Worth Revisiting: Messy Work

There honestly is no other way of describing it- the work of evangelization is a messy work. It isn’t that the message itself is cloudy or unclear, for the love of the Gospel given is simple.  “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13: 34-35). The difficulty then lies in part to our own understanding of the fullness of God’s love and mercy.

While we cannot limit or contain God’s love, time and time again we try to do so even albeit unconsciously. Yet, Jesus did not parse words, or seek to delineate all the exclusions to that love marked with an expiration date.  Rather, he witnessed the love of the Father to the thief on the cross beside him, and welcomed him into the fullness of heaven that very day.  And if we think about it, this is exactly the patient, merciful and unwavering love we desire for God to have for each one of us.

Here is where we begin to comprehend the who, what, and why of this term, evangelization,  we toss about so loosely in christian conversation. For it is in the midst our brokenness, and the mess of life that we all too readily recognize how desperately we are in need of a savior. Only from this personal experience of just who Christ is for us in our lives can we really proclaim the joy of the Gospel. Not merely words, evangelization then is a lived encounter with Christ, a voice that calls us back with a love which compels us to go forth and share with others.

Share with one another

Are we, however, Christians in practice? Of the estimated 2.3 billion Christians (Pew Research Center, 2015) in the world why is it that we are not also growing exponentially in number? Naturally, deaths and smaller family size would attribute loss.  Yet, if we were in fact living out the call of discipleship “to go forth and make disciples of men” , would we not be seeing growth of some kind commiserate with the population change?  Perhaps, we have forgotten that this call once again was not for a select few, or that our faith cannot exist as a private exercise. Every sacrament in the Catholic church is by its very nature a community experience, as is to be every moment in between. For, by virtue of our baptism each of us has been called into relationship both with God but also with one another in the body of Christ.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
1 Peter 2: 9-10

Relationships are messy

God never said that discipleship would be easy or that sharing the love of the Gospel would always be met with success. Unfortunately, many simply never try. While a vertical relationship with our Creator is essential, so is our seeking and encounter of Christ in others. This entails the practice of much patience and the commitment to surrender the result to God.  Behind that irate or obstinate personality before you may lie a lifetime of pain, and neglect. Your witness today of God’s love and mercy may not bear fruit for some time, and may require others to water or nourish the ground to flourish. And, there may be several obstacles in the way that need to be removed in order for love and joy to take root.  Messy yes. But you and I indeed, have been asked to get our hands dirty and hearts tested in this beautiful mess of life. To choose love, to choose mercy and in doing so to choose life.

Reflect:

What would Christianity look like today were it not for courageous men and women who were willing to share the joy of the Gospel? Am I comfortable witnessing my faith to others? If not, what is holding me back?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Cause for Celebration

When you think of the many reasons that might lead you to celebrate, odds are that this experience would not make your top 10 or even your top 100. And yet, as a believer in Christ, the truest promise of salvation should be our greatest cause of celebration.  Inexhaustibly matched by a Father’s joy and overwhelmed by the hope found in Jesus, grief is a journey of discovery of each of these.  What then, if we intentionally began this journey from this perspective?

At a mere eleven in years, I had found one of the greatest teachers that I would ever have. Standing at 5′ 3 she was spunky, compassionate, enthusiastic about grammar, and a paradox of interests and gifts. Her two favorite loves were unquestionably Jesus and Magnum PI, both of whom adorned her personal grading and lesson plan book. That sixth grade year, she would have me both detesting and embracing the fine art of diagramming sentences. I also found that year a teacher that took a genuine interest in every single student that walked into her class. Though she would certainly have not chosen favorites, she was undoubtedly mine.

And then suddenly she was gone.

