Archive for the ‘Paul’s letters’ Category

From Provincial to Radical: Getting Below the Surface

Friday, May 18th, 2012

I am currently re-reading Henri Nouwen’s last book, Sabbatical Journey The Diary of His Final Year. I read it years ago and found his honesty and vulnerability very moving. There is a journal entry for each day of his sabbatical, and each one sparks reflection.

from http://tennoshima.com/Events.html

In the entry from Tuesday, September 9, Nouwen mentions the occasional retreats he gave with friend Jonas and how Jonas could play the Japanese bamboo flute. He writes, “The amelodic music he plays on the shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute, allows people to experience God’s spirit in ways that words cannot express.”

Learning to stretch

In my reading of the gospels over the past year, I have been struck by a recurring theme: Jesus’ insistence that we get beyond our preconceived notions. As the great Spiritual Doctor, He diagnoses humanity with the affliction of narrow-mindedness: we practice our faith by clinging stubbornly to ritual, all the while being oblivious to the actual meaning. It’s easier (and safer) to blindly follow the rules rather than digging deep to understand their intent.

Jesus challenges us to be radical lovers and thinkers; He means to stretch us.

Leaders bound to ritual

This is evidenced by His repeated confrontation with the scribes and Pharisees, the most learned of the people. Despite their knowledge, these leaders adopt a provincial view of life through their observance of the Law. They flawlessly fulfill the rituals yet have no clue as to how the Law applies to their inner lives. It’s all about outward performance and it fuels their pride and arrogance, blinding them to the Son of God who stands before them.

Talking to myself

Rituals affect prayer too. I can use a parochial approach to prayer, doing my fifteen minutes a day mindlessly reciting my rote prayers and feeling a sense of accomplishment at performing my duty. I might as well be saying the prayers to myself. Jesus is waiting for me to sit at His feet and be with Him and I don’t recognize Him standing there before me.

Following the Spirit’s lead

In the book of Romans Paul writes, “the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26). In essence, prayer without the Spirit’s help accomplishes nothing.

Be, not do

The prayers we’ve been taught are good, reinforcing what we’ve learned. They prepare the heart. It’s the next step that requires a more radical approach and that involves acquiescing to the Spirit. My only task at that point is to allow Him to lead me.

It takes effort and fortitude to quiet myself and allow the encounter to begin. Then all effort ceases. And that’s when I sometimes wonder if, in fact, I am praying.

Is it prayer?

Sometimes a wave of peace and gratitude will flow over me.  The result is a sense of love and well-being that wells up inside. It surpasses words and instead, produces tears.

Other times I experience intense pain and swirling confusion, leaving me floundering and helpless.

If during those moments, I turn and face Jesus, they become prayer.

Music as a means to prayer

Nouwen’s description of Jonas’ music reminds me of how easily music leads me to these encounters. I feel almost guilty letting my collection of spiritual and classical music shuffle through my iPod as I drive into work. It’s too easy, there’s no effort.

And that’s when the encounter begins. It’s not my effort that produces prayer but the intercession of the Holy Spirit.

The preparation

Music prepares my heart and soul with a rhythmic kneading, softening what was once hard. I am then prepared to stretch out my hand and allow the Spirit to grasp it, leading me into the inner sanctum.

The experience

In there I could experience a myriad of things: the sense of being loved, deep sorrow for my sins, insight, consolation, maybe even nothing at all. No matter what I may or may  not feel, Jesus is as close to me as my own breath.

Openness to the gift

What a wonderful gift our Lord gives us through His Spirit when we open our minds and hearts and step outside of ourselves. This was the gift He longed to give to the Pharisees but they could not let go.

But like the cripple who, after being healed by Jesus, throws away the crutches and walks freely, I too can employ that same trust, knowing that God will extend His hand and lead me deeper into His heart, and closer to paradise.

Paul’s dilemma

Friday, May 4th, 2012

Reflection on the readings for Friday, May 5: Acts 13:26-33, Psalm 2:6-11; John 14:1-6

Radical conversion

Today’s reading from Acts struck me. Here was Paul, newly converted, preaching the very Gospel he had tried to snuff out. A zealous Pharisee, the once-named Saul made it his life’s mission to persecute Christians as a means of defending the Jewish faith.

