The lovely book by John Philip Newell entitled Praying with the Earth: A Prayerbook for Peace is set up in such a way that the reader not only finds – in addition to the prayers for the life of the world – prayers of awareness and blessing twice a day but also quotes from the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures and the Quran. That sounds like a lot of words but, in fact, it is not. Here are the three Scripture quotes for Monday morning that in their brevity moves one, perhaps, to a deeper, wordless place of peace.
Wait for God. Be strong and let your heart take courage. (Psalm 27: 14)
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21)
Remember God deep in your soul with humility and reverence. (Quran – The Heights 7 .205)
There are some days when I find little to comment on from the lectionary readings as I open the US Catholic Bishops’ website. Sometimes, however, there is too much because all the readings are candidates for “Scripture of the Year.” Today is one of those days. The readings are self explanatory but the content calls for reflection with every new line so I choose this morning to offer a smorgasbord of loving advice that just gives a taste of what can be found in the storehouse of the Lord.
Brothers and sisters, put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another…as the Lord has forgiven you. And over all these virtues put on love…(COL 3)
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! (PS 150)
If we love one another, God remains in us and God’s love is brought to perfection in us. Alleluia! (1 JN 4)
To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you…Stop judging and you will not be judged…Forgive and you will be forgiven…For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you. (LK 6)
As I read this morning’s gospel, I must have been giving it less that 100% of my attention because suddenly I said to myself, “Wait a minute! I thought Jesus was talking about little children, not sheep.” And so he was. The text from Matthew 18 began with a question from the disciples to Jesus about who was greatest in the Kingdom of heaven. (I think the disciples were overly concerned about that issue – as are people living now, although more about who is greatest on earth.) Jesus was very clear in his answer. (see vs. 1-5. Hint: it’s the little children).
Abruptly, however, or so it seems, Jesus starts talking about a shepherd with 100 sheep who leaves the 99 to find the one who wanders off and gets lost. (vs.10-14) I’ve always loved that section and actually all the texts about real shepherds whose job isn’t the easiest in the world. Think about it! Sheep generally are pretty similar in their looks. One would need to really get to know them deeply in order to distinguish them one from another…but I digress. The last line pulls it all together. Jesus says, “In just the same way (as with the sheep), it is not the will of your Heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.”
So what is the lesson here. I think it’s one of those texts where multiple meanings are possible and all are worth considering. It could be a call to care for children – and how timely is that message right now? It could be a reminder of the importance of humility…or the fact that the less fortunate need our attention. It could be providing us with a hint about the need to never give up on anyone. There are lots of ways to interpret it. What do you say about it all?
I’ve been sitting for quite a while now, trying to find words that will bring alive the saint whose feast we celebrate today. It it Clare of Assisi, who entered into the religious life as a teenager and who, once installed in the Church of San Damiano in Assisi, never left the convent walls. Her teacher and spiritual father was Francis and her life was a following of his in simplicity, poverty and total dedication to the love of God, lived out in love of all creatures, especially her Sisters in community.
I marvel at how easy it is to be dedicated to the memory of someone who lived over 800 years ago, especially because one could read the stories of Clare’s life and, while noting a few extraordinary events, be aware of the dailiness of most of her time. I can only conclude that it is her all-consuming desire for God that captivates us and draws us in to her story. Here is what I know from http://www.franciscanmedia.com this morning.
Saint Clare referred to herself as a little plant. In many ways, she was a strong oak. The first woman to write a Rule of Life for her sisters, she insisted on the privilege of poverty until her dying breath, getting papal approval for her Rule just days before she died. A model of humility, Clare cared for her sisters even through her own years of illness. Her devotion to Jesus was extraordinary.
What I know from my heart is what can never be taught but only caught: God loves us more than we can ever ask or imagine, and the fire of that love is, if we allow it to be, all consuming. It was so for Clare.
The relevance of the Psalms is timeless as the issues raised and the relationships considered apply to antiquity as well as to world situations in our own day. Following on yesterday’s post, we have Psalm 2 today that moves us from the individual to the universal and puts God squarely in the midst of world events and the clashes of nation with nation. At present the question of who will rule the world and how is filled with tension and dangerous rhetoric seems to escalate with each passing day.
In the midst of such a situation, the psalmist calls for the rulers of nations to turn to God for guidance. I found an interesting twist in Lynn Bauman’s translation of the last verses of the psalm which seems to me to relate directly to the situation at the southern border of the United States of America.
So listen well, you rulers of the peoples, be wise, pay heed to what you hear. Learn service to the God of earth and heaven, in humility and awe draw close, come near. Instead of fury, anger, fear and wrath, know blessedness. Learn to trust and live as a refugee in God. (Ancient Songs Sung Anew, p. 3)
How might living with that consciousness change things on the world stage?
