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Posted by on Feb 18, 2024

A God Who Waits

A God Who Waits

Pushy people sometimes drive me crazy. Perhaps because sometimes, I am told, I can be a bit pushy myself! But if someone says a decision is needed immediately, or something has to be done immediately, my reaction is to move more slowly. Hold on a second. What’s the big hurry? Is someone bleeding? Can it wait for a more convenient time? I had other things I was planning to do right now! You get the picture.

I tend to be more of an introvert than an extrovert, so I need time to think things through before I’m ready to speak or act. Then, once I have figured out what I think, I’m not always as ready to go through the many questions and negotiations with others about why my analysis is correct…

As I thought about the readings for this First Sunday in Lent, St. Peter’s statement that God patiently waited while Noah was building the ark struck me as interesting. The two stories of Noah and the ark both include a recognition on God’s part that it takes time to build a boat/ship as big as the ark would need to be, to say nothing of the time to get all of those animals collected and safely on board. (Parenthetically, in one story only one pair of animals was required while the other story provided for seven pairs of the preferred animals and fewer of the non-preferred ones.)

So, God waited patiently until the ark was built, animals on board, and family safely accommodated. Then it started to rain. Forty days and forty nights, we’re told. The entire earth was covered with water.

When the rains stopped and the water gradually receded, a new relationship and legal agreement, a covenant, was proposed by God. This agreement was set up to be unending. “This is the sign that I am giving for all ages to come… a covenant between me and you and every living creature with you.” The sign, of course, was a rainbow. Whenever the rains come, a rainbow will remind God that they must stop before the earth can be flooded completely again. (Gn 9:8-15)

St. Peter mentioned God’s patience in waiting for the ark to be built when he was speaking of Christ’s suffering and death. He described Christ after his death going to preach to those who had had been disobedient to God in the past and had already died. They too heard the Good News of God’s love and forgiveness. Peter describes the way Noah’s family of eight were saved through flood waters as a prefiguring of the waters of baptism. Through baptism, we enter into the mercy of God, who is patient and forgiving with us even though we are not perfect. God is willing to wait for us to learn and grow towards perfection. (1 Pt 3:18-22)

Even Jesus spent time learning. Immediately after his baptism, St. Mark tells us, “the Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert.” While he was there, he faced temptation. Angels ministered to him as he spent time among the wild animals there and grew in understanding of his mission. When he returned from the desert, he immediately began telling others whom he met in Galilee, “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand.” Pay attention and hear this good news I’m bringing to you. (Mk 1:12-15)

Jesus spent forty days in the desert, the same amount of time the rains fell in the days of Noah. We too spend forty days in preparation to celebrate the great mystery of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.

God is patient. God waits for us. God doesn’t give up on us. God knows some things just take time for creatures whose lives are formed within the dimension of time.

As we enter the first week of Lent, may our eyes and ears be open to perceive the presence of God around us. In what way are we in a desert? In what way will we make room for encounters with the Lord? What do we learn from the rains and storms of winter or the heat of summer, depending on our location on this Earth?

God waits patiently for us. Let’s not be too slow!

Readings for the First Sunday in Lent – Cycle B

 

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Posted by on Feb 4, 2024

Hard Times Come – Where’s the Lord?

Hard Times Come – Where’s the Lord?

It’s raining again as I write these words. Winter in our area can be very wet or very dry. This year, it’s been relatively dry until recently, but the ground is saturated and water is freely flowing off the coastal mountains and to the ocean. It’s not unusual to get 2 inches or more in 24 hours when the big storms blow in from the ocean. This one is predicted to last 2 or more days, so there will be plenty of runoff!

A song is going through my head as I listen to the rain. “Raindrops keep falling on my head, but that doesn’t mean my eyes will soon be turning red…” Blessedly, the rain is not leaking through our roof since we got it repaired a few years ago. But the sense of rain as symbol for hard times which will end is also included in that song and resonates with the story of Job.

Job was a good man. He was married. He had children. His business affairs were successful. He was honest. He fulfilled his religious duties willingly. All should have gone well for him. He was doing everything right. The story tells us that the Lord was very pleased with Job.  But one day, while the Lord was speaking with his angels, Satan came among them too. When the Lord pointed out Job and what a wonderful person he was, Satan objected that it was only because all was going well for Job. It would be a different story if Job lost everything.

The Lord didn’t think it would be, so he gave Satan permission to do whatever he pleased with Job, except to kill him. Satan set to work quickly. The large herds of sheep, donkeys, camels, and other work animals he owned were all killed or stolen. A house fell on top of his children and killed them all. Job was devastated, but he spoke the famous words, “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb and naked shall I go back again. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Jb 1:21)

This amazed Satan and pleased the Lord. But Satan persisted, noting that Job had not suffered anything physically himself. The Lord gave Satan permission to cause physical pain but not to kill Job. So Job was afflicted with itchy sores all over his body that caused tremendous pain and suffering. His wife and friends all assumed it was because he had committed some terrible sin that he was being punished this way. Sure, some rain falls in every life, but not so much! Only great sinners would be punished so dramatically according to this way of thinking.

Most of the book details the accusations of Job’s friends and his responses defending himself. Job also calls on God to justify having taken everything away and allowed such suffering to befall him. He begs for relief or death. Job reminds God of his own faithfulness and asks God to respond in kind – with faithfulness. (Jb 7:1-4, 6-7)

Finally, God responds. He reminds Job in a series of undeniable images of his power and Job’s lack of power over much of what happens in life and in the world. Job accepts the fact that God is in charge and has the right to do what God pleases. And the Lord relents and restores Job’s good fortune, granting him a double all he had lost and a life twice as long as normal.

In the story, God then turns to the so-called friends and defends Job as a falsely accused innocent man. The false accusers must apologize to Job, who forgives them.

The book of Job is not to be taken literally. It’s a poem intended to teach something important about the relationship between people and God. People go through hard times. God is aware of the suffering. God will reward and somehow restore those who remain faithful.

As Jesus began his ministry of teaching and healing in Galilee, he did not remain in just one place, working with a few friends and their families. He healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law with the touch of his hand. She got up and began to serve her guests. After an evening of healing many people, Jesus went to bed. But in the morning, Jesus took time to get away and pray. While he was away praying that next day, lots of people had gathered, hoping for healing. But Jesus, strengthened by his time in prayer, knew it was time to move on to another place and again share the good news of the kingdom which he had been sent to proclaim. (Mk 1:29-39)

Some folks were healed. Others had to wait. Many who suffered would never receive the miracle of a return to health. But with the coming of Jesus, healing became a possibility, a hope, a promise. It could take many forms, not just physical restoration. Healing was something deeper than the physical. As in the case of Job, healing includes acceptance of God’s place and our place in the grand scheme of things. God can and will bring healing in many forms to those who trust and follow.

