Kindness matters

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ElGreco-ChristHealingBlind-ptg-large“You should give up drinking only water and have a little wine for the sake of your digestion and the frequent bouts of illness that you have.” (1 Timothy 5:23)

The First Letter to Timothy addresses a variety of issues within the early Christian community – how elders are to be addressed, the mystery of the Church, the role of the deacon, consideration of widows just to name a few. Yet, in the context of all of this the author stops for a moment and encourages Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach.

It is a moment of kindness. It is an easy temptation to step over this verse and focus on the “weightier” issues addressed in the letter – and those issues are of importance – but all of Scripture has something to say and maybe this short verse is telling us, “Don’t forget to be kind to one another.”

There are continuously new plans and programs being developed, new webinars and conferences to attend on how to “do” church but do we always recognize the importance that simple kindness plays in the life of the Christian and the Christian community?

It is interesting how God can speak in our lives. Just within the past couple of months I have had a number of encounters where people have come up to me and told how something I did or said in the past made an important impact on them. Truth is, these moments (at least on the surface) were not exceptional – I was in town for a conference so I called up a young lady who had been a member of the youth group at my first assignment and asked if she would like to grab dinner and catch up, I listened as someone shared his struggles, I offered a kind word and encouragement to a couple at a time of pain. But these moments of kindness did have an effect even if I did not fully recognize nor realize it at the time.

Kindness matters. It costs nothing to be kind and it betrays nothing to be kind. Sometimes we forget this.

I once saw a church sign that read, “No one will care how much you know until they know how much you care.” If the First Letter to Timothy is about addressing pressing issues with the hope of building up and strengthening the Christian community then I would say that 5:23 can be seen as more than just an interesting side note regarding the curative effects of a little wine on an upset stomach. I would say that 5:23 teaches that basic, human kindness and care is an essential component to the building and living of Christian community.

“See how these Christians love one another,” was one of the earliest observations of a non-Christian when looking at this new religious group who had just come on the scene. This love was not because everyone looked the same, acted the same nor thought the same – just read the Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s epistles to see how the Church debated and argued itself through its first century. This love was also not because the early Church walled itself off from the rest of the world – again, read Acts and Paul’s letters to see this. I think kindness, patience, humility, reliance on the Holy Spirit and some good self-effacing humor had a lot to do with this love. The observation quoted above demonstrates that people saw a living of love and community in the early Christian community that was unique … and it clearly impressed them.

See how these Christians love one another.  Kindness does matter.

The Gatlinburg Skybridge and our Lord’s Invitation: “Feed My Sheep.”

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Gatlinburg-Sky-Bridge-2-793x526The longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America is set to open later this month in our own Gatlinburg, TN. The bridge stretches nearly 700 ft. and is suspended 150 feet high. Apparently, it has glass panels as flooring in the middle of the expanse. I’ve been hearing people talk about it and have been seeing things on the news about it. Would you walk across it?

Bridges are pretty amazing structures when you stop and think about it. The physics, architecture and engineering that goes into the construction of a bridge is quite daunting. Whether the bridge is designed as a tourist destination (as the Gatlinburg Skybridge is) or if it has a completely utilitarian purpose as any number of interstate bridges dotting our country’s landscape or if it even has reached an iconic status such as the Brooklyn Bridge or the Golden Gate Bridge, every bridge serves the same basic purpose of connecting two points and allowing interaction, traffic and commerce.

One of the traditional titles given to the Pope as the Bishop of Rome is “Pontifex Maximus” which means “bridge-builder”. It is a title rooted in pagan Rome but later christianized. The Pope, as successor to St. Peter, is to continuously work to build, strengthen and restore that bridge which connects our fallen and wounded world with the Kingdom of God. That bridge is the Church itself but like any bridge there are some divine physics and engineering that goes into the structure and maintaining of this bridge. Today’s gospel (Jn. 21:1-19) show some of these divine elements and they are worthy of note.

