devotional thought of the day:
“ ‘This is what the Lord GOD says: I will respond to the house of Israel and do this for them: I will multiply them in number like a flock. 38 So the ruined cities will be filled with a flock of people, just as Jerusalem is filled with a flock of sheep for sacrifice during its appointed festivals. Then they will know that I am the LORD.’ Ezek 36:37-38 CSB
m 28 They will know that I am the LORD their God when I regather them to their own land after having exiled them among the nations. I will leave none of them behind. 29 I will no longer hide my face from them, for I will pour out my Spirit on the house of Israel.” This is the declaration of the Lord GOD. Ezek 39:27-29 CSB
“Give me your heart, my son,”12 he seems to whisper in our ears. Stop building castles in the air. Make up your mind to open your soul to God, for only in our Lord will you find a real basis for your hope and for doing good to others.
As we come out of COVID, I find the church offered a myriad of solutions to address the fact that prior to COVID, the church in America was already shrinking. We want to blame people not coming back on COVID, but if we are honest, many had left before that, in fact they have been leaving for decades.
It is not because the church isn’t relevant enough, or faithful enough to traditions. It isn’t because we haven’t found the right book or the right coach/consultant/father-confessor/seminar or podcast.
It is much simpler than that.
We aren’t looking to God to full our ruined cities and churches. We aren’t looking for Him to fulfill His promises.
SImply put, we don’t know that He is the Lord, that He is our God!
And so we don’t look to Him to fill our churches, to bring healing and reconciliation to our communities,.
We build our castles, both physically and mentally, when we need to open our soul to God. St Josemaria is correct, it is there, open to God, led by the Spirit, that we not only find life, we find a reason for living. Walking with Him, we find the most incredible blessings. As the Spirit changes us, the masks are lifted, and we can see what God is doing.
And that is revive the church, by reviving the people who find themselves in His presence.
Abba Father, let Your Spirit fall on Your church! Draw our eyes to Your Son Jesus, that our hearts and souls are open to the Spirit’s presence, and help us to see Your work, reviving and restoring Your Church. Amen!
Escrivá, Josemaría. Friends of God . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Renewed in Spirit
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
† I.H.S. †
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ cause you life to begin again, regularly!
@@ St. Paul wrote, “But we continue to preach..”
We continue to speak about God he says, and that is all well and good! But to understand that comment in all of its power, we need to understand why the “but” was there. And to do that, I need to go back a few verses.
8 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. 11 Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. 2 Corinthians 4:8-11 (NLT2)
Pretty exhausting week St. Paul and his crew had. Not quite as bad as dealing with COVID, but still pretty bad, don’t you think?
The question is how do you keep talking about Jesus, when in the midst of all of that turmoil? Perplexed, stalked, knocked down, suffering, living under constant danger, dying, enduring masks and not being able to give or receive hugs.
And yet, Paul is able to keep on talking about Jesus… and since the word there is to talk – and not proclaim, it is something we can do as well….
- The Psalmist’s real words (Law)
@@ The first step is to understand what Paul and the Psalmist meant when talking about faith in God. Paul wrote, 13 But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.”
That sounds pretty good – he just pushed through, or maybe muddled through, depending on how exhausted he was. He just kept speaking, or so it seems.
That works well into our upbringing. Most of us were just trained to keep on working until the work was done. Didn’t matter how tired, how many times the computer deleted our files, or what was going on – we were to get the work done! And get it done right!
If we check the Psalmists words though, it clarifies things. What the psalmist wrote was,
“ I believed in You, so I said, ‘I am deeply troubled, LORD.’” Psalm 116:10
Notice the difference? The Psalmist that Paul agrees with is not our there on his own strength, he is leaning on God. He, like Jesus in the garden, is going to the Father in prayer, and sharing the aches and pains, the anxieties, and the doubts.
To try and do it all on our own is sin, and act of pride. It is telling God, even if unintentionally, that we don’t want to walk with Him, that we want to do it on our own.
And then, rather than finding a second wind, a renewed Spirit, we burn out.
But St. Paul and the Psalmist cry out to God, using God’s personal name, sharing the brokenness and burden.
