On Saturday, February 20, 2016, I attended a retreat at St. Maron Church, Philadelphia. I took notes of the talk given by Mother Marla Marie of the Maronite Servants of Christ the Light, the retreat mistress. She was down from Dartmouth, MA, for the Maronite Youth Organization’s Lenten retreat, which drew youth from Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.
Anyway, I found her talk very helpful, very healing, and I hope you do, too.
God didn’t create us to be average. He created us to be holy. He created us to be saints. He created us to be divinized. And one of the greatest things about being holy is that everyone can be above average. Everyone can excel. Because God made you for Himself, and He gives you everything you need to reach Him. God is love. God is mercy. He gives us all the tools we need, all the help we need, all the love. Even all of the ups the downs, the joys, the sorrows every one of us experiences, they’re all God’s tools to help us reach that level He’s ordained for us.
The Holy Father Pope Francis challenged us this year by declaring the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Mercy is an everyday style of life for Christians, but he wants us to focus on that more directly. Mercy is God’s greatest quality. It is His greatest attribute. It reveals the face of God and how God looks at us.
By contemplating mercy, we begin to see how God looks at us. Each one of us here has received God’s mercy and love in superabundance. Think about God’s mercy in your life for just a moment. Go through your life in your mind’s eye and how you have experienced that mercy in sometimes unsuspected ways. Sometimes it is in our darkest times. But as Jesus says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). We are grains of wheat.
We’re like Jean Valjean in Les Misérables. See this clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhpwV4cwB4o.
Each one of us have been like that beggar and thief. And God has been like that Monsignor who has challenged us to our potential. And we have to be that way when we face the Lord in our prayer. We must know He is truly looking down on us with compassion and love. God sees to all our needs. He helps us cross those mountains in our times of difficulty.
Hate destroys the hater.
There is the story of the man who got shot and who reacted with great joy. His friends asked him why he was celebrating the shooting. “I wasn’t celebrating that I got shot. I was celebrating that I lived.” Good Friday seems like the greatest tragedy, and yet it is the cause for our greatest celebration. It is God’s mercy poured out on us so that we may live forever in Him.
For God, He is mercy. For us, mercy is hard work. Nonetheless we are called to be perfectly merciful. Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect (Matt 5:48) could be put another way: Be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
This type of mercy can only come from God. We don’t have that type of mercy in us. We have to be more intentional in mercy with ourselves and others. Sometimes we have a guilt that’s misdirected. We’re called to be above average so we can be channels of mercy ourselves. But how? We need to go to the source, Jesus Himself. Jesus said I am the Way. Through Him we can forgive because He has forgiven.
The Bible is the word of God. But what does that mean? The Divine Liturgy [i.e., the Mass] is interwoven with Scripture. It is Scripture come alive. You’ll see the Old Testament and New Testament throughout our prayers. The Bible is an awesome and precious book, unlike any other. It’s God’s word. When you break open your sacred scriptures, you’re opening to a presence, not just words on a page or a recitation of things that happened a long time ago. It’s Jesus. It’s alive. It’s not a presence like we find in the tabernacle, but it’s the presence of God.
So when you take your Bible and open yourselves to it, you open yourself to the Presence of God. Let it penetrate your soul, and water that seed so that it can grow and transform your life. Scripture is a two-edged sword (cf. Heb 4:12: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart”). It’s not a “book.” Books, we read. But the Bible? We absorb it. In it, we get to know Him. If you do not know Him, how can you love Him? How can you grow in Him? Christ lives in Scripture.
We don’t venerate our favorite novel, but the Bible we do. We and the Church venerate the divine scriptures in the same way as we and she venerate(s) the Body of the Lord. Have a special place for your Bible in the home. Let it permeate your house like incense. “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ,” said St. Jerome. He also said, “When we pray, we speak to God. But when we read Scripture, God speaks to us.”
Mother encouraged the practice of lectio divina.
St. Benedict says, “lectio divina has no goal other than that of being in the presence of God by praying the scriptures.”
Prayer changes us, transforms us. In it, we encounter Christ. It rids us of the confusion with which sin torments us.
To be in a place of prayer, we need silence. We need quiet. People avoid quiet because we’re afraid of what we might find inside ourselves. But we need that quiet because in it what we’ll really find is God. God is mercy. He is not there to punish or scold but to transform us.