Thursday, June 22, 2017

Abwun D'bashmaja (Our Father in Heaven)

Matthew 6: 7-15

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus teaches us how and what to pray.  I have a giggle every time I read this passage because it starts off: Don’t babble.  Who among us hasn’t babbled before the Lord?  I know I have, in fact I’m guilty of this almost every day when I kneel to pray.  I am sure it is an expression of some kind of faithlessness on my part.  It’s as if I think I have to explain everything I’m thinking in detail to He who made me and has known me before I was born.  Jesus even says in this passage that God knows what you need before you need it.  When I read that I am reminded of a bible study I attended years ago.  The teacher said, “Has it ever occurred to you that nothing has ever occurred to God.”  It stuck with me in the context of this passage as a reminder of His omniscience.  Jesus was essentially saying the same thing.  God doesn’t need our reminder, nor does He require us to point things out.  He already knows.  Our prayers are OUR obedience. Our prayers are to keep us focused, in faith, on Him who supplies our every need. Our prayers are a surrender of our imperfect will to His absolutely perfect will for us.  And so, we are taught to pray properly because left to our own devices we would babble. 

While I could babble-on about this prayer, I wanted to share a peaceful moment about this so you might experience it as well.  I practice Ignatian Meditation, which is (to put it very simply) an immersion into scripture by “placing yourself in the scene”.  This is one of the scriptures I was attempting to immerse myself which inspired me to look up what the prayer sounded like in Aramaic.  For those who don’t know, Aramaic was the language of Jesus.  The language is beautiful, and if we close our eyes as we meditate on this passage, listen to it spoken in His tongue we might be able to better understand and immerse ourselves in the tranquil faith of the prayer He taught. 

To share this blessing with you all here is a version to enjoy.  Let us pray.

Here I am, Lord, Send me!

Lisa Brandel

Friday, June 9, 2017

Why should we live the Glory Be!

Tobit 12: 6-7
Raphael called the two men aside privately and said to them: “Thank God! Give him the praise and the glory. Before all the living, acknowledge the many good things he has done for you, by blessing and extolling his name in song. Before all men, honor and proclaim God’s deeds, and do not be slack in praising him.
A king’s secret it is prudent to keep, but the works of God are to be declared and made known. Praise them with due honor. Do good, and evil will not find its way to you.

I am struck always by the scriptures.  Today in reading ahead to tomorrow’s daily reading (overachiever that I am I couldn’t wait) this passage sticks out to my mind and heart.  Now, over 250 times in scripture we are told to praise the Lord in one fashion or another.  In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 we are told this:

“Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”

In my mind, repetition is therapy.  The Lord knows how thick headed we are so he has to repeat Himself to knock through the crust of our hardened minds and hearts.  This begs the question, why is this so important?  Does God need our praise and thanks?  Does our praise change Him?  I am no authority, but I have to think the answer to both those, and many other questions we could pose, is a resounding NO.  He is the Lord our God. He does not change, but over and over in the scripture we are told not to keep Him secret, and to offer up our praise and thanks giving.  Why? 

The first answer that came to mind here, at least for me, was obedience.  The why doesn’t really matter.  He asks us to do it, so in obedience, by Him, we should do just that.  That is the short stroke answer.  Me being me though, I wanted to attempt to look still at why.  He doesn’t ever seem to do things like a typical parent “Because I said so.”  There is always some perfectly loving reason, that in some way, benefits us. 

I’ve studied a lot of different things in my life, not enough that I would consider myself a master of anything, but enough to have an awareness.  One of the things that I’ve studied is Stoic philosophy. (Don’t judge! St. Paul had a working knowledge of it too!)  The stoics developed an understanding that where the mind goes so we go.  The foundational understanding of their philosophy was that if you could control your thoughts you could find peace and happiness.  The circumstances of our lives didn’t dictate whether we were happy as much as what we thought about them.  You may think this is an archaic thinking, but ultimately it is the foundation of a modern psychotherapy called cognitive behavior therapy or CBT. 
CBT basically states that our thoughts become our emotions which become our actions which becomes our way of life.  If we can change our thoughts on things then we can prevent negative emotion which causes negative behavior.  I generally find both the idea of the stoics and CBT to be true even when held up to the light of scripture. 

