Monday, October 26, 2009

RENEWsletter for November 1, 2009 - All Saints

Dear People of Renewal--
Toward the end of the Liturgical Year we encounter Halloween, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day. All Saints, as you know, is a Holy Day of Obligation. How does Halloween fit into this holy time of year? Well, the word comes from Hallowed Evening and it is the eve of the holy All Saints Day. A characteristic of Pre-Christian celebrations was that they began the night before. I'm fascinated by the pre-Christian roots of some of our Christian Holidays. Many are close to the "Quarter Days" and the "Cross-quarter Days". The Quarter Days are the Solstices and Equinoxes and the Cross-quarter Days are the midway points between each Solstice/Equinox pair. All Saints Day is the Cross-quarter Day between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice.

Do you believe that God was around and relating to humans before Moses codified the Law. Of course he was! The readings for this Solemnity of All Saints Sunday center around the work that God does to sanctify those who love him, and whom he loves. Those readings can be found at: on the web, and in your Bible at:

Revelation 7.2-4, 9-14
Psalm 24.1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6
1 John 3.1-3
Matthew 5.1-12a

Our First Reading comes from the last book of the Bible this time. Normally we hear from prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah in the First Reading. Today we hear from St. John the Devine, to whom five books of the New Testament are attributed: the Gospel of John, the three Epistles of John, and the Book of Revelation. Revelation is the prophetic book in this list, and the First Reading customarily is prophetic.

The Revelation of John is a book that could keep a scholar busy all his life. If you were to Google "Revelation of St John the Devine", the readings proffered would keep you busy until your carpal tunnel acted up! There is some disagreement over authorship, but regardless of who actually wrote these words, they are the words of the Holy Spirit: 144,000 Jews, and a great multitude of believers from every nation, race, people and tongue will stand before the Lamb (Rev 7.4, 9). These people will have had their robes washed in the blood of the Lamb (v. 14). When is blood a detergent or whitening agent? When it is blood shed by Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God for the remission of sins.

And why is it important to have remission of sins? According to the Psalmist David in the Responsorial Psalm, only the "clean of hand and the pure of heart" can stand before the LORD (Ps. 24.3, 4). God owns the entire Universe, including everything we humans have access to (v. 1): the whole of the planet Earth, the entire Solar System through spacecraft, manned and robotic, and the vast Universe through the eyes of visible, infra-red, ultra-violet, and X-ray telescopes! Seeking knowledge of the whole of Creation is seeking the face of God (v. 6).

The Second Reading comes from a letter attributed traditionally to the same St. John who wrote the Book of Revelation. In it he says, "See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called his kids." Those of you who have kids, grandkids, great-grandkids, nieces, nephews, and so on... you know how easy it is to love kids. (Unless of course, the kids involved are teenages. Then it's hard, but still doable!) But we are God's kids, and he loves us, and he raises us. We don't yet know what we will be like when we are fully raised and full grown (v. 2). But we'll grow up just like him, our heavenly father. And we will someday be as clean of hand and as pure of heart as God himself (v. 3).

Now we come to the Gospel Reading. The famous, much quoted, and much loved "Beatitudes". This is the stuff that Jesus thought it was important to convey to the multitudes who came out to hear what he had to say. This is Jesus in a nutshell. Christianity in its purest, simplest form. Blessed are the poor in spirit (v. 3). Blessed are the mourners (v. 4). Blessed are the meek (v. 5). Blessed are the spiritually hungry (v. 6). Blessed are the merciful (v. 7). Blessed are the pure of heart (v. 8). (Where have we heard that before?) Blessed are the persecuted (v. 9).

Which one applies to you? Any? One? More than one? Well, if your robes are washed in the blood of the Lamb, at least the "pure of heart" one applies. Bottom line, none of these apply to any of us, but for Jesus and his act of love.

We are loved. We are loved! We don't need to be afraid. We are loved.

Randy Jones
"Those who cannot love say it's not humanly possible!"

Monday, October 19, 2009

RENEWsletter for October 25, 30th Ordinary

Good morning Renewers--
Some time ago I attended a talk by a Nigerian priest about Patience. I came away with a sense of what God's timing requires of us in terms of patience. I'm sure all of us could name some condition, situation, or trial that we've been praying about for a long time. And all God seems to be saying is, "Yes, I know. Be patient."

