At the Wood’s Edge: Laudato Si’, Wendell Berry and Coronavirus

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VIII. 7.

The watcher comes, knowing the small
knowledge of his life in this body
in this place in this world. He comes
to a place of rest where he cannot
mistake himself as larger than he is,
the place of the gray flycatcher,
the yellow butterfly, the green dragonfly,
the white violet, the columbine,
where he cannot mistake himself
as more graced or graceful than he is.

At the woods’ edge, the wild rose
is in bloom, beauty and consolation
always in excess of thought.

“A Small Porch” by Wendell Berry

Sunday, May 24th concludes Laudato Si’ Week – a time set in the Catholic Church to mark the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’s encyclical “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home” and to reflect on the teachings that Pope Francis offers in the encyclical, the concerns he gives voice to and the hope that he calls us to as followers of Christ and as stewards of creation.

This year, Laudato Si’ Week is observed in the midst of a global pandemic. A small airborne virus has slammed the brakes on our human world in all of its pride, presumption and whirlwind activity. COVID 19 has left us all disoriented and, at the woods’ edge.

Berry’s poem makes prophetic utterance when he writes, He comes to a place of rest where he cannot mistake himself as larger than he is … where he cannot mistake himself as more graced or graceful than he is. This is where we are. It is where illusions are wiped away and we are made to recognize our very real creatureliness. Yes, made in the image and likeness of God – a child of God – but still one creature within a very large creation nonetheless.

Yet, there are hidden gifts found in this moment and Berry’s poem can help us to recognize them. Not to diminish the very real pain and suffering that is occurring in the world but there is a “rest” found when we are brought, by hook or by crook, to an authentic and real knowledge of who we are. There is a rest gained when we are made to recognize that we are neither larger than we actually are nor more graced and graceful. There is a rest that only a humble heart can experience – whether the humility was sought or not does not matter. The rest and its healing is the same. It is worthwhile to both recognize and receive this rest.

We are not alone. This is another gift found at the wood’s edge.  We are with the gray flycatcher, the yellow butterfly, the green dragonfly, the white violet, the columbine…  God never intended the glory of his image and likeness in which man and woman are made to be manipulated and twisted into a cruel separation marked by a misguided sense of superiority, dominance and indifference towards the rest of his creation. That is not the work of God but rather of the evil one and of our often eager willingness to cooperate through sin in that twisting of the Creator’s original intent. At the wood’s edge, cut off from the illusions of the world and our lives, we begin to notice again what has always been true – that we are not alone. We are one part of an incredible and vast creation that gives witness and praise to the love, power and glory of the One who alone is creator. The wood’s edge bears witness that neither the universe nor creation are random occurrences in time and space but rather a deliberate act of will by a God who is love. We can know this witness and learn what it has to teach if we are open and willing to see and listen. Yes, we are part of something much bigger than ourselves but we are neither lost within its vastness nor left in abandonment on our own.

The final gift is freedom. At the woods’ edge, the wild rose is in bloom, beauty and consolation always in excess of thought. What wild roses are in bloom in this moment beyond our imagining? The wood’s edge offers a true and startling freedom to each one of us. Do we have to go back to the way it was before? Is it even worthwhile to go back to the way it was? What about less? Less running, less stress, less things, less acquiring, less activity often just done for pride and activities’ sake? What the wood’s edge offers is neither an invitation to magical flights of fancy nor naïve wishful thinking but a true gut check in reality (sometimes a gut punch) daring us to take the risk of asking if it, indeed, has to be the same and, if not, then why not seek and live a different way? What other persons (or the world, for that matter) choose to do at the wood’s edge does not matter. What matters is my choice. Am I willing to go deeper beyond the wood’s edge trusting that there is a beauty and consolation found within that is always in excess of thought?

COVID-19 has forced us to the wood’s edge. It is quite disconcerting. All sorts of primal fears get stirred up and the initial instinct is to either retreat to the safe and familiar or lash out in fear and anger but as Pope Francis and Wendell Berry both know in their own unique ways; new life, true relationship and authentic freedom are often found on the edge (or periphery) of things. Maybe the best thing we can do right now is just be willing to be at the wood’s edge – to watch, listen and learn what it has to teach.

Insights gained from the communion reception debate

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communionFor a number of weeks now I have been watching the communion reception debate play out on social media. People asserting their right to receive communion on the tongue in and out of times of pandemic and questioning the authority of the bishop to restrict that form of reception in the circumstances that we find ourselves. I try to avoid social media debates at all costs as I think they really go nowhere and change no one but, as I have watched this debate unfold, I believe that I have gained some insights into the state of our knowledge of the faith, fears and even a learning about priestly ministry.

