Are You Saying Yes.. When You Should Be Saying No?

Today, perhaps you find that you had  much rather be saying yes to the many things that come your way than even contemplating the word no. Maybe, you do so out of a well intended desire to please others, or the thrill  from successfully multitasking a multitude of tasks. And still, though your yes may result in a benefit for yourself, your family, friends, or community does not mean that it is still the answer that God may have intended for you to give.

This is not an easy message for us as Christians, who are trained to offer our time and talents to the service of those placed within our care. We take the scripture from Romans 12 urging us all to present our bodies as a “living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” and neglect to heed the verses to follow:

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Discernment isn’t an add on when we find ourselves confused as to what path to take but it is essential in every choice we make. Even those opportunities which are in themselves good and promise to be fruitful. Take a moment to consider, if you will, whether you are inviting God into each of your decision making moments or just some of them. If not, why not?

Pride

Ah, yes..that clever and insidious sin of pride. It creeps into even the smallest of places leaving us thinking foolishly that we are the only the only ones that can complete a task or the best one to do so.

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

Thus, inevitably we must prayerfully discern why we feel that our yes is needed and be careful not to take on a project out of pride. But wait..you mean someone else might be called to take on a challenge, or be given gifts to fit the purpose?

“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another..” Romans 12: 1-21

We are not being asked to do it all ourselves but in fact, are to call forth the gifts in our brothers and sisters to build up the body of Christ. Those around us do not always see their own gifts and releasing our own prideful motivation allows God to move others into action. It also permits each one of us to glimpse God actively at work as the best human resource manager and project manager for this world in which we live in.

People Pleasing

So, maybe we do not feel we are the best qualified, are already over committed or not really inclined to take on a task but do so because we would like to say yes to the person who has asked. This is not a good motivation either yet admittedly is an easy trap for the kind hearted Christian. In parish ministry we often find the same people being called upon time and time again. They want to be helpful and usually are, but offer a yes when honestly it should be a no. Then later, burned out and tasked beyond reason they leave serving because there simply is no more to give. Recognizing your own need to renew and refill is a valid and essential reason to say no. While initially difficult to do, as well as an adjustment for the one asking it may be the right answer. In making space for quality  prayer time and detachment from the reaction or approval of others we can begin to see that  God’s approval is the only one that matters.

Reflect:

Is there a decision in my day today that I might not be needed to say yes to? Have I invited God into the task? Would others be better served by my no?  

Peace,Signature

Worth Revisiting: Lessons Learned From My Mom

This morning as I awoke, I thought of both my heavenly and earthly mothers. With eyes closed, my lips whispered to Mary, “Thank you for your yes- to being the mother of Christ but also for remaining with me when my earthly mother could no longer do so. Please continue to guide me and all those I encounter till my own journey is done. ” Then, with a heart smiling full and complete, enveloped in love and gratitude, today I said Happy Mother’s Day to them mutually.

My mom, the second oldest of four and a high school teacher, met and fell in love with my dad within the span of two weeks. A whirlwind romance, fed by non-substantiating infatuation, they had met, married and divorced in a span of less than two years. Recognizing too late my father’s habits of drinking, and violent mood swings, there was cause for serious concern as she had discovered she was also pregnant with me. She had made the decision to raise me alone.

Mom's1st pic:
Her 1st picture as a new mom!

Though this was not what she had pictured, and despite several close friends advocating an abortion, her faith could not allow for her to make that choice. She felt that the life within her, me, was a gift from God and while unsure of what laid ahead she knew she needed to trust. That summer, as I came into the world my mom said goodbye to my father, never to be heard from again. Nonetheless, a part of my mom always hoped that he would find recovery and reconcile with me one day.

So the lessons I promised? Well, they are many but here are just a few…Mom and I:

1. Trust- not in what the world tells you are the choices before you, but in a bigger plan that only God is aware of. Though you do not have the strength to do it on your own, and when you wonder how you’ll carry on- lean on Him.

“I raise my eyes toward the mountains. From whence shall come my help?
My help comes from the LORD,
the maker of heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to slip;
or your guardian to sleep.” (Psalm 121)

2. Love- the gifts given, delight in the surprises around you, seek God and you will most certainly find Him.

“See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19)

As a single parent, on a meager teacher’s salary we did not indulge in big trips, but would go out exploring the world around us. Sometimes we would trip upon a free museum, pack a picnic lunch, go fishing, or drive out to the Mississippi river just to sit with our toes in the bank.

3. Share- what you have with others that are in need, both physically and spiritually. Growing up, I noticed that others certainly had more than me and yet there were so many that had less. One day, when I was about 8, my mom was approached by a young mom with several toddlers in tow asking for help. Without hesitating, she had invited the family to stop by our home for dinner. The little faces that had been downturned and suspicious in the beginning all at once beamed at all the food that lay before them. Before they left, she packed up a few containers for them to take home with the offer to come back again. Upon noticing that there were a number of items missing with their departure, my mom was neither upset nor saddened. “They are more in need of it than us Elizabeth”. To which I learned what it was to give without expectation of return.

4. Encourage- the gifts in others, even those that they fail to see in themselves. My mom was my biggest cheerleader, and my most vocal critic. Sound contradictory? No not at all. You see, she knew that life could be difficult and how easy it is to settle or give in to an easy choice. She pushed me further than I thought I could go, and always pointed to the “more” in the world that God was calling me to do. As a teacher, she inspired her students who came from very difficult and impoverished backgrounds to continue with their education and challenged them to see their gifts. I cannot count the times, over the course of her life that former students would call her or run up with a hug to tell her the difference she had made in their lives. This is the teacher that I strive to be, thank you Mom for teaching me.

