Archive for the ‘Exodus’ Category

The Two (Old & New) Arks of God

December 17, 2015

Remember Raiders of the Lost Ark? The Ark that Indiana Jones and the Nazis were pursued in that entertaining film was the most precious object in the entire Old Testament. But what is lost on many is how that holy artifact is related to the most important woman in the New Testament and its New Covenant.

The Old Testament Ark of the Covenant was a box built in the days of Moses according to God’s instructions at Mount Sinai. It was made of wood overlaid with pure gold, inside and out. No man was allowed to touch God’s Holy Ark—lest they die—so it was designed to be carried about using a pair of poles. The Ark was the throne for God’s presence on earth. The wings of two, golden Cherubim angel statues atop the Ark’s lid served as his “mercy-seat.” The Ark itself contained within several interesting items from the time of the Exodus: the two stone tablets of the 10 Commandments, the wooden staff of Aaron (which miraculously blossomed to confirm his divinely-ordained priesthood), and a gold container holding some of the Manna from heaven which God provided to feed his people on their desert pilgrimage.

Ark

About 450 years after its construction, around 1000 BC, King David reigned over all of Israel. He tried to bring the Ark up to his royal city, Jerusalem, until one of the priests (who should have known better) touched the Ark and fell down dead. David exclaimed, “How can the Ark of the Lord come to me?” He arranged for it to be kept at the house of Obed-edom in the Judean countryside. The Ark remained there for three months and manifestly blessed the whole household. When it was reported to the king how richly Obed-edom was being graced, King David decided to try transporting the Ark into Jerusalem once more. David himself led that procession, dancing and leaping before the Lord with joyful abandon.

The Ark would eventually reside in the Jerusalem Temple built by David’s son, King Solomon. It is written that before that Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BC, Jeremiah the Prophet took the Ark and hid it in a secret cave, saying, “No one must know about this place until God gathers his people together again and shows them mercy.”Unlike in the 1981 film, the Lost Ark has never been found, but a new Ark of God did appear.

The Blessed Virgin Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant because she bears Jesus Christ, God’s fullest presence on earth. By God’s design, the first Ark was made of wood and covered with gold; Mary is a human being full with grace. The former Ark carried the word of God in stone; Mary’s womb carries the Word become flesh. Aaron’s dead staff miraculously flowered; Mary’s virgin womb blossomed with a bud from the stump of Jesse. The Ark held Manna from heaven; Mary bore the true bread from heaven. Mary’s womb holds Jesus Christ, our Prophet, Priest, and King.

The Visitation by Albertinelli, 1503.As the Gospel of Luke tells us, after she was visited by St. Gabriel the Archangel at the Annunciation, “Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 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?’” And Mary would bless them with her help and companionship, staying at their house in the Judean hill country about three months.

Like King David, St. Elizabeth questions and St. John the Baptist leaps for joy before the Ark of the Lord. St. Joseph, regarding the inviolable sanctity of his wife with reverent fear, never touched her virginity. Mary would also go on to literally serve as God’s throne, his mercy-seat; “On entering the house [the Magi] saw the child with Mary his mother.”

In the Book of Revelation, St. John’s vision of heaven includes a sighting of the Lost Ark: “Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the Ark of his Covenant could be seen in the temple.” Then John beholds “in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” We soon discover that this  glorious woman is pregnant with “a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations….” This is the Christ, and she is his Holy Ark.

Now the Lord’s Ark is not meant to be worshiped. (Though among God’s most holy creations, an Ark of God is not divine.) Yet, as one draws nearer to the Holy Ark, one inevitably draws nearer to God’s presence. Just as the old Ark of the Covenant was of central (though secondary) importance in the Old Covenant, so God gives the Blessed Virgin Mary an essential role in his New Covenant. All who come to her are drawn nearer to her Son.

Imagine daring to enter the old Jewish Temple’s the Holy of Holies where the Ark of God was kept. What awe and reverence would you feel before the all-holy presence of God? Now consider drawing near to the even greater Ark, Mary the Mother of all Christians, who reaches out to each of us with love and takes away our fear. And now reflect upon the great privilege we have in approaching and even touching the Christmas Gift of God she bore, Jesus Christ himself. Mary is blessed among women and blessed is the fruit of her womb, Jesus. But blessed are we who would believe in all that the Lord has revealed to us.

