Psalm 70Finding Meaning

Sunday, December 16, 2018

O Lord, come quickly to help me . . . come quickly to help me, God. 

Victor Frankl

Friday’s MAGNIFICAT Meditation of the Day, was written by Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist who survived Auschwitz.  As I read this psalm I recall some of his words.

Being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself – be it meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter.  The more one forgets himself – by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love – the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself . . . (Cameron 151)

As I reflect on his words I wonder how those who physically survived a death camp can ever smile again.  I wonder how they move past the fear that must haunt them. I wonder how they manage to move through days of freedom without falling into fits of dark despair.  I wonder how they begin again.

In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as a meaning of sacrifice . . . In accepting this challenge to suffer bravely, life has a meaning up to the last moment, and it retains this meaning literally to the end . . . My comrades’ . . . question was, “Will we survive the camp?  For, if not, all this suffering has no meaning.”  The question that beset me was, “Has all this suffering, this dying around us, a meaning?  For, if not, then ultimately there is no meaning to survival; for a life whose meaning depends upon such a happenstance – as whether one escapes or not – ultimately would not be worth living at all”.   (Cameron 151)

Entrance to Auschwitz

We too often believe that life’s meaning is found in quick happiness and forget that true human meaning comes from paring ourselves down to a nothingness that brings us sharply up against the realization that only God is worth seeking.  We too often act out of fear and forget that no deceit lasts forever, and that we only fool ourselves with our feeble deceptions for God knows and sees all in the end.  We too often look for quick solutions and forget that only a forgiving heart and an abiding love bring true and eternal life.

O Lord, come quickly to help me . . . come quickly to help me, God. 

And so we pray . . .

Good and glorious God, we struggle to find meaning in the highs and lows of our lives and so we gather up all that we have and all that we are . . . to offer it back to you.  For you are our only place of refuge . . . you are our only source of meaning . . . you are the only salvation worth seeking.  O Lord, come quickly to help us . . . come quickly to help us, God.  Amen. 

A re-post from November 13, 2011. 

Image from: http://www.rjgeib.com/thoughts/frankl/frankl.html

Cameron, Peter John, ed. “Meditation of the Day.” MAGNIFICAT. 11.11 (2011): 151. Print.

Jeremiah 31:7-14None Shall Stumble

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Marc Adamus: The Cold Journey

Jeremiah encourages the faithful to keep eyes fixed on God, to remember that God is both the source and goal of our being.  Our journey here on earth is one of working in the vineyards of the Kingdom, of witnessing to injustices committed against the marginalized, and of waiting on God’s plan in God’s time.  Jeremiah tells us that the faithful are guarded and led out of exile.  He reminds us that the remnant that was scattered is gathered up in hope and loved with passion.  The blind and the lame, mothers and those with child, those who departed in tears . . . all departed in sorrow will return in an immense throng . . . and none shall stumble.  This is the best kind of news we can hope to hear.

The daily drone of life wears down our defense against pain.  The monotony of waking each morning to hope endlessly in a better day saps our resources.  The aridity of the desert dries up the wells we frequent for refreshment. The oases are further apart; our rest stops do not sustain us as they once had.  We have difficulty celebrating the good news we know is upon us . . . and it is difficult for us to believe that none shall stumble.

When the life we have arranged for ourselves fails us we have two options: we can turn away from the pain of our suffering, or we can turn toward our grief where God waits to sweep us into waiting arms.

Richard Rohr has something to tell us about this in his book Job and the Mystery of Suffering: Spiritual Reflections (pages 54-55).

“We must go through the stages of feeling, not only in the last death of anything but also in all the earlier little deaths. If we abort these emotional stages by easy answers, all they do is take a deeper form of disguise and come out in another way. So many people learn that the hard way—by getting ulcers, by all kinds of psychosomatic diseases, depression, chronic irritability, and misdirected anger—because they refuse to let their emotions run their course, honor them consciously, or find some appropriate place to share them.

“Emotions are not right or wrong, good or bad. They are merely indicators of what is happening, and must be listened to, usually in the body. People who do not feel deeply finally do not know or love deeply either. It is the price we pay for loving. Like Job we must be willing to feel our emotions and come to grips with the mystery in our head, our heart, and our body. To be honest, that takes years”.

