Worth Revisiting: A Slippery Slope

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She was a bit surprised to see him there..standing among his homeless companions of many years. For several months he had found sobriety along with an apartment and a day job, maintaining his distance from a number of his former friends. The last time we had seen him he had appeared healthy and in much better spirits thankful for the care and concern shown. Not today though. Today, he was visibly agitated and the closer she got the more she realized his sobriety was no more. Greeting everyone present, one by one she checked in with them and handing them coffee as they spoke.

“I need 5 dollars and if you really cared about me you’d give it to me”. “Jim”, said one of the other men “now you know she doesn’t give money. Leave her alone.” Yet, he persisted getting more belligerent each time he spoke, till finally he said. “You know what I need it for, and if I don’t have a drink soon I will die”.  Sadness, filled her heart at that moment. She had seen him at this point before and it had nearly taken his life. There was no such thing as one small drink, or a stopping point for “Jim” it was all consuming. He had fallen into his addiction again, and all of the old habits that befriend it.

As any conversation with an AA or NA member will tell you..sobriety is not a sprint but a lifelong cross country journey. A constant attraction towards your own destruction, with the deceptive lure of rationalization and self reliance there at the ready. Those family members and friends that stay the course are well accustomed to the roller coaster of pain, joy, success and failure that are present along the way.

Yet this is true, though perhaps to a lesser extent, of every battle with temptation, sin and desolation.  Do we recognize our own weaknesses and the slippery slope that we start down when we once again find ourselves facing our worst selves? Will we be pulled under, will we try to go it alone, or will we seek help?

Awareness and Accompaniment.

While each of us were made for more, we repeatedly find ourselves choosing less. Being aware of that which is lesser and our own inclinations to a particular temptation or sin is a good step towards being better prepared when we meet it again. Still, the beauty of our faith is that we are never alone in our journey towards God. Though sin usually carries with it guilt, shame, and insecurities- our faith bears mercy, love and hope.  Through reconciliation, and in community we find both strength and accompaniment, encountering not condemnation and an all loving and merciful Father. Only then are we truly able to accompany others- to offer love and mercy in the struggle, and compassion and hope where none were evident before.

“Lord, thank you for loving me- knowing all of my weaknesses and being there to catch me when I fall.  Help me to keep my eyes open to the pitfalls ahead, and my ears ready to hear your voice. Carry me through, Lord. And please I ask dear gracious Father, make my heart ready to respond to the needs of others.” 

Peace,

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Crave Peace

 : “Christians must lean on the Cross of Christ, just as travelers lean on a staff when they begin a long journey. They must have the Passion of Christ deeply embedded in their minds and hearts, because only from it, can they derive peace, grace, and truth.” St. Anthony of Padua

With every passing year, in every byline and relationship encountered,the awareness of the world and our place in it reveals one constant- humanity’s profound desire for happiness and need for love.  The difference in each life is just how we seek happiness and where we believe that we have found it. In my youth I relished in the art of winning a good debate, evidenced in the ground of gaining one more in support of a cause and perceiving each incidence as a battle won. What has become more clear is that the goal of our Christian life cannot consist only in these small victories, or simply out of  prideful motivation or righteous indignation but from a true desire for peace.

Not an easy path

“If you want to make peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.”
–Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Take a glimpse even at our daily interactions with our family or colleagues, to work for peace may at times place us at the front lines of  contentiousness and disagreement. Make no mistake, not everyone is readily interested in the real work of peace. Why on earth not? For a variety of reasons, there are many who either cannot see how their happiness is connected to a greater plan or to a community beyond themselves. And yet, this path isn’t about solely convincing the other the error of their ways, but walking with and slowly discerning how to lead and witness to a greater truth. It is often imperfect and messy, as we are imperfect in understanding and discerning how best to move ourselves. Yet, if we invite God to be the principal mover and seek to take the back seat to the Holy Spirit then we begin to see the hope in the way ahead.

“With firm purpose you maintain peace; in peace, because of our trust in you.” Isaiah 26:3

Not quickly achieved

Peace is not just the absence of war. Like a cathedral, peace must be constructed patiently and with unshakable faith.
–Pope John Paul II

For me, this is perhaps the most difficult realization of the day-to-day endeavor towards peace. Steps taken to find common ground, sincere overtures at reconciliation albeit concessions and acceptance of one another fall back into familiar patterns. There are honestly times we might wonder why we try at all. Yet, this isn’t anything new to humanity or even to the early Christian communities. Inclinations to division, personality preference and disagreements over direction has beset us since the beginning of time. Truth is we may not ever witness the efforts of our labors in our lifetime. And still,  each day presents a gifted opportunity to offer a smile, a touch of mercy, a word of kindness – an imparting of a moment of grace to someone who has a great need for peace.

“Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to My mercy.”
–Diary of St Faustina, Divine Mercy in my Soul

May this moment be an invitation to discover peace and place within you a desire to cultivate and extend this peace to all that you encounter in your day.

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Worth Revisiting: Called to be Courageous

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“…we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5

With the Easter season upon us, once again my thoughts turn to the witness of the disciples and experience of new believers in an unbelieving world. Where, such witness of faith in a risen Christ required courage in the face of certain punishment or death. Here in the Western world, we may feel a measure of comfort, secluded from persecution or reproof. Though one glace at the evening news reminds us that death is but a daily reality for countless Christians in other parts of the world.  And yet we too are called to witness, resisting the temptation to become complacent or falsely secure in the practice of our faith. In this current culture of relative truth, quite often we might even fail to speak to the soundness of our belief for fear of offending another.

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8:31

It was picture day and my then 8th grade son proudly walked into the kitchen displaying his Benedictine crucifix that I had brought back from Rome around his neck. Beaming, he asked me my opinion of his choice of attire and thanked me for his gift once again. Adding that his faith was a part of who he was, and that he wanted this to be evidenced also in the pictorial record. Fast forward a few hours, and that smile so visible that morning had disappeared, along with the crucifix. So transparent that something had occurred, I had to ask, “What happened today?” “Mom, I didn’t want to say anything to you, but…my day went horribly. You know my crucifix?  I was told not to wear it. Well, his exact words were to put my faith away, that it offended him”.

Inquiring a bit further, I asked if it was a teacher or student that had made the comment. “Another student”, he replied, “but it really hurt…so insulting that I was being told to be someone else. How can wearing a cross really be offensive?” “Well, oftentimes that response comes from a previous hurt…maybe one that he or his parents may have experienced. The crucifix is a visible sign of the faith that we profess and therefore reminds others as well. What did you do?” “I chose to tuck it inside my shirt, but I really didn’t want to”. “I understand..you have always been so considerate of others, and their feelings. You do know that you and your beliefs are important too, right? It’s hard, I know, to want to express your love of Christ and then be rejected for it. But, just remember, so was Christ and each of the apostles that followed after him. Not everyone will embrace our witness of the great love and mercy of Christ, or accept us for it but that doesn’t mean we are to remain silent and hidden.”

That following Spring, Peter asked his father and I to please consider a small Catholic High School rather than the public high school that he would have attended.  We agreed, recognizing that what he was asking for was to be in an environment of teachers and peers that better supported him in his faith. In fact, his confirmation sponsor is his religion teacher from last year who had first mentored him as a new student. His chosen confirmation name? Paul. Who, as he described, was witness to the risen Christ and a bold proclaimer of the Good News.

As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:20

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Traveling Light

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“Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road. When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’  If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.  “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ Luke 10:4-9

This week I was reminded of this notion of “traveling light” as I left the ministries at my local parish to join the staff for two parishes a little over half an hour away.  Having already met numerous parishioners, and attending several staff and collaborative meetings, there was little concern that I would be welcome. With open arms, warm smiles and sincere prayers I have already been made to feel, within these first few days, a part of this beautiful parish family.

With so much to take in, to learn, and experience there is an essentialness in traveling light both physically and spiritually. I’d venture to say that we often bring much to bear on our present by way of the past, yet there is such grace in encountering anew. In leaving behind our preconceived ideas, desires and perceptions, we are empty and ready to be filled to accept God’s will for our lives. We are free to allow God to take the lead with the shape and direction of our day. No need for anything that will weigh us down, or hinder us in the mission that lies before us. Does this mean that we should not look ahead, or plan for the future?  No,  not at all but rather “Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” Prov. 16:3

Not so easy to do, you say? I agree. For this reforming self-proclaimed “type A” who once fancied herself in knowing every detail, it is a constant turning towards Christ. Fully aware that I cannot do it on my own, I no longer want to go it solo either. In letting go of the baggage, I am seeking instead to be open for the unbelievable surprises that God has in store.

