Saturday of the Thirtieth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

When we are deeply concerned about our own needs, our own prestige, our own honor, we often end up falling into a pit.  Because that kind of thinking is its own kind of blinder.  We can’t see past all that to notice the greatness of God, and to rejoice in what he is doing.

Pride has us looking in all the wrong directions.  What we need to look to is the host of the party.  Then we can rejoice and give honor and glory to God, who deserves all of our praise.  Then we can see and delight in the good things he is doing in our lives and in the life of our community and our world.

Humility frees us up to see God’s work in us.  It allows God to call us to a higher place, perhaps even a higher place than we would have, and certainly could have, on our own.  Humility is custody of the eyes: instead of looking where we should not look, we look instead to ourselves, into our own hearts.  And there we see three things.  First, we see our own sins, woundedness, brokenness, imperfections and failings and we humbly ask for God’s help.  Second, we see the child God created us to be, and the beauty of that child, and return to our first longing which is to be with God himself.  And finally, we see God at work, creating and re-creating us, calling us to himself.

What we see in humility is always greater than what we see in pride.  But we have to be willing to take off those blinders that pride puts on us, and be ready to take the lower place.

Thursday of the First Week of Advent

Today’s readings

There’s an old saying that if you want to hear God laugh, just tell him your plans for the day.  And we know how true that is, don’t we?  How many times have we had a plan for the day, only to have it derailed by whatever circumstances come our way during the day.  But I think the real problem with our plans sometimes is that we don’t always factor God’s will into our plans.  We want God to come to our rescue when things go awry, as they always do when we depend only on ourselves.  But if things are going well, we sometimes feel like we can do without God’s direction, thanks anyway.

This is the meaning of the song they’re singing about Judah in today’s first reading from Isaiah.  The people who are in lofty high places don’t think they need God, or don’t even give God a second, or even a first, thought.  And won’t they be surprised when God allows them to be caught up in their own folly and go tumbling to the ground?

This Advent time is a time for us to examine our lives and see if we might have thought ourselves to be lofty recently.  How much do we depend on God?  Do we rely on his help day after day?  Do we consider his will in our daily plans?  Are we open to the movement of his Spirit?  If not, we might find ourselves tumbling and falling.  But if we choose to be aware of God and our need for him, nothing will ever make us stumble.  As the Psalmist sings today:

It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in princes.

And so we forge onward in Advent, aware of the coming of Christ, building our houses on his rock-solid foundation.

Tuesday of the Twentieth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

These are hard readings today, aren’t they? More than that, I think; they are harsh readings. But that’s probably a good thing, because they make a point that we all need to hear from time to time.

Sometimes when people think about what the greatest sin would be, they might point to a sexual sin, or to something like abortion or murder or genocide. But the Church Fathers have always been a little more heavy-handed against the sin of pride, and I think that’s what today’s readings are getting at. And because the sin of pride is so insidious, it is probably necessary that the reaction to that sin be harsh.

In today’s first reading, Ezekiel has to come down hard on the prince of Tyre, and really all of the people, for thinking they are greater than God; that their own power can get them through any difficulty. He has to prophecy what they don’t want to hear, that their power will not be enough to overcome their enemies after all. And in today’s Gospel, Jesus has to deal with those who are rich. Being rich isn’t the sin; the sin is thinking that because one is rich, he has everything he needs for a successful life. We know that money cannot necessarily buy happiness; what we hear today is that money can’t buy a place in the kingdom of God.

Maybe the reason that pride is such a problematic sin is that when we’re caught up in it, we don’t know we’re caught up in it. We think we have it all together and we don’t need anyone’s help, thank you very much. What is sad is that the outcome is often thinking that we don’t even need God, which may not be what we intended, and could not be farther from the truth.

It might not seem like the sin of pride can ever be overcome. But as Jesus reminds us today, “For men this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” All things are possible if we remain close to God who longs to give us everything we need. If only we call on him and remember that he is God and we are not.

Thursday of the Fifteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today's readings

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Today’s Scripture readings have some “sound bytes” that I have found most meaningful in my prayer life.  Isaiah’s profession of faith today says, “For it is you who have accomplished all we have done.”  What a beautiful thing for us to remember.  This one statement, if we integrate it into our prayer life, will keep us from both false humility and excessive pride.  Because we have no right, when we are called by God to do something, to say, “Oh no, I could never do that.”  That might be absolutely correct, but it’s still completely meaningless.  If God calls us, he will make miracles happen from our willingness to follow.  For it is he who has accomplished all we have done.

And we have no right to be puffed up and call attention to ourselves, and say, “Now look how wonderful I am.”  Because the really good things that we do we could never possibly do on our own: whether that’s becoming a priest and preaching the Word, or becoming a parent and raising children, or whatever our vocation consists of.  That we are willing is cause enough for celebration, but let’s not forget to celebrate the miracle that happens when God does what he needs to do in us.  For it is he who has accomplished all we have done.

And the three verses in our Gospel reading are verses that have long stuck with me.  I have an old Bible in my office that my aunt gave me when I was probably in high school, so like a million years ago!  That Bible has these verses outlined in ink because I went back to them so often.  We all go through trials sometimes, but we can never give ourselves to despair because our Lord is so willing to help us shoulder the burden, and longs to give us the rest we all need to recuperate from the world’s trials.  All we need to do is to come to him for that rest, and to be willing to take up the burdens he offers us, knowing that we will never shoulder them alone.  For it is he who has accomplished all we have done.

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