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Nehemiah 8: Promulgation 

Friday, October 20, 2017

Today’s reflection is a Favorite written during Christmastide on December 30, 2010.

Ezra, the priest, brought the law before the assembly, which consisted of men, women, and those children old enough to understand . . .

I am wondering how our lives might be different if when we gather in our places of worship, like Ezra, Nehemiah and the Jewish people, we might make resolutions to enact what we say we believe.

Ezra opened the scroll so that all the people might see it . . .

I am wondering how our lives might be different if when we make decisions we base them on what it is we see Jesus doing in the Gospels.

Ezra read plainly from the book of the law of the Lord, interpreting it so that all could understand what was read . . .

I am wondering how our lives might be different if when we act in the Spirit of the law as well as the letter.

Then all the people went to eat and drink, to distribute portions, and to celebrate with great joy . . .

I am wondering how our lives might be different if we celebrate the Spirit by acting in the Spirit humbly yet with passion . . . being unafraid of what society might say or think about us.

. . . for they understood the words that had been expounded to them.

I am wondering how our lives might be different if we promulgate the story of how God has saved us . . . and how much God loves us.

I am wondering . . .

The great celebration described in today’s Noontime is the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles or Booths and more information may be found at http://www.christcenteredmall.com/teachings/feasts/tabernacles.htm

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Nehemiah 5: Praying with Nehemiah

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

We, like Nehemiah, can rebuild the ruin we see around us when we rely on God. Some of us make large, visible changes for good in our culture; but most of us make small, incremental changes that we think invisible. Yet, in the mind of God our actions are essential to the moving forward of God’s plan. Our prayers are also essential, as Nehemiah shows us.

St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 3We are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.  By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation   as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it.  But each one should be careful how he builds.  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.  If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is,   because the Day will bring it to light.  It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.  If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.  If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.  Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.  Do not deceive yourselves.  If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise.  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.  As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness” and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.”  So then, no more boasting about men!  All things are yours whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

What do we do when enormous hurdles block our way forward, we can remind ourselves and others of our true calling. We can pray unceasingly, and we can build kingdom wherever we are planted, for we are God’s builders. We can be wise as St. Paul recommends, and be fools for Christ as Nehemiah was, building as directed by his creator, giving without thought of recompense, hoping for the goodness of the promise, and loving those among and with whom we dwell – even our enemies.

And so we pray.

Nehemiah lives in a world rife with conflict . . . yet he remains loyal to God and the faithful.

Nehemiah lives as a target for the gossip and machinations of his numerous enemies . . . yet he maintains his integrity.

Nehemiah lives among people who refuse to live by the terms of the covenant they have heard, witnessed, and sworn to uphold . . . yet he remains sincere and authentic.

Let us put aside the cares of this world and build God’s kingdom today, for we are God’s co-workers in the kingdom.

Amen.

Adapted from a reflection written on December 23, 2007.

For more about Nehemiah and how his prayer-life affected his work-life, click on the image above to visit the “Bible in a Year Blog” or go to: https://oneyeardevotional.wordpress.com/2014/05/30/powerful-prayer-nehemiah-1/ 

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Nehemiah 5: Self-Interest

Monday, October 16, 2017

How does Nehemiah confront oppression in the process of rebuilding Jerusalem? When we examine this chapter of his story, we find that Nehemiah operates with transparency, honesty, and generosity.

When Nehemiah receives God’s call, he answers it in a very big way; he does not do things in half measures.  We see that he regards his work in re-building as his vocation and he does not take monetary re-payment for the work of the rebuilding.  Nor does he take credit for this amazing feat.  In contrast to his predecessors, he takes no reimbursement for his work in the rebuilding Jerusalem’s city walls and Temple.  He makes both the physical and financial outlay knowing that God will sustain him.  In this way, Nehemiah shows us how to understand our true relationship with our creator.

Nehemiah is an excellent administrator who prays constantly, and who is constantly guided by God.  He is neither self-serving nor glory seeking.  He understands that God does all, and is all. He speaks with God as his good friend and says: Keep in mind, O my God, in my favor all that I did for this people. 

Together with the priest, Ezra, Nehemiah creates a physical structure that enables the faithful to return to Yahweh.  He invites the Jewish people, magistrates and peoples from all nations to his table – something unusual for an observing Jew of his era – yet he listens for God’s voice and does whatever is asked of him to realize the work laid out by his God.  He rises over a foreign king, distant and local enemies, long-entrenched customs, gossip, and even the in-fighting raging around him in order to achieve this incredible goal of taking the rubble that surrounds him in order to participate in the making of God’s kingdom for both God and God’s people.

