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Bible Reflections View Comments

What Does Jesus Ask of Us? Everything!
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, September 16, 2012
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As I drive to work many days, I pass the same grizzled homeless man standing in the median selling copies of a publication called Street Vibes that calls attention to the plight of the urban homeless. I rarely carry any cash, and I confess that I tend to avoid eye contact. But the encounter always makes me squirm with the conviction that I’m not doing all I could to live out my commitment to my faith. I think about my cup of Starbucks coffee and my iPhone and the many true luxuries that I have in my life and I renew my determination to do more to help those who are less fortunate.

It’s good to have these reminders, even—or especially— when they make us uncomfortable. The little prodding reminders of who we are and who we follow and how far apart those two things are keep us honest and move us to compassion and justice. The Letter of James, more than almost any other document in the New Testament, takes on this question of how we treat the poor and downtrodden. In the famous passage about faith and good works, he says, “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?” The cross is at the very heart of Christian discipleship.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus states as clearly as he can the cost of being his follower: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” The starkness of this demand stays with us no matter where we are or what we are doing. It reminds us of the many nonnegotiable demands of living a Christian life. The reading from Isaiah reminds us that this kind of selflessness was part of the Judeo-Christian tradition from the beginning. Once humans acquired the knowledge of good and evil but denied that it made a difference, the fall from grace was complete. From the time Cain asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” one prophet after another responded with a resounding yes.

Our reading from Isaiah gives us the words of the Suffering Servant, the mysterious but powerful figure in the Old Testament who represents the ideal Israel and prefigures Christ’s sacrifice. He says, “The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not ashamed.” Knowing who we are and who God is gives us the strength to live our calling as Christian disciples.

This is perhaps why Jesus begins the difficult conversation in which he introduces his upcoming suffering with a question about who people say he is. Only if we know who we follow—and why—will we be able to live the difficult demands that may be asked of us. Throughout the Gospels, we get a sense of how people responded to the presence of Jesus. Few people were indifferent to him. Like many charismatic figures, he inspires deep and passionate responses, both positive and negative. His enemies want to kill him. The crowds want to make him king. His closest followers ultimately let him live in them and through them. We who claim Christ as our Messiah and Savior know that much—everything— will be asked of us. We may spend our entire lives living up to this demand, but our hope lies in the knowledge that the reward will be well worth the effort.


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Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi: Mystical ecstasy is the elevation of the spirit to God in such a way that the person is aware of this union with God while both internal and external senses are detached from the sensible world. Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi was so generously given this special gift of God that she is called the "ecstatic saint." 
<p>She was born into a noble family in Florence in 1566. The normal course would have been for Catherine de' Pazzi to have married wealth and enjoyed comfort, but she chose to follow her own path. At nine she learned to meditate from the family confessor. She made her first Communion at the then-early age of 10 and made a vow of virginity one month later. When 16, she entered the Carmelite convent in Florence because she could receive Communion daily there. </p><p>Catherine had taken the name Mary Magdalene and had been a novice for a year when she became critically ill. Death seemed near so her superiors let her make her profession of vows from a cot in the chapel in a private ceremony. Immediately after, she fell into an ecstasy that lasted about two hours. This was repeated after Communion on the following 40 mornings. These ecstasies were rich experiences of union with God and contained marvelous insights into divine truths. </p><p>As a safeguard against deception and to preserve the revelations, her confessor asked Mary Magdalene to dictate her experiences to sister secretaries. Over the next six years, five large volumes were filled. The first three books record ecstasies from May of 1584 through Pentecost week the following year. This week was a preparation for a severe five-year trial. The fourth book records that trial and the fifth is a collection of letters concerning reform and renewal. Another book, <i>Admonitions</i>, is a collection of her sayings arising from her experiences in the formation of women religious. </p><p>The extraordinary was ordinary for this saint. She read the thoughts of others and predicted future events. During her lifetime, she appeared to several persons in distant places and cured a number of sick people. </p><p>It would be easy to dwell on the ecstasies and pretend that Mary Magdalene only had spiritual highs. This is far from true. It seems that God permitted her this special closeness to prepare her for the five years of desolation that followed when she experienced spiritual dryness. She was plunged into a state of darkness in which she saw nothing but what was horrible in herself and all around her. She had violent temptations and endured great physical suffering. She died in 1607 at 41, and was canonized in 1669.</p> American Catholic Blog Lord, keep me in your care. Guard me in my actions. Teach me to love, and help me to turn to you throughout the day. The world is filled with temptations. As I move through my day, keep me close. May those I encounter feel your loving presence. Lord, be the work of my hands and my heart. Amen.

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