And that changes everything, for as we depend on God, our hearts and souls are renewed, even if our bodies are failing.
- Why We don’t Give up
In the midst of the brokenness, St Paul writes something that is truly amazing,
14 We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. 15 All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.
16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.
The promise of the resurrection from death is so powerful, that it reinvigorates the physically, mentally and spiritually broken disciple. This is why he can keep speaking about God, because of this incredible, awesome promise!
I can share from my own story, this week I was pretty tired twice. The first time I was revived by the pictures than Amanda, our banker, put up on Facebook the pictures of her daughter’s baptism right here, 5 years ago. ( I did needle her a little about bringing her back more often) Another day, I received an email from Colleen – about the miraculous healing that her friend’s wife has had, a lady we’ve been praying for.
That means far more to a tired pastor, or elder or deacon than giving us a million dollars, right Bob?
This is the power of seeing God at work in and through us, the work of the holy Spirit. That is how our life is re-invigorated, our spirits renewed, as we see the work of the Spirit, drawing people closer and closer to Jesus.
- Everything else is less
That is why Paul can say,
17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.
No masks or social distancing in heaven, no getting crushed, or driven to despair, never abandoned by God, just simply the life of Christ seen in our Bodies as the effect of our dying with Him, and rising with Him.
Nothing else compares…. For we are with Him. And being with Him, aware of our presence, crying out to Him when wea re struggling, we find a peace that passes all understanding, for we are His. AMEN!
Devotional Thought of the day
22 His answer surprised them so much that they walked away..…33 The crowds were surprised to hear what Jesus was teaching. Matt 22:22, 33 CEV
This development reflected the new liturgical awareness which had been growing in these years. At that time, young people were interested not so much in the inherited dogmatic problems of eucharistic doctrine as in the liturgical celebration as a living form [Gestalt]. They found that this form, or structure, was a theological and spiritual entity with an integrity of its own. What previously had been the rubricist’s sphere of operations, mere ceremonial, having no apparent connection with dogma, now seemed to be an integral part of the action. It was its actual manifestation, apart from which the reality itself would remain invisible. Some years later Joseph Pascher put it like this: as far as the structure is concerned, up to now people had only paid attention to the rubrics, to what was printed in red; now it was time to give equal attention to the red and the black print. “There is far more in the form and structure of the texts and the whole celebration than in the rubrics.”
Throughout scripture, I find God surprising people.
Sometimes it is with what they are taught, as in my readings from Matthew this morning. Sometimes it is with the call, the role He gives them in life, as they minister and try to lead the people who need to find themselves, by discovering their relationship with God.
So why does He keep surprising us? Or perhaps the question is “how” He keeps doing so.
The latter question is seen in the words from Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) We get so caught up in “how” we worship God, how we serve Him, that we don’t hear the words we read, that we sing, that we preach or hear in the sermon. We get so caught up in the forms and directions for doing them right, (the rubrics – which were printed in red by the printers of worship hymnals, missals, and the agendas – the books that guide pastors/priests) Pascher talks about giving equal weight to form and matter, even realizing there is what is said.
We do that today as well, getting more focused on how we worship and how we live than in the glory of God that surrounds us, for we are His people. That is why some police morality and thoughts more than seek God’s face. Why some think revival comes from people being corrected in thought, word and deed, rather than realizing that their errors in thought word and deed are forgiven, and the damage done by sin God will heal. (That is what forgiveness really is, by the way, not just the removal of the punishment, but the healing of the damage done!)
That is why it is surprising when miracles happen, or when prodigals we gave up on come home. It is why we hide our sin and brokenness, rather than talking about it freely, we struggle to believe God will forgive what we cannot believe can be forgiven. It is why we have developed a culture that still is based on shame and guilt, rather than in the hope of restoration and the love that brings it about.
These things are taught in our liturgies, whether complex or simple. It should be heard in our sermons and our prayers celebrated and rejoice over in our songs sung in church and throughout the week.
And when we are surprised by what Jesus reveals to us in His word, then again give thanks, for the Holy Spirit is keeping us focused on Jesus… and the form will naturally follow. As the ancients taught, as we worship, so we believe … and so we practice.
