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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.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Probe me God: A reflection on Psalm 139

Truly you have formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mothers womb.  I give you thanks that I am fearfully and wonderfully made!

What a beautiful Psalm!  These words inspire me in true wonder and awe of the Lord, and with great gratitude and appreciation of the creation of each and every person.  It was read on the Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist, who proclaimed a baptism of repentance, and this post is looking at Psalm 139 through the eyes of John. We are often so deformed in sin that we need to hear the words of the prophet anew, and understand how deep this hope of renewal goes. And, I don't know about you, but I need the humility to remember that, yes I am good because I have been created in His image and likeness, but I am also fallen.  I don't want to live easy with my sinfulness, it is destroying me.  I want my hope and my regeneration to begin today.  It is easy to affirm someone who is deeply enmeshed in degrading sin as a child of God, and then leave them there, but when the shame bubbles up again, unless that individual has a higher and stronger faith, he or she may simple be affirmed to sit in death's shadow.

  At the birth of his son Zachariah breaks out with a spirit-filled canticle:
"And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of  their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high will visit us, to shine on those who sit in darkness and death's shadow" Luke 1:76-79
I, who have been made so wonderfully, and with such a high destiny, I am often mired in darkness of sin, and cowering in the deathly shadow of guilt.  So,even if I know that I am a wonderful creation in the image and likeness of God, still I am overwhelmed by the devastation that is wrought by sin and concupiscence in my soul. I am stalked by past guilt, hurt and rejections.  I am put down by current tendencies to envy and tenacious false identities. And the calloused and dark wounds in my heart quietly prompt deep suspicions that subtly corrupt my motives!  How can I ever recover?  And I live in a time that is both highly judgmental on a superficial level, yet very complacent about enduring with those who struggle with truly devastating sin, and the dark shame and anger that hide with it. I need to deepen my shallow hopes in redemption.  Each one of us needs to encourage others to allow the Lord to probe us deeply, again and again. We need to be humble so we can let the Spirit blow into the god forsaken areas of our souls.

So here is the rest of the Psalm above:

Psalm 139:2-16;23
You know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar. My travels and my rest you mark; with all my ways you are familiar. Even before a word is on my tongue, Lord you know it all. Behind and before you encircle me and rest your hand upon me. Such knowledge is beyond me, far too lofty for me to reach. Where can I hide from your spirit? From your presence where can I flee? If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in Sheol, you are there too. If I fly with the wings of dawn and alight beyond the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand hold me fast. If I say, "Surely darkness shall hide me, and night shall be my light" Darkness is not dark for you and night shines as the day, Darkness and light are but one. You formed my inmost being; you knot me in my mother's womb. I praise you, so wonderful you made me; wonderful are your works. My very self you knew; my bones are not hidden from you, When I was being made in secret, fashioned as in the depths of the earth. You saw me unformed......Probe me, God, know my heart; try me, know my concerns. See if my way is crooked then lead me in the ancient path."
Awhile ago I was meditating on this passage during my Adoration hour, I was praying about a situation that had recently been in the news in which God's great mercy and healing seemed to be missing.  It was a situation in which a lonely, rejected individual committed a ghastly crime.  This young man who eventually took his own life was filled with rage and contempt for himself, and for a society that offered him so little in terms of transcendence and ultimate hope that his existence was not merely an accident.  I began to think about the many, many people who are lost in the darkness of sin, or weighed down by terrible shame, yet even in our mostly Christian culture, seem to be without hope of redemption.  Many of these people struggle with relating to others, sometimes as a result of inborn tendencies, or from traumas that were not of their making.  They are isolated, lonely and filled with a hopeless rage.   I looked back at my journal where I quoted the first lines of the Psalm:  You know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar. My travels and my rest you mark; with all my ways you are familiar. Even before a word is on my tongue, Lord you know it all.  Beside it wrote: "really?  WHERE ARE YOU!"  next to it.  After that I had scribbled a line from the Matt Maher song, You Were On The Cross:

"Where were you when sin stole my innocence?
Where were you when I was ashamed?
 Hiding in a life I wish I'd never made"

It is hard for anyone to wholeheartedly believe that the Lord cares "when I sit and when I stand" or that "I am wonderfully made", when we are acutely aware of how little our souls resembles the high dignity and glory they were created for.  And in the case I was praying about this young man knew how deformed he was, but he had no hope of being reformed because he had no hope that he was created by God and that God willed him to be reformed.  It is even harder in our cynical times of superficial love and sentimental catch phrases to awaken a sense of repentance that is more than just self pity!  And there are still many who are in darkness and in death's shadow, unaware that the tender mercy of our God can and will penetrate anything. We are the ones who need to make them aware, we need to pray for the daybreak from on high to break out upon them, wherever they are!  We are to follow in the footsteps of the Baptist!

The Psalm now begins to whisper to me:  Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand! Repent, for the powers that would enslave you have no power over Him. Repent, for God has never left you; though it may be too dark for you to see Him, He sees you. His hand is upon you! Do not be too proud to allow Him to show you your darkest sins, they are not dark to Him. He knows what they have done to you. Do not be afraid to reveal your most depraved desires or your most wretched fears, he is greater and stronger than any of them.  He can retrieve you from the Sheol in your soul that imprisons you.  Do not be afraid of the chaos sin has stirred up, for His Spirit is with you, encircling you and His mighty wind blows over the dark and formless wastelands in each of our souls, reforming and renewing them. Repent, for the kingdom is at hand!  His light will illuminate the way.

Then I underlined the last line, as a daily prayer for myself, and for many others who do not yet know to pray it. "Probe me, God, know my heart; try me, know my concerns. See if my way is crooked then lead me in the ancient path." 

  Here is the refrain to You Were On The Cross, the song quoted above:

You were on the cross.
You were there in all of my suffering,
You were there in doubt and in fear,
I am waiting on the dawn to reappear.

Go out and en-kindle a hope that salvation and reformation are at hand; a hope that no one is an accident or beyond His tender mercy; a hope that is beyond all the sorrows of this world!

Peace and grace,

Thursday, June 7, 2012

To Whom Shall You Go, updated

I have been completely absorbed in the the space trilogy by C.S. Lewis of late.  Actually, I read the first of the three, Out of the Silent Planet last summer, but I recently purchase the last two, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength.   They are books that I will be re-reading again in the future because there is so much there.

It was as I was reading That Hideous Strength that I came upon a passage that really impressed me.  It is a quote by a character named Dr. Dimble who is speaking to his wife as the final battle of the book is beginning.  He is on the side of good, but there are mysteries that he is grappling with that are hard for him to fully understand and his leader, the Director, has commanded him to accept.  As he is discussing these things over with his wife he says:

Have you ever noticed,.....that the universe, and every little bit of the universe, is always hardening and narrowing and coming to a point?....I mean this,....If you dip into any college, or school, or parish, or family- anything you like- at a given point in its history you always find that there was a time before that point when there was more elbow room and contrasts weren't quite so sharp; and that there's going to be a time after that point when there is even less room for indecision and codices are even more momentous.  Good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse:  the possibilities of even apparent neutrality are always diminishing."  pg.280-281 
That captured my attention. We are, for a time, gathered in and then - as with the Biblical image of a winnowing fan - we are separated out.  And there are examples of situations that, for a time, are accepted as morally neutral or tolerated as a necessity of an era in the Bible, but that eventually are revealed as unacceptable, such as Old Testament polygamy.  Polygamy is certainly presented in the Bible as something that is accepted, but it is definitely a falling from the original Biblical example of marriage.  And if you read your Bible carefully you see that though it is not wrong for Jacob or David to have multiple wives and concubines, it costs them something.  Look at the jealousies and rivalries that come of it.  The eventual splitting of the Davidic Kingdom has it's beginnings in the corrosive effect of polygamy.  And the cost is sent on down through the generations, until it is time to see and understand; until it is time to make a choice.  As we progress through salvation history, or even our own lives it will eventually come down to a choice, a terrible choice that requires clarity of vision and tenacious clinging to the Word of God.  Our eternal destiny will rest on it.
"They rejected his statutes, the covenant which he had made with their fathers.  The vanity they pursued, they themselves became; they followed the surrounding nations whom the Lord commanded them not to imitate."  2 Kings:17
These thoughts have been turning over in my head for a while now, the passage in That Hideous Strength just brought new clarity for me, especially in the wake of some acrimonious discussions, with fellow Catholics, over the issue of so called "gay-marriage".  But it is not that issue that primarily bothers me, that is one of many moral issues that are confronting us in our time.  It is the confluence of these moral issues, the "culture wars", and the increasing ferocity of the battles over them between fellow Catholics, that signal to me that we are coming to a point in our society.  Choices will have to be made, and I wonder how clear we, as Catholics, see what is at stake.