Paul traveled widely, sharing the news of the coming of the kingdom. He gave his testimony freely to all those he met. He didn’t ask them to support him. He didn’t charge for his teaching. He gave it freely because he had received it freely. The encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus changed the course of his life. The call he received led to long journeys, with hardships and eventual death. But he rejoiced that he had been called to share the great news of God’s love and reconciliation with all of humanity. His life of prayer and service gave him strength and hope. (1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23)

It’s raining again, and very windy. Some folks are out in the rain yet. They have no homes in which to rest warmly. Many of us are safely sheltered. We can look at our sisters and brothers and judge their worthiness of respect by whether they are sheltered or not. We can look at those who have traveled far from their homes seeking safety from violence and wonder whether they are worth our attention, welcome, and support. Or we can stretch out our hands to offer help and welcome. To help find healthcare and decent housing and food and education for the children. So much depends on how we look at the rain that falls figuratively on the lives we all live.

Let us pray that our eyes be opened to see the Lord’s hand in the hard times we all experience and reach out to each other in practical care and support, sustained by a life of prayer.

Readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

 

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Posted by on Jan 21, 2024

Diversity – Broader Than We Expect?

Diversity – Broader Than We Expect?

Each month, Pope Francis asks people around the world to join him in prayer for a particular intention. This month, January 2024, he is asking us to pray for the gift of diversity in the Church. Specifically, his prayer is,

“We pray that the Holy Spirit may help us to recognize the gift of different charisms within the Christian community and to discover the richness of different traditions and rituals in the Catholic Church.”

This prayer is focused on diversity within the Christian community, with its varied history, traditions, and rituals. As a worldwide community, people from multiple traditions, cultural understandings, and expectations all share in the same fundamental set of beliefs and practices. However, the ways those beliefs and practices are expressed can vary dramatically.

When my husband and I were first married, for example, we often found that we were divided by the bonds of a common religion. We were both Catholic from birth and grew up in actively Catholic families and communities. But the specifics of which customs, which saints, and which fundamental requirements and expectations of Catholic life were most important differed in many ways. Northern European Irish/German traditions were different from Mexican-American traditions. It took many years to recognize and anticipate the expected practices from our childhood experience and know which ones were going to be more important to each of us. With experience and many years of practice, we mostly have this worked out, but we still trip up from time to time.

As a Church, we have a long way to go, but the reforms of Vatican II have given a great foundation and permission for us to recognize and value the incarnation of our God within the many cultures of our world. We can now pray for diversity and acceptance of the many charisms, the gifts of the Spirit in our daily lives. We no longer need to demand that all peoples around the world understand or celebrate God’s presence in human history in exactly the same way, nor that they live their lives in the same way.

This struck me as an apt insight when I read the story of Jonah and his arrival in the ancient city of Nineveh with a message from God. (Jon 3:1-5, 10) Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian empire. It was very large – a three day walk to cross from one side of it to the other. The Assyrians were long-time enemies of the Israelites. They had battled more than once. Assyrians had actually destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel in battle. Many of the people of northern Israel had been killed, many driven into exile. Jonah and others in his community hated the Assyrians. No love was lost between the people of Assyria and the people of Israel.

Imagine Jonah’s surprise and horror when the Lord told him to go and warn the people of the enemy capital that their city was to be destroyed because of their evil behavior. That was exactly what he would have cheered! Destruction of an enemy’s capital, a warning not to mess with one’s own God – who could ask for more? And for this to happen without any loss of life among one’s own people? Fantabulous!

But no. God wanted the people of Nineveh to be warned, to have a chance to escape this horror. So, he called Jonah. Jonah tried to escape his task, boarding a ship to cross the Mediterranean, but that didn’t work out. He ended up in the belly of a whale for a bit, after having been tossed overboard by the crew and then being deposited back on the shore where he started. At that point, he gave up and headed to Nineveh. Entering the city, he began to proclaim its coming destruction. In only one day, the city and its leaders took heed. They proclaimed a fast, put on simple, uncomfortable, penitential clothing (sackcloth), and changed their behavior. With this quick response, there was no longer any reason to punish the city, so God relented and all was well.

Was Jonah happy? Not at all! He had hoped the city would be destroyed. He went away and pouted for a while. But again, how he got over it is another story for another day.

What strikes me about this story is that God did not pay attention only to the people of one culture, with one set of traditions. God cared about the people of Nineveh too, enough to send an unwilling prophet to call them to repentance. Though not members of the Chosen People, they were also a people about whom God cared enough to call them to reform and live.

The city of Nineveh still exists. It has a different name now. We call it Mosul. And God still cares for the people of Mosul and the rest of the Middle East, with all of their different traditions.

How about Jesus? Were his followers all from the same background or occupation? Not really. Some were fishermen. One was a tax collector. One was involved in politics – on the more revolutionary side. Saul/Paul was called after the resurrection. He was a Pharisee, an educated man, a student of the Law, who was active in persecution of the early followers of Jesus.

Mark tells us about the call of Peter, Andrew, James, and John. (Mk 1:14-20) They were fishermen from two different families who were working with their families along the shore of the Sea of Galilee when they met Jesus. Jesus himself was a carpenter, a tradesman. All were men who were accustomed to working and supporting themselves and their families. When Jesus walked by the boats as they were cleaning up after fishing – repairing nets, getting everything ready for the next day’s work – he called them to follow him. Amazingly, without hesitation, they left their nets and followed him. They didn’t reject their families or communities, but they left the nets and fishing to follow and learn from him. His other followers also left their jobs immediately when he called them. There was something compelling about the man and his invitation. He was open to them, just as they were and with their own particular backgrounds and family stories. Others who followed him but weren’t in the inner circle were also a diverse group. Women, men, well-to-do, middle-class, and poor. All were represented among Jesus’ followers. He was also recognized as a special person by non-Jews. Remember the Roman centurion whose son was healed by Jesus?

The followers of Jesus were a diverse lot. Jesus may initially have thought he was sent only for the Hebrew people, but his encounters with the Samaritan woman at the well and the Syrophoenician woman who begged for healing for her child opened his eyes to the fact that God cares for all people, not just those who worshiped at the temple in Jerusalem. God cares for humans in all our diversity.

That being the case, when do we need to start welcoming and treasuring our diversity? Right now.

St. Paul reminded the folks in Corinth that time is passing quickly. (1 Cor 7:29-31) It is still passing quickly. We don’t know the day or the hour when our time will end. We don’t know when the Lord will come again. We must live the calling of our life now, welcoming the diverse members of the human community whom we meet along the way.

We don’t have time to hold on to old ways or restrictions. The freedom of the children of God allows us to step beyond our regular restrictions and expectations. We can be open to see God’s hand in the lives of others who are not part of our immediate family or community. We can see God’s face in the immigrant, the undocumented, the hungry, the little ones in our churches and schools who are still learning the social rules, the neighbor across the back fence, the person who cuts ahead of us in line at the grocery store, the addict begging on the street. God is present in each one. God loves the diversity of humanity and hopes we are free enough to enjoy it too.

