Maybe it was the vehemence of St. Paul’s conversion event that made him so vociferous about his convictions when he preached. We may all have those days when certainty is the order of the day. (See my post of yesterday.) Most of us, however, have a smaller sphere of influence than Paul and are not in danger of death because of what we say. I often wonder if I would be so willing to speak about my faith if I lived in a place that was inimical to my way of speaking or if my beliefs were the same were I to be living at the same era as Paul. Would I be so moved if I stood with the Romans and heard him say, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (ROM 8)
Sometimes it’s hard to hear lines from Scripture like this morning’s verse that says: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God…” (ROM 8). That’s especially difficult when things seem to be frustrating our schedules or our desires or the way “things ought to be.” It sometimes takes a long look back to find the reason for what happened along the way. I even suppose I will still have a few questions when I reach the end of my particular “road” in life. It’s very helpful if we can come to see the wisdom in what didn’t make sense when it happened, but sometimes that just isn’t the case.
I have lived long enough to know that we need to trust that line from St. Paul, just as the Romans had to trust it all those centuries ago. It’s helpful if we have some help in looking back from wise people who know us well and it’s a real grace if we can actually figure out meanings that were obscure along the way. For now, however, I’ve seen enough to trust the God I’ve come to know as a good and gracious and loving guide even when I can’t see how everything fits together. I figure it will all work out in the end. Since the end result, Paul says, is good “for those who love God,” I’m safe because I truly do love God. Oh yes, I truly do – no matter what.
In a book by Henri Nouwen entitled Thomas Merton: Contemplative Critic, I read a quote yesterday from Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain that I found quite ingenuous. It was from an incident early in Merton’s life of searching, when he was at college in the company of his friends, Bob Lax and Mark Van Doren. He remembered the conversation and recorded it word for word (as Nouwen then does in his book) and reads as follows.
Lax suddenly turned around and asked me the question:
L: What do you want to be, anyway? M: I don’t know. I guess what I want is to be a good Catholic. L: What do you mean, you want to be a good Catholic?…What you should say…is that you want to be a saint. M: How do you expect me to become a saint? L: By wanting to. M: I can’t be a saint, I can’t be a saint… L: All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don’t you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let God do it? All you have to do is desire it.
The next day I told Mark Van Doren: Lax is going around saying that all a man needs to be a saint is to want to be one. “Of course,” said Mark.“
The conversation first made me smile and then got me wondering what I think (or what I had been taught in my early days in Catholic school) was necessary to become a saint. I rather like how Merton’s friends see the process. I intend to go back to smiling and remembering to “want to be one” every day.
There are some lovely lines in today’s lectionary readings, starting right at the beginning with the declaration that “the Lord is a God of justice who knows no favorites.” I smile at that one because it’s followed immediately with a caveat about the fact that even though God “is not unduly partial toward the weak,” or deaf to the cry of orphans and widows, yet God hears the cries of the oppressed. There’s also a bow to those who serve God willingly and the lowly whose prayer “pierces the clouds.” In the end, we have the assurance that “the Most High responds and judges justly; the Lord will not delay.” So the question remains. Is God or is God not partial in response to prayer and good works?
It seems clear to me that the Psalmist writes on behalf of the poor, the just and the brokenhearted. (PS 34) and that Paul’s testimony this morning (2 TM 4) is evidence of his good living. Then Luke adds to the examples of those who will be rewarded the story of the Pharisee and the publican (LK 18). What are we to conclude from all these examples? It sounds to me like favoritism.
I have to stop and consider everything I have read. Then I think of the God I trust. I go back to the beginning of my reflection about the fact that God shows no favoritism…and see the first part of that sentence: “God is a God of justice.” Can I assume that as the overarching theme of God’s existence – adding the quality of compassion into the mix of God’s treatment of humankind? If so, I think I find a reasonable answer. God can look at us all as cherished creatures, love us all equally and expect us to live as we were created to: in unifying love toward one another. If we respond positively to that invitation, we will be rewarded. If we do not, the justice of God will enter for correction, always with the potential for forgiveness and reconciliation.
How does that sound?
Today is one of those rare Saturdays when the possibilities are endless. There are no meetings to go to, no workshops at home or elsewhere for me to attend. The hours spread out before me like “a deep breath of life.” Ironic that I pulled the book of that title off my shelf just now to find a great page for pondering. Alan Cohen always has good advice for a day of deep breathing and reflection. Here’s part of what he offered for me today, definitely worth repeating. First the reflection, second a prayer of intention and then an affirmation for release.
Have you been punishing yourself or someone else for something that happened a long time ago? Any payoff you perceive for holding a grudge is an illusion: there is no value, only a weighty price. A friend of mine in chiropractic school showed me a diagram of what happens to a human body in the throes of anger or rage. All kinds of chemicals are released into the system that exact a heavy toll on our health and vitality….
Jesus was asked, “How many times should we forgive — seven?” Jesus’s answer was clear: “Seventy times seven,” meaning just keep on letting go. We must remember that forgiveness is more of a gift to ourselves than to the person we are forgiving.
“Give me the willingness to let go. Let me perceive no value in holding hurtful thoughts. I want to be free.”
