Tag Archives: trust

Offering and Living Each Day

[My wise spiritual director pointed out that I have the intellectual prayer down pat, but need a lot of work on the “Prayer of the Heart,” the friendship, union and companionship with God that comes from a deepening of love.  Therefore, he has suggested a couple of texts, and set me to keeping a journal as I wander through them.  These are the fourteenth day’s thoughts.]

Devotional practices renders all my daily actions please to You, God. I am not where AL* was in his spiritual journey when he wrote this. Nor am I a 17th cent. priest. However, Jesus, help me glean what works for me and leave the rest right now, perhaps to be returned to later.

One of the most obvious things that he mentions that I, not surprisingly, neglect, is that while I offer to God my day when I rise, instead of “asking Him to help me by His grace” as AL suggests and my own sullied experience would commend, I go blithely on, thinking that I can do it all myself. Duh! Only with Your help can I do anything! So how would I have the chutzpah to think that in this monumental task of making sure that all my actions, words and thoughts this day are in conformity with Your will as well as being directed to You, I would be able to pull it off myself. Quite the epitome of pride, control and foolishness! Help me, God, to remember to get with the program and follow up such a wonderfully naive childlike offering with a hearty dose of humble pie, acknowledging from the get-go that I am totally and unequivocally incapable of doing this on my own and must always and continuously ask for and rely on Your help. Take my hand and show me how to do what You want me to do, just as You would a little child, so that I don’t hurt myself [through sin] and am able to do it at all.

The other thing that AL brings up which is timeless in its relevance is to resolve to live during this day as if it were the last day of my life. Not only could it be, if, in Your Divine Providence, You call me home today, but also in the general scheme of things, this is not only “the first day of the rest of my life,” it is also the only eternal Now that I have. As the saying goes, the past is no more, the future is yet to be, all I have is the Now. So in that sense, it not only should be lived “as if” it were the last day of my life, it is also the first as well as the only day of my life which is real, factual, and not a memory or imagination.It would and does therefore behoove me to live it as if it were the only day of my life.

But again, while I can resolve such, without Your constant help and direction, Your hand in mine, I am inevitably going to blow it in some form or other. Therefore, help me take a cue from You and Your mother and ask, seek, knock so that You may do unto me today according to Your will,…and then I will have achieved my resolve and offered a good day, in the same way a little child has “built” his own sandcastle or “put together” his truck. Amen. Alleluia!!!


*Alphonsus Liguori, How to Converse with God,Translated by Fr. L. X. Aubin, C.S.S.R. [Charlotte, Tan Books, 2005/13]

Cana Update[1]

I am always brought up short by the strange encounter between Jesus and his mother at Cana. Jesus has already begun His public ministry, He’s been baptized, been to the desert, and is traveling around the country preaching with an entourage of His first disciples. He and his followers arrive at the wedding of friends and as the party is getting going, one of those “Opps” of life happens to the groom, the guests have imbibed all his wine. Mary gets wind of the embarrassment via the guest grape vine and informs Jesus.

Perhaps that all she intended to do, inform Him. Perhaps she hadn’t thought beyond that except that something needed to be done to help her friends. If this is the case, then Jesus enigmatic reply could be interpreted as an invitation to greater belief, to faith: “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come. [2] [Jn 2:4] In other words, “Does your concern about the embarrassing situation of our friends affect the Kingdom which I have come to establish? Does it pertain to the Father’s will? There is a time and a place Providence has assigned for all things. The hour of my revelation of myself as the Messiah is not now.”

The response He invites from Mary is one of complete faith in God and trust in His guidance of Her. Perhaps this is a Mother-Son moment when He is sincerely asking for Her guidance. Her lesson to Him is that this concern does actually affect Him, as Elizabeth’s need affected her and as the concerns of all affect each of us. She may realize, though perhaps only peripherally, that all concerns need to be His concerns, all needs His needs, not just on a human level, but on His Savior level, His Kingship level, His Divine level. Perhaps this is the “Ah-Ha” moment when she knows He must realize the full import of His being connected with every other human being by virtue of His very Incarnation. Perhaps this is what He later would formulate in His parable on the Last Judgment: whatever you…[do] for one of these least brothers of mine, you…[do] for me. [Mt 25:40] Perhaps He needed to grok the depth and the encompassing reality of the 2nd Great Commandment: Do to others as you would have them do to you, [Lk 6:31] and that this included Him on the Divine level as well as the human level.

Mary’s answer: “Yes, this does affect You both as my Son, a fellow human being, one who is truly empathetic to all the vagaries and vicissitudes of live, the manifestations of the effect of sin in the world, of which lack and need, deprivation, running out of things, is always a sign. Your Father so loved this crazy, mixed up world with all its foibles that He gave us You so that we might believe in You and not perish but have eternal life, [Jn 3:16] Of Him, You will tell us do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’… 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. [Mt 6:31-33] You and the Father are one. [Jn 10:30] Show us the Father’s love here and now. You will talk the talk later, now walk the walk.”

How does she join Him in bringing about His first miracle? This is same way every believer who has ever “preformed” a miracle joins Him. No human actually “performs” a miracle. God does the performing; humans only express their explicit faith and trust in God to do so and thus are instruments through which God chooses to work. Every miracle not performed directly by Jesus is performed through the faith and instrumentality of a person requesting Jesus intercession and believing absolutely that He will intercede. The human person gives him/herself up to God and invites God to work through him/her; she/he transforms her/his self into God’s instrument.

Mary is not trying to override His or the Father’s timing of His hour, but, as with the Finding so many years before, she has explicit faith that, given her explanation, Jesus will do “the right thing.” She doesn’t press Him. She doesn’t define what He is to do, but she has an explicit faith that He will know what to do. Thus, when she says to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you,”[Jn 2:5] she lets go and lets God. Her statement is another way of saying what she says with her whole life, in her dormition, her assumption and even as she is crowned Queen of Heaven and Earth: May it be done to me according to your word. [Lk 1:38]

Obedience, then, comes back to its root meaning, “to listen to.” It’s not so much doing as being, as listening, as following, as joining in the yolk next to Jesus. To hear and let it be done to me, to have faith and trust in God, in whatever His eternal Now brings for my next step. It is to pick up one’s cross daily and to follow the Word, strap on His burden, take on His yolk and walk the world’s roads to the Calvaries of today with Him. It is to listen and hear the Spirit’s whispers of guidance and inspiration, to follow the promptings of one’s true heart, to the love of God and our fellow man to which we are called by our very nature as familial members, not just of the human family but of the very familial Body of Christ. We would not be here if it were not for God’s creation and we would not be human without accepting our place in the family of humankind and thus our relationship to all others.

Jesus obeys, Mary obeys, we obey, I obey. Listen, listen, listen and allow it to be done onto me. This is our calling, this is our “vocation,” this is our purpose in life. Amen. Alleluia!!!


