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Acts 16:5: Growth


First Sunday of Advent

068[1]November 29, 2020

Acts 16:5

Growth

So the church grew stronger and stronger in the faith and increased in numbers daily.

We continue our journey through a world-wide pandemic. We continue our struggle with inequity and fear. We continue our search for justice and peace. Today we rejoice despite our struggle because we know that light and truth are with us. We know that once we place our anxiety in God’s hands, the way is clear. 

The beginning of a new year brings an obvious opportunity to begin again. We have rituals that help us to remember this: a crystal ball slides down a pole as millions watch in a digital world, old calendars are replaced with new in countless homes and offices, toasts are drunk, benchmarks are celebrated; yet do we empower change and growth in our lives or do we enable destructive, predictable and unchanging behaviors?

The cycle of nature in which we experience disintegration followed by the possibility of regeneration models for us a way in which to live. After the falling apart there is always the chance to come together. The keys are to remain open to the possibility, to encourage growth, and to look for the newness with open minds rather than heavy hearts.

After the storm there is the calm.

After the winter there is the spring.

After the destruction there is the rebuilding.

After the night there is the dawn.

After the exile there is restoration.

Our wounded-ness becomes healing when we grow with newness. Our closed-ness becomes resurrection when we believe with determination. Our humanity becomes divine when we love with vulnerability. As we stand on the threshold of a new liturgical year, we have again the opportunity to experience conversion of the heart, to turn our stubborn pride into endurance, our anger into healing passion, and our anxiety into enduring love. Let us welcome this invitation to new growth as warmly as we welcome the Christ Child, Jesus.

We remember that the fledgling church began in smallness and insignificance. If there is time today, read more about the origen of Christianity in Acts.


Image from: http://frontierdreams.blogspot.com/2011/11/rhythm-in-our-home-first-sunday-in.html

Adapted from a reflection written on January 2, 2009.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Psalm 18

 A Favorite Noontime first written on October 24, 2008. and posted today as we prepare for the holiday of Thanksgiving in the U.S.A.0707160038521psalm_18_28b_niv[1]Thanksgiving for God’s Help

I have a list of petitions I take to God each dawn . . . that I reprise in the morning, at noon, in the afternoon, in the evening, and when I go to bed. On those nights when I wake during the wee hours I ask again. Scattered among the petitions are my Thank yous for prayers answered . . . I like to think of many big and little miracles with which I and my loved ones, and my enemies, have been graced. This list brings me peace. It reminds me of who I am, the Petitioner. It reminds me that I was formed by God, the Creator. It keeps the reality fresh that I have a purpose which is important and special. It reminds me that I have a mission, even though I am often in a cloud of unknowing about what that mission is. It renews for me the fact that I am child, that God is parent, and that my humility, fidelity and mercy are what my God requires of me. In all of this reminding I settle fully into the knowing that my blessings far outweigh my sorrows, and for this I am continually thankful.

Psalm 18 29[1]My days go best when they are a constant, unceasing prayer. My nights are happiest when I enter them with God. My enemies touch me not when I step into the protective pillar of fire and smoke and pulsing prayer. The lures of the other world melt away from the light of this guiding and protecting pillar.

The rocking of my world reduces to a gentle sway when I turn to God. The darkness and thick thunder clouds dispel when I remember God. The depths of despair evaporate when I call on God. The harsh buffets of life become a gentle breeze when I sing with God.

The psalmist today reminds us that God gives us the swift feet and the sharp mind with which we avoid trouble. God gives us God’s self as armor against the cruelties of the world. God is our rock. God is our breath. God is our life. Praise God.

Dear gracious and good God, You have shown us mercy. We thank you.  ou have shown us the way. We thank you. You have borne us up. We thank you. You have carried us away. We thank you. You have eased our burden. We thank you. You have created us. We thank you. You have loved us well. We thank you.

We thank you when we come to you at dawn, in the morning, at noon, in the afternoon, in the evening, in the night.

We thank you when we make our life a constant prayer. 

We thank you.  Amen. 


