Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Don't hold it against them

 2 Timothy 4:16-17

At my first defense no one appeared on my behalf,

but everyone deserted me.

May it not be held against them!

But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength,

so that through me the proclamation might be completed

and all the Gentiles might hear it.

I’ve worked with the grieving, the dying, and the addicted, and so when I was reading the daily mass readings today the above passage stood out to me in a big way for many reason I’ll write here.  In my opinion, 2 Timothy-the last of St. Pauls Epistles- is probably one of his more important letters.  We tend to save what we think is most important for the last.  Before you leave the babysitter, you remind them where the emergency contacts are, and before you leave for a long trip or some surgery you tend to try to say the most important things you want the people to remember.  As I read this letter, I see a lot of that reflected in St. Paul’s writings.  He seems to be summing up the life and body of work he’s done in Christ, while leaving as many instructions for the church he is leaving behind as he can, the ones he feels are the most important for people to know and remember.  He’s doing what Jesus did before his ascension when he gives the instruction in John 13: 33-34 33 “Little children, I am with you only a little while longer. You will look for Me, and as I said to the Jews, so now I say to you: ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so also you must love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”…

That’s how I see this last letter.  It’s the love letter goodbye, written with a lot of mindful heart.  So, as I read the verses we are discussing today I began to, not only personalize it, but overlay it in the lives I’ve been privileged to be a part.  I see St. Paul’s situation isn’t unique and very applicable to our lives.  While not many of us will know the privilege of being put to literal trial for our faith, as he was, we are and we do go through trials.  We have that we can apply/overlay as we contemplate this scripture.  The people Paul is referring to, the ones that did not stand with him, are likely people he considered family in Christ.  They are people he likely healed, taught, nurtured, brought the Gospel, and helped in every way. Again, even though we likely don’t have literal disciples, we have those kinds of people in our lives.  They are people we invest in, people we love.   In the same vein as Paul, those people sometimes vanish when we go through our trails.  (This understanding of mine comes from the aforementioned people I have worked with. Many times, I’ve seen at critical moments the people in need watch their friends and family vanish when things got hard.  The reasons varied, some can’t, some are too hurt and scared by the pain, but there is always a fear based reason.)   I see this is a common theme of people’s lives, one that sows seeds of bitterness and discontent, which are not from God.  It can cause us to falter in our own walk with God. 

The way I read the next verse it’s like St. Paul doesn’t even take a breath before he asks the Almighty  and the people reading the letter what at times seems unthinkable, and does so vehemently. “May it not be against them!”  He’s not asking God to judge them according to their deeds.  He’s not asking for the Church to disown them.  He’s very strongly crying out that what they did, and what they did not do, not be held against them.  A role model portrayal of Jesus’s teaching that we forgive seven times seventy times!  More than that, I get the feeling that he didn’t have to forgive it because he wasn’t offended by it at all.  He was more saying it, not for himself, but as a plea to God and the people around him.  “Don’t hold them accountable for what they have done.”   That does two things, one it puts no barriers between him and God. Then it also puts no barriers between him and the people.  His witness is all the more powerful!  He has taught them these lessons, and shown them in his life how they apply. 

He goes on in the last part of the verse to give God the Glory.  He claims no part of the power it took to get through his trials.  He points to the victory.  Not his victory done by his power, he gives God all the credit.  People will fail us, but God never does.  But when people fail us, the greatest witness we can give is to allow God to work through us to accomplish whatever trail we face and still be able to love those people as God loves and forgives us.  Asking God not to hold someone’s sin against them is what Jesus said when he cried out, “Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do.” St. Stephen said the same as they stoned him in Acts, he and Paul were following Jesus, and so should we. 

Just some food for thought and prayer…

Heavenly Father, We praise you and offer thanks giving for never failing us even in our darkest hour. We ask that nothing be held against those who fail us, as we have surely failed others before.  In Jesus name, Amen!!

Here I am, Lord, send me!

Lisa Brandel

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Legally perfect, spiritually bankrupt

Luke 11:37-41

After Jesus had spoken,

a Pharisee invited him to dine at his home.