The readings for next Sunday, the 30th in Ordinary Time, cut to the chase in this regard. They're about the joy that comes when prayers are finally answered with, "Okay. Now!" These readings can be found on the web at: and in your Bible in:

Jeremiah 31.7-9
Psalm 126.1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6
Hebrews 5.1-6
Mark 10.46-52

The First Reading speaks of the joy felt by the Israelites when they were finally set free of captivity and were allowed to return to their homeland (Jer. 31.7). The Assyrians had carried them away to Babylon in 586 BC and 52 years later, after the Persians conquered the Assyrians, Cyrus the Great allowed them to return. Not only that, he also made sure they had everything they needed to restore their worship of God and rebuild the temple. He had a policy of supporting conquered people's local gods. A good policy for an empire that didn't want a lot of religious wars on their hands.

But for the children of the One True God, this was almost too good to be true. Their prayers to return to Jerusalem were answered more favorably than any had dared to ask (v. 8). They weren't just turned loose; they were helped and encouraged and supported (v.9).

The Responsorial Psalm sings of the same thing the First Reading speaks of: "The LORD has done great things for us! We are filled with joy!" (Ps. 126.3). They couldn't believe they were going home... they thought they were dreaming (v. 1). But they weren't dreaming. They realized that those who "sow in tears", will in time "reap with joy" (v. 5). Just as in that old hymn by Knowles Shaw and George Minor, "We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves!"

God knows that it is impossible for us to keep ourselves free of sin. We are constantly conquered by that "foreign power". As Paul writes in Romans 7.19, "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do". So God provided a way, as we see in this Second Reading, for us to get back home. First there were the priests, descendents of Aaron, who could offer gifts and sacrifices for sins (Heb. 5.1). Not only for the sins of the people, but for their own sins as well (v. 2,3). Then came Jesus, a priest after the "Order of Melchizedek" to offer himself a living sacrifice once for all sins of all people of all time (v. 6).

Now, there's a lot of mystery surrounding this strange Order of Melchizedek... but basically it's a spiritual order that God himself founded. A special priesthood set up so Christ, as our spiritual high priest could offer himself as a sin offering for all humanity. And through him, we are released from the captivity of sin.

The Gospel Reading speaks of another kind of setting free. Bartimaeus, the blind man (Mark 10.46), who wouldn't behave himself and keep quiet (v. 48), called out loudly, "Son of David, have pity on me!" (vs. 47, 48) He knew he was held captive by blindness and he not only longed to be free, he insisted on it. Jesus heard his plea and called Bartimaeus to him (v. 49). Bartimaeus didn't hesitate. He "threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and felt his way to Jesus" (v. 50). Jesus asked him what he wanted. "Master, I want to see," was his reply (v. 51).

That was a lot to ask. How often do we hesitate to ask for precisely what we want. Perhaps we feel we don't deserve the best. Bartimaeus could have asked for someone to take care of him and lead him around so he'd never be alone and hungry again. I'm sure Jesus would have granted that request just as readily. But he was willing to give sight if asked, and not only that, but forgiveness of sins as well. "Your faith has saved you" (v. 52). Bartimaeus was set free of his sin and his infirmity.

Can we ask God for release from our own personal captivity? Will he answer "Be patient"? Or will he answer, "Okay!" We won't know until we ask. See Matthew 7.11: "If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him." And now look at Ephesians 3.20, 21: "Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen."

Ask God for good things this week... and see what happens.

Randy Jones
"Those who do not ask must think the answer will prob'ly be No!"

Monday, October 12, 2009

Dear Renewers--
Welcome to a new week. We are nearing the end of the Liturgical Year and Thanksgiving is barely a month away. If you're like most of us, the year has seen its ups and downs. The readings for this Sunday seem to me to proclaim that hackneyed but eminently pithy old adage, "No pain, no gain". If the past year brought pain, here's hoping there was something gained from it.

You can find the readings for this 29th Sunday in Numbered-Sundays Time, on the web at, and in your Bible in:

Isaiah 53.10-11
Psalm 33.4-5, 18-19, 20, 22
Hebrews 4.14-16
Mark 10.35-45

The First Reading brings the "no pain, no gain" idea out clearly. Look at that first verse (Is. 53.10). "The LORD was pleased to crush him in infirmity. If he gives his life as an offering for sin, he shall see his descendents in a long life!" If you remind yourself that this is referring to two of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, you see that the pain and the gain were in the same place. God wasn't sitting up in heaven taking pot shots at some poor slob on earth. He was going through the pain -- and the gain -- himself. "Through his suffering, my servant shall justify many" (v. 11). Much has been said about this concept of the Suffering Servant, but it bears repeating so we never forget. We are the happy recipients of the gain, that is, justification, thanks to God's own Son's suffering.