It’s going to take time for all of us to feel comfortable with the myriad forms of diversity among our fellow human sisters and brothers. Our own cultural traditions and explanations of how-things-are will continue to jump to the forefront when we encounter other ways of being and of doing things. I pray that we can become open to listen deeply to those we meet and hear the goodness within each, which is reaching out to meet the goodness within us. When cultural practices diminish the freedom and well-being of others, it’s important to question them. The same is as true for practices in our culture as for those in other cultures. However, we must always remember that God is the creator of all and through all shines forth in marvelous beauty and colorful light.

May the Holy Spirit, still at work in the Church and in the larger Christian community, lead us to newly recognize, cherish, and support the many gifts, talents, and richness of our many world traditions and varied rituals. May we be unafraid to see our expectations of roles and expression of our deepest selves be broadened by exposure to other ways of life. The diversity is greater than we might imagine. The Holy Spirit will lead us as we explore the marvels of God’s human creation. We just need to be willing to open our hearts and see.

Readings for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

 

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Posted by on Mar 5, 2023

Light Shining Forth

Light Shining Forth

Abram was a shepherd, from Ur of the Chaldees (in contemporary Iraq). Jesus was a carpenter from Nazareth in the Galilee. Paul was a tent maker from Tarsus, a city in Cilicia to the north of Syria who had become a student and teacher of the Law in Jerusalem. Each heard God’s call and responded in faith.

Abram had already left his homeland with his flocks and family and was living in Haran, an area that is now part of Türkiye. He heard the Lord’s call to move south to Shechem in the land of Canaan. (Gn 12:1-4a) This was a big deal. Gods were believed to be local to a geographic area. Yet his God was telling him to go to a new area, where the people worshiped other gods. God promised that a great nation would grow from this man who had no children at the time. Abram took God at his word and moved his family south. Much to his relief, I imagine, God was present in the new land too.

Just as God had promised, Abram became the father of not one but two great peoples, the Arabs and the Jews. And through his obedience to the call, blessings have come to all the communities of the earth.

Jesus too listened to God’s voice calling him at his baptism in the Jordan River. When he returned from his forty-day retreat in the desert, he began proclaiming the good news that the kingdom of God was at hand. The time had come in which the people’s relationship with God would be mended. The signs of this new kingdom would include the poor hearing good news, the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, those who were crippled being healed. It was a different kind of kingdom than the one expected by his contemporaries. But many people followed him. It wasn’t every day that one could see a healer at work or hear new teachings.

Jesus had some very close friends with whom he shared the last three years of his life. He took three of them up on a mountain one day. (Mt 17:1-9) Mountains in Scripture are often places where God meets people. This was no exception. On this day, both Moses (representing the Law) and Elijah (representing the Prophets) appeared and spoke with Jesus about what was coming. His friends were astounded. Jesus’ face was shining like the sun and his clothing was blazing white. They rightly understood that God was present in that moment, his light shining through Jesus. Peter suggested that three tents could be set up, so Moses, Elijah, and Jesus would have a comfortable place to stay. Then they heard God’s voice telling them that this was his beloved son, to whom they should listen. This confirmed God’s presence there and they were afraid. They fell to the ground in worship.

The moment passed. Jesus touched them. Instructed them to get up. And as they went back down the mountain, he told them not to tell anyone what they had seen until after he had risen from the dead. Of course, they had no idea what that meant, but we’ve all been told about it now – after the Resurrection.

Paul too had an encounter with the Risen Jesus. Another brilliant light experience. He was blinded for a few days afterwards. Then he got busy and devoted the rest of his life to telling what he had learned and experienced of God’s love and presence. He traveled through much of the ancient world between Jerusalem and Greece, all the way to Rome. His letters tell us today what he learned of God’s call and support for each of us in living the new way of love and service. (2 Tim 1:8b-10) He reminds us that God is the one who called us and will support us through any and all hardships that come our way as a result of following Jesus.

When I was in grade school, some of my teachers told us that we shouldn’t expect great or outstanding things to happen to us as followers of Christ. The miracles pretty much had all happened long ago.

For the most part, we do go through our lives with few surprise interventions from the divine world. At least, we don’t notice them most days. The sun rising, the moon and stars at night, the smiles of those we love, the people with whom we interact – all seem very normal. Nothing special there, folks.

Yet I believe we sell ourselves and our lives short when we say it’s all just ordinary. Amazing things still happen. God touches people directly and indirectly even today. We don’t talk about it much, but it happens.

There is a light shining just below the surface of the world around us. We don’t see it most of the time. But there are moments when it breaks through. A child races down the sidewalk to give us a hug. A friend calls just to say hello. The clouds pick up the sun’s rays at just the right moment to paint the sky with shades of rose. A bird greets us when we walk out the door in the morning, then picks up the treat it has just found and hides it in a neighbor’s gutter, planning to come back and enjoy more of it later. (No kidding. I watched a crow do just that a couple of weeks ago!)

Remember the words of the song, “You light up my life…” Remember the times you have seen someone’s face light up with delight. We speak of lighted faces. God is shining through those faces, smiling at each of us. May we each day be open and transparent enough in our interactions with others that God’s smile shines through us as well.

Abram, Jesus, and Paul were not the only ones whom God has called to go forth and bring blessing to the world through our lives. He calls ordinary people in all ages, including each of us too. The light continues to shine forth. Not as brightly as it did through Jesus at the Transfiguration, but enough that it can be noticed as a calming, reassuring, and powerful sign of love.

Here’s to the light!

Readings for the Second Sunday of Lent – Cycle A

 

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Posted by on Dec 23, 2022

Sometimes things don’t go as expected.

Sometimes things don’t go as expected.

Have you ever had one of those days when you get up in the morning with all sorts of plans and almost immediately they start getting derailed? I think they happen to all of us from time to time. Sometimes the plans can be picked up again the next day. Other times they are simply gone and we have to move on to the next step.

This kind of experience is not unique to people of our time. Ahaz in the eighth century BC was king of Judah. The Assyrians were moving south, conquering any nation that wasn’t willing to be one of their territories. Ahaz had to decide whether to ally his kingdom with that of Israel to the north, which was planning to resist Assyria, or whether to trust God to help and protect his kingdom and its people. The Lord told Ahaz to ask for a sign, anything at all, to indicate that the Lord would be with Judah in the days to come. Ahaz refused to ask for a sign and Isaiah spoke a prophecy of what would be the sign. “The virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.”

