Archive for the ‘Reflections on Scripture’ Category

Submit, obey, surrender – are these really bad words?

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Here are the readings for today.
Ephesians 5:21-33; Psalm 128:1-5; Luke 13:18-21

Here is the Divine Office – click on Office of Readings.

Submit. Obey. Surrender. These words appeared again and again in both the daily readings and the Divine Office, Office of Readings. Here are some examples:

Antiphons from the Divine Office (from Psalm 37):

  • Surrender to God, and he will do everything for you.
  • Turn away from evil, learn to do God’s will; the Lord will strengthen you if you obey him.
  • Wait for the Lord to lead, then follow in his way.

And today’s first reading from Ephesians is the famous (or infamous) passage about submission and specifically, wives submitting to their husbands:

Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.
For the husband is head of his wife
just as Christ is head of the Church,
he himself the savior of the Body.
As the Church is subordinate to Christ,
so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.

Words like submit, obey and surrender are considered dirty words, especially in American society where rugged individualism, acquiring wealth and power, and making it to the top no matter what are of primary importance to so many. For women especially, these are fighting words (understandable since women have known oppression all over the world for so long, and so many still do).

What’s often missed, however,  is verse 21 which comes just before that section:

Brothers and sisters:
Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.

This here is the key. Submit, obey and surrender don’t have the same meanings when applied to God. As is so common in the Christian life, things are not as they appear. In the world these words bring to mind slavery, captivity, restraint, limitation, imprisonment or subjection. In the eyes of God, submit, obey and surrender actually mean true freedom.

If I am to be subordinate to the Lord, I must learn to trust Him. Trust is not learned overnight, especially if your trust has been betrayed by those you love. I need to be intimate relationship with God and pursue Him constantly. As that relationship grows, I find that my desire to be subordinate grows too because I learn to trust Him.

A few years ago, anxiety over our finances ruled my life. I would wake up at 4am and worry myself sick until it was time to get up. I would make myself physically sick because of worry. I also disrupted the lives of my family members because of that worry.

I pursued a relationship with God but did not understand at the time about subordinating myself to Him. He in his graciousness showed me how even when I didn’t directly ask for it. Slowly He transformed me and in time, I learned to let go of my worries; I stopped trying to control every aspect of my life. In return, I found a deep and lasting peace – freedom from my worry -  which I wouldn’t trade for the world.

When I had my worry replaced by His peace, my relationships with family members improved, especially with my husband. I began to learn what sacrificial love was and desired to practice it. We became subordinate to each other our of our love for Christ.

Submit, obey and surrender are no longer dirty words to me. God has transformed their meaning for me into something beautiful and very desirable.

The meaning and need for community (daily readings for Oct. 23)

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

Here are the daily readings
Ephesians 4:7-16; Psalm 122:1-5; Luke 13:1-9

These two verses, 15 and 16, stuck out for me from  Ephesians, chapter 4:

Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body’s growth and builds itself up in love.

In particular, “held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part,” speaks to me of the real meaning, and need, for community.

So often I hear people say, “my faith is a private matter.” People go to church and sit apart from one another. We sing  hymns like “We Are One Body” and “One Bread, One Body,” telling us that we are a community. But if we need to be told we are a community and don’t know already know in our hearts that we are, haven’t we missed the whole point?

Community isn’t created because we gather under one roof and are reminded we are community. We are community because we share the same beliefs and goals. I remember studying Kung Fu years ago with my husband at a very traditional school and we marveled at the community we saw there – young, old, from many races, all sharing the same goal. No one had to tell them they were a community or exhort them to be one, they were one.

If you have experienced a true community then you know the benefits of being a part of it. In this day and age, community is a hard concept because so much emphasis is placed upon the individual, upon diversity, upon entertaining all kinds of ideas.

Perhaps as a church community we need to focus on what St. Paul is saying:  make our common goal Christ for from Him, the body, the community is formed. Put aside our individualism and focus on others, rather than on the self. Community will never happen so long as we focus on ourselves. Rather, if we allow Christ to lift us out of ourselves and our differences, desires and power plays, we will then learn what true community is, and what a blessing it is.

