Friday, July 31, 2015

Take a Deeper Look

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Jesus came to his native place and taught the people in their synagogue.  They were astonished and said, “Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds?  Is he not the carpenter’s son?  Is not his mother named Mary and his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas?  Are not his sisters all with us?  Where did this man get all this?”  And they took offense at him.  But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and in his own house.”  And he did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith.   (Matthew 13:54-58)


When we disclose something of ourselves to another in trust and love, we are sharing in God's revelation to the beloved Son.  When we listen with loving attention to another who speaks of what is deepest in life, we understand a little more the Son's listening attention to Abba." (from Orientations, John Veltri, SJ)


In the long run, not many of us are who we seem to be at a first glance.  People make assumptions about us based on initial impressions.  And sometimes they never take time for a second, deeper look.  Jesus knew what that was like.  He came from Nazareth, a village without distinction if we go by the remark in John’s Gospel, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46)  Maybe the villagers themselves felt downtrodden, as though they really did live on the wrong side of the tracks.  In today’s Gospel, along comes one of their own, preaching and teaching with wisdom and authority.  Maybe they’re jealous, but they see Jesus as getting above himself and being pretentious.  Who does he think he is?  His father was only a carpenter and his mother just one of the many Mary’s living there.  What makes him think he’s so special?  They truly had no idea who it was who decided to just travel on to more fertile ground.  They never gave him a second thought.

As I thought about St. Ignatius, I wondered what his sister-in-law thought about him when she had to take care of the wounded 26-year-old Inigo, as he was known then.  (She and her husband lived in the Loyola family home.)  She knew all about him; how, lacking any hope of inheriting land, he had been sent to serve as a page at another nobleman’s court and how he had gone on to become a soldier. She knew about his reputation as a ladies’ man.  Hit in the leg with a cannon ball during a battle in Pamplona and carried home to rest and recover, he displayed his vanity about his appearance when he insisted on having his poorly set leg re-broken and operated on again.  Bored with staying in bed, Inigo asked for a novel of a popular genre, a knightly romance, but this was not a home given to reading of such a frivolous nature.  Instead, he was given a life of Christ and a book on the lives of the saints.  I would imagine his brother’s wife was not too impressed with him at this point.

No one would have imagined that this restless, wounded man would go on to spend his life developing and perfecting his well-known Spiritual Exercises or that people today would still be using them to grow closer to Jesus.  They would have laughed at the idea that he would go on to found a religious order or that a few centuries later there would be Jesuit schools all over the world.  Our assumptions about others are often fairly limited in scope.  But God sees what we can be, and God stepped in at this point and rechanneled the zeal of Inigo, who was beginning to realize that he found more satisfaction in thinking about doing great things for God than in all his daydreams about pretty girls.

What I especially like about St. Ignatius is his humanity.  He wasn’t perfect; he made mistakes and took some wrong turns in his attempts to serve God, but he owned up to them and learned from them.  Serving God was what really mattered to him, so much so that he could send one of his closest friends far away as a missionary, knowing they would likely never see each other again.  He was willing to spend many years doing administrative and desk work, which weren’t his favorite pastimes, for the good of the order.  And one could never underestimate the power or genius of St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises.


When have you allowed your assumptions about someone to limit your appreciation of the totality of his or her gifts and graces?  When have you felt that someone made a quick judgment about you and didn’t see you for who you really are?  Pray for the ability to listen to others as Jesus listened to his Father, to truly know the other.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Lord Fills Our Dwelling

