While Jesus was speaking, a woman from the crowd called out and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.” He replied, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it” (Lk 11:27-28).
The woman’s comment directed to Jesus in today’s Gospel account from Luke is certainly better than the charge leveled against him yesterday that he was healing by the power of Beelzebul, yet even this complement is still off the mark. What made Mary truly blessed was her fiat, her yes, to be willing to participate in the incarnation; conceiving, carrying to term, and giving birth to the Son of God. Mary then continued to listen for and be guided by the word of God and observed it through the rest of her life. Mary is the model disciple.
With the response of Jesus, he is seeking to realign the woman who called out, those present, and us today to a keep proper perspective regarding living under the kingdom or reign of God. God is to be sovereign, primary, first, and foremost. We need to be careful not to put any “thing” or any “one” before God. Even today we need to be careful not to make Mary into an idol. We honor Mary and the saints, we invoke their intercession for assistance as we do family and friends with us now, but we do not adore them, as we do with God. Mary points us to her Son, not to herself. She is like the moon that radiates the light of the sun. This is the point of discipleship.
As St. John Henry Cardinal Newman articulated so well in his prayer, “Radiating Christ”, the goal of the disciple of Jesus is to come to that point where others may look up at us and “see no longer me, but only Thee, O Lord!” How do we do that?
We place ourselves in a posture of humility, of prayer, of being willing to hear the word of God, observe it, and then act upon it and serve him through serving one another when we slow down, resist the urge to accomplish, and just get something done. Even prayer can just become a function instead of an encounter with the living God.
We can hear and experience God during prayer and meditation, in the events of our daily lives, as well as when we are attentive and willing to follow his subtle invitations. Sometimes this comes about when we encounter someone who is homeless. Instead of walking around or away, we share a few moments, a few dollars, some food, a pair of clean socks, or a bottle of water and to make the time to ask their name. Is this uncomfortable, yes, challenging, yes, but the Word of God calls us out beyond our comfort zones, and to be there for others.
A few years ago, I was still on a leave of absence from school and visiting our oldest daughter, Mia, in San Francisco. She was away the first two days that I arrived and on Saturday night I visited the cathedral for Mass. On the way back to her apartment, I walked downtown to see some of the sights and came across a panhandler named Oman. I gave him a dollar, shook his hand and we talked for a few minutes. As I was leaving, a man across the street called out and said, “What about me?” I waved and smiled and started up the street. Then I stopped, turned back, crossed the street, and gave Charlie a dollar, a handshake, and some of my time as well.
When we are willing to see Jesus in one another, love will replace our fears, prejudices, and pride, and we will have the courage to be present, to provide aid, and comfort to those he sends us to encounter. May we say yes, as did Mary, and so allow the Son of God to dwell within us, in the very depths of our souls, such that our thoughts, words, and actions will reflect Jesus to others.
When Jesus had driven out a demon, some of the crowd said: “By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he drives out demons”(Lk 11:15).
There are consistent acts present in the Gospels that show Jesus teaching, preaching, healing, and exorcising demons. Many will accept that Jesus preached and taught, some might even agree that he healed, but there are many who might dismiss that he exorcised demons. The person in today’s passage did not scoff at the fact that Jesus dispelled a demon but emphasized that he did so through the power of Satan. Jesus corrected him with simple logic by stating that, “if Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?”
This account from Luke expresses the reality of the culture and beliefs of their time. Were, and are, all illnesses caused by demons? Most likely no. But to dismiss demons altogether, we do so at our own peril. There is a spiritual reality as well as a physical reality. Demons are fallen angels. They fell because they chose to follow Satan, the archangel, Lucifer, instead of God. The term śāṭan is Hebrew and is found in both the Old and New Testaments. There are some English equivalents depending on how it is used. Most commonly śāṭan can be translated as accuser, slanderer, or adversary. Clearly, Satan is one who opposes the will of God and the demons are his minions who support him in that effort.
