Tag Archives: hope

Why One? Commentary on Eph 4: 1-6

Why One? A challenging question. Intuitively, mystics from all religions have come to the realization of our oneness with God, each other and creation. Does this mean we are somehow absorbed in a single amorphous entity and loose our identity? Obviously not. Nor are we God. Very obviously not.

But neither are we isolated, without relationships; we are members of various communities from the human race to our families and friendships. We are one humanity. We are dependent on one another from our conception, birth, and nurturing to our familial and social relationships. We become one body with our spouse [Gen 2:24;Mk 10:8] and form one family unit. Thus, we are faced with that continuously reoccurring phenomenon of both/and; the answer is that I am both me and simultaneously one with others.

As this stemmed from the reading: I, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to reserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.[1] [Eph 4:1-6] we’ll start there.

In looking at the reading, the rational reasons for oneness are start with the last [whereas the intuitive insight, as Paul states it, starts with the first.].

One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Our oneness begins with God, who is one, who is Creator of all, and is the one and only Father of the one family He created [which, when viewed this way, includes all creation, angels and men, spiritual and material]. Thus, He is certainly over all. And since He is all that is, oneness also stems from not only our being created in the image and likeness of God [Gen 1:26, 27] but everything else being a reflection of the One who is one. But He is also in all, continually creating and sustaining all being; He is existence itself. Finally, it is though all being, facets of His image and continuing creation that He makes Himself known: Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. [Rom 1:20]

One Lord, one faith, one baptism

Here I have to make the leap of faith that the Jews had to do with Jesus, from the One God to Jesus as One with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, the only begotten Son. I have to recognize Him and accept Him as the Messiah. He is Our One Lord, the same for you, for me, for everybody. In believing in Him, we share one Faith; “It follows that all men and women who are saved share, though differently, in the same mystery of salvation in Jesus Christ through his Spirit.”[2] And there is one Baptism, though in the forms of water, of blood, and of desire: “For, since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery.”[3]

As you were also called to the one hope of your call

Israel’s hope rested in Yahweh: My soul, be at rest in God alone, from whom comes my hope. [Ps 62:6], it is realized in Jesus life, death and especially his resurrection: the hope of eternal life that God, who does not lie, promised before time began. [Titus 1:2] As Paul explains elsewhere: But 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, whom 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] It is to this salvation that we have been called through the preaching of the Good News: God chose you as the firstfruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in truth. To this end he has [also] called you through our gospel to possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. [2Thes 2:13-14]

One body and one Spirit

There is but one Spirit of God, one Holy Spirit. He who hovered over the waters during the creation is the same as He who lead the Israelites out of Egypt with a cloud and fire; who caused prophetic ecstasy in David, who came upon Mary, who filled Elizabeth, who inspired Simeon, who appeared as a Dove, who drove Jesus into the desert to be tempted, who blows where he wills, who appeared as a cloud, whom Jesus promised to send as our Advocate, whom Jesus breathed upon the Apostles, who came as wind and tongues of fire on Pentecost, who fell upon Cornelius and his household, who convicts the world of sin and righteousness and condemnation, who gives life and who has given different gifts to each one of us….why, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ. [Eph 4:12-13] For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another. [Rom 12:4-5]

striving to reserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace

This unity, this oneness, was not lightly purchased. It took the Son of God to show us that we are one in Him, that He is our one and only Savior, that He suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God [1Pet 3:18] and that if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep. [1Thes 4:14]

We retain this faith, this belief, as one Body, one Church. Contrary to what we witness in our Christian Community, all believing their own interpretation of Christ’s message and claiming that their interpretation is the true faith, they cannot all be right. There is only one church that has all the elements of the faith in it, the one, holy, catholic and Apostolic Church, which possesses both the Scripture and Tradition since the beginning, which has one valid priesthood under bishops who trace their line back to Peter and the Apostles, which has seven cherished sacraments, which had the true Eucharist, the true presence in every tabernacle throughout the world and which can unequivocally claim to preach the truth as guaranteed by the unity of the spirit.

This unity was not only not lightly purchased by God, it is also not easily preserved by us, claiming the blood of martyrs, witnesses to validate its claims, insisting on belief in things unseen alluded to in written Scripture and mandating adherence to moral rectitude that the world deems ludicrous, stifling and archaic.

bearing with one another through love

As pointed out above, though the origin of our oneness is the family of God, this familial, brotherly and sisterly bond is constantly being tested, torn, ripped, shredded, violated through sin. By refusing to obey our one Father, we rebel against our very essence, our image and likeness, just as our first parents did. And we alienate ourselves from the rest of the family, our sisters and brothers in God, in Christ, in the human/divine family.