Lord Jesus, we ask that you keep surprising us, that you keep revealing to us the promises, and even more your presence and love which makes us sure of them. Lord, help us never grow stale or dull in our dependence on You but keep us marveling at how You sustain and heal us. AMEN!
Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 33–34.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
6 I felt secure and said to myself, “I will never be defeated.” 7 You were good to me, LORD; you protected me like a mountain fortress. But then you hid yourself from me, and I was afraid. 8 I called to you, LORD; I begged for your help: 9 “What will you gain from my death? What profit from my going to the grave? Are dead people able to praise you? Can they proclaim your unfailing goodness? 10 Hear me, LORD, and be merciful! Help me, LORD!” 11 You have changed my sadness into a joyful dance; you have taken away my sorrow and surrounded me with joy. 12 So I will not be silent; I will sing praise to you. LORD, you are my God; I will give you thanks forever.
Psalm 30:6-12 (TEV)
In the movie Gandhi, the young Indian lawyer and a white clergyman are walking together on a boardwalk in South Africa, contrary to its laws at the time. Some brutish-looking young white men threaten to harm them, but the ringleader’s mother calls from a window and commands him to go about his business.
When the clergyman exclaims over their good luck, Gandhi comments, “I thought you were a man of God.” The clergyman replies, “I am, but I don’t believe he plans his day around me!”
A cute point, but beneath it lie beliefs that make it difficult to take seriously the possibility of divine guidance. One of those beliefs is that we are not important to God. But we were important enough for God to give his Son’s life for us and to choose to inhabit us as living temples. Obviously, then, we are important enough for God to guide us and speak to us whenever it’s appropriate.
There he was, in the village, doing things that boggled the mind of those who knew Him. Teaching in ways that were simple, yet profound. The reports of the miracles that He had done were overwhelming, there was too much evidence to deny that this man who grew up in their midst was a divinely empowered prophet, and perhaps more.
But they rejected Him, their unbelief robbing Him of the opportunity to do something, anything in their presence. The one who drove out demons, the Lord who healed so many, who raised people from the dead, was tuned out, turned away, unable to help the people He loved.
It is the same thing in David’s psalm, as David describes being safe in God’s presence, too terrified because he couldn’t find God, no matter how hard he looked. And the pastor walking with Gandhi, who failed to see God’s intervention, which even the lawyer/philosopher was able to discern.
This is far more common in the church that we think. We know so much about God, that we reject Him from being our God. We are familiar with Jesus, but we fail to be united to Him, we fail to interact with Him in a way that is, for lack of better word, intimate, We fail to have the communion with Him, we fail to depend on Him, and we think He is hidden from us.
He is not hidden, or if He is, He is hidden in plain sight.
So how do we end this rollercoaster ride that David describes? How do we grow in our discernment of God’s presence, of His love and mercy being poured out on us, as He promises it will be? How do we constantly stay aware of God, seeing Him as He reveals Himself to us?
warning: this answer may piss you off
You cannot. You are as human as David, or the pastor Gandhi encountered.
This is not something we can accomplish by the force of our will, just as we cannot live a life that is not impacted by our sin. Trying to do so will only result in feelings of guilt and shame, and even more lack of awareness.
I am not saying that we cannot grow in awareness, and more importantly, grow in our ability to trust in God when we can’t see Him. We can learn to search Him out, knowing where we can find Him, rather than just dwelling in the moment we lost track of Him.
This we can do, especially if we have friends around us, able to encourage us when we struggle. For that is part of what it means to be brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.
But even more, we have to learn from the story of the prodigal, we have to trust that God wants us home, we have to know we will be welcomed home. God wants us to realize His presence in our lives, not just as an observer, but as an active participant, empowering us, encouraging us, correcting us, and yes, comforting us.
He’s promised to do all that and more, and in our weakness, we realize how great that promise and that strength is.
So relax, look around, and realize He is your God.
