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Are We A Christian Nation?


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Today’s Gospel challenges us to consider how we view–and use–our blessings:

Jesus entered the temple area and proceeded to drive out
those who were selling things, saying to them,
“It is written, My house shall be a house of prayer,
but you have made it a den of thieves
.”

And every day he was teaching in the temple area.
The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people, meanwhile,
were seeking to put him to death,
but they could find no way to accomplish their purpose
because all the people were hanging on his words.

The question arises: are we treating God’s house as a house of prayer, or are we acting as a den of thieves?

Lately I’ve been confused by what I’ve read on Facebook.  A lot of my fellow Christians have posted fearful messages about closing our borders, rejecting refugees, and denying entry to people from abroad.  Many fear terrorists finding their way into our country.  And many of these same people fear that we, as a nation, are losing our Christian identity.

We are blessed as a nation.  Our natural resources, cultures and subcultures, blending of human diversity, all make us who we are.  And to the extent we are a Christian Nation, our land has been given to us so that we may give it back to God in worship; our land is a temple, a place of worship.

Have we, then, turned our land into a den of thieves?

As I dig deeper into the Gospel, I find even more evidence of its contemporary relevance.  When Christ entered the Temple and encountered the merchants, He was in an area specifically set aside for Gentiles.

In the court of the Gentiles there would be those who sold animals for sacrifice, and those who changed Greek or Roman money to Jewish money, for that was needed in order to offer it. Yet Jesus drove them out, citing the prophet Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11 That court was the farthest out from the sanctuary, yet all the noise and traffic there was unsuitable.  Aquinas Study Bible.

This court then was Solomon’s porch—probably the eastern part of Solomon’s porch, in the court of the Gentiles—in which were sold doves, sheep, and lambs for sacrificing in the Temple, whom Christ drove out of it. For the court of the Gentiles was, as it were, the temple of the Gentiles, in which, therefore, it was not seemly to buy and sell.  Aquinas Study Bible.

According to one source, “the Court of the Gentiles was the vast open space on the Temple mount in Jerusalem where all those who did not share Israel’s faith could discuss religious matters.” It was a place for non-Jews to understand the faith of Abraham and be introduced to the Covenant. The Gentiles were the outsiders of the Jewish people, but there was a place in the Jewish Temple set aside for their inquiry.

Shouldn’t we offer the same sort of welcome to those suffering persecution abroad?

Two questions are relevant:

  1. Are we really a Christian Nation?
  2. Are we really the Home of the Brave?

If we really are a Christian Nation, shouldn’t we show Christian mercy to those who suffer?  If we really are the Home of the Brave, shouldn’t we demonstrate the courage of compassion for those who don’t have our blessings?

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Faith and Works: Jewish-style


This is a great video of how this man shows his deep love for God and His Word.

He shows great reverence and intimacy for God’s Word as he reproduces it in writing.  It reminds me of how Catholics respond to the Word Made Flesh in the Eucharist: we stand, bow, genuflect.  And the Rabbi’s explanation at 11:45 of how Jews stand up on the entrance of the Torah and kiss it reminds me how we stand in Mass when the Priest processes the Word in and when the Gospel is read; and how the Priest kisses the Word after reading the Gospel. (Here is a wonderful article about the significance of the kiss at Mass).

Dr. Epstein also gives a great example of how to begin every task.  Listen to the video beginning at 5:24, where he explains how every time he begins anew his colossal effort, he starts with prayer and alms-giving.

He also gives a living testimony of the interrelationship of faith and works.  One quote in the video (at 5:37)  caught my ear:  “Every act of Torah should be linked to another Mitzvah.”

Torah:  the five books of Moses.  The seed from which sprouted Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

Mitzvah:  literally, commandment.  But in this context, Dr. Epstein seems to be referring more to a mitzveh, or a good deed.

So, in saying that “every act of Torah should be linked to another Mitzvah”, Dr. Epstein echoes the familiar refrain of faith and works.  And his work echoes this refrain as well.

God is good!

Lazarus, come out!


 

I invite you, while considering the miracle of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, to reflect on this image. And meditate on how Christ (1) is inviting each of us to healing; (2) can raise us each from our little deaths; and (3) wants to enlist us in bringing others to His healing love.