Images from: http://www.photosbyjanine.com/-/photosbyjanine/gallery.asp?photoID=4210731&cat=57731 and http://beelieve-ahealthierme.blogspot.com/2011/01/my-quest-for-healthier-me.html

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Monday, November 23, 2020

images[3]Psalm 92

A Hymn of Thanksgiving for God’s Fidelity

Fidelity: faithfulness, loyalty, patience, understanding, questioning and answering, dialog, forbearance, union, love.

From St. Joseph Edition of The Psalms notes: This is a didactic psalm, that is, both a praise of the Lord and an instruction of the faithful. The psalmist meditates on God’s way of acting.  His love and faithfulness are reflected in everything he does, but they must be comprehended. Ultimately the happiness of the wicked will fade like seasonal grass, whereas the lot of the righteous will be like the great trees whose roots are planted on solid ground. For the latter, new seasons are promised in the courts of God. God’s joy is like a new spring in the life of believers.

Again our theme of renewal. Again the idea that a righteous life is more difficult to live than a wicked one, but that true serenity and joy is found by struggling to live a life of justice.

I like the point in the citation above that God’s acts are a demonstration of his love and fidelity and that we must strive to comprehend this idea . . . an idea which is so difficult for so many humans . . . because fidelity is such a demanding quality . . . and we humans appear to be much too fickle and willful to comprehend its depth and true meaning.

Each day as we go through each hour, how do we as God’s creatures express God’s fidelity? How do we express God’s love? Are we faithful when it is convenient or when we have the time or energy? Do we love those who please us most? We recall Paul’s words to Timothy: I remember you constantly in prayers, night and day.  I yearn to see you again, recalling your tears, so that I may be filled with joy, as I recall your sincere faith . . .  (2 Timothy 1:3-4) This is the same letter in which Paul states that he is already poured out like a libation and there are times when we feel this pouring out rather than gratitude. But when we look at verse 3 of this psalm we see again the idea of loving God faithfully by praying day and night. And when we are spent . . . we might at least raise eyes and hands to heaven to thank God, and to ask that God lighten our load.

Prayer and petition are important as we near and enter into Advent, even when we feel spent. When we come to the end of an exhausting day, we can light one small candle in the darkness which comes so quickly at this time of year in our northern hemisphere, and we can repeat the antiphon we find as part of the Liturgy of the Hours Night Prayer: Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over as we sleep, that awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in his peace, alleluia.

With this simple act and prayer we might remain faithful . . . even though we are spent. And so we pray . . .

We know that you watch over us, O Lord.  Grace us with the patience and perseverance to keep hopeful watch with you . . . as faithfully as you keep wonder-filled watch with us.  We ask this in Jesus’ name, together with the Holy Spirit. Amen.


THE PSALMS, NEW CATHOLIC VERSION. Saint Joseph Edition. New Jersey: Catholic Book Publishing Company, 2004. 243. Print.

Image from: http://brotherdismas.blogspot.com/2011/05/saturday-of-4th-week-in-easter.html

Adapted from a reflection written on December 4, 2007.

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Sunday, November 22, 2020

stteresaofavila[1]Matthew 5:17-20

A Manual for Living

Matthew creates a bridge between Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and his many teachings which describe how we might understand, embrace and then enact this new Law of Love now that we have heard it. As people who have spent some time with both the Old and New Testaments, we will recognize these teachings and this new attitude before the Law as the fulfillment of the old law. We will see Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promise to his people – the promise he foretold through his prophets – that he will save, that we can do nothing on our own, and that there is only one force in the universe that makes the impossible possible, God’s Love . . . as shown to us in the person of Jesus.

This portion of Matthew’s Gospel serve as a manual for living. Jesus puts into plain words how his followers will deal with communal and conjugal relationship, with anger, hate and revenge. Jesus explains the importance of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. He tells us why we must refrain from judging, from cheapening ourselves, from believing false prophets. He reminds us of God’s providence.

When there is conflict and confusion, chapters 5 through 7 of Matthew bring tranquility and clarity. They lay out a clear path which leads to a narrow gate. We need fear no thing and no one when we apply this code to our lives for as we are reminded in Paul’s letter to the Romans (8), there is always life in the Spirit through Christ.