 “Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” 2 Corinthians 3:4-6 

What of the physical lightness in traveling? Bearing in mind that my lunch plans might change these initial days, I purposefully  prepared light snacks that would keep if I had other things to do.  In doing so, I could say “Yes, I’d love to grab a bite to eat!”, or “Sure, I have time to talk.” and enjoy the fellowshipping that comes along with it. For, how can others be given a chance to share of their generous hospitality if we are always so self sufficient that we are never able to accept it?

I have also been working in the last few days to pare down to just some of the essentials for my home away from home. Treasured books, pictures, and a few of my favorite saints have now found a new dwelling place where they will hopefully inspire others as well.

 What has traveling light given me?

A greater trust in God’s abundant providence, a renewed understanding of radical hospitality and a soul ready to embrace whatever lies ahead . May you too discover the graces in traveling light!

Peace,

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Bread of Life: A Mutual Invitation of Participation

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“John’s Jesus has a totally different outlook. He does supply earthly bread to a crowd that hungers; but that is not the real marvel, for they will hunger again and so are not permanently better. The real marvel is that Jesus can give a bread from heaven that obviates hunger: the true (alēthinos) bread of which the multiplied loaf was only a sign”

-Raymond E. Brown, “The Johannine World for Preachers,” Interpretation 43.1 (1989), 60-61.

This quote by Raymond Brown, as an invitation for reflection on the Bread of Life discourse (John 6:22-71), has once again completely captivated me! Here, we are presented with Jesus both as the revelation of the Word, the divine teaching that holds eternal life and as Eucharist, the living bread which “provides nourishment” when eaten (NAB, Jn 6:51; Brown, A Introduction to the New Testament, p.346). What was enlightening for me in appreciating John’s portrait of Jesus, were the parallelisms with the OT understanding of Wisdom as found in Proverbs, Wisdom, and Sirach. These texts, offer us a background in which to grasp our later Christian understandings of Jesus and continuity with the OT. In Sirach, Wisdom is described as Word emanating from the “mouth of God” (Sir.24:3), and that which when drunken in provides fulfillment (24:20). In comparison, John portrays the person of Jesus as divine word, (“I am the bread of life”) to be believed and which promises not only fulfillment but eternal life (Jn. 6:35,40,45,47-48).

Yet, there are also definite Eucharistic allusions present in John 6:51-58, and likewise throughout this discourse. Especially, if we begin just prior to the Bread of discourse with the Multiplication of the Loaves, and consider the discussion on perishable food and the food of eternal life (Jn 6:26-2; Brown p.345-346). In fact, these seem to introduce the proceeding discourse and provide “two interpretations on how this is to be done” (p.346). Once again there are OT references here, in the manna of the Exodus that came from heaven, and the water to drink that broke forth from the stone. This food sustained the Israelites in the desert, yet could not promise life eternal.

In Jesus, was the fulfillment of the Word, made “flesh for the life of the world” (NAB, John 6:51). Likewise, the blood of Jesus is the “true drink” of eternal life (Jn, 6:55). There is a bit of irony to be found here in that the fullness of this meaning could not be understood by the Jews around him, who assert their familiarity with the physical personage of Jesus (Brown, p. 336; Jn 6:42). For them, they will ‘hunger and thirst again’, working for “food that perishes” unable to look past the satisfaction of their earthly hunger or for signs in which to believe (Jn 6:27; 30-32; 58).

Therefore, I would affirm that both understandings of this discourse are present and that it need not be a decision between, but a mutual invitation to participation. The observation, by Brown, that at times churches have “been divided as to which deserves the most emphasis” speaks to my prior faith experience as a Southern Baptist. (Brown, p.378). While the “Lord’s Supper” did have a place of importance in the Baptist tradition, it most certainly did not indicate more than a symbolic remembrance. Not to mention, there was a clear priority on the word of God and in particular on the words printed in red.

Yet, one of the beautiful elements that I became aware of as a Catholic catechist is the liturgical fullness given when both Scripture and Eucharist are equally emphasized. In the Liturgy of the Word, we are called to listen and respond to the Word and prayer. In the Liturgy of the Eucharist we are called to offer our lives to God, receive communion in unity with one another and go forth to share (and be) the good news of Jesus with one another. Yet, I would add that “ideal” is most fully understood when that same balance is not only liturgically placed but felt within the hearts of the believers.

