Category Archives: Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI

Take the Time and Pray… the Difference is Noticable


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the Day:

2  The message given to our ancestors by the angels was shown to be true, and those who did not follow it or obey it received the punishment they deserved. 3  How, then, shall we escape if we pay no attention to such a great salvation? The Lord himself first announced this salvation, and those who heard him proved to us that it is true. Hebrews 2:2-3 (TEV)

The first “work” of the priest is to be a believer and to be so always anew and always more deeply. Faith is never present as a matter of course; it must be lived. It leads us into a conversation with God that includes both speaking and hearing. Faith and prayer belong inseparably together. The time a priest spends in prayer and in hearing the word of God is never at the expense of his pastoral duties to the souls confided to his care. People can tell if the words and actions of their pastor have their origin in his prayer or only at his writing table.

As a young pastor, working p/t as a hospice chaplain, and part-time at a community college teaching computer science, I often got caught in a trap, as time was limited.  The demands of caring for my people, studying the scriptures and prayer often became what was cut out, sacrificed to the tyranny of the urgent.

I could justify this, and often hear others do this today.  The challenge is communicating that my need for time in prayer is not because I am holier, or more pious. For I know some will dismiss my advice to make time with God a priority because of such concern.  My denomination has its periods where being pious turned into extreme pietism, so those who advocate prayer and other spiritual disciplines are often treated with suspicion. 

That doesn’t change the fact we need to be communicating with God, we need to set up a regular time to give to God numerous burdens, our pains, our sins, and to listen to Him, as He shares His love, and the promises that flow from that love.  We can’t continue to carry those burdens on our own, they will crush   We need to hear Him say, I am here, don’t be afraid, don’t be anxious.  We need His comfort, for His words and sacraments to nourish and strengthen us, even as they cleanse us from sin.   If we don’t pray, if we don’t spend time listening to God, then our faith, stimulated at the “writing table” shows that we’ve neglected that which we’ve been saved and delivered into, the presence of God.

This isn’t a “pray because you have to, that’s what good Christians do”, this is a pray because you need it, you need to know God is present, listening, guiding, and comforting as we live in this challenge messed up world.

But when we come from such times, of seeing God repair our brokenness, when we hear Him whisper gently as He did to Elijah; then our ministry is not just dry and academic. After such times of intimacy with God, our words become deeply spiritual as well as wise, as our faith is tenable, real, and easily passed on to those we are called to care for, those we are called to serve.

My dear friends, whether you are pastors or priests, Sunday School teachers, elders, those who assist in facilitating the church’s praise and worship, it doesn’t matter your role as part of God’s family.

You need to pray….

And let others know how it helps you, as we struggle through this world so that they will do so, and be able to rest in the love of God.

Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

What Are We Giving to People? Some Thoughts about the Purpose of Preaching and Leading Worship


DiscussionAltar with communion Thought of the Day:
14  My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, 15  this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. 16  I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength— 17  that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, 18  you’ll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! 19  Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14-19 (MSG) 

I have already referred to contemplation as one of the two realities of the spiritual life, the other being participation. I have identified Christian contemplation with Mary who “pondered … in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Christian contemplation ponders, reflects, gazes, and delights in the wonders and the mysteries of God active in this world “reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). In Christian contemplation God is the subject who acts in history; contemplation enters God’s vision of the world and is stunned, filled with wonder, amazed, full of inner delight and joy. This contemplation is, in sum, an experience of God’s presence. The realization of his presence in the world, creation, incarnation, death, and resurrection and the ultimate presence of God in the fulfillment of history in the new heavens and the new earth is the subject of our contemplation.

But the theme of the suffering God can thrive only when it is anchored in love for God and in a prayerful recourse to his love. According to the encyclical Haurietis aquas, the passions of Jesus, which are depicted as united and uniting in the Heart, are a justification and a reason for the fact that even in the relationship between God and man the heart—that is, the capacity for feeling, the emotional aspect of love—must be included. Incarnational spirituality must be a spirituality of the passions, a heart-to-heart spirituality. Precisely in that way is it an Easter spirituality, for the mystery of Easter is, by its very nature, a mystery of suffering, a mystery of the heart.