We live in a world of instant replay, quick solutions, smiling gurus, and impatience with suffering.  Jeremiah speaks to the faithful who understand that living well is not about covering over or covering up but of delving deep and allowing the fiery furnace of pain to refine us as we witness, work and wait.  Job understands the intensity of suffering innocently.  Rohr tells us that our pain is not a punishment but an acknowledgement of our eagerness to be one with God.  We know that the journey is long and steep . . . we know that our yearning for God means that we are remnant . . . and we know that with God . . . none of the faithful shall stumble.

A re-post from November 12, 2011.

Image from: http://www.marcadamus.com/photo.php?id=37&gallery=desert

Psalm 79: War

Psalm 79War

Friday, December 14, 2018

A re-post from November 11, 2011.

Today is Veteran’s Day and the birthday of my littlest granddaughter who lost her sister a few short weeks ago.  I read this Psalm and think of death as we understand it – the loss of one we love – and I wonder . . .

Help us, O God, our Savior . . .

Today is also the feast day of St. Martin of Tours, a soldier who converted to Christianity and gave up the world of physical violence to enter into a spiritual life that in many ways looks much like war.  As St. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 6:12-13: Our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.  Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground.  From the MAGNIFICAT Mini-reflection: Saint Martin translated his long military career into a campaign of spiritual warfare against the paganism and the temptations to worldly wealth which threatened the people of the Church he served as monk and bishop.  I think of evil spirits in the heavens, and warfare and death and St. Martin and I wonder . . .

May your mercy come quickly to meet us for we are in desperate need . . .

Paul writes to the Corinthians and to us in today’s Morning Prayer: The weapons of our battle are not of flesh but are enormously powerful, capable of destroying fortresses.  (2 Corinthians 10:4)  I think about how we may not recognize our own paganism, our own violence, our own falling away from God, and I wonder . . .

Help us, O God, our Savior . . .

Good women and men step forward when times are dark.  God never leaves our side when circumstances extinguish hope.  I think about warfare of all kinds and I wonder . . .

May your mercy come quickly to meet us for we are in desperate need . . .

I call upon the God who suffers with us, who abides with us, and who heals all wounds and violations shot through the faithful by the pagans who invade their inheritance, who breach the temple gates and defile holy places, and I wonder . . .

Help us, O God, our Savior . . .

Images from: http://www.themoralliberal.com/2011/11/10/veterans-day/ 

Cameron, Peter John, Rev., ed. “Mini-Reflection.” MAGNIFICAT. 11 November 2011: 145. Print.

Acts 8:4-40Magic or Mystery

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Avancino Nucci: Peter’s COnflict with Simon Magus

Written on March 10 and posted today as a Favorite . . .

In today’s Noontime we have the juxtaposition of Simon the magician – who uses sleight of hand and deceit to lure in an audience – with Philip the apostle – who allows the Spirit to work through him to call others to Christ.  Which are we today?  Who are our friends, family, companions and colleagues?  What do we expect from our world?  How do we interact with all of God’s creatures and God’s creation?

Following the martyring of Stephen, the apostles scatter.  This brutal act which was meant to stifle the Spirit only carries it out into the world.  As always, God turns all harm to good . . . if we prepare ourselves to receive God’s gift of grace.

We might examine our conscience as we move into our Lenten journey.

You thought you could obtain God’s gift with money . . . Pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you . . .

Do I want to know the truth even when inconvenient?

Peter said . . . your heart is not right with God . . .

Will I accept critique, even when it is delivered unkindly?

How can I understand [the Gospel] unless someone guides me . . .?

Am I willing to listen more than I talk?

The crowds listened eagerly to what was said by Philip, hearing and seeing the signs that he did . . .

Do I consistently create time and space for God in my life no matter the circumstance?

Now those [apostles] who were scattered went from place to place . . .

Am I willing to proclaim the good news even when joy eludes me?

Philip proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus . . .

We cannot purchase or earn God’s grace in any way.  God’s grace is not a trick that fools the eye or ear.  God’s grace is the action of Spirit that moves within and through us.  The proper response to this gift is our gratitude, our fidelity, and our willingness to build the kingdom with all who are likewise called by God.

