Author Archives: Monique Jacobs

Forgiveness verses Reconciliation

Compared with reconciliation, forgiveness is a piece of cake.

sorrowForgiveness by God is, of course, a great and undeserved blessing. The biblical messages during this week of Lent are full of forgiveness. We hear from Daniel: “We have sinned, been wicked and done evil…but yours, O God, are compassion and forgiveness!” Micah reminds us: “Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt and pardons sin?” And then there is the classic story of forgiveness in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

reconcilation8But forgiveness is different from reconciliation.

Forgiveness requires only one, a forgiver, but reconciliation takes at least two, a forgiver and a recipient. God will always forgive us, but we will not always accept the forgiveness.

rembrant-prodigal-son-The story of the prodigal son does not reveal whether the two sons were reconciled with their father, even though he forgave them both. They may have festering wounds for years, the younger because of an inability to forgive himself, and the older due to resentment.

In the renewal of the sacraments mandated by the
Second Vatican Council, the Sacrament of Penance
received a new name:
“Sacrament of Reconciliation.”

This is not just semantics and was not done suddenly but was carefully studied for several years before Pope Paul VI approved the new name in 1973.

confession“Reconciliation” describes much more adequately the purpose of the sacrament, which is to reconcile the sinner to God and to the church, and to set the stage for reconciliation within the person, healing the wounds of sin.

GodsembraceThis is very different from simple forgiveness. Most of the time, a person entering the confessional has already been forgiven, because God forgives us the moment we turn to him.

There is an initial reconciliation with God at that moment, but it may be very fragile. There may still be no reconciliation with the Church, the community of faith, and no healing of the fissure that has been opened in the heart by sin.

Sin can be forgiven from the outside,
but it originated from the inside and
must be healed from the inside.

confessionario_07062013170607We may confess a lie, for example, and it is forgiven. But the lie did not spring up without roots. There was a cause, and the cause was a diseased organ, the heart. It doesn’t help much to attend to the mouth that told the lie if there is no attention to the heart that spawned it.

reconciliation2Taking stock of where we are verses where we want to be requires that we are open to making changes – even actively pursuing changes – in our attitudes and behavior.

We desire to open ourselves to the reconciliation that reunites us to God and to God’s people and brings healing to the heart. Then the wonderful gift of divine forgiveness will be able to achieve its total purpose in freeing us from our sins.

-Abbot Jerome Kodell OSB, Subiaco Abbey, Arkansas

Beyond Any Human Comprehension

As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.

quiet powerI sense a wish in some…to make God possible, to make him comprehensible to the naked intellect, domesticate him so that he’s easy to believe in. Every century the Church makes a fresh attempt to make Christianity acceptable.

But, an acceptable Christianity is not Christian; a comprehensible God is no more than an idol.

I don’t want that kind of God.

What kind of God, then?

One time, when I was little more than a baby, I was taken to visit my grandmother, who was living in a cottage on a nearly uninhabited stretch of beach in northern Florida.

All I remember of this visit is being picked up from my crib in what seemed the middle of the night and carried from my bedroom and out of doors, where I had my first look at the stars…starry night3

The night sky, the constant rolling of the breakers against the shore, the stupendous light of the stars, all made an indelible impression on me.   I was intuitively aware not only of a beauty I had never seen before but also that the world was far greater than the protected limits of the small starry night2child’s world which was all I had known thus far.

I had a total, if not very conscious, moment of revelation; I saw creation bursting the bounds of daily restriction, and stretching out from dimension to dimension, beyond any human comprehension.

before GodI had been taught to say my prayers at night; Our Father, and a long string of God-blesses, and it was that first showing of the galaxies which gave me an awareness that the God I spoke to at bedtime was extraordinary and not just a bigger and better combination of the grownup powers of my mother and father.

This early experience was freeing, rather than daunting, and since it was the first it has been the foundation for all other such glimpses of glory.

-Madeline L’Engle, Glimpses of Grace

A Vivid Image

bulletin2Written by Mary
Stommes, editor of Give of This Day.

I thought it a curious bulletin insert: an organizational flow chart of a diocese and parish, a vivid image of a neatly structured organization.pyramidflowchart

The various diocesan-level councils and positions flowed from the bishop. The parish priest flowed from the bishop too. The parish finance council and pastoral councils flowed from the priest, and below all of these were the many individual parishioners.

church people4A visitor to the parish, and there being no word of explanation in the bulletin or homily, I could only wonder about the intended message. Maybe it was to subtly convey that within the Church there is a place for each person, and each person must carefully keep his or her place. I want to think that the intent was exactly the opposite: It takes a whole lot of people to make a vibrant Church.

me questionNo matter who you are or what your station in life, if you are baptized, you have a vocation: to follow Jesus, to preach and proclaim the Kingdom of God.

