Monday, July 31, 2017

Exodus, everyone's struggle.

Exodus 32:15-24, 30-34 and Psalms 106:19-23

I want to confess that I read today’s reading with more than a little guilty amusement.  Why?  Well, I’ve been mad before, but I’ve never been Moses mad.  Moses comes down off the mountain, sees that his people have made a golden calf and is so angry that he throws down the tablets God wrote, and then proceeds to destroy the calf in such a way that it becomes powder.  Then what does he do? He makes his people DRINK the powdered ‘god’.  Now, I want you to meditate on that scene and how it must have looked.  Moses must have looked like he was losing his mind as he went about the business of turning that statue into powder.  I wouldn’t have wanted to be standing in his way as he dragged kindling into the pile to burn it, nor would I have wanted to opened my mouth to say something as he ground the remains into powder.  This is a mad seldom seen, and what tickles my amusement is how incredibly destructive and insane he must have seemed to these people around him who had just sacrificed their gold to make this supposed sacred object.  So, I suppose I find it amusing because I’m not the one forced  to drink the equivalent of powdered god Ovaltine.   

Amusement aside though, there is a lot we can learn from Exodus and the corresponding Psalm about our own walk with God.   In fact, the whole of Exodus can be seen as a cautionary tale for we trying to walk as Christians.  God used Moses to deliver his people out of slavery and gave His people many amazing miracles.  Yet, time and time again, the people are tempted to go back to the comfortable way things were.  You might not realize this, but the golden calf they made was most likely a representation of the Egyptian god Apis.  It wasn’t like they just invented a golden calf, they were clinging to the place they had been delivered from. 

For years, I read Exodus and couldn’t grasp how or why a people who had seen so many miracles, who had been delivered from slavery, saved from death, could want it all back like it was-to the point that in the middle of their deliverance they recreate a little slice ‘home’.  Does that puzzle you?  It did me for ages, and then I realized it’s the perfect representation of us who are choosing to call ourselves Christians.  How many of us confess our sins, only to turn back to them again and again?  How many of us choose to follow God only part time or half way?  It’s not like we don’t receive His Grace, or that we haven’t experienced our own miracles.  Yet, holiness is hard and slavery to the gods we create, may lead us to death, but is so much easier, so much more familiar and comfortable. 

Psalm 106: 23:

23Therefore he said he would destroy them -- had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying them.

The Psalm gives us a link, I think, to what would come after Moses.  Let us first understand that God was not ready to destroy them at His will, but because THEY willingly and wantonly rejected Him.  Of their own free will, just like us, choose that they do not want to be in His presence.  God is not going to force life on them, and anything outside of Him is death, so destruction would have happened were it not for Moses, the faithful, who stood in the breach and turned the people back.  Yes, by going completely mental with anger, but still he did what was needed to impress upon his people this was life and death serious. 

Now, we have a Messiah to stand in the gap for us, offering us not only to turn away God’s anger, but to deliver us out of the slavery which we bind ourselves through the golden calves we create.  Let’s face it, their Exodus is ours, their struggle with a walk of faith is ours, and their desire for the familiar slavery is also ours.  This is the story of all humanity.

Today, whether we are in the desert or the promised land, let us cling to what is good and Holy.  Let us lean on He who stands in the breach for us, and ask that He deliver us from every evil. Most importantly, let us get Moses angry at the false gods we create that keep us from our redemption.

Jesus, your stand in the gap for us, leading us to the promised land of Your Father, destroy in us all desire for our old slavery and grant us the heart that keeps our eyes on truth.  AMEN!

Just some food for thought and prayer…

Here I am, Lord, send me,

Lisa Brandel

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

True humility in service, checking our ego.

