John 3:16 ~ Let’s make it new in our lives today!

The Fourth Sunday of Lent March 14, 2021

Today’s readings are a reflection on God’s generosity, God’s forgiveness, God’s constant, loving care of his people.

The first reading from Chronicles outlines the infidelity, the sins of  Judah and even the priests; they polluted the temple.

But early and often did God send messengers and prophets to try to get them to turn from their evil ways.  Then they were carried off in captivity to Babylon.

But even then the Lord had mercy.  A new King came to Persia—Cyrus—and he let the Jewish people return to their homes and actually helped them rebuild their temple.

The message of the reading is renewal and forgiveness.  God will continue making loving, merciful overtures toward sinners early and often in our own time—toward those who are responsible for the evil the world is presently experiencing—toward those who cooperate in that evil, he will bring to justice.

We realize that God has made the ultimate overture in Jesus, incarnate, crucified and risen, in victory over sin and death.

In today’s Gospel from John 3: 14-21—our Scripture Scholar-friend William Barclay tell us that John goes back to a strange story in Numbers 21:4-9.  On their journey through the wilderness the people murmured and complained and regretted that they had left Egypt. To punish them God sent them a plague of deadly fiery serpents; the people repented and cried for mercy. God instructed Moses to make a bronze image of a serpent and told them to hold it up and those who looked at it would be healed.

John took the old story and used it as a kind of parable for Jesus. He says in today’s Gospel, “The serpent was lifted up; men looked at; their thoughts were turned to God; and by the power of that God in whom they trusted they were healed. Even so Jesus must be lifted up; and when people turn their thoughts to him, and believe in him, they too will find eternal life.”

Barclay goes on—there’s a wonderful suggestive thing here: The verb to lift up is hupsuon. The strange thing is that it’s used of Jesus in two senses. It’s used of his being lifted up upon the Cross; and it’s used of his being lifted up into glory at the time of his ascension into heaven. It’s also used in Philippians 2:9.  The lifting on the Cross and the lifting into glory are inextricably connected.  It’s an unalterable law of life that if there’s no cross, there’s no crown.

In this opening sentence, there’s the phrase believes in Jesus.  Barclay suggests it means at least three things . . . .

First, it means believing with all our hearts that God is as Jesus declared him to be. It means believing that God loves us; that God cares for us and wants nothing more than to forgive us.

It was not easy for a Jew to believe that. Jewish people looked on God as one who imposed laws upon their people and punished them if they broke them. They looked on God as a judge and on man as a criminal at his judgment seat. (In fact, I have known Catholics who have thought the same way! That they were going to hell for the even small peccadillos. I knew a lady once who thought her flatulence was a sin!) Jewish people looked on God as one who demanded sacrifices and offerings.

Second, how can we be sure that Jesus knew what he was talking about? What guarantee is there that this wonderful good news is true? We must believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that in him is the mind of God, that he knew God so well, was so close to God, was so one with God that he could tell us the absolute truth about him.

And Third, we believe that God is a loving Father because we believe that Jesus is the Son of God and whatever he says about God is true. We must stake everything on the fact that what Jesus say is true and that whatever he commands we must do. When he tells us to cast ourselves on the mercy of God unreservedly that we must do so.

The second phrase is eternal life.  We have already seen that eternal life is the very life of God himself.

So, if we possess eternal life, what do we have

First, we have the peace of God. We are no longer cringing before a tyrannical judge. We are at home with our Father.

Second, it gives us peace with our fellow human beings. If we have been forgiven, we must be forgiving. It enables us to see others as God sees them. We become one human family.

Third, it gives us peace with life. If God is Father, God is working all things together for good.  This is a friendly universe!

Fourth, it gives us peace with ourselves. We are most afraid of what’s inside of us than anything else, it seems. We know our weaknesses, the force of our temptations, the tasks and demands of our own life. But now we know we are facing them with God and with his Son Jesus.

And finally, it makes us certain that the deepest peace on earth is only a shadow of the ultimate peace that is to come.

And so we come to probably the most quoted scripture passage in the world—John 3:16 in today’s gospel.

God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have everlasting life.

All great men have had their favorite texts, but this has been called “Everybody’s text.”  It contains the essence of the gospel. Barclay says it tells us certain great things . . . .

First, it tell us that the initiative in all salvation lies with God.  Sometimes preachers draw a picture of a stern, angry, unforgiving God and a gentle loving Jesus.  But this text tells us that it was with God that it all started. It was God who sent his Son and he sent him because he loved humankind.

Second, it tells us that the root of God’s being is love. It’s easy to think of God as looking at us humans in our disobedience and rebellion and saying: “I’ll break them: I’ll discipline them and punish them and scourge them until they come back as in the Old Testament. It’s easy to think of God as seeking the allegiance of his subjects to satisfy his own desire for power.  The tremendous thing about this text is it shows us God acting not for his own sake, not to satisfy his desire for power, not to bring the universe to heal, but to satisfy his love. God is not like an absolute monarch, (as many despotic governmental rulers today are) who treats each person as a subject to be reduced to abject obedience. God is the Father who cannot be happy until his wandering children have come home. God does not batter or bully them into submission; he yearns over them and woos them into love.

Third, it tells of the width of the love of God. It was the world that God so loved.  It was not a nation; it was not the good people; it was not only the people who loved him; it was the world. The unlovable and unlovely, the lonely who have no one else to love them, the person who loves God and the one who never thinks of God, the person who rests in the love of God and the one who spurns it—all are included in this vast inclusive love of God.  As Augustine put it: “God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us to love.”

God sent his Son not just to make judgments about our world, but to save it from itself. 

If God is the father of us all, if God created and sustains us in our virtues and our vices, if God claims us as his own, makes his home in our hearts and sends his natural Son to live with us, then God is somehow responsible for us.  Don’t flinch from that fact.  God is somehow enmeshed in our sins.  Not by personal guilt, but by blood relationship.

So the Father and the Son mutually agreed that the Son would accept responsibility for all the sins of all his people. 

