Tag Archives: Good Shepherd

Distractions: Blessings in Peculiar Packages #2

Another peculiar package of God’s blessings are distractions in my “prayer life.”[1] How can I conceive of such a thing? Distractions, after all, take you away from prayer! Nonetheless, I am convinced that, in some way, distractions are a blessing. Like the previous package of pride, distractions are something with which I am plagued and at the same time, through God’s grace, by which I find another path to faith.

I am convinced that, without God’s help, I cannot get rid of distractions in prayer. I used all the techniques in the world: from anxiously waiting for them to pop up so that I can banish them from my thoughts [a useless exercise in futility; they only become the focus of my attention] to sitting on the riverside, letting them float off into the oblivion. I have prayed until I am blue in the face for God to set me free of them…but normally, in everyday ordinary prayer, be it my own or during the Eucharist, the recitation of the Hours or the rosary, etc., distractions arise from every point of the compass, flights of fancy, starting piously innocent but ending up far afield.

On special occasions God grants me the blessings of focus and concentration.[2] But the majority of the time that I am plagued by distractions about everything under, and even beyond, the sun.

Are these simply the floating garbage of life washing up on the beaches of my prayer? To regard them as such would be to somehow fall into the trap of separating my body, mind and emotions from my soul, my spiritual life from my “normal, everyday” life, the sacred from the secular. Since this is the opposite of what I know to be true, the oneness and unity beneath the structure of the analytical categories into which I box reality, how should I re-evaluate these distractions in light of God’s providence? How do I refocus my vision to bring into alignment God’s knowledge of these distractions with their seemingly ungodly purpose of taking me away from prayer, from talking with Him, from praising and reverencing Him, that is my purpose in life? His constant answer: “I am here, learn from it. My grace is sufficient for you.[3][2Cor 12:9]” I must understand why this answer to my pleas are part and parcel of His unconditional love and desire for my greatest happiness, when in fact, these torture me constantly.

This is not an “either/or,” but, like many of God’s mysteries a “both/and.” I also find there are many intertwining answers: (a) growth in faith and humility, (b) seeing God in all things, even the most mundane and seemingly unimportant things in life, and (c) acceptance of my vocation to live the life of the ordinary Sunday-go-to-Church Catholic with all its joys and sorrows, ups and downs, desolations and consolations, nothing out of the ordinary, and with great need to find God right there in the midst of all that clutter of life, chaos of family and job.

I am what is to be a sheep of which Pope Francis wants the clergy is to smell. I am one of the millions and billions who live lives trying to bridge the gap between orthodoxy and orthopraxy, between doctrine and dogma and the lived reality in God’s world. I am only one very small part of this Church in the Modern World, this Body of the Cosmic Christ. I am a beneficiary with all of the blessed mercy and forgiveness necessary to transform the world into God’s Kingdom. And if I do my part of that right here in W. Pawlet, Vermont, and you do your part in San Francisco, Tokyo, San Paulo, Seoul, Beijing, Mumbai, then, not by our individual or even combined efforts, but by the power and providence of the Father working through the Holy Spirit to bring the world to His Son, this ultimate transformation will happen.

Distractions are a microcosms, the evidences of this life and, if I, by realizing that they too are God’s reflection, can use them to come to Him,[4] then I will have brought one more microscopic portion of the Kingdom into focus. I don’t always achieve this; in fact, it is a rarity that I even am conscious of this. But, like Merton, “I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.” [5] And, in that, I am comforted.

Finally, one of the blessings that You, God, have brought about with distractions is my confrontation with “You.” By constantly realizing that I am off the track again, that I have wandered, I then find you searching for me even there. You are indeed the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 to find this one lone straggler and bring me home on Your shoulders. You exude the smell You wish Your sheep to have, the odor of humility and faith, “of sanctity” as it use to be known. By humbling Yourself in constant service to us, Your brothers and sisters, Your creatures no less, You provide an example for us to follow…You walk the walk, not just talk the talk. By having faith in me as a person, that I am someone for whom it is worth Your time and energy to go out and search, You extend to me the hand of fellowship, of love, of caring; You hope that I will return. And by setting me on Your shoulders with great joy, You show me by your emotions that the joy of the Gospel is a lived joy, a joy of deep friendship, of love, of the bonding of Shepherd and sheep, of God and man. Your actions make clear that there is really and truly more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. [Lk 15:5,7]

So I keep fighting the distractions, shooing them away, to come to You. But at least I know that You are with me anyway and that I am beloved by You, even when distracted. Would that I were not distracted in prayer with You, in conversation with You, in communion with You! But I am and probably will continue to be. I thank You for coming to find me and for our bonding each time after Your rescuing me once again. That is truly such a blessing. Amen. Alleluia!!!

