Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Morning Musings . . .

Today in my morning prayer, the Scriptures were from Luke, in which the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. I looked up from my book and viewed the maple tree beyond my patio. Slowly, lovingly, and with inner knowing it was giving a nod to each falling leaf that it was time to let go. Truly, my patio companion was teaching me how to pray!

Oh, how I visited this view often in the spring to watch the buds take shape and birth forth the fragile beauty of the new leaves unfolding.  I remember how each leaf participated in the dance of the April ice storm, the summer intense sun and rains, and the rush of tornadic winds . . . Now it's time to pray them in gratitude for their journey of resiliency and faithfulness. 

And so with each falling leaf, I am being taught how to pray. To pray in gratitude for what was, for what is, and to pray in openness and hope for what will be.

I prayed in gratitude . . .
• for each person I have met along my summer journey as I listened to the joyful and sorrowful mysteries of their lives.

• for each memory of the tragedies of nature – floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, earthquakes, and volcanoes . . .  learning once again, that with some things there is no control, but only honoring our understanding to be in partnership with earth as its stewards.

• for each moment I gathered with friends to celebrate thresholds, turning points, anniversaries, jubilees, professions, passings, and fun times to mark the day and time.

• for each Birthday card I received . . .

• for each opportunity to photograph the streams, flowers, trees, mushrooms, birds, sunsets, and moon risings . . .

• for each time of prayer in which the silence spoke of Divinity . . .

May I continue to listen to the falling leaves as they teach me how to pray. For all that was, I give thanks. For all that is, I give praise for I am blessed, and for all that will be, I pray with openness and hope.
Amen . . .Amen!


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Jesus' loving look . . .

A father left his village on business and while he was gone bandits came and burned down the village and kidnapped his son. When the father returned he found a burned corpse near his home and thought it was the remains of his son. The father almost went mad with grief and, after an elaborate cremation ceremony, placed the ashes of his son in a beautiful velvet bag, which he carried with him always.

One day the son escaped from his kidnappers and arrived at his father’s home at midnight. He knocked, and his father who was holding the bag of his son’s ashes, said, “Who is there?”  The child answered, “It is me, papa.  Open the door.  It’s your son.”

But the father was so certain that his son was dead that he told the boy to stop tormenting him and go away. The boy knocked and knocked, but the father never answered.  He held the velvet bag closer and cried without ceasing.  Finally the child left and the father and son never saw one another.  (Author and Source Unknown)

In today’s Sunday Gospel the young man, no doubt, has been abundantly blessed with wealth and security.  He was a good man who followed all the commandments, but he wanted to be better in fact.  Could we not say, that he “clutches his velvet bag” of ideals, values and truths with great passion and a strong ego?

Like Jesus, he has been raised on Torah, which is about how to live, not what to believe. This questioner seems reflective rather than impulsive.  He is in search of something more than just a “quick fix.”  He is looking for clarity that stipulates a task or program.  His agenda is clear, his approach direct, and his intentions are honorable.

His manner of living his faith is one of keeping the commandments and having a private piety.  His question concerns practice and not belief.  He wants Jesus to tell him in plain language what kind of life he should be living now in order to live in God’s presence forevermore. 

Well, this seeker has possibly come to the wrong rabbi. Jesus does not always provide clarity.  He rarely stipulates a task or a program and refuses to set a limit to love. Jesus never answers closed questions. Jesus looks for generous and open-ended commitment. 

He has come to expand imaginations, not to play a political game or be limited to the art of the possible. His agenda is as open as God’s love, and his perspective is as wide as God’s reign. This requires any seeker to be willing to choose to live “on the edge”  with an open mind and heart; to have a readiness to embrace vulnerability; to have a willingness to break through illusions and trust in imagination and vision, and move beyond the margins to encounter risk and challenge, and dare to face ambiguity, paradox and creative chaos!

