Monthly Archives: February 2013

Why We Can’t Stay on the Mountaintop – Following and Resting in Jesus

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Depiction of the Transfiguration, inside Church of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor

Depiction of the Transfiguration, inside Church of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor

“Jesus took Peter, John and James and went up the mountain to pray.” In the Gospels there are several moments of significance when Jesus takes Peter, John and James to be alone with him. Here, on Mt. Tabor the three apostles will witness something that the other apostles did not. They will see Jesus glorified speaking with Moses and Elijah. Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the prophets. All that God had revealed to His Chosen People could be summed up in the Law and the Prophets. Now, Jesus is speaking with Moses and Elijah and he is above them; he is the fullness of God’s revelation, being God and man.

Mt. Tabor is unlike most of the mountains or hills in the region which are usually connected or part of a chain. Mt. Tabor is a mountain all by itself in the middle of several valleys, only a few miles from Nazareth and Cana. As a matter-of-fact, you can see Nazareth from the top of Mt. Tabor, which you reach by way of a zigzagging road which is too narrow for a bus.

Nowadays, when you arrive at the top, you see a beautiful church with three domes; the one in the center is larger and taller because it is over the altar dedicated to Jesus Christ. The one on the left is dedicated to Moses and the one on the right is dedicated to Elijah. These three domes were inspired by the words of Peter, “…let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For the moment, Peter was caught up in the ecstasy of that mountaintop experience and wanted to remain on the mountain.

Church of the Transfiguration atop Mt. Tabor

Church of the Transfiguration atop Mt. Tabor

However, if they would have remained on the mountain, they would have neglected their mission. It is a temptation for all of us to hope we will find a place where everything will be okay and we won’t have to be concerned with trials and difficulties. However, that was not real life for the Apostles and it is not real life for us. The Lord will continue to take us to places where we must depend upon him so that we can become spiritually mature and be filled with hope, even in the most difficult circumstance.

By his transfiguration, Jesus is preparing Peter, James and John for the scandal they will witness when he enters into his Passion. As they follow Jesus, there will be many things they will see and hear that will challenge their faith, so Jesus has given these three this glimpse of his glory to strengthen them.

We are beginning the second week of Lent. The purpose of this liturgical season of Lent is to renew the mission of Christ in our lives so that by cooperating with his grace, we will be reconciled to God and one another. It doesn’t happen automatically. We must make concrete choices. That is why we once again look at prayer, fasting and almsgiving as a means of surrendering our hearts to the Lord. If we do not take time to pray, if we are not generous with what we have, and if we allow our appetites to dominate us, we are far from the kingdom of God.

Jesus Christ is not just a God of miracles that we look to in our time of need, hoping he will fix everything for us. Sometimes he does that, but most of all he wants a personal relationship with us that draws us into intimate and fervent prayer, that leads us to trust him completely with every aspect of our lives. This trusting relationship will free us from anxious dependency on our own resources so that we will be generous with what we have, knowing that God cannot be outdone in generosity.

The most important thing we can do for ourselves and the people we love is to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus by being faithful to what he has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church. He is the one who brings peace and happiness into our lives, but on his terms because he knows what is best for us. If we do not look to God for direction as we make our plans, we are destined for unhappiness.

St. Augustine once said, “Our hearts are restless O’ Lord until they rest in you.” Lord, you have created us to be in relationship with you. There is no other way we can reach our potential for happiness. Give us the grace Lord to love you above everything else and our neighbor as our self so that we may be happy now and for all eternity. Let our prayer be, Lord I desire that my heart should rest in you.

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What is strength?

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What is strength?

I was watching TV and observing how, as a culture, we glorify the macho/strong guy who doesn’t need anyone or anything – he is totally self-sufficient. I used to think I was supposed to be that way, too. I mean, I went to all the latest “self-help” seminars, had my affirmation tapes running in the car, kept my thoughts positive. That is, until my life fell apart and God brought me to my knees.

“I am at the end of my rope,” you have heard people say. Until then, we are often too confident, too self-reliant, too full of ourselves…too independent of God.

