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Posted by on Jun 16, 2024

New Shoots and Unending Hope

New Shoots and Unending Hope

The branch had been cut off the tree and set to the side of the yard to dry out and become firewood.  It was a pretty long branch, probably one that had branched off from the trunk years ago. It sat in the sun and didn’t know it was supposed to be dead and drying out. Spring came as usual, and new shoots sprouted from the branch. They began to grow just as if they were still on the mother tree.

I don’t know how long the new growth will be sustained, but many trees have grown from the trunks, stumps, or branches of other, older trees, which have fallen in the forest or been cut down and used for firewood or building useful things such as homes. I was reminded of the song from the St. Louis Jesuits, “Wood Hath Hope,” as I saw that branch, sitting up in the air with only non-living things supporting it, and new shoots sprouting hopefully in the sun and rain of a mid-June day.

Centuries ago, when the Jewish people were in exile in Babylon, Ezekiel spoke of a tender shoot torn from the top of a cedar. (Ezek 17:22-24) In this case, the reference to the shoot came after a series of reflections on the social and political destruction of the city of Jerusalem which led to the exile. The city was destroyed in 586 BCE. Yet as a member of the community of survivors in exile in the country responsible for the destruction of their own, Ezekiel could speak of hope and new birth.

The small bit of the mighty cedar from which the Lord God plucked it will now be planted on a tall, tall mountain in the highlands of Israel. As such shoots do, this one will grow and itself become a mighty tree in which birds can build their nests.  Ezekiel tells us that all the trees of the field will learn from this that the Lord is working among them, building up the low trees and bringing down the high ones.

Like all prophecies, the story has a deeper meaning. The Lord cares for the lowly, protects and supports the lowly. In contrast, those who are strong and powerful, who don’t think they need the Lord’s protection and help, will fall.

For Ezekiel and those in exile with him, this prophecy gave hope that one day they would return home to Israel and Jerusalem might once again be restored. In time, that did indeed happen. Persia conquered Babylon and Cyrus, king of Persia, sent the Jewish people back to their land.

Jesus also spoke of small things becoming bigger. (Mk 4:26-34) He described a farmer who went out into a field and scattered his seeds. As the days passed, the seeds grew and eventually became ripe for harvest. Many grains grew from the seeds scattered on the field. The harvest was rich and more grain was available for sale or use by the farmer and also for planting the next year.

Another story described a tiny seed as comparable to the kingdom of God, a mustard seed. These tiny seeds were among the smallest we see, but they grew large enough to be like trees, sheltering and feeding birds and other small animals. I wrote about mustard seeds three years ago and invite you to read about them again today.

Jesus used stories to teach the people he met along the way each day. He took time to explain the stories to his closest friends, so they would know what he meant by them and not draw the wrong conclusion about the points he was trying to make. However, he knew that as humans, we remember stories better than long, drawn-out explanations. A story is nearly always a good place to start.

After we have spent a while pondering the stories and doing our best to live according to the lessons we have heard, we reach a point of trying to explain why we keep going and what it all means for us. St. Paul was no exception. He took time to explain to the community at Corinth what it had all come to mean for him and would ultimately mean for them. (2 Cor 5:6-10) He spoke of being at home in the body and at home with the Lord. We have two homes, he explained. The body is the reality of how we live here as humans, from infancy through the end of our lives. Being at home with the Lord is a way of saying we have ended our bodily life here with families, friends, and the realities of eating, drinking, working, playing, sleeping, and so forth. We now experience family, friends, and those who have come before us in a totally new and amazing way. We are with the Lord, the source of all life, true unending and limitless love.

To the extent we are really honest with ourselves and others, daily life is not always a garden of roses! There are hard things we have to experience and learn. There are wonderful times as well. With any luck at all, the wonderful times will be remembered clearly. However, all too often, we remember the hard times more quickly. We tend to forget that the everyday, ordinary things are far more common. Because they are so ordinary – is that why we forget them?

Paul reminds us that our lives here will come to an end. When that day comes, and we meet the Lord in person in our new home, we will remember much that has happened that we may prefer be forgotten. With the Lord’s help, may we also remember the many joys and blessings of the times we may have forgotten in which we really did meet the task set out for us from the beginning – to grow like a sprout on the branch of a tree, or a seed in a field, or a bird in a nest on a great mustard plant that grew from a tiny seed, easily overlooked as insignificant.

This is our challenge today. Where are we planted? What kind of plant are we meant to be? How will we grow and blossom to produce the fruit or grain needed by the One who tossed out the seed or plucked us from a different tree and planted us here? At best, we will simply move through our days, offering a smile, a gentle word, a greeting, a hand, a moment of silent companionship for those whose journey also continues alongside our own. And when the day comes that we go home to the Lord, may we all see the wonder of the tapestry of life that our times together have created.

Readings for the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

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Posted by on Apr 14, 2024

Perfected in Love – Part of a circle

Perfected in Love – Part of a circle

It was an afternoon class, after a long day at school for all of the children. They had come together from several schools for religious education class that afternoon. They were members of the same parish, so they knew each other, had been in classes together since kindergarten. They were friends. They happily visited with each other until their teacher called them together to begin the day’s lesson.

