Tuesday, February 19, 2019

"In Need of Multiple Healings" by Colleen O’Sullivan

"In Need of Multiple Healings" by Colleen O’Sullivan

How shall I make a return to the LORD for all the good he has done for me?
The cup of salvation I will take up, and I will call upon the name of the LORD.
 (Psalm 116:12-13)

When Jesus and his disciples arrived at Bethsaida, people brought to him a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him.  He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village.  Putting spittle on his eyes he laid his hands on the man and asked, “Do you see anything?”  Looking up the man replied, “I see people looking like trees and walking.”  Then he laid hands on the man’s eyes a second time and he saw clearly; his sight was restored and he could see everything distinctly.  Then he sent him home and said, “Do not even go into the village.” (Mark 8:22-26) 

Lord, our attraction to the world often leaves us blind to all we know about you and your Kingdom.  Restore our sight that we might be faithful disciples.

Christ Healing the Blind, detail from Sinope Gospels (6th century illuminated
Greek Gospel), Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Sometimes where a story is placed in the Gospel narrative tells us more about its meaning than the story itself.  By itself, today’s reading from Mark is puzzling.  What’s going on?  Why isn’t the man fully healed on Jesus’ first attempt?  Is this blind man’s trouble more deep-seated than most?  Or is Jesus having an “off” day healing-wise?

There are two separate accounts of Jesus healing the blind in Mark’s Gospel.  The second one is found in Mark 10:46-52.  Actually, these two stories serve as bookends on either side of the narrative of Jesus’ and his disciples’ journey to Jerusalem.  Along the way, Jesus tells his friends three separate times that he will suffer and die.  They clearly don’t understand what he is saying.  But even before that, Mark has given us, his readers, some hints:  Jesus talks about the bridegroom being taken away (Mk. 2:20).  The Pharisees are seen conspiring with the Herodians to seize Jesus (Mk. 3:6).  Last but not least, Judas Iscariot is described as the one who betrays Jesus (Mk. 3:19).  We readers can see where this is heading even before today’s reading.  But no matter what Jesus says, his group of twelve simply doesn’t seem to get it.  James and John, pushed by their mother, desire places of honor on either side of their leader.  Peter rebukes Jesus at the very thought that his friend should suffer, and is referred to as Satan for his efforts.  The concept of a suffering Messiah remains alien to the disciples right to the very end.

That it takes two attempts to heal this blind man is symbolic of the difficulty in getting the disciples to show any insight into who Jesus really is and what he is about.  The dance between Jesus’ teaching and the disciples’ misunderstanding continues until after the Resurrection.

Even though we have the advantage of being post-Resurrection people, sometimes we don’t show a great deal more insight into who Jesus is than his first disciples did.  Prosperity gospel preachers tell us that the Lord wants us to be blessed with wealth and material goods.  Actually, I’ve never read that message in the Gospels.  Reread the Beatitudes.  They’re more about the poor, the downtrodden and the oppressed than about amassing riches for ourselves.  And, remember what Jesus told that rich young man who wanted to know what he needed to do to inherit eternal life.  Jesus told him he was doing many things right, but he would need to sell his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor.

Jesus died out of love for us and the desire to give us a way out of our sinfulness to eternal life with him and his Father.  He hopes you and I will live the way he died – for others.  No hoarding of the graces and blessings God bestows on us.   Instead, share what we receive, whether love, forgiveness or material blessings, with our brothers and sisters.

All this runs deeply counter to the world’s messages.  And there are days when Jesus might need to heal any one of us multiple times, because the pull of the world is so strong and attractive.  It’s not easy to live as though the last will be first.  It’s very difficult to die to self in order to really live.  It can be almost impossible at the mall or online on Amazon.com to remember that our wants can easily far exceed our needs and that there are many whose basic needs go unmet.

The psalmist practices gratitude and asks himself: “How shall I make a return to the LORD for all the good he has done for me?”  Gratitude seems like the place to start in living a Christian life.  When we’re truly grateful for what Jesus has done for us, much of the rest falls into place.  If we see ourselves as blessed, there’s no need for seeking places of honor or to feel like no amount of wealth or possessions could ever be enough.  If we see ourselves as the recipients of many graces, it is easy to share out of that abundance. 