Philippians 4: 4-8 reads:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

(Especially verse 8)

Again, I am no authority, but as I read the scripture with the idea that where my mind goes, so goes my everything else, I begin to see and understand that God isn’t changed by our praise, thanksgiving, prayer, focus, or worship….but we are most definitely.  So, the whole of the scripture that asks us to do those things might be trying to tell us a little something about wholeness of mind and heart.  If we look beyond the scripture to the role models and saint of our faith we might also see the patterns of their holiness and success. 

That brings me back to the last line of Tobit’s quote at the start: Do good, and evil will never find it’s way to you. 
This doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen, but it does-I believe-mean that how you think about them won’t plant evil within you.  It’s really hard to do bad or feel bad when gratitude fills your soul and HE is worthy.

What are you thinking today?  Just some food for thought and prayer.

Here I am, Lord, send me! 

Lisa Brandel

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's

Mark 12: 13-17

In Mark 12, we find a couple things I find very interesting.  These are a few points I’d like to share with you now. Today we see the Pharisees (keepers of the Law) testing Jesus.  Before I get started about the reading I’d like to take a moment to talk about the Pharisees.  They get a bad rap from we Christians.  In this reading, and many, we see them as keeping the letter of the law without understanding the spirit of the law.  In other words, the law becomes more important than the reason behind the law.  You might say the law of God, rather than God, is their god.  Which is why in the scripture Jesus is recorded as “knowing their hypocrisy”.   It is also important to realize that, like any group we can make a generalization about, not all of them were what we might consider to be bad.  St. Paul was a Pharisee before his conversion.  Some of them, like we are capable of doing, simply got wrapped up and fell in love with (worshiped) the rules rather than the rule giver.  This is something that isn’t an ‘in antiquity’ exclusive trait, nor is it something that could only happen to the Pharisees. 

With that said, how the Pharisees open their line of questioning amuses me.  It shows a certain cleverness, that were Jesus fully human, may have sucked him into their trap.  They start with:
“Teacher, we know that you are true, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men, but truly teach the way of God.”

Butter wouldn’t have melted in their mouth the flattery was so thick.  How they flatter him here interested me too.  They are saying to him albeit hypocritically since they don’t believe it…You are a speaker of truth and don’t really care about the opinions of people.  They were saying what they themselves would find flattering.  They believed themselves to be that very thing.  In their sweet lie, they were showing Jesus who exactly they were.  Another thing I found interesting is that not much has changed from that time to this in regards to the slavery of other people’s opinions.  Even then, people who had escaped the worry of what other people thought about them were regarded as strong. 

They proceed to ask him if it is lawful (Jewish law, not state law) to pay taxes to Ceasar.  So, they set the question up with flattery only to ask a question that really didn’t matter, because it’s not about discovering the truth, it’s to trap Him into saying something they could use against Him. 

Jesus replies : “Why put me to the test?”

With a beautiful economy of words, He crushed their flattery and revealed to anyone paying attention that He understood completely both that they were not seeking real answers, and they didn’t believe He was a true teacher.  Jesus then asked someone to bring him a coin.  Some translations record this as a denarius.  Which, if you are interested, would have been one day’s wage of the time, or about twenty dollars.  This was interesting to me because Jesus clearly doesn’t have a coin on him.  Let that sink in.  The Messiah, He who would change the world, doesn’t even have a copper coin on His person. 

