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Redwood Journal

Writings by Harry Martin, Dcn.

Author

douloscross

douloscross, a servant of the Cross, a servant of Christ. I am married, a father, a Permanent Deacon in the Roman Catholic Church. I am also a retired firefighter and fire chaplain.

The Call to Journey Together – A Prayer for the Synodal Church

This month the Church begins, prayerfully, hopefully, to awaken to the ancient call of Christ to the synodal quest” to Journey Together”. There is a profound wealth of opportunity to grow together in the graces of God as we would seek and allow the Holy Spirit to guide us, each, and together. Much is being said and written in the media and in social media about the Synod. Regardless of your current perceptions, I would encourage us all to go to the source. Visit the Vatican website and download at least two documents: Synod 2021-2023 For A Synodal Church – Communion, Participation , Mission – A Preparatory Document. and Vademecum For the Synod on Stnodality, Offical Handbook for Listening and Discernment in Local Churches. I believe as we study, listen and participate, together we will not be disappointed.

For now, let us take to heart and practice the following:

Prayer for the Synod: Adsumus Sancte Spiritus
Every session of the Second Vatican Council began with the prayer Adsumus Sancte Spiritus, the first word of the original Latin, meaning, “We stand before You, Holy Spirit,” which has been historically used at Councils, Synods and other Church gatherings for hundreds of years, and is attributed to Saint Isidore of Seville (c. 560 – 4 April 636). As we embrace this Synodal Process, this prayer invites the Holy Spirit to be at work in us so that we may be a community and a people of grace. For the Synodal journey from 2021 to 2023, we propose to the following simplified version,1 so that any group or liturgical assembly can pray it more easily.

We stand before You, Holy Spirit,

as we gather together in Your name.

With You alone to guide us,

make Yourself at home in our hearts;

Teach us the way we must go

and how we are to pursue it.

We are weak and sinful;

do not let us promote disorder.

Do not let ignorance lead us down the wrong path

nor partiality influence our actions.

Let us find in You our unity

so that we may journey together to eternal life

and not stray from the way of truth

and what is right.

All this we ask of You,

who are at work in every place and time,

in the communion of the Father and the Son,

forever and ever.

Amen.

Fifty-nine years ago this month Vatican II was convened. The Council was gathered, to the surprise of most everyone, by St. Pope John XXIII. This Council would bring changes and challenges. The courage and faith of all those who participated would as sought, “open the windows of the Church to the Holy Spirit”. Let us seek and allow the Holy Spirit to lead us to grow on in the Kingdom of God!

The Convening of Vatican II ~ 11 October 1962

When Jesus Calls

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 17 October 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Isaiah 53:10-11; Responsorial: Psalm 33; II: Hebrews 4:14-16; Gospel: Mark10: 35-45

Calling of James and John to follow Jesus ~ by James Tissot

Picture a large room with many people of all ages, economic and educational status, and all with common ambitions and desires. Then, offered to all, would be two different sign-up sheets with two diverse lifelong opportunities. One would be to sit adjacent to the king, queen, president, the leader. It would be an opportunity to reign with that sovereign. The other sign-up would be to be… a servant, of the sovereign and everyone else. Which sign-up sheet would likely fill up first?

Our readings from Scripture this Sunday essentially share that story, that choice. The Old Testament reading shares Isaiah, the prophet’s insight into the coming Messiah who would be, a suffering servant. The Epistle reading from Hebrews speaks of our Great High Priest, Jesus, who would encounter every type of test and temptation that humanity would ever face. Yet, without sin.

But it is in the Gospel we come to the story of two early disciples and men to be apostles, James and his brother, John. It is these two brothers who enflesh the opportunities shared in our survey of whether to reign or to serve. As we examine these tow we find two younger, ambitious men. They had been working with their father, Zebedee, as fishermen. It is at that task Jesus calls them to, “Come, follow me”. They had no idea to what or where this call would bring them. But they sensed the call was to be heeded. We know from the Gospels that these two were rather intense, passionate about their faith and their Rabbi, their Lord. When sent out to proclaim the coming kingdom they encountered scoffers and were rebuffed. Their question for Christ, upon returning to His Presence was to ask if they could, should, call down fire from heaven to deal with these people deemed unworthy. The “Sons of Thunder” as they were known, were gently corrected by Jesus. So they learned and continued to follow Him.

It was as Christ was preparing His followers for the upcoming passion they were to sense that all this was sensed that it was all part of the ultimate conquest and victorious reign of Jesus. That they were restricted in their vision by their understanding that the coming Messiah was to be a political figure never occurred to them. So, perhaps, it was only natural that we would come to read of their encounter with Christ shared in the Gospel today. They wanted to sit, one on Christ’s right hand, and one on the left. They wanted places of vital power and pride to share with Christ.

