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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.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

What is Church?

A Reflection on the Readings for Sunday, June 1st.

By: Larry T

What is church? Is it just a building with a steeple, a basilica, a cathedral, or simply a place of worship? Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines church as a building that is used for Christian religious services, or as a particular Christian group. Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the outstanding Lutheran theologian, said, “Where a people prays, there is the church, and where the church is, there is never loneliness!”

How badly did the disciples need church in the days between the Ascension of the Lord and Pentecost? What an emotional roller coaster! Being with the Lord during his earthly ministry – joy! The abomination of His scourging, crucifixion and death – despair! His resurrection - jubilation! His ascension into heaven – bewilderment! How abandoned, depressed, lonely, even hopeless might they have been feeling? Instead of shrugging their shoulders, kicking at the dirt and dejectedly returning to their pre-Jesus lives they clung together in spiritual love and prayed to God. This Sunday’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us that they became church.

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away.
13 When they entered the city they went to the upper room where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.
14 All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. – Acts 1:12-14 N.A.B.

Jesus hand-picked and spiritually formed the apostles for a special mission. They were going to be sent into the world to make the Father known to the world just as the Father had sent Jesus into the world to make the Father known. This group had listened to Jesus pray earnestly to the Father for them during his last discourse. As they became church they might have been clinging to the intercessory words of his prayer:

6 “I revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.
7 Now they know that everything you gave me is from you,
8 because the words you gave to me I have given to them, and they accepted them and truly understood that I came from you, and they have believed that you sent me.
9 I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me, because they are yours,
10 and everything of mine is yours and everything of yours is mine, and I have been glorified in them.
11 And now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to you. - John 17:6-11a N.A.B.

Why did Jesus pray for them? Francis J. Moloney S.D.B. (The Gospel of John, Sacra Pagina) writes, “Despite Jesus’ words on the disciples in verses 6-8 they remain fragile in a hostile world and they will not survive unless the Father keeps them in his name.” They had heard Jesus’ intercessory prayer to the Father for them, and they had church (prayer, fellowship, spiritual love for each other), but was that enough? As time passed they were expelled from the synagogues, persecuted by the Jews, and suffered Roman persecution and martyrdom. Was it all worth it? Understandably they needed reassurance, and in 1 Peter they got some.

13 But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly.
14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
15 But let no one among you be made to suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as an intriguer.
16 But whoever is made to suffer as a Christian should not be ashamed but glorify God because of the name. - 1 Peter 4:13-16 N.A.B.

The first Christians depended on church, clung to the memory Jesus’ prayer to the Father for them, and desperately needed assurance that their faith was not in vain. How easy is it to be a faithful Christian in our society? Does it seem as though our faith is under constant attack in our country, and even in our own cities and towns, and sometimes even in our own families. Can we sympathize with Jeremiah?

9 I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in,
I cannot endure it.
10 Yes, I hear the whisperings of many:
“Terror on every side!
Denounce! let us denounce him!”
All those who were my friends
are on the watch for any misstep of mine.
“Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail,
and take our vengeance on him.”
- Jeremiah 20:9-10 N.A.B

Jesus prayed to the Father for his disciples. Did He also pray for us? Yes!

20 “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,
21 so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.
22 And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one,
23 I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.
24 Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
25 Righteous Father, the world also does not know you, but I know you, and they know that you sent me.
26 I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.” – John 17:20-26 N.A.B. 

How fragile are we (modern Christians) in an increasing hostile society? There is wisdom in the ability to recognize when something in unchangeable even when those around us are saying that it is. Abortion is contrary to God’s law – that will never change. God’s chosen Holy Family consisted of a man, a woman, and a child – that will never change. Jesus told us that the second greatest commandment is to love one another – that will never change. If we can’t recognize the principles of our faith that are unchangeable, it won’t be long before we won’t be able to recognize our faith. To remain steadfast we need to remember that Jesus prayed for us, we need the encouragement of Scripture, guidance of the Holy Spirit through the Magisterium – and we need to be church!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Stretch Upward to the Son