[1] “Prayer life” is somewhat of a misnomer. It is normally used to designate that time or portion of one’s life which is set aside specifically for talking with God. While Jesus Himself taught us by example that there are times each day you need to go up to your mountain alone and pray, particularly before making important decisions, He also modeled praising God and speaking about God and calling on Him throughout his normal day. Finding God in all things, in the world around me, is not a separate special investigation I undertake only when I put my mind to it. It is a constant habit that I enjoy, finding, seeing, talking to God wherever I am, whatever I am doing, with whomever I am.   Thus, prayer life is all life seen from the perspective of living in God’s presence and carrying on conversations with Him as you do with family and friends throughout your busy day.

[2] One of the reasons I pray at my computer, typing what comes up between God and myself, is that I am not so distracted, I am forced to concentrate, I can listen to the Spirit for the next inspiration, for His reading on the topic, for what is true and what is false, what is on target and what is not….and raise my mind and my heart to Him in thanksgiving and praise as I relish and record to the best of ability His wondrous view of reality, a feeble attempt at recording a grand masterpiece.

[3] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Hereafter, NABRE.

[4] Not “back” to Him; He is, somehow in some manner which may be totally unrecognizable to me, present in all things, people, and places; so my realization is just an awareness of Whom is already there.

[5] Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, Thomas Merton > Quotes > Quotable Quote, Good Reads, http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/80913-my-lord-god-i-have-no-idea-where-i-am


God or Church

It was pointed out to me that I put the Church and what it says before everything. Upon reflection, I don’t think that’s quite accurate. I put God first. If the Catholic Church were to collapse and disappear tomorrow, I would still put God first. When I am faced with the fact of He who simply is, I can’t get around, past, over or under Him/Her. When people say I can’t prove God, I reply that they can’t disprove Him and that the arguments for His being Him are more convincing than those against. God places these before me and says: “Choose. Choose to Be, to live; choose truth.” God is and God has shown me who He is in Scripture and primarily in the person of Jesus Christ, though sometimes that’s a bit hazy and Jesus has to remind me have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me…? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. [Jn 14:9] [1]

From Scripture I learned that He has been incredibly, literally, loving and merciful to me, considering how I treated Him. He is the indulgent owner who keeps sending servant after servant to collect his rent from me, my obedience and worship in thanksgiving for all He has given me and my sacrifices for all the evil I have imposed on His creation; substitute “me” or “we” for “they” and Jesus has it right: one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned. Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way. Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. [Mt 21:35-37, 39]

I always am amazed that Jesus does not judge the tenants immediately but instead asks the chief priests and the elders [Mt 21:23], What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?[Mt 21:40] Just as Nathan condemned David by his answer [2 Sam 12:7], Jesus pronounces the exact same punishment on the priests and elder as they pronounced on the tenants: The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.[Mt 21:43]

But notice that the way this happens in God’s providence is that His Son is actually crucified by us tenants while we were still sinners [Rom 5:8], turns the tables on us and saves us by that very action and then, to top it off, raises Jesus from the dead and us with Him. Yes, I am forgiven for Jesus knows I knew not what I did. [Lk 23:34]

That’s the God I follow, the God who forgives, who comforts, who inspires, who directs, whose footprints, when we walk, are only those of Him, the Good Shepherd, when I have wandered and need to be carried back home.

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Perfect Love Casts Out Fear[1]

1Jn 4:18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 

I am confused. The Bible speaks over 400 times about fear. The references seem to be of three types: personal fear, God or Jesus telling us not to fear,[2] and multiple references to the efficacious “Fear of the Lord.” How can I “Fear not,” while simultaneously exude the virtue of “Fear of the Lord”???

Holy Spirit, this is a confusing conundrum…and I am sure the resolution is probably one of Your inevitable both/and’s! This verse from 1John seems to shed some light on it. I have always envisioned the virtue of Fear of the Lord as a continuum from the “shock and awe” fear which the almighty Jehovah inspires with His with his blackening suns and falling stars, his voice which shatters the cedars of Lebanon and his trumpets which portend the end of the world…to the recognition that God is love, a love so tender, so intimate, that He knows every hair on my head. But love, to be solid and firm, must be based on truth…and on humility, the recognition and embracing of that truth. So, it is the recognition of the total God, Jehovah and Jesus, the Almighty and the baby at Bethlehem, that I see as encompassed in the total concept of Fear of the Lord.

And somewhere in there, at least in the back of my mind, I have at least a very significant reverence for, if not awe, mingled with the inkling of fear of…the Power of this God who loves us.

So when Jesus tells the Apostles in the boat, “Fear not, it is I,”[3] the basis of overcoming this fear is recognition of a loved one, of Jesus. Thus, as John states, perfect love casts out fear. Perhaps that is the moral of the subsequent acted out parable of Peter’s less than auspicious stroll on the water. As long as he kept his eyes on Jesus whom he loved, he was fine. As soon as he let the whirling wind and the crashing waves take his focus off Jesus, his mind clicked into instinctual mode and self-preservation took over, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”[Mt 14:30] After rescuing Peter, Jesus, probably exasperated but chortling, chides him: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” [Mt 14:31] Is that all your faith is worth, a few steps and then sploosh? Did Peter see the threats of nature as “punishment” for his frailty, as John would explain it? Or, better, rather his beginning to drown as “punishment” for his lack of faith, his lack of love.

