Sunday, July 16, 2017

God Works for the Good of Those who Love Him.

Christus Pantocrator or Christ the All Powerful
These summer days, here are a few thoughts well worth considering.

The word of God takes us back to a prophet known as Second Isaiah, in the 6th century before Jesus. The author is fascinated with the awe and wonder and grandeur of this universe. And he proclaims that, just as the spring rains and winter snows bring forth new life on the ground, so too does the word of God bring forth goodness. God’s word is life-giving and will ultimately achieve what God has set out to do despite the hindrances we place before the word.

Paul urges the Christian community in the Rome of the 60s, undergoing all kinds of hardships, to stay the course and not lose their confidence in God. Paul goes on to say: just as a mother in her labor brings forth a beautiful child, so God ultimately will reveal his glory and splendor and grandeur, despite the natural disasters and human tragedies we encounter daily. Paul challenges us to remember that we are destined for glory: good ultimately will triumph over evil.

In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus speaks to us in a parable.  The sower is God. Notice how generous God is. He spreads his goodness everywhere. The seed is the word of God. The different kinds of soil are different people. Some people are like “rocky ground, others “thorny” ground, still others “good soil”: they hear God's word and just do it.

In light of Paul's advice to the community at Rome, we might ask how do we cope with the challenges of life? Life is a set of challenges, problems and hassles. We sometimes imagine that if we could just deal with the immediate challenge that we're facing, all our problems would be over. But life is not like that. If we resolve one problem, others are just around the corner.

The temptation is to see this as preventing us from doing the right thing. Not so! The Bible is true to life. Look at what so many people today face around the world, e. g., Syria and Iraq, South Sudan and the Congo.

How cope with challenges?  First, talk to God as you would a friend. Whatever situations we may face, bring them to God in prayer.

Second, trust that God is in control. “Faith,” C.S. Lewis wrote, “is the art of holding on to things.... once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.” Yes, it's hard to trust when everything seems to be going wrong. But think about St. Paul, who wrote, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. (Romans 8:28) Paul's imprisonment resulted in him being sent to Rome to preach the gospel, precisely what he wanted to do in the first place.. Vast numbers of innocent people, undergoing hardships, have been inspired by Paul's story. You and I may never know how God uses our faithfulness to achieve his purposes.

Third, take every opportunity that God gives us to never give up on doing the right thing. Whatever challenges, keep praying, keep trusting, keep looking for opportunities to serve God!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Jesus is our true Wisdom

Rembrandt's Prodigal Son
In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus invites us: “Come to me, all you who find life burdensome and I will refresh you.” Yes, when we begin to think that our lives are empty or burdensome, Jesus is here to fill our emptiness, to lighten our burdens: whether broken relationships or illness or the death of a loved one or the loss of a job, or whatever.

 I would like to reflect on Jesus as “our true wisdom who guides us, brings us good news and provides for us.

The film “Lawrence of Arabia” is drawn from T.E. Lawrence’s activities in the middle east in World War I. His memoir, written in 1926, is titled “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.” I would guess he had in mind the wisdom literature of ancient Israel, “Wisdom has built her house; she has set up her seven pillars.” (Prov 9:1). Jesus is our true wisdom, the image of the God we cannot see, our guide, our good news, our provider.

First, Jesus gives all the guidance we need. Because we have the Spirit dwelling within us. We are “led by the Spirit of God.” (Rom 8:14). And God has bestowed the gifts of the Spirit upon us: wisdom to recognize what truly matters in life, intelligence to discern what's true, courage, compassion for the needy, good judgment and wonder and awe.

In a world that desperately needs good news, Jesus has provided us with that. “Gospel” means “good news.” The good news is about Jesus, his death and resurrection. (Acts 17, v.18). All we need is in Jesus. The good news of Jesus is dynamically relevant to all generations, cultures and situations. People’s needs are always the same. The message of the gospel is always the same. Set aside regular time to study the scriptures, the privileged expression of our faith.

And Jesus taught us to pray. “Give us this day our daily bread.” (Matt 6:11) Look to Jesus. He will provide us with all we need.

One of my favorite biblical narratives is the story of Elijah. When the brook that provided water dried up, God sent Elijah to a widow for food. The point is: when one door closes, God is about to open another door in our life. Elijah asks for food. The widow replies that she and her son were about to eat their last meal and die. But Elijah promises that if she is generous, God will provide for her needs. And it turned out exactly so. The woman showed great faith in God. I truly believe that if we give generously, we will discover that we cannot out-give God.

Yes, Jesus is our true wisdom who guides us, brings us good news and provides for us so that we can become our better selves; images of God.