The Two Mountains — Wednesday, 3rd Week of Lent

March 26, 2014

Readings: Deuteronomy 4:5-9, Matthew 5:17-19

[W]hat great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him? Or what great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?

The greatness of Israel among the nations consisted not merely in their moral law but in their intimacy with God. As C.S. Lewis once observed, “The road to the promised land runs past Sinai.” The morality of Mount Sinai is essential to the journey, but our goal is to worship on Mount Zion.

Immediately following today’s Gospel about fulfilling the Law, Jesus declares, “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” The Pharisees and scribes kept the commandments pretty well but they were often far from God.

This Lent, let us not only focus on growing in our moral practices, but also on our love and intimacy with the Lord.

Lingering Before The Lord — Tuesday, 17th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

July 26, 2011


During the Exodus, the Lord’s presence would descend in a cloud upon the desert tabernacle called the tent of meeting. All the children of Israel would worship at the mouth of their own tents while Moses and his young assistant Joshua went in before the Lord. After speaking with the Lord, Moses had to leave to tend to the responsibilities involved in leading God’s people. Joshua, however, remained behind to pray, give thanks, and intercede for others.

God was pleased with Moses for the time he could spend with Him, blessing Him with a radiant light. He was also pleased with Joshua for lingering after. He would later select Joshua to lead the people after Moses’ passing because he was a man like David, “a man after God’s own heart.” Sometimes we can’t come to Mass early or linger after because of the demands of home and work and that’s ok. But if you can and do spend extra time with the Lord, know that this pleases Him greatly and helps you yield a greater harvest for Him.

The Desert Problem—Thursday, 16th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

July 21, 2011

This morning I would like to talk with you about something I call “the Desert Problem.” We see it with the children of Israel during the Exodus. They had seen the ten plagues that were afflicted on their Egyptian oppressors. They had seen the Red Sea split before them. They heard God speak so powerfully and intensely with Moses at the mountain that they trembled. They accepted God’s covenant. They saw, they heard, but then they forgot. The Israelites seem to always be sinning in the desert and we can feel annoyance at them. However, we should not judge them harshly, for their story is our own. We also struggle with the desert problem.

We come to dry and difficult places in our own lives, too. When we face difficulties we too often forget what we have seen and heard and give in to depression, despair, and sin. The solution to the desert problem is the refreshing water of memory. When you are in a desert you need water, but you don’t need to dig a new well every time you need refreshment; you can go back to an old and reliable well. Before you come to your next desert, think of times in the past when you knew God was close, perhaps an intense consolation experienced in prayer, or a providential miracle you’ve witnessed in life. And when you enter your next desert (or if you find yourself in one now) recall these memories to mind and be refreshed in faith. ‘Blessed are your eyes, because they have seen, and your ears, because they have heard,’ but to remain faithful to God in the desert you must remember the great things of God you have seen and heard.

Bread of Angels — Wednesday, 16th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

July 21, 2011

Here at St. John’s, on the wall behind me, there is painted an angel holding a banner which says, “Ecce Panis Angelorum.” This is a Latin phrase. “Ecce” means “behold,” “panis” means “the bread,” and “angelorum” translates to “of the angels.” And thus the phrase goes, “Ecce Panis Angelorum; Behold the bread of angels.” This idea comes from Psalm 78, the psalm we heard today, which says of the Manna and the Israelites in the desert, “Man ate the bread of angels, food he sent them in abundance.” 

Why was the Manna in the desert was called the bread of angels? Extra-Biblical Jewish tradition suggested that the Manna bread actually nourished the angels. The Manna also came down from Heaven for the benefit of men and came through the mediation of angels. Of course, the Manna prefigures the Eucharist, which nourishes us through the deserts of this life toward the Promised Land. The Eucharist is really Jesus Christ who came down from Heaven for mankind. The angels are indeed nourished by this bread, Jesus Christ, for their lives are sustained thorough Him. We also receive the New Testament Manna with the help of the angels. As we say in Eucharistic Prayer I: “Almighty God, we pray that your angel may take this sacrifice to your altar in heaven. Then, as we receive from this altar the sacred body and blood of your Son, let us be filled with every grace and blessing.” It has been said that if angels could envy us, it would be for our reception of Jesus in the Eucharist.

