Closing the Book

Saturday of the Seventh Week of Easter

May 30, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, on this day before Pentecost, we close the book on both Acts and John’s Gospel, companions we have been praying with since mid-April.

When I read a really great book, I hate it to end. The characters and their story linger in my mind. The places where I’ve pictured them seem real – as if I’ve visited there myself. And the core of their stories becomes part of me, a reference point for my own experience.

Hopefully, the same thing happens when we read and pray with scripture. 

bible


 

apostles

As we leave Acts today, we should feel like we know the early disciples better, especially Peter, Paul, Barnabas, Stephen, Lydia and others whose story might have touched us. We should better understand the ups and downs of the early Church, the passion for mission, and the evolution of faith – and how these speak to our own times.

 


Finishing John, we have a slightly different picture of Jesus from that of the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. We see a Jesus full of Light, his human existence described through the lens of his Divinity. Johannine scholar Raymond E. Brown describes the difference like this:

That Jesus is the center of John’s message is confirmed by even a hasty reading of the Gospel itself. The emphasis on the Kingdom of God, so prominent in the Synoptic Gospels, has yielded in John to an emphasis on Jesus as the embodiment of life, truth, and light. No more is the parabolic language introduced by “The kingdom of God is like,..”; rather we hear the majestic “I am ” Whereas it is the Kingdom that the Synoptic Gospels describe in terms of vineyard, wheat, shepherd and sheep, in John it is Jesus who is the vine, the bread, the shepherd, and the sheepgate.


shepherdvineeucharist


Today, in our prayer, we might want to glance back through these books, reminding ourselves of the words, phrases and stories that touched our own experience most deeply. 

John_I

Sketching such phrases – perhaps in a daily prayer journal –  is a good way to let our minds turn them over and over again in prayer, discovering new depths with each turn.


Music:  Cavalleria Rusticana: Easter Hymn – Pietro Mascagni, featuring Australian soprano Kiandra Howarth

I thought we’d close these two wonderful books, and the Easter Season, with a bang. (Lyrics and explanation below)

 

Click here to learn more about Cavalleria rusticana: The Easter Hymn

Lyrics:
LATIN AND ENGLISH:
CHORUS (within the church)
Regina coeli, laetare—Alleluia!
Quia, quem meruisti portare—Alleluia!
Resurrexit sicut dixit—Alleluia!

CHORUS (in the square)
We rejoice that our Saviour is living!
He all-glorious arose from the dead;
Joys of heaven the Lord to us giving,
All the sorrows of darkness are fled!
(The chorus goes out slowly)


ITALIAN:
CORO INTERNO (dalla Chiesa.)
Regina coeli, laetare—Alleluja!
Quia, quem meruisti portare—Alleluja!
Resurrexit sicut dixit—Alleluja!

CORO ESTERNO (sulla piazza.)
Inneggiamo, il Signor non è morto.
Ei fulgente ha dischiuso l’avel,
inneggiamo al Signore risorto
oggi asceso alla gloria del Ciel!
(il Coro esce lentamente)

 

What “World” Do You Live In?

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Easter

May 16, 2020

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Jn15:18 world

Today, in Mercy, Jesus talks about “the world”.

That word can cause a little confusion, both as we find it in scripture and in the history of Christian thought.

Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology says five connotations for “world” may be found in scripture:

  • The physical world – the actual plant Earth
  • The human world – the land and seas we can navigate
  • The moral world – the universe of good and evil
  • The temporal world – the world that will someday end
  • The coming world – eternal existence 

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is talking about the moral world which, in the New Testament, refers to those people who are indifferent and hostile to Christ’s teaching.

If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first.
If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own;
but because you do not belong to the world…
the world hates you.


wolf-clipart-57
A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

We understand this use of the word. We see the evil in the world. We are saddened, angered and confounded by it when we recognize it.

But do we always recognize it?

Blatant evils like murder are readily recognized. But the most insidious evils are those that masquerade as good.

These masquerading evils often pretend to protect our rights, our security, our safety. But they usually do so at the expense of someone else’s rights – the poor, the refugee, the aged, the homeless, people of color……and all who have become “disposable” in our society.


These deceptions hide behind brave and noble words like “America First”, “Second Amendment Rights”, “Protect Life” and a rash of other slogans which fail to examine the whole impact of single-issue politics. 

It’s confusing because we love America, right? We believe in people’s constitutional rights, right? We respect life, right?

What if our slogans instead more clearly reflected Gospel values:

  • The Human Family First
  • Safety Rights for Everyone
  • Health Security for All Life – Womb to Tomb

CriticalConcerns-Poster-FINAL

How can we be spiritually discerning about what is good within such realities and what is rooted in sinful self-interest? Jesus tells us in these words:

Remember the word I spoke to you,
‘No slave is greater than his master.’
If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.