Thursday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time
By Beth DeCristofaro
It was Moses who erected the Dwelling.  He placed its pedestals, set up its boards, put in its bars, and set up its columns.  He spread the tent over the Dwelling and put the covering on top of the tent, as the LORD had commanded him. … Then the cloud covered the meeting tent, and the glory of the LORD filled the Dwelling. (Exodus 40:18-20, 34)
And he replied, “Then every scribe who has been instructed in the Kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.”  When Jesus finished these parables, he went away from there.  (Matthew 13:51-53)
Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will. Whatever you may do, I thank you: I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures – I wish no more than this, O Lord. Into your hands I commend my soul: I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands without reserve, and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father.  (Charles de Foucauld)
On parish a mission trip my teen daughter’s team rebuilt an elderly woman’s home, repairing holes in her floor, replacing a disabled toilet and putting on a new roof.  My talents however do not lie with building anything although I assembled a pretty impressive desk from Ikea all by myself.  That the file drawer only opens 2/3 of the way is a design element, I tell myself, so that nothing falls out. 
Moses’ determination in building the Dwelling moves me.  It’s complicated, precise and effort-laden.  And it has to be portable!  When God signals, the Dwelling is taken down, carted to a new encampment and built again.  It is a labor of faith, hope and indeed love.  God’s presence is not contained however.  Divinity is infinitely bigger than the Dwelling.  Moses offers space for God to abide.
The building of our own spiritual dwelling place is not unlike Moses’ efforts.  We begin with our baptismal invitation and the gift of faith.  We cannot control but we can assent.  Grace nourishes us when the hard work of spiritual awareness, cleansing and self-denial become difficult.  The wings of the Spirit hold us up as we say “yes” again and again to life in Christ.  And our spiritual self is portable too; through good times and bad the presence of God, in the promise of Jesus, resides in us.  If we neglect our Dwelling, we lose our way much as the Israelites wandered as they resorted to golden idols. 
My daughter experienced something much bigger than outcomes as she felt the love and gratitude of the homeowner.  The elderly woman delighted in having young people around to share her day as much as their repairs to her house.  The Israelites saw something much bigger than they in the cloud and fire of God.  Jesus points to something much bigger, the new and the old, which is the spiritual legacy of His ancestors in faith and His own Word now offered to all.  He retreated to something bigger, going apart, in order to be in God’s presence so that He could proclaim these mysteries.  Are we aware and astounded that divinity is present within if we but take the time to build a holy and welcoming space for it?  What holds us back in welcoming God to fill our dwelling?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

God Will Give You

On coming out, he would tell the children of Israel all that had been commanded. Then the children of Israel would see that the skin of Moses’ face was radiant; so he would again put the veil over his face until he went in to converse with the LORD.  Exodus 34:34B-35
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” John 11:20-21
Rule of Saint Benedict (Chapter 48. The Daily Manual Labor 10 – 13)
From the first of October to the beginning of Lent, the brothers ought to devote themselves to reading until the end of the second hour. At this time Terce is said and they are to work at their assigned tasks until None. At the first signal for the hour of None, all put aside their work to be ready for the second signal. Then after their meal they will devote themselves to their reading or to the psalms.
If you ask most Christians, they probably remember the story of Mary and Martha when Jesus came to see them.  That is the story where Martha busied herself with hospitality while Mary, the contemplative, “has chosen the better part.” However, the primary story today is the other major appearance of Martha and Mary. 
Despite the busy-ness that concerned Martha, we see the level of her faith in the resurrection and the life.  When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him.  Like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, she was SO EAGER for the encounter, despite being in grief over the death of her brother, she left the house and ran to meet Jesus.
After a death in a Jewish family, relatives observe a stage called shiva, a week-long period of grief and mourning. During this period, mourners traditionally gather in one home and receive visitors.  They do not run outside and greet people who are coming to see them in their grief.  Once outside with the Lord, we then encounter the faith of Martha that is at least as deep, if not deeper, than that of her sister. Maybe what we see in this story is Martha choosing the better part this time.
Mary and Martha teach us two sides of a life rooted in faith and hope.  The best part may be when we can get both halves to come together into a holistic life of faith.
The combination of what happens to Martha and Moses in today’s readings send an important message to us.  When they encounter the Lord, the changes that they experience are striking.  They change physically AND spiritually.  Martha and Moses reveal the fruits of not just the encounter with the Lord but also what happens when you actually listen and act upon what that encounter reveals.  That growth in listening to God and the people of God and being an important intermediary facilitates conversations between God and people – and conversions between God and people.  
Martha (and Mary) and Moses (and Benedict) help us to focus our spirituality on how we use our time each day. There is a time for working and a time for praying.  There is a time for encountering the Lord and a time for bringing that message to the people in our community.  We can focus on having a healthy and supportive relationship in community like the family of Mary and Martha and Lazarus. 
How will you use your time today?  How will you break it up into the proper roles and duties at the proper time?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Come Along in Our Company

