Redwood Journal is a collection of writings authored by Harry Martin, including book and article publications and blog postings collected from earlier websites. It is, in a very real sense, a journal of the author reflecting his life and work, much among the Coast Redwood country of Northern California. But it is, even more, a journal of his tasks as a servant of the Cross, a douloscross. It is a journal of one who follows He who died upon the Cross, made red by His blood and arose from the tomb through His holy love.
Over the years these tasks have included firefighting, restaurant and camp cook, disaster medical planner, Protestant pastor, Permanent Deacon in the Roman Catholic Church, fire services chaplain, mental health advocate, Beeswax candle maker, writer and husband and father. All of these tasks, privileged assignments, for this simple servant of Christ have been sought to be done gloria Dei, for the glory of God.
Bible Readings for Mass: I: Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b, 64:2-7; Responsorial: Psalm 80; II: I Corinthians 1:3-9; Gospel: Mark 13:33-37
Happy New Year! Today we begin a new year in the Church. And after the many challenges and trials of the year past we begin this new year of our faith with hope and the call of God in our hearts. Of course only God knows what lies ahead. Surely there will be trials and problems but they will bring to us more opportunities of grace as we seek and prepare to draw ever closer to the coming King of Kings, Jesus our Lord.
Today is the dawn of a new day, a new year and a year closer to the return of our Savior and King in the fullness of His holy grace. It is indeed a time of dawning hope, in God.
To enter more fully into this holy time of joy let us share, in our hearts, the opening words of the Collect, the opening prayer for the Mass of this day: “Grant your faithful, we pray almighty God the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming.”
As we pray and allow these holy words to seep into our perhaps dry and weary souls let us consider for a moment an image of hope.
The essence of Advent is that of relentless hope, a hope that causes us to watch, to wait, to seek to know Jesus who is coming.
Think of Mary, our Blessed Mother, upon the fullness of her assumption as she saw her Son waiting to welcome His mother home.
Think of St. John of the Cross as he finished his earthly journey and entered into his heavenly home. Consider him bringing to Jesus the love from his heart and life with the righteous deeds graced through him by God after a long dark night of the soul.
Remember all those who sought, perhaps like us imperfectly, to love and serve God and neighbor with hearts, maybe strong and holy or broken but seeking the hope of their merciful home in the heart of God.
Our Bible readings this holy day affirm this longing of God for us to be seeking and ready for His coming, to take us home, with an hope the world and enemy of our souls cannot destroy.
The prophet Isaiah, in our first reading, speaks of the struggles and times of wandering many (most) souls encounter in their journey this side of eternity. The Holy Spirit, speaking through Isaiah, in loving, brutal honesty speaks of our lives, our SELF-righteousness, as filthy rags before God. The sad recognition is also made of our failure to seek, to hold fast to God’s embrace. Yet through these tragic realities of sin there is HOPE! The Holy Spirit reminds us that we are still clay in the hands of the Potter…we are ALL the work of His hands. And this work of God promise graces and blessings, with His coming that eye has never seen or ear never heard. Words that St. Paul would, centuries later, share with the faithful (I Corinthians 2:9).
And it is in our second reading St. Paul also assures us that God’s peace and grace are promised to those who allow their souls to hear God’s call to that joyful relationship, that fellowship with His Son, Jesus the Christ.
But it is in the Gospel an essential key to an Holy Spirit filled and blessed Advent is found. “Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Be watchful! Be alert!” We begin a new year this Sunday. But we still have many challenges to face. The trials of the Covid 19 pandemic will be with us for some time to come. This includes the restriction, for many, of the sacramental facets of our treasured faith. God allows these restrictions not to deny but to help us grow in holy love and solidarity with those unable to worship in full sacramental freedom and to share a very holy love that calls us to seek the health and welfare of our neighbor. God would also use this time to enlarge our hearts to His Presence and promises that are never constrained by circumstance or human conditions. These temporal restraints also lead us to seek and prepare and to receive the very Real Presence in the Eucharist of our Savior. Also the political struggles of our nation are challenges that faith and mercy, compassion and love will be needed to resolve. The struggles of economic uncertainty will be with us as well. But these struggles, as well those of the inner heart or family are but opportunities to seek and discover Jesus in ways we may have never imagined. The trials, the sorrows, the worries they may be very real. For awhile. But even more real, for all eternity is our King who is coming. And each struggle, each chapter of our lives is meant to be an opportunity to seek, watch and run into His arms.
