Redwood Journal

Writings by Harry Martin, Permanent Deacon.

A Leper’s Lesson

28th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 9 October 2022 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: II Kings 5: 14-17; Responsorial: Psalm 98; II: II Timothy 2: 8-13; Gospel: Luke 17: 11-19

Jesus and the Leper [Source unknown]

As we journey into the final weeks of Ordinary Time our Bible readings for Mass are reminding us of our shared call and works of faith to live the Gospel message. This is especially seen in the great needs and struggles of our world. We are, as followers of Christ, called to live our faith and love proclaiming God’s Kingdom. Today we are challenged by an ancient affliction that will either cause us to fear and withdraw from the works of God or will free us to grow in the holy, joyful love of God that brings hope and healing. This challenge is shared as we heed the Leper’s Lesson.

In the Old Testament story of the Syrian, Naaman tells of a man who contracts leprosy. He falls from a place of leadership, respect, strength, and control to being an outcast, diseased, struggling for hope, and life. From our Gospel reading, we hear the account of the ten lepers who sought healing from Jesus. The Messiah indeed intervenes but only one man, a Samaritan returns to glorify God and give thanks.

We may be tempted to think the horror of leprosy is a thing of Biblical or ancient times. We are very fortunate to live in a place and time where this disease is not locally known. But the realities of leprosy (or Hansen’s Disease) still very much exist. It is found mostly in countries such as China, India, Brazil parts of Africa, and other places. In the past 20 years, there have been 16 million cases, while in 2020 there were over 127,000 new cases with almost 9,000 of those being children 15 and younger. Fortunately, there is now medical treatment that can cure or stop the effects of this horrific affliction. However in places of war or great poverty the care needed to heal (sound hygiene, water, food, medicine is often restricted.

A Modern-Day Leprous Woman
[Source unknown]

Why is this important for us? Leprosy is virtually unknown in our locale, in our country. First, we must remember we are part of a community far bigger than what we know, day-to-day. The people suffering from leprosy in India, southern Sudan, or Brazil are our neighbors. Their needs are our concern, especially when we realize the blessings and help God has given us… to be shared. We also must realize that there are, in our midst, in our community people who may not suffer physical leprosy but still experience the afflictions of rejection, loneliness, and despair found with lepers. As members of Christ’s Body, His Kingdom we are called to be a people, a place of welcome, hope, and healing. And it is as we heed the Leper’s Lesson we are able to bring God’s care and grace.

As it has been since ancient times so it is today. We are tempted to exclude and isolate those we see as unhealthy, weak, disordered, and unacceptable. Perhaps the fear of contagion may motivate our attitude. We have experienced this reality as we journeyed through the Covid pandemic. There may be times when such exclusion is best. For a season. But isolation, exclusion, and fear should never be our normal course of action, of caring.

In the church today there are numerous places and currents where fear and exclusion are powerful forces. Those of differing races, ethnicities, languages, and liturgy are often suspect. People who may experience issues of sexuality outside the prescribed frame of reference are often isolated unless or until they can show accepted order from their presumed disorders. People who may not meet the accepted norms of income, housing, or mental abilities are, sadly often seen as threats or problems to be met with caution and, perhaps some program that maintains a comfortable distance for those of assumed normal economic, mental or social health. But the lesson from the leper would teach us, bring us to share, listen, learn, ways of caring, and ways of growing, together in the hope and love of God.

We would do well to prayerfully study the lives of those who choose to reject their fears and simply love and care for, as God enables, the lepers of life. Father Damien who followed Christ to care for the lepers of Molokai, St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta who included lepers in her compassion and care, St. Francis of Assisi, and saints of today all give us powerful, real examples that when fear is denounced and love is chosen blessing and joy are shared. The suffering and struggles are very real and must not be denied. But the Presence of God, bringing hope and love is ever greater.

The Lesson of the Leper is simple but very real and greatly needed in our world. Leprosy and other isolating, crippling, destructive, and fear-inducing realities are very real parts of life in this world. We, as members of Christ’s Body, the Church are called to decide whether we will allow fear and ignorance to infuse our communities of faith. Or will we choose to follow the example of Christ and His saints and learn to listen, learn, care and grow, together in the hope and love of God that can bring healing and freedom? From our choices, with God, we can then grow from what may be a single life changing encounter with a leperous soul to become communities sharing the healing light and holy life that is Christ.

Basilica of St. Francis ~ Assisi Italy [Photograper unknown]

The Servants Call

27th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 2 October 2022 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Habbakkuk 1: 2-3, 2: 2-4; Responsorial: Psalm 95; II: II Timothy 1: 6, 13-14; Gospel: Luke: 17: 5-10

Edwardian Era Domestic Servants [Photo source unknown]

The concept of “being in service” speaks of a time from generations ago. The immense popularity of shows such as Downton Abbey is one indication of the very real fascination with the structures and expectations of life, “in service”. The intricate structure and order of life in the royal palaces of England observed in glimpses during the mourning for Queen Elizabeth also revealed this intense interest held by many in our current culture where vestiges of times past may still be known.