The disciples are gathered together at the Sea of Tiberias which means that they have done what our Lord requested when he instructed the women at the tomb to tell the apostles that they would find him in Galilee. Obedience to the Lord’s instruction and the grace of community are part of the divine physics that form the bridge of the Church. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, is the first to recognize the Lord. Love is farsighted and is the first to appreciate divine kindness and the Church must always be led by this true love which is rooted in God alone. Peter has an acknowledged authority (as the Lord said that he would strengthen his brothers) but, is himself, open in humility to guidance as he listened to John, the youngest of disciples. The disciple allowed themselves to be fed by our Lord – the Church must continually be nourished by Christ through Word and Sacrament. All of these elements are part of the physics which must continually make up and uphold the bridge that is the Church.

But there is something else that must be learned from the exchange between Jesus and Peter. When our Lord was bound and on trial, Peter had denied knowing him three times. Now, three times, Jesus asks Peter if he loves him. Jesus does not belittle Peter. He does not punish him or embarrass him in front of the others rather he heals him and he does this by three times inviting Peter to love, to give and even to be as God himself does and is. God is love and true love feeds, nourishes, strengthens, tends, builds up and upholds. True love is willing to go where it would rather not out of care for the other. Jesus invites Peter (and the whole Church) into the very work of God which is to feed, tend and strengthen. The Church is to be the bridge connecting our world with the promise of the Kingdom of God by continuously living this invitation of our Lord to Peter.

After this exchange, our Lord says to Peter (and to us), “Follow me.”

In a special way, we pray for our Holy Father Pope Francis today. He is a good man and a good pope. He deserves our respect and he deserves our prayers as he strives to live his role and as he strives to encourage us to live our role as Church by feeding, tending, strengthening and loving as Christ would have us do.

Easter Sunday – the Lord “primerea”!

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resurrection2In a recent interview on the life of faith and discipleship, Pope Francis shared an expression often used in Argentina – the expression is “primerea”. “…the Lord ‘primerea,’ anticipates us, waits for us; we sin and He is waiting to forgive us. He is waiting to welcome us, to give us His love, and each time faith grows.”

The Holy Father shared the expression in response to a question where he was asked about whether he ever felt betrayed by God. “Never,” responded Pope Francis. “I was the one who betrayed Him. At times I even felt like God was turning away from me, just as I turned away from Him. At very dark moments you ask yourself, ‘Where are you, God?’ I always believed that I was looking for God, but really it was He who was looking for me. He always gets there first and waits for us.”

The Lord “primerea”.

On Easter morning, Mary of Magdala comes to the tomb … it is empty. Peter and John run to the tomb and all they find are the burial cloths. The tomb is empty. It is empty because the Lord primerea!

A closed tomb is the opposite of primerea – there is no life, life is ended. All that the closed tomb offers is loss, sadness and pain. Life, on the other hand, by its very nature moves forward! It cannot remain stagnant nor be held back – the stone is rolled away and the tomb is emptied because the Lord primerea!

The Lord leaves the tomb in order to anticipate us, in order to show and be the living mercy that forgives us now and ever again on our journey. Even though this Easter Sunday we mark and proclaim in faith that greatest of events which occurred centuries ago when our Lord was bodily raised triumphant from the dead, the truth of the resurrection – and what it means for all time and creation – does not remain in the past. The truth of the resurrection is found in our today and in our tomorrow because this is where the risen Lord awaits us. The Lord primerea!

As Pope Francis remarked, “(The Lord) always gets there first and waits for us.”

Life calls us forward and Jesus is life itself! “Where is the resurrection?” some might ask. Others might demand that we point it out in order to prove it to them! I can say that it is not to be found in the history book nor in a museum. It is found right now and it resides in tomorrow. This is why on Easter Sunday we have this strange little reading about yeast. It is a strange reading really, and why – of all days – do we have it on Easter Sunday? You would think that there would be a reading proclaiming a blare of trumpets and choirs of angels singing. But, no, on our holiest day the Church has chosen this reading. Why?

