Category Archives: st josemaria escriva

The High Cost of Love

devotional thought of the day:

44 Turning to the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she, with her tears, has washed My feet and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave Me no kiss, but she hasn’t stopped kissing My feet since I came in. 46 You didn’t anoint My head with olive oil, s but she has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. 47 Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; that’s why she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 
49 Those who were at the table with Him began to say among themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” 
50 And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”  Luke 7:44-50 HCSB

 

760      The cheerful love that fills the soul with happiness is founded on suffering. There is no love without renunciation.

There was a song when I was growing up called “Love Stinks” and though it was talking more about infatuation, there is some truth to the idea.

For love is commitment, and that commitment often requires us to go without, to make sacrifices, to lay all we are on the line, in order to truly care for the one we love. 

Parents know this very well, as they will go without to provide for their children,  From little things like watching television shows their kids like, and not watching the ones they want to, because they are inappropriate for their child’s ears and eyes.   Teachers who give up time to plan, or to think of how to reach “that” student understand this as well.  

It is a mystery, a paradox, that delaying or denying your gratification for the sake of the one you love can lead to greater joy, greater happiness. 

The lady in the gospel reading found this out. She did something quite costly, anointing Jesus feet with oils that cost her much, oils she probably bought ot treat herself well, to help her forget the pain of life, after suffering the humiliation of submitting to others desires.

Still, in awe of God’s mercy, she sacrificed the reward of her labors to treat Jesus with love, to adore the Man who didn’t drive her away.  Maybe she was one of the people invited to Zaccheus’ house, one of the sinners Jesus was accused of eating and drinking with by the Pharisees. She tried to repay that love, with the most costly thing she knew of, with a action of love that showed how much she adored the man that didn’t want sex from her, and still talked to her, and interacted with her.

The suffering that love costs is high, and often it stinks.  Yet in the case of loving God, what it demands, though pleasurable, or profitable, is the thing that stops us from knowing joy.  We go without the pleasure, without the gain, and find ourselves free.

Just at the prostitute found herself freed from sin, and shame, and guilt.   Instead, she knew love, and that she was welcomed in the presence of God. She gave up what was costly and pleasurable and found a joy so much greater, and happiness that comes from being accepted and loved.

knowing this, realizing it in our heart, gives us the motivation, the ability to desire to give up what we need to give up.  Not because we have to, but for the joy set before us, the same joy that drove Jesus to endure the cross, for us.

Lord, help us to embrace you, receiving your love.  And as our love and adoration “costs” us, help us to realize the joy that comes from knowing that love.  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 2743-2745). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Slogans, Sermons, and The Celebration

A devotional thought for our days…

Jesus went with them, and when He was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to tell Him, “Lord, don’t trouble Yourself, since I am not worthy to have You come under my roof. 7 That is why I didn’t even consider myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be cured. 8 For I too am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under my command. d I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”  Luke 7:6-8  HCSB

705      Christian responsibility in work cannot be limited to just putting in the hours. It means doing the task with technical and professional competence… and, above all, with love of God.

Yesterday, my birthday presents were delivered a bit early.  Actually, they came just in time for the Superbowl ( my second favorite part of tomorrow!) 

The present included two items, a hat and a sign for my office. 

The first is a new cap, with what I thought was my favorite slogan for sports and ministry.  “Do Your Job” and that is a critical aspect in football, in the military (as the centurion noted) or in our relationship with God and the ministry that is created by God in our lives.  

We simply need to walk with Him and do as He leads.  Which takes faith, the dependence on God that provides the will and ability (Eph 2:13) to do what pleases Him!   Do Your Job, do it trusting in God.  Do Your Job, loving God

The second slogan now hands on my office door, a few feet from me.  No Days Off!  Oddly enough, this slogan was not revealed during the march to last year’s Superbowl victory, but afterward, during the victory parade.  What was the secret to the victory?  The coaches and players lived football, they lived the game, in season and out of season.  They lived according to the standard of their slogans… and did their job, whatever it required.