John and Paul have the same image of love in mind, a love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.[1 Cor 13:7] Such a perfect love casts out fear. Perfect love is up for anything.

There are, however, different fears that are connected with any love. One is the fear of You leaving, growing tired of me, or having other things to do and just not being there one day. With You, God, as with everything, this fear is “writ large,” as it were. What have I that You should love me, pay attention to me, abide in me. [Ps 8:4-6] I am Your creation, Your creature, “dust and unto dust” I shall return, no more that a flower of the field, blooming during the day and by the night, gone, [Ps 103:15-16] lasting but a blink in eternity. Unlike human love where the feeling is based on need, on desire, on companionship, on agape or a combination thereof, and there is a mutual reciprocal bond, with You, all must initiate from You, from entity to eternity, the need based on love, mercy, sharing, the desire to eat this supper with us, the companionship of mortals with the immortal, the love which surpasses all understanding and comprehension. In human bond, we like to think that we have some control over the other, some link, some bond, some silken thread which the other will not break without them bearing consequences as well as us. But with You, what hold have we on You, but only that which You place there Yourself and can as easily remove. Therein lies the source of such fear…and, strangely, miraculously, mysteriously therein, since You bind Yourself to us with perfect love, therein and thereby you cast off the fear. As St. Paul so rightly puts it, what can, indeed, separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?… For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Rom 8:35, 38-39]

Having established that You, by Your own will, love us incomprehensibly, I face the much more likely, much more real fear of You, the fear of making you angry. From the first time we crunched down on the apple till now, You have only been good to us and we, in return, have usually only been disobedient to You. We have rejected You, reviled You, worshipped ourselves and our idols instead of You, used Your creation for our own pleasure instead of serving You, pushed You out of our lives and pursued our own desires instead of You, trampled down each other and You, even demanded You be crucified and then attempted to kill You; fortunately, You would not let a little thing like death stop You from loving us.

Any red-blooded human being would be furious at me, would not only demand justice in court but would thrown out where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. [Mt 22:13] I would not be released until you have paid the last penny. [Lk 12:59] Thank You, God, that You are not a red-blooded human being, or rather, that when You became a red-blooded human being, you did not follow our fight-or-flight instincts, but gave us another, a new “f”, no instinct, but paradigm, forgive. You portrayed Yourself as the Good Shepherd who doesn’t play the percentages but leaves 99 vulnerable sheep and comes looking for me, as I wander aimlessly, helplessly, getting into thorn bush after thorn bush of trouble, with the rabid wolves of worldliness closing in for the kill. But you came searching for me, just me, little, old insiginificant me…and with Your rod and Your staff, You chase them away, You gently pull away the thorns of addiction, picked me up and carried me home on your shoulders…no wonder I could only see one set of footprints. You proved Your love for us in that while we were still sinners, You, our Christ, died for us. [Rom 5:8] Nothing, no nothing, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Rom 8:39]

Finally, I face the fear of losing you, not by anything that You do, but by my being lulled into laxity by the sirens of seduction, lured into the grips of addiction by the rationalization of irrational decisions, until ultimately my “almighty” I, realizing what I am doing, choose to bar You from my life, to turn my back on Your Goodness and Love, to, for myself at least, play God and “control” my own life without heeding Your call to listen to You, to ob-audiere to Your use and care manual for humanity. This spiral of loss is self-perpetuating; I convince myself I’m right by doing wrong. There is no escaping this maelstrom of madness on my own. And in the midst of this self-destruction, a still small voice in my conscience will whisper, “You have shut out the only friend, the only one who can extricate You from Your misery.” And I will convince myself that I have lost You.

But You are intrepid, incorrigible in your tenacity, patient beyond enduring with the patience of eternity, and you perpetually stand at the door and knock. [Rev 3:20] I will shout out: Do not bother me; the door has already been locked. [Lk 11:7] And, hopefully, by the constant, never-ending dripping of Your grace drop by drop on my soul, in Your Love, I pray that You will wear me down, smash my resistance, and if I do not get up to give You my love, my sorrow, my self because of our friendship, I will get up to give You whatever You ask for because of Your persistence. [Lk 11:8] You will not let me lose You. For nothing, no nothing, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Rom 8:39]

Lord, help me to love You perfectly and to cast out fear from my life. Amen. Alleluia!!!

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] For example, Gen 15:1; Ex 14: 13-14; Is 8:12, 35:4, 40:9, 41:10,13, 43:1,5, 44:2; Bar 4:5,21,27, 30; Dan 10:12; Joel 2:21,22; Zec 8:13,15; Mt 14:27; Jn 20:19.

[3] Literally, “I am,” This may reflect the divine revelatory formula of Ex 3:14; Is 41:4, 10, 14; 43:1–3, 10, 13. Mark implies the hidden identity of Jesus as Son of God. [NABRE, Note on Mk 6:50]