Any objective look at a servant’s life in times past would reveal a life of grueling work, long hours, and very little benefit in wages or “career development”. The very rigid social structures maintained a framework that was virtually impossible from which to advance beyond one’s station in life. The expectations, restrictions, and social prejudices were experienced from childhood to the grave.

In many ways, we are very blessed and fortunate to have the freedoms we have had for generations that have increased for children, women, and men. Sadly the flow of those freedoms has not been equitable for all but one cannot deny the currents of freedom and possibilities have grown significantly for all.

Yet with this evolution of social and cultural structures and expectations, there has been lost an understanding and awareness of aspects, and vocations of life that are still very real and needed. We speak of public servants. There are those who work in food services, emergency services, and domestic services. But for most these are jobs of specific hours and limited expressions. It is perhaps most seen in the work and lives of those involved in clerical states we see the strongest remnants of servants of the past. But while the structures and expectations of the past have changed certain matters have not. The need to understand and fulfill our duties in life, however suppressed by some, are still very real.

So it is, as Christians, as followers of Jesus we are challenged to enter into a relationship that is in so many ways foreign in our lives today. To hear and follow “The Servants Call” is an immense grace and holy privilege. Yet whether restricted by our outdated perceptions of service or understandings that this only applies to those with “a vocation” we are all called to grow in this liberating and joyful call.

But sadly among Christians today if we were to survey the focus of understanding from our Bible readings for this Mass we might well see a focus on personal benefit. And this would be legitimate, to a limited degree. There are indeed clear blessings and promises given in the Scriptures today (and always). But the much broader and vibrant context brings us to realize there is so much more to which we are called. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

The first and second Scripture readings, with the Responsorial Psalm each, speak of the hard challenges faced by the servants of God. The discouragement of Habakkuk the prophet, the exhortation of the psalmist to “harden not your hearts” in the places of testing, and St. Paul’s encouragements to the young priest and servant, Timothy all testify that being a servant of God is hard work. It brings great struggles and times when we are called to serve well beyond our feelings so that we may grow strong in our faith.

But it is in the context of our reading of Luke’s gospel (chapter 17) we especially realize the immensity of the work to which God’s servants are called. The apostles cry out to Jesus “Increase our faith!” Why are they so suddenly fervent in their need? Jesus has been showing them that as Christians, as his servants they (and we) are to be a people of healing, of mercy, of…forgiveness! To be a servant of God means that we are to feed the hungry soul, cleanse the soiled sojourner, and heal the wounded warriors. The struggling pilgrim is to find welcome and hope in God, in us. And Jesus makes clear the faith that is needed and that will bring His holy help, his response. Faith the size of a mustard seed.

A Mustard Seed [Image source unknown]

Part of the encouragement St. Paul shares with Timothy is the reminder: “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather of power and love and self-control”. Being a servant is immensely demanding. It is hard work. It requires a true denial of selfishness and ego. It is a calling well beyond our personal resources and abilities. The cook in a great house of Britain would never have had to provide and cook the grand meals from her own pocket or by herself. She was a vital, integral part of a team of servants who, in their services for the master utilized the place and resources of the master at their disposal. Being a servant brings us to learn, it isn’t about us. It is about the master. As servants of our Lord, it is about God, about Jesus. At Mass, the servant of the cup, the deacon (or priest if a deacon is not present) quietly prays in preparing the chalice: “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanityā€¯. This mystery, this eternal grace of God, is shared with the faithful through God’s servants, through the Servant Jesus Christ.

The faithful are all called to be servants of God. For some, it may be holy orders. For many, it may be in the sacrament of marriage and family life. For all of us, it is to be a people who seek to listen and serve Him who calls us to serve, to love as He does for each of us.

Greatest Among You by Yongsung Kim

Of Dogs and Angels – Just Love

26th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 25 September 2022 ~ Bible readings for Mass: I: Amos 6: 1, 4-7; Responsorial: Psalm 146; II: I Timothy 6: 11-16; Gospel: Luke 16: 19-31

Today in Scripture we see the Holy Spirit seeking to bring to us the power and graces of what is often referred to as social justice. This message has been recurring in recent weeks as God works to awaken in us this essential dimension of our faith. Unfortunately for some the words social justice are warning signs of a progressive agenda where traditions and roots of our faith are neglected or ignored in misguided efforts that can misdirect our energies away from the true worship of God to soup kitchens or issues of the needy and those on the fringes of life. Perhaps it may be helpful to set aside the well-used and often abused phrase of social justice and, instead use the two words: Just Love.

