GOSPEL MEDITATION - ENCOURAGE DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF SCRIPTURE
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May 22, 2022
6th Sunday of Easter
Jesus tells his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” The peace that Jesus gives is far different than the kind that comes from the absence of war, conflict, or affliction. The peace that God offers is found alongside suffering and hardship, not necessarily in their absence. St. Teresa of Avila offers us a bit of wisdom regarding peace: “May today there be peace within. May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May you use those gifts that you have received and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content knowing you are a child of God. Let this presence settle into your bones and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise, and love. It is there for each and every one of us.”
In order for us to experience the divine peace that Jesus offers, we have to allow God’s presence to settle into our bones! It is only when this happens that we can be truly taught by the Holy Spirit to discern the true path to peace and find ourselves with untroubled hearts. The world and our lives are so unpredictable and changeable. If we look for a source of lasting and real peace only there, our search will never be satisfied. Something will always unsettle and disturb us. The Jewish disciples could really relate to what Jesus was saying about peace (shalom). They already knew that it was more a matter of achieving wholeness and wellbeing than anything else.
Wholeness and wellbeing are precisely what is uncovered when we begin to really see and know the height, depth, and breadth of God’s presence and promise. The elegance of God’s Divine life flows through our blood and the marrow in our bones. It is that close and deep. As we breathe in and exhale God’s life, peace becomes what we know within and what is exhaled out. This remains in the midst of intense conflict, persecution, suffering, rejection, and even death.
May 15, 2022
5th Sunday of Easter
“It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” Many folks really work very hard to circumvent difficult situations. We prefer the easier way around something, rather than risk inconvenience, hurt or prolonged suffering. It’s no wonder euthanasia is rapidly becoming acceptable around the world. Through purely human eyes, there is no issue bypassing the inevitable, taking control and bringing things more swiftly to a place of peace. If this is the way God sees things, then why does Jesus make such a big deal helping us understand the experience of suffering and embrace it? God’s wisdom clearly takes us in another direction.
Imagine if we were able to eradicate ALL hardship and suffering. Where would we be? As we look at our own journeys, many of our solid more growth producing life lessons have been born of suffering, disappointment, inconvenience, darkness, and despair. There is something sacred about all of these experiences as God uses them to create something new. Envisioning a life without hardship and suffering brings us to a vision where everything is flat-lined and dull. As much as hardship and suffering are difficult crosses to bear, not taking them up runs the risk of us becoming shallow, empty, and lifeless. Helen Keller remarks that, “a happy life consists not in the absence but in the mastery of hardships.” What an incredibly wise insight! Many really successful people and saints were brought to their station in life because they suffered. Suffering teaches us about what’s important and propels us to search the depths of our souls for resources and strength we never would have known before.
This is especially true when we love as Jesus asks us to love. Love, perhaps above any other experience, can cause us great hardship, pain, and suffering especially when it’s authentic and unconditional. While it can thrust us into an incredible experience of God and life on one hand, it can bruise and wound us deeply on the other. Mastering the art of love is the secret to living life well, walking in the presence of God and investing in the joy of the Gospel. Love and suffering walk hand in hand. Compromising one will compromise the other. Maybe that’s why Jesus spent so much time convincing us to accept both
May 8, 2022, 4th Sunday of Easter
“Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start.” (Pope Francis) We have a difficult time figuring out what is true and best for us. There are many voices talking and so many trying to get our attention. We wrongly convince ourselves that the true voice is the voice of progress, the one that speaks of contemporary wants and desires, enticing us with the latest trends and causes. We are taught, by listening to the voices around us, that truth is found in feelings and thought, and ideals must match current and popular human wants. Because we feel a particular way it must be true. Then, we find a shepherd who empathizes with us and affirms us. We follow that voice even though listening to that voice will render us powerless and lead us to harm. There are many with me in this procession to this pasture. I must be on the right path and listening to the right voice.
We are very confused. What can keep us safe and from harm? Where do we go to find life, love, and happiness? Jesus tells us that he is the way, the truth, and the life. The only way to get to Truth, who is God, is through him. There is no other way. The Church, the gate around God’s pasture of life, is charged with the mission of directing us where God desires that we go. In the midst of all of the conflicting voices around us, the voice of truth is often muffled in all of the noise, but it beckons us to a life of virtue and grace. Helping us understand who we are and where we have to be, it discerns the voice of God, providing us with the safety net we need to stay straight on our path to life eternal.
We have to trust the voice of God, the true Shepherd, even when it does not mirror what we want and what others may believe. Faith goes way beyond feeling and involves a radical trust in Someone who can lead us and form us. At day’s end, if we do not know to find our way home, we will be truly lost.