Now, He lands one of the best in-jokes ever.  He asks whose image is on the coin, and then AMAZES everyone by saying:  “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Now, they were amazed.  More than likely because they thought they had constructed the perfect trap.  In fact, if you consider that the Pharisees are a very intellectual group (think doctorate level theology) and they probably spent a good amount of time coming up with that perfect question to trick him, considering every possible answer that might trip Him up…you aren’t shocked that they are shocked. 

The in-joke though, the one that proves again Jesus truly knows who and what they are, where their hearts really lay, is this: The image on the coin was Caesar as was the inscription.  Romans 2: 15, Hebrews 8: 10 speak to the Word and Covenant being written on our hearts.  Basically, give Caesar your money, and render unto the Lord our hearts.
And they were amazed at him. 
How could we not be amazed at Him?  Yes, we are called to obey the laws of our land, but we are also to understand that when we are His-we need to render unto Him what is His, and that is our heart.

Just some food for thought and prayer. Selah

Here I am, Lord, send me!

 Lisa Brandel

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Freedom is a state of being.

Acts 28: 16-20, 30-31

In today’s reading we see St. Paul in what I feel like was one of his natural habitats after his conversion: incarceration.  Today we see him in what we can still see today, under what might be called house arrest.  He was allowed to live by himself, but instead of an ankle monitor he has a guard.  Apparently, when he went out he had to wear chains so he couldn’t run.  Since I work in the field of incarceration this image is pretty vivid to me.  Seeing people chained, wrist and ankle, in person and not on TV is a bit surreal, at least to me, but it has allowed me as I read St. Paul’s account to bring to mind the images of him speaking in chains very vividly. 

By all rights, incarceration is one of the most powerless human conditions this world has to offer.  In fact, I can only think of perhaps two weaker conditions that being hospitalized (depending on why) and nursing home.  They are points in our life where our personal control and privacy tend to be given up to other people.  It would have been very similar back in St. Paul’s time as well, even though his Roman citizenship protected him from some of the cruelties a non-citizen would have endured.  The point is, incarceration is no place of worldly power. 

So, what strikes me in this passage is, in spite of his near constant state of incarceration, wearing chains and being bound by humans-St. Paul doesn’t lose his effectiveness as a witness or evangelizer.  This passage clearly states that even though he was under house arrest and under the threat of the death penalty he receives visitors.

30-31 reads:

He remained for two full years in his lodgings.
He received all who came to him, and with complete assurance
and without hindrance he proclaimed the Kingdom of God
and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.

That is powerful.  He isn’t in a position of power.  He isn’t on TV making millions.  He isn’t a government leader with the ears of the populous. He has no social media.  He isn’t even free or even a saint at this point.  He is in a rented dwelling, wearing chains when he is in public, and under the threat of the death penalty, a saint in training.  I think there is so much we can take away from this situation and apply to our own lives.

First and foremost, I see in St. Paul’s example that freedom isn’t a physical condition but a state of mind.  His physical being was incarcerated, but since his goal was to spread the Gospel of Jesus his state of mind was totally free.  The world could capture his body, but his mind and soul were free in Christ so he was not truly bound. His physical location was incidental.    This strikes me the most because we tend to think of our physical state as being predictive to what we can or cannot do.  In other words, we make excuses.  “I can’t reach people for God because I am only ______”  “I can’t witness because I am______”  “I don’t have the power to_______ because I am______”  We tend to think in limitations due to who, what, and where we are.  In Pauls’ example here, and if we truly look at the rest of the apostles, everything about them should tell us we are wrong if we think that.  Especially as we look at this passage, and see a man (not yet a saint) locked down by the world. 

The second thing I see is that St. Paul didn’t wait until his condition was perfect to be obedient to God’s call/will.  This is another of our collective hindrances to success and holiness.  “Well, as soon as I retire, I’m going to ________”   “When I change jobs I will be able to work for the church.”  Fill in the blank with your own “as soon as” statement.  St. Paul could have very easily said that as soon as he was free he was going to continue to minister.  The conditions he was under were not humanly thought of as ideal.  In fact, look over most saint’s lives both the biblical saints and the saints we read about, and you will see that VERY rarely are the circumstances of their lives ideal to the condition of doing the task they are commanded to do.  They all have something in common though, which brings me to my closing point.