Lent is approaching.  Ash Wednesday is two weeks from today.  Maybe we could start right now (and continue on through Lent) a daily practice of naming at least one grace or blessing for which we are thankful when we approach the Lord in prayer.  When we do that day after day, year in and year out, it’s amazing what transforming power that prayer can have on our lives.

Monday, February 18, 2019

“The Leaven of the Pharisees” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

“The Leaven of the Pharisees” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

So the LORD said: “I will wipe out from the earth the men whom I have created, and not only the men but also the beasts and the creeping things and the birds of the air, for I am sorry that I made them.” But Noah found favor with the LORD. (Genesis 6:7-8)

The Lord will bless his people with peace. (Psalm 29:11b)

He enjoined them, “Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”They concluded among themselves that it was because they had no bread. When he became aware of this he said to them, “Why do you conclude that it is because you have no bread? Do you not yet understand or comprehend? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear?  And do you not remember, when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many wicker baskets full of fragments you picked up?” They answered him, “Twelve.” “When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many full baskets of fragments did you pick up?” They answered him, “Seven.” He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” (Mark 8:15-21)

Lord, help me to cast aside the leaven that the world offers me.
Rembrandt, Public Domain

They were judgmental and fearful, the Pharisees and Herod. The last thing they wanted was for Jesus’s message of the kingdom of God being at hand to take hold among the people. Jesus threatened the status quo, threatened their positions, threatened what they had been told all their lives was right and true.

And so it is today. Our political leaders and more than a few of those who would call themselves our spiritual leaders are judgmental and fearful. Focusing on Jesus’s teachings runs counter to their agendas. It casts light on their very human failings, failings that surely we are called to forgive but that threaten their positions and standings.

You might feel powerless. You might feel discouraged. You might feel that there is nothing you can do personally to set the world aright. And you would be right—if it were not for the fact that the Lord is always there, hand extended, offering to join you in the struggle.

Spoiler alert: The leaven of the Pharisees and Herod didn’t win the day in AD 33. It will not win the day in 2019. Fill your heart and soul and mind and body with the leaven that lasts. Listen to Him, and you will understand.

Resolve not to spend a single moment today beating your breast or gnashing your teeth about failures of the Church or politicians.

Sin is a Demon Lurking at The Door

Sin is a Demon Lurking at The Door

So the LORD said to Cain: “Why are you so resentful and crestfallen. If you do well, you can hold up your head; but if not, sin is a demon lurking at the door: his urge is toward you, yet you can be his master.” Genesis 4:6-7

The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with Jesus, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” Mark 8:11-12

In Mark’s Gospel alone, consider what Jesus has done up until this point [The Roman numerals in brackets indicate the chapter where Mark shares these stories in his Gospel]:  
  • [I]Curing the Demonic
  • Curing Simon’s Mother-in-Law
  • Other Healings not enumerated
  • Curing the Leper
  • [II]Curing the Paralytic let in from the roof
  • [III] Man with the withered hand
  • [IV] Calming a storm at sea
  • [V] The Healing of the Gerasene Demoniac
  • Jairus’s Daughter
  • The Woman with a Hemorrhage
  • Feeding the Five Thousand
  • Walking on Water
  • Healings at Gennesaret
  • The Syrophoenician Woman’s Daughter
  • The Deaf Man
  • The Feeding of the Four Thousand

This list only covers Jesus’ work in the first eight chapters of Mark’s Good News.  It does not include the details of some large-scale episodes only summarized.  It does not include the work the apostles accomplished when they were commissions and went out in the world.

People were talking about this work even when Jesus asked them to keep quiet.  (“What’s the buss?  Tell me what’s happening?”)  Now, after this track record, Jesus gets into another dust-up with the Doubting Pharisees who demand yet another sign. Their objection:  Jesus’ miracles up to this point are insufficient if they were not there to see them with their own eyes.