For the rest of Lent let us contemplate what God has done for us in Jesus, for . . . .

GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD THAT HE GAVE HIS ONLY SON, SO THAT EVERY ONE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM MIGHT NOT PERISH BUT MIGHT HAVE ETERNAL LIFE!

And now before you go here’s a hymn for you “Remember your love” Click here

And if you’d like to reflect on this Sunday’s scriptures Click here

With love,

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer

Barclay: the Daily Study Bible Series / The Gospel of John–Volume1 Revised Edition / The Westminster Press Philadelphia 1975 / pp. 134-140.

The Third Sunday of Lent ~ “My House shall be a house of prayer for all nations!

THE THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT ~ JESUS CLEANSES THE TEMPLE March 7, 2021

THE THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT ~ JESUS CLEANSES THE TEMPLE ~ March 7, 2021

Once again, I rely heavily on our Scripture scholar-friend William Barclay for his insights for today’s reflections.  First of all, he notes that John after the wedding feast at Cana of Galilee, Jesus and his friends returned for a short visit to Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, and shortly after that he set out for Jerusalem to observe the Passover feast.

This, Barclay observes, is quite interesting in John’s chronology of the life of Jesus is quite different from the other three gospels.  In them Jesus is depicted as going to Jerusalem only once—the Passover feast in which he was crucified, and his only visit to the holy city other than the one when he was a boy. But in John we find Jesus making frequent trips to Jerusalem, no fewer than three for Passovers. Barclay notes there’s no real contradiction—only different points of view.

Right at the beginning he shows us Jesus acting as God’s Messiah must act.  And he did. His anger is a terrifying thing. He formed a scourge out of cords and moved through those selling oxen and sheep and doves and the money changers sitting at their tables and drove them all out of temple and said, “Take these away and stop making my Father’s house a house of trade.”

The Passover was the greatest of all Jewish feasts. The law stated that every adult male who lived within fifteen miles of the holy city must attend. Now here are some facts that shaped Jesus’ anger. Astonishingly, it’s likely 2.25 million Jews sometimes assembled in Jerusalem in those days for Passover. And there was a tax that every Jew over 19 must pay—the Temple tax. It was one half shekel.  At that time, the  value of a half shekel was about 6 cents.  It was the equivalent of almost two days of  working man’s wages. In Palestine all kinds of currency were valid—from Greece and Egypt and Tyre and Sidon and Palestine.  But the Temple tax had to be paid The Jewish shekels; the foreign coins were considered unclean; they could be used to pay ordinary debts, but not debts to God.

So in the Temple courts sat the money-changers. If there trade had been straight forward, they would have been fulfilling an honest and necessary purpose.  But they charged to change the money and they charged get their change. The poor pilgrims couldn’t win.  The wealth that accrued from the Temple tax and from this and from this method of money-changing was—well—beyond belief.

It was estimated that the annual profit was about $100,000 for the Temple. And Barclay says that when Crasus captured Jerusalem in 54 B.C. he took from it $3,400,000 without coming near exhausting it.

What enraged Jesus was that pilgrims to the Passover who could ill afford it, were being fleeced at an exorbitant rate by the money-changers. It was a rampant and shameless social injustice—and what was worse it was being done in the name of religion.

Besides the money-changers, there were sellers of oxen and sheep and doves. Many pilgrims wanted to make a thank offering. Victims for the sacrifice could be bought in the temple court. But no. The law was that the animal had to be unblemished and, therefore, the Temple authorities set up appointed inspectors (muncheh) to examine the victims that were to be offered.  The fee was 1 cent. If the worshipper bought the animal outside the Temple, of course, it would be rejected. A pair of doves would cost about 4 cents outside but 75 cents inside.  Here again, was bare-faced extortion of the poor and humble pilgrims who, as Barclay says, were practically blackmailed into buying their victims in the Temple booths. It was that which moved Jesus into flaming anger.  St. Jerome thinks that the very sight of Jesus made the whip unnecessary. A certain fiery and starry light shone from his eyes and the majesty of the Godhead gleamed in his face.

Now, Barclay suggests there are at least three reasons why Jesus acted as he did.

First, God’s house—his Father’s house, as he said in John’s gospel—was being desecrated. In the Temple, there was worship without reverence. Worship without reverence can be a terrible thing.

When I attend Mass sometimes I find a priest who rushes through the Eucharistic Prayer in a distracted fashion—the most solemn part of the Mass, or who doesn’t say the words of Consecration reverently.  I ache inside for the priest, for myself and for the people who are not being edified.

Secondly, Jesus acted as he did to show that animal sacrifice and all that went into it was completely irrelevant.  For centuries the prophets were saying exactly that.  “Bring no more vain offerings” (Isaiah 1:11). “They love sacrifices; they sacrifice flesh and eat it; but the Lord has no delight in them.” (Hosea 8:2:12-16).

Thirdly, the Temple authorities were making the Court of the Gentiles into an uproar and a rabble where no one could pray. The lowing of the oxen, the bleating of the sheep, the cooing of the doves, the shouts of the hucksters, the jingling of the coins, the voices raised in bargaining disputes—all these combined to make the Court of the Gentiles a place where no one could worship. The conduct in the Temple court shut out the seeking Gentile from the presence of God. It may well be that this was most on Jesus’ mind. Jesus was moved to the depths of his heart because seeking pilgrims were being shut out from the presence of God. “Mark has Jesus say: My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it a den of robbers   ” Mark 11:17).     pp.105 – 114.

Bishop Robert Barron:

 The most fundamental vocation of human beings is to give God right praise. In this act of adoration we become rigthtly ordered in ourselves. Accordingly sin is the suspension of right praise., a turning of the heart toward creatures rather than the Creator, which results in the disintegration of self and of society. All of the institutions of Israel—law, covenant, prophecy and Temple—were intended to bring the nation back in line to make Israel a priestly people.