Many generations later, a young woman was visited by an angel and agreed to become the mother of a child. The challenge was that she was only engaged, not yet married. The man to whom she was engaged cared about her enough that he didn’t want to denounce her to the authorities as having been unfaithful before she was even married. He decided to end the engagement quietly, so she could go away, have the child, and continue to live. The penalty otherwise could have been stoning.

Joseph went to sleep after making that decision and was visited in a dream by an angel, a messenger of God. The angel reassured him that Mary had not been unfaithful. The child had been conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. The angel told him the name he was to give the child. It was the same name given to Mary for her child when Gabriel visited her with God’s request. Jesus. The angel quotes the prophecy from Isaiah in which the child is called Emmanuel. The name Emmanuel means “God is with us.”

Joseph believed the words of the angel. He took Mary into his home as his wife. This descendant of David became the father of Jesus by choosing to accept him as his son. The ancient promise made to David that the Messiah would come from among his descendants was to be fulfilled. The sign given to Ahaz was also fulfilled.

Like Ahaz, Joseph, and Mary, we don’t always know what will come of the unexpected in our lives. We can only trust that somehow, God is in charge and will make things right.

Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Cycle A

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Posted by on Dec 4, 2022

“A Shoot Shall Sprout from the Stump of Jesse”

“A Shoot Shall Sprout from the Stump of Jesse”

Redwood trees in California grow to tremendous heights and can live for thousands of years. Their bark is highly fire resistant. Even when fires come, the trees historically have lived on, scorched, but still standing. They have very tiny cones for such large trees. Folks who visit redwood forests sometimes assume that these giant trees must have very deep roots in order to continue to stand tall through the centuries, sometimes supporting other trees and plants that grow high in their crowns. They wonder how such small cones can lead to the sprouting of such massive trees.

In actual fact, redwood trees have shallow roots. Their roots intertwine with those of the surrounding trees and together, they hold each other up. Their cones and tiny seeds are not essential to the continuation of the forest either. Though some trees can grow from seed, most do not. More commonly, new shoots sprout up from trees that have reached the end of their days and fallen to the ground. These new baby trees grow to new heights of their own. The fallen trees are sometimes called nurse trees.

Redwoods came to mind when I read the words of Isaiah (11:1-10) about the coming of the one who will restore peace among all creatures and with the Lord who made them. “On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.”

Jesse was the father of David, the shepherd who was secretly anointed to become the second King of Israel. Many years had passed and the kings of Israel were not always faithful to the Lord in their role as leaders of the nation. It was as if the tree of Jesse had been cut down or had fallen and died. Nothing remained but the stump – descendants of Jesse and the promise that the messiah would come from his line.

Isaiah reminded the people that the promise still remains. A new leader will arise from Jesse’s line. This new person will not be a corrupt king. No, the spirit of the Lord will rest on this one, bringing gifts that will set him apart from others. Wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, awe in the face of the wonder of the Lord. This person will judge justly, care for the poor, strike down the ruthless, do away with the wicked, and bring peace to the world. Even the world of the animals will become a place of peace in this vision. When this time comes, the Gentiles will see the signal set up from the root of Jesse and seek out the dwelling of the Lord.

It’s a wonderful picture, one which is still in the process of development. Like the growth of a redwood tree sprouting from the root of a fallen mother tree, it takes time and patience. Fortunately for us, the Lord has all the time in the world!

St. Matthew describes the mission of Jesus’ cousin John. (Mt 3:1-12) John was born about six months before Jesus. As an adult, he spent time in the desert. When he emerged from that sojourn, he began to call the people to repent and turn back to God. “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He spoke of himself as a voice “crying out in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord.” People came from far and wide to the Jordan River to hear his message. He baptized people there, symbolically washing away their sins by plunging them into the water of the river.

Religious leaders came out from Jerusalem to see what he was doing, and probably to tell him to stop. But he spoke out against their assumption that because Abraham was the father of the nation, God would not hold them to account for the wrongs they had done. “God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” What was really needed was repentance for wrong-doing and a choice to live justly.

John spoke of the coming of his cousin, the one who actually was the promised messiah. “The one who is coming after me is mightier than I … He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.” A new day is coming. A new presence of the divine is coming into the world. Be ready. The shoot has sprouted and the Spirit of the Lord is upon him.

Many years later, St. Paul encouraged the Romans to endure in hope and in harmony as they live as a community of faith. There is to be no distinction between those who are Jewish and those who are Gentiles. Christ welcomes all. He came first to the Jews, in fulfillment of the prophecies and promises made over two thousand years of their history. But that doesn’t make the descendants of the first Israelites better than those who were not the children of Abraham, Isaac and his line. It simply means that the ultimate goal has now been reached. Gentiles are drawn to “glorify God for his mercy.” God’s actions among the Jewish people have borne the long-promised fruit. Humans are unified as one people again and all sing praise to God.

We are in the second week of Advent now. The coming of the Lord among us is both a remembered historical event that we will celebrate at Christmas and a daily event in our lives, as we meet him in the people with whom we interact each day. One day, we will also meet him when the angels lead us into the eternal kingdom.

How are we preparing? Are we taking time to notice the Lord’s presence? Are we rejoicing in the little things? Can we trust that everything that truly needs to be done in the next days and weeks will get done and what doesn’t get done is maybe not all that important?

Let’s promise each other that we will try to stop for a few minutes each day to reflect on the ways in which goodness sprouts from roots hidden deep in the ground, high in the trees, or within each person. May we be blessed with a recognition of the presence of the Lord in each day of our lives.

Readings for the Second Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

Here’s a good article on Redwood trees.

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Posted by on Nov 13, 2022

Little Things Matter

Little Things Matter

Last Friday evening we had a small earthquake. I was with a group of people at a retreat when there was a bit of a jolt and shake of the room. Not a big one, but definitely noticeable. I don’t know how large it was. We have all lived in California long enough not to be bothered by a small earthquake. The speaker didn’t even notice it, because he was moving around a bit.

Little earthquakes are a welcome feature of this coastal land. They release some of the pressure that builds up constantly as plates in the earth move past each other. We had a considerably larger one a couple of weeks ago, though, so I think it’s definitely time to update the “earthquake supplies” and be sure we have enough water and food stored outside the house. Wouldn’t hurt to update the clothing either. A teenager can’t very well wear clothing stored outside for him when he was a small child! When we start getting quakes more frequently that are big enough to notice, it can be an indication that a larger one is coming. We saw that in 1989!

As humans, we like exciting things, things that are pleasantly unexpected, fun to do and out of the ordinary. We remember them and talk about them for years afterwards. The everyday ordinary things of our lives can’t hold a candle to them, though they take up most of our time.

We’re at the next-to-the-last week of Ordinary Time now. Soon a new year will begin. We look to last days and remember how as Christians we are always preparing for the coming of the Kingdom and the return of Christ. We tend to forget that the Kingdom has already begun. It is growing and spreading through our actions here and now. But it’s much more enticing to look for the signs and wonders that might announce major changes that the whole world would notice. Then we could stand up straight and proclaim, “See, I told you so…”

But it doesn’t work like that.

