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Saturday, June 20, 2020

headline14[1]Matthew 5:38-48

Vengeance

We hear this message often; yet it cannot be overstated.  True love is one which exacts no payment or punishment.  True love – this Law of Love which Jesus brings to us – does not sink to the depths of the abuser.  My mother was fond of telling us: Do not sink to your opponent’s level.  Be a lady/gentleman.  Do not fight fire with fire.  Kill you enemy with kindness.  My mother was a good shepherd.

Today’s MAGNIFICAT Meditation is entitled “Do you Love Me?” and it is written by Fr. Julián Carrón, a professor of theology at the University of Milan.  He writes: Our astonishment at Christ’s love for each of us dominates our life.  Carrón proposes that there is a nothingness that constantly looms over every man, and that often makes him doubt that there is an answer that corresponds to the need for truth, for beauty, for justice, and for happiness in his heart, because nothing is able to totally fascinate him for long.  Carrón writes that once God becomes overwhelming attractive to us, we begin to understand and even feel the depth of this kind of love born of suffering, resurrection and restoration.  This is a love which cannot be turned away, nor can it be extinguished.  God’s holiness reveals itself as a passionate love for his people [and] . . . all man’s frailty, his betrayal, all the dreadful possibilities of history are traversed by that question put to Peter on the lake that morning [after his resurrection], “Do you love me?”

How much do we love God?  Enough to give up our petty fascination with payback and vengeance?  Enough to feed his sheep?  Enough to petition for our abusers?

Peter replies to Christ’s question:  Yes, Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you.  Carrón writes: In this free “yes” of the creature, in every circumstance of life, the glory of God echoes and is at work.

Imagine if we all might put aside our personal hurts – knowing that God knows all – and allow Christ to mediate our disagreements and our battles.  Imagine what a world it might be.  Imagine what happiness we might find.

When we say yes to putting aside our desire to retaliate, we give God our own YesThe nothingness that constantly looms over every one of us is dispelled.  And we begin to know the depths of a true love which does not tolerate or even recognize the desire to take revenge.

As we ponder what to do about those who scheme against us at work or even at home, as we contemplate how God stands plots on their heads to bring goodness out of harm, as we consider that every lesson the Spirit teaches is about inversion, we might want to take Jesus’ advice to us and pray for those who seek our end rather than ask for revenge.  And as my mother so often reminded us when we struggled with praying for those negative or dangerous people who came into our own lives, we might want to begin by killing them with our kindness.


Image from: http://www.whatdidjesussay.com/14-anyone-can-love-their-friends-love-your-enemies-and-pray-for-them-jesus/

Adapted from a reflection written on May 29, 2009.

Cameron, Peter John. “Meditation of the Day.” MAGNIFICAT. 29.5 (2012). Print.

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Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 22, 2020

Jeremiah 14:20-27: Jerusalem’s Disgrace

The remains of the southern wall of Jerusalem's Temple

The remains of the southern wall of Jerusalem’s Temple

Jerusalem, a city of promise, the holy city of God.  She has so much potential.  And she has so far to fall.  Today Jeremiah reminds us that deceit and envy will always snuggle into comfort and ease.  When we find ourselves with no problems to solve, my parents often said, we know that we do not have long to wait . . . trouble has a way of finding good fortune.

Some of the imagery in today’s reading is difficult to read and even more difficult to envision.  The image of Israel’s skirts being torn away when she is violated is such a strong one.  The idea that a flock has been entrusted to a shepherd who then abuses that trust is so insidious yet these actions play out more often than we like to think.  The realization that nothing we do is done in private is stark in these verses.  We cannot run.  We cannot hide.  As Mother and Dad always said: The truth always comes out in the end.

Yet we continue to delude ourselves and just when we are offered so much promise.  Easter with all its possibilities, draws near.  We have spent nearly forty days examining and prodding ourselves into admitting what we must change and yet we ramble forward, hoping that no one will notice that we haven’t.  How do we moderate our poor behavior?