And, Jesus listened. That they trusted Him who had called them and that they sought to be close to their Lord pleased Christ as it does when we seek Him with our petitions. He listened and carefully answered them. They would share His Cup, they would share His baptism. But Jesus was very vague about the seating request. He would only say it was for those for who it was prepared. So, they had to follow and see what would happen. They had to follow Christ and trust.

The other ten apostles were indignant with jealousy and anger. The struggle of church politics has been present from the beginning. The struggle to be or become what WE THINK we should be or where we should be is a strong, divisive torment. The temptations to judge where others belong and deserve often contend with the same energy for…self. Christ shared His healing antidote for the poisons of ego and pride infecting His followers. He shared His example and the call to follow in His steps. He called them to be, as He was, a servant.

Jesus called them, He calls us each to the life of being a servant for God, His Kingdom, His Creation. It is vital to remember that to be a faithful servants we must develop our servant senses. We must be skilled watchers and listeners. One of the great blessings of being a deacon [Diakonia, servant] of the Mass is to ever learn to watch. It is essential to be alert to the liturgy being shared. One must watch that all the pieces are in place and especially to watch the priest or bishop. The response of the servant is simple, subtle, and alert to serve the alter Christus presiding in that liturgy. As it is in a home or palace the servants are ever alert, watching for the needs of all.

And each servant must be alert to listen. A servant who is shouted at or loudly directed senses, quickly, that they had probably missed something. When God must shout at us it is perhaps because we were not watching and listening as we should. As His servants, we need to watch face, the eyes, and listen for His quiet but powerful whispers. We are called by God to follow and serve Him today, as were James and John.

It is a beautiful testimony of love and faith the John and James both continued to grow as they followed Jesus. Even though they did not get the answers to their prayers, as they hoped for they still followed their Lord. Neither of the brothers would have known or expected how God would lead. James would be the first apostle to be martyred being beheaded. John, who would embody the listening servant in the Upper Room, would grow on to care for Mary, our Blessed Mother and to face exile and receive the great Revelation of the return of His Savior and Lord.

Only their Master, Jesus, knew what the journey of these two brothers and servants would bring. And only our Master, Jesus, knows to what and where we will be called by Him. As it was for James and John as they left their boats so may it be for us. May our servant-steps grow ever closer to Christ as we watch and listen in faith-filled love.

Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples Day?

12 October 2021

Columbus Day, October 12th, an holiday very familiar to all of us who went to school in the United States in the 20th century. Now the day is a focal point of conflicting histories and political correctness. For some it is seen as a day the exults tyranny, slavery and evil conquest of peaceful and beautiful indigenous peoples. While others may see it as a day of honor for a brave explorer and man of faith and vision.

To pretend that Columbus and the European wave of exploration and exploitation he introduced was a heroic and glorious time ignores crucial and cruel realities. The political interests of the European countries were intense and focused primarily on greed and power. Evils of slavery, violent conquest, and at times, forced conversions were a sad part of the legacy that came to the Americas. But it was not all evil. It was a time of exploration and discovery of lands, peoples and places. It was a time of great missionary outreach and while some would see this as evil it was very usually done in great sacrifice of life and love to bring a new faith to a new people. It is that faith effort that was, very often, the only protection or antidote of the greed and violence otherwise being introduced.

Likewise to paint the indigenous peoples as nations of pure peace and harmony without the vile diseases of the white man or the evils of slavery and conquest is also to ignore harsh realities. While there was great sophistication and beauty to the diverse cultures of these peoples there were also very common cruelties of tribal warfare and conquest. The impressive architecture of the ancient peoples who built their homes on plateaus and caves are but one example of peoples who struggled to survive in an harsh and often violent world. It is also important to recognize that slavery was not introduced by the Europeans but was rather common among the peoples of the Americas long before Columbus.

It seems that the Europeans, led by Columbus and the indigenous peoples shared a very common and deep…humanity. They lived lives of great spirituality and courage. They were explorers and discoverers who sought to both use, exploit and share their discoveries. Perhaps the strongest pieces of evidence of this common humanity are the maps of exploration and growth.

A Map of Indigenous Peoples Exploration, Discovery and Conquest
A Map of Exploration, Discovery and Conquest Begun by Columbus

Perhaps instead of using this time as a time of finger-pointing and exercises in political correctness, we could instead focus on our shared humanities and voyages. Voyages that have seen and shared great evils and good. Perhaps we could celebrate the courage and faith of each other and seeks ways to both honor and nurture the ongoing journey to better places and being better peoples as designed by our one Creator and God.

