Friday, February 28, 2014

Can't Always Get What You Want

But if you believe in God, trust in him, and wait upon him and his will to be accomplished, you will!

Revelation 21

21Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home* of God is among mortals.
He will dwell* with them;
they will be his peoples,*
and God himself will be with them;*
4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’
5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ 6Then he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. 

This has to be one of the most wonderful, hopeful passages in the whole Bible.  I guess this is a "Sunday" reading for a "Friday" when we should remember the price Jesus paid, the gift the Father made to give us this blessed hope.  A few times in recent days I've hoped for something that would have at best given us a little temporal, fleeting happiness.  I still prayed that God's will be done, and the fact that the Holy Spirit stuck that little prayer in my head helped me to accept the disappointment even when it was at its sharpest.  

Just as I tell the girls I coach in basketball, and as Larry Bird once said, "You learn more from a defeat than a victory."  

I do trust the God who left this little jewel for us:

Romans 8:28

We know that all things work together for good* for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Not the good now, in the timing that my little brain desires, but the good that is the building of Christ-like virtue in us and those around us.

Thank you for the reminder and the gift of faith that comes from reading the opening of Revelation 21. You are the Alpha and the Omega. You are making all things new. You are bringing us into your kingdom where you will wipe away all tears.
I believe the disappointment was for the good of those involved. Thank you God for the peace and hope you give me in presenting that little phrase in the Lord's Prayer - "Your will be done," and the next, "Your Kingdom Come."

Revelation 22

22 I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb23And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.

Revelation 23

3Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants* will worship him; 4they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for ever and ever.
6 And he said to me, ‘These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants* what must soon take place.’
7 ‘See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.’ 

Blessed are we to have this hope.  Blessed are we to put trust in the Lord.  We will get what we want - to worship him, bathed in the light of his glory, seeing his face, forever!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

De Profundis

The De Profundis takes its name from the first two words of the psalm in Latin. It is a penitential psalm that is sung as part of vespers (evening prayer) and in commemorations of the dead. It is also a good psalm to express our sorrow as we prepare for the Sacrament of Confession.
Every time you recite the De Profundis, you can receive a partial indulgence (the remission of a portion of punishment for sin). 
Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice.  Let Your ears be attentive to my voice in supplication.  If You, O Lord, mark iniquities, Lord, who can stand?  But with You is forgiveness, that You may be revered.I trust in the Lord; my soul trusts in His word.  My soul waits for the Lord more than sentinels wait for the dawn.  More than sentinels wait for the dawn, let Israel wait for the Lord.  For with the Lord is kindness and with Him is plenteous redemption; And He will redeem Israel from all their iniquities.

From the source:

Psalm 130

A Song of Ascents.
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord
2   Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
   to the voice of my supplications! 

3 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
   Lord, who could stand? 
4 But there is forgiveness with you,
   so that you may be revered. 

5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
   and in his word I hope; 
6 my soul waits for the Lord
   more than those who watch for the morning,
   more than those who watch for the morning. 

7 O Israel, hope in the Lord!
   For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
   and with him is great power to redeem. 
8 It is he who will redeem Israel
   from all its iniquities.

Mary of Egypt left a life of sin and lived a life of repentance.  Here is synopsis of her life from a book I am enjoying, The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris 

Mary of Egypt lived in the fifth century, but her story is all too familiar in the twentieth. Running away from home at the age of twelve, she became a prostitute in Alexandria. At the age of twenty-nine, she grew curious about Jerusalem and joined a boatload of pilgrims by offering the crew her sexual services for the duration of the journey. She continued to work as a prostitute in Jerusalem. On hearing that a relic of the true cross was to be displayed at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, her curiosity was aroused again, and she joined the feast-day crowds. But at the threshold of the church some invisible force held her back. Suddenly ashamed of the life she’d led, she began to weep. Kneeling before an icon of the Virgin Mary, she begged forgiveness and asked for help. A voice said to her, “If you cross over the Jordan, you will find rest.” Mary spent the rest of her life, forty-seven years, as a hermit in the desert. Late in her life, Mary encounters a monk who had come to the desert for a period of fasting, and she tells him her story. . . . The monk is amazed to discover that Mary knows many Bible verses by heart, for in the desert she has had no one but God to teach her. She asks him to bring communion to her, when next he comes to the desert, and this he does. On his third visit, however, he finds that Mary has died. . . . 

