I’m in a bible study with a great group from my church and we are studying the Book of Revelation. I have to admit this is only the third bible study in which I’ve participated…and it is very intense! Of course, the Book of Revelation itself is intense…and at first glance, very scary (which is why I think I, like many, haven’t really read through the whole book before)…with its images of dragons, demons, giant locusts with human faces, devil symbols of 666 and…well, you get the picture. And of course its apocalyptic prophesies of God’s judgement, wrath, plagues and punishment that will come at the end of the world upon those who have not been obedient or faithful. It’s a tough book to read, even when I’m doing so with my husband and then discussing it with a great group of believers led by great study leaders. But one thing rings true over and over throughout Revelation, just like it does throughout the Bible: God will save those who are faithful, just like he has since the beginning of time. It’s tough to BE faithful, to act faithfully no matter what we are going through as human beings, given our egos and our own wills, which can so often lead us astray. We see over and over throughout the Bible how people turned away from God even though they had mighty leaders like Abraham, Moses, David and so many more, and ultimately, Jesus Christ and His disciples who followed. You might say today it’s harder than ever to act faithfully with so much evil in the world and so many distractions for our time and attention. And who is here to lead us? We forget sometimes that Jesus left us the Holy Spirit to guide us…and of course, since the beginning God has given us His Word in the Bible. So while there will still be doom and gloom ahead – no matter who is elected as US President, no matter how much ISIS spreads and how badly Christians and other faithful people are persecuted, no matter how much evil seems to be in this world – the ultimate truth, promised in Revelation, which echoes all of the Books in the Bible before it – is that good, and God, will triumph over Satan and evil, and if we keep believing and acting through our faith, we will see that time in all its glory. So I’ll end with the last line of the Bible as my prayer this week: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” (Rev. 22:21)
Second only to the first sin of pride, envy can be the root of a lot of evil. It is at the heart of the story of Cain and Abel in the Bible’s Book of Genesis, which my upcoming novel I’m now writing, titled The Jealous Brother, is based upon. If you’re not familiar with the story, Cain kills Abel out of jealousy, or envy. Adam and Eve, Cain’s parents, later have another child, Seth, who becomes one of the ancestors in the royal line of Jesus. In killing his brother, Cain loses everything, including that birthright. There are many other examples of sibling rivalry in the Bible: Jacob, who steals his brother Esau’s birthright; Joseph and his brothers, who sell him into slavery; and in the New Testament, the Prodigal son and his brother, who complains that he was the good son and got nothing; and Mary and Martha, the latter of whom complains that she is doing all the work and her sister is getting all the credit. You get the picture. Even in the Gospel in today’s Mass, we hear someone from the crowd call to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me,” to which Jesus tells a parable about a wealthy man who plans to store up his riches only to be told he’s going to die that same night. (Luke 12:13-21) I grew up in a very competitive family (you should come to one of our family reunions!) and my sister and I sometimes competed for our parents’ attention…and I know my kids competed with each other at times as well. I think sibling rivalry is normal, as long as it doesn’t get out of hand. But envy can also be closely linked to some of the other deadly sins like greed, lust and anger. Are you feeling jealous of a sibling, friend, co-worker…who you believe is unfairly getting all of the credit, attention, money or material things instead of you? Try praying for God to remove the feelings that are causing you pain, and then try praying for the other person of whom you’re envious. (not praying for him or her to have a major catastrophe…but praying for his or her happiness!) Lord, help us to turn to you when we feel the powerful clutches of envy sneak into our hearts so that you can remove this terrible sin.
I was fortunate to be the lector, or reader, in church yesterday because when I prepare for the readings, I always get something “extra” out of them by reading the background given in the Workbook for Lectors, Gospel Readers and Proclaimers of the Word…and this time was no exception. Yesterday’s Gospel reading was from Luke 17:11-19 in which Jesus cures ten lepers, but only one comes back to thank Him. Jesus is disappointed that only one returns. He is a Samaritan; back in Jesus’ day, Samaritans, or people from Samaria, were held in contempt by Jews because their religion was different (they believed in God but didn’t hold to the same traditions as the Jews). Jesus ends up telling the healed Samaritan to “Stand up and go, your faith has saved you.” I have heard and read this Bible passage many times but today I was moved by this message in the workbook: “The nine settled for too little for had they returned, they too would have received the far greater gift he gives the Samaritan; the promise of salvation.” I guess I always thought that all ten were “healed” but only one came back to give thanks, but never realized they were only healed physically, not spiritually; they didn’t bother to show faith in the God who just healed them by praising and thanking Him. It makes me reflect on the fact that, if I rush off to the next thing, taking God’s latest gift for granted, if I’m not thankful and worshipful to God for the little things, I can’t hope for bigger things and I may miss what He has in store for me; if I don’t stop and thank Him when I make strides in my author career, however small…when a bookstore grants me a book signing, when a conference invites me to give a workshop, when a reader says he or she appreciates my book…I will never move on to the bigger things I dream of (becoming a New York Times Bestselling Author for one!) or perhaps the even bigger things He has planned for me! I pray I remember this week to thank God each day for all of His gifts, both big and small, so that I may build my faith in Him and be saved by that faith.
Yesterday kicked off “Respect Life Month” and the year-long pro-life program by the US Catholic Church. This year’s theme is “Moved by Mercy.” It draws on a quote from Pope Francis when he called for the Jubilee Year of Mercy: “We are called to show mercy because mercy has been shown to us.” The church’s program (with online brochures and webpages that can be found at www.usccb.org/respectlife
) focuses on women and men suffering after abortion, individuals tempted to end their lives, couples longing to conceive a child, people pushed to the margins of society by a ‘throwaway culture,’ and expectant mothers facing challenging pregnancies. The church holds pretty high standards when it comes to the teachings on these issues. (ie., the church is against assisted suicide, in vitro fertilization, contraception and of course, abortion.) In short, it upholds God’s teachings in the Bible. I remember when my husband and I were questioning these high standards when he was going through the RCIA process…and the priest sitting in on the class that night explained that the Catholic Church simply “raises the bar” when it comes to moral, ethical and spiritual teachings. Those words will always stay with me…they removed any doubts I had that the Church is limited or “radical” in its teachings…and confirmed what I fully believe now: that God set down His guidelines for us in the Bible (His Word) for us to follow. It is we human beings who try to complicate it all, or “water it down” to fit our own desires. Those words have helped me to stay on the path of writing Modern Day Bible Stories (novels that are based on stories in the Old Testament of the Bible, closely following the plot but written through contemporary, fast-paced, suspense/romance that’s more entertaining and easy to read so people can still get God’s message)…even when friends and family question and challenge me on why I write “religious” fiction or books based on the Bible. And more importantly, it has helped me stay on the path of remaining faithful to God’s teachings amidst a society that continues to veer away from them. Ever urging us to stay true to our faith, St. Paul tells us: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil. 4:8) We are all sinners, but we also are all called to be saints!