Values

28th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 10 October 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Wisdom 7: 7-11; Responsorial: Psalm 90; II: Hebrews 4: 12-13; Gospel: Mark 10: 17-30

Autumn a time to let go… [Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com]

The mercy and love of God is so beautiful! Our Savior’s love is revealed in His word, through the Church and in the sacraments. It is also magnified and explained in the sacrament of creation as well. In the Autumn season we relish the cooler weather and hope for rains to come. It is a time of distinctive beauty that would amplify a vibrant lesson from our Creator, the lesson of Values. As we look to the splendor of Fall colors and changes we are seeing many trees, plants at perhaps their most golden beauty. It is the season of majestic color, golds, ruby reds, rich emeralds, and vibrant oranges witness to the beauty and value of each tree or plant.

But the wealth of beauty doesn’t last. The leaves will brown and shrivel and fall. Their journey to the moldering soil will soon be covered in winter chill moisture. It is a season when we are reminded of the power of letting go. It is a season when we are reminded that true values are not in appearances and possessions but in LIFE consecrated to the designs of God. It is a time of learning afresh of those values that matter. Now and for eternity.

To better understand our personal values we might consider our valuables. It is ironic that the values, the valuables of the world so often must be hidden and protected from the thieves of this world. The current market for monitoring and alarm systems for houses and valuables is explosive in sales as marketing fuels the fears that push us to invest more and more in our valuables, our possessions. It may be difficult but periodically we should honestly ask what do I possess? Or What possesses me?

The treasure of the Word of God this Sunday brings us a wealth of values in which we can freely invest with no need to hide away but that we can abundantly share.

In our Old Testament gem from the Book of Wisdom we are reminded of what is both a true value but also a resource essential to invest in more values from God. The quest for the wisdom of God is a journey that leads to values of lasting beauty and power. We are continually barraged with the sales schemes of the world that promise IF we POSSESS this car or that clothing our life will be forever enriched. These sales bombardments apply also to electronic devices that promise speed and knowledge to gain the power that was first promised in a garden long ago. We are promised that if this array of pills is used for our health that life will (by all appearances) be filled with lasting smiles and endless days. Again the temptation to possess valuables, as opposed to values is very strong. That strength is bound with a firm reality. We are created to need things…food, clothing, shelter, transportation, and at times medical care. All these very good things are needed. But they were never intended to be our precious valuables. So we need God’s wisdom to seek that which really matters, God’s values.

Jesus and the Rich Young Man

The gospel reading from Mark relates the story of the rich young man who was interested in following Jesus. He was very intrigued until….. Christ told him to sell all his possessions, give the proceeds to the poor and come, follow Him. The young man was unable to let go. The young man cherished his valuables more than the lasting values God longed to share.

Perhaps we may be tempted to look down on the young man for being so materialistic. But we must allow the loving wisdom of God to show us other valuables we may cherish. Our pride with which we polish and protect our wounds to gleaming resentments and unforgiveness is a valuable that owns many a soul. Our own selfish ambitions that affirm, however falsely, the assumed right of our plans and understandings of life that would guide us away from the joy of God’s designs. The fleshly lusts that would seek to own our affections and appetites and fill us with the emptiness of life longing for God’s true love. Each of these false valuables need to be revealed and removed by the grace of God’s life bringing Word.

The reading from Hebrews witnesses to the power of Scripture to reveal and enable the true values of God. As we allow the Holy Spirit to take the Sword of the Spirit into our lives we are freed and healed to both recognize false valuables that may possess us and then empowered to live the quest of eternal values for this life and eternity.

Following Jesus is to grow in values of beauty and variety that we cannot imagine. We can speak of God’s love, the awe of holiness, the exquisite joys of mercy and the blessings of holy poverty. Or the profound value of life, with values not predicated by development, age, beauty or wealth. But those words fail to either encompass or fully express the values we are called to find and..share. It is exciting to know God’s values need not, should not be kept hidden away in a safe or lockbox. They are given…to be given.

And the quest for the values of God are not confined to some obscure, secret treasure map. While they are richer than gold they are not to be sought in secret for fear of others finding the treasure first. The quest for the values of God is the shared call of all of Christ’s followers. It is a shared quest of valor, faith and commitment bound in His love. It takes true courage to follow Jesus. It is a path that can only be followed in faith. And it is a quest that is responding to the realization of love that comes from God alone. If the young man in the Gospel had only looked away from his valuables and had seen the love with which Jesus called him his life would have been eternally changed.

It brings us to realize that as we live through another season of Autumn that we too are being called by Jesus to yes, cherish the beauty that we may see in the valuables of life, but to also let go and look to Him who is watching us in love and recognize our true values we are called to share.

