Friday, January 22, 2016

Discerning the Spirit of the Law

Discerning the Spirit of the Law within the Letter of the Law:

In today’s first reading, 1 Samuel 24: 3-21, Saul with 3000 warriors goes out “in the direction of the wild goat crags searching for David to kill him.  They come to “the sheepfolds along the way,…found a cave, which [Saul] entered.”  He does not realize that “David and his men were occupying the inmost recesses of [that] cave.”  According to the letter of the law, David could have killed Saul that day but didn’t. David, who cuts off the end of Saul’s mantle, says to his men, who are encouraging him to put an end to Saul’s life: “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, as to lay a hand on him, for he is the Lord’s anointed.”

David discerns the spirit of the law, not choosing to follow the letter of the law, in which case, he would have been in the right to kill Saul in self-defense. We, too, are living the letter of the law when, for instance, we ask how far can we go before committing sin, any sin, or when we make a choice on the basis of “I won’t get caught.”  We know many people who go way beyond the written word and live a deep spiritual life based on love, on selfless giving, willing to go the extra mile, following the Spirit’s lead, and willing to help another, a neighbor or a family member even when such a person, according the letter of the law, does not deserve that good things be done for him/her.

Discernment includes looking deeply into the depth of one’s heart, as David did following his heart’s intuitive sense of what is right or wrong, listening to the inner voice of his spirit in sync with the Spirit of God residing within him.  Like David, we need to stop running, stand up to those who are urging us to do their will instead of the will of the One who is everyone’s inner Guide.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Discernment: Faced with Something Beyond Oneself

Today’s first reading, 1 Samuel 17: 32-33, 37, 40-51,  presents us with the battle between David and Goliath, the Philistine.  Saul challenges David, saying, in effect: “Who do you think you are going against this Philistine. You are a mere youth while this guy has been a warrior since his youth. You cannot do what you plan to do. It will not work!”  David does not flinch.  “The Lord, who delivered me from the claws of the lion and the bear, will also keep me safe” from the claws of this Philistine.  Saul’s response: “Go! The Lord is with you.”

How often do we not face the same opposition David faced when we share a decision we have made about our vocation in life or some other weighty decision. The negatives might sound just like the ones above: “You, a priest/a religious? No way. You don’t have what it takes to be a priest or a religious!” Is that not the same kind of rhetoric Saul used with David: You cannot go up against this Philistine and fight with him, for you are only a youth…” “You don’t have what it takes!”

Beware of the opposition but know that if, in prayerful discernment, you know that are being called to religious life or priesthood or to marry this person or that, or to remain single, that God is with you!  God not only is persistent in His call, He goes with you and equips you for the task! 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Discernment: Challenges and Obstacles

Discernment:  In today’s first Scripture reading, 1 Samuel 16: 1-13, God asks Samuel to go to Bethlehem to meet Jesse, “for I have chosen my king from among his sons.”  Samuel is frightened.  “How can I do that? Saul will kill me,” is Samuel’s response.  How often do we not use a similar excuse” “I can’t do that, Lord!  So and so will kill me.”  “I can’t do that Lord! What if so-and-so hears about it; my name will be mud!”  “What will so-and-so think if he/she hears what I’s considering to do with my life?” “I can’t choose that career, that major; my parents will never approve of it.” “I can’t marry so-and-so; my parents will have a fit.”   “No, Lord! No way; I will get into trouble if I do that. I will lose friends.  I will lose that promotion. I will be looked upon with disdain,” and so on and on we go with excuses of why we cannot follow the Spirit’s lead!

When Samuel gets to Bethlehem and meets Jesse’s sons, he is awed by the ones Jesse presents.   In fact, he is so enamored by the appearance and lofty stature of the first of Jesse’s sons, Samuel is convinced that he is the one God has chosen. But God lets Samuel know that it is not so. “Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him. Not as man sees does God see, because he sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.” Among the seven sons Jesse presents none is the one God has chosen for His anointed. So Samuel asks:  “Do you have any other sons?”  And Jesse says “Yes, my youngest son is tending sheep.” “Send for him,” Samuel orders. It is the youngest son, the one excluded, the one assigned menial tasks, the least likely humanly speaking that is chosen to be anointed the next king of Israel.  Samuel anoints him “and from that day on, the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David.”

What do we learn about discernment from this reading? 1) that judging by appearances is usually off base,  2) that the most enamoring, glamorous, popular choice may not be in God’s plan for us, 3) that it is the Spirit of the Lord that empowers one  to do God’s will,  3) that sometimes  the unthinkable is the right thing to do and 4) that the objection  “what will others think of me” might be Satan’s cunning way of luring you into the temptation of choosing human will over  God’s will!

What to do? Sit in the quiet of prayer and listen to the Lord!   If  others are pressuring you to  not follow the Spirit’s lead, that is, to not do what , in your heart of hearts, you know is God’s will for you, tell the Lord about this pressure! Share with the Lord the choice you are considering and why! Is it the glamour of it, the popularity of it, the fact that what you truly want others disapprove of  when, in your heart of hearts, that is that to which you feel called.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Discernment: Stop and Listen

Discernment:  Today’s first reading, 1 Samuel 15: 16-23, is a continuation of what happened when Samuel went back to sleep and when hearing his name called a fourth time answered: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” God had a message that He wanted Samuel to deliver to Saul.  To get Saul’s attention, he said to him the next morning: “Stop! Let me tell you what the Lord said to me last night.”