Satan and his demons roam the world seeking to sow division, to do us harm, as well as seeking the ruin of our souls. Their power lies in false truths, temptations of apparent goods, deception, diversion, and condemnation. Although it is important to acknowledge that they exist, we need not fear them; for no demon, nor Satan himself, can possess or harm us against our will. The weakest Christian can overpower any negative spiritual influence because we have access to the name of Jesus. In invoking the name of Jesus, the powers of evil have no sway. We can take strength in the instruction of James from his letter: “So submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
Condemnation is one of the devil’s most effective attacks. First, we are tempted, and then when we fall, the hammer of accusation and slander comes down to invoke shame. We are not to feel guilty regarding our misdeeds or sins. Instead, we are to have a healthy sense of guilt. The difference is that when we walk around moping in a cloud of feeling guilty and berating ourselves for how awful we are, we keep the focus on our self and sink deeper into our own morass of self-pity and in so doing, we make fertile ground for spiritual mayhem. When we embrace a sense of guilt though, we acknowledge what we have done or have failed to do, then with humility admit that sin, and come to a place of contrition, meaning that we are truly sorry. Healing continues when we seek confession, absolution, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
Satan, demons, and evil are presently active in this world, yet God did not create evil. All that God created he created good. One way of looking at evil is to see it not as some thing but as a deprivation, a twisting, and distortion of the good. God created angelic beings with a free will like us, and some turned away. Demons distort their original purpose as messengers of God. Be not paranoid, just aware. It is good to develop a spiritual discipline of discerning spiritual influences, opening ourselves to the guidance of our guardian angels as we resist the temptings of fallen angels. We can do this best when we build an intimate relationship with Jesus, knowing that we are God’s children and under his care and protection.
Resist any thought that says we are not worthy of being in a relationship with God, that our sin is too great, or that it is too late to repent. God loves us more than we can ever mess up, more than we can ever imagine, and he does not define us by our worst choices. Be confident, strong, stout-hearted, and be not afraid. Whenever you feel threatened, anxious, tempted, self-critical beyond a healthy sense of guilt, or fearful, just speak the name of Jesus aloud, he is our great deliverer, our light in the darkness, and will be present whenever we call.
One of the most powerful weapons against evil is music, a reflection for another time. But for now here is a quote from the chorus of “Trust in Jesus”, track 5, from Third Day’s album, Move. I am sure that you can pull it up on YouTube or any other music app. A good song to carry with you throughout the day!
Trust in Jesus
My great Deliverer
My strong Defender
The Son of God
I trust in Jesus
My Lord forever
The Holy One, the Holy One
Painting of St Faustina’s vision of the Divine Mercy by Eugeniusz Kazimirowski
“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Lk 11:9).
We can be frustrated in prayer because when we do make the time to pray, we feel or think that nothing is happening or has happened. We may pray for a specific petition for our self, or for a particular intention for another and felt, or thought, that there was not an answer from God. One may pray a sincere, seemingly selfless prayer for a loved one, a child, a spouse, a friend, to be healed and the person still dies. They may be deeply hurt because they did what Jesus said; they asked, they pleaded and begged, but felt they did not receive the healing; that which they sought for, was not given and, instead what they found was nothing but pain and heartache from the loss; they knocked until their knuckles were raw and experienced no one on the other side.
Our attitude and orientation to prayer matters. When we sincerely turn our hearts and minds to God in prayer, something happens between us and God, though it may be beyond our cognitive grasp to understand or our sensory awareness to experience. There may indeed be emotional highs and consolations experienced in prayer, but if seeking those is the primary motivation for prayer we will find ourselves more frustrated than not. There may also be lows in prayer, dryness, even desolations, and even feeling God’s absence are also a reality. Emotions are fleeting and not a good barometer when measuring the effectiveness of prayer.
Another big misconception is that we pray to God as if he were a gumball machine. It may seem a silly analogy but how many of us really do pray and only pray that way, and when we do not receive the specific thing we asked for, at the time specified, when we wanted and as we wanted, we brood and think God doesn’t care or does not, in fact, even exist. We may even slip into the barter posture. God if you grant me this, I will do that. If we are only open to receive what we want on our terms, again we are setting ourselves up for frustration.
The very desire to pray is the beginning of our awareness of God’s invitation, for God is the one who reaches out to us first. The answer to what or who we ask, seek, and knock is found at the end of the Gospel reading for today: “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (Lk 11:13)?
God knows what is best for us, he sees our potential, he wants us to experience joy and be fulfilled. How can we best live our lives in this world to attain that reality? We do so by receiving the Holy Spirit. Who is the Holy Spirit? The infinite, communal love expressed between God the Father and God the Son. Our goal in prayer is to enter into God’s reality, the infinite communion of Love.