Teresa of Avila’s words are so true: Anyone who perseveres in seeking God’s friendship is amply rewarded . . . Place yourself in the presence of God, and do not exhaust yourself searching for reasons for understanding what lies beyond your reach. Do not lay blame on your soul, for the good of your soul consists not in thinking much, but in loving much. (Let Nothing Disturb You)

This, then, is the New Law as explained in this new Manual for Living: We are not called to exhaust ourselves with worry or with work; rather, we are to place ourselves within the bounds of this new Law of Love, for this alone saves.


http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/74226.Teresa_of_vila 

Image from: http://www.ewtn.com/devotionals/prayers/stteresaofavila.htm

Adapted from a reflection written on June 24, 2009.

Enter the words Manual for Living into the blog search bar and continue to reflect.

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Monday, November 16, 2020

pearl-in-clam[1]Matthew 7:6

Pearls of Great Price

Do not give what is holy to dogs or cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces.

Swine and dogs were words used by Jews to express contempt for Gentiles. Commentary tells us that they may also be used by Christians to describe those obstinate, impenitent Christians. In this portion of Matthew’s Gospel, the writer records the teachings of Jesus in which we are asked to pray for one another rather than judge one another. A true disciple is one who is willing to go to his knees and pass through the narrow gate onto The Way which Jesus walks. A true disciple is wary of false prophets, looks to build his life on a sturdy, strong foundation, and understands that he need not fight God’s fight. A true disciple knows that if we want to tap into our divinity, we must first humble ourselves as Christ does. A true Christian depends on God for all things, and witnesses this loyalty by praying for the swine and the dogs in his life.

This saying can be a harsh one. This teaching can be difficult to take on and live out. It calls for the courage to remain on our own with God rather than be in the company of a crowd. It calls for perseverance in traveling a long road with many turnings that hide the future from our eyes. But we are pearls of great price, worth more than any amount we might imagine. And these pearls have been bought at great cost by Jesus’ redemptive suffering, death and resurrection. These pearls will not be left alone to be snatched up by a thief. These pearls are worn by God with great love. They are tended with great care.

We are pearls of great price, as Paul reminds the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23), bought with sacrifice and love. So rather than step casually into a life we have been given as gift, let us live each day with the care and devotion God gives to our creation. Let us value the breath we have been given even as wet us pray for those who do not. And rather than give what is holy to dogs or allow ourselves to be trampled by swine, let us celebrate with joy each new dawn that brings us the mystery and of God’s love.


Image from: http://connectathens.blogspot.com/2009/08/pearl-of-great-price-032509.html

Adapted from a reflection written on February 9, 2010.

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Friday, November 12, 2020

hyssop48-l[1]2 Samuel 11 and 12 and Psalm 51

Sin and Parable – Part VI

Cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

I always wonder about Bathsheba.  e might see her as one dimensional, a figure standing for beauty and grace, a woman-object, a child-bearer. Yet she endures in David’s court. And while she shares in David’s act, no mention is made of her grief or guilt, most likely because she is a female, chattel in these ancient times. We can imagine how much she may have suffered. She continues to appear in Kings and in Chronicles and is revered as Solomon’s mother, yet she is a quiet back-figure in this long-running story of sin and parable.

Let me hear joy and gladness, let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

It is appropriate that this story come to us as we near the end of the Liturgical year and prepare for Advent.  The beautiful psalm of repentance, Psalm 51, was written when Nathan came to David after having committed adultery.

Oh Lord, open my lips and my mouth will declare your praise. 

When we sing this song of repentance we are repeating the words of one who has lusted, one who has slept with another’s beloved, one who has arranged murder. This is fitting, for in some way we all transgress on those around us when we covet, take or tear down something or someone. And there are many small ways in which we end a life beyond the physical act of murder. We might destroy someone emotionally, professionally, psychologically or spiritually.  et, there is always mercy to be sought . . . and granted.

giant_hyssop_large[1]Then I will teach transgressors your ways and sinners will turn back to you.

There is much to be heard in this story. There is much to be lived, much to be sung. David takes something he wants. David destroys. Nathan speaks. Nathan restores.  Relationships cannot be put back as they had been, time cannot be reversed, and although Uriah cannot return, some quality, some relationship reappears. Bridges can be built. Pride can be put aside. Transgressions can be brought to light. Forgiveness can be sought and given. Restoration can happen.

Miracles can take place . . . souls can be saved.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. 

