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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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[68] Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Jonah 3:1-5, 10 / Psalm 25 / 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 / Mark 1:14-20

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Jonah has barely begun his cry of prophetic warning when the people of Nineveh repent and all of them “great and small put on sackcloth.”  Why is there such an immediate reaction? It may be that they had heard the prior story of the prophet Jonah.  The reputation of Nineveh as a wicked city is so severe, that Jonah seeks to flee his divine summons.  Trying to flee by sea, God brings forth a great storm and acknowledging his fault, Jonah has the sailors throw him into the sea.  What we learn here is that the failure of Jonah to be the prophet he has been called to be will result in the death or destruction of others.  He will be held accountable.  Jonah calls upon the Lord and he is swallowed by a great fish.  Later, he is spat upon the shore to continue the mission given him.  Jesus would speak about this as the one sign given in his own regard.  The water symbolizes death and the big fish represents the tomb.  Just as the sea and fish could not destroy Jonah, so too would the sea and the tomb not be able to contain Jesus.  God shows his power.  The people of Nineveh, either out of fear or love of the Lord, would change their ways.  Similarly, after Christ’s victory over death, the apostles would go out to the nations and many would come to repent and to believe.

We are told that the citizens of Nineveh put on sackcloth.  Sackcloth and ashes were signs of humiliation and repentance.  As a coarse material made from goat’s hair, sackcloth was uncomfortable to wear.  Symbolizing desolation or dying to self, many Christian believers would later employ it as a tool for penance.  We would have to die to our old ways and life so as to be reborn and to live for Christ.  Here in the story of Jonah, sackcloth and ashes served as a public sign of repentance before God.  We were told that they even went to the extreme of placing sackcloth on their animals.  They hoped that God might look down upon them, and seeing this incredible expression of contrition and remorse, grant them mercy from the impending judgment.  Of course, God can read our hearts and would not be fooled.  The outward sign rendered by the people of Nineveh worked because the external sackcloth and ashes signified an inward change or disposition.  They were truly sorry for their sins.  We read: “When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.” Similarly, we as Christians should know that as long as there is breath in our bodies, there is no sin that God cannot forgive.  All that is required is a contrite heart and a firm purpose of amendment.

The psalm brings to this theme of repentance and mercy another important component— the change of one’s life.  We read: “Teach me your ways, O Lord. Good and upright is the LORD; thus he shows sinners the way.” Left to ourselves and we do not really know how to be good.  God gives us guidance by his commands.  Without God we would be uncertain as to right and wrong.  Strip the commandments about honoring God from the Decalogue and the remaining laws would become capricious.  If there is no God and judgment, then why follow the rules?  If there is no life beyond the grave, then why sacrifice for others? Love of God for some and fear of God for others is what marks the path between virtue and vice. The second reading emphasizes the shortness of life and thus infers the gravity of the coming judgment.  This world is “passing away,” now is the appointed time.

The Gospel reading has Jesus taking up the cry of John the Baptizer, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” The message of Jonah is now extended to the whole world.  Our Lord calls the apostles to himself because they will be his voice to the nations.  Simon, Andrew, James and John are summoned.  They all immediately leave their nets and our Lord tells them that they will be made into “fishers of men.”  Jonah is thrown into the sea, not simply as bait for a big fish but that the citizens of Nineveh would repent and believe.  Our Lord would make himself the bait in his paschal mystery to draw all men and women to himself.  The apostle Paul would literally speak about the resurrection of Christ as “the hook” of Christianity.  The center of the Christian kerygma is the person of Jesus.  He is the kingdom of God breaking into our world.  The calling of the apostles as “fishers of men” is often associated with the need for priestly vocations.  However, every one of us has been called in baptism as a “missionary disciple.”  Evangelism is not solely the responsibility of bishops, priests, deacons and a few Catholic lay evangelists.  It is an obligation for all who claim to be Christian.  Given this as the situation, the following points are essential:

  • We need a living personal and communal relationship with Jesus.
  • We need a faith informed by Scripture and the teaching Church.
  • We need an apostolate of service that expresses genuine charity for others.
  • We need to be regularly nurtured and healed by the sacraments.
  • We need prayer for spiritual life just as breathing gives physical life.