The Sword of the Holy Spirit, God’s Word for us today cuts to the heart of the issues of the poor, the outcast, and those rejected or ignored by anyone who denies the most basic elements of our faith in their attitude or response to those less fortunate. Our second reading from I Timothy makes very clear our faith, our religion is expressed not just in words but a devotion to God seen in faith, love, and patient gentleness. The portion from the Prophet Amos makes plain that the life of materialism and neglect of the struggles of life around one is intolerable for God. These readings are framed in the eloquent Psalm that proclaims the praises from our soul for God. Praise lived out in those who work to feed the hungry, free the oppressed, and seek justice for all. But it is in our Gospel that this lesson of Just Love is vibrantly shared.

Jesus shares the lesson of Lazarus the poor beggar who lives by the house of a very rich man. It is interesting to consider this is not identified as a parable. It may have been an actual account. And while the poor beggar is identified as Lazarus the rich, powerful man is not named. However one may choose to see this story it is clearly a lesson of life as it often is and how it should be. Our worth or our identity is nothing regardless of our material wealth or social standing. The initial audience for this lesson is the Pharisees. This was a group of profoundly religious people who lived their faith with intense rigor and devotion. Yet, like many, a people prone to disdain for those not living according to their standards or their approved lineage. It is a message that illustrates the neglect of humanity in sharing the holy simplicity of Just Love for the many Lazarus of life. But it is also a lesson of the ways of Just Love that may be overlooked.

There are two types of creatures in the story of Lazarus that show very clearly how simple and powerful Just Love can be. Lazarus is also a story of dogs and angels.

If we truly believe the Holy Spirit is the Author of God’s Word then we would do well to heed the dogs. It is shared how “Dogs even came and licked the sores of Lazarus”. This may gross some people out. But let us pay attention to what is happening. Lazarus was clearly a beggar in need of care, food, proper clothing, and shelter that would have been heaven-sent for this man. It is clear he also suffered from physical wounds and sickness. We may dismiss the dogs caring for him but we shouldn’t. They literally cleansed his wounds. They provided the medical care that people should have. The closeness, the touch, the warmth they offered again was witness to what was lacking by… people. The dogs did not judge Lazarus. They did not condemn him as a failure or took offense at his smelly rages and person. Dogs are simple but powerful lessons of Just Love. They are lessons not just for Lazarus time but for us today.

God will always seek to care for humanity even if and when humanity may fear or fail. Many are the accounts of holy men and women who found friendship, care, and help from the seeming lesser creatures in their quest for the ways of God, their quest for Just Love. If we listen and watch carefully, in faith we will realize that very often creation, animals, even plants may sense, see and worship God in ways beyond the norm for us humans. The Psalms and the saints have long affirmed this holy relationship that, when heeded, can bring us to grow in God, in Just Love.

Lazarus is a lesson in the failure of humanity in caring for, in loving our neighbors. But as it teaches us God’s mercy and intervention on earth it also shows us God’s care into eternity. As the sufferings of Lazarus ended and it was time to cross the threshold of eternity other holy creatures are introduced. The angels carried Lazarus to the bosom of Abraham. [The bosom of Abraham is an exciting example of the vast subject of spiritual geography, of the places of eternity to which we can only sense and seek to grow]. The focus, for now, is the journey across that threshold into eternity. For the faithful, for all seeking to grow in God’s Just Love, we can see that it is path upon which we are helped and carried. It may well be that it is where we might first fully realize the presence and help of our guardian angels.

The story of Lazarus and the rich man is a lesson immersed in the life and Spirit of God. It is as we heed the example of God’s lesser creatures we can grow in the freedom and holy fire of God that seeks to know and care for those in need. The homeless, the immigrants and refugees, and those seeking to live but are on the fringes of life and faith. It is indeed about the care of the physically needy and oppressed. But it is also about those longing for a place to call home, for their faith. It is about those wounded by the cruel selfish injustices of this world and yes, in the churches. Many are the hungry, wounded, and afraid who may be at our very doorway.

The Catholic Church in the United States has called for this to be a year of Eucharistic Renewal. Deep is the need for us to grow in our reverent devotion for God’s Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament. But if we are to truly grow in our faith and love for God’s Eucharistic Presence we must also be growing in our lives of Just Love.

God’s Reign of Reconciliation

24th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 11 September 2022 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Exodus 32: 7-11, 13-14; Responsorial: Psalm 51; II: I Timothy 1:12-17; Gospel: Luke 15: 1-10 (or 1-32)

This week God’s Word has a clear and powerful message of the ministry of reconciliation that the King of Kings brought to a fallen creation with his crucifixion and resurrection. As the Gospel Acclamation proclaims: ” Alleluia. God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Alleluia”. In a world so full of conflict and suffering we can be tempted to feel that Jesus has left the throne. But as we listen closely to the Truth of the Gospels, and heed the many lessons God provides us, we can grow in the assurance of God’s reign of reconciliation.

This past week we were given a sad but powerful lesson about this work, this ministry of reconciliation. The death of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II has brought much remembrance of her long reign and service to the crown and to the world. Her quiet yet very clear Christian faith was a real and moving part of her life. Although the English monarchy has no direct political power the Queen lived her vocation with a subtle but very powerful determination to be a servant o reconciliation. Among many two distinct events of her life illustrate this point.

