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Genesis 47Willingness

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Konstantin Flavitsky: Brothers Sell Joseph into Slavery

In Genesis 45:5-8 we hear the beautiful words of forgiveness which Joseph speaks to his brothers who colluded to exterminate him . . . do not be distressed, and do not reproach yourselves for having sold me here.  It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me ahead of you . . . for you are a remnant on earth and to save your lives is an extraordinary deliverance.  So it was not really you but God who had me come here . . . Joseph understands how God’s plan arrives at benefit for all through the suffering of some.  He believes – because he has witnessed it in his own life – that God turns harm to good, envy to love.  Today we reflect on his action of interceding with Pharaoh on behalf of his brothers who sold him into slavery.  This is a message of willing obedience . . . open readiness . . . faith in goodness . . . hope in the outrageous . . . and love for the unlovable.  It is a story of fidelity in its truest sense.  Fidelity to God, to the remnant people, to self.  Joseph lives up to his true potential, to God’s best hope for and in him.

I love this story of a joy-filled child who invokes envy in his siblings, of a handsome youth who innocently stirs lust in his mistress, of a young man who continues to believe in his God despite his apparent ill luck.  I am moved by the willingness in which he lives.  I am encouraged by the honesty with which he treats not only others but himself.  I am inspired by the magnitude of his gestures, the purity of his thinking.  Joseph carries no rancor.  He is not bitter.  He refuses to be discouraged.  He rejects complicity and deception.  He is cautious and prudent; yet giving and tender.  Joseph is one of my favorite figures of Scripture.  His story is a good one; and it is one to which we ought to refer when we find ourselves in endless turmoil or deep grief.

Joseph knows how to mourn.  He knows that when he waits in God, goodness will follow on the heels of evil.  He knows how to sacrifice in honest willingness.

Joseph knows how to keep his word.  He knows how to abide in patient loving, just as God has abided with him.  He knows how to wait for fruition and fulfillment.

Joseph Bourgeois: Joseph Recognized by his Brothers

Joseph knows how to share.  He knows with a keen understanding that his success is sweetest when given back to God.  He knows that God is the source and summit of all that is good and that to hoard this goodness for himself is counter to the action of God’s mercy which he himself has experienced.

Joseph knows how to celebrate.  He knows that he cannot take credit for the goodness he experiences.  He knows that humility conquers pride and that littleness is greatness, for he sees this in the actions of God in his own life.

Joseph knows how to praise God.  He knows that even when success finally arrives, he must continue to follow God’s lead.  He knows that all that he has and all that he is belong to God alone.

Joseph waits, he witnesses, and then he acts out of his own salvation.  He allows his own conversion in God to convert others . . . and so in this way he allows his willingness to save more than himself.  He helps to save the very people who would have seen his destruction.

We might want to sit with the story of Joseph for a bit today to ponder our own willingness to enter into God’s plan . . . to examine our own willingness to intercede with Pharaoh for those who would have eliminated us, but who have begun their own conversion.


A re-post from February 14, 2012.

Images from: http://freechristimages.org/biblestories/josephs_dreams.htm and http://www.biblical-art.com/biblicalsubject.asp?id_biblicalsubject=92&pagenum=1

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Micah 7Teachability

Monday, February 4, 2019

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

Tanner: The Savior

Today we read about a people who find themselves in such dire straits that no one is to be trusted but God – not even a dear friend or a family member.  I am thinking of the times in my life when I have allowed myself to be wrongly steered by companions and relatives – and this kind of miss-steering usually comes out of both their fears and my own.  At times like these, Micah tells us, we are to turn to God for this all-knowing, all-seeing justice, mercy, and wisdom are the only tools we will need.  They are the sole valid markers in circumstances where the culture of the day reigns rather than the spirit of God. The eternal serenity that comes from acting in humility and meekness – and by this I mean teachability – is the only remedy for extreme or grim conditions.

It is painful to realize that a loved one has been lenient with us and even pampered us in fear of losing our friendship.  It is humiliating to know that while we have been in a relationship of trust, a friend or kinsman has been less than truthful out of their own fear of conflict.  Yet it is precisely these conditions which always offer us the opportunity to draw nearer and closer to the one source that understands us better than any person in our present life.  It is only God who knows what is best to do.  And we can only hear the teaching we will need for these circumstances when we allow ourselves to be teachable.