St. Francis & Jesus on the Cross

Marriage, Family and Two Gardens

27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, 3 October 2021. Bible Readings for Mass: I: Genesis 2: 18-24; Responsorial: Psalm 128, II: Hebrews 2: 9-11; Gospel: Mark 10: 2-16

In the Beginning

Marriage and the family are matters of immense blessing and many challenges. Marriage, family, courtship, children are not as they were even a few years ago. In 1949, 78.8% of all households contained married couples. Seventy years later, 48.2% of households had married couples. (From: USAFacts.org). Divorce has increased but even more so are couples living together outside of marriage. And there has also been a significant increase in people who have uncommitted relations with others while not living together.

It is a sad reality that very, very few individuals can say they come from families where divorce or non-marital relationships have not occurred. Yet today’s readings from Scripture speak to the clear design and blessing of God upon marriage and family. Are these teachings irrelevant or simply outdated? The ideal spoken of in Genesis and affirmed by our Lord would seem to be totally contrary to the world in which we live. Yet as we look to the holy readings we realize all this is not new.

The Pharisees confront Jesus about his beliefs and teachings about marriage. Using the law of Moses they challenge our Lord about marriage and divorce. And even the disciples struggle with questions for when they are alone with Christ they too ask about broken families. These questions, these challenges have continued as Christians face the realities expressed above and yet seek to be faithful to God’s teachings.

A Derelict Home

The image above illustrates how homes and families are being impacted by this world. A home, once beautiful, built with love, skill and care is now abandoned. It shows the attitude of many about the great gifts and graces of family and marriage. The stories this home could share would be beautiful. But what happened? Financial ruin? Divorce? Sickness or death? Sadly the stresses upon marriage and family are painfully real. They would seem to contradict the blessings and designs promised and taught by God.

Yet as we listen closely to God’s Word we realize that Jesus knows, fully, the challenges every marriage and family would face. and we can also realize that He has provided both places and power to flourish regardless of the family life we have known. This of course would apply to the Church, the family of God. It would apply in the holy mercies found in the sacraments. But even the family of God has many wounded, struggling souls. There are another two key places that are essential as we would seek God’s mercy and graces for marriage and family. They are are two gardens… Eden and Gethsemane.

As a disciples of our Lord, as families of faith, we must always be willing to let the Holy Spirit help us, spiritually, visit the Garden of Eden. We can never lose sight of the majestic designs and purposes of God. We must explore and grow in a faith-filled realization that what God has made is…good. Eden would show us the hope and promise where sin, selfishness, greed, simply do not belong. And Eden would challenge us to never settle or compromise for anything less than God’s will. God made all creation, God made man and woman, God makes us each in His image. And it is all good.

Yet like Adam and Eve, we cannot help but recognize our failures, our shame as we live with our scars of sin. It may be very hard to see the good God has made, in the world, through our problems, in each other, and especially in ourselves. Great may be the temptation, with this harsh knowledge, to despair. We may find it simpler to put our faith in feelings, fears, or ways of a fallen world. The beauty and peace of Eden may seem to mock our real lives. But that same beauty and peace, the walk with God will bring us to another Garden, Gethsemane.

It is as our holy angels walk with us they will show us God’s designs, His plans, His hope, and love for each of us. And as we make that journey they will lead us to the Garden where Jesus went before His betrayal, suffering and death. It is where we learn, perhaps daily to surrender self and seek God’s best. It is where we learn to say not my will, but Thy will be done…in our hearts, in our marriages, and in our families. Gethsemane is where we honestly learn who we are and who we are called to become. Gethsemane is where we come to accept the crosses of life and realize the freedom to which they lead. The sorrowful garden is where, in our loneliness and seeming failings we experience the embrace four heavenly Father and His holy angels. As God our Creator made Eden with all its promise and beauty the heavens rejoiced. At the second garden Garden God, our Savior, revealed just how precious His creation was and would be. The hands that took the rib from beloved Adam’s side and created Eve would learn the embrace of the angels in comfort and love as He said yes to the Father. And so it is with each of us. In Eden we learn the majestic, holy beauty of God’s designs. In Gethsemane, we experience the healing embrace of God for our lives and our families, our loved ones.

Whether we are blessed with a textbook classic family filled with many many blessings or whether we have a heart or home where the wounds of the life may be found God longs to bless.

It is no coincidence that our Gospel today closes with the account of people bringing their kids for Jesus to bless. The disciples did not approve (for reasons unknown). Perhaps among the children, there were kids from broken homes or with behavior problems or perhaps some were not deemed good enough for Christ. Jesus rebuked His disciples and called the children to Himself. God embraced them, as they were, He blessed them and placed His hands upon them. He saw each soul created and saw it was good.