Throughout history, people have tried to live in good and holy ways. The people of ancient Israel were no exception. Yet it always seemed that those who didn’t follow the Law and who didn’t live justly were rewarded with better lives here and now than those who did. How could that be? The prophet Malachi encouraged them to keep trying. (Mal 3:19-20a) He spoke of the day of the Lord that would come “blazing like an oven” and destroy those who do evil. Those who lived good lives would then see the rising of the “sun of justice with its healing rays.” This was a reference to a symbol found throughout the Middle East, a solar disk with wings that hovered over the earth. For the just, the wings provided shelter from the burning heat.

Some of the people of Thessalonica also expected the return of the Lord on a timely basis. No need to work hard and build up savings for the future, or even for today. The Lord was coming soon. No one was going to starve. Someone would make sure the children got food. More important to point out what bad things others might be doing, so they would quit worrying about work or worldly cares and prepare for the last day!

St. Paul did not agree. (2 Thess 3:7-12) In fact, he notes, he and his companions worked at their trades to support themselves during the time they lived in Thessalonica. He was a tent maker and always supported himself – the demand for tents was constant in the ancient world. He also points out that each of us is to mind our own business, not waste our time pointing out the failures of others. Each person is to carry out their own responsibilities and not expect to live on the charity of others.

Of course, this latter instruction can be misinterpreted to imply that absolutely everyone must work to support themselves. That would be incorrect. There are people who are not able to work, whether because of a disability, illness, injury, or other misfortune/limitation. As a community, we are responsible for each other. But we are not to waste our time criticizing others. We are to care for those in need and be bearers of God’s love to all we meet.

The little things matter. Everyday tasks have a purpose. All are to share in the ordinary rather than expect the extraordinary to happen on our own schedule.

Jesus ran into this with his followers as well. (Lk 21:5-19) When they got to Jerusalem, folks were amazed by the beauty of the temple. It was a place of wondrous beauty, adorned with precious metals and jewels. People had given rich gifts to make it a place worthy for their Lord God to dwell among them. In fact, when the temple was destroyed by the Romans in about 70 AD, the riches from the temple were taken to Rome and used to fund the construction of the great Colosseum there!

Jesus warned the people who were marveling at the temple’s wonders that it would one day be destroyed. So they asked, “When will this happen? And what signs will there be when all these things are to happen?”

His response was less than satisfying to them. Rather than giving them a date and time, he cautioned them not to be fooled. Many would come predicting that all was coming to an end. In fact, terrible things would happen again and again. This was and is a long-standing pattern among peoples of the world – both in ancient times and today. Even without considering the battles between peoples, there are earthquakes, fires, floods, famines, and many other disasters. But these do not indicate that the end is near.

Instead of giving a timeline for the end of times, Jesus makes it clear that their lives will not be safe or secure as his followers. There will be times when they face great opposition, perhaps even trials and death. St. Luke includes this as part of his Gospel because by the time it was written, these things were already happening to the community. They have happened through the centuries and continue to happen even in our times.

Nevertheless, Jesus offers reassurance. Don’t waste time worrying about what you will say if ever the time comes that you must testify to your faith or experience of his life and love. Live each day doing what you are called to do by your faith. When the time comes to testify, you will be given the words you need to say. As a result, people who might not otherwise ever hear the Lord’s word and promises, will have a chance to hear them. God will protect you, though you might not survive physically. Your life, the life you have in and through Christ, will be saved.

So we keep on keeping on. We get up in the morning. We do the work that awaits us. Along the way, we meet our family and friends. We see or speak with co-workers. We meet people on the street. We wait patiently in line at the grocery store. We smile at those we meet. We offer a word of greeting or encouragement. We hold our tongues when tempted to speak harshly. We wash the dishes yet again. We make the beds, dust the house, sweep the floors, pull the weeds, make the phone calls, balance the books, teach yet another group of children, repair another set of brakes on a car, and so move through our days and lives. Each of the small things we do in these days is important. It touches others. To the degree that we do it with love and patience, they will know the love of God, because they will have known the love we carry inside us from God.

Little things matter. Little earthquakes. Little acts of kindness. Little acts of forgiveness. And with God’s help, when the time comes for the big ones, we’ll be in practice and ready.

Readings for the Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

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Posted by on Oct 30, 2022

Recognizing and Responding to the Imperishable Spirit

Recognizing and Responding to the Imperishable Spirit

“Your imperishable spirit is in all things!”

A grain of sand, a drop of dew, a spider’s web, a mighty redwood tree, a blade of grass, a thunder cloud, a little child – all are created by God and all bear within them the Lord’s imperishable spirit. All of creation is poured forth, bursting out through the dance of love that is our God. Everything carries a bit of that energy of love that brought it into being.

We stand in awe of the wonders of the earth as we pause at the edge of the ocean just before a storm, or on the rim of the Grand Canyon, or walk amid the redwoods in California. We marvel at the wonder of a newborn baby, with such tiny fingernails and ears. We rejoice as new life sprouts from the earth when the seasons change and rains come to water the ground. We stand in silence as we contemplate the passing of those we love from this life to the next.

The world is full of mystery and that mystery is filled with the presence of an imperishable spirit.

It’s no wonder, then, that peoples around the world have recognized this presence. Most, if not all, peoples historically have told stories of how things came to be, why things don’t always go right at first, how important it is to respect and care for the life around us. Religious myths and rituals abound, giving expression to this sense of the closeness and immanence of the creating spirit. In some of these, the spirit is benevolent. In some the spirit is spiteful. In some the spirit(s) behave very much like humans do.

In our Judeo-Christian tradition, the One who is our creator is infinitely creative, loving, forgiving, patient, persistent, and inventive. In the Book of Wisdom (Wis 11:22-12:2), we hear of the impressive power and might of the Lord, as well as his unlimited love and compassion. “You have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook people’s sins that they may repent.” The Lord loves all things – we know this because he would not have created anything he didn’t love. Nothing is hated, all is preserved, because all belong to the Lord.

So, what does the Lord do if part of creation doesn’t want to behave in a loving, responsible manner? How does the Lord deal with all of us humans, who so often have our own ideas of what we want to do and let our emotions rule our actions far too often? Like a patient parent. Little by little. With stories and humor. By letting us experience the consequences of a wrong choice and being there waiting with a big hug when we come racing back to the safety of Mom or Dad’s arms. By playing peek-a-boo with us, popping out around door frames, or into rooms, or out from under a table – figuratively – catching us off guard and helping us laugh as we recognize his presence once again.

As the wise one wrote, “… you rebuke offenders little by little, warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O Lord!”

It was true in ancient times and remains true today.