By gently but firmly rebuking that which is secretive, that which dissembles, hides, colludes, becomes submissive because we fear someone’s anger, rejection, ridicule or abandonment.  In my extended family we have tried to live by doing not what others expect of us but rather by doing what God expects.  It is not always easy.  We need not fight, nor do we need go along with the crowd but what we must do, to the best of our abilities, is “the right thing”.

We pause over the last lines:

Your adulteries, your neighing, your shameless prostitutions: 

On the hills in the highlands I see these horrible crimes of yours.

Woe to you, Jerusalem, how long will it yet be before you come clean!

Jerusalem has so much potential and in Jeremiah today we hear a prediction of woe to come.  We only need read ancient history to know that the destruction predicted will indeed arrive.   If only Jerusalem might repair and reform.  If only Jerusalem might stand and declare what she knows to be right and good and true.

When things got a bit turbulent my Dad would always say: “Sometimes it is stand up time!”  He would elaborate: “The right thing sometimes is the lonely thing.  You might find that you are the only person in an ocean of people who has the courage to stand and be counted.  If you talk with your Creator and have heard his advice . . . and if the advice is to ‘stand up and be counted’, then you best not be found sitting down”.

Sometimes it is stand-up time.  Oh Jerusalem!  If only you might stand!


Image from: http://www.jabberwocky.com/photo/israel/jerusalem.html

First written on December 10, 2007.  Edited and posted today as a Favorite.

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Friday, February 21, 2020

Sirach 11:7-28: Moderation

moderation

Before investigating, find no fault; examine first, then criticize. Before hearing, answer not, and interrupt no one in the middle of his speech. Sirach 11:7-8

Today’s reading can be particularly meaningful in our Lenten journey.  Jesus ben Sirach gives us the advice which my own parents gave to me. Investigate first, pray first, reflect first, find no fault, do not interrupt, consider the other guy, don’t get involved in something that is not your business, stand up for yourself, measure yourself against yourself, listen to God . . . patience and perseverance moderate all things.

We succeed when we live in God . . . to the amazement of many.

When we run after our pleasures and whims, we . . . fall short all the more.

Good and evil, life and death, poverty and riches, are from the Lord.

As human beings we are so centered on surviving, on superseding, on exerting, on withdrawing, on hiding, on revealing . . . I cannot imagine what God must hear rising up from the earth on any given day when he listens to our petitions.

God’s blessing is the lot of the just man, and in due time his hopes bear fruit.

We need only have our eyes in one place . . . on God.

We need only have our ears tuned to one voice . . . the voice of God.

We need only look at the world around us, the people, the plants, the animals . . . to realize that God is all . . . and that God alone is enough.

Moderation. Asking not . . .  What do I need?  Saying not . . . I am independent.

Patience, perseverance, understanding our true relationship with God, knowing that we are loved. And responding to the call to love.

Moderation in all things. Jubilation in the Lord.


Image from: http://www.wellandgoodnyc.com/2012/08/28/an-experts-advice-on-how-to-balance-your-hormones/

First written on February 1, 2008.  Re-written and posted today as a Favorite. 

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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

1 Chronicles 1-9: Genealogies

Planting-a-Family-Tree-for-Parents-Day-–-iPhone-and-iPad-Genealogy-Apps[1]Past and future converging in the present.  Attempting to establish a legacy from the past that extends into the future.  Recording names in books that are passed down through generations.  Looking for links to what was.  Envisioning the future.  Living an intentional present.

We humans concern ourselves so much with time and we hold to our belief that it is a strict, tight line even when mathematics and physics tell us that it is anything but a flat presence consisting of a series of moments.  Time . . . God’s time . . . is eternal; yet we humans strive to pull it and push it until it snaps into an obedient straight plane, extending endlessly behind and in front of us.  I do not believe that God sees us or time in such a superficial way.

There is value in tracing our roots and recording our deeds.  These actions tell us who we are; they remind us of what we have done.  With hope we avoid the errors of this past.

There is value in laying plans, being stewards, husbanding resources, striding forward into an unknown future with confidence and a sense of mission.  Our faith accompanies us as we step into the mystery.

There is value in living an authentic present, seeking to move through our days with integrity, looking at our faults without condemning ourselves or others, being honest about our successes with humility.  In love we live each moment as it comes to us, pleading with God on behalf of our enemies, petitioning favors of God for all those we love, remembering all of God’s creation in our daily prayers.

