Monthly Archives: February 2023

God’s Shredder

“All, from the least to greatest, shall know me, says the Lord, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)

As Christians, we are quite familiar with God’s promise to forgive us of our sins when we repent of them.  Even Jesus’ name meant that he would “save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)  And forgiveness is one of the petitions we recite in the Lord’s Prayer. (Matthew 6:12)

But Jeremiah promises that God will not only forgive us of our sins, he will remember them no more!

This is so contrary to our human nature.  For our part, we tend to resist granting forgiveness when we have been offended and may struggle even more with forgetting the offense.  When we have been the offending party, we also tend to hold on to the memory of our offense even when we have repented of the sin and received forgiveness or absolution in the sacrament of reconciliation.

When I was in my early 30’s and working in New York, I received a call from my father’s boss inviting me to my father’s retirement party in Iowa after 40 years of service with the H. J. Heinz Company.  I had just been transferred to New York to take a new position and had a business conflict with the date of the retirement party.  At the time I thought it was an important meeting critical to my new job.  I agonized over the decision for a while, but ended up opting for the so-called important business meeting.    

It didn’t occur to me that I might be disregarding the Fifth Commandment to “honor your father and your mother.” When it finally did occur to me, I repented of my mixed up priorities and inordinate self-focus that was so prevalent at that time in my life.  Today, I can’t even remember what the business meeting was about. 

While I have considerable regrets for this failure, I take great comfort in God’s promise spoken through Jeremiah that this sin has gone into God’s shredder of repented sins and he remembers them no more. 

This promise reminds me of St. Paul’s recitation of the various actions that constitute love in First Corinthians 13 — love “keeps no record of wrongs.”  But then, as the apostle John reminds us, “God is love.” (1 John 4:16) 

Do you have past sins that you may have repented, but continue to hold onto and worry about?

Cleaning Out Our Temples

“Don’t you know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Co. 3:16) Three times St. Paul declares in his letters to the Corinthians that we are God’s temple, or that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.  (1 Co. 6:19, 2 Co. 6:18)

In connection with the Jerusalem temple, all four gospels relate the story of Jesus clearing the temple courts of cattle, sheep and doves, and the people selling them.  He said, “How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”  He made a whip out of cords and drove them from the temple, overturning the tables of the money changers.  He said, “It is written: ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a den of thieves.” (John 2:14-17; Mt. 21:12-13)

Obviously, Jesus felt passionately about upholding the sacredness of God’s temple, and he was compelled to clear it of anything that detracted from that sacredness.  If, as St. Paul says, we are a temple of the living God, then there may be things that need to be cleared from our lives in order to maintain the sacredness of our temple.

Like many a building, have we allowed things to accumulate that get in the way of our relationship with God?  Perhaps bitterness and unforgiveness; maybe an addiction to alcohol, opioids or pornography?  Have we allowed work or some other activity to become an idol detracting from our responsibilities to family and others? 

Bishop Fulton J. Sheen in his book, Life of Christ, observes that it was naturally a problem for people who came to the temple to get ahold of the material to sacrifice. Accordingly, a flourishing trade in sacrificial animals gradually developed closer to the temple and, for the sake of convenience, eventually moved inside the temple courts. For the sake of convenience, do we allow our busyness to get in the way of a regular time of prayer with the Lord each day?

When I was young, I remember my mother doing “spring cleaning” every April.   She would take down our lace curtains to clean and stretch them, wash the windows and thoroughly clean the whole house.  My father would clean out the garage and basement of things that had accumulated over the winter. 

Similarly, we may need to do a periodic cleaning of our temple of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes it may require just a good vacuuming or a little dusting; other times, a junk removal service may be required.

We can be confident that Jesus, who is experienced in clearing temples of things that don’t belong, will assist us in making our lives a fitting residence for the Holy Spirit and the presence of God!

As Lent begins this week, does your temple need some cleaning?

