Coming to Faith: the man born blind

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man born blind 2In today’s gospel there is a development in the thought of the man born blind and in his proclamation of who Jesus is. It is important to note that just as the questioning the man faces increases, just as his social supports fall away and just as the pressure on him gets heavier – the man’s knowledge of who Jesus is and his proclamation of who Jesus is increases.

When his neighbors asked who had healed him, the man born blind responded that it was the “man called Jesus” who had healed him. The man did not even know where Jesus was.

Brought before the Pharisees and facing both their authority and the debate among themselves regarding the righteousness of Jesus, the man born blind says, “He is a prophet.”

The Pharisees in their authority summon the man’s parents and question them. In their fear, the parents back off by saying, “Ask him, he is of age; he can speak for himself.” Now imagine that. The man’s own parents back away. The man is totally on his own before the powerful.

This time the Pharisees have no debate among themselves. They have convinced themselves that Jesus is a sinner and they want to force this man to admit it also. They ridicule the man. They seek to strip away any dignity he has. But in the face of this the man goes even further in his proclamation. “It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.” Jesus “is from God” the man boldly proclaims and we are told that the Pharisees “threw him out”. That is more than just getting tossed from the meeting. That is ostracization. The man is ostracized both by his refusal to denounce Jesus as a sinner and his boldness in proclaiming Jesus to be from God!

But it does not end there. Jesus seeks the man out and in their encounter Jesus asks the man if he believes him to be the Son of Man – a term used for the expected Messiah. The man makes his fullest profession of faith when he says, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshipped him.” The man proclaims Jesus as Lord and he worships him. Only God is to be worshipped and by this act the man proclaims Jesus to be God.

There are many truths to this gospel passage but I believe a truly important truth for our day and time, as the world is facing what we are facing, is this: Jesus is always more than the pains, struggles and persecutions that we might have to endure. Jesus is more than the suspicions of the neighbors. Jesus is more than the pressure and ridicule of the powerful of this world. Jesus is more than the falling away of our support systems. Jesus is always more because Jesus is God!

And not only is Jesus more than all of this, Jesus is willing to seek us out, to find us. Jesus reveals that God is God for us! The God who is always more than what life can throw at us is also the God who loves us and who seeks us out.

This is our hope and it is the hope that endures.

En el evangelio de hoy hay un desarrollo en el pensamiento del hombre ciego de nacimiento y en su proclamación de quién es Jesús. Es importante señalar que a medida que aumenta el cuestionamiento que enfrenta el hombre, así como sus apoyos sociales se desvanecen y cuando la presión sobre él aumenta, el conocimiento del hombre de quién es Jesús y su proclamación de quién es Jesús aumenta.

Cuando sus vecinos preguntaron quién lo había sanado, el ciego respondió que fue el “hombre llamado Jesús” quien lo había sanado. El hombre ni siquiera sabía dónde estaba Jesús.

Fue llevado ante los fariseos y enfrentando tanto su autoridad como el debate entre ellos acerca de la justicia de Jesús, el ciego dice: “Él es un profeta”.

Los fariseos en su autoridad llamaron a los padres del hombre y los interrogaron. En su miedo, los padres retroceden diciendo: “Pregúntenle a él, ya es mayor de edad; él puede hablar por sí mismo “. Ahora imaginense eso. Los propios padres del hombre retroceden. El hombre está totalmente solo ante los poderosos.

Esta vez los fariseos no debaten entre ellos. Se han convencido de que Jesús es un pecador y quieren obligar a este hombre a admitirlo también. Se burlan del hombre. Buscan quitarle toda la dignidad que tenga. Pero ante esto, el hombre va aún más lejos en su proclamación. “Jamás se había oído decir que alguien abriera los ojos a un ciego de nacimiento. Si este no viniera de Dios, no tendría ningún poder “. Jesús “es de Dios”, el hombre proclama audazmente y se nos dice que los fariseos “lo echaron fuera”. Eso es más que simplemente ser expulsado de la reunión. Eso es ostracismo, aislamiento o exclusión ¡El hombre está condenado al aislamiento, tanto por su negativa a denunciar a Jesús como pecador, como por su valentía al proclamar que Jesús es de Dios!