I release the past and get on with my life. (A Deep Breath of Life)
In this morning’s lectionary texts, it’s difficult to ignore the refrain in the Psalm Response. Psalm 119 is the longest of all and always when it appears in the daily readings, it is like a smattering of verses, chosen to present a cohesive theme. (Today it’s verses 66, 68, 76, 77, 93 and 94) The theme is impossible to miss because it’s repeated after each verse, so this morning that means six times. (Lord, teach me your statutes.) It’s an interesting progression. First, the request, then a compliment to God to be sure we have divine attention and a repetition of the request. Following that we have two requests for virtues and a promise to be faithful. Lastly, a second promise to be faithful – totally and forever. (The psalmist liked repetition! Check it out: PS 119)
When I was in elementary school, we memorized many things which have stayed in the rolodex of my mind all these years to be pulled out when needed. Even if we just remembered the refrain of today’s psalm it might help when we’re floundering sometime in our own personal dark night or in times of calamity. And having the refrain in mind, you could create the verses to fit your own situation. Why not try it? You might find a creativity that you never knew was there and a trust in God that is deeper than ever before because it is truly personal, clearly your own.
I’ve been awake and sitting upright for quite awhile now but have not found in my own mind or the printed word any thought uplifting enough to share. I smiled when I turned to Macrina Wiederkehr’s thoughts on what she calls “The Awakening Hour” however, as I found my own often repeated words in hers. “I don’t always enjoy getting up,” she writes, “however, I like being up early. Getting up cheerfully in the morning is a spiritual practice for me. For this reason I set the clock of my heart as well as my alarm clock…Dawn is like medicine and morning is a healing drink that I have to brew in my heart as I brew my coffee.”
Later in her reverie she writes, “It is important that we respect the differences of others. Not everyone lives on my heart’s schedule. Not everyone wakes up good to go. Not everyone wakes up wanting to give praise. Waking up in the morning is a process, just as awakening to the gift of life is a process.” (sevensacredpauses, p. 54-55)
A fanciful reflection, to be sure, but good for us to hear once in awhile so that we can all move into the day as we are able and give thanks for the diversity that makes the world go ’round with love.
When things in the world seem dark and dreary and fragmented, we seek encouragement from any source available to us. Today it will be sunshine – if the predicted weather gives us one of those amazing October days. We hang on to “October’s Bright Blue Weather” as we know that winter will surely soon be upon us. As on the outside, so we hope for solace for our inner selves. I find it in the words of John Philip Newell today in Praying with the Earth.
All things are born of you, O God. We carry within us your light and your life. In the mystery of matter and deep in the cells of our souls are your longings for oneness. The oneness of the universe vast and vibrating with the sound of its beginning. The oneness of the earth greening and teeming as a single body. The oneness of the human soul a sacred countenance in infinite form. Grant us your longings for oneness, O God, amidst life’s glorious multiplicities. (p. 28)
Today in the universal Church, Roman Catholics everywhere (and others of many faiths) celebrate the feast of Pope John Paul II, now a canonized saint, well-known and remembered for his long and active stint as Pope. A vibrant middle-aged man in 1978, he spent 27 years “globe-trotting” to 124 countries and did much to improve relations with other denominations of Christians as well as with the Muslim world. His biography is replete with accomplishments for which he is well-known everywhere. We watched him age for almost three decades and many people wondered toward the end of his life why he did not give up the papacy to one who was more able.
Today, in reflecting on his life, I think of our elderly Sisters and even of myself as I move forward in my seventh decade of life, hoping to persevere and desiring a longer life to learn the lessons that life will teach me. There is so much that concerns us; who would not want to “stay in the fray” of service? Of course, there is a moment when each of us needs to recognize the necessity of letting go when our bodies tell us it is time. Some thought that John Paul II stayed too long; only the Pope himself would have the answer to that decision.
In 1999, six years before his death, he wrote a “Letter to the Elderly” in which he spoke very personally about his own aging and suffering. The letter ends with the following prayer which I quote here in its entirety in the hope that it will comfort some (young or old) who adopt it as a daily prayer.
Grant, O Lord of Life, that we may…savor every season of our lives as a gift filled with promise for the future. Grant that we may lovingly accept your will, and place ourselves each day in your merciful hands. And when the moment of our definitive ‘passage’ comes, grant that we may face it with serenity, without regret for what we shall leave behind. For in meeting you, after having sought you for so long, we shall find once more every authentic good which we have known here on earth, in the company of all who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith and hope. Mary, Mother of pilgrim humanity, pray for us, ‘now and at the hour of our death.’ Keep us ever close to Jesus, your beloved Son and our brother, the Lord of life and glory. Amen.
St. Hilarion, whose feast is celebrated today, was a monastic who struggled to find a place where he could be alone with God in the desert. His difficulty was his popularity; he was known as a source of spiritual wisdom and peace for seekers of holiness. Hilarion is known as the founder of monasticism in Palestine. A brief reflection at the end of his biography on Franciscan media’s “Saint of the Day” page gives us a good thought to ponder for today, I think. See if you agree.
We can learn the value of solitude from St. Hilarion. Unlike loneliness, solitude is a positive condition in which we are alone with God. In today’s busy and noisy world, we could all use a little solitude.