In May 1961 she and her husband, Prince Phillip visited the Vatican on a state visit and had an audience with Pope John XXIII. This meeting was extraordinarily important and historical. Since the Reformation and the rejection by King Henry XIII the relationship between the Catholic Church and Britain was violently broken. For centuries warfare between England and Catholic countries as well as mutual bloody persecution had brought century-deep wounds of distrust and bitterness. The royal visit to the Vatican marked shared a vibrant step of reconciliation shared by both parties.

Again in May of 2011 this service of reconciliation was repeated. The Queen had often visited the part of the Commonwealth of Northern Ireland. But in 2011 she would be the first English Monarch to visit the Republic of Ireland since its independence. The photo shows her visit with then Irish president Mary McAlease to Irelands Garden of Remembrance, the memorial for all those who died for independence.

In both of these events, the Queen chose to move beyond the past into the healing and reconciliation she sensed would be the way of the King of Kings. Elizabeth did not hesitate to recognize the failings sufferings and wrongs of the past, of any side. But she knew God was calling her and her world to something better. God was calling for forgiveness and healing.

Queen Elizabeth in royal visit to the Vatican and Pope John XXIII ~ May 1961
The Queen visiting the republic of Ireland at the Garden of Remembrance ~ May 2011

This brings us to our lives, and our faith today. We live in a world where conflict and sorrow, strife, and discord infect so many places and people. We could despair, and throw up our hands in frustration or anger. But as with the Queen, we are called to God’s better way. We are called to serve and share in God’s reign of reconciliation. This reign, our service is accomplished in many ways. But our Scriptures today give us three essential elements of this ministry of reconciliation: Prayer, Penance, and Mission, all of which are rooted and alive in Jesus Christ.

PRAYER: The account in our first Bible reference from the Book of Exodus shares the sorry story of how, while Moses was on Mt. Sinai the people of Israel chose to sin, to rebel. Big Time. Their idolatry was so saddened and hurt the love of God that His anger was raging. God was ready to start over. But Moses prayed to God to remember His promises, His love, and purpose. God was moved to forgive. Reconciliation was reached through deep, intense prayer. In our families, our homes, churches, and nations prayer changes hearts and brings God’s reign of healing mercy into our lives.

PENANCE: This ongoing quest of the servant of the King of Kings is about turning away from whatever causes our brokenness (sin) and turning to walk in the ways of God. Pope Francis recently traveled to Canada to visit and hear the native people’s hurts and mistreatment by the church. And he shared his sorrow, his repentance on behalf of the Catholic faithful. His trip of penance began what will be a needed journey of reconciliation. Whether it be with God or some person our being sorry for our failings, misunderstandings can open the doors to sharing the path of mercy.

MISSION: As we relate to each other, as we relate to God we must realize and remember that failings, sins, or just simple misunderstandings may well occur. But we must allow the power of God to lift our minds and hearts to see God’s clearer mission, God’s better way. Bitterness, anger, finger-pointing, and guilt are not what we are made for, what we should be about. This message, this work of sharing in God’s reign of reconciliation was well expressed faithfully by Queen Elizabeth. But we need not be a queen or king or some special minister to share in this work. We need only remember and live accordingly as the servants of the King of Kings, our Lord and Savior in this reign of reconciliation. Let us be God’s mouth, arms, hands and feet that seeks and brings His mercy, healing and hope wherever it is needed.

Jesus, are you serious?

23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 4 September 2022 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I. Wisdom 9:13-18; Responsorial: Psalm 90; II: Philemon 9-10, 12-17; Gospel: Luke 14: 25-33

Unidentified Catholic Church ~ Photo by Brandon Morgan

In Scripture, and often in the Gospels, we may read something and, wonder, if not ask, Jesus are you serious? This vividly is encountered when Jesus speaks of His cross or when Jesus speaks to us of taking up our cross and living as true disciples. It is so easy to respond as Peter did to Jesus as he foretold his upcoming passion and crucifixion. Now 2000 years plus after the death and resurrection of Christ, we still struggle. There is a sincere and holy desire to make the cross a matter of deepest reverence, awe, and love. But, if we are honest there is also something in our humanity that desires, with the beauty, the majesty, the gilded fretwork. to camoflage the reality of the cross, of being crucified. And in our relationship with Scripture, with the Gospels we often do the same. We rationalize and seek to explain away what Jesus is saying, what Jesus would be asking of us.

One of the blessings of Vatican II was to bring the worship of God to be more accessible, and more relatable to all the faithful. The old altar rails, while often beautiful, made for a very real physical, psychological, and spiritual barrier between the disciple and the specific presence of God. It was seen and understood that to follow Jesus closely one must have a vocation and prepare to be able to pass that altar rail. The concepts of vocation, valid preparation, of deep and specific discipleship, are very true and worthy. But that does not minimize or excuse the call of Jesus to each of us, to all the faithful to follow Him. Fully.