Every time Jesus gives this seeker a challenge, the young man has already accomplished it. But still he wants to do more.  When Jesus says the last thing he can do is to sell everything he has, give the money to the poor, and give up his life and relationships to follow Jesus, that’s even above and beyond.

And so it is written “That was the last thing the young man expected to hear. And so, crestfallen, he walked away. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and he couldn’t bear to let go.”  He takes with him his “velvet bag” of the need for answers, clarity, achievement, and a task to accomplish.

When Jesus says, “Follow me,” he is inviting us to a new discipleship. This discipleship requires new kinds of relationships and new kinds of community.  Jesus expects a radical “no nonsense” response when it comes to following his new way. Rugged individualism is simply not adequate.  "To follow Jesus is a dangerous thing. To follow Jesus is to follow the one who turns the world upside down, even the religious world."  Jesus’ idea of discipleship is not about giving people answers but leading them into that space where they will long and yearn for God – for wisdom, for healing and for transformation. 

For us today, Christian discipleship may challenge us to loosen our grasp on our “velvet bag” of treasured beliefs and opinions, hopes and promises, ideas and ideals, truths and traditions.  Christian discipleship invites us to leave our old patterns of life, our cherished identities, and positions of power, success, and security and to be now in the world as “voice and heart, call and sign of the God whose design for this world is justice and love.”

Let us recall the disciple, Sr. Dorothy Stang, a Notre Dame de Namur sister, who dedicated her life for nearly 4 decades in the jungles of Brazil.  She defended the rights of the poor peasants whose land was being devoured by big business, and ranchers and lumber companies. 

On Feb. 12, 2005, 74 year old Dorothy was assassinated.  She was shot six times as she headed to meet government officials to discuss the demarcation of land for peasants.  “According to eyewitness accounts, she held up a Bible and told the gunmen that it was the only weapon she carried. She was reading the book as the bullets struck.”  Truly Dorothy went above and beyond – she gave away everything for the last, the least and the lost. 

And so today, let us be open to the graces of these Scriptures as we take up the challenge to follow Jesus unreservedly.  Let us take time this week to reflect on the “velvet bag” that we might be carrying with treasures which may well be in the way of our responding to God’s invitation to be voice and heart, call and sign of God’s mission for justice, love, and mercy in our world today.  

And finally, one last thought.  Whatever happened to the rich young man?
Perhaps he did return.  Could he be the one in Mark 14: 50 at the arrest of Jesus?  The Scripture tells us:  “And they all left him and fled.  Now a young man followed him wearing nothing but a linen cloth about his body.”  Has our seeker come to tell Jesus that he is now ready to follow him and that he has sold or given away everything?

The Scriptures continue:  “They seized him, but he left the cloth behind and ran off naked.”    If this is our young man, then he truly did let go of everything he possessed – and no doubt, Jesus looked upon him with love once again. 

Monday, October 8, 2018

Another point of view . . .

Artist and source unknown.
Today's Sunday Scripture was that of the Good Samaritan parable.  Once I had written a reflection on this Scripture from the Inn Keeper’s point of view.  I post it here for your reflection.  I invite you to consider “stepping into the parable” and writing your own reflection.  Blessings!
Shalom to you!

I am the owner and manager of this establishment which some would like to call an inn. It seems to be the only place on this rugged stretch of road between Jerusalem and Jericho.  I see a lot of strange happenings along these heavily traveled paths, for it is a major trade route.  One has to be vigilant on these roads, especially when the band of robbers surprise unsuspecting victims.

 I am often fortunate to encounter a number of travelers who are merchants, pilgrims, temple elders, and foreigners from nearby provinces who are looking for work.  I know that some are not of my faith, but my wife says I need to be open and offer hospitality to anyone who seeks refuge from the desert sun, or needs rest from walking the dirt roads, or who may be on pilgrimage for atonement of sins long ago.  I have a young new family and the extra money is essential for me so I can feed and clothe my family, besides paying taxes to the governor! 