We must look to the one who is hated and persecuted to find the Face of Christ. We must love that Face and learn its heartaches. We must become a companion in their search for wholeness. We must set aside any costume of self-righteousness and put on the garment of Mercy:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Colossians 3:14-16

Music: The Mercy Song – Paul Alexander

God’s Friends

Friday of the Fifth Week of Easte


May 15, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Jesus calls us friends. Just think about that!

Think about what it means to really be a friend.

We might have a little trouble reclaiming the true meaning in today’s culture. After all, in our world, you can be “friends” with thousands of people on Facebook, many of whom you might not even know.

On the other hand, if you have been blessed to have really good friends in your life, consider what created that friendship: love, honesty, acceptance, sacrifice, forgiveness, reverence, trust, fidelity, humor.

This is the kind of relationship to which Jesus invites each one of us – where He is part of us and we of Him..

Jn15_15 Friends

If we listen to Jesus in today’s Gospel, we’ll see clearly what makes us a Friend of God:

  • We love God to the point of laying down our lives.
  • We obey God’s command to love unselfishly and inclusively.
  • We seek ever to know God more fully.
  • We acknowledge God’s love as a blessing and gift, not a right.
  • We act on our responsibility to share the love we have received.

Pope Francis has said that the saints are “Friends of God” because they loved with all their hearts. But he stresses that:

“They are like us; they are like each of us: They are people who, before reaching the glory of heaven, lived a normal life, with joys and griefs,
struggles and hopes….When they recognized the love of God, they
followed him with all their heart, without conditions and hypocrisies.”

Pope Francis encourages us, “The saints give us a message. They tell us: Be faithful to the Lord, because the Lord does not disappoint! He does not disappoint ever, and he is a good friend, always at our side.”

Let’s spend some prayer time in thanksgiving for God’s gift of friendship, asking how we might learn to be an even better friend, to love God even more.

Music: Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon and Garfunkel

 

Remain

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

May 13, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Acts reveals the tensions in the Church between Jewish and Gentile believers. For the Jews, the ritual of circumcision was a key expression of covenantal faith. Some felt it was necessary for Gentile converts to undergo the ritual in order to become Christians.

Like all start-ups, the Church had many friction points which required decisions about what was essential and what was only customary. Those customs being thousands of years old, the decisions become even harder. Readings later this week describe more conflict points.

Nevertheless, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and despite the venerability of custom, the nascent Church was able embrace a new reality rooted in Christ’s inclusive love.

These kinds of philosophical and theological tugs-of-war have accompanied the Church down through history. Some of them have helped reveal deeper insights into our faith. But, as in all human communities, some of the tugs have been motivated by fear, greed, power, and other selfish interests.

Watching how the early Church handles their particular situation may give us hints about how we should handle them today.


In our Gospel, Jesus makes clear what is essential and inviolable to the faith:

I am the vine, you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit,
because without me you can do nothing.

John15_4 Remain

I think “Remain” is a beautiful word. In the dictionary, it will be defined as ‘stay’. But it connotes much more to me.  Re–main asks us not just to choose to stay with Jesus, but to choose it over and over – like reenlist, renew, recommit.

Remain means to endure with the Beloved Vine through every season – winter’s cold and summer’s heat, and all that’s in between.

Remain means “Love Me, stay beside me, even when others fall away.”

May we remain.


Music: I Am the Vine – John Michael Talbot

In God’s Hands

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

May 5, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, the image of God’s hands emerges in each of our readings.

preachers

There were some …. proclaiming the Lord Jesus.
The hand of the Lord was with them
and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.
Acts 11:21


shepherd

 

I know them, and they follow me.
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.
No one can take them out of my hand.
John 10:28


My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all,
and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.
John 10:29


Each of these images evokes and inspires our trust that God abides with and sustains us – that we are in God’s hands.

We all know what it’s like to place ourself in someone else’s hands. Sometimes we do it willingly, sometimes not. Sometimes it is an act of trust, sometimes fear.

This morning, as I pray, I remember two parallel but distinctly different incidents of being in someone else’s hands. 


pikesIn the first, I went with friends on a drive to the top of Pike’s Peak in Colorado. It was before the serpentine road was paved in 1999. The driver was the young cowboy nephew of one of the passengers, and he thought it was really fun to scare us out of our wits. He took the many curves and switchbacks at headlong speed. I closed my eyes and started praying.


doctor-clipart-transparent-12The second memory is recent. Just before my knee replacement surgery, as I lay slightly anesthetized in pre-op, my surgeon came to the bedside. He sat down, took my hand and said, “I want you to know that I will do the surgery myself and be with you the whole time. I am putting my initials on your knee so you can be certain I’ll fix the right one.” He smiled, and I again closed my eyes and started praying.