Pero no termina ahí. Jesús busca al hombre y, en su encuentro, Jesús le pregunta al hombre si cree que él es el Hijo del Hombre, un término usado para el Mesías esperado. El hombre hace su más completa profesión de fe cuando dice: “Sí creo, Señor”, y lo adora “. El hombre proclama a Jesús como Señor y lo adora. Solo Dios debe ser adorado y por este acto el hombre proclama que Jesús es Dios.

Hay muchas verdades en este pasaje del evangelio, pero creo que una verdad realmente importante para nuestro día y tiempo, ya que el mundo enfrenta lo que estamos enfrentando, es esto: Jesús siempre es más que los dolores, las luchas y las persecuciones que podríamos tener que soportar. Jesús es más que las sospechas de los vecinos. Jesús es más que la presión y el ridículo de los poderosos de este mundo. Jesús es más que la caída de nuestros sistemas de apoyo. ¡Jesús siempre es más porque Jesús es Dios!

Y no solo es Jesús más que todo esto, Jesús está dispuesto a buscarnos, a encontrarnos. ¡Jesús revela que Dios es Dios para nosotros! El Dios que siempre es más de lo que la vida puede arrojarnos es también el Dios que nos ama y que nos busca.

Esta es nuestra esperanza y es la esperanza que perdura.

Lent 101: Our sin and God’s response.

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1ce72-ashwednesday-christThere is a salvific equation at work in the readings for this first Sunday of Lent and it is important to recognize as we begin this Lenten season and our journey to Easter. The equation is this: we sinned by trying to grasp the glory of God and God saves us by letting go of His glory and becoming a servant.

Adam and Eve are tempted by the serpent in the garden. “You certainly will not die! No. God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is evil.” We try to grasp the glory that is due to God alone. We try to make of ourselves little gods – controlling our world, controlling everything, answerable only to ourselves! It is a form of pride and it is the root of all sin. We sin by trying to claim the glory of God for ourselves.

God answers not by condemning nor by destroying all of sinful humanity and starting anew. No, God answers our insult by coming even closer than before. God enters into his very creation in the form of a servant. In the temptations in the desert we find Jesus taking on the mantle and role of the servant.

The servant is the one who is never satisfied in his own needs because he is required first and foremost to see to the satisfaction of his master. The servant is the one who claims no special status. He is just a servant after all. The servant has no power. In each of the three temptations we see our Lord taking on the mantle of the servant.

“Command that these stones become loaves of bread,” tempts Satan. “You are hungry. You have been fasting. See to your own needs first. Satisfy your hunger, turn these stones into loaves of bread!” Our Lord refuses. He will be a servant and a servant does not see to his own needs first. Jesus overcomes the devil’s temptation by falling back on the word of God.

“Throw yourself down from this parapet,” tempts Satan, “God will protect you! You are his son after all.” “Claim your special status and make sure all the world sees it and acknowledges it!” Jesus refuses. He will not put his Father to the test. Jesus is the one “who though in the form of God did not deem equality with God something to be grasped, but rather took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men.” Jesus will be a servant. He will not claim special status.

In the final temptation, the devil shows our Lord all the power of the world and offers it to him if only Jesus will bow down in worship. Jesus will not claim the power and he will not worship the tempter. “The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.” Jesus is to be a servant.

By the end of the temptations, Jesus has fully vested himself in the mantle of the servant – the one who does not seek his own satisfaction, the one who claims no special status, the one who has no power. Now, he begins his journey toward Jerusalem and the great work of our salvation.

We sinned by trying to grasp the glory of God. God saves us by becoming a servant.

One further thought as we begin these weeks. Let’s not lose sight of the forest for the trees. It is easy to get focused in on what we are going to do for these next forty days – what we will give up, how we will pray, what we will do – that we actually lose sight of the great work that has already been done! Yes, there is importance to prayer, fasting and almsgiving – none of this is being denied – but make sure these next forty days to also leave space for wonder. Make sure to take time to wonder, to just be amazed at what God has done and continues to do in Christ our Lord! How we are saved by this God who became servant. Wonder (and out of that gratitude) is also an important aspect of the Lenten journey.

