Author Archives: Bill Dalgetty

Peace – God’s Elusive Gift

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.”  (John 14:27) 

These were among Jesus’ last words to the disciples on the night before his arrest.  In spite of these words, our experience tells us that ongoing peace is a challenge for us to attain, particularly the kind of peace St. Paul describes as passing all understanding. 

Thomas A Kempis in his book, Imitation of Christ, says, “Our peace consists in humble bearing of suffering and contradictions, not in being free of them, for we cannot live in this world without adversity.  He who can best suffer will enjoy the most peace.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran minister was imprisoned by the Nazis in 1943 and executed just days before the war’s end in April, 1945. Eric Mataxas, in his biography of Bonhoeffer, says that he brought peace and calm to his fellow prisoners.  “His strength was borrowed from God and lent to others,”said Mataxas. 

On the day of his execution, the prison doctor observed, “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God.  I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain God heard his prayer.  At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer, and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed.  I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”

Most of us are not likely to experience the challenges that Dietrich Bonhoeffer did, but as Thomas A Kempis says, we cannot live in this world without adversity– sickness, unemployment, estrangement from loved ones, a difficult boss, caring for a disabled relative – the list is endless.  Are we able to handle these challenges with the kind of peace that Jesus is talking about?

In the prime of my career as an attorney for a large company I declined a promotion to avoid a relocation that my wife and I believed would have adversely affected our family which included three teenage daughters at the time.   For a couple of years I was not very peaceful as I was asked to take an assignment I held once before so someone “more promotable” could take my job. 

Then our company had an incident at one of its facilities for which I was responsible for overseeing legal services.  We had several lawsuits, regulatory actions, a legislative effort to outlaw our operations and even a criminal action against two of our managers.  We were able to resolve all of these matters in a satisfactory manner, and it turned out to be the most challenging and rewarding legal work of my career.

In Jesus’ closing moments with the disciples he said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

How do you find your peace?

Temples of the Living God

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Co 3:16)

If we are temples of the living God as St. Paul suggests, who is building the temple?  In Old Testament times God dwelled in a tent and then in the temple in Jerusalem, but Jesus declared that the time had come when true worshipers would worship the Father not in a temple, but “in Spirit and truth.” (John 4:21) Jesus also said that if we love him and obey his teaching the Father and he will come and make their home with us. (John 14:23)

Psalm 127 says, “Unless the Lord builds a house, the builders labor in vain.”  So, who is building our temple?  Are we seeking the Lord’s help or are we trying to do it by ourselves?  How is our character and conscience being formed?  Is it with the Lord’s help, or are we leaving him out of the process?

While God continues to invite us to grow closer to him, he gives us complete freedom to accept or reject his invitation.  He offers us several tools, however, to help us build a temple for his presence. 

The first is as simple as conversation with him, which we call prayer.  He stands ready, knocking at the door of our hearts waiting for us to open the door and invite him in.  it usually involves an intentional act on our part.  The second tool is his word. The Bible reflects his word in many different forms.  If we read his word regularly, we can come to know God better.  We can take on the wisdom his word provides.  We can learn from the lives of the people of the Bible, the words of the prophets and the psalms.  We can learn from the teaching of Jesus and the example of his life.     

One of the most important tools God gives us is his church. Through the church he gives us sacraments to experience his grace and presence.  Through his church he gives us a community of believers to strengthen our journey.

God makes all these tools available so that we can build a temple for him to dwell in.  Many of the cathedrals of the world have taken decades to complete.  Our temples take a life time.  We never quite finish the final touches, but God is with us as soon as we start construction.      

Where are you in the process of building a temple in which God can dwell?

Unknowingly Searching for God

“When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.”(Mark 6:20)

The Gospel of Mark reports that after King Herod had John the Baptist imprisoned, he liked to listen to him.  He had imprisoned him at the urging of his wife, Herodias because she resented John pointing out that she was also the wife of Phillip, Herod’s brother.  Herodias wanted to kill John, but initially she was not able to do so, “because Herod feared John and protected him.” 

How fascinating!  Herod was attracted to what John had to say, so he apparently visited him from time to time in prison.  He may have been puzzled by John’s words, but he was still drawn to listen.  Though he may not have realized it, Herod was searching for God.

Once when a work colleague learned that I was involved with a ministry called Christians in Commerce, he laughed and loudly proclaimed that the name, Christians in Commerce, was an oxymoron.  When we were with other colleagues he would kid me about the ministry and mock my Christianity, but when we were alone he would ask all kinds of questions about the ministry and about passages from scripture that he did not understand or agree with.  He would not admit it, but he was searching for God.