We do not get more holy then become obedient.  We become obedient then get more holy.  We become obedient by doing what we can, where we are, with what we have.  St. Paul is a really good example of doing His will wherever you are no matter what condition you find yourself.  He wore literal chains, and you may too, or you may only wear chains that you placed on yourself in your mind.  Whatever chains you wear, remember, in obedience you are still free.

Just some food for thought and prayer.

Here I am, Lord, send me! 


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The foundation of effective and loving evangelization

Acts 17:15, 22—18:1

In today’s reading Paul is in Athens.  Athens is an interesting city with a fascinating history, and would have been considered that even in Paul’s time.  It was founded 900 BC and to date is the oldest named city in the world, clocking its’ life (today) to the count of 5,000 settled years.  It is a city that is considered the foundation of civilization.  Which, even in the classical times, boasted more rights and democracy than the rest of the civilized world.    In Paul’s time, it was one of the most influential centers of politics, religion, education, and philosophy.  You might say, Paul was preaching in the big house.  Athenians, in general, had a good life and had more opportunity than the rest of the world for education and quality of life.  In other words, it may have been an intimidating place to speak. 

Paul isn’t a slouch though.  We have seen, in previous chapters, Paul reference Stoic and Epicurean philosophers.  (If you don’t know what those are, it’s ok, just know they were popular modes of thought and life style of the time.)  Which means, Paul had a good earthly education as well.  What fascinates me about the way Paul witnesses is his approach, not just here, but consistently through the scripture.  I want to deconstruct it here a little so we might be able to apply it to our own needs as witnesses. 

One of the first thing Paul does is meet his audience where they are and show them that he knows/has interest in them as a people:

 Then Paul stood up at the Areopagus and said:

"You Athenians, I see that in every respect

you are very religious.

For as I walked around looking carefully at your shrines,

Now, let’s look at that.  First of all, the Areopagus (Rock of Ares) in ancient times was an important place where the highest court/counsel in the land met.  (Think the Supreme Court, or Capitol Hill.)  The place he is would contain the aristocratic, the educated, and the cultured people.  Then he speaks.  The first thing he says connects him to them in such a way that they are more prone to listen.  He shows that he knows something about them.  He is showing that he has taken an interest in them as a people.  At this point he could have instantly condemned their idolatry, but he doesn’t.  He opens it up by acknowledging something that, by all rights, they were probably very proud of being.   

The second thing he does is really fascinating:

I even discovered an altar inscribed, 'To an Unknown God.'

He points out something that is possibly dear to the Athenians, and is at the very least a known factor in their lives.  Think of it as a preacher/teacher mentioning or pointing out some well-known attraction in your home town. Later in the Chapter he also says:

For 'In him we live and move and have our being,'
as even some of your poets have said,

Again, connecting their culture to his message. 

In his physical placement, and then in the first few sentences, Paul has met them where they were, mind, body, and soul.  For the ancient Athenians that had to be attention grabbing.  He was laying a foundation of communication by seeking to speak to them on a level they could understand, because that was where they were.  That was important.  Had he started it off in some other way like, “Listen up, you idolatrizing-false god deceived-gentiles!  You are all about to burn in hell if you don’t pay attention here!”  Likely, his audience would have stopped listening-at best-and at worst they would have become combatant. 

In Paul’s opening example, he is able to establish a dialogue. In the end of the reading we see that, even if people weren’t convinced they were willing to hear more.  Some did follow and believe, but those who didn’t had seeds planted that might have grown into real faith at some point because of the way he presented the information.  What Paul did was loving, patient, kind, and full of faith.  He established a relationship by establishing a non-combative dialogue that contained the truth.  He connects his truth with where they are, what they know, and their culture.