He entered and reclined at table to eat.

The Pharisee was amazed to see

that he did not observe the prescribed washing before the meal.

The Lord said to him, "Oh you Pharisees!

Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish,

inside you are filled with plunder and evil.

You fools!

Did not the maker of the outside also make the inside?

But as to what is within, give alms,

and behold, everything will be clean for you."

Today’s Gospel reading really spoke to me today, because we argue a lot about liturgical perfection these days.  I’d even consider myself a “Trad Cat” (traditional Catholic for those who don’t know) and yet as I read this Gospel and connect it with a dozen other scriptures something major hits me that I’d like to share.

We can/could have the absolutely perfect Mass liturgy, and be completely on point about every prayer, and still not please God.  You see, The Pharisees were liturgically on point.  They made the perfect sacrifices, they wore all the bells and whistles in their vestments, they observed every law, yet time and time again Jesus pretty much calls them dumb.  Why?  Well as we read on in Luke 11 Jesus lists off all these things they do….they tithe their mint and herbs to mathematic perfection, they hold places of honor,  and they impose the law on others.  All of these things they do, but do not, apparently, lift a finger to really help anyone.  They sit in judgement patting each other on the back about how they are doing everything correctly and other people are less because they don’t.  Jesus in this chapter is ripping these guys for that.  He’s basically saying none of it is pleasing to Him if you don’t love your brother and help lift them up.  In fact, Jesus in verse 44 He calls them “Unseen graves” or “Hollow tombs”.   Which to the Pharisees was a complete insult double slap in the face.  According to Numbers 19:16 contact with a grave made one ritually unclean.  In essence, Jesus was saying not only were they unclean they were causing the people around them to be unclean by contact with them!  WOW!  That had to leave a mark.  If Jesus had said that to me I’d been reduced to tears on my face before him begging forgiveness.  Think about that.  Imagine Jesus saying your name and then saying that not only were the works you do “in the name of the Lord” sinful to God, but your very presence causes others to sin too.  That makes me sick at my stomach to imagine. 

Time and time again, Jesus tried to teach them and us that God is love, and love is a choice we need to make every day for everyone.  We can get so wrapped up in liturgical perfection we forget that.  Love is embracing other people in their imperfections, helping them carry the burden, and lifting them up.  It’s not that how we conduct our worship isn’t important.  It’s that when you are so worried whether or not you’ve tithed to mathematic perfection, whether or not Ms. Smith is wearing the right mantilla, or how deep you and the person next to you genuflects over and above doing the next right thing for your neighbor that we are at risk of becoming pharisaical. 

Isiah 42: 3-4 comes to mind when we enforce or snipe at each other about these things that are pettier than loving each other.  In these verses we are given a description of the gentle care of justice.  He shall not break a bruised reed or snuff a smoldering wick.”   We can’t know the struggle of another person’s heart, of their spiritual walk with the Almighty.  The Pharisees didn’t care about the hearts of those who were believers under them.  They cared if people were tithing to the mathematical nth degree for their own glory, and so they could look down on those who could not do that.  So, we need to examine our own hearts in these matters.  Are the rules and laws of our worship more important than the people who worship with us? Do we deny people hugs and comfort for a false sense/appearance of piety and “cleanness”?  Are we empty tombs that chase people out church and service to God, causing them to sin, by the faux piety of our presence?  If we are, and if we do, then we need to check ourselves because He wouldn’t be happy.  These things are important, not because I said they were, because Jesus taught that they were. 

Just some food for thought and prayer.

Heavenly Father, forgive me if I have placed law above love.  I ask you now that you give me a new heart, one that pleases you, by loving those you have given to me to love.  In Jesus name, Amen

Here I am, Lord, send me!

