Pumping Iron/Waging War

June 25, 2009

“Train yourself for devotion, for, while physical training is of limited value, devotion is valuable in every respect, since it holds a promise of life both for the present and for the future. ” – from the fourth chapter of Paul’s first letter to Timothy

I apologize for the long delay between entries.  Thank you for taking the time out of your day to meditate with me.

In the past few weeks I have re-committed myself to a regular exercise program.  I belong to a local gym where I like to work out at least three times a week.  In fact, this week marks the first time I actually got up early enough to work out before going to my job.  It was invigorating. 

But over time I know it will be challenging to maintain my regular exercise program (just like blogging).  I nned to stay devoted.  After my workout last night, I was driving in my car while listening to St. Paul’s first letter to Timothy.  The words above stood out at me.  Train yourself for devotion.  That was notable to me.  One must train himself to be devoted.  To be devoted to something means placing it above other things.  To be a devoted husband or wife means you are constantly thinking of your spouse and doing things for his or her benefit, often above your own interests.  It can be a challenge to be devoted, especially when you are used to looking out for your own interests.  Because of my devotion to exercise, I was able to carve time out of my day to exercise. Do I do the same for my soul?

If I keep working out regularly, I hope to become physically bigger and stronger. While this is valuable, Paul points out that even while physical fitness is useful, our spiritual fitness should be paramount.  A man who is the most physically strong person in the world, can nevertheless be extremely weak when confronted with the temptation to sin.  I need to train myself to be devoted.

An excellent way to foster devotion is choosing a particular form of prayer to do each day.  The Rosary is a particularly good one.  It is easy to learn and very portable.  I usually carry one in my pocket, have one in my car, and have several strewn about the house.  Also, I have a friend who also values daily prayer, so we will call each other and pray the rosary together.  We have been doing this fairly frequently for almost two years.  It has been an excellent way to help each other set time aside to acknowledge God, thank him for his blessings, and ask him for continued help with all our needs. We call it “waging war” because we like to think of ourselves as being soldiers in the battle against evil.  During the rosary, we meditate on the mysteries in the Life of Christ.  The Spirit will grant helpful insights to the one who is contemplating Christ. 

So let’s commit ourselves to both a physical and a spiritual fitness program.  Then, when our earthly journey is over, we will present ourselves as “strong in the Lord!”

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Goin’ to Work…

April 27, 2009

As I mentioned in my last post, I am in the midst of uncertainty regarding my employment.  In order to stay in a spirit of faith and trust, I have renewed my commitment to participating in the weekday liturgies.  Due to my work schedule, the only one I can attend is the 6:30 am service.  I am not a morning person!!! I have always had difficulty getting up early in the morning.  But God makes all things new, right?  Perhaps he is trying to transform me into a “morning person.”  At any rate, I have found that this job difficulty has had the positive effect of pushing me right back into the heart of God.  Each morning a different Word sticks in my mind – I am trying to hear what the Lord is saying to me.

Today this is what struck me:

Do not work for food that perishes
but for the food that endures for eternal life,
which the Son of Man will give you.
For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.”
So they said to him,
“What can we do to accomplish the works of God?”
Jesus answered and said to them,
“This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.

This is our true work: To believe in Jesus and God’s love for us.  As long as we live and breathe in this world, we will need to work to earn our daily bread; however each day Jesus is offering us Himself in the supernatural Eucharistic bread and we should never reject Him.  I will have faith that God will provide for my needs and the needs of my family.  My “work” will always first and foremost be to believe in His Word.  God’s Word is true – “He can neither deceive nor be deceived.”  DEUS CARITAS EST

Behold, I Make All Things New

April 24, 2009

“Behold, I make all things new.”  This is the Word of God on my mind and heart lately.  The reason being that there are changes being made at my place of employment that suggest I will need to find a new job within the next few months.  I am angry, confused, frustrated and sad.  I was blessed by God to find a job that was a definite upgrade from my prior job.  A generous salary, friendly colleagues, and a safe and comfortable place to work.  I thought it would be a place I could put down roots.  But now it looks like I will be uprooted again.  It is difficult to get myself in the mindset of change, but I have no choice.  Therefore, I am looking to God to help me move forward.  God makes all things new.  I believe he is guiding me and leading me.  The last time I was unemployed, I moved forward with faith that God had a place for me.  And it proved to be true.  I must hold fast to that truth anew.  Today at morning Mass the priest began the homily by asking, “How often do we place limits on what God can accomplish through us?”  The reading today was about the miracle of feeding the four thousand people with just a few loaves of bread.  I will not place limits on God.  Like I mentioned a few posts ago, “God can create light out of darkness, not out of a lesser light.  He can bring you summer out of winter, even if you have no Spring…”  Please pray for me.  May God bless you.

