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From Morning Prayer


The rolling phrases of Pope St. Clement I

from The Letter to the Corinthians
Pope St. Clement I

Helper of those in peril, Savior of those in despair, you created and still kepp watch over all that draws breath. You cause the peoples on Earth to multiply, and from them all choose those who love you through Jesus Christ, your beloved Son. Through Him you have instructed us, sanctified us, honored us.

I think in reading this of the threefold mission--priest, prophet, and king that was announced as of His Baptism. I don't know why, perhaps it is simply the way things are phrased and particularly the trifold "instructed us, sanctified us, honored us."

The rhythm of this thought and its delicacy are pursued until the end of the passage and we culminate with being honored by God. I have to wonder how many have thought of it in that way--being honored by Him. Too often we are busy being cowed or bowed or cozzened or otherwise perturbed in our path. but no--instructed, sanctified, and honored. Honored as children, honored as sons and daughters.

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From morning prayer:

Isaiah 66: 1-2

Thus says the Lord:
The heavens are my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house can you build for me;
what is to be my resting place?
My hand made all these things
when all of them came to be, says the Lord.
This is the one whom I approve:
The lowly and afflicted man who trembles at my word.

What kind of house can be built for the Lord that makes for Him a suitable dwelling-place? Solomon building his temple did not accomplish it--nor for all of its finery and beauty has anything built by the Church in all its ages of existence.

What, then, is a suitable dwelling-place? There is only one expansive enough, strong enough, exalted enough to serve--the human heart. This is the only dwelling place into which God can make a suitable home. The human heart turned over to Him is refashioned to put even the most magnificent human-built tributes to shame. This is the only place that God can make His own and call home. It is the only vehicle to carry Him, the only place in which the Son of Man can rest.

If I invite Him in and talk with Him, if I serve Him and love Him, then all that is humanly possible has been accomplished. It is His presence that will accomplish all the rest.

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James 2:13

Merciless is the judgment on the man who has not shown mercy; but mercy triumphs over judgment.

Here we have the glimmering of the love of God that, I am convinced, took us a long time to understand fully. In fact, I would mark the turning point in our understanding of this Lord near the turn of the 20th century, with the still quiet voice of a young French girl hidden away in a cloister of little importance in the small French town of Lisieux. This young girl, raised in the Jansenist, puritanical vein of the Church vouchsafed us all a glimpse of what God is really like; and her revelation, prophet-like, received the endorsement of the Church--first with her unprecedentedly rapid canonization and then with her elevation to Doctor of the Church.

She didn't invent anything new, but she showed in a new light what had been proclaimed since the time of Jesus. God is a Father. Not only is He a Father, He is the exemplar of all fathers. And because at the same time He is all Love and all Goodness, He is a Father whose patience is infinite and whose heart longs for our return to Him. The smallest motion, the slightest leaning in His direction and He is there to scoop us up in His arms and bring us to Him, the very finest "elevator to God" because in the entire journey, we are close to Him.

This is the God that Jesus proclaimed, the God who is the Father of the prodigal Son. He isn't a new invention. But Saint Therese had the courage and tenacity to give us a new insight into Him. We understand Him now as we do largely because of the synchronicity of St. Therese of Lisieux, Blessed Dom Columba Marmion, and St. Pius X. Together the three of these, and probably a host of others, converged upon the vision of God the Merciful and loving Father. The Holy Spirit reawakened this knowledge in a very special way for all of us moderns. And we would do well to recall it frequently and to act with the knowledge that with God as our Father, we are all brothers and sisters. We do well to forgive, put aside our petty sibling rivalry, and show His beautiful mercy and love to all around us.

St. Therese continues to shower roses from heaven upon those willing to receive them.

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The Command of the Lord

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Psalm 19:7-8

The law of the Lord is perfect,
it revives the soul.
The rule of the Lord is to be trusted,
it gives wisdom to the simple.

The precepts of the Lord are right,
they gladden the heart.
The command of the Lord is clear,
it gives light to the eyes.

What then is this command of the Lord?

Deut 6:4-5

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.

And what is the natural result of this?

Matthew 22:37

37] And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.
[38] This is the great and first commandment.
[39] And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
[40] On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets."

The command of the Lord is clear,
it gives light to the eyes.

or in the RSV

The commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes.

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God Spoke One Word

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Twice during my retreat I encountered this phrase from "The Sayings of Light and Love" of St. John of the Cross.

"God spoke one word."

