Posts Tagged ‘discernment’

Prayer and Meditation for Saturday, January 12, 2019 — “He must increase; I must decrease.”

January 11, 2019

Here John shows the essence of humility, which has many forms. In what ways do I exemplify humility?

Image result for Jesus and his disciples in Judea,, art, pictures

Detail of “The Charge to Peter” by James Tissot.

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Saturday after Epiphany
Lectionary: 217

Reading 1 1 JN 5:14-21

Beloved:
We have this confidence in him
that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.
And if we know that he hears us in regard to whatever we ask,
we know that what we have asked him for is ours.
If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly,
he should pray to God and he will give him life.
This is only for those whose sin is not deadly.
There is such a thing as deadly sin,
about which I do not say that you should pray.
All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly.We know that anyone begotten by God does not sin;
but the one begotten by God he protects,
and the Evil One cannot touch him.
We know that we belong to God,
and the whole world is under the power of the Evil One.
We also know that the Son of God has come
and has given us discernment to know the one who is true.
And we are in the one who is true,
in his Son Jesus Christ.
He is the true God and eternal life.
Children, be on your guard against idols.
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Responsorial Psalm  PS 149:1-2, 3-4, 5-6A AND 9B

R. (see 4a)  The Lord takes delight in his people.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Sing to the LORD a new song
of praise in the assembly of the faithful.
Let Israel be glad in their maker,
let the children of Zion rejoice in their king.
R. The Lord takes delight in his people.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Let them praise his name in the festive dance,
let them sing praise to him with timbrel and harp.
For the LORD loves his people,
and he adorns the lowly with victory.
R. The Lord takes delight in his people.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Let the faithful exult in glory;
let them sing for joy upon their couches;
Let the high praises of God be in their throats.
This is the glory of all his faithful. Alleluia.
R. The Lord takes delight in his people.
or:
R.  Alleluia.

Alleluia MT 4:16

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light,
on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death
light has arisen.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel  JN 3:22-30

Jesus and his disciples went into the region of Judea,
where he spent some time with them baptizing.
John was also baptizing in Aenon near Salim,
because there was an abundance of water there,
and people came to be baptized,
for John had not yet been imprisoned.
Now a dispute arose between the disciples of John and a Jew
about ceremonial washings.
So they came to John and said to him,
“Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan,
to whom you testified,
here he is baptizing and everyone is coming to him.”
John answered and said,
“No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven.
You yourselves can testify that I said that I am not the Christ,
but that I was sent before him.
The one who has the bride is the bridegroom;
the best man, who stands and listens for him,
rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice.
So this joy of mine has been made complete.
He must increase; I must decrease.”

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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12 JANUARY, 2019, Saturday after the Epiphany

THE JOY OF RECONCILING MAN WITH GOD

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [  1 JOHN 5:14-21PSALM 149:1-69JOHN 3:22-30 ]

Christmas celebrates the gift of God to us in the person of Jesus.  In assuming our humanity, Jesus reveals to us our identity as children of God.  Indeed, God became man so that man could become god.  However, many of us fail to recognize our dignity as children of God and as a consequence do not live as one.   This is because of sin.  Indeed, our sins prevent us from being conscious of our identity as sons and daughters of God.

St John in the first reading warns us of the danger of sin.  “Every kind of wrong-doing is sin, but not all sin is deadly.”  The truth is that a man begins by committing small sins.  If such things spring from his wounded nature and the manifestation of his human weakness, it is a venial sin.  Such sins are normally committed because of temptations and the weakness of the will to resist sin.   Such sins can be forgiven through prayers and the reception of the sacraments.  This is why, St John says, “If anybody sees his brother commit a sin that is not a deadly sin, he has only to pray, and God will give life to the sinner – not those who commit a deadly sin; for there is a sin that is death, and I will not say that you must pray about that.”

However, the sins that really destroy us are those deliberate sins which we purposefully seek to commit, knowing full well that it is a sin.  When such sins are planned and a person chooses to go against God’s will and hurt his neighbours, it is a serious sin leading to death.  Hence, we call them mortal sins.  St Paul says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Rom 6:23)  The truth is that one begins with a small sin and then we become more daring and commit bigger sins because our hearts and minds are clouded by our sins and selfishness.  After some time, what is sinful and serious is no longer felt in our conscience.  We become dead to sin and as the consequence of sin, we hurt ourselves more and more by hurting others.

Once we commit a serious sin, unless we repent and turn to God in contrition, it will lead to a repetition of our sins.  This is what the Lord warns us.  That is why a sin of lust will lead to another and more serious sin of lust. Jesus taught, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  (Mt 5:27f)  An act of anger will lead to revenge and eventually killing.  “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (Mt 5:21f)

Prayers will help a person to grow in holiness and be attuned to the will of God.  “We are quite confident that if we ask the Son of God for anything, and it is in accordance with his will, he will hear us; and, knowing that whatever we may ask, he hears us, we know that we have been granted what we ask of him.”   St John is saying that Christ will hear our prayers if we pray in accordance with His will.  Indeed, all prayers are directed towards finding and doing the will of God.  Many of us think that prayer is to change the mind of God.  Rather, prayer is to align ourselves with His holy will, which is always best for us.  That is why, if our prayers are to be answered, we need to be obedient to His will.  Indeed, we must ask whatever the Lord wants of us.  Jesus said, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”  (Jn 14:13f) To ask in the name of Jesus is to ask everything for His sake and for the glory of His name.  Therefore, there is nothing more effective in growing in holiness than through prayers and intimacy with the Lord.

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Prayers will help us to know Jesus.  Knowledge of Jesus is the key to overcoming our sins because using our will is not sufficient because the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.  St Paul struggled with sin himself.  “Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  (Rom 7:21-25)  Indeed, through our own strength alone, we cannot be delivered from sin except in the power of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faith in Jesus’ love and mercy helps us to conquer sin, not out of fear of punishment but out of love for the Lord.

This is what St John meant when he wrote that if we are baptized, we will not sin.  “We know that anyone who has been begotten by God does not sin, because the begotten Son of God protects him, and the Evil One does not touch him.”  It does not mean that Christians can no longer sin.  What St John meant is that we do not sin deliberately because of God’s spirit in us.  But we will still sin out of weakness.  However, we do not fall into despair but continue to trust in the mercy of God, knowing that He has won victory over sin.  “We know that we belong to God, but the whole world lies in the power of the Evil One. We know, too, that the Son of God has come, and has given us the power to know the true God. We are in the true God, as we are in his Son, Jesus Christ.”   This is what baptism is all about.  We have Jesus in the gospel baptizing in the river Jordan.  To be baptized is to ask for forgiveness of our sins and most of all, to be filled with the Spirit of Jesus so that we can share in His sonship.

Today, like John the Baptist, we are called to direct sinners to the Lord.  Today, it is very difficult to convince people of the truth because of relativism.  We are bombarded with all kinds of philosophy and reasoning.  There is so much information and so many viewpoints on any issue that many of us are more confused than ever after reading all the different views.  We no longer know what is right or wrong anymore.  When reasoning and all arguments fail, the sure way to get people to accept Jesus is to lead them to Him.  If they know Jesus and if they fall in love with Him, then they will be able to see everything from the perspective of our Lord in the scriptures.  So instead of seeking to reason out with those who are disagreeable, although, it still might be necessary at times to defend our faith, yet, the better approach is through the testimony of our lives and our faith. Only through a life of holiness and faith in our Lord, can we convince others to come to Him so that He can be the Lord of their lives.

For this reason, we must pray for sinners even as we seek to reach out to them in compassion and love.  Our Lady, in all her apparitions, constantly urged us to repent and pray for sinners.  If words cannot change them, then prayers will change their hearts through God’s grace.  It is not enough just to pray for physical health and material needs.  If the body is important, how much more important is the soul because that soul is destined for eternal life.  We need to pray for the salvation of souls so that united with the Lord, they are saved for eternity, not just for this world.  If God answers prayers for material and physical needs, more so, He will hear our prayers for the conversion of sinners.

Indeed, like John the Baptist, great is our joy when we bring a sinner to Jesus to be reconciled with God.  “The bride is only for the bridegroom; and yet the bridegroom’s friend, who stands there and listens, is glad when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. This same joy I feel, and now it is complete.”  In bringing sinners back to God, we also save our own souls.  St James wrote, “My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”  (Jms 5:19f)  Indeed, like John the Baptist, we must be conscious of our role as mediator to Jesus.  Once that is done, we should move aside and not be an obstacle for others to come to know the Lord.  With John the Baptist, we say, “I myself am not the Christ; I am the one who has been sent in front of him. He must grow greater, I must grow smaller.”

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore 

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Reflection from Lectio Divina

Both John the Baptist and Jesus indicated a new way to the crowds. But Jesus, after having adhered to the movement of John the Baptist, and after having been baptized by him, advanced a step ahead and created His own movement. He baptized  people  in the Jordan River when John the Baptist was also doing it. Both of them attracted the poor and abandoned people of Palestine by announcing the Good News of the Kingdom of God.

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• Jesus, the new preacher, had a certain advantage over John the Baptist. He baptized more people and attracted more disciples. Thus, a tension arose between the disciples of John and those of Jesus, concerning the “purification,” that is, concerning the value of baptism. The disciples of John the Baptist experienced a certain envy and went to John to speak to him and informed him about the movement of Jesus.

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• John’s  response to his disciples is a beautiful response, which reveals his great spirit. John helps his disciples to see things more objectively. He uses three arguments: a) Nobody receives anything which is not given by God. If Jesus does such beautiful things, it is because he receives them from God (Jn 3:27). Instead of having envy, the disciples should feel joy. b) John reaffirms once again that he, John, is not the Messiah but only the precursor (Jn 3:28). c) In the end, he uses a comparison taken from the wedding feast.

At that time, in Palestine, on the day of the wedding, in the house of the bride, the so called “friends of the bridegroom” waited for the arrival of the bridegroom to present him to the bride. In this case, Jesus is the bridegroom, the crowd is the bride, John the friend of the bridegroom. John the Baptist says that, in the voice of Jesus, he recognizes the voice of the bridegroom and can present him to the bride, to the crowds. At this moment, the bridegroom, the people, leave the friend of the bridegroom and follow Jesus, because they recognize in Him the voice of their bridegroom! And for this reason the joy of John is great, “complete joy”. John wants nothing for himself! His mission is to present the bridegroom to the bride! The last sentence summarizes everything: “He must increase, I must decrease!” This statement is also the program for anyone  who follows Jesus.

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• At the end of the first century, in Palestine as well as in Asia Minor, where there were some communities of Jews, there were also people who had been in contact with John the Baptist or who had been baptized by him (Acts 19:3). Seen from outside, the movement of John the Baptist and that of Jesus were very similar to one another. Both of them announced the coming of the Kingdom (cf. Mt 3:1-2; 4:17). There must have been some confusion between the followers of John and those of Jesus. And because of this, the witness of John about Jesus was very important.

The four Gospels are concerned about transmitting the words of John the Baptist saying that he is not the Messiah. For the Christian communities, the Christian response, John’s response, “He must increase but I must decrease” was valid not only for the disciples of John at the time of Jesus, but also for the disciples of the Batiste or Cambric community of the end of the first century.

http://ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/lectio-divina-john-322-30

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Homily By Pastor Mark Driscoll

How odd would it be if you attended a wedding in which the star of the show was one of the groomsmen? Imagine if he demanded to be at the center of the photos, stood in front of the pastor for the ceremony, cut the cake, and had the first dance.

That would be incredibly awkward and wrong. Why? Because that is not his place.

Humility literally means, “to know your place.” Being humble requires knowing and accepting your place. None of us can say we are humble, but we should seek to say that we are pursuing humility by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Before Jesus started His ministry, John the Baptizer’s ministry began and got off to a rocket-ship launch. Before long, some of the people and leaders following John left him and started following Jesus instead. Some of John’s leaders were a bit miffed, so they brought their concerns to John. John’s response is amazing. In humility, he says that Jesus is the groom, the Church is the bride, and he was just the groomsman there to help – he’s not the star of the show.