Lisa Brandel

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Busy does not make us Holy

Lk 10:38-42

In line with my earlier post about the narrow path to true virtue, we have this passage.  This passage is important to the understanding that what we think is important on the path of holiness isn’t always important.  Busy doesn’t make holy, all the time.  In fact, busy can be a distraction away from real holiness, an excuse or shield against doing the real right thing.  In other words, busy can become a look at me and all these really cool things I AM DOING!  It’s something we use like a royal robe, when really it’s rags.  Let’s explore this…

Jesus comes to Mary and Martha’s house and Martha (ok, in my head she looks like Martha Stewart) decides this is the time to put on the dog and pony show.  She goes into super host mode.  Mary on the other hand sits at the Lord’s feet to listen and take in what He is saying.  Martha doesn’t even have it spiritually together enough to have her heart in the right place.  Not only is she ignoring the chance of a life time to sit and listen to the Master speak, she is complaining that Mary isn’t helping her.  What does that tell us?  Well, it tells us Martha is focused on the things of this world, she thinks that her will and want supersedes what is actually happening.  And what is happening is that (even if at the time they don’t recognize him as Christ) a Master Rabbi has come to teach, and not just the men.  In her defense, it wasn’t super common that a Rabbi put emphasis on women learning like that, but in my mind, I think it makes it more astonishing that she didn’t notice that not only were the men welcome to learn but He wanted the women to hear too.  She probably didn’t think of that….because she was busy. 

This is an eloquently simple story with many layers that apply to us now.  It’s something we can overlay on almost any of the stories of the bible.  Imagine how different the Good Samaritan story would be if the Samaritan had his face in an Iphone, too busy to even notice the beaten man on the side of the road.  Think about what it may have looked like had Moses told God that he had waaaaay too many heard to manage to take time and talk to Pharaoh.  Take your time and think how different one of your favorite books or passages in the scripture might have been had whoever in them had been too busy to do the real right thing.  Peter might have been too busy fishing to follow Jesus.  There are so many ways this could be different.  In fact, you have the ultimate example of churchy busy in the Pharisees.  They were busy in the temples, doing all the stuff you can imagine any modern pastor doing, and in control.  That’s what busy work is on one layer, busy equals we are in control.  This is OUR plan.  This is what WE want to do.  This is what WE want done.  Busy, busy, busy.

Martha assigned the hostess responsibilities to herself because she was focusing on what she thought was important, she wanted in control and we see this by her desire to have Mary be in that control too. 

There is a lot of take away here.  Sometimes we put ourselves in places of honor or service not because it’s God’s will, but because we THINK it’s the important thing.  Sometimes we work so hard at doing what we are doing that we completely blank out on what really needs our attention.  We use busy as a shield against real spiritual need, growth, learning, and service so later we can have an excuse to why we didn’t do XYZ thing and feel completely justified doing it…because we were busy. 

The modern society has made busy an artform.  If you ask someone to do something they will likely give you a list of reasons they can’t. “Kids have soccer practice, then I have to do this that and the other, and watch TV, and blah blah blah.”  Busy.  Even people who serve the Church do it, sometimes especially them..”I have a finance committee meeting, then a meeting for the KOC and I have to do blah blah blah for the church.”  It’s more insidious when we are busy with the Church sometimes, because that gives us the illusion of Mary when we are really just Martha in church clothes.  The problem is when we get wrapped up like that we are potentially putting barriers up between us and what God really wants us to be doing. 

I’ve heard so many times, “I’m too busy to pray the rosary.”  “I’d help this person, but I’m so busy.”  “I’d love to (fill in the blank with your thing) but I’m so busy.”  The truth is, if you are too busy to do that kind of thing, you are too busy.  God wants us working for Him in his kingdom, we can’t be couch potatoes, but we do have to seek and find, every day His will for how we spend the currency of our time.   If we are too busy being busy to be mindful of the opportunities to love and minister and learn, then we are too busy.

Just some food for thought and prayer…

Father, I come to you today asking you how I should spend my time.  Grant me the ears to hear the opportunities I would miss. Grant me the heart of obedience that will allow me to act on those opportunities.  May I never be too busy to do what is truly Your Will.  In Jesus name, Amen!

Here I am, Lord, send me!

