Monthly Archives: January 2023

Preparing the Soil

Being prayed with for more of the Holy Spirit a number of years ago made a huge difference in my life.  It opened my heart and mind more to God’s word and helped the soil of my heart be more fertile for the Lord’s purpose in all aspects of my life.  While I am still very capable of messing up, experiencing the Holy Spirit in a fuller way has helped me be more attentive to God’s purpose and will. 

The Parable of the Sower may illustrate.  (See Mark 4:1-20)   A farmer went out to sow seed.  Some of the seed fell along the path and birds came and snatched it up, which Jesus likened to Satan taking the word away as soon as it is heard.  Some fell on rocky soil, where it was not able to take root.  Jesus said these were people who hear the word, but because it does not take root, as soon as they encounter trouble or persecution, they fall away.  Some of the seed fell among thorns where it started to grow but was choked by the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth, and the desire for other things.  Finally, some seed fell on good soil which grew and multiplied thirty, sixty and even a hundred times. 

Notice how Jesus observes that people whose soil accepts God’s word may produce different size crops.  The more fertile the soil, the greater the yield of the seed, the more fruit it produces in a person’s life, and the more a person can be used by God to fulfill his purpose and will.

Jesus is always knocking on the door of our hearts, waiting for us to invite him into our lives.  We have to be intentional in opening the door and inviting him in.  Once we invite him in, we need to spend time with him in prayer and with his word as given to us in Holy Scripture.   If we are a part of a sacramental church, we should partake in all of the available sacraments, for we receive God’s special grace through them.  The Holy Spirit is particularly beneficial in opening our minds and hearts to the meaning of God’s word and his will for us in the daily choices of our lives.

John tells us that the Word existed before all else and was God; and that the Word became flesh in Jesus. (John 1: 1, 14) Paul tells us that the Word of God is Spirit and is living. (Heb. 4:12; Eph. 6:17)  The Psalmist tells us that the Word is flawless. (Ps. 18:30 NIV)  May we prepare the soil of our heart so that the Word yields a harvest many times what is sown.  “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.” (Isaiah 55:6)

What is the condition of your soil to receive and nurture God’s Word?  

Kinship with Jesus

Ruth’s co-worker, Stella, was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  After talking with Stella on the phone a few times, Ruth came to realize that the Lord was putting it on her heart to visit Stella and bring his word to her.  Ruth was initially reluctant.  “Lord, are you sure you want me to do this? I am not very good at this sort of thing.”  After some prayer and few sleepless nights, Ruth asked Stella if she was receiving visitors.  Stella said yes, and also mentioned that she had been having several dreams and that Ruth was in each of them.  Ruth took this as a sign that the Holy Spirit was bringing them together.

When Ruth visited her the following day, Stella spoke of her religious upbringing as a child; she asked about the right way to pray, and wondered if her illness was a result of something bad in her life.  Ruth assured her that was not the case and that God loved her more than she could comprehend.  All she needed to do was invite God into her life.

Ruth said, “Over the next few visits, we continued to talk and pray, and Stella invited Jesus into her life.  The last time I saw her she had an angelic, peaceful quality about her, and although she could barely whisper, she assured me that she was praying and would be fine.”

Although Ruth initially resisted the promptings she was receiving, she eventually yielded to God’s will to bring his word and offer of salvation to Stella before she died.  By doing so, Ruth was fulfilling God’s will and furthering her kinship with Jesus.

Three of the gospels tell a story about how we can grow in kinship with Jesus.  On one occasion when Jesus is surrounded by a large crowd of people, he was told that his mother and brothers were outside.  Jesus asks, “Who are my mother and brothers?  Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, ’Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)

This may seem to be a curious response by Jesus.  Yet, he is not denigrating his mother or kinship as much as he is raising those who do God’s will to the importance and level of kinship.  For most of us, there can be no more honored status than our mothers who gave us life.  Jesus is saying that those who do God’s will are similar in status and importance. 

Jesus is using what appears to be an extreme statement to get our attention on how important it is to do God’s will in all things — in all our daily choices, large and small. 

Are there areas in your life where you can seek greater kinship with Jesus by doing God’s will?

God’s Compassion and Will

“A leper came to [Jesus} and said, ‘If you wish, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, ‘I do will it.  Be made clean.’  The leprosy left him immediately.”  (Mark 1:40-42)

All of the Gospels report stories of Jesus’ great compassion for the poor, the sick, the blind and the lame as he taught and ministered to the people of Galilee.  Yet, we know from scripture that not everyone was healed.  We also know from our own experience that many people experience illness and other adversities, prayers are offered, and the adversity appears to continue. 

Why are some people healed in response to prayer and others appear not to be?  Maybe a better question is what is God doing in this particular situation or need? 

St. Paul says, “Affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope.” (Ro. 5:3-4) James tells us, “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” James 1:2-4)

Our life experiences also teach us that we grow more in our trials than we do in our consolations and successes.  God often uses adversity to draw us closer to him.  He often uses final illnesses to bring us into his presence. 

