While Nancy waited in the doctor’s office for her appointment time, she noticed an elderly woman across from her. Mid-seventies, Nancy guessed. Maybe five feet tall. She looked well-put together in her nicely tailored pink pant suit—until she stood up and shuffled behind her walker to the receptionist. It was then Nancy noticed the woman’s pant legs were so long that she had rolled up about a foot of material to keep it from dragging on the ground. Nancy wondered if she had no one to hem them for her, or to take her to a seamstress.
As she told me this story, lyrics of an old Beatle’s song passed through my thoughts:
Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church
where a wedding has been Lives in a dream
Waits at the window, wearing the face
that she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for?
All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?
Father McKenzie writing the words of a sermon
that no one will hear
No one comes near
Look at him working,
darning his socks in the night when there’s nobody there
What does he care?
All the lonely people
Where do they all come from
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?
When Nancy finished talking I sat in silence for a few moments, pondering the well-put together woman with the rolled up cuffs. What can the Gospel—the Good News of Jesus—what can it mean for all the lonely people? What can it speak to those who do not speak because they have learned no one cares to hear what they have to say? What message can the Good News have for those who will not look others in the eyes because they know by experience their place is always beneath and behind and in a corner?
Does God really have Good News for the Father Mckenzies and the Eleanor Rigbys and for those who do not have someone who cares enough to hem their pants?
Yes! Of course He does. That is why Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
He was talking to the discouraged ones, the desolate, the rejected, the lonely, and the forgotten. He was talking to the invisible ones in every employee break room, in every church, in every classroom, in every doctor’s office, and in every family.
Their God—called “Immanuel, God with us”— aches for their sadness. He listens intently to every word whispered by their heart. He catches their every tear in His bottle. He cups their chin in His hands and invites them to look into His eyes.
The Good News of the Gospel is this: Though no one else knows them, God-With-Us knows them. His gaze follows those who are poor in spirit, each Eleanor Rigby, Father McKenzie, and each old woman with rolled-up cuffs. Each is immeasurably important to Him, so important that He says it again and again, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy burdened.” Theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
© was born into a Jewish home in the early 1950s. In 1972 he discovered Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, and he dove into his awakened faith with a passion that continues to this present day. Maffeo spent thirty-three years in evangelical Protestant churches until he realized God was calling him to the Catholic Church. He was received into the Church in 2005. You can find his blog at www.thecontemplativecatholicconvert.blogspot.com. The article “He is seated at the right hand of God” is one of the meditations compiled in Richard Maffeo's book, "We Believe: Forty Meditations on the Nicene Creed." The book is available through bookstores and at www.richmaffeobooks.com. Maffeo and his wife Nancy have been married for forty years and have three grown children.
If you thought Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” was too gutwrenchingly violent, his movie “Apocolypto” is not for you. Set among the Mayans in the 16th century, the film portrays their customs of human sacrifice with unsparing realism. Heads roll, blood spurts, victims scream as the cruel priests torture and kill thousands in a vain offering to their bloodthirsty gods. Human sacrifice, often accompanied by cannibalism, was common amongst parts of virtually every primitive civilization around the world. Why did people believe that human sacrifice was necessary? The logic is pretty simple: according to primitive belief systems, the gods controlled all the factors that led to either peace and prosperity or death and destruction. To please them, the gods were offered the very best thing possible: human life. The ancients believed that the life of the flesh was in the blood, so to offer the gods life, you had to shed blood so that the invisible life force could be released. God revealed the true way of sacrifice through the religious history of the Jewish race. When Abraham took his son Isaac up the mountain to be sacrificed, he was only doing what most primitive people expected they would have to do to please the gods. However, the God of Mercy intervened and told Abraham to offer a goat instead. In the Passover, and continuing through their sacrificial system in the temple at Jerusalem, the Jews offered God the blood of animals rather than the lives of their own children. This was a step forward, but it was still unsatisfactory. God Himself says in the Old Testament, “Do you think I want the blood of goats and bulls?” The sacrificial system was only a pointer to the one, full, final sacrifice, in which God gives His own son in a bloody immolation for the whole world. Through the Mass that human sacrifice to end all human sacrifices is remembered and brought into the present moment and applied to the needs of each one of us here in our world today. The idea that sacrifice should be central to Christian worship is a scandal to many modern people. Rightly horrified by human sacrifice and revolted by the ritual slaughter of animals, some Catholics wish to turn away from the idea that the Mass is a sacrifice. They wish to discard the religious concept of sacrifice because it seems primitive, superstitious and barbaric. Instead, they promote the idea that the Mass is essentially a fellowship meal. They bring forward the Biblical concept of the solemn meal that sealed a covenant between two contracting parties, and they see the Mass as a newer form of the regular ritual meals that the Jews celebrated. The fellowship covenant ritual meal, they believe, makes for a better and fuller understanding of the Mass. Along with this de-emphasis of sacrifice, they also see the Mass more as a re-enactment of the Last Supper than a vivid remembering of the crucifixion of Christ. By focusing on the Mass as a ritual fellowship meal, they have inadvertently shifted the focus away from the cross of Christ. This underlying theological shift of focus is the real reason why priests suddenly began celebrating Mass facing the people. From time immemorial the priest faced the altar, praying in the same direction as the people. He presented Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice with and for them to the Father. However, if the Mass is primarily a re-enactment of the Last Supper, and a kind of Jewish ritual fellowship meal, then it makes perfect sense for the priest to celebrate Mass facing the people as a father might preside at the table for family dinner. The theological notion that the Mass was now primarily a fellowship meal rather than a sacrifice brought about a revolution not only in where the priest stood to celebrate Mass, but also in every aspect of Catholic worship. Church buildings became large round meeting houses for the family meal. There was no longer an introit hymn to start Mass, but a ‘gathering hymn.’ Liturgical music voiced emotions about unity, togetherness, the people of God and the fellowship. The focus shifted from worship of God to family togetherness. As a result of these theological and liturgical innovations the idea of sacrifice in the Mass was largely forgotten. Does it matter? Are the critics right? Is the concept of sacrifice a primitive, barbaric and superstitious religious custom? Are we better off without it? Is it not nicer for Mass to be all about us and our needs and how we can make the world a better place? I think not, and here is why: First of all, we should understand what the fully Christian concept of sacrifice really is. Let us be clear, we do not offer an oblation to appease an angry God or bribe Him to make it rain. The primitive pagan human sacrifices and the animal sacrifices of the Jews were only prophecies and precursors of the one, full, final sacrifice of Christ. That sacrifice is remembered and brought into the present moment through the Mass. The sacrifice we offer now is the sacrifice of praise, and the offering we now make is the offering of ourselves, our souls and our bodies as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2). The concept of sacrifice must not be lost, because through the understanding of sacrifice we not only enter into the mystery of Christ’s death, but also into the spiritual heart of God Himself. Sacrifice is a total offering of oneself, and this reveals to us what God is like. God is the One who is totally self-giving. That is His nature and His purpose. Sacrifice is, therefore, another way to enter into the mystery of who God is. God cannot help but sacrifice Himself for us. That is His nature, and His nature is Love. When we shift our understanding of the Mass from sacrifice to fellowship meal, we lose the most profound and mysterious aspect of our Catholic worship. Only when we remember the true meaning of sacrifice will we remember the true meaning of the Mass, and only as we remember the true meaning of the Mass will we be able to renew our worship, renew our Church and renew the very heart of our spiritual existence.
“I haven’t broken the law in 20+ years.” The message was meant as a joke to a friend, and I smiled as I wrote it. even as a joke, I wanted to be truthful in what I was saying though, and I paused, mentally checking off a list, to be sure it was true before I hit send. I paid my taxes—check. I did not throw garbage on the street—check. I certainly had not killed anybody—check. I went through my day, starting around 5:00 a.m. I begin by snuggling into my couch, for a few minutes of “Coffee with Jesus,” reading a small piece of the Bible and journaling about what I have discovered. Too often lately, I have skipped “Coffee with Jesus” to work on other things as if they are more important or more urgent. Sometimes I get distracted by email or social media. Usually I write a Single Mom Smiling or Right Path Life Coaching blog post. “Coffee with Jesus” may not look productive, but my stress levels definitely differ when I take a few moments to remember who I am and who He is each morning. I need to make that a priority, but skipping it is not exactly breaking the law. After that, I work on my writing, wake the boys up, make eight sandwiches for the four boys still living at home, and get them and myself off to school. No laws broken so far. no laws broken in school. No laws broken after when I am home alone writing, life coaching, or housecleaning. After school I run from activity to activity. I follow three different soccer teams with sons playing for varsity, JV, and town rec programs, and one football team for my son who plays for a neighboring school district. I thought of the running I do with the boys and knew that, if I am being honest, I would have to admit to breaking the law by speeding and that speeding may have more to do with my lead foot than the need to get places quickly, although timing is certainly an issue with five boys. I amended my message to read, “Other than speeding, I haven’t broken the law in 20+ years,” and felt pretty confident as I hit send. I have broken no major laws in 20+years, no excessive drinking, no drug use, no…I could not even imagine what other laws I might break. Honestly I live a fairly boring, normal life. It was maybe two days later that I found myself absently strolling through our local supermarket pushing my cart up the first aisle. An open bag of grapes was in the seat where I used to place my little ones. A grape was in my mouth and another touched my lips as I thought, “I’m eating grapes, grapes I haven’t paid for.” How many I had eaten already I did not know. All I knew was that I had consumed several and obviously intended to consume several more since my hand held the evidence. Within the next few days I noticed some disturbing realities. I do not just break the law by stealing grapes. I break the law a lot. I thought of this as I sat in traffic behind a car waiting to make a left turn. I was first in a line of cars slowing down behind me. I could have waited patiently. I was not really in a rush, but there was also plenty of room for me to go around on the shoulder. I would go over the white line but not into anyone’s yard or anything. As I was inching carefully by the left turning car, it occurred to me that passing over the white line was also illegal. It was not long after that that I waited at a red light. I picked up my phone, checked a text message, and whipped off a response. Granted the light was red and my phone has only been in my hand for a few quick seconds, but the point is I was texting while the car was on, technically not driving, but I was following the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law, and I was still breaking the law. So what? It is just a tiny grape. It is just a little over the white line. It helped those behind me too. It was a super-fast text while the car was stopped. Every one of my broken laws had been rationalized. It was okay to steal grapes because they are small and insignificant. The grapes that I steal will never put a supermarket out of business. Passing the driver on the right helped everyone else behind me too. Texting at a traffic light really is not that big of a deal—it is not like I am texting and driving or anything. It is not like any of my offenses are jail-able offenses. Maybe what I should have written to my friend is that I have not committed a jail-able offense in the last 20+ years. It sounded kind of pathetic when put that way. I had not committed any jail-worthy offense in 20+ years, but was that was my goal? Was not committing jail-able offenses the best I was hoping to be? Would my life be a success if only I do not go to jail? There had to be more to it than that! Luke 16:10 says: Jesus said to his disciples: “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones. If I wanted my friends and my family to trust me, I had to be trustworthy in everything, including in little things like stolen grapes. As a single mom struggling to teach five boys how to be strong, honorable, respectful men who love God more than they love themselves or anyone else, I had to be trustworthy in everything. They see the hypocrisy within me if I say it is okay to steal a grape but not a pineapple. They see the hypocrisy when I tell them it is okay to pass the white line on the right but not the double yellow line on the left, and my seven-year-old has pointed out that I should not be texting even when it is to one of his brothers and I am sitting in the car in our driveway! The problem with stating something like, “I have not broken the law,” is that our laws are at best the baseline of what our moral character should be. It is not enough to say, “I haven’t broken the law,” and look for a pat on the back. Simply not breaking the law does not raise us to the level of greatness we were created to achieve. There is more to it, and I have broken laws far greater than any that govern our land. God’s Laws: The Two Greatest Commandments Jesus Christ gave us only two laws (See the “Catechism of the Catholic Church”), Love the Lord your God above all things and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:34-40). How often have I broken these laws? How often have I made myself greater than God? How often have I fallen into temptation, wanting something desperately when I know I should put God’s plan and His timing over my desire for instant gratification? How often have I taken praise but forgotten to give thanks? How often have I put myself and others down and insulted God’s creation by forgetting that each of us is God’s beloved child? What about the second commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself?” How often have I failed to love? How often have I stolen someone’s dignity? How often have I dismissed my actions as I did the stolen grapes as just a little thing and scorned the hurt person as too sensitive? How often have I rolled my eyes at my mother or cut her short? How often do I parent out of fear or loneliness, cowardice, or worry rather than from a standpoint of love and strength and courage? How often have I acted hastily, said things I wish I had not, and held back things that I wish I had said? How often have I done things or missed opportunities to do things that made me want to turn back time? How often have I justified what I was doing? Love my neighbor as myself, but how often have I truly loved myself? How often have I said that I was stupid, fat, ugly, dumb, just a mother, just a housewife, just a teacher, just a nothing, and just a nobody? How often have I put my trust in the wrong people and then blamed myself without fixing myself? How often have I repeated the same harmful patterns and expected different outcomes? How often have I refused to look at my mistakes but readily pointed fingers at others and missed the chance to grow and become the person I was created to be? How often do I put myself down and build myself up for the wrong things? I have broken laws far greater than speeding and stolen grapes, passing vehicles, and texting while stopped. And most of the time, I do not even realize it. How many broken laws, like speeding, have become so natural to me that I do not even consider them to be breaking the law? How many of the laws that I break are justified because they are little things or everyone else is doing it too or because I follow the spirit or letter of the law when it suits me without following the law in its entirety? When my goal is simply to avoid jail and to not commit jail-able offenses, I am missing the point. Love the Lord your God above all. Love your neighbor as yourself. God the father created each and every one of us in His image, but I have broken the law in failing to remember or act as if that is true. I have been selfish. I have been hard-hearted. I have been cowardly. I have been mean and nasty, and there are times I have not even cared. To be trustworthy in big things, we must be trustworthy in little things. That means being trusted not to eat the grapes and so much more too. It means following the only two laws that really matter, Love the Lord your God above all things and love your neighbor as yourself. I have a lot to learn. But I want to be trustworthy in all things. Today, all I can do is seek forgiveness for wrongs done while also seeking to do and be better, to avoid legalism while striving for trustworthiness and to always search for ways to love better, more completely, more fully, more openly, more generously. Today, I will try harder to not break any laws. Unfortunately, today I will probably fail again. And today I will seek to be more thankful than ever for the forgiveness offered each of us by a God who loves us where we are. Today, I thank God for the mercy and forgiveness Jesus offers each of us, from the most saintly to the most hardened sinner. no broken law and no law breaker is greater than the love offered to you today. I hope you join me in living the only two laws that matter more fully and for rejoicing in the love that is always available to you as well. Love your God. Love your neighbor. Love yourself. Seek forgiveness and know you receive it. Act in love in all things big and small. God bless.
As a blogger, one of the biggest temptations is to become fixated on likes, shares, and views, and to write everything so that it gets the most of them possible. Social media and the internet provide the ultimate feedback system, with instant knowledge of whether or not something was well received. The hard part is criticism, and the temptation is to avoid it at all costs. Writing, after all, is an act of vulnerability, exposing your innermost thoughts for thousands to either approve of or tear apart. And boy can it be hard when you get torn apart. But our desire for approval, and fear of disapproval, is not limited to the internet or to bloggers. It is a human problem. Every day, we feel a desire to shape who we are and what we do based on the praise or criticism of others. Whether it is in the workplace, school, or with our friends and loved ones, one of the most painful feelings is that of rejection, and we avoid it all costs. LIVING FOR LIKES In one sense, this is only natural. Humans are social creatures that want to be liked, and there is nothing inherently wrong with this. Yet, this desire for praise and approval can all too become an obsession, a disease, an idol. It is a serious problem when who we are is not determined by anything inside of ourselves, much less our relationship with our Creator, but by the ever shifting judgments of others; when our conduct is not determined by higher principles, but by how it might be perceived. The real test is when the desire to please others puts us in conflict with pleasing God, which it inevitably will. Following Christ always contradicts the world in one way or another. It will always provoke frowns and cynical comments, criticisms, negativity, or even outright mockery and humiliation. In a real way, this negativity can cause pain. If it is severe enough, it could resemble an emotional martyrdom of sorts, especially if the disapproval is received from those we love and care about most. The question is, who do we want to please more, God or men? Will we shrink back and change like a chameleon to blend in? Will we apologize and capitulate? Or will we courageously stand firm like the great saints and martyrs? How we answer those questions will reveal much about our hearts. THE CAUSE At the root of our desire to please is self-love, also known as pride. Self-love infects everything and distorts it, and this is no less true of our desire to be liked. The sting we feel when others criticize or mock us is our deep rooted love-of-self flinching in pain. And because this is true, the only way to overcome and be free from the sickness of people-pleasing is to steep ourselves in humility. The truly humble man is dead to the praise or criticism of others. He is entirely indifferent if he receives the Nobel Prize or is lynched by a mob. One question, and one question only drives the way he lives: Have I pleased my Lord Jesus Christ who loved me and gave Himself for me? How far nearly all of us are from this humble freedom and indifference! At this first hint of criticism, we recoil and shrink back. We modify, qualify, and retract. We have no courage, no inner fortitude, or at least not nearly enough. THE SOLUTION The only way to break free of the bondage of pleasing others is to learn to accept everything, even humiliation, at their hands. Be willing to carry the cross of criticism, to bear the pain of rejection and mockery. To pray for your persecutors, while not bending to please them. And when the pain of rejection and shame sears your heart, remember your crucified Lord, who endured the shame of the Cross, despising it to obtain your salvation. He too was mocked, stripped naked, scoffed at, derided, and utterly humiliated in every way; abandoned by His closest friends, rejected by those He came to save, and exposed for all the world to laugh at. But you know what? He loved you more. He endured the cross of shame to save the very ones who subjected Him to this humiliation, crying out, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” And that includes you. Living to please others is a very real form of bondage. It enslaves and destroys. The only way to be liberated is to carry our crosses and submit to the shame of pleasing God over men. We must learn to love our Savior more than praise and approval, for only then will we be truly free.
Many of us might be quite familiar with the scripture that urges us onward to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1). I myself have always loved that verse, and yet there are remarkably times when endurance and perseverance are indeed in short supply. Weak, hungry, in need of healing we stop running—begging for respite and often questioning what lies ahead. even when our exhaustion comes from a full day of joyful or productive work, we may very well find ourselves depleted and in need of renewal to meet tomorrow with the same vigor. So then, does God leave us with a goal that is unrealistic, or which fails to see our very human shortcomings? not at all; for God promises to “refresh the weary and satisfy the faint” (Jeremiah 31:25). I find unsurpassable the utter gratitude in knowing that the God of all is there to meet us in our every moment. ◗ “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27). Perhaps you find yourself so unbelievably exhausted that you are unsure of how to even pray, or words fail you completely. no worries—the Holy Spirit is there to take over when we cannot. even the desire to pray is the beginning of prayer already. Take this opportunity to simply close your eyes and allow your “soul find rest in God.” ◗ “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28). Looking back on the day or days’ events, are there moments when you felt God near? Maybe it is here now, in the silence of your heart, that you suddenly feel God’s presence. Accept the invitation to thank God for His loving presence, mercy, and continual guidance when the way forward is uncertain, for, “praise be to the Lord, who has given rest to his people Israel just as he promised” (1 Kings 8:56). ◗ “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10). What does it mean to accept that God is God and in control? To surrender ourselves worn, torn, and broken and to find hope in His strength? Prayerfully, I invite you to offer up yourself, paying attention to how you are feeling both physically and emotionally. Take note of the areas of resistance, to where you might be still seeking control or holding back from God’s healing touch. ◗ “I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ” (Philemon 1:20). There is quite often something to be gained from reflecting on the time leading to this present moment. When we are exhausted we can easily blanket the day and miss incredible insights into ourselves, and the work of God around us. And yet, I find this exercise so beautiful to do as my head lies on the pillow at the close of day. Maybe there is a conversation, encounter, or remarkable pause that stands out, or that you wish to return to briefly. Imagining the scene, notice the details—the sights, sounds and even smells surrounding you. Pray for openness and guidance to rediscover this moment. ◗ “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). This is by far one of my favorite verses in the entire Bible. Here, I am reminded that God is not asking me to continue alone or without the essentials necessary for the tasks ahead. Particularly during long stretches of time, whereby I know that my calendar is full and the demands many, I find comfort in knowing that tomorrow holds the gift of a new day. “for who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God? It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure.” (Psalm 18:31-32) and it is He who is my hope. Father, thank You most gracious advocate for guiding, supporting, and strengthening me when my knees are weak and my feet no longer wish to move. You are my source of strength, and from You I now take my lead in the way ahead. Heal, nourish and allow me the privilege of offering you the gift of self though what I have left may seem small. Use my weakness to show how truly great You are. Amen
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