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Posted by on Apr 24, 2022

Mercy – A welcoming back into the circle

Mercy – A welcoming back into the circle

Easter is both a day and a season. For fifty days, we bask in and reflect upon the great mystery of the Resurrection. The Sunday after Easter, the Second Sunday of Easter, is also known as Divine Mercy Sunday. We have a chance on this day to notice God’s loving presence in our lives, even when we are not consciously aware of that presence and possibly even actively turning away from it.

Many years ago, I was teaching a group of 5th and 6th graders in our parish religious education program. I had the children for two years at a time, so we got to know each other well. One year I had a girl in the class who was quite bright. She could also be quite impulsive and outspoken. Everyone liked her and she was a natural leader.

I always started class by calling the children into a circle. We recited a verse, sang a prayer, and then prayed for their special intentions before I began to present the topic of that day. One day, she was not feeling ready to begin class when I called them together. We met after school on a Thursday, so they were all tired of school by that time of day. I made class as little like school as possible, to help them enjoy our time of learning together. But she was not ready to stop visiting with her friends and enter into our lesson. Instead, she turned her back to me and commented that she didn’t like what I had just said to her, so she wasn’t going to join us.

There we were. A group of ten to fifteen people in a circle, ready to begin our time together and one person had turned away from us. The other children were astounded at her behavior and clearly wondered what I would do.

What would you do?

Here’s what I did. I spoke to the other children and called their attention to what we were seeing. We were all there together happily, in a circle and ready to begin our activity. One person had turned away. It was a beautiful example of what happens when we choose not to do what the Lord is asking us to do. What happens when we choose to go our own way and refuse to go the Lord’s way. The Lord and the community are still there waiting and inviting us to join the circle. We turn away. As soon as we turn back, we are immediately incorporated back into the group.

When my student realized that she had just given me a perfect example of what we were going to be learning that day, she turned back immediately, filled with apologies to her classmates for giving me a chance to teach them through her example. Of course, all was forgiven and we continued with the lesson. That year we were learning about God, prayer, and sacraments. It was just perfect timing!

The Gospel reading from St. John today speaks of something similar (Jn 20:19-31). It is Easter Sunday evening. The disciples are gathered in the upper room. They don’t really understand what has happened. It’s the first day of the new week, the day after the Sabbath. And here appears Jesus. The first thing he says to them is, “Peace be with you.” To show them he wasn’t a ghost, he showed them his hands and his side, pierced by nails and sword. Again, he spoke to them, “Peace be with you.” Not a word of condemnation or scolding for having run away or denied him. Just Peace.

Then he went even further, breathing on them the power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit who is love, giving them authority to forgive the sins of other humans. This is pretty amazing stuff. Humans can forgive like God does and on behalf of God?

Thomas wasn’t there that night. He didn’t believe a word of it. No sir, not a word of it. Furthermore, he made clear, he would not believe until he had seen for himself and touched the nail marks and the sword wound in Jesus’ side. A week later, Jesus appeared again and called Thomas to touch his hands and his side, instructing him to believe now. Jesus also spoke words that ring through the centuries to all of us, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” We are some of those millions and billions of people who have believed without physical evidence of the Lord’s resurrection.

The people of Jerusalem saw the evidence of his resurrection in the community that formed among them, caring for each other and those around them (Acts 5:12-16). They recognized the power of healing that flowed through them and brought the sick out to be seen and healed. Many joined the community because of the love they saw among those who were already followers of the way.

We too see the Lord’s presence in the community around us. We experience it in the actions of other members of our community. We see healing and forgiveness that draw families and communities back together. As the early followers of Jesus were noticed, people who have seen the love within our families and communities have also been drawn to seek the Lord.

On Easter Sunday, the eighth day of creation dawned. A new start for humans and for our relationship with God burst forth. A community came into being that would grow and eventually encircle the globe, a community of love and forgiveness. A community led by “one like a son of man” who is “the first and the last, the one who lives.” The author of the Book of Revelation shares with us this vision he received and the encouragement to continue in faith as a community (Rev1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19). In obedience, he writes down what he has seen, because it is happening and continues to be happening, not just then, but into our times and into the future. The circle of Divine Love and community is always present. We are free to turn toward the circle or to turn away. Divine mercy waits patiently for each of us to turn back into the circle and rejoin the dance of life.

As we move forward during this season of Easter, how do we welcome those from whom we may have become estranged?  How do we reach out in love and forgiveness? How do we seek reconciliation with those whom we have hurt? How do our communities welcome the stranger or encourage the one who has grown tired and lost hope? How can we be the face of the Lord’s mercy and love? How do we receive it in our own lives?

It’s a new day. Creation is new and our relationship with God is fresh and ready to grow. The Lord is Risen! Mercy is ever-present! Alleluia.

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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 Oct 24, 2021

Seeing Hope as Darkness Surrounds Us

Seeing Hope as Darkness Surrounds Us

Have you ever seen a snail’s tongue? They are very tiny. How do I know? I saw one last night, as a very small snail made its way across the glass of the aquarium in which it lives. Its job is to keep the glass free of algae. That’s a big task for a very small creature, but this snail was moving along, bit by bit, licking the glass clean. My sister-in-law and I watched it moving and she noticed the tiny little tongue darting in and out, cleaning the glass. The light was just right and we could see the tracks of where it had already cleaned, in lovely curves, with space between them where the snail was holding on with its great foot.

The snail spoke to me of the gift of hope in the face of what might otherwise seem like a hopeless task or future.

The readings for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time are instructional in this regard. We begin with the prophet, Jeremiah (Jer 31:7-9). The people are still being taken into exile, nearing the final end of the kingdom of Judah in northern Palestine. They are facing the possible extinction of their nation and historical line. Yet Jeremiah proclaims, “Shout with joy for Jacob, exult at the head of the nations, proclaim your praise and say: The Lord has delivered his people, the remnant of Israel.” All seems lost, but the prophet speaks the Lord’s promise that they will be gathered from among the nations and return as a newly recreated people. They themselves can never do that alone, but the Lord will do it. The new kingdom is beginning to be understood as something more than a nation-state with a king. It’s to be much greater because not limited to control of territory on land by an individual ruler and family.