At the time St. John the Baptist met Jesus he had, what we would consider in modern terms, a thriving ministry.  If you want to think on what that looks like, imagine the most successful minister, priest, lay evangelist, or the like, that you know.  Imagine what that life is for a moment.  They have the ministry, they have disciples who are learning from them, their position in life has both benefits and responsibilities.  In our modern time, we have clear examples of what this looks like and how it can affect both us who learn and them.  I think we can be frank and recognize that, in some cases, people in these positions become kind of ‘drunk’ with the success.  Being in the position of influence over people like that is spiritually dangerous.  You are accountable for what you are teaching, what you are putting people’s focus on, and the stewardship of what that ministry provides.  These key points can be soft spots in the armor of the ministry where spears of temptation might easily slip through.  This was St. John’s life, and not so different from those today who minister in Jesus’s name, be it in a lay position all the way up to the top of the Church. 

Whatever our position in the Church or specific ministry is, St. John the Baptist gives us the quintessential fix for every manner of temptation we might face as we discharge our duty.  No matter what we do in the Church or for God, there is always the temptation that we do it for our own glory.  Which means we may be doing the right thing, but for all the wrong reasons.  That is an insidious trap.  It isn’t as hard to overcome doing something overtly wrong in our lives.  When we are doing bad things for bad reasons it is way more obvious that we need to repent and change our ways.  When we are doing good things for bad (self-serving) reasons, well then, it can be a much stickier mess. 

When we are doing bad things, often people aren’t too shy about telling us.  When we are doing good things, people frequently don’t realize we are doing it for wrong reasons and they praise us for what they see is a fantastic thing, which enables and feeds the ego.  It isn’t apparent to us then, as it is when we are doing obviously wrong things, that we need to amend our spirit and redirect our actions so that God gets the glory and not us. 

St. John had the right spirit and leads us in this simple passage by his example.  He had a successful ministry.  His disciples looked to him for his words, wisdom, and leadership.  Can you imagine what it might have been like if St. John had tried to put himself equal with or over Jesus? The spiritual discord, the dissent between followers, it would have been horrible, not only for all the disciples involved but St. John himself. 

Failure breeds humility, but when we are successful, like St. John, we run the risk of pride and grandstanding in such a way that we become addicted to the adulation of those who admire us (rather than our ministry).  St. John’s example in this perfectly simple statement: HE must increase and I must decrease.   It is the example of how our hearts need to be everyday as we do the Lord’s work.  It is also an example of how we must see those who lead us.  Every day, and in every way, HE must increase and we must decrease.  We are to look for Him, and not they who serve.  Those who serve, no matter how great the service appears, are instruments in the hands of Almighty. 

If you are looking at me, you are seeing the wrong thing I will fail every time, look for He who is in me, He who I serve.  May this be the prayer of all who teach. May St. John be our example in all our service.

Just some food for thought and prayer…

Here I am, Lord, send me,

Lisa Brandel

Friday, July 14, 2017

The suffering now will not compare to the JOY coming.

Romans 8: 18-23

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[a] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.

Due to poor reproductive health, and my late husband’s cancer, I never had children.  I have spoken to many women though who have and one of the things I have consistently asked in fascination was: how did you manage the pain of childbirth.  Some of them used epidurals to numb the pain, but some met the pain without drugs at all.  Almost all of them, when recalling pregnancy and childbirth, seemed to gloss over much of what I (only seeing this from the outside) might consider intolerable pain and or suffering.  Not long after delivery, the pain of childbirth, although sometimes a joke to tease their children, was glossed over with the love of the born child.  I find this completely fascinating.  A woman who gives birth naturally, is subjected to pain, tearing, bleeding, cramping, and so on…but hours after it’s over the love of the child overshadows that memory. 

I’m thinking of this because like St. Paul, I’m looking at it from the outside with no intimate understanding of this myself.  I’m seeing the birthing process and the afterglow as he would have.  So, as I read passage twenty-two, and other passages that compare the coming of our Lord, or the times coming as the pains of childbirth this is the perspective I have. 

The other moment in a human life which looks much like childbirth that I have seen, but not yet experienced, that reminds me of this passage is the watching someone die naturally.  I’ve seen this several times, and been what I call a midwife to the process each of those times.  Oddly, I have more of an understanding of that than of childbirth, but both processes look a lot alike.  They both have “contractions” so to speak, moments of rest, and as the process moves closer to the result those contractions come quicker and sometimes with more intensity.  While childbirth is celebrated, the passing is mourned, but St. Paul gives us a little perspective in this passage.