God creates us with a desire to seek him and the truth about life and existence.  It may not be a desire that is obvious to us.  Yet, we all seek meaning, purpose and what is real in life.  

We are attracted to the truth.  When Jesus explained the meaning of the scriptures about himself to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection, the disciples later exclaimed, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)

Unfortunately, sin and the distractions of the world often keep us from listening to Jesus.  We listen to other voices that obscure the truth and the message God has for us.  Paul speaks to this problem in his letter to the Romans when he says, “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.” (Romans 1:25)

Fortunately, God never stops working to draw us to him.  In honor of our free will, he never forces our acceptance of him.  But he made it part of our DNA to seek meaning and truth.  As St. Augustan said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests with you.”

Are we created with a built-in desire to search for and come to know God?

Pray First

“In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” (Phil. 4:6)

How often do we enter into a challenging situation and forget to pray for God’s assistance?  It may be a difficult meeting with the boss, or an effort to resolve a disagreement with our spouse, or a discussion with one of our children over a certain disciplinary action.

Over the years I have experienced times when I have neglected to pray and times when I remembered.  At work, I often found myself praying in the hallways and elevators as I walked to meetings where potential conflicts needed to be resolved.   The outcomes always seemed to be better when I prayed.

Here is a non-work story for which I have found memories.  Many years ago our oldest daughter was in a serious dating relationship with a young man who I had met on several occasions.  He called one day and asked if we could get together for lunch.  Since on a prior occasion he had expressed interest in a workplace ministry I was involved in, I had thought that he wanted to follow-up on that conversation. 

As I was leaving my office to meet with him, the thought hit me, “What if he wants to ask permission to marry our daughter?  How will I respond?   So, I started to pray, asking God what I should say. We had no reservations about him being a good husband for our daughter.  It was more a matter of what form should my response take for such an important request. 

After a prolonged discussion on a variety of subjects, there was a pause and then a request for permission to marry our daughter.   As a result of my prayer, I said, “Well, I have two requirements.”  His countenance gave a worried look.  “The requirements are that you love God and that you love our daughter.”  He let out a sigh, and said, “Oh, I can do that!  That will not be a problem.” 

In a postscript to this story, it turns out that our second daughter was also in a serious dating relationship.  About a month later I received a call from the young man she was dating who lived out of state.  He said that he had hoped to talk with me in person, but his circumstances did not allow it.  He was coming to town to see our daughter and wanted our permission to marry her.  Thinking back to what happened the month before, I said, “Well, I have two requirements,” and before I could state what they were, he said, “Yes and yes.”  He had obviously consulted with our other daughter’s fiancé. This past year both marriages celebrated their twenty-sixth anniversaries.   They and their families have brought us much joy and many fond memories.

The Bible is full of stories of people who prayed for God’s assistance before entering into challenging situations – Moses, Joshua, Esther, Nehemiah, to name just a few.  Jesus conspicuously prayed to the Father before commanding Lazarus to rise from the dead.

How do you pray before entering into a challenging situation?

Joy Complete

“If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:10-11)

These words of Jesus from John’s Gospel are about how we can have joy that is lasting and complete.  Over the years I have experienced joy in a variety of ways — when I proposed to my wife on a snowy Christmas eve 60 years ago this December; when I witnessed the birth of our five children; when I received a promotion in my work; when I used to hit a good golf shot; when the Washington Redskins won the Super Bowl (many years ago); when I have had the courage to share about God’s grace and the saving power of Jesus Christ; when I do something for someone else instead of myself.  

The world tends to look at joy in terms of pleasure, good fortune and success.  Even Webster defines joy by using these terms.  But in John’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that if we obey his commands we will remain in his love and our joy will be complete.  It is ongoing.  It gives rise to a general state of well-being regardless of the circumstances.  It is a joy that survives setbacks, disappointments and even tragedies.    

Many years ago, some people prayed with me at a Life in the Spirit program to experience more of the Holy Spirit in my life.  Later, as I drove home in a blinding snowstorm on the curvy and hilly roads of northern Westchester County, NY, I could barely see beyond the hood of the car.  Yet, I was about to burst with joy from experiencing God’s presence in the Holy Spirit. The blizzard didn’t bother me one bit.

