Daily Gospel

OCTOBER 22, 2020 THURSDAY

Dear Church Family,

I have not been writing a meditation in the past few days to send you, as I believe you know, already. My computer wouldn’t cooperate. It got mad and shut me out. With support from Apple, yesterday – after three full days — healing has restored it. Few things give me such angst as to be cut off from email, writing and saving into files and folders, and reading articles I enjoy daily. Now I’m better. As I have learned — for the time being. So now I am back.

I told the Vestry last evening, I have realized over these past few days, I am tired. I have preached and presided for all services of worship since March 22 – including Holy Week, and upcoming, Advent through the Feast of St. Stephen. For the time being I am taking a break from writing a daily meditation. I plan to send something once or twice a week for now – along with the Readings and Comments for Sundays. Perhaps by Advent I will feel like writing a daily meditation again – Advent being a special season to me, as is Lent – both preparing us for the great Feasts of our faith.

Yesterday I received a card from the Society of St. John the Evangelist. In the Episcopal Church we have cloistered brothers and sisters. SSJE is a community of men. They have been good and helpful to me through the years. I would encourage you to check their resources for daily worship, their writings and sermons, and courses of study and reflection — www.SSJE.org.

The Society was founded in England by Richard Meux Benson, SSJE (1824-1915). He once wrote: In praying for others we learn really to love them. As we approach God on their behalf we carry the thought of them into the very being of eternal Love, and as we go into the being of him who is eternal Love, so we learn to love whatever we take with us there.

The card also includes “An intercessory Lord’s Prayer.” I share this with you, with the instruction: “Where ’N.’ appears, substitute the name of the person you hold in prayer.”

Our Father, who art in heaven, 
hallowed be thy Name in N.,
thy kingdom come, thy will be done, 
on earth as in heaven for N.
Give N. this day his/her daily bread.
And forgive N. his/her trespasses, 
as he/she forgives those who trespass against him/her.
And lead N. not into temptation, 
but deliver him/her from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

I am going to copy and carry this form of the prayer with me, until I memorize it. I have started praying for others, now, using this form.

May your day be fulfilling and bring you the joy and peace of Christ, and the near presence of God’s life and love for those you hold in prayer.

Blessings, Fr. Steve
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Daily Gospel

OCTOBER 19, 2020 MONDAY

God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform; — William Cowper, 1773

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The above is the first line of a poem. Music was later added. A hymn we sing was created. Cowper wrote it prior to attempting suicide by drowning, at the onset of depressive illness, 1773, co-published in 1774 with John Henry Newton. God’s ways we often miss in the moment. See, only over time. 
 
The four things that matter most: Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you. I have not always seen in the moment what I later see when I look back and see how God was in that place. Now, later, I know it.
 
I was Hospice Chaplain and Spiritual Director in my transition time, becoming an Episcopal priest. A young woman was admitted one evening – Acute Wing. The next morning, I met her. She didn’t want to talk with me, and turned her head away. Knowing our Social Worker had talked with her earlier, I asked her what she’d learned.
 
Social Services of Cumberland County found her in an abandoned house, lying on a mattress, badly injured. Her father and brothers had been throwing bricks and rocks through a window, where she lay ill, trying to kill her. For months they were stealing her welfare checks, cashing them, and hoping to get away with it. She now was safe, but not in a good place, emotionally or spiritually — to await her death. Each day I went in, sat down, and tried to break through her wall. After a week or so her spirit softened a bit and began to talk. Before I left one morning, she asked me to open the drawer on her nightstand, in the table and hand her, her wallet. She opened it to show me a little girl’s picture – her daughter – removed from her, some years prior. She knew she was still in the county, somewhere – hadn’t seen her in those years. I asked if she’d like to see her again. Her eyes filled with tears as she nodded, “yes.” I told our Social Worker, who immediately began contacting sources in Cumberland County. They found the little girl. We made arrangements for her to come spend a day with her mother. The hospice team made sure it was wonderful and special for them both. As it ended, daughter and mother hugged, waved good bye. Social services took her home. A few days later the young mother died.
 
