Wednesday of the 17th week in Ordinary time

images-1The readings from Exodus these past few days have inspired in me a new respect for Moses. Of course I have always been a fan of the great things he did. After all, he did part the Red Sea! What he does in the long years of wandering, though, is in some ways even more impressive. He stands in the breach, offering to bear God’s wrath when the people worship a golden calf. God declines Moses’ self-sacrifice.

Perhaps what really strikes me about Moses here is not something he is or does, but that he seems to bring out the best in God.

[Moses] called on the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness; for thousands he maintains his kindness, forgives faults, transgression, sin; yet he lets nothing go unchecked, punishing the father’s fault in the sons and in the grandsons to the third and fourth generation.’ And Moses bowed down to the ground at once and worshipped. ‘If I have indeed won your favour, Lord,’ he said ‘let my Lord come with us, I beg. True, they are a headstrong people, but forgive us our faults and our sins, and adopt us as your heritage.’

God reveals the divine nature as kind and compassionate. Even though sin may not go ‘unchecked’, we know (and Moses seems to know, too) that the only fault that persists is the fault not surrendered to God, the sin not confessed. God forgives. And Moses pleads with God to forgive God’s people again and again, and God does: God remains with the people, leads the people, brings the people safely to the promised land.

God doesn’t leave. However persistent the faults we bear, God stands ready to forgive and to heal. The psalm response reminds us: the Lord is compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy. If only we could hold onto that firmly in dealing with ourselves and others…well, I have no idea what might happen. But I would dearly love to find out.

The Lord is compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy.

Deo gratias.

Monday of the second week in Lent

Today’s reflection is at thinking coram Deo–another page of the devotional. Yesterday I spent a bit of time with the Mass readings, but didn’t manage to blog. Whatever I might have said, though, would have been less straightforward than the message of Pope Francis’s homily: ‘listen to Jesus!’

Words to live by.

An examination of conscience for Anti-bullying week

Pope Francis encourages us to confession today:

Confessing our sins may be difficult for us, but it brings us peace. We are sinners, and we need God’s forgiveness.

And Sr Catherine (at iBenedictines) offers us some guidance in examining our consciences, reminding us that “We are quick to talk about being bullied, being victims of another’s rage or hatred; we are much slower to acknowledge the ways in which we try to force others to do our bidding.” (Click here for the full blog post.)

I think this is particularly apropos for me as a parent. What do I do when my children don’t do what I ask? Do I resort to bullying tactics (however non-violent)? Of course I sometimes lose my temper–which itself can certainly be bully-ish. But are there other ways I could do better as a parent in leading and teaching my children how to wield authority and keep frustration in check? I bet there are.

This week, I’ll follow Sr Catherine’s advice, and on Saturday week, Pope Francis’ counsel. I know on the Saturday before Advent begins, I will have something to say in the confessional. For certain.

Kyrie eleison.

the saintly ordinary

stmartindetours I enjoyed reading the article about St Martin of Tours in the Catholic encyclopaedia online. Not only is his life story interesting and full of the vignettes that make hagiography what it is; he is also the patron saint of soldiers, appropriate for today. If I were cleverer, I might say something about that. 

What struck me, however, is a phrase near the end of the article: ‘recover your ordinary firmness’, says the angel to a brooding St Martin. He regretted bitterly a mistake he had made, and the angel warned him not to dwell on it. So you got that wrong, and you are rightly sorry for it. Move on. ‘Recover your ordinary firmness.’

I’m afraid I can be a bit like the brooding St Martin, in need of an angel to remind me not to dwell on those things for which I am rightly sorry. Unlike St Martin, though, I have no history of ‘ordinary firmness’ to recover. My life story is not one of courageous stands, self-sacrifice, and miracles. Just a girl-grown-up, having meandered from childhood and somehow ended up here. A theologian. A Roman Catholic. A mother and wife. A teacher, a writer, a friend. Not, I am sad to say, a saint.

I can learn something, though, from St Martin’s mistake and the angel’s counsel. The heart and soul of St Martin’s story is his quest for Christ-likeness. His ordinary firmness is not as a worker of miracles or a doer of extravagantly self-sacrificial deeds. His ordinary firmness comes from his being in Christ, and the stuff that makes his story so interesting is just details. The details attest to the saintliness, but they are not its substance. Recover your faith in the One who saves you, who covers over all your blunders, however stupid you feel about them.

It is the firmness, I think, of knowing a ‘blameless way’, not because one has never missed a step, but because the way has been made blameless:

…who is a rock, except our God?                                                                                           the God who girds me with strength,                                                                                     and makes my way blameless.                                                                                           He makes my feet like hinds’ feet,                                                                                       and sets me upon my high places.                                                                                      Psalm 18: 31-33 (NASB)

Earlier in the psalm, the psalmist seems to boast of his blamelessness. ‘I was also blameless with him’ (23), he says: with clean hands; without iniquity. Like God, whose ‘way is blameless'(30). And just when I feared I would never be able to pray this psalm, along comes verse 33: the blameless way, the firm ground, is made so by God (the One who has prepared those good works for us to walk in!).

The secret to imitating the saints in their imitato Christi is an imitation of the heart. It is not a backward-looking, self-reproaching endeavour, but a forgiveness-receiving and moving-forward adventure. All right, a journey, anyway! The path of discipleship is the ‘blameless way’, the way of ‘ordinary firmness’ made so by Christ’s own footsteps. The history on which I can look back and recover that strength of soul is Christ’s history, not my own.

Deo gratias.