Lisa Brandel

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Turn my eyes from worthless things

Phil 4:6-9

We live in interesting times.  Fear and conflict are the order of the day.  Class against class. Race against race.  Random and senseless acts of violence.  Conflict within the Church. Conflict against the Church.  We are bombarded with 24/7 365 fear coverage (media), and we can share with the world our outrage, anger, fear, wrath, hate, and judgement with a simple click of the button.  We can, without looking people in the eyes, decry them heretics, hate-mongers, idiots, and anything our fear creates for us to say.  We voluntarily share and re-share messages of people that we can’t stand, handing over to them the power of reach and fame. We do so in the name of outrage and to allow us to tell anyone who will listen how wrong we think they are, but what we are really doing is spreading them like a virulent cancer.  And in all this, we have no peace.  Why?  It’s not of God. 

We claim we want peace in our lives and in our lands.  We have hundreds of kinds of pills dedicated to alleviate our anxiety and depression, and self-medicate with food, sex, more TV, and a myriad of other distractions.  And still, we know no peace.  It’s a hamster wheel of disillusion and emptiness.  Why?  None of it is of God. 

The question this raises to me is simple.  Do we want peace within ourselves and do we want to change the world?  My answer is irrevocably, YES!  If your answer is yes too, then I have some fantastic news for you.  We can and we start by paying attention to the reading. 

Brothers and sisters:

Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,

by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,

make your requests known to God.

Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding

will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters,

whatever is true, whatever is honorable,

whatever is just, whatever is pure,

whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious,

if there is any excellence

and if there is anything worthy of praise,

think about these things.

Keep on doing what you have learned and received

and heard and seen in me.

Then the God of peace will be with you  

First things first, we unplug from fear.  The very first lines tell us the foundational step we need to take to build our house of peace.  Be anxious for nothing, have no anxiety, and it tells us what to plug into that space instead: thanksgiving.  This isn’t a one off theme told to us only in this scripture either, there are at least 100 verses that tell us, “Fear not!” or “Be not afraid!” specifically.   When we expand that to phrases like “being anxious”  or “worry” then we have more than 365 verses.  I’m sensing a theme, and that theme is the understanding that fear doesn’t come from Him.  God doesn’t just love as a verb, He IS love and the origin of all love.  Perfect love (God) drives out all fear. (1 John 4:18) Paul tells us in Phillipians to plug thankfulness into our prayers, that’s faith.  The circumstances that make us fearful show us where we are lacking in faith (the faith that God will/does/can work all things for our good. Romans 8: 28)  So when we understand that, we can replace fear with faith and our anxiety with thanksgiving.  That brings peace the world cannot take.

That’s just the foundational step though, isn’t it?  It’s HUGE, don’t get me wrong.  Doing that in everyday life, in every genre, no matter what is a huge leap forward in our spiritual walk.  Then Paul takes it another level or two higher.  He gives us instructions about what to dwell on every day.  He is helping us build the rest of this house of peace.  He is telling us to seek these things that are of God.  Whatever is GOOD, TRUE, HONERABLE, PRAISEWORTHY, PURE, LOVELY, GRACIOUS…think on THESE things.  Pay attention to those things, and then he gives us a commission.  Because once we’ve changed our minds, it only stands to reason that our actions follow suit. 

Do what you have learned, because not only does practice make perfect within you, the practice becomes like a river of blessing flowing out from you to everyone else.  We see that in Paul’s example, and every other saint that adopted this as their way of life.  Because it is a way of life.  It’s making the choice to do this and be this every minute of every day about everything you face. 

The more we do this, the more we can share the peace of God with the world, and slowly but surely-one by one-we steal power from the fear, evil, lies, and wrong doing that kept us bound and gagged in the first place.  When we make the commitment to follow him, we cease being slaves of sin, and now we have to stop acting like we still have those chains. 

Just some food for thought and prayer.

Heavenly Father, I thank you for all the circumstances of my life as I believe you will work all things for good, in love, to guide me to your plan.  May I be obedient at every step, by your Grace, looking for Your hand in all things.  In Jesus name, Amen! 

Here I am, Lord, send me!

