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hard-heartFriday, August 6, 2021

Jeremiah 17:1-11

Obstinacy

Jeremiah speaks so much about the human heart, that place where God speaks, that place where God writes, that place that chooses to respond to the Call we know we hear. Today’s reading is about the stony heart, the hard heart that accompanies the stiff neck, the heart that turns away from Wisdom and so becomes cold and lifeless.

Jeremiah predicts that God will write a new covenant (31:31), a new message on our hearts of stone.  Just as the Israelites turned back to God after having worshiped false gods, so will we once we hear the message of the voice that speaks in that inner place – the only place we trust.

Jeremiah also tells us that the Lord has in mind wonderful plans for us, plans for our joy rather than tears, plans for a newness of heart (29:11).

What is it that hardens hearts and stiffens necks?  The writers of the MAGNIFICAT Mini-Reflection tell us that it is pride when we believe that we have all of the answers to all the world’s problems when in truth we have none.  The true answers to the deepest of mysteries are opened to us by Wisdom that comes to us when we trust only in God.

Pride sets subtle snares.  Whenever we imagine that we are in control of life – our own or someone else’s – we have fallen prey to the ancient whisper in the Garden: “You shall be like Gods”.  Mortality is the enduring reminder that we become like God not by our own power but by the power of the cross.  (Cameron 270-271)

We constantly forget that we are already divine. We repeatedly succumb to the subtle call of pride. We regularly forget that we learn best when we fail. Obstinacy in our own plans brings pain. Perseverance and faithfulness are gifts of the Spirit.  Pride in our possessions and accomplishments brings disappointment. Obedience and patience are joy. Hardness of heart brings narrowness. Softness of heart opens the mind, body and spirit. Once we agree to kneel in order to crawl though the Eye of the Needle, we will know Christ’s healing power. The power he gained through his own refusal to succumb to the siren call of pride. The life he gives when we put aside all obstinacy.


Adapted from a reflection written on August 19, 2008.

Cameron, Peter John. “Prayer for the Morning.” MAGNIFICAT. 19.8 (2012): 270-271. Print. 

Image from: https://therock.life/

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Friday, March 26, 2021

Museum of Biblical Art, NY: The Return of the Prodigal Son - Artist unknown

Museum of Biblical Art, NY: The Return of the Prodigal Son – Artist unknown

Amos 9:8-15

Messianic Perspective

Amos brings us God’s Words; he shows us the world’s Woes; he paints for us his intense Visions. If we give in to despair we miss God’s message. If we walk away in pride we miss God’s promise. If we become impatient or irritable we miss God’s grace. If we practice greed we miss feeling God’s love. Today we have the opportunity to count ourselves among the pebbles God sifts from the debris of our selfishness. We are given another chance to rise up out of the ashes of our willfulness.  We are given another season to mend breaches and to rebuild foundations on the days of old.

Jesus tells us this story of the lost son who returns home to his father after having squandered all his father had given to him. So [the son] got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son”. But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again, he lost and now is found”.  So they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:20-24)

Let us also return to the creator who is running toward us with open arms, who is waiting for our word to begin the celebration.


For an interesting article from the National Catholic Reporter in June 2011, on how theologians re-visit the famous parable of the forgiving father,, and how we may be called to forgive church structures, click on the image above or go to: http://ncronline.org/news/peace-justice/theologians-revisit-prodigal-son 

For more on the image of God’s Sieve, go to the Mini-Noontime posted on September 26, 2013 at: https://thenoontimes.com/2020/09/23/the-sieve/ 

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Acts 16:5: Growth


First Sunday of Advent

068[1]November 29, 2020

Acts 16:5

Growth

So the church grew stronger and stronger in the faith and increased in numbers daily.

We continue our journey through a world-wide pandemic. We continue our struggle with inequity and fear. We continue our search for justice and peace. Today we rejoice despite our struggle because we know that light and truth are with us. We know that once we place our anxiety in God’s hands, the way is clear. 

The beginning of a new year brings an obvious opportunity to begin again. We have rituals that help us to remember this: a crystal ball slides down a pole as millions watch in a digital world, old calendars are replaced with new in countless homes and offices, toasts are drunk, benchmarks are celebrated; yet do we empower change and growth in our lives or do we enable destructive, predictable and unchanging behaviors?

The cycle of nature in which we experience disintegration followed by the possibility of regeneration models for us a way in which to live. After the falling apart there is always the chance to come together. The keys are to remain open to the possibility, to encourage growth, and to look for the newness with open minds rather than heavy hearts.

After the storm there is the calm.

After the winter there is the spring.

After the destruction there is the rebuilding.

After the night there is the dawn.

After the exile there is restoration.