The phenomenon of people leaving one ministry for another is nothing new. When someone transitions, some people immediately think it’s a bad thing and start to blame others. Sometimes the leader, ministry, or person leaving is tagged as bad.

John reveals that sometimes it is good for a person to transition from one ministry to another. Jesus and John the Baptizer were both good leaders with good ministries, and the people moving to Jesus’ ministry from John’s were seemingly good people. John rightly saw this as a good thing.

At the end of the day, people belong to God, not to the human leaders in a ministry. Sometimes, God moves people from one ministry to another because they are needed. This is precisely what John is saying – that the people were being sent by God to help Jesus, which is a good thing. This is a healthy model for handling transition in a godly way.

Are you more prone to encourage or criticize other ministries? If God calls you to move from one ministry to another, how can you do that in a healthy and godly way?

https://markdriscoll.org/he-must-increase-i-must-decrease/

Related:

More later….

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Bishops Describe Retreat With Father Raniero Cantalamessa

By Carol Zimmermann 
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Although the weeklong retreat for U.S. Catholic bishops emphasized quiet reflection, several bishops spoke out on social media during the retreat and after it wrapped up Jan. 8 with positive reaction about it and to give shoutouts to the retreat leader, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, who has preached to popes and top officials of the Roman Curia for nearly 40 years.

One bishop said listening to Father Cantalamessa was akin to being in the presence of the early Christian theologians. “Clear, intensely filled with the Holy Spirit, and all for the Kingdom of God,” Auxiliary Bishop Michael J. Boulette of San Antonio said in a tweet. “Let us continue to pray for one another, our church and our world. A blessing to be here!”

Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the official preacher of the papal household, delivers the homily to U.S. bishops during Mass Jan. 3 in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception at Mundelein Seminary during the bishops’ Jan. 2-8 retreat at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Illinois, near Chicago. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Archbishop Paul D. Etienne of Anchorage, Alaska, tweeted that the retreat leader was a “true instrument of the Lord” and that the Holy Spirit was at work during the retreat.

Bishop Lawrence T. Persico of Erie, Pennsylvania, described Father Cantalamessa’s talks and homilies as “powerful and engaging.”

He tweeted that he was glad they had time to reflect and pray about their role as shepherds, stressing: “We must start there to be able to offer healing. I am taking this very seriously but feeling positive.”

Boston Auxiliary Bishop Mark W. O’Connell said it was a “truly blessed experience” to be on retreat with Father Cantalamessa and fellow U.S. bishops.

“The Holy Spirit was powerfully present, and I was quite moved,” he tweeted. He also thanked the pope for giving the bishops this gift.

Pope Francis suggested the bishops hold the retreat and offered the services of the 84-year-old Father Cantalamessa, who has served as preacher of the papal household since 1980. The time of prayer Jan. 2-8 at Mundelein Seminary at the University of St. Mary of the Lake near Chicago was planned largely in response to last summer’s revelations of allegations of sex abuse that reached the highest levels of the U.S. church.

In a Jan. 8 column for Angelus News, the archdiocesan news outlet of Los Angeles, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles said the bishops’ retreat leader focused “our attention on the vocation and responsibility of bishops in this moment in the church.”

“We are praying together as a visible sign of our unity as bishops and our communion with the Holy Father. There is a collegial spirit here and a firm commitment to address the causes of the abuse crisis we face and continue the work of renewing the church,” he added.

The archbishop said Father Cantalamessa asked them to “trust more in the Holy Spirit. We need to have confidence that we are always living in God’s loving presence.”

Auxiliary Bishop F. Richard Spencer of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services listens to the homily during Mass Jan. 3 in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception during the bishops’ Jan. 2-8 retreat at Mundelein Seminary at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Illinois, near Chicago. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, wrote a few blog posts about the retreat with some reflection about the retreat leader’s message.

 

He said they heard about the need to emphasize in their preaching the fundamental belief in Jesus before delving into his message and teachings.

He also said Father Cantalamessa emphasized the need to root out “love of money” and all that it implies, including material possessions, honor or power.

“If this pursuit for ‘money’ needs to be rooted out from our Christian lives, then we need to embrace a true spirit of detachment,” the bishop wrote, adding that he would add more to that topic in the days ahead.

The theme of the U.S. bishops’ retreat was “the mission of the apostles and of their successors” drawing from Mark 3:14, which says Jesus “appointed 12 — whom he also named apostles — that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach.”

Reflections from the retreat do not seem to be about the crisis in particular, maybe for a reason.

In an email to Catholic News Service weeks before the retreat, Father Cantalamessa said he would “not talk about pedophilia and will not give advice about eventual solutions; that is not my task and I would not have the competence to do so.”

“The Holy Father asked for my availability to lead a series of spiritual exercises for the episcopal conference so that the bishops, far from their daily commitments, in a climate of prayer and silence and in a personal encounter with the Lord, can receive the strength and light of the Holy Spirit to find the right solutions for the problems that afflict the U.S. church today,” he added.

In a Jan. 9 column for the Chicago Catholic, the archdiocesan newspaper, Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich said the pope’s intention for the retreat went beyond “this particular moment or challenge facing us bishops.”

“We are not leaving this retreat with all the answers to the important questions facing the church in these days,” he wrote, but he said the bishops now have a renewed sense of the importance of taking their cues from “Christ’s spirit rather than our own efforts.”

Another blessing from the week, he said, was being drawn closer to each other and to the pope.

“I have no doubt that just as the early church relied on Peter’s unique ministry to meet the challenges of the day, so we will draw strength and insight from our unity with his successor,” he said.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

Source:https://cnstopstories.com/2019/01/10/bishops-describe-their-retreat-as-inspiring-spirit-filled/

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Prayer and Meditation for Thursday, December 20, 2018 — “The virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall name him Emmanuel.”

December 20, 2018

“For you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and shall name him Jesus.”

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Art by Rembrandt, “The Dream of Joseph”

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Thursday of the Third Week of Advent
Lectionary: 196

Reading 1 IS 7:10-14

The LORD spoke to Ahaz:
Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God;
let it be deep as the nether world, or high as the sky!
But Ahaz answered,
“I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!”
Then Isaiah said:
Listen, O house of David!
Is it not enough for you to weary men,
must you also weary my God?
Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign:
the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and shall name him Emmanuel.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 24:1-2, 3-4AB, 5-6

R. (see 7c and 10b) Let the Lord enter; he is the king of glory.
The LORD’s are the earth and its fullness;
the world and those who dwell in it.
For he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
R. Let the Lord enter; he is the king of glory.
Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD?
or who may stand in his holy place?
He whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean,
who desires not what is vain.
R. Let the Lord enter; he is the king of glory.
He shall receive a blessing from the LORD,
a reward from God his savior.
Such is the race that seeks for him,
that seeks the face of the God of Jacob.
R. Let the Lord enter; he is the king of glory.

Alleluia

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
O Key of David,
opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom:
come and free the prisoners of darkness!
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
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Image result for gabriel visits mary, pictures

Gospel  LK 1:26-38

In the sixth month,
the angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her,
“Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”

But Mary said to the angel,
“How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God.”

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”
Then the angel departed from her.

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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20 DECEMBER, 2018, Thursday, 3rd Week, Advent

DISCERNING THE WILL OF GOD

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ISAIAH 7:10-14LUKE 1:26-38]

In the gospel, we read of the call of Mary to be the mother of Jesus, the Son of God.  Many of us read this text of the gospel as if everything happened within a few minutes for the Incarnation to take place.  Was the process as simple as presented in the gospel?  The angel out of nowhere appeared before Mary, congratulated her and then announced to her that God had chosen her to bear Jesus, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God.  The Lord God will make him a king, as his ancestor David was, and he will be king of the descendants of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end!”  With some clarification, Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it happen to me as you have said.”

In truth, we do not know exactly what transpired between Mary and the angel.  The infancy narrative of the gospel in scripture comes under the category of midrash.  These are stories to convey the truth of the biblical message.  Whilst the truth remains that Mary was called by God through the annunciation of an angel, the process would most probably have been summarized in the gospel to just a few lines.  It would have been irresponsible and indeed presumptuous for Mary to make a definite decision in saying “yes” to the angel in a few minutes.  She could have been hallucinating, or a devil might have come under the guise of an angel.  Indeed, if someone were to do what Mary did, we would have questioned the maturity of the decision.

So I would like to think that the process for Mary to make a decision to accept the invitation of God to be the mother of the Son of God took more than just a few minutes, not even a day, maybe weeks and months discerning what the Lord was saying to her.  In fact, the gospel text presented Mary in a contemplative and discerning disposition.  Mary was certainly disposed to prayer and contemplation.  It could be at prayer that she felt strongly the blessings of God, which was articulated by the angel, “Peace be with you! The Lord is with you and has greatly blessed you!”

However, she was wondering why she felt so blessed by God.  “Mary was deeply troubled by the angel’s message, and she wondered what his words meant.  The angel said to her, ‘Don’t be afraid, Mary; God has been gracious to you.  You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God.  The Lord God will make him a king, as his ancestor David was, and he will be king of the descendants of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end!’”  It was certainly a great honour to be considered by God for such a task.  Through the process of discernment, Mary came to realize that she was blessed, not just for the sake of herself but also for the salvation of the People of God.  As Mary would later sing in the Magnificat, “Henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation.”  (Lk 1:48-50)

However, she did not allow herself to be so overwhelmed by such a great grace from God to be His Son’s mother that she threw caution to the wind.  She felt the need to discern further whether this was a real invitation of our Lord or whether she was imagining.  She raised doubts about how this conception could be possible.  Mary said to the angel, “I am a virgin.  How, then, can this be?”   Indeed, I would imagine that beyond this question of conceiving Jesus outside of marriage and what Joseph and her parents and relatives might think crossed her mind.  She would have spent much time wondering how such a miraculous conception was possible and it if did, how would she be able to explain herself.  What would be the outcome of her decision?  What were the implications of being the mother of the Son of God?  Would she be able to fulfill that role well and worthily?  Would she be able to face the questions and interrogation from the religious authority on her pregnancy?

Certainly, this part of her discernment process would have taken some time.  We can presume that she would have brought it to prayer.  At some point in her discernment process, she would have heard from the Lord or through the angel the words of assurance and clarification, besides being given an external sign.  The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and God’s power will rest upon you.  For this reason the holy child will be called the Son of God.  Remember your relative Elizabeth.  It is said that she cannot have children, but she herself is now six months pregnant, even though she is very old.  For there is nothing that God cannot do.”

So through a long process of discernment, in prayer and contemplation, through divine revelation and through an external sign in the conception of John the Baptist by her elderly cousin, Elizabeth, she felt confident of the call, with regard to both its authenticity and its implications.  Realizing that it was indeed the will of God, impossible it might be, and ridiculous to the mind of man, yet she knew that the call was real.  So she said, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it happen to me as you have said.”  Consequently, I think the call of Mary and her response was not such a simple and easy process as presented briefly in the gospel.  There was much thinking, reflection and discerning done by Mary.

In contrast, we have King Ahaz in the first reading who listened to no one but himself.  He was the most wicked king in Judah.  As a consequence, the Lord permitted many nations to attack and harass Judah because of Ahaz’ arrogance and infidelity to God.  When he was faced with the possibility of being attacked by the King of Aram who was in league with the King of Israel, he cried out to the King of Assyria for help.  Instead of listening to the prophet Isaiah who told him not to sell himself and the kingdom to the power of Assyria, he refused to listen.  This was in spite of the assurance of the prophet that Israel would not be able to overcome him and seize the kingdom.

King Ahaz did not do any discernment of the will of God for him.  His mind was already made up.  He listened to his fears and anxieties instead of trusting in God.  He trusted more in himself than anyone else.  When Isaiah told him that if he did not believe in his words, he should ask for a sign.  But under the pretext of not wanting to test God, he refused to ask for a sign because this would have forced him to submit to Isaiah’s counsel even more.  He had no intention of changing his mind.  Isaiah said, “Listen now, House of David: are you not satisfied with trying the patience of men without trying the patience of my God, too? The Lord himself, therefore, will give you a sign. It is this: the maiden is with child and will soon give birth to a son whom she will call Emmanuel, a name which means “God-is-with-us”.