These ruptures, rivalry, jealousy, fury, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. [2Cor 12:20], these self-inflicted wounds, can only be healed through forgiveness. Even within our own community, there are disagreements, strife, contentions, and the bond of peace must constantly be striven for, purchased daily only at the cost of patience, understanding, acceptance and love, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things. [1Cor 13:7]

with all humility and gentleness, with patience

In this passage, Paul outlines how Love is manifested in oneness: patience, humility, gentleness. Patience harkens back to bearing with one another, enduring all things. Patience comes from the same Latin root as passion, “to suffer, to endure.” Oneness requires a huge amount of patience on the part of each of us, of passion in both senses of that word, the fire of love enabling one to endure and to suffer the other. For life with the other is not a bed of roses, there will be misunderstandings, conflicts, confusion, rivalries, disagreements, anger, tempers. Love suffers, endures through, beyond and above all of these.

How does one take up that Cross, the other, and suffer in patience. By realizing one’s littleness and the continual unveiling of God’s providence. By humility, being precisely whom God made us to be, no less but no more. And by gentleness, by imitating God’s mercy and care of me, and doing to the other as was done to me by God.

live in a manner worthy of the call you have received

By do this, by love, patience, gentleness, humility, we will indeed live in a manner worthy of the call of God, not just to our baptism into the one faith, the one Church, the one Body of Christ, the one Spirit, but that vocation, that calling to be one with the One Lord, to be a temple of the Father, to be Christ’s hands, Christ’s feet, Christ’s voice, Christ’s touch in my unique and inimitable way, and to support and encourage you to be His hands, His feet, His voice, His touch, in your special way. For only by all of us being Christ each in our own way can we hope together with our head, to be one with Christ as He is.

Oneness in Scripture

From God’s point of view:

  • One God: Yhwh: I am who I am. [Ex 3:14]
  • One Father of all: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone: other possible translations are “the Lord our God is one Lord”; “the Lord our God, the Lord is one”; “the Lord is our God, the Lord is one. [4] [Deut 6:4]
  • One Source and Creator of all being, yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom all things are and for whom we exist. [1Cor 8:6]
  • One Son: one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things are and through whom we exist. [1Cor 8:6]
  • One Savior and Redeemer of all: For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all. [1Tim 2:5] And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself. [Jn 12:32]
  • One Spirit For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit. [1Cor 12:13]
  • One Way, one Truth, one Life: I am the way and the truthand the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. [Jn 14:6]
  • One Love of all: God is love…In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. [1Jn 4:8b,10]
  • One Providence: We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. [Rom 8:28]
  • One Plan of Salvation for all This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. [1Tim 2:3-4]
  • One Body: We, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another [Rom 12:5]
  • One Faith …everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life [Jn 3:16
  • One Spirit, many Gifts: There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; [1Cor 12:4]
  • One Lord, different service: there are different forms of service but the same Lord; [1Cor 12:5]
  • One God, different effects/manifestations of power: there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. [1Cor 12:6]
  • Father is in the Son; the Son in the Father: Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. [Jn 14:10,11]

The Father, Son and Holy Spirit dwell in me, in you; They are one with us and we, through Them, with each other.

  • The Father and the Son will live in me: Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. [Jn 14:23]
  • The Spirit in You: the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it….remains with you, and will be in you. [Jn 14:17]
  • I am in Jesus, Jesus is in me: On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you. [Jn 14:20]
  • We are one with and in the Father and Jesus: they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. [Jn 17:21]

We are “brought to perfection as one” in Christ

  • We are brought to perfection as one: And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me. [Jn 17:22-23]
  • Unity of mind, love, heart, thinking: If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. [Phil 2:1-2]
  • Think in harmony and praise with one voice: May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. [Rom 15:5-6]
  • Be of the same mind and purpose: I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose. [1Cor 1:10]
  • Christ is one: For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you. I mean that each of you is saying, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided? [1Cor 1:11-13]
  • We are one in Christ: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. [Gal 3:28]
  • We have the same Lord: For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, enriching all who call upon him. [Rom 10:12]
  • We all have the same Spirit: For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit. [1Cor 12:13]
  • Christ is all and in all: Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all. [Col 3:11]