Think of those who accompanied Jesus early on. The Twelve, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and many others – each was uniquely gifted and vital to the mission of Proclaiming God’s Kingdom. They were human, so there was undoubtedly some jockeying for power and position:

olympic“I saw him first!”…”But he actually called me first.”…”I am one of the Twelve.”…”Oh, so there’s strength in numbers?”…”He cast out my demons and there were seven of them!” Does this seem like silly nonsense? Surely, the early disciples were above that. Except we know they weren’t.

number oneRecall James and John, their request that Jesus make them his right and left-hand men in the eternal Kingdom. How would that look on a flow chart? Perfect, with just a little reorienting – 180 degrees in either direction.

We have Jesus’ word on it, speaking of vivid images: “The first will be last, and the last will be first.”…”Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant.”…”I came not to be served but to serve, and to give my life as a ransom…for many.”

active parishFor many, with the help of many. It takes a village to evangelize a village. That’s the beauty and challenge of today’s Gospel.

From one home and workplace to another, one town and city to another, there is evangelizing that you – and only you – can do:


Shed a tear
Dry a tear
Withhold a snide comment
Speak the painful truth of love
Pray with someone
Pray for someone
For the love of God, just pray

From the flowing waters of baptism, God has claimed you.

You are a Christ-bearer.
Bear the image vividly.



Receptivity to the Impossible

tightrope3Our faith is all about being open to what isn’t logical nor isn’t predictable.  I mean – really – that is what all our holy days celebrate, right?  I really liked this article written by Melissa Musick Nussbaum.  She pushes us to make connections from our daily life to a perspective of faith, which can be hard to do when we are in the middle of living!  I hope you will like this perspective, too.

bibleYou may have read the spate of articles about “Judgments about fact and fiction by children from Religious and Non-religious backgrounds,” a study published in the July issue of Cognitive Science.

My favorite comment was from BBC News with this portentous lead, “If you expose your children to Moses, Muhammad, or Matthew the Apostle, are they at a disadvantage?”

healing the peopleSixty-six kindergartener from both public and parochial schools in the Boston area were chosen for the study. The children were represented with three kinds of stories – religious, fantastical, and realistic, in the words of the study – and asked to differentiate between fact and fiction. The first curious assumption is that fact equals “realistic,” which equals “true,” while fiction equals “religious or fantastical,” which equals “false.”

By facts, of course, the researchers often mean what we can see and touch and measure. It’s what we have come to call “science,” as divorced from imagination or philosophy – or theology.

burning bushScience, we think, is untouched by personal experiences or cultural norms or political affiliation or peer pressure. It is “objective,” which, if I might be so bold, is a “fantastical” notion if ever there was. The belief, and belief it is, that if we can examine something under a microscope, it is fact. If we can only imagine it, it is fiction, and therefore, suspect and relegated to the world of fairy tales.

motherboardEven though much of what we now include in the realm of facts (flying machines and thin wires conveying sounds and images across time and space and men not in, but on, the moon) began in the realm of the fantastical.

Even though what was once held as fact, namely that people of certain races and continents were born to be owned by people of the other races living on other continents, was overturned by people fed on and formed by religious stories. Like the 18th-century English Rev. John Newton, a former slave trader turned fervent Christian, who preached against the slave trade and slavery and understood his own awakening to its horrors to be the direct result of what he read in the Bible. He could ascribe the change only to divine intervention, a miracle of God’s “amazing grace that saved a wretch like me.”

resurrectionNewton’s fervor; based in what the researchers in the study call “religious stories,” or fiction, would, they argue in the effects of such stories on children, lead to a “more generic receptivity toward the impossible, that is a more wide-ranging acceptance that the impossible can happen in defiance of ordinary casual regularities.”

For which, we fervently pray.

May there be a “more generic receptivity toward the impossible,” that men and women might return good for evil and forgiveness for hate “in defiance of ordinary causal regularities.”

May “ordinary causal regularities” roll away the stone from Jesus’ tomb, as the lowly are lifted up and the hungry filled with good things.