The little girl was about five – don’t know how much of the story she knew or even understood. Over the years as I continue to remember and reflect on this story — the teamwork of a Social Worker, an agency, our hospice workers and volunteers, I hear Cowper’s hymn in my mind. I have no idea of what happened during that visit of mother and child. I suspect the Four Things were felt and spoken that day. A woman who’d been through hell, could let go and rest her tortured soul in the arms of Jesus. A little girl could grow up with a day that changed her life for the better, I imagine. The words of the hymn — mysteriously God gathers our suffering, brokenness, into His heart – the cross. There we are given healing, forgiveness, love and peace we need. Thanks be to God.

May God’s love and grace be palpably present with you this day, Fr. Steve
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Sunday Service Video Stream

OCTOBER 18, 2020 SUNDAY

Happy Sunday,  Saint Stephen’s Family!

(1) Stewardship.  Soon Stewardship Committee Chair, John Todd, will be mailing annual stewardship materials.  Please review and return your pledge card in a timely manner.  The vestry will be finalizing the budget over the next several weeks.  Accurate budget forecasting relies on a good return rate of pledge cards.  Your assistance is greatly appreciated.

(2) Sunday’s service.  Abiding by physical distancing guidelines and other safety measures, a small cast was able to produce our 32nd virtual service!

Thanks to Barbara Nicholl this video features some vintage pictures of our church.

THE CAST

Rector and Celebrant: Father Steve Teague
Crucifer: John Todd
Lay Reader: Barbara Nicholl
Organist: Mark Gibbons
Videographer: Michael Wells

You may watch the church service here:

https://youtu.be/Qnxud6GUYzM

The hymns are 594, 706, and 544.

Let’s watch the service at 11:00 am Sunday together as a church from the safety of our homes. Virtual services will continue through mid-October.  We are exploring the possibility of an outdoor in-person service in late October.  Stay tuned.

I look forward to seeing you in person soon!

Michael B Wells, Senior  Warden
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church
Erwin NC
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Sunday Readings & Comments

OCTOBER 18, 2020 SUNDAY

Dear Beloved Sisters and Brothers,

A few comments about the Collect – please read it slowly and carefully. Pray it out loud. Listen closely to the words you say to God. In these days when this world, the nations feel so out of control, may we be comforted and reminded that God continuously reveals divine glory, whether we see it or not. Our existence as this community of Christ’s Body depends upon God’s grace — and our faith, deepening and growing in Christ for the sake of others.

The reading from Exodus tells of Moses’ ongoing role as mediator between Yahweh and the children of Israel. Moses speaks on behalf of each to the other.  Their sinfulness and rejection of Yahweh’s guidance makes the pain of judgment inevitable. Moses argues with Yahweh, making a convincing case Yahweh needs to expand divine care for these people Moses represents, and Yahweh set free. We also learn that Yahweh will not show his face to Moses, but allows Moses to glimpse his back after he passes by. These are ways the writer expresses the human qualities of a God who loves and understands, and loves us enough to shape and form you and me into the person we have been created to be — a theme picked up in Paul and the Gospel.

The Psalm praises the kingship of Yahweh, who rules through human agents – Moses, Aaron, and Samuel. Each one is a mediator of God’s purposes to the people. By their faithfulness Yahweh’s mercy sustains his people. Ultimately Yahweh bestows grace and forgiving love.

Paul begins his letter to the church in Thessaloniki with a different approach to evangelism. In contrast to evangelism as a unilateral proclamation of the gospel to a passive recipient, Paul and his associates change because of the witness of the Thessalonians. They readily accept the Gospel and in so doing become a living proclamation of God’s salvific work in their lives to others. In spite of persecution and hardship, they have remained faithful to the Word preached, and lived so that people readily repent from idol worship.