The angels do more for us than we realize. We should remember to thank them; for getting us out of bed to come to Mass this morning, for assisting us here in our prayers, and for assisting us in our daily lives. Lovingly invite them, give them the permission, to do more in your lives. (They’re probably just waiting for you to ask.) Let us ask their intercession and at this Mass, together with the angels who surround us, let us delight in the bread of angels.

“Are You Saved?”

May 13, 2011

Catholics take a modest approach to the question, “Are you saved?” We hope to be saved in Jesus Christ, and we can have some measure of confidence that we will be, but Catholics consider it presumptuous to say that our salvation is assured. The Catholic attitude is like that expressed by Paul:

“It does not concern me in the least that I be judged by you or any human tribunal; I do not even pass judgment on myself; I am not conscious of anything against me, but I do not thereby stand acquitted; the one who judges me is the Lord. Therefore, do not make any judgment before the appointed time, until the Lord comes, for he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts, and then everyone will receive praise from God.” (1st Corinthians 4:3-5)

After seeing the light on the road to Damascus, if anyone could be certain of their salvation one would imagine it would be Paul. However, in 1st Corinthians 9, Paul doesn’t speak as if he had Heaven already in the bag. He says:

“All this (becoming all things for all people) I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it. … I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Cor 9:23, 27)

Immediately following this, Paul warns the Corinthians about the necessity of remaining faithful lest they be condemned like God’s people during the Exodus:

“They were all under the cloud (like the Holy Spirit) and all passed through the sea (like baptism) and all of them were baptized into Moses (who imaged Christ) in the cloud and in the sea. All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink (like the Eucharist)… Yet God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert. These things happened as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil things, as they did. … Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.” (1 Cor 10:1-6, 12)

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus warns us that if we are to be saved, we must not be among those who acknowledge Him as “Lord, Lord” but fail to do God’s will:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.'” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Those condemned seemed surprised that they are refused entry into Heaven. This is why Catholics do not rest in a self-assurance of Heaven (that judgment belongs to the Lord.) Our part is to ceaselessly strive to cooperate with the saving grace of Jesus Christ as we “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling” as God does His work in us. (Philippians 2:12)

Prayer is Necessary — 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

October 17, 2010

As the Hebrews fought the Amalekites, Moses held up in his hands, above his head, the wooden staff of God. In doing this, He resembles Jesus, who outstretched his arms on the cross, and the priests of Christ’s Church, who raise their hands up to Heaven.  Each one, Moses, Jesus, and His priests, offer prayers to the Father.

As long as Moses kept his hands raised up,
Israel had the better of the fight,
but when he let his hands rest,
Amalek [the enemy] had the better of the fight.

What would have happened if Moses had kept his arms just down at his sides? God’s people would have lost their deadly battle. What would happen if Jesus were to stop pleading for us at right hand of the Father in Heaven? We would be left all on our own. What would happen if priests were to no longer to offer the Mass? The Church would be deprived of graces. If Moses, or Jesus, or the priests of the Church were not persistent in prayer, souls would be lost. The same is true for you and I as individuals.

If you or I wish to be saved, it is necessity for us to pray always without becoming weary. As St. Alphonsus Liguori, a doctor of the Church, said: “He who prays is certainly saved; he who does not pray is certainly damned. All the saints in heaven, except infants, were saved because they prayed; and all the damned in hell were damned because they did not pray, and this is their greatest torment to see how easily they could have been saved, had they prayed, and that now the time for prayer is over.”

Prayer is how we grow in our relationship with God. And Heaven consists first and foremost in an intimate relationship with Him. But, if we do not pray, we will not have much of a relationship with God, and Heaven will not be a place where we really want to live. It is essential that you commit yourself to praying every day, ‘whether it is convenient or inconvenient.’

To remain committed to this, ask the help of other to strengthen you and keep you faithful to prayer. Moses had the help of Aaron and Hur, at his right and his left. Jesus had the help Mary and John, at the foot of His cross. The priest celebrating Mass has the help of God’s people, those in the church on earth and those in the Church in Heaven. So have your spouse, your children, and your friends to pray with you and keep you faithful to prayer.

Families should pray together, parents with their children. This will instill the Faith in them more than anything else.  And Fathers need to take the lead, for if only Mom prays with the children they will wonder, “Why doesn’t Dad pray, too?”

