In the gospels, Joseph speaks no words. There is not one documented saying from him. He did not speak but instead listened to God. He must have known that no learning takes places while the mouth is open. Faith is based on first being still and listening, then knowing who God is. This kind of listening and knowing always comes with a call to change and live in a new direction.
Faith, based on listening, is a deeper way of knowing and it reveals new possibilities and directions that were not apparent before. Long before Joseph, Abraham heard the voice of God and was called out from the familiar into the unknown, against the odds and contrary to the apparent facts. Like Abraham, Joseph also heard God’s voice and received a mission which he could only undertake in faith, against the odds and contrary to the apparent facts.
Today, I pray for the grace to be still and listen to God’s voice speaking in my heart and in the events around me, so that I, too, may follow God’s will.
A division occurred in the crowd because of him. (see John 7:40-53)
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what theologians and secularists say about Jesus. A direct personal and numinous encounter with God, and an inner transformation (metanoeite), are the deciding factors in one’s spiritual life. There are no valid substitutes for this. Opinions and postulations, even official ones, mean nothing if they do not resonate with a personal experience. You cannot live vicariously on the experiences of others, even those of saints, and be truly alive. You must “get a life.”
Although what is best in religion can reflect a numinous relationship with God, it is beyond words and images, and even beyond religion, because it is pure relational love. It is an encounter with the source, the substance, and the summit of reality itself. For some Christians, Jesus is that source, that substance, and that summit. Unfortunately, for more than are willing to admit it, he is a substitute for it and a defense against it. For others, he is simply irrelevant.
There is a division in the crowd and a division within some of us because we have not yet adequately addressed our relationship with the one thing necessary. Some of us have accepted substitutes, of which there are many.
They forgot the God who had saved them, who had done great deeds in Egypt. (Psalm 106:21)
Love is the center of everything; it binds together the forces and the elements that comprise created reality; it is the source, substance, and summit of life. God is love and we are love, in our deepest identity, but we forget. When we forget or choose to forget, we disconnect from the one thing necessary and become victims and purveyors of harmful illusions. That’s when the trouble begins. That’s when the suffering of the worst kind enters the world. But there is a way home.
Suffering can serve as a reminder that love is the center; the only center. With God’s ever-willing forgiveness, mercy, and love, we can remember and return to our true selves. Love always calls you home. It’s not too late.
It was a sad day at work today. I accompanied one of my patients during the last moments of his life. He was a nice fellow and mostly kept to himself. Never married. Few friends. He was quiet and gentle. He wasn’t all that old. 70-something. His problem was an addiction to fast food. For decades, he ate and ate only the wrong things. He ate his way to obesity, diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, renal failure, and finally, respiratory failure. For years, the care team tried and tried to reach him, but no matter how ill he got, no matter how much counseling and education we gave him, he kept gorging himself on massive amounts of salt, fat, sugar, meat, chips, cheese, and sugary drinks. In the end, he could not breathe against the girth of his abdomen or the fluid from the salt retention and heart failure. There weren’t enough drugs in the world to save him from the food he chose to eat. He literally ate himself to death.
I stayed at his bedside this afternoon because his family didn’t come. I held his hand, gave him a few re-assuring messages of love and support from myself and the care team. I eased his discomfort and watched him breathe his last. The saddest part was, it did not have to end that way. His condition was completely avoidable. As I sat there with him, I looked at the shelves in his room stacked with salty and sugary snack foods, and the trash can filled with fast food burger wrappers. There will never be a question in my mind again that fast foods can become a deadly addiction.
I decided to share this for a reason. I am asking you to never do this to yourself or your family. Don’t let advertising and convenience kill you and your children. God created so many healthful foods you can enjoy without harming yourself or anyone else. Please educate yourself and choose wisely. I am tired of seeing people suffer and die from avoidable diseases caused by poor food and lifestyle choices. We were created for something better than this.
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)
Lenten prayer and reflection this year has revealed something to me about myself that I find deeply disturbing: I tend to feel hurt, disappointed, and angry when I think someone else is neglecting the gifts of God; the gifts of being alive and human. Then, I become highly critical of that person. But,…what about my own neglect and abuse of God’s gifts? All too often, my personal habit is to find fault with others; to see their blind spots and sins. In my analysis of someone else’s shortcomings, I am engaging in a sin worse than theirs: spiritual pride. If my awakening to God only serves to make me condemn others, it would be better for me to go back to sleep.
Lord, save me from my blindness, my lack of compassion, and my spiritual pride. Let me see my own sins clearly, instead of focusing on others. (As if my own sins aren’t enough!) I have a very long way to go and only your mercy can get me all the way home. God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
“Without much prospect of immediate self-improvement, one can be confident only in the prospect of God’s mercy. There is no reality for a human being other than the mercy of God.” – Fr. Michael Casey, OCSO
2,000 years ago, a homeless Jewish preacher upset the apple cart and overturned the tables of the money-changers in the Temple, while overturning the corrupt values that had eroded and subverted the Jewish community under Roman rule. He did not lead an armed revolt, though others had done so and had died by the sword. He wielded no weapon other than God’s love. When the governmental and religious authorities came for him, he offered no resistance and told Peter to put down his sword. He was convicted, tortured, and killed, for his values and his actions based on those values.
Some believed then, and some believe now, that he should have used force to defend his cause, to defy abusive Roman power and established religious corruption. Then and now, some would prefer a militant Jesus who died in battle against evil forces, guns blazing, but would succumbing to that understandable temptation have given him the advantage? Ultimately, ideas and values rooted firmly in God’s love are always more powerful and enduring than military force, political power, religious authority, violence, and oppression. How do we know? Fast-forward 2,000 years: When you go to church on Sunday, do you go to honor the victory of a Roman Emperor?
(The Book of Jonah)
Like Jonah, I am overly critical of anyone I feel is unworthy of God. I loudly lambaste stupidity and laziness and superstition. I despise willful ignorance. Wait…who made me the judge? No one. In fact, I am no better than any other person. In fact, my sins have been greater than most of the people I criticize. What a hypocrite I am. Even from the belly of the whale, I shout out curses and condemnation. Jonah didn’t do that. (Although, he did complain when God forgave the Ninevites.) It seems Jonah and I are in the same boat evading God, and in the same fish, hating other people and their sins but not seeing our own.
My sins are great and my resistance to God’s grace is fierce. This is one of the most painful realizations I have had this Lent, and there’s still over a month to go. God, help me to love others instead of living in the belly of my own self-righteousness.