Not only has Paul laid a foundation for them, but he has-if we are paying attention-laid a foundation for us.  His example shows us how we can effectively and lovingly carry the truth to the people around us.  It takes work.  We have to have an interest.  We have to be patient.  If our goal is to reach people though, this is a much better model than condemnation.  Hitting people with the condemnation hammer may feel more powerful to us than meeting people where they are, but it is far less effective and ultimately only satisfies our desire to be “correct” and does not our role of being Christ’s love in the world.

Just some food for thought and prayer.

Here I am, Lord, send me. 


Saturday, May 13, 2017

Real Idolatry

Acts 14: 5-18

I was taking a priest friend of mine out to eat one evening when we happened to drive past a non-denominational church with a giant statue of Jesus in the front yard.  It caught both of our eyes because it was huge, blocky, and had its’ arms extended outward in kind of a ‘zombie’ motif.  After we passed it we were both silent for a few seconds before I said, in a very matter of fact way, “They should save the idolatry for us, we do it better.”  At which point, we both laughed harder than we should at the Catholic “in-joke”. 
The word idolatry gets thrown around in the Christian community willy-nilly.  In the secular world, the buzz word for people who don’t agree with you is “Nazi”.  Any person or political group that doesn’t fall in line with your views can be (and according to almost any social media comment should be) called a Nazi.  In the Christian community, the buzz word thrown around a lot is Idolatry-or Idolater.  It gets thrown at we Catholics a lot, because we like our art-or as I like to call it “religious bling”.  There are a couple problems with the over use of both Nazi and Idolatry though.  One is that the people hurling the insult often times don’t really understand the foundation of where those words/ideologies come from and because they don’t the words are slowly losing their real meaning/power.  Two, it’s a blanket judgement of a person or people that prevents any real conversation, learning, growth, understanding, and love.  (All of those things we are supposed to do for and with each other.)  Today’s reading reminded me that this is an important thing to understand.

Idolatry was the social norm of the time of Paul.  Monotheism was the minority.  The whole of the gentile world practiced some form of very obvious (to a Jewish person, like Paul) idolatry.  So, when he healed the sick in these verses the gentiles did/believed what was their religious tendency.  They attempted to make gods out of Paul and Barnabas. They attempted to make sacrifice to them.  Those parts are super important when we attempt to understand idolatry.   Paul and Barnabas have a beautifully Jewish and Christian reaction (they tear their garments, which is a Jewish sign of great grief) and try to put the light where it belongs, on the One True God. 

Let us look deeper at the idolatry part of these verses.  The crowd decides that Paul and Barnabas are gods, and even decide which gods they are.  They then decide to sacrifice to them. They want to follow them specifically.  That is classic and very obvious (to us) idolatry.  In fact, that is the process of all idolatry.  Step one: decide what/who your god is (what you love and adore). Step two: give that god your worship-with some sacrifice. Step three: follow that god.  So that, in a nutshell is all of idolatry, the definition of which has not changed from that time to this. 

As I said earlier, the lack of understanding of the word makes the word lose its’ power.  The insidious part of the lack of real understanding of this particular word is that it can both prevent you from real worship AND it can shake your faith.  If you don’t understand what idolatry really is then when some well-meaning but misinformed person tells you that because you have a statue in your church you are an evil idolater, that can cause spiritual crisis.  If you don’t understand what the real meaning of the word is then you might actually fall into the spiritual trap of idolatry. 

In our modern world, the danger is less likely to be a statue than it is to be a person, a state, or an item we use.  Let me be specific.  If you put your priest, pastor, TV personality, or other human before God, following him and not the Father and Jesus, that is idolatry.  If you put your faith in money, sacrificing time, relationships, and desire for it over God, that is idolatry.  If you replace worship of God with worship of self, self-image, beauty, then that is idolatry.  In other words, Idolatry isn’t having art it is making that art more important than God, Jesus, and keeping the commandments of Him.  It is following people, sacrificing to and for temporary things that take our focus from the truth.  Anything we put more importance over God is our modern idol. 