Old yeast has no life, it produces nothing. It is like the enclosed tomb. But a little yeast that is true leavens all the dough – this little yeast brings life and it brings newness! And it does it truthfully and without the need for fanfare. Christ has been sacrificed and Christ has been raised!

True life does not need spectacle in order to prove itself. The resurrection does not need to prove itself to us nor does the one who is raised need to. Life reveals itself by being life. The resurrection is shown within the hearts that have been enlivened by it, by the hearts that encounter Christ today and move toward tomorrow in hope because the risen Lord awaits them there.

The tomb is empty! The Lord is risen!

The Lord primerea!

“…see, I am doing something new” and the fowler’s net. John 8:1-11

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bird caught in the fowler's net 2What was our Lord writing on the ground with his finger? No one really knows but it is an interesting addition that the gospel writer makes to this narrative and it does lead one to wonder. What was he tracing on the ground?

In light of today’s first reading from Isaiah where the Lord proclaims that he alone is the one “who opens a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters,” I can imagine our Lord tracing the scene of the crossing of the Red Sea, because at this moment this is what our Lord is preparing to do – both for the woman caught in adultery and for the mob caught in the cycle of recrimination and violence.

Yes, the woman was caught in sin. We do not know the circumstances, nor the situation and we can honestly wonder, “well, why wasn’t the man involved also brought forward for judgment?”. But there was sin and this woman who sinned is now standing before the only one without sin. Of all, he alone can judge and condemn her. There is judgment but no condemnation. After the people walk away, our Lord asks, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” In this moment we see lived out the words found in Isaiah, “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!” The Righteous One has come but not to condemn but rather to give life. This is the amazing grace! He alone has now opened a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters. Mercy is given and divine mercy alone sets the sinner free from the trap of sin.

“We escaped like a bird from the fowler’s net. The net was broken and we escaped; our help is in the name of our Lord…” (Psalm 124:7-8). “…see, I am doing something new!”

But the path through the waters is not just for the woman, it is also for the crowd! They are caught up in the frenzy and blood thirst of a mob. They are clinging to the stones they want to hurl at the woman! They also are trapped in the fowler’s net of sin, violence and death although they do not recognize it. Their trap is not as public as that of the woman. Christ will also do something new for them.

Again, God says through the prophet Isaiah, “In the desert I make a way, in the wastelands, rivers.” The cycle of violence gives no life and to be trapped in that cycle is to be trapped in a lifeless desert! Only God can call forth life in that desert, only God can call forth rivers in that wasteland. So, in his encounter with the demonic frenzy of the mob, Christ – the only one without sin – quietly bends down, traces on the ground and says, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Jesus is truth and he alone calls forth truth and the violence of the mob breaks on the truth of who he is. The gospel says, “…they went away one by one, beginning with the elders.”

Something new had just happened! The cycle of violence had just been broken by the one who is truth and who is mercy … and he continues to trace on the ground.

Friends, the readings for this Sunday are not circumspect. No one is exempt. Everyone – in one way or another or in many ways – is caught in the fowler’s net. Everyone is trapped – whether recognized, public or not. Where are we before our Lord – the only one without sin, the one who is both truth and mercy. Will we let him do something new? Will we let him open a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters for us?

Jesus’ Hope

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Jesus in the desertHave you ever noticed that each of our Lord’s temptations in Luke’s Gospel is a temptation to something within the immediate and that our Lord responds to each temptation by his hope in the future? That Jesus responds by not getting stuck in the immediate but by looking beyond the immediate to the infinite?

The gospel tells us that our Lord, after fasting for forty days was hungry. That is an immediate need. We all know that when we are hungry it is hard to even think about anything else. The devil plays on this. “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” Answer this immediate and pressing need! Satisfy your hunger! Our Lord responds, “… One does not live on bread alone.” Our Lord’s hope is not in a quick fix or easy answer right now but on that which is truly enduring and lasting – relationship with the Father.