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Second Sunday of Lent: the Transfiguration


Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother,
and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them;
his face shone like the sun
and his clothes became white as light.
And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them,
conversing with him.
Then Peter said to Jesus in reply,
“Lord, it is good that we are here.
If you wish, I will make three tents here,
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
While he was still speaking, behold,
a bright cloud cast a shadow over them,
then from the cloud came a voice that said,
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased;
listen to him.”
When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate
and were very much afraid.
But Jesus came and touched them, saying,
“Rise, and do not be afraid.”
And when the disciples raised their eyes,
they saw no one else but Jesus alone.

As they were coming down from the mountain,
Jesus charged them,
“Do not tell the vision to anyone
until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  Spring is supposed to be here in three days.  I don’t know if this was one of the darkest winters in history, but it sure has been one of the coldest on record!  We might have even set some records for snowfall.  The snow is beautiful when it first comes down, covering the earth in a pure blanket of white.  But after months of cold, when the snow has turned to a dirty, slushy and crusty consistency, it’s easy to get sick of it all.  When I was in college, we called February the Dark Ages.  By this time each year, we were sick of the cold, the dark, and the overcast skies.

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Avoiding Slavery


“No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”  Mt. 6:24.

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Benin, on the Gulf of Guinea in Africa, developed into a major slave trading center in the 17th century, becoming perhaps the largest in Africa.  Almost a million Africans left their continent through Ouidah, sold into slavery in Europe and the Western Hemisphere.

In order to evade the slave traders, some fled into the waters of Lake Nokoué and established the town on stilts, Ganvie.  Apparently the slave traders would—or could—not fight on the water and would not pursue their prey into the lake.  Established 400 years ago, Ganvie is now home to between 20,000 and 30,000 residents.

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I can’t image the lifestyle adjustment that was required in order to adapt to the new living conditions.  Food sources, shelter, transportation, recreation—daily activities—all must have dramatically changed to acclimate to their new surroundings.

The ancestors of Ganvie’s residents went to great—extreme?—measures to avoid the evil of slavery.  As I rode through this township, I began to ask myself:

What am I willing to do to avoid slavery?

The horrors of human trafficking and slavery—centuries ago and today—are obvious.  No debate or arguments are needed to convince anyone that they do not want to be victims of this horrendous human endeavor.  And yet, every day billions subject themselves to subtle forms of slavery.

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Jesus reminds us that we cannot serve two masters.  In His example, Jesus warns us against serving mammon, “an Aramaic word meaning wealth or property.”  And yet, despite His warning, materialism is ubiquitous.  I find it very easy to be lured by this form of slavery.  It’s hard not to want more—more money, bigger homes, better cars—and it’s hard not to envy those who appear better off than I am in their material wealth.

And there are other subtle forms of slavery, attractive snares lying in wait for victims.  Am I willing to take Ganvie-like measures to avoid these traps?

  • Materialism:  Do I seek fulfillment through the acquisition of goods and materials—or with the collection of things—or am I content with what I have and do I use my blessings to serve Him? Am I willing to surrender my desire for more and trade it in for a desire for a closer relationship with Him?
  • Lust:  Do I let me eyes lead my head to whatever tempting images the media—or other broken souls—lay before me or, or do I avert my eyes and pray for these victims ensnared in the slavery of self-image and lust?  Am I willing to give up those things that can lead me astray, like TV, internet or movies?
  • Body:  Do I elevate this temple of the Holy Spirit to the platform of divinity, seeing my fitness as my god rather than a gift from the one true God and a means to offer His praise and thanks?  Am I willing to acknowledge Him as the source of my health?
  • TV:  Do I waste hours and days at the alter of the “idiot box” (as my Mom called it), or am I willing to pull the plug so I can use my precious time to serve Him and His better?  Am I willing to spend time in silence in His presence (being still and knowing He is God), rather than filling my time with noise?

What stilt village will I build to escape the slavery of sin?

As an aside, I am often uncertain of my posts as I draft them.  Is this what God wants me to do?  Am I serving Him well with this?  Do I come across as humble or arrogant?  Do I draw people to Him or repel them?  Today I experienced one of those moments when God gives me a clear sign.  Riding through the bustling streets of Cotonou, we came to a stop at a traffic light.  As I glanced around, this sign snagged my attention:

001 2It is the very same verse I begin this post with.  Thank you, Lord, for this awesome sign!

