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Thistledown

Wisdom 4:20 & 5: Hope

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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Jeremiah 16: Candor and Hope

Monday, November 25, 2019

We seek better things to come . . .

What are we to think of the words recorded here by the prophet Jeremiah?  A paraphrasing from the HARPERCOLLINS COMMENTARY, page 559, tells us:  This section contains reports of three symbolic actions, followed by an interpretation that puts them in the context of the Exile.  The prophet is to remain unmarried and childless since the upcoming warfare will be utterly destructive of families.  He is told not to participate in mourning rites because Yahweh intends to remove peace from the land that will undermine the normal mourning customs.  A third requirement of the prophet is that he not participate in festivities of any kind as all celebration will cease.  Following these admonitions is a justification for the punishment they are to receive, the cause is their apostasy.  So we see the domination of two concerns of the community in exile: to identify the cause of its present situation and to contemplate a more favorable future.

Suffering, as we know, is not necessarily castigation; sometimes the innocent suffer through no fault of their own because of circumstances beyond anyone’s control.  What we can take away from today’s reading is the underlined thought above.  When we feel ourselves suffering in exile, two exercises are useful: first, reflecting on our behavior prior to exile to investigate the need to change as appropriate and second, anticipating a better future in active hope.  These are hallmark characteristics of the Christian.  Candid self assessments, the search for improvement, and petitioning God for better things to come.  Even . . . and especially . . . when things seem darkest . . . and without hope of any kind.

When we find ourselves in pain or in exile, suffering either innocently or as a consequence of our own actions, we may choose to become bitter, angry, resentful, and intent on making others suffer.  This does not align with the Law of Love as described by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 when he writes that love does not brood over injury or rejoice over wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 

When we find ourselves in exile, it is best to regard the time as a period of retreat and reflection, going inward to hear the voice of truth, looking outward in expectation of the good news which will arrive.  As children of God, we benefit from knowing this good news even before it reaches us.  It is the news of our release.  The news of our freedom.  The news that we are created and held by one who loves us more than we can imagine.


Written on November 26, 2008, re-written and posted today.   To see how one community contemplates and moves toward a more favorable future, click on the image above or go to: http://www.hopeinspiredministries.org/

Mays, James L., ed.  HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. 559. Print.

Image from: http://www.hopeinspiredministries.org/

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Luke 24:1-12: Nonsense

Friday, November 15, 2019

Anthony Frederick Sandys: Mary Magdalene

[The women’s resurrection] story seemed like nonsense and [the eleven and all the others] did not believe them.

We must remember this when others scoff at the perseverance of faith.

He is not here, but he has been raised. 

We must remember this when we are about to give up hope.

Remember what he said to you while he was still in Galilee. 

We must remember this when we are betrayed or abandoned.

And they remembered his words. 

We must remember this . . .

Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James . . .

We must remember that these followers of Christ persisted . . .

even when their words were labeled as . . .

nonsense . . .


Written on October 17, 2009 and posted today as a Favorite.

Image from: http://omegafoundation.siriuscomputing.net/Spirit/MaryMagdalen.htm

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2 Thessalonians 3:1-4: Prayer

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Prayer is God’s gift.  Prayer is covenant.  Prayer is communion.  We experience a universal call to prayer.  Prayer is individual.  It is collective.  Prayer is powerful.

Through prayer and in God’s time and way, the mysteries of our faith are revealed to us.

Through prayer and in God’s time and way, we are called to petition in outrageous hope.

Through prayer and in God’s time and way, we may choose to love all – our friends and our enemies.

Through prayer and in God’s time and way, all things are possible.

Let us pray . . . unceasingly . . .


Written on October 15, 2008 and posted today as a Favorite.

Image from: http://www.setonparish.org/index.cfm?load=page&page=25

For more reflection, visit the Scripture as Prayer page on this blog at: https://thenoontimes.com/scripture-as-prayer/

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Romans 4:18-21: Being Prepared

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Last week-end when I was returning home after several days packed with more activity than reflection, I turned on the radio and the words of a sermon saluted me in the dark.  The voice spoke through the car speakers saying: Life is not about knowing and understanding what we are doing next, it is about being prepared.  The homilist then developed his theme by reminding his radio flock of the number of times that God leads people into greatness . . . without their full comprehension of how or when this plan God speaks of will unfold.  The radio voice then told a series of stories and it pointed out that this string of figures from scripture hold something in common: the protagonists are all prepared to receive the word . . . and to follow it in faith . . . hoping against hope . . . obeying, trusting  and loving God.

