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GalatiansLove, Faith and Works

Monday, January 14, 2019

We have reflected frequently on this letter perhaps because its brevity draws us in.  This Noontime is a revision of something we shared in May 2009.  We offer it to you today.

Paul writes to the Galatians to remind them of the reason for their initial conversion . . . the love of Christ.  Interlopers were undermining the Gospel he had preached to them and the people of Galatia had begun to waver.  This is a scenario we live again today.  We know the truths that we have heard, but when the world intervenes with its own gospel we become confused.  We forget the initial message that . . . we are saved through grace brought by Christ’s death and resurrection, not by the Law This was surprising news to the Jewish structure in Paul’s day.  It sometimes surprises us today.

We constantly and loudly hear two compelling philosophies.  It is much easier, we tell ourselves, to do well if we are just told what to do and then we do it.  It is much easier, we tell ourselves, if we can just interpret the law as we like and then we can do what we like.

These modes of thinking are reflected in our polarized political and social world.  The two ends of the spectrum on which we live pull and push at one another until the middle is either squeezed to death or has the life pulled out of it.  There is no predictable place to stand.  It is this problem that instigates Paul’s letter to the Galatians; and we can take advice from his thinking today as he reminds us that because Christ is mystery only Christ can show us the way to salvation and how to live the mystery of life.  Only Christ can model how to live the Law, because he is the Law.

As this letter opens, Paul chides us for being so quickly led astray by the world; then he reminds us that there is only one true model to follow, Jesus.  Reading further into this letter we read that we might be saved by our faith.  Various protesting Christian sects stand on the premise that faith alone saves us.  We know that this is not true because it is faith as displayed by the sacrificial love of Christ that brings us home.  Our faith must be accompanied by works because . . . Jesus is love, and if we have faith, our works must be love.  If we have one without the other we lack integrity.  When we try to live a life in which we split ourselves and allow our actions to differ widely from what we say we believe, Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 14, we are the gong clanging loudly signifying nothing.

Paul closes the letter with another reminder that the Galatians – and we – must return to our initial desire to follow Christ, for there is no other road to salvation.  We may surround ourselves with friends who help us create the illusion that this world answers all our needs if we can only amass enough money, fame or comfort; yet somewhere deep inside, we know that there is more.

When I feel both squeezed and pulled apart by the world, I know that it is time to return to this letter.  I look for verse 3:1: O stupid Galatians!  Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?  I re-read verse 1:6: I am amazed that you are so quickly forsaking the one who called you by [the] grace of Christ for a different gospel.  I look again at 5:7: You were running so well; who hindered you from following [the] truth.  I meditate on verses 2-5: Bear one another’s burdens, and so you fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he is deluding himself.  Each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason to boast with regard to someone else; for each will bear his own load. 

But in a world which constantly, and with expert ways, calls us away from Christ, it is with Galatians 6:9 that we will want to spend a good amount of time: Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up.


A re-post from January 14, 2012.

Image from: http://www.66clouds.com/new_testament.html

For more on this letter, see the Magnanimity page of A Book of Our Life on this blog. 

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1 Corinthians 11Imitators of Christ

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Written on January 29 and posted today as a Favorite . . .

Vermeer: Christ in the house of Martha and Mary

So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.  Ephesians 5:1-2

You became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit, so that you became a model in Macedonia and in Achaia . . . For you became imitators in God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: you suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered.  1 Thessalonians 1:6, 2:14

This portion of 1 Corinthians deals with problems in liturgical assembles; the church Paul established in Corinth was experiencing difficulties in maintaining the customs instituted by the apostle and so he writes to counsel them.  He encourages them to remember who they are and all that God has given them; he asks them to serve as good models of Christian living – even though he, Paul, is not with them.  He asks that they call upon their faith in Christ’s promise to be with them always in the offering of bread and wine.  He asks that they put aside the corrupt ways they have allowed the creep into their spiritual practices.

Samaritan Woman

Some of what we read is troublesome when we look on these words from our place in the twenty-first century.  Commentary tells us that Paul’s attitude toward women was in concert with the thinking of that day.  Fundamentalists take these words literally and diminish women to a status below men.  Most scholars today aver that if Paul were living in our world he would give women equal status with men.  But rather than focus on some of Paul’s words here, what we can focus on is the way Christ himself treated women, beginning with his own mother, and the sisters of his friend Lazarus, Mary and Martha.  It is clear from the Gospel stories that the Samaritan Woman in John 4, the woman with the hemorrhage in Matthew 9, Mark 5, and Luke 8, the Canaanite/Syrophonecian woman in Matthew 15, and Mark 7, the woman crippled by a spirit for thirteen years in Luke 13, the woman caught in adultery in John 8 are all important to Jesus.  He uses women in his parables in Matthew 13, for example – The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough and in Luke 15 with the woman and the lost coin.  There are other instances but these few serve to show the respect with which Christ treated women and this is what we are called to model.