It is in Eden we can take the hand of our Creator and learn His designs and ways. It is in Gethesmane we can see the hands that will soon be pierced in love for us. It is in these two gardens we grow in the graces and mercies of God for our marriages, our families ourselves. It is in His gardens we learn God does not make mistakes.

God Questions

25th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 19 September 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Wisdom 2: 12, 17-20; Responsorial: Psalm 54; II: James 3: 16-4:3; Gospel: Mark 9: 30-37

St. Anthony of Padua with the Infant Jesus

Our Gospel reading for this Sunday concludes with Jesus telling us: “Whoever receives one child such as this, in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” This fascinating statement presents many profound opportunities and questions. The story of St. Anthony of Padua holding the infant Jesus is an illustration of this truth.

The story goes that Anthony was traveling through Limoges in France. Evening was coming so a friend of Anthony’s offered him a room for the night. Late that night the friend while walking by Anthony’s room observed a unique light coming through the cracks in the door. Upon looking in he was astounded to see Anthony holding a profoundly beautiful infant boy. The boy seemed to be smiling and caressing Anthony’s face. Anthony’s host realized it was the infant Jesus. In holding the child Jesus the saint was holding God. The story presents many questions. It also offers us a powerful lesson in the place of questions in our relationship with God. Questions for God..questions from our Lord..or simply, God questions.

For many Christians, there is a belief that we are to have unquestioning faith. The old statement: “God said it! I believe it! That’s good enough for me! This is a mantra of sorts when faced with questions about faith, life, God, or even each other. For some people of faith, it is felt to be possibly even a sin to question God. This thought process is often linked to questions flowing the other way as well. Why would God ask questions of me a lowly sinner? Yet this supposed humility and faith is neither taught nor exemplified in the Scriptures or the lives of the saints. Any healthy, growing relationship involves asking questions. It is how we learn, how we grow in understanding each other and of life itself. While loving reverence and faith in our conversations with God is vital so is freedom from fear and from pretending that questions don’t exist.

Returning to St. Anthony for a moment we have an excellent example. Humility and simple faith were vital elements for the Franciscans. To live the life of the Gospels was the basic rule for Francis and the early members of the order. In fact, St. Francis was very cautious of excessive learning and possible pride of intellect weakening his brothers and himself. Anthony was an exception that helped Francis realize that study, learning could actually enhance their faith. Anthony came from a very well-educated background. He had first been in an order whose focus was academic. Yet Anthony was able to integrate his intellect and his simple faith in a powerful walk with his Savior and that was evidenced in his preaching. The story of the saint holding the baby Jesus expresses the depth of the humble loving hunger to embrace God. And it is often, in the God questions we have our embrace of God can truly grow!

It is a simple, albeit often unwelcome, part of life that we encounter foggy days in our journey. It is part of creation and part of God’s design that we may not always see, clearly, what may lie ahead. This should cause us to slow down. Look carefully for the next step, and even to ask questions.

In our Gospel today the followers of Jesus were facing increasing foggy uncertainty. While Jesus was teaching them, clearly, they were not getting the message. And they were afraid to ask questions. Instead, they were debating among themselves other questions, particularly who was going to be the greatest. So often we waste precious time and energy debating and questioning many matters with each other instead of simply seeking God, God’s wisdom, and God’s answers. We wander around in our fogs of pride and human understanding instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to bring us the clarity we need.

God Questions are two-fold. First, we must allow, we must recognize that our Lord has questions for us. Study the Gospels, study God’s relationship with the Old Testament saints. The infusions of questions, invitations, and challenges permeated the lives of the followers, the seekers of God. Abraham did not know how or where God was leading. And while he followed in true faith he also had many questions for God. Our Blessed Mother welcomed Gabriel’s annunciation that she was to bear the Messiah. But Mary was also unafraid to ask “How can this be?” God has many questions for us. Will you come to me at Mass? Will you pray instead of worrying about the problems you face? Will you forgive, as I forgive you? Will you take up your cross? And most deeply…Will you trust me? Will you love me?

Indeed the challenges are great in the questions God would ask of us. And many are the questions we will have as we follow Christ, just as it was for Abraham, for Mary, for all His followers. Of course we must be loving and reverent before our Lord. But to pretend we don’t have questions for God is neither loving or reverent. To pretend we have no questions is dishonest and hypocritical. We must faithfully seek God, God’s wisdom and answers without fear or doubt. And very often we need to share our questions for God with and through each other. Sometimes we may be reluctant to ask a question of a priest, a teacher, in a class or even after Mass. We may worry we may appear stupid or ignorant. Well for some of us that ship has already sailed. But seriously the only dumb question is the one not asked. Sometimes teachers, leaders may not want questions. There are those leaders who expect their presumed wisdom and authority, their education is simply to be accepted. That is very perilous and foolish for all concerned. It is essential that we humbly confess that none of us has all the answers. It is liberating to experience that together, in the wisdom and Presence of God we can find the answers.