We are all one Body

  • We are all one body: As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also ChristNow you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it. [1Cor 12:12,27] Col 1:18, 24.
  • Christ is head of the body, the Church: He is the head of the body, the church. [Col 1:18]
  • We are one body and individually parts of one another: For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another. [Rom 12:4-5]
  • Together as one body, we support one another and the Church grows: Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body’s growth and builds itself up in love. [Eph 4:15-16]
  • The peace of perfection comes from being one: And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. [Col 3:15]
  • Different ministries but unity of faith and knowledge: And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ. [Eph 4:11-13]
  • Without unity and maturity of faith and knowledge, we are individual infants: infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming. [Eph 4:14]
  • If we go off on our own, we are not connected with Christ in his body: Let no one disqualify you, delighting in self-abasement and worship of angels, taking his stand on visions, inflated without reason by his fleshly mind, and not holding closely to the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and bonds, achieves the growth that comes from God. [Col 2:18-19]

We are one because we all receive the same Jesus

  • The loaf is one; Jesus is one; we are one: Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. [1Cor 10:17]

Jesus is one with my neighbor.

  • The criteria of our judgment: ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ [Mt 25:40]
  • Jesus identifies himself with the persecuted: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He said, “Who are you, sir?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. [Acts 9:4-5; 22:7-8; 26:14-15]
  • The Second Great Commandment: For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” [Gal 5:14; see Lev 19:18; Mt 19:19; 22:39; Mk 12:31; Lk 10:27; Rom 13:9; Jas 2:8]

[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] Pontifical Council For Inter-Religious Dialogue And The Congregation For The Evangelization Of Peoples, Instruction Dialogue and Proclamation, 29: AAS 84 (1992), 424.

[3] Vatican II, Pope Paul VI, Pastoral Constitution On The Church In The Modern World, Gaudium Et Spes, December 7, 1965, Vatican, History of the Councils, Vatican II, http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html, No. 22.

[4]NABRE note on Deut 6:4.


“One Tough Cookie”: In honor of Mary on Mother’s Day

One of the things that impresses me about Mary is the tremendous chutzpah she exhibits when dealing with God. I have imagined her as this retiring and shy country maiden who has everything done unto her according to God’s will….All her actions starting with explicit faith in God, the outcomes placed with complete trust and hope in God, and the executions humble charity expressing her love of God and her neighbor. And, indeed, this is the case, humble, obedient to God’s will, yes, but also assertive and authoritative. Retiring and shy she is not. She is one tough cookie,

The facts speak for themselves. From the beginning, when we are introduced to her as encountering Gabriel, an Archangel, no less, who stands in the presence of God, she was unphased. Gabriel must be an awesome dude. I mean, angels go through Egypt killing all the firstborn in one night, these are the seven legion guys whom Jesus could have called on in the garden, these are they who carry out God’s orders to slaughter and annihilate the unrighteous right and left in Revelation. Yet, unlike her cousin’s husband, Zacharias, who was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him[1] [Lk 1:12], she is unphased by his sight, but more concerned about what he says; she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. [Lk 1:29]. Gabriel’s Do not be afraid, Mary [Lk 1:30] was probably to calm her being startled, her trying to figure out how this guy got in here, who he was and what he wanted…as anybody would be. But she didn’t try to flee nor crumble with fear; she stood her ground and listened.

Her firm clear grasp of reality is blatantly evident in her question: How can this be, since I am a virgin? [Lk 1:34] In other words, she cuts through the highfalutin prophetical language, picks out the main point: And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus [Lk 1:31] and addresses the issue…”We have a slight problem, as far as I know, I need to have intercourse with a man to be conceive and I am betrothed but not wed, so how can this be?

Her assent to Gabriel and God was not some simple “Ok” or “You’re God, do I really have a choice?” Mary seriously considered the terms of the request and knew the ramifications, i.e.. she would be stigmatized as an adulterous woman, either stoned or outcast from her family and her village, she would bring shame on her family, she would devastate Joseph, and she would be forced to live the life of a single mother trying to support herself and her child…not happy prospects. Yet she weighed her options and assented, not just assented but embraced her role as God’s slave, His servant, she was His handmaid of the Lord. She freely chooses to relinquish control of her life and to hand herself totally over to God. If He wished to “overshadow”[2] her for His own purposes, she trusted Him explicitly. Somehow, some way, this was God’s will for her, her God with whom she had found favor; but she had always lived according to His dictates and she wasn’t going to stop now, even if she couldn’t see her way clear to a happy outcome for herself.