Henry Ossawa Tanner: Christ and his Mother Studying Scriptures

We do not often think of Christ as a child but I like to remember a painting I saw in a Baltimore exhibit of paintings by Henry Tanner.  This site will show you some of his work but it does not contain my favorite . . . a sun drenched yet shady scene of the Blessed Mother with the child Jesus at her side.  The scroll she is using to teach has unfurled at their feet, and they bend to their work.  This is the image of Christ I hold before me when I am trying to learn from difficulties in my life.  Christ looking on as his mother points to figures and pronounces their sounds.

Joseph taught Jesus the craft of carpentry.  This is inferred from scripture and taught by tradition.  In the garden at Gethsemane Christ allowed himself to be taught by the father in heaven.  As he moved toward his crucifixion he kept his mind open to the messages the humanity in him needed to hear in order to perform the tasks required of his divinity.  We too, share this task of using all that is human in us to reach out for what is divine.  This is difficult work and yet we must not think that we are alone in this.  For the one who made us and saved us and comforts us is with us still.  In all circumstances, on all days, throughout all nights, at all times.

And so we pray . . . Sweet and gentle God, when we are confused and feeling lost, teach us just as your mother and father taught you.  When we are exhausted and knowing not which way to turn, bring us to you, wrap us in your gentle arms, tell us how to pray, teach us what we are to do and how we are to act.  We place all trust in you.  Keep us ever with you.  Amen. 


A re-post from February 4, 2012.

Images from: http://negroartist.com/negro%20artist/Henry%20Ossawa%20Tanner/index.htm and http://negroartist.com/negro%20artist/Henry%20Ossawa%20Tanner/index.htm 

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2 Chronicles 26Pride and Fall

Tuesday, Christmas Day, December 25, 2018

On the day we celebrate the humble entry of the Christ in a world yearning for healing, we remember the re-post from November 22, 2011. We remember the lesson of  pride that Uzziah teaches us.

Rembrandt: King Uzziah

My mother warned us often: Pride goeth before a fall; she was likely referring to Proverbs 16:18: Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.   Today we are presented with a detailed story of how Uzziah takes so much that God has given to him – wealth, power and fame – and quickly loses it: But after he had become strong, he became proud of his own destruction and broke faith with the Lord, his God.  Was it the flocks and vineyards he owned, the soldiers he commanded or the city fortifications he built that fogged his vision?  We will never know what urged him to take over the office of the temple priest, but we do know his fate: leprosy broke out on his forehead . . . [and the priests] expelled him from the temple.  He fled unwillingly, for the Lord had afflicted him. King Uzziah remained a leper until the day of his death. He lived in exile, in a segregated house, excluded from the Lord.  We can imagine how difficult it must have been for Uzziah to process what had happened to him; and we can appreciate how difficult it must have been for him to deal with his heavy loss: a man who has all suddenly is separated from all that makes him powerful, rich and famous.

David: The Coronation of Napoleon

I remember an historical novel my Mother gave me to read; it was by Annemarie Selinko and was later made into the film Désirée.  It is the intriguing and convoluted story of Napoleon Bonaparte told from the point of view of a young woman he met, wooed and left behind.  It was valuable to me as a young girl and it is valuable to me today as I recall its latent message of pride going before a fall, and I also recall a conversation I had with Mother about humility and gratitude being the antidotes that will inoculate us against the insidious, deadly workings of pride.

Pride can make us ugly.  It can warp and distort our vision and hearing.  It makes us the people we have pledged to never be.  Gratitude puts us in proper relationship with self, God and others.  It reminds us gently that we are not the alpha and omega.  It whispers to us quietly that we have much to learn and that we cannot foresee or control the future.  Humility reminds us to take the last seat at the table rather than the first.  It gives us time to think, restrains us from making fools of ourselves and saves us from impulsivity.  Together, gratitude and humility can steer us away from the fall of pride but ultimately we must be the ones who save ourselves from the hubris that stalks any successful man or woman.