Hence, the corruption of the Temple represented much more than simply an issue of social or institutional injustice. It was the compromising of the identity of Israel. Jesus comes to restore God’s holy people to right praise—and to turn inside out and upside down all forms of false worship. Thus, as you contemplate the image of Jesus cleansing the Temple, ask yourself the following question, “Precisely what or whom do I worship?”

And here are today’s Mass readings if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.

With love,

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer

 

Second Sunday of Lent ~ Have you been to the mountain?

The Second Sunday of Lent ~ February 28, 2021

Jesus takes Peter, James and John to a mountaintop and there they have ~ well ~ a “peak” experience extraordinaire. 

It’s a great story.  It contrasts with last week’s story of Jesus in the desert being tempted by the devil.  Today Jesus is receiving a wonderful affirmation.

According to our Scripture scholar-friend William Barclay, this story is another of the great hinges in Jesus’ life on earth—and we’ll see why. He was just about to set out for Jerusalem, setting his face toward the cross.

The story is cloaked in mystery. We can only try to understand. We usually associate this event with Mount Tabor, which is in the south of Galilee. However, Mark tells us this event happened eight days after events in Caesarea Philippi which is in the north. Not on that, Tabor is only about 1,000 feet high, and in the time of Jesus, Barclay indicates there was a fortress on top. It’s much more likely that this event took place amidst the eternal snows of Mount Hermon which is 9,200 high and much nearer Caesarea Philippi. 

Jesus took his favorite disciples, Peter, James and John up on the mountain to pray. On the mountain top, Moses and Elijah appeared to him. Moses was the great lawgiver of the people of Israel; Elijah was the greatest of the prophets. It was as if the princes of Israel’s life and thought and religion were affirming Jesus to go on.

There’s a vivid sentence here about the three apostles . . . .

            “When they were fully awake they saw his glory.”

 In life we miss so much because our minds are often asleep.

~ There are many of us who are so wrapped up in our own ideas that our minds are shut. “Someone may be knockin’ at the door” but we’re often like sleepers who will not awake.

~ There are others of us who refuse to think about anything. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” How many of us have thought things out and thought them through?

~ We can drug ourselves mentally against any disturbing thought until we are sound asleep that Big Brother can taken over. Ever seen the “Matrix or read Orwell’s 1984?

But life is full of things designed to awaken us.

~ There is sorrow. Often sorrow can rudely awaken us, but in a moment, through the tears, we will see the glory.

~ There is love. Barclay references a poem by Robert Browning telling of two people who fell in love: She looked at him; he looked at her—“and suddenly life awoke.” 

I remember a similar experience in reading Thomas Merton’s Seven Story Mountain for the second time several years ago. When I finished it I found myself immersed in joyous tears for weeks on end—filled with love for Jesus that this young monk and elicited in me. This Lent, I’m trying to re-enable that experience.

~ There is a sense of need. It’s easy enough to live the routine life half asleep; then all of a sudden there comes some completely insoluble problem, some unanswerable question, some overwhelming temptation, some summons to an effort that we feel is beyond our strength. And that sense of need can awaken us to God.

We would do well to pray, “Lord, keep me always awake to you.” 

Source: William Barclay /Gospel of Mark pp. 210–11.

But here’s a couple of other observations from the February 2016 issue of the Magnificat liturgical magazine:

After the disciples witnessed Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah, this appears in the text . . . .

Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them;
from the cloud came a voice from the cloud . . .  (Mk: 9:8.)

The overshadowing of the divine Spirit does not darken, according to Saint Ambrose, but reveals secret things to the hearts of people. It is the luminous cloud the soaks us from the dew that sprinkles the minds of people with faith sent by the voice of the almighty God.

The saint is talking about mystical experience that arise from deep prayer or centering prayer or even just experiencing an amazing sunset or an exhilarating conversation with a friend.

Anyway, what a gorgeous sentence that is “a luminous cloud that soaks us / from the dew that sprinkles the minds of people with faith” . . .  Wow!  Think on that one.

Immediately following, we here from the cloud a voice that said,

       “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”

You are my beloved son / my beloved daughter; listen to him!

It is a call to heed Jesus’ teaching about his Passion and our need to take up our cross and follow him: Jesus is the Messiah who suffers for us.  

You may never had a mountain top experience like Peter, James and John have had.  Even one mountain top experience  — one “peak experience” as Abraham Maslow likes to call them can be life-changing.

Any close encounter with God can be life-changing.

As I conclude, I encourage you to make the intention to be open to joyous experience of your own when such moments come.  When they come, embrace  them.  Try not to resist or deny them as many of us do.  Surrender to the moment and experience it as deeply and richly as you can.

And now before you go, here is a hymn based upon the words “This is my beloved Son: Hear him” Click here.

And here are today’s Mass Readings. Click here.

Acknowledgements: William Barclay / The New Daily Study Bible / The Gospel of Mark                                                                                    Westminster John Knox Press / Louisville, KY / 1975, 2001

Magnificat.com / Yonkers, NY

With love, 

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

 

 

 

 

The Fidelity of Jesus: May we be faithful too!

The First Sunday of Lent ~The Fidelity of Jesus ~ February 21, 2021

This is a story about fidelity in the face of temptation.

This is a story about the Jesus I know and love.

Before I get into my own thoughts on this important opening story in the life of our Lord, I’d like to share some notes from our Scripture scholar-friend William Barclay.

He says that the word to tempt in Greek peirazein has a different emphasis than its English counterpart. We always think of tempting as something bad. But peirazein has a different emphasis; it means to test.

One of the great Old Testament stories makes this clear. Remember how Abraham narrowly escaped sacrificing his only son Isaac?  God was testing him, not tempting him!

So, with Jesus, this whole incident was not so much a tempting as the testing of Jesus.

We have to note further where this test took place. The inhabited part of Judea stood on a central plateau that was the backbone of southern Palestine.  Between it and the Dead Sea stretched a terrible wilderness, thirty-five by fifteen miles.  It was called Jeshimmon, which means “the Devastation.”  The hills were like dust-heaps; the limestone looked blistered and peeling; the rocks bare and jagged, with heat like a vast furnace and ran out to the precipices. 1,200 feet high, that plunged down to the Dead Sea. It was in that awesome devastation that Jesus was tempted or rather the Father was shaping him — testing his mettle — for his mission.