Bernardino Luini: Mary Magdalene

As Paul writes to the Corinthians – and to us today – about how we misuse and even abuse the gift of presence God gives to us each day either through the Eucharist or in any other form, we might remind ourselves that while we strive to imitate Christ perfectly we will miss the mark frequently.  And as we read through the many stories we have about Jesus, we find one thing in common: Jesus loves us all, greatly and deeply.  This is what Paul calls us to imitate.  This is what we can strive to be and do.  This is the person we can follow no matter our circumstance, gender, or status.  This is all that God asks of us.  This and nothing more.


A re-post from November 27, 2011.

Images from: http://thesisterproject.com/sisterpedia/fiction-as-a-cure-for-sister-rifts-throwing-the-book-at-bad-behavior/ http://www.haverford.edu/relg/faculty/amcguire/marymimages.htm 

http://blog.beliefnet.com/beyondblue/2011/03/the-samaritan-woman-loneliness.html 

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Psalm 70Finding Meaning

Sunday, December 16, 2018

O Lord, come quickly to help me . . . come quickly to help me, God. 

Victor Frankl

Friday’s MAGNIFICAT Meditation of the Day, was written by Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist who survived Auschwitz.  As I read this psalm I recall some of his words.

Being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself – be it meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter.  The more one forgets himself – by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love – the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself . . . (Cameron 151)

As I reflect on his words I wonder how those who physically survived a death camp can ever smile again.  I wonder how they move past the fear that must haunt them. I wonder how they manage to move through days of freedom without falling into fits of dark despair.  I wonder how they begin again.

In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as a meaning of sacrifice . . . In accepting this challenge to suffer bravely, life has a meaning up to the last moment, and it retains this meaning literally to the end . . . My comrades’ . . . question was, “Will we survive the camp?  For, if not, all this suffering has no meaning.”  The question that beset me was, “Has all this suffering, this dying around us, a meaning?  For, if not, then ultimately there is no meaning to survival; for a life whose meaning depends upon such a happenstance – as whether one escapes or not – ultimately would not be worth living at all”.   (Cameron 151)

Entrance to Auschwitz

We too often believe that life’s meaning is found in quick happiness and forget that true human meaning comes from paring ourselves down to a nothingness that brings us sharply up against the realization that only God is worth seeking.  We too often act out of fear and forget that no deceit lasts forever, and that we only fool ourselves with our feeble deceptions for God knows and sees all in the end.  We too often look for quick solutions and forget that only a forgiving heart and an abiding love bring true and eternal life.

O Lord, come quickly to help me . . . come quickly to help me, God. 

And so we pray . . .

Good and glorious God, we struggle to find meaning in the highs and lows of our lives and so we gather up all that we have and all that we are . . . to offer it back to you.  For you are our only place of refuge . . . you are our only source of meaning . . . you are the only salvation worth seeking.  O Lord, come quickly to help us . . . come quickly to help us, God.  Amen. 


A re-post from November 13, 2011. 

Image from: http://www.rjgeib.com/thoughts/frankl/frankl.html

Cameron, Peter John, ed. “Meditation of the Day.” MAGNIFICAT. 11.11 (2011): 151. Print.

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1 Samuel 24Escape

Monday, November 19, 2018

Rembrandt: Saul and David

Several weeks ago, we reflected on celebrating escape from something or someone who would have brought us great ruin or harm.  Yesterday’s Gospel gave us the opportunity to examine how Jesus is able to escape the traps laid for him by those who hated him.  Today we take a look at a small portion of the story of David, the young man who is designated as King of Israel by Samuel but who waits his turn as leader of God’s chosen people by resisting the temptation to fight against Saul.  David does not deny that he has been chosen King, nor does he murder Saul in order to take what is his; rather, he abides in God’s will and God’s time . . . and he takes the routes of escape that God offers while he actively waits on the fulfillment of God’s plan.

Today we read the story of how God saved his imperfect yet faithful servant and we are no less than David.

Today we read the story of how David relied on his God’s constancy . . . and he did not allow fear to turn him toward revenge or cowardice.

In yesterday’s Gospel (Matthew 22:15-21) we read the story of how Jesus confronted prejudice and hatred and we do well to follow his example.