Monday, July 3, 2017

God, Country and Family

Baptism of Jesus by John
Happy 4th of July weekend. We celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 in Philadelphia. That document proclaims aloud: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Woodrow Wilson said this document is a “program of action” for all people.

This weekend, we might rededicate ourselves afresh to these principles for people everywhere, and not just in the United States. As we reflect on our own religious liberties, we might pray for the many people around the world, especially Christians in the middle east, who are being discriminated against or injured or killed for practicing their faith.

We have recently been celebrating the lives of some of the heroes of our faith, e.g., John the Baptist, Peter and Paul. Who are your favorite heroes and heroines in Christianity?  Why? One of my favorites is John the Baptist. He immersed people in the Jordan River as a sign of repentance, of their desire to be cleansed from old ways so that they could live a new way, oriented to God’s covenant. John prepares the way for Jesus, the bridge between two covenants that created a special relationship between God and us: that of the Hebrews and that of Jesus Christ.

Most importantly, John pointed to Jesus as the light, the Lord, the One to whom we owe our ultimate allegiance, the “Passover” or sacrificial Lamb of God through whose blood we have God’s eternal life. John is indeed the herald of Jesus, and challenges us to be heralds of Jesus in our families, workplaces and communities by the manner in which we live.

How might we prepare the way of the Lord in our families?

First, continue to create a better sense of togetherness, of closeness and care for one another. Keep in touch, even if it’s only by telephone or email or skype. Be hospitable, checking in with elderly relatives. Remember birthdays/anniversaries and celebrate them together, if possible. Participate in special family events, for example, graduations, baptisms, confirmation, marriages, Sunday liturgies, etc. Communicate; take responsibility for family chores, spend time with one another; share the good news as well as bad news; keep your word and build up trust.

Second, take control of your family life. There are so many activities today that can easily divide a family – activities all valuable in themselves – but if not checked, can rob families of time together.

And finally, parents have to let their sons/daughters become the persons God created them to be. The purpose of family is to nurture children in a secure and loving environment until they become mature enough to venture out on their own and become responsible persons. Parents have to let go of them so that they can take their place in the world as responsible adults.

Yes, there’s no better place to begin to prepare the way for the Lord than in our own families.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

God's Energy, Power and Strength within Ourselves

In his book “Nine Essential Things I've Learned about Life” Rabbi Harold Kushner recounts a sermon he gave on the subject of forgiveness. He suggested that just as we ask God to forgive our wrongdoings, so we should forgive people who have wronged us.

Anger and self-pity are “demons” that displace peace and joy in our lives.  But with gratitude to God for our blessings, we can “exorcise” or drive out the demons of anger and self-pity that rob us of joy and peace. By asking God's mercy and forgiveness for ourselves and people who have wronged us, we can make a fresh start.

The Energy of God Within Ourselves
That is what Paul is about today: through Jesus Christ by the power of the Spirit we have a fresh start, a new beginning. In his letter to the Christian community at Rome, he reflects upon the human condition; everywhere he sees violence, death and injustice. We fell from grace, so proclaims the Book of Genesis. But who can save us, Paul asks? Jesus Christ, of course. Jesus Christ lives. And because he lives, we live in relationship with God. But how are we nurturing that relationship?

The word of God also carries us back to the 7th century before Jesus. Jeremiah complains: “I'm trying to do what you want me to do, God, and yet people are slandering me; they want to murder me; trip me up.” But Jeremiah doesn't let these problems stop him from continuing his prophetic mission. He will always trust in God.

In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus says: “do not be afraid.”  Do not be afraid, e. g., to do the right thing. Because God is with us. We have the energy of God within us.

How often do we hear that the world is running out of energy: oil, coal, gas and so on. How do we ensure sufficient energy to sustain life?

All of us face a similar problem on a spiritual level. We face challenges. Where do we look for the energy to overcome them? Do we look “above” to the risen Christ, the Sun of Righteousness?

God, through Jesus Christ by the Spirit, has given us his energy, power and strength. We rightly think of power belonging to God. Yet we easily forget that the same energy and power and strength that raised Jesus Christ from the dead now lives in us. That energy and power  and strength in the apostles fired up a revolution heard ‘round the world. And the age of miracles is not over. The proof?  An electrician in Poland, a prisoner in South Africa, a nun in Calcutta--Walesa, Mandela, Teresa—freed people from Soviet occupation, gave back to people their fundamental human rights, and restored to suffering and dying people their dignity as human beings made in the likeness of God.

That energy and power and strength of God within us can fire us up to do the right thing despite the obstacles and challenges we face.