[1] As with all my writings, I explain things in the way they make sense to me. In doing so, I often blindly wander into minefields of explanation into which scholars, saints and angels wisely do not venture. Therefore, take all I write not just with a grain of salt but with a whole mine of it. Please, please, please consider that I am just me, one very finite, very myopic, often very confused and mistaken man. I am often wrong. However, God guarantees the infallibility of the Catholic Church. Thus, if anything that I write contradicts or in any way conflicts with what the One, Holy, Apostolic Catholic Church has stated or defined, I profoundly apologize to my readers for misleading them, to the Church for contradicting our infallible Faith, Scripture and Tradition, and I beg God to have mercy on me, forgive me and write straight the crooked lines your wayward servant has written. I beg the forgiveness of all and ask for your prayers that I might have the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit to see aright once again.

[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. Hereafter, NABRE.

Reciprocal Faithfulness

I don’t know about you, but the last line of this snippet from Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy always bothered me: This saying is trustworthy: If we have died with him we shall also live with him; if we persevere, we shall also reign with him. But if we deny him he will deny us. If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself. [2Tim 2:11-13] [1]

The first part reads like Contract 101; we do this, God does that. We have two positives with Him: if we die, we live and, if we persevere, we reign. These are followed by a negative, but still within the realm of reciprocal logic: if we deny Him, He denies us…all this Jesus had said Himself. [See Mt 24:9,13; 10:33] So far, so good. I mean, I have to die, persevere to the end and not deny Him but the reward is life eternal and reigning with Him in heaven. Tit for tat, right….?

But then we come to the final phrase in which God throws us a curve ball. Contractually, poetically and linguistically, it does not follow the nice pattern set by the others: If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself. [2Tim 2:13] God just doesn’t want to fit into our nice mold!   He is what He is and that’s that…and we can like it or lump it, it ain’t gonna change.

So what are we dealing with here? What is this faithfulness and why is it so intrinsic, so essential, to God that He cannot deny it, cannot separate His very nature from it. I mean, when we are dealing with God, we are dealing with He who is all-powerful, all-knowing, who created everything from absolutely nothing, simply by thinking and willing. I mean, He’s God, after all; “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” [Gen 18:14] We assume the phrase: “I can’t” doesn’t exist in God’s vocabulary.

Yet, in spite of fact that most mysteries with which God confronts us are resolved by being both/and, by folding one opposite into the other, by making a circle of the spectrum, e.g. Divine and human, died and lives, bread and body, there are the opposites to God’s very essence as God which, though they can be stated, like a round square, cannot be true. For example, God cannot have an end, either dimensionally or temporally. Other examples, fortunately for us, God cannot be un-loving, unjust or un-merciful; it is against his nature as God. He cannot be what He is not.

So, according to St. Paul, we have to throw faithfulness into that impossible list. According to him, God would have to deny, go against His very nature to be unfaithful. His very Being demands that He is ever faithful, that He is His Word. He not only stands by the Truth, He is Truth itself. He is unchangeable, immutable. Truth is truth, what is, what was, what will be, always and forever; you neither change nor have an end. [Ps 102:27] Thus, like it or not, it is He who keeps faith forever. [Ps 146:6]

Paul expands on this in Romans: What if some were unfaithful? Will their infidelity nullify the fidelity of God? Of course not! God must be true, though every human being is a liar, as it is written: “That you may be justified in your words, and conquer when you are judged.”[2] [Rom 3:3-4] Again, he ties it into Truth, truth in His judgment of you and me. We will judge Him, evaluate whether or not He is a God of His Word, and, in the end, we will have to concede that He always abides by the Truth, is the Truth, judges by the Truth. There is no getting around it.

So, to what is God faithful? He is faithful, He abides by, adheres to everything He ever said to me. We witness this from the beginning, from his first order: You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die. [Gen 2:16-17]

God does not threaten; He promises. And when He promises, He states facts. When He utters this curse: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; they will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel, [Gen 3:15] this will happen.

When Jesus’ promises: Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life, [Jn 5:24] if we listen to Him and believe in Him, we definitely, positively, will have eternal life, guaranteed. The same with all Jesus’ other statements: Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. [Jn 6:54]

It is this hope of eternal life that God, who does not lie, promised before time began. [Titus 1:2] It is this to which The LORD is righteous [just/lawful] in all his ways, and faithful [truthful] in all his works. [Ps 145:17]

I mean, let’s face it: Is God one to speak and not act, to decree and not bring it to pass? [Num 23:19] If He is, then we’re in BIG trouble. But, the testimony of witnesses throughout the whole of Salvation History adamantly shout: “NO WAY!” Even creation itself, by the fact that He brought it into being, sustains it, nourishes it, encourages it to flourish, even creation declares with every wisp of cloud and bellow of bull, “NO WAY!”

God, in Jesus, is not only a “man of His Word,” but the Father is a God of His Word. So You, God, not only talk the talk, but walk the walk. Your Word surrounds us with reality. You both tell us in what we are to believe, but also You are Him in whom we are to believe. The author of Hebrews stated: Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen[3]. [Heb 11:1] You are the substance, the Being, the Reality we hope for. You provide creation as Your own proof, though unseen. You say to us: Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will pass by. There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD—but the LORD was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the LORD was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire—but the LORD was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound, [1Kgs 19:11-12] mysterious, ungraspable, contradictory, a both/and: a silent sound, before whom we, like Elijah must hide our faces in our cloaks and go out and stand at the entrance of the cave of the world before You, LORD. [See 1Kgs 19:13]

In turn, You call me to walk the walk, to walk by faith, not by sight.[2Cor 5:7] But you know me! you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar….with all my ways you are familiar. Even before a word is on my tongue, LORD, you know it all.[Ps 139:2-4] That’s what makes me afraid. You know my vacillating commitment to You, God! On and off…hot and cold…Yes and no. I turn my will and my life over to You because I know that I am addicted to control and that You are in charge and have a plan for me and care for me and love me and want me to be with You and reach my greatest happiness…but in the next breath, I grab control back and go off and do what I want to do, when I want to do it, joining Sinatra in the chorus, belting out to the top of my lungs: “I’ll do it my way!”

That’s, of course, until I, like the Apostles get caught in the storms of life, so that my boat was being swamped by waves. I can’t believe You’re there, just calmly sleeping while I see the world is going to hell in a hand basket. I scream to the top of my lungs: “Lord, save me! I’m perishing!”

And what happens? You save me, and You rebuke me: Why are you terrified, O you of little faith? [Mt 8:24-26] What gives? Can’t You see I was frightened out of my wits? …But perhaps that is the very point. You do see that I was scared and You know, not just believe but know, that it is not necessary. You empathize with the adrenalin rush, the tax on my heart. You want me to know that the Father is always in charge, always knows what He is doing, always has my best interests at heart, always, always, always loves me with an unconditional love, the same love with which He loves the rest of the chaotic world and He would never, ever let anything happen to me or anybody else on the face of the earth, of which he was not aware, not caring, not concerned, not going to bring to a blessed conclusion.