We may be tempted to worry only about ourselves and we may want to think that our relationship with God is with God alone.  We find out, once we begin to listen well, that we are to act in concord with one another despite and even because of our differences.  God’s great oneness is not a monolith but a kaleidoscope variety of his creatures and creation.  Once we begin to notice what attracts us to God, once we begin to discern our reason for seeking God . . . we will know if we are looking for magic to solve our problems . . . or the Spirit that transforms us into faithful kingdom builders.

A re-post from November 10, 2011.

Image from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_Magus

Judith 1A Lesson Worth Learning

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Benjamin Jean Joseph Constant: Judith

Just this morning I was speaking with a friend about Nebuchadnezzar and when I opened the Bible for the Noontime reflection I saw his name in the middle of the page.  I thought back to the conversation and remembered that my friend was saying how the extravagance at the Oscar awards celebration made her think of this man who demands that his subjects worship him.  We might take a lesson from this.  The beginning of the book of Judith is about how Nebuchadnezzar demands much of his vassal nations and of how he exacts his demands by making war.  This is the backdrop for the story of Judith which we have visited often.  It is an environment of violence and survival, a dangerous setting with various groups of people: the Assyrians, Persians, Medes, and Chaldeans.  Rivers familiar to us from our school studies mark borders: the Tigris and Euphrates, the Jordan.  We recognize the names of countries: Egypt and Ethiopia.  The name of King Arphaxad is new and even exotic.  The opening of this drama brings with it the known and unknown with destruction immediately announced.  Frontiers are breached, limits are exceeded.  We know that this will not be a gentle story.This dovetails, in a surprising way, with the first reading for Mass today from Sirach (17:20-24) about how one who is penitent is guided to God by God.  I am wondering if these leaders in the opening chapter of Judith would heed this kind of advice if offered to them.  I am wondering about people who believe they know the best way to do everything.  I am hoping that I have better ears and a bigger heart than the leaders we read about today.

To the penitent God provides a way back, he encourages those who are losing hope and has chosen for them the lot of truth.  Return to him and give up sin, pray to the Lord and make your offenses few. 

This is good advice to follow when we find ourselves baffled, lost or alone; but it is impossible to follow if we are actively involved in anger.  Strong, negative emotions are easy to use against others; they are difficult to put aside once they have become comfortable tools.

Who in the nether world can glorify the Most High in place of the living who offer their praise?  Dwell o longer in the error of the ungodly, but offer your praise before death.

This is good advice to follow when we are embroiled in conflict or swamped with fear.  If we can do nothing else . . . we can begin to praise God, even if we can only begin half-heartedly.

How great the mercy of the Lord, his forgiveness of those who return to him!

There is a good ending that comes to the faithful in today’s story if we want to read ahead; and this story teaches us a lesson worth learning.  “There can be no doubt that Judith was meant as didactic fiction, not factual history . . . Part 1 narrates a military and religious struggle that begins in Persia and makes its way across the western nations to the little Israelite town Bethulia . . . Part 2 tells how the God-fearing woman Judith destroys the enemies of Israel.  This ‘beautiful’ widow of Manasseh (8.7) lays aside the sackcloth of her widowhood in order to make herself ‘very beautiful, to entice the eyes of all the men who might see here’ . . . Together Parts 1 and 2 show what it means to serve only one God, to turn to this God for an easing of life’s plights, and to trust God without reserve.  The book teaches that by vocation and God’s design, the covenant people are free if they fear only God and rely wholeheartedly on the covenant”.   (Mays 1460-1461)

Repent, return and celebrate . . . This is a lesson worth learning.  It is a lesson worth enacting in our lives.

A re-post from November 9, 2011.

Image from: http://bible-women.blogspot.com/2009/07/proud-judith.html

Mays, James L., ed.  HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. 1460-1461. Print.

Written on February 28 and posted today as a Favorite . . .

Psalm 19The Builder’s Craft

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

If we get away from ambient light to look into the heavens on a clear night, we will see millions of stars . . . and it is all too breath-taking.  The sky proclaims the builder’s craft.

On a clear day when we look into the skies, we see powder puffs or high horse tails of clouds; on other days the banks and streaks of clouds announce a coming storm . . . and it is all too awesome.  The sky proclaims the builder’s craft.

