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2 Maccabees 4: Hellenization

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Girl Friends

The definition of Hellenization in conjunction with scripture refers to the time when the Jewish people were lured into imitating the Greeks who placed much importance on transacting business in the gymnasium.  When Jews entered this place were nudity was the norm, circumcision suddenly took on new meaning.  This outward sign of fidelity to Yahweh sometimes became a stumbling block to transacting business and some Jewish men went to the extreme of enduring a painful surgical reversal of this mark of Abraham in order to hide this mark from others.  The important point for us today is this: how do we allow ourselves to become Hellenized?  What small places in our lives that have been places of constancy to God become inconvenient?  What small steps entice us to give up God in small ways?  What small detours become major deviations from the truth?

Not long ago I asked some of the girls we teach what they do when they feel embarrassed by “doing what is right” when they are with friends rather than going along with the crowd?  They looked at me in an odd way and then said: “Those people would not be my friends”.  How simple.  How true.

In today’s reading we read about laws put in force and also abolished.  We read about intrigue and sedition, the lure of power and money, about violence and deceit.  This is a bloody time in Jewish history which we have visited often.  We usually come away with the same truth: When we find ourselves embroiled in schemes and complex schemes . . . the only way out is to revert to simple truths that bring true satisfaction and joy.  We remember that we find our power in our willingness to empty self and listen for God’s voice.  We recall that we find our strength in our eagerness to put aside any personal agenda so that we might listen for God’s agenda.  When we reflect and turn to God in this way, the tension, the anxiety, and the pain that had been paralyzing us begin to melt away.

When we have a sense that we have entered into our own Hellenization, it is time to assess and re-evaluate.  When the world intrudes and asks us to forfeit our intimacy with God, we know for certain that these will be the first small steps away from God rather than steps toward God.  When this happens, we know what we must do . . . and we remember the simple statement: Those people would not be my friends.

A re-post from February 27, 2012.

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John 7:10-24: A Spiritual Microscope

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Whoever speaks on his own seeks his own glory, but whoever seeks the glory of the one who sent him is truthful, and there is no wrong in him.

Another Gospel writer, Matthew, tells us that the Christ urged us to cease judging one another (7:1-5) and to take care of the timbers in our own eyes rather than accuse others of not tending to the sawdust in theirs.

It is difficult to discern which voice of the many we hear is the genuine voice.  It is difficult to separate ourselves from our own ego to stand back in order to get a clear view of how we act in the world. It is also impossible for us to separate ourselves from our life experiences which always form our thinking and acting.  It seems that rather than trying to split ourselves into two halves – one side dealing with unpleasantness, the other avoiding it – we might try to use our daily experiences and the beams in our eye as a spiritual microscope . . . to take a look at how we represent God in the world.

We might ask:  Am I looking at the whole picture?  Am I rushing to judgment?  Am I enabling myself or others to preserve a narrow view?  Do I work toward finding common ground in difficult situations or do I add to the turmoil?  Do I obfuscate and cross lines or do I seek reason and order wherever I go?  How do I express God in my daily living?  These questions are endless, but nonetheless important.  They provide us with a means to look at self.  They also remind us that God is in charge, that when we find ourselves  in difficulty we need to look to ourselves first . . . then turn to help others . . . always relying on God as the guide, the scientist who focuses our microscope so that we might better see ourselves.

When we read the Gospel we also find something else . . . as we examine ourselves and then act on our reflections and the urgings of the true inner voice, we must expect rejection from those around us.  The Pharisees we read about today are angry with the truth the Christ brings them.  Jesus asks: are you angry with me because I made a whole person on a Sabbath?  Jesus does the Father’s will and is heavily punished.  The Pharisees go away grumbling, plotting his death.  They are angry that his teaching is not his own . . . but comes from God.

When we turn our spiritual microscope inward to examine who we are and how we act, we must allow God to focus the lenses.  When we speak . . . we must speak from God . . . not from our fears or anger.  When we listen . . . we must listen for God . . . for it is the only one true voice that guides to fullness, to glory, to peace.

A re-post from February 24, 2012.