By Melanie Rigney

Not according to our sins does he deal with us, nor does he requite us according to our crimes. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him.  (Psalm 103:10-11)

“The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. Just as weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.” (Matthew 13:39-40)

Abba Father, help me to overcome my fear and shame in coming to You with the dark parts of my life. Help me to believe in Your forgiveness.

It’s quite the intimate relationship the Lord and Moses have as described in Exodus 33 and 34. The two of them speak face to face, “as one man speaks to another,” we’re told. The Lord does just a bit a whining about the people, and Moses acknowledges their flaws and in essence says, “love us anyway.” And of course, the Lord does. And really, who could resist Moses’ entreaties? “Come along in our company”; “claim us as your own.” Such beautiful words, such touching sentiment. 

So, why didn’t the Lord have that relationship with the rest of the Israelites? Why was only Moss chosen to speak one on one with the Lord at this point? Perhaps because the Lord knew they weren’t ready for Him in that form, that they had not the faith to understand His presence to their worship in a more transparent way than a column of cloud. God’s a gentleman; He knows what we can handle, and some of us want the Old-Man-in-the-Cloud type of God. Some of us best comprehend a jealous, vengeful God, bent on retribution for our offenses against Him and each other. And some of us, at least occasionally, if we are very open and trusting, desire that easy back and forth the Lord and Moses enjoyed. We are unlikely to find that intimacy unless we consciously pursue it and the Lord finds us ready and open. But if Exodus is any indication, once we find it—in God the Father, God the Son, or God the Holy Spirit, or any or all of the three—we will no longer be satisfied with the concept of the Old Man in the Cloud.

Ask God to come along with you today, in your good moments and bad.

Now, Go and Lead the People

So Moses went back to the LORD and said, “Ah, this people has indeed committed a grave sin in making a god of gold for themselves! If you would only forgive their sin! If you will not, then strike me out of the book that you have written.” The LORD answered, “Him only who has sinned against me will I strike out of my book. Now, go and lead the people to the place I have told you. Exodus 15:31-34A

“The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.” Matthew 13:31B-32


Chapter 47: On Giving the Signal for the Time of the Work of God

The indicating of the hour for the Work of God by day and by night
shall devolve upon the Abbot either to give the signal himself or to assign this duty to such a careful brother that everything will take place at the proper hours.

Let the Psalms and the antiphons be intoned by those who are appointed for it, in their order after the Abbot. And no one shall presume to sing or read
unless he can fulfill that office in such a way as to edify the hearers. Let this function be performed with humility, gravity and reverence, and by him whom the Abbot has appointed.


Why would Jesus have equated the mustard seed with the Kingdom of God? 

Mustard is a spice with an interesting history.  These days, we spread it over a hot dog, sandwich, pretzel or even a crab cake to add a little pizazz to the taste.  It sits on the shelf with the likes of mayonnaise, ketchup, pickle relish and other condiments.  However, mustard has not always been in the 57 Varieties yellow jar.   

The ancestor to Gulden’s Brown and Grey Poupon is an ancient condiment outdating its other spicy cousins.  It comes from the plant growing up from tiny, round mustard seeds -- usually about 1 or 2 mm in diameter. The condiment is made from the tiny seeds that do not release their flavor until they are cracked and mixed with a liquid such as white wine. 

