The Lord Will Provide

Today’s reading comes from chapter C of Esther, a Septuagint addition: EST C:12, 14-16, 23-25

In ESL class in sixth grade we studied idiomatic expressions and adages.  One particular adage that caught my attention was, “there are no atheists in foxholes”.  The idea that when it comes to the final hour that a person would turn to a deity is not a perplexing one – I am Vietnamese after all, and growing up in Viet Nam everyone I knew worshiped some kind of deity.  What was interesting to me at this point was that it took people to the final hour to relinquish their wanting to control everything over to fear and thus must place hope in something they believed to be improbable or impossible.  I say this because growing up, all people I know worshiped all the time.  They entrusted everything to their deities because their simple peasantry knew instinctively what we “learned and progressive people” do not: that many things are out of their control.

Queen Esther’s prayer to YHWH in this reading ought to remind us Christians of one very crucial bit of our faith: our deliverance and very salvation is reliant upon the grace of the Ever Living God.  And if we can (and must) entrust the Lord with our lives and our salvation, we must also entrust to the Lord every facet of our lives.  It would be silly for a manager to trust someone who reports to him with a very important task, but not trust him with a mundane and minute one.  Christ reminds us of this in Luke’s Gospel: “Do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. “For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. “Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds!”

Let us trust the Lord with everything that we are and everything that we have.

Happy Thursday of the first week of Lent, friends!


Trusting God with Our Lives

Today’s reading comes from IS 55:10-11

Faith is more than just trust, but trust is an inherent and paramount dimension of faith.  The entirety of the Old Testament text recalls moments of fidelity and moments of infidelity from the Israelites to YHWH and His enduring faithfulness to them.  When the Israelites trusted YHWH they flourished, and when they did not they suffered.  Here, Isaiah reminds us that whatever suffering they endured was not because of YHWH’s unfaithfulness to His word; rather, they suffered because they did not keep their promises to Him.  Whatever YHWH promised He will do for the Israelites, He did.  Was it not Him who delivered them from Babylon as promised?

What about His promise to us in the new covenant?  There is no doubt that His promise has been fulfilled.  He promised us freedom from the slavery of sin and death.  He has kept His promise: he exchanged his tears from this freedom; he paid the ransom with his flesh and sinew; he bought us this freedom with his very own body.  As for us, we must learn to trust in Him.  Trusting in YHWH requires that we have no backup plans like the Israelites who worshipped YHWH but also Baal and Asherah for needs that they think YHWH might not be able to provide.  Trusting in God means that even the very fundamental thing we need for living – our daily bread – is something we ask Him to provide.

Happy Tuesday of the first week of Lent, friends.

Taking the Other Seriously

Today’s reading comes from LV 19:1-2, 11-18

Too often do modern Christians, along with modern critics of Christianity, focus on one facet of the law of love for neighbor that they completely ignore the other.  Take for instance this verse from the passage:

You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart.
Though you may have to reprove him,
do not incur sin because of him.
Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
I am the LORD.”

What we immediately hone in on is the second to last bit when YHWH directs the Israelites to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  But what about the first part of that commandment – the bolded part?  What about the part when YHWH is telling the people that there is a time when it is necessary to tell another person that s/he is sinning?  Or, and this is more interesting, that by not reproving our brothers and sisters in their sinning that we incur sin because love demands that we take them serious enough to help them become holy.

Let us then not forget this very first part of that commandment.  It is important for us to remember that if we love others as we do ourselves that we would correct them in their mistakes.  The mistake, of course, is to think that in reprimanding the one we love, we hate him or her.  But this is silly.  Just as we do not literally hate ourselves after we realized we had made a mistake, and yet we also reprove ourselves so that we can act differently in the future under the same circumstance; it is therefore also necessary that loving others like we love ourselves demands the same approach.

