Sunday, August 24, 2014

God At Work

August 24, 2014 –– 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 22:19-23 / Romans 11:33-36 / Matthew 16:13-20
God At Work

Peter’s profound declaration about Jesus and the response of Jesus to Peter is one of the bedrock Scriptures of Catholicism. We hear this and it seems so apparent. Yet there are devout Christians who read and hear this and do not see it. I was one of them for almost fifty years of a dedicated faith life. When I finally “saw it”, it was as if someone gave me a major missing piece to a puzzle. After years of trying to be sure I was interpreting the Bible properly and faithfully proclaiming Christian Truth, I found relief in this text about the Church because it released me from trying to figure out all the things of God within my own understanding. Jesus has provided a protected authority.

On the other hand, being overly familiar with a text––as most practicing Catholics are with this Gospel––can limit one’s understanding. Even as I found a new “release” in these words, it is also possible for some people to hear this with a “restriction” from seeing beyond one basic truth. There is more here than Jesus founding the Church and establishing Petrine primacy.

This is not some isolated incident. It does not stand alone. It is not meant to be lifted out of its scriptural setting and isolated into one of several key dogmas. As we read and hear Scripture, we are being pulled into the activity of God who is at work for all that is right and good and true. This is part of God at work for our salvation. I say “part” because God was at work before this and he has been at work since. God is at work right now for our salvation!

God was at work when Isaiah was writing. There had been unfaithfulness in Israel. God’s desire for his people had been corrupted. Instead of being a model to the nations of who God is, Israel had become like the pagan nations around them. But in the words of St Paul in last week’s Epistle, the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. God never abandons his purpose to have a people who are distinctively his, and belonging to God “distinctively” means being holy––“different, for Jesus’ sake”. There comes a point where God says Enough! to the Shebnas who profane his name; God raises up people like Eliakim, people who honor the ways of God.

Think about this: God at work means, among other things, that he uses real people. Eliakim was a man, like us, who had a heart for God. Peter was a man––very much a regular human person with idiosyncrasies and weaknesses just like we have––but Jesus set him apart in a very special way for the work God is doing to save us.

In last week’s homily I differentiated between the big-picture––macro––activity of God and the small, detailed––micro––ways that God works in individual people. Peter was selected for a huge role in the big plan of God. The scope of the Church is beyond any one person’s comprehension, yet Peter was indeed a single individual. Jesus responded to Peter on the basis of who he was as one person. The same can be said today of Pope Francis. There is excitement and a palatable Spirit of Life in Pope Francis because he opens himself to Jesus.

Now, just because the “big” and the “personal” come together so demonstrably in people like Eliakim and St Peter and Pope Francis does not mean the same dynamic does not happen in people like you and me. We may not have recognition nor high visibility in the Church at large, but you and I can be personally so plugged into the big activity of God at work that we give witness to what is right and true and good within our own circles. When we confess with personal conviction that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, as Peter did, we get pulled into the same saving scope of God at work that has marked all the people of God through centuries and millennia. Each one of us can model holiness: being different for Jesus’ sake.

As we gather week by week in the Church that Jesus inaugurated with Peter, you and I––as individual persons––are participating in what it means––and has meant through the ages––that God is at work for our salvation. It is so intimate and at the same time so immense that we cannot fully comprehend it. All we can do is worship…. to bow our minds and hearts before the God who can work a salvation big enough for the whole world––truly a catholic salvation, and at the same time meet each one of us at the point of our personal need. Do you see it? God is at work in the Church founded by Peter; God is at work in you as you give yourself to him

What is your response to our Lord? How can we express such grandeur? The Holy Spirit has given us words through the Apostle:

O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways! "For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” "Or who has given the Lord anything that he may be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever. Amen.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Macro and Micro Salvation

August 17, 2014 –– 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 56:1, 6-7 / Romans 11:13-15, 29-32 / Matthew 15:21-28
Macro and Micro Salvation

We frequently hear the words macro and micro in a technological context of some kind, but today’s Gospel brings these two concepts into a biblical and theological focus. Just to be clear, “macro” refers to the largest scale and “micro” to the smallest scale.

If you think about it, both of these are the object of God’s concern in the Scriptures. The Psalmist juxtaposes the two when he writes: When I look at the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have established; what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him little less than God, and you crown him with glory and honor (8:3-5). From the macro heavens to the micro individual person, God is intricately involved.