Darkness

March 30, 2009

“Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side.” – from Psalm 23

Psalm 23 is the arguably the most famous and most loved of all the 150 psalms.  It is very familiar to most Christians.  For those of you who are not familiar with it, I recommend you read the whole psalm for its beautiful and timeless images depicting God’s faithfulness and love.  When I read this particular passage, some thoughts come to mind.  In this time we are all facing uncertainty, especially here in my Midwestern state.  There is great fear of financial ruin in the form of job losses, foreclosures and bankruptcy.  Things upon which we used to depend are turning out to be unreliable.  How will we cope with this uncertainty?

The psalmist’s faith shows that he had no fear, even in the darkness, because he believed that God was at his side.  Notice that he does not pray to God to take away the darkness.  That would be an understandable approach to being in such a tenuous and unnerving state.  But instead, he praises God for simply being at his side.  The presence of God was enough for him to feel safe and secure.  So, perhaps God will not alter the failing global economy overnight – to make us all “feel better”…so we can go back to seeking fulfillment in materialism and trivial pursuits.  Instead he may let the darkness remain, while we fumble around in the dark, until we finally decide it makes sense to seek out an unfailing source of light.

 Jesus spoke to them again, saying,
“I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness,
but will have the light of life.”


“While we were still sinners…”

March 16, 2009

From the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans

“For Christ, while we were still helpless, died at the appointed time for the ungodly. Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

One of the roadblocks in the spiritual life is that when we fall into sin, we begin to feel shame and withdraw from God.  We fall into the trap of believing we can only be loved by God if we are pure and clean from all stain of sin.  This is a great temptation that should be considered diabolical, because to believe this would build a wall between us and God.  Satan would have people believe that they are unworthy of God’s love and forgiveness.  He will try to choke the believer’s prayer life by suffocating him with shame and guilt.  Jesus, on the other hand, wishes to demonstrate His love towards all of us by giving us everything good, even when we are completely undeserving.  Remember this the next time you sit down to pray, at home or at church.  Or better yet, remember this when you are feeling depressed after having fallen repeatedly into the same sins.  You may be thinking, “Here I go again. I clearly don’t love the Lord or appreciate His blessings.  I continually reject Him. I just keep making the wrong choices. There is no hope for me. I should give up.”  WRONG!  Jesus is the personification of Mercy.  He is ready to lavish his mercy upon us.  In fact, he chose to reveal Himself to certain notorious sinners who were outright opposed to Him.  Do you recall St. Paul?  St. Paul had been focusing all his attention on eliminating the early Christians, believing they were a cult that should be stamped out.  He approved as followers of Jesus were imprisoned and even executed.  And amazingly, Paul was not even repenting or asking forgiveness when Jesus appeared to Him and revealed Himself as the Lord.  How much more then, will God embrace us when we ask Him for mercy? 

I will conclude with an excerpt from John Donne’s poetry, reminding us that “all occasions invite His mercies.” 

God made Sun and Moon to distinguish seasons, and day, and night, and we cannot have the fruits of the earth but in their seasons: But God hath made no decree to distinguish the seasons of his mercies. 

 He brought light out of darkness, not out of a lesser light; he can bring thy Summer out of Winter, though thou have no Spring; though in the wayes of fortune, or understanding, or conscience, thou have been benighted till now, wintred and frozen, clouded and eclypsed, damped and benummed, smothered and stupefied till now, now God comes to thee, not as in the dawning of the day, not as in the bud of the spring, but as the Sun at noon to illustrate all shadows, as the sheaves in harvest, to fill all penuries. 

All occasions invite His Mercies, and All times are His Seasons.” 


