Posts Tagged ‘Paul’

You Who Were Once Far Off…Or Me ?

May 3, 2018

“ Now in Christ Jesus, you who were once far off have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
It is he who is our peace, and who made the two of us one by breaking down the barrier of hostility that kept us apart. In his own flesh he abolished the law with its commands and precepts, to create in himself one new man from us who had been two and make peace, reconciling both of us to God in one body through his cross, which put that enmity to death “ ( Ephesians2:13-16 )

In this passage Paul is talking to the Ephesians, about how it is that in the process of His ministry, and in his preaching, and in his life, Jesus put an end to the divisions between not only the factions within the Jewish faiths, but also an end to the division between Jew and Gentile ( pretty much anyone who was not of the Jewish faith).

Remember that Paul spent a vast majority of his public ministry, working to being the faith to Gentiles and spreading the word of God among those who knew had not grown up with the idea of God as the Jews understood Him.

Paul is trying to explain that Jesus showed us how it is to build community, regardless of where it is that we started from, or where you are now !

We need to be mindful that we have a number of spiritual leaders in our lives. It is easy to put them on a pedestal and look up to them, believing that they are good and holy people. We would like very much to believe that we are good and holy people. If we take the time and really analyze where we are in our spiritual walk, and do some critical review of it, that we can clearly see where it is that we have work to do. Our God, being good and loving, and wanting what is best for us, will show us where our flaws are, whether we want to know them or not.

Recently I was at a meeting, and admittedly sleep deprived and nerves already a bit frayed when someone touched on a personal hot button. Now, mind you, there is nothing quite like thinking you are in a good place, and it’s all good when your talking about generalities and abstracts, but now when things hit home.. NOW we are getting to the meat of things. Needless to say, I was rather strong in my response. I was not wrong in what I said, but definitely wrong in HOW I said it. Shortly after I ceased speaking, I realized that possibly, I might have hurt the feelings of one or two others, and so
after the meeting was done, I sought them out and apologized and attempted to explain my reaction, and entered into a discussion with them about how they felt and why.

I tell you this because we need to understand that the people who are the leaders, are leaders, yes, but they are human. They are flawed and broken, they have feelings and patience ( and a limit to them no matter how loving they are). This is exactly the same bridge we need to be crossing when we deal with people of differing faiths, people who are not where we are, people who might seem different, but in truth are the same.

In this letter, Paul is reminding us that you may believe that you are in a good place and others are “far off” but through the blood of Christ, I promise, you have been brought nearer, to where they are, than they to where you are. My mother used to say.. “ Life is a matter of perspectives”. This phrase used to be trotted out usually about the point where I was angry about this or that thing, or at this or that person. As much as I hated it at the time, it did cause me to think about it.

So today, brothers and sisters, let us work on not being the one who is “far off” , but accepting that no matter how much we may feel like we are in a good place, that WE ALL are still far off, and work on building the community of global faith, that Jesus tried so hard to get us all to see.. To build a global community of love and acceptance. To build a place where even a flawed brother like me, will find a place of forgiveness. And lets begin to build that global place by building the first place in our hearts.

May God give you the gift of His peace !

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From Consumer to Disciple..

January 27, 2018

” You likewise know how we exhorted every one of you , as a father does his children – How we encouraged and pleaded with you to make your lives worthy of the God who calls you to his kingship and glory. That is why we thank God constantly that in receiving his message from us you took it, not as the word of men, but as it truly is , the word of God at work within you who believe.”
( 1 Thessalonians 2:11-13 )

This weeks reading we return to the book of Thessalonians where Paul is attempting to encourage the community, by reminding them of the things they are called to as disciples of Christ. The first part of that reading says that he is asking them to remember that they are to live lives worthy of the call.

Worthy of the call to the kingship. It is Paul that feels the certain patriarchy, Paul feels , a certain responsibility because he went to Thessalonika to preach and founded this community. By this time the community had gotten quite large. As the community grows, it presents some certain challenges because the humanity of the people grows exponentially as the community grows. . It requires a little more hands on approach to governance.

We as humans, we tend to fall into a rut, we get comfortable… we get sometimes too comfortable. We get into a habit of certain things…. We get into the habit of going to church, the habit, the physical act of going to church, of showing up, of going through the motions, and as a result, can become complacent in our spiritual growth.