Then our hymns will not longer have to remind us that we are one, we will be one, through our love for each other. Our faith will no longer be a “private matter.”

Naked before the Lord

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

All Israel, too, cried out with all their strength, for death was staring them in the face.

Queen Esther, seized with mortal anguish, had recourse to the Lord. Taking off her splendid garments, she put on garments of distress and mourning. In place of her precious ointments she covered her head with dirt and ashes. She afflicted her body severely; all her festive adornments were put aside, and her hair was wholly disheveled.

Then she prayed to the Lord, the God of Israel, saying: “My Lord, our King, you alone are God. Help me, who am alone and have no help but you, for I am taking my life in my hand.”

Divine Office, Office of Readings for October 20, Esther 4C:11-14

I was very taken with this passage because I saw a powerful and symbolic undressing of the soul in preparation for meeting with the Lord. I’m certain that Queen Esther took off her outer royal garments and covered herself with dirt and ashes,  laying herself out practically naked before the Lord, to show Him the state of her soul, in anguish. She knew to present herself as nothing before God so that she could beg mercy for her people.

It’s a very powerful metaphor for the state of my soul. I’m wondering what I need to peel off from myself in order to see it in its true state. That kind of undressing requires humility and courage, to lay oneself bare, and make oneself truly vulnerable.

Queen Esther received the answer she desired from her heartfelt prayer to the Lord and her people were spared. They were very fortunate to have such a wise ruler who understood the need to lay herself bare before her Creator.

It leaves me much to think about as I consider the casual way in which I approach the Lord or do my examination of conscience. This story is a great reminder of my need to take the time to appear naked before my God.

Daring to dream – inspired by today’s Office of Readings (Oct. 20)

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

There were so many great lines of scripture today in the Office of Readings that it was hard to choose (Divineoffice.org for Oct. 20). Here’s one from Psalm 18, verses 28 and 29:

You, O Lord, are my lamp,
my God who lightens my darkness.
With you I can break through any barrier,
with my God I can scale any wall.

I don’t have any great barriers that I need broken down at the moment nor do I have a large wall to scale. But, an idea came into my head this morning, an idea that has entered my mind before, and an idea I have resisted.

When I was a little girl, I dreamed of becoming a writer. I used to create books to continue the stories of favorite classics (Black Beauty especially) or write about my trolls (remember those? :-)). I would illustrate and bind them, and I was very proud of them (in fact, I still have them!). When I was in middle school, I was discouraged in my writing by my teachers and gave up on the idea.

I then took up songwriting and did that for several years. I enjoyed especially writing the lyrics, as you can imagine, inspired by my heroine in music and lyrics, Joni Mitchell. That lady could sure write a line!

I moved into writing music about my faith and enjoying sharing about it through the lyrics, and praising God through the music.

And when email came along, I would write long, newsy letters that got a good response from friends. And when I ran GrapeVine Magazine for several years (a magazine about Catholic musicians), I wrote articles about artists and many CD reviews. (After ten years, I turned over GrapeVine to a new editor, Jim Logue).

So the writing never really stopped.

Entering the ‘empty nester’ phase of life, I’ve found more time for reading and I’m discovering that for the first time since my childhood, I am really enjoying the escape that is reading. Reading is the one thing I can do where I am not multitasking (which is why I refuse to read anything but an old fashioned printed book!), and that is immensely relaxing.

And now, the idea that was planted in me as a child is coming back, the idea to write a real book. It’s a book that taps into my endless interest in Louisa May Alcott and her writings. It’s come back several times and each time my response is, “What an absurd idea! I’m no writer. I don’t have the discipline. I don’t have the background, the education. I haven’t read nearly enough books, it’s been done before,  I have no idea how to do it!”