Jesus rolls his own eyes and basically says that he will work when and where he chooses but he is not a circus act performing to the will of the ticket-buying crowd.  Jesus will not perform any sign or miracle to human demand that does not originate in faith exhibited like that of the Syrophoenician woman who asked (not demanded) that her daughter be cured. 

We’ve been here before.  Well, not us but Moses.  Remember that the Lord was as upset with Moses and the people as Jesus is exasperated in today’s encounter. 

And the LORD said to Moses: How long will this people spurn me? How long will they not trust me, despite all the signs I have performed among them?  (Numbers 14:11)

The LORD answered: I pardon them as you have asked. Yet, by my life and the LORD’s glory that fills the whole earth, of all the people who have seen my glory and the signs I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and who nevertheless have put me to the test ten times already and have not obeyed me, not one shall see the land which I promised on oath to their ancestors. None of those who have spurned me shall see it. (20-23)

Sin and Doubt are the demons knocking at the door.  Jesus does not expect his followers to have faith in the bells and tassels of the Pharisees.  He wants a relationship with them directly.  Today, that can be hard when we are confronted weekly with the revelation-by-revelation of the abuse crisis. 

Our modern-day Pharisees might wear the regalia of an abusing priest, a bishop or a diocesan official who covered up the crimes with secrecy.  Last week, new abuser lists were put out in Arlington, Trenton, Brooklyn, and Richmond.  Hundreds of more priests were added to the ranks of serial abusers and bishops in New York, New Jersey, and Virginia are now added to the ranks of the cover-up artists. Yet one of those lists fails to note a parish abuse story covered prominently in the pages of the Washington Post.

As noted by Michael Rezendes, a member of the Boston Globe Spotlight Team that revealed the cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, “It is difficult to exaggerate the crisis that has engulfed the Catholic Church due to unending revelations about priests who have sexually abused children, young adults — even nuns — and the bishops who have covered up for them.[i]

Stephen Pope, a Boston College theology professor, said Pope Francis “has good intentions.” But he also said it’s time for the Vatican to address the increasingly urgent calls for change coming from within the church.

“The church can no longer be an island of secrecy and privilege,” he said. “There has to be transparency and accountability. The church’s survival depends on it.”[ii]

Maybe our church’s survival depends more upon our relationship with the cornerstone:  Jesus Christ and the cross he carried on his back and the nail in his hands and feet.  We are not called to have faith in a building or a bishop.  If that is all that our faith is built upon, we are bound to be as disappointed as the sign-seeking Pharisees.    

Sunday, February 17, 2019

“Stumbling Toward a Life in His Perfect Joy!” by Wayne Miller

“Stumbling Toward a Life in His Perfect Joy!” by Wayne Miller

“Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in the flesh.” (Jeremiah 17:5-8)

“If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.” (1 Corinthians 15:12,16-20)

“Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, weeping, hated, excluded, insulted, and denounced. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!  Behold your reward (is) great in heaven.” (Luke 6:17, 20-26)

Abba Father, if I am ever to know in this life the perfect joy that Your Son and Your Saints promise, give me the wisdom to hear and live Your discipline in all things. Help me be an active contemplative in every relationship – at home, at work, shopping, in worship and service. Thank you for patiently encouraging me every day to live in the Your Kingdom now, reinforcing my certainty of the full and perfect Joy of living with you for eternity when that time comes.

“Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings...” I learned long ago to put my trust in our Loving Father and His Son, Jesus.  Nevertheless, that does not stop me from depending on the most untrustworthy human of all – ME!  Yes, I turn to God for advice and guidance, but, ultimately, I am the one who saddles up and rides out to put the program into action. I do not always do such a good job of implementing His instructions. I am cursed, too, trusting in my human “wisdom.”  How can I trust and follow HIM more?

I am my own worst enemy, constantly analyzing and trying to develop schemes to control my life – even when the “control” is meant to eradicate my sins and improve my relationship with Him.  Admittedly, my sin eradication has been marginally successful, but how do I IMPROVE my relationship with God when I am not sure I know what the perfect relationship with God is?

St. Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians was very necessary for those folks who did not believe in an after-life.  However, I have no problem believing in the resurrection.  However, I am also a firm believer in Jesus’ statement that the Kingdom of God is here and now, and I want to experience that JOY also, not just a lifetime enduring the pain and hunger on the promise of a resurrected next life.