You even tell us later that we can do it all: I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. [Mt 17:20]

Ok, ok, I hear you, unless your faith is firm, you shall not be firm. [Is 7:9] You reassure me that You are faithful and will not let…[me] be tried beyond…[my] strength; but with the trial…[You] will also provide a way out, so that…[I] may be able to bear it. [1Cor 10:13] You assure us that we can hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives us hope, for he who made the promise is trustworthy. [Heb 10:23]

It isn’t easy…we are dealing with evidence of things unseen. [Heb 11:1] The same with hope: in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope….But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.[Rom 8:24-25] However, You know our weakness, our frailty, our finitude. You have given us a reason, proof of why we should believe: since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession.[Heb 4:14] You gave us the rock on which the Church is built, and all the storms and violence and evil that Hell itself can throw against it will not budge it. [Mt 16:18] It is on this rock I will build my house, my faith, and I will listen to Your words and act on them and the rains will fall, the floods come, the winds blow and will try to tear my house down But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on the rock.[Mt 7:24-25] For me, the Lord will be my stronghold; my God will be the rock where I take refuge. [Ps 94:22] “Though storms may pound the securities and loves of our lives, we will not be vanquished. We will triumph through a reciprocal faithfulness.[4]

“Lord, we pray for the grace to feel your presence through our thoughts, circumstances, and moments of love that weave in and out of our day. We know that more times than not, the “feeling” is transitory. And that’s okay…Our life meaning is not advanced by a feeling, but it is anchored in the guarantee of your personal care for every aspect of our lives. To this claim we cling..[5]

“We will triumph through you being there for us and we being there for you.”[6]

[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] This echoes Ps 51: For I know my transgressions; my sin is always before me. Against you, you alone have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your eyes so that you are just in your word, and without reproach in your judgment. Behold, I was born in guilt, in sin my mother conceived me. [Ps 51:5-7]

[3] Faith is the realization…evidence: the author is not attempting a precise definition. There is dispute about the meaning of the Greek words hypostasis and elenchos, here translated realization and evidence, respectively. Hypostasis usually means “substance,” “being” (as translated in Heb 1:3), or “reality” (as translated in Heb 3:14); here it connotes something more subjective, and so realization has been chosen rather than “assurance” (RSV). Elenchos, usually “proof,” is used here in an objective sense and so translated evidence rather than the transferred sense of “(inner) conviction” (RSV). [NABRE note on Heb 11:1] (inner) conviction” (RSV).

[4] The Jesuit Prayer Team, Daily Inspiration: Mk 6: 30-34, JesuitPrayer.org July 19, 2015bid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. [1] [1Thes 5:16-18]: A Summary of Ignatian Spirituality

I have this as my mantra at the bottom of all the emails I send. This statement summarizes Ignatian Spirituality. The Principle and Foundation, indeed the whole Spiritual Exercises, could be considered a meditation on and elaboration of this verse.

Rejoice always.

“All the things in this world are gifts of God, presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily.[2]” Neither Paul nor Ignatius limit their exuberance but include everything, not only includes “things” but “life” itself. “Health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one,…everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God.”[3] Because these are given by God, they are designed by God to help me, are from the loving hand of God. For both Paul and Ignatius, everything, every happening, every moment, good or ill, everything is a cause for rejoicing.

Pray without ceasing.

This admonition of Paul finds its expression in the Exercises in multiple modes:

First, the conclusion of the Principle and Foundation is that that my only desire and choice should be that “I want and I choose what better leads to God’s deepening His life in me.” [4] Choosing, for Ignatius, involves discernment, “the interpretation of what St. Ignatius Loyola called the ‘motions of the soul.’ These interior movements consist of thoughts, imaginings, emotions, inclinations, desires, feelings, repulsions, and attractions. Spiritual discernment of spirits involves becoming sensitive to these movements, reflecting on them, and understanding where they come from and where they lead us.”[5] Constant monitoring of these movements requires my being in constant contact, aka prayer, with God and particularly the Holy Spirit. This ever present desire, a constant discernment, an ongoing choice, can only occur in a continual dialogue with God, aka prayer.

Second, the Ignatian Examen of Consciousness opens up our hearts and minds to God’s active presence in our world, to see messy details of our world transformed by the grandeur of God’s vision for creation in our lives. The triple Examen, a reminder in the morning and an Examen at noon and at night, is one of the first exercises that Ignatius recommends. This is not a complete Examination of Conscience but rather reviews our strengthening exercises done under the watchful eye of our Trainer, God, replacing a good habit for a bad one, how many repetitions we have made during the day, how many times we sloughed off and went back to our bad form. It ends with a renewed commitment to practice, practice, practice until, with God’s help, we get this right. It’s not so much a rag of ourselves as conditioning, as an update by our Trainer to keep ourselves in fit. As Paul says, Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. [1Cor 9:25] The Examen, therefore, is but one part of a whole fitness program monitored by a constant dialogue, aka “prayer”, with our Trainer, God.

Third, “Finding God in all things is at the core of Ignatian Spirituality and is rooted in our ever growing awareness that God can found in every person, in every place, in everything. When we learn to pay more attention to God, we become more thankful and reverent, and through this we become more devoted to God, more deeply in love with our Creator.[6]” Bringing to consciousness our awareness of God in all that we think, say and do, all that we encounter of people, places, things, events is praying always.

Fourth, “To live Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam is a way of being that permeates every thought, every deed, every action and inaction—all is contemplated and weighed, all for the greater glory of God. To live Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam is to lay claim to…a completely integrated other-ness that seeks to make all things whole, that approaches the liminal without hesitation, finds God in all things, finds the Good in all things, and seeks to proclaim His glory in all that we do…To seek Him and to find Him in all things, people, circumstances, and places, Unafraid to speak Truth to injustice To embrace the contradiction of Love Clothed in the power of the One who died naked and penniless. To be…called together at one table, unity in diversity, One family, working together to realize heaven on earth. Answering the call to serve and to glorify, in all ways, The Love that always finds a way.[7]So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. [1Cor 10:31] Such constant dialogue with God as to which option is for His greater glory is nothing other than constant prayer.

Finally, The Suscipe is a culmination of the last Exercise, the “Contemplation to Attain Divine Love”, a total giving of God everything that one has, turning our will and our life over to Him: “Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. You have given all to me. I surrender it all to you to be disposed of wholly according to Your will. Give me only Your love and Your grace. With these I will be rich enough and desire nothing more.”[8] By giving all I am to God, holding nothing back, and asking only for His Love and His Grace, which are sharings of Him Himself, we are asking to be continually united to Him in mind, body and soul, the ultimate everlasting prayer.

In all circumstances give thanks

This is the attitude accompanying active indifference, the posture Ignatius formulates in the Principle and Foundation from the beginning:

The other things on the face of the earth are created for man to help him in attaining the end for which he is created. Hence, man is to make use of them in as far as they help him in the attainment of his end, and he must rid himself of them in as far as they prove a hindrance to him.

Therefore, we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things, as far as we are allowed free choice and are not under any prohibition. Consequently, as far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long life to a short life. The same holds for all other things.