3 After all, the chief purpose of all ceremonies is to teach the people what they need to know about Christ.

The last quote above, the short one, is my favorite from the Lutheran Confessions. It forms the basis for most of my ministry, and how I teach others to serve the people of God and their communities.

Yet over the sixteen years since I realized the truth of this, my understanding of it has shifted, it has changed.

All because I have asked, what do people really need to know about Jesus. What does it mean to give them what they need to know about Jesus?  What do they need to know?  How will the way I minister give to them what they need to know?

Let me explain, using the examples of Preaching and Liturgy.

When I was trained in Homiletics, the emphasis was on what is called expository preaching.  That is, you take the passage apart, using Greek/Hebrew, studying the individual words, the grammar, the style of literature, and what it meant to those who heard it first. Pretty in-depth stuff, pretty powerful as the ancient languages were full of marvelous word pictures.

So I preached exegetically, revealing to people the wonder of this treasure we had in scripture.  Like many of my peers, we could take apart the passage with great skill and find application, without ever bringing Jesus into the picture.

With hymnody, many have taken words like those from the Augsburg Confession and concluded that our hymns must primarily teach.  They love the old hymns that are rich in doctrine, that are more like a lecture put to music, that communicate on a horizontal plane, as we share in the wonderful teachings of the faith.

In both cases we talk about Jesus from the position of an observer, somewhat distant, somewhat disconnected.  We think about God’s work and urge people to accept it based on our logic and reason, and the wonder of the system that we have been able to describe.  And we teach them all about the system, and the church service becomes the primary place of such teaching.

It is all good stuff and beneficial.  However, it is not what they need to know about Jesus Christ.

It can accentuate that, but it is not the main thing our church services, our sermons, our worship is to communicate, to teach, to reveal.

I think the other three readings that head this discussion talk about it in depth.  First, from Dr. Robert Webber, the words in blue about contemplation, a lost art among us.  He gets to the heart of the matter when talking about pondering “the wonders and mysteries of God active in this world “reconciling the world to Himself.”  It fills us with wonder, amazement and inner delight and joy because we are experiencing the presence of God.  To contemplate this means we realize we are part of the story, we are the ones reconciled, we are the ones who God loves,

This is what Pope Benedict XVI was writing about (back when he was Joseph Ratzineger) as to our including the capacity for feeling, the emotional aspect of love, it must be a “heart to heart spirituality” This is what we so need to know.  That we are not alone, that God is here, present, sharing in our lives.

This is what Paul urges for the people in Ephesus as well. Not just to know the theology, but to experience the extravagant dimensions of God’s love. The vivid picture Petersen’s “The Message” uses gives us an idea of the power of this, to realize the depth of God’s love, His great passion for us, the passion that causes God not only to be patient, but to endure the suffering it takes.  With one goal in mind, that we would be His people, that He would be our God.

Our preaching must reveal this love, it must help us explore its dimensions, even as our sacramental ministry must help our people participate in it.  Our prayers, our liturgy, our hymnody and praise music must help us contemplate it, experience it, respond to it.

We need to give them what they need to know about Jesus Christ, true God, true man.  That in realizing His love for us, we begin to see the Father’s love for us, and God draws us to Himself.

This is what we need to teach, this is the gospel, and without it, our meetings our empty and vain.

Lord have mercy on us, and help us to draw people into communion with you, revealing the love you have for them, even as we celebrate that love together!  AMEN!

