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!

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Let Us Pray

God has provided us a way to ask of Him for whatever we need: prayer.  Just as one who is in need of money or goods must beg for a living if he is unable to work himself, so too must we approach the Lord in prayer to ask for those things that we need that we cannot provide for ourselves.  The fall of our first parents has shut us out from our Father’s home, and it is by prayer that we knock to gain entrance.  This entrance is promised to us by Jesus if we pray aright.  Just as a good parent would provide those things that she deems fit and good for her child, so too will God, our parent par excellence, grant to us all those things that are most beneficial to us if we only approached Him and ask.  Do not be fooled into thinking that God would ask us to pray and refuse to listen to our prayer, or to give us something harmful.  He gives us what we need and at the correct time when we need it – we may be rash in our timing, but God is kairosian in His.

More importantly, God has made it so that prayer is available to all.  Prayer is for the Christian and the non-Christian, for the poor and the rich, for the adult and the child, for the priest and they lay person, for the general and the cadet, for the courageous and the cowardly, for the wise and for the foolish.  Prayer is for all, and all are welcomed to God’s throne filled with grace ready to be dispense to each according to his or her need.  Let us pray! Mt 7:7-12

A Prayer – Digby Mackworth Dolben

From falsehood and error,
From darkness and terror,
From all that is evil,
From the power of the devil,
From the fire and the doom,
From the judgment to come,
Sweet Jesus, deliver
Thy servants forever.

The Christian’s Hopeful Melancholy

Indeed, the wisdom of Augustine’s felix culpa allows us to understand that there is hope in a fallen world that seems hopeless.  And at no other time during the liturgical year are we reminded this more than on Ash Wednesday: remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.  In the these very words uttered is an unmistakable hope that every Christian clings on to: this returning to dust does not mark the end, but rather the very beginning of an eternal reality that has been awaiting him since he was first formed in his mother’s womb.  Praying, Repenting, and Fasting are ways that the Christian is called to prepare himself for this eternal reality.

Richard Crashaw’s A Song of Divine Love reflects so beautifully the hope of the Christian as he faces his return to dust.  On this Ash Wednesday, let us reflect upon Crashaw’s words along with this question: how am I preparing myself to meet my God when the day comes?

Lord, when the sense of thy sweet grace
Sends up my soul to seek thy face,
Thy blessed eyes breed such desire
I die in love’s delicious fire.
O Love, I am thy sacrifice.
Be still triumphant, blessed eyes.
Still shine on me, fair suns, that I
Still may behold though still I die.

Though still I die, I live again,
Still longing so to be still slain;
So gainful is such loss of breath,
I die even in desire of death.
Still live in me this loving strife
Of living death and dying life:
For while thou sweetly slayest me,
Dead to myself, I live in Thee.

The Need for Service

The strangest part about the readings of the beginning of the liturgical year is reminder and warning about the end of the Church here on Earth.  And yet, this is not too strange since that small beginning of the entrance of little baby Jesus is best recognized by the magnitude of its ending at the final fulfillment, that which we call the Second Coming.  Throughout all of this, we must learn to realize that the Second Coming is not a separate even; rather, it is a fulfillment of that single event still in progress from the moment those words reached Mary’s humble ears.

For this reason, the season of Advent is not merely a return to historical longing and fulfillment by Jesus, but it is our own entrance into the mystery of God Incarnate, God becoming flesh, entered into history, and made it His own, as we profess daily in The Angelus, “…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  This dwelling among us means that God has made Himself subject to suffering and death.  In other words, God knows the human condition, and He knows it most intimately.

And so St. Paul writes, “You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed”. (Rm 13:11)  Indeed, we shall know neither the hour nor the day that we will be called to stand in front of that Son of God, as the Gospel tells us.  We must not put down our guard and sleep our earthly lives away.  We must live lives faithful and worthy of Christ.  For on that last day, we cannot say to him “Lord, you have no clue what it is like to live a short life, to suffer, to mourn, to love, to lose, and to die.”  And yet again, on that last day we cannot say to the Lord that the eternal One, the Lord Who exists outside of time and space, cannot possibly be sympathetic or empathetic of our own human condition since God is not only sympathetic to our own humanity, but our God literally lived it.

No, my friends, we will have no excuses once we greet our God on that last day.  It will be the Son of God who judges, and he lived a human life from the womb of His mother to the stone tomb.  In his living that human life, the Gospels tell us, he encountered numerous people from different positions in society, as we all do. Then on the end of days, from his countenance shall be seen every single human face since all are his brothers and sisters.  And we shall have to raise our heads to those faces, the innocent faces of children, the worn-out faces of the poor, the tear-filled faces of parents who weep for their children lost at war, the embittered faces of our enemies.  We shall have to raise our heads to that countenance, and a voice shall come from it that will say, “What you did, or did not do, for the least of my brothers.”  That voice will not die or fade away.  It will fill our eternity.  If we are able to raise our heads with the confidence of the forgiven sinner towards that countenance of the Son of man, it is only because we have taken heed of St. Paul’s calling to us: the hour now for you to awake from sleep.