As Jesus suggests, it is God’s presence that is the source of our joy.  The more we are in his presence, the greater potential we have to experience that joy.  We can seek his presence through prayer, scripture, and the sacraments, and in joining with other Christians in his name.   

But perhaps the best way to experience God’s presence is simply to seek him at all times in our thoughts, in our work, in our time with others, and in whatever we are doing.  If our life is a constant dialog with the person of Jesus, we will be in his presence through the Holy Spirit, and our joy will be “complete.”  As the psalmist says, “You fill me with joy in your presence.”  (Psalm 16:11 NIV)

How do you experience ongoing and lasting joy in your life?

We All Want Purpose

“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and finish his work.” (John 4:34)

Jesus’ disciples were urging him to eat some food, and Jesus responds that his food was to do God’s will.  From his words and actions we know that God’s will for him was to save us from our sins, to show us “the way and the truth and the life,” and to defeat death by his death and resurrection.

I have never met anyone who didn’t want to have purpose and meaning in their lives.  Rick Warren has sold over 35 million copies of his book, Purpose Driven Life, indicating a fairly high level of interest in the subject.   

As Christians, the Church teaches us that we are called to come to know God, to love him and to serve him and others in this life, so that we can be with him now and into eternity.  How this plays out in real life varies with each individual, for God creates each one of us with unique characteristics, skills and purpose. 

For me, I came to know God through the Christian heritage of my parents, as well as through a personal encounter with Jesus Christ many years ago.  Early in my adult life my primary purpose was to love and support my wife and children and advance in my career as an attorney as far as possible.  I didn’t give much thought to whether those two objectives were God’s will for me.   

My wife and I practiced our Catholic faith by going to church every Sunday, raising our children with Christian values and getting involved in a few church activities.  It wasn’t until we experienced a renewal of our faith through the power of the Holy Spirit in our mid-30’s that I began to look at the purpose for my life through the lens of God’s will for me. 

Through that renewal experience, God enlarged my perspective of purpose.  Loving and serving my family, and serving my employer and others well were part of his desire for me.  I also came to understand that God wants us to be good stewards of the talents, time, possessions, responsibilities and people he entrusts to our care.  Just as he commanded Peter at the end of John’s Gospel to feed and take care of his sheep, he commands us to love and take care of the people and other responsibilities he puts in our lives. 

He also places us in the garden of his creation “to work and take care of it.” (Genesis 2:15)  Our work is important to God.  His plan is for us to be good stewards of his creation and the advancement of civilization that results from our work.  Like a cloth made up of a multitude of threads weaved finely together, each one’s individual work contributes to the civilization that has evolved from God’s creation.

What purpose has God revealed to you in terms of your unique characteristics and gifts?

A More Innocent Time

“You have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.” (Psalm 61:4 NIV)

Heritage and history are important to all of us.  They impact how we were raised as children and how we carry what we experienced into our adult lives.  If we marry and have a family it affects how we raise our own children, often repeating what we experienced with our parents or adjusting accordingly.

I am reminded of my 60th high school class reunion in Mason City, Iowa, which I attended a few years ago. Mason City is a town of about 30,000 in northern Iowa, known mostly for Meredith Wilson’s birthplace and being the model for River City in his musical, Music Man.

Out of a class of 340, one hundred ten of us showed up from California to Virginia and Texas to Idaho.   We came to catch up with old friends, become reacquainted with others we didn’t know so well and relive memories from long ago.

What was noteworthy was that everyone had a genuine interest in one another.  There were no agendas.  There was no competition in sharing about family or what was going on in people’s lives.  People shared more about family than careers or past accomplishments.  There was no discussion involving politics, the public arena or world affairs.

We reminisced about a more innocent time when as children we could walk several blocks to our elementary schools without our parents and concerns for safety.  We could ride our bikes to any part of town at any time of day or night without worry of being mugged or molested. 

We still said the pledge of allegiance in our schools “as one nation under God,” and we sang Christmas carols at school Christmas concerts.   God was not banned from the public square and the Christmas crèche still appeared in the town’s Central Park.

We said grace at the reunion’s dinner, and remembered the 95 members of our class who had passed in a beautiful slide show.  We parted with lots of hugs and well wishes, realizing that for those of us who came from quite a distance, it might be the last time we would see one another. 

In reflecting on the weekend, what struck me was that everyone present had worked hard all their lives at whatever their occupation was, raised and loved their families to the third, and even the fourth generation in some cases.  Whatever their religious faith or background, they evidenced a belief in God.  They experienced the challenges and blessings of life, but were still motivated to do the right thing.