Mondays, the Wife of Job, and an Uncomfortable Faith…


cropped-will-new-camera-12-2008-167.jpgDevotional Thought of the Day:

9His wife said to him, “You are still as faithful as ever, aren’t you? Why don’t you curse God and die?”
10 Job answered, “You are talking nonsense! When God sends us something good, we welcome it. How can we complain when he sends us trouble?” In spite of everything he suffered, Job said nothing against God.  Job 2:9-10

75         Miles—soldier—so the Apostle calls a Christian. So it is that in this holy and Christian war of love and peace for the happiness of all souls, there are, in God’s ranks, tired, hungry soldiers, covered in wounds… but happy. For they bear in their hearts the sure light of victory.

It is foolish of us to regard the demands of faith—which makes unwanted demands on us and contradicts our own will—as “legalistic” and “institutional” and whatever similar terms may suggest themselves in order to shake ourselves free of it and so to sink into the leaden emptiness of a lusterless and selfish existence that receives nothing because it gives nothing. This thought should strike us anew: admittedly faith is uncomfortable, but only because it challenges us, compels us, to let ourselves be led where we do not wish to go. In this way, it enriches us and opens for us the door of true life.

There are Mondays, and there are Monday’s in which people around us act like Job’s dearly beloved, wife.  Actually out of the 142 days that have passed so far in 2017, too many have been Mondays, and it seems as many have had people like Job’s wife in the background.

Or maybe I’ve met Job’s wife as I look in the mirror, as I see the trauma of this world, the suffering of people, and I utter those words, directed to myself.  Maybe not curse God and die, but perhaps curse God and find a cave to hide in, give up, find something else.    

I know the tired hungry soldiers, covered in wounds who try to minister to the people of God.  Who struggle to work with people, trying to reveal to people the love of God who will cleanse and heal their hearts, their souls, their minds.  It doesn’t seem reasonable the pain endured by missionaries and pastors, teachers and other church leaders.  

I know the weariness of Job, slammed time after time with disaster and trauma, and I would pray for the faith to praise God when He provides times of discomfort and growth as well as the times where everything clicks right. For there are times we are led where we don’t want to go, there are times trusting in God makes us suppress our own desires and want, and sometimes, even our needs. We also suppress our own despair, recognizing it for what it is, and how Satan would use it to isolate us from the comfort and peace found in Jesus.  There are times we are called to be like Jesus and need to rely on His Holy Spirit to sustain us, even as He was sustained.

We can either curse God and run/die, or we can trust in God’s faithfulness in His promise of comfort and peace.

It’s hard, and often we waver, but He is faithful.  And when we stumble, we can let Him pick us up, cleanse us again, and lean on Him in this journey of life.

The victory is sure, the hope of glory is ours, and He is here, and will never abandon us.

Amen.

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 535-538). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

The Question is Not Relationship or Religion. A Plea for Communion with Christ.


Altar with communionDevotional Thought of the Day
21  For God in his wisdom made it impossible for people to know him by means of their own wisdom. Instead, by means of the so-called “foolish” message we preach, God decided to save those who believe. 22  Jews want miracles for proof, and Greeks look for wisdom. 23  As for us, we proclaim the crucified Christ, a message that is offensive to the Jews and nonsense to the Gentiles; 24  but for those whom God has called, both Jews and Gentiles, this message is Christ, who is the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25  For what seems to be God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and what seems to be God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. 1 Corinthians 1:21-25 (TEV)
The same line of thought can be detected in Newman’s own comment on man’s basic relationship to truth. Men are all too inclined—the great philosopher of religion opines—to wait placidly for proofs of the reality of revelation, to seek them out as if they were in the position of judge, not suppliant. “They have decided to put the Almighty to the proof—with controlled passion, a total freedom from bias, and a clear head.” But the individual who thus makes himself lord of the truth deceives himself, for truth shuns the arrogant and reveals itself only to those who approach it in an attitude of reverence, of respectful humility.[i]