Lisa Brandel 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Take me where I'm not-excuses for miles

Luke 9:57-62

We tend to be a people of “Take me where I’m not.”  I’ve used that phrase in my grief writing so much, that when my followers there see me write it they understand. So, let me do that for you now, and seeing it through the lens of the scripture will follow. 

The way we tend to think of happiness or contentment is “take me where I’m not”.  In other words, we are going to accomplish great things when we get to a space we don’t inhabit now.  You’ll write that book you always wanted to write when you retire.  You’ll be relaxed and happy when you are on vacation.  You’ll be a more content person when you find that someone to marry.   You’ll be happier, less stress, when you find a better job.  There are many, many problems with this thinking.  Not the least of which is, that where ever you go…you bring yourself.  If you didn’t have before, the scenery may change but you won’t.  If you didn’t have the dedication to do whatever it is you think you want to do, one tiny step at a time, when you said it was what you wanted-then you won’t when the scenery changes either.  It really is that simple.  If you want/need/desire to be or do something, then now is where you start and not in some mythical time or space that may or may not come.  The funny thing about realizing this is that, understanding it-putting it into practice-we begin to see what it is we REALLY want and what we simply like dreaming about.  This is what I see when I see our Gospel reading today.

A man, like you or me, sees in Jesus all that he believes he would like to be and do.  That’s not hard to understand.  From his perspective, and limited understanding, He had people who followed him, ladies that followed and supported him with their means, and He inspired in people so many great things.  The guy thinks Jesus had it made.  I can extrapolate this from how Jesus answers him.  Jesus tears that thinking to shreds saying: Jesus answered him,

"Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests,

but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head."

And to another he said, "Follow me."

The man was playing a game of take me where I’m not, and like any of us who are in love with the idea of change, but not willing or wanting to effect real change…out comes the excuses.  To put it into modern lingo, “Sure I’ll do that as soon as I __________”  You fill it in with your personal reasons. 

There are thousands of books with hundreds of thousands of words in them about what it takes to be successful in any venue you’d like to pick, whether it’s writing a book or serving in a ministry and all the things between.  Yet, Jesus tells them the only truth you need to know for, not only success in following him, but life itself.  Jesus answered him, "No one who sets a hand to the plow

and looks to what was left behind is fit for the Kingdom of God."

I know that may seem like a grand claim from me, given the simplicity of that sentence, but I don’t think I’m over stating it at all.  Jesus spoke truth, and truth is universal in its’ application.  When we are talking about our spiritual life, in this scripture, we understand that once we make the commitment to follow him (putting our hand to the plow), that we cannot then look around for other things to worship or have faith in and still be fit for the kingdom.  Jesus was telling us, in his answer to the excuse giving men, that very thing.  In my meditations, I have played out how this might have gone had the men simply answered “Yes, Lord.”  I think, had they been faithful like that, Jesus may well have healed the person’s father, and then dropped by the other man’s house where his whole family would have been redeemed. That is, of course, purely my speculation, but given the nature of Jesus and His love, I don’t think is off mark given the nature of Jesus and the fate of people/families who approached him with such faith.  Single-mindedly, with faith, looking forward to The Almighty, move forward, the rest will fall into place.

The second application as far as success goes, I hope by this point is as apparent to you as it is to me.  Set aside your excuses, and your take me where I’m not thinking, and don’t look back as you put your hand to the plow.  If we do this, first to Jesus, and then with all the little things in our lives that we think we’ll be happy when we do…we cannot fail.  The interesting thing about that is, what we think is going to make us happy, or what we should do, may very well change drastically when our eyes are on a more eternal prize. 

Just some food for thought and prayer…

Heavenly Father, my hand is on the plow and my heart looks forward only to you.  There is nothing I hold above you.  You alone are my measure of success, happiness, love, and hope. Bless my humble path with your will.  In Jesus name, Amen. 

Here I am, Lord, send me,

Lisa Brandel

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The broken are the blessed

Mt 21:28-32

I was teaching a class at a lock down rehab facility.  By rehab I mean addicts and by lock down I mean some where there because they wanted to be, some because they had to be, and some hated to be.  Which means some wanted to be clean, others were trying to make the choice to be clean, and some wanted to go get high.  I don’t remember exactly how now, but the subject of “normal” people came up and the consensus among them were that they were pretty lucky people.  Then they looked to me for confirmation of that.  I shook my head no.  The reason I put normal in quotes and shook my head no has a lot to do with the Gospel reading today.  Before I go into that I’ll also add another thing. 