In light of the fact that concerns have been expressed about my inclusion of comments related to political issues I feel it appropriate to reply. First thank you to each of you for your insights and convictions. They are deeply valued and important. It is not my intent to devalue or offend anyone. It is always my intent that we all are challenged to pray and consider what is shared…and GROW in the faith and our walk with Christ. As those of you who have shared in the Bible studies at St. John’s and St. Peter’s know dealing with issues, however controversial, with courteous, sincere and prayerful discussion in the light of Scripture and the Catechesis of our Church is something I believe to be essential. My reflections hold those same convictions. As for concerns that what I share my offend some and result in less ‘followers’ that is a dynamic I have been well aware of from the earliest days of my ministry. But it has not and cannot be the basis of my sharing. I freely recognize what I share is but simple insights and that I am no theologian or Bible scholar. I recognize and respect the higher offices of the priests and bishops, the whole people of God. I also recognize their humanity that is shared with us all. To simplify, I am only a very simple servant of our Lord Jesus Christ. I seek to share that which I believe He asks me to share. That I share imperfectly and fail to share all He would ask I also, sadly recognize and ask His and your forgiveness. I seek only to be the simple faithful servant I am. Now about including political issues: As a teacher I strongly believe we must face the issues in our world in the full light of Truth, Who is Jesus Christ. That means we need to recognize issues such as the pandemic, the fires and political issues. In my reflections leading up to the election I sought to do so but especially to foster a mature discernment of the broad picture of what is occurring. What I said in the reflection on Sunday was perhaps political but it was also my honest observation of what I see as a man who is sadly mentally unwell. I meant no disrespect to anyone. I shared only from my experiences of working with and for those who struggle with mental health problems. That this sad dynamic is having an immense impact on the Constitutional well being of our country I would think is seen by most. I see it as a preeminent reality as we are called to celebrate and honor Christ our King. For everyone and especially for those troubled by those few words please read and reflect on the entire message I shared. No it wasn’t about abortion, politics or the pandemic. Those are but relevant points leading to what I believe is so urgent and needed. Christ is our King. And we need to serve Him with all our hearts as He enables and guides each of us through these intense trials. But about abortion and the political battles in our country and world. First I would hope all would know I am opposed, passionately, to abortion. I see the sacredness of life of the unborn to be an indisputable truth. However I believe in what some may call: “Consistent Whole Life”. I see each human soul, whether unborn, devoutly faithful to God and Church, poor ,homeless person , extraordinarily wealthy, Republican or Democrat, in prison or even on death row, an immigrant, legal or illegal, each man, woman, girl or boy to be as sacred as the unborn child. I believe also that the majority of those who procure or support or even perform abortions do so without the full truth, compassion and support they need to realize there is a better way. So as a result I cannot agree that abortion is the preeminent matter. (Please understand the words of the USCCB were NOT ex cathedra and neither is their agreement among the Bishops on this). This leads me to a long held conviction of the battle for the unborn. I feel it has become far too political. It is a matter of moral values, faith values, values of the heart. Values that politics and politicians are not known to excel in. It saddens me that other matters of respect life are of lesser importance to so many pro-life causes. Euthanasia is recognized as wrong but rarely addressed with matching concern. Health care, providing care for the sacred life of these already BORN is often seen by some pro-life folks as a socialist cause. Response to refugees and immigrants that sees no value to those struggling to escape oppression or of families with their children worthy only to be caged and sent away seems, to me cruel and brutal.
I know this may strike many as naive and absurd but I believe that prayerfully we CAN listen, dialogue and work together on common values of LIFE. For traditional pro-life voters to listen, learn and realize WITH those who may embrace pro-abortion, pro-choice stances that common ground can be discovered. And from that common ground bridges built to overcome these evils. In other words I do not have much faith in the political approaches in dealing with these matters. I do have faith that Christ our King will, through His Holy Spirit lead all who are willing to grow in their realization of the sacredness of all life, unborn or aged, holy and pious or struggling and broken.
This discussion is much like those shared in our Bible studies. Hopefully we may soon return to those blessings. But the sharing of our hearts and our seeking of our King for grace and guidance will only grow, regardless of the topic or times.
God be with you all as we seek to protect and cherish all life as a sacred gift.
Mass Readings: I: Ezekiel 34:11-12,15-17; Responsorial: Psalm 23; II: I Corinthians 15:20,26, 28: Gospel: Matthew 25: 31-46
This final Sunday of the Church year we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. This year we also see this holy feast leading us to the celebration of Thanksgiving Day.
And, of course it culminates this profound year of our Lord, 2020. In a year of extraordinary stress and strife we have all shared the struggles of the Covid 19 pandemic and an economy in upheaval from a very sick world. Also a presidential election unlike no other in political rancor that although over is still being fought in a troubled mind unable to accept defeat. We also have faced another intense rounds of wildfires and great weather challenges stemming from our common home, the earth, struggling to respond to the effects of climate change. It is a year in which it has been a battle to resist the fears and worries of all these very real trials.