Can you imagine if the church did this?  If it made the sacrifices to walk with God each day?  If it dwelt in His presence, depended on His mercy, realized His love and peace fills our lives?  If we stopped treated being Christian was a part-time gig, and desired to live in His love, not just part-time (as if to hit the minimum requirements to gain heaven) nor even full-time ( meeting what we think is our duty) but every day treasured our time with Him, and rejoiced in the love that is our, in and through Jesus?  That is really what our “job” is, everything else, worship, loving for others, caring for others, these things are just the impact of walking with Him. 

Then there is the motto I don’t have anything on, one that I couldn’t find applicable in the Kingdon of God.  The most recent slogan, ‘Not Done Yet”

Then I realized where that slogan comes into play in the church.  It happens as the sermon finishes, and for some people, that is the high point of our church time together.

It isn’t even close.

Altar with communionFor the sermon is simply revealing God’s plan in our lives.   But we aren’t close to being done at that point.  The greatest time in the church comes when we approach the rail together, as we bow together, recognizing the presence and invitation of God, and those who can kneel, and as a community of His people, share in the Eucharist as one.

As I preach, my hunger for the sacrament grows, and I pray it grows in my people.  To be welcome at the table, fully righteous in the eyes of God, fully cleansed by Him and made ready to celebrate.  Even as we realize we are not done yet, as we take a knee, the Lord’s Supper is the beginning of the celebration of Jesus completing His work in us,  For He has done all it takes to make us His own.  And the Eucharist is His thanks to the Father, and our thanks to Him, for it is finished.

He Has done and is doing, His job.  
He takes no days off…
And He is not done yet but will be, when He brings the last prodigal home.

Until then, let us walk with, work with and celebrate the love of God.  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 2578-2581). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

Who Me? Thoughts on the Image of Christ…

St francis at the crossDevotional Thought of the Day:
16 They sent their disciples to Him, with the Herodians. z “Teacher,” they said, “we know that You are truthful and teach truthfully the way of God. You defer to no one, for You don’t show partiality. 17 Tell us, therefore, what You think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar c or not?”
18 But perceiving their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing Me, hypocrites? 19 Show Me the coin used for the tax.” So they brought Him a •denarius. 20 “Whose image and inscription is this?” He asked them.
21 “Caesar’s,” they said to Him.
Then He said to them, “Therefore give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left Him and went away.  Matthew 22:15-22  HCSB

298      My Lord Jesus has a Heart more tender than the hearts of all good men put together. If a good man (of average goodness) knew that a certain person loved him, without seeking personal satisfaction or reward of any kind (he loves for love’s sake); and if he also knew that all this person wanted from him was that he should not object to being loved, even from afar… then it would not be long before he responded to such a disinterested love. If the Loved One is so powerful that he can do all things, I am sure that, as well as surrendering in the end to the faithful love of a creature (in spite of the wretchedness of that poor soul) he will give this lover the supernatural beauty, knowledge and power he needs so that the eyes of Jesus are not sullied when he gazes upon the poor heart that is adoring him. Love, my child; love and hope.

I vaguely remember the first time realizing the inference in the gospel reading in red above. That while money bears the image of Emperor’s and Presidents, we bear in ourselves the image of God. Intellectually, it was pretty cool insight for a kid, and I remember being pleased with the simple idea.

We are made in the image of God!

What a wondrous thought, that every person we meet was created by God  Even though we have too often obscured His image as we’ve fallen to temptation,  the image remains. Bruised and battered, torn, dented, covered in the slime and muck that is the result of sin. And one of the joys of being a Christian is when we see someone realize this, as God cleanses and recreates them, restoring the image.  What a joy it is, to see God begin to transform them!  (see 2 Cor. 3)

Yet there are times, even as I observe that the observation seems to be from a distance. I get the idea of being made in the image of God, yet as I look in the mirror, I see something far different.  I see the darkness and brokenness still, I see the damage of my sin.  To borrow from St Josemaria’s words this morning, I see far too clearly the wretchedness of my poor soul. 

This is where God’s love is so glorious, so wonderful, so nearly beyond belief.  St Josemaria describes it so well, as he is sure of God giving us the supernatural beauty, knowledge, and power we need so that Jesus is not sullied, not shocked by looking upon our brokenness.

Realizing this, we find another reason to adore Him, for we find another facet, another depth of His love for us!  He will let us love Him!  He doesn’t just accept the love we show Him, He will treasure the love we are able to show Him!