"The truth is that the Son of Man was revealed as Son of God in a more perfect and transcendent way once he had entered into his Father’s glory; he now began to be indescribably more present in his divinity to those from whom he was further removed in his humanity. A more mature faith enabled their minds to stretch upward to the Son in his equality with the Father; it no longer needed contact with Christ’s tangible body, in which as man he is inferior to the Father. For while his glorified body retained the same nature, the faith of those who believed in him was now summoned to heights where, as the Father’s equal, the only-begotten Son is reached not by physical handling but by spiritual discernment." From a sermon by Saint Leo the Great, pope
Time to begin the Pentecost Novena!  Spiritual discernment is something that I pray for always, and it is a good intention for this Novena.  This is the discernment to follow the direction of the Spirit, and not my own -- or the worlds.  The disordered desires that we all have very often convince us that our comfort and our personal honor are enough to guide us to make decisions that are right for us.  These decisions cannot draw out of us great love for others, but imprison us to lesser loves.

Let the words of Saint Leo inspire us all to stretch our minds upward, and order our desires on what will draw each one of us into the heights of the Father's love.

Peace and many graces to all of you!

Update:  Here is another site with a beautiful Pentecost Novena :  Discerning Hearts Pentecost Novena

Monday, May 5, 2014

Show us the Path of Life

That very day, the first day of the week, two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred. And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. 

Luke 24:13-16

The disciples on the road to Emmaus are discouraged and downcast, heading away from Jerusalem:  The site of the resurrection, the place where they are to go and await the Lord.  They have heard the rumors of resurrection, but they cannot believe after such a disastrous and seemingly definitive end to the life and mission of Jesus.  Their hope is crushed, their courage has failed them. Have you ever found yourself wandering away from the path set before you by the Lord in the wake of the sorrows, trails and sinfulness of this world?  Jesus, who will never abandon us, meets the disciples where they are and probes their hearts.  He gives them His mild rebuke: “Oh how foolish you are!  How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!”  He then gently instructs and redirects them with the power of His Word.

 You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.  Psalm 16:11

If there is one thing that we spiritual sojourners constantly face it is the the disorientation of our own sinfulness.  Walking toward the Light can be discouraging, like driving into the sun, every spot on our windshield shows.  I often find myself tossed to and fro between despairing self-condemnation and blinding self-justification.  Both extremes will divert us from our journey into a deeper relationship with the Lord.  We fail to move with conviction, or sometimes without our complete awareness, we change our direction and move farther away from the Light at the slightest failure.  Like the two disciples, in times of discouragement and sorrow, sometimes we discover we are on a path heading away from our true destination.  

I bless the LORD who counsels me; even in the night my heart exhorts me. I set the LORD ever before me; with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.  Psalm 16:7-8

And where specifically does Jesus council and redirect the faltering steps of the disciples?  To the Mass! We see in the account of this encounter with Christ the power of the Mass in our growth as Christians.  When we go to Mass we first allow our hearts to be convicted of our individual tendencies to veer off the path of life in the penitential rite, the Word prepares us to see and believe not only with our eyes but also with our interior vision  The intimate fellowship with our Eucharistic Jesus is where our interior eyes are opened and our wounds are healed. And then, with this interior vision refreshed and strengthen, we are sent out redirected and with a mission to bring His light to those who we encounter in our daily lives.

So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem…Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of bread.  Luke 24:33;35

The interior vision that we are to cultivate during our time of sojourning is so crucial to staying on the path that leads to resurrection.  It is also difficult to really abandon yourself to, because at some point you will have to see that you are in need of redirection!  Who wants to see that they have failed?  Yet, we are not created to be surface dwellers in the flesh, content with making things look nice and feel comfortable, we need to pierce the veneer and see the dead man’s bones that lie underneath.  If we do not push through the despair and pride and allow the light of the Lord to reveal our wounds, fears and failings, we will end up on the road leading away from Him.  When we encounter the Lord in our failures  -- and you do; He does not abandon you  -- we need to respond and ask Him to stay, to feed us and heal us.

you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, Psalm 16:10

Allow the Lord to redirect  you, lift up your despairing eyes, shed your prideful blinders.  Yes, when you walk toward the light your flaws become so visible, but rejoice!  He is Risen, and He comes to you now just as you are to be your strength, to be your righteousness, to feed you and fill you with His joy.

conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning, realizing that you were ransomed from your futile conduct, 1 Peter 1:17-18

Easter Joy to all!
Scripture passages from the Mass readings for the Third Sunday of Easter