One might have thought that just absorbing the implications of this heavenly visit, let alone this announcement which encapsulated the entire salvific history and prophecy of her people would have been so overwhelming that she would have just walked around in a daze for a while. Not Mary. She had things to do, places to go, people to see! She had picked up on the fact that Elizabeth, her aged cousin was “with child”. To Mary, that implied just one thing: that she needed her help. And so off she goes, no thought of the discomfort, the dust, the distance, let alone, the dangers, the possibility of being captured, raped, sold into slavery. Off she goes…120 miles if she skirted Samaria. At least a five day journey by foot, four by caravan going down to Jerusalem, then cutting across the hill country of Judah.

When Mary arrives, miracles happen: When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believethat what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled. [Lk 1 41-45] John leaps, Elizabeth experiences Pentecost and, kazaam, becomes a prophetess.

One might think that Mary would have been completely dumbfounded, totally taken aback by all this…Instead, Mary, true to form in her handmaid’s role, praises God for all that He has done for her and all who fear Him, the lowly, the hungry, Israel His servant, Abraham and his descendents forever. While exegetes question whether she actually sang this song of praise or whether it was “a Jewish Christian hymn that Luke found appropriate at this point in his story,”[3] it is evident that both Luke and his Inspirer, the Holy Spirit, wished to emphasize that Mary was not just a flighty, little teenager. She had a firm grasp of her heritage. On her journey south, she had time to ponder with the Holy Spirit the implications and ramifications of what had happened to her not just for herself but for her people. So she lays it out for us…”pay attention, this is what is happening!”

When she returns to Nazareth three months later, three months pregnant and showing, Joseph freaks. But what does Mary do? Nothing. No “I’m so ashamed,” no “I’m sorry,” no “Hey, I’m the pregnant one here.”   She has rock-solid faith in God; God started this, and she had faith in God that He would take care of her and her child. Even when she gets the news from Joseph, that since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame,[he had] decided to divorce her quietly, [Mt 1:19] she didn’t flinch.

Not to say that she wasn’t affected. She, like her Son, was human in every way but sin…so she was certainly terribly saddened by the anguish and disappointment of her parents and the reviling by her neighbors, and perhaps prayed to God as her Son did later, My God, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will. [Mt 26:39] And her prayer was answered; Joseph was shown the light; after a visit from another angel, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. [Mt 1:24]

Tune in tomorrow for “One Tough Cookie Continued.” In the meantime, a blessed Mother’s Day to you all.

[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] ἐπισκιάζω, to “shadow over,” is the same word used by all the Synoptics to describe the theophanies or “appearance” of the “Most High” at the Baptism and Transfiguration. [Mt 17:5; Mk 9:7; Lk 9:34]

[3] NABRE note on Luke 1:46–55. The note also points to the fact that “a few Old Latin manuscripts identify the speaker of the hymn as Elizabeth, even though the overwhelming textual evidence makes Mary the speaker.”

Time out for the Assumption

You were/are perfection. As you point out, through no effort, no wisdom, no “doing” on your part, you were born perfect, without sin, the new Eve before the fall, the baptized without baptism, the mitzvahed without mitzvah, the one chosen, the chosen one, the created one who would help create the God-Man.

Throughout your life, you prayed, you talked to the Lord, you asked His will, you asked for his help, you offered yourself in service to your God.

“Be it done unto me”…the phrase raises hackles on your American family, today’s listeners…we don’t like anything done unto us. We are the “controllers,” at least we think, we work, we manipulate, we envision, we dedicate ourselves to the idol of perfect control of us, of our environment, of our world, our universe. But there is a hierarchy of “us-es,” some us do not control, do not manipulate, not because we do not buy into the illusion that this is the ultimate nirvana, but because we are the bottom of the ladder. In fact we may have fallen off the ladder and lie in the ditch, bruised and battered euphemistically “by life,” realistically by the rest of the “us-es,” who have stolen their birthright, stolen their dignity, stolen their bread, their water, their land, their homes, in then end, their very selves.

“Be it done unto me” and you joined the untouchables, the outcasts, the social pariahs, the lepers and tax collectors of our society, an unwed mother, forgotten, forbidden, forlorn, shunned, slandered, stultified.