The gospel in Matthew for Sunday is familiar. Pharisees and Herodians unite to try and trip up Jesus – a question that could divide his followers, and place him on Rome’s Most Wanted List. Rather answering their question, Jesus asks one of his own. Now the trappers become the trapped. “Any of you have a tax coin? Okay, whose head is on it, and what’s his title?” Jesus is not advocating here for separation of “church and state.” What becomes clear as the story leading to Jesus’ death on the cross, and his resurrection imply — the door that opens to death has become to passage way to new life. All of life is reshaped in response to God, present fully in Jesus. We are baptized and liberated in Christ – and the God who liberates still has definitive and uncompromising demands of us. God’s grace and love cast out fear. When we realize this, our desire then is let Caesar have what’s his, and follow Jesus.

Read and pray the scripture texts for Sunday. Listen carefully for ways God is speaking to you – nudging you gently. We read scripture for more than gaining knowledge and information. We read and pray scripture as God’s word to lift us from death into life everlasting now.

 
Blessings we shall look forward to gathering in our homes to participate together in our service of worship this Sunday, Fr. Steve  
 
 

20th Sunday After Pentecost – October 18, 2020

Year A

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Old Testament

Exodus 33:12-23

Moses said to the Lord, “See, you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And he said to him, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.”

The Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”

 

The Response

Psalm 99

Dominus regnavit

1 The Lord is King;
let the people tremble; *
he is enthroned upon the cherubim;
let the earth shake.
2 The Lord is great in Zion; *
he is high above all peoples.
3 Let them confess his Name, which is great and awesome; *
he is the Holy One.
4 “O mighty King, lover of justice,
you have established equity; *
you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.”
5 Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
and fall down before his footstool; *
he is the Holy One.
6 Moses and Aaron among his priests,
and Samuel among those who call upon his Name, *
they called upon the Lord, and he answered them.
7 He spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud; *
they kept his testimonies and the decree that he gave them.
8 O Lord our God, you answered them indeed; *
you were a God who forgave them,
yet punished them for their evil deeds.
9 Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
and worship him upon his holy hill; *
for the Lord our God is the Holy One.

The Epistle

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Grace to you and peace.

We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead– Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.

The Gospel

Matthew 22:15-22

The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

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Daily Gospel

OCTOBER 17, 2020 SATURDAY

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. — Psalm 51:17

Dear Church Family,

In this week I have directed our focus to prayer. I have a prayer I struggle with, and ask God’s help. My prayer – to the blessings in these present days. Where do you experience “blessings” in these days?

I went for a “safe haircut,” this week. I asked my stylist how she and her husband are doing – and their grandchildren who often stay at their house during the day and on weekends while their parents work. Her husband’s job is headquartered in another state. Until the quarantine, he spent weeks and months away from home. She tells me the good things happening for him, for her, and the grandkids with him working here, from the house. She said — “we focus on seeing blessings, even in this terrible time.”

We divide the world into good and bad. Deadly viruses are bad. Vaccines are good. Unless we’re effected, we pay little attention to injustice, the plight of the poor – those who have to decide between fixing their roof or buying their life-sustaining medications — those now unemployed or underemployed. Politicians we agree with, and those we don’t.

When we pray the Confession of Sin, receive Absolution – we remember we live lives of contrition before God, accepting our co-responsibility for evil that surrounds and pervades us. If we only complain about these terrible times – what we bear — our suffering, we cannot come to contrition. Is God concerned for what this crisis exposes, lying beneath the surface of life, we’d rather not see and feel part of? If suffering and loss are fate, and gains are luck, fate does not lead to contrition, nor luck to gratitude. One of the blessings of these days may be to listen for the changes God would have us make in our lives, and strive to bring to the world around us. They mustn’t be huge and world-changing — they need to change us and open greater compassion for one another.

Our lives are interconnected in this world. Conflicts within us, as well as beyond – our families, friends, neighbors — people in our larger communities, our nation — even the world. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, whether we believe it or not. It’s our faith. When we “get it,” God changes us, and “not we ourselves.” As we claim our part – our responsibility, we can be made change-agents. Choose the life of Christ, and pray to God for the Holy Spirit’s assistance – to live a life of forgiveness, peace, love and compassion, beginning with you – so that God’s love can flow through you. As pastor John Perkins of years ago said — Our lives can evoke others to ask, “What must I do to be saved.” Blessings are all around us — even now. Be a blessing – don’t just wait for one to come your way.

