Awake from Your Sleep

…you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light… (Romans 13:11-12, RSV).

These are the words proclaimed in the second reading this first Sunday of Advent. It can be broken down into six stand-alone statements:

  • Awake from your sleep! (Ready yourself – the time for resting is over)
  • Salvation is near. (The beginnings of salvation – at baptism – is behind you; it is closer at hand than when you began)
  • The night is gone. (The time for sleeping – the night, normally – is no more. The night is also traditionally a time for no-good-doers to come out to do their no-good-deeds. Without the night, their efforts are a lot more difficult)
  • The day is at hand. (The day is traditionally a time for hard work. Each day is new, and is like a new beginning)
  • Cast off the works of darkness. (In the Eastern Rites, the one to be baptized turns from the west (the setting sun) to the east (the rising sun – a symbol of Christ). This turning is a symbolic turning from evil/darkness to the goodness/light of Christ.
  • Put on the armor of light. (Get ready for battle)

For each of these statements, you may want to consider them as small admonitions from Saint Paul to you. We may hear him urging us, shaking us out of our complacency to an attitude of vigilance.

Are you vigilant in your prayer life? Advent is a time to take stock of our spiritual life, to move from our lethargy to actively engaging in conversation with God. It is human nature to think there is endless time. We put things off, and yet we are called in the reading of Saint Paul to the Romans to be ready.

Are you ready for the Day that Comes? Put on your armor of God’s light! The time is now.

For some wonderful insights:

A Recipe for Readiness, by Msgr. Charles Pope

Pope Francis calls us to ‘Enlarge our Horizons’

Bishop Barron discusses ‘The Mountain of the Lord’

May your Advent be blessed!

A Calloused Heart?

A friend of mine has the habit of finding Bibles. He doesn’t find them in second-hand shops or antique stores, but on the highways of Northern California. For as long as I’ve known him, more than 20 years, he has had a mission of Bible finding that reads at times like a new ‘Highway to Heaven’ series. This week he found Bible #508 (that is not a type-o). And the story touched me profoundly and I thought you might enjoy it too (with his permission of course):

Bible 508 (#1 for 2014), a Promise Keepers Men’s Study Bible, New International Version was discovered at 10:43 A.M. Tuesday, January 28th, 2014.  It was located on Hwy. 99 (S), Fresno, CA.

A co-worker, Steve and I were enroute to a business meeting in Lindsay, CA.  Just prior to the discovery, Steve, who is involved in a Twelve Step Recovery program was sharing, that Monday night was his Birthday night.  He was celebrating 29 years in the program.   He recounted, that when his 29 years was announced, people began to clap.  He politely stopped them.

Steve’s words:

“Thank you, however, I must ask you to give credit where credit is due? I have a tremendous ego, I’m afraid, if you clap for me I will take credit for being here before you tonight. It is God that got me here. God has given me the eyes to see and the mind to know the benefits of this program. You need to give God the credit.”

I was so impressed with Steve’s humility,  that I asked him to repeat his words.

Shortly, thereafter,  I noticed a book lying next to the center cement highway abutment.  It seemed a bit larger, than the books I’m accustomed to seeing. I would say it was about the size of two building bricks.

Upon first glance I had a knowingness that it was a Bible.  Got it!  I immediately took the next exit.  I moved so quickly and without notice, that it scared Steve.

“What are you doing”, he pensively blurted out.

“I think that I just found a Bible”, was my response.

I quietly prayed my usual pre-discovery “hedge of protection” prayer.  “Lord, please clear the way and let no one be injured as I go to retrieve this Bible.”

The pages of the Book were blowing back and forth, as a result of the back draft caused by the passing traffic.

I picked up the Bible.  Yes, I had just found Bible 508.  It was open to the 13th Chapter of Matthew.  The Parable of the Sower.  I put my thumb on the center of the page next to the editor’s teaching message.  ETERNAL INVESTMENT – RETURNS – GUARANTEED.

I would later discover that the teaching discussed how one needs to prepare the soil of their heart, so that the Word of God (seeds) finds fertile soil.  This in turn will yield  a massive spiritual harvest in your life.  How does one do this?  Follow the example of the farmer.  Good soil requires; planning, nurturing, cultivating and a good deal of effort.  One needs to set aside time daily to examine his heart.  Weed out every; thought, word, deed and act that chokes out the effectiveness of God in your life.  Cultivate ones heart through prayer.  Water it  by meditating on God’s the purpose for your life.   A heart prepared in this manner will allow the Word of God to take root, thus enabling them to receive an abundant harvest.   (Teaching paraphrased)   

I handed the prize to Steve.  Without hesitation I blurted out, “Here is your message!”  For a brief moment I had second thoughts.  I had no idea what was to be revealed.  Back in the car, we were off to our meeting.

Steve was overjoyed to be part of the discovery.  Over the years he has heard stories of what it feels like to partake in a Bible find, however, 2nd hand stories never adequately describe the reality of the firsthand experience.

“Read it Steve!”

“Me?”

“Yes, God has a message for you!”  The scriptures reference, Jesus speaking to His disciples.

(14b) You will be ever hearing but never understanding, You will be ever seeing  but never perceiving.  For this people’s hearts has become calloused; …

“Stop that’s not it!   You are not calloused, if anything….!”