Through building a relationship with God, which we are able to through our participation and conformation to the life of Jesus, we come to see the truth of empty promises, apparent goods, substitutes to fill our emptiness and faulty defense mechanisms that we have been utilizing as guideposts to merely survive and get through life.
When we stay consistent in an authentic life of prayer, we will change, we will begin to bear the fruits of the Holy Spirit which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control (cf. Galatians 5:22-23)?
Why may God not appear to answer a prayer for our healing or for a loved one with a chronic condition or one who is dying? I do not know. But we need to resist running from the pain of loss and be willing to trust that God has not abandoned us but is with us. The tears that arise from our suffering can then become a healing salve, a doorway into the open arms and embrace of Jesus who awaits us in the depth of our grief and pain. Even our loved ones who have died have not come to an end but have experienced a new beginning with our loving God and Father. JoAnn often would say in her last few weeks that she was just changing her address.
Ultimately, what we ask, what we seek, and what we knock for when we pray is to be loved, to belong, to be a part of someone greater than ourselves. We have been created as a living, craving hunger, and desire to be one with God and each other. This is true for the atheist and the mystic alike. We have been created to be loved and to love.
The Holy Spirit is the gift of prayer that is open to us all. He is the love shared between the Father and the Son, that we too can experience. This is why he is the answer to our prayer, though sometimes to be aware of his presence takes perseverance. It may not be that God is not answering, but that we are not patient enough to receive the answer. Prayer is about building a relationship and like any other relationship before we can grow into it, we may be needing more time to heal or to build trust, and we must spend time together. Most importantly we need to learn to communicate and that means learning God’s profound language of silence.
Photo: Prayer brings us closer to God and each other.
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him,”Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples” (Lk 11:1).
Jesus’ response to the disciple’s question is what we typically call the Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father. The longer and more common version is paralleled in Matthew 6:9-13. The Lord’s Prayer provides for us at least two basic ways to pray this prayer: as a rote prayer and as a model of prayer.
Rote prayers are those prayers that we memorize word for word. The value in rote prayer is that when we have memorized them, it gives us a good starting point. How many times do we sit down to pray and not even know where to begin? Starting with the Our Father shows us a way to lift our hearts and mind to God in prayer. Also, during times of stress, anxiety, or trial, having rote prayers at the ready, when we are not able to focus our mind, gives us a natural rhythm that we can access and slow ourselves down.
The more we can then be mindful of the words we are saying, adding slow and deep breathes, matched with their familiarity, will assist us in bringing a calm and collected manner which we have experienced in the past during less anxious times. It is a calm alternative to feeding a mental frenzy that seeks to undo us.
Rote prayers are also beneficial when we pray with others. When we gather for worship, fellowship, or with two or more, praying the Lord’s Prayer is a wonderful place to begin. It is pretty amazing if we stop to think that we can pray together no matter the age gap with one voice the same prayer that Jesus and the Apostles prayed, all the saints as well as all Christians throughout the ages up until this day.
The Lord’s Prayer with its roots in Sacred Scripture, can also be a key to open the door to a deeper communion with God. As a model of prayer, we pray the prayer slowly, then stop at a word or phrase and speak freely. Here are a few examples. “Our Father, thank you for this moment that we have to spend together.” From there we can enter into a conversation with God, as we would with our parent, sharing the joys as well as the struggles we are going through. This could take two or twenty minutes or more and we have only recited two words!
“Hallowed be thy name. God, you alone are holy, majestic, so beyond my understanding. How can you be so distant from me, yet you know me better than I know myself?” Again, from there we just enter into a dialogue. We can then, with the first or second phrase go into prayers of petition, bringing our needs before our loving Father. We can offer prayers of intercession, praying for the needs of others with the Holy One who is Love. We can also continue our conversation or just quietly pause and rest silently in the loving presence of God. We can continue to take each part of the prayer, especially spending some time with forgiveness which we do not do very well. There are infinite possibilities to explore.
I invite you to pray the Our Father today as if for the first time, slowly embracing each word. As you do so you can also allow memories to emerge from times praying this prayer with others. I have fond memories of my grandfather leading us in the Our Father before Sunday meals, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, or Easter dinners. When I pray the Our Father, I sometimes remember his voice, his laugh, how he called me “Sergie”.
