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Matthew 22:15-45: Mediocrity

Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 26, 2019

There is no question that Jesus threatens the status quo of those who govern by deceit and lies; what may be less evident is that he brings even more pressure on those who wish to live in the middle world of mediocrity.  Jesus threatens those who live in the shadow of power and who believe themselves safe from condemnation because they do not engage in the actual act of murder.  They are happy to hold the coat of those who commit the act which they have quietly encouraged.  These calm collaborators enable evil to masquerade as truth.  They are people of the worst kind because they speak of justice but practice oppression through their “behind the scenes” influence.

When we look at these phrases from Matthew 22, we see what he is saying to us about the choices we make every day.  Are our actions and beliefs hidden or open?  Then the Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap him in speech . . . They sent their disciples to him . . . Knowing their malice, Jesus said . . . When they heard this, they were amazed, and leaving him they went away . . . On that day the Sadducees approached him . . . When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching . . . When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together and one of them . . . tested him . . . No one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

While the great crowd watches, Jesus tells the story of Truth, and Life and Light.  He seals his fate by outing the mediocrity and collaboration of those who wish so desperately to lead that they sacrifice truth and salvation for the group in exchange for promotion of self, for comfort and earthly authority.  In his next chapter, Matthew will describe how the power structure denounces Jesus because he draws the people to himself not only with sensibility but with an authenticity in his words that heals as much as do his hands.

Where do we stand in this scene?  Where do we find ourselves when we hear something that means we must risk a bit, change our ways a bit, put ourselves in danger a bit?  In the final book of the Bible, Revelation, we see the fate of those who wish to take no side, to bring no notice to themselves, to live in quiet comfort while others suffer.  We do not wish to be like the people of Laodicea to whom the Lord says: I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were either cold or hot.  So because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 

Jesus calls hypocrites from their quiet, snug lair.  The people attest to true power in their movement away from insincerity toward the truth.  They take a stand.  They reject mediocrity.  In all that we do and all that we say . . . so too, must take a stand.  It is always risky and perhaps dangerous to align ourselves with Jesus; but in the end it is the only stand that matters.


A re-post from May 11, 2011.

Image from: http://froghime.wordpress.com/2011/06/09/spell-bound-masquerade/

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John 14: Being

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Have I been with you for so long a time and still you do not know me?

I am thinking that this is God’s reply to me when I show up every morning with my same list of thanksgivings and petitions.  Of course God knows that I am grateful for the miracles he has sent to me which keep my hope burning.  Of course God knows the desires of my heart for the people I love and know well, for the people I do not know so well but who come onto my horizon, and even for the people with whom I am in conflict.  Of course God knows all, and yet still I persist because this is my way of showing constancy.  It is my way of sustaining faith in the fact that we are already saved and have only to follow in order to enter into Christ.  It is my way of maintaining the hope that all sheep will enter into the sheepfold.  It is also my way of loving God in others – this perseverance in seeking intercession.

The Last Supper Discourses begin in this chapter of John and they are – for me – the most beautiful part of this story.

Do not let your hearts be troubled.

Any one of us who has worried, been anxious, angry or deeply sad will be able to turn to this verses and find consolation.  Any one of us who has mourned loss, who has celebrated joy, who has spent a lifetime searching for answers will find the portal to true understanding and experiencing God’s love.

I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I go you may also be.

Any one of us who has been abandoned, betrayed, cheated or cut off from something or someone we love will find peace in these words.  Any one of us who lied to another or who has intentionally deceived or hurt another, will also find forgiveness and assurance in these words.

Whoever has believed in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these.

Any one of us who has drained themselves for the sake of others will find strength in these words.

Whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 

Any one of us who has trouble just being on any given day, just surviving any given day will find life in these words.

If you ask anything in my name, I will do it. 

We ought not shrink from giving thanks to or from petitioning the one who created us.  Let us go with open eyes, open minds and open hearts to the one who gives life in abundance that we may live in him.  This is what God expects.  It is what God asks . . . that we be in him . . . as he is in us.

Have I been with you for so long a time and still you do not know me?