But this celebration of our Lord of Lords reminds us that for every day of worldly trials, for all of eternity JESUS WAS, IS, AND EVER WILL THE KING of KINGS.
Christ does not smile upon these very real sorrows. He does not send them. They are the tragic results of humanity failing to allow God to be…God. They are the consequences of people thinking and believing they are in charge or in control, that the efforts humans alone are the source of health, wealth and prosperity. These sorrows we encounter as humanity are fruits of egos intent on taking and holding all that in which they assume they are to wear the selfish odious robes of entitlement. But our King has another, better way.
First let us briefly look ahead to the Feast of Thanksgiving. While this is a national holiday it is deeply rooted in the Judeo-Christian faiths of our country. in The Old Testament Nehemiah, after a prolonged struggle of the Jews seeking to rebuild Jerusalem were brought together to celebrate… Thanksgiving (Nehemiah 10). In their time of trials and uncertainty they were called to remember God had never left the throne. Yes their conflicts were very real. But the Truth of God working in and through them, the Truth of the King of Kings was rediscovered as they simply were thankful. As we prepare for Thanksgiving this year may we, as we get the turkey, ham, tofu or whatever, gather all the many blessings in our heart for which we are to be thankful. And as we do may we renew our own realization that Jesus is the King of Kings.
As we celebrate, perhaps not in the numbers and ways of other years, remember that our Lord wants to come to our homes and hearts this week and always.
But how are we to better realize, prepare, LIVE in the Truth Jesus is the King of Kings?
The Bible readings for this holy Mass provide us an answer of great power. Actually the readings for the Masses of the past weeks help us better understand as well. We have shared parables from Matthew’s sharing message of Jesus as He spoke of His Second Coming (Matthew 22-25). Jesus uses examples of the virgins and their lamps, the servants and the master accounting for the talents they are given. Our Lord also contrasts these lessons with His words for the scribes and Pharisees in which they are rebuked for their empty traditions, pious practices, their proud knowledge of the rubrics of their faith and their profound spiritual self-assurance. Jesus leads us now to the lesson of the judgement of the goats and sheep.
While this may seem a harsh example of the treatment of animals it was a reality and context in which the people of Jesus’s day quickly could understand. A goat could not pretend to be a sheep nor a sheep belong with the goat herd. It isn’t about the animals. The message is about the actions Jesus is looking for in the hearts and lives of His faith-filled followers.
Our Lord Jesus is looking for His servants to be..serving. The essential qualities, the hallmarks of a true servant of Christ is a servant alive in the Corporal Works of Mercy. The King of Kings expects His servants to be servants of mercy-filled love.
Jesus Reigns! Even in a year as difficult as this year that is passing, JESUS REIGNS! The power and truth of the reign of Jesus in our lives is realized and discovered in the ACTS shared above. Now some would say: I helped with St. Vincent De Paul, until the pandemic. I visited the nursing home, attended funerals..and so many other real and merciful acts should be recognized as currently not allowed. And our King knows and understands all this. Jesus knows there are also retired nurses and doctors, there are grandparents, teachers and so many others who have served with their whole hearts and are now unable to respond, as once was done. Jesus knows and understands. And He allows these times for vital reasons. Our King seeks to teach and prepare us for even greater and deeper ways of tending the sick, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked.
The sickness of souls, the hunger of the impoverished soul, the humble nakedness of those shamed by others (or themselves) is a pandemic far great than a physical virus. And it is something to which our King calls us all to respond. We are not called to be judges but servants who cleanse and bind wounds. We are not called to condemn the starving who eat whatever may be found in their effort to survive but to bring the nourishment of hope and peace and of souls and body, as God enables. We are not to turn away in disgust from those who may be naked in their sin but to cloth them with fabrics of mercy and love. These corporal and spiritual acts of mercy are needed now more than ever. They are done when and where the physical acts can be done. They are done in prayer and understanding of those so impoverished. Perhaps it is with a neighbor or family member wandering on the dark streets of the soul longing for help to find their way home, to the Savior, King and to family. These acts are done with the balm of forgiveness, wrappings of hope, and nourishing words of encouragement. We would recognize that the sick, wounded, starving may not always respond as we think they should. It will take time, prayer, patience, mercy. Just as on our own journey.
This Feast of the King of Kings, this Feast of Thanksgiving may we feast as servants that cause our Holy King to know and celebrate with us in feasts of mercy, healing and His loving hope. For Jesus is Lord! Alelluia!