What about us?  Do we go through the same process like Mary in clarifying the will of God, especially when we have to make important decisions and options in life?  We cannot expect an angel to appear to us but in reality, the Lord sends many angels to speak to us about His calling and His will.  Often, this comes through our loved ones, friends, parishioners, our bosses and colleagues, and sometimes, God gives us some signs as well.

However, we need to bring the diverse opinions of what we have heard to prayer.  By so doing, we bring the process of discernment into a deeper level of internal forum.  We speak to God in prayer and we speak to our spiritual director.  It is through prayer that we will arrive at a conviction as Mary did, so that we can respond with humility and conviction, “I am the handmaid of the Lord.”  However, this discernment process can happen when we live a righteous life in God’s eyes, otherwise we allow our fears, anxieties and self-will to colour our judgement, as with Ahaz.  Hence, the psalmist says, “Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord? Who shall stand in his holy place? The man with clean hands and pure heart, who desires not worthless things. He shall receive blessings from the Lord and reward from the God who saves him. Such are the men who seek him, seek the face of the God of Jacob.”

In the final analysis, after all that is said and done, we need to surrender in faith.  This was what Mary did, which Ahaz did not.  The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and God’s power will rest upon you.  For this reason the holy child will be called the Son of God.  Remember your relative Elizabeth.  It is said that she cannot have children, but she herself is now six months pregnant, even though she is very old.  For there is nothing that God cannot do.”   Having given her the sign of Elizabeth’s pregnancy and the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary could surrender in faith, knowing that with God nothing is impossible.  We too, having made a proper discernment in total openness and receptivity to His divine will, must go ahead and do His will even if it seems difficult and impossible because it will be God who makes things happen through and in us, not ourselves.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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The Loss of Our Interior Peace Is Disastrous Because In Peace, God Accomplishes Great Things

September 16, 2018

One of the most common strategies of the devil in his efforts to distance us from God and to slow our spiritual progress is to attempt to cause the loss of our interior peace.

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Here is what Dom Lorenzo Scupoli, one of the great spiritual masters of the 16th century [and author of The Spiritual Combat], who was highly esteemed by Saint Francis de Sales [author of Introduction to the Devout Life], said; “The devil does his utmost to banish peace from one’s heart, because he knows that God abides in peace and it is in peace that he accomplished great things.”

It would be well to keep this in mind, because, quite often in the daily unfolding of our Christian life it happens that we fight the wrong battle, if one may put it that way, because we orient our efforts in the wrong direction. We fight on a terrain where the devil subtly drags us and can vanquish us, instead of fighting on the real battlefield, where on the contrary, by the grace of God, we are always certain of victory.  And this is one of the great secrets of spiritual combat — to avoid fighting the wrong battle, to know how to discern, despite the ruses of our adversary, which is the real battlefield, what we truly have to struggle against and where we must place our efforts….

Related:

 (More from Jacques Philippe)

See also:

Searching for and Maintaining Peace by Fr. Jacques Philippe

Source:https://richardconlin.wordpress.com/2013/09/01/searching-for-maintaining-peace-by-fr-jacques-philippe/

Prayer and Meditation for Saturday, August 6, 2016 — The Transfiguration of Jesus

August 5, 2016

The Transfiguration is the last painting by the Italian High Renaissance master Raphael.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transfiguration_(Raphael)

Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord
Lectionary: 614

Reading 1 DN 7:9-10, 13-14

As I watched:

Thrones were set up
and the Ancient One took his throne.
His clothing was bright as snow,
and the hair on his head as white as wool;
his throne was flames of fire,
with wheels of burning fire.
A surging stream of fire
flowed out from where he sat;
Thousands upon thousands were ministering to him,
and myriads upon myriads attended him.
The court was convened and the books were opened.

As the visions during the night continued, I saw:

One like a Son of man coming,
on the clouds of heaven;
When he reached the Ancient One
and was presented before him,
The one like a Son of man received dominion, glory, and kingship;
all peoples, nations, and languages serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not be taken away,
his kingship shall not be destroyed.

Responsorial Psalm PS 97:1-2, 5-6, 9

R. (1a and 9a) The Lord is king, the Most High over all the earth.
The LORD is king; let the earth rejoice;
let the many islands be glad.
Clouds and darkness are round about him,
justice and judgment are the foundation of his throne.
R. The Lord is king, the Most High over all the earth.
The mountains melt like wax before the LORD,
before the LORD of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim his justice,
and all peoples see his glory.
R. The Lord is king, the Most High over all the earth.
Because you, O LORD, are the Most High over all the earth,
exalted far above all gods.
R. The Lord is king, the Most High over all the earth.

Reading 2 2 PT 1:16-19

Beloved:
We did not follow cleverly devised myths
when we made known to you
the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,
but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.
For he received honor and glory from God the Father
when that unique declaration came to him from the majestic glory,
“This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven
while we were with him on the holy mountain.
Moreover, we possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable.
You will do well to be attentive to it,
as to a lamp shining in a dark place,
until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

Alleluia MT 17:5C

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased;
listen to him.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 9:28B-36

Jesus took Peter, John, and James
and went up a mountain to pray.
While he was praying his face changed in appearance
and his clothing became dazzling white.
And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah,
who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus
that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.
Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep,
but becoming fully awake,
they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.
As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus,
“Master, it is good that we are here;
let us make three tents,
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
But he did not know what he was saying.
While he was still speaking,
a cloud came and cast a shadow over them,
and they became frightened when they entered the cloud.
Then from the cloud came a voice that said,
“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.
They fell silent and did not at that time
tell anyone what they had seen.

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Moses and Elijah and the Transfiguration

See:

http://evidenceoftruth.org/moses_and_elijah_and_the_transfi.htm

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By Abbot Philip, Monastery of Christ in the Desert, Abiquiu, New Mexico

We who follow Jesus believe that God loves this world so much that He never abandons us.  Instead, God is always renewing His love for us and rescuing us from that which would destroy us.  Our God reaches into time and history out of love, not with any intent to destroy us.  God chooses a people to be His own, not because he rejects all other peoples but because His People have a special role to play in bringing salvation to all other peoples.

The Gospel from Saint Luke gives an account of the Transfiguration.  It was such a strange experience even for those who were present that Peter begins to talk about making tents!  And the Gospel tells us that Peter did not know what he was saying.  It was clearly such a strong and unusual experience that other Gospels even speak of Peter sort of being out of his mind!

But the Transfiguration account is given today because the great voice from heaven speaks out, just as in the Baptism of the Lord:  “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”

My sisters and brothers, we are heirs of the promise to Abraham and we are witnesses to the accounts of the Baptism and the Transfiguration.  God promises us that we also will be transformed (transfigured).  Let us listen to Him!

— By Abbot Philip, Monastery of Christ in the Desert, Abiquiu, New Mexico

See, related:

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First Thoughts from Peace and Freedom
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My very first thought upon today’s reading “This is my chosen Son; listen to him” (Luke 9: 35)  was this:  how hard it is sometimes to find and then lead the life God has chosen for us.
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We listen, we meditate, we contemplate the life of Jesus and The Word — but still sometimes we don’t hear God’s will for us or see us anything different.
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And all around us in our worldly lives we encounter people every day with no concept of God’s Will or The Word!
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Many call the seeking of God’s will for us “discernment.”
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We may get many messengers along this road of the spiritual life — and if we are alert to the Will of God we actually see them and get the message!
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Catholic priest and author Henri Nouwen made it his life’s work to seek God’s will.
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But often, even after years of reflection and prayer,  Nouwen felt a kind of emptiness or aridity.
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He expressed his worry in his writings — and many of his insights are helpful to others following behind him on the spiritual journey, now that he’s gone.
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The book “Discernment” is a terrific resource for anyone trying to find and follow God’s Will.
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In “Discernment,” Henri Nouwen wrote:
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“As I reflect on my life today, many years after my ordination to the priesthood and that season of monastic life at the Abbey of Genesee, I feel like the least of God’s holy people. Looking back over the years, I realize that I am still struggling with the same problems I had all those years ago. Notwithstanding my many prayers, periods of retreat, advice from friends, and time with counselors and confessors, it seems that very little, if anything,  has changed. I am still the restless, nervous, intense, distracted, and impulse-driven person I was when I set out on this spiritual journey.”
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So we make progress — we never reach perfection on this earth.
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And as long as we are seeking — yes — totally devoted to the task of finding and doing the will of God — our lives will be rewarding. Our lives will have meaning.
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As Bishop Fulton Sheen often said, “Life is worth living.”
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John Francis Carey
Peace and Freedom
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God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me
and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!
Thank you, God, Amen!
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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
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The context of Jesus’ discourse:

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In the two previous chapters of Luke’s Gospel, the innovation brought by Jesus stands out and tensions between the New and the Old grow. In the end, Jesus realised that no one had understood his meaning and much less his person. People thought that he was like John the Baptist, Elijah or some old prophet (Lk 9:18-19). The disciples accepted him as the Messiah, but a glorious Messiah, according to the propaganda issued by the government and the official religion of the Temple (Lk 9:20-21).

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Jesus tried to explain to his disciples that the journey foreseen by the prophets was one of suffering because of its commitment to the excluded and that a disciple could only be a disciple if he/she took up his/her cross (Lk 9:22-26). But he did not meet with much success. It is in such a context of crisis that the Transfiguration takes place. In the 30s, the experience of the Transfiguration had a very important significance in the life of Jesus and of the disciples. It helped them overcome the crisis of faith and to change their ideals concerning the Messiah. In the 80s, when Luke was writing for the Christian communities in Greece, the meaning of the Transfiguration had already been deepened and broadened.

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In the light of Jesus’ resurrection and of the spread of the Good News among the pagans in almost every country, from Palestine to Italy, the experience of the Transfiguration began to be seen as a confirmation of the faith of the Christian communities in Jesus, Son of God. The two meanings are present in the description and interpretation of the Transfiguration in Luke’s Gospel.

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A commentary on the text:

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Luke 9:28: The moment of crisis On several occasions Jesus entered into conflict with the people and the religious and civil authorities of his time (Lk 4:28-29; 5:21-20; 6:2-11; 7:30.39; 8:37; 9,9). He knew they would not allow him to do the things he did. Sooner or later they would catch him. Besides, in that society, the proclamation of the Kingdom, as Jesus did, was not to be tolerated. He either had to withdraw or face death! There were no other alternatives. Jesus did not withdraw. Hence the cross appears on the horizon, not just as a possibility but as a certainty (Lk 9:22). Together with the cross there appears also the temptation to go on with the idea of the Glorious Messiah and not of the Crucified, suffering servant, announced by the Prophet Isaiah (Mk 8:32-33). At this difficult moment Jesus goes up the mountain to pray, taking with him Peter, James and John. Through his prayer, Jesus seeks strength not to lose sense of direction in his mission (cf. Mk 1:35).

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Luke 9:29: The change that takes place during the prayer As soon as Jesus starts praying, his appearance changes and he appears glorious. His face changes and his clothes become white and shining. It is the glory that the disciples imagined for the Messiah. This transformation told them clearly that Jesus was indeed the Messiah expected by all. But what follows the episode of the Transfiguration will point out that the way to glory is quite different from what they imagined. The transfiguration will be a call to conversion.

Luke 9:30-31: Two men appear speaking with Jesus Together with Jesus and in the same glorious state there appear Moses and Elijah, the two major exponents of the Old Testament, representing the Law and the Prophets. They speak with Jesus about “the Exodus brought to fulfilment in Jerusalem”. Thus, in front of the disciples, the Law and the Prophets confirm that Jesus is truly the glorious Messiah, promised in the Old Testament and awaited by the whole people. They further confirm that the way to Glory is through the painful way of the exodus. Jesus’ exodus is his passion, death and resurrection. Through his “exodus” Jesus breaks the dominion of the false idea concerning the Messiah spread by the government and by the official religion and that held all ensnared in the vision of a glorious, nationalistic messiah. The experience of the Transfiguration confirmed that Jesus as Messiah Servant constituted an aid to free them from their wrong ideas concerning the Messiah and to discover the real meaning of the Kingdom of God.