We, today, can be new Nehemiahs.  We can create around us structures that are collegial, safe, and predictable.  We can form relationships that are open, honest, and supportive.  We can refrain from nay-saying, gossip and destructive thinking.  We can seek solutions, listen more than we talk, think of self last, and remember that God does all and is all.

Adapted from a reflection written on December 23, 2007.

Tomorrow, praying with Nehemiah.

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Nehemiah 1 and 2: Arrival in Jerusalem

Friday, October 13, 2017

Jerusalem wall today

Yesterday we reflected on Nehemiah’s exit from captivity and his arrival in Jerusalem. Today we pause to explore how Nehemiah begins the Lord’s restoration.

  • When Nehemiah arrives in Jerusalem, he rests three days before he set[s] out at night with only a few other men. Three days . . . a few other men . . . apparent ruin, death and destruction . . . three days . . . restoration. Jesus fulfills the promise of restoration three days after his death.
  • Nehemiah had not spoken to anyone of his total plan for Jerusalem. He goes at night to investigate and when he does, the ruin is so complete that he has to dismount and continue on foot because there is too much rubble for his horse to traverse. He speaks to the magistrates and others of his plan and they reply: Let us be up and building!  Those who have been left behind amid the bleak destruction respond to God’s call of hope which arrives with the administrator, Nehemiah.  This is our season of Hope.
  • The hopeful are ridiculed and mocked by the aggressors; yet they maintain their newly found energy to rebuild. Nehemiah responds to the jeering: It is the God of Heaven who will grant us success. We, his servants, shall set about the rebuilding.  They put their trust where it belongs . . . in God.

In a season that anticipates a time of Light and Hope, Restoration and Rebuilding, Turning and Returning to God, we have the opportunity to practice boldness in Christ Jesus. Let us respond to our Call together with the love of the Holy Spirit; and let us place our Trust in the one who most deserves that confidence, in God alone.

For with God all things are possible . . . even the gathering of the dispersed remnant from the farthest corners of the earth . . . to be gathered into the promised dwelling place . . . the place of God’s name.  For with God all things are possible . . . even resurrection after devastating and annihilating ruin . . . to be gathered into the promised dwelling place . . . the place of God’s name. 

For with God all things are possible . . . even the fulfillment of all of those dreams which seem so crazily and utterly hopeless . . . to be gathered into the promised dwelling place . . . the place of God’s name. 

For with God all things are possible . . . for this is the season of Hope.  Amen.

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Nehemiah 1 and 2: Rebuilding Walls

The Damascus Gate by night in Jerusalem

Thursday, October 12, 2017

We visit with Nehemiah several times a year and each time we rediscover the themes of covenant, restoration, and rebuilding.  Today’s reading takes us to the beginning of the restoration of Jerusalem after the northern invasion and the Babylonian exile.  This book was written in about 430 B.C.E. and as it begins, we see Nehemiah, the Jewish man who serves as Cupbearer to the foreign king.  Footnotes tell us this means that he was an important official who was allowed to come into the presence of not only the king but the queen as well.  This would suggest that he was a eunuch but there is no evidence to support that fact.  What we do understand is that he was highly placed in this foreign administration and we can guess, when we see his skills displayed throughout this story that he rose to that position through his skill.  But there is an important element to this story. Nehemiah prayed constantly, and this praying kept him connected intimately with his creator.  Nehemiah called on God continually for direction, and God gave direction to this good and loyal servant.

As the story begins, news arrives with several Jewish men who have just come from Judah, from Jerusalem.  The news is not good; but filled with courage and a love of his God, Nehemiah responds to his creator’s call and so it is with a mixture of trepidation and courage that he goes to the king. As we read, we find several interesting points.

  • Today’s reading begins in the month of Chislev – the same month in which we will later see (in the year 165 B.C.E.) the celebration of the re-dedication of the temple which we were reading and reflecting about some days ago. We too are in the month of Chislev, and the celebration of Hannukah was just completed this week. The Festival of Light – the season of a small shaft of light piercing the intense darkness.
  • Should you prove faithless, I will scatter you among the nations; but should you return to me and carefully keep my commandments, even though your outcasts have been driven to the farthest corner of the world, I will gather them from there, and bring them back to the place which I have chosen as the dwelling place for my name. This is the covenant promise which Jesus fulfills four centuries later and which he continues to fulfill for us each day.
  • Nehemiah not only asks permission to visit his former city, he also asks for soldiers, protection, and permission to fell trees with which to rebuild the city and gates, and a house for himself. He does not do things by half-measures; he is totally and truly dedicated to God in temperance, patience, endurance and perseverance.