They will return on level ground, rest beside brooks of water, and know that their father is the Lord. The reference to Ephraim is also noteworthy. Ephraim was the second son of Joseph, making him a grandson of Jacob. But Ephraim’s mother was Egyptian. She was not one of the relatives of Jacob or a descendant of Abraham and Sarah. Yet he and his brother, Manasseh, were accepted into the family as adopted sons of Jacob. Their descendants became the fathers of two of the twelve tribes of Israel. When Jacob was nearing the end of his life, he gave the blessing due the firstborn of sibling sons to Ephraim, though Mannaseh was actually the older son. Jacob assured Joseph, who noticed what was happening, that he knew what he was doing, that selecting Ephraim for the firstborn’s blessing was the right thing to do. The children of Ephraim became a large tribe in the far north of Palestine. It was these people who were being taken into exile.

Now, we hear the Lord saying, through his prophet Jeremiah, that Ephraim is also the first-born son of the Lord. All will be new in relationships and in creation through the Lord’s actions. Good news of hope for those being driven from their homes and into exile in the lands of their enemies.

The Psalm speaks of the return from exile (Ps 126:1-6). “When the Lord brought back the captives of Zion, we were like men dreaming … our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with rejoicing.” The long period of suffering had passed. The Lord had kept the promise made so long ago. “We are filled with joy.”

In the letter to the Hebrews (Heb 5:1-6), the author speaks again of the high priest and his role. Historically the high priest was selected from among his peers, selected by God, just as Aaron had been selected to make the sacrifice of atonement for all the people so many generations earlier. But this time things have changed, we have a new high priest, also selected by God. This new high priest is the Christ. He did not select himself. When Jesus died, he was truly dead as a human being. But God glorified him, saying, “You are my son: this day I have begotten you … You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”

Melchizedek was King of Salem and a priest who lived in the time of Abram, long before the Jewish priesthood was established among the Israelites after the Exodus. He was known as a wise, righteous, and kingly man. Jesus, the new high priest, takes this role, now and forever, chosen by God for this role because he is the Son of God. He knows both the difficulties of being human and the mercy and patience of God, so he is the best intercessor humanity could ever have.

The healing of Bartimaeus is the final event in Jesus’ life before he enters Jerusalem on his final journey there for the Passover. This section of Mark’s gospel began with the healing of a blind man in Bethsaida, on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. Now Jesus is near Jericho, just north of the Dead Sea and next to the Jordan River. It has been a long and eventful journey, and  finally they are nearing their destination.

Bartimaeus (whose name means Son of Timaeus as Mark informs us) is sitting beside the roadside begging. He hears the crowd going by, learns that it is Jesus, and calls out to Jesus for pity. “Son of David, have pity on me. (Son of David was a title given to the expected Messiah, because the Messiah was to come from among the descendants of King David.)

Those around Bartimaeus try to silence him. But Jesus hears him and calls Bartimaeus to him. “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus comes quickly and responds immediately, “Master, I want to see.” Jesus heals his blindness, saying “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” His sight was returned immediately and rather than going home, he began to follow Jesus “on the way.”

This story comes at the end of a series of stories we have heard over the past weeks, in which Jesus has tried to let his friends know that he is not a conquering Messiah but rather the one described by Isaiah who is the Suffering Servant. His followers have not been able to see what he has been telling them. It just simply makes no sense. They are still more blind than Bartimaeus or the man healed in Bethsaida.

Mark tells us that Bartimaeus followed Jesus “on the way.” The way is not just the road to Jerusalem. After the Resurrection, Jesus’ followers were known as followers of “the way.” It was not until later that they came to be known as Christians (oil heads). Bartimaeus followed “the way” immediately after he was healed. His faith had saved him.

What are the areas of blindness in my life? Where do I lack hope? What feels like it’s crashing in my life? Where are the signs of hope? How do I hold on to the promises of God? Can I just keep doing what I’m supposed to do each day, like the little snail that makes her way around the aquarium, licking clean the glass? I pray for that gift today.

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Posted by on Aug 22, 2021

Decisions and Commitments

Decisions and Commitments

Readings for the Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time tell the story of commitments made long ago and the decisions that accompany the commitments.

We begin once again with the ancient Hebrew people. They have left Egypt, traveled through the Sinai Peninsula’s arid lands for 40 years, and now, under the leadership of Joshua, have entered into the Promised Land. Was the land empty and in need of a large community of people to enter and settle there? No. Were the peoples already living there happy to welcome newcomers? No. Did the peoples living there worship just one deity? No. Might there be some problems? Yes. Yes. Yes!

The Hebrew people were descendants of a few people who had left Ur (in modern day Iraq) many centuries earlier. They had lived in Canaanite lands before moving to Egypt during a great famine. They stayed in Egypt for a long time, growing from the families of the twelve original sons of Jacob (a.k.a. Israel) to be a very large group of people. To prevent their developing an alliance with potential invaders from the east, Egyptian rulers enslaved the Hebrews. Moses, an Israelite child raised by an Egyptian princess, under the inspiration and guidance of God, eventually led the people to freedom and began the 40-year sojourn in the Sinai. In the Sinai, the covenant agreement established with Abraham, from whom they all descended, was re-established. Now, as they at last enter again the land where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had lived, it’s time to reconfirm their agreement.

Joshua (Jos 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b) reminds them of their history and of all God has done for them. Will they remain true to God in this land to which they have come. Will they remember to worship only God, not the gods of the people living there, nor the gods they or their ancestors might have worshipped in the past? Will they obey the Law given to them in the desert, the instructions about how to live in peace and justice with each other and with those non-Hebrews who live among them? Joshua declares that he and his family will do so. The rest of the people respond that they also will do so.

