The Pauline Church: Lessons for Today

The difficulties that each Pauline church faced, in the early Christianity, remind us of the challenges that our churches face even today. In these two communities, we see both struggles over authority and teaching from within and social pressures for conformity from without. Upon Paul’s return to the region of Galatia, one of the most apparent sources of conflict stemmed from the considerable differences in the teaching of the gospel that has arisen from the teachings of other missionaries to the area. These men, thought to have been from the church in Jerusalem, sought to encourage adherence to traditional Jewish customs to a population of pagan converts to Christianity.

Map showing the places associated with PaulMore specifically, these people of Galatia had not grown up with Jewish law, but came to Christianity through the word of the Gospel. In being told that they now also had to follow Jewish law, they might begin to question both the teaching of Paul as well as their own salvation. Even though Paul quickly affirms that he speaks the truth of the gospel through revelation (Gal 1:12), he also finds it imperative to assert that his mission had received the approval of the “pillars” of the church. This was indeed a concern for Paul, for if the people questioned his teaching authority then his desire to spread the gospel might also become ineffective.

Why then was there inconsistency in the message now being heard in the gospel spread by the new missionaries to the area?

In Galatians 2:11 we learn of an open disagreement by Paul with Peter’s decision to withdraw from eating with Gentiles because they are uncircumcised. One explanation offered by Galatians is seen in a group from James, who may have persuaded Peter to stop the practice, perhaps out of fear from the circumcised Jews in the area. Likewise, if Peter was eating with Gentiles, then perhaps there was a concern that the gospel message would not be listened to as readily by the Jewish population. However, Peter’s model of separation from the gentiles is being followed by other Jewish Christians, and missionaries. In spreading the gospel, the question becomes whether to preach only to a Jewish population, and if so, is there also a true need to adhere to traditional laws and customs of Jewish law.

Likewise within our church today, do we preach only to those who are like minded like us, or do we understand the broad intention for the gospel?

Paul seems quick to remind Peter that the gospel was not intended strictly for a Jewish audience but for everyone. For Paul, it isn’t a matter of whether or not laws have been needed in the past, but if they interfere with the true message of the gospel in the present then they should be done away with. Paul reminds the Galatians, that their salvation came through faith, having been born of the Spirit through Christ, and not through adherence to Jewish law. To do otherwise, is risking the premise of their salvation through Jesus.

In Thessalonica, in an area of Greece whereby there were a plurality of religions, Paul through Timothy learns of the church facing opposition primarily from their fellow citizens (1Thess 2:14). While he feels it necessary to remind them of their conversion, he also strengthens them with words of comfort, prayers, and praise. Obviously, Paul understands their struggle having faced it not only from the gentiles but also from the Jews . However, in calling them to remain steadfast he also emphasizes the need to be “gentle in their approach, as he was, in growing the church. Paul also realizes the difficulty in establishing and maintaining a church that is distant and encircled by those that live amorally.

Therefore, Paul calls the Thessalonians to holiness, to resist the “tempter”, and continue to follow the Christian moral path. Even if they had followed the guideline for Christian living, they were to “do so even more”. Furthermore, he encourages them to come together as a Church to help one another in charity and thereby avoiding potential business entanglements which might compromise their commitment to Christ. Likewise, Paul recognizes that many within the early church are anxious and expectant for Christ’s return and are concerned for those who have died before the second coming. Paul offers consolation that they too will be raised, but to be alert and ready, keeping true to the way of Christ for the day of parousia. He understood that living in a state of expectation is difficult, and it’s all too easy to let standards down when the day doesn’t come in a timely manner. Moreover, Paul wanted the Thessalonians to see that they had strength in each other, despite his absence, and the world around them.

Within the church of Galatia, Paul understood that the message of the Gospel was what needed to be emphasized, encouraged and affirmed. In the renewed spirit of evangelization occurring presently, we like Paul, are calling those Catholics home that have felt estranged or left the faith. In doing so, we are pressed to live true to the heart of the gospel to be that persuasive “gentle” call, rather than promoting division. In Paul’s message to the Thessalonians, he encourages the Church to find support in one another in enduring the trials that life and the communities around them present. With an ever growing homeless problem, drugs, alcohol, and terse home situations and we can quickly understand Paul’s message to the Thessalonians in the world around us. We need a to be a community of faith that is able to be both present and responsive to a continually changing economic, racial and socially diverse people.

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Ecumenism

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With the aspiration of Ecumenism, to be a shared understanding in promoting dialogue and unity within faith, can it be said that there is visible unity? What can be learned from our differences? Likewise, what shape does this take and would be the direction of such a vision?