In yesterday’s Gospel we were given a road map for how to escape manipulation and scheming.  We must rely on God always, remain faithful to the covenant God shares with us, and always act in love and for love of God.  In this way we will always know escape from anything danger or evil that hopes to overtake us.

And so we pray . . .

When the call to do God’s work pulls us into alien and dangerous territory, we must rely on God’s wisdom and not our own.

When the hand of God heals us and then sends us out to do God’s work, we must rely on God’s fidelity and nurture our own.

When the voice of God urges us to work in fields are that unfamiliar to us and that sap our energy, we must rely on God’s strength and conserve our own.

When the heart of God sends us to work with those who would do us harm, we must rely on God’s love and hope for redemption.   Amen.


A re-post from October 17, 2011. 

Images from: http://www.aaroneberline.com/blog/tag/david/ and http://www.artbible.info/art/large/378.html

 

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Galatians 2:15-21God’s Mercy

Monday, October 22, 2018

Paul’s argument in this letter is that a man does not have to submit himself to circumcision in order to follow Christ; Christ is the fulfillment of the old law and is therefore not subject to it. Christ is, in fact, its full human embodiment.  How silly we are, Paul says, to believe that The Law is more important than Christ – God’s presence among us, as one of us.  In Paul’s view the Galatians have missed the big picture.  We are saved by Christ . . . and not the Law.

We have spent time reflecting on this in a number of our Noontimes, thinking about how we are frequently caught up in following the letter of the law and completely missing its intended purpose.  Neglecting the spirit of the law in order to adhere to the permutations we have created with it is a stumbling block to living a life of justification or salvationIn short, we are missing the forest by focusing on the trees.

We worry about the future and fret over the past.  We are anxious about people and plans in the weeks and months to come; we harbor anger and guilt about offenses we or others have committed long years ago.  We carry all of this weighty negativity with us and stagger through the present – missing the joy that God has posted along the way for us.  We seem intent on suffering, and doing it badly.

In a letter to Titus, Paul writes: When the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy, he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the holy Spirit, who he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.  (Titus 3:4-7)

With the letter of the law, we can become hyper-vigilant, struggling to maintain a safe distance from even the suggestion that we may break an order.

With the spirit of the law, we are free to explore new ways of serving God, free to express our emotions and to dialog with our creator.

With the Law, there is an immutable permanence and state of stasis that can deaden the soul.

With the Spirit, there is limitless compassion that heals, soothes, restores and replenishes the soul.

When we are intent on following the rules there is a paring down that takes place, a closing off of possibility, a temptation to finagle and maneuver.

When we are intent on following God, there is an opening up, a flourishing, a limitless opportunity for new beginnings.

With rules, we count our near occasions of sin and the number of times we have failed.

With God, we look for occasions to serve and opportunities to follow Jesus.

When we find ourselves looking for loopholes and excuses, we know we have strayed too far from Christ.  When we hear ourselves walking fine lines and arguing small points, we know we have wandered too far from the creator.  When we see ourselves safely hidden in our comfort zone fortresses rather than stepping into the unknown to witness and build up the Kingdom, we know that we have somehow forgotten that we are well-loved and ever-protected.

Paul speaks to the Galatians and he speaks to us, encouraging each of us to step into our lives with full confidence and gentle fearlessness.  He urges us to be led by the Spirit rather than be stifled by the law.  And he reminds us that God welcomes the sinner eagerly . . . for God has endless and abundant mercy.


A re-post from September 19, 2011.

Images from: http://www.biblechef.com/Indexes/Artifacts/JewishTorahSheet.html

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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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Job 36: Innocence


Job 36Innocence

Friday, October 19, 2018

Written on February 10, 2009 and posted today as a Favorite . . .

Too many times the innocent suffer.  Too often the blameless stand accused unjustly.  What do we do when this happens?  What wisdom supports us?  What hope sustains us?  What love overcomes the insurmountable object that blocks the path?

God does not listen to lies . . . God rejects the obstinate in heart . . . even when we lie to ourselves.

God does not defend the wicked . . . he preserves not the life of the wicked . . . even when it appears that the wicked have won.

God abides with his faithful . . . he withholds not the just man’s rights, but grants vindication to the oppressed . . . even when we arrive at a place of hopelessness.

God always listens to the broken hearted . . . he saves the  unfortunate through their affliction, and instructs them through distress . . . even though we do not feel his presence . . . God is there.

Behold, God is sublime in his power . . . God is great beyond our knowledge . . .

God is miniscule . . . He holds in check the waterdrops that filter in rain through mists.

God is vast . . . He nourishes the nations and gives them sustenance.

God is powerful . . . In his hands he holds the lightning.