Our wounded-ness becomes healing when we grow with newness. Our closed-ness becomes resurrection when we believe with determination. Our humanity becomes divine when we love with vulnerability. As we stand on the threshold of a new liturgical year, we have again the opportunity to experience conversion of the heart, to turn our stubborn pride into endurance, our anger into healing passion, and our anxiety into enduring love. Let us welcome this invitation to new growth as warmly as we welcome the Christ Child, Jesus.

We remember that the fledgling church began in smallness and insignificance. If there is time today, read more about the origen of Christianity in Acts.


Image from: http://frontierdreams.blogspot.com/2011/11/rhythm-in-our-home-first-sunday-in.html

Adapted from a reflection written on January 2, 2009.

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Monday, June 22, 2020

menora-tekes-mica-2[1]Psalm 49

In Evil Days

This Psalm is full of advice about how we are to calm our fears, unburden our hearts and unbend our stiff necks.  It is a practical list of specific strategies for a universal audience . . . rich and poor alike!

My lips will speak words of wisdom.  My heart is full of insight.  How does the psalmist arrive at such understanding and perception?

I will turn my mind to a parable . . . Story telling is a popular pastime in a culture in which most of the population is uneducated and beyond their entertainment value, parables are used to instruct the illiterate using the technique of comparison to teach.  As we read, hear or form parables of our own the burden of our worries lifts.

With a harp I will solve my problems . . . Music soothes the soul, as we know, and the ancient Hebrew people understood this. The harp and flute were used in ancient cultures to both entertain and to quiet the soul.  Saul calls for David and his harp when he is troubled (1 Samuel 16:23).  There are at more than a dozen references to praising God with the harp in Scripture and here the psalmist calls for the use of its comforting tones.  As we sing to God and praise God’s wisdom and power and goodness the problems that besieged us begin to dissolve.

Why should I fear in evil days the malice of the foes who surround me, men who trust their wealth and boast of the vastness of their riches . . . Finally the psalmist tackles problems common to all humanity from the earliest stories in our culture to the present day: envy, greed, pride, an attitude of self-sufficiency, a desire to control.  As we come to realize that no one – not even the super-rich – can avoid the great equalizer, death, we find new energy and rise to new life.

But God will ransom me from the netherworld; he will take me to himself . . .  The Old Testament psalmist foretells the coming of Christ with his story of healing, restoration and resurrection.  The psalmist assures us that as we come to fully understand that God alone creates and God alone saves, nothing that takes place in evil days will be able to strip the promise of life eternal from us.

And so we pray . . .

Eternal and powerful God, open our hearts to receive your wisdom as we sing your praise with harp and flute.

Loving and healing Christ, open our minds to your parables that teach us how to flourish as we grow and blossom with your wisdom and insight.

Abiding and consoling Spirit, open our souls to your loving presence as we learn to abide only in you.

Amen.


To sooth the soul that struggles to survive evil days, watch a video produced for the King David Museum about how Harrari harps are made in the manner that David himself employed, go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bO5uA-IPV0E

For lessons about the harp and the flute by musicologist Rabbi David Louis and the Temple Institute in Jerusalem, Israel, watch the following videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4O301lbkiU and http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&v=gcTGsmnjwv8&NR=1 

Listen carefully to the story of Moses’ Flute and consider how we might uncomplicated our lives. 

To read about how ancient harps are made today, click on the image above or go to: http://harrariharps.com/

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Wednesday, April 22, 2020

1 Corinthians 10:14-22

humility-word[1]The Importance of Meekness . . . Rejecting Idols

Paul warns that small, easy temptations lead to a great, cataclysmic fall.  What begins at first quietly and even innocently, will later lead to ruin.  We can never hear this lesson too much.

What helps us to maintain the meekness of Christ that we work so much to find and maintain?  It is the Eucharist of thanksgiving in the living Christ that is the antidote against the temptation to serve our personal idols.  It is this gift of self from Christ that redeems and transforms us.  We become too full of ourselves when we believe that we do not need Christ’s protection as we move through our days.  We lose our humility in God when we believe that we can handle our personal obstacles alone.  Pride is perhaps the first sign to ourselves that we are beginning to tread in dangerous territory.

From today’s MAGNIFICAT Mini-Reflection (335).  Pride sets subtle snares.  Whenever we imagine that we are in control of life – our own or someone else’s – we have fallen prey to the ancient whisper in the Garden: “You shall be like gods”.  Mortality is the enduring reminder that we become like God not by our own power but by the power of the cross. 

