly unpleasant one at that. Most of the participants claim to be Catholic, however one side, which was the side claiming to be for Christian love and tolerance, was defending a rather vile post which featured a picture of a bishop with the word bigot scrawled across it, the other (the side I was "liking") was asking for justification for this slanderous and unkind post. We received no justification, only over-generalized reasons for disdain of the Catholic hierarchy and Catholic moral teachings and, of course, the standard Jesus platitudes were stated and restated. Calling a bishop a bigot was rationalized and defending him (which we were doing) was: "casting stones".  Defending church teaching called for an angry tirade about how we should "remove the beam from our own eyes!"  We "were not loving our neighbor as ourselves", so on and so on....My Facebook encounter left me sad because I saw abstracted faith, that was highly moralistic but not at all grounded in authentic love or objective morality.  Anyone who rejected this was treated to a barrage of words; quotes from Jesus thrown at them like the stones.  I was sad because the Jesus they were quoting was so weak, so hollow, so lacking in power and majesty.  He was a one dimensional preacher, not the Incarnate Word.

 How can anything that the Alpha-Omega, Eternal Son of the Living God, Victor over the Universe and all powers of darkness be so banal and lifeless?  The answer:  When you remove Him from the deep and profound immutable Truths that the Lord God revealed to the Children of Israel and her prophets. Then, the summation of the law:  Love God above all and love your neighbor as yourself, becomes so malleable that they essentially mean whatever the follower wants it to mean.  Or, as in our debate, only the love of neighbor was acknowledged, not the love of God with your whole heart, mind and soul, not to mention the fact that you love them both by following the Commandments.

You can see that the biggest problem with the Jesus platitudes that were being used against us is that they are removed from the flesh and blood Jesus, and the whole of divine revelation, from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelations. Therefore they reduce His power to mere ideas; concepts of morality.  With the Word made Flesh thus abstracted,  these words are trivialized and relativized.  Water without flesh and blood.

In the reading above, Saint John reaches far beyond platitudes in calling us to love, he calls us to a living relationship with Jesus who was crucified for us.  He first speaks of belief in Jesus, the Christ, and then of obedience to the commandments. This obedience is empowered by His love in us, which we receive in faith and which we nourish through our reception of the sacraments.  He conquers our worldliness through our daily acts of faith and love. The last passage grounds our relationship with Jesus in His flesh and blood, not merely abstract words and platitudes. We are united by our baptism with the One who loved us so passionately that He poured out His blood from His pierced heart for each one of us, and in turn we are drawn into this great love and pour out our flesh and blood for Him and for others in the Spirit of Truth.

This is not an abstract concept of truth or morality, but a struggle - an epic struggle to submit our fleshly desires, which we are all too willing to separate out from our spirituality, to the Spirit of Truth.  Because our desires ought to orient us to union with Christ. When we continue to separate our flesh and blood desires from the Spirit of Truth we are blinded from discovering the One are hearts most ardently desire.  And with such inborn passion for Him, we cannot simply seek Him in concept, but in His flesh and blood, crucified and resurrected.  This takes daily prayer, and  reading of Scripture and listening for His voice.  It takes sacrifice and sacraments.  It takes a willingness to love and be loved by Christ, not that one dimensional spiritual teacher but the Beloved, the Eternal Flame which burns but never consumes, the Pillar of Fire, the Still Small Voice, the Thundering Theophany carving His law into stone and then on Calvary pouring out his Spirit to place it in our hearts. He is the Divine lover, and in Him all things are fulfilled.  And to the extent we can allow the Spirit to testify to these truths through us, we will be able to love our neighbor with His love, and not with our platitudes.

Peace and Grace