What do we do when Nathan stands before us? How do we react? When confronted by big sin, we need a big spirit. We need constant relationships which help us to develop rather than comfortable friends who discourage us from growth or who encourage us to wallow. We need a steadfast spirit, a renewed heart, an eager soul. We need God. And these we have all been given. We need only take them up and commit ourselves to them.

Create in me a pure heart, oh God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Create in me an open willingness to listen. Renew in me a faithful heart that takes in the world. 

Amen.


To discover the medicinal uses of hyssop and how it was used in ancient times, click on the  botanical image above or go to: http://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/h/hyssop48.html

Second image from: http://mydaybook.wikidot.com/giant-hyssop

Adapted from a reflection written on February 13, 2008.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2020

david repent[1]2 Samuel 11 and 12 and Psalm 51

Sin and Parable – Part IV

Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 

The separation from society when murder is arranged and enacted is evident. Yet what we often fail to see is the damage which occurs to the murderer, the arranger. This man or woman who either commits the act, causes or arranges the act is in such a place of darkness and of self-importance that the light does not penetrate. And the fact that lust, adultery and murder are here so closely entwined is an important one. Lust which is acted upon is a kind of murder, both of self and of the other.

Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

David serves as a wonderful model of how those who are blessed with amazing gifts are not immune from suffering.  David ennobles himself through his pain by admitting guilt and repenting.  David turns back to Yahweh. David and is forgiven and loved by Yahweh . . . eternally.

We might allow our pain to transform us into wounded healers. We might return to ask forgiveness. We might ennoble ourselves through the admission of guilt.  e might turn back and repent for we, like David, are always and forever loved by God.


Adapted from a reflection written on February 13, 2008.

For a blog posting on David’s faith, click on the image above or go to: http://dreamsalongtheway.blogspot.com/p/sermon-series-man-who-would-be-king.html

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Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Guercino: The Woman Taken in Adultery

Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri ): The Woman Taken in Adultery

2 Samuel 11 and 12 and Psalm 51

Sin and Parable – Part III

You do not delight in sacrifice or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

The damage that happens when lust takes someone over is uncountable. So many people suffer. There are more than just we two . . . just we three . . . just we four, five, six . . . Yet so many people today laugh this kind of betrayal away.

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.

The anger that is manifested by all parties in an adulterous relationship is often ignored. Society tends to sympathize with the “loyal” spouse left at home when the “wayward” spouse beds another. Yet psychologists tell us that both parties are culpable, that an intimate relationship outside of marriage is a statement about that marriage. There is no truth there.  There is no honesty there. There is no one there.

Enter the word adultery into the blog search bar and explore the effects this level of betrayal have on our body, mind and soul.


Image from: https://www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk/explore-the-collection/251-300/the-woman-taken-in-adultery/

Adapted from a reflection written on February 13, 2008.

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Monday, November 9, 2020

2 Samuel 11 and 12 and Psalm 51

Sin and Parable – Part II

Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.

The story is a famous one: David succumbs to human lust and he takes something which belongs to another. When Bathsheba conceives, he tries to trick her husband Uriah into a scenario in which the king’s child can be passed off as Uriah’s. When Uriah’s purity and faithfulness to Yahweh get in the way, David arranges the murder of this good and loyal man. A terrible tale. Nathan brings David the parable of a man who steals a beloved object from another. David at first is angry, then admits his guilt and expresses regret and grief for the damage he has done.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.

Lust, Adultery, Murder. These are all acts of selfishness, of obliqueness, of anger. There is nothing direct here, nothing open or honest. These acts take place in shadow and in deep places. There is no light. There is no truth.

Let us consider the sins we have committed either actively or by leaving undone an action we have been called to complete. Let us consider how these commissions and omissions separate us from all that we are meant to be and do.  And let us consider what these sins have  to say about who we are.

Let us consider how many parables Jesus teaches us with his words. Let us consider how many parables Jesus teaches us with his actions. And let us consider how many parables our own lives teach.

Visit one of the Gospels and choose a parable that Jesus teaches us. Spend time with it today reflecting on how we might teach others through our actions rather than our words.

Tomorrow we consider the sacrifice God asks of us.


Adapted from a reflection written on February 13, 2008.

Image from: https://www.theleidencollection.com/artwork/david-and-uriah/

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