Peace this day, my compatriots in blessing – both seeing them and being them, Fr. Steve
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Daily Gospel

OCTOBER 15, 2020 THURSDAY

Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him. — Psalm 37:7

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Over the past few days, we have looked at different stages of prayer that lead us through the Martha-state to the Mary-state. As a child, we begin to “talk” at God, listening to our parents pray, using their words for ours. We also begin to discover prayers of others – in hymns, the Psalms, written prayers in the Book of Common Prayer, or a devotional book to form words we “talk” at God. The next stage — we begin to use our own words. We “talk to God,” for ourselves. The third stage is “learning to listen” for God, who, shares our struggles, consoles;  challenges us to repent, urges us to align our values with Jesus. God’ll celebrate victories with you. He wants you to trust him, “I love you always.” The last stage —“being with God,” learning to be in God’s presence, attentive, and at peace. The activities of prayer – talking at, talking to, listening — get us to that place of rest in the Lord’s presence – sitting quietly – not listening to our thoughts and emotions, just to be with God. It’s not easy. It takes practice, work and commitment. We like to be in control. Finally we do arrive at a “Mary-state.”

It seems to be harder in these months, for me to be still and quiet, within myself. The contemplative way does remove the real, difficult, and practical problems of a deadly virus, and life-draining anger and division all around us. The contemplative, “Mary-state” keeps us connected to that larger life in God’s love.

Contemplative life and prayer help us be still, while we’re in storms raging all about us. Think of a sturdy tree. In Milwaukee, winds would blow so hard across Lake Michigan you knew a tree could fall. They would bend, but not topple over. Their roots were deep. Like such trees, prayer and presence with God – wisdom-inspired living, sink our roots more deeply and stabilize our lives. We move, but are not uprooted. In times of sorrow and lament, alongside the joys of blessings – through chaos and angst, we are being drawn more fully into God, and through God’s grace – given peace that passes understanding and reason. And when the walls of sin, defensiveness, inner blindness begin to crack, crumble and fall, we sit attentively at Jesus’ feet in the glow of God’s everlasting love for all of us — that is surrendering to God. That is the direction that takes us to the “one thing necessary.”

Blessings as you grow into a deeper relationship with God. We are on all this journey, together — Fr. Steve
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Daily Gospel

OCTOBER 14, 2020 WEDNESDAY

But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’ — Luke 10: 41-42

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

How do we invite God into our hearts and souls? Mark Thibodeaux, S.J. describes a way in Luke’s familiar story of Jesus’ visit with Martha and Mary. Martha is busy – distracted by many kitchen tasks, carefully preparing a wonderful meal. She needs her sister’s help, and takes her case to Jesus. Jesus’ response surprises. Mary has chosen the better part — sitting at Jesus’ feet.

Often people gloss over Jesus’ point, thinking we are to balance our work for the Lord, and our rest in the Lord. Jesus would respond, “Not so.” We need only one thing.

Martha wants to be Jesus’ disciple. She wants to do great things for Jesus. Jesus wants to do great things in and through her. Mary is the one who has prepared the way for Jesus to do that. Martha is too distracted to notice. Mary sits at Jesus’ feet – nothing to show for herself, nothing to contribute to the meal, or assist her sister’s frenetic agenda.

The problem is not Martha’s work. It’s what’s missing at the center of her heart, and ours. We are tempted to put our actions at the center of our lives. Martha is working for Jesus, to please him — but it is her work, not his. The better part is to sit at Jesus’ feet so his presence can be his work in us.