And yet you had the courage, the gumption, the backbone, the faith to face your rumormongers, back-biters, whisperers and cheerfully go off to help your senior-citizen cousins birth their long awaited and yearned-for baby, just on the word of an angel.

How did you know if what he told you was true? Of course, he told you that as proof of what he had said before, to prove “nothing is impossible with God.” So, while you don’t know the pregnancy by sight, by touch, by witness, by the tangible, you know it in your heart, your soul, your very being…and that is faith.

It is the same faith that brought you through the birth, the flight, the prophecy, the finding,…it got you through “Woman” at Cana and “Woman” on Calvary…it got you through the fear of insanity and the sorrow of the pieta…it got you through the reuniting and the leaving…and it brought you to today.

Were you asleep and then in heaven, was it a quiet, hushed assuming, or did Elijah send his flaming chariot stealthily through the night sky to whisk you up to meet your Son? Whichever it was, your response was the same: Be it done unto me, according to Your word.

Thank you, Mary, for giving us the model of perfect obedience, of perfect faith, of perfect hope. You could not have endured what you endured without these bearing you up on their divine wings. You would have crumbled, broken down, been unable to cope…and yet, throughout His life, which you lived every second, every moment as he did, not just as any mother does of her child, but more, much, much more, for you knew you had a stake in the outcome of this divine experiment, this “outside society” “experience” of redemption, salvation, forgiveness. You held, you lived that stake for all of us, you bet your life that He would win in the end…and when you thought you lost, you won not just the jackpot, but eternal life, raised life, changed life, your life now. Amen. Alleluia!!!

“The Back of the World” – A Commentary by Scripture

“Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world?  It is that we have only know the back of the world.  We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal.  That is not a tree, but the back of a tree.  That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud.  Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a fact?  If we could only get round in front—–.” [1]

Then Moses said, “Please let me see your glory!” The LORD answered: I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim my name, “LORD,” before you; I who show favor to whom I will, I who grant mercy to whom I will.  But you cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live. Here, continued the LORD, is a place near me where you shall station yourself on the rock. When my glory passes I will set you in the cleft of the rock and will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand, so that you may see my back; but my face may not be seen.[2] Ex 33:18-23.

The back of the world is the back of God’s Glory, God’s presence among us…

Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?… Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? Mt 6:26-30

We fail to see the interaction of the Father with His creations, feeding and clothing even the least of them

Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.  Mt 10:29-31

Indeed, he has intimate knowledge of each, watches over each and has a plan and an hour for each.

So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.  Mt 6:31-34

It all comes back to “unto,” “Be it done unto me according to Your will.” Lk 1:38  To fulfill all righteousness is to submit to the plan of God for the salvation of the human race.[3]

Inspiration comes more truthfully and naturally when it comes “unto” me rather than me being in restless and relentless pursuit of it, trying to gain it artificially, as it were….there is a poverty of my spirit and a recognition of the gifts of The Spirit that interplay and are reciprocal, one preparing to receive and the other being ready to give.  Even this gift is given for giving, not for owning or hording or retaining.  We must hold all things, material and spiritual gifts from God, loosely, for I am but a steward for a brief time and must watch over, care for and give forth as the Owner directs me.

[1] G. K. Chesterton, “The Man Who Was Thursday (New York, Worldview/Perigee Books, 1908/1935), 176.

[2] 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.

[3] Note, Mt 3:14-15

“A Measure of Success”

In all your affairs lean solely on God’s Providence, by means of which alone your plans can succeed. Meanwhile, on your part work on in quiet co-operation with Him, and then rest satisfied that if you have trusted entirely to Him, you will always obtain such a measure of success as is most profitable for you, whether it seems so or not to your own individual judgment.[1]

Again, words of wisdom from Francis de Sales….this reminds me of Rudyard Kipling’s “If,” where he calls both success and failure imposters and tells his son to treat them just the same.  Of course Kipling did not have the context of God’s Providence in mind as the over-arching canvas upon which all events everywhere and every time are painted.  The canvas of Providence is much different, broader, wider, more encompassing than the canvas of the world, human society, the criteria of our limited perspective.

On the canvas of Providence, the Cross stands etched in human history as its centerpiece, glorious, magnificent, towering above all other events in the course of human events.  On the canvas of the world, human society, our limited perspective, it seemed an inconsequential blip on the radar of a backwater province of the Roman Empire, one more down-and-out, washed-up reformer, denounced by his nation, deserted by his followers, a soon-to-be-forgotten would-be messiah in the parade of many in that section of the world.

