Bag of Goods, Not So Good

Idol Examples

Fidelity is a loaded term and maybe more in a world of gossip where one hears of infidelity.  In the spiritual life there are subtle temptations that can come where we give affections meant for God alone and give it to the things that are passing way.  Occasionally those temptations can be quite blatant.  Here is an experience where Jesus experienced the latter.

Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.”At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written:‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’”Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him (Matthew 4:8-11).

Here is the temptation of material gain as an end in itself and of unfaithfulness.  If one ponders idolatry in all its forms one will see how so often in this world a giving aways of ones self to gods of this world happens.  This is why after so many profound devotional and theological statements in 1 John it ends with “little children guard yourselves from idols”.  This was not a distraction from what was shared but an encouragement to guard the beauty of knowing God’s love in an ongoing way.

Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain- – This is ironic because in a casual read of the gospel one can see many times that Jesus liked “getting away from it all” for teachable or pivotal moments of his ministry.  A lesson is that Satan may tempt us with an isolating way to bully us and make us feel alone.  With God, we are never alone.  In ongoing conversion as a Christian, it is good to take our own initiative to have a retreat with God for intentional reflection. Further, if we are finding ourselves alone in adverse circumstances we can pivot to God whose love is always there.

all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence– – There are three things that are considered transcendentals in the history of Christianity.  These are beauty, truth and goodness.  Beauty, when shown correctly, can draw the heart of someone to heavenly places.  As Christians, we are blessed “in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens” (Ephesians 1:3).  If one continues to be grounded in the beauty of the divine beyond any beauty of our eyes we will not be shaken from the reflection of where we are truly seated.

All these I shall give to you– – Quite the salesman, Satan shows forth a counterfeit of grace.  This reminds me of someone who is a “loyal customer” of their drug dealer and he generously gives a “gift” on their birthday literally on their doorstep.  True joy is not for the drug dealer to give nor true power.  Satan is just one other kind of dealer.

The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve– – This is a gateway commandment of sorts and can be shown to have meaning in ones ongoing journey in Christ.  To worship God alone is fitting as the right boundary for mortals to the God who is not a type of species but just is. He is the I AM which is like “Something Other Than Being”.  God is not a genus of species that can be subjected to our mortal classifications.  The fidelity of worship based on this knowledge lends to a holy life with “these three things that abide” (1 Corinthians 13:13).  This is expanded on below.

The first commandment embraces faith, hope, and charity. When we say ‘God’ we confess a constant, unchangeable being, always the same, faithful and just, without any evil. It follows that we must necessarily accept his words and have complete faith in him and acknowledge his authority. He is almighty, merciful, and infinitely beneficent. Who could not place all hope in him? Who could not love him when contemplating the treasures of goodness and love he has poured out on us? Hence the formula God employs in the Scripture at the beginning and end of his commandments: ‘I am the LORD’ (Catechism of The Catholic Church, para. 2086).

To be rooted in ones life like this has a subsequent overflow.

The theological virtues are the foundation of Christian moral activity; they animate it and give it its special character. They inform and give life to all the moral virtues. They are infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as his children and of meriting eternal life. They are the pledge of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the faculties of the human being. There are three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity (CCC 1813).

Then the devil left him- – The formula on ones simplest means to deliverance from the devil is simple.  It is to “Submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).  There are some who consider themselves believers in Jesus Christ but feel that the devil is after them.  If one believes that is really true, then it bears consideration on how much one is submitting to God in their daily living.

angels came and ministered to him– – Again, one is not truly alone if one is in relationship with God.  Even then, it is not God alone who accompanies you but angels of a celestial kingdom. In fact, if we let him, God can send us “angels” in the sense of human beings who make a catalyst for change.