Building the Kingdom through Relationships

When Jesus sent out the seventy-two to proclaim the Kingdom of God, he gave them very specific instructions. He said, “Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you…Do not move from one house to another.  Cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’” (Luke 10:7-9)

These instructions provide an important message to all Christians who are trying to share their faith with others: Build relationships, serve people’s needs, and then share your faith and proclaim the kingdom of God.

How often have we tried to share our faith without first having established a relationship? Without the credibility of a relationship, without serving someone’s needs, our words about God and the life he offers through his Son and the Holy Spirit may ring hollow. 

After Jesus called Matthew, he dined and spent time with Matthew’s tax collector friends.  He invited himself to lunch with another tax collector, Zacchaeus.  He stayed on two days with the Samaritans after encountering the woman at the well, and John’s Gospel reports many became believers. (John 4:39)

The Parable of the Yeast seems to confirm the need to mix it up with the world in our relationships.  “The kingdom of heaven [God] is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.” (Matthew 13:33) The yeast, which is the good news, needs to mix with the flour, which is the world, in order that the dough, God’s kingdom, can rise.

In my own walk, I can think of several people who reached out to me with sincere friendship that deepened my faith walk.  There was Father John, who gave me instruction to join the Catholic Church when I was a teenager.  We shared many hours together in our mutual love of music, in addition to his individual instructions about the faith.

In my mid-thirties there was Ann, a fellow teacher of Religious Education to teenagers in our church.  Ann had the radiance and joy of the Lord.  She kept inviting my wife and me to various charismatic Christian events, which resulted in my meeting Jesus in an entirely new way and experiencing a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

In my mid-40’s, I was introduced to Christians in Commerce, a Christian outreach to business, that helped me better live out my faith in the workplace.  All three founders of this ministry, who lived in different cities, spent time guiding me in becoming a better Christian at work.  They offered witness and friendship, and stayed with us whenever they were in town.

Like the seventy-two, Jesus sends us out and instructs us to build relationships, serve people’s needs, and then proclaim that the kingdom of God is at hand.

How do you build relationships in order to share about Jesus?

Who Do You Say I AM?

After Jesus asks the disciples who people are saying he is, he then asks them, “But who do you say that I am?” Matthew quotes Peter as saying, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:13-16)

Jesus asks us the same question, “Who do you say that I am?”  Like Peter, are we willing to say that Jesus is the son of the living God?  Are we willing to follow him and his will in the daily decisions of our lives, large and small?

The following story illustrates an initial failure of this standard followed by the action of God’s grace in redeeming the outcome.

After working for Mobil for 37 years I started to sense that it was time to do something different with my life.  Following several months of prayer and discernment, I decided to retire early and accept an opportunity to work full-time with Christians in Commerce (now WorkLight), a ministry to the workplace.

I informed my boss of my intentions, but he asked me to hold off for a couple of months before I told anyone what I intended to do.  It turned out that he was involved in negotiating a possible merger with Exxon.  As a part of the merger there was a retention bonus if you stayed on until the merger was completed, calculated by various multiples of your annual salary depending on the level of your position.  A couple of months later the merger was announced along with the retention bonus.  I got caught up in all the talk about the amount of money involved and arranged with Christians in Commerce to delay the beginning of my work for them for six months. 

A month later I was flying home from a business trip, looking out the window at an interesting cloud formation and thinking about the future.  All of sudden I felt like the Lord was saying: “So, you tell me you want to work for me in ministry.  I arrange an opportunity, and now you put me off for some extra money!  Haven’t I taken care of you and your family?”  It felt like a slap in the face.  What had I done?

The next day I told my boss that I had made a mistake.  I had made a commitment to begin working for a Christian ministry and needed to keep my commitment. I could not stay on until the merger was completed.  I would forgo the retention bonus.  As it turned out, the merger took almost two years to complete.  Had I stayed on to receive the bonus, I would have surely missed the many blessings of having worked for Christians in Commerce for the next nine years of my life.

How have you been challenged in following Jesus and doing his will?