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

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First Angelus of Pope Francis

On Sunday, Pope Francis took to the window of the Papal library to give a brief talk on the Sunday’s Scripture readings, and lead the faithful in the praying of the Angelus (he first appears in the video at the 5min mark):

His address was given in Italian and the below text was translated by the Vatican Information Service:

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning! After our first meeting last Wednesday, today I again give my greetings to you all! And I am happy to do it on Sunday, the Lord’s Day! This is beautiful and important for us Christians: to meet on Sunday, to greet one another, to talk as we are doing now, in the square. This square that, thanks to the media, takes on worldly dimensions.
 
In this Fifth Sunday of Lent, the Gospel presents us with the story of the adulterous woman whom Jesus saves from being condemned to death. It captures Jesus’ attitude: we do not hear words of contempt, we do not hear words of condemnation, but only words of love, of mercy, that invite us to conversion. ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more!’ Well, brothers and sisters! God’s face is that of a merciful father who is always patient. Have you thought about God’s patience, the patience that He has with each of us? That is His mercy. He always has patience, is always patient with us, understanding us, awaiting us, never tiring of forgiving us if we know how to return to him with a contrite heart. ‘Great is the Lord’s mercy’, says the Psalm.
 
In these days, I have been able to read a book by a cardinal—Cardinal Kasper, a talented theologian, a good theologian—on mercy. And it did me such good, that book, but don’t think that I’m publicizing the books of my cardinals. That is not the case! But it did me such good, so much good… Cardinal Kasper said that hearing the word mercy changes everything. It is the best thing that we can hear: it changes the world. A bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand God’s mercy well, this merciful Father who has such patience… Think of the prophet Isaiah who asserts that even if our sins were scarlet red, God’s love would make them white as snow. That is beautiful, [this aspect of mercy]. I remember when, just after I was made bishop, in 1992, the Madonna of Fatima came to Buenos Aires and a large Mass for the sick was celebrated. I went to hear confessions at that Mass. Near the end of the Mass I got up because I had to administer a confirmation. An over 80-year-old woman came up to me, humbly, very humbly. I asked her: “Nonna,” [grandmother]—because that’s how we address our elderly—“Nonna, you want to confess?” “Yes,” she told me. “But if you haven’t sinned…” And she said to me: “We have all sinned…” “But perhaps the Lord will not forgive you…” “The Lord forgives everyone,” she told me, with certainly. “But how do you know that, ma’am?” “If the Lord didn’t forgive everyone, the world would not exist.” I wanted to ask her: “Tell me, have you studied at the Gregorian [Pontifical University]?”, because that is the wisdom that the Holy Spirit gives: the inner wisdom of God’s mercy. Let us not forget this word: God never tires of forgiving us, never! ‘So, Father, what is the problem?’ Well, the problem is that we get tired, we don’t want to, we get tired of asking forgiveness. Let us never get tired. Let us never get tired. He is the loving Father who always forgives, who has that heart of mercy for all of us. And let us also learn to be merciful with everyone. Let us call upon the intercession of the Madonna who has held in her arms the Mercy of God made human.
 

Pope Francis then led the faithful in the Angelus prayer in Latin, and thanked the pilgrims for their show of support and asked again for our prayers.

Let us continue to offer our prayers for Pope Francis as he settles into his new responsibilities. And let us also not forget to keep Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in our prayers, that his new service as a man of prayer will be a great service for the whole Church.

At the Center of My Heart

What happens when we choose to love and it unravels? Perhaps we lie to ourselves that it’s better off that way. Despite the problems and obstacles we saw all along, we can’t help ourselves but to feel hurt.

The art of being human allows it. It is a sign that one is capable of love when she opens her heart and allows herself to be vulnerable to love. And vulnerable to pain.  To my young readers who might experience this, it is a devastating feeling and the only thing that will help is time. But it is to you that I want to point out that there is a love that never fades. A love that will never abandon or get tired of you.

It is there, waiting at the center of your heart. The song is in Italian, but the words are translated below. Allow this Love to be at the center of your heart, and your tears will turn to joy.

Try speaking these words to Jesus:

I desire to meet you alone in my heart
to find you there waiting to spend time with me.
Only point of reference I have for my life,
my only reason is you, my only support is You,
At the center of my heart there is only You.

Even if the heavens turning above are without peace,
there’s a point unmoving, that one star there.
The polar star is fixed, unique in all the heavens,
that polar star is You, the only sure star is You.
At the center of my heart there is only You.

