Monthly Archives: August 2022

Seeing God’s Face

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see the face of God.” (Mt. 5:8) 

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

Thomas A Kempis in his book, The Imitation of Christ, 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.” (Luke 17:21)  When Phillip asked Jesus to show the disciples the Father, Jesus said, “Don’t you know me, Phillip, even after I have been among you such a long time?  Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”

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

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

Over the last few years I have had the privilege of serving on the Board of Porto Charities, an organization that raises funds to support children with intellectual and developmental disabilities through 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 many 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 needsIt seems that their joy and purity of heart have inspired several peer mentors to take up careers in special education.   

How can each of us seek greater purity of heart?

Christian Friendship

“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.” (John 15:15) 

Jesus is sharing his last words with the disciples after washing their feet and instituting the Eucharist at the Last Supper.   After having been their teacher for three years, he says that he has taught them everything that God has taught him, so he no longer calls them students or servants, but friends.  He says as the Father has loved him so does he love them and instructs them to love one another in the same way.  He then 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 15:13)

For the past forty years I have experienced the blessing of close Christian friendship with a group of men, some of whom are in the adjacent picture.  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 sick or hospitalized, we visit and pray with him.  A few years ago we were at one of the brother’s bedside, reading his favorite Bible verses and singing his favorite hymns as he passed from this life to the next.  What a blessing and privilege it was!

We celebrate birthdays and special anniversaries, and socialize with each other’s families.  One of the brothers and his wife have had birthday dinners for our daughter with special needs and her friends.      

Catholic 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. 

It is no small thing for Jesus to offer us his friendship and dwell in us through the Holy Spirit.  It is an added bonus when we come to know others who share in this common experience.  The result: beautiful, committed friendships in Christ – part of God’s desire and plan for all of us.

Have you considered seeking out a small group of Christian brothers or sisters to share life and your common experience of friendship with Jesus?

“Love, Not Judgment”

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged.” (Mt.7:1-2) 

Frightening!  Jesus  goes on to ask why we look for the speck in another’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in our own.  He says, “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Mt. 7:5)

After receiving communion on Easter Sunday a few years ago, the words, “Love, not judgement,” came into my mind.  I was thanking God for his suffering, death and resurrection for us, and the blessings that my family and I have experienced as a result. 

In reflecting on these words at the time, I was quite aware that I have struggled with the sin of being judgmental for most of my life.  How often have I been quick to analyze someone’s circumstance without knowing all the facts and coming to a judgment? 

Upon further reflection, I asked myself and the Lord what I should do to counter this tendency.   “When you see a person, whether a stranger, acquaintance, close family or friend, your first thought should be, ‘how can I love this person.’”  Perhaps there is a need for encouragement and affirmation.  Sometimes there may be a need for prayer; perhaps, just a need to listen.  Being judgmental derives from the sin of pride, of which I have an ample supply. 

In my work as an attorney for an oil company one of my early assignments included representing our marketing department and the various managers of that department for a particular region of the country.  I was told to watch out for a certain District Manager who had a reputation for ignoring some of the legal requirements of our business and was generally very difficult to deal with.

I was subsequently invited to attend a marketing managers’ meeting where I sought out this manager and spent some time with him.  We played some tennis during an afternoon break and I got to hear about how he viewed the challenges of his job, about his family and interests in life.  It appeared to me he didn’t deserve the reputation that was following him.  I never had any problems with this manager, nor did we ever have any legal problems coming out of the sales district he oversaw.  Fortunately, I withheld judgment, as the need for critical judgment was not apparent.

The obvious lesson from this incident is not to make a judgment until you know the facts.  But an even better approach when we encounter people is to ask ourselves:

How can I love this person here and now?

Body and Soul

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. (Mt. 10:28)

Matthew is describing how Jesus sent out the twelve disciples. Jesus is offering them guidance in the event they encounter persecution.  He is clearly making a distinction between body and soul, and implying that the soul can live on even if the body is killed.