Why is all this essential?  While almighty God can use broken instruments and even wicked people, to bring about his providence; the truth is that he rarely does so. It is hard to impossible to give what you do not have.  If you do not know where to throw the net or if there is no bait for the hook, it is doubtful that you will catch anything.  The fisherman or –woman, who never makes a catch, may also go hungry.  The faith like love is only real when it is shared or given away.  We must possess Christ if we would give him to others.  We may all be sinners, but when the wounded are contrite, God can bring his healing to us and to all whom we meet.

  • Are the five elements here realized in your life?
  • Can you list any people who are believers because of how God has used you?
  • As a sign of Jonah, how have you died so as to rise in the Lord?
  • Have you promoted or supported vocations to the priesthood?
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The Gift of Christ in Holy Communion

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The sacrament of the Eucharist is neglected because many fail to fathom its mysterious depths and meaning.  Even parents allow their children to be spiritually malnourished.  Too many stay away.  Too many no longer believe.

Fortunately, there are some parents mindful of their duty.  They believe and extend what they believe to their children.  The greatest gift they will ever give will be their saving faith in the Eucharist.  Theirs is not a transitory love but a love that embraces the Cross and eternity.

What happens in Holy Communion?    We receive the one who is the Holy of Holies.  God comes to us that we might be made more authentically human.  Indeed, that which is human is divinized and made more than it was before.  Christ grants an apportionment in his living presence that we might have a share in his resurrected life and become flesh-and-blood tabernacles to the divine presence and the grace that perdures.  The Eucharist both directs our attention to worshipping almighty God and invites the sacrament to transgress into the dark and thick boundaries of our inner life.

While we accept the sacrament in time, it touches eternity.  What we have done, we have done.  Harsh words can never be taken back.  Uncharitable acts can never be rescinded.  Much in the way of our history is irreparable.  We cling in conscience to the mercy that God promises and extends.  We can be saved, but not because we are good (left to ourselves) but because God is good.  Memory that sorely needs to be healed and often torments, transports us to those first recollections of kneeling at the altar rail.  We see in the mind’s eye the child we once were, receiving with faith and incalculable innocence, the Blessed Sacrament.  Where did time go? How could we be so foolish? Why did we listen to bad companions?  When did concupiscence get the upper hand and make us slaves to the flesh, inner contradictions to our very selves? Eyes have seen what they should not have seen.  Can these eyes still look with adoration upon the upraised host?  Hands have corrupted us by signs and deeds; how can we still extend them to Christ or to a neighbor in the sign of peace? Lips have exchanged veracity for deception; can they yet proclaim the truth that Jesus is Lord?  Our bodies have embraced lust and deadly sins; can they once again manifest tenderness and real love?

We need medicine from heaven.  We require the real food or rations from the Promised Shore.  Any particular Holy Communion is every Holy Communion— Sunday after Sunday, on weekdays, on holy days, at funerals, at weddings, etc.  There is an eternal dimension to Holy Communion—the hundreds, the thousands, the tens of thousands of receptions.  While the fallen away and spiritually starving can count on their fingers how many times they have taken Holy Communion; those who go to Mass daily might receive over 25,000 times in a lifetime.  Their response to the minister’s words, “The body of Christ,” becomes an eternal AMEN.  It is their yes to the self-donation and surrender of God’s Son.  It is their acceptance of divine mercy.  It is the password for entry into the eternal banquet of heaven.  Akin to vows, we become engaged actors in the marriage of the Lamb.  Always it is the one Christ who suffers and dies once and for all.  It is the risen Christ, body and soul, humanity and divinity.

The eternal now of God simultaneously targets the elderly man from his wheelchair cradling the sacrament in his hand and finds him still as a young child receiving the Eucharistic Christ on the tongue at the altar rail.  Everything that Jesus is encounters everything that we are and all that we will become. The mind’s eye recalls good parents kneeling beside us as we prayed and took Holy Communion.  They made possible that day and all the days since.  They showed us the way by word and example.  We know in faith that they have exchanged their pew for a chair at the banquet table of heaven. We remember them, we pray for them and desire to go where they have gone. They directly see the divine mystery that we know behind sacred signs.