St Francis expressed Perfect Joy as the ability to see and experience everything with the heart of Jesus, without malice or retaliation.  Jesus knew exhilaration, grief, and pain and accepted all those imposters in a singular joy-filled relationship with His Father. What an awesome way that would be to live this life.

Should I strive to learn HOW TO DO? On the other hand, HOW TO BE?  Maybe, just for today (this evening? this minute?), I should silence my busy, buzzing brain and listen.

As I bring this scribble to a close, the flowers and candy and red shiny balloons of St. Valentine’s Day surround me and remind me how important it is always to let the people in your life know how precious and special they are – exactly as they are – not how well they are conforming to my expectations of them.
I am learning that is what relationship with God is all about. I want to be His voice, touch, and heart to express His Love to my brothers and sisters. 

Also, – by the way – I need to look in the mirror and remind myself of His Complete Love and Acceptance for ME.

And – one more BFO – I should also look deep into the heart of the Triune God and express my complete love and acceptance and thanks to Him – not for His responses to my expectations – but for His Perfect, Complete and utterly necessary Love, even when it grates against my expectations.

Thank You, Father, Jesus, and Spirit, for loving me toward a more perfect union with you and all my brothers and sisters.

De Colores!

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Where Are You?

Where Are You

The LORD God called to Adam and asked him, “Where are you?” Then he asked, “Who told you that you were naked? The LORD God then asked the woman, “Why did you do such a thing?” Genesis 3:9, 11, 13

Still, he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” Mark 8:5

“Where are you?” 

Despite what we do, in Genesis, we see that God never stops looking for us.  He questions.  He probes.  He explores.  And then he waits for us to respond.

Adam and Eve might feel like they are getting the proverbial “third degree” – interrogation under glaring lights in police headquarters.  They know what they did.  Yet they could not come out and admit it.  Not in front of God!  God had to slowly pull a confession out from them. What did they do and why did they do it?

A different force motivates the “Jesus” we encounter today.  Empathy for the crowd spurs Jesus to act in conjunction with the disciples.  You cannot fee the crowd with the greed and selfishness and ego-centric disposition of Adam.  If Jesus was motivated by selfishness, he might have just picked up his tent and gone home, leaving everyone to fend for themselves. Empathy and pity spurred Jesus and those around him to take care of the needs of others, not of themselves. 

Last week, the Henri Nouwen Society posted a short reflection about the “Return of the Prodigal” story and painting.  The searching God of Genesis reminds me of the father in that story.  Here is what the Society had to say about the painting:

"Looking again at Rembrandt's portrayal of the return of the younger son, I now see how much more is taking place that a mere compassionate gesture toward a wayward child. The great event I see is the end of the great rebellion. The rebellion of Adam and all his descendants is forgiven, and the original blessing by which Adam received everlasting life is restored. It seems to me now that these hands have always been stretched out--even when there was no shoulders upon which to rest them. God has not pulled back her arms, never withheld his blessing, never stopped considering his son the Beloved One. But the Father couldn't compel his son to stay home. He couldn't force his love on the Beloved. He had to let him go in freedom, even though he knew the pain it would cause both his son and himself. It was love itself that prevented him from keeping his son home at all cost. It was love itself that allowed him to let his son find his own life, even with the risk of losing it.

Here is the mystery of my life is unveiled. I am loved so much that I am left free to leave home. The blessing is there from the beginning. I have left it and keep on leaving it. But the Father is always looking for me with outstretched arms to receive me back and whisper again in my ear: 'You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests.'" #HenriNouwen THE RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL SON

God cannot work in the world without us.  (Jesus needed the loaves and the fishes to feed the crowd.)  Whether he is commissioning us to do his work or feeding us, he wants us to be a part of his work. No matter where we are today, he wants us back on his team.  