On the Need for Ecumenism

Something that is becoming clear to me over the years is the necessity for a definitive place for Ecumenism in our understanding and practice of the way of being church. Perhaps this is in part due to my appreciation of the Holy Spirit in Vatican II, an exposure to different languages, cultures and faiths or my own conversion itself. More than likely it is all of these, which engages me to appreciate the beauty of our diverse faith understandings and yet recognize the unity in our uplifted praise of our almighty and every loving God. Still, in order to understand ecumenism as a church in this light, we are then compelled to have a better comprehension of our own faith before we can seek to know more of those who hold different faith perspectives. To do otherwise is to share a inadequate understanding or even a dimly lit candle of ambivalence to the reason we are Catholic. This is indeed a challenging task as we immediately notice the increasing need for faith formation in all ages and across all cultures. For, no longer can we see faith formation ending upon Confirmation, but indeed there is a need for new “ardor, methods, and expression” in the continual formation of us as followers of Christ.

 Yet, how do we encourage an openness to learning more about and fostering a sense of unity among our Christian brothers and sisters?

As Finnish theologian Kärkkäinen observes, it isn’t that we are “creating unity between the churches, but rather to give form to the unity already created by God”. [1]  If we are both certain in our faith, and comfortable in expressing our own to others authentically and respectfully then this is I believe a good beginning.  One beautiful outcome of this is seen in the commitment as a church to “fulfill its essential nature” in mission.[2]

In my experiences both as a Protestant and as a Catholic, I have witnessed occasions of this being done well. Growing up, I lived in a small impoverished community in the South that often found itself racially divided. What united us was our poverty and there came a time when this call also visibly united us as a people of faith. It began with churches like my own filling specific dire needs, and blossomed into a united response across all faiths in first setting up a food and clothing bank. In its overflow, we experienced unity in shared prayer breakfasts, leadership planning, home visits and the personal faith response from the people. Each faith brought the best of itself, whether it be a welcoming space, music, bibles, or hearts filled with the Holy Spirit. What won more hearts to God, was seen not in “segregation, but (felt) in a congregation constituted in divine love” who met God’s people where they needed it most. [3]

I thought of this most recently as I sat at a table surrounded by men and women leaders of faith discussing the local situation of sanctuary cities, and increase in drug addictions and dire need for pastoral response. 2013 brought an even broader experience of ecumenism that transcended beyond Christianity to humanity, with the Boston marathon bombings in April. In one of many interfaith services, over 2,000 people attended the Healing Our City service held at Holy Cross to honor those who had lost their lives and more than 260 who had been injured by the bombings. Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, Jewish, and Muslims joined in solidarity to address the attacks that “shook people from complacency to service”. What we witnessed in the direct aftermath were people using their training as doctors, nurses, ministers, fire fighters and soldiers to assist others with little regard for their own safety. Then, as seen here, we felt God’s love that witnessed to the “Spirit of love, concerned for the good of God and human beings” surpassing “that of a single community”. [4]

What then of our differences?

As Kärkkäinen seems to indicate, as Christians we have far more in common than that which divides us. We hold true to the ‘understanding of the Trinity, the sacredness of scripture and the creeds, the importance of the Eucharist, and teachings of the apostles’.[5] Yet, we differ on our understandings of ‘leadership of episcopacy and papacy, and the emphasis of individual and collective priesthood’. Our expressions of worship likewise show differences in emphasis toward an indispensible priority and structure of the sacraments to freedom of “faith response and flexibility of church models”.[6] It seems apparent to me, that in the years following Vatican II, we have learned much from each other, and could at times be said to be a visible unified community. We cannot, however, assume that visible unity means “uniformity”[7] but rather a “certain but imperfect communion” of a church united and sharing in the “reality” of the spirit of Christ.[8]

See also: DECREE ON ECUMENISM UNITATIS REDINTEGRATIO

Have you ever sought a more certain witness to someone who in sharing their faith asked you about yours? If so, what is needed to better assist you? What ways do you see ecumenism in your own community sharing in the love of Christ?

Peace,

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[1] Kärkkäinen, Veli-Matti. An Introduction to Ecclesiology. Intervarsity Press. Downers Grove. (November 2, 2002). p. 85.
[2] p.151.
[3] P.152.
[4] p.89.
[5] p.84.
[6] p.91.
[7] P.84.
[8] P.87.

Our Journey through the Sacraments


The other day I was having a conversation once again with a friend of mine who is the parent of a teen who was now experiencing  a conflict about her daughter’s unwillingness to attend church. Her daughter argued that she,

“does not need to go to church or receive the sacraments to experience God in her life because she experiences God in creation. Further that  church is boring and most of the people who attend are hypocrites anyway”.

