Tag Archives: Christian Living

Labor and Humility

Abba Carion said, ‘I have labored much harder than my son Zacharias and yet I have not attained to his measure of humility and silence.’

 —-Sayings of the Desert

Very few of us would think of humility as a laborious task, yet the Abba speaks this word about himself. There are two distinct lines of thought in this very brief saying. First, humility is not only a sought-after state for the contemplative but Related imageis a lifelong labor. The second is the apparent unfairness of some people being rewarded even if they labor less than we do.

Humility is a hard task, and we must wake every day to the familiar words of the Jesus Prayer, “… have mercy on me, a SINNER.” Until we see ourselves as worthy of nothing but graciously gifted with His saving grace, we will never attain any sort of true humility.

Feeling cheated or let down by God is an age-old problem. So many times in our lives we have felt as though we have done all we can do, and we are still lacking. Exasperatingly, we are confronted with others who did less and received abundant blessings. The lesson here is that we do what we do out of love and worship of God, and not for reward from Him.


Prayer

Lord, give me that grace to be able to labor for you without question. Drive away the tendency to think that I work harder than other and am somehow cheated. Let me take each task as a blessing that only I can achieve.

Amen


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Love, Jesus Style

‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Matthew 22:36-39

love-Triangle-Nouwen


There were constantly people who seeking to trip Jesus up in one fashion or another. Jesus was playing a high stakes game with the Jewish leaders. He was challenging their rules and about to bring a tidal wave of change to their lives. For so long religious life had meandered along just as these leaders had desired but Jesus came with a new revelation, new ideas, and most dangerously, with great power. He was confronted by a teacher of the law with this question. “Which commandment is the greatest?” He answered with two which have three applications.

His first was to love God. That seems like an easy one, especially if it could be done in a vacuum. Think about it, God created us, he gives us life and He sustains us every day. That not a hard one. We would be fools not to love Him. The real challenge is how do we express such love? A simple solution would be to get up every morning and just tell Him we love him and keep Him on our mind all day. That seems like love to me but it only begins there.

Secondly, we are to love our neighbors. Loving our neighbors brings a plethora of unanswered questions. All of these questions are summed up in one. Who is my neighbor? Jesus answers this question many times in His teachings. Similarly, it is answered in Hebrew scripture as well.

• Live generously towards the poor and alien (Lev. 19:9–10).

• Do not steal from anyone (Lev. 19:11).

• Do not be deceptive in dealings with people (Lev. 19:11).

• Do not oppress, rob, or exploit the poor by paying unfair wages (Lev. 19:13).

• Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind (Lev. 19:14).

• Do not be partial to the poor or show favor to the great but judge honestly (Lev. 19:15).

• Do not commit financial fraud. (Lev. 19:16).

• Do not hate your brother (Lev. 19:17).

• Do not seek revenge or hold a grudge but extend forgiveness (Lev. 19:18).

These verses are part of the Levitical law and point toward proper treatment of All people. That leads me to conclude that all of God’s people are my neighbor. There is a third caveat to this teaching of Jesus that may prove to be the most difficult of all.

Love yourself – There is no love without self-love. If we mistrust ourselves and think lowly of ourselves we will be a very dreadful person. Perhaps the real problem with these Jewish leaders was their inability to love themselves and feel comfortable in their own skin.

I share a poem that is credited to the late Robert Schuller that can serve as a good model for self-love.

Love-triangle-mertonI may be young; I may be old, But I am somebody,

For I am God’s child.

I may be educated; I may be unlettered, But I am somebody,

For I am God’s child.

I may be black; I may be white, But I am somebody,

For I am God’s child.

I may be rich; I may be poor, But I am somebody,

For I am God’s child.

I may be a sinner; I may be a saint, But I am somebody,

For Jesus is my Savior. I am God’s child!

When we know to whose family we belong, we learn to esteem ourselves correctly.

Loving God, neighbor, and ourselves is not something that we perfect all at once. A woman once received a valentine card that said on the cover: “I love you terribly.” Inside were the words “But I’ll improve with practice.” It is not an easy task to be a loving person. Life is busy, filled with frustration, disappoints and exhaustion. In the midst of everything, we are often called to love the unlovable. While wading through such confusion we can discover the love triangle that points to loving God, self, and others – thus we find the secret of a fulfilling life on earth and a foretaste of the life to come.

Love-triangle


PRAYER

Lord, is difficult necessary that we learn of love from you. You created us out of love and you sustain us with love. You ask us to complete the triangle of love that will make us whole. This day, help me to love you, my neighbor and myself with a love that can only come from you. I cherish that love and seek it from you.

Amen


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What Would You Do?