Napoleon crowns himself king, I learned in high school, and when I saw the painting by David in our textbook I remembered the story of the young girl who found out that the disaster of her inconstant suitor was salvation in disguise.  Uzziah is king and enters the temple to act as a priest and make an offering on the altar.  These are stories worth remembering.  They are lessons worth learning.  As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, let us call upon the twin angels of gratitude and humility . . . and keep them close at hand.


More details about Uzziah can be found at the following sites: http://www.christianlibrary.org/authors/John_L_Kachelman_Jr/kings-ot/uzziah.html and http://bibleencyclopedia.com/uzziah.htm

Images from: http://badgercatholic.blogspot.com/2011/05/mary-help-of-christians-ora-pro-nobis.html and http://biblicalgenealogy.kavonrueter.com/Pictures-Ozias.htm

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1 Samuel 6No Strange God

Friday, December 7, 2018

Written on January 12 and posted today as a  Favorite . . .

This is a portion of the Ark story we might find interesting.  In earlier chapters, the Philistines have taken the Ark, hoping to benefit from what they believe to be its extraordinary power.  What they do not understand is that the Ark is not an object of magic or superstition to be used as they wish.  What it does hold is this: Aaron’s staff which bloomed as a sign of God’s presence when the Hebrews were captive in Egypt, manna that sustained them in the desert as they journeyed toward the land promised to them by God, and the tablets of commandments given them by God through Moses.  It is not the Ark which now sustains the Israelites in battle as they struggle to maintain their identity in a world that wishes to eliminate them, it is God himself.  And this is something the Philistines do not understand.  Things have gone badly for them since they seized the Ark in a raid and now they wonder how to best dispose of it.

We enter the story today and watch as they determine what to do.  There are wonderful lessons to be learned from all of this.

First, God does not exist in some inanimate object.  God is within and without because God is everywhere.  We cannot hide from God, nor can we sort of summon God and put him away when we do and do not want him present.  Because God is everywhere, we need never fear that we are alone; and we must work to form our best relationship with God.

Second, we cannot somehow seize, steal or borrow someone else’s successful relationship with God.  We cannot pretend with God, nor can we fake anything with God.  Because God is authentic, it is impossible to form a false bond with him; and our best connection will be one that is open, honest, and humble.

Third, we cannot manipulate God in any way.  We cannot bargain, control or wheedle our way into God’s goodness, nor can we avoid God in any way.  Because God is omnipotent, it is impossible to out-maneuver God; and the best way to interact with him is with frankness and readiness to do God’s will.

There is, no doubt, much we might say about this reading; but the simple message is this: Our honesty, authenticity, security and humility are key to a healthy relationship with God.

In today’s MAGNIFICAT Morning Prayer mini-reflection we read: Now and then, God’s people of old needed to be reminded of the care with which his love had surrounded and protected them.  Now and then we do too!  This introduces a canticle from Deuteronomy 32:3-7, 10-12.  You may want to read it today.  It concludes . . . The Lord alone was their leader, no strange god was with him.

The Philistines do not understand the true source of Israel’s power.  Believing it to come from a magic box, they do not comprehend that true power and authority comes from an honest, authentic and humble relationship with God.  We hold this in our hands and feet each day.  Our power comes from the way we act out our relationship with God.  Let us pray for the grace to accept this gift, for the meekness to allow God to work within us, and the serenity that comes from knowing that we are secure in God who has no strange gods with him.


A re-post from November 4, 2011.

Images from: http://areureallyawake.wordpress.com/tag/gods-love/page/2/ and http://www.mishkanministries.org/theark.php 

Cameron, Peter John, ed. “Prayer for the Morning.” MAGNIFICAT. 12.1 (2011): Print.  

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James 4Puffs of Smoke

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Throughout his letter, James reminds us that we must be doers of the word and not sayers only.  In Chapter 4 he focuses us on the habits we have nurtured that contribute to our divisions, habits of the heart and mind that create division, habits of the soul that separate us from God.

Where do the wars and conflicts among you come from? . . . Do you not know that to be a lover of the world means enmity with God? 