Much has been written and shared for the faithful of the perils of modern relativism. The perils can be very real. If we try to manipulate God, the teachings of our faith into the labyrinths of science or social feelings we can lose sight of the Truth that is the Person of Jesus Christ. If we allow our understandings, feelings or agendas to dictate our relationship with God and our faith we develop false gospels where only what the individual thinks or believes is relevant. This applies in matters of morality and our relationships (personal, social, economic and environmentally). But it also applies in our faith when religious or liturgical preferences are manipulated by personal preferences and misconceptions no matter how pious or traditional they may appear. All this breeds a culture where to truly allow God’s questions for us and our questions for God to be freely shared is quenched. Modern relativism is indeed a real peril. But the danger of not allowing our faith, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to be shared in ways that are truly RELEVANT is even more dangerous. To disallow the human soul to ask..”how does this apply to me? Why would God allow me to be this way? Or to disallow God to ask a damaged, crippled soul to come to Him is mortally and morally treachorous. Both modern relativism and a rejection of allowing our faith to be fully relevant is to deny the very wisdom of God shared in our second reading from James.

The Wisdom of God is experienced in a growing dynamic and relevant relationship with God. It is discovered when, as James teaches, if we lack wisdom ASK of God for it and He will give it freely. It is in our God questions we grow in His wisdom that is pure, peaceable, gentle, merciful, secure and abounding in good fruits.

God Questions are questions from God that will challenge us, pierce our souls and bring us into His His nail-scarred embrace. God questions… where we, in love and trust, ask of God the queries of our soul, our life, as we seek to navigate our quest for Him who is the Way, the Truth and our Life.

We must never fear allowing God to ask His questions of us. And we must never fear asking our questions of God.

As long as we honestly allow God to answer.

Where will our God Questions lead?

The Call From the Cross

24th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 12 September 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Isaiah 50: 5-9a; Responsorial: Psalm 116; II: James 2: 14-18; Gospel: Mark 8: 27-35

“The Lord God opens my ears that I may hear…” So begins the reading from the powerful prophecy of Isaiah that we read today. In a world filled with so much noise and commotion, it is often very hard to hear God’s voice. But the Word of God we share today can truly bring us to a place where our ears, our heart can be better open to God.

Christ would always seek to open our ears and speak to our heart at the Cross. This especially means the place of His Passion. But the cross where we would hear Jesus is also at life’s crossroads, whenever we are at a place of important decisions or choices for our soul and for eternity. These choices may be very simple or they may be far more complex.

Sadly many of the choices we make in life in this 21st century are made in minutes or even seconds. Decisions are made on actual highways or at sleepy little county roads. We also make these crossroad choices in the ever faster-moving world of social media, and APP-directed messaging. Whatever, wherever, whenever we make these significant choices we are at a crossroads and Christ would long to help us with our decisions.

The Psalmist expresses this basic fact of life in the refrain from Psalm 116. “I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living”. A crossroads choice is clearly made in the very first words…“I WILL walk before the Lord…” The Psalmist came to a crossroads and made the choice…I will listen, I will go with the Lord. This is a decision that will be made daily, sometimes moment-by-moment, as we seek the pathway of God.

The disciples are at such a place in our Gospel reading. They have left their former ways and have chosen to follow Jesus. Many are their questions. Many are their uncertainties. But they are learning to listen to Jesus, Emmanuel, God with them. And as they listen Christ opens their ears for a question. He brings them to a crossroads. “Who do YOU say that I am? They are at a place where God is seeking to reveal His Presence in an ever-deeper way. Peter responds: “You are the Christ.” Peter has made a decision to draw even closer to God. Now it is vital to note the following context. Peter has made a profound, holy, and powerful confession before Christ! He is on the high road. Jesus goes on to draw him and the other disciples closer. He shares with them His upcoming betrayal, passion, and death. Peter, proudly corrects the Lord from his high road seeking to convince Jesus this cannot happen. The stumbling disciple is quickly brought to another intersection. Jesus rebukes Satan working through Peter and explains he is thinking, not in the ways of God, but as a human. Peter must decide…to continue to follow Christ. Jesus summons them all to Him and shares the most important crossroads for each of us. They had to decide if they would take up their cross and follow Him. They had to decide if they would choose to lose their life for God if they wanted it to be saved. They were at the crossroads of their cross. And they were learning, the closer they would take their cross, the closer they would be to their Lord. And the clearer they would know His call from His Cross.