If we look at the one who announces God among us, Jesus, we see that . . . he is all too splendid.  He too, proclaims the builder’s craft.  He is the Lord’s law, the new law that supersedes the old and fulfills the promises made to Abraham.  The psalmist describes this law, this Christ to us.  He is . . . perfect, refreshing, trustworthy, giving wisdom, right, clear, pure, true, desirable, and sweet.  He comes to save and restore.  He is among us to transform.  He is our rock and our redeemer.

We are also the builder’s craft for we are created in God’s image, adopted as Jesus’ sisters and brothers, consoled and protected by God’s Spirit.  When we allow ourselves to be cleansed of our faults – both known and unknown – then shall we be blameless and innocent of grave sin.

Then will the words or our mouths meet with the Lord’s favor.

Then will we keep our thoughts ever before God.

Then will we fully know that we are, like the skies, the handiwork of God’s loving hands.

Then will we declare with full voice the glory of God, and like the skies, then will we . . . proclaim the builder’s craft.

A re-post from November 8, 2011.

Image from: http://www.arizonatourismcenter.com/scottsdale/index-scottsdale.php/Stargazing-Tours-14/

Jeremiah 16The Source of Life

Monday, December 10, 2018

Michaelangelo: The Prophet Jeremiah – The Sistine Chapel

Here we have the explanation for Jeremiah’s celibacy: this state has divine origin, and it announces Israel’s fate that life as they have known it has ended.  With no family, Jeremiah’s social isolation is complete; there is no future.  “The world has become utterly silent.  There will be no mourning rituals, no feasting . . . Jeremiah’s celibacy signifies the total obliteration of daily domestic life.  Vv. 10-13 ask the questions that lie at the heart of the book and belong to the experience of exile: why has God done this to us?  What is our sin?” They have abandoned God, worshiped other gods and have broken the law.  They may think that compromise and bartering will win them a reprieve but in the end there is nothing without God.  (Barton and Muddiman 503)

All is bleak . . . until we come to the end of the chapter with a liturgical song of conversion in verses 19 to 21 that serves as a model for repentance and a roadmap back to safety for the faithful who remain.  Through Jeremiah’s suffering, a remnant of the people may be saved.  Seen in this light, the chapter defends Yahweh from charges of injustice.  Seen in this way, celibacy is seen as a source of life.   Scripture is full of irony . . . what is lost is gained, what is empty is full, what is childless bears fruit.

Bernard Potthast: Woman and Children beside a Window

Genesis 11:30: Now Sarai was barren; she had no children . . .

Psalm 113:9: He settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children . . .

Isaiah 54:1: Sing, O barren woman,you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy,you who were never in labor;because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the Lord.

When we find ourselves cut off from our dreams, when we feel as though there are few options open to us, when we believe that we have nowhere to turn . . . we may want to consider our offering of suffering.  It may be the source of life for others . . . and thereby the source of life for ourselves.

A re-post from November 7, 2011.

Images from: http://inskirtsandwellies.wordpress.com/category/biblical-verses/ and http://www.artbible.info/art/large/74.html

Barton, John, and John Muddiman. THE OXFORD BIBLE COMMENTARY. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2001. 503. Print.

Isaiah 48Exhortations to the Exiles

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Written on January 23 and posted today as a Favorite . . .

God’s patience, mercy and persistence are clear to us in this chapter of Isaiah.  It is unambiguous that our suffering brings spiritual growth and the refinement of our spiritual skills – I have refined you like silver, tested you in the furnace of affliction.  It is also obvious in today’s reading that God knows his creatures well – Because I know that you are stubborn and that your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead bronze, I foretold [things of the past] to you . . . before they took place . . . that you might not say, “My idol did them, my statue, my molten image commanded them”. 

God well understands how much we humans like to take credit for all that goes well, and how much we like to blame him for all that goes badly; yet God is always welcoming us home and here he asks: Now that you have heard, look at all this; must you not admit it?  The conquering armies of Babylon have themselves been conquered; now is an opportunity to escape slavery and return to Jerusalem: Go forth from Babylon, flee from Chaldea!  All those who have been patient and who have persisted in faith now reap the reward of returning from exile . . . if they can find the energy.  And so this God who loves us dearly anticipates our fatigue and he exhorts his loved ones to rise up and return to him.

Yesterday we reflected on the fact that God constantly accompanies us – even when we do not feel his presence.  Today we continue this thinking . . . God even abides with the exiles and urges them to come home to him.  God remains with us even when we turn to our little pagan ways.  God waits for us to remember that only God can restore what has been lost.  God loves us this much.

