Luke 15:11-32 “…(The prodigal son) would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ”
Like the prodigal son in the Gospel reading above, we all have lessons to learn, and they may indeed be just as hard-won for us as they were for the prodigal! Usually there is pride involved on some level. Lately I have felt the Lord revealing to me some of my defects of character, some of which I counted as strengths! Ouch! It has meant a series of trials, big and small, in which I had to assiduously inspect my own motives and actions, until finally, when the lesson was ready to be learned, a light went on.
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.
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.
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?
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
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!”
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful…” (1 Cor 13:4-6)
One day while at prayer, the following phrase popped into my mind: “There is no drama in heaven.” Such a cryptic and unexpected thought, I felt, was worth pondering.
Life is full of drama. There is a natural drama to life that flows from the struggle to survive and to get along with the other members of fallen humanity. But increasingly there is a more unnatural drama that has sin and vice as its source and sustenance. I think we have all met people who are addicted to the latter form of drama. It almost seems epidemic. The culture that idolizes entertainment and obsesses over celebrity certainly fosters and feeds this phenomenon. The more drama there is, the more frenzy and chaos abound.
“We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 1:1-5)
As is my custom when time allows, I arrived about half an hour early for mass one Sunday. It wasn’t my usual parish as I was away from home, but I found a pew close to the tabernacle and knelt to pray. After a little while, two mature women, well past retirement age approached the votive stand near the tabernacle to light candles for their loved ones. I was noticing the shade of their hair—pure snowy-white—when I heard these words interiorly: “All the snow is at the summit.”
(This article was originally written a few years ago in Advent. However, the message certainly has new relevance today.)
“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6)
Advent is given to us as a season of joyful hope. The Christian world anticipates the birth of the Incarnate Word along with Mary, Joseph, and the entire heavenly court. As Christians, we are called to clothe ourselves in the attitude of joyful hope. It is expected. However, the reality may be somewhat different.
Certainly, the daily news gives us little reason to hope, and if our life circumstances have taken a turn for the worse recently, the joyful anticipation of Christmas may seem a distinct impossibility. How can we celebrate when our hearts are broken, our homes are torn to pieces, or our lives are shattered? If we feel bogged in the miry clay in the lowest crevice of the valley of tears, just putting one foot in front of the other requires a miracle. Joy? It can seem as faint and fleeting as the morning mist.
He spoke to them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” (Mt 13:33)
Through the above Scripture passage our Lord is telling us that our faith is not meant to be separate from our lives, nor just “mixed in”, but that our faith should be the active ingredient of our lives. The yeast is what causes the bread to rise. In the same way, our faith must raise up every aspect of our lives—the ordinary becomes extraordinary when faith is the driving force behind all our actions.
So should it also be with our Rule. We have probably heard it said in the BSP* that our Rule is not the object—growth in holiness is the object. The Rule is a means to the ultimate end of holiness. It is the leaven that turns the extraordinary ingredients of our lives into the bread of extraordinary holiness.