Hubble Telescope: Two Galaxies Merging

Hubble Telescope: Two Galaxies Merging

I realize that when I pray I cannot help but think of time as linear when I remember with nostalgia my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who wait for me on the other side of the veil that separates the body from that place we refer to as the world of the deceased.  I also imagine the great-great-grandchildren I will never see in this life but whom I will know immediately when they rise to God.  Resisting the idea that time is a strict line of seconds that march into minutes, hours and years, I see myself in the immense, slowly whirling, spiraling strands of human beings God has created in God’s image.  I see us rising like incense in the night from the altar of our lives to bring a welcome aroma to the God who created us.  I see the embrace with which we cling to one another as we dance beneath the arms of the Spirit while she is winging us home.  I see us curling and binding with one another in an intimate union as we form the Mystical Body of this God-man walking among us.

Revelation tells us that there are many names written in the Book of Life.  The names of the faithful.  The names of the righteous.  The names of the just.  The names of the holy.  The names of those who endured.  The names of those who persevered.  The names of those who have come to understand and return God’s love.

So as we consider God’s plan and God’s time, we pray . . . Let us call one another’s names in hope as we rise together in prayer.  Let us call one another’s names in joy as we rise to meet our maker.  Let us call one another’s names in love . . . and leave no one behind.  Amen. 


This week we will examine the Second Book of Kings to see what this chronicler has to say to us . . . millennia after he first placed his words on papyrus. 

For more information about merging galaxies as captured by the Hubble telescope, click on the image above or go to: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap121019.html 

Family tree image from: http://www.octa.com/family-tree-parents-day/

First written on December 5, 2008.  Re-written and posted today as a Favorite.

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Thistledown

Wisdom 4:20 & 5: Hope

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

These verses – actually beginning with the last verse of Chapter 4 – give us reflections of the wicked concerning the fate of the faithful.  Here is an answer to all of the times the psalmist laments: Why do we suffer and the wicked get away with murder?  Today we have the answer to so much questioning.  The faithful will rest in peace after struggling so long in the temporal world.  This chapter is a balancing counterpoint to chapters three and four: The Hidden Counsels of God.

So much about God is mystery.  Perhaps this is why we like this time of year with lights twinkling in the darkness, carols piercing cold air, our breath forming vapor as we step into the early morning crispness.

Over the week end my grandchildren and I watched one of their favorite movies, Babe, about a pig that becomes a sheepdog.  The story takes place in New Zealand and so Christmas is celebrated in the dead of summer; yet the farmer places a Christmas tree atop his house and the family gathers in the warm weather to exchange presents.  The grandchildren and I had a lively conversation about what we would and would not like about having Christmas in July.  At first it was winter that seemed more appropriate because it is the time when we are hunkered in and hunkered down, waiting for life to begin.  On the other hand, the coming of Light and Truth into the world coincides with the full and open days of summer, jammed with activities that distract us.  When do we need Christ more?  The answer is likely: all of the time.

We also spent time – as we always do when we watch this film – reflecting on the faith and doubt of the farmer and his wife about the pig and themselves.  We spoke again about the relationships between generations.  And, of course, we spoke about the incredible idea that a pig might win a sheep herding tourney.  We have sat in the bleachers at the Harford County Farm Fair and watched these dogs work a flock of sheep.  We have also watched pig races, horse sled pulls and other animal trials.  The children – and I – are impressed by the competency of this Hollywood pig.  And we are all rewarded by the cheers of the crowd when Babe brings the final sheep configuration home.  These were the same people who had jeered moments before.  Yes, the hope of the wicked is like thistledown borne on the wind . . .

When we are confronted with sneering laughter we need only focus on the potential within and wear the Lord as our armor (verses 16-19).  For when we put on Christ as recommended by Paul in Ephesians 6, we have no need of any other thing for the just live forever, and in the Lord is their recompense. 