Couples should also pray together.  A couple that prays together every day a divorce rate less than one percent. And it makes sense, because if I know that someone is praying for me, that they’re willing my true good, then even if there are rough spots between us, I know that we’re on the same side. So before you leave the house, or before you go to bed, pray together as a couple; even if it’s as simple as a moment of silent prayer. Remember that the family that prayers together, stays together.

It is necessity for us to pray always without becoming weary, as families and individuals, for “He who prays is certainly saved; he who does not pray is certainly damned.” So pray every day, because our souls depend on it.

Outstreched Hands — Monday, 23rd Week in Ordinary Time—Year II

September 6, 2010

The Lord said to Moses in Egypt, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky, that hail may fall upon the entire land…” Moses stretched out his hand, and the Lord rained down hail upon their enemies.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the land of Egypt, that locusts may swarm over it and eat up all the vegetation and whatever the hail has left.” Moses stretched out his hand, and the Lord sent locusts upon their enemies.

Finally, the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand, over the sea, that the water may flow back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and their charioteers.” Moses stretched out his hand, and the Lord hurled their enemies into the sea.

Centuries later, the Lord Jesus Christ said to a man in the synagogue, “Stretch out your hand.” The man stretched out his withered hand and it was healed, but the scribes and the Pharisees were enraged and plotted against Jesus. This time, it was not the Lord’s enemies who were to bear the terrible onslaught, but the Lord Jesus Himself. Jesus realized this, and freely accepted it, for the sake of you and me.

5th Sunday of Easter—Year B

August 23, 2009

This Sunday our country celebrates our mothers—and rightly so.  For the care and love which our mothers have given us cannot be measured or given a price.  Of course, our earthly parents are not perfect. Sometimes they’re quite far from perfect.  But any love we’ve known from them is a likeness of the love God has for us. A religious icon is made of mere wood and paint, but it can be a window to heavenly realities. In the same way, we can see through our parents’ love a glimpse to God himself.

Most of us have more memories about our mothers than we could possibly count, but today I would like to go with you back to a time and place about which you have no clear memories—to the time in your mother’s womb. Just as the Hebrews were 40 years in the desert; just as Jesus prepared 40 days in the wilderness; and just as Christ rested 40 hours until his resurrection from the tomb; so you remained 40 weeks, more or less, within your mother’s womb, being prepared for a new life.

Through your mother’s vine you grew into the mature fruit of her womb. You were nourished and grew within her. You were never far from her heart or mind. You existed in within her, connected to her at the center of your being.      She fed you with her very self. She provided for all your needs. Apart from her, you could do nothing. You remained in her and found rest in her.

At the early stages of our life in the womb, our minds did not comprehend very much, but what if you could have understood everything that your mom was doing for you at the time? Certainly you would have directed your thoughts to her often.  And certainly, from time to time, you would have turned to her with the eyes of your heart to bask in her love for you.

And imagine further what if you could have talked with your mom from the womb? Would you not have taken the opportunity to speak with her every day? Would you not have thanked her daily out of a deep gratitude? Would you not have let her know each day how much you love her? Whoever would refuse or neglect to do so would continue to live, at least functionally or biologically, but the person would not be fully alive without this relationship .

As you and your mother would continue to talk as the days and months of pregnancy passed, she would eventually present you with a most-frightening prospect: She might say, “My child, soon, in a little while, you are going to begin an new stage of life. You will be departing from the life you know, and then you’ll experience a world of people and things you have never known before.” But you would say, “I’m scared, I don’t want to go, not now, not ever!” But she would say, “I realize this concept is scary for you, but trust me when I say that it is better that you go. In fact, someday soon you’ll look back and think it a silly thought to be again as you are now. This transition is going to hurt a little bit… trust me, I know… but when the appointed time comes, I’ll be right here with you. Do not be afraid.”

This morning we reflect on this time in the womb because our life in our mothers is like our life in Christ. As it was with our mothers, so it is, in this life, with Christ. You are nourished and grow within Him. You are never far from His heart or mind. You exist in within Him, connected to Him at the center of your being. He feeds you with His very self. He provides for all your needs. Apart from Him, you can do nothing. You remain in Him and find rest in Him.

Knowing and believing this, shouldn’t we direct our thoughts to Him often? Shouldn’t we, from time to time, turn to Him with the eyes of our hearts to bask in His love for us.