Bible Readings: I. Proverbs 31:10-31; Responsorial: Psalm 128; II: I Thessalonians 5:1-6; Gospel: Matthew 25:1–30
The Church year is drawing to a close with these most Unordinary of times. We are two weeks away from a new year of our faith with the start of Advent. The Holy Spirit seeks to lift weary hearts and minds from the challenges of the year and to focus upon our Hope, our Savior, our coming King of Kings. So today our readings share an urgent question: What are we doing with all our Lord and Savior has given us. The Gospel shares the familiar parable of the Talents. While it is important to take stock of those talents God has given it is even more essential to look to The King. For it is Jesus who is Lord. Not our talents, not the trials and struggles of life, not our fears or selfish ambitions. Not our self.
We know not what lies ahead in our lives. We don’t know what is ahead around the bends of life. What we can know, as we trust God and His Word, is that Christ, the King of Kings is coming. And we can know, heeding the message from the Gospel today, is that we are called to serve our Lord with all with which we are so graced. Many and abundant are the talents, the graces, the gifts which we have. And it is clear when Christ comes He expects us the be faithful and fruitful with our lives. But what, precisely, is it the Jesus expects to be enriched and growing in us upon His return? To explore the question and answers let’s explore the coming of our King.
For the faithful Christian the foremost understanding of the coming of Christ is the eschatological or second coming of Jesus. While this Truth is very clear and certain it is also shrouded in mystery. We must be very cautious of those who would seek to attach timeframes, flowcharts, or strict outlines of the how and when our Lord returns. God alone knows. And for very good reason. God wants us ready for His return. And as Jesus said in the Gospel “When the son of Man comes will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). This facet of the coming King illustrates a talent of immense importance that Jesus will want in us upon His coming. Faith, alive and growing in our hearts, our words, our actions. When Jesus comes in all His glory how, where will He find us? Will He greet us, perhaps in our trials, but trusting and reaching out to Him? Or will our faith be a tangle of beliefs in the Gospel (bits and pieces). In politics? In our understanding more than our faith? Or our fears? Jesus longs, more than we know, for His servants to be people of faith in God. He longs for that faith to be strong amidst the trials, disappointments, hopes and dreams we encounter on the trail which He calls us to share with Him. When Jesus comes will we be carrying hearts filled with peace and joy for His forgiveness or dark heavy burdens of guilt in which we have hidden our faith? But it is not just at the return of our Lord that we will be called to share an accounting of our life, of the graces He has given.
Another (and inevitable, should Christ tarry) place we will meet the King of Kings is when we cross the threshold into eternity. Or, more clearly, when our body dies. It is no accident as Jesus sought to prepare His followers for His passion that He gathered them for that holy meal and washed their feet. It is normal that we place this sacred event on Holy Thursday of Holy Week. But it is just as relevant in this time of expectation for the King of Kings. Jesus commanded as He was serving, so must we. What will our Lord be seeking in us when we stand before Him? He will be seeking Faith resulting in His love while we lived in service of God and others. Today, more than ever, the church has become fraught with attitudes of “them vs. us”. The judgement of those deemed unworthy to come to the table of God is, for some, proudly fierce. We love, not our neighbor, but those who mirror our selves in worship, understanding, in life. If, God forbid, someone dares to not meet our standards we quickly deem them unworthy of the graces of God. The same graces given so freely and abundant to each of us.
God brings us to meet, on the trails of life, those we need. Jesus spoke of, before His Passion about serving Him before His return, our serving the imprisoned, sick, naked, those without hope. He said when we serve them we are serving Him. As we cross into eternity we will meet our Lord. And we will be amazed, perhaps troubled, when He explains that dirty, homeless woman with mental illness we called the cops on, that was Jesus. Perhaps all she wanted was a simple smile of caring, an encouraging word. Christ may show us that young man encountered, with reluctance, in the store, a man of apparent “disordered orientation” was also a young man seeking to serve and follow God with the graces “given according to his abilities.” As we encounter Christ the King in our life may we remember we are encountering Him, often in disguise. May we, with the graces of hope and mercy respond to Him. And lift others, and ourselves to grow in His grace.
What are the treasures of our life today? They tell us what talents we will bring to God as we meet our eternal King. Is there faith? Hope? Love? Or are our talents buried in dark holes of fear and doubt, or worry? Our world, this year has been drenched in much suffering and strife. We are graced and called to serve our King in the midst of these trials. As we reflect upon this parable of the talents may we realize ever more fervently we are servants of the King and are called to share His graces of faith, hope peace and love that surpass any trial or conflict.