Unity in the Divine Child

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There was a popular movement in psychology advanced a few years ago for people to come into contact or to know their “inner child.” All sorts of self-help books were published that promoted this Jungian archetype.  But I would like to suggest a spiritual dynamic to the hidden child in all of us.  When we recalled our earliest experiences, there was a profound innocence and trust.  Most parents protected their children from the dark side of life and from evil.  That time of innocence resonated with the holiness and perfection of God.  It was easy to believe.  We trusted our parents and felt safe.

While we may not fully maintain our innocence, we should never forget that God is our heavenly Father and that we will always be his children.  What the world strips away, God can restore.  I suspect our yearning and pursuit for holiness is also a remembrance of what we were.  When an infant is baptized, the minister of the sacrament will speak of the child as a young saint in our homes.  Our life and discipleship seeks a recovery of this spiritual trust and perfection.  As Christians, we remember the Christ Child in the manger.  God enters the human family as weak and vulnerable and yet there is something powerful about the child. What will this child become?  What shall he do? How will he change the world?  Everything that God assumes in Jesus Christ takes on an eternal dimension.  God is the everlasting child.  Our restoration into the likeness of grace signals a profound unity with the divine child.  Jesus speaks about this mystery as being “born again.”

Our Lord tells us that to follow him we must become like little children.  All the sacraments, not just baptism, make this possible.  When the old man in sin enters the confessional box, a child with his conscience made clean exits to offer his penance.  The body grows old but the soul is made ever-new.  The burden of the world is cast aside.  Of course, God’s mercy does not leave a vacuum but rather fills with grace what was once possessed by iniquity.

The little-known but courageous figure of Shimei cursed and threw stones at King David, shouting, “Get out! Get out! You man of blood, you scoundrel! … And now look at you: you suffer ruin because you are a man of blood.” Faulted for the blood of Saul, David’s rule was now challenged by his son.  David stayed the hand of his henchman, ready to kill the courageous and vocal critic.  He acknowledged the possible judgment of God upon him. (see 2 Samuel 16:5-14)

Like David, we are all men and women of blood.  Our innocence is spoiled by our sins.  We look upon the crucifix and must acknowledge that we have blood on our hands.  We are the murderers of Christ.  We are all guilty.  Our maturity in years does not necessarily mean that we have grown in the Lord.

I recall a frustrating teacher in school who told his pupils that they all began as “A” students with 100%.  However, with every test and assignment, the points began to be subtracted.  It was only with extra-credit assignments that lost ground might be regained.  When it comes to our heavenly report card, it is only by divine mercy and grace that we might be restored to an earlier purity and perfection.

Darkness & Light

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We find it much easier to appreciate Lent than Easter.  We might get glimpses of Easter but for many it requires an exercise of the imagination where we negate the things of darkness so as to envision the light.  Critics might contend that this is a rather backward way of dealing with things.  Usually it is harder to see in the dark than in the light.  Lent is the season that commemorates the struggle that all mortal creatures must endure.  We know all too well the jagged edge of existence: suffering, betrayal, loss, sadness, sickness, pain, grieving and death.  Many might suppose that these elements epitomize that which is most real.  The cynic or pessimist thus might categorize contentment, belonging, comfort, happiness, fidelity, peace and life as either fleeting or as aberrational to human existence.  Those who deny the Easter mystery might abandon themselves either to despair or to a libertine search for pleasure, making no distinction between the joys that comes with the acquisition of a real or an apparent good.  Of course, they would also be quick to mention the price that one pays to be happy or to anesthetize from pain.  Alcohol brings the hangover and drugs a case of withdrawal.  Sex results in pregnancy and sometimes in venereal diseases.  Gambling brings a thrill but often empties bank accounts.  Sloth weakens muscles and often incurs in homelessness. Gluttony brings to the fore the full ramifications of gravity.  What we do not know and what many disbelieve is the prospect of eternal life, joy, reunion, and contentment.  Those who reject the resurrection necessarily repudiate heaven.  They might reject hell but if life be hard they might accept the existence of more of the same.  Easter requires us to look beyond what we know.  Heavenly happiness is usually reckoned as an extrapolation from transitory pleasure to something lasting and complete.