Our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we are created.[9]

Having based this premise on the fact that man was created for a higher purpose: “to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul,”[10] Ignatius then classifies everything else as a given by God to man as means to that end. Everything, good or ill, is a gift for which we are to be thankful. And our thankfulness is not based on the categories of the world, i.e. good or “bad,” nice or not nice, windfall or disaster. Regardless of whether we have health or sickness, riches or poverty, honor or dishonor, a long life or a short life, each of these can be “conducive to the end for which we are created.”

When we have a choice between one or other of these alternatives, we may strongly prefer one or the other. Ignatius urges us “to rid…[ourselves] of the attachment,…in such a way that [we]… seek only to will and not will as God our Lord inspires them, and as seems better for the service and praise of the Divine Majesty.”[11]

But whether we are allowed free choice and are not under any prohibition or not, Paul urges us in all circumstances give thanks. “In a society which is focused on the next goal, the next success, the next whatever, gratitude is countercultural. In truth, gratitude is the first step on the pathway to true freedom in God.” [12] Such an attitude is actually a help and support to the freedom from the tyranny of selfishness, of the need to control, of things, of the world’s definition of good and bad, success and failure. It is the mantra of active indifference. It enables us to see that God has control of our lives and, in His providence, is providing us with that which is best for me. Thus, if God gives me health or sickness, riches or poverty, honor or dishonor, a long life or a short life, it is time to rejoice, for it is precisely what I need to attain my greatest happiness. The Venerable John Henry Newman summarized this in a meditation:

God has created all things for Good; all things for their greatest good; everything for its own good….God has determined, unless I interfere with His plan, that I should reach that which will be my greatest happiness. He looks on me individually, He calls me by my name, He knows what I can do, what I can best be, what is my greatest happiness, and He means to give it me.

God knows what is my greatest happiness, but I do not. There is no rule about what is happy and good; what suits one would not suit another. And the ways by which perfection is reached vary very much; the medicines necessary for our souls are very different from each other. Thus God leads us by strange ways; we know He wills our happiness, but we neither know what our happiness is, nor the way. We are blind; left to ourselves we should take the wrong way; we must leave it to Him.

Let us put ourselves into His hands, and not be startled though He leads us by a strange way; a mirabilis via, as the Church speaks. Let us be sure He will lead us right; that He will bring us to that which is, not indeed what we may think best, not what is best for another, but what is best for us.[13]

Thomas Merton, in his prayer of unknowing, voices similar trust in Divine presence and providence: “…you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”[14]

Thus, as St. Paul writes elsewhere, my life is a continual hymn, giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father. [Eph 5:20]

for this is the will of God for you

As stated above, viewing the world with the eyes of one who resides in the Eternal Now, I can continually rejoice and thank God for what surprises, gifts, tokens of His unconditional Love, which He is unveiling before, above, and around me at this moving moment of my life. “The person who knows that there is far more to the spiritual journey than she currently experiences but is content to let God lead the way…she may experience the desire for more, but… focuses on what she has.”[15] The past is done and the future is not yet. God is the God of Now, of Love, and He reveals Himself in His providence and love to me in His ever changing display of my presentness.

While providence is history from God’s point of view, whether I (a) recognize, (b) acknowledge, (c) embrace, and (d) react with joy and thanksgiving are my perspectives. To be able to discern providence in the ongoing turmoil of my life, the ever evolving agony of the world in birth requires the gift of faith. Whether I acknowledge God as the creative genius, the loving Father, the sacrificing Son, the inspiring Spirit, behind providence or view in horror as incomprehensible karma or fate the chaos of life and death’s drama is my call. Whether I embrace that providential chaos as Christ did on the Cross and with Him redeem it and remold it into the Kingdom by taking up my Cross daily and following Him is my choice. Here I remember the Psalmist’s words: It was good for me to be afflicted, in order to learn your will. [Ps 199:71] And finally, whether I have the hope and trust in God’s abiding love to know that what is happening is for the greatest happiness of me and every other person, because what is the best for me is the best for all around me, as the 12 Step program says,…all this is an embrace of God’s love, is a gift of God’s vision, God’s eyes, of Jesus viewing the world through me. I am called to continual willing acceptance, to repeat and live the refrain: your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. [Mt 6:10] God’s will is that His Eternal Now continually elicit my Everlasting Yes. 

in Christ Jesus

I am in Christ and Jesus is in me. I cannot rejoice, pray always, give thanks in all circumstances alone. I will be faced with trials, with sorrows, with crosses too great for me to even pretend to rejoice or give thanks in their midst. My only prayer will be for deliverance, for rescue. Humanly, I will be blind to the deep undying, unconditional love that surrounds me, that envelopes this tragedy, this meltdown, this death, without the abiding and sustaining presence and support of Jesus within, around, under and over me. Only by working through the denial, the anger, the frustration, the silence of God with Jesus at my side, joining my cry: My God, My God, why have You forsaken me, [Ps 22:1; Mt 27:46] only as He picks me up and carries me over the sand until I am ready to walk beside Him again,[16] will I leave my depression behind. Only with Jesus’ personal help will I again be able again to enter into God’s temple singing praise and thanksgiving with the joyful crowd. [see Ps 42:4]

But, in such times, I do not sit Shiva alone. Jesus arrives in the persons of family, friends, relatives neighbors, priests, pastors, children and adults. Sometimes sitting in silence with me is all I need or want, just being there is a comfort. I am not alone as I walk through my dark valleys, You are there in others. Your crook to bring me back when I stray to deep depression, Your staff wards off the evil that wishes to crowd in and take me even then.

Thus, it is in Jesus, through Jesus, with Jesus that I can fulfill the will of the Father whether in the sunshine of happiness or in the midst of misery, rejoicing that He is with me, praying for His will to be done, giving thanks that he “has vouchsafed me knowledge of his works; deep thanks that he has set in my darkness the lamp of faith; deep, deepest thanks that I have another life to look forward to–a life joyous with light and flowers and heavenly song.”[17]

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. As I said, the whole statement exudes Ignatian spirituality. God, grant that I may live it out to the fullest, discerning You in all things, following You into the More, choosing the Way of Your greater glory, offering all that I am and have to You, knowing that You will care for me in all circumstances. And whatever I do, in word or in deed, may I do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. [Col 3:17] 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] David Fleming, SJ, A Contemporary Reading – St. Ignatius Loyola – First Principle and Foundation, Spiritual Exercises [23], http://www.xavierhs.org/s/717/ images/editor_documents/petrielloj/fp_f_3ver_.pdf

[3] Fleming, Contemporary, Ibid.

[4] Fleming, Contemporary, Ibid.

