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Reflection on Psalm 27

Psalm 27 1 The psalm of David before he was anointed.

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the protector of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

2 While the wicked draw near against me, to eat my flesh.

My enemies that trouble me, have lost their strength and fallen.  

3 If armies in camp should stand together against me, my heart shall not fear.

If a battle should rise up against me, in this will I be confident.

 4 One thing I have asked of the Lord, this will I seek after;

That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.

That I may see the delight of the Lord, and may visit his temple.  

5 For he has hidden me in his tabernacle; in the day of evils.

He has protected me in the secret place of his tabernacle.

 6 He has exalted me upon a rock, and now he has lifted up my head above my enemies.

I have gone round, and have offered up in his tabernacle a sacrifice of jubilation,

I will sing and recite a psalm to the Lord.

7 Hear, O Lord, my voice, with which I have cried to you.

Have mercy on me and hear me.

8 My heart has said to you, “My face has sought you.”

Your face, O Lord, will I still seek.

9 Turn not away your face from me.

Decline not in your wrath from your servant.

Be my helper. Do not abandon me.

Do not you despise me, O God my Saviour.

10 For my father and my mother have left me,

But the Lord has taken me up.

11 Teach me, O Lord, how to walk in your way.

Guide me in the right path, because of my enemies.

12 Do not hand me over to the will of those that trouble me.

For unjust witnesses have risen up against me.

My enemies spread malicious lies to harm me.

13 I believe I will see the good things of the Lord

In the land of the living.

14 Wait for the Lord,

Be stouthearted, and let your heart take courage.

Wait you for the Lord.

As I said I want to reflect once again on the psalm on the Psalter of the day. So this Psalm which is actually not a very long song. Still, we have just a little bit of it in the lectionary, and that’s okay because the lectionary is going to reflect on something that relates to the readings. We’ll talk about that in just a minute. In me Septuagint version of the Psalms, that being the translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek, which was the most common and popular version of the Bible read and in Jesus’ time, there’s a note at the very beginning of this Psalm that says that this song was written before David was anointed king.

Well, that’s an interesting timing for the dating of the psalm, because before David was anointed he very young. Although it was there was still years before he actually took the throne. But he was anointed when he was just a shepherd boy. But he was a shepherd boy who had known his share of trouble. And as a shepherd boy he would sit there as he watched over his sheep and cared for his sheep. He used to play on his on his lute or his harp and he would sing. He would create songs to the Lord. So I see this Psalm as being one that is a kind of like a journal. It is very likely this psalm was begun at this time when David was caring for his sheep as a young man, but yet later in his life he would add verses to it so you can actually see a progression in David’s life from being the simple shepherd boy to being on the run from Saul. And finally having to deal with the affairs of state as king.

You can see this progression taking place. I can really see these first six verses as part of David as a shepherd boy here’s a shepherd boy who had faced trouble. He was a shepherd boy who had killed a lion and killed a bear who had come to kill his sheep. They would have killed David himself. David says that the enemies be they people or animals, seeking to take his life. But he said the Lord was his helper. “with the Lord, whom shall I fear. The Lord is my light and my salvation. David had a very keen understanding of God’s presence in his life and of God taking care of him. The Lord is my light the Lord is my salvation, whom shall I fear? What shall I fear? Shall I be afraid of the lion? Afraid of the bear? And you can almost see the musings of a young child. Even if there’s an army coming against me, I will have no need to be afraid.

Perhaps David didn’t realize how prophetic that was going to be in his life. He learned at a very young age to trust in God – to know that God would protect him. God would give him strength. God would give him courage to face whatever came before him, be it a lion, a bear, or even an army. God would give him victory. There in these first few verses, which according to my interpretation would come from early in David’s life, he talks about his visit to the house of God, which at this time is the tabernacle at Beth-El. David longs to be in the tabernacle. He longs to pray.

Now many of us remember how in our earlier lives the feelings of God would stir within us. I don’t know how many people I have talked to who relate to me the stirrings of God that affected them when they were young. Maybe they’re active Catholics. Or maybe they’re inactive Catholics. Maybe they’d given up on the church. But often they make this comment, “I was an altar boy and even thought about becoming a priest.” Or, “when I was young woman about12 I thought I was going to grow up to be a nun. I just so appreciated my teachers. They were wonderful, and I thought I’m going to grow up to be a nun.”

You see in many of our lives we have these inner stirrings of the Holy Spirit within us when we’re young, before we get so distracted by puberty and by adulthood. When we start thinking about other things, and start wanting to accumulate stuff. We get a job. We get a car. You know we get an apartment or a house. All the world, all the stuff of the world begins to distract us. It’s not that the things of the world are evil. Are bad in and of themselves, but we can’t let them distract us. Now it’s very likely that David’s own life got distracted. When he was Saul’s general, and he was being triumphant and praised, but the troubles in his life – I think the troubles in his life were key to keeping his focus on God being his light and his salvation. On God being his source. Because when after being the King’s son-in-law, he became a brigand. He became an outlaw, living in a cave. Often when we have nothing else left in life, those of the times when we seek God. And we call on God.

Indeed, I think David, because he faced so much trouble in his life, that he did call on God often. He learned to know God. But he had a longing to seek the face of God. Now it’s interesting, he says the doesn’t seek desires. Instead he seeks the face of God. “come says my heart come says my heart seek his face your face Lord do I seek.”

