Worth Revisiting: Reaching For the Poles

At the age of 7, I had decided to teach myself to roller skate. Birthday money in hand, I selected a beautiful pair of skates coupled with amply cushioned knee and elbow pads. Not wanting to wait till I made it to the rink to practice, a surefire way to ensure embarrassment, I looked around for a suitable substitute. Living in an open courtyard apartment complex had finally offered an advantage. With its long connecting pathways and supporting poles I now had the necessary environment to train properly.

Learning to propel my body forward was both exciting and frightening in understanding that I also had to stop. Soon I learned that the concrete pathway was a much more worthy adversary than its polished counterpart. And the pads though covering several points of contact, did not encompass every inch that was exposed to face abrasion. If I was to continue learning, there was a need to not fear the falls and the pain to follow. In holding back, I had already fallen before I ever tried. And in seeking the safety of the poles, I was neither trusting the acquired skills nor experiencing the joy I had hoped.

I was reminded of this lesson in conversation with a few other women this week. Struggling with the courage to seek God amidst the violence in the world, and feeling a bit overwhelmed in their daily struggles too they found themselves at the poles. Interestingly enough, while realizing all too well the temptation to remain stuck here they also heard God’s call to take a step in faith. Fear of the next fall, guilt of past mistakes and doubt of  reconciliation can make moving forward seem like a near impossibility. And yet,  as believers, we know that it isn’t on our own strength that we are asked to rely.

First we need to pray for help in letting go of worry and fear and it’s grip on us.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

“I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me; 
he freed me from all my fears.” Psalm 34:4
 
“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.” Romans 8:38

Next, we are invited to get suited up.

“Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Ephesians 6:14-17

Then to take a step not knowing what lies ahead but with the assurance that God is with us wherever we go.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 
in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6
And though we may stumble, and fall at times, it is in our getting back up that we express our “yes” to God. In releasing our grip on familiar fall backs, and regret we can begin to

embrace what God has in store for each one of us.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power and of love and of a self discipline.. For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus.” 1 Timothy 1:7,9

Reflect:

What poles am I clinging to today that are keeping me from participating in the love, joy and promise that God has for my life?
Peace,
Signature

Advertisements

Worth Revisiting: Work Harder, Pray More

 :

In light of upcoming elections, many of us have spent time considering our options, weighing the consequences and praying that not only our nation survives but can address necessary issues. As difficult as this election year has been, I am reminded that my faith, though resting solely in Christ, cannot remain isolated from the reality that it is practiced in a world that often runs counter to that faith. Noted Lutheran theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, stressed three elements of “costly discipleship”: (1) prayer, (2) community, and (3) an engagement with surrounding political realities.

At this time in my life, I  seek to have an active life of prayer, a discipleship in community, and in small everyday ways to be engaged with the political realities in the world around me. Yet, in my youth, I was undoubtedly more political- even devoting my undergrad entrance essay to the the apathetic attitude of Americans towards voting and working towards change. In the last 10 years, admittedly I have become somewhat disillusioned in the leadership to protect and preserve  life, and determination to truly accomplish transformative change. However, the mission of  working towards the kingdom of God  is calling us forth as a church, as the body of Christ, to respond. And before we ask, “What can I do?”, we need only look to the efforts of those individuals who have taken that step to make a difference and the power of a “Yes!”

“Nothing great is ever achieved without much enduring.”

St. Catherine of Siena knew the intimate connection between contemplation and action, between our baptism the living out of our discipleship. Renowned for her care for the poor, diseased, and the conversion of sinners, she used her insight, and conviction to influence both pope and city state leaders alike in a call for peace and unity of the church.

“Ora et labora”

For St. Benedict, prayer and work were the basis of monastic life directed towards the commitment to  further“seek after peace and pursue it.”

“Praying with my feet”

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel first gave this response when asked why he, a renowned Hebrew scholar, chose to march with Martin Luther King in Selma. For when prayer is centered on God, there is an invitation both to piety and praise, as well as to commit our actions towards that love of God. Whether or not you feel represented, led or inspired by either candidate in this election, the majority of us can agree that there remain many steps to be taken ahead.