[5] Discernment of Spirits, Ignatian Spirituality, Loyola Press, http://www.ignatianspirituality.com /making-good-decisions/discernment-of-spirits#sthash.CGi90JEL.dpuf

[6] Finding God in All Things, Our Catholic Faith, Ignatian Spirituality, Loyola Press, http://www.loyolapress.com/ignatian-spirituality-finding-god-in-all-things.htm

[7] Rebecca Ruiz, Living “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam,” July 22, 2015, Ignatian Spirituality, Loyola Press, http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/22204/living-ad-majorem-dei-gloriam#sthash.jbIJIP8v.dpuf

[8] Amy Welborn. Suscipe, the Radical Prayer, adapted from The Words We Pray, Ignatian Spirituality, Loyola Press, http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/prayers-by-st-ignatius-and-others/suscipe-the-radical-prayer

[9] Ignatius of Loyola. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius: Based on Studies in the Language of the Autograph (Kindle Locations 179-183). Kindle Edition. Para. 23.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid. Para 155.

[12] Mags Blackie, The Centrality of Gratitude, Ignatian Spirituality, Loyola Press, Nov. 20, 2014. http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/20010/the-centrality-of-gratitude#sthash.2fHO4qbM.dpuf Subscribe to dotMagis, the blog of Ignatian Spirituality

[13] Venerable John Henry Newman, Meditations on Christian Doctrine, I. Hope in God—Creator March 6,1848, http://www.newmanreader.org/works/meditations/meditations9.html

[14] The Merton Prayer, Reflections, Yale University, Spring, 2012, http://reflections.yale.edu/ article/seize-day-vocation-calling-work/merton-prayer#sthash.Oh2wm0Je.dpuf

[15] Blackie, Gratitude, Ibid.

[16] See Mary Stevenson’s “Footprints in the Sand,” http://www.footprints-inthe-sand.com/index.php?page=Poem/Poem.php

[17] Helen Keller, Quotable Quote, Goodreads, https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/3268-for-three-things-i-thank-god-every-day-of-my

The Standard Expected of Me

“Living God, stand by me. Hold me up. Be my strength when I am tired, my inspiration when I am bored, my life when I am listless. Living God, I cannot always meet the standard expected of me, cannot always be the personality I am known for. Abba when I fail, Abba when I stumble, I will rest in your presence.”

—Edwina Gately[1]

This is a lovely prayer. I certainly relate to calling on the Lord to “be my strength when I am tired, my inspiration when I am bored, my life when I am listless”… and to calling to my Divine Dad when I no longer can hold myself up as an adult “when I fail…,when I stumble,” and I need to crawl up and rest in His lap.

However, the sentence that caught my attention was: “Living God, I cannot always meet the standard expected of me, cannot always be the personality I am known for.” Am I always playing up to “the standard expected of me,…the personality I am known for?” And who is doing the “expecting” and “knowing”?

Three possibilities present themselves: God, others and myself.

 

God:

The sentence starts by a petition to the “Living God.” Thus, one would expect that He was the one setting the standard, measuring the personality. But is this the case?

Certainly, Hebrew Scripture testifies that God knows us intimately:

  • Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. (Jer 1:5) [2]
  • It is you alone who know the heart of every human being. (1Kgs 8:39)
  • The One who fashioned together their hearts is the One who knows all their works. (Ps 33:15)
  • The LORD knows the plans of man; they are like a fleeting breath. (Ps 94:11)
  • He searches out the abyss and penetrates the heart; their secrets he understands. (Sir 42:18)
  • I, the LORD, explore the mind and test the heart, giving to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their deeds. (Jer 17:10)
  • LORD of hosts, you test the just, you see mind and heart. (Jer 20:12)

Jesus certainly did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well. (Jn 2:24-25)

And, indeed, we know that God set standards for us to meet. Being created in His image and likeness, one of His most frequent analogies is you shall make and keep yourselves holy, because I am holy. [Lev 11:44] In case we didn’t get the message, He repeats its it in the next sentence: you shall be holy; for I, the LORD, am holy [Lev 11:45] and later in the same book, when outlining the rules of conduct: The LORD said to Moses: Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: Be holy, for I, the LORD your God, am holy. [Lev 19:1-2] and, in case we missed it: you shall be holy; for I, the LORD, am holy [Lev 20:26] Finally, in case we don’t read Leviticus, the Holy Spirit has Peter in the New Testament state in his First Epistle: as He who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, “Be holy because I [am] holy.” [1Pet 1:15-16]

More generally, He expected us to obey Him because we love Him. Love the LORD, your God, therefore, and keep his charge, statutes, ordinances, and commandments always. (Deut 11:1)[3]

So, God knows me intimately and sets standards for me…Is He the one to which the author of our prayer refers? Certainly a viable candidate. But before answering that question, we ought to at least look at the other two candidates: myself and you.

 

You:

The you is really the “we,” the society in general. We certainly set standards…for just about everything, from how green and weed free my lawn can and, by implication, should be, to what insurance I should carry if I am smart and wish to save money. Everything from the underwear I “should” be putting on in the morning to the pill I “should” be taking at night to be better in bed is standardized, set out for us to admire and approve. Note that in each advertisement to which we are subjected, the implication is that if I don’t choose this particular product, I am behind the times, not in with the in crowd, certainly not too swift and definitely, definitely not to be invited to the next do, whatever that is.

We even package the news so that I will (a) hear only about certain events we consider important and shaping the future of the world in which the “we” have determined that they do, and by implication, everyone else should, want to live and (b) hear only the interpretation or spin on those events which we deem to be the “right” or “left” one, depending on our political persuasion. Of course, by implication, if I do not listen to the formatted news, believe without question the highly edited edition they dole out, follow their norm, the guidelines set by the majority of society or at least a “non-discriminated against minority” of society, I will, forefend, not “always meet the standard expected of me.” Horrors!!! How much different than the freedom of conscience, of will, of choice, of action, preached by the Pope…[4]

The same, of course, goes for “the personality I am known for.” If, according to you, I can’t quite make the grade, ah, too bad, I guess I’m just not quite with it, not texting with the in crowd, not surfing the “in” sites, not smiling with perfectly aligned ivories. Of course, coming up to this standard personality is what society doles out pills for, either to ease into the grade or to escape from the reality that imposes such stringent models to mimic. Little depressed, need something to take that cutting edge off of society’s scalpel for a while. We have an Rx for that. Aren’t quite jolly enough, high enough, enjoying yourself enough, we’ve got something for that too…not quite legal, but hey, everybody’s doing it…so how about me? Is that the personality I wish to be known for?

 

Me:

Well, society certainly has standards it expects me to reach, keep, whatever. But does it truly know me…do you truly know me. “Indeed I do!” comes the indignant reply, “I can pigeon-hole you precisely: you are one of 7.325 billion people on this planet, of 320.09 live in the United States, and of 625,741 in Vermont. Of these, you are one of the 596,292 that are Caucasian, and of the 293,649 that are male. You are one of the 9,391 who are between 70 and 74,…etc., etc., etc. ad infinitum…”until society and you come down to “You are Paul who live at this address with this wife and these dogs and you do such and such….” But do all these statistics, individually or combined, define me? Would the equivalent define you? My point exactly! So, you haven’t walked a mile in my moccasins or circled my earth in my capsule…been through all my sorrows and joys, all my sins and all those guilt driven repentances, etc.

