A CROSS THAT HEALS
by Lucinda M. Vardey
In Jesus’ time physical afflictions were interpreted to be a sign of sinfulness and children with disabilities were believed to be bodily bearing the wrongs of their parents. Jesus’ ministry and crucifixion undid that presumption.
In our Christian understanding suffering is not a sign of sin but an opportunity within the challenges of life to share love. Reviled on the cross Jesus taught that compassion and mercy may not be received but it could instead be extended even in the most dire of circumstances.
A modern-day example presents itself in the life of a young Italian woman called Benedetta Bianchi Porro. During the l960s, she accepted Christ’s calling to take up the cross of her suffering with courage and a hope-filled heart. Diagnosed with a rare nerve disease which paralyzed her entire body, causing her to live in the darkness and isolation of deafness and blindness, she extended the light of Jesus’ wisdom and gentleness to all who visited her. As she came to recognize her advancing illness as a means of unity with the agony of Jesus, she offered her daily sufferings to alleviate the sufferings of others. Through sign language with one hand, she consoled the despairing, comforted the confused and enlightened the faithless. Now recognized as Venerable by the Church, Benedetta taught that God’s healing power comes in a number of guises testing our faith, transforming our souls, purifying our intentions and renewing our spirits in hope towards holiness.
As Psalm 23 states: “Even in the darkest valley I fear no evil, for you are with me.”
A CALL TO CLARITY
by Lucinda M. Vardey
What is Jesus saying in the last lines of today’s Gospel when he commanded our responses to be “Yes” or “No.”? And what is he inferring by any other response as coming “from the evil one”?
Jesus always invites us to be clear about the truth embedded in the will of God. How we discern that truth requires us to listen, with an open, loving heart, in the quiet and solitude of prayer. From there we are guided by the Spirit and wisdom of God to know how to confidently respond in any situation.
There must have been occasions when we have reacted too quickly, made decisions without turning to prayer. How many times have we regretted saying “Yes” when we desired to say “No.”? Were decisions affected by feelings of “should” or guilt, or fear that we’d upset other’s expectations? And when did we fall into interminable indecision, permitting a “maybe,” or succumbing to the silence of no response?
Jesus could well be emphasizing that no response, no action, no decision, is never neutral. Everything has a cost. Being nebulous has hurtful consequences.
In her encounter with the angel Gabriel, Mary asked a question, received an answer and responded, like the Apostles, with her affirmation. Our readiness to trust God’s guidance, and our willingness to clearly respond, increases not only our faith but God’s work in and through our lives.
WHAT CAN I GIVE HIM?
by Lucinda M. Vardey
The wise men led by the star to greet the child Jesus not only knelt in adoration but also opened “their treasure chests” to offer what was precious to them.
As we pay homage to Jesus – God’s greatest gift of love to us – what will we be bringing the Lord as an offering? What is most treasured to us to share for the glory of God?
Nearing the end of his life, my father, in an intimate moment with my husband,
revealed that he was fully prepared to meet his “Maker” because he’d always
done his best. After a long illness, he’d come to realize that this was the treasure he could bring to God.
The last line of the famous carol In The Bleak Midwinter ( by l9th century English poet, Christina Rossetti) says: “What can I give him: give my heart.” In Matthew’s gospel, where Jesus instructs not to store up treasures on earth but in heaven he concludes, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt 6:21).
What then lies in your heart that can be laid at the feet of Jesus for his benefit and his use?
Could 2014 be the year where we are more generous to God by offering prayerful gratitude for who and what we have already received? And could we venture “to give thanks ahead of time “(Fr. Solinas Casey) for what we will be receiving through the grace-filled, life-giving abundance of God?
By Lucinda M. Vardey
Advent with its short, dark days, is a period for preparation. While Christmas tunes are piped through the malls, and gifts are being bought and wrapped, it takes discipline to focus on what we are really preparing for. Baking seasonal cookies with a friend, we could be one of those two women in today’s gospel, “grinding meal together.” It is a busy time, but as American monk, Thomas Merton, noted busyness can be a disguise for laziness.
St. Paul reminds us not to turn our attention to personal gratification and desires, but to be cognizant of what it takes for each of us to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus instructs us to be spiritually alert, aware of what distracts us from focusing on what matters most. Just as he asked the sleeping apostles in the Garden at Gethsemane, he asks the same of us: “Keep awake and pray.” (Mark 14: 38)
Prayer helps us keep awake to God’s presence and to grow in God’s love. The Lord can then “teach us his ways .. that we may walk in his paths….”(Isaiah 2:3)
By being vigilant towards what matters most, we are more able to recognize how God is directing us, shaping us and providing for us. Being awake to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, we keep open the doors of our hearts, prepared for the surprise that Jesus’ coming will bring.
A FEW WORDS
By Lucinda M. Vardey (Parishioner, Contemplative Women of St. Anne)
As in most of Jesus’ parables, it takes only a few words to make a number of points. The self-confident Pharisee, standing in formal piety, was separated in his thoughts and prayer from not only a merciful God but those different from him. The tax collector, on the other hand, was empty of any feeling of worth and by uttering a few sincere words allowed space for God to work in his soul.
Jesus places both men in the extreme: they were far from each other in society and, according to the Pharisee, far from each other in capabilities of worship. But Jesus could also be indicating that prayer is not a competition. It’s not about how many words and how many times we recite them, but how we turn up, the attitude with which we enter into prayer, the state of our hearts in relating to God and those who pray alongside us.
The tax collector’s few humble words can be seen as an acknowledgment that all things are from God and in God, and without the grace of God’s mercy we are unable to change for the better and begin again anew. The prayer of the Mass follows the same course: we start with confession and repentance. By requesting the mercy of God we then raise our voices united in the Gloria, the praise and thanksgiving that indeed is “The prayer of the humble” that “ pierces the clouds.” (Sirach 35: 21).