God is good . . . He spreads the clouds in layers as the carpets of his tent.

In our innocence we stand before this awesome God.

In our innocence we are vindicated in our faith in God.

In our innocence we are saved by our hope in God.

In our innocence we are justified by our love for God.

In our innocence we are redeemed by our patient waiting on God.

Be still and know that God is God . . .


A re-post from September 16, 2011.

Image from: http://moderncountry.blogspot.com/2011/07/image-via-foundryshow-today-my-heart.html 

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John 15Pruning – Living in the World

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Written on May 8, 2008 and posted today as a Favorite . . .

It occurs to me that the only way to be in this world but of it is to be constantly pruned.  We know that when we plant a grape vine it must be severely cut back each year in order that it bear fruit; otherwise it would run rampant and throw its energy into producing stem and leaves.  With the constant cycle of bearing and pruning, the fruit remains abundant and nutritive.  This is the course of discipleship: the pruning keeps us close to the main vine, Jesus.  If we were left to ramble on our own – as some people choose to do – we would be all flourish and show, lacking depth of root and wealth of produce.

This is why we ought not to be afraid of the cutting back that God does with us, the bringing up short, the changing of plan, the leaping into what looks like nothing – for this is what faith calls us to do.  This is why we ought to rejoice in all circumstances, be they joyful or sorrow-laden.  It is why we ought to expect to be shown a new path just when we think we have discovered something that is rock solid.

We are not meant to languish and roam where we will.  We are creatures created with a purpose.  And that purpose is buried deeply within, to be drawn out by the source of our being.  We can only be truly happy, truly celebrate with a sense of lasting joy when we find ourselves being pruned . . . so that we better hear, we better listen, we better do.

God sacrifices self for us.  We must sacrifice self for God.  This is what goodness does.  This is how goodness behaves.  Living in a world which is self-driven, we will find ourselves at odds with this idea of giving over to the pruning.  We need to expect to be misunderstood, miss-read, miss-heard, miss-believed.  If we are People of the Vine, waiting in joy for our winter pruning so that we might better burgeon in the spring . . . we gladly give over our small worries and pains to the one who prunes us – because he does so with great knowing, great skill, and great love.

When we are being pruned, we know that we are chosen and appointed to go and bear fruit that will remain.  We are called to enact the Law of Love.  We are called to be Fruit of the Vine.


A re-post from September 14, 2011.

Image from: http://pavdevelopment.com/grape/pruning/Pruning-Grape-Vines:-Art-of-Less-is-More

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Psalm 89Steadfast Love

Friday, October 12, 2018

Written on March 7 and posted today as a Favorite . . .

Righteousness, justice, faithfulness and steadfast love – these are the tenets of God’s covenant with David and we see steadfast love repeated in this song.  This puts me in mind of Paul’s beautiful anthem to love in 1 CorinthiansLove is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.  But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know it in part and we prophecy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfection disappears.  When I was a child I talked like a child, I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.  Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.  And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love.

The Mosaic Law has many parts and multiple nuances.  The Law that Christ brings, the Law of Love, is but one that supersedes all others; this one law is the perfection of love as we see it lived by Jesus.

In today’s Psalm we see the “creative work of God as a defeat of the powers of chaos”.  The references to the north and south signify the entire whole universe.  The great height of mounts Tabor and Hermon imply God’s might and omniscience.  Steadfast love and faithfulness are “personified here as companions or servants who lead the way of the Lord”.  Festal shouts describe the joy of the people.  We may be taunted from time to time that God has abandoned us as is the king in this psalm, but we know that it is impossible for God to abandon his creatures.  This hymn of praise to the creator himself helps to put us in proper relationship to God; and it reminds us of God’s most salient characteristic . . . God is steadfast love.  (Mays 883-885)

In today’s Gospel from Mark (12:1-12) Jesus reminds us that although he is the cornerstone rejected by builders he will remain faithful and constant.  He tells the parable of the farmer who erects a vineyard and wine press and leaves it with tenants to go on a journey.  When the master wishes to collect what is due him, his servants and even his son are rejected and even put to death.  So too are those who follow Christ; but we are to remain steadfast just as God is steadfast.  We are to remain in love, just as Christ remains in love.  And we are to sing of God’s steadfast love and proclaim God’s faithfulness to the generations.  For this faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.  There is no other cornerstone that holds up the heavens and stands firm on the earth.  There is no other cornerstone on which to build our faith. 


A re-post from September 9, 2011.

Image from: http://www.layoutsparks.com/1/245315/relaxation-candles-heart-light.html

Mays, James L., ed.  HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. 883-885. Print.

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