Sitting in my kitchen that Sunday evening, the phone rang. How odd, I thought, it was that one of my teachers called to speak to my mother, seeing as how she taught high school. Yet, apparently I wasn’t the only one who knew how much this amazing teacher and woman of faith meant to me. As my mother relayed what had transpired since Friday with a sudden illness and complications, I sat motionless. Though hearing the words, I could not connect the series of events to the fact I would never see her again.  The following day, when the principal addressed the students with the news, I laid claim to grief. And still, I felt the best way to honor her, would be to be present in her Father’s house, though I wasn’t sure where her church was. “Are you sure, Elizabeth..are you sure you want to go to the funeral?”, my mother asked.  “Yes, I need to say goodbye..would you go with me?” “Of course ” she said,”let me find out the arrangements”.

As we walked up to that small white church, the music carried out the open windows on the cool fall breeze. Entering in, I was ready to say goodbye but not for the lesson of love to come.  While it mattered little to me, and to anyone else gathered, that my mother and I were not of African American descent I did wonder what they must of thought of why I was there. And even I was unsure that I had the right place. For, gone were the somber clothes of black and grey, and in its place instead was a vibrant array of color. Bright flowers, and joyful songs raised in praise revealed not sadness but unparalleled hope in the life that awaited. Though it was almost more than a little girl in mourning could take- it was the very thing that was needed.

That night my heart was full of questions. How could they sing when the loss is so new..did they not miss her too? Didn’t they know it was a funeral and not a birthday? That was it! They sang because it was a birthday of sorts, not an end but a beginning of a new eternal life with God. They celebrated the fact that their joy for her in the promise of heaven could more than bear their loss. To this very day I cannot think of funerals in the same way that I did before. Do I mourn? Yes, but I also sing..and celebrate!

My life flows on in endless song;
above earth’s lamentation,
I catch the sweet, though far-off hymn
that hails a new creation.

Refrain:
No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?

Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear that music ringing.
It finds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing? [Refrain]

 What though my joys and comforts die?
I know my Savior liveth.
What though the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth. [Refrain]

 The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
a fountain ever springing!
All things are mine since I am his!
How can I keep from singing? [Refrain]

“How Can I Keep From Singing”, Robert Lowry, 1826-1899

Peace,

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Unfulfilled Potential

“Consult not your fears but your hopes and dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what is still possible for you to do.” Pope John XXIII

Recently I had one of the most surprisingly profound conversations on this idea of fulfillment and God’s purpose for our life. Surprising and unexpected because these are not the conversations you choose to begin only minutes before the start of Mass and with someone you have met only once before. And yet as we spoke it seemed as if there was all the time in the world. Instantly I perceived his spiritual depth and receptivity as well as the Holy Spirit’s intentionality in this brief encounter.

“What is it that you do”, I asked inquisitively with a smile , “that is when you aren’t serving here?”
“Well I used to be in social work with those suffering from addictions and difficult life choices..but for the last few months I have been working in the technology field.” Though he spoke about his recent work, it wasn’t his life’s work. Immediately, sensing the urging of the Spirit to respond I prayed for the words that needed to be said.

“I can see that you would be very good at your previous work..not sure if you are aware, but you have been given a beautiful spiritual gift of connection. This is not something that everyone obtains, to be able to meet, connect, and relate spiritually with purpose. Have you thought about God’s purpose for your life?”
“Yes, in fact I have said that I would give this present job one year, I  have been discerning where I am meant to be.”
“While I am certain that in whatever you do, you can use this gift, I truly believe that God may have greater plans in store for who you are meant to BE. Financially, we work at various jobs because they provide a necessary income to provide the essentials in life. And, this is important. However, in my own life in an initial desire to use my education and potential to achieve success in this world, as a follower of Christ, I found myself saying yes to another path. In doing so, I began to glimpse all of the unfulfilled potential in my life, to ask what God’s will is for my life and to grow to be who God has called me to be. I will be praying for you, and I cannot wait to hear how God leads you!”

As the first lines of the opening hymn played, we finally parted and each made our way to our pews. Taking my place beside my family,  the grace received from being who and  where I needed to be, was undeniable. This journey of staying unfulfilled isn’t about never finding happiness, but in a realization that all happiness lies in God’s will for our lives. It is refusing to rest success and failure in what we have tried in the past or in what the world sees as a realized potential. But instead choosing to shed our fears for God’s hopes and dreams. For “What I know of myself I know only because you shed light on me.” St. Augustine.

