Our Lenten offering is prayer for the whole, broken Church. Not so hard. We are wholly broken, full of faith, bursting with seeds of hope for her best and grateful to sow them in deep rich soil. We are nothing in contrast to how people rate greatness. But in prayerful response to His riches toward us, we have everything. We laugh: barren Sarah (Ge 18:12), David and his giants, a speck of mustard seed (Matt. 17:20), containing within herself a sheltering, towering tree.
So we are very bold to ask God to make His bride magnificent. Advocating for the abused, especially power abuse in which shepherds ruin sheep while saving their own hides, pleading for pastors whose pure hearts are drawn and quartered by unrelenting demands, summoning the sheep who wander alone due to mistrust and childish expectations: we take on Goliath on her behalf.
Our courage comes from the Source Himself, the River of Life loosed from Father and Son, now filling the temple (EZ 47). The beautiful thing about this Source of Living Waters? Any thirsty one can come (IS 55), and anyone can cry out for thirsty ones in peril (LK 11:5-13)—the smaller the better! We are very bold because we take Jesus at His Word, this beautiful God-man who joyfully declares: ‘I have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children’ (LK 10:21). We are bold because like children we don’t know how not to be. We ask straight from our hearts to the Heart whom we know listens and acts for those He loves. He loves us. He alone is the Father who does not disappoint.
Our main sorrow is for those wise and learned ones too big for Him. In our smallness, we cry out for the mercy that reduces kings to car-washers, cardinals to cashiers. Every Tuesday night this Lent we gather in a little chapel off the sanctuary and set up our Divine Mercy banner where Jesus summons us to His river of blood and water: ‘Come and drink, you thirsty; you without money, come, buy, and eat!’ As we sup and pray, the water levels rise and flow out to captives.
Funny. Each week as we prayed a popular speaker filled the sanctuary with hundreds receiving his inspired words. At once grateful, and gleeful over the irony of our small group of five face-down in the shadow cast by 300, we entered a chamber of His heart that renewed our fainting hearts. So much so that our words launched five times over like David’s five smooth stones (1 S 17:40), slaying giants.
‘In the Church, God has put Himself into hands that betray Him over and over.’ Pope Emeritus Benedict
I was outraged. A well-known actress whom I understood from good sources to be a Christian of integrity starred in a film that featured ‘gay’ sex; she justified the movie–and lesbianism in general–as a beautiful glimpse of human potential. I have since discovered that she as a young teen had been sexually abused extensively by her youth pastor. Huh. Hard to make a case for chastity when your shepherd makes you the meal (EZ. 34:2, 3).
22-years-ago, a staff person from our ministry developed an elaborate plan to sexually violate two teenagers seeking chastity in our midst. He succeeded. His wickedness divided their lives and their families, and brought serious disgrace upon the churches we served as an organization. These two men struggle to see Jesus clearly now. A ‘trusted’ representative shattered their vision at its source.
That was apparent when we gathered as a healing prayer group in my parish one Lent and were gifted by a man who had just re-entered the Church for the first time since his priest violated him as a teen. Jumpy and suspicious, his breath sour with alcohol, he muttered something of how hard it was to be inside the place where night fell (EZ. 34: 12) and the Son has yet to rise. He appreciated our kindness but couldn’t yet believe or receive it. How do you trust a dirty mother?
Wolves in shepherd’s garb are equally opportunity destroyers: neither catholic nor evangelical, they are just profoundly disintegrated persons hiding in the folds of Mother Church. And Jesus is on the move, shaking out her trains with fierce love and empowering the defiled to speak. Her pastors must become prophets on behalf of those finding their voices—listening and tending to the distressed, while refusing to tolerate demonized ones who sacrifice little ones on the altar of their perversions, and who will do it again unless they are halted.
So we take our places as members of this one Mother. We love her by apprehending her monsters and refusing their monstrous eating habits. We do this on behalf of the consumed; why should they come home if we don’t first clean house for them? We give them first place at the table, and dare to believe that Jesus in His divine mercy can transform shame into cleansing and healing.
Few Christian leaders abuse children. Yet when we fail to discipline those who do, we permit its stink to permeate the whole. Chastity is mocked; our common enemy is freed to roar about and take many captives. Like the drunk and dodgy man in my parish. Like the actress I mentioned who became an outspoken LGBTQ+ advocate. Or the two guys under my charge who were morally handicapped before becoming men. They weren’t born that way. They were abused. Lord have mercy on us. Clean Your Mother, Father God.
‘We cry out for those who were lost on that dark day, O God. Your house of healing became a house of horrors for them, O God. We are sorry for the violence done against them. We are sorry for sliming Your Name. Jesus, release Your flood of blood and water upon our corporal shame, beginning with the violated. Wash us and we shall be clean. No other way except through Your dying, and ours. Raise up trustworthy servants to help ensure the trustworthiness of Your house.’
