Tag Archives: Luke

Paul’s Conversion

 

The dramatic conversion of Paul is recalled in today’s  first reading at Mass from the Acts of the Apostles. Luke describes this event three times, acknowledging Paul’s special  role in the spread of the church from Jerusalem to Rome.

 Luke sees Paul’s conversion and ministry as a work of God, who uses the apostle for his own divine purposes. It’s not Paul’s genius or imagination that achieved so much. God’s grace brought him to the ground on his way to Damascus and God’s grace sent him on his mission.

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”  Jesus says to him. Their meeting caused Paul to be convinced that faith is a gift that justifies us and that the church is the body of Christ. He did not come to those beliefs on his own.

Paul’s great conversion story in Acts introduces a succession of stories recalling the conversion of the gentiles. Though Paul has a prominent part in these stories, he is still an agent whom God sends and constantly empowers.

The Acts of the Apostles is not just a description of the past;  it’s a template for the church of every age. Personalities like Paul and human factors play a part in her growth, but the church’s advance is not principally through human power, reason, or imagination. The power of God’s Spirit guides and supports it through time.

We need to recognize the church as God’s church..

December 19: Zechariah in the Temple

“In the days of King Herod” Luke’s gospel begins his story of the birth of John the Baptist. Ominous days. The priest Zechariah goes into the temple bearing incense to worship the Lord. An angel appears next to the altar of incense, where we expect an angel to be. “Your prayer has been heard,” the angel says to the old priest. “Your wife will bear you a son.”

Surely, the old priest was no longer praying for a son. Childbearing was over for his wife and him. The promise of new life was long gone and there’s no hope for a child.

But the angel promises a child “great in the eyes of the Lord” to be called John, who would more than fulfill their hopes, turning “many of the children of Israel to their God.”

The old priest doubts and is punished with silence. He won’t speak until after the child is born. Then he speaks again,  as he announces to those at his birth that “his name is John.”

You lose your voice when you lose hope in God’s promises. You get it back  when you believe.When John is born, Zechariah sings a song of praise at God’s unexpected  gift.

The Communion Prayer for today’s Mass says: “As we give thanks, almighty God, for these gifts you have bestowed, graciously arouse in us, we pray, the desire for those yet to come.”

Never doubt the gifts God wants to give, Zechariah tells us. Doubt silences us. God’s gifts give us a voice.

O Root of Jesse’s stem,
sign of God’s love for all his people:
come to save us without delay!

Readings here.

Morning Thoughts: Wise as Doves

rembrandt-angel-appearing-to-the-shepherds-1634

Rembrandt, “The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds”, 1634

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Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.

—Luke 2:8-9


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Perhaps the scariest thing to those of us who cling tightly to the things of the world is to accept the job that the Lord assigns us.

Oh, how so many of us are so quick to long for greater adventure!

Yet, when it comes to those humble, little shepherds to whom the angel of the Lord appeared, we are perhaps even quicker to long to be one of them—sitting quietly upon a gentle hillside, effortlessly tending to a passive flock, while the always-full moon provides a soft, ever-so-appropriate illumination from above.

But we are liars. For there’s nothing less romantic in each one of our daily lives, or more mundane. We simply have to be honest, or at least consistent. It all depends on how we look at it. If we see the shepherds in such a delicate light then we also need to see ourselves in the same. For before the angel appears, the shepherds were hardly posing for picturesque landscapes. Perhaps it is for this very reason—their realness, their authenticity, their holy simplicity—that the Lord chose them to be present when He revealed His glory.

It is exciting. We have a wonderful choice, then. Either our “boring” lives make us just the kind of people to whom God prefers to reveal Himself, or our lives are a lot more “exciting” than we ever imagined. Either way, what is vital to making such a decision is true sincerity and genuine gratitude. We need to thank God for who He has made us, for where He has placed us, and for what type of task He has assigned us.

A faithful, humble heart dreams and believes and sees great things among the most ordinary circumstances. Just look at the young virgin and the upright carpenter to whom the shepherds “went in haste” to find in a stable, adoring a child born within the company of the “lowest” of men.

