Here is a talk I recently gave in Laurel Maryland for the women of the region.
One of the great illusions under which we labor is that if we only get just one more thing from this world, then we will be happy. Perhaps we think that if we just had a little more money, or a better job, or the latest iPhone, or if we were married to so-and-so, or if we lived in a better neighborhood, then we would be satisfied and content at last. But “at last” never seems to come even if we do get some of the things on our list. As Ecclesiastes puts it, The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing (Ecc 1:8). Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income (Ecc. 5:8).
Although we realize this deep down, we continue to fall for the lie again and again. We think that just one more thing will do the trick. So we lay out the money and spend the time. And then the delight lasts twenty minutes at most! The world just can’t close the deal.
There is a joke (a parable, in my mind) that illustrates the endless treadmill the world has us on and how it continually seduces us into wanting just one more thing. In the end, this leads us to neglect the one thing most necessary.
There was a lonely man who thought that perhaps buying pet would ease his loneliness. So he went to the pet store and looked at many animals. He found himself drawn to one in particular. The sign over the cage said, “Talking Parrot: Guaranteed to talk.” Thinking that this would surely solve his problem, the man brought the cage up to the merchant at the counter.
“That’ll be $250, please.”
A week later the man returned, disappointed.
“This parrot isn’t talking!”
“You mean to say that he didn’t climb the ladder and talk?”
“Ladder? You didn’t tell me about a ladder!”
“Oh, sorry. The ladder is $10.”
So the man bought the ladder, brought it home, and put it in the cage. Another week went by and the man returned to the pet store.
“This parrot still isn’t talking!”
“You mean to say that he didn’t climb the ladder, look in the mirror, and talk?”
“Mirror? You didn’t mention anything about a mirror!”
“Oh, sorry. It’ll be $10 for the mirror.”
So the man bought the mirror, brought it home, and put it in the cage along with the ladder. Another week went by and the man returned to the pet store again.
“This parrot still isn’t talking!”
“You mean to say that he didn’t climb the ladder, look in the mirror, peck the bell, and talk?”
“Bell? You didn’t say anything about a bell!”
“Oh, sorry. The bell is $10.”
So the man bought the bell, brought it home, and put it in the cage along with the ladder and the mirror. Yet another week went by and the man returned to the pet store.
“This parrot still isn’t talking!”
“You mean to say that he didn’t climb the ladder, look in the mirror, peck the bell, jump on the swing, and talk?”
“Swing? You didn’t tell me about a swing!”
“Oh, sorry. It’ll be $10 for the swing.”
So the man bought the swing, brought it home, and put it in the cage along with the ladder, the mirror, and the bell. One more week went by and the man returned to the pet store again.
“How’s your parrot?”
“Dead? Did he ever talk before he died?”
“Yes, he did finally talk.”
“What did he say?”
“He said, ‘Don’t they sell any birdseed at that store?’”
Lesson 1: Promises, Promises
The world and the “prince of this world” are always promising results, yet when those results aren’t forthcoming there are only more demands. First the bird, then the ladder, the bell, the mirror, and the swing. There is always just one more thing that’s needed before the perfect result comes! But it’s a lie. The lie comes in many forms: you just need one more accessory, or the upgraded version of the app, or just one more drink, or a newer car, or a bigger house, or a face lift, or bariatric surgery. Yes, you just need one more thing and then you’ll be there. Happiness is always just past the next purchase.
In speaking to the woman at the well, Jesus said, Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again (Jn 4:13). And that is the sober truth about this world: it cannot finally quench our thirst, which is a thirst for God and Heaven. But time and time again we go back to the world and listen to the same lie, thinking that this time it will be different.
Surely it is sensible to make use of the things of this world to aid us in accomplishing our basic duties, but they are not the answer to our deeper needs. The big lie is that they are the answer. And when they fail to satisfy us, the lie just gets bigger, declaring that just a little more of it will surely close the deal.
Lesson 2: The One Thing Most Necessary
In buying the ladder, mirror, bell, and swing, the man neglected the most important thing: food. So, too, for us. We seek to accumulate worldly toys and trinkets that are passing, while neglecting eternal and lasting realities. We seem to find time for TV, sports, shopping, etc., but neglect or completely forget about prayer, Scripture, the Sacraments, the Liturgy, worship, and the development of any kind of relationship with the Lord. We are staring into the mirror focused on our own self. The enticements of this world summon us to endless things, mostly trivial in the long run. We are climbing the ladder of success without regard as to what is at the top of that ladder.
All of these less important matters divert us from the one thing necessary: feeding our souls on the Lord. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him…the one who feeds on me will live because of me (Jn 6:56-58).
Ah, but there’s no time for all that. Getting to Mass, praying, receiving Holy Communion? No time! I hear a bell summoning me to just one more diversion, one more meeting. I’m too busy climbing the ladder of success. I’m too busy looking at myself in the mirror to make sure that I fit in, and that everyone likes me.
“Dead? Did he ever talk before he died?”
“Yes, he did finally talk.”
“What did he say?”
“He said, ‘Don’t they sell any birdseed at that store?’”
Just a little parable on the lies of the devil and the empty promises of this world.
Many often think of exorcism only in relation to driving out demons from possessed people using ancient prayers. But, truth be told, we all have afflictions, oppressions, temptations and other negative thoughts and drives that are influenced by demons. Such influences may be direct and personal, but there are also sources of error and negativity that come from the world; and the world itself is often under the sway of the “prince of this world” (Satan) who spreads his lies and hate.
Among the Lord’s principal weapons in driving demons out is his Word, given to us in the Scriptures and Sacred Teachings of the Church. In the desert, Jesus rebuked every temptation by recourse to scripture. St. Michael is often depicted holding a sword against Satan. But this sword is not a physical sword of shiny steel, it is the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God (Eph 6:17).
One of the great purposes of the Lord’s Word is to drive back the demons in our lives associated with ignorance, despair, presumption, sinfulness, worldliness, and every other foolish and harmful thought or drive. In the sacred liturgy, the proclamation and preaching of the Word of God is not a mere conveying of information or the telling of ancient stories. The Word of God does not merely inform, it performs, and thereby transforms. In this way demons and their influence are driven back and there is built for us a bulwark of truth. If we faithfully attend Holy Mass and carefully listen to the proclaimed Word of God, it has an exorcistic quality. How much more so then when we also receive the Word Made Flesh, in Holy Communion!
Consider, as a demonstration, a passage from last week’s daily Mass (Tuesday of the 22nd Week of the Year). It describes Jesus in the Synagogue at Capernaum.
Jesus went down to Capernaum, a town of Galilee. He taught them on the sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching because he spoke with authority. In the synagogue there was a man with the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out in a loud voice, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!” Jesus rebuked him and said, “Be quiet! Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down in front of them and came out of him without doing him any harm. They were all amazed and said to one another, “What is there about his word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out.” And news of him spread everywhere in the surrounding region. (Lk 4:31-37)
Note that Jesus’ authoritative proclamation as he taught them in the synagogue provoked and summoned a demon who stood forth. The authority of Jesus’ words so troubled the demon that he was forced to manifest his presence and admit the truth about Jesus. He now stands before Jesus and is driven out by his mere word.
See the picture here! As noted above, proper and orthodox preaching does this. It is endowed by the Lord’s grace and the power of his word. It summons the opportunistic demons forth who exploit human weaknesses such as ignorance, error, fear, past trauma, despair, doubt, stubbornness, hatred and so forth. While these are human struggles, demons often “pile on” by seeking these doorways, much as bacteria exploit cuts or wounds in our skin. God’s Word, helps to heal us, and disempower demonic strongholds.
Of course Jesus does all this in less than a minute! But the gospels often present deliverance and healing as compressed in time. For most of us, this deliverance, this casting out of negativity and the demons associated is something that takes place over a longer period time, even decades.
Steadily attending to God’s Word through our presence at holy Mass, devotional reading, the Divine Office and other things, such as parish bible studies, goes to work over time and casts out many evil spirits that assail and tempt us with sinful and worldly thought.
And in this way, God’s holy Word has an exorcistic quality. Of this I am a witness. For almost forty years now, since my entrance into the seminary I have daily read, prayed and studied God’s Word. And it, along with the reception of the Sacraments, has changed me profoundly. Dark, despairing and sinful thoughts have been brought to light and been driven away, along with any demons associated with them. This work is on-going, but the Lord has brought me a mighty long way.
How about you?
I enjoyed giving this talk:
Do you remember the meaning of the literary term onomatopoeia? In case you’ve forgotten, it’s a word that sounds like the object it describes. Words like oink, meow, wham, sizzle, and my personal favorite: yackety-yak are examples of onomatopoeia.
There are times when music, including sacred music, has an onomatopoetic quality; they sound like what their words are describing. For example, there are songs that describe the crucifixion featuring hammer blows in the background, and songs about the resurrection and ascension that feature notes soaring up the scale.
The best way to understand musical onomatopoeia is to listen to examples of it. So, consider the eight examples of sacred music I present below, which powerfully take up the very sound of what the words are describing.
N.B. The clips below are meant to be played by an embedded player. If your browser does not support such a player, clicking directly on the source hyperlinks to link directly to the MP3 files.
This first clip is from the vespers of Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville, a French composer who lived in the 1700s. In his treatment of the text of Psalm 126 Nisi Dominus (unless the Lord build the house) comes the line sicut sagittae in manu potentiae ita filii (like arrows in the hand of the mighty, thus are his children). This is a psalm that praises the gift of children and goes on to declare, “Blessed is the man who has filled his quiver with them!” In this short clip, the text sicut sagittae (like arrows) thrillingly depicts the sound of arrows flying forth. The sound is created both by the strings and the voices. As you listen, marvel at the vocal discipline required of the choir to create this musical onomatopoeia.
Could you hear the arrows flying forth?
The second clip continues in a kind of battle-like mode. It is from the oratorio “Jepthe” by Giacomo Carissimi, who lived in the 1600s. It recalls the Old Testament story of Jepthe, one the Judges who ruled Israel prior to the monarchy. Jepthe is summoned to battle against the Ammonites and wins a great victory, only to fall into the grave sin of keeping an evil vow that leads to the death of his only daughter. The clip we will hear is from the battle scene in the oratorio. The Latin text is Fugite, fugite, cedite, cedite impii, corruite, et in furore galdii, dissipamini! (Flee, flee, yield, yield, impious ones, be scattered, in the furor of swords we strike you down!) You’ll hear pulsing sounds from the choir and strings, reminiscent of the sound of clashing swords and spears. The rushing sounds of the strings also paint a picture of a fleeing army. The sudden softening of the volume of the choir creates the image of an army that has fled and is now off in the distance.
Our third musical onomatopoeia is probably the best known of all the clips presented here. It is from Handel’s Messiah. The text says, “All we like sheep have gone astray.” Sure enough, the music sounds just like what the words describe as the choir creates a meandering sound. One can almost hear and see the sheep going astray.
And while we are considering animals, our fourth clip is a musical onomatopoeia that imitates the sound of a cock crowing. It is from the motet “Vigilate” by William Byrd. The text of the Motet is from Mark’s Gospel (13:35-37), in which the Lord Jesus, Vigilate, nescitis enim quando dominus domus veniat, sero, an media nocte, an gallicantu, an mane (Watch! For you know not when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, at the cock crow or morning). The excerpt is of the choir singing the words an gallicantu (at cock crow). Just see if the music sung doesn’t imitate the very sound of a cock crowing (cock-a-doodle-doo)! It begins in the men’s voices but becomes clearest in the treble voices at the end.
The fifth clip depicts a common technique in Orchestral Masses. At the words crucifixus etiam pro nobis (and He was also crucified for us), the orchestra takes up the sound of hammer blows. The clip is from the Beethoven Mass in C. Listen especially to the deep bass and cello sounds and the hammer blows they bring to mind.
Our sixth clip moves us from war and suffering to love. It is Palestrina’s treatment of a text from the Song of Songs. The Latin text is Surge amica mea (Arise my beloved). As the word surge (arise) is sung by the various voices, the notes soar high through the scale. (The sopranos reach the highest notes, of course.)
The seventh clip is from a well-known motet by Thomas Luis Victoria, a Spanish priest, mystic, and composer of the 16th century. The Latin text is O Magnum Mysterium (O Great Mystery). The overall text develops the idea of the paradoxical mystery that animals would witness the birth of Christ and see him rest in their feed box (manger). In the opening bars, hollow fifths evoke the very mystery of which the text speaks. Victoria’s mystical prayer resonates through this wonderful piece.
Our eighth and final clip bring us to Jericho and another battle scene, this one thrillingly set forth in the arrangement of the African-American spiritual “The Battle Jericho” by Moses Hogan. We hear the percussive intensity of a battle during the siege of the walls and the likely use of arrows and swords. A soprano soloist takes up the sound of the trumpet that the Lord directed to be sounded. And then the choir imitates the sound of falling with their final word, “Down!”
So, then, here is a brief tour of musical genius evident in the sacred music of the Christian tradition. Perhaps you know of other examples of musical onomatopoeia!
Let’s ponder this feast in three stages.
I. Explained – To be “assumed” means to be taken up by God bodily into Heaven. As far back as the Church can remember we have celebrated the fact that Mary was taken up into Heaven. We do not just acknowledge that her soul was taken to Heaven as is the case with all the rest of the faithful who are taken there (likely after purgation). Rather, Mary was taken up soul AND body into Heaven after her sojourn on this earth was complete. There is no earthly tomb containing her body; neither are there relics of her body to be found among the Christian faithful. This is our ancient memory and what we celebrate today: Mary was taken up body and soul into Heaven.
II. Exemplified – The actual event of Mary’s Assumption is not described in Scripture. However, there are other assumptions recorded in the Scriptures, thus the concept itself is biblical.
- It happened to Enoch in the Old Testament. The Book of Genesis records: Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away (Gen. 5:24). Hebrews 11:5 elaborates: By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was attested as having pleased God.
- It also happened to Elijah as he walked with Elisha: And as they still went on and talked, behold, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven … And he was seen no more. (2 Kings 2:11 ).
- Some say that Moses, too, was taken up since his grave is not known: He was buried in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is (Dt. 34:6). The text of course does not say that his body was taken up, and even if it was, it occurred after death and burial. Jude 1:9 hints at that fact when it says, But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses … (Jude 1:9). Some further credibility is lent to the view of Moses being assumed by the fact that he appears alongside Elijah in the Transfiguration account. Some of the Church Fathers held this view and there is also a Jewish work from the 6th Century AD entitled The Assumption of Moses that represents the tradition of Moses’ assumption. But in the end the assumption of Moses is a view held only by some, and it not officially held by the Church.
- And while it is true that the historical event of Mary’s Assumption is not recorded in Scripture nor are there historical accounts of the event, there may be one other scriptural account that evidences Mary’s whereabouts, body and soul. The Church presents for our consideration in today’s second reading a passage from the Book of Revelation wherein John records his sighting of the Ark of God:
Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm. A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads … The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter (Rev 11:19 – 12:5).
The woman is clearly Mary since the child is clearly Jesus. And where is Mary seen? In Heaven. Now some may argue that this passage does not necessarily indicate that her body is in Heaven but rather may only be referring to her soul. However, the physical description of her in the text is rather strong. Some also argue that Mary is linked to John’s sighting of the Ark of the Covenant, which is seen by John in Heaven. He mentions the Ark and goes on to describe the woman clothed with the sun (Mary) and there is a possibility that he is still describing the Ark. (I have written on this elsewhere: Mary: The Ark of the New Covenant.) If Mary is the Ark described, then she is in Heaven, since the Ark is clearly described as being in Heaven.
So the biblical record, while not recording the event of the Assumption of Mary, does set forth other assumptions and thus shows that assumption itself is a biblical concept. Further, Mary’s physical presence in Heaven seems to be hinted at by John and some would argue that the passage actually attests to her physical presence there.
But remember, the Church does not rely solely on Scripture. In this case what we celebrate is most fundamentally taught to us by Sacred Tradition in that the memory of Mary’s Assumption goes back as long as we can remember.
III. Extended – The Feast of the Assumption may be of theological interest to some and may provide for interesting biblical reflection, but eventually the question is bound to arise: “So what? How does what happened to Mary affect my life and what does it mean for me?” The answer to this question is bound up in nearly every Marian doctrine. Simply put, what happened to Mary, in a profound and preliminary way, will also happen to us in the end. As Mary bore Christ into the world, we too bear him there in the Holy Communion we receive and in the witness of his indwelling presence in our life. As Mary is (and always was) sinless, so too will we one day be sinless (immaculate) with God in Heaven. As Mary cared for Christ in His need, so do we care for Him in the poor, the suffering, the needy, and the afflicted. And as Mary was assumed body and soul into Heaven, so too will we be there one day, both body and soul.
For now, our soul goes to Heaven (once purified) but our body lies in a tomb. But one day when the trumpet shall sound, on that “great gettin’ up morning,” our body will rise and be joined to our soul:
For we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” … Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:51-57).
So our body shall be assumed, shall rise and be joined to our soul.
Improved model! An older woman once said to me (upon hearing that her body would rise): “Father if this old body has to rise, I’m hoping for an improved model!” Yes indeed! Me too! I want my hair back, my slender figure to return, and I want knees that work! I want to upgrade from a general issue version to a luxury model. And God will in fact do that. Scripture says,
- He will take these lowly bodies of ours and transform them to be like his own glorified body (Phil 3:21).
- But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body … So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; … And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven (1 Cor 15:35-49).
- Yes, we shall also be taken up—assumed—and then shall be fulfilled for us the saying of Job, I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another ‘s (Job 19:25-27).
The assumption of our bodies, prefigured by Christ in His own power and also in Mary by the gift of God, will one day be our gift, too. For now, though, it waits till that “great gettin’ up morning.” Until that day and on that day, fare you well; fare you well!
This song is an African-American Spiritual and speaks of that “great gettin’ up morning” when our bodies will rise. And if we have been faithful they will rise to glory!
I’m gonna tell you about the coming of the judgment (Fare you well) There’s a better day a coming … In that great gettin’ up morning fare you well! Oh preacher fold your Bible, For the last soul’s converted … Blow your trumpet Gabriel … Lord, how loud shall I blow it? Blow it right calm and easy Do not alarm all my people … Tell them to come to the judgment … In that great gettin’ up morning fare you well. Do you see them coffins bursting? Do you see them folks is rising? Do you see the world on fire? Do you see the stars a falling? Do you see that smoke and lightning? Do you hear the rumbling thunder? Oh Fare you well poor sinner. In that great gettin’ up morning fare you well.
There are some who would have the Church step back to avoid persecution or giving offense. Perhaps there are assets like buildings and land to protect. And maybe some rapprochement with the world will attract more members. Or so the thinking goes.
But a study of earlier periods of persecution reveals a different plan for the way forward: confidence, courage, boldness, and love—even for our enemies. Let’s look at some texts.
St. John Chrysostom knew all about exile and persecution. At a difficult time for him and his flock, he preached from the following text of St. Paul’s:
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Cor 1:18-25).
Of this passage, St. John Chrysostom said,
How the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and his weakness stronger than men! In what way is it stronger? It made its way throughout the world and overcame all men; countless men sought to eradicate the very name of the Crucified, but that name flourished and grew ever mightier. Its enemies lost out and perished; the living who waged a war on a dead man proved helpless.
Therefore, when a Greek tells me I am dead, he shows only that he is foolish indeed, for I, whom he thinks a fool, turn out to be wiser than those reputed wise. So too, in calling me weak, he but shows that he is weaker still. For the good deeds which tax-collectors and fishermen were able to accomplish by God’s grace, the philosophers, the rulers, the countless multitudes cannot even imagine (from a homily by St. John Chrysostom, bishop, on the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians (Hom. 4, 3. 4: PG 61, 34-36)).
Such words ought to encourage us as well, for many today gleefully report the decline of faith and of the influence of the Church. 2000 years of history bears witness to the fact that those forecasting the doom of the Church will be long gone, and the Church will still be preaching the gospel.
Indeed, to paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, the Church has read the funeral rights over everyone who has predicated her demise. Where is Nero? Where is Domitian? Where is Napoleon? Where is Mao? Where is the Soviet Socialist Republic? Indeed, the largest statue of Christ in the world is reportedly being built in Russia right now. Where are so many heresiarchs? What happened to the erroneous philosophies and destructive trends that have been proposed? These things have come and gone; empires and nations have risen and fallen. But the Church is still here. Often persecuted, sometimes growing and sometimes struggling, but here, still here, always here. Twelve fishermen and other commoners with Jesus have established a stronghold in the world.
Some trust in Chariots or Horses,
But we in the name of the Lord.
They will collapse and fall,
But we shall hold and stand firm (Psalm 20:8).
But of course this will happen only to the extent that, by God’s grace, we DO hold and stand firm. It will not happen by adopting the world’s ways or fearfully caving in to its demands.
There is a powerful description in Scripture of the time when Peter and John were arrested for causing a commotion in the Temple area (by healing the lame beggar and proclaiming Jesus at the Beautiful Gate).
Now when [the Jewish leaders] saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13).
Note that the Jewish leaders recognized that “they had been with Jesus.” Would anyone recognize this about you, or your parish, or your fellow parishioners, or even us clergy? This is our main goal in times like these: that others recognize that we have been with Jesus! In times like these, the Church must be the Church.
And notice this prayer in the Acts of the Apostles, of the early Church under persecution. It takes place just after the arrest of Peter and John, after they had been warned not to mention Jesus again.
“And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:29-31).
In her work on Acts, Dr. Mary Healy notes that they do not pray for safety or for their enemies to be vanquished; they pray to be able to continue to speak with boldness, to bring healing, and to announce Jesus and draw others to Him.
And this should be our prayer: Lord, keep us strong. Keep us bold and filled with love for our enemies and for all those who are troubled and in need of healing. Never allow us to hide or to be concerned for our own safety, but rather concerned only that your glorious and Holy Name bring healing and grace, conviction for our sins, repentance, and therefore mercy. Help us, Lord, to stay faithful, courageous, and bold no matter the threats, the hardships, the persecution, and even the ruthless attempts at suppression. May no one who looks at us conclude anything less than that we “have been with Jesus.”
Courage and holy boldness, fellow Catholics! The only way we will change the world (by grace) is to be Catholic through and through. The world does not know it, but Christ and His Body, the Church, are the only hope. Be authentically Catholic, and by that grace, save the world!
Moses’ early years are marked with clear signs that he is gifted and chosen. Drawn from the water by Pharaoh’s own daughter, Moses’ very own mother is chosen to be his caretaker and is paid for that privilege by getting to live in Pharaoh’s palace. Pharaoh pays for Moses’ diapers, his food, and his education. And he is unwittingly preparing and equipping his nemesis. God can be very sly!
But at age forty, Moses gets ahead of God (never a good idea). He grows angry at an Egyptian who is oppressing a Hebrew and ends up killing the Egyptian. Moses has to flee.
Now why has God let this happen? From our perspective, Moses was in the prime of his life. At forty, he has experience but has not lost his youth. He is educated, gifted, and has access to power and lots of connections in Pharaoh’s own palace. Moses is in a perfect position to lead the people out of slavery! Or so we think. Except for one problem: God doesn’t think so.
But why not? In a word, pride. Moses, in getting out ahead of God and trying to take things in his own hands, is exhibiting pride. God says, in effect, “You’re too proud. I can’t use you in this condition. It’s time for some lessons in humility.”
And so Moses learns humility. He is forced to flee (humiliating). He must live out in the desert (humbling). And he marries and has children (quite humbling indeed! J).
Ok, so a few years’ worth of humility lessons and then Moses gets started. No, not a few, forty years’ worth!
Now Moses is eighty. He’s feeble, leaning on a staff, and he stutters when he talks. And God comes and tells Moses that it’s time to lead the people out. Moses says, in effect, “Are you crazy? I’m old, I can’t speak, I’m feeble … I can’t do it.” And that’s just the attitude that God needs from Moses: that he can’t do it. And he couldn’t do it at forty, either; he just didn’t know it. God has to do it and Moses will be His instrument. But now this instrument will be docile in the hands of the artist, now Moses can be useful to God.
This is not the way we think. We equate ability and leadership with vigor, power, money, access, talent, etc. For us, the prime of life is in our thirties, forties, and fifties. But God’s ways are not our ways; His thoughts are not our thoughts. Moses at eighty is what God needs. Moses at forty was not of use.
What are some conclusions we can draw?
First, be careful how you assess your own life. In typical earthly fashion most of us consider our prime as being those years when we were most in command of our gifts, when we were working, “making a difference,” earning an income. We measure human life in its prime in terms of money, power, access, physical strength, stamina, etc.
But has it occurred to us that our most powerful moments might be on our deathbed? For there we have many sufferings to offer and our prayers will pierce the clouds as never before. The Lord hears the cry of the poor, the suffering, and the repentant.
I often counsel the bedridden, and the dying in this way: I tell them that we are depending on their prayers as never before because their prayers are more important than ever before. And even if they have a hard time, because of age and discomfort, formulating prayers, just one word on our behalf, “Help!” may change the history of the world. St. Augustine said, More is accomplished in prayer by sighs and tears, than by many words (Letter to Proba).
Yes, be very careful how you assess your life’s worth. Our math is not God’s math; our thoughts are not His. God sizes us up quite differently.
Second, be careful how you assess the lives of others. Here, too, we tend to value those people who are powerful, have money, strength, beauty, talents, and “obvious” gifts. But the Lord warns us in many places that we should esteem the poor, the disabled, and the suffering. He says, Many who are last shall be first (Matt 19:30).
God also counsels that we ought to make friends among the needy and poor by our use of worldly wealth, so that when worldly wealth fails us (and it will), the poor and needy, those who benefitted from our generosity, will welcome us to eternal dwellings (See Lk 16:9).
Yes, befriend the needy, the disabled, and the poor. In this world they need us, but in the next world, we are going to need them! Those who have suffered and those who were poor due to injustice, if they have been faithful, are going to be in high places in Heaven. We’re going to have to get an appointment to see them! Things are not always as they appear. The poor, the disabled, and the suffering are quite often among the real powerhouses of this world.
So pay attention to what the story of Moses tells us. Not as man sees does God see (1 Sam 16:7). We are vainglorious and we look to worldly power and its categories. God is not impressed with our sandcastles, our big brains, and our bulging muscles. He bids us in stories like these to say, with St. Paul, Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor 12:10).
Things are often not as they appear to us. Put on your “God glasses” and by God’s grace see more as He sees.