God wishes happiness for all his creatures; God does not wish that some of us do well while others starve.  James points out that it is our own selfishness and greed that cause us to build the barriers that separate us.  Humility, he says, is the only remedy.  We must submit our will to God’s and resist the demon world that whispers in our ear to tell us that we are more special than others.

Do not speak evil of one another.  Whoever speaks evil of a brother or judges a brother speaks evil of the law and judges the law.  If you judge the law you are not a doer of the law but a judge . . . Who are you to judge your neighbor?

When we gossip with one another and slander others we become incapable judges; and the only true and gifted judge is God.  James does not speak here of a judicial system that oversees criminal cases and administers appropriate consequences; rather, James speaks of a world in which humble servants acknowledge God’s power and generosity.  James knows – and once we put away our ego we will also come to know – that God’s plan for justice is far too complicated for humans to fully comprehend.  God’s plan converts sinners, it waits on the last of the sheep, it allows the weeds to grow up with the harvest, it calls the high and powerful to serve the low and powerless, it turns all harm into goodness.  This is a plan that we cannot out-maneuver.  It is a plan that we cannot ignore.  It is a plan that will be in force forever – even until the end of time.

You have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow.  You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears. 

I spoke with a friend this morning who is recovering from brain surgery – he and his family are hopeful.  I spoke to another just before Mass whose husband has lung cancer.  “Three weeks ago our lives were normal,” she said.  “Now we spend every day at the hospital.  They know our first names”.  I met a complete stranger as I came out of the store after Mass.  He noticed I was carrying milk.  I noticed that he was driving an historic car.  When I complemented him on its beautiful restoration he said, “Yeah, I spent three years of my life on this and then my wife got sick.  A few months later she was gone.  Just like that.  I don’t know what I’m gonna do”.  We smiled and spoke kind words to one another before parting ways.

We have no idea what our life will be like tomorrow.  We are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears. 

James urges us to cease our bickering; he asks that we put an end to petty divisions.  He recommends that we put aside gossip and false speech; he advises that we go to God in humility.

James reminds us that we are mere wisps of vapor and that without God we are less than nothing.  He tells us that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. 

James tells us that all we need do is live our lives as doers of the word and not sayers only.  James asks us to cease judging and gossiping; he asks that we humble ourselves to take the last seat at the table rather than the first.  James reminds us that as tiny wisps of ash rising on the drifting wind we do not have the capacity to judge as God does.

So rather than throw our lives away on pointless living and selfish habits, let us rise like incense from the altar of our lives to be taken into the arms of a God who loves us relentlessly.  For once we humble ourselves to join others who rise in like unison, we will find that we have been gathered together in God’s loving arms . . . to become far more than mere puffs of smoke.


Images from: http://www.ursulinesjesus.org/prayer.htm 

A re-post from September 18, 2011.

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Proverbs 19Advice

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Better a poor man who walks in his integrity than he who is crooked in his ways and rich. 

Yesterday we reflected on the paradox present in Jesus’ life and words; today we hear solid advice on the inversion we find between wealth and poverty.  We cannot change our heredity and life’s circumstances are sometimes difficult to accept and navigate; yet somewhere inside us we look and hope for better outcomes than the ones we see looming before us.  We want to change attitudes and behaviors yet all we can change is ourselves . . . and these changes come after much self-examination and brutal honesty.  Life-altering transformation is usually painful, and always worth the struggle when we keep God at the center of all things.

He who gains intelligence is his own best friend; he who keeps understanding will be successful. 

Intelligence and folly are qualities we constantly evaluate in ourselves and others.  We judge; we are judged by others.  Sometimes we are too critical and at other times we discern too little.  We dance between the surface and the depths of our emotions looking for pat answers to complicated questions.  True balance coming from wisdom is rarely found, and always worth nurturing when we stumble upon it.

Humility, fidelity, integrity and understanding . . . pride, anger, deceit and laziness.  Life presents us with lesson plans to identify and sort these qualities, and to cultivate in ourselves and others or to avoid them altogether.

Punishment, instruction, children revering parents, parents respecting children, generations passing along practical advice and warnings so that humanity might improve its lot and learn from our shared experiences.  Some of us are able to learn vicariously; others cannot.

