Doing the Father’s Will

Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt. 7:21)

How do we know if we are doing the Father’s will?  There are several cross referenced scriptures to these words of Jesus that may provide clarification.

The Apostle John says, “Let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:18)  Declarations of love are fine, but unless they are supported by actions, they ring hollow and fade.

James says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.”   It doesn’t do us any good to read or listen to the Word of God and then not do what it says.  James says it is like looking at yourself in the mirror and then immediately forgetting what you look like.  (James 1:22-25)

When we think about fulfilling God’s will, we often think of the big decisions in life such as where will I go to college.  What should be my major?  Should I consider a religious vocation?  Should I marry?  What kind of job should I seek?  Where should I live?  How many children does God want us to have?

However, the small, everyday decisions are often just as important in fulfilling God’s will because they tend to set the pattern or habit that determines whether we fulfill God’s will with the larger decisions.

This past week, I encountered one of those small decisions.

As a Eucharistic minister for my church, I take communion to residents at a local nursing home once or more a month.  Our usual practice is to have a group service for those who are ambulatory, and then go to individual rooms for those who are not and to the third floor where the Alzheimer residents reside.

I was informed by the social director that one of the Alzheimer residents was indisposed and that left only one other person, whom I will call Shirley, who is usually sleeping and most of the time doesn’t receive communion.

My first reaction was to skip the third floor and return home, but then I thought maybe I should check to see if Shirley was awake.  It turns out that she was in the third floor dining room just finishing her breakfast.  I went to her table and asked if she wanted to receive communion.  She did not respond.  I knelt down on one knee by her chair, put my hand on her hand and asked if she wanted to say the Lord’s Prayer.  She nodded yes, and we slowly recited the Lord’s Prayer together.

I again asked her if she wanted to receive communion, and she said, “I want to be a good girl.”  I said, “Shirley, you are indeed a good girl and God loves you very much.”  She then received communion.  The next thing I knew she was grabbing my hand and kissing it.  I was a bit embarrassed as I withdrew my hand, but realized that in her uninhibited way, she was responding to God’s love.  I was just standing in as his agent.

It was a small decision to go to the third floor, but both Shirley and I were the beneficiaries.   

Seeing God’s Face in Today’s World

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Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see the face of God.” (Mt. 5:8)  However, when Moses asked God to show him his glory, God said, “I will cause my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord in your presence…But you cannot see my face, for no one may see my face and live.”  (Ex.33:19-20)  Yet, when Phillip asked Jesus to show the disciples the Father, Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)

What does it mean to be pure in heart?  Is it to be holy as God is holy, to seek the truth in all things, to seek to do what is right and be righteous, to seek not to sin, though the Bible says we are all sinners?  Is it to be like Jesus?

Thomas A Kempis wrote a book entitled, The Imitation of Christ, in which he offers over 250 pages of counsel and meditations on growing in the presence and likeness of Christ.

St. Gregory of Nyssa said, “When the mist of sin no longer clouds the eye of your soul, you see the blessed vision clearly in the peace and purity of your own heart.”  Jesus seems to confirm this when he says the kingdom of God is within you.  He also says that what determines whether a person is clean is not what goes into his mouth, but what comes out of his mouth, “for the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart.” (Luke 17:21; Mt. 15:11)

The psalmist says, “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord?  Who may stand in his holy place?  He who has clean hands and a pure heart.”  (Psalm24:3-4)

Mother Theresa said she saw the face of Jesus in the poor and dying that her homes served in Calcutta.  

In the last few years I have had the privilege of serving on the Board of an organization that raises funds to support children with developmental disabilities and the establishment of special education programs in the Catholic schools of the Diocese of Arlington.  Among the characteristics common to these children are joy, simplicity and purity of heart.  Whenever I look at their big beautiful smiles, I see the face of God.

In most of these programs, the schools invite students from the general student body to serve as peer mentors to the students with disabilities.  Many of these peer mentors speak of the blessings that flow from their association with the students with special needs.  It seems that their joy and purity of heart have inspired several peer mentors to take up careers in special education.   

Would that we all exhibit similar joy and purity of heart, so that we might inspire others to serve the needs of God’s creation and kingdom.

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit with me.” (Psalm 51:10)

What the Centurion’s Faith Means to Us

The gospels are filled with stories of Jesus personally healing people of all kinds of illnesses and casting out demons.  Early in Luke’s gospel after going to Simon Peter’s house and healing Peter’s mother-in-law, Luke reports, “the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them.” (Luke 4:40)

Later, after the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus entered Capernaum and a centurion came to him to ask for help in connection with a servant who was paralyzed and suffering. When Jesus said he would go and heal him, the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.” He went on to explain that he was a man subject to authority with soldiers subject to him.  He said, “I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and I say to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” (Luke 7:1-10)

Jesus was astonished at the centurion’s faith and because of it, healed his servant from a distance without personally laying hands on him.  