I knew immediately the meaning, but it took a while for the implications to sink in. If God spoke only one Word, what are all those words in the Bible about? Yes, I know I'm slow, but obviously, every one of them is about Jesus Christ. How? Until I meditate on every one of them I cannot tell you. Truthfully even afterwards, I suspect that I will not understand the full mystery of it. Nevertheless, I know that it is true.

To give you an example, in this morning's Office of readings:

"Therefore, say to the Israelites: I am the Lord. I will free you from the forced labor of the Egyptians and will deliver you from their slavery. I will rescue you by my outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment."

There's more, but let's stop there.

What I heard as I read this substituted the words "your sins" for "the Egyptians."

" I am the Lord. I will free you from the forced labor of your sins and will deliver you from their slavery."

How will he do this? "I will rescue you by my outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment." Arms outstretched on a cross--the mighty acts of judgment, those which condemned the savior and brought Him to the cross, but also those that occurred after His death, in which the veil in the temple was torn in two, breaking the barrier between the Holy Spirit of God and His people.

This is an anticipatory reading of the passage. That is to say, it is reading into the passage and not the literal meaning. The literal meaning must be preserved, but the language used eerily forecasts the kind of redemption we were to receive.

Rolling this all into a ball and sending it spinning across the field, we come back to "God spoke one Word."

Praise the Lord!

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Some Notes on Philippians


A few days ago, a correspondent wrote to me and suggested that perhaps the introduction of the letter to the Philippians was not so evocative as I seemed to imply. In the main, I could not disagree. But honestly, I had never prayed trough the introduction and asked God what He might have in store for me there. I wrote back and said that I thought the correspondent might be correct and my enthusiasm perhaps a touch of the over-the-top side. But below is a record of some of the things I derived from praying through the introduction. I hope they are as useful to you as they were to me. If you note any overt errors, either of doctrine or of grammar, drop me a note so that I might correct my thinking or language depending on which one is faulty. So much is just now.

1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:

2 Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

The verses of greeting seem to offer little enough for prayer, and yet attention to every detail of scripture is rewarded.

Paul extends, as usual, a double blessing of grace and peace. These words are worthy of a moment or two reflection on their own. Grace--God's utterly unmerited gift to us, a gift so powerful and so much a part of Him that it flows from Him to permeate all of reality. Just as the sun cannot perform its fusion and do anything other than to give off light and heat, God, just in being God cannot but give forth grace. It is impossible for Him to withhold it because it is contradictory to His nature. This grace is focused through the Mother of Grace who gave birth to God's most comprehensive sign of His grace, His own incarnation. Mary is not the source of Grace but she is the vessel and distributor of grace. As we pray in the Hail Mary, she is full of grace. Or perhaps more dynamically, she is filled and overfilled with grace, which spills out through her upon the entire human race. The same lens that focused God into flesh and blood reality continues to focus the plentiful reality of God on all the people of today. She is mediatrix of all graces. She is the distributor, but she is so charged out of the love she has for her children and for good, so though she is tasked with the distribution of good, she is a pure and clean lens that in no way distorts, obscures, or denies to any seeker that grace which flows through her. Grace is the unmerited favor that bestowed a son upon a willing virgin. It is the source of all knowledge of good and righteousness; it is, thus, the perfect inheritance and privilege of the Christian and of all of God's children.

The peace with which Paul greets the children of Philippi is not merely the absence of strife or war, though these would be blessings in themselves. No indeed, it is much more than this. This peace is the shalom of integrity and unity. It is the peace of Jesus Christ, first bestowed by Him on the apostles and by the power of apostolic succession, given them to bestow upon the people of the world, which each one does with each prayer of Mass. This peace has as external signs the absence of strife and war between people, but it starts in a far richer, more complex internal reality. This shalom is the blessing of the integrated person--the peace granted is a healing of the breach caused in each of us by original sin. When we live this peace, we are walking the path of salvation laid out in the mysterious plan of our savior's birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, and culminating in His second coming. This peace then is nothing less than the promise of God fully realized. It is the gift of salvation when lived to the fullest. It allows the old man to rest peacefully and cease warring upon the new man who attempts to live out Christ's commands. In these two words Paul offers to the people of Philippi and to those of us who are privileged to share in the message through our reading of the letter. Paul offers nothing less than the fullness of God's love and mercy. Everything that follows these words is simply an explanatory footnote--essential to our understanding and acceptance of the gifts offered in this simple benediction, but incidental to them. If we could, without them, realize and reify God’s gift, we would do so much better. This is what Jesus extolled in the approach of the little children to Him. If we could, in perfect joy and simplicity accept God's most precious gifts we would have little need of words piled on words. As it stands, that is not within the purview of most of us. So Paul goes on to tell us more--to gild the lily as it were with perfect joy.