Reflect:

What are my gifts? Do I have unrealized or unfulfilled potential in my life? What might God be asking of me today?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: The Gift of a Father

In my life I have most certainly been blessed with an unfathomable gift- that only a heavenly Father could have known was even necessary. Growing up, I knew profoundly the space left behind with the absence of my own earthly father. Still, it wasn’t the basic provisions and necessities of life I truly sought, but strong spiritual leadership and guidance. Desiring to better understand and imploring for direction, I would time and time again turn to prayer for answers.

From my daily walk to the ample crossroads encountered, God has never ceased to speak to my questions,  as well as provide a tangible presence in my life. Certainly, since becoming a Catholic I have not been at a loss for spiritual mentorship either. Where ever I have traveled and however God has moved me to discern new paths there has been assistance. From sacrament to sacrament and the infinite moments in between they have been a constant reminder of a Father’s love. Clad simply in black and white these giants of faith, spiritual counselors and brothers-in-arms have also become indispensable friends and colleagues.

I thought of this a little over a week ago as I sat amidst a cloud of witnesses at a clergy benefit health and trust dinner. With every unique diverse vocation story, I could not help but think how God had not just answered my own need but that of so many countless others. Each in his own way had heard God’s voice, and chosen to follow offering his gifts not for his own glory but for God’s alone. All who had gathered that evening in support echoed these sentiments.

To theirs I add my own undying gratitude for the gift of a Father and the many spiritual fathers I now know in my life: (in no particular order) Fr. Michael Reardon, Fr. Jim Rafferty, Fr. Tom Nestor, Fr. Mike McNamara, Fr. Sinisa Ubiparipovic, Fr. Paul Soper, Fr. Tom O’Connor, Fr. Joseph McCarthy, Fr. Joseph Infantini, Fr. Paul Bailey, Fr. Matt Williams, Fr. Chip Hines, Fr. Kenneth Quinn, Fr. Steve Krupa, Fr. Ed Serena and many more!

Thank you for your “Yes!”, your constant encouragement, guidance and steadfast friendship. It means more than you may ever know!

In Christ,

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Blog Tour: A Storyteller’s Guide to Joyful Service

I consider myself so privileged to know Tony Agnesi both as a colleague and friend as well as to be invited to share my thoughts on his latest book A Storyteller’s Guide to Joyful Service. In our conversations with one another, we have truly been given a camaraderie in ministry. A treasured community whereby we not only speak but listen to God at work within one another’s life and in the lives of those whom we serve. Tony’s gift is that he not only recognizes God’s grace daily, but is able to convey this awareness and call to action in an engaging and relatable way.

Towards the beginning of my own call to lay ministry those around me would often ask  why. Why would you choose to use your education and talents where there is little to no pay and even less recognition? Aren’t there other ways to give of your time? Where these questions fail, however, is in their inability to assess the immense value in the unseen or to quantify the joy that servant ministry provides in a complete surrender to God.

“Joy is an abiding sense that God is in control..it is a gift that grows out of faith, gratitude, grace and love, the delight in being alive”. Tony Agnesi

The difficulty is that while many of us, as Christians, have no problem understanding the source of our gifts as God, we are still reluctant to hand over the reins to Him to use as He sees fit.  We seek happiness but fail to realize that we are not the orchestrators of that happiness. Rather, as Tony so wonderfully articulates,

“God has been using people as instruments since creation and you can participate simply by checking in for duty.”

And though undoubtedly you will still experience challenging times in your life, seeing God’s grace in the lives of others lays the foundation of trust for the work ahead in your own. This can be as simple as the witness of a silent prayerful gesture “of gratitude and humility” raised to heaven that ultimately “restores your faith in humanity”.  Or, it can be that graced awareness that God is asking to not only your gifts but your challenges to inspire change in the lives of others.

