Thursday of the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

So today we learn that just because we call on the Lord, that doesn’t mean that the Lord is at our whim, someone we can summon in the same way as we press a button on the remote and the television comes to life. That’s what the whole nasty business with Abram and Sarai was about. Instead of trusting the Lord’s promises that God would make Abram the father of many nations, they took matters into their own hands and then were displeased at the result. That’s what happens when we forget to trust in God and instead trust in ourselves and in our own ability to do something clever.

The same is true for the scribes and Pharisees, and also for the wanna-be followers of Jesus. They might claim mighty deeds in Jesus’ name, but Jesus can see their hearts and knows that they are not really open to the fullness of the Gospel. Simply crying, “Lord, Lord” will not get them into the kingdom of heaven. If they’re not willing to set their house on the rock solid foundation of Christ, they will not stand, and they will fall apart with the first of the storms.

And so we disciples have to be careful about our relationship with Christ. It’s not something we can neglect and expect it to be deep and rich enough to lead us to eternal life. We have to be people of integrity, spiritual people who know who our Lord is and who are open to the fullness of his teaching. He teaches with authority, not as the scribes of old, nor as the so-called authorities of our time – like Oprah or Dr. Phil.  If we want teaching with authority, all we have to do is open the Bible, take some time in Adoration, or devote ourselves to prayer, and then fall in love all over again with our Lord who gave himself for our sakes so that we can all be one with him in the kingdom that has no end.

Presentation of the Lord’s Prayer to the Elect

Today’s readings: Hosea 11:1, 3-4, 8e-9 | Psalm 23 | Romans 8:14-17, 26-27 | Matthew 6:9-13

Today we did the RCIA presentation of the Lord’s Prayer to the Elect at our evening Mass. There are special readings for that, as above.

Where do you go when you’re at the end of your rope?

Bob was not accustomed to praying and didn’t really have a relationship with God.  But life, as it often does to us, started piling up: job concerns, health scares, relationship problems – everything.  And so he knew he couldn’t make it all work on his own.  So in his desperation, he looked at the old Bible he got for his first Holy Communion, and took it down off the shelf. Dusting it off, he realized he didn’t know where to turn so he decided to just open it up, point to a verse, and see what God had to say to him.  So that’s what he did, and on opening the Bible, he read “and Judas went off and hanged himself.”  

Now, obviously, we know God didn’t want Bob to go off and hang himself like Judas did.  But the point here is that Bob was doing it wrong: you can’t choose not to have a relationship with God and turn to prayer only when everything else fails.  That’s never going to work.  Prayer, for the believer, is an ongoing conversation with the God who longs to be intimately involved in our lives.  And so, the important thing is to work on that relationship first.

That’s why we are presenting the Lord’s Prayer – one of the great treasures of our faith – to you, the Elect, so late in the process.  You’ve been in this for a year or more, or almost two for the children, and we are less than two weeks away from the Easter Vigil, that night on which you will receive the sacraments.  And only now do you receive this treasure of prayer.  Why?  Because you had to work on the relationship first.  Praying authentically isn’t something you can do right away.  You have to come to know Jesus and in him, see the Father, before you can have that intimate conversation that we call prayer.

And the prayer we are giving you isn’t just any old collection of words.  This is the prayer that our Lord Jesus himself gave to us. He literally says “this is how you are to pray.”  And in that prayer, he covers all kinds of different prayers.  “Hallowed by thy name” is a prayer of praise to God who is the source of all holiness.  “Thy kingdom come” is a prayer that our world would be transformed into what God intends it to be.  “Thy will be done” is a prayer that opens ourselves up to God’s will for us and allows him to enter in and do what is best.  “Give us this day our daily bread” is a prayer that we would be filled up, not so much with what we want, but what we truly need, each and every day.  “And forgive us our trespasses” prays that we would be forgiven for the many ways we turn away from God, both in what we do and what we fail to do, while “as we forgive those who trespass against us” prays that we would be as merciful as God has been merciful to us.  “And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” is a prayer that we would continue to walk in God’s ways, and not give ourselves over to the evil one.