I was watching a Christian documentary the other day where a man described the world in such a way that peeked my interest.  He said the world was divided between the conflict zone and the comfort zone.  (Hint, if you are reading this you are probably in the comfort zone.)  He talked about the bravery of the Christians who lived in the conflict zone where their faith alone could cause their death.  He had my attention, and then he went on to say basically how worthless we who live in the comfort zone were, how weak our faith was.  That’s where he lost me to a degree.  Now, in the light of the Gospel I will explain why.

Matt 21:28-32

Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people:

"What is your opinion?

A man had two sons.

He came to the first and said,

'Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.'

He said in reply, 'I will not, '

but afterwards changed his mind and went.

The man came to the other son and gave the same order.

He said in reply, 'Yes, sir, 'but did not go.

Which of the two did his father's will?"

They answered, "The first."

Jesus said to them, "Amen, I say to you,

tax collectors and prostitutes

are entering the kingdom of God before you.

When John came to you in the way of righteousness,

you did not believe him;

but tax collectors and prostitutes did.

Yet even when you saw that,

you did not later change your minds and believe him."

As I contemplate this scripture the world around me opens up and I begin to see, not what the world shows me, but the word reveals.  The illusion that the world is divided is just that, an illusion.  The entire world is in conflict, one person at a time.  The most important battle we fight isn’t on the exterior, but internally.  Which, is why I told a room full of addicts that the “normal” people weren’t the lucky ones that they were.

Every single one of us, is broken.  Jesus was trying to tell the disciples this in this parable.  Some of the men He had with Him, in His time, might well have been considered one of these normal people.  Let’s take Peter for example and translate him into modern understanding.  Peter owned his own boat and had a fishing business, he would have been considered a commercial fisherman.  He had people that worked for him, a wife and a family.  He worked hard and provided a living for the people in his employ and of his house.  Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  He was just like the guy who owns his own business that sits next to us in church, or on the train to work.  Perhaps, he is just like us.  Yet, it isn’t him that Jesus says is one of the lucky ones.  Why?  Well, what is the major difference between Peter and a prostitute or thief (aka tax collector)?  There are many differences.  One is trying to do the right thing for the right reason, taking care of his family, living that life in the world attempting success.  One is living on the margins of society, doing what they know is wrong, harming themselves and others in the process.  On the surface of this, the Peters of the world seem super lucky.  Not so much.

Jesus points out that it is the second kind of person who followed what John was preaching, and the Peters of the world who rejected the teaching.  In other words, the people who were blessed enough to know they were broken who sought forgiveness and redemption.  People like the Peters of the world whose lives seemed comfortable and normal who rejected it, because if it doesn’t seem broken, and if your life seems full and content, why search for what you don’t think you need? 

This is what I explained to that room full of addicts.  Every day, that factory worker with 2.5 kids and the white picket fence, lives his life filling it with the temporary stuff of the world.  Every day, they go about believing they have what there is to have and see no need to change.  Their souls are in mortal peril just like anyone else’s, just like the addict and the prostitute, but the difference is that the addict and the prostitute are way more likely to know and search for something to deliver them from the darkness. The war is real, and the illusion of comfort and peace is just as dangerous as a man with a knife to your throat or a bomb in your home.  Blessed are the broken people, for they will seek and find.  The illusion that there is a comfort zone is just that, because the enemy has insidious weapons, weapons that appear to be everything we ever wanted or needed.  The cost of losing this battle is our eternal soul. 

Just some food for thought and prayer….

Heavenly Father, reveal to us our brokenness so that we may cling to you.  In Jesus name, AMEN!

Here I am, Lord, send me,

Lisa Brandel

Monday, September 25, 2017

The narrow path of true virtue.

Ecclesiastes 7: 16-17 16 Do not be over righteous,

    neither be overwise—

    why destroy yourself?