One girl was having a happy conversation with one of her friends and didn’t really want to  stop and begin class. As the other children formed a circle with their teacher for their beginning song and prayer, she turned her back on the circle. She was in the circle, but her back was turned.

Her teacher was shameless about taking advantage of whatever happened in class to teach the children, so rather than get upset or angry, she directed the attention of the other children to what was happening. The circle was still there, even though the child was not participating. All she needed to do was to turn around and she would also be included in the conversations and lessons that would follow. But it was entirely up to her whether she would remain excluded or whether she would join. The situation was a perfect example of what happens when we turn away from God’s love and decide to go it alone. The choice to return is always our own.

This incident came to mind as I read St. Luke’s account of what happened on Easter Sunday evening when the Lord appeared to the apostles in the Upper Room. (Lk 24:35-48) Luke tells us that those who had met him on the road to Emmaus had returned and just told their companions that they had met the Lord and recognized him “in the breaking of the bread.” And then he was there in their midst. The doors were locked. There was no way for anyone to get in. Yet there he was. Quite a startling thing to experience, and not just a little frightening. It must be a ghost!

Jesus’ first words were ones of reassurance. “Peace be with you.”  He began to reassure them by having them touch him, including his wounds. He asked for food and ate it. Then he began again to teach them. This time it was about the history of prophecies regarding what would happen when the Christ came. They were more ready to hear what he wanted them to know and their minds were opened to understand. Jesus told them that repentance for the forgiveness of sin would be the message shared with all the world, beginning in Jerusalem. They themselves would now be the ones to witness to what they had seen and heard.

And so they were.

After Pentecost, the apostles preached fearlessly in Jerusalem, healing the sick and leading the community in worship and in communal living and service. Many thought the miracles of healing were the results of the actions and power of the disciples, but Peter and the others were quick to point out that they were not the source of the healing. (Acts 3:13-15, 17-19) It was the power of Jesus acting through them. Peter spoke one day, explaining in an ancient formula the divine origin of Jesus’ power and life. “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant, Jesus…”

It was a frightening thought to the people that they might have been complicit in acting against the prophet, the servant of God. But Peter was reassuring. Although they had acted against the anointed one, God would forgive them, because they didn’t know what they were doing. Repenting and not repeating their sin would lead to its forgiveness. In other words, they could turn back to the circle and again be part of the community of God. Being converted means to turn back to the circle of love.

St. John tells the community of the Beloved and all of us that when and if we sin, “we have an Advocate with the Father,” namely Jesus the righteous one. (1 Jn 2:1-5a) As we keep his word, keep his commandments, God’s love is perfected in us. Love is perfected as we love our God above all things and love our neighbors as ourselves. Turned into the circle and drawing strength from the Lord and our community, we can begin to live the law of love. We can be perfected in love, bit by bit, each time we turn back to the circle of those with whom we live in this great community of love.

May we be aware of the love we share and receive with others in this coming week and of the readiness of the Lord always to welcome us back into the community when we for any reason turn our backs on the circle.

Readings for the Third Sunday of Easter – Cycle B

 

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Posted by on Sep 24, 2023

My Thoughts are not Your Thoughts

My Thoughts are not Your Thoughts

“My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.” (Is 55:8)

Each of us enters life like a bit of a blank slate. It’s not a totally blank slate, however. There are pre-existing conditions for each of us, such as our basic physical characteristics and the physical realities resulting from the genetics of the bodies with which we have been blessed. Nevertheless, for the most part, we are set to learn and develop into adults through the example and support of the family and community into which we are born.

Once we get here, we begin to experience the expectations and knowledge of our families and communities. How are babies expected to behave? How do we expect them to eat and sleep and learn to sit up, crawl, walk, and eventually run? How do we teach them to carry out their expected roles? Will the boys learn to be fathers? Will the girls learn to be mothers? What else will they learn to be? Are roles strictly divided by physical sex? Where does gender fit into it all?

Once we get all of that figured out, then we deal with our cultures. The culture into which we are born plays a huge part in the experience we have of life. What is the creation story of our people? What do we need to do to fit into the larger society in which we live? Are the deities of our people ones who care about us, or do we need to try to please their every selfish whim as they battle for power among themselves?

The people of Israel were used to worshiping and encountering God at the temple in Jerusalem before the invasion of the Babylonians and destruction of the temple. Large numbers of the people were carried into exile – and to their surprise, God was present with them there too. As the end of the exile appeared and they returned to their own land, they took this awareness with them. Yet there was still a sense that it would be important and even necessary to return to temple sacrifice as a major form of prayer and encounter with God.

The Prophet Isaiah reminds them, “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near.” He is not far away. He is near. He is ready to listen. He doesn’t follow our ways of thinking or interacting with each other. It’s never too late to turn back to the Lord. Scoundrels should forsake their ways. The wicked turn from evil thoughts and plans. Turn to God for mercy. Why? Won’t God just punish and destroy the evildoers? That’s what would happen in human justice. Isaiah describes God as the one “who is generous and forgiving.” Our God is not one who will take out his spite or anger on his people and break off relationships forever. Our God sticks around and hopes for reconciliation, always ready to respond in love and forgiveness. (Is 55:6-9)

Jesus told a story to his disciples: “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner…” (Mt 20:1-16a) Landowners held a great advantage in their society. They had a resource on which they could count for supporting themselves and their families. They were not dependent on the whims of an employer or the fluctuations of the “job market” – harvest time, planting time, time between seasonal jobs, and so forth.