Image from: http://www.americanartifacts.com/smma/micro/bausch.htm

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2 Chronicles 24: Joash

Monday, April 8, 2019

Joash repairs the Temple

Two years ago we looked at the struggle to save the child king Joash who is the centerpiece of today’s reading.  Today we take time to reflect on his life and how he did what was pleasing to the Lord as long as Jehoiada the priest lived. 

Joash is an example of one who restores all that was lost; and he is also an example of a leader who is empty of God’s promise.  As long as Jehoiada lives, Joash focuses on what is good and true.  Once the priest is gone, the king shows who he truly is: someone who lacks an authentic core.

Suffering is deepest when first we hold goodness for a time.  Pain is more searing when we have known harmony.  Sorrow is more keenly felt when we have experienced great joy.  So it is with the people ruled by Joash . . . the dreams they once thought reality become dim memories.  In their anger and grief, the people in this story ask for revenge . . . and they receive it.

It is likely that we have all loved someone or followed someone who showed great promise and have later been disappointed.  Perhaps we have discovered a dark emptiness in one we thought held a solid center.  If we have been wounded deeply by a Joash, we must not act in anger but in love.  We must not look for revenge for when we do we sink into the same emptiness we see in today’s story.

As followers of Christ, rather than asking for a settling of scores, we intercede for our enemies to ask for peace.  As Disciples of Christ, rather than falling back on hatred, we act in love.  As true apostles of Jesus, we seek concord so that darkness, and cruelty, ignorance and disunity have no place to take hold.  As children of God we pray, we witness, we watch for the opportunity to be Christ-like, and we act in love, always in love.

We might see Joash as the resounding gong or clashing cymbal St. Paul describes in his first letter to the Corinthians, for he is one who worships God because it makes a good appearance or because it gains him something.  When we meet Joash in our lives, let us ask God for the mercy and compassion to turn away from dark thoughts, and let us go to the Lord with our petitions of forgiveness and love.

A re-post from December 2011.

Image from: http://plantedatoakhill.blogspot.com/2011/05/chest-of-joash.html 

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Matthew 5:17-20: Teaching on the Law

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Joseph Mallord William Turner: A Mountain Scene, Val d’Aosta

A re-post from Good Friday 2012 . . . 

We might notice that the teaching on the Law finds its place among other teachings: the new Law of Love expressed in the Beatitudes, being salt and light, teachings on anger, adultery, divorce, oaths, retaliation and love of enemies.  In Chapter 6 we find teachings on alms giving, prayer, fasting, treasure and our dependence on God.  Chapter 7 reveals more teachings on casting pearls before swine, expecting answers to prayers, judging others, the Golden Rule, the Narrow Gate, false prophets and true disciples, and finally . . . where and how to build a foundation that lasts.  These 3 chapters are an exact and simple road map to find our way when we are lost.  Today we focus on a portion but if there is time in our schedule to read through these chapters, we will find that we will have made an excellent investment for ourselves.  We will have made another payment into our real retirement plan . . . our plan to live in the house the Father has built for us.

My friend Lucy gave me a book for Easter several years ago. I have read it many times, and passed on copies to friends. Because I often have grandchildren fluttering under my wings during a holiday, I find it more important than ever to remind myself that I need to live in the second half of life if I hope to impart any wisdom to those who watch what I do more than what I say. Perhaps on this Friday we might find time to rest in Rohr’s message that we must do more than build a container for life.

Joseph Mallord William Turner: A Sail Yacht Approaches the Coast

Once we spend time with his meditation, we might consider the following: Do we truly wish for our old systems to crash so that a new flourishing might begin? Do we strive for a righteousness that holds us up, or take refuge in what we know? Do we long for union with Christ enough that we agree to enter into a dialog with the God who creates us and our world? Do we believe that God’s kingdom is here and now?

And Jesus says . . . I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 

For a Richard Rohr reflection on the two halves of life, visit: https://cac.org/two-halves-life-2015-10-12/

If you are looking for more information on a Jungian approach to finding meaning in the second half of life, go to: http://www.psychceu.com/hollis/findingmeaning.asp

If you are looking for something that will lead you to investigate how you live God’s Law of Love, you will find a simple study guide to reflect on Rohr’s ideas in FALLING UPWARD at: http://www.cacradicalgrace.org/programs/pastwebcasts/wc-fallingupward 

To reflect on the narrow gates in your own life and how to grow from them, go The Narrow Gate page on this blog.