The relationship of spirituality to God’s story has a long history in Christian thought. This relationship has been affirmed, challenged, distorted, lost, and regained in various epochs of history. Today spirituality is separated from God’s story. In his crucial work, Spirituality and Theology, Philip Sheldrake points out that “contemporary spiritual writing is open to the accusation that it amounts to little more than uncritical devotion quite detached from the major themes of Christian faith.”2 In order to understand this separation, I will comment briefly in this chapter on (1) how God’s story was affirmed in the ancient Christian church and (2) how the story was lost through Platonic dualism and in late medieval mysticism. In chapter 3 I will address how ancient spirituality was regained with some moderation by the Reformers and how Christian spirituality was lost again in the modern shifts toward intellectual and experiential spiritualities together. We will look at these points in Western history where the stone skims the water and through this history gain a perspective on the crisis of spirituality in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (treated in chapters 4 and 5).[ii]

Gandhi has been credited with saying that he loved Christ and His teachings, and if he found a real Christian he would become one. The modern version is those he say they love Christ but hate the religion his followers created. They want a relationship with God, but like too many theologians, they want it on their own terms.  As if man is equal to God as if man gets to judge God, and force God to modify the covenant he created for our benefit.

The religious respond to this, not with understanding, but often with contempt.   Or with the condescension of thinking that we have to logically work to correct their sinful narcissism.

Both Robert Webber and Pope Benedict this morning warn us about this, noting that far too often we have done the same as those we question.  Our theology and philosophy is used to put God into a box, to prove His existence, and to prove our perception of His plan.  The Pope warns of this with the quote, “They have decided to put the Almighty to the proof—with controlled passion, a total freedom from bias, and a clear head.”   As if man could do this!  Webber mentions the same concept as he promises to track the history of the divorce of spirituality (the divine embrace) from God’s story.

We’ve been so eager to know about God, we chased after that without knowing Him.

And those who are critical of us, they pick up on this ironic tragedy.

What they see is either a scholastic approach to religion devoid of the relationship or an experience of God devoid of living with Him as our Lord, our Master.  In both cases we set aside scripture, or have it subtly twisted in our minds, and we get to judge whether it is binding or not, whether it is “clear and logical” or not.

So what is the solution?  How do we ensure our humility, and stop playing as if we have to “prove” God’s logic, while at the same time submitting to its wisdom?

I would suggest it is communion, what Webber calls “spirituality” or the “divine embrace”.  It is what Pope Benedict calls approaching God with an attitude of reverence, of respectful humility.  It is Moses at the burning bush, hearing God and taking his shoes off, or Peter getting out of the boat.  It is David, realizing he was the man in the parable, and grieving over his own sin, it is the man formerly possession by demons, sent home to tell what God did for Him, or the blind man testifying to the religious leaders.

In that moment, when we realize we are in God’s presence and realizing that He is cleansing us, healing us, declaring we are His holy and just people.  When both experience and knowledge are subject to God, and when our pride is overwhelmed by His love. When we stop trying to be observers and judges, and settle for being with our Father, and hearing Him.

This is the moment we need, the awareness of being in His presence, and of His work in our life.  It is found as water is poured over us, as we are given His Body and Blood, and know His peace, for it is found in His promise, that He is with us, and will never abandon us.

We are welcome in His presence, we are welcome to hear Him testify of His love for us, and count on His faithfulness.  AMEN!
[i] Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

2 Sheldrake, Spirituality and Theology, vii. Sheldrake is one of a few contemporary authors who understand spirituality as an ancient applied theology. I fully recommend this book and Philip Sheldrake, Spirituality and History: Questions of Interpretation and Method, rev. ed. (1991; repr., Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1998).

[ii] Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.

Are We Too Solemn, too Reverent in our Worship?