What different prayers they were! One was begging God to intervene and save me. The other was thanking God for putting me in trustworthy hands.

Jn10_29 hands

With God, we are always in trustworthy hands. Indeed, sometimes it may feel like God is flying over the edge of Pike’s Peak with us in the back seat. But here’s the thing: God is in the car with us – and God always lives! If we give ourselves completely to God in trust, we will live too.

Eventually, our practice of trust grows enough to comfort us in all things. We realize God is always sitting beside us, taking our hand, assuring us of that Loving Presence Who always abides.

A great freedom comes with that realization, steeped in years of trust and understanding that God’s Will for us is our eternal good. The preachers in Acts today, and the disciples in John rejoiced and acted in such trust. May we too be strengthened, blessed, and impelled by it.

Music:  Into Your Hands – Ray Rep

Into Your hands we commend our spirit –Ray Repp

Into Your hands we commend our spirits O Lord,
Into Your hands we commend our hearts.
For we must die to ourselves in loving You,
Into Your hands we commend our love.

O God, my God, why have You gone from me,
Far from my prayers, far from my cry?
To You I call and you never answer me,
You send no comfort and I don’t know why!

You’ve been my guide since I was very young,
You showed the way, you brought relief;
But now I’m lonely, nobody’s by my side:
Take heed, my Lord, listen to my prayer.

Our Deepest Hunger

Monday of the Third Week of Easter

April 27, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Acts introduces us to Stephen, so filled with the Holy Spirit that “his face was like the face of an angel”.

You may wish to refer to last year’s reading on Stephen’s introduction.

Click here to read about Stephen


For today’s reflection, though, our focus will be John 6 which is the beginning of a week-long journey into the discourse on the Bread of Life (Jn 6:22-71). These passages, going from today until Friday, are like a “faith boot camp” for Jesus’s followers. They contain the core message of who Jesus is and how we are brought into communion with him.

The reading seems so meaningful in these days when we are kept from shared communion and community in the Eucharist, when we long to be gathered again around that table of love.


John’s Gospel does not include an account of the Last Supper and institution of the Eucharist. The Bread of Life Discourse is where Jesus proclaims those teachings in John. It is a more detailed instruction and, as we pray with it over the course of the week, we may trace our own past and current awakening in faith.

painting
Limbourg Brothers, Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, Jesus Feeding the 5,000 Source Wikimedia Commons

Today’s verses offer very basic training. Jesus has just fed 5000 people in the miracle of the loaves and fishes. The crowds, not having a global view of the miracle like we do, are confused. They know they got plenty to eat, but did everybody? They heard many people ate, but they saw only their nearby neighbors. What really happened out on the green field?

Finding Jesus the next day, they are ready for another meal. They’re more interested in matzoh than miracles. Their basic hunger for physical sustenance consumes them. Jesus begins the task of opening their hearts to their deeper hungers and his desire to meet them:

Jesus said,
“You are looking for me
not because you saw signs
but because you ate the loaves and were filled.
Do not work for food that perishes
but for the food that endures for eternal life.”

Jn6_27 food


Praying with today’s Gospel, we might ask ourselves some basic questions about our own faith.

  • When we go looking for God, as these hungry people did, what is it that we are looking for?
  • Do we talk to God only when we need something the way these folks needed another loaf or fish?
  • Jesus is inviting us to Eucharist, to Communion with him. To what degree have we opened our hearts to that invitation by our reflective prayer and acts of mercy?

Jesus’s basic message to his flock today is this:

Don’t be satisfied by a tasty roll, a fat fish,
(or a fancy car, a good job, a comfortable life.)
God made you for much more than these things.
Come to Me and feed your deepest hunger.

Maybe, as we pray, we can ask the question posed at end of today’s Gospel and listen intently to Jesus’s answer:

So they said to him,
“What can we do to accomplish the works of God?”
Jesus answered and said to them,
“This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”

Music: Hungry – Kathryn Scott

Faith Has No Blueprint

Friday of the Second Week of Easter

April 24, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we meet Gamaliel, the revered rabbinical teacher and early mentor of St. Paul.

Rembrandt_-_Old_Rabbi_-_WGA19186
The Old Rabbi by Rembrandt

With his patient wisdom, Gamaliel famously intervened  to save Peter and John from the Sanhedrin’s wrath.