He is our God, and He makes us His people, and rejoices in our love!  Even as He transforms it, and creates in us the ability to love.

Enjoy His love, my friends!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1211-1219). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

A Long Awaited Day….

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Devotional thought for our days…

14  “But then I will win her back once again. I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her there. 15  I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope. She will give herself to me there, as she did long ago when she was young, when I freed her from her captivity in Egypt. 16  When that day comes,” says the LORD, “you will call me ‘my husband’ instead of ‘my master.’ Hosea 2:14-16 (NLT)

15 But respect Christ as the holy Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to answer everyone who asks you to explain about the hope you have, 16 but answer in a gentle way and with respect 1 Pet 3:115-16 NCV

66 My God, teach me how to love! My God, teach me how to pray!

Every once in a while, when doing bills, I put the wrong month in, and sometimes the wrong year.

It is hard for me to accept we are in 2017, and that we are almost at 2018.  It seems that this should be in the future, way in the future.  

Similarly, it sometimes feels like the promises of God aren’t here yet, like 2017 shouldn’t be,  I can’t see it, I can’t picture it, even while I long for those days when my hopes, my expectations will be fulfilled.  The expectations and hope that make up my faith, the answers I need to answer people with, as St Peter says, in a gentle way and with respect. Even to those who do not respect me, especially to those who do not respect me, or God.

That is the amazing thing that gives me hope!  

We see it in the underlined part of the first reading, these people who hated GOd, who turned away from Him and worshipped gods they made of wood and metals and gems.  Those who ignored what He would say, especially when He told them that He loved them.

These people of God wouldn’t call him master, they wouldn’t call Him by some official titles, but they were to use an endearment to call Him by, a name that revealed the love that they recognized was between them.

For God would win our affections back, God would restore us, and we would willingly give ourselves to Him, a response to His healing and caring for us.

FOr we would finally realize that He loves us!

We are Christ’s bride, not His slave, we are the Father’s beloved children not, the servants who run from His anger. We are the companions of the Holy Spirit.  RElationships that are not bound by law, but love.  A relationship that began because God was stubborn and patient, not willing to let us perish, but bringing about in us a change of mind…

A change that comes when we begin to see His love for us fully revealed at the cross.

May we realize this is now – this hope, this expectation is not just in the future, some far off date when we finally realize He loves us.  That was revealed at the cross, and at our baptism, and every time we share in the Body and Blood of Christ at the altar.

This is our reason for hope, our assurance of everlasting life, with the God who doesn’t want us to call Him Lord and Master, but beloved…for

He loves us…

And so we pray, with St Josemaria, that God would teach us how to love, how to interact with Him!.  Lord have mercy on us!  (And be confident and know He has!)

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 452-454). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

What Causes People to Do Evil? Some defect? Some Dysfunction?

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Dawn at Concordia

Devotional thought for our days:’

9  Then he said, “You skillfully sidestep God’s law in order to hold on to your own tradition. 10  For instance, Moses gave you this law from God: ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ 11  But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ 12  In this way, you let them disregard their needy parents. 13  And so you cancel the word of God in order to hand down your own tradition. And this is only one example among many others.” 14  Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “All of you listen,” he said, “and try to understand. 15  It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart. Mark 7:9-15 (NLT)

9 We use our tongues to praise our Lord and Father, but then we curse people, whom God made like himself. 10 Praises and curses come from the same mouth! My brothers and sisters, this should not happen. James 3:9-10 NCV

79      I will not stop repeating until it is deeply engraved in your soul: Piety, piety, piety! For if you lack charity it will be for want of interior life, not for any defect of character.

As I have talked to people since the Las Vegas shooting, as I have read articles, posts and tweets about it, one question is asked over and over.  It is the same question that was asked after the Sandy Hook or Florida shootings, or the bombing in Oklahoma City, or even 9/11.

Why?

What defect is there in those who commit such horrors, what kind of evil lurks within them?  What dysfunctional part of their nature causes such evil?

And two questions follow those:

“Can we stop this from happening again?”

And the question we are afraid to ask,

“Am I capable of such evil?”

Most of us would believe we aren’t capable of that level of evil, of creating such trauma, such horror.  If you asked the Pharisees of Jesus day, they certainly didn’t believe they were capable of such evil; they were too holy.  Sure, a little sin here, a little lie there, some unforgiveness and pride, even a smattering of gossip.  But real evil?