This landowner needed harvesters. The vines were full of ripe grapes. The harvest was ready. The year’s income was at stake. Time to hire day laborers.

Everyone knew what the regular wages would be for a day of work. It may not have been expressed as an hourly wage, but folks knew what their labor was worth. There was no question of surprises at the end of the day.

A few hours later, the landowner went out and saw more people in need of work, so he sent them into his vineyard too, with the promise to pay them “what is just.” They did not expect full wages. That would not have entered their minds. They expected a reduced wage and would have been completely happy to receive that. Much better than having nothing to take to the market for buying food on the way home.

Around noon, the same thing happened again. The next group went willingly into the vineyard, expecting about a half day’s pay.

Three o’clock, same story. Five o’clock, more idle workers in the market. Off to the vineyard with them too. Same promise – “I will give you what is just.”

Finally, the sun was setting and it was time to stop work for the day. Some of the laborers had worked from dawn to dusk. Others for three, six, nine, or eleven hours less. It was time to receive their pay and head home.

The landlord instructed his foreman, “Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.” Now, one would think this would be very satisfying to the ones who had been working all day. They would see the “slackers” hired at the end of the day get just a few coins in payment. The next group a few more, and so forth. Eventually, they themselves, who had been up and ready to work first thing in the morning, would get their full day’s pay and go home with their heads held high and bragging rights about what great providers they were.

That’s the way the story should end. It would demonstrate the value of hard work and responsibility. The whole pull-yourself-up-by-your-sandal-straps ideal. Those who work hard will prosper and the rest will just fall by the wayside. It’s their own darn fault for being lazy…

But no, that’s not the way the story goes. Those hired last received a full day’s pay, not a penny more. The same for those hired at 3, those hired at noon, and those hired at 9 in the morning. All received a full day’s pay. Well, that boded well for those who had spent all day working, right? Surely, such a generous landowner would have a bonus for the hardest-working among them. Yet no such thing happened. Those hired first received the same day’s wages as those hired at 5 in the evening.

Does that sound fair? Not to most of us.  Certainly not to those hired first.  But suppose you were one of those hired late in the day? It would be an amazing blessing, to be forgiven for not having worked all day, for having come late to the market, or simply not have been lucky enough to be offered work earlier.

The landowner in the story asks, “What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?”

Most of us live in relative comfort. We have our concerns and struggles. But most of us don’t have to deal with loss of home due to loss of income, or the inability to feed our children, or criminals taking over our farms, or severe, disabling health conditions, or a need to care for others who cannot care for themselves. Most of us have friends on whom we can count and a future to enjoy.

It’s not easy to remember that the Lord’s ways are not our ways. When someone hurts us, we want justice in return. We don’t want to share what we have, especially with the one whom we believe hurt us. We are not ready to forgive quickly. We hold on to the hurt and resentment and anger. It builds and sours in our hearts and interferes with our openness to love and forgiveness. If and when the time comes that we speak about the incident with the person who harmed us, we may discover that they also felt wronged and misunderstood.

But the Lord doesn’t work in this punitive, restrictive way with us. The Lord doesn’t get angry and cut us off. The Lord is as ready to forgive as a parent whose small child has lashed out in anger and screamed at them while running out of the room. As would a loving parent, the Lord gives us a moment to calm down, then begins a game of peek-a-boo, hoping to coax us back into a laughing, loving interaction.

“My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord … As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.” (Is 55:8)

May we be open to see the Lord’s hand in our lives this week, and glimpse him peeking around a doorway playing peek-a-boo with each of us, coaxing us back home.

Readings for the Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

 

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Posted by on Jun 18, 2023

Without Cost You Have Received

Without Cost You Have Received

“Money can’t buy love.” God’s interaction with humanity might be summed up in this simple phrase.  It seems self-evident and we assume our interactions with family, friends, and strangers will start with this premise. However, all too often we forget. We start worrying if the person we are will be attractive enough, if the clothes we wear are of the “right” style, if the things we like to do are “cool” enough, if our economic or social situation will work against us. So many things to burden our hearts and minds.

For better or for worse, God doesn’t work that way. God met Moses on the mountain and reminded him of the way He had treated the Egyptians when He led the Israelites out of slavery. The Lord promises to love and care for this specific people above all others. In return, the Lord asks only that they live in covenant with Him. (Ex 19:2-6a)

Jesus too, in looking around at the people among whom he was living, teaching, and ministering, took pity on them because “they were troubled and abandoned,” like sheep without a shepherd. He envisioned an abundant harvest of hearts waiting for love, but not enough people willing to reach out and work in the harvest. He sent his followers to proclaim the coming of the kingdom by healing the sick, driving out demons, raising the dead. All this was and is to be done without charge, because all has been freely given to them. (Mt 9:36-10:8)

Jesus himself gave everything, including his life, as a free gift of reconciliation between humanity and the Father. The shepherd laid down his life for the sheep. It cost the sheep nothing. (Rom 5:6-11)

Today we too are called to love freely and share love with all we meet. We don’t typically cure illnesses or raise the dead to life again literally. However, a smile, a kind word, a patient willingness to wait our turn in line even when someone else is moving slowly ahead of us, all are gifts of healing we can bring.