Adam was free to eat the forbidden fruit from the Tree.  The Prodigal Son was free to leave home.  We are free to do whatever we want. Yet God is free to never stop looking for us or welcoming us home.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Be Opened

Be Opened

But the serpent said to the woman: “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.”  Genesis 3:4-5

“Ephphatha!” (that is, “Be opened!”) And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly. He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it. Mark 7:34-36

Open our hearts, O Lord, to listen to the words of your Son. (Acts 16:24)

Today the title for this essay could have as easily been “Be Obedient.”  We encounter several groups of people who can not seem to listen to God. Eve.  The serpent.  Adam.  All pay the price for their disobedience.  They have their freedom taken away because they were not open to obey God’s instruction. 

Contrast that with the man described by St. Mark.  Jesus is in Gentile territory (“Jesus left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis.”)

These Gentile presented Jesus with the case of a man with both deafness and a speech impediment.  They cared enough to bring a needy friend to Jesus and had faith that Jesus could heal him, a good model for our prayer and witness.[i] The people begged Jesus even though he was a Jew.  They did not just ask.  They begged.  The man had a desire to hear God and his friends had a desire to see Jesus at work.  Jesus answered the prayers of the little group.   

As William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible points out: “Just as the Jew would never soil his lips with forbidden foods, so he would never soil his life by contact with the unclean Gentile. It may well be that here Jesus is saying by implication that the Gentiles are not unclean but that they, too, have their place within the Kingdom.”[ii]  Jesus does not just have social contact with the Gentile.  He touches him. He cures him.

Yet, after all is done, they do not obey Jesus. “He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it.”  Some gratitude! Just like when condemning the Pharisees, the phrase from Isaiah comes to mind:

The Lord said: Since this people draws near with words only and honors me with their lips alone, though their hearts are far from me, and fear of me has become mere precept of human teaching. (Isaiah 29:13)

Who are we like in the story?  Eve who disobeys and tried to act like the all-knowing God?  The serpent or tempts others to disobey?  The deaf man who can not hear?  The cured man who can hear but falls back into disobedience?

Are we guilty of honoring the Lord with our lips and not with our lives and actions? Would God say something similar to us?

Do we attend church, but our heart is far from Jesus?
Do we read our Bibles, but our heart is far from Jesus?
Do we pray eloquently, but our heart is far from Jesus?
Do we contribute money, but our heart is far from Jesus?
Do we minister to others, but our heart is far from Jesus?
Do we love to love to the Lord a new song, but our heart is far from Jesus?
Do we talk to others about Jesus, before we talk to Jesus about others?

Thursday, February 14, 2019

“Insistent Love” by Beth DeCristofaro

“Insistent Love” by Beth DeCristofaro

The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame. (Genesis 2:25)

The woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth, and she begged him to drive the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” She replied and said to him, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.” Then he said to her, “For saying this, you may go. The demon has gone out of your daughter.” (Mark 7:28-29)

Lord, it is so hard for me to be without shame for I know too well and realize that you see those places in my life I have chosen other than you.  Help me offer you both my puniness and my desires.  I rejoice that you love me insistently.  May you act within me and through me so that I do not hoard the scraps off the table, the gifts given me by you, my God, with others.

This Greek woman and others who beseeched the attention of Jesus show us what it is like to have no shame in pleading for our hearts’ desire.  Being created in God’s image we are called to that which we, darkly, reflect, our Creator and our Sustainer.  Even more, we are called by God who created us not only to love God but be loved by God.  It is our very innermost self which craves to be one with God.  Knowing and turning over our frailties which come of being fashioned out of the clay of the earth opens our hearts to God’s entering.

Did the Greek woman know that she was being impelled by a call from God?  Most likely not.  Rather, like the woman with hemorrhages who touched Jesus’ cloak and the blind Bartimaeus who called out insistently, their desires are couched in mortal terms (health, sight).  Yet it is God who is at the root, the depth of those desires and it is God who calls their names insistently, lovingly.  Can modern, pleading voices of refugees, survivors of gun violence, victims of abusive justice systems and others be calling out and seeking God through us?

C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, gives us a beautiful image: “God is the thing to which (a person) is praying - the goal he is trying to reach.  God is also the thing inside him which is pushing him on – the motive power.  God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to that goal.  So that the whole threefold life of the three-personal Being is actually going on in that ordinary (person who prays).”[i] 

Do I feel God’s insistent love is calling me? 