It was a big commitment, especially since they would be living among many other peoples. Through the centuries that followed, there were times when they were faithful and times when they were not. Sometimes they lived in peace with their neighbors. Sometimes they were conquered. They explained these experiences in terms of whether they had been faithful to their Lord God or had not. When they were faithful, things went well. When they were not, things did not. Did God really turn away from them? No, God doesn’t do that. But there are consequences of decisions made and sometimes those consequences are not what we would prefer.

A commitment was made by the Hebrew people that day at Shechem. The decision to abide by that commitment had to be made again and again.

Many of the people who were disciples/followers of Jesus also had to make a commitment/decision after they had seen him feed a large crowd in an arid countryside. They had come to him back in town, wanting to see more miracles. Jesus didn’t give them more miracles. They spoke of the manna in the desert given by Moses. He reminded them that God had provided the manna. He then spoke of bread from heaven that would give the fullness of life to the world. As the conversation continued, he shocked all by declaring that he himself was the bread of life. His body and blood would bring life to the world. And, most shocking of all, they would have to eat his flesh and drink his blood to have this fullness of life. That would be absolutely unthinkable for a good Jew or for members of most other human societies. In cultures that allowed consumption of human flesh, it was often done as a form of respect for the courage or strength of the one who had been killed (if an enemy), but that is not the case for the Hebrew people. Blood was never to be consumed because that was something associated with sacrifice of animals and children to the gods in the surrounding countries. It was forbidden absolutely in the Law. To this day, meat is koshered to remove any blood from it.

Jesus watched as most of his former followers walked away from him and returned to their prior way of life (Jn 6:60-69). He turned to his twelve closest friends and asked them bluntly, “Do you also want to leave?” Peter responded with a great statement and commitment, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” For better or for worse, this Jesus is different and special from all others. For John, this is another statement that Jesus is Divine Wisdom in the flesh.

A commitment was made by Peter and the others that day in Capernaum. This decision led to following Jesus through his life, death, and Resurrection – then out to the rest of the Roman Empire, announcing the good news of God’s love for all of us.

Lastly, we look at St. Paul and his instructions to the Ephesians (Eph 5:21-32) about the relationship between husbands and wives. This is one of the most misunderstood readings in the Bible. Paul does not think in terms of body and soul as making up the human being. For Jews of his time, the human being is something of a flesh/spirit union, not divisible – a whole human being. Paul writes about the relationship between husbands and wives in a style familiar to the Greco-Roman world. This type of instruction typically includes the expectations of children and parents, as well as of masters and slaves.

Paul begins with an amazing statement: “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” To be subordinate does not mean to obey blindly or slavishly. Even the word obey doesn’t carry the same meaning we typically give it – that of doing exactly what one is told to do. The idea here is to “listen deeply” to what is being said. This requires a commitment to respect and care for the other person. To listen not just to the words, but also to the feelings and experiences of the other, to give the other person the benefit of the doubt.

Paul instructs women to respect their husbands as they would respect Christ. Then he puts forward the idea that women are like the church, which he describes as subordinate to Christ. He tells the men that they are to love their wives as Christ loves the church, not to lord it over them. This wasn’t the norm in a time of arranged marriages in which a bride price had to be paid and women could be returned in disgrace to their families if their husbands grew angry with them or tired of them. Husbands are to love their wives as much as Christ loves all of us – to the extreme of giving his own life for us. Husbands and wives – wives and husbands, become one body as the church is the Body of Christ. Our marriages are to be as sacred as the relationship between Christ and humankind. It is a great mystery, as Paul notes. Two become one, not just in the beginning of their marriage, but as they grow together through the years.

A commitment is made, followed by many decisions to love.

What commitments have we made? What decisions follow those commitments? It takes a lifetime to discover the answers.

See you at Mass.

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Posted by on Jul 18, 2021

Shepherds – More than those who care for sheep

Shepherds – More than those who care for sheep

Popular imagination is based on the historical lived experience of a people. Religious imagery reflects that experience. So today, the Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, shepherds (and by extension sheep) are showing up in many of the readings. The Hebrew people were descendants of Abram and Sara, a shepherd and his wife from Mesopotamia. They were pastoralists who traveled over a wide area of countryside, seeking the best pastures for their sheep and living from the work of their hands (and feet – with all that walking). God called Abram to a special relationship and promised to be his God through all generations.

When it came time for the Hebrew people to have kings, the second king was David, a shepherd boy chosen by God to be the successor of Saul. In the Hebrew Scriptures, shepherd is a term often applied to the kings of the land. Sometimes the kings were faithful to the Covenant and sometimes they were not. Either way, the prophets spoke of them as shepherds.

Jeremiah (23:1-6) could see that his people and their kingdom were going to fall when faced by the might of Babylon. But the reason for the coming disaster had nothing to do with military might or the skill of generals. Israel had prevailed against all odds in the past. The failure this time would be the result of the failure of the rulers to be true to the Covenant.

Jeremiah speaks of these rulers as shepherds who have misled and scattered the flock of the Lord. They are not caring for the people as they have been called to do. He cries out that the Lord will be faithful, despite the misdeeds of the rulers. He will gather those who are faithful from among the nations to which they have been exiled and appoint new, faithful shepherds to guide and protect his flock.

This prophesy concludes with the messianic promise of a new king from David’s line who will shepherd the people wisely and be known as “The Lord of Justice.”

The Twenty-third Psalm is rightly loved for its promise of the loving care of the Lord who acts as a shepherd for his flock. Not only does the shepherd guide and protect the flock, the shepherd honors those for whom he cares, even in the face of those who would hurt them. Goodness and kindness characterize the care of the shepherd. The sheep, all of us in his care, will dwell in the Lord’s house for years to come.

With the coming of Jesus and the welcoming of Gentiles into the flock of the Lord as well, the divisions between peoples of the world are broken down. (Eph 2:13-18) No longer is anyone to be excluded from the flock of the Lord of Justice. The divisions among the peoples of the world were destroyed by the cross. Through Jesus, we all have access to the Father in one Spirit. The shepherd now has called the sheep from around the world and united us into one flock.