But what did Jesus mean? How were they, how are we, to pick up our cross and follow our Savior? It is from the Cross, it is through God’s Word we hear and our hearts learn. A vital lesson in carrying the cross is given in the second reading from the Book of James. As we look to the Cross, as we see our Lord’s two arms we can see those two arms, the two sides of the Cross share His call to follow Him with our Faith and our Works. Jesus took His Cross to Calvary in faithful obedience to His Father. But it was not of faith alone. The Cross of Jesus was His holy WORK of salvation. His body was broken and His blood was shed to save us from our sins. And the very ‘social justice” work of God was seen in every step of His incarnation. It was seen to His dying moments where he forgave the penitent thief crucified next to Him. The call of God is eternally clear and simple. If we seek to follow Christ we will walk the steps of FAITH and WORKS, WORKS and FAITH. They cannot be separated. We are saved, through Christ, by this faith and this faith is lived, it is expressed, by our works, our actions.

And we take these holy steps with God every day. We take these holy steps especially when we come to Mass. We look to the Cross, to Jesus. We seek to hear His voice from the Cross, from our crosses. And as we listen we choose to place our trust in God, not in our feelings or what we may think, but in God. As we come to this Crossroads we are drawn to His Body and Blood that become truly Present on the altar. And as we seek to follow Him, however imperfectly, like St. Peter, we then grow in that Holy Communion. We choose to receive His true Body and Blood, even when we may see with our human eyes but bread and wine. Our FAITH and WORKS bring us to Christ. And the journey is renewed!

As we grow in communion with Christ we grow in both our faith and our works. As a part of His Body we come to the crossroads of our life in the presence of the Cross and God will show us the way. The Holy Spirit shows us the way of faith growing stronger both in the blessings of God but also in our trials. And God leads us to share in His work of mercy, help, and service. For as Jesus lived so must we, as we listen and follow His way of the cross.

There are two arms of Jesus, there are two sides of the Cross, Faith, and Works. But we must always remember they are brought together at His most holy and sacred heart. His Body is called to be a place of healing. His Blood is meant to flow in redeeming love and mercy. The Call from the Cross leads us to our places of decision, our crossroads. And it is there we choose to live, following Christ in faith and works and always seeking to draw closer to Him whose holy heart beats in the passion of redeeming love through His Body, the people of God.

Hear the Call of the Cross to Faith-filled Works for God

The Touch of Jesus

23 Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 5 September 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Isaiah 35: 4-7a; Responsorial: Psalm 146; II: James 2: 1-5; Gospel: Mark 7: 31-37

The Liturgy of the Word for this Sunday brings refreshing promise and example of the healing and restoration of the human soul and creation.

The beautiful prophecy by Isaiah exhorts us to “Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, He comes…with vindication, salvation, healing of the blind, the deaf, the cripple. WITH GOD’s touch the mute will sing. Streams will burst forth in the desert…burning sands will become pools. Drought will be vanquished.

Cloister in the rain ~ Photo by Sonja Jones

The psalm and the reading from James affirm the desire of God to come to us, regardless of our station or perceived worth, and to touch and heal us of our blindness, our deafness, our afflictions. The Gospel from Mark shares the poignant lesson of a deaf man with impaired speech who would experience the touch of Jesus. A message that can touch us all.

Jesus Healing the Deaf Man ~ James Tissot

This account in the Gospel of Mark gives us many insights into the desires and ways of God to heal and restore a suffering soul. It tells how a group of people bring a man who is deaf and impaired in his speech. By all indication he is willing. But he had never heard of Jesus..or heard Jesus. Perhaps he had watched him but the ability of the man to realize the infinite graces of God Christ could bring were profoundly impaired.

The suffering man is, in many ways, an example of us all. Our ability to hear, to listen to each other, to the songs of creation, shared words of prayer and praise are often…blocked. Our ability to hear the living Word of God can be deafened from the noise of the world or simply our doubts. The impaired ability of the man to speak may well have been a result of his deafness, as is common. Again, our ability to speak clear words of faith, hope, of life, words of love can be hindered by conditions in our soul. As Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” [Luke 6:45]. While we may not desire to speak words of hurtful jest or discouragement our own fears or resentments may block the message we long to live. But as it was for this deaf man so it shall be for all who will allow themselves to be brought closer to Jesus. And then to allow Christ to bring us His healing.

When the deaf man was brought to Jesus he was taken aside to be alone with God. Jesus knew He understood this man’s needs. Christ knows we need time to be with Him. Alone. He knows we may be fearful. He understands we will often not understand what is going on. But God always knows. He understands. And wants to come to us. He wants to touch and heal us in our wounds and needs.

The healing described in the gospel is very distinct. Jesus could not explain, ahead of time what He was going to do. So He very visually got the man’s full attention. He touched his tongue after spitting and after touching the man’s ears. And the man could hear and speak!