Adapted from a reflection posted on April 5, 2012.

Images from: http://www.psychceu.com/hollis/findingmeaning.asp

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Sirach 6: True Friendship & Wisdom

Friday, April 5, 2019

A re-post from Holy Thursday 2012.

These are wise and beautiful words.  We cannot read them too often.

Verses 5 through 17 are full of sound, solid advice that is easy to absorb and use.  There is nothing complicated here.  We are encouraged to examine not only who our friends are and why, but who we are as friends . . . and why.

Verses 18 through 37 delineate the blessings of wisdom, and when we read them with care it is not difficult to judge if we are wise or foolish.  We are given a clear prescription: Put your feet into [Wisdom’s] fetters, and your neck under her yoke.  Stoop your shoulders and carry her and be not irked at her bonds.  With all your soul draw close to her; with all your strength keep her ways.  Search her out, discover her; seek her and you will find her.  Then when you have her, do not let her go; thus will you afterward find rest I her, and she will become your joy . . . if you wish, you can be taught; if you apply yourself, you will be shrewd.  If you are willing to listen, you will learn; if you give heed, you will be wise.

Our questions on this Holy Thursday are these . . . When it comes to friendship and to wisdom, who are we and how are we?  Do we recognize ourselves in any of these descriptions?  Whose commandments do we follow?  Are we willing to listen and to heed?  Are we eager to hear Godly discourse?  Are we ready to give ourselves over to God . . . do what it takes to be a loyal and wise friend?

A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy . . . if you are willing to listen, you will learn; if you give heed, you will be wise.

Image from: http://taberstruths.com/walking-gods-wisdom/

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Joshua 12: Conquered Kings

Thursday, April 4, 2019. 

A re-post from Holy Week 2012. 

Ancient Canaanites

I sometimes wonder what life was really like for leaders in the ancient world.  It was such a violent and predatory place and much time and energy were spent merely surviving.  This is still true for many in our modern world in which focus on survival is necessary in order to see the next day’s dawning.  In today’s Noontime we read a roll call of the vanquished along with a description of the division of conquered lands.  Conquest is marked by neat categories; there is no evidence of the horrific jumbled chaos that is war. These verses make the telling of this list so orderly and so tidy that we might think that Joshua and his men performed this work without much personal cost or effort.  We would be wrong.

This territory had belonged to the Hittites, the Amorites, Canaanites and others.  A series of city-states falls, their kings are vanquished: Jericho, Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, and more.  With a quick reading it might appear the subjugated are nameless, faceless peoples.  If this is our impression, again we would be wrong.

This kind of struggle never comes without a cost, and it comes as part of the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abram in Genesis 15.  He was to have descendants that numbered as stars in the night sky, and these descendants were to inhabit a land that would be delivered with the help of God.

The twelve tribes use violence as they take over the mountains and foothills, deserts, slopes and rivers of this promised place.  Several thousand years later, Jesus arrives to tell his people that this way of violence is over, that now they are to deliver another cheek to an attacker rather than another blow.  He brings the strange message that rather than pray for our friends alone, we are to intercede for our enemies.  We can see how bizarre this thinking must have seemed to a people who had won what they had through the spilling of blood.  We can see how the message will seem strange to us today.

Our question on this Holy Wednesday is this . . . As we go through our days, moving toward the promises made to us by God, do we take care with how we move and why . . . and do we use Old Testament ways or New Testament thinking . . . do we resort to the weapons of violence, or do we use the tools of peace?

For more information on the many tribes cited in Genesis and Joshua, go to:http://biblos.com/ and search the dictionary, encyclopedia, atlas or other resources on this site.  

Image from: http://heavenawaits.wordpress.com 

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1 Chronicles 23: The Levitical Classes

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

A re-post from April 3, 2012.


Catholics in the Archdiocese of Baltimore recently received a letter from the Archbishop letting us know that the clergy were aware of the shortage of priests and they understood that the laity would be taking more authority in their parishes.  It seems that the Levitical classes of this church have so isolated themselves as a group that this fact is just dawning on them.  Those of us in the pews have seen this coming for quite some time.  Priests can barely genuflect, seminarians are scant, and more of the daily running of the parish is overseen by lay people.