The other day, an older man at the grocery store was trying to complete a purchase. At first, he couldn’t find his wallet, so he walked away from the checkout stand. The checker knew him and simply put the goods aside, ready to start on my purchases. Then the man called out the checker’s name and returned in great joy. He had found the wallet, in a different pocket than where he usually kept it. I told the checker I would wait for the man to complete his purchase. It should have been very simple, but it wasn’t. When the final total was reached, the man tried to use his debit card to make the payment. He tried two different PINs, neither of which worked. He didn’t want to try too many times and lock the card, but decided to try one more time. Very carefully, he entered the number, and it worked! He was amazed and delighted. I smiled at him and said simply. “See, third time was a charm,” echoing what he had said just before trying the third PIN. He had been feeling upset and ashamed that it had taken so long to do a simple task, but now his spirits were lifted and his embarrassment ended. As he picked up his purchase to leave, he tipped his hat and bowed to me, with a happy smile. I responded in kind and he went on his way, with a spring in his step. For a short while anyway, something within him was healed.

We are all called to serve our world, our sisters and brothers, in simple, everyday, ordinary ways. When we do, the Kingdom of God is here. We have received without cost. Now we give freely of what we have received.

Readings for the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

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Posted by on May 7, 2023

The Way – Expanding Understandings

The Way – Expanding Understandings

Following Pentecost, large numbers of people joined the community of believers, who spoke of themselves as Followers of the Way. Jesus had told his followers, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (Jn 14:1-12) But when it came right down to the day-to-day project of living out the teachings of the master, it was challenging.

When the community began to grow beyond the Jewish faith tradition and include non-Jews from around the known world, it got even more challenging. Who gets the most of the shared resources? If I am responsible for distributing goods, do I make sure my family and friends have enough even if that means some others didn’t get as much as they wanted? Do I favor the folks who have come from another country? Should they get the same share as I do? They didn’t bring as much wealth to the community. Why should they get as much as the folks who were here first?

We hear some of these same questions and have some of the same arguments today. Why should immigrants get extra help? If a child came to the country illegally, why should they get free education and health care? Why should we care if they are sent to do unsafe work by unscrupulous “hosts”? If people don’t have jobs, why should we give them health care or food?

The apostles had to address these issues of justice and fairness in their community too. They were being distracted from the preaching and teaching of the Good News by the need to mediate these disputes. So after talking and praying about it, they decided to select some members of the community to handle the day-to-day administration the communal life and distribution of resources. They selected a group of people to take this role, including Stephen, the first martyr. (Acts 6:1-7)

Although the roles they played are somewhat different from the roles of deacons today, we often speak of these men as the first deacons. They took as their responsibility the care of the community in its daily life. The apostles were the preachers and teachers. The deacons made sure everyone got what they needed to live a good life together. Women also served as deacons in the early community, but they are not named in the reading describing the selection of the first deacons.

Deacons today preach and teach, both in words and deeds. They assist with the celebration of Eucharist, welcoming those gathered and leading the Penitential Rite. They also bring the needs of the broader community to the attention of the Church community. As they prepare the gifts for the sacrifice and raise the cup of the precious blood at the conclusion of the Eucharistic Prayer, they bring the needs and hopes and joys of the world to the Father in the sacrifice. They dismiss the community gathered in prayer to go into the world and serve the needs of all those they meet, including the poorest of the poor. They call forth leaders from the community to organize helpers and address those needs.

Just as the early church leaders adjusted their practices to meet the growing and changing needs of the community, we today listen to the Holy Spirit speaking to us through the everyday, ordinary folks we meet. The Spirit calls the Church anew in every age to meet new challenges as we continue to share the good news Jesus brought to all – that God is with us and loves us dearly.

May we remember this as we move through the coming weeks and months. Those we meet along the way speak to us of the hopes and dreams of God for all of us and for the marvelous creation we share. I pray we will be open to hear the Spirit calling us to service.

Readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter – Cycle A

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Posted by on Apr 7, 2023

Why did Jesus have to Die?

Why did Jesus have to Die?

“Why did Jesus have to die?” “What kind of a God would require a blood sacrifice, of a human being no less, before forgiving the disobedience of the first humans?” “What kind of parent would demand the death of a son?” “Who is ultimately responsible for the death of innocent people?”

All of these questions and more have been raised throughout history, following the death of Jesus. Believers and unbelievers alike have wrestled with the problem of evil and the painful finality of death. Answers are complex and, many times, unhelpful. At best, they provide some logical foundation, based on human values and cultural expectations. At worst, they are downright illogical and unsatisfactory.

I have no good answers either, but I have some thoughts. One of the most important things I have learned in my lifetime is that without difficult times, I don’t appreciate the good times as well. I also have much less appreciation for the challenges faced by others.