Bible Readings for Mass: I. Wisdom 6:12-16; Responsorial: Psalm 63; II: I Thessalonians 4:13-18; Gospel: Matthew 25:1-13
Today in our Gospel reading we have the parable of the ten virgins with their lamps awaiting the bridegroom. The Holy Spirit wants to help us prepare for the soon to arrive season of Advent. Even more important the Holy Spirit wants to help us to prepare for the Return of Jesus the Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Today we are reminded of the urgent necessity of remembering and being keepers of the Light as we seek to be ready…for God and the heavenly kingdom. This Light of Christ is all the more urgently needed as this incredible year marches to a close.
This Saturday morning it has been announced we have a new president. Although the normal peaceful, respectful and honorable transition of leadership will likely not occur we can be grateful that our country has the means to grow through to the next chapter. We have passed through a dark election cycle of great passion and strife. May the light and peace of God overcome the darkness.
We continue to battle a pandemic that is seeing a tragic surge in new cases and deaths. Medical resources and caregivers are overwhelmed. Grief and fear are as pervasive in this struggle. May the wisdom and light of the great Physician conquer with His healing hand.
The economy, held captive by the pandemic battles to adapt and survive. May the Giver of all blessings bring the light of His Hope and discernment to help us share in re-building a just and faithful economy.
The environment suffering deep perils of climate change has seen hurricanes of fierce and repeated focus on lands and people for months. Fire storms have sought to replace storms of needed rain and cooling in every corner of the world. The family of nations needs to urgently awaken and light lamps to direct the hard work of faith-filled care of our common home.
Truly, great is the darkness of the times in which we live. And great can be the temptation to focus and dwell in the darkness. A darkness that will only increase fear, doubt and divisive hate. It is no coincidence that sins of racism, prejudice and unGodly intolerance have flourished in many souls and places. Again great is the temptation to dwell upon the dark. But we are called to be keepers of the Light.
The Parable of the Ten Virgins, like all Scriptures, has an abundance of lessons and truths to help us grow in faith. But in this year of dense difficulties and stormy uncertainty let us focus on the lights given to virgins to keep and maintain.
First we can find essential assurance and hope in the times described. The bridegroom was, seemingly, delayed. It was very late. And dark. We are reminded of a basic fact of which we easily overlook. Light is only needed…in the dark times! A majestic lighthouse on a clear sunny day is a photo-worthy monument. But the true purpose, power and majesty is only seen and experienced, in the times of storm and darkness. So it is for each of us. Jesus has given us the Light of His Word, His Presence to show us that He is, in all truth, the Shepherd who lightens our path. And no matter the darkness His Light will not be quenched.
The promise of Jesus of unquenchable Light in the first chapter of the Gospel of St. John is of joyful, powerful assurance. Our Lord goes on to instruct that as His lights in the world He will give us the light, the fuel, the power to keep burning for Him. This holy light, this kindly light (to borrow St. John Cardinal Newman’s phrase) is eternal, unquenchable, in God.
While the Light of God is steadfast and greater than any darkness it is subject to one difficulty. Those to whom God has entrusted this light are free to neglect the care of that light. We have a responsibility of faith and love to keep, maintain our lamps for God.
As a maker of beeswax candles I learned, early on, the quality and the cleanliness of the beeswax was very important. Fresh, clean beeswax would make candles of beautiful scent and brightness. If an old or dirty wax was used the candles would smell and burn with a weak and faltering light. So it is in our souls. If we neglect to keep the promised oil of the Holy Spirit filling us we may flicker out. If we choose a cheap substitute fuel of sensational or worldly promises drilled from the soils of politics or material wealth we will find our light failing. We will experience how great the darkness can be. Another significant point to remember comes from the parable. While we are called to share the Light of Christ we must take careful heed of the fullness of the Holy Spirit, the holy oil that fuels our lives. St. Paul spoke of the peril of quenching the Holy Spirit. We must in, faithful mercy, discern that at times events, places, people can rob us of the freedom and fullness of the Spirit of Christ. False spirits of judgement, spiritual pride, ego and worldly care can quench and drain us of the fullness of God for which we are created and being redeemed.
But always and forever as we seek Christ, to abide and walk in the Spirit of God, we are assured of His light. We will grow to discover that in the simple holy Light given us by God is a vast and powerful array of color, life, hope, and power for all and for all eternity. Let us each, together, in these extraordinary days both keep, care and share the Light who is Christ.
Bible Readings for Mass: I: Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14; Responsorial: Psalm 24; II: I John 3:1-3; Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12a
Once again, as we open our hearts to God’s Word we see a great gift of providence, of God’s graces for the times in which we live. Today is All Saints Day. Monday, of course, is All Souls Day. But in this year of many challenges these Holy Days come on the eve of what is perhaps the most intense and potentially divisive of elections in our country. It is a great grace of God that we have these days to remind us that we are foremost and eternally called and seen by God to be members of Christ’s Kingdom. Our earthly journey has brought us to be a part of this land, this country. The strife, the politics, the politicians are but passing moments. God does not care if we are Republican, Democrat or whatever but growing in His graces. The saints, the souls of God who share our journey all lived and often suffered in times and places of great worldly drama. But they realized they belong, they, and we are called to belong to God.