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The church, is always in the midst of a storm… but safe in Him

Devotional Thought of the Day

15All the people of Judah were happy because they had made this covenant with all their heart. They took delight in worshipping the LORD, and he accepted them and gave them peace on every side.  2 Chronicles 15:15

In the beginning of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, we detect the enthusiasm of the new converts, for whom being Christians was an unexpected gift, a blessing, great riches bestowed on them by God. It is good for us to realize this—for us who, as Christians, live for the most part with wrinkled brows and such an anxious awareness of the problems it entails that we feel almost guilty when we are happy about being Christians—that might be a form of triumphalism! Fundamentally, the joy of this epistle derives from the fact that the Apostle has dared to look directly at the heart of Christianity, at the triune God and his eternal love.…  (1)

There is a part of me that misses the old days when I would enter church and its silence would lend itself to the awe I felt being in the presence of God.  Reverence wasn’t just an attitude one took on to appear pious, it was something you were assimilated into, it consumed you. It was a very solemn reverence, one that facilitated dropping all your defenses, dropping you guard, and collapsing in the arms of God, in His sanctuary.

Those were precious times, and I still need them on occasion.

But then I need days like yesterday when as our mass ( our worship service ended) some people spontaneously began to clap.  Not sure who, not sure why, but it was appropriate to applaud God at that moment.  TO thank Him fo the work He does in us, work wrought with the very same power that raised Jesus from the dead.  For in His resurrection, in that moment of glory, we find ourselves taken up into Him.

His death we share in, even as He takes from us our sin, our shame, and our pain.

When I was younger, my dear devoted teachers would be angry? hurt? shocked? by the idea of people applauding and rejoicing in the presence of God.  But what else can you do, when you, as Pope benedict XVI describes, “dare to look directly into the heart of Christianity, at the triune God and His eternal love”

That love is so overwhelming, so precious, so deep, we must respond, we have no option.  Even when overwhelmed (see Jeremiah 20 – he tried to keep silent! )  This is what Christianity is about – to know we are loved beyond measure, to know we are loved by God, Father, Son, and Spirit.  He has accepted us as His own, given us peace beyond explanation, and therefore we delight in worshipping Him.

We are His… and even on Monday, that is incredible news.

(1)  Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

Can I ask, “So What?” now? (the purpose of Easter and Theology)


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The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought of the Day:
3 God’s divine power has given us everything we need to live a truly religious life through our knowledge of the one who called us to share in his own  glory and goodness. 4In this way he has given us the very great and precious gifts he promised, so that by means of these gifts you may escape from the destructive lust that is in the world, and may come to share the divine nature.   2 Peter 1:3-4 TEV

At first we do not know him, but the voice of the Church tells us: it is he. It is up to us, then, to set out in haste to seek him, to come closer to him. We meet him by listening to the words of Holy Scripture, by sharing his life through the sacraments, by our encounter with him in our personal prayers, by our encounter with those whose lives are filled with Jesus, in the various occupations of daily life, and in innumerable other ways. He seeks us wherever we are, and thus we learn to know him. To come closer to him in a variety of ways, to learn to see him—that is the primary purpose of the study of theology. For this study has basically nothing to teach us if the knowledge it imparts does not refer to the reality of our life.  (1)

All day yesterday I saw people putting “He is risen! Alleluia!” on their FB posts, on Tweets, on Memes.  And most of the time, I was able to resist the temptation of asking “So what?”

I wanted to avoid the temptation because I knew the responses would miss the reason why I asked. You see, I’ve asked people before, and they look at me, stunned, as if trying to figure out if I was insane, or an atheist, or …

But it is a question we need to ask!

So what He is risen?  SO what the cross didn’t defeat him?  So what difference does this event make in your life today?

If you don’t know, then tomorrow or maybe by Thursday that post on Sunday will be forgotten, the response said on Sunday with such enthusiasm will be put in the closet until next year, when it will be dusted off again.

Does the resurrection have enough personal value to you that you will post He is risen in October or January?  Will you praise God that Christ is risen the midst of 100-degree temps in August when your A/C is broken, or when your family is in the midst of Trauma?  What about when everything is going well, and you begin to relax and enjoy your life?

Answering “so what” now will help you know the answer when all around you everything is perfect, or everything sucks.

Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI gets this.  He is one of the most brilliant theologians in the last 150 years.  Yet for him, it boils down encountering Jesus, not just alone, but in the midst of the church, in the midst of others who are the children of God.  In our prayer life, in our time reading scripture and sharing in the sacrament, but also in our work.  St Peter talks about it (as does St. Paul) using the thought that we actually share in His glory, we are welcomed into, and that is the place we belong.

This is what it is about, this walking with God, this knowing Him whom we trust and depend upon, this being humble enough to be spiritual children, rushing into the arms of our heavenly Father.

This is what it means that He is risen.  It means we are as well.  It means the Holy Spirit dwells in us.  It means we are the people of God, the ones He died and rose to share His life, His glory, His peace with, and whom He loves!

AMEN!

Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

 

The Paradox of being a Christian Leader…


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Dawn at Concordia

Devotional Thought of the Day:
3  All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. 4  He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 5  For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. 6  Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. 2 Corinthians 1:3-6 (NLT)

Therefore, anyone who seeks an office in the Church must know that he thereby declares himself ready for a greater share of the Cross. For, properly speaking, the real pastoral activity of Jesus Christ, through which he fashioned the Church and will never cease to fashion her, is his Cross, from which there flow for our blood and water, the holy sacraments, the grace of life. To want to do away with suffering means to deny love, to disavow Christ. It is impossible to struggle with the dragon and not be wounded. That is why what the Lord says in the Beatitudes is valid for all times: “Blessed are you when men revile you; blessed are the meek; blessed are the peacemakers” (Mt 5:11, 5, 9). It is true, too, that where the Lord is, where the Master is, there must his servant be also. But the Master’s place was, ultimately, the Cross, and a shepherd who seeks nothing but approval, who would be content to do only what is required of him, would certainly not be taking his place where the Master has taken his.

I was once told that if I could be content in any other field, to avoid becoming a pastor.  At the time, I didn’t understand.  Today I do. 

The blessing requires a high price to be paid.

I look at my friends in ministry, those I admire the most sacrifice so much to serve.  Some are pastors and priests, others missionaries serving far from what most would consider their home.  Some are teachers and youth workers, others are the leaders most don’t consider professionals.  The elders, musicians, those who teach the Bible to young and old. 

The costs are high, and while I am not talking about financial costs or the time demanded by the needs of those we serve, they cannot be dismissed either. The deeper costs include betrayals, it includes weeping with those who are weeping, crushed in grief.  It means disciplining people that may not like be corrected.  It means being willing to accept the loneliness of the prophet, being dismissed as we bring messages of hope, of being sent to stubborn and stiff-necked people as the prophets encountered.

It’s not about reports and strategies, it’s about laying aside our plans when someone is hurting, and helping them bear that pain.  It’s not about giving a vision, unless that vision includes the cross, leading to the resurrection.  It’s about the joy of the sacraments, and the pain when we see people in need for the comfort and strength they give, but who dismiss them.  It’s about not giving up on the prodigal, it’s about showing mercy to the prostitute and tax collector, the drug addict and the scoundrel. 

This is ministry, this is service, this is finding that as we minister to those who are drawn (and sometimes dragged ) to the cross, we find our healing occurs as well.  For we are at the cross, where Jesus raises us from death, heals us from brokenness, comforts us in our grief, and gives us hope, even as we despair.

That is the paradox of Christian ministry, the sacrifice, the life surrendered at the cross is the great blessing of being such a servant leader. 

Which is why Paul, the one we imitate as he imitated Christ praises God int he midst of sacrifice and suffering….

as will every leader in every parish, in every congregation, and throughout the Church in history, and throught out the world. 