If there had always been enough money to be sure of where the next groceries were going to come from, I would not appreciate what it is to go through year after year of food insecurity. If I had always been able to purchase health insurance, I would not be as ready and able to encourage and rejoice with folks who can now get health care and insurance because of the Affordable Care Act (aka, Obamacare) in the United States. I would also be less able to encourage those who have always been part of the middle class and now find their income has fallen so much that they are qualified for Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California). If I had never spent late nights with a crying baby, I would not be able to sympathize with and offer nonjudgmental help to another parent whose child just will not go to sleep!

So many times in my life, there have been difficult moments. Each time, as I come through them, I appreciate more deeply the pain and suffering that are part of life for others as well. I become, I hope, a more compassionate person.

I wonder to what extent Jesus also had to go through hard times as part of growing in compassion and determination to help make life better for others. He had an intense experience of God’s love at his baptism in the Jordan. He grew in wisdom and faith during his time of fasting in the desert. He shared the experience of God’s love with those he met during his public life. He would have been encouraged by its reception among so many ordinary people. He must have been surprised at times that the message he brought was doubted and opposed by so many who were leaders of the community.

In the end, he realized the danger he faced in continuing to proclaim the coming of the kingdom. After all, he lived in a conquered nation where those who led revolutions or opposed the power of Rome were routinely executed publicly. Yet he chose to remain faithful to the call he had received. His cousin had paid the ultimate price for his proclamation of the coming of the Messiah. Now Jesus was facing the same powers and penalties.

He chose freely to continue forward. He could have run away. He saw the soldiers coming out from Jerusalem, down through the valley and up the mountainside to the Garden where he and his friends were spending the night. He could have slipped away before they arrived.

But he didn’t run away. He chose to go and testify to what he had come to understand. When asked if he was the Messiah, he did not deny it. In fact, in St. John’s account, Jesus used the name of God, I AM, three times during his arrest in the garden. When Pilate tried to release him, his accusers retorted, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.” This frightened Pilate, but when push came to shove, Pilate did not resist their demands. Anyone who called himself a king or a god was too dangerous to keep around. (Jn 18:1-19:42)

Jesus went to his death freely. He chose fidelity to what he had come to know and understand about God, about humanity, and about his place in the grand scheme of things.

Did he know he would rise? I don’t know. In the Gospels, there are statements about rising, but they were usually phrased in terms of “on the third day,” which was a code phrase for “God will come to the rescue and make things right.” But literally, who knows when or how?

Jesus died. Of that there is no doubt. To make doubly sure, his heart was pierced by a soldier’s lance. He was buried in a borrowed tomb. His friends and family went home to mourn his passing. A guard was posted outside the tomb to be sure there would be no false claims of resurrection.

Jesus was a human being in all senses. If he had not gone through all the suffering he endured, would we who follow his teachings and believe what he came to proclaim about God’s love for all of us be deeply convinced of the truth of God’s unwavering love and forgiveness? I’m not sure we would be.

Jesus died not to appease a vengeful God. Jesus died not because of the “sins of Adam” that made humanity unfit for Heaven. Statements about his sacrifice as payment for Adam’s sins are found in the Scriptures and tradition, but those are from a specific cultural context in which animal sacrifice was a given. They may not be the way we would speak of the same reality today, though all of us are guilty of adding to the pain and suffering of those around us in big and little ways as we go through life.

Maybe Jesus died because he was so totally committed to what he had come to understand and experience of his relationship with the Father that there was no other option but to trust and go forward. In the process, he showed us too the way to move ahead through the sorrows and pain that come to each of us in our daily lives. He showed us that we grow in compassion through suffering and hard times. He showed us that the Father loves us through it all. And he is there with us as we go through it too. We just need to trust that he is there and open our hearts to receive his love and support.

There is no celebration of Eucharist on Good Friday. But we gather to remember the great love of Jesus and his willingness to go through all of the hardest things ever asked of humans: betrayal, unjust trial, condemnation, mocking, physical abuse, and death. He was there. He will be there always with those who suffer the same. And he’s even there for those of us who pass through less dramatic but deeply painful times.

We gather this day in prayer and silence to be with him in the mystery of timeless eternity. We continue in quiet through the day to come.

Peace be with you.

Readings for Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion

 

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Posted by on Apr 2, 2023

A Destination is Reached

A Destination is Reached

We have arrived at the end of Lent. Today we enter, with Jesus, into Holy Week. We have traveled with him from Galilee, through Samaria, to Judea and Bethany. We have heard that he brings living water, sight to the blind, and life to the dead. Today we see him enter Jerusalem, riding on a donkey. Kings and conquering heroes entered cities on horseback, with great fanfare, welcomed by throngs of people. Jesus entered on a donkey, as had been foretold in ancient scriptures (Zec 9:9). This is not a conquering hero. This is a man of peace.

On Palm Sunday, as we enter into Holy Week, we hear of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Immediately afterwards, we hear Matthew’s account of his Last Supper, the agony in the Garden, his trial, and his execution as an enemy of Rome. It’s a week of powerful readings, profound emotions, and great mystery.  We travel with him from the heights of praise to the ignomy of death on a cross, outside the walls of the city, by the city dump.