But the idea that presented itself today for a possible book spoke back to me: “You are reading now. You are writing two blogs (this one and Louisa May Alcott is My Passion). Your other blog is full of over 100 great, thoughtful comments from learned women who are writers, historians, English teachers and students. You have a whole community there to support you in your effort. A close friend of yours is a published author. Any other excuses?”

And then I listen to the Divine Office this morning and hear these verses:

You, O Lord, are my lamp,
my God who lightens my darkness.
With you I can break through any barrier,
with my God I can scale any wall.

It also says in the scriptures, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

This is what I will need to discern over the next several days in prayer – does God want me to pursue writing? How can I use it  for His glory? Do I dare dream about what could be if I do write a book? I’ve never dared to really dream before.

But maybe it’s time I put myself out there and dare to dream. I only know that the best way to find out if God wants this is to try it and see if the interest lasts and if the doors open. Perhaps I have a gift that God wants me to use that I am not fully using. Stranger things have been known to happen.

God’s wisdom is deemed foolishness in the world. Perhaps my “absurd” idea isn’t so foolish, if it’s inspired by the Lord. Only time will tell.

Meeting my longtime email friend who shared great lessons

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Last night was a long time coming! For approximately 8 years, Lisa Hendey, webmaster of the phenomenal Catholicmom.com website, host and producer of the podcast, Catholic Moments (carried on SQPN), and author of The Handbook for Catholic Moms and I have been emailing and occasionally talking on the phone. I had long hoped we could meet but despaired of it because I’m on the east coast while she is on the west coast.

Nothing is impossible for God, however and last night He granted our wish, and at the parish where I first met my husband and sang with the folk group back in the 1970s, St. Paul’s Parish in Wellesley, MA. Lisa was hosted by WINGS, a group dedicated to cultivating spirituality in women. Lisa gave a talk based on her wonderful book, and I was pleased and proud to provide some music for the occasion. Lisa was kind enough to snap a picture of me, and I took some of her while she gave her presentation. Pat Gohn from the Among Women podcast was with us also, making for a wonderful night of fellowship with friends.

Lisa is a warm and engaging speaker, sharing experiences from her own life which are practical, and doable, by anyone. I particularly loved how she engaged the women in conversation, using half of her speaking time conducting a group discussion. Your parish or event would be well served by having Lisa come and speak.

She shared one tip that I really took to heart – how she prepares for Sunday mass by reading and praying on the gospel reading each day of the week prior to Sunday. Lisa shared of how her hunger for hearing the Word at mass was tremendously enhanced by that time spent each day reflecting on the gospel reading. And she ended her Sunday by reflecting for few moments on that reading and what transpired at mass before going to bed. This is something any of us can do, no matter how busy we may be. The gospel reading is easily found online at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) website, where you can read and even listen to it.

You may not experience results from this exercise right away but if you stick with it, the blessings will just keep coming and coming. I know that ever since I started making a habit of praying the Divine Office through listening to it on the DivineOffice.org website, it seems that I am much more alert and awake to the promptings of the Spirit.

Keeping faithful to the little things does indeed make a big difference. Just refer to St. Therese, the Little Flower. Her whole life was made up of little things. Blessed Mother Teresa understood it well too, remarking how we must “do small things with great love.”

Lisa Hendey understands that. Her faithfulness to God’s call over the years has yielded tremendous fruits. Be sure and visit her Catholicmom.com website and see for yourself.

The gift of stumbling blocks – reflection on daily readings for October 13

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

Today’s readings
Galatians 5:18-25; Psalm 1:1-4,6; Luke 11:42-46

We all have them in our lives – people that push our hot buttons. They aggravate us, make us angry, even hurt us sometimes. When that hot button is pushed and the emotions surge to the surface, it’s very hard to resist giving into them and either being overcome with  negative thoughts or worse, acting out on those thoughts. It could begin as murmuring to oneself and build to talking behind that person’s back or a direct confrontation.