Sunday Snippets–A Catholic Carnival


Easter Sunday.  The Liturgy of Creation.  John’s vision in Revelation describes heavenly worship.  How can I reflect that worship in my actions?

Easter Monday.  Faith in Invisible Realities.  We renewed our Baptismal promises yesterday at Mass.  How do I live this shared faith?

Tuesday of Easter Week.  With Our Whole Being.  With a Creator who loves us so completely, how can I do love Him with any less than my whole being?

Wednesday of Easter Week.  A Lamb Who Was Slain—A Lion Who Reigns.  The Mass is a universal celebration that unites us with Christ at the Last Supper and with the angels and saints in Heaven.  Do I appreciate the privilege of participating in Mass?

Thursday of Easter Week.  The Beautiful Bride of Christ.  If Christ is the bridegroom of the Church, I am part of that intimate relationship.  How do I allow myself to draw closer to Christ?

Friday of Easter Week.  Union With God.  Christ’s love for the Church is the model for a husband love for his wife.  How does my marriage reflect this?  How do I strive for this perfection?

Saturday of Easter Week.  The Dwelling of God.  How real is Heaven to me?

Divine Mercy Sunday.  Becoming Saints.  Today, I am reminded of the inexhaustible Mercy God offers me as He calls me to sainthood.

Becoming Saints


Happy Easter!  This Divine Mercy Sunday I continue my journey through Scott Hahn’s book, Lenten Reflections from A Father Who Keeps His Promises.  This is the last day of this series.

Today is the Feast of Divine Mercy, which we celebrate because Christ Himself requested this in His appearances to St. Faustina Kowalska.   During His visits, Christ instructed St. Faustina on His Divine Mercy and introduced the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, which He asks that we pray for for three purposes:  to obtain mercy, to trust in Christ’s mercy, and to show mercy to others.

The Chaplet—a series of prayers much like the Rosary—calls for the use of Rosary beads.  On the decades used to pray the ten Hail Marys, the Chaplet has us pray:  “For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”

I can’t say that I fully understand the Chaplet.  I don’t know the reason behind the prayers or their efficacy.  When I pray the Rosary, at least I have some concept of the Mysteries I am meditating on and I am familiar with the component prayers.  But the Chaplet is more difficult for me.  So I am reminded by Christ’s statement to St. Faustina:

“My mercy is so great that no mind, be it of man or of angel, will be able to fathom it throughout all eternity.”

This helps me understand that I am human, of limited comprehension skills, and may not always understand.  Even when I don’t understand, I pray that I am doing His will.  I am reminded of my favorite Psalm:  “Be still and know that I am God.”  Ps. 46:11.

The Psalm helps me to trust that He is God and will sustain me if I but trust in Him and His mercy.  And then, with this trust in my heart, I will strive to “walk by faith and not by sight.”  2 Cor. 5:7.

Thomas Merton expressed this surrender succinctly in prayer:

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

I am comforted knowing that, as long as I try to please Him and seek to live a life in humble submission to His will as He expresses it in His Church, I’m golden!

It is worth noting, as Scott Hahn does, that at times the earthly Church seems to work against the values it purports to espouse.  “We see scandal and hypocrisy, bland liturgies, false teaching, broken families, sin and sinners everywhere.”  But Scott also reminds us that the Church is the chosen bride of Christ.  He tells us that when we focus on these shortfalls of human members of the Church and use them as an excuse for leaving the Church, we are spurning the Bride of Christ.

Instead, I need to remember that I am called to be a saint for the Church.  And, knowing I can’t do it of my own, I lean on Him who sustains me.  “I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me”.  Phil 4:13.

And so, while I am called to sainthood, as we all are, I know that I cannot do this on my own.

Day 54-1 There are times—more often than I care to admit—that I would rather NOT be a saint, when I would rather enjoy the immediate pleasures of this world instead of sacrificing for the long term gain He offers.  In those moments I need to “immerse [myself] in the ocean of [His] Mercy.Day 54-2

 This was the last day of the reflections on Scott Hahn’s book, but not my last blog entry.  Although I will not be blogging as regularly, I hope to continue to grow in faith and share in my journey.  And, as always, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.  Amen.”

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