A re-post from May 10, 2012.

Images from: http://ipeace.us/profiles/blogs/about-gratitude and http://benison.wordpress.com/2008/05/03/the-creation-and-the-scripture-number-5/

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Job 23 and 24: Desire and Terror

Friday, May 24, 2019

Commentary from La Biblia de América: Job continues in his search for a personal encounter with God, both seeking and fearing him; but the judgment of his companions does not speak to his condition.  Job finds himself bereft not because he has broken God’s law in any way.  His sins do not bring him to this spot of desperation; he suffers innocently from circumstances beyond his control.  Yet amid all of this hurt, Job refuses to reject God; indeed, he seeks God all the more with each new wave of pain.  Job actually takes refuge in his suffering, frightened and even terrified, waiting for his end.  He describes an impotence which we ourselves may feel at a time when we are abandoned and have no recourse.  We suffer while the wicked experience success.  A victim of bad luck and injustice, Job experiences a reality too awful to be concealed.  Further footnotes tell us that verses 18 through 25 have appeared here rather than where they may rightly belong – in a previous chapter – perhaps the copyist could not bear the pain and so thought to bring consolation from another place.

This lament of Job guides any and each of us through a wave of pain so intense that it nearly takes one’s breath away.  This level of suffering can only be healed by God . . . and it is upon God that Job calls.

Today’s reading asks us to think about our desire to see and know God . . . face to face.  Job’s unquenched yearning is void of any wish to exact punishment or revenge on anyone or anything.  Job questions.  Job fears.  Yet Job does not leave God perhaps because he knows that God has not left him.

The imagery today describes a dichotomy of longing accompanied by fear.  Job needs to experience God’s presence in his life . . . and he fears that perhaps he will never escape this place of emptiness where the wicked have full sway.  He survives in a twilight world where day and night co-exist, and he fears that the darkness will win out.

As we have observed, perhaps it is for this reason that a later copyist has inserted the words which we know Job believes because they hold truth and because they describe what Job does . . . he refuses to give up, he holds on to hope and he waits.

To him who rises without assurance of his life he gives safety and support.   

When we find ourselves in the pit of misery described by Job, we must remember that the force of our yearning will be met, matched, and exceeded by God’s love . . . for he is life itself.

To him who rises without assurance of his life he gives safety and support.   


A re-post from May 9, 2012.

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

For more reflections on the Book of Job click the image above or go to: http://agapegeek.com/category/bible-study/job/

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2 Chronicles 25: With A Whole Heart

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Commentary points out to us that king Amaziah is faithful to Yahweh and wins a campaign against Edom because of his fidelity; later he is the victim of assassination.  The Chronicler feels compelled to explain this good king’s reversal of fortune and explains it this way in verse two: He did what was pleasing in the sight of the Lord, though not wholeheartedly. 

We can never know the truth of the detail in the story of Amaziah; however, what we can do is to take to heart the warning of the writer that in all things we must be faithful . . . with a full and open heart.  Because God has created us and knows us so well, there is no point in trying to skirt issues or in attempting to hide parts of our history.  God knows all.

Psalm 139 is often cited as one in which the Psalmist expresses this idea of intimacy with God.

Lord, you have probed me, you know me; you know when I sit and when I stand; you understand my thoughts from afar.

Nothing escapes God, not even our inmost thoughts.

My travels and my rest you mark; with all my ways you are familiar.

Nothing escapes God, not even the experiences we try to keep secret.

Even when a word is on my tongue, Lord, you know it all.

Nothing escapes God, not even any hidden meaning behind our words.

If I ascend to the heavens you are there; if I lie down in Sheol you are there, too. 

Nothing escapes God, not even our dreams and fears.

If I fly with the wings of dawn and light beyond the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand hold me fast.

Nothing escapes God, not even our attempts to strike out on our own when we have planned our flight to the last detail.

You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb.

Nothing escapes God, not the origin of our faults, not the origin of our gifts.

And perhaps this is why God loves us so.  God knows us as well as he  knows himself.  And we are created in God’s image to abide with him in eternity for eternity.   Is it possible to be so well loved?