Recognizing this truth will demand that our families, schools, and communities take care to form us into people whose lives are worthy of Christ.  The life worthy of Christ is one that serves others and not the self.  And this formation recognizes that these virtues founded upon love of neighbor cannot be built overnight, nor are they formed by short periods of engagement and detachment.  Indeed, the love of and for our brothers and sisters, especially the most vulnerable in our communities and world, is a life-long habit of virtue that we will need to constantly work on in order to have growth.

Waiting With The Church

Whenever I think of Advent, I think of John the Baptist.  The Baptist was the voice crying from the wilderness to the people of his generation to prepare the way for the Lord.  We are not spared of this message.  The Church is the voice crying out from the wilderness to our own generation, even if she confesses that “it is not I for I am not even worthy to loosen the laces of His sandals!”  She cries out to us, announcing that there will be a coming, a final coming, where the radical and redemptive love of Christ will prove wrong our popularized conception of sentimental love.  And this love will come when God wills it; not when it suits us.  We all must wait, even the Church.  We must learn, the Baptist teaches us, to be patient in our own preparation for the Lord’s coming.

But there will be those of us who, even with the most genuine religious convictions, will lose patience.  We may start to pose the question to the Church, as those who asked the Baptist: who are you and what are you doing if you are not the one who is to come?  The answer will come from the Church that she is a provisional messenger sent to prepare His way.  Yet, the answer may not satisfy our preconceived understandings of reality and  we may start looking elsewhere for this God who is to come.  And all too often, as St. Augustine teaches us through the example of his early life, this search for God elsewhere in lost of patience leads us to a wilderness of our own.  In this wilderness, we no longer cry out for a preparation for one who is to come, and for whom we are not even worthy to untie the laces of his sandals.  Rather, in this wilderness, we have replaced the one who is to come and even God himself is not worthy to untie the laces of our sandals.

No, my friends, we cannot disregard the messenger (the Church) and what she has to say simply because the voices that come from her are human.  The forerunner may only be provisional and not the reality that is God Himself, but the Gospels teach us that He only comes to those who love those He sent ahead of Him and take heed of their divinely-inspired wisdom.  In this season of Advent, the Church is calling us to prepare our lives in ways of faith, hope, love, and patience for Christ, the Ever Living Word.  How will we respond?

Have a blessed Tuesday!

Awake From Sleep

1463963_259940534155696_737434886_nYesterday began the liturgical season of Advent.  It is a season of hope; a season built around longing for and anticipating the Word Incarnate.  Oddly enough, the readings of the beginning of the liturgical year are readings that remind and warn us about the end of the Church here on Earth.  Yet, this is not too strange since that small beginning of the entrance of little baby Jesus is best recognized by the magnitude of its ending at the final fulfillment, that which we call the Second Coming.  Throughout all of this, we must realize that the Second Coming is not a separate even; rather, it is a fulfillment of that single event still in progress from the moment those words reached Mary’s humble ears.

For this reason, Advent is not merely a return to historical longing and fulfillment by Jesus, but it is our own entrance into the mystery of God Incarnate, God becoming flesh, entered into history, and made it His own.  As the Nicene Creed professes: “And the Word became flesh and dwell among us.”  This dwelling among us means that God has made himself subject to suffering and death.  In other words, He knows the human condition most intimately.

And so St. Paul writes, “You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”  Indeed, we shall know neither the hour nor the day that we will be called to stand in front that Son of God, as the Gospel tells us.  We must not put down our guard and “sleep” our earthly lives away.  We must live lives faithful and worthy of that Son of God.

For on that last day, we cannot say to him “Lord, you have no clue what it is like to live a short life, to suffer, to mourn, to love, to lose, and to die.”  And yet again, on that last  day we cannot say to the Lord that the eternal One, the Lord Who exists outside of time, cannot possibly be sympathetic or empathetic of our own human condition.  For He is not only sympathetic to our own humanity, but he literally lived it.

It will be the Son of Man who judges, and he lived a human life from the womb of His mother to the stone tomb.  In his living that human life, the Gospels tell us, he encountered numerous people from different positions in society, as we all do.  Then on the end of days, from his countenance shall be seen every single human face since all are his brothers and sisters.  And we shall have to raise our heads to those faces, the innocent faces of children, the worn-out faces of the poor, the tear-filled faces of parents who weep for their children lost at war, the embittered faces of our enemies.  We shall have to raise our heads to that countenance, and a voice shall come from it that will say, “what you did, or did not do, for the least of my brothers.”  That voice will not die or fade away.  It will fill our eternity.  If we are able to raise our heads with the confidence of the forgiven sinner towards that countenance of the Son of man, it is only because we have taken heed of St. Paul’s calling to us: the hour now for you to awake from sleep.