Providence is the means by which plans succeed, the sole means.  If it ain’t there, it ain’t happening.  To align our self with Providence, therefore, would seem to be not only prudent but essential for the efficacy of the undertaking.  Ignatius offers three venues by which to help me determine the correct choice, to do or not to do, which is truly the question since “to be” is not ethically in my hands.  The three are (a) standing before the Judgment Seat of God, (b) lying on one’s deathbed, and (c) giving advice to my best friend.  If the answer is the same, regardless of the venue, proceed.  If not, reevaluate.

Meanwhile, on your part work on in quiet co-operation with Him, and then rest satisfied that if you have trusted entirely to Him, you will always obtain such a measure of success as is most profitable for you, whether it seems so or not to your own individual judgment.  Proceed, that is the answer, not languishing, not procrastinating, not diverting, no excusing, just proceed.  Endure. Persevere. Trudge on.  Fight on.  The Commander has the battle in hand.  Carry out your duties here and now.  That’s my job, my task, my assignment, my responsibility.

And this, regardless of my own inclinations, my own ennui, my own quiet desperation, my own frustration, my own lack of enthusiasm.  Offer all these up:  God enjoys gifts, all sorts of gifts.  Since these are obstacles around, over, under or through which I must get, I need His help, His grace, His strength, His Power, His tenacity, His Love, His inspiration, His Life.  See these are part of my cross and “take it up” daily and follow Him.  That’s all we are ordered to do.  Not win, not lose, not succeed, not fail, not revolutionize the universe or bedazzle the world with supposed brilliance, pseudo scribblings, solipsistic pensees.  Just stand up, pick up my cross and follow Jesus up the hill, trusting, believing, enduring, joining.  That’s it…that the job.

In quiet co-operation with Him…quiet, not flashy, no fanfare, just working side by side in the carpenter shop of life with Him.  Handing Him the tools He requests.  Doing the tasks He asks of me.  Laboring in yolk with Him that I might share in His reward.  And cooperation is required, we are not at odds here, butting heads, competing.  Perspective is important: Jesus is the boss, the head, the leader.  To Him belongs the power, the glory now and forever.  My job is not to save the savior.  My job is not even to be the savior.  My job is to work for, with and in the savior doing whatever He has in mind for me to do that moment, that hour, that day, that week.  Scratch “that week.”  Even He said: “Sufficient for a day is its own evil.”[2]

Then rest satisfied that if you have trusted entirely to Him…note that resting and being satisfied is dependent on having trusted entirely in Him.  Not mostly, not partially, not in myself, not in the world, not in others, just in Him.  He is reliable, steadfast, trustworthy, solid, the rock on whom I can trust, the solid friend on whom I can always count, the true buddy who always, always has my back, He who always comes through, never lets you down, never reneges, never changes His mind, never, never, never bails on me…the Gibraltar of my life, who will not die, save for me; will not leave me, save to redeem me; will not strand me, save to resurrect me; will not abandon me, save to ascend to send the Spirit, no matter what.  That’s the “Him” in whom I trust,…and who obviously can be trusted entirely.

But the “entirely” is from my side of the equation, not His.  I have to put myself out there on the line, let go of all the life-lines in which I trusted, the possessions, the memory, understanding and will, the next “whatever,” and stand naked without guy wires to hold me up and snatch me from disaster, and just trust entirely in Him.  He will clothe me, protect me, defend me, guide me, comfort me, there is no other.

And the result: “you will always obtain such a measure of success as is most profitable for you, whether it seems so or not to your own individual judgment.”  A wise statement, not the measure of success which I would prefer to apply to the endeavor, but the measure most profitable for me.  That is a disconcertingly comforting thought, for it whips away my prerogative of perfectionism and reassures me that God is watching out for my best interests, here and now and there and always.  This means letting go and letting God, “loosing” control and gaining grace, dropping the reins and relying entirely, utterly and without qualms or concern about the outcome, on God. Such is humility which is not obtained or obtainable by seeking or trying to practice it.  It is a gift given me through reality, the unadulterated, un-gussied up, unadorned, stripped-down Truth about myself and the world around me and God and all else.  It is being me in its most elemental and plain true form.  Thus, it is not something sought or practiced, but rather lived.

God, please help me live in such humility, relying, trusting, cooperating with You in doing what You wish me to do when You wish me to do it.  Amen.  Alleluia!!!