First, a number of faithful Catholics have little to no understanding of what is meant by the term, “the common good”. Many canon lawyers have weighed in, bishops have weighed in, the Catechism itself teaches that yes, individual rights are important but they are not the ultimate value. Rights always have to be balanced with the common good and the common good can sometimes trump individual rights (i.e. in the context of a global pandemic). Restricting the reception of communion to receiving in the hand in our current context is not a suppression (with malicious intent) of a personal right, rather it is a striving for the common good – the protection of the health and life of other persons. Through baptism we are not brought into just a gathering of like-minded individuals with whom we may more or less agree. In baptism we are grafted into the Body of Christ – something of which we are each a unique part but also something much bigger than ourselves and our individual rights. A focus solely on individual rights with little to no awareness of the common good demonstrates a worldview that is more influenced by the secular than by the faith – apparently even among devout souls. There is a serious lack of understanding regarding what the Church means by the common good.

I have to wonder if part of what is at play in the debate erupting at this particular time on social media with particular vigor from some quarters is, in fact, a psychological coping mechanism where people choose to quibble about minutiae in an effort to avoid the full weight of the reality we are facing as a world. Let me be clear here. Reception of communion is not a minor thing. It is the Body of Christ and it should be received with full reverence but the teaching of the Church makes it clear that it can be received with equal reverence both on the tongue and in the hand. Both are valid ways of receiving this great gift. To say that not receiving on the tongue is more of a suffering and sacrifice at this time than not receiving in the hand or, out of an awareness of the common good, soon to be asked to solely receive in the hand once public Masses resume is simply not true. Frankly, it carries the danger of falling into a self-focus bordering on narcissism. The suffering of the world right now is not occurring in the communion line. The suffering of the world is in the person dying from coronavirus, it is with the family unable to be with their loved one laying sick in the hospital, it is with the people out of work and despairing. This is where the suffering of the world is and it is where the Church should be – if not in our bodies physically assisting those in need then in our hearts, thoughts and prayers.

Finally, I have become convinced that those persons so adamant about their right to receive on the tongue do not truly love their priests. Rather, their focus of love is on what their priests can do for them. There is a key difference here. Most priests are older and many have underlying health concerns – they fall within the category of being not only vulnerable to the virus but also not being able to recover once infected. To demand reception on the tongue which has been shown to be riskier in spreading the disease simply puts the priest at greater risk. It is not an act of charity to demand reception on the tongue in this context nor is it an act of heroism on the part of the priest to give the Eucharist that way. When an equally valid and reverential form of receiving communion is available (i.e. receiving in the hand) and the need to help protect the safety of other persons calls for an awareness of the common good it is not an act of heroism to give on the tongue just to satisfy a person’s own piety. True charity and heroism demand much more and should not be so reduced.

So, to say we love our priests while being adamant in demanding reception on the tongue is, at best, a disconnect. The disconnect reveals that the priest is valued primarily as a means to an end and – in a sense – that is okay. To admit this is much more honest than pretending there is a level of love present that is not really there. As a priest I will serve you. This is what priests do. When we get to the day when the restriction is lifted, I will happily give communion on the tongue to those persons who want to receive that way but I will not say it is the only true way to receive communion nor a holier way because it is not.

But, there is something else about the dynamic of seeing the priest solely as a means to an end that should be noted. There is a freedom here for the priest. It is hinted at by our Lord in Luke 17:10, “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” Yes, the priest is a servant and for many if not most people he – as a servant – is seen as a means to an end but there is actually a freedom found in this. When a servant has fulfilled his duty and leaves there is no obligation to return. The servant is free to move on.

Yes, the priest will serve all persons including those whom he knows only view him as a means to an end but, when he leaves he is under no obligation to return to those people who only approached him in such a manner. Our Lord had many encounters and he healed and forgave many people in his ministry but he did not keep returning to those people. The one house our Lord kept returning to was the house of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. I think he kept returning to that house during his earthly ministry because there he was loved for who he was and not just for what he did or could do for others.

To those persons who solely see the priest as a means to an end; yes, the priest will serve you but when it is time to move on, he has the freedom to do so without looking back. This is the freedom of the servant and it is precisely the disconnect noted above that helps to point out the value found in the servant’s freedom and it is worthwhile for every priest to learn this value. The priest will serve you honestly – and that is a form of love – but the love of friendship and family is not to be played with nor bandied about and the priest has the right to reserve that love solely to the Martha, Mary and Lazarus’ of his life. To these houses he will keep returning – when circumstances allow – and there he will be nourished and strengthened.