It was GK Chesterton who made the best and boldest defense of fairy tales, of the fantastical, when he wrote:

Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist.
Children already know that dragons exist.
Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.

grandmaSo if you want me, I’ll be where I’ve been for most of the past 40 years, telling children stories: of a bush that burns but is not consumed, and of seas that part so the slaves can cross over to freedom, and of a hungry lion whose mouth was shut by the hand of God. I’ll be telling them about a baby born beneath the brightest star that ever shone and about animals that, on that night, could talk. I’ll be telling them about water turned to wine and hate turned into love and death turned into life.

And they will be rapt, these children who know there are dragons, joining me in glorious “receptivity of the impossible,” that, one day, the dragons may be slain.


On the Way to Intimacy

a l l aloneGod is giving you the broadest and deepest permission you can receive: to give back to God who you really are – warts, wrinkles, and all.

And your willingness to offer that, knowing it will be received, might just well bring you to tears on at least two levels.

First for your own incapacity – I can’t do it! Lord, have mercy on me. That’s the only way to begin to pray: I don’t know how to pray!

Then there’s the second level of tears, which is total gratitude. tears2

I hope you’ve had that moment from one beloved partner of friend: when you know you’ve just done a really stupid thing, but they don’t judge you and they don’t dismiss you. They just look at you with soft eyes and receive you. It’s tears of immense release and joy and happiness – that there’s a heart out there big enough to receive what I can’t receive, to forgive what I can’t forgive. That is what makes you fall in love with God. If you’re on the spiritual journey, that will happen many times.

acceptanceIt’s the experience of a lover who sees your nakedness, when you don’t have the perfect body of your youth and they love you anyway. That’s the kind of love that we all want, that we all wait for, that we all need.

Although we want it from one another and we get it occasionally, we find there is only One who can be relied upon to always receive us and mirror us perfectly as we are – without demanding changes of us.

The great sadness is that so many Christians don’t know that.

They’re afraid to be naked before God because what they expect from God is what they’ve learned to expect from other people – which is judgment and analysis.

open armsI’ll take God’s judgment any day over the judgment of other people. Really! Those who pray know that. How could you not fall in love with Someone who always outdoes you in generosity and receptivity?

Adapted from Following the Mystics Through the Narrow Gate…Seeing God in All Things by Richard Rohr, OFM

Yogi Berra’s Wisdom: The Price of Attentiveness

Pay-attention1“Pay Attention!” is the first, and probably the hardest, ascetical practice we will ever undertake. Yet, if we are to fulfill Jesus’ commission, attentiveness is non-negotiable.

After summoning his chosen ones, Jesus proceeds to share his power and authority with them. His instructions can be paraphrased as bullet points:

  • work the home turf first
  • liberate
  • cure
  • proclaim

peace-corps-2His Great Commission “to teach all the nations” comes much later (Matthew 28:19).

Thinking globally may be more glamorous,
but acting locally is more difficult.


Who among us does not know the numbness that comes with familiarity? When is the last time you took a really close look at something or someone you see everyday? Remember Yogi Berra’s wisdom, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” But you must be paying attention.

Whether we are parents, health-care workers, or ministers of any stripe, we imitate God when we pay attention.2talking2

But how much are we willing to be attentive? The price of attentiveness is letting go of our preoccupations and our agenda.

We must stop (put down the cell phone), look (turn away from whatever screen is in front of us), and listen (remove the ear phones and buds) to liberate what constrains and to heal what cripples.

With such attentiveness “the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Attentive love heals wounds, physical and spiritual; it proclaims the presence of the One whose care for us never wavers.  – Father Richard Gula, SS


The Cost of Discipleship

ocx2on39Every mother wants what  is best for her children. The mother of James and John was no exception. She wanted her sons to sit at Jesus’ right and left when he entered his kingdom. But sometimes even a mother can get it wrong.

Sometimes we can get it wrong.

The mother of James and John wanted what was best, but she did not take into account the cost of discipleship. Mothers of kidnapped teenagers

She did not understand what her sons would have to endure to enter God’s kingdom.

Like the mother of James and John, we often seek what is best without understanding the cost we must pay.

We trade in what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace”: discipleship without the cost, glory without the suffering, resurrection without the cross.

This is why reflecting on the Gospels is so important – especially on the moment when the mother of James and John makes her famous request. It reminds us that while grace is God’s free gift, there is a cost to discipleship.

That cost is to drink the chalice that Jesus drinks.  -Father Frank J. Matera

all decide

What does it cost you to be a disciple? 