We can never afford to confine the graces of our Savior, our God, to our understanding or set formulas with which we are comfortable. How, where, when God will come to a soul in need is simply up to God. None of us has the faculties, faith, or intelligence to plan the graces, the healing interventions of God. However much we may try. And this applies to our own lives or the lives of others. We need only trust and allow Jesus to touch both in and through us. Let us trust and seek the touch of God to quench the thirst for healing, hope, and mercy in and through His Body the church. May the water His Divine Mercy flow upon our land and our souls.

Divine Mercy Fountain at Cross Ministries, Groom Texas

Practicing God’s Presence

22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 29 August 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Deuteronomy 4: 1-2, 6-8; Responsorial: Psalm 15; II: James 1: 17-18, 21b-22, 27; Gospel: Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23

Our journey with the Holy Spirit in the Liturgy of the Word these past weeks has been a time to renew our faith and awareness of the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. God has sought to open our hearts and eyes to the holy love of God truly present in the Body and Blood of Christ and hence in each other. As we now journey on, Christ is seeking to make us know that we are called to practice His Presence, not only before Him in the Blessed Sacrament, or in His sacred Word but in each step, each place God would lead us.

It is easy to be aware of the Presence of God when we are in church. Or, if not easy, it is understood we should be seeking and mindful of God’s Presence in our places and times of worship. But with the incarnation of Jesus, with His subsequent teachings and examples, we are now called, as His followers, to be practicing His Presence in every moment of our lives.

A young, disenchanted soldier, Nicholas Herman, entered a Carmelite Monastery in Paris. He lived a life (1614-1691) as a lay brother and took the name: Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. With no profound education, he served faithfully working in the kitchen and repairing the sandals of his brothers. But he also shared a deep and passionate love for God, whose Presence he learned to practice. Some years after his death some letters and sayings of Brother Lawrence were compiled into a little book of immense significance, “The Practice of the Presence of God.” This immense grace, the mindfulness of the Presence of Christ in the days and moments of our lives is a fruit of the readings of the Blessed Sacrament and our Bible readings today.

Our faith is a gift of great strength, beauty, and deep-rooted peace. As we follow, Christ crucified and risen from the dead, we are graced to grow in the beauty of holiness and joy of God’s eternal love. But if we look around our homes, our lives, we realize that sometimes that which we may cherish can become dusty, neglected even buried with the cares of life.

Both in our first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy and the New Testament epistle of James we are clearly reminded that we are to hear and follow, to be doers of the Word of God. We need to be attentive, listening for God’s Word, yes at church or in our times of devotion but in all the times and places of our life. Jesus in the Gospel reading is emphatic. If we are to be His disciples we cannot be ruled by human traditions or understandings. We must needs hear and live the Gospel message. We cannot allow the waste of this world to grow and flow from our hearts and lives. We must walk ever closer with Him who followed the way of the cross that His mercy, love and grace may be manifest, not just in pious words and places but in ministering to the real needs of the world in which we live. The practice of our faith, our love for God is needed in heart, home and in each task life brings.

Papal Delegation with the galero for St. Bonaventure

The story is told that St. Bonaventure, the Seraphic Doctor of the Franciscan Order, was to be made a cardinal for his faith expressed in profound spiritual insights yet with deep practical relevance. The Papal Delegation from the Vatican came to his monastery to give him his galero, the red hat of the cardinals of his day. They found Bonaventure in the kitchen washing dishes. Aware of their mission Bonaventure asked that they wait for him outside until he had finished his kitchen chores. Upon greeting them outside he took his privileged hat and hung it on a tree while he visited the dignitaries. In reading the words of Bonaventure one can see that position, power, pride of place were of little significance to him. What mattered to St. Bonaventure was to live and practice the Presence of His Lord.

As it has been for all the saints so it is with all God’s people. We are called to be faithfully, humbly, yet dynamically practicing the Presence Of God. Our lives, in the midst of the holiest of places and moments, should be sharing Christ’s Presence, Promise, and Purposes. As the Hebrew people were called to enter and claim the promised land so we must enter and claim, following God’s Presence the promises of mercy, forgiveness and hope God would bring.

And our lives, in the midst of the most difficult of earthly places and moments must needs share God’s Presence that brings His peace, healing, and hope. We live in times and places of great conflict, struggle and need. It would be very easy to become disciples of despair and anxiety, of fear and hate. But our God reigns victorious. We are called to walk in His Presence and be servants of the hope and love found, with Him, at the holy cross. We are called to be a people dedicated and practicing the eternal justice, the social justice found in God’s Kingdom. As the refrain from our responsorial psalm shares: “One who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.”

Whether our skies be stormy and our path be difficult we can always know and practice the Presence of God.

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