So do we get the gain without the pain? Certainly not without at least a little pain! In the Responsorial Psalm the psalmist proclaims that we can count on the LORD. His word is upright, his works are trustworthy (Ps. 33.4). The eyes of the LORD are upon us "to deliver them [us] from death in spite of famine" (v. 19). To me this means we are delivered from eternal spiritual death, but not from trials and tribulations in this temporal life. We may still experience some famine. So, for us too, there is pain with the gain, but not unbearable pain.

The Second Reading acknowledges that there will be trials, tests, even failures, but we should not panic. "Let us hold fast to our confession" (Heb. 4.14), because we have a High Priest who understands our weaknesses... who's been there... done that... even got the t-shirt (think of that "t" as a cross!) Now, he was God -- he didn't slip -- but he knows what we go through (v. 15). Therefore it's okay to go to him when we slip and need some understanding, mercy, grace... when we need some TLC (v. 16).

The Gospel Reading relates the instructive incident of James and John Zebedeeson's bid for preferential seating in the Kingdom of Heaven (Mark 10.37). Jesus talked to them about pain before gain. He said, "Whoever wishes to be great among you [gain] will be your servant [pain]. Whoever wishes to be first among you [gain] will be the slave of all [pain]" (vs. 43, 44). So there is no gain without pain. And that holds for us as well as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah (v. 45). But the pain will give us perspective on the value of the gain. And always there is the Throne of Grace where we can be confident of receiving balm for our hurts, and help for our shortcomings.

Have a great, gainful week, folks, and let's not shy away from the pain of gain.

Randy Jones
"Those who cannot take the pain say there is no gain!"

Monday, October 5, 2009

Dear Renewing friends--
The readings for next Sunday, the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, center around wisdom. Wisdom is one of those things that I know when I see it, but how does one come up with a definition? More than that, how does one acquire that elusive quality? Let's see what the readings have to say. You'll find them on the web at:, and in your Bible in:

Wisdom 7.7-11
Psalm 90.12-13, 14-15, 16-17
Hebrews 4.12-13
Mark 10.17-30

The First Reading sings the praises of Wisdom (Wis. 7.9). More to be sought than power or riches (v. 8), more important than health, good looks, or even light! (v. 10). The writer of the Book of Wisdom claims that the way to acquire wisdom is to ask for it... To pray and to plead (v. 7) for wisdom. It's interesting to note that Wisdom is personified as feminine. This may be because the society back then, a hundred years before Christ, was male-dominated. If the society had been female-dominated, would Wisdom have been portrayed as a strong, handsome, devoted man? Pick your image. Wisdom is something highly desirable!

But what IS wisdom? The Psalmist sings "Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart" (Ps. 90.12). What does it mean to "number our days aright"? Maybe it means to plan our lives with God's precepts in mind. Take a realistic perspective on the events and happenings in our life, good and bad. Not just float from day to day, reacting to events that impinge on our complacency, but to aim for something. The psalm ends by repeating twice, "Prosper the work of our hands!" (v. 17). With wisdom in our hearts we can take purposeful steps toward a prosperous goal.

But what goal? In the Second Reading the writer of Hebrews gives us something to think about when planning goals. "Everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account" (Heb. 4.13). We're not going to hide our aims from the Lord. We must pick ones that won't embarrass us when God taps us on the shoulder and says, "Ahem." The Word of God, that "living and effective ... two-edged sword" (v. 12) will help us discern the thoughts of our own heart and guide us to accountability.

Okay, so what must we do to ensure that our account-giving won't be disastrous? What must we do to inherit eternal life? Mark, in the Gospel Reading, relates the answer Jesus gave when asked this question by a rich young politician (Mark 10.17). The answer in this case was the one thing that cut to the man's soul, dividing his joints and marrow like the two-edged sword it was. "Give up your wealth to those who need it, and give up your career to follow me" (v. 21). Surely the guy knew the Scriptures, the Proverbs of Solomon, even that recent work, the Book of Wisdom. He knew that Wisdom was more precious than all the riches in the world. Yet... when push came to shove... Well, his face fell and he went away sad (v. 22). He thought it was too much for him.

But God never asks us to do something that is too much for us. See 1 Corinthians 10.13. It may look like too much, as it did to that 1st century yuppie in the Gospel, but God will be there. To clear the path. To help carry our load. To carry us when we can't go on!

This is Wisdom. We should set a goal that won't embarrass us when God reviews it. Then set out for it, give what it requires, rely on God to supply us with what we need. And don't forget that one of the things we need is joy. He supplies that too. Full measure, packed down, and running over! (Luke 6.38.)

Have a joyful, goal-oriented, and triumphant week!
Randy Jones
"Those who will not pay the price say the cost is too high!"