A conspiracy forms against Amaziah; he flees but is pursued and hunted down.   How does his story speak to us today?   The Chronicler tells us that Amaziah’s heart is not true.  The Psalmist tells us that God reads our inmost being.  When we feel compelled to run, it is better to stay and remain in the Lord.  When we feel too ashamed to face a new day, we must rise and turn to the Lord.  When we feel too frightened to step into the world, we must take courage and trust the Lord.  When we feel too discouraged to open a new door, we must stay and hope in the Lord.  When we feel too angry to interact with those around us, we must stay and love the Lord . . . with a heart that is open, and honest, and full . . . and true.

Amen.


A re-post from May 8, 2012.

Images from: https://pastorcarolmora.wordpress.com/category/1/page/2/ and http://www.robstill.com/a-wholehearted-worshiping-community/

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Acts 11: Step by Step

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

El Greco: The Apostles Peter and Paul – The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia

I sometimes become discouraged when the world seems narrow, cruel and bleak.  I sometimes feel as if my hopes and prayers are looking in all the wrong places for all the wrong solutions.  I sometimes cannot believe that I have understood what God has in mind.  So much in this world does not make sense.  And this is when I turn to Acts and the stories of the fledgling church for it is here that God’s will for us is so clear.  It is in these chapters and verses that we witness an incredible burgeoning of Spirit and an amazingly tenacious church.  A small band of ordinary people begin an extraordinary movement.  I wonder if they would succeed in the world we know today.

Patience, perseverance, boldness.  These are the marching orders for Christ’s fledgling Church, his new and blushing bride.  Many new members are joining and the persecutor Saul has become the advocate Paul.  The first major breach has occurred and now step by step (verse 4) Peter gets to the heart of his message: The resurrection is not only meant for the Christ; it is a gift given to each of us by the Creator . . . and our first step toward this gift is our baptism in the Spirit.  Peter explains the message he received from God in a vision and wraps up his thinking with one on my favorite verses: Who was I to hinder God? 

The Church undergoes persecution in Antioch, the place where the followers of Jesus were first called Christians.  Stephen has been stoned and is the Church’s first martyr.  Barnabas continues as a loyal preacher of the Story, adding members to the Church.  Step by step, with patience, perseverance, and boldness, these early founders move gently but firmly as they form Christ’s Bride – the Church.  Prayers are answered.  Miracles happen.  Prayers are asked and answered, although not always understood.  The Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways.   I need to remember these lessons when I feel deserted, overwhelmed or lost.

Often we should not really be able to recognize an answer to prayer if it came.  Maybe the Holy Spirit was using our little prayer for some much larger purpose, of his own, and his prayer may be answered even if our little prayer seems to remain unnoticed.  It is in God’s hands from start to finish, and we must accept that and not try to wrest it from him.

  Father Simon Tugwell, O.P.  Dominican priest, author of books on theology and spirituality, member of Dominican, Historical Institute, MAGNIFICAT  Meditation, May 15, 2010

We are cogs on the wheels of Christ’s Church at work and we have the freedom to choose how we go about completing our daily rounds.  We can choose to churn in place and stubbornly hold up the works, or we might move as we are asked.  Who are we to hinder God? 

We are part of the great fire that Christ brought to earth and we may fling ourselves at our work, burning out like a spark that leaps out into the night sky to extinguish itself quickly on the damp ground.  Or we might choose to stay close to the heart of the flames when banked for the night to hunker down when fuel is low, hugging close to the origin, joining with the other faithful embers who lie together, glowing and waiting through the dark and cold . . . to spring to life again with new wood and the coming of the morning light and wind.  Who are we to hinder God? 

Patience, perseverance, boldness.  These are the marching orders for Christ’s embattled and struggling Church, his faithful and hope-filled bride.  Who are we to hinder God? 


A re-post from May 7, 2012.

Image from: http://www.hermitagemuseum.org/html_En/03/hm3_3_1_2a.html

Cameron, Peter John. “Meditation for the Day.” MAGNIFICAT. 3.15 (2010). Print.  