Charity precludes hostility, maliciousness, a spirit of revenge-seeking, and bearing grudges; but it also precludes indifferentism and relativism.  Love, St. Thomas tells us, means willing the good of the other as other, and this willing this good will require us to take them seriously enought to tell them what’s bad.

Happy Monday of the first week of Lent, friends.

Fasting For God or For Me?

Today’s reading comes from IS 58:1-9A

Fasting is an ancient discipline, and one that Israel took up order to show YHWH their faithfulness.  But this passage gives us a glimpse of the hypocritical attitude that the Israelites had when it came to fasting.  They supposedly fasted for YHWH, but they were unhappy when He took no notice of their fasting – an act, instead of offering as a gift, they considered a mighty service they were providing the Divine.  They charged YHWH with impartiality when He found no pleasure in their fasting.

Isaiah does not mince his words here.  They afflicted themselves but sought no relieve for those who were afflicted.  They fasted in order to provide an external image of discipline and love for YHWH, but their interiority was filled with disorder and chaos.  Yes, they performed the right “acts”, but they persisted in their sins.  They demanded forgiveness by YHWH, and yet provided no forgiveness of their own to others.  They fasted in order to accuse others of not fasting, rather than fasting for themselves.  This was their hypocrisy and YHWH hated it: “You cannot fast as you do today, and expect your voices to be heard from on high.”

And so Isaiah’s words here should provide us with a good measure for our own Lenten practices.  Why are we doing the things that we are doing?  Or why are we giving up the things that we are giving up?  Is it so that we can change, or is it so that others may take notice?  Are we doing it for the sake of growth in our own relationship with the Lord, or is it for our own benefit?  This is a matter between each person and God, and God is one who knows the depths of every heart so let us pray that when the Lord finds our hearts that he may be pleased with our fasting and prayer.

Happy Friday after Ash Wednesday, friends.

Between Life and Death

Today’s first reading from DT 30:15-20.

Here Moses offered the people two choices, life and death, and they must make a decision between the two.  Life and death in antiquity were realities that were taken much more seriously and less literally.  Life was not simply being alive, but it was living out one’s existence in fruitfulness in blessing and in the protection of God.  Death was not simply a physical end to one’s worldly life, but it was living out one’s existence in a barren land and time, void of God’s blessings and favors.  Life was a blessing; death was a curse.

And so Moses offered life and death to the people, and he urged them to choose life – not only for their sake, but for the sake of their children.  The choice was both restrictive and urgent.  It was restrictive in the sense that they must make a choice between the two; there was no third option.  It was urgent because the every action they make thereon would be an action that either drew them towards life or pushed them towards death.

Notice also that the choice was theirs and not God’s to make.  YHWH’s faithfulness was never a problem; it was the fickleness of the Israelites that was constantly leading them to unfaithfulness to YHWH.  And so, too, we have a choice to make.  Fence-sitting is not only an inappropriate posture when it comes to the spiritual life, but it is an impossible posture.  For everything we do either brings us life or death.  Lent is only beginning, and it is a good time for us to ask ourselves: what must I do to choose life?  And then do it!

Happy Thursday after Ash Wednesday, friends.

The Wisdom of Humble Faith

Jesus’ condemnation of the self-righteousness of the people of his time in today’s Gospel reminds us of the wisdom of faith content by whatever provisions the Lord has chosen to give.  Unlike the Ninevites, who repented from their sins simply by the words of Jonah without witnessing any miracles, the contemporaries of Jesus refused to repent even though he was among them working miracles day in and day out.  While one group profited from the words of God delivered through a prophet, the other group turned from the Word of God and rejected his grace that would humble their hearts.  The faith of Nineveh accepted whatever little revelation God was willing present to it and received such revelation with great humility.  The faith of Jerusalem doubted all the revelation that God was granting them and rejected Jesus’ revelation with its pride.  Allow Alexander Pope’s Universal Prayer to guide our own faith life today so that, with the humility the Ninevites, we may receive whatever little the Lord chooses to reveal to us with humility in faith.