We sinned by trying to grasp the glory of God. God saves us by becoming a servant.

Salt and Light: a task we are given

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Jesus-Christ-from-Hagia-SophiaI have been reading a book by Liz Forkin Bohannon entitled “Beginner’s Pluck” – not “luck” but “pluck” with a “p”. The author has some good insights and she is not afraid to take on some sacred cows in our times and culture. One of these sacred cows is the myth of “finding your passion” in life and she addresses this in a chapter aptly entitled, “Stop Trying to ‘Find Your Passion’”.

Her point is that passion is not found but built. Here I want to share a quote from her book,

     The critical difference is this: when you set out to “find” something, it requires that you know what you’re looking for. When we believe in the notion that we will eventually “find” our purpose and passion, we bide our time, living only half alive and gripped by fear. We look to others who have already “found it,” and we get jealous, overwhelmed, and confused when we try to run someone else’s race because we want to end up where they are.
     We cling to the narrative of “finding” because it is self-soothing and gives us permission to be passive, and we fall asleep to the world and to the work that is right in front of us.
     We can blame our lack of direction and purpose on The Universe and Other Vague External Factors instead of taking responsibility for our own lives and moving forward with courage and intentionality.
     When we believe our passion and purpose is waiting to be found, we wait instead of create.
     The mentality around creating and building is much different than finding or discovering. Have you ever heard an author describe the process of writing the novel without knowing how the story ends? They don’t talk about the moment when they finally found the perfect last sentence which then gave them permission to start writing. They talk about how each day, they sit down with an openness to where the narrative will go, and they know they must write it into existence. In the end, they sit back and marvel not at their discovery, but at their creation.
     Your passion isn’t found in your dreaming. It’s made by your doing.

Here is the connection to this Sunday’s readings. In today’s gospel (Mt. 5:13-16) our Lord says, “You are the salt of the earth … You are the light of the world.” This is not meant to be a nice description we can pat ourselves on the back for. “Hey, look at what the Son of God said we are!” It is not that. It is a task to be lived. How do we recognize it is a task to be lived? Because immediately our Lord then goes on to caution that salt can lose its taste and a light can be hidden.

This understanding is backed up in the first reading from Isaiah (Is. 58:7-10). “Thus says the Lord: Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn…” These are all “doing” words, active verbs. They are not passive.

“Salt of the earth” and “Light of the world” are not meant to be nice little descriptions that the Christian can sit comfortably and passively within. They are a task we are given by our Lord himself – tasks to which we will have to give an accounting of.

I like Bohannon’s writing because she is quite honest and she is not afraid to even call herself out. The business she created helps women and girls in impoverished areas around the world but she admits she was not “born” with this passion, rather it grew over time as she made choices, as she investigated and explored things. This is how it really happens. The “Find your Passion” myth often cripples us because it seems so big and daunting from the outset that we just become stuck and not sure what to do. “Forget all that,” says the author and she offers some sound advice from her own life to get beyond that hurdle. “What are you interested in? What intrigues you?” Do the work of exploring that and then see where you go. Both our passion and our purpose our built – not found.

God provides his grace but God does not overwhelm our wills. God wants us to play our part in the equation. We are not meant to be passive bystanders to our lives and our time in this world. This is not what our Lord means when he says we are salt and light. By saying salt and light, our Lord has given us a task that we are each meant to live and to do.

Joseph’s choice.

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let mum restIt was more than just the dream for Joseph that led him to take the young, pregnant Mary into his home – even as he knew that his decision would not be understood by his neighbors and that he would be mocked and ridiculed for welcoming Mary. No person wants to be seen as a fool. Yes, the angel appeared in a dream and certainly there must have been the glory and power of God revealed but God never overwhelms our volition. God never manipulates. God always invites our free choice and our free response.