“Come, let us set things right”

March 10, 2009

A reading from the prophet Isaiah:

Come now, let us set things right,
says the LORD:
Though your sins be like scarlet,
they may become white as snow;
Though they be crimson red,
they may become white as wool.

I began this blog like I do many things – with an initial burst of energy and enthusiasm which becomes hard to sustain over time.  The pursuit of holiness can be like that.  I know that my heart desires God “like a deer yearns for running streams” but I continue to be consumed by business and busyness, and most regrettably, sin.  But this reading gives me hope again.   God is “rich in mercy” and always ready to forgive.  To be “white as wool” suggests that we will become like lambs.  Once again, God is speaking to us on many levels.  One of the titles given to Jesus was the “Lamb of God.”  He offered himself as a perfect sacrifice, taking upon himself all the sins of mankind.  Astoundingly, Jesus is still inviting me to place my sins upon his back, to free me of their death-dealing. 

Once I was praying the rosary and meditating on the mystery of Christ carrying his cross to Calvary.  While I was praying, this scripture came to mind: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  I was surprised at this, because surely Jesus’ cross was extremely difficult to carry, not only for its real weight, but also because his body had been tortured, and he was suffering spiritually with the weight of all Sin on his back.   But the Lord showed me that His love was so great that indeed he rejoiced in being able to take our sins upon himself.  Even now it makes me tear up thinking about that time spent in prayer and what Jesus communicated to me.    

It is never too late to set things right, for “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.” Amen!

The Door Will Be Opened!

March 5, 2009

The Gospel of St. Matthew 7:7-12

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Ask and it will be given to you;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
Which one of you would hand his son a stone
when he asked for a loaf of bread,
or a snake when he asked for a fish?
If you then, who are wicked,
know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your heavenly Father give good things
to those who ask him.

As you read today’s Gospel passage, did you find yourself reading more quickly than you normally do?  I did.  I believe that is partly because I have heard and read these words many times before.  They do not sound “new.”  And I think it is also because of my internet surfing habits – we are used to quickly scanning a page for interesting information, while trying to ignore pop-ups, advertisements, and other portions we just simply aren’t interested in.

Now is the opportunity to …s  l  o  w. . . .    d  o  w  n.   Jesus first spoke these words over 2000 years ago, but he is also speaking them to us today in the here and now.  If we skim the surface of his preaching without “plumbing the depths” we will fail to benefit.

If we are properly attentive to today’s Gospel reading, we should experience these words as a difficult challenge.  Even in our culture where we have become accustomed to instant gratification, even we recognize that we don’t always get what we want when we want it.  But here Jesus is telling us Ask and you shall receive.  What comes to mind when you consider what you want to ask of God?  If you ask, do you believe that he will give it to you? And if he does not, does that mean he does not exist?  Or does it mean he does not care about you?  Or does it mean you asked for the wrong thing? Or perhaps what you asked for will be granted, but not yet.  “God’s delays are not necessarily God’s denials,” as someone once observed. 

But there is a deeper issue involved in this matter.  When we ask someone for something, it is usually someone we know and trust.  Jesus uses the image of a parent and child.  A child is totally dependent on his parents.  If his parents do not provide him with food, shelter, clothing and other basic necessities, his life will be at risk.  When the child asks his father for something to eat, the child has the belief that his father has the ability to provide what he is asking for, and will do so because of their familial relationship.  Jesus had complete trust in God, whom he frequently addressed as “Abba”, a word which is equivalent to our english word “Daddy.”  This is a word used by a trusting, dependent child.  Jesus is saying to us that God is a loving parent who wishes to give us good things, and we should have faith that He will provide them if we ask. 

What “good gifts” do you seek?

“It shall not return to Me void”

March 4, 2009

Let’s start today with an Old Testament reading…

Isaiah 55:10-11

Thus says the LORD:
Just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
And do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
Giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
So shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
It shall not return to me void,
but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it.

Something will happen to us when we hear the Good News proclaimed.  Something within us will change when we listen to the Word and receive it into our hearts.  Notice the images the Lord uses to describe the action of His Word: rain, snow, earth, seed, bread. These are all things found in the natural world, ordinary things we may encounter on a daily basis. But since God is involved, there is also the involvement of the supernatural.  We need to keep this in mind as we meditate on the Word of God.  The Bible is no ordinary book.  It is not merely a collection of stories.  As Pope Benedict XVI described it in his book Jesus of Nazareth, the Gospel has performative qualities.  It can transform  whomever hears it proclaimed.  Hence, we see how the disciples, when confronted with two simple words, “Follow Me”, they dropped everything they were doing and began walking with Jesus. 