Jesus was demonstrating that the power of God’s Spirit could heal on his word without the need for him to be physically present for the laying on of his hands.  John’s gospel reports a similar incident where Jesus heals the son of a royal official from a distance. (John 4:44-53)

It is a great consolation to all Christians that God’s Holy Spirit is able to heal without Jesus’ physical presence.  Let me illustrate with a story.

When our daughter Emily was born, she was diagnosed with Down Syndrome and a serious heart condition known as an A-V canal – holes in her heart between her auricles and ventricles.  Three different pediatric cardiologists examined her and concluded she needed early surgery to repair these holes in her heart.

On the weekend before her scheduled surgery, some close friends came to our house to pray for healing for Emily.  A few days later, Emily was admitted to Washington’s Children’s Hospital for a pre-op cardiac catheterization with the surgery to follow.  After completing the catheterization, the cardiologist came bounding into the room where my wife was waiting and joyfully exclaimed, “Mrs. Dalgetty, I have GLORIOUS news! There is no hole between her ventricles, and the hole between her auricles can wait to be repaired when she is older and stronger.   

My wife asked how this could be and he said, “It’s a miracle.”

After he left the room, my wife randomly opened her Bible and her eyes fell upon Jeramiah 32:26-27, “See I am the Lord, the God of all mankind; is anything impossible to me?”

Right after Emily’s fourth birthday she had surgery to repair the hole between the auricles and she came through the ICU and release from the hospital much faster than expected.  Today, she is 31 and works every day at a bakery and catering business.  Her joyful spirit has brought many blessings to our family and friends.

“Only say the word and my servant will be healed.”

Multiplying Grace

Are we multiplying the faith, spiritual gifts, personal talents and love we have received from God?

Jesus deals with this question through a parable reported in both the gospels of Matthew and Luke.  (Mt. 25:14-30; Lk. 19:12-27)  In each of these parables, a man goes on a journey and entrusts various sums of money to his servants.  In Matthew’s account, two of the servants invest the money and double what was given to them.  A third servant buried what was given to him.

When the master returned he sought an accounting from his servants.  For the two servants who doubled what was given to them, the master said, “Well done, good and faithful servant.  You have been faithful with a few things.  I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness.”

To the third servant who buried the talent given him out of fear of his master, the master replied, “You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed?”  Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.”

In the harshest of all of Jesus’ responses to sin and wrongdoing, he has the master saying, “Take the talent from him and give to the one who has ten talents.  And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

This is a sobering message.  We have a responsibility to utilize the talents, gifts and grace that God offers us.  If we do, we have the opportunity to share in God’s joy and happiness.  Failure to do so can result in them being taken away and our being separated from God.

God created us in his image and likeness, gave us varied gifts and talents, and assigned us the responsibility to take care of his creation.  He became one of us in the person of Jesus and delegated to us the additional task to make disciples of all nations, giving us the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit to accomplish the task.

In all walks of life, whether athletics, schoolwork, employment, providing for our families and raising our children, the common expectation is that we should  be diligent in doing the best we can.  God’s expectation is no less when it comes to his call for us to bring his presence to the people and circumstances of our lives through our example and word.  

“A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.” (Proverbs 6:10)  May our prayer be to never experience the scarcity of God’s presence, as we multiply his love, blessings and grace.   

Cut to the Heart

471996785Have you ever experienced something someone says to you that “hits you right between the eyes” or “cuts to the heart?” 

This happened to the people who were in Jerusalem from many different nations to celebrate the Jewish Feast of Pentecost.  While there, they witnessed the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’ disciples and early followers.  The Book of Acts reports that they were amazed to hear the disciples praise God in the many different languages that they represented.

When they asked what this all meant, Peter stood up and boldly stated that Jesus was commended to them by God, performing many signs and wonders, but they had him crucified by the Romans.  God raised him from the dead which Peter, the disciples, and another five hundred followers personally witnessed.  God was now pouring out his Spirit just as the prophet Joel foretold and as Jesus had promised.

Peter then declared, “Therefore, let the whole House of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”  When they heard this, “they were cut to the heart,” and asked what must they do?  Peter said, “Repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:36, 38)

The Book of Acts says that three thousand people were added to their number that day.

Forty years ago, I was cut to the heart when I had a personal encounter with Jesus at a healing mass and asked him if he would take the sin in my life.  He did, and just like Peter said, I received a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which became a watershed moment in my life.

As a result, God and his Spirit gave me a new thirst for reading and understanding scripture.  He gave me a desire to be reconciled with anyone I might have offended.  He gave me a new love for my Catholic faith.  His presence began to impact all areas of my life including my work life.