Prayer is the path from the Martha-state to the Mary-state, away from our good actions to centering ourselves in Jesus who does good works in and through us. How do we do this? Contemplative prayer is an answer. As Mary – we sit quietly at Jesus’ feet in stillness, with nothingness, not presenting our efforts/work to honor Jesus. We wait before him with empty hands for him to fill. Ultimately, we don’t even offer words to him. Again, it’s that mystical abiding in Jesus who abides in the Father. It’s the direction we take in a contemplative prayer life.

Praying the rosary, prayers of others, speaking our deepest thoughts to God, listening for God are important, too. They bring us to God. That is their purpose. They help get us to the Mary-state, to be quiet and still before the Lord. Once they get us there, then we can let go.

As you can today, imagine yourself sitting at Jesus’ feet with Mary. Be still in his presence. That is enough. His spirit will do the rest. It’s Mary’s way for us — to be still and welcome God into our lives.

Blessings, patience, persistence as we let God draw us more deeply into the divine life of eternal love, Fr. Steve
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Daily Gospel

OCTOBER 13, 2020 TUESDAY

‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.             — 2 Corinthians 12:9

Dear Ones in Christ,

How many mornings do you awaken thinking, “Today, I’m going to let everyone know how proud I am of my weaknesses.” Me either. Paul’s words are interesting – “boast of weaknesses.” His experience with Jesus turns him upside down. In becoming aware and seeing his weakness, neither fighting nor disclaiming them, then God’s power and grace transforms us by Christ’s power, not our own. God creates a new spirit within us.

Prayer is a long journey of conversion. God transforms us and keeps growing us through His grace and love. You may not anything but that in the moment. Only as you look back, you know transformation has quietly happened within.

I can think of times of inner awakening. It’s not always gentle. It may come as a jolt to me. I see where God and I have been at odds over who is at the center of my life – God, or me. I realize how large my ego can be. I want to be right – appreciated – see my wishes fulfilled. Conversion is an ongoing conversation with God which can only happen when I begin to see me as God does — my rough edges, my blindspots, my capacity to say things that hurt others saying I don’t intend to do that, but also knowing I try to cover up my weaknesses and defend myself. Trusting God’s love, I can get past pretensions and be more real.

And there’s another part of conversion — that is to trust the Father’s grace. With God, when we’re honest, we get what we feel we don’t deserve. That’s the magnificence and splendor of God’s love for each of us. As I struggle to be master and lord of my life, I am trying to prove I deserve and have earned his love. Walls I erect keep God’s grace from touching my deepest wounds. I am trying to be creator of my own life.

So how then do I – do you – put God at the center of our lives? That assumes there is something I can do – and beneath that thought, the sin – I believe I can be my own savior. My prayer is that I get out of God’s way – and let God do his work. How easily we become stuck in an endless cycle of trying to do God’s work. It takes a lifetime of prayer to begin seeing ourselves as God does. It’s not about achieving the rank of “best” or “holiest Christian.” It’s to surrender – letting go of my inner agenda, and let God be God.

Soon All Saints/All Souls Days will be here. I like what one writer says about saints — “They’re ones who have learned to give up.” They can admit and accept that their failures are holy, so God can do something within them. You never achieve sainthood. It’s a gift of God – freely given, as Paul discovered — so the power of God can work in and through you and me. As I would tell children at their sermon time on All Saints Sunday — “Turn around. Look who’s watching us. We are all – Saints under construction.” Prayer opens a place within where God can begin developing His gift.

Blessings this day — Fr. Steve
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Daily Gospel

OCTOBER 12, 2020 MONDAY

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. — John 15:9

Dear Church Family,

Today I offer the fourth and final stage for developing a deeper prayer practice — Being With God. This is the place I try to center myself with God. We’re always invited into a deeper relationship with God. Our prayer centers on experiencing God’s presence now, in this moment. It’s always been with you, even when you didn’t know it. It’s peace within. You are being with the Father through Jesus who draws you into that abiding presence of the Trinity.

When (prior to COVID) did you make plans to be with someone you like? Over time as the relationship grows past being acquaintances, what you do together becomes less important. Being with your friend is what matters. Sometimes it’s good; other times maybe disappointing. It can be either and both, because you have built history, an inseparable bond. Sometimes you may need to ask forgiveness, or forgive if asked. You don’t want to be betrayed — and your level of trust grows. We are human and the analogy won’t always hold for us. It always will with God, your relationship with the perfect Being of Love.