The Gospel this week (Mk 6:30-34) continues last week’s story. Remember that Jesus sent out his followers to heal the sick and call people to repentance, to turn their lives back to God. This week they have returned. Mark calls them apostles now, those who have been sent. Jesus takes time to talk with them about their experience and invites them to take some time to rest, in a deserted place, away from regular life and the crowds of people who kept coming to hear and see him. However, they can’t get away on foot, so they get on the boat and head out onto the Sea of Galilee. Even that doesn’t work. The people see where they are going and walk there themselves, around the shore of the lake. When Jesus and his friends arrive, the crowds are already there.

Did Jesus get angry, get back on the boat and sail away? No. St. Mark tells us, “His heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.”  He sat down and began to teach them. The shepherd had arrived. The Lord of Justice has come to his people.

Today we are challenged to be good shepherds to those sent to our care. It may be children, spouses, fellow workers, the old or the young, or people we meet on the street. How do we share the love of the Lord of Justice, the shepherd who truly cares for and loves his flock? And then, how do we rest in the green pastures to which that same Lord leads us, so we can be refreshed? Both outreach and times to rest and be renewed are essential.  Summer is a good time for both.

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Posted by on Jun 15, 2021

A Mustard Seed Story

A Mustard Seed Story

Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed in the gospel of Mark always brings a smile to my face.

When I was a girl, my mother always made dill pickles. She used the same recipe her mother, grandmother, sisters, and brothers used. But each family’s pickles tasted a bit different.

No one knew why that should be until one of my aunts, who was a home economics teacher, decided to experiment with the ingredients. She made pickles one day using the same batch of cucumbers and dill from the garden, and the same brine. Then she put identical amounts of all but one ingredient into the jars. Each jar had one ingredient in a larger amount than the other jars did. Several months later, when the cucumbers had matured into dill pickles, she tasted them. The key to the spiciness of her pickles in comparison with those of all the rest of the family turned out to be the amount of mustard seed she put in the jars. She used a heaping measure of the seed. Others used a level one.

The mustard seed we all use(d) for pickles is a relatively large seed. It’s far from being “the smallest of all the seeds on the earth” as is the seed described by Jesus in St. Mark’s gospel. However, these mustard seeds were the only ones I had ever seen.

When I began teaching fifth and sixth grade religious education classes, I included this parable among the ones I shared with the children. I brought some of the seeds with me to class and asked them to glue them into their books on the page on which they had written a bit of the parable and drawn a picture of a tree with birds in it. I always cautioned them not to eat any of the seeds. Invariably, one of the boys would taste one anyway. He would then need to race from the room to get a drink of water! They asked why I had given them something so spicy and I would remind them that I had told them not to taste them.

Still, I wondered about the description of these seeds as being the smallest on earth. I knew that lettuce seeds and snapdragon flower seeds were much smaller.

Then I met Paul. Paul was from India and came to live with us for a while. He introduced me to South Asian foods, including curries, chapattis, and other delights. One of the ingredients he used was mustard seed. This was a tiny brown seed, not much bigger than the period at the end of a sentence. It was not the big yellowish one we used for pickles. It gave a lovely richly spicy flavor to the food, though it was subtle when used appropriately in the recipes.

When I met this variety of mustard, I began to understand the parable of the mustard seed. A tiny little seed could indeed make a big difference in the flavor of a food. It could grow into a much larger plant as well. Birds and other animals could thrive in its shelter.

Was the mustard seed of which Jesus spoke really the same as these mustard seeds used in cooking? Maybe not. There is a plant known as a mustard tree that grows in the Middle East. It has yellow flowers and tiny seeds. It’s more of a shrub than a tree, but it can grow to be up to 20 feet tall

Whether or not the seeds we identify as mustard seeds for cooking are the same ones Jesus mentioned is really not the important thing. What matters is that very small things can grow into much larger ones and have an effect far greater than their size.

The kingdom of God is truly like the mustard seed. It appears in very small and unobtrusive ways. No one would think twice about it or about the prospect that it could be important in any way. Yet as the poor receive food, clothing, shelter, opportunities, respect, health care, and other necessities of life, as justice (the right order of things) is restored, the kingdom begins to blossom and grow. God works with tiny things to bring about great wonders. A shoot from a tree can grow into a massive new tree high upon a mountain. A tiny seed can grow to be a beautiful flower or a tall tree sheltering birds and other creatures. And the harvest of justice marks the arrival of the Kingdom of God.

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Posted by on Jun 29, 2020

A Way Through Covid 19: Blessed is the One Who Comes

A Way Through Covid 19: Blessed is the One Who Comes

When I first heard Sir Karl Jenkins’ composition Benedictus, the title alone, for me, evoked something very deep from my experience of the Mass and showed me a way through the Covid-19 pandemic.This Mass was a memorial for those who died in the Kosovo conflict (1998-1999). It is deeply moving. It contains a deep resonance of the passion for life in the face of death and the triumph of hope.It is not an easy path but it is the path of the cross and the resurrection.It is the path of discipleship.

When I researched it I found an interview with Sir Karl Jenkins the composer. He didn’t experience any real type of other worldly motivation except to work systematically, generate ideas, and then go with his intuition.He also speaks of how he put it together and how it speaks to people particularly to those who are dying or grieving the loss of a loved one.

The Benedictus – blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, is the response after the preface or opening of the Eucharistic prayer.

The preface announces and anticipates the death and resurrection of the Lord in our act of remembrance and Thanksgiving (Eucharist in Greek). We remember, we celebrate, we believe. It is the sacrifice of the innocent transformed by the coming of the Lord. War, hunger, plague are the slaughter of the innocent and innocence itself. Who stands for the fallen? How does the senseless make sense?

The question is not resolved except to say that the one who comes in the name of the Lord – like Christ dies in hope despite the throes of torment and despair.

During my brief introduction to hospital ministry, Fr. Eli Salmon, one of my preceptors and I were discussing the ICU and pastoral accompaniment. As Catholics we often think of hospital chaplaincy as the administration of the sacraments. Which is true since they are rites of peace and healing, but they are part of something deeper.

