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SPIRITUAL THOUGHT FOR TODAY


WEEK FOUR

Humans Only

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter the house and dine with him, and he with me."

The greatest tragedy in the modern world has been the segregation of God. God is no longer welcome in most areas of our lives. God has lost all of his civil rights in our country.

God is not welcomed at our lunch counters. Seldom do I see anyone praying before meals including myself, unless I am at some specifically religious event. People have been made to feel that it is rude to pray in public or at the very least a sign of fanaticism.

God is not allowed to vote. We have been made to feel that when we vote to keep our religious beliefs separate from our political positions. I'm not sure how the dichotomy of this actually is suppose to work, it reminds me of Jesus' saying about serving two masters, you will end up hating one or the other. A preacher is warned that if he or she preaches "politics" that the church they belong to is in danger of losing its tax-exempt status.

God is not allowed on the sporting fields. If I had not lived in the south, I probably would not know that God was ever allowed on the fields, except for the occasional Catholic baseball player making the sign of the cross before coming up to bat.

I remember passing a building in a small rural town in Florida not long ago where the faint reminder of segregation against African-Americans remained. It was a simple painted sign that said, "Colored Only." Thankfully that sign no longer hangs on public buildings in this country, but what enabled that sign to come down was not a rational discussion of the immorality of segregation from a political discussion, it was rather the witness of people who believed that God forbid it.

People like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., a Christian minister or Malcolm X an Islamic leader both preached the evil of segregation and died for their beliefs. Countless other left the comfort of their homes because they believed that God wanted the political practices of the segregated south to change. And they did, but in the end God got the boot.

In the present climate God has been taken out of the equation, he is used as a way of indicating something is a private matter and none of your business. So that the President of the United States can evoke God as a way of indicating something is a personal and need not concern us. God becomes a co-conspirator in covering up sin, rather than a public agent condemning it.

If God is not reintegrated into all areas of our lives, I can only wonder how long it will be before others are made to join God in his segregation. Dostoyevsky said in his great novel "The Brother's Karamazov"; "if God does not exist all is permissible."

The work of desegregation starts with me. I can welcome God back into all areas of my life today. I invite you to do the same. #2

Diet of Life

"I am the food of grown men. Grow, and you shall feed upon me. You will not change me into yourself, as you change food into your flesh, but you will be changed into me."

St. Augustine heard Jesus speak these words to him.

In the gym, where I work out at, there are posters of men and women who have achieved the results that the rest of us are all hoping to (albeit in some minor way) achieve. It's pretty clear what our purpose in working out is.

I wonder if we have the same clarity of intention when we attend Mass? Are we trying to lose the weight of our "ego" and replace it with Christ?

It's clear that other's perceptions of Catholics today has led to the coining of the term "cafeteria Catholics" because the average Catholic picks and chooses which Church beliefs they'll accept and which they see as inconsequential. In my opinion all of this for most Catholics comes from the "you can't eat meat on Friday's" to "now it's alright" fallout.

But I wonder how many of us have become "cafeteria Christians," allowing our "ego" to decide how much we want to conform to Christ and how much we would prefer to go our own way.

The answer to the question is as easy as gauging a good workout, am I becoming more like Christ or less like him?

It may be time to let go of a few of those fattening choices in life's cafeteria line. #3

PERSISTENCE

One of my favorite scenes in the Gospels is when Jesus and Peter first meet. Peter is with his buds (to use a modern term) and they have been fishing all night and have caught nothing. Jesus uses their boat as a pulpit, preaching just a little off shore to the people.

When the sermon is over, Jesus decides he would like to take a little boat trip, which is okay with Peter. At a certain point in the cruise, Jesus tells Peter to put out his net. Get ready for the conflict.

"Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets." In other words this is going to be a meaningless exercise, but to please you we'll do it.

The results are only predictable, because you and I know the story, but what about the story of our lives?

The long nights spent working on this or that project or the many failures across the wide spectrum of our lives? How do we react to Jesus "word" to "lower our nets" once again?

Peter does as Jesus tells him. "When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing."

I can only imagine the amazement that Peter felt. He thought he knew all there was to know about fishing, what could this carpenter from Nazareth teach him?

"When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, 'Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.'"

I like the humility of Peter who as headstrong as he is throughout the gospel is always ready to admit that he was wrong, something certainly lacking in our culture today. What is Jesus' response to all of this?

"Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men."

And with that they left everything and followed Jesus.

Weakness and failure are the doors that open us to God. Success in life is not found by running away from them, but confronting them head-on.

What area of my life have I given up on? What would Jesus' advice be? Ask Him. #4

PATIENCE

"Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains."

I will admit to being very impatient. I hate waiting in lines, in traffic and on slow people. But I also confess that I find the words of St. James to be very appealing. There is something in them that attracts me, I find myself imagining a patient farmer waiting and trusting that the rains will come and his crops will be fine.