This certainly is not the first time many of us have become acquainted with this perspective,  and yet how would we both address the daughter’s concerns and that of her parents?  

It must be noted that this discussion fully involves the skill of listening, even more so than providing a correct answer. Allowing each a chance to be heard, to articulate their concern is the first step in being open to consider how God might be meeting these concerns in every situation. Yet, there are theological premises here that can be invaluable in such a discussion as this.

To begin, I would say yes, we can encounter God in creation! There is no doubt that when we look at a sunrise or the beautiful world around us that God is there. We innately sense our relatedness and connectivity to the Creator of it all. Yet, this is the broadest setting in which we can experience God’s presence and action. For, in and through the church and the sacraments we are given the opportunity to visibly and intimately experience God’s grace through God’s greatest gift of Himself that of Jesus his son.

Here are tangible moments where we are met with mercy, love and unconditional forgiveness that are welcoming, nourishing and healing, felt on both personal level and in unity as a community. This is the beauty of our faith- it speaks not only to our desire for relationship with our Creator, but to our longing to be in relationship and communion with one another. Moreover, God’s offer of love, mercy and forgiveness is continuous so should our response to his offer be.

Have you thought recently about the sacraments? Perhaps you are thinking that they are simply an event to be completed once that no longer requires any new action on your part?

If so, maybe that is why your experience of church has become boring and one dimensional. Let’s take a new look at a few of the sacraments:

 In Baptism

you were cleansed, blessed and welcomed into community, with promises from your parents, grandparents and the church to help guide and support you in responding to God’s offer. Each time you bless yourself, or are making a professing of faith you are giving your response and yes to that offer of God’s salvation in your life.

In the Eucharist

we are given the opportunity to join our yes to that given by Christ on the cross. There is Christ’s offer of himself in ultimate love and mercy for us, but also we bring all that we are and do and offer it to God as well. We bring all of our strengths, and weaknesses, all of our joys and sorrows. We bring, in truth, our brokenness. Notice that I said “our” because we do this also as a community. So, when you speak of hypocrisy- we all come knowing that there are times when we have sinned and our relationship with God has suffered.

In the Eucharist we are renewing that relationship, and recommitting ourselves with our lives.  All of this requires our participation and our response. Do we look for Christ’s presence in the priest? In the people gathered? In the reading of the word, listening? In the offering of the gifts and see Christ’s sacrifice and reconciliation to us? How do we respond? Jesus took the bread, blessed, broke it and shared it with all- we are called to do the same both in bread but also with our very lives. And as such we need to be committed to dealing with hunger, poverty and justice in the world around us.

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. Jesus takes our frailties, and our  with health, peace, and hope. We are called to seek to reconcile or repair relationships, love justice, and seek peace and hope for those who have no hope.

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? In those times, we don’t just hurt ourselves but our choices effect others we love and the community in relationship. Therefore, in penance we are given a chance to receive forgiveness, to show we are sorry and to repair these relationships..and celebrate as a community.

Even Confirmation

is not an end but a challenge to go forth and to be a visible sign of the body of Christ in the world. God confirms you as a member of the body of Christ and then the response and choice is yours. It is a call to a higher standard to strive for love, mercy and peace not only within the doors of the church but in the world.

To the parents specifically, there is a challenge to be a model of faith: more than going through the motions. Also seek to encourage your child to become involved in youth and peer ministry activities so that they can experience community more fully. Participate in outreach activities together, so that they too can come to understand God’s offer and our response to care for others, to love deeply and show forgiveness and mercy.

 

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: 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.”
–St. 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: The Body and the Vine

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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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Worth Revisiting: Gratitude’s Expression

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This week I once again had the blessing of sitting round a table with religious leaders from within our community from all different walks of faith and backgrounds. The purpose of our meeting not for the proselytizing or the conversion of one another, but the sharing of grace, and desire to serve and work towards a better tomorrow.  Each one of us knows that there are many things, premises or subtleties, which we would most assuredly disagree on and yet that is not the reason we are there.

With a warm bowl of homemade soup, and sandwich in hand the fellowship began and the conversation unfolded. As one delightful woman, of Jewish decent, was relating a recent story she paused to add, “Though it is a small thing really.. I don’t know, it made me feel rich.”  This insightful aside prompted a searching repose of soul for the small things which we found immeasurable appreciation for. Time with our family, nourishing meals, the comfort of our bed, and warmth in the bitter cold.