I learned a lot from my father when he was an innkeeper in Bethlehem.  When I was a child, he often told me stories of the people who came to his establishment.  He always enjoyed telling one story in particular of a young pregnant woman, who traveled with a man with strong hands and an anxious heart.   Since this was the time of the census, they sought a place to stay with their relatives, but no one would make room for this unwed mother to be.  It was my father who gave them a place to stay.

So I now encounter this Samaritan man – I can tell by his accent and the way he is dressed.  He is carrying someone on his donkey and is heading here to my desk.  We are a simple establishment. No magnetic swipe, cards, no room service (unless there is money to accompany the request) and no extra set of clean towels.  This tall, quite burly Samaritan says that he found this Jew along the roadside, beaten and left half dead.  Apparently this man encountered those robbers that I spoke of earlier. The Samaritan requested a room for him to care for this injured man. I accommodated and even gave him those extra towels with no charge – my wife said that would be the compassionate thing to do.  Early the next morning, the Samaritan handed me money, two days wages, and wanted me to give the injured man further care with a bed, food, and healing oils.  I agree to do so immediately.  I guess it was his eyes, his gentle voice, and his deep concern for this traveler.  He didn’t even know his name.  He said that he would return in a few days and pay me with more money if what he had given me was not enough. 

He then turned, started to walk out the door, but turned and spoke a blessing to me and my family.  I wondered if he was a follower of the man from Galilee whom they call, Jesus.  This Samaritan man was so compassionate toward this traveler, a Jew.   When he returns, I will ask him where I can find this Jesus. 

~ Based on the Parable of the Good Samaritan ~ Luke 10:25-37

Saturday, October 6, 2018

A Flame of Hope . . .

The Story of the 4 Candles

The Four Candles burned slowly. Their ambiance was so soft you could hear them speak...
The first candle said, “I Am Peace, but these days, nobody wants to keep me lit." Then Peace's flame slowly diminished and went out completely.

The second candle said, "I Am Faith, but these days, I am no longer indispensable." Then Faith's flame slowly diminished and went out completely.

Sadly the third candle spoke,
"I Am Love and I haven't the strength to stay lit any longer.
People put me aside and don't understand my importance.            

They even forget to love those who are nearest to them."
And waiting no longer, Love went out completely.

Suddenly ... A child entered the room and saw the three candles no longer burning.

The child began to cry, "Why are you not burning? You are supposed to stay lit until the end."

Then the Fourth Candle spoke gently to the little boy, "Don't be afraid, for I Am Hope, and while I still burn, we can re-light the other candles."
With shining eyes, the child took the Candle of Hope and lit the other three candles. Never let the Flame of Hope go out. With Hope in your life, no matter how bad things may be, Peace, Faith and Love may shine brightly once again. (~ Author Unknown)

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Morning Prayer (Part Two)

With that last bolt of lightning
a great calm came over me
and I felt free
the way I always feel, when
I’m finally able to own the truth.

God gave me back the pieces of my heart
without trying to fix them up or mend them
The Holy One looked at me with trust
with total confidence
as if to say,
I’ll be here when you’re ready to begin
the transformation of your heart
for we both know
Your love is too small
That’s why your heart is so divided
That’s why the pieces never seem to fit.

I took the pieces back with reverence
My tears proclaiming
the truth of all I felt.
There was no pressure, no force
just the God of morning
asking for my love.

And now, every time I see those flashes
in the northern sky
I hear again, a voice
saying simply,
Your love is too small.
And I weep; I weep at the possibility
of who I could be.
(Used with permission)

Too Small a Love
Author: Macrina Wiederkehr
Seasons of Your Heart (1991)

Monday, October 1, 2018

Francis . . he set the world on fire!