The devil again tempts the Lord, “I shall give you all this power and glory … all this will be yours, if you worship me.” Okay, Jesus has come to be savior and king – the devil concedes this – but he need not go through the pain and struggle, suggests the Father of Lies. Jesus need not go to Jerusalem and walk the way of Calvary. He can be king now, immediately! Jesus can be king without the cross! Certainly tempting, but our Lord responds, “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.” Jesus answers by showing where his hope lies – not in the devil and his power and neither in any power that the world affords in the here and now but in the Father and his will. Jesus hopes in the Father and the Father alone will Jesus serve.

If not through need nor through power will the Lord be tempted then through love will the devil try to tempt the Lord. Make the Father show his love here and now, force his hand! “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: “He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you…” The Son will not force the Father to prove his love. His hope in the Father’s love does not need to be proven at any point, it endures even to the cross. “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”

Jesus overcomes these temptations in the immediate not through his own strength of will but through his hope in the Father. It is the Father who summons the Son into the future – into the desert, into ministry, to Jerusalem, through the cross to the resurrection and into the fullness of the Kingdom! God summoned Jesus and Jesus put his trust in the summons of the Father. And God summons us! God calls us forward into the future – not as we might have it or envision it – but into the fullness of His Kingdom! To be a Christian – to confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and to believe in our hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead – means to be a person never resigned to the immediate nor the status quo nor to the sad belief that it is solely up to our own effort. These are the illusions of the Father of lies. That things cannot change. That there is no hope. That we are abandoned.

Jesus is risen from the dead! Hope ever endures! The Father summons us into the Kingdom!

The hymn has it right. “My life flows on in endless song above earth’s lamentations! I hear the real, though far off hymn that hails a new creation! No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock I’m clinging. Since love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?”

We are members of the Body of Christ and Jesus’ hope is our hope! We turn our gaze to the Father…

An Incarnational Faith

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hands of Christ“What does discipleship look like?’’ This was a question we were asked again and again in theology studies. What does it look like? How do disciples act in the world? How does one show that he or she is a follower of Christ?

We can always look to the communion of saints and learn from them to some degree but not completely because we live in our own specific time and specific context and every life is different. What does discipleship look like in our world today?

I believe that one of the besetting sins of our day is a desire to escape the human condition and we see this manifested in so many ways. The recent horrific legislation passed in New York and Virginia – which basically gives a wink and nod to infanticide – is a bitter refusal of the reality of the gift of life. The abuse of drugs and opioids so prevalent in our society has at heart a desire to escape our human condition – its limits and its sufferings. The tendency to live more in the virtual reality of our iPhone than in the reality of our life seems a very common mode of escape.  The confusion regarding gender identity that contains within it a denial of the role that our physical body itself plays in our identity. It is as if the body and the material does not really matter…

This desire to escape the human condition has even entered our Christian understanding. I will confess a pet peeve that I have and it regards a comment often said at the death of a loved one. I understand that the intent of the comment is to comfort and I have even said it myself but it is incorrect. Sometimes, in order to comfort, people might say upon a person’s death, “heaven now has a new angel.” No, heaven does not have a new angel. Angels are a different class of being. Angels are pure spirit. We do not become angels upon our deaths. How do we know this? Because Christ did not come back as an angel upon his resurrection! His was a resurrected body and he specifically points this out in his resurrection appearances. “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.” (Lk. 24: 39) Our true identity is not solely spirit. Our true identity as human creatures is body, mind and spirit. This is the fullness of who we are and it is this fullness that will be raised on the great day of resurrection! We proclaim this every Sunday when we proclaim the creed. This temptation to over spiritualize our human nature finds root in numerous spiritualities and approaches to faith that denigrate the body and the material in favor of a view of the spiritual that does not seriously take account of the incarnation – that God became flesh and himself entered into the human condition.