The ancient church, Catholic, Orthodox has and shares an exquisite and rich history of hagiography, the study of saints. Sadly many of the newer parts of the Christian faith have dismissed this vital grace as being archaic or irrelevant. The word hagiography is rooted in the Greek word, “hagios” which, in the New Testament meant “holy”. The Latin counterpart is the more familiar word “sanctus”. Again the passion of holiness is imbued deeply in the meaning but it grew to embrace the gift of sanctity, or sanctified. This was especially recognized by the New Testament authors as they sought to proclaim the Holy Spirit empowered truth of Christians being set apart by and for God…of BEING and BECOMING saints. Over time images of explicit expressions, dress and behavior were developed to show popular concepts of being holy. While they could express some aspects of this Christian journey those popular piety concepts often overlooked the most basic truth. We are called and set apart by and for our Lord. To be an holy people of God is not something that occurs only and finally in Heaven. Indeed Heaven will bring and be the place of infinite fulfillment of this great vocation. But Scripture, the Tradition of the Church clearly teaches us we are called to be holy, to be saints, to be set apart for God and the Heavenly Kingdom this side of eternity. But what does that mean? How do we be and become the saints we are called to be?
It may help to grow in the truth of sainthood if we look to an old tree. For a tree, such as the oak seen above, or the awesome Redwoods in our own backyard there are two vital necessities…. To be rooted and growing.
To be holy, set apart, sanctified by and for God we must allow the roots of our faith to penetrate deeply the graces of God. Jesus shared more than one lesson about the good soil. We must allow God to prepare and cause the soil of our souls to be deeply tilled and nurtured by the rich, fertile love of God. This will mean we are growing in the truth, the teachings of Jesus, the faith of His Church. But it is not just a matter of academics, of mentally knowing and agreeing with certain teachings. It is about allowing the soil of our soul to be drenched in His holy blood, to share our little sufferings of heart and soul to grow with His. Being deeply rooted in God does not mean we are rooted just in favorite Scripture or traditions, however true they may be. Sadly some become so rooted in the past and their preferred perceptions of Jesus and church they fail to allow the Holy Spirit to bring them to…grow. This peril can impact us with beliefs about faith, liturgy, places and even politics so that if they are challenged we become potentially uprooted. Our place in the Kingdom of God isn’t just about Mass, or where we sit in church, or our favorite Scripture, how prayers are to be said or how others are to vote. It is about being so rooted in Jesus that all these things of varying importance are understood as moments in our eternal journey. And all these things are part of which makes us grow..Heavenward.
The life of a saint is deeply rooted in God’s graces, that the life may then grow, reaching for God, for the heavenly kingdom. Whether one is called to be a priest, a religious, a dad or mom our lives are meant, designed by God, to be times and places of the sanctus, the holy graces. So that whether we are lifting our voices in sacred song or prayer or our children or grandchildren from the scrapped knee it is all meant to be holy. It is a time to grow.
To be holy, to become a saint we must be well-rooted. But we must also allow the wind of the Holy Spirit to direct and form our lives to be and become that soul only we can be. We speak of the need for spiritual formation. The resources and gifts of faith-filled spiritual directors are so important for that formation. But we can never lose sight of the fact that the Holy Spirit would always be foremost the One in charge of our formation. God brings us to GROW, To DEVELOP, to perhaps lose a weak branch but always to… CHANGE. But these verbs are often difficult. Where is God leading? What is God doing? I was very comfortable where I was…why change? But one of the greatest fruits of the holy is allowing God to change us ever more powerfully into His redeemed daughter or son. As SAINT Paul shared “from glory to glory He changes me”. But as God leads us to be saints, to be holy trees of God we must realize each of us needs be rooted and growing in the place of God’s choosing. Some have lives rooted in glorious rich gentle soil safe from harsh winds. Others may find their lives of intense challenge. But rooted in God, yielding to the wind of the Holy Spirit we will be..become His saints.
Take some time this All Saints Day to reflect upon how the saints of God lived lives deeply rooted in Christ but also lives of great change, of growth, growing in the living Truth of the Holy Spirit. May we always remember we are called to share in the holiest of trees, the tree of life, the Cross.