It is important to see this distinction when we turn our attention to salvation. Sometimes the Scriptures address macro salvation––the big picture. Sometimes the focus is more on micro salvation––the individual person. In the first reading, the Lord says My salvation is about to come. This has the macro perspective of a panoramic scope. Here we are reminded that God has been at work in what we call Salvation History for longer than we can comprehend. Salvation is a BIG thing, and it belongs to God. I hope you know the comfort of a salvation that is bigger than you are. While we do have a response to make, salvation is something God has initiated. It is God himself who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1Tim 2:4).

Yet God has created us with the privilege (and responsibility) of true choice. It takes time and considerable drama for God both to save us and at the same time honor human decisions. God does not force our personal salvation, and he even allows us to choose evil (and how well we should know that!).

The Romans reading is dealing with the huge issue of salvation among Jews and non-Jews. The details of God’s promises and purposes were first revealed and offered through Abraham and his physical descendants. Those promises are still important. St Paul affirms that the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. This is macro––big picture––salvation. It does not mean, though, on the micro level, that every single Jewish person is going to embrace the promises of God.

It is important to grasp these two perspectives when we come to today’s Gospel story. It appears that Jesus is totally out of character––seemingly cold and non-compassionate. He refuses to answer the woman’s cry. Then, he tells her his mission is only to Israelites. Finally, he implies she is a “dog” (which was an epithet commonly used back then for non-Israelites). Is this our loving Savior?

Yes. First, he was testing her. (How many of us get what we ask of the Lord after the first prayer?!) Second, Jesus is keeping his primary mission in focus. In order to bring salvation to a single Canaanite woman––or you and me––he must first accomplish that for which he was sent: to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. In other words, Jesus was in the world first of all to work salvation on the macro level in the unfolding plan of God––his death and resurrection for the salvation of the whole world.

But it was not all of one and none of the other. In other words, Jesus modeled micro salvation (mercy for the individual) even as he did everything necessary for macro salvation (unleashing righteousness for all people). If you think about it, it could be no other way: the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. God’s salvation works on the micro level because it has been secured on the macro level. And because God has chosen on the macro level to save, it means that you and I––on the micro level––can have confidence in the mercy and grace of God.

We see a great picture of this in the Canaanite woman. She believed Jesus was Lord––the Son of David sent to bring salvation. Because she believed this, this woman would not be deterred. She was desperate. Any parent who has agonized over the need of a child understands. Somehow this mother was able to understand: “Jesus, as you fulfill your destiny as Savior of the world, let some of that grace spill over right now on my need.” In the big picture of salvation, you and I are part of the detail. The huge grace of God is for little ol’ you and me.

Are you discouraged? Do you sometimes wonder if God knows you are here? Is your guilt or pain or bewilderment so big that you feel swallowed up? I repeat something from last time: Jesus knows that when we are vulnerable we are most open to God. Sometimes a hard thing is the very thing that gets us beyond our own agenda so that we can receive the grace we need.

In the big sweeping work of God––his macro salvation––there is a place for each one of us. Personal faith draws us into God’s great salvation on the micro level. What is man that you are mindful of him?  ….you crown him with glory and honor. In the big plan of God, there is a place for you.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Jesus Christ Is The Son Of God

August 10, 2014 –– 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 14:22–33
Jesus Christ Is The Son Of God

The Gospels give us stories about Jesus with a single underlying conviction: Jesus Christ is the Son of God. That same conviction is what makes a Christian a Christian; it is what makes the Church the Church. The fundamental reason for preaching is this same underlying conviction: Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

Yet we see that Jesus gets alone with the Father in order to pray. If the Son of God needed to make time for prayer, then what of you and me? I need to do better at creating time to pray. It was possibly toward 9:00pm by the time Jesus made his way into the hills alone to pray after a long day with the people. Jesus was making his way to the disciples during the fourth watch of the night––about 3:00am, so Jesus had been praying for maybe six hours. That kind of prayer is consistent with many of the great saints of Christian history. This challenges all of us in our prayer life. To be like Jesus, we need to be going deeper and deeper in prayer.