It is said that at one time Rabbi Lot went to see Rabbi Joseph and said, “Rabbi, as much as I am able, I practice a small rule of life, all the little fasts, some prayer and meditation, and remain quiet, and as much as possible, I keep my thoughts clean.  What else should I do?" Then the old Rabbi Joseph stood up and stretched out his hands toward heaven, and his fingers became like the torches of flame.  And he said, “Why not be turned into fire?"   (From the Desert Fathers and Mothers; Original Source Unknown)
On October 4,  we observe the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, who not only turned into fire but set the world on fire with his generosity, creativity, imagination, dedication to the poor,  and his austere living of the Gospel.  He had a profound faith, a deep prayer life and an abiding love of God and creation.   Many commentators have called Francis “a Second Christ,” because he tried in so many ways to be exactly like Jesus.

He was born in the Tuscan country side of Assisi in 1181 to a wealthy cloth merchant.  Francis enjoyed a very rich easy life growing up; he received little formal education and during his early years he was preoccupied with having fun.  Today, we would perhaps say he is among the bold and the beautiful, the rich and famous, and the young and the restless!  As a young man, he was popular, charming, enjoyed practical jokes and was usually the life of the party.  He was good at business, but wanted to become a troubadour and write poetry.   Everyone loved Francis.  He was constantly happy, a dreamer and a born leader.  

When he was twenty years old he was eager to be a knight and took part in a battle of a nearby country, yet his townspeople were defeated and he spent a year in prison.  After his return to Assisi, he became seriously ill and dissatisfied with his way of life.  He endured a spiritual crisis and devoted himself to solitude, prayer and service of the poor.  One of the many conversion experiences of his life that is told was when he was riding one day, he came face to face with a leper who begged for money.  Francis had always had disgust for lepers, and turning his face, he rode on.  But immediately he had a change of heart and returned to the leper and gave him all the money he had and kissed his hand.  As he rode off, he turned around for a last glance, and saw that the leper had disappeared.  From that day on he dressed in rags and gave himself to the service of the lepers and the poor.

Another conversion moment is told when he was in the nearby Church of San Damiano.  While he was praying, he heard Christ on the cross speak to him.  “Francis, repair my church.”  With this mandate and with the words of the Gospel, “The kingdom of God is at hand, cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, drive out devils; freely have you received, freely give.  Carry neither gold nor silver nor money, nor bag, nor two coats, nor sandals. . .”  Francis, then at once felt that this was his vocation and proceeded to preach to the poor.  In time, 12 others joined him in preaching the Gospel and working among the poor. They took literally the words of Christ when he sent his disciples out to preach.  They would have no money and not property, individually or collectively. 

Their task was to preach, “using words if necessary,” but declaring the love of God by their words and actions.  Francis called his order the “Order of Friars Minor” or the order of lesser brothers.  They were to live as brothers of all, to reveal by their love that all human beings are sisters and brothers.  Francis did not live in a monastery but among the people, and in that world, he sought and found God.  

His approach was an Incarnational approach – God was a loving Father/Creator and all that Francis had was gift, Christ was his Brother and the Spirit of that love lived and burned in him.  

Following the Gospel literally, Francis and his companions at first frightened their listeners as these men dressed in rags talking about God’s love.  But soon the people noticed that these barefoot beggars wearing sacks seemed filled with constant joy. They celebrated life.  

An early biographer gives an account of Francis’ physical appearance.  “In stature he was rather on the short side, his head of moderate size and round, his face long, his forehead smooth and low, his eyes of medium size, black and candid, his hair dark, his eyebrows straight, his nose even-shaped, thin and straight, his ears prominent but delicate.  

In conversation he was agreeable, ardent and penetrating, his voice firm, sweet-toned and clearly audible, his lips delicate, his beard black and rather sparse, his neck slender, his shoulders straight, his arms short, his hands small, with long fingers, his feet small, his skin tender, his clothing rough, his sleep brief and his bounty most liberal.”

