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A Peace the World Cannot Give

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27)

The entire world is in turmoil at this moment over the Coronavirus pandemic. More than three million people have been infected worldwide and more than 200 thousand have died. In the United States almost one million people have been infected and more than fifty-five thousand have died. With widespread stay-at-home orders, our economy has gone from having one of the lowest unemployment rates in history just two months ago, to more than 26 million people filing for unemployment benefits in the week ending April 18. Anxiety and fear are running high due to both the disease and its economic consequences.

It might be well for us to reflect on Jesus speaking of peace to his disciples both before and after his death and resurrection. “Peace be with you,” were his first words to them following his resurrection. (Luke 24:36) Three days earlier they had seen him die a tortuous death. They were still hiding behind locked doors for fear of the Jewish leaders. Their hopes that he was the Messiah were dashed. The last thing they expected to see was Jesus in their midst. They were in need of his peace

Jesus’ word to us in the midst of the challenges we face today is also peace. “My peace I give to you,” he says. It is the ultimate gift! It is a peace we cannot get from the world. Let me share a story to illustrate, not about the current crisis, but a personal crisis that took place a number of years ago.

It started with a call from my urologist, “You have an aggressive and an advanced form of prostate cancer.” I was shocked and initially fearful. I was prompted to let friends and family know and ask for their prayers. As I started to receive the assurance of their prayers and concern, I began to experience God’s love and peace.

Like the disciples, I needed to realize that Jesus was in my midst in order to receive his peace. He was with me in the numerous acts of love from my wife, my children, and my brothers and sisters in Christ. He was with me as a good brother inveigled his way into the pre-op room and led the doctors and nurses circled around my bed in prayer for the surgery. He was with me through adult children who left their own families to spend time with me. He was with me through my wife who was a constant support and always present. He was with me in the quiet times as he whispered to my spirit.

Thirteen years later, my PSA, the marker for prostate cancer, has started to creep back up beyond the level of recurrence. We are monitoring while I wait for an NIH trial of a new type of scan that detects very small metastases that can then be treated with targeted radiation. Jesus’ peace is still present.

How do you seek peace? Have you asked Jesus to come into your midst?

Seeing the Risen Jesus

“And it so happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but there eyes were prevented from seeing him.” (Luke 24:15)

Jesus’ followers saw him die, and they saw the tomb where he was laid. The trauma of his tortuous death was indelibly printed on their minds and would not be easily removed.

Now he was appearing before them, but they did not recognize him. Mary Magdalene did not recognize him until he said her name. The disciples on the road to Emmaus did not recognize him though he walked with them until nearly dark explaining the scriptures. Only as he broke bread with them as they began to eat were their eyes opened. (Luke 34:13-35)

Overcoming our paradigm of death and its irreversible nature is no small matter. It was true for the disciples and it is true for us. Yet, that is exactly the hope that God offers on Easter morning in the person of his son, Jesus. With his resurrection he showed us that life does not end with our physical death. Who we are has less to do with our physical nature than with our soul and spirit, which are a created by God and mysteriously joined with our physical nature at conception.

Jesus bequeathed to both the disciples and us something to take the place of his physical presence – the Holy Spirit, which he described as giving us the power to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. The Holy Spirit enables the words of Jesus to become a reality in our lives — he is in us and we in him just as the Father is in him and he is in the Father. He says the result is that, “Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these…so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” (John 14:12-13)

With the power of the Holy Spirit, we can experience Jesus’ personal presence in our daily lives. For me, this first happened on an October evening many years ago when I met him in a new and personal way. I see him every day in the big bright smile of our daughter born with Down syndrome whose many hugs reflect her natural inclination to love.

I see him in the love of my wife and all or our children and grandchildren as they respond to his love for them. I see him in the inmates of the local jail who accept the humility of their present circumstance and seek the sacrament of reconciliation. I see him in college students we know who postpone career decisions to serve him in Christian outreaches to impoverished areas and on College campuses. And, I experience him in the sacraments of the church.

Where do you see the risen Jesus?

Separated – But Not from God’s Presence

We enter our third week of nearly complete separation from other people because of the Coronavirus. This is an unprecedented moment in our nation’s history as nearly all social and most commercial intercourse is curtailed. Our government calls for social distancing – no church, no school, no spectator sports or entertainment, no gatherings greater than ten. In public and commercial settings we are to separate ourselves by six feet. We have March Madness but without basketball.

While the virus separates us from one another and the rest of the world, it does not separate us from God. Jesus’ final words to the disciples were, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mt. 28:20)

Before his arrest, he told the disciples, “On that day [his resurrection] you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.” Later he says, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”

Jesus promises to dwell in us if we love him and keep his word. We may be temporarily denied his presence in the Eucharist, but not his presence in us through the Holy Spirit.