As I made my way home through the warm, falling darkness, the headlamps of my car were only lighting the winding way a hundred yards or so before me.  The night was creeping up behind and snugging in beside me; the light before me was fading fast.  And even though I was traveling a well-memorized route, I really had no idea of what lay ahead of me in the darkness the headlights did not pierce.  But the voice on the radio and the night beyond the car’s head beams drew me on.  The homilist reminded listeners that when God invites us to move to a new place he does not divulge the entire plan – this plan is too complex in the first place and knowledge of its entirety is not necessary in the second.  It is enough that we follow and enact God’s will as best we can.  That is all that is required of us.  God knows our strengths and weaknesses.  He did, after all, create us.

This always happens to me when I tell God that I think he has chosen an improper servant to do his work after he has sent me into the fray of life and I feel that I have come up short of God’s and my own expectations.  Without fail when I am feeling this way, I receive a clear signal that God well knows what he is doing . . . and that I must doubt God and myself less . . . and trust in God and myself more.  He delivered the message again on that beautiful dark night last week-end, and here he delivers it again through St. Paul in this recounting of Abraham and Sarah’s leap of faith.

I must devote myself to being more prepared in this life.  I must remember that with God all things are possible . . . and I must be prepared to answer God’s call, being fully aware that whatever God has promised he is able to perform.


Image from: http://www.turnbacktogod.com/pray-for-gods-servants/

Written on September 27, 2008 and posted today as a Favorite.

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Ezekiel 25: Against the Nations

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Bridge over the Drina in Mostar, Bosnia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A re-post from September 15, 2012.

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

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Obadiah 1:15-21: The Measure

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

THINK team commemoration design

A favorite from September 11, 2012. Let us consider again the measure of our lives . . .

The measure that you measure with is measured out to you.  John the Evangelist speaks of the measure of God’s joy which we will know when we follow Jesus.  All three synoptic Gospels (Matthew 7:2, Mark 4:24, Luke 6:38) remind us that we are measured by our own actions; this is the same message we hear from the prophet Obadiah today; yet . . . Do we truly listen to these words? 

Countless times in the Old Testament we hear stories of how people are done in by the plans they designed for their perceived enemies.  The story of Esther is a wonderful example which I always recall because it illustrates this point in the person of Haman who is executed on the gallows he ordered constructed for Mordecai, the man he envied and wanted to eliminate.

Do we truly listen to these words?

Each time we find ourselves plotting to “teach someone a lesson”:  Do we truly listen to these words?

When we worry about the schemes of others more than we place our petitions for change in God’s hands: Do we truly listen to these words?

If we engage in gossip or enable disrespectful or abusive behavior without saying a word: Do we truly listen to these words?

If there are times that we refuse to witness as God asks: Do we truly listen to these words?

When we have given up hope and cease asking God to intercede for those who harm us: Do we truly listen to these words?

When we allow our doubts and fears about God’s love for us and the goodness of his creation to overcome his love for us: Do we truly listen to these words?

When we examine the measure with which we measure others . . . will we want to be valued by this standard?  Will we want to have others’ opinions rammed into our minds?  Will we want others to lapse into mediocrity for fear of failure?  Will we want others to give up entirely?  Will we want others to speak in compassionate truth?  Will we want to be measured with the norm we use when looking at others?

Do we truly listen to these words?

Notes from La Biblia de América: Can patience run dry?  Does the capacity to lend support have a limit?  Our Christian faith teaches us that the answer is, no.  It is necessary to forgive seven times seven times – or infinitely.  Love cannot have limits.  Is this the only message Obadiah wants to communicate . . . is he merely acting to break a cycle of violence in his own day, or does he speak to us as well?  This briefest of prophecies has as a target the Edomites, a people in constant conflict with those in Judah, the descendents of Jacob’s brother, Esau.  The abrasive conflict reaches a height when Edom backs the invading Nebuchadnezzar to destroy Jerusalem and carry the Jewish people off into exile.  Obadiah speaks to the remnant left behind after the Assyrian holocaust.  Obadiah speaks to us now.

Who are the Edomites in our own lives today?  We know the land of Edom well.  It is the place where our constant adversaries live.  It is the hard heart which envies who we are and what we have.  It is the stiff-necked place from where schemes and lies and plots all spring . . . and these are the places we are asked to measure with the same measure we wish ourselves to be measured.  We are asked to measure in faith, with hope . . . and through love.  Let us go to Edom with a full measure of love in our hearts.


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

Adapted from a post written on May 11, 2009.  

For more information on the THINK team design, click on the image above or go to:

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Obadiah: Hope and Remnant

Monday, September 30, 2019

We have been looking at this tiny prophecy which is packed with imagery and emotion.  Today we continue our deeper look.