It’s a wonderful, complete prayer, and a prayer that very significantly begins with a statement of relationship: “Our Father…”  We pray not to a distant God who created us and then backs off to watch us get messed up in our own foolishness, but instead to God our Father.  That’s the kind of relationship God wants us to have with him: one that depends on him as a child depends on a parent, a relationship that sustains us and advocates for us in our need, but also corrects us in our wandering, and shields us from what is truly evil.  It’s a relationship that we can’t live without, a relationship that is there on our best days and also when we’re at the end of our rope.  It’s a relationship that the Church wants for all of you, so that you’ll never have to decide how to use that dusty old Bible you’ve left up there on the shelf.

Remember: this is how you are to pray:  Our Father, who art in heaven…

Thursday of the First Week of Lent

Today’s readings

If we take one thought out of Lent, it should be this: we need a Savior.

Even before Jesus’ time, Esther knew this. Esther’s adoptive father Mordecai was a deeply religious man. His devotion incurred the wrath of Haman the Agagite, who was a court official of King Ahasuerus of Persia. Mordecai refused to pay homage to Haman in the way prescribed by law, because he felt that it was idolatry. Because of this, Haman developed a deep hatred for Mordecai, and by extension, all of the Israelite people. He convinced King Ahasuerus to decree that all Israelites be put to death, and they cast lots to determine the date for this despicable event.

Meanwhile, Esther, Mordecai’s adopted daughter, is chosen to fill a spot in the King’s harem, replacing Queen Vashti. Esther never had revealed her own Israelite heritage to the King. Mordecai came to Esther to inform her of the decree that Haman had proposed, and asked her to intercede on behalf of her own people to the King. She was terrified to do this because court rules forbade her to come to the king without an invitation. She asked Mordecai to have all of her people fast and pray, and she did the same. The prayer that she offered is beautifully rendered in today’s first reading.

Esther knew that there was no one that could help her, and that it was totally on her shoulders to intercede for her people. Doing this was a risk to her own life, and the only one that she could rely on was God himself. Her prayer was heard, her people were spared, and Haman himself was hung from the same noose that had been prepared for Mordecai and all his fellow Israelites.

God hears our own persistent prayers. We must constantly pray, and trust all of our needs to the one who knows them before we do. We must ask, seek and knock of the one who made us and cares for us deeply. But most of all, we must always be aware that like Esther, we all need a Savior.

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent

Today’s readings

The prophet Isaiah and Jesus speak today about the great power of words. Isaiah speaks specifically of the power of God’s word, a word that will not return empty but will go out and accomplish the purpose for which God sent it.  We see the word that the prophet speaks of here, of course as the Word – with a capital “W.”  That Word is Jesus Christ who comes to accomplish the salvation of the world, the purpose of God ever since the world’s creation.

The prayer that Jesus gives us today, the classic prayer that echoes in our hearts in good times and in bad, is a prayer with a specific purpose in mind.  That prayer, if we pray it rightly, recognizes that God’s holiness will bring about a Kingdom where his will will be done in all of creation.  It begs God’s forgiveness and begs also that we too would become a forgiving and merciful people, just as God is merciful to us.  Finally, it asks for help with temptation and evil, something with which we struggle every day.

Today’s readings are a plea that God’s will would finally be done.  That his Word would go forth and accomplish God’s purpose.  That his will would be done on earth as in heaven.  As we pray those familiar words, they can often go past us without catching our attention.  But today, maybe we can slow down just a little, and pray them more reflectively, that God’s will would be accomplished in every place, starting in our very own lives.

Because to God belongs the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.

Monday of the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

So the disciples are waiting for Jesus to come down the mountain after the Transfiguration.  They have attempted to cure a man’s son from the hold of a demon, but they were apparently unable to do so.  This seems to have led to an argument between them and the scribes.  You can almost feel Jesus’ exasperation.  Both the disciples and the scribes should have been able to do something for the boy, but they couldn’t.  Why?  Because instead of praying, they argued about it.  “This kind can only come out through prayer,” Jesus tells the disciples when they ask why they were ineffective.

I often wonder, with more than a little fear, how many demons I could have cast out – in myself and in others – if I had a little more faith, if I prayed a little more than I do.  There are, of course, all sorts of demons: demons of illness, demons of cyclical sin, demons of impure attachments, demons of homelessness, poverty, and marginalization, and so many more.  Think of all the demons we could cast out if we just had more faith, if we prayed more fervently.