This is one of the times in the liturgical year when we hear the theme of the rejected cornerstone.  It gives us the opportunity to think about surprises . . . and about unusual possibilities like Christmas in July . . . pigs that can herd sheep . . . cornerstones that no one recognizes.  It is the time of year to think about arming ourselves with Light and Joy . . . Peace and Hope . . . about wearing the Lord as we set forth each day . . . about being Christ in a turbulent world.


Written on December 1, 2008, re-written and posted today as a Favorite.

Image from: http://catholicsensibility.wordpress.com/2010/03/page/4/

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Exodus 32: The Golden Calf

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Golden Calf

Even as a child I was impressed with how quickly Aaron slid from one role to another: loyal brother, facilitator of the making of the Golden Calf, loyal brother once again.  He appears to get by unscathed and I remember thinking that he must not be very bright, and this is why God let him off so easily.

Some scholars say that Aaron went along with the crowd because it would have been impossible to go against the unhappy throng.  Others point out that Aaron presents an argument we hear often even today; You know how prone the people are to evil.  They said to me, “Make us a god to be our leader; as for Moses . . . we do not know what has happened to him”.  He further argues, “They gave [the gold jewelry] to me, and I threw it into the fire, and this calf came out”.  I was amazed, when I first heard this story, that there seemed to be no consequence.  Yet Aaron rallies, aligns himself with Moses and the others who want to stand with him rather than against him, and he escapes the violent death that awaits those who remain against Moses.  A coup takes place, blood is spilled, the Hebrews muddle on through the desert.

I am thinking of the many golden calves I have seen erupt from the fires of anger and jealous, fear and anxiety.  I am also thinking of how many times I have been asked if I am for or against and how I have answered.  I am also thinking of Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:30, Mark 9:40 or Luke 11:23: He who is not with me is against me, and he who does gather with me scatters.  And I am grateful for God’s generous mercy.

As a child I knew I lived in the black and white world my parents had created for our family.  In that world the most frequent – and most dreaded – punishment for infractions of rules was the dreaded three word sentence, “We will talk”.  Sometimes we waited days or even weeks until Dad or Mother would nod and say, “Now”.  We would have worried and gnawed over all of the arguments we might present for our innocence and we had thrown out all that were false.  We ended up with the unvarnished truth.  During the waiting time we would have sorted through the varied outcomes of the impending conversation.  And in the end we were so eager to unload our conscience and to confess to our waywardness that we provided our own best castigation.  We came to see that we had been wrong.  We admitted openly how we had strayed. And we were anxious to enter into and complete any penalty we were to suffer.  It was a wonderful form of coming to terms with what it was we had done, why we had done it, and how we ought to be dealt with.  My husband and I used similar strategies with our own children when golden calves appeared in our home and we met with the same success in raising ethical, thoughtful, merciful children.  God’s generosity and mercy cannot be outdone.  God’s love and patience cannot be matched.  And for this we ought to give thanks.

Each time I see the adulation that surrounds a golden calf in my family, community or workplace, I pray for the kind of patience my parents taught us.  I ask God to bring me wisdom, good timing, and the fortitude to witness to falsehood in a way that will be effective.  And I pray for the good counsel and right thinking of the Holy Spirit.  When I allow God’s waiting time to pass, I find I have more success than if I lunge forward on my first impulse with my first reaction.

The people we read about today become unhappy about their circumstances and so they create an immediate world of superficial happiness as they revel and play around an idol of their own making.  They quickly learn that there is a price to pay for self-centered thinking . . . and that golden calves often leave us standing against our God.


a re-post from October 28, 2012.

Image from: http://abwbibleperiod8.wikispaces.com/Ch8A+The+Golden+Calf

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Genesis 45:1-8: Making Ourselves Known

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Konstantin Flavitsky: Brothers Sell Joseph into Slavery

The story of Joseph and his many-colored coat, his journey into slavery, his rise to power and his rescue of the Jewish nation are all familiar to us.  One of the most poignant moments in this long saga is when he reveals himself to his brothers . . . the very brothers who plotted his death and then – after the intercession of Reuben – decided to sell the younger favored brother into slavery.