We have the ability to talk with Jesus Christ. Who would not take the opportunity to speak with Him every day? Who would not thank Him daily out of deepest gratitude? And who would not let Him know each day how much we love Him? Whoever would refuse or neglect to talk with Him, that is to pray, would continue to live, at least functionally or biologically, but the person would not be fully alive without this relationship with Jesus Christ. We need to pray every day if we want to remain in Him and to bear much fruit.

None of us want to die and that’s perfectly natural. But Jesus says to us, “Soon, in a little while, you are going to begin a new stage of life. You will be departing from the life you know, and then you’ll experience a world of people and things you have never known before. I realize this concept is scary for you, but trust me when I say that it is better that you go. In fact, someday soon you’ll look back and think it a silly thought to be as you are now again. This transition is going to hurt a little bit… trust me, I know… but when the appointed time comes, I’ll be right there with you. Be not afraid.”

Today, let us thank God for the gift of our mothers and the gift of Jesus Christ.  God bless our mothers, and praised be Jesus Christ.

August 14 – Vigil of the Assumption of Mary

August 17, 2009

When I was younger, I used to wonder why Mary was such a big deal. It wasn’t that I was against her or anything. I prayed Hail Mary’s to her, and I wasn’t out to deny anything our Church said about her. I just didn’t understand why we, as Catholics, honored her so much.

Some people say that Mary is no big deal, that she’s just another Christian.  They might point to today’s Gospel as evidence, where a woman from the crowd calls out to Jesus, “Blessed is the womb that carried you, and the breasts at which you nursed.”  And Jesus replies, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” “So you see,” they would say, “it’s nothing special to be the mother of Jesus.” But in this Gospel Jesus is not denying Mary’s greatness, He is rather affirming it.

If Mary had merely been the biological mother of Jesus, delivering Him, and nursing Him, she might have been just another Christian. But Mary is most blessed among the disciples of Christ, of which she is the first, because she heard the word of God and observed it. She heard the word of God from the angel Gabriel and answered,

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.”

The overwhelming evidence for Mary’s exceptional glory, and her unique loveliness, is to be found throughout the Bible. The two Testaments, the Old, together with the New, show us why Mary is worthy of our great admiration and deserving of our special affection.

In the first reading we heard of the ark, the ark of the covenant, which you may remember seeing in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.  The ark was a wooden box, plated with gold inside and out, with two gold statues of winged angels on its lid.  This box, the ark, was carried about using two long polls, since men would be struck down if they touched the holy ark. The ark bore the presence of the Lord, it was His throne amidst His people.

The Lord had told Moses, who constructed the ark, according to the Lord’s precise specifications, to have some interesting things placed inside of it.  First, the wooden staff of Aaron, which had miraculously grown shoots and blossoms. Second, the two stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments which were written by God’s own hand. And third, an urn full of manna, the food which the Lord had given his people to eat during the Exodus.

That was the ark of the Old Testament.
Mary is the ark of the New Testament.

As the ark was a box of wood, plated with precious gold, inside and out, so Mary was a human being, surrounded and filled with divine grace. Like the dead wood of Aaron’s staff, which (naturally speaking) should not have borne life, the Virgin Mary miraculously blossomed life within her. Unlike the written word of God in stone, Mary carried within her the eternal Word of God in flesh. Mary borne within herself the true bread from heaven, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

In the first reading we heard how David led the ark of God’s presence into Jerusalem.  The ark’s coming to Jerusalem is also commemorated in the psalm we heard.  Jerusalem is sometimes poetically referred to as Zion, since Mt. Zion was the place of the temple in Jerusalem.

Just as the Lord’s presence came into Zion, the presence of the Lord came to dwell in Mary. Nine times out of ten, whatever Scripture says of Zion or Jerusalem, also goes for Mary. Mary is Jerusalem.  She is Zion.

“For the Lord has chosen Zion;”
says the Psalm
He prefers her for his dwelling.
Zion is my resting place forever;
In her will I dwell, for I prefer her.”

And, nine times out of ten, whatever can be said of Mary, also applies to Christ’s Church. Mary is the icon of the Church.

So, as you can see, Mary is a big deal. And none of us is more admirable, praiseworthy, and sweetly loveable than her.

‘Therefore her heart is glad and her soul rejoices,
her body, too, abides in confidence;
because God did not abandon her soul to the netherworld,
nor would He suffer His faithful one to undergo corruption.’

He assumed His beloved into heaven. Thanks be to God, who gave Mary this victory over death, through her Lord and ours, Jesus Christ.