Jesus in our Gospels speaks what may seem an absurd and cruel contradiction. To say we cannot follow Him without hating our parents, wife, children, family, and even our own life seems a contradiction to all the rest of God’s Word. We are commanded to honor our parents. The love and care of husband and wife, of their children is a sacred duty and grace shown throughout Scripture. Why is Jesus saying this? Was he serious?

After following these words with the lesson of understanding the costs of a building project, or going into battle we cannot escape the truth. Our Lord is saying… Count the costs! Know what you are getting into! Jesus then states with great clarity: “anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.” Jesus is serious. He wants us to follow Him, without reservation or excuse. He wants us to say and live as did his mother when she told the angel: “Be it done unto me according to your word.”

Taking up our cross, following the Crucified is NOT easy. We may try all we want to beautify, gild, and drape with efforts to shield the naked truth. But following Jesus will cost us. Salvation is a free gift of grace. God’s mercy and forgiveness, in Christ, is fully unmerited. But what occurs with true salvation changes everything. We can no longer live for ourselves, or for the things and promises of the world. The eternal-life-changing graces of salvation are an encounter with God who is love. And true love calls for responses. True love calls us to follow… Love who is God.

When Jesus says we must hate our loved ones, even our lives, and that we must renounce all our possessions he was speaking fully, truthfully compared to our love for God. Anyone, anything that hinders, that comes between us and our cross, that comes between us and our way with and to God is not to be. This is a profound but clear lesson that as good, as holy as blessed as our relationships are meant to be, by God, or as good, as needed as our possessions maybe they are nothing compared to God and the love God calls us to know. Many saints grew to relate and grow in this difficult but joyous truth. But of the many St. Francis of Assisi perhaps lived this relationship most faithfully.

This image of St. Francis is considered to be one of the oldest and possibly most realistic.

The story of St. Francis, his on-growing conversions, his sufferings, his joy with God, and his commitment to his journey with Christ is a powerful witness of a simple man with some education who took the words of Jesus seriously. The Gospels in particular spoke to Francis with razor-sharp power and love. His relationship with the Living Word incarnate, with Jesus caused him to renounce his very considerable wealth and status, to painfully love God above his parents, and to accept the wooing of Lady Poverty. This relationship of Yes! to His Lord would bring him to experience the painful graces of the stigmata in the year 1224, two years before he died. He is accepted as the first saint to receive this extraordinary grace.

Francis, of course, would be used by God to establish the Franciscan Orders. The vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience were integral to these orders from the beginning. But Francis would teach us an essential aspect of living out the journey of discipleship. Early on he came to know people who wanted to share and follow this radical but simple call to follow Christ. Some would become brothers and monks. Some would join his dear friend Clare in the women’s order of Franciscans. But some might try and realize they were called to have a family or work in a trade. Some came to Francis already married yet wanting to become fellow Franciscan followers of their Crucified Jesus.

In the wisdom of God spoken of in our first reading from Mass today, the Holy Spirit, through Francis taught that indeed God was calling each of His faithful to follow Him, without reservation, with Christ as fully Lord, God, and Savior. But God was calling each of the faithful within and according to their walk, their place, and their station in life. For some, it might be in celibate chastity and total poverty with obedience to God in their holy order. And for some their way of the cross may be the challenges of caring for a family, making a home and caring for the needs of those in their care. Francis was very clear the specific aspects of their call were no more or less holy than someone elses. What mattered was their simple, heartful yes to God.

As it was for the first disciples of Jesus, as it has been for all the saints, as it was for Francis of Assisi and as it is for each of us, regardless of our status, age, health, or wealth Jesus would be calling us to follow Him, without reservation or excuses to, very simply take our Lord and His Word seriously and faithfully, to know Jesus is totally serous.

Jesus is serious. Are you?

Finding Our Place

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ 28 August 2022 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Sirach 3: 17-18, 20, 28-29; Responsorial: Psalm 68; II: Hebrews 12: 18-19, 22-24; Gospel: Luke 14:1, 7 -14

Finding Our Place

Where is my place? Where am I supposed to be? We all have been at banquets and meals and upon entering the room ask ourselves (and sometimes others) these questions. We like to know our place. Even if sometimes our presumptions about where we think we belong are mistaken. This is the heart of the parable Jesus shares with us today. The fact that our Lord shares this parable about this very problem shows us God understands we need to belong and we need to know where that place is, not just at a banquet but in life.

God understands this is about much more than a seating chart at some elegant dinner. It is about our life, our relationships, our faith, and our doubts and fears. Rare would be the person who has not struggled with these issues. Perhaps at school, at work, or in our faith community. The desire and need to belong are a part of our most basic humanity. Following the fall in the garden, the human soul has been searching for answers to these basic questions. But humanity and especially the temptor has not made this quest easy. And as people have grown, in many ways, further from God and each other this has become even more difficult. Many would be the reasons for this.

