Reflection - September 9, 2018

“He took him off by himself away from the crowd. 
He put his finger into the man’s ears
and, spitting, touched his tongue;
then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him,

Ephphatha!’— that is, ‘Be opened!’ —
And immediately the man’s ears were opened,
his speech impediment was removed,
and he spoke plainly.”

I can imagine a child hearing these words and responding, “Ewww! Gross!” It is all very earthy with fingers in ears, spit, tongue touching, and groaning. The Jesus who is usually seen healing in other gospels with a word and in total command seems here to be a little less like God and a little more like a two-bit magician or snake oil salesman. Sure the man gets healed, but it’s hard to imagine that the all powerful God who created the universe out of nothing by the power of his word would need such paltry tricks to simply heal a person. Maybe this God-man is much more man than God. How embarrassing!

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Reflection - September 2, 2018

“He summoned the crowd again and said to them,
‘Hear me, all of you, and understand. 
Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person;
but the things that come out from within are what defile.

From within people, from their hearts,
come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder,
adultery, greed, malice, deceit,
licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.

All these evils come from within and they defile.’”

How much money you make, what kind of clothes you wear, what kind of car you drive, how many followers you have on Instagram, where you live, where you went for you last vacation, what your title is, what degrees you have earned, what level of success you have achieved—these things may be significant accomplishments, reflect your talents and drive, and be recognized as gifts from God. They will not, however, get us to heaven nor do they indicate our value as a human beings. They may even become chains that bind us. We live in a world where image counts and status means something. I get that. When the image or status becomes more important than the reality of our hearts, however, we are trapped. Trapped on a treadmill of keeping up appearances, maintaining the outside as our inside crumbles. 

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Reflection - July 15, 2018

“He instructed them to take nothing for the journey
but a walking stick—
no food, no sack, no money in their belts. 
They were, however, to wear sandals
but not a second tunic.”
Let go of the things that weigh you down. 

Practically, traveling light can allow us to go faster and farther. As you read this, I am somewhere in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness in Colorado on a backpacking trip for seven days in the backcountry. While backpacking, every ounce matters for what is essential and what is not. Jesus may have wanted his disciples to go out far and wide, streamlined for the most efficient travel possible, because the mission is what mattered the most. Unnecessary things, like a second tunic, or a fresh change of clothes everyday on the trail, can slow us down and get us stuck. Just go. Get out there. Go!

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Reflection - June 17, 2018

“Brothers and sisters:
We are always courageous,
although we know that while we are at home in the body
we are away from the Lord,
for we walk by faith, not by sight.
Yet we are courageous,
and we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord.
Therefore, we aspire to please him, 
whether we are at home or away.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ,
so that each may receive recompense,
according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.”

I have often heard integrity defined as doing the right thing when no one is watching (one attribution is to C. S. Lewis). It is not a bad definition, but there can be another way to look at it. Integrity comes from the word integer, which itself comes from the Latin prefix in- (not) and verb tangere (to touch). Therefore, it is untouched, entire, whole, or complete. All of the various parts form a whole, single unit. Everything in our personalities is integrated and integral to each part. Consistency and continuity between our beliefs, thoughts, and actions characterize us as persons when we have integrity. We end up doing the right thing when no one is watching because that is who we are, that is our true self. 

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Reflection - August 26, 2018

“As a result of this, many of his disciples returned
 to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.
Jesus then said to the Twelve, ‘Do you also want to leave?’
Simon Peter answered him, ‘Master, to whom shall we go? 
You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe
and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.’”

If I am honest, there have been several times in my life when I wanted to leave the faith of my parents, and later my own. That has varied from leaving the Catholic Church to leaving Christianity all together. Three examples are below:

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Reflection - July 8, 2018

“...a thorn in the flesh was given to me...Three times 
I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me,
but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you,
for power is made perfect in weakness.’” 

“So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there,
apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them.
He was amazed at their lack of faith.”

I really wish there was an easy answer! There is not. It is not only too simple, but also wrong, to say that God would answer all of our prayers if only we had enough faith. God doesn’t work that way and neither does faith. Prayer, even intercessory prayer or petition, is not a math equation where, if we get the variables right, the answer is assured. It’s not even like a probability problem where, if we get the variables mostly right, the answer is mostly assured. As St. Thérèse of Lisieux wrote about prayer, “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.” Even prayers of petition, by their nature, are more than asking for some good thing. They contain within them a deep and mysterious communion with God. They are a relationship with the one who is love itself and depend upon the gift of ourselves to the divine in response to God’s gift of himself to us. They depend upon our trust in God, or upon our faith. 

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Reflection - June 10, 2018

“Then the LORD God said to the serpent:
‘Because you have done this, you shall be banned
from all the animals
and from all the wild creatures;
on your belly shall you crawl,
and dirt shall you eat
all the days of your life.

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he (they) (she) will strike at your head,
while you strike at his (their) (her) heel.’”

In the judgement God makes against the serpent, we get an explanatory reason for why snakes slither on the ground. This is called an etiological myth, a story that explains why things exist the way they do, usually in the physical world. Taken literally, these are scientifically untenable and theologically unimportant. If taken metaphorically, they can sometimes offer worthy theological insights, but not always. We may be able to see a parallel here with the fall of Lucifer from heaven and the slithering snake banned from other creatures. It is limited, however, in value. 

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Reflection - August 12, 2018

“All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling
must be removed from you, along with all malice. 
And be kind to one another, compassionate,
forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.”

In Paul’s letters, he often admonishes those to whom he is writing about specific behaviors that should be changed. The Letter to the Ephesians includes several such passages. Paul usually hears word of how his communities are behaving and addresses those behaviors with gospel values, making practical corrections to how they have been acting. The lines above are such an address. Like the above, however, Paul often goes beyond the simple behaviors, themselves, to focus on the condition of the heart, giving Jesus’s antidote for misguided interior dispositions. 

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Reflection - July 1, 2018

“God did not make death,
nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.
For he fashioned all things that they might have being;
and the creatures of the world are wholesome...
For God formed man to be imperishable;
the image of his own nature he made him.”

As far as we know, the first written use of the phrase “down to brass tacks” was in a Texas newspaper in 1863. Very quickly, within a few years, it can be found in citations across the country. Although there are a few other theories as to the origin of this phrase, the most compelling research deals with the actual use of brass tacks at the time of the first citations. By the 1860’s, they had become a common form of customization and decoration for coffins, even advertised by hardware dealers to undertakers. Brass tacks were used to provide decoration for the final resting place for the deceased. Perhaps because he was president, Abraham Lincoln’s coffin in 1867 was decorated in part not by brass tacks, but by the more expensive silver tacks. The Ohio Wyandot Pioneer wrote in May of 1868, “...brass tacks are suggestive of stern, inexorable reality...Brass tacks have equalized all human earthly conditions. The peer and peasant, king and common, old and young, wise and otherwise, lie down in a common mortality from which there is no escape.”

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