Then there are these other points to take note .  .  .  .

First, all three gospel writers seem to stress the immediacy with which the temptations follow the baptism.  As Mark has it, “The Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness.” (Mark 1:12).  Barclay suggests to us that we ought to be on guard when life brings us to the heights because that’s when we’re in the gravest danger of a fall.

Second, we should not regard this experience of Jesus as an outward experience. It was a struggle that went on in his own heart and mind and soul.  The proof is that there is no possible mountain from which all the mountains of the earth could be seen. This was an inner struggle.

It is through our inmost thoughts and desires that the tempter comes to us. His attack can be so real that we might almost see the devil.

(Pope Francis has said that Christian life is sometimes a battle. And then he cautioned when someone said “you’re so old-fashioned; the devil doesn’t exist, “Watch out! The devil exists. We must learn how to battle him in the 21st Century and must not be naïve. We must learn from the Gospel how to battle him.”)

Third, Barclay goes on, we must not think that Jesus conquered the tempter and that the tempter never came to him again.

Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. In Christian warfare, says Barclay as well as Pope Francis, there is no release.  Some people think they should get beyond that stage; Jesus himself never did, even in his last hour in Gethsemane.

Fourth, one thing stands out about this story—these temptations could only come to a person who had special powers and knew he had them.  We are always tempted through our gifts.  We can use our gifts for selfish purposes or we can use them in the service of others.

Fifth, the source must have been Jesus himself. He was alone in the wilderness.  No one was with him in his struggle, so he must have told his men about it.

We must always approach this story with a unique and utmost reverence, for it is laying bare his inmost heart and soul. And that is what I’ve always done in the following presentation written many years ago .  .  .

THIS IS A STORY about earth-shaking silence that bore the sound of deafening harsh voices and one soft and gentle voice Who sent Jesus among us so we could know we had a Father-God who loves us with an everlasting love.

This is a story of confrontation and testing.

Dramatic confrontation with the elements–blinding sun and penetrating darkness, blistering wind and numbing cold, impassioned hunger and parching thirst.

Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to pray and fast.

There, he would shape his mission.  He was searching for the answer of the question:  What kind of spiritual leader would he be?

There, he was also tempted by the devil, who sought him to distort that mission.

First, a harsh voice prompted Jesus to turn stones into bread as a way of manipulating others to get them to follow him.  Jesus could have made people dependent on him; instead, he shared with them what he realized: Our common dependence on the Father of all, who gives us our daily bread.

To interpret this, the first temptation presents physical attraction as the ultimate good, Jesus teaches us to seek bread from heaven. We continue to pray for and live by this daily bread.

Another harsh voice tempted him to throw himself down from the parapet of the temple and have his angels come and raise him up.  He could put together a traveling road show of clever signs and wonders.  Things would be easier that way.  People would easily follow a clever magician.  But this would draw people away from the Father, not toward him.

The soft voice was simply asking Jesus to reveal the true order of the Father’s kingdom.

Jesus realized  his mission in life was to reveal Abba’s love as Father of all.   Jesus was to let the world know that there was a soft voice within us all, who is there to affirm and to love, to test and to guide.

Again, as an interpretation, the second temptation is about fame and admiration—making a name for ourselves. In fact, Christ will throw himself down—in free and obedient conformity to the Father. Jesus will endure mockery instead of admiration. Christ did not cast himself down from this pinnacle of the temple . . . He did not tempt God, but he did descend into the abyss of death . . .and the desolation of the defenseless.

A third harsh voice promised Jesus the whole world, saying: “You’ve got the power to gain the whole world.  You can be king of this world.

And Jesus sadly realized that many of his followers, even in the Church, would succumb to greed of every form.  They would kill in Crusades and Inquisitions in the name of love.

The third temptation is for earthly power and rule. But the only crown that Jesus will wear will be made of thorns, his kingdom is “not of this world” (john 18:36).

As he was tempted, he was led into a soul-embracing love of the One he was to reveal.  In the desert, Jesus must have knelt down and promised in all simplicity to seek and to do the will of the Father from moment to moment.  And in that act of fidelity, in that decision, the new covenant surely was sealed in Jesus’ heart.

In the desert and its temptations, the whole of humanity was drawn into the possibility of intimate experience of the divine.  Because one person was willing to be led into the holy of holies, we all can go with him.  We can go–provided that we–like Jesus, are willing to be tested and cleansed, strengthened and purified.

In this story, at the beginning of Jesus’ mission, is the answer to the question: Why did Jesus have to die?

The answer was:

To surrender himself into the hands of evil people was the only way Jesus could be faithful.  God could have intervened on behalf of his own Son.  But that was out of the question.

The world could not accept God as a gentle Father.  They found his message of love much too demanding.  And since the authorities could not and would not accept him and his message, the only recourse left to him was simply to give witness to that message–even to the end.

He chose to be faithful to the soft Voice of the Father, not compromise the message, even if it led to his death.

Jesus had to suffer and die because, because tragically, that was the only way the world would allow him to be faithful to the Word he heard ~ and preached.

The Father was more pleased with the fidelity of one son than he would have been with the spread of a message that did not reveal his love.

This is a powerful lesson  for those among us who would COERCE others into being good – as we see the proliferation of dictators across the globe today.

The false voices which Jesus tamed and quieted ~the voices of greed or accolade or power–we must tame and quiet, relying on his power as elder Son.

The soft voice of the Father to whom he was so devoted, the voice that was the source and object of all his fidelity, each one of us should train ourselves to hear.

And then learn . . . day after day after day to love . . . more deeply . . . more intimately . . . more really–the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This  . . . . is the Jesus I know and love.

And I ask him to teach me the gentle ways of the Father.  Through Jesus, may we be faithful too.