Today as the forecast for blizzard conditions with snowfall up to 16″ reveals, the last one holds special importance in my thoughts and prayers. Safety and warmth in this kind of weather simply are a luxury that many of our homeless, low income and elderly cannot afford. Right now, I wonder if “Adam” has found a place to hunker down and ride out the storm, or if “Sue” whose home is now her car has found her place on the snow laden roads. Many of our elderly and poor too, due to the rising cost of utilities, cannot warm the house adequately and if the heat goes out do not have a backup.

I mention this not to invoke a feeling of guilt but to illustrate gratitude’s corresponding response. For, gratitude and action go hand in hand. John 9 tells us of the man born blind who healed by Jesus went forth and witnessed to others of the healing he had received. Then when he encounters Jesus again he professes an even deeper belief. But do we? How to we respond to God’s generous gift of love and mercy in our lives? Does our initial thankfulness fizzle or does it lead us to a greater understanding of God’s will for our lives?

What then is it that makes me feel rich?

Well more than the gift itself- it is the overwhelming presence of gratitude. For with this comes a yearning desire to go deeper in our relationship with Christ – to share what we now recognize as priceless with others. In experiencing God’s generosity, what once appeared small now becomes a precious treasure. And rather than keeping this to ourselves, we wish for others to  partake as well and know in our hearts that there is a way.

Reflect:

Take time today to ask yourself, “What is it that makes me feel rich?”. Are there others that may not readily have access to this gift or for which this is a luxury? How can I better respond to God’s generosity in my life, and encounter Christ more fully in others?

Peace,

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Worth Revisting: A Parish on the Move

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As far as parish life goes, it has been a very busy weekend for my parish collaborative family. Yet, when I think of it this is not that unusual for these two parishes as there always seems to be something going on. Whether it be school events, bible study, bereavement groups, healing Masses, Adoration, speakers, musical artists, youth events (you get the image) our parishes are always hopping with energy and abounding in community. So, for those weeks where I long for more energy and wish I had the saint’s gift of bi-location..it is only so that I could be present at everything!

 : Friday night, we had a youth fundraiser featuring the musical stylings of our parochial vicar and his former fellow seminarians (The Celtic Clerics) who donated their talents for the evening. With dinner, live auction, and dancing- a fun time at Resurrection Pariah was had by all! The Life Teen youth now have a needed boost to fund their upcoming mission trip to Haiti.  :

 : Saturday and Sunday began the kickoff for our annual community food pantry drive. Paper bags were personally handed out with a list of essential items attached.Next week all items donated will be collected and loaded onto a delivery truck to the waiting arms of more volunteers who will unload and stock the shelves. It is an amazing undertaking and the work done in these 2 weeks helps feed so many who otherwise might be unable to adequately provide food for themselves or their family.

Also this Sunday, we held a Remembrance Mass and reception for all of our parish families who have lost a loved one this past year. From the music and roll call of names, to the roses given out then arranged by the families gathering in fellowship, it was truly a coming together of our faith community.

Finally, my pastor and I sat down for the second meeting of  : Eucharistic minister training for those who have said yes to the invitation to bring Christ to others. The following week they will join the larger community of Eucharistic ministers as part of a spiritual retreat. Always growing,and always deepening our faith lives.

Every parish is different and each has it’s strengths. Yet, if your believe your parish is stagnant..

Odds are others feel the same way. Yet, what can you do? You are just a parishioner sitting in the pew. Or maybe you have mentioned your concern and things have yet to change.

1. First let me say that our parish priests are overworked, often understaffed, and are lucky to sit down and enjoy 15 minutes to eat in peace. They need not only helpful ideas but people willing to implement those ideas and motivate others to volunteer their time as well. If your pastor has given an event the go-ahead, and you are such a motivator take time to make a plan and consider parishioners that might be interested in being a part of it.

2. Invite: So, if there are others like you sitting in the pew or just a few people doing everything in the parish, maybe then the problem is a lack of invitation. Many people assume, albeit incorrectly, that they are not needed. Time and talents is a REAL thing folks. God has given each of us many ways to serve and at different times calls forth each of those gifts.

3. Do not underestimate the personal invitation. If you have invited and still there is a lack luster response..reconsider how you are inviting. Group emails via your parish’s  Constant Contact work for some, but nothing beats a well timed conversation. Even if you receive a no this time, thank them for their consideration. People want to know that you value their commitments too. Not to mention, next time it will be even easier to ask.