Bible Readings for Mass: I: Exodus 22:20-26; Responsorial: Psalm 18; II: I Thessalonians 1:5c-10; Gospel:Matthew 22:34-40
The complexity of life in our times presses on. It might be getting tiresome but these are the times in which we live. Elections, not just for a president but numerous offices and propositions have presented many views on many issues. Some choices may be very clear. Some are not. Health, both of body and our economy, have also brought many challenges we must navigate. And our faith is not near as simple as it once seemed. Mass attendance and the sharing in the sacramental treasures of our faith are are uncertain, at best. And this week Pope Francis shared some statements about non-traditional relationships that have challenged or troubled many and encouraged and brought hope to others. Indeed we share many challenges, complexities and….opportunities.
As always the Bible readings for Mass bring the light of the Holy Spirit to offer us insight and wisdom that we may live our faith in God in a genuine and faithful journey of growing in the graces of Christ, crucified and risen from the dead. Although the journey, these times, are not easy they hold no surprises for God. And with our Lord, again, they hold intense promise.
For the faithful there is a fervent desire to live out our faith in our responses to all these issues. How to vote? How to navigate the intricate steps of a pandemic and all the social, economic changes it brings? How to live as faithful followers of Christ when simply going to church or gathering for Bible study just isn’t available for the foreseeable future, with any consistency, what do we do with that? And the many complicated social issues that press upon the Church, how are we to respond? It is necessary to recognize that we are surrounded by a maze of life of seeming insurmountable odds. But our faith is not in moods, fears, even what we may think. Our faith is in God and the promises of the King of Kings.
We must remember that in this maze of life we never walk alone as long as we seek and allow God’s guiding help. It is as we remember to listen to God’s quiet voice and take His wounded hands we discover that these uncertain steps become a journey of a maze of grace. It is as we walk, learning to practice the Presence of God we can learn and grow in the freedom and power of the simple words that Jesus gave in response to the question pressed upon Him in our Gospel today. “Good Teacher, what is the greatest commandment?” or perhaps we may ask: “Jesus what is most important if I am to follow you?” Again His response is found in a few simple words. ” You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind”. And: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The path is really quite simple. The opportunities are eternal. But humanity, including Christians, Catholics, have seemingly cherished the ability to make it as complex as possible.
And we often take these complex rules, interpretations, traditions (again speaking of ALL Christians) with intense fervor. The very diverse schools of philosophy, Bible interpretation, Natural Law applications and intense personal perspectives and fears have built a incredible maze of Christian thought and beliefs. This isn’t to say that these disciplines are bad. They are indeed necessary gifts of God for the faithful soul when they are used and applied with a growing fullness of grace. But when that grace, that simplicity of the Gospel is obscured they can become perilous.
So what is this simple path that Jesus gives to us today in the Gospel? The path is one filled with challenge and even greater opportunity.
YOU SHALL LOVE….
THE LORD YOUR GOD, WITH ALL YOUR HEART, SOUL AND MIND.
AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOUR SELF.
We are created and called to LOVE God and each other. FULL STOP. PERIOD. In this portion of Matthew the Greek verb is the same: Agape. This has, from the beginnings of the Church, meant the love of God. A love that is universal, unconditional and that transcends circumstance. Agape love is a desire and choice for the best, God’s best for the beloved. Now some speak and think of this love, with disdain, as “sloppy agape”. For some would see it as a “love” where anything goes. Others would say that God does love us unconditionally BUT that we must show, we must live lives worthy of His love. This love of God is difficult to…understand, to organize regardless of how we may try. God call us to simply grow in this love, who is God (I John 4). How Jesus calls us to grow in this love is simple and powerful. We are called to love God with:
ALL YOUR HEART: Again looking at the Greek we see the word “kardia” (yes, you are right, it is the root of the medical word.) we see this means, from ancient times, the center of our being. The heart holds the affections, the character, the emotions of the person.
ALL YOUR SOUL: Greek: “Psuche” (again a root of the medical discipline of psychology). Our soul encompasses our will, our talents our orientations and our links to the spiritual. It is infused with the breath of life given us by God at conception.
ALL YOUR MIND: (Greek “Dianoia”) Meaning our mind, intellect, understanding the place of our knowledge. Our abilities of reason.
Now some other Gospel segments include the call to love God with all our strength. This refers to the our body, the vessel of our heart, soul and mind. That there are different expressions from Jesus of these vital words should not be troubling. In using different frames of reference Jesus was showing us a vital truth. Love is not, cannot be confined to a specific set of words or understanding. Love, Who is God, is infinite and beyond our ability to organize or understand but fully within our grasp to embrace.