Have you experienced what Dietrich Boenhoffer is talking about…that sometimes living a life of faith – or following Christ – has been comparatively easy?  Does your faith pinch in any way?

This is a very good time to take inventory of the way you live your faith.

Seize this very moment.

How can your attitude be adjusted and how can you put yourself out there “on the line” as you seek to be a light and bear witness in our world of a love that is unconditional and offered to everyone?

We say we are Christians. We say – like James and John – that we can drink of the chalice that Christ drank from.

So…let’s see where that takes us.  Most likely, right into the footsteps of Jesus and into the limelight of a world that will resist the message of your life…yet, we are in this together and we know that ultimately, God’s grace will do the work that we cannot complete.

Let’s pray for each other!

Martha’s Strength of Faith

Jesus and MarthaJesus responds to Martha’s stubborn, passionate faith that he is no ordinary person with the revelation of himself, “I am the resurrection and the life…”, and Martha responds with a confession of Christ which stands out as a special climax in the New Testament: “You are the Christ, the Son of God, who has come into the world…”

Thus John placed the confession of Christ on the lips of a woman, a woman who was known for her openness, her strength, and her practical nature.marthamagdalene

This confession of Christ which takes similar form only once more in the other Gospels, where it is uttered by Peter.

For the early church, to confess Christ in this way was the mark of an apostle. The church was built upon Peter’s confession, and to this day the Popes understand themselves as Peter’s successor’s.

However, we must conclude from this story and this confession that Martha is also a leading personality, like the apostles in the early church.

She was tenacious, wise, combative, competent, emancipated woman with many practical responsibilities in the community…

Martha-and-MaryJohn wanted to use Martha to portray the strength of faith; for him, Mary was the weaker of the two, the average woman.

He saw strength in the combative extravert. As far as John was concerned, the church needed women who were aware of themselves – we still do.

- Elisabeth Moltman-Wendell  The Women Around Jesus

Appraising Life’s Treasures

ringThe true price of things may not always equate their monetary value. Something worth only a few pennies at the local flea market may in fact be our most valuable possession because of its association with a cherished memory or a person we love dearly.

Reclami-ImcSitting at the kitchen table and making a list of personal possessions to update our insurance policy coverage is one thing, but sorting through the rubble of our home after a destructive tornado is quite another.

If replacement at current market value is the issue, we evaluate the things in our closet and apartment in one way. Photo albumOther objects are truly priceless because they are uniquely irreplaceable: precious family photos, a patchwork quilt sewn by one’s grandmother, a wedding ring or graduation gift from a deceased parent. What is the market value of the one letter my dad wrote to me shortly before my diaconal ordination in Rome?

And how can one put a price tag on the less tangible treasure of friendship with God?

Solomon, friend of God as he was, considered an “understanding heart” (literally, a listening heart) more valuable than any material object in his palace.

The heart was where the ancient world assumed decisions were made, and Solomon was determined to make wise ones.

The parables of the kingdom in the Gospel invite each of us to determine the most valuable item in our lives and to act accordingly. Some things matter more than others, and the difference has nothing to do with dollars and cents.

-Bishop Richard J. Sklba  Fire Starters: Igniting the Holy in the Weekday Homily

The Leaven of God’s Word

kneading-doughWho doesn’t love to eat freshly baked bread? The aroma, alone, makes your stomach growl and taste buds sing!

I love to bake bread! I delight in watching what happens when sugar is added to the yeast and water. I love the sensation of kneading the leavened dough and feeling it’s “life,” the thrill of seeing it rise. child kneadingThis, says Jesus – who had no doubt observed the process many times – this is what the kingdom of heaven is like.

And if the kingdom of heaven is like the yeast and the seed, both with great potential for growth and transformation, to whom or what can we compare the flour and the soil? Could it not be us?

The yeast needs the flour to become bread.

bean-seeds_shutterstock_57850783-272x164The seed needs the soil to grow and bear fruit.

The kingdom of heaven needs us
if it is to be realized
and brought to fruition.

“The Father willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a first fruit of his creatures,” a fitting Gospel acclamation. But the fruit is produced only after the seed has been planted and sheds its hull. The flour must yield to the action of the yeast.

And each of us must yield to the leavening of God’s word, spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “cling” to God in order to be transformed into God’s people, God’s praise and beauty.

Remember the God who gave you birth and wills to bring you to the fullness of life in the kingdom of heaven, both now and in the age to come.

-Sister Anne Elizabeth Sweet


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