We need to take responsibility for our own formation, for our own spiritual growth. We have too often become the “consumer of church” . We go expecting to be entertained. We want it to be comfortable.. we want it to be nice.. We want it to be easy, and we want it to feel good ! absolutely NONE of that is what we are called to. The practice of our faith life is not comfortable, it is not easy, and it takes work.. .HARD WORK.

The kingship that we are called to is to know our selves, to know our failures, to have the responisbility
to the other, although they too are called the kingdom. They too are called to the same work. We have a responisbility to them, for them. Our call is to serve. In order to serve effectively, we must first take a good hard look at the state of our spiritual lives. Our spiritual education.

We have a 2 fold service. service to God, and service to our fellow man. Both of these require us to know and experience God in our daily lives. In our study, in our practice and our works.

In today’s world you don’t just walk into a job, where it is being a mechanic, or being a professor, or doctor… any kind of job and simply expect to begin working with no background. Likewise, you can not advance within that job, without additional study, practice, mentoring. Along with that training there will need to be some hands on work, or practical experience. Our faith lives are no different.

You are called to be Priest, Prophet and King, but you need some basic instruction from where to begin. Faith life becomes a point of practice. You take this basic information, and plug that knowledge into your day-to-day life. You develop understanding where you excel and others where you fail. You make changes and you grow hopefully.

The problem is that all too often people stop there. Sure, they go to church every Sunday. They consume what they are given in the way of scripture and sacraments, which is good and necessary.
It tends not to be enough. It is just enough so that you are maintaining the minimum. Its like going to the mechanics and getting the oil changed. You know you need to do it.. You do it so that you can keep going. It protects you so that your car will keep going. But its not enough.. there is work to be done.

When I first started studies as a Spiritual Assistant, I talked with a priest friend , who gave me this one piece of advise. If you want to grow in your faith. If you want to REALLY know the heart and soul of your faith, study the Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

In the heart of the Gospels you will find the true center of our faith. The things we are called to know, to share and to bring to others. You can not ” Go forth and make disciples of all the nations”…. if you don’t know what you’re making them disciples of ? !! Sharing your faith with others means that the people who you are sharing your faith with, will have questions. I dare say, that in sharing your faith, you too might have questions that you do not have the answers for….. AND THAT IS OK ! its GOOD !

The most intelligent thing, the most responsible thing, is to tell them something like :

” I don’t have the answer to that question, but I will find the answer for you, and let you know..”

Why ? It’s being honest, and the person who is asking the question, will hear the ring of truth. AND, honestly, if you don’t have an answer, then this will be a point of growth for you as well.

Too often we have become reticent in our study. To a certain degree, they can become repetitious. You will come to know the answers to these questions. They are usually pretty basic questions. People want to know why you believe this , or that ? Why do you DO this or that ? How do you know that God exists ? Why did God allow this, or not do that ? Give me a reference in the Bible, for your belief in this or that.

But guess what ? THAT too can become commonplace, and a habit. So then what ?

You will have to find answers to your own questions ! GO and seek out new questions, and find the answers, because if you find the questions, eventually someone else will have those questions too ! You can be the laborer who plants the seed of deeper faith and spread God’s kingdom. That seed will eventually bear fruit not only in their lives and in the lives of those that THEY touch, but in your own spiritual life as well.

Keep asking questions, and keep asking questions until you get more questions, deeper questions, until you run out of questions ( You never run out of questions ! ).

By your seeking, by your learning, by your faithfulness, you will answer the call to fulfill your vocation as a disciple of Jesus Christ !

May God give your the gift of His peace !

We are Bound to Thank God for you…

January 5, 2018

” We are bound to thank God for you always, beloved brothers in the Lord, because you are the first fruits of those whom God has chosen for salvation, in holiness of spirit and fidelity to truth. He called you through our preaching of the good news so that you might achieve the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. ” ( 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 ).

In this passage, Paul is writing to the church in Thessalonika and like most of the other letters that Paul sent to these church communities, he is giving them greetings, and encouragement, and some direction as well.
Like many parts of the church history there are times in various communities where things go a little awry and the church has to step in and make some necessary corrections in a pastoral and fraternal way.

In the background of this reading Paul has a few items he needs to address. First, is apparently there were a few in the community who were not really doing what was in the agenda in the way of work, AND,
they were busy minding everyone else’s business but their own. It does not really tell us much about what it was, but that really was not the point anyway.