As we become impatient with this pandemic or while in the midst of sorrow or suffering, we can reach out and pray the Our Father imagining ourselves sitting next to Jesus and the Apostles when they first asked them to teach this prayer. We can experience comfort in realizing that we are not alone. We can call someone living in another state, or country, pray with them or imagine we are with them, or even imagine being with those who have left this physical plane of existence, like my grandfather and JoAnn, who are now where we too will one day be. Another very good exercise is to pray the Our Father by offering an intention for someone we seek to forgive or seek forgiveness from. We can pray for reconciliation and healing.
I invite you to create a quiet place for yourself with a picture, a cross or crucifix, a candle, rosary beads in hand, pictures of those you would like to be closer to, whatever sacramental object helps you to turn your heart and mind to God in prayer, then take some deep, slow breaths, and say, “Our Father,” and let God happen!
Photo: My maternal grandfather, Bernard Morcus, who is just about to lead us in the Our Father before a Thanksgiving meal.
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her” (Lk 10:41-42).
My wife, JoAnn, and I have had more than a few spirited discussions on this Gospel passage each time that it arose because at first reading it appears that Jesus does not show any empathy or regard for Martha’s gift of hospitality nor for all the work she has done. All the men are sitting around listening to Jesus with Mary doing the same, and who is left to do all the work? Martha.
It is not only deacon’s wives who carry extra weight and burdens in support on the home front to allow their husbands the time to serve, (While JoAnn was still alive, the time it took me to write these daily posts was less time I could spend with JoAnn or less time to devote to the needs of our home) but many wives who are full-time homemakers, run in-home businesses or carry a job outside the home, as well as caring for the children, overseeing the bills, the day to day grind, find themselves at times, rightly so, underappreciated, undervalued, and not respected for all they do.
To all husbands reading this, WE definitely can do a better job of being present, more patient, respectful, and attentive to our wives and be more of an equal partner in our journey. All of us, female or male, could also be better served if we follow this pattern of attention and priority: God is to be first, then our vocation to marriage and family is second, then work, then our vocation.
With all the above as a prelude, I do not believe that Jesus was disregarding Martha. Especially in the Gospel of Luke, there are many instances in which Jesus empowers women so far beyond the cultural reality of the time period. We read this account from our twenty-first-century mindset. Contextually, the men sitting at the teacher’s feet in a different room, the women cooking, and most times eating separately were commonplace for those in the first century AD. The only person out of step was Mary.
Jesus said that Martha was worried about many things, Mary could have been one of those worries, and not so much that Mary wasn’t helping in the kitchen, but because she was breaking the social norm of sitting with the men. When Martha calls Jesus to redirect Mary, she probably expects him to support her plea. Yet, Jesus acknowledges that “Mary has chosen the better part” of sitting and having her primary focus be on him. I can visualize Martha being taken aback at first, but then slowly seeing the muscles in her face relax, as she chooses to let go of her anxiety, take her apron off, throws it off to the side, and sits down next to Mary.
There is clear biblical evidence that beyond the Twelve, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, were Jesus’ closest friends. When Jesus came four days after the death of Lazarus, it was Martha who initially came out to Jesus, not Mary, and in that exchange, it was Martha who made the claim that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God (cf Jn 11:27). She would not have had this insight, the same as Peter had, if she was still holding a grudge over the dinner.
Today’s reaction and push back from this account in Luke is not so much a reflection on Jesus but how poorly men have emulated Jesus in their interactions with women. No matter their ages, young and old and everywhere in between, women are human beings created in the image and likeness of God. No one has the right to abuse, demean, disparage, devalue, or exploit any woman. They are to be appreciated, heard, respected, understood, and valued.
All of us need to make a choice. We can either feed our anxiety or build our relationship with Jesus. We can recognize and admit that we are anxious about many things, we can resist choosing to take our anxiety out on one another, and instead come and sit at the feet of Jesus, breathe slowly, let the anxiety dissipate, seek his guidance, and begin again.
This question of the scholar of the law lines up with Peter’s question: “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him. As many as seven times” (Mt 18:21)? Both the scholar and Peter knew the letter of the law but sought justification in following a minimalist approach to putting the law into practice. Jesus invites us to a deeper appreciation of the purpose of the law of God and that is to uphold the dignity of each person. Laws can be certainly unjust, and a mere following of the law for the law’s sake can wreak havoc.