David was cut to the heart when Nathan, through a story, revealed to David his sin of committing adultery with Bathsheba and sending her husband Uriah to the front lines to be killed in battle.  David repented of his sin and God forgave him. (2 Sam. 12)

The Gospel of Luke reports that tax collectors and soldiers were cut to the heart by the preaching of John the Baptist.  They asked John what they must do.  He told the tax collectors not to collect any more taxes than was required, and the soldiers not to exploit their authority over people. (Luke 3:10-14)

The Holy Spirit convicts us of our wrongdoing and opens our eyes to the truth.  Jesus called the Holy Spirit our counselor and advocate, and the Spirit of truth. (John 14:16)  Peter told the crowd on Pentecost that the promise of the Holy Spirit was for them and their children and “for all who are far off.”  That’s us.

If you are not experiencing the fullness of God’s presence in your life, ask the Father for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  It’s a prayer he is sure to answer. (Luke 11:13)

Idols and Grace

In Jonah’s prayer after being cast into the deep, he prayed first by lamenting his condition and then in remembering the Lord, he made the following observation, “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.”  (Jonah 2:8)

What a profound statement!  God desires that all souls turn to him.  He provides grace to draw us to him.  He gives the Holy Spirit and offers to dwell in us if we invite him to do so.  But if we cling to the idols of wealth and fame, career and recognition, the pleasures of sex, food, drink, drugs and the many other self-focused pastimes of life, we forfeit the grace that can be ours. 

Jonah was forfeiting the grace available to him by running from God and refusing to obey God’s desire that he take a message of repentance to the city of Nineveh.

In Old Testament times, idols were often thought of as graven images of false Gods, but in our day, an idol can be anything that we worship with our time, resources and attention to the detriment of our worship and service to God and the responsibilities he gives us, including family, work and ministry.  The list of potential idols is long.

When our first three children were young, I became enamored with playing golf, wanting to become a respectable player.  I would play every Saturday and usually one night during the week after work.  On Saturdays, our foursome would pick me up at 6 am since the course was more than 30 minutes away.  After playing 18 holes and stopping at the 19th hole for a hot dog and beverage, it was often mid-afternoon before I would get back home.  This, coupled with an occasional trip to the driving range resulted in a significant intrusion on the time left for my family.

I was treating golf as an idol, giving it time disproportionate to what was due my other responsibilities, particularly my family.  There is nothing inherently sinful about golf just as there is nothing inherently sinful about other sports activities, or gardening, fishing, hiking, running, woodworking, going to the theatre, or the multitude of other activities to which we can devote our time and attention.

What matters is whether these activities encroach on our first responsibility to love and serve God and others.  We can make idols out of most anything, even good things such as ministry, family, or work if we let our time and attention become out of balance and disproportionate to its place in God’s will for our lives.

If we sincerely ask God how he wants us to spend our time, he will surely respond to us.  Let love be our guide. 

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt. 22:37-40)

The Blessings of Christian Friendship

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In Jesus’ closing words to his disciples he says, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.  Instead, I have called you friends, for everything I have learned from my Father I have made known to you.”  He sets a very high standard for true friendship and love when he says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:14, 13)

Tradition indicates that Jesus spent about three years with his disciples, traveling together throughout Israel, as he taught them and others by word and example about God the Father and the kingdom of God that Jesus was inaugurating. We Christians and followers of Jesus are the beneficiaries of God’s kingdom and the example of Christian friendship that Jesus lived and demonstrated.

For the past thirty-five years I have experienced the blessing of close Christian friendship with a group of men, some of whom are in the adjacent picture (boating on the Potomac last week).  We usually get together one evening a week to share what’s going on in our lives, pray with one another for various needs and enjoy each other’s company. 

Sometimes we study and reflect on a particular scripture, review a spiritual related book or discuss what’s going on in the Church and the world.  Over the years, we have assisted each other with various house or yard projects. When one of us is hospitalized, we visit and pray with the person.  A few years ago, we were at one of the brother’s hospital bedside, reading his favorite scripture and singing his favorite hymns as he passed from this life to the next.

We celebrate birthdays and special anniversaries, and socialize with each other’s families from time to time.  One of the brothers and his wife has a birthday dinner every year for our special needs daughter and her friends.

Catholic lay theologian and author Scott Hahn observes that while we may be the most connected society ever from an electronic standpoint, we are the most unconnected when it comes to genuine friendships and the pervasive loneliness that exists.

Friendship usually results when two or more people seek to associate with one another because of certain things they have in common. It may be a shared interest in work, recreational pastimes, sporting events, enjoying the same hobby or other common activity or interest.

When I experienced the renewal of my Christian faith through the power of the Holy Spirit almost forty years ago, I was struck with how much in common I would feel with someone who had a similar born again Christian experience.  It didn’t matter whether we were Catholic or Protestant, I would feel a kinship and excitement as we shared our experiences of the Lord and his word.

It is no small thing for the Spirit of the living God to dwell in us as he offers to do through his Holy Spirit. (See John 14:15-24)  Coming to know others who share the impact of this common experience gives rise to beautiful, committed friendships — part of God’s desire and plan for all of us.