Another thing worth noticing here is that the disciples had gone out into the night and onto that big lake in obedience to Jesus (he made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead). At the risk of pointing out the obvious, note that obeying Jesus did not mean no problems for the disciples. In fact, they were fighting an angry sea precisely because they had obeyed Jesus and gone out in the boat. And since they had departed before Jesus dismissed the crowd and left to pray, they had been fighting the sea for maybe 10-12 hours. It seems that Jesus had even set them up. The disciples often fell into disasters whenever Jesus was absent, and Jesus knows that when we are vulnerable we are most open to God. I try to remember that when my stress levels seems at maximum level.

There is so much in one simple story from the Gospels. Again we find Peter in the limelight, another emphasis on his primacy among the original disciples. Undoubtedly, though, the emphasis is found in the response of all the disciples as they witness an incident that went beyond any natural understanding. A modern mindset wants to dismiss Jesus walking on water as an example of creative symbolism or pious legend. The disciples got the point: Truly you are the Son of God. The only way any of this makes sense is to remember that Jesus is God. This has something to say to us on several levels.

First, we need to face head-on this claim of the Gospels and the Church: Jesus Christ is the Son of God. We “say” it every time we confess the Creed, but do we believe it? As we live the routines of day by day, are our lives different because of an overwhelming conviction that Jesus Christ is the Son of God? That is the standard of Christian Faith for everyone who owns the name of Jesus.

A minister to young adults wanted to find out why so many young Christians lose their faith in college. He did this by actually asking them. One of the students said, “Christianity is something that if you really believed it, it would change your life and you would want to change the lives of others. I haven’t seen too much of that.” Again, are we living lives that show that we actually believe what we say we believe?

Yet, to be honest with the inherent weakness of our humanity in this broken world, we can often feel too much like the disciples here––alone and scared and not able to figure out the circumstances which engulf us. This story should help encourage us, though, because if we are where Jesus has told us to be, we can have confidence even if the storm is kicking and we are struggling. He knows where we are. And if his response to our trouble scares us to death, (“get out of the boat and come to me”) let's also try to remember that Jesus is repeatedly allowing us to be in situations so we can see his glory. But if we can't handle it yet, he's still not going to abandon us. His first words to the disciples were to identify himself and say, Do not be afraid.

Again, the only way any of this makes sense is to remember that Jesus, the Son of God, gives himself to us. His Spirit lives in all who believe in him, and he is wanting to extend his very life through us. To do that, we have to be open to this truth, which is why we have the Church to teach us. This is why there is preaching. But we also need to face our personal role in having a spiritual life. Remember that Jesus spent time with the Father. We all need to be growing in prayer, and we learn to pray by praying.

As Christians, we are to have a single basic focus. Above everything else––undergirding and surrounding all that we are and do––Jesus Christ is the Son of God. This is the center of everything else that happens in what we call "everyday life.” Jesus wants us to “step out” and meet him in all the circumstances of our lives. 

Are you asking Jesus to be Lord of your everyday life? Do you truly believe that the Son of God wants to live in and through you?  Jesus wants to meet us in our turbulence. He wants us to believe the confession of those first disciples: Truly you are the Son of God.

The one thing this requires is making a choice––a choice that turns into a lifetime of ongoing response. You are invited to give an unqualified yes in your life to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He came into our world for that very reason. So in your own storms (and we all have them), invite Jesus to be Lord of all your days.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Glory Invades the Grub World

Wednesday: August 6, 2014 –– 18th Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 17:1–9
The Transfiguration––Glory Invades the Grub World

I love the Feast of the Transfiguration. It is meant to give us who live in this spiritually impaired world a brief glimpse of reality. This past weekend I used an illustration that I am repeating because it gives a context to extend the significance of the Transfiguration.

Imagine a colony of grubs living on the bottom of a swamp. And every once in a while, one of these grubs is inclined to climb a leaf stem to the surface. Then he disappears above the surface and never returns. All the grubs wonder why this is so and what it must be like up there, so they counsel among themselves and agree that the next one who goes up will come back and tell the others. Not long after that, one of the grubs feels the urge and climbs that leaf stem and goes out above the surface onto a lily pad. And there in the warmth of the sun, he falls asleep. While he sleeps, the carapace of the tiny creature breaks open, and out of the inside of the grub comes a magnificent dragonfly with beautiful, wide, rainbow-hued, iridescent wings. And he spreads those wings and flies, soaring out over those waters. But then he remembers the commitment he has made to those behind, yet now he knows he cannot return. They would not recognize him in the first place, and beyond that, he could not live again in such a place. But one thought is his that takes away all the distress: they, too, shall climb the stem, and they, too, shall know the glory (Bruce Thielemann, Christus Imperator).