Now one of the peculiarities of Hebrew is that an imperative verb specifies whether it is speaking to one person or to many people. And even though David is praying this alone the imperative verb is in the plural. So it’s not just David who is being called to seek the face of God. It’s all people, all of us are called to seek his face. And that’s exactly what we do in adoration. We seek Christ in his Eucharistic face. We gaze upon the face of Christ. And even though adoration is a time of silence, that’s when God speaks to us. I mentioned we’re going to go back to the readings, and in fact that was Elijah’s experience when he was in the cave. He knew God wanted to speak to him. Sometimes in our lives we know God wants to speak to us. We don’t know how, and we tried all these things to make God talk to us. Yet we can’t hear him. Elijah, in fact he went out and he saw the wind. And he saw the earthquake. And he saw the fire. But he couldn’t hear God. He couldn’t find God in any of those things. We look at all kinds of distractions in our life. We can’t find God in any of them. But then, in most common translation, that still, small voice, the whisper of silence. Simon and Garfunkel got it right when they use coined that phrase, the sound of silence. That whisper of silence is how God speaks. I got quoted Thomas Keating not long ago when I said, “God speaks in silence, and everything else is a bad translation.”

And that’s what we do when we come to adoration in silence. We gaze upon the face of Christ. Christ’s Eucharistic face. And in that gaze, as in the gaze of two lovers, nothing has to be said. It just is that communication of love. The communication of sureness, of a surety that Christ is with us as we gaze upon his Eucharistic face and allow our Lord to minister within our spirits. We don’t necessarily hear in our minds, but we are built up and encouraged and made strong in that time. As we spend more and more time in adoration, we begin to notice that a change is happening in our souls. We have greater confidence. We have greater certainty in life, because God has spoken into our spirits as we gazed upon his face.

As this psalm comes to an end, David speaks as a man who is completely forsaken. He says “even if my mother and father forsake me, O Lord you will take me in.” I will belong to the Lord. I will go to the tabernacle of God, the tent of God, to the tabernacle of God, and there I will seek your face. You will receive me, and in the strength that he gets from that encounter, he says. “be strong. Be courageous. And wait for the Lord.

David waited many years between his anointing to be king and him actually taking the throne. In those years God strengthened him. Taught him. In one place David says The Lord has trained my hands for war. God made David strong to be the king that God needed him to be. As David waited for the Lord to fulfill his purpose, and that purpose was fulfilled David when became a strong King. But the strong King ad David was also there to speak prophetically of the King of Kings, the son of David, who wants to come to be our true strength, and to be the face that we seek in his Eucharist.

Heavenly father we give you thanks that we were able to come to you to seek your face. Give us strength to wait on you. And as we wait on you give us strength. We know you will fulfill your purpose in this life for us. And sometimes we may feel forsaken, but you will always take us in. Sometimes we seem to be at a loss for words, but in silence we wait and gaze upon your face. Lord, give us strength to always seek you and to always wait for you. Amen.

A Reflection on Psalm 98

Psalm 98 1 A psalm for David himself.

Sing you to the Lord a new song,

Because he has done wonderful things.

His right hand has formed salvation for him,

And his arm is holy.

2 The Lord has made known his salvation,

He has revealed his justice in the sight of the Gentiles.  

3 He has remembered his mercy and his truth

Toward the house of Israel.

All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.  

4 Sing joyfully to God, all the earth;

Make melody, rejoice and sing.  

5 Sing praise to the Lord on the harp,

On the harp, and with the voice of a psalm,

6 with long trumpets, and sound of of the horn.

Make a joyful noise before the Lord our king,

7 let the sea be moved with all its fullness,

Even to the world’s end and all who live there.

8 The rivers shall clap their hands,

The mountains shall rejoice together

9 at the presence of the Lord,

Because he comes to judge the earth.

He shall judge the world with justice,

And the people with equity.

As I’ve been doing in these last few days I will be reflecting on the Psalm of the day, which is Psalm 98. As we’re going through this the Psalter and learning from these beautiful hymns

Book of praise was the hymn book really of ancient Israel This Psalm starts off with a familiar phrase very familiar to us and that is “Sing to the Lord a new song. Now that’s an interesting phrase. We see this a lot. It occurs many times in scriptures, not just in the Psalms but also in the book of Revelation and in other places. What does that mean? What is the new song?

The new song is a symphony in three movements.

The first movement is obviously a song of praise. It is a song that reflects on what God has done. Even now, in this particular Psalm, we see that this psalmist says you have saved us through your mighty arm because it’s a reflection upon what God has done. Many times, you see sing to the Lord or new song and the psalmist will go through the whole history of God’s interaction with Israel. In the Book of Revelation, the new song is mentioned regarding the 144,000 that are before the throne of God, representing the believers of all time and all places. They are singing a new song to the Lord, and no one knows the song but them, because it’s their personal song. It’s the song of their own relationship with God. They sing of what God has done for them in their lives. So, the first movement of a new song is a reflection upon what God has done for us