We were given over to the futility of entropy (the movement toward death).  Not just us, but the whole of creation.  Since then, we have groaned inwardly, suffering in various ways because of this bondage we have.  Yet, I see in this passage and the events that I see as parallel what it says, the same hope.  The struggles of our life from cradle to grave, the suffering we endure, they are all but smoke.  Here and gone, and in the next moment (in presence of the Lord), what will remain isn’t the memory of the suffering but, like a mother with a child, the bliss of love. And through the promises of God, through Jesus, upon passing from this life will we remember the suffering? I don’t think so, through grace, I believe-like a mother with new babe in arms-we will stand before Him bathed in his love and grace.   

As we consider this passage let’s let the impact of his words really penetrate the suffering you might feel today.  the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

All you need to have hope…is to believe it is possible.

Come, Lord, and liberate your servants from the bondage of futility, in Jesus name.

Some food for thought and prayer.

Here I am, Lord, send me,

Lisa Brandel 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

If everyone does a little, no one has to do a lot.

Matthew 9: 32-38

36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."

During every Mass, in our parish, we pray Archbishop Schnurrs' prayer for vocations.  It's a really cool prayer, asking not only for priests and religious, but for all faithful vocations.  Part of that prayer includes this:

Grant us the grace to know the path

You have planned for us in this life

and to respond with a generous “Yes.”

Every time we pray that prayer the last part of our Gospel reading comes to mind. So much so, in fact, that on occasion I find myself looking around the Church at the people around me. 

My late uncle used say, whenever a daunting task was at hand, "If everyone does a little, no one has to do a lot."  And I think Jesus was saying something similar here in Matthew. I also think that is part of the heart of the Archbishops' prayer too. 

If we look around we don't have to look far to see need.  Our families need, our friends, our communities, our country, our world.  The field is plentiful for the work.  It can be overwhelming.  No one person could possibly do it all.  The cool part about that...we don't have to, and we don't have to try to do it all either.

All we have to do, is our little. 

What are you specifically called to?  I can't say, you need to pray to ask God to show you.  What I can tell you is that we are ALL called to some specific things, and if we do even just a little, we are doing a lot.

We are all called to share the Gospel.  We are all called to love each other as He loved us.  We are all called to do for the 'least of these'.  We are all called to seek God in all things.  (Just to name a few.) 

If we help one another, a little at a time, not only do we gather the harvest, but we gather more laborers to help harvest.  St. Mother Theresa said:
Can we respond with a generous "YES!" 

Just some food for thought and prayer.

Here I am, Lord, send me!

Lisa Brandel

Saturday, July 8, 2017

If Jesus didn't dine with sinners I'd still be hungry

Matthew 9: 9-13
As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners? “He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners."

If Jesus were walking past you, would  He ask to dine with you?  This is a question I have asked myself many times over my journey as a Christian.  Jesus speaks here that he came to call the sinner not the righteous. So, as I have examined my life in the context of this question I have had to ask some questions with hard answers.  These are the type of questions that one might fear the answer. 

You see, rebellion isn’t immediately apparent to us and isn’t rebellion the root of all sin?  The Pharisees who were critiquing Jesus were rebelling against the heart of the law.  They used legalism, adherence to the letter of the law, to justify their behaviors.  They couldn’t see themselves as wrong, because in rebellion they saw themselves as righteous and correct.  So it can be with all of us too.  We can adhere to the letter of our doctrines, without embracing and living the heart/spirit of them, and become as the Pharisees too.  We can get so caught up in the rules that we forget that the rules exist to enable us to behave in a way that is most loving to one another, by placing God first in all things.  The insidious part of this kind of rebellion is that we can/do end up justifying all manner of wretched behavior to one another, in the name of God.  If you think I’m wrong, please examine the Pharisees in our Gospels.  They used the letter of the law, which they wrapped themselves up in so tightly, that they could justify deicide (killing God).   If you understand that, then you understand how frightening the answers could be to the very simple question: Would Jesus dine with me? 