To discern God’s will, we need to “Stop!”  Plunging full steam ahead is one way to shut out God’s voice.  Telling ourselves, “I don’t have time right now” might be our way to walk away from the source of God’s enlightenment.  Rejecting a message because of the messenger is also one of the ways in which we may shield ourselves from truth, the Truth.  We may also assume that we have the answers, or all of the answers, and no one tells us what to do or what to consider. Those attitudes are a hindrance to hearing the voice of God. Humility is key. Praying for the courage and the strength to listen to others is a crucial part of discernment

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Discernment: God's Call in the Ordinary Events of Life

Both of today’s Scriptures, 1 Samuel 9: 1-4, 17-19; 10: 1a and Mark 2: 13-17, are about being called by God.  Saul was out looking for his father’s donkeys when he was called by Samuel and anointed for the purpose to which God was calling him, that is, to be king of the Jews or, in the words of 1: Samuel 10: 1a,  “commander over his heritage.”  Levi was collecting taxes and, yes, pocketing some of the money, when Jesus walked by his station and called him to be one of the apostles.  

Where were you when God called you to the vocation you have chosen, whether that is marriage, religious life, priesthood, or the single life?  I was in eighth grade and, out of the blue, I knew that I was called to be a Sister.  At age 20 that call became a reality for me when I made first vows as a Sister of the Sorrowful Mother; five years later I made that commitment permanent.   Many years later I found out the origin of my call. After being a full-fledged Sister of the Sorrowful Mother for many years, and perhaps when I was in my 30s or 40s,  I heard in prayer from my identical twin sister (who returned home to heaven at age 2 ½) that my religious vocation was a gift from her. She wanted me to experience the intimacy with God that she enjoys.  And religious life provides all kinds of opportunities to grow in that intimacy. I have been truly blessed.  I cherish the vocation to which I was called, not that it is better than any other vocation but it is God’s will for me.  It’s choosing that vocation to which God is calling you that will give you the fullness of life, the peace, the joy, that God wills for you.

Which vocation is right for you?

Friday, January 15, 2016

Discernment: Am I following God's Will or my Own?

In today's first reading, 1 Samuel 8:4-7, 10-22a, the Israelites ask Samuel to appoint them a king to rule over them, like other countries have.  Samuel is upset at their request and goes to the Lord to complain about it.  God says to Samuel: "Grant the people's every request. It is not you they reject, they are rejecting me as their king."  

God lets the people choose their will over His, as He does to this day. Part of discernment is figuring out when we are choosing our will over God’s will. In the story, Samuel warns the people that a king has the right to "take your sons and assign them to his chariots and horses, and they will run before his chariot. He will also appoint from among them his commanders of groups of a thousand and of a hundred soldiers. He will set them to do his plowing and his harvesting and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will use your daughters...He will take the best of your fields, vineyard, and olive groves, and give them to his officials. He will tithe your crops and your vineyards, and give the revenue to his eunuchs and his slaves," and much, much more! The people still insist on having it their way!

 Do we automatically close our ears when a person in authority over us or someone in a leadership position suggests that what we are about to do or get involved in, or that to which we are saying “no,” will ultimately be to our ruin and cause us a lot of misery?    Do we realize that sometimes when we reject advice coming from an authority figure we could actually be rebelling against God as our Ruler, our King!  The more vehemently we cling to our way may be the clue that we are rebelling against an Higher Authority, namely, our God, Truth itself!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Discernment: Paying Attention to God

In today’s first reading, 1 Samuel 3: 1-10, 19-20, Samuel is awakened three times. Each time he thinks that Eli, his master, is calling him, so he goes to Eli, awakens him and says: “Here I am; you called me.”   Finally Eli realizes that it is the Lord calling him so he says to Samuel: “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening’.”   Note that it is in the dark of night. It is silent and, more importantly, Samuel, too, is silent, not distracted by the busyness or distractions of the day.  Furthermore,   Samuel relies on an elder, a trusted individual, to show him the way, as he” was not familiar with the Lord, because the Lord had not revealed anything to him as yet.”  Jesus, in today’s Gospel, after a very busy day, rises “very early before dawn,” and goes off to a deserted place to pray—a place apart from the busyness and distractions of His life.

Both Scriptures teach us the circumstances that prepare us to hear God's voice and ways to pay attention to the Spirit:

1. In the quiet
2. Seeking counsel from:
    a. Persons of integrity
    b.Our elders who live lives of integrity (parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, counselors)
    c. Trusted friends/peers who live lives of integrity
    d. Persons devoted to the service of the Lord (priests, deacons, women religious, men religious, 
        spiritual directors who live lives of integrity)
3. In deserted places
4. Choosing a time to go apart to listen to God, such as before dawn as Jesus did

What circumstances do you create in your life to hear the voice of the Lord as you discern God's will for you to walk God's way in your daily life, to choose your vocation in life, to make other significant decisions?