The  reading of the day I was writing this post  (Saturday, April 28) makes this even more urgent in my mind:

 "Many disciples of Jesus who were listening said, 'This saying is hard; who can accept it?'  Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, 'Does this shock you?  What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?  It is the Spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail.   The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life,  But there are some of you who do not believe.'  Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him.  And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father."  As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer walked with him.  Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?"  Simon Peter answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."   John 6 60-69

This is at the end of the Bread of Life discourse.  Jesus is telling his followers to believe that they must "feed on me" or they will have no life in them.  These disciples are shocked; they are confronted with something hard to believe, something that seems foolish and not rational (verse 42:  and they said, "Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph?  Do we not know his father and mother?  Then how can he say, 'I have come down from heaven'?").    Many of the Lord's disciples no longer walked with Jesus from that point on. They left Him, they made a choice based on vain worldly wisdom and they departed from Wisdom in person. But Peter, shows us that he has clung to and believed in the words of the Lord, and when confronted with the choice - though he is not yet perfected in his belief, nor does he fully understand what the Lord is saying- his love for the Lord clears the way for his courageous words:  "Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life." Peter sees what is at stake!  And it is this choice that prepares Peter to humbly trust in Jesus, even after Peter betrays Him.  Peter does not despair in his failure but receives with trust and faith the abundant mercy of the Lord.

I wonder if we have been given just enough of Jesus in our religious instruction to make us think that we know what His love means, but in reality we have inoculated ourselves from being truly transformed by His radical love. His radical love is not tepid "acceptance" or "tolerance", it is a purifying fire which will make you fit for eternal life. Unless you have ordered your life on His Commandments, putting His will in the forefront of all that you think, do, and say, and humbly repenting when you fail, it will be difficult to understand what a shallow sham our culture has made of Jesus, love and religion. It will be difficult to discern the True God and his will from the culture's gods, which will send you off in vain pursuits of worldly acclaim and worldly wisdom. From this stand point a degenerative blindness seems to set in, and in the end, even when the choice is presented point blank, it becomes too difficult to perceive what is at stake. You will become the vanity you pursue and defend!

 So how can we discern the will and love of God in a time when love is perverted, materialistic, and when our lack of knowledge of our Savior Himself is used to blind and divert ourselves from Him? Do you see a hardening and narrowing happening as I do?  Does it seem that we are on the edge of momentous choices, where everything we need to make the right choice is given to us, but many cannot or will not seek it?  I fear that the longer we try to straddle between the two paths:  the one of Jesus and eternal life and the path of worldly vanity, the less we will be able to make the courageous decisions that will be required of us when confronted with a final opportunity to choose eternal life. "the possibilities of even apparent neutrality are always diminishing."

To whom shall you go?  To whom shall you cling to?  A terrible choice is beginning to emerge for all of us, can you see what is at stake?-choose life, not death.

Peace and Grace,