From now on I announce new things to you, hidden events of which you knew not.  How wonderful it would be if we might be open and eager for these new pronouncements.  How startled we might be to acknowledge that what God promises he always delivers.  And how joy-filled we would be if only we might believe the Good News we have heard . . . that our freedom has been gained for us, our sins have been absolved for us, and the way has been made straight for us.

Today’s MAGNIFICAT Morning Prayer offers perfect petitions as we move from exile to freedom to home, from stubbornness to repentance to restoration, and from disbelief to acknowledgement to joy.  Let us allow ourselves to be encouraged by God’s eager exhortations to us, the children he loves so very much.

We seek to grow in holiness and turn away from sin.  So we pray: Bring us to repentance.

When we have strayed from the path of righteousness: Bring us to repentance. 

When we are enthralled by what is not of God: Bring us to repentance. 

When we become blind to our sins: Bring us to repentance. 

Lord our God, you are loving and merciful to all those who turn to you in humility.  Draw us ever deeper in your embrace as we seek to please you through holy lives.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

A re-post from November 6, 2011.

Cameron, Peter John. “Prayer for the Morning.” MAGNIFICAT. 1.23 (2011). Print. 

Image from: http://www.modernparapsychology.com/Gamer/Moloch/Smelt.html

Deuteronomy 2God’s Presence

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Written on January 22 and posted today as a Favorite . . .

The Lord, your God, has blessed you in all undertakings; he has been concerned about your journey through this vast desert.  It is now forty years that he has been with you, and you have never been in want. 

In today’s Noontime we have an accounting of the Hebrew travels with God and we may – or may not – be astonished by the intimate conversations between these people and their Lord.  They contain both detail and emotion, and perhaps these are attributes of our own interchanges with God as well.  He advises specifically where they are to go, what – and whom – they are to avoid, what they are to purchase, and how they are to survive.  As we read we come to understand the reason for the drawn out period of time in the desert.  We impatient humans murmur to ourselves that God’s time and plan are long and intricate; but if we read carefully we understand that God is doing two things as he accompanies these tribes in their wanderings: he is refining his people through trial, and he is establishing a strong bond of trust with them.  Who can doubt this awesome God after reading these accounts?  In today’s Noontime we see the toughened and strengthened Israelites begin to experience success in battle.   I now deliver into your hands Sihon, the Amorite king of Heshbon, and his land . . . This day I will begin to put a fear and dread of you into every mouth under the heavens.

We each make a journey through the desert, anticipating the promise in which we believe.  We each have need of specific instruction.  We each must express to God our fears, wants and joys.  We each are accompanied by the Lord.  We each are at the heart of God’s plan.   We each are blessed, and we each are the holy dwelling place of God.

The Lord, your God, has blessed you in all undertakings; he has been concerned about your journey through this vast desert.  It is now forty years that he has been with you, and you have never been in want. 

We have two ways to look at life as we know it. It is either a dreadful series of difficult situations . . . or a delightful record of God’s attentive love.  My parents always told us that just because things don’t turn out they way you think they should does not mean that God has not been with you.  In fact, God has been with you.  And God is with you now to help you learn what it is you are supposed to learn.  Be open. 

We were raised to expect the best from people and from God, to practice patience and understanding, and to act in compassion and honesty.  Not all of those lessons took, to be sure, but I remember them often, especially when I feel I am in danger.

As we skirt hazards and are sometimes nipped by anxiety and dread, we must remember that just because we may not feel God’s presence at all times does mean that he is not with us.  When we forget this, we forget who we really are: the daughters and sons of God.

This is the message you  heard from the beginning:We should love one another.  Dear children,let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.  This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us.  For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. (1 John 3:11, 18-20)

If God knows all, then he knows who and what we ought to avoid, where we ought to go, and how we ought to proceed.  We do well to remember that the creator of all loves each of us, knows our pains and joys, and knows the best steps for us in our particular journey.  We do well to listen to God’s word . . . and to rely on him who is always with us . . . even when we might not feel his presence.

A re-post from November 5, 2011.

Images from: http://www.jewishworldreview.com/wein/wein_matos_masei.php3?printer_friendly

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