Some insights and learnings gained from the ongoing social media debate regarding the reception of communion during the time of a global pandemic. Lessons can be learned in all contexts!

Being shorn

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SHeep-shearing

“Maybe … just maybe, one lesson we learn from these weeks of quarantine and lockdown is that we do not have to go nonstop all the time in order to live life.” This was a thought I shared on social media the other day and it has received multiple “likes”. There were only two cautions, both from parents of small children who are working from home and now also homeschooling their children, sharing that their lives are busier than ever. True, God bless the parents of small children these days!

That being understood though I stand by my original thought – we do not have to go nonstop all the time in order to live life.

The other day I was talking with Paul Vachon – Paul and his wife Amber are the caretakers at Exchange Place. They live on site and part of their duties is to take care of the animals. When I called Paul he was in the process of having the sheep sheared. Paul shared an interesting (and kind of amusing) fact that once the sheep have their wool cut off they do not immediately recognize each other and so they act aggressively toward one another – butting heads and being aggressive little sheep. It is only after a while, once they begin to recognize the scent of each other that they calm down and realize that they do, indeed, know one another.

These weeks of quarantine and lockdown have abruptly shorn away the coats of busy-ness that we all often live by and even measure our worth by. Most of us have been stripped down from the daily routines of our lives – not running to the next meeting or business trip nor driving the kids to another school or sporting event. Not planning this event or doing a task for a group we are involved with. Not rushing out the door for a dinner and concert with friends after just getting in from a full day of work. I am not saying these things are bad. All these activities can be very good and even worthwhile but we do wrap ourselves in busy-ness to the point that our activities become our identity. These weeks have shorn all of this away. Now, without them, do we recognize ourselves and do we recognize each other?

“Be still and know that I am God,” – Psalm forty-five. Is there pain and suffering during this time of pandemic? Yes, intense pain. We pray for those who have lost their lives and for those who are mourning the loss of a loved ones. We pray for families facing economic hardships. We pray for our healthcare workers being pushed to their limit. We pray for our brothers and sisters in poorer countries who do not have the advantages that we have to ride this storm out. For all of these we pray and we will continue to pray.

Be still and know that I am God. In the gospel for today, our Lord tells us about the true shepherd. The true shepherd comes in love in order to protect and bring life. The true shepherd does not come as a thief to hurt, steal and wound. The true shepherd alone has the authority to walk through the gate and he calls each sheep by name. The sheep, we are told recognize his voice and in that recognition they know they are safe and they willingly follow after the shepherd.

We – on our part – must recognize his voice and the only way we can do that is if we hear his voice. Be still … be still … and know that I am God. Being shorn from all the distractions of life can indeed be unnerving, even frightening. We can be like those little sheep with their wool just cut off – confused and even aggressive. But we can also learn to listen. We can learn to be still and God will speak to us and the true shepherd will come to us to bring true life and protection.

And the true shepherd will tell us who we really are. Our identity is not all of our activities (no matter even how good these might be) our identity is something much deeper. Our true identity is in being a child of God, beloved of the Father. Can we just be in this truth and let it sink into our hearts?

Be still and know that I am God. …the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice …

“Tal vez … solo tal vez, una lección que aprendemos de estas semanas de cuarentena y encierro es que no tenemos que ir sin parar todo el tiempo a fin de vivir la vida”. Este fue un pensamiento que compartí en las redes sociales el otro día y ha recibido múltiples “me gusta”. Solo hubo dos advertencias, ambas de padres de niños pequeños que trabajan desde casa y ahora también educan a sus hijos en casa, compartiendo que sus vidas están más ocupadas que nunca. Es cierto que Dios bendiga a los padres de niños pequeños en estos días.

Eso se entiende aunque mantengo mi pensamiento original: no tenemos que ir sin parar todo el tiempo a fin de vivir la vida.

El otro día estaba hablando con Paul Vachon. Paul y su esposa Amber son los cuidadores del Exchange Place. Viven en el sitio y parte de sus deberes es cuidar a los animales. Cuando llamé a Paul, estaba en el proceso de esquilar las ovejas. Paul compartió un hecho interesante (y un poco divertido) de que una vez que se le corta la lana a las ovejas, ellas no se reconocen de inmediato y, por lo tanto, actúan agresivamente la una con la otra, golpeándose las cabezas y siendo pequeñas ovejas agresivas. Es solo después de un tiempo, una vez que comienzan a reconocer el olor de las demás, que se calman y se dan cuenta de que sí se conocen.