The second movement is a meditation on what God is doing for us today. It’s easy to see God as someone who acted in the past. Jesus healed many, and the Apostles proclaimed the Gospel, taking it to the ends of the earth. But what is God doing for us today? What is God is doing in us today? How is he transforming us? How is he making us more into the likeness of Christ today? How is he shaping our hearts? How is he increasing our love? Our compassion? Our patience? Sing to the Lord a new song. Reflect on what God has done for us in the past, but also meditate on what God is doing in us and for us today

The third movement is that hope of what God is going to do for us in the future. God is bringing us bringing ultimate salvation as we were all brought into what the church refers to as the beatific vision. That’s a fancy theological term for when we will see God face to face. And when we see him, we will be made like him. And that’s the beatific vision, that blessed vision of us seeing God and being transformed in his very presence. In this particular Psalm, the psalmist goes on to talk about how God has revealed himself to the nations. God is bringing about his justice in the earth. Those are prophetic statements that God is going to bring to fulfillment in the future. He brings those to fulfillment first in Christ – in his passion, in his resurrection and ascension, and in the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It’s there that God pours reveals himself reveals his justice to the world. All the nations were gathered there in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost when God revealed his justice. And what is his justice? It is the Holy Spirit of love. We as Catholics talk a lot about justice. We have justice ministries. We talk about justice in the earth. And what is justice? It’s the love of God. Justice flows from the realization that God loves all humanity. And he loves all humanity through us.

As the introduction to the gospel today calls us to “love one another as I have loved you.” And he longs to love the world through us. He has made his salvation known.

Another couple of quick reflections upon this psalm. I love the reference to instruments: the harp the trumpet and the horn. In the Greek translation of the Psalms knows as he Septuagint, which was used actually more than the Hebrew version of the Psalms at the time of Christ, the word there for harp is guitarra, from which of course which we get the word ‘guitar’. So, the psalmist is saying let’s praise the Lord with the guitar. I know that in the Second Vatican Council in the Constitution on Liturgy said that the organ was the proper instrument for liturgical worship. Well, okay. That’s fine. But for thousands of years it was the guitar that was the proper instrument for liturgical worship. Long before the organ was ever invented. And the psalmist says praise the Lord with the guitar with the horn and with the trumpet. Then we can bring all instruments to praise God in fact there are a few verses to this song that aren’t in the lectionary and I want to mention those here, because they’re really very beautiful and very wonderful.

In these last verses “Let the sea and what fills it resound. Let the rivers clap their hands. Let the mountains shout with them for joy in the presence of the Lord who comes who comes to govern the earth.” This reflection upon all of nature all of creation praising God with the various sounds that nature makes. With the Thunder of the oceans and the wind howling through the mountains and the rivers lapping water over rocks. The psalmist likens these to shouts of joy and clapping of hands, singing of songs. All of nature, everything that creation does is to praise God. That’s pretty awesome.

I want to again go back to reflect the new song. Reflect on what God has done for you. Meditate on what God is doing in and for you right now. And hope for what God will ultimately fulfill in your life.

Let us go to God now in prayer.

Heavenly Father,

We give you thanks and praise that you have gathered us here. Help us Lord. Give us hearts to sing that new song: as we reflect upon what you have done for us, as you inspire us in this very day in guidance, and as Lord we hope that you will be bringing us to that beatific vision – to that time when we will see you face to face and be transformed in your mercy. Let the new song be on our lips this entire day and every day forward

Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

We pray to the

Lord Heavenly Father we pray for all

God is not like us

Recently I read a prayer that states that God is more ready to hear than we are to pray, and more willing to give than we are deserving to ask. Sometimes I think that we are so bad at loving that we are nearly incapable of understanding how God loves us.

We naturally act from selfish motives. We even love from selfish motives. “I love you because you make me happy. Because you take good care of me. Because you do what I want you to do.” We naturally give with conditions. “I will give this to you if you promise to take good care of it. If you act truly grateful. If you use it the way I want you to.” We seek relationships on our terms. “I’ll spend time with you if you pay attention to me. If you don’t talk too much. If you respond the way I want you to.”

God is not like us. He loves unconditionally, gives freely, and is always with us, whether we are paying attention to him or not. We get so distracted by our jobs, our recreations, and the worldly cares and concerns that buffet us from all sides, that we neglect to take time to share our hearts with God who truly loves and cares for us. No wonder we find ourselves stressed and overwhelmed. And when we do pray we tend to tell God what we think he should do, instead of listen to him to learn what he wants us to do. No wonder we find ourselves disappointed with him. But when we come to God in simple trust and thanksgiving, we discover the wonder of living in the presence of God, walking in the will of God, and enjoying his grace and provision in our daily life and vocation.

Gloria as a bouquet of praise

Have you ever gone to visit a friend or relative and brought flowers as a gift? It is a wonderful way to warm the reception and bring joy to the gathering. Similarly, the Psalmist encourages us to enter God’s presence with praise.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise;

give thanks to him and praise his name. Psalm 100:4

When we come to mass, we enter God’s presence and bring him a spiritual bouquet of praise by singing the ancient hymn of the Gloria.

Singing has always been an important part of worship. Moses sang a hymn of praise after crossing the Red Sea. The judge, Deborah, sang a song of victory when Israel defeated the Canaanites. Music was integral to David’s life of worship as he left us much of the book of Psalms. Jesus and the apostles sang a hymn as they walked from the upper room to the Mount of Olives on Holy Thursday. If you want to become more aware of God’s presence in your life – sing.

