Thursday, January 16, 2014

"She left Samuel there"

1 Sm 1:24-28

In those days,
Hannah brought Samuel with her,
along with a three-year-old bull, and ephah of flour, and a skin of wine,
and presented him at the temple of the LORD in Shiloh.
After the boy's father had sacrificed the young bull, 
Hannah, his mother, approached Eli and said:
"Pardon, my lord!
As you live, my lord,
I am the woman who stood near you here, praying to the LORD.
I prayed for this child, and the LORD granted my request.
Now I, in turn, give him to the LORD;
as long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the LORD."
She left Samuel there.

"She left Samuel there"

That last line is a difficult one for me to read. Did he cry? Did she long to take him back? Why would such a sacrifice be needed? This child, Samuel, factors big in salvation history and is close to the Lord in a mysterious way! He hears the Lord and he responds, maybe it is because his mother's generosity and trust in the Lord have removed obstacles of fear and doubt.  My fear of pain, my satisfaction with the world sometime prevent me from really listening to the Lord and from wholly offering myself to Him. In reading this reading I perceive and initiation to feel the longing and sorrow Hannah must have had in leaving her much loved son and trust in the mysterious majesty of God!  God's power works from generation to generation, A sacrifice made with great love is re-payed with unfathomable generosity.

Withhold nothing from God!

Read Hannah's canticle to God after she has left Samuel at the temple.  Though her sacrifice was costly, she knows God is at work.  Hannah's canticle foreshadows Mary's, who also holds nothing back from God. Neither woman lets the fear of pain or gnawing anxiety over impending loss harden their hearts or dampen their joy. They do not protect themselves from their sorrow by withholding their love. This makes the pain of their loss more intense I think, yet they are also disposed to receive the intense love of God all the more. Their whole lives are an offering to God and their hearts are always in trusting prayer. They understand that all that they have is God's and that nothing can be withheld from Him. They trust in The Lord who fulfills His promises to even the barren, or a lowly young women of Nazareth.

 Luke 1: 46-56:
Mary Said:

"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For he has looked upon his lowly servant,
from this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him 
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
and has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he remembered his promise of mercy.
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever."

Rejoice in His redeeming mercy!

The sorrows and sacrifices of this world should always whisper to us "in the beginning it was not so", and in so doing reveal to us that we are indeed souls in exile; we are separated from the Heavenly Bridegroom.  If only we can allow his redeeming mercy to scatter out attachments.  If we do not allow these attachments to be sent away from our hearts our hope for things eternal will wither, and our fears will control us!  We will settle for so much less than what God has in mind for each one of us.  We have to learn to allow God to let us hunger for what is truly lasting!  And we need to trust in His faithfulness in filling the empty spaced in our souls. Allow Hannah and Mary's wholehearted trust in the Lord to get you in touch with the holy longing in your soul -- a longing that is as poignant as a mother who longs for her child or as deep as a bride for her bridegroom. Trust, like Mary and Hannah did, that someday we will see that the longing we so often fill with worldly things be fulfilled in abundance. It is in that longing that we should rejoice, as because that longing is drawing us to Him.

God is faithful in all that He promises!

 Hannah hears and responds to God in her longings, for a son, and then through her longing for him in sorrow after letting him go to fulfill God's plan.  God hears and responds to her longings and sorrow.   Her trust in the Lord makes straight the way for God's salvation for generations to come!  God is the one who will sooth all of these sorrows in the end, because all of them reveal our world's need to be made new.   Mary does not reject what she does not fully comprehend.   She does not hide away from the pain and sacrifice she will watch her son go through.  Suffering foretold in the Scriptures and by Simeon.  She loves deeply and her heart is pierced deeply.  There is nothing superficial or lukewarm about these women.  Their sorrow is deep, but their everlasting joy is deeper still because they seek joy from God!

What is God asking of me?

He is asking for me to trust in Him in sorrow and in joy, and to hold nothing back from Him.  To cast down the fear, envy and pride that keep my hopes from the heights of heaven. To let go of even good things if they are keeping my heart from Him. To seek the Heavenly Bridegroom in whom all my longing will be fulfilled! 

Grace and Peace to all!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Come and Worship Christ the Newborn King

This post is also featured on Journey To Wisdom

Come and worship, come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King

This past November an Episcopalian priest was expressing his hesitation to celebrate the feast of Christ the King in an Omaha World Herald feature called “From the Pulpit”.  This priest felt that king was too much of a political term with too great a connection with oppression and exclusion.  To his mind this title obscured Christ more than it revealed Him.  He had alternative titles that he thought more relevant and worthy of a feast day; one being ( I kid you not) “Christ the Includer”.  Yes indeed, I can  feel the banality of that title suck the passion out of every deep yearning of my soul.  In one fell phrase this man reduced the great Christian narrative of the return of the King to restore His good creation to a platitude of inclusiveness. What small hopes we have, our hearts desire is to be part of the crowd.

Angels from the realms of glory,
Wing your flight o’er all the earth;
Ye who sang creation’s story
Now proclaim Messiah’s birth.