August 8 – St. John Marie Vianney

August 17, 2009

For many years, around 300 people would travel by train each day to a small town of 230 people. Why did they come? They came because they sought the mercy and counsel of Christ in the confessional of John Marie Vianney. Why did Father John 12 to 17 hours a day sitting in his confessional? He was there because he believed that this sacrament was that important.

Today we often hear people say, “Why do I have to confess my sins to a priest when I can just pray to God directly? It’s like the complaint of Aaron and Miriam in the first reading,  “Is it though Moses alone that the Lord speaks?”

Jesus, in the upper room, breathed on his apostles and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Did Jesus give them this authority and power for no purpose at all?

Jesus gave us the sacrament of reconciliation because we need it. Confession prevents my sins from just being between me and myself. It prevents me from making mountains into molehills, and molehills into mountains. It allows me to know with absolute confidence that this sin of mine is forgiven forever. When we go to confession we acknowledge the Incarnation, that Christ redeemed us in His flesh, not merely by composing a prayer to the Father.

If you are too shy to admit your sins to a priest, who won’t know who you are, and couldn’t tell another soul even if he did, then what makes you think you will have the poise to stand face to face with Christ at the judgment?

When Miriam and Aaron sinned, they turned for mercy to the Lord’s servant, Moses, and their sin was healed. If you have neglected confession, please come. There is mercy, peace, and God’s help awaiting you.

If you already go to confession with some frequency, then please offer a penance today for the conversion of sinners. St. John Vianney did penances for conversions because he was convinced that it made a difference.

In the Gospel we heard that every sick person who came and touched Jesus’ cloak was healed, but those sick people first had to be brought to Jesus. Help carry them.

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year B

August 17, 2009

We humans are forgetful creatures. Look at the Hebrews, running short on food and patience in the first reading. It’s only one month since they’ve walked freely out of Egypt; after ten miraculous plagues, after the parting of a sea before them, after the total destruction of their enemies behind them. It’s just one month later and they’ve already forgotten God’s desire and creative ability to care for them. They’ve forgotten, and their hope is gone.

In the Gospel there’s more forgetfulness.  The people come to Jesus and they ask Him, “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?  What can you do?” Have they already forgotten about His recent miraculous sign, how just the other day he multiplied loaves and fish for them?  Recalling that miracle to mind would have strengthened their faith and hope.

We’re forgetful too. I, for example, often have a problem remembering how the responsorial psalm goes.  I hear it, I repeat it, and then it’s gone. We’re forgetful people. For instance, can you remember what I preached about the last Sunday I was here? I wouldn’t expect you to.

I spoke about how we should be hopeful because of Jesus Christ. I also strongly emphasized the importance of each of us to pray every day. This morning I want to teach you how we can be strengthened in faith and hope by recalling in prayer our most grace-filled memories.

Maybe you pray as the first thing when you wake up. Maybe you pray before you go to bed each night. Maybe you pray while you’re driving, perhaps imagining Jesus or Mary in the seat beside you. Maybe you make a daily visit to Jesus here really present in our tabernacle. When and where you pray each day is not as important as the prayers you offer and the connection and consolation that Christ wants to give you.

Anyone who prays frequently will have times when they sometimes seem to wander about in a desert of unfocused thoughts. By an act of will, we can try digging a hole here or there, looking for new, fresh, spiritual water. But there is an easier way to go about things when our prayer time feels hard and dry.

If we search our memories we can find places and times when God was obviously close and active. Perhaps a time when He silently but clearly spoke to you, or a time when He provided for you in answer to your prayers. Perhaps the births of your children or day you got married are moments that perceivably touched the eternal.

These memories can be wellsprings of grace and consolation for you. Just because we have left a well behind in your past doesn’t mean that well is run dry. What was true then, is still true now and you can go back their in your memories and draw graces from it again. Our grace-filled memories can serve as an anchor of hope, our ever-accessible source for faith and hope in prayer.

There is one more thing I on which I want to speak.  Our psalm said today:

“What we have heard and know, and what our fathers have declared to us, We will declare to the generation to come the glorious deeds of the LORD and his strength and the wonders that he wrought.”

This psalm is not only written for the Old Testament Jews, its meant for us as well. And when it mentions “fathers” here, priests like me are not the fathers it has foremost in mind. Fathers, if your children only hear about God from me, your silence will speak a message to them. It is important that you be a spiritual leader for your family and tell the stories of our faith and of your faith.