All the broken turn to You, and have their being in You.
It is not important ‘how’, ‘where’ or ‘if’.

That You always shine at the center of my heart.
What’s significant is that it is You.
That which I will do will only be love.
My only support is You, the polar star is You.
At the center of my heart there is only You.

I desire to meet you alone in my heart
to find you there waiting to spend time with me.
Only point of reference I have for my life,
my only reason is you, my only support is You,
At the center of my heart there is only You.

“Know, then, that the LORD, your God, is God: the faithful God who keeps covenant mercy to the thousandth generation toward those who love him and keep his commandments.” – Deuteronomy 7:9

“For I know well the plans I have in mind for you — says the LORD — plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11

“Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever.” – Psalm 136:26

“…we boast in hope of the glory of God.Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us.” – Romans 5:2-5

An Ordinary Man Teaches Us Four Extraordinary Lessons

Today we gathered together to pay tribute to the life of our brother, Philip Andrew Doty. I wish to share the four lessons his life has taught us, as mentioned in his eulogy. God bless.

Anyone who knew Philip for even a brief span of time came to realize quickly his affinity for books. And, in my reflection my brother’s life, I realized, Phil’s life is a novel worth reading. Not because he has done extraordinary things…he is no superhero; nor has he made great contributions to better the society we live in. Though, he has done wonderful things, to be sure.

What make his life a compelling one are fundamental to any good novel: first, there are lessons the story teaches you about life…about love…about character and the human spirit; and second, when the last page is read and the book is closed, the reader has one or two unanswered questions that will only be answered by time.

Today, I would like to share my Cliff notes view into my brother’s life; a life worthy of celebration. And together, let us allow him be our teacher of some life lessons that will make us smile. I think in understanding this lasting legacy he has given to all of us, it may help us to wait patiently until the unanswered questions that linger on in our thoughts are answered.

Philip Andrew Doty was the fifth born of the Doty clan’s seven kids. He entered the world on October 3, 1964. I remember Philip as a quiet kid, reflective, as though he was always in the middle of working out a problem in his head. He was often lost in thought…and it has happened more than once that his doddling got him into trouble. Imagine my mother going shopping with seven kids in tow, telling us to stay close. She could turn around for a minute and Philip would be gone! It didn’t matter whether we were at a shopping center or amusement park, it happened more than a couple of times, Philip was lost. We’d usually find him after much worry sitting on the counter of lost and found eating an ice cream cone! I’m not even sure he was aware he was lost until someone asked him where his mother was. So comfortable was he with himself.

Part of his wondering off was due to his insatiable curiosity. He liked to know a lot of things. This made him a great companion, easy going, even in his childhood, whether playing street ball, hide and seek, building blocks. He enjoyed being with others; it didn’t matter much what the activity was, whether playing dolls with his sisters, or making purses (I talked him into doing); sports, just sitting in Church with dad entertaining himself with a set of Dad’s car keys – he seemed content to do or play what the other wanted, such was his nature. He had a real gift for making the person, whose company he kept, feel important. I’m sure each of you has specific examples where you have experienced this for yourself, where Philip taught our first life lesson: Enjoy your time with others. He so enjoyed the company of those he loved – friends and family alike.

He was always willing to play the other’s preferred game, or go where they wanted to go. To him, it didn’t matter; what did matter was, to do those things together. And he cherished these memories in his heart.

As Philip grew, he discovered a companion who would be a constant for him – books. Some of my earliest memories of Philip are of him with a book in hand, and, any moment he was not playing, he could be found reading. I’m sure as he grew and had a family of his own, there were discussions about books; in moving, how many boxes of books, where to put them, or store them… His inquisitiveness held no bounds and he would read anything, although he had his favorites, history, military stories, spirituality and language (how many times would we go somewhere, only to see Philip with a French or Spanish pocket dictionary make the trip too!).

His eclectic tendencies toward books were symbolic of his openness toward people. He didn’t mind that people were different, and it was the differences that drew him into other cultures and places. But it was not always that way. He told the story how, in his basic training he had gone along with the thinking of some of the men who talked badly about certain people. He had repeated some of these things in front of our parents and, when my mother confronted him about it:

“All the wisdom of a 19 year old…I think back on that moment as one of the most shameful and regretful things I’ve ever thought or said of another human being. And even more horrifying, did I ever contaminate anyone else with this poison I spread? I pray to God that I never did. The Book of Proverbs, 8:7 states, “My mouth utters truth; wickedness is abhorrent to my lips.” For sure, wickedness was indeed on my lips during that period of my life. I pray it will never find its way there again!”