God did not choose to come among us as a conquering hero. He did not choose an easy life, filled with praise and luxury. He didn’t worry that the powerful might not like to hear the news that the poorest among them were cherished by their maker. He chose to experience all of the ups and downs of human life. Security in family life and career. Excitement in working with people. Wonder in seeing the growing faith and hope of the community. Joy in being able to help relieve suffering. Courage in speaking truth to power. Fear in knowing that great suffering would soon be unavoidable, especially if he did not back down from the truth he had been called to proclaim. Betrayal at the hand of a trusted friend. Terrible pain in the end, as he suffered a death reserved for those who had committed great crimes, including rebellion against Rome. Burial in a borrowed tomb.

Yet through it all, Jesus did not back down. The Son of God, the Word made flesh, who pitched his tent among us, held on to the reality he had come to understand and proclaim. A new day had dawned. Creation was new again. The relationship between God and humans was healed.

As he was dying, Jesus prayed one of the most powerful psalms ever written. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” It sounds like the words of a man who is despairing. They are certainly the words of a person in great distress, and Jesus had to have been in great distress. But more than that, it is also a song/prayer of great faith and hope. Psalm 22 describes the agony of a man who has been betrayed, abandoned, and mocked by all. “He relied on the Lord; let him deliver him, let him rescue him, if he loves him,” say his tormentors. The prayer continues, with more description of the agony being endured, until finally a great song of praise and hope bursts forth, “I will proclaim your name to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise you…”

As we travel with our Lord through this week, may we too know the love and consolation of our God, who didn’t hesitate to enter into human life and share it all, especially the hard times, when hope seems far away. He will be there to meet us in those hard times, because he experienced them himself.

Blessed Holy Week to all.

Readings for Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Palm Sunday liturgy – Resurrection Catholic Community – Aptos, California

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Posted by on Sep 11, 2022

God’s Justice Is Extravagant Mercy

God’s Justice Is Extravagant Mercy

“I will rise and go to my father.” (Lk 15:18)

Have you ever had the experience of doing something that you know was wrong and were hoping no one would notice? Perhaps you were embarrassed about it. Perhaps you were afraid of punishment. Perhaps you feared that what you had done could never be forgiven. Maybe you were a child and hid in a closet or out in the back yard for as long as you could, rather than face the parent whose anger or disappointment you feared. Maybe you simply didn’t respond to the letter or phone calls of the friend whom you had hurt.

Rejoice. You’re not alone. I think we all have had this kind of experience at least once in our lives. The peoples of the Bible had these kinds of experiences too. You are not alone, and you don’t have to stay in that frightened, embarrassed place forever.

Moses and the Israelites

Shortly after the Exodus from Egypt, Moses received the Law from the Lord on Mt. Sinai and presented it to his people. Then Moses was called again to the mountain of the Lord. The book of Exodus devotes many chapters to the encounters of Moses with the Lord and the reception of the Law. This time when he went up the mountain, he again disappeared into the cloud at the top and did not return for many, many days – forty days in all! The people waiting at the foot of the mountain became afraid. What had happened to their leader, the one who faced Pharaoh, the one who led them across the Red Sea and through the desert? Had he died? They believed that anyone who saw the face of the Lord would die. Who would be their leader now? Who would be their representative to God? They had welcomed the proclamation of the Law from Moses and offered sacrifice to confirm their agreement to it before he left again. Why was he gone so long? Maybe what they needed was a god they could see and touch, like the ones of the peoples among whom they lived.

Aaron, brother of Moses, was approached by a group of them, asking him to help them find a god whom they could worship and who would protect them. Not knowing what had happened to his brother, Aaron ordered them to bring gold jewelry and coins. He melted them down and formed a calf from the gold. Calves were worshiped by many of the surrounding peoples as representations of their gods. The people rejoiced and began to worship the golden calf.

Up on the mountain, the Lord noticed what was happening and was not amused. “Go down at once to your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, for they have become depraved.” (Ex 32:7-11, 13-14) The Lord was angry and proposed to Moses that he would simply destroy them all, then make a new nation for himself from the descendants of Moses. This would have been the right and just thing for a monarch or a god to do, according to the experience and traditions of the nations at that time, so that is the response ascribed to the Lord in this account.

However, Moses boldly spoke up and presented a different option, imploring, “Why, O Lord, should your wrath blaze up against your own people… Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel” and the promise made to them. With this reminder, “the Lord relented in the punishment he had threatened to inflict on his people.”

Did that settle the issue forever? No. There was much more to the story, as Moses descended from the mountain, broke the tablets on which the Lord had written the Law, punished the people who had rebelled, and again returned to the mountain top for another forty days, so the tablets could again be inscribed with the Law. The relationship between the Israelites and God continued to be rocky through the centuries, but God always remained merciful. There were times when things went very badly for Israel and they interpreted the suffering that came to them as punishment for having offended God. But when once again peace returned and all was well, they rejoiced in the mercy of their God, who never left them.

The Psalms often speak of the loving mercy of God, asking God to wipe out our offenses, cleanse us of sin, and open our mouths to proclaim his praise. “A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.” (Ps 51)

St. Paul’s Experience

St. Paul also experienced mercy from the Lord. Paul was the Roman name of a pharisee named Saul who grew up in Tarsus. Tarsus was a Roman city in an area northwest of Syria. Saul was a Roman citizen because of his birth in Tarsus, but he was also a Jew. He had studied in Jerusalem and was greatly distressed by the teachings of Jesus’ disciples after the resurrection. When the authorities began to arrest Christians, Saul was totally in favor of wiping out this new, heretical group. In fact, he was a witness to the stoning of the first Christian martyr, Stephen. Those who were throwing the rocks at Stephen laid their cloaks at Saul’s feet for safekeeping as he looked on with approval.