Francis’ brotherhood included all of God’s creation.  He had a deep love for animals and a special fondness for birds.  He liked to refer to animals as his brothers and sisters.  In one well-known story, Francis preached to hundreds of birds about being thankful to God for their wonderful clothes, for their independence, and for God’s care. The story tells us the birds stood still as he walked among them, only flying off when he said they could leave. 

Another familiar story involves the wolf of Gubbio.  Out of hunger, the wolf took to attacking the people of Gubbio as they worked in their fields. The people were so frightened of the wolf they didn’t dare go out into the fields without armed protection.  Francis said to them, “Let me go out to talk with the wolf.”  So he went out to meet the wolf and spoke with him, who became docile at his approach and so the wolf returned with Francis to meet the people of Gubbio.  Francis arranged a peace pact between the people and the wolf.  The people would feed the wolf and in return the wolf would live peacefully with them. 

Francis’ final years were filled with much suffering.  Praying to share in Christ’s passion he had a vision and received the stigmata, the marks of the nails and the lance wounds that Christ suffered.  Years of poverty and wandering had made Francis ill.  In his final months of his life, being blind and enduring intense suffering, he joyfully and with cheerfulness wrote his beautiful Canticle of the Sun that expresses his brotherhood with creation in praising God.  He died at the age of 45 and at which time there were now several thousand members throughout Europe to carry on his mission and call.  He was canonized two years later.

So what is the good news for us today?
Francis speaks to us to live with joy, simplicity and faithfulness to the Gospels.   Let us dare to search for meaning and fulfillment in our relationship to God even when we may look a little foolish or even when it may call us to make drastic changes in our attitudes and behaviors.

Francis speaks to us about our relationship to creation. Let us be voices that challenge as we confront the environmental issues that affect our planet today.  “Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” Francis

Francis was called to “repair the church.”  Let us live with integrity and courage to witness a church of inclusivity, compassion, forgiveness and hope so that the message and mission of Jesus will be revealed – and let us use words, if necessary!

Francis speaks to us about the gift of suffering.  Let us ask for the graces we need when we find life tiring and burdensome so that the gentle and loving presence of God will bless us with refreshing peace, healing and bravery.

Francis speaks to us of poverty.  Let us live with awareness that all we have is a gift, and that we are to share the resources of this world with everyone; we are guardians and stewards of creation; sisters and brothers to all.

Francis kisses the leper and tames the wolf.  Let us be aware of the things in our lives that we may fear; the things that scare us – let us ask for the graces to embrace them with courage and love.   

Let us search for the wolf who hungers in our world, our church, our governments, communities, and in our personal lives – let us name and tame the hungers so that we may live with trust, harmony, justice and peace. “While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart.” Francis

In closing, let us recall the words of the Responsorial Psalm, for they could be the prayer of Francis today:
Take care of me, God, I rely on you for safety.  You are my destiny; my life is in your hands. Even in my sleep, God whispers to my heart.  God is my constant companion, You will direct my steps . . .”

Morning Prayer (Part One) . . .

Too Small a Love
Author: Macrina Wiederkehr
Seasons of Your Heart (1991)

Like lightning at dawn
the All-Powerful One came
into my morning prayer!

Totally unprepared
for this kind of interruption
I froze on my knees
both in wonder and terror.
There was no morning silence left,
no comforting darkness to enfold me
only those flashes of light
that make hiding impossible.

It wasn’t exactly a surprise
I was expecting God this morning
But not like this
I was waiting for peace
I was looking for that quiet reassurance
that silence sometimes brings
I was listening for a sound of wings
hovering over me
surrounding me with care
convincing me of presence and protection.

But this?
Oh, this was awful!
God stood there
with terrible,
loving eyes,
saying only:
Your love is too small!

Standing that close to truth
felt uncomfortable, unbearable
and I tried to hid my face
the way I often do
when truth gets too close.
I tried to hid the pieces
of my terribly divided heart.

But then the light came again.

And God was standing there
even closer than before
holding the pieces of my heart
with such tenderness
still saying,
Your love is too small.