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Occupy your mind with good thoughts

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St John Henry Newman (Feast)

2 Timothy 1:1–5 • Psalm 95 (96) • John 15:9–17

There are two extremes into which people fall when it comes to their attitude to evil and the devil. At one end of the spectrum is to believe in the devil and evil excessively, and at the other not to believe in evil or the devil at all — with plenty of people fitting somewhere in-between!  This is as true in our age as any other, and we have ample evidence of excessive belief in innumerable blockbuster films and books and even weekend courses on the occult and demons.

We, for our part, are guided and governed by the Scriptures and the wisdom of the Church passed down through the ages. The Church has always affirmed that the devil and his realm is a reality (see, e. g. Catechism of the Catholic Church 407) which we ignore at our peril.  Jesus is the strong man who by his death and resurrection has redeemed the world.  By his cross, in his name and through his blood we who have received the grace of baptism are protected and kept safe, but we need to call upon this shield of God’s grace.

We are invited to enter into the spiritual battle which is waged every day. This notion of spiritual conflict or engaging the enemy can seem rather obscure or remote, especially when the daily  struggle to deal with the problems of this world is hard enough.  Perhaps the great saint and martyr Thomas More shed some light on' this when he said: “Occupy your minds with good thoughts, or the enemy will fill them with bad ones; unoccupied they cannot be.”  Being passive and undisciplined in our thinking and in our behaviour can open us up to the devil and his ways. The devil delights in an idleness of mind and a passivity which does not actively take up the good fight of faith.

A mind filled with God’s truth and God’s thoughts is a mind which is bolstering and protecting itself against the snares and attacks of the Evil One. God created us with the gift of free Will, and the greatest challenge we face every day is to choose God and reject the devil, to choose the good and repel evil, and to stand firm in faith.

Lord Jesus, protect us from the snares, wiles and schemes of the Evil One.  I call upon the power of your name, cross and blood, that I may live more and more in your presence.

Chris

 
 Graphic from; https://princessofjesusblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/21/gods-protection-a-true-story/

 

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Who is Jesus?

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Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 • Psalm 143(144) 1–4 • Luke 9:18-22Robed figure, below the head, with hand outstretched

It is sometimes difficult to express simply and clearly what we believe. For some, it may stem from a lack of confidence or a fear of being rejected. For others, it might be that they don’t even have the words.

Take those suffering with dementia, for example. There are in the UK 700,000 people suffering from dementia, and that number is steadily increasing. Being diagnosed with dementia is distressing for the individual concerned and for their family and friends. As someone’s ability to relate to the world around them is diminished, they become more isolated. Communication becomes increasingly difficult – they might not be able to talk or to communicate in other ways.

Jesus asked Peter, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ (v 20). Peter knew exactly who Jesus was, just as God knows exactly who we are. He knows the number of hairs on our head (Luke 12:7). Whatever happens to our mental functions, we remain spiritual beings. The Catechism fo the Cat/90hr Church states that ‘The dignity of the human person is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God’ (para. 1700).

Peter recognised Jesus as the Christ (v. 20). Do we look for and recognise God in those with dementia? The decline in someone’s mental faculties does not end their personal journey of faith or diminish their full human integrity. They continue on their pilgrimage, usually aware of the continuing importance of their deeply held spirituality, and often finding comfort in familiar prayers and rituals. God is there in their loneliness to give them comfort.

Would Peter have openly stated his faith if he hadn’t been directly challenged byJesus? He might not have made such a declaration without prompting, but he knew what he thought and felt. He had faith. For those witnessing the mental decline of their loved ones, faith becomes all the more important too. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear…” (Ps. 46:1-2).

Loving Father you are close to the broken-hearted. Look with compassion on those whose lost memories have robbed them of home and belonging. Comfort and strengthen those who care for them. May they make their home in you. This we ask through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Chris

Graphic from: https://slmnallotey.wordpress.com/2016/07/26/jesus-the-word-of-god/

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Some Wisdom and Calm from Richard Rohr

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Julia received this in an email from Richard Rohr; I found it profoundly calming and reassuring. The election clearly refers to that approaching in the USA, but many countries are facing problems which could be treated in similar fashion. 

