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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, December 31, 2014

He Shall Rescue the Poor

A reflection by Sharon Nelsen

For the first Sunday of the New Year, the Church proclaims Psalm 72:

“For he shall rescue the poor when he cries out,
And the afflicted when he has no one to help him.
He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor;
The lives of the poor he shall save.” (12-13)

The question for us is not will God help us, will God help the most desperate among us, the most desperate within each one of us?  The question is not will God, but how will God save us?  How does God want to save the lives of the poor?  How does God want to rescue those of us afflicted with broken relationships, festering and wounded spirits, addictions of all kinds, mental and physical diseases, poverty, helplessness, hopelessness, bondages?

Over the years, in praying with small groups, I recognize a polarization between believing in the power of prayer, one’s own or the prayers of others, and in believing in the power of medical treatment, social outreach ministries and material resources.  I found it more common than I anticipated for good praying Christians to fall into an either-or mentality, thinking that faith means God comes singularly with a mighty ZAP, or, that God works only through what has been scientifically discovered, manpower and resources.

Recently, I was reviewing a section of a book, The Healing of Families: How to Pray Effectively for Those Stubborn Personal and Familial Problems, and found a wonderful wording that addresses one aspect of how our wounded condition affects our prayer.  Father Yosefu-Balikuddembe Ssemakula, or Father Joseph, as he so graciously translates his name for us, says:

Watching this happen over a period of time, my hypothesis crystallized as follows:  God dwells in people, and anything that isolates us from people isolates us from God.  He meets us in people and we meet Him in people, this is why our faith in God is always to do with relations with others.  When traumatic situations happen, for the most part caused by people to people, the victim, because of the hurt, experiences an automatic isolation from “people”, whether personally from that person, or even any people who in some way may remind the victim of the offender, even if just a simple resemblance.  This therefore leaves the person (the victim) on a bad note with people, which note the Lord doesn’t want to underscore by healing the person directly or miraculously, or the person will be confirmed in this negative view of people in general: people are bad, they do me harm; but my God is the only good one as he heals me!  This attitude obviously becomes a problem to the God who always comes to us through people.  He would be setting Himself up to be systematically missed by this person, as the person will be looking up to a God in the sky, the good God, surely not in people of whom the person may naturally tend to be suspicious. So what does God do?  It seems God prefers first to seek out other people who will first undo the traumatic damage done by the first person, or at least some of it, and then He comes in with His own healing power to heal whatever else remains to be healed.  What is the effect of this?  The person remains on a good note with people: yes, there may be people who do harm, but there are also good people, like the one who helped me redress my trauma, you just have to look for them.  The trauma victim’s openness to people seems to be what the Lord intends to obtain first, by not short-cutting the healing of heavy trauma. (Pages 254-55)

This dynamic resonates with my forty years of leading prayer in small faith-sharing groups.  First, Father Joseph names the lie that begins the isolation process—“People won’t help me; only God will help me.”  This lie generates another that lays the heavy burden of “having enough faith” on one person: “I have to generate the faith that will in turn generate the healing response for me.”  Or, another lie that only holier others can pray effectively--the Contemplative Orders, the Ordained, someone who expresses prayer “better” than I do.  The truth is, it’s me and thee.  I agree with Father Joseph’s hypothesis that God’s primary desire is that the humanity He created, creates and heals in community, not in isolation.

So, what does God want us to do?  I hear God saying, “Adios, Lone Ranger!”  First, get in touch with our own tendencies toward isolation.  Then, with Jesus, gather together and share our neediness, our brokenness, our giftedness, our resources and talents with each other.  Share them in meaningful, concrete, open and obvious ways, with trust in, and respect for, each other.  Pray together, hold what we hear as a sacred trust, and move out together, strengthened by each other’s expertise, talents and insights.   

God could have sent Jesus as the greatest Zapper of all times.  Zap, you’re healed, Zap, the world is healed.  But the way God shows us through Jesus is that the power to transform the world resides in each one of us, individually and collectively.  Jesus chose to form community and to work in community as the Master Teacher. 