How does this relate to the Transfiguration? Just this: Jesus, as God-Man, did the seemingly impossible because he left the realm of glory to become a “grub” –– like us, in our spiritually grub-like existence––to give us a reason for hope. In the Transfiguration Jesus was enveloped for a brief moment in his “dragonfly” glory so his grub-like disciples (all the way down to us today) can hope there is something beyond this broken world we see with our natural eyes. And the reason the Transfiguration gives a wonderful picture of reality is because Jesus brought that brief moment to full reality in his Resurrection and Ascension. On this Feast of the Transfiguration, behold the glory of the Son of Man, and know that it is the destiny of all who belong to him!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Faith and Obedience

August 3, 2014 –– 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 14:13–21
Faith and Obedience

This is the only miracle story from Jesus' Galilean ministry that is included in all four Gospels. It must have been considered very important if Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all included it. The common emphasis in the Church is Eucharistic, and that is of utmost importance, but let’s think of other implications.

The Gospel writers are called Evangelists, which tells us their purpose. They wanted to share the truth about Jesus. The writers wanted to tell enough about Jesus so people would see his uniqueness and believe. This particular miracle was important because so many people were witnesses. This wasn't something Jesus did in a corner. It wasn't limited to the disciples or one sick person or even a family. There were well over 5000 people who took part in a meal in which there were no preparations. In this feeding of several thousand, Jesus had five loaves of bread and two fish, yet everyone was satisfied and there were twelve baskets left over. It's no wonder this story is in the Gospels.

We grow up with the stories and take Jesus for granted. We can easily hear the stories without thinking about them. We accept the fact that the appearance of Jesus Christ in our world divided history, but we so easily miss the wonder. We hear all the canned answers without having first been gripped by the questions. Who is this who can feed over 5000 people with five loaves and two fish?

Those of us who know something of the wonder and power of a transformed life know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. We know what it is to pass from death to life in our souls and to have the joy of a relationship with Jesus that comes out of the assurance of sins forgiven. And the reason Jesus has the power to forgive our sins and transform our lives is the same reason he was able to feed 5000 people with five loaves and two fish: he is the Son of God.

But that's only the first level in what a miracle story from Jesus' life can mean. For Christians, the miracle stories of Jesus function on other levels. In these stories we can learn the character of Jesus and we can see issues of faith for those who would be his disciples. How does faith work in this world? What kind of response does Jesus expect of me? Those are things we can see in this feeding of the five thousand.

We should find it reasonable to expect that Jesus will ask things of us that might seem foolish to non-Christians. There's a little song from my past which describes this kind of response:

Faith, mighty Faith, the promise sees
 And looks to God alone;
Laughs at impossibilities,
 And cries, "It shall be done."

Because Jesus is God's Son, because he can do the seemingly impossible, and because we have experienced his power through salvation, we can believe God for hard things.

Can you imagine how the disciples felt when Jesus told them to have the people sit down and prepare to eat? Despite their own experience seeing Jesus do amazing things, it seems the disciples were not expecting a miracle here. The vast throng of people needed to eat, and they knew there was no food apart from the five loaves and two fish. They were probably wondering how they were going to get out of this one.

Biographies of great Christian people testify to seemingly impossible situations. We are always being challenged to believe that God can still do the seemingly impossible today. This goes deep into the attitude of our hearts. God wants people to obey his Son just like those disciples did––willing to appear foolish if that's what obedience and faith require.

There is always something new God wants to do to stretch our faith. He wants to stretch our personal faith. He wants to stretch our faith as a congregation. But he will not multiply our loaves and fish until we step out in faith and tell the multitude to sit down. We will not grow a parish modeling kingdom values if we wait until all the money can be counted ahead of time. We will not have the mark of the kingdom's power and blessing on us if we do not step out expecting God to do something big.

