Memorial of Saint Alphonsus Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the Church


Lectionary: 402

Then he said, "If I find favor with you, O LORD, do come along in our company. This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as your own."

As a chaplain in the VA I have often referred to this passage in Exodus, even before I knew exactly where to find it (Exodus 34:9). Christians are more familiar with a promise of Jesus, "Remember, I am with you, even to the end of time."
Medieval scholarship was fascinated by the God who Is. That was fine for them.
We need a God who is with us. With the turbulence and uncertainty of our time, we need a Shepherd who walks with us through the wilderness; who knows a wolf in sheep's clothing and will drive him off. He must feel the concussion of distant artillery and persuade us to dive for cover before it explodes overhead.
The Holy Spirit, the gift of Our Father, must teach us common sense in an uncommon age. How do we know fake news? Which politicians can we trust? What rulings of the Supreme Court, state courts and local judges are wise; and which are foolish? Which bishops, priests, deacons, catechists and apologists are led by the Spirit?
In the VA hospital we have an urgent need to feel the Lord's presence here and now. Patients and their loved ones meet so much uncertainty as their caregivers ponder how to address their health issues. Often they know precisely what to do; occasionally they must admit, "We'll try this and see what happens."
The hospital is an enormous machine with thousands of devices, from revolving doors to MRI scanners. Patients may feel trapped like caged birds in this machine as they are tethered to I-Vs and given only hospital gowns to wear. But they want to be honored and recognized as persons. Sometimes, because the system is stressed, despite the best efforts of dedicated nurses and doctors, the patient is recognized only by the Presence of God.
With the Sacraments of Anointing, Eucharist, Reconciliation and Holy Orders the chaplain brings God's tactile presence to the hospital, a presence which is both convincing and reassuring. The chaplain is not surprised that we are "indeed a stiff-necked people;" the evidence of misbehavior appears in its consequences. Most illnesses in the United States result from poor life-style choices.
But that doesn't matter. We know God's mercy not by the good life we lead but by his healing and forgiveness. As the prophet Zechariah said, he gives "his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of our sins."
Many people, recovering from illness, praise God for his mercy. Although they could not watch him on television or friend him on Facebook, they found him in the hospital.

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.