There comes a time when activities of prayer — praying scripture, prayers of others — forming prayers in your own words and even writing them to remember later — listening for God’s many ways of “speaking” to you — you put all of this down. You just be with God. Meditate and reflect, savor the experience of grace, unconditional love, a relationship unlike any other. Never can you do irreparable harm to it. God is always waiting for you, even in seasons that feel dry and stale. A longing arises in periods when you neglect your relationship with God. Keep trying, keep praying. Realize what’s missing is God’s way of being with you – when you again are ready.

This last stage is not an action. It is a stage of simply being. It is a pure gift from God. For me Centering Prayer is a practice – an action I take — to put my heart in a place of being. Words are not spoken. Thoughts pass on through my mind. You focus on nothing except “being” in mystical union with God. It is pure gift. All you and I can do is prepare and till the soil for God to plant a seed.

Tony deMello, an Indian Jesuit, teacher and writer – who died in 1987, tells a story of a Hindu disciple asking his master about enlightenment. “Master, how do we reach enlightenment?” The teacher replies, “We can no more make enlightenment happen than make the sun rise.” The confused disciple asks, “Then why do we pray at all?” The reply, “So we will be awake when the sun rises.” God gives the gift of growth. We pray with open hands so God can place his gifts in them.

Blessings as you continue to grow into God’s love and peace, Fr. Steve
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Daily Gospel

OCTOBER 11, 2020 SUNDAY

Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known. — Jeremiah 33:3

Dear Beloved in Christ,

God wants conversation with you. God promises to answer and reveal great things. I believe that is the Holy Spirit, as Jesus promised. How do you hear God’s answers to your prayers? The next stage in developing a stronger prayer life is listening to God.

Who listens to you? A friend is able to listen to more than your words. They may ask questions that can reveal what you are unable yet to see. They listen deeply to feelings – your fears, dreams, wounds. They won’t “fix” you, unless you ask for what they see.

God has important things to tell you. God wants to share what you struggle with — hold you in peace and console you in hard times. God will challenge you to repent — to turn and return to him often. God wants you to live the gospel more fully. God will guide you in your decisions, celebrate what excites you, and walk with you through the dark valleys. God calls and answers you — and the great and hidden thing, you and I struggle to know and trust — God really does love you. First we ask – speak – pray. God always is – if we stop and listen.

So how do you hear a voice you can’t hear and understand as you do a human voice? You can find help from those farther along on the road of prayer. Spiritual directors can listen and help you discern what God is saying. Books on growth in prayer – different ways of praying and finding what works are a rich resource.

Another way is personal experience. I was with our college religious group on a retreat in the mountains. The sun was setting. We sat on rocks looking across the mountains – the valleys – as the sun went down. Our leader invited us to be quiet – look and listen. I still hold that moment in my mind and heart. I “saw” more than a sunset. In a mystical way I heard the voice of God. I often return to that mental snapshot — and find God wandering with me in my wondering about the universe, the beauty all around me I am too busy to notice – sights I fail to hear. I know that sounds crazy to some. Listen, you’ll hear God’s voice — not like yours – but in your heart. His voice draws you outside yourself.

We will never be able to hear God’s voice around us – in nature, in conversations, in scripture, in liturgy — if we first don’t set ourselves on a path of getting to know God. That takes a commitment of time, patience, practice. That’s how relationships grow and thrive. If we neglect them, they wilt and die.

Sometimes we may not want to listen to God, because his ways are demanding. We already know the answer. I can tell you that from experience. I can also report — God is patient, kind – forgiving, loving — and ready to pick you back up. When we call to him – he answers. What is hidden shall be revealed. Wait patiently upon the Lord (and that’s hard) – so God can be God to you.

Blessings and peace as we together seek to grow in Christ, Fr. Steve
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