In the Book of Revelation, Jesus reasserts this promise. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.” (Rev. 3:20)

As we open the door of our hearts to Jesus, he promises to enter and take up residence. There are no qualifications or limitations to this statement. Wherever we are, whatever the circumstances, Jesus is available to us. What a promise! We can have a conversation with him just as we have a conversation with a loved one, a friend or colleague.

For many years I have been meeting with Jesus every morning for coffee. I read his word, share with him my concerns, ask for his help for various needs on behalf of my family, friends, and myself, and seek his guidance on various choices I face on daily basis.

Our family misses coming together with others for mass on Sundays and with other Christian friends on other occasions, but we are not separated from God’s presence in the midst of this present worldwide medical and economic crisis.

We cannot yet imagine how God will use and work during this time. As Paul says, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

How are you using this extraordinary time of restricted activity? Are you taking advantage of God’s presence? Are you taking time to open the door of your heart to him?

Following Jesus at a Distance

“Peter followed him at a distance into the high priest’s courtyard, and was seated with the guards, warming himself at the fire.” (Mark 14:54)

Like Peter, we may profess our allegiance to Jesus that “even though all should have their faith shaken, mine will not be.” We may recite the creed every Sunday declaring that we believe in “God the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.”

Yet, like Peter, there may be times when we keep our distance from Jesus. We may fail to show up for a daily prayer time we set for the beginning of each day. After a busy week of work, and a Saturday filled with our kid’s sports activities, we may let a round of golf take precedence over our attending mass on Sunday.

We may fail to respond to a friend’s request for help because it is not convenient. We may put a higher priority on our comfort as Peter did when he warmed himself by the fire.

Like Peter, we may be thrust into circumstances where we are reluctant to be identified with Jesus. In Peter’s case, it was the guards, the elders and the mob. For us, it may be a boss who has disdain for God, or social friends who consider any reference to Jesus as foolishness.

Early in my career when I attended company meetings followed by cocktails and dinner, the conduct could sometimes get a bit macho and boisterous. It was not unusual for the conversation to involve exaggerated exploits, the building up of self and the putting down of others, off-color jokes, gossip, and the fawning over whoever might be the most senior person present. At some point I began to realize that when I went along with this kind of conduct I was distancing myself from Jesus. It was so easy to go with the flow and tempting to want to be a part of the group. It required a decision on my part not to participate.

Just as Peter’s faith was tested, so is our faith tested in numerous ways, some obvious and significant, others subtle and small. From a faith perspective, the subtle can cause as much harm as the obvious because of their corrosive effect.

The world inclines us to keep our distance from Jesus, while Jesus bids us to draw near. He says come to me all who are burdened from the cares of this world and I will give you rest. Come to me all who are thirsty for meaning in life and I will give you understanding. He says step across the distance that separates us, and you will experience my love, my strength and my peace. He warns us that in the world we will have trouble, but assures us that he has overcome the world.

Are there times when you follow Jesus at a distance?

Waiting on the Lord

“The Lord is waiting to show you favor… blessed are all wait for him.” (Isaiah 30:18) 

Have you ever grown impatient with a prayer request to the Lord?

In the course of our daily lives we place numerous requests before the Lord seeking his blessing and response. We pray for a new job if we have been laid off; the conversion of a loved one or friend; the reconciliation of an alienated relative; the admission to the right college for a family member; the healing of an illness or physical injury for ourselves or others. The examples are endless.

Jesus, of course, encouraged us to pray constantly for our needs and gave us a model in the Lord’s Prayer which contains several requests. He also encouraged us to be patient and persevere in prayer and never give up as illustrated in the parable of the persistent widow. (Luke 18:1-8) 

Our experience suggests that there is often a time of waiting between when we offer up our prayer and when it appears to get answered. I had this experience one summer when my sixteen year old grandson, Mark, and I went on a two day boating and fishing trip down the Potomac River south of Washington, DC.

Our plan was to travel down the Potomac about thirty-five miles, stop at various locations to fish, eat the fish we caught for dinner, stay overnight on the boat, and head back the next day, doing the same thing.

At the beginning of the first day I prayed fervently that the Lord would bless Mark with being able to catch many fish. So we proceeded to our first spot on Mattawoman Creek that is usually a sure bet for at least a catfish. We fished for over an hour, but were not even getting a bite. We then proceeded to a nice area just north of the Quantico Marine Base. Again, nothing!

I prayed, “Lord, what’s going on? We should have been able to catch something by now.” So we made a couple of sandwiches, had lunch, and then proceeded further south. I could tell Mark was getting discouraged because he decided to take a nap. We headed down to Fairview Beach where the Potomac turns east for a few miles before it turns south again just north of the 301 Bridge.

