“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practise what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.’” (Matthew 23:1-4)
Do you notice how much more you have to pay for torn blue jeans these days? What used to be seen as a sign of abject poverty is now elevated to a status symbol, a fashion statement. I think this can be seen as a metaphor for the spiritual poverty of our age, a sign of the times. It seems many are no longer ashamed of their spiritual poverty, but wear their spiritual dysfunction as a status symbol, a fashion statement. Their spirit may be in tatters, but they’re too cool to care.
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.
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.”
Acts 1:6-8 So when they had come together, (the disciples) asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’
It is important to read the signs of the times, to watch and pray. Something is definitely afoot in our day. Anyone who follows the Church-approved apparitions of Our Lady beginning with those to Catherine Labouré in 1830 through to the present day, will comprehend that Our Lady is the new John the Baptist calling us all to repentance. She is warning us of the consequences of our sins and exhorting us to do penance for the salvation of souls. And we must not forget what Jesus told St. Faustina: we are living in the days of mercy that precede the Day of Judgment.
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!
“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
“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)
Ephesians 1:17-19 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.
Dear friends, most often I end my article with an excerpt from my prayer journal, but this time I wish to begin with one:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)
“Beloved child, be always littler. Recognize your abject lack, your total need. Not only are your pockets empty but you come into the world without pockets and you leave the same way. All is gift. All. You have no virtue, nothing to sustain you in any way outside of grace. Recognize your utter dependence on Providence. But go beyond this recognition and celebrate that you are a miserable beggar before your gracious Lord. My child, the beggars are the ones who receive the most because of their utter reliance on their beloved Lord. They never stop looking at him with a gaze of love and gratitude, for they cannot believe their good fortune in serving such a generous, kind Lord. Children, my heart cannot resist a beggar with love and gratitude in their eyes. The heavenly treasure is theirs!”