May 1, 2022 - 3rd Sunday of Easter
Could it be that God’s image has become so soiled and distorted that it is hard for us to see it? Our self-serving agendas have done a great job twisting God’s image into what profits us. We want our agenda to be God’s agenda and use prayer as the convincing leverage we need. Worse still, our success and egocentric agenda often erases God’s image completely, replacing it with our own. St. Oscar Romero instructs us that the Son of Man “dies on the cross to cleanse God’s image, which is soiled in today’s humanity, a humanity so enslaved, so selfish, so sinful.” Striving to preserve control of our destinies at all costs, we fail to see the risen suffering servant, the Christ, standing right beside us.
Jesus, who suffered and died on a cross and was raised from the dead, corrects our soiled image of God. He shows us God as God is, not who we want to make God to be. God is the God of the poor, the weak, and the marginalized. He is the God who tenderly caresses us when we are suffering and hurting, assuring us that all will be safe and well. He is the God of equity, peace, justice, and compassion who wants happiness for each of His children, desiring their wellbeing and success. God goes where men and women are afraid to go, sitting with the lost, the broken, and the sorrowing. St. Oscar Romero challenges us to illuminate with “Christ’s light … even the most hideous caverns of the human person: torture, jail, plunder, want, chronic illness. The oppressed must be saved.” The resurrection calls us to be God’s microphone, a messenger, and a prophet (St. Oscar Romero).
Using eyes that see beyond the limited constructs and desires of our world, we can see the true and real Jesus standing before us, calling us to transformation and change. Asking us more than once, “do you love me?” We are beckoned to give an answer. Answering in the affirmative, it is now our task to feed the sheep and the lambs who belong to God. In short, equipped with the power of the resurrection and a corrected image of God our task is to make things better, brighter, holier, more life-giving, and just for all of God’s children. Considering our choices, our interactions, our philosophies, and aspirations, how can we do this?
April 24. 2022 - 2nd Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday
Even Thomas struggles to remove his boulder! Being very pragmatic and determined, he wants to see the risen Christ for himself! Thomas’s boulder is heavy with mistrust. Many of ours are too. A certain amount of skepticism is good, as it can save us from being duped or misled. But we can become so skeptical of things that it erodes our ability to trust anything we see or hear. Skepticism can actually be a well-disguised defense mechanism that we use to prevent us from being hurt or perceived as a fool. Having too much ego protection is a real risk. Thomas, because of the boulder blocking his vision, could not even trust the word of his friends.
Boulders are hard to move. It’s difficult to seek change or take a risk, especially when we are so afraid to be vulnerable or reluctant to trust another’s word. When we are closed minded, overly pragmatic, unwilling to see things in a different way, stubborn or defensive, it is difficult to be surprised by God and stretched. We need to be less guarded, self-assured, and self-absorbed. God cannot break into the ordinary moments of our lives and inspire us when we cling to doubt. If we are going to discover resurrection faith, we have to believe that what the witnesses say is true, especially when they are credible. We also have to trust that the risen Christ is alive in us, too!
While the first witnesses to the resurrection have faded into history, there are many others who have come after them. They continue to inspire by walking the talk of faith. They are the martyrs who offer their lives for the Gospel, the simple holy people in our communities who cling so steadfastly to their faith, those who have touched despair and found new hope and the ones who, even in spite of ridicule, still pursue their hunger and thirst for God. They are our friends, acquaintances, biblical heroes, and saints, and many others who are convinced that they have seen the Lord! The risen Christ may not surprise us with the same kind of visit as he did the first disciples, but God finds other ways. All we have to do is open our eyes, remove whatever is preventing us from seeing and believing and exclaim: “My Lord and my God!”
April 17, 2022 - Easter Sunday
The Resurrection of the Lord
There are many stones in our paths that keep us from truly living and being free. Some of these boulders have been there for a very long time. They have been there so long that they have even settled into the soil of our lives with other weeds, vines, and compacted soil keeping them firmly in place. We find them hard to move and trying to do so can be exhausting. What are these suffocating albatrosses that keep us so tethered and immobile? They are many things.
They are past childhood wounds and hurts that stem from disappointment, rejection, or abuse. People may have told us we were unwanted, that the world is frightening, that there are only some acceptable feelings you can have and others you cannot. We may have tried to love someone or struggled to figure out how and were met with rejection. Maybe we trusted someone completely and were betrayed. We come to life collecting barnacles that begin to attach to other barnacles and before you know it, we have a mass of solid matter blocking our vision and keeping us from moving. We live in fear. We are afraid of losing what we have, afraid that the future will be empty, afraid that we won’t succeed and even more afraid that we will not be loved. There is so much fear. Didn’t Jesus tell us not to worry and to not be afraid? Either we believe in the message of Easter, or we don’t!