It was now later in the afternoon, so we only had about an hour before we had to arrive at a marina where we had a slip reserved for the evening. We stopped at an area where there is an underwater ledge which drops from fifteen to sixty feet. We started fishing. I’m praying, “Lord, we’re running out of time.   We made no other provision for dinner.” Then Mark yelled, “I got one!” And indeed he did, a nice size catfish that ended up being more than two hungry fishermen could eat for dinner.

The Lord’s timing was perfect. It made Mark’s catch all the more memorable. Later that night and the next day we caught several more fish.

Are you willing to wait on the Lord for his perfect timing?

The Lord’s Prayer Awakens a Soul

“Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be your name…” (Mt. 6:9)

When was the last time you listened closely to the words in the Lord’s Prayer?

Once or twice a month, I take communion on Sundays to Catholic residents at a nearby nursing home, including a few residents in various stages of Alzheimer’s. Some of the Alzheimer residents are not able to receive communion, or are often asleep when I arrive, so I usually just say a short prayer with them.

One Sunday, when I came to one of the women who had her eyes closed (let’s call her Alice for the sake of privacy), I gently touched her on the shoulder and asked her if she would like to say the Lord’s Prayer. She opened her eyes in kind of blank stare. I knelt down beside her, put my hand on her hand, and started to slowly recite the Lord’s Prayer. Her eyes began to open wide and she started to say the words with me. Her eyes became wider and wider as she saw herself remembering the words. A slight smile spread across her face. She appeared as if she were proud of herself for remembering the words. As we finished a small tear appeared in the corner of one of her eyes. I said, “Alice, would you like to receive communion?” “Yes,” she nodded, and I placed the Eucharist on her tongue.

This was the first time that I had ever seen Alice receive communion. It was as if the Lord’s Prayer had awakened her soul and memory, enabling her to recite the entire prayer. It made the back of my neck tingle.

I, too, was impacted by seeing the power of Jesus’ words on Alice, words Jesus suggested to his disciples when they asked him how to pray. (Luke 11:2) For some of us, the Lord’s Prayer may become so familiar that we may recite the words but let their meaning bounce right off our mind and heart.

When I first started to take communion to the residents of this nursing home, I was uncomfortable with the Alzheimer’s residents. In fact, on my second visit I skipped going to their floor. But after seeing the impact of Jesus’ words on Alice and watching how those words awakened God’s presence in her, I received a new love for Alice and all her fellow residents.

How do you retain the meaning and power of the Lord’s Prayer in your life?

An Unexpected Encounter with Jesus

“And one of them struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said in reply, ‘Stop, no more of this!’ Then he touched the servant’s ear and healed him.” (Luke 22:50-51)

Jesus had just finished praying on the Mount of Olives when a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests came to arrest him. The Gospel of John says that the servant’s name is Malchus. (John 18:10)

Imagine if you are Malchus. You have accompanied a group of soldiers, probably at the request of your master, the high priest. You come in the dark of night across the Kidron Valley separating Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives with torches and weapons. Your task is to arrest Jesus whom you have been told is an enemy of the Jewish religion and Israel. One of Jesus’ followers attacks you with his sword, cutting off your ear.

Then this Jesus, your supposed enemy, reaches out and touches your ear and it is fully healed. One moment it is hanging there, bleeding, about to fall off, and the next moment it is completely restored. One moment your adversaries are acting as you would expect adversaries to act, and the next moment Jesus, the object of your arrest, is reaching out to you, not to do you harm, but to undo the harm done by one of his followers.

How can Malchus not be affected? It had to be life changing. Since John identifies him by name in his Gospel, it is likely that Malchus became a follower of Jesus and was familiar to John and the people for whom he wrote his Gospel.

As with Malchus, Jesus is always ready to reach out to us. In the most unlikely of circumstances, he is there, always inviting, ready to heal or respond to a need we have not anticipated. In the ordinary and extraordinary, he is there. Whether it is to open our life to him for the first time, or to go deeper in our relationship with him, he is present.

Like Malchus, I had an unexpected encounter with Jesus many years ago when a priest at a healing mass invited us to imagine that we were alone with Jesus and to give to him any need we might have. For whatever reason I imagined that I was on a country gravel road south of Kansas City, Missouri on the way to my wife’s grandmother’s farm. Jesus was standing there.

I asked him if he would take away some disorder in my life and he did. As a result, I invited him into all areas of my life, including my professional life, and my life has never been the same. If you ask my wife, she will tell you that from that point forward, all my priorities began to change, as I sought God’s will in each area of my life as a husband, father and an attorney for a large oil company.

Are you willing to be surprised by an unexpected encounter with Jesus?