St. Luke gives us an example of the way God works with all of us. (Lk 19:1-10) Jesus was traveling up to Jerusalem. (Jerusalem is on a mountain, so no matter from which geographic direction one approaches, one must go up to Jerusalem.) This time, he was coming through lands we now know as the West Bank of the Jordan River, east of Jerusalem, passing through the city of Jericho. The road was part of an important trade route that was well-traveled – not always in complete safety.

Jesus planned to continue his journey through Jericho and stop at another place closer to Jerusalem. Crowds of people gathered to see him. His reputation as a healer and worker of miracles preceded him.

One of the residents of Jericho was named Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector in the region. He supervised the other tax collectors who worked in the city and surrounding regions. As was the common rule, he was allowed to demand as much as he could get over and above the quota of taxes he had to send to his superiors in Jerusalem. Accordingly, he demanded that those under his leadership send more than he was required to collect. They too were allowed to collect more than they had to send to him. It was what we would see as a totally corrupt system. They took it for granted as just the way things were done. For the Romans, it was a way to get revenue collected by local people without having to send folks out from the comfort of Rome.

Zacchaeus was a short man. He wanted to see Jesus too, but you can be pretty sure that no one willingly moved aside so he could get to the front of the crowd and watch. He was stuck back behind, where he hadn’t a chance of seeing this famous man who was passing through town.

Then he noticed a sycamore tree along the road up ahead. Sycamores were common trees in the area, providing fruit and shade in a hot land. Racing ahead of the crowd, he climbed the tree, so he could have a good view.

When Jesus got to the tree, he called out, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” This was totally unexpected. Zacchaeus quickly came out of the tree and greeted Jesus with joy. Bystanders were totally upset by Jesus’ action. “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” This was the worst kind of accusation. Staying in the home of a sinner tainted the guest with the guilt of the sinner. How could Jesus do such a thing? Didn’t he know better? Did he really know who this man was?

But Zacchaeus responded in a way no one in the crowd expected. He stood before the Lord and made a promise of restoration and justice – “Half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” This was more than anyone might ever have expected. Four times more returned than stolen? Half of his considerable wealth given away?

Zacchaeus had become a wealthy man because of the extortion of extra tax money from his neighbors. He certainly had invested it again and again as he grew in wealth. To give away even more than he had taken was a recognition that the harm he had done was not measured only in the money taken. It also had to be measured in the suffering inflicted.

Jesus responded, “Today salvation has come to this house… the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” The Lord doesn’t give up on anyone. He keeps reaching out until we respond in love too.

St. Paul reminds the people of Thessalonica and us that he always prays for us, that we may be worthy of the Lord’s calling and faithful in all our endeavors, so that Jesus may be glorified in us and we in him. This is the will and gift of Jesus for us. (2 Thes 1:11-2:2)

Rumors of the coming of the last days were spreading (as they sometimes do today as well) and upsetting the community there. Paul told all of us that we are not to worry about when and whether the end of days is upon us. We are not to fret about rumors of terrible things to come. We are instead to focus on living in faith.

“Before the Lord, the whole universe is as a grain from a balance or a drop of morning dew…” Wisdom again.

We are important because we are part of this wonderful creation that is filled with the imperishable spirit that is in all things and brings all into being. We are conscious of our existence and able to choose how we respond. Recognizing this special quality shared with us, the Lord comes in great patience and love, teaching us bit by bit, and leading us to believe and follow him in love.

We are so blessed to be part of this wonderful world. May our eyes be opened each day to see the beauty of God peeking forth from all around us, embracing us and healing us, so we will be ready when it comes time to meet face to face, to run into the loving arms that await us.

Readings for the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

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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 Mar 13, 2022

Seeing the Glory of God – Deeper than at First Glance

Seeing the Glory of God – Deeper than at First Glance

A couple of years ago, a painting came home from school. It was a watercolor, folded in half, then in half again, and then yet again, until only 1/8 of the picture showed. The young artist was not happy with it and didn’t want even to talk about it. I looked at it and found it puzzling. There were blues and whites, with maybe a bit of yellow.   The colors had clearly run more than the artist had hoped. It looked like salt had been sprinkled on parts of the painting, resulting in irregular starburst-type shapes. There was a bit of red, some very light and some more streaked.

I didn’t understand what the picture was supposed to represent and he wouldn’t tell me. It was totally unclear to me which end was even supposed to be up! I put it on the side table with other things from school. There it lay for at least a week, probably longer, and I was still no closer to recognizing its theme.

I picked it up and turned it around once or twice to see if that made more sense. It still didn’t identify itself.

 

 

 

 

Finally, one day in early spring, I turned it one more time. And the image jumped out at me. My eyes, in a sense, had been opened to see its subject and its beauty. It was a snowman! I wondered how I could have not seen it all the other times I looked at it. It was so clear when my eyes looked at it from the right perspective.

It now proudly adorns our freezer.

The readings for the Second Sunday of Lent remind me of this experience with the snowman. In the first reading Abram and God have been talking. (Gn 15:5-12, 17-18) God has told Abram that he will have many descendants, even though both he and his wife are old and she has been unable to have children. Then God also promised that Abram’s descendants would possess the land into which they had traveled, following the Lord’s instructions. Abram and his extended family were not a lot of people. He questioned how they would ever possess a land belonging to so many other peoples.

There was a tradition among the peoples of the time to make covenants (legal agreements) in very visual ways. Animals were taken and sacrificed. The bodies were split in two and laid across from each other, making a pathway between them. Then the parties to the covenant would walk through the pathway. In this way they pledged that if they broke the covenant, the same thing might be done to them. It was not something to be taken lightly.

The Lord God told Abram to bring five animals – a heifer, a she-goat, a ram, a turtle dove, and a pigeon – and sacrifice them. He was to place their carcasses in such as way as to create the ritual pathway. As the sun set, Abram entered into a deep trance and saw the Lord, represented by a fire pot and flaming torch, pass through, entering into the pathway between the sacrificed animals. In this way, the Lord pledged himself to a covenant with Abram and his descendants. Abram did not have to pass through the pathway for the covenant to be established. Only the Lord passed through. The land from Egypt to Mesopotamia (current Iraq) was to belong to the descendants of Abram. (Today these lands are still peopled by his descendants – both Arabs and Jews.)

Abram saw the glory of the Lord that night, entering into a sacred covenant.

The psalmist sings today of the deep presence of the Lord. “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” (Ps 27:1, 7-8, 8-9, 13-14) Don’t hide from me, but hear the sound of my call. The Lord is a refuge, so there’s nothing to fear. “I shall see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living…” All is focused on the presence and light of the Lord. All wait to see that goodness.