And now, before you go, here’s  a song I’ve always loved with a lovely slide show ~ On Eales’ Wings.  Click here.  It’s the text of Psalm 91 that says, For He will give His angels charge over you, To guard you in all your ways.”  Remember to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.

And here are today’s Mass readings if you’d like to reflect on them.              Click here.

With love, 

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

William Barclay / The Daily Study Bible Series / the Gospel of Matthew ~ Volume 1 revised edition                              Westminster Press Philadelphia / 1975 / pp. 62 -66.

The Jesus I know and Love ~ and I want You to know Him too!

Thursday after Ash Wednesday, March 7, 2019

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

In the first reading, Moses says:

“I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. 

Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20).

Now here are my thoughts on Moses’ address to his people.  One often hears the words Choose Life as a Pro-Life message.  That’s important, but we’re invited to choose life again and again, every day.  This Lent is an acceptable time to choose the life that affirms and nourishes us and to deliver ourselves from the dysfunctional communication and game-playing within our own home that damage the souls of our spouses and our children.

Let’s choose Life this day in the way we speak to and about the folks we meet today.

Choice is an act of the will, the highest power of the human person.  We need to choose our words carefully.  To preside over ~ take responsibility for what comes out of our mouths.  To realize our words create life or death.

In today’s gospel, Jesus says,

“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must take up his cross daily and follow me. 

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.

What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?  (Luke 9: 22-25)

My reflection: Jesus gives us a koan here. That’s a Zen word  for a riddle given to a student to mull over until the the student gets the insight.

Try to get into it this Lent. Ponder its meaning for you right now. Copy it on a card and repeat it often until you get it.

Jesus’ message is so counter-cultural In our society people do anything to avoid the smallest bit of pain. There are even numbing pads so that you don’t feel it when you prick your finger for the Accu-check  for diabetes.  And we avoid emotional pain by not thinking through our problems. Some folks do this by getting a hasty divorce to run away from our problems or by dumping a girlfriend who no longer suits us via way of a cruel text message.

Lent places before us the Cross of Jesus and his loving embrace of it as our Savior, yes, but also as a model for us. He willingly stretched out his arms to be nailed. Jesus knew he would have to face a lot of suffering on his journey.  He knew  he would make people angry by proclaiming the truth he saw in his heart.  He knew that it would lead him to death, but he never strayed from the road to Jerusalem.

The issue is Acceptance of whatever life calls us to. Jesus  accepted the Cross because he chose to be faithful to his mission.

He was a person of absolute integrity.  No one was going to dissuade him from being who he was.

This is the Jesus I know and love:  The one who has the strength to love, no matter what.   He’s my Lord, my Savior, my mentor, if you will.  I would like very much to be like that.  How ’bout you?

Tomorrow we begin to reflect on Jesus’ forty-day retreat into the desert’ (the Mass text for this coming Sunday) to prepare for his mission.

Now before you go, here’s Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie singing  the old hymn “Jesus walked the lonesome valley” Click here.

And here are today’s Mass readings if you would like to reflect on them. Click here.

With love,

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

 

Ashes to ashes, Dust to dust ~ Let Jesus raise you up!

Ash Wednesday 2021

Dear Friends,

Ash Wednesday is upon us once again. Easter  ~ Sunday April 4th.

So, you may ask ~ what are ashes all about?

We Catholics like symbols.  (So does Harry Potter.)

What can they tell us about life? And death?  And reality?

When the priest smears ashes on the penitent’s forehead he says one of two poignant phrases:

REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE DUST AND UNTO DUST YOU SHALL RETURN,

or  REPENT AND BELIEVE IN THE GOSPEL.

(However, if you are going to church to receive ashes this year, be aware of this change about how you will receive them. Yesterday, I noted because of the pandemic, the parades in New Orleans an Rio were cancelled, now you will have a different way of receiving ashes. You will not be touched in anyway on the forehead. The ashes will simply be sprinkled on your head as the priest or other minister say: “Remember that you are dust . . . “

So, it’s a sign of humility, a sign that we are part of the earth, that we are dust.

Are we to reflect and ask ~ Are we just dust?

Have we made an ash-heap of our life?

Are we sitting in an ash-heap?

Is there nothing but ruin, smoldering embers around us?

If so, do we despair?

Or can ~ do we dream of re-building?

Whether or not, the answers to these questions apply to us literally, it is important to humble ourselves before our God.

They could very well be true at any moment of our life.

I certainly can say ~ There but for the grace of God go I.

Now, I’m going to tell you a story from my own life to help explain what Lent is all about.

Some time ago, I was slicing some tomatoes and I put a tiny hole in the very end of my right index finger. It started to bleed a bit so I somehow managed to get a bandaid on it at that peculiar spot.

The next day I put some peroxide on it to see if it was infected and sure enough it was. So, I had to nurse my poor little finger for over a week till it got better! But then It didn’t and I had to do nurse it another few days.

Now, how does this relate to Lent?

Our souls can get hurt too.We hurt ourselves, as I did; we hurt others and we hurt God.

We can easily get an infection in our soul as well. We call that sin. The word sin comes from a Greek word in archery hamartia that means “to miss the mark”. What mark? Our best selves! The other thing about my poor little index finger is that it has a permanent scar—right at the end where I type. (I just checked the poor lil’ finger out a year later and, yes, the scar is still there.)  Sin does that too. It leaves its mark on us somehow, someway, even the small ones; they chip away at us.

I’ll tell you something else about me, a little more personal. I have been prone to yell at people. When I was a kid, I grew up in a home where I got yelled at a lot. I’m of Austrian heritage and that doesn’t help either. We Germanic folk are very abrupt people. The yelling shows up when I get frustrated with clerks on the phone who give me the run-around, I need to realize that other person has feelings and should be treated as a human being. I have also been known to yell at people in the sacristy when I was under pressure. That is a sinful condition too.

It took me some growing and challenging to be able to change.

And that is what Lent is about. Growing and changing. Listening to Jesus in the Scriptures. Then putting into action what we’ve heard.