I hope today’s blog encourages you to “drop what you are doing” for a moment and walk with the Lord.  Listen to what He tells you…

Refresh My Soul!

March 3, 2009

The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul.  

We tend to think of laws as rules and regulations that limit our freedom.  We resent when others place demands on us.  Perhaps there is something that Jesus commands us to do but we find ourselves recoiling against it.  We think that if we follow his teachings, our individuality will be stamped out, or we will be deprived of joy or pleasure in some way.  It is hard to understand, but in fact joy is found in doing God’s will.  Think of the saints who sang unceasing hymns to God even when they were in the midst of deep suffering.  Something was sustaining them, allowing them the ability to rejoice in God.   One of the most moving scenes in the Bible is in the Acts of the Apostles, in which Paul and other believers were imprisoned for preaching the Gospel.  Let us stop to recall this scene, right when the townspeople are bringing Paul and his companions in front of the local authorities.  

They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These people are Jews and are disturbing our city and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us Romans to adopt or practice.” The crowd joined in the attack on them, and the magistrates had them stripped and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After inflicting many blows on them, they threw them into prison and instructed the jailer to guard them securely.  When he received these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and secured their feet to a stake. About midnight, while Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God as the prisoners listened, there was suddenly such a severe earthquake that the foundations of the jail shook; all the doors flew open, and the chains of all were pulled loose. 

Clearly, sincere and heartfelt praise to God has power.  It has power to make miracles happen.  Prayer and praise can connect us to God and bring us joy.  You may think you are seeking security, pleasure, or prosperity, but in fact your soul is seeking joy.  Joy is a gift that transcends all earthly circumstances.  In fact, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.”  Today, praise God, no matter what chains are weighing you down.  Be assured that God will hear your prayers and break the chains of sin in your life.

“This is the time of fulfillment”

March 1, 2009

While meditating on the Scriptures for today, these two passages stood out to me.  Again, you can read them in context by following the link to the right. 

Beloved: Christ suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God.

I know that it is often hard to understand why Jesus is so often depicted as crucified on a cross.  Especially when His resurrection is the true foundation of our faith. We have lost the sense of shock and repulsion that could accompany death by crucifixion.  In fact, when St. Paul preached Christ Crucified, it was a scandal to the Jews, whose Law taught them that “cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree.”  How could God’s Beloved be subject to such a horrible death? Wouldn’t he conquer the kings of the world with legions of angels and take over his rightful throne as Lord?

As we are seeing, God does not act in ways that we expect. Just last week, after Peter identified Jesus as the Christ, Jesus explained he would be rejected and killed before rising again.  The disciples could not tolerate such talk.  But as the first passage we read today tells us, there is a definite reason why Jesus suffered – to lead us to God. But why? Couldn’t there be a better way to find God?  The passage indicates that Jesus was righteous, while those he suffered for were unrighteous.  An unrighteous person is far from God.  They are slaves to sin.  They are filled with contempt, selfishness, pride, and many other obstacles to God.  Jesus, who was an innocent man, had every reason to protest his sentence of death.  But instead, He offered himself as a “spotless lamb” to God, not to satisfy a bloodthirsty god but rather to demonstrate to us what true love does and is.  “Greater love than this no man has – to give his life for his friends.”  Jesus’ love was so great, he not only gave his life for his friends, but also his enemies.  If we love only those who love us, what reward shall we have?

After John had been arrested,  Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

This is the beginning of Jesus’ preaching.  He is telling us the time is NOW to open ourselves to God and His reign.  Then he uses two verbs – REPENT and BELIEVE.  These will be our responsibilities as we move through Lent.  As you may know, the word “Gospel” means good news.  Here in the midwestern state in which I live, there is a seemingly endless stream of bad news – job cuts, home foreclosures, and families struggling to survive.  Let us not hesitate to embrace Good News, because then we will be “like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.”  Let us build ourselves upon the rock that is the Gospel.