Let us examine the difference between the people Jesus was dine with and the people who were questioning Him. 

Matthew and the other tax collectors would have been hated and thought to be sinners because in that time it was not uncommon for tax collectors to skim money from your taxes.  If you owed Rome ten dollars tax, you better bring fifteen because the tax man was going to take some for himself.  If you brought only ten then he was still taking five and sending you away with unpaid taxes.  See why they were considered to be worst of all sinners back then?  The hardship of paying taxes was bad enough, but then you had to overpay for the privilege.  They were placing undue burdens on already overburdened people AND working for the occupying government of Israel.  TSK, TSK! 

“Good” and “Holy” people didn’t associate with those thieves and traitors.  Pharisees didn’t kindly and compassionately try to bring them back to the Torah, encouraging them to amend their lives or teach them that stealing was/is/always will be an abomination to God because it harms, not only the spirit of the thief, but it harms the person being stolen from and therefore is a sin before God.  No, the Pharisees shunned these people as sinners, even though the Pharisees did similar but wrapped it up in legalism.  One thing is sure, the tax collectors didn’t justify their actions, they knew they weren’t good righteous people.  If I had to guess, they were addicted to the money and power.  I’m guessing this because if you look around today, it’s really not that hard to see how money and power are an addiction still.  Also, like then, money and power often come at the cost of the well-being of other people. 

The Sacred Scripture doesn’t elaborate on what other sinners were dinning with Jesus and the tax collectors.  However, if we look at that type of person who still exists today, you might be able to make some educated guesses.  Gold-diggers, other kinds of thieves, other people who compromised their morals to gain power, people trying to get what the tax collectors had…in other words people who were either clueless about a Godly life, or they simply gave it up in pursuit of worldly things.  Broken people who knew they were broken. 

Now, I’m not advocating we live a sinful life so we can understand or attain God’s grace.  Let’s be honest, we don’t have to work on sinning.  The lure of the worldly bombards us constantly already.  What I do think is important is that we take a naked look at who and what we are, and if we do that, and realize that first, then we become the people Jesus would dine with.  Jesus didn’t come to heal people who didn’t think they were sick.  He came to heal the people who either knew they were sick, or didn’t realize they were sick, until the Great Physician showed them the healing way.

May God heal us of how righteous with think we are and show us the path to true holiness.

Just some food for thought and prayer.

Here I am, Lord, send me!

Lisa Brandel

Monday, July 3, 2017

The greatest of these

1 Corinthians 13:
13 If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

God is love.  He is the source of all light and goodness.  He is the spring that all love comes from.  Time and time again in the scriptures He shows us this.  Time and time in the scriptures He asks us, because we were made in His image, to be that to all people. 

No matter how clearly, we know, can explain, live by doctrines-if we don’t love it comes to nothing.
No matter how clean our liturgy is, particular we are about crossing the Ts and dotting the I-if we do not love it is a hollow gong. 
No matter the spiritual gifts we can claim and parade around-if do not love we are dry bones.

What is love though?  In our modern mind, it’s pink and red hearts with roses and vanilla marshmallows candy coated in chocolate.  It’s a fade to black scene of passion.  It’s FEELINGs that carry us away.  While those things can be love, it’s not the root of what love is at the real heart.   

God commands us to love our enemies as ourselves. (Matt 5:44, Luke 6: 27-28, Luke 6:35, Romans 12: 17-21)  There is nothing pink hearted and fluffy vanilla emotions about that.  It seems like an impossible ask, if your concept of love is limited to this very shallow notion. 

So, what is this love God wants us to practice, that is of Him, and helps us fulfill both our scriptural obligations and the fact that we are created in His image (just to remind you)?  It seems to me, through Christ’s example, that while love can be/cause emotion, the love we need to practice is a choice.  Yes, to be completely unromantic, love is a choice we make. 