There is an interesting article in the NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER (April 15, 2011) describing the “hidden exodus of Catholics from their faith”.  Thomas Reese writes: “Any other institution that lost one-third of its members would want to know why.  But the U.S. bishops have never devoted any time at their national meetings to discussing the exodus.  Nor have they spent a dime trying to find out why it is happening.  Thankfully, although the U.S. bishops have not supported research on people who have let the church, the Pew Center has”.  Then Reese describes the report results.  They are fascinating.  http://ncronline.org/news/hidden-exodus-catholics-becoming-protestants What do the people want?  They ask that liturgy be more pertinent.  They ask for more opportunities for Bible study.  I cannot find a reason that these requests go unanswered.

As I pray, I juxtapose David’s acknowledgement of his own mortality and his good shepherding of the people with the apparent benign neglect of present day Catholic Church leaders.  And I do what I always do when I am perplexed . . . I go to God.

In today’s Gospel we read about Judas’ betrayal of Christ.  This seems significant to me.  In a perfect world, spiritual leaders actually tend to peoples’ souls rather than to their own needs.  In our world, the closest to us are often those who betray us most quickly . . . and always this kind of unfaithfulness cuts deeply.

The MAGNIFICAT Morning Prayer is full of guideposts for those who are betrayed by those closest to them.  This also seems significant.  We cannot suppose that just because people wear the trappings of office that they perfectly fulfill the duties they are bound to perform.   In a perfect world, our spiritual leaders concern themselves with real people in real time . . . and they are aware that they lead by serving.

Psalm 55: My heart is stricken within me . . . and so I must trust God with my fears.

John 13:21: Jesus was deeply troubled . . . so I cannot be upset with my own turmoil.

Jeremiah 20:10: Yes, I hear the whisperings of many: “Terror on every side! . . .  Yet God is with us always.

Job 19:19: All my intimate friends hold me in horror . . . Still I remain faithful to God. 

We know the story of Peter’s denial of Christ and his later confession of faith when the Resurrected Jesus asks, Do you love me? (John 21)   We know that Christ offers Peter this opportunity for conversion and opens the door to newness, honesty, and a deeper fidelity than had before been possible.

Our question on this Holy Tuesday is this . . . Does our love in Christ and for Christ call us to forgive all those who have harmed us in big ways and in small ways . . . even as Christ has forgiven us?

Image from: http://webspace.webring.com/people/up/pharsea/PeopleOfGod.html

For more information on Aaron, and the Levites, go to: http://eastonsbibledictionary.com/a/aaron.htm and http://eastonsbibledictionary.com/l/levite.htm

Cameron, Peter John. “Prayer for the Morning.” MAGNIFICAT. 4.19 (2011). Print.  

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Sirach 4:20-31: Lest the Stones Cry Out

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

A re-post from April 2019 . . .

Refrain not from speaking at the proper time . . .

A verse from the Luke reading (19:40) in the Morning Prayer (Phyllis Tickle’s DIVINE HOURS: Prayers for Springtime, 326) leapt out at me as I read this morning.  Jesus’ followers have welcomed him into Jerusalem with palms, praise and high jubilation.  They know that one has come who has freed them from a bondage they are weary of carrying.  In subsequent verses Jesus will cleanse the Temple area of moneychangers and his authority will be challenged by the church leadership.  Jesus weeps over Jerusalem, knowing that she rejects the peace he brings.  The people cry out: Blessed is he who is coming as King in the name of the Lord!  Some Pharisees rebuke him saying, “Master, reprove your disciples”.  Jesus replies: I tell you, if these keep silence, the stones will cry out.  This is the same message we hear in today’s Noontime. We are reminded that discipleship is not for the weak or unwilling.

In capsule form, here is what Jesus Ben Sirach tells us today in this brief citation.

Guard yourself against evil.

Show no favoritism.

Let no one intimidate you.

Speak at the proper time.

Bring your wisdom into the light.

Tell the truth always and even fight for the truth . . . even to the death.

Go with the flow when it is clear that the opposition is overwhelming . . . let God be in charge.

Throw no pearls before swine . . . even when the swine are the power structure.