I have heard this story shared many times and ways over the years. Let us take heart that there was greater good in the world then and that is still the case today. Here these words about the colorful Mayor LaGuardia of New York. (By the way, he was a Republican)

Fiorello LaGuardia was mayor of New York City during the Depression, and he  LaGuardia-picwas quite a character. He would ride the city fire trucks, take entire orphanages to baseball games and whenever the city newspapers went on strike, he would get on the radio and read the Sunday “funnies” to the children.

On a bitter cold winter’s night in 1935, Mayor LaGuardia turned up in a night court that served the poorest ward in the city, he dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself. After he heard a few cases, a tattered old woman was brought before him, accused of stealing a loaf of bread.

She told LaGuardia that her daughter’s husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick and her grandchildren were starving. But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, insisted on pressing charges. “My store is in a very bad neighborhood, your honor,” he said. “She’s got to be punished in order to teach other people a lesson.”

The mayor sighed. He turned to the old woman and said, “I’ve got to punish you,” he said. “The law makes no exception – ten dollars or ten days in jail.”
But even as he spoke, LaGuardia was reaching into his pocket and pulling out a ten dollar bill. “Here is the woman’s fine,” he said, “and furthermore, I’m going to fine everyone in this court room fifty cents for living in a city where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.”

The following day, the New York Times reported that $47.50 was turned over to the bewildered old woman. It was given by the red-faced store owner, some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations and city policemen – and they all gave their mayor a standing ovation as they
handed over their money.

What a great story!

That’s how it should be with Jesus followers. Jesus said: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” After he uttered these words they ran him out of Nazareth. I wonder what would happen Jesus-Captivesif a Mayer of New York would do what La Guardia today? Would he be applauded? Would there be negative headlines in the NYT? In our “me” society, I ask you to consider the way YOU treat the poor and the disenfranchised? Let us practice true compassion in our daily walk.

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Survey the Land

Breaking new ground is a very difficult task for us. The old, the familiar, the comfortable are always preferable to the new and different. I believe this is even true if God tells us to change. The Israelites were on a great journey. They had escaped from the clutches of the harsh Pharaoh, they had experienced hardship, rebellion and suffering on their journey, but the journey had destination and purpose.

Moses sent out spies to survey the land and they brought back a good report. Many years would pass before they occupied the land but they always knew that it was a good land, a land that God had promised them and one day they would enjoy its fruit. They needed to keep the vision alive.

We too, must keep our vision alive. So many of our days are beset with pain and trouble, but God says,  the best is yet to come. Let us try – this day – to see the abundance of God and live with the expectation of being blessed by Him.

 Survey the  land – IT IS GOOD

Numbers 13

Prayer

Lord help me to keep my focus on you while I toil though the tasks of this life. Keep me free from the temptation of the evil that leads to rejection of your plan for me. Cover my sins with your grace and fill my heart with the joy that comes from knowing you.

Amen

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The Silent Focus

Abba John the Dwarf was very fervent. Now someone who came to see him praised his work, and he remained silent, for he was weaving a rope. One again the visitor began to speak and once again he kept silence. The third time he said to the visitor, ‘Since you came here, you have driven away God from me.’

—Abba John the Dwarf

Prayer and closeness to God is important to all believers. We have been taught for centuries that silence is a very good avenue to a close relationship to our creator. Today we exist in a world of clutter, noise and interruptions. The mendesert-monk-in-prayer_thumb and women who went to the desert felt very much the same . Their journey was to escape those things to have a deeper and closer relationship with God. People who don’t observe silence have a difficult time understanding and respecting those who do. This saying deals with that issue.

Abba John the Dwarf was focused in his work and prayer. Work and prayer are the heart of the monk’s calling. The well-meaning visitor simply wanted to engage the monk through his compliment. He  had no sense of the way of truly engaging the Abba was to join in his work and silence. In that apparent void was the presence of God. The continual “noise” drove God away. Through our conversation, our constant chatter, we crowd out the presence of God. Our challenge is simple, give God space in our lives. Don’t insist that God comes on your terms but rather take time to be silent enough for Him to sit beside you.

Prayer

Lord help me earn this lesson from the desert. Silence my lips and let me feel your presence. In my silence you fill the void instead of me filling my life so full that is crowds you out. Amen

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Day 13–March 4

Mark in Forty Days

This year I am reading through the Gospel of Mark during the forty days of Lent. My suggested plan is that you do these readings in Lectio Divina  format.

