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I love the story of Jesus in the boat. He is sleeping on a cushion when a storm so frightens the disciples that they wake Him in fear for their lives. His words, “Peace, be still” silence the raging storm.

It is a story of His power and command even over nature’s terrifying violence. I love it so much that I have a print depicting the event hanging in my home.

Peace Be Still by Stephen Gjertson

Peace Be Still by Stephen Gjertson

Today I was blessed with a new look at that scene and how it applies to our lives today. Many saints have written about their struggles with a “dark night” in their lives when God seemed very distant from them; when prayer seemed dry and the human feelings of being close to God evaporated. I have gone through such a time and it is very painful; it’s a struggle to continue crying out to Him, wondering if He’s turned His face away or if you’ve done something wrong.

Since that time in my life I’ve read more about the dark night and have come to understand that it is a time of testing, of teaching one to walk by faith and not by feelings.

This morning I read a passage by St. Therese of Lisieux during her dark night. She wrote:

“[The retreat] was far from bringing me any consolations since the most absolute aridity and almost total abandonment were my lot. Jesus was sleeping as usual in my little boat; ah! I see very well how rarely souls allow Him to sleep peacefully within them … He will undoubtedly awaken before my great eternal retreat … “

That just made me smile, seeing how she connected the passage in Mark with the dark night.

There are times in our lives when Jesus is sleeping in our little boat, or appears to be. But He most certainly is not uncaring. Have faith; in an instant He can calm the most violent storm.

“A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion.
They woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!” The wind ceased and there was great calm.
Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”
(Mark 4:37-40)

May I always allow the Master to sleep peacefully within.

 

 

 

 

At Palm Sunday liturgy last night, the Passion of Christ was read.  I listened and as I heard this, it gave me pause:

“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me;
weep instead for yourselves and for your children
for indeed, the days are coming when people will say,
‘Blessed are the barren,
the wombs that never bore
and the breasts that never nursed.’
At that time people will say to the mountains,
‘Fall upon us!’
and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’”
(Luke 23:28-30)

I ponder that.

I know scholars agree that Jesus was talking about the upcoming fall of Jerusalem and the terrible suffering that was coming upon her people. And perhaps in a larger sense, it describes all calamities where people watch their loved ones suffer terribly.

But last night, I “heard” it in a different way, a different layer.

Today, we hear people calling abortion “sacred,” “a blessing.” Today, the call to make assisted suicide and euthanasia legal is gaining voices.

Are they not saying “blessed are the … wombs that never bore?” Are they not calling to the mountains to “fall on us! cover us!”

Jesus tells us to weep over this.

And indeed, I do.

 

 

 

 

At mass this morning the second reading was from Luke 16:19-31:

When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.
The rich man also died and was buried …

It really caught my attention that the poor man, Lazarus, was carried away by angels but the rich man simply “was buried.”

I have been pondering that point – one man carried away by angels, another was buried. Angels for one … I suppose human beings buried the other?

And this line of thinking brought me back to the first reading from the same mass. From Jer 17:5-10:

Thus says the LORD:
Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings,
who seeks his strength in flesh,
whose heart turns away from the LORD

He is like a barren bush in the desert
that enjoys no change of season,
But stands in a lava waste,
a salt and empty earth.

The rich man, suffering in the netherworld, certainly was like a barren bush in the desert, standing in a lava waste, a salt and empty earth!

As I listened to the rest of the story of the rich man and Lazarus, I was reminded of a reflection that pointed out how the rich man still didn’t “see” Lazarus. He only addressed Abraham, asking him to instruct Lazarus to quench his thirst, to go warn his brothers. Even in the netherworld, the rich man continued treating Lazarus as someone to be sent to do his bidding.

I appreciate how daily readings from the old and new testaments compliment each other, even if they aren’t obviously nor directly related! Interesting readings today.

 

Have mercy on me, a sinner

I began a novena this morning and read this passage from Matthew:

“… and now she will bear a son.
You shall call him ‘Jesus’ for he will save
his people from their sins.”
(Matthew 1:21)

Is this really the first time I noticed?

“He will save his people …. ”

Not from other people on this earth – to this day His people are being killed for their love of Him and their faith in Him. Since His death Christians have been hunted and hated “the world” has tried to eliminate them.

Not from petty discomforts on this earth, nor was He born to elevate us in an earthly way with wealth or comfort or earthly power.

Not even from terrible suffering in this life, even from oppression or slavery or starvation.

No!  “… for he will save his people from their sins.”

Jesus did not suffer and die on the cross to save me from other enemies, real or imagined. He did not die to shower me with earthly blessings (though He certainly does that).

He died to save me from my own sins – the very things I have chosen that harm me and others around me, that are killing my soul and separating me from Him.

That’s a lot to digest this morning. It’s so easy to look at how messed up this world is, to observe how much evil is in it and devouring people every day and to pray in earnest for those people and against those great evils. And that is important to do.