Later, as the Christian community dispersed to other cities in the empire, Saul followed after them to Damascus, planning to arrest them, return them to Jerusalem, and witness their deaths. But the Lord had other plans for him.

On the road to Damascus, Jesus appeared to Saul. Saul was totally blown away by the appearance of Jesus. Jesus instructed him to continue his journey to Damascus. There he met members of the Christian community and became one of them. Thus began his long journey as a follower of Jesus and apostle to the Gentiles.

Many years after his conversion, Paul wrote to Timothy, one of the men who had been converted by Paul’s teachings and had become a companion on some of his missionary journeys. (1 Tim 1:12-17) Paul spoke of his experience of having received mercy from the Lord, despite his earlier attempts to wipe out Jesus’ followers. “I was mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in him for everlasting life.” It was through the mercy of God that Paul found a new meaning and way in life. A new kind of justice.

Jesus’ Stories of Forgiveness

Jesus embodied God’s approach to sinners. Sinners were anyone who did not live by Jewish Law and customs. As in any society, there are always folks who skirt the rules or refuse to follow them. Most people avoided contact with public sinners – tax collectors, prostitutes, thieves, and so forth. But Jesus went out of his way to speak with them. This brought constant criticism from the religious authorities. “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Eating with someone who was a sinner, who was ritually unclean, made a person also ritually unclean. It was a big deal.

In response to the criticism, Jesus told three stories. (Lk 15:1-32) The first was about a shepherd who had one hundred sheep. One of them got lost. The shepherd left the ninety-nine and went in search of the missing one. When he found it, he returned to the rest of the flock and called his friends to celebrate with him because he had found the missing sheep. Jesus told his audience that in heaven, there will be much greater joy over the repentance of a sinner than over those who have always lived righteously. Like his listeners, we might wonder about the wisdom of leaving ninety-nine sheep to fend for themselves. In practical terms, unless others were watching out for the flock, the rest of the sheep would probably be gone by the time the shepherd returned with the stray. But Jesus takes it for granted that a true shepherd would care about the missing one too.

Another example of God’s extravagance is that of the woman who had ten coins. When she lost one, she lit a lamp and cleaned the house carefully, looking for the coin. When she found it, she called her friends and neighbors to celebrate with her because the coin had been found. Having recently found a coin that I had dropped and been unable to find for several days, I can appreciate her delight. For me the coin was not a huge issue, but I had been wondering where it had managed to hide when I dropped it. For her, the coin was much more important. Important enough to burn expensive oil in the effort to find it. Jesus explained again that the angels rejoice when each sinner repents. The cost doesn’t matter to God and the angels rejoice.

The final story is one we often know as that of the Prodigal Son. It might also be called the story of the Extravagantly Merciful, Welcoming Father. A son requests his share of the family wealth, takes the money and spends it all on wild living. Then he finds himself without resources in a foreign land as drought and famine rage. Eventually he comes to his senses and declares, “I will rise and go to my father…” The son intends to ask for a job as a servant in the household, but his father, seeing him coming down the road, runs out to welcome him. He treats him as a much-loved son and restores his position in the household. A great celebration then begins, with no expense spared, to welcome the son back to the family.

The brother who had remained with his father is very hurt and angry at the way his father treats the one who had gone away and wasted the family resources. He refuses to enter the house and join the celebration, considering his father’s actions to be unfair. But the father of both young men explains, “now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again.”

Like the Extravagantly Merciful, Welcoming Father in the story, we are loved and welcomed by our God, who is a parent to us. Sometimes we really make wrong choices. Sometimes we deliberately do what we know is wrong. Sometimes we don’t do what we know we should do. Like the Israelites in the desert, or Saul on the road to Damascus, or the young man who went off and spent his share of the family money, our actions can be very wrong. Yet God does not punish us. God doesn’t interfere with our free choice to turn away. But God always wants us to return, not to be afraid to come back. The circle of love is always open to receive us again. We just have to turn back and accept the big hug that God wants to give us. The justice of God is not something to be feared. The justice of God is extravagant mercy and love. Today, tomorrow, and always.

Thanks be to God!

Find the readings for the Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

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Posted by on Jul 3, 2022

Up from the Ruins – The Kingdom of God is Here

Up from the Ruins – The Kingdom of God is Here

During the past few weeks, the divisions among peoples and nations have once again come starkly into focus in the United States and around the world. Recent decisions by the Supreme Court have upset precedents that had long seemed established. Revelations regarding the events on January 6, 2021 make clear the potential fragility of the American system of self-governance. War continues to rage in Ukraine. Other conflicts smolder around the world. Political parties bicker over what needs to be done and how to do it. Fires, earthquakes, drought, and famine plague many around the world. And COVID-19 continues to cause illness and death.

We might be tempted to feel sorry for ourselves – a “woe is me” type of moment, perhaps. Weren’t things always better in the past? But no, they weren’t. Things have always been hard at times. Not exclusively hard all the time, mind you. Things have also been wonderful, maybe mostly wonderful. Yet the wonderful times have always also been punctuated by harder times that make people grateful for the boring, everyday-ness of most of life.