Nah, not us.  We’re the good guys, remember?

If that isn’t our attitude, the contrary position we take, seeing every moment in our lives as proof that we make Hannibal Lector and Hitler look like simpletons when it comes to evil.  We believe our character to be broken, our dysfunctionality beyond salvation, our defects to irreparable.

We see the passage from Mark, and we know that there is something within us to cause such horror, we hear James and wonder how we can gossip or lie or brutally treat someone one moment, and sing A Mighty Fortress or say the Lord’s Prayer or the Apostles Creed the next.

Well, sin is pictured several times (including James 5) as an illness, a sickness, a disease that has weakened us. Yes, we are responsible for our thoughts, our words, our actions, but at another level, we are incapable of living life free from the bondage in which sin grips us.  It is more than just a defect or dysfunction, this sin that so easily ensnares us.

I think St Josemaria points out the answer, as he mentions our interior life.  Our struggle with sin as Christians is because we don’t understand what it means to dwell in the presence of God.  It is that interior life, that time that we spend living in Christ, resting in His presence, being transformed by the Holy Spirit that provides the love we need to love others, and to love and adore God.

This isn’t some exercise in finding God, it doesn’t take a pilgrimage around the world, though there are places where realizing He is there is easier, like in a church as they celebrate the Eucharist, or in a gathering of people singing His praises. He is with you on that sleepless night as well, or in the heat of the moment, when you want to respond in anger, or in pain.

The interior life is simply living and recognizing the presence of God, and hearing His voice.

So call out to Him, give Him your burdens, pray that He will help you, confident of His promises too….especially when it is dealing with temptation, or with the ghosts of the past.

The Lord is with you!  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 495-498). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

A Reason for Your Monday…

clydes-cross-2Devotional Thought for our days
1  As for us, we have this large crowd of witnesses around us. So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us. 2  Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right side of God’s throne. 3  Think of what he went through; how he put up with so much hatred from sinners! So do not let yourselves become discouraged and give up. 4  For in your struggle against sin you have not yet had to resist to the point of being killed. Hebrews 12:1-4 (TEV)

50      Feel the responsibility of your mission: the whole of Heaven is looking down on you.

Most of the time, when I read this passage, I get hooked on the idea of leaving my sin which has such a grip on me, and so many others I care about.   To be free of that insidious evil that tries to sink its talons into us, what an incredible thought!  To be rid of those things that get in the way of the life we live, whether it be resentments, or hurts or anxieties, what an incredible invaluable blessing!

A blessing that comes as we look to Jesus, keeping our eyes fixed on Him, as the Holy Spirit transforms us!  What an incredible thing!  It is amazing, awe-inspiring s we focus our adoration on the Lord who loves us.  us!

Yet this passage isn’t primarily about this blessing, but in what this blessing allows us to do, to run the race, to complete the mission, as Paul will say in Colossians, to present every man perfect IN Christ, who is the goal of our mission as well. 

That is the same mission as those who went before us and trusted in God. All of the great men and women of faith, who struggled with God and were used by God, who came to trust Him with their lives. And in the process, even when being martyred, killed for their testimony, they were able to embrace the hate and pain, knowing that in some cases, their dependence on God would bring the ones torturing them to know God’s peace.

The author here encourages us not to give up, reminding us of how much Christ endured for us, and how much those people of faith endured.  Don’t give up – keep focused on Jesus love for you – plunge its depths, ascend its height, explore its unending breadth and width, walk with Him through life…

Even on Mondays, even when it is not torture, but the boring return to our monotonous weekly grind beginning again.

He is with us, remember that, the day will be different.  Full of joy and peace, no matter what our bosses or the world throw at us. 

God is with us!  Let’s get back to work in His harvest, with Him!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 406-408). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

It’s Time for the Church to Get Out of Control

20170124_103703Devotional Thought for our Days
34  But Jesus said: My food is to do the will of the one who sent me, and to complete his work. 35  Do you not have a saying: Four months and then the harvest? Well, I tell you, look around you, look at the fields; already they are white, ready for harvest! John 4:34-35 (NJB)

31      O Jesus…, strengthen our souls, open out the way for us, and, above all, intoxicate us with your Love! Make us into blazing fires to kindle the earth with the heavenly fire you brought us.