Steve began again, “(16) But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.  (17) For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”

The first words out of Steve’s mouth, “that exactly what I said last night!  God has given me the eyes to see and ears to hear the value of this program…”  I would liken the reverence in Steve’s voice akin to the awe one might have in witnessing the birth of one’s first child!

We just looked at each other for a moment.  Words cannot adequately describe Steve’s excitement, joy, exhilaration.  He almost cried.

I told Steve, “the Holy Spirit has just given you a true Birthday present.  He has acknowledged your humility and profession of faith.  Praise God!”

If I could have used the energy, that was in my car at that very moment,  I could have driven to New York and back without refueling.  I thought we were going to a business meeting.  The Holy Spirit had planned a Birthday celebration.

The question now comes to you and I.  What is Jesus saying?

“Will you be ever hearing but never understanding?  Will you be seeing but never perceiving?  Has your heart become calloused? This is an invitation from Christ Himself.  All we have to do is ask!  He will give us the eyes to see, the ears to hear and the mind to comprehend the blessing He has in store.

God bless,

The Highway Bibleman

Love’s Way Out

With a new year before us, I’m starting my personal challenge to read through the Bible in the year, and so i will be posting from time to time from my personal reflections (I would love to post daily, if God wants, but He will have to provide the time!). So, here are some thoughts on Day Two.

Today, reading from Genesis, Chapter 3:

Now the snake was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the LORD God had made. He asked the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat from any of the trees in the garden’ The woman answered the snake: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, or else you will die.’”  But the snake said to the woman: “You certainly will not die! God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil.” 

The woman saw that the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eyes, and the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

When they heard the sound of the LORD God walking about in the garden at the breezy time of the day, the man and his wife hid themselves from the LORD God among the trees of the garden….

My first thought in reading this passage was, what bliss it must have been, to able to ‘hear the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden’. Imagine turning back time and sitting in the garden, just to hear the Lord walking… it is what every human heart wants but doesn’t know it is missing that incredibly intimate relationship with their Creator. To be able to walk with God, talk with God, ask questions about why the sky is blue and the why the moon’s shape waxed and waned. To watch God in His creative work. To see God’s delight in being with us, His creation. But then this perfect relationship and harmony came to an end.

There was the Serpent, the Tree, and the Woman.  What if that tree wasn’t there? Would sin have been avoided? Could God have prevented this disaster of separation from His creation?  Of course God could have avoided the very messy consequences of that unfortunate encounter. Then, why did He allow it? Everything was perfect, except …

If Eve didn’t have a way out of loving God, could she have been free to fully love Him? Would there have been a capacity for love at all if God did not allow the Tree, and the Serpent for that matter, to coexist with her and Adam in the Garden?

God gave them abundance in His love. In the first creation story, God said:

“See, I give you every seed bearing plant all over the earth and every tree that has seed bearing fruit on it to be your food” (Gen. 1:29).

The second creation story spells out God’s condition:

“You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and bad. From that tree you shall not eat; the moment you at from it you are surely doomed to die” (Gen. 2:16-17).

They had the world of food to choose from as God’s expression of His love. And because of His love, they were given a way out of His love, if they so chose to not love Him in return. What does this teach us about our relationship with God, and with one another for that matter?

Love must be free to be received and to be given. Without the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad, the woman could not express her love for her Creator through obedience. She would have been no better off than a robot or puppet unable to exercise her conscience. Everything would have been constructed for her.

And human beings would not have known love.

AdamandEve

The Word and Our Hearts

Word of God“Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12

“For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down And do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, Giving seed to him who sows and bread to him who eats, So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; It shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” – Isaiah 55:10-11

***

The Word. It is always effective, ready to penetrate the hardened heart as easily as a well-tuned chain saw slices into heart of a tree, to reveal its age and history. So God’s word has the power to divide our being between what the world tries to define us as, and that which we truly are in our call to holiness in the image of our Maker. Just as God knows the core of the tree before it is revealed, so He understands fully our hearts. Nothing is concealed from His gaze.

It is for our sake that sometimes in taking up the Word of God, our hearts are pierced. The Good Physician opens the wound to free us from the poison of our lives, and heal us, making us ready containers for His Spirit to dwell. Sometimes, when we read or listen to the Word of God, it doesn’t seem to penetrate anything; it seems to be just words. But just as the passage from Isaiah claims, the Word ‘shall not return to God void, but shall do his will, achieving the end for which it is sent.’ Over time, and perseverance, we begin to see the workings of the Word in our lives.

Saint Teresa of Avila is very encouraging on this point. She would tell her Sisters, when they find themselves confronted by an obstacle – whether it be a person, an attitude, a sin – to simply ask God to remove it. And keep asking until He does.

Perhaps there is an obstacle that we are not aware of? Then let us ask God to reveal it. Naming our obstacles takes away any power they may have over us, in the same way that confronting our vices makes it possible for us to avoid their occasions and build resistance to them.

The Word, by picking it up daily,  is consenting to have God work in our lives. And, little by little, it will cleanse and purify our hearts to desire God more and more, giving us strength to endure. In this way, the Word of God will ‘achieve the end for which it was sent’.