The Hebrews used mustard for cooking, and Abraham is said to have served cow tongue with mustard—a delicious combination that can be found today at a good delicatessen.  Today, there’s even a National Mustard Day— it falls next week on August 4. 

But…why would Jesus have equated the mustard seed with the Kingdom of God? 

The Kingdom of God starts out of humble beginnings…like the tiny mustard seed that becomes the flowering plant.  Once it is cultivated, the Kingdom also has room for all of us just like the mustard bush.  Jesus was the tiny mustard seed growing in the womb of Mary.  He turned over the task of building the kingdom to the rest of us and our humble “continuings.”  If the Kingdom is to grow, then it is up to us to make that happen.  When we are successful, we can add flavor and taste to the lives and loves and loaves of those around us.  

Maybe it is appropriate that the parable of the tiny mustard seed is one of the shortest parables in the New Testament to signify growing into something great from small beginnings. It may only be a few syllables longer than the parable of the leavened wheat – also on today’s menu. Thanks to the power of the tiny grains of yeast, the dough can “rise” until it is large enough to feed one hundred people.

Baby Jesus grew up to influence many.  Today, the paschal mystery of his Resurrection feeds the many. From humble beginnings.


Now is the time to get out of the kitchen, or the deli, and get to work building the Kingdom that people can taste and see and touch and hear and smell.  Yeast and mustard do not unleash their power on their own.  It takes someone to crack the mustard seed and mix it up with wine before you have a condiment.  You will never feed hundreds of people any bread with the packages of yeast commercially available – until that yeast is mixed with flour and put in a warm, dry place to do its work.

The next time you walk into a bakery where fresh bread has come out of the oven, inhale that fresh aroma.  Think about the wheat that was grown and harvested and dried and shipped.  Think of the water and eggs that went into that mixture until it was shaped into small loaves.  Think of the warm dark places where the bread sat while the yeast went to work yeasting. Think of the hot ovens that baked that bread – soft on the inside like your heart but harden on the outside to keep away those who would steal that loaf.
How will you spice up the Good News for others this week? Allow the Father to crack open your hearts so that you can add some zest to the lives of others in your piety, study and action.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Trust is the Key

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Colleen O’Sullivan

A man came from Baal-shalishah bringing to Elisha, the man of God, twenty barley loaves made from the firstfruits, and fresh grain in the ear. Elisha said, “Give it to the people to eat.” But his servant objected, “How can I set this before a hundred people?” Elisha insisted, “Give it to the people to eat.” “For thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and there shall be some left over.’” And when they had eaten, there was some left over, as the Lord had said. (2 Kings 4:42-44)

Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted. When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.” So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat.  (John 6:11-13)

The eyes of all look hopefully to you, and you give them their food in due season; you open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing. (Psalm 145:15-16)

Our Scripture readings today speak of God’s love and generosity. God never lets us down. God takes care of us. God is present wherever we are. And the readings speak of our trust or lack of trust in our God as well.
In the first reading, there is a famine in the land. Miraculously, God provides the ingredients for twenty loaves of barley bread. In the Gospel reading, the crowds walk many miles in their eagerness to see Jesus. They are hungry and tired. Jesus has compassion upon them and proceeds to feed them.
So, everything’s as it should be, right? Wrong. Because sometimes we find it difficult to trust in God’s ability or desire to take care of us. Elisha’s servant doesn’t exclaim over the barley loaves; he says there aren’t enough of them to feed 100 people. Philip tells Jesus he can’t possibly feed the crowd; it would cost a fortune that they don’t have. Andrew mentions that someone has a few loaves and fish, but they’ll never do for the number of people gathered.
It’s an age-old problem. God tries to lead us to the Promised Land, and, in the wilderness along the way, we stamp our feet and whine that we’d rather go back to being slaves in Egypt. God wants to forgive our sins, but sometimes we’re so ashamed that we never get around to believing we’ll be met with mercy, not condemnation. God wants to be our constant companion and best friend, but we find it difficult to trust that God is in all the nitty-gritty of our lives.
God hopes we will be his partners in meeting the needs of the world. Maybe we think the little bit we can do will make no difference, but re-read these Scripture readings. God takes your little bit and my little bit and miraculously makes it enough. We simply need to trust God on that.