Philip recalled this event, one that deeply shaped his understanding of who he was, and what he wanted to be. It made a strong impact on his future dealing with people who were different than himself. It is here, he sets the example for our second lesson of life: be slow to judge others, and quick to love them.  I remember many occasions where he would greet strangers with much respect, particularly those of other cultural backgrounds.

He had made a choice, which shows his great humility, to embrace others before rejecting them. I have never known Philip, following this brief year or two of his youth, to have anything bad to say about anyone. Although he was soft spoken, whenever a conversation turned to the worse, he would either change the subject, defend the person, or, if this weren’t possible, simply disappear like that small child losing himself in the supermarket. He took to heart the words of Proverbs, not to speak untruths of anyone. Many of us have witnessed this quality about Philip, which is one reason he was much admired by those who knew him.

While Philip was in the Navy, we always enjoyed his moments on leave when he would spend a few weeks at home. My Dad would always introduce Philip during these visits to some of the local women, hoping his son would fall in love with one of them. Susan was working at the Post Office in Nipomo at the time, and, when Philip came home on leave they would spend time together riding horses or visiting local sites. Philip knew he found his helpmate, his life-companion. Philip was a good husband, and accepted gratefully his growing family. He always felt blessed to have two children, Jacob and Lizzy, and was always concerned that they would grow to know right from wrong, and to be protected from a social environment that tries to take away our innocence while still very young. His obituary states his love for his family so well. It reads, “If Philip prefaced a statement with “my son” or “my daughter,” there was an unmistakable air of warmth and pride in his voice. All of us who knew him realized that everything he did, he did for or with his family.” He loved his family more than life itself.

He wrote about an event that happened, not long after he was diagnosed. He was trying to reconcile why God would allow this; not that he was not willing to be subjected to disease, but that he feared not being able to be there to help his children become strong adults. He happened to tune into a radio station that wasn’t his regular one. A father was being interviewed; whose five-year-old daughter had the same diagnosis as Philip:

“I came across a channel, which I had never listened to before, and they were speaking with the father of a five year old girl…The newscaster asked the man how a father deals with a terminally ill child, and he responded that it’s indescribable, and that he would give anything to trade places with is daughter. I thought to myself that I could not imagine what this poor father lives with every day, and that I was with him in that I would happily take on a disease like this to spare my wife or kids.”

Philip’s love for his family was that way. He loved deeply, and did all he thought best to protect what he loved most. This our third lesson of life from Philip – a lesson of sacrificial love. To love at all costs. I am certain that you, Susan, Jacob and Lizzy, know how much Philip, as a husband and father loved you. I also know that one of his deepest prayers, was that God will finish the work he allowed Philip to begin. To protect and care for you, and love you even more than Philip could do himself.

Philip wrote in his reflection about the little girl and her father that was willing to changes places, that he was ‘willing to take this bullet for the team.’ This is the greatest love that can only be outdone by the sacrificial love of God himself who let his only begotten Son – Jesus – die on the Cross for us.

This brings us to the last of Philip’s lessons for us, one that can only be known and fulfilled completely  between him and God, but it is worth exploring for us, who might be going through the same struggle. The struggle to understand the role of faith and God.

Phil thought a lot about God throughout his life. He wrote of his fond memories of going to church as a child, his love of the songs and ritual. He intuitively knew there was a Creative Force active in his life, and tried in many ways to make sense of what it was. He was baptized and raised Catholic, and in his teenage years, like so many do, he wondered away from the religion of his youth, not rejecting God, but uncertain of the expression that resonated in him. In his travels while serving our Country – which he loved dearly – he encountered many cultures and religions. In Japan, he was introduced to Buddhism; in Turkey he learned about Islam. And, he reasoned that there were a lot of similarities between the major religions of the world. Something kept him from embracing any of them fully. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe in God – he most surely did.

A turning point for him was his time stationed in Turkey. He had the opportunity to study the Bible and to take a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He of course, being a lover of history enjoyed the pilgrimage immensely due to the historical significance alone. He accepted anew Jesus as his Lord and Savior in the waters of the Jordan. It lead to his study the Old Testament, reasoning:

“I really felt connected to this Man (Jesus), and wanted to know more about what he thought and taught. Maybe I should look back at what Jesus taught in the Old Testament, rather than focus on the texts many decades to thousands of years after the Messiah’s time on earth.”