As I grew up the fourth of five children, it became clear to me that a position of favor usually brought more danger than safety.  Envy begins as a tiny seed when one of a group is seen as exceptional, beyond or above the rest.  In my quiet observation of older and younger siblings vying for attention in the family and in the world, it became clear to me that disfavor often follows hard on the heels of distinction – the presence of natural gifts and good works so often causes jealousy in others Tribal law too often wants to weed out dissimilarity, seeks to bring all denominators to a common lowness.

Joseph is sold out by his brothers and arrives in Egypt as a slave.  Once there, his good looks and honest behavior bring him to the notice of a woman in search of an illicit, sexual relationship – which he rejects.  She falsely accuses him and he is imprisoned.  We see the pattern in Joseph’s life that he arrives in dark places as a result of his grace and blessings, and perhaps that is a pattern we find in our own lives.  If so, we might easily identify with this kind of life.  Do we find ourselves in places we do not seek through no fault of our own, even as we follow the voice of God?

We might read with interest today’s citation and reflect on its meaning for us.  Joseph survives the treachery of his brothers, rises to a position of prestige and power, and when these brothers come to Egypt in search of food, Joseph does not react to their presence with anger or despair.  On the contrary, rather than mete out revenge on those who sent him into slavery, he recognizes that it was through this evil that he was sent ahead to prepare a place of refuge for his family and the entire Jewish nation.  A man coveting old wounds does not hear this wisdom, cannot see this good, does not meet evil with mercy.  Joseph, moving through and beyond his pain, welcomes his brothers to a new home.  This is the miracle of the story of Joseph: In the very moment when he has the power to retaliate with an eye for an eye, he chooses to respond with joy and compassion.


To read more about Joseph and his brothers, click on the image above or go to: http://freechristimages.org/biblestories/josephs_dreams.htm

First written on September 20, 2008. Re-written and posted today as a Favorite.

Image from: http://freechristimages.org/biblestories/josephs_dreams.htm

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Ezekiel 25: Against the Nations

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Bridge over the Drina in Mostar, Bosnia

As we read this chapter of Ezekiel we might be lured into what Richard Rohr – and many others – calls dualistic thinking.  Decisions are made in a yes/no, black/white, off/on world.  If we are able to step outside of our small perspective and move into a greater view of the world we understand that this kind of reasoning is dangerous in that it limits our vision . . . and therefore limits us.  Rohr examines how life is a paradox in his blog posts at http://richardrohr.wordpress.com They are worth visiting as are his CD lectures, the webcasts and other resources on his Rohr Institute site at http://www.cac.org/ as we reflect on the way we think, the way we respond to conflict, and the way we seek resolutions to the difficult passages in our lives.

The portion of Ezekiel that we read today may be used as fuel for the fire of prejudice . . . if we allow the voice of revenge and conquest to go unchecked.  As the recent events in our global community unfold, we are reminded that fanaticism can never be good. As my siblings and I grew, my Dad intoned to us regularly: Anything is a bad thing when taken to extremes . . . even a good thing.  He understood that words like the ones we read today can be taken out of context, can be blown out of context and morphed in importance. Any single verse, Dad would say, when taken in isolation does not tell the whole story. Read the story.  When my father and grandfather told us to read the whole story what they meant was this: stop, think, pray, listen, think, read, think, pray, share ideas, pray, think, pray . . . and act.  We want to take this method with us as we plunge into Ezekiel’s words against the nations.  To what does he call us?

The Old Testament Yahweh can be seen here as a god of vengeance and when we read these verses with anger in our hearts we might believe that God himself justifies the revenge we feel against those who have injured us; but we are also reminded that Yahweh’s love for creation knows no bounds.

The Old Testament Yahweh can be seen here as a god who exacts precise payment for wrongs committed; but we know that Yahweh’s generosity and compassion cannot be outdone when we remember his care for the enslaved and powerless.

The New Testament Jesus fulfills the promise of reunion and union first uttered by Yahweh.

The New Testament Jesus brings human hands and feet and voice to the mercy and compassion first shown by Yahweh.

When we find ourselves in turmoil and wishing to take revenge against the people who have injured us we must not let dualistic thinking close off possibilities of healing, reconciliation and union.

When we find ourselves in deep sorrow over a loss we have suffered we must not let simplistic rule-following to replace decision-making by a well-formed conscience.