God has already blessed our congregation in many ways, but faithfulness does not have a plateau. We are projecting a capital project. We also have strategic planning to do with structure, programming and staff. Those things are under way now, but our pastor is out of commission for at least two months. We need to keep an attitude of momentum with a discernment of kingdom values.

It takes time and money beyond what natural thinking can conceive, but our task as disciples of Jesus is to believe that our Lord is able for any situation that is consistent with our calling as Christians and the Church. One way to read this miracle story, then, invites Christian disciples today to be like the disciples of long ago––to step out in obedience just because Jesus is who he is. By calling ourselves Christians we are saying that Jesus is everything these Gospel writers say he is. What remains is to step out on that faith and believe that Jesus will show the power of his kingdom through our faith and obedience... to believe that we can have a part in something not too unlike feeding 5000 people.

Are you expecting God to do great things in your life? Are you expecting him to do great things through this congregation? It means, first, actively believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. It means being obedient to the one we call Lord. There are still hungry people waiting on Jesus' disciples, only this time it's a hunger of the soul, and this time the disciples are you and me.  But... it's the same Jesus, and he's with us today.

Deep Beyond Our Understanding

August 3, 2014 –– 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Romans 8:35, 37–39
Going Deep Beyond Our Understanding

We often feel the pain of hard things we do not understand. Our world is full of these things, and some of them come too close to every one of us. For those who are willing to expend the effort of understanding, the eighth chapter of St Paul’s letter to the Romans offers a wonderful perspective that gives, not easy answers, but a reasonable hope as we live in a hard world. Someone has said, “God permits what he hates in order to accomplish what he loves.” This raises the ongoing question: Why hard things?.... The inspired Apostle tilts the focus of one answer this way: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? (v35). Even hard things are not beyond the love of God.

Hard things can certainly unsettle us, but when we focus too much on the hard things instead of the big picture that God gives through the Scriptures and in the Church―the “seen” rather than the perspective of the “unseen” (2Cor 4:18)―we find ourselves perplexed with questions we cannot answer. Remember the humble confession in v26: we do not know how to pray.... When we focus too much on this world (that is not our final home), we can quickly find ourselves drowning in situations where “we do not know.”

What do we do when we “do not know?” Here is yet another answer: We are supposed to go deeper. We are to dive into the sure things God has said and done. This takes us to more foundational questions, and here we get answers in this wonderful eighth chapter of Romans:

If God is for us, who can be against us? (v31)
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all―how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (v32)
Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies (v33).
Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died―more than that, who was raised to life―is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us (v34).

These answers require reflection. At the same time, they are given with a force that is apparent to anyone who believes that God has acted for our salvation. Jesus himself is praying for us right now!

Hold onto this: God is going to accomplish his purpose! What is that purpose? It is to have, through his Son, people who are like him. No matter what happens in the meantime―trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword―we can believe that if God is working his Spirit into us in all these things, one day we will be like him. This is our salvation!

How? Imagine a colony of grubs living on the bottom of a swamp. And every once in a while, one of these grubs is inclined to climb a leaf stem to the surface. Then he disappears above the surface and never returns. All the grubs wonder why this is so and what it must be like up there, so they counsel among themselves and agree that the next one who goes up will come back and tell the others. Not long after that, one of the grubs feels the urge and climbs that leaf stem and goes out above the surface onto a lily pad. And there in the warmth of the sun, he falls asleep. While he sleeps, the carapace of the tiny creature breaks open, and out of the inside of the grub comes a magnificent dragonfly with beautiful, wide, rainbow-hued, iridescent wings. And he spreads those wings and flies, soaring out over those waters. But then he remembers the commitment he has made to those behind, yet now he knows he cannot return. They would not recognize him in the first place, and beyond that, he could not live again in such a place. But one thought is his that takes away all the distress: they, too, shall climb the stem, and they, too, shall know the glory (Bruce Thielemann, Christus Imperator). Remember this.... as a Christian, you are destined for glory

Why? Hear it again: God has acted for our salvation. God is going to accomplish his purpose! Here is a promise for every person who is trusting Jesus Christ: For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

What in the World?

July 20, 2014 –– Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Wisdom 12:13, 16–19 / Romans 8:26–27 / Matthew 13:24–43
What in the World?

Expletives and swearing were nonexistent in my childhood home but there was a common idiom invariably used to express surprise or befuddlement or shock: What in the world....? I want to use that phrase as a springboard to a common thread in the three readings for today.