If we spend our time dreaming of being someone else, living somewhere else, and doing something else, we miss the opportunity of being exactly who God intends us to be—and when that happens—we are always in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and most tragically, doing that which matters very little.

For to be the first on the scene, the first to “lay hold”, the first to adore the New Born King, is as good as it gets—even for those whose “normal existence” isn’t standing around all alone—day after day in the scorching sun or biting cold, while picking fleas from matted-down fleece or scaring off hungry wolves.


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The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people…”

So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.

Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.

—Luke, Chapter 2:10,16-18,20


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—Howard Hain

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Morning Thoughts: A Simply Perfect Quilt

Cundell, Nora Lucy Mowbray, 1889-1948; The Patchwork Quilt

Nora Lucy Mowbray Cundell, “The Patchwork Quilt”, 1919

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As nurslings, you shall be carried in her arms, and fondled in her lap; as a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; in Jerusalem you shall find your comfort.

—Isaiah 66:12-13.


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I heard someone say the other day that Amish women leave their finished quilts imperfect, and that they do this purposely, so as not to commit blasphemy.

We hear lots of things. And like with most of what we hear, whether this or that is true or not, we quite often just don’t know—at least not in terms of earthly circumstance: what exactly was said, who exactly said it, or the exact context in which it was said. But also quite often, these factors simply don’t matter—at least not in terms of what we most need spiritually at that present moment.

To get caught up within the trivial details of who, what, where, and when is to lose a beautiful opportunity to receive correction, direction, encouragement, and inspiration. It is to miss a moment of grace.

God is always speaking to us. Always instructing. Always telling us what we need to hear. Even if His speech takes the form of a simple smile, or a simple piece of Amish lore. He is always right there with us, each one of us. One God. Three Persons. One clear, consistent, perfectly unified voice, continually encouraging us forward.

To me this is a beautiful case of the left hand knowing exactly what the right hand is doing. It is prophecy in real time. Moment by moment. Step by step. Stich by stich. Incremental inspiration. All toward a beautiful, comforting blanket composed entirely of grace. It is the Holy Spirit at work. It is Holy Spirit teaching.

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We always get exactly what we need. But we must be willing to wear fleeces white as snow. For everywhere that Mary went, the lamb was sure to go.

Clean hands. Pure heart. Purity of intention.

Meekness. Humility. Docility to the Holy Spirit.

We must submit to Mother Church.

It is Simple. It is Holy. And Holy Simplicity simply results in simple, clear, straightforward answers.

And it gets simpler and simpler:

We simply hear what God says when we pray in the Holy Spirit and “worship in spirit and truth”. (John 4:24)

We simply become living, breathing manifestations of His glory when the Holy Spirit prays for and through us, when “the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words“. (Romans 8:26)

And the Liturgy simply helps us to allow the Holy Spirit to do so.

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For the Amish women don’t sew alone. God quilts too. His is simply perfect. Always. And to us it looks a lot like the Liturgy.

O the simple joy of being wrapped up tightly within it!

O the simple wonder of walking deeper into the Body of Christ each new day—into the greatest and most public prayer of the one, true, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church—The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass—with faith and hope and an ever-increasing expectation that we will “nurse“, “be satisfied” and “drink with delight” at the “abundant breasts” of Mother Church. (Isaiah 66:11)

We receive the comforting milk of Sacrament: of reconciliation, of sacrifice, of thanksgiving, of praise, of presence, of joy, of love…

We receive our physical nourishment, our spiritual inspiration, our mercy and forgiveness, our healing and peace, our much needed correction and instruction—and for breakfast and dessert—our daily share in The Cross.

We receive “our daily bread.”

And all are welcome.

The Church invites all, serves all, prays for all…

All of us—me, you, him, her, them, every single one of us—the entire patchwork of humanity—are always welcomed and always encouraged to turn more directly into the light of God’s face. The Face of Truth, of Mercy, of Justice, of Love…

All are always and truly welcome.