The Church is not a machine, a collection of bureaucrats, of administrators, of events. This is the Church: that we are called into the family of Jesus Christ and so into a community of love with him.

The problem for this pastor and for many others of us is that we turn things around and instead of seeing church and worship as the means of nourishing our mystical union with God, we see our life in the church and in worship as our work. We subvert God’s way of nourishing our union with him by looking to self as if we sustain the union, only to grow weary in our own self-righteousness.

Knowing my undergraduate degree is in Organizational Management, and that I spent more than a decade in management before becoming a pastor, someone asked me what my favorite business model was to adapt for the church.

I think my answer surprised them, it was n off-hand joke, but fairly true. 

Thriving on Chaos. 

There is such a book, and an excellent one if I remember, necessary for a business that is in the midst of changes in its market and world. 

But what I am talking about is that the church, at its best – is out of control.  Completely out of control.  Absolutely, 102.829 percent out of control.

Before all my church consultants, coaches and CEO/Herr pastor friends meltdown, let me clarify.

The church must be completely controlled by God, it must be completely wrested from our control.  It is a community we are called into by God, a community that He is healing, that He is cleansing. He is doing the work, and we are but servants in this endeavor, doing what He calls us to do. 

Pope Benedict noted above that the church is never a bureaucracy, it is not a machine to be managed!  (Did I mention this is a quote from a future Pope)  It is a community, one with broken people, one where ministering to each other can often upset our nicely manicured schedules and structures.

Dr. Webbber points out that this church is not our work. When we treat it as ours, he continues we subvert it from its norm, we change it from being the place where God embraces people, a place where they hear and recognize his voice into a highly disciplined  collection of round pegs stuck in round holes and square pegs stuck into square holes and well – those octagonal folk?  Well, there might be a church down the street for them.  

We believe we can sustain the union, so we keep everyone busy, hoping they don’t look to clearly at the New Empire line of stoles and chausables, (or for my low church bothers – polos and denim)   We end up leaving very little time for quiet intimacy with God, so that we don’t have to worry about being stir crazy when all we hear is the sound of silence.

We need a church where God so overwhelms us, we have no option but to sit and pray, catching our breath, so drained of energy that being still and knowing He is God is required, that a sabbath rest is something we begin to desire. 

We need a church where the Spirit is moving, not us, (and not us pretending to hear the Spirit either!)   Where God being “with us” is what we rely on, where our cries of “Lord have mercy! are not just loud and desperate, they are full of expectation and hope. 

A hope we share with the world. A world that is coming, and is coming because someone else planted a seed, and not it is time to harvest…. 

I love St Josemaria’s prayer, and the fact that it comes from a voice many consider too conservative, to traditional, to rigid and disciplined.  It is a great demonstration of a church that is thriving in a chaos, as the fire rages within us,  completely out of our control.  

But firmly and completely in His.

May we rejoice in our God’s presence, and may His Kingdom come and Will be done, even in our lives today.  AMEN!

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 348-350). 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.

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

Our Hope: The Transformation found in Stability

DSCN0014Devotional Thought for our days:

God began doing a good work in you, and I am sure he will continue it until it is finished when Jesus Christ comes again.  NCV Phil. 1:6

We often use the word stable to refer to a person who is constant and consistent. We say, “You can count on her.” Or, in Christian terms, we may think of the writer of Hebrews, who admonishes new Christians to endure to the end (Heb. 4:11).
The monastic concept of stability translated into our spiritual life means “stay in your baptism” and “continue to live out of the death and resurrection of Jesus by continually dying to sin and rising to the new life of the Spirit staying in God’s divine embrace.” Obviously such a vow should not be taken lightly.

2   God is my Father! If you meditate on it, you will never let go of this consoling consideration. Jesus is my intimate Friend (another rediscovery) who loves me with all the divine madness of his Heart. The Holy Spirit is my Consoler, who guides my every step along the road. Consider this often: you are God’s… and God is yours.

Stability.

It is an odd word for me.  You see, I have spent most of my adult life changing things.  Changing jobs, locations, residences ( again next week!) I am not sure I have known stability, or for that matter, provided it for my family.