The next few weeks beg the question: ‘What is home to me?’ Holidays highlight our origins and our goals surrounding home. In the countdown to Christmas, some forego reflection for a cyclone of activity; surrounded by love, we worry only that we will forget to give love to deserving ones.
Others dread the quiet of remembering what did not happen this year. Will our place at the table this year confirm our progress in forging family or remind of us of the gaps?
I write this on our last morning in a tiny rental house; we move on this freezing morning to a new house we bought three months ago. Now mostly refurbished, this new tent awaits as we pack poles and fold up canvas.
Home. Is it a place? A memory? A goal? I consider these questions in our yearend newsletter that I submit to you here. Might you take a few minutes and reflect upon it? Each member of the Desert Stream/Living Waters leadership team took time to consider their take on the subject of ‘home.’ I hope you are as pleased with the outcome as I am.
I pray for your clarity in defining your version and vision of ‘home.’
Click here to read the Desert Stream/Living Water Year End Newsletter.
‘We are struck down but not destroyed, always carrying around in the body the death of Jesus that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.’
(2Cor 4: 9b, 10)
As our fast continues, I am especially grateful for the parents of strugglers who are becoming prayer warriors. I believe that the mightiest members of God’s healing army today are mothers and fathers whose children have ‘come out’ as LGBT+. Struck down by unintentional acts of domestic violence, these parents—facedown–discover Jesus for themselves.
Another’s wound and rebellion wakes them up. At last. The God of their childhood becomes Savior and Lord for them now. He gives them a share in His heart for the broken in need of His body. They will change the face of the Church.
I met Teri at an Encourage meeting. She was distraught and nearly hopeless about her daughter who claimed to be transitioning into a ‘son.’ At that point, her goal was to amass info about ‘transgender’ realities. She learned in the next few months that gaining knowledge was her way of controlling the chaos at hand.
When I saw her next at our ‘Open to Life’ seminar, she was remarkably composed. She told me that though she is happy to learn more, she knows what God wants. ‘He wants me. This is more about my conversion than anything else. I am learning how to trust Him as never before.’
Teri followed up that seminar with a small Lenten prayer group we hosted about chastity, what it means to become whole in our gender and sexuality. Several persons attended with apparent gender identity problems. Teri’s divides are not apparent; she looks like the well-heeled and adjusted head of women’s ministry. Yet she was the first to lead out with confession about her issues as a woman and why those issues probably had made life harder for her daughter. What a woman. She goes to the Cross for her own brokenness first. She prays for her daughter out of the mercy she receives from Jesus.
Now I have the privilege of walking with Teri through a Living Waters group. I arrived at my parish early to set up one night and noticed a woman kneeling at the altar beneath the Cross. She was radiant, fragrant with holiness and looked a bit like Mary Mother of God as she united her heart with Jesus. I failed to realize it was Teri until later. No matter; even from a distance, I could discern that this intercessor was in sync with her Savior and destined to move mountains. A sword may have pierced her heart (LK 2:35), but with that same sword, surrendered to Jesus, she will thwart the enemy’s schemes. Thank God for His marvelous plan!
Last week, November 1st, the day the Church honors her members on earth and heaven, we buried my son Nick’s second child Elizabeth in a small plot next to her brother Luke. She outlived him by two weeks. Surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses? (Heb. 12:1) Light penetrated our dismal gathering only by faith.
We had lived with her death for three weeks: numb, uncomprehending. Lamenting for Luke two years earlier was easier; this was more of a dull ache. It remains unfathomable. Two parents should not be admitted to the hospital twice to experience life’s greatest miracle only to return home empty-handed. The dance became a dirge. Twice!
Yes Jesus smashed the head of sin and death. But evil still slithers and strikes. Such cruelty is senseless.
Annette and I longed to bear our kids’ burden. That makes sense: we have more cross-bearing experience. Yet their suffering is uniquely theirs. That is our pain: to walk with them, helpless to change anything. We can only come alongside and pray and hope that the snakebite does not destroy something precious in them.
I cannot describe how proud we are of Nick and Meg. They were awesome parents to both Luke and Elizabeth. The decision after Luke’s death to try again took guts. They gave it their all and endured with dignity the indignity of losing Elizabeth. Together. They share a quiet, profound reliance upon each other.
The All Saints Mass reminded me that the communion of saints is as earthy as the soil in which we interred Elizabeth. We may not have answers but we have each other. And we have help from heaven. Later that day I remembered my favorite saints fighting now for our endurance: Bruno, Francis, Faustina, John Paul II, Therese. I am grateful for their battles, their snakebites, the fires they endured for the joy set before them. They help us. I feel little but know that we are surrounded.
‘The help we receive from heaven is like an invisible yet mighty river of life.’