One example I saw was in the area of addiction recovery.  As an intern in a substance abuse recovery program at the intensive outpatient level, there was a new member of a process group who was ambivalent about going to a 12 Step group that night. He cited  how “maybe I’ll go, maybe I won’t” due to feeling alone doing that.   The group leader, who was in recovery himself, said asked, “are you going to [expletive] go or won’t you”.  One volunteer after another in the group assured him that they would go with him.  He went with four new friends and engaged in recovery before the Higher Power of his understanding.  We commonly come to faith through community, abide in Christ in the context of full community and go towards a great gathering in the end before a loving and holy God.   When we restrict our worship to God alone it does not rob us but frees us.  The ministering of one to another is to reaffirm the greatness of that fact and the angels who come to Jesus serve as reference points of it.

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:22-24).

So to say no to Satan and all his empty promises is to say yes to God who is above all the darkness of this world.  This is God who is Love that we can always say yes to in continual conversion.  And with God and his kingdom properly factored, we are never alone.

A Lesson With Some Shepherds

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The process of spiritual seeking always has two parties in play: the Creator and creation and starts with a breaking ground process.  Sometimes the people that do the seeking are very intentional when a seeming lightning in a bottle happes and sometimes it comes out of nowhere in the Creator doing the initiative.

Such is the case of the shepherds that we sing about every Christmas.  Though the breaking of ground happens with effect for the shepherds there is a larger lesson for God breaking ground for a kingdom that is being established.

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.  The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them (Luke 2:8-20).

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields—  In our modern western culture we miss the importance in this narrative that these guys were in the lowest distinction of occupations in society.  At least a lowly carpenter could be preferred for a draft and be a witness in court.  Shepherds were not considered to have a transferable skill set and were not considered to have enough nobility to testify in the finding of facts.  A PR expert would say that they should not be on point with the revelation of Jesus.

But it was the will of God that this new kingdom have a true value of being “of the poor and for the poor” ( Pope Francis).

“At that very moment he rejoiced [in] the holy Spirit and said, ‘I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.[Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will’“ (Luke 10:21).

good news of great joy that will be for all the people…and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests—- This is rich because the message of Jesus that would be expressed when the Church is actualized is for all people.  There are no white or black, rich or poor but just those who choose to be God’s favor.

For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord—- though Luke’s gospel is not known to have as many Jewish traits as the others proportionally, he mentions this because with Jesus being born in the city of David there is a continuity of God’s long-term plan still that is not lost with its universality.

… a sign for you… an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger—- Theologians refer to the infancy narratives as the protoevangelium which is to say that it is primitive portion of the the gospel (evangeleon) that points in principles to the whole of the gospel narratives.  The description above they are to look for is not aesthetically pleasing for someone looking for the king with sparkle.  But neither are shepherds with their sparkle.  And neither are any of us when we remove the veneer of our self-righteousness and worldly pride.  The simplicity of Jesus as a baby points to the humility in essence to when his precious baby hands have grown and are pierced for our sins.

And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God— The simplicity of the understanding of how to discern Jesus correctly is our best preparation for heaven to touchdown on earth where the Church on earth is manifest.  These shepherds in being called out by the angels to gather to Jesus could qualify as a divine qahal, or assembly, in the Jewish understanding.  From a completed New Testament understanding on being called out to God’s purposes they were doing Church.  It only makes sense that angels are manifest for this point to be made.  The writer of Hebrews makes such a point later in the 1st century how the presence of angels is typical for the kingdom of God in Christ.  “No, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering” (Hebrews 12:22).   On a personal note I had a distinct sense of angelic presence the afternoon I went to my first mass as an adult in late 2012 and began my journey of discernment into the Catholic Church.

So if one is to receive a message of God’s universal and practical plan of grace for mankind and are mindful of God’s kingdom come to earth, what is the proper response?  “So they went in haste” is here the definition of a good knee-jerk reaction.

And what should we discern or find when we get in haste to what God has called us too?  “[A]nd found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger” means to find Jesus is to find him in the context of fellowship.  What should that fellowship be?  More of a church that is “of the poor and for the poor”.  Further, that manger speaks of transition.  Through the ages the spiritual richness of the Church, which is what counts, has been greatest when on the run, general transition or both.