“May prayer and action always be deeply united. A prayer that does not lead you to practical action for your brother.. is a sterile and incomplete prayer. But, in the same way, when ecclesial service is attentive only to doing, things gain in importance, functions, structures, and we forget the centrality of Christ.” Pope Francis, Angelus 7/21/13

Pope Francis is setting a beautiful model that we can all emulate in calling us to reach out as a community to meet those who are suffering and in need…to embrace, heal, provide reconciliation and be a means of hope. He articulates the necessity to be aware of the intimate presence of God within, to seek moments of contemplation in our everyday world, work for the common good, and encourage others to do the same. It is here that I see my place currently within the community of faith in working towards these initial steps, and in enacting my faith albeit locally towards new paths. Each step is a prayer, and a hopeful course of action. Each life encountered, an opportunity to see and meet Christ in one another.

Reflect: What shape does “costly discipleship” take in my own life today and in the years ahead? Am I engaged in active discipleship and willing to “pray with my feet”?

Peace,

Signature

On the Right Path

Don’t copy the behaviors and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think Then you will learn God’s will for you which is pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:2

“Why is it that it seems when we try the hardest to do everything right that everything seems to go all wrong?”, he asked.  The question itself is a loaded one, and there isn’t an easy answer.  At its heart is an engagement of evil in the world and an assertion of righteousness. And yet, though not always privy to all the details, we can be assured that there is a multitude of underlying questions and situations present here.

In this case I was well aware of the back story.  Always the protagonist of a seemingly unending drama, choices past and present had become instrumental in determining the future.   Prior friends, and lifestyles had in fact become so constraining that the opportunity for change almost unthinkable and hope but a distant thought.

“All my hard work is just for nothing..I am beginning to wonder why I should even try.”

As a prayerful pause occupied my soul, I sought for a worthy response.

“Adam, It isn’t that you are being punished for choosing to do right here, but that life is a series of choices not just yours but that of others. The gift of free will affects not just our lives but all those around us and sets into motion consequences that may not be immediately recognizable. Doing the right thing is not simply one or two choices, but a daily decision to choose to walk in life and love. Especially when faced with disappointment and we are tempted to walk away that is when we need to recommit  and ask for help.”

This is what it means to walk and grow in virtue. As a child I enjoyed the simplicity of the proverbs. Do this and this happens, or in contrast don’t do that for it will bring about ruin. While there is profound truth here, these platitudes barely scratch the surface on the challenge of our human condition. We think that we would much rather have a detailed list of steps, a tailored prescription as it were on the right course in life and corrections where necessary. However, I wonder if that were available would we follow it or even understand it.

“I guess I get that, but I have nothing left. I am tired of the struggle, tired of working hard and having nothing to show for it. Not sure how much more I can give” After a brief discussion about concrete ways to practically approach his situation with work and finances,one thing became glaringly apparent. There was no room made in his life for anyone else but him.

“Adam, you mention all the things YOU have tried and relied upon, but do you realize you were never meant to do this alone? It isn’t all about what YOU can do but what Someone much greater than you can do. “

“Oh, you mean God..you know I haven’t gone to church. Not sure that will work for me.”, he answered. “Well, you say that you have tried everything and that you inevitably find yourself in the same predicament. That, you cannot do this on your own, and you are running out of steam. What needs to happen before you try something different? What have you got to loose?”, I posed. “Not sure…” he responded hesitantly. “Well, Adam I will be praying for you. I am always here if you need to talk.”

Lord these are the words you wish to speak to each one of us. Oh, how you wish for us to invite you into the messiness of our lives. The path we are on can be so difficult, and made even more so by our stubborn independence. Jesus help us to reach out to you for help, quiet our fears and guide us on the right path.

Peace,

Signature

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,

Signature

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,

Signature

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,

Signature

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,

Signature