Don’t let your desires be reduced to platitudes, don’t let your hopes be tethered to worldly ideals.  Read the Infancy Narratives! Read of how God subverts the worldly narrative of Pax Romana under Caesar Augustus by sending the true King, who comes in quiet obscurity, without an army of men – but with a “multitude of heavenly hosts” .  Remember how throughout all history great worldly political leaders come and go, but the representative of the true King, the successor of Peter, in still here in the flesh.  And know that this King is not a distant impersonal King, he is a King who came to rescue me – ME!  Daydreamer and nobody that I am, and He is ,in fact, what all my hopes and dreams are ultimately directed to!  And He came for you in the same way!  Ask Him to show you, trust that He will.

Shepherds, in the field abiding,
Watching o’er your flocks by night,
God with us is now residing;
Yonder shines the infant light

If that sermon was not disappointing enough last Sunday in a Catholic Church I sat through a homily that turned the virtue of piety completely upside down.  It was the feast of the Holy Family, and the priest told us over and over again that the Holy Family were “neither perfect nor pious”.  I guess if he would have defined pious as empty outward religious actions (which apparently is one of the definitions of the word) I may have cut him some slack, but this priest made no effort to clarify what he meant by pious and, based on the rest of his homily, I was left with the definite impression that this was an “I’m okay, your okay -- all you have to do is connect with your spiritual core and you will hear God – but you don’t need to wear your religion on your sleeve” homily.  And, in fact, if that is what he meant, then of course the Holy Family was not pious, just individualists trusting in themselves to get through difficult situations.  Where does that leave you and me?  Trapped in isolated individualism, egoism and pathetic self-consciousness.  How can we be saved from that?

Come and worship, come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King

Again, read the Infancy Narratives.  Read of Mary’s humble fiat, and her beautiful  Magnificat.   Read of her firm faith an trust in God’s goodness.  Read and ponder Joseph’s righteousness, and through that righteousness, his discerning response to the angel's messages.  If you go by the actual Scriptures, they were indeed a pious family through whom the Kingdom of heaven emerged, even in our imperfect and,debased world.  And in humble piety we too can receive Christ in our homes, in our families, in our hearts, in a deep and  personal way. And we too can let God’s kingdom overtake even the most hellish situations here in this world. Don’t let an unimaginative culture steal your wonder away.

Sages, leave your contemplations,
Brighter visions beam afar;
Seek the great Desire of nations;
Ye have seen His natal star.

Both of these men diminished a title or a virtue, based on a darkened and rather hopeless, vision of humanity.  In doing so they obscure our deepest desires,  allowing them to remain misdirected at worldly things.  I get the feeling that these clergymen have no real hope in God’s power to undo and restore all creation.  If you had heard (or read) these sermons, you would have noticed that despite the words that seemed consoling and caring, Christ was not a personal savior that you can know and be known by, he was simple an inspirational, motivational figure.  Don’t let Him be diminished in that way.  Let Him show you His power, let Him be you Savior. Let Him be your great desire.

Saints, before the altar bending,
Watching long in hope and fear;
Suddenly the Lord, descending,
In His temple shall appear.

It is surely a sign of a latent cultural despair that we would settle for “Christ the Includer" to be our savior (from what – unpopularity?) or that we would so blithely diminish the beauty of Immaculate Mary and the righteousness of the pious Saint Joseph. I know that when we compare ourselves to them we find that we fall short, but that should be a reason to rejoice, because they show us what Christ our King has come to do for us! Do not fear true repentance, do not give in to the temptation to reduce the Divine Word to banal and distant platitudes, yield to Him, give Him your fiat.

Sinners, wrung with true repentance,
Doomed for guilt to endless pains,
Justice now revokes the sentence,
Mercy calls you; break your chains.

The wonder of the Infancy Narratives are that God intervened in our dark world in such a personal and intimate way, and that is astonishing precisely because He is God, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Don’t allow the world to reduce His titles,  let them stir up wonder and awe. To be included is nice, but doesn't your heart desire something more wondrous? Christ has come for you to be more than just passively included, you are pursued and romanced by our Lord and King.  He is powerful enough to vanquish the sin and debasement of our souls, if you yield to Him.  We should pray for a strengthening of the virtue of piety so that we will direct all of our distorted, distracted desires to the One Desire who is the source of all good things.

Though an Infant now we view Him,
He shall fill His Father’s throne,
Gather all the nations to Him;
Every knee shall then bow down:

I want my every thought impregnated with His Gospel so that every sense that I have is alert to His coming and my heart is in awe that my God comes so very near to a nobody like me.  I don’t want platitudes, I don’t want an impersonal spiritual inner presence, I want my King, my Savior, my Lord.

All creation, join in praising
God, the Father, Spirit, Son,
Evermore your voices raising
To th’eternal Three in One.
Come and worship, come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King

Merry Christmas and blessed 2014!


Subheadings are the lyrics of the hymn Angels From the Realms of Glory
Downhere, a Christian rock band has a wonderful version of this hymn.