But this is not the exterior that you may imagine you see.

“I give you the impression that I’m secure, that all is sunny and unruffled with me, within as well as without, that confidence is my name and coolness my game, that the water’s calm and I’m in command and that I need no one, but don’t believe me. My surface may seem smooth but my surface is my mask, ever-varying and ever-concealing. Beneath lies no complacence. Beneath lies confusion, and fear, and aloneness….I’m afraid you’ll think less of me, that you’ll laugh, and your laugh would kill me. I’m afraid that deep-down I’m nothing and that you will see this and reject me. So I play my game, my desperate pretending game, with a facade of assurance without and a trembling child within…A long conviction of worthlessness builds strong walls….Who am I, you may wonder? I am someone you know very well. For I am every man you meet and I am every woman you meet.”[5]

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to know me. As Finn points out in his poem, your “glance is precisely my salvation, my only hope, and I know it. That is, if it’s followed by acceptance, if it’s followed by love. It’s the only thing that can liberate me from myself, from my own self-built prison walls, from the barriers I so painstakingly erect.”

 

You and Me….

Of course, part of my problem is that the very standards to which you and society expect me to adhere are the ones that I assimilate, acknowledge and attempt to abide by. You and I set them up and therefore you and I are both the judge and the judged.

But if, simultaneously, you are “my only hope” and I am yours, we are caught between a rock and a hard place…you will judge or accept me and ditto for me judging or accepting you, and we may scorn one another when we “cannot always be the personality…[we are] known for” or we may love each other as we are which is what we do to our family, friends and relatives, but not necessarily or at least not automatically to anyone else, especially our enemies.

Realistically, being human, we will probably do both, accept and reject each other, love and scorn each other. But as Jesus points out, this is a cop out: if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. [Lk 6:32-33] Since we are sinners, He has our modus operandi pegged perfectly. From Cain and Abel onward, even blood brother has turned against brother. You and I do not always love each other as neighbor as ourselves. But that’s nothing new. Neither do I love myself as I should nor probably do you love yourself unreservedly. And that is something with which we will have to live. “Following God’s commands is rarely a cakewalk. Love my neighbor? Has God met the guy next door?”[6] This doesn’t mean we can’t strive against judging and for loving. Just means that the striving doesn’t always win out.

The problem is that our personal striving is also played out in society, between the right wingers and the left wingers, conservatives and radicals, coal miners and conservationists, legals and illegals, white and black. And on the international stage between Palestinians and Israelis, Russians and Ukrainians, ISIS and anti-ISIS, USA and Russia, the insurgents and the entrenched, the rebels and the governments.

So, we seem to have exhausted the possibilities without coming up with a satisfactory solution. “We often do not know why God brings certain events into our lives. When circumstances are tough to bear or people are hard to love, we might ask whether God has our best interests at heart.”[7]

 

St. Paul’s answers

So, how can we answer whether God has our best interests at heart. And more to the point, do those best interests can address this stupid, unrealistic, unattainable standard expected of me, this personality for which I am known but which is, in reality, not really me?…St. Paul offers two answers to this conundrum: weakness and faith.

Weakness:

We know from Paul’s writings that he continually battles the temptation of pride: And I know that this person (whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows) was caught up into Paradise and heard ineffable things, which no one may utter. About this person I will boast, but about myself I will not boast, except about my weaknesses. Although if I should wish to boast, I would not be foolish, for I would be telling the truth. But I refrain, so that no one may think more of me than what he sees in me or hears from me because of the abundance of the revelations. [2Cor 12:3-7] He is dealing with the reality of his blessings, the “revelations” which are the “truth,” and he knows he himself is “this person” about which he might “boast.” But he knows deep down in his heart that equally real is the fact that these are not truly “his” accomplishments, but God’s, that he did nothing to merit them, that they were a completely gratuitous gift which were given from God’s Providence, not earned by him.

God, however, helped him cope with this temptation, again through His Providence: Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh[8] was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me. [2Cor 12:7-8] This bears reflection that the bad things that happen in my life are probably there through God’s Providence, for a purpose.

And God even explains to Paul why He is leaving the affliction: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Two reasons: (a) God never asks us to do anything for which He does not give us sufficient grace to accomplish, Not that of ourselves we are qualified to take credit for anything as coming from us; rather, our qualification comes from God [2Cor 3:5] and (b) the second part of the sentence makes more sense if we add identifiers to “power,” and “weakness”: for God’s power is made perfect in my weakness.”[9] The Greek is: “for My, i.e. God’s, power is being perfected in [your, i.e. Paul’s] infirmity with the greatest relish[10].” Paul says the same thing slightly differently in another famous verse: I can do all things through him who strengthens me. [Phil 4:13]

I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. [2Cor 12:9] Thus, for Paul and for us, weakness, failure, the ever present lack, the emptiness, is what is glorious, it is in what he exalts, he relishes, he boasts about. Why? Because, then whatever good is shown forth, whatever love is demonstrated for all to see, whatever wisdom, charity, humility is on display in his words, his actions, his life, is not from fumbling feeble, finite Paul but the direct result, a potent witness to the power, the grace, the justice and peace of Christ dwelling in him shining forth.

He can then say without being completely nuts, over the top or irrational: Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ. [2Cor 12:10] Why? Because in all these seeming failures, these inabilities, these setbacks, these obstacles, his own finiteness is blazingly evident; but the fact that they all ultimately lead to advancing the cause of Christ, spreading the Kingdom, witnessing that there is more at work here than just mortal powers, means they were indeed done for the sake of Christ, His Kingdom, His Word, His Glory, for they were done by His power, the power of His Spirit working out the salvation of the world through, with and in the limitations of mankind. Thus, Paul can say without hesitation, without need for explanation or interpretation, as a statement of reality: for when I am weak, then I am strong. [2Cor 12:10]   As he says in another place: But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. [2Cor 4:7]

Thus, that “standard by which I am to be judged,” both by myself and by God, if not by the world/society, is not success, glistening teeth and a plastic smile, but weakness, obedience to the best of my limited and finite ability, regardless of the outcome, regardless of whether either what I undertake or I myself am a success or failure, remembering that even God’s only begotten Son’s crucifixion was evidence of the greatest failure in history before the resurrection. I will therefore trust in God that He has the outcome which is most loving, most caring, and ultimately will lead to my greatest happiness. That personality for which I am known, the persona I drag around with me and haul out whenever I am confronted with the same “society,” that stage mask I flip on in public, is no longer necessary, can be junked, and I can just let all of the real me hang out…for that is who God lovingly created, who God cherished and died for, I am who God loves.

Faith

What about faith as an answer to false standards and pseudo personalities? Perhaps the answer is at least hinted at in the last line of the prayer: Abba when I fail, Abba when I stumble, I will rest in your presence. Weakness certainly has to do with failing, with stumbling, but how about faith…is that resting in Your presence, God?