Being with the sick, the dying, or those returning to the rigors of everyday life is a ministry of hope born of faith that ushers us into that communion which is love. Fr. Eli defined his mission in the ICU as being a support for the patient’s hope in the face of death. It is the prevention of despair.

The primary mission of discipleship is to be that presence of hope – to be the one who comes not with answers, not with solutions, nor the daggers of glib religious slogans.

The Lord is with us through our presence and witness to the pandemic and its victims. As challenging and frightening as these times are, as difficult as the news is to watch, and as absurd as the evil whimsy of Covid-19 is as it grazes some and destroys others, we are the Lord God’s presence. Even as our churches are closed and the altar bare, the Eucharist of our hearts continues. We remember. We give thanks. We await the resurrection and bring forth its dawn.

Blessed is the one who comes as the Lord God.
Image from Vatican Library
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Posted by on Apr 5, 2020

Palm Sunday – Jesus Comes to Jerusalem

Palm Sunday – Jesus Comes to Jerusalem

Palm Sunday has arrived once more. In 2020, as we deal with the challenges of a worldwide pandemic, it seems a good time to look carefully at the story of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem as he began the last week of his public ministry.

Here’s a word search puzzle to try, share it with children and friends, and reflect on what it all meant then and now. If you can’t find all the words, check here for the solution, but spend some time searching for them and reflecting first!

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Posted by on May 14, 2018

Mystagogy: A Journey with the Holy Spirit into Deeper Faith

Mystagogy: A Journey with the Holy Spirit into Deeper Faith

Mystagogy is the fourth and last stage in RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). The term comes from the Greek for “secret.”  The reason this term is appropriate for Christianity is that the tradition understands much of its focus as being on the supernatural. By definition the supernatural is often not known nor experienced through ordinary reasoning or empirical interaction. During the time of Mystagogy, RCIA neophytes are called to deepen their experience of the Sacraments (or Mysteries) received at Easter and to understand them. The sacraments are a primary encounter of Christians with God and thus events with an ineffable dimension.

This time after the Easter Sacraments therefore includes opportunities for experience, reflection and learning.  The most important goal is that neophytes grow in closeness to God. The second goal is that they know the joy of sharing their faith in the community of the Church. Neophytes are then encouraged to reach out eventually to those not part of the church community.

For new Catholics, the Eucharist, a mystery itself, is the model and the means of why and how one can live the life of a new creation. In the Eucharist, Jesus gives himself to believers in a humble and personal way and models the self-giving and purest kind of love that happened at the Crucifixion. The Eucharist transforms and empowers recipients to live a life that is full of the kind of love we see in Jesus. As they are fed, they can go out and feed others.

This new life is not something one can read about and just do. It is not a skill. It is a relationship. As a living relationship with God, it takes time. This relationship grows through the reception of the sacraments, prayer, and doing service. The period of Mystagogy is the beginning of what St. Paul calls “putting on Christ.”  (Romans 13:14)

After the intense months of RCIA, it can be a shock for new Catholics suddenly not to be a part of a group attending the liturgy and practicing prayer, learning, and reflection. Many people involved in RCIA teams, as well as new Catholics, feel that Mystagogy, which usually lasts a month to six weeks, is not nearly long enough. Some parishes have RCIA programs that run one and one half years to two years. Other parishes encourage RCIA graduates to join Bible studies, prayer groups, adult religious education, parish retreats, and ministries within the parish community.

In the end, Mystagogy and the ensuing Christian life are a matter of trust. God lives in our depths and graces us in unseen ways. We often do not know exactly where we are going in life, but we know that Jesus is with us. During Mystagogy, the New Christian is led by the Holy Spirit deeper into God and the life of faith, both a matter of intellectual knowledge and unfathomable mystery. It is the beginning of a great adventure.

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Posted by on May 9, 2018

Mystagogy: A Journey with the Holy Spirit into Deeper Faith

“It is Time for the Lord to Act”

“It is time for the Lord to act.” These words proclaimed by the deacon to the priest in the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches just before the beginning of the Divine Liturgy (known as the Mass in the Roman Catholic church) tell us something important about God’s participation in human life. The word for time used in this statement is “kairos,” meaning the perfect or decisive moment in which conditions are right for something very important to take place — a time when God acts. The beginning of a Eucharistic celebration (Mass or Divine Liturgy) is one such time.

In a very real way, the celebration of the Rite of Initiation of Christian Adults (RCIA), culminating at Easter Vigil with Baptism, Confirmation, and first reception of Communion, is a series of kairos events in the life of believers.

In Roman Catholic tradition, we have baptized infants and children for centuries. Most members of the church have no memory of their baptism. First Communion, around the age of reason, is more commonly remembered. Confirmation, when received in adolescence, is remembered more clearly. Nevertheless, the three Sacraments of Initiation are designed to be received at the same time. In fact, since Vatican II, the Church has asked dioceses around the world to re-unite them, including with the initiation of children. This is the practice in the Eastern churches.

But children are not the only source of new Christians. Adults have always come to the Christian community and asked to be admitted to membership. The process of instructing and welcoming new members has taken many forms over the 2,000 year history of our community. Since Vatican II, returning to the tradition of the early Church, the RCIA has been the way we have welcomed new believers.

This year at Easter Vigil, as we again lit the new fire and blessed the waters of baptism, we welcomed our new sisters and brothers by plunging them into the newly blessed baptismal waters or pouring the water over their heads. We have anointed them with chrism, the oil blessed by the bishop during Holy Week.  Chrism is used to anoint the hands of priests, the heads of bishops, the altar and walls of a church, and the newly baptized. In Confirmation, it is also used to anoint and strengthen the new Christian, bringing the wisdom and strength from the Holy Spirit to witness to the presence and activity of God in all creation. Finally, we complete their initiation by sharing the very Body and Blood of our Lord with them as food for the day-to-day journey of faith.