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Acts 26:24-32: Madness

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Flemish Tapestry: Saint Paul Before Porcius Festus, King Agrippa and his sister Bernice

While Paul was speaking in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, “You are mad, Paul; much learning is driving you mad”.  But Paul replied, “I am not mad, most excellent Festus; I am speaking words of truth and reason”.

For a number of days we have been examining the life of Paul and how he responds to God’s call.  In many ways he appears mad or crazy for Christ Jesus in that he puts aside all fear for himself in order that he do as God asks.  Paul trusts the guidance of the Spirit and for this reason he has turned himself over to the plan God has in mind for him and for all humanity.  Paul trusts God’s motives, God’s perceptions, and God’s wisdom, and in this way Paul leaves nothing to chance.  He places his fire-forged faith, his outrageous hope and his generous love in the one place that will always increase and never diminish him . . . Paul places all he has and is in God.   For this, many call him mad . . . even though Paul speaks words of truth and reason. 

Those who witness God’s goodness at work among them are amazed by what they see; yet they fear they do not have this same strength or courage.  Rather than join Paul they scoff at him, and call him mad. They do not understand that Paul has opened himself to God’s in-dwelling and has left behind his reliance on money, power and fame.  It is impossible for Paul to return to his old ways and so Festus and the world call Paul mad.  So will we be called once we step into the world of discipleship.

We have looked before at this portion of Acts but today we focus on the last lines of this chapter to think about Paul’s decision to petition an audience in Rome.  What we learn here is that it is impossible to be a stealth Christian.  Paul knows he must go to the center of the empire to speak aloud God’s truth and reason so that all may hear his testimony.

When we respond to God’s truth and reason we will meet derision.  When we become the light with Christ we must expect opposition . . . and we must not shrink from speaking out to Caesar.  When we live in the light we must expect to go to Rome.

We have thought about this often: the high price of apostleship, the heavy burden of discipleship, the cauldron of life we step into when we agree to bring Christ to others.  We see Paul move forward, asking to be counted rather than dismissed.  We watch as he brings Christianity to the world . . . and to us.

Paul does not shy away from notoriety as a follower of Christ.  How do we follow his example in the work lunch room, at family gatherings, in intimate conversations with friends?  Do we ask to go to Rome so that we might speak before Caesar?  Do we readily step into the light to own our madness?

As we move through Eastertide, let us consider our madness which is not the tragic madness of Shakespeare, nor the clinical madness diagnosed and recognized by the medical world.  Let us ponder madness that leads to eternal joy and so allows itself to be seen.  Let us meditate on this madness that is the sensation of resurrection, of rapture, of sublime love.  Let us wonder if we might share in the kind of madness that asks to go to Rome to stand before Caesar and declare itself.

Ruins of Rome

And let us pray . . .

The cost of our madness has already been paid: the high price has been set forward by Christ – he has purchased us, his pearl of great price.

The weight of our madness has already been lifted: the yoke has been taken up by Christ – he has redeemed us, his sheep.

The intensity of our madness has already been counterpointed: the profound strength has been provided by Christ – he has entered hell and risen to restore us, his beloved.


A re-post from May 6, 2012.

First written on April 6, 2009.  Re-written and posted today as a Favorite.

To see detail of the Flemish tapestry above click on the image or go to: http://www.dia.org/object-info/89a92d3c-260b-4ceb-b37b-baa8a1b5e7e3.aspx

For another reflection on madness for Christ read the Agrippa Hears Paul post on the blog. 

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Acts 26:24-25: Reactions to Paul’s Speech

Monday, May 20, 2019

Richard Serrin: Paul in Chains

Paul presents a defense to King Agrippa of his work with The Way in Chapter 26 of Acts and these two verses give a succinct report of the reaction to his words. He is “speaking words of truth and reason” yet people think he is “mad.” You may want to read further into Acts to see how the courtroom scene continues to play out.

Paul’s experience tells us this: Having people believe that we are crazy is often the cost of discipleship.