The other part to Joseph’s decision was Joseph himself. This is witnessed by the two descriptions of the man found in the Gospel reading for this fourth Sunday of Advent; “…Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man…” and the title given by the angel in his greeting, “Joseph, Son of David…” Scholars say that the title offered by the angel is Matthew’s way of linking Jesus to the lineage of David but it is also safe to say that the greeting offered is a reflection on Joseph himself as being an observant Jew of his time, as being a righteous man who demonstrated by his life and his choices his belief in God.

Joseph, who says no words in all of Scripture, teaches us that God does not and will not overwhelm our volition nor does faith occur in a vacuum. What led up to Joseph’s ability to both hear and trust in the dream and then to take Mary “into his home” was a lifetime of making the choice for God and responding to God’s initiative and grace in faith and trust.

We often willfully forget that we have a part to play in the equation of faith. So often we say, “Why is God silent? Why is God not speaking in our world or in our lives?” Well, maybe God is speaking but it is we who have stopped our ears and it is we who have hardened our hearts by the choices we have made and continue to make. Choices have consequences.

I think it safe to say that every choice Joseph made for God (no matter how big or small, seen or unseen, applauded or not) in his journey of faith both led up to and prepared him for the moment we hear today in the gospel. All those choices gave Joseph the strength of character to trust in the message of the angel and to take Mary “into his home”.

We hear of the Star of Bethlehem that led the wise men to the place of the birth of the savior. Joseph had his own “north star” that guided him throughout the journey of his life. It was his faith and his decision to live according to his faith. Without a word spoken, Joseph teaches us what it means to be righteous in the eyes of God and what it means to be a child of David – it means trusting in God and then acting on that trust.

Faith does not occur in a vacuum.

God does not overwhelm our volition and God does not manipulate.

Our choices do have consequences.

We can make the choice to soften our hearts and open our ears and to listen to what God has to offer.

Joseph teaches us this.

On Stewardship, the Parish and Iconography

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painting an icon

At the last parish Finance Council meeting it was decided to make use of this weekend to reflect on our parish and on stewardship. Since then I have been trying to think of a helpful image to use. Finally, after some thought and prayer, the image came to me and it is an image gained from my experience of painting icons.

In iconography you paint the darkest level of color first and then you lighten it as you go but you do not lighten all at once rather you add a little bit of warm white to the color and then you put down a very thin layer of the now lighter color, then you add a little more white and then another very thin layer and then again the same and you may do this many more times but this discipline of adding just one thin layer after another has the effect of bringing the light out gradually and this process is what makes an icon “shine” and it is what helps to make religious icons such a beautiful form of art as well as expressions of faith.

In many ways a parish can, itself, be considered a living icon to the Lord. Everything that we are and everything that we are about as St. Dominic Parish should reflect the glory of God to our world and to us (one another). How do we do this? Sometimes yes in bold strokes, when the Church needs to proclaim the dignity of the human person or the truth of our faith or when we need to be present in a moment of tragedy and loss. These are exceptional moments but they are not all the moments and often they are not the majority of moments. Most moments of a parish reflecting the glory of God are made up of one thin layer laid on top of another.

Here are just a few from our parish of St. Dominic’s:

When our parish youth attend an organized parish religious education program staffed by dedicated parish volunteers generously giving of their talent and time, that is one layer reflecting the glory of God in the icon on St. Dominic Parish.
When our parish offers our Growing in Faith Days or our small group Wild Goose series reminding us that faith formation is a life long process that is another layer added.
When our parish office staff continually aids parishioners in their needs that is a significant layer added daily.
When our Senior Ministry offers another fun and engaging event that builds support and friendship that is another layer.
When we have a parish Family Festival or Youth Ministry and Apprentice Workshop offer a Trunk or Treat and are already planning for summer retreats that is adding another layer.
When our school educates the whole child every day of the school year and affirms that child’s dignity that is another layer.
When we are able to minister to those who are most in need in our parish or our community through our St. Vincent de Paul Society or the Knights of Columbus or Martha and Mary, the Kitchen of Hope or Interfaith Hospitality that adds a beautiful shining layer.
When we are able to devote resources to prayer, worship and the life of the sacraments that adds a deep and abiding layer.
The list can go on and on…
St. Dominic parish continues to be a living icon to our Lord beautifully made up of all these different layers of faith and witness.