Such a lot happens in a very short time! It’s far too much to fully comprehend in the moment. It will take a lifetime to ponder and experience the growth and flowering of the seed brought to birth at Easter Vigil – the new life of faith and community of travelers on the way in God’s kingdom.

The newly baptized ideally are continuing their journey in a time of sharing and learning known as mystagogy – a time of awakening in the Spirit and entering ever more deeply into the mystery. Common reactions/experiences of those who have newly received these sacraments include a hunger for scripture, a desire to learn more, a longing for community and sharing, an urge to step away to pray and ponder what they have experienced, excitement, wonder, and joy. Eventually, they may also experience a quieting of the initial excitement, a sense of God not being so close anymore, disillusionment upon discovering the “warts” or “clay feet” of other members of the community. All of this is normal. It’s all part of the journey of faith.

Jesus’ disciples and friends did not fully understand what happened in that Kairos moment of Easter and resurrection. Two thousand years later, we still cannot explain it. God acted in a decisive way, defeating the power of death and separation between God-self and humanity by becoming one of us and experiencing human life fully. Now it is our turn to enter, as members of the Christian community, into the life of the Trinity. It is a journey of a lifetime, lived step by step by the baptized.

Welcome, Sisters and Brothers to this amazing journey. Our thoughts and prayers are with you. We look forward to learning from you of the wonders our God is doing in your life and we promise to share with you the wonders we have seen. The Kairos moment has come into our lives. Christ is Risen! He is truly Risen!

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Posted by on Mar 23, 2017

The Catechumen’s Song

The Catechumen’s Song

The Catechumen’s Song

A still gentle voice
rills upon the waves
Laughs in the gulls and
sparkles in the sand

A longing deep and still
beyond believing
Within hope
a throb of love


Late have I loved thee
beauty ever ancient ever new
Let me die in your arms
and rise up anew

Where are those to take
me to you?
How a path upon the stars
your love does trace

Where is this beauty
in the path?
What turn forsakes
all else?

Sweeping low the
the salt breeze calls
My name, my name
across the dunes

Balanced against all else
the stones of life
For a season in a day
guard the path of ocean sway

Across the waves
our hulls delight
Spinnaker buckle and roil
a tack and yaw

Roll and deep
a crash and rise
At harbor’s sunset
across the bar

Day’s lagoon at tide resets
sways the dock
A fire in the mountain
challenges purple

The path a million lighted wings
sweet sage upon the mountain breath
Dawn’s sparkle bubbles
the font of agate

Upon the forest fence
descends the Dove
Beneath the flood
a rush of three

Strong arms my breath
does save anew a light
From the tomb a laugh
as butterfly does dash

Hold the colors of that flame
anointing soothes
A priest a prophet does proclaim
the Spirit of Love comes upon me

A table a gentle fare
so dearly won
The bread the wine
in faith eyes so much more

Risen, one Body
one host divine
Comes at table
in our hearts to recline

Where tells the mystery sweet
upon my ears to dance
Where finds my mind
my heart

Away from lover’s trance
to delight
In my Love’s laughter
steal away, steal away

No more I dwell alone
my loneliness meets its end
Among the lilies
I lay down my head

At one in peace
one Heart
In the one Lord
one Heart

A chance upon the breeze
swings on gossamer wings
A sweet entrance with
nectar a rainbow’s trance

Who calls in sunset’s
green flood
Whose footsteps
bid your path

Come hear the music
and the dance
Come play, steal away
and dance

Leave all else
lose yourself
Upon the even tide
on the shore He sets His Fire

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Posted by on Aug 17, 2016

Mystagogy: A Journey with the Holy Spirit into Deeper Faith

Mission: Peacemaking and Muslim Christian Relations

Peace Flows Like a River

Water in the Desert

What I’ve discovered … is that when we show up for people in need — when we seek their well-being, flourishing, and justice, whether they ever convert to our religion or not — we might just see the transformation we long for in ourselves and in hard-to-access places around the world. – Jeremy Courtney

Baptist missionary Jeremy Courtney, his wife, and two children found themselves in the middle of the Iraq War.  In today’s attempt by some Moslems and Christians to demonize the other in a continuation of centuries of bloody warfare, Courtney has founded the Preemptive Love Coalition.

Courtney and his movement represent a broadening of the Protestant Evangelical notion of mission to one that is more in keeping with the Vatican II Catholic notion of the Christian missionary. Courtney’s approach is to pursue peace one heart at a time. “Love first and ask questions later.” became the theme of Courtney’s approach as he started helping Iraqi children to obtain life-saving and life-changing heart surgery within Iraq by increasing the capacity and capabilities of the country to care for its own children.

Courtney opens his web page, JeremyCourtney.com, with a compelling quotation from C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity about how our failure to accept and embrace people we see as opponents corrupts us and our relationship with God because it leads us to a universe of pure hatred.

Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Although C.S. Lewis wrote in the context of World War II and the Nazi regime, his words are especially relevant in our moral challenge of relating to Islam and to Islamic extremists.

Courtney focuses on the need for authenticity, since many Protestant missionaries pose as aid workers or teachers in countries that are hostile to Christianity. In an OpEd for CNN’s Declassifed – Untold Stories of American Spies – “Three Arguments Against Christian Covert ‘Spycraft'” Courtney decries this practice as dishonest, harmful to religious freedom, and because it “puts a target on the backs of local Christians”.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths.But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry.

2 Timothy 4:1-5

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Posted by on Apr 4, 2016

Mystagogy: A Journey with the Holy Spirit into Deeper Faith

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

The Annunciation - Henry Ossaw TannerGabriel’s visit to a very young woman in the small town of Nazareth was a momentous event, though mostly unnoticed at the time. Gabriel is the archangel tasked to serve as special messenger of God. On this visit, the message was actually a request: will you consent to become my mother? It wasn’t exactly phrased this way, according to the narrative we have from St. Luke, but in essence that was the question. Gabriel told Mary that she would bear a son who would be the Son of the Most High and would sit on the throne of his father David (as in King David), rule over the house of Jacob forever and have an unending kingdom. (Lk 1:26-38)

Now this would be challenging even to a married woman, but this young woman was not married. In her culture, having a child out of wedlock could result in death by stoning. At best, she would be shunned and excluded from polite society. Yet Mary had the courage to ask for more details about how such a thing could happen and to listen with deep faith to the response. Then she answered “yes,” Jesus was conceived, and God’s plan for salvation could go forward.