Are there Catholics that worship statues? Probably.  Just as there are probably Baptists that worship the television, Pentecostals who worship the gifts rather than the Giver, Anglicans who worship money, or fill in the blank kind of human that worships fill in the blank kind of person, place, thing.  It’s not a denominational problem, it’s a personal sin. 

We have the Good News to save us though!  Jesus says in John 14: 21-26 what real worship is:  Jesus said to his disciples:
"Whoever has my commandments and observes them
is the one who loves me.
Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father,
and I will love him and reveal myself to him."
Judas, not the Iscariot, said to him,
"Master, then what happened that you will reveal yourself to us
and not to the world?"
Jesus answered and said to him,
"Whoever loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.
Whoever does not love me does not keep my words;
yet the word you hear is not mine
but that of the Father who sent me.

"I have told you this while I am with you.
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit
whom the Father will send in my name—
he will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you."

So, who is your God today? 

Just some food for thought and prayer. 

Here I am, Lord, send me! 


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Authentic victory in suffering

I was giving an inspirational talk to a grief group one day and I asked them all this question: What is the worst pain in the world?  They all thought for a few moments, and then slowly, one by one they began raising their hands.  I knew their answers before they spoke.  Some said childbirth, some expressed that the pain of losing (whoever they were there mourning), and the answers continued until the group eventually fell silent.  I smiled, and then apologized because it was a bit of a trick question.  I went on to say that the worst pain in the world is yours because it is the only pain you feel and-humanly speaking-you must feel it all alone. 

Which brings me to today’s reading.  1 Peter 2: 20-25

If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good,
this is a grace before God.
For to this you have been called,
because Christ also suffered for you,
leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.
He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.

When he was insulted, he returned no insult;
when he suffered, he did not threaten;
instead, he handed himself over to the one who judges justly.
He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross,
so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness.
By his wounds you have been healed.
For you had gone astray like sheep,
but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

I have spoken with and been in churches in various denominations who believe and teach that if we are followers of Christ we will not suffer, we will be redeemed in this flesh of all sickness all the time (if we are not active in sin),  that we will flourish financially (if we are not active in sin),  and that we will be wonderful-heart, mind, and body, all the time, always-in this world.  I call this “The gospel of prosperity doctrine.”  And it’s a very dangerous teaching, because it’s simply not true.   The belief in this causes a crisis in a faith that is destined to remain shallow and of this world.  Why?  Because we are a suffering people and this is a suffering world.  In fact, the more your heart awakens to the love of God and the redemptive power of Christ, the more your heart will suffer for a world lost in darkness.  And the worst pain in the world becomes your pain, the one you feel. 

I know that sounds pretty bleak, but we have been given instructions on how to handle all of it so all we ‘saints in training’ might claim the ultimate victory-a victory not of this world. 

We are instructed to pick up our crosses (Matthew 16:24, Luke 9:23) and follow him.  Meaning, accept the trials and tribulations you must carry, and do so in the way Jesus did.  We are assured that we do not have to do this alone (Matthew 11: 28) when we look to Him and the Father.  And in today’s reading, we are given, in some detail exactly the path we need to walk with our personal crosses. 

We cannot over imitate Jesus, our Messiah.  In His example, we have the very key to ultimate victory, heaven, and peace in suffering.  We cannot out love Him or out feel the world’s pain.  He took on every sin that we might be forgiven and redeemed.  He did it, and felt it alone-the greatest pain in the world-so we would no longer have to, and so He could grant us great graces as we follow along his path.  That, is the true doctrine of true and great prosperity,not in this world but for eternity.  This is the path of a saint in training...

Some food for thought and prayer.

Here I am, Lord, send me,