[1] Francis de Sales, Introduction to a Devout Life, Part Iii. Containing Counsels Concerning The Practice Of Virtue.  Chapter X. We must attend to the Business of Life carefully, but without Eagerness or Over-anxiety, pg. 70.

[2] 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.

Dusting myself off…or Groundhog Day Revisited

So then, when you have fallen, lift up your heart in quietness, humbling yourself deeply before God by reason of your frailty, without marveling that you fell;—there is no cause to marvel because weakness is weak, or infirmity infirm. Heartily lament that you should have offended God, and begin anew to cultivate the lacking grace, with a very deep trust in His Mercy, and with a bold, brave heart.[1]

Though couched in antiquated prose, it is very, very consoling that, among the encouragements to virtue, and the remonstrations concerning evil, St. Francis de Sales puts this chapter in about “Gentleness towards Ourselves.”  Perhaps this is a lost art in today’s age of “keeping up with the Joneses,” or rather, keeping up with whatever Apple or Google or the latest app portrays as “the way to be” today in the barrage of ads with which we are inundated incessantly.  It may seem rather incongruous to pit a 15th century Saint against Silicon Valley, but, Vegas odds-makers notwithstanding, I’m betting on Francis.

Addiction may seem a strong term for our “petty” little faults and failings, but what would you call it if you keep trying the same sin over and over and over again, expecting a different outcome.

Perhaps among the most insidious of these hidden addictions is our addiction of consumerism… “I’ve just got to have that.”  “Oh, I’ll run right out and get that.”  “Oh, I can’t live without that.”

When I look around and see the plethora of books that line my shelves that I have never read, never even cracked the spine, and, given my age and busy schedule, most likely never will, can I really face myself in the mirror and say that “I need that book.”  Can I look and gently ask: “What’s wrong with this picture?” And do we really need five boxes of Wheat Thins, or more incandescent light bulbs or another DVD or another pair of pants or more or more or more when you can only eat, use, see, wear, etc. one at a time??? Can I truly continue to ignore the weakness of my grasping will and not call this an addiction.

While the conscience alarm is sounding in the back of my brain, rather than being gentle with myself, I keep swinging on this crazy pendulum between white knuckling whatever I am  attempting to do or not to do at the present time and excusing myself when I eventually let go and indulge in whatever the addiction of the moment happens to be.  The white knuckling is simply a manifestation of my ego trying to live up to my pseudo image, my personal idol in direct defiance of the first commandment, which I worship and drag around with me wherever I go.  The excuses are my pandering to myself, the rear moon-view, if you will, of the same idol uncloaked; again, this time I failed and I need this chocolate ice cream to make myself feel better!  So there!  This futile pattern only results in frustration, self-incrimination, self-bullying, self, self, self and I, like Sisyphus, start up that same hill with the same rock aware that I am going to have the same outcome again…it’s Groundhog Day and déjà vu all over again….

Being gentle with myself includes humility in the recognition of my frailty and the acknowledgement that being weak and infirm, there is every possibility that I will fail, I will fall and that God’s response is to gentle but insistently get myself up, regretting I have offended God…again…and trusting in his ever present Mercy and Love, start over with faith and courage based, not on myself, but on keeping my sight on Jesus and my trust in my guide and leader, the Holy Spirit, to whom I am tethered securely as we venture upward on the mountain of faith.

I am not saying that I can do this without fail from now on…this is precisely the point, I can’t.  I am not even saying that I will remember it in the heat of the moment.  But, I thank You, God, You made me come face to face with a better way, a gentle way, Your gentle and meek of heart way, and with Your grace, Your help, Your reminders, Your inspiration, Your tether, I may just be able to let go of the white knuckle ledge; fall down on my knees; thank You, God, that Your are merciful as well as just; know that I can rely on You to help me once again; humbly realize that I can’t do it, where “it” is anything and everything, without Your being in yolk with me; and get to one knee and then up with the help of Your power and might motivating, urging, encouraging, and enabling me, and, with a prayer and thanksgiving and love for all that You do and give and are, take another feeble step on Your Way, not up the Sisyphusian mountain, but up the hill behind You to Calvary where lies my hope, my redemption, my salvation.  Amen.   Alleluia!!!

[1] St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to a Devout Life, III, 9, “On Gentleness towards Ourselves,” http://www.documentacatholicaomnia.eu/03d/1567-1622,_Francesco_di_Sales,_Introduction_To_The_Devout_Life,_EN.pdf