 Peace, 

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Ecumenism: “An Imperfect but Certain Communion”

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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.

Worth Revisiting: Moving Forward

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If you are reading this you might be thinking to yourself… Well where else would my foot be?

Let’s start with the fact that I am by nature a problem anticipator. Typically, my feet are moving forward and mentally I seek to be two or three steps ahead to better assess where I need to go. This works well in project management, and parish planning where long range goals and timelines are essential. And yet spiritually, God is simultaneously reminding me that, as with Martha and Mary, sometimes the best place to be is right where I am at the moment. Sound familiar?

On the commute into work this past week, I found myself with a lead foot and an unusually impatient spirit. Did they not understand that leaving a gap a mile wide just encouraged people to cut in? Were they not aware that those they shared the road with were indeed trying to get TO their destination sooner than later? Such was my conversation with God and myself and the more I nodded in agreement, the less concerned I became with my other highway companions. So much so, that my arm actually ached from throwing it up in indignant frustration.

That was when the truth hit me. I had become so focused on where I thought I needed to be, that I neglected to meet God in the present. The more I pushed him aside to consider all that was to be accomplished, the more I also failed to choose what is better. My time could have been spent differently..I had a choice.

Father, patiently train me to value these precious moments with you. Instead of time squandered in useless irritation and in anticipation of something greater- let me appreciate the gift of the present. I need not be the first or the fastest of those around me but in truth will reach my destination eventually. For Your invitation – to gaze upon the horizon, prayerfully offering the day and petitions, and to listen for Your guidance awaits. You have a better plan in mind for my day than all of the schedules that I have made.  

Just how do we practically do this?

  1. Try starting your day with a reflection and coffee. Though I may read a reflection over coffee, often I do not really unpack or unearth its richness right away. As you travel or wait, just hold the questions or scripture in your heart. God is there ready to inspire you and your day.
  2. Get accustomed to the silence: Breathe and take a few quiet moments to allow God to speak to your heart. Notice the details of the landscape, the color of the sky and the rhythm of the world around you.
  3. Music: They say that music soothes the savage beast…well, for me this is true. My IPod is replete with almost 1,000 Christian songs from every music style imaginable. If one song doesn’t fit that day, there is always another one right behind it.
  4. If your mind and heart are busy, use this energy to pray the rosary. There have been days where I have had so many thoughts that I offered each bead/prayer for a different person or intention. With each name and concern spoken I ease into a more peaceful way of being. Why? Because I recognize that God has it covered!

Peace,

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Asceticism as Spiritual Dicipline

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Is there a case  to be made for the continuing relevance of the “monastic-generated” tradition of asceticism (“spiritual training or exercise”) in Christianity beyond monastery walls to all members of the churches, particularly when it is understood comprehensively as “spiritual discipline(s)” and not narrowly as “a life of exceeding self-denial” ?

When considered amidst the everyday realities of life, I happen to believe that the practices of asceticism or spiritual disciplines take on a particular relevance for our time. While most of us perhaps are not disposed to a total life of self denial, there is immense merit in seeking order, centeredness, and being open to God’s presence in our lives. In a world that often strives, or so it seems, to ascribe the attributes of beauty, intelligence, position, and wealth, or lack thereof -what a gift it is for our souls to discover who we really are! That is to shed all opinions and titles other than how God might call us, “Elizabeth, child of God”. In this way, we are both humbled in all of our preconceived notions of self, and yet raised to see how wonderful it is to be made in the image of God!
It is here that we recognize the importance of prayer, for this is how we come to be familiar with the voice of our Abba, and to know that whatever the world perceives of us that each of us have been divinely special, and loved dearly. God’s opinion, and concerns then can be seen more clearly and put in the right order as first and centermost in our lives. I believe, therefore that this practice of asceticism, of prayer, perhaps helps us to understand how to go about and truly practice the other disciplines. It is true, that place of prayer is important because, at least initially, it must be one that encourages us to limit some of the outside distractions of life. For me, I find that daily mass or morning reflection provides this time for me to center myself in God. Oh, how often I have found myself actually rushing in the mornings to find that time with God, and heard myself let out a visible sigh of thankfulness!
As for fasting, and abstinence they too are important when we consider the “why” or the purpose for this practice in our own lives. Too often, I believe that we as a church could do a better job at teaching and emphasizing the deeper intentions. Without this, the “Rice Bowl” or almsgiving box simply becomes a collection device during Lent for all the times we break our renewed intention to God. On the contrary, I believe it is important to ask ourselves each time, why am I fasting or abstaining? Is it to be in solidarity and to understand if for but a day what others in poverty feel every day? Or is it for an intention that I hold in my heart and desire for God to know its importance in my life and request for help?
This brings us to the immense value of works of love, mercy and justice when they are sourced in Christ, and practiced in community. This is not to say that other faiths cannot and have not practiced similar works of mercy. Rather, as a Christian community they are essential, in changing our perspective from that of the world to recognizing Christ in others, and actually in being Christ in the world. These athletic exercises or practices are our warm-up so to speak for the real thing- that is for the kingdom of God. How can we say, “Put me in Coach!” if we haven’t shown up for practice?

 What do you think?  Is asceticism still relevant in our time?  Why?  Why not?

Peace,

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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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