Howard E. Butt, Jr., vice chairman of the H. E. Butt (H-E-B) Grocery Company, puts it so well in his article, “The Art of Being a Big Shot:”

It is my pride that makes me independent of God. It’s appealing to me to feel that I am the master of my fate, that I run my own life, call my own shots, go it alone. But, that feeling is my basic dishonesty. I can’t go it alone. I have to get help from other people, and I can’t ultimately rely on myself. I’m dependent on God for my very next breath. It is dishonest of me to pretend that I’m anything but a man — small, weak, and limited. So, living independent of God is self-delusion.

muscle man

Now, in the process of becoming Catholic, I see things through new eyes. In studying the lives of the saints and observing individuals around me centered in the Faith, I have seen what STRENGTH really looks like. And it isn’t about me doing anything to build myself up, but rather about letting go of “me” and choosing to place my focus on the one source of all power, our Lord and Creator.

During this Lenten Season let’s seek ways to empty ourselves, to pour out the stagnant water from the jar, and make room for the living waters of the Christ at Easter to fill us and make us new.

The Gift of Silence Can be Sweet: Lent + Valentine’s Day

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This year, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day fall side by side; Valentine’s Day is the day after Lent. They are dissimilar – Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent and reminds us of penance, fasting and almsgiving; Valentine’s Day reminds us of lovers, sweets, flowers and feasting. The Lenten period of 40 days begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday, in preparation for the celebration of Easter. Valentine’s Day is well – one day.

Forty days is very symbolic in the Bible; here are a few references, although there are many others:

  • It rained 40 days and 40 nights during the Flood (Genesis 7: 4)
  • Noah waited 40 days after the waters receded and the Ark settled on Mount Ararat before he sent out the raven (Genesis 8: 3-8)
  • The Israelites spent 40 years “wandering” in the desert (Numbers 14: 33; Deuteronomy 29: 4)
  • Elijah fasted 40 days in the wilderness (1 Kings 19: 8)
  • Purification of Mary is 40 days after birth of Jesus (Luke 2: 22-4)
  • Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert after His baptism (Matthew 4: 1-2)

desertMy husband, Tom and I, had the opportunity to lead a pilgrimage to the Holy Land during Lent. Pilgrimages are journeys of faith, a time to think about God and experience the land He sanctified with His very life. Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert after His baptism in the desert near the River Jordan, a 10 minute bus ride to the vast Judean Desert. Our pilgrimage includes spending 40 minutes in this desert! Our bus driver leads us off the main highway into a gravel pathway leading to an area where he parks the bus, turns off the motor…and immediately one experiences the silence of the desert. As pilgrims get off the bus and walk up the hill, their breath it taken by the view of the vastness of the desert, and most especially the silence! They are asked to take this symbolic 40 minutes (remembering Jesus’ 40 days) and experience a time of prayer and total silence. For Tom and I, this time passes too quickly! The view of the desert, realizing Jesus was in that area and spending time just embracing the silence is an unforgettable moment! Numerous pilgrims have told us how much they appreciated this experience. One man in his 40’s said, “I have never experienced a silence like this, never!” Others have commented on how this experience of silence gave them a desire to include silence in their daily lives upon their return home.

How can we choose silence in today’s world filled with noise from television, radio, traffic, music, conversations? It’s possible – it’s a choice! Consider a time in your daily schedule when there is less noise. (Early morning? Late evening? Lunch period? When children are sleeping?) What do we benefit from silence? Personally I become more aware of God’s presence and I experience a peace.

Mother TeresaBlessed Mother Teresa explains it well in a way that is called the Simple Path:
The fruit of silence is PRAYER.
The fruit of prayer is FAITH.
The fruit of faith is LOVE.
The fruit of Love is SERVICE.
The fruit of service is PEACE.

What does silence have to do with Valentine’s Day? Spending time in silence with someone we love is a gift, perhaps greater than the best chocolates or beautiful flowers. A time when one appreciates the other and experiences the ‘inner beauty and sweetness’ of that person. My husband and I enjoy sitting in swinging bench in the yard and just enjoying being with each other without conversation or outside noise to distract our moment of silence with one another.