Tomorrow, arriving in Jerusalem.

Adapted from a Favorite written during Advent, on December 15, 2007

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Nehemiah 1:5-11Continuity

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The commentary in the Biblia de América points out that the words of Nehemiah, the administrator who rebuilt Jerusalem some 50 years after the devastation left by Nebuchadnezzar and his troops, ring with the words of Moses as the people are about to enter into the land promised to them.   And it strikes me today that these are words echoed by Christ . . . and that they are words we might read with care each morning upon our rising.  It is the confession of the people that they have erred.  It is the cry to God that this people seek God’s companionship.  It is the best response we can make to the promise extended to us.

Moses speaks in Deuteronomy 30 and we see both the scattered and the call to the Diaspora to return.  Just so are we scattered today among the various pagan places where people have the choice to fall down in worship to empty gods or to the one true God.

All of this reminds me of the parting of bread and the spilling of wine which Christ performs during the Eucharistic prayer at Mass on countless altars in countless places each day.  In order for the sharing to begin, the bread must be broken, the wine shared.

There is continuity in this paradox of breaking and joining.  As we break away from our distractions to focus on true life and our vocation in it, we move closer to the person we are meant to be.  As we share the wine of life with others and allow ourselves to be poured out as a libation, we move into intimacy with God.

This is a message worthy of hearing and passing on.  This is a life which cries out for continuance.  It is a belief which deserves continuity.  And if we do not move forward into this act each day . . . what other life will following generations model?  What other life can we imagine worth living?

God’s plan unfolds in God’s time, in God’s places.  God’s vocation coalesces in our actions of love, of hope and of faith.  We make God visible when we continue the work and agree to become his priests and his builders.  We become carpenters in the kingdom of God when we willingly join the long line of followers, when we take up the threads of God’s story to weave them into the lives of countless other pilgrims who commit to the continuity of the one great story . . . that we are created in love . . . that we are create for love . . . and that are to love in return.

LA BIBLIA DE LA AMÉRICA. 8th. Madrid: La Casa de la Biblia, 1994. Print.

Adapted from a reflection written on February 3, 2009.

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Ezra 10The Fruitfulness of Suffering

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

From today’s MAGNIFICAT Meditation of the Day by Elisabeth Leseur (205-206) entitled The Alms of the Heart:

We must never reject anyone who seeks to approach us spiritually; perhaps that person, consciously or unconsciously, is in quest of the “unknown God” (Acts 17:23) and has sensed in us something that reveals his presence; perhaps he or she thirsts for truth and feels that we live by this truth. 

Those who seem to be spiritually dead are not always those least accessible to the divine Word; when wood is dead, it needs only a spark to set it afire. 

Many people live on the surface of their lives without ever penetrating their profound and sorrowful depths.  If we knew how to center ourselves, how to look clearly into ourselves, and how to understand the meaning of fruitfulness of suffering, then the slightest gesture, the most imperceptible movement of the most unassuming of human beings, would reveal to us these abysses of sorrow or tenderness that remain open interiorly until the day when another pours light into them and causes life to burst forth.

I am certain that we know a number of people – we may even know many – who live on the surface of their lives, protecting themselves from plumbing the depths of their souls where they might encounter the true and living God.  These are people who say they are seekers but they hope to find truth while at the same steering clear of pain.  They say that they value integrity yet they hide in the shadowy portions of their own lives.

In Ezra 10 we meet people who have suffered so greatly and deeply for so long that they can bear no more . . . and so they capitulate to reality.  They acknowledge their guilt.  They own their actions.  They assemble to confess and to return to God.  They have allowed their grief to bear meaningful fruit.  They acknowledge their suffering . . . and they are ready to both approach and to be approached by those is pain.  They recognize and smile openly at like travelers.

The Leseur Meditation concludes in this way: Silence is sometimes an energetic act, and smiling is, too.

To defend oneself against the multiplicity of external things and the agitation they bring, make firm resolutions, and carry out faithfully the fruit of our meditation.

Look around oneself for proud sufferers in need, find them, and give them the alms of our heart, of our time, and of our tender respect.