Sin, of course, separates us from God and each other. This is usually entangled with fears that are rooted in doubts that question the very Truths God would have us know, share, and bring us to our places in life. To frame this in, perhaps a more contemporary way, a very basic reason with finding and knowing where we belong is our:

Excluding God & Others

It is so often when we get wrapped up in who we are (or think we are supposed to be), or where we think we should be in life, our relationships, and especially in our faith that we find ourselves struggling. The deception from our ego, telling us we are in charge, or we need to be in a particular place is like going through life focused upon a mirror. We often forget that in the mirror what we see is backward. So it is in life when SELF or EGO is our focus we get life all backward and confused. But upon prayerfully listening to our Scripture readings for this Mass we see a clear pattern of God’s wisdom to help us in our seeking to know and finding our place.

The first reading from the powerful Old Testament wisdom book of Sirach speaks with loving clarity and power. We, as a child of God, are to conduct our affairs with humility. As a child, there is, normally a great fascination and yearning to learn, to grow, to become. This is especially vital to keep in our hearts as a child of God. It is no coincidence that Jesus spoke numerous times that we are to have child-like faith. This child-like freedom brings us to a relationship where we trust God to show us the way, where we are going, and how to behave. We trust the Holy Spirit to show us where we belong. Presumption, either of a place beyond us or below where we should be (pride and the unkind twin, false humility) is in conflict with the grace-filled place of humility. When we accept life isn’t about us we grow in a freedom to simply live and be in our moments. With God. With each other. And within God’s creation.

As we grow in the dynamic graces of humility we cannot help but grow in recognizing the times and places when we fail each other and God. We live through humbling times of struggling with sin. Especially as a child of God, it hurts when we fail our heavenly Father and our sisters and brothers in Christ. But that is part of the journey. It is a place we are called to share with each other. And before God. As God’s children, we gather at Mass and we begin every time in God’s peace that brings us to the Rite of Reconciliation. It is there we share the humbling, holy words: “I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and what I have failed to do…” It is in that holy, humbling place of confessing we have sinned we are brought by the angels of God to the place of God’s mercy! And it is expedient to remember this most deeply is experienced in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is in God’s arms of mercy we are learn we are called to be a people and a place of God’s mercy. It is from this holy pilgrimmage as pilgrims of penance (on-growing conversion) that we grow in those holy places of mercy. It is in the grace-fillied responsorial psalm we see and understand the longing of God for kindness, compassion and healing justice in our world. This is especially expressed to the poor, the homeless, the hungary, prisoner and naked. And it is so needed for us to remember that while this applies to the physical, material needs it also applies to those struggling with spiritual poverty, those seeking a home for their soul or that are bound in inner chains.

It is as we recognize that we belong in the places of humility and mercy we enter into another place that God would have us cherish. It is in the place of reverence. The more we experience the freedom of true humility and healing mercy the greater our ability becomes to share in unpretentious, simple but profound reverence before God. The writer of Hebrews in our second reading describes the heavenly Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem. It is only hinted at in the clumsy ways of words the indescribable beauty, splendor, and holy awe that is our heavenly home. Artists, poets, preachers have all sought to show the splendor that is God’s Kingdom, that is God. But we must, with deep humility say, our vision is veiled. Our spritual sense are so restricted. this side of eternity because we cannot, in these earthly vessels contain the majestic holy love that is our God. Yet our heavenly Father, in great love would bring us to be growing in that grace of holy reverence. So great are the joys and beauties He has prepared for us that God longs for us to come and grow in the places oh reverence. This is ofe course in our liturgy, at Mass. This may be a simple sharing of a weekday Mass. It may be in a Sunday Mass of Ordinary Time that the words, a song, prayers will open your eyes and heart…to Him. But let us remember to celebrate the holy, with ever-growing reverence, the ordinary. A sunset, a flower or a dog being silly with the joy of life, each is a place of the holy. And it is very much in each other that we discover and exoerience deep reverence. If we will allow God’s Spirit to lead us. St Francis of Assisi found his place of beginning and growing conversion where he least expected it. Francis feared and disdained the lepers near Assisi. Like all healthy people he avoided them with active devotion. Until God lead him to where he belonged. It was on the day that Francis encountered a leper and instead of running away he, with trepidation, went up, embraced the leper and kissed the leprous face. On the lips. It was then Francis was overwhelmed with and intensity of reverence as he realized he had kissed Jesus.

Our Gospel proclaims this quest, this struggle we all share as we seek to find our place, to find where we belong. It is the gentle, eternal light of God’s Word, of Jesus, The Truth, The Way, The Life, who will show us these steps we must take. God will lead us from the false security and promises of our ego and onward in steps of humility, mercy, and reverence. It is as we follow Him we discover we don’t belong to a place, a career, or a thing. We belong with each other, with God in humble mercy, reverence, and love.