Estas semanas de cuarentena y encierro han eliminado abruptamente los abrigos del ajetreo con el que todos vivimos e incluso medimos nuestro valor. La mayoría de nosotros hemos sido despojados de las rutinas diarias de nuestras vidas: no tener que correr a la próxima reunión o viaje de negocios, no tener que conducir a los niños a la escuela o a otro evento deportivo. No tener que planificar un evento o realizar una tarea para un grupo con el que estamos involucrados. No salir corriendo por la puerta para una cena y concierto con los amigos después de llegar de un día completo de trabajo. No digo que estas cosas sean malas. Todas estas actividades pueden ser muy buenas e incluso valen la pena, pero nos envolvemos en ocupaciones hasta el punto de que nuestras actividades se convierten en nuestra identidad. Estas semanas han evitado todo esto. Ahora, sin ellas, ¿nos reconocemos y nos reconocemos mutuamente?

“Estén quietos y sepan que Yo soy Dios”, Salmo cuarenta y cinco. ¿Hay dolor y sufrimiento durante este tiempo de pandemia? Sí, dolor intenso. Oramos por aquellos que han perdido la vida y por aquellos que están de luto por la pérdida de un ser querido. Oramos por las familias que enfrentan dificultades económicas. Oramos para que nuestros trabajadores de la salud que están siendo empujados a su límite. Oramos por nuestros hermanos y hermanas en los países más pobres que no tienen las ventajas que tenemos para soportar esta tormenta. Por todo esto rezamos y seguiremos rezando.

Estén quietos y sepan que Yo soy Dios. En el evangelio de hoy, nuestro Señor nos habla sobre el buen pastor. El buen pastor viene con amor para proteger y dar vida. El verdadero pastor no viene como ladrón para hacer daño, robar y herir. El verdadero pastor solo tiene la autoridad de entrar por la puerta y llama a cada oveja por su nombre. Se nos dice que las ovejas reconocen su voz y en ese reconocimiento saben que están a salvo y están dispuestas a seguir al pastor.

Nosotros, por nuestra parte, debemos reconocer su voz y la única forma de hacerlo es si escuchamos su voz. Estén quietos … estén quietos … y sepan que Yo soy Dios. El ser despojado de todas las distracciones de la vida puede ser desconcertante, incluso aterrador. Podemos ser como esas ovejitas con la lana cortada, confundidas e incluso agresivas. Pero también podemos aprender a escuchar. Podemos aprender a estar quietos y Dios nos hablará y el verdadero pastor vendrá a nosotros para traer vida y protección verdaderas.

Y el verdadero pastor nos dirá quiénes somos realmente. Nuestra identidad no es todas nuestras actividades (no importa cuán buenas sean), nuestra identidad es algo mucho más profundo. Nuestra verdadera identidad es ser un hijo de Dios, amado por el Padre. ¿Podemos estar en esta verdad y dejar que se sumerja en nuestros corazones?

Estén quietos y sepan que Yo soy Dios. … las ovejas lo siguen porque reconocen su voz …

The Risen Church – Easter, 2020

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resurrection“…as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.” Each of the four gospels, in its account of the resurrection of Jesus, specifically states the time. It was dawn, it was early in the morning, the day was just breaking.

Maybe it is just a reflection of my own shifting sleep patterns as I get older but I am learning the value of the dawn. To sit quietly and watch as the world wakes up, as night recedes and the light of day dawns is a good and healing thing. In the dawning of the day we are taught unceasingly and even rhythmically how much is just pure gift and how we are each part of something so much bigger than ourselves!

But this dawn, this dawn was different! It was not just another lesson on the seasonal nature of life and creation. This particular dawn proclaimed an empty tomb! It had never happened before – that a tomb had been emptied and not just emptied but vanquished and broken! The one who came forth from this tomb would never return. That dawn – in that cemetery garden outside of Jerusalem – was and will always remain a new day!

The truth is that the Church which proclaims the resurrection of Christ will never be a powerful church – this is not our identity. We are not to be a “powerful church” as the world measures power because all of the world’s measurements, judgments and calculations end at the tomb. Rather, we are to be a “risen church” because we live in the dawn of the new day! We are not stopped by the weight of the tomb. The tomb is emptied and broken and our Lord walks forth from its confines never to return! Everything is different and this is who we are! The risen church – even when hope seems lost – is revived again and again because our bridegroom is risen and he gives us the power to rise!