How do I respond to the pleading, annoying or intrusive requests like the Greek woman? 

[i] A Year with C.S. Lewis:  Daily Readings from his Classic Works, edited by Patricia Klein, Harper Collins, 2003, p 190.

Illustration:  Christ and the Canaanite Woman, Ludovico Carracci.  https://pinacotecabrera.org/en/collezione-online/opere/cristo-e-la-cananea/

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

You Are No Accident by Colleen O’Sullivan

You Are No Accident by Colleen O’Sullivan

At the time when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens - while as yet there was no field shrub on earth and no grass of the field had sprouted, for the Lord God had sent no rain upon the earth and there was no man to till the soil, but a stream was welling up out of the earth and was watering all the surface of the ground -- the Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being. (Genesis 2:4b-7)

If you take away their breath, they perish
and return to their dust.
When you send forth your spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the earth.  (Psalm 104:29bc-30) 

For it was you who created my being, knit me together in my mother’s womb. I thank you for the wonder of my being.  Already you knew my soul, my body held no secret from you when I was being fashioned in secret and molded in the depths of the earthI thank you for the wonder of my being.  (based on Psalm 139)

Creation of Adam,
Tadeusz Kowalski,
Creative Commons License,
Wikimedia Commons
No, you’re not imagining it.  We did just read about the creation of human beings yesterday.  Today, we are presented with the second, though older, account of creation in Genesis.  In this version, we are not the last thing God creates before resting; we are almost the first thought in God’s mind.  The earth, we are told, is covered with water when God fashions the first human being from nothing but the clay of the ground.   God then breathes the breath of life into this clay being.  In Hebrew, the same word is used for “breath” and “spirit.”  So we can say God’s spirit is the life force within us.

Once God creates that first person, there is the question of where that person will live.  So, God creates a garden, beautiful to look at and full of everything necessary to sustain human life.  God asks only that the first man take care of the garden and refrain from eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil..  Everything else there is yours to use and eat as the first people see fit. 

When I read this account of creation, I am filled with awe at the wonder of my being. It’s hard to fathom that God, who created the sun, the moon and the stars - everything in the universe - took time to make me.  It’s crazy, but that’s the truth.  Every one of us was a thought in God’s mind long before God fashioned and molded us in our mothers’ wombs. 

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you were an accident.  I don’t know why any parent would feel the need to say such a thing, but rest assured, there are no accidents.  You may have been a surprise, but God knew you before you were conceived and planned on your being here in this very time and place.   God looked upon each of us with delight and called us beloved sons or daughters.  I picture God holding us, smiling tenderly at us, and stroking our cheeks.  God gave each of us unique gifts and put us on this earth, hoping that we would use them to further God’s Kingdom.

Knowing the care and love God put into creating each and every one of us calls for prayers of gratitude.  When you are praying today, reflect on the wonder of your being and tell God how grateful you are to be living and breathing and part of God’s creation.

Monday, February 11, 2019

“Cling to Human Tradition” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

Credit: James Tissot [Public domain]
“Cling to Human Tradition” by Melanie Rigney

Thus the heavens and the earth and all their array were completed. Since on the seventh day God was finished with the work he had been doing, he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation. (Genesis 2:1-3)

O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:2ab)

“Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts. You disregard God's commandment but cling to human tradition." He went on to say, "How well you have set aside the commandment of God in order to uphold your tradition!” (Mark 7:6-8)

‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play, and the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, baby I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, I shake it off, I shake it off. (“Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift)

Honoring God with all my heart and mind and soul. The words are so beautiful. I’m smiling right now as I write them. Because in the abstract, who doesn’t want to do that?

The problem, as Jesus rightly points out in today’s Gospel reading, is an eternal one. It was the prophet Isaiah who accused the people of paying lip service to the Lord and then construing His desires for us into not so God-loving human traditions.