Take some time today to reflect on your personal salvation history. Consider all the times you have experienced God’s love and salvation throughout your life. I think you will find more than ample reason to trust that God is generous and caring.

But Not

We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 2 Corinthians 4:8-11

“But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Matthew 20:26-28


RSB Chapter 45: On Those Who Make Mistakes in the Oratory

When anyone has made a mistake while reciting a Psalm, a responsory, an antiphon or a lesson, if he does not humble himself there before all by making a satisfaction, let him undergo a greater punishment because he would not correct by humility what he did wrong through carelessness.


The cultural contradictions of Christianity are front and center in today’s readings and in our daily lives. 

A new survey is out that supposedly shows the “popularity” of Pope Francis is on the decline.  Two months ahead of his first trip to the U.S., Pope Francis' approval rating among Americans has plummeted, driven mostly by a decline among political conservatives and Roman Catholics, according to a new Gallup poll released Wednesday.[i]  When the poll was under way, Francis, the first Latin American pope, was on a homecoming tour through South America that especially unsettled conservatives, reported the Associated Press.

Something tells me that Pope Francis could not care LESS who he “unsettles.”  He is following the sandaled-footsteps of a certain unpopular son of a Jewish carpenter (who won no straw polls among the political or religious establishment of his day).  James’ mother can attest to that. She wants what every mother wants for he son – a position befitting a mother’s exalted image of her son. She wants James and his brother to have a seat of honor.  She is no more likely to win such high honors for her sons than was Mary of Nazareth likely to see her son rule Jerusalem.

People loved Jesus when he said things that they wanted to hear. However, they walked away in the shadows when he said what they did not want to hear.  The rich man. The Pharisees. The scribes. Herod. Not. Not. Not. The same was true of the prophets before and after…all the way up to Pope Francis.  He is popular with the traditional and modern Catholics when he says things with which they agree.  However, unlike politicians who live for the NEXT election, Pope Francis must live for his LAST election.

St. Paul confronted a similar legacy as explained by the notes to the New American Bible.  “He must reconcile the difficulty that his present existence does not appear glorious at all; it is marked instead by suffering and death. He asserts his faith in the presence and ultimate triumph of life, in his own and every Christian existence, despite the experience of death.” For St. Paul, the negative never completely prevails. There is always hope because Christ lives in us and we live in Christ.


We have all seen those Russian nesting dolls…you know, the kind where the smaller doll fits inside the bigger doll and so on…like the ones pictured here. Today’s readings remind me of the holy family with Jesus nesting inside Mary.  Then, when we receive the Eucharist, Jesus nests inside us.  Then, when we receive the Eucharist, we nest inside Jesus so that he still lives in the world.

The hopeful words and spirit of Jesus live on even through the Good News, the epistles of St. Paul, the encyclicals of our Pope or (we hope) through the random blogging of his servants. However, it has to jump off the page, too.

How will Jesus nest in you today so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh?  How will you be a slave to the Word?  How will you help Jesus nest in the world?  How will you nest in Jesus?

Friday, July 24, 2015

Keep Holy

Friday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

By John Guerre

“I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. You shall not have other gods besides me…You shall not take the name of the LORD, your God, in vain…Remember to keep holy the sabbath day…Honor your father and your mother…You shall not kill. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male or female slave, nor his ox or ass, nor anything else that belongs to him.” Exodus 20:1-17 


Responsorial Psalm

R. (John 6:68c) Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.

The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul; The decree of the LORD is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple.