How can we bring our heritage to bear on our current lives? 

Erroneous Assumptions

“Don’t be afraid, just have faith.” (Mark 5:36)

These were the words of Jesus to Jairus, a synagogue ruler whose twelve-year-old daughter was dying.  Jairus had come to Jesus pleading for him to come and lay hands on his daughter and heal her.  Shortly thereafter, Jairus’ friends came to say, “Your daughter is dead.  Why bother the teacher anymore?” 

Jesus ignored the friends and went with Jairus to his house, and found people crying and wailing loudly.  He said, “Why all this commotion and weeping?  The child is not dead but asleep.”  But they laughed at him.  He put everyone out of the house, except for Jairus, his wife, Peter, James and John.  He went to where the daughter was, took her hand, and said, “Little girl, I say to you arise!” Immediately the daughter stood up and everyone was completely astonished. (Mark 5:39, 41)

Like the friends of Jairus, we too, may sell God short and assume that he can’t do something or won’t act in response to our prayers.  Therefore, we forgo praying for a loved one with a serious or terminal illness; we observe the actions of a friend and presume that our prayers for conversion will have no effect; we refrain from praying that God will change the heart of an adversary; or we neglect to ask God to give us the right words to diffuse a controversy.

A Christian friend, who specializes in physical therapy at rehabilitation center in Phoenix, tells the following story of a co-worker.  The co-worker had to have an MRI every two years in connection with brain tumor surgery she had a few years earlierIt is always a time of anxiety for her because there was a piece of the tumor that could not be reached in the surgery and continues to be seen on the MRI.  She always fears that a new MRI may show the tumor growing.

When the time came for the co-worker to have another MRI, my friend asked a small group of women that she meets with every week to pray in the name of Jesus that the tumor would be gone.  It just so happened that that my friend got to see her co-worker just before she left for her appointment.  “I kept asking the Lord if he really wanted me to share our prayer with her.  I didn’t want to hurt her with an incorrect word.  Well, there she was, telling me it was time for her appointment and looking very nervous.  I shared with her that our group had prayed that the MRI would show that the tumor was no longer there.  Then I placed my hand on her forehead and blessed her. She gave me a hug and went out the door.

“The next time we saw each other, I was walking down the hallway past her office when she yelled, ‘The tumor is gone!’”

My friend concludes, “This experience has also impacted me.  I am much more alert to whether the Lord wants me to reach out to others and be available to talk with them and to pray with them if the need arises.” 

How often do we sell God short by not praying for him to act? 

Light Piercing Darkness

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:35-36)

This scripture reminds me of the people who rescued my brother, Jay, and his wife, Sharon, during the floods in Houston in 2017.  For more than a week we saw pictures of flat bottom boats rescuing people stranded in their homes by the rising waters of Hurricane Harvey.  What made this particularly challenging was that my brother was bound to a wheel chair with a medical pack continuously delivering medication to his heart, further complicated by a broken hip. 

Through a remarkable set of circumstances it appears that God’s protective arm was always close at hand.  Fortunately, my brother’s daughter was at their house as the waters started to rise.  She just happened to look out the front door and saw a man in a boat proceeding down their street.  She hailed him down and said she needed help in evacuating her parents.  She explained that my brother could not get out of his wheel chair, and somehow had to be lifted into the boat, wheel chair and all. 

She was told not to worry, that he would go get help.  He returned with three other men who lifted my brother and his wheel chair into the boat.  They then walked the boat through a swift current to higher ground quite some distance away. 

God’s provision did not end with the rescue.  Friends from their church took them in and gave up their first floor master bedroom.  During the flood, water reached five feet in their first floor destroying nearly all furniture, appliances, personal possessions, and their car.  The furniture and other items tumbled from room to room.  Almost nothing was found in the room in which it had been placed.  As the workmen were cleaning up, someone brought a large bucket with the label, “The Blessing Bucket from God’s Pit Crew” with the following message, “We pray that the contents will bless you.”  Among the contents was a new NIV Bible, the very kind that Sharon lost in the flood.

Sharon had a couple of electronic candles on the book shelves beside the fire place that could be turned on by a remote control.  As the workmen were cleaning up, the candles came on and started to flicker.  The remote was nowhere to be found.  No one knows how they came on.  Sharon thought the candles were letting the workmen know that in spite of all that had happened the light of Christ was still present.  The number of volunteers and circumstances would seem to confirm Christ’s presence.

How have you brought the light of Christ to others?

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?