St. Paul writes to the community at Philippi (Ph 3:17-4:1) to encourage them to continue living in the way he taught them when he was with them in person. Controversies regarding whether it was necessary for Gentiles to become Jews in order to be Christians had reached them as well. Paul reassures them that all that is necessary is to believe and live in faith as they have first learned from him. As Christians, their citizenship, their loyalty, is in heaven. As such, all hope is in the saving power of Jesus, who will change our earthly bodies into heavenly, glorified ones, bringing all things to himself. At this point in time, all that is needed is to stand firm in faith and live as his followers.

The final reading, from St. Luke, tells of a very special experience of seeing. (Lk 9:28b-36)

Jesus went up on a mountain to pray. He took Peter, James, and John with him. As he prayed, his appearance changed, becoming filled with dazzling brightness. He was speaking with Moses (representing the Law and covenant) and Elijah (representing the prophets) when his friends woke up. They had fallen asleep as he was praying. They saw the glory that enveloped Jesus as he spoke with Moses and Elijah. Peter, ever the practical and impulsive one, offered to put up three tents, one each for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. As he spoke, a cloud appeared and a voice spoke from the cloud. “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” Then the vision passed and Jesus was there alone. As they went back down the mountain, they were silent.

What was there to say? Who would ever believe it? Did they even see it? Imagine if you were witness to this kind of transformation of someone you thought you knew! You too might be at a loss for words or uncertain whether anyone would ever believe your words if you spoke of it.

We call this experience of Jesus the Transfiguration. A transfiguration is a complete change of form or appearance from the ordinary to something quite beautiful and extraordinary. In many ways, it’s a question of what is seen. On certain days, or in certain lights, or under certain conditions, we perceive quite ordinary things differently. Somewhat like the painting of the snowman.

How does Jesus’ transfiguration speak to me today? How does it speak to you? What wonderful things are there in life that are just waiting for me to see in all their splendor? Where does the glory of God peek through into my days and my world? How about yours?

May our eyes be opened today to see deeper than first glance – to see the glory of God present in our world.

Here’s an activity you can do with children to celebrate the Transfiguration.

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Posted by on Jun 20, 2021

Seas and Storms – In all Seasons of Life

Seas and Storms – In all Seasons of Life

The sea and its storms speak to us today, the 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time, of the power and love of God. We who live or have lived by the sea are intimately aware of its power and unpredictability, as well as its seasons.

Before I moved to Santa Cruz, I had no awareness of the subtle moods of the ocean’s seasons. But after over thirty years of living a block from the shore, I can tell from its colors, sounds, smells, and tides what season of the year is upon us. In winter, I can predict the coming of stormy weather several days in advance, even when the skies are sunny and beautiful. The ocean waves begin to roar about three days before a big storm arrives in the winter. (We don’t typically get storms in the summer on California’s Central Coast.)

We speak of stormy times in our lives too. Sometimes all is well and predictable. We know pretty much what to expect when we wake in the morning and as we go through the day. Other times are not.

Job (Jb 38: 1, 8-11) had just experienced many days and weeks of loss. His family, his flocks, his reputation, and his very health had all been stripped away. He called out in anger and frustration to the Lord, demanding an answer – “Why have you done this to me? What is the meaning of this?” (Not an exact quote, but that’s the sense of it.)

God’s response was to remind Job that humans are not the ones who set things up originally. Humans can’t control what happens in nature or their lives. It was foolish even to expect that they might! This was not a really satisfying response from a human perspective. Yet even so, by responding to Job’s cries of anger and frustration, God somehow reassured Job. By the end of the story, Job has recognized God’s place as the one in charge and he has received a new family, livelihood, and place in society.

Storms are both literal and figurative in our lives. The psalmist (Ps 107: 23-31) speaks of literal storms that blow across the waters and the rejoicing of those tossed around during the storm when the Lord answers their prayers and calms the sea. St. Paul (2 Cor 5:14-17) speaks more figuratively of the transformation of life as new life and a new creation have sprung forth from the death and resurrection of Christ. “Old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.”

Jesus and his friends experienced both kinds of storms. The one in today’s reading (Mk 4:35-41) was physical. A storm came suddenly while they were crossing the Sea of Galilee. The boat was filling with water. Drowning was a very real possibility. Then they woke Jesus. He shouted to the stormy seas to be still. In the original Greek, the word used was more akin to our “Shut up!” than to the more polite “Quiet! Be still!” of our translation. Jesus did what only God can do – he calmed the stormy sea.

Today, as then, we turn to him in stormy times. He may not calm or take away the hard things we are experiencing. Sometimes these things are a necessary part of life. But he is with us through them. We hold on to the life raft of his promise and presence until the storms die down and peaceful times return.

See you at Mass, as we give thanks for his presence with us, calming the storm!

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Posted by on Aug 4, 2020

What is God up to that is New?

What is God up to that is New?

By Dcn Ed Callahan

From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”(Matt 4:17)

As we, the people of God, attempt to navigate these strange times, we may be left with a feeling that nothing is or will be the same again. This Covid-19 event is having such far-reaching effects in our daily lives. We are wearing masks and keeping social distancing. People are suffering because their businesses are changed or closed altogether. We can’t go to the cinema or the theater; sporting events are altered or canceled. Gatherings are discouraged. Even our worship services are altered or even closed! It leaves us wondering how we are to be Church!

Metanoia

The verse in the header was mentioned in a book I’m reading by Richard Rohr. He reminds us that the word frequently translated as repent, convert, or reform is the Greek word metanoia, which quite literally means “to change your mind.” Rohr notes, “It is not a moralistic or even churchy word at all; it is a clear strategy for enlightenment for the world. Once you accept change as a central program for yourself you tend to continue growing throughout all of your life.”

Rohr teaches us that our egos make us resistant to change and self-examination – we are comfortable with our institutions and conscious assent to the ‘right beliefs’ about God and about ourselves and our ‘rightness.’ We are content with our religious group and how we worship. This is our unchanging touchstone in our life. But now we must remember that Jesus himself was all about change.

Sometimes we are loath to change our outlook. We are not open to change in ourselves or our church life. But Jesus, speaking to Nicodemus, says, “The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)

How is the wind blowing in our lives today?

Right now we should be discerning the workings of God in the world. Our question may be, What is God doing now that is new? How do I participate in God’s work? This would be more mature spiritually than stomping our foot that things are just not the same.

Each Christian has the opportunity and the duty to work with the Spirit as it seeks to transform the face of the earth. How are we living our faith? Are we doing any of the Corporal Works of Mercy? Just one person will do for each of us. Are we doing the Spiritual Works of Mercy for another person? Reaching out to one person will do.

We will get back to our worship, but when we return to our spot in the pews are we changed? Have we allowed the Spirit to change us? Have we participated, accomplishing our little part of transforming the whole world? Have we died to ourselves and set our ego aside?

God will never be diverted from his mission to Humankind. He is Love, Mercy, and Justice and against Him and his people nothing will triumph.