Belonging with each other and with God

Wounded by God’s Love

From the Office of Readings ~ Thursday, 21st Week of Ordinary Time

St. Francis of Assisi

From the Office of Readings, An instruction by Saint Colomban, abbot: “I ask you Jesus, with the breath of your Spirit; wound our souls with your love, so that the soul of each and every one of us may say in truth: ‘Show me my soul’s desire, for I am wounded by your love. These are the wounds I wish for, lord. Blessed is the soul so wounded.”

Disciplined or Discipliner?

21st Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 21 August 2022 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Isaiah 66: 18-21; Responsorial: Psalm 117; II: Hebrews 12: 5-7, 11-13; Gospel: Luke 13: 22-30

[Image source unknown]

The Gospel for this summer Sunday of Ordinary Time shares the lesson of the narrow gate. The intensity of Jesus as his final journey to Jerusalem draws near is increasing. Our Savoir travels through the Judean towns and as he does he is asked a question: “Lord, will those who are saved be few? He does not directly answer the question but says: “Strive to enter by the narrow door, for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” [Bible quotes from the Revised Catholic Version]. This familiar Gospel lesson seems to indicate that to assume entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven is not wise. And that is certainly an important and valid point. But a careful reading of the entire lesson would help us realize there is so much more to the words of Jesus.

Christ says how so many will tell the Lord they sat at table with him and were present when he spoke. The response of Jesus makes painfully clear that they may well have been the case. But He did not know them. They were in essence, in reality, spectators. They were not disciples. They saw, they heard, they apparently shared in some activities with Christ. But they came and left. They chose not to follow Christ. They chose not to be disciples. The lesson of the narrow door or gate is not about a place or thing. It is about our relationship with Christ and whether or not we are seeking to follow, to know, to learn of Him.

Our first reading from the last chapter of the book of Isaiah affirms this truth. The prophet has been striving to bring the Hebrew people to return and follow the Lord. He has made it very plain that their presumed place as a child of God must allow the loving chastisement and discipline from God. They must enter into a growing relationship of penance and conversion as God brings them from sin to sanctification, there becoming the children of God they were meant to be. But Isaiah goes on. He tell them they will not be alone but God will bring sisters and brothers from distant lands, from peoples that they had, at times considered enemies. Isaiah was speaking of the many souls who would come and enter that narrow door as followers of God, as disciples of Jesus.

It is in our second reading from the Book of Hebrews that we find a key that can open the narrow door. It is the discipline, the chastisements from God for those who would seek His way. This is not a popular portion of Scripture when applied to our own life. As Hebrews states, we are not to disdain the disciplines of the Lord. To recognize illness or needs, sorrows are often the times and place of God’s loving discipline in our life. Perhaps we, as children need to understand certain things are simply wrong. They may hurt or even destroy part or even a whole life if pursued. It is the grace of penance and conversion that allows us the freedom to turn from such evils and turn, draw closer to God. But sometimes the disciplines, these chastisements are not about sin in our life. Sometimes hardships happen because of sin and evil in the world and God may allow us to face those realities, not from cruelty but from a love that sees us stronger, with God, than we may FEEL we are able to be. God allows these disciplines to help us bring others to His mercy and love, to help them through that narrow door. It is a very powerful part of life as we respond to these challenges, these chastistements. It is also a time when may may need to discern, am I a disciple? A follower who God may discipline and chastise as His son or daughter? Or am I more of a discipliner?

To look at it another way consider this. Am I more concerned with the evils (real or assumed) of others or am I more concerned with God’s hand at work in my life? Am I keeping my eyes on Christ as I seek to follow Him through the narrow door or am I distracted by others and their erroneous ways? Perhaps it may help if we leave the example of the narrow door and look instead at a very busy freeway that offers us a very brief, narrow door to get through IF we are going to reach our hoped-for destination. We indeed need to be aware of those around us. But if we are preoccupied with those all around our lives those distractions may cause us to miss our desitniation, or worse.

Hwy. I 80 Oakland CA. [Photo source unknown]

The reality of sin and evil in our world is very real. Our faith, the Church has always been and is now a target of attacks from the world. This is nothing new. This results in sometimes great suffering for the faithful. But those real sufferings are the holy graces that calls us to take up whatever crosses God allows and follow Jesus. God wants His followers, men, and women to be strong IN HIM and FOR Him. But it is not to beat into submission, with our Bibles and rosary beads, those with whom we disagree. It is not even for us to chastise and discipline others with the ways and spirits and guns of this world. It is for God to judge, chastise and discipline. It is for us to follow Christ and live redemptively, mercifully with each other, as God forgives and brings mercy into our life. There are indeed souls mired in valleys of sin and despair, trapped in cells of fear and anger. Our work, as strong, faith-filled followers of The Redeemer is to pray and act, to live in ways that bring the freedom of God’s Word, the peace and beauty of Our Lady’s rosary into those lives. The light of the Living Christ, the beauty of those fifty holy roses is the true loving discipline we both need and need to share.