From Sirach 10 in the Morning Prayer and intercessions today: Odious to the Lord and to men is arrogance, and the sin of oppression they both hate.  The beginning of pride is man’s stubbornness in withdrawing his heart from his Maker; for pride is the reservoir of sin, a source which runs over with vice.  The roots of the proud God plucks up, to plant the humble in their place: he breaks down their stem to the level of the ground, then digs their roots from the earth. 

This from Matthew 23:12: Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; whoever humbles himself will be exalted. 

Temptations come to us on little cat feet, becoming part of our daily self and routine without our noticing, disassembling our humble relationship with God.  St. Paul warns his listeners that the first little steps into our addictions are the beginning of idolatry.  Whatever we do to excess that excludes God from our living and from our decision-making . . . these minuscule openings into idolatry must be investigated and put away.  These little wooings, these seemingly insignificant acts that we believe have no effect upon us are . . . after all is considered . . . our first steps away from God, away from the Garden . . . and into the arms of one who delights in our fall.

Humility keeps us close by the creator. Meekness reminds us to reject our idols. Quiet obedience in the Spirit brings us home to Christ. Today we spend time reflecting on our meekness . . . and how this gift of discipleship binds us forever to God.

Tomorrow, discipleship and the gift of broken-heartedness . . .


Image from: http://www.understandfasting.com/the-answer-to-pride/

Cameron, Peter John. “Prayer for the Morning.” MAGNIFICAT. 2.24 (2011): 335. Print. 

First written on February 24, 2011.  Revised and posted today as a Favorite. 

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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Sirach 3: Stubbornness

stubbornness-hand-200[1]A stubborn heart ends badly; an obstinate heart is full of disquiet.  When calamity befalls the proud, there is no healing. 

This book opens with a series of paths we might follow to gain the sort of wisdom that transforms the world: awe of the Lord, self-control, sincerity, patience, faithfulness, respect of elders, humility, and almsgiving.  Each of these avenues holds its own form of consolation.  Each promises serenity.  As we investigate our interior, we will need this kind of wisdom to sort out what it is we are called to do as builders of God’s kingdom.  As we open ourselves to God’s piercing love, we will need this kind of wisdom to fully take in the goodness God has in store for us.

The first portion of this chapter is devoted to the relationship we are to have with our parents.  Some of us are painfully aware that not all parenting is good.  Some of us are blessed to have lived in families that thrived in the hands of merciful yet just parents.  In the later case, we might share the love we have been given with those who lack it.  In the former case, we might look for people in our lives who can bring us the kind of sustaining constancy we have lacked growing up.  In both cases, God the Father, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Jesus the brother and the consoling Holy Spirit can bring us all that humans in our lives have been incapable of providing.

The second portion of this chapter focuses on the difference in a life lived in pride as contrasted with one lived in humility.  It is easy to make the statement that humble hearts are more serene than proud ones.  It is difficult to actually live a modest life.  Service to God and others and the will to do God’s will rather than our own are keys to success if we are to find any sort of peace at all in our daily living.

Christ’s meekness confounds his enemies.  God’s love does not make sense in our secular world.  The Holy Spirit abides and consoles even, and especially, through horror and pain. Perhaps this is why we often feel so torn, pushed, and plucked at in our culture.  We have forgotten who we are: humble creatures dearly loved by the triune creator, wayward children called home each day by our loving parents.

As we read Sirach today, we can use these images to bring us back to our true hearth where our mother, father and the love they hold between them bind us to them.  With care they tend the fire that will protect us from the cold and over which they will prepare our meal.  With compassion they will bind up our wounds of the day.  With justice they will defend us from all that is evil.

A stubborn heart ends badly; an obstinate heart is full of disquiet.  When calamity befalls the proud, there is no healing.

When we are feeling alone, bereft, confused, agitated, hurt or anxious, we will do well to humble ourselves, to put away our stubbornness, and to return to the forgiving love of the creator.


Image from: http://personalityspirituality.net/articles/the-michael-teachings/chief-features/stubbornness/

Revised from a reflection first written on March 22, 2010, and posted today as a Favorite. 

For interesting insight about stubbornness, click on the image above or go to: http://personalityspirituality.net/articles/the-michael-teachings/chief-features/stubbornness/

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1 Kings 21: Naboth’s Vineyard

Thursday, September 19, 2019

This is a powerful story about how King Ahab and his wife Jezebel collude with scoundrels to trump up charges against the good man Naboth in order to take a vineyard which they coveted.  It is dreadful in its deep deception; it is horrendous in its horrible depiction of the violent frenzy of a plotting, conniving perseverance of evil.  It is human interaction in its basest form.