I have two people currently who do that to me. One is a family member and the other a colleague at work. Even when I step outside of myself and see myself reacting badly to them, I cannot stop the surge of emotion, and I sin. I confess the sin after the fact, right away sometimes if I am aware of what I have done, but I’m at a loss as to how to stop that tidal wave of emotion that leads to sin.

Today’s first reading from Galatians 5:18-25 states the following (verses 22-26):

Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh
with its passions and desires.
If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit.

Living the Spirit, I’m finding, requires constant vigilance. Constant. Moment to moment. It’s impossible to do without calling on God’s grace all day long. This, most likely, is one of the main reasons why St. Paul urged us to pray constantly. That connection with God’s grace is meant to help me rise above such passions and circumvent them. It’s obvious to me that I will need to really pray a LOT during the day to avoid giving in my feelings.

And this is why these two people are a gift to me. They are the reminders I need to constantly seek God and His grace. I know they can cause me to stumble, so I must cling to God and remain Christlike in my love for them.

Live in the Spirit, following the Spirit . . . remain constantly close to God in order to be more like Him.

What healing requires (Luke 17:11-19)

Monday, October 11th, 2010

Yesterday’s Gospel reading told the story of ten lepers who called upon Jesus for a healing. All were healed, but only one realized he was truly healed and returned to give thanks to God. While the other nine were healed in body, the tenth was healed also in heart, mind and soul.

Leprosy was a terrible scourge, the AIDS of its time. Besides the physical toll it took, it also ravaged the inner life  like no other. Illnesses create emotional wounds because of the isolation and fear they cause. Despite the love and sympathy of family and friends, you still ultimately have to bear your illness alone. But an illness that is not ‘acceptable’ creates deeper wounds because of the shunning one receives as a result. Lepers were banished from all contact with family, friends and society. Because of the ease in which the disease was transmitted, and the physical ugliness that it created, people ran in horror from you if you were a leper. Who can forget those haunting scenes from the movie “Ben Hur,” where we find Ben Hur’s mother and sister in the leper colony, stripped of all hope. AIDS victims today often face the same treatment.

So for Jesus to even acknowledge lepers was radical. In many cases, He even touched them.

In the case of the ten, He surely meant to heal each totally of his wounds: heart, mind, body and soul. The body obviously was the easiest part to heal. The healing of the inner self requires a much deeper faith.

Perhaps this is why the tenth leper was able to come back and thank Jesus when the other nine could not. His faith was deep enough to accept a total healing.

That kind of faith requires an openness found in a childlike heart that has not been hardened by bitterness and pain, the kind of heart Jesus says we must have to find life in Him. When one has a heart like that, one sees plainly the blessings, and the healing, that come from the Lord.

I find that the more I am clinging to Jesus, moment to moment, as a child would cling to a parent, the more I can see Him, even down to the smallest blessing or the smallest sin that I commit. This is what it takes to ‘see’ a healing. It’s all too easy to forget about Jesus as He is not physically in plain view. But I have His Word to read, His Spirit living within me and His people around me, especially in His Church, and it’s up to me to claim these things each and every day.

The Confusion that is the Book of Job – Reflection on Readings for September 27

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Here are today’s readings
Job 1:6-22; Psalm 17:1-3,6-7; Luke 9:46-50

Today’s readings begins a series on the Book of Job, which to me and many others, is the most confusing book of the Bible. It seems so arbitrary the way that God and satan ‘bet’ on a man’s life, and that God allows satan to wreak such havoc in the life of such a righteous one. It is true that in today’s reading, Job does not curse God even though he has lost his wealth and his family. There is the famous verse (21) where Job accepts what has happened to him and doesn’t lay blame on God:

“Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb,
and naked shall I go back again.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
blessed be the name of the LORD!”

So why does God allow satan to continue to test Job by attacking his health, the one thing the Lord would not allow before?