Keep you speech pleasant, not surly; wisdom becomes known through speech.

Refrain from laziness; do your work.

Be gentle at home and honest at work.

Stay away from conspiracy theories . . . especially in the workplace.

Give generously.

Receive graciously.

Take only what is your due.

Today is Holy Monday and as we begin our preparation for the great gift of light, and life and peace which Jesus bring to us with his suffering, death and resurrection; we are called to examine the role we take in this drama that plays out before us daily.  When we look at these elements from Sirach above, we discover an apt description of the life of one who follows Christ.  In it we see the same message Christ speaks to the crowd that has gathered at the Temple: Christians must speak out at the proper time.  Christians must be the justice they wish to receive.  Christians must enact the sincerity they wish to find.  And they must speak at the proper time . . . lest the very stones cry out in the silence.

Our question for today is this . . . Are we willing to break the deafening silence of injustice and deceit?

For a Lenten reflection on the goodness of silence, click on the image above or go to: http://ypguybrit.wordpress.com/2011/03/15/lent-the-discipline-of-silence/

Tickle, Phyllis.  THE DIVINE HOURS: PRAYERS FOR SPRINGTIME. New York: Doubleday, 2001. Print.

Image from: http://ypguybrit.wordpress.com/2011/03/15/lent-the-discipline-of-silence/

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Sirach 7: Public and Private Life

Friday, March 29, 2019

Several days ago we reflected on the meaning of our public image in the Book of Daniel; today with Sirach we might spend time with how this compares to our private life.  The Irish culture holds an image of a man who is a street angel but a house devil . . . pleasant and amiable – even lovable – to his neighbors . . . while beating his wife and children behind closed doors.  How many of us harbor devils inside that we do not show to the world?  How do these devils slip into our lives without our knowing?

We are advised by Jesus ben Sirach to bring our public and private lives into line with our covenant promise with Yahweh.

In this book of wisdom, we are cautioned that we must be humble in our dealings with one another; we ought not seek out the high places at the table.  We are warned to refrain from seeking work as a judge unless we have the strength to root out crime; otherwise we succumb to corruption and mar our integrity.  We ought not flaunt our wisdom, our power, our wealth, our specialness in any way . . . for our pride will be our undoing.  This is how humility arrives.

We are also advised to steer clear of situations the catechism refers to as near occasions of sin: those times when we ourselves do not sin but come dangerously close to slipping over the precipice into evil.  Standing by wordless as we watch malevolence occur without offering witness to injustice is not the way of the Lord. When we lack courage, we only need to look to God for strength.  This is how fortitude arrives.

We ought to pray in earnest and not hurry through prayer as this leaves room for a false sense of independence from God.  We humble ourselves appropriately when we come before the Lord and so we ought to enter into prayerfulness with deliberation and patience so that we might all the better hear the word of God.  This is how wisdom arrives.

In private and in our family life, we need to continue to live with thoughtfulness, with intention.  Treating servants well – or the people we meet in the mall, in the supermarket, in the gas station – leads us to treating all well.  Honoring elders, respecting the living, remembering the dead.  This is how piety arrives.

Refrain from bartering for friends.  Mourn with those who mourn.  Steer clear of those who do not.  Visit the sick.  This is how compassion arrives.

When we eliminate fear and pain from our lives by blocking them out and riding over these powerful emotions, we also eliminate important opportunities for learning the ways of God.  We erase the opportunities for God to guide and protect us.  When we petition God and thank him for his bounty, we indicate our understanding that we are his creatures.  This is how faith arrives.

When we balance our inner self with our outer self, we clear away the dark corners where house devils might lurk.  Integrity finds a comfortable dwelling place within . . . and chases away these devils to make room for angels.  This is how hope arrives.

When we bring into focus our whole mind, our whole heart, our whole body and our whole soul to celebrate our union with God, we enter into his divinity.  This is why the words of Jesus ben Sirach are so important to us today.  With all your strength, love your Creator . . . for this is how love arrives.

A re-post from March 29, 2012.

Image from: http://sandeshavahini.wordpress.com/2011/12/28/the-heart-in-the-bible/

To review the Noontime reflection on Public Life go to: https://thenoontimes.wordpress.com/2012/3/23/

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