Can we and will we support the continuing work of this living icon of St. Dominic Parish? Within the bulletin this weekend is a graph that shows the breakdown of giving in our parish. It can be seen that the vast majority of giving is at the lowest step of the graph. Wherever we find ourselves on the chart if we could consider going up to the next step of giving that alone would have an enormous impact on the life and the ministry of our parish. (Some people might be able to go up more than one step.) All the examples shared above are made possible through the generosity of our giving in support of our parish and all of its ministries.

I like the image of the chart because it is steps. The journey is not made by jumping from the lowest to the highest step.  That is not being asked. What is being asked is to consider making the next step in support of the ministry of our parish and to continue in that level of support.

I like the image of the icon because the beauty of the icon as a whole is made up of all those different layers of paint being laid down one after the other. St. Dominic Parish is a living icon of our Lord and in many ways it truly does reflect the beauty of God.

Please reflect on these words. Please reflect on the information in the flyer. Please reflect on all the good going on in our parish and what that means in our lives and the lives of many and also please reflect on what it would mean if all the good being done through our parish was absent.

Please consider taking the next step in support of our parish.

Another layer to the beauty of the icon of St. Dominic parish? It is what we are reflecting upon this Sunday – the generous and committed giving in support of our parish and its ministries.

May God continue to bless our parish and may St. Dominic’s always be a living icon reflecting the glory of God to our world.

 

Below is the information given in the flyer:

Renewing Our Commitment to Our Parish When you give to the parish you support our ministries and help to provide for our spiritual home. As you reflect on your commitment to our parish, keep in mind that giving to the parish should be: • Freely given in a spirit of joy • Given along with the gift of yourself • Consistent and proportionate to your resources Please consult the chart provided and prayerfully consider what you may be able to give.

The Stair Steps of Giving: can you take the next step?

776 Families    $5.00 or less/week
47 Families      $5.01-$10/week
47 Families      $10.01-$15/week
37 Families      $15.01-$20/week
59 Families      $20.01-$30/week
51 Families      $30.01-$40/week
30 Families      $40.01-$50/week
38 Families      $50.01-$75/week
19 Families      $75.01-$100/week
27 Families      $100.01-$200/week
8 Families        $200.01 and above/week

Families donating at each level to the general offertory. This does not include donations to Malawi, St. Vincent de Paul nor Interfaith. It does not include families who put loose cash in the collection basket – about $1,000 weekly. It does not include visitors who contribute a total of about $105 weekly.

Learning the Commerce of the Kingdom of God

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bird feederI am a fan of the work and the writings of Wendell Berry. Here, I would like to share #7 from his “Window Poems”.

Outside the window
in a roofed wooden tray
he fills with seed for the birds.
They make a sort of dance
as they descend and light
and fly off at a slant
across the strictly divided
black sash. At first
they came fearfully, worried
by the man’s movements
inside the room. They watched
his eyes, and flew
when he looked. Now they expect
no harm from him
and forget he’s there.
They come into his vision,
unafraid. He keeps
a certain distance and quietness
in tribute to them.
That they ignore him
he takes in tribute to himself.
But they stay cautious
of each other, half afraid, unwilling
to be too close. They snatch
what they can carry and fly
into the trees. They flirt out
with tail or beak and waste
more sometimes than they eat.
And the man, knowing
the price of seed, wishes
they would take more care.
But they understand only
what is free, and he
can give only as they
will take. Thus they have
enlightened him. He buys
the seed, to make it free.

“Thus they have enlightened him. He buys the seed, to make it free.” The man provides seed for the birds and the birds enlighten him, they bring him to the awareness of a new commerce. “He buys the seed, to make it free.”

In the first reading, the prophet Amos proclaims that God’s anger is stirred up because the merchants are given the life of the Sabbath and all they can do is eagerly anticipate its end so they can get back to cheating the people! Not only that, they use what is supposed to be the sacred rest of the Sabbath to plan and devise new ways to cheat and take advantage of the poor! Theirs is a sad commerce that will end in ruin because God has noticed and God will not abide this. The life of the Sabbath freely given by God, they squander away and warp in dishonest pursuits.