Singing also has excellent health benefits. According to Prevention magazine, singing:

  • Reduces stress
  • Strengthens your immune system
  • Increases concentration
  • Strengthens your heart
  • Assists bonding with your community

When the angels announced the birth of the Son of God, they sang a song, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth, peace to people of good will.” When we come to God in the mass, we repeat this refrain as a gift of our hearts to Him. As a bouquet has many flowers, the Gloria gives multi-faceted praise. Our praise blooms in splendor when we sing, “We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory.”

We acknowledge the great work of salvation accomplished by Jesus, our Lord. “You take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us; you take away the sins of the world, receive our prayer; you are seated at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us.”

Then, we finish off our bouquet with the proclamation of the Trinity. “Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father.”

Each Sunday as we gather, we rejoice that Jesus has opened the gates of heaven and invited us in for a dinner party. Like good guests we bring a bouquet to honor our host and to give him thanks. So, we sing with all our hearts using the voice God has given us, and become ever more aware that we are in the presence of the Almighty King.

Yours in Christ,

Father Ed

The path to peace in this turmoil is prayer

Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done wonderful things. You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in their distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat. For the breath of the ruthless is like a storm driving against a wall and like the heat of the desert. You silence the uproar of foreigners; as heat is reduced by the shadow of a cloud, so the song of the ruthless is stilled. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. In that day they will say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.” Isaiah 25:1,4,5,8,9

Two men were hiking in the mountains on the edge of timberline. A storm was brewing with the certainty of lightning and hail. One looked at the storm brewing overhead and said, “I’m terrified.” The other looked up the trial and spotted the cabin that was their destination and said, “There is nothing to fear.”

I know I’ve talked a lot in my homilies for the last couple of weeks about focusing on the peace and safety of our destination rather than on the turmoil of the daily news cycle. Don’t get me wrong. I read the news every day. I want to know what is going on. However, that is not my focus. I choose to focus my mind and heart on the peace of God’s ever abiding presence, not the destruction and violence of those who have lost sight of God.

There is a great deal of mistrust, alienation, and anger being vented right now. People have lost faith in their government, law enforcement, their health, and the economy. But is that where their faith should have been in the first place? As in Jesus’ parable, when the house is built on sand, the storms will wash it away.

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Proverbs 18:24

God’s presence never falters. So much of this unrest is caused by alienation, that leads to anger, that leads to violence. The murder of George Floyd was the spark that ignited the current flame, but the fire has been raging for centuries, even millennia. At some point we need to stop fanning the flame and start dousing the fire.

His Truth never fails. Jesus lived in a world of great unrest. His homeland was occupied by a foreign army. Civil unrest was commonplace. The typical police response was to nail people to crosses. An historian of the period noted how a thousand people were crucified in a single day. Amid this turmoil Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:44.

The path to peace in this turmoil is prayer. Pray for the alienated and the angry. Pray for the police. Pray for the civic and political leaders who need inspiration to lead those in their charge to greater safety and harmony. Mostly, let us pray that God cleanse our own hearts of fear, anger, prejudice, and judgment so that we can cease being part of the problem and become part of the solution.

Yours in Christ,

Father Ed

Family Time

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who places the solitary in families: We commend to thy continual care the homes in which thy people dwell. Put far from them, we beseech thee, every root of bitterness, the desire of vainglory, and the pride of life. Fill them with faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness. Knit together in constant affection those who, in holy wedlock, have been made one flesh. Turn the hearts of the parents to the children, and the hearts of the children to the parents; and so enkindle fervent charity among us all, that we may evermore be kindly affectioned one to another; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. ~Book of Common Prayer

It is the Divine order that all people live in families. We all have our natural families. We also have our Church family. Yes, the Church is a family. Within that family, the local parish is analogous to our immediate family. It is here where we learn and grow and interact with those closest to us. We rejoice together, and sometimes we weep together. And then, there is the extended family visible in our Ordinariate. We sometimes get visits from our family patriarch, the bishop, who gives us fatherly encouragement and council. Our family expands to include the Roman Catholic Church in its worldwide reach, the fellowship of all believers, and even the communion of the saints. We live in quite a family.

With the Covid-19 pandemic affecting so many, schools, restaurants, and other businesses have closed. Other businesses have asked their employees to work from home. It is an opportunity for all of us to focus on doing what families do: Care for one another. Find ways to have fun. Teach our family’s children. And, find ways to reach out to our friends and neighbors through phone calls, facetime, and notes left on our neighbors’ doors.

This is a very confusing time. But one thing is not confusing. God is still God. He has never left us nor has he forsaken us. Therefore, we should not forsake each other.

What is your focus?

“O cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall nourish thee.” (Psalm 55:22)

When I was in graduate school at the University of Dallas, I used to ride my bicycle to school. To avoid heavily trafficked streets, I would take shortcuts using drainage ditches and storm culverts. Once I noticed a large rock ahead of me that I wanted to avoid. I focused on the rock, telling myself, “Be sure and miss that rock.” Of course, I hit the rock and took a tumble.

We are naturally drawn to that which we focus on. When our life has trouble, we have choices. If we focus on the trouble, we will naturally be drawn deeper into the problem. Even small problems can become insurmountable if we dwell on our burden. But, if we focus on Jesus who overcame death, we find peace and strength to overcome our problems. Often, I find that when I stop fretting about troubles and look to Jesus for help, an inspiration will come that helps me out of my troubles.