We have read more of the Psalms in the last few months than at any time in our lives; they can be balm to the soul. 

Richard Rohr's website https://cac.org/  has more to help us. 

Chris

 
Center for Action and Contemplation
 
 

Some simple but urgent guidance to get us through these next months.

I awoke on Saturday, September 19, with three sources in my mind for guidance: Etty Hillesum (1914 – 1943), the young Jewish woman who suffered much more injustice in the concentration camp than we are suffering now; Psalm 62, which must have been written in a time of a major oppression of the Jewish people; and the Irish Poet, W.B.Yeats (1965 – 1939), who wrote his “Second Coming” during the horrors of the World War I and the Spanish Flu pandemic. 

These three sources form the core of my invitation. Read each one slowly as your first practice. Let us begin with Etty:

There is a really deep well inside me. And in it dwells God. Sometimes I am there, too … And that is all we can manage these days and also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves.

—Etty Hillesum, Westerbork transit camp

Note her second-person usage, talking to “You, God” quite directly and personally. There is a Presence with her, even as she is surrounded by so much suffering.

Then, the perennial classic wisdom of the Psalms:

In God alone is my soul at rest.
God is the source of my hope.
In God I find shelter, my rock, and my safety.
Men are but a puff of wind,
Men who think themselves important are a delusion.
Put them on a scale,
They are gone in a puff of wind.

—Psalm 62:5–9

What could it mean to find rest like this in a world such as ours? Every day more and more people are facing the catastrophe of extreme weather. The neurotic news cycle is increasingly driven by a single narcissistic leader whose words and deeds incite hatred, sow discord, and amplify the daily chaos. The pandemic that seems to be returning in waves continues to wreak suffering and disorder with no end in sight, and there is no guarantee of the future in an economy designed to protect the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and those subsisting at the margins of society. 

It’s no wonder the mental and emotional health among a large portion of the American population is in tangible decline! We have wholesale abandoned any sense of truth, objectivity, science or religion in civil conversation; we now recognize we are living with the catastrophic results of several centuries of what philosophers call nihilism or post-modernism (nothing means anything, there are no universal patterns).

We are without doubt in an apocalyptic time (the Latin word apocalypsis refers to an urgent unveiling of an ultimate state of affairs). Yeats’ oft-quoted poem “The Second Coming” then feels like a direct prophecy. See if you do not agree:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Somehow our occupation and vocation as believers in this sad time must be to first restore the Divine Center by holding it and fully occupying it ourselves. If contemplation means anything, it means that we can “safeguard that little piece of You, God,” as Etty Hillesum describes it. What other power do we have now? All else is tearing us apart, inside and out, no matter who wins the election or who is on the Supreme Court. We cannot abide in such a place for any length of time or it will become our prison.

God cannot abide with us in a place of fear.
God cannot abide with us in a place of ill will or hatred.
God cannot abide with us inside a nonstop volley of claim and counterclaim.
God cannot abide with us in an endless flow of online punditry and analysis.
God cannot speak inside of so much angry noise and conscious deceit.
God cannot be found when all sides are so far from “the Falconer.”
God cannot be born except in a womb of Love.
So offer God that womb.

Stand as a sentry at the door of your senses for these coming months, so “the blood-dimmed tide” cannot make its way into your soul.

If you allow it for too long, it will become who you are, and you will no longer have natural access to the “really deep well” that Etty Hillesum returned to so often and that held so much vitality and freedom for her.

If you will allow, I recommend for your spiritual practice for the next four months that you impose a moratorium on exactly how much news you are subject to—hopefully not more than an hour a day of television, social media, internet news, magazine and newspaper commentary, and/or political discussions. It will only tear you apart and pull you into the dualistic world of opinion and counter-opinion, not Divine Truth, which is always found in a bigger place.

Instead, I suggest that you use this time for some form of public service, volunteerism, mystical reading from the masters, prayer—or, preferably, all of the above.

        You have much to gain now and nothing to lose. Nothing at all. 
        And the world—with you as a stable center—has nothing to lose.
        And everything to gain. 