And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart—  So for those that hear, God’s call to come, come and stay with a reflective heart on the mysteries of Jesus.  Mary is in the narrative as an example of experiencing the grace of God’s kingdom, which she was “full of”, that Side A is the experience but Side B in the contemplation as we consecrate ourselves in whatever station of life we are called to.

My prayer for you and I dear reader is that we do not let distractions keep us from meditating quietly of the nature of Jesus and relationship to him.  With a fullness of grace there is nothing left to stop us.

Mary–Warrior Queen Part Two

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If our lives are touched by the grace of God, and we are to go forward in applying it, how is it applied in the context of a relationship with him if things get more complex?  Here I think there is a lesson to be learned from a young Jewish girl two thousand years ago.

As I noted previously, Mary was approached by Gabriel and told that she would conceive the long awaited Messiah of Israel who would bring freedom and it would be in a way that is very expansive.  Mary was indeed full of grace which included a life filled with some sense of purpose.  When God challenges us, those things that are truly of him doing not really go away but are put in a context like gold that is refined in the fire.  When we are refined in a divine conversation of God, it is only for our good and that of the world around us as shown below.

“But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her (Luke 1:34-38).

How can this be…?—  It is important to see that this is not a matter of doubt on God’s agenda being carried out for two reasons.

First, since God is impartial, she would have been punished if she doubted the word of God in this season since Zechariah the father of John the Baptist was struck mute for doubting that miraculous conception.  The difference is that Zechariah inserted that the natural decay of death was stronger than the author of life.  For him in that moment, natural law was an end in itself.

But for Mary there was the principle of consecration.  There is a strong case to be made that Mary was promised to God as a temple virgin and aged out of serving directly in the temple when she gained her menstrual cycle.  Far fetched?  Not so much if one sees celibacy as part of a spiritual life and law.

Imagine there is a wedding shower and there are comments that one day the bride to be will have a baby shower.  Then the bride says, “How can this be?  There is no sign of a stork nest being built outside my window and that is required for having a baby”.  There would be an uncomfortable silence as people wondered who is going to explain the biology of marriage.

The commentary of the Ignatius Study Bible explores this further.

“The Greek text literally says, ‘I do not know man’, which refer to Mary’s virginal status rather than her marital status.  Her concern is not that she is unmarried but that she is a virgin at present and that she is a virgin at present intends to remain one in the future.”

There are doctrinal and devotional applications to this interpretation of that verse.  Doctrinally, in the subset  of what is called Mariology, we see a great case for her perpetual virginity which was believed by Luther, Calvin and Wycliff.  There is also scriptural foundation for a husband to know of a wife’s pre-existing vow and endorsing it by silence (Numbers 30:11-13).

But for the personal devotion life of the believer there is something important for individual, spiritual formation.  Mary answered back defending the beautiful premise that saving herself sexually for God alone was important to her.  Is your calling to be a spouse, celibate, celibate but looking?  Bring God into that. Cherish his will for your life with an attitude of thanksgiving.

The holy Spirit will come upon you—- This line goes toward the profound establishment of God’s kingdom with wording that is reminiscent of the dedication of Solomon’s Temple.  God came in a cloud on that temple and an anointing was put on the king who was referred to as the meshiach or “Anointed One” where we get Messiah.  Mary would be the first person in the New Testament who would be a true worshiper because she would carry the Son of God truly and not as an honorific title for the Davidic dynasty.

Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived.—-  I have long cherished an African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.”  The encouragement Mary receives is that she is not alone and and God has a plan for her to be worked out in community.  God calls all of us beyond ourselves first to Him but in the faces of others.

Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.——  Being at piece in her consecration to God, her mission more specifically in God and her place in community Mary is in a very mature place to give an informed yes and live it out.  Our names, circumstances and callings in life may be different but the principles are there.  We can benefit from all those principles so that we can be flexible when God knocks on our doors and calls us to make a new ways for Him.  The absence of such are the only things stopping us from those even quieter conversations with God when he comes knocking in our lives.