Monks have always told the story of Mary of Egypt to remind themselves not to grow complacent in their monastic observances, mistaking them for the salvation that comes from God alone. And in the Eastern Orthodox churches, Mary’s life is read on the Fifth Sunday of Lent, presented, as the scholar Benedicta Ward tells us, “as an icon in words of the theological truths about repentance.” . . . . Repentance is not a popular word these days, but I believe that any of us recognize it when it strikes us in the gut. Repentance is coming to our senses, seeing, suddenly, what we’ve done that we might not have done, or recognizing, as Oscar Wilde says in his great religious meditation De Profundis, that the problem is not in what we do but in what we become. Repentance is valuable because it opens in us the idea of change. I’ve known several young women who’ve worked in the sex trade, and one of the worst problems they encounter is the sense that change isn’t possible. They’re in a business that will discard them as useless once they’re past thirty, but they come to feel that this work is all they can do. Many, in fact, do not like what they become. 
The story of Mary of Egypt opens the floodgates of change. It comes from a tradition of desert stories suggesting that if monks and whores can’t talk to each other, who can? The monk who encounters Mary still has a lot to learn; his understanding of the spiritual life is facile in comparison to hers, and he knows it. Mary, for all her trials, is like one of those fortunate souls in the gospels to whom Jesus says , “Your faith has made you whole.” Benedicta Ward has said that these stories are about deliverance from “despair of the soul, from the risk of the tragedy of refusing life, of calling death life,” which may be one function of the slang term for prostitution: it is called “the life.” But the story of Mary of Egypt is one any of us might turn to when we’re frozen up inside, when we’re in need of remorse, in need of the tears that will melt what Ward terms “the ultimate block within [us]; that deep and cold conviction that [we] cannot love or be loved.” In this tradition, Ward says, virginity, defined as being whole, at one in oneself, and with God, can be restored by tears.
Norris, Kathleen (1997-04-01). The Cloister Walk (pp. 164-166). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee

Prepared this for my 1st and 2nd graders' religion school class at my Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic parish (full communion with the Roman Pontiff).  Not sure it was at their grade level, so thought I should share it here too!  Have a great week!

2 Timothy 3:10-15
10 Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness,11my persecutions, and my suffering the things that happened to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured! Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.12Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.13But wicked people and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving others and being deceived.14But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it,15and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
The above scripture teaches how valuable it is to learn the sacred writings (Scripture=the Bible=Sacred Writings) from your childhood that instruct you for your salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

Luke 18:10-14 - Today's Gospel in the Eastern Rite

10‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector.11The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector.12I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.”13But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”14I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.

Found this on the back of our church bulletin (not what I included in the teaching to the 1st and 2nd graders) St. Basil the Great wrote:
The stern Pharisee, who in his self pride not only boasted of himself but also discredited the tax collector in the presence of God, made his justice void by being guilty of pride.  Instead of the Pharisee, the tax collector went down justified, because he had given glory to God, the Holy One.  He did not dare lift his eyes but sought only to plead for mercy.  He accused himself by his posture, by striking his breast, and by entertaining no other motive except propitiation.  Be on your guard, therefore, and bear in mind this example of severe loss sustained through arrogance.  The one guilty of insolent behavior suffered the loss of his justice and forfeited his reward by his bold self-reliance.  He was judged inferior to a humble man and a sinner because in his self-exaltation he did not wait the judgment of God but pronounced it himself.  Never place yourself above anyone, not even great sinners.  Humility often saves a sinner who has committed many terrible transgressions.

This reminds me of a quote from St. John Climacus:
Pride is a denial of God, an invention of the devil, contempt for men. It is the mother of condemnation, the offspring of praise, a sign of barrenness. It is a flight from God’s help, the harbinger of madness, the author of downfall. It is the cause of diabolical possession, the source of anger, the gateway of hypocrisy. It is the fortress of demons, the custodian of sins, the source of hardheartedness. It is the denial of compassion, a bitter pharisee, a cruel judge. It is the foe of God. It is the root of blasphemy.

The Jesus Prayer is modeled after the prayer of the Publican.

Lord Jesus Christ, (3 words)
Son of God, (3 words)
Have mercy on (3 words)
me, a sinner. (3 words)
(12 words total)

"I am convinced that our kids and teens need to hear this prayer more than any other. It's called the Jesus Prayer and whenever we use it, we call upon Christ as the Holy Scripture says, keeping Him on our minds, in our hearts, and on our lips with every minute of the day. This short but powerful prayer sanctifies whatever task we are doing!

Fold the laundry ... and say this prayer

Drive to school ... and say this prayer
Say it in any language, say it in short or long form...
When else can you say this prayer?
Pray for others using the Jesus prayer:Take turns offering the first name of someone you'd like to sing the Jesus Prayer for, then complete the song on their behalf.