I have to admit, I love change, and love being involved causing change.  Hopefully, the change is on the order of transformation, and not just the chaotic kind of change that causes stress.  Well, let me be honest, I can find that kind of change exhilarating and even entertaining. 

I love change, I am almost an addict of it.  Routine is boring, and I don’t find much alive in getting into a rut.

So this morning, I am writing on… stability? As a positive thing? Really?

There is an area I desperately need stability in, and if that is stable, if that is anchored, all other change simply becomes… negligible.  There is a stability that must invade my life, must always be depended upon.

Webber talks about it as staying in your baptism, what the monasteries and convents were actually trying to provide.  Their strength was not found in their own personal stability, or in the stability that living in a disciplined community caused.   Their stability was provided by the constant reference to the presence of the Lord.  

That is where the stability comes from, the work and promises God did in our baptism, and continues to do until the work is finished with Christ’s return. It’s this knowledge of Christ’s work, the Holy Spirit’s work, that happens in our presence, which reveals we are in the presence of the God the Father.  He is ours, St. Josemaria pleads with us to remember!  We are His!  And that creates a stability that goes beyond our problems, our challenges, our brokenness, our sin. 

It is the divine embrace, God taking us into His arms, our being fused to Christ and His cross.  Nothing is more intimate, more transforming and yet more stable than this.

Know this, hear it over and over;

The Lord is with you!  

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

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 237-242). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

How can I fail to take up your soul….?

church at communion 2Devotional Thought for our days:

 15  GOD then said, “Dress up like a stupid shepherd. 16  I’m going to install just such a shepherd in this land—a shepherd indifferent to victims, who ignores the lost, abandons the injured and disdains decent citizens. He’ll only be in it for what he can get out of it, using and abusing any and all. Zechariah 11:15-16 (MSG)

15  And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will guide you with knowledge and understanding. Jeremiah 3:15 (NLT)

14  “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, 15  just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. John 10:14-15 (NLT)

There was a mother who, like all mothers, was passionately fond of her little child, whom she called her prince, her king, her treasure, her very sun.
I thought of you. And I understood —for what father does not carry deep inside some maternal feelings?— that it was no exaggeration for that good mother to say: you are more than a treasure, you are worth more than the sun itself: you are worth all Christ’s Blood!
How can I fail to take up your soul —pure gold— and place it in the forge, and fashion it with fire and hammer, until that gold nugget is turned into a splendid jewel to be offered to my God, to your God?

As I begin to read St. Josemaria Escriva’s devotional book the Forge, I came across the words in blue in the prologue. It describes the heart of a pastor, a priest, a shepherd and caretaker of souls.

It is a heart to aspire to, at least in my mind.

I have been involved in a couple of conversations recently about pastors and their relationship to their people, to their parishioners.  One raised the question of whether pastors could be friends of their parishioners. Another was about the difference between worship and work at the church.  A third was about pastors retiring from ministry, and finding something completely different to do in their retirement.  Let’s just say I was in the minority in several of these discussions, and to be honest, I don’t understand the idea that ministry is work, that it is just a job, like caring for inmates or hotel guests.  

I think our hearts have to break when our their hearts break.  I think we have to desire what God would have for our people, to realize the treasure He sees in them.  To give them the sacraments, assured of the blessing we are giving them, as we untie them to Jesus death and resurrection, as we give feed their souls, as our words (actually His words) mend and heal broken hearts and souls.  

So how could this be a career, isn’t it our very life?

I won’t claim I have arrived.  There are still long days that weary me out, there are still people who ability to get under my skin challenge the pastoral heart I want to have.  There are people that hurt me, and I struggle to have a pastoral heart toward them, Or the people who won’t listen to God, and choose lives that are lived in rebellion to God.  Those people cause frustration, and often tears.  ( I want to say I would love to just stuff them into St Josemaria’s forge)  I am not going to say pastoring these people is easy, but it is necessary.  A pastor can’t just dismiss them as alligators, that decision and judgment is not in our pay grade.  Weare simply to try to reconcile them to Jesus.

This is why Jesus talks about good shepherds, as opposed to the stupid shepherds that have served his people in the past.  About shepherds who will have His heart for His people, which can mean laying down our lives for them, sacrificing time, energy, money, whatever it takes to see them drawn to Christ, and made holy by the Spirit that works within us all.