Welcome to walk in the clear, crisp, clean air of God’s ceaseless and abundant reality—a reality that never deceives, that never falsely promises imaginary pots of gold lying at the end of fanciful rainbows.

For rainbows are mere optical illusions. And all sin stems from and leads to delusion. Pure faith, on the other hand, rises above all images, whether they are real or those conjured up by Satan in his constant effort to pervert and deceive.

God’s promises are true. His kingdom is no illusion. Heaven is no empty pot of gold.

“…for on those you have rescued from slavery to sin you bestow eternal gladness.” (Collect, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, C)

All are welcome to truly come home.

Welcome to walk hand-in-hand with the Lord of the Garden:

“Wash, and be cleansed; remove the foulness of your actions from my sight.

Come, let us speak with one another, says the Lord.”

—Isaiah 1:16,18

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Perhaps then our Amish lady friends have a good, sharp point. Maybe it is not that important to have things “just right”, exactly the way we will them to be. Maybe it is not about making everything “perfect” according to our own plans, nor about appeasing our every desire and inordinate appetite. Maybe, just maybe, happiness—true joy—resides in just the opposite.

Perhaps what makes a quilt simply “perfect” is that it is made with humble, patient, obedient hands. Grateful hands, quite aware of their own defects. Hands that need not be in constant control, nor constantly caressed.

And perhaps it is just those kinds of hands, the hands of poor humble handmaids, that simply remind us of the true purpose of a simple quilt—to keep us warm—warm enough to get us through—to get us through to the other side—to the other side of a long, dark, cold night.


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She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.

—Luke 2:7-9


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—Howard Hain

And Don’t Look Ahead

Strange thing to say, isn’t it? We want to see what’s ahead. But in Luke’s account of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem–which we read from this Sunday– Jesus warns his disciples as he nears the Holy City to be wary about what they see coming.

First, some disciples like James and John thought the journey would bring about the kingdom of God on earth and they wanted a big place in it. Their dream didn’t come true. Then, other disciples as they entered the city saw the temple itself, “adorned with costly stones and votive offerings,” and believed something so beautiful would go on forever. They were wrong too.

Jesus said, “All that you see here–
the days will come when there will not be left
a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”

We have to be wary of messianic claims from those who claim to know the future. “Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,” and “The time had come.’ Do not follow them!” Jesus says. The future is in God’s hands, not in ours.

The journey Jesus makes does not end in Jerusalem, according to Luke, it’s completed in his resurrection, and that will surprise us. Luke’s account of Jesus’ death in Jerusalem offers the surprising promise he makes to the thief crucified on his right, whose only hope is in him. “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

That’s the future we trust in.

Following Jesus through the Lenten Gospels

Don’t forget we’re following Jesus through lent and the lenten gospels are our guides. During the first weeks we read from the gospel of Matthew, a favorite of the early church, which took us to the mountain in Galilee where Jesus at the beginning of his ministry taught his followers that they are children of God, how to pray, how to forgive, how to live together.

We follow Jesus our teacher.

Today’s gospel is from Luke’s account of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem.(Lk 11,14-23) Gathering disciples to accompany him, he teaches them through parables and performs miracles, like healing the man who is mute. Driving out the demon who holds the man makes it more than a physical healing; the miracle is a sign that the kingdom of God has come. The Evil One is powerless before Jesus.

The miracles signify that Jesus is the Messiah. When he heard about them, John the Baptist asked, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Jesus replied they were indeed a sign he was the expected Messiah:

“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.
And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” (Luke 7,18-23)

Jesus is the Messiah.

Next week, the 4th week of Lent, we begin the gospel of John, which take us to Jerusalem where Jesus performs great signs, like the healing of the paralytic and the raising of Lazarus from the dead, but he also engages in extensive arguments about his identity with the Jewish leaders in the temple area.

Jesus is the Son of God.

All that we learn of him leads to the mystery of his cross and resurrection.
There he is our teacher, our Messiah, our Lord.