First, we might literally be asking What in the world is going on? The world news is not very encouraging. Iraq is in shambles. ISIS is killing Christians/minorities in Syria if they do not convert to Islam. Boko Haram is extending Islamic terror and death in Nigeria. Israel and Hamas not backing down. Russia is flexing its muscle. Malaysia Airlines loses another passenger jet, only this one was shot down. Our own country has more crises than we can handle, from children unleashed on our southern border to bitter social polarizations to political stalemates that only keep us trending into further polarization and weakness. Even locally we cannot escape the litany of recurring abuses and homicides. What in the world is going on?

In the midst of things like this (and world history tells us that the troubles of our world are nothing new), the Wisdom writer affirms that there is no god besides you.... your might is the source of justice.... In our weak and cynical moments we wonder, “what justice?” In that context it helps to remember that Peter writes in his second letter that the heavens and earth that now exist have been stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men (this was Jesus’ point in the parable) ....The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (3:7,9). Because of his love, God’s justice is tempered with mercy. The Wisdom writer says it this way: with much lenience you govern us.... you gave your children good ground for hope that you would permit repentance for their sins. As long as we have “today” or “now” (2Cor 6:2) we can turn to God.

But what about the Church itself? Some want to blame the Church for their not turning to Jesus. Why in the world is there discouragement and confusion even in the Church? What about clergy who profane Holy Orders and bring shame on the whole Church? What about self-proclaimed Catholic politicians who seem to give far more loyalty to their secular constituency than to Jesus and the Magisterium? What about people who say they are Catholic but dissent from Church teaching? Jesus tells us that The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. The servants of the householder asked him, “Do you want us to go and gather the weeds?” The householder told them, “No, in gathering the weeds you might root up the good wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers to gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into the barn.”

There is something in us that wants justice now––when it’s directed at the other guy. We can look around in the Church and see things that do not match our expectations, and we want to clean house (because “problems in the Church are never caused by me!”). Yet in the context of God’s kingdom––even when there are weeds growing among the good grain––God says.... wait.

So, what are we to do while we wait? We are to attend to the field of our own heart. Invite the Holy Spirit to keep your own soil broken and soft and fertile so it will bear good fruit (the fruit of  the Spirit and not the fruit of the sinful nature that St Paul calls the flesh––see Galatians 5:19–24).  St Augustine observed, “Search within your heart for what is pleasing to God. Your heart must be crushed. Are you afraid that it might perish so? You have the reply: Create a clean heart in me, O God. For a clean heart to be created, the unclean one must be crushed.”

This points to a second thing we do while we wait. We pray. But prayer itself can bring another big question: How in the world do we know what to pray for? Well, we pray for the mess that our world is in. We pray for the crises in the Church because weeds are growing along with the good grain. Most of all, we pray for ourselves to remain faithful and to be transformed into the likeness of our Lord.

Still, when it comes to the details––the hard, nitty-gritty of praying, how in the world do we know what to pray for? The solution to this is in today’s epistle reading. Listen to it again:

The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

God knows how weak we are in both mind and spirit. No one individual has God’s will and the Christian life figured out. We need the Church to teach and guide us. We also need the power of the Holy Spirit to do battle for us in ways that go beyond our comprehension. When we pray, we do not pray alone––the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words.

Are you troubled and afraid as the world around us seems to spin out of control? Pray! Are you discouraged that there are people in the Church who do not seem to honor Christ and his Body? Pray! Are you stuck when you try to pray, feeling that you don’t know what to say or that your prayer will not make any difference? Pray! And remember that you do not pray alone.

What in the world is going on? Why in the world is there discouragement and confusion even in the Church? How in the world do we know what to pray for? We find the real answer to those questions is to trust God. Even if God gave us all the particular answers, we are powerless to do anything much. But when we pray, we join with the Father almighty, the maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. We do not need to see it all. We do not need to understand it all. Our ultimate hope is not in the world. When we confess our Faith, I believe in God, the God of both justice and mercy.... the God whose Spirit intercedes for the saints (that’s everyone who belongs to Jesus) according to the will of God. this is the faith that overcomes. Let the force of this penetrate enter your mind and heart––the faith that overcomes the world.

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