Here’s a thought for the day that I think follows from yesterday’s word of humility (Ego sum pauper) as well as the gospel for today about the Pharisee and the tax collector (LK 18:9-14). Joan Chittister says, The harshness with which we judge the other will some day be the measure by which we ourselves are judged. “I really only love God,” Dorothy Day writes, “as much as I love the person I love the least.”
We Are All One: Reflections on Unity, Community and Commitment to Each Other, p.62
Today Catholics around the world celebrate the feast of St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church and the “silent partner” of Mary, in what we know as the Holy Family. I say that Joseph was silent because although he appears in several places in the gospels, there are no words attributed to him. It is up to us to imagine his part in the conversations that took place in family life, their travels and other significant events. That can be difficult for people who desire to know more about Joseph but much easier for those with active imaginations.
As I think of it, that is true for us with much of Scripture. We need to take the descriptions of events and fill-in the blanks where conversation is lacking. Those of us who live under the patronage of Joseph, e.g. Sisters of St. Joseph, carry him with us – most likely as a reflection of how we try to live our commitment to the religious life. What we can say about Joseph is that he heard God speaking to him in dreams, trusted what he heard and was obedient to God’s messages throughout his life.
I envision Joseph as a loving, gentle and kind spouse and father, humble about his work and his role in God’s plan. Although we do not hear him speak for himself, his humility and willingness to carry out God’s plan is evident in his actions. I have come to love the portrayal of his silent acceptance and way of moving through life as gift. Often words fail when God intervenes in our days in special ways or surprising moments. I believe Joseph treasured these events in his life and that they anchored him when the difficult moments came. Silence was his home, I think, and it served him well.
May Joseph’s gift of silence be a prayer to bless each of us today and may his love for God and his family be an example to all. Happy Feast!
Beginning with the Prophet Isaiah today, we have laments in every age about our imperfections. He starts us off by describing a vision of God seated on “a high and lofty throne” with angels all around and proclaims, “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips!” What follows is testimony to God’s willingness to choose him – even in his weakness – and to cure him. (IS 6:1-8) Similarly in the second reading, St. Paul acknowledges that he was not fit to be called an apostle because he had been diligent in persecuting Christians. “By the grace of God,” however, he acknowledges that “I am what I am and God’s grace has not been ineffective.” (1COR 15: 1-11). Finally we have Simon Peter doubting the effectiveness of the directive Jesus gives to the fishermen who have been all night at their task and caught nothing. Perhaps his saving grace was that although he expressed his doubt about going back out “into deep water” and lowering the nets again, he said to Jesus, “but at your command I will lower the nets.” You know the story (LK 5: 1-11). The nets were almost breaking with all the fish! Peter’s response: to fall at the knees of Jesus and say, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” In each of these cases, the imperfect servant comes to know a sort of greatness in humility.
The lesson in each of these readings is captured in Psalm 138, tucked in the center of it all. “Your right hand saves me…your kindness, O Lord, endures forever…” Lynn Bauman’s translation of this psalm gives a beautiful expression of encouragement to us, letting us know that in spite of our human frailty God is just waiting to give us what we need.
For when I spoke your sacred name, your word of answer swiftly came as source of all the strength I know within. O peoples of this earth, know this, you too can hear this voice and speak the name. You too can know the music of this song revealing God’s beauty in fullest splendor. For though God is high beyond this earth, as swift as wind God stoops to hold the lowly close, the proud afar…(Ancient Songs Sung Anew, p.354)
Today is the feast of one of the great Desert Fathers, a man living an amazingly long life (251-356), whose legacy is greatly revered by those seeking a depth of spirituality. At the same time, Antony’s words are often quite matter-of-fact and “down-to-earth” and occasionally sound even humorous in our day (although most likely unintentionally). Here are three examples.
A brother said to Abba Antony, “Pray for me.” The old man said to him, “I will have no mercy upon you, nor will God have any, if you yourself do not make an effort and if you do not pray to God.”
Abba Antony said, “I saw the snares that the enemy spread out over the world and I said groaning, “What can get through from such snares?” Then I heard a voice saying to me, “Humility.”
Abba Pambo asked Abba Antony, “What ought I to do?” and the old man said to him, “Do not trust your own righteousness, do not worry about the past, but control your tongue and your stomach.”
Because I think that the second lectionary reading for today in many Churches is perhaps the most precise and concise advice for living – not only for Christians for whom St. Paul wrote it, but for all (at least in some adapted way), I offer it this morning without additional comment. May we all ponder Paul’s words and hope for a world where they are truly lived.
Brothers and sisters: Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all of these, put on love, which binds the rest together. And let the peace of Christ reign in your hearts, since as one body we have been called to this peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ, rich as it is, dwell in you, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns and inspired songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God through him. (COL 3:12-17)