AMEN

 

Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

 

Intimate Prayer, the Theologians Fertilizer


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the Day:

6 Then Jesus told them this parable: “There was once a man who had a fig tree growing in his vineyard. He went looking for figs on it but found none. 7So he said to his gardener, ‘Look, for three years I have been coming here looking for figs on this fig tree, and I haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it go on using up the soil?’ 8But the gardener answered, ‘Leave it alone, sir, just one more year; I will dig round it and put in some manure. 9Then if the tree bears figs next year, so much the better; if not, then you can have it cut down.’ ”  Luke 13:6-9

 

To God the Holy Spirit:

KYRIE, bountiful Spirit, united with the Father and the Son in a subsistence of one substance, proceeding from both the Father and the Son, have mercy.
KYRIE, who, when Christ was baptized in the waves of the Jordan, appeared in Your glory in the form of a dove, have mercy.
KYRIE, kindle our hearts with divine fire so that we are made worthy to praise You forever, have mercy.  (2)

And what about us? Are we so far away from the stable because we are much too refined and too smart for that? Do we not get all entangled in scholarly exegesis, in the proof or disproof of historical authenticity to the extent that we have become blind and deaf to the Child himself? Do we not really all too intensely dwell in “Jerusalem”, in a palace, withdrawn within ourselves, in our self-sufficiency, our fear of being challenged, too much so to be able to hear the voice of the angels, to set out to worship? Thus, in this holy night, the faces of ox and ass are turned toward us questioningly: My people does not understand, do you recognize the voice of your Lord? When we put the familiar figures in our crèche, we would do well to pray that God would bestow on our heart the kind of simplicity that recognizes the Lord in this Child—just like Francis in Greccio. Then this might happen also to us: everyone returned home, full of rejoicing.

Martin Chemnitz, perhaps the greatest of the Lutheran theologians.   Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Later Pope Benedict XVI, in my opinion, the greatest of the theologians in the last century.

Martin’s prayer and Joseph’s words about the birth of Jesus give us a picture of their souls.  Brilliant though they may be, they see the need for God to work on our hearts, to create the simplicity, to kindle in them a divine fire.

These words help us realize that the study of theology must take a back seat to those intimate times where we realize the presence of God. Where we hear HIs voice, where we see His hand at work, where we experience His glory.

Good theology is a result (not the result) of a prayer life that is created, nurtured and guided by the Lord and Giver of Life. It cannot simply be the work of active minds but needs to be preceded and immersed in the presence of God.  It then becomes more than an academic pursuit, it becomes life, a life pregnant and incarnate with the presence of God.

It is the same for those theological masterpieces we call sermons and Bible studies.  They need to come our of our devotional life, out of the riches of our interaction with God.  If Chemnitz and Pope Benedict need this in their lives, how could we think we don’t need this work of the Holy Spirit?

Otherwise, we may look like a fig tree, have the leaves and trunk of a fig tree, but we won’t bear any fruit.

May we pray with simple hearts, formed and enkindled by Holy Spirit, as we do what God has called and planned for us to do!  AMEN!

Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.

Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

Where One Finds Hope….


MarkJ AdventDevotional Thought of the Day:

30  And why should we ourselves risk our lives hour by hour? 31  For I swear, dear brothers and sisters, that I face death daily. This is as certain as my pride in what Christ Jesus our Lord has done in you. 32  And what value was there in fighting wild beasts—those people of Ephesus—if there will be no resurrection from the dead? And if there is no resurrection, “Let’s feast and drink, for tomorrow we die!” 33  Don’t be fooled by those who say such things, for “bad company corrupts good character.” 34  Think carefully about what is right, and stop sinning. For to your shame I say that some of you don’t know God at all. 1 Corinthians 15:30-34 (NLT)

Heaven, then, is none other than the certainty that God is great enough to have room even for us insignificant mortals. Nothing that we treasure or value will be destroyed. As we ponder all this, let us ask the Lord on this day to open our eyes ever more fully to it; to make us not only people of faith but also people of hope, who do not look to the past but rather build for today and tomorrow a world that is open to God. Let us ask him to make us who believe happy individuals who, amid the stress of daily living, catch a glimpse of the beauty of the world to come and who live, believe, and hope in this certainty. (1)

These days, from just after Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve are called the season of Advent, the time where we wait for the second coming of Jesus, and eternity to be revealed.

It is a time of hope, of expectation.