Today’s reading

Mark 6:30-44

Prayer Thought

Lord we all know the value of the deserted places of our lives. These are the places that we hear you the loudest and best. Help us to find these special  niches while we travel this journey, Amen

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Anger and Demons

Our fourth struggle is against the demon of anger. We must, with God’s help, eradicate his deadly poison from the depths of our souls. So long as he dwells in our hearts and blinds the eyes of the heart with his somber disorders, we can neither discriminate what is for our good, nor achieve spiritual knowledge, nor fulfill our good intentions, nor participate in true life; and our intellect will remain impervious to the contemplation of the true, divine light; for it is written, “For my eye is troubled because of anger”

——-John Cassian

angry-manGetting angry can sometimes be like jumping into a muscle car, gunning the motor, taking off with the peddle to the metal and discovering you have no brakes. Very shortly we are in a great deal of trouble. Anger is our greatest enemy. It is the deadly poison that starts wars, leads to murder, breaks relationships, and keeps us separated from God. Our world would be so different if we could truly learn to bridle our anger.

The wise monk calls anger a demon. That reference puts this emotion in a very different light. Anger is elevated from a bad habit to a spiritual failure. Habits, good or bad, are conquered by discipline and training. Demons are conquered by prayer and supplication. Perhaps it is time we admit that we do not control our anger, but rather, it controls us. With that confession in hand, we can humbly approach God and ask for healing.

Lord deliver us this day from the deadly poison of anger. Amen

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Being in God

The Biblical revelation is about awakening, not accomplishing. You cannot get there, you can only be there, but the foundational Being-in-God, for some reason, is too hard to believe, and too good to be true for most people. Only the humble will usually believe it and receive it, because it affirms more about God than it does about us. Proud people are not attracted to such explanations.

Here is what St. Bonaventure tells us about God: “By God’s power, presence, and essence, God is the One whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. God exists uncircumscribed in everything.” In other words, it’s all sacred. You can find God everywhere. You don’t have to go to monasteries. As Francis of Assisi said, “The whole world is our cloister.”

Bonaventure goes on to say, “God is, therefore, all inclusive. God is the essence of everything. God is most perfect and immense: within all things, but not enclosed; outside all things, but not excluded; above all things, but not aloof; below all things, but not debased. Finally, therefore, this God is all in all…. Consequently, from him, through him and in him, all things exist.” That is not simplistic pantheism (everything is God), but it is a much more profound pan-en-theism (everything is in God and God can be found in everything). This is Christianity’s great message, which it has, in large part, found too good to be true and too hard to believe!

Our outer world and its full inner significance must come together for there to be any wholeness—and holiness—in our world. The result in the soul and in society is both deep joy and a resounding sense of coherent beauty.

Richard Rhor

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Closing the Chasm

I share this story from an early friend and mentor of mind. John Claypool was one of the greatest story tellers I ever knew. He had a way of turning the very simple into something God given.

Many years ago, I was walking in the farm that has belonged to my father’s family in Kentucky for many generations, and I happened to looked down and I saw this giant anthill. There must have been thousands of these little creatures scurrying back and forth. It was a world unto itself. And as I looked down, I thought to myself, given the capacity of an ant, they have no way of understanding something as big and complex as a human being. If they were aware of me at all, I must have loomed over them as some kind of ominous presence. Then it dawned on me that if I had the power to somehow become an ant and yet take into that new condition as much of the reality of a human being as would be possible – in other words, if I could cross this chasm of otherness from my side – then it would be possible for ants to understand the human in ways that they could never have known before.

As I walked away, I began to realize that the chasm between an ant and a human being, vast as it is, is nothing to compare between the chasm between a human being and this mysterious, divine reality that gives life. And I realized that we are as incapable of understanding God on our own as an ant would be incapable of understanding us.

—-John Claypool

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Floating in Love

If we are to speak of a spirituality of ripening, we need to recognize that it is always (and I do mean always) characterized by an increasing tolerance for ambiguity, a growing sense of subtlety, an ever-larger ability to include and allow, a capacity to live with contradictions and even to love them! I cannot imagine any other way of coming to broad horizons except through many trials, unsolvable paradoxes, and errors in trying to resolve them.

Without such a gradually-renewed mind and heart, we almost certainly will end with a whimper, not just our own but also the whimpering of those disappointed souls gathered around our sick bed or gravestone. Too many lives have indeed been lives of “quiet desperation” and God must surely rush to console and comfort all humans before, during, and after their passing. Many put off enlightenment as long as they can, and some, it seems, until the last five minutes of life! Perhaps some never do reach enlightenment, which is why most religions have some metaphor similar to “hell.”

Maybe this whole phenomenon of late stage growth is what Catholics actually mean by purgatory. Without such after-death hope, I would go crazy with sadness at all the lives which appear to end so unripened. The All-Merciful One is surely free to show mercy even after we die. Why would God be all-loving before death but not after death? Isn’t it the same God? I’ve not seen anyone die perfectly “whole.” We are all saved by mercy, “wound round and round,” as Merton said. Some do appear to float into pure love in their very final days among us. Heaven is an endless continuum of growth and realization

by Richard Rhor

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