In a world and a time so intent on trying to escape the human condition in so many ways what does discipleship look like? How are we to live as Christians? It is incarnational. It accepts the human condition and it recognizes that it is within our very human condition with all of its limits that we find a privileged place of encounter with Christ our Lord who is the Word made flesh.

Having a faith that is incarnational is neither a turning away from the path of discipleship nor a failure to strive after that which is better, but rather the opposite. It is learning to be amazed, just as Peter was, with how Christ is able to encounter us within the very limits of our human condition. “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” But Christ does not depart. He remains and it is in that ongoing encounter with Christ within the limits of his human condition that Peter is healed and is even made a fisher of men but Peter never escapes his human condition. He does not need to because Christ – the Lord of Life – is there. The disciple must always be where the Master is.

What does discipleship look like today? It must be unabashedly incarnational – not wanting to escape the human condition but willing to encounter Christ within the very limits of our human condition.

Earlier this week a priest at our diocesan priest study days in Gatlinburg shared what I thought was a powerful image of a faith that is incarnational. If you have ever been to Notre Dame Church in Greeneville, TN you know that the church sits at the top of a rise and that to get to the church you must ascend a pretty long driveway. A member of that church community had been trying for quite some time to get pregnant. She finally was able to get pregnant and one day in her gratitude to God for her pregnancy she dropped down on her knees at the bottom of the drive and crawled all the way up the drive on her knees and into the church to the altar as a show of gratitude for the blessing God had given her. That is an incarnational faith. That is what discipleship looks like.

One piece of the puzzle is enough

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Christmas puzzle (2)I go to the YMCA to exercise and for anyone who has been there you know that once you enter the building and head down the main hall there is a lounge area on the left and on a table in this room there is always a puzzle being worked on. I have begun the practice of spending three to five minutes at this puzzle after I exercise and before I leave. My goal is to try to get at least one piece of the puzzle in place. (The last time I was there I got three pieces in … I was quite proud of myself!) I could easily spend hours at this table because I like puzzles but I am learning that there is something good about limiting myself to just one or a few pieces at a time and also seeing how the puzzle comes together as other people also work on it.

If you look at the Scripture readings over these weeks of Advent it is like God putting the pieces of the puzzle together right in front of our eyes – the hopes of Israel, the promise of the prophets, Gabriel appears to Zechariah to announce that he and Elizabeth will have a son, Zechariah doubts and is left mute till the birth of John, Gabriel appears to Mary, Mary believes and she conceives by the Holy Spirit, the angel appears to Joseph in a dream to assuage all of his fears and uncertainties, wise men from the East begin their trek towards Bethlehem. John the Baptist appears on the scene. Piece by piece the puzzle is put together.

But it is one piece at a time. If you look at the passage where Gabriel appears to Zechariah in the temple, the angel announces that Zechariah and Elizabeth will have a son in their old age and that the son will help turn Israel back to God. Gabriel sort of hints at the coming of a Messiah but he does not say it out right. The angel gives Zechariah one piece of the puzzle. That is enough. Gabriel appears to Mary and announces that she will bear a child who will be the son of the Most High and who will reign forever but he does not say how our Lord will accomplish this and how everything will play out. He gives one piece of the puzzle. That is enough. An angel appears to Joseph in a dream to tell him not to fear to take Mary as his wife, that the child is of God and will save the people from their sins. Again, nothing about how this will be accomplished, just one piece of the puzzle. It is enough.

In today’s gospel with Mary visiting Elizabeth we see Luke doing something he likes to do throughout his writings – he brings two people together who each have had an experience of God, who each have a piece of the puzzle. The two come together, they each share their story – their piece – and by so doing, they are brought to a greater understanding and awareness. And in this particular encounter there is an even deeper encounter – the infant in Elizabeth’s womb who will be the great prophet leaps in the presence of the Word made flesh in the womb of Mary and shares his prophetic spirit with his mother who then proclaims, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

So often in regards to faith and in regards to live in general we want no loose ends, we want to have it all figured out but this is like trying to grab a sip of water from a fire hose! It doesn’t work that way. One lesson of Advent, one lesson learned from the people of the Advent story – welcome the one piece of the puzzle that God has given us in this moment of our journey and be content with that. Sit with it, appreciate it, wonder over it, learn the lesson it offers, share it and the truth it offers with others and together learn to trust in our own hearts and with one another that God is at work bringing it all together in his way.