Go confidently into the night. Walking with God you will find the light and strength you need. Often without even knowing, God will move those boulders and stumbling blocks that bind us and, with putting one foot in front of the other and looking forward, we will move. The resurrection of Christ is really all about receiving the gifts of trust and faith and doing new things. The rocks that bind us keep us spinning the same wheels and doing the same things. When was the last time you threw caution to the wind and actually did something totally out of character and different? This is where we find God, in the spontaneous, the adventurous, the fun, and the creative choices we make! God is not boring and stuck. God is exciting and engaging. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead! Find a way to trust that this is true and live.
April 10, 2022 - Palm Sunday The Passion of the Lord
Pope St. John Paul II rightly taught, “To believe in Jesus is to accept what he says, even when it runs contrary to what others are saying. It means rejecting the lure of sin, however attractive it may be, in order to set out on a difficult path of Gospel virtues.” Acceptance, rejection, suffering, betrayal, fear, reluctance, persecution, and painful, undeserved and unjust death are all played out in dramatic fashion today. Jesus spoke of God’s unconditional love, mercy, and forgiveness. Who doesn’t like hearing about love, especially God’s? Jesus did not have backs turned on him, face intense suffering, and succumb to a horrific death because he spoke of God’s love. All of those things occurred because of the implications of actually believing in God’s love.
God’s love comes with an intimate and equal bond with love of neighbor. This moves the believer outward to truly see their brothers and sisters as equals and compels them to work for a world that mirrors God’s kingdom: a world based on justice, peace, mercy, and forgiveness. Sometimes, people want to keep God’s love to themselves and use it solely for their own benefit. When they only want to use God’s love to justify their own intentions and for their own projects, problems occur.
Sin makes something hurtful, destructive, and self-serving look very attractive and justifiable. The lure of sin creates friends who begin to believe the lie that the sin expounds. This is what happened on Calvary. When you begin actually doing what Jesus is saying and translate love into action, it inevitably will upset popular and longstanding conventions and structures. Many of these serve to protect status, foster personal gain and success, and further divide those who have from those who do not. Most people who hear the Gospel are attracted to what they hear, at first. When they realize that it means standing apart from popular opinion, even if that opinion is against the Gospel and sinful, they cower back in fear and join the throngs shouting, “Crucify him!” There is an ambivalence found in many believers as they struggle with whether their belief is strong enough “to set out on the difficult path of Gospel virtues.”
It takes a lot of courage to admit that the system is broken. It takes even more courage to point out the sin. And it takes an unbreakable love of God to then accept the consequences of doing so
April 3, 2022 - 5th Sunday of Lent
We love to make examples out of those who have erred and done wrong. Publicly punishing others serves as a means of demonstrating the consequences for what is deemed inappropriate or wrongful behavior. While this may appear an effective way of achieving conformity to established rules, it runs the real risk of distorting motivation. Obviously, we want people to do what is right and pursue healthy, virtuous behaviors and ideals. But is fear of punishment ever the best motivation for avoiding one action in favor of another?
Doing something out of fear is never healthy. Focusing exclusively on our behavior and what others expect or think, leads to living life with a self-focused superficiality. We become more concerned about protecting ourselves from something negative and unpleasant, than investing ourselves in the freedom, wonder and awe of being human! We can still find our way to the unacceptable or inappropriate behavior as long as we do not get caught! Being a whole, focused, and God-centered human being requires more. It demands an investment of the heart. Virtuous, moral, and mature lifestyles reflective of the Gospel necessitate love.
When we experience and recognize love, God’s unconditional love, in the depth of our soul, we fall in love with what we have found. We then find ourselves leaving destructive and sinful actions behind in search of something more holy, dignified, true, integral, and loving. This is really “mercy realized.” God’s tremendous, loving, eternal forgiveness and willingness to bring us back to something more real and tender is transformational. The respect for myself that I receive from God is so life changing that it causes me to run quickly away from anything sinful and self-destructive to things that are whole and holy.
There are many people who want nothing more than to judge or criticize us. What would actually stoning the woman caught in adultery really accomplish? Nothing more than the inflation of the already self-righteous egos of a few men who think they have power. They have no power because they are sinners too, just like everyone else. What all of us have is the humble ability to express sorrow for pursuing destructive thoughts and actions and receive the power of God’s mercy. Then, Jesus’ request to “go and sin no more” will be one we proudly heed and follow.