There is a peculiar commonality between children and the elderly.  The child may be gullible but often easily trusts that there is a world unseen from which God calls us and out of which he sends his angels to watch over us.  We must be cautious that children will be able to distinguish the matters that are real and those which are fanciful like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.  The elderly may be discouraged but there is still a profound turning toward the divine mystery.  They are aware that there are more days behind them than before them.  Time in this world is running out and urgency strips away the distractions that many pursue.  They prepare for the world to come and desire to experience the unseen realities that were first presented to them as children.  Is there an ageless guardian angel still by their side?  Will God give back all that the world and evil men have taken away?  Trusting that God is a loving Father, many begin to yearn for the beatific vision and the reunion on the other side of the grave.

 

The Sacred Encounter

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I am troubled that our young people have an intensely truncated sense of history and reality.  They cannot imagine a world without digital phones, tablets, home computers, widescreen HD televisions, video game consoles, and the internet.  Despite tremendous access to information, their focus has narrowed and there is an almost pejorative view of the past and the historical elements of our culture and values.  Current sports figures, musical performers and media actors are idolized while true heroes are neglected or forgotten.  Figures that tout atheism will point to science as the enlightenment of the future while lamenting religion as the superstition of the past.

Given this as the problem we face with secular history and a deficient assessment of Western culture, the situation is no better when it comes to salvation history and our encounter with Christ in Scripture.  A history book or biography tells us about someone.  The Bible actually introduces us to someone.  There is an important difference but the difficulty is the same— few are opening the books.  I use the image of a book, but the issue remains even if we are talking about a lecture or the proclamation of the Word from a pulpit.  Many of our brothers and sisters are becoming comfortable with a truncated view of history and the meaning of life within our society.  They are getting their religious views from authorities fascinated by scandal but not with any dimension of sacred truth.  Those who excuse themselves from the pews and who gather dust on their bibles, have little to nothing by way of a living relationship with the Lord.

What do such people say about Jesus?  Some even question whether he existed or not.  Others suspect that he was a nice man who was wrongly put to death.  They view the sepulcher as the end of the story.  The dead stay dead.  The rest is the stuff of fairytales.  Certain secular humanists will laud Jesus as one who wanted to make a difference for the oppressed and the poor.  They define him as a well-meaning social worker or community activist.  However, if they were to look closely at Jesus, their verdict would have to change.  He told people to love their enemies and to forgive those who hurt them..  He claimed the power to forgive sins.  His assertions would even including making himself out as God.  If these non-believing critics were honest, then their assessment would be that Jesus was either a stark raving madman or and outright liar.  They have left themselves no middle ground.  The believer holds out another possibility— that Jesus is as he claims— the Son of God and the Savior of the world.

Men are born, live and die.  Every biography seeks to fill in the bits in-between.  But this pattern is broken with Jesus.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). The story of Jesus begins before he is conceived in the womb and the Word became flesh.  He would be born and soon thereafter heralded by shepherds, magi and angels.  He would live as other men had lived.  However, one day he would put the quiet life behind him and engage in three years of provocative and supernatural ministry.  He would be embraced by some and rejected by others.  He would reach out to the weak, vulnerable and denigrated.  He would forgive sins and heal bodies.  He would be betrayed, tortured and murdered.  He would die but he would refuse to stay dead.  He promises his friends a share in his victory and life.  He promises to send the Holy Spirit and that he will never abandon us.