Who realized that a greeting held so much? In the space of a few short words we are offered the most treasured gifts in the rich hoard of heaven's blessings, AND we a offered a shining example of what it means to be an apostle and a disciple.

And that leads us to the question of application. Are we not all called to be both disciples, or pupils, of the Lord and Apostles--those sent out, peculiarly charged with the duty of sharing the good news of salvation with those immediately around us why do not live it daily? If so, are we not responsible for carrying out the message so clearly spelled out for us in this letter and in others? In short, are we a sign of grace and peace to others? Is our prayer life outwardly projected onto the everyday? Or is our prayer life carefully sequestered and divided from our outward life? As saints, we are offered the gift. As disciples and apostles we are charged with making it manifest in our own lives and thus substantially sharing and transmitting this blessing with others. We are vehicles of grace and peace only when we begin to live the life that grace and peace bestow upon us.

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I will hear what the Lord God has to say,
a voice that speaks of peace,
peace for his people and his friends
and those who turn to him in their hearts.
(psalm 85 from Morning Prayer for the Feast of St. Francis)

I will hear what the Lord God has to say. Haring means more than receiving the sound. Hearing goes deeper than a passive experience. When I hear in the way the psalmist is claiming for himself I hear with the heart. I am changed by what I hear. I make what I hear my own.

And what a great gift it would be if I would open my ears to hear "a voice that speaks of peace." Rather than trying to create my own peace, my own separate heaven--I would enter His peace. As I pray this psalm, and I read these words, I prepare the ground of my heart for the blossoming of this peace, of this kingdom within.

The blossoming of peace has fruits that extend far outside my own interior realm. When I am at peace, and only when I am at peace, I can bring peace to the world. And the peace I can bring in such a state is not my own, but that of the Lord whom I serve. He blesses me with peace and hears me, not to shower His gifts merely upon me, but so that I may shower his gifts on all of His people. "Peace for his people and his friends." Peace first to those who spend the time to think about Him and talk with Him in prayer. But then also, "and those who turn to Him in their hearts." Even those who do not presently know Him by name, those who may not have become acquainted with Him in their lives--if they incline their hearts toward Him, He will see and hear and grant them also Him peace.

God cannot do other than grant peace. It is in His nature. It is part of what He is. You cannot encounter God and not reach peace. It is impossible to embrace Him and not be at peace.

If each of us were to give peace a chance to reign in our hearts, we would transform the world one person at a time. As my ever supportive wife said the other night when she saw my dismally wimpy results on the "Which General Are You?" test, "Perhaps if more were like you we would have no need of generals." I am not the example, despite her encouragement. Our example, our Peace and our Love, is Jesus Christ the Lord. In Him there is no shadow of turning.

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." James 1:17

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Lectio Divina III--An Example


While it is always bad form to use oneself as an example, I thought it might be instructive to present how lectio make take form in one's mind. This session is from this evening when I picked up in the midst of my favorite book, read through about a paragraph and was struck by something at the very beginning. There is nothing stunning, nor even enlightening here for those of you who live outside this body--all that I offer is a look at what might go on in Lectio. Often I create my silence in the midst of writing. When I write the entire world passes away except for the words in my head and whatever I am using to write. I prefer the experience of writing with pen and paper, and thus more often take notes on my palm than at the keyboard. Nevertheless, here is the offering.

Phillippians 1:12

I want you to know, brethren, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel.

These words of Paul force me to reflect--do my own actions, my own life, serve to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ? When people look at me do they see the joy of Christian living? Does my demeanor suggest to the world the fullness of the truth and joy that resides in Jesus Christ? Paul was able to sing and rejoice in prison. He was able to look upon the most deplorable of circumstances and rejoice for what he saw there. When people who know me well look at me, do they see and understand the joy of Gospel life?

What Paul seems to be telling us here is that a life lived in Christ must perforce reveal Jesus Christ. It cannot do otherwise. It is impossible that we cold live fully in Christ and not make Him known to the world. Conversely, that we do not dailymake Him present to others is most suggestive about our willingness to live fully in Him.

I cannot give up self even for Self that is more glorious. To be born again in Christ gives us a "new self" that is already living the kingdom.

So you see the simple fruit of perhaps fifteen minutes with the scripture and another five or so writing it out as it took form. I offer the writing as my prayer to God, not as instruction, not as exhortation, not as anything more than a personal session with the scripture. I think you can understand why I love scripture as much as I do. I only wish I could be as consistent in expressing this love as I am about running my mouth on other matters.

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