Everyone I know has burdens. They may be in the form of health challenges, physical limitations, financial issues, relationship struggles, or even addiction. Our burdens can seem overwhelming. But Jesus carried our burdens to the cross. Give your burden to Jesus. Let him nourish you.

Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you. 1 Peter 5:7

Out of Darkness into Light

From my point of view, God is the light that illuminates the darkness, even if it does not dissolve it, and a spark of divine light is within each of us. ~ Pope Francis

“In the beginning,” the author of Genesis tells us, “the universe was completely empty and without form.” Into this primordial darkness, God spoke existence into being by imparting himself into the empty void. “Let there be light.” All things in the universe emanate from the energy that is the issue of God. And so this vast space made up of countless galaxies, stars, and planets was born. And God said, “It is good.”

God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. ~ St. John the Divine (1 John 1:5)

This creation epic, which found its way into our Bible, stands in sharp contrast with all other creation stories on two key counts.

First, the Biblical narrative proposes that nothing existed before the universe except God. “You precede all times that are past, and survive all future times.” ~ St. Augustine (Confessions Book 11, Chapter 11) What we now think of as the pre-creation singularity existing in “no-time and no-space” is referred to in Scripture as “the primordial darkness and void.” We might consider this void to be as absolute emptiness. God spoke light into existence, and its radiation expanded creating space and all that exists in the material world.

Pagan mythologies all presume the universe existed before it was created. The earth diver plunged into the eternal sea and returned with primordial mud from which the world was created. The giant beast was slain from whose entrails the world was created. In every case, the world was created from something that was already there.

Second, the Biblical creation narrative demonstrates that time has a beginning, which implies it will eventually have an end. The pagan understanding of time is that it is eternally cyclical. Everything is always repeating itself in the ever-turning wheel of time.

As long ago as 1225, the first attempt to explain the origin of the universe as an explosion that crystallized matter into stars and planets appeared in Catholic theologian Robert Grosseteste’s book De Luce (On Light). That theory was expanded in 1927 by Catholic priest, Monsignor Georges Lemaitre, to describe an expanding universe from what he termed “a primordial atom.” Two years later, astronomer Edwin Hubble provided astronomical observations that supported Fr. Lemaitre’s theory of the expansion of the universe and formulated what would be known as Hubble’s Law. The Catholic understanding of the Biblical account of creation became generally accepted by science.

Currently, science unanimously sides with a Biblical understanding of creation and time. Ever since Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson of Bell Labs accidentally discovered universal cosmic background radiation, the big bang theory has been the prevailing explanation of the origin of the universe. The theory has been through several modifications over the last 50 years, but four key elements are well established.

  1. Space was non-existent before the big bang (“primordial darkness and void”)
  2. The universe and time began together at a single point transforming no-place and no-time into time and space. (“Let there be light.”)
  3. The universe is expanding.
  4. The universe and time will dissipate and end in icy coldness.

So the universe has its beginning in God, exists in the sight of God, will fulfill God’s purpose for it, and, then, die. While the immensity and duration of the universe is beyond human comprehension, this is the natural order of all things. The universe is not eternal. It was born, and is moving towards its destiny and its end. And so we clearly understand that the universe is not God. The universe is the issue of God, and God is revealed in and through it.

No Dualism

Another common misconception in virtually all religions is that the world consists of two opposing forces. Good battles evil. Right battles wrong. Spirit battles flesh. The world to come battles this present age. While you can certainly find elements of this attitude in Scripture, Christianity by definition is not dualistic.

In fact, an early form of this dualism, called Gnosticism, was one of the first heresies the Christian Church had to deal with. Immediately following the life of Jesus, the Christian Church was firmly rooted in the Hebrew Scripture and tradition. However, as Christianity spread into the Greek world, Greek philosophies began to influence Christian thought. Gnosticism, a heresy that portrayed the spirit as good and the flesh as evil began to have an impact. Among other errors, the Gnostics taught that Jesus was a spirit being. God was too holy to defame himself with flesh. Hence, St. John in his letters to all Christians warns of the presence of “antichrists” and states “There are many deceivers in this world. They do not acknowledge that Jesus Christ came in the flesh. This is the lie of the antichrist.” (2 John 1:7)

God created the world and declared it “good.” God loved the world so much that he gave us his son. Jesus is God incarnate. God made flesh. The eternal dignified the temporal. Spirit dignified flesh. The world to come is among you in this present age.

When we become Christians, we do not cease to be creatures of flesh and become creatures of spirit. However, we are called to transfer our affections from darkness and the works of darkness into light and the works of God. But we should not think of darkness as some evil power that is out to devour us. Darkness is simply the void that was dissipated with God spoke light in to existence.

There is no substance in darkness. It is only the illusion created by the shadow you cast when you turn your back on the light. By the Word of God, the universe moved from non-existence into full existence – and so do we. To put it another way, there is only God. Whatever is not God is void, destruction, and darkness. “But,” you ask, “What about the devil? Doesn’t the devil have power to destroy us? ” The devil is a liar and the father of lies. The liar has no power. But you have power. You were created in the image of God. However, you can give your power to the liar if you believe his lie.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Imagine you awaken in a dark room. There is a light switch near you, but you choose not to turn it on for whatever reason. Perhaps you are afraid the light will hurt your eyes. So you stumble in the darkness and stub your toe. It hurts. Darkness, though it has no substance, can have a real and detrimental effect on you. But it is not in control. You are in control. You can choose to turn on the light.