Father of all! in every age,
    In every clime adored,
By saint, by savage, and by sage,
    Jehovah, Jove, or Lord!
Thou Great First Cause, least understood:
    Who all my sense confined
To know but this—that thou art good,
    And that myself am blind:
Yet gave me, in this dark estate,
    To see the good from ill;
And binding Nature fast in fate,
    Left free the human will.
What conscience dictates to be done,
    Or warns me not to do,
This, teach me more than Hell to shun,
    That, more than Heaven pursue.
What blessings thy free bounty gives,
    Let me not cast away;
For God is paid when man receives,
    To enjoy is to obey.
Yet not to earth’s contracted span,
    Thy goodness let me bound,
Or think thee Lord alone of man,
    When thousand worlds are round:
Let not this weak, unknowing hand
    Presume thy bolts to throw,
And deal damnation round the land,
    On each I judge thy foe.
If I am right, thy grace impart,
    Still in the right to stay;
If I am wrong, oh teach my heart
    To find a better way.
Save me alike from foolish pride,
    Or impious discontent,
At aught thy wisdom has denied,
    Or aught thy goodness lent.
Teach me to feel another’s woe,
    To hide the fault I see;
That mercy I to others show,
    That mercy show to me.
Mean though I am, not wholly so
    Since quickened by thy breath;
Oh lead me wheresoe’er I go,
    Through this day’s life or death.
This day, be bread and peace my lot:
    All else beneath the sun,
Thou know’st if best bestowed or not,
    And let thy will be done.
To thee, whose temple is all space,
    Whose altar, earth, sea, skies!
One chorus let all being raise!
    All Nature’s incense rise!

What Do You Seek?

Chapter 1 of St. John’s Gospel (vv. 35-42) records an encounter between the Baptist’s disciples and Jesus. As Jesus walked by, John the Baptist proclaims to his two disciples, “Behold the Lamb of God!” and the two disciples immediately followed Jesus.  As Jesus notices them following him, he turned and asked them frankly, “what do you seek?”  They responded by asking him where he is staying and he invites them to “come and see” (Jn 1:35-51).  The entire exchange is deceivingly profound because there is much more going on than just a meet and greet.

The Baptist’s disciples were curious about Jesus and wanted to learn more about him. However, biblical scholars tell us that the disciples had no intention of immediately following Jesus to where he stayed; rather, they asked where he was staying so they may come and find him at another time if they so wished.  Jesus’ immediate invitation to them indicates his openness to receiving them, even if it was unplanned on their part.  The two men were surprised but went on to stay with Jesus and left that evening changed and convinced of Jesus’ Messiahship.  Because of this change they went on to proclaim this conviction to others, who are consequently also changed because of their encounter with Jesus, like Simon who is renamed to Cephas.

The question that Jesus asked those two disciples so long ago is the very same question He stirs our hearts with: what do you seek? This question, like water in a foundation, seeps through every part of our being, and it finds its formulation when we are in our early teens.   We may be distraught by the question but what we must realize when we begin to hear the question is God’s openness to receiving us, like His openness to those two disciples.  He is quite ready and His answer will always be, “come and you will see”.

Our response to this invitation will require faith, courage, and love.  We will need to have faith that God wants what is best for us and will never call us to a vocation that we will not find joy and peace in.  We will need courage in order to combat certain facets of our culture that tell us that joy is to be found in fame and fortune.  Finally, we will need love in order to respond generously to God’s invitation to “come and see”.  This love allows us to look beyond our own immediate determinations of who we ought to be and to genuinely discern who we are called to be by allowing God to enter our hearts and direct us towards where He stays.  When we are successful at allowing the Lord to take hold of our hearts, we will, like the disciples of John, be completely transformed by Him.

After two thousand years, Jesus’ question and invitation remains the same for all of us.  Our responses will depend on how faithful, courageous, and loving we are.

I return from my hiatus.

Happy Wednesday, friends.