Rejoice!

Isaiah 12:3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

Global tensions are on a seemingly exponential uptick. Yet the utter importance of joy has been coming to me again and again. The above Scripture passage can be read in two ways, a passive way and an active way. The passive way implies that joy is what we are filled with after we are saved. Very true. But the active reading of this passage tells us that joy can also be the “bucket” we can use to draw water from the wells of salvation. Joy therefore becomes an instrument of salvation in the hand of the Christian.

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Humility…

John 14:10, 12 “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works….Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.

Every Christian, indeed every human creature, is called to humility. Certainly as Christians, we should be always aware that we are mere creatures, miniscule fragments in the Divine imagination. Pondering on our own smallness must always lead us farther down the path of humility. Christ must increase, and we must decrease. We all know that, but implementing it is often a tricky business.

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Hooked on a feeling…

Matthew 5:43-45 You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven…

I’m sure we have all heard the cliché line that a counsellor or therapist might use: “How did that make you feel?” The popular theory is that if we can identify our feelings, we can communicate more effectively and our relationships will improve. To paraphrase a 60s pop song, society is hooked on feelings.

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Misplaced hope…

Colossians 1: 12-20 Brothers and sisters: Give thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

I have found throughout my life that the Holy Spirit teaches in themes. I love that He does that. We come across something that speaks to us, and then some unrelated source confirms it and the lesson continues through a series of seemingly unrelated experiences. When that happens, I have learned that it is time to pay attention.

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Trust in God…

Luke 21:9-19 When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky. “Before all this happens, however, they will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name. It will lead to your giving testimony. Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute. You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”

The Mass readings in November are somber in tone—dire even. The fact that the month preceding Advent offers Mass readings that are meant to shake us up, is an annual reminder that followers of Christ should guard against getting too comfortable; the Lord, through the Church, is warning us against complacency. We are not meant for this world and so the world will necessarily hate us. I heard a bishop say once that if you’re fitting in quite well with the world, you’re doing it wrong! Those of us striving to live “in the world, but not of it” would do well to check ourselves often. The pull of the world is subtle; before we know it, we can be pulled under! We must remain vigilant!

However, if we only look at the warnings in the November readings we are missing something crucial. Read again the last half of the above Scripture passage. The Lord is promising to be with us in all our trials in a powerful way. He promises wisdom to confound our persecutors; he promises the greatest reward of all for what we suffer in his name—eternal life with him.

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The power of detachment…

The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ 6The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a* mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it would obey you. (Luke 17:5-6)

If we had faith the size of a mustard seed, we would see miracles. Imagine! What can this mean for us who, like the man in Mark 9:24, can only pray, “Lord I believe! Help my unbelief!”

I often tell people, “Pray, ‘Jesus I trust in you.’ Pray it till you mean it!” What I have discovered is that trust in God is more than a prayer, it is a many-faceted virtue forged in the fire of trials. In my experience, the facets of trust include detachment, humility, surrender, and probably many more, but these are the three I want to expand on in this article.

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The Cult of Opinion…

Brothers and sisters: May I never boast of anything except the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14)

Talk shows, social media, the “like” button, opinion polls—there’s no denying we are living in cult of opinion. Everybody these days has an opinion, whether they have all the information or not. Sometimes opinions are delivered violently—tires get slashed, politicians get things thrown at them, peaceful protests turn ugly. It seems to me it’s time to step back and discern how a Christian is called to manage their opinions. Continue reading

Giving it all away…

But Jesus said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish…” […] And taking the five loaves and the two fish (Jesus) looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And all ate and were filled. What was left over was gathered up, twelve baskets of broken pieces. (Luke 9:13, 16-17)

The donor in the scripture passage above could have had no idea of the magnitude of the miracle that would take place as a result of giving all he had to Jesus. All of us, but especially us penitents are are called to the same generosity of spirit exhibited by the boy in the scripture passage. However, as Franciscans living “in the world” there are constant temptations to keep something for ourselves rather than give it all to God. One need only read the story of Annanias and his wife Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11 to see where that attitude will get us. They sold their land to give the money to their community but secretly kept back a portion. When Peter confronted them about it (he had been enlightened by the Holy Spirit about their deed) they each in turn fell down dead! That story should certainly give us pause!

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On fasting and abstinence…

“So, then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:12-13)

This summer will mark nine years since I made my profession to live the Rule of The Brothers and Sisters of Penance of St. Francis for life. Thanks be to God! I am constantly amazed that God would call this particular sinner to the way of penance.

Long ago I came to the realization that God has not called me to the way of penance because I am strong, but because I am weak. I have spent most of my life in love with food and even now the fasting and abstinence of the Rule is the aspect with which I struggle the most. However, the paradox is that I prefer the discipline of Lent to the Octaves and Solemnities where the Rule is relaxed. I take this to be a confirmation of the call, for the Lord knows my weakness. He knows I need discipline to be imposed upon me as I have no discipline on my own when it comes to food. The discipline gives me freedom from the slavery of my disordered passions. Continue reading

Weariness to Joy…

“Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.” (Baruch 5:1)

These days there seems to be a superabundance of sorrow and affliction. Conflict seems never to be far away. Weariness pervades. Psalm 13 says it all:

How long, LORD? Will you utterly forget me?

How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I carry sorrow in my soul, grief in my heart day after day?

How long will my enemy triumph over me? (Psalm 13:1-2)

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