To choose constantly and consistently to do the next right thing.  It’s helping people who wouldn’t help you without strings or repayment.  It’s a sacrifice to people who would not only not sacrifice for you probably won’t be grateful or notice it was a sacrifice.  It’s staving your tongue when harsh words would seem more instantly gratifying.  It’s not holding a sign of protest, but being a sign of light.  It’s not an adjective of emotion, but a verb of action taken not out of malice or judgement, but of compassion and empathy.  We can’t fix this worlds’ issues with the same kind of actions and thinking that created them.  Jesus knew this.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

When I was a child, I prayed to be wise.  As I attained wisdom I realized it’s futility and vanity, I prayed a new prayer.  God, let me be Your love in this world. 
It’s a lot less self-serving and a whole lot more God-serving.  It’s a less about being me, even a better version of me, and more about being more like Him.  I don’t know if I’ll succeed, but I know I won’t if I don’t try.  Look around, we could all use a little more of His love because His love is the only thing that changes anything. 

Just some food for thought and prayer…

Here I am, Lord, send me. 

Lisa Brandel

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Will God marvel at us?

Matthew 8: 5-17

We quote part of this passage every day in Mass.  “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…”  So, I think it’s important that we spend a little time dwelling in this passage.  Especially since the reaction of Jesus was, not only to heal the Centurions’ servant, but the scripture says that, Jesus was amazed (marveled in some translations).  Frankly, anything that would amaze or make God himself marvel in our direction deserves more than one little glance.  I don’t know and can’t speak for you, but me personally, I would love for God to marvel at me like this. 

Let’s look at the anatomy of this interaction to see if we can discover anything that can help us along our own path. 

Centurions.  What were they?  Centurions were the backbone of the Roman military.  They were professional soldiers that commanded between 80-200 men, depending on the time frame of the empire you are talking about.  They had to be at least 30 years old with a record of excellence in their career.  (Please keep in mind 30 is considered fairly old, especially in the Roman army where Legionaries often suffered great casualties in combat.)  They were protected under Roman law and paid richly for their devotion and service.  Obviously in the passage of Matthew, this man had at least one servant in his household.  They also had to be conspicuously brave to raise in rank, so we can extrapolate what kind of person approaches Jesus.  He is older by the standard of the day, possibly Jesus’ age, perhaps a little older.  He’s a war veteran of many campaigns.  Economically speaking, they were paid well, so he might be upper middle class or better.  Religiously speaking, here is where we get interesting…

Piety was an obligation of a Roman citizen, especially in the Roman military.  Sacrifice and religious festival was one of the way the Roman army fostered loyalty and single-mindedness to the state and duty.  So, we can assume that this man had over the course of his career celebrated Jupiter Optimus Maximus (God of the Roman state and protector of soldiers) more than once.  Whether he believed in that god or not, it was a state obligation and because of his rank he would have had to kept such things publicly.   

This is as accurate a picture as I can manage of the man who approached Jesus, and whose humble words we now speak at Mass.  Now that we see him just a little clearer, let’s try to see him as he approached Jesus.

He was hurting.  Not personally, but for someone under his care in his household.  His money, prestige, his household god, nothing could help him save his servant.  He understood this.  He stood before a man who was greater than any of the things I just mentioned and he understood that as well.  He had no foundation in real doctrines or knowledge (on an academic level) of God.  Yet, he had complete and total faith that, standing before Jesus, his servant would be healed-because Jesus had authority.  He also recognized profoundly that he was not worthy to have that man in his house.  This centurion was not leaning on his own understanding of the world and how the world should be based on his background and belief, but was taking a leap of blind faith in order to heal, not himself, but someone else who was suffering. 

Jesus marveled at that and pointed it out to the people who followed him.  Please keep in mind right now that the people who followed him were Jewish, and did have the academic knowledge of the one true God.  They had the traditions passed down from Abraham.  They knew better those things of God than any gentile of the time could.  Yet, none of them (at this point) had the faith that brought that Roman to Jesus. 

Let’s let that sink in for a moment. 

When we say that simple prayer in Mass, if we had faith like that centurion, we would be healed and God would marvel.   

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word an my soul shall be healed. 

Just some food for thought and prayer.

Here I am, Lord, send me.