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Luke 9:32-34: The disciples’ reaction The disciples were in deep sleep. When they woke up, the saw Jesus in his glory and the two men with him. But Peter’s reaction shows that they were not aware of the real meaning of the glory in which Jesus appeared to them. As often happens with us, they were only aware of what concerned them. The rest escapes their attention. “Master, it is good for us to be here!” And they do not want to get off the mountain any more! When it is question of the cross, whether on the Mount of the Transfiguration or on the Mount of Olives (Lk 22:45), they sleep! They prefer the Glory to the Cross! They do not like to speak or hear of the cross. They want to make sure of the moment of glory on the mountain, and they offer to build three tents. Peter did not know what he was saying.

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While Peter was speaking, a cloud descended from on high and covered them with its shadow. Luke says that the disciples became afraid when the cloud enfolded them. The cloud is the symbol of the presence of God. Thecloud accompanied the multitude on their journey through the desert (Ex 40: 34-38; Nm 10:11-12). When Jesus ascended into heaven, he was covered by a cloud and they no longer saw him (Acts 1:9). This was a sign that Jesus had entered forever into God’s world.

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Luke 9:35-36: The Father’s voice A voice is heard from the cloud that says: “This is my Son, the Chosen, listen to him”. With this same sentence the prophet Isaiah had proclaimed the Messiah-Servant (Is 42:1). First Moses and Elijah, now God himself presents Jesus as the Messiah-Servant who will come to glory through the cross. The voice ends with a final admonition: “Listen to him!” As the heavenly voice speaks, Moses and Elijah disappear and only Jesus is left.

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This signifies that from now on only He will interpret the Scriptures and the will of God. He is the Word of God for the disciples: “Listen to him!” The proclamation “This is my Son, the Chosen; listen to him” was very important for the community of the late 80s. Through this assertion God the Father confirmed the faith of Christians in Jesus as Son of God. In Jesus’ time, that is, in the 30s, the expression Son of Man pointed to a very high dignity and mission. Jesus himself gave a relative meaning to the term by saying that all were children of God (cf. John 10:33-35). But for some the title Son of God became a resume of all titles, over one hundred that the first Christians gave Jesus in the second half of the first century. In succeeding centuries, it was the title of Son of God that the Church concentrated all its faith in the person of Jesus.

A deepening:

i) The Transfiguration is told in three of the Gospels: Matthew (Mt 17:1-9), Mark (Mk 9:2-8) and Luke (Lk 9:28-36). This is a sign that this episode contained a very important message. As we said, it was a matter of great help to Jesus, to his disciples and to the first communities. It confirmed Jesus in his mission as Messiah-Servant. It helped the disciples to overcome the crisis that the cross and suffering caused them. It led the communities to deepen their faith in Jesus, Son of God, the One who revealed the Father and who became the new key to the interpretation of the Law and the Prophets. The Transfiguration continues to be of help in overcoming the crisis that the cross and suffering provoke today. The three sleeping disciples are a reflection of all of us. The voice of the Father is directed to us as it was to them: “This is my Son, the Chosen; listen to him!”

ii) In Luke’s Gospel there is a great similarity between the scene of the Transfiguration (Lk 9:28-36) and the scene of the agony of Jesus in the Garden of Olives (Lk 22:39-46). We may note the following: in both scenes Jesus goes up the mountain to pray and takes with him three disciples, Peter, James and John.

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On both occasions, Jesus’ appearance is transformed and he is transfigured before them; glorious at the Transfiguration, perspiring blood in the Garden of Olives. Both times heavenly figures appear to comfort him, Moses and Elijah and an angel from heaven.

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Both in the Transfiguration and in the Agony, the disciples sleep, they seem to be outside the event and they seem not to understand anything. At the end of both episodes, Jesus is reunited with his disciples. Doubtless, Luke intended to emphasise the resemblance between these two episodes. What would that be? It is in meditating and praying that we shall succeed in understanding the meaning that goes beyond words, and to perceive the intention of the author. The Holy Spirit will guide us.

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iii) Luke describes the Transfiguration. There are times in our life when suffering is such that we might think: “God has abandoned me! He is no longer with me!” And then suddenly we realize that He has never deserted us, but that we had our eyes bandaged and were not aware of the presence of God. Then everything is changed and transfigured. It is the transfiguration! This happens every day in our lives.

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http://ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/lectio-2nd-sunday-lent

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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06 AUGUST 2016, Saturday, The Transfiguration of the Lord
A GOD-ENCOUNTER LEADS TO CONVICTED FAITH AND WITNESS
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [  DN 7:9-10, 13-14; 2 PT 1:16-19; LK 9:28-36]

What is the basis for our faith in Christ?  What is the basis for our vocation and passion for evangelization? Is it theology?  Is it based on philosophical reasoning?  Is it founded on doctrines?  To some extent, knowledge does lead to a greater faith. As Pope St John Paul II says, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth – in a word, to know himself – so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.” However, a faith that is largely cerebral in nature would not move mountains. God is ineffable. There are certain things that cannot be conceived or grasped by the human mind. We need revelation from God to understand Him.

That is why the second reading speaks of the truth of prophecies – “So we have confirmation of what was said in prophecies; and you will be right to depend on prophecy and take it as a lamp for lighting a way through the dark until the dawn comes and the morning star rises in your minds.” Things of God are often spoken of in terms of visions and imagery (as in the First Reading taken from the Book of Daniel) but imagery must not be misconstrued as myth but as attempts to convey the mystery. Ultimately, it is not only through reason but a convicted heart that faith becomes alive and lived out in testimony. As St Thomas Aquinas says “Love takes up where knowledge leaves off.” 

The unravelling and challenge of faith is portrayed in the same chapter of Luke, in the preceding verses, when Jesus asked the disciples “Who do the crowds say I am, who do you say I am.” He then went on to speak about His suffering and death. This must have seemed incomprehensible to the disciples, who were expecting anything but the death of the Messiah. It was as if Jesus was talking gibberish. A leap of faith, a God-encounter was therefore required by the disciples, to believe that their Master was not just a preacher or some faith-healer but God Himself. In the last book of the Old Testament, in the last chapter, the prophet Malachi (written in 5th century B.C) talks about the day of the coming of the Lord and makes a specific reference to Moses and Elijah. “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel. See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.” To see Jesus (the New Testament) with Moses and Elijah (from the Old Testament) and to hear the voice of God saying, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favour’, led the disciples to believe. It was thus through a God-encounter in the Transfiguration, that Peter, James and John came to believe that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the fulfilment of the prophecies of the Old Testament.

We see the power of this God-encounter repeated in scripture in the conversion of Saul and echoed in the lives of many saints and missionaries who gave up wealth and comfort, venturing courageously to the far-flung ends of the earth to proclaim Christ. We see this reality also at home, in the Conversion Experience Retreat, where lives are transformed after a God-encounter. It is no wonder therefore that the key to a convicted faith and witness lies in an initial God-encounter. Hence, the thrust of the New Evangelization is encapsulated in this as Pope St John Paul II aptly crystallises, “The New Evangelization is not a matter of merely passing on doctrine but rather of a personal and profound meeting with the Saviour.”

Yet, a God-encounter does not end in private faith. It must move us to testimony and witness. “‘Master, it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah’ – He did not know what he was saying.’”Peter was not allowed to dwell on the mountain but he had to follow Jesus to Jerusalem and thereafter, to testify with his life. Testimonies of our God-encounters are therefore important to keep our faith alive. In the second reading, Peter testified to the Transfiguration, “It was not any cleverly invented myths that we were repeating when we brought you the knowledge of the power and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; we had seen his majesty for ourselves.” We know that it is not a myth because his testimony is verified in history through the life, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. The transformation of the disciples’ lives and their capacity to vouch for their testimony even in the face of death, demonstrates their credibility.

To be zealous like the apostles in proclaiming Christ, the spark of faith therefore must be kept alive through our God-encounters – through contemplative prayer, reading the Word, celebrating the Liturgy, Eucharistic adoration, in community and testimonies. In the Old Testament, the mountain was a place where one could come close to God. Hence, whenever God was to be encountered, we see Moses and Elijah ascending the mountains. Likewise, Jesus took with Him Peter, John and James and went up the mountain to pray. In those days, it was believed as well that their faces had to be covered lest they are struck dead when they encountered God face to face. How fortunate we are today. Jesus has broken the barrier between God and man. We no longer have the God of the Old Testament who is veiled behind a cloud but comes to us directly in the Eucharist. We do not have to scale mountains, nor veil our eyes; yet, how often do we make time to meet God.

Hence, if our faith needs renewal, let us remember our God-encounters and make time once again to meet Him. As the psalmist says “Remember the marvels the Lord worked for us, indeed we were glad.” Remembering our own God-encounters and through the testimonies of others, we can once again surrender all our troubles to the Lord in faith, with the conviction that Jesus is Lord! “For you indeed are the Lord most high above all the earth, exalted far above all spirits.” So let us not be afraid to testify to the wonders that the Lord has worked for us. A faith lived out in conviction and testimony, keeps the faith alive not only for ourselves but for others too. Only then can people say, “Jesus is alive, alive forever more!”

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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Related:

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Prayer and Meditation for Wednesday, May 18, 2016 — “You have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow. You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears.”

May 17, 2016

Wednesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 343

Reading 1 JAS 4:13-17

Beloved:
Come now, you who say,
“Today or tomorrow we shall go into such and such a town,
spend a year there doing business, and make a profit”–
you have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow.
You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears.
Instead you should say,
“If the Lord wills it, we shall live to do this or that.”
But now you are boasting in your arrogance.
All such boasting is evil.
So for one who knows the right thing to do
and does not do it, it is a sin.

Responsorial Psalm PS 49:2-3, 6-7, 8-10, 11

R. (Matthew 5:3) Blessed are the poor in spirit; the Kingdom of heaven is theirs!
Hear this, all you peoples;
hearken, all who dwell in the world,
Of lowly birth or high degree,
rich and poor alike.
R. Blessed are the poor in spirit; the Kingdom of heaven is theirs!
Why should I fear in evil days
when my wicked ensnarers ring me round?
They trust in their wealth;
the abundance of their riches is their boast.
R. Blessed are the poor in spirit; the Kingdom of heaven is theirs!
Yet in no way can a man redeem himself,
or pay his own ransom to God;
Too high is the price to redeem one’s life; he would never have enough
to remain alive always and not see destruction.
R. Blessed are the poor in spirit; the Kingdom of heaven is theirs!
For he can see that wise men die,
and likewise the senseless and the stupid pass away,
leaving to others their wealth.
R. Blessed are the poor in spirit; the Kingdom of heaven is theirs!

Alleluia JN 14:6

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I am the way and the truth and the life, says the Lord;
no one comes to the Father except through me.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MK 9:38-40

John said to Jesus,
“Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name,
and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.”
Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him.
There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name
who can at the same time speak ill of me.
For whoever is not against us is for us.”

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First Thoughts from Peace and Freedom
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Our time here on this earth is temporary. We never know when or where God will call us home.
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Out time here only have meaning to God if we set about to please Him — to live as He instructs us.
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“If you love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:23)
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“If you love me, feed my sheep.” (John 21:17)
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Every day must count. We are on the clock in a very mysterious way! We know our time is finite but we see plenty of people who seem to live forever!.
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We can’t see our clock so we never know  “our time.” Yet we all know instinctively if we are wasting time or using it wisely.
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The Gospels tell us how to live but many times we forget all together that there is something bigger that us that we are working toward.
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And we are just a puff of smoke.
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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
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Reflection.  Today’s Gospel narrates quite a beautiful and actual example of the pedagogy of Jesus. It shows us how he helped his disciples to perceive and to overcome the “yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod”  ..Mark 9, 38-40: A closed mentality: He was not one of ours” Someone who did not belong to the community used the name of Jesus to drive out the devils. John, the disciple, sees this and forbids it: We have stopped him because he was not one of us. In the name of the community he forbids that the other one can do a good deed! He thinks that being a disciple, he can have the monopoly on Jesus and, because of this, he wants to forbid that others to use the name of Jesus to do good. This was the closed and ancient mentality of the “chosen People, a separated People!”.