Jesus teaches in parables while the writers of proverbs give us plain, personal, honest views of their lives.  This advice and these warnings come to us not from a sense of superiority or egotism but from a genuine desire to see people progress, and from an authentic love for humanity.

The advice we read in scripture is meant to serve as more than an instrument we might use to avoid the repetition of errors; and it may be difficult to take in and even more difficult to use, but it is something we are free to accept or to decline.  The words we read today – once we make them part of our thinking – have the power to convert our bitterness into joy and our anger into love.  These words – once we use them to construct personal lessons for change – may liberate us from negative thinking; they may forestall unhelpful reactions.  These words may be more important than we know . . . and more significant than we imagine.  We have only to take them in and make them our own.

And so we pray . . .

Dear and good Lord, help us to discern the lesson you have in mind for us today.  Guide us in examining ourselves without creating overwhelming guilt.  Help us to serve as good sounding boards for friends who accompany us on our journey.  Steer me away from arrogance, false witness and rash judgment.  Preserve us from the harmful qualities we read about today: sloth, arrogance, anger, envy, greed, pride, and the temptation to lie. Nurture in us the qualities Jesus shows us always: compassion, constancy, empathy, generosity, humility, and steadfastness.  May we understand that to stand in awe of you and your works is a privilege.  Grant that we understand your mercy and in turn bestow it on others.  May we come to live in your spirit, always taking in the ample advice you give us in our journey home to you.  Amen.


A re-post from September 3, 2011.

Image from: http://covenantofthecross.info/listening-for-god/

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2 Maccabees 15: Battle – Part III

Peter Paul Rubens and workshop: The Triumph of Judas Macccabee

Peter paul Rubens, “The Triumph of Judas Maccabee” Museum of Fine Arts in Nantes

Thursday, March 8, 2018

It is not through arms but through the Lord’s decision that victory is won by those who deserve it. 

The arms we carry into battle need only be Christ.  When we see the oncoming storm of conflict, we only need put on the armor of God. When we enter into the battle that threatens to erase the values we hold as true, we turn to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

We are to be prisoners for the Lord and live in a manner worthy of the call we have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace; one body, and one Spirit, as we were also called to the one hope of our call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.  (Ephesians 4:1-6)

This, then, is how we move forward as a witness in Christ. This, then, is how we act in the Spirit. With understanding, humility, patience, and a deep-seated wish for unity.

It is not through arms but through the Lord’s decision that victory is won by those who deserve it. 

The only battle worth entering, is one we enter with God not as a righteous banner, but with Christ as a loving guide, the Spirit as a healing force. When we exercise our full understanding and our full force of love, we will have entered the battle enjoined by God.

It is not through arms but through the Lord’s decision that victory is won by those who deserve it. 

The only war worth waging, the only love worth winning, the only peace worth gaining, is the battle we enter with, and in, and for our loving God.

It is not through arms but through the Lord’s decision that victory is won by those who deserve it. 

Adapted from a reflection written on February 28, 2009.

Image from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judas_Maccabeus#/media/File:Peter_Paul_Rubens_and_workshop_002.jpg 

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Esther 7: The Persecutor

Giovanni Andrea Sirani: Esther Before Ahasuerus

Saturday, February 17, 2018 

Yesterday we assessed the narcissism we might discover in ourselves and how unilateral listening governs our world circumstances. Today we reflect on how Esther and Mordecai operate in their world – and what we might learn from them.

It is clear that Haman is consumed by envy of Mordecai and while we cannot analyze this character from a Biblical story, we can certainly learn from his actions. It is also clear that Esther – as a woman but especially as a Jewish woman in a non-Jewish court – fears for her life, and the life of her nation. The kingdom of Xerxes is an ancient one in which individual rights are denied to most. We might believe that we as a species have evolved and it is true that in general, we have. However, many peoples in our modern society have no benefit of personal rights. When this happens, we might speculate, it is often the result of someone, or some group, behaving in a narcissistic manner. Navigating these troubling conditions is difficult at best. What does the story of Esther have to tell us?