Sometimes, when we are trying to overcome some problem, the last thing we think to do is pray, when it should absolutely be the first.  The disciples were guilty of it, the scribes were, and we are too sometimes, if we’re honest.  And all of us should know better.  I know that I myself can think of a number of problems I’ve tried to solve all by myself, when it would have been so much more effective to first turn them over to our Lord.  We can’t just cut God out of the picture and rely on our own strength; that never works – our own strength is so fiercely limited.  We have to turn to the tools we have been given: faith and prayer.  And we can start by saying with the boy’s father: “I do believe, Lord; help my unbelief.”

The Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Come and Rest a While

Today’s readings

I think a lot of us can identify with what’s going on in today’s Gospel reading. Jesus and the Twelve had been working hard: they had just been out on mission, proclaiming the Gospel and the Kingdom of God, casting out demons, and healing the sick.  It was hard work.  Some of it was successful, sure, but probably some of it wasn’t, because everyone probably wasn’t ready to hear what they were preaching.  So, coming back to the Teacher now, they were tired, but they were excited.  Jesus calls them together to go to an out-of-the-way place to rest a while, maybe have something to eat.  But as soon as they arrive, they find that the crowds figured it out and got there ahead of them.  The crowds clamored for Jesus’ attention, bringing to him as they always did, their needs and brokenness and pain.

If you’re a parent, that might sound familiar.  When’s the last time you had a minute to yourself, only to find out that the children have figured out where you were and needed something right now?  Or at work, you finally have five minutes to take care of your own projects, only to have a coworker come and ask for help with something they are doing?  We know the experience.  Responsibility for whatever we are charged with never really ends, no matter who we are.  We have so many things to do, we don’t have time for ourselves, for our spiritual lives, for those things that are ultimately important.

And Jesus doesn’t want it to be so.  He wants to shepherd all of us to an out-of-the-way place to rest a while, to rest in him.  He wants to feed all of us with the best of food: his own Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, that we might have strength to take care of those crowds clamoring around us for our attention.

So we have to let him.  We have to give him five minutes of our day, if we haven’t been giving him anything at all.  We have to give him a little more now, so that he can use that space to help us rest a while, to refuel, to recharge, to grow and become more.  I know that seems like pie-in-the-sky: surely, it won’t be easy.  If we can’t find five minutes for ourselves, how on earth are we going to find five minutes for Jesus?  But it is possible.  I think maybe it’s too much at the end of the day when we’re dog tired.  So we have to find another, better time.  Maybe we can get up five minutes earlier just to read a verse of Scripture and put ourselves in the presence of our Lord for the day.  Maybe at work, we can put our spiritual lives on our to-do lists, keeping a little devotional book or prayer book in our desk drawers or back pockets so that we can rest for five minutes and refocus.  It will make everything we do better.  I used to put prayer on my to-do list every day in the days before seminary when I was working at a print company.  One day I was out sick, and my co-worker who filled in for me wrote a note on the to-do list at the end of the day: “I don’t think it helped!”  But of course it did.  Prayer always gives us more than we give to it.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus can do a lot with five minutes.  In these summer days, those five minutes can be the refreshment we need to move forward in our relationship with God and with the people in our lives.  They can help us to not be resentful of what we’re called to do for others.  They can help us to give more than we think we can.   They can help us to give better than we can all on our own.  Five minutes can help us in good times and in bad.

Jesus wants to be our shepherd, spreading the table before us and making our cups overflow.  And he will if we carve open a space for him to do that in us.  Give Jesus five minutes, go to an out-of-the-way place to rest a while.

Tuesday of the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

When I hear that the road that leads to life is narrow and constricted, that makes me a bit uneasy.  The reason for that is I am a lousy packer.  I pretty much always over-pack, not being able to shake the worry of not having something I might need.  What if the weather is cold?  I’ll need some warm clothes.  If it’s hot, I sure won’t want those warm clothes then, so I’ll need something light.  Better take along some Advil in case I get a headache, and well, the list goes on and on.  I just hate packing to go on a trip, because I always imagine what I pack will take up less space than it does.