Parents, have you ever told your children of “the glorious deeds” that the Lord has done for you? If not, why not? Do you feel reluctant to tell? Or do you think that there is nothing to tell? Either way, a change needs to happen.

So remember, whether you are dry at prayer, or raising children for the Lord, remember to remember.

Tuesday, 19th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

August 17, 2009

The disciples ask, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus says, “Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.” In fact, Jesus teaches us, becoming humble is essential to entering into His kingdom.

So what is humility?

“Now humility is nothing but truth,” says St. Vincent de Paul, “while pride is nothing but lying.” He says, “The reason why God is so great a lover of humility,  is because he is the great lover of truth.”

Now humility is not about believing we are garbage. It’s a lie to say we’re of little worth. Even the seemingly least person among us is attended to by angels and bears a likeness to the God whom those angels ceaselessly worship. We are of great worth, but to be humble we need to know where our true treasure is.

We must abandon over-confidence in our own faulty and limited powers and trust in our reliable Rock—“how faultless are his deeds, how right all his ways.” In Christ, our Rock, we are secure; and as G.K. Chesterton notes, “It is always the secure who are humble.”

To strip away our illusions and to know our true treasure let’s pray today for the two gifts which it is said God always promptly gives whenever we prayer for them: Humility and Faith.

We can be leery of praying for humility, because when you pray for humility, humility shows up. I myself cannot recall a time when my prayer for humility was not answered by the end of the next day. But let’s have courage, and not allow our entry into Christ’s Kingdom be delayed by our disordered self-love or timidity.

What Moses said before the Israelites on the edge of the Promised Land is just as true for us: “It is the Lord who marches before you; he will be with you and will never fail you.  So do not fear or be dismayed.”

Wednesday, 18th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

August 17, 2009

St. Therese of Lisieux says, “We obtain from [God] as much as we hope for.” Today’s readings show this to be true.

On the very edge of Canaan, the Promised Land, the Hebrews lose all hope, and thereby they lose the land that the Lord wanted to give them. The Lord wanted to fight along their side, but they became so discouraged that they were unwilling to even go to the battle. They obtained from God as much as they hoped for, and died in the desert. They gave Lord nothing to work with, and there was nothing for the Lord to do but to let others to take their place.

The Canaanite woman in the Gospel is another story. She hopes against hope, and wins from our seemingly reluctant Lord her daughter’s healing. St. John of the Cross says: “The more the soul hopes, the more it attains.”

So let’s be bold.  Let’s hope and strive for bigger things than we do already. And let’s see how much the Lord can do with what we offer Him.

Thursday, 17th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

August 17, 2009

In the daytime, the Hebrews saw the cloud of the Lord over the meeting tent. But at night, fire was seen in the cloud. In the daytime, the cloud above the meeting tent seemed to invite communion. But at night, the cloud seemed to threaten.

Was there always fire in the cloud, night and day? I suspect that there was, even though it could only be seen in the night, for God appeared to Moses in the burning bush as fire, and as the letter to the Hebrews says, “our God is a consuming fire.” The cloud itself did not change. The difference was one of perspective, whether you looked at the presence of God from within the light, or in darkness.

The same thing may apply for vastly different experiences of heaven and hell. In the parable about the end of this age, Jesus describes how the good and bad fish will be sorted out, as Wisconsin fishermen separate carp from bass, muskie, & trout. The bad will be separated from the good.  In this way, after the judgment, the wicked will no long be able to cause harm to the saints. The good will be gathered together. The bad will be widely scattered.

For the saints, God’s presence will be as the welcoming, mysterious cloud; but for the condemned, even the outermost reaches of God’s presence will be a fiery furnace. There will be no escaping Him, for nowhere in the universe is there a perfect hiding place from God. Our God is a consuming fire of goodness, truth, justice, and love.

Forever frustrated and angry, the wicked will long to be farther and farther from Him, for this movement away from Him has defined their lives on Earth. But for the saints, the goodness, truth, justice, and love belonging to God will be like home. For in their lives, the saints, like the psalmist, prefer the house of God to dwelling in the tents of the wicked.

So Christian disciples, yearn and pine for the courts of the Lord. Continue to follow the cloud of His presence, and He will lead to your promised home.