Jesus responds: “You must not stop him; no one who works a miracle in my name could soon afterwards speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us.” (Mk 9, 40). It would be very difficult to find a more ecumenical affirmation than this affirmation of Jesus. For Jesus, what is important is not if the person forms part of the community or not, but rather if the person does or not the good which the community should do.

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A picture of Jesus, formator of his disciples. Jesus, the Master, is the axis, the centre and the model of formation given to the disciples. By his attitudes he is an example of the Kingdom; he embodies the love of God and reveals it (Mk 6, 31; Mt 10, 30; Lk 15, 11-32). Many small gestures show this witness of life with which Jesus marked his presence in the life of the disciples, preparing them for life and for the mission. This was his way of giving a human form to the experience which he himself had of God, the Father.

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The following is a picture of Jesus, the Formator of his disciples:

– he involves them in the mission (Mk 6, 7; Lk 9,1-2; 10, 1),

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– when they return he reviews with them all that they have lived (Lk 10, 17-20)

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– he corrects them when they fail and want to be the first ones (Mk 9, 33-35; 10, 14-15

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– he waits for the opportune moment to correct them (Lk 9, 46-48; Mk 10, 14-15)

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– he helps them to discern (Mk 9, 18-19)

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– he challenges them when they are slow (Mk 4, 13; 8, 14-21)

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– he prepares them to face the conflict (Jn 16, 33; Mt 10, 17-25)

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– he orders them to observe reality (Mk 8, 27-29; Jn 4, 35; Mt 16, 1-3)

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– he reflects with them on questions of the moment (Lk 13, 1-5)

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– he confronts them with the needs of the people (Jn 6, 5)

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– he teaches them that the needs of the people are above the ritual prescriptions (Mt12, 7-12)

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– he meets alone with them so as to be able to instruct them (Mk 4, 34; 7, 17; 9, 30-31; 10, 10; 13, 3)

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– he knows how to listen even if the dialogue is difficult (Jn 4, 7-42)

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– he helps them to accept themselves (Lk 22, 32)

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– he is demanding and asks them to leave everything out of love for him (Mk 10, 17-31)

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– he is severe concerning hypocrisy (Lk 11, 37-53

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– he asks more questions than gives responses (Mk 8, 17-21)

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– he is firm and does not allow himself to be deviated from the right path (Mk 8, 33; Lk 9, 54)

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– he prepares them for conflict and persecution (Mt 10, 16-25).

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Formation was not, in the first place, the transmission of truths to be remembered, but the communication of the new experience of God and of the life which radiates from Jesus for the disciples. The community itself which was forming around Jesus was the expression of this new experience. Formation led persons to have a different way of looking, to have different attitudes. It gave them a new conscience concerning the mission and concerning themselves. It helped them to place themselves at the side of the excluded. And soon afterwards, it produced “conversion” as a consequence of the acceptance of the Good News (Mk 1, 15).

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Personal questions

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What does it mean for me, today, in the XXI century, the affirmation of Jesus who says: “Anyone who is not against us is for us?”

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How does the formation of Jesus take place in my life?

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Concluding Prayer

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Bless Yahweh, my soul, from the depths of my being, his holy name; bless Yahweh, my soul, never forget all his acts of kindness. (Ps 103,1-2)

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http://www.ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/lectio-divina-mark-938-40

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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18 MAY 2016, Wednesday, 7th Week in Ordinary Time
LIVING A LIFE OF HAPPINESS FREED FROM FEAR AND ANXIETY
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ JM 4:13-17; MK 9:38-40   ]

Man lives in deep insecurity.  From the beginning of time, since Adam and Eve, we have always wanted to be in control.  We do not want to live in unpredictability.  For this reason, we seek to control our lives, including that of others.  This is what St James said to the Christians in his community.  The rich, especially the businessmen, thought they were in control of their lives.  Similarly, the disciples in today’s gospel also sought to control those who were outside their group.  John asked Jesus, “Master, we saw a man who is not one of us casting out devils in your name; and because he was not one of us we tried to stop him.”

Why do we seek control over our lives and that of others?  It boils down to reliance on oneself and insecurity with our competitors.  Often it is fear that drives us to strive to be better than others; not because we want to improve ourselves.  We want to be in charge.  The offspring of fear is ego and competition.  As a consequence, we become envious of others.  If the disciples were not happy that others were doing the same thing they were doing, it was because they did not want to share their power with others.  So it was out of envy that they reacted.  It was not because the man was doing something contrary to what they were doing.  They sought to prevent others from doing good simply because they do not belong to their group.  Fear that others will take their rice bowl or popularity away drove them to hinder others from doing good.

Indeed, this is what St James told his community.  It has to do with pride and wanting to do things our way. “But how proud and sure of yourselves you are now!  Pride of this kind is always wicked.”  Ultimately, it is about power and security.  Jealousy and the need to be in control spring from the fear that one’s happiness would be taken away if others are in control over us.  So man seeks power to control others.  This power can come in the form of healing, as in today’s gospel, or knowledge or skills.   Power is sought by the world today because man does not want to entrust his life to God.  He does not want to live a life that is unpredictable.  So he seeks to control his life.  He is focused on himself and his interests.

But this is the folly of the world.   Life, in the final analysis, is not within our control.   This is what St James told his people. “’Today or tomorrow, we are off to this or that town; we are going to spend a year there, trading, and make some money.’  You never know what will happen tomorrow:  you are no more than a mist that is here for a little while and then disappears.”  Indeed, our state of life is determined by God.  We can propose but God disposes.  Life remains unpredictable.  The psalmist reiterates this truth when he said, “Why should I fear in evil days the malice of the foes who surround me, men who trust in their wealth, and boast of the vastness of their riches? He knows that wise men and fools must both perish and leave their wealth to others.”  Life and death are predestined by God.  Man, regardless of his wealth and status, cannot determine his fate.  It would be foolish to think that his life is made secure by his wealth and status in life.  Before the reality of death, we are equal. The psalmist echoes this truth too when he says, “For no man can buy his own ransom, or pay a price to God for his life. The ransom of his soul is beyond him. He cannot buy life without end, nor avoid coming to the grave.”

Rather than filling our lives with anxiety and fear, we must depend on the Lord’s providence.  We are called to surrender our lives to the Lord, to do what we can and leave the future to Him.  St James wrote, “The most you should ever say is:  ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we shall still be alive to do this or that.’”  Indeed, we are called to place our trust not in the securities of this world but in God alone.  All we need to do each day is to cooperate with His will.  It is in doing His will day after day that we will find peace and joy.  If we simply do His will, we can be sure that somehow the Lord will look after us.   And even when it is time for us to go, we will depart this world happily, knowing what is in store for us in the future.

The responsorial psalm exhorts us to be poor in spirit.  “How happy are the poor in spirit: theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Hear this, all you peoples, give heed, all who dwell in the world, men both low and high, rich and poor alike!”  In other words, we must live a life of faith in total dependence on God’s divine providence.  To be poor in Spirit is to seek the things that are above.  Life and happiness is more than food and drink.  It is love, peace and joy in the kingdom of God.  (Rom 14:17)  So we must seek what is above, beyond the ordinary things of this earth.   We must seek for meaning, love and peace.

So instead of worrying too much about our future, we only have to live fully in the present.  Concretely, it means that we must accept our lot and be contented.   The author of Ecclesiastes says, “I know there is no happiness for man except in pleasure and enjoyment while he lives. And when man eats and drinks and finds happiness in his work, this is a gift from God.”  (3:12f)   “I see there is no happiness for man but to be happy in his work, for this is the lot assigned him.”  (3:22)  “This, then, is my conclusion: the right happiness for man is to eat and drink and be content with all the work he has to do under the sun, during the few days God has given him to live, since this is the lot assigned him. And whenever God gives a man riches and property, with the ability to enjoy them and to find contentment in his work, this is a gift from God. He will not need to brood, at least, over the duration of his life so long as God keeps his heart occupied with joy.”  (5:18-20)  Indeed, if only we learn to enjoy what we already have, both our gifts and our work, we will live quite happily.  So long as we have good health, a shelter and a bed and gainful work to do, we will be happy in life.  Craving for more and worrying ourselves to death will only lead us to jealousy and envy.

This does not mean that we live without goals, carelessly or irresponsibly.  Nay, we must do the best.  Be faithful to our vocation and we will live in peace with a clear conscience.  We can have our plans but be open to surprises.  Trust in God’s wisdom.  He knows what is best for us.  Man proposes but God disposes.  So we should have our ideals in our minds, but even if we do not attain them, trust in God’s wisdom and His plans for us.  Let us be ready to change course and accept both success and failures from the Lord.  There is a reason for everything.  For those who trust Him, even failures and adversities are means by which we can become happier and more fulfilled.  So let us take things in our stride.

Finally, we must cooperate with those who are doing good, regardless of who they are.  “Jesus said, ‘You must not stop him: no one who works a miracle in my name is likely to speak evil of me.  Anyone who is not against us is for us.’”  It is important for us to work with those people of other faiths and people of goodwill.  It is the Lord’s will that all will be saved by His love.  It is not important which channel His love will come through.  What is important is that we continue His work of healing and restoration.  It is for this reason that Catholics are called to work with people of goodwill in restoring justice, equality and peace to all of humanity.  The values we work for are universal truths that protect the dignity of every individual from the time of conception till death.   We can therefore rejoice with those of other religions and all those in government and non-governmental organizations that work for the dignity and the rights of the individual, ensuring justice, equality and the good of all.  “Everyone who knows what is the right thing to do and doesn’t do it commits a sin.”

Let me conclude with a story of the Sorrow Tree.  There was a group of people who were boasting about how much they suffer in life and therefore entitled to complain to God and to everyone.  So the master gathered them together around a tree.  Each person was asked to hang one’s unhappiness and sorrows and sufferings on a branch of the great Tree of Sorrows.  After dangling their miseries on one of the branches, they were asked to walk slowly around the Tree.  Each one was then asked to search for a set of sufferings that he or she prefers to those that he or she has hung up on the tree.  In the end, each one freely chose to reclaim his or her sorrows rather than those of another.  Each of them left the Tree of Sorrows wiser than when he or she arrived.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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Reflection On James 4:13-17, By Steven J. Cole
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Life is a vapor! Like a morning mist that soon vanishes, so life is short and uncertain. There are no guarantees about tomorrow, let alone next year or ten years from now. You may be young and healthy this morning, but you easily could be a corpse by sundown tonight. You may be thinking, “That’s morbid! I don’t want to think about such things!” But if you ignore these things, you will not live your life properly in light of eternity. James wants us to know that…

Because life is a vapor we should humble ourselves before God and obey His will.

James is beginning a new section, but the connecting theme through chapters 4 and 5 is humility. True faith judges pride by humbling oneself before God. In 4:1-12, James hit the need for humility to resolve conflicts and have harmonious relationships. Now he turns to the subject of humility with regard to the future. He is confronting an arrogant spirit that he had observed among the churches. Although these people professed to know Christ, they were living with a worldly attitude that the apostle John calls “the boastful pride of life” (1 John 2:15). They were making plans without taking into account their own mortality and God’s sovereignty. Like the prosperous man in Jesus’ parable, they were saying, “I’ll build bigger barns to store my goods,” and “I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.’” “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’” (Luke 12:19-20).

James makes four points:

1. Life is a vapor.

This means three things:

A. LIFE IS FRAIL.

James writes (4:13-14a), “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow.” Or, the text may read, “You do not know what will happen tomorrow.” We don’t even know what will happen ten minutes from now, let alone tomorrow or next year! These businessmen were arrogantly assuming that they would wake up tomorrow, that they would safely get to the city, that their business venture would be successful within a year, and that no one would rob them of their income. They were presuming all of these things about an unknown future that they had no control of and no guarantees about!