In the parable of the dishonest steward our Lord does not applaud the steward’s dishonesty but he notes the ingenuity, the focus and the drive of the man and he uses this to make a point. If we can be so focused, so driven and so ingenuous when it comes to this world and its commerce then why can we not be the same about the commerce of the Kingdom of God?

There is a commerce to the Kingdom of God. It is true wealth and the journey of faith is a journey of coming to recognize and value this true wealth over the dishonest wealth of our world.

Grace is free, mercy is given, life is found in Jesus Christ! Can we recognize that? Can we value it? Can we put this wealth before everything else and be just as focused, ingenuous and driven as the dishonest steward was in seeking out this true wealth and attaining it? Can we learn to set our lives and live our lives by the measure of the Kingdom of God and not by the sad commerce of this world.

The man buys the seed and, in so doing, he is enlightened by the birds. He is brought into a new awareness and into a different commerce. “He buys the seed, to make it free.”

There is a commerce to the Kingdom of God and it is different than that of the world and we are invited into it. True wealth is found here. The choice to enter (or not) into this commerce of the Kingdom of God is and ever will be ours to make.

“You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

Politics as Meta-Narrative? Meh…

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dominicRecently the Knights of Columbus decided to begin an initiative to help refugees at the U.S. – Mexican border. Carl Anderson, the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, specified in his announcement that this was not a “political statement” but a statement of principle. I find it telling that the head of this fraternal, international Catholic organization guided by the tenets of the Catholic faith felt it necessary to make this distinction.

It was in seminary that I first heard the term “meta-narrative” (beyond-story) and it was in reference to God’s plan of salvation being the meta-narrative to all other narratives in human history. The meta-narrative is the one overarching narrative (the beyond-story) to which all other narratives are to be measured, judged, transformed and even discarded if necessary. Prevailing ideas and societal customs, histories of peoples and nations, economic and political systems are all narratives and may indeed have much positive to speak for them but none are the meta-narrative, none are the Gospel story of God’s movement and plan in history. All narratives are to be judged in the light of the meta-narrative on God’s work of salvation.

I would propose for consideration that Carl Anderson’s need to clarify the purpose of the Knight’s new initiative at the border witnesses to the fact that for many who claim the name of Christian the narrative of U.S. politics has eclipsed the meta-narrative of the Gospel message. Everything is being viewed and evaluated through the lens of contemporary American politics regardless of the side of the aisle you fall on.

How did this happen? This is not an exhaustive list but here are some thoughts. The 24-hour, 7 day a week news cycle – now even more magnified by social media. We have always had political junkies and that is okay. We need people who are passionately invested in politics and willing to work and fight for what they value but what is different today is that we now have political junkies debating political junkies nonstop on our tv screens both in our homes and all other type of screens. What we are being taught by this continuous stream of political junkie debate (no matter where we find ourselves on any particular issue in the moment) is that this is the only legitimate way to see and judge all actions and events – only through the lens of the political. Holding to the meta-narrative of the Gospel, I would say “no”- politics is not the only way to see and evaluate everything and that assumption is itself a false narrative.

The turn to the base. I am not a political junkie, nor care to be – thank you. But what I have learned through my own being immersed in the continuous stream of political junkie-ism is that not that long ago a decision was made to turn to the base in the effort to win elections and advance causes and perspectives. This was a shift away from a broad appeal that would attract the large number of votes needed to get elected. It has proven to be an effective strategy but it is a strategy based on a negative – the apparent apathy of the majority vs. the fervor of the base. Because it is based on a negative, I believe it is doomed to collapse at some point and it may be quite ugly when it happens. For our purpose here, the turn to the base is again the turn to a segment of the population who is already keyed into things political – the people who have bought into the notion that politics alone is the best means to achieving a certain desired end. But, again, it is the politically-minded crowd who are having the overarching influence on determining how things are being viewed, evaluated and presented.