We say, 'Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on ______, your servant (or a sinner).'
Sometimes we include all the poor, the hungry, the orphaned, the priests, all monks and nuns, those with a handicap, etc.

Indeed, our true task is always the same and is always accomplished in the same way: to call upon our Lord Jesus Christ with a burning heart so that His holy name intercedes for us."
-Hesychios the Priest: On Personal Holiness

The Scripture of the Publican and the Pharisee also reminds us that the Lord our God looks at our hearts and not the outward appearance in physical traits, or the appearance of good works done to impress others or to help us feel good about ourselves.
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7, but read within context of 1 Samuel 16:1-13)
 The Lord wants to be merciful to us and to bless us, but we need to get our hearts right.  We need to realize our place before God, we are fully needing his loving mercy and forgiveness, and we fully need the gifts of the Holy Spirit and to remain in Jesus to accomplish anything good for him.  Hear the words of Jesus: 
43 ‘No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; 44for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 45The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks. (Luke 6:43-45)
“I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”  (John 15:5)

The gift of the Holy Spirit comes to us in Baptism and Chrismation (Confirmation).  The gifts of the Holy Spirit come from asking! 
9 ‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’ (Luke 11:9-13)

Here’s an example of someone asking:
9Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?’
10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11God said to him, ‘Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. 13I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honour all your life; no other king shall compare with you. 14If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.’(1 Kings 3:9-14)

God is happy to give the gifts of the Holy Spirit to those who ask.  He said this to Jeremiah, a great prophet in the Old Testament times to the people of Israel who had forsaken God to worship false gods, breaking the 1st Commandment.

23 Thus says the Lord: Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, do not let the mighty boast in their might, do not let the wealthy boast in their wealth; 24but let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

This is why it is so important for your parents to teach you the faith, and to bring you to Divine Liturgy (Mass) and Religion School and for them to study their Bibles as well.  God delights that you learn about him, that you know him, and understand that he acts with steadfast love.
If you want to remain in Jesus, you need to learn to pray – unceasingly. 

St. Paul told us this:  “Pray constantly.” THESSALONIANS 517
The Jesus prayer is the most common way of doing this in our Eastern tradition.

Another way of praying unceasingly is to memorize scriptures and to pray them when you need to have your heart and mind refocused on the God who is always with you, always loving you, and who is all powerful to defend you in times of temptation and hardship.
Here is an example of such a scripture: 
"Come to my help, O God. Lord, hurry to my rescue" (see Ps 70:1).
Last week Sunday of Zaccheaus:                            Next week Sunday of the Prodigal Son: 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

An Everlasting Love

"I have loved you with an everlasting love" (Jeremiah 31:3b)

Saw this quote Sunday night, and it stopped me in my mental tracts.  It was in fine print, in italics on the back of a little business card stuck in a book given and written by a priest friend of mine.  

I've been dwelling on it ever since, and at the same time noticed that I've been especially happy the past few days.  Living in Chicago we have had snow and cold and I find myself delighting in the snow, and even finding the cold, clear days beautiful.  When I go to work in the morning it is now right around sunrise and I find that I do love sunrises.  When I leave after work I am grateful that it is still light at 5 PM when not just a few weeks ago it was dark.  Even when I am walking through the slush in the non-snowremoved streets and sidewalks I am thankful for my new waterproof boots with Vibram soles and new wool socks.  

I know it is not a permanent state, this happiness, easily thrilled state of being where moments and the beauty of nature and the gifts of my family, children and friends are cherished.  I had been reading Discernment of Spirits and learned more about the states of consolation and desolation and the working of the good and evil spirits on one's thoughts and feelings during each.  But for now all I can do is enjoy being happy, and offer my love, thanks and praise to God for where he has me right now.

That brings me to a great mini-meditation that can be done at any time of the day.  I got it from a "Daily Disconnect" from  It goes like this:

  • Visualize yourself in God's presence . . . in other words recollect yourself . . . become tuned in to God's presence in and around you, and his love for you.
  • Using these words of praise, pray slowly
My God, I love you with all my heart, I praise and thank you . . .
  • Repeat several times
  • Just be with God
There is also a song that I found while listening to iTunes Radio "Best Christian Music of 2013".  It is great to have my headphones on while walking in sub-zero windchill, walking in my new boots and magic coat (light, but very warm, and makes me look "young").  Hope you enjoy it too!  Chris Tomlin covered it and his version is also very good.