Let’s look at faith as freedom from the law[11]. Paul dealt with this conundrum in Romans. He first points out, using the example of covetousness, that the law is what identifies, defines, makes explicit, what thoughts, words and deeds are sinful: What then can we say? That the law is sin? Of course not! Yet I did not know sin except through the law, and I did not know what it is to covet except that the law said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, finding an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetousness. [Rom 7:7-8a] He even goes so far as to say that apart from the law sin is dead, [Rom 7:8b] that is, sin requires the law to define itself, to give it existence, potency, essence.

While normally when Paul speaks of the law, he is usually referring to the Mosaic Law, he does not let those who did not know that particular form of the Law off the hook: For when the Gentiles who do not have the law by nature observe the prescriptions of the law, they are a law for themselves even though they do not have the law. They show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even defend them on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge people’s hidden works through Christ Jesus. [Rom 2:14-16, see also Heb 10:16; Jer 31:33]

Thus, Jews and Greeks, Judeo or Christian, Believer or non-Believer, we all are hard-wired to know right and wrong through the law that is written in our hearts and conscience.

So, how are we to get out of this conundrum? As soon as I recognize the law within and/or without, I become subject to it and, if I transgress it, I sin. I once lived outside the law, but when the commandment came, sin became alive; then I died, and the commandment that was for life turned out to be death for me. For sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and through it put me to death. [Rom 7:9-11]

I am then caught up in a moral Catch-22: We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold into slavery to sin. What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I concur that the law is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. [Rom 7:14-17] I know that the Law is spiritual, that the Law is Good, that I want to follow the Law. But somehow the signals get bollixed up inside me and I do the opposite. I am just like a teenager, if there is a curfew, it gnaws at me until I test it; a boundary I am not “allowed” to cross is like a red flag waiving in front of a bull, it is there to be charged. For I take delight in the law of God, in my inner self, but I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind, taking me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.[12] [Rom 7:22-23]

But there is hope and that hope is in our faith, our belief in Jesus Christ, that He is our salvation, our justification. Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have achieved it, that is, righteousness that comes from faith; but that Israel, who pursued the law of righteousness, did not attain to that law?[Rom 9:30-31] Christ is the end of the law for the justification of everyone who has faith. [Rom 10:4]

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. [Eph 2:8-9] It is not the works of the Law, the keeping of the Law, that we will be saved; for as we have seen, that is impossible, since Law revealed the boundary which we transgressed, the sin in which we are mired. However, if we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing. [1Jn 1:9]

On the other hand, faith as shown in works, not of the Law, but of the Lord, the works of charity: If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. [James 2:15-17] Therefore, my beloved brothers, be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. [1Cor 15:58]

So the standard expected of me is not the standard of the world, it is not the standard even of myself, it is Jesus’ standard of charity by which we will be judged: Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me. [Mt 25:34-36] For whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. [1Jn 4:20]

For if Christ may make His home in your hearts through faith, [Eph 3:17] if I am crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me, [Gal 2:20], then truly whatever I did for one of these least brothers of mine, I did for Jesus, Himself. [Mt 25:40] This is the standard that, unfortunately, I cannot always meet.

And what about “the personality I am [suppose to be] known for:” if Christ has made his home in me, if I am crucified with Christ, that is, if I have died to self and I no longer live but He lives in me, then it is His personality which I should be known: I have put on the new self, which is being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its creator…heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. [Col 3:10, 12-14]

Unfortunately, as Mahatma Gandhi said: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” So I “cannot always be the personality I am known for.” It is at that juncture, that oft occurring fall from grace that we must continually pray the rest of Edwina Gately prayer: “Abba when I fail, Abba when I stumble, I will rest in your presence.” Have mercy on me. Amen.

_______________________________

[1] Quoted from “Prayer,” “First Martyrs of the Church of Rome, Mt 8: 23-27,” Daily Inspiration from JesuitPrayer.org, June 30, 2015

[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] The Hebrew Scriptures are replete with this if/then refrain, i.e. in return for loving and obeying Him, God will… Dt 7:12–14; 10:12–13; 28:1–14; Lv 26:3–5; Jer 5:24; Ps 104:14, is but a sample.

[4] “Be free people! What do I mean? Perhaps it is thought that freedom means doing everything one likes, or seeing how far one can go…. This is not freedom. Freedom means being able to think about what we do, being able to assess what is good and what is bad, these are the types of conduct that lead to development; it means always opting for the good. Let us be free for goodness. And in this do not be afraid to go against the tide, even if it is not easy! Always being free to choose goodness is demanding, but it will make you into people with a backbone who can face life, people with courage and patience…. Be men and women with others and for others: true champions at the service of others.” – Pope Francis, “The Culture of Good,” The Church of Mercy: His First Major Book: A Message of Hope for All People, 135-136

[5] Charles C. Finn, “Please Hear What I’m Not Saying,” September 1966; poetrybycharlescfinn.com/pages/please-hear-what-im-not-saying

[6] Brian Harper, “God’s Good Grace,” “The Lord will provide.” Gn 22:14; Daily Inspiration from JesuitPrayer.org, July 2, 2015

[7] Ibid. “That said, most of us can also recall instances that, while painful, led to unforeseen blessings. In Abraham’s case, a demonstrated willingness to follow God at all costs brought new depth to his faith.”

[8] “Variously interpreted as a sickness or physical disability, a temptation, or a handicap connected with his apostolic activity. But since Hebrew “thorn in the flesh,” like English “thorn in my side,” refers to persons (cf. Nm 33:55; Ez 28:24), Paul may be referring to some especially persistent and obnoxious opponent. The language of 2 Cor 12:7–8 permits this interpretation.” Note on 2Cor: 12:7 New American Bible, revised edition [NABRE] (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C., 2010), as posted on the USCCB site: http://www.usccb.org/bible/2corinthians/12#55012007-1

[9] See Ps 28:7-8; Is 12:2; 33:2; 40:29-31; 41:10; Hab 3:9; 2Tim 1:7; Acts 1:8; Heb 4:16, etc.

[10] “with the greatest relish” is normally seen to modify Paul’s boasting in the next sentence and is translated most gladly. However, while I do not know Greek, at least the juxtaposition of the adverb to “is being perfected” may raise the wonderful possibility, if remote, that it is to God’s enjoyment of perfecting us that ἥδιστα refers. To me, this makes more sense, for it seems more in keeping with God’s love and concern shown in His explanation to Paul.

[11] Note that the “law” can also be the mores of society, those written, but especially those unwritten codes by which we navigate our way in our world.

[12] And we are all in the same boat: All have gone astray; all alike are perverse. Not one does what is good, not even one. [Ps 14:1–3; Rom 3:10–11; Ps 53:2–4; Eccl 7:20.] John puts the nail in our coffin when he says: If we say, “We are without sin,” we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. [1Jn 1:8]

Breadth and Length and Height and Depth, Part 2

Prayer for the Readers Eph 3:14-21

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.[1]

that he may grant you

I don’t often stop to consider how much God grants me in the course of a single day, a single minute. Consider existence, life itself, creation, breath, blood, vision, hearing, mobility, the grass, the sky, the cattle, the sunrise, the plants, the clock, the computer, hands. And then there is thought, faith, hope, unconditional love, angels, devils, Christ in me, being a temple of the Holy Spirit, having God as my Father, the communion of saints.