Richard Rohr, September 19, 2020



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The Scandal of Grace

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Isaiah 55:6–9 • Psalm 144(145):2–3, 8–9, 17–18 • Philippians 1:20–24, 27 • Matthew 20:1–16

 

Sunrise over grain crops, “the last will be first . . ."

Can you imagine the furore at any modern workplace if someone who had worked a full day were paid the same as someone who had worked for only the last hour of the day?  With the modern raft of employment legislation and unions, there would probably be a major protest, even a riot. The boss wouldn’t be able to say, as the landowner said to his protesting workers, “I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?” (v. 13 NIV ). Don’t worry, Jesus told the parable to elicit this very response – indignation, protest and complaint! Sometimes life just isn’t fair, and neither is the gospel message – but that’s the point . . .

The gospel message is shocking and scandalous.  How? Because in the gospel we encounter the lavish, generous and wanton giving of God’s grace to all men and women.  If we haven’t touched something of the “scandal of grace”, we haven’t understood the “gospel of grace”.

Jesus caused quite a stir through his association with so-called public sinners, including tax  collectors, prostitutes and others on the margins of society. The Pharisees were indignant and horrified because they reasoned that God loves the righteous and despises the unrighteous.  

But Jesus revealed that God’s love shines on the righteous and the unrighteous, the good, the bad and everyone in between. Jesus was sent by the Father to save the sinner, the poor, the outcast – those far from God, those who would never set foot in a synagogue or indeed a church!  Where sin, darkness, evil and death abound, guess what? God’s love and mercy super-abound!

This holier-than-thou attitude was particularly devastating in its effect in Ireland in the last century when unmarried women who fell pregnant were treated abysmally by their families and church authorities.  Considered fallen women and unfit mothers, they were sent to institutions run by religious sisters, where many of them were treated brutally and harshly.  Many were separated from their children and never saw them again.  What priests and religious sisters failed to understand is that we are all ‘fallen’ – we are all beggars before God’s mercy.  

Jesus heralded a revolution of love and grace, and we are freedom fighters, activists and soldiers of this revolution.

Father I rejoice in the gospel of your scandalous and shocking grace, and give you thanks and praise for the gift of salvation, the light of your mercy and your healing love.

Chris

 
Graphic from https://thenalc.org/reading/nalc-devotions-november-30-2017/
 
 
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Love

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1 Corinthians 12:31 – 13:13 • Psalm 32(33):2–5, 12, 22 • Luke 7:31–35
 
Love is the greatest of all human qualities, and it is an attribute of God himself.  Love entails unselfish service to others; to show love gives evidence that you care.  
 
Faith is the foundation and content of God’s message; hope is the attitude and focus; love is the action.  When faith and hope are aligned you are free to love completely because you understand how God loves.
 
So St Paul says:
 
"And yet I will show you the most excellent way.
 
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 
 
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 
 
If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
 
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 
 
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
 
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 
 
For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 
 
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
 
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."
 
Chris
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Heavenly Forgiveness

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Ecclesiasticus 27:30–28:7 • Psalm 102(103):1–4, 9–12 • Romans 14:7–9 • Matthew 18:21–35

Forgive from the HeartC.S. Lewis was right on the button when he said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.”   We pray at every Mass: ‘Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”  Yet, when sinned against by a brother or sister, husband or wife, friend or foe, how ready are we to forgive? And how do we forgive? Reluctantly and resentfully, or readily, from the heart?

When Peter asked Jesus how often he should forgive, proposing the generous offer of ‘as many as seven times’, he was really trying to set a limit – to see how few times he could forgive and get away with it!  Jesus responded with a number which was not really a number! “Seventy-seven times” (or “seventy times seven”) signified a countless number.  Again we turn to CS. Lewis, who explained: “We forgive, we mortify our resentment; a week later some chain of thought carries us back to the original offence and we discover the old resentment blazing away as if nothing had been done about it at all. We need to forgive our brother seventy times seven not only for 490 offences but for one offence.”

As often as the sense of grievance rises hot and strong within us, Jesus challenges us to forgive.  And this forgiving is not so much about forgetting as about remembering without bitterness or acrimony in our hearts.  Jesus speaks in the context of relationships within the church family.  The closer a relationship, the more frequently and more heavily we tend to tread on one another’s toes. Our deepest hurts are not usually inflicted by our worst enemy, but by our nearest and dearest, those close to us — our friends / relatives / work colleagues.