So, What is God up to that is new?

Image: Detail from Giovanni Guida’s 2020 painting, “God Fights the Corona Virus”

 

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Posted by on Nov 29, 2019

Knocking Over Stones and Setting Them Back Up Again

Knocking Over Stones and Setting Them Back Up Again

The day dawned overcast and cold. Snow was expected within a few days and the family had gathered to celebrate the 90th birthday of our mother/grandmother/great-grandmother/sister/aunt. While all were there, a group of the men went outside to do some of the maintenance tasks that require more agility and strength — things like cleaning out gutters, washing windows, and so forth.

I watched from an upstairs bedroom, making beds and tidying up a bit. Some of the men were piling fallen leaves around the bases of the rose bushes in the back yard flower bed. A small child, a bit over 2 years old, was happily playing as the men worked. His father was keeping an eye on him while he worked.

Eventually the child noticed a stack of balanced rocks in the corner of the garden. He came closer to the rocks as I watched, fascinated with the way they were just standing there. I could tell he was going to knock them over by the way he approached and reached out towards them. I thought about opening the window quickly and calling out to him to stop, but I didn’t. I just watched. There would be no serious harm done if the rocks fell over.

Sure enough, the hand stretched out, the rocks were touched, and over they went. The child was a bit surprised. He hadn’t expected that to happen. But he wasn’t frightened or upset, just surprised. His father came over and squatted down beside him. Together they looked at the now fallen rocks and talked about what had happened. Then father picked up the first rock and laid it carefully on top of the larger stone that had been the base of the tower. The child reached to pick up the next one, and father helped him get it up and onto the first one. This continued until the entire stack of rocks had been rebuilt.

I’ve thought quite a bit about what I observed that morning. It could have ended so unhappily if father or anyone else had become upset about the results of the child’s curiosity. But everyone just took it in stride. A child had learned something about the world and gravity. He learned about putting uneven things together so that they stay balanced. And he learned that when he breaks something, he can help put it back together again. All very positive things to learn at a young age.

What did I see and learn?

I saw a beautiful example of how God observes our actions. Sometimes we reach out and touch things that will fall or break or should not be touched for another reason. Sometimes we do it deliberately. Sometimes accidentally. God does not interfere. God keeps watching as we learn what happens when we do that particular thing. God knows that we don’t always foresee the effects our actions will have. But God knows that we have to experience many things in order to learn.

I saw that when things have been broken and are put back together, they don’t always look the same. Sometimes they take a different shape or form. They are still beautiful, but in a different way.

I saw the wisdom of God in giving us family, friends, companions, and other people in this world. Like the father of my great-nephew, other people help us make things right again. They help us pick up the pieces of things that have fallen and maybe even been broken. Their acceptance allows us to learn without carrying a huge load of fear or shame around with us.

I saw a real-life example of reconciliation. Something was broken. Someone offered forgiveness. Together the broken was put back together for the enjoyment of the family community.

Putting the rocks back together in our lives

As we come to the end of our liturgical year and the beginning of a new one, it’s good to remember that our God watches us with great love, sending others to help us along the way. In the sacrament of Reconciliation, the priest acts on behalf of God, offering forgiveness from both God and the  community, and helping us find ways to heal and repair what we have broken. In the penitential rite at the beginning of each celebration of Eucharist (Mass), we also ask for and receive God’s forgiveness. We ask each other to pray for us and help us in becoming more loving followers of Our Lord.

May we, like the little child I watched, always be open to learning new things in this coming year, trusting that when we make mistakes, others will help us see what has happened and help us to put things in order again. May we be forgiving of the mistakes of others, and quick to admit our own, asking forgiveness in turn. Together, like the father and son I watched, we journey through life on our way to our Father who watches with a smile as we work together to put the stones back into a new and still lovely order.

Peace.

 

 

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Posted by on Jun 11, 2018

Entering God’s Presence – Examen First Point

Entering God’s Presence – Examen First Point

Our thankfulness can take many forms, but it is rooted in God’s love for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and what that means for us. From the earliest times we enter the divine presence in song and dance.

Let them praise His name with dancing and make music to Him with tambourine and harp.
For the LORD takes pleasure in His people; – Psalm 149: 3-4

 

Responding fully to God’s grace is far from intellectual. It requires a joyful choreography of mind, body, and spirit. What is it like to be fully alive, to be an integrated human being, to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord? These young dancers give us a glimpse of what this feels and looks like. We see the person fully alive. A little too “young” for you? Remember, just sitting in your chair and moving with music evokes all of those wonderful physical and emotional movement of the dancers in your own body and soul. This is the basis of culture, society, and dance therapy.

Okay. So how about something more traditional?

Entering God’s presence is not a “head trip.” It is a leap into the profoundly unknown and unknowable. Come, enter the dance!

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Posted by on Dec 8, 2017

Liturgy – A Flunk Proof Quiz – well almost ;-)

Liturgy – A Flunk Proof Quiz – well almost ;-)

Most of us think of liturgy as something that happens inside the Church building.  Here’s a short quiz. Don’t worry because we will tell you the answers. It’s easier than making rock sculptures at the beach and there are no smashed thumbs. (Really.)

Question 1: Liturgy is the “work of the people.”

  • True
  • False
  • Maybe both
  • Don’t know

Generally, we look at the Greek word “leitourgia” which referred to a public event or ceremony put on by the local population. People would worship various gods, offer sacrifices, or worship the emperor with parades, games, and feasting. ACTUALLY, our worship happens to us as Christians when we allow ourselves to get caught up in the life of the Trinity.

Question 2: The liturgy is the Mass.

  • True
  • False
  • I wonder
  • I think that there is something else

Well… Liturgy usually refers to the official worship of the Church. This includes the Mass and the Sacraments, as well as the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the breviary or the office.

Question 3: Everything else is private prayer and is not “officially” Liturgy.

  • True
  • False
  • Used to be true
  • The times they are a’changing

This diagram shows how we generally think of the liturgy and other prayers or ways that we connect with God.

Taking a closer look at Vatican II’s teaching on the liturgy in Sacrosanctum Concilium, we find a broader understanding of Liturgy as something more than the Mass and the Sacraments. Liturgy is more than focusing on all of the little red marking in the margins of the book that tell you how to perform the ceremony.  Liturgy is the encounter with God who is the source and summit of our life. This obviously happens in the Mass and the Sacraments. But we also encounter God in our lives and the prayers and devotions we say in church, at home, or in public – like saying the rosary, lighting a candle, or saying grace before meals. We also encounter God in nature and exploring the stars. Since our life in the Trinity is one continuous whole we experience a liturgy of life.

Question 4: Liturgy pervades my life since I am part of the Body of Christ and caught up in the Spirit.

 

  • All of the time.
  • Some of the time.
  • Not if I am clueless.
  • Only if I let it.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)

 

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