One piece of the puzzle. It is enough.

What are the animals in your stable?

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animals in the mangerYou may have noticed that Seth who oversees our parish maintenance has placed the animals in the stable scene outside in front of our church. I appreciated this as the day after he put the figures out I came across this quote from the author Evelyn Underhill,

“Human nature is like a stable inhabited by the ox of passion and the ass of prejudice; animals which take up a lot of room and which I suppose most of us feed on the quiet. And it is there between them, pushing them out, that Christ must be born and in their very manger he must be laid – and they will be the first to fall on their knees before him. Sometimes Christians seem far nearer to those animals than to Christ in his simple poverty, self-abandoned to God.”

The stable scene and the quote prompt a good examination in preparation for the coming Christmas celebration. What are the animals inhabiting the stable of my heart? Truth be told, any person who would say, “I have no animals. My stable is completely clean,” either does not know his or her own heart, is a fool or a liar or maybe a combination of all three. Honestly, what are the animals in the stable of our hearts?

We can even get quite creative in this examination. The ox of passion might be the passion of lust but it also might be the passion of anger, control or narcissism. The ass of prejudice might be prejudice against the one who is different, the stranger or the person I have already judged in my own heart. But there can be other animals. The strutting rooster of pride and arrogance, the fat, squawking hen of gossip, the goat of resentment, the pig of sloth, the farm rat of jealousy… What are the animals in our stables? A good way to prepare for Christmas is to honestly and creatively look within and not be afraid to acknowledge and name those animals that we find within our stables. A spiritual truth – when we can creatively and even mockingly name the animals that mill about in our heart’s stable, they actually begin to lose their power – for example, when we know our pride is at work we can chuckle to ourselves, “there goes that strutting rooster again!”

The quote from Underhill goes further though and brings out another deep dynamic in the Christian mystery when she writes that it is precisely within the stable, between all the animals that reside there, that Christ must be born. It is not we who first make our stables nice, neat and clean in order to then welcome the Christ child; it is the Christ child who first chooses to be born within the crowded mess of both our world’s and hearts’ stables and by his presence brings the light and healing that we yearn for. The Nativity stable continually instructs us to avoid the danger – even heresy (Pelagianism) – of believing that it is we who first cleanse our stables by our own efforts in order to then win and warrant the coming of our savior, the gift of grace. It does not work that way. God first arrives – even into the mess and pressing crowd of our little stables – and this is what brings life and the healing.

Both prophets in today’s readings proclaim this to us. The prophet Baruch proclaims the glory of Jerusalem but specifies that it is a glory that comes from God. “Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever: wrapped in the cloak of justice from God…” The prophet invites Israel to live and rejoice in this gift from God! Even John the Baptist – who is that voice crying out in the desert, who is that one who is sent to prepare the way of the Lord – proclaims that it is the “salvation of God” that all flesh will see. God arrives first. “And it is there between them, pushing them out, that Christ must be born and in their very manger he must be laid…”

Soon Mary and Joseph, the angels and the shepherds and eventually the three kings will also arrive at the stable but before all of that it is worthwhile to just sit and acknowledge the animals in our stables. It is worthwhile to honestly admit their presence and to know that Christ is not put off by them – that he will be born within their midst, that he will be laid in their manger and that the animals – by his presence, healing and grace – will then become the very first to kneel down in adoration.