Jesus tried to remind us of this many times:

  • Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. [Mt 6:26]
  • 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. [Mt 6:28-29]
  • The eyes of all look hopefully to you; you give them their food in due season. You open wide your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing. [Ps 145:15-16]
  • Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. [Mt 10:29]
  • Even all the hairs of your head are counted. [Mt 10:30]
  • But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. [Mt 6:33]
  • Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. [Mt 6:34]

His conclusion to all these reassurances? Follow me![2] Take up your cross daily and follow me! [Lk 9:23] Indeed, Jesus says don’t worry about His plan for others: “What concern is it of yours? You follow me.” [Jn 21:22]

May:

not probability with only possibility of fulfillment but likelihood by removing obstacles. Paul kneels to intercede for us, to act as our advocate, to plead for us, to increase the assurance that God will answer his prayer and grant us that for which Paul prays.

in accord with the riches of his glory

Paul uses the exact same phrase two other times:

  • My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father, glory forever and ever. Amen. [Phil 4:19-20] Here, again, God is fulfilling a need in accord with the riches of his glory.
  • This was to make known the riches of his glory to the vessels of mercy, which he has prepared previously for glory, namely, us whom he has called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles.[Rom 9:23-24] Here the riches are equated with that which is made known to us.

Jesus is the refulgence of his glory. [Heb 1:3] For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of [Jesus] Christ. [2Cor 4:6] This is iterated in Jesus prayer to the Father in John: “Father, glorify your name.” And the Father answers Him is John’s Theophany: Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.” [John 12:28]

What are the riches of God’s glory? The question is better posed: Who is the riches of God’s Glory: Jesus: For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.[Rom 11:36]

To be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self.

This is what He grants: that we be strengthened, κραταιόω, “strong in spirit” from the root meaning “the mighty power of God.” This same word is used by Luke to describe the maturation of John the Baptist: The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel, [Lk 1:80] and Jesus: The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.[Lk 2:40] Paul wishes to emphasize the fact that it is a spiritual strengthening, so he adds with power through his Spirit in the inner self, but, in one sense, he has said it all in κραταιόω.

Not that we should give short shrift to the Holy Spirit. To put this in context, the entire Scripture and particularly the New Testament covertly, but overtly from Pentecost on, is a narration, a testament to the works of the Holy Spirit in individuals and in the Church. Here Paul prays for that to continue in the faithful in Ephesus as it has in the whole Church.[3]

Finally, note that the power through his Spirit is directed to and located in the inner self. This iterates the emphasis of Jesus on avoiding external power, lording it over other, and making one’s authority over them felt, a particularly poignant point in this time of social, corporate, political and military pressure, coercion and intimidation. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. [Mk 10:42-44]

and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith;

We don’t really notice it, but in all Scripture, where you find Jesus, you find the Spirit; from His conception to His baptism to His temptations to His ministry to His last words on the Cross to His first blessing after His Resurrection to Pentecost, their ministries, their missions from the Father are intertwined, complimenting and manifesting the other.

So here also, Paul first prays that we be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. Notice the parallels, not only Spirit and Christ but also the inner self and in your hearts and power and faith. Complimentary and cooperating by combining into forming a true redeemed one, an adopted child of the Father.

The indwelling of Christ in the inner self of the Spirit is an experience of which I only recently became aware, the fact that Jesus is in me and I am in Him, not just metaphorically, not just theologically, not just theoretically, but actually, really, and continuously.

It took me aback to realize that the Divine Son of God actually wants to spend time with me, be with me, walk with me, be yoked with me [Mt 11:30]. My first reaction is to panic, run around inside myself like a chicken with its head cut off, trying to clean up my mess, to be tidy and ship-shape for my Guest. That phase paralleled my life…the external conformity stage which lasted at least 40 years, give or take. It’s the “Doing” phase; the “I have to” phase; the “Law” phase. If I didn’t get it right, He won’t come, I’m sunk, that’s the end.

Only recently am I gradually, with the prompting of my Spiritual Director, my Confessor and particularly the Holy Spirit, entering the internal faith and love stage: graduating into the “Being” phase, the “Do unto me” phase, the “Prophets” phase.[4]

It in interesting that, in this stage, one’s perception of sin is changed. Whereas in the conformity stage, I battled sin and bad habits endlessly and without much success. It is somewhat like trying to denying the fact that all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. [Rom 3:23] If we say, “We are without sin,” we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us…If we say, “We have not sinned,” we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. [1Jn 1:8,10] I did not accept the fact that, while I could be cleansed of sin and reconciled with God through Confession, I was still a sinner.

This “new” phase incorporates that acceptance and the realization that Jesus, the Father, the Holy Spirit, love me anyway unconditionally, particularly without my ill conceived lies of which I tried to convince myself that (a) I was not a sinner; and (b) I could only be lovable if I was not a sinner. For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodlyBut God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us… Indeed, if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, once reconciled, will we be saved by his life. [Rom 5:6,8,10] Indeed, God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. [Jn 3:17]

So now I just say “Hi” to Jesus each morning, pick up my cross with all my sins hanging off it in glorious array, for He has forgiven them and trudge with Him, after Him, following Him. We are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as an expiation, through faith, by his blood, to prove his righteousness because of the forgiveness of sins previously committed, through the forbearance of God—to prove his righteousness in the present time, that he might be righteous and justify the one who has faith in Jesus. [Rom 3:24-26]

[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] Indeed, this seems to be a favorite expression: Mt 8:22; 9:9; 10:38; 16:24; 19:21; Mk 2:14; 8:34; 10:21; Lk 5:27; 9:23; 9:59; 18:22; Jn 1:43; 10:27; 12:26; 13:36; 21:19,22.

[3] An exegetical conjecture without backing or proof: The fact that the whole first section of this letter, Chapters 1-3, is a prayer [“which was begun in 1:15-20, taken up again in 3:1 only to be interrupted in 3:2-13 by the description of Paul’s role in revelation” Kobelski, Note on Eph 3:15, TNJBC, 888] of which this section is the conclusion interrupted by exposition at least hints at the possibility that this was a prayer of the Church which Paul knew and may have been adapted to apply especially to the Ephesians at this time a la the Christological Hymns he incorporated in Philippians 2:6-11 and Colossians 1:15-20. For a substantiated exegetical interpretation, see Kobelski, Note on “Thanksgiving and Prayer of Intercession (1:14-23), THJBC, 887.

[4] While the prophets certainly upheld the Law, they also urged its Spirit including a spirit of repentance and redemption after being unable to keep the law perfectly: My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn. Ps 51:19] See also Ps 40:7; 50:8; Am 5:21–22; Hos 6:6; Is 1:11–15.

“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.”