I think that can be true of us on our spiritual journeys as well.  We want to fill up every silence we have.  Better take our mobile phones, a book in case we’re bored, the tablet so we’ll be able to get our email, and who knows what else.  Heaven forbid we should let the silence be silent so that our God can speak to us.  I’m every bit as guilty of over-packing in that way too.

But God doesn’t want our tablets or cell phones.  God just wants us.  He wants us to give him ourselves completely.  Sure, there’s an easier way to go, unfortunately that particular way leads to destruction.  But if we give up what holds us back, then travelling that narrow road to life won’t be so hard.

What do we need to unpack from our lives today?

Friday of the Tenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

We know a little of the back story on our first reading, because we’ve been hearing it this week. You recall that Elijah has just come from soundly defeating all of the pagan “prophets” of Baal, which was very embarrassing to King Ahab and especially to Queen Jezebel, who vowed to take Elijah’s life in retaliation. So he has been hiding out in a cave, not for protection from inclement weather, but for protection from those who sought his life. In the midst of this, God asks Elijah why he is here. Elijah explains that the people of Israel have been unfaithful and have turned away from God, not listening to Elijah’s preaching, and they have put all the other legitimate prophets to death. Elijah alone is left.

So God says that he will be “passing by” which in biblical language means that God will be doing a “God thing.” God will be revealing his presence. And so we have the story: there is a mighty wind, an earthquake and even fire. But Elijah only recognizes the Lord’s presence in the tiny whispering sound. After everything that had happened to him, mighty wind, an earthquake and a fire were just more of the same. But when there was that tiny whispering sound, Elijah heard the Lord speaking to him loud and clear. Then and there he receives instruction on how to move forward.

In our own prayer lives, it’s good to be attentive to the tiny whispering sound. We too have a noisy life – not because we are running from our enemies like Elijah, but more because we have created enemies to a recollected life. The television, the phone, the tablet, the computer, all of that and more vie for our attention in every moment. And then we lament that we can’t hear God’s direction, can’t figure out what it is we’re supposed to do in this situation or that.

In my own life, I have created a little space in my room for a prayer altar. It has my bible, a Crucifix, an icon of Jesus the Teacher, a statue of Saint Patrick, one of the Blessed Virgin one of Saint Joseph, one of Saint Michael the Archangel, and a candle. Now, when I want to hear the Lord, I can turn off everything, settle into a chair, and reflect. And the Lord has been speaking, was all along to be honest. Just now I’ve created a space, like Elijah’s cave, where I can hear him. God is always doing a “God thing” among us. We just have to make it our care to notice.

Tuesday of the Twenty-ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s Liturgy of the Word speaks to us about being ready.  And now’s as good a time for that as any, especially since we are getting so close to the end of the liturgical year.  The liturgical year ends on the feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King of the Universe, which this year is celebrated on November 26th.  What we are going to start noticing in the readings from now until then is a decided interest in how all of time will be wrapping up.  Theologians call that “eschatology,” which is the theology about the end times.

Now, to be clear, we don’t know when the end of time will actually happen.  God in his providence keeps the big picture on that to himself, which I think is good, or we would be constantly worried about it.  But today’s Liturgy of the Word tells us that we can’t be complacent either.  We have to have our spiritual houses in order lest the master return and find us slacking off and give his blessings to more diligent servants.

It’s easy to slack off on our spiritual service when things are going well.  The urgency to our prayer wanes and we’re easily distracted.  But even when things aren’t going so well, we can be bogged down in the mire of whatever we’re dealing with and forget to attend to the faith that sees us through.  So the issue is being prepared: girding our loins and lighting our lamps, so that when the Master returns, we’re ready to go.

For us this might mean a return trip to the Sacrament of Penance if it’s been a while, or perhaps signing up for the Bible Study if we have been meaning to do that, or even just taking the Bible down off the shelf and reading a few verses each night before bed.  Whatever we haven’t been doing, whether it’s Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament or a renewed dedication to the Holy Rosary, it’s time we got on it.  It might even mean taking time out of our busy schedules to be of service to those in need.

God wants to take us with him and he’s very patient, but we have to do our part.  We have to be diligent and ready.  We have to be eager to say with the Psalmist, “Here I am Lord, I come to do your will.”

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