We hear God’s word, we convert ourselves, we begin to perform acts of truth and mercy and reason, we do God’s work, we no longer fit the mold we were in, we move out and into a strange and liminal newness . . . and others notice this. They do not like the change of dynamic. They were comfortable with “the way things were.” They want the old “games” to continue. Our newness is a challenge to the “oldness.” We are new wine in old wine skins . . . and the old skins know that they will break. So, much like Paul before the Pharisees and King Agrippa, we will encounter derision.

In each of the Gospels we hear the story of the crippled man whom Jesus cures and in each version of this story (Matthew 9:6, Mark 2:11, Luke 5:24, John 5:8) Jesus tells the man to take up his mat and walk.  In the Synoptic Gospels all are amazed; in John’s story Jesus causes a stir because he heals this man on the Sabbath – a day when no work is permitted . . . not even the carrying of a mat.  We notice that Jesus supersedes this old Sabbath law and heals those who ask for his help regardless of the day or time.  In Mark’s Gospel the man’s companions lower him through the roof of a house and challenge even the rules of physics by bringing their friend into the very space where Jesus stands.  We wonder if we are persistent enough to act in this way for our own friends.

We notice something else about these stories.  Jesus does not tell the man he heals to walk away from the mat that has served as his home for so long, nor does he say that the mat is to be hidden in any way; rather, Jesus says: Go and take your mat with youThe mat becomes a symbol of what has been endured and overcome through the healing generosity of Christ.  We can choose to see our own mat as a burden and curse . . . or we can choose to see it as a symbol of God’s love for us and his presence in our lives.   The manner in which Paul defends himself and his story before Agrippa reminds us of the mat which he has taken up in Christ’s name – his work with and for God.

A few days ago I was asking what I should do with the mat I now carry around which serves as an outward sign of my work with and for God. Paul gives me an answer.  He does not fear the derision or persecution that may follow.  And he regards his “mat” with honor rather than embarrassment.   Paul is not afraid to be amazed by and though and for Christ.  He moves forward, still with the mat; and in quiet, persistent confidence in God and God’s plan, he does not back down, he does not step away. He stands and witnesses.

And so must we step forward.  So must we witness in truth.  So must we act . . . for who can say what effect our words and actions will have on ourselves and others? Perhaps, like Paul, we will hear the words he heard from the Agrippa before whom we stand to testify, “You will soon persuade me to play the Christian.”


A re-post from May 5, 2012.

For a blog on the Cost of Discipleship with poetry and reflections, click on the image above or go to: http://cost-of-discipleship.blogspot.com/2012/02/unquenchable-desire.html

First written on March 22, 2007 and re-written today as a Favorite.

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Acts 26:1-23: Agrippa Hears Paul

Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 19, 2019

Nikolai Bodarevsky: Paul’s Trial before King Agrippa

One of the things we notice about Paul is that he is so intelligent he customizes his words for his particular audience.  We see him in Greek cities where there are few Jews but where the people are open to new thoughts and new ideas.  He appeals to their affinity to mythology by relating to their willingness to have a shrine to an unknown God.  He tells these people that there is such a god, and his name is Jesus.  He captures many in his apostolic net.  When he travels to towns populated by people accustomed to reading scripture (towns more heavily populated with Jews) he bases his oratory on Hebrew Scripture.  Both Paul and the Holy Spirit work mightily to bring all into the church, into Christ’s mystical body.

Last year when we read about the reaction to Paul’s speech we reflected and concluded the following: Having people believe that we are crazy is often the cost of discipleship.

We read his words today and see that he has given them a layman’s version of the Creed, this is what Paul believes, it is what we believe.  And like Paul, when we speak truth and light to power, corruption and darkness . . . we can rest in the understanding that people will think we are crazy!

There are so many places in our lives when this happens.  My parents would always say that you know you are doing God’s work when the establishment gets a bit uncomfortable . . . when the status quo resists change . . . not just any change . . . change that comes from the Spirit.  They would emphasis, as we hear so many times in scripture, if God speaks to you . . . and you do not speak, you do not move, you will have to answer for your omission of action and voice.

This labeling of disciples as crazy numbers us among the brokenhearted, so let us pray the morning intercessions from MAGNIFICAT.