Jesus keeps his promises.  We are not orphaned.  He comes to us in his proclaimed Word and in the administration of the sacraments.  Indeed, he is present as the mystical body of the Church.  Other historical figures come and go.  But Jesus still makes possible a real and saving encounter.  His disciples do not know Jesus as a figure locked in past history.  Rather, Jesus is really present and maintains a spiritual relationship or friendship with his own.  There are no aging bones or blackened ashes of Christ.  There are no relics as we have from the saints.  Jesus has awakened from his sleep and calls out to us.  His message is still that of love.  Indeed, if his resurrection were not real then love would be a lie and life a mere taunting respite from endless death.  We look upon crosses in our churches and appreciate that this mystery of redemption has changed all human history, sacred and secular.  Jesus dies once-and-for-all and never again, and yet this mystery holds us in suspension at Calvary where we also offer ourselves.  We come to the cross or its great sacramental exemplar the altar and we bend the knee.  While the spiritually blind are oblivious to its meaning, we know the truth.  This is the watershed event for all time.  Nothing will ever be the same again.  Flowering horizons come not merely with computers, telescopes and mathematics, but with ancient parables, heartfelt prayer and a man who was so much more on a dead tree.

The Mystery of Love & Life

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We all want to love and to be loved.  We are drawn to Christ because he exhibits a perfect love to which we yearn and yet are unable to find in our ordinary personal experience.  Our own efforts fall short and too often what we call love is a mere posturing with hidden pragmatic and selfish motivations.  The Christian definition of love seems oddly connected to two apparent contradictions:  joy and sacrifice.  We seek happiness and yet all that appetite and passion has to offer is a fleeting exhilaration.  This is even true in the lives of human lovers.  The body can only hint at the happiness the spirit might know.  Ordinarily we regard sacrifice as loss and not as gain. We strive to escape its grasp.  It is most often associated with pain and injury.  Jesus demonstrates one who embraces the darkness, not in despair but as a witness to hope and a light we would not otherwise see.  While he agonized in the human flesh, his divinity transformed the Cross from a sign of defeat into one of victory.  It is in our participation or personal offering in that oblation that we might begin to find the consolation and joy that has for so long eluded us.  It is the path or doorway to an eternal elation of the soul— where we can know the prospect of no more sorrow, no more pain, no more sickness and no more death.  The union begins as a seed with Calvary and blossoms as a flower on Easter morning.  We die with Christ so as to live with him.  Our hearts bleed for a love that is perfect, lasting and real.  It is only when our hearts are joined to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary that this love can be realized.  Hearts must be pierced so as to allow divine grace to enter inside.  At Christmas true Love is born into our world.  That same Love on Good Friday ruptures the membrane or wall separating this world from the next.  It forces its way to where none have gone before.  The dead are given entry into heaven and Easter joy invites all to a share in the life of the kingdom.  We shall abide within the Trinity, where the angels and saints see God face-to-face.  Everything changes with the mystery of Christ.  Nostalgic and pious memory is replaced with the appreciation that God knows our names. We are listed in the roll book of heaven.  We do not have to fear the oblivion of the grave.  The grave no longer means eternal silence but rather our participation in the chorus of heaven.  The love for which we yearn is real and attainable.  It is measured by the infinite sacrifice of the Cross and yet its joy eternally resounds with a share in the divine love and life.  The love that we crave is only consummated or genuine in union with Christ and in the accompanying communion of the saints.

 

[65] Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Samuel 3:3-10, 19 / Psalm 40 / 1 Cor. 6:13-15, 17-20 / John 1:35-42

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The first reading can be divided into three segments: (1) the triple call of Samuel; (2) God reveals his presence in response to Samuel’s readiness; and (3) Samuel would proclaim what he had heard, “…not permitting any word of his to be without effect.” (The liturgical selection skips where he informs Eli of God’s message.) We find this same pattern in our vocation as believers.  Three times Samuel is called and he fails to recognize that the source is not Eli but almighty God.  Eli has to assist him and tells him to respond, on the fourth time, “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.” Every Christian believer is summoned to be a prophet and that requires that we too might discern the voice of God.  Against the loud noise of the world, that divine voice might come across as a whisper.  As such we must be attentive and listen closely.  Also, like Samuel we might get confused between the call of God and that of men.  We need to know the difference lest we find ourselves seduced by the world and listening to the wrong voices.  These voices appeal to selfishness and sin.  What do they tell us? “If it feels good then do it.  You owe nothing to anyone.  No one can tell you what to do.  Life is short so always make yourself number one.  Get what you can no matter who it hurts.” The voice of God by contrast is barely audible.  What does God say? “Love one another as I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends.  If you desire perfection than sell all you have, give to the poor and then follow me.  Forgive all wrongs. Love those who hate you.”  I suspect that many of us sometimes listen to the wrong voices.  But ours is a jealous God and he does not want to share us.