In the process of preparing my reflections for this Tripod, as a 76-year old man with 15 years of formal Catholic education, I have been led to a new and deeper appreciation for the Church’s intent in its sequencing of the Readings for the Liturgy of the Eucharist; namely, First Reading, Responsorial Psalm, Second Reading, and Gospel. The First Reading comes from the Old Testament, with a Responsorial Psalm chosen as a bridge to the Second and Gospel Readings from the New Testament. As such, this sequence takes us from the Mosaic Law to that of the New Law of the New Moses, to the Messiah, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Today’s Readings reflect that structure and frame my reflections as well as some hard personal questions.

The First Reading from Exodus recounts the Ten Commandments, known as the Decalogue, given to Moses and the Israelites at Mount Sinai. The Decalogue is the core of the Mosaic Law, which along with the Book of the Covenant deals with matters of worship, legal, and moral behavior of the Israelites. The Commandments seem very clear and their salvific truths remain today for us just as they did for the Israelites. However, in understanding that they were addressed to a wandering tribal community of a much earlier society, my challenge is how does their interpretation over the centuries apply to my daily struggles as a 21st century educated urban dweller?

Here is where the Responsorial Psalm chosen for today’s Readings gives me some hope: “The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul. The decree of the LORD is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple.”

To begin a simple approach, the 10 Commandments are divided basically into two sections: the first three dealing with God, and the second seven dealing with the neighbor. But which of these is most important? Christ “simplified” much of this for me when He was challenged by the legalistic scribe asking what was the Greatest Commandment? “He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” Mathew 37-40

But now with this simplification, in the Gospel Reading, I am challenged by the Parable of the Sower. Here Christ challenges me to reflect on just what kind of ground my seed of Faith and commitment to these Greatest Commandments of love has fallen. Is it really rich soil? Do I really love the Lord my God with all my strength, all my heart and soul? Do I truly have an intimate and loving relationship with God as my Heavenly Father? Do I truly worship Him more than I do the values of this hectic and materialistic modern day world I live in?

And, on the other hand, do I really love my neighbor as myself? What does love really mean – is it choice, emotion, commitment? What does neighbor really mean? Who are my neighbors – my spouse, my children, family, friends, next door neighbors, co-workers, fellow parishioners, Cursillistas, etc.? Are they also the poor, the elderly, the handicapped, the homeless, the prisoner, other marginalized peoples of our society and the world? What am I doing to express my love for any of these my neighbors, both those easy to love and those difficult to love? What am I doing daily to carry out this love in my family, neighborhood, parish, as well as collectively with others, to help meet the injustices of our world?


In the “Sermon on the Mount” (Mt 5:3–7:27), we have been given a road map for navigating the spiritual journey of the New Law of the New Moses, our Messiah, Jesus Christ. May He grant each of us, the grace and strength to follow it with the Greatest Commandments of love and perseverance!

R. Alleluia, alleluia

Blessed are they who have kept the word with a generous heart

And yield a harvest through perseverance.

R. Alleluia, alleluia

(From today’s Psalm)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

See and Hear the Lord

By Beth DeCristofaro

On the morning of the third day there were peals of thunder and lightning, and a heavy cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled.But Moses led the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stationed themselves at the foot of the mountain.  Mount Sinai was all wrapped in smoke, for the LORD came down upon it in fire.  (Exodus 19:16-18)

This is why I speak to them in parables, because they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand. Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says:   “You shall indeed hear but not understand, you shall indeed look but never see.  Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and be converted and I heal them.”  (Matthew 13: 13-15)

When I am blown away by a song’s lyrics
or my heart flips at a colorful phrase,
may I thank Poetry for arousing in me
that naked touch of paradise, and you.
  (A Book of Wonders by Ed Hays)

Today would have been my brother Mike’s 58th birthday.  Instead his first and only heart attack killed him 21 years ago at age 37.  Medically we know what caused his death.  The mystery is the “why” would someone come and go so quickly from life.  Mystery is everywhere in life.  Natural disasters, random shootings, paralyzing accidents, tear-inducing music, and breathtaking sunrises leave us with questions although “explanations” abound.   Even with the marvels being revealed through quantum physics and brain imaging open ever new mysteries. Among the most astounding is that God entered this world of limits and spoke with us in the desert of the Sinai, walked the lands of Galilee and blew into the hearts of all His friends to the ends of the earth. 