Willard, D., & Johnson, J. (2015). Hearing god through the year: a 365-day devotional. Westmont, IL: IVP Books.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
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. Hebrews 12:1-3 (TEV)
83 Faced by all those men without faith, without hope; by minds desperately near the borders of anguish, seeking for a meaning in their life, you found your purpose: Him! This discovery will permanently inject a new happiness into your existence, it will transform you, and present you with an immense daily hoard of beautiful things of which you were unaware, and which show you the joyful expanse of that broad path that leads you to God.
There are times where the actions of people affect us. Times where evil or unjust actions cause us to struggle, to even despair and sink into depression. Some of us are more susceptible to this than others, as we do not understand how in the world they justify their actions.
This kind of trauma can paralyze us, make us ask unanswerable questions, we can even begin to doubt God, for how can he allow this level of brokenness, this sin to dominate and evil to flourish. As we ask these questions, out hearts and souls receive hit after hit, even as we try to determine if this is the time to fight, or flee.
I hate to say it is “natural” to enter such struggles but after 50 years, I find that I don’t have the strength to avoid such, nor the power to overcome the tendency to be so affected. Simply put, you can’t care for people, you can’t try to love them without opening yourself up to such burdens, to such struggles.
So how do you cope?
St. Josemaria and St. Paul agree. The answer is to look to Jesus, to find our purpose is Him. They agree that our relationship with Jesus is so precious that we can look to Him and discover the greatest joy. This is the same joy that Jesus saw as he walked to, and was nailed to the cross.
Looking to Him, finding our life our breath and very being located in Him, allows us to see that our trust in Him is true. He will sustain us from the beginning to the end, it will reveal to us the incredible vastness of the love of God, and we will experience it more as we see ourselves as part of His story.
That’s what I need to know, that is why we need to go to the cross when we are feeling this way. Our hearts and souls and minds need to understand what happened when God baptized us when God drew us to Jesus and united us to His death and resurrection, When God declared us righteous, cleansing us of sin, and declared we are His children. We need to allow His presence to dominate our awareness, to let, for then His peace settles over us. Assured He is our fortress, we can then begin to respond in love, and in prayer for those who actions or words drew us deep into despair.
This is what we need, to focus in on Jesus, and be forewarned, it isn’t easy. Satan will buffet us all the way. This is where the communion of saints is so precious, for their testimonies in scripture and in the millennia since demonstrates God’s faithfulness. This is where the sacraments and the word of God come into play, ministering to our hearts, souls, and minds, bringing the peace and comfort of the Holy Spirit.
Here is our hope and joy are restored, renewed, here in this sanctuary we call the presence of God, for know this my friends, “the Lord is with you!”
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 571-576). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
1 You have been raised to life with Christ, so set your hearts on the things that are in heaven, where Christ sits on his throne at the right side of God. 2 Keep your minds fixed on things there, not on things here on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 Your real life is Christ and when he appears, then you too will appear with him and share his glory!
Colossians 3:1-4 (TEV)
97 Renew each day the effective desire to empty yourself, to deny yourself, to forget yourself, to walk in novitiate census, with a new life, exchanging this misery of ours for all the hidden and eternal grandeur of God. (1)
Since teaching through Colossians a couple of years ago, these words in red above seem to resonate with me more and more. I have written about them before, and will probably do so again.
I think they are critical for us to understand, this idea of our “real life”, a life which seems hidden, a life which is easily overlooked and forgotten, a life that is found at the throne of God.
THat’s where we belong, it is our eternal life. The life that began when God circumcised our hearts, cutting away the sin and unrighteousness as He baptized us. That was the conversation in the previous chapter in St. Paul’s letter to these saints.
But in chapter 3 he gets to the impact of that cleansing, the difference it makes in our lives today, and every day that will come. He talks of our eternal life as our real life, our reality. He urges us to set our hearts on this dance with God the Father, Son and Spirit. The dance we’ve been invited too, and see glimpses of, even if our mind cannot clearly picture it.
If our mind cannot, our hearts and soul can be set on this. For our hearts are better at knowing we are loved, knowing we are forgiven, and being able to accept the mysteries that our minds can’t fathom.