The servant in Jesus’s parable owed 10,000 talents – this figure combines the largest Greek numeral with the largest unit of currency.  Here is not merely a daunting debt, but one that could never be repaid.  God offers us unlimited grace and inexhaustible forgiveness beyond measure, beyond our wildest dreams.  But hands clenched in unforgiving anger can neither appropriate nor appreciate this gift.  Forgiveness extended to a brother or sister is inextricably linked with the forgiveness received from our Heavenly Father.  Jesus modelled unconditional and unlimited forgiveness as he hung on the cross, not only forgiving, but also pleading for the Father’s forgiveness for those who put him there.

Heavenly Father, show me that to err is only too human, but to forgive is truly to imitate the divine.

Chris

 
Graphic from https://www.stpeterstettler.ca/looking-ahead-scripture-readings-for-sept-13-2020/
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The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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Romans 8:28–30 • Psalm 12(13) • Matthew 1:1–16, 18–23

Readers of the Bible are tempted to skip the first sixteen verses of Matthew’s Gospel.  After all, it’s just a long list of names!  Although, in recent years, there has been a renewed interest in tracing one’s family tree, genealogies are often viewed as superfluous by a generation that prides itself on being future-oriented and forward-looking. To ancient peoples, however, genealogies were of immense importance.  Genealogies were the means by which Bible- time Jews traced their ancestry right back to Abraham, thus reassuring themselves of their position as rightful heirs of God’s covenant promises.

Matthew’s opening phrase ‘An account of the genealogy...’ reads, literally, ‘the book of the genesis. . . ’ , an expression that echoes Genesis 2:4 in' the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) and would have been very familiar to Matthew’s original readers.  By employing this phrase in connection with the Messiah, Matthew sets Jesus in the context of what God had been doing from the earliest days.

Matthew’s genealogy is constructed around three key periods in Israel’s history. Abraham and David recall two crucial covenants (Gen. 12:1ff; 2 Sam. 7:12ff) that significantly shaped Jewish identity.  The Babylonian Exile (referred to in yerses 1 1—12) called into serious question these covenant promises – since the land was lost and the House of David no longer ruled.  So, after their return from exile, the Jews eagerly awaited the coming of a Messiah who would fulfil the promises given to Abraham and David. Against this backdrop Matthew announces the ‘genesis’ of the one who would bnn'g to fruition these promises: .‘Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham’.

The genealogy climaxes with the mention of Joseph.  Tradition suggests that Mary, too, was of the House of David.  But since lineage was established by the male line, in order for Jesus to be proclaimed a true ‘son of David’ Joseph had formally to adopt him.  In verse 18, the word translated ‘birth’ is the same as that used in verse 1 (literally, ‘genesis’). The story that follows is not so much a birth story, but an extension of the genealogy which establishes Jesus’s rightful place in the messianic line.

‘At the foot of the cross Mary became our mother.  Just before he died, Jesus gave his mother to St John, and St John to his mother.  And so, all of us become her children.’  (St Theresa of Kolkata)

Chris

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Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath

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1 Corinthians 4:6–15 • Psalm 144(145): 17–21 • Luke 6:1–5

 

Cornfield with sun shining, ears of corn visible

Jesus didn’t come to challenge the status quo or upset the apple cart only a little — his wasn’t a slowly, slowly approach. He came to turn the world upside down, to usher in a radically new and different way of thinking. Between Jesus and the Pharisees there was a huge gulf about how they understood the Sabbath. The Pharisees, always eagle-eyed, spotted the disciples of Jesus walking through the grain fields and picking ears of grain. Harmless enough, you would imagine — rather like picking blackberries on a country walk! Yet the Pharisees jumped on this human and harmless activity as breaking the Sabbath and not keeping it holy (set apart).

The commandment to keep the Sabbath holy was a revelation of God’s mercy and liberation. The Sabbath was a day to rejoice in God’s gift of creation. The injunction to refrain from work was a protection ensuring that workers were not forced into slavery by being made to work seven days a week. To rest on the Sabbath is an opportunity to enjoy and celebrate the fruit of our labours and to acknowledge it all as God’s gift. 