“Fellow children of Israel,
be careful what you are about to do to these men….
…I tell you,
have nothing to do with these men, and let them go.
For if this endeavor is of human origin,
it will destroy itself.
But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them;
you may even find yourselves fighting against God.”

Biblical scholars have interpreted Gamaliel’s intervention in various and even contradictory ways. Some see in him a hesitancy which will believe only that which is proven and successful. Others suggest that Gamaliel was already a believer who maintained his Sanhedrin position in order to assist the early Christians. In the Catholic canon, Gamaliel is venerated as a saint whose feastday is August 30.

Thinking about Gamaliel may lead us to the question, “What do I need in order to believe?” 

  • Do I, like the Sanhedrin, need to see proven success?
  • Do I, like some of the crowd fed in today’s Gospel, need miracles?
  • Do I, like the rich young man, need answers to all of my questions?
  • Do I, like Thomas, need to see and touch the Resurrected Christ?

In other words, am I looking for a faith that is a fail-proof blueprint, or is my faith a living journey with Christ, as was Peter’s and John’s?

John4_4 bread word

The Apostles’ faith and trust were so complete that they saw even persecution as evidence of God’s plan and power:

So the Apostles left the presence of the Sanhedrin,
rejoicing that they had been found worthy
to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.
And all day long, both at the temple and in their homes,
they did not stop teaching and proclaiming the Christ, Jesus.

When we are completely given to God in faith, all our life experiences bring us closer to God. All circumstances reveal God to the deeply believing heart.

May we grow every day in that kind of faith.

Music: Increase Our Faith – David Haas

Lord, increase our faith.
With all our heart, may we always follow you.
Teach us to pray always.

So I say to you,
Ask you shall receive.
Seek and you will find.
Knock,  it shall be opened to you.

Whoever asks,
they will receive.
Whoever seeks shall find.
Whoever knocks, the door will be opened.

If you with all your sins know how to give
how much more will God give
to those who cry from their hearts.

Holy Victory

Friday after Epiphany

January 10, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings both challenge and affirm our faith:

John tells us:

Beloved:
Who indeed is the victor over the world
but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

What does John mean by saying our faith makes us “victor over the world”? 

1Jn5_5

Certain scripture passages, and many theologians throughout history, use the term “the world” to refer to a secularized human system which denies or devalues God and spirituality. They set this concept of “the world” in opposition to a life lived from deep faith.

“Pope Francis, in a recent homily, spoke of the spirit of the world, which is contrary to the Holy Spirit. “Jesus, at the Last Supper,” he recalled, “does not ask the Father to remove the disciples from the world,” because Christian life is in the world, “but to protect them from the spirit of the world, which is the opposite. He emphasized, that it is, “even worse than committing a sin. It is an atmosphere that renders you unconscious, leads you to a point that you do not know how to recognize good from evil”.
(Alessandro Di Bussolo, Vatican News)

For some, though, a simplistic definition of “world” and “spirit” has led to a dichotomy in which these realities are isolated from, and do not inform each other. Such thinking may lead us to identify “world” with the “evil” generated by sin or spiritual emptiness.

Evolving theology has confronted this dichotomous perception to help us understand that we come to know God through the sacred reality of the created world we live in.

Thomas Berry says this:
“… we will recover our sense of wonder and our sense of the sacred only if we appreciate the universe beyond ourselves as a revelatory experience of that numinous presence whence all things came into being. Indeed, the universe is the primary sacred reality. We become sacred by our participation in this more sublime dimension of the world about us.”
(Thomas Berry, “The Wild and the Sacred,” in The Great Work)

Such Creation-based spirituality allows us to acknowledge and respond to God’s invitation to transform “the world” by our oneness with Christ, who is the Fullness of Creation.

“Once one understands that the evolving community of life on Earth is God’s beloved creation and its ruination an unspeakable sin, then deep affection shown in action on behalf of ecojustice becomes an indivisible part of one’s life.”
(Elizabeth A. Johnson – Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love)

Pope Francis, in paragraph 11 of Laudato Si’ writes:

If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.

As we consider all these aspects today in our prayer, let us ask for an understanding of God based in deep love and hope for our cosmic truth.

Music: Adoro Te Devote

The Righteous Kingdom

Monday After Epiphany

January 6, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, John instructs us in the meaning of true righteousness. 

We human beings can get very confused about this term. Some have used it to imply that observable religious practice makes one superior, holier than others. We can all visualize the “righteous” preacher pouring fire and brimstone over the lowly congregation. The beautiful term “righteousness” has been disserved by this image.