[Image source unknown]

Dividing the Clump

20th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 14 August 2011 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Jeremiah 38: 4-6, 8-10; Responsorial: Psalm 40; II: Hebrews 12: 1-4; Gospel: Luke 12: 49 – 53

Iris clumps that will need dividing by late summer. (Photo source unknown)

The Liturgy of the Word for Mass this Sunday brings us Scriptures that could be seen as difficult. It is especially in our Gospel reading these difficulties are most evident. “Jesus said to his disciples: “I have come to set the earth on fire…how I wish it were already blazing! … Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.’ ” Christ then continues to say how this will divide families and relationships in terms that are very clear.

The first reading tells us of how the prophet Jeremiah was cast into an empty, muddy cistern to die. This was because he had dared to obey God and proclaim the truth of the harsh realities facing Jerusalem resulting from their sin and rebellion against the Lord.

The second reading from the book of Hebrews is both encouraging and challenging as we are reminded that our lives are being witnessed by the faithful, the communion of saints who have crossed the threshold of eternity and seek to help and encourage our life for God.

As we read these powerful Scriptures we may struggle with a seeming conflict. Jesus calls us to abide in Him, His love, and His peace. Scripture shares many promises that if we just pray and believe God will bless and care for all our needs. Even the refrain from our responsorial psalm echoes this grace as it speaks: “Lord, come to my aid!” What is going on? The prophet Jeremiah was faithful and obedient to the call of God for his life and he was dumped into a muddy cistern. Jesus is saying He wants to bring fire into our lives and split homes and hearts. What is going on?

To best understand these Bible truths we need, as always heed the context. The Gospel of Luke has been sharing the life, ministry, and message of Jesus. And the tone of the Good News (Gospel) has been intensifying. Read the chapters of Luke leading to this segment. The holy and loving passion of God, the promised fire, and the power of the Holy Spirit is increasing in the words and actions of Jesus. He knows what is coming and shares this truth with his disciples. And in this short segment, Jesus speaks, especially of the fire He will send on the Day of Pentecost with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. But our Lord also speaks of the fire of God’s mercy that burned in the life of the prophet Jeremiah and in the lives of the clouds of witnesses the writer of the Hebrews calls to our attention. God is teaching us that to be growing and healthy in this heavenly kingdom the fire of God is essential as it brings us to our hearts God’s holy passions, it brings us to know divisions may be needed and that decisions must be made. For the love of God.

Photo source unknown

It is about dividing the clump. As a gardener, I have long loved the bearded iris that bloom in the Spring. Their distinctive scent, vibrant colors, and robust blooms are beautiful reminders of the promise, life, and hope of Spring. But anyone who has grown these gifts of Spring knows that when doing well iris grow and develop into thick clumps of matted bulbs or rhizomes. These clumps will bring the many blooms that make them so beautiful. But only for a while. The clumps will, with time, grow into overgrown, thick mats that bring smaller and fewer blooms. They simply stop growing as they should.

Our faith is much the same. We grow, we bloom. We develop strong thick roots of comfort and familiarity. We are at home with similar bulbs settling into the gospel of “this is the way it was always done”. Then the Holy Spirit comes and divides the clump!

The Day of Pentecost was such a time. Jesus, God incarnate had come. The Messiah was crucified and then arose from the dead. He then ascended into heaven, returning to the Father. The disciples, still struggling with all that had happened gathered in their spiritual home, Jerusalem. They did what their faith taught them to do. They prayed as Jesus had told them. Then with a crash, the Holy Spirit came and divided the clump! Blessings and persecutions quickly followed. The disciples and their faith family were torn. Painfully, gradually but irrevocably the apron strings were being cut. God was bringing the faithful to realize they had to choose between the comforts of the old and the fire and power of the new. They were learning that while their past, how things had been taught and dome was all good. Very good in fact. But it was also meant to prepare them and the world for what, or more accurately Who was to come. It wasn’t about practices it IS about a Person, Jesus Christ, “the leader and perfector of our faith”.

The writer of Hebrews realized this. With great love and devotion, the Hebrew liturgies and beliefs were shared. This powerful book starts to culminate with the eleventh chapter, the roll call of faith. In that chapter, many of the great FAITH-FILLED Hebrew saints are shared. And as each of the is studied we learn they all encountered that fire of God that caused them to face the flames, the divisions, and the decisions as they realized God was calling them to something more. God was calling them to be closer to Him.

This is the cloud of witnesses the writer refers to in our second reading. This holy cloud of witnesses has grown. Many are the saints, many are the faithful who have completed their earthly course and gone on to God. It is from their heavenly home they witness and work, with God’s holy angels to help us in our quest, our pilgrimage for Christ. And they all, with their distinct witness and graces, share in one vital mission, to help us focus on and see Jesus. They help bring the fire of God in our lives to burn in our hearts and to see how God would bring us to grow in His Presence. It is as we look to our God we learn that when His hands, pierced by love seek to divide our clumps yhat He is doing so to bring even closer to Him.

The Fire of God’s love (Image source unknown)

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