The poor widow’s offering: Heart speaking to Heart

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the-poor-widows-offeringAs some of you know I recently went to Yellowstone National Park and led a retreat there. Before and after the retreat I had free days so I took advantage of those days and went on some hikes. The first day going in I stopped at the ranger station just to check on things and make sure there were no concerns about the trails I was considering. The ranger suggested that I download the Yellowstone Park app as it would be a help to me. I took his advice and downloaded the app. It was a great help. What they have done at Yellowstone (and I am not sure if this is at other parks or not) is that they have mapped out every trail in the park on this app. Not only that, but when you go out on the trail you take your phone with you, switch it to airplane mode so that it is not continually searching for coverage and draining your battery and with GPS the phone shows you via a little dot on the screen exactly where you are at on the trail. One phone in the vast expanse of Yellowstone communicating with some satellite in the sky telling you exactly where you are at and which way to turn when the trail splits. I just find that level of technology, connection and focus amazing!

Our Lord, in today’s gospel, has a level of focus that is also amazing. He is watching a crowd giving their contribution to the temple treasury. To his disciples he singles out one poor widow in the midst of that whole crowd. She gave not out of her surplus but, even in her poverty, she gave out of her livelihood. Her act was an act of faith and of trust. In essence it was a movement of love from her heart to the heart of God and we have a God who notices such movements – even the smallest of movements. Bl. John Henry Newman said that true evangelization, true sharing of the good news occurs when “heart speaks to heart”. There was such a communication going on here In this moment, the heart of that woman – by trusting and giving out of her livelihood – was speaking, was calling out in love to the heart of God. And the heart of God, in Christ, saw her, and heard her and blessed her for it!

Our Lord had just condemned the scribes and their need to go around in long robes, who recite lengthy prayers and who accept seats of honor in banquets in order to be noticed, but, who themselves, never notice the widows. I am sure that there were scribes in this crowd along with all the people giving out of their surplus. Just another day at the temple treasury. The people in the crowd themselves probably never noticed the poor widow. Some of them may have even viewed her as a nuisance – a nobody getting in the way of their holy and respectable duty. But, Jesus does not notice any of them because even with their long robes, their lengthy prayers and their large sums of money their hearts were not open. There is no heart speaking to heart because on their side the heart is mute and has nothing to say, despite all the show. Jesus, takes no notice of them.

Jesus sees the widow; his heart hears her. In contrast to the scribes, our Lord invites us to learn and live the simple and honest faith of the poor widow. No crowds, no distance, no outward appearances or show distract the heart of God. The heart of God is focused on the human heart that calls out to him in honesty, in love and in faith. Heart speaks to heart – this is where God will meet us. God is found and God is encountered in the sincerity of belief, the sincerity of a heart that is open, honest and trusting. In this regard our Lord confirms that the poor widow was, in fact, the richest contributor within that crowd of people that day because her heart was open. “Amen, I say to you, the poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”

“Heart speaks to heart,” true evangelization, true sharing of the good news occurs when one heart opens to another.

In this witness of the poor widow and our Lord’s noticing of her even as she seems hidden amidst the crowd of people, we also learn that God’s heart is open and searching – searching for the human heart that is open and calling upon him in humility, faith, trust and love.

“But from the beginning…” Christ remembers.