The prophet Elijah responds to God’s call but fears for his life when Ahab and Jezebel conduct a campaign with the goal of annihilating all prophets who speak with God’s voice; and in Chapter 19 Elijah even tries to run from the whispering voice of Yahweh.  In Chapter 20 we see how Yahweh brings success to the Israelites and favors them in battle.  Then Ahab wants something which Naboth has, a lovely beautiful vineyard.  Jezebel and Ahab conspire to attain it . . . so the innocent Naboth must die.

Yahweh steps in and we watch as he vindicates the faithful. We also watch as he delivers punishing blows to the wicked ones.  Ahab repents, and Yahweh softens the sentence he is about to deliver.  Jezebel does not . . . and if we read a bit further we discover Jezebel’s evil end.

Dear God, protect me from family and friends who would lead me to destruction as Jezebel did.  Remind me that repentance heals the mind and soul.  Bring me contentment rather than envy, humility rather than pride, love rather than hatred, restoration rather than destruction, and reaping of blessings rather than an arid life of self-gratification.  Surround me with holy people, God-fearing people, people who do not hide the light of the lampstand, people who honor, as Naboth did, their ancestral heritage.

Keep us from pride which inverts to shame.  Keep us from anger which turns inward to become melancholy.  Keep us from deception which leads to delusion.  Keep us from coveting Naboth’s Vineyard. 

Bring us peace, bring us joy, bring us hope, bring us your Spirit.  Amen.


First written on September 7, 2007 , re-writtten and posted today as a Favorite.

Image from: http://thedailychapter.wordpress.com/2010/03/18/1-kings-21-%E2%80%9Cnaboths-vineyard%E2%80%9D/

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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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Judges 7: Following God’s Lead

Thursday, July 12, 2018

There is a value in reading scripture slowly while allowing time for reflection and meditation for in this way small themes are given time to blossom into guidelines for living.  Today we find a significant idea hidden in the story of the defeat of Midian and it is this.  God knows us so well that God forestalls human pride by asking us to rely on only God.  In today’s story God asks Gideon to whittle his troops from thirty-two thousand to three hundred.  And Gideon does this without questioning; he knows how reliable his God is.

The culling process here is an unusual method for an army.  On God’s instruction, Gideon first reminds his troops of the dangers of battle; later he watches how they drink water from the river.  He does not appear to question God’s wisdom and he shows no anxiety; he knows how reliable his God is.

Once the three hundred come together, Gideon gives them no more instruction than this: Watch me and follow my lead.  After the winnowing process, these loyal soldiers follow Gideon just as he follows the Lord; they know how reliable their God is.

Lying in wait outside the camp, Gideon and the third of the men who are with him overhear the telling of a dream by one of the Midian soldiers.  The ominous conclusion is that although the Midianites, Amalekites and Kedemites are numerous as locusts, and although their camels number more than the grains of sand in the desert, the Israelites will be victorious.  The Israelites show no angst about having reduced their number to three hundred; they know how reliable their God is . . . and the enemy flees.

The Lord pronounces to Gideon: You have too many with you for me to pronounce you successful lest you vaunt yourself against me and believe that your own power brought you victory.  This is the theme we see repeated often in Judges.  The people cry out for help, Yahweh hears their cry and rescues them, once the people feel comfortable in their own skill and power they turn back to the pagan Baals . . . and the cycle repeats again.  In Gideon’s story, we see the faith-filled soldiers put their trust in this God who has saved them countless times because . . . they know how reliable their God is.

So often I have sat in meetings and watched someone defend their right to make unilateral decisions, forgetting that all comes from God, even the gift of leadership.  I have watched these leaders struggle to bring others together behind their decisions not understanding that people follow best when decisions come from God rather than from human ego.  They have forgotten – or perhaps have never known – how reliable their God is.

We can rebel against these leaders or we can witness our own confidence in God to them.  The choice is always ours.  Rather than react in fear, we can act in reliance – just as Gideon does in today’s story, and just as his soldiers do – we can demonstrate to others through our lack of arrogance just how reliable is our God.

And so we pray . . . Powerful and loving God, you know us so well that you understand our tendency to take credit for your gifts.  You know that we are inclined to strut with pride when we are successful and complain in fear when we fail.  You know that we often believe in ourselves more than we believe in you.  Strip us of all hubris and arrogance; bring us humility and modesty.  Wipe away our anxiety and fill us with your love.  Remind us to follow your lead just as Gideon and his soldiers do.  Remind us that when we rely on ourselves alone . . . we forsake the gift of your wisdom and authority that you so freely give to those who follow you.  Tell us again what you have already shown us but that we have so quickly forgotten . . . that we need not fear anyone or anything . . . for we know how reliable our God is.  Amen. 


We will be away from the Internet for several days. Please enjoy this reflection first posted on July 21, 2011.

Image from: https://dwellingintheword.wordpress.com/2016/04/20/1818-psalm-3/ 

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