Jesus made this point when he was challenged for even thinking that he would heal someone on the Sabbath when he said: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mk 2:27). Time and again Jesus is calling us to have the courage to resist keeping others at arm’s length. He is calling us to risk assuming a stance of understanding, taking time to listen, and be present to, as well as accompany those we encounter.
The Samaritan did just that. The Jericho road was known for attacks just as the one suffered by the man who was left for dead. The priest and Levite may not have stopped to help because they might have thought the man was faking, or in the time they took to care for the man those that harmed him could have returned to abuse them. We don’t know the reason they continued on, because it was Jesus’ parable and he did not tell us. What we do know is that they did not stop to help, but the Samaritan did.
When Jesus asked who was the neighbor to the man robbed and beaten, the scholar said, “The one who treated him with mercy.” The scholar could not bring himself to say the Samaritan, as the Jews and Samaritans had a long-standing agreement of mutual loathing. Jesus himself sought hospitality from a Samaritan home, did not receive the invitation, and James and John were quick to implore God to send fire to destroy them and Jesus refused to entertain their condemnation.
Before we discuss or implore our lawmakers to enact policies to address such life issues as the unborn, people on death row, immigrants and refugees fleeing violence from Mexico and Central America, Syria and other violent-torn regions, those seeking hope and a better life, children who have made a life here and this is the only home they know, oil corporations laying pipelines that threaten clean water resources and disregarding indigenous people’s rights, opening up dialogue with the LGBT community who have felt like they have been treated like dirt, people of color who have been humiliated, profiled, and lost their lives, and too many forgotten in rural and urban America, we may want to read today’s Gospel account of the parable of the Good Samaritan again, slowly, and prayerfully (Lk 10:25-37).
Pope Francis said in a homily a few years ago, “Loving our neighbor means feeling compassion for the sufferings of our brothers and sisters, drawing close to them, touching their sores and sharing their stories, and thus manifesting concretely God’s tender love for them.” Many human beings who feel demeaned, dehumanized, lost, and afraid are our neighbors. They are wounded and in need.
Will we, like the priest or the Levite just walk on the other side of the road, indifferent or afraid; will we dig in our heels and embrace our fears and prejudices; or will we have the courage to show forgiveness, mercy, compassion, understanding, and accompany those in need that God has brought before us? The scholar said the neighbor was the one who showed mercy. Jesus’ response to him is the same to us: “Go and do likewise.”
Photo: “Angels Unawares” by Timothy P. Schmalz unveiled at the Vatican. Picture credit: Vincenzo Pinto/Pool Photo via AP
But Jesus told them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate” (Lk 10:2-9).
God is not about division, he is about unity. The very core of the Trinitarian reality represents this truth. As St Augustine taught: “The Father is God, the Son is God, the Spirit is God. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father. There is one and only one God.” Each person of the Trinity is distinct in their operation, the Father begets, the Son is begotten, and the Holy Spirit is the Love shared between the two, yet, while at the same time they are one, one because of their divine giving, receiving and sharing of all that they are.
The sacrament of Matrimony mirrors this divine love and union here on earth. The two that seek to become one do so in their willingness to sacrifice and give of themselves one to the other. The bride and groom thus are the ministers of the sacrament. The bishop, priest, or deacon is but a public witness. The key is that the union of the two is to be grounded in love. Our understanding of love has multiple meanings.
The Greeks had four words for love: eros, philios, storge and agape. We can look at each of these as a maturing of love. Eros, is that first step of attraction, the drawing of self out toward another. If love stays only at this level though, it dissipates and returns to the self and can become no longer love, but manipulation, exploitation, and at worse abusive and objectifying. Philios, can be seen as the next level, the beginning of friendship. This is where we get to know another as other, see the places where there is commonality, mutual pursuits, and compatibility. Yet, in both of these stages, there is still a heavy focus on self gratification, pleasure and self focus; what is in it for me?
Storge, offers a deeper bond on the level of familial love. This is a bond that runs deeper, where identity and commitment to one another is firmer. Here we can experience a looking out beyond our self to be there for another. There is mutual giving. Yet, the limitation is that being there for one another, can still be affected by external circumstances, this love is not yet unconditional.
Agape, is the highest form of love we can reach and experience in this life. This is unconditional love, in which we become capable of and open to will the good of the other as other as St. Thomas Aquinas defines. This is where we love without seeking love in return, we love without limit, this is the love that is to be sought in Matrimony, a mutual giving and receiving, sacrificing and accompanying the other together.
