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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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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.

Ganvie 047-2

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.

Ganvie 060

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.

Ganvie 057 (640x478)

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!

A Wise Man’s Fall From Grace


On this Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent, I continue my journey through Scott Hahn’s book, Lenten Reflections from A Father Who Keeps His Promises.

King David’s dynasty continues in his son, Solomon.  We are all familiar with the Wisdom of Solomon.  When God offered Solomon anything he desired, Solomon asked for wisdom:

“Give your servant, therefore, a listening heart to judge your people and to distinguish between good and evil. For who is able to give judgment for this vast people of yours?”  1 Kings 3:9.

 God is pleased with Solomon’s request and rewards him not only with wisdom, but also with wealth, longevity and fame.

For Solomon, this wisdom gives him insight into people’s hearts, the ability to discern their inner desires and motives.  He becomes famous far and wide for his wisdom.

His earliest display of wisdom involves a dispute of two mothers, each claiming she was mother to an infant.  Solomon orders that the baby be split down the middle and half given to each mother.  The true mother—wanting the best for her child—surrenders her child, asking that the child be given to the other.  Solomon sees this, knows the true mother and gives her the baby.

From this decision comes the expression of “splitting the baby.”  Unfortunately, common usage misses the entire point of Solomon’s decision.  Nowadays, “splitting the baby” is typically used to describe a compromise position, perhaps something a mediator or arbitrator might do to arrive at an easy answer.  Or the end result of difficult negotiations:

Since then the expressions “splitting the baby” or “cutting the baby in half” have generally been applied as a metaphor to relate to the need to find a simple compromise solution which “splits the difference” in terms of damage awards or other remedies.

 But this—compromise between two positions—isn’t the wisdom displayed by Solomon.  He wasn’t trying to negotiate some middle ground between the two mothers.  Instead, his wisdom arose from his knowledge of human nature.  He knew the true mother would rather give up her child to another to spare its life.  His wisdom allowed him to discern this.

Despite his divine wisdom, Solomon fell.  And he did so in spectacular fashion.  Solomon had 1,000 wives from various countries and religions.  And his wives “turned his heart to follow other gods.”

Because of Solomon’s idolatry, God withdrew His blessings.  What an incredible fall from grace!  Despite all his wisdom, Solomon could not avoid the temptations of his wives who lured him into idolatry.  Not that I am blaming them any more than Adam can blame Eve for his forbidden consumption.

If someone with all the Wisdom of Solomon can fail, can succumb to temptation, what chance do I have?  I wonder if Solomon’s failure was caused by his reliance on his own wisdom and not on God.  Was it pride that made Solomon vulnerable to temptation?

I know I don’t have the wisdom of Solomon.  My only recourse is to lean on God and seek His strength.  And when I do fall, I am comforted know that there is “more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.”  Luke 15:7.

Day 38-1

In my weakness I rely on God.  In my foolishness I seek His wisdom.  

God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast* before God.  It is due to him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, as well as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.”  1 Cor. 1:27-31.

Day 38-2

From Faithfulness to Forgetfulness


On this Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent, I continue my journey through Scott Hahn’s book, Lenten Reflections from A Father Who Keeps His Promises.

One of my earliest childhood memories was learning the song, “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho” from my Mom:

Joshua fit the battle of Jericho
Jericho, Jericho
Joshua fit the battle of Jericho
And the walls come tumblin’ down.

Play "Joshua Fit The Battle of Jericho":

I remember singing this song with Mom and then reading about the battle.  What an unusual strategy to attack a walled city—circle it for six days with priests blowing horns and then, on the seventh day, and on the seventh time around, everyone shout!

Who would have thought this would work?!

And it wouldn’t have worked—but for God, present in their midst.  I think that was the point.  Obey God, no matter how silly it may seem, and He will deliver you.  Great things will come to pass.

The Battle of Jericho was one of many in a series of miracles God uses to prove His faithfulness and might.  You would think such incredible occurrences would stick in the memory of all Israelites, encouraging their constant obedience and devotion to God.  Unfortunately, it didn’t.  They would repeat a vicious cycle:  sin to slavery to supplication to salvation to surplus.  What were they thinking!?

But while it’s easy to tsk-tsk the Israelites and their failures, I know I have my own vicious cycle: sin to guilt to confession to forgiveness to sin.

It starts with my predisposition toward sin, be it pride, lust or any other vice.  I fall and then, realizing my fall, feel guilty.  After confessing my sins and receiving absolution (with the firm resolution “to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin“, I am drawn closer to God and surrender to His will.  But, eventually, I try to re-take control of my life.  Or I re-place myself at the center of my life.  That’s when my vices push me back into sin.

The process for breaking the negative cycle begins with the blessed Sacrament of Reconciliation. And I need to remember that, no matter how often I fall:

There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. Luke 15:7.

Day 31-2Obedience is the key.  As Mary told the stewards at the wedding at Cana, “do whatever he tells you.”  This Lent has been a wonderful opportunity to re-center my life on Him who saves.

Day 31-1

Broken Hearts, Broken Homes


On this Second Sunday of Lent, I continue my journey through Scott Hahn’s book, Lenten Reflections from A Father Who Keeps His Promises.  This week we focus on the obedience of Noah and Abraham in their covenant relationships with God.  And today, we focus on sin as a broken relationship.

I grew up in what I think is a typical Catholic family.  The third of six children, we celebrated Sundays and the Holy Days.  Much like many other families, we prepared for Christmas in the usual ways: buying presents, decorating the tree, etc.

I have many fond memories of Christmas, but for some reason I always associate Christmas decorating with turmoil.  I think this is because my childhood home seemed to fill with arguments and discord when it came time to decorate the tree.  And so now, while my wife looks forward to the Yule decorations with joy, my overriding emotion is a sense of dread because of this baggage from my childhood.  It’s not an egregious brokenness, but it’s mine.

My brokenness is not just a sign that my relationship within my family of origin was less than perfect; it also hinders my efforts to enter into a more complete union with my wife.  This is like sin.  Sin is not only the result of my turning from God, it is also a symptom of that broken relationship and causes further deterioration.  Sin begets sin.

Just as my divine relationship is incomplete, so is that within my earthly family.  Each family is, after all, composed of human beings.  But my role as father and husband is not to dwell on the imperfections of the family but to seek to draw my family closer to perfection through a closer unity with God.

Day 12-2

The best way to strengthen my family is to grow closer to God.  Jesus, Mary and Joseph, pray for us!

Day 12-1a

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