When he and Susan returned to the States, and Philip was at the Monterrey language academy, he began to study more in earnest the Hebrew Scriptures and the people of Israel.  He took a class, the “Introduction to Judaism”, and Philip shared:

“At this point I was still sitting on the post, unsure of whether this man named Jesus was the Son of God…for a religious Jew, the Hebrew Scriptures that he believed and trusted his faith in God…for us Christians, and the concept of Heaven and Hell, redemption, and the fight for our eternal souls, it seemed much more than just studying what we know of the New Testament. There had to be so much more involved. So, I continued to search.”

He was drawn to Judaism. He enjoyed the service, the music, the lessons. He liked the familiarity of “breaking bread and wine at the conclusion of Friday night services…Very enjoyable and spiritual time for me.”

He found his home in Judaism, and saw himself “a Jew in heart if not by Jewish law.” He concludes his search for faith, reasoning, “…above all, I believe absolutely in our Creator, who made the entire universe, and all of the laws of nature that our Creator established. I have complete faith in His wisdom, His reasoning of life and death, and that I do not know…or can even remotely conceive what God really has planned. I know that we all live and die, and that death is nothing to fear. And that only our Creator knows when that time comes.”

One of his favorite books was this one (an interlinear Hebrew-English Old Testament). He had a large print edition that he read regularly, and this smaller copy. When I last saw Philip, he handed this Bible to me and pointed to the index card, saying, “This is the most important part of the whole scriptures for me.” When I opened to the page, it was marked Job 42:1-6, which comes near the end of Job’s trials. It reads:

Job said in reply to the Lord, “I know that you can do everything. that nothing you propose is impossible for You. Who is this who obscures counsel without knowledge? Indeed, I spoke without understanding of things beyond me, which I did not know. Hear now, and I will speak; I will ask, and You will inform me. I had heard You with my ears, But now I see You with my eyes; therefore, I recant and relent, being but dust and ashes.”

This is our fourth lesson of life: Philip, in the midst of his suffering, his losing ‘everything’, handed all of it back to God, in trust. He understood that the Creator – God – is a God of Mercy. In his own confusion of faith, his struggle to reconcile Christianity with Judaism, he still believed that this too, God in his greatness will understand.

If he was standing with us here now, Philip would be able to teach us so much about the journey each of us must make to discover the Truth of God according to our capacity. He had no doubt that God would be waiting for him at the end. This is our final lesson of life – to be like Philip, and search out the meaning of our own relationship with our Creator.

Philip, our Son, brother, husband, father, coworker, our friend. We thank God that we were honored to share this first volume of your life; that by knowing you, we have become better human beings, and may we always honor your memory by following your example, until that Glorious day when we will again embrace and laugh, with no more pain; only perfect happiness and love.

May you rest in God, my brother, may his unending light shine upon you. May you rest in peace. Amen.

The Wonder of It – 3 minute retreat

Having a busy day? Perhaps you need a moment of refreshment at the well of God’s handiwork:

___

“Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these…
Do you not know or have you not heard?
The LORD is the eternal God, creator of the ends of the earth.”

Isaiah 40:26,28

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h/t: Elizabeth Hillgrove, on Twitter.

Tears before God

“My friends scorn me as my eyes pour forth tears before God.” Job 16:20

Such are the words of the suffering soul – the one who has run out of words to describe his pain.  All that is left are tears and sobs of grief that reached the ears of a cloistered Sister:

“I was praying in the chapel when it began: the sobs of someone in need, suffering and clinging to God. They pierce my heart and I know they pierce God’s heart.”

You will want to read the rest of the piece from the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters.

The book of Job narrates the struggles of a man, Job, who had experienced losing everything, even his health. His friends turned on him and cursed him, and endured their tempting him to turn from God. All that Job had left was to wait for the Lord in his tears.

What is our response when we encounter someone going through a tough time? How do we accompany him? The story by the Sisters above goes on to speak of the compassion that one learns through their own suffering. It is true, when we have experienced certain hurts, we tend to be more gentle with others going through similar circumstances. May the Lord help us to enlarge our hearts, too, to find compassion when one we meet is downtrodden.

___Prayer for the Virtue of Compassion___

Compassionate and merciful Jesus,

My heart longs for Your perfection.

Not only do You share in my sufferings,

You have voluntarily accepted them.

Your proficiency at perceiving my soul,

is compared to reading large fonts in a book:

Nothing is hidden from Your panorama!

Your merciful nature knows my intentions.

Considering my continuous weaknesses,

You are dedicated to the cause of my salvation.

Jesus, You are most kind and forgiving:

You are the proven Lord of compassion!