When fear and uncertainty set in, we rise. When persecution and violence are experienced, we rise. When war and disease destroy lives and threaten what we hold dear, we rise. We rise because we are the church. We rise because we live in the new day. We rise because Jesus is risen and he gives us the power to rise!

And he goes before us. Christ always goes before us – into the fullness of this new day and he calls us to follow after him in hope. This hope was planted by God in the heart of creation on the very first day – that the creator will not abandon his creation. This hope grew and was foretold by the people of Israel in their being brought from slavery to freedom with the waters of the Red Sea being a prefiguring of the waters of baptism which bring us into the new day of Christ and the promise us freedom from death itself. Paul recognizes this truth when he writes in his letter to the Romans, “Brothers and sisters: Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.”

“…we too might life in newness of life.” We live in the new day and we rise. We are the risen church!

“…as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb … you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said … he is going before you …”

 

“… al amanecer del primer día de la semana, María Magdalena y la otra María fueron a ver el sepulcro”. Cada uno de los cuatro evangelios, en su relato de la resurrección de Jesús, establece específicamente la hora. Era el amanecer, era temprano en la mañana.

Tal vez sea solo un reflejo en los cambios de mis patrones de sueño a medida que envejezco, pero estoy aprendiendo el valor del amanecer. Sentarse en silencio y observar cómo el mundo se despierta, cuando la noche retrocede, y la luz del día amanece es algo bueno y curativo. Al amanecer del día, se nos enseña incesantemente e incluso rítmicamente cuánto es tan solo puro regalo, y cómo somos parte de algo mucho más grande que nosotros.

¡Pero este amanecer, este amanecer fue diferente! No fue solo otra lección sobre la naturaleza estacional de la vida y la creación. ¡Este amanecer particular proclamó una tumba vacía! ¡Nunca había sucedido antes, que una tumba haya sido vaciada y no tan solo vaciada, sino vencida y rota! El que salió de esta tumba nunca volvería. ¡Ese amanecer, en el jardín del cementerio a las afueras de Jerusalén, fue y siempre seguirá siendo un nuevo día!

La verdad es que la Iglesia que proclama la resurrección de Cristo nunca será una iglesia poderosa; esta no es nuestra identidad. No debemos ser una “iglesia poderosa” en la forma en como el mundo mide el poder porque todas las medicionesy cálculos del mundo terminan en la tumba. ¡Debemos ser una “iglesia resucitada” porque vivimos en los albores del nuevo día! No nos detiene el peso de la tumba. ¡La tumba está vacía y rota, y nuestro Señor sale de sus confines para nunca volver! ¡Todo es diferente, y esto es lo que somos! ¡La iglesia resucitada, incluso cuando la esperanza parece perdida, revive una y otra vez porque nuestro novio ha resucitado y él nos da el poder de levantarnos!

Cuando surge el miedo y la incertidumbre, nos levantamos. Cuando se experimenta la persecución y la violencia, nos levantamos. Cuando la guerra y la enfermedad destruyen vidas y amenazan lo que apreciamos, nos levantamos. Nos levantamos porque somos la iglesia. Nos levantamos porque vivimos en el nuevo día. ¡Resucitamos porque Jesús ha resucitado, y él nos da el poder para resucitar!

Y él va antes que nosotros. Cristo siempre va antes que nosotros, a la plenitud de este nuevo día y nos llama a seguirlo con esperanza. Esta esperanza fue plantada por Dios en el corazón de la creación el primer día: que el creador no abandonará su creación. Esta esperanza creció y fue predicha por el pueblo de Israel al ser llevados de la esclavitud a la libertad, siendo las aguas del Mar Rojo una prefiguración de las aguas del bautismo que nos llevan al nuevo día de Cristo, y a la promesa de liberarnos de la muerte misma. Pablo reconoce esta verdad cuando escribe en su carta a los romanos: “Hermanos: Todos los que hemos sido incorporados a Cristo Jesús por medio del bautismo, hemos sido incorporados a su muerte. En efecto, por el bautismo fuimos sepultados con él en su muerte, para que, así como Cristo resucitó de entre los muertos por la gloria del Padre, así también nosotros llevemos una vida nueva “.

“… así también nosotros llevemos una vida nueva”. Vivimos en el nuevo día y nos levantamos. ¡Somos la iglesia resucitada!

“… al amanecer del primer día de la semana, María Magdalena y la otra María fueron a ver el sepulcro … Ya sé que buscan a Jesús, el crucificado. No está aquí; ha resucitado, como lo había dicho … e irá delante de ustedes…”

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.”