Again, even as I write these words I am torn.  For that is what I would desire as a pastor, yet I know I fall short, often too far short.  That is not an excuse or a reason to stop desiring to see my people grow.  Their failures and mine are not a reason to distance me from them as if that can reduce my brokenness.  Instead, it is a reason to cling all the more to God, for He will pour out comfort and mercy, continue to transform me, and yes, He will continue to cause us to grow, to forgive our sins, to transform us into the image of His son ( see 2 Cor. 3:16ff)

Lord, have mercy on Your shepherds, break our hearts and give us hearts like Jesus, so that your people can be assured of their salvation, and set apart to walk with You!  Amen!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 226-231). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Life of a Saint is Never Perfect, Which is Why They Are Holy

St francis at the crossDevotional Thought for our days:
7  But we hold this treasure in pots of earthenware, so that the immensity of the power is God’s and not our own. 8  We are subjected to every kind of hardship, but never distressed; we see no way out but we never despair; 9  we are pursued but never cut off; knocked down, but still have some life in us; 10  always we carry with us in our body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus, too, may be visible in our body. 11  Indeed, while we are still alive, we are continually being handed over to death, for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus, too, may be visible in our mortal flesh. 12  In us, then, death is at work; in you, life. 13  But as we have the same spirit of faith as is described in scripture—I believed and therefore I spoke—we, too, believe and therefore we, too, speak, 14  realising that he who raised up the Lord Jesus will raise us up with Jesus in our turn, and bring us to himself—and you as well. 15  You see, everything is for your benefit, so that as grace spreads, so, to the glory of God, thanksgiving may also overflow among more and more people. 2 Corinthians 4:7-15 (NJB)

929         Don’t forget that we will be more convincing the more convinced we are.

As you look at paintings of saints, some are portrayed in very peaceful serene moments, a soft glow seems to be about them, even without the golden halos  There are others that show them in the depth of darkness, fully engulfed in pain, fully engulfed in a battle against Satan and sin and despair.  

I find great comfort in the latter type of paintings, for I know far more people engulfed in a similar battle, who benefit from knowing they aren’t the first to do battle with temptation, sin, doubt, resentment, guilt, and all the lies of Satan.  For when we look at Francis or St John of the Cross or Luther or Walther or Mother Theresa battling that which oppressed them, we realize there must be hope, for we know how the story of these holy men and women ring true in the moment.

Paul is correct, in these lives lived in the valley of the shadow of death, we don’t just see the brokenness, we see the Holy Spirit comforting and sustaining them, as the victory of Christ’s death on the cross becomes more and more real.

For united to that death, we find life. 

United to His suffering, we find peace.  

Yesterday I had the responsibility of sharing God’s love with a family, a neighborhood of people who were devasted by the death of a young man.  A man so devastated by the pains of life that it overwhelmed him and he thought peace could only be found in the arms of death.

The confidence to speak in that situation comes not from theology books, or the education I have received, but from the darkness, I’ve seen Christ deliver so many people through over the years, from the darkness I have needed to be rescued from as well.  St Josemaria is so insightful in his words, I can convince people of God’s love, because i have been convinced as well.

One of the 80+-year-old ladies is responsible for our church mission statement.  She said one morning in Sunday school that Concordia is the place where people find healing in Christ, while helping others heal.

It is an absolutely beautiful, brilliant and true statement about our church.  It may not be fancy or measurable, it does not meet the standards of the guru’s who teach church leadership.  It doesn’t hold out a goal for some future time where we will have a perfect, thriving, idyllic large church.

Chruch isn’t some kind of utopia on earth.  It is a place for the broken, for the different, for those struggling with life, with shame and guilt, with resentment and hatred.  It is where we find healing and hope amid our brokenness, amid the tears and the pain to deep for tears.

This is what the saints knew… this is why the paintings can show them in despair, and in glory, for both are true, in Christ.

And we are called saints just as those whose faith in God we admire!  For we, like those who walked before us, are those called out, drawn to Jesus, those made holy the Holy Spirit, whose healing is being accomplished, for it is God the Father’s will.

He has heard our cry for mercy, and has answered it.  May we always be convinced of this, even as we convince others of it.

AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 3775-3776). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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