The Sacrament of Matrimony is a sacrament of service in that the union of the two in becoming one is to be a mirror for others of the Trinitarian love of sacrifice, self-giving to one another, and communion. Matrimony is considered a vocation, not an emotion because each one is supporting the other to be holy, to be saints, to empower and lead each other to accept the gift of Jesus who is our salvation. The husband and wife become one and are open in their union of love to receive a third which is the possibility of the new life of a child. Again, a mirroring of the reality that all of creation exists because of the outpouring of the love of the unity of the Trinity.
The two seeking to marry, are to seek willingly and continually to sacrifice, to give of themselves to each other, and model and teach their children and those in their realm of influence to do the same. In this way, the family is to be the domestic Church that is to be the foundation for a society of love. We as laity, religious, or clergy, single or married, with or without children, can reclaim this foundational principle that Jesus gives us today. When we are willing to allow the Holy Spirit to soften our hard hearts, to smooth our rough edges, we will be more open to loving one another as Jesus loves us, unconditionally and without limit.
Photo: Renewing our vows on our tenth anniversary!
“Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me” (Mt 18:4-5).
Children during the time of Jesus were seen if at all, to have little worth. They were vulnerable, had little if any status in society. They were under the radar, nothings, nobodies, and thus completely dependent on their parents for survival. Jesus invites a child to come to him, identifying himself with the child, as a response to the disciples’ question as to who would be considered the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.
Jesus taught his disciples and he teaches us today that we need to be completely dependent on God our Father, as a small child is totally dependent on his or her parents. What leads us to greatness in the Kingdom of heaven is our turning away from the temptation to curve in within ourselves, resisting the urge to feed our ego, and as St Thomas Aquinas taught, resisting the cultural lures and substitutes for God: power, pleasure, honor, and wealth. We are to reject the image that we are supermen and women that need no one as we strive for complete autonomy and self-sufficiency. We are to place our complete dependency and trust in God and rely on him for everything.
Participating in the reign of God is not one of lordship over another, but instead of assuming the humility to accompany and walk along with each other along our journey in this life. We see this in the reality of Jesus, who as the Son of God entered into our human condition. While remaining fully divine, he became human when through the power of the Holy Spirit was conceived in the womb of Mary, developed through his period of gestation, and was born into our world. As an infant and child, he was completely dependent on Mary and Joseph and God his Father.
As Jesus continued to grow as a young child, he experienced the fullness of the human condition. He laughed, he cried, he got sick, he was tempted, he felt pain, he experienced heartache and joy. Throughout his life, and especially during his public ministry, he met people where they were and as they were. He understood their suffering and weakness from his own experience of being human and so accompanied them and loved them by willing their good and pointing the way for them to rely wholeheartedly on his Father.
Jesus invites us to relate to God as Father, as Abba, in the best sense of that intimacy of dependence. As St Therese of Lisieux wrote, “Jesus has chosen to show me the only way which leads to the Divine Furnace of love; it is the way of childlike self-surrender, the way of a child who sleeps, afraid of nothing, in its father’s arms.” Acknowledging our dependence on God and others and that we are not self-sufficient will help us to recognize not only our interconnectedness but our interdependence so as to be humble enough to offer and ask for help when needed.
Our guardian angels, whose memorial we celebrate today, are at the ready awaiting our call. When we realize that we are not alone, and experience some supernatural support, we will be more aware of, be more present, and accompany others in their need. We can be a shoulder to lean on, an ear to hear, we can offer a smile, a hug, a voice that speaks for the voiceless, a soul open to praying with others, and the courage to stand up for the dignity of others.
St Mother Teresa embodied the discipleship Jesus calls us to when she picked up that first dying man in the street. She did not ask his religion, was not concerned if he was of a different race or nationality, was not afraid to risk illness or injury by attending to him. She knelt down and was present to him in his time of dire need. We are at our best when we follow Jesus and St Mother Teresa, the saints, and our guardian angels, by placing our dependency in God’s hands and accompanying others in doing little things with great love.
Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me (Lk 10:16).
On the surface, today’s Gospel may sound like a Debbie Downer of a message, but it is actually the road map, the passage that will lead us from the darkness of slavery steeped in our own sin to the light of truth and freedom found in dedicating our life to Christ. Jesus is continuing to prepare the 72 that are about to go out to proclaim his message of repentance. This echoes Mark’s recording of Jesus’ mission statement: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15).