Lets take a note of something that I really, love, which is how Franciscan it is.. that when Paul went to Thessalonika to spread the Gospel, what happened ? He worked, and not just a little it says in this passage that,
they strained, they worked hard in order to insure that they were not a burden to others while they were there. They did not come in and expect that everyone would just open their homes and let them stay. It is logical to assume that the time necessary in order to spread the Gospel, to teach, and to develop a church that would have enough of a local foundation to be able to stand on its own would take time and effort.

The story goes, that Saint Francis and another brother were walking through a town in the pre-stated objective that they would be preaching the Gospel. They performed many charitable acts, but the brother was anxious to get to the business of preaching. Near the end of their journey the brother asked when they were going to start to preach. St. Francis said, we already have. ” Preach the Gospel at all times. .and when necessary use words. “.

The apostles certainly did this. They went to Thessalonika and worked and while they worked, this was so that the community there would have an example of what to do, and how to build the church there.

It was also important for Paul to give encouragement which is the point of this particular part of the story. You can tell that the church in Thessalonika is important to Paul.. in a way it is like a parent, whose child has gone away to school or off to work, and they want their child to know of their love for them. It has that familial feeling. In a traditional sort of style, just as we read from the Gospels, the style of instruction to the Jews, there is a history, something that causes them to remember where they are and what they have done, or some part of the prophecy, or covenant that they knew, or possibly some trial or tribulation they went through in order to learn some important lesson.

Here Paul is just giving them a reminder of their bond, and how it is that this community was one of the first, and they are almost obligated it would seem, to thank God for these people., that they were called , that they have the work ahead to get to the salvation this is there for them. THAT is the work, and the standards that they are held to, and the standard we are held to. This does not mean we are perfect, and it does not mean we are not to fail, or be understanding of either our own failures OR the failures of others. It simply means this is the goal we are working towards.

Paul gives is the example in how we are to approach people in a fraternal correction, to do so in a positive light, to do so in a way that is supportive, loving, sensitive and by way of example, we can show others how to do that same thing we are attempting. We should be able to give encouragement, share our own journey, and provide formation in a positive light.

In the same way, I want to encourage all of you, my brothers and sisters, to spend time working on your own formation, your own spiritual development. It is part of the work we are given, as part of our faith family, to learn as much as we can, and discern the meanings for our lives, and apply those things not only to our own lives, but in helping our brothers and sisters along the way.

Remember that the biggest challenge we have, is the battle over our own will, over our own natures, over our own inclinations.

My Father used to say ” What ever you are, be the best that you can be… ask the hard questions, and learn “.

May God give you the gift of His peace !

May You Attain Full Knowledge …

June 18, 2017

“May you attain full knowledge of God’s will through perfect wisdom, and spiritual insight. Then you will lead a life worthy of the Lord and pleasing to Him in every way. You will multiply good works of every sort and grow in the knowledge of God. By the might of His glory you will be endowed with the strength needed to stand fast, even to endure joyfully what ever may come, giving thanks to the Father for having made you worthy to share the lot of the saints in light. He rescued us from the power of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.” Colossians 1:9-13

This passage from scripture is the opening lines of encouragement from the Apostle Paul, who was writing to the Colossians, along with Timothy who was traveling with Paul. What comes before this passage though is subtle, but noteworthy. Paul recognizes Epaphas, who he recognizes as a ” fellow servant”, or disciple of Christ. What is also important to note here is that there is no recorded point in time where Paul ever actually went to Colossea. Instead, Paul taught the true faith to Epaphas, who converted, learned and then took that seed of faith and returned home to Colossea, and spread it through the countryside converting the people and passed that faith to the people and the future saints who lived there.

So, you say to yourself, great ! So what does that mean for us here ? Glad you asked !

It is important because Paul did not have to go and hold the hand of Epaphas in order to pass on the light of faith and the Word. Paul had faith in the seed he planted. It really had little to do with Epaphas. Although, Epaphas did have an open heart, and believed the Word when he heard it. Paul trusted that Word would spread. Just as Jesus, entrusted the twelve apostles, who in and of themselves were not perfect, did not always have perfect faith, but still trusted in the seed of faith that they were given..