But as our hearts settle there, we dwell in the peace of God, we lose ourselves, yet find our life in Jesus. For everything changes, from our priorities, to our relationships, from what we “need” to how we view those around us.
So today, think about the glory of heaven and come to realize with your heart that not only do you have a place there… you are already in His presence…
and rejoice in that peace!
(1) Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 556-558). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought fo the Day;
24 “Then the servant who had received one thousand coins came in and said, ‘Sir, I know you are a hard man; you reap harvests where you did not sow, and you gather crops where you did not scatter seed. 25I was afraid, so I went off and hid your money in the ground. Look! Here is what belongs to you.’
26 “ ‘You bad and lazy servant!’ his master said. ‘You knew, did you, that I reap harvests where I did not sow, and gather crops where I did not scatter seed? 27Well, then, you should have deposited my money in the bank, and I would have received it all back with interest when I returned. Matthew 25:24-27
We must then, Philothea, increase our contrition and repentance, as much as possible, to the end that it may extend to the least and remotest consequences of sin. St. Mary Magdalen, in her conversion, so utterly lost the contentment and pleasure she had found in sin, that she never more thought of it. And David protested not only that he abhorred sin, but also all the ways and paths of it. In this point consists the renewing of the soul, which the same prophet compares to the growing young of an eagle. (1)
536 Receive. It’s not a lack of respect. Receive today precisely when you have just got over that “bit of trouble.” Have you forgotten what Jesus said? It is not those who are well but those who are sick who need the physician.
There was a time when I thought those who preached “hellfire and brimstone” were those who missed the point of preaching. I’ve also seen where those who preaching nothing but the benevolence of God also seem to miss the point. Both extremes are wrong, yet as I’ve grown more experienced in ministry, I am coming to realize they both also have a good ingredient to preaching.
The problem is not that they are entirely off, the problem is they are unbalanced. If you combined the most severe legalist preaching that causes people to despair, and the preacher who only talks of how blessed we are, you would actually have a fairly competent sermon!
As I was reading the passages this morning, this came into focus again. The words in blue, from the writings of St Francis de Sales, point out our need to treat sin and the temptation that leads to it as that which is the most revolting thing we encounter. Whether it is a temptation to gossip, or the being jealous, or the temptation to forget prayer and praising God, these things we have to learn to hate.
We need to see the damage it causes, to how we view ourselves, to how we interact with others, to the rest that we would find, if we realized we dwell in Christ’s presence.
We need to find sin revolting, we need to hate temptation more than a 9-year-old hates cooked broccoli!
For it is in comparison to that, that we stand in awe of God’s grace. That we find salvation so sweet, so wonderful, so…. alien to who we are as sinners. You and I, we are the servant who fails his master, who doesn’t use what God gives us, what God blesses us with each and every day. We need to realize that and hear the disappointment and grief…..
and then, we need to hear the mercy. For mercy is given to sinners, not to those who are holy. Souls who need renewal have known the grief and sorrow and condemnation of sin. We don’t need to dwell in the guilt and shame forever, but we have to admit it is there, that we have failed, and we need to confess that sin, trusting in the promise of grace and mercy.
And as we do, we will desire to know the mercy, as we recognize it is our life in Christ.
And the power of sin, shattered at the cross, will be shattered in our lives as we are united to His cross once again.
(1) Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.
(2) Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1296-1298). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.What came to be 4 through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race;5 the light shines in the darkness,and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:3-5
Money can buy many things, but not the spirit of selflessness and service. That can, perhaps, be borrowed for awhile from other countries, but when it is lacking for any length of time in the whole organism of a nation, its achievement stands on feet of clay, and its collapse is in the long run inevitable. (1)
It is amazing how many people make promises that would give us hope. A new product will change our lives, a new investment program will ensure comfort in our retirement, a politician will make our communities thrive again.
What these ads are telling us, whether we realize it is or not, is that we are impoverished. That we don’t have the ability to truly live life to its fullest, because we lack this essential ingredient.
This is true for individuals, for churches, communities and our country. These advertisers, selling everything from caffeine, bacon and beer to pecan-pumpkin flavored bleach and political candidates are telling us, “you don’t have a life”, or “your life, such as it is, sucks.”