The cynic in me, no doubt the source of my impatience immediately wants to think of a farmer who has endured a dry summer becoming very impatient, but what can he do? Can he force it to rain?

Perhaps that is the wisdom of these words. Almost everything that I am impatient about is something that I can do nothing to change. If I can do something about it I would be better off putting that plan into action rather than fuming at the way things are.

James was concerned about the injustices being done by the powerful. The people he addressed realistically could do nothing about it, but St. James was telling them that justice would come, just like the harvest.

"Be patient..." I like the sound of those words, now if that person in front of me would just move out of the way. #5

Authority of Jesus

"What is this word? For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out."

I remember attending a healing service once in a large University gym. The place was packed with people, those who were in need of healing and those who were curious. I was a member of the latter group.

A Catholic priest was leading the prayer and from time to time he would go out into the crowd and after laying hands on this or that person they would jump out of wheelchairs or throw down their crutches and all seemed well.

My reaction was not what I had expected. I found myself doubting the whole enterprise. I watched and it all seemed too easy. I understood for the first time how someone could have witnessed Jesus' miracles and not believed in him. There is something in me and I suspect in others that resists a quick fix. We desire it greatly, but are very suspicious when given the opportunity for one.

Jesus taught with authority. I am use to people who waver, and are weary of authoritarian types. I am cautious.

It's amusing to me (perhaps in some warped way) how the demons that exist in the people Jesus ministers to react to Jesus. First, they always come to the forefront of the person's personality when Jesus arrives on the scene. Secondly, they always voice some real concern that Jesus has come to destroy them (which he never does by the way). Finally Jesus always commands them to come out, and in another place tells his disciples that once they leave they seek another place to inhabit.

Now all of this might sound archaic, but I believe that what we experience on a daily basis is right out of the pages of the Gospel. When I encountered healing, the first thing that popped in my head was doubt; "This must be fake."

The next thing that happened was the realization that if it were not fraudulent than my whole worldview would be destroyed. I was not use to living in a world where people at a word could get up and be healed. Hey wait a minute, could it be that I have a demon?

What kind of mind talk do we find ourselves engaged in when we encounter Jesus? Are we willing to let him have authority over those voices #6

Consider Jesus

"Consider Jesus who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart."

Jim (a fictitious name of a real person) stopped going to church after his son died. He no longer believed anything, he told me once. "Why?" I asked him.

"If there were a good God my son would never have died," was his response. I was tempted to make a philosophical distinction about the role of God in all this, but I figured the time was not right. I figured God would take care of this in due time.

It seems though, and it is a real danger, that many of us hold on to our faith as though it were an insurance policy. The belief goes like this; if we believe in God ,and do everything right, God in return will make sure we are protected from all harm, sort of like a genie. I have two words to offer to refute this belief; Consider Jesus.

Consider Jesus who was without sin. He suffered every imaginable evil and died a horrible death. He survived attempts on his life throughout his ministry, only to end up dying on the cross. The apostles who followed Jesus all died similar horrible deaths, except for John who was boiled in oil and lived through the experience which in turn may have been worst than dying. And Jesus promised the same to all of his followers.

But Jesus does promise something else. He promised a life that no one can take away, and he did this before and after he died, which is what convinced the apostles that this was a message that had to get out to the ends of the earth.

We may lose everything or just a few things in this life, but in the end what really matters is a relationship with a God who can take us from death. Jesus makes that relationship possible, but let's never forget who Jesus is. The best way not to forget is to follow the advice of the Letter to the Hebrews and "Consider Jesus."

#7

Humility
"For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

Once when I was on a spiritual pilgrimage overseas, a woman came to me with the admission that she was very proud. She said the gospel bothered her and what could she do to be more humble. I gave her a prayer to say by a churchmen who also struggled with pride and told her to say it, with the addendum that I had a feeling that this was the kind of prayer that receives a rapid answer.

That night the group I was with was climbing a nearby hill together. We were near the summit, where the going was particularly rough. All of sudden I heard a scream, going back down to where the scream came from lay my proud friend, her beautiful light blue and I'm sure expensive jumper covered in red clay from the top to bottom. My friend wiping the mixture of mud and make-up from her face looked up at me and said, "I don't think much about that prayer that you gave me to say." We all had a good laugh.

There is an easier way to be humbled and it is this. Always imagine that the person you are in the presence of has something of importance to give you. If you critique them you will miss it, because you will be thinking rather than listening intently to what they are saying. The flip side of this is to realize that you have something to give to others too. Pride is usually a sign that deep down you feel insecure and are masking your fear that somehow you don't belong.

We all belong, for we all ultimately were derived from the same mud in God's hands.


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