Struck down on the road to Damascus by the One he truly persecuted, Paul’s heart was changed as well as his mission.

Hidden demons

Yet as I read his perfect preaching of the Gospel in a nutshell, I sense between the lines the dilemma he must have faced and the demons he had to put down to preach.

Paul’s regret over his past life must have tortured him at times, most especially when he preached. How many times must he had felt unworthy to even say the name of Jesus after the way he had treated His people!

Love conquers all

His love for Jesus had to be overpowering to overcome such regret. His faith in the Spirit to lead him away from his guilt which had been forgiven had to be very deep.

Paul’s thorn

While it is known that Paul had a thorn in his side (perhaps a medical issue), surely this guilt that haunted him again and again, was a thorn also. It was a thorn perhaps even more painful than the one he wrote about.

No excuses

Nobody had more reason to shrink away from preaching the Gospel than the man who had so cruelly persecuted the disciples of Jesus.  And yet, that memory of  and faith in the forgiveness graciously given to him by Jesus was the means by which he could preach.

What’s mine?

What excuse, therefore, do I have to shrink away from sharing Jesus with others? I am a sinner. I may not have persecuted Christians, but I have been ashamed of the Gospel, caring more for what people thought of me than sharing my love of Jesus with them. When I listen to Christian music at work, how often do I instinctively turn it down, or off, when a co-worker comes into the office? Why do I do that?

Eyes fixed on the prize

Paul was running a marathon on the strength of his love of Jesus. He would not stop until he reached the finish line. He had heaven fully in his sight and never took his eyes off of it. Being with the Lord overrode any leftover guilt or weakness.

My guilt is no less and therefore the forgiveness offered is no less powerful. St. Paul, run with me and remind me that if you were able to overcome your demons because of your love, I can too.

The Temple of the Lord

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Readings for Today, The Dedication of the Lateran Basilica
Ezekiel 47:1-2,8-9,12; Psalm 46:2-3,5-6,8-9; 1 Corinthians 3:9-11,16-17; John 2:13-22

A very strong theme ran throughout the readings today about the temple of God. Originally the temple was a massive and glorious physical building in the heart of Jerusalem, first built by Solomon for the arc of the covenant. The building was destroyed about 70 years after Christ’s resurrection, but a new ‘temple’ had been established long before the building was destroyed. Christ became the new temple, and each of us, in turn, are temples ourselves, housing the Spirit of the Lord.

The first reading from Ezekiel describes a vision of the temple and how life-giving water flows in force from that building, bringing food, healing and abundance to the land.

The gospel talks about Christ clearing the temple of the money changers and the animals being sold for sacrifice. At the time it was because Jesus was infuriated that His Father’s house had become a “marketplace.” But in pondering that reading, it also occurred to me that it was too in preparation for the fact that the House of God was changing locations, from a physical building to the Body of Christ, first in Christ’s physical body, and then in those who followed him, the Church.

And in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, Paul speaks of each of us individually as also being temples (just as Christ was Himself a temple):

Do you not know that you are the temple of God,
and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
If anyone destroys God’s temple,
God will destroy that person;
for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.
1 Corinthians 3:16-17

In a podcast I listened to today, Pray As You Go, the speaker asked me, the listener, how I felt about being such a temple, housing the Holy Spirit. I felt gratitude that I would never be alone, sorrow that others that I love are not aware that they house the Spirit, and most of all, responsibility.

I thought of Ezekiel’s vision and that applied to me, as a temple of God. Living water must pour out of me. I must stay connected to the Spirit, nurture my relationship with the Triune God, and try to remain sinless, or at least, confess my sins quickly and with heartfelt sorrow. Perhaps I need to go to confession more often to help with this.

As I write this, I think about what I used to reflect upon as a child after receiving communion (this was during the era of the Latin Mass). Often I would picture the foyer of our house, swept clean with gleaming hardwood floors. The Eucharist makes me clean and helps me in nurturing my relationship with God.