What they don’t realize, is the only essential in our lives, is Christ… and that changes everything… for it creates life.
Pope Benedict in one of my readings this morning, noted that declining countries are those who are lacking people who are willing to work the people to serve in our nursing homes and hospitals, who will take on the hardest roles where personal sacrifice is called for daily. We import people to work in those areas, rather than raising up our children and the children in our communities to make a difference. They may be imported from other states, or other countries – but imported they are.
It is not hard to see a correlation between that and the death of churches in communities. For as the church dies, the amount of people who follow Christ – not just into heaven, but walk with Him, imitating Him, living as He did – for He himself brings life to us, and defines it as He lives in harmony with the Father and the Spirit, even as He calls us into that relationship.
This is our identity, this is our life, this is what it means to be His people, and for Him to be our God. To be the children of God who love as we are loved, who lay aside our lives for others, that they would be reconciled to God. That they too would be able to share in God’s glory, that they would know and be united to Jesus.
This is why scripture points out that true religion is caring for the widow and orphan! It points out that the sheep are welcomed into heaven because they served (even though they didn’t realize they were serving!) We see that in the Augsburg Confession as well, as it talks of obedience and good works as the effect of knowing God’s love. It all starts with His love, and the result of that is a love that brings us to serve each other.
So if we want to see our church or our country renewed, it starts with knowing Jesus, with knowing the love and mercy of God which transforms us into people who serve, and even suffer, as Christ did – for the joy set before us, knowing the love of God for HIs people, of whom we are a part.
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.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
Then Jesus said to him, “Amen, I say to you, this very night before the cock crows twice you will deny me three times.” 31 But he vehemently replied, “Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all spoke similarly.
The Agony in the Garden. 32 *Then they came to a place named Gethsemane,i and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”j 33 He took with him Peter, James, and John, and began to be troubled and distressed. 34 Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch.” 35 He advanced a little and fell to the ground and prayed that if it were possible the hour might pass by him; 36 he said, “Abba, Father,* all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.” 37 When he returned he found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? 38 *Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test.k The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” 39 Withdrawing again, he prayed, saying the same thing. 40 Then he returned once more and found them asleep, for they could not keep their eyes open and did not know what to answer him. 41 He returned a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough. The hour has come. Behold, the Son of Man is to be handed over to sinners. 42 Get up, let us go. See, my betrayer is at hand.” Mark 14:30-42 NABRE
They have confused renewal with comfort. To give a small but concrete example: a religious reported to me that the downfall of his monastery began very concretely with the declaration that it was “no longer practicable” for the religious to rise during the night to recite the nocturnal office. But that was not the end of the matter. The religious replaced this uncontested but significant “sacrifice” by staying up late at night to watch television. (1)
As I read Pope Benedict’s words this morning, they stung.
Have I done so? Have I justified my own comfort, my own desires, in such a way that I claim it is really about renewal and revitalizing my dependence upon God, and how that is practiced in life?
I had already realized something that I hadn’t seen before. Peter had already denied Jesus three times, prior to being questioned. He denied him in the garden, as his need for comfort outweighed his desire to have fellowship with God.
I’ve been there recently (Thursday and Friday), with a schedule so overwhelmed I haven’t taken the time I usually spend with God, praying, reading, meditating and journaling/blogging (my blog is just my journal, the coalescing of my thoughts, reading and a lesson). I said Thursday I would catch up with it later, but by the end fo the day, I passed it on to Friday and Friday to this morning.
Oddly enough, a friend had shared with me on Wednesday how devastating a similar experience had been. I would say I caught it before it was too late, but it was too late, when I sought my own physical comfort before quenching a physical thirst. Denying the time I desperately need with God. I missed out, and while God still used me, and I still saw His glory in the lives of those around me, I also experienced some spiritual emptiness, and my experience with God’s glory became more like an outsider looking in, than as a participant, one invited to share in it.