Walking in the Light

“Christ is the true light that enlightens everyone who comes into the world.” ~ St. John the Divine (John 1:9)

There is one true light and one enlightenment. There is one true spirituality that all people instinctively know. Over time, that inner knowledge became clouded by man-made externals such as philosophies, concepts, rituals, and disciplines. These externals seek to capture and express some aspect of the inner truth that lies within each of us. Unfortunately, most people tend to live in the external, not the internal, so they confuse an external (philosophy, concept, ritual, or discipline) with the truth. An external is really meant to be a signpost to the truth. The tendency to confuse external signs with truth has caused divisions and animosities among the people of God. Those divisions deny that essence of God, which is unity. To break free from that trap, we do necessarily need to abandon all externals that give understanding and comfort to so many. However, we do need recognize the externals for what they are.

Imagine someone is taking a journey from Chicago to New York City. Somewhere in Pennsylvania, they see a sign that reads “New York City – 348 miles.” They are excited to see the sign and pull over to stop. They pitch a small tent and say to themselves, “I have arrived.” Passersby find this curious and ask them, “What are you doing here on the side of the road?” The camper replies, “I was searching for New York City and saw the sign. Join me and we can enjoy New York City together.” Soon dozens of tents are pitched around the sign. The people sing, dance, and enjoy great fellowship. Eventually one traveler comes by who says, “This isn’t New York City. It is just a sign.” But they say, “No. Read the words.” The wise traveler tells them, “They are just words. Words are not the reality. They are meant to direct you to the reality. You must continue on your journey.” Soon the angry campers brand him as a heretic and denounce him. “You are not a true believer.”

When the Church first began, the earliest Christians practiced the “daily breaking of bread, fellowship, the apostolic teaching, and the liturgy.” (Acts 2:42) That liturgy was recited in Aramaic, the language of Jesus and the apostles. Later, when St. Paul ministered among Greek communities in Greece and Asia Minor, he introduced a liturgy in Greek. In Rome, few early Christians spoke either Greek or Aramaic, so the liturgy was translated into Latin. When the Bible was translated into Latin, it was referred to as the Vulgate, or Vulgar Bible, vulgar meaning the language of the household slave. As time went on, Latin became viewed as the privileged language of Western Christianity.

In the fifteenth century Portuguese missionaries came across a group of Christians in India, whose community had been founded by St. Thomas the Apostle. They were confused by the strange language these Indian Christians used in their liturgy. Actually, they were speaking a form of Aramaic referred to as Syro-Chaldean. In other words, they were celebrating the liturgy handed down to them by St. Thomas the Apostle. Sadly, the Portuguese considered them heretics because they would not celebrate the mass in Latin. The external was more important to them than the rich tradition handed down by the apostle. It took almost 500 years for the Roman Catholic Church to accept the Indian Christians as full members of the Catholic Church and not require them to change their liturgical language to Latin.

Personally, I am a Catholic. I love the Catholic Church. To me, there is no substitute for its beauty, its historicity, and its spirituality. However, as a Catholic I must be careful not to pitch my tent under the beautiful Catholic road sign and mistake its wonderful tradition as a relationship with God. I know many Protestants who love God with all their heart and enjoy his daily presence. I also know Protestants who have substituted a Bible road sign for a relationship with God. And, I know both Protestants and Catholics who delude themselves by giving homage to a self-generated image of God for their own self-validation. One of the reasons I love being Catholic is that the Catholic Church recognizes the validity of faith of all people of good will, even “those whose faith is known to God alone.” (Roman Missal, Eucharistic Prayer IV)

I know people who have rejected all forms of institutional religion in favor of a purely private spirituality. I understand the profound and well-deserved disappointment with organized religion. I appreciate the urge to renounce and separate from it. However, we should not forget that it was these very religious institutions, Catholic and Protestant, which have led the way in education, health care, and humanitarian aid for centuries. What would the world look like without the Red Cross, Catholic Charities, World Vision, and so many others? Who would lead us without such luminaries as Saint Francis and Mother Teresa?

There is no substitute for a personal spirituality. We all must grow in our own personal relationship with God. Yet, if we want our personal faith to have an impact beyond that of our own lives, we must also embrace a corporate element in our spirituality.

The darkness is passing away. The true light is already shining. ~ St. John the Divine (1 John 2:8)

The world is divided into so many religions and each religion is divided into so many factions because people have mistaken signs designed to lead us to God with the true reality of God. All people have certain spiritual instincts. Deep inside we know the truth. But most ignore the still small voice deep down inside and listen to the loud shouts of selfish materialism all around us. This usually raises the question, “Do all roads lead to heaven?” Unfortunately, the easiest roads lead us into our own personal hell of unsatisfied desires and self-doubt. Still, God is knowable by all who truly seek him. For us to know God, we need to ignore the shouts and listen instead to the still small voice. For us to continue on our journey to God, we need to listen to the Word that lives in each of us.