Ben Franklin said, “The Lord helps those who help themselves.”  Followers of Jesus say, “The Lord helps us to help ourselves”—and we interpret the plural form collectively.

A hundred years ago, God cried out, “There are lonely, abandoned boys living on the streets of Omaha--whom can I send to help them?”  One person responded, “Send me!  I’ll do what I can.”   He begins, others join him and together a healing home is created—Boys Town.

While suffering is caused by humans who harm, healing happens when we as a people hear and respond to God’s invitation to rescue the poor, the one who has no one to help him. 

A note for our readers, there have been some pastoral (not magisterial) concerns raised about Father Joseph's work.  In the interest of our readers having all the information they need in their spiritual jouneys we are including a link to the Fathers of Mercy website for more information:   http://fathersofmercy.com/events/official-statement-fathers-mercy-healing-families/

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Even As We Sleep

Merry Christmas!

I have been trying all Advent to post something for Journey to Wisdom, but time is not on my side! So here it is Chirstmas Eve, all four candle are lit and if it is not done now, it didn't need to get done, right?  So I may as well write!

This has been a good Advent, though I would not have said so even a few days ago.

Because even though I thought I had all things under control as we lit the first candle; our Magnificat in hand with it's beautiful prayers and our children's nativity Advent calendar ready to go. (It usually comes out after we are past day 5 and we have to catch up with our readings!)  But then everything spun out of control!  The crazyness of the December activities had something to do with it, a new grandson living with us took up some time and energy, plus, as if those were not enough, a brief, but still burdensome, stint on Federal Jury Duty.  That was all it took!  We fell behind and our evenings got late so our prayer felt hasty--  when we had time to say them! When we did, I was always scolding (yelling at) the kids who never seemed to be listening, or much interested at all! So yeah, I was all like this:

Which always tells me that I am focusing on the exterior appearence of devotion rather than simply opening my heart up to God's intiative and allowing Him to pour out His  grace on us just as we are.  Instead, in my fear of not being good enough, or that I have to do something to catch His eye, I grasp and clutch at spiritual feelings, even though I know that when I grasp and clutch I lose more than I retain! As a result there is much anxiety that goes along with this type of spritual rapacity.
Unless the LORD build the house,
they labor in vain who build.
Unless the LORD guard the city,
in vain does the guard keep watch
. (Psalm 127;1)
Of course this isnt to say that we need not keep Advent devotions;  they nurture our desire for the Lord, and we need to desire the Lord more, much more!  But even in our deficient, but growing desire we need to trust that He is pouring out what we need:
God gives to his beloved in sleep (Psalm 127;2)
Which is the gift He gave me this year, He calmed me down and let me know that my desire for Him is all He needs; I do not need to let anxiety overcome me, but yeild the deepeining desire He draws from me even as I sleep, or bumble thorugh my prayers.  

So as I tuck my children to bed this Christmas Eve; as I bless them and help nurture their desire for Him, and as I myself go to sleep, I will not allow my desire to be turned into fear and anxiety. Rather, I will know and believe, that Christ is being born in my soul, because He desires to be and He is deepening my desire for Him!  No matter what!

In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Luke 1: 78-79

Know today that the Lord will come!  In the morning you will see His glory!
Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Merry CHRISTmas

A Reflection on Mark 1:1-8 N.A.B.

By: Larry T

In ancient times when kings toured their kingdoms messengers were usually sent ahead to herald the king’s coming to his subjects. Local communities, that wanted to stay in the good grace of the king, rushed to repair any rough roads so as to help ensure the king’s travel comfort. Similarly God sent messengers ahead to proclaim the coming of his Son.

The book of Isaiah heralded the coming of the Lord in chapter 40, which was written just before the end of the Babylonian exile in 587 B.C.:

  3 A voice cries out:
In the desert prepare the way of the LORD!
  Make straight in the wasteland a highway
     for our God!
4 Every valley shall be filled in,
     every mountain and hill shall be made low;
The rugged land shall be made a plain,
    the rough country, a broad valley.
-Isaiah 40:3-4 N.A.B.