Leseur urges us to be firm, steadfast, and resolute – it is a message we have heard several times this week.  She wants us to both welcome and be welcomed by those who understand the value of suffering well, to both receive and to give the kind of love Christ bears for us.  Leseur hopes to inspire us to live more in God’s world and less in our own.  She wants to open to us the understanding that . . . there is abundant fruitfulness in suffering . . . and that a gentle smile for fellow sufferers might be the perfect salutation to those who also bear witness to these alms of the heart. 

Cameron, Peter John. “Meditation of the Day.” MAGNIFICAT. 15.6 (2011): 205-206. Print.  

A Favorite from June 15, 2011.

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Ezra 9Inbetween-ness – A Reprise

Monday, October 9, 2017

Written on February 2, 2010 and posted on February 3, 2012 as a Favorite . . .

About six months ago we looked at both Chapters 8 and 10 of Ezra to see what happened as the scattered nations drew themselves back together for their long and dangerous journey home.  Today we look at what takes place between those book ends.  Word has arrived that the hoped-for journey will be taken and the people realize that there is an obstacle to that return: they have intermarried with non-believers and, according to their explicit laws, they must rectify this situation.  The measure taken by the Hebrew people seems harsh by our standards today; yet we can take this story as an opportunity to evaluate our own actions when we find ourselves in a state in inbetween-ness.  When we are neither here nor there we are in a vulnerable position, we are in danger of losing ourselves . . . or our way to God.

The Jewish people established a regimen in order that they not forget Yahweh in their passage from life to death.  Sometimes these rules were too difficult to follow.  Sometimes the rules took on a life of their own.  Coming from this tradition, we who are Christians have the need to investigate the rules we live by – in order that we not throw away something that is precious – in order that the rule not become more important than God.  As Christians, we must be aware that as we make transitions from one point to another, we are in danger of focusing too much on the past or too much on the future . . . at the expense of not knowing who or why we exist, at the cost of fouling the relationships that are so important to how we live and behave.

And so we pray . . . Good and gracious God, we are never quite certain of how to shift from one track to another as we shift and move with life.  Our judgment may become fogged by our concern for legacy.  Our vision may become blurred as we search for new alliances.  When we are adrift as we swing from one stage to the next, we question once again.  Is this path too broad that we travel and too easy?  Is it too narrow and too stifling?  Help us to see more clearly which way we are to go, why we are to proceed, how we are to decide.  Keep the people in our lives more important than the rules.  And keep the rules as simple as your one supreme commandment: Love your God above all gods, and love one another as I have loved you. Keep us ever in mind we pray.  Amen. 

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Ezra 7 & 8The Hand of the Lord

Michelangelo: The Creation of Adam

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Because the hand of the Lord, his God, was upon him, the king granted him all that he requested.

A Favorite from May 2, 2011.

This is something for us to consider – particularly on a day when we come to grips with the death of Osama Bin Laden.   It is one of the most difficult lessons that scripture poses and I often return to certain lines from Exodus because they remind us that the process we initiate in our lives is likely the process with which we will finish.

In Exodus 8:15 and 8:32 we read that Pharaoh hardens his heart which seems to set the pattern for his life.  Later, in Exodus 9:12, 10:20, 10:27, 11:10, and 14:8  we read that the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heartfollowing this pattern the man had set in motion.  In 9:14 read that Pharaoh’s leaders have also hardened their hearts.  Finally, in 10:1 the Lord warns Moses that he has hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

All of this reminds us of Newton’s First Law: Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it. Or as we read in the story of Job, what we plow and sow we also reap (Job 4:6).  St. Paul reinforces this idea with the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 9:6) and Galatians (Galatians 6:8-9).

Fortunately for nature there is Newton’s third law: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  This is not so much the power of good against evil but rather, the power of God to convert evil into good.  Fortunately for us God loves us enough to pull goodness out of evil.

As we read Ezra’s story to see how he and Nehemiah nurture the return of the Jewish people, it becomes clear that he indeed has the hand of God upon him for together with his friend he brings order out of chaos.   There does not seem to be any other explanation of how these two men achieve so much against such heavy odds.

Psalm 95 encourages us to harden not our heartsIt is true that when we turn away from the Lord our world and our lives become colder each day while conversely when we turn to the Lord with our problems we increase in goodness and abundance.  This is what Christ tells us in the Gospel stories – Matthew 25:29, Mark 4:25, and Luke 19:26.  This is what Christ tells us today.  If we wish to have God’s hand upon us, we must act as though we believe it is so.

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