To serve and not count the cost…

A lofty dream you say? So some might very well think of sainthood. Quite often we place the saints on ornate gilded pedestals ignoring the reality of the lives that they had. It isn’t that their path was easy or that they were created with greater tolerance and fortitude. It is that they ceased to strive to do it on their own. Relying on Christ, they offered both success and failure to put to God’s use. And more often than not, it was in their own challenges and failures that God’s glory was the most beautifully revealed. For, in seeking God’s plan for your life, as Catherine of Siena is often quoted, you can fully “be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” with love and holiness. Alternatively, Tony notes, “a lack of action will cause us to be consumed in a fire of indifference” .

This re-gifting is essential in our discipleship for it demands a free will offering. Our choice- to recognize the Creator and giver of all gifts and our conscious decision to give our yes to His will in our lives and in the world. Then even those things we do in the course of our normal day, not typically viewed as ministry, become tools in the hands of our Lord Jesus Christ.  As Tony remarks,

“We are called by Our Lord to go and make disciples of those we meet, and by example bring them into an understanding of our faith. We are called to live the faith by our words and actions.”

In doing so we may just see the difficulties we experience as the very stuff that God is using to grow us as disciples ourselves and come to know the amazing joy that God has to offer!

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: The Wonder of it All!

“Prayer is a surge of the heart; It is a simple look toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy” St. Therese of Liseux

This week, I was witness to God’s mystery momentarily revealed in albeit a delightful surprising way. Ministering to those with Alzheimer’s and dementia requires patience, love, and flexibility. Some days can be challenging and cloudy, and others bright and filled with amazing clarity. Being there for both makes the glimpse of memory and sudden awareness all the more beautiful. In this brief moment of grace there is a remarkable recognition of what love really means and just who Christ truly is.

“Anna” has been a resident at a particular memory care for a bit of time now. Having lost many long term cognitive abilities, she is now completely dwelling in the present. So much so, that every sentence spoken is a story unto itself. Gathered amidst this group of Catholics, as a protestant, one cannot help but notice that she actively listens. On this day, she would also actively participate.

With the first reading, she informed me that I was needed to speak louder despite my reluctance to shout. Carrying on, I noticed her attentiveness almost as if we were having a conversation with just the two of us. With the Gospel and prayers, she remained intent on savoring each word.

“Father, you are holy indeed, and all creation rightly gives you praise. All life, all holiness comes from you through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, by the working of the Holy Spirit. From age to age you gather a people to yourself, so that from east to west a perfect offering may be made to the glory of your name. And so, Father, we bring you these gifts. We ask you to make them holy by the power of your spirit, that they may become the body + and blood of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at whose command we celebrate this Eucharist…The day before he suffered, he took bread in his sacred hands and looking up to heaven, to you, his almighty Father, he gave you thanks and praise. He broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said: Take this all of you and eat of it” (Eucharistic Prayer 3)

Somewhere deep inside, God then touched “Anna’s” heart prompting a truly unsolicited but appropriately beautiful response.

“WOW!…” she proclaimed loudly, “That is quite a gift!”

Instantly a sacred stillness fell, a substantive pause and recognition by all that Christ was truly present. Here, without the explanation of consecration or a discussion of real presence  “Anna” saw and experienced this tangible reality.

How is it then that though we come to Mass, expecting the gift to be given, we could very well leave Mass unchanged?  Perhaps this gift is carelessly taken for granted, not fully understood, or we simply have become too distracted by the day’s events. Nonetheless, we then fail to probe the depth of love and mercy available not accepting of the transformation that is possible in our daily lives. The real presence of Christ then becomes an unopened gift, or one put aside for a rainy day.

Take today to seize the gift of Christ’s sacrifice and be amazed by the wonder of it all!

Peace,

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“The most deadly poison of our times is indifference. And this happens though the praise of God should know no limits. Let us strive therefore to praise him to the greatest extent of our powers” St. Maximilian Kolbe

Everything for Happiness

The Lord asks everything of us, and in return he offers us true life, the happiness for which we were created…. Gaudette et Exsulte

Instead of a half-hearted effort or begrudgingly offering a portion, Christ asks for our all. No more than what he gave on the cross and no less than what we have been given and are capable of. Still, we allocate time to work, family and friends, exercise, play, and even charity all in the pursuit of happiness. Clinging to time reserved for ourselves we resent the moments we have had to relinquish it. “It’s really not a lot of time we say..and now it is no longer mine.” Though, when we think of it where is true happiness to be found?

Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Ps. 37:4

We need only turn to scripture to see clear examples of this enduring wrestling with time and resources. (John 6:9 and Mark 12:41-44) As well as, the result of giving the little we have to offer. Multiplied and utilized in the best way possible, our time and gifts suddenly become so much more than we could have ever imagined. And, we not only no longer miss what we have given but now desire to give even more. 

The irony is that the moment we chose to follow Christ, we acknowledged that all of “our” time was now His.  For, the living out of our discipleship is simply to offer back the measure of love and mercy that we have received to others. You see when we start laying claim to that which was never ours to begin with we miss the point altogether. Our Father who set the stars in the heavens and the planets in motion forming heaven and earth-conceived time. Though His time is endless-we strive to break time into parts and pieces assigning value to each.

Yet,what if we looked at the whole and rather than seeing the fleeting constrained aspect of it, saw our place as a fluid expansive invitation? For instance, have you ever began a service of love and discovered that the time spent was so very little compared to the gift received back? That what began with a time frame and a mission could now not be  quantified in time as the effects would continue to reverberate in your life and that of others? This I believe is true happiness, the experience of being fully alive in answering God’s call and will for our lives.

Reflect:

Am I holding back in my offering each day to God? Or choosing to be stingy with time for others? If so, what do I need to do differently? Think about what that day might look like.

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Reconciled

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Not just a prettier or more approachable  version of confession, the act of reconciling is instead, a richer and more complete description of what transpires in this beautiful sacrament. For, reconciliation means“to walk together again”[1] , to reestablish a close relationship in friendship, peace, and love. Confession is just one part of this sacrament replete with mercy, grace and love.  Reconciliation then more fully represents  “what is most important, what Jesus does”. [2]

Growing up protestant, I have heard all of the following questions and consequent arguments against the Catholic sacrament of reconciliation. Undoubtedly even for those having grown up in the faith, there still lies a temptation to rest on these as a means of justifying ourselves in our walk with God. However, there is also a challenge here to really consider the effects of sin, the grace that is present here and the freedom in walking humbly with our God.

1.“My relationship with Jesus is good..I can tell him anything. Why would I put a 3rd person in the middle since Jesus is the one who forgives me?  What this question begs is a heartfelt response. Yes, there is solid scriptural basis but the person asking this is seeking to know the soul benefit in uttering and entrusting their sins in this way.  They understand the need for forgiveness and may have a very good prayer life. Coming into the faith as an young adult this was a hurdle I myself encountered. I prayed often, went to church, read my bible and asked for forgiveness daily. So what does the sacrament of reconciliation really provide that is different?

  • In confessing our sins we give voice to that which we have privately carried and share it with the community in the priest who is also representative of Christ. The weight of our sins that we have carried is lifted, the slate with our sins wiped clean and we are free to begin anew.
  • Likewise, in both our sin and sanctity we are a community and are called to help one another in the journey. Our sin which has hampered and even damaged our relationships is removed and so, as a community we celebrate.
  • Receive peace and comfort by the grace of Christ to go forth to both amend our ways and to strive for greater justice and peace in our families, communities and world around us. Our penance is an essential first step to express our commitment towards this transformation.

2. “So, where is the need for reconciliation in the bible?

  • “So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:17-20.
  • Parable of the lost sheep- Jesus’ story of the shepherd and the 1 lost sheep among the 99. Jesus leads us to reconciliation with God and others (Matthew 18:12-14)
  • Prodigal Son explores the unconditional love and forgiveness of God, and helps bring this forgiveness into our daily lives (Luke 15:11-32)
  • Great Commandment- Jesus’ teaching about loving God, ourselves, and others (Matthew 22:36-40)

3. “These priests are human too, how can they hear and absolve my sins, aren’t they just as prone to sin?”