Christians have celebrated the Annunciation for centuries. Typically, the feast is scheduled for March 25, exactly nine months before the celebration of Christmas. However, in the West, when March 25 falls within Holy Week or the first week of Easter, the feast is moved to Monday following the Second Sunday of Easter (now known as Divine Mercy Sunday).

As adults we celebrate many events such as the Annunciation with prayer – Liturgy of the Hours, Mass, the Angelus, etc. However, for children, these ways of celebrating are not always experienced as much fun. So, with that in mind, I’d like to suggest an alternative way to celebrate: Make Angel cookies!

To make Angel cookies, take any recipe for a cookie that allows rolling out the dough and cutting out a cookie. (Even brownies could be used for making Angel Cookies if time is short.) Use an angel shaped cookie cutter to shape the cookies before baking. Be sure to decorate them with frosting/icing or with some  kind of “sprinkles” of colored sugar to make them festive. Then share them as part of a festive meal. Light a candle, have a special drink, use nicer dishes than normal, have a food that is a treat for your family — any or all of these things will make the day special for the children and family who share them.

As you share this day, keep your ears open for the voice of angels in your life. God’s messenger still comes, though perhaps not as momentously as in the visit to Mary. What is God saying to you and me today?

Peace.

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Posted by on Jan 29, 2016

Mystagogy: A Journey with the Holy Spirit into Deeper Faith

Entering into the Mystery

people-walking-on-streetAs the Church’s New Year began in Advent, in communities around the world, men and women took a huge step into  a special journey: a journey that will take them deeply into the mystery of God’s relationship with humans. These people stepped forward with their sponsors and were introduced to the people of the communities they will join. Welcomed with blessings and prayer, they entered a time of study and reflection through which they will become increasingly aware of God’s call to journey on The Way.

The Way?

Christian life in earliest times was known as The Way: the way to the Kingdom of God, begun here and now with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and unfolding through time to its ultimate fulfillment when Jesus returns and all are reunited in the mystery of God’s life. This way of living differs from the ways of others who have not chosen to follow it. It requires loving and forgiving enemies, caring for the most vulnerable in the world, acting with justice and mercy, being stewards/caretakers of the environment, and trusting that God will bring good out of all that happens, even if what happens is not what God would have wanted to see.

That doesn’t sound easy. It might even be dangerous!

Following the Way has never been a safe or easy option. Jesus, who called Himself the way, the truth, and the life (Jn 14:6), was tortured to death, hanging naked on a cross, reviled and mocked by passers-by and abandoned by most of his friends and followers. Many of those who have followed Him have witnessed with their lives to His resurrection over the past 2000 years. The martyrs (witnesses) we remember from those early centuries are still being joined by Christians around the world today who choose death rather than renounce their Lord.

Whether called to witness with our blood or not, each of us will face times when we must speak out, saying unpopular things to people we know and whose respect we treasure. Our choice of lifestyle, leisure activities, business/work behavior, sexual ethics, and treatment of the poor and ill will all be shaped by our faith. Not all of those choices will be understood or endorsed by our peers.

Then why do it?

Despite the counter-cultural nature of a life of faith, the call to enter into the mystery is profound. The joy, peace, mercy, love, and comfort of a hug from God surpass anything of human origin. Some doors open while others shut. Funds materialize just in time to keep a project going, or they don’t come at all and something else must be done to move forward in service. Prejudices get overturned as we meet and get to know folks from other social or ethnic groups in communities of worship and service. We are continually challenged and helped to grow in wisdom and grace as we grow in age.

A life of faith is not for the faint of heart. It’s a great adventure into realms not often noticed through everyday eyes. As poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning said, “All of Earth is crammed with heaven, and every common bush aflame with God; but only those who see take off their shoes.”  The glory of God shines forth in all of creaton. Those called to enter into this mystery are truly blessed. We journey forward together — those just beginning and those who’ve travelled long. Difficulties, doubts, second thoughts, and times of desolation will arise, but the promise and faithfulness of God, the overwhelming power of love and mercy, will accompany us and welcome us to an even richer life when we reach our journey’s end.

Away we go together — on The Way!

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Posted by on Nov 15, 2015

Mystagogy: A Journey with the Holy Spirit into Deeper Faith

Families and Faith: Helping Your Children to be Faith-Filled

woman-and-child-RenoirFamilies today are struggling with the challenge to fit in a day all the things they need to do. School, childcare, meals, commute, work, marriage, parenting, pets, athletics, extended family, finances, church, house, local and broader civic issues, friends, medical needs, and recreation all require thought and planning. Everyone wants their children to be happy and, for parents with faith, this includes wanting their children to be close to God, part of a community of believers, and to have a faith-filled life.

Parenting Styles

Usually families adopt some form of three parenting styles: Authoritarian, Permissive or Dialogue. The style used may vary based on situation and/or age of the child.

Some rules, such as “No running into the street,” start out as authoritarian with a very young child but with older children there can be a dialogue about the reasons. Brushing a two-year-old’s teeth is a decision from the top down (authoritarian). Later on there can be conversations about it. Permissive parenting, in which the children run the house and are allowed to break the rules or to not do the chores is usually never helpful. At times, when a child has exams, she can skip her chores or go to bed late, but that can be decided in a negotiation about the special situation. Going to church for parents with faith will be at the top of the hierarchy of choices about the family schedule. Hopefully the parents know that they need to be there — to hear the Scriptures, the preaching, or to receive the Eucharist. There may be exceptions, but being consistent will make the liturgy a natural and essential part of the rhythm of life. Church can also be a place for other involvements for children, such as religious education, roles in the liturgy, youth group, outreach, or choir. Making the liturgy more meaningful for children by providing a book to read or color can also help them engage in the Mass and enjoy it more.

