Dear God, send help!

One of the worst jobs in the Bible had to be Moses’. Think about it. He went from being one of the leaders of Egypt to a fugitive, and then the leader of a mob of refugees who had no place to live, but a lot to complain about. And complain they did. In the Book of Numbers, Chapter Eleven, the Israelites were getting sick of eating bread every day. Never mind that the bread, manna, was a miraculous flour that simply appeared in their camp overnight and that tasted terrific. They got tired of it and complained that back in Egypt they had cucumbers, leeks, and above all, meat. They complained to Moses, and Moses took their complaints to God, who promptly sent quail so they could vary their diet.

But God also sent help for Moses. In response to Moses’ request, He told Moses to assemble a group of 70 leaders of the people, and anointed them with the Holy Spirit. The 70 took on some of Moses’ burdens in leading the hundreds of thousands of people who were wandering in the desert.

God doesn’t expect us to go it alone. He will send help. All we have to do is ask for it. But it’s the asking that seems difficult, isn’t it? Too often, when I start to get overwhelmed at work or at home, my response is to withdraw into myself, to build emotional stone walls around me and to “tough it out.” That’s not God’s way; that’s not the Christian Way. We are all parts of one body, and as such one of our primary purposes is to help one another.

As free creatures, we can choose whether to go our own way or God’s way. We can muscle through difficult situations on our own, taking human satisfaction that we did it, “My way.” Or we can open ourselves up, humble ourselves, and ask for help. The help is there, and in my experience, God will always answer when you call. The answer may be from your spouse, a coworker or someone unexpected, but all of them are God, working for you through His people. All we have to do is ask.

Sometimes God confuses me

I will confess that there are some passages, chapters, and even the occasional book of the Bible that are just simply over my head. The message is just too profound for my little mind. Take this morning’s first reading for example. What sort of message am I supposed to take from “Brothers and Sisters, as God is faithful our word to you is not ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was proclaimed to you by us, Silvanus and Timothy and me was not ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ but ‘yes’ has been in him.”? (2 COR 1:18-19) Am I the only one doing a reverent, “Huh?” at that statement?

I feel like the Ethiopian who needed Phillip’s help in Chapter 8 of Acts. An Ethiopian had come to Jerusalem to worship and was sitting in his Chariot reading the Book of Isaiah. Philip asked him if he understood the book, and the man admitted, “How can I understand without someone to teach me?” Phillip walked him through the meaning of the particular passage the Ethiopian had been stuck on and then baptized him before God whisked him off to his next assignment. And thus the Church was introduced to Ethiopia. But Phillip isn’t here this morning. Just me and the dynamic, brilliant and sometimes-confusing words of St. Paul.

If I’m at Mass, Father will usually explain what I need to know. If that fails, a good internet connection and a few minutes of judicious searching will give me enough insights to set me straight. I often turn to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops web site (usccb.org), and Catholic Answers (Catholic.com) is the largest lay-run apologetics web site in the country.  It’s also useful sometimes to simply type, “Explain 2 Corinthians 1:18-19” into your search browser and see what comes up. Be cautious about that last method, however. There are all sorts of bizarre web sites that can lead you down strange paths. With a little careful reading a consensus of meaning emerges quickly if you look at several, always including Catholic.com or the bishops.

But then there are days like today, where I think it might be useful for me to just accept the word as it is and not try to wring every nuance of meaning out of it. After all, there’s plenty in God’s creation that makes no sense at all (Middle Eastern politics comes to mind). Perhaps there are days when the Holy Spirit is saying, “Just trust me.”

God’s full plan is hidden from us. As humble creatures of our creator, even though we’re made in His image, we’re not Him. How a blade of grass in my front lawn fits into the cosmic plan makes perfect sense to God, but I’m not going to fully understand it. Nor do I need to. A little bit of humility guides me to realize that I can do my part in the plan, loving God and loving my neighbor, without the need to fully-grasp the big picture.

Inspiration vs. Perseverance

Is it better to look for glorious inspiration or to keep your head down and just slog through your day? Do we seek to be inspired by God in his creation; by looking for our own special message in today’s scripture readings? Or do we put on the cloak of humility, saying our prayers, doing good deeds, and trusting that it will all turn out okay?

Today’s a good day for this topic. I woke up this morning in a slogging kind of mood. I didn’t sleep well and a full calendar faces me; lots of little bits and pieces of life to contend with. My mind is filled with the mundane. It’s certainly not the sort of morning that inspires me to sing with joy at God’s creation.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not facing a parole board, bankruptcy court, or a grim-faced oncologist today. In fact, it will probably be a just fine day as days go. The challenge is not from without, it’s from within (as always). I’m possessed by the demon named Mr. Grumpy Pants. (I know, demonic possession is no laughing matter. Get over it; it’s Monday.) I am just not feeling the Glory of God surrounding me, lifting me up, etc., etc.

So what’s a soul to do? The rain cloud over my personal space isn’t even dark enough to be called spiritual dryness. More like spiritual clamminess; not dry, not wet, just blah. How does one cope when life is too good to be a martyr and too dull to be an evangelical?

By putting one spiritual step in front of the other. By following our spiritual habits, even though there doesn’t seem to be much “spirit” in them. If Mother Teresa could keep smiling for decades while inside she was feeling totally empty, I think I can face the Monday morning blues. The Short Saint from Calcutta radiated goodness and never forgot her slogan to “Let no one come to you without leaving better and happier.”

Maybe I can do at least a fraction of that much.

So here goes. Happy Monday. (gmrfble, mumble, snarl, mmmfggt.) 🙂

Holy Week is Humble Week

In his homily yesterday (Palm Sunday), Pope Francis said we should follow Jesus this week, and that the path we should follow is a humble one. On Palm Sunday we remember how Jesus came into Jerusalem as a hero. As he rode into town it was like a parade, with people laying palm branches in front of him just as they would do for a new king. But Jesus wasn’t heading for his castle and a throne. Within days he would be arrested, put through a kangaroo court, convicted of a made up charge, abandoned by his friends, stripped, beaten and then crucified. So much for the hero.

Looked at through human eyes, we know that it didn’t have to be that way. Jesus could raise people from the dead, he could walk through crowds trying to stone him; surely the petty plans of jealous leaders didn’t need to end in His death. One of the wonders of the cross is that, yes, Jesus could have come down from the cross or summoned legions of angels to help him. But he didn’t.

He didn’t because the humiliation of God was necessary in order to accomplish God’s purpose. In this most graphic, brutal and humiliating way God shows us that His way is not the way of power or success. We aren’t going to get to Heaven by fighting our way to the front of the church. We get there by offering our place to someone else. We get there by how we treat others, particularly those others who are poor and hungry, perhaps dirty and homeless.

Today is the Feast Day of St. Dismas; the first person to be canonized. Dismas was the thief crucified next to Jesus. He acknowledged that he was guilty of the crimes for which he’d been crucified, but he asked Jesus to forgive him; to take him along to Heaven. And Jesus said yes. How’s that for a lesson in humility? The very first saint was a man who lived a disreputable, criminal life; a man who (apparently) didn’t repent of his sins until just moments before his own death. And God promised him paradise.

The way of the world is not God’s way. Our struggles to “get to the top,” in life, in business, or in society are of no interest to Him whatsoever. And they are of no credit to you in God’s plan. A grubby little thief got there ahead of you. He took the humble way.