4. If the cost of an event is a consideration, perhaps there are those who cannot volunteer time but can volunteer food, expenses or supplies. What would we do without those parishioners that give so generously to sponsor or provide the means for hospitality to occur? It isn’t that there is a shortage of ways to spend money these days, or organizations vying for these funds. What is it that your event, devotion, or activity adds to parish life or community? The answer to this question and an awareness of  the mission of your parish will help guide you to who to ask.

5. Remember, you are offering a gift too. It is not uncommon to feel so grateful for the service that your volunteers would provide to forget that in serving they too are given a gift. As anyone that has served in ministry can attest to- the gift of serving is that God will never be outdone in terms of gift giving. Though not always quantifiable, the grace experienced far outweighs the time and energy spent. It may also leave you with a longing to serve even more!

So don’t be content with the excuse that your parish is dead..but be a catalyst towards a parish community that is on the move and fully alive!

Peace,

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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,

Signature

 

 

Worth Revisiting: What Truly Matters

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Can you recall a landmark moment in your life? A  time when it became suddenly visible what truly mattered, and where God was in it all? The following is one of my very own- all but a blink of God’s eyes yet a graced moment when I will forever felt held.

It was a late Spring morning in the South, ominous skies grey and overcast coupled with warm and humid conditions were the makings for the perfect storm. Locals knew the weather system well, and it wasn’t long before the tornado warnings ensued. I had never worried about these storms, not because there was nothing to worry about or because of my youth, but quite simply my mother worried enough for the both of us. Yet, that day would be different.

As students were sitting at the long adjoining tables in the school cafeteria, the alarms resounded through the halls, school, and town. Beckoned to get down beneath the little protection that we had, warnings were issued to tuck in and resist looking out the windows. That is when I saw it, just outside the huge glass window that encompassed the side wall.. An unbelievable enormous swirling combination of wind, dirt, branches, and other objects it had accumulated in its wake hovering just above the ground. There it was right before my eyes, not more than 8 feet from me, and I could not help but be both in amazement and fear.Unable to close my eyes I prayed for protection, “Lord please protect us and keep us safe from harm. Lift this tornado and carry it up and far away”.

After what seemed like an eternity, the greenish grey funnel lifted taking with it its new found treasures but leaving the middle school cafeteria building untouched. Though we breathed a quick sigh of relief, we were not out of the woods yet as there were a total of 9 funnel clouds that had formed and remained over this small town that day. Quickly, the school staff  ushered us all into the main building and into the hallway by the lockers. Deemed the safest place, we all huddled there and waited till we could leave to join our families. Beside me was a boy that I knew well, for we shared a strong Christian faith- a fact that did not go unnoticed to me that day.

Marvin, was a bright, joyful thirteen year old boy who just lit up a room whenever he entered. This was because he always carried the love of Christ with him. As we sat there, there was a brief pause and then I asked, “Marvin, I am concerned about my mother, and our families and friends..can we pray together?” “Yes..me too. Let’s pray.” And there we were- two kids praying in the hallway of a public school, oblivious that others would take notice. I still remember our prayer so clearly.

“Father, please protect us all in your loving care. Watch over our families and loved ones, and let these tornadoes pass us by. Though we would miss the things we have become attached to, it is the safety of the people we pray for today. Please take away our fear and concern and leave us with your peace. In this we pray-Amen.”

As I parted from him that day to be picked up by a neighbor of mine, I knew that God had been present in our midst. Arriving at my apartment building, I saw the devastation. No longer was there a roof but open sky in its place. Part of the roof had been hurled into the apartment of another neighbor and the rest wrapped around a lamp post. Yet where was my mother? Finally my eyes spied her,  standing solemnly inside the doorway of our apartment. To everyone’s amazement none had been injured.

Virtually everything I owned was damaged or destroyed by the winds, rain and debris. Yet, as I stood there hand in hand alongside my mother, in a pool of dirty water surrounded by the stuff in life, I realized that everything else was meaningless. I had my mother and nothing else-not the toys, the pictures, the clothes or the furniture truly mattered. Here was a recognition that God had not only answered my prayer, but of the small list of essential things in life.

With an internal prayer of gratitude I then watched as men from my community approached with tarps, tools, and provisions to cover the apartment and remove the debris. Here God was once again caring for us, this time in the shape of benevolent strangers who had stepped forward to volunteer their time and gifts for others. And while I would never see these men again, they will be forever etched in my heart.

It would be some time before I could move back into my house, but I had gained a better sense of where home truly was. It was for the moment beside my mother but always in the presence of my God. It needed no accouterments, but could be found in prayer. This was the meaning of joy in simplicity, grace through destruction and peace in crisis.  It remains for me a spiritual guidepost when I get preoccupied with the accumulation of comfort and the material things in life.

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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