When we feel ourselves being pulled into the vortex of darkness that would have us chant slogans that condemn, that would lead us to take an eye for an eye, that would ask us to rail against the nations . . . we must first stop to think and to pray, and to seek so that we might find . . . the forgiving, open, healing way of Christ.  For it is Christ who embodies all that is good.  It is Christ who brings us the outrageous hope that even the most dire circumstances may be righted. It is Christ who will help us to build bridges to the nations.


A re-post from September 15, 2012.

The name “Mostar” means “the city of bridges”.  To read more about what happened to the bridges in Bosnia during the most recent Balkan wars, click on the image above or go to: http://balkansnet.org/mostar.html  Follow more links on that page to read and reflect on reconciliation and revenge.

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Obadiah: Revenge and Forgiveness

Sunday, September 29, 2019

French School, 17th Century: Salomé

More thoughts on Salomé who sought revenge . . . and who asked for the head of John the Baptist on a platter.

“We know nothing about Obadiah beyond his name, nor is the place of the book’s composition certain . . . Obadiah did not specify that his message came at the time of any specific king or event.  On the other hand Obadiah 11-14 indicates that a major calamity had struck Judah and that the Edomites had capitalized on Judah’s troubles to their own advantage . . . common sense and a broad consensus suggest that the calamity was in fact the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.

“Obadiah was written to the people of Judah about the Edomites (descendents of Esau), condemning them for their treachery and violence toward the people of Judah, as well as for their arrogance and indifference toward God”.  (Zondervan 1464)

This is the kind of prophecy which makes us cringe as we understand that revenge is not something we want as part of our value complex.  Seeking vengeance is the kind of thinking my parents continually warned us against for it can never be good.  We were often reminded in our growing years that when we dig a grave for our enemy we ought to dig two: one for them and one for us.  “The truth will always come out in the end”, Dad would remind us. “Don’t worry about the other guy getting credit that is not due him, or the other guy getting away with things.  It’ll all come out in the end.  Just keep your eye on yourself and your God.  And let God handle the other guy”. Dad warned us that human depravity was too crooked and too frightening for us to correct; he knew from personal experience that only God can deal effectively with deep evil.  We humans – even when we are in the best of places and times – cannot conquer forces that have spent eons gathering strength in the dark.  It is far better, according to Dad, to go to the light and stay there.  “That way God can see you and pick you up on his way home”.

Mother always intoned her mantra of “Kill your enemies with kindness.  Pray for them and you will never be alone; because you can bet on it that when people are that naughty lots of people will be praying along with you.  Think of the message God will hear when all those voices join together”, she would remind us.   “Yes, I know you want to get back at them but just pray for them. They will need your prayers.  And besides, the results are better”. 

These simple lessons were either never delivered or they were lost on Salomé who asked for and received John the Baptist’s head on a platter.  Yesterday we spent time reflecting on her portrait and we saw her sultry stare and sullen posture, arms draped around the killing knife and the platter that would deliver the head of her enemy.  Today we  see a similar likeness; she looks out at us in apparent satisfaction yet we know that revenge is not sweet.  It does not last and it does not satisfy.  It only brings about our own destruction and doom.  These are the truths spoken by Obadiah more than two millennia ago . . . and they are truths we can still use today.  We must wipe revenge from our hearts and replace it with forgiveness for the measure that we measure with is measured out to us.

And so we pray . . .

When we are most hurt by others, we must not strike back, we must forgive.

When we are most neglected by others, we must not plot their downfall, we must forgive.

When we are most abused by others, we must ask for their redemption and we must forgive.

When we are most abandoned by others, we must not treat them in like fashion, we must forgive.

When we are most damaged by others, we must not in turn inflict damage, we must forgive.

God forgives.  God restores.  God repairs.  God cures.  We are each called to do the same.  Amen.


A re-post from September 9, 2012.

Image from: http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/20016/lot/55/

ARCHAEOLOGICAL STUDY BIBLE (NIV). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005. 1464. Print.

For more on the prophecy of Obadiah go to the Obadiah – Outrageous Hope page on this blog.

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