Through it all, God is present, working from within the hard times through ordinary people, to bring about the happier times and restore peace among peoples and families. The Kingdom of God is here, rising from the ruins of broken relationships and societies.

On this Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, the prophet Isaiah (66:10-14c) speaks the Lord’s words to the people of Israel at the end of their period of exile in Babylon. They are returning to their own land, to cities that have been destroyed and a temple that is in ruins. Ancient warfare left cities leveled, just as we are seeing today in Ukraine. It took a bit longer, perhaps, but the cities were destroyed and the land laid waste. The conquerors wanted nothing to be left to those whom they defeated.

So now the people return to their devastated homeland and what does the Lord say? “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her… I will spread prosperity over Jerusalem like a river … as a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you…” God is present with the people. Their city will rise again. God will comfort them like a mother nursing her child. Intimately. Tenderly. With love and dedication. Up close and personal. Sweet and filling!

Isaiah’s words are for us too. Our world has been turned upside down in some ways. Yet the Kingdom of God is here because God is here with us in the midst of the challenging times. “The Lord’s power shall be known to his servants.”

In a different, happier time for Israel, the psalmist rejoiced at God’s deeds (Ps 66) – “Shout joyfully to God, all the earth.” God has acted with power to protect the children of Adam. The sea was changed to dry land, a passage opened through the river (Jordan). The Lord is present with his people. “Blessed be God who refused me not my prayer or his kindness!”

The theme is continued in Paul’s letter to the Galatians (6:14-18). The reading for this week is from the end of the letter. He has presented his argument about the reasons for not requiring Gentiles to become Jews before becoming followers of Jesus and members of the Christian community. He states his position clearly. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything in terms of salvation. The only thing that matters is to become a new creation, based on the cross of the Lord and our sharing in the redemption it brought. Paul notes that he has himself suffered physically because of his faithfulness in proclaiming Jesus’ death and resurrection. He ends his letter with a wish of blessing for the members of this community. It is a blessing familiar to us even today. “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters.”

Jesus, too, shares this message. “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” St. Luke (10:1-12, 17-20) tells us that Jesus selected seventy-two of his disciples and sent them ahead of him to the towns he was planning to visit. They went in groups of two. He gave them very specific instructions about what to take with them, what to say, where to stay, what to eat, and what to do if people in a town didn’t welcome them. They were to cure the sick and share the message of the coming of the kingdom of God wherever they went.

Jesus wasn’t living in a free and independent country. He was living in a conquered land, with overlords who took whatever they could get from the land and the people. Large numbers of people grew cash crops, for use by the empire, and had little left for themselves and their families. Soldiers could force people to carry their gear. Tax collectors were allowed to take as much as they could get, even above and beyond what was due. Anyone who opposed the Romans would be killed. It was not a great time in Israel. Yet he had arrived – the kingdom of God was at hand! His disciples were charged with sharing that news.

It’s interesting to note that Moses also selected seventy-two elders to help with administration of the camp and keeping order as the people moved through the desert in the years before they entered the Promised Land. Perhaps that’s part of the reason Jesus selected seventy-two disciples to alert people to the coming of God’s kingdom. This time of his coming was one long awaited.

The disciples returned with great rejoicing. Their mission had been well received and “even the demons” had obeyed them because of the power of Jesus’ name. Jesus notes their success and cautions that even more important than this power they have experienced is the fact that their own names are known by God in the heavenly kingdom.

In the midst of the troubles and hardships experienced by the Chosen People at the time of Jesus, the ruins of the former glory of their nation, the Kingdom of God has arrived.

Do we believe that God’s kingdom is present here and now as well? When things go differently than we would have chosen, can we trust that God will stand beside us in the ruins of our hopes and dreams and lift us up to the joy of the new Jerusalem and the kingdom? Will we let the Lord cradle us as a mother cradles her infant, and will we nurse as a well-loved child, secure and trusting the one who provides all we need? Will we have the courage to go forth and proclaim the love of the Lord and the Kingdom of God in our own world through our patient work to care for the most vulnerable among us? Will our commitment truly be to support children, families, women, immigrants, refugees, non-binary folks, the elderly, those with special needs? This is where God is present. In the “ruins” of social systems that favor the few and are willing to discard the rest, we find the Lord present and working.

The Kingdom of God is here, opened for us by the coming of Jesus.

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Posted by on Jun 14, 2018

Fun Resources for Learning Serious Psychology

Fun Resources for Learning Serious Psychology

 

Disney Pixar and Erik Erikson’s Eight Stages of Development

Discerning God’s Will – God’s dream for us requires an in-depth knowledge of how people grow and develop. In particular, if we are going to understand ourselves, which is our first step in responding to God’s grace, we need to know where we are in our development. We also need to see what went right and what went wrong in our own growth and development.

James Fowler’s Stages of Faith Formation

Our faith also has stages of development based on our human development. Many adults can reject their faith because they don’t realize that their faith formation is still that of a small child. On the other hand, there are many people who are religious churchgoers that are still clinging to a childhood faith for a variety of reasons that are not healthy.

 

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