Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2)
We all have crosses. And indeed, as Franciscan penitents, we are exhorted to take the words of Christ to heart and live them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mt. 16:24) Knowing that this is our call and living it, however, are two different matters. How often, when a cross is given to us, do we turn our faces, pray for deliverance, tell the Lord, “Not this cross, Lord. It is much too heavy for me! I will carry a cross, just not this one.” How fickle and frail we are! I was struggling last week with a cross of my own when I felt led to pick up the writings of Luisa Piccarreta. Here is what I read:
John 15:4-5 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in them bears much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
One word keeps popping up for me lately, and when that happens, I know I have some pondering to do. The word is “deliberate” in the context of being more deliberate in my actions, more mindful and intentional. So often our actions throughout the day are automatic. We are not present to our actions, but like horses bolting for the barn door, our minds race on to other things. We do things impulsively or rashly, we fail to ponder. We neglect to live in the sacrament of the present moment, and in so doing, we lose the joy and grace unique to each moment.
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.
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.
Friends, I was on a car trip and was listening to Fr. Robert Young’s teachings on the Divine Will on Radio Maria found here: http://www.divinewilltallahassee.com/radio-archives. I listened to this one: Week # 17 – February 25, 2017 – Vol. 20 (November 16, 1926). ts themes tie in very well with my previous post. Thank you Lord! Come Holy Spirit!
If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:17)
Some 20 years ago when my son was a teen, one of the things we used to do together was watch the TV show, Star Trek: The Next Generation. One episode in particular keeps coming to me these days. In that episode, the Starship Enterprise had gone through a temporal rift that shifted them into an “alternate reality”, a much darker one. Some who were dead in the previous reality now were not dead. Friends were now enemies and enemies were now friends. No seemed aware of the shift, except for the intuitive bartender, Guinan, who somehow knew and kept repeating, “It’s not supposed to be this way.”
Matthew 26:39 My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want, but what you want.
In some Christian circles, any form of suffering, especially if it follows a good deed, is seen as an “attack”. But, I think we do God a disservice if we are too quick to attribute these things to the evil one. I have often thought of what Sirach says about suffering:
“My child, if you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal. Be sincere of heart, be steadfast, and do not be alarmed when disaster comes. Cling to him and do not leave him, so that you may be honoured at the end of your days. Whatever happens to you, accept it, and in the uncertainties of your humble state, be patient, since gold is tested in the fire, and the chosen in the furnace of humiliation.” [Sirach 2:1-5]
Read this again: “If you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal.” How many of us know the truth of this first-hand! St. Theresa of Avila, once complained to the Lord about a trial she was undergoing, to which Jesus replied, “Teresa, that’s how I treat all my friends.” Teresa responded, “No wonder you have so few of them.”
Isaiah 60:5-6 …the wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.
One of the enduring Christmas traditions is the exchange of gifts. This lovely tradition, when celebrated rightly, brings joy—often more joy to the giver even than the receiver. I think the closer we get to Christ, the more pleasure we derive from giving. This is a sign that we are becoming more like him. God’s generosity knows no limits. At times, we are permitted to participate in his generosity and it fills us with holy joy.
God’s gifts are manifold, simple, and free. So much so that we often take them for granted. Once, right before Christmas Eve Mass, I thought to ask the Lord for a gift I was very much in need of—the gift of self-control. As I asked the Lord for this gift after Communion on that holy night, an infused knowledge came to me, as if God were saying, “I gave you that gift years ago…you just haven’t opened it yet.” It was one of those moments when the scales fall from your eyes and the truth can no longer be denied. Of course, I received that gift years ago—on the day of my confirmation. It is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Have I really left it unopened for over 40 years? Shame on me!
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.
Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten (lepers) made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17-18)
Here in Canada, since our harvest comes earlier, we celebrate Thanksgiving in October. I once heard a priest say something very challenging in his Thanksgiving homily. Essentially he said that gratitude to God is more important than any other pious act—including prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Many of us have come to the BSP in response to a felt call to increased prayer and fasting. Sometimes it is easy to feel that if we live the rule to the best of our ability, we have done what we should. But if our practice does not flow from a grateful heart, even if we manage to live the Rule perfectly, our sacrificial gifts will carry the stench of ingratitude. How can God be pleased?