“The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is “the world reconciled.” She is that ark which “in the full sail of the Lord’s cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world.”” Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 845

Our spirits instinctively know God for they are the breath of God. God breathed spirit into Adam and into each of us. Our joy is to develop the ability to listen to the spiritual instinct that God breathed into each of us in order to lead us to him.

Your BFF is With You Wherever You Go

In my spiritual reading recently, I went back to revisit The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, a Carmelite lay brother (1614-1691). In this series of his reflections and letters, Brother Lawrence describes his spiritual walk in God’s perpetual presence. He talked with God constantly throughout the day as if God were always standing right beside him. His book is very short, and free versions are available online. You can read the entire volume in about an hour, and it really only makes one point. But that point is the fulcrum on which the spiritual life balances.

“We ought to act with GOD in the greatest simplicity, speaking to Him frankly and plainly, and imploring His assistance in our affairs, just as they happen.” “We should feed and nourish our souls with thoughts of GOD; which give us great joy in being devoted to Him.” And we should, “make the love of GOD the purpose of all our actions, … seeking Him only, and nothing else, not even His gifts.”

This, of course, is exactly what Jesus promised, “Surely, I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20) Jesus is always present with us. We often get so distracted by the cares and concerns of our daily lives that we forget he is there. Brother Lawrence had trained himself to be constantly aware of Christ’s presence through imagination and conversation, and so he lived in perpetual peace and joy.

After my recent re-read of the book, I reflected on the idea of viewing Jesus as my best friend forever – my BFF. It is nothing but joy to be constantly with my best friend, to share my daily experiences, to discuss my concerns with him, and to seek his assistance in all my troubles.

Unfortunately, we can sometimes take our lives to places where we don’t want Jesus to be present. Of course, we cannot leave him behind. We can only forget that he is there, and deal with the shame later. Isn’t It better to keep constant awareness of our best friend’s presence and experience his joy and comfort?

“Many find the Christian life burdensome because they get stuck on doing penances and repeating various exercises but neglect the love of God which is the sole purpose of the Christian life. Our only business is to love and delight ourselves in GOD.”

Your best friend is with you wherever you go – forever. Take advantage of his presence and enjoy all he is for you.

Healing in the Wounds of Christ

He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely, he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all
Isaiah 53:3-6

For the Son of Man did not come to be served
but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Mark 10:45

We were captive to sin, but Christ is our ransom. A ransom is the price paid to release one who is held captive. Through Adam’s disobedience, mankind was held captive to sin and death. The only price that could be paid for our freedom was the sacrifice of the Jesus Christ, Second Adam.

He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.1 Peter 2:24

The Hebrew word for “sin” “ra’a” means “broken.” We were captive to brokenness. But Christ became broken for us so that we could be made whole.

Five Wounds

Jesus bore five wounds in his body as his hands, feet and side were pierced. There were five consequences of Adam’s disobedience. They are:

Deception 

Legalism

Fear

Shame

Death

 

Through Christ’s obedience and suffering each of his wounds purifies our souls and heals our brokenness. Let’s look at each one.

Deception

The first consequence of Adam’s disobedience is deception. How did sin begin? Through the deception of the serpent who is Satan, the accuser. How did Adam react? He became a deceiver and an accuser. When God confronted Adam, “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then Eve had her own accusation to make, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Gen 3:11-13)

When you give into someone’s deception, you surrender your power to another. Believe the deceiver and he has power over you. Believe the devil and he has power over you. Refuse to believe his lies, and he has no power over you.

Many don’t want to believe the truth. Its not the way they were raised. They like the lie because it is comfortable. Often, the deception has the momentary pleasure of fantasy.

Mankind is still giving their authority over to the deceiver and the accuser. Even in our own thoughts we can give power to the accuser.

“God doesn’t love me.”
“I’m not good enough to pray.”
“I am bad, so I deserve to be abused.”

Jesus’ wounds broke the power of the deceiver. He sent the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth so we would be free from the power of the deceiver. Walk with the Holy Spirit, listen to his voice. Believe the Truth. Reject the lie. That is the first step in being healed of our brokenness.

Legalism

The second consequence of Adam’s disobedience is legalism. It was the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, Right and Wrong. I know what you are thinking, “Isn’t it good to know right from wrong?” Let me ask you this question, “Does knowing right from wrong help you love God more? Or, your neighbor more? Or, does it give you an excuse to be proud and self-reliant?”

If you understand the law as guidelines to help you better understand how to actively love God and your neighbor, then it is a good thing. If you see the law as legalistic rules that if you obey them you can be proud of yourself, it is very bad. Remember, the story of the Good Samaritan how the priest and Levite wouldn’t stop to help the dying man because that would make them unclean. They neglected charity so they could keep the law. Those who meticulously live by the law can become proud and condemn those who break the law. But we all break the law. Some are just more obvious than others. Jesus told the Pharisees that the prostitutes and sinners would enter the Kingdom of God before them. Why? Because they know they are sinners. The pharisees commit the same sins in their minds. But since it is on the inside, they think God does not notice. They never repent. We must know we are sinners and come to God humbly in repentance.

St. Paul says, “I know who the worst sinner in the world is, and it is me.” We should all have that attitude. We may think we are righteous, but we delude ourselves.

