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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, September 23, 2014

Your Way, Lord

A reflection on the Mass readings for the Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

By: Sharon Nelsen

The Lord recycles truth in our lives; always giving us new thoughts, new words, new ways to think, speak and to act on old truths.  Today, as I read from Isaiah 55.7-8, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord,” I smiled—yet again the Lord had recycled that truth in my life.

When I was an RCIA companion in our parish several years ago, I was inspired to write this prayer, a prayer I knew was inspired by the Holy Spirit for it flowed from my pen and needed little editing.  After I wrote it down, I named it, “A Prayer for Continued Growth.”

Blessed Lord, God of Heaven and earth,
            Draw me into right relationship with You:
                        May Your Thoughts become my thoughts
                        May Your Ways become my ways
                        May Your Words become my words

            I invite You to touch and heal all that is wounded
                        Within my mind
                        Within my heart
                        Within my spirit

            Set me free from any false beliefs I hold
                        In my thoughts
                        In my habits
                        In my values

            Fill me with Jesus, Your Way, Your Truth, Your Life
                        In my relationship with You
                        In my relationship with others
                        In my relationship with self

Open my lips that my mouth may proclaim Your Wondrous Deeds, praising  You now and forever.  Amen.            Sharon Nelsen, April 18, 2012

This past week was a week full of conflicts and so I asked the members of our faith-sharing group to pray over me.  As they prayed, the prayer for continued growth came to my mind.  I realized that I had something deep within me that perceived the words as conflictual, as if God and I were at odds in our thoughts, words and ways; we were on a collision course.  In an understanding that can only come from the Holy Spirit, I realized that God, who calls us into partnership, is not in conflict with us.  Rather, God reassures us that the seed we plant, the leaven we work into the dough of our lives are beginnings; our thoughts, words and ways are not necessarily “wrong.”  They are by nature, our good human nature, limited. 

When God says, “I will complete the work I have begun in you,” God reveals that my good thoughts, good words, and good ways are materials for God’s thoughts, words, and ways, which are cosmic, while mine are very local.  God welcomes those beginnings in us and longs to receive them so that He can do even greater works with them.

The Gospel reading from Matthew 20.1-16a illustrates the point clearly:  The laborers, who were hired at the end of the day, received the same wage as those who had been hired at the beginning of the day, express their thoughts about the justice of it all:  “These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.”  (Matthew 20.12)

God’s way, as landowner in the parable, is generosity, a generosity that hovers high above human justice, leavening the dough of Divine Justice with cosmic compassion.  Have you ever stood on a corner and waited for a truck to come by to pick you up and take you out to the job site so you could earn a day’s wage and feed your family?  Recently, as I drove through a section of downtown Omaha around 8:00 in the morning, I saw four Hispanic men standing on a corner, waiting.  It reminded me of my high school days in Los Angeles, when I first saw a crowd of Hispanic men clothed for labor, standing along a whole block of sidewalk.  I asked my Dad why they were there.  He replied that they were “day laborers” waiting to be hired.  When we drove by the same area hours later, there were still many men waiting.  And if we had driven by even later, we would have seen men still waiting.

What does it take to stand in the day’s heat and wait, wondering if your family will have food that night, or if the rent can be paid, or if the water and light bills can be paid? 

Would you rather be standing idle, struggling with fearful thoughts, or laboring with others, knowing you can provide what is needed for those entrusted to you?

Help us grow, Lord, into your way, a way that urges us to generous compassion.  May we sow our tiny seeds with hope, entrusting the growth to Your Ways which are “As high as the heavens are above the earth.”  (Isaiah 55.9)

Monday, September 8, 2014

Happy Birthday Mary, Teach Me to be Lowly.

I am re-posting a reflection I wrote a couple years ago, May the Mother of God bless us all today with her motherly love and guidance into the heart of her Son Jesus!

Today is the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Mary, whose immaculate conception was celebrated 9 months ago, was born on this September day.  And as is the way of the Lord, this monumental day, this wondrous birth went quietly by in time, and still goes quietly by in our lives, we could easily miss it. In fact, we often do miss it.  Yet, this feast day invites us to ponder the woman whose life modeled most fully how to allow the word of the Lord to be conceived in us and born through us, in our own words and deeds.  Insignificance and lowliness are not barriers to these wonders, they are requirements.

Which is good, because  I do not have much to offer. I am a Catholic who fails a lot in living my faith.  I am a wife who fails a lot at being a wife.  I am a mother, who fails a lot with her children (I have two crying, fighting and whining in my presence right now - thankfully they are only mildly annoying me, so I am ignoring them...).  And, in a culture that is pragmatic, cliquey and materialistic, I am a stay-at-home mother of 8 who writes for an insignificant blog because I perceived a call to do it from Him, no money in it, no huge following, no "career" to validate me - nothing.  I am nothing.  And oh, how I have caused myself and others around me much pain in fighting that truth for most of my life.