From the CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE Reading Guide page 368: The oracle is really a testimony to the indomitable hope of a people who had been reduced to poverty and insignificance, and were at the mercy of their neighbors. 

While most of us do not suffer from severe fiscal poverty, we certainly skate along the edges of financial crunches from time to time . . . but that is not what I think about when I think of poverty.  The metaphor which comes to me as I read these lines of the people pleading for vengeance is one of a poverty of spirit, a state of broken-heartedness, a state of grief over the great loss of something we held near to us.  All of us at some time have suffered at the hands of those who say they love us, and it is in this light that we can identify with the prophet Obadiah.

The territory of Edom (against whose people this oracle is written) was settled by the descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob who allowed himself to be tricked into giving over his birthright to his brother with indifference.  At the time of the exile and captivity, the Edomites raided Judah and pillaged what the northern invaders had left behind.  This continued what had already been a bitter animosity between Jews and Edomites, their neighbors and near kinsmen, an animosity between peoples who ought to be linked closely in friendship and blood ties.  Deception by friends and family is felt more intensely than any other, I believe; and it cuts deeply, swiftly . . . and surely.  This kind of betrayal is the most difficult to overcome.  But overcome we must . . . for we are a Remnant People . . . with a destiny for conversion, for transformation, for kingdom.

From THE ARCHEOLOGICAL STUDY BIBLE article on Edom, page 1467 we find that Edom (located south of the Dead Sea and north of the Gulf of Aqaba) prospered from its control of north-south trade routes and its excavations of its copper and iron mines.  Moses was unable to negotiate a peace with these people and so the Hebrews were forced to go around them on their way home to the Promised Land.  David managed to control this tribe, many of whom lived in high caves cut out of the stony faces of the mountains, but other Jewish kings were not so fortunate.  These people (later known as Idumeans) finally succumbed to Roman rule after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. and “disappeared from history”.

These are the neighbors who took advantage of Judah when she was suffering; yet we see that in the end . . . these people were the ones who disappeared . . . not the Jewish people . . . not The Remnant.

We can easily identify with the prophet and people who suffer at the hands of their neighbor.  We might as easily call for vengeance over the despicable acts of those who are near to us in body and in heart but if we are a Remnant People we must call for Hope.  We must call for the Messiah.

Let us put aside our very human desire for revenge, and let us petition our Creator God for the same peace and compassion which we have been given.  Let us ask intercession for those nearest to us who have hurt us.  And let us ask forgiveness of those nearest to us whom we may have injured.  Let us ask for restoration for all.


A re-post from September 10, 2012.

Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990. RG368. Print.   

“Edom.” ARCHAEOLOGICAL STUDY BIBLE (NIV). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005. Print.

Written on March 24, 2008  and posted today as a Favorite.

For more about the Edomites  (Idumeans) and their territory, click on the image above or go to: http://www.bible-history.com/maps/edomites.html or http://www.ordination.org/edomites.htm

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Jeremiah 15: God’s Words

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Our lives seem full of words and in particular this recent election cycle seems to have the very air full of them. Words for, words against, words that describe, words that deceive, words that inflame, words that bring peace, empty words, words that fill . . . but so many words.  At this point in his prophecy Jeremiah has spouted many life-saving words and yet the prophet is being ignored. He will eventually disappear from the world stage but his words will remain . . . for they are God’s words. The words Jeremiah utters and writes down will prove him to be on target and in tune with God.  We might wish to be so in accord with our creator.  In the midst of so many words we stumble across this verse as we reflect on how we might make God’s words our very own.

Jeremiah 15:16: When your words came to me, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O Lord God Almighty.

Jeremiah repeated the words the Lord gave him to say; we pray that we might be so ardent.

Jeremiah spoke faithfully in the name of God Almighty; we pray that we might be so persistent.

Jeremiah lived out the creator’s words; we pray that we might be so authentic.

Jeremiah sticks to the message the Lord gave him to deliver; he does not go off message nor does he incorporate his own agenda into the words he is given to speak.  Jeremiah complains to God that he is cursed by many; he says that he ought never to have been born.  He lives in pain as a consequence of his fidelity to God . . . yet Jeremiah does not give in.

Jeremiah delivers God’s words and in doing so he also delivers hope.  Jeremiah speaks difficult words and in doing so he makes them his heart’s delight.  Jeremiah makes God words his own . . . and in doing so he makes the invisible God visible.

Let us strive also to do so today.


A re-post from September 4, 2012.

Image from: http://benjaminunseth.wordpress.com/2011/01/16/martin-luther-gods-word/

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