I do not want to come across as denigrating politics. There is certainly a value and even a virtue to politics and it is a way of encountering the mystery of life and even the true meta-narrative of God’s work of salvation but it is not the only way. I would hold that those people who are not so keyed into the political are encountering the mystery of life and even the true meta-narrative in their own way which is just as valid – art, literature, relationships, responsibilities, worship, service, appreciation of creation, community … the list could go on.

Fear. U.S. society is changing and there are many factors that are at work in this. There are and will be more darker tones of skin, there will be more non-European sounding names, there will be different styles of clothing than what we have been used to in American society. Get used to it; it is a demographic reality but change can be scary so in the midst of the change it is always important to remember that Scripture reminds us that “perfect love casts out all fear.” Trust that God is at work bringing about His Kingdom of all of His children in all of their varying hues, languages and experiences. By trusting a little bit more we can begin to let go of our little kingdoms in anticipation of God’s coming Kingdom.  Death is also a fearful thing. The Baby Boomer generation is approaching this great mystery and no amount of commercials with gray haired people climbing mountains or couples holding hands while soaking in claw-footed bathtubs set in nature will forestall this reality that we all must face. Here is where the illusion of all narratives that try to propose themselves as the meta-narrative ultimately collapse. At the tomb. The resurrection of Christ is the only beyond-story that has ever conquered the grave.  This is the only story that gives that hope which endures and that overcomes all fear.

What can be done to reduce the illusion of politics as the meta-narrative? Some thoughts. Turn off the 24 hours news cycle. It can be done and by doing so more space is allowed for other narratives and even the true meta-narrative to enter our lives. Take time to read good literature and listen to good music and enjoy good drama and theater. When good, these realities lead us into the great mysteries of the human experience. Enjoy good sport. This also is a way of being led into the mystery and drama of human experience. Remember that the United States is not the center of the world. I love my home country and am proud of what we have achieved but I have travelled enough to recognize that not everyone is looking to the U.S. at all times and that there is beauty and truth in all cultures. (A little humility goes a long way.) Go into a situation where you are a minority and be willing to keep going there. Pray and worship – root yourself in the true meta-narrative of the Gospel and even encounter the Author of this beyond-story. Go for a walk in creation and allow yourself to be struck by the truth that each of us is just one part of something much bigger than ourselves. Serve other people and learn to recognize God in that space of service. Make friends with people you do not necessarily agree with on everything. Cultivate wonder and curiosity in your life.

And, yes, be involved in politics if you have that desire but please recognize it for what it is – just one part of the story and not the whole.

Truth is, this reflection will probably be judged, written off as naïve or possibly even condemned by people who view all things through the lens of politics. Okay, that is your choice but it does not have to be mine. To God be the glory.

Singing the Goat Song

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goatOne thing that the Scriptures do not shy away from presenting is tragedy. We like tragedy when it is on the screen or in a play but not so much in our lives. This is partly why we invest in IRA’s. Yet, tragedy is a part of life (Sacred Scripture knows this) and no one gets through this life without experiencing tragedy in one form or another.

Here is an interesting fact. The word “tragedy” is rooted in two Greek words which mean “goat song”. The thought is that the word comes out of ancient Greek drama where the chorus was dressed like satyrs, who in Greek mythology were goat-like woodland deities. A tragedy is a goat song.

Our Lord makes use of tragedy throughout his parables and teachings and today’s gospel is one example. The story of the rich man planning to build bigger storage bins and then be set for many years to come is both tragic and ironic. Just as the man is planning and dreaming, God knows that very night his life will be demanded of him.

There is tragedy in life. We all, in one form or another and at one time or another, will have to sing the goat song. Maturing in life and maturing in faith is coming to both recognize this and accept it. In both the recognition and acceptance of tragedy there is a hard fought maturity and wisdom gained that can never be pretended. This is why Scripture does not shy away from presenting tragedy. It is why in the first reading we hear from that great reflection on “vanity of vanities”. Tragedy has a way (unlike any other) of breaking through the illusions of life, the vanities that we all like, the vanities that keep us comfortable but stifled and that ultimately can impede us from the growth that is necessary.