The Sabbath reminds us that in the end we are not self-sufficient: we depend Upon God’s loving goodness and mercy; It is God who gives created things their capacity to grow and multiply. We cannot create anything out of nothing! We have been given the ability to harness to our advantage the natural resources which God has given us and on which we depend.

Jesus refers to an incident in the Old Testament when King David entered the temple and took the consecrated bread to feed his men, even though the law reserved it for the priests alone. The showbread was a symbol of the covenant between God and the people of Israel. Left in the presence of God, the bread revealed God’s desire to commune with his people. Normally consumed by the priests each week, on this one occasion it was used by David and his men at a time of need. By speaking of this incident Jesus is revealing the hidden reality that his own presence among his disciples brought to fulfilment what the showbread had symbolized: God communing with his people — making it a time to feast, not fast!

Blessed are thase called to the supper fo the Lamb who feed on the Bread of Life and who live not by the letter but by the Spirit of the law.

Chris

 
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Parable of the Workers – The Unmerited Grace of God

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Ezekiel 34:1–11 • Psalm 22(23) • Matthew 20:1–16

We do not earn salvation by our good deeds; rather we are saved by reliance on God’s grace.

In the Old Testament the Hebrew words hen and hesed are used to describe this generosity of God. Hen is the quality of benevolence of one who is highly placed turning to help one in need; hesed is steadfast love and spontaneous, faithful goodness in a relationship.  These words were later translated as ‘grace’.

God revealed himself to Moses as ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love...’ (Exod. 34:6).  The Jews gradually came to understand and rely on this gracious love of God: his goodness in choosing them from all other people to be his own, his gift of the land of Canaan – their whole history was proof to them. The prophets came to realise that the deepest demonstration of God’s grace was his promise of interior renewal, the gift of a new heart and the forgiveness of sins that he would accomplish by the Messiah.

Paul constantly preached the truth that we are saved not by our own righteousness but through faith in Jesus. ‘But God, who is rich in mercy, . . . even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ . . . For by grace you have been saved through faith . . . not because of works, lest any man should boast’ (Eph. 2:4–5, 8–9).

This attitude of rejoicing in the unmerited grace of God is in contrast with the jealousy and resentment of the workers in Jesus’s parable who have laboured throughout the day: though they have earned a just wage, they demand a share in the generosity of their employer (God) as a right. They forget the initial gratitude they had in finding employment.

Jesus is warning us not to fall into this self—righteous trap, thinking our own moral efforts are more important than God’s grace. As we remind ourselves of how much God has done for us, our hearts will begin to fill with gratitude. Then we shall not care so much who is last or first, or how long we have been working, because we shall know the Father’s faithful love for us.

‘Every day I will bless thee, and praise thy name for ever.’  (P5. 145:2)

Chris
 
 
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Have Mercy on me, O God

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Psalms 51 (NIV)
 

From: https://heathercking.org/2016/01/20/the-grace-god-gives-for-the-wearied-soul/

 

1 Have mercy on me, O God,

according to your unfailing love;

according to your great compassion

blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash away all my iniquity

and cleanse me from my sin.

 

3 For I know my transgressions,

and my sin is always before me.

4 Against you, you only, have I sinned

and done what is evil in your sight;

so you are right in your verdict

and justified when you judge.

5 Surely I was sinful at birth,

sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;

you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

 

7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

8 Let me hear joy and gladness;

let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

9 Hide your face from my sins

and blot out all my iniquity.

 

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,

and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

11 Do not cast me from your presence

or take your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation

and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

 

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,

so that sinners will turn back to you.

14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,

you who are God my Saviour,

and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

15 Open my lips, Lord,

and my mouth will declare your praise.

16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;

you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

17 My sacrifice, O God, is51:17 Or The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;

a broken and contrite heart

you, God, will not despise.

 

18 May it please you to prosper Zion,

to build up the walls of Jerusalem.

19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,

in burnt offerings offered whole;

then bulls will be offered on your altar.

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