In his first letter, John describes the root of true righteousness, that state of graceful balance within a Gospel-powered life:

Beloved:
We receive from him whatever we ask,
because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.
And his commandment is this:
we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ,
and love one another just as he commanded us.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is in the early stages of his public ministry. He is slowly teaching the people how different his “power” and “righteousness” will be from the worldly power they might have expected.

Mt4_23 kingdom

Jesus’s “Kingdom” stands in stark contrast to the Roman Empire and the principles of domination, aggression and disregard for life which fed it. Jesus’s is a Kingdom built by uniting our differences, especially those of the poor and sick, into the oneness of God’s love.

Jesus went around all of Galilee,
teaching in their synagogues,
proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom,

curing every disease and illness among the people.
His fame spread to all of Syria,

and they brought to him
all who were sick with various diseases

and racked with pain,
those who were possessed, lunatics, and paralytics,
and he cured them.


Praying with these readings today brings me face to face “the elephant in the room”. In this Lavish Mercy community, we hope together for the growth of the Gospel Kingdom in a global community. But now that yet unrealized community stands at the brink of war because nations have so badly blurred the lines between the righteous Gospel Kingdom and the self-righteous Empire.

RSM statement
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas join with people across the world in condemning the Trump Administration’s drone strike assassination of Qassem Soleimani, leader of Iran’s Quds force, outside of Baghdad. Far from fostering peace in a troubled part of the world, this reckless decision will only escalate violence and increase suffering for millions of people. We call on our government to reject violence and militarism and instead to engage in the hard work of diplomacy. –Sister Patricia McDermott, RSM, president, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas

It is difficult to look at the “elephant” without getting political, but I am trying hard to refrain from political opinion here. What I can say with confidence is that we as faith-impelled people cannot stay silent in the face of the world’s current situation. When our voice is heard – at the ballot box and through direct advocacy – may it reflect the fundamental Gospel imperatives for which Jesus lived and died.


These clippings from Pope Francis’s visit to Hiroshima helped me in my prayer today:

“How can we propose peace if we constantly invoke the threat of catastrophic war as a legitimate recourse for the resolution of conflicts?”

“May the abyss of pain endured here in Hiroshima remind us of boundaries that must never be crossed. A true peace can only be an unarmed peace.”

“In a single plea to God and to all men and women of good will, on behalf of all the victims of atomic bombings and experiments, and of all conflicts, let us together cry out: Never again war, never again the clash of arms, never again so much suffering,” 

“Indeed, if we really want to build a more just and secure society, we must let the weapons fall from our hands.”

Pope Francis quoted Gaudium et Spes, which states that “peace is not merely the absence of war … but must be built of ceaselessly.” He added that the lessons of history show that peace is the fruit of justice, development, solidarity, care for our common home, and promotion of the common good.

“I am convinced that peace is no more than an empty word unless it is founded on truth, built up in justice, animated and perfected by charity, and attained in freedom.”

Music: Adagio for Strings – Samuel Barber

Yes, I’m Talkin’ to YOU!

Saturday of the Seventh Week of Easter 

June 8, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our Gospel reveals a lot about the relationships and personalities among Jesus and his disciples.

John is described as “the one whom Jesus loved”, indicating that there was a unique affection shared between them. What was that like? John was younger than most of the other men. Perhaps he needed more overt direction and care from Jesus. We know from John’s later extensive contributions to scripture that he was a poet and a visionary, someone with heightened sensitivities. Perhaps John expressed his love for Jesus more openly, triggering a similar response in Jesus.

Peter, once again, appears as the questioner. Throughout the Gospels, he is always asking Jesus to explain, to define, to assure. In today’s reading, Jesus has given Peter the prime call to follow him. But Peter wants more. Looking at John, Peter wants to know, “What about him… will he follow?”

Maybe Peter is a lot like some of us, a little unsure of where we are in God’s love. Maybe he wants to know how he compares to John, the obvious “Beloved Disciple”.

Jesus doesn’t coddle Peter. He wants Peter to “man up”. Peter has immense leadership responsibilities ahead of him. He needs to rely totally on Jesus’s promise to him.

John21_22

So Jesus tells him not to worry about how others are loved and called by God. He tells Peter, “ You follow me!” – that’s all you have to be concerned about.

Everybody’s call to follow is personal and different. It comes dressed in our particular life circumstances, gifts and awarenesses. God wants Peter and God wants John. He doesn’t want clones of either.

And God wants and calls each one of us in our uniqueness. By entering deeply into our own spirit, we will find our answer to God’s call.

Teresa of Avila said this:

It is foolish to think that we will enter heaven
without entering into ourselves.

May dear, questioning Peter inspire us today to be brave, confident and complete in our own response to God’s call.

Music:  Follow Me – Ray Repp