Certainly part of the mystery of the cross is tragedy. It is the greatest tragedy in human history that the one man without sin publically died the death of a sinner, but God has a way of overcoming and transforming from within. The cross does not say that the Christian will never experience tragedy. That is an immature faith, yet it is preached and popular. The cross says that even in the midst of tragedy God is there for us. God can reside in tragedy because God has entered into the tragedy of the cross. Even in the tragic moments of our lives, God is there for us – willing to walk beside us and give us his grace, his strength, his love and his consolation and hope.

At the end of the parable God says, “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?” God’s use of the term “fool” is not necessarily a condemnation of the man himself. How often do friends say to one another, “Don’t be a fool!”? Love allows for the freedom to point out foolishness. The foolishness of the man’s plans and attitude is what is subject to condemnation by God. How often are we, through our assumptions and attitudes, fools before God, but God still loves us.

“Thus it will be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.” In this context what does it mean to be “rich in what matters to God”? Here it is the awareness and the faith needed to know that, yes, there will be tragedy in life yet even in the midst of tragedy, God is God for us. We will each have to sing the goat song at some point but God – in his love and his willingness to embrace the tragedy of the cross – can even make of that something beautiful and graced.

If God is for us, who can possibly be against us?

Short and Long-Term Urges and Walking on the Moon

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the_day_we_walked_on_the_moon_09Our nation has been reflecting on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing. Where were you when man first stepped on the moon? I was one-year-old. I don’t remember much about it. It is fitting and right to have this reflection. It was and remains one of our nation’s greatest accomplishments and not just for what was achieved but how it was achieved. A goal was set and as a nation we rallied around that goal and we devoted the resources, the time, the energy, the skill needed to achieve that goal. In a sense, it was not just one man who took that first step on the moon but a whole nation. It was a great moment and will hopefully be one of continuing moments in humanity’s outreach into space.

Br. Guy Consolmagno is the director of the Vatican Observatory. I just read an interview with him about the significance of the moon landing and in the interview he reflects on how the moon landing offers concrete lessons for people of faith. One lesson is “hope”. That even as we face what seems to be impossible problems we can work together. Another lesson is how God is creator of all – not just the earth and all of its wonders but all the universes and galaxies with all of their untold wonders. All of creation proclaims the glory of God! Finally, the moon landing speaks of a compatibility and not an opposition between science and religion – both (when truly and authentically lived) enhance and support one another.

In reflecting on these lessons, Br. Consolmagno shares something he once heard from a person who works with the poor, “a short-term urge leads to addiction, but a long-term urge leads to purpose.” This is played out, I think, in today’s readings.

One thing to note in the encounter between Abraham and the three men is that there is really nothing mystical or exceptional about it. It was a hot day and three men are walking by. It would have been very easy (and understandable) to just let them continue on and not expend the energy needed to welcome and host them. A short term urge. But Abraham made a choice – a choice not guided by the short term urge (of laziness, basically) but rather the long term commitment of hospitality and going out of one’s way to welcome the other. In this choice Abraham and Sarah were blessed with the promise of a child, and from that child – a nation. A long-term urge leads to purpose.

In the gospel Martha welcomes Jesus into her home and she quickly sets about the work of serving and then complains when her sister Mary does not do the same. (It is interesting how the gospel here points out how even the work of hospitality – for which Abraham and Sarah were blessed – can be twisted to be more about a fix for the short term urge.) Martha’s outer busy-ness and complaining is a reflection of the anxiety and the worry she carries within. Anxieties and worries and our choice for them can become addictive realities in our hearts. Mary chooses the better part. She also had worries and anxieties but she set those short-term urges aside in favor of the long-term urge of just sitting at our Lord’s feet and listening. Mary was blessed by this choice.

Much in our world and society is focused toward the short-term and even attempts to train us for the short-term alone. This is a reflection of our fallen state and our fallen world. But today’s readings along with our nation’s reflecting on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing offer a different perspective and a different way to live faith and even life itself.

“…a short-term urge leads to addiction, but a long-term urge leads to purpose.” The blessing that Abraham and Sarah knew, the blessing that Mary knew can also be known by us. We just need to make the choice.

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.