Consider giving the gift of silence to someone you love this Valentine’s Day. Begin the Lenten Season by planning time for silence.

“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.” – Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Soul Searching at Mardi Gras

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My family loves Mardi Gras parades. My husband, two sons and I return often to our hometown New Orleans so we can join this annual party. If you’ve never experienced a Mardi Gras parade, let me tell you it’s quite an interactive event. As floats roll through the streets, throngs of people line the route yelling, jumping and waving their hands in the hope of getting the “throws” that are tossed or more often hurled at the crowd by the masked riders. These “throws” are traditionally plastic bead necklaces, plastic cups, stuffed animals, plastic swords, and wooden spears; in other words, pretty worthless junk. I am not a fan of crowds so I prefer to stand back while most, including my family, push their way up screaming, “Throw me something, Mister!” It’s very entertaining to watch all the ways people try to get the attention of the riders and what lengths they will go to get this junk.

"Miss Louisiana" by thepipe26

“Miss Louisiana” by thepipe26

One year, an interesting revelation came to me when I noticed what often happens after the victor gains his treasure. Without even a backwards glance, the throw is tossed in a pile and forgotten. I realize that it’s not the throws but getting them that is the fun. The whole value of a throw then is the few brief seconds from when it is spotted in the rider’s hands until it makes into the victor’s grasp. After that, it reverts to junk and will soon be stuffed into a box and stowed in the attic or garage until an industrious spring cleaning day relegates it to the curb.

…which is just how Satan views our souls.

Satan will try any antic to get our attention and like a Mardi Gras throw, once he wins our souls we are tossed away never to be thought of again; left to the boxed confines of our sins. Because you see, the devil has no desire to spend eternity with us; he only wants to get us so he can make sure God does not. He hates God; we are simply a means to an end.

The good news is that the devil is not the only searcher of souls. Our Lord is there as He always is, waiting for us. But unlike that pile of beads that ends up in the trash bin, garages or storage sheds in New Orleans, He has wonderful plans for you and me. . .

I know well the plans I have in mind for you; plans for your welfare and not for woe. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Why then, if our Lord desires such great plans for us, do we more often feel as worthless as those discarded pair of plastic Mardi Gras beads?

"Christ Embracing St. Bernard" by Francisco Ribalta (16th-17th century)

“Christ Embracing St. Bernard” by Francisco Ribalta (16th-17th century)

I received the answer to that question over ten years ago when my choices had brought me to my knees lost, alone and weary from battling the grasps of darkness. My Lord came to me, picked me up, put His arms around me and loved me out of my debilitating depression. He promised I would never feel alone again as He gently led me back to His Church and my Catholic faith.

In my return to the faith of my youth that I so ignorantly dismissed as archaic and unnecessary for my happiness, I discovered that God does not want to get us, but rather He wants to be with us now and forever in the complete and continuous exercise of our free will. We cannot be passive and expect to find the joy we so desire. God wants us to want to be with Him and joins us in discovering our happiness through Church teachings, His word in Scripture, through the Sacraments and most significantly by joining our suffering with His in the Eucharistic Celebration of Mass.

God does not view our souls like cheap plastic beads to be tossed at the mercy of the rider, but rather active participants in His wonderful plans for our happiness. We have a choice in whose hands we land.

The devil could not care less whether we cooperate with him or not. Since the beginning he has lied and tricked to get his way like when he told Eve, “You certainly will not die! God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil,” (Genesis 3:4-5) but failing to mention that along with the knowledge of evil will also be the desire for evil and the consequences to pay. He flat out lied when he told her you will not die. He will make any effort to grasp our souls and keep them away from God and His wonderful plans for us.

My Catholic faith has taught me that I am not to find happiness on my own and there are two good reasons why. Firstly, no matter how intelligent, educated, willing or brave any of us may be, we are no match for the cunning and sinister ways of the devil.

Secondly and so very wonderfully, that is not God’s plan for us. We need our God with us just as He has wonderfully planned, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

I look toward the floats and imagine the people clamoring for God rather than throws. I see our Lord reach down and pull people up into His arms calling each by name. He searches the crowd and when our eyes meet, He holds out His arms for me.

I run to join the party.