Time we need, for many of us are experiencing a time of life that seems hard, and one without any form of hope.

Advent is not the answer to the hopelessness in and of itself. It simply seeks to remind us of the hope. It is a time where we go through, recognizing our need for hope, our need for something more, that this life is not all there is.

When we know there is something, we learn to wait for it, fully expectant in the promises of God. That hope gives us the ability to depend on God for the strength to endure.

For heaven is waiting, the place we can’t describe, yet what we know is enough.  For we will be with the one who loves us!  As Pope Benedict points out, this gives us a sense of happiness, a sense of joy, even amid the stress of daily living.

Which is why the Lord’s Supper is the ultimate moment in Advent.  It is that piercing the curtain between our mortality and our immortality.  The Body and Blood of Jesus, a feast that God our Father serves us, is the moment we find ourselves in His presence so clearly, so completely.  From that moment, as with our baptism, the hope of heaven is more than a dream, it is real, the presence of God quite tangible.

Which is the point of Advent, amid the stress of life, as it seems we are in the midst of darkness, affected by disease, division, depression and even death; it is then these extra moments, assuring us of God’s promises, and His faithfulness, are so needed.

This is life, as we don’t just walk with God, we let Him carry us… and safe in His arms, expecting a new day, we find peace.

(1)  Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

The Never-ending Bible Chapter: A Meditation for All-Hallowed’s Evening


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the Day:
1  The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. 2  The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd.
Hebrews 11:1-2 (MSG)

We can explain what faith really means for an individual only by pointing to the lives of those who have lived it in its fullness: Francis of Assisi, Francis Xavier, Ignatius Loyola, Teresa of Avila, Thérèse of Lisieux, Vincent de Paul, John XXIII; in such persons, and basically only in them, can we come to know what kind of decision faith is. As we can see in the lives of such individuals, faith is a kind of passion, or, more correctly, a love that seizes an individual and shows him the direction he must go, however fatiguing it may be—the spiritual equivalent, perhaps, of a mountain to climb, which to the ordinary Christian would seem foolish indeed but to one who has committed himself to the venture is clearly the only direction to take—a direction he would not exchange for any conceivably more comfortable one.

426    In Christ we have every ideal: for he is King, he is Love, he is God.

Hebrews 11, where the quote in red comes from this morning, like the Acts of the Apostles, are chapters without ending.

That is, as Pope Ratzinger does above, the list of people sent by God, the list of those who were seized by the love of God, and shown a way to go, never ends.  They are added to the great cloud of witnesses, the people who are passionate about the passion of the Lord, and seem to overcome things that should exhaust them.

For such people, and yes, that includes you and I, there is only the life God planned for us (Eph. 2:8-10) that is the direction we would take, and the longer we wearily tread these paths, the more assured we are that there is no other path worth taking.

The strength, the confidence isn’t ours, otherwise we would go another way (as we too often try to do!)  It is part of the love that seizes us, the ideal of Christ as we are called to imitate God, to imitate the Christ who has drawn us to himself. And in doing so, He has made us His holy people.

Paul talks of being united to Him, in our baptism, as we die with Him at the cross, and are raised to new life with him.  He talks about the same power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead being at work in us. This is the love(agape/cHesed,charity ) and mercy that is our gift, the grace that saves us, the charity that transforms us.

For us, it is often hard to see this in our lives.  To understand this faith, this trust, this dependence on the love of God, that power which transforms us.  And this is why Hebrews shares with us the faith of a few, and describes the faith of those to come. Their faith, their confidence, even in the midst of their brokenness gives us something to observe, a picture of what is going on in us.

Looking at them, seeing their sin and their transformation, we begin to understand what they counted on, the promises of scripture that they knew were fulfilled in their lives, and is being fulfilled in ours.

So this day, take one person of faith, who trusted in God’s work, in His love taking action, and consider that this is happening in your life as well!

And then cry out, confident in the answer, “LORD have mercy on me, a sinner,”

AMEN!

 

Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Location 1054). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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