Being raised in a Christian family, I was aware of the idea of a body and a soul and the two being distinct since I was a child.  It wasn’t until many years later when a secretary with whom I worked died of colon cancer that I began to really understand the distinction.

Her name was Rita.  She was not only a highly competent secretary, but a lovely, gracious person.  She was always kind and fair with the other secretaries she supervised.  She had a joyful and peaceful spirit.  Everyone loved her.  I watched her decline through two surgeries and multiple regimens of chemo therapy.  On my last visit with her before she died, I was shocked by her physical condition – how she went from a vibrant women in her mid-40’s, so full of life, to a near skeleton of a person ravaged by cancer and chemo therapy. 

That evening I was thinking about her condition, and I believe God gave me a special understanding of the nature of our being and the distinction between body and soul.  Most of the characteristics that determine who a person is are not related to their physical nature.  Whether a person is kind, loving, truthful, and gracious comes not from a person’s physical presence, but from their inner being, their soul, and what we often describe as their heart. 

Cancer can kill our physical nature, but it can’t kill the inner person or the soul that lives on.  The soul is eternal just as the Bible says.  The next day I wrote Rita a letter sharing these same thoughts, which her family read to her.  I was told that a knowing smile came across her face.  She died the next day. 

I believe that I experienced a moment of God’s special grace after my last visit with Rita.  He shared a bit of his truth about life for both my benefit and Rita’s.  It was a moment I will always remember, and one that has re-enforced my Christian faith and changed my outlook on life. 

What makes you primarily who you are?

Listening to Jesus

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him!” (Mt. 17:1-9)

A few years ago, a close friend experienced a massive brain hemorrhage and was taken to the hospital.  A brain scan indicated that he would not survive.  I went to the hospital in the morning and then again in the afternoon to support him, his wife and family.

While the prognosis was fairly certain, the timing was not.  After spending most of the day at the hospital, I decided to go home for dinner.  After dinner, I was tired and my first inclination was not to return to the hospital, but then the question started coming into my mind, “What if he dies tonight?”  The question started to nag at me.  It wouldn’t go away.  Then it dawned on me to ask, “Is that you Lord?  Do you want me to go back to the hospital?”  I grabbed my Bible and headed out the door.

When I arrived in his room, there were now more friends beside the family.  We gathered around my friend’s bed and began to pray, read psalms and other passages from the Bible.  We sang hymns that were familiar to him and his family.  Our mood went from being somber to a realization that we were assisting our good friend in his passage from this life to the next.  We began praising God for his life, and what he meant to his family and the rest of us

The monitor started to show an irregular heartbeat, and the intervals between breaths were growing longer.  After a few minutes the line on the monitor went flat.  My friend had passed on to the embrace of God. 

I believe that nagging question I heard after dinner, “What if he dies tonight?” was from Jesus and his Holy Spirit, leading me back to the hospital.  What a privilege and blessing it was for me to be physically present as his soul and spirit left his body to be with God!

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all report on an event known as the transfiguration of Jesus.  In it, Jesus takes Peter, James and John up to a mountain where Jesus’ face and clothes begin to shine like the sun.  Moses and Elijah appear and begin talking with Jesus.  A cloud covers them and a voice from the cloud makes the opening statement above. 

What a remarkable occurrence!  God is speaking audibly and directly to the three disciples, confirming that Jesus is his son and that the disciples should listen to him. 

We are blessed to have four different gospel writers handing down a treasure trove of Jesus’ words, teachings, and actions.  One way for us to listen to Jesus is to read what he has to say, digest the meaning of his parables and observe his actions for the example they give us.  But Jesus and his Holy Spirit can also speak to us in our thoughts.

I believe that Jesus wanted me to be with my friend and his family when he died.  If I had not listened to him, I would have missed both the opportunity and the privilege. 

Have there been times when Jesus has put a thought in your mind about something he wanted you to do?