As I said, the most healthy young person among us could easily be dead by nightfall. There are so many easy and unexpected ways to die! I once did a funeral for an 11 year-old girl who complained to her mother about a headache. Her mother told her to go lie down. She lay down and died of a brain aneurysm. We knew of a young couple who was serving with Campus Crusade. They went on a weekend getaway. As he got out of the hot tub at their motel, he was dizzy and fell, hitting his head on the edge of the pool. He never came out of the coma. One Sunday afternoon a few years ago, a man in his early thirties who attended here was shoveling snow. His wife looked out the window and saw him lying on the ground, dead from a heart attack.

Again, you may protest that to think about such things is morbid and depressing. I’m not suggesting that you obsess on these things. But if you don’t ever think about them, you will not live in proper dependence upon God. You will proudly make plans and go on about life as if you will be forever young and healthy. James says (4:16) that “all such boasting is evil.”

B. LIFE IS SHORT.

A vapor is short-lived. You see the mist at one moment and a few minutes later it’s gone. You see the steam coming out of your coffee cup and in just a second, it disappears into the air. Life is like that.

In Psalm 90, Moses laments the brevity of life. He compares life to the grass of the field that sprouts in the morning and by evening, it has faded under the hot sun. He writes (90:10), “As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years, yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; for soon it is gone and we fly away.” Even if you live to be a hundred, how quickly life flies by! A friend of mine wisecracks that life is like the roll of toilet paper—the closer you get to the end, the quicker it goes!” You may not care for the analogy, but it’s true!

That’s why Moses prays (90:12), “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” On October 1st, I’ll be 58 and a half. I have about 4,220 days until I’m at my allotted seventy, if I even make that. That only adds up to about 603 weeks or 138 months! Yikes! Only God can give me the wisdom I need to spend those days profitably in light of eternity.

C. DEATH IS CERTAIN.

George Bernard Shaw astutely observed, “The statistics on death are quite impressive. One out of one people die.” You would think that because death is not just probable, but absolutely certain, and that it can happen at any minute, and that each person must stand before God for judgment, every person would be desperate to know how to get right with God. But, strangely, people put it out of mind and go on about life as if they will live forever. They can watch the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina on TV, shake their heads in disbelief at the bodies floating in the water, and go out the door to their daily routines without getting on their faces before God and repenting of their sins! It’s amazing!

Jesus taught us how to think when we hear about such disasters. Some people reported to Him about some Galileans whom Pilate had slaughtered. Jesus responded (Luke 13:2-5), “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

When you hear about disasters, whether human-caused, such as 9/11, or due to natural causes, such as hurricanes, make sure that you have repented of your sins, because if you do not, you will die in your sins and you will perish. Not to be ready for something that is 100 percent certain would be really foolish! James’ first point is, life is a vapor.

2. God is sovereign.

This means, we are not sovereign! The problem was not that these businessmen were making plans for the future. Nor was it a problem that they were capitalists engaging in business to make a profit. Planning is commended to us in Scripture (Luke 14:28-32; Rom. 15:20-28). Financial planning is good stewardship if it is done in dependence on God and with regard for biblical priorities. It is wise to have a will or living trust. It is wise to have some savings to cover possible future expenses or the potential loss of a job. The Bible commends hard work and being rewarded financially for it.

The problem that James hits was, they were planning as if they were sovereign and they were not bowing before the only Sovereign God. They were arrogantly making plans for their future financial security, but their plans did not include God. Their trust was not in God, but in their business ventures and in all of the money that they supposed they would make. They were assuming that they were in control of their future and that everything would go according to their plans. Instead, they needed to acknowledge (4:15), “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.”

James is not giving a trite formula that we need to tack onto every sentence. Sometimes Paul used the phrase, “if the Lord wills,” when speaking about the future (Acts 18:21; 1 Cor. 4:19; see also, Rom. 1:10; 1 Cor. 16:7; Phil. 2:19, 24), but sometimes he did not (Acts 19:21; Rom. 15:28; 1 Cor. 16:5, 8). But he always depended on the Lord and bowed before His sovereignty with regard to the future. So, James is giving us a mindset that needs to permeate all of life. We need continually to be aware of our finiteness and dependence on God and His sovereign purpose in every aspect of life. Sometimes we should say, “if the Lord wills,” but even if we don’t say it, we should think it.

As I’ve often said, one of the most basic and helpful lessons in life to learn is, “God is God; I am not God!” He is sovereign; I am not sovereign. He controls the future; I do not in any way control the future. While I believe in carrying a modest life insurance policy to protect my wife if I should die (1 Tim. 5:8 supports this), no amount of life insurance will give her financial security. I believe in saving and investing as I’m able towards the day when I may be too feeble to work (Prov. 6:6-8), but there is simply no such thing in this world as financial security. It is impossible to cover all possible contingencies. Our economy may crash. Our country may be overrun by terrorists. My retirement investments may fail. Trusting in God is the only true source of security for the future.

Note also that James assumes that you should acknowledge God as the sovereign over your business life. The idea that church is one sphere, but business is an altogether different sphere is not biblical. Jesus is Lord of all of life, from the boardroom to the bedroom. Your business ethics should reflect that you are not in charge of your business; Christ is in charge. You must conduct your business dealings in a manner that pleases and glorifies Him.

So James states that life is a vapor and that God is sovereign over every aspect of life. His words imply a third truth:

3. Pride is a great sin that easily plagues us all.

Verse 13 reeks with arrogance: “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” There is a lot of mention of what we will do, but there isn’t any mention of God! In 4:16, James directly confronts the sinful attitude behind the comments of 4:13: “But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.” “Arrogance” (4:16) was originally used of wandering hucksters who were full of empty and boastful claims about their cures and other feats that they could accomplish (R. C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament [Eerdmans], p. 98). It came to apply to any braggart. It is used in 1 John 2:15, “the boastful pride of life.” It refers to the arrogant self-sufficiency of the world apart from God.

You see this attitude in the powerful Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. While walking on the roof of his royal palace, he said (probably to himself, Dan. 4:30), “Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?” Daniel 4:31-32 continues,

While the word was in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven saying, “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you, and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place will be with the beasts of the field. You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time will pass over you until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes.”

Napoleon Bonaparte was a military genius, but his pride led to his downfall. He was about to invade Russia, but a friend tried to dissuade him. When it became apparent that Napoleon would not be budged, the friend shared the familiar proverb, “Man proposes, God disposes.” Napoleon angrily snapped back, “I dispose as well as propose.” A Christian upon hearing this remark said, “I set that down as the turning point of Bonaparte’s fortunes. God will not suffer a creature with impunity to usurp His prerogative.” Sure enough, Napoleon’s invasion of Russia was the beginning of his downfall (from Harold Fickett, Faith that Works [G/L Regal Books], p. 134).

Probably James’ readers, who were professing Christians, were not as crass as Nebuchadnezzar or Napoleon in proclaiming their own greatness. But it is possible for a Christian to fall into practical atheism, where he proudly thinks, “I have decided to do this and nothing is going to stop me. I’m a man of strong will! I will succeed!” He chuckles at his own resolve and strength of character.

James says that all such boasting is evil. Or, it’s easy for us as Christians to think, “I have succeeded because of my own hard work and smart business sense.” We disdain the poor, thinking, “If they would only work hard as I’ve done, they could succeed, too.” But we’re forgetting Paul’s pointed question to the proud Corinthians (1 Cor. 4:7), “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” Everything we have comes from God by His grace. We fall into pride when we do not keep that in mind.

How then should we live in view of the fact that life is a vapor, that God is sovereign, and that we’re so prone to pride?

4. Humble obedience to God’s revealed will is our only sane course.

At first glance, verse 17 seems somewhat disjointed from the preceding context. It may refer to all that James has said up to this point. But, “therefore,” seems to connect it to what James has just said: “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” Douglas Moo (The Letter of James [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 208) explains the connection: “He has urged us to take the Lord into consideration in all our planning. We therefore have no excuse in this matter; we know what we are to do. To fail now to do it, James wants to make clear, is sin.”

Of course, this verse applies to all areas of the Christian life pertaining to what are called “sins of omission.” We all tend to focus on sins where we have violated some direct command of God. Perhaps we stole something in violation of God’s command not to steal. Or, we lied in violation of God’s command to tell the truth. Or we got angry in violation of God’s commands against anger.

But, we also sin when we fail to do something positive that God has commanded us to do. He commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves. We violate that command when we hate our neighbor, of course. But we also violate it when we ignore our neighbor and live selfishly. In the final judgment, Jesus condemns those who did not help the poor and the needy (Matt. 25:41-44). Their sin was not that they actively abused these people. Rather, they just ignored them while they pursued their own pleasure or personal goals (see also, Luke 10:25-37; 16:19-31).

Obviously, we can’t all do everything or there simply wouldn’t be enough hours in the day. But it does seem that in most local churches, about 20 percent of the people do about 80 percent of the work, while the 80 percent of the people sit around doing nothing. If you are a Christian, it is not enough just to avoid sinning. God has given you a spiritual gift and He calls you to serve Him in some capacity. To know this and to neglect to get involved in serving is sin.

Ministry is first a mindset and only secondarily an activity. If you come to church just to sit and take in whatever seems to grab you, or to meet with your friends, you do not have a ministry mindset. You are just using the church to meet your needs, with no regard of how God wants to use you. You’re a religious consumer, but you’re not doing what God calls every believer to do.

A ministry mindset means that every day you pray, “Lord, here I am, ready to do your will. Give me eyes to see people as Jesus sees them, like sheep without a shepherd (Matt. 9:36-38). Give me a heart of compassion as Jesus has, to love those who are distressed or downcast. Use me today as a worker in Your harvest, for Your sovereign purposes.” By the way, you begin to serve God in your home! Now you know that God wants you to serve Him (Matt. 6:33). Not to live that way is sin.

Conclusion

In view of the fact that life is a vapor, that God is sovereign, that pride is a constant battle, and that humble obedience to God’s will is the only sane course, I would counsel you to do this: Think about what God wants your life to look like on your deathbed. What will you have accomplished that matters in light of eternity? In view of God’s purpose for your life, write out a single-sentence personal mission statement. Here is mine: To glorify God by being a godly husband and father, and by using my gift of pastor-teacher for the building up of the body of Christ and the furtherance of the gospel. Yours will vary depending on how God has gifted you.

Then write out some personal lifetime goals that will help you fulfill your mission statement. These may include things like your daily walk with Christ; personal holiness in thought, word, and deed; your responsibilities as a godly spouse or parent, etc.

Think through some short-term personal goals in various areas where you need to grow. Perhaps spiritually, the goal would be to spend at least 20 minutes each morning in the Word and prayer, and to work on memorizing at least one verse each week. In your marriage, the goal may be to schedule a half-hour daily to sit down and talk as a couple, or two evenings each month to go out for a date. Financially, perhaps you need to set goals to get out of debt, to live within your budget, and to give faithfully to the Lord’s work. Personally, maybe the goal is to eat nutritional food and to exercise vigorously for a half-hour at least five days per week. These are just examples; your personal goals will vary. But write them down. Then, review them periodically and adjust as the Lord leads.

The aim is to number your days so as to present to the Lord a heart of wisdom (Ps. 90:12). You know that you ought to do these things. James says that if you don’t do them, to you it is sin.

https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-18-life-vapor-james-413-17

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Vatican: Catholic Bishops Vote on Core Family Document in Rome

October 24, 2015

 

VATICAN CITY — Oct 24, 2015, 11:19 AM ET

By NICOLE WINFIELD AND DANIELA PETROFF, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Catholic bishops were voting Saturday on a final document to better minister to families following a contentious, three-week summit at the Vatican that exposed deep divisions among prelates over Pope Francis’ call for a more merciful and less judgmental church.

Conservative bishops had strongly resisted calls by more liberal bishops to offer a more welcoming approach to gays and divorced Catholics, citing church doctrine on sexuality and marriage. But it wasn’t clear that they had mustered the votes needed to close the door entirely on the core question of whether divorced and civilly remarried Catholics can receive Communion.

Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn said Saturday the final text, while not addressing the Communion issue head on, speaks obliquely about the “discernment” necessary to help couples in irregular situations.

“The situations are so different that we must look closely at each one, discern the situations and accompany them according to the needs of each one,” Schoenborn told reporters.

If he were looking for wiggle room to push the issue further, Francis could take that reference to discernment — reached through spiritual direction with a priest or bishop — as the opening he needs.

Bishops were voting paragraph by paragraph Saturday afternoon and evening, with a two-thirds majority needed for each to pass. Only the 270 synod “fathers” can vote — none of the handful of women invited to participate — even though one of the “fathers” with voting rights isn’t even a priest, much less a bishop.

Brother Herve Janson of the Little Brothers of Jesus said he considered refusing to accept the invitation to participate, given that his status in the church is the same as a sister who heads a religious order of nuns.

“I was very upset, because while before the distinction (between voting and non-voting members) was between the clergy and laity, now it has become between man and woman,” he said.

It wasn’t clear if Francis intended to raise the issue of broader participation in the synod by letting Janson vote, or if his role was a one-time anomaly.

Francis took some of the most divisive wind out of the debate before the synod began by passing a new law making it easier for divorced couples to obtain an annulment, a church declaration that their marriage was invalid. That was aimed at answering a complaint by generations of Catholics who have been denied the sacraments because they divorced and remarried outside the church without an annulment.

The synod was about far more than the contentious issues, however, including how the church should provide better marriage preparation to couples and how to encourage families torn by migration, poverty and war to persevere in their faith.

With the debate taking place behind closed doors, the public only saw glimpses of the fissures at play and was treated to a parallel synod playing out in the media.

At the start, there was a leaked letter by 13 conservative cardinals to Francis complaining about synod procedures and warning that the Catholic Church was at risk of collapse if bishops went too far in accommodating the flock.

Midway through, the mudslinging spilled into newsprint when high-ranking cardinals publicly criticized one another. German-speaking bishops made their displeasure official by starting off their final, written set of amendments with a public dressing down of Cardinal George Pell, the Australian who spearheaded the conservative charge.

And this week came the zinger: An Italian news report that Francis had a brain tumor. The Vatican vehemently denied the report and said it was aimed at manipulating the synod by suggesting that Francis’ health — and therefore his authority — was in question.

Bishops briefing the press each day downplayed the divisions, saying differences of opinion were to be expected given the geographic and cultural differences in a global church of 1.2 billion. They said their biggest takeaway was that they would now go back home, listen more to their flock and accompany them more.

“If this synod were the church, I would say that it’s the end of judging people, the end of a church that passes judgment on all the situations,” said Belgian Bishop Lucas Van Looy. “It’s a church that welcomes, a church that accompanies, a church that listens, a church that also speaks with clarity.”

That may be what Francis had in mind all along.

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Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield

 

“God has created me to do Him some definite service” — John Henry Newman

October 26, 2013

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Henry_Newman

Cardinal John Henry Newman once penned these words about the fact that God uses every human being to accomplish some good:

“God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another.  I have my mission…I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.

“He has not created me for naught.  I shall do good.  I shall do His work.  I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place while not intending it—if I do but keep His commandments.

“Therefore I will trust Him.  Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away.  If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him.  He does nothing in vain, He knows what He is about.”

You…discern my thoughts…and are acquainted with all my ways.  (Psalm 139:2,3) 

When things are not going well in my life, Lord, help me to trust that You are still leading me.

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God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me
and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!
Thank you, God, Amen!

Related:

Prayer and Meditation for Tuesday, August 6, 2013 — Discerning the Will of God — And Do We Prefer the Glory to the Cross?

August 6, 2013

Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord Lectionary: 614

Reading 1 Dn 7:9-10, 13-14

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As I watched:
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Thrones were set up and the Ancient One took his throne. His clothing was bright as snow, and the hair on his head as white as wool; his throne was flames of fire, with wheels of burning fire. A surging stream of fire flowed out from where he sat; Thousands upon thousands were ministering to him, and myriads upon myriads attended him. The court was convened and the books were opened.
As the visions during the night continued, I saw:
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One like a Son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven; When he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him, The one like a Son of man received dominion, glory, and kingship; all peoples, nations, and languages serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed.
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Responsorial Psalm PS 97:1-2, 5-6, 9

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R. (1a and 9a) The Lord is king, the Most High over all the earth. The LORD is king; let the earth rejoice; let the many islands be glad. Clouds and darkness are round about him, justice and judgment are the foundation of his throne. R. The Lord is king, the Most High over all the earth. The mountains melt like wax before the LORD, before the LORD of all the earth. The heavens proclaim his justice, and all peoples see his glory. R. The Lord is king, the Most High over all the earth. Because you, O LORD, are the Most High over all the earth, exalted far above all gods. R. The Lord is king, the Most High over all the earth.
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Reading 2 2 Pt 1:16-19

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Beloved: We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that unique declaration came to him from the majestic glory, “This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain. Moreover, we possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable. You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
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Gospel Lk 9:28b-36

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Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up a mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But he did not know what he was saying. While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.
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Lectio Divina
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My very first thought upon today’s reading “This is my chosen Son; listen to him” (Luke 9: 35)  was this:  how hard it is sometimes to find and then lead the life God has chosen for us.
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We listen, we meditate, we contemplate the life of Jesus and The Word — but still sometimes we don’t hear God’s will for us or see us anything different.
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And all around us in our worldly lives we encounter people every day with no concept of God’s Will or The Word!
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Many call the seeking of God’s will for us “discernment.”
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We may get many messengers along this road of the spiritual life — and if we are alert to the Will of God we actually see them and get the message!
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Catholic priest and author Henri Nouwen made it his life’s work to seek God’s will.
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But often, even after years of reflection and prayer,  Nouwen felt a kind of emptiness or aridity.
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He expressed his worry in his writings — and many of his insights are helpful to others following behind him on the spiritual journey, now that he’s gone.
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The book “Discernment” is a terrific resource for anyone trying to find and follow God’s Will.
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In “Discernment,” Henri Nouwen wrote:
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“As I reflect on my life today, many years after my ordination to the priesthood and that season of monastic life at the Abbey of Genesee, I feel like the least of God’s holy people. Looking back over the years, I realize that I am still struggling with the same problems I had all those years ago. Notwithstanding my many prayers, periods of retreat, advice from friends, and time with counselors and confessors, it seems that very little, if anything,  has changed. I am still the restless, nervous, intense, distracted, and impulse-driven person I was when I set out on this spiritual journey.”
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So we make progress — we never reach perfection on this earth.
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And as long as we are seeking — yes — totally devoted to the task of finding and doing the will of God — our lives will be rewarding. Our lives will have meaning.
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As Bishop Fulton Sheen often said, “Life is worth living.”
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John Francis Carey
Peace and Freedom
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God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me
and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!
Thank you, God, Amen!
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**************************
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Below is from the Carmelites
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The context of Jesus’ discourse:

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In the two previous chapters of Luke’s Gospel, the innovation brought by Jesus stands out and tensions between the New and the Old grow. In the end, Jesus realised that no one had understood his meaning and much less his person. People thought that he was like John the Baptist, Elijah or some old prophet (Lk 9:18-19). The disciples accepted him as the Messiah, but a glorious Messiah, according to the propaganda issued by the government and the official religion of the Temple (Lk 9:20-21).

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Jesus tried to explain to his disciples that the journey foreseen by the prophets was one of suffering because of its commitment to the excluded and that a disciple could only be a disciple if he/she took up his/her cross (Lk 9:22-26). But he did not meet with much success. It is in such a context of crisis that the Transfiguration takes place. In the 30s, the experience of the Transfiguration had a very important significance in the life of Jesus and of the disciples. It helped them overcome the crisis of faith and to change their ideals concerning the Messiah. In the 80s, when Luke was writing for the Christian communities in Greece, the meaning of the Transfiguration had already been deepened and broadened.

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In the light of Jesus’ resurrection and of the spread of the Good News among the pagans in almost every country, from Palestine to Italy, the experience of the Transfiguration began to be seen as a confirmation of the faith of the Christian communities in Jesus, Son of God. The two meanings are present in the description and interpretation of the Transfiguration in Luke’s Gospel.

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A commentary on the text:

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Luke 9:28: The moment of crisis On several occasions Jesus entered into conflict with the people and the religious and civil authorities of his time (Lk 4:28-29; 5:21-20; 6:2-11; 7:30.39; 8:37; 9,9). He knew they would not allow him to do the things he did. Sooner or later they would catch him. Besides, in that society, the proclamation of the Kingdom, as Jesus did, was not to be tolerated. He either had to withdraw or face death! There were no other alternatives. Jesus did not withdraw. Hence the cross appears on the horizon, not just as a possibility but as a certainty (Lk 9:22). Together with the cross there appears also the temptation to go on with the idea of the Glorious Messiah and not of the Crucified, suffering servant, announced by the Prophet Isaiah (Mk 8:32-33). At this difficult moment Jesus goes up the mountain to pray, taking with him Peter, James and John. Through his prayer, Jesus seeks strength not to lose sense of direction in his mission (cf. Mk 1:35).

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Luke 9:29: The change that takes place during the prayer As soon as Jesus starts praying, his appearance changes and he appears glorious. His face changes and his clothes become white and shining. It is the glory that the disciples imagined for the Messiah. This transformation told them clearly that Jesus was indeed the Messiah expected by all. But what follows the episode of the Transfiguration will point out that the way to glory is quite different from what they imagined. The transfiguration will be a call to conversion.

Luke 9:30-31: Two men appear speaking with Jesus Together with Jesus and in the same glorious state there appear Moses and Elijah, the two major exponents of the Old Testament, representing the Law and the Prophets. They speak with Jesus about “the Exodus brought to fulfilment in Jerusalem”. Thus, in front of the disciples, the Law and the Prophets confirm that Jesus is truly the glorious Messiah, promised in the Old Testament and awaited by the whole people. They further confirm that the way to Glory is through the painful way of the exodus. Jesus’ exodus is his passion, death and resurrection. Through his “exodus” Jesus breaks the dominion of the false idea concerning the Messiah spread by the government and by the official religion and that held all ensnared in the vision of a glorious, nationalistic messiah. The experience of the Transfiguration confirmed that Jesus as Messiah Servant constituted an aid to free them from their wrong ideas concerning the Messiah and to discover the real meaning of the Kingdom of God.

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Luke 9:32-34: The disciples’ reaction The disciples were in deep sleep. When they woke up, the saw Jesus in his glory and the two men with him. But Peter’s reaction shows that they were not aware of the real meaning of the glory in which Jesus appeared to them. As often happens with us, they were only aware of what concerned them. The rest escapes their attention. “Master, it is good for us to be here!” And they do not want to get off the mountain any more! When it is question of the cross, whether on the Mount of the Transfiguration or on the Mount of Olives (Lk 22:45), they sleep! They prefer the Glory to the Cross! They do not like to speak or hear of the cross. They want to make sure of the moment of glory on the mountain, and they offer to build three tents. Peter did not know what he was saying.

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While Peter was speaking, a cloud descended from on high and covered them with its shadow. Luke says that the disciples became afraid when the cloud enfolded them. The cloud is the symbol of the presence of God. The cloud accompanied the multitude on their journey through the desert (Ex 40: 34-38; Nm 10:11-12). When Jesus ascended into heaven, he was covered by a cloud and they no longer saw him (Acts 1:9). This was a sign that Jesus had entered forever into God’s world.

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Luke 9:35-36: The Father’s voice A voice is heard from the cloud that says: “This is my Son, the Chosen, listen to him”. With this same sentence the prophet Isaiah had proclaimed the Messiah-Servant (Is 42:1). First Moses and Elijah, now God himself presents Jesus as the Messiah-Servant who will come to glory through the cross. The voice ends with a final admonition: “Listen to him!” As the heavenly voice speaks, Moses and Elijah disappear and only Jesus is left.