But it is also important to remember to reflect and to pray: “Have mercy on me, a sinner.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Common to Extraordinary

“Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons.”
John 2:6

Father Secora’s homily pointed out something I had never noticed before: these stone water jars were for ceremonial washings.

The jars were not “fine china” by any means, and the water wasn’t “Perrier,” as Father mentioned. They were available for people to wash their hands, common vessels filled with common water for washing, not for drinking.

But at the word of God, the contents of the common stone vessels were transformed to instead hold the best of wines.

Just so, at the word of God, we common vessels – sometimes with hearts of stone – can be transformed into something extraordinary, something holy.

Mary instructed the servants to “Do whatever he tells you.”

His servants of every age should heed that advice. Do whatever He tells you; be transformed, allow Him to make us holy!

 

 

 

 

 

It is Better to Receive

Throughout the Christmas season there is a focus on giving … we search and shop and purchase with great care and thoughtfulness; stories like A Christmas Carol tell us that when we’re stingy we’re bad, when we give we are good; we hear “it is better to give than to receive.”

None of that is bad, nor particularly wrong. Giving is a good thing! Sharing our bounty, being generous, thoughtfulness in how we give – these are all kindness and charity and I don’t know if the world can ever have too much of that.

However, if we are asking the question, “What’s it all about?” the answer is not giving, generosity, nor sharing.

What it’s all about – the point of the Christmas season, the point of Jesus’ birth and death and resurrection, the point of our earthly lives – is receiving.

It’s not about what we do … it’s about what He did.

Do we receive Him? Do we receive the child, the Messiah? Do we receive the gift of His sacrifice? Do we receive the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the Comforter sent to us by Jesus after His ascension?  Do we seek Him, rush to Him, welcome Him, receive Him fully into our lives in an active and daily way?

Knowing about God and even believing He exists is not enough. When the Magi were in Jerusalem the Jewish priests were able to tell Herod where the Messiah would be born; we presume as priests they believed in God and gave their service to Him daily in the temple. But they did not accompany the Magi to see the Messiah for whom they had long waited – they stayed in Jerusalem!

How about us? Do we believe? Do we try to do good and be good citizens and make this world a better place?

Or do we receive Him … really, deeply seek and receive the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings?

 

 

 

Comfort in unknowing

It’s always so cool when the Holy Spirit reveals something new as I read scripture. In a few cases He has built on something He showed me long ago; the revealing is in stages and that really “wows” me!

I was reminded of one of those lessons this week when we read Matthew’s account of the genealogy of Jesus at mass … but it started long before that.

During a study of Ruth, I was touched by how kind Boaz was to Ruth from the first time he met her. She noticed it too and asked him how she had come to find favor with him and he simply said he had heard of the good things she had done for Naomi.

My original lesson from this was how our words can affect other peoples’ opinions. We are repeatedly cautioned in the Bible to guard our words and that they can be destructive – they can hurt or they can heal. Even one of the commandments is about bearing false witness.

So the Holy Spirit helped me appreciate the unknown person who had given Boaz such a positive report and good first impression of Ruth. Think about it – Naomi left the community with her husband and sons only to return years later with a foreign woman and a story about how the men had all died. Wouldn’t THAT be the topic of hot gossip and uncharitable speculation in any community!

I took that lesson to heart and thought of it once in a while when the Holy Spirit stirred it up within me again – usually when I caught myself about to gossip or say something unkind!

Years later I was starting a study of Matthew and it begins with that genealogy. I was paying attention to it more than usual, trying to associate any of the familiar names with their stories in the Old Testament.

And that’s when I noticed: “Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab.”

Holy cow! That partly explained Boaz’s reaction to Ruth! Rahab was a foreigner who joined the tribe of Israel, too! Boaz would have been a mixed-race child, half Israelite from his father and half Canaanite from his mother. He would have been painfully familiar with the trials a “foreigner” faced within a community. I imagine he suffered certain attitudes toward his mother and toward himself growing up; perhaps he wondered why they had to be “different.”

We can see how God prepared him for the moment he met Ruth, how he shaped Boaz to treat her with kindness and to receive her as his wife. Perhaps as a mixed-race man, he had not been found “acceptable” as a husband to any of the Israelite women.

God brought Boaz and Ruth together in a surprising way and they were blessed to be the parents of Obed, the grandparents of Jesse, and the great-grandparents of King David.

Wow! All ancestors of Joseph, the husband of Mary.

I have never heard a sermon tying all of this together; I have never read a commentary that notes it. I guess it’s just one of those little lessons given to me in a personal way, and I think about it when I find myself suffering a trial and wondering what it means.

Sometimes we eventually see a lesson we were supposed to learn in it or can look back and see how it shaped us in a certain way.

But other times I think we may never know in this life the work that God is doing within us and the ways He uses it for others, maybe even far into the future.

When I am struggling, I find that very comforting.

 

 

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