When I was in high school, it got back to me that an acquaintance of mine had described me as a "cipher"....a nobody.  In her world, I was a quiet and fairly shy girl, who was not friends with her friends and who did not leave a huge impression on her friends.  Since I was not terribly concerned with her opinion of me at that time, I was able to brush off the insult fairly easily...or so I thought.  Because every once in awhile the words would come back to me, whispering to me that I was a cipher, a nobody.  And I would fight that identity with much ferocity!  I would deny it, offer proofs against it, but mostly I would fear it.  The label became heavier and heavier.

 But,  one day I finally heard the words of Our Blessed Mother.  My spiritual ears were opened.

Luke 1:46-56:The Canticle of Mary."My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.  For he has looked upon his handmaid's lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.  The Mighty One has done great things for me and holy is his name.  His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him.  He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.  He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly.  The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.  He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, according to his prose to our father to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

Was I to accept that identity that was so thoughtlessly assigned to me? Instantly my spirit rebelled: "I am not a cipher! I am not a nobody, do not let that nasty girl be right!" The arrogant and prideful aspirations of my heart, which fed upon my fear of nothingness, did not yield easily. Yet a wave of grace washed over my heart as I thought of the words: "He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones; but lifted up the lowly." My pride was dispersed, I was thrown down, and lifted up. In a moment I was confronted with all that I wanted to be, thought I should be and was failing at, and yet I was given an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Because I was nothing.  I was nothing so that I could be lifted up; there is no other way.

That thoughtless comment of so many years before was instantly transformed, and the weight of it lifted. The Lord needed to show me I am nothing so I can be filled with His love, His Spirit, His life.  So that he can lift me up, out of my mediocrity and into His heart, and I do not have to grasp at earthly honors, or rewards or recognition. Without Jesus I am nothing, without Him I will cling to false egos and false identities, and be let down by them, or even worse, I will be blindly self-satisfied! The heavy burden of that word "cipher" gave way to tearful gratitude and awe. In a world where wealth, popularity and honors are seen as indicators of goodness and worthiness Mary has shown me that it is only lowliness, nothingness, that can acquire the interior vision and wisdom to give Him our fiat, with complete trust in His compassionate love that will lift us up.

So Happy Birthday Mary, Queen of Heaven, who so gently taught me about lowliness. I still have to submit my fears and insecurities to God, I still have to have Him disperse pride and arrogance with His mighty arm.  But I do not fear the nothingness as I once did, and I have come to see a little how God's kingdom conquers and transforms this world of shallowness and ugliness.   I now look upon that dismissive, and shallow description of me so long ago through Mary's eyes, without the shame and fear that the world attaches to it.  In those words came the might of His arm and revealed the true and eternal beauty of His Mother.

Blessed Be God, and Blessed Be His Most Holy Mother!

Blessings, Heidi

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Blessed are Those Who Mourn!

A Reflection on Ezekiel 33:7-9 N.A.B.

By: Larry T

7 You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me.
8 If I tell the wicked man that he shall surely die, and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked man from his way, he [the wicked man] shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death.
9 But if you warn the wicked man, trying to turn him from his way, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but you shall save yourself.
- Ezekiel 33:7-9 N.A.B.

God called Ezekiel to the thankless and dangerous task of preaching to a society that had hardened their hearts against Him. It was a message that the people and their leaders didn’t want to hear; it called them back to God’s unchanged covenant. Old Testament prophets were usually met with misunderstanding, derision and rejection by the general populace and Ezekiel was not an exception.

We may not be biblical prophets, but we are anointed priests, prophets, and kings though baptism.

1241 The anointing with sacred chrism, perfumed oil consecrated by the bishop, signifies the gift of the Holy Spirit to the newly baptized, who has become a Christian, that is, one “anointed” by the Holy Spirit, incorporated into Christ who is anointed priest, prophet, and king. – Catechism of the Catholic Church

God calls all baptized Christians to the prophetic task of being mourners. In Matthew’s gospel the second beatitude is: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” What does that really mean? “The mourning of which the Lord speaks is nonconformity with evil; it is a way of resisting models of behavior that the individual is pressured to accept because ‘everyone does it.’ The world cannot tolerate this kind of resistance; it demands conformity. It considers this mourning to be an accusation directed against the numbing of consciences. And so it is. That is why those who mourn suffer persecution for the sake of righteousness.” says Pope Benedict XVI in his book Jesus of Nazareth.

God’s orders for Ezekiel were typically something like, “Son of man, make known to Jerusalem her abominations.” What are God’s orders for us? If we are to discern which models of behavior to resist we need a degree of wisdom.

The Serenity Prayer is the common name for a prayer authored by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971). The best-known form is:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Some things will never change. For example, when taking a shower, it is always going to be better if the shower curtain is on the inside of the bathtub instead of on the outside – that will never change. Countless people can try to convince us that the shower curtain should go on the outside of the bathtub, but we know better. So the ability to recognize when something can’t change in the face of a society that says it is can change is wisdom of a different sort. Today a seemingly large part of society is trying to convince us that God’s laws are changeable, but we know better. 

Ezekiel fulfilled his prophetic mission by doggedly carrying out God’s instructions. One way that we can fulfill our prophetic calling is by refusing to cave into societal pressure to accept models of behavior that are clearly against God’s laws, and to live our lives as God’s people with the understanding that we too will sometimes be met with rejection and derision.