Note also that Samuel kept going back to sleep.  Our Lord speaks about such sleep as the weakness of a fallen nature.  “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” As prophets we are beckoned as sentinels or watchmen for the Lord.  We are called to be awake so as to hear the Lord and to be attentive when he comes.  God reveals his presence to Samuel.  As prophets who await the second coming, we also discern the presence of God. We draw others to the presence and saving activity of Christ in the proclaimed Word and in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.  What we receive from the Lord, we must share with others.  As Christians, formed within the body of Christ by the saving truths of Scripture and Tradition, we must proclaim our faith and values to others both inside and outside the Church.  As the second reading reminds us, we “are not [our] own, [we] have been purchased at a price,” and while in the flesh or the body mimic the angels in glorifying God.

The psalm reiterates our divine calling. God takes the initiative and sows the seed of faith within us.  God places the “new song” upon our lips, giving us his mind and the words to say.  God is the one who opens our ears so that we might hear and obey him. God has planted his “law within [our] hearts.”  All this must be appreciated in the context of gift.  It is not enough to encounter God.  Rather, we must have a relationship with him.  We cannot speak his Good News if we do not know him.  Of course, faith is about more than knowing the catechism. God wants our hearts.  Any who would be counted a disciple must love the Lord.  This is what transforms fidelity from an arduous and reluctant duty to an eager and joyous service.  We should not grumble in our fidelity, rather it should by an expression of adamant praise.

Just as Eli alerted Samuel to the calling and presence of God. John the Baptizer points Jesus out to his disciples as “the Lamb of God.” They immediately follow him. Andrew brings his brother Simon to Jesus, telling him, “We have found the Messiah.” When Jesus asks as to what they are seeking, they merely ask where he is staying. Jesus responds, “Come, and you will see.” Our Lord gives the same summons to you and me.  We are invited into the story of Jesus, the very story of salvation.  He wants us to walk with him and to listen to him.  He reveals himself in the Scriptures, the teachings of the Church and in the quiet whisper we hear at prayer. A whisper is a quiet or breathy way of talking.  Breathing is intimately connected to life.  Stop breathing and you die.  The breath of God brings forth creation itself in the book of Genesis.  The breath of Christ makes possible forgiveness, healing and eternal life.  Note that in the liturgy the priest breathes into the chalice as the wine will be transformed into the saving blood or presence of Christ.  The whisper of God is literally God breathing his life into us.

Notice in the Gospel reading that Jesus immediately gives Simon a new name, Cephas or Peter or Rock.  While it says something singular about this apostle, we can also infer something about ourselves. Any who would respond to the calling of God are not left unchanged.  This is a truth we see again and again in Scripture. One of the most striking examples is Moses when he comes down the mountain after conversing with the Almighty: “As Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant in his hands, he did not know that the skin of his face had become radiant while he spoke with the LORD. When Aaron, then, and the other Israelites saw Moses and noticed how radiant the skin of his face had become, they were afraid to come near him” (Exodus 34:29-30). Particularly in our faith and baptism we are born again—no longer just creatures of God but adopted sons and daughters to the Father, temples of the Holy Spirit, filled with sanctifying grace and transformed into the likeness of Christ.

  • Do we take time each day to pray and quietly listen for the Lord?
  • Have we made our lives too busy for God to reach us?
  • Are we truly prophets of the Lord or do we belong to the world?
  • Do we take guidance from our pastors and other faithful believers?
  • When was the last time that we witnessed for Christ and his Church?
  • Do we see our obedience to the commandments as a joy or as a burden?