  • As Catholics we believe that Jesus intended to give authority to his apostles to guide, teach, forgive and heal the followers of Christ to come. And, that they in turn in succession handed down this authority.

” And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:18-19.

“Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” John 20:21-23

  • Yet, this question also points to the need for forgiveness for all of us, as a result of our human condition and our inclination to sin. St. John Paul II went to reconciliation frequently as did newly sainted St. Teresa of Calcutta who is noted for going 2-3 times a week for even venial sins.

“It would be an illusion to seek after holiness, according to the vocation one has received from God, without partaking frequently of this sacrament of conversion and reconciliation.  Those who go to Confession frequently, and do so with the desire to make progress, will notice the strides that they make in their spiritual lives.” St. JP II[3]

4. Finally, “Didn’t they just go to reconciliation? So why are they still  (*mean, rude etc.) ?

First obviously this question implies a bit of judgement of others rather than looking at our own walk of faith. Yet, to address the intended issue, does this sacrament have the grace and power to effect true and lasting change? Yes, but again we have a propensity and inclination to sin and our sins are not always exactly the same. Reconciliation is a sacrament that is intended to be received again and again throughout our lives either individually or with the community. So, it does not “end with the words of absolution”, but “in order to achieve it’s purpose it must take root in their whole lives”.[4]

In Reconciliation we are giving the opportunity to experience and celebrate God’s grace, love, mercy and forgiveness in our lives and in community. God isn’t as concerned with the “mistakes” but with repairing the relationship that has suffered.

Think for a moment about your relationship with your best friend.

If you think about your relationship with God, how could this be better? Have you made time for your friendship with God in prayer, answered his calls of love and grace? Have you said sorry when you realize that you have chosen to act unloving?

Remember, our choices not only hurt ourselves but effect our relationship with God, and so many others that we encounter daily. Mercy and forgiveness are waiting-take time today to be reconciled.

Peace,

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[1] McKenna, Meagan. (1997) Rites of Justice. New York. Orbis Books

[2] Richstatter, Thomas. O.F.M, S.T.D. (1990) “Ten Tips for Reconciliation: The Gift of Reconciliation”. Catholic Update. Ohio. Catholic Update.

[3] Pope John Paul II,  Conference of the Apostolic Penitentiary in Rome. March 27, 2004.

[4] Kane, Thomas. Healing God’s People: Theological and Pastoral Approaches.Rite of Penance 7b.

Worth Revisiting: Where Everybody Knows Your Name

What is a church to be? Is it a place for the faithful who gather on a given Sunday, who come to offer up their private prayers and praise and then go their separate ways? Or rather, is it to be a home, a collective community who together in Christ is much stronger than its individual members? Throughout our life we witness numerous understandings of what it is to be church. Deep down we know and desire more  for our time together and yet we settle for less.

As a young child some of my earliest memories are from my time spent in God’s house, among those that both had a clear grasp of what it was to be church and those that clearly had no idea. In a small town of approximately 5,000 people my grandmother’s church, though one of the largest, certainly wasn’t without competition in this strongly church going community. So then, what was it that drew the faithful young and old on Sunday, and kept them returning throughout the week? Well, quite simply it was the way they embodied Christ and tangibly conveyed the reality of family.

Donning a handmade sundress and black patent shoes, I excitedly got ready to make the 30 minute drive to my see my grandma, attend church and enjoy lunch together afterwards. Walking in the doors, though not a member, I wasn’t considered a stranger but instead welcomed as family. Each man, woman, or child standing there wasn’t doing so out of obligation but considered it a privilege to get to know each person that came in for worship that day. Each time was an inclusive acceptance of my presence, without judgement or expectation.

Contrast that with the church that I would more often attend in my own hometown at the tender age of 6. Significantly larger, it had become a numbers game with numerous cliques that would gather in different sections to discuss politics, events, and also one another. While my mother and I were members, we truly didn’t feel as if we ever were. Rather than welcoming us in, as a divorced single parent, my mom suffered the judgmental stares and awkward silences . So while we came hoping for community what we experienced instead was far from it. Our Sunday experience became a time for us to privately pray and praise though surrounded by a multitude.

