Waiting on the Lord

IMG_0886Have 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 ourselves or family member; or the healing of an illness or physical injury for ourselves or others.  The examples are endless.

Psalm 33 says, “We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.” 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 last week 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 on the way down, 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.   

Isaiah says, “The Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion.  Blessed are all wait for him.” (Isaiah 30:18)

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Temples of the Living God

If we are temples of the living God as St. Paul suggests, who is building our temple?  “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Co 3:16)

God creates us in his image and likeness.  He offers to dwell in us through his son, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. (John 14:23)  In Old Testament times God dwelled in a tent and then in a temple, but Jesus declared that a time was coming when true worshipers would worship the Father not in the temple of Jerusalem, but in Spirit and truth. (John 4:21)

In fact, he referred to himself as the temple when he cleared the temple of money changers.   “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days,” he said. (John 2:19)

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 it by ourselves?  How is our character and conscience being formed?  Is it with the help of the Lord, or are we leaving him out of the process?

Many of us who are Christians had Christian parents who raised us in Christian homes.  While this may not be true for everyone, from the time we began to understand, our parents would teach us what was right and wrong.  If we were Catholic, they sent us to Catholic schools or saw to it that we received religious education in our parish church.  If we were Protestant, they sent us to Sunday school and took us to church on Sundays and saw to it that we were raised in the Christian faith.

My Father was Baptist and my mother, Catholic.  My brother and I were raised Baptist, and I remember going to Baptist Sunday school every Sunday throughout my elementary school years.  When I was twelve, I became interested in my mother’s Catholic faith, and became Catholic a couple of years later.

As we grow older, whether we continue to grow in our faith becomes our responsibility.   While God continues to invite us to grow closer to him, he gives us compete 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.  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.      

Doing the Father’s Will

Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt. 7:21)

How do we know if we are doing the Father’s will?  There are several cross referenced scriptures to these words of Jesus that may provide clarification.

The Apostle John says, “Let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:18)  Declarations of love are fine, but unless they are supported by actions, they ring hollow and fade.

James says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.”   It doesn’t do us any good to read or listen to the Word of God and then not do what it says.  James says it is like looking at yourself in the mirror and then immediately forgetting what you look like.  (James 1:22-25)

When we think about fulfilling God’s will, we often think of the big decisions in life such as where will I go to college.  What should be my major?  Should I consider a religious vocation?  Should I marry?  What kind of job should I seek?  Where should I live?  How many children does God want us to have?

However, the small, everyday decisions are often just as important in fulfilling God’s will because they tend to set the pattern or habit that determines whether we fulfill God’s will with the larger decisions.

This past week, I encountered one of those small decisions.

As a Eucharistic minister for my church, I take communion to residents at a local nursing home once or more a month.  Our usual practice is to have a group service for those who are ambulatory, and then go to individual rooms for those who are not and to the third floor where the Alzheimer residents reside.

I was informed by the social director that one of the Alzheimer residents was indisposed and that left only one other person, whom I will call Shirley, who is usually sleeping and most of the time doesn’t receive communion.

My first reaction was to skip the third floor and return home, but then I thought maybe I should check to see if Shirley was awake.  It turns out that she was in the third floor dining room just finishing her breakfast.  I went to her table and asked if she wanted to receive communion.  She did not respond.  I knelt down on one knee by her chair, put my hand on her hand and asked if she wanted to say the Lord’s Prayer.  She nodded yes, and we slowly recited the Lord’s Prayer together.

I again asked her if she wanted to receive communion, and she said, “I want to be a good girl.”  I said, “Shirley, you are indeed a good girl and God loves you very much.”  She then received communion.  The next thing I knew she was grabbing my hand and kissing it.  I was a bit embarrassed as I withdrew my hand, but realized that in her uninhibited way, she was responding to God’s love.  I was just standing in as his agent.

It was a small decision to go to the third floor, but both Shirley and I were the beneficiaries.   

Seeing God’s Face in Today’s World

How does this happen?IMG_0675

Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see the face of God.” (Mt. 5:8)  However, when Moses asked God to show him his glory, God said, “I will cause my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord in your presence…But you cannot see my face, for no one may see my face and live.”  (Ex.33:19-20)  Yet, when Phillip asked Jesus to show the disciples the Father, Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)

What does it mean to be pure in heart?  Is it to be holy as God is holy, to seek the truth in all things, to seek to do what is right and be righteous, to seek not to sin, though the Bible says we are all sinners?  Is it to be like Jesus?

Thomas A Kempis wrote a book entitled, The Imitation of Christ, in which he 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.  He also says that what determines whether a person is clean is not what goes into his mouth, but what comes out of his mouth, “for the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart.” (Luke 17:21; Mt. 15:11)

The psalmist says, “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord?  Who may stand in his holy place?  He who has clean hands and a pure heart.”  (Psalm24:3-4)

Mother Theresa said she saw the face of Jesus in the poor and dying that her homes served in Calcutta.  

In the last few years I have had the privilege of serving on the Board of an organization that raises funds to support children with developmental disabilities and 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 most 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 needs.  It seems that their joy and purity of heart have inspired several peer mentors to take up careers in special education.   

Would that we all exhibit similar joy and purity of heart, so that we might inspire others to serve the needs of God’s creation and kingdom.

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit with me.” (Psalm 51:10)

What the Centurion’s Faith Means to Us

The gospels are filled with stories of Jesus personally healing people of all kinds of illnesses and casting out demons.  Early in Luke’s gospel after going to Simon Peter’s house and healing Peter’s mother-in-law, Luke reports, “the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them.” (Luke 4:40)

Later, after the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus entered Capernaum and a centurion came to him to ask for help in connection with a servant who was paralyzed and suffering. When Jesus said he would go and heal him, the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.” He went on to explain that he was a man subject to authority with soldiers subject to him.  He said, “I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and I say to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” (Luke 7:1-10)

Jesus was astonished at the centurion’s faith and because of it, healed his servant from a distance without personally laying hands on him.  