Queen Esther answered, “If it please Your Majesty to grant my humble request, my wish is that I may live and that my people may live”.

Humility is usually an ineffective tool against brutality; it seems to encourage even more violence. Yet, here we see that despite her humble behavior and words, Esther acts in order to save a people.

“If you keep quiet at a time like this, help will come from heaven to the Jews, and they will be saved, but you will die and your father’s family will come to an end. Yet who knows—maybe it was for a time like this that you were made queen!” (Esther 4:14)

On Ash Wednesday when we explored Chapter 4, we considered Martin Neimöller’s advice that if we do not speak against evil and injustice, we guarantee not our safety, but our sure demise. Despite their fear, Esther and Mordecai form a solidarity of two as they begin a quiet, patient assertion of justice and truth.

An article from Psychology Today gives us guidelines to manage the effects of narcissism. These experts advise that we evaluate both our surroundings and the narcissist to look for context, that we maintain a firm sense of purpose along with a sense of humor, and that we remain realistic about how much we can accomplish when working with the self-centered. If we are in dangerous surroundings, controlled by a persecutor as Esther and Mordecai are, we begin by turning to God and finding others with whom to form solidarity. We move forward with patience, reliance on the Creator, persisting in hope, and acting in mercy.

Tomorrow, fighting back.

When we read varying translations of this story by using the scripture link and the drop-down menus, we find an opportunity to transform a world beset by narcissism.

For more advice, read the August 14, 2014 post “Eight Ways to Handle a Narcissist”. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201408/8-ways-handle-narcissist

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Psalms 35 – 37Seek Justice

Saturday, November 11, 2017

A Favorite from November 12, 2009.

Yesterday we reflected on the value of seeking wisdom in times of trial.  Today we focus on seeking justice in times of injustice and these three psalms serve as a kind of trilogy of prayer.  I am struck by the titles of these songs in English first and then in Spanish.

35 – An Appeal for Help against Injustice, I am Your Salvation

36 – Human Weakness and Divine Goodness, By Your Light we see Light

37 – Fate of the Wicked and reward of the Righteous, The Humble Shall Inherit the Earth

We are lead from naming injustice, through seeking God in order that we see what is good about our situation, to arrive at the result of God’s way of being.  In God’s world, the wicked suffer consequences for their descent into darkness and secrecy while the faithful are rewarded for their perseverance and patience.  When we feel pummeled by life we might want to turn to these three prayers and give them our full focus.

Rescue me from these ravening beasts; preserve my precious life from these lions.

If we can identify the wicked ways of others then we know when and where to step cautiously.

Do not allow my treacherous enemies to gloat over me; do not permit those who hate me without reason to wink their eyes at me.

Humans fear that the darkness will encompass them; yet we have been promised the light.

Sin speaks to the wicked one in the heart; . . . there is no fear of God.  He deludes himself with the idea that his guilt will not be discovered and hated.

In the end, nothing remains hidden.  Those who engage in darkness forget that the light will reveal all.

Oh Lord, your kindness extends to the heavens; your faithfulness to the skies . . . With you is the fountain of life, and by your light we see light.

We must appeal to God to show us how to find strength through our kindness.

Do not fume because of evildoers or envy those who do wrong.  They will wither quickly like the grass and fade away like the green herb.  Put your trust in the Lord and do good . . .

Sinking to the level of the wicked only makes the darkness more intense and brings it closer.

In a short while, the wicked will be no more; no matter how diligently you search, you will not be able to find him. 

We must not allow our anxieties and preoccupations to close in on us.  Seek God in order to find stillness and quiet.

But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy an abundance of peace. 

We must be meek as Jesus is meek, humble as The Lamb is humble.

Two words struck me from today’s closing prayer at Mass which I will carry with me for awhile: Courage and Peace.  If we have these two, we have all.  This Psalm Trilogy today is a roadmap for our exodus out of fear and our arrival at promised serenity.  We must have Courage in our God, for this is where we find a small pocket or a tiny island of tranquility . . . even amidst the trials and darkness that we suffer because of the wicked.    When we find ourselves in pain at the hand of evil, we must take courage and seek justice . . . in order to arrive at peace.

 

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