This idea of having the pure seed of faith being transmitted to others in a sometimes imperfect manner is pretty much how it goes. This should give us encouragement in the faith that we have received and to participate more fully in the charge that we are given to pass on this faith as Epaphas did. We don’t have to do it perfectly, we just have to do it. We also don’t need the sledgehammer approach, where we are pounding the seed into the skull of the person receiving it… All we have to do is plant the seed, and walk away.

We have to have faith that the seed we plant, is what God will use for His will. The seed that is planted, will not always bloom before our eyes. We may never get the opportunity to see the results of the seeds we plant. We must trust in God. We must trust that the Lord will use the seeds we plant in the continuum of His divine will.

The beginning of this passage says “may you attain full knowledge of God’s will through perfect wisdom and spiritual insight…” Maybe the saints eventually ended up at this place, but for the rest of us, this is the destination, and the journey is where we spend our time… at least if we make the effort.

Much like the planting of those seeds of faith, where at times we may get to see a glimpse of the results, possibly the beginnings of the results of our labors, we will likely never see the complete result, or even understand what it is that will occur as a result of that work, which would be in Gods will for mankind. The one truth that we know about Gods will to an absolute certainty is that Gods plan for us is as basic as the first truth we learned as children. God’s will for us is to …. know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him.. so that we can be with Him in Heaven.
Ask someone who is your elder, if the life that they currently have, is the life that they dreamed of, or planned for in their youth. If their lives were the same now as what they had planned for it to be maybe after high school, or even after college ( if they went to college and attended after high school).

I would venture to say that nearly none of them can say that their lives turned out as they originally planned. This is the difference between where mans will differs from God’s will. We could attempt to understand, or discern where God had a hand in the things that have occurred in our lives, It is even possible that we could see a facet of how things happened the way that they did. This enlightenment is not just for our own understanding. This enlightenment is there so that we have the opportunity to not only be enriched in our own faith,, but to fulfill our mission to share that faith with others just as Epaphas did in Collosea.

God can take the one small seed, one small act of faith, and use that one act to help bring about the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. This is what Paul was praying for and encouraging the Colossians towards… and what I encourage you towards today, the same way that Saint Francis did hundreds of years ago… Preach the gospel at all times.. and when necessary, use words..

May God give you the gift of His peace !

Separation Anxiety

September 1, 2014

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 8:38 , 39

 

At some point in everyones faith life, they go through this period where they feel a certain separation anxiety.  They feel like they are somehow separated from God.  Possibly that God is ignoring them, or has turned Himself away from them, or just no longer listening.

All of the greatest saints went through something similar. Saint John of the Cross, wrote an entire book on the subject. ” The Dark Night of the Soul”.

Then Mother Teresa of Calcutta wrote in her Biography about her dark days of feeling separated.  Padre Pio same thing.   All of these people have gone through these periods of feeling that they have become separated somehow from Gods loving attention.

Possibly at some point you felt closer to God, while seeing that your prayers were open and connected and you were blessed with the wisdom to see that God was there at work in your life.  Those times are given to you as a matter of grace.  Those experiences should be the very fulcrum of your witness for God.  You should testify through your life, through your example to take that spiritual feeding that you have received and share it with your brothers and sisters.

It is important to realize that just because you do not recognize God working with you does not mean that He is not there.    Part of the story in the paschal mystery includes the women who went to the tomb of Jesus.

Mary the Blessed Mother at first did not recognize Jesus, even believed he was a gardener, spoke to Him and asked where they had taken Jesus. She was going through those feelings of separation, even though she knew.  She could not see clearly.

Then again, Jesus appears to the apostles on the road to Emmaus.  They spoke to him.  They too did not recognize Him at first.

This is an important lesson for all who feel separated from God.  First, you are most certainly NOT alone !   Your feelings are not foreign to a life of faith.  Indeed, in the over two thousand year history of the Church universal, you can most certainly find in the bible a place where there is someone who has gone through exactly what you are feeling or going through.

Many times in the course of our human lives, we are caught up in the worldly part of our existence.  It is our Job, our homes, our relationships, our pressures from without and within, all that cause stress, and anxiety, because we do not see clearly.

We may not see clearly now, however, with prayer, with a heart that seeks to know the will of God, with the courage to pick up our cross and move forward in faith, we may yet see where God was indeed with us all the time.

