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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?

Trusting God in High Winds

“He awakened, rebuked the wind and the waves, and they subsided and there was calm.” (Luke 8:24)

We may recall the story when Jesus and the disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee. A furious squall came up with waves breaking over the boat. The disciples woke Jesus who was sleeping, exclaiming that they were going to drown. Jesus rebukes the wind and the raging waters. The disciples were seized with amazement and fear, asking one another, “Who then is this, who commands even the winds and the sea, and they obey him?” (Luke 8:25)

A few years ago, a friend and I went out on the Potomac River south of Washington,     D. C. Our intention was to go down river a few miles to a crab house, but the wind became so strong that we could not dock safely, so we decided to return to the marina. The Potomac widens to about three miles in this area so the wind has room to kick up.  Our boat is a cruiser with a flying bridge and a canvas Bimini on top, so there is sufficient bulk for the wind to impact the steerage of the boat. My friend, Bud, an experienced sailor, estimated the wind at 35 to 40 miles per hour with white caps everywhere.

I said to Bud that we needed to start praying because the wind would hit us broadside as soon as we started to turn into the alleyway of the marina, causing us to crash into the boats adjacent to our slip. We started praying, “Lord Jesus, you calmed the wind and waves on the Sea of Galilee; calm these winds.  The wind did not abate.  I asked Bud to go down to the stern with a boat hook (pole) to try to keep us from hitting the other boats. We both kept praying, “Jesus, calm the wind, Jesus calm the wind!” The wind kept blowing.

As we approached the alleyway, I told Bud, “I need to come in fast to control the boat.” I was so focused on controlling the boat and yelling instructions at Bud, I didn’t notice what was happening. Bud yelled back, “Bill, the wind has stopped!” I proceeded to pivot the boat and backed into the slip without any difficulty. As soon as we tied up and secured everything, the wind resumed its fury.

There are many ways we can experience high winds in life – a spouse or child who is critically ill, the loss of a job, a life-threatening illness, a boss who cannot be satisfied, a child who struggles making friends, the backbiting of a competitive work colleague, the birth of a child with a disability, a tax deficiency notice from the IRS — the list is long and varied.

Jesus is available to calm the high winds, whatever form they take. Do you call on Jesus when you encounter the winds of life? Do you have faith that he will come to your aid?

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Telling People about Jesus

“The first thing Andrew did was look for his brother, Simon and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.” (John 1:41 NIV)

Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist. John saw Jesus passing by one day and observed to his disciples that Jesus was the “Lamb of God!” Andrew then followed Jesus and spent the day with him.

After meeting Jesus and spending time with him, Andrew, who was also Peter’s brother, immediately went to Peter to share that he had found the Messiah and wanted to introduce him to Jesus.

When I was in my mid-thirties, I met Jesus in a new and personal way, different from anything I had experienced before in the practice of my Catholic faith. While I have shared the details of this encounter in prior blog posts, let me just say that it had the effect of enhancing my faith in God and the Church. It gave me a desire to pray more on a daily basis, read scripture and experience everything about my spiritual and faith life in a more intense and real way.

Like Andrew, one other thing it did was give me a desire to tell others about my experience of meeting Jesus. I was so excited about my encounter and the effect it had on my life that I wanted to share my experience with family, friends and even co-workers.

I remember writing lengthy letters to my parents and a cousin, who was a nun, explaining in great detail all that happened. I shared my experience with a couple of close work colleagues who seemed to accept what I had to say. One of them retold my story to other work colleagues. Some friends invited me to share my experience at a church prayer meeting. One invitation seemed to lead to another.

For over forty years, I have been responding to opportunities to tell people about Jesus, including this weekly blog. Yes, there have been times when I have missed or failed to act on opportunities. But telling people about Jesus and introducing them to him seems to be the way Jesus started out with Andrew, Peter and the others he called. Andrew introduced Peter to Jesus, and Peter, Andrew and the other disciples, with the help of the Holy Spirit, were Jesus’ “witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

We might ask ourselves, have we sought after Jesus like Andrew, and have we sought to introduce him to others?

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Trusting God like Joseph

“Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” (Mt. 2:20)

Three times God speaks to Joseph through an angel in a dream. The first time was to tell him to take Mary as his wife after he had decided to divorce her quietly because she was pregnant. The second time was to flea to Egypt to escape Herod’s efforts to kill the child Jesus. The third time was to return to Israel when it was safe.

The Bible does not reveal many details, so we don’t know the time periods involved or all of the circumstances. Whatever the time, perhaps years, Joseph’s response to the sequence of events exhibited great trust and confidence in God. He accepts an explanation for Mary’s pregnancy that defies all human experience. Then he takes his wife and new baby to a foreign land in reliance on a warning in a dream.

We see the faithfulness of God to Joseph in his multiple words, signs and the evolving circumstances. The angel’s message about Mary giving birth to a son, who was to be a “Savior” and “The Messiah,” was subsequently confirmed by some unknown shepherds who report that angels told them the same thing. (Luke 2:11)

By the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth recognizes Mary as “the mother of my Lord.” (Luke 1:43) Further confirmation comes through the words of Simeon and Anna during the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. (Luke 2:2-38) Then God directs three kingly men from foreign lands to find Jesus, Mary and Joseph and give them gifts that probably sustained them in their flight to Egypt. (Matthew 2:1-12)

Finally, Joseph receives one more message that it is now safe for them to return to Israel. We see trust and faithfulness in Joseph in his willingness to act on the words he had received and in his submission to the circumstances.

What is our level of trust and confidence in God when he gives us that gentle nudge or whispers in our ear? Do we hear him when he speaks through others? Do we see his faithfulness and desire for us in the circumstances of our lives?

Lord, let me trust in you like Joseph.

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