Sin is any actively contemplated thought, word, or action that we knowingly know goes against the will of God and we freely choose to act on it anyway. This is why many of us prefer the darkness to the light because we do not have to see and name our sins. We hold on to apparent goods or substitutes that we believe will make us happy and fulfill us, otherwise we would not hold on to them. In actuality, they are empty promises. After experiencing the lack of satisfaction, once the emotion or passion of the moment or experience wanes, we either seek more to fill the void or hopefully, recognize the false lure.
If we choose to seek more, we continue along a slippery slope of ensnarement and addiction. But if we repent, allow the light and truth of Jesus into our darkness, trust that he truly wills our good, we can begin to see our sin, name it, let it go, be forgiven, be healed, and fulfilled by receiving the love of God and deepening of our relationship with him for whom we have been created.
As servants of the Lord, we are invited to repent, to realign ourselves in such a way that we are saying yes to building a relationship with God, recognizing that this is a daily, lifetime task of examining our conscience to continue to see and confess our sins. This process is not just for ourselves.
We are called to bring the light of truth to those we meet. This does not mean we are perfect. Through the awareness and confession of our sins, we are incrementally more open to receiving the love and light of Jesus within us, such that he can shine his light through us into another’s darkness and gently guide them to come out of the shadows.
We need to resist the temptation to go forth and wag thy finger of judgment. For then we are only a darker storm cloud approaching those we seek to provide healing. They will either draw deeper into their own shell or come out fighting seeking to dispel us from their midst. Jesus sends us to instead encounter one another with understanding, mercy, patience, understanding, and love. We also need to remember that in the beginning, our light needs to be soft, like the morning dawn, so as not to blind those we seek to offer an invitation.
May we embody the Canticle of Zechariah: “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” (Lk 1:76-79). Let us no longer be barriers preventing access to Jesus and instead help to prepare the way for others to encounter him.
Jesus, this day and each day going forward, please dwell within us. Help us to be open to those you place on our path that we may be present to them with your warmth, welcome, and joy. May we respect each person we encounter, accept, be present and accompany them, so that they may know that they are not alone, that they, in fact, do exist, that they matter, that they are loved as you love us. May we be like the first light of the dawn to help awaken those in the darkness of their pain, suffering, and sin, so to be a lamp unto their feet and a light unto their path, that leads to an encounter and embrace with you; our Truth, our Way, and our Life. Amen.
Jesus appointed seventy-two other disciples and said to them, “Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals” (Lk 10:3-4).
The opening of today’s Gospel continues the same theme of the past few days and that is the call of a radical dependence on God. Jesus sent his disciples out with no money, no credit cards, no sack, no luggage, no sandals, no Crocs. They were to rely solely on divine providence. They were taught by Jesus to believe and trust in the Father, and now they would put both to the test.
How well could we fare today? Do we even leave the house without our cell phones?
Jesus meets us and accepts as we are and where we are but calls us to go deeper, to expand beyond our present understanding and practices. We may say to ourselves that we are not capable of being a great saint but that would miss the point of who a saint is. A saint is not one who was great but one who chose to release that which kept him or her from receiving more of God in their life. They accepted and put into practice what God invited them to do.
We are lured by distractions, diversions, demands, and many material enticements. It is good to assess from time to time how much of what we have, what we think, and how we spend our time, is getting in the way of trusting in God and allowing him to expand us so as to receive more of him in our lives.
A periodic extended time of letting go is a wonderful practice. About two to three weeks before JoAnn died, we stopped watching TV because it was too uncomfortable for her. She needed quiet and stillness as much as possible. Even two years later, the only TV I watch is an NCIS episode on DVD while I eat supper, a rerun of an old show now and then or a few minutes of news once in a while. NCIS was JoAnn and my favorite show, so it is like having supper with her each night.
During the school year, I do not have that much free time anyway. The anchor points of my personal time are devoted to praying, meditating, and writing. I also enjoy walking but have only been able to return to about a twenty minute walk each evening the past few nights since I became sick in January. It is not only good but important to carve out some time in our day to be still and to spend time in the wondrous, beauty of God’s creation. As St. Mother Teresa taught, “God speaks in the silence of the heart.”
Photo: JoAnn and I spending some time together in the open air of the NW corner of CT before our move to Florida in the summer of 1997.