I wish I could understand what the message of Job really is. I know it has something to do with the whole question of why bad things happen to good people. We all certainly know people this has happened to. I am hoping in the days to come as the daily readings cover more of the book of Job, that an answer will come. It won’t be a complete answer as many scholars have come up with inconclusive results, but I’m hoping the Lord will reveal a little bit to make this difficult book a little easier to understand.

If you have any insights, I would certainly appreciate reading them! Please feel free to comment.

“Remove from me the way of falsehood . . .” Reflection on daily readings for September 22

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Here are today’s readings
Proverbs 30:5-9; Psalm 119:29,72,89,101,104,163; Luke 9:1-6

The scripture from Proverbs and the psalm from today’s daily readings washed over me like a wave. Its strong themes regarding deception and falsehood were a firm affirmation of something the Lord had shown me throughout this week: I had been exposed as a deceiver.

Who was I deceiving? Myself. How? Through pride.

My prayer life has been growing. I’ve enjoyed wonderful spiritual nourishment from a dear older friend who is an example of holiness to me. I’ve felt more connected with the Lord and with others. And I took pride in all that. That pride was deceiving me into thinking I was holy, in fact, holier than thou, if you know what I mean. Recently I was with a group of friends and found myself judging them. As the evening progressed, God was making it very clear to me that I needed to look more deeply at myself instead. Later that night, the examination of conscience was pretty intense.

I read the readings this morning and it reinforced the issue. It was obvious the Lord meant to teach me more. Just before I started writing this post, I talked to my brother on the phone and realized I had been judging him too about something without even bothering to consider all the facts!

What was scary to me was how easily I was deceived. It happened in such a subtle way that it took a while to see it. It reminded me how skillful satan is at deception (and yes, I mean to make the “s” in satan lower case), and how easily he can take something holy and pervert it.

Jesus was so right – you have to be constantly on alert, awake and ready. I need Jesus beside me every minute because satan never stops trying to separate us by my sin. The fortunate thing is Jesus’ love never ends. He will always offer His forgiveness and grace if I just ask for it.

I echo the thoughts of the writer of this verse from Proverbs:

. . . I ask of you,
deny them not to me before I die:
Put falsehood and lying far from me . . .
Proverbs 30:8

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner . . .

Sharing in suffering and consolation – reflection on the Divine Office morning prayer, September 20

Monday, September 20th, 2010

I was struck today by the short reading included in the Divine Office morning prayer:

Praised be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation! He comforts us in all our afflictions and thus enables us to comfort those who are in trouble, with the same consolation we have received from him. As we have shared much in the suffering of Christ, so through Christ do we share abundantly in his consolation.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4

I immediately thought of my dear friend whom I take communion to every Tuesday. She endures much suffering but freely shares how God consoles her through that suffering. It always amazes me how she is able to hang on, and not just hold on, but keep trying. She leads a life full of purpose even though she can do little physically.

Someone in her shoes could so easily become bitter and be blinded by the suffering. But my friend is open, looking for, asking, expecting God’s consolation. And because of that, she offers consolation to others. I know that is certainly true for me. Every week I learn something new from her which deepens my understanding of the faith. She says that I console her too – I do all I can.

I remember last year when my husband Rich was laid off. This was a second layoff for him but we opted to trust in God and support each other, and not allow worry to undo us. At that time, I felt so much consolation from God that I just had to share it, and that’s when I produced a limited podcast series called “How Can I Keep from Singing” as part of the  Marian Cenacle Rosary Podcast. In this series, I freely shared what was going on in my life and how I leaned on God, trusting Him to see us through. I knew there were a lot of people out there like us and I wanted to let people know that trusting in God does help. My husband didn’t land a job immediately – we were on unemployment for 4 months – and I’d be a liar if I said there were no bumps in the road along the way. But for some reason, God graced both of us tremendously with confidence and we remained calm and peaceful throughout the layoff.

2 Corinthians 21:3-4 is something I have truly lived and I can tell you, is possible for anyone so long as you don’t let your suffering blind you to God’s goodness. Surrendering your sorrow to God is essential – He must be allowed to lead the way.