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Christ iconA joke – an elderly couple were visiting the county fair. While wandering around they noticed that helicopter rides were being offered for fifty dollars. The wife turned to the husband and excitedly said, “Let’s go on a helicopter ride!” The old man just shook his head and replied, “Honey, that’s a lot of money. Fifty dollars is fifty dollars.” and they walked off. The next year the same couple was back at the fair and again helicopter rides were being offered for fifty dollars. The woman wanted to go for a ride but again her husband just shook his head and said, “Sorry, fifty dollars is fifty dollars.” The woman sighed and the old couple walked off. The next year, they were again back at the fair and again helicopter rides were being offered. Again the wife asked her husband to go up on a ride but again the man answered “Fifty dollars is fifty dollars.” This time though the pilot was nearby and overheard their conversation. He stopped the couple and said, “Listen, I will make you a deal. I will take you up and give you the best and most thrilling helicopter ride of your lives and if I hear not a single thing from you – no words, no laughing, no exclamations – your ride will be free!” The old man – always quick to get something for nothing – immediately said yes and up the three went in the helicopter! The pilot was true to his word – it was the best and most thrilling helicopter ride! The day was beautiful and you could see for miles! The pilot, to add a little excitement (and try to get some sound out of the two) even steeply banked the helicopter one way and then the other way throughout the ride. The pilot was amazed though because throughout the whole ride he heard not one sound from the elderly couple. Finally, after landing he turned around and realized that the old man was not in the helicopter. “Where is your husband?” he asked the woman. “Oh, he fell out about thirty minutes ago.” Shocked, the pilot asked, “Why didn’t you say something?!”. “Well,” she said, “fifty dollars is fifty dollars!”

Relationships are a mystery are they not? When we step back to think about it though, we quickly realize how so much of our lives – our time, our attention, our energy, our focus – is caught up in relationship! Whether it be the relationship of friendship, of family, of work, of church, of our relationship with God or (as today’s readings highlight) the very ancient and unique relationship of husband and wife. So much of all that we are about and are is caught up in this mystery of relationship. The readings for today cast some light on this deep, abiding and sometimes conflicted mystery.

The first truth shared is that we are made for relationship. God himself says, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.” God – who himself is a trinity of relationships – has built within us the need for relationship. And it is a need critical for our own flourishing! We are in essence hardwired for relationship and we only become who we are meant to be through relationship. The vocation of marriage witnesses this in an utterly unique and potentially holy way. Husbands and wives are meant to help one another grow in holiness – which means comfort, support but also challenge when needed. The “two becoming one flesh” is a great mystery that God himself has written into creation that should not be passed over lightly.

The second truth is that this need and drive for relationship has – along with everything else – been wounded and warped by sin. This is a sad reality and how much pain it causes in our world and in every individual life. Angry words, sad, poor and hurtful choices, violence in all sorts of ways even over generations and whole nations wound and leave scars that last a lifetime or more. No form of relationship (including marriage) is immune from these dangers and this hurt.

I speak from my experience and what I witnessed in the lives of my parents. When I was in fourth grade my parents divorced. My father was an alcoholic who tried but was never able to overcome his disease. My senior year of high school he drank himself to death. My mother was faced with a very tough choice on how to raise her boys in the best possible way within a bad situation. They divorced. It hurts when the very real wounds of sin break a relationship. It is almost natural – a “sad natural” – that a hardness of heart sets in when there has been pain.

The third truth – and this is the saving message – is that there is one who has come and who remembers (because he was there) the truth of relationship before the hardness of heart. “Jesus told them, … ‘But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’” This one who has come is neither afraid nor scandalized by suffering. The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that, in fact, he has been made perfect through suffering. He is neither afraid nor scandalized by suffering and he is willing to walk each one of us back to the truth and the wholeness and the authenticity found in the beginning of God’s creation.

The fourth, and final truth for today – wherever you are in life allow Christ to walk you back to that wholeness and authenticity of relationship we were made for by God before the hardness of heart. If you are in marriage – allow Christ to continually walk you and your spouse back to that wholeness of relationship which existed prior to the hardness of heart. Every day! Every day, allow Christ to walk you back. Every day do the work that is needed! Do not take anything or anyone for granted. If you are in the brokenness of divorce realize, please realize that Christ is not put off, he is not scandalized. He is the one made perfect through suffering. He meets you there in the suffering – he heals what needs to be healed, he strengthens what needs to be strengthened. Allow him to walk you back to the wholeness and authenticity that God wants for you before the hardness of heart. Allow him to walk with you.

Christ remembers, he remembers before the hardness of heart.

Christ, help us to remember.

Christ, walk each one of us back to the life that was before the hardness of heart. Walk each one of us into the fullness of your Father’s Kingdom.