Still need more convincing ? – Jesus guarantees to each of us in Matthew 28:20  ” Behold, I am with you even until the end of the age”.

It does not get any more plain than that.  Jesus will not leave or forsake you through your struggles and pains or trials.  Have faith, Love God, and carry your cross, and when that trial is over, go forth and become a witness for what God has done in your life.

May God give you the gift of His peace !

 

A Thorn in the Side

June 29, 2013

” Therefore, that I might not become too elated,* a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.b 8Three times* I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me,c 9* but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses,* in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.d 10Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ;e for when I am weak, then I am strong.*”  2 Corinthians 12

So what is the thorn that is in our side ?  How did it get there ?  Why does it continue to be part of our existence?  and Why have we not gotten relief from the pain we carry ?  Is your particular pain a person, a job, a responsibility, a sickness or some other things you would rather just not deal with ?

There in weakness and in pain we are tested, and the weakness takes us to a place where we set aside the things of the world, and turn to God for understanding.  Weakness and suffering have been the fire through which many holy men and women have become saints.

Have you ever wondered why there are no many conversions in the prisons or hospitals and nursing homes ?  It is not so much from fear, as it is from the fact that they become faced with their own weaknesses, and frailties.  They look outside for the reasons that there is weakness and the purpose for their lives, to ask those questions and to desire those answers.  A good deal of the time there is a good bit of nothing but time to sit there and contemplate these things since the rest of the world goes on spinning. 

It  may not be our own suffering, it may be that way be that it is the suffering of those we care about that causes us to ask these questions or possibly just the occasion of the suffering of the world.  As children we were told to eat everything we had on our plates and not to waste anything because there were starving children in Biafra ( what is part of  Modern day Nigeria ).. and usually when Mom made liver for dinner .

As with many things in God’s plans, we may not understand the reason for what is going on in our lives ” in the moment”.  We may gain some insights into why something happened down the road.  The other side is that we may never know until we get to heaven.  It may not even be for our benefit initially.  Maybe our suffering could be in order to have us meet someone, or be an example to others.

We can all really someone who not only suffered in grace, but who went beyond themselves, from being the recipient of graces, but to the service of others and being the vessel of grace to their brothers and sisters.  When we move from the idea of looking inward for answers, to moving outward toward service to others, This is where we move from the potential for grace, to grace in action, and receive Paul’s experience in sharing Christ with others.

Conversion of Paul (Saul)

January 25, 2010

In this mornings readings we learn about the conversion of Saul ( Paul), from someone who persecuted Christians to become one himself. Not only did he become a Christian but he became a champion of the faith.

A few things occured to me during this reading.  First, Paul after hearing the Lords voice was helpless, and had to be taken by the hand, led by his friends to Damascus where Annanias would educate him about being a disciple. There he was given his sight again.

Is it really that different for us ?  No matter what you have done in you life,  everyone has sinned.  We have fallen, we are imperfect.  For those who are Christians, at some point in our lives we were told about Jesus.  It might not have been something that we immediately accepted, or thought about.   It took people to take us by the hand.  We needed others to lead us there, and then to educate us a bit.  Finally, at some point we saw the light.. we were given the sight to see how great God is.

Now what about Paul.. arent there Pauls in our midst ?   How many times have we heard about people who were criminals, some of the worst criminals who went to prision for whatever they did, and while they were there, had a conversion experience.    In the State of Florida we have capitol punishment.   I happen to know the man who serves as the chaplain for the prisoners on death row.    Once while giving a seminar on the death penalty, he related a story of a man who while in prison awaiting execution he had a conversion experience.     He was baptized and confirmed a number of days prior to being executed.        Now, I have an older brother who worked in the prison not far from where we grew up.  He worked in the maximum security unit where they put all the worst criminals the state had to offer.

Many times I heard him say ” All the choir boys are in prison”  this meaning that , prisoners who know the system, realize that in order to work towards getting paroled need to play the game.   Show remorse, be a model prisoners, etc.  They do that by being at the prison church services every week  etc.     I am not talking about these people, I am talking about the people who are genuine in their change of heart.

Like Paul, these people become champions of the faith and have the unique experience of forgiveness for what they have done.

To forgive others, to turn the cheek, to love, and to teach others about God, are the best of the things that we can do for our brothers and sisters.