Jesus was demonstrating that the power of God’s Spirit could heal on his word without the need for him to be physically present for the laying on of his hands.  John’s gospel reports a similar incident where Jesus heals the son of a royal official from a distance. (John 4:44-53)

It is a great consolation to all Christians that God’s Holy Spirit is able to heal without Jesus’ physical presence.  Let me illustrate with a story.

When our daughter Emily was born, she was diagnosed with Down Syndrome and a serious heart condition known as an A-V canal – holes in her heart between her auricles and ventricles.  Three different pediatric cardiologists examined her and concluded she needed early surgery to repair these holes in her heart.

On the weekend before her scheduled surgery, some close friends came to our house to pray for healing for Emily.  A few days later, Emily was admitted to Washington’s Children’s Hospital for a pre-op cardiac catheterization with the surgery to follow.  After completing the catheterization, the cardiologist came bounding into the room where my wife was waiting and joyfully exclaimed, “Mrs. Dalgetty, I have GLORIOUS news! There is no hole between her ventricles, and the hole between her auricles can wait to be repaired when she is older and stronger.   

My wife asked how this could be and he said, “It’s a miracle.”

After he left the room, my wife randomly opened her Bible and her eyes fell upon Jeramiah 32:26-27, “See I am the Lord, the God of all mankind; is anything impossible to me?”

Right after Emily’s fourth birthday she had surgery to repair the hole between the auricles and she came through the ICU and release from the hospital much faster than expected.  Today, she is 31 and works every day at a bakery and catering business.  Her joyful spirit has brought many blessings to our family and friends.

“Only say the word and my servant will be healed.”

Multiplying Grace

Are we multiplying the faith, spiritual gifts, personal talents and love we have received from God?

Jesus deals with this question through a parable reported in both the gospels of Matthew and Luke.  (Mt. 25:14-30; Lk. 19:12-27)  In each of these parables, a man goes on a journey and entrusts various sums of money to his servants.  In Matthew’s account, two of the servants invest the money and double what was given to them.  A third servant buried what was given to him.

When the master returned he sought an accounting from his servants.  For the two servants who doubled what was given to them, the master said, “Well done, good and faithful servant.  You have been faithful with a few things.  I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness.”

To the third servant who buried the talent given him out of fear of his master, the master replied, “You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed?”  Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.”

In the harshest of all of Jesus’ responses to sin and wrongdoing, he has the master saying, “Take the talent from him and give to the one who has ten talents.  And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

This is a sobering message.  We have a responsibility to utilize the talents, gifts and grace that God offers us.  If we do, we have the opportunity to share in God’s joy and happiness.  Failure to do so can result in them being taken away and our being separated from God.

God created us in his image and likeness, gave us varied gifts and talents, and assigned us the responsibility to take care of his creation.  He became one of us in the person of Jesus and delegated to us the additional task to make disciples of all nations, giving us the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit to accomplish the task.

In all walks of life, whether athletics, schoolwork, employment, providing for our families and raising our children, the common expectation is that we should  be diligent in doing the best we can.  God’s expectation is no less when it comes to his call for us to bring his presence to the people and circumstances of our lives through our example and word.  

“A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.” (Proverbs 6:10)  May our prayer be to never experience the scarcity of God’s presence, as we multiply his love, blessings and grace.   

Cut to the Heart

471996785Have you ever experienced something someone says to you that “hits you right between the eyes” or “cuts to the heart?” 

This happened to the people who were in Jerusalem from many different nations to celebrate the Jewish Feast of Pentecost.  While there, they witnessed the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’ disciples and early followers.  The Book of Acts reports that they were amazed to hear the disciples praise God in the many different languages that they represented.

When they asked what this all meant, Peter stood up and boldly stated that Jesus was commended to them by God, performing many signs and wonders, but they had him crucified by the Romans.  God raised him from the dead which Peter, the disciples, and another five hundred followers personally witnessed.  God was now pouring out his Spirit just as the prophet Joel foretold and as Jesus had promised.

Peter then declared, “Therefore, let the whole House of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”  When they heard this, “they were cut to the heart,” and asked what must they do?  Peter said, “Repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:36, 38)

The Book of Acts says that three thousand people were added to their number that day.

Forty years ago, I was cut to the heart when I had a personal encounter with Jesus at a healing mass and asked him if he would take the sin in my life.  He did, and just like Peter said, I received a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which became a watershed moment in my life.

As a result, God and his Spirit gave me a new thirst for reading and understanding scripture.  He gave me a desire to be reconciled with anyone I might have offended.  He gave me a new love for my Catholic faith.  His presence began to impact all areas of my life including my work life.

David was cut to the heart when Nathan, through a story, revealed to David his sin of committing adultery with Bathsheba and sending her husband Uriah to the front lines to be killed in battle.  David repented of his sin and God forgave him. (2 Sam. 12)

The Gospel of Luke reports that tax collectors and soldiers were cut to the heart by the preaching of John the Baptist.  They asked John what they must do.  He told the tax collectors not to collect any more taxes than was required, and the soldiers not to exploit their authority over people. (Luke 3:10-14)

The Holy Spirit convicts us of our wrongdoing and opens our eyes to the truth.  Jesus called the Holy Spirit our counselor and advocate, and the Spirit of truth. (John 14:16)  Peter told the crowd on Pentecost that the promise of the Holy Spirit was for them and their children and “for all who are far off.”  That’s us.

If you are not experiencing the fullness of God’s presence in your life, ask the Father for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  It’s a prayer he is sure to answer. (Luke 11:13)