To varying degrees, you may have witnessed either of these examples. More often than not, we may attend church and glimpse snip-its of community wondering how to connect. Here, where the desired relationship is not immediately accessible we ourselves may have to reach out initially. Perhaps conscious of my own experience, I have made a point of introducing myself and my family when we attend Mass at a different church, even though I am just visiting. It isn’t though I expect to be treated differently, but I am modeling what community should be for everyone.

This understanding of community even extends to our common interactions in the supermarket, gym, and local coffee shop. Keep in mind, your  “Hello, how are you today?” might just lead to someone reconsidering returning to or feeling a part of church that Sunday. Just the other day, when picking up my morning brew, I was given such a gift of conversation with a parishioner whose face I thought I had seen but never met. Now I know his name is Alex… and it all started with “So good to see you again!”.

Reflect:

As I look around my own parish, where could we be better representatives of the body of Christ? How am I extending a welcoming presence at church, and within my community?

Peace,

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Necessary and Indispensable

“Three things are necessary for everyone: truth of faith which brings understanding,
love of Christ which brings compassion, and endurance of hope which brings perseverance. ”  St. Bonaventure

Given the recent turmoil in the church, these last few weeks have been challenging to say the least. Conversations ensued revolving around what hasn’t been done, what should be done and who’s to blame in this crisis. Wounds that had healed in part have been reopened and the hurt and broken trust now visible once again. Especially in a community that went through the worst of it in 2002 with two of the most notable priests having led the flock.

Even personally, I had questions too. How could we not have learned as the universal church from hard fought battles of the past? If you, as leadership, witnessed the effects of what transpired in Boston, Ireland and elsewhere why wouldn’t an investigation within each diocese occur?  Sins incurred do not go away simply because we close our eyes and change cannot occur if cannot face the truth. Shameful and egregious wrongs  must be addressed for healing and trust to return.

Am I angry? Absolutely! This is the church that I love- it is the faith that I chose and that also chose me. Yet, my faith does not rest solely on the actions of man, even holy men, but on Christ.

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. 1 Cor. 3:5-9

As such, it cannot be shaken for my hope is in God knowing that he has called each one of us to witness to his truth and love in this broken world. We are not, however, left alone. With his Word and Spirit to guide and the Eucharist as our strength together we walk onward allowing God to rebuild us as a people. We need only look to thousands of years of tradition to see that this would not be the first time. Yet, this begins today and with each one of us.

What can we do?

Pray. I cannot emphasize enough how important this first step is. For how can we be the body of Christ in the world, his holy church, if our actions are not discerned and directed by prayer? And by prayer I mean not just tossing up a “God please fix the present circumstances”, but continually spending time with God to learn His ways rather than relying on our own. Consider adoration. It is an incredible time to listen to what God has to say, and to allow him to move your heart, mind and soul to the work ahead.

Fast.  Why fast you may ask, when the sins committed were not ours personally? First, fasting is both a way of expressing our sorrow and also to seek clarity. Secondly, our faith is not a solitary one. Every sin or injury to the body of Christ is felt by the whole. We also take responsibility in calling one another to holiness beginning with each one of us. God will raise holy men and women to be saints- and the time is now.

Work. No place to sit on the sidelines here. We are being asked to step into the messy and difficult tasks ahead. This may be to listen to a friend, co-worker or family member who simply needs to vent or is seriously considering leaving the church. It could also be explaining to others why you choose to stay. Maybe, you feel called to write to your pastor, bishop, cardinal or Pope Francis to speak to this issue requesting further measures be taken as I have done. Yet whatever you do- please do not despair. For, though “We are hard pressed on every side, (we are ) not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” 2 Cor. 4:8-9

Today I pray, fast, and work albeit willing to fight for this Church that I call home. Join me and countless others!

Peace,

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