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This signifies that from now on only He will interpret the Scriptures and the will of God. He is the Word of God for the disciples: “Listen to him!” The proclamation “This is my Son, the Chosen; listen to him” was very important for the community of the late 80s. Through this assertion God the Father confirmed the faith of Christians in Jesus as Son of God. In Jesus’ time, that is, in the 30s, the expression Son of Man pointed to a very high dignity and mission. Jesus himself gave a relative meaning to the term by saying that all were children of God (cf. John 10:33-35). But for some the title Son of God became a resume of all titles, over one hundred that the first Christians gave Jesus in the second half of the first century. In succeeding centuries, it was the title of Son of God that the Church concentrated all its faith in the person of Jesus.

c) A deepening:

i) The Transfiguration is told in three of the Gospels: Matthew (Mt 17:1-9), Mark (Mk 9:2-8) and Luke (Lk 9:28-36). This is a sign that this episode contained a very important message. As we said, it was a matter of great help to Jesus, to his disciples and to the first communities. It confirmed Jesus in his mission as Messiah-Servant. It helped the disciples to overcome the crisis that the cross and suffering caused them. It led the communities to deepen their faith in Jesus, Son of God, the One who revealed the Father and who became the new key to the interpretation of the Law and the Prophets. The Transfiguration continues to be of help in overcoming the crisis that the cross and suffering provoke today. The three sleeping disciples are a reflection of all of us. The voice of the Father is directed to us as it was to them: “This is my Son, the Chosen; listen to him!”

ii) In Luke’s Gospel there is a great similarity between the scene of the Transfiguration (Lk 9:28-36) and the scene of the agony of Jesus in the Garden of Olives (Lk 22:39-46). We may note the following: in both scenes Jesus goes up the mountain to pray and takes with him three disciples, Peter, James and John.

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On both occasions, Jesus’ appearance is transformed and he is transfigured before them; glorious at the Transfiguration, perspiring blood in the Garden of Olives. Both times heavenly figures appear to comfort him, Moses and Elijah and an angel from heaven.

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Both in the Transfiguration and in the Agony, the disciples sleep, they seem to be outside the event and they seem not to understand anything. At the end of both episodes, Jesus is reunited with his disciples. Doubtless, Luke intended to emphasise the resemblance between these two episodes. What would that be? It is in meditating and praying that we shall succeed in understanding the meaning that goes beyond words, and to perceive the intention of the author. The Holy Spirit will guide us.

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iii) Luke describes the Transfiguration. There are times in our life when suffering is such that we might think: “God has abandoned me! He is no longer with me!” And then suddenly we realize that He has never deserted us, but that we had our eyes bandaged and were not aware of the presence of God. Then everything is changed and transfigured. It is the transfiguration! This happens every day in our lives.

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http://ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/lectio-2nd-sunday-lent

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Related:

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Pope: Pray for me, future Pope, the Lord will guide us!

February 16, 2013



(Vatican Radio) Even though only 3500 tickets had been distributed for this Wednesday’s general audience, thousands more flocked to the Paul VI hall hoping to gain access for Pope Benedict XVI’s penultimate audience with pilgrims. Emer McCarthy reports Listen: RealAudioMP3

As soon as the Holy Father emerged onto the stage from the side door the crowds erupted in greeting. “Dear brothers and sisters, as you know I decided”, he began only to be interrupted with prolonged applause. “Thank you for your kindness” he responded and began again. “I decided to resign from the ministry that the Lord had entrusted me on April 19, 2005. I did this in full freedom” the Pope added forcefully, “for the good of the Church after having prayed at length and examined my conscience before God, well aware of the gravity of this act”.

But continued Pope Benedict, “I was also well aware that I was no longer able to fulfil the Petrine Ministry with that strength that it demands. What sustains and illuminates me is the certainty that the Church belongs to Christ whose care and guidance will never be lacking. I thank you all for the love and prayer with which you have accompanied me”.

Again the Pope was interrupted by lengthy applause, and visibly moved he continued: “I have felt, almost physically, your prayers in these days which are not easy for me, the strength which the love of the Church and your prayers brings to me. Continue to pray for me and for the future Pope, the Lord will guide us!”.

As the cheers and applause subsided, Pope Benedict then turned to this Wednesday’s catechesis which focused on the season of Lent when we are called to make “more room for God in our lives” as he tweeted to his followers. Just like the great American Convert, Dorothy Day who of whom the Pope also spoke in his audience.

HomeVatican Radio

Belw is a Vatican Radio translation of Pope Benedict XVI’s catechesis [original text Italian]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, Ash Wednesday, we begin the liturgical time of Lent, forty days that prepare us for the celebration of Holy Easter, it is a time of particular commitment in our spiritual journey. The number forty occurs several times in the Bible. In particular, it recalls the forty years that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness: a long period of formation to become the people of God, but also a long period in which the temptation to be unfaithful to the covenant with the Lord was always present. Forty were also the days of the Prophet Elijah’s journey to reach the Mount of God, Horeb; as well as the time that Jesus spent in the desert before beginning his public life and where he was tempted by the devil. In this Catechesis I would like to dwell on this moment of earthly life of the Son of God, which we will read of in the Gospel this Sunday.

First of all, the desert, where Jesus withdrew to, is the place of silence, of poverty, where man is deprived of material support and is placed in front of the fundamental questions of life, where he is pushed to towards the essentials in life and for this very reason it becomes easier for him to find God. But the desert is also a place of death, because where there is no water there is no life, and it is a place of solitude where man feels temptation more intensely. Jesus goes into the desert, and there is tempted to leave the path indicated by God the Father to follow other easier and worldly paths (cf. Lk 4:1-13). So he takes on our temptations and carries our misery, to conquer evil and open up the path to God, the path of conversion.

In reflecting on the temptations Jesus is subjected to in the desert we are invited, each one of us, to respond to one fundamental question: what is truly important in our lives? In the first temptation the devil offers to change a stone into bread to sate Jesus’ hunger. Jesus replies that the man also lives by bread but not by bread alone: ​​without a response to the hunger for truth, hunger for God, man can not be saved (cf. vv. 3-4). In the second, the devil offers Jesus the path of power: he leads him up on high and gives him dominion over the world, but this is not the path of God: Jesus clearly understands that it is not earthly power that saves the world, but the power of the Cross, humility, love (cf. vv. 5-8). In the third, the devil suggests Jesus throw himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple of Jerusalem and be saved by God through his angels, that is, to do something sensational to test God, but the answer is that God is not an object on which to impose our conditions: He is the Lord of all (cf. vv. 9-12). What is the core of the three temptations that Jesus is subjected to? It is the proposal to exploit God, to use Him for his own interests, for his own glory and success. So, in essence, to put himself in the place of God, removing Him from his own existence and making him seem superfluous. Everyone should then ask: what is the role God in my life? Is He the Lord or am I?

Overcoming the temptation to place God in submission to oneself and one’s own interests or to put Him in a corner and converting oneself to the proper order of priorities, giving God the first place, is a journey that every Christian must undergo. “Conversion”, an invitation that we will hear many times in Lent, means following Jesus in so that his Gospel is a real life guide, it means allowing God transform us, no longer thinking that we are the only protagonists of our existence, recognizing that we are creatures who depend on God, His love, and that only by “losing” our life in Him can we truly have it. This means making our choices in the light of the Word of God. Today we can no longer be Christians as a simple consequence of the fact that we live in a society that has Christian roots: even those born to a Christian family and formed in the faith must, each and every day, renew the choice to be a Christian, to give God first place, before the temptations continuously suggested by a secularized culture, before the criticism of many of our contemporaries.

The tests which modern society subjects Christians to, in fact, are many, and affect the personal and social life. It is not easy to be faithful to Christian marriage, practice mercy in everyday life, leave space for prayer and inner silence, it is not easy to publicly oppose choices that many take for granted, such as abortion in the event of an unwanted pregnancy, euthanasia in case of serious illness, or the selection of embryos to prevent hereditary diseases. The temptation to set aside one’s faith is always present and conversion becomes a response to God which must be confirmed several times throughout one’s life.

The major conversions like that of St. Paul on the road to Damascus, or St. Augustine, are an example and stimulus, but also in our time when the sense of the sacred is eclipsed, God’s grace is at work and works wonders in life of many people. The Lord never gets tired of knocking at the door of man in social and cultural contexts that seem engulfed by secularization, as was the case for the Russian Orthodox Pavel Florensky. After acompletely agnostic education, to the point he felt an outright hostility towards religious teachings taught in school, the scientist Florensky came to exclaim: “No, you can not live without God”, and to change his life completely, so much so he became a monk.

I also think the figure of Etty Hillesum, a young Dutch woman of Jewish origin who died in Auschwitz. Initially far from God, she found Him looking deep inside herself and wrote: “There is a well very deep inside of me. And God is in that well. Sometimes I can reach Him, more often He is covered by stone and sand: then God is buried. We must dig Him up again “(Diary, 97). In her scattered and restless life, she finds God in the middle of the great tragedy of the twentieth century, the Shoah. This young fragile and dissatisfied woman, transfigured by faith, becomes a woman full of love and inner peace, able to say: “I live in constant intimacy with God.”

The ability to oppose the ideological blandishments of her time to choose the search for truth and open herself up to the discovery of faith is evidenced by another woman of our time, the American Dorothy Day. In her autobiography, she confesses openly to having given in to the temptation that everything could be solved with politics, adhering to the Marxist proposal: “I wanted to be with the protesters, go to jail, write, influence others and leave my dreams to the world. How much ambition and how much searching for myself in all this!”. The journey towards faith in such a secularized environment was particularly difficult, but Grace acts nonetheless, as she points out: “It is certain that I felt the need to go to church more often, to kneel, to bow my head in prayer. A blind instinct, one might say, because I was not conscious of praying. But I went, I slipped into the atmosphere of prayer … “. God guided her to a conscious adherence to the Church, in a lifetime spent dedicated to the underprivileged.

In our time there are no few conversions understood as the return of those who, after a Christian education, perhaps a superficial one, moved away from the faith for years and then rediscovered Christ and his Gospel. In the Book of Revelation we read: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [then] I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me”(3, 20). Our inner person must prepare to be visited by God, and for this reason we should allow ourselves be invaded by illusions, by appearances, by material things.

In this time of Lent, in the Year of the faith, we renew our commitment to the process of conversion, to overcoming the tendency to close in on ourselves and instead, to making room for God, looking at our daily reality with His eyes. The alternative between being wrapped up in our egoism and being open to the love of God and others, we could say corresponds to the alternatives to the temptations of Jesus: the alternative, that is, between human power and love of the Cross, between a redemption seen only in material well-being and redemption as the work of God, to whom we give primacy in our lives. Conversion means not closing in on ourselves in the pursuit of success, prestige, position, but making sure that each and every day, in the small things, truth, faith in God and love become most important.

Below the Holy Father’s summary and greetings in English

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

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Today, Ash Wednesday, we begin our yearly Lenten journey of conversion in preparation for Easter. The forty days of Lent recall Israel’s sojourn in the desert and the temptations of Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry. The desert, as the place of silent encounter with God and decision about the deepest meaning and direction of our lives, is also a place of temptation. In his temptation in the desert, Jesus showed us that fidelity to God’s will must guide our lives and thinking, especially amid today’s secularized society. While the Lord continues to raise up examples of radical conversion, like Pavel Florensky, Etty Hillesum and Dorothy Day, he also constantly challenges those who have been raised in the faith to deeper conversion. In this Lenten season, Christ once again knocks at our door (cf. Rev 3:20) and invites us to open our minds and hearts to his love and his truth. May Jesus’ example of overcoming temptation inspire us to embrace God’s will and to see all things in the light of his saving truth.
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I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, including those from England, Denmark and the United States. My particular greeting goes to the many student groups present. With prayers that this Lenten season will prove spiritually fruitful for you and your families, I invoke upon all of you God’s blessings of joy and peace.

http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2013/02/13/
pope:_pray_for_me,_future_pope,_
the_lord_will_guide_us!/en1-664501