Happy Monday and Advent, my friends!

A Great Song for Lent

I, like everyone else, enjoy music very much.  I have certain songs that I listen to over and over again and the repetition doesn’t make my wife very happy.  But this post isn’t about the nature of music (if you want a little of that, I suggest Alan Bloom’s piece).  This post is about a song that I listen to once awhile during lent.  I will explain its message to me and hopefully it could be something you could use.

Christian songs are great tools for prayer and reflection, but I find that some secular songs can do the same thing.  One of these songs is called I’m the Only One by Melissa Etheridge.  For those who are unfamiliar with the song, here is the video.

My Reflection:

When I hear this song, I imagine that it is God who is singing this to his beloved child and the first thing that comes to mind is Francis Thompson’s Hound of Heaven.  In both instances, God is the ever-yearning lover that constantly reminds the human person that there is no happiness and fulfillment in life without Him.

God Is Ever Calling:

The Lyrics

Please baby can’t you see
My mind’s a burnin’ hell
I got razors a rippin’ and tearin’ and strippin’
My heart apart as well

The first four lines of the lyrics is an expression of angst and sorrow.  Now, as a theologian, I’m aware of the problems that can arise from attributing emotions to God, but let us forget that for a moment and turn to the story of the prodigal son.  We are told that young son, returning with sorrow after having spent all his inheritance, finds his father waiting anxiously for his return.  God, like the father of the prodigal son, is filled with angst and sorrow when we, his beloved children, stray far from him, and he yearns nothing more than for us to return to his love.

How Do We Abandon God?

Tonight you told me
That you ache for something new
And some other woman is lookin’ like something
That might be good for you

The next four lines of the lyrics read just like our daily lives.  We begin to replace God in our lives with other things to the point that we no longer have any time for God.  We justify these replacements by saying that they are important.  Indeed, a cheating husband always sees his mistress as something better and justifies his behavior by whatever reason he must to overcome the idea that it is wrong.  We don’t necessarily have to commit a terrible act such as marital infidelity to abandon God, but we could do things like lie, gossip, or even act selfishly.

Advice Given

Please baby can’t you see
I’m trying to explain
I’ve been here before and I’m locking the door
And I’m not going back again

The next four lines act like a warning to us.  To accept or reject a lover that is openly welcoming us is of course our decision, but our decisions have consequences.  When we choose to love someone who loves us, we therefore choose to douse ourselves with that love.  However, if we choose to reject the love that is offered to us, then naturally we do not receive such love.  And if God is Love and love unceasing, then to reject his love is our own decision, but then we are left to live without love…a very terrifying existence.

Her eyes and arms and skin won’t make
it go away
You’ll wake up tomorrow and wrestle the sorrow
That holds you down today

These next four lines are also words of caution: sin is only fake happiness.  The husband that cheats on his wife mistakes lust for love and temporary satisfaction for lasting joy.  We often mistake mundane pleasures as eternal happiness.  We often settle for things that give us immediate release and then having to search once again after the release for another sort of excitement.  We need to become better at discerning what is truly good for us, what is true happiness, as opposed to that which only satisfies our seeming needs but leaves us always yearning for something else after the excitement is over.

The Source of Joy

Go on and hold her till the screaming is gone
Go on believe her when she tells you
Nothing’s wrong
But I’m the only one
Who’ll walk across the fire for you
I’m the only one
Who’ll drown in my desire for you
It’s only fear that makes you run
The demons that you’re hiding from
When all your promises are gone
I’m the only one

The chorus reads like lines out of the Biblical text: there is someone who is willing to do the craziest of things out of love for us.   If there is someone who is willing to “walk across the fire” or “drown in my desire” for us, we can either conclude that the person genuinely does love us or that he is crazy, or that there is a little bit of crazy in love =)  But as Jesus tells us, there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend.  Yet, Jesus was not just all talk about love; he showed it.  He freely and willingly laid down his life for our own sake.  The chorus then tell us that the beloved runs from the lover out of fear.  So why do we run from God? Fear.  We run away from things because we are afraid.  It begins when we are very young, like our first encounter with the neighbor’s dog that sends us literally running, and it continues to grow with us and spreads to other areas of our lives.  We start running away from relationships, work, ourselves, and ultimately God.  But unlike the little boy that couldn’t help his reaction to the dog, we can help our reaction to things in our lives.  We can choose to not run away.  We can choose to deal with our problems head on.  What then is our fear?