What are these traditions? Maybe they’re a little different for each of us. For me, they include judgment, criticality, a bit of arrogance masquerading as low self-esteem. Oh, sure, I love to say the pretty words about honoring God, but acting on them is difficult. It’s a lot easier to condemn someone whose point of view I don’t understand or agree with. It’s a lot easier to pretend I’m the all-knowing, all-powerful since there are times He seems content to let our fallen world continue to be, well, fallen.

Maybe this is not an issue for you. Maybe gently setting aside human tradition and honoring Him with your full heart, not just your lips, comes easily. If so, thank you… and please continue to model for the rest of us the way in which He desires to be worshiped.

Resolve to spend fifteen minutes today worshiping Him, not the false idols that have wormed their way into your soul.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Fourth Day

Morning Followed -- The Fourth Day

Evening came, and morning followed–the fourth day. Genesis 1:19

As they were leaving the boat, people immediately recognized him. They scurried about the surrounding country and began to bring in the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. Whatever villages or towns or countryside he entered, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak; and as many as touched it were healed.  Mark 6:54-56

Circle by Harry Chapin
All my life's a circle;
Sunrise and sundown;
Moon rolls through the nighttime;
'Til the daybreak comes around.
All my life's a circle;
But I can't tell you why;
Season's spinning round again;
The years keep rollin' by.
It seems like I've been here before;
I can't remember when;
But I have this funny feeling;
That we'll all be together again.
No straight lines make up my life;
And all my roads have bends;
There's no clear-cut beginnings;
And so far no dead-ends.

Let’s start at the very beginning…a very good place.

Five weeks into Ordinary Time, more than a month before Lent and we return to begin again (always?!) like Harry Chapin’s Circle. 

Usually, Genesis 1:1 is the first reading at the Vigil Mass.  Yet, for the next week and a half, our first reading on the weekday cycle will be from the Book of Genesis. In the middle of winter when our friends in Portland, OR, and Seattle, WA, are getting a season worth of snow and we brace for ice on the right coast, Monday’s reading from Hebrew Scriptures begins with the story of creation out of the primordial ooze, the story that will be repeated at the Easter Vigil.

The Earth was a formless wasteland. Darkness covered the abyss.  A mighty wind swept over the waters.  And what does God do? He makes light. Then he makes the atmosphere so that we can get the breath of life. Then he separates the land and sea so we have someplace to build our Starbucks and football stadium and Walmart Super Stores.  We have someplace to drive our cars and land our planes and tie up our boats. God’s light starts to bring order out of the chaos of creation. Until God makes the first Cursillo end with…the…Fourth…Day.  

Skipping over to the Gospel, Jesus brings order back into the lives of people who are sick and rush out to touch him and be cured.

Despite this parallel, there are some who say that the First Reading during the weeks of Ordinary Time is not related to the Gospel. “They are arranged so that we can experience a great amount of scripture, over a two-year period. For example, we might have several weeks from one of the apostolic letters and then several weeks from one of the Hebrew scriptures, before returning to another letter - throughout the season, according to a two-year cycle. This is a great opportunity to let our familiarity with these readings grow with our exposure to them each year.”[i]

Maybe not always.  But certainly today.  That is the whole purpose of a circle.  The beginning point can be at any place in the arc at any time. We can read Genesis 1:1 on February 11 and April 20 or until the 12th of Never.  If we just listen with the ear of our hearts.

Where is the arc of your story?

We would be remiss if we did not remind ourselves that in all the political, religious, cultural and personal chaos surrounding us, how does the creation allegory end? 

God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good.




How sweet it is!

Not easy. Not un-chaotic.  Painful sometimes. Uncertain at all times. As Joan Chittister, OSB, in The Rule of Benedict, Insight for the Ages writes: “It is outrageous to say, even under the best of conditions, that [doing God’s will in our life] will be easy. We cling to our own ways like snails to sea walls, inching along through life, hiding within ourselves, unconscious even of the nourishing power of the sea that is seeking to sweep us into wider worlds.” [ii]

Despite the hardships and the cross we carry, we press onward. Ultreya. Always.  Beginning again and listening with the “ear of our heart” to what God wants of us. Where do we go next?

[ii] Chittister, Joan, OSB. The Rule of St. Benedict: Insight for the Ages. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company (December 1, 1992). Page 67.