17 Do not be overwicked,

    and do not be a fool—

    why die before your time?

18 It is good to grasp the one

    and not let go of the other.

    Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes

That verse has mulled in my mind for over twenty years.  (What can I say? I’m a slow learner, but I don’t give up.)  In the books of the Tanach, Ecclesiastes is my favorite, so it’s no mystery why I would cling to this little verse until I understood.  First, let me explain what I mean by “understood”.  Upon reading this, the surface of what it means is obvious and simple.  “Don’t go to extremes.”  What is not so obvious is just exactly how one does that.  If we are honest as a people then we must accept we are people of extremes.  There are extremists in every walk of life and in every genre you can imagine.  From the vegan who believes all meat eaters should be cursed with cancer, to the religious zealot who would see everyone cursed with hell that isn’t a part of their ideology-and everything in between, from the ridiculous to the sublime.  We are people of the pendulum that often gets stuck on one side or another.

The virtue continuum picture is something I found a few years ago while studying stoic philosophy.  (Don’t judge me, St. Paul had a good working knowledge of it too.)  Yet, I still didn’t make the connection until a couple of weeks ago when I was praying vespers and doing some of my own readings.  Then I had an “AHA!” moment.  This verse fits with the Seven Virtues of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and then obviously what Jesus was teaching.  Since we tend to be all or nothing people, our lives swing from one extreme to the other, but what we are called to be are people of temperance, the narrow path, which is where the Godly life is found.  It’s also in 2 Peter 1:5-7, one of the places we actually get the seven virtues and can extrapolate the seven vices. 

St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 gives us the three theological virtues: Faith, Hope, and Love (the greatest of these is Love), none of which are possible on the extremes of the spectrum.  In fact, none of the virtues we seek are found in the extremes. Ecclesiastes told us that to begin with, but like me, so many people are slow learners and need more detail. 

We need to walk the narrow path between darkness and false light.  The darkness may be easier to spot and avoid, since many times it leads to the more obvious spiritual and physical harm.  The left side of the extreme has its’ charms in that it is easy, takes not a lot of effort, offers temporary pleasure/comfort, and does not challenge us to do much.  The right side is a bit more insidious, because it can SEEM so RIGHT.  We are DOING things.  We are clinging to our correctness!  In the end though, it’s just as destructive as the left.  Only in the middle, that balance, do we find a true and holy path. 

Jesus calls us to love, and we cannot love outside the middle ground.  Jesus calls us to serve, and we can’t do that outside the centered path. We are called to Love God above all, and we can’t do that on either side of this pendulum, because both the right and the left aren’t about God, they are about us.  That’s the crux of it all in a nut shell, that is what I discovered in this verse from Ecclesiastes.   I guess that’s part of why it tripped me up for so long, I couldn’t understand half of it.  How can being too righteous be a bad thing? Aren’t we all wanting to be saints? Aren’t we all in need of holiness?  Ahhh, yes, but over righteousness isn’t about Him, it’s about us. (1 Corinthians 13 talks about that. If we can speak God’s word with power, but don’t love we’ve gotten nowhere…and so on.)  Over righteousness isn’t about the heart and spirit of the law, it’s about the letter of the law and the human power we perceive it gives us over lesser mortals.  (See the example of Jesus’s interaction with the religious ruling class of his time.) 

Now I think I have the foundation of the understanding of this very simple scripture.  How do I begin to truly embrace this path in my everyday life?  I am reminded of Rabbi Hillel’s famous statement to a potential convert, “That which is hateful to you do not do to others, the rest is just commentary. Now go and study.”  The same is true in this, I believe.  That which is good and guides us to God can be summed up. “Put the love of God about all things and you’ve found the narrow path, the rest is just commentary…now go and study.” 

Just some food for thought and prayer.

Heavenly Father, I pray today that I find the narrow path that leads me to you in all my ways, and in all things.  Let me be neither too righteous nor too wicked, but always obedient to You who gives life. In Jesus precious name, AMEN!

Here I am, Lord, send me!

Lisa Brandel