It is all too easy to fall asleep in the garden, to adjust our time to provide enough “rest and relaxation.” (or to become like Martha and avoid that time because of our “work”) To view our time in prayer and meditation on God’s love as a duty, and not the incredible holy blessing it is. For to take that time – to set it apart to pour out our hearts, and to listen to Christ’s heart poured out for us, that is a blessing, a foretaste of heaven, a time to realize His presence; to experience the peace that is beyond understanding.
To let Him guard and heal our hearts and minds.
Lord, Have mercy on us, and don’t let us fall asleep on you, or seek our comfort more than your face. Spirit, help us, lift us to see the blessings, to experience the glorious presence of God in our lives, and see Your work in Your Church. AMEN!
(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.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
26 This means that every time you eat this bread and drink from this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 27 It follows that if one of you eats the Lord’s bread or drinks from his cup in a way that dishonors him, you are guilty of sin against the Lord’s body and blood. 28 So then, you should each examine yourself first, and then eat the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For if you do not recognize the meaning of the Lord’s body when you eat the bread and drink from the cup, you bring judgment on yourself as you eat and drink. 30 That is why many of you are sick and weak, and several have died. 31 If we would examine ourselves first, we would not come under God’s judgment. 32 But we are judged and punished by the Lord, so that we shall not be condemned together with the world. 1 Corinthians 11:26-32 (TEV)
109 There is an enemy of the interior life which is both little and silly. Unfortunately, it can be very effective. It is the neglect of effort in one’s examination of conscience. (1)
For this reason private confession should be retained in the church, for in it consciences afflicted and crushed by the terrors of sin lay themselves bare and receive consolation which they could not acquire in public preaching. We want to open up confession as a port and refuge for those whose consciences the devil holds enmeshed in his snares and whom he completely bewitches and torments in such a way that they cannot free or extricate themselves and feel and see nothing else but that they must perish. For there is no other greater misery in this life than the pains and perplexities of a heart that is destitute of guidance and solace.
To such, then, an approach to confession should be opened up so that they may seek and find consolation among the ministers of the church. (2)
Growing up in the 1970’s there was a lot of talk of renewal, and movements which facilitated various renewals. There was a call for liturgical renewal, retreats that offered times of personal renewal, parish and congregational renewal, and the movement which was known as the Charismatic Renewal.
Each form of renewal brought promise, sometimes delivered, sometimes frustrated.
Then in the 90’s we replaced renewal with revival, and then revitalizatiom.
Now it seems that renewal, either personal, congregational, across a denomination, or across the entire church has been tossed aside. We’d rather close churches, and start something completely new. We’d rather give up on people whose faith has become dormant, and focus on new conversion. Or worse, offer hope to those churches and people, not through the renewal of their spirit, but through returning to the forms that left them dried, weary and with a withered faith.
How will these new lives survive when their new churches hit 20-25 years old (the age when some skeptics say churches begin to die) What will happen to the faith of these people who are guided toward the dry, repetitive faith that caused their churches to dwindle?
Or is there an option?
Could it be found in these words from Paul about the examination of our hearts and souls? Could it be in letting confession and the examination it offers fall into disuse we have hindered renewal/revival in the church, and if the church is not renewed, neither is the world?
What joy have we prevented people from knowing, what joy and peace could we offer them, simply by helping them realize their need for forgiveness while assuring them it is offered? What joy and peace have we neglected giving our people, what guilt and shame do they bear, not knowing they bear it without need?
We talk of wanting churches to grow, in number, faith and practice, yet we do not offer them the basic respite the psalmists craved, and rejoiced and rested as they received it.
What if we offered them a real chance to examine themselves, to consider their lives, to cry out for deliverance, to cry out in hope? What if our words assured them of God’s mercy, of the forgiveness He years to give, of the love He would assure them they have?
Our people need to examine themselves, knowing that they are doing so to find their freedom in Christ. To know that doing so will bring them life, as God sets aside all that would inhibit their life, and transform and make them Holy. For that is what absolution, that is our cleansing.
That is renewal, that is revival, that is life being restored to those who are weary and worn, broken and devastated.
May we, and our people cry out for the Lord’s mercy, knowing He who provides it is faithful.
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 589-591). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
(2) Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 6: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 31-37. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 6, pp. 297–298). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.