The coming of the Lord was likewise announced in the Book of Malachi, which was written around 455 B.C.:

1 Lo, I am sending my messenger
            to prepare the way before me;
And suddenly there will come to the temple
            the LORD whom you seek,
And the messenger of the covenant whom you
Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.
- Malachi 3:1 N.A.B.

Next, John the Baptist was hand-picked by God to proclaim the coming of his Son. John began to echo the ancient prophecies of Isaiah and Malachi concerning the coming of the Lord somewhere around 28 or 29 A.D. In a manner of speaking, by proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and conversion, John became God’s spiritual road grader, smoothing out the way for the coming of the King of the Universe:

1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ (the Son of God).
2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;
he will prepare your way.
3 A voice of one crying out in the desert:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.’”
4 John (the) Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
5 People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.
6 John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey.
7 And this is what he proclaimed: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.
8 I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the holy Spirit.”
- Mark 1:1-8 N.A.B.

As baptized Christians we too are messengers, chosen by God, to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord, chosen to be his spiritual road graders. One of the ways that we can fulfill our prophetic duty is to herald the coming of the Lord by keeping Christ in Christmas.

At stake during the Christmas season is the question of assimilation: to what extent will Christians conform to the non-Christian culture for the sake of economic gain or social acceptance. How many of us are willing to accept non-Christian beliefs as normative, failing to recognize that these values will not stand up to the scrutiny of God?

In the Old Testament, Joshua had a firm answer concerning assimilation by alien cultures:

15 If it does not please you to serve the LORD, decide today whom you will serve, the gods your fathers served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are dwelling. As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
16 But the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the LORD for the service of other gods.
- Joshua 24:15-16 N.A.B.

As for me and my family, we will keep Christ in Christmas!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Reflection on Endings and Beginnings

By Sharon Nelsen

Today is the last day of the liturgical year. It is also the end of month, near the end of the calendar year, and, for me, born in December, close to the end of another year of life.

Tomorrow is the first day of a new liturgical year. It is a time of beginnings. I decided to leave behind with the old year some patterns of thinking, old beliefs that aren’t leading anywhere helpful to me or to others--such as still feeling like a victim in certain areas, at the whim of everybody else, subject to others’ power, prestige and position.

I pray for truth that will set me free: The TRUTH is, God, You have given ME life

·         and with it, free will, choice
·         and with it, abilities and talents
·         and with it, relationships
·         and with it, obstacles to overcome
·         and with it, resources
·         and with it, TIME
·         and with it, opportunities
·         and with it, Your promises – “I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10.10b- NAB) or, the New Jerusalem translation that touches my heart, “I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full.”

And so, Lord, as I leave behind false beliefs and distortions of the truth that lead to hopelessness, discouragement and despair, I look for new beginnings and I hear You say:
Remember: Bring to the now words that give life; habits that generate new life, joy, hope and love.
Reflect on what you really want in your relationships and with your life, with the time you have.
Record – Write down your deepest desires.  Do not be afraid to express them.  As you do, it will sort out your true desires and those you think are yours but really are someone else’s you’ve adopted or that have been put upon you.
Repent – Change direction!  Walk away from destructive thoughts and habits, attitudes and acts, and embrace generative, life-giving thoughts and habits, attitudes and acts.
Rejoice – Celebrate the new life!  Express it joyously any way you want—in song, in dance, in laughter and in sharing, embracing life in all its forms.

“I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse.  Choose life—if you and your offspring would live—by loving the Lord your God, heeding His commands, and holding fast to Him.  (Deuteronomy 30.19b-20 Jewish Study Bible). 

“For just as the Father raises the dead and gives life, so also does the Son give life to whomever he wishes.”  (John 5.21 NAB)

  “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh has nothing to offer.  The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life."  (John 6.63 NJB).