A number of years ago, I was diagnosed with an advanced and aggressive form of prostate cancer.  My wife, children and friends prayed for my healing.  My treatment included surgery to remove the prostate followed by three years of hormone therapy.  The surgery revealed that the cancer had migrated outside the prostate to at least one lymph node.  One of my friends, who himself was suffering from renal cell carcinoma, prayed for me several times including in the pre-op room after persuading the nurse that he was my brother [Christian, that is].

While he and I were good friends and Christian brothers before my cancer, we became particularly close afterwards.  We now shared a similar adversity that could be potentially life threatening.  I prayed for him and he prayed for me.  When we were together our conversation often took on deeper meaning.

A couple of years later he died.  I am still alive.  We could ask why, but again, the better question might be what was God doing with us?  Perhaps my friend was ready to come into God’s presence, and I was not.  These are mysteries for which we will never know the answer in this life, “for who has known the mind of the Lord?”  (1 Co. 2:16, NIV)

While we may never know why God responds in different ways to different circumstances, we can know by faith that out of his great compassion and love he “wills” to do what is best for us long term. 

How has God used adversity in your life to draw you closer to him? 

Hearing God’s Voice

“The Lord God called to Samuel.  He ran to Eli and said, ‘Here I am.  You called me.’ ‘I did not call you,’ Eli said, ‘Go back to sleep.’”  (1Samuel 3:4-5)

This happened three times before Eli realized that the Lord was calling Samuel who did not recognize the Lord’s voice.  Each time he heard his name being called, Samuel went to Eli, thinking it was he who was calling him.  After the third time, Eli guided Samuel to say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”  Samuel went on to become one of the great prophets of the Old Testament.  “The Lord was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect.” (1 Samuel 3:19)

Knowing when we hear God’s voice is a major challenge for most of us.  Our lives are filled with continuous noise in today’s culture.   Television, radio, robo calls, texts, and e-mail boxes stuffed with spam — all contribute to a cacophony of noise that tends to drown out the Lord’s whispers to our heart and spirit.  Do we recognize God’s voice when he is calling us or asking us to do something?

When I was in my mid-30’s, I started to serve as a religious education teacher for high school students in our parish in Armonk, N. Y.  One of the other teachers whose name was Ann befriended me.  She was a noticeably joyful person and began to invite me to various prayer meetings, conferences and other spiritual related events.  After declining each of her invitations over several months, she started inviting my wife who agreed to attend a Life in the Spirit program at a nearby parish being conducted by some nuns from Scarsdale.  The program took place over five evenings from Sunday through Thursday.

My wife asked if I wanted to join her but I initially declined, indicating I had a brief case full of work.  Each night when she came home, I noticed how happy she seemed to be. On the fourth evening when she walked in the door, she was absolutely radiant.  Then she said, “You know I think I could forgive almost anything of anyone.” 

I thought to myself, “Wow! I have to check this out.”  I told her I wanted to join her the next evening even though it was the last evening and I had missed the four previous sessions.  That night, I met the Lord Jesus Christ in a new and very personal way, and my life was forever changed.  I was later prayed with to experience being filled with the Holy Spirit, and I have been trying to walk every day since with the Lord in all the venues of my life – family, work, social and ministry. 

Like Samuel, I was not recognizing the Lord’s call when Ann was extending me all of those invitations. It was what I saw God doing in my wife’s life that helped me to respond to his call in my life.

Are you able to hear the Lord’s voice through the noise of everyday life?

Imitating the Star

 “When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?  We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” (Mt. 2:1-2)

As we know from listening to the story of the Magi every Christmas season, it was the star that led them to the Christ child.  Saint Leo the Great, Pope from 440 – 461, said we should imitate the star of Bethlehem in guiding and leading people to Jesus.  

Just as God took on flesh and blood through the power of the Holy Spirit with the Virgin Mary, so too, he takes on flesh and blood in us through the power of Holy Spirit.  God calls us to be his presence in the world and to bring that presence to the people in our lives – family, friends, colleagues and strangers.  The following is a story of my friend, John, who did just that.   

John was a county prosecutor from Duluth, Minnesota.  One of his early prosecutions involved a former high school friend, Jim.  Over the next 26 years John would prosecute Jim a dozen times for theft-related crimes to support a chemical dependency.  During the first few prosecutions John looked on Jim as just another hopeless criminal.  Then he started praying for Jim.  In the last prosecution of Jim it was determined that he was terminally ill with sclerosis of the liver, and the judge assigned him to a hospice outside of prison.  Jim asked his attorney to ask John to pray for him. 

Over the next six months, John did more than just pray for Jim.  He visited him two to three times a week at the hospice facility.  They reminisced about growing up in the 1950s and talked about their favorite baseball teams.  They also started reading the Bible together.  That fall, Jim repented of his sins and surrendered his life to Jesus Christ.  He died in late November.

“Over those last six months I frequently called Jim ‘brother’ because we had become brothers in Christ,” said John.  “Jim loved reading and praying the psalms.  God used Jim to teach me about acceptance of suffering and perseverance, and he showed me that it’s never too late to say yes to the Lord, no matter what we have done in the past.”

John concludes, “Because God answers prayers, Jim said ‘yes’ to Christ before he died, and I know he is in paradise today – just like another thief who died on a cross next to Jesus 2000 years ago.”

Like the star of Bethlehem and the example of John, have you led anyone to Jesus through conversation, prayers, and love?