Keeping up with daily prayer and reflection on the scriptures, plus spiritual reading, helps in that regard too. And as I fill myself with the good things that God provides, the river that Ezekiel foresaw overflows out of me, for how can I contain it?

And as Church, if we all pay attention to our own temples, the river will flow like flood waters out of the Body of Christ. Imagine how that would change our world!

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.”

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.

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.

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.

Rock-solid faith – reflection on daily readings for September 17

Friday, September 17th, 2010

Here are today’s readings
1 Corinthians 15:12-20; Psalm 17:1,6-8,15; Luke 8:1-3

St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians lays out a brilliant and logical argument for the cause of eternal life and Christ rising from the dead. As I read that scripture passage I thought, “No problem here, I know I believe that Christ rose, and I believe in eternal life.”

Then I recalled a visit I had the other day with a dear friend of mine who possesses a lot of spiritual wisdom. We were talking about mutual friends who have lost a grown child to cancer and how their faith had been shaken.

I shared how I felt that God had blessed with me with a rock-solid faith, as I truly believe in eternal life and believe my parents are safe with God. My friend then looked at me intently and shared rather bluntly how her “rock-solid” faith was shaken badly when her husband passed away years ago. She has since regained her foothold but she stated it so strongly; it really caused me to pause and think.

I think the underlying message of her statement was a warning: don’t ever count on your own ability to hold on to your faith. Perhaps she saw me as being a bit naive in stating so blithely that my faith was rock-solid. Perhaps there was a little pride hidden in there: “I know my faith is solid while others may be faltering.”

Job certainly seemed solid in his faith at the beginning of his trials, but as the trials multiplied, he began to falter. Anyone can falter in their faith – after all, we are only human!

I recall a statement made last weekend in the homily at Sunday Mass – we always ask God “why” when trials come up, but do we also ask “why” when things are going smoothly? Actually, I silently answered “yes” because my life has gone so smoothly these last 4 months since my dear mother passed away. Almost too smoothly.

And I find myself wondering: will my faith hold up when a real trial comes along? What if I lost a member of my immediate family, would my faith still be “rock-solid?’

I certainly don’t want to ask for any trials, but I do want to be ready. I pray now as things are going smoothly, that my faith will be just as rock-solid when the rug inevitably is pulled out from under me. It is during our most difficult trials that Christ is closest to us, having endured the ultimate painful trial Himself.

Lord Jesus, be with me always and never let me think that I can believe all on my own. It’s Your Spirit in me that believes.

Running the Race to Win – reflection on readings for Sept. 10

Friday, September 10th, 2010

Today’s readings can be found here.
1 Corinthians 9:16-19,22-27; Psalm 84:3-6,12; Luke 6:39-42

From today’s Divine Office, morning prayer:

2 Corinthians 12:9b-10
I willingly boast of my weakness, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I am content with weakness, with mistreatment, with distress, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ; for when I am powerless, it is then that I am strong.

St. Paul tells us to run the race to win.A cup of coffee so I can wake up, a longer commute than usual because of heavy traffic . . . I think you know where this is leading. It’s painful like no other. I struggle mightily with this pain even though it is so small in the scheme of things. In the midst of it I tried hard to remember that it would resolve itself in due time, but in the middle of it, I was desperate. I could not figure out how to maintain my peace .

This happened a couple of days ago and I am still reflecting on it. Then I read the above reading from the Divine Office and wonder how Paul did it. Did he lose his peace when he was in pain? Or did he maintain it? I suppose the best way to find out is to ask him through intercessory prayer, and to study his life.

In today’s first reading, Paul talks about running the race to win. Since I am not an athlete, I never could relate to the analogy of running a race. But now that I have begun working out at the YMCA 3 times a week, I am beginning to understand. It’s about total commitment, and total belief in that commitment. You can’t run a race to win if you don’t believe you can win.

I have to believe that I can win in my spiritual life as well. How can I lose with the Lord’s Holy Spirit inside of me? I can lose only if I don’t believe.

I think I would almost welcome the challenge of my “pain” after coffee again and see if this time, I can run that race to win!