So the Scripture says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would write the Law of God on our hearts, not in some book in black and white print. We live by the law of love in which there can be no pride.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. Romans 8:1

The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. Galatians 3:12

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First, he says: “This is the covenant I will make with them     after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” Hebrews 10:15

Fear

After Adam sinned his first response was to clothe himself and run and hide. He became consumed by fear and shame. Let’s deal with each of those individually.

In Zechariah’s Canticle he prophesies:

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life. Luke 1:68, 74-75

The Old Testament speaks a great deal about the importance of fearing God. In the New Testament, Jesus commands us to love God. In the Old Testament the sense is that you must keep all the rules and regulations because if you don’t, God will smite you. In the New Testament we are taught that anyone who says they are without sin is a liar.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:8-9

Jesus brought grace into the world so that we could worship God without fear. This city is full of people who will not enter a church because they believe God does not want them. They are too sinful. They try to hide from God because if God ever found them, he would smite them. They need to hear the good news, God loves them and forgives them.

The medical term for fear is anxiety. Half of all chronic illness is caused by fear.

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he encouraged his disciples, “Do not be afraid.” During the storm, Jesus encouraged, “Do not be afraid.” At the transfiguration, Jesus encouraged, “Do not be afraid.” At the resurrection Jesus encouraged, “Do not be afraid.” Jesus taught them, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.Luke 12:32

Shame

Shame can drive us to jealousy. Shame can drive us to envy. Shame can drive us to anger.

Shame breaks our relationship with God and each other. It makes us withdraw into ourselves and keeps us from being able to love. I have worked with many people who have been infected with shame through abuse, sometimes very early in life. Many become emotionally frozen. It is as if their emotions are unable to grow past the point of their abuse. They have become locked by shame.

Jesus sets us free from shame.

Now the works of the flesh are plain: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. Galatians 5:19-22

When people discover Christ’s freedom in their lives, they can begin to grow. It is a journey that requires patience. If there were emotionally frozen as a child or even a young teenager, it will take years of effort for them to go through the normal stages of growth until they can begin to feel as an adult.

To help them in their journey, I often teach them this prayer:

God loves me just the way I am.
God forgives me just the way I am.
God accepts me just the way I am.
Therefore,
I love myself just the way I am.
I forgive myself just the way I am.
I accept myself just the way I am.

Walk daily in the Spirit and Christ will transform your life.

Death

The ultimate effect of original sin is death. The ultimate effect of Christ’s grace is eternal life. But eternal life does not begin when you die, it begins now. Eternal life is not just a duration, it is a quality of life. It is a life that is free from fear, shame, deception, and self-destruction. Why do we do things that are bad for us? Are we trying to see how slowly we can commit suicide? We become addicted to self-destructive behavior because we have submitted to deception, fear, and shame.

Sin is death. It is usually a slow death. God saves us from sin and death because sin by definition is self-destruction. God doesn’t give us commandments and tell us what sin is so he can have a reason to punish us, but because he knows these behaviors are bad for us.

The commandments lead us to life. They lead us to joy. This is especially obvious when we see them in relation to Christ’s commandments.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

All the other commandments are just practical instructions on how to better love God and our neighbor. We don’t pursue the idols of this world because we love God. We don’t steal from our neighbor because we love our neighbor. We don’t covet and entertain jealousy because we love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Jealousy not only damages our relationship with our neighbor, it damages our own soul and causes us to spend our time, energy, affection, and money on worthless things.

But Christ conquered death. He rose from the grave and gave us eternal life. We have no need to become consumed with the temporal things of this life when we can enjoy the beauty of the resurrection in eternity.

Why Did Jesus Have to Suffer in This Way

The author of Hebrews states that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are, but without sin. He was not just tempted to sin. Christ experienced every temptation, including every disappointment, every sadness, every rejection, even every abuse that we experience so that whatever we go through in life, Jesus says, “I understand. I’ve been there before. I am there with you now.” He faced all our troubles, our grief, our heartaches and never shrank back from his destiny to bear the wounds that heal our brokenness.

He was rejected by his hometown.
He was betrayed by his closest friend.
He was falsely accused by those who should have protected him.
He was beaten by those he loved.
He was stripped naked and hung out in the open for all to see.
He was executed by those he forgave.

Turn to the wounds of Christ for the healing of your brokenness. He understands. He has been there before. He is there with you now.

Christ Bears His Wounds in Eternity

The wounds Christ bore he took with him into glory. Saint Bede notes that Christ showed his wounds to the apostles to confirm them in their faith. Through his glorified wounds Christ gave them hope for the bodily resurrection. “

Christ has risen from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also comes resurrection of the dead1 Corinthians 15:20-21.

Being assured of our hope, we will not fear suffering and death. We can face the trials and temptations of this life and live victoriously with the hope of our resurrection.

Rejoice, in so far as you are partakers of the sufferings of Christ, that you may also rejoice with exultation in the revelation of His glory!” 1 Peter 4:12-13

And, Saint Augustine adds that Jesus took his wounds into glory because they proclaim his victory. Like the battle scars of a victorious warrior, Christ’s wounds are the proof of triumph.

As we reflect on the wounds of Christ. As we meditate upon his passion. As we embrace his suffering. As we obediently surrender to his will. We too, can know the healing power of his wounds and share in the joy of his resurrection.