But all of this will not necessarily help children to have a relationship with God or stay in the Church. A big help in this direction is if the parents have a living relationship with God, can naturally talk about it, and enjoy spending time with their children. The best approach is both organic to the parents’ entire orientation and planned strategies. Parents who know and experience God and the saints in their lives think, feel and do everything out of a spiritual orientation and discernment. In their adult relationships, home/family, work, and the world, everything hopefully is referred to God and what God is loving for them to love (even learning to trust him in little things like losing your keys). Feelings and actions that come from fear can be recognized and given to God (Discernment). If a parent grows in discernment and asks for wisdom and courage, God will give it and everything goes much better. Planning, conversations, and family problems — all are more productive. Everyone in the family can grow in peace, understanding, generosity and trust in God.

Stress and worry are a part of family life. Painful things will happen. Feeling loved by God will not prevent or remove all suffering. It will reduce anxiety and even anger. For the faith-filled family, unavoidable forms of suffering can be understood as a sharing in Jesus’ redemptive work in the world. (Mk. 10:44 ff.) We also know that he never leaves us. He asks us to lean on him and ask him for the grace to bear the heavier loads. Daily prayer — both talking to God and listening to God — can help parents to keep perspective and not take personally the problems that will come. (For work and faith ideas, see: Heroic Leadership by Chris Lowney, Loyola Press: Chicago, 2005. Excellent, well written.)

Protecting Children, then Letting Them Go

One of the biggest issues that comes up in child-raising is that of control. Parents are responsible for working through the process of protecting their children and then letting go of them. Parents pour love, energy, resources, and sacrifices into family life but do not “own” their children, who in fact are gifts from God. At some point, offspring will start making their own decisions and these may not reflect the values of the parents. They may have abilities and desires that are foreign to the parents. There will be a period of time when children are learning who they are and trying out many experiences available to them. If the child has been exposed to a healthy and holy way of dealing with decisions (e.g. trust in God and discernment) in the family from infancy, they have a very good chance of seeking what God wants for them.

Adults and children can develop an interior life with God in which they recognize when they are doing actions from fear, insecurity, laziness, and/or to impress others. Children encounter many negative things in their lives both in themselves and others. Bullying, cheating, and lying are all around them. There is no harm is letting them know about the influence of the Evil Spirit too when they are older. In middle school they will encounter many forms of social climbing and meanness right next to kindness and generosity. Parents can spend time by both listening to the child and talking about the fact that God will be with them as they make the choice to be friendly to an outcast or to own up to a bad choice.

Understanding the developmental stage of your child is important for both their moral understanding and experience of faith. The work of the religious psychologist Dr. James Fowler is very helpful. His work is summarized in an article entitled “How God Invites Us to Grow: the Six Stages of Faith Development” by Richard J. Sweeney, Franciscan Media, Catholic Update, No. CU1087.

Discernment as Part of Family Life

God dwells within us and will help us sort out destructive feelings from those of courage, strength, hope, and self-worth. If parents are doing this themselves day after day and sharing this at times with their family, the children will share their successes in being strong and discerning too. Listening to our kids, wanting to know their interests and worries, will help them to feel understood. The goal is not control. The goal is that we surrender to God our desires, worries, and problems and let him tell us how best to work with them. The prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola called The Examen is very helpful in going over each day what is working and not working in my thoughts and behaviors and what I can ask God to help me with. There are many modern versions of this prayer available. Children can be taught to do this little review without dwelling on the mistakes but simply asking Jesus to be there when I am feeling pressure.

It is not by accident that our present Pope Francis speaks constantly of dialogue and seeking understanding. According to Francis, we should never be frightened of being open to understanding those who disagreed with us. (Pope Francis, homily October 4 in the Mass opening the Synod on the family, St. Peter’s Basilica) To the pope that does not mean that we cannot condemn certain philosophies and behaviors, but it does mean that we must understand and love others no matter what. Once we surrender our lives and our children’s lives to God, we can expect and ask God to help us. (E.g. blind Bartimaeus, Mk. 10:46-52) In his encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis points out that in creating a new human ecology ​​in which we all nurture the Earth, marriage ​and family are a natural base for this kind of universal solidarity. The self-giving of marriage can be taught to children, who can learn to care for the Earth and share its resources with others. Parents and children can forge a strong bond while living these values together. Parents can communicate the ways in which God reveals his love in the beauty, mystery and rhythms of Creation.

Practical Suggestions

Some practical suggestions for family life are to selectively sprinkle in your talk how you react to problems or make decisions out of your relationship with God, find times for family prayer, and ask your kids individually how things are going. One time for prayer is before dinner. Take a little time to ask people at the table if there is someone or something they would like everyone to prayer for. This can also be a bedtime ritual. It is great if parents purchase appropriate lives of the saints and read parts to younger children each night, etc. Acknowledging to a child that you know they have a concern: an exam, tryouts for a sport, a difficult subject at school, a dance coming up and saying, “I’ll pray for you,” is a good thing if it is not constant. Children are very perceptive. If you are sincere and are seeking God, they will be too. But, if God is abstract for you, children will sense this. You might consider seeing if there is a spiritual director in your parish to talk to or a retreat center in the area where you can go on a retreat, spend a few hours, or see a spiritual director. There are also wonderful websites to visit regularly, even for just 10 minutes, that have articles, mini-retreats and music. A wonderful article on prayer,  “Never Lose Heart” by Robert P. Maloney, CM, for example, is found on the America Magazine website.

Discussion (or Reflection) Questions

1. Have I experienced God or the saints ?  In what ways?

2. Do I pray? What kinds of prayer am I familiar with? Speaking and listening?

3. Can I share my faith or thoughts about spiritual things in a natural way or is this difficult?

Image: “Woman and Child” – Renoir – public domain

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