Reflect:

Do I participate fully in the Liturgy of the Word, giving my full attention to both the spoken word and the words God seeks to imprint upon my heart? Am I fully present for reception of the Eucharist, understanding that Christ is fully and intimately present to me in that very moment?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: The Thief on the Cross

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In reading the passages from Luke today on the way of the cross and crucifixion of Jesus, (Lk 23: 26-49) I was struck with gratitude for the thief on the cross beside Christ. Mocked, insulted and shamed- Jesus endured not only the painful, sorrowful physical pain of the cross but rejection of the people that he loved and came to save. There were those like Simeon, Veronica and of course his mother Mary who were present along the way of the cross to offer strength, tenderness, and comfort. Yet, it was the unexpected conversion of the thief that was there beside Christ in those last moments. His witness of faith is to me a gift to our Savior, a beautiful reminder of the redeeming potential of mankind.

Over the years, I have heard many scoff at the thief on the cross, as I am sure they would have done in his day. “So sad to see how his life turned out, he was brought up in the faith you know. I heard he asked the priest to come at the end…guess that is between him and God.” Yes,  and still this holds true for each and every one of us. One glimpse at the story at the woman to be stoned and the heaviness of the stone in our hands, the weight of our sins, should remind us of the profound unmerited gift of salvation.

So what differentiated the thief on the cross and the other criminal hanging there? Awareness and Repentance.

First, the thief on the cross was attentive to who he believed Jesus to be- in light of an intimate unique relationship to God. Saying to the other criminal beside him, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation?” (Lk 23:40) Here too, the thief acknowledges his own sin, unworthiness, and deserved punishment. In the considered opinion of the world, there was no redemption, no more chances, this was the end. Yet, the thief also confesses an understanding that Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world and a new desire to belong to Christ. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Lk 23:42)

Wait..there was still hope? Was it truly possible to trade the consequences for his decisions, the weight of his shame for a place in God’s kingdom that very day? And, “He replied to him, ‘Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’”(Lk 23:43) The beauty of Christ’s victory over death reminds us of the ever present reality of the eternal promise of life.  Yet, as God’s divine love and mercy are always more than we could ever conceive, gratefully we are reminded that God has yet to give up on any of us. So, to the thief on the cross I would like to say thank you.

“Thank you for witnessing that not one spiritual journey is ever the same. Called to conversion, continually, we are a people always in need of a Savior. Though in mankind’s eyes your profession of faith might be considered last minute… it is in truth timeless. It is truly a graced beneficiary of the unrestrained and limitless love of a Father- who time has no hold upon.”

Peace,

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The Body and the Vine: A Glimpse at Paul and John’s Metaphors for the Church

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In looking at Paul’s understanding of the church as the body of Christ we see a set of relationships, that of the individual believer to Christ and the believer in community. It is through baptism that both the individual believer accepts salvation through the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection, and is joined to the community, the body, of fellow believers. Likewise, through the Eucharist, the believer is drawn into a deeper relationship with Christ while also recognizing his or her reliance on and unity within the community. They are symbolically understood as the body of Christ in the world. Therefore the Christian Community has a responsibility to carry forth the message and mission of Christ through dependence on one another as Christ’s hands and feet.

This differs from John’s metaphor of church first, in that John emphasized the priority of one’s personal connection to the vine or Christ over that of the community. Without this connection to the vine, enabled by the Spirit, the believer can do nothing fruitful on its own. Secondly, this relationship leads the believer on the path of discipleship, as one of many disciples on similar paths, who are then gathered by the Spirit in community. For John, this is church, seen in a community whereby all are called upon individually but equally to love and service to one another. For Paul, the church collectively is called upon to use her gifts given by the Spirit, rather than a gathering of individual disciples.

However, I feel that both understandings of our relationships as disciples are so important! We must both be connected to Christ as is suggested by John as well as to be connected to each other in community as the body of Christ. We cannot grow fruitfully as a vine if we lose our connection to life in Christ. Likewise, we need the support of the community and understanding of mission to be the hands and feet of the body. There are also common challenges presented by both Paul and John, seen in the need for love, forgiveness, and renewal.

For Paul, this is exemplified in the reception of the Eucharist. We bring all that we are when we come to mass, our gifts and our faults, and receive love, forgiveness and reconciliation to God as well as to each other. Then ‘blessed and broken’ we are then to be Christ to others. For John, we understand that partaking in the Eucharist though word and sacrament to be spiritually renewing oneself to the Vine the source of salvation. Yet also in recommitting one’s call of discipleship to greater love, forgiveness and service. Finally both saw a need for believers to continue the mission of Christ and work towards the values and reality of a coming kingdom of God. These remain essential today, for while we witness inbreakings of the kingdom we are called as a church to recommit our lives to its completion.

Peace,

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