Now Mike was a pretty practical, “don’t try to impress me” kind of guy.  I think, though, that even he would have been awed, perhaps fallen to his knees at the sight of Mt Sinai belching lava.  He certainly might have argued with Jesus or perhaps he instead would have privately turned away to mull Jesus’ words over and over in his heart.  Even 2,000 years after our Lord and 3,000+ years after the time of Moses, when God has been revealing Himself to us repeatedly we still don’t always “hear” or “see” the “why”.  But we’ve been given the “Yes” by the saving life and death of Jesus.  As a wise young woman recently said on the anniversary of her own brother’s death:  “We should consider this his feast day because on that day he met God face to face.”  Mike, happy feast day, Brother.

My brother and I did not always see eye to eye.  Looking back I cannot pinpoint our frustrating differences.  What mystery can I consider today, not asking for the answer but pondering the “why” and seeking God’s voice and touch upon me through it?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Stone Removed

“Present yourselves before the LORD, for he has heard your grumbling.”  Exodus 16:9B

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.”  John 20:15

Chapter 43: On Those Who Come Late to the Work of God or to Table
At the hour for the Divine Office,
as soon as the signal is heard,
let them abandon whatever they may have in hand
and hasten with the greatest speed,
yet with seriousness, so that there is no excuse for levity.
Let nothing, therefore, be put before the Work of God.  (Rule of Saint Benedict)

The Lord is present to us more in our distress. Whether grumbling about travelling across the desert or holding onto something or someone whom we should release, the Lord knows our suffering and will fill in what is empty in our lives.  Empty tombs.  Empty emotions.  Empty lives.

However, the Lord fills up what is empty.  Bread in the desert. Fine wine in the water jugs of Cana.  Resurrected Life after death.  Jesus is constantly turning the tables and showing up where people of little faith least expect to find him.  However, when they open their hearts, the Lord opens their eyes.

Fill us with your love, O Lord, and we shall sing with joy.  (Psalm 90:14)

After his visit to South America, Pope Francis was asked to address the grumbling of the middle class that he will face on his September visit to the United States.  To some, the Pope’s advocacy for the poor overlooks the plight of those caught in the middle but who also are not in the upper class. 

We need both personal conversion and a public reckoning. The personal conversion to which we are called is not only to do more for the poor and to take steps to reduce our exploitation of the environment, it is to embrace a more simple lifestyle. This is not easy, but it is imperative. The way to resist the influence of stuff in our life is to resist the influence of stuff in our life. All the government or faith-based programs in the world cannot achieve that. We must do it for ourselves.

The way to resist the influence of stuff in our life is to resist the influence of stuff in our life. Easier written than lived in our Amazon Prime Day-WalMart-eBay existence when we are grumbling about the woeful battery life of our smart phone that puts more information at our disposal than our grandparents encountered in a lifetime of learning.  We are grumbling about car payments for a chariot that costs more than our parents paid for a house. 

Our “stuff” are the stones which get in the way of an open relationship with Jesus.  Just like an angel rolled that stone away so Mary Magdalene could encounter Jesus, we need to roll our stuff away and do the same.

The Winters’ column in NCROnline appeared just days after Amazon Prime Day when they sold more “stuff” than on Black Friday 2014 – that day after Thanksgiving when the holiday shopping season kicks off a December to remember.  Why not think about spending a few hours serving lunch as a volunteer in a food program than surfing eBay for the latest deal of the day? 

The parallels between the underlying message in the daily reading of the Rule of Saint Benedict and daily reading from sacred scriptures never ceases to amaze me.  Let nothing come before the work of God, not even our own grumbling.  Let nothing come before the work of God, especially not the influence of stuff in our lives. Rather than presenting ourselves before the latest sale at WalMart or Target, we should not forget to present ourselves before the Lord.