It is very important to note some significant points. We are created, called to love, wholly, with ALL our being. But the Gospel life and message of our Lord shows us this is a progressive, growing reality we are called to experience. The heart and soul, the mind of a young baby at baptism will not be the same as a child receiving First Communion or a young adult receiving Confirmation. But this also applies to the truth we are all…different. And that is, at times difficult. But it is ok for it is what He designed. The heart, soul and mind of someone born into and raised in the faith in 19th century Ireland will be distinct from a soul born and raised in Soviet Russia. But these differences are even greater than our geographic origins. The faith, intellectual, relational, athletic (to name but a few) orientations, talents and skills of people are vastly diverse. So my ability to “love God” with ALL my musical talent will be far different than a musician or singer who can give their ALL in a vastly different (and more beautiful manner. What Jesus asks of us is that we, each as the person He made, that together we love God.
This brings us to the next dimension of this love for which we are made and redeemed. We are to love our neighbor (again agape love) as ourselves. It may seem so much easier if Jesus would have said…..”love those you like and who agree with you..as yourself.” But He didn’t. Jesus purposefully calls us to love our…neighbor. In the world Jesus walked and shared these words, this message, was volatile at best. Jews feared and, as a rule, hated Romans. Romans and other Gentiles , generally looked down upon the Jews with deep prejudice. But they were ALL neighbors. Jesus allows no prejudice, preconceived conditions, exceptions to His commandment. He kept it very simple. But difficult.
And it is in those difficulties, that are very real, we find our solution and strength. For it is as we grow to more fully love God and each other that we are more in need of God’s grace, strength, power. For it is God, it is God’s love we are called to live.
This brings us back to the challenges we shared at the beginning of this reflection. As we travel the difficult steps of these times, election issues, pandemic uncertainties, concerns in church and home let us seek to travel, together, in a growing love for and with God. May this love transform how we see these issues, each other and ourselves in the light of His love and mercy. May we see each day, each challenge as an opportunity, allowed by God for us to grow in the love of the Redeemer.
Bible Readings for Mass: I: Isaiah 45:1, 4-6; Responsorial: Psalm 96; II: I Thessalonians 1:1-5B; Gospel: Matthew 22:15-21
The Church year is drawing to a close. In just a few short weeks we will begin the season of Advent. The season of Ordinary Time in this most un-ordinary year will close with the Feast of Christ the King and our readings are preparing the stage for this great celebration. It is no coincidence that this celebration of the Lordship of Jesus Christ will come just days after the election here in the “United States”. With so many issues pressing upon the souls and well being of so many people around the world there is great tension for Christians, for Catholics to be found faithful. And the conflicted challenge to be faithful, in, but not of the world is what we read of on our Gospel.
Much like our present day the political parties in Israel in the time of Jesus (Pharisees, Sadducees and Romans) were a dark and deadly playground for the politicians and religious leaders seeking to entrap Jesus and His followers. Repeated attempts were made to catch Jesus, to test His followers of their proper credentials. While no election was underway in Palestine the parallels to our present drama of politicians seeking to control the faithful is significant. The conflicts and hatred, strife and discord of our present state of the the union are a tragic and sad witness of the work of what our Psalmist calls “…the gods of the nations…”. Sadly much of this worldly discord has infiltrated the church. Frequently one can hear or read that IF you are a faithful Catholic, a true Christian you MUST vote for this person. If you do otherwise you clearly do not truly worship God! The power of the Holy Spirit to guide and lead the faithful in discernment and exercise of conscience is denied. What is the answer for us in this intense time of a cacophony of voices assaulting our ears and souls?
The answer is in the Gospel. It is in the simple wisdom of Jesus as He responds to these same demonic forces. He asks that the source of the conflict be placed…In His Hands. Jesus takes the coin and provides the powerful wisdom we would do well to live today. “Give to Caeser what belongs to Caeser and to God what belongs to God.” We are called to place in the hands of our crucified Lord ALL that is in our lives. For Jesus is The King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Saint Paul in writing, by the Holy Spirit, to the faithful in Thessalonica commended them for their FAITH, LOVE and HOPE. Paul was not seeking any key topics of teaching or debate on which to consider or judge these early Christians. Paul was looking for a genuine and dynamic faith lived through the power of the Holy Spirit in their relationship with the risen Christ. The Apostle knew words alone or photo-ops of faith were not sufficient for the times and testings of these early believers. The faithful must learn to depend, not on politics (secular or religious) or their place in the world. The faithful must be skilled in placing all their cares and concerns in the hands of God.
It as we let go of the conflicts, cares and fears, as well as our ambitions, hopes and plans then in faith (not always feelings) place them into the hands of our Lord we are set free. We are freed from the burdens of the world to take the freedom of the Cross and follow in His steps. The way is not painless or easy. It is truly the way of faith, exercised in love but it has eternal contrasts to what the gods of this world would have us carry. For it takes a closeness with Jesus to place something in His hands. And it is in that same closeness He is able to give us His power, wisdom and peace. It is in that closeness that we take His hands and receive, Him.