March 27, 2022, 4th Sunday of Lent
God’s love story reveals itself in our stories, experiences, and aspirations. We are all prodigal sons and daughters. There are many times in our lives when we would “sell our souls” in order to pursue our passions. We pursued what we wanted without regard for others or God. We have sowed our oats, thrown ourselves into careless pleasures, spent what we know we ought to have saved, turned our backs on those we love and abused gifts we have been given. We even hit bottom and realized the silliness and self-destruction of it all. We needed to come home. We knew we erred and needed a gentle presence to show us God’s unconditional love. This wayward journey home changed us.
As much as we need to be welcomed, we are also the one who needs to do the welcoming and mercy giving. Those we love need our guidance, but they don’t always take it. We know that what they are doing is off the mark, self-destructive and wrong. We have to let them go and let it happen, even though they might get hurt. As we wait and hope, they choose to make their way back to us. They don’t need us to judge them. They have done enough of that to themselves. We immediately embrace them and are just happy they’re home. God uses us to help heal them. Knowing how much we craved understanding and forgiveness ourselves, we can now freely give it away. God uses what he has taught us to teach others.
We are also the entitled ones. At least we “think” we are entitled. After all, we work hard for what we have. We cannot get our heads around the idea that someone can get something that I really deserve! If I do what I’m supposed to do, I ought to be rewarded for that, right? If I do something wrong, I ought to pay the consequences. This is justice, isn’t it? This is not God’s justice. God is all about love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. God’s justice is love freely given without merit. We carry the stories of the prodigal son, the unconditional forgiving father, and the entitled angry brother with us. When we make friends with all three, humbly telling those stories to others makes us Christ’s ambassadors.
March 20, 2022, 3rd Sunday of Lent
Deserts can be lonely, isolated, and treacherous places. When a person wanders in a desert, they can easily get disoriented, dehydrated, confused, lost, and vulnerable. Temptation is at its peak, especially when confronted with something that may offer some respite or relief, even a mirage. Deserts can bring us to our weakest moment and tempt our faith. The Christian journey can be described as a desert experience as we vacillate back and forth, falling victim to the mirages of our lives versus the true, life-giving water offered by God. We need a burning bush experience in our lives that convinces us of the power of God and reveals Him as the “I am” of all existence.
Moses was leading his flock across the desert when he found himself at Mount Horeb. Mountains give us a fuller perspective of life, a panoramic view of what would otherwise be hidden from the limitations of our sight. That’s when Moses met God. We have to find our way to a mountain experience where our vantage point can take on a wider view of life. Many things can do this for us: the birth of a child, the death of someone we love, the joy that comes from marveling at the beauty of God’s work, the pondering of life’s mysteries, and the ache of longing found deep within our souls. There are many things in life that can wake us up, give us a clearer, better view of things and become occasions where a bush may burn and God’s presence as the eternal uncreated One is revealed.
God is very patient and gives us the time and space we need to figure things out and bear some good fruit. He doesn’t rush to cut us down or get frustrated with our barrenness. But we have to remember that the desert journeys of our lives come with some risks. The major risk is that we will mistakenly believe that the mirages are real. Thus, we fall victim to thinking that the respite and refreshment we seek is discovered in a place other than where it actually is. Our faith and the life of the Church are the safeguards we need to keep us properly orientated so that we don’t get lost or confused and stay on course.
March 13, 2022, 2nd Sunday of Lent
There is so much wisdom in the first commandment. The daily demands of life, current political ideologies and dynamics, social expectations, corporate philosophies, and even technology can easily become lesser gods. We can find ourselves beholden to and held captive by these secular constructs and systems. Even for those who profess a faith in the one true God, these lesser, attractive but false gods are a temptation. Being overly preoccupied and even obsessed with the state of our present lives, we lose sight of our real destiny and purpose.
Jesus showed his disciples a glimpse of this destiny when he was transfigured before their eyes. In fact, Peter was so caught up in the brilliance, awe, and sacredness of these fleeting moments that he wanted to extend them as long as possible. Wonderful things happen when we leave our illusions and discover something that is true. This is why creating some sacred space in our lives for reflection, prayer, renewal, refreshment, centering ourselves, and disconnecting from the noise is so important. It shows us how false and shallow our lives can be and what is really of importance. Do you create some kind of sacred space in your life? Lent is a perfect time to do so.
St. Irenaeus, one of the early fathers and martyrs of the Catholic Church, said that, “he who was the Son of God became the Son of Man that man … might become the son of God.” We mistakenly believe that life is all about us. It’s not. Ours is a journey of transformation in which we become more and more one with the mind of Christ and Christ himself. St. Augustine saw this same transformation occurring when the Eucharist is received. In receiving the Eucharist, we become what we eat, the Body of Christ. Honestly acknowledging false gods that we cling to can open the door for God to show us the wholeness and holiness to which we are called. Take time to discover the sacred. When we do, we will want to stay there for a while. Then, when we return to our personal affairs, we will see more clearly.