You sent your Son to bring glad tidings to the lowly: may the lowly in our midst read the Gospel in your peoples’ acts of love.

            Make your Church a living sign of your love.

You sent your Son to heal the brokenhearted: may the brokenhearted of our world find relief in your peoples’ compassion.

            Make your Church a living sign of your love.

You sent your Son to proclaim liberty to captives: may those imprisoned in addiction, loneliness, and despair find hope in your peoples’ active concern.

            Make your Church a living sign of your love.

We are Church.  We are Jesus’ Mystical Body.  We are adopted sisters and brothers of the Christ.  We are disciples.  Let us read the words which Paul spoke to power.  Let us take them in.  Let us be The Word that moves into the world.  Let us remember and hold close . . . the knowledge that we are the brokenhearted, but we are not alone.  Amen.


A re-post from May 4, 2012.

Tomorrow we will see how Paul gives a succinct accounting of his work as a disciple to Agrippa.

For more on Paul’s speech before Agrippa including a video clip, click on the image above or go to: http://tyotb.blogspot.com/2012/03/pauls-trial-before-king-agrippa-acts-26.html

Written on March 11, 2008  and posted today as a Favorite.

Cameron, Peter John. “Prayer for the Morning.” MAGNIFICAT. 3.11 (2008). Print.  

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Acts 24: Listening to the Voice Within

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Paul Before Felix

Do we unite? Do we divide?  Do we disrupt?  Do we bring peace?  Do we shun and set aside?  Do we call together and make room?  Do we take?  Do we share?  Do we hide?  Do we reveal?  Do we tear down?  Do we make new?

When we hear Jesus speak about division rather than peace in Luke 12 and Matthew 10 we think at first that we have misunderstood his words but no . . . this is what he says:  I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!  But I have a baptism  to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed!  Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.  From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three.  They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.  (Matthew 12:49-53Jesus tells us that there will be times when we will put ourselves in danger and that when we do he will accompany us to guide us.  We will have to listen for his voice within.

Paul finds himself up against great odds; he faces the lies of false accusers.  How does he react?  How does he go on?  He relies on God, he looks to the risen Christ, and he allows the Spirit to speak through him.

When we find ourselves in dark places with people we thought we knew but whom we now see as strangers, we too will need to know how to react.  We will need to know what to do.  And so we must also listen to God within and allow the Spirit to speak through us.

We continue with more thoughts from Fr. Zundel’s meditation from yesterdayHence [we have] the image of greatness that can only express itself by dominating others, using dependence as a pedestal.  Our natural desire to be great, contaminated by  this image, inevitably develops in this direction as a craving for power, of which Jesus alone has radically cured us be revealing that God’s inner life is an eternal communion of love . . . A totally new notion of greatness comes to light in this infinite giving, which is God himself, something we are meant to imitate in ourselves by interacting with him . . . it is these moments of self-liberation that we best know God and experience him most strongly as the supreme and innermost reality within ourselves. 

St. Paul found that voice within . . . and he allowed it to speak in and through his own words and actions.  We see him converting others to The Way from his prison cell even as his own life dwindles in its years here on earth.  He does not seek greatness or power.  He seeks to do God’s will, and in this act . . . he has greatness.  A greatness far beyond any mortal fame or supremacy.  When I find myself up against power which wishes to control, or power which acts in passive aggression, I am frightened and anxious.  It is in these moments that I remember stories like today’s from Acts 24 . . . and I always ask myself:  What do I fear?  And as I sort through my confusion and alarm . . . knowing that I must unscramble myself in order to do God’s will . . . I become still as something wells up inside of me and whispers in my innermost ear: You know what to do, listen to the Voice Within.


A re-post from May 3, 2012.

Image from: http://tyotb.blogspot.com/2012/03/pauls-trial-before-felix-acts-25.html

For more on Paul’s trial before Felix click on the image above or go to: http://tyotb.blogspot.com/2012/03/pauls-trial-before-felix-acts-25.html

Cameron, Peter John, Rev., ed. “Meditation of the Day.” MAGNIFICAT. 28 February 2008: 396-397. Print.

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