Another part of Lent is asking for forgiveness. Forgiveness from God and forgiveness from those we’ve hurt. The Sacrament of Reconciliation (confession) is a powerful place to receive the grace for healing and strength we need for that growth and change.

Lent, then, is a season of hope that ends in new Life, in risen Life.

It’s a time to TURN AROUND ~ to make a U-turn ~ when or if we realize our life has gone in the wrong direction.

That’s what the word con-version means.  To simply do a U-turn.

Turn around and head in a different direction.

To get going again.

To CHANGE, so you don’t keep on doing the same old thing and expect different results. 

It doesn’t do a Catholic much good who show up on Ash Wednesday, get a smudge of ashes without the intention of doing what they symbolize:  CHANGE what needs changing. That’s it!

And so, dear friend, don’t just give up something  for Lent. Get at the root of your life where you need to look at the real stuff.

I invite you to go deeper into the practice of your faith.

Make the sign of receiving ashes Mean Something!

Let it transform you from inside out.

The question is:  Do we ~ you and I ~ have the COURAGE TO CHANGE?

So, let’s do Lent well ~ together.

During Lent, be ready to walk with Jesus to Jerusalem.

Find out who this Jesus is ~ for you.

And what wisdom he has to offer us that will help us to change and enrich our lives for the better.

Whether you are  Catholic or not, perhaps you will find some  wisdom, some meaning for your life in these pages.  Join us as we walk the journey together as Jesus did ~ through suffering to death to new and risen life these six weeks of Lent 2021.

God of  pardon and of love,

We come to you this holy Lenten season,

begging for your Mercy and Love once again.

Please allow us the grace to open our ears to hear your Word,

to see you in the faces of one another ~ in family and in stranger,

and give us the grace to see what we need to change,

the courage to act upon it,

and to follow you on the way to Jerusalem.

Amen! 

Now, before you go, here’s a song about Ashes.  Click here. Be sure to enter full screen and turn up your speakers. And if you are going to church to receive ashes this year, be aware of this change about how you will receive them. Yesterday, I noted because of the pandemic, the parades in New Orleans an Rio were cancelled, now you will have a different way of receiving ashes. You will not be touched in anyway on the forehead. The ashes will simply be sprinkled on your head as the priest or other minister say: “Remember that you are dust . . . “. The pandemic has a way of influencing everything we do, it seems. Wear your mask; practice social distancing and get vaccinated and pray for those suffering from covid and those who care for them that Jesus will raise us all up!

And here are today’s Mass readings if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.

With love, 

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer  

Thursday~ The Jesus I know and Love

About Presidents and security and . . . You never know . . .

62ddd5c1-1dd8-b71b-0bf70c23a3528536I usually publish a blog for CARNIVAL! at this point as we are two days away from Ash Wednesday. But this is a sobering year with the coronavirus and it has taken all the fun out of CARNIVAL in both Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans. No parades allowed. No alcohol on Bourbon Street!

But today is Presidents’ Day.  It’s always celebrated on the third Monday of February, but it originally was meant to mark George Washington’s birthday on the 22nd. It’s come to honor all presidents, past and present.

We’ve had some great ones, and some turkeys too, as some of us of various political persuasion will argue over several beers into the wee hours.

We’ve had some great ones, and some turkeys too, as some of us of various political persuasion will argue over several beers into the wee hours.

But our present times are difficult ones, with Covid 19 and trying to build back the economy. We’ve just had a transfer of power of two very different presidents and that didn’t go very smoothly. In fact there was violence involved with the attack on our beloved, sacred Capitol building on January 6th that we still have not recovered from.

Some of us, however, find some level of security in the midst of insecurity. Some of us roll with the punches better than others. We plod along not sure what will happen next. The ones who will be OK are those who are prepared. Who are always ready for life to change on a dime.

“To be at ease is to be unsafe.”

             ~ John Henry Cardinal Newman

Back in the fall of 2008, I had been getting to know some homeless people. I admire and respect the ones I have met because they look out for each other.   My whole perspective on my own worries has completely changed as a result. It has led me to profound gratitude and real compassion. I thought long and hard what it would be like to be homeless. And then I realized there are going to be many more.

 Our economy is based on the premise that we should buy, buy, buy – sell, sell, sell. It is not a godly economy.   In my opinion, our present American society is not a healthy one. In order for our economy to work we are constantly prodded to buy stuff. And the more we buy, the deeper in debt we get.  It’s foolish. Insane, actually. But this pandemic has taught many of us a different way. We’ve had to stay home and find our entertainments in simpler ways.

It could be a great grace; some will find God and turn to the one only God and away from the false idols of a material way and turn to a more spiritual way of life. They will have the opportunity perhaps for the first time to find meaning and love and authentic relationships. They will come to understand what life is for. Many will find Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life.   Hopefully the uncertainty we’ve been through this past year will bring us and our nation to our senses.

What will happen next? To you? To your job? To your family?

We need to look for certainty and security on a deeper level.

It would seem that having a sense of the presence of God in our life will give us a foundation that is not so easily shaken by uncertainty. The scriptures present Jesus as the one who can quiet the storms of life (Matthew 8:23-27); He can be the Rock, the foundation on which our life is built.

Failing to accept life on life’s terms can cause anxiety and depression whereas hope takes the bite out of uncertainty. Through thirty years of learning to cope with bipolar illness I have learned to keep going . . . no matter what. I call you, my reader, to the same faith and hope and love in every moment of your life. Only God can provide the security we need in uncertain times.

Jesus taught his disciples to accept uncertainty as something valuable. He told them “Take nothing on your journey but a walking stick — no food, no traveling bag, not a coin in purse” (Mark 6: 8-9). He wants his disciples to not place ultimate security in things (a warm tunic or some coins in your purse) but to find security in a well-lived, lifelong, open and trusting relationship with God.

For years now I have been calling us to repent of our sins of complacency and greed and idolatry and lust for power and preoccupation with hate and fear and violence that permeates our society. Every day I pray that God restore our beloved country to shining beacon on a hill we once was. I just invite you, I implore you: Let us pray  and restore our nation’s relationship with God and justice for all races and peoples in our land of immigrants and indigenous people.

God is our refuge and our strength, an ever present help in distress. Therefore we fear not, though the earth be shaken and mountains plunge into the sea. . . The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.” (Ps 46)

And now, my prayer . . . .

Good and gracious God,

we come before you today to ask your blessing

upon this vast and great land of ours.

We are grateful that our republic has stood safe for 241 years now.

And so, we  ask your continued blessing upon us.

Please bless President Biden and all elected and government officials

that they would have the best interests of all of the people in mind and heart.

Let there be peace at home and peace throughout the world.  

For Yours, O God, is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory.  

Amen!  

And now, before you go, here’s Pete Seeger and a Chorus singing “This Land is Your Land on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.

With love, 

Bob Traupman 

contemplative writer

 

Happy Valentine’s Day! True Love is faithful love ~ How do you measure up?

Flagler Beach Florida sunrise / bob traupman.

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY, EVERYONE!

We’ve been reflecting on St. Paul’s eloquent words about love from I Corinthians 13. And this is my final post on the subject.

Love is not pompous,

it is not inflated,

it does not seek its own interests,                                                                        it is not quick-tempered,                                                                                                                           \

it does not brood over injury,                                                                                                                                                                                           it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.

Romantic love wears off in a few months.  True love requires fidelity and is long-lasting.  I often remember people I met briefly twenty or thirty years ago and there is still a place in my heart for them, even those who had rejected or hurt me.  And when I think of them I believe my prayer is able to touch them even now, either living or dead.

We think we know all about love. Yet Love is  an Art and a Discipline that is only learned and acquired by trial and error.  Thus, we have to learn how to love.  Or perhaps unlearn what we have learned in abusive homes  or families and find people who can teach us well.  I am profoundly grateful for the people who allowed my soul to unfold and blossom because of their love and in their love.

As I mentioned last time, I taught high school seniors (51 years ago!) that I had them read two books,  Erich Fromm’s Art of Loving and Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Both books still should be required reading by anyone who wants to become a whole and healed human person.

Many of us keep focusing on finding the right object of our love.  Fromm — and Jesus — tell us that being a person who is capable of loving the stranger in the checkout line at the 7-11 or your sibling whose guts you can’t stand is the way we will learn to love.

Love is being free to love the one you’re with so you can be with the one you love.

It is just not possible to love some and hate others.  St. John says, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer.” (1 John 3:15)  

And yet, in today’s America, I wonder what kind of leadership and example we are setting for our children when some follow our political and business leaders who have sought to take revenge on their opponents instead of striving to be true noble patriots as was shown in the riots on our sacred Capitol on January 6th. 

Love is being able to see and respond to the loving energy of the universe and spread it around instead of trying to possess it for oneself.

Love is faithfully loving whomever God puts in our life at every turn of our life’s journey. A hard task sometimes. I know.

How often we fail.  But that’s what growth in love and Christian spirituality is all about. Sometimes it requires a heroic effort and sacrificial love ~ the love of Jesus, the Love of God for us.

So, what is LOVE?

There’s all kinds of love.  There’s romance that is the kind that pervades the soaps, the news stand magazines, the ones at the grocery store checkout counter. There’s erotic love.  There’s brotherly (or sisterly) love, the love of friends, neighborly love.  And then there’s sacrificial love.  There’s conditional and unconditional love.  There’s love that isn’t love at all.

But here’s a practical suggestion for you to make your own meaning.

At day’s end, reflect on the positive things — even the tiny little things in a chaotic, insane day.  Seek out where the LOVE was. Where was the LIFE?

Take a moment.  Reflect on your day.  Pick two incidents, however fleeting, however small that you might have missed at the time.  Savor them for a moment as you get ready for bed.  Those are the moments where love  and God has touched you.  Be ready to receive into your life and your heart the little moments of LIFE and LOVE that do happen even in the midst of the most terrible day and let them change your life.

It is not the destination that’s important; life and love happen along the way!

And so here’s my final prayer for this Valentine’s Day . . . .

Good and gracious God,

We live in a world that gives us so few models of faithful love.

Help us to learn the art and discipline of loving.

Help us to understand that we cannot love one person — even ourselves — unless we let love — rather than hate — flow from our heart to touch and heal and nourish those around us.

Heal us, Lord.

Let us trust in You, for you are the Source of all Love,

Your Love is flowing like a river giving life to everything and  every one along the way,

a river from our own hearts to everyone we meet this day. 

I also ask your blessing on all married couples and those engaged to be married.

It’s not easy to be faithful in this world today.

Pour out your abundant blessing upon them in all their struggles.

Renew their love and their joy this day and all the days of their lives. 

And please be with all those struggling with this corona virus and all those who protect them.

We give You thanks and praise this day.

Amen.

And now before you go, wouldn’t you like to hear a romantic melody for your beloved?  Well, here’s a very unique one: Cold Play’s True Love  Click here. 

With love

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

And here is the entire text of St. Paul’s Ode to Love (I Corinthians 13)  Savor each line and see how you measure up. . . .

If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.

And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge;

if I have all faith so as to move mountains

but do not have love, I am nothing.

If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast

but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous,

Love is not pompous, it is not inflated,

it is not rude,

it does not seek its own interests,

it is not quick-tempered,

it does not brood over injury,

it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.

It bears all things,

believes all things,

hopes all things,

endures all things.

Love never fails.

So faith, hope, love remain, these three;

but the greatest of these is love.

     I Corinthians 13

Jilted Lovers or Joyous Love?

img_0951

mesa verde national park of southern colorado / march 2008 / bob traupman. 

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

Our society finds it quite acceptable for people to hop into one relationship after another or just satisfy one’s needs by”hooking up”, maybe  — and hopefully not so much during this pandemic!

How many times have young people thought that this was the person of their dreams and been dumped by a rude text message ~ or done the dumping themselves?

I wonder how many marriages have ended when one spouse showed up in the kitchen and announced, “I want a divorce!”  No discussion.  No attempt to work out problems.  No mercy.  No forgiveness.   Over.  Done, after calling a divorce lawyer.

And what happens is that some may add one unsuccessful relationship on top of another.  As a result, our heart can become more and more wounded. And less and less trusting, less and less capable of loving .  . . unless somehow ~ someone (Someone? helps us find a way to believe again, to hope again.

So, let’s take a deeper look at the truth and the transforming power of St. Paul’s words in I Cor. 13 we’re reflecting on in this series “What is Love?”

LOVE . . .

. . .  it is not rude,

it does not seek its own interests,

it is not quick-tempered,

 it  does not brood over injury,

it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.

it bears all things.

believes all things,

hopes all things.

endures all things.

Love never fails.

We just have to learn to love anyway.

At least, that’s what St. Paul is getting at “Love does not brood over injuries.”

In the Art of Loving, psychoanalyst Erich Fromm’s classic book written in 1956, consider his statement that will blow most of us out of the water:

“Love is not primarily a relationship to a specific person:  it is an attitude, an orientation of character which determines the relatedness of a person to the world as a whole, not toward one “object” of love.  If a person loves only one person and is indifferent to the rest of his fellow men, his love is not love but a symbiotic attachment  or an enlarged egotism . . . If I truly love one person I love all persons, I love the world; I love life.  If I can say to somebody else, “I love you,” I must be able to say”I love in you everybody.   I love through you the world, I love in you also myself”~ p. 39.)

This is, of course, is the heart of Jesus’ message, but many, if not most of us who say we’re his followers still don’t get it.

As tech opportunities for “communication” proliferate the less we communicate.  We communicate more and more on a superficial level.  You can’t really know someone through texting or on Facebook or in an email.  A person can present a false persona. The only real way to communicate with someone is to be in their presence using all our senses.

We need to learn, once again how to come to true intimacy ~ the coming together of two or more persons who have the courage open themselves to the transformative power of love.

If you are one who seeks that, I’m with you.   That’s what my writing is about. In fact,  the high school seniors whom I had in my religion classes fifty years ago were required to read that book along the Victor Frankl’s  Man’s Search for Meaning.

Good and gracious God,

we ask you to heal the hearts that are broken.

Help us to see even in the midst of our brokenness the depth of Your Love for us.

And may we see our brokenness when we reject Your love.

We may feel we cannot take the risk to open our hearts once more.

Give us the courage and strength to stop destructive patterns that lead only to more pain.

Give us hope, Lord.

Instead of seeking to find our true love,

let us simply become persons who love —

. . . whomever we’re with,

. . . to grow in our capacity to love

so that we can reach out to the whole world

as You do at every moment,

in every time and place.

To You, God of our understanding,

we give You praise, now and forever.

AMEN!

Now I suggest you take a second look at that tree weathering the mountaintop at 8000 feet.  It has been jilted by the weather.  But it still stands nobly and proudly — broken, gnarled and twisted; it’s a fine lesson for us of the meaning of life.

And here is the entire text of St. Paul’s Ode to Love (I Corinthians 13) once again.   Savor each phrase and see how you measure up. . . .

If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.   And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains  but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous. Love is not pompous, it is not inflated,it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered,  does not brood over injury,it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails.  So faith, hope love remain, these, but the greatest of these is love.  1 Corinthians 13

Now before you go, here’s a music video for you by Brandon Flowers “Jilted Lovers and Broken Hearts.” Click Here.

With Love, 

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer

St. Paul’s Ode to Love ~ How do we measure up?

Many of us are thinking of our Valentine’s these days — our lovers,  intend-eds, spouses, classmates, mothers and also spouses remembering their deceased loved ones, even ~ or maybe especially during this pandemic. And maybe because of it, we won’t be able to visit them!

Hallmark would encourage us to “send the very best.”   And marketeers would like to get their greedy fingers on our credit cards for this one-day holiday, wouldn’t they? I don’t have a TV but I was in a doctor’s office this afternoon and saw a commercial for edible ‘floral’ arrangements’ that looked awfully tempting.

And later I stopped by the Post Office and as I was standing in line, I noticed this young black dude posting dozens of what looked like small pink cards and dropping them one by one in the mail bin. I went over to him and teased, “Are you sending those to all of your Valentines?” He turned around toward me and grinned, “I wish! he said.

But let’s go a little deeper here. What is true love, really?

I’ve officiated at the marriages of many young couples during my years as a priest have chosen  St. Paul’s Ode to Love for their wedding Mass.

It has  to be one of the most glorious pieces of prose of all time.

Take the time to take it in and see how you measure up.

. . . . If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love,

I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.

And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge;

if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.

If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient,

love is kind.

It is not jealous,

Love is not pompous,

it is not inflated,

it is not rude,

it does not seek its own interests,

it is not quick-tempered,

it does not brood over injury,

it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.

It bears all things,

believes all things,

hopes all things,

endures all things.

Love never fails.

So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is Love.

~ I Corinthians 13

Dearest God,

You are Love itself.

We give you thanks for the people in our lives who have loved-us-into-the-Persons-we-have-become.

We rejoice in them and remember them in love.

But so many of us are wounded because we have not experienced the parental love that would allow us to know how to love.

Help us take your apostle Paul’s words to heart that we may truly know the true meaning of love.

May we have a heart open to all persons, all of life, all of the universe.

To You Lord, be glory and praise, now and forever.

Amen!

Before  you go, take a moment to listen to Bette Midler’s “The Rose”. Click here. It’s a song  I’ve always favored ~ one of my generation. I think it sets the tone for what I wanted to say here.   Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen and have a great day!  It’s a song I’ve always attributed to Our Lady.

 I’ll be publishing two more Valentine’s blogs trying to unpack the meaning of St. Paul’s Ode to Love next week until Valentine’s Day Sunday, the 14th.

With love,

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer