January 16, 2021
|Praying Ordinary Time
Sitting at the simple dinner table with my French host mother Yolande and her toddler Maylise during a study abroad semester in college, our fourth dinner guest was always the French-English Dictionary. During the majority of meals we were lucky to get a few meager sentences exchanged and understood across the language divide that existed between us. I had regular, similar experiences during my two years volunteering with the Jesuit Volunteers International in Micronesia. My host family with whom I lived on the weekends was as gracious to me as Yolande was, patiently repeating themselves multiple times for my benefit. The unfamiliar words, in some ways, were a barrier for deeper connection.
Compare this to experiences when a message is received loud and clear...I often recall some of these darlings...
“Anger is like electricity. If you don’t channel it properly it will kill you, but if you do channel it properly you can light up the world.” (Shared with me by a Jesuit friend who overheard Mahatma Gandhi's grandson say this to a frustrated family at the hospital bedside of their dying matriarch.)
“I watch what I do to see what I believe.” (Voiced by Sr. Helen Prejean in an NPR show I heard years ago.)
“Either get busy living or get busy dying.” (Spoken by Tim Robbins’ character Andy Dufresne in the movie The Shawshank Redemption.)
Each of them is like an arrow through my heart, piercing to that deep place within from which I strive to live everyday. And there are others…
“You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works! My very self you know.” (Sung by the Psalmist in Psalm 139.)
“This is my beloved child in whom I am well pleased.” (Proclaimed by God as Jesus emerged from his baptismal waters.)
“He must increase; I must decrease.” (Boldly stated by John the Baptist in reference to Jesus.)
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.” (Declared by Jesus when a scholar of the law tried to test him.)
These words hold great power in my life. They are wise traveling companions who shine a light on my path, guiding my feet along the journey. Words, when spoken clearly and received willingly, are transformative.
I must admit that as a child (and even times as an adult) the words I heard proclaimed from Scripture at Mass or read quietly to myself in the mornings feel powerless. They are either stale and flat or fall upon deaf ears (not unlike my reception of the words I heard spoken in France and Micronesia). However, in today’s letter to the Hebrews we read, “The word of God is living and effective.”
God’s word is alive!
As believers, we know this in many ways. One such way comes from the beginning of John’s Gospel (we just heard it on Christmas Day) when we read “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
These are not flat words on a page or some second language we don’t understand. They are flesh and blood embodied in the person of Jesus. They are vibrant and viable messengers standing on the front porches of our hearts!
In Hebrews a powerful scalpel-like image is given to God’s word to emphasize just how much it can cut through our lives if we allow it. If we read and understand it well it becomes a great revealer.
Perhaps that is why Levi was so quick to respond to Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel, “Follow me.” Imagine! Two words spoken by this unknown teacher passing